The Parmahansa ballerina nun

“Ya know, I am feeling more like some really clean food,” I declared, and instead of turning left drove straight, heading for another of our favorite haunts.  My husband didn’t care; he eats anything, like Mikey, that kid in the cereal commercial. I love that about him! Moments later we pulled into the parking lot, cracked the window for Bella (our white/golden retriever) and scampered inside the trendy organic restaurant. Okay, actually, I scampered. It was raining, so I scampered! My husband, who I think it would be safe to say does not scamper, strolled in. He might scamper, it’s just that I’ve never seen him do that in real life. It’s probably because that would be like Cary Grant scampering, which would just be wrong. Anyway, we arrived, moist but not sodden and, needless to say, hungry. “Maryanne!” exclaimed the manager, barely a second after we walked in. Have you ever seen that show “Cheers”? This place was sorta like that; when you walk in everybody knows your name—only instead of heaving with proletariat, beer-guzzling Republicans this establishment catered to the far, far, so very far Left.

Our friend took our order practically before we sat down. I didn’t have to look at the menu; I almost always got the same thing. “Uhhmm, I’ll have an ‘I am Cozy’ and an ‘I am Fabulous’ …oh, wait, and an ‘I am Incredible.’ Hon, what do you want?” As my husband began to order, for some reason I drifted off and imagined my brother being here: “Yes, I’ll have the ‘I am Uncomfortable’ with a side of ‘You are Evil,’ and could you get me a glass of the, uh, ‘You are Full of Shit.’” My brother’s from the right side of the tracks: he loves Michael Savage, for example. Although this year he did bust out and buy me Buddha wind chimes, which I am in love with. Speaking of Buddha…

“How cute, you have a…dog.” My husband commented to the woman who was settling in on the couch just to the left of ours. Yes, you can sit and eat on the couches; they are bright blue and quite comfortable. The women who was joining us, so to speak, wore a knitted beanie cap, a white sheer skirt that fell almost to the ground exposing her bare feet that paddled along in summery flip flops ornamented with little flowers, and some type of ceremonial-looking scarf which she took off and folded up for her little dog to sit upon. “He’s a service dog” she said, and continued to fuss with his little mat, which now looked more like a magic carpet. We smiled. She continued casually, “Yeah, he’s feeling a little tired. He just did a healing session.” To which I perked up and replied “Hmmm.” I could not resist, I needed to ask. “Uhmmm, service dog…” She looked up and met my eyes. “You said your dog is a service dog?” Her dog weighed maybe two pounds soaking wet.

She read my perplexed look accurately and began to explain. “Yes, well, sometimes he works with cancer patients and it just depends on what’s needed really, I mean he just did a session today and his eyes are still bothering him. The vet says it’s called dry eyes something or other but I know it’s not that, because he’s very sensitive and just takes on the energy of whoever he’s healing at the time.” I had to assume by her self-diagnosis that this little wisp of a dog had recently worked with someone who was either blind or had a serious eye infection. “Oh, is that right?” I replied with all due respect. She seemed clear on it. “Oh, his name is Buddha,” she added, formally introducing us, and then snuggled him close to her; he practically disappeared in her embrace. “Of course it is,” my husband said, only half-kidding.

“Anyway, did you know that it’s illegal to question someone about whether or not their dog is legitimately a service dog?” She didn’t wait for us to respond. “That’s right, by law you are not even allowed to ask a person for the dog’s papers.” “Is this because it would be considered offensive to the dog?” I asked, genuinely interested. She ignored my question. My husband chimed in, “You know our dog, Bella, is very sweet. People always tell us what an angel she is, and we’ve considered getting her into the business…you know, having her visit elderly or sick people in the hospital.” She kept his gaze and said, “I think it’s easier if you work in the hospital or are a healer or a nurse, to get status.”

I took a sip from my "Cozy," which is an amazing concoction of lemon, hot water, honey and cayenne pepper. “So do you work in the field”? I asked, and carefully placed my oversized mug back down on its saucer. “Yes, I do,” she said, “I am a nun—well, actually, I am a Swami, of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism, originating in a very particular part of the Himalayas.” I still didn’t make the connection with the service dog. I was willing to wait.

“Here’s your, ‘You are Amazing and Incredible,’” said the waitress, and set our food down.  “Thank you!” I smiled gratefully and then refocused on our nun. “You know, ‘nun’ comes from the word ‘renunciation,’” she said. “Anyway, it’s easier to say Buddhist nun than monk because, well, that’s confusing, because most people think monks are men and well, anyway, I am a Swami and about to become a Parmahansa, then I might become a Llama, I haven’t decided yet.” “Wow, really?” I exclaimed. I didn’t know becoming a Llama was so accessible, relatively speaking. I certainly didn’t know there were classes you could take to become a Swami.

My husband and I were equally fascinated by our new friend. “How long does that take?” I asked her; she seemed kind of young to be a Paramahansa. “It took me two complete years of practice to become a Swami, and it will take another six months or so to become a Parmahansa and one more year of celibacy, and then it depends, my teacher lives in India and it really depends.” She didn’t mention on what. And we didn’t ask. “Every tradition starts with one particular teacher, who starts the lineage. I mean, really, it’s all the same basic teaching.” she added.  My husband, who has a degree in religious studies, later speculated it must have been a very new lineage given he’d never heard of it. It goes to show you; just when you think you know something, you don’t.

The waitress delivered our nun’s order, “And ‘You are Magnificent’!” She held it in her lap and waved her prayers above her food. Buddha gave it a few good sniffs. “I am a little concerned about there being a big earthquake, though; my mother is actually very worried and she keeps telling me to prepare. I mean, I did predict 911 when I lived in New York,” she said and then put her bowl down on the large square wooden table that the three couches surrounded. “You’re not from California, are you?” I said, knowing that most Californians don’t really trip on earthquakes; even though they are scary, you somehow get used to the idea. “No, my mother lives in Oregon and she is the one that is worried. I mean, I am too, but it’s not like when 911 happened,” she went on.

“When I worked in New York, I was just a few blocks uptown from the Trade Center. I had been having dreams about planes crashing for…I don’t know, say three months, and I would tell my friends, but they all thought I was crazy.”  She looked at us both sincerely. Yeah, it’s not like you get to be the town crier. “The Al-Qaeda are coming, the Al-Qaeda are coming!” I thought to myself. “No one believed me even though I did predict it. And I didn’t mean to scare you; I don’t have that same feeling about the earthquake, I would tell you. Even though I do get premonitions, this isn’t like that,” she admitted. “Maybe you should give us your card, just in case?” my husband said. We all laughed and then paused for a moment. I don’t think she had a card.

Just then a friend from our dance community appeared, which was a welcome surprise. Long story short, she was in from NY, and even though we had already had a visit and got to see her at dance just a few hours earlier, we had missed what we thought was our last opportunity to say goodbye. I flashed back to my “moment of insight” at the stoplight when I had the sudden inspiration to come here instead of the other restaurant, loving the idea that she had sent me a telepathic message addressed to my highest self, who had obviously intervened allowing for this serendipitous moment to occur. In this same moment I also recollected why I was so clearly intrigued by the nun/Swami/almost Parmahansa. Which is the very same reason I am ssssssupremely interested in those things that lean so very, very far out the left! I love the feeling of being free to be however you like, inventing a life in the world of all possibility rather than in the confines of what is acceptable or expected. I love being part of conversation that is a relative circle, fantastic and colorful, and having no agenda or expectation.

“How fun, see, we didn’t need to do anything, we found each other without even trying! Come here and let me hug you and give you a proper goodbye then. Ohhhhh!“ We both squealed and held onto each other. The nun ate her food while she and Buddha watched us exchange pleasantries, patiently waiting for her turn to talk again when our fellow dancer left. “That’s our friend from dance,” I said, still smiling and loving how ever-present and magical life is when I let it be. “What dance?” she asked. We explained a little about our dance community and how much we loved it, and that we had many friends there. “Oh yes, I danced today too. I didn’t see you there, maybe you took the earlier class?” she said, with the same easy enthusiasm she had maintained throughout. “Yeah, we did the early class,” my husband said, “We like that one.” “Uh huh, I am a dancer too; in fact, I used to be a ballerina.” she said. Wow, a Parmahansa-ballerina I thought, which conjured a very interesting visual.

“So, do you have hair under that hat?” I asked, knowing many monks or nuns shave as part of their religious dictate. She unflinchingly slipped her hat right off, exposing a two-week growth on her otherwise bald head. “We don’t have to shave after we become Swamis, or wear robes.” she added. I couldn’t help but wonder what else nuns could and could not do. “I just keep it off because it helps me hold space for other women and all that having hair represents. You know I used to have gorgeous hair, I mean it was part of my thing, you know, having a great mane. Anyway it’s much easier this way!” “And way less expensive,” my husband added. Truth is, she had a nice face and a great-shaped head; I thought she still looked pretty cute even if she was bald. “So can you have, you know, a boyfriend…go out with guys?” Really I wanted to ask if she could have sex.

She must have figured. “Yes, as a matter of fact after you become a Parmahansa you can take a partner, but they need to be a priest in the same order. I mean, our teaching accepts all religions and sees everyone as being somewhere on the path, but when you’re a teacher you need to partner with someone who is a teacher like I am. Before I became a Buddhist I had really bad luck in that department; anyway, this is a great way of remedying that!” “Yeah, increases your odds, anyway,” my husband threw in for good measure. I was satisfied.

“Can we get the check?” my husband asked. “So have you seen the farm?” asked the nun. “Uhhmm, nope, I have only heard about it. They say it’s pretty cool.” I said. “I used to live on a cattle farm…” she started. Somehow I was struck by the unlikeliness of it all, and like a Saturday Night Live skit rewound the tape and watched it roll in fast-forward: A Parmahansa ballerina, who prophesizes terrorist attacks but not natural disasters, a non-committal vegan who grew up on a cattle farm and passed up a scholarship to Stanford because her mother is chronically paranoid of earthquakes, wears flip flops and organza in the dead of winter, and has a service dog named Buddha.

“Come and visit me at my temple,” she added as we collected ourselves to leave. “You have a temple?” ”Yeah, when I lived in New York people just threw money at me, but here, it’s a different story, but we’re doing okay. I teach classes during the week. Come and see!” She said sincerely. “We might just do that,” I said brimming with delight. My husband and I got up, hugged our new friend goodbye and strolled out to the car (it had stopped raining).

On the drive home, we talked about how fun it would be to create a new lineage/teaching. One where you start out a Lama, so everyone is supremely special, and then over time you get demoted, grow your hair, have sex, etc., and when you have reached enlightenment you become—no one! God, I love California!