What is the sound of 16 yogis stuck in an elevator?

(still listening?)

(hear anything?)

Last month I had the great joy of being in Los Angeles for the launch of Swami Kriyananda’s new book, The New Path, which Barbara has portrayed so beautifully in words and photos in her posts. On Sunday, after we loaded all the books and equipment back into the van, we were invited to a tea at Swami Kriyananda’s hotel in Beverly Hills (on Rodeo Drive, no less!).

We arrived right on time at 5:00, and were greeted in the lobby by a sea of devotees waiting to ride the elevator up to the top floor. There is no stair access from the lobby in this particular hotel, due to security reasons.

The elevator doors finally opened to reveal a few devotees, startled at seeing all of us ready to pack ourselves in. Before I knew it, I was caught up in the first wave of people getting on. I found myself in the middle, being pushed further and further back as we made room for “just one more” and “just one more”.

The door finally closed and the elevator gave a significant groan as we lifted off toward the second floor…slowly….ever so slowly…

With baited breath we watched the floor indicator slowly change as we made our way up to the fifth floor. We finally made it up to the fourth floor when the door opened to let just one more person on. (Why didn’t we all just get off and take the stairs at that point? I’m not sure that there was stair access at up to the floor above, but for some reason, none of us had the thought to try!)

There were now 16 of us, strategically packed in with perhaps a half of an inch of space between us. Needless to say, it was getting rather hot. It was at that point when I finally looked up and saw the maximum occupancy – 12. Or was it even 10?

The elevator closed its door and gave one final effort to lift us up to the next level.

Almost there….almost there….

and then we stopped.

What happened next was truly out of the ordinary. No one panicked. No one screamed. No one started frantically pressing the buttons (although we gave the buttons a healthy dose of prodding, in hopes that it would magically bring our chariot back to life). Finally we pressed the call button, which connected us to the elevator service company nearby. “We’re working on it!” was their repeated reply as we called them every few minutes. We also used our one working cell phone to call our friends downstairs, who then told the reception desk of the hotel. From what I was told, the hotel staff walked over to the elevator, put an ear to the door, and not hearing anguished cries of “LET US OUT!”, simply didn’t believe that there could be anyone trapped within.

So there we were, truly in God’s hands. We had done all that we could think to do, having unscrewed all but one of the ceiling lights, and explored the ceiling for an escape hatch. We settled in to wait it out. I had my new iPod with me, and set it to play Swami Kriyananda chanting AUM. It was barely audible, and we all just relaxed and listened.

Usually a sadhana consists of sitting comfortably with plenty of fresh air, but this sadhana was of a different type. What could we do but go inside, pray to God, and feel his reassurance in our hearts. What an incredible juxtaposition it was, to be in a situation that for some could be considered life threatening, and to tangibly feel God’s hand of peace move throughout the cramped space.

Finally, we could hear the fire trucks arrive – quite a scene on Rodeo Drive! After a few minutes they got the door open, with the elevator just 3 or 4 feet shy of its goal. “Aha! Well there’s your problem!” they said, gazing upon the overpacked tin of sardine devotees. They graciously helped lift us out into the very welcome fresh air of the fifth floor balcony.

We had been in that elevator for 40 minutes, although in situations like that, time seems to take on a very surreal quality. A little dazed, we made our way to the refreshments that tasted ever so heavenly! We all had different initial reactions to the experience (my own delayed reaction waited until we were at the airport an hour later), but I could in no way imagine being stuck on the elevator with a better group of people!

To my dear elevator gurubais, thank you for your exemplary self control, light heartedness, humor, and deep calmness! I, personally, am deeply grateful for the opportunity to test my inner peace in a very real way, while surrounded by cherished and revered gurubais. I can still feel the touch of the Divine Presence that blessed us all that day.

As I said my farewells before leaving for the airport, Devi looked at me, first with deep sympathy, and then said with a twinkle in her eye, “Oh, and David… take the stairs!”

A Place Called Ananda

A blog by disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda