Bill Lederer would probably not have gotten along with Nina Gitana.
Where he celebrated life’s physical manifestations, the million million narratives in the world, she strove only to leave them behind. Where he was profane and lusty, she was soft-spoken and chaste. Bill, despite having worked in the rigid hierarchy of the military, believed in hewing your own way through the fray and accepting no one as your master. Nina believed absolutely in egoless devotion and submission to her spiritual master, Kirpal Singh.
I didn’t often get along with her, either.
Those who loved her and knew her better than I did are unlikely to share my perspectives here. But I do not apologize: My memories are what they are; my moments with her were my own; the lessons I took from our relationship are my own.
Nina Gitana — “gypsy,” in Spanish — lived in an old farmhouse in the woods, well off a back road between Worcester and East Calais, Vermont. I first heard about this ascetic mystic from Rick Silberman, a long-time friend who had practiced various forms of meditation and yoga and was at this time exploring the teachings of Kirpal Singh, Nina’s master. Her house served as an ashram for disciples of Singh.
This was in the early 1970s, and in spiritual matters I considered myself to be a “renegade mystic.” My practices took many forms, but one of my most important meditative disciplines was to listen to the “sound current” — more on this to follow — and study the “light current,” the silvery microscopic starfield against the black when you close your eyes.
The sound current was central to Nina’s discipline as well, Rick said.
Also like me, she had an eclectic bent. Back in the 1950s, rumor had it, she had been a member of The Living Theater, the experimental troupe known for vigorously challenging the norms of society and the dramatic art. It caused scandal and controversy because its actors sometimes performed nude; authorities several times closed down their off-off-Broadway stages in New York.
To me, Nina’s association with such an outfit suggested a radical, bohemian outlook, a willingness to take risks.
I liked people who took risks.
She was also said to have hung out with Anais Nin, now well-known for her astonishingly detailed, intimate, and explicit journals and her relationship with writer Henry Miller. In one of her journal entries, Nin apparently wrote “Nina is in love with Manfried.” Whatever Nin intended, Nina’s disciples took this as allegory: Nina is in love with Man Freed.
I have always been in favor of Man Freed, too.
I had read Nin’s journals and Henry Miller’s writings, and this association further intrigued me. So I readily agreed when Rick said he’d like to introduce us. He drove me through the winding back roads to Nina’s house and presented us to each other.
Rick was probably appalled at what happened. From the moment we met, she and I did “dharma battle” — a conflict of beliefs and practices, a disagreement as to (spiritual) duties and values. We would have many such battles, and some astonishing moments of accord, at future meetings.
I didn’t accept her belief system. But as Ouspensky did with Gurdjieff, I witnessed miracles in her vicinity. She was inarguably, as Carlos Castaneda would have said, “A person of power.”