I have been thinking about this section since the beginning of coming to my Internet service. I am a very philosophical person, so I am always looking at the meaning behind things.
What should I say about myself? Who am I anyway?
First and foremost I am an eternal soul. I could leave it at that, but the Sanskrit word “ATMA” usually translated as soul, can also mean mind and body. So at this juncture in time our mind (subtle body) and body are important.
The whole online phenomenon is a fascinating example of how much we souls with human bodies are alike (having false egos that want to be appreciated and considered special), yet how the details for our various embodiments are varied.
I think people are incredibly interesting, and that everyone’s story is important. Sharing can be instructive to everyone. Of course, first and foremost we have to learn our own life lessons. Then it will especially have value for others.
The condensed story of my life that follows was first created in this form for “Classmates.com” and then grew on MySpace. It may or may not be of interest to you—-though it obviously is for me. My ego would love you to be interested in me. Perhaps it is a sign of my increasing age that I would tell you sort of my life story, or what I consider its’ value: my spiritual quest. I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and I am interested in making more of a contribution to my bothers and sisters on the “earth plane”.
Certainly we are more than our story. What we are doing today is important. Usually when you ask someone about themselves they will tell you about the type of work they do, or their likes and dislikes, and we have ample opportunity on here to share that.
Yet my point to you, is that “our story” is not ultimately (spiritually) who we are, as interesting as our embodiment may be. And that is the real quest, to understand who we are beyond the VEIL or the physical manifestation of our previously life’s attachments—our bodily vehicle. Our challenge is to be fully present in the world so we can learn our lessons well, seeing the limitations of physical desires, yet focused on making spiritual progress.
Still, I think my story has value in showing how my life has lead me to see my self as a spiritual being and how I try to live my life to foster that understanding, and struggling with the material desires and temptations we all have.
I share my past in a very personal way, so you can better understand how I have come to Krishna. I used to share this story in a college World Religions class, because the professor thought it made a much better presentation, showing how devotees are real people.
Materially, or from the point of view of sociology or psychology, there are many reasons that might be given (externally), for why someone with my background would take up an “eastern religion”. However, from the perspective of Bhagavad-gita, the unsuccessful yogi ( in this case Bhakit-yogi) takes birth in a situation that fosters the continuation of their spiritual path.
Please think about this as you read on, and also think about your own life, and how it may lead you to Krishna and self realization.
How should any of us evaluate our lives? What is good, what is bad? That depends on your beliefs about the meaning of life. If we are an aspiring devotee that changes our considerations of what is good karma or bad karma. Since the goal of life is self or God realization, then whoever is able to take to spiritual life is truly fortunate regardless of his material upbringing.
One of the points of telling my background, which could be construed as impious, is to demonstrate the power of Bhakti in transforming people’s lives. A second point, already spoken about in the Gita verse, is that we can ‘t really engage seriously in Bhakti without some previous connection with in. Looked at from this perspective, my “impious” life growing up, was a way that Krishna allowed me try to fulfill material desires, become frustrated with that endeavor, and to be drawn to a spiritual solution to the problems of life.
Thinking of my life from my current perspective I can see that it wasn’t much to look at materially—and spiritually there wasn’t any hint that I would have any interest. However, as I mentioned, even reverses or apparent negatives can be good if they help our spiritual progress. Through the course of my sufferings and coming to take shelter of guru, Krishna and the devotees, I have changed much on my long journey of life.
I was born in Hollywood, California in June 1950, living first in Culver City, and then in Van Nuys until I was four. I spent my grade school years in San Francisco. My childhood was not a very happy one. I am sure I seemed “normal” enough to people, though it took the wisdom years of life and the knowledge of personal growth to understand my withdrawn nature was life denying, not life affirming. For a long time, even as a devotee, my past– growing up in an abusive alcoholic family–was my identity and my excuse for not being successful.
Since then I have done much inner healing work, coming to the point of love and forgiveness to my parents. In addition my years of chanting and sadhana have affected me with a real change in my heart. I know my parents did the best they could with the resources they had.
The pain I endured growing up I now see as a great asset in so many ways. I am a better person because of it. My past life’s unfinished spirituality placed me in a family in which I would be so unhappy, that I would be drawn to transcendence as the path to happiness.
Growing up in this painful childhood environment caused me to shut down emotionally and to give up my power. I learned that if you speak up, you get a slap, i.e. pain. So I became a people pleaser who was careful not to assert myself much unless it was safe.
At Hoover Junior High and later at Polytechnic High in SF, I one very good friend who was like my brother, and that helped me to experience some good in my life. However, in general I didn’t have many friends. I carried much sadness in my heart, though I was unaware of it till years later. My last year at Poly was pretty much a total waste as I was stoned most of the time and cut classes. I identified with the Hippy movement, and eventually moved to Haight-Ashbury.
By this time, the hippies had mostly moved away, so my girlfriend and I moved to Berkeley. After we split up, I quit college and work, and spent much of my time taking LSD, staying in the Redwoods across the Bay at Muir Woods, and basically reading spiritual books and thinking about the purpose of life. My drug experiences had confirmed my readings that I was a spiritual being, and that my body and mind were not the real me, but a vehicle that carried me, the soul. I also had a number of OBEs or out of body experiences.
Gradually my disillusionment with life brought me to a real spiritual quest to understand the meaning of life and my place in it. Everyday was part of that exciting search. I observed the cycles of life and death in the forest, the sun and moon rising and setting, the changing seasons and the stars
There was something that was causing life to go on in such an orderly way and I was determined to find it. I wasn’t a religious person growing up, but somehow I always believed in God. Now the conditions and timing of my life were right, to remind me of my spiritual path.
Because of my spiritual urgency I wanted to find a teacher of the truth. I wasn’t satisfied with my college education. I considered different spiritual paths by studying many teachings and scriptures. I was especially attracted to the Eastern teachings, and I wanted to become a sage or “superior man”. I gradually gave up most of my possessions and began sleeping on the floor. My life at that time was a testimonial of the power of “simple living and high thinking” mixed with my past lives of spiritual practice.
When I first met the devotees during this time, I had the sense that I would become like them. I began visiting the Berkeley Temple regularly and reading Bhagavad-gita. That whole experience was very familiar to me, like dejavu, and I knew I had been a part of this path in other lives. I felt totally at home here, whereas I felt very disconnected to the “regular” world. I soon moved into the Temple with my roommate. We were both initiated by Shrila Prabhupada in August 1970.
I lived in the in the ashrama for about 15 years, traveling to India, the Far East and Australia as a pujari (priest who worships Temple Deities) and a cook, to fill different emergencies. I had many adventures as well as trails and tests which I will recount later.
Then I decided to marry and develop an occupation. It was a very difficult transition as there were no mentors or elders to show me the way. I seemed on my own, though Prabhupada and Krishna were always there helping me, and guiding me when I would listen.
Though I gained a spiritual foundation for my life living in the ashrama, I realized that I needed to work on my emotional/psychological health to become a more balanced person. We could call this “horizontal” development, as contrasted from “vertical” development which means to make progress toward our eternal identity and relationship with God. Although certainly horizontal development can be important in one’s spiritual progress, just being a materially balanced person doesn’t mean one has any interest or standing in spirituality.
My horizontal and vertical work continue.
I have training in many healing modalities. At present I work with my wife who is a LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) in couples therapy and in putting on workshops with personal growth themes for those on the path of Bhakti yoga.
The real healing comes from PURE spiritual practice (primarily PURE chanting and associating with saintly persons), to awaken our eternal nature as servants of God. Counseling and healing methods can be helpful in revealing anarthas (unhealthy ways of conditioned thinking) that can impede our spiritual progress. Whatever can help us in our spiritual life should be accepted. In any case all healing comes from God. We are only instruments.
Four years ago, we moved to a very rural northern North Carolina area where we live among devotee friends who share our spiritual values, some of whom are also healers.
My best guess is that I am in the last third of my life, so I teach what I have learned from my personal growth work and from practicing bhakti-yoga for almost 4 decades. In some cultures 60 is the natural age of an elder, so I am in transition to that stage of life. In that sense I have to grow up and really put into practice what I have learned, and give up my stubborn (and favorite) attachments. The older I get the more my body is a good teacher that the body is not the real means of enjoyment and satisfaction.
I find inspiration from all sincere seekers of the Truth, who are open minded and non-fanatical.
Fanaticism, whether political, ethnic, racial or religious is the real enemy of the world. Fanaticism means intolerance, breads close mindedness, non-thinking, negative stereotyping, which says to the world that “my way is the only way”. I would say that this attitude is the root cause of most of the upheavals in the world.
I enjoy talking about spiritual/psychological topics, so I would love to hear from you. How has your life directed you to spiritual goals?
(I would like to make a note here that while psychedelic drugs are part of my story, I certainly don’t advocate that path. Though some people like myself went on to real spiritual practices, I saw others who were permanently damaged or “burned out”. I did lose a lot of brain cells in my estimation. Still Krishna is kind, and I feel I was saved in so many ways from the harsher fates I observed. Krishna is expert at using everything that happens to help us wake up.)