The following sketches are all true accounts of experiences I've had over the course of my spiritual journey. My intent in sharing them is not to impress - as the airing of my various follies will probably attest - but to inspire and encourage you to "keep on" with your own journey and meditation practice. I hope you will find them entertaining as well. ~ J.M.
1. Initiation: My Very First (seemingly unsuccessful) Meditation
2. The Training of a Reluctant Meditation Teacher
3. Blissing Out in the Light
4. High on Mount Cuchama
5. The Night I Met God
6. Synchronicity on Steroids
Sketch 1 ~ Initiation: My Very First (seemingly unsuccessful) Meditation
It was 4th of July weekend, 1966, and after attending a meditation lecture on the UCLA campus, I had signed up to receive my personal mantra and learn how to meditate. The lecturer - who seemed extremely peaceful - had said it would change my life in all sorts of wonderful ways and I was looking forward to it with high expectations. He had advised those of us who had signed up to remain free of any mind altering substances - including alcohol - for two weeks, which I did, up until the night before my "initiation." But there was a beach party at Malibu that night, and as I recall, I had a few cups of wine.
The morning after, I showed up at the meditation center a little hungover, but considering I was 18 and it was the 60s, it could have been worse. The teacher took me into a small room with incense and candles burning, and fruit and flowers decorating the small alter. As we sat there in front of the alter, he did a little ceremony in Sanskrit, offering up the fruit and flowers I had brought as part of the initiation. When he finished, he gave me my mantra and told me how to use it.
Expecting something profound to happen, I began repeating the mantra in the prescribed manner. After a minute or so, nothing... just a bunch of thoughts. The teacher asked me what I was experiencing. I told him nothing but thoughts, and he said it's fine, and to just keep meditating. Another couple minutes, nothing... just more thoughts. I was starting to feel a little dissappointed. The teacher asked again. I told him the same thing again. He said it's ok again... just continue. A couple more minutes, nothing but thoughts... lots of thoughts! By now I was starting to feel very dissappointed and wondering if this was ever going to work. The teacher said it's fine... not to worry... blah blah blah. But I was beginning to get annoyed, with him and the whole thing.
It went on like this for about 15 minutes... mind all over the map... zillions of thoughts... dissappointment, frustration, etc. When he finally brought me out, I told him it didn't work. Again he said not to worry, it's fine, and to come back in a couple of days for a follow-up. I didn't think it was fine! I left feeling extremely dissappointed. But as soon as I got in my car to leave and drive to work, this unbelievably great feeling came over me! I was suddenly filled with what I can only describe as extreme joy or bliss. As I drove away I began grinning and couldn't stop.
When I got to work I still felt all blissful inside, and was probably still grinning like an idiot. My summer job was making sandwiches at a local beach club grill, and 4th of July was the busiest weekend of the year. As I began working, I felt totally energized, and the work was flowing, easy, even fun. I had never experienced being in "the zone" like that. Was it my "unsuccessful" meditation that catalyzed all this? It had to have been. There was no other reasonable explanation.
Thus I learned right out of the gate that there is no such thing as an unsuccessful meditation. That even when it seems like absolutely nothing is happening, something is happening... something very profound and valuable. Before long, my meditations became more enjoyable, and as the teacher promised, it changed my life in all sorts of wonderful ways.
Sketch 2 ~ The Training of a Reluctant Meditation Teacher
It wasn't my plan to become a meditation teacher, but apparently the Universe had other ideas. It was 1972, and I was living in Humboldt County in northern California. Back then, for several weeks each summer, Cal State Humboldt campus became home to a conference of about a thousand meditators. The meditators would spend most of their time meditating, watching course-related videos, and attending lectures by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the teacher who brought Transcendental Meditation from India to the west.
To make some extra money and gain entree to the lectures, I took a job driving meditators who were staying off-campus to and from the conference. Among my passengers was a woman named Janet, a very outgoing and assertive individual, who adopted me as a friend. We would go to lectures together, where she always managed to get us seats down front, and I also recall some pleasant hikes we took in Humboldt County's magnificent Redwoods.
At the time, I had been meditating for about six years, and was feeling the urge to get in some extended meditation time. The next available opportunity for a meditation retreat was an intensive teacher training course being held in southern Spain. I didn't have the funds to attend the course, and to be honest, neither did I have a desire to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. However, it just so happened that Janet was one of the head coordinators of the teacher training courses, and Janet decided that I was going to that course.
The course was divided into three separate 10 week training sessions, and she arranged it so that I could work in the kitchen for the first two sessions in order to cover the tuition for the third. Despite my lack of interest in becoming a TM teacher, it was a no-brainer. I would go to the course, work for 20 weeks, and then get in 10 weeks of serious meditation time.
I hadn't considered the fact that I didn't have the means to cover my travel expenses. But as "luck" would have it, I received a small inheritance, just in time and just enough to cover a flight on Icelandic Airways and the rest of my traveling expenses.
So along with Peg - my girlfriend at the time who was also taking the course - I flew to Luxembourg, and then took the train south through the picturesque countryside of France and Spain to the city of Sevilla. From there, we took a bus to La Antilla, the small fishing and resort village where the course was being held, located on Spain's southern coast, west of Gibralter and just east of the Portuguese border.
When we arrived in La Antilla, we were assigned to our villas... comfortable tile and stucco bungalows fronting on the beach and the vast Atlantic. Maharishi was not a proponent of spiritual austerities, and I was definitely okay with that. I began my 20 week career as head dishwasher of the course cocina, and since Maharishi's nightly lectures were open to everyone at the course - all 2000 or so meditators from every country imaginable - I would go to the lectures after the 2000 or so dinner dishes were done.
Despite my intention to not spend any time learning the teaching material, my attendee friends and my fellow kitchen workers all kept saying, "Since you're here, you might as well learn the material. You just never know." So I gave in and studied a little bit every day, and by the time I finished my stint in the kitchen and started the actual course, I was already pretty familiar with the material. But it was still not my plan to go ahead with the teacher certification.
During the course, the days blended nicely into one another... get up, meditate, do some yoga, eat breakfast, meditate some more, do more yoga, meditate, eat lunch, walk on the beach, study, meditate, do more yoga, meditate, meditate some more, eat dinner, go to the lecture. It was a blissful ten weeks.
Finally it came time for Maharishi to make us official meditation teachers. They had pitched a huge royal blue tent on the beach for the occasion. All the trainees would go into the tent and perform the ceremony used in initiations called a "puja," which is chanted in Sanskrit while fruit and flowers are being offered up in gratitude to the lineage of enlightened sages who have handed down the teachings from ancient times to the present. It's a very peaceful and uplifting little ceremony.
I had learned all the material, passed all the tests, and believe it or not, when I walked into that tent for the final phase, I was still undecided about becoming a teacher. To understand my ambivalent mind-set, it may help to know that I was only 25, was very much of a rebel with regard to organizations, and meditating virtually all day every day for ten weeks tends to make one a bit wacky. Many spiritual traditions have names for this phenomenon. In the TM organization it was generally referred to as "unstressing your brains out."
So I'm standing there in a big blue tent on the beach in southern Spain, performing a Sanskrit ceremony, part of me feeling very elevated and peaceful... another part struggling to decide my oh so important future. The ceremony finished and it was time to get the mantras and the official certification from Maharishi. I had decided. I turned and began to walk out.
But fate had decided otherwise. It had rained heavily the previous night and there were scattered puddles on the floor. I was barefoot, and after a step or two toward the exit, I stepped right in one of the puddles. The water immediately snapped me back to my senses. I had come all this way... of course I was going to go through with it! I got the mantras and Maharishi's seal of approval, and - thanks to a well-placed puddle - stepped into my calling as a meditation teacher.
For the record, the wackiness waned, and I managed to spend a few years teaching within the TM organization before cutting the cord and becoming an independent meditation teacher. You can draw your own conclusions from this story, but to me, in retrospect, it was a major lesson about trusting the Universe's extraordinary capacity to orchestrate the unfolding of our destiny. My thanks to Janet for the role she played in that process.
Sketch 3 ~ Blissing Out in the Light
It was a long cold winter in Eugene that year. The year was 1970, I was 22 and living in a communal household in Eugene, Oregon with about a half dozen other "flower children." I had decided to sleep in the front room that night because my room in the back of the house had no heat or insulation and the front room offered a nice toasty fireplace. Whereas the upside of sleeping in the front room was the warmth, the downside was that I had a mad crush on a girl in the next room, and she was with her boyfriend that night having way too much fun.
I was lying on my back trying to fall asleep, feeling what you would expect a post-adolescent guy to be feeling in that situation... restlessness, frustration, jealousy, etc. As I lay there, wrestling with these feelings, the bottled up energy and emotions kept building, becoming more and more intense, until suddenly, all that energy broke through, rushing upward through my body. As the energy surged through me, I experienced my entire being as light... or more accurately, as infinitesimal particles of light darting around in infinitesimal spaces of darkness. My eyes were closed, so I couldn't see where I was, but it felt like I was literally off the ground, floating slowly and gently in for a landing.
The particles of light were vibrating, and their vibration was clearly creating the continuous sound of "aauummm." Inseparable from this vibration was the intense feeling of bliss and the experience of being one with the entire cosmos which was nothing but conscious blissful vibrating light.
After a while - I'm not certain how long - my landing was complete and I was "solid" again... but the turmoil had dissolved in the light, and I drifted peacefully off to sleep.
This experience has recurred several times over the years - sans the angst - during meditation or when falling asleep. Because that blissful light is the substance which comprises our being, experiences like this can happen to anyone at any time, although I believe a regular meditation practice predisposes us to such events. And for those of you who are romantically inclined... yes I did end up in a relationship with the girl in the next room.
Sketch 4 ~ High on Mount Cuchama: Close Encounter with My Higher Self
It was the spring of 1986 and a friend was showing me around the gigantic library in his new home. The library filled an entire large room. As I perused his amazing collection of books, one title jumped out at me... a book on Mount Cuchama by anthropologist and Eastern studies scholar, Dr. Walter Evans-Wentz. My friend graciously loaned me the book in which Evans-Wentz wrote of the lore and power of this mountain which sits on the California-Baja border.
For ages, Cuchama has been considered a holy mountain by the area's Native American inhabitants, so much so that it was - and quite possibly still is - the location used for their vision-quests.
Upon reading the book, I discovered it was not too far from the route I would be taking for a forthcoming trip. I would be heading from LA to Tempe, AZ on a journey to teach a series of workshops on meditation and spiritual awakening, and Cuchama was situated just a ways south of the Interstate.
My plan was to cover most of the major Southwest cities - Phoenix/Tempe, Tucson, Santa Fe, Austin and San Antonio - setting up and promoting the workshops as I went, and I was feeling a bit apprehensive about how this endeavor would work out. So, inspired by the book, I decided a little retreat on Mount Cuchama would be the perfect thing to get my head straight and get psyched up for the task at hand.
I headed east from LA on a beautiful spring day, planning to make it to Cuchama by late afternoon. However, in my enthusiasm to get going, I had neglected to check my car's map before leaving, and as I drove toward the general area of the mountain, I discovered that there was no Mount Cuchama anywhere on this particular map. Uh-oh! Driving in what seemed to be the right general direction, I picked up a hitchhiker, told him about the mountain I was seeking, and asked if he was familiar with it. "You must mean Mt. Tecate," he said. "That's what the locals call it... all but the Native Americans, that is." And sure enough, there it was on my map.
It was very late in the afternoon when I arrived at the little border town of Tecate and went into the post office to ask for directions to the mountain. The woman in the post office simply pointed out the front window. "What?" I asked. "It's in that direction?" "No," she said. "There it is." "Where?" I asked, not seeing any majestic looking mountains in the direction she was pointing. "There," she said, with a tone that conveyed an unspoken, "Duh, gringo!" I looked again, and there was a scrub covered hill - albeit a fairly large hill - directly across the street.
As I drove up the mountain, it proved to be quite a bit larger than it had first appeared. Still, it was hardly a Shasta or Everest. The terrain was mostly long, golden-brown grass mixed with scattered scrub brush, typical of that which covers California's hills during the dry season. About two thirds of the way up I came to a locked gate and a sign saying "No driving beyond this point." I had arrived at my camping spot. I was driving a small pickup with a camper on the back, so I simply pulled off to the side of the road and was ready to settle in for a few days.
I spent 4 or 5 days on the mountain, meditating a little more than usual, but nothing too extreme, going over my workshop notes, and just kicking back. I had no particular expectations. On the last day, I was sitting in my truck when the forest ranger - a middle aged man who looked to be part Hispanic and part Native American - drove up.
He had passed by everyday previously, opening the gate, driving up the mountain, returning about an hour later, and driving back down. On each of the previous days he made no visible acknowledgement of me whatsoever, but on this particular day, he stopped next to my truck for a moment, and looking at me briefly, he smiled slightly and nodded before driving on. It may have been my imagination (having read most of Castaneda's books) but somehow he had a slightly enigmatic, knowing look when he did this. I'll never really know, but to this day I can't help but wonder if it wasn't something he conveyed in that brief encounter that triggered what transpired next.
I was sitting on a rock, just musing and enjoying the view, when all of a sudden my consciousness expanded beyond my small ego-self and its mundane concerns. It was as though I was literally larger than my body-mind in a non-physical way, and the package which I generally identify as "my self" was just a small part of me. I somehow knew that my consciousness had been elevated into a union with my Higher Self.
From this elevated vista I felt a deep certainty that everything was unfolding with absolute perfection, and knew beyond a doubt that I would receive all the support I would need on my journey. I felt like a parent to my anxious little ego-self, and kept assuring it that all was well. As this was occurring inwardly, outwardly I was bounding from rock to rock, laughing exuberantly from the elation I was feeling, and at the folly of my worry, doubt and trivial concerns.
The union with my Higher Self lasted about an hour, maybe two... it's hard to say, as I had lost all sense of time. When the full intensity of the experience subsided, I still felt extremely elevated and energized, totally psyched, and confident that the workshops would go well. They did, in fact, go remarkably well, and there seemed to be a strong supportive presence with me throughout the entire journey.
Sketch 5 ~ The Night I Met God
Among the many situations I've encountered on my journey, one that stands out as possibly the most absurd - and entertaining - is the night I met God - aka Barry. Early one evening, quite a few years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in a little town in northern California, when a woman asked if she could join me. A little ways into the conversation, she invited me to a gathering taking place that evening at which her spiritual teacher would be giving a talk. Always interested in keeping up with who is teaching what, I agreed, and we headed for the meeting.
The gathering was in a beautiful home in one of California's most upscale communities. The meeting room was very posh and had huge picture windows overlooking San Francisco Bay. We found some comfortable cushions on the white shag carpet, and the large room began filling up with what appeared to be bright, professional people of various ages. Everyone seemed familiar with one another, and it became clear that all these people were the teacher's followers and not just other drop-ins like myself.
When everyone was situated, in walked Barry - a man who appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s, average looking, medium build, etc. After sitting and greeting everyone, he began his talk. It was clear that he was an intelligent individual, and from his terminology he seemed to have a background in psychology as well as spiritual studies.
Before long he got to the crux of it. Put simply, he was God... not the son of God; not the messiah; not a prophet; not an avatar; but the one and only Supreme Being. This was not in the spirit of "we're all God - all divine beings." It was clearly, "I'm God and you're not." What was he doing in northern California? He explained that he had come to enlighten those who were ready. And went on to say that things were about to get cataclysmic on our planet, (this was in the late 1980s or early 90s) and those chosen to be in his inner circle - i.e. the small, select group of followers there in the room - would be safe and comfortable when it all came down.
Needless to say, my internal "bogusometer" was off the charts, transmitting a signal which my brain basically translated as "You've gotta be kidding!" I found it mostly humorous, but somewhat unsettling and truly bewildering that all these seemingly intelligent people were enthusiastically nodding in confirmation, obviously buying into Barry's God story.
Throughout the talk, I politely held my tongue. But afterwards, when speaking with Barry, I asked him in so many words, "What's the deal?" and a few other things like, "Does your mother know that you're God?" He stuck to his story... he was The One, and it must be my good karma that I'm here being given this great opportunity to hang out with him.
So why did all these bright individuals buy into Barry's claims? Where were their bogusometers in the face of such a ludicrous story? I can only speculate that they were ignoring their wiser inner signals because they chose to ignore them... perhaps because they wanted to believe that they were special enough to be chosen as part of God's innermost circle... perhaps because they were spiritually jaded, having been exposed to so many teachings that only the most extreme and colorful claims could stand out and get their attention. What do you think? If you are traveling a spiritual path in the information age, you are likely to encounter some pretty outrageous claims. Therefore, I suggest you learn to trust your own bogusometer.
Sketch 6 ~ Synchronicity on Steroids
Our story begins in 1975 at the foot of beautiful and mystical Mount Shasta. I had spent a few days camping on the mountain on my way from Eugene, Oregon to Los Angeles, and now I was back on the road, hitchhiking south. To pass the time, and stay in a good space, I was singing a mantra designed to attune one to the Divine Feminine. Before long, a Volkswagen van pulled up to give me a ride, and as I climbed in I saw that it was "Zen Jack," one of the regulars from the mountain.
"I'm heading to Berkeley," Jack said, "but first I'm stopping in Sacramento. There's a gathering there tonight of devotees of Anandamayi Ma." Now Anandamayi Ma was a beautiful Indian holy woman, and considered to be one of the purest embodiments of the Divine Feminine ever. So, in light of the mantra I'd been singing, I'm thinking, "Isn't that interesting?"
We headed down Highway 5, and got to Sacramento in a few hours. There, we were warmly greeted by Buddy and Sujan, the couple hosting the gathering. The evening was great... lots of loving people, uplifting mantra chanting, good food, and all around good vibes. When we took off, Buddy invited us to stop by anytime we were in Sacramento. Jack and I then headed to Berkeley, where I crashed for the night and continued my journey to LA the next day.
Fast forward 3 years to 1978. I was living in Hollywood at a friend's photography studio, teaching some and writing songs. A recent meditation retreat had triggered a major creative surge, and songs were just pouring out. It was fun, but I was feeling the need to do something more with the music than just sit around singing it to myself and a few friends. Since my singing voice was - and still is - sorely lacking, performing solo in local clubs was not an option. But there I was, in Hollywood, so I began trying to peddle my songs to music industry publishers. Wow! Talk about an exercise in futility, rejection and outright failure!
Realizing that this endeavor was going nowhere, I started looking for other options. That's when I ran into Bob, who was an acquaintance from high school, mainly through having dated his sister. Bob was a musician as well, and had a decidedly better voice than I, so we talked about putting something together and performing around town. After getting together once or twice to play and see if we meshed musically, Bob called one day to see if I wanted to go to this local club called the Natural Fudge Cafe where they were having an open mic night. We wouldn't be going to play - we weren't anywhere near ready for that - just to get an idea of what was going on in the local music scene.
So we're at the cafe listening to the various musicians get up and do a short set, when the announcer introduces John... "a guy who's come all the way down from Placer County in the Sierra foothills to play a couple of his original tunes." Then up to the mic walked John, who was so nervous he forgot his guitar, and after retrieving it, proceeded to sing his songs with a voice that was incredibly smooth and lilting. I was blown away, and said to Bob, "If I had a voice like that, I'd be putting my songs out there in a big way." We stayed for a few more sets, then left.
Shortly after that night at the Natural Fudge, I was in a bookstore in West LA, thumbing through astrology books. I was an astrologer before becoming a meditation teacher, and although I had continued to do some astrological counseling, it had been relegated to a lesser role in favor of meditation and music.
But I'd been feeling moved to resume my studies and expand my astrological work a bit, and after perusing for a few minutes, I picked up a book by an astrologer who I was unfamiliar with. Upon reading only couple of chapters, his work resonated with me so strongly and deeply that when I discovered he was teaching in Sacramento I decided right then and there to go and study with him.
So after tying up loose ends in LA, I packed up my guitar and all the rest of my worldly possessions, and headed for Sacramento. After a day of hitchhiking, I ended up in Walnut Creek, where the guy who had given me a ride from I-don't-remember-where had generously put me up for the night. The next morning, he dropped me off at the nearest freeway on-ramp on his way to work.
For those of you not familiar with Walnut Creek, it's a medium sized town in the "East Bay," about 25 miles east of Berkeley, i.e. not exactly on the main highway to Sacramento. After a short time, a light blue Volkswagen van pulled over to give me a ride. The driver - who was a guy about my age - asked me where I was going, and I told him Sacramento. "Great, so am I," he said. "Then I'm heading on up to Placerville for my high school reunion." He and I hit it off immediately... lots of common ground and just easy, friendly conversation.
As we drove along and talked, he began to look and sound familiar, so I'm thinking, "Where have I seen this guy before?" After awhile I turned around to check out the back of the van, and noticed his guitar and a few other instruments, and that's when it hit me. "You're the guy from the Natural Fudge!" I said. Astonished, he replied, "You were there that night?!" It had been about a month, and here we were on a minor highway hundreds of miles from Hollywood.
John and I drove along, talking music, meditation, spirituality and such, and after awhile arrived in Sacramento. By that time it felt like we were practically old friends, and since I was a new kid in town, John said, "I'm going to spend the night with some friends. I'm sure they won't mind if you stay there too. Then I'll take you around tomorrow and introduce you to some other folks." So the next day we were off to get me connected around town. The first place we stopped was at the workshop of his friend Buddy, a woodworker and musician. Yes, that's right... the very same Buddy I had met at the gathering 3 years earlier.
After a few more introductions, John left for his reunion, saying he'd be back. And after I got settled into Sacramento, John did indeed show up at my door, as was his (endearing) tendency. Before long, we had put a little band together... he and I and a woman named Beth. And to my great good fortune, both of them had wonderful voices... more than sufficient to overshadow my vocal squawkings. Both of them were writing music as well, and we had an incredibly fun few years together playing our songs around the Sacramento area. Buddy and I also became good friends, and he did the keyboard music for several of my CDs (under his given name, Charles Bardin). Sacramento turned out to be a good place to teach meditation and practice astrology, but as for the aforementioned astrologer, it turned out he was leaving town around the same time I arrived. Consequently, I never got to study with him. But he was, nonetheless, an integral thread in the fabric of this story.
I'm guessing that many of you - or maybe most of you - have had experiences of synchronicity. And maybe you've found, as I have, that they add a great deal of depth and richness to your life. But I believe that their role goes beyond that, and perhaps some of you can relate to this as well. When I find myself in circumstances that feel as though I'm navigating through dense fog, these experiences serve as inspiration and encouragement... vivid reminders that a higher wisdom is guiding me to precisely were I need to be, when I need to be there.
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