It was Christmas, back in 1981, just one hundred and sixteen days before everything changed. I returned from a small family gathering at my mom’s place to my shack by the tracks, a tiny rented house I called home. It was nestled just
out beyond suburbia between the Burlington Northern Railway line that sent noisy freight trains rumbling by several times a day up from the United States, and a cow farm that supplied all the flies to my kitchen during the warm months. There was a steep, grassy hill that rose above the front yard. It carried the traffic up onto the bridge that led over to the wealthy, forested neighborhood of Sunshine Hills, and saw a steady stream of traffic every weekday morning and evening as commuters came and went from their jobs in the city. (My house was eventually torn down to make way for the new overpass when the big highway was laid through Burns Bog just down the road — the largest domed peat bog in the world, and the largest undeveloped urban land mass in North America.)
A couple of weeks before, I’d returned from a short stint in the Rocky Mountains where my old hippy buddy Steve, who had worked his way up into a senior railway position, offered me a job on his team out repairing the tracks near Mount Robson. (He’d been down on the coast to pick up a supply of narcotics. Unluckily, a team of aggressive undercover police officers had barged into my house to search for drugs while he was visiting me, but we had hidden everything so well, they ended up leaving disappointed.) I only lasted a few days this time out in the mountains, catching a bus back home because my toes kept freezing out on the job. I’ll never forget the long walk along the snowy tracks from our siding back to the nearest town, through pristine wilderness. It was safe this time of year, when all the grizzly bears were fast asleep. No other soul around for as far as the eye could see, out over endless white peaks and valleys. Awesome.
The kitchen was now cold and dark when I arrived back with some new socks and a new coffee mug from under my mom’s Christmas tree. I didn’t at first bother looking into my normally empty fridge, my stomach being still full of turkey and mashed potatoes. I had quit my job as a construction laborer in the city the previous month (where we had found the body of a murdered woman in the lane behind the site, first day on the job) and I got into the habit of throwing parties on weekends to buy food for the week with cash from all the refundable bottles that friends left scattered in and around my house. But before I went to bed, I remembered that there was still a bit of orange juice left. I opened the fridge to a scene that could have appeared there from of a fairy tale: It was packed full of every imaginable kind of food and drink! Although I spent the following weeks trying to find out which friends had snuck in with such a generous Christmas surprise, and got several smiles in reply, no one ever told me who exactly was involved. I was so happy to have friends.
A few days later my good fortune subsided again. I was just on my way home late at night in my super cool ’67 Camaro (that another friend had given to me as a present!) when I stopped to wait for someone to make a left turn into a driveway. I happened to glance into the rearview mirror in time to see a car hurtling towards me. I had less than a second to crank my steering wheel to the right and slam on the gas pedal. The rogue driver rear-ended me at full speed. The corner of my front bumper just grazed the back of the car in front of me, and I came to a standstill over on the opposite sidewalk, flames bursting out the back of my once beautiful sports car. To make matters worse, the older brothers of the underage driver who had just destroyed my vehicle showed up threatening me with violence. I eventually got my wreck home, depressed and numbed.
The following week I embarked on an even more tragic adventure, going out to visit a girl who I had a terrible crush on. She liked me too, but I was so shy that I never went to see her. On this Saturday morning I summoned the courage and made my way to her parent’s ranch, where she was expecting me. The event turned out to be a suicidal disaster, as she had also invited her ex-boyfriend and a couple of his buddies. I spent two or three excruciating hours there, trying to be cheerful and nonchalant, before heading back to my shack, feeling like a pimple on the bottom of a black hole.
I had spent almost half of my life — my entire youth — lost in drug and alcohol intoxication and a fog of self-doubt. I had achieved nothing and I saw little or no hope in my dismal future. If there is a God, it is time for You to show up, right now, was the idea that flashed through my darkened mind as I stumbled into the little kitchen, collapsed onto a chair, hung my head down until my long hair touched my shoes, and burst into tears. I picked up my bongo drums and began pummeling them and shouting the lyrics to My Sweet Lord. There was certainly an ocean of potential somewhere in me, waiting to lift me skyward out of my vortex, enabling me to play my part in humanity’s glorious story. I was making a final attempt to reach out to anyone who could help rescue me from this maze of misery.
My heartfelt exhibition was brought to a sudden halt when a branch started whipping against the kitchen window. There had been no wind outside when I walked in the door a few minutes earlier. I stepped over to the portal and looked out into the night. A storm seemed to be raging out there, like the one in my heart, but it dramatically stopped a few seconds later. The feeling that Someone much larger than myself had just been listening to and communicating with me overwhelmed me, and I started to laugh. The new drops that now ran down from my eyes contained sparkles of hope. I went to bed and woke up the next morning with a smile.
Three months later, on a sunny spring morning, Ron (the school friend who had given me his 1967 Chevrolet Camaro) showed up on my doorstep. I thought he was making a rare visit to buy some drugs, but his actual reason was the last thing in the world I would have expected.
Ron very enthusiastically described to me a wonderful experience he had enjoyed a couple of days before, saying that he was sure I would be interested in it. It had to do with a simple, inner happening referred to as self-realization. He had, by chance, met someone who quickly and easily introduced him to an unprecedented way of seeing and feeling oneself. It had nothing to do with extreme emotions or intellectual concepts. He had gone home afterwards clearly feeling, throughout the length and breadth of his body, a perception of reality that had not been available to him just hours before. As he lay awake most of the night, he was amazed to feel subtle perceptions in his nervous system. His heart was happily wide open and sensations in various organs indicated what he knew to be obstructions, the sources of problems in his life. He could feel these complications melting away. From the palms of his hands and the top of his head a gentle cool breeze was flowing out, bringing a sense of intense wellbeing and clarity.
I listened politely to his joyful monologue, but declined his offer to go with him to find out more about this experience for myself, insisting that Sunday was a good day to get drunk and go party at the beach. He left with my vague promise to accompany him on Tuesday evening.
Ron showed up unexpectedly two days later at about six in the evening. He convinced me to get into his car for the half hour drive into the city. It was Tuesday, the twentieth of April, 1982, a day that, like my birthday, will remain precious to me as long as I live. After eight years of trying to meditate, I was about to spontaneously learn how to finally achieve that, my highest goal.
Now, bear in mind that meditation back in 1982 was still an esoteric subject. The word was rarely spoken in reference to a unique and essential state of awareness, and only occasionally seen, mostly on health food store pinboards beside strange, mystical symbols. So when we arrived at an old house in South Vancouver and were led through its basement to a small room that smelled of incense, where several people sat cross-legged with closed eyes on the floor, it all seemed quite appropriate. (Just for the record, this same valuable meditation technique is presently taught — always for free — in corporate offices, high school classrooms and furniture fairs all over the world, and limitlessly through the Internet; and is practiced in the homes of hundreds of thousands of families from every religious background.) The person, a writer and teacher, who showed me how to raise my dormant spiritual energy from the base of my spine to the top of my head, had recently returned from India. He was one of three friends who, five months previously, had been the very first Canadians to learn this precious knowledge and its practical application when a visiting Australian yogini happened to rent a room in their Vancouver apartment.
I felt lighter and happier afterwards, but the initial experience may have been somewhat dulled by the weekend long intoxication binge I had just come down off of. So, when I got home, I turned to my most trustworthy friend, the I Ching, that famous, ancient Chinese oracle whose great value as an accurate elucidator of life’s daily mysteries I had discovered just a few weeks before. When I asked about Sahaja Yoga meditation and its founder, Shri Mataji, I was surprised to read the highest praise I have ever received as an answer from the I Ching texts.
Starting the next morning, I spent twenty minutes, twice a day, sitting on a chair with palms turned upwards and eyes closed, gradually feeling more and more of what my buddy had described to me. To try to ensure that I was really getting the best possible vibrations in my attempts, I placed a photo of Shri Mataji on my desk. Within two weeks I stopped doing drugs and soon moved to a remarkably beautiful island just off the coast, symbolizing my escape from the suffocating cocoon that had enveloped me for so long. I felt like I had suddenly awoken from a nightmare that had slowly turned into my reality. Since the end of my childhood, over a decade before, I had been holding my breath, and now I knew what it was like to breath again.
I spent the first half of that summer waking at sunrise to the sounds of birds and ocean waves, walking in the forests that housed playful deer and squirrels, and basically settling into the new awareness of my true self. But I soon returned to the mainland, got a good job, traveled, met the woman of my dreams and married her. Then I moved to Europe, where, apart from enjoying a life rich in experience in the field of professional arts, I’ve been teaching others how to meditate.
I’m an old man now (heh heh — sounds more profound when I put it like that) and I’ve seen and felt this phenomena changing the world in and around me, and the lives of countless others. It’s not just a sampling of one-of-many-interesting-things-available-out-there. Meditation is an actual, necessary state that has to be lived by all. Thoughtless awareness or alert, mental silence has now been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to improve every aspect of our health and state of mind, bringing us into essential equilibrium.
If there’s one thing that can bring world peace and a permanent end to corruption, it is that. Our devastating individual and collective problems have begun in human beings, and there they will end when we become connected to the Source of happiness within us.
(here’s the longer story …)