My father had started me in Aikido classes with the first teacher to bring it from Japan (Shuji Maruyama). Aikido is a form of martial art (judo, karate), but it uses the mind to flow "Ki" energy. So this was my first exposure to Ki and to meditation.
My spiritual curiosity was enlivened by this experience. I would read any books I could find on Buddhism–Zen in particular. I remember reading D.T. Suzuki when I was 13. My young mind couldn't grasp much of it, but I became keenly interested in experiencing something referred to as enlightenment.
I started practicing my own brand of Zen quite intensely. Of course, I didn't have a teacher, so I would take up what practices I could understand from the books I was reading. I spent hours each day bringing my mind to the present moment, always returning to it, again and again, similar to the mindfulness practice of today.
The park was my second home. It was a place to ponder, walk deep into the woods, and perhaps meditate by the stream - classic Zen stuff!
Being an intense seeker at an early age has disadvantages, especially if no one knows you're into such things. Not that I was a loner, I had a lot of friends, but being an only child, I was okay with alone-time.
By the time I was fifteen, I had enough spiritual practice to open my mind to spiritual ideas. Still, my heart was innocent and inexperienced at personal love. As a result, I wasn't well equipped to process a meltdown of the heart.
Enlightenment at fifteen is radical. But, looking behind me now, I would have given back the experience...if I could.
My enlightenment experience was triggered by a breakup from my first true love, a young girl who, for some reason, took a liking to a shy and introverted kid like myself. However, it wasn't meant to be, and the news from her that she had found someone else, well, it was devastating.
I was despondent, hurt, and confused, and was too young to be able to process so much emotion.
Angrily I took off on my bike, pedaling intensely, aimlessly, around the neighborhood with Zen-like, one-pointed attention on the pain of my loss.
Somewhere in the intensity of it, a single insignificant thought pushed its way through my mental distress. A small message from deep within said quietly: "You don't get something from nothing."
I kept pedaling, not noticing it the first time. Then, a few minutes later, I heard again, "You don't get something from nothing." The phrase kept coming up, and it pushed further into my awareness each time. I felt I was being turned inside out, diving into myself at the same time something was emerging out of the deep pain inside me.
I reached the top of a small hill and finally rested at the crosswalk. Again, the thought resounded through me, "You don't get something from nothing."
But this time, something else happened.
Instantly my thought process evaporated. The very mechanism of the mind fell away entirely, and I entered a state of total nothingness, and yet, I knew everything. Yes, EVERYTHING.
I was an empty container holding all knowledge within it.
If I didn't know how to handle the pain of my heart, I really didn't know what to do with this unexpected and radical shift of consciousness.
The state lasted for about a week - go to bed, no thought, wake up again, not a thought.
I tried to tell a friend about what I was experiencing, but he didn't understand it. I certainly couldn't say to my parents, "Oh mom, guess what, I know everything!"
I realized what I had been reading in the books; it was that "enlightenment" experience. It was amazing!
But after about a week of this nothingness state, I began to return to everyday time-based linear thinking again. I was changed now, though. I knew something, something wonderous, an insight into our real nature.
I became a terrible student.
I lost interest in school. The profound truth I experienced is that we are indeed everything. I couldn't go back to what seemed like a painful prehistoric mode of learning things piece by piece. My grades turned from A's, B's, and C's into "F's."
Worse, I started drinking with friends and partying all the time, lost in a world of people who could not understand me.
I was still an intense seeker, studying and pondering and meditating (and drinking), but it all felt shallow, useless.
When I turned 18, I decided to stop drinking and partying. I had been on a course of self-destruction for too long.
I became very ill. I lay on the living room floor, and for three days, my body was in immense pain. I was in anguish and was hallucinating. Finally, a dear friend took me to the hospital, where I discovered that I had just gone through the DTs - or alcohol withdrawal. One of the worst things a person can go through.
I became so angry with God. I remember yelling, "I'm sick of this; I want to know right now - what is the way!!!" Of course, I was really angry with myself for my lack of discipline and ability. I was no Zen master.
The angry tirade went on for days until another quiet, unexpected incident happened.
I saw a flyer about a yoga class one day at my boss's house. Looking for ways to stay sober, a few friends and I decided to take it. This was back in 1974 when yoga was barely known in this country.
After the first class, the teacher said, "If anyone is interested in meditation, I know a woman who studied under an enlightened little old man in India. I will put you in touch with her."
I was the only one who asked about it.
Later that week, I met Grace, a kindly older woman who would introduce me to Babuji, a little-known Spiritual Master from India.
Under his inner guidance, my life was never to be the same.
Story Two: COMING!