How I discovered meditation

When I graduated from high school in 1966, meditation was the furthest thing from my mind. I had been accepted into Colorado University (CU) in Boulder, Colorado and wanted to finish college, get a good job and get rich. In other words, I wanted to pursue the American Dream.

CU was a poor choice. I came from a conservative community, but at that time, Colorado was ultra conservative. For a few months I had no friends. Then I met a couple of guys I could relate to. They were both from Berkeley, California and were as bemused by everything as I was. The following year, we and a few other friends rented a big house. Everything was fine for a while.

One day a guy rolled up on a Triumph motorbike. He had long hair and seemed cool. He started coming around regularly, but never took us up on an offer of the poor quality marijuana we had. One day we got some peyote. I made a shake and bolted it down quickly. I managed to keep it inside long enough for it to take effect. When I vomited, it looked like I was vomiting stars. Then the guy came on his motorbike and I got such a bad vibe from him, I had to turn my attention to the music.

It turns out he was an undercover FBI agent. When our exams came, about ten police burst into the house with guns drawn. They took us to jail, where we spent a few nights. Fortunately, my roommates’ families were rich and we got a good lawyer. Since they didn’t find any marijuana, they couldn’t make the charges stick, but the university told us they didn’t want us anymore. My counselor recommended the University of California at Santa Cruz to me.

I went back to my old job delivering liquor that summer. It didn’t pay well, but the tips were great. One day I went to our local bookstore to look for something to read. As I walked past the metaphysical alcove, a book caught my eye. It was Autobiography of a Yogi. I wasn’t interested in learning yoga or how to meditate, but the book called me to it. I bought it and read it in two sittings. Then I signed up for the Self Realization Fellowship correspondence course. Within two weeks I was feeling a peace I’d never felt before.

My job at the liquor store no longer appealed to me, so I quit and started working at the bookstore where I’d picked up Autobiography of a Yogi.

I found a wonderful little yellow brick cabin in the Santa Cruz hills. By then I no longer wanted to get rich. I wanted to immerse myself in yoga and meditation. I took courses that interested me rather than courses that would get me a good job. One was about the transcendentalist poets. William Blake and Walt Whitman were my favourites. The other was called Myth and History. Professor Norman O. Brown’s book, Love’s Body, was a best seller. Our only assignment was to read the books on his list and write a journal.

Click image to visit U of California press new edition of the book

By the end of my second quarter, I realized I didn’t want a degree. Professor Brown was my advisor, so I paid him a visit. I told him the only reason I was in university was to avoid the draft. He told me I wouldn’t get drafted.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’ve read your journal. Going to war is not part of your personal myth.”

He turned out to be right. I did nothing to avoid the draft except say “No” when they asked me give a blood sample. I got two more draft notices, but something happened to prevent me from going. Finally, I got a letter saying I would be arrested if I didn’t go to the next one. My number didn’t come up again and I was free.

In the meantime, I divided my time between working at the bookstore from October to May and at a yoga retreat from the end of May to the end of September. I was able to immerse myself in yoga and meditation for two years. Then something happened that made me want to leave the retreat (read Ananda Village: a lesson learned). I traveled overland to India and got a bad case of hepatitis. I returned the following year and spent 9 months hanging around Neem Karoli Baba as much as I could.

When I returned, I moved back to the Ridge and lived a fairly hermetic life for four or five years, but was never able to meditate as deeply as I could before. The hepatitis may have had something to do with it. If not that, maybe it was my karma. A Shiva sadhu in India told me to meditate less and live more. Neem Karoli Baba told me something similar, but it took me a few years to realize they were right. I was not meant to be a solitary hermit.

I’m glad I spent those years meditating, though. It’s fairly easy for me to quiet my mind and I haven’t gotten caught up in the illusion (maya) of life quite as much as I would have if I hadn’t learned to meditate. When I look back, I’m grateful that Yogananda’s book beckoned me. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d probably be selling real estate in the town I grew up in. I like it here in Cambodia and am glad I let fate guide me through life. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been interesting.