When I was 15 or 16 I felt a strong interest in learning about meditation. I looked for books about it, but didn’t find anything really satisfying. It was around this time that I read the Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, both of which connected with me in a profound way.
In college I majored in Anthropology. During one of the classes, we had to watch a film about Buddhist monks in Thailand. I remember thinking, “How lucky those people are to be living that kind of life.” I imagined that everyone felt a yearning to renounce everything like this, but that most people simply felt it was not possible and resigned themselves to living in the way everyone else did. Years later, it seems evident to me that most people probably don’t feel quite this way.
I also remember entertaining thoughts of becoming a rabbi, but not very seriously because I never really enjoyed going to services. I did like the few times friends of mine took me to their churches. I suppose if I had had to go there all the time I would have felt the same way as about synagogue. The issue is that for me, temple seemed like more of a social ritual or requirement. Again, with more perspective, I know now that for some people, organized religion can be a very powerful and important spiritual force in their lives.
In any case, during college I continued in what I might call my spiritual quest. I attended yoga classes and met the guru who was at the center of the organization that offered them. He taught me a simple meditation which I practiced for a number of months. In one of the yoga meetings, the instructor commented that “when you meet your true guru, you will know beyond any doubt.” That stuck with me. I didn’t feel like this was my guru, although I deeply respected and appreciate what he taught me. About this time, I remember praying in my dorm room at night, “Please God send me my guru, because I cannot live in this world without him or her.” I felt I simply could not go on without a genuine spiritual connection.
Time passed and before too long a Spanish professor of mine took some interest in some essays I wrote in Spanish class about the books of Carlos Castaneda, whose books I enjoyed (incidentally, upon the recommendation of my father when I was only 10 or 11). She began speaking with me about her spiritual path (the path of Cafh). What touched me more than the concepts she (or the magazines that she gave me) expressed was the gesture she made. She showed an interest in me, and seemed to recognize and validate something in me which she shared. She invited me to some Cafh meetings held in her apartment. It’s hard to describe, but it was simply the love she and the other people in Cafh showed me, I think, that helped me to see that this was the path for me. Up to then, anytime anyone had spoken to me about spirituality, it had seemed to be with a kind of agenda or surreptitious aim to manipulate me in some way. With my professor and the others in Cafh, there didn’t seem to be any of that. The love seemed genuine and unconditional.
I joined Cafh and after a while my spiritual director (another woman I met later) said that she was finally going to allow me to attend a retreat, because I had been insisting so much. I wasn’t aware that I had ever even broached the subject. I did know that I had been feeling a strong yearning to go somewhere secluded where I could really think about things, and I had been gradually forming a plan to go to a cabin in West Virginia with my girlfriend for a few days. I needed a place where I could be really recollected. I agreed to the retreat with excitement, interest and a sense of adventure. It was held on the property of the Community of Tivoli. The retreat only lasted about three days, but the intense recollection that I experienced there was unusual. In fact, it was so profound that I had what I could only describe as a mystical experience in which I saw myself raised out of my body, and felt the presence of something ultimate and divine which seemed to communicate to me an unconditional love. I felt like I had come into contact with the bedrock of all being, or “that which stands behind everything” as I described it to myself then. I seemed to see all that I could become if I chose to live a life for myself. And what I saw was good: a mature man, happy and successful. But I also became aware that there was another possibility. I felt absolutely no compulsion to choose to renounce to myself totally and completely, and in fact I seemed to be receiving the message that I would be unconditionally loved by the Divine Mother even if chose to live a life in a family, with a career, children, grandchildren, etc. It’s funny; I didn’t receive a direct message like, “Live in the Community.”
But after the retreat was over and we ventured out of the Community again, I remember feeling a kind of homesickness. I felt like I was leaving my home. After the retreat, I couldn’t shake the feeling that what I really wanted to do was live in Community. I struggled with the decision, because it seemed to me irresponsible in a way. I could become a doctor. I could help so many people that way. But for me, even if I had chosen to do that, I knew that for me, it would be akin to giving up the meaning in my life. I experienced many doubts. At one point I felt like I was drowning in a sea of meaninglessness, a sea which would continue for all eternity, and in which the human race had been engaged and would be engaged for ages, unless I chose definitively to renounce to myself and join the Community.
And so I took the plunge. And I have never looked back.
This is a poem I wrote about this period in my life:
In the dimmer days of yesteryear
Did I discern an empty place
I placed my eyes and mind just there
And found no words to fill the space
I found that I was holder true
Of the power to define
What life would form from that pure void
And toward what purpose it would climb
I did not know, to tell the truth,
Which Path was right and which less so
To me the choice was fully mine:
Course for my conscience to bestow.
My heart did suffer and did pine
The grief of ages on me weighed
Was human destiny no more
Than struggles borne, concessions made?
Hope commingled in my heart
With determination strong
And yet, though high my dreams did reach
Did I still doubt and tarry long
Until at last I could not wait,
And though I thought still bonds constrained
I overthrew my mental schemes
And left my deepest dreams unchained.