Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from a book-in-progress.
All of us can recall one or more pivotal moments in our lives when we’ve made choices that dramatically altered the rest of our lives. Most often we are not fully aware of how we make such choices and the profound implications they will create for our future. The full significance of such choices becomes more apparent only in hindsight.
Such a moment occurred for me on the Greek island of Crete, in the fall of 1971. I was a very young man on his first epic journey to wherever it would lead him. I had spent almost two months in Europe doing the usual and customary rucksack tour of the cultural and aesthetic icons of Western civilization, staying in campgrounds, hostels and cheap hotels. Then, I was on the island of Crete, where an old woman had just waved my traveling companion and me over to her small house from the hot, dusty road when we failed to thumb a ride before dark. She spoke no English, but the kindness she displayed was easily communicated. She made us a hot meal and offered us a place to sleep. We were lovingly sent off the next morning with a bag of food, like we were her departing grandchildren. It was a magic time for me, a time of exploration and youthful freedom.
At face value, my choices were simple: Go south to see exotic North Africa, or proceed east to India to see the land of yoga and spirituality. Also in India lived a guru that my friend Carol had met during his tour of the U.S. the past year, but that was an afterthought, as I didn’t like the idea of a guru. Yet during my wanderings in Europe, I had encountered at least three different sets of people who mentioned this same ashram in India, the home of Swami Muktananda. They all had described him as fierce. I didn’t like fierce either, so no way did I want to meet a fierce guru.
Before my travels, I was a näive college kid from the Midwest who had begun to have his eyes pried open and his mind expanded by a liberal arts education and by brief encounters of the psychedelic kind (I swear I didn’t inhale or swallow). After graduating, I moved to Berkeley, Calif., the hotbed of political activism, flower children and just plain craziness. Much to my parents chagrin, I had relinquished a hard-earned position in medical school in favor of what, I didn’t exactly know, but a strong internal message from beyond the fear and intimidation of a rigorous medical education said that wasn’t my path at that time. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I would listen to that deeper voice that often ran countercurrent to conventional wisdom, though I now believe the phrase "conventional wisdom" is often an oxymoron. And because of my frequent unconventional choices, they usually have been accompanied by confusion and emotional distress.
That mysterious voice quietly spoke to me again on Crete through the pages of Aldous Huxley’s Island, a novel about a utopian society based on spiritual ideals. I felt the sensation of freedom, harmony and joyfulness found living together in a community bonded with the recognition and gratefulness of sacred presence. It touched a very deep place inside of me, and I wanted to live in that way. As I closed the back cover of that book, my fate was sealed: It was on to India.
I have come to identify that voice as intuition or an inner knowing. Though I have used that capacity often in my life, it wasn’t until reaching middle age that I began to more consciously cultivate my intuition as a spiritual practice. My intuition has become more accessible as I strike a balance with my mental chatter and emotional clamor, which like an overgrowth of weeds had frequently dominated my inner landscape. This is a struggle we are all familiar with: How do I pay attention so I can hear that little voice, and how do I know when, or even if, I can trust it? And, how do I muster the complementary courage to follow the direction it points, especially when it bucks the trends of conventional thinking?
I journeyed overland through the Islamic world that is now, unfortunately, impassable for Westerners, and ultimately made my way through India to Bombay. I simultaneously felt a curious pull and encountered a strong resistance to visit this guru of Ganeshpuri, a small village about 50 miles away.
Some small change
Another event shaped the trajectory on which I was being propelled, and in retrospect is obvious. I was walking down a busy Bombay street when a beggar accosted me for money. I gave him some small change, but he continued to ask for more. This was an everyday occurrence in India, one that I had become somewhat accustomed to, so I said firmly, "Jau tum," the Hindi phrase meaning, "Go away!" Usually, saying that phrase two or three times emphatically, with a firm hand motion and continuing to walk away did the job. But this guy wasn’t taking no for an answer. He pursued me doggedly and I began to get frustrated and angry. Finally, I stopped, faced him, and started yelling and even motioned to hit him.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere behind me, a vaguely familiar voice said, "Hi Larry!" Somewhat stunned, I turned around to see Vernon, the very man with whom I began my journey earlier that summer. We had hitchhiked together from Berkeley to Bloomington, Ind. I was on my way to NYC for my departure to Europe, and Vernon was returning to grad school. Now, he was standing there halfway across the planet, on a street in Bombay telling me that he and Carol, our friend in common, had arrived at the Ganeshpuri ashram two weeks prior. I had not received the letter informing me of their journey.
Then I remembered the beggar, turned around and realized he had vanished! What an incredible coincidence to meet Vernon that way – or was it?
The next day I traveled with Vernon to the ashram and was really turned off by the scene there. I was ready to leave, but Carol and Vernon urged me to stay longer and give it a chance. I did, and stayed for a year and a half. I "studied" with Muktananda for nine years. It was a profound spiritual awakening and a life-changing experience for me that in some inexplicable way was influenced by a series of apparently random, unconnected events, including an encounter with a beggar. Yet in retrospect, it’s clear to me I was being called to India and to that teacher.
That little voice
Callings in life are received via that little voice that speaks through the silence of our mind and the equanimity of our heart. That voice points to portals of opportunity that open to us. It may speak through feelings or images instead of words. It may appear in waking or dreamtime. Important opportunities are missed when we cannot hear our inner voice. Following my intuition, I’ve met many remarkable guides on my journey, and have been extremely fortunate in receiving direct transmission teaching from two extraordinary wisdom teachers.
Nine years ago, my intuition led me to my second teacher, whom I’ve cryptically called don Pablo, respecting his desire to maintain a low profile. The mentoring of don Pablo has taught me effective skills and tools for tending the inner garden and cultivating mental and emotional clarity that allows intuition to be heard. This is the mode of the poet or mystic that is not well supported by modern life, but is supported by a sacred connection to a wisdom tradition, and to the natural and spiritual realms.
I have not been fortunate enough to be one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their life. So when I hear about visualization techniques to create my vision, I can’t connect well because my life rarely works that way. I don’t often know in advance what is next for me. Such is also the case for many people I encounter. So how does one hold a strong vision to manifest a goal or desire when they aren’t clear about what they want?
In addition, or as an alternative to creating from a bigger picture, we can look for cues in what is happening in our life and act from a "gut feeling" of what calls to us and feels appropriate in the moment. This is a state of surrender or living in the now. The common phrase "gut feeling" is an acknowledgment that instinct and intuition are felt in the body. They are a kinesthetic experience. We can perceive and act from a total body awareness integrating instinct, intuition and cognition. Knowledge or information held only in the mind is subject to the whimsies of attention and recall. Knowledge held in the body, like riding a bicycle or driving a car, is more stable and accessible with the proper focus, especially when we are grounded in the natural and spiritual worlds. An earth-spirit connection is the essence of the esoteric spiritual practice taught to me by don Pablo, and is what supports a sacred experience in the midst of everyday life.
The voice of inner knowing is mysteriously linked to a greater picture. Like the pure creative process, we may feel the inspiration of the present moment paint its brushstrokes on the canvas of our life, but we won’t fully see the completed portrait until it’s finished, and for a spiritual seeker it is never finished.
Modern humans have become too mind dominant and deficient in their intuitive abilities, in my opinion. We live complicated lives with over-stimulated minds and do not maintain a strong earth-spirit connection, and therefore become disconnected from deeper levels of knowing. Living in the now with total body awareness is not an easy thing for us to recapture. It requires a great deal of struggle and courage, but for me the simplicity of total body awareness is a more authentic way of being and living in a sacred context.