MIDNIGHTS WITH THE MYSTIC
A LITTLE GUIDE TO FREEDOM AND BLISS
By CHERYL SIMONE, SADHGURU JAGGI VASUDEV
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Cheryl Simone and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
All rights reserved.
The Seeking: An American Story
I have climbed the highest mountains I have run through the fields ... I have run, I have crawled I have scaled these city walls Only to be with you But I still haven't found What I'm looking for.
From as early as I can remember, I have been a seeker.
I did not know it at the time. I merely thought I was curious. As a child, I could not stand not knowing the answers to what I thought were the most basic questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? How did a tree come out of a seed and a seed come out of the tree? How did something come out of nothing? Later the questions deepened. What happens after we die? Is there a God or a creator? What is the essential nature of my existence? I passionately wanted to unravel all life's secrets.
While religion and science offered explanations to most of the big questions, I was never comforted by these answers. I could never stifle that questioning voice that was longing to know more.
I was raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, a beautiful historic town with gorgeous colonial architecture and where the houses were set back off of the road on big, expansive, luscious, green lawns. It's an affluent town with affluent kids and a progressive, award-winning school system. My father was a successful entrepreneur and businessman; my mother was a homemaker. The Lexington schools were rated among the top in the state, which is one of the major reasons my father moved us there. If you did not want to send your kids away to private boarding schools, then you lived in Lexington. Many Harvard professors, scientists, engineers, and doctors live there. It is a picturesque historical New England town, nice and safe.
My first experience with death came when I was in first grade (prior to moving to Lexington, when we lived in Malden, Massachusetts). I remember that it happened one beautiful, warm, sunny day in the springtime and that the idyllic mood of a new beginning after the long winter was interrupted when the principal of the school came into our room. He gravely announced that a girl in my class had died and was never coming back. I didn't even know what "died" meant. I remember thinking, What does that mean, she died? Where could she have gone? How could she have just gotten sucked out of here like that? How could she possibly be gone forever? The questions ate at me. No one, including my parents (who were supposed to know everything), could answer these questions to my satisfaction.
Somehow, and I have no idea how since it was pretty far from where we lived and outside of the area I was allowed to explore (I was supposed to stay within the range of my mother's very embarrassing loud whistle), I found my way to the dead girl's house. It was a traditional two-story, New England-style, white, clapboardsiding house with black shutters on a large corner lot. I noticed a blue Schwinn girl's bicycle with a basket on the front leaning up against the house and I wondered if it was hers. Both of her parents were home, which surprised me because my dad would never have been home during the day. They were equally surprised to see me, but they welcomed me into the house. After a few minutes of conversation, they showed me into her bedroom. It's a strange feeling to go into the room of a dead person. Her room was painted white and had a pink bedspread and matching pink and white frilly curtains. I looked around at her toys, dolls, games, and stuffed animals neatly placed on the shelves. There were also several stuffed animals and dolls lying against the pillows on her bed. Her closet door was open as if she had just pulled out her dress for school.
As we stood there, I asked her parents every question I could think of. Surely they could offer me some answers about what had happened to her and where she had gone. They were her parents, after all. I don't even remember the specific questions I asked or how they responded. I do that remember they were kind to me and seemed happy to have me there. But the house felt like something huge was missing. It was as if there was a big black hole in it. When I tried to leave, I felt an invisible tug from her parents. They kept coming up with excuses for me to stay, offering me something to eat or drink and asking if I wanted to watch television. I felt so sad for them, but it was starting to get dark and I was about to be in big trouble if I didn't get home. I had not found any answers there, only enormous emptiness, loss, and grief.
The next time I encountered death I was ten years old. My grandfather died. My grandparents lived near us, and because my mission in life at the time was solely to have fun and adventures, I always snuck by or completely avoided their house as my grandfather always had an endless list of errands for me to do. Then he died. I felt terrible thinking about all the times I missed seeing him. Even at ten, I remember thinking that I did not want to live my life in a way that I would be sorry for something I had or had not done. The temporary, ever-changing nature of things was beginning to sink in.
These experiences fueled and intensified my curiosity. I often wondered about death. It did not make me morbid or depressed; it just kept me curious and edgy.
As I aged, I read voraciously. I read philosophy, spirituality, religion, and anything that offered explanations about what happens when we die. Finding answers to life's questions also became entwined with wanting to know how to become more than just an ordinary person. Surely there was more to life than to be born, grow up, work, eat, sleep, make some money, and then die. In my readings, I found examples of people who were much more than the rest of us. I read about what Jesus, Buddha, and Confucius had to say. And I did not stop there. I also read about the occult, parapsychology, and witchcraft. I read anything that offered explanations beyond the scientific. I got extremely interested in what all the different masters from all the different traditions had to say. I wanted to know what they knew and how they came to know it. I wanted to know how they became masters. Were they born different from me?
All the living people I encountered when I was young, either through books or in person, were simply passing on what they had been taught or heard or read rather than what they had experienced for themselves. After many years of searching, I began to fear that I would die without knowing the truth. This was all the more frustrating because I had been told I had a good mind. In school I was placed in a program for gifted kids. It drove me nuts that I was supposed to be smart but that I still could not find the answers for myself.
At the same time, I harbored a slim hope that I would find my answers when I died. Maybe you have to die to know. But wait, I thought. Perhaps, and even worse, you could die and still not know. I kept wondering, Why can't I know while I am alive? Jesus and Buddha definitely seemed to know. And yet, they lived so long ago. It seemed everyone who knew anything was already dead— and they were not talking.
Then, strangely, when I was fifteen and home with the flu, a book just showed up on my front porch with a one-page note that read, "For Cheryl." I had never gone to the bookstore looking for that book; I didn't even know it existed. But, suddenly, poof! There it was, magically at my doorstep. I never did find out who left it there, but I am very happy they did.
This book was different from anything else I ever read. It was about yogis from the East and the path of yoga and where this yoga could take a person to reach their full human potential. This was totally new to me. I had encountered Hatha Yoga before, and it just looked like a series of stretching exercises that were supposed to be good for keeping your body flexible. This book, however, told about a mystic from India and how yoga had transformed him and some others into highly evolved, self-realized human beings. With the exception of the ancient masters like Buddha and Jesus, who were long ago deceased, I had never heard of anything like that before.
The book was The Autobiography of a Yogi by the Indian mystic Paramahansa Yogananda. Thanks to Yogananda, I found a name for the freedom I had been seeking: self-realization. Self-realization, which is also called enlightenment, was explained as the knowledge of one's true self beyond all illusion. It sounded as if we were all collectively suffering from a distorted view of reality in which we thought we were separate from everyone and everything else, when we were really all one energy. Einstein also said a few things that related to this concept. He said, "A human being is part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison...." He also said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." According to Yogananda, we can come out of this illusion and know, understand, and experience life in a completely different way. It is described as a knowing that comes only through experience, rather than intellectual understanding, and it is felt in every cell of the body. Yogananda describes self-realization as the dissolution of the sense of a self as a separate ego personality into a blissful, ecstatic, boundless oneness that is free from death. Instantly I knew this is what I had been looking for!
Besides helping me to name the object of my quest, this book also gave me the hope that self-realization could be attained by ordinary people like me. It made me believe that I could actually and experientially know life outside of the prison of my small, separate identity. Yoga is a way to go from being limited to unlimited, the ultimate quest. What I was longing to know, I could know. I got so excited!
There was (of course) one major drawback. Yoga works best under the guidance of a guru. Yogananda glowingly describes a guru as a spiritual teacher who is a completely free being no longer bound by the illusion of a separate self, a being with access to other dimensions and a bigger understanding of life. A guru is said to be a dispeller of darkness and a remover of obstacles, someone able to help others out of the ignorance of their separate identities. I immediately thought that things would go much easier if I could be with such a spiritual teacher, and I wondered if I would ever find a guru.
Yogananda makes it clear that the most important thing that happened to him was that he had the incredible good fortune of finding his guru. As I read further, I got concerned. This relationship between a guru and a disciple did not sound like anything I was capable of. Yogananda's guru sounded very demanding. Self-realization and inner bliss was only found through discipline. Why is that, I wondered. What does discipline have to do with freedom?
Now I was in big trouble. This did not fit into my ideas at all.
I wanted the freedom and bliss, but at fifteen and as wild, adventurous, and undisciplined as I was, I didn't want to do the work or be told what to do. Besides that, the relationship sounded devotional, and that really made me squirm. I was definitely not into bowing down and worshipping another human being.
This was the 1960s, and did I mention that I was searching?
My quest for wisdom and fulfillment touched every area of my life. I spent my teen years in a roaring overdrive of experimentation and exploration. Lexington is a twenty-minute drive from Harvard University where, during that time, Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (who later became Ram Dass), were professors and initiating LSD experimentation. It was not long before LSD found its way into my safe high school. Lots of us began experimenting with it. One of my closest friends in those days, Barry, had a sister who attended Harvard, and she brought him some LSD to try. He tried it and loved it.
Although the nightly news delivered horror stories of people doing crazy things on LSD, Barry told me it would take me to new levels of understanding. So, I joined him in experimenting with the hallucinogen.
There was a big field not far from where I lived where a lot of kids from my school held parties. Our car stereos would blast Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. It was the perfect place to take an "acid trip." As soon as the LSD hit, I noticed that everything—the grass, the sky, the trees—seemed to be alive and teeming with a vibrant cosmic energy. Everything was living, loving, laughing, flying, crying, and dying all at the same time. What I considered to be me expanded and exploded to include the universe. It was incredible. Bliss without discipline. Excellent, I thought. I was convinced I was experiencing some of what Yogananda had described only without doing any of the work.
What luck to have discovered this. A shortcut!
Until we crashed.
I had always sensed that there was a part of me that seemed to be observing my life as I lived it. During an LSD trip, I would experience that part of myself as if it were the "real" inner me. But, when the drug wore off, so did the experience. Each time my friends and I would expand into this much bigger consciousness and then have to return to this leaden reality. I could retain nothing, not any wisdom and definitely no permanent expansion or love from the experience. What it did leave me with was the frustration that there really was much more to life than what I normally experienced. Why was I only able to have a temporary glimpse of oneness, unconditional love, and bliss? This left me with a much deeper thirst and longing than before.
Back then, when so many people were trying to figure out the meaning of life, everything seemed so real and intense. For a minute we were invincible. We were going to change the world! Those were heady, restless, and reckless times full of a youthful longing to do something different and better. There was peace, love, great music, dancing, and protesting in the streets—such a wildly joyful time, so many people seemingly awake, living life fulltilt, on all the time.
But, at the same time, people were dying all around us.
As we stuck daisies in the soldiers' rifles to protest for peace, the TV showed other soldiers coming home in caskets. We saw firsthand the casualties of Vietnam on both sides. We watched history being made. And we were appalled. At home, our friends were dying of drug overdoses both accidental and on purpose. Young, vital people died in car and motorcycle accidents going so fast, literally and figuratively, taking crazy chances, thinking they could never die. It was all such a terrible waste.
Barry was very smart and always had to be learning something. His father was a Harvard professor. Barry was the only person I knew who would just pick up the encyclopedia and read it for fun. Every subject seemed to interest him. There was also a very reckless side to him, and I often wondered what was going to become of him.
One time he and another friend named Mike, who were purported to have the highest IQs of anyone in the school, were having an argument about who was the smarter one. They were supposed to be within one or two IQ points of each other, and in that geeky group, they thought that was some sort of a big deal. They both turned to me and asked me who was the smarter. I had known Mike for years, but Barry, being my boyfriend, smugly figured that I would side with him.
I shocked him by saying, "Mike's definitely smarter than you are, Barry."
Barry, in disbelief, said, "What! How can you say that? You really know me. You know how smart I am. If anyone knows how smart I am, you do."
"Yes," I answered, "and that's why I know without question that Mike is smarter than you. Mike is going to make something of himself, and what I know about you is that you are most likely going to crash and burn."
Barry and I stayed friends after we later split up, often talking on the phone, and he wrote to me when I was at college. But I later kept a distance from him. I no longer wanted anything to do with drugs. I knew that if I did not change my life, I was going to self-destruct.
I don't know what happened to Mike, but Barry was found dead of a drug overdose when he was twenty-five. His sister had committed suicide a few years earlier. When I heard the news of Barry's sister I felt sick to my stomach. I was so sorry for her and very concerned about how this was going to affect Barry. When Barry died, I just wished I or someone could have done something. I had so hoped he was going to pull himself out of the path he was on. The drugs that had started out as fun turned deadly. Both of them had seemingly perfect, gifted lives and wasted them at such young ages. My heart just broke for their parents losing two of their children. It was inconceivable to me how they could (Continues...)
Excerpted from MIDNIGHTS WITH THE MYSTIC by CHERYL SIMONE, SADHGURU JAGGI VASUDEV. Copyright © 2008 Cheryl Simone and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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