20- The Most Important Thing I Was Ever Asked to Do
As the voice of my thoughts said No, the voice of my lips said “Yes.” I had no idea what it would be like to go into a maximum-security prison to meet a total stranger, but I was about to find out.
When I returned to see Jerry for the second time, he had a surprise for me. He had so enjoyed our visit and our meditation together that he had created a list of five or six other inmates who wanted to meet for group meditation.
the whole scene was quite surreal for someone with my background. When I arrived at the prison, I would pass through the main gate that was surrounded by double coils of razor wire. I would then pass through two more gates before I was searched and patted down. Shortly thereafter, a call would come across the loud speakers in the various cell blocks, “BUDDHIST.” From a very quiet place deep inside myself, I watched that voice in my head say, How in the world did I get here?
I was there it was my heart and soul. Whenever I would go into the prisons, I would feel a powerful increase in the spiritual energy flow within me. And my meditations were much deeper when I sat with the inmates than when I sat for hours at home by myself. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I looked forward to every visit as an experience of spiritual upliftment.
The men were able to relate immediately to the notion of the talkative voice in their head. They were very receptive to learning how to quiet that voice and deal with the inner patterns of anger, fear, and strong drives. The inmates’ deep-seated sincerity about their spiritual growth made those prison groups one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. A single request from my neighbor Bob Tilchin, to which I had initial resistance, grew into more than thirty years of working with the incarcerated. The men in my group became a part of my extended family, and they continue to live in a place deep in my heart.
Section III - From Solitude to Service
21- The Call of a Living Master
The entire loft area was covered with pictures of the same yoga master I had just encountered at Shelly’s place.
Rama immediately started telling me that Baba Muktananda was planning to come to America next year in the spring, and I should invite him to Gainesville. At first I thought we were having a fanciful conversation, until I realized she was dead serious.
There was no reasoning with her. She insisted that I write a letter to India, on Santa Fe Community College letterhead, and invite Baba to stop in Gainesville on his way from Atlanta to Miami.
I thought it was a crazy idea. My mind kept telling me that there was no way Baba would ever come here. I actually felt embarrassed to write the letter and send it off to India.
Ultimately, I surrendered and mailed the letter.
Some months later I received a response telling me that someone would come to my place to discuss the possibility of a Gainesville visit. When he arrived out here, I was surprised to be meeting a very professionally dressed young man.
He began to explain to me what it would take to host a weeklong visit from Baba and his entourage. They would need facilities for his staff of up to twenty people, a room large enough for fifty to a hundred people for daily sessions during the week, and a weekend retreat site that could house up to a few hundred people. He was very skeptical about my ability to arrange everything, and who could blame him.
The excitement about a possible visit by a world-renowned yoga master only served to accelerate the energy around my classes and the Sunday services. Each week things grew until I was forced to build a small addition onto my house to fit more people. With the publication of my book, The Search for Truth, in spring of 1974, the energy was fanned even more.
If I had known then that she was moving out of a nice condominium her parents had purchased for her, and into this tiny cabin in the woods with no plumbing or electricity, I might not have been so quick to let her move in. If I had known then that we were destined to fall in love, get married, and have a beautiful daughter together—given my mind-set at the time, I definitely would not have let her move in. It would take a few more years of learning to surrender before I would be capable of dropping my spiritual self-concept enough to accept the special relationships that life had in store for me.
If we couldn’t get enough people signed up, Baba would never come. Donna and I had to make hundreds of individual phone calls and send mailings all over the state to attract enough people.
For years I had thought that a spiritual life was about spending every day in silence and solitude. I was now running around getting all this work done. Yet somehow I felt more open and more connected to the energy flow than ever before. I kept my morning and evening meditations, but the hours in between were devoted to my classes and bringing Baba to Gainesville. I had surrendered just enough to where the flow of life was no longer something I chose to give in to—the flow had taken over my life. It had gone from subtly guiding me to running me. My mind kept telling me that after this was over I would go back to my solitary lifestyle. As usual, my mind was wrong.
When we arrived at the retreat site, we were ushered into a large hall with fifty to sixty other people. So began four of the most intense days of my life.
I remember the first meditation session with Baba. We were told he would walk around among us while we were meditating. It was so dark in the room that I couldn’t see anything, yet at some point I felt a strong presence behind me. It got stronger and stronger until I realized that Baba was standing right beside me. He touched the point between my eyebrows, exactly where I always felt the energy flow. He then moved on.
I repeated Om Namah Shivaya over and over again. Before I knew it, I was very deep in meditation. All outer sounds had ceased, as had my mental chatter. I was in a place I had never been before, deep inside my heart. I felt like my heart was a giant cave that was protecting me and loving me. I was completely entranced and at peace.
While I was meditating, I felt Baba walk up behind me. The power emanating from him was very strong. Even though my eyes were closed and I was facing forward, I could feel the energy of his hand reaching out toward my head. The moment the palm of his hand reached above the crown of my head, what felt like ten thousand volts of electricity jumped from the base of my spine to meet his hand. It happened as fast as a bolt of lightning. In an instant, I was no longer in my body. Me, the one who lives in here, the one who looks out through the eyes and hears through the ears, the center of conscious awareness that notices the thoughts and emotions—I was no longer sitting inside doing those things. I was in a state of absolute panic trying to hold on with all my might to my connection with the body. The upward rush of that much energy had dislodged me from where I normally sat within myself. I was experiencing tornado force winds trying to blow me out of my body, and I was struggling to hold on for dear life.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not pull myself back into the body. It was one of those survival moments when pure fear opens you up to superhuman strength. It didn’t matter—I could not even begin to pull against that force. I have no idea how long the experience lasted, but when Baba felt I’d had enough, he simply rubbed his hand across my back. The moment his hand physically touched my midback—everything stopped. I immediately fell back into my body and began to get somewhat oriented. The first thing I noticed was my heart—it wasn’t beating; it was fluttering like the wings of a hummingbird. My first thought was, This is not good. Hearts don’t last very long like this. The moment that thought formed in my mind, Baba reached in front of me and rubbed his hand over my heart. Instantly, my heart began beating normally.
I was stunned by the experience and the power of this man. Who was he? How could he possibly have such control over my energy and my metabolic functions? I felt so humbled to be in his presence. I have never felt so completely unburdened in my life. What had I been doing—fasting, meditating, and struggling with myself for so many years? With a single touch, this man could bring about such transformation. At that moment I understood what was meant by a Siddha master. Baba did not belong in this world; he was from somewhere else altogether.
23- Gainesville Hosts a Guru
One of Baba’s people told me that the experience was called shaktipat, a special blessing by a Siddha master in which a very powerful spiritual energy is awakened within.
I was very confused, but I prepared to thank Yogananda for his guidance. I closed my eyes to go into the quiet place within where I always felt a connection to him. I inwardly looked upward as if to say thank you, and suddenly the whole space above me opened up into a limitless expanse. It felt as if a veil had been lifted from between my consciousness and that which was beyond me. I immediately felt oneness with all that I had been looking for. It was the most powerful and revealing experience I ever had. It only lasted a few moments, but I came back with an echo in my being saying, Just exactly who do you think you are saying good-bye to? I felt Yogananda’s presence all around me and permeating me from within. From that moment forward, I never questioned my connection to him.
I was stunned to see Ronnie at the retreat. We had not seen each other for years. It didn’t matter—we were like brothers. How could we possibly have gone our separate ways and ended up at the same place? We were so different. I was living the simple life in Gainesville, and he was a big-time attorney in Chicago. I prided myself on having no belongings, and he had a Ferrari, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and a private plane. Ronnie lived in a top-floor penthouse at Chicago’s famous Twin Towers Marina
24- The Temple Is Built
it wasn’t until after he left that I began to see the real effect that meeting him had on my life. Baba was like a wind that blew into town and permanently changed the direction of my life from one of solitude to one of service.
I slowly began to realize that this life of constant service was the “other way” referred to in the dream I had. On my new path to awakening, life was no longer an obstacle to my growth. Life was now the battlefield on which I was to remain conscious enough to willingly permit my old self to be stripped away.
I kept getting pushed in the direction of hosting a retreat for Mataji. I had never heard of her, and I really didn’t want to do it. But I surrendered, and once again life had something unexpected in store for me.
“Mickey, this is a very holy piece of land. Someday there will be a great temple here, and many people will come.”
within six months, a temple would be sitting in that exact spot in the woods.
I really didn’t want another building on my land, but it seemed everyone else did. Fortunately, by now I had become pretty experienced at ignoring what “I” wanted and, instead, following the flow of life.
Sitting in my mailbox was an envelope with two thousand dollars in cash. There was no name, and to this day I have no idea who put that money there.
The amazing part was not just that the money kept showing up exactly when we needed it—it kept showing up in exactly the amounts we needed to go to the next step.
25- Opening the Heart Chakra
The moment I sat down, it was as though I could feel a semblance of what he was feeling. The energy flow inside me increased significantly, and I felt as though I had been dropped into an ocean of love. It was a deeply spiritual experience. We sat quietly for a while, and then he turned toward me and said, “I never do this anymore.” He placed his right hand over my forehead, and I immediately felt a gentle flow of warm energy passing into my body. The flow was overwhelmingly powerful, and I became completely transfixed by the beauty of the experience. I could feel the energy building up within me and rising toward my heart. It filled my heart fuller and fuller until it burst open. I have never felt so much love in my entire life. I was completely overcome by the flow of energy starting from his hand, coursing through me, and then pouring out of the burst-open heart area. By the time Amrit removed his hand from my forehead, I was so filled with energy that I couldn’t move. When I finally tried to stand up, it felt like a powerful magnetic field was attached to my body. I couldn’t speak, so I didn’t say a word to Amrit as I left the room.
The simple touch of Amrit’s hand had permanently opened my heart chakra.
Amrit not only invited others out, he specifically told me that I should support them in their daily practices by meeting with them each morning and evening. Once again, life was not asking me—it was telling me.
I reminded myself that I had tried as hard as I could to break free of myself for years. I had resolved to find another way that did not have my mind as my spiritual adviser. Sharing my meditation time with others was just the next step in the unfolding dance with life. By now I was seeing a pattern. I was continuously being pushed headfirst into a life that centered on serving other people’s spiritual growth instead of my own. I never consciously would have decided to do this. I was not wise enough or selfless enough to make such a decision. It was simply the fact that I had resolved to surrender to life, and this is where life was taking me.
It seems as though life knew exactly what it was doing, and as usual, my mind knew nothing.
26- Get Thee to an Ashram
Donna and I ended up spending more and more time together, and a tremendous love flowed between us.
I had not been looking for love or marriage, but the powerful flow of life managed to bless me with both.
Sharing my place of solitude certainly wasn’t what I thought I wanted, but that’s because I didn’t understand that serving others is much higher than serving yourself.
Section IV - The Business of Surrender
27- A Company Is Born
I was dumbfounded. I had never even thought of such a thing. Sure, I had built a few buildings on my own land, but I had never thought of building for someone else—not to mention someone official, like a sheriff’s deputy. I stood there for a moment as two contrasting responses went on inside my head. First, the voice was saying, No way, I don’t want to do this. I’m busy. I have my job at Santa Fe, and I’m not a builder, anyway. Second, there was a quiet, peaceful sense of awareness that didn’t have to say a word. It simply knew that my vow of surrender to life required me to see where this would lead. I took a breath, looked up at the officer, and said, “Yes, I would be glad to help out with your project.”
I would have gladly done the jobs for free. But that was not what was happening. I was going to have to learn to deal with accepting money and running a business.
There was no difference between teaching my classes at Santa Fe, meeting with people for morning and evening services at the Temple, running spiritual retreats, or doing a construction job. All these tasks had one thing in common: they had all been given to me by surrendering to life’s incomprehensible flow.
28- The Master Builder
Our daughter, Durga Devi, was born in August 1977.
She informed me that she would accept $37,000 if I could come up with the up-front cash she wanted.
To say I was humbled by the fact that I had just earned almost exactly the same amount of money on that very strange job would be an understatement. I saw a synchronous flow that I would never forget for the rest of my life. Was this part of some Universal Plan that the Temple expand beyond the original ten acres? I had no interest in such an expansion; I had never even thought of it. But the money was there, and it was obvious what it was intended for. None of this had anything to do with me—I was just the middleman, the caretaker.
29- Community Banking
I went from bank to bank only to receive rejection after rejection.
Before giving up, I played a game with life. I agreed to follow up with just one more bank before taking it as a sign that home building was not in our future.
I was invited into the office, and the president took his place behind the desk. He proceeded to tell me that though my application did not meet the normal standards set by the loan committee, he personally felt that a community bank should try to support community businesses. It seems Jim Owens had taken such an interest in my application that he had driven out to my land and looked in the windows of my house and the Temple building. He had then personally gone to the loan committee and hand carried my application through. He was here today to tell me that the construction loan request for $20,000 had been approved, but his neck was on the line, and I had better not let him down.
like messengers from God sent to tell me what I’m supposed to be doing with my life: teach at Santa Fe, invite Baba to Gainesville, start Built with Love, go forth and build houses. All I could do was thank him and assure him that I would rather die than let him down.
If I had thought this was the end of my story with Jim Owens, I would have been very wrong. A decade later, after I had experienced significant business success, the hand of life brought us back together again under the most unlikely of circumstances.
he was looking for a loan of about $20,000 to cover cash flow while he upgraded the store. That was pretty much the exact amount he had provided for me ten years earlier when our roles were reversed. I couldn’t believe this was happening. What was the probability of these events, including my being in that store right after the bank had rejected his loan request and exactly at the time of that phone conversation? It was as though after ten years I was sent there to repay Jim’s act of kindness. Needless to say, I was honored to make him that loan.
30- The Ever-Expanding Temple of the Universe
The transition to Built with Love had already taken place by then. I experienced none of the mental resistance that had been present during my previous periods of change. As natural as a snake sheds its skin, so this transition in my life naturally took place.
I made that a game with life: if a neighboring property came up for sale and we had the funds available to purchase it, the Temple would buy it. It was then fascinating to sit back and watch how just the right people would show up to occupy those houses.
I would never have guessed that I had seen nothing yet. It would have been beyond my comprehension that everything I had been taught so far was just the foundation for what was coming next. No one could have guessed that all that had transpired during those early stages of my surrender experiment was just the launching of a multistaged rocket headed for the stars.
31- Metamorphosis of a Creature
It is difficult to explain how sincere those men locked up in a maximum-security prison became about their inner freedom. The walls could hold their bodies, but nothing could imprison their souls—except their own minds.
They learned to watch that voice in their head, and they learned how to not listen to all the garbage it says.
Sometimes one of the men would relate an incident that had happened during the week where that voice had told him to do something stupid. He spoke about that brief moment of awareness wherein he got to choose whether to listen or just let it go. Invariably, while telling the story the inmate would start laughing about how in the past he would have just immediately expressed that destructive behavior. This time, he just let it go. My heart would melt listening to them share with one another how to do this—how to let go of yourself. No words can express how honored and grateful I was that life had serendipitously put me in those sessions.
I saw that he was very sincere in wanting to improve himself and grow spiritually. He started to ask for a number of books. He began with Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. A few visits later, I noticed that Creature was carrying a picture of Yogananda around with him. I didn’t know what to make of this very sincere and intelligent person who was serving multiple life sentences for what he had done as one of the leaders of one of the most violent motorcycle gangs in the country. I will tell you that I felt tremendous love for him and was deeply honored that life had brought us together at this important stage of his growth.
David would generally approach me after class and ask some very deep questions indicative of someone who had been meditating a lot.
David and a few other Outlaws were going to be charged. He didn’t seem disturbed by this turn of events. In fact, he told me that he saw it as a way of working off some of his past karma. He had done bad things in the past, and he wanted the opportunity to work them through.
while he was in lockup, but he wrote and told me that he had been spending hours a day in meditation and chanting.
David could not come out; Amrit and I would have to go into the lockup area of the Rock to meet him. I will never forget that day.
Each wing we walked by was just a solid row of barred cells on one side facing a stone wall on the other.
There was not one drop of color anywhere. But we were not going to one of those cells. We were led right past those wings to a dark area where there were no windows. This was the lockup area of the Rock.
Not a word was spoken until Amrit asked David what he was feeling. David lifted his head to speak, and that was the first time I could see his face. Tears were pouring down his cheeks, and his face was aglow with a gentle light. In a whisper of a voice he said, “I guess I’m feeling how much love you have for me, because I’m completely overwhelmed with love.” Those were the only words spoken that day.
Amrit and I were escorted out of that dark hole, past the wings of cell blocks, and out of the Rock. We were left to find our own way back to the front gates.
As my eyes acclimated to the sunlight, I was overcome by a single thought. On this earth, there are many different places where people live. Some are high places and some are low places. That hole where David was living in solitary lockup, a veritable prison within a prison, had to be one of the lowest places on earth for a human being to end up. You couldn’t go much lower. Yet the sincerity of his spiritual practices had just attracted one of the higher beings on the planet into that dark hole.
I never got to ask David what he experienced that day, but he was glowing when he left. I remembered what I had experienced the night Amrit put his hand on my forehead. A deep peace came over me as I realized that my dear friend David would get to keep that overwhelming experience of love for the rest of his life.