Invoking Ganesh’s blessing is often done at the beginning of an endeavor of any sort in the Hindu tradition, as he is the universal remover of obstacles. Today I am soliciting his favor as I’m about to publish my new memoir, “Growing Old with Grace.”
Having completed this task goes in the “they said it can’t be done” category. This observation is not just some idle, casual remark. I mean they really said, “it can’t be done!”
The “they” to whom I refer are the doctors who did my psychological evaluation back in 2004. I speak, in this context, to their bleak prognosis for my ability to function in the world, much less have any hope for future happiness. But “they” had no idea of the resources I had on my side—a shaktipat guru and the power of an ancient spiritual lineage. I would eventually prove them so wrong.
I began writing “Growing Old With Grace” also in 2004, a suggestion from my guru, Babaji Shambhavananda. During this long, arduous process, several people said to me, “Oh, yes—writing a book is like giving birth!” They seemed to know what they were talking about, so I was reluctant to disagree. However, the truth was it didn’t feel like that to me at all.
Now that it’s done though, I’m beginning to get a sense of what it was those individuals were talking about. At this point it feels a little like it must feel sending one’s child out into the world as a young adult. You’ve done everything in your ability to prepare them, and now it’s time for them to go off to college or whatever other path they choose.
From the very beginning, writing about my life has been a bit of a cathartic process, though catharses is not the name of the game here. What I’ve learned in Shambhava Yoga is a way of dealing energetically with mental issues and illnesses that make any psychological or cognitive means of dealing with them not only unnecessary, but actually deleterious to the process. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be psychologists, and that people shouldn’t go to them. That would be absurd. What I am saying is that there is another way, for those with an energetic connection to a shaktipat guru.
The grace that emanates from my connection with Babaji is advancing me light years beyond any future the psychologists could have envisioned for me. Another word for grace is shakti (spiritual energy), and Babaji has an immense shakti-reservoir that is available to anyone who sincerely wishes to grow. This ever so rare gift of shaktipat transmission by a Shakti-guru is abundantly nurturing on a very deep level. It gives us a personal experience of the divinity within ourselves.
The guru can’t do our work for us, though. He or she can’t fix us. We, the students, have to do the work necessary to allow ourselves to make the most of this divine grace. Fortunately, so far in my practice, I’ve managed to work hard enough to reap considerable rewards, attaining higher states of consciousness slowly, but surely, day-by-day.
Thanks to Babaji and our lineage of gurus, it’s becoming increasingly evident to me that if I apply the proper focus (and don’t do anything stupid!)—spiritual enlightenment, on some level, will be mine in this lifetime. Prior to this awareness, I only had Babaji’s word that this was the case. I never doubted his assessment of my potential in the least. In fact, I knew from the time I met Babaji and realized such things were possible, that this was probably my destiny. Back then, though, becoming enlightened seemed incredibly far away. Now, a little less so.
A few months after I arrived at Eldorado Mountain Yoga Ashram in Boulder, Colorado to live, in 2000, Babaji told me I was like a beautiful lotus flower that grew from the muckiest part of the pond. That’s why “Growing Old With Grace” uses the lotus blossom as a metaphor for spiritual awakening and growth. The lotus represents the highest state of enlightenment, which the Buddhist tradition calls nirvana, or the highest state of consciousness accessible to humans.
There are different stages of enlightenment, and whether or not my time-of-death transition from this life will actually be “the big one” remains to be seen. It is by no means a certainty, of course, but it is possible. Regardless, I intend to spend the rest of my life in this body pursuing enlightenment. I think the mistake a lot of Western seekers make is that they can’t imagine enlightenment ever being possible for them personally. The problem is if they can’t imagine it, then it’s hard for them to make the little every-day changes in behavior necessary to facilitate this process of spiritual unfolding. However, it’s very important for people to work toward enlightenment, as it affects not only them, but all of humanity.
A couple of years ago my friend Janeshwar, from Colorado, was visiting us here at Konalani Ashram on the Big Island of Hawai’i, where I live now. He had some business to take care of in Hilo and I went along with him for the ride. As we motored across the slopes of Mauna Kea in the ashram truck, we discussed my book and he asked me what I hoped to accomplish by writing it.
I quickly spouted a few platitudes off the top of my head, including one that went “Well, if I can do this, then anyone can!” My point was, that if a physically compromised, anxiety-ridden, anorexic, semi-dyslexic, narcissistic, manic-depressive agoraphobiac like me can transcend his limitations merely by stilling the thought waves of the mind, then so can anyone!
While there are unquestionably other bits of wisdom to be gleaned from “Growing Old with Grace,” what I really would like people to take away from reading this book is that by virtue of having a strong spiritual practice and meditative discipline, the unlimited creative energy of the universe can be theirs for the taking. This state of consciousness can only be obtained by attaining freedom from the thinking mind and the only way for people to facilitate this freedom is by means of a meditative practice.
I feel it’s important to further mention that this freedom from the mind is, in fact, the only thing in life worth actively pursuing. Any other pursuits we may have are merely attachments and are not likely to foster spiritual growth if pursued exclusively, in and of themselves, devoid of a spiritual context. These attachments are the very hooks that keep us bound to the earthly cycle of death and rebirth, coming back to haunt us over and over, in incarnation after incarnation, until we finally get it right. The key to terminating these cumbersome, contracted (sometimes horrendous!) cycles of existence is meditation.
This book chronicles my first 70 years, describing my bizarre journey from the oil fields of Oklahoma to the heights of ecstatic meditation. And I am, by the way, the first to admit that the idea of a spiritual seeker seeking enlightenment who hails from the heart of the Bible Belt is as unlikely a premise as ever there was. But if you can get beyond that wee degree of implausibility, my writing explores the transformation of Ramakrishna in depth, and the reader is offered a rather fascinating view of the process.
You will be drawn in by this compelling story, as Ramakrishna drifts from city to city, and from continent to continent, in search of Truth (and drugs and sex!), before alighting (not so gracefully!) from a U-haul truck in Denver, Colorado in 1982, where he meets Babaji, his guru.
“Favorite Baba” by Faith Stone
I hope my book does a good job presenting my take on our spiritual practice to the world. It’s a most unique book—rich in spiritual wisdom and sprinkled lightly with bits and pieces of pop culture. And my story? Well, lets just say, it’s too strange to be fiction!
(TOP IMAGE: “Ganesha, Tibetan Style” by Faith Stone)