Yesterday I was online reading my hometown newspaper, the Tulsa World. I do this daily for two reasons: First and foremost, as I’m quickly approaching my seventieth birthday, I read the obituaries. While engaged in this morbid undertaking (no pun intended), I usually, for better or for worse, get a quick, behind the scenes take on the folly that is Oklahoma politics.
Just as I was shaking my head in utter amazement at the antics of some of the ultra-conservative politicians in Oklahoma City, I saw a caption with a name that struck a distant chord in the recesses of my mind. It was one of those infamous names you hear as you are going about your day-to-day life; a name that even when you hear it after not having heard it for decades you still recognize it.
This person had been convicted of killing a Tulsa woman in 1977, and the article was about the fact that he was now up for parole. I had moved back to Tulsa soon after this murder (after ten years in Los Angeles and San Francisco), and the story was very much in the news there.
The crime was quite a horrific affair, as most murders probably are. This one had a young, attractive and wealthy female victim, which, unfortunately, always seems to pique people’s interest more than when the victim is poor.
In my memoir, Growing Old with Grace, I discuss this particular time in my life in some detail. When I arrived back in Tulsa from San Francisco I had literally reached “the end of the line” for me. I was in dire mental, physical and psychic straits. A year or so later I would go into rehab and drastically alter my lifestyle from one of drugs, discos and sex to that of a drug-free, but hardcore agoraphobic.
In a sense I became a prisoner, and the little house my parents had given me (one of their rental properties) on Tulsa’s less than fashionable west side became my prison. This would have been around the same time the person who was convicted of murdering this lady (and another woman as well) was ordered to the state prison in McAlester, sentenced to die for the crime.
He would have been the first inmate in the United States to die by lethal injection, had not reporters from the Tulsa World discovered evidence had been withheld by the prosecutors, which may have lessened the severity of the charges filed against him. At that point the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals commuted his sentence to life imprisonment.
However, according to the article, some people (including the state medical examiner) firmly believe that he was wrongly convicted. After reading some of the evidence, I have to admit they do present a good case for his innocence. My personal take on it is that even if he was involved, he probably didn’t kill the previously mentioned woman (a well-known equestrienne and wife of a wealthy builder/developer) and her 22-year-old horse trainer.
So that means, if it’s true, this guy went to the big house for a long time (not to mention spending a number of years on death row) for a crime he may not have committed. It must be horrendous to spend 36 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit!
Anyway, I have found this case to be more interesting today than I ever did in 1977. Perhaps this is because I feel as though I’m just being released from 40 years in prison as well. Thanks to my good karma, I have, using the practices I’ve learned in Shambhava Yoga, elevated my level of consciousness to the point that the very issues that have held me in the throws of agoraphobia for lo these many years have begun to release their hold on me. As of this writing, it remains to be seen whether or not my agoraphobic days are history. However, I can’t help but feel all of this has the distinct potential to spring me from my own metaphorical prison cell.
Another reason I find this story intriguing is that, much like my fellow inmate back in Oklahoma, I felt like I had been wrongly “convicted”—sent up the river on trumped up charges. Long ago I mused that nothing I could have conceivably done in my innocent 1950s childhood could have possibly been responsible for the karma that resulted in the jumbled train wreck that became my life.
This inevitably led me to the conclusion that this was karma carried over from a previous incarnation. It would seem I carried this karma with me when I arrived on planet Earth, over 70 years ago. I carried it in the chakras of my subtle body and in time it began to manifest. As I made extremely bad decisions in the 60s and 70s, the negative karma began to compound and increase exponentially. Before long my life was spinning out of control, and finally I figured out that I desperately needed to make a change. I had to try to turn it around or I was soon going to be cashing in my chips. Could it be that my inmate counterpart in Oklahoma had karma from previous lives that set him up for the big fall that he too took later on in his life? I strongly suspect that he does.
We are fortunate to live in this day and age where great spiritual concepts, teachings and practices can be accessed by Westerners, not just those born in Asia or Westerners fortunate enough to journey there. In the United States today we can enjoy rich spiritual lives and even become enlightened by gurus, all without leaving our own shores. Plus, we can eat the food and drink the water!
Meeting my guru, Babaji Shambhavananda in Denver, in 1985, and having my kundalini awakened by him was the pivotal event that enabled me to begin working on ridding myself of these kinds of karmic issues once and for all. Fortunately for Babaji (and his students), his guru, Swami Rudrananda, taught him the practice of energetic surrender, which utilizes a combination of mantra and pranayama (breathing techniques) that, if done properly, destroys the roots of these firmly established samskaras (karmic tension patterns) we carry with us from one incarnation to the next. By means of an alchemical process, the act of surrender incinerates these tensions in the “fire” of yoga. Surrender conveniently allows us to burn up these patterns on an energetic level until eventually we are rid of them.
When I first became “incarcerated” I had to (initially) surrender the fact that I’d been wrongly “convicted” on a mundane level. What else could I do? I could no longer relate to people, much less function in the world. I was also stuck in a badly twisted and broken body that I wanted as few people as possible to see. Therefore, I had to accept the fact that there weren’t going to be a lot of other humans in my life for a while (of course I had no idea how long a while this would actually turn out to be!)
In my mind, of course, my sentence seemed most unfair. But I eventually came to understand that I needed to accept the inevitable, come to terms with my situation, and realize that when it comes to our lives we are not really in control. Furthermore, the things that happen to us aren’t always what we consider to be fair.
From this acceptance, I began pondering the existence of a higher power, perhaps in an effort to understand the implications of why this had happened to me. It’s not a stretch for me to think that could be the case for others in this sort of a predicament. Perhaps some prisoners, not unlike me, were (previously) too busy living by their wits to ever put much stock in the existence of anything of a higher nature. Should prison be the catalyst to change their perspective of themselves and their place in the world, then incarceration could become a much different experience for them than for someone who does not have this awareness. Being sent to prison could mark the beginning of a brand new life for such a soul.
Having a realization of god can be very empowering. I believe finding god on any level would be beneficial to someone in such circumstances. But, if an inmate were fortunate enough, as I was, to happen upon a spiritual practice like ours that can energetically deflect or even eradicate some karmas, they could begin to detach mentally and emotionally from the fact that they are in the midst of an unwanted, possibly even an “undeserved” situation.
This is the point at which surrender on a mundane level ends, and we have begun to use our practice to surrender on an energetic level. As we let go of our thinking minds and start to detach from our thoughts, we begin to see possibilities we never would have thought of with our analytical minds. Furthermore, we might just uncover the key to extricating ourselves from our troubled circumstances.
Some karma is fixed though. If your karma were, in fact, prarabdha karma (karma that can not be altered), then by means of surrender you would learn to detach from the “unfairness” of your predicament and actually begin to find peace and happiness in the midst of your frustration over it. Moreover, you would find the exact same peace and happiness, despite spending the remainder of your years behind the chaotic walls of a state prison.
After initially accepting my lot in life, I approached my own dilemma by following a holistic approach to curing my mind and body, hoping to “fix it” by means of primal scream therapy and by body-work from osteopaths, chiropractors and massage therapists. Once I met my guru a couple of years later my focus remained holistic, but I began to incorporate more spirituality into my pursuit than I previously had. I found that when I meditated the kundalini Shakti began slowly dissolving my tensions (both psychic and physical) on a very deep level.
At that point I began to realize that there really was hope—not only hope for fixing my seriously compromised physical form, but hope for actually transcending that form and evolving into something higher.
Over the years I’ve had many esoteric experiences of the god within me, some of which I describe in “Growing Old with Grace.” Such experiences though, while profound on one level are really rather meaningless overall, because in no way are they indicative of my current level of spiritual attainment. These events are only valuable as inspiration to continue doing my spiritual practice, as they portend a state of mind that I can some day access more easily if I continue doing what I am doing now.
What really is important is the fact that I have learned to surrender my mind’s attachment to my frustrating circumstances, and in the process have managed to unravel the complicated karmic knots that kept me inside “prison walls” for thirty six years—thirty six years of what, in conventional wisdom, should have been the “best years” of my life.
And so, just as my fellow inmate back in Oklahoma waits for word of his parole, I too wait patiently to find out whether or not I will soon be released from this prison of my body and mind, set free to live a life where panic attacks no longer reign supreme. I’ll let you know how it goes.