A Most Beautiful Retreat When I Needed It Most

I was a student at college. Feeling a little lost. A little far from home. What I didn’t know at the time was there were bigger issues.

I’d just moved away from living with my older brother and his family, where I’d resided for the past year or so. That situation seemed so benign from an outside person’s perspective. But inside their family home it was horror.

Each day my older half-brother, a university professor, would try to get me drunk by 11 AM. I guess to keep him company. My sister-in-law, when her husband was at work, would undress and dance naked in front of me. I would hide behind my headphones, digging deeper into my music in order to pretend she wasn’t there. The oldest son, who was only six at the time, asked to see me naked. And then the climax, when my older brother and his wife, both tipsy, invited me one night up to their bedroom to watch. Hoping, I believe, to join. Yuck.

I wanted to believe in my family. Isn’t that how we are raised? To love our brothers and sisters? To respect our mothers and fathers? But what if they aren’t very nice. What if, instead, they are very bad. I felt I should stay in their home, be there for dinner, play with the kids. But something was pulling me away. A sense of self-preservation. A desire to believe that I was worth something more. That drunkeness and debauchery did not need to be my future, even though my family was willing to shower me with it. I believed I was worth something greater. I just didn’t know what it was.

The next day, after high school let out, instead of walking home I stuck out my thumb. A pretty, slightly older girl slowed down and gave me a ride. The experience that day was so much fun, she and the people she introduced me to were so warm, friendly and nice, I began to do this every day. Instead of going home, I would stand by the side of the road, hold out my thumb, and let anyone pick me up and take me for a ride. I’d wind up in clubs, concerts, people’s homes, parties. Nothing bad ever happened to me. Thank God. Just adventures. But it is amazing to me now how I would rather be with complete strangers than go home and be with my own family. I was only seventeen at the time. By the time I did return home, well past midnight each night, everyone inside my brother’s house would be fast asleep. And I was glad. I wouldn’t have to see them, or speak with them. I’d just slip out very early the next morning to go to high school, they would all stay late in bed with hangovers, and then I’d spend the next night out and about in the company of strangers, completely free. To have such freedom as a teenager was incredible.

My older brother would sometimes stand at his front door
and stare out at his neighborhood, commenting,

“No one knows what dark deeds take place behind closed doors.”

That would have me look out at the pretty homes that surrounded his and wonder.
But now I understand. He was really speaking about his own.

One year later and I was back in my home state, ready to become a student at my state’s major university. Everyone around me checking into the dorms looked so young. Perhaps because I’d already been through so much. My university experience became filled with classes, studies, beer parties. I felt lost. I was looking for something more. Something to give my life meaning. Something to offer me healing. By the time I reached the age of twenty I’d already slipped into a very serious depression. It felt like a very far-too-early ‘mid-life crisis’.

A very sweet older woman, the school’s counselor, would patiently listen to me, and offer kindly advice. My bike and playing sports became my exercise outlet.  I even dated pretty girls. But nothing seemed to help.

On my twentieth birthday, feeling rather blue, I stopped by a friend’s apartment. She began,

“You should have met this dude I met last night.
He gives this lecture out at the community college.
What he says is amazing.”

Listening, as my friend shared some of what she’d heard in class the evening before, I was shaken. It seemed like she was reading my mind, quoting my own thoughts, answering my inner questions. The questions kept secret inside me from everyone else. I wanted to meet this man. Go to his class.

The following evening she and a couple of good friends, Kim and Tim, who would later marry, which I thought was very ‘name appropriate’, picked me up. On the way to the community college I was a bit stiff, apprehensive, doubtful. Later, three hours later after class ended, I was crying, welled up in tears. My ego broken. My faith, in me, in life, restored. For the first time in a very long time I could see a future worth living for.

What did that man say during those three hours? Everything I might hope to hear. Everything that answered my deepest, my most fearful, my most intimate, my most profound inner questions. And I was stunned.

My friends had to literally carry me out the classroom door and help me into their car.

Tuesday nights, this teacher’s night, became what I impatiently waited for all week. I would arrive early and sit on the floor directly in front of his desk. The classroom was always crowded. Students filled all the chairs and sat on any remaining empty carpeted floor area. I’d never experienced a class like this, where the teacher and the subject being taught was actually really popular.

He would arrive. It almost seemed like this teacher floated into the classroom. Wearing his ponytail, a bushy mustache, a plain white tee shirt, a pair of jeans, a wide leather belt and a pair of sandals. Always very simple. I could personally sense him as he entered the room before anyone said a word.

This teacher would open his wallet to a photo of a saint that he kept tucked inside. A picture of a face that was becoming very familiar to me. Even the picture in the face seemed to be smiling at me. This teacher would then sit on the classroom desk, fold his legs, give us all a smile, and close his eyes.

Then ~ ~ ~ silence.

As this teacher prayed and meditated for a few minutes.

When he next opened his eyes, because I was right in front of him, on the floor, looking up at him, the first beams of his inner happiness would shower down upon me. Even though the next three hours of every Tuesday night would each Tuesday change my life, that moment at the start of his class was always my favorite. And why arriving early was so important. Just to sit there, so close, to receive that blessing.

Every semester I would repeat his class. Each fall, winter and spring. Again and again, and again. Always I would be ‘that person’ sitting in the very front, directly underneath him. Always with a big smile on my face. Looking up at him, listening to every word.

Inspired by him, disappointed with so much of my earlier life, I decided to change my life. Live differently. Find a deeper ‘inner’ me.

At the start of school I had installed a kingsize waterbed in my dorm room. One day I attached a hose and completely drained all of its water out my fourth floor dorm room window. From that night forward I began sleeping on the floor, on a wool blanket I’d purchased years before while attending a private school in Mexico. I had a super large sized collection of music. One I was proud of. One day I packed it all up, and gave it all to my best friend, who had the second largest collection. Now she had the biggest ‘in the world’, and I was happy for her. But even happier for me to now be free of it. I attended an outdoor on-campus lecture about diet and healthy eating. More than what the speaker said, looking around at all the students attending, especially all the pretty girls, it was easy to observe how healthy they all looked. Their skin was so radiant. Their eyes so alert. Their faces filled with smiles. Compared to my buddies back in the dorm who’s skin was a rather ‘sickly green’. That afternoon I decided to become very pure with my diet.

The greatest challenge was school. Competition at a major university, especially in the program I was studying, was fierce. Arriving at the exam rooms, filled with hundreds of students, monitors standing all around us, watching us, making certain we didn’t cheat. As soon as the papers were handed out and the clock hit the time to start, I would place my #2 pencil on my desk, rest my hands on my knees, and close my eyes. And pray for a couple of minutes. It was not easy to do this. The tension that filled the room during these timed proxied exams was intense.

When I opened my eyes I could see all of the monitors staring, pointing, at me. I’d give them a smile, pick up my pencil, break open the seal of my exam book, and start answering the test questions. To my surprise I found that I would complete the exams more quickly than before, and more calmly. A day or two wait for the test results to be posted, and I would discover that my test scores were higher than they’d ever previously been.

I was doing something right. My grades were improving. I was more focused. I felt more energy. Healthier. More alive.

I could not deny that my life was getting better.

The only thing, though, I was doing all of this mostly on my own. My friends, who drove me to class that first night, did not feel the same commitment, the same exuberance, the same religious ferocity that I felt. And too soon I was all alone. They had returned to their beer parties. Their smoking and pizza parties. I could sit with them. But I would no longer be one of them.

At first I tried to change them. Wake them up. Help them to realize that they should be doing what I was doing. To my sorrowful surprise they didn’t seem to like me during those moments. Finally, my good friend, the one who first told me about this teacher, took me aside to inform me that I was really hard to be with, ‘preaching’ all the time. It hurt to hear her say this. But I realized she was right. Instead, I had to, from my perspective, let all of my old friends become whatever they wanted to become, even if I ‘didn’t approve’.

This teacher owned a large beautiful parcel of land way out in the country, completely isolated. On it he had built a cute wood and glass structure tucked in the woods. Nearby, on his expansive forested property, a few of his close friends had done the same. The first time I went out to his property I really don’t know how I found it. It was more like an inner sense. I arrived very early, just as dawn was breaking. Standing in the middle of the woods, an exceptionally pretty blond girl about my age stepped out from behind some trees. She was completely naked. And beautiful. A few feet in front of me she knelt down to pee. Completely naked. She then smiled at me, and walked back into the woods, where she disappeared.

I don’t know why this struck me as so warm and inviting.
But I knew I had found my home.

I loved to visit out there. I’d hitchhike, share a ride, talk a friend into taking me, anything I could do or say, just to be out on this property, near to this teacher and those who lived near him, as often as I could. The setting felt magical. Like heaven. There seemed to be ‘an astral breeze’ drifting through the trees. When this teacher was there, there would be parties. Not like how my friends back at campus would have, filled with beer and loud music. But potluck vegetarian gatherings in the woods under the stars. We would sing, chat warmly with one another, enjoy rich healthy delicious foods. And feel like the world, our little world, was a warmer, better place. This setting over the next couple of years became my retreat. A second home, where all of the people living there who were strangers only recently now felt closer to me than my own family ever did.

When this teacher wasn’t teaching class on campus he would leave for months on long cross-country trips. His home in the woods was left empty. During the middle of the week I needed to be near campus to do my homework. But during the weekends, while he was gone, I would move into his little retreat.

I would spend days in complete silence out in the woods, walking across the nearby fields. Inspired by that beautiful, but very real, vision when I first arrived, I, too, took off all of my clothes ~ and spend my days in this oasis completely naked. Letting the sun bathe my entire body in warm beautiful sunlight.

I no longer cared about the world outside. I rarely ever thought about my family. My past friends had made their choices, we hardly saw each other anymore. I wasn’t even all that concerned about food, and lost a lot of weight. Oxygen, sunlight, prayer and meditation seemed to fulfill me, to sustain me.

The outer world was nearly dead to me. But I was happy. I knew someday I might have to leave, to graduate from college, move somewhere. But for the moment I just didn’t care.

At that time this teacher was starting to write his first book, based on the classes he was teaching, the classes I was enjoying so much. He would leave an early draft of his book at his wooded residence while he was away, that I would read while I stayed out at his place. That book, entitled, “The Search For Truth” by Michael A Singer, was hard to read. Because it was so dry. Nothing like the exciting enlivened invigorating classes ‘Mickey’ taught. Classes I was drawn to because they were so filled with his personality. I read it, but put the book down. Glad I had the benefit of actually being in his class, semester after semester, experiencing his personal presence. I loved and admired this person, but I really didn’t think Mickey’s book would sell. I really didn’t believe he was all that good as a writer.

I introduced my teacher, Mickey Singer, to the person who would become his wife. A girl who was a long time good friend from my home town. Our families had been close for years. Our families had even vacationed in Mexico together when she and I were younger teens. Through much of high school I would pick up the phone at night and we would talk to each other for hours. A bit older than me, she relocated to this university town a year or two after I had. As soon as she arrived I wished for her to meet the man who now meant so much to me.

When they met there was immediate chemistry. Mickey stopped me one day, to speak eloquently about my old friend. “You’ve got to know, she’s the most spiritual person I’ve ever met.” he shared. And I smiled, realizing that my teacher was in love. In love with my good friend. Which evolved into a wedding. That later gave birth to their daughter. One might say that none of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for me ~ the guy who always sat with a big smile on his face front row center in every one of this teacher’s classrooms. And, as well, the prayerful meditations Mickey would begin hosting in his home.

Sunday morning meditations started a few months after I first met him. I was always out on his property anyway, which he observed. One day Mickey shared with a few of us that he’d been thinking about inviting a small group out to his home every Sunday morning where we could meditate together. Since I was already there, I was in. Mickey even said, with a smile, looking directly at me, “Some of you are already out there every Sunday anyway.”

Mickey’s Sunday morning meditations barely attracted five people that first year. Every Sunday I was always one of them. Perhaps a year or so later there might be twelve or fifteen who would attend. That small gathering would a few years later become the group that would fill a building this teacher would build on his property, near to his home, also charmingly tucked into the woods. A place he would call his “Temple of the Universe”.

One day, during those Sunday morning meditations in his home, Mickey began sharing with those of us he was closest to stories about a man from India, a ‘Swami Muktananda’. Mickey then shared that he had invited this Swami from India to come to our area. Each time I visited Mickey’s secluded home, shared in the morning meditations with others, he would speak more, and more, about this man from India. Everyone, based upon their trust and faith in Mickey, believed and trusted and had faith in what he was saying. We each began looking forward to this ‘Swami’s’ visit.

As we would meditate together inside Mickey’s charming wooded home on what were just simply beautiful Sunday mornings, Mickey would seemingly ‘awaken’ from a prayerful meditation. His eyes still closed, sporting a big blissful grin underneath his bushy mustache, Mickey would enthusiastically impart how just by meeting Swami Muktananda we would be in the presence of God. And, should we be fortunate to have Swami Muktananda actually touch us, such as his finger tapping our forehead, we would then ‘instantly’ become enlightened. We would suddenly ‘see God’. Become forever free from any further worldly concerns. Meditation, or even prayer, would no longer be necessary.

Learning that this Swami was going to not just visit my university town but also give lectures at several other locations across the South Eastern United States I purchased tickets for every event. I wanted this ‘enlightenment’ Mickey was promising us. He made it sound soooo good. If this Swami missed me, if he didn’t touch my forehead in the first location, or even the second, I still had a couple of other cities where I could make certain my forehead would be in the path of his forefinger.

About that time I sent away for lessons in meditation, from a setting that had been founded by the man in the picture this teacher would open and display on his desk every Tuesday night. Privately, even before Mickey began offering his home as a setting for Sunday morning meditations, I had begun praying and meditating in my campus dorm, then later in my student apartment. I wasn’t very good at first, barely able to sit for five minutes. But I noted that those five minutes ‘calmed’ me. I became more focused and felt better afterward. Five minutes extended into ten, then twenty. Until I felt quite comfortable sitting for a very long time. I was taking meditation very seriously. It had become an important part of my life, of my daily practice. I wanted to learn more.

I became torn. Do I follow this teacher, Michael A Singer ~ the one person in this world who had been for me such an example of hope, happiness and strength? Who was now promising me, and a handful of others, instant spiritual gratification from the touch of a fingertip from this stranger coming to town. This ‘Swami’ who I didn’t know and had never heard of before Mickey spoke of him. Which, despite Mickey’s blissful, seemingly from heaven assurances, it all seemed a bit hard to believe. Or, do I become true to the lessons I would very soon start receiving in the mail. Focus my learning, my faith, on them. Something in writing, but without Mickey’s infectious personality.

Just prior to my lessons arriving by mail, and this man arriving from India, I received a letter from those who continued the vision of the man in that photograph, and would soon be sending me my lessons by mail. This letter urged me to be true, to be loyal, to the lessons. It explained that there is a higher, more powerful presence in our lives, one that lasts for lifetimes, than what we see with our own eyes. And that, if I feel it in my heart, I should have faith in it. That we will have ‘many teachers’, but only one true higher presence that will stay with us forever.

This choice before me I considered very seriously. Clearly, prayer, meditation and eating healthy was good for me. My physical health and my significant scholastic improvement was indisputable proof. I also just simply felt better. Clearer, happier than I’d ever been. I wanted to learn more about it all. I felt ready for a ’next step’, and wanted to know more about meditation. But I also wanted to be responsible in my choice of who I learned it from. Choose a way to approach this that would help me to achieve a better life that was real and would last.

This was not a little decision. I lost sleep thinking about it. My stomach hurt worrying about it. I became stressed, because I understood the long term implications of wrongly placed faith. But it also hurt to consider that I might offend or be giving up ‘Mickey’, my ‘teacher’.

Born into a family that was well educated and quite successful, they were also an undeniable example of fake promises and terrible darkness that they keep hidden from the world. To the outside world they looked respectable. Inside their home, behind closed doors, it truly was ‘horror’. I did not want to be fooled and find myself the victim of any more of that. I did not seek some cheap fleeting artificial gratification, even if it seemed to be easily and readily handed to me. I understood that meditation was hard. That it required patience, work, endurance, learning and practice ~ over many many many years. But none of that scared me. I wanted something real, something honest, something truthful, something lasting. Something that was really and truly good for me.

Mickey Singer had meant so much to me. But reflecting on everything, I was beginning to have my doubts ~ about Mickey.

I hand-wrote a letter to my teacher, Mickey Singer, the one person in this world who had meant so much, telling him that when this ‘man from India’ comes to town, I would not be attending. Nothing more, except to please refund my money.

One afternoon a couple of days later Michael A Singer drove up and parked right outside my student apartment. From inside my kitchen I could see Mickey step out of his vehicle. For Mickey to make ‘a personal appearance’ anywhere was rather rare. To say that I was surprised to see him outside where I lived would be an understatement. But something was wrong. Instead of the man who ‘floated’ into the classroom every Tuesday night, this Mickey kind-of ‘stormed’ into my kitchen.

“You know I received your letter!”

He sternly stated, staring at me with eyes of steel.

In front of me was a man, a person, I did not recognize.
No longer the warm, caring, giving teacher I had come to know and love.
Instead, a stranger was standing in my kitchen who was judging me,
dictating to me, with a reigned in but barely controlled anger.

Remaining silent I allowed him to say, forceful and strong, everything he needed to say. Then he left. Mickey got back into his vehicle, and drove away.

And that moment, more than anything, confirmed within me that I had made the right choice.

This teacher was wonderful. But he was, in the end, just a man. And men, no matter how good at heart or even well intentioned, will often times be ‘only human’.

Michael A Singer would later become a ‘best selling author’ of numerous ‘spiritual’ books, and was even interviewed on TV by Oprah Winfrey. He also still oversees that little community in those idyllic woods. With the ‘Temple of the Universe’ he built later, where he continues to preach every Sunday morning.

That ‘man from India’ did come to town. Close friends of mine as well drove in to town. They stayed with me in my student apartment, just so they could attend. They were surprised to learn I wouldn’t be going.

But I did go, kind of.

When the lecture hall was full, I walked over to its side entrance, curious as to what it was all going to be about. Approaching from down the street were two large shiny black limousines. The first filled with a number of women from India, all dressed in beautiful Saris. This first limousine stopped by the lecture hall’s side door, where these several beautifully dressed women from India emerged from their limo, and stepped inside the building.

Then, the second limo approached. And I could see, sitting alone in the rear seat, was this ‘man from India’, Swami Muktananda. As this Swami’s shiny limousine passed in front of me, he purposely sat forward and leaned closer to the window that looked out at where I was standing alone on the sidewalk, just outside his lecture hall. Even though the window to the limousine was closed, and the window glass was even a bit tinted, where this man’s eyes were all I could see were two rays of blue light. Rays of blue light that beamed directly into my eyes.

A gift from a saint?

Who knows. I really didn’t feel anything. Should I have?

But I do believe that those in Heaven see things “bigger” than we mere mortals are capable of. I’ve no right to interpret that moment, or really any other. I’m just not that smart. But I did personally believe at the time that this was a small token, a ‘heavenly light’ that was being shared with me through this Swami ~ for making the choice that I did. That I, and what I had decided to do, was understood. ‘All was cool’. Life would go on. I would be well.

This Swami’s limo, as well, pulled up outside the side door of the lecture hall. His rear car door was opened for him. He emerged, and entered the side door, to a room filled with waiting fans, all hoping to become enlightened by him that day.

Years later, a personal friend from India would share with me biographical details about this ‘Swami’. How Swami Muktananda would physically beat up people, stab and wound people. And that this Swami enjoyed doing it. How this Swami would force his female ‘devotees’ to have sex with him, tantamount to rape. How he would even sexually molest numerous underage little girls, multiple times. Using his esteemed position as “Swami” or “Guru” to get away with all of it. Even then, he would keep his many followers and receive in donations what some say was millions of dollars ~ despite this Swami being a creep who should be in jail.

 That ‘man from India’ my teacher, Mickey Singer, tried to get me to follow was clearly a ‘sicko’. No one I would ever want to know, sit in the audience of, or listen to. There never was going to be any touch on my forehead that would bring me closer to God. Further confirming that my not going to that Swami’s lecture that long ago day back in college was most definitely the right decision.

Walking back to my student apartment, alone, I was now saying goodbye to even my ‘spiritual’ friends. As they were each and every one gathered inside that lecture hall listening to that man from India, all because Michael A Singer urged them to.

I felt a decided separation from every one of them. But I also felt ok. Secure inside. With ‘my teacher’ having recently yelled at me in the kitchen of my student apartment I also now felt very uncomfortable ever going back out again to his wooded oasis. No more did I join all of the others at that beautiful idyllic retreat. Once again I was facing some unknown future. But it was all ok.

Very soon, in just a few short weeks, I would graduate ~ and leave this university town behind.

Ready to start a brand new life in a much larger world.

.

My teacher, Mickey Singer
Once pointed his seventh finger
At the dark stretching to the horizon line
And said, “That was the limit
Of people’s sight within it
And to feel for them would make me of their kind.”
I smiled, “Oh Mickey, don’t you know that it’s tricky…
To love all Maya and yet stay well above?”
He smiled, “Child, Be Here Now
And now you’ll know how
To love all Maya and yet stay well above.”
So I threw away my dharma
And shined my moon at all my karma
As I fasting floated freely to our high
But this high apparently
Is one I still don’t really see
It’s “Ah”, ‘i’ only have to die.

The above was a poem I composed
in the midst of my adoration
In response, Michael A Singer, my teacher,
when I told him wrote the following….

Mickey Singer wrote this

Mickey w Muktananda

Newspaper article describing Swami Muktananda’s visit.
A smiling Michael A Singer, with mustache, can be seen
‘blissfully’ sitting & standing right behind this Swami.

.

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