Sunday, December 28, 2008

My Guru and His Disciple

It's impossible for me to overstate the importance of Christopher Isherwood's spiritual memoir, My Guru and His Disciple, to my own spiritual development.

I read it in late 1998, after my reawakening and the birth of my daughter. At that point, it immediately became the third book in what I then considered to be my spiritual canon, along with Autobiography of a Yogi, and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

While Autobiography inspired me to look for a guru and take up the spiritual life, and The Gospel inflamed my spiritual desire to its peak, Isherwood's loving and critical look back at his own guru, his own "Center," and his own spiritual life was instrumental in my ability to critically understand my Center years and to understand them in context.

Isherwood was born in England and educated at Cambridge. In 1939, he emigrated to the United States to avoid being drafted at home. While living in Germany during the 1930s, Isherwood had fallen in love with a young German named Heinz. He couldn't bear the thought of facing Heinz on the battlefield and sought to avoid such a confrontation by seeking work in America.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, Isherwood didn't believe in God, at least not the white-haired old man ruling from a golden throne in heaven, the one praised by "crosstians" and who apparently could not stand a certain segment of His own creation known as homosexuals. Then he met his guru.

Isherwood's guru was Swami Prabhavananda, of the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Prabhavananda was, in turn, a direct disciple of Swami Brahmananda, the first president of the Ramakrishna Order and one of Sri Ramakrishna's closest disciples. A friend of Isherwood's pressed him to meet Swami Prabhavananda, so he did, though Isherwood didn't have very high expectations for the meeting.

Isherwood had just one serious question to ask the swami and if "his answer was unsatisfactory to me, there would be no point in our ever seeing each other again." "In essence it was: Can I lead a spiritual life as long as I'm having a sexual relationship with a young man?" The swami answered correctly.

"You must try to see him as the young Lord Krishna," Swami Prabhavananda said.

As Isherwood later recalled, what convinced him that he could become the swami's pupil was that the swami "hadn't shown the least shadow of distaste on hearing me admit to my homosexuality." Thus began Isherwood's 35-plus years as the swami's disciple, which is the subject of his spiritual masterwork.

My Guru and His Disciple is an antidote to the good-intentioned evil of hagiography. As put so succinctly in its Wikipedia entry, hagiography has become a pejorative term for biographies and histories written about saints and religious figures that are uncritical of their subjects or even reverential in tone. While it's understandable why a disciple might want to write only flattering things about his or her guru, to shade the truth or lie by omission is a huge disservice, particularly to later seekers who will never have the opportunity to meet the guru in person.

The result of hagiography is to turn the guru into a perfect being, someone who descended out of the clouds and crapped sandalwood. While such holy figures may inspire awe in beginners, they become totally unreachable as human beings and thus have little utility to most seekers who have progressed beyond the beginner's stage.

I'm reminded of this so often when I read the facile criticism of modern gurus -- my own included -- in which critics hold up past masters like Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Yogananda as paragons of modern ethical behaviour and then argue such moral rectitude is evidence (1) of the spiritual attainment of those past masters and (2) of the spiritual depravity of the modern guru who displays various petty human qualities like fear, insecurity, or other acts of small mindedness. If only they had a true picture of the human personalities of such past masters, then they wouldn't be so quick to judge the human frailties of the modern gurus.

That's why Isherwood's book is so refreshing. He tells it like it is -- about himself, his own guru, and his guru's spiritual organization. All three are better for it. I love, for example, the following diary entry Isherwood made:

May 22 [1974]. Swami talked about Ramakrishna and Girish Ghosh. They once had a competition to find out which of them knew the bigger number of risque words. (It was amusing to hear this corny French adjective pop up out of Swami's vocabulary.) After they had both said all the risque words they knew, Girish bowed down and told Ramakrishna, "You are my guru in this also."

What a great anecdote. It means more to me as a seeker than any recounting of Thakur spending days in samadhi or going into ecstasy. But imagine, for just a moment, what would happen if a YouTube video hit the Internet showing the "supposed" holy man -- thinking he was alone with just his intimate disciples -- sitting in his room at Dakshineswar spitting out the most vile cuss words, to the hysterical laughter of his inner circle. A public relations nightmare -- and thus the understandable inclination of the hagiographic whitewash. It's too bad.

Isherwood's book hides nothing. His intellectual rigour -- his sincerity -- was deeply moving to me at a time when I found myself trying to integrate and synthesize my own memories of disciple life, my new found spiritual life, and my burgeoning intellectual development. Isherwood showed the way.

I envy those who have yet to discover My Guru and His Disciple. How I wish I could read it again for the first time.

Drawing above is of Christopher Isherwood by Don Bachardy.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Growing Family

In December 1997, I completed my undergraduate degree, and because I had gone to school full-time over both summers, I was on track to finish my graduate degree just a few months later.

Before that final graduation from the Monterey Institute, however, I had an interesting experience at the local shopping mall. While walking behind a young couple and their five or six year old daughter, it occurred to me that having another child would be nice.

At that point (in early 1998), Elaine and I had not discussed having another child. Sean was about four at the time and until then, I had thought that one child was enough. My focus was on finishing up school and then getting a career of some kind started. Having more children had been the last thing on my mind.

And yet, that's what I was thinking as I watched that little girl walking along with her parents at the mall. Later that week, Elaine told me that she was pregnant -- the baby was due in November 1998.

The news of Elaine's pregnancy was the last blow to my long dying dream of becoming a spy. The blow fell softly though; over the previous few years, and certainly since my re-awakening, I had begun to realize that my path in life lay elsewhere.

So, with my graduation from the Monterey Institute in late May 1998, I began looking for a job with benefits that would permit us to remain living on the Monterey Peninsula. With luck, I landed a position at a local college textbook publisher as a project manager of sorts in its editorial department. It was located just a ten-minute walk from our apartment.

The pay there was abysmal -- especially considering my looming student loans -- but it provided us with health insurance, great working conditions, and the people were very nice to work with. And because I could walk back and forth to work each day, I was able to continue with the spiritual practice I had started about a year earlier. I had been secretly chanting the seed sounds, to which practice I attributed some new experiences I had been having.

In the hour or so just before waking up in the morning -- when my conscious mind began to register sensory data but would remain asleep for another hour or so if left undisturbed -- I began to feel a circular buzzing sensation in different parts of my body. One morning it was at the base of my throat, the next morning in my chest or throat or navel or groin -- the very areas I had been concentrating on while chanting each day.

The "buzzing" felt sort of like that sensation one gets when one's leg falls asleep. You know, when you adjust it and the circulation begins again? It feels like its buzzing kind of. But the sensation I felt wasn't uncomfortable at all. It was also localized in one area (sometimes two) and it seemed to be spinning very quickly. Laying in bed, I'd immediately become aware of the motion and silently observe it for the minute or so that the experience lasted.

The only other noticeable effect on my consciousness which I attributed to my chanting was a more varied dream life. Until then, I had never been very conscious of my dream life. Typically, I slept pretty hard and even those few dreams that I remembered were pretty mundane. As I've written before, I was never prone to visions.

By the time I had graduated and began working at the publishing company, however, that had changed. I was having more dreams -- often vivid ones -- and I was remembering them. Some of them I remember even now with a thrill. In one, for example, I found myself sitting in the basement meditation room of the old San Francisco Center with Guru and Swami Yogananda. In another dream, I was alone with Sri Ramakrishna in his room at Dakshineswar. We were sitting next to each other, cross-legged. How magical it was to sit with Thakur, our knees touching one another.

In late October 1998, though, with just a few weeks until our second child was due, I dreamt of a vibrant and intense little girl, with long curly hair. It was thrilling to see her. And though Elaine and I had purposefully kept ourselves in the dark about our new baby's sex, when I awoke I knew that I had dreamt of our daughter.

Erin was born about a week later.

That's Nirbachita, me and Jeevan, above, at my graduation from the Monterey Institute in May 1998.

Re-Awakening

I loved my time at the Monterey Institute.

Part of that, of course, was the loose structure of student life. In almost four years in the Navy, I shaved every weekday and not only never missed a day of work, but was never even late for a day of work. The pace of student life was just much more relaxed. As a bonus, I loved what I was studying: international trade, national security issues, economics. My mind was like a sponge in the way it soaked up information.

That summer (1996), I began studying Japanese at the Institute's summer language intensive -- five days a week of full-time Japanese immersion. I loved that, too, though the pace of instruction was brisk. From that point forward, language studies were an integral part of my coursework through the following fall and into the New Year.

I spent my second summer (1997) at the Institute just as I had my first: at the summer Japanese language intensive. As I had been doing for the past year, I memorized Kanji characters from flash cards as I walked over the hill to and from school each day. My only respite from study came at lunch time, when I got the chance to hit the gym and let my mind relax.

After working out, but before heading back to school, I usually stopped at a local deli -- Troia's Market -- for lunch. It was there, that summer, that I experienced a re-awakening.

I had just gotten my sandwich and stepped outside. As I began walking back to school, I felt a solid wall of joy permeating my consciousness. It seemed to emanate from my heart, forehead, and my surroundings at the same time.

Joy, perhaps, isn't the most precise description of what I felt that afternoon. Joy suggests happiness and what I felt that day was not mere happiness. Maybe bliss is a better word for it. In short, the flame had been re-kindled.

I've written before about how the psychic flame that had dominated my life in the Center had become like a pilot light thereafter -- always noticeable if I focused upon it, but never giving off any heat. Well, on that summer afternoon, to continue the metaphor, it was as if someone had turned up the gas. The pilot light did its job, the gas was ignited, and I felt warm.

What would this mean for my life going forward though?

My first inclination was to begin feeding the flame through meditation, and in that regard, I reverted back to the only meditation technique I'd ever known: meditating on Guru's photograph. I didn't have one though, so I dug through some old boxes until I found one of the few books by Guru that I still possessed. I flipped to the back inside pages, found Guru's picture there, and cut it out.

Then, for a few minutes before bed each night, I mentally prostrated myself before Guru and offered the burning flame of gratitude in my heart. The act was profound only in its simplicity.

I also began reacquainting myself with the spiritual classics of my youth: Swami Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and M's The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. In fact, I ordered cassette tapes from the Vedanta Society of modern recordings of the same Bengali devotional songs once sung to and by Sri Ramakrishna himself. And on the weekends, I'd get up before dawn and meditate on the rocks at Lovers' Point in Pacific Grove. Once, I even meditated under a tree in a graveyard.

I was desperately seeking a new practice, but nothing I did was satisfactory until I began doing walking meditations. Guru had begun walking meditations in the last few years of my discipleship -- in the late 1980s or so. He'd be seated and we, the disciples, would form two lines -- boys and girls, respectively -- and then walk past him, sometimes many times, in a slow shuffle.

I don't know if the thought had occurred to me back then, but walking meditation forced the meditator to maintain some connection with the world. That innovation -- forcing the meditator to remain conscious of and be able to navigate his or her surroundings -- was significant. In terms of the ideas expressed in my post about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, walking meditation seems to permit one to engage the properties of the right hemisphere of the brain, while still maintaining some connection with the logical, grounded left hemisphere of the brain.

In any event, at the time of my re-awakening, I wasn't in the Center and didn't have Guru to walk by. Instead, I developed my own practice and meditated upon myself as I walked to and from school each day. The technique I developed for myself turned out to be as powerful as it was simple: I began softly chanting the seed sounds or native mantras for each of the seven chakras, up and down the spine, in a circuit as I walked. (I've addressed some of these terms previously.)

I would begin at the crown of the head. Technically, some dispute whether or not the crown center is actually a chakra and I know of no seed sound for it, but Guru has suggested chanting "Supreme," his preferred term for the Divine. I always felt partial to the Indian term "Brahman" and chanted that instead. I chanted audibly, but just barely so. There was usually nobody around to hear me, but I didn't want to look like a nut.

For that first chakra, I pitched my voice low. Guru has said that the chakras are associated with the musical scale and I tried to account for this in my chanting.

Stepping up a note, I'd then focus upon my forehead and chant "Aum." Then with a higher pitch still, I'd focus on the base of my throat and chant "Ham" (with the "a" sounding like "ah"). Then on my heart center, I'd chant "Yam." Next, I'd focus on my belly button and chant "Ram." Then the groin, chanting "Vam." Finally, with a high pitched quiet voice like a pristine bell, I'd chant "Lam" while focused upon the base of my spine. Having descended the chakra ladder, I'd then climb back up, chanting each of the seed sounds again.

Like that, I'd complete two or three circuits on my morning walk to school each day. I'd then repeat the process on the way home after classes. Among other things, this new practice forced me, in a natural and spontaneous way, to incorporate the sensory world into my spiritual practice. It also had the side effect of getting me spiritually blitzed.

The final act of this synthetic movement was my weaning away from Guru's picture.

While my daily practice then consisted almost solely of chanting the seed sounds as I walked to and from school each day, for months after my re-awakening I continued to meditate upon Guru's picture each night before bed for a few minutes. The meditation consisted of nothing other than gratitude. I'd reflect upon the newly awakened flame within my heart and offer it silently to my Guru with gratitude.

As meaningful as the process was, however, looking at Guru's picture each night began to feel like a psychological crutch. It occurred to me that it was time to stand up on my own. It was with some trepidation, then, that I slid Guru's picture into a book for safekeeping after one last grateful bow.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Into Balance

I'm intrigued by the experience of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, which she presents in this video. If you haven't watched it, do take the time. It's about 20 minutes long, but you'll think about it for the rest of the day and beyond.

Dr. Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered from a massive stroke on the left side of her brain in 1996. Surprisingly, she found that the stroke opened her up to an entirely different -- and blissful -- experience of existence. She has since called it her "stroke of insight."

She recounts that, as a scientist, she had lived her whole life sensing the world through the left hemisphere of her brain. The left hemisphere of the brain processes sensory data in a logical, linear way. The stroke changed that for her. As a result, Dr. Bolte Taylor was forced to experience the world through the creative, intuitive right hemisphere of her brain. Her description of the experience is mystical.

What intrigued me about her talk was the idea that I was experiencing much the same journey, but in reverse. While Dr. Bolte Taylor's journey of consciousness moved from the logical left hemisphere of her brain to the intuitive right hemisphere of her brain, my journey was taking me from the intuitive right to the logical left. My years in the Center were all about the development and elevation of my right brain operations to the exclusion of the logical left (at least from a neurological point of view).

Unlike Dr. Bolte Taylor, though, the agent of change for my journey from intuitive insight to intellectual development was not the sudden physical violence of a stroke. Instead, I was moved psychologically.

Honestly, I had nowhere else to go. After nine years in the Center, I had no inclination to return to the contemplative life. And after I had spent close to three years cultivating my inner warrior only to have that dream come crashing down with my utter failure at SEAL training, intellectual development -- the left hemisphere of the brain -- seemed the only option left.

Thankfully, after three years of menial labor on the USS Nimitz, I was desperate to study and it was a great relief for me to begin classes at MIIS in January 1996. Though I was a little apprehensive that first day, I quickly settled into a routine that would sustain me for the next two and a half years.

Shortly after starting classes, my wife, two year old son, and I moved from Santa Cruz -- where we had been living with my mom -- to Monterey. From that point, I began walking back and forth to school every day.

The walk was about a mile, up one side of a hill, through the Presidio of Monterey Army Garrison, and down the other side of the hill into Monterey proper. Typically, I might have had two classes in the morning and another in the mid-afternoon. So, after my morning classes, I'd head over to the Monterey Sports Center (quite possibly the best city-run athletic center anywhere). There I began working out again in earnest, for the first time since quitting BUD/S. Twice a week I swam and three times a week I lifted weights and ran north along the Monterey coast.

On weekends, I began doing long runs out to Pebble Beach and the famous 17-Mile Drive, which always reminded me of the first time I ran there in the late 1980s with Sundar. My life was coming into balance for the first time.

As for scholastic activities, I got a job with one of the Institute's research facilities, the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. CNS, as it is called, is the largest research organization in the United States devoted to tracking, reporting, and in that way preventing the spread of WMD throughout the world. For the next few years, I spent about 20 hours a week at CNS -- which is right on campus -- reviewing papers and journals for articles reporting about the trade of ballistic missiles in and around Asia.

I also began studying Japanese. My initial plan had been to study Arabic, but at some point between leaving the Navy and starting school I realized that to really perfect my language acquisition I would have to spend time living in the area of study and I didn't think Elaine -- who is Jewish -- would feel comfortable if we moved to Syria, for example. Plus, I'd always felt some affinity for Japan. Between the ages of five and 12, I had studied Judo at a traditional dojo (Santa Clara Judo Club run by Sensei Tosh Higashi).

With that, my formal journey into the logical left hemisphere of my brain began. My life entered a state of relative equilibrium that I hadn't experienced in a long time, if ever. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was building a solid intellectual foundation that was to support the reemergence of my psychic being in the very near future.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Freedom!



On November 21, 1995, I walked off the USS Nimitz for the last time.

What a feeling to stand at the head of the pier that cold morning, with my sea bag slung over my shoulder, and look back upon that awesome and horrible ship, which had been my home for the previous three years.

I didn't stand there for long though. One of my closest shipmates -- Brandon -- was released from the Navy the very same day and he was giving me a ride to the Seattle-Tacoma airport. My wife and son had moved back to California about a month earlier and were living in Santa Cruz, where we were renting a house with my mom. The Monterey Institute of International Studies had accepted my application and I was to start classes there in January.

In the meantime, I had about six weeks to relax, to grow accustomed to being a civilian, to process the many dreams -- nightmares, really -- of seeing stripes on my sleeve and being told that I was back in the Navy. It's only with hindsight that I now realize how important my military experience was to my further personal development.

What the Center provided for my psychic development, the Navy -- particularly during my first year in pursuit of SEAL-hood -- provided for my energetic or vital development. (For a refresher on the lexicon check here.) The Navy provided the structure and security necessary for me to focus upon and express my energetic persona, to let it emerge as the principal driver of my consciousness, which in turn was the only way for me to realize -- not just know or think, but realize -- both its strengths and its weaknesses.

For all their differences, it's difficult for me not to notice the striking similarities between the Center and the Navy, similarities I was constantly reminded of during my Navy tenure. For example:

* Both the Center and the Navy are top-down, authoritarian regimes;

* Both recruit and rely upon volunteers and, in turn, discourage members from leaving;

* Both demand conformity, prescribe uniforms, and impose grooming standards;

* Both emphasize physical fitness and discipline; and

* Perhaps most importantly, both provided their respective members a social security blanket -- just by joining, a member could have most of his or her basic needs met (although the Navy does a better job when it comes to providing medical care, a subject I hope to address in a future post).

My spectacular failure at BUD/S and the resulting three years I spent on the Nimitz provided two more important elements to my further development. First, my failure at BUD/S left a huge hole in my psyche. One minute my vital life force was driving the organism, the next minute I found myself a broken man aboard ship, dreams smashed, humiliated. The psychic vacuum left behind that failure became an eventual breeding ground for my further mental development. It was as if in turn, each of the members of my psyche -- first heart, then vital, then mind -- would have its respective day in the sun.

Finally, my time in the Navy stripped me of the last vestiges of my spiritual pride. Though I was no longer consciously practicing any spiritual disciplines, I carried with me into the Navy a kind of spiritual bigotry -- a sense inculcated in me during my Center years that there is a qualitative difference between a disciple (even an ex-disciple like me) and a "worldly" person. That's a crock of shit and I wouldn't have learned that lesson so convincingly had I not joined the Navy.

Disciples and sailors alike come in all stripes, good and bad, heroes and cowards. By the time I left the Navy in November 1995, that lesson had been drummed into my very bones. I looked at people as individuals and judged them, if at all, on their actions (and not upon their associations).

So it was that I found myself back in Santa Cruz a free man.

What a sweet shot of Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz, with credit here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One Year!



The Abode of Yoga reaches the one year mark. To date -- and not counting this one -- I've written 120 posts.

I estimate that we're about 30 or so posts from the end. At the rate I've been going, that should take about three months or so. The pace, however, might slow down.

As I left the Navy -- and as I'll explain shortly -- I experienced a spiritual reawakening of sorts and had to struggle with the question of how to synthesize a mystical daily experience, an occult experience, with my new thoroughly material life. I was to find great insight in this regard from the writings of Sri Aurobindo. Translating this sythetic process in a few, snappy blog posts will be a challenge.

So, too, will be addressing some of the public challenges Guru and the Center faced in the last few years of his life -- challenges that many of my friends both inside and outside the Center would prefer not be addressed at all.

Dealing with those issues -- and for those unaware of what I'm alluding to, I'll simply have to be coy until we come to it in the story -- was a big part of my latter development and are absolutely necessary to the narrative arc of this memoir. So, I'll try to address them head-on, fearlessly, as I've tried to address all my other "issues" thus far.

Finally, let me encourage you to email me. Go to the bottom of the page, click on my profile, and there you'll find a link to my email address. Drop me a note and let me know what I've screwed up or how I can make things better. Or better yet, post a comment if you've got something you'd like to share.

Thanks for reading. And while you're waiting for the next post, take a look back now to the post that started it all one year ago: A New Beginning.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The End in Sight



With one year left in the service, I had some thinking to do.

My original plan had been to become a Navy SEAL and complete my undergraduate degree all in one four-year enlistment period and then get out of the Navy.

As the Nimitz left dry dock and prepared for sea trials, however, not only had I not become a SEAL but neither had I completed my college degree -- I was still a few credits short. These twin failures had a devastating impact on my mood until I read a brochure from the Monterey Institute of International Studies or "MIIS."

I had known about MIIS for years. It was a small graduate school devoted to international affairs with a particularly strong emphasis on foreign language acquisition. It was founded in 1955 by former instructors of the Defense Language Institute or "DLI."

Outside foreign policy circles, MIIS was little known. Inside -- particularly inside intelligence circles -- graduates of MIIS were sometimes referred to as the "Monterey Mafia." Anecdotally, it was said that the CIA recruited more employees from MIIS each year than any other single institution of higher learning.

Whether that was true or not, my dream of becoming a spy was still alive. I wanted to go to MIIS and study Arabic. The problem, I'd thought, was that MIIS was only a graduate school and I still had not completed my bachelor's degree. As it turned out, however, MIIS had a little known "Honors" undergraduate program. Each year, a select number of students were permitted to enter the school as juniors and complete both degrees -- BA and MA -- in three years.

That became my next goal.

Among other things, I needed two letters of recommendation to support my application. For the first one, I asked the head of the Nimitz' Operations Department. To enter school the following January (1996), I'd need to have the support and permission of my chain-of-command to leave the Navy one month early. I thought getting a little "buy in" from the Operations Officer (who would be the one to sign any early out order for me) was crucial.

For the second letter, I asked my old Center roommate Trishatur. Trishatur had worked at the United Nations since graduating high school. He kindly wrote a glowing recommendation for me on U.N. letterhead, which I thought added some international flavor to my application. With that, I had to hope that I'd be accepted at MIIS and that I'd survive another year aboard the 'Shank (our not so affectionate nickname for the Nimitz, after the prison in the great movie The Shawshank Redemption).

At about that time -- January 1995 -- I was sent to FITCPAC in San Diego, California for four weeks to learn a new computer system being adopted by the ship. Among other things, it meant my first time away from my wife and son since returning from sea about a year and a half earlier. It was hard to leave, but once there I tried to make the best of it by reminding myself that I had just one more year until freedom.

After about a week and a half in San Diego, I felt the urge to meditate. Since leaving the Center five years earlier, the spiritual flame that had once been the predominate force in my life had never truly disappeared. But it was no more than a pilot light -- I was aware of its presence, but it gave no heat as it were. Or, to be true to the metaphor, there was no psychic fuel for that pilot light to ignite. From time to time, though, the inner pilot light would flicker and I would feel the desire to feed the flame.

What I did first was to look up Self-Realization Fellowship or "SRF." I had always felt close to Paramahansa Yogananda and knew that the group had a temple dedicated to the master located in San Diego. The temple had a Sunday service open to the public, so I decided to take the bus out there from the base where I was staying. The service itself was, for me, like going to church (something I never liked). It was very formulaic and by the numbers. The temple was crowded -- and I liked being around so many seekers, smelling the incense, and seeing the pictures of the other venerable yogis of the SRF line -- but it wasn't a profound experience for me.

Afterwards, I went to the San Diego Center's great vegetarian restaurant Jyoti-Bihanga. I hadn't been around disciples for quite some time and was actually a little nervous walking into the restaurant, but my presence went unnoticed and after a nice lunch I took the bus back to the base feeling a subtle sense of disquiet.

The photo above shows me as a Petty Officer Second Class (akin to an Army Sergeant), standing next to the Nimitz' Commanding Officer, then-Captain John B. Nathman. Along with the other guys there, I had been named Sailor of the Month for my department. Two things I remember about that experience. First, I was ripe. I had worked all night and had not showered or shaved before having this picture taken. I felt bad for the Captain as he leaned into me. Second, the Captain's ring finger on his left hand -- he wore both his wedding band and his Naval Academy class ring on the same finger.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Home from Sea

It was 7:00 a.m. and all those in the intelligence division were gathered for morning quarters.

We had just left the Gulf to begin our six week journey home and were on our way for a few days of liberty in Thailand. Lcdr. Segura walked in to read whatever notices there were to read.

"I have a message to read from Amcross," he began. "This message is to the USS Nimitz, received 2323 zulu last night, to Seaman Kracht."

Mr. Segura looked up from the paper he was reading from with a slight smile on his face before continuing on. With mention of my name, I began listening.

"Wife Elaine requests advise birth of baby boy. Verification by Dr. Frank Zarka of O'Connor Hospital this city. Doctor states baby born 26 June 1993 at 1530 hours, 7 lbs. 15 oz., named Sean Jeffrey. Mother and child doing well."

Applause broke out from the rest of the guys. It was a nice moment and as soon as quarters broke up, I told my best friends in the division -- Scott and Mark -- to meet me in the SCIF. It was the only place where we could have some privacy. In the meantime, I headed to the Chief's refrigerator and retrieved the three ice cold near beers that Mr. Holcomb had given me a month or so earlier. Boy, did they taste good.

For about ten minutes, Scott, Mark and I toasted the birth of my new son, Sean. It would be a few weeks before I even saw a picture of Sean and I wouldn't get to hold him for another six weeks. It's sad to think about now, but at the time I was just glad that Elaine was okay and that our ship was on its way home.

First, though, we'd stop for about four days of liberty in Thailand. From there, we headed back east across the Pacific to Hawaii, San Diego, and finally back to our home port of Bremerton, Washington. Unfortunately for me, Elaine and our new baby were still down in California. I spent the next four days finding and renting an apartment for us in the small town of Port Orchard. Once that was done, I flew down to San Jose and reunited, finally, with my family.

That was a happy day. The remaining two-and-a-half years of my enlistment, however, wouldn't be quite so nice.

Shortly after Elaine, Sean and I got settled into our new apartment in Port Orchard, the Nimitz went into dry dock. Lots of the veteran guys on the ship had warned that "going into the yards" -- as it was called -- could be worse than going to sea. I found that hard to believe, but as far as esprit de corps was concerned it turned out to be true.

For about the next 14 months, everything short of the nuclear reactors powering the Nimitz was completely overhauled, inside and out.

It was a horrible existence.

The picture of Sean and me, above, was taken about eight months after my return from the Gulf. I was a relatively new petty officer third class and, judging by the dress uniform, must have been on my way to watch.