Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Epilogue -- My Hopes for the Center

Swami Vivekananda was nothing if not decisive.

When invited to make the journey to Chicago to attend the Parliament of Religions, however, the wandering sadhu and heir to Sri Ramakrishna wavered. How could he go? His master had relentlessly driven home the message of renunciation. A true aspirant was to shun the world, shun women and gold, shun fame and philanthropy.

For six years after Thakur’s death, that’s exactly what Swamiji had done -- and yet.

Accepting the trip to America felt right. Finding himself on the southern coast of India at the time, Naren decided to swim out to a nearby rock and meditate. ("Vivekananda Rock" as it is known and appears today is pictured above.) Afterwards, mustering the kind of self-confidence that his brother disciples were not yet capable of, Swami Vivekananda accepted the invitation and opened the West to yoga.

Now, more than a century later, it is time for Sri Chinmoy’s disciples to take up the mantle of Swamiji’s boldness. In this respect, I have three broad hopes for the Center as it moves forward without Guru's direct leadership. First, that the Center adopt a bold mission of selfless service to the wider world. Second, that it provide long-term health care to those hundreds of disciples who have given their lives to Guru and now find themselves without health insurance and growing older. Third, and finally, that the Center operate with complete transparency.

Years ago, my brother Jeevan said something to me in the frank manner for which he is known. We were talking about the Center and I had mentioned to him something I had read. To honor a recent accomplishment of Guru's, a group of disciples had made 27,000 snowballs.

"They should have collected 27,000 blankets for the homeless," Jeevan noted dryly.

I've never forgotten that comment.

While such childlike tributes served a purpose while Guru lived, their time has now passed. Now is the time for the Center as an organization to commit itself to selfless service to humanity -- locally, nationally, and internationally.

I'm sure this suggestion may meet with some resistance. Guru wasn't particularly enthusiastic about philanthropy. The same was true of Sri Ramakrishna. Only after Thakur passed away did his disciples embrace service to the world, and then only with the bold leadership of Swamiji (Vivekananda) and Maharaj (Brahmananda).

At the time, a number of Sri Ramakrishna's other direct disciples weren't so keen on the idea. Thankfully, Swami Vivekananda's spirit prevailed. In the years following, when cholera broke out somewhere, the second generation of the Ramakrishna Order -- the ochre-clad disciples of Swamiji and Maharaj -- were some of the very first headed into the afflicted villages (while most other people wanted out of such villages).

Swami Vivekananda and his brothers knew instinctively that if Ramakrishna's disciples weren't brave enough to face such troubles, then nobody would be. Aren't Sri Chinmoy's disciples cast from the same mold?

As a former disciple -- as someone who wants to see the Center succeed in the future -- I think the Center needs to have a mission of selfless service to the world. I won't go so far as to suggest what that mission of service should look like. (Frankly, I'm probably overstepping my prerogative with this post already.)

I will go so far as to say, however, that the Center is uniquely qualified to engage in such activity. It has worldwide reach, enthusiastic manpower, and know-how. From successfully planning and staging the World Harmony Run to putting on multi-day endurance events, to astounding feats of individual endurance and perseverance, it's difficult to imagine any other single group of individuals more fit to serve the world.

Now is the time.

My second hope for the Center is that it take care of its own, that it provide comprehensive health care to all those disciples who have given their lives to Guru for any appreciable amount of time and now find themselves without health insurance.

I would hazard that there are probably less than a few hundred of these, maybe far less. Most such disciples probably live in the United States, which doesn't take care of its citizens' health care needs in the same way that other, more civilized, nations do. Nevertheless, not even a single disciple who has given their life to Guru should suffer in old age.

My dear friend Sudhir was lucky. He worked for Victory-Factory, one of the few disciple-run businesses that provided such benefits to its employees. Even so, in the end, an inordinate amount of Sudhir's care fell to former disciples. (I shudder to think how Sudhir might have suffered without the constant love, devotion and sacrifice shown by Samarpana and Harsha.) I fear not all disciples will be so lucky.

The Center should begin to address this issue immediately.

My final hope -- and probably the most important -- is that the Center operate with absolute transparency. As someone who is regularly brought in in my professional capacity to sort things out (when it is way too late), I can't stress enough how important transparency is for the long-term health of any organization.

Despite its fundamental importance, I suspect this will be the biggest challenge for those currently making decisions about the Center's future direction. I'm not being critical -- it's only natural. At issue is control of the future of an organization that was (and is) the life blood of hundreds, if not thousands, of disciples.

Nevertheless, attention must be paid to the seemingly mundane issues of organization and management if the Center is to fulfill the legacy Guru has left it. It is in dealing with these issues that a spirit of openness and transparency are so important.

Apparently, the Center's official name is the Sri Chinmoy Society, Inc., according to its corporate not-for-profit listing with the New York Secretary of State. When it comes to corporate entities, transparency starts with understanding how such organizations work. I'm no expert on such things -- and I'm not a New York lawyer -- but here's a primer on how such organizations work generally.

Corporations are controlled by their owners. While the owners of a for-profit company are usually its shareholders, the owners of a not-for-profit company are typically its members. In this case, that probably means the disciples. Ownership is exercised in a representative way, much like a representative democracy. Having a thousand decision makers, for example, would make the act of governance impossible, so the members instead elect representatives.

Those representatives are usually called directors and, once elected, they make up the Board of Directors. The board -- typically made up of an odd number of directors -- make all of the most important decisions about the not-for-profit company by voting (hence the odd number of directors, which prevents a tie vote or "deadlock"). To manage the organization on a day-to-day basis, the Board of Directors often hires officers, like a president or general manager, a secretary, a treasurer, and others as needed.

At the best run organizations, the Board of Directors make such decisions at regularly scheduled board meetings, which are open to all members to observe. Records of such meetings ("minutes") are kept of exactly what took place and are then distributed to the organization's entire membership (oftentimes through a newsletter or member website).

The rules of the road for any particular organization are usually called the by-laws. Organizations must generally make the by-laws (and other corporate records) available to all members upon request.

The by-laws are critical. They identify, among many other things, how members become members, when and how often elections are to be held to choose the directors, how many directors there are to be, how often the board meets, and all of the other procedural details necessary to organize and run the corporate entity.

It is when the by-laws are not followed -- when those who are in de facto control of an organization and don't want to lose such control -- that trouble typically arises. Transparency -- openness about both the organization's assets and management -- is the preventative vaccine for such problems. Without a basic understanding of how the corporate entity is organized and the rules by which it is managed, the individual member-owners lose control.

I'm no longer privy to what goes on in the Center, but as a well-wisher, I worry about the apparent lack of transparency since Guru's death almost a year and a half ago. It's just little things. Like the fact that the only public account of Guru's passing is my recollection of Sahishnu's account. As a blogger, I'm thrilled. It drives traffic to this site. But it's sad, really.

Then there is the fact that Guru's will -- a document publicly filed in the Queens County Probate Court (but not so easily obtained) -- is only available on an anti-cult website. There's no good excuse for this. Certainly, Guru's passing was a cause for great mourning. And I can understand how some people might genuinely feel that it's morbid to want to think about such things -- that it's better to keep such things away from view.

Understandable, but wrong. It's difficult to deal with the death of a loved one, but the difficulties are multiplied if not addressed in a straightforward and professional way. It's time for all disciples to take up the reins of the organization and steer it into the future.

I would also commend those interested to look at how other venerable institutions -- like Self-Realization Fellowship and the Vedanta Society to name just two -- have addressed these problems in the past. There's no reason to either reinvent the wheel or commit the same mistakes already made by others. (Both of these institutions suffer, in my opinion, from the old school, top-down, authoritarian control model.)

One good example of transparency is that provided by the Gangaji Foundation. I don't know much about the group, but its leader -- Gangaji -- is a female teacher based in Oregon. She has a no-nonsense vibe and what I really like is that she posts, among other things, her foundation's financial reports online for public consumption (and here's their board ... nicely done). It's a great start and something I hope the Center emulates and improves upon.

Finally, more broadly, I hope that the Center takes a modern attitude towards control -- more new Google than old IBM, more strength in numbers and diversity, than top-down authority, more Barack Obama than George W. Bush.

It must be an exciting time to be a disciple. The opportunities are endless. I wish them all the best and can't wait to read their own memoirs in the near future.

Update (September 20, 2009): Just stumbled upon a great letter from Swami Vivekananda to his brother disciples. Writing from England in April 1896, Swamiji outlines the organizational structure of the Ramakrishna Math.

Amazing that more than a hundred years later -- with a few tweaks here and there -- Swamiji's outline could still serve as a model for organizing today's Sri Chinmoy Center.


Credit for the beautiful photo of Vivekananda Rock on the coast of Kanyakumari goes to indian~man on Flickr.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Conclusion


It took 139 posts and more than a year, but I'm finally at the end.

I hope you've enjoyed the story.

Before summing up, I thought I'd share some of the motivations and principles that have guided me as I've written.

Initially, I wanted nothing more than to share Sahishnu's account of Guru's last hours. I had fully expected that in the days -- or at most weeks -- following Guru's death, the Center as an organization would release a detailed account of what happened from all those who were with Guru at the time.

Inexplicably, that was not to be (and still hasn't happened as far as I can tell).

After more than a month -- with no official word from the Center and no account of Guru's death whatever to be had-- I began to think about how I could get Sahishnu's account of what had happened out to those who would no doubt like to know (like Guru's thousands of active and former disciples). That's when the idea of a spiritual memoir hit me.

Aside from getting that important information out, what possible value could a memoir about my spiritual life have for anybody else? Honestly, I don't know.

What got me to write, though, was the thought that I could offer a different perspective on Guru and the Center than what was then available online. Though I have fallen short, my goal has been to try to replicate even a portion of the spirit of Christopher Isherwood's peerless spiritual memoir: My Guru and His Disciple. That is, I've tried to write a sincere and frank account of my time in the Center, all the time taking care not to slip into hagiography.

I've also worked to write something that I'd want to read if I were a new seeker and was looking for information about Guru and his spiritual path. I've tried to "keep it real." In my own seeking, I find lots of talk about avatars and miracles unhelpful and uninteresting. The idea, for example, that Swami Brahmananda was brought down to Earth eternally perfect from some high unseen world has no practical value to me as a seeker.

The fact, however, that Rakhal enjoyed having sex with his young wife (with the approval of his master), fathered at least one child, and then abandoned them -- these facts have value. They show a more complicated and human portrait of an undoubtedly great yogi, who nevertheless was a person who struggled with the same issues we modern seekers struggle with today. What does it mean, for example, that an advanced individual like Swami Brahmananda could enjoy the bliss of trance one minute and then exhibit behavior that falls beneath even ethical standards of conduct (i.e., not caring for one's wife and child, both of whom died while Brahmananda was wandering the countryside)?

Can a person be both extremely developed in an occult sense and dysfunctional in an emotional sense?

To the extent I've written about events in Guru's life that some may latch onto as "miracles" -- like the 7,000 pound lift -- I've simply tried to describe what happened, what I saw, without foisting any conclusions upon you the reader. I certainly don't think it was a miracle. As I've written before, I don't believe in miracles. There's a process behind everything, though sometimes it's not apparent.

Finally, I wanted to make a humble effort to pay tribute to the many people that have made a positive impression on me. I haven't written about them all. One notable absence, for instance, is a dedicated post about Databir, whose larger than life example influenced me -- and still influences me -- in ways I have simply found too difficult to put into words. Nevertheless, I'm grateful for the help, wisdom, and guidance I've received throughout my life thus far from some truly unique individuals. This is my small way of saying thank you.

As for the writing itself, my only constant guiding principle has been to do no harm. With two big exceptions, I've done my best not to criticize anybody that I'm writing about. In this, I think I've been successful.

The two exceptions to this rule have been Guru and myself.

I've learned a lot about myself over the past 15 months. Nothing more important, however, than the fact that the narrative arc of my spiritual life is one long -- unfinished -- story. In the past, when I've reflected upon my life inside the Center and out, I've tended to think of it in discrete chunks of time or experience: there was the time before I was in the Center; there were my Center days; my life outside the Center; my time in the Navy; my life as a husband, student, father, lawyer.

I see those memories now as chapters in a larger story. Each chapter provides a foundation for those to come. In the end, that's all I have.

Thank you for reading. As always, please send me your comments, questions, and feedback (yogaloy@yahoo.com). I do intend to publish one more post in the next week or so -- an epilogue of sorts sketching out my hopes for the Center going forward. Y.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sudhir's Call

I left the Center in 1990.

Since then, I've kept in contact with just a handful of disciples, none of them more so than Sudhir. Aside from my brother and sister, Sudhir was the only person I spoke to about spirituality with any frequency.

We emailed mostly, perhaps once a week. Every few months or so, though, we'd catch up on the phone. It wasn't all (or even mostly) spiritual talk. We'd talk about Center gossip, the latest developments in the world of professional cycling -- the Tour de France was of particular mutual interest -- and we'd talk about Sudhir's health.

He had been diagnosed with colon cancer and we'd discuss the latest treatments he was trying, some with apparent success at the time and all with harsh side effects.

Through all of that, I had become closer to Sudhir than I was with any other disciple. It was fitting then, I suppose, that Sudhir was the first person to call me with the news that Guru had died. As I explained in my very first post, Sudhir caught me shortly after I had arrived at my office in San Diego on the morning of October 11, 2007.

Less than 48 hours later, Jeevan and I were camped out in Sudhir's basement apartment in Jamaica, New York. For the next two and a half days, our visit felt like Celebrations to me (that twice yearly gathering of disciples in New York to see Guru), though tinged with somberness. It turned out to be the most moving trip I've ever made to New York.

It was impossible to escape the impact that Guru's death had had on all those active disciples who (unlike me) had remained dedicated to the Center to the end. Everywhere Jeevan and I went that weekend -- the Smile of the Beyond, the tennis court where Guru's open casket lay in state, Ketan's new cafe (Panorama of My Silence Heart), even a local Indian restaurant where we had dinner with some of the guys -- there were tears being shed by some, and many more with red, puffy eyes. It was very moving.

The disciples were also incredibly warm. From our first step into the Smile after arriving on Saturday morning (October 13), we were not just welcomed, but embraced. I quickly lost count of how many of my sister disciples I actually hugged that weekend. Hugging loved ones, particularly in a time of personal loss, is not something that would normally merit special mention. In the Center, however, where segregation of the sexes was near absolute, the gesture was striking to me and lovely.

At the time, I couldn't help but wonder whether the openness that Jeevan and I were experiencing simply had to do with our decision to show up. While it really wasn't a decision on our part -- there was no doubt that we'd make the trip out -- I think many disciples, in the backs of their minds, saw the memorial weekend as a litmus test for us ex-disciples.

Ever since some ex-disciples critical of Guru had loosely organized around an online message board, I think the active disciples had been feeling a bit under siege. It struck me that just our showing up that weekend was a vote of confidence on our part, one that was warmly welcomed by all we saw.

One of the best memories I had that weekend was standing just outside the tennis court in a circle of friends telling old war stories and belly laughing to near tears. It was particularly fun to watch Ketan, Sahadeva, Golapendu, Devashishu, and Jeevan -- the real brat pack of the Center -- recall their many youthful antics.

The laughter grew so loud at one point that we drew a shushing admonishment from some pious soul trying to meditate nearby. The shush -- and our complete and utter disregard of it -- was classic. The idea that some visiting disciple, who had never spent years serving Guru directly, would find the behaviour of these boys disagreeable was laughable (and so we laughed).

Another fond memory was a late night dinner at Lucille's diner with a dear friend. Lucille's is located right across Hillside Avenue from where the Center's old meditation hall -- Progress-Promise -- used to be located. Back in the day, it had been the one diner not off-limits to local disciples (the other local diners, like the Fame diner, were to be reserved so Guru could have places he could go to without being ogled by disciples while he ate). Lucille's was also probably the very first diner (except for the Smile) to offer vegetarian burgers.

Anyway, after spending hours at the tennis court on Saturday night, Sudhir, Jeevan, and I met up with Tejiyan at Lucille's. Tejiyan was like an unsheathed sword in intensity. We all talked for a few hours. It was a great end to our long first day in New York.

The purpose of our trip, of course, was to see Guru.

As Jeevan and I found out shortly after arriving, "friends" of the Center -- ex-disciples like us -- could see Guru twice daily: from noon to 1 p.m., and then again from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. So, that's what we did. At just before noon on Saturday, Jeevan, Sudhir, and I walked to the tennis court, which no longer resembled one.

As Jeevan and I walked up the driveway to the court and approached the gate leading inside, Prabhakar kindly instructed us to go right in. The gallery was full. There were two long lines of disciples -- boys on the right and girls on the left -- leading up to Guru's open casket at the head of the court, in the spot where he once sat long ago after rounds of tennis, where I had seen him many times before (here and here).

Those lines were stopped and the atmosphere was quiet and intense. We formed our own much shorter line up the middle of the tennis court. Flowers were everywhere and the air was filled with incense. (I'm sure there must be some beautiful pictures of it somewhere, but the only one I have found is this one from Guru's New York Times obituary.)

Because the "friends" line was so short, I initially felt a little rushed to get my shoes off and get up to the front, but as I did, I slowed myself down. The line itself ended maybe 15 feet away from Guru's open casket. Observing others, it appeared that, when it was your turn, the protocol was to move up as close as one wanted to Guru, take a minute or so, and then move on so that others in the line could have their chance.

Being an ex-disciple at any Center function, I'd always felt people's eyes on me (whether they were there or not). The feeling was magnified as the whole of the Center stood still to let us have a chance to pay our respects, too. As I came to the head of the line, however, and then moved forward towards Guru, it was just the two of us for a few short seconds.

Guru looked peaceful. He'd had a long and productive life. In a very real way, it had been as if Sri Ramakrishna had been given Swami Vivekananda's body and dynamism. As Swamiji liked to say, "Better to wear out, than to rust out." Well, that's exactly what Guru had done.

As I stood before Guru, I mentally prostrated myself before him in gratitude and then let the others behind me follow.

I'm not sure who actually took the beautiful picture of Sudhir, above, but I took it from this beautiful slide show about his life put together by his best friend, Harsha.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Words

In the three remaining years of his life, I saw Guru twice, when he made visits to San Diego to give concerts. The two visits were very different.

The first was in October 2004. Guru gave a concert at the local Scottish Rights Temple and Ketan had called me and invited me to attend. I didn't see Ketan before the concert, but we did get a chance to chat for a little while just afterwards.

Apparently after the concert, Guru and the disciples were headed over to the disciple-run restaurant -- Jyoti Bihanga -- for an impromptu function. Ketan invited me there, too, but I demurred. I couldn't crash a disciple function, I told him. So, we said our goodbyes and I went home. It had been nice to have had the chance to see Guru and sit in the back of the concert hall and meditate. I was satisfied.

When I got home, though, Ketan called. He said that he'd asked Guru if I could attend the next morning's function at their hotel and that Guru had said I could. Early the next morning, I drove out to the hotel and picked Ketan up for a pre-function breakfast. Afterwards, we headed back to the hotel, where the Center had rented a conference room for the morning meeting.

It was strange -- though not uncomfortably so -- to be in an almost exclusively disciple environment after some 14 years out of the Center. The room was filled disciples, men on the right and women on the left. Lots of New Yorkers had made the trip out. Guru sat up front in an over sized lounge chair.

As I recall, the function that morning was all business: a few hours of meditation and then some poetry recited by disciples, followed by prasad (or blessed food).

There were a lot of prasad items laid out in front of Guru to pick up and as I completed the task Guru began saying my name. It took me a few minutes, though, to realize what Guru was saying. In fact, I was about to walk back to my seat when Guru shouted out, "Didn't I give you the name Yogaloy?" I finally got the message.

Guru asked me to come closer and then there were no more words. For about a minute I stood there trying to open my entire psyche to his silent gaze. With a short nod of his head, Guru ended the meditation. As if transported back almost two decades, I wanted to be alone, to cherish the grateful feeling I had in my heart.

That was the last time Guru ever spoke to me.

The last time I ever saw Guru was about two and a half years later, just a few months before Guru passed away. He came to San Diego in June 2008 to give two concerts at the Symphony Hall here in one night.

The first concert of the night started at 6 p.m. and I had walked there straight from work, looking for some private meditation time alone somewhere in the back of the balcony section. From the beginning of the concert, though, I was distracted.

First, Guru didn't look very good. He appeared very stiff and unstable. His playing suffered. Before the concert, Ketan had presciently suggested that I bring my kids to the concert (a practical impossibility) because, he said, it might be their last opportunity to see Guru. I didn't think Guru looked that bad, but he definitely was not in good form.

As a result, people sitting in the balcony started walking out right from the beginning. It was disheartening. I felt embarrassed for Guru and, of course, I couldn't meditate. After about 45 minutes or so, Guru had some disciples perform. That's when I took my cue and left.

I sat out in the lobby for another 20 or 30 minutes feeling frustrated and a bit guilty for walking out, but I just couldn't take it. Once the concert ended, though, things got a little better. Before the second show started, I got a chance to chat with Ketan and a few other guys I hadn't seen in quite some time.

It never occurred to me that I'd never see Guru alive again.

The picture above is of my short meditation with Guru in October 2004. I don't know who to thank for taking the picture, but thank you to Ketan for getting them to me.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Savitri

A few days before Bryon passed away, I was sworn into the California Bar.

It was the culmination of three years of classes and an intense three months of post-law school study for the bar exam. It was the start of my reentry into the working world.

For three years, I had commuted to and from school on my mountain bike, in shorts, with my ever present backpack full of books. From then on, it was suits and ties and daily shaving.

While still in law school, I had secured a clerkship at a small, high-end business litigation firm in downtown San Diego. Upon graduation from school, the firm hired me full-time. With my positive bar exam results, my cushy student life was over.

I took solace in Sri Aurobindo's final masterpiece: Savitri.

As I've written before, the most significant books I read during my three year law school career were Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita, The Synthesis of Yoga, and The Life Divine. In Savitri's 24,000 lines of blank verse, Auorbindo weaves the themes of his canon into a simple love story.

Here's the basic plot line:

Savitri is a princess. Her father -- the king -- is both regent and sage, but his inner illumination is hidden from the view of most everybody.

Savitri has some sense of providence, of being born for a high purpose. As a young woman, she rides out into the kingdom and beyond, eventually finding a beautiful deserted wood where she meets Satyavan, a young ascetic. They fall in love.

Savitri returns to her parents and tells them that she plans to go and live in the forest with Satyavan. At which point, a messenger of the gods -- Narada -- appears and warns them all that if Savitri weds Satyavan, Satyavan will die.

Undeterred, Savitri goes forward and marries Satyavan anyway. Satyavan is then stricken and the purpose of Savitri's life is revealed -- she was born to conquer death. In the end, she succeeds. The story ends with Savitri and Satyavan riding happily out of the forest and into the kingdom to begin their new life together. That's it in a nutshell -- it's a love story. (Here's Sri Aurobindo's note on the story.)

Savitri is also a symbol for the modern trend of spiritual evolution. Contrary to the commonly held view that renunciation of life -- renunciation of the world -- is the ultimate end of spiritual progress, renunciation is just a means to a more synthetic end: living life liberated from attachment. The message of Savitri isn't to renounce the world, but to embrace it.

That said, Savitri is a challenging read (to put it mildly). Two things made it easier for me though. First, I had already read most of Sri Aurobindo's canon -- particularly The Life Divine. I found the themes to be the same and easily recognizable having had already been exposed to them in Aurobindo's other writings.

Second, I read Savitri in small doses as I commuted into work each day on public transportation. Following the poetic and esoteric language alone -- not to mention trying to keep up with Aurobindo's prodigious vocabulary -- takes concentration. Reading a little at a time made it a lot easier to absorb.

With few exceptions -- politics perhaps being one -- it was difficult for me to imagine a more spiritually challenging profession than being a trial lawyer. Yet, that's the path I began to tread. Savitri made it a little easier.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bryon Granmo


The Center had no monopoly on unique and noble individuals who had a deep impact upon my personal development. Bryon Granmo is a prime example.

I met Bryon in the summer of 1998, just after I graduated from the Monterey Institute. I had just landed a job with a college text book publisher and when I started there, Bryon was a co-worker. As I recall, he was an assistant acquisition editor at the time and had an office just across from my desk, which sat out in the hallway.

I wasn't initially attracted to him. He always had a spring in his step, was cheerful and naturally gregarious. I was a little withdrawn. One day early on, however, I heard him say something like "...when I was in the Navy..." as he walked down the hallway talking to someone on his wireless headset. When he came back, I called him over.

"What'd you do in the Navy?"

"I was stationed on a ship in Japan," he responded.

"Officer or enlisted," I asked.

"Enlisted."

"What was your rate," I asked. With that question he focused -- only another former sailor such as myself would ask that question that way. (In the Navy, one's "rate" is an enlisted person's job specialty.)

"I was an IS," Bryon answered. "Were you in the Navy, too?"

"Yeah, I was an IS, too!" I answered -- "IS" standing for Intelligence Specialist.

As it turned out, Bryon and I had led curiously similar lives and quickly struck up a friendship. While I'd struck out on my own at a young age and entered the Center, Bryon went to Europe, where he aspired to bicycle race professionally (and I think did so at an entry level). We were both strong swimmers, too, and when his cycling career ended, Bryon joined the Navy to become a SEAL, just as I had.

Neither of us achieved our goal of becoming Navy SEALs and we were both then sent to the fleet. Whereas I got out of the Navy after my first enlistment, though, Bryon stayed in and was sent for shore duty at the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterey. When his time there was up, he too got out and landed himself a job at the publishing house where we then met.

About a year into my job at the publishing house, there were a number of changes made in the editorial department of our office. One was that Bryon became my boss, taking over for a very nice woman who went on maternity leave and never returned full-time. The other was that the company decided to double my responsibilities. A person in the marketing department had left the company, and the higher-ups decided that perhaps I could do both my job and the marketing database job as well.

So, right after becoming my boss, Bryon began to mediate the negotiations between me, on the one hand, and the Vice-President of Editorial and the HR folks, on the other hand. The details are pedestrian, but at a critical point I unknowingly demanded an amount in salary increase that would have surpassed even Bryon's pay. The Vice-President told Bryon that he would not pay me more than he paid Bryon. Then Bryon did the extraordinary -- he lobbied for me to get the higher pay anyway.

In the end, we both got raises. I got the amount I had demanded, and Bryon got just a little more! Then, I started applying to law schools. When my plans to move to San Diego became firm, I told Bryon. Coincidentally, he said, he and his lovely wife Adele were moving to San Diego, too!

Once in San Diego, we made a trip over to Bryon and Adele's place, and I kept in pretty good email contact with Bryon, but as I got immersed in my law school studies, our communications dropped off. Realizing this one day near graduation, I sent Bry an email apologizing for not keeping in touch and asking him what the latest was on his end.

He responded that he'd been diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer.

After a courageous battle, Bryon passed away on January 9, 2004, leaving behind Adele and their beautiful baby daughter Marit.

A naturally religious man and unpretentious Christian, Bryon led by example. I'm very grateful for the short time I had to know him and the deep impact that he had on me. I'll never forget him.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Night Terrors

I've never felt quite so helpless as when my daughter Erin suffered from nightmares.

About halfway through my law school career -- sometime in 2002 -- Erin began having bad dreams. She was about four years old, and just about an hour and a half after she'd fall asleep, it would start.

They were more than bad dreams or plain nightmares. It was as if she were being attacked. Literally. Her eyes would be open, terrified at some sight invisible to my wife and me. For 15 minutes or so, Erin struggled to physically push her unseen attacker off of herself.

It looked to me as if someone was pawing at her and she was struggling for her life. And I was powerless to intervene.

I chanted silently in her ear. I synchronized my breathing with hers, opened my heart, and identified myself with her. We tried various fragrant essential oils and kept fresh flowers in the bedroom. Nothing worked though.

After months of this torture, I suggested that we ask Guru for help. Elaine agreed.

I looked through our recent snapshots and found a nice, close-up photo of Erin's face and her beautiful eyes. I then wrote a simple note to Guru, describing what was happening, expressing our feelings of helplessness, and plainly asking for his help.

The night terrors stopped immediately and never returned. (Erin has since morphed into a bit of a sleepwalker, but that's easy enough to deal with.)

Let me say straightaway, I don't believe in "miracles." As Sri Aurobindo has said, there's a process behind all phenomena. Sometimes, it's hidden or "occult," but that doesn't mean the underlying process doesn't exist.

At an energetic level -- over which I had no facility -- something frightening was happening to my daughter. Guru fixed it.

That's Erin and me above enjoying kites at the beach.