When I met Mickey Singer, he was a Sociology Instructor at Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville, Florida. He was also a spiritual teacher with many followers who thought of him as their Guru, although as far as I know, he never encouraged this. He lived an ascetic lifestyle on his picturesque wooded property where he built a rustic chapel called The Temple of the Universe. The Temple was a gathering place for open-minded seekers, offering daily morning meditation and a service on Sunday. Mickey’s talks on Sunday were always lively, humorous and insightful. Over the years, he generously shared his stage with visiting spiritual teachers. This is how I met Amrit. After a powerful epiphany experience at age 39, I was bewildered and confused. Mickey helped me to recognize my experience as a spiritual awakening. I will always be grateful for his kindness and support. One morning Mickey told me he had a visitor he wanted me to meet, a yogi named Amrit Desai. I remember crying from the first moment I walked into the room were Amrit was sitting on a pillow. When he placed his hand on my head to comfort me and I felt his gentle compassion, I sobbed uncontrollably.
Amrit invited me to visit his spiritual community called Kripalu. The ashram named after his Guru, Swami Shri Kripalvananda (affectionately called Bapuji) was located on 250 beautiful wooded acres near Summit Station, Pennsylvania. At the time, I was an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Foundations at the University of Florida. Although I normally taught during the summer quarter to supplement my salary, I took off that summer to learn more about him and his spiritual community. During that wonderful summer in Pennsylvania, I fell in love with both Amrit and Kripalu.
At Christmas, I returned for my initiation as a disciple.
Mataji, Amrit’s wife, gave me the name of Namdev, which means “word of god.”
I loved both my new name and my new spiritual home.
The following year, I took a sabbatical from the University to spend a year at Kripalu. I arrived in May to discover that Bapuji, Amrit’s Guru, was coming in three days! Bapuji, who had been in total silence for 18 years, was one of India’s greatest Saints. To everyone’s surprise and joy, Bapuji was so moved by the enthusiastic and loving welcome from the 100-plus Ashram residences, he decided to break his silence. He gave daily discourses until the end of the summer. It was such a delight to watch him tell his stories. His beautiful and graceful hand gestures, in concert with the animation of his facial expressions, were exquisitely captivating. Amrit was like a child as he sat at Bapuji's feet and translated. He wept openly, along with the rest of the disciples, as we responded to the poignant wisdom of Bapuji stories. This outpouring of love from Bapuji created contentment within me that I had never experienced before. I will cherish that wonderful summer forever! Sadly, at the end of the summer, Bapuji returned to his life of silence and solitude.
The rest of my year at Kripalu was turbulent. I questioned almost everything. I could not relate to the ashram’s Eastern life style, especially the practice of encouraging men and women to avoid contact with each other. The decree of “do not look or touch,” only made me want to look and touch more! I wanted more freedom for creativity and self-expression. I accused the ashram of trying to produce little Amrit clones. To the embarrassment of the other disciples, I would express my displeasure at our evening gathering called Satsang. “Namdev,” they would later plead, “surrender, and all your questions and discontent will disappear.” Surrender was obviously not my path to enlightment.
In spite of my struggle with ashram life, I spent the rest of my tenure absorbing the wonderful energy of Kripalu and learning to love myself unconditionally. I also learned the art of meditation and the inward search for self-awareness. One of the main vehicles for personal growth at Kripalu was a three-day workshop called The Intensive. The format of the workshop was to continuously contemplate the question, “Who am I?” We did this in pairs; one person talked and the other was the listener, or mirror. There was no other conversation, strict silence was maintained except when answering the question, “Who am I?” The purpose of answering the same question repeatedly was to encourage you to go deeper and deeper into yourself. In addition, to heighten our awareness, we fasted on yogurt and orange juice smoothies throughout the three days. In the course of my stay at the ashram, I did five of these intensives.
During my last intensive, I experienced a powerful epiphany. Near the end of the third day, I began to feel acute physical and emotional discomfort. I told Samadarshan, my good friend and facilitator, that I needed to go outside. I was so shaky he had to assist me. Once outside, I had trouble breathing and felt nauseous. Samadarshan offered support by affirming, “Namdev, you really love yourself by doing this work.” This revelation triggered an instant change in my consciousness as I experienced wave after wave of bliss washing over my body. I sobbed with joy as pulsating ecstasy filled my whole being! The afterglow of this magical episode lasted for hours. Later, at the encouragement of Samadarshan, I looked in a mirror and did not recognize the childlike and radiant image that stared back at me.
When I returned to the University after my sabbatical, I was no longer interested in teaching traditional psychology courses. Instead, I created a new course with the intention of integrating the insights and self-awareness techniques I learned at Kripalu. The course was unique in that there were no lectures, textbooks, or tests. Instead, learning took place using experiential activities such as socio-drama, role-playing, mirroring, meditation, and journal writing. The course, which I entitled simply, Human Relationships, eventually developed into one of the most popular courses at the University. By the time I retired 20 years later, more than 5,000 students would participate in this unique experience.
Over the years in my search for truth and enlightment, I have studied with numerous spiritual teachers and lived in several spiritual communities. I have read hundreds of books and attended an untold number of workshops and seminars. I will however, always be especially grateful for the gifts and blessings I received from Mickey, Amrit and Babaji-- my first spiritual teachers.
Gurudev Shri Amritji (Yogi Amrit Desai)'s Retreat Center in Florida
Mataji has left her body to continue her soul's journey. Her work lives on
through The Mataji Fund...a Living Legacy for the Women and
Children of India.
Michael (Mickey) Singer's new book,
The Untethered Soul: the Journey Beyond Yourself is available
at bookstores everywhere or through the AmritKala online store.
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