The longer story
It started with a National Geographic.
There was an article on India with a photograph of a thin, bearded, yogi seated in full lotus. Something about that photo ignited my spiritual imagination. I clipped it out and kept in on my dresser.
In the summer of 1970 I thumbed through the New York City phone book in search of a yoga class.
I’d begun reading books on yoga philosophy. And my brief romance with drugs was losing its appeal. I wanted to experience the real thing. There were only two centers in New York. One answered the phone.
My first class changed my life.
I rose from savasana (deep relaxation) in a state of meditative bliss. In the changing room, I turned to another student – who was the renowned theater critic Eric Bentley – and enthused, “Do you realize how amazing yoga is? Do you see how important this is?” He nodded and smiled in agreement and to calm my over-the-top enthusiasm.
I became a regular student at IYI taking 5 classes a week.
Before class I would sit on the couch to read and re-read Be Here Now by Ram Dass (here’s RD and I in 2010). The images, stories, and scriptural references fueled my spiritual imagination. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I would be a yogi!
“I’m not going to college. I’m going to an ashram.”
That’s what I told the headmaster of the college prep school I attended. He gave me a long, tired look. He’d been putting up with quite enough sex, drugs, revolution, and rock n’ roll, thank you very much.
“Well, don’t just talk – do it.” He threw down the gauntlet.
So, following graduation, I moved to Boulder Colorado in search of an ashram.
Three days after arriving, I attended my first Kriya Yoga class. I’d read about Kriya Yoga in Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography of a Yogi. This wasn’t just physical yoga. This was the inner teachings. I was thrilled by my good fortune. The teacher, a bearded young man calling himself Arcturus, gave a talk that wove together yoga philosophy with myth, symbolism, and Jungian psychology. It was as elegant as it was esoteric.
In a few months, I had moved into the Kriya Yoga house.
There, Arcturus and a handful of other devoted yogis practiced, studied, and lived together. And then one Wednesday night class, I saw her.
She was so beautiful.
And she was signing up for the upcoming retreat – just a week away. I looked forward to talking with her and introducing myself, once we were up in the mountains.
Unfortunately, it was a silent retreat.
So while I couldn’t say anything, I could offer her a cup of tea and a smile. She accepted the tea and smiled back. I wrote her a note and we exchanged names/phone numbers. I was smitten. Her name was Deborah Bliss (yep, Bliss is her real name – not a new age moniker.) We’ve been together ever since.
In 1970 I was a freshman taking a required Speech 101 class.
Our assignment was to present a “demonstration speech”. I decided to do mine on yoga. I’d heard about yoga and wanted explore the practice.
I bought The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnudevananda and began to practice. I talked the girl in the next room Vickie Hesterman into doing a nightly yoga practice with me. We worked our way through the book. I’d light a candle and proceeding page-by-page, twist and stretch into pose after pose. We’d end by chanting Om Shanti with our eyes closed. It felt strangely familiar and really good.
On the day of my demonstration speech, I glided to the front of the class.
After giving a brief introduction on the meaning and purpose of yoga, I demonstrated several poses. I wrapped my legs around my neck, stood on my head, and dropped back into a full back bend. Dramatic!
I continued my daily practice with a personal goal to be able to perform every pose in the book. I kept at it all year and over summer vacation. My Mom hated me chanting Om and thought the yoga poses barbaric. That added incentive to my 19 teen year old mind. As a sophomore, I transferred mid-year to the University of Colorado at Boulder and immediately searched for a yoga class.
I wanted to study with a real teacher and found one listed in the Free University newsletter. Class met on Wednesday nights in the Lutheran Church near my dorm. A few other students & I waited on the main floor for over half an hour. A guy with super long hair came in laughing. We were in the wrong place. The classes met in the basement. We’d missed the hatha yoga portion but the meditation /lecture on Kriya Yoga was to begin soon. It wasn’t what I’d come for but out of curiosity I stayed.
I loved sitting in the stillness of meditation.
A quality of peace and silence filled the room. I loved sinking deeper and deeper into the breath. And there was also this very cute guy in a red flannel shirt who sat in the front row – spine straight, not moving a muscle. I won’t say how low he wore his pants. I signed up for the weekend retreat wanting to go as deeply into yoga as I could.
The cute guy in red flannel – was on the retreat.
Although we were in silence, I did notice him noticing me. He brought me a cup of tea. And after the retreat he invited me over for dinner. His name was Eric (I think you knew that by now.)
When school was over, I moved to the mountains outside Evergreen, Colorado.
I lived in a pop tent in the National Forest. I would hitch hike down to Boulder to visit Eric on weekends. I loved the solitude of living alone in the forest. I spent long days in the silence of the trees. Walking, sitting, practicing yoga and bathing in the stream..
It was wonderful to be in a relationship with someone who loved yoga as much as I did.
When Eric talked about moving to Chicago to study with Goswami Kriyananda, a living master in the Kriya Yoga Lineage, I agreed.
Our journey together
We moved to Chicago in 1973 to study with Goswami Kriyananda.
Kriyananda is the founder of the Temple of Kriya Yoga and a lineage holder in the line of Yogananda. We enrolled in the Kriya Yoga seminary – the second class in a program that has continued for the past 37 years.
We are ordained swamis in the Kriya Yoga lineage.
What’s a swami? Traditionally the word swami means, “master”. A swami is devoted to mastery – not control – of the mind/body instrument. Mastery requires equal parts surrender, intensity, focus, curiosity, and plenty of humor. In our tradition, a swami functions as a teacher/priest offering instruction, counsel, and life cycle rituals to the community.
Our swami order is a householder order.
We’re not celibate, monastic swamis. We live in the world. We have two wonderful sons. We run businesses. All while continuing to practice spiritual disciplines and bring the blessings of the practice alive in daily life. Here we are in 1991 with our boys and guru, Goswami Kriyananda.
Everything we teach is grounded in real life.
The spiritual life is always here and now. It’s about you and your real life. There’s a place in you that knows what we mean by real life. It’s not athe life your culture or religious training conditioned you to believe in. It’s deeper and more primary than all conditioned points of view. It’s also more joyful.
You’ve come into this life for a purpose. Traditionally that purpose is called “Awakening”. But, what does this mean? Not as an idea but really, for you in your life. What does it mean for you to awaken – right now - in the context of the life you are living? We’re interested in exploring these questions with you. Stay in the conversation by subscribing to the Wisdom Heart newsletter: click here.