On a hot Saturday afternoon in July, I was jogging along the Buffalo Bayou on the edge of downtown Houston. I’d been running for about 45 minutes when out of the corner of my eye, up and to the right, an image appeared in the sky. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: floating well above an old three-story building, like a balloon tethered on a string, was the image of a naked, baldheaded man sitting cross-legged. His entire body was a light blue color.
I stopped in my tracks. I watched. In a matter of moments, the image disappeared. What the hell was that? Okay, let me think about this – my body was over-heated, right? I had a heat-related hallucination, right? Wrong. In two years, I would receive a shocking revelation.
It was 1977. I had recently resigned my position as an assistant U.S. attorney. For seven years I prosecuted a wide range of federal crimes. I was disenchanted with the game-playing, lying, and negativity that are indigenous to the office of a criminal prosecutor. My interest in practicing law came to a stumbling halt. I was fed up with the game. Professional turmoil bled into my private world, and my life became progressively less energetic, confused and unsettled.
I quit practicing law altogether. On the run, I drove to San Francisco, hoping to find solace in the Golden West. But once there, I confronted the hopelessness of my life: I was running from myself and from everything else. I had no idea where I was going. My world was dry and lifeless. I was empty and hollow. Eventually, I ran out of track.
On a cold Friday morning in December 1978, I drove to the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, sat on a cliff below an iconic lighthouse, and prayed, something I hadn’t done since I was a naive teenager. I didn't know exactly who or what I was praying to, but I acknowledged for the first time in my life that I couldn't do it alone; I needed help in dealing with my life.
Eight weeks later, in February 1979, a friend from Los Angeles telephoned me. She was in San Francisco and wanted to have dinner. On a Thursday night, we met in a small Chinese restaurant on Nob Hill. She as on her way to the Oakland ashram of her guru, a Swami Muktananda. She knew I was struggling with my cigarette habit and told me that Muktananda could take away my tobacco addiction and suggested that I go with her to see him. Absolutely not, I told her.
The following Monday, she called me from the San Francisco airport and told me she told her guru about me and he want to see me. No way, I said.
But she insisted that I take down the phone number of the swami's secretary and call him to make an appointment to see the swami. As a courtesy to her, I took down the number, never intending to make the call.
Two weeks later, for some reason, I called the number and spoke to the swami's secretary.
“Oh, yes, Henry, Swami Muktananda wants to see you. When can you come over?” Good grief, I thought. He wants to see me? “Come to the ashram, attend an evening program, and if you like it, you can come for a meeting with ‘Baba’”
A few days later, on a Sunday afternoon, I drove to the Oakland ashram, arriving there around 3 o’clock. I was met in the lobby by a young woman wearing a sari. “We were expecting you, Henry.” That was nice. There was a calming peaceful about the ashram. A pleasing fragrance of a sweet incense permeated the air.
My hostess gave me a tour of the ashram. The last stop the large meditation hall where evening programs were conducted and Muktananda delivered spiritual lessons and give individual blessings to those in attendance. We entered the hall at the very back. As I looked toward the far end of the hall there, hanging on the wall, was a large painting of the image of the man I saw in the sky in Houston two years before. I froze. Chills ran up my back and down my arms. My eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t move. The painting was of Bhagavan Nityananda, Swami Muktananda’s guru.
“Are you okay, Henry?”, Saraswati asked, softly.
“I'm just a little shocked", I said. "I had a vision of the man in that painting a couple of years ago in Houston, Texas.” She nodded and smiled, as if to say she wasn’t surprised.
The following Tuesday morning at 10 o'clock I was kneeling before Swami Muktananda in a small room in the ashram. He was sitting cross-legged in a velvet-covered armchair. Two of his swami assistants were in the room with him, one of whom was his interpreter. After my introduction, he asked me what I wanted.
“I've heard that you take addictions away from people. I smoke cigarettes and can't quit smoking. I'd like your help in quitting.”
As a symbolic gesture of my desire to quit, I timidly offered up to him my last package of cigarettes. He took it in his hand and put it on a small table beside his chair. He motioned for me to come closer to him. I scooted forward on my knees. His chair sat on a carpeted deck about eight inches above the floor
He looked me straight in my eyes. His eyes were intense, unlike any I’d ever seen. Looking into them was like peering into the depths of the universe. Time stopped.
He leaned forward. His face was about 18" inches from mine. He cocked the middle finger of his right hand inside his thumb, then flicked it outward, striking me right between the eyes.
“Cigarette smoking is bad for your health,” he said.
At that moment, a searing pain shot over the top of my head and down the back of my neck. My shoulders contracted.
Then he flicked me again, harder. “Cigarette smoking is bad for your mind.” More pain.
Then came a third flick. “Cigarette smoking is bad for your heart."
The fire inside my head was so intense I wanted to cry. Muktananda looked at me for a moment, then said, “Come with me.” He stood up and took me by the hand. I arose in a stupor.
He walked me to the center of the small room. He let go of my hand, stepped toward the wall, picked up a big floor cushion and moved it to the center of the room. He motioned for me to sit on it. I sat down cross-legged. Standing behind me, he placed one of his hands palm down on top of my head, and caressed my head in a clockwise direction five or six times. The pain stopped immediately and a light, tingling sensation arose on the top of my head.
“Sit here and be very still,” he told me. “Close your eyes and don’t move.”
In a matter of moments, he and his attendants left the room. They turned off the overhead lights as they left. There was absolute silence.
My mind became tranquil. I felt like I was floating. I had no sensations. There were no thoughts. I slipped into a state of deep relaxation. It was 90 minutes before I opened my eyes and regained consciousness. My god, I thought, what happened? It was my first-ever meditation.
I went to bed early that night. I was laying on my side, drifting off to sleep, when a loud sound erupted from the base of my spine – a popping sound, like the sound of a cork popping out of a champagne bottle. And at that same moment, my entire body jerked involuntarily. Spooked, I lay there, still as I could be, without moving a muscle, waiting, listening, to see if it would happen again. It didn't. I fell soundly asleep with no idea of what had happened.
The next morning, I was up before six o'clock. I brushed my teeth, put on comfortable sweat clothes, and sat down for meditation. I’d never done it before; well, at least before yesterday, but this morning it was the spontaneous and natural thing to do. In less than a minute, I sank into a deep meditation, losing all consciousness of my surroundings. That meditation lasted more than an hour. When I came back to consciousness, I got up, went into the shower. As soon as I stepped into the shower and began to cry. I cried, and cried, and cried. I couldn't stop crying. I wasn’t sad, or unhappy, or depressed. I was crying tears of joy. Tears of release. Tears of letting go. For so many years I had been uptight and holding on, hanging on, afraid to let go. Now, I was releasing and had no control over it. It felt so good
I cried on and off for the next four days — on cable cars, while at apart-time job I’d taken, or just walking the streets of San Francisco. No matter where I was, tears were only an instant away.
Morning meditations continued to be deep and peaceful, lasting anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. I experienced a love for God deep within myself. I knew the Divine had answered my prayer for help.
A week later, I went back to see Muktananda to thank him for the gift he had given me. I told him about my body jerking, the popping sound in my lower back and the profound crying that followed. He smiled, nodded his head in understanding, and said, “Ah, Shaktipat.”
The several months following Shaktipat were a curious mixture of joy and pain – my heart was full of joy and my body was full of pain! I had headaches, a lingering, excruciating sore throat, chest pains, and aching joints and bones. Over time, the faded away and my days were saturated with the experience of joy and well-being.
I meditated faithfully every morning for more than half a year. My meditations were so intense that when I came out I was in a daze for several hours and unable to do anything productive until the afternoon. But, with the passage of time, I knew I would have to go back to work, and I began to reflect on what I was now going to do with my life and whether I would ever return to the practice of law.