I never believed that I could experience the spiritual grace or energy of a holy person if I didn’t meet them, couldn’t touch them. As a skeptic, I thought people who talked about these types of beyond-life encounters were fooling themselves. Maybe if I met someone before he or she died there would be a connection, but definitely not without that.
I knew a bit about miracles and could relate to stories about guru-devotee exchanges. I’d experienced several of my own with Amma, the Indian guru known as the ‘hugging saint.’ Beyond the enormous compassion she embodied, she was somehow able to know my past, future, and speak my deepest thoughts. My many experiences with her left me feeling that the transference of spiritual energy required an actual person.
And then, I went to Hawaii…
I had the opportunity to attend a retreat in Maui with Ram Dass and several long-time devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. Neem Karoli Baba—or Maharajji as he’s affectionately known—was an Indian saint who gave some of the simplest yet most profound teachings on how to find God—“Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and tell the truth.” When Harvard professor Richard Alpert travelled to India in 1967 he met Maharajji and returned transformed: as Ram Dass (which means "Servant of God") he went on to write Be Here Now and become a great spiritual teacher in his own right. Maharajji’s devotees consider him a manifestation of God’s love that like Christ, Buddha, or Krishna temporarily resided in a human body to help liberate other souls and lead them back to merge with God/love. Maharajji died in 1973.
I went to the retreat thinking I would meet Ram Dass, hear inspiring stories of Maharajji, hang out with some of the greatest spiritual teachers of our time, and chant with the best Kirtan musicians. And well, Hawaii…
I had no idea what I was really heading into.
From the moment I arrived, all of my insecurities and past traumas rose up and assaulted me. I was frozen. I couldn’t focus on anyone or what they were saying. People blurred together, all looking the same to me. No one likes me…I don’t belong here. My mind raced with thoughts about how too much darkness covered me. I wasn’t in my body. I endured these feelings full-force for almost four days. It was horrible. I was “supposed to be” having a blissful time and connecting with amazing people and instead I kept to myself using every mindful tool I knew to get through and out of my funk. Nothing was working; I could not allow nor let go of all that was arising.
One afternoon Jai Uttal, a Kirtan musician, shared the Ramayana story focusing on the monkey god Hanuman, whom Neem Karoli Baba is said to be an incarnation of. At the end, Jai told us how Hanuman took his hands and fingernails and ripped open his chest to reveal Rama and Sita living in his heart just like God/love is forever resting in our hearts. The story was a metaphor for true devotion and the battles of ego and love; about the mind versus truth and how to realize truth and become free. As soon as Jai revealed what was in Hanuman’s heart, my heart became free and my darkness lifted. I instantly understood who Hanuman was, who Maharajji was. There was a warmth, an ease, and a lightness that passed through me and surrounded me. It was as if I just received darshan from Amma. I was blown away; I became myself again.
As the evening went on, Kirtan musician Krishna Das led us in a devotional song called the “Hanuman Chalisa.” In English the first line translates as, “Cleansing the mirror in the form of my mind with the pollen of the lotus-feet of the Guru…” That’s what happened! The mirror of my mind was wiped clean. As we sang, I remembered reading that if you called Maharajji’s name he will come to you. I closed my eyes and started chanting “Neem Karoli Baba, Neem Karoli Baba, Neem Karoli Baba…” In my mind, I saw myself looking back at myself with such deep love and compassion in my eyes. Where did that love come from? Then, Maharajji began to dance joyfully, playfully. The presence of his love wrapped around me, my heart was warm. I opened my eyes and continued to chant with Krishna Das, getting higher and higher. I was flying, my body was buzzing, I couldn’t stop grinning. The crazy thing was I noticed the people around me were all on this same high too. We shared this energy— Maharajji’s energy. It was like we were all on an acid trip together. But better.
After yoga practice the next morning, while walking back to my hotel, I remembered an old dream I’d had. In it I walked into an old hut where Maharajji was leaning against a wall wrapped in his blanket. The problem was he wouldn’t reveal his face to me unless I said his name. I knew his name but I couldn’t remember it for the life of me. As I recalled this dream and the experience from the previous night of chanting his name, I realized Maharajji was telling me, “If you call me I will come. I will be there. I will reveal myself to you.” I spontaneously burst into tears! People in their cars passing by could see me, but I didn’t care—my heart had busted open, I was feeling the deepest love I may have ever experienced. It was as if I was returning home into the lap of the Divine.
I made it to my hotel room and collapsed on my bed. I couldn’t stop crying. This love was more than theoretical—it was a surge of devotion pouring out of me that went beyond bodies, beyond the mind, beyond comprehension. The movie of my childhood played in my head and I saw that I had found everything I’d ever looked for: pure unconditional love. And that it had always been there.
That is why I am here. To merge back into love.
As the days passed, I had no need for phones, computers, distractions, or even solitude. I lived in a space of ecstasy. Every person I encountered felt like my family—there was so much love it was borderless. I was in a space of profound internal peace. Maharajji’s grace opened my heart and allowed me to see truth. I had gone beyond understanding love; I was love. It was always me, just as it’s each one of us.
-Featured on RamDass.org