Shortly after graduating from High School, my entire life was shattered. It was the summer of 1968 and, until then, I could have been a poster boy for the “All American role model.” My grades were above average. I was an all-around athlete. I’d been offered scholarships to several Universities, and I had realistic hopes of making the 1972 Olympic team as a pole vaulter. I also had a nice girl friend, and was welcomed in just about any click at school: the so-called in-crowd, the jocks, the surfers, the nerds, the 4-Hers and most of the others. I’m not trying to brag or anything, just stating that I was basically your average all American Joe,and that life was going relatively well. Of course, life is seldom great in high school, but my future looked promising. Then, to my dismay, everything dear to me fell apart and faded into oblivion.
By the end of June, I had moved out of my parent’s home and rented a house with some friends. Like most kids with newly found freedom, we were in the party mood. At one of those parties, I got a little too intoxicated; and feeling dizzy, I sat down alone and leaned against a wall. My roommate was playing his guitar nearby, and my somewhat altered mind was quickly captured by its wonderful sounds. I had never heard such beautiful music before.
The notes skipped off the guitar strings, waltzed through the air and performed a wonderful dance, sometimes jumping through walls, sometimes bouncing off them. The notes seemed to have a personality of their own. But, in any case, they were soothing and tantalized my ear’s desire for sweetness. Simultaneously, my mind’s restlessness was tamed. I soon became completely mesmerized and entered into a fantastical, music realm of my own. In fact, I was so absorbed that I didn’t notice a strange women walk up and sit down beside me.
“Hi, I’m Jo Ann from across the street.” She stuck her hand out and shook mine.“I’m a student at Stanford. Hope to become a marine biologist when it’s all over, if you know what I mean. How about you? WHO ARE YOU? “
Suddenly, I was jolted out of my musical fantasy world and confronted with a smiling, bronze-tanned woman with flowing dark hair. Her facial demeanor struck me as being kind and compassionate. But, as strange as it may sound, what affected me most was not the woman next to me, but the three words she had uttered: ”WHO ARE YOU?” Those three words penetrated my thick skin, entered my blood cells and quickly struck a nerve deep within my heart. I was totally dumb-founded, and suddenly everything turned black. My mind’s eye saw only darkness, a complete and utter blank slate, and I had no idea who I was. All memory or recollection had vanished. I didn’t know my name, I didn’t know where I was from, and I didn’t know what I had done in the past… Nothing… All knowledge of my identity had been stripped away.
See a wonderful video by Acharya Das, a student of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa (Chris Butler). Here he gives a complete understanding about the real self, identity, real purpose of life and the secret to true happiness.
It must have been just a few moments, but it seemed like an eternity. Here I was, sitting with an very friendly, good looking woman, her arm now around my shoulder, and I couldn’t remember my own name, or where I was from, or what I had done in the past. I knew that I existed, I knew that I AM. But, incredibly I didn’t know anything else.
Finally I mumbled in confusion, “I don’t know who I am.”
“What do you mean you don’t know who you are? She looked at me quizzically.
My mind raced for answers, but everything remained blank. No name, no school, no occupation, no nothing. I struggled for some hint, anything that might suggest who I was. Finally, after what seemed like another eternity, and I was about to break down in despair, the name “Geoff” popped into my mind.
“Oh yea, my name is Geoff.” That was a relief. I now had a name… but I still didn’t have a clue as to who I was.
“Well, glad to meet you, Geoff. Are you okay?”
“Yea sure,” I said. “My name is Geoff, but I’m not Geoff, and you’re not Jo Ann….Nor are you, or will you ever BE a marine biologist.” I had no idea where those words came from. Normally, I am very shy and I would never confront someone upon meeting them. Yet, at the same time, what I said struck me as true.
“Well if I’m not Jo Ann, then who the hell am I, darling?” I think I may have offended her.
“I wish I knew,” I replied. “But you are definitely not your name, and you are not what you do, and you’re not your body, and you’re not any of those bodily descriptions that are on your driver’s license. “
“How do you know I have a driver’s license?” she wittily asked.
“Okay, I don’t. It’s just an example. And no, I don’t have all the answers; but somehow or another, deep down inside, I just know we’ve got to be something more than the superficial bodily designations we identify with: height, weight, race, gender, occupation, color of hair and eyes, etc. We are something much more valuable, and significant than we think. And we are eternal and ever-lasting. That perishable body and its labels are not you. And this perishable body is not me. Both of us, and everyone else in this room, or for that matter, within this world, are eternal. Our bodies are born and die, but somehow or another, we continue to exist.”
If you like to explore more about this interesting subject of Self Discovery, bodily designations, correlation between matter & life and real identity, see a couple of videos by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa (Chris Butler) where you can gain more insights. The videos are embedded below:
Now, keep in mind that I was never very religious or philosophic, so I had no idea where these ideas were coming from. They seemed to have risen to the surface from deep within. Perhaps I had tapped into a universal mind, or a deeply embedded ocean of knowledge, or something mysteriously buried below my everyday consciousness. Whatever it was, these thoughts rose to the surface from seemingly nowhere, like bubbles rising from the ocean’s unfathomable depths. They spoke through me, but I was mystified as to their source.
Jo Ann looked at me and smiled, “Oh…..so you’re the philosopher type.”
“No,” I replied. “Not me.” I answered from intuition because I still had no idea who I was.
“No?” she questioned. “Well, do you go to college?”
I was still in an amnesiac state, and other than my name, I knew nothing about myself. I stared across the room and, once again, tuned into those melodious dancing notes. Finally, after an awkward silence, another clue appeared out of nowhere. I had been accepted at the State University.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll be going to State this fall.”
“Okay, cool! She replied. “What are you majoring in?”
Oh please, I thought to myself, not again–another question, another blackout, another embarrassment. I knew my name and I knew I was planning to go to college, but all else was a mystery. Again, I quietly sat there in a bewildered stupor and stared out into space. Time was ticking by, but nothing came to mind. Finally, I blurted out, “I don’t know what I’ll major in. How can I know what to do if I don’t know who I am?”
Jo Ann didn’t say anything. She may have been trying to understand my dilemma, but more likely, she was planning her exit strategy.
“First and foremost,” I reasoned, “we have to realize our true identity: Who Am I? Secondly, we have to realize the purpose of life–Why are we here? These are step 1 and step 2. Step 3 is to act upon that knowledge. Without knowing the answers to the first two fundamental questions, how can we jump to step 3 and pretend to know what to do? People do it all the time, but what is the result: Lack of peace, Unhappiness, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, over consumption, divorce, hatred, war and on and on. Does any of this make sense to you, Jo Ann?”
“Sort of, but I just do what I like—what feels good to me.” Jo Ann replied. “Why complicate things?”
Yes indeed, I thought. Life is very complicated today in our modern society. But, I wanted to simplify it: go back to the basics and start from square one. And the essential thing that most people are missing in their life is knowledge of who they are. If we don’t know our real identity, all our plans are doomed for failure. Even if we succeed in our plans, we fail to realize the purpose of life.
“No, I don’t want to complicate things,” I answered, “Just simplify them.” She nodded as if encouraging me to continue.
“Because there’s got to be some consequences to doing whatever feels good. If we just do what we feel like doing, then, basically, we’re like dust blowing in the wind. There’s no end to all the things we can feel like doing: we’ll go from one sport to another, one toy to another; travel to this place, travel to another place; play one game, play another; work in one field, work in another and another and another. It’s endless. There are millions and millions of options to choose from on this earth. It’s so easy to get lost in the options—the games–things we can do, that eventually we lose sight of what is important. In other words, we get hung up in the games. We forget who we are and why we are here. We try to succeed in the passing games of life, rather than in life itself. But that brings us back to what is the of it all? Is the purpose of life to just feel good; or to be a winner, or even just to survive? I don’t think so, at least not for me. That’s not enough. If we’re just blowing in the wind, we’ll never realize what it’s all about. So, for our life to be successful, we need to focus on what’s important. We need to obtain self-realization. And understanding why we are here is just as important. I need answers to these questions BEFORE I can decide what to do with my life.”
“Hummm,” Jo Ann mumbled. It appeared she was considering what I had said, so I continued.
“We also need to understand death. What happens at the time of death? Is death the end of our existence? If so, perhaps there is no meaning behind our short stay on this planet and pursuing what feels good is the best we can muster up. But what if, after death, we continue to exist in some shape, form or manner? And if we continue to exist, what determines how and where we will exist? How long will we continue to exist? Where will we exist? Is there a heaven? Does hell exist? If heaven and hell do exist, are they physical places, states of mind, or what? Maybe I’m weird, but finding answers to these questions seem more important than choosing a major in college. Then I’ll know what needs to be done, and I can purposefully work towards that goal rather than being blown around in every which way like dust in the wind. The alternative can result in our precious life being wasted
In the past, there were a few times when I had serious thoughts about the meaning of life. For instance, when I was 9 years old, my friends and I were playing little league baseball, and one of my team mates was on first base. As he tried to steal second base, lightning struck and he was killed on the spot. At first, I couldn’t believe he was dead, or that I could never have another conversation with him. What bothered me most, though, was why he died and not someone else? Why wasn’t it me, or how about one of the old coaches, who were getting up in the age bracket, and had already lived a somewhat fulfilling life?Here was a person in the adolescence of his life, and it was ripped away from him, without notice, in a split second, by a freak act of nature. Where was the justice in that? What would have happened if he never made it to first base in the first place? Would the lightning have hit someone else, or was it an act of Divine intervention specifically earmarked for my friend? For a while, my mind was filled with questions about my friend and about life in general. I worked out every scenario I could think of, and wondered if the results would have been different. But the urgency to know was not that great, and the stream of life moved on, and I eventually allowed the whole incident to slip into the realm of my subconscious. Therefore, in my everyday life, I forgot all about it and things returned back to normal. The death of both my grandparents, of my pet dog, and of other friends and acquaintances, also caused me to ask what it’s all about. But, again, time eventually healed the grief of loss, and the desire to know gradually faded into the background. I don’t know why, but this time was different. I was obsessed and had to know the truth at all costs. This time, I wasn’t going to let those feelings fade away.
Jo Ann, however, must have been tired of my rants. She gave me a peck on the cheek and said, “Well, I don’t know about the purpose of life, but I’ll tell you who you are, honey.”
“Okay, Who am I?”
“You’re a god damned angel, sweetie.” Then she got up, walked away, and began to mingle with other people.
Once again, being left to my own thoughts, I considered Jo Ann’s departing words. It seemed possible that I could be a fallen angel of some sort, but I just couldn’t imagine God, who is supposed to be Merciful, damning others. However, Jo Ann did manage to raise the God question within my mind. Does God exist? If so, what should be my relationship with Him? If not, could there be any meaning or purpose to our life here on earth, or was it just a matter of creating our own meaning? This was a whole new can of worms, but it seemed to tie in with the identity question.
I was so obsessed with knowing my true identity that I went into the kitchen, grabbed a pen and a piece of paper, and scribbled down the words as large as I could. “WHO AM I?” Then, I walked up to each person at the party and stuck the sign in their face. For me, it was an extremely profound question, so I expected others to react as I had. But, that was a mistake. Some people shrugged their shoulders, others looked at me like I was crazy, a few gave me the thumbs up, as if to say, “Right on, brother…keep the faith,” or something like that. My jock friends were like, “Yu da man. We are going to State next semester and we are going kick some ass.” Then the trippers were like, “You are Me, and I am You, and We are all Together One.” One guy even told me that I was God, but that I hadn’t realized it yet. Then, he insisted on instructing me in meditation so that I could realize my “God-hood.”
Well, I didn’t get any useful answers from the people at the party, but I did gradually regain my memory. I remembered my full name, where I was born, my parents and siblings, my ancestry, my ethnicity, even my height, weight, skin, hair and eye color, my former schools, my grades, all the jobs I’d worked up to that point, my former addresses, my hopes, my dreams, etc. etc. The only problem was, I now knew that these things were bodily descriptions, or bodily designations, but that I was not the body.
The body was a passing phantasmagoria. It came from dust, and it will return to dust. I will continue to exist long after the body merges back into the earth. So, at least I knew that I wasn’t what I used to think I was. But, when it came to knowing what I am, I was still as much in the dark as I was with amnesia. That brought up the next question: Where could I find such knowledge, and who could pass it on to me?
Well, that was the beginning of my spiritual journey, as weird as it may sound. I never did see Jo Ann again, but I must give her credit as the person who initially sparked that journey, even if that wasn’t her intention. Little did I know, at the time, how long a journey it would be. Nor did I know that finding the answers to my questions was the easy part. Acting upon them on a constant day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, moment by moment basis, is the hard part.
Listen to some sacred musical albums sung by Jagad Guru Srila Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa (Chris Butler) and friends. These calming music videos will help us to experience deep internal peace, happiness and satisfaction. These music videos contain spiritual sounds which further help us in the journey of self discovery.
Life in our modern society is very complicated. Therefore, it can be extremely difficult to ascertain what is important and what is not. That’s why the purpose of this blog is to cut through the superficial stuff and explore the fundamentally important stuff in life. The question of identity is the foundation of these basics, and we’ll analyze our identity in much more detail. However, there are many practical everyday things to also consider, both on a personal and social level. For instance, what are the necessities of life, what are the luxuries, how does one man’s greed lead to another man’s need, how can we structure our lives most beneficially, how do certain foods, herbs and minerals affect our well-being, how do exercise, stretching, breathing, and sound affect us, how can fasting help, how does charity and selfless work benefit us as much as those we are trying to help, how can we simplify our lives so that we can concentrate on the things most important, and much, much more. And, last but not least, how can we obtain that which we are longing for deep within our hearts?
Hope to catch you next time.