Meditation does not come easy for me. I find it boring and get restless and distracted. Some might say that’s exactly why I need to meditate; to slow my mind down and to learn to stay in the moment. So, the other day, I was trying to be silent and still and I recognized the clear image of an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. I’ll call him Mike, even though that’s not his real name. I only knew him for a brief period, but seeing him brought back a flood of memories: some good, some horrible. So, I share this story, of learning how to meditate, the hard way.
Years ago, I was living in North San Diego County, trying to figure out my next move in life and searching for any sign from God. The start-up company I had been working for had run out of money, so I was working the swing shift (3:00 to 10:00 pm) at the front desk of a local resort. In the mornings, I spent my time reading, trying to surf, and hanging out in coffee houses. One day, at a coffee house in Encinitas, I met a girl from Australia. We both seemed to be “seekers” and she told me about this person she’d found in the desert who had all the answers. Intrigued with this supposed wise man (and this attractive young woman), I agreed to drive out with her and meet “Ray” (not his real name either).
After a couple of hours, we ended up at a ranch house surrounded by nothing but sand and cactus. A blind woman answered the door and introduced herself as Ray’s wife. She offered us tea and asked us to wait because her husband was in his “meditation hut.” My friend warned me he might be in there for hours and, apparently, it was unthinkable to disturb him. Fortunately, it wasn’t too long before a surly, heavyset man with a beard and a knotty wooden cane emerged. We made introductions and I proceeded to ask him a few meaning-of-life type questions. I don’t recall much of the exchange, although I did ask ‘who or what is God?’ When he admitted that question was beyond him, I was a little more impressed. And, by the time we were leaving, I was still curious what this strange man could teach me.
A couple of weeks later, I went back out to the desert to take part in a ‘workshop’ Ray was offering. There were only a handful of attendees and only one other male, Mike, who would be my roommate for the weekend. A little older than me, Mike was a gentle, sweet soul, who was impossible not to like. Together, our little group endured Ray’s intensive, somewhat abusive, teaching style. He prodded us to publically expose painful memories, and I privately wondered if we should be opening up such emotional wounds. Ray also took us through guided meditations in which he seemed to simultaneously know what was going on in each of our respective heads. Having successfully passed the first weekend, our little group was invited to come back for a whole week of more advanced training.
Surprisingly, we all returned and Ray continued to walk us through his meditation technique that incorporated Carl Jung’s archetypal characters. You would start in a meadow where you would play with your inner child. Next, you might interact with your “twin” or “anima/animus,” which represents yourself in the form of your opposite gender. From there, you crossed a bridge, where you’d have to deal with your shadow self. There is a mountain to scale and, along the way up, a wise person to ask questions. Finally, at the top, you encountered the male and female aspects of God. To work through the entire “mindscape” could take hours, and yet, most of us felt like it culminated in a profound, if not religious, experience.
During the week, we also learned how to use and direct “energy” in the body, which supposedly can be used for healing. And we practiced losing some of our inhibitions through a variety of exercises, including dance. While I was distrustful of anything that might counter my Christian beliefs, I felt like I had learned some useful things during the week. Mike, on the other hand, was over-the-top excited with his newfound knowledge. We split up, with Mike giving a ride to two of the participants to San Diego, and I took the two Aussies to the North County area. Early that next morning, around 4:00 am, I got a call from one of the girls who said Mike had dropped them off, but had disappeared without saying good-bye. That was unlike him and she knew something was wrong.
I rounded up the Aussies and our little group met at the last place Mike had been seen. The police had already been called, but we started to search the area around the apartment building ourselves. An hour or so later, a detective came to the apartment and questioned everyone before telling us Mike’s body had been found. Apparently, he’d been carjacked and his body had been dropped a few blocks away. Since it was still an active crime scene, we all went over. It was sickening to see him lying lifelessly on the street and our whole group broke into sobs and wails. It seemed so senseless – and so strange, especially given how high on life he had been just a few hours earlier.
We still had another, final session out in the desert, which I felt compelled to attend. I was angry at Ray for not attending the funeral – and I had a few more questions: If he was so ‘all-knowing,’ why hadn’t he foreseen this coming? What about the timing… Why did it happen as he was returning from the workshop? What did Mike’s death mean? While I didn’t live in a high crime area either, my car was stolen the day before I was supposed to go back out to the desert. Any reasonable person would have taken this as a sign not to go, but I caught a ride and showed up anyway.
Ray didn’t have any answers to my questions, at least not any good ones. Instead, he tended to blame the bad psychic energy of one of the women Mike had dropped off. He said he’d meditated long and hard on the event and had been able to tap into Mike’s state-of-mind at the time of the attack. He said Mike had been very frightened. Really? No kidding! My darkest suspicions about Ray were being realized. There was a manipulative quality about him that I’d tried to overlook before. Certainly, he didn’t have ‘all’ the answers. And, maybe, we were delving into things we shouldn’t be getting into. After that weekend, I never went back.
Using DNA, the police caught Mike’s killers; a couple of ex-cons who just happened to be walking up the street, looking for a ride. We’ll probably never know exactly what went on between Mike and the men who took his life. I don’t even know why Mike’s memory happened to pop up during my meditation the other day. Maybe it was some kind of warning. Maybe it was just a social call. Or it could be just one of those random things that the subconscious does from time to time. Whatever the reason, it was good to see him again. So, I’ll try to stop squirming long enough to meditate, because I never know who might show up.
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