From Druggie to Yogi
True Alisandre, E-RYT (11/25/10)
In the late 60’s and early 70’s I was heavily involved in procuring all sorts of mind expanding substances from marijuana to psilocybin; including even a few trips with LSD. My main drugging friend, Chris spent many hours “scoring,” and ‘getting high,’ in a variety of ways. We were both also involved with operating a few city-wide recycling centers in Dade County, Florida, where I was born in 1948 on the coastal city of Miami Beach in St. Francis Hospital.
Even though we were busy getting high almost every night, our days were filled with significant ecological renewal work and I even incorporated a small non-profit which we called: Ecology Action of Florida, Inc. One time when we were blending a bit too much of the pleasures of smoking dope as it is so affectionately called, with our recycling business, we managed to get a 22’ Avis rental truck stuck in a ditch with a full load of recyclable paper from our collection centers. We tried to laugh at our silly mistake, but this snapped us out of our irresponsible stupor.
Nonetheless, we managed along with several dedicated volunteers to accumulate enough cash in the organization (none of our earnings from recycling went to the drug scene, we were quite ethical about that) to rent a small eco-action center in S. Dade County, and even set up an eco-hotline! During this time, we attracted quite a few compatible artisans, including some candle makers who were quite happy to use our collected glass for molds for their candles. Many others with a wide range of environmental and progressive views were drawn to gather at this center, and interact.
A few months after renting this small center somewhere around the summer of 1970, we began receiving visits from two Ananda Marga LFT’s (Local Full Timers). These two yogis: Rama & Sita emanated pure bliss & told us they were disciples of Tantric guru – Shrii Shrii Anandamurti, who founded the yoga organization: Ananda Marga Pracaraka Sangha in 1955. On one of their visits, they invited all of us (about 10) who were there that day to come hear a yogic monk from India; Acharya Yatiishvarananda Avadhuta, give a talk on meditation at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fl. This acarya (one who teaches by example) was a close disciple of Anandamurtijii or Baba, as he was affectionately called, and was sent to the U.S. to teach any interested persons the practice of meditation & the accompanying asanas to help balance the body & mind. All of us gathering at the eco-center were into all kinds of different diets, new age books, as well as environmental preservation, and so we eagerly piled into our vehicles to go hear the monk speak about meditation & satisfy our curiosity about its mystique.
What I remember of the talk itself was very vague, since the monk commonly called: Dadajii (respected brother) spoke with a very thick Indian accent. So, the English speaking people present may have caught about 10% of his presentation at most! However, it did touch me (and many of them) on a deep, energetic level, and I personally was totally impressed with his spiritual zeal. Since my baptism as a Catholic, and attending 11 years of religious training, along with regular Sunday mass as an altar boy, I was very sensitive to spiritual energy and its blissful effect on my mind. This monk had most likely given me my most devotional feeling for God I’d ever had zapped me with a sensation of Divine Love.
So, it was no surprise when I found myself standing in the line of nearly 50 – 60 people wanting individual meditation instruction, called initiation after the talk. Chris, my friend, also got in line, but somehow was way ahead of me. By the time dada had initiated (free of charge, on a totally donation basis) nearly 45 people during a period of 3 – 4 hours, he came out of the U of M campus room, and announced that he was completely out of energy, and the rest of us could receive our instruction on his next tour through the Southern U.S. Well, I was fortunate that Chris had received his personal mantra, and meditation technique, cause we advanced from drugging buddies to meditation comrades. We went completely cold turkey; not missing the drug high one iota!
He taught me a basic meditation method using the universal mantra: Ba’ba’ Na’m Kevalam which means in Sanskrit – Love is All there Is! We were both very diligent in our practice of twice a day meditation, and doing yoga asanas after our meditation. Sometimes I went to Chris’ home and other times, we’d do it outdoors, or even before our weekly group meditations, which the University of Miami willingly made possible with the Wesley Foundation giving us use of its hall.
Sometimes around 40 people would show up, and we’d sit in a circle, sing some spiritual songs or bhajans as they’re called when sung in Sansksrit, and join our minds in the Ananda Marga way of group meditation called: dharmachakra: circle of people whose goal is Self-Realization. I recall getting so “blessed out” in these elevating gatherings that I would almost float out of the place. We had a number of acaryas come through Miami during the time the group stayed together in the early and mid 70’s, and I was a key person in helping set up a local center.
However, first, I had to make my journey to Mecca (metaphorically) to receive my personal mantra, and get individualized meditation instruction. This life-altering event took place in 1971, at a time when Dada Yatiishvarananda wasn’t coming all the way south to Miami, but only as far as Atlanta. I had no car at the time, and decided it was so important for my life that I had to hitchhike up there, and so began thumbing it up the Florida State Turnpike one mid morning, and by afternoon was so frustrated having only gotten to Ft. Lauderdale that I gave up, and tried to hitch home back to Miami. Well, this wasn’t working either, so in one desperate sigh of surrender, I said to God: “Well I’ll try one more time, and if you want me there in Atlanta, you’ll have to send someone!” No sooner than I made this mental decision, that I would let go of ‘getting myself there,’ than a young black gentleman stopped in a very nice car, and offered me a ride right to the front door step of the ashram in Atlanta. All the way he spoke to me of spiritual matters, and I’ll never forget him saying: “You don’t need an intermediary between you and God, you can go directly to the Father or Source.” He also told me: we look at the world through rose colored glasses, not seeing what’s really there.”
Well, I was initiated, receiving a Sanskrit name of God as my mantra, and meditated on it for what seemed like several hours every day of that weekend. My knees were strained to the limit of their tolerance after sitting cross-legged for so long. But, somehow I disciplined myself, and made it through the weekend. Getting back to Miami, I later moved into a house with a fellow named: Sid Cevarich, a Coast Guard enlisted man, and we started a local Ananda Marga center called a Jagriti (their word for ashram.) One of the most beautiful monks that was assigned to visit us was named Jagaddeva, and his Dutch, open & loving personality charmed all of the people which were draw to this meditative/yoga path. At one point Jagaddeva stated to me very directly: “Don’t you know that you’re going to do something spiritual with your life!” As he said this, a deep place in me recognized that this is really the only important thing to do with any human life – find your spiritual identity and help others find theirs.
In 1973, I moved to Atlanta this time to be part of an Ananda Marga center focused on the arts called: RAWA – Renaissance Artists & Writers Ass’n. I lived in this center for several months, and helped with the units paper route, and spiritual assignments, as well as deepening my own practice. Eventually, I returned to Miami, and it wasn’t long before I ended up making the commitment to become an LFT like Rama & Sita, and went to Philadelphia for 4 ½ months of live-in yoga training covering: meditation, sutras, asanas, and philosophy, along with following a strict schedule of 4x a day meditation, 2X asansas, vegetarian diet, fasting 4x a month, and rising at 5 am, and retiring at 10 pm.
After completing my training, which included a field internship at an Ananda Marga center in Pittsburgh, I was sent to New Haven, CT. where I taught beginning meditation & asana classes as well as visiting the Ananda Marga centers in New England. This was very challenging since it was my first exposure to winter, and I had to hitch hike all over in the middle of winter. Following 9 months in New Haven, I was asked by Dadajii to move to Little Rock, AR., and replace a couple LFT’s who staffed the center there.
In Little Rock, I again taught classes and was responsible for the local centers operation, & helped organize a large retreat called: a Dharma Meha Semala, in which Acarya Yatiishvarananda, acted as a channel for the guru’s energy, and gave a direct transmission from the guru as if he were actually there. This was held in Ferndale, AR., at a retreat center called Camp Pfeifer. At this retreat, I was shocked that Dada gave me special thanks for all the work I had put into helping the event come off successfully. After this I became somewhat inactive in the organizations activities, only going to annual retreats & maintaining my own spiritual practices, which I knew would be with me for the rest of my life!
In 2000, I returned to Philly, some 26 years after my training, and again became connected to Ananda Marga, and resumed teaching yoga asana classes on an intensive basis, from 4 – 6 classes a week! I also worked with adolescents having behavioral problems, and simplified the yoga breathing, stretching and meditation techniques I’d learned to help them focus their minds more easily. I knew this was a special talent I possessed, and when I left Philly in 2004, I returned to Arkansas, and in 2006 went to work for a psychiatric facility for teens, again helping them get a handle on their creative mental energy, and express their emotions in a healthy way. I attribute my yogic practices for the inspiration I receive daily as an abstract artist, health writer, spontaneous percussionist and song writer.
Upon my retirement in April of 2010, I moved to S. California, and am living in Huntington Beach. I teach yoga classes & am perfecting Sanskrit chanting at a local Science of Mind church ((Golden Circle Church) in Santa Ana, & have my art exhibited in several places since moving here. My web address is: www.smoothyogabytrue.com, and currently I am publishing a book titled: Pictures of Health to Breathe & Move With, & writing a second book on the art of Peaceful / Aware Driving. Both of these literary works heavily utilize my experiences in yoga with its powerful breath, movement & meditation practices.
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