Waking up begins with becoming aware that we have been asleep. It is different for everyone. My awakening began when I met Jeannie on a bus coming back from a ski trip to Stowe Vermont.She was sweet and real in a way I had never encountered before. When I returned to Detroit, we started writing letters to each other. Hers were so deeply honest and emotionally transparent that I fell deeply in love with her.
At the time, I was working for Chrysler Corporation, developing a complex computer program and Jeanie’s letters touched a place in me that nobody else had ever reached. She inspired me and lit me up. When she wrote that she had decided to leave her boyfriend because she was falling in love with me, I felt the clouds part and the sun shine directly on me. On Saint Patrick’s Day weekend in 1974, I drove from Detroit to Cleveland and flew to Springfield, Massachusetts where Jeanie lived.
Over the next couple days, I felt a love like nothing I had ever known. We sat together naked at the top of a waterfall staring into each other’s eyes. We experienced a connection that was so powerful that neither of us could handle it’s intensity. Like a light bulb shining with too much voltage, something inside each of us burst. As it came time to leave, I sprained my ankle and could barely walk. Jeanie gave me a small child’s crutch and dropped me off on the highway so I could hitch-hike back to Albany.
I stood by the side of the road, leaning on my crutch with my thumb out waiting for a ride, but nobody stopped. After about half an hour, I felt a presence speaking to me. “Lose the crutch”, it said. I didn’t actually hear a sound. Instead it was a sense of knowing that was both internal and external. I laid the crutch on the ground and moments later I had a ride.
I was about to leave the crutch by the side of the road when the “voice” said, “Return the crutch”. I got defensive and muttered that I don’t know where to take it, but the same message repeated: “Return the crutch”. Somehow I managed to find a friend of Jeanie’s who agreed to get the crutch to her, but that left me in the middle of Springfield. I wanted to get out of town, so I started hitchhiking in the street, but the voice told me, “On the sidewalk.” Again, I fought back. “I can’t get a ride on the sidewalk,” I muttered. “On the sidewalk” said the voice. So I surrendered and stepped back on the sidewalk. Moments later, I pickup truck pulled up and two guys walked out of a store and jumped in the back. One looked at me and asked, “Need a ride?”
I jumped into the pickup with them and we were dropped off at the edge of town. I moved about 100 yards down the road so they could get the first ride, and moments after they were picked up, I was too. I got dropped off about 30 miles down the road and there was one of them. He looked at me with a dour expression and dourly said, “This is a lousy spot. We’ll never get a ride here.”
I looked at him and the voice spoke through me saying, “We will have a ride in less than 60 seconds.”
“How do you know that?” he asked. I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders. Less than a minute later we had a ride.
He looked at me strangely as he got dropped off. I was let off a few miles later at a fork in the road. “To the right” said the voice inside me,” but I was in deep turmoil and decided it was time to push back. I was raised Presbyterian and had religion jammed down my throat. When I graduated from high school, I turned my back on religion entirely. I rejected Christianity, God and anything that had to do with miracles. But now some voice was speaking to me. “Could this be God talking to me?” I asked. “Or maybe it’s the devil, cleverly trying to deceive me,” I thought. “Or maybe I am having a mental breakdown,” I wondered. Those were the only possibilities I could fathom.
So I stood by the left fork waiting defiantly for a ride that never came. Grudgingly and even fearfully, I moved to the right fork and stuck my thumb out. Moments later, I had a ride all the way to Albany.
When I arrived at my father’s law office, I was a sight to behold; limping, covered with road dirt, showing a three day beard (I had forgotten to bring my razor), and gleaming with a powerful glow from my experience. My father was quite alarmed and took me immediately to see his doctor who taped my ankle and gave me some simplistic medical advice to keep it elevated for several days. After a night in Albany, I got a plane back to Cleveland where I had left my car and went to my best friend’s house to tell him about my journey.
When I got there, I called Jeannie and told her about the voice. “What is happening to me?” I asked her.
“You are just having a spiritual awakening,” she replied calmly.
“Does this happen to everybody?” I asked.
“Sooner or later,” she replied in her sweet way.
“I can’t believe that everyone goes through what I have just gone through and the world is still in such a mess,” I pushed back.
“Do you know those records I gave you?” she asked. “Listen to them.”
I looked in my backpack and spotted a double record album, and said, “OK, I will.”
I gave the records to my friend and asked him to play them. For the next two hours we listened to Ram Dass share his story of awakening. We were both completely transfixed as we were presented with an entirely different way of understanding what I had been going through.
I never saw Jeannie after that weekend, but I am profoundly grateful to her for her part in my awakening. Since then, I have heard and read of many other descriptions of this process from Steven Levine’s “A Gradual Awakening” to Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, but Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now” will always be my favorite.
The process of awakening is, for most of us, a process, not an event. Several months after my exposure to Ram Dass, I met my wife and partner, Donna, who was also on a spiritual journey. We got married, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, had two sons and then moved to Silicon Valley in California where we became bedazzled by fast cars, stock options and heady ideas. I fell asleep and didn’t re-awaken until I landed in a dysfunctional team at Microsoft in 1990.
So that is my waking up story. What’s yours?