My Spiritual Awakening

In 1974, I was living in Detroit and working for Chrysler Corporation. I was their “Token Hippy”, working on a complex computer program. In January, 1974, I went skiing in Vermont. On the bus back to Albany,New York where my parents lived, I met a young hippy chick named Jeanie. We had a sweet connection and started writing letters to each other. I had never met anyone quite like Jeanie and over the next few weeks, I found myself falling in love with her.

Over Saint Patrick’s Day in March, I drove to Cleveland and then flew to Springfield, Mass, where Jeanie lived. She took me off in the woods to a beautiful waterfall. We sat naked on the rocks and stared deeply into each other’s soul. The intensity of our connection was overwhelming to me and the relationship, like a light bulb with too much voltage burned itself out.

I had managed to sprain my ankle playing basketball with Jeanie’s brother and I was limping pretty bad when I left her home on the following Monday. I planned to hitchhike from Springfield to Albany, a journey of about 90 miles and fly from Albany to Cleveland. Jeanie dropped me off on a nearby highway and gave me a children’s crutch to help me walk. We kissed goodbye and I stuck my thumb out, waiting for a ride. I waited… and waited… and waited some more, but nobody stopped.

Then the strangest thing happened. I heard (or rather sensed) a voice telling me to “Drop the crutch”. It wasn’t a voice with sound; it was just a message that arrived fully formed in my head from what felt like some external source. So I put the crutch on the ground and 15 seconds later I had a ride.
The “voice” then said, “Return the crutch.” Well, I didn’t know where to return the crutch to and I started making excuses, but the voice just repeated itself, “Return the crutch.”

I remembered Jeanie telling me about a friend of hers who lived in town, so I told the driver where Jeanie’s friend lived. He dropped me off and I returned the crutch, then stepped into the street to thumb for another ride. On the sidewalk,” said the voice. “But I can’t get a ride on the sidewalk,” I responded. “On the sidewalk,” the voice repeated. So I stepped on the sidewalk and a few seconds later, a pickup truck pulled up about 30 feet in front of me. Two guys ran out of a store and jumped in the back. One noticed me and asked if I needed a ride.

The pickup let all three of us off at the edge of town, so I walked downstream to give them a better chance of getting a ride. They got picked up pretty quickly and I got picked up moments later. I got dropped off about 20 miles down the road, and there was the guy who had invited me into the pickup earlier. “You picked a terrible spot to get dropped off,” he said. “We will have a rough time getting a ride here.” I looked at him and said, “We will have a ride in less than 60 seconds.” He looked at me and asked, “How do you know that?” “I don’t know,” I responded as a car stopped to pick us up. He looked at me with a mixture of fear and awe, but all I could do was smile.

Let me take a moment for a bit of back-story. I was raised Presbyterian and sent to an all-boys prep school where we went to chapel six times a week and twice on Sunday. When I graduated, I figured that I must have at least 10 years credit built up, and I pitched religion in general and Christianity specifically out the window. So by March of 1974, I was somewhere between agnostic and full blown atheist. I also spent a year in a mental hospital because I couldn’t get along with my father. When I got out, my Mom went in. The doctors told both of us that they had the wrong patient, but my dad had already done his time in a psychiatric hospital and was in no mood to have a repeat visit.

So here I am, alone on the road and hearing voices. “Well,” I thought, “If this is God talking to me, perhaps I should listen. But if it is the Devil, he will show his hand eventually. And if I am just going crazy… I can deal with that.” That was my entire framework of possibilities. I was hearing God, the Devil or I was going insane.

Fast forward to Albany where I showed up in my father’s law office with a three day growth of beard, a fire in my eyes and a limp. I scared the piss out of Dad, but I managed to keep the visit short and caught a plane back to Cleveland where Jim, my best friend lived.  I made a bee-line for his house and immediately called Jeanie to tell her about my hitchhiking experience.

“What is happening to me,” I asked Jeanie. You are just having a spiritual awakening,” she told me calmly. “Does this happen to everybody?” I asked. Sooner or later,” she replied. “I can’t believe that everybody goes through this and the world is still as messed up as it is,” I said. Well, maybe not in this lifetime, but eventually everybody wakes up,” Jeanie told me with her calm, sweet voice. “Do you know those records I gave you,” she asked. “Go listen to them.”

I dug into my backpack and pulled out the album she had given me back in Springfield. I hadn’t paid any attention to it at the time, but I looked at it now. It was something about somebody named  Ram Dass. I handed the record to Jim and he put it on the record player. For the next two hours, we listened to Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard as he described his experiences with LSD and his spiritual awakening at the feet of his guru, Maharajji.

That experience which happened over 40 years ago, had a profound impact on me. It gave me a whole new way of seeing and understanding the world and my place in it. The years since have been a wobbly path, but as I return to it, I am profoundly grateful to Jeanie and to Ram Dass for helping me to begin my own spiritual awakening.

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