Spirituality, Surgery, and Sadhguru: How I Learned to Silence My Mind, Heal My Body, and Really Find Peace
© Jay Harden
One beautiful winter’s afternoon in January of 2003, Shona, my wife, asked me, out of the blue, “Darling, have you ever seen a real live guru?” (An English lady born in India, she knew something about the subject, and spirituality as well.) Curious, I replied, “You mean like with a beard, turban, sandals, the works?” “Yes, all of it,” she said, “Would you like to meet one?” That was the day a great adventure of my life began.
This analytical mind was intrigued and we had no other plans. Besides, he was speaking at our church. My arrogance was eager to poke logical holes in his belief system, so I agreed. Coincidentally (so I thought), I was looking for a new direction in my life. With the help of my wife, I was being guided toward something spiritual, not quite grasping what that meant. My parenting days were over and after retirement I realized how off balance I was. Thirty years of government science had left me with a brain addicted to facts, problems, goals, and omnipresent lists, the symptoms of a future-based reality. My mind just chattered incessantly on its own all the time. Sleep without dreams was an unimagined luxury. I was happily married, but still unsettled in a vague way. I felt the world finally owed me the hard-earned reward of a peaceful life and I was impatient for it. But with me things never go quite as I plan them. Despite sixty years of trying to control life, that’s been my story. Although I realized at some level that the answers I sought were not out there in other things, people, and places, I was reluctant to look within.
So I went to meet this enlightened yogi, this realized Master, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, and hear what he had to say. He seemed to be an enigma - disarmingly normal and unusual at the same time. A serene energy glowed out of him, yet he laughed easily, told jokes, and enjoyed sports. He was worldly, well educated (a degree in English literature) but had never spent years in a cave or studied sacred texts as a guru’s disciple. At one time a very successful businessman, he suddenly gave up all his material wealth in his mid-twenties after a spontaneous combustion of self-realization in the mountains. He loved flying like me. He had a daughter, also like me, and more hair on his youthful face than I could grow on my entire body. It became obvious that this profoundly spiritual man was fully human and totally engaged with life but not at the effect of it. And he had no belief system or religious affiliation to skewer! All he offered was to teach me the ancient technology of yogic science that would quiet my brain and allow me to live in the moment, free of the wounds of my past and fears of the future. Such a deal I could not ignore. This rare and vibrant human being clearly lived in continuous bliss, and I wanted that! All he asked was that I simply become willing. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, and so it was for me.
Shona and I took his introductory yoga course in Atlanta not long after, learning mind-emptying meditation and energizing breathing techniques developed thousands of years ago. My family noticed the improvements before I did. It seems I was easier to be around, less cranky, and more relaxed - imagine! Then I knew that somehow some extraordinary possibilities had finally opened up for me.
Looking back, everything in my life lead me here: the tragedy of childhood, the ecstasy of true love, the loss of a child, the killings of war, the death of a wife, the abyss of grief, the joy of grandchildren, the success of a science career, the gift of a soul mate, and, now, the adventure of another life.
A few months later I was ready and eager to pursue Sadhguru’s intermediate course, a more intense dip into other meditations and a close look at the illusions of my life I had created. During one of the class breaks, it seemed that I had a chance conversation with Sadhguru. I told him of my chronic medical problems and wondered if it was possible that yoga could get me free of my medications. The prospect of their mind-numbing side effects for the rest of my life was depressing me. He simply told me to come to the ashram, to just come and see what happens. My persistent questions resulted in the same reply. Nothing else needed saying, really; it just sounded right.
With my wife’s support, I innocently left in October for India. My mind secretly created great expectations of spiritual enlightenment in just a few weeks. I did not know it is counterproductive to have plans and expectations when dealing with a guru. The guru knows all and you do not, and he’s not necessarily telling. In truth, surrendering to a guru is really a surrendering to yourself, that guru in you.
Armed with little more that my naiveté, camera, and travel guide, I arrived in India. She immediately assaulted all my senses with her redolent, raucous, and resplendent extremes: fair warning, I suppose, for what Sadhguru was about to do to my mind, body, emotions, and energy.
The Isha Yoga Center is an oasis of natural beauty in the foothills of the Velliangiri Mountains, about 31 kilometers west of Coimbatore and ten degrees north of the equator. The ashram and its gorgeous architecture just ooze spiritual energy amid a rich variety of trees, ever-blooming flowers, fascinating swarms of dragonflies, and countless bursts of butterflies.
And then there is the Dhyanalinga, a unique multi-religious temple containing the only energy form in the world charged for all seven chakras of the body, a truly awesome accomplishment by Jaggi and his supporters. Sitting beneath it suffused me with peaceful, healing effects – a kind of customized cosmic well being that can only be experienced, never expressed.
The ashram is operated daily by a dedicated core of bramhachari, those men and women monks in orange and white selected and trained by Sadhguru to expand his work. They are living proof that it is possible in this present age to live continuously in genuine joy and peace without stress. I have never known a happier group of people. They taught me the physical body movements of Isha Yoga. I found them more effective than any other exercise I’ve tried at preparing my body for the day.
My volunteer work initially consisted of vegetable cutting, and soon I was on intimate terms with carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. From that I progressed to coconut grinding, then vessel washing. Later I started photographing the activities of the ashram. Just as I was getting comfortable, confident, and proficient in my yogic practices, tasting more and more of a peace beyond words, my world shifted again for another needed transcendent lesson.
I was rushed to a local teaching hospital where the doctors said I needed immediate coronary bypass surgery. Sadhguru was in Atlanta at the time and, strange as it seems, talking to Shona. He sent word to me, “I am with you.” I knew I was going to be OK. And Sadhguru gave me a mighty kindness. He assigned a swami to live with me continuously in my hospital room. He was a beautiful human being who brought the healing energy of the universe. A close American friend and ashram meditator also stayed with me, handling the baffling bureaucracy of an Indian hospital and crucial emails to my family.
My medical treatment was a blessing from heaven. Sadhguru had selected the hospital and knew the staff. The professionalism and competence were exceptional. My surgeon had performed 700 bypasses and never lost a patient. His confidence and mine infected each other, and we became friends. My cardiologist, a professor and the department head was delighted with my interest in his treatment and later completed Sadhguru’s yoga course for executives. The nursing caring went far beyond the clinical call of duty. They often returned after hours to visit with me. The hospital medical director also took an active interest in my case and we became friends, too. I even met the young men who donated my rare blood type. I was lucky – no, guided – to be in such good hands.
After I returned to the ashram, my meditation, breathing, and physical practices accelerated the healing so that I was able to take Sadhguru’s advanced yoga course: eight days of silence with over 750 other people together in one great hall. I felt like an onion at boot camp as Sadhguru helped me peel away layer after layer of mental nonsense in search of my own divinity. That experience went beyond words and took me deeper into the internal peace I have been seeking all my life, slowly teaching me the way of my own liberation.
Three months later, I again sped unexpectedly to the same hospital and room in Coimbatore. My gallbladder was ready to leave the body. Again I had extraordinary professional care beyond what I hoped for with yet another team of doctors and nurses. I bounced back rapidly, and soon realized it was time to return home.
I’ve given up trying to understand the meaning of my eight-month spiritual and surgical saga with Sadhguru. How does one thank his guru for the opportunity to sit with him and learn the cosmic way in? What words would suffice to convey the gifts I received from this living Master of the inner and outer worlds? A simple Namaste seems inadequate, and I suspect he knows my gratitude anyway. In my view, there are no accidents and all my living has some greater purpose. Being bathed by the flow is better than wrestling the river.
I appreciate more than ever the difference between loneliness and being alone. I cherish my stillness. And I don’t care so much. For me, that is a good thing. In the past, I cared too much and felt responsible for everything and everyone. Now I make my choices about how to respond based on an aware heart no longer wounded, that no longer wounds.
I feel stronger structurally as my humanness evolves. I am more connected – and not just with people – more connected to the panoply of the planet, that field of energy shared by all things. It sounds like a paradox when I say that I’m less concerned about the future, but more sure of it. And that means I spend more and more of my energy in the present, the only place where real magic occurs, discovering the little things I missed before. I feel like a photographer with new eyes, like a kid discovering paper airplanes. Such things once lost, now found, can never be misplace again.
Do I owe all that I am to Sadhguru and Isha? I don’t know and it’s not important. How I got here and where I am going matters not. What I do know is that guru wisdom in me is now fully awake and aware. These words are my promise to me:
We talk to the birds in the morning,
quite all right being bold,
We spin without being dizzy
without being told.
I’ll meet you again when we grow up;
You won’t know
for sure that it’s me
Till I show you that prize in my pocket
We found when
we only were three.
On my daily walks I look up at the sky and it is bigger and deeper and clearer than it has ever been. For the first time in memory I really know that my unlimited unbounded self is an essential part of all that peaceful vastness. Every possibility is now open to me and I am more balanced than ever thanks to my own seeking, my wife, my guru, and that one beautiful winter’s afternoon.
11 March 2005