November Reflections

Each autumn, I reflect, reminiscence, and recall in vivid detail a spiritual experience that occurred some 49 years ago, which changed my life. I recount the main details of this Christ-centered experience in my spiritual novel, Dialogues With the Lord of Time. But no written words can fully do justice to what I underwent in the autumn of 1974, which was a full-blown living mystical experience that I unequivocally felt, and still feel, was conferred by grace, by God.

But just as the spiritual portal suddenly opened in early September 1974 that ushered me into the very marrow of this ineffable experience, it began closing by late December 1974. Once I was outside this experience, I wanted back in. My life in many ways has been a singular quest to rekindle that same experience and once again be escorted inside the hallowed halls of its ensconced, treasured citadel.

And so, in early winter 1975, I began an intentional search to replicate that experience and reawaken it within my soul, with the goal of reliving it once again. At that time, I began acquiring books on spirituality, virtually all of which I still possess. They comprise part of several thousand such books I have amassed over the years. (Thus, I know from personal experience the futility of trying to achieve enlightenment by reading about enlightenment.) I started searching outside of myself and apart from my primary Christ-oriented frame of reference, initially going to Hindu-based centers, which was like stepping into the Looking Glass and entering an entirely new world. Then over the years, by the mid-1980s, my search expanded, and I explored Sufi, Buddhist, and Taoist centers for a time.

In 1993, I was compelled to begin yet another round of interfaith explorations. For six long years, I not only spent considerable time undertaking seemingly nonstop investigations of different religious traditions, but I seriously studied the teachings and practiced under the guidance of numerous teachers. I took initiations and empowerments, attended lectures, classes, seminars, retreats – you name it. I couldn’t get enough. Sometimes, while staying in the San Francisco Bay area, I would attend three events in one day – Christian, Hindu, and Sufi. Or drive from a Hindu meeting to a Tibetan Buddhist center – from Berkeley to the City – on the same night. I never felt any conflict in doing so; something inside me readily adapted, so I felt quite at ease when wearing multiple hats during my religion-hopping days.

After a personal issue befell our household in November 1999, that phase of my investigations ended, and I lost touch with many of the centers I had frequented and the teachers with whom I had studied. Yet, I never lost what I had assimilated during those magical, fruitful years. I now periodically keep my finger on the pulse of the contemporary spiritual scene, but with well-earned skepticism at the number of charlatans that proliferate in the name of spirituality. But they were present back in Jesus’ day as well, and Jesus denounced them back then, so they’ll always be around. No theatrical play is complete without a villain.

I’m exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to have explored different branches of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Sufism, Taoism, and Native American religion. I was fortunate to have studied with Theravada Buddhist monks from Burma and Sri Lanka; Japanese and Korean Soto and Rinzai Zen masters; lamas from all four Tibetan Buddhist schools, including H. H. the XIV Dalai Lama, as well as other “first-generation” lamas hailing from Tibet prior to the diaspora; Cistercian and Trappist Christian monks, as well as attending around a dozen services of different Christian denominations (I still actively maintain my Christian roots); swamis from the Ramakrishna and Vishnu Tirth lineages, as well as visiting additional Hindu groups; Hasidic and Renewal rabbis; shaykhs from three different Sufi orders; an internal Chi Gung Chinese master, as well as Taoist adepts. I studied with a Native American teacher and explored Native American religion (and contracted pneumonia after once attending a sweat-lodge ceremony – quite a cleansing!). I studied and became credentialed in three or so energy-healing modalities.

During 1986 and 1987, I founded and moderated Friends of the Spirit, a small, informal study group in comparative mysticism, based in Northern California, for which I produced a number of original essays. In the mid-1990s, I was privileged to have undertaken volunteer writing projects for several respected religious teachers, including Shaykh Taner Ansari, Father Thomas Keating, Rabbi Schneur Zalman Stern, and Swami Shivom Tirth. My first published spiritual article appeared in the May 1981 issue of Vedanta for East and West, and I’ve since published occasional articles on Gerald Heard and spirituality, including three contributions for Parabola magazine, and of course this website, online since 2006, and my running blog and a newly launched YouTube channel, and now a book. While I am honored and humbled to have a longstanding teaching authorization from the late Swami Swahananda of the Ramakrishna-Vedanta Order, as well as his verbal and written sanction and blessing to confer initiation as a householder disciple in that tradition, I don’t promote myself as a “guru” – God forbid – but rather refer to myself as a “spiritual educator,” an appellation with which I can sleep well at night. Someone who, outside of academia and the institutional religious milieu, can share the cumulative wealth of the many experiential spiritual treasures I’ve gathered over the decades.

This compendium is simply a time capsule that recounts in synoptic form the many highlights I recall with fondness along my spiritual journey, which is far from over, but which began in earnest some 49 years ago, in the autumn of 1974. All this comes to mind, with ceaseless gratitude for my good fortune and these many blessings, during my November reflections.

2 thoughts on “November Reflections”

  1. How wonderful to set aside time to review with gratitude one’s teachers and their teachings. Just perfect for this reflective time of year.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for your uplifting comment. Believe me, there are a plenitude of stories associated with these explorations and teachings! – John Roger Barrie


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