This week Guru Singh is celebrating his 70th birthday. In honor of his birthday I want to share this chapter from my book which tells the story of our first meeting and the many lessons I have learned from him over the years. Guru Singh is not only my treasured teacher but my dear friend and the father I never had. His influence on my life is profound and wide reaching — so much of what I share is influenced by what he’s taught me. I invite you to enjoy this story and to join me in wishing him a happy birthday.
Chapter 18: My Meditation, Meeting the Guru
I arrived early. I’m never early, anywhere. But I didn’t want to be late today. Surely that’s not a good first impression when meeting a guru. Little did I know one of this guru’s many slogans was designed to explain his perpetual tardiness: “You can’t rush spirituality.”
I opened the side gate as I had been instructed in the voice mail message. I walked into a yard. More like a secret garden. Plants, trees, green everywhere. And statues … frogs … happy Buddha … lots of frogs.
A kind woman dressed in all white greeted me. She walked me through the gentle jungle-like yard to a standalone room at the back of the property. Then she said calmly, “He will be with you soon.”
I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen pictures of Guru Singh on the Internet. Tall, alabaster skin and hair. Piercing blue eyes. Long white beard. A bright orange turban topping a costume of white robes. Like a thinner Dumbledore mixed with the magic carpet-riding swamis I had seen on TV in the Sunday morning cartoons from my youth.
Now here I was, waiting to meet him. My heart skipped joyfully, like a kid in the schoolyard. I learned long ago such situations always turned into one of two things: a great new adventure or one hell of a story. Sometimes both.
I glanced around the room, neatly cluttered with a million and one trinkets, statues, stones, and pictures. There was a large mirror to my right covered with saying after saying, as if a child had gotten carried away with a label maker. Things like “Are you in a relation-SHIP or a relation- canoe? Can you stand up?” And “Be flexible. Water is so flexible we call it solution.”
To my left was a table covered in little frogs. “What is it with frogs?” I thought. A meditating frog, a green jade frog, a wooden one, frog after frog.
When I was little my grandma loved elephants. On every birthday, every Christmas and every Mother’s Day we gave her an elephant. Until one day she told us directly, “No more damn elephants.” This guy clearly had not done the same. I had never seen this many frogs.
Then he walked in, interrupting my analysis of the surroundings. “Sat Nam,” he said. He looked into my eyes. Holding his gaze. He looked at me. I looked back at him. Not like a stare, it wasn’t threatening. More like a warm hug drawing me in, followed by something deeper. I couldn’t look away. His eyes and mine, in sync, like two computers, recognizing, remembering. A silent download of years of information from his soul to mine. Then he smiled a giant, “Where ya been all these years?” kind of smile. As if he had been waiting for me.
I was home.
There I sat. A stranger in a strange land, yet knowing deeply I had been here before; maybe many times. When he spoke it was as though he already knew why I was there, not needing any questions or prompting.
“We arrive at every location in our life, every moment in our life, through a series of micro-decisions and micro-moments. This is actually established by a greater equation that has been guiding us through thousands upon thousands upon thousands of lifetimes, an equation known as destiny.
“You, in fact, have arrived in this room through such a series of events. All the sensations you are experiencing at this very moment: the curiosity, the partial concern, the overriding joy, and the accompanying reasons that you claim brought you here—are all careening together to express this moment, as this moment.
“Everyone will eventually wind up in this room. It may be a room on a different planet. It may be a room on a different continent. It may be a room in a different country. Regardless of where and when, everyone will eventually wind up in this room asking the questions that brought you here today.”
I sat there wide-eyed, mesmerized by his words. There was nothing to say, so I listened quietly to my new teacher.
“The journey to this room takes a very long time, but from the perspective of where the journey has originated or is being managed it takes no time at all. The management of this journey is what many have speculated to be God. But God, in that context, is an invention of the mind and for that reason they have developed many different belief systems. One of the most certain facts is that we were developed very intelligently, not haphazardly, and therefore to follow that development has meaning. How does a person arrive at this room with the questions that look beyond earning to survive and then earning to be the wealthiest person around and then earning beyond that just for the sake of earning? That’s the answer that you are obviously looking for and it’s the same kind of answer that a child is looking for when it’s lying on its belly able to move but unable to travel. Before that child learns to crawl it observes all of those moving about it. Before an adult child reaches beyond, they get a good job, get a good car, get a good house, get a good life, and reach into the realms beyond, it sits just like that child in a complete state of frustration.”
“Is he reading my mind?” I thought. I didn’t know how, but he seemed to sense what was going on in my head.
“Envy mixed with frustration mixed with anger mixed with compromise mixed with jealousy mixed with observation mixed with determination. All of these developmental sensations come crashing together in order to break the human from its shell. The shell of that mega-story that life is a challenge, perhaps a struggle, striving to be on top and then you die. And that’s why you’re here in this room, like that little baby on its stomach.”
Then he said, “So … tell me the story of Jason, what makes you tick?”
I told him my story. Growing up poor. Working my whole life. Selling gum. The flea market. Chávez. Spanish concerts. Clear Channel. Live Nation. My mom’s death. Watching dolphins. Vera. The books I’d read. “I’m here,” I said, “because I want to know God. I hope you can help me.”
He smiled, straightened his spine. He asked me to cross my legs. We meditated. I had never meditated before. Well, once I had tried it after reading a Deepak Chopra book. Tried it. But that was it.
I sat there with my eyes closed, my mind racing. A few seconds passed―a few seconds that felt like an hour. He spoke soothingly, “Just let the thoughts come. Don’t resist. They are like radio waves. You can’t stop them. Just let them come and go. Don’t engage.”
But I did engage. Of course I did. We all do in the beginning. It was impossible to quiet my mind after spending my entire life believing that all my random thoughts, bumping into each other in my mind, were important revelations that I had to listen to.
We meditated that day for eleven minutes―the longest eleven minutes of my life. But I didn’t care. I was on a mission and I was convinced this strange new friend was my guide.
“Put your hands over your eyes. Open your eyes into the darkness of your hands. Stare at your palms as you slowly pull them away.”
He looked at me, his face expressionless. He smiled from his eyes, a soothing smile, like Vera’s voice so many years ago. “You are home, Jason.” He spoke again. “You have spent your life willing great things to happen. You have accomplished so much in the physical plane. You have learned the art of manifestation, through sheer will. Your mother’s death freed you. Now we will teach you how to invest in trust. To be, not do. To surrender to that knowing inside you. That requires your being in NOW. That is what we will learn together.”
He stood up and walked to the door. Then he paused, turned back and said, “You know what I am talking about, don’t you?” I did.
I had experienced this sort of familiarity with a new situation at various other times of my life, walking into a new place or meeting someone and knowing I was supposed to be there. Like the way Spanish had come so easily to me. The new words and meanings populating my mind like the ants in the ant farm from my kindergarten class. Or when I met Julio César Chávez and his brother. And, more recently, when I walked the concourse of the Universal Amphitheater with Michael. In all of those situations I had known I belonged. That’s how I felt now.
So I did what I had done so many times before. I dove in, immersing myself in the learning.
I no longer saw Guru Singh as a robed wizard in a turban. Now he wasn’t Merlin, but more like David Carradine’s wise Chinese teacher in the TV series Kung Fu. Remember the teacher and lessons he would flash back to on his long walking journey?
After that first meeting, twice a week, every week, I sat cross-legged in front of Guru Singh and soaked it all in just like the little boy in Kung Fu. Listening, learning, asking questions, and then experiencing NOW through meditation.
I also meditated daily at home on my own. I converted a portion of my closet into a meditation area. On a small shelf I placed a candle, a small statue of Jesus that had been given to me as a child at my first communion, a picture of my mom and children, along with a quote by the Buddha that said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Every morning and afternoon I went into the closet and smiled at the picture of my mom, realizing the irony of the courage it took for her to come out of the closet a decade before and tell me she was in love with Kim. I sat on an orange cushion purchased at Pier 1 Imports. I’d turn on some relaxing music and meditate for eleven minutes as Guru Singh had taught me.
In the beginning I fell into the trap most of us do. I did meditation― sitting there very sternly and seriously. I closed my eyes hard and actively pushed all the thoughts out of my mind, which of course in the process generates new thoughts even more annoying than the original ones.
Thoughts like “SHHHHHHH Jason,” “No, go away, I’m not thinking right now, I’m meditating,” and “I wonder if my hands are positioned correctly?” Added to the pain in my back and the cramp in my legs was the strange phenomenon that every time I sat down to meditate I suddenly had to pee!
Around this time I listened to an audio book by the Trappist monk and contemplative Father Thomas Keating. In it he described contemplation as “we do not deny or repress what is in our conscious thinking process. We simply accept the fact of whatever is there and go beyond it, not by effort, but by letting go of whatever is there.” He goes on to explain that sometimes in meditation we may get only a glimpse of that letting go, only a tiny slice of beautiful surrender. In those moments we experience God. Maybe just for a few seconds and maybe more. Whatever duration is just fine, Father Keating says, because those few seconds are worth more than a full day of normal thinking.
To help myself I developed an image with which I would start my meditation. I would close my eyes, envisioning a wise-looking Chinese man, like Confucius, sitting on the bank in between a fork in the river, with the river running on either side of him.
Instead of water, the river was made up of thoughts. My thoughts. This wise Chinese man (my mind) simply looked at each thought as it floated by and said gently “hmm.” A thought floating by … “hmm” … another … “hmm.” Never engaging or resisting. Calmly observing the presence and letting it pass by with a simple “hmm.”
As silly as it sounds this imagery worked for me. It was a visual representation of the concept of non-attachment and surrender I could clearly understand. After a few moments of doing this I would settle into a peaceful state and enjoy a magnificent meditation. Over time those moments went from seconds to a minute and, with more practice, to more and more minutes.
When I asked Guru Singh how to deal with a thought I didn’t like, he would say: “What do you do when you see a billboard you don’t like? Do you take a picture and carry it around with you? No. You see it and then you drive on by.”
At one of my afternoon classes he asked me if I did yoga. “No,” I said as images of people contorting their bodies while walking on their hands played in my head.
“Well, let’s have you start with two poses, downward dog and paint- the-aura.” He stood to demonstrate. Downward dog―a bit like a bear crawl without the crawling; and paint-the-aura―oddly similar to the dance moves in Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” video. If you haven’t seen it, Google it now so you can appreciate my clever wit.
When I returned later that week for my next session, Guru Singh asked me if I had done the postures. “No,” I replied, feeling like high- school Jason sitting in Mr. Allen’s class being called out for not doing the homework.
“Why not?” he asked. There was no judgment in his voice, only an innocent curiosity and intrigue.
The truth was I hadn’t tried the postures because I thought they looked stupid. I hadn’t done a bear crawl since high school football, and flopping my body up and down like Will Smith’s daughter just wasn’t what I was down for. It felt lame.
Not wanting to offend him, I gave an inoffensive answer: Okay, okay, I thought, then said, “I guess I was just a little lazy.”
He closed his eyes and seemed to drift away, far away. I sat there wondering what was going on. I would later learn that Guru Singh closed his eyes like this from time to time to listen to the moment, to clear out any judgment or bias, and to understand what the moment is saying in order to convey it.
He opened his eyes. “No,” he said, “everything I have learned about you is that you are NOT lazy. Lazy men don’t make it here. They don’t accomplish what you have.” He paused. “Perhaps it was Guru Singh who was lazy. I didn’t properly explain to you what the yoga postures are for. Men like you don’t do things they don’t find value in. So let me explain it now.”
I don’t know why this surprised me. Not only had the teacher taken responsibility for the student not doing his homework, but he also put into words what I was too afraid to say or didn’t realize myself. He was right. I hadn’t done the yoga not because I was lazy or because it looked lame. I didn’t do it because I didn’t see the value. It appeared to be a waste of time and so I skipped it like all the other waste-of-time things people had tried to make me do in my life.
“Yoga,” he began, “is one methodology allowing you to stretch into your body, your body glove. It’s like a glove or a pair of shoes: if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t serve and if it doesn’t serve, nothing works well. I asked you to do downward dog because it’s the same exercise almost every animal does. Dogs do it after getting up from every nap. Stretching into the body glove enables the occupant of the body to fully utilize the body.
“Yoga has been developed over thousands of years to help you get in touch with those places in your physical form that generate emotional sensations, which in turn produce thought. It is getting to those places that allows us to ultimately have not only a body that fits, but a life that fits. When the body and the life fit, neither one of them disrupts your ability to have a clear sensation of God at all times. So in the midst of yoga we get into postures, we have movements and, equally important, we breathe consciously.”
All of a sudden the lame yoga postures didn’t seem so lame. In fact, yoga sounded like a really smart thing to do. I listened as the guru continued.
“I asked you to do downward dog because there’s a relationship between the glands and organs of the abdomen and this relationship is effective when there is room for the glands and organs to relate. Inverting the body in downward dog releases the compression that takes place throughout our lives by sitting and standing. This increased space allows everything to move and function effectively.
“Also, I asked you to paint the aura. Kirlian photographs of the bodies of living creatures show there is an electromagnetic field that surrounds every one of us. This is what is known as the aura. When you do the exercise to paint the aura, you are actually spreading your intention into this electromagnetic field through the nerve endings in your hands. Each of our hands has 72,000 nerve endings, the same number in each of our feet. Reflexology is a therapy that utilizes this fact. It knows that these nerve endings connect to all of the glands and organs throughout our body and that we can affect those glands and organs by massaging the nerve endings. By the same fact, in reverse, we can affect the space around us by allowing the energy coming from our glands and organs through those nerve endings to be painted into the surrounding space. This may sound like woo-woo, but it is as real as a surgeon’s scalpel.
“When I first met you, you told me you wanted to know God. If there is ever anything in life that you want to know, you have to go to a place where what you want to know has a relationship. When a bloodhound is being trained to find someone, they will take a piece of clothing the person has worn for the bloodhound to get the scent. The point of reference to discover God is the self within the self. Not the stories that the self has generated; not the beliefs that someone has propagated; but the unaltered self that sits at the core of each one of us. That’s the trailhead on the path to knowing God. One methodology, amongst many methodologies, for discovering that trailhead to the self within the self is Kundalini yoga. Two of the postures in Kundalini yoga that I strongly recommend for this beginning stage are downward dog and painting the aura.”
Now properly schooled in the science of yoga and understanding its value on my path, I decided to learn. In addition to my twice-weekly private classes, I would attend Guru Singh’s weekly yoga class at Yoga West in Los Angeles.
There each week, Guru Singh would stand in front of one hundred or so students and talk about what he called Humanology. Our history. The reason we are here. That we are teaching masters. That we have a mission. That we are all one.
Then he would teach yoga. Not do yoga, but teach it. Posture by posture, explaining the reasons behind each one―what was being stretched, what took place in our bodies as a result, and how that would positively impact our lives. Through his stories, wit, and passion, yoga became a part of my life. Not just an activity, but a trusted friend with whom I began my day.
My favorite part of these public classes was the grand finale. Yes, the yoga class had a grand finale! Not an ending or a goodbye but a full-on spiritual climax.
Guru Singh would take his guitar, and a motley crew of musicians wearing yoga gear would join him on the small stage in the front of the class. Then they would jam, like those old videos of ’60s’ rock stars jamming with each other. They played the way rockers used to jam when musicians still had fun. Instead of long hair and songs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, this yoga jam session featured white robes, ancient yogic chants, and messages of love and oneness … oh, and one hell of a front man, Guru Singh, strumming his guitar while his sterling silver bracelets created their own rhythm section and his turban bounced around like a dancing Sesame Street Elmo.
Many of these classes became family affairs―my wife, kids, nephews, everyone―positioned in the back corner of the class while Guru Singh taught and winked at us to let us know he was watching. It was one of my life’s true treasures to learn and share this experience with my family. Not waiting to pass it on, but sharing real time, in the moment, creating our story together.
Putting what we learned in class into practice, we began a daily 6:30 a.m. yoga time in our home. Instead of starting the day with email or TV or arguments, we committed as a family to stretch into the day … literally. Seven or eight simple postures the whole family could do and enjoy, followed by a meditation.
As a family we were unwinding our physical bodies, connecting to a place of peace and well-being inside ourselves and creating a new family story. In health we are often taught that you are what you eat. I have found the same is true for other areas of our life―you are what you do and your daily practice sets the tone for your day.
Vera had taught me to understand how I formed. Why I thought the things I thought. Why my life had played out as it had. She clarified the physical and mental me, and helped me quiet my mind for this next stage of life.
With my mind quiet for the first time, Guru Singh was teaching me to widen my perspective and stretch into the window of my soul―the true me, beyond my primary scenario, beyond the paint can, and beyond the myth I had told of Jason.
Each meditation, each stretch of my body, each second of peace brought with it a glimpse of a true me I had never experienced. My two questions―Who am I? and Who is God?―were on a collision course. They had started as independent ideas, two logical trains of thought that were now merging into one.
I didn’t know the answer yet, but I could now see the path. For the first time I was beginning to understand what my life would look like if the paint can of my brain was filled with white. In meditation, I was experiencing a glimpse of that peaceful, clear world, a world untainted by the programming of my youth.
And I wanted more…
Big hugs of love,