I started doing yoga and diving into mystical practices at the age of 12. I also was a Methodist. The combination of these Eastern and Western practices fueled my desire to know God more fully. I was obsessed. But after a decade of fervently praying to understand what I was doing here, the voice of my guidance seemed to disappear, and I attempted suicide. Deep down, I wanted to go home.
Then a teaching came in the form of a small book called First Thunder. It is the tale of a depressed guy who meets monks and learns techniques that give him an internal experience of something more — a swift path to inner peace. Yet halfway through the book, I threw it across the room. I knew the teaching highlighted in the story was part of my own path, but I didn’t believe that it could happen for me. It seemed too perfect, too simple — and too much of everything my heart was yearning for.
The story, however, was based on a real teaching called the “Ishayas’ Ascension” and on real monks known as Ishayas. I called the training center in North Carolina to inquire about courses that taught the techniques, but it wasn’t until about a year later that a weekend introduction to the teaching, known as the First Sphere, became available to me. During this weekend, I learned the first four “Ascension Attitudes.” These short phrases, similar to mantras, are based on praise, gratitude, love, and compassion. They are used in conjunction with watching the mind — with eyes both opened and closed — to allow awareness to rest in the infinite field of consciousness, just below the often chaotic surface of the mind. I was told that the Ascension Attitudes offer the practitioner the experience of peace immediately, though not always consciously.
(Find a sample exercise here: A Simple Path to Peace meditation)
I personally didn’t experience any bells and whistles during that weekend; it was all quite mundane. But that, I can say now, is one of the greatest gifts of my practice — simplicity. After reading so many religious texts and self-help books, and after practicing yoga and taking many New Age workshops, I had expectations of how being spiritual and enlightened would look and feel. I believed I had to dress, talk, live, and breathe in certain ways to “get it” faster, if at all. Looking back, I spent a lot of unnecessary energy in trying to fit in those boxes.
Even with my somewhat flat experience during the weekend, I did find something powerful that pulled me along: a refreshing knowing that this was my destined path. I followed that knowing passionately, three weeks later, to live with the monks and trainees at the training center. I did work-study as an apprentice for one year and then did a six-month teacher training. After having read so many books, attended so many other workshops, and practiced so many other techniques, I began to taste peace.
Life as a Teacher
After I graduated, I taught this teaching for a year, but there was always a lack of faith in myself. Unable to shake that doubt and without proper support and guidance, I began to put worldly desires up there with my desire for union with God. Eventually, the old habits of the mind returned, and my peace was disturbed. I was not willing to seek help where I intuitively knew I would get it — from a teacher of teachers.
I quit teaching, moved away from all the teachers and practitioners and went back to a “normal” life. I was haunted for years with a notion that a part of me was left out there in the ethers, waiting for me to return to what I’d started.
While deep in postpartum depression, I found myself obsessively practicing the Ishayas’ Ascension again, on my own, but also communicating with some Ishayas of the Bright Path: students who studied with MKI, the current teacher of teachers. They sounded so joyful and reported not only seamless peace but doubtlessness and conviction in what they were moving toward with each and every moment. They said the commitment was to remember their birthright — union with God and engaging and sharing their ever-growing experience of peace more fully. My dedication was to my baby daughter, but a renewed and lasting sense of purpose came upon me.
After a few years of being a mom, beginning a new career, and attending different meditation retreats, I reached out to one of MKI’s main student-teacher monks. Satta shared her experiences and wisdom with me, all through email, and I experienced profound shifts in my inner and outer life. Simply practicing on my own, however, took me only so far. Satta told me about the Guayrapa retreat with MKI in Mont-ral, Spain. The promise of the retreat was that if I was willing to be innocent and humble, I could leave with greater stability in the longevity of my peace. There was nothing I wanted more, so it was simple: I had to go.
The Teacher of Teachers
My introduction to MKI came with a rolling thunder of sorts — the roar of motorcycles in the distance that eventually came closer. Monks, arriving on motorcycles!
Around 65 of us sat silently, eyes closed, attention mostly within. As silence took over, excitement filled me full of great energy. MKI entered the room with a few of his senior teachers, and we reverently acknowledged his arrival. His presence left me with a one-pointed focus on my sense of purpose and a knowingness that he could help guide me.
At the retreat, we gathered once or twice a day to share our experiences of the practice. The sharing strengthened and expanded the peace for me, as it did for everyone in the room. The evening gathering often was exceedingly powerful when MKI was present and sharing his wisdom. He said that people don’t see the constant choice made for pain — that pain is such a deeply engrained habit that people don’t see it as a choice. Pain, he said, is an addiction. He expressed his wish that people would come to know that all human suffering began when they placed God outside of themselves; that humanity has the ability to choose for peace instead. He was consistent in reminding us that the foremost purpose of our existence is to wake up, and nothing else is more worth living for. The solution, he said, is to find an absolute, rock-solid meditation technique that allows us to go within.
For me, the promise of the retreat was quickly realized. I began experiencing an unbroken peace very quickly, with eyes both closed and open — I actually can recall the very few moments during those weeks when I let my mind take my attention from that peace. This inner peace was flowing from a wellspring inside of me, and I quickly grew more attracted to it than to the movement in my mind. Amazingly, my heart sang out for more.
I remember the night I moved toward that more. The room was hot, and I felt a massive amount of energy moving through my nervous system. Was it fear, excitement, or just raw power? I observed as my hand raised, and MKI turned his head, nodding for me to share. I watched the question move from my numb lips: “Maharishi, will you be my teacher?” My face felt squished, as though I was being rebirthed through the great cosmic womb. He asked me if I was willing to commit 100 percent internally and 100 percent externally to my journey. Tears welled up in these eyes, and I nodded. MKI then said he’d be honored to be my teacher. There was a floodgate of relief and a sense of relaxing fully into peace, accompanied by a great roiling display of sobs. It was as though I’d come home to myself, for I knew that this establishment was only an outer expression of my inner commitment to explore consciousness.
The formal recognition of this relationship came in a beautiful ceremony of thanksgiving called a puja. While the peace already seemed to pervade my waking and dreaming life, this ceremony took me to a down-to-earth yet high place with my practice. It was as though heaven and earth were coming together in me. MKI accepted responsibility for my spiritual well-being and progress, while charging me with the responsibility to continue being as aware as possible in every instance, from that moment forward.
Over the remainder of the retreat, I was essentially blissed out. And although the bliss slowly dissipated, the ease of introducing the Ascension Attitudes with full awareness whenever I choose has not faded. Meanwhile, MKI continues to direct me back inward — and often in a very playful way.
Whenever there is a doubt that I am not doing it right, good enough, or enough, he is there to remind me that just here — right now — I can choose to pick up the movement of the mind and let it run me around in its illusions. Or instead, I can rest in the infinite waters of peace, allowing consciousness to express itself more purely through me. I continue to feel like heaven and earth are coming together in me as the world reveals its magic and mystery. I experience a grounded focus, a playful innocence, and an expansion of joy. It’s a practice, and the choice is always there.
Click on this link to read or listen to A Simple Path to Peace meditation.
For more information on the teachings of the Ishayas of the Bright Path, visit thebrightpath.com.