Lack of Self-Knowledge Was the Greatest Problem of All
Who ever said that life would be easy?
In my life, I endured and coped with the inner turmoil of youthful coming of age during the outer, worldly turmoil of the 1960’s. The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the Kent State shootings in 1970, of three college students who were no different than I had been, were like bookends for me. The death of JFK ripped open many naive beliefs I must certainly have held regarding the huge world events that were still certain to follow. The future that had I dreamed of and was preparing for was still only an island hidden within a cloud of naivete. And yet, by May of 1970 I had somehow miraculously found (or had been found) and been deeply accepted by my lifelong spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan. In between those two landmark moments were packed the many dangers, mental traps, and momentous personal choices that would be needed for calling forth the necessary inspiration and prayer toward an unwavering commitment to a self-disciplined life of spiritual growth and practice. This all had come to me as a great gift. And this, apparently, was the only successful way through the ignorance, conflict, chaos and aggression that life continually throws into our path of being.
I was in the St. Louis University library on a rainy Friday in November, 1963 when news came that President Kennedy was dead. Up until that moment it was a time of some significant spiritual optimism, even during those early depths of the Cold War and nuclear confrontation. Kennedy was an Irish Catholic, the first Catholic ever to be elected president of the United States. My father was a Lutheran pastor, and I was studying in a Jesuit university. It was the time of the Second Vatican Council in Rome, and the emergence of ecumenical cooperation among religions that had been at deep odds and dispute with one another for centuries. It was a true daylight moment in our modern history. And less than one year after the death of JFK I was listening to MLK, Dr. King, speaking in the auditorium of St. Louis University.
However, only a month earlier one of the great mentors of my life, Bob Clark, a true friend who was like an older brother I had never had, had died instantly of a massive heart attack at age 32. He was sitting on a couch next to a middle school student of his, tutoring him after school in Latin. Bob Clark had been the kindest of mentors who had inspired me to transfer my studies to St. Louis University after two very unsatisfying years at a secular state university. Education at St. Louis University was deeply value-driven, whereas educational goals at the University of Missouri seemed driven much more by relativistic personal ambitions. It was like a contrast between soul and personality.
Bob Clark, who had inspired me into and through one the great turning points of my life, who had been the anchor and friend with whom I could always find wise conversation and intelligent support during my growth, who had held the vision of possibilities for self-realization beyond the furthest horizons that I could see — Bob Clark’s physical presence and accessibility in my life was now gone forever. Life had thrown me onward into another time of night and darkness again — a time of not knowing, a time of seeking, observing, finding courage, and to become more and more self-reliant as a soul in search of the good.
It was exactly as Yogi Bhajan taught from 1969 onward . . .
“There is no Liberation without labor. There is no Freedom that is free.”
So my young life was driven by an evolutionary, impersonal force to become a quest for higher learning, driven from within by the deepest existential question that still remains with me today as the highest priority of my ongoing life’s work – “Exactly what is a human being? Anyway?” If humanity was the inner landscape of my life, it was now being thoroughly salted, peppered, and deeply marinated like sliced eggplant in puzzlement, by worldly, and personal, triumph and tragedy.
Even though born in equal parts of existential beauty, along with stress, frequent disappointment, and even despair — it is also ironic that life has turned out like one of the juiciest, most delicious eggplant parmesan sandwiches I’ve ever experienced. And this has become only one of the great rewards that membership in the human family, and community, can bring.