In the Bible, Jesus speaks about being born again, listing it as a requirement for those who want to enter the kingdom of heaven. He says that what is born of the flesh is flesh and what is born of the spirit is spirit, so to access the kingdom of heaven one must be born again of water and the spirit.
From the beginning, my life was set apart from the lives of many others because both my parents had become Born Again Christians right before I was born, and especially during my early years, fervently practiced what they preached. I was largely shielded from the secular world and taught that the Bible was the word of God and gospel truth. While in Hawaii during the 1970s, we lived and worshipped with other Christian hippies, and I witnessed acts like speaking in tongues, the laying on of hands to pray, the Baptism of the Spirit, deliverance from demons, and singing and dancing in the Spirit, accompanied by guitar and tambourine.
I’ve been baptized three times. The first time in a conventional Lutheran church ceremony in Waikiki. The second in the ocean after waking up from a nightmare at a haunted mansion we were living at in Manoa. The third time I was baptized was when suffering from extreme panic attacks while staying with my Grandma in Nebraska, I had her pray for me, and then called my parents and said I wanted to give my heart to Jesus again. If I ever make it to heaven, they might claim I’ve been a pretty bad Christian, but they should have it on record that I’ve looked into booking a room on more than one occasion.
The truth is that although I wanted to feel close to God, I never did. The prayers that my parents and other Christians were saying felt like empty words coming out of my mouth. Even worse than that, the church and my Dad’s job as a pastor, became my personal enemies. Every time I got a little settled down somewhere, we would move, and I’d have to start over again, trusting people less and less as the years went by.
Although I was unable to make a connection to God through the Christianity that had been imposed on me growing up, having mystical experiences was one of my greatest desires in life. When I first did hallucinogens, I certainly felt like I’d made a cosmic connection, and it seemed as if I was understanding profound realities. I witnessed Indian riders galloping across the peyote fields of Mexico. In Sumatra, I saw demons that looked like orangutans, bunching up for war on volcanic mountains, and gods and goddesses, prepared to meet them in the clouds. Then the sun sent a shaft of light down to the lake that I was sitting by, and in the middle of it a lotus flower unfolded, revealing a maiden who would one day save the world.
Although I chased after many fantasies, perhaps my greatest one was to be transformed by a spiritual encounter and become the kind of man who could love himself and others, and be counted on to contribute to his community. The problem was I was lost, didn’t have a community, and didn’t know where to look, outside of the past.
The last time I was in Hawaii I needed to drink a bottle of wine every morning, just to afford a few hours of optimistic day dreaming. If Hawaii was Eden, I could clearly see the angel with the burning sword, standing there barring the entrance. With my few remaining dollars I headed to Southeast Asia, where I could at least afford the price of admission. I traveled from Hanoi to Cambodia and Laos, knowing I had enough money to last a few months, but dreading my next move, as I knew for sure that it wouldn’t bring any lasting happiness and at the end of it, I’d be just another year older.
One night in Phnom Penh, I was sitting at a bar and someone handed me a joint. It was strong stuff and I woke up flat on my back, with people rushing over to help me to my feet. As I limped towards the door and my hotel, I realized that I was over fifty years old, and passing out in a bar wasn’t romantic in any way, shape, or form. In fact, it was pathetic. I needed help. That became abundantly clear. I really needed help.
They always say be careful what you wish for. You might pray for change, but chances are you won’t like the way it comes. In March of 2020, COVID went from impacting a few countries, to shutting down the whole world within the span of a few weeks. The uncertainty and terror that resulted in evacuating from Vietnam to Los Angeles, the hottest spot in the world for the pandemic, led to the most extreme panic attacks in my life, and the drinking that I did to try to relieve them had led to a seizure and the loss of my driver’s license.
That was not the change I was hoping for, but it did take me to rock bottom. When I continued to drink after all that, I saw clearly that I was in a helpless situation. When I ran across the Holy Ghost Tribe having their bonfire, one night walking out on the pier in a suicidal low, I was willing to do anything to get out of the pain I was in.
The next day I sat down at the gathering and began to detox in the sand. In one week, I went from desperate panic to euphoria. I walked along the beach and saw how the sun behind the clouds made them pulse with illumination. Families were out enjoying time together and I felt joy at seeing them. I nodded and smiled at everyone who passed, feeling compassion for their plight and deep generosity towards all.
One day I squinted my eyes, and walked into the sun, and my brain was flooded with the great, white light that Bill W. recalls. I told my family that God had saved me, that my Dad would be proud. I expounded upon the parable of the plum tree and sent it to every living relative. God is real. The Bible is true. I was ready to share my experience with the world.
Had I been manic? Does it matter? Does it matter where we get our revelations, from God, others, our own experiences, music, visitations, dreams? Perhaps not if they are real to us and we can act on them. Like windstorms, we may not be able to see them, but can easily witness their effect. I’d been high and now I was low, but the fact remained that I hadn’t had a drink in over a month, hadn’t even considered it, really. Was that a miracle? Maybe it was.
A few months earlier I’d been in a hotel room in Asia, thinking I probably needed help, but not knowing where to find it. Now I was back in Huntington Beach, which was the last place I expected to be, sitting on the beach every morning in the fellowship of other like-minded spirits, taking to the Twelve Awakenings like a drowning man clinging to a boat
I was a hungry ghost, now I’m an awakened one. That doesn’t mean I’m fully awakened, or in any way enlightened, but a process has begun. What it might lead to, I have no idea. There is only one direction to go from here, and that is forward. All I can do, is take it one step at a time.