Excerpt from Spiritual Liberation, by Michael Bernard Beckwith
Social activism and making a constructive difference in the world were focal points in the Los Angeles household of my childhood. My parents’ generosity of heart and community values were strong influences on me and my two brothers. Their example contributed to my involvement in anti-Vietnam protests during high school, boycotting businesses that paid unfair wages to people of color, and my membership in the Black Worker’s Congress and the establishment of the Harriet Tubman Prison Committee in college. I enthusiastically participated in these and other socially acceptable activities of the ’60s and ’70s. I was known to be an agnostic, so my unorthodox spiritual opening came as much of a surprise to my family and friends as it did to me.
In the early 1970s I was a student at the University of Southern California, majoring in psychobiology, a time when smoking marijuana was, well, the norm. What I was learning in classes about mental illness caused me to wonder if echoes of some childhood experiences wherein I experienced visions were pathological. I cut back on the marijuana, hoping the visions and voices would stop. Instead, they only intensified.
To cover the expense of my recreational use, I began selling marijuana. What started as a modest cottage industry ended up with distribution in D.C., Atlanta, Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles.
Then something happened that made it impossible for me to keep turning my back on my inner experiences or attributing them solely to smoking weed. For about a year, I’d been having a recurring dream of being chased by three men. I’d always wake up before they actually grabbed me, but each time I had the dream, they got closer and closer. Then, one night, they caught me. I struggled against my dream captors. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small tent with hundreds of people I knew standing in line to get in. I shouted to them for help. They looked in my direction, but one by one they turned their backs to me. Suddenly, two of the men pinned me down while the third plunged a knife into my heart. The pain was excruciating. I screamed out, and then I died.
When I awoke from this dream-death, I felt myself interpenetrated and surrounded by a magnificent presence. Because I had agnostic leanings, I identified it as Love-Beauty. It pierced my spirit with unconditional love, the same love that enlivened everything in my immediate surroundings. The person who had spent so many years denying his connection to the Universal One had died; I could never fit into that box again. I began studying both Eastern and Western spirituality and mysticism. I found that when you stripped away the culture, history, and dogma of every religion, the teachers of those religions were teaching very similar principles and practices that led to a sense of oneness, that ended a sense of separation from the Whole.
Encouraged by this discovery, my desire to use and sell marijuana died. I decided to quit and get out of the business—but not before arranging to sell the delivery I had just received. Never before had I stored marijuana in my home. But, for this final sale, I made an exception. Before I could distribute it, I got busted, compliments of an informant, by the police.
The size of my operation made the charges serious. I faced significant jail time. Well-meaning friends gave me advice ranging from “plea bargain” to “take your money and get out of the country.” But to my mind, none of it was relevant because the person who’d been the drug dealer was dead—my spiritual transformation had made me a new individual—and I intuitively knew, beyond all doubt, that the new me wasn’t headed for jail.
Day after day, I sat in the courtroom reading spiritual books until a moment when, out of the blue, my lawyer leapt up and convincingly made a point about a technicality. The judge then requested a meeting with the attorneys in his chambers that resulted in a three-day recess. When I returned to court on the fourth day, my case was dismissed.
The judge, however, had his own words of wisdom for me. After dismissing the charges, he called me to the bench and sternly admonished, “That was a lucky break, young man. I hope I never see you in my courtroom again.”
I looked him straight in the eye and responded, “And you never will.” Right there, on that courtroom floor, I vowed to myself: From this moment forward my life is dedicated to serving Love- Beauty in the world.
Relieved to be outside the confines of the courtroom, I took long, deep breaths as I drove home, my heart overflowing with gratitude. As I got out of my car and began walking toward the front door, my attention was magnetically drawn to a weathervane in my neighbor’s front yard. The afternoon breeze had a velocity just strong enough to blow the point of the weathervane away from me. Riveted on the weathervane, I mentally commanded, “If my inner experience is really about all that I believe it to be, then let the weathervane turn in my direction . . . ” Before I could even finish my sentence, the weathervane turned and stopped with the arrow pointing right at me. Love-Beauty pierced me at my core. I surrendered my life completely to its luminous, transforming touch. I realized that my outer life was now aligning with the inner transformation that had begun with the recurring dream a year earlier. No more signs were required!
I dove into spiritual inquiry through meditation, contemplation, prayer, retreats, pilgrimages, and the study of Eastern and Western mysticism, metaphysics, and science. I experienced the profound joy of consciously communing with the Love-Beauty that enlivens the universe and in that communion realized a radical sense of my own aliveness. I consecrated my life to this Love-Beauty, trusting its goodness to guide the course of my life. I learned that I was not special because of my experiences, that all of us do eventually awaken to an awareness of being much more than flesh, bone, and mind.
Learn more about Spiritual Liberation.