The Swami who Healed Me (But Couldn’t Heal Himself)

I  quit high school at 16, a few months after my father died. It wasn’t a decision as much as a collapse into catatonic trauma. I overdosed on sleeping pills during class and awoke in the infirmary on a cot with my grandmother sitting beside me. Disoriented, I felt awash in shame that my high school studies had come to this. 

When I moved to Nashville from Atlanta at 13,  just weeks before my mother died of cancer,, I was an A student. Slowly my grades disintegrated and I fell into a crowd that skipped  class regularly and got high at the edge of the school grounds. When my father died, I dropped even the pretense of studying; I just slept at the back of the class with my head resting on a stack of books that I never cracked. Life felt  hopeless and I saw no path to a better future. Might as well take drugs and numb myself to the life that had betrayed me.

When we arrived home after my overdose, I begged my grandmother’s permission  to quit  high school. I couldn’t stand the thought of one more day slogging through the motions when all I saw was a bleak future filled with pain and loss. Much to my surprise, she agreed and I officially dropped out of school. I felt like I was defying a system that didn’t support my needs and I was determined to find my own way, even through the opaque, dreary clouds of depression that descended for interminable periods each day. With no schedule, I filled my hours with numbing sleep until I felt groggy and disoriented most of the time. Even in my despair, I didn’t want to harm my health so I curtailed the excess sleeping. In fact, shortly after dropping out of school, I decided to quit all but one of my ingrained habits: I stopped smoking, drinking, taking drugs and eating meat in the course of a few days and it stuck.

Regardless of my deep depression, my willpower was formidable on all fronts except for sugar. I couldn’t resist all of the treats Granny always kept on hand, from to the fancy chocolate icebox cakes she bought at a specialty store, chocolate chip ice cream with fudge sauce, Godiva chocolates, which at that time were truly good chocolates, and endless bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups. The chocolate treats numbed my pain but I gained about 30 pounds and my blood sugar got totally out of whack.  One day at the grocery store my head started spinning and  I had to grab a shelf to keep from crashing to the floor. Somehow I made it home to the refuge of my bed, where I stayed for the next few days until the dizziness abated. Rather than seeing a doctor I self diagnosed and eliminated all sugar from my diet. I didn’t have a choice if I wanted to spend time upright. The strategy worked except when I indulged in even a few bits of fruit. One grape and the dizziness would return with a vengeance. 

Freed from school routines,  I spent most days in my bedroom studying Hindu and Buddhist meditation. I had  discovered a Swami who was popular at the time and, at least in my mind, he became my distant guru as I read his books and practiced his advanced yoga poses. Swami seemed so fit, healthy and wise. 

Desperate for help with my dysregulated blood sugar but mistrusting medical institutions, I wrote a letter to the Swami describing my condition and asked him for help. I didn’t expect a reply, but about a month later I got one! When I grabbed the envelope from the mailbox, a bolt of energy shot through my  hand.  I shook with anticipation as I tore open the envelope. Once released from its confines, the letter burst with  electricity; I nearly fell over from the strength of it. The Swami offered a prayer for my healing, but his energy was the most potent part of the correspondence. 

Almost immediately I felt better. My new found health barely seemed possible to me and  I  tested the waters by eating a sugary date. Nothing. No dizziness, where just days before  a single raisin would send me to bed in a swoon. Slowly I added sweets back into my diet with no deleterious effect. To this day, I believe there was more to my healing than simply the power of my own belief. I truly felt a powerful energy and I know the swami had access to advanced spiritual powers. Over the course of a few years my blood sugar fully regained equilibrium and it stuck. I didn’t go back to my old ways of eating chocolate fudge for breakfast followed by cake or cookies, but  I continued my love affair with chocolate desserts. 

The tragic irony is that the Swami, who rose to fame in America, lost his way. He engaged in numerous affairs with students,  lost his yogic conditioning and died prematurely from health complications related to diabetes. Unfortunately, healing doesn’t always go both ways. Some teachers are quite skilled, even brilliant, at healing others, but haven’t a clue how to untangle the messes of their own lives. This is a lesson I would learn far more personally with two Zen teachers  in years to come. 

Join Me In Costa Rica May 22 – 28!

We’re about three months out from our 7 day Costa Rica Retreat and there’s still time to register. I’m often asked what this retreat will be like. As Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse countries in the world, we will be spending time exploring as well as meditating. Spending time away from the busyness of our everyday lives and immersed in the lush green forests of Costa Rica, we will have the opportunity to loosen our often-stressful everyday preoccupations. Mornings will begin with silent meditation and mindful movement – in a beautiful covered pavilion surrounded by the sounds and colors of the cloud forest. Later, we will enjoy delicious organic meals and will have ample time to explore the gorgeous environment. Additionally, we will have an opportunity to serve in a community Renovation Project to support the local school followed by an authentic lunch in the village. Click here for more info and registration.

After two years of Covid, many of us are holding stress and grief in our nervous systems and we’re feeling taxed and exhausted. In this half day we will develop and deepen somatic and self compassion practices to release this trapped energy and better address these challenging times.

This will be an experiential retreat. All levels of experience welcome. Cost is $50 and can be paid at Paypal here or Venmo @onedharma. If paying by check please go here for the info and address. Please include your email address. We are offering a reduced fee for anyone who needs financial support. Please email to inquire.

New Dharma Talk – Radical Empathy and Inner Compassion

This talk explores the practice of becoming one with the “other,” what we perceive as the unknown. Sometimes the “other” is ourselves – the parts we don’t know or see clearly. Maybe its the sadness that keeps arising, or the longing for something we can’t quite reach. The judgement or fear. To explore this with compassion and presence, we need a sense of safety but also courage.

Two Night Online Meditation Retreat, October 22 – 24

October 22-24, 2021 – It is often said that for meditation practice to truly take flight, we need the two wings of compassion and wisdom. Join us for this two night online retreat starting Friday evening, October 22 and ending Sunday morning, October 24. Retreat will include meditation, dharma talks, instruction and discussion. All levels of experience welcome. For more information and registration, go here.

New Dharma Talk by Lisa Ernst

Sometimes our practice calls for active, intentional cultivation and other times simply letting go and allowing. By recognizing and making room for the dance between the two we can engage in balanced practice that embraces the fullness of the dharma.

New Dharma Talk – Exploring Groundlessness and Freedom when Life Throws a Curve Ball

Here we are again, whip lashed by the rise of the Delta variant just as many of us thought the worst of the virus was in the rear view mirror. How do we navigate with no reliable ground? This talk explores how to walk where there is no ground and how to find freedom even when the rug is pulled out from under your feet.