When I began my journey into yoga I knew of no one in my environment, friends or family, who had heard of such a thing. I just happened to find a book about it in the local library in North Bay, Ontario, in the psychology section: Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnu Devananda. I had a keen interest to explore the mind, so I looked for related information in that section of the library. Little did I know where this first book would lead me. I gained an interest from it, or at least a curiosity. In that library book I found many techniques to improve the functioning of the mind through physical exercise, as well as to promote better health. There were also statements about better perception and higher states of consciousness, though at the time I really did not know what the author meant by that. Some months later I began traveling and bought my first small book on the practical exercises, or Hatha Yoga. Thus began five decades of experience and research. I certainly didn’t realize when I first started doing a few exercises, in 1969, that I had stumbled upon the oldest “science” on the planet; I didn’t even until later that it was a science.
The basics were simple enough, a bit of exercise and some breathing. In some ways it was like looking at the first two letters of the alphabet; I had no idea there was a whole alphabet to follow. I was coming from a different culture. In my Western culture, exercise was acceptable and cleanliness was connected to health, but this elaborate system seemed a little extreme. There were some strange things in this yoga book. For instance, there were pictures of a man passing a string up one nostril and down through the mouth, to clean the nasal passages; another picture showed him swallowing a 30-foot strip of rag and pulling it out again, to clean his stomach and digestive tract. I found this type of internal cleanliness a little far-fetched. I did not think I would ever want to do that, and I never did. However, there were other aspects of this yoga method that did capture my attention, like the concept of perfect health and developing mental abilities.
Quite innocently I entered this realm with my curiosity in one hand and my pioneering spirit in the other. I did have an interest in improving my health since I had a weak heart condition perhaps inherited from my father (he had died of a heart attack). This dysfunction was obvious whenever I did hard work or strenuous exercise. I did not find the problem surfacing when I did the gentle exercises in the yoga book. In fact, I soon discovered that these “exercises” done with the physical body felt good and did indeed have an effect on the mind, an interesting fact that made me ever more curious.
This curiosity led me to India in 1971, to find out more about these states of mind. But as the connection between body and mind became ever more complex and detailed, I found myself researching further and further into the phenomenon of energy itself—the link between body and mind. The yogic perspective in India held a very refined and detailed view of the nerves as a wiring system which every part of the body was plugged into. These nerves carried the energy impulses between the brain and the entire body. To me this was like a schematic diagram giving us an indication of how we actually functioned.
Perhaps I found this to be interesting because of my previous education. Having finalized my high school education with math, chemistry and physics, and with electronics and stereos as my favourite hobby, this whole idea of the electrical energy side of our being made a lot of sense to me. Most of man’s latest creations were electronic, while he himself also had an electronic part. This “part” is as obvious as the nervous system – an elaborate wiring system that is continuously conducting energy impulses between the brain and every part of our physical bodies. It seemed to me that gaining an understanding of how we were wired could lead us to some interesting places. I got the impression that the nervous system and its mental effects had already been largely mapped out in the East, while everything I had read in the world of Western psychology seemed primitive in this regard, although this “wiring” aspect of the nervous system was a bit documented; the research that I could find was still directed at rats and attempts to modify their behaviour. I had the feeling little was known about the human brain, while the phenomenon of the mind hardly received any mention; in fact the Western concept made no distinction between brain and mind at that time. (1968-69)
Meanwhile, physics and chemistry had merged in my mind (as they have in science by now to form nuclear physics). In this new merger the key element seemed to be energy, yet in the exploration of this energy there did not seem to be a clear picture of what it was. Add to this what I was reading in research books like Bertrand Russel’s “The A B C of Relativity”, on the space-time relation and how everything was indeed relative to the position and velocity of the observer—it all brought me to the point of wondering just what this quantum reality consisted of. There were a lot of theories about it but no one really knew, and the best of the “scientists” also carried this impending question mark! I found myself traveling, my curiosity directing me to find out more about the mysterious magical methods that apparently could lead people to grasp the truth about “mind over matter.”
I was quite fortunate in my travels, in that everything worked out fairly well and I never had any “bad” experiences. I don’t mean to say there were no challenging times, but I met a lot of good and helpful people along my journey. Within the first months of my solo journey I connected with some people of like mind in Mexico, who invited me to stay with them. They had a paradise villa in Cuernavaca and were all interested in yoga, so we soon became friends. Each morning the sun would rise and shine onto the front lawn to find us breathing deeply and doing postures. Half the day would be spent talking about the philosophy of the East and the religions of the world. The experience created a nice bond of kinship amongst us. For me it was the first occurrence of being with a group of friends I could fully relate with
After a month of living in this heart-warming environment, I continued along my solo journey, but I kept meeting folks who were on similar paths, exploring the world and looking for philosophical idealism. There were many coincidences of meeting the right people at the right time. I learned to enjoy encountering friends with whom to share spiritual experiences and worldly adventures.
As I went through the Orient I met more friends from different cultures, who exposed me to a variety of spiritual ideas. In Japan I spent a few months studying Buddhism, learning to calm my mind so that I could meditate. That is where I first realized that consciousness was separate from mind – an awakening discovery for me. In Thailand I wandered a bit with the young monks who had invited me to join them. With a begging bowl in hand, I followed their simple lifestyle, enjoying rural life and contemplating the workings of the mind.