Well, I guess the first question I had was just around your history with religion and how you came to the ashram?
Okay, well… It starts when I was just a young kid. My parents were devout Catholics, and they made me go to church and all the things that went with it, and I hated it. I didn't believe it, and I couldn't understand why people did. So I was an atheist from an early age.
Being a Catholic, we had confession, you know, where you go in front of a priest, and you confess your sins, and then they give you prayers to say, and then God forgives you. Like, okay, I got angry with my sister six times, I said a bad word four times. You know, stuff like that. But one time, I went to the priest, and I told him I looked at a Playboy magazine, and he got so down on me, and made me feel so bad. And I knew from then on I was doomed because, number one, I was not going to stop looking at Playboy. And number two, I was never going to tell them again.
I think that was the end. After that, I guess I was 14 or something; I said to my parents, “I'm not going anymore.” Boy, all hell broke loose. But what could they do? You know, they were old people. My dad was 65 at that point.
So anyway, I grew up with really strict parents. We were really poor. My dad never made it through third grade, and he had to work in the steel mills, you know, just barely making it. I couldn't go out; I couldn't be with my friends; I couldn't do a lot of stuff. So once I went to college, it was like the floodgates opened. I discovered sex. I discovered drugs. It’s like when you're a kid, all you can think about is pleasure. So that's what I did. I got into the weird crowd, the hippy crowd, grew my hair long. We just partied and hung out and did all those things. But something in my mind says… It's like getting drunk. When you get drunk, you feel really good, but the next day you think, “What the hell did I do that for? I…I feel awful.” So that's how I was starting to feel.
One day we all did LSD, though, and that changed everything because it…it opened up some centers in me. It’s like, people ask, “Did you see God?” And I said, “No, I didn't see God, but I felt God.” And then everything fell in line; it made sense to me. With Christianity, there is spirituality, but men have messed it up because they concentrated on the form and not the essence of it. So, that's what changed me. Once I understood that it was… Sort of a seed was planted. And when I was in college, I saw an advertisement for meditation. So my girlfriend and I went to this meditation class, and I thought, “this is different; this is good.” And so we did it for a while. And then, during one of the lectures, the teacher says, “if you want to do meditation, you can't do drugs.” It's like, they can open up centers, but they can also rip open centers. And that's when I decided, yeah, I don't want to do drugs anymore. I just want to go inside myself and discover myself.
So, my teacher, who was teaching the meditation class, was going back to Bloomington, Indiana, where they had an ashram. I had eighteen hours left to get my bachelor’s, but I thought, you know, what the hell? I don't really care about this. I don't really care about the world. One of the main reasons that I went to college was because they had the Vietnam War, and they had a draft number, and my draft number was really low. If I weren't in school, they would have drafted me and put me in the army; and I would have ended up dead in Vietnam.
So anyway, I drop out of college and moved to Bloomington with my girlfriend and stayed there for a while. It felt good to be in a community. And then they wanted to open an ashram in Cincinnati, Ohio. So a bunch of us moved to Cincinnati. I lived there for a while, and then the ashram decided that they wanted to all come together. So they bought a couple houses in the Boston area. We all moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
And that was a big group of people in a bunch of houses, and you know, it was nice. I learned carpentry; I got to work on This Old House. And it's like, I loved it there. I lived there for a while, and then I met your mom, and we were just friends, and of course, she was Lebanese, and she was having a hard time with her visa. And my teacher said, “You know, she's your friend, why don’t you just marry her and then she could stay?” So, that's what we did. We went to the justice of the peace, got married, and then it's like our relationship sort of blossomed. Like, yeah, I really like this woman, you know? She has a really good heart.
So then we decided to really get married. So Swami married us on July 25th, Swami’s birthday. And after we got married, we decided that you know, we're not going to live in the ashram. We're going to get a house, and have some kids and do what people do when they get married. So we got this two-family house, and I worked hard and remodeled it, and luckily the top part was paying the mortgage, so everything was working out. I was happy, you know? I had a beautiful wife and two beautiful kids with dark, dark eyes. It's like everything was going well until one day, it changed…
Yeah. I mean, we've talked about that part of our story. But, coming back… I know the ashram moved before we did. How long were we in Boston without the ashram?
Well, it was difficult for the ashram to be in Cambridge because of the antagonism of the people that lived there. We couldn't have a big house; we had to have several houses in the neighborhood. And we were different, and some people were afraid and so that sort of created a bad energy. So people started looking for a place where we could all be together, where the energy would be much simpler. So somebody found this huge building. I think it was a retirement home, or something, with a lot of grounds. And it was cheap. And in Portland, Oregon, which seemed like, you know… People are a lot more open in Portland than they are in Boston.
So they bought this place, and most of us moved there. Eventually, I wanted to move, but you were young kids, and I was still working. I didn’t want to move until I tied up loose ends. Especially with the change that I had to deal with, you know, with your mom being gone. One thing that I wanted was for you to finish kindergarten because then I could move to Portland, and you'd be in school full-time. I think the ashram moved in 1990, and we moved in ‘95.
Why Portland? Was it just because they found the center?
Yeah. And because Portland is more open, you know-- “Keep Portland Weird.” And they started a yoga program, and a lot of the neighbors came to that. And they started a meditation thing, and people actually liked us, you know, they saw that we were together people. So Portland seemed like a good match.
Was there any kind of pushback? Particularly with the history of the Rajneeshees in Oregon?
A little bit, but not much. We weren't weird-looking. We didn't dress funny. We involved ourselves in the community; we were very American. We had jobs. Doctors and lawyers… It's like it was just normal people living together in this big house and, you know, people were kind of afraid at first, but then they saw how we were, and they sort of accepted it.
I was curious about the decision to live or not live with the community. Was there a reason why you chose to be separate?
Well, if you live in the ashram, it's more of a disciplined thing. You’d have morning meditation and work projects, and I… I didn't want to put you, kids, through that. I never pushed meditation on you because I always felt like everyone has to find their own path. We lived close by, and I would just come by for classes, and that’s it. I made it a point not to tell people that I was involved in the ashram because instantly their minds go to Rajneesh or Jim Baker. Of course, it would come out when my friends or whoever would talk about it because they're sort of proud. And I'm like, okay, I really like being in the ashram, but I don't like people's reactions to what they think it's all about. And I'm sort of a private person, so I liked living separately.
It was interesting googling the ashram for the first time and also finding them on these cult awareness websites. I think I always associated the scandals and drama with the Samaritan Foundation and assumed that the ashram was this version that didn't have those. Uh, are you open to talking about any of it?
The only thing that I'm afraid of is anything that might affect the ashram adversely. Because they've really been put through the wringer, you know, and I'm so grateful for…for falling into that path, that there's nothing in me that wants to mess it up for Swami because he… I just think he's a wonderful person. Of course, people would disagree, but it's like a bitter divorce. Some people feel that it was a bad thing and the wrong thing, and so they go that path. And of course, everyone can have their opinion, but for me, it's not my experience. I mean, there were difficult parts, but it was a wonderful experience, and I'm grateful for that. And I don't want to mess anything up. So that's my fear, you know?
Do you have your own definition of what a cult is?
Well, I mean, if you look it up in the dictionary, a cult seems like a good thing. I… I haven't looked it up in a long time, but it says a group of people living together in a communal situation, but “cult” has taken on a negative term. And like I said, when I see these videos of David Koresh or Jim Baker or Rajneesh, I find it appalling! You can see why people get really upset because it’s sort of a mind control thing, you know, and that's what people think. They think that members are being controlled by this powerful person and they're losing their identity, but our ashram was nothing like that. I mean, we were just hard-working people who would sit down and do meditation at night. What's the big deal? But it was a big deal for a lot of people, because of all the misinformation they've heard. And of course, the mind takes all that information and weaves it into this story that's maybe 1% true, but 99% not true.
I know that the ashram is moving away from Portland. What does that mean for you and your own spirituality?
Well, let's just say I've had some great training, and it's like anything. It's like you going to school and learning photography. Well, you had to have some teachers to do that, but it got to a point where you go, “yeah, I know how to do this, I can do it on my own.” I feel connected to the ashram, but I don't have to be there, you know? I've been well trained, so that's how I see it. I know what I have to do, and it's not that complicated.
Alright, um… Well, I’ll leave you to it. But I appreciate you talking with me and I hope nothing was too uncomfortable for you to talk about or share.
No, no. Like I said, I'm not uncomfortable talking about anything. I just don’t want it to go in a bad direction. That's the only thing I’m worried about. Whatever you ask, I would be very honest. I think you know that.