Yoga helped to change Vishvanath's life

Vishvanath's yoga experience
Last Friday I walked out of California State Prison - Solano with tears of joy running down my face and into the arms of my loving family. After deep hugs and tears all around we drove to a nearby park. I just wanted to get away from the prison as soon as possible. I was afraid the guards would come back out, tell me it was a mistake, and drag me back inside. My father, my sister, mom, my two nieces and I spent more time hugging and crying together there and then decided to go to the The Black Bear Restaurant for breakfast. I had tomato, lettuce, avocado, and cheese wrapped up in a tortilla. Oh, and french fries, a whole bunch of them, and they were the best fries I have ever tasted in my life. I just couldn't stop eating those fries. Food is great.

Then we drove to San Francisco Bakers Beach. Perfect day. The sun was out, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, and I played in the Pacific Ocean with my 11-year-old niece, Jessica. I rolled up my pants and Jess and I played tag with the waves. My perception was way off and I ended up soaked. What a blast! Then we drove to Fresno to meet with my parole agent, who wanted me to check in the first day.

I have been to restaurants three times, but I don't like them. I was shocked to hear rock music playing and it was too loud. Two of the places had big televisions on the wall. Too much stimulation for a dining experience for me. My absolute favorite has been cooking at home with my family. Last night I made stir fried vegetables for my wife Manasii, so she walked in from her twelve-hour day nursing at the hospital to a blazing fire and the table set with a Vishvanath special stir fry. She loved it.

My family stayed in town until Monday. It was an absolute pleasure to have their company and to be uninhibited in our interactions (no prison guards watching us). Tuesday morning I had the house to myself for the entire day for the first time. After Manasii went to work I was singing and dancing kiirtan in my living room, in from of the fireplace, on the most beautiful and colorful area rug where I do my sadhana. Kiirtan has always been an emotional experience for me. And here I was, free from prison, filled with gratitude, and such sweet devotional sentiment for Baba's infinite grace (I literally know that I am His), and the wave of emotion came forth like the tide. I had a meltdown. It came from a place that must have been buried for a long time, because I haven't cried those deep sobs since, well, I can't tell you when. I was free to let it come, to allow it, all of it, no matter what it was, to share my consciousness. It was safe. I was alone in my home. I wasn't being watched (in prison there is always someone watching you, if not the guards, then inevitably another prisoner looking at you). I felt like I was purging something that would only be opened in the loving arms of my beloved Guru. It was wonderful! Baba Nam Kevalam.

I went to prison in 1988; I had just turned 21. I needed to go to prison. Society absolutely did the right thing by removing me from it. My life was caught in the whirlpool of drug addiction, and the violence that comes to seem normal in the methamphetamine delusional world. It is a dark ugly shroud that covers the eyes of drug addicts like myself. I killed a man, murdered him, while we were involved in the drug business. I was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15-years-to-life for the murder, plus two years for the use of a firearm.

When I entered prison I felt helpless, hopeless, and I fully expected to die there, either at the hands of enemies or guards. I lived in prison just as recklessly as I did on the streets, only my arena was much smaller and the lines were much clearer. I was making choices to take drugs to get high and to not comply with the rules of the prisons. It wasn't until 1997 that I entered the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. I worked the twelve steps with a sponsor and have made the spiritual principles I learned in that program the foundation of my life. I have not taken a drink or drug since that day.

After being sober for some time, I realized that I still had a lot of stuff going on inside of me. I guess I had the idea that getting clean would solve all my problems. I was greatly disappointed to find myself with the full gamut of emotions, including anger, hurt, frustration, fear, self-doubt, etc. They manifested on a conscious level more than ever, because I had removed the numbing effect of drug abuse. I knew, intuitively, that I had to turn inward, that the answers were inside of myself. So in 1998 I began a meditation practice, twenty minutes twice a day, with a technique I learned through the Catholic Church called Centering Prayer. I was a practicing Catholic and was drawn to the contemplative practices of the church. It was a wonderful experience for me. I knew I was on the right path.

I also began reading books on the East that the sponsor of our Centering Prayer program was bringing in to me. Once I read the Bhagavad Gita I was hooked. That book spoke to me in a the language of my soul. I knew the truth in it. The excitement I felt was overflowing.

Towards the end of 1999 I met a prison guard who was working as a correctional counselor in the program I was in, so I saw him on a daily basis. As we began talking I realized that this guy had read many of the same books that I had on eastern traditions of meditation and spiritual practices. He meditated twice a day, too. Unbelievable, a prison guard who meditated! We had the opportunity to communicate about metaphysical things. His name was Rajiiva and he introduced me to Ananda Marga. We started a weekly meditation program at that prison. I started using the maha mantra Baba Nam Kevalam. I practiced for six months, and on Midsummers Day, June 21, 2000, Dada Rudreshvarananda came to our program and gave me initiation. My sadhana got so clear with the instructions I received regarding first lesson that I knew there was a guiding hand now grasping mine.

I transferred out of that prison in 2002 to the lower security yard at CSP-Solano. After 14 years in a two-man cell, I was now living in a dormitory with over 300 men. My sadhana was challenged. But it turned out to be a tremendous gift as I tenaciously showed up to my meditation blanket twice a day no matter what was going on around me (and there was a lot going on around me). I learned that I could allow the noise to push me deeper inside. I learned to do sadhana beneath the glow of the fluorescent light that burned continuously, day and night without reprieve. I came to know that this sadhana can be done under any and all circumstances if one has the desire. This sadhana builds strength that most people will never understand. Baba gave us this technique so that we could carry our sadhana anywhere.

I first became eligible for parole in February 1999, but I was turned down and denied another request for a period of four years. I wasn't surprised, I knew I had a ways to go. I went back to the parole board in 2003, and received a two-year denial; in 2005, a one-year denial. By 2006 my file was becoming impressive: I had a completed Associates Degree, a full record of participating in many positive programs and I had stayed free of any disciplinary charges. But the board hit me backwards with a two-year denial.

I was devastated. My logical mind couldn't comprehend it. So, I focused forward, organizing service projects and facilitating programs. In 2008 I was denied one year, and finally in 2009 the commissioners granted my parole.

The process requires a 120-day period for the Board's decision review department to go over the decision. They approved and sent it to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California for his thirty-day review. He choose to reverse it, which he did that in most of the cases. Why on earth do we have a politician involved in these things? So, I went back before the parole board again in September 2010 for my seventh appearance. They carefully reviewed the governor's reasons for the reversal, rejected them all and again granted me parole. This time Governor Jerry Brown chose to let stand the board's decision. Nothing changed in my eligibility. I am grateful, don't get me wrong, but I can't help but think that if the state of California wasn't in such a deplorable financial crisis and needing to save money any way possible, I might still be in prison.

Well, that is the nutshell version of my story. I thank you all for your loving thoughts and your curiosity. I have to tell you all that my real turning point was in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was spiritual kindergarten for me. Once the drugs were out of the way, I was able to hear Baba's gentle nudges. I also know that if it were not for God I would never have found myself in AA, and without AA I wouldn't have the desire to know God. And I am grateful for that.

Baba's grace is everything. Without it we are nothing. What will you do today to help someone, someone who really needs it? I ask myself this question, and even though I may not have the answer, it opens my eyes to see more clearly where the need is as I travel through my day. Trust Guru. Surrender all to Him. He has it all anyway, so just let Him have it. It is only when there is nothing left that we truly know Him.

At His lotus feet always, Jai Baba!
Your Brother,
Vishvanath

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