My awareness was first turned towards the man we call John of God in the winter of 2006. I was suffering from a great deal of anxiety and some depression, and sought out a teacher schooled in Zen Buddhism to help me try and understand why I was caught in these heavy and disconcerting feelings. The teacher invited me to his home, and we sat in his study for hours, listening to and telling our respective experiences. He was a Danish national who had hitch hiked to India in the 60's to live as a sadhu, eventually making his way to America and then California to join the newly formed zen monastery at Tassahara.
As we talked he began to pull books that he thought could help me off his shelves and toss them into my lap. Kirkegaard, Jung, Thich Nat Hahn, Pema Chodron and others flew across the room towards me. As I looked in bewilderment at the covers of the deluge of information I heard him say,
"Here is a book by a very smart lady named Emma Bragdon. She was at Tassahara with me. She is a doctor of psychology now and into this guy in Brazil named John of God. I don't know much about it, but it is probably very interesting."
The book came flapping through the air and thumped into my chest. Feeling overwhelmed, and somewhat resistant, I pushed all the books aside and asked if we could continue to just talk.
"Sure thing" he said. "You will pick these books up when you are ready. No hurry"
About a year later I met my wife to be Amy. As we were getting to know each other I quickly discovered that Amy had been following a spiritual path since her early twenties. One of the first things she told me was that if she ever had the opportunity she would love to go to Brazil. When I asked her why Brazil she said
"Well, there is a healer there that I've heard about named John of God. For some reason I am really drawn to go and see what he is all about."
I recalled the literature that had struck me a few years before.
Brazil and John of God came to be a consistent topic between Amy and me as our relationship grew until finally an opportunity arose for Amy to go and visit Abadiania and the Casa de Dom Inacio on a three week trip. I could not go as my father was already scheduled to visit. Amy offered to take my photograph with her, to present to the entities that work through John of God. I was ambivalent, thinking to myself that I wasn't really into all this faith based healing stuff. I had grown up a skeptical and cynical agnostic. Psychiatry I could grasp and was willing to work with, but the idea of invisible "entities" coming to my aid was slightly beyond my rational beliefs. Underlying this, I was also still stuck in the semi-conscious belief that I was somehow "unworthy".
With my half hearted consent Amy took a photograph of me with her to Abadiania.
I clearly remember the day that Amy presented my image before the entity. I was having a difficult time relating with my father on his visit. In an attempt to cope with the anxiety and tension that my habitual story about our relationship was bringing up I would sneak out of the house to smoke some pot. It helped me feel detached from the emotional discomfort and pain. Another, and healthier way I was coping was to spend time working in our garden, and this particular day I had gone out to pull weeds, water and commune with broccoli as a respite from our familial tensions. Our garden had always been a peaceful and joyful refuge for me, and a natural place to unwind from stress.
As I sat by the vegetable and flower beds, watching and appreciating the bees and sunlight and vibrant color of chard and calendula, I experienced a distinct "electric" gravity behind me. All my hairs began to stand on end and I turned around. I could see nothing unusual, yet I had a very distinct and real sense of a presence. It felt warm and loving and deeply reassuring. I simply stood there, soaking it in. Then I "heard" or felt that it was time for me to stop running from discomfort. I felt the gentle urge to throw my stash of pot away. And that I did.
Later in the afternoon, I received an email from Amy saying that she had taken my photo before the entity that day. She relayed that I would not require "surgery" and that the entity had stated that he was already working with me. As the evening progressed I began to experience a gentle and highly pleasurable warm, floating sensation in the middle of my chest. It reminded me of being a child on a swing, and the first experience of that weightless sensation in the moment of pause at the top of the arc, when one is briefly free of gravity and the heart leaps.
It was my heart opening fully, like it never had before. There was no fear or worry for safety. It was simply the feeling of pure, unconditional love. It was the entities of the Casa introducing themselves.
A little less than a six months later we had another opportunity to return to Brazil, and this time my schedule was open. Besides, after the profound changes and realizations that had been continuously occurring since that afternoon in the garden, there was no way I was going to miss a chance to visit the Casa myself!
Amy and I were to go as part of a group of medical professionals to observe how spiritism is partnered with psychology in some Brazilian health institutions to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and drug addiction. The group was led by an American doctor of psychology who is a Daughter of the Casa, and is working to integrate the healing treatment of a whole person (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) view with our western medical model, which typically treats only the physical symptoms. Western medicine tends to reduce the human to parts and systems. Our groups' interest was (w)holistic healthcare.
Being a very experienced guide to the Casa, she held several group meetings before we went through the lines to see John of God. She talked about looking at our expectations and helped us to set our intentions, and emphasized that usually what we think we want is very different from what the entities see we actually need. As she prepared us to open fully to the experience ahead, she challenged us to examine our views of death. She explained that we typically view death as a failure and illness as a war.
"He lost his battle with cancer " and "She's fighting the disease" are typical attitudes. She illustrated this through her own experience in witnessing the transition through death of her first Buddhist teacher, while she was a young seeker at Tassahara monastery.
"Before Suzuki Roshi died, I really began to understand through him that death was not the end, but rather a transition of consciousness" she said.
As I digested the implications of those words I had another realization that made my hairs stand on end. I had come to see John of God with the woman who's book had thumped me in the chest years ago as an introduction to John of God! I was in Abadiania with Dr. Emma Bragdon!
As Emma continued to prepare us in the days leading up to our going before the entity incorporating through John of God she explained how our conditioning may be challenged by what occurs at the Casa. She talked about how sometimes we will experience a fair deal of discomfort before we feel better, as conditions long buried or ignored are drawn to the surface to heal. Things need to be first brought into the light of awareness before they can be fully released, she said. The entities help, but we must also do our share of the work. That sometimes means being fully present to, and aware of our discomfort.
Ok, " I've got it " I thought. Bring it on.
Wednesday morning arrived and our group went to the Casa. Looking at my intentions for healing, Amy felt that I would surely be likely to get a surgery. I was curious as to what it would feel like.
There were hundreds of people in the main waiting hall, all dressed in white. People from all over the world, speaking all sorts of languages. When our turn to go finally came we formed a line to file through the current rooms to go before the entity. We slowly shuffled through in silence with our eyes open, walking past the meditators in current who were sitting with their eyes closed. As I came closer to John of God he seemed to be bathed in a soft blue light.
Now it was my turn and I stepped forward to hand the small card with my intentions written on it to Vinicius, the translator. John of God looked me up and down briefly and held out his hand and as I extended my hand he touched it quickly and then said something in Portuguese.
"Go, sit, meditate, now! ", said the translator, and I was ushered to a third room off to the side, to a pew where other people were already sitting with their eyes closed. I slid in and closed my eyes as I was instructed to do.
After a few moments my mind did a little flip flop. No surgery? No intervention? He only looked at me for a second! I've spent thousands of dollars and come all the way down here to get …
BENCHED ! ! !
Now for me, being an ex athlete, the bench is the last place I thought I wanted to be. The bench is where you sit when you're not quite up to the task, or injured, or maybe waiting to get in the game for your chance, but it is definitely NOT where the action is!
All my old stuff about being seen and appreciated and being able to contribute bubbled to the surface. It was not pleasant or comfortable to say the least. I went into complete rebellion for a while.
Then I began to remember the things that Emma had told us about our conditioning being challenged in the healing process. I rapidly calmed down to feel reassured that perhaps, even in spite of myself, everything was going just as it was supposed to. Not only that, but I remembered Emma telling us about the third "entities current room" where one could only sit if specifically instructed.
"I must have been asked to sit here in order to help with the current " was a thought that crossed my mind. I began to drift from thoughts of inferiority to thoughts that perhaps I was really special, and invited to sit here to assist John of God in the healing work for all the other people who are suffering!
"I wonder where the others in our group were sent, I'm probably the only one he picked for this job."
I sat, feeling a bit smug. I again began to experience the delightful heart opening sensations that I had felt so profoundly when Amy first took my picture before the entity the year before. Sitting in a state of bliss, I felt like I was home.
When the final prayers were said we were told that we could now open our eyes. I lingered a bit with the inner peace I was experiencing. When I let my eyes slowly open I looked around me. Almost everyone in our group was sitting beside me!
I wasn't so special after all. Yet perhaps I wasn't unworthy either! I didn't know what to think anymore. I sensed that perhaps issues of self worth was the focal lens I had just been given to work with. And so it was.