Autobiographyof a Yogi

Change is Great Unless You Think About It

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain, By the false azure in the windowpane; I was the smudge of ashen fluff -and I- Lived on, flew on, in the reflected sky. ~Vladimir Nabokov (Pale Fire)

As my talented editor, Chris Nelson, and I were selecting the short pieces of writing for my latest book, it was like choosing chips of tiles for a mosaic, and it occurred to me that they all reflected a common theme. There was an answer to the question, “And your point is?” and that answer is: People can change.

Back in the late 1970s, when I was learning to change from being an alcoholic to being a person, I started my lifelong obsession with how people change. (In fact, it began earlier than that, if I’m honest, when I was a weakling of a boy, around age ten, seeing an advertisement on the back of a comic book selling a Charles Atlas course in “Dynamic Tension” [isometrics, it turned out to be] that said it would change you into a muscular marvel that bullies would no longer torment. I sent away for the course and used it. I began to look and feel different. I discovered that a person could change … at least physically.)

In the 1980s, as I learned that one could live sober, my brain became restored to clarity and I pounced on books about psychology, like Allen Wheelis’s How People Change and Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

As brilliant and as helpful as those books were, I still marveled at the superior rapidity and thoroughness of changes I saw happening in me and my fellow participants in the 12-Step meetings I was attending. I asked my sponsor why he thought that was, and he said, “Because we go places psychology isn’t reaching. We focus on the spiritual.”

That wasn’t easy for me to understand back then. Like most people I associated spirituality with religion, and I’d joined the clique of literati, psychologists, and contemporary Western philosophers who either quietly dismissed, or openly made mock of religion and its attendant “myths” about supernatural beings needing to be worshipped. I had studied literature and poetry in college, and developed an exaggerated and misguided picture of myself as an atheistic intellectual.

Alcohol brought that inflated picture to its knees. The recovery process punctured that ego like a bad balloon. And so I became desperate to make the spiritual part of recovery make sense, and have it become something I could really make useful. I lucked out when a kind and compassionate friend changed everything by giving me his copy of Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. From that moment life would never be the same.

Spirituality made sense. Later on, as I grew more open to reality, I saw the value in what religions were doing, and how valid their own path to spiritual awakening could be.

But for me, Yogananda’s book was what did it.

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The Leader & The Coach by Steve Chandler & Will Keiper
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