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Cheech Marrero

Cheech Marrero
Cheech Marrero

I grew up in the worst neighborhoods of New York City, an area of youth gangs, drug pushers, and criminals. Although I came from a humble and good family, right outside my parents' front door loomed a world of constant threat and danger. I dropped out of school at fourteen and went to work at the waterfront docks, wheeling and dealing in anything I could to make money and survive. By the time I was thirty, I had spent more than eight years in prison.

In 1967, I was imprisoned at Rikers Island Penitentiary, awaiting trial for a crime I had not committed. At a plea bargaining session, I was told that if I pled guilty, I would receive "only" 20 or 30 years, instead of life without parole.

I then came to lowest point of my life. One evening around midnight, the lights were out and the cell block was quiet. Sitting on my mattress, I concluded that death could not be worse than this life. I calmly made the decision to end it all.

I remember putting on the best clothes I had, shaving, and brushing my hair. Then I lay down on my mattress and prepared to kill myself.

At that point, everything around me became acutely sharp, every sound and feeling. I could hear my heart pounding. I could hear every tiny sound in the cell block. The intensity of it dissolved my mind, which up to that point had been racing.

I brought my hand to my throat and paused for a time. The room suddenly filled with bright light. I felt a Presence I could not explain, but which was as obvious to me as the brightness of the room. I bolted upright and looked around the cell. I knew that not only was I not going to go through with it, but that somehow everything was going to turn out okay. Charged by this intuition, I stayed awake all night, until the guards came in the morning to load me onto the prison van for the long ride to the courthouse.

I was not the same person after this experience. I felt that life was greater than how it had appeared from my previous perspective. I began to make different choices about my life. And, in a miraculous turn of events, I discovered the identity of the man who had committed the crime, and was released within a year.

While in prison, I had educated myself in counseling, psychology, and law. After my release, I continued my education, eventually enrolling for a Ph.D. in psychology. I co-founded a multimillion-dollar drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in the South Bronx section of New York City, where I became the executive clinical director, responsible for over five hundred live-in residents. In my free time, I socialized with successful Latino professionals. I was successful and professionally respected. Underneath all of this, however, I was still a guarded and mistrusting person.

One day in June of 1971, I had an eleven o'clock appointment with an executive from a meditation institute who was selling a program for treating addictions through meditation. The program was expensive, so my decision was important. At twenty minutes to eleven, I began preparing for the interview, but since I had no personal experience with meditation, I didn't feel comfortable. I remembered that an associate of mine had a friend named Franklin Jones who knew about meditation, and He just happened to be visiting my associate in his office that morning.

I walked right into the office and said to Avatar Adi Da, "Hi, you must be Franklin! Can I borrow you for a few minutes? I have a meeting with this guy who's trying to sell me a meditation training package for our program. I don't know much about meditation and I heard you know a little bit". He gave me a big smile and said, "Sure." I liked Him right away. He was very bright and open, and His smile was genuinely happy. I don't remember what He said as we walked through the hallways of the center, but He laughed a lot, and soon He had me laughing. We laughed most of the way to my office. I remember my secretary looking up in surprise this was not my typical disposition.

For the interview, I placed three chairs in a triangle. During the interview, I kept asking the salesman if he used these techniques himself, to which he responded affirmatively. But it was obvious to me he was not happy at all. After the salesman left, I looked at Avatar Adi Da and said, "Well, what do you think?" He pointed both thumbs towards the ground, and we both laughed. He said, "They are well-intentioned people, but there is much more to meditation than that."

Then Avatar Adi Da noticed something in my office. In a far corner, partly hidden by a plant, I had a small photo of Swami Muktananda. A few months earlier, I had responded to an article about Swami Muktananda, and received an invitation to meet him during his upcoming New York visit The photo had been a gift from Amma, Swami Muktananda's secretary, who, I learned later, was also a great Spiritual friend of Avatar Adi Da. Avatar Adi Da seemed interested that I had this photo, and began asking me questions.

In the course of my explanation, I remember asking, "What do you think about somebody like this that claims to be in direct Communion with God?" He looked straight into my eyes and said, "Just do everything in relation to the Guru." Then he left. It would take me many years to realize that He had given me the essence of His Teaching in that single statement.

I was really impressed with Avatar Adi Da after that meeting. After He left I kept thinking about Him. The next time I saw my associate, I said, "I really like your friend Franklin. There's something about Him a really nice man. We must have lunch together sometime, soon!" But I had no recognition of Avatar Adi Da as Spiritually Enlightened. I didn't even think about such things, let alone believe in them. I had little Spiritual background besides my Catholic upbringing. I tended to be cynical about life, and regarded religion as mostly nonsense, doctrines to keep people from abusing and killing one another. Although I felt something special about Him, "Franklin" was just another man to me.

The ten months following that first meeting were oddly unsettling. By conventional standards, and especially in contrast to my early life, I now had every reason to be happy: I was successful in my profession, I was engaged to a beautiful, successful woman, I had more money than I needed, and was respected by friends and family. Inwardly, however, I was discontent. All my life I had been aware of a fundamental disturbance in my body that was always present, regardless of whether times were good or bad. Why did I still feel like I was suffering, despite all my success? It didn't make sense. During this period, I was stuck in quiet despair. All the ordinary enjoyments to which I was accustomed watching TV or going out to dinner with friends were no longer really enjoyable. It became apparent that the field of psychology did not bring relief from my unhappiness and, in spite of years of therapy, the fundamental sense of disturbance I felt remained untouched. My mentors, some of the most respected analysts in the field, seemed no more illumined by their knowledge than I was, They could not address my questions about life and death. Because I was clinical director, I started to feel like a blind man leading the blind. Right around this time, my associate sent me the manuscript of The Knee Of Listening, Avatar Adi Da's autobiography.

I remember thumbing through it briefly and making a mental note, "I have to read this. After all, I have met Him." But I left it on my desk at home. One evening about six weeks later, I was feeling agitated and I noticed the manuscript. I read it intently for several hours.

At around two o'clock in the morning I was still reading, and an unusual feeling started coming over me. I looked up from the book. The room had become bright. Every color stood out brightly and distinctly. My first thought was, "Damn, one of the residents put some LSD in my coffee!" Then I noticed that I felt attracted to this brightness. A feeling of calmness moved throughout my body, and I was attentive to everything around me, rather than to myself an unusual state. I enjoyed that feeling of attraction and, after a while, I allowed it to engulf me.

Then my mind kicked in and a rush of fear overtook me. The fear wasn't about anything in particular raw terror without content. My heart pounded as if it was going to leap out of my chest. My body pulled into a fetal position, and I lay there with my knees pressed up against my chest, sweating profusely. Then, in an instant, everything became perfectly calm. An immense bliss washed over me, and my body opened like a flower.

Having spent countless hours in Avatar Adi Da's Company since then, I have come to recognize this Presence as His direct Blessing, a Transmission of Grace and Divine Love that awakens and heals the being. One can receive this Transmission in His physical Company, but it is available with equal force outside of His Company, as on this occasion. In other words, Avatar Adi Da's Blessing-Power is not limited by time and space. However, once the being receives His Blessing Transmission, all the darker elements of the limited self are "stirred up" reflected back to oneself and felt with magnified force. This, I realized later, was the terror I had experienced. It was my own deep, primal feeling of being a separate ego, threatened by everything in a hostile world.

But none of this was clear to me then. My rational mind had no way to explain these experiences. I phoned a psychiatrist who worked at our program. After apologizing for waking him up in the wee hours, I explained what had happened. He said, "It sounds like you're having an anxiety attack." He told me he would call in a prescription, and that I should pick it up right away. But I knew this was not an anxiety attack. I felt calmer and clearer than I ever had. I knew without question that my experience was related to something else.

Next I called my fiance. Her solution was, "Come on over. I have some good wine we can share together." This seemed equally ridiculous. Then I remembered there was a phone number in the back of The Knee Of Listening. I thought, "Why not call this number, since this happened while I was reading the book." It didn't even occur to me that it was 11:00 pm in Los Angeles. I called and explained to the man who answered what had just happened to me.

As I spoke, I could hear Avatar Adi Da's deep, expansive laughter in the background. I thought, "What kind of a Spiritual place is this? I'm going through this heavy turmoil and they're having a party!" The devotee who had answered left the phone for a couple of minutes. When he returned he said, "I spoke to Franklin and He said you should come right away." I said, "Right away? It's two in the morning!" I explained all my responsibilities. The man left the phone again and then came back and said, "Franklin says to come as soon as you can."

It seemed impossible, but somehow I worked everything out and I was on a plane to Los Angeles the next day. Avatar Adi Da's Center, which everybody referred to as "the Ashram", was on a busy Los Angeles street, with a small bookstore in the front, and a meditation hall and office in the back. The first person I saw when I came in the back entrance was Avatar Adi Da, sitting at a desk. He greeted me with an incredible warm, loving feeling in His eyes and face. He sat me down next to Him, taking my hand as He did this. Confused by His gesture, I shook His hand in a business-like fashion and then tried to pull away. But He just kept holding onto my hand.

I could feel His complete openness and Love for me, a man He barely knew, and I felt uncomfortable in the face of this. I tried pulling away again and He continued to hold on. At one point there was even a little struggle back and forth. I was starting to get uptight, self-conscious. Then He did something with His face, a very subtle change of expression, that let me know that it was all right. Finally I just relaxed my hand in His. He continued to hold it, while He asked me questions about the experience I had had. After some minutes He looked up to another devotee standing nearby and said, "Frank can sit with Me in meditation. It's OK." Then He let go of my hand.

Devotees were painting the Ashram because there had been a fire. Someone handed me a paintbrush, assuming I would join in. I was dressed in my expensive New York clothes, and I thought it was bizarre for me to be painting in those clothes. But everyone was painting and I figured I'd go along with the program. After all, I'd come three thousand miles to be there. I began to paint, and that's when this strange feeling started to come over me.

Within five minutes, my face became flushed and I felt a burning fever going over my whole body, to the point that I had to lie down. I told one of the devotees that I was really sick, and he drove me to his house. I went right over to the couch, and remained there for six days with a burning fever. All I could do was sip water.

The devotees whose house I was staying at served me throughout the week. But on the beginning of the seventh day, I was alone in the house and I was panicking. I said, "Damn, I'm going to die in this strange place." I really thought I was going to die.

So I crawled over to the phone and called the Ashram. And who should answer the phone but Avatar Adi Da. I mumbled something out about what was going on with me, and He started laughing. I was really offended. Here I was, ready to die, and He was laughing! He noticed my lack of humor, and He said, "Don't worry about a thing, Frank. You're going to feel fine in the morning. It's just a little purification. Isn't this what you came here for?"

I hadn't thought about it that way. I didn't know anything about the tradition of an Adept Transmitting Spiritual Force to a devotee. It was only later that I realized that Adi Da had directly Transmitted His Heart-Blessing to me as He held my hand. My fever was a classic case of the purification that often follows such a potent form of Blessing.

Avatar Adi Da's Words were absolutely true. The next morning I felt great! I felt better than I had since I could remember, really great. I ate a little bit, and then went down to the Ashram. And I went to the Ashram every day after that for the next thirty days. I still didn't know who Adi Da was exactly, and I tested Him, just like I did with everyone, to find His weakness. I did everything possible to check Him out. But, to my surprise, I never had any success at all in finding limits in Him. All that I experienced was my own game. In my efforts to find His faults, I would always be reflected back to myself.

What was even more surprising was Adi Da's behavior towards me, which was quite different from what I was accustomed to. Whenever Avatar Adi Da saw me He would walk over to me and give me a big hug. I found this very difficult because, from my Latino background, men just didn't hug other men! It simply was not acceptable! But He would always make a point of embracing me in some way. He would walk right across the Hall to greet me and give me a hug. Sometimes He would hang onto me for a while. Sometimes it was just quick. But He was always moving towards me. As He would walk over to me, smiling, I would feel all kinds of feelings come up in my body, especially fear. I would always be tight at first as He hugged me. But little by little I would open up. And He would always have me laughing and smiling within a few minutes.

Around the third week of my stay in Los Angeles I realized that I was looking forward to seeing Adi Da every day. And more than that, I realized that I was actually looking forward to His hugs. More and more I noticed how I was strategically finding ways to see Him as much as possible. I would cancel appointments, skip lunches, and do anything else that might allow an opportunity for being with Him.

One day at the Ashram I gave Adi Da a big bear hug in return for His hug, and picked Him up a little off the floor. He laughed and I laughed, both of us enjoying the incident. And I realized that I had opened up to His Love.

That was the last time, for a long time, that He would have that particular play with me, hugging me as He had. Instead He began making that same connection through a glance, or a word, or a gesture. And I felt just as embraced by Him. I knew He had worked with me somehow.

My heart was literally opening. I began to notice that I felt a heart-feeling in relationship to those around me. I was feeling real love for the first time in a very long while. The anxiety that I always felt, the paranoia that was involved in all my testing, had dropped away. I was beginning to feel good again.

And I realized that I had a very strong feeling for "Franklin". I had, in fact, fallen in love with Him not sexually, but deeply in my emotion. And I totally trusted Him. I was struck with the intuitive knowledge that whoever "Franklin" was, He was no ordinary man. There was no doubt in me about it, because no ordinary person could be like He was all the time. I had enough street sense to know that. I thought He must be some sort of holy man, even though I really had no idea of the magnitude of Who He Is.

Because I was such a skeptic, having seen so many schemes in my time, if someone had told me that God was here in human form, incarnate, and was living that condition to others that would have been the same as someone saying, "You know, Santa Claus is really true, he really lives, and he's down the corner at Macy's Department Store with all his reindeer!" It seemed absurd! Yet for some reason this feeling-intuition of the Divine in Avatar Adi Da's Company was undeniable in me.

The day before I left for New York, I went to Avatar Adi Da and said, "I don't know how I'm going to return, but I have to come back." He looked at me and smiled and said, "Don't worry about it it will be OK. I'll expect you back by My birthday." And He laughed.

His birthday was November 3, about a month away, and I didn't see how that was possible because of all my involvements with family, work, and friends. But I trusted Him. I returned to New York, and the ensuing month, from my point of view, was nothing less than a miracle. All my life-business seemed to tie itself up in ways I never could have imagined. Everything fell into place, and sure enough, I was there for His birthday.

Those first few weeks in Los Angeles with Adi Da initiated a revolutionary change in the direction of my life. Up until then I had struggled intensely to find relief from my suffering. Yet despite my conventional success, my life hadn't brought me real happiness, or any sense of freedom from the fundamental disturbance that I always felt. But in my encounters with Avatar Adi Da, I had met someone who was completely Happy. And simply by coming into His Company, spending time with Him, engaging the relationship that He offered, I became Happy, too.

Adi Da's whole interaction with me had been a form of Instruction. I didn't understand His Teaching intellectually, but His very Person had taught me more than I could ever have learned through books. His example, His incomparable Love and openness to anyone who came to Him made a deep impression in me that I could never forget.

Twenty years later, on a meditation retreat in Avatar Adi Da's Company, the words spontaneously came to me that expressed what I felt in those early days with Avatar Adi Da. As the words arose, I knew that they were true: "I have come into the Presence of Very God."

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