Henry Swift (real name) received his Ph.D. degree in Experimental Physics from the University of Iowa in 1943. He worked for the government (Civil Service GS15 Research Scientist) and industry for 30 years supervising research and development of devices for military use, and has two publications in Physical Review, as well as many classified reports and papers. He was one of the first contributors to TASTE (Experience 00014), and has now added a fascinating spiritual autobiography.
A Spiritual Journey
by Henry Swift, 16 November 1994, revised 8-18-95
My mother was Irish Catholic; my father was of English descent. She was a good wife to my father, and a good mother. My dad was an Osteopath, but his English reserve and gruffness operated against him as a doctor in a small town. He later started a chicken hatchery, which worked well for him. I had a younger brother, who later became an Osteopath also, and who was very good with people. Both our parents provided a loving environment, but I did not dare climb up in dad’s lap as a little boy. Also when they had card parties, the rule was that children should be quiet until spoken to – and I was a good boy. My mother was fearful that I would associate with the “wrong people”.
What I remember of my childhood were such things as taking the cows to pasture in the morning and getting them at night — about a mile away. My Boston bull terrier “Tommy” accompanied me. When I would call him he would come as fast as his little legs would take him. From ages 12 to college, I always had some project. One of these was learning the clarinet, with 4 hours a day in the winter, and two in the summer for two years. Technical interests were building a radio at age 12, developing photographic materials, teaching myself chess, magic tricks, chemistry, making explosive materials, making things with my hands etc.
My father and my mother believed in education and intellectuality. She coached me to win the county spelling contest in the seventh grade. I won $5, and my grandpa gave me about his last dollar out of his purse to honor the event. With these I bought my Boy Scout uniform.
My father did not want his children to become Catholics, so he and my mother had an agreement on this; we went to no church. Mother’s sisters felt unbound by this and when they visited they taught us the catechism. I sensed that my father did not like this, and resisted the teaching, but I was only a small boy. I noticed the effects of that teaching decades later. Ben Weininger, our later psychiatrist and spiritual teacher said that one gets one’s religion from mother’s milk; he was right. By the time I went to college, I had decided I did not believe in God. Then I decided that that was not an intelligent stance, so I changed to, “I do not know”.
When I went to college I majored in physics and math, with a near minor in English and chemistry. I got good grades until playing sax and clarinet in a dance orchestra to earn my way distracted me from studies. I got a D grade in music appreciation in my junior year as 10:00 am was too early to go to a class I didn’t value much. In my last year I duplicated the all A-grades from my freshman year.
I went on to graduate school in physics in a neighboring state, giving up wine, women, and song all at once. For many years I felt that first year to be the hardest in my life. In fact, all four years consisted of 10 – 12 hour days, seven days a week. Because I lived on a $45/mo. assistantship, I couldn’t afford quite enough to eat. I weighed only 125 to 130 pounds in graduate school.
World war started the year I got the master’s degree, in 1941. I stayed in graduate school, but in early 1943 started to work on a government research project, after having finished my course work, and qualifications for the Ph.D. degree. This degree was in experimental physics, rather than the usual just plain “physics”. The reason for this was because I did not like math much, preferring the laboratory, where I had an intuitive feel for things. I recall thinking at the end of graduate school that now I had all I needed for life. Physics and reason would carry me though life. How wrong I was.
I worked for the research project until the war’s end in the fall of 1945. I supervised a small group of about 12-15 physicists developing aiming devices for bomb and rockets from aircraft, and spent about half of this period away at military test bases.
I married a psychologist in 1943, and we had our first child in 1945. After the war’s end I worked briefly at the University of New Mexico on a war research project, then moved to a Navy laboratory in the Mojave desert in California, where we lived 10 years and had three more children. After that I worked at a research Center in Santa Barbara on infrared, then spent 11 years in Los Angeles as director of an electro-optical laboratory.
I loved my children, and as life went, besides the engineers and scientists I worked with, they became my principal personal support. In retrospect I can see my wife and I were traveling parallel paths during the time our children were growing. Each of us had our respective jobs; she running the household and I working.
When I was 36 I found myself in a depressed state. I recall at one point rationally considering whether to live or die, as the world lacked color anymore. Dying did not make sense.
In retrospect, my situation was summarized by an exercise created by the psychologist Charles Tart. In it one was supposed to stand at attention, and recite in unison with others the following:
THE WESTERN CREED
1) I believe the material universe is the only and ultimate reality, a universe controlled by fixed physical laws and chance. It has no creator, objective purpose, or meaning.
2) I believe that all ideas about Gods, prophets, and saviors are superstitions and delusions; that churches have no real use other than for social support.
3) I believe that all judgments, values, and moralities are subjective, arising from biological determinants, personal history, and chance. Therefore the most rational values I can personally live by are that what pleases me is Good, and what pains me is Bad.
Editor’s note: The Western Creed exercise is something I devised to help people become aware of implicit beliefs, conditioned into us and constantly reinforced by living in contemporary culture, which we may not even know we have. Beliefs we do not know we have are insidious in their effects, as you can’t decide whether you want to investigate or change them if you don’t know you have them. The full exercise is given in my Living the Mindful Life book, available via my web site at www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/ and in several articles posted on that web site.
That was a depressing and painful state to be in, I assure you. My wife found a psychiatrist named Ben Weininger for me. When I first went I was unable to work, sitting at my desk, frozen. Ben found me in a dark cave, took me by the hand, and gently over-time coaxed me out into the light. He was more than a professional; he had had a religious experience, as he called it, when he was 21. It lasted a month, and which changed his life. He learned that love made the world turn. Ben had a business card that said on one side, You have my permission, and on the other side it said, You do not need my permission. He had introduced Krishnamurti to the psychiatric community in earlier years, and followed Khrisnamurti to Ojai to be near him.
Both my wife and I went to see Ben, and in later years our children each benefited by him, at times when they needed help. We stayed in touch with Ben over a 35-year period, and sought his guidance whenever we needed it. Ben started the Los Angeles Counseling Center about 1963. Its purpose was to train and use lay people for mental health counseling, under the supervision of professionals. It was the first of its kind, and my wife was one of the original counselors. Later she got me involved. I was a lay counselor for ten years, one night a week.
This period was one of high psychological growth for me, and included going to the Esalen Center for group weekends. These were earth shaking for me. My life had been limited to dealing with intellectuals in the scientific field; so this was eye opening to one who had been asleep. When someone asked my how I was feeling, my response would be to stop and think about that! I was disconnected from my body, and from my emotions. There was only a deadness. The world was gray. Consequently, I feel that I owe my life to Ben. I keep a picture of him on my desk.
At age 56 I retired. I was caught in a political situation from which I was unable to defend or extricate myself. At the time I didn’t think we’d have enough money, but later it worked out quite well. I became a “house spouse” for a year, and continued to see Ben.
In 1989 my wife and I went to a week long Elderhostel course in Oregon. At the time Ben was in the hospital. His son assured us that he would be all right. When we finished the course we left to drive to Salt Lake, to do some genealogical research. The first night, at dinner, we said we must call Ben. I called the next morning to find that he had died the day before. So I surely had gotten a message from the edge of consciousness.
There was to be a memorial service at the Unitarian Church later in Santa Barbara for Ben. We started driving; we were undecided as to whether to go home for the service, or on to Salt Lake. The car turned at the crossroads and went home. The church was nearly full, as he well loved by many.
While at home I checked the mail. There was an announcement that a man named Ramesh Balsekar was holding group meetings at Ben’s house while he was dying. This man was to be in the desert for a two-week seminar, ten days from now. Somehow I felt an irresistible pull to go to there, and signed up for two days. We ended up staying four instead. While there I had a private audience with Ramesh. He had sat with Ben while he was going in and out of consciousness, and talked with him at the time. This was a healing of the sorrow I felt. I was sorry I had not been with Ben when he died. Ramesh replaced Ben as my spiritual guide. I later listened to the tape of the talk the day after Ben died, and heard the minute of silence in his honor.
Ben’s wife also attended the seminar, and my wife and I spent an evening with her, hearing details of Ben’s last days. She told us that Ben noted us in his will with his good regards.
During the seminar, Ramesh’s words held my full attention. I was not following completely as I was not used to words like nuomenon, and subject-object. The concepts were totally new to me. However, they held the ring of truth. Later I bought Ramesh’s books and read them. We attended seminars with Ramesh in Sausalito, Colorado. Santa Barbara, and Pennsylvania.
In early 1990 there was another “coincidental” happening. I happened to note in the paper that there was to be a meeting at the University where a local enlightened woman named Ligia Dante, and a physicist named Amit Goswami were to speak. We attended, and as I approached the door to leave, there was a pile of papers. I looked at them and for a dollar took one of them. They were copies of a physics paper by Goswami entitled the Idealistic Interpretation of Quantum Physics. When I read it I was very excited, because he had concluded from a combination of theory and experimental data that Consciousness is the Primary Reality, and that Consciousness was all pervading and instantaneously connected with everything in the universe. All this was exactly as Ramesh had described it. Wow! Here was confirmation of Ramesh’s teaching, and it was coming from my own field of expertise.
In 1991 we attended the two-week seminar in Maui. by this time the teaching had soaked in quite well, and resulted in the final jump. The following is from a letter written to Ramesh about a week after the experience of transformation:
I shall try to recount the significant events leading up to the event on April 27th. I did not have a problem with the issue of free will with which you spent so much time. Too many “coincidences” had happened to me, one of which led me to you.
The question I’d had for a year or two, was what is real in the world of perception. In other words I was puzzled about the statement, “in the beginning there are rivers and mountains, old men dying and babies being born. Then they are seen as illusion, and finally as real”. About two nights before I “died”, I was in a strong discussion about this at the dinner table. I just could not believe that if I were the only sentient being in the universe; that the world would appear and disappear when fell asleep or blinked my eyes.
Then I went to bed and awakened in the night with the recollection that in Goswami’s interpretation of quantum physics, consciousness was inescapably the agent through which the electron emerged into the world from the never-never land of Quantum Mechanics. In this field of study the metaphor of a wave is used. And wave is only a manner of speaking, the waves referred to are a mathematical solution of a mathematical equation. Furthermore the equation that specifies that this quantum wave has two parts. In mathematical terminology, one part is called “real” and the other “imaginary”. The real part is a concept, as is the imaginary part. So it is no big deal to equate these waves with the nuomenon.
So if consciousness can manifest an electron into the phenomenal world, something I considered proven by science to be beyond doubt, then it is only a small additional step to accept that consciousness can manifest the whole universe. So it was at this point in the middle of the night that I accepted this aspect of Vedanta understanding. But as I later realized, during your last talk, I’d not included my own body in that universe I saw as “unreal”.
A further realization in the night was that my previous conclusion at the dinner table was the thinking mind’s activity. No matter how many questions it raised and answered the questions would be endless. So it made sense to quit asking questions, questions posed in the hope that things would become more definitive. So at this point I was willing to take a leap of faith.
In Maui I went to visit Gangaji, who lives a ways up the mountain. She was a disciple of Poona Ji who was in turn a disciple of Raman Maharshi. She is a powerful and beautiful woman. I attended her Satsang. Her personality, appearance, words and eyes drew me to the precarious edge. My tears and emotions were too much, and I drew back from her invitation to take the big leap; I ran out of courage.
On my next visit two nights later, I told her of my inability to go further at that time and how I felt like screaming. She gave me permission to scream and, I did. The scream expressed the anguish of my existence and perhaps of mankind in general. It was shocking to me and to some others. Immediately I felt together and whole again, without the internal stress. I was hoarse for hours afterward.
These two events were essential, in my opinion, to the release that occurred later, the last evening that you spoke. The relationship with Gangaji was complementary to the understanding that you were expressing.
The next to last evening, was uneventful for me. I clearly understood all you said. Quite a few were absent, having gone to see Gangaji. So I concluded that the next morning’s final talk would also be of little significance to me, being merely a formality. So I went into that last talk expecting nothing. I think that was important!
In your last talk you stated, as you have so any times before, “the last item to be included in the inventory of what is unreal and merely a distorted perception, is the body.” The inescapable logic forced me to include it in the inventory, and an avalanche started within me. And it may have been either started or accelerated when you were overcome with emotion when telling of the man, God, and the missing footprints in the sand. My heart poured out to you then. (note; the man in his dream questioned God of where he was when the footprints disappeared at his times of trouble, — God was carrying him then).
As you have stated it can only happen when nothing is desired and the heart is full of love. Then it was towards the end, winding this up, and so I thought “It’s all over”, nothing more is going to happen. I got up to leave and it felt like an avalanche was coming down.
I liken the experience to drowning. I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs. It was so wonderful that you and Sharda were there to attend me. I shall never forget my wife’s voice saying to me through the fog, “honey, it’s Ramesh, behind you, as you pressed down on my shoulders. Sharda gave me a glass of water advised me to go out for a walk in nature. And you, Sharda, thank you. I love you both.
After the enlightenment event, I went again to see Gangaji. I knew you weren’t supposed to have any more thoughts. I told her there was a wall in my mind and thoughts were beating on the wall and wanted into my mind. She told me to relax, and that helped.
When I came home to the California, I had trouble adjusting, and called Ramesh in India, as I wanted to know what had happened to me. He said “that is wrong, Henry”, what has happened cannot be lost”. I understood the mental turmoil would subside; it was only the mind working to adjust to the new way of being. He later wrote and suggested I contact another of his disciples, who had had a similar experience. Just being with the man, not his words, provided the grounding that I needed. Before that that I had the feeling of floating without a mooring.
So now it is 4 years later. What can I tell of my experience that might be of help to another seeker? Early on, I periodically had doubts about whether anything of significance had happened to me. After all, why to me? Eventually I recognized these were merely thoughts generated by the mind, and thus not of importance. Either I was, or I wasn’t transformed, and I could do nothing about it either way.
The impression one gets from reading the masters is that they are placed on a pedestal by those around them. They are expected to be warm and lovely people all the time, never getting angry. The are supposed to live in permanent ecstasy. As for ecstasy, whatever altitude one flies at, it very soon seems ordinary; it must.
I have thought about what is different in my case. How it was before, how is it now? It is hard to say, partly because it is hard to remember how it was before. I can say , however, that for me, there is clarity; an absence of confusion. Formerly I always simultaneously saw both sides of a question. I had difficulty making a choice. I may sometimes be wrong now, but there is no more doubt. Awakening does not bring instant wisdom, but it may well allow one to learn faster from living. The basic personality is not changed. I’m still as intellectually inclined a person as I ever was, but it seems that my mind is more effective now — the absence of confusion, no doubt. I do what I do, instead of what I thought I should do. It is great to be free. There is no guilt, and no pride in what I do. Pride does pop up periodically but it is instantaneously recognized and not engaged in. I have a sense that whatever happens in my life is fine, and that it is unfolding in a proper and fruitful way.
I have wondered why it was that the actual awakening event was accompanied, in my case, by such bodily trauma. I have talked with several others who had no significant bodily reactions. In fact, one states that he is not sure when, or if it, happened! I speculate that perhaps this difference might be because of my strong identification with the intellect, as opposed to one whose natures are more the Bhakti Editors note: bhakti refers to paths of spiritual development emphasizing love and devotion in yoga. type. But I do not know whether to trust this mind to analyze such a question.
I am convinced that holding untrue concepts in the mind is an immovable bar to enlightenment. The principal bar in the western word is the belief that materiality is the primary reality, rather than consciousness. This would of course be more hindrance to the intellectual Jnani type than to the more emotional, artistic Bhakti type. In either case it would be a barrier, a formidable one.
It seems to me that the psychological oddities in my personality are still there, but as I am confronted with situations where certain of these characteristics are in the way, they get changed. Those that don’t stay.
I am always aware of the background of my existence, of the presence of consciousness in all things, though my mind may be occupied in a problem, etc. There is a witness of all that transpires, a comprehensive. awareness.