To my great relief and joy, on that first trip to India, I began to ‘find myself’—to make my own dream. When I returned home to Toronto, I wrote a short magazine article about meditation and my time with the Beatles and published a few of my photographs. Then I put the original transparencies away in a cardboard box and forgot about them. Thirty years later, my eighteen-year-old daughter, Devyani, fell in love with the Beatles’ music and reminded me of the photographs she’d vaguely remembered hearing of from a childhood bedtime story I’d told her when she was eight years old.
I had not seen John, Paul, George or Ringo since India—until recently. I never tried. I knew they lived hectic and well-protected lives and I didn’t think they were looking for new friends. When Jane Asher took the photos for them I didn’t even think of giving her my contact information to pass on to them. My time at the ashram, learning meditation and meeting them all, had been exquisite. I felt no need to try to recreate it, or keep in touch.
I didn’t see Pattie Boyd Harrison again until thirty-five years later, when we met for a cup of tea at a small bistro in London. We talked about Rishikesh, meditation, the spiritual path, happiness and more. As I imagined she’d be, she is as gentle and warm and bright as the young woman of years before; and she is still on the conscious path of becoming whole, as I prefer to say it.
It wasn’t until 2003 that Donovan and I met again. It was at Mark and Carol Lapidos’ Beatlefest conventions in New York and again a few months later in Chicago. We spent a lovely time together, late one night, for a few hours in his hotel room. His guitar always close to him, we talked, we laughed, he played and sang, and we talked more. What struck me the most, besides his genuine humility and the immense kindness of his heart, was his brilliance. A man of light, a man of wisdom. A troubadour, spreading messages of love and spirit.
Astrid Kirschner has taken my favorite photos of the Beatles. Her superb black and white shots of the group in Hamburg, in the early 1960s, are both classic and deeply sensitive. I was excited to learn that she and I were both going to be Special Guests at the Estrel Beatles Convention in Berlin in 2003. I introduced myself and added, “I just wanted to tell you how much I love your work.” She smiled at me. “I love your work too,” she said. I was speechless. “Why does that surprise you?”
“I didn’t know you’d even seen my photos.”
“Oh, I’ve seen them,” she added, “and I love them.”
Out of respect and admiration, I offered her a gift of any of my photos. Over the years since Hamburg she had remained very, very close with George and said she’d like the extreme close-up of him looking around and smiling into the camera. As we looked at the photo, she pointed at his right canine tooth, clearly showing its pointed end. “I told him not to have that tooth filed down,” she said, with a smile and with much love for George, “It was one of his most beautiful features.” She said he’d always been self-conscious of it and finally, over her objections, gone to a dentist and had it filed down to match his other teeth. His original look was one of the reasons she chose that particular shot of George.
Then in June 2005, Ringo’s record producer and bandleader, the wonderfully talented and eccentric Mark Hudson, let me know that Ringo would like one of my photos—the one in which he’s wearing his gold embroidered Nehru jacket. I was delighted. I was invited to a sound studio in Manhattan and when I was shown in, Ringo, Mark and the Roundheads were rehearsing for a concert.I was treated to 45 minutes of great music with Ringo on vocals, tambourine and drums. It was so cool to see him having so much fun: playful, funny, energetic and vivacious in his very fit, then 64 year-old body.
They took a short break and I spent some time chatting with Ringo and Mark, and presenting the photograph to Ringo. He was very dear. He quite appreciated it and asked, rhetorically, “I wonder where that jacket is now?” It was a favourite of his back in the 60s. At the ashram in Rishikesh, I hadn’t even thought to have any photos taken of me with ‘the boys’. Nor did I ask for autographs. We were just hanging out and it never came to mind. This time I asked. Ringo was very gracious, signing some of my photos for me, and Mark took a couple of photos of me presenting Ringo with the photograph from 1968. As I left, Ringo and I warmly shook hands as he said, “God bless.”
I could not have imagined how my own personal life would change when my daughter reminded me of my long-forgotten photographs from India. I still loved the Beatles, not just for their music and the joy and love they transmitted, encouraged and heralded, but also as four very human, real guys I had the good fortune to meet and like and enjoy. Most of all, I am deeply grateful to John, Paul, George, and Ringo for inspiring me to change my life by opening that door in my psyche that I refer to early in this book. And yet, I had no idea about the larger world of the Beatles, today. When my earlier book, The Beatles in Rishikesh, came out I was invited by Mark and Carol Lapidos to one of their Beatlefests. I didn’t know such things existed. Mark and Carol are big Beatles fans and in the mid 1970s, to celebrate the group, they created a convention for fans in a hotel in New York, with John Lennon’s blessings. He told them, “I’m a Beatles fan, too.”
Six to eight thousand fans come to these joyful, weekend celebrations. Since 2001, I’ve been to such festivals in New York, Boston, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland, Liverpool and Berlin; and been favored with gallery exhibitions in New York, Paris, London, Milan, Toronto and more. I’m amazed and delighted. Now, almost 40 years after our time at the ashram, the power of the Beatles’ music and inspiration is as alive as ever. Often, I’m invited into people’s homes for a ‘Beatles Soiree’, to share the photos and anecdotes of my time at the ashram. At the end of one of these often “magical evenings” a shy, young, twenty-two year-old woman from Tennessee told me of her own personal experience.
When she was in grade 9, her homeroom teacher in their rural high school was a very stern disciplinarian who never smiled. All the students in her class were afraid of him. One morning, before the teacher came in, one of the boys smuggled in a small, wind-up 45-rpm turntable and hid it under a desk at the back of the room. As the homeroom teacher was taking attendance, the boy leaned down, turned on the turntable and the Beatles song She Loves You filled the room. Everyone froze. The teacher looked around, sternly. After a few moments, the corners of his mouth slowly began to rise. As he began to smile, everyone jumped up and danced in the aisles until the song was over. She told me that from that moment on the homeroom was never the same again. The teacher was a different person with them, and no one was afraid of him. Their homeroom, she said, became a happy place.
In the turbulent 1960s, as a 23 year-old, I went to India to ‘find myself’ only to discover that it’s available to all of us, anywhere and at any time, within ourselves. My personal story is just one tiny part of the 60s movement toward peace and self-realization undertaken by millions of people world wide, a great many of us influenced by the Beatles’ own journeys of self-discovery. Today, I meditate using a method I find much more effective. I return deeply refreshed, connected with my Soul. And in this conscious place, all my worldly problems have a different feel and look. I approach my life from a place of love, rather than a place of fear—from a joy-based paradigm rather than a struggle-based paradigm.
In 2000, I revisited Rishikesh for the first time. In 1996, the Maharishi’s lease of the ashram had expired and the Rajaji National Parks Authority now administers it. The original buildings are gone and the path I climbed back in 1968 has been washed away in a flood. As I walked through the ashram I felt a deep sense of pleasure, not only returning to this place of past, personal transformation, but also for the ripple effect it has had throughout my life since then. At the edge of the cliff, I recognized the area where I had first met John, George, Paul, and Ringo. Now only rough wild grass, it had been the location of the shaded, long table where they and the other famous folks hung out and where I often joined them. I sat down cross-legged a foot from the cliff’s edge, with my back against a small tree. Looking down, the steep, brown earth falling away to the blue-gray boulders along the banks of the Ganges far below, I watch the lazy river burble and dance through two lazy bends as it traces the edge of Rishikesh. Taking a deep, slow breath, again I feel joy surfacing from within, like iridescent silver bubbles rising through a calm Algonquin lake at sunset. It was so right to return here. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the river and the soft wind purring in the trees. Dropping inside, meditating, I feel a profound calm and internal harmony.
After five minutes, slowly coming out of the meditation, I hear a rustling and open my eyes to see a baby monkey climbing in the bushes a few feet in front of me, looking for food. As I get up to leave I notice a single, old rubber sandal in the underbrush, like a footprint left in the sand, and I’m reminded of the path that’s been washed away and the Greek proverb, ‘You can never enter the same river twice.’ As the ashram I knew is gone, so too are the Beatles. And yet, we can evoke their magic through their music, their words, and their photographs, making that time in Rishikesh in 1968 tangible again—if but for a moment.
On reflection, almost 50 years later, why did I go to Rishikesh? Clearly, I wanted to be saved.
Saved from the pain, confusion and sadness of feeling heartbroken. In that respect, meditation worked beautifully. Years later, I came to learn a great deal about my own deeper behavioral patterns, or programming, as I think of it. One thing I learned was that I used to construct, or choose, romantic relationships with women that were struggle-based, unconsciously recreating my earlier home life, itself filled with struggle. The dance that I did with my girlfriend before going to India in 1968 was part of that pattern.
I didn’t use Transcendental Meditation for long. Nowadays, I meditate with a different method which I find much more effective, both in the moment and in how it assists me in shifting my paradigms and mythologies from less useful technologies to harmonious behavioural patterns. Now, I no longer construct relationships based in the struggle paradigm, but based in the joy paradigm. It works infinitely better.
After meditating, I return deeply refreshed, connected with my Soul. And in this conscious place, all my worldly problems have a different feel and look. I approach my life from a place of love, rather than a place of fear. And the very positive results directly reflect this. I feel in intimate contact with my Self. Deeply grounded. Balanced. I feel quietly, gently strong. Capable. With the power to go forward, and the intent to do so. I feel light and open. My heart is expanded, not contracted. In this energy I feel joy, and from here it’s so easy to embrace others. And from here, it’s so much easier to solve ‘problems.’
I feel this now, as I sit here, by the water and among the trees in Algonquin Park, writing. Nothing is impossible. Nothing. Grounded, loving energy is such a powerful healer, and tool. Everything can be embraced, worked with, modified, shifted, re-programmed, healed. Fear is the energy and technology of the lower Self. Love is the energy and technology of the higher Self. The Struggle Paradigm vs. the Joy Paradigm. Here, these many years later, more traveled, inwardly and outwardly, with many amazing and wonderful experiences lived, and more to come, this choice between paradigms is the rich and exciting shift in my personal dynamics that started consciously in Rishikesh-in 1968.