I won’t belabor the vagaries of my childhood. Suffice it to say that they were filled with violence, fear and confusion. Inner city Philadelphia was quite adept at nurturing such a climate. I escaped in 1964 by enlisting in the U.S. Army at the age of seventeen. Seeing more of the world was enticing to me.
Eighteen months of my tour was on a missile site on the Island of Okinawa. While there, I busied myself with a correspondence course, majoring in psychology. My mind was a fertile field. At that point, the study of human nature seemed to be a key to understanding. After reading Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, I became excited at the prospect of creating a pure environment to produce the perfect man to usher in a golden age of human history. It was an unfounded euphoria, but it paved the way for further quests.
Seeking more adventure, I volunteered for the war zone. My time was spent pulling guard duty in an ammunition dump and keeping the night patrols. I saw plenty of napalm, night flares and marijuana. All my waking hours were spent in a drug-altered state. One day, a Red Cross helicopter showed up at camp to inform me of an emergency leave. My mother had died. Unfortunately, that period of time is a blur to me. The dazed stupor I was in dulled my senses. After the funeral, I decided to return to Vietnam a married man. So I wedded my teenage girlfriend and headed back to the war.
In August of 1967 I left my ‘arduous’ military career behind and entered civilian life. There was a gnawing emptiness that haunted me. It didn’t matter if it was school or my pursuit of creative arts; every aspect of life seemed stained by a glaring lack of something true and real. Of course, the chant of the sixties was the supposed answer, “Turn on, tune in and drop out.” Being awash in the head-trips of the time, my interests switched from psychology to spirituality. Names like Buddha, Lao Tsu, and a host of others became part of my vocabulary.
I came across one publication that illustrated eternity in a profound way. On the plain white page of a Zen Buddhism book was a circle. The caption read, “The circle is the symbol of eternity. It has no beginning or end.” Somehow that became proof to me of an infinite spiritual realm. “Forever” became tangible to me with a simple piece of artwork. I was compelled to take radical steps that would alter my future forever. I felt there must be answers to life. I quit school, left my job and started hitchhiking.
My Introduction to Drugs
I made it to the coastal town of Wildwood, New Jersey. Before dawn, I walked down the empty boardwalk. Only one shop was open. Looking in, I was surprised to see a familiar face from a ‘beatnik’ hangout in downtown Philadelphia. Steve was a low-key person with a gentle, friendly way. We talked philosophy and religion. The idealism of the times was evident in our conversation.
“I want to share half of what I have in my possession with you. If everyone did this, all would have enough,” I proposed. I took my last bit of money, bought him a sandwich and coffee and felt good about myself. He said, “I have something to share with you. Have you ever been on a trip? I’ve got a double hit of STP.” With that he opened a small piece of aluminum foil that held a white tablet. Cutting it in half, he said, “Put this under your tongue.”
As the sun came up, the powerful hallucinogen started taking effect. The spiritual dimension I was ardently seeking seemed to unfold before my eyes. I became sensitized to higher levels of energy as though I had passed through a door of some other world. It was incapacitating. Someone put a Beatles album on and things really began to deepen. My senses began blurring and cross-circuiting into a mixture of sound and color. Eighteen hours rushed past. My consciousness slipped out of the realm of reality. Only the outline of my body could be seen. There were no objects at all, no up or down. I was transparent, the ethereal outline of my body burning with blue flames.
Leaving the blue fire, I had the strange experience of watching myself pass through the colors of the rainbow. Each color level had its own unique symbols and level of consciousness. Soon I burst into a realm of blinding light. Brighter and brighter, faster and faster went the pace. Then there appeared an intensely luminous, golden Buddha seated in the lotus position. I surged past it into a realm of cosmic bliss and a state of ‘thoughtless awareness.’
Then in a flash I dropped down from an altered state of consciousness into a normal frame of mind. What happened to me? It was morning. The drugged state captured an entire day of my life. It came and went, but its influence remained—compelling me to pursue spiritual understanding.
Becoming a “Flower Child”
Had I stumbled across the answer to my utopian dreams? Was it really as simple as dropping a hit of acid or some other mind-bending drug? Apparently an entire generation of people believed that. I met a few of Steve’s friends heading out to Haight-Ashbury in the San Francisco Bay area. “Come along. We’ve got room in the car.”
In a matter of hours I was swept along with an entire generation to become a ‘flower child.’ No more evil. No more violence or war, just peace, love and joy. Commune after commune we visited along the way accommodated this New Age euphoria. Drugs flowed like candy. Food we had in abundance. Relationships came and went according to the drift of the moment. But it was the mysteries of spiritual and psychic activity that engulfed my attention.
Being impelled to enter the realms of light once again, I took many drugs in a short period of time. These chemicals soon made a shambles of my mental faculties. At one point I went to the filming of a movie at a local music hall and arrived to see a fantastic light show. Someone handed me five double hits of STP. Then another person gave me some Hawaiian wood rose seeds. I ate them all. In a matter of minutes I knew it was not going to go well and I was going to lose consciousness.
Amid the din of rock ‘n’ roll and flashing lights, waves of anxiety swept over me. Like a raving maniac I ran out of the auditorium into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I managed to crawl behind some dense shrubbery and collapse. I laid on my back, hands curled on my chest, and lost all sense of the outside world. Unlike my first experience, this one cast me powerless into an abyss. No sound, no light, only endless, fathomless darkness. I had entered death and was unable to leave.
Many hours later, my consciousness returned. Wearing only blue jeans, I made it out of the park. Terribly disabled, I found a group of people sitting on the steps to their house. “Come on in man. You’re just having a bad trip.” They sat me down between two large speakers and handed me a joint. Soon loud raucous music was blasting. Terror gripped me. I fled. Babbling like a mindless idiot I sat in a heap on a downtown San Francisco sidewalk, weeping and unable to communicate.
Night was upon the city. I roamed trying to find a safe haven. I came across some old condemned houses. Upon entering I found a strange person already residing there. He said I could stay in one of the rooms. They were all filled with debris. The walls were covered with the sayings of Bob Dylan and other revered prophets, philosophers and sages of the day.
Unable to sleep, I looked out the window to see what I thought was a warning of impending doom. The buildings appeared to be heaving under the undulations of a massive earthquake. I was again driven to run and managed to get a ride to Berkeley across the Bay. Along the way I picked up a copy of an underground newspaper, The San Francisco Oracle. On the back page was a copy of Psalm 23 super-imposed on an image of Jesus crowned with thorns. I began to frantically repeat the psalm over and over.
By a quirk of fate, I found myself in the middle of the most intense night of the famous Berkeley riots. Black Panthers, the SDS, the SLA and the general populace were looting and destroying everything in sight. The crack of firearms shocked me all the more. Driven again by panic, I escaped, hitchhiking out of town.
The Glow of a Spiritual Light
In three days, I found myself in Portland, Oregon, and managed to find a Christian crash pad. Bedraggled, I entered. The serenity of the occupants impressed me. A remarkable, spiritual glow radiated from the attendants’ faces. I stayed, eventually acquiring a job and vaguely grasping that the biblical message my new-found friends shared was their source of joy.
So, I went down to the Columbia River to be immersed (baptized). I committed my life to Jesus and began to gain ground. However, as my life began to stabilize, my concerns shifted to the shattered pieces I’d left behind in Philadelphia. No one knew of my whereabouts. Surely it was right to return and make amends. My whirlwind tour of the counter-culture had taken a year or so. It was clear upon my return that I wasn’t alone in having my world turned upside down. Old friends had also been swept up in the frenzied drug feed. I hardly recognized many of them. While I was gone, my father had died. My wife had thrown off any regard for our marriage (understandably) and was pregnant by a friend. The pieces I’d hoped to reassemble didn’t even exist anymore.
So, I purposed to start anew. My travels had exposed me to the idea I could improve the quality of my life, reversing the effects of drugs and a lifetime of junk food, through natural foods. I spent quite a bit of time studying naturopathic therapies and herbal remedies and met a few fellows who were interested in starting a health food store. We did and soon had a large constituency enjoying our homemade soups, breads, carrot juice and whole grains. Our store attracted a wide range of people embracing a variety of spiritual perspectives. I took great care to closely inspect all of these philosophical and religious views.
One book that caught my attention was The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ. It revealed the so-called ‘hidden’ years of the Messiah. It described Him visiting the Far East, Egypt and many of the world’s mystery schools, finally attaining great mystical stature, then returning to the Holy Land for public ministry.
This idea became a catalyst launching me into many spiritual disciplines—from eating (Zen macrobiotics), to astrology, tarot cards, and an intense regime of meditation. Every related publication became food to my hungry mind: The Upanishads, Khalil Gibran, Tao Te Ching, a large cosmological volume called Urantia, and both TheEgyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead. Hatha yoga and mantra yoga filled my days. In one meditation session I hovered over my body and was able to observe all the objects in the room. “Surely,” I thought, “I am learning the things Jesus learned, on the Great Path of Enlightenment.”
The urge to find a solution for personal and collective healing overwhelmed me. Daily I poured over the ‘sacred’ writings of the various epochs and cultures of the world. My soul grasped for greater insight and doorways of spiritual initiation. Was I part of something bigger? Was the utopian Aquarian Age appearing?
Into the Mountains
March of 1969 I once again abandoned the mundane activities of daily life. The health food business was prospering, but the unsettled state of my heart beckoned me to continue my spiritual quest. I landed in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Purposing to live as a religious recluse, I wore a woolen-hooded robe, hand-stitched out of army blankets. My diet consisted of brown rice and any foods I foraged in the wilds. I built a little lean-to for protection from the ravages of the high country’s early spring weather.
Quickly my life settled into a predictable routine. Each morning, I immersed myself in the icy spring that flowed nearby. After thawing out I’d breakfast, pray and study. Not a day would go by without casting the I Ching (a form of Chinese divination: casting yarrow stalks and interpreting them by the Chinese Book of Changes). The only adversity I encountered was a squirrel’s persistent ransacking of my grain stash.
One morning in late April I was awakened by a vivid dream in which I was told to leave my mountain sanctuary. So I hid my supplies and began descending the mountain. I had not seen anyone my entire stay. Even the old dirt roads were overgrown. Not very far from my camp I encountered a young man in a vehicle, staring off into the grand mountain view. It startled both of us. He smiled saying, “I guess I was supposed to meet you here!” After I told him my dream, he agreed to take me to Colorado Springs.
Meeting the ‘Ascended Masters’
Soon I became friends with a number of ‘searchers’ in the area. Though we’d all taken drugs, we left that option behind in our pursuit of truth. Several of us decided to visit the headquarters of the Summit Lighthouse, later to be called the Church Universal and Triumphant, located in the Broadmore district. They incorporated ideas and religious practices from all major religions and schools of mysticism. This group was to play a big role in the next phase of my life.
My first visit was highlighted with an intense awareness of the spiritual elements that surrounded this organization. They claimed to be in contact with a spiritual hierarchy of great men and women. These ‘Ascended Masters’ supposedly had attained enlightenment and were transmitting knowledge and assistance to the human race for its freedom in preparation for a new age. Among this august host of gods, goddesses, masters, angelic beings and inter-dimensional intelligences were Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tsu and just about every deity and enlightened being presented by every religion, myth, and mystery school of the world.
Mark and Elizabeth Prophet, the Messengers of the Masters, formed the organization and were riding the crest of the wave of interest in alternative religions of the late sixties and early seventies. The headquarters consisted of a turn-of-the-century mansion (the Monastery), located in the high-end district of Broadmore called La Tourelle. Soon I was on staff and began participating in an intense regimen, meditating and chanting up to sixteen hours a day.
Day and night I also assisted Elizabeth, as she edited copious amounts of literature. Because of the status of Mark and Elizabeth as Messengers of the Great White Brotherhood, it seemed proper to them to have guardians. So, along with several others, I attended the Messengers wherever they went, always on guard. Frequently, we slept on the floor outside their luxuriant master bedroom.
The spiritual beings that were the real backbone of this religious group regularly expressed themselves through the Messengers. Weekly oracles and quarterly conferences, filled with outpourings of teachings were the heartbeat of the organization. Regularly, gurus, spiritual teachers, pundits and politicians attended and added to the meetings. It seemed as though the organization was a point of confluence for the energies that were molding the present social and political climate.
The essence of the teachings revolved around the notion that each being has at the core of his or her consciousness a “Divine spark” which is intrinsically a part of God. Because reincarnation and the doctrine of karma were also held, the awareness of this divine nature was said to be clouded by deeds, dark forces, and illusion that must be escaped. Mantras and prayers, thought forms and visualizations, meditations and spiritual exercises, faithfully applied, were said to grant spiritual liberation. I personally experienced many of the promised outcomes, including the awakening of the ‘shakti’ force of the kundalini.
Several world tours were taken to key places of spiritual or political importance. I recall on the Autumn Equinox of 1972 scaling the sides of the Great Pyramid of Giza with three of my comrades to perform rituals at its peak. The full moon was in Aries, the sun in Libra and all of the planets were in ‘auspicious’ places. Our intent was to work in conjunction with the Masters to raise the world out of the mire of ignorance into a new age of global change. Ironically, during my time there, one of my rituals consisted of breaking bread and drinking a sip of wine and asking Master Jesus to cause these elements to become to me what they should be. It is difficult to express how all of these things completely engulfed my soul.
Unraveling of Spiritual Discipline
In late 1972 Mark Prophet died of a stroke and the entire operation fell into the hands of Elizabeth. The shakeup was profound. An oppressive stress permeated my days. I also found myself immersed in impure and divergent thoughts. It was customary for me to afflict myself. I wore a horse hair shirt, a belt of woven thorns, and regularly flagellated myself in an attempt to subdue my carnal nature. For some reason at Mark’s death these ‘primal carnal urges’ intensified. My youthful vigor at the age of twenty-five was breaking loose, violating my years of careful control.
A young lady on staff told me she was ‘practicing’ on me to capture my heart. Though I never consummated the relationship, I may as well have. The affair broke me so utterly down that it felt like my psyche was ‘imploding.’ My vows of celibacy were now being resisted by raging passion. I walked around numb for weeks only to finally acknowledge my inability to maintain the level of “God consciousness” I presumed I had attained. So I left the Summit Lighthouse and went back to the wild regions of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Though I had terribly failed the ‘cause,’ eventually I felt a kind of ‘reconciliation’ with the ‘beings’ who were ‘setting the world free.’ It was their will; they wanted me out of there! But what next?
Soon after I met the MacKay family and developed a deep relationship with them. They were very much like most of the upper middle class of that era. Mr. MacKay was a successful businessman in the energy industry. Mrs. MacKay was an amiable lady with a keen interest in spiritual things. Suddenly a barefooted, white-robed mystic showed up in their lives. I stayed at their house in a room they graciously provided. Being a renunciate, my only possessions were the clothes on my back. I had frequent conversations with them on philosophy and the mystery religions.
Mrs. MacKay, seeing my meager holdings and sincerity, was compelled one day to give me a thousand dollars. She said God had instructed her to do so. Persuaded that material possessions were a hindrance to my path, I refused. She insisted that the cashier’s check would remain intact for my use at any time. I was in a quandary as to why God had moved her to act in this fashion.
Not long after this incident, during a late-night discussion of the many traditions that have filled human history, the room where we sat filled with a brilliant blue light. A large, luminous sphere appeared out of which a voice spoke. We sat entranced as a command was given to me, “Come and find Me.” Immediately I had a vision of the Himalayan Mountains.
Now the cashier’s check made sense. The government of India was shutting its doors to many visitors. In the late sixties there had been a tremendous influx of seekers who upon reaching India were unable to care for themselves. So, every effort was made to thoroughly screen individuals entering the country. I remember showing up at the travel agency dressed in traditional yogic garb. Against all odds I had my papers in order within two weeks.
The Everest Trek
It was late summer when I arrived, stricken with a severe fever. Undaunted, I made my way to Vrindavan: identified as the birthplace of Krishna, one of India’s best-known gods. I circumambulated the village three times and stayed at a Krishna ashram until my fever subsided. Afterward, I headed for Rishikesh, a Mecca for yogis, mendicants, and devotees of the myriads of Hindu, Buddhist and other religious sects at the headwaters of the Ganges River. Next I traveled to Katmandu, located in a beautiful valley at the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.
There I began what is called “the Everest Trek.” Between Katmandu and a small town named Bhadgoan in the same valley was a paved road about three miles long. It was the only one in the country at the time and a private bus serviced it. The Nepalese people were mostly short in stature. When I entered the packed bus, I stood head and shoulders above the natives. Most of the men wore little black, tight-fitting hats and black vests, a kind of ‘cultural uniform.’ In the back of the bus stood a man in the traditional clothing, but uniquely different—he had blue eyes and stood taller than the rest.
He introduced himself with a strong, Australian accent, asking why I was in Nepal. No doubt he had seen many Europeans and westerners on spiritual pilgrimages to these mountains. I told him how I was led to that land to search out my next spiritual teacher. He assured me he knew who I was looking for. Curious, I asked who that might be. His simple reply was, “Jesus Christ.” I assumed his understanding of Jesus to be very different from mine, so our conversation was pleasant, but short-lived.
I exited the bus to begin a two-month walk through the lonely winding roads of this remote Himalayan region. The terrain was unforgiving, with steep climbs and treacherous jungle regions, broken up by intermittent domesticated areas with villages in their center. The ascents were often very abrupt, requiring a traversing type of climb rather than a direct route. My bare feet at this time were hardened enough to endure the hiking.
In spite of the majestic scenery, my attention was only slightly diverted. Maintaining a deep meditative state was my focus. When I would emerge from this trance-like state, at times, I would hardly know where I was or how far I’d gone. Nights passed as I listlessly waited out a rainstorm, curled up in a little ball on the ground, engulfed in darkness and hoping for dawn.
Upon reaching a very large village area called Those’ Bazaar, I again became deathly ill, delirious with a fever. A gracious person took my offer to pay for refuge as I sought to recover. During that time, I dreamed I was in a large, full theater. I sat in the front row, looking up at extremely tall, dark, red, velvet curtains. Next to me sat a young lady friend who was also waiting for the stage to open. Suddenly I was constrained to leave and pleaded with her to go with me. She obstinately refused, so I arose and began walking up the long walkway, grieving that I had no friend. To compound this, the people of the theater began raucously laughing at me because of my departure. As I was leaving, a light shown from above and a voice spoke, “I will be your friend.” I was so deeply affected that I awoke to find the fever completely gone. Up and away I went, thanking my host who marveled at my recovery.
Soon I also contracted a violent stomach ailment. Quite ill I arrived at the Tutenchilling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery. The grounds were abuzz with monks participating in various rituals. Before long, I found myself in their temple engaged in their chanting and drinking liquid from the silver-lined skull of a long dead, ‘supposed’ highly esteemed incarnation of Buddha.
How fantastically the place was enshrouded in every form of art depicting the varied aspects of this particular branch of Buddhism! Tanka paintings were everywhere. Prayer flags draped from the tops of every building. Worshipers constantly circled the grounds, zealously chanting mantras on their prayer beads. Mandalas and images of gods and Buddhas, exquisitely painted, filled their walls.
Feeling the need to travel on, I set out for the Thangboche Monastery where I was told I would meet my teacher. By now my trek was well into the higher reaches of the Himalayas, above the timberline, in view of the majestic, always-white peaks of the border between Nepal and Tibet. The nights were cold and the rumble of avalanches could be heard in the distance.
As I drew near Thangboche, the view became intensely beautiful. Thousands of feet below were the green verdant jungles, pierced by the raging torrents of a river that showed pure white from my vantage point. Misty clouds would erupt from the jungle regions below and billow up the steep canyons, forming clouds of rainbow colors during sunset. The beauty was overwhelming.
I Must Have the Truth
It was in such an area that I stopped to meditate. I withdrew myself from all but that inner spiritual reality. In anguish of heart I began to cry out to God, to Buddha, to Jesus, to whoever would hear me! With much weeping and desperate brokenness of heart I wailed. Tears and soul-cry poured out of me. I must have the truth! Truly it was a cry from the utmost depths of my inner man, expressing in anguished sobs what words could not. I poured out my soul like water—as though I was mourning over the death of a loved one.
Like ice in a spring thaw, my ignorance began to melt. Knowledge to turn from darkness to light was bestowed on me. A spiritual door opened before me. As I entered, the LIGHT of LIFE flooded my inner being. A hideous weight and great shadow lifted from me. Peace washed over my soul. High above me stood a figure. As the sun appears through the clouds on an overcast day—so this brilliant form appeared to me. I had no doubt. This was JESUS (Yeshua), the Messiah.
Immediately I knew that the experience of the blue light I had been following was a deception, a false light that was actually darkness. Every idea or experience of ‘peace’ I had known previously was now revealed as the stillness of death rather than the true peace of life. I said, “Master, Teacher, I will do all that You wish. I surrender my life to You.” From the very onset I knew that my relationship with Him was directly related to obedience. To obey and surrender was also to abide in His presence. I knew what was happening to me had nothing to do with my efforts, but rather, was an act of Divine kindness.
The wisps of clouds from the valley below swirled up the steep slopes. The sun splashed across the vast scene and a large and beautiful rainbow appeared. My life was never to be the same. An assurance, unlike any I had ever known, affirmed from within that I was finally on the true path. It became very clear to me that I was to follow Yeshua alone and depart from synthesizing philosophies and religions.
Heading toward Katmandu, I came across a small ‘airport.’ On each end of this dubious plateau airstrip were crumpled pieces of debris that were once small planes. Fortunately, a flight was available. From the vantage point of that plane, what took many weeks of difficult walking could be seen at once. I could hardly believe I’d walked all the way. Upon my arrival at Katmandu, the Messiah said, “Go to the post office.” It was mid-day and I really had no reason to go there. I entered the building and stood about for a moment. Suddenly there appeared a familiar face: the missionary I’d met on the bus to Bhadgoan. Quickly I exclaimed with joy my experience. He was astounded, and then heartily invited me to his dwelling. We ate and prayed, and I was refreshed. He instructed me in basic matters with regard to this new path. After much prayer it seemed good to the both of us that I return to the U.S.
The next few years of my life were devoted to the study of all of the Old and New Testaments. The entire experience was a profound process of cleansing and reorientation. Many hours and days were spent, completely engrossed in the revelation of God through his Word. Mighty clouds of confusion began to give way to the sunshine of truth. How great was the delusion that had captured my soul! Reincarnation, karma, astrology and the great blasphemous concept that man is inherently divine were completely washed from me.
The transformation of my life has been one of great joy. To be sure, there are still times of tribulation. But I can always enter the secret place that I have found in Messiah. There, in holy fellowship with Him, my heart drinks of life! It is true Life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Stanley Petrowski currently resides in a remote area of Southwest Oregon with Alexandra, his wife of thirty-four years, doing the work of the Lord. They ranch organically and are very active in conservation issues of the region. They strive to live a simple life of prayer and study of the Word of God in anticipation of the Messiah’s return.