did I get here . . . living on the sacred island of Naitauba
in the South Pacific?
It's a long story. But people seem to find it interesting, so
here is the last 30 years or so.
My family and I moved from Europe to the US,
where I lived from the age of 13 to 17. During that time, I became
fascinated with the North American Indian culture. Their ways
of living in harmony with nature intrigued me. When we had to
move back to Europe, I swore to my self that I would move back
to the continent, but have "the continent" be the Yukon
or Alaska, as that was the last frontier — and to my adventurous
spirit, the wilder the better. I had this ideal of seeking out
the native people and learning their ways. My parents thought
that I would grow out of it . . . But I never did. (Then, at least.)
My family perished in the late 1970's. A tanker truck loaded
with 23 tons of highly flammable liquified propylene exploded
near the Los Alfaques campground in Spain. 217 people were killed,
including my parents, my younger brother Paul, and my younger
sister Sylvia. My older sister Monique and I were not there.
I spent a year in a forestry school in Velp (in the Netherlands).
Now a person of means in my early twenties, with government support,
being on a foster pension, I saw my chance for a radical change
in my life. Little did I know where this would lead! That summer
of 1979, I flew out to visit colleges in Ontario and British Columbia
(Canada) to see if I could get enrolled. It was very hard, but
one man in Selkirk College in British Columbia — the man
who ran the forestry program there — took me under his wing.
He was very sympathetic with my plight and my yearning for a change
in my life circumstance. With the help of the Canadian and Dutch
consulates, I was granted a student visa.
So I immigrated to British Columbia, Canada. The town to which
I moved was Castlegar, 800 km east of Vancouver, with a small
population of 10,000. Wild mountains, glaciers, wolves, reindeer,
moose, elk everywhere. I was in my element!
After two years in school doing the usual stuff, I got more and
more disillusioned with the system and with society altogether.
What was my place in this all? Everything seemed to be only valued
in monetary terms. My original passion had been to enroll in a
course in wildlife management, but that was full. Even so, I was
not going to lose the opportunity to stay in Canada so I joined
the forestry program. Forestry is a necessary industry, but also
a very destructive industry. And over time, I felt increasingly
In my time off, I made contact with native American friends who
lived on reserves in the northern part of Canada. (People still
live off the land out there in the wilds.) One of them was a native
American girl who, one day, told me that, just south of where
I lived (across the border, abut 30 miles from Spokane in Washington
state) was a sort of community run by a native American medicine
man named Sun Bear. She said I should go there sometime, as she
thought I would really dig it there.
I found out where this community was located and drove there
one weekend. After a three-hour trip, I drove onto this twenty
hectare property. I had not announced my coming at all. As I parked
my truck, a native American-looking fellow in his mid-sixties
walked up to me.
"Hi, my name is Harley Swiftdeer. I know what happened to
you and your family, and they want you to know that they are okay."
I sort of stumbled. "Excuse me, say that again?"
He graciously repeated what he said again.
I was in shock. Here I was, a Catholic boy from Holland. I never
had met anyone psychic before, and did not even realize that such
a thing existed until that moment.
I guess I was a bit green and naive. In any event, a lot went
through my mind that weekend! Some of the people there had come
to participate in sweat ceremonies, and were being healed of major,
life-threatening diseases. Some people there told stories of shamans
that could alter the weather, from utter blue sky to drenching
rain, in a matter of minutes. I came to witness some of these
things first hand. Other stories were first-hand accounts. The
long and short of it was that magical events were very obviously
happening all around me. But I had no place of reference from
my background to be able to make sense of them. (For instance,
my parents certainly never told me that there is an "aura"
around the human body; or that the body is energy, and there are
energy centers in the body called "chakras".)
Up to that point in my life, I had been determined to head into
the wilds of the Yukon at some point and learn from my native
American friends how to trap, hunt, and survive in the rough North.
I wanted to prove to myself (or was it my father?) that I could
do it! My wild idea was that I was going to canoe down the Yukon
River with a Husky sled dog as companion until the river came
out in the Bering Sea. Fish, hunt and stay over winter in a log
cabin out in the bush. That was my day dream, anyway, and a pretty
serious one that I had harbored since my late teens.
Now all of a sudden there was another thing I wanted to explore
as well. What was all this magical, psychic stuff that
I had come into contact with? How were these shamans able to do
all this stuff? They knew ahead of time who was coming. They could
hold any plant (from anywhere in the world) in their hands and
feel what its medicinal use was, or whether it was edible
or poisonous. They could talk to animals and, without seeing them,
were aware (through some kind of visionary ability) of animals
who were in the vicinity. On and on.
I started reading a number of books on native American spirituality.
I also went on what is traditionally known as a "vision quest",
trying to find answers. My main query was: why was it that these
shamans were psychic and I was not? How could they do what they
did? How did they "know" the things they did? There
was obviously missing something in my education and what I had
been exposed to in my informative years. They certainly did not
teach this in biology class at the VD Putt Lyceum in Eindhoven!
When asking the native Americans around me I was told, "Oh
that is Indian medicine. You have to be a native American to be
able to experience this." Somehow I did not really believe
that, and so my search for answers intensified. All this happened
over that summer holiday I was in Canada. I was only in Canada
on a student visa. I had failed a few courses and was supposed
to go back to school, or leave the country, I guess. The latter
was unimaginable and doing these courses also made no more sense
to me in the light of everything that was happening around me.
I did have some money. So I talked to some lady friends and was
able to find someone who was willing to get married to me for
a price, so I could get my green card.
One weekend when I was over at Sun Bear's place, he asked me,
"What are you up to?" I told him about my marriage situation.
He replied, "So you are living in Nelson? I have a friend
in Nelson. Her name is Robin. She is a white woman, but she smokes
a strong pipe." (I was later to find out that Robin had a
traditional native American clay pipe that she would ceremoniously
smoke and offer to the Divine.)
Well, once back in Nelson, I was curious who this "Robin"
lady was. As it turned out, she lived just two blocks from me.
Nelson is a beautiful town in the Kootenay Rockies of British
Columbia. The entire town is built from the river at the bottom
right, straight up the mountain side. Robin's house was right
at the very top end of the village, where the tree line started.
I knocked on the door. She opened it. We recognized each other
from Sun Bear's place, but we never had spoken before. She invited
In the following weeks, I came several times to hear her fascinating
stories about how she lived with different shamans, and to hear
of her early life escapades in magical, sacred places in the desert.
During my first (or maybe second?) visit, I pointed to a picture
of a man on her wall. She said that she respected her native American
friends very much but that the (non-native American) man in the
photo — Adi Da . . . Da
Free John, as He was called at the time — was now her
teacher. He had written an autobiography, The
Knee Of Listening, which I took home with me.
Adi Da's story was amazing. It was told in terms related more
to Eastern spiritual traditions, which were utterly unfamiliar
to me at the time. Nonetheless, I was fascinated by His life story.
After the "life story" part of the book, there was a
section of Adi Da's core Dharma (or "teaching") about
the nature and truth of existence. But because Eastern spirituality
was so foreign to me at the time, I didn't understand a word of
it, and only read a few pages.
In those days, Adi Da was living in California (at The Mountain Of Attention Sanctuary). To my understanding
at the time, He was like a shaman, like the ones we talked about
at the campfires at Sun Bear's. At this point I was not sure which
of my two pursuits was going to come first: learning and mastering
survival skills in the wild; or exploring magical experiences
and people with psychic and spiritual abilities. But I added Adi
Da to the "list" in my mind of people I might want to
I had met Robin around the end of 1982. By now it was early March,
1983. Still cold in British Columbia, with plenty of snow on the
ground. One day, Robin came over to my humble basement apartment
where I was co-habiting with my "wife". I had gotten
rather impatient with my waiting for the residency permit to come
through, and had decided to get the ball rolling, one way or the
other. I had decided to at least start to get rid of my few belongings
and start to look for my rifle, Husky sled dog, and canoe for
my adventures up north. At just that point, Robin gave me another
book from her collection of books by Adi Da.
This one was called The
Way That I Teach. Now mind you, I was still very much
puzzled by the question: why were these shamans psychic and having
all these mysterious powers, while I did not? I started to read
this new book. It was more accessible than the previous book,
because it was a compilation of talks Adi Da had with His students.
As I started to read, one strange thing I noticed immediately
was that I had this pleasant flow of energy flowing through me
every time I picked up the book. I did not understand this, but
remember looking forward to reading the book just because the
book itself made me happy!
I also sometime would experience myself what I was reading about
in the book. Early on in the book, Adi Da explained a number of
things that were real eye-openers to me. He explained that the
body is energy, and has seven different energy centers called
chakras. These chakras are largely blocked or shut
down in most people raised in Western civilization. Through spiritual
practice, these subtle energy centers can open. When they are
open, one can be more aware of the psychic nature of things, or
be more clairvoyant, or be able to heal in a way that conventionally
cannot be explained.
However, for most of us raised in Western civilization, our materialistic
viewpoint and the lifestyle that follows from that viewpoint have
corrupted our bodies, so that we are no longer sensitive to those
non-material things that are the common experience of members
of indigenous societies around the world. Adi Da has said something
like we are only living as if we were 20 watt lightbulbs, rather
than 10,000 watts. Our Western lifestyle toxifies us. The food
we eat desensitizes us. Living in the fast-moving Western world
of dollars, survival, and career, we are no longer available to
a "depth of feeling" that should be a true capability
for all of us, and a means for exploration of the spiritual nature
Another key communication of this book was how we all live a
"life of Narcissus" as a contracted (self-centered)
being. Searching to become happy rather then simply being happy.
All the time desensitizing ourselves with money, food, sex, and
whatever else, so we do not have to feel. Feel what? That
we are vulnerable and are going to die. We do not want to feel
this reality. It is too scary — so all our lives, we are
constantly doing things to immunize ourselves from this awareness
and this pain.
So what is real Love? Love with a capital "L"? What
if you no longer live as just the 20 watt lightbulb, but are utterly
vulnerable, open and feeling at every level, down to your very
cells, physically, emotionally, psychically? Adi Da described
how each of us is presuming that we are a separate "I"
. But how, in Reality, there is no such thing as a separate being
— there is only God, only One Being. That we ourselves are
contracted upon ourselves, no longer aware that we are God. Identified
instead with a limited, mortal pattern we call "I",
but all the while, in truth, there is only Light, only God. That
everything only exists as Light. As a modification of Light.
GOD = LIGHT = E= MC2.
Wow! Everything Adi Da said made sense. I could not get enough,
and was soaking this all up. All my questions were answered, and
it all made such perfect sense.
Then, still early on in the book, there was a chapter called
"I Will Do Everything" .
In this talk, Adi Da speaks ecstatically of His state. At one
point, He says something like this (I am paraphrasing here): "I
am the Divine Person, alive in bodily human form. I have come
so you can see what That looks like, when one is utterly free,
one with everything and everyone. But you are no different then
Me. My state is your state as well, if only you would Realize
it. That state is the truth of every single living being, human
Time stopped for me in that moment. In a flash, like a movie
flashing at super-fast speed, everything was instantaneously clear.
God, Reality, Real Love was at the root of everything.
God was not a person in the sky, or something to be believed.
God was a Condition or State that I myself and everyone had the
opportunity to realize. That Condition was already the case, but
we had to realize that this was so in order to be free and happy.
I could see that, for my entire life, I had been seeking, I had
been searching for happiness, but that this search itself was
the very thing that was preventing me or anyone to Be that which
is the deeper truth resting at the core of all of us. In that
moment, I realized that I did not need to go north in pursuit
of — what? Native Americans? A proof of my manhood? I realized
that Adi Da was living in a different state then the one I was
identified with. That there really was such a thing as Enlightenment.
That He was alive and I could go and see Him. So as we say in
English, "The Penny Dropped" — big time.
At the same time that this incredible series of Revelations,
emotions, and thoughts were washing over me, there was a Force
like an enormous bolt of electricity entering through the top
of my head and pinning me utterly to the ground. It was incredibly
forceful, but also very blissful. At the time I had no idea what
it was. But in time, I would recognize it to be the Divine Transmission
of Adi Da, and I would experience it many, many more times.
This experience I just described happened early in the evening
around dusk. I was in a T-shirt in my warm apartment. Ill-dressed
as I was, I was beside myself, and just ran outside through the
snow, up the hill and to Robin's house. I burst through her
front door. She was standing in the kitchen.
I yelled, "He is God!"
She looked at me and said, "Yes, I know."
And overnight, my life changed.
Since the perishing of my family, I had become a chain smoker
and lived on hamburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I had not
had a piece of fresh fruit in years. I stopped smoking and drinking
alcohol overnight. I started eating healthy, and within weeks,
I moved in with Robin. I started reading everything I could get
my hands on from Robin's vast library of Adi Da's books. Here
were just a few of the books I read at that time (to give you
some sense for the comprehensiveness of Adi Da's teaching):