In a perfect world the musically gifted Ramakrishna would have grown up to become a concert pianist. However, his complicated, emotionally incestuous relationship with his mother, and a largely absentee father set the stage for a life that played out quite differently. He quit playing the piano his freshman year in college and instead became the ultimate gay party boy. For seventeen years he was consumed by a life fueled by copious amounts of drugs and sex.
When he finally hit bottom in San Francisco in 1977, he was nearly destroyed. His guilt over having felt he was the cause of a car crash which broke his father’s neck, and his untreated condition of scoliosis, compounded by years of illicit drug use (including countless hits of hallucinogens) left him a virtual cripple emotionally, physically and psychically.
His book, delivered candidly and with self-deprecating humor, is a story of healing and of how he has come to terms with his demons. It is a compelling tale of the power of the human spirit and of the quest for spiritual Truth, which he discovered through yoga and meditation.
The lifecycle of the lotus flower serves as a metaphor for Ramakrishna Michaels’ compelling memoir about rising from the depths of debauchery to the heights of spiritual mastery. The book contains five sections: The Seed, Germination, The Sprout, The Bud, The Blossom.
Born in 1944 and raised in a well-to-do family, Michaels displays a prodigious talent for piano and contends with an uneasy relationship with his mother. When he leaves for college, he lets go with a vengeance, quitting piano to become “the ultimate gay party boy.” For 17 years, he “was consumed by a life fueled by copious amounts of drugs and sex,” a lifestyle that ultimately proves detrimental.
Eventually, he embarks on various routines to get healthy, including yoga. Attending an ashram of the Shambhava Yoga tradition, he encounters a holy man known as Babaji. The energy (called Shakti) emanating from the guru strikes him deeply, and something changes within; the lotus seed cracks open. He slowly commits to the practice, despite its difficulties: long hours of meditation, often-tedious works of seva—tasks of devoted service to the guru, such as sorting through beans to pick out the rocks.
The memoir’s heart is Michaels’ devotion to Babaji, a man so charismatic, the author writes, that upon first encounter, “his entrance almost took my breath away.” Babaji eventually urged him to write the book, giving him the title. “Growing Old with Grace!,” Michaels writes. “I knew immediately this book would not be about gracefully mastering the physical changes of aging, but rather would be a memoir of growing old with the guru’s grace…the grace of consciousness.”
Michaels produced this book after 13 years of commitment to the practice. His writing flows effortlessly, punctuated with intelligence and humor. And although the author writes glowingly of the Shakti he receives from his guru, he never proselytizes; the prose speaks for itself.
The result is an important contribution to the rank of spiritual memoirs, especially those concerning yoga practice.
Through one man’s struggle and redemption, this memoir shows the restorative power of the quest for spiritual truth.
Growing Old with Grace: How a Shakti Guru Transformed My Life by Ramakrishna Michaels is a memoir of a life transformed by Eastern thought and religious practice.
Michaels’s youth seemed full of promise, but his darkly complicated parental relationships started him on the path of drug abuse and promiscuity, which escalated for nearly two decades until he was left in dire physical, emotional, and mental anguish. From there, Michaels began a path of rebirth through spiritual practice.
Now, looking back, he sees all of the tumult in his life as a search for God. From his family of origin and years of destructive living, the story follows the events of his life along with the spiritual truths he learned. Slowly, he began to see healing and wholeness emerge in his life through meditation, spiritual reading, the teachings of gurus and spiritual leaders, and living in a contemplative community.
Michaels showcases his new life in both practical and intangible ways, from being cured of hepatitis C to developing a more transcendent consciousness. He also tackles the overall nebulousness of life transformations: “There is a point in growth where we are no longer what we were, but have not yet a clue as to who we are to become.”
While Growing Old with Grace is solely Michaels’s story, it also presents a path that others can follow. Michaels is open and vulnerable throughout the book, not sugarcoating anything and seeking positive meaning even in the more difficult moments. The text is honest about his past and does not assign blame or seek pity; instead, it demonstrates a conscious turning away from the denial shown to have characterized Michaels’s childhood and early adulthood.
Sections are titled in a way that conveys the book’s overall theme of growth: “The Seed,” “Germination,” “The Sprout,” “The Bud,” and “The Blossom.” Each section’s introduction describes the progress of a lotus flower, setting a positive tone and a logical progression for the book. The text is certain to be of particular interest to those who themselves have suffered trauma and are seeking to live anew, and it will be most useful to those at the beginning of the healing process. Familiarity with Hinduism and Eastern thought is a plus, though both are given context, and key terms within these spiritual disciplines are defined.
Through one man’s struggle and redemption, Growing Old with Grace shows the restorative power of the quest for spiritual truth.
Reviewed by Melissa Wuske
A chronicle of a life spent at the intersections of Eastern and Western thought.
In this spiritual autobiography, first-time memoirist Michaels depicts his rocky but rewarding path toward self-reinvention via Hinduism. Born to a roaming Midwestern family who set their roots down in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Michaels grew up beset by mental and physical illnesses—scoliosis, anxiety—and familial discord. Blamed for his father’s injury, anguish dominated Michaels’ childhood, which then led to an escapist party life in college. Drug-addled and sick, a stay in a psychiatric hospital convinced him of the need to change. Years later, he found himself consulting the man he would affectionately refer to as Babaji, his guru, at a Colorado ashram, determined to put his life on a healthier track. Doing so was hard; he made earnest pilgrimages to various mentors and spiritual communities—including the ashram of Gurumayi in upstate New York—and followed Sri Shambhavananda (his “Babaji”) to the verdant hills of Kailua-Kona in Hawaii. Michaels’ unrushed, often self-deprecating style suits his material. Without melodrama, he catalogs the experiences (he was once accidentally locked inside the chanting hall at an ashram in upstate New York for more than five hours) that led him to alter his fundamental views about the universe. Comparing Hinduism with Western thinking, Michaels parallels the narrative of his spiritual education with the history of his life using the image of a lotus seed as a metaphor for his own development. And surprisingly, despite the seemingly medical character of his recovery, Michaels insists that his return to well-being through spiritual practice was not a psychological process but one “energetic in nature,” a process that aims to reveal the “state of perfection that is latent in everyone.
Affecting; seasoned with intellectual maturity as well as spiritual passion.
Growing Old with Grace: How a Shakti Guru Transformed My Life is unexpected in its approach, documenting the life of a child who exhibited early musical genius, became involved in a dysfunctional relationship with his mother, and turned into a troubled adult with numerous addictions.
All this changed when author Ramakrishna Michaels met guru Babaji Shambhavananda and began to confront and change his karma and destiny in life; a process that led him on a psychological and spiritual journey replete with growth and newfound insights and directions.
Spiritual readers of autobiographies who seek to understand the exact nature and progression of transformative experiences will relish this story of how a musical child prodigy, who as an adult found himself physically and emotionally crippled, came to take charge of his life and discover a newfound purpose through yoga and meditation.
As chapters evolve, readers receive a healthy dose of Eastern spiritual philosophy and perspective, and will experience an unexpected dose of humor in vignettes that often incorporate a wry humorous observational style even as they consider the ironies and inconsistencies of life.
What are first presented as barriers to growth and obstacles to enlightenment become, ironically, the very vehicles by which lasting change and spiritual insights are delivered. As chapters evolve to cover this process, readers receive many insights on how the author's evolving spiritual practices spilled over into home, work, and greater life purposes: "I soon began to take my newly found meditation practice into my everyday life at the phone company. It wasn't long before I noticed a subtle shift at work. Before I began meditating, I would see certain people who I perceived did not like me, and I would just tighten up. If there was to be any interaction with them, it was nearly certain to be negative. With meditation, I came to realize I was not only the star in my own life's "movie," but was also writing the screenplay and producing and directing it with my thoughts. As my meditation practice took root, occasionally I would see the same people, and poof! My tension toward them would dissolve."
From the challenges of living in an ashram and dealing with the concept of physical work and its lessons ("I first learned the importance of doing seva (or service) at Gurumayi's ashram. The first few days I avoided it. "I don't want to work," I told myself. But seva was considered an important part of the ashram experience, so after a few days, I volunteered to help clean one of the public areas. It was a room filled with tables and chairs, next to the dining hall. As I went from table to table, cleaning each one, I became filled with energy, and the experience became quite magical. I discovered that doing seva took me to a very deep place within myself.") to translating these insights from his guru to broader and deeper life experiences, Ramakrishna Michaels provides a powerful testimony of not only his own growth, but to the influence a guru can make in the process of achieving transformative, lasting change.
Readers of Eastern philosophy and autobiographies of growth and enlightenment will find that Growing Old with Grace charts the precise pivot points of transformation with more insight and preciseness than most spiritual titles, and will find within in its pages much food for thought on how to "...navigate the worldly plane while remaining centered and focused within," while freeing oneself of the life-death-rebirth cycle of karma.
Reviewed by Diane Donovan, Editor California Bookwatch
Ramakrishna Michaels was born and raised in a family where expressing emotions was taboo. As a result, he was forced to bottle up many painful emotions, an act that would affect the rest of his life. In his memoir titled Growing Old With Grace: How a Shakti Guru Transformed My Life, Ramakrishna Michaels narrates his life story and tells how yoga and meditation saved his life. While the task of writing this incredible book begun in 2004 while attending one of his usual Monday sessions with his guru, the journey that led him to this place, as narrated in the book, began from his childhood. It was a long and hard journey heavily tainted by substance abuse and all sorts of destructive behavior. The book tells a tale of the life of a man whose far less than ideal childhood circumstances set him on a dark path and how spiritual practice under the guidance of a wonderful guru saved his life.
Growing Old With Grace: How a Shakti Guru Transformed My Life by Ramakrishna Michaels is an inspiring memoir about life, vices, consequences and healing through spiritual practice. The book gives a wonderful insight into mediation and its miracles. There is a lot to take in from this amazing memoir but three points stood out for me above all else; karma or cause and effect, how divine enlightenment can bring about amazing results to both your spiritual and physical being, and, most importantly, the thought that no matter how dark your current circumstances, there is still hope for you. I admired the fact that Ramakrishna Michaels did not try to give excuses for his behavior during those dark years, but instead used those details to show others that even after you hit rock bottom, you can still get up. Growing Old With Grace: How a Shakti Guru Transformed My Life is a three-part autobiography about a troubled childhood followed by self destruction and then an inspiring spiritual journey, each part in its own right as compelling.
Reviewed by Faridah Nasozzi