The Journey of a Lifetime: How My Passion for Basketball Intersected With My Spiritual Search

Full Text Sharing
Categories: 

My religious upbringing seemed one of rote, with not much understanding of God. I attended Hebrew School and when I was thirteen had a bar mitzvah. We were liberal Jews: sometimes said prayers, celebrated the major holidays, but didn’t let God “get in the way” of life. I married a Jewish woman, joined a local temple, and we raised our children in the Jewish faith. 

Although my extended family are all practicing Jews, my immediate family seems to have followed another path, i.e., the Kriya Yoga path of meditation as taught by Paramahansa Yogananda.

In 1984, the greatest shock to ever hit my family occurred when my younger sister (25) and her friend (23) were killed in a car accident with a drunk driver. This singular event changed the course of all our lives. Interestingly enough, this propelled my youngest sister into a search that would ultimately end up in her learning about yoga meditation from a man who would later become her husband. Together they set out to understand something of the deeper meaning of life. Years later, my adolescent daughter looked up to them, taking them as role models, and became interested in meditation. A few years after my wife of sixteen years and I divorced, my daughter moved to California, living with my sister and her husband while she attended arts high school.

My son became attracted to the Kriya path during high school. Also influenced by my sister and her husband, he went to California to visit them and started on the path. Within a few years he was accepted as a monk in the ashrams of Self-Realization Fellowship.

My mom, though replete with her own religious doubts and struggles and unsatisfied with conventional temple-going, has enjoyed reading Yogananda’s books and expresses outwardly how his teachings make sense to her.

Over the years, I observed from a distance and tried to read Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, but wasn’t able to get through it. I visited the Hidden Valley Ashram where my son lived for a period of months while he was applying to be a monk; and also places founded by Yogananda including the Lake Shrine, the Mother Center, and the Encinitas Hermitage—but all the while maintained what I thought was my faith.

In 2006 I went to visit a business school friend and his family in India for three weeks.  This was a remarkable trip as my son and daughter were traveling in the country with my sister and her husband. One of the greatest moments in my life, which still gives me chills, was when I walked into my friend’s home in Kolkata and saw my children sleeping in India; a very surreal experience.

After a variety of short term positions in the US, I moved to India in March 2009 as a VSO volunteer at the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment-Government of India-National Trust (NT) and worked with NGOs focused on people with developmental disabilities. In the three years that I worked for NT I led an India-wide disability awareness raising campaign, Badhte Kadam. Given my passion and need for basketball I coached weekly at the New Delhi YMCA and also played with an international group of players at the American Embassy School. I also came into contact with the NBA as they were just moving into India.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but my own spiritual journey started at this time when I visited an NGO in Ranchi and the Yogoda Satsanga Sakha Math in 2010. 

During my vacation in the US in the summer of 2011, through a mutual friend, I met a man who was part of Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide (WAW). Their main objectives were to collect sports wheelchairs in the US and bring these to developing countries where weekend clinics were conducted. Since they hadn’t yet conducted a clinic, I agreed to coordinate one in India. In November 2011, we conducted clinics and provided sports wheelchairs in two different cities in India. After this I became so interested in wheelchair basketball that I started coaching the sport.  Through wheelchair basketball I had the great opportunity to bring this sport to those with disabilities in India who later went on to establish the Wheelchair Basketball Federation of India.   

Little did I know how my life would be influenced by these seeming natural occurrences of events. A new path was emerging for me in India stemming from a newfound interest in spirituality and a love for basketball: the latter had been with me for years—and perhaps the former also had been, but unbeknownst to me.

In 2012 I moved to Nepal and started co-coaching the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball Team. In May 2013, I worked on a WAW wheelchair basketball project in Kathmandu and was involved in the establishment of the first wheelchair basketball league in Nepal. In 2014 I returned to India to do some more wheelchair basketball coaching and met coaches involved in the international sport.

After the 2015 Nepal earthquake, I started working for World Jewish Relief, living in Kathmandu. A feeling of emptiness pervaded my body. The more I did the more I had this feeling. Something prompted me to listen to the audio recording of Autobiography of a Yogi as read by Ben Kingsley. I found and started attending weekly meditations in Kupondole (part of Kathmandu) and started receiving the Yogoda Satsanga Lessons. Although I was usually the only foreigner, the group exercises and meditation sessions were in English. 

Kathmandu has an anarchic environment and is heavily polluted—one can hardly find respite at any time of the day. But when the gates opened to the Kupondole Center I felt a sense of peace. However, something in my life was still not quite right.

After being abroad for the better part of seven years, I made the decision to move back to America. In September 2016 I settled in Tucson, where I had an opportunity to be an assistant coach with the University of Arizona Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. This was a huge learning experience for me as I participated in one of the handful of collegiate wheelchair basketball programs. Soon after I co-founded Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports (SAAS) and started coaching the Tucson Lobos, a division III wheelchair basketball team.

When I moved back to the States, I knew that I needed to regularly attend an SRF (the organization Yogananda founded in the West, the sister organization of Yogoda Satsanga Society of India) meditation group and found one, not far from where I was living in Tucson. The weekly meditations were very helpful in getting used to life in America. As in Kathmandu this gave me a sense of peace and a greater sense of purpose, but it was only a start. In May 2017 I went to Hidden Valley Ashram for a short visit with my son which continued to affirm my belief in this being the right spiritual path for me. 

Given my experiences and love for sports I decided that I wanted to work professionally in the adapted sports field. I attended an adapted sports conference in Phoenix in October 2017 where I met the Founder/Director and Executive Assistant of Bridge II Sports (BIIS). I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a full-time job opening with BIIS.  I felt like this was how I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. 

In late 2017 my mother almost died. Things seemed pretty hopeless, but somehow, after an extended stay in the hospital and then in a nursing home, she made a full recovery, seeming even healthier than before her brush with death. My sister, her husband, and I lived with my mom and dad for two months following her return to her home, helping out as we could. After my mother started to recover more I paid another visit to Hidden Valley—this time for a conducted weekend retreat—and read Autobiography of a Yogi for the first time. After having several fits and starts with this book this time it was somehow easy to read; I didn’t want to put it down. I loved everything about Hidden Valley and didn’t want to leave.

I applied for the job at BIIS, got it, and at the end of February 2018, drove cross-country with my girlfriend to start working there (in Durham, North Carolina). Before moving to Durham, I found out about an SRF meditation group in Raleigh and was glad that I would be so close to one. The Tucson group had been really good; as soon as I arrived in North Carolina, I started attending the Raleigh group and found this to be home.

In May 2018 at the BIIS Valor Games Southeast (a tournament for disabled veterans), I was the coordinator for wheelchair basketball at Duke-Cameron Indoor Stadium and helped Coach Krzyzewski, the longtime Duke and Olympic basketball coach, hand out medals to all of the veterans participating. This last August I was the commissioner for the August Madness wheelchair basketball fundraiser at PNC Arena in Raleigh and announced the entire proceedings. At the end of August, I started co-coaching the BIIS PRIDE youth wheelchair basketball team.[1] Since moving to Durham, I’ve been playing basketball on a weekly basis with a group of 50+ year old men.

At SRF I started to serve in different ways including as an assistant teacher in the Sunday School. I applied for the Kriya Lessons and started receiving them in November.

Since I was coaching youth wheelchair basketball and was serving as an assistant teacher in the SRF Sunday School, I knew that I wanted to bring the two together. I wanted to find the intersection from these two seemingly different paths.

On November 30, as usual on Friday nights between 6.30–8.30 p.m. I was coaching the Bridge II Sports PRIDE. These athletes and their siblings’ range in age from 4–15 and are angels of pure joy. At the beginning of November, I had invited students from the Raleigh Meditation Group of SRF Sunday School class to attend this practice. Six children and eight adults attended. Including the Sunday school youth, 16 children participated. 

My basketball journey began long ago when I was a little kid. My passion developed over the past 50 or so years of consistent playing, following, and coaching. I first coached when my son was in elementary school, coaching him and his friends. But not until I went to India did I start taking coaching more seriously through wheelchair basketball.

And it was being in India and then Nepal that really launched me towards the spiritual path that I now find myself on. Maybe this had to do with being in a more spiritually enriching environment or maybe it was just time to realize that there is more to life than the physical world.

It’s amazing how basketball and striving to live a spiritual life have come together, fostering within me a greater feeling of peace and safety. We usually don’t know where life is taking us, but I feel like I’m on the right path and am fully engaged in the things that are most important to me. Where life is taking me next, I can’t say for sure, but I trust it will include both basketball and the spiritual teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda.

 

 

 




[1] PRIDE-Perseverance, Resilience, Integrity, Determination, Empowerment

 

Position: Director-EveryBODYPlaysNC

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.