I enjoyed interviewing former NBA player Jim Petersen about his spiritual awakening for my book, Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything. Here is Jim’s story, beginning with his bio.
Petersen, a television analyst for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, played eight seasons for the Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, and Golden State Warriors. His best year as a professional came during the 1986-87 NBA season as a member of the Rockets, when he averaged 11.3 points per game.
I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda when I was with the Golden State Warriors toward the end of my basketball career. Yogananda had founded a religious organization called Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in 1920, and his book made such an impression on me that I decided to check out a service at an SRF temple if I ever had the chance.
In 1993, the year after I retired, I moved to San Diego to complete my degree in sports psychology at San Diego University for Integrative Studies. While I was looking for a place to live, I stayed at the Doubletree Hotel in San Diego.
One Saturday, an ex-NBA teammate of mine named Alton Lister came to town for a visit, and he and I went for a workout at The Sporting Club at the Hyatt Regency in La Jolla. In the locker room afterwards, Alton was bragging about how great his son and daughter were. I wasn’t married and had no prospects at the time, but I said that if I ever had a daughter, I know that she would have me wrapped around her finger. This guy next to me, a complete stranger, says, “You don’t know how right you are.” Alton and I were taken aback, but he looked like a friendly guy so I chatted with him for a few minutes before I went back to the hotel.
The next morning, I was able to go to an SRF temple for the first time. I had asked the general manager of the Doubletree Hotel if she had ever heard of SRF and she said, “Yes, there’s a temple just north of us in Encinitas.” She expressed a desire to go with me, so off we went. Brother Ramananda gave the service and it was phenomenal. He really inspired me.
After the service, we decided to go to a restaurant called the L’Auberge right down the coastline in Del Mar. We walked in, and lo and behold, the guy I had seen the day before, whose name was Paul Friedman, was sitting at a table with some other folks. He introduced me, among others, to a guy named Mike Flynn, the general counsel for SRF, and a woman named Ophelia, who was an assistant to Deepak Chopra.
It turns out that Paul knew all of the SRF monks and was very connected with Mother Center, the SRF headquarters located at Mt. Washington in Los Angeles. After this second chance encounter, Paul and I decided we absolutely needed to be friends.
The next weekend would have been Yogananda’s one hundredth birthday. There was a big celebration at Mother Center, so Paul took me up to Mt. Washington with his whole family. I knew virtually nothing about SRF so Paul tried to give me some perspective on who all these people were as we were driving up to L.A.
Paul told me about Brother Anandamoy, a native of Switzerland who was an architect with Frank Lloyd Wright before becoming a direct disciple of Yogananda, who the devotees called “Master.” Paul said, “If you happen to have an audience with Brother Anandamoy, you have to realize it will be like meeting one of Jesus Christ’s disciples. To meet him is like meeting Master in a sense, because he was blessed by being in Master’s presence.”
At Mother Center, I joined the line to view Master’s bedroom, which was cordoned off. You can go up to the door and look into the room but you can’t go into the room. Many devotees kneel down in front of his photograph, which is sitting on an easel inside the room. Now remember, at this point, I’m only a week into my SRF experience. I considered myself a Jesus Christ disciple, so kneeling down in front of this Indian yogi didn’t feel altogether right.
After viewing Master’s bedroom, I went back downstairs and started chatting with Paul on the veranda, and he introduced me to Brother Anandamoy. This was all such a whirlwind for me. Here I am, going from having no real knowledge about SRF to visiting Mother Center, meeting all these blessed souls, and chatting with monks who were direct disciples of Yogananda. I was able to talk to Brother Anandamoy for four or five minutes.
That conversation with Brother Anandamoy was when my heart changed. Meeting him was truly an epiphany. Kneeling down in front of Master didn’t make sense in one second, and then the next second it did. It wasn’t even anything Brother Anandamoy said. It was just being in his presence; it was his energy, his peacefulness. He had that special something that those who have meditated and given their life to God in a very real way have, and I wanted it, too.
Just shaking Brother Anandamoy’s hand was transformative in and of itself. Whatever way he did it, he was able to transfer his peacefulness into me. And it changed my life forever.
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