Mindfulness meditation is all the rage, now. It’s promoted in public schools nationwide, and in colleges and universities. In a Huffington Post blog, Candy Gunter Brown, PhD, argues that public education has gotten around the U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting religion in public institutions by replacing the terms “meditation” and “Buddhism” with words like “neuroscience” and “scientific research.” In fact, she continues “western culture has secularized this centuries-old religions practice.”
It should be said however that Buddhism, while it may be viewed as a religion – defined as a community of core convictions or beliefs, it is not a God-centered one. Buddha’s teachings did not address the question of whether there is a deity or not, since he viewed the question as unanswerable. God, from his point of view, is unknowable. So there is no evidence that Buddha answered this question as to the existence of God. Buddhism, therefore, is more accurately described as an ancient human development system passed down from the Buddha who lived and taught between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, over some 2,500 years ago.
The problem, however, of whether there is a God or not gets quickly turned on its head and needs to be revisited when one experiences possession by a malevolent spirit. How can one describe it? It’s like suddenly waking up to learn that you’ve been in a bad car accident, or discovering to your horror and dismay, that one of your legs has been amputated without your knowledge and without your consent. Your sense of self and reality is abruptly altered forever, even before physical pain sets in. And in that instant, the earth stops spinning on its axis and time seems to stand still. Traumatized, you struggle to comprehend and accept the perception that an invisible and unknown force or entity has invaded your body riding you like a broken-in, rundown, horse . . . influencing your thoughts and emotions and, ultimately, your actions. Your perception of self and reality is forever changed. This was my experience in the winter of 1971. I was possessed.
My grandma didn’t like cold weather. Every fall Nana packed her suitcases; left her upper Manhattan apartment, and flew south for the winter to stay with a friend in sunny Palm Beach, Florida. She’d give me the keys to her flat, and ask that I drop by every week or so to water her plants and check on things. Sometimes I even spent the night at her place, since my own flat was on the east side of the borough in the South Bronx, across town six subway stops away.
One early morning, I packed a tote bag and headed for the nearest subway station to take the train to Manhattan. I walked the three blocks to Nana’s building, and rode the elevator up to the sixth floor. Opening the door to her flat, I’d step into a serene and immaculately clean apartment which is how my grandma kept it. After watering her plants and checking-out her refrigerator, I walked down the long hallway to the guest bedroom nearest the front door.
Sitting on the queen-size bed, I placed the few toiletries I brought on top of the dresser; put my change-in-underclothes and one pair of clean socks in the top drawer. I walked over to the closet and hung-up a pair of pants and a clean shirt when I had a sudden urge to leave, immediately, and return home. So after re-packing my belongings and finding Nana’s keys, I locked the front door; rode the elevator back down to the main floor; strode along Broadway and rushed down the stairs to catch the subway. I waited on the platform for less than ten minutes, before the cross town train arrived and I headed for home.
On entering my apartment and taking-off my jacket, it occurred to me that I had made a mistake in immediately returning home. I could have taken in a movie at the RKO cinema I passed on the way to Nana’s and, then, spent the night at her place. So I grabbed my jacket and bag and took-off, once again, for the subway to ride across town. I waited longer for the train this time around.
I stopped by the RKO, looked at billboards, and chose a film I’d come back to see before continuing down Broadway to grandma’s apartment. But once I entered her flat; put my things on the dresser and in the drawer; hung shirt and trousers in the closet, I lost my desire to see my chosen film. It no longer made sense to stay. I felt an urgent call to leave. So after packing my bag and locking Nana’s door, once again, I took the subway ‘cross town back to my own apartment.
After putting away the few things in my travel bag, I sat in the living room and turned on the television. But after a minute or so I felt compelled, once again, to return to grandma’s place. I struggled with the thought that travelling back and forth on the subway was crazy; that I should stay put. My body compelled me to stay while my mind demanded that I leave. But I couldn’t sit down any longer. I hastily collected my things and stuffed them back in the bag and returned, once again, to the station to board the subway back across town.
By nightfall . . . feeling exhausted, fearful and out-of-control, I stood in the doorway of Nana’s bedroom staring into space. I had been on the subway all day, back and forth . . . back and forth, from the South Bronx to the west side of upper Manhattan. From morning “rush hour” until early evening’s trek of day laborers and office workers returning home, I had ridden the subway.
Standing in Nana’s bedroom doorway feeling emotionally fragile and scared I, once again, wrestled with my compelling urge to flee. Something in me demanded that I collect my things and leave. Tears flooded my eyes and rolled down my cheeks as I stumbled to a chair . . . lost, empty, and defeated. Even if I believed in a God (which I doubted) I didn’t care for him very much. For how could there be such a thing when the world seemed in constant turmoil. It was a dangerous and violent place where happiness was fleeting and fickle, and most often followed by despair.
Out of quiet desperation I closed my eyes and prayed to an unknown God I didn’t believe in. And all at once, a greyish fog or film lifted from my body like a parasite uncovered and was forced to flee. And with its departure, I intuitively understood what my reason absolutely rejected; that I had been possessed by a malicious spirit . . . ridden like a broken-in, rundown horse that no longer had a mind of its own. In an instant that uninvited, unwelcome, entity departed; forced out by prayer.
The second and final part of this mini-series on how Woody Carter’s experience inspired his novel, Narada’s Children: A Visionary Tale of Two Cities, is available to view here from September 11, 2017.
About the author
Carter has served as an associate professor in the Bachelor of Arts Completion Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and an instructor in theater arts at several community colleges in the Bay Area. He taught courses on mysticism and social change; produced a documentary film entitled “The Healing Circle,” integrating the practice of “quiet sitting” with cognitive behavior therapy for young men released from incarceration, and facilitated meditation circles in predominantly communities of color.
He is a retired executive director of the Bay Area Black United Fund, an identity-based philanthropy in Oakland, California, and the author of two published works: Theology for a Violent Age: Religious Beliefs Crippling African-American Youth (Non-fiction), and his first fictional novel, Narada’s Children: A Visionary Tale of Two Cities, published in 2016. He divides his time between living in the Bay Area and Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands.
Visit his website at sleepingmansbooks.com