by Steven Vernon
In my late teens, I had an awakening that started me on a journey that has brought me much joy and fulfillment. Drawn to books on literature, philosophy and religion, I had many moments of intense insight. This is my story.
I was born and lived on the Caribbean island of Jamaica until I was 17, and in 1977 my siblings and I joined our parents in the United States. My parents had resettled in this country 7 years earlier, because my father had lost his business and had wanted to start a new life for us. Meeting him after 7 years was an incomparable experience. To me he was the perfect image of success – striking, dapper, and eloquent, and at the time a young financial planner in a large and well established firm.
My father had quite a collection of inspirational and motivational literature and reading this material took me into the world of great achievers. It was during this time I had an experience that would change my life. It had to do with a saying by the 19th century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson that I heard on one of my Dad’s motivational tapes. The saying went: “Teach a man a prudence of a higher strain, let him learn that everything in nature even dust and feathers go by law and not by luck, and what you sow you reap.” These words affected me profoundly. They awakened in me a passion for reading and writing poetry, and also I discovered a deep love for philosophy. As luck would have it, while searching the attic, I came upon a book of Emerson’s essays, and as I read through them I felt a stimulation and pleasure that I never could have imagined. One particular word in the essays struck and intrigued me. It was the word “mystic.” Time after time this word would pop up, and it again caught my attention in a song called “Natural Mystic” by the now deceased international reggae musician Bob Marley. (Marley grew up in the ghettos of Kingston, the capital city of the island of Jamaica.) In the song he tells us that “there’s a natural mystic blowing through the air. If you listen carefully now you will hear.” From these words, I drew the sense that he was subtly coaxing us to recognize that he was this mystic. I fell in love with Marley’s works; for me they paralleled Emerson’s in their depth and beauty.
Bob Marley’s passion and the high register of his voice, along with his stylistic trilling,
resonated in my soul. Struggle, love, redemption and God are some of the universal topics he addressed in his lyrics. At the time – the late ‘70’s to the end of the ‘80’s – there had been an upsurge on the world scene in the popularity of reggae music, and young people were flocking to the movement, forming bands and playing to audiences locally and internationally. My kid brother, who had shown musical talent during his early teens, was carried off also by this wave.
With all this stimulation, I felt a sudden call to join the priesthood, but soon realized this wasn’t the right vehicle for me to express my awakening spirituality. Instead, I decided to explore the Afro-Caribbean religion Rastafarianism, of which Marley was a member. Just as Emerson’s words and ideas drew me into the world of writing and reading, Marley’s music awakened in me a love for singing and songwriting. His adopted Rastafarianism has spread across the globe due in large part to his popularity. A testament to the universality of his vision – “One Love” was named the song of the 20th century by BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Inspired by Emerson’s writings, I sought out other writers and religious thinkers. Henry David Thoreau, a protégé of Emerson, was a nature writer and practicing Transcendentalist. He was brilliant, and I love his writing. I also read about a man of immense distinction – Albert Schweitzer. A professional organist and religious scholar, Schweitzer studied medicine in his thirties and opened a hospital in Africa where he spent the rest of his life as a doctor. While exploring the writings of these great thinkers, I faithfully continued my search for a place where my spirit’s roots could rest. I began reading about Indian spirituality and Hinduism and discovered the Hindu Yogi and saint, Paramahansa Yoganada. I didn’t stop there; I kept diligently searching. As fate would have it, in 2002, I discovered a new world religion called the Bahai Faith. It teaches that all religions are inspired by the one God, and that we are on the cusp of a change, which will bring about great good. This change for good will be preceded by strife and upheavals, which we are in the throes of today.
I was ecstatic to say the least. I had found a faith that had a world-view and tenets that were equal with the times, and provided meaning as well as answers to modern day problems and challenges. So after a few months of exploring its scriptures, searching my heart, as well as meeting with some of the members, I decided to take the plunge. Many times along my search when I felt I wouldn’t find what I was seeking, I used the following words from the Bible as reassurance: “Seek and ye shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened.”
Inspirational writings from any source fed my soul and strengthened me, and growing up as a teenager I had a ceaseless outpouring from my father. He would get carried away sometimes though, and getting into instruction mode would shoot quotes at us made by historical figures or pile on nuggets of wisdom he had originated. When he got into this space, we kids would run when we saw him coming. It’s interesting to note that these same quotes and lessons that almost drove us crazy we turned to later on in life to deal with our challenges.
As I write this, I see how far I have come in my journey – from the teenager who read books of great thinkers to an adult who has embraced a personal vision of spiritual growth, expansion of awareness and ongoing learning. These, my midlife years, are going to be the point at which I move to the next plateau of my development. Here I will focus on sharing my spiritual journey and awareness through giving talks, using my creative gifts and artistic expression to inspire and teach, as well as becoming involved with typical youth and those on the autism spectrum in the areas of mentoring and education.
Steve Vernon had a spiritual awakening in his late teens that took him on an intense search for answers to life’s deep questions. While on his journey, he discovered talents that he spent the next several years cultivating. Steve’s main focus is to keep climbing step by step up the ladder of consciousness and awareness, and to use his compassion, empathy and love for others to encourage their growth and development. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org