A Surreal Second Sojourn To India

Author bottom, second from the left. About 30 pounds heavier than his departure weight.

James Anthony Ellis
Legacy Editor

Now, I’m not sure if such surreal sentiments will make sense on the surface. But I give it a go, since it was such an important moment in my life, and such an important trip. Fanciful as they may seem, these recollection invite you to suspend your disbelief in order to take your own journey here with me.

There were actually two trips to India, the latter of which helped rescue the first.

It was December 1990; I was traveling with a group of spiritual searchers through southern India to the ashram of Sathya Sai Baba, known to some as a fifth-dimensional Avatar who could perform supernatural feats. He would say he did these acts, not for show or magic, but to reveal the sort of unlimited divine capabilities, of which we all held potential.

Whether the displays of splendor were true or not, I already knew of this “man of miracles” from my father who told stories of his friends who made the trek to Baba’s ashram. I had also experienced some very vivid dreams of Sai Baba as he healed some of my past emotional wounds. It is told he could maneuver through dreamscapes and do work with others behind sleep.

On this first visit to Baba’s ashram, I would marvel at the energy that radiated off this 5-foot, afro’d Indian guide. And I would also get sick. Very sick. The threat of illness is very real in India, and something got me. Unable to keep food down or in, I ended up losing a ton of weight. I wouldn’t really know how much until I got on the plane heading home and looked in horror in the bathroom mirror at my skeletal-like face. I wouldn’t really know until I got on a scale to show my weight: 119 pounds.

I recall at the ashram, I would lie down for a good portion of the day, lying on my mat inside what they called “the sheds.” These housing units were like small airplane hangers where 50-60 men would section off a floor space of about 4 by 12 feet for just enough room for a cot, a mosquito net and our traveling possessions: backpack, change of clothes, toothbrush, hairbrush, shaving cream, razor, etc. 

I recall lying there looking up to the high ceiling. I recall feeling like I was dying.

Looking back, what a sad image comes to mind. All the other travelers out and about enjoying their time gathering in community, while I just laid there, crying, wondering if I was even going to make it out of here alive.

It’s hard to believe I even made that long, long, 2-day plus trip home. It seemed to take forever.

But I would make it home. I would gain my strength and weight back. And after some years, I would come to a place where – believe it or not – I would wish to return.

My spiritual journey runs deep. And though I did have a dreadful (almost deadful) experience the previous trip, I thought of returning on a solo trek through India, both Northern India – where the masters of the Nepal Himalayas were calling me, and also Southern India – where Sai Baba would still be shining his brilliant light.

It was November 1996.

Though I experienced a couple panic attacks on my second sojourn – mostly due to the fact I realized in a flash, I was all-alone in a foreign country so far away from my home and my support system – I would be healthy the entire time.

By the time I returned to Sai Baba’s ashram, I was feeling strong. Ironically, I think I even gained some weight while there. A lot had changed. There was a new Cantina with food other than the two previous choices: 1. Spicy  2. Not Spicy.  I was staying in one of the nicer private rooms at the ashram, one with only a couple roommates, and a “western bathroom.” (Don’t ask about the other type.)

There are many spot weld moments from that trip. But what comes to mind most powerfully is not the times singing bhajans, or being in proximity with a living Avatar, but rather one short walk I took on the campus grounds.

For some reason, one afternoon I decided to take a stroll around the back of the grounds, to the location of “the sheds.” Ah yes, it was here that I stayed six years previously when I was so sick.

As I walked by these buildings, I felt this odd presence. I looked inside one to see a completely empty building. No men, no mosquito nets, no cots. Just one long slab of concrete and the high ceilings. I got the feeling though that somehow on some surreal level, it was not completely empty.

I sensed a young man – some 26 years old – still stuck in there, lying on his back, crying, wondering if he was going to be able to survive and get back home.

The breeze was still. No sounds here. Not even the sight of another person around.  Just this presence.

I came to realize – It was I.

This presence was some splintered-off part of my soul, the 26-year-old who was somehow still here in India, in this shed.

At mind-expanding times like this, it’s seems appropriate to make some outrageous claims. I questioned how this could happen. How could a part of me be trapped like this? Who allowed this to happen? I even asked the ever-present spirit of Sai Baba, “Why didn’t you do something?”   

In the most peaceful way, I heard a subtle nudge of a message:

“I did do something. I have been taking care of him.”

As I went to my knees in deep sobbing, I realized that I had made the trip, in part, to come back for him. Jimmy. I returned to rescue what I had somehow left behind. I was here to take part in what is known as “soul retrieval” – moments of healing when we reclaim aspects of our soul, fractured due to trauma, stress or pain.

The silence would be interrupted again by the sounds of activity. People came into view and were milling about, walking here and there. The breeze would once again pick up.

In time, I would go back to my private room … and I would depart the ashram, and I would get myself to the airport, and I would journey back to Madras, then Tokyo, then Los Angeles, and then San Diego.

A long journey. But one I did not take alone. And one that made me a richer, wiser, and more complete man.  

In case Baba was heading to the post office…

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