OCEANSIDE — At 19 years old, Heidi Hall was certain that she knew what the rest of her life would look like.
She had come across the autobiography of the founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF), Paramahansa Yogananda, and after reading it, felt her entire life shift.
“I was on fire,” Hall, now in her early 60s, recalled. “It was just this deep conviction that that was something I needed to pursue.”
She left her studies at Arizona State University, and began training to become a nun of the SRF monastic order. She took her vows two years later in 1972.
“I felt like I was going to spend the rest of my life there,” Hall said of entering the SRF monastery in Los Angeles.
She couldn’t envision that she would ever leave that life of regimented meditation and service, let alone being an artist with a long-term boyfriend and facing her third year of fighting leukemia.
Sitting on her deep burgundy couch in her small Oceanside home, a smile crept over her face as she looked back on her spiritual journey. Her small blue grey eyes widened as she remembered how it all began.
Hall said that she has been a spiritual person for as long as she can remember. When she discovered SRF, the organization’s calling to develop a personal relationship with God through meditation felt like the perfect match for her.
A vivid dream about Yogananda only cemented her commitment to becoming an SRF nun.
She spent her days in the monastery in a set routine of meditating, reflecting, doing energy exercises and working in the organization’s correspondence department. She took on the name Savitri, which she said means unconditional love.
Over the course of nearly 30 years, Hall became a counselor, a teacher, a member of the board of directors, and eventually the SRF president’s confidential secretary.
With all of her roles and responsibilities within the monastery, she found herself working all day every day.
“I threw myself into all of those positions and eventually I didn’t realize that I was burning myself out physically and mentally,” Hall said.
She also began to grow apart from the organization’s administration, on top of the exhaustion of her life there.
So she left the monastery in 2001. At 51, she had an abundance of spiritual gifts, no job, no place to live, and just $700 in her pocket.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do when I left. All I knew is that I wanted to find out who Heidi Hall was underneath all of the personas: the sister, the minister, the board of director,” she said.
Starting from scratch, she pieced her life together with the help of friends of friends she had met through SRF.
For several years, Hall worked a number of jobs, including as a publicist and organizer for a nonprofit, and eventually settled in Oceanside.
She held fast to her spirituality, though she did not practice any religion with a particular organization or institution. When she discovered painting, her main subject focus became sacred symbols from all religions.
But in late 2010, her life shifted again. After a couple of days of feeling exceptionally weak, Hall went to the doctor. Her blood work revealed an elevated white blood cell count.
She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“(My oncologist) told me, ‘Your life is never going to be the same again.’”
Within a week and a half, she was admitted to the hospital for six months of induction therapy.
“When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t really understand what I was up against,” Hall said. “I went into the hospital with a real courageous spirit. Bring it on.”
But years of on-again, off-again remission and relapses took a toll. Hall underwent countless bouts of chemotherapy and later brain and spinal column radiation.
At one point, she was put on hospice care when doctors were certain she was not going to live more then a few weeks.
“The physical suffering part of (cancer) is unbelievable. I’ve had more needles in me than I can count,” Hall said.
As she spoke, her fingers traced the indentation on her head, where a port was put in for chemotherapy to be injected directly into her brain.
“I thought I had all this faith from all those years in the monastic order… (Cancer) shook my faith in God somewhat.”
But she said that ultimately, leukemia has made her faith stronger.
“I’ve learned more from leukemia than anything else in my life. It’s the most intense and incredible spiritual practice you could ever have in my opinion,” she said. “My faith isn’t dependant on… what condition my body is in.”
Today, Hall finds herself in remission once again. With an upcoming bone marrow transplant on Jan. 22, there is hope that this will be her final triumph over leukemia.
But after 30 years as a nun, with no financial resources and being unable to work while battling cancer, Hall finds herself in need of funds to make the transplant possible.
While insurance is covering the procedure itself, Hall needs help paying for her care once she is home.
Yoga Munkey studio in Vista is hosting a benefit concert and art show of Hall’s works Jan. 4, to help Hall cover the expenses of her procedure.
The show will feature Streetlight Cadence, an international music group from Hawaii.
Hall hopes that with donations and the sale of her art — enough to raise the $10,000 that she needs — will transition her from cancer free to cancer free and cured.
“The financial end of trying to support herself while having leukemia has been very tough,” explained her brother, Greg Hall. “So this charity event, if it could help her pay for the basic costs of the bone marrow transplant then it would be one less thing for her to worry about.”
“To say (a successful fundraiser) would be huge is an understatement,” he added. “I would just love her to beat this thing. Not just because she’s my sister and I love her, but because she’s a bright spot. She loves life, she’s helpful, she’s concerned, (and) she’s a plus to the planet.”
The benefit event will take place Jan. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Yoga Munkey at 410 S. Santa Fe Ave., Suite 105 in Vista.
For information about donating to Hall, visit https://m.helphopelive.org/campaign/4342.
Update Jan. 7: The benefit concert at Yoga Munkey on Jan. 4 raised almost $3,000 for Hall’s post-transplant care. She is still over $1,000 short of the funds necessary to undergo her transplant on Jan. 22. Hall hopes that the continuing sale of her artwork online and donations will make her transplant possible before she checks into cancer research hospital City of Hope on Jan. 13. To view her artwork available for purchase, visit www.artisansoflight.com.