“At some point in our human journey, past our enamored entertainments, we make contact with the never-ending-ness of our state. We see the things that need doing not just the things we want to do. The need in another fits the need in ourselves. We are ready to begin, to awaken.”
Benjamin Alexander De Mers – Twitter Post – 10:18 PM · Aug 13, 2020
The human condition is perhaps the greatest of our conundrums. Granted there are many. Yet this particular one is singularly vexing. The subject of a startling number of works of our greatest artists, philosophers, and spiritualists, our condition remains a mystery. Such a fleeting existence within such indomitable permanence. The very existence of such a conundrum inspires awe, like standing at the foot of a mile high sheer cliff face that you are getting ready to free climb one painstaking foot or handhold at a time.
Faced with the unshakably inherent instinct that we go on, in some form, we become aware of the needful things, those demanding things that if they are not done everything will collapse into perfectly symmetrical ambivalence. We are antagonized by the wretchedness of our wants and how boring they have become. Ultimately we are faced with survival and the need to care for the things that need tending.
Our biology knows more than our temporary minds. The ancient memories embedded in our individual and collective DNA speaking in a shout louder than the mind can ever hope to muster. We wear interchangeable masks passed back and forth down family lines with families adding families until we are all one, inexorably mixed. Our gut wrenching enlightenment as we realize we are all each other and only time’s mixing of us like ingredients in a dish being served to the gods keeps us from knowing it from the start.
Yet, incontrovertibly and inevitably we break into the clearing, above the mind, reaching out to the Soul, overshadowed by the Spirit, where awaits us the shimmering finger of Supreme Being as It hovers over the painstakingly and excruciatingly prepared primordial waters of an emerging new being, Its child. To stroke the child awake and to hold the newly awakened, as that which we thought was life is revealed as inanimate. To this new living being, all things that came before, while remembered, are strangely immaterial. Before, those things that were unseen were immaterial, that which had to be believed to exist did not exist. To see was to believe. After, those things that are seen are immaterial and that which exists is not believed. To believe is to see. This is what happens when one passes from appreciatively dead to held in the hands of the Only Living Being.
I am pretty sure that I was not really the best at dating. In fact, one could say that I was extremely uninterested in it. I was an introvert, a thinker. I took my craft pretty seriously. As such, I was certainly the last to consider that with another person my thoughts should reside.
Yet, as the passage of time consumed more of my life, the need for companionship grew stronger and stronger. At first, it was building friendships with associates in the media industry. Naturally within those environments my relationships were within circles of models, dancers and musicians and then finally with a single person. I don’t want to give names. I think names should remain anonymous unless they have made themselves otherwise. Memories that do not carry into actual parts of your life, like children, should remain personal reflections and the tales you tell those who have actually become part of your living moment in whatever now you are in.
The transition from “the single life” to the front line of “in your face interface” with another human being was indeed both intensely satisfying and deeply horrifying. I was on a constant juggernaut of elation followed by abject fear of loss/discovery. To be discovered as something that was not as beautiful as love’s balm cosmetically hid was always lurking, always lurking. I was terrified and it drove my art and my intense dive into my business at the time. I used work as a decanter to waterboard the part of me that was terrified into a submissive whimpering art slave/business man. It was an aphrodisiac as well and served its purpose in igniting what was my first true love.
She was tall, skin like creme, hair like fine platinum and she held a classic beauty like the statues of antiquity. Her face was beautiful because it was enourmously interesting, fascinating even. She was a photographer. We were introduced by mutual friends who thought we might be good for each other. They were half right, but never wrong. It was the half missing that spelled our doom and has always been what has stripped me of any love I have ever had. Forgive me, I digress…
She was my muse, the one who propelled my thinking to new levels and I was addicted from the second she entered my life. Dripping with anticipation from the moment I last saw her until she would grace me with her presence once again. We lived the classic student lifestyle and were as close to close as close but not too close could get you. But that was the half missing. I was madly, deeply, head over heels in love with her and she was with me until she wasn’t. I know she cared, deeply. I know she truly felt with me and toward me. She was always genuine and truthful. But there was always the part of me that was striving for something way beyond what she really loved about life that made it awkard and eventually the stuff of heartbreak.
Up until the time I was immersed in the swoon of being with my statuesque muse, my supernatural experiences were subjective. There was expression in painting and music and in the media I drove into the world through my company, but ultimately it was all in my head. That all changed one night as I was doing some breathing exercises.
I had heard about prana from reading some books on Yogic transcendence and that there was a substance in the air that was a type of energy that one could harvest or ingest through a specific type of breathing. This type of breathing was like a self induced form of suffocation that required extreme self control over all aspects of one’s physical, mental and emotional beings.
So I recollect that I laid down that night next to her and after she had fallen asleep, I began to practice my pranayama, which literally (in Hindu yoga) means the regulation of the breath through certain techniques and exercises. I would let the breath in by slowly opening my lungs using my chest muscles and diaphram so that the air would simply fill them and not rush in with the force of autonomic breathing. It was like you were allowing the air outside to replace the air inside like if you opened a door from one room and the air outside mixed with the air inside. This was done slowly, painfully (literally) so. The effect was as if you were drowning. Yet, enough oxygen was getting to your brain that you did not pass out. Once the lungs were completely full, the breath was held for a number of seconds counted in the otherwise silent mind. Once the number was complete, the breath would be removed in the same process as the breath was taken in. This process was repeated until you either passed out or something very different happened, as I was to discover.
After a few weeks of passing out and waking up in the morning, I didn’t. Instead something else began to occur. A type of relaxation. In the midst of the absolute panic of suffocation (self imposed I might add) the physical body submitted to the process and became completely physiologically aligned with the reality of that breath pattern. It was a moment I will never forget. It was a release of a grip that held me in place, my Soul. In that moment, I discovered that through pranayama, I could command my body to release my Soul, by threatening it with cessation through passing out of consciousness (passing out) or not letting it have what it needed to overtake me. It was a siege warfare of sorts if you will. A battle of wills.
It was in this moment that I “met” my Soul. It was distinct from the body. Distinct from the mind. Distinct from the emotions. It was its own distinction with its own atributes. I had been in this state before but never like this, i.e. self induced. I lay in that state spacially associated with the bodymind complex but not aware as it for some time. My Soul was now in complete control of all autonomic functions of the body and the body knew it. The body laid there obediently.
I remember seeing the Soul body. I looked at my hands and saw the distortion of the visual field that indicated its presence. If one were to draw an outline around a body and instead of the body inside the lines you had what looks like heat waves coming off of hot pavement or sand, that is what it was like. Only the heat was not hot. Not hot, not cold, not either, not both, not with or without temperature. Something so unique there really are no words.
I remember shifting my “visual” focus over to the one laying next to me, my beautiful muse, the love of my life. I could “see” the same presence hovering in the same spacial location as her body and so I “reached” over with that mirage hand and touched hers. I could “feel” the contact and so I shook her Soul and it responded to me! I said, “hey, let’s go out and play.” Her Soul said, “I have to be asleep.” My Soul said, “who told you that you have to be asleep?” Her Soul said, “no one, it’s just what I have to do right now.” I asked a few more times and then I got the feeling that something or someone was watching me, very closely, like when you lean in for emphasis on something you say.
I was immediately aware that it was the same presence that I felt on my 14th birthday. This time the presence was giving me the impression that what I was experiencing was not in and of itself sustainable. It was connected to something much bigger and much greater and my experience of it was isolated and connected to the body and therefore limited and temporary. The presence wanted to share my inner being in a form of intimacy that I had never experienced before. I refused and then in an instant of panic released my body from the grip I had on it and immediately it gasped and breathed deeply and as soon as its consciousness received that food, the consciousness as my Soul faded away.
The memory remained. But the experience did not. I found that fascinating. I was also fascinated to see if the love of my life remembered too. I was determined to not spoil the pot and I was not going to say anything about what happened. If she said anything about it, then it was going to come from her without any prompt from me. I acted as normal as possible. At first she did not say anything, and acted completely normally. We kissed said hello and good morning and started to get ready for the day. Then I noticed that she was acting wary, standoffish. This was not normal. Normally we were inseparable, suffocatingly so. It was the way we both liked it. We were in love with our suffocating love.
As we were getting ready to go out for the day to our daily routines, everything changed in a single moment. I went ahead of her as she locked the door to our apartment. She said, “wait for me.” I said, “we’re late, catch up.” Then as I turned around I was struck in the back by a force that knocked me down. I was out of breath and could not get back up. When I got my breath back, I still could not walk and she helped me back into the apartment and onto the bed. My legs were not working. I was literally paralyzed from the waist down. I had no idea what had happened and neither did she. However, I realized I could not work and that they had to be informed. I had sick days saved up and told her to call down or go down and let them know I would not be at work. She was hesitant to leave me, but did so. I did not see her for quite some time because she did not come home.
It must have been a few days. I was able to slowly get up and my legs returned to me enough to get around but not strong enough for a full day at work. I started calling around to find out where she was. It turns out she was with a friend of ours and her boyfriend. She was scared and did not want to come home. I asked her friend why she felt that way and she said that she was scared of me and could not explain why. She wanted to know if I had harmed her in any way and I said no. I found out later that my love had confirmed the same to her, there was no hurting, physical or otherwise. She was just scared to death to be around me.
I hung up the phone and it was another day before I saw her. I had gone back to work and came home from work and she and her girlfriend were there packing some things. I came in the room and they stood by each other defensively. I was totally taken aback by this behavior. I had done nothing to her and she and I both knew that to be the case. We loved each other and so something else was the matter. I asked her what the issue was and she said, “I just don’t feel comfortable around you. There is something about you that is not normal, not like everyone else and I am scared of it. So I am going to go to my friend’s house for now. I’ll call you.” Then they left with a few things of hers and for the next week we talked on the phone, my heart breaking with every single sound that struck my ear through the earpiece of that phone.
I knew it then, it was over. It would be several years later that it actually “ended”, that great and mighty and strange love, but it did end. We would have many more adventures together and try and patch things up, but it eventually ended in her finding someone else that was more aligned with her way of looking at the world and they hooked up at a photographer’s retreat and left me in the dust.
All this time I never broke my commitment to not speaking about the incident in the hope of finding some confirmation that she remembered the experience that freaked her out so bad she left a sincere love because of it. The only line I ever got out of her was this, “you should try and be more physical, not so spiritual.” I will always love how direct and ultimately wise she was. As I looked back on those words said in a supermarket check out line as we saw each other for the very last time, I could feel that they were like words of advice given to an alien who needed to not be exposed on a very hostile planet. Like, “if you wanna stay hidden, you better not do that again.” I could see it in her face that she knew what happened, but she never said it out loud and I never pressed her about it.
I went on, so did she. I heard about her here and there, tried to go to some extreme lengths to get her back, but ultimately resigned to my broken heart and my room in the last house we shared that I now shared with an ambitious roommate who had a plan.
I had always been interested in music, mostly on the listening side. My step father is a musician and a music teacher and played stringed instruments and is a great singer. He and my mother sang together in my childhood before their divorce while he played guitar and I would sit and listen to the harmonies and the wonderful sound of the guitar and my mind would be lifted in true and deep joy.
I dabbled with a stand up piano that came into our house for a while. I played whatever sounded good, not songs, just melodies, an endless chain of melodies. Songs were outside of my interest at the time. I just played the music I was hearing all around me. It was always pulsing and moving around me in an endless swirl of atmospheric harmonies. I could hear them much better then. As I got older they faded until I only hear them at the time of this writing when I am in nature or if I am in a quiet place. I now have 6 children of my own, so quiet time is pretty much at a premium these days!
After I left the zen monastery, I integrated back into my co-op housing, paid my rent and went about trying to “get back to normal” as best I could. The Buddha was certainly on my shoulder tapping a lot, but I also had many other influential ideas running around inside my head. As I mentioned earlier, I was undecided in my major. After I came back to school the fall after my summer experience with zazen, I declared my major as philosophy with a minor in comparative religions.
I got back to “the stacks” and everything was really humming along at a good pace. Normal had certainly not gone far off to play and was solidly back in control of my experience.
Shortly after beginning my first class of the semester, I got knock on my room door and I opened it to one of the coop members letting me know my dad was downstairs and wanted to come up for a visit. I was delighted! I could not help my enthusiasm. I really liked my step dad. He taught me all about music and how much it can be a real joy in your life.
As I came closer to the door I could see that he held a guitar case in one hand and a larger case in the other. My step dad was always wanting to play music so I thought he had come all this way to play music and cheer me up! I opened the door and gave him a hug and he said, “Merry Christmas, son.” Nevermind the fact that it was not even Thanksgiving yet, but I assumed it was an early present and said so. He concurred with me and we went upstairs to my room. Once we were inside he sat down at the chair at my desk and I laid out the two cases on my pallet on the floor. I opened the first one, a square, mustard colored, cloth Fender electric guitar travel case, a real nice one.
Inside was something so beautiful I had no words for it. I caught my breath and dad said it was a 1972 Vintera Series Telecaster Deluxe. He said it played the richest tones he had ever heard and said if I was going to start playing the guitar then this was the one that I should start on. I was in tears. I so badly needed something to ground me to the Earth after the summer that I just had and this was absolutely perfect. This was just the right thing to give me. I still had one case to go though. So I opened the long black case and inside this one was a creme colored 1971 Fender Telecaster Precision Bass. Dad said they would sound amazing together.
I was beside myself. He said he would be back later in the week with some amplifiers and stuff to get me started. I just sat there dumbfounded. As I spent the rest of the afternoon with him he showed me some basic chords and then later in the day he had to go. After he left I spent the next week playing them both until my fingers literally bled. I did not have an amplifier but I could hear the strings and did not tire of the way it made me feel when I played it.
Finally he showed up with the amplifiers. One was a Fender Super Champ and the other was a Peavey Combo Amp. I was literally in heaven on Earth. All the accessories including strings, cords, tuner, straps and headphones. He spent the next few hours listening to me play the chords I had been taught. I had been practicing a lot and he said I was a natural. My heart beamed with pride and I knew right then and there that these stringed instruments were going to be a part of my life for the rest of my life.
Music took a very large part of me that year and gobbled it up. Most days I would spend from the time I got up to the time I collapsed playing between guitar and bass. I wrote song after song after song of instrumentals and started playing around with singing. After a while I found my voice and from there I almost completely forgot about school, my job at the library and my friends.
That, however, did not last forever and balance soon returned to my life. I continued to study and play instruments and pick up equipment when I could afford it. It was then that I founded my first media company, Dandelion Paper Media in Milwaukee, WI. Dandelion Paper Media was dedicated to the underground music scene in Milwaukee from 1984 to 1986 (the year I sold it to a buddy and founded I Am Marketing and Media Services). We worked closely with the amazing folks at Galivant Media Group in putting on shows and promoting some talented bands at venues we called Watermelon Sugar…3 bands for 3 bucks! It was a total blast and I cut my chops at promotion and print media working my fingers to the bone. It was also the time when I was forming my band and working hard on my mastery of the guitar and the electric bass. I met Brian Ritchie when he and I were kids. Great guy, had dinner with him at my apartment. But that was the way things were, fast loose and we did everything immediate, visceral, which was like the Femmes’ sound and a lot of the bands of that time. It also was the time when I developed my first visions of zero footprint organizations and ad hoc success.
Overhead had to be low and you had to be fast on your feet to get the scoop. You also were the editor, the jounalist, the artist, the producer and every other part of the organization too, all of us were, wherever we were, whatever we were covering or promoting. As the years went by we just perfected it and kept pushing the boundaries of what tech and flying by the seat of our pants could do for media.
But it was the music that defined me. I wanted to be the star too. I certainly practiced hard enough and had the bandmates and songs, but it was just not in the cards really because my love of media and information was just too seductive and I would always want to be on the other side of the spotlight archiving experience and curating responses. I was a PR guy, not a rock star. I had a few moments in the sunlight and they were great, even had some groupies, lol. But my first love was always information and PR, great PR.
My writing was something that was certainly of interest to the fans of the shows that we would cover/promote and I became a pretty well known poet during that time in Milwaukee (1984 – 1987). Working with Cactus, one of the great voices of that time in Milwaukee, I learned to really narrow my voice to find the deep kernels of truth that ripped through my young mind.
When we founded I Am Marketing and Media Services, we got some of our first real clients, businesses in the area, downtown Milwaukee and the surrounding metropolis and a few in Madison. This is where I tasted my first drink of the blood of the global media beast and wanted more. Let it be said though, it was the music, always the music that was my muse. It still is, and poetry too.
It was my fourteenth birthday. My friends and I had just moved into the living room after eating cake and I had just put KC and The Sunshine Band on the record player. We were all enjoying ourselves and I was receiving my very first kiss from a girl. After a time of looking into her eyes, I laid my head on her chest and while her breathing lifted my head up and down I noticed that all the chatter of the party goers had vanished and in its place was only the sound of the music. It made me look around. That’s when I noticed that everybody had literally fallen asleep wherever they were, the girl included. I was the only one awake. They did not find a place to lay down or anything like that, it was really weird, like they just fell out.
I started to shake my girlfriend and that is when I started getting really sick to my stomach and really, really dizzy. I started to feel extremely uncomfortable, like scared and I started to feel like I should hide somewhere that nobody could find me.
So I got up, kind of doubled over and staggered down the hallway to the other room, a den off the kitchen, and in that room we had a big chair that sat against the wall in an angle that made a pocket behind the chair and the angle of the corner of the wall. I crawled in that place and sat down with my legs crossed and my back against the two walls of the corner. I was really scared at this point because what I was doing was not what I wanted to do. I remember I just wanted to find my mom or dad or my older brother or anybody. I did not even walk towards anyone sleeping to wake them. I was inexplicably controlled by the physical symptoms I was having. They were entirely more important every time I tried to do something different.
The spinning got worse. The dizziness got worse and that was when my field of vision started to narrow down to a pin point of light and then darkness. I was still awake. I was not unconscious. I then felt like my awareness was being sucked into the center of my chest, to the center of the sick feeling I had in the middle of my body. The only thing I knew was that I was that feeling. There was no other feeling or awareness.
After a short time in that state what happened next I cannot explain. I could try and explain the sickness on some bad cake or ice cream or too much sugar or any number of things but what happened next was beyond my ability to explain as a fourteen year old.
I felt like I exploded outward. I did not “see” anything I just felt it happening. The experience was completely non-visual. It was however very associative and connected. I also had a certain awareness of a few things. I had awareness that whatever was happening it was happening within a spherical shape. Whatever was happening, it was expanding, not contracting anymore. Whatever was happening, whatever I associated with while expanding I instantly knew everything about it. Whatever was happening, it was nothing like anything I had ever been taught, that I had thought, dreamed, experienced or imagined.
The expansion continued unabated by anything that I associated with. At some point I “knew” that the sphere had encompassed the Earth and its atmosphere right up to the edge of its magnetosphere. I experienced this as a turbulence, again like a violent wind, not a visual experience.
I did not “see” the world I felt it, I felt as it. All the thoughts, the feelings, the status of all life and the systems of the Earth, the currents and all the flowing and interrelated elements that made the Earth possible, even gravity as a pushing force from above and below me.
It happened fast. It was not long before the expansion stopped. As I was suspended between the din of the Earth below and the rushing of the wind above I encountered an impression, very still and very distinct which pushed me towards expanding more. I was startled but not in a shocked way. There was a calmness that encompassed that startle. Like some part of me knew that could happen. Not that it would, or should, but that it could. I cannot say this was a “conversation”, it wasn’t like that, that’s crazy, but I did orient myself to this push, I knew that. I also was aware that I was curious. It was like a yearning, “how?” Another impression as clear as the first implied some sort of connection involving face to face contact. I have to admit I was out of my depth at this point in a way that was beyond how out of my depth I felt when it all began. I remember feeling deeply that I was not ready to leave where I was, that I was very much interested in more of where I had come from. The final impression was one of acquiescence and allowance. That is what I felt. Once that happened a constriction began with a whooshing sound. In an instant I was back behind that chair and the song that was on the record player was the same song that was playing before I lost touch with the music and as I remember it the song picked up exactly where I remember it leaving off.
I wasn’t sick anymore and so I got up. My mom was in the kitchen and saw me stand up and said, what are you doing in there behind that chair? I said I did not know but that was a lie. I was scared to talk about it with anyone and I joined the party where everyone was talking about the weirdness of dozing off. I just sat there like I was in the twilight zone. My girlfriend asked me what was wrong and I said, nothing. I very quickly realized that I could not sit there like a zombie if I wanted to not say anything about it so I just started acting normal. That is how I got out of it and that denial lasted many, many years.
I have since learned a great deal about not only that experience, but about what it represented. Fantasy and psychosis aside, it represented a clear and distinct presentation of a part of me that was outside of the category of the possibilities inherent in my physical being. That was the start of a quest to understand that phenomenon. A journey that has lasted 36 years and has taken me to places that I now feel compelled to share now that the world is becoming more and more like how I felt on that day and other days after that.
I know that a ton of folks probably think I was suffering from some non-diagnosed mental illness, or an hallucination or a tumor on my brain. As a fourteen year old boy, I had certainly experienced my share of trauma and so I will give anyone that assertion but it was something that happened seven years later that made me realize that I was not hallucinating and that I was indeed experiencing something extra-ordinary. That experience was real and it was a part of me and as I found out later, it was a part of everyone.
That first morning when I arrived at the Zen Monastery I remember telling myself that there was a good chance that I was never coming back out again. Something deep inside me, that was deeply familiar with the seduction of meditation, was calling to me to beware. I was wary therefore when I first came into the room. It was an open room with the unmistakable pillars of a refurbished warehouse interrupting your gaze like an annoying information seeker when you are trying to read a really great book.
There I stood, half-naked and in sandals, hair long but neatly combed. There he sat, with the others, not looking or not looking at me, but rather just looking. After a while, I just sat down. I felt like it was the right thing to do. I sat there, for hours, not really knowing what to do. I sat for hours upon hours as people came and went and the person who appeared to be “in charge” just did things only an attendant would do. I began to think nobody was in charge and this was just a hangout for people who wanted to come and think. In that way, it was really not very much different than the library.
There was something different about it though. It was the ever sucking silence that was there. It was a presence beyond the occasional noise from the outside world that would bleed through the walls of the old warehouse. It was visceral and gelatinous and stuck to you like flies to flypaper. It was compelling. So I stayed, sitting in that ridiculous way for that equally ridiculous amount of time. I never felt foolish though. The setting was too somber for that. I am pretty sure if I had been anywhere else I would have felt foolish. Here, not so much.
Finally, at the very end of the day, the “attendant” came up to me and stood about three feet away from me. He was not standing over me nor was he even facing me. He was just standing near me. I found this profoundly interesting. Then he noticed I was looking at him and he then looked at me, no, really looked at me this time. I could tell the difference. I thought he was going to say something, but he did not. His eyes were always making you think he was about to say something but he rarely did. He then came closer to me one step at a time. Finally, he sat down in front of me, and then after staring at me for a good long time he finally said something to me. He took a deep, deep breath and after most of the air had departed his lungs he allowed his vocal cords to intercept the air and his mouth slowly formed the word, “why?”
One word. One utterance, almost like a windy whisper that could have been mistaken for any number of sounds a windpipe can make, came from him. Only one. So I said, “be…” and his hand rose sharply and quickly to silence me. Then the next word came out, “wait”. We sat there with me beginning to fidget, something I had not done all day. Finally, he uttered one more word, “tomorrow.”
Then he got up, went to the door, which was always open, and walked outside. He did not come back, at least not in the hour I sat there waiting for him. By that time I was profoundly tired. So, having no place to go (I had rented out my co-op space to another person for the summer) I opened up my grass mat (yep I was that trendy) and fell soundly asleep on it.
I awoke the next day to ice-cold water dumped over my entire body. I sat straight up and screamed as loud as I could. I was enraged and stood up ready to punch someone only to find that face, looking, not at me, just looking. I was immediately set back by that stare and backed down. He then said one word to me, “scrub”. He handed me the now-empty bucket, except for the wooden handled brush inside, and walked away to water some plants.
I could not believe what I was witnessing. Without saying anything more than four words to me this man had already had the most profound impact on me that I could remember anyone, even my wordy professors, having upon me. I put the bucket down, grabbed the scrub brush, moved my mat off the wet spot, and started using the water to scrub the wooden floor.
As I scrubbed I could not help but think that the way he was looking in my direction and where the water landed was nothing but a coincidence. It almost seemed like he was not expecting anything to be on that spot on the floor. Rather, he was wetting the floor and discovered that I was sleeping on it in that way. At which point I was enlisted in the scrubbing. It only seemed natural. So I scrubbed. It took me about two hours to scrub the floor while the sun slowly came up over the horizon and the whole room glowed in surreal orange vermilion.
When I had finished scrubbing the floor, he walked over near me and said, “follow.” I then was taken to the garden area where there was a sandpit with some stones and some bonsai trees surrounded by a redwood deck that was meticulously manicured and startlingly clean. He pointed at the deck and said, “scrub”. I sighed and said, “it’s already…”. Again, the hand shot up and silenced me. Again, he said, “tomorrow”. This time he meant I should leave.
That was the first of many nights I slept in nature. Something a break from school and the summer vacation made possible. It is quite striking how little food we actually need to survive. Granted I was rail thin, but I was not always hungry. I ate what I was offered, from friends or from the monastery, but nothing else. Towards the evening I would find a safe place to place my mat and sleep.
I arrived the next morning around the time I remembered must have been when the master had arrived and discovered that there was a bucket, scrub brush, and water waiting for me. So I scrubbed the floor of the main sitting room and then moved to the redwood deck in the garden area and then when I was done I placed the bucket where I had found it and sat down.
It was about another hour and the master came out and said, “follow”. I then followed him and he took me to a really amazing place. It was a small pool with a statue of a Buddha in lotus. Placed on a redwood bench next to the pool were a robe, bright orange vermilion, and a pair of plain leather sandals. He looked at me and said, “Bathe. Dress. Sit.” So I did. When I saw him next he had a towel and a bowl. He said, “on your knees.” I said, “OK.” He said, “bend over.” I was thinking, “OK, this is getting creepy.” I felt like I was supposed to be alarmed at this somewhere in my deepest being, but then he smiled and pulled out a big pair of silver scissors. So I bent over and he placed the large wooden bowl under my head and began to cut my hair.
Now, it must be said, I loved my hair. I took meticulous care of it. I was careful to brush it one hundred times with my head inverted between my knees to let the blood flow to the follicles. It was thick and luxurious hair and I was known for it all about campus. As I watched it fall from my head, all I could think about was that this felt like I was becoming naked even though I was fully clothed in the robe.
Next, he got out a razor and some shaving soap and shaved my head neatly down to the skin. When he was done he tossed me the towel and I wiped my head. He then said, “follow.” We went into the garden as the sun was just rising. He sat down and patted the redwood. I sat down. He then reached into his robe and gave me the book that would change my entire life. He gave me a handwritten notebook containing the neatly written Ambattha Sutta which is the treatise on Pride. It means, generally, “pride humbled.”
He got up and walked away. I then started to read the words in the notebook and from that point, I was whisked away into a world of understanding that has only grown as I encounter more of the wisdom of humanity on this incredible journey I am on.
One notebook at a time throughout the entire summer I read, sat, listened, and learned from the master. Finally, towards the end of the summer, I came across the treatise on the mental body. I remember where I was when I was reading it. I was in the coffee shop next to the monastery sitting at a table, bright orange vermilion robe and shaved head and all, and read the lines about the instructions on how to build the mental body. It was at this point that everything came rushing in upon me and I started to pulse in and out again.
I knew that this was the answer to what had happened to me and it apparently had happened to this fellow Gautama over a thousand years ago. He was experiencing something far beyond what was simply physical and it had real ramifications in the world, the physical world. According to this reading, there were many things that could be done in the mental body that could not be done in the physical body and that that which was seen in the mental body could inform the physical body and physical world. However, there were many, many cautions. Far more cautions than the cautions for the meditating student. This was precisely because this exercise was detached from direct corroboration. It was an exercise that existed entirely inside of mind. Progress had to be made slowly and with meticulous verification or one was surely lost.
However, at least I had a framework for what was happening to me. I could let go of the conspiracy lunacy and get down to brass tacks. I was, after all, a scientist and a philosopher, at the time, and I was after a rational explanation for the profoundly altering experiences that were happenstance-ing to me.
I remember as a boy of about five or six years of age, which was the earliest I can remember, that I knew I was never alone. It was a central understanding in my life. It was like mom or brother or sister or dog or house or any of those other central understandings in my life. It was almost something I took for granted, almost. Only I couldn’t. That’s because it never went away. That ever present sense was always there like the scent of the Pacific Ocean that hits you when you get close to Yuma, Arizona and gets ever so stronger as you continue West on Highway 8 towards San Diego.
My little boy imagination was always at work. There were flashes of light and sound and color, some furious and others subdued. Then there were wisps and whispers that I thought for sure contained faces and structures I related to living creatures of all kinds. This produced feelings in me. Feelings that constantly wanted me to be there and nowhere else. There was a yearning to it. Far from running away, it was just this pang. A hunger and a thirst that could not be satisfied with any succulence or satiation I could swallow.
This knowing was not shallow. It was all encompassing and ever pressing. It was like feeling the weight of the pressure of the atmosphere in a way that took you out of your forgetting of it (which you have done you know). It wasn’t like drowning though. It was instead very warm and encompassing like a womb. It was exactly like a womb, only it was constructed of everything I encountered after being forcefully evicted from the place of my origin.
I am telling you this because this presence I speak of sets the stage for the second chapter in my experience of coming to know that I am more than the sum of everything that forms me. This presence plays very heavily into my accretion of a mindset that eventually allows me to envision that the transfer out of the place of my origin is not a severing isolation, but always a new implantation within a new womb, which I have come to understand is called “the Universe” (At least it is by those who currently call this planet their home).
The story continues with me living on with the experience on my fourteenth birthday seared into my mind and coloring everything that I encounter. That day drove a wedge between my acceptance of life as something that “just happens” and my understanding of life as something that “is happening”. My awareness took an injection of steroids and went from passive to active, zero to sixty, in an instant.
Up until that day I considered myself a better than average dreamer. I would have dreams every night and even during the day sometimes. I would imagine all sorts of worlds, some of them obvious and others not so much. Every dream was in full vibrant color and I was always aware that I was dreaming. Up until that day my dreams were like a picture show that I watched. After that day my dreams were increasingly under my control. I began to understand that I could control every aspect of every dream that I had and I considered this a fluency as important as types of scent, varieties of flavor, nuances of touch and the meaning of words. After that day what I considered a dream was no longer a dream. Dreams became the activity of an attribute of my mind. One that would lead me into some very interesting and powerful experiences. One that was fraught with danger and innocence, horror and beauty and revelations that sometimes took me to places that I had no desire to be in or even know were possible. I knew one thing and I knew it well. Dreaming like this was a power.
I grew on, into the twilight of my time in the nest with mom, dad and siblings until the day when my yearnings and cravings sucked me out and spit me upon the shores of the only place I knew where I could plug into the information network of this planet, the University. At first I was like an awkward, gangling youngling stumbling about trying to gain its footing. I had no idea if it was the world that was rubbery or if it was my legs. You could think of it in both ways and I sure did. I always did. I think that is the deepest consequence of the types of experiences that I have had and continue to have. I was and still am acutely aware of the limitations of the anthropomorphism that plagues our species and is perhaps the single greatest enemy to personal freedom and self-discovery that we wrestle with every day. There I was nonetheless, cast upon these shores, like a self cast outcast. I felt like a pioneer, a pilgrim. Even so I was driven, maniacally at times, to understand just how to deal with the information gap that existed in me as a consequence of the disruption of that day so long ago when my world was turned upside down, never to return to right side up because right vanished and in its place there was only a relativity staring back at me decidedly unblinking.
So I enrolled into the School of Architecture and Urban Design. What? Seriously? Yes, I did. I don’t know why I did so. I think it was because I sensed that I was on to something structural and I wanted to know about structures, about architectures, about how things were constructed (and torn down). I was driven by this passion and soon came to terms with the first limitation that doomed my chances to be this kind of architect.
I could not draw. My hands were like dumb blocks of palm and finger shaped rubber. They were entirely unresponsive. It was embarrassing. I tried every possible way to augment my shortcoming but we had not come to the age of Photoshop and graphic manipulation, heck computers were extremely infantile in the early eighties, so I was left to rulers and compasses and protractors and other rigid and crude instruments, such as cut out tracing templates and light boards (for engaging actual visual plagiary). The more and more I struggled to create inspiring visual representations of my passion for structures the more and more that passion was sucked out of me. My mother was an accomplished and masterful painter and she spent hours teaching me to paint. Even so, that teaching was stubbornly not extending to my ability to draw. With the tool of the paintbrush in my hands I could create wonderful things. But as soon as I tried to use my hand and a pencil or pen or chalk, that vanished. There was something about the intersection of the tool and the distance from the work that was my sweet spot. It always bugged my mother, but then again, she saw that I could paint and it was OK by her. However, my inability to draw was the first time I encountered the visceral difference between theoretical and practical. It had a profound impact upon me, not only then, and not only in this category, but in every single aspect of my being, including the one that was at the heart of a relentless driving of me.
I remember talking to the Dean. She and I both knew I was bright but not cut out for architecture, at least of this kind, and I told her that I was going to be switching majors. At the time I did not really know that I did not need to formally do anything to switch my major, but this meet-up was something that who I was needed to do. It was all much more dramatic than it had to be, but again, that presence I always felt, made my life feel like I was constantly in a movie that had a director who was always shouting at me to do one thing or another (but mercilessly never said “cut”).
So I gravitated to the School of Design and spent a semester undecided. Undecided. Now there is a word. Especially when it is applied to a life. Undecided. I was now undecided. That was something I never was before. I had always been decided. I had always known what I was going to do next. I had always dreamed it or read about it or discovered something I needed to know that pushed me to become what I needed to in order to slip into the world that held what I needed. But this time, I was undecided. I felt it everyday when my friends and teachers and counselors would ask me, “what is your major” and I would say, “well, I am undecided.” I would physically shudder sometimes. It was the start of an uncomfortable arising in me that I would understand later as one of the most important moments of my life, but at that time it was a stigma that I was none to proud to wear.
After that semester I had an encounter with a Rastafarian who introduced me to the world of Reggae, Ska and Jazz. Up until that point I was pretty straight laced. I was what you would call a “preppy”. That was the eighties term for “nerd” (well, just before they coined it in a movie made during that decade, anyway). Interestingly it was at that point that I gravitated to a position between two seemingly irreconcilable opposites, Philosophy and Business. I also became heavily involved in media production working with a group of friends that called itself Gallivant Media where I farmed out my services as a fledgling start up called Dandelion Paper Media. We were working to promote the underground music scene in Milwaukee at the time and many of the bands (and other types of artists) we saw come together, through our efforts and the efforts of others, went on to become very famous. Throw in a healthy dose of Comparative Religions and I was about as far from my Izod wearing preppy days as you could possibly get. I think it was at that time that I truly became a nerd.
I took a work study job as a circulation attendant at the university library. It was right up my alley. I was encased in “the stacks” as they called them. For me it was a giant labyrinth of knowledge that played a tune so seductive to my information gap that I instantly fell in love with the musty smell of those many thousands of tomes and their care. Later in life I was to return to that love of information and it was to drive me even during the interim. I was profoundly shaped by my four years in library service and it is an experience that I will never forget for as long as I shall exist. There are fundamental “structures” that live there which appealed to my general passion for structure that I tried to satisfy in the School of Architecture and Urban Design and reached out tenderly and all too knowingly to grab the tattered and raw edges of undecided me and snapped me firmly back into place. It was right after I took that job that the penultimate experience of this second chapter took place.
The midsummer night hung damp and dripping upon the naked skin of my exposed upper body. I was fond of wearing nothing but a thin three-fold braided chord strung from my shoulder to my waist and around my back to my shoulder again in a half-hearted tribute to the Brahmans of India, whom I respected tremendously. The moon, low in the sky, hanging over the waters of Lake Michigan with a tentative truce, cast a lightspear from the horizon to the shore impaling me with an accusation of not staring in jaw-dropping wonder at its unfathomable beauty. The midnight ambiance of this section of the plateau of Lake Park, which shelved itself as a plinth running alongside the lapping waters of the lake, caused me to stop, dead in my tracks and when I did everything melted away, including my direct consciousness of the entire place.
I sincerely do not know what happened to me. I know that one moment I was blissfully taking one of my extended Walt Whitman-ish “forays” into the natural splendor of eighties Lake Park and the next moment my world had been reduced to a pulsing arrival and departure of consciousness in which I was greeted each time with a new and bizarre scene playing itself out in front of me. On the first return I was no longer standing. I was sitting on the ground. I had placed the canvas bag that I always carried with me to the side and taken the single-loop toe sandals off my feet and placed them on the bag. I had taken the small drums out of my bag, which I had spent a pretty penny on and spent a ton of time conditioning and tuning, and then I pulsed again. It was like a long slow throb. Like the push of awareness in and out of your grasp as if it was blood pumping through the millions of orifices throughout your body and your cells grasping at each molecule of life it brings as if there will never be another, ever again.
On the second return I was playing my drums. The rhythm was a combination of palm thrusts, finger taps and back handed nail scratch throws which was extremely seductive. I found myself instantly in love with the rhythm. I was staring at the moon which had now met the water and was being swallowed by the mouth of Lake Michigan as the horizon had curved up on each side of the moon like thick wet lips of light sucking on a glowing crystal ball due to the haze effect of the rarefied lake water as it played with the light of the captured moon. Then I pulsed again.
On the third return I was no longer playing my drums. This was the first thing I was aware of. The second awareness was that of a strange chattering sound, like clicks and buzzes and high pitched guttural bird calls and the sound of a strange rustling which was thick and noisy and ominously close. Focus came next and I was staring into the face of three of the biggest raccoons I had ever seen. They were like little bears. Big thick heads and large round bodies and they were sitting up on their haunches with their hands reaching out for my drums, touching them and then retreating back to their chests sort of like a kangaroo holds its hands when it has nothing better to do with them. They were making this unbelievably lively chatter, filled with the clicks and buzzes and high pitched guttural ratatat sounds which were most decidedly directed at each other. It was like they were talking to me and to each other but I did not understand a word of it and they were upset and bewildered that I did not know what they were saying! Furthermore I got the distinct feeling, like a pet owner knows its pet knows him or her, that these three night denizens knew me and the fact that I obviously did not know them was troubling them in a very raccoonish way.
It was then that I discovered the source of the loud rustling sound that I was hearing but could not detect the source of. It was the ground. Starting from just about a foot outside of where the raccoons were sitting on their haunches the ground was alive with every kind of insect from crickets to earthworms all writhing in every direction in a thick matte that stretched for at least ten feet in every direction around me. On the edge of that were rabbits and squirrels and on the edge of them were the reptiles, the snakes, frogs and turtles, one of which must have been a hundred year old snapping turtle who peered out from just under the canopy of the woods to see what was going on. Outside of that just visible within the near canopy of the woods I swore I could see other, larger forest denizens lurking and pacing at the edge of the forest, not wanting to come out and not wanting to leave. The whole thing was overwhelming. From the moment I came to to the moment of the realization of the “lurkers” in the woods was approximately 5 or ten minutes. So this happened rather quickly. Then I pulsed.
On the fourth return all the animals were gone except for the three raccoons who were walking away on all fours looking back at me as they went. I watched them go and raised my hand palm out facing them as they disappeared into the woods. I never saw them again. I remember that I no longer pulsed after they disappeared and I quickly got up, packed my drums and went to the house I co-oped in with some others. When I got to my room I dropped to my palate on the floor where I slept and I fell into the deepest sleep I have ever slept both up to that time and even to this day. When I awoke it was still night, but it was the next night. It was so strange. I thought I had only been asleep for a few minutes, but an entire day had come and gone and I had missed it. My body, exhausted from the stress of those few hours on the shelf of Lake Park, had collapsed and had needed that much time to recharge.
Upon awakening I felt the presence that I always felt had become even thicker. It was oppressive. That had never happened before. It was urgent with an urgency that drove me even more. I cannot tell you how irritating it was to be so driven without any clue as to where I was going. As I look back on that time, the frustration that I felt during this time was the only thing that could have pushed me into the writings of the Buddha. I was referred by a friend to a zen monastery that existed at that time in the heart of the university community. I encountered Zazen for the first time and from the moment I did and read the first words of the Buddha I vanished from among those I had previously known for the rest of the summer. What I learned during that time changed the direction of my life in yet another revolutionary and revelatory way. Continue reading “The Experience – Part 2: Water Moon”