Mary Rose

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Late spring in San Francisco, 1958, and it had been such a beautiful day! I remember this 9 year old physical body seated at a wooden desk in the back of a grammar school classroom, oblivious to the yammerings of some black-cowled nun at the front. Meanwhile, in my spirit form, I had slipped out through the open windows, expanding into the endlessness of blue, the timeless sky home of my child heart, the empty airy radiance of wordless boundless ecstasy.

Rudely drawing me back down from my happy flight, the bell that regulated time and activity at the school eventually sounded to close the day’s lessons and set the children free. As it noisily clanged, I realized once again that I was supposed to assume the form and behavior of this little person that people seemed to take me to be, and so I found myself walking with the other kids out the door and off into the sunny afternoon.

I recall that there was such a softness swirling of energies, a poignant gentleness of commingling shapes in motion, blurring colors and sounds — sound of many voices in one, whirled together in a sweet cacophony of children thrilled by life, still amazed by the appearance of anything as they raced off to wherever their feet and desire would lead them, and then suddenly I found myself at home.

I walked through the front door and then headed directly towards the back sunroom, where my grandmother was rocking my three-month old sister, Mary Rose. I was so taken with that little being I could almost burst with love — this exquisite angel in my dear grandmother’s lap — but when my grandmother looked up and saw me, she said quietly, so quietly I could barely hear: “She’s gone, Bobby. Our little Mary Rose is gone . . .”

The room was filling with a presence, and in retrospect it was not so much that the room was filling, but that everything else except this presence was falling away like filmy veils slipping off a statue, until there was only this luminous, potent presence of Love, and I suddenly burst into weeping — not at the loss, but at the magnificence of this Presence.

Then my grandmother did something that at first bewildered me, but later I understood. She took some water from a glass next to her chair to baptize my sister by her own hand “in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”. Then she leaned back, at peace, and shone the most loving, tender smile, a smile I will never forget, and whispered with utter assuredness, “She is with God now, Bobby.”

“Yes, I know.”I replied. I do not know how I knew, except that I understood from the same place in which I had been taken the previous summer, the place in which all the galaxies appear as small playthings in the unspeakable delight of Love, and so I said, “Yes…”

Later that day, one of the nuns from the Convent up the hill came calling at the house to speak with me. She asked if I knew where my little sister had gone, and I answered, “Yes, she is with God.”

Strangely, the nun insisted that, since Mary Rose had not been formally baptized in the Church, she was relegated to the place where “all the little un-baptized babies go”, to some kind of lesser “Limbo”, rather than directly to heaven with God.

I protested, “No, she was baptized, and besides that, things are not the way you say! God is everywhere, and everything is with God.”

At that moment, I decided that I would become a priest, and 4 years later entered the seminary, at the age of 13. I was going to clarify this matter, so that all could know the reality of the Divine Presence that out-shines death and man’s religion.

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Golf Club Cane

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4/1/2003

Over the course of their 56 years together, my parents accumulated a vast assortment of material “stuff”. When they both passed in 2002, my three siblings and I spent a number of days cleaning out their home in San Francisco, dividing up some of the possessions, and consigning the rest to charitable organizations like Goodwill, or in some cases to the trash heap.

That same year I divorced my first wife to be with Mazie, leaving her (1st wife) everything but my clothes and a few odds and ends that Mazie and I would need to get started. Mazie herself came with 2 duffel bags filled with clothes and note books, a beat-up computer, a bag of cooking spices, and a big Smile.

Among the items I found in the basement at the San Francisco house, an old mahogany walking cane with the head in the shape of a golf club caught my eye. My father had been an avid golfer, and the stick felt good in my hand. Since the car accident in ’84, I often use a cane to ease the weight from my shattered left heel, and my then current one was in need of a rest.

Later that day, back in Martinez, I drove with Mazie down to our usual bench near the Marina pond to feed the ducks and watch the sunset. We never knew what to expect there, but the magic was strong, and our hearts were open to letting it all in.

I decided to try out the golf cane I had picked up from my parents’ garage earlier that day, to accompany me on our evening stroll along the Marina. It was an especially beautiful late afternoon settling in over the Carquinez Straits, and we were happy to be together with a bag of bread crusts for our friends.

When we came to the train tracks that intersect the Marina entrance, the passage was blocked by a big yellow train that appeared to be stalled. We waited in line behind a few other vehicles, rolled down the windows of the car, and admired an overhanging Eucalyptus. I remarked to Mazie that I had spent most of my life impatient. I had inquired into this persistent quality over the years, dealing with it from just about every level, and yet it remained a stubborn personality trait, felt as a chronic contraction that resisted my efforts to overcome.

As I sat with Mazie waiting for the train to start up and clear the way, I gradually realized that I now felt no sense of impatience at all, contrary to my habitual pattern. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t felt that old nagging knot for quite some time. Indeed, I now saw that this impatience stitched through the fabric of my life had been nothing but an inner urgency to be with my Beloved again, even though I had no idea where or who she would turn out to be until a year ago!

Now I was perfectly happy to sit in the car all night with my Beloved if that was the way this thing wanted to unfold, just praising the wonder of that Mystery that had brought us together once again! As this realization settled in, the train began to slowly pull forward, boxcar after yellow boxcar, blowing its whistle and building up speed. It looked like we would soon be on our way until the train ground to a halt. I looked to see if the impatience would return, but this feeling of deep peace had not left.

After some time, the train began to move, but backwards this time, and of course you can probably imagine what metaphors now blossomed in the minds of two love-mad poets! Eventually, the tracks were cleared and we proceeded on to the intended destination. We parked and began walking to the pond, just as the sun was setting over the nearby hills on the bay.

As we approached our usual spot on the shore of the pond, I noticed a young girl – perhaps 7 or 8 years of age, dark-complexioned, but of no readily-identifiable nationality – happily using a golf club to make carvings in the sand near our bench. She turned to look at us, and I held up my golf club cane to show her I had one too, and she smiled such a beautifully rich, mysterious smile that it took my breath away. I sat down on the bench with Mazie, but hardly even noticed as she began feeding the friends.

I looked over to the young girl, and at that moment she returned a gaze that pierced me! I started to say something to Mazie – something about that girl not being an ordinary human – when suddenly my mind just dropped away, and I was left speechless. There were no ducks, no pond, no sunset, no hills, no Mazie and Bob, nothing! Everything was just as it was, but at the same time it was not! There was no matrix of perception, no place where anything could “mean”, no sense of self distinguished from something “else”.

It was not as if it was all happening over a length of time, as in some sort of cinematic slow motion. The whole experience itself seemed lifted somehow “out of time”. Although my eyes were wide open, the swirling crowd of seagulls circling our heads made no impression. I just stared straight ahead, trance-like, while my breath held itself somewhere. Mazie later recounted how her tongue had spontaneously curled back in yogic fashion into her throat in some kundalini effect, and also reported that a super-conscious sublimity descended upon her too, as she beheld the girl.

When we “returned to normal”, the girl was gone, but “she” had left her sand carving for us. I remember saying something to Mazie about Divine Mother, and as we inspected the sand writings, our jaws dropped open yet again. Written in the most beautiful lettering were the words

“One Love”.

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The Symphony

Ukiah, CA 1970

It was my last day off before I was scheduled to return to work at the residential treatment center and school for pre-teens where I had been working as a child-care counselor. I was tired but happy, and so I spent the day napping and puttering around my place out in the woods. Before I knew it, a gorgeous sunset was filling up the evening sky. The night was going to be lovely – a bit cool but clear and bright. The stars were already dotting the velvet infinity with their crystalline shine, and barely a breeze was stirring. As dusk approached, I sat down on my meditation cushion and, no sooner had I done so than it felt as if “I” had simply disappeared.

What remained was the evening, but it was like no evening I had ever known before. I had spent my fair share of dusks enraptured by the wonder and mystery of the oncoming night, and all the magic contained within its descending blanket of beauty and delight, but this night was somehow appearing in a different realm of cognition than that to which I had become accustomed.

The first thing that became apparent was the synchronicity of sounds. No longer experiencing myself as some kind of matrix of perception in the midst of things, what existed now was just awareness without anchor, encompassing all that arose and dissolved within it. There was an enormous, orchestrated symphony of sound, and it definitely followed a pattern in which everything perfectly participated in the most naturally timed fashion. The sounds of the night creatures rose and fell in utter harmony. The stars, the trees, the window, the room, the crickets, the music, the mood: all inextricably merged in a unified choir of mysterious expression!

I was not separate from any of this, to the point where even the thought of such would never occur to me (except here in retrospect). I had become utterly lost within the broad harmonic expanse of myself, even as the totality of this magnificent universal chant-song unfurled from out of nothing and dissolved there just the same. I am this nothing! Nothing is happening, and it sounds just fine!

Eventually, I realized I could see in the dark, and it seemed as natural as can be! I could see through all eyes, the tree eye, the cat eye, the wind eye, the star eye, the ground eye, the sky eye – Huuuuu!  I see! All of creation is only me, I am all of creation! I make this sound, I am that silence, singing, seeing, swirling in a dance of free surrender into the limitless majesty of my own symphonic being!

About 8 hours later, in chronological time, I was ‘nothing but a head, placed upon the ground’, as a gift for the morning light. The light itself revealed that all appearances themselves are like shadows, cartoon-like shape-shifting ephemerals which slide liquidly across the white screen of perception, and just as soon swim off into the vast unknown. There was a grand and benign humor to this which I cannot put into words – the literal “play” of consciousness — but there was also the realization that this transience of appearances included the perceiver too, and though it didn’t really matter, it now felt incumbent upon myself to solidify as form.

This metamorphosis took more effort than one might imagine! In fact, it required every bit of concentration I could bring to bear to retain contact with the life vehicle, but this turned out to be beyond my own efforts, and so I passed away . . . and No, I cannot explain how I returned, or even what returned, though it certainly wasn’t the same as what had begun this little voyage in what now seemed a lifetime ago. Still, it was nearing time for work, so I made some tea, showered and shaved, and off I went on my way.

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Is It Safe?

Looking towards the light

Here’s another story from a night at the Alzheimer’s residential treatment center where I worked part time as an aide, after retiring from my career in the Organic Foods business.

I was walking down the hallway one evening on my way to swiping out for the night. “Swiping out” involves going to a special room and carefully sliding a piece of plastic identification through a scanner attached to the side of a wall. The metal box responds with a green light, if I do it right. Many people all across America and even around the world do this every day and night. The machines calculate our net time contributions to our employers, and determine suitable reimbursement for our efforts. It seems we have finally attained to the dead poet Richard Brautigan’s poetic vision of all being watched over by machines, although not necessarily the “machines of loving grace” that he envisioned – more like impersonal . . . well . . . machines.

In any case, a lovely old wheelchair-bound soul accosted me gently before I got to the special room with the swipe machine and asked me where she was. Although I had seen her at the facility a number of times previously, in her mind she had mysteriously just arrived here, not even knowing where “here” actually was, much less her room number. There’s a provocative metaphor there, but I’ll refrain from elaborating on it for now for the sake of brevity and just proceed with the narrative.

I asked her if she wanted to go for a ride to nurse’s station and thereby locate her room. This proposition seemed to appeal to her, so off we went, and she kept her feet raised like a pro, so as not to scrape the ground and lose her slippers as we wheeled down the hall.

When we got to the station, the nurse was off attending to someone else, so I parked the chair alongside some other patrons who were gathered around the nurse’s desk finishing off their Eight O’Clock Snacks, and told her the nurse would soon be back, and she would direct her to the right room.

As I was about to leave, she grabbed me by the arm, looked me in the eyes and asked, “Is it safe?”

Thanks to Mazie who had recently introduced me to the film “Marathon Man”, I immediately flashed on the Nazi Laurence Olivier asking that same question to Dustin Hoffman, strapped in the dentist chair and tortured for information, and this made me smile out loud. I then quickly assured the Dear that everything was perfect. We both smiled at that. Hey, why not? All is well, no matter what, so why not admit it, even when things don’t necessarily seem that way in the midst of this crazy dream?

Nevertheless, there was still some inquiry that wanted to be done, so she next asked how many people were there at night, and I told her that there were more than a hundred. This impressed her, but she wondered if it was safer to be at home instead. I replied that since there were more people here at the facility than there were at home, that meant she was safer, because there were more people here to help her.

This made sense to her, and she expressed relief. I conveyed to her my most sincere and confident trust that she could relax, upon which she thanked me graciously for my sentiments. We smiled at each other for a while — two vulnerable critters wandering through this realm on another night in infinity, smiling in the midst of the vast unknown. Our smiles exuded the warmth of safety, even in the midst of a life of uncertainty — just because we were there with each other. It was good. When the nurse finally arrived back at her station to help out, we finally said good-bye for the night, both feeling safe, and for no truly sound reason, except that we tell each other it is so, and so it is.

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Traffic

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I once lived near the Presidio, in San Francisco, and there was a charming little city park with a lovely water feature a few blocks down from my house, called Mountain Lake Park.

I would walk my dogs there, and behind the lake, near an abandoned army base, there was a place where one could view all the traffic flowing to and from a tunnel leading up to and away from the Golden Gate Bridge.

One day I found a good place overlooking the road to rest and watch the cars coming and going, and that gave me an opportunity to investigate this mind. Given my somewhat eccentric neural wiring, this respite was to provide the first initiation into the esoteric significance of watching traffic: everything is in motion, and yet the witness remains unmoved.

The second initiation was like a time-release capsule, because it took some time for the dawning realization that each car was my own thought form, and this recognition in turn led to the third initiation, which is not a word, a thought, a sensation, a memory, or even a perception.

All of these initiations happened, but nothing was different as a result. The traffic flows both ways even now, I reckon. It is not good or bad traffic, except to the interpretive mind. Cars go into the tunnel and disappear. Cars emerge from the tunnel and speed by. It is all changing, and no two vehicles are exactly the same.

Each blur of color and motion is an apparently separate story with its own history and destiny, but all of these stories are interconnected, and in essence, all are my own story, the story of consciousness and what it projects. Indeed, why even insert an “I” or “mine”? Isn’t that a rather superfluous addition after all?

There is a beginning-less stretch of traffic, and it never seems to end. This whole stretch of traffic is one piece of light, and includes the whole functioning totality of manifestation, both visible and invisible. It is neither seeking nor non-seeking; it flows, because that is what and how it is — liquid light, flowing beingness. What appears in awareness is not separate from awareness.

If I were to say it is Love, this would also be true, but not in the way mind understands. I am the traffic, but none of it is me. Realizing this, it is not so difficult to let go of mind, and all of its distracting multi-colored traffic. This would not be the end of the matter, however.

In fact, this very mind which comes and goes, which seeks and strives, which wheels along on a Sunday Drive, is also Love — the groundless, rootless open essence of all thoughts, appearances, and traffic.

I love this mind, this mind of Love, and so I release it back to itself, stand up, and walk back home. Love walks home to itself, and it is only Love which receives itself there. Likewise, out on the highway of Love, Love drives back and forth across the bridge of itself, all on a small blue ball that circles a shining star in a solar system adrift on the outer edge of a spinning galaxy, a luminous wonder afloat in one universe among so many, more numerous than grains of sand on an infinite shore.

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Surfin’ Safari

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“Let’s go surfin’ now!

Everybody’s learnin’ how!

Come on a safari with me!”

~The Beach Boys

Summertime in California, early 1960s . . . If you lived down by the Pacific Ocean, you may not have known how to surf, but you certainly couldn’t help but be lured out to the beach on warm summer days. Once there, you could see thrilling visions of surf riders daring the onrushing tides, or tossed/washed off their gleaming boards in hungry curls of carnivorous snarl. In either case, the contagious excitement of taking it to the limit was just the kind of adolescent allurement that laced through many of the Top 40 tunes of the day. I was certainly not immune to the siren songs that promised fun and glory in the blue-green waves. “Everybody’s gone surfin’ . . . . surfin’ USA!”

I grew up in the Richmond District in San Francisco, adjacent to the emerald majesty of Golden Gate Park, about eight blocks up Fulton from Ocean Beach. Stretching south below the post-card Cliff House and the old Sutro Baths (incarnating as a swell skating rink at the time, now in ruins), there’s a spit of sand known as Kelley’s Cove. A short bus ride, and I was there.

First stop was at Playland concession (the deteriorating amusement park across the street from the beach) for some tasty french fries to complement the salty ocean air. From there, I shepherded my two younger brothers and sister over to the shore, down the steps of the concrete sea wall, and out to “our spot” near the pier (also now washed away). Here we sat and conducted cultural-anthropological musings about the various tribal gatherings and cliques – the “surfers” and the “greasers” – but mostly just watched in awe as the wet suited warriors rode the waves.

When it got hot enough, we’d swim out a bit, and practice “body surfing”, unconcerned with the posted warning signs about dangerous undertows in the area. The internal chemical rush from catching the right wavelet only whetted my appetite for the real thing.

I eventually acquired my own training board, as well as an ill-fitting rubbery wet suit top. I ignored the odd glances from the other passengers when I boarded the bus on the way to the beach. I had just turned 13 in June, and it was my last summer vacation before I was to enter a Catholic Seminary in the Fall, and renounce my earthly life in service to my fantasy of the saintly path.

With Beach Boy lyrics romping in my ears, I fearlessly paddled out to the big waves, and hunched up from my prone position to a sitting one, dangling my shark-bait legs in the water and feeling like I had finally arrived.

After studying the methods of the various older guys – how they chose their own individual waves, got a good start, and then climbed their boards to marry with the roll and surge of surf — I pumped up my courage and away I went!

Within seconds, I found myself buried in the wave I had challenged, minus my board, coughing salty water and being swept swiftly, helplessly — not towards the shore — but out towards Hawaii.

After the turbulence had subsided and I had regained the surface, I began a desperate, futile effort to swim against the tide, and it was now quickly dawning on me why the warning signs about the undertow were placed near this beach. I had heard stories, but of course such things only happened to other people. At 13, I was invincible –summer had just started, for chrissake! I had my whole life ahead of me!

Then panic gripped me, and I started to scream for help, but I was too far out by now to be heard, and as I tried to see the shore, I found, to my even greater panic, that the shore was no longer visible. The more I struggled, the wearier I became, and I began to realize that I could die! Yes! I could actually die out here, and, in fact, I probably would!

Then I remembered the previous summer, when I fell off my rubber tire while “tubing” a river in the Sierras. After being tossed wildly in the froth, I had grabbed onto a rock in the middle of the rapids, clinging to it for dear life. Eventually, my arms had grown too tired to hold it any longer in the force of the oncoming river. Finally I just surrendered, and soon was washed into the still pool at the foot of the white water, breathing such a sigh of relief!

There was a lesson there, and it now raced back to me. I once again had found myself in a powerless condition, and so I stretched into a floating position on my back, exhaled, and gave up the struggle. I let everything go.

It all seemed so peaceful now, and timeless. I rested in the unknown of it all. Above me, the blue sky was beginning to blaze into the light of a glorious sunset, and I had become numb to the chilly embrace of the ocean on my skin. Gradually, an older, deeper remembrance began to flood my consciousness, obliterating any lingering traces of fear, or any concern at all.

I recall nothing after that, except a kind of dreamless slumber, and then the waking up at sea. I realized that I had been carried for miles in a great arc, borne along by a Grace beyond comprehension. I was so very gently and naturally being returned to land in this lovely twilight, far down the beach from where I had embarked, and lifetimes, really, from the child who had drifted and rocked so innocently to sleep in the arms of the ocean mother.

At last I was climbing back onto the shore, and after all that had transpired, I was simply famished for french fries. As it turned out, the concession had closed by then, but it didn’t really matter. Just the hunger pangs alone were enough to make me smile.

 

 

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Bat Cave Puja

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In 1980, while traveling up the Indonesian peninsula from Bali to Bangkok, I was fortunate enough to be guided by a friendly Balinese to a semi-secret ceremony being conducted by a local priest/shaman at the mouth of a bat cave, just up from the shore of the Indian Ocean.

It was a stormy day, but during the ceremony the skies cleared, and I found myself sitting near the bamboo platform of the white-clad priest, as he rang his bell and chanted musical verses. About 300 worshipers sat together before the enormous maw of a cliff cave, coated all around with several feet of black dried guano, or bat droppings.

From a National Geographic/cultural anthropological perspective, it was fascinating, for sure, but even their artfully produced travel films can hardly communicate the visceral sense of spirit presence at this event, and Bali of course is the Island of the Spirits.

Spirit was embodied, for the participants in this ritual, by the thousands of giant bats that inhabited the cave, and who reflected all the worship going on outside with a responsiveness that could only be gleaned by one in sympathetic reverie with them, and so for that time we all became bat hearts.

Amidst such a hypnotic vibration, I turned at one point to the priest as he turned simultaneously to me, and with a beautiful sweeping motion he lifted the bell and gave it a slight ding. That was enough to flood my being with tears I could not account for, so lost was I in this Balinese bat bliss of chant and invocation to the Mystery. At the climax of the fervent chanting, there was a sudden explosive wave of winging black beauty which emerged from the cave mouth, as an immense colony of bats swooped and glided in synch along the cliff wall to the left, and then just as gracefully returned to the cave.

At that point, everybody seemed to agree that it had been a good day for church, and gathered themselves up and wandered off somewhere, leaving me sitting in the sand, listening as the sea washed in and out, and contemplating the relativity of all religious beliefs, and what they all are rooted in — the same sense of awe and mystery that I had been plunged into that day.

 

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