Mill Valley, CA
The walk to Mill Valley was serene and majestic. Rolling green hills, covered with trees. Mount Tam off in the distance – silent, tall, and welcoming.
Maybe I should just go to Mount Tam, I thought. Forget all about Shasta. Then this will all be over.
But it won’t be over. Even when I make it to Shasta, it won’t be over.
The road was easy. The sun was shining, and I was in good spirits. I started to sing hymns (not sure if “The Lord is Good to Me” from the Johnny Appleseed Disney movie counts as a hymn, but I sang that one). “Sweet Hour of Prayer”, “I’ll Fly Away,” and some songs in Hebrew and Arabic that I learned from the spirits.
I entered a dog park and met a woman who was kneeling down, smelling patches of fennel. She had a great big smile on her face. I stopped and spoke to her for a bit. She was currently living in her car, and she couldn’t have been happier about it. She told me she used to live in Alaska but left when living there became too much for her. She said that the thing about life is that no matter what obstacles come your way, you can always find a way to deal with them. There’s always a way.
Sound advice to get during the calm before the storm.
The first church I arrived at was empty, so I went to a Buddhist temple down the street. I spoke with a woman who worked there. We had a good conversation about Buddhism and its relationship to the question of God.
“I think Jesus and Buddha had a lot in common – except for the God thing,” I said.
“Yeah, they definitely differed there, ” she said.
“Yes, but Buddha didn’t say that God doesn’t exist. He merely remained silent when he was asked about God; he neither confirmed nor denied.”
“That is true,” she said, “but since then most Buddhists see belief in God as an obstacle to enlightenment.”
I told her I could see that, depending on what image a person holds of God. If you imagine an old man with a white beard in the sky, throwing thunderbolts at you if you tell lies or masturbate, then yeah, that could be a hindrance on your quest for enlightenment. But if you hold a panentheistic view of God, seeing God in everything but also transcending everything, that seems a little closer to what Buddha said about the nature of reality.
She seemed to agree with that. Then she told me some of the history of Buddhism in the Bay Area and why she thought Ronald Reagan ruined California and the whole country.
Eventually, I got around to asking if I could do some work for the temple in exchange for being able to crash there to avoid the rain that was to come later that night. Things got awkward immediately. She said that the temple certainly couldn’t accommodate me and that her own house was full of guests. I could see her mentally struggling over how to help me. I started to feel bad.
“Look,” I said. “I only asked if it’s easy. If it’s easy, great. If not, no worries.”
She told me my best bet was to camp out in the trees near the mountain.
I cleaned my clothes at a nearby laundromat and had an interesting conversation with a woman who was reading a book in which human emotions and feelings (anger, fear, joy, jealousy, love, suffering) were all personified. We started passing the book back and forth and reading various entries to each other. The one about fear struck me – fear was depicted as a storyteller whose stories you shouldn’t always listen to.
While I was digging through my bag, I found three stones of power that I’d brought with me. That meant I had three more objects to give away. That plus a special object to give away once I reached Mt. Shasta meant a total of seven. I gave the woman in the laundromat one of these stones. She thanked me and said that she actually had a healing practice where she worked with stones, and that she would put it to good use.
I left the laundromat, looking for the next church. On the way there, I was passed by a police car. Twice. I didn’t think it was a coincidence and I figured that the sooner I got out of sight, the better.
Got to the church, but it was empty. But it had a garden area in the back, which was situated right in front of the church’s reading room (which you could see into because of the glass doors) and a wooden bridge ran overhead. A perfect shelter from the storm.
As I stood in this little garden area in front of that glass door, I got the sense that even though it was only about 5 pm, I should not leave this area for any reason until morning. Something was rising up in me, some fear(s) that needed to be faced, and it was here that I felt that I need to make my stand.
So I sat down, I prayed. I meditated. I stood for long stretches of time. I walked back and forth, hand clasped together, murmuring softly to myself. I imagined a circle of protection around me.
Don’t leave this circle tonight!
My fears intensified. Fears of being discovered. Fear that the church I was going to the next day wouldn’t offer me shelter. I started to rehearse what I was going to say to them, then stopped myself. This wasn’t living in the moment. This was not trusting in God to provide.
This was grasping mind.
I wanted night to come quickly, so it would be morning already. “Come night!” I prayed. “Come, night! Come, night!”
And then the lights came on.
The lamps in the garden suddenly became luminous. The lights inside the reading room switched on as well. I froze, panicking. Someone’s here, I thought. They’re here and they’re going to see me. My impulse was to flee, but the voice in my head said, Remain inside the circle!
But what if someone comes?
Remain inside the circle!
What if someone comes and drags me out?
Well then, obviously, if that that happens, you’ll need to leave, but until it does, remain inside the circle.
I stayed in the circle. No one came to drag me away.
I put down my sleeping bag and mat and tried to sleep, but I didn’t have much luck.
Then at about 3 AM, it started to rain.
I thought the bridge running over me would protect me but I was wrong. The rain was leaking through, forming puddles around me, landing on me and my belongings. I tried to adjust my position but was relentlessly pursued by the water.
5:30 AM rolled around, and it was still dark. I got the sense it was okay to leave the circle. Cold, hungry, and tired, I made way to a United Methodist church for Sunday service.