“The Road”

Road_in_Norway-1
This is the road.
This is the road.

This is
the road of your ancestors
the road of your enemies

This is the road that calls
This is the road that calls
to you

For there is freedom
on the road
There is life and death
on the road

There are cars whizzing by
And birds overhead
And week-old road kill
on the road

There are tired feet
and tired hands
and tired lungs
and tired eyes
on the road

The sun?
Well, it blinds you.
The wind?
It howls past you
and  you just have your thoughts
you just have thoughts that never end
and everywhere you look
is a place to sleep
and you no longer wonder
when or what
you’re going to eat
Your family is there
Your friends are there
It’s your fifth birthday party
You kiss soft lips
You dance around
a broken sprinkler head
like a
savage
and it was all very good
before the road
And all of it goes with you

on the road.

You’re a hero
on the road
A fucking loser
on the road.
You’re a genius on the road and a bum on the road
You’re a piece of shit on the road
and a diamond
in the rough
on the road
You’re whoever you want to be
on the road
and whoever people tell you
you are

on the road

And the stars shine down on you and the wind creeps through your sweater and you’re thankful for your sleeping bag
and you’re thankful to the people who
fed you and took you in
and when they don’t
and you’re sleeping in a baseball dugout
or under a bridge
and hoping nobody sees you
you feel like an outlaw
you feel like the bottom of the earth
and you are alone

on the road.

You were respectable
before the road
You had high hopes
before the road

Now the road is your hope
Your final hurrah
Your last ditch attempt
to fit
until you remember
what else it was
you needed to do

And that too
is the road

It is the road
It is
the road
This is every road
that calls
to you.

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Summer in Sin City

Purge Photo

We’ve been experiencing record heat here in Las Vegas.  I suppose it’s apropos that Sin City feels as hot as hell.

Hell’s a good description of what the last two months have felt like.

Straight Jacket

“Do you have have anything in black, with an upturned collar?”

When I first got here, I spoke with a kundalini therapist that I got in contact through the Spiritual Emergence Network.    He gave me some tips and exercises, mainly to help me ground the energy.

I re-discovered some of the material that I’d been reading when all this started seven years ago.  The first was the book Spiritual Emergency, which was edited Stanislav and Christina Grof.   You can read an overview of the book’s central premise here.  There’s a good body of research and case studies involving people dealing with this type of phenomena, and in 1994, the American Psychological Association even added it as a new category (“Religious or Spiritual Problem”) in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – Fourth Edition.  I’ve also made repeat visits to the Spiritual Emergency Blog.

A day later, I tried sitting down to write, but I had to take breaks every 2-3 minutes.  I couldn’t concentrate with all this energy moving around my head.  So I tried surrendering to it.

From there, I plummeted into a deep depression, during which all the deep dark shit that has been lock away in the prison of my subconscious staged a massive jailbreak.  The more I let the energy in, the more garbage came up.

Looking back on it now, I’m seeing that it was all part of the purging process, but I really wish I had kept up more of my grounding exercises while it was going on.

I’ll spare you the details, not because I don’t think you can handle reading them, but because I know there’s a part of me that will enjoy dramatizing my private hell for you.  And that troubles me.

Within the last couple weeks or so, I started turning a corner, for a number of reasons.  I forced myself to exercise more and tackle some projects in the backyard.  That, and a host of other factors, led me to the following realizations:

1.  I’m horrified that our civilization is bringing us to the brink of planetary destruction.

 

800px-Holzkohlegewinnung_im_Regenwald

I wasn’t much of a nature buff growing up.  I preferred to be indoors, in front of a TV or nose stuck behind a book.

When I went traveling, I started to develop a sense of connection to the natural world.  One time when I went camping, my friend and I had ingested huachuma, commonly known as the San Pedro cactus, which is a close relative to peyote. I had a profound experience.

I became aware that there was no individual “me” – that life was an intricate web of relationships, one form of life affecting another.  I felt streams of energy connecting me to the earth, to the sky, to the trees…particularly trees.  As I walked among them, it didn’t feel like I was moving by my own volition, but rather that I was being carried along by…everything.  Everything was one.

I remember calling out to the earth, asking for guidance.  “What am I supposed to do with my life?  Can you help me?” I asked.

And I felt the earth respond, “Help you??? Help me!!!”

I’m not really sure if this is a point worth arguing, because it seems incredibly obvious to anyone with a set of smog-filled lungs (which is most of us). Our civilization’s behavior – what we’re doing to each other, what we’re doing to non-human life, what we’re doing to the ecosphere – seems nothing less than psychopathic.

The earth is our home.  It is the source of our food, water, air and shelter.  If it goes, we go.

And right now, it’s going.

Right now.

For a while I was beating myself up for not being able to “get my shit together” and getting back into the game.  Now I’m seeing why.  It’s like my body is reacting to my current environment like a body sometimes reacts to a foreign tissue transplant.

Rejection.

Asphalt, lamp posts, buildings…they say nothing to me.  I can’t hear them speak.  But I can hear the trees…

I need the feel of living wood against the palms of my hand.

I need the sun that shines on the just and the unjust unlike.

I need the dirt underneath my feet, pulling my energy towards it, grounding me, reminding me what’s real.  

I need the songs of birds and the sight of bees.

I’m lucky.  I can satisfy all these cravings, to various degrees.

But there’s one  desire I still struggle to fulfill, and before this summer, I couldn’t even identify its name, let alone how to fulfill it.

I need the songs of my ancestors.

2.  I have no sense of ancestral history

570px-Africa_satellite_plane

Years ago, during a series of dreams that changed my life, I felt a compulsion towards political activism and social justice.  I read Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience”, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and John Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life.  I also started reading a host of anarchist literature, though the stuff that sticks with me today is the works of Emma Goldman and Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatistas.

These writings blew my mind, exposing me to  political and economic realities I was utterly  blind to.

Perhaps it might be more accurate to say that I knew the world was full of these realities, but I showed little initiative to try to do anything about them.

“Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring.  Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial.  The book examines how individuals and institutions – victims, perpetrators, and bystanders-know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts.  They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest.  This has been true about slavery, genocide, torture, and every form of systemic oppression.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

This summer I started digging up all this old material that I used to read.  Reviewing it.

I came across new stuff too.

I learned that Hitler, arguably the most  reviled figure in human history, was partially inspired by the U.S. government’s efforts to eradicate the Native Americans.  From John Toland’s biography, Adolf Hitler:

“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the Wild West; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat—of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

Here’s the kicker, an excerpt from one of Ward Churchill’s speeches:

Scholars estimate the North American Indian population at 15 million at the time of Columbus’s arrival. In 1900, the US census found that there were 237,000 Indians in North America. This dwarves anything that Hitler ever did. What is interesting about the American architects of genocide is that they don’t even feel the need to use euphemisms. They openly called for the “extermination” of the Indian, while nobody can find a single statement by Hitler that is so blunt.

There are no words.

And of course…I could not help but finally turn my eye to the subject I had long been avoiding.

The subject of my people.  Our history in this country.

From the African Holocaust website:

Some historians conclude that the total loss in persons removed, those who died on the arduous march to coastal slave marts and those killed in slave raids, exceeded the 65–75 million inhabitants remaining Africa at the trade’s end. Over 10 million died as direct consequences of the Atlantic slave trade alone. But no one knows the exact number: Many died in transport, others died from diseases or indirectly from the social trauma left behind in Africa. Not only was Transatlantic Slavery of demographic significance, in the aggregate population losses but also in the profound changes to settlement patterns, epidemiological exposure and reproductive and social development potential. And perhaps one profound difference between Arab and European systems was that Africa’s development potential was being experienced outside of Africa, as opposed to inside Africa.

I knew this already.  I knew the facts and the numbers.  I knew  of the atrocities.  But I pushed them back in my mind so I could get on with life.

Until I couldn’t get on with it anymore.

At this point in my life, my yearning to connect with the earth as fully as possible can’t be fully realized because I don’t understand it.

I don’t fully comprehend both its brutality and its beauty.

I don’t know how to hunt, fish, find pure sources of water (provided there are any left).

I don’t know how to build shelter, start a fire from scratch, bind wounds.

I don’t know which plants are good for food, which plants are good for medicine, and which plants will kill you.

I don’t know how to talk to the gods.

I don’t know what my ancestors knew, but I like to imagine that they must have known all these things.  It’s easy to imagine them as perfect specimens of humanity because I don’t have anything else to go on but my imagination.

I don’t know what part of Africa they came from.  I don’t know what their culture was like.  What their religion was like.  If they lived off the land, or if they lived in cities.  If they were good people, or if they were the worst people alive.

I suppose I could pull an Alex Haley, go get some genetic testing done, figure out what region I’m from, and see if I can track down anyone who might be related to me.   I don’t have the resources available to do that today.  Maybe some day.  But I digress..

The point is, I’m here now, bereft of a culture, religion, and way of life that speaks to my spirit.  I feel loss, and I feel anger at what was done to my people.  I feel like something very precious was stolen from me.

From all of us.

3.  The only way to transcend one’s shadow is to go through it

800px-Cornava

I’ve been reading a fantasy series called The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.   **SPOILER ALERT**  It’s about a man (Thomas Covenant) who, after being diagnosed with leprosy, is abandoned by his family and becomes a social pariah.  While walking through town one day, he is involved in an accident and is mysteriously transported to a fantastical world known only as the Land.

Everything in the Land has a vibrant quality to it, giving one the sense that the Land is actually alive and humming with magical, healing energy.  This energy – known as a Earthpower – allows people to perform magic and shape stone and wood according to their desire.

When Thomas Covenant arrives, the people of the Land believe he is the reincarnation of a messiah figure named Berek Halfhand (Covenant is missing two fingers on his right hand because of his leprosy).  The people of the Land believe that Thomas Covenant is only one who can defeat Lord Foul the Despiser, the Land’s ancient enemy.

While in the Land, Covenant is healed of his leprosy.  He’s hailed as a hero.  People offer him help, and even give up their lives on his behalf.  At one point, he commits an unspeakable crime, but nobody holds him accountable because they believe he must be allowed to go free in order to save the land from Lord Foul.

But Thomas Covenant is a leper.

A leper must be constantly vigilant in order to stay alive.  Everything in their environment represents dangers.  They must constantly check their bodies for cuts, abrasions or other types of wounds.  Because their nerves are dead, their bodies don’t know when they’ve been injured, and small wounds can  easily lead to infection and gangrene.

Because he is a leper, it is imperative that Thomas Covenant refuses to believe in the Land’s existence.

If Covenant allows himself to believe that the Land is real, if he accepts its healing properties and beauty, he risks going insane and possibly dying when he eventually returns to his own world.  He’ll let his guard down and won’t be able to face the challenges that all lepers must face in order to stay alive.

He must dismiss the entire episode as a delusion, caused by the accident that occurred back in the real world.  His very survival depends on it.

Yet, the Land seems very real.  So the question these books pose is, “Whether you’re experiencing reality or the illusion of reality, how should you act?”  The book asserts that this is the fundamental question of ethics.

Guilt is a major theme in the novels: characters are often burdened with the memories of past actions, feeling inadequate to the challenges that lie before them because of past crimes.

The characters eventually realize that only when they accept their darkness can they find the inner strength necessary to defeat  evil.

At the end of the day, we are as only strong as the weakest link.  The weakest link, in this case, would be the pockets of darkness, guilt and unresolved pain that dwells within us.  Running from it won’t help.  Ignoring it won’t help.  Only be accepting all parts of ourselves, without judgment, and integrating those aspects into the rest of our being  can we find freedom and release,  fortitude and conviction.

This was especially meaningful to me, because kundalini has been dredging up all kinds of shit.  Past pain.  Memories of hurting others and being hurt.  Reservoirs of rage.  Dark places within myself, that I’ve kept hidden away, unexposed to the light because I so desperately wanted to be considered a “good person.”

I think of all the times in my life that I’ve failed.

When I did the first peace walk, I was acting largely out of despair, not conviction.  There seemed no place for me in the world. I didn’t know what else to do but walk.

But I lied and told myself that I was doing it to follow in the steps of Peace Pilgrim.  I took on this “holy mission” and broadcasted to everyone I knew, when deep inside, I was barely hanging on.

The second walk was more honest.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I was just being guided by my intuition.  And eventually, I was led to the realization that until I make peace with kundalini, until I bring myself into harmony, until I exercise integrity and honesty within myself, I will always be fractured.

This process has been hard.  Because I’m realizing I’m not the holy, righteous person that I want to be.

I’m a dick sometimes.

A lot of the time.

I’ve manipulated people in order to get what I want.  I’ve lied to people or hidden certain truths from people out of fear of being ostracized or because I wanted their respect.  These are not the actions of a peace pilgrim, but of a coward.

Perhaps I am judging myself too harshly.  That’s the key, isn’t it?  Can I admit all this about myself without thinking of myself as a “bad person”?

Can I just accept that I’m a fallible human being who tries to do the right thing but fucks up more often than he’d like?

Therein lies the paradox…

The second way in which these books affected me has to do with the theme of how to act in a world that might be nothing more than an illusion.

I find this to be an incredibly poignant issue, given some of the attitudes of the New Age philosophy in regards to human suffering.

I’ve read articles my New Thought writers that have advocated not listening to “upsetting new stories” so that you can cultivate a positive state of mind.

I’ve heard people say that the reason that people suffer in other parts of the world is because of karma…because “their souls chose that path.”

I was discussing the destruction of the planet with a friend of mine, and he said that all is an illusion, that the earth will shake us off like fleas if it must.  That’s it all in our minds.

That shit pisses me off.

It’s the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and going, “LA LA LA LA LA LA!  I CAN’T HEAR YOU!! LA LA LA LA!”

Not only does this attitude trivialize the suffering of others, it fails to recognize the history of imperialism,  colonization, and human and planetary exploitation which has caused much of the world’s suffering.

It’s easy to minimize the suffering of another as being “their soul’s choice” when you’re occupying a position of privilege within an oppressive system.   I have a feeling that these folks would be singing a different tune if they were sitting at the bottom of the shit slide.

The world may very well be an illusion, an impermanent thing.  The earth may shake us off like fleas.  So what?  Does that absolve us of the responsibility to act on its behalf (and ours, since we can’t survive without it)?

Whether this world is just a passing dream or not, we still have to act.  We still have to make choices based on what we know about ourselves and about the world.  And those actions say more about the type of people we are than any philosophy or belief we claim to subscribe to.

4.  Love may very well be the most powerful force in the Universe

Amaa with goat on the front porch

As angry as I get, when I open myself up to the Divine, a calm comes over me.

This is the paradox.

The calm, timeless ground of reality that underlies all being.

And the swirling, time-bound maelstrom of the world of forms.

How do we live in both?

This is the paradox.

Can’t do it without love.  That much seems obvious.  At least, I can’t.  But I have problems with the world “love”.

“All you need is love,” they say.

I imagine dewey-eyed hippies running around, sticking flowers into the barrels of guns and sending out “positive energy.”

No diss to dewey-eyed hippies, flowers, or positive energy.  The world needs ’em, I suppose.

But that’s not me.  I’m not sure what is for me.  I do know that when I’ve reached out to God, I don’t feel afraid anymore.  I feel strong.  Protected. Preserved.  Grounded.

Whatever I do, I can’t do it without God.  I cannot see apart from Him.

In my TAL interview, I said that I wanted a mission statement from God.  Something with explicit instructions on what to do and when to do it.

How silly.

Does a flower need a mission statement?  Does an ant?  Does a bear?  Does a goat?

Do the oceans and rivers need to be “told” what to do?  Does a mountain?  Does a tree?

Their purpose is hard-wired into the fabric of their being.

You don’t need to receive a mission statement.  You ARE the mission statement.

If I don’t know what my mission statement is, it’s because I have become so numb to my own emotions, thoughts, and intuitions, that I don’t know how to respond appropriately to anything.

The goal of religion, if I’ve understood anything about it, is to get human beings back to a place where we don’t have to consult books and endless rules and regulations about how to behave.  We act according to what’s in our hearts.

If God wants anything from me, it’s simply to surrender.

Surrender the will, the ego mind.  To be an empty vessel through which the divine can act.

And surrendering isn’t just a one-time act either.  It’d be much easier if it was.

Surrender is a day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice.

Once I’ve surrendered my need to know the answers, I might actually receive them.

Or better yet, I might learn that I never really needed them.  Because everything I needed to know was already within, waiting to be expressed.

I’ma leave it at that.

And with this.

Reckoning

Diagramma-chakra-kundalini

6/28

Santa Barbara

I woke up the next morning, joints and muscles aching.  I could hear Nadine, her intern Dan, and Nadine’s son Michael hustling about the house, getting ready for Nadine’s big yoga class at the Santa Barbara library.  Nadine teaches a type of yoga that is geared towards parents and their infant/toddlers.

I was so sore, I thought about asking Nadine if I could stay another day and recuperate, but decided not to bring the subject up until later on.  As everyone was getting ready, I made all of us a simple breakfast of toast with almond butter and white peaches.  Nadine asked me if I was good with a camera.  I said I was alright. She gave me the job of taking promotional photos of the parents and the kids that she could put up on her website.

Running late, we drove like hell to the library and began setting up.  Dan showed me the different settings on the camera.  Nadine introduced me to the library staff and another worker.  Then the parents and their kids arrived.  There were a lot of them, I’d say about 40-50 people.

Everyone seemed to be having fun.  There were large, medium, and small-sized rubber balls that you could work with while doing the yoga poses.  As Nadine led everyone through each pose, they sang songs Nadine and written and taught to them.  Some kids ran up to Nadine and volunteered to help her demonstrate how each pose was supposed to look.  All the while, I made my way through the class and tried to take as many photos as I could.

It was all very surreal.  Yesterday, I was hiking along the beach, into Malibu, hitched a ride into Santa Barbara, joined a church service, sought out shelter, and this morning I’m a volunteer photographer for a yoga class.

Life is strange. 

After class, we went out to eat.  Nadine asked me questions about my pilgrimage.  The night before, we talked about it briefly, and she compared what I was doing to the wandering sadhus of India, and said that she was a yogi herself.  So when she struck up the conversation once more, I let my guard down, and told her what had gotten me on this journey, including the mystical experiences I started having years ago.  The kundalini awakening.  The out-of-body experiences.  The praying in tongues.  I talked about my travels to Peru, Guatemala, Israel, and my first peace walk.

Before I got to the end, Nadine interrupted me, and I could hear worry in her voice.  As gently as she could, she expressed concern about my mental health, particularly when I mentioned my OBEs.  She suggested I look into my family history for instances of mental illness.  She felt I was needlessly putting myself in danger by wandering out into the world without reliable access to food and shelter.  When I told her I was only trying to follow what was in my heart, she said that it may “feel” like intuition, but it could simply be a pattern of programming – one that was attracting me to dangerous situations.  

She said that I needed to be in a low-stress environment, and that if I was in fact dealing with a psycho-spiritual phenomena such as kundalini, it needed to be an environment that was stable, like an ashram, as opposed to be just wandering about in the world when all sorts of dangers could befall me.

The word “schizophrenia” was mentioned, and that broke my heart.  It wasn’t the first time that someone suggested that I had it.  What frustrates me is that once someone says there’s something wrong with what’s in my head, it immediately negates the validity of everything I experience when I’m in altered states of consciousness.  The idea of “trust yourself” or “listen to your heart” are rendered meaningless, because my basis for decision-making has been compromised.  Unable to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t, a schizophrenic is fundamentally untrustworthy, according to society.

I don’t feel sick.  I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me.  I don’t feel like what I’ve been experiencing is pathological.  I can distinguish between stimuli coming from my external environment and that which is arising from out of my interior life.  I don’t feel like I’m going crazy.

I feel like I’m becoming the person I was meant to be.

One thing she said did hit home.  The energy still runs rampantly through my body.  It’s hard to write (which is why I haven’t been writing posts very often – more on that in the next post), read, meditate – even as I write these words, I feel the energy massing around my face, the crown of my head, my third eye, pulling me into a trance-like state.

There have also been instances where I feel like I’m not alone.  That I’m surrounded by a presence or presences.  I didn’t write about this in my previous post, because I was concerned about how crazy it sounded.  But I feel like my behavior has become so erratic and incomprehensible to some people, I need to provide some account of my internal experiences; people may think me mad, but they’ll at least see the method behind it.

While I was in Malibu, waiting for my friend to pick me up from the bus stop and take me to Santa Barbara, I was sitting on a bench.  I was so tired from the day’s march that I could hardly lift my head or keep my eyes open.  I began to despair; how could I continue with this walk when I had so little endurance?  I tried to get myself into shape during the weeks leading up to all this, but clearly my efforts had been insufficient.

I turned myself over to God, and opened myself to the flow of energy that seems to originate from the crown of my head.   Immediately, I hear an inner voice say, Daryl, look at me.

I looked up in the direction from which I felt – or thought I felt – this presence was emanating.  I tried to tune into it with my mind’s eye – my imagination – and with that eye, I saw a face staring at me.

Take my hand.

I reached out mentally towards this presence, and clasped it, for lack of a better word.  I heard or felt this presence praying over me in Hebrew.  My kundalini energy began to surge, and I was able to open my eyes and lift my head.  New life had been breathed into me.

I can give no rational explanation for this.  Was I communicating with some external being?  Was I communicating with some hidden aspect of my mind that contained a reservoir of strength, hope and power?

Who knows?  Such experiences fill me with wonder and dread.  Not everything I’ve encountered in my mindspace has been beneficent.  This process has kicked open the doors to my shadow, releasing parts of myself that I’ve kept locked away and hidden.  As I reflected on my desire the previous night to be feared as opposed to being overcome with fear, I had to wonder if I was truly capable of handling this energy on my own.  How stable was I?

Maybe it was time to seek out a master…

When we got back to Nadine’s house, I went out into her backyard and prayed, connecting to the source of power that I wrote of earlier.

“Keep going or turn back?” I asked.

You found what you were looking for.

I began to tremble.  And as understanding began to dawn on me, I wept.

For the past 7 years, all that I’ve struggled with has been in relation to the inadvertent awakening of my kundalini energy.  The traveling, the peace walk, reading countless ancient texts…

I’ve been trying to find some sort of system, some frame of reference to help me understand what’s been happening to me.  After my first peace walk, I decided that there could be no reconciliation between what this energy was turning me into and the man I needed to be to survive in the world.

If I surrendered utterly to this power, I would be destroyed – there was no way I’d be able to relate to anyone or anything around me.  My bizarreness, my growing inability to conform to social norms would alienate me from my fellow human beings.  I would wind up alone and destitute.

Because the more I let go, the more dissatisfied I grew with the current state of affairs in the world – the rampant destruction of our planet, our dependence on an economic system that values monetary gain over human and non-human life, our inability to resolve territorial disputes without resorting to murder and genocide, just to name a few.  Something was terribly wrong with the world, and something was terribly wrong with my participation with and reliance on a system I found to be abhorrent.

I tried walking across the country on a peace walk.  I tried organizing a homesteading project.  I went on marches.  I joined Occupy Wall Street.

And at the end of the day, I decided that, above all things, I needed to survive.  I needed to be happy.  Sure, it’d be nice if the world was a better place, but I needed to look out for me, my family, and my friends.  Besides, none of my sentiments and none of my mystical experiences and high-minded ideals would help me deal with the practical issues of living in the real world.

If I wanted a secure, stable life, complete with food and shelter, with friends and family, I was going to have to push all that down.  Go back to being a writer.  Get a staff job on a TV show.  Make money.  Make movies. Write plays.  Build a life for myself.  Once I did that, I’d have all the security and stability I would need.

I tried.  I really did.

All attempts to crush the life growing inside me failed.  Kundalini could not be denied.  Would not be denied. And I didn’t want to deny it.  How can you oppose an enemy when all you want to do is defect?

I decided that wholeness was more valuable than security.  More than life even.  What’s the point of living if you’re living as a fractured person?

Whenever I connect with this power, I’m told that God will provide me with everything I need.  I’d been hearing that message for years.  Time to take it at its word, even unto death.

My walk, thus far, had accomplished two things.

It re-oriented me, cleared out all the bullshit that I’d been feeding myself for the past year, reminding me of how precious and uncertain life is.

It also showed me that I hadn’t been abandoned.  People have helped me, supported me, and expressed their love towards me in a variety of ways after I embarked on this latest pilgrimage.

Surrendering to God isn’t a death sentence just because I have no foreknowledge as to how my needs will be met.  I just need to trust and listen.

I had stepped out on faith and had been aided.  And now it was time to learn to master this energy.  I would need to stop my walk for the time being.

I didn’t want to stop.  I wanted to keep going.  I couldn’t bear another failure.  I felt I had the strength.  If I could be given another day of rest, I knew I’d be as good as new.

But intuitively, I knew that taking a slight detour didn’t signal the end of my pilgrimage.  It meant I would be able to enter a deeper stage of purification, which is what the whole pilgrimage had been about.

And calling it a detour made me feel less guilty.

Nadine let me stay with her for two more days.  We went on hikes, and I volunteered a couple more times for her yoga classes.  Then I was back on a bus to Vegas to grapple with and master kundalini.

I thought things were going to get easier, since I’d be in one place and not on the road.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The Saints of Santa Barbara

6/27

Palisades, CA

Made my way down to the beach and took a seat, feeling nauseous.  Tried to get in the water, but it was freezing.  So I walked in up to my knees and splashed some over me.  That seemed to help.  Sat and prayed, meditated, then was on my way.

I made my way along the coast, watching an army of surfers wading silently in the ocean, waiting for the next big wave.  I thought of what it’s like to wait on God.  How sometimes, there’s no activity.  Just nothingness. Then ripples, some movement.  Then a roar.

Stopped and ate a lunch of beef jerky and granola bars.  I remember when I first started, the bag was really heavy.  As I’ve been moving, I’ve felt its weight less and less.

I touched base with a friend in Los Angeles.  He said he was driving to Santa Barbara and would I like a ride? I really had to pray over it.  How important was it that I walk every step of the way? Is this pilgrimage about the walking or about the journey?  I decided it was more about the journey and the God’s providence, less about how many miles I actually walk, and decided to take the ride.

I made my way into Malibu, walked for an hour, and stopped at a bus stop, waiting for my friend, praying.

My friend picked me up and we drove for about an hour and half into Santa Barbara. I keep looking outside, wondering what it would have been like to have actually walked that distance.  100 miles.   It would have taken me more than a week.

Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Barbara is undeniably beautiful.  Spanish architecture, full of trees and sunshine, and people walking around everywhere.  Everything looked clean and brand new.  The public library was the nicest library I’ve ever been to.  Their check-out computer looked like something out of Star Trek.

I also noticed that there were homeless people everywhere.

I didn’t have time to write to anyone or update the blog, even though had an hour.  I just used that time to plan the remainder of my route.  It was about 5 PM when I said goodbye to my friend at the library and began looking for shelter.

The first church I stopped at was tall, majestic, and a with nice courtyard next to it.  An old woman with a lot of bags was sitting in the courtyard.  I walked up to the front door and saw a little note that said “Church Office hours: 9 AM to 3 PM”.  The door was locked, and there was an intercom button and a tiny camera lens on the door.

I figured the office would be closed, but I hit the buzzer just in case.  No answer.  I hit it one more time, then was about to turn to leave when I heard a woman’s voice through the intercom:  “Yes? Who is this?”

“My name is Daryl Watson,” I said.  “I was wondering if I could speak with the pastor.”
“There’s no pastor here.  There’s no one here who can help you.”
“Well…maybe you can help me?”
“No, I can’t help you, but thank you.”

As I made my way to the next church on my route – and was feeling pretty discouraged after that last encounter – I saw the weirdest thing: a woman wearing a white robe and bare feet, carrying a book.  She was so striking that I felt compelled to follow her.  She stopped at an ATM and I hid myself out of sight, not wanting to freak her out.  When she was on the move again, I ran up behind her.

“Excuse me!” I said to her.

She turned…and it turned out not to be “she” but a “he” – a short Asian man with a long hair and beard.  He was holding a massive copy of the Bible.

“Yes?” he said, staring up at me with kind eyes.

I took a beat to take him in, and then said, “Why are you in robes and barefoot?”

“Because of this,” he said, flipping open his Bible and reading from Matthew 10:9-10:  

“Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey or two tunics, or sandals
(emphasis added), or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.”

As he read this, my eyes filled with tears.  If this wasn’t a sign, I didn’t know what was.

He told me he’d been walking in this manner over the past 25 years.  Barefoot, dressed in all white, preaching the Word.

A couple of teenage boys approached us.  “Preacher,” said one of the boys.  “Give me a blessing.”

“I gave you a blessing yesterday,” said Preacher.
“Give me another one,” said the boy.
“No,” said Preacher, “I gave you one yesterday.  You don’t need anymore.”
The other boy started laughing.
“All right,” said the first boy.  “Any words of wisdom for today?”
“Guard your tongue,” said Preacher. “Only say righteous things.”

The boys left.  I told Preacher about my pilgrimage, and that I thought that seeing him was a sign of support.
“That’s good what you’re doing,” he said.  “Do you need anything?”
“I’m having trouble finding a place to stay,” I said.
“Ask, and you shall receive, ” he said.  He pulled out a wallet and handed me $20.  My eyes widened.  This was not what I was expecting.  During my first pilgrimage, I refused to take any money.  This time, I decided that I wouldn’t ask for money or rides, but if they were offered freely and as a gift, I wouldn’t refuse them.  I thought that maybe if I couldn’t find shelter, I could use the money to find a cheap hostel.

I had also brought a phone with me this time as well, and was using the GPS tracker on it to try to find churches that I had marked on Google Maps.  I’d been trying to only use the GPS when I absolutely needed it.  This day I could barely pull myself away from it.  I was walking down the street, eyes glued to the screen.

I took a step, expecting sidewalk to be there where there was none.  My ankle gave way underneath me, and my foot bent to almost 90 degrees.  I nearly fell on the ground.

I cursed and straightened myself out.  My ankle was tingling.  Had I twisted it?  I mentally berated myself, annoyed that I was so dependent on this device that I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.

I went by two churches, but no one was there.  My ankle was still tingling.  I worried excessively about it.

I stopped by a black church and heard singing inside.  There were men within, singing hymns.  One guy was was on the keyboard (I took him to be the pastor, since he wore a black shirt with a white collar), another was singing, and another was on a base guitar.  I stood outside the door and peered at them through the window.  They gestured at me to come in.

I sat down with them.  It seemed they were just going through the hymnal and singing their favorite songs.  They invited me to join with them, so I did.  I won’t lie.  We sounded terrible.  Like…seriously.  It was bad.  We were all singing in different keys, different tempos.  But our hearts were right place, even if our musical stylings weren’t, and I found myself uplifted and happy after we finished.

Next came a sermon.  The pastor read the passage from Luke dealing with the parable of the prodigal son.  It was a good sermon and hit home, considering how much I’ve been running from God and myself all these years.

After the sermon, they all thanked me profusely for just walking in off the street and joining them.  They thanked me so much, I felt bad that I showed up primarily to find shelter.  I thought about not asking at all, but whey they asked me if I would be returning to the church, I finally admitted that I was on a pilgrimage and I asked if they’d let me sleep in the church tonight.  They all got very sheepish and looked at the ground.

“There’s no place where we can put you,” said the pastor.
“That’s okay,” I said.  “I’ll figure something out.”
“What about the men’s shelter?” someone suggested.
“You gotta get there really early for that,” someone else said.  “He’s too late.”
The atmosphere was growing more awkward and tense.  Finally, I said, “Look, I’m not worried about it.  God will come through for me.”
The pastor gave me some food, and a few dollars, none of which I felt comfortable accepting, but he insisted.

I stepped outside, ankle now properly hurting, and remembered that a friend of mine back in LA told me that one of our old teachers lived in Santa Barbara.  I reached out to this teacher to see if I could crash with her, but I got her voicemail.  I left a long, rambling message (I wasn’t even sure if she remembered me).

I went to the Salvation Army, but was told by a girl behind a plate of bullet-proof glass that there was a waiting list for a bed.  I should try the shelter, she said.  I asked her if she knew of a Catholic Worker house in the city.  She said no.  Later, I called a hostel, but I couldn’t afford their rates.

It was now properly night time.  I walked down State Street (Santa Barbara’s most famous street), which was teeming with people.  I started talking to a young woman who was sitting on a bench, asking for change so that she could buy a beer.  She was very nice, down-to-earth.  She gave me some hitchhiking tips and told me if I needed a place to sleep, I should try the pier.  “I used to sleep under there all the time,” she said, “and nobody ever fucked with me.”

I made – or rather limped – my way south toward the pier.

As I got closer to the pier, it got darker.  The pier seemed really busy – lots of people walking across it, taking photos by it, etc. I started getting nervous, so I decided to distract myself by entertaining every fear that popped up in my mind.  After I’d worked myself up into a decent state of anxiety, I began invoking the name of Christ and various Hebrew names for God. I say “invoke”, but it never feels like it’s really me who’s praying.  It’s more like someone else is praying the prayers through me.

My courage mounted.  I decided that I was sick of being afraid.  Afraid of the darkness.  Afraid of being attacked. I would face my fear and any potential dangers head on.  I had God with me.  I wouldn’t let myself fall into fear.  I would make myself into one who would be feared.

That’s when I knew I’d gone too far.

I took a deep breath and pulled myself back from that spiritual precipice.  I continued my prayers, asking for shelter and protection, and trying to send out love to make up for the dark thoughts I was having.

I reached the pier and scoped it out, watched the tourists walking up and down it.  When the close seemed clear, I threw my backpack underneath the pier and dove in after it.

It was nearly pitch black, so I had to use my flashlight to see.  I could hear that someone had a tent up about fifty feet away from me.  There was a loud fight going on between two people.  I tried to distance myself from them.

I turned my phone on and saw that I had a message.  My old teacher, Nadine, had called.  She’d gotten my message and, yes, I could stay with her for the evening.  I sat in darkness, dumbfounded.  I had been so prepared to sleep underneath the pier.  I had to shift gears.  For a second, I wasn’t sure if I should accept my teacher’s offer.  But after a quick prayer about it, I called Nadine and gave her my location.  She and her intern (and her dog) picked me up and drove me to her place.

When we got there, she fed me pumpkin and avocado soup, strawberries, blueberries, and wine.  It was the best thing I ever tasted.  The shower I took – which I desperately needed – felt even better.  And when I climbed into the bed, body aching and sore, I thanked God.  And Nadine.

 

Night With the Lutherans

06/26

Palisades, CA

The first church I sought shelter at was United Methodist.  There were a bunch of hats on display and the only two people inside tried to sell me one.  I already had one for the walk, but I humored them by trying it one on.

They offered me lemonade and asked me if I needed anything.  I told them about my pilgrimage and asked if I could seek shelter at the church, even if it just meant sleeping outside.  Since neither of them were in charge, they hemmed and hawed quite a bit.  There wasn’t really much they could do.  They mused over the idea of letting me stay there, though they said they’d have to inform the groundskeeper, who lived on the premises.  They didn’t want him to freak out.  Finally, they sent me down the road to a building where the church held spiritual retreats.  They said that the site manager might be able to help me.

The site manager wasn’t there, but his cell number was on the door . I got him on the phone and explained my situation.  He said he would like to offer me a bed, but the retreat house was totally booked.  I told him I would be more than happy to sleep outside, if that was okay.

He said he could work something out and to touch base with him in a few hours.  I walked back to the library, happy to have found a place to sleep on my first night.

Less than an hour later, he called me back.

“Hi, Daryl,” he said.  “You know, the more I think about it, I really don’t think I can help you out tonight.  The retreat house is already booked, and I’m not sure how the current guests will feel about me letting you stay there, since they’ve already reserved and paid for their spots.  It just wouldn’t be fair to them, you know?  I gotta think about them first.  They might be upset.  I’d at least have to ask them.  I owe it to them to meet their needs first.  So I’m sorry to flip-flop on you, but I don’t think I can help you.  Maybe if I had a little bit more notice, I could.  But there are other churches in the neighborhood who could help you.”

In hindsight, I should have said, “Fine.  Let’s ask the retreat guests how they feel about it.  I’ll even ask them myself.”  But I just bit my tongue and said, “Well, thank you for trying.”  He seemed so reluctant to help me, I just didn’t want to press him.  “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corin. 9:7)” and he didn’t sound very cheerful.  I didn’t want to secure shelter by giving someone a guilt trip.

Tried a Presbyterian church next.  No one was there but the praise band, rehearsing for Sunday service.  I didn’t want to interrupt them during practice, so I sat and waited for them to enter the parking lot.  They looked frightened when I approached them, so I knew I wasn’t going to find help here.  I was right.

I went to the Lutheran church next door, and stumbled right into the middle of a potluck dinner being held in the courtyard.  There were five adults and a baby.  They all looked at me and smiled.  An elderly man said to me, “From the size of that backpack you got, it looks like you’re traveling a ways!”

I knew then that I was going to be all right.

The older man was, in fact, the pastor of the church.  He said I could sleep in the church courtyard if I wanted to.  They invited to stay and eat with them.

“You want some watermelon?” one of them asked.
I cringed.  I was only black person there.
“Maybe watermelon wasn’t the first thing you should have offered him,” a woman said, embarrassed.
I smiled at her.  “I’m glad you said something,” I said.  “That was a little awkward.”
“How about some chicken?” the man continued, now embarrassed as well and trying to make up for it with a joke.  “It’s not fried, but…”
I sighed internally.  The truth was, I know he didn’t mean any harm by offering me the watermelon.  But the joke was now making it worse.
“I don’t think that’s any better,” the woman said.  She turned to me, “How about some peanuts? Although that’s probably not much better either…”
“You know what?” I said, “I’m going to have some watermelon.  It’s not a big deal.  I like watermelon.” So I had some watermelon, as well as chicken (not fried), two hotdogs, and pineapple.

The pastor asked me why I was walking.  I told him the Holy Spirit had descended into my heart and called me to walk.
“Do you know what you want to do?” he said.
“Maybe something in ministry,” I said.
“What’s your tradition?”
“United Methodist.”  I said, leaving out the Buddist, Taoist, Hindu, and Gnostic influences.  No need to get into that just yet.
“If you’re United Methodist, that will mean seminary.”
I nodded.  “I’m also trying to understand what Jesus referred to as the ‘mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.'”
“Ah,” he said.  He mentioned a book by N.T. Wright, which I believe was Surprise By Hope,
in which the author says that a Christian theology that emphasizes the afterlife actually misses the point – Christians should be working to make the world a more peaceful, loving, and just place.

That’s what a big part of my pilgrimage is about.  Seeking God’s kingdom on Earth now.  Jesus says several things about the kingdom – that it’s near (Matthew 3:2), that it is in our midsts or within us (Luke 17:21, depending on the translation), that it is inside us and outside us (Gospel of Thomas 3), and that it is spread out over the earth, though we can’t see it (Gospel of Thomas 113).

I don’t feel God’s kingdom every minute of every day.  I can sense it a little though.  I feel its potential within me and within the world around me.

As we finished eating and started cleaning, the woman who offered me the peanuts said, “I saw that movie 42 – the one with Jackie Robinson.”
“Right,” I said.  “I haven’t seen it.”
There’s this scene when he comes up to bat, and people start shouting, “Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!”

Each time she says the word, it feels like a slap.  I don’t begrude her using it, because she’s quoting a line from the movie, but I still don’t like it.
“It was awful,” she said, “but I guess they had to be accurate – I mean, that’s the word people used back then…”
“They’re using that word now,” I said.
“Well…not everyone,” she said.  I could hear the testiness in her voice.  “I’m just confused by organizations like the NAACP.  The National…Advancement….”
“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,” I said.
“Right.  ‘Colored people’ is in their title.  But if you say the phrase ‘colored people’, they get upset.  I don’t understand…if they don’t want to be called that, they should change the title of the organization.”
“That’s valid,” I said. “But when the organization was founded, that was the acceptable phrase.  That’s the name that we all recognize.  It has a reputation and is embodied with respect and legacy.  Sorta like branding.  It makes sense for them to keep it.”
“Mm,” she said.

Everyone left.  The pastor gave me his business card and told me to show it to the security guard if the guard bothered me in the middle of the night.  Before the pastor locked up the church, he let me in to use the bathroom and fill up my water bottle.

“Thank you,” I said.
“I wish I could do more for you,” he said.
“This is fine.  Really.  Thank you.”

I slept…okay.  Ants had pretty much taken over every square inch of the courtyard, and if they weren’t attacking me from the ground, the mosquitos were attacking me from above.  After moving to about four different spots throughout the course of the night, I got about 3 + hours of sleep.  It got cold, but between my sleeping bag and my jacket, I managed to stay pretty warm.  It was a much more comfortable night compared to the first night of my pilgrimage almost four years ago.

I woke up feeling a little rank, but well-rested.  I put a hand over my heart and prayed:

“Keep going or turn back?”
Keep going.

In Santa Barbara

For all you who have been following the blog, or have sent me messages and comments of encouragement, many thanks.  I will write you back soon.

Sorry for the lack of updates.  Things have been moving really fast over the last two days.  I’ve barely had time to sit and process it all, let alone write about it.  Currently in a holding pattern in Santa Barbara.  Long story.  I promise I will tell it.

Just wanted to let everyone know I’m good and safe, clean and dry, fed and restored.  People have been very good to me.  God has been very good to me. Will write more soon.  I promise.

First Day

Spent the last two days at my friend’s place, recovering.  Turns out I needed it.  Not just physically, but for a bit more mental and spiritual preparation.  The degree of attachment I have to “successfully completing” a pilgrimage is staggering.  That’s where a lot of the fear is coming from.  That I won’t “make it.” That I won’t “succeed.”  As if the whole point is to tell people that I walked “such and such a distance.  Look how special I am.”

Pride.

Thought about giving up a lot.  I’m noticing though, that the voice in my head telling me that I’ll fail is coming from within my head, but the voice urging me forward is coming from my heart.  That’s the voice I usually don’t listen to.

As a going-away gift, my friend gave me a small book full of Buddhist mantras and a harmonica. He drove me to the beach in Santa Monica.  He stopped the car.

“You sure you want to do this?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, quaking in my hiking boots.

We both got out of the car.  He hugged me, got back in, and drove off.

I started walking.  The fear went up a couple notches, and I started feeling like I’d made a big mistake.

I passed a homeless-looking guy as I walked along the beach.  Long haired, bearded, dirty skin and filthy clothes, carrying two shopping bags.  Am I going to wind up like him? I wondered.

As we passed, the man smiled at me and said, “Have a good weekend in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Surprised, I said, “You too, brother.”
I felt ashamed at how quickly I had judged him, based on his appearance.  I had just assumed he was some aimless wanderer.  I knew nothing of his story, how he got there, where he was headed.   He could have been a saint, for all I knew.

I have a lot to learn.

I took a break and sat on the beach for a while, talked to a friend on the phone, and got an encouraging email from a blog subscriber.  By this point, a lot of the fear had dissipated, and I actually started to enjoy myself.  I put my hands over my heart and I prayed.

“Do I keep going or go back?” I asked.
“Keep going!” came the answer from my heart.

One day at a time.  One step at a time. Until the answer is, “Go back.”  No attachment to results.  Just waiting on God, letting the Holy Spirit direct my course.

Currently at the library.  It’ll be dark soon.  Time to visit some churches and seek shelter.