It turned out I didn’t have very long to wait; several hours later, around midnight, I saw headlights approaching in the darkness and soon we had the trailer hooked up and we were returning to our camp. Not many days after this we broke camp, packed up and began our trek south. We took the two-lane highway leading towards Mt Lassen late one afternoon as winter was beginning to settle across the area. Snow was already collecting in shady hollows here and there along the side of the highway and further up the surrounding slopes, their tops were already beginning to turn white. Just as the day began to turn to dusk we pulled into a remote state park, however, everything was closed for the season and the gates were locked. There were no alternative options anywhere nearby and we had a caravan: our mobile-kitchen Toyota pickup, the Taurus, our Suburban and trailer, along with J.’s little car which he still drove, though we intended to sell it; as he wasn’t yet able to accept the vow of poverty, and he still had attachment to his possessions.
Provision in our community was typically given to each of us, for our particular weaknesses, as we struggled to overcome them. I found that it was significantly easier to battle these things, with the help of MD yet, even so, weaknesses are strong within us and do not disappear overnight. For J. he had more difficulty with giving up personal property than others did, so he was allowed more leniency in this respect, but with the goal still being un-attachment and freedom from possessiveness.
One of the tenets of our training, as directed and taught by MD, was that whatever came between us and the noble virtues, such as selflessness, service, moderation, purity of thought and action, kindness and so on, these obstructions were the very things we must confront and overcome; this being done by experiencing again whatever it was that made us originally choose to cave in to these weaknesses or vices, and then in the midst of the struggle with these experiences, to choose this time, rather to act or think differently, and thereby create the beginning of a new habit that is more honorable and virtuous and loving, and which leads us to freedom from that old “stuff” as we called it. I had a whole litany of issues that I had to confront and work to transform, which I will describe in more detail as this story unfolds, but in brief I was weak in the face of conflict and needed to regain strength of love in the face of violence and anger, I also was very prideful and had thoughts of superiority over others, so I had to confront the pains of humiliation and through that find a new place inside that doesn’t artificially prop myself up by using these things as compensation; and there were many more things, such as lustful thoughts, and avoiding conflict, which I won’t go into now, but will share when the time is right.
So there we were, our caravan, far away from any towns, and without a place to park or camp for the night. To the side of the locked gates the hillside was gradual and the ground was hardened by the cold. It seemed possible for our smaller vehicles to weave their way around and past the myriad of trees that covered the hill and make their way through the forest and back down onto the asphalt further inside the gates where we could park and stay for the night. However, the Suburban and trailer combined were easily thirty-five feet long and also quite bulky. It was impossible to get these through the trees, there were hundreds of trees, large and small, scattered over the hillside and they were growing very closely together, and the route was several hundred feet to get around and back onto the park road behind the gate.
Nevertheless MD assessed the situation and told us to drive through and we would make it. The smaller vehicles went first and made it through to the other side without too much trouble, although in some places the angles and space available between the trees were sharper and tighter than I had anticipated, and we did almost get a vehicle stuck once or twice. But when M. began to drive the Suburban towing the trailer, up the hillside and into the trees, I was nearly certain he would end up getting lodged between several trees and it would be immovable. Each of us had a role as M. slowly inched his way through the trees; I was scouting one side and providing information to MD and M as they navigated forward. K. and J. and S. also had stations alongside the Suburban and trailer, and gave information about available space between the trees. All of us had the additional task of pulling branches back out of the way as M. continued to thread his way through the trees, while MD walked on ahead and plotted the route. On several occasions we used ropes and a winch to bend smaller trees aside, allowing passage, and multiple times we needed to unhitch the trailer, move the Suburban into a different trajectory, and then reconnect them again heading in a slightly altered direction. As we inched forward I began to realize that we somehow were actually going to get this camel through the eye of the needle, and then I began to realize another thing; that this was a lesson about facing the seemingly impossible and with perseverance, conquering it; and also it was about teamwork, and the joy of tackling something unimaginable together. Eventually, several hours later, the Suburban pulled off the hillside, out of the trees, and back onto the asphalt far down the road, on the other side of the gates; and moments later the trailer came out as well. We all enjoyed a brief celebration of our victory, and then proceeded to set up camp for the night.
The next morning we left the same way we came in, although we were better at it this time and did it more quickly and with less difficulty. We got back on the highway heading south and after several hours, we cut back west, across the state, and over to the coast. This was the beginning of one of the lightest and most enjoyable periods of my time in this community. I had no idea where we were going, or where we would end up, but we had such a great time getting there. We stopped along the coast to spend the night on a beach just north of Salmon Creek. MD gave me a well-known book to read, Be Here Now by Ram Dass. I found a shallow cave against the cliff-face and retreated to read it, while the rest of the group played on the beach and enjoyed each other’s company. Later in the day I finished the book, since it isn’t long, and then joined the others. In the morning I awoke as my brothers and sisters pulled me, in my sleeping bag, down the sand and into the surf. It was a surprising and entertaining way to be awoken.
We continued driving down the coast of California with our caravan. I was in the Suburban with MD and he began to talk with me in a more severe tone of voice. As we continued driving, the situation became increasingly tense as he confronted me. After several minutes of this he called to the other cars over our walkie-talkies to stop and pull over. He demanded I exit the vehicle, which I did, and then on the side of the coast highway, he began to yell at me and then motioned to pick up a stone to throw at me. I waited to see what would happen, my pulse had become quite elevated, and I was concerned about the possible outcomes of my situation. The scenario ended after a few more moments, then he got back in the Suburban and called me to join him, which I cautiously did; and then we all continued driving south again. This was the first time he had interacted with me in this manner and with this intensity. I was startled, and didn’t completely know what to make of it, though I understood, in theory, what we were doing and why. It was quite different however, to suddenly experience the reality of this type of teaching, and not merely think about it as a possibility.
As we continued driving, I reflected further on what had just happened, and also on my past. I have never been a person to get into altercations, and I have always tried to avoid any kind of escalation of bad feelings. I remember the one fight I ever had, in grade school, and even then I couldn’t bring myself to punch him, but only pushed and yelled for a moment, and then felt ridiculous and apologized. Even so, it wasn’t that I was above anger, but I avoided it because I was afraid, mainly, and didn’t like the idea of being out of control, or of bringing another person to a place of uncontrolled emotion; with the possibility that something bad could happen. I had never really experienced someone yelling at me like MD had just done, and in a strange way it was liberating, because I had always feared what that would be like; in the end it wasn’t that bad. I had survived, and actually felt stronger from the experience.
We continued driving through California and then turned east and entered Arizona. On long stretches of flat, straight highway, when no other cars were around, we would practice passing notes to each other from car to car through our open windows. Mostly these were notes that MD would write for us, with a fun message or lesson, specifically intended and crafted for each recipient. He crafted them to teach, but also to amuse. On one of mine he wrote:
“What is fear? It is the end of freedom, of faith, and of Peace. Do not falter.
Sever the fear besotten threads that have bound you. Do not let the maggots
of fear kick sand into your experience of being. Build up the fortress of the
will. Have faith. God will sustain.”
(To Be Continued)