Paths of Desire (part 24)

Each morning S. and I would take a short hike down to the river together. The water was always brisk and sometimes quite cold but it was also refreshing and a great way to start the day. Standing in the midst of the flowing water, with no one but the birds and the fish anywhere to be seen, mist rising off the water, and with the sun alighting the treetops far overhead was simultaneously invigorating and calming. Additionally, there was the joy of growing comradery and brotherhood. I wouldn’t say we had a natural friendship at first, he was direct, blunt and forceful while I tended to be more diplomatic and nuanced. However, his qualities were really very good, and in many cases useful and admirable; I came to appreciate the fact that he had these qualities and I learned these in part, from him, over time. He was also very devoted, loyal and trustworthy and over the years I was often grateful for him and how we all could rely on him. Though he was emotional, and also often spoke without thinking first, which could get us into difficulties, I now look back on many of these and laugh, though at the time I was challenged to find the humor.

K. was a very sweet and peaceful person. She had a wonderful laugh which began as a giggle and lit her whole face with joy. For a long time she was the only woman in the group and because of this she was one of the real stabilizing forces for us; she brought a gentleness and softness that I treasured, and I think we were all very grateful for, and we would have missed, had she not been there with us. She was also very intelligent and loved to discuss the things she was learning from MD. To supplement her intelligence she had a childlike innocence about the world, so it was refreshing and joyful to discuss things with her because she could talk about them with both intellect and wonder. She rarely, if ever, caved into the temptation of cynicism or sarcasm, so it was very pleasant to be around her because with her things were sincere and positive. Actually, this could be said about everyone in our group; there wasn’t a place for unkindness or the usual kinds of traps that people fall into in ordinary life. It could be truly said that there isn’t a place anywhere in the world for these things, nevertheless, we all struggle with them and either make choices to refrain from them, or we give in to them. On the one hand, we create a more joyful tomorrow, and on the other, we sink further into sadness, or anger or any number of damaging emotions.

M. was often very quiet and reflective. It took quite a bit of time, I think, for him to warm up to me and to S. He was about ten years older than us I suppose, so this might have partially accounted for it, as I think he saw us as kids. Over time he became a pillar and bedrock of our community. I believe he was the most naturally gifted of us all, with the exception of MD and his knowledge and abilities contributed immensely to our successes during the many struggles and difficulties we experienced together over subsequent years. His mechanical knowledge kept our vehicles running, his computer programming knowledge enabled him to bring a good income when needed, and in general his clear reasoning and insightfulness benefitted us all. Though perhaps this caused him to struggle with pride more than some and also maybe a feeling of superiority. But this is just speculation on my part, and maybe I’m just projecting my own problems and challenges onto him. Paradoxically, or perhaps because he was good at fighting pride, he also could be heroically humble and was able to suffer great hardship with little or no complaint, and with amazing perseverance. We all considered him to be a deep thinker and though a bit reclusive and independent, also someone that we could rely on when needed. I recall one situation when he and I had a truck broken down on the side of the road, in a torrential storm, and he spent hours throughout the night working on that truck, as he was pelted by rain and hail; and he stayed at the task until he finally got it running again. This was only one of many situations.

In order to keep the temple space for only spiritual matters we set up another large tent on the west end of the meadow for our community meetings. Each morning we met to discuss the day’s activities, chores and events. The months that we spent in the Shasta area were largely spent hosting visitors who came to learn from MD, work to keep the camp in good order, our own group or individual lessons and studies, visits to Panther Meadow on the slopes of Mt. Shasta where MD would meet and engage with spiritual seekers making pilgrimages to the mountain, and also work in town to earn income. S. and I canvassed neighborhoods to offer our labor at various tasks; and washed windows and did other household tasks while K. and I did weeding together. In general this was a time of ease and enjoyment as we all learned to work together, formed the bonds of friendships and prepared for more difficult challenges ahead. I recall MD saying at one point years later that the first year or so of our training was mainly intended to strengthen us and to get us ready to begin the real training to come. So we learned to serve one another and to serve those we worked for, and we continued to do light battle with negative thoughts and emotions within ourselves, watching and making effort to create new kinder habits of thought.

One of the ways MD taught at this early stage was through simple written notes that he would give to us or leave for us individually. I believe I received several hundred of these, perhaps thousands over the course of my time with him. Some I remember better than others, and many I’ve saved to reflect on even today. One short hand-written note that he gave me early in the training that I always loved was this:

“Losing yourself in service

One finds oneself in the heart.

As the pool of the heart grows…pure and still

One sees One’s reflection…looking at One.

that face is God.”

This inspired me to serve, to try to lose myself in giving to others, and to drown out my selfish clambering and noisy greed, with the simple purity and stillness that leads to God. This note still makes me smile as I read it and it still inspires me to give more of myself.

Another hand-written note he gave me early on was a lesson on the importance of our words and thoughts and actions, and it helped me to realign my thinking on what I do inside, even if I think nobody is watching:

“So think as if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon

the sky for all and everything to see;  For so, in truth, it is.

So speak as if the world entire were but a single ear intent on

hearing what you say;  And so, in truth, it is.

So do as if your every deed were to recoil upon your head;

And so, in truth, it does.

So wish as if you were the wish; And so, in truth, you are.

So live as if your God Himself had need of you, His life to live;

And so, in truth, He does.”

About this time we all were also given new King James Bibles to read at our leisure. Often in the mid-afternoon we had several hours of free time before it was time to prepare dinner, and I remember the joy of reading scripture in my tent, under my pine tree at the edge of the meadow. It was just me and the squirrels and the birds sitting in the filtered sunlight, the crisp smell of pine resin filling my nostrils, a gentle breeze blowing across the grasses and through the trees, and the lofty thoughts of God feeding my mind as I read.

One evening J. visited our camp and met with MD. When I first met him I instantly liked him and felt as if I had known him my entire life. We were instant friends and brothers. If I were to imagine an ideal man of honor, J. would be that man, or at least very close to the ideal. He was human after all and had suffered at least his share of grief and sorrow, which affected him in the same way it has all of us in this world, in one way or another. So he wasn’t an ideal, as no man is, but he had integrity, strength and a strong sense of duty. He was also very trusting and childlike and endearing. On the one hand he was a big person and fully capable of defending himself and others, yet on the other hand, he was gentle and innocent and had a tendency to become distraught and overwhelmed by the struggles of life. On the one hand he could protect us all and on the other hand he needed all of our protection. I was very happy when he decided to join us and live as a member of our community. He was a very welcome and important addition, and personally I enjoyed his presence and the simplicity with which he lived.

In the late summer of 1993 I was sent off on a mission of sorts, to canvas the Bay Area with our brochures and new posters announcing our community and the teachings of MD. With the car loaded with hundreds of these I embarked on a two or three week excursion to flood the natural food stores, cafes, bookstores, colleges and universities from Sonoma County in the north to Santa Cruz in the south, San Francisco and the east bay.

(to be continued)


February 3

The humble man censures and blames himself and no one else when he suffers affliction. Consequently, he patiently awaits for God to release him, and when this happens, he rejoices and gratefully endures whatever comes; and through his experience of these things he gains spiritual knowledge. Recognizing his own ignorance and weakness, he seeks diligently for the Physician and, seeking, he finds Him, as Christ himself has said (Matthew 7:8). Having found God, he longs for Him; and the more he longs, the more God longs for him. Then, purifying himself as much as he can, he struggles to make room in himself for the Beloved for whom he longs. And the Beloved for whom he longs, finding room for Himself in this man, takes up His abode there, as the Gerontikon says. Dwelling there, He protects His home, and fills it with light. And the person thus filled with light knows and, knowing, he is known, as St John of Damaskos says.

~St Peter of Damaskos

February 2

If a person’s purpose is fixed in God with all humility and he patiently endures the trials that come upon him, God will resolve for him any question that perplexes him and perhaps even leads him into delusion. Then, greatly ashamed but full of joy, he turns back, seeking the path of the fathers….

The signs that he has done this are tears, contrition of soul before God, flight into stillness and patient recourse to God, a diligent enquiry into the Scriptures and a desire, based on faith, to accomplish God’s purpose. When, on the other hand, a person lacks patience and humility, the signs of this are doubt with regard to God’s help, being ashamed to ask questions humbly, avoidance of stillness and the reading of Scripture, a love of distraction and of human company, with the idea–entirely misguided–that one will attain a state of repose in this way. On the contrary, it is now that the passions find an opportunity to put down roots, and that trials and temptations grow stronger, while one’s own pusillanimity, ingratitude and listlessness wax because of one’s abounding ignorance.

~St Peter of Damaskos

February 1

As St John Chrysostom says, “In order to prevent the human intellect from thinking that it is God, God has subjected it to ignorance and forgetfulness, so that in this way it may acquire humility.” He also says that the Creator willed that there should be a separation in this natural intermixture of soul and body. The deiform soul, as St John Klimakos says, either ascends upward to heaven, or goes downward to Hades, while the earthly body returns to the earth from which it was taken. But through the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ these two separated elements are once more joined together at His second coming, so that each of us may receive the due reward for his works.

Who can grasp but an inkling of this mystery without being astonished? God raises man again from the earth after he has committed so many terrible crimes, despising the divine commandments, and He bestows on man the same immortality that he possessed originally, even though man has disobeyed the commandment which preserves him from death and corruption, and in his arrogance has drawn death upon himself.

~St Peter of Damaskos


Paths of Desire (part 23)

Soon after our stay along the coast we moved to a property in the hills just south of Santa Rosa, in fact, not very far from where I had lived in a trailer a couple years earlier. The owner of the property lived in a house tucked up near a ravine at the end of a long dusty driveway. It was a spacious home with an enormous woodshop where he worked. There were a few other outbuildings on the property: a small cottage that he rented out and some storage sheds. The rest of the property was covered with large, beautiful oak trees which provided almost continuous cover from one end of the property to the other, while the other side of the dirt driveway had been cleared and cultivated into a beautiful vegetable garden.

Each of us found a place under the oaks and set up our tents. I found a pleasant, quiet little place at the edge of the property, looking out upon a grassy hillside, just under the dripline of a towering oak. S. also found a comfortable place not far from my tent while K. and her boyfriend M. who had recently joined us and moved in with her, were just downhill under the trees. MD had the grandest of tents which he had made himself, which was to be both his personal quarters and also function as our temple. It was a beautiful, high and arching, light structure made of sturdy white canvas. At its base it was rectangular and roughly 16 feet wide by 32 feet long. Along its ridge it stood about 12 feet high and its form was a graceful arc. Every 4 feet or so a sheath had been sewn into the tent walls which allowed a 2″ diameter PVC pipe to be slid in from one side of the tent and pushed up and over and down to the other side; these were the structural ribs that gave the tent its beautiful form and its support which held it sturdily in place during strong winds and storms. Both ends of the tent had a white canvas panel that was attached with large white zippers to the ends of the tent walls, and the center of these panels could be opened using another strong zipper that had been fashioned up the middle of each panel; these were the entrances to the tent, one entering the meeting area, and the other entering MD’s personal quarters. The inside was divided exactly in half by another panel, similar to the two at the ends, which was also attached along its perimeter to the tent walls, and had a zippered opening up its middle which could be opened to connect the public and private spaces. The floor was also made of white canvas and over the top were placed layers of white sheets and pillows. When the tent was fully set up and the entire enclosure glowed in golden white light from the sun, it was truly a serene and sublime place to enjoy.

When I think back to this time, in the community, and how to describe it, I feel as though I will have to settle with writing about only the smallest fraction, and in a most superficial manner, because there was so very much detail and nuance and subtlety that I can hardly hope to be able to provide the proper context for so much of what occurred. Even as I sort through the papers, writings, teachings and other materials that I kept from my four years I can hardly hope to put all of it into a clear and understandable narrative as there are thousands of pages of material to sort through, and I find that so many would require pages and pages of background to set the proper scene for them. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to set in writing at least some of the basics that can give at least a partial overview, from my perspective. Perhaps someone else will someday write a more exhaustive and informative narrative and that would be of great interest I think.

While living on this property we began our first public outreach through the publication of a short introductory brochure which briefly described the teaching of MD, the spiritual life of his followers, the perspective of our group, and an invitation to come and learn, along with a weekly schedule of events that we hosted in the temple tent. The brochure was entitled, Awakening the Light of Peace: Spiritual Initiations, and it was published and presented by The Brothers for “The Light of Peace” which was our name. These we distributed throughout the surrounding cities, in bookstores and cafes. And from this distribution many people came to learn more and to study with MD. The call that it issued, appealed on an intellectual and on an emotional level, as well as of course, spiritual. It was written in both an informative style but also poetic. I’ll share just a few excerpts here:

“You who travel the road of life, who reach up to find the Love of God.

I say desist with such delusion. It distracts you from the place that

God is found, that place that is the altar of your Soul, that cup that God

would fill to overflowing, the manger that The Christ was birthed within-

the scepter of The Heart….”

“Such an awakening is initiated by the remembering of what you have

lost – the quality of Innocence that exists within the Spiritual Self be-

yond the body of flesh.  True Innocence is born in one who is a Child

of God. Such a life expresses itself with a purity of thought and deed

that brings change to all about them….”

“By your choice you make yourself anew. Therefore your decisions

moment by moment are of the greatest import. The Child of God ever

takes the path of service. Here by kind word and thoughtful deed they

create both within them and about them a life of Divine Sweetness.

They have made of themselves the bread of Gentleness and Tender Love

and cast themselves forth to serve a wounded humanity.  Those who

freely sow such Love upon the suffering of their brothers and sisters

without thought of return shall never know poverty of heart.”

(From “Child of God” by MD)

We all assisted with visitors and spiritual seekers who came to meet with MD but we also had a division of labor for the many other aspects to keeping the community running smoothly. I continued to work at my job as a waiter in a nearby Italian restaurant to help with income, K. worked closely with MD as an assistant with typing and other administrative tasks. M. had contributed a lot of personal assets to the functioning of the community in these early stages but also continued with his employment, and S. took care of a multitude of various tasks and errands. In addition to my work in the world I was given the responsibility for overseeing the community finances, bill paying and grocery shopping.

By the end of July 1993 we began to prepare for a move north to the Mt Shasta area which we made in August. Our final month on this property was spent predominantly in the large woodshop, where together we all built a series of large tables and benches that would be used for years to come as our kitchen and dining furniture. I don’t think any of us had much, if any experience with carpentry, however MD had experience and taught us the proper use of the table saws, planers, routers, nail guns, and other tools and equipment needed for the construction of our furniture. He also assigned us each particular tasks so that our work was efficient and streamlined. Over the course of the next couple weeks we went from unskilled newcomers to fairly skilled workers. There was a lot of satisfaction in working together as a team, learning new skills, and eventually turning out a lot of functional and attractive furniture.

Each piece of furniture was large and very sturdy and covered with multiple coats of spar varnish as they were made to be used outdoors full-time. And they were made to come apart into more manageable pieces for transport since we would be moving regularly over the coming years. We built several dining tables, each about 8 feet long with two benches each and several more tables of the same size to be used for storage, food preparation and dishwashing when we set up our kitchen at our more permanent locations. Additionally, we made several other smaller tables for various functions, and two 4×4 wood panels with a 12″x12″ square hole cut in the center and a removable hatch, which would be used to cover latrine pits. We also built a smaller set of tables and shelves which we installed in the bed of my old Toyota pickup and into this we installed outdoor grills and propane tanks so that this became our mobile kitchen when we were on the move.

When we moved to Shasta we had five members. Many others had expressed interest in joining us, and several had camped with us on the land south of Santa Rosa for various periods of time, but in the end none joined us. We did have one additional member however, A. but she was unable to come with us at this particular time, but would join us several months later.

Our next home was in a clearing in the pine forest located not far from the banks of the Sacramento River, about a mile west of where it empties into Lake Siskiyou. Taking our rental van with our supplies down the rutted dirt trail just off Highway 26 was a bumpy journey; the first of many future off-road excursions of which this was to be very tame and pedestrian by comparison.

We had a few neighbors scattered here and there in various small encampments further up river but essentially we had the forest to ourselves. Our encampment included about an acre of land in this forest with our large kitchen set up in the clearing in the midst of a meadow of wildflowers and grasses. Around the perimeter of the clearing we set up several tents: at the entrance and westernmost end we placed two large green canvas tents in which we kept tools and other supplies, at the far eastern end I set up my tent, while M. and S. established their camping places along this same perimeter but about a hundred feet or so to either side of me. MD‘s tent and our temple were placed farther north in a separate smaller clearing against the trees, while K. had her tent in a private location just the other side of a copse of trees adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. Just off this area we set up our solar showers amidst a dense forested area for privacy, but would heat their bladders in the full sun; and farther off to the west we dug the pits for our toilets; and even the setting for these was pleasant.

(to be continued)