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)