Dead Stream Swamp
It felt good to complete a semester of school. Before I left
though, I filled out a job application for custodian work at CMU.
The personnel director couldn’t promise me anything. He didn’t hire students as full time employees. I told him I wasn’t sure if I would even be a student after next semester and he responded, “But if you were hired, you probably would go back to school, right?” I didn’t know what to say. I just left my application on his desk. It didn’t look good, however.
I got a summer job at the Holiday Motor Inn in Houghton Lake. My mother helped me get the job. She worked as a bartender there. I helped the maintenance man and that meant doing everything from putting in the boat dock, to running the telephone switchboard, to washing dishes in the restaurant. I didn’t mind though, the people I worked for were really nice. Max and his wife Amy were hired by the owner to manage the place. We got along about as good as any three people could get along. Max even took me to Detroit. We visited the bowling ally that he had managed before moving to Houghton Lake.
The summer passed quickly. I still didn’t have enough money to go back to school, so I kept right on working. Just before I left
school, I bought a book by Babba Ram Dass. He was the same guy that I heard on tape back at the farm. He was a hit with guru Paul and now he was becoming a hit with me too. I’d been thinking a lot about the book all summer long. It was written in the same laid-back style, as was Richard Alpert’s tape talk. I felt like I knew this guy, but, more importantly, I really liked him.
Richard Alpert was a very successful academic who gave it all up to drop acid, look for God, and (if you believe him) find God. He then changed his name to Ram Dass and wrote the book Be Here Now. I’ve had a long-standing affair with hallucinogens, but I wouldn’t say I have been elevated to some higher place because of them. Ram Dass suggests LSD is popular in America because it gets you closer to God. According to him, a materialistic society needs a materialistic device to get focused on the more spiritual pursuits of life. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but I liked what I read. I’ve always kept an open mind when it came to considering things that sounded far-fetched, so I decided to do an experiment. In order to see if there was anything to Alpert’s acid/God thing, I thought I would try to get my mind into a more spiritual space and then drop acid.
Late in September, one Friday afternoon, I left work and rode my bicycle eight miles west until I came to the Reedsburg Dam area of the Deadstream Swamp. As I walked my bike across the dam I began repeating my mantra out loud– Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and I kept repeating it. I rode another two miles along a foot trail (sometimes pushing my bike). The trail followed the edge of the Muskegon River backwaters. When I came to a good place for my tent, I unpacked my bike and set up camp. I hadn’t eaten in two days and I had no food with me. The only items I carried that did not pertain to survival were Ram Dass’ book and a notepad. After building my campfire, I took a “time out” to write down my feelings, which later turned into this poem:
The solicitous mind has found momentary peace,
quietness not unlike the eye of the hurricane.
A welcome reprieve,
the self is near death form exhaustion.
A tranquil arena
from which the circus of life unfolds,
brief in measured time,
but savored and cherished as mortally possible.
Effective change, or ripples on a calm sea,
the love of a rainbow,
the captured snowflake,
alas, the contentment of Ceres.
After a good night’s sleep, I got up feeling fresh and alive. When I
got back from my nice long walk, I started paging through Ram Dass’s book. In addition to the book’s self-explanatory title, Be Here Now, it contained a compilation of Hindu, Buddhist, Tao, and Christian teachings. Ram Dass said (not in these words) that we are on a journey through the thinning veils of illusion. How long it takes us to wake from this illusion is already determined.
Nevertheless, something keeps tugging at us to stay on the path.
That something comes from behind the veil and promises a high degree of fulfillment if we just stay on the path. Until we experience that fulfillment, we are prisoners of the illusion. If we do not devise a plan and act on it, we will remain, for many lifetimes, prisoners of that illusion.
According to Ram Dass, “disciples of the path” move from their own discontent outward. In order to escape from the illusion people seek out and learn from those who have already made considerable progress along the path toward their own escape from this illusion. For instance, the Taoist tells me that in order to escape from the prison, I must learn how to “go with the flow.” “All suffering ceases,” says the Buddhist, “when I learn how to liberate myself from attachments and desires.” I may be writing these words, says the Hindu, but, in truth, I am not really writing at all. The “I” who I really am is hiding somewhere behind the I who I think I am, and that “I” is simply watching this whole birth, death, suffering trip go by. And then there is the Christian who says, “Surrender totally to the Lord and be delivered by your faith.” In other words, the theme running through all of this is, “In order to get it all, you have to give it all up.”
The I that must be given up is the ego. In order to get rid of it,
all cravings must stop and a calm center must be developed.
Eventually, according to Ram Dass, via the calm center, you end up embracing all humanity. You end up in that place which abides all existence. The sad part is, once you get to that place, you can’t stay. It’s all part of the same illusion; that is, where I am at now, and where I want to go is already right here, right now, in the Divine Mother of all that is. “Once you have crossed the great ocean of existence,” says Ram Dass, ” you find that you’re back at the beginning, `chopping wood and carrying water.'” But, at least you are no longer a prisoner; you are free. You have won freedom, and, I suspect, that’s a pretty good feeling!
This transformation can take place only after a person has developed a very calm center. Repeating a mantra (Aum Mani Padme Hum– Ram Dass’s mantra) helps to create this calmness. Repetitive sound syllables have a natural calming affect on a person and mantras open the door to this calming affect. After an appropriate time, the person’s mantra and the person using it are supposed to become one. According to Ram Dass, when you have no place to go and nothing to do except “be here now,” then you have arrived. You have become fully conscious. You are home!