November 28, 2009
In 1971, I was a hippy in the Bay Area. I lived with an extended family of amazing souls, spent my days hiking, hitch-hiking or exploring in some fashion or other what it meant to really feel FREE, for the first time in my young life (I was 26 that year). Exploration was taking place on the outer level, but even more so on inner planes. One of our family members was a fellow named Russell. He had been a self-declared ‘conscientious objector’, but the draft board didn’t recognize that because he wasn't a Quaker or member of some other pacifist organization. He was just Russell and he knew what felt wrong to him. Not good enough for the feds. The FBI eventually caught up with him and told him it would either be jail or the army. Russ went into the army and told them that no matter what they did, they couldn’t force him to kill anybody. So, they made him a medic. And, yes, he went to Vietnam. At one point during his ‘tour’ his unit was in an outpost that was overrun by the NVA and he survived by laying down between his dead comrades and playing dead. Russ received two purple hearts and had the same typical disdain for the medal that most every combat soldier I have ever met has.
When I first met him he was living on a Chinese junk that he’d rescued from oblivion and made at least ‘bay worthy’ if not a real ocean-going vessel. She was a doughty little boat with real vibes, and she flew the flag of the Fool (from the Tarot, of course) from one of her stays. I was pretty numb and straight at this point, having fallen out of an Ivory Tower straight into the Bay Area. I was still trying to figure out that my background was something to be overcome instead of identifying with it. Even after three years in the infantry, and then another three years getting a degree in philosophy, I really was isolated from mainstream life in America. Eventually, much of that would be anti-doted by traveling, but in the spring of ’71 I was still wet behind the ears and looking wide-eyed at the counter-culture, with lots of questions too.
Russ was patient. He knew exactly where I was coming from and he could also tell that I spent a lot of my waking hours up in my head…trying to ‘figure stuff out’. He never said a single word to dissuade me from that approach to understanding…..well, to understanding EVERYTHING. As a philosophy major—with a serious allergy to all things mathematical—I had fulfilled my math requirement at Penn State by taking Phil 3, formal logic. This was considered the fundamental foundation on which all philosophical undertakings must be built. If A is to B, as C is to D, then…..blah, blah, blah. The goal was for the student to stay on firm ground, with all the relative values adding up to a correct result via deductive reasoning. I hated it, but I pulled a C and was done with math. It was at about that point that I began to suspect that ‘reason’ was being used to justify pretty much anything that the person using it wanted it to. Furthermore, I was becoming aware that the world above the neck was devoid of some critical human assets….like compassion, empathy, conscience.
So, here comes this fellow who would listen to my flights of rhetoric and just look at me and smile…not a derisive smile, not at all….but, in mid sentence, I would suddenly hear what I was saying and realize that it was—taken from a holistic perspective, i.e. including the Heart center and the gut—just plain silly. I think a few tokes also helped in coming around to this realization. I was taking myself and especially my ‘thinking’ way too seriously…just like the dead German philosophers I so detested in college. Bringing it all down into the full body was a HUGE transition for me. I slowly came to hear as much with my Heart as with my head, and to understand that the discursive mind really is like some sort of crazy monkey…..one that has run amok on the bridge of the ship, and will ultimately put it on the rocks if he’s allowed to do the steering.
During my years in Ithaca NY, I met tons of Cornell students who were extraordinarily bright. Most of them had been at the top of their class in high school, and were now students in an Ivy League college that would demand their very best efforts to succeed. But, as time passed, I also realized that an alarming percentage of these people were so ‘heady’ that the ability to be grounded and to navigate their way through daily life and be happy doing it….was compromised. Cornell made a decision to put ‘suicide barriers’ on the footbridges that led from the dorms to the classrooms. Students were ‘gorging out’, because the rigors of an elite education were destroying their equilibrium. For many, the ability to get down out of their head and be solidly ‘grounded’, connected to reality, was elusive.
At one point, in Marin, I began writing a piece that I titled: “Derf, in the Land of Rs”. ‘Derf’ was my pre-Sufi name, Fred, backwards, and ‘The Land of Rs’” was the land of Reasoned, Rational Rhetoric. I was, in my own measured way, coming to terms with the fact that everything I had been taught up to that point in my life, needed to be re-examined in a new light. I was getting my own head around the realization that a person can identify with their discursive mind to the degree that it leaves them unable to really function as a human being.
In the decades since that time, I have met countless people who have proven this to me way beyond doubt. Perhaps the most stunning example is a fellow who is Mensa bright. In terms of what we call ‘I.Q.’, he’s near the top of the curve. He is also a highly paid professional and has had a successful career. And, along the way he has paid untold thousands for therapists and still remains unable to zero-in on what it takes to be a happy person. It’s tragic. He is a kind and generous soul; by any human criteria he deserves to be happy….but, he is miserable. If I could tap him on the head with a magic wand and give him the blessing of simply getting down out of his head, I believe it would transform his life. But, only he can do that, and the very object of his misery is the faculty that tells him the brain is the boss, “Don’t ever doubt that intelligence is king.”
That’s his Crazy Monkey whispering in his ear.