Thursday, January 31, 2008
Reading "Lifting the Veil - Old Masters, pornography, and the works of John Currin" - New Yorker profile, 1.28.08.
Currin says, "I'd like to get the sex thing over with, but I realized I'm not done with it... You should never will a change in your work--you have to work an idea to death. I often find the best things happen when you're near the end."
True of the podiatrist father sequence (God is in the Cracks, dialogues and monologues between a father and son) and now, more recently, of the Shelby the Dog poems, some of which, like Currin's paintings, derive from porn and images and descriptions of sex products. Actually, both Shelby (above, in the greenery) and Leopard Dog (above, on the floor) are sex-obsessed in my poems about them, but they have higher longings as well. I don't know about you, but sex has always fueled my imagination. Or, should I say "imaginations," and those other areas beyond... anything to do with sex. Sex is part and parcel of our "divine conscious energy." That kundalini energy, truth, consciousness, bliss...
And like Currin, I too sometimes long and would like "to get the sex thing over with..."
But there it is in the quasi autobiographical Lenore and the Leopard Dog sequence (God is in the Cracks, pp. 53-59) with the young boy and newly arrived voyeuristic animal peeping through the keyhole as Father and Father's wife-to-be make love:
"'What, you still don't get it? says Dog,
thwacking me with his tail.
Lenore's your Mommy, little boy;
Wicky Wicky's your Father.
You had mother.
Now you have another.'
Hands on his shoulders, she sits on father,
moves up and down.
"Now you see it, now you don't," she says.
"Bad Lenore, Bad. That's not Dog," says Dog,
barking at the keyhole.
"There is man and woman and a third thing, too,
in us, says the poet. That's the eye in the heart
that sees into the invisible. The goal, Poet says, is to see
with the eye of the heart so like sees like." [says Father... the Poet of course is Rumi]
"Shut up," she says, "shut up and schtupp."
"Oh God, marry me," he says, "marry me."
Well, the sex is part of the narrative. It's also fuel, powers the higher longings, so-called, and the endlessly fascinating, endlessly fascinating. As someone commented today on my post "Words, Words, Words,"
I think words can form a nest you can settle down in or can act as ammunition to blow your security apart. They are tools, also, to get the work of life done. I think of a line from a Frost poem "...each tool I step on... turns into a weapon."
And, as John Currin says, "Pornography is so associated with photography, and so dependent on the idea that the camera doesn't intercede between you and the subject. One motive of mine is to see if I could make this clearly debased and unbeautiful thing become beautiful in a painting."
And in poetry. And in a canine's view of humans doing the deed. Bow wow. Bow wow. Or, as Shelby the dog puts it, "Bow fucking wow!"
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I miss the place. Now and then an image like this winter scene appears and I'm right there. Yet, when I think back to my childhood in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s, and compare that with the present, it is as if that earlier time were like... not only another lifetime, but (life) on another planet. Yet the pang... homesickness... and, oddly, living in Toronto (1979 - 1985), a city that in many ways reminded me of our old Albany Park / Lawrence Avenue neighborhood in Chicago... never quite satisfied that feeling, that sense of what was missing. I longed for home.
So the Dr. Sward's Cure for Melancholia postings (Dr. Sward being my father, not me), they're like love letters, is that a joke? love letters to... Chicago... 'cause that's home, that's where it started, mother, father, podiatry, Jewishness and all the rest. Melancholia included...
And the most real thing from the 40s and 50s was what? The dogs. Fluffy the spaniel and the sickly pathetic mutts we'd rescue from the Chicago Dog Pound. "The Pound..." as in impounded. We're impounding your dog. And the truck the Dog Catcher would use to carry 'em away... and the gas you'd see escaping when the door swung open... and the dogs and what I felt for them. Sentimental slop, but it hasn't gone away. So something about that time may be "another lifetime... life on another planet..." but I haven't forgotten the dogs and my feelings for the city are constant, my feelings for the dogs are constant... if there's a NOW, it's dogs, city and heart. And family, too.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Grace Notes: A Conversation
with Robyn Sarah
Excerpted from Literary Magazine Review,
Volume 25, Nos. 1 & 2,
Anniversary Issue - just published
Note: A shortened version of our conversation appeared in Nimrod, International Issue, 2005. Literary Magazine Review has published the full version, updated. Excerpt from Q/A follows:
Born in New York City to Canadian parents, Robyn Sarah grew up in Montreal, studying at the Conservatoire de Musique du Quebec and at McGill University. She has published primarily in Canada, though work of hers has appeared in Hudson Review, Poetry Chicago, New England Review and others. I first met Robyn and came to know her poetry when we read together on the same program at the Art Bar in Toronto. I have always tended to carry on imaginary conversations with writers whose work excites me. What follows is a very brief excerpt from a substantial interview, a "real" conversation conducted by email, covering many different aspects of the writing life. For more, please see the latest Literary Magazine Review (LMR), referenced above.
Whatever else this blog is about... it's about imagination, healing, poetry, how one scribbler reads and converses with another, and, also, grace... and the connection between grace and imagination... and what it's like, speaking for myself, to have no imagination, no grace, zilch... and coming back... fucking line by line... anyway, excerpt of a conversation:
ROBT: As you understand it, Robyn, what is Imagination? Peter Ackroyd in his biography, Blake, suggests the poet's inspiration and visionary experiences were part of a special fate, a natural gift, perhaps inherited, and that for Blake, Imagination was primary, a near sacred element in his life and his work. As a poet, what do you understand by that word, Imagination?
ROBYN: It's a scary word for me, imagination. I don't think I have very much imagination, the real world is always more than enough for me. When I was in my teens my piano teacher once made a remark, "Actually we learn by imagination, not by experience", which I wrote down and brooded on for years, but I'm still not sure what he meant by it or what it means. Recently I came across a conversation I recorded in an old journal, a remark someone made at a party: "Imagination is knowing what to do next." I hang on to these snippets hoping to understand them one day... For me, inspiration takes two possible forms. Sometimes words come into my head—fragmentary phrases that I like the sound of—I call them “tinder words” because they’re like fire-starter for poems. Or sometimes it’s a sudden feeling I get, that the thing I’m looking at is infused with mysterious significance--that it is both itself and more than itself. It's like the world jumps into a different kind of focus. I can't make it happen, I don't have control over it, but I try to arrange my life to keep myself open to it. Is this "imagination"? Whatever it is, I know that when it's not there, I can't write poetry. And I don't even try.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Blog, Journal, Scrapbook... or collage... William Stafford names it...
"What's In My Journal"
by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow
"Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can't find them. Someone's terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine."
Have always liked the guy's work and, in the early 70s, published his little book In The Clock of Reason with Soft Press, located in our basement at 1050 St. David St., Victoria, B.C. Handset, signed, numbered... and some complained about the price we sold it for, $4.95. Because it was handset and I was a little too much into the 60s / 70s spirit, distracted, finding it hard to discipline / learn the craft, loving Stafford's work, but resistant to putting a whole day into typesetting a poem, In The Clock of Reason took a while to finish. One afternoon, in fact, Stafford simply appeared at the door, arrived from Portland. So that got things going...
"One of the most striking features of his career is that he began publishing his poetry only later in life. His first major collection of poetry Traveling Through the Dark was published when he was forty-eight years old. It won the National Book Award the following year in 1963. The title poem is one of Stafford's most well known works. It describes an experience of encountering a recently killed doe on a mountain road. Before pushing the doe off into the canyon, the poet discovers that the doe was pregnant and the fawn inside the doe is still alive.
"Stafford had a quiet daily ritual of writing and his writing focuses on the ordinary. The gentle quotidian style of his poetry has been compared to Robert Frost. His poems are typically short, focusing on the earthy, accessible details appropriate to a specific locality. In a 1971 interview, Stafford said:
"I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life, you know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of its coming to a kind of crescendo, or of its petering out either. It is just going steadily along."
"He was a close friend and collaborator with the poet Robert Bly. Despite his late start, he was a frequent contributor to magazines and anthologies and eventually published fifty-seven volumes of poetry. James Dickey called Stafford one of those poets "who pour out rivers of ink, all on good poems." He kept a daily journal for 50 years, and composed nearly 22,000 poems, of which roughly 3,000 were published.
"In 1970, he was named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, a position that is now known as Poet Laureate. In 1975, he was named Poet Laureate of Oregon. In 1980, he retired from Lewis and Clark College but continued to travel extensively and give public readings of his poetry. In 1992, he won the Western States Book Award for lifetime achievement in poetry.
"He died of a heart attack in Lake Oswego, Oregon on August 28, 1993, having written a poem that morning containing the line "You don't have to be good," my mother said; "just be ready for what God sends."  His works are still held by the Stafford family, and managed by Kim Stafford and Paul Merchant at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis and Clark College."
First met Robert Bly when he read with James Wright at Cornell University back in 1963. Bly has been a friend, someone who provided just what was needed in those years I struggled with the podiatrist father / son poems, the ones that found their way into God is in the Cracks and now this new work, Doctor Sward's Cure for Melancholia. And a volume scheduled for publication in the U.S. in 2011, a New & Selected... the last four books were published by Black Moss Press and distributed largely in Canada.
Bly read a few days ago (Jan. 13) in Santa Cruz, upstairs, above the Blue Lagoon, in a venue called The Attic. Full house, several hundred people, $10. a ticket. Robert's third reading here in 3 years. Nils Peterson, poet from the San Jose Poetry Center / SJ State University does the Intro, "a poet and a cause for poetry in others," he says of Bly, which is fair.
Bly reads, if I got it straight, "Turkish Pears in August," new book? More than in his two previous readings he speaks about poetics, nitty gritty of poetry... sounds, syllables, vowels, odd ways of rhyming... drawing on Middle Eastern traditions... and of course there is musical accompaniment. So the music and the poetry come together. Musicians: Marcus Wise on tabla and Bruce Hamm on sarod. And there was a harmonica in there for a while too. You don't often go to a poetry reading and hear tabla, sarod and harmonica... in moving harmony... yeah, that was interesting.
Bly speaks of "Momma's boys," in fact, calls himself a Momma's boy, and reads his recent translation of Ibsen's *Peer Gynt, the passage where a young man provides comfort, solace, whatever it is one does when someone is dying... for his mother to ease her passage... moving, beautiful passages.. in fact, the high point of the evening, for me.
That word "beauty," "beautiful..." I'm so fucking old, old enough, anyway, to have heard Robert Frost read at Bread Loaf and compliment himself, say how, to the best of his (Frost's) knowledge, he had managed over the years to use the word "beautiful..." only once, maybe twice in his poetry. Beautiful, beautiful... where did you ever get the idea that word was poetic? That it even belonged in a poem, any poem?
Bly like a latter day Ezra Pound (it has long seemed to me), translating and introducing North American readers to poets they might not otherwise have heard. Swedish poets like Martinson, Ekelof, and Transtromer... plus Neruda and Vallejo, Lorca and Jimenez...
Photo by J.J. Webb
* Peer Gynt (IPA: [per gʏnt]) is a play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It was written in 1867, and first performed in Christiania (now Oslo) on 24 February 1876, with incidental music by the composer Edvard Grieg. Ibsen wrote Peer Gynt while traveling in Rome, on Ischia and in Sorrento. It was first published on November 14, 1867, in Copenhagen. The first edition comprised 1,250 copies. It was followed by a re-print of 2,000 copies after 14 days. The large sales were mostly due to the success of Ibsen's previous play, Brand. Unlike Ibsen's other later plays, Peer Gynt is written in verse. This is because it was originally intended to be a written drama, not for stage performance. Difficulties due to rapid and frequent change of scene (including an entire act in pitch darkness) render the play troublesome to perform. It is also unlike Ibsen's later plays in that it is a fantasy rather than a realistic tragedy. Perhaps the most famous aspect of this play is Grieg's music piece entitled In the Hall of the Mountain King.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St., Santa Cruz, Feb. 23 - July 1. Show featuring work inspired by the art & history of China. Reception 4 - 6 PM, Sat., Feb. 23.
For more on MAH and upcoming event:
We're a couple. I scribble, she sculpts and paints... The Jaded Princess will be part of a Museum-Wide Exhibition, "Ying: Inspired by the Art and History of China," coming up at Santa Cruz' Museum of Art and History (MAH). The show runs from February 23 to July 1. The Jaded Princess, a life-size sculpture made in the late 1970s, took a year to produce and was constructed using antique circuit boards. Gloria's piece is a replica of the Chinese Jade Burial Suit of Chinese Princess Tou Wan, Han Dynasty, 140 B.C.
According to the catalog, "The concept of this exhibition resulted from [Curator Susan Hillhouse's] visits to the studios of a group of artists" in Chengde, China. "...this museum-wide presentation opens a new path of discovery through contemporary artists from China, the Bay area and Santa Cruz, deepening our understanding of Santa Cruz County's many cultural heritages."
Gloria's Jaded Princess has been exhibited in several Art & Technology shows, at UC Santa Cruz, in San Jose and elsewhere. Hopefully, one day Bill Gates will see and want to purchase it.
GLORIA ALFORD became a mixed media artist by default. Refused admittance into a Graduate Art Program in Madison, Wisconsin, she enrolled instead in a Home Economics course where she learned printmaking. But on cloth, not paper. She went on to use some non-traditional methods and materials, such as solar cells, hand-made paper, plastic, cloth, computer chips, plus acrylic, watercolor, and methods like vacuum forming plastic, collage and paint.
Gloria’s best-known piece, The Jaded Princess, represents the artist's concern with the duality of technology--a provider of "the good life" and, at the same time, a vehicle for destruction. The circular chips covering the princess' brain are bomb detonators, by design. However, Ms. Alford's princess is intended as an affirmation--a sleeping beauty, or technology preserved, awaiting awakening by the prince of technology.
Exhibited at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Gloria's mixed-media work, said the Museum's Director "was popular with the conservatives as it was with the more avant garde enthusiasts."
Still true to her origins as a mixed media artist, Gloria Alford now works with varieties of paint and collage on paper and canvas.
For more, see:
and the posting that follows this.
Following up on (previous) posting re: William James' Principles of Psychology and James' thoughts on what has come to be known as "stream of consciousness," I think of Gloria K. Alford's painting titled "Words," Acrylic on Paper, 22 x 30... which appears here with her permission. If it's possible for a painting to catch something of the nature of language, language of a certain kind... language coming into being, language (and this is going to sound strange), taking the form of "words," and, for me anyway, tapping into what I think of as "stream of consciousness," well, this painting does that. Gloria doesn't often include words in her pieces, and I'm not exactly sure how or why it happens here. But... well, one day I may use it as a cover for a book, again, with her permission.
I know, but don't know... "What's it all about?" I ask. "Words, words, words," she says. "How much communication happens with words? There's so much, speaking, but also the printed word, which is what I have in mind. Nothing profound. Any kind of meaning you want to give it is okay by me," she says. "Which is itself," I say, "a way of playing with words, giving it back to the reader..." Back, in other words, to the beginning, to Gloria's question, "How much communication happens with words?"
Friday, January 11, 2008
I know, it's right there... Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac, an archive of his radio show. Consciousness... well, this, on William James' birthday, January 11... what is a blog? It's a journal, an archive, a record of where you've been and what you've thought and what led you there, here, there, the track(s). Enough that it be for yourself. Someone else cares to look in? Fine. Anyway, here's a snippet of what I want to save:
It's the birthday of the psychologist and philosopher William James, born in New York City (1842). He was the older brother of the novelist Henry James, and one of the most prominent thinkers of his era. He was a man who started out studying medicine and went on to become one of the founders of modern psychology, and finished his life as a prominent philosopher. He was a professor of physiology at Harvard when he was hired to write a textbook about the new field of psychology, which was challenging the idea that the body and the mind were separate. He could have just written a summary of all the current ideas in the field but instead decided to explore the issues of psychology he found most interesting and perplexing. He took twelve years to finish the book called, The Principles of Psychology (1890). It was used as a textbook in college classrooms, but was also translated into a dozen different languages, and people read it all over the world.
One of the ideas he developed in the book was a theory of the human mind which he called "a stream of consciousness." Before him the common view was that a person's thoughts have a clear beginning and end, and that the thinker is in control of his or her thoughts. But William James wrote, "Consciousness ... does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as 'chain' or 'train' do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows."
James's ideas about consciousness were especially influential on writers, and novelists from James Joyce to William Faulkner began to portray streams of consciousness through language, letting characters think at length and at random on the page. Consciousness itself became one of the most important subjects of modern literature. He also helped invent the technique of automatic writing, in which a person writes as quickly as possible whatever comes into one's head. He encouraged audiences to take up the practice as a form of self-analysis, and one person who took his advice was a student named Gertrude Stein, who went on to use it as the basis for her writing style.
William James wrote, "The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures." He also wrote, "Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing."
William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism. He was the brother of novelist Henry James and of diarist Alice James.
William James was born at the Astor House in New York City, son of Henry James Sr., an independently wealthy and notoriously eccentric Swedenborgian theologian well acquainted with the literary and intellectual elites of his day. The intellectual brilliance of the James family milieu and the remarkable epistolary talents of several of its members have made them a subject of continuing interest to historians, biographers, and critics.
James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Peirce, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, Ernst Mach, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr., James George Frazer, Henri Bergson, H. G. Wells, G. K. Chesterton, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, and Carl Jung.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Back from swimming, open mail and there's Margie, The American Journal of Poetry, 2007, an annual of poetry, (440 pages!) edited by Robert Nazarene and (among others), Troy Jollimore, Canadian poet-friend and author of Tom Thomson in Purgatory. Cover photo bears the caption, Robert Nazarene, "The Boy With Nothing To Lose."
Margie includes One-Stop Foot Shop, one of the poems slated for this "work in progress" (see Blog posting #1), Dr. Sward's Cure for Melancholia. Hard to know who reads these things, but here's the poem:
ONE-STOP FOOT SHOP
“We walk with angels
and they are our feet.
“‘Vibrating energy packets,’” he calls them. “‘Bundles of soul
in a world of meat.’ Early warning system—
dry skin and brittle nails;
feelings of numbness and cold;
these are symptoms; they mean something.
I see things physicians miss.
“All you have to do is open your eyes, just open your eyes,
and you’ll see: seven-eighths of everything is invisible, a spirit
inside the spirit.
The soul is rooted in the foot.
As your friend Bly says, ‘The soul longs to go down’;
feet know the way to the other world,
that world where people are awake.
So do me a favor: dream me no dreams.
A dreamer is someone who’s asleep.
“You know, the material world is infinite,
but boring infinite,” he says, cigarette in hand,
little wings fluttering at his ankles.
“And women,” he says, smacking his head,
“four times as many foot problems as men.
High heels are the culprit.
“I may be a podiatrist, but I know what I’m about:
feet. Feet don’t lie,
don’t cheat, don’t kiss ass. Truth is,
peoples’ feet are too good for them.”
Sunday, January 6, 2008
In 1985, after 14 years in Canada, I wrote a feature for The Toronto Star about attending a week-long yoga retreat with Baba Hari Dass, a silent monk who communicates by writing on a small chalkboard. The retreat was held at a YMCA camp several hours north of Toronto. I attended with my then-wife and our two children, ages 8 and 14. That was the story: What is it like for a married couple and their children to do "yoga," chant, meditate, listen to talks on Ashtanga, or Eight-Limbed Yoga, and experience a new way of being together as a family?
As I understand it, one is either a monk who dedicates him/her self full-time to the discipline, or a householder. Husband to four wives, father to five children, my karma is what it is. But I've long been fascinated by that intersection, that tension between the sacred and the insane. Sorry, meant to say profane.
Apparently pleased with the article, Baba Hari Dass' people invited me and my wife, a visual artist, to teach at Mount Madonna School in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Later that year my then-spouse returned to Toronto and I stayed on at Mount Madonna. What to do? I began by seeking advice from the silent monk who I'd come to like and trust.
"How come she left?" I asked.
"She found you boring. She wants fun," he wrote on his small chalkboard.
"Am I boring?"
"No, you have different natures. Women leave you because they want excitement. You are a writer. You live in an abstract world which doesn't excite them."
"False expectations is the cause of 'broken heart,'" he continued. "Nothing is permanent. But we are looking for permanency."
Here's a man who's never been married, I thought. Would I trade places with him? Better celibacy, I decided, better the life of a monk than the hell of what one goes through with a divorce. That was then...
People ask: Does it get easier, breaking up... then breaking up and going through it again? I just shake my head.
Ashtanga Yoga, also known as Raja Yoga, is the scientific method of enlightenment propounded [more than 2,000 years ago] by the ancient sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It is the Yoga that Baba Hari Dass has practiced since childhood. Since his arrival from India in 1971, Baba Hari Dass has been active in training students and teachers of Yoga in the United States and Canada. Through his compassionate example, young and old alike are learning the gentle art of peace.*
Because there has been much confusion over the past few years regarding the term Ashtanga, we wish to be clear that we do not teach a contemporary method of asana that has come to be known as “Power Yoga” or “Ashtanga”. Though asana (seat, or posture) is but one limb of Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga, it is often identified as Yoga.
We present the classical Ashtanga Yoga set forth more than 2,000 years ago by Patanjai in the Yoga Sutras. Ashtanga means Eight Limbed (ashta meaning eight, and anga meaning limb).
The eight limbs* are:
Scriptural Study (Svadhyaya)
Surrender to God (Ishvarapranidhana)
Posture, Seat (Asana)
Breath Control (Pranayama)
Withdrawing the Mind from Sense Perception (Pratyahara)
Higher Consciousness (Samadhi)
Saturday, January 5, 2008
MEDITATING WITH RAM DASS – TEACHING A SIX-YEAR-OLD TO “SEE”
That image of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (see Jan. 1 posting) got me thinking of how I started... in 1968, a resident at the MacDowell Artists’ Colony, Peterborough, N.H., I learned that Ram Dass, AKA Professor Richard Alpert*, had just returned from India and was living at his father’s estate not far from Peterborough. So one afternoon--Ram Dass having agreed to see me—I set out on an adventure that continues to this day...
That was my first experience with meditation—
I returned to MacDowell and spent an afternoon with my daughter who was living nearby. I sought to impart something of what I felt I’d gotten from the experience of meditating with Ram Dass. I knew doing so would have value for her, a “gift” that would serve her for the rest of her life. That if I provided nothing else, at least there was this.
Thirty years later, a graduate of Berkeley, top of her class, an environmental scientist, she shared with me her description of the experience. She did so as she was preparing the way for me to meet one of her colleagues, Arjuna Ardagh, author and founder of the Living Essence Foundation.
“By way of introduction, when I was around 5 or 6 my Dad came home from some kind of event or class about meditation. He asked me if I’d ever stopped all my thoughts. We discussed it a bit since even at my age it was pretty obvious that just about everything required some form of thought. Dad had an innocent curiosity that still moves me. It was clear he thought my youth and awareness might provide a perspective that could otherwise be inaccessible to him. Joan Baez was on the stereo and we sat on the couch in front of the fireplace looking out the window. We agreed to try it. We sat there, me on his right, our eyes closed. Trying not to think. It didn’t work but it was my first formal introduction to meditation. Dad had an attentive, childlike, almost fixated quality when he asked how it was for me. He was on fire – passionate, desperate really, seemed willing to put anything on the line to really look, to really see. Until that moment I had believed I was the only one who had the sense to care, to really see.
“So that’s a bit of dad.”
*From Dr. Richard Alpert to Baba Ram Dass
In 1967 Alpert travelled to India, where he met the American spiritual seeker Bhagavan Das. As he guided him barefoot from temple to temple, Bhagavan Das began teaching Alpert basic mantras and asanas, as well as how to work with beads. After a few months Bhagavan Das led Alpert to his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or as he is better known in the West, Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji soon became Alpert's guru and gave him the name "Ram Dass", which means "servant of God". Under the guidance of Maharaj-ji, Ram Dass was instructed to receive teaching from Hari Dass Baba, who taught in silence using only a chalkboard. While in India, Ram Dass also corresponded with Meher Baba; however, he remained primarily focused on the teaching of Hari Dass Baba. Among other things, Hari Dass Baba trained Ram Dass in raja yoga and ahimsa. It was these life-changing experiences in India that inspired Ram Dass to write the contemporary spiritual classic, Be Here Now, in which he teaches the harmony of all people and religions.