Could I Really Give Up My Apartment, Color TV, Stereo, And Steady Paycheck For Spirituality

Apartment 2

Wet, Writing In My Tent

May 24, ‘80

Well here I am again, eating Cheez Whiz, Bar-B-Q potato chips and drinking the beer left over from yesterday. I didn’t plan it this way, but that’s the rest of the story. It’s raining.

To finish yesterday’s cut short by darkness journal entry– in my three-day stay at JFKU, in addition to the classes already mentioned, I attended two more. In the first one, we sat around and smelled test tubes. The ingredients, or rather the odors, were supposed to heal “wayward souls.” I misread the schedule for the other class and got there at about the same time it was letting out, but I still managed to talk to a couple of the students, which brings me to my last disappointment concerning JFKU.

At night, after attending classes, I camped just behind the baseball field. It was really a playground. I would have appreciated it if one of the students I met at JFKU would have offered me a place to sleep, or at least a shower, but that didn’t happen. Besides lacking in hospitality, the student’s seemed to be lacking in another way. It wasn’t that they weren’t into the whole JFKU experience, indeed, the consensus had it that this was the only place in the country where one could get an accredited M.A. degree in mysticism. What bothered me was that I didn’t run across any extraordinary people. Instead, I found financially struggling students enrolled in an extraordinary program. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe it was ludicrous to think I would find Ram Dass’s walking around. I found no “guru type” people at JFKU. However, before I left, I did find one “guru type” person.

On Wednesday, I took the Bart (bay area public transportation) to the end of the line, and then hitched-hiked to Petaluma. I was going to see Bill Fannin. Back at CMU, in a conversation with Larry Simmons (Larry was the Time, Space, And Knowledge seminar facilitator), I expressed a desire to seek a more spiritually oriented education. “If you ever get to California,” he said, “look up Bill Fannin.” I figured why pass up the opportunity, so there I was, in California, not far from Petaluma, on my way to look up Bill Fannin.

His address in my hand, I knocked at the door of a large house. A beautiful Hawaiian girl answered. Bill Fannin wasn’t home, but the girl expected him back shortly. After we went inside, and I explained to her why I had come to see Bill, she began telling me about the time when she first met him. Because she was so friendly (and honest) I perhaps got a little more information than I needed.

She met Bill while living on the street. “He saved my life,” she said. After he took her in, she became one of many that he saved, or tried to save. Bill ran a ranch for displaced kids. Apparently, he took a special liking to her because she was, with his help, in the final stages of graduating from university with a counseling degree. As might be expected, she was grateful to Bill, but she was ready to move on. She had worked at the ranch mentoring youth for years. Now she was looking forward to making money in a real job. She was more than ready to live on her own, and I could understand that. Of course, Bill had helped her, but she had never made more than minimum wage. She felt that she had earned a better life, a “normal” one.

In the few moments of silence that I had before Bill returned, I started to have doubts as to whether I really could give up my apartment, stereo, color TV, and steady paycheck, and then take up residence in dormitory austerity. Then I took a deep breath and tried to relax. I hadn’t come here to give all that up. I had come here to check out this guy Bill Fannin, and that’s what I planned to do. But even with that somewhat comforting thought, I still couldn’t relax.

When Bill finally did show up it was like meeting an old friend. We went into the dinning room, and he fixed us a pot of tea. At first, our conversation was somewhat strained. I couldn’t let on that I was aspiring to be a more spiritual person, even though that’s exactly what I wanted to talk about; that said, however, he was very easy to talk to. In fact, it was almost as if he could read my mind. Whenever I would tense up or become tongue-tied he would move the conversation in another direction. While we were talking, another fellow came into the room, an architect who was donating his time to help build a new section on the Nyingma Institute (In addition to helping kids, Bill was also legal consultant to the Buddhist Nyingma Institute). John, the architect, was apologizing for not being able to get the project done on time. After Bill’s pep talk, John was ready to try harder. It was amazing how in those few brief moments Bill was able to turn this fellow’s attitude completely around, from a “no can do,” to a “can do” promise.

When it was time to leave, Bill offered to drive me to the bus station where he assured me it wouldn’t cost much to get back to where I could catch the BART. On the way to the bus station, he told me how he had become involved in Tibetan Buddhism. Originally, he was like everybody else, an aspiring student who wanted the “good life.” He got to a point where he became a successful Washington D.C. lawyer, but even with all that prestige and money he still was not satisfied. He decided to go back to Tucson, A
(his home town) and start his own law practice.

Even though he had it all, it wasn’t enough, and he didn’t know what to do about it. Before returning to Tucson, though, he went on a trip, an around the world trip. He visited a Hong Kong monastery, and in Tibet he even trained under a Buddhist monk. After all that, he returned to Tucson and opened his law practice, but he still wasn’t happy. Depressed, he closed up shop one afternoon and ended up at his neighbor’s house for some afternoon tea. His elderly female neighbor just happened to be having tea with a Tibetan high lama at the time. He had no idea she was even interested in Buddhism, let alone that she had a friend who was the Tibetan monk, Tarthang Tulku.

Well the rest, as they say, is history. Bill quit his law practice and took up helping kids get a “step up” in an unsympathetic world. He did, however, continue to do some legal work for the institute. I knew I was in the presence of a very special man, but instead of volunteering to work on his ranch, I chose to go back to my custodian job in Mt. Pleasant. Maybe some day I will council disadvantaged kids, but then again maybe I won’t. I was okay with that decision. I was glad I had come up to Petaluma to meet Bill Fannin. I wished everybody in the world could be like him, but right now I had a bicycle trip to attend to and that’s what I set my mind to do. After I got back to JFKU, I set up my tent behind the baseball field and sat down to enjoy the beer that I had brought back with me.

What Good Is Money If You Don’t Spend It On Meaningful Things

Legget, California

May 28, ‘80

I’m waiting for my clothes to dry, sitting on a large rock, in the waning part of a beautiful afternoon. I just washed them in the sparkling green river that runs before me. Looking up, I see 75-foot riverbanks and the tops of California Redwood trees above that. I hiked to this spot. When I return, I’ll take my last shower and buy some beer. Tomorrow I will see if I am fit enough to bicycle in these California hills.

When I headed north from JFKU, I knew I was facing lots of up and down bicycling. I chose not to bike the coast. Instead, I headed towards Napa Valley, into wine country. I hoped to condition myself in the valleys, so when the time came, I would be in shape for the coastal mountains. Biking the Napa Valley, the crem-dela-crem of California’s wine country, was really nice. The only thing that could have gone wrong, though, was the weather, and it did. I rode through two rain showers before I finally gave up and found a place to put up my tent for the evening. I had the right idea, to head north through the valleys, but the wrong timing. A strong headwind put an incredible strain on my left knee.

I was up against the wind again on my second day. I followed along the shores of a lake, and, in the afternoon, I found myself biking some beautiful rolling hills. My knee just about broke under the pressure. I thought my route would keep me out of the hills, but Northern California is very beautiful and that means hilly. I ended up camping in the Mendocino Lake area. The rain persuaded the three fishermen that were there to call it day, leaving me to enjoy the wilds of California hill country alone in my tent. I have a somewhat different attitude than on past trips. I guess you could say that I’m now a veteran bicycler. I expect the bad as well as the good. That attitude makes the bad not so bad, and the good much better. And further, I chose to do this bicycle trip, not because I needed to prove something to myself, but rather, because it seemed like the nicest way possible to spend my time. That motive, even with my sore knee, keeps my attitude positive.

When I passed through Legget, a small California logging town, on my first day out, I found a celebration going on. The townspeople were having their annual Memorial Mountain Folk Festival. I decided to take in some of the “doings,” so after I got my tent set up, and walked back into town (about 1.5 miles), I enjoyed watching the ax throwing contest and the saw competition. There were lots of booths selling wares and crafts, and a beer booth that I visited on a number of occasions. I spent a lot of time admiring the blond haired kid’s pictures at his
photography exhibit. He was a nature freak, apparently. A lot of his pictures, all nature pictures, were taken in the same National Parks that I had visited. I was so impressed that I decided to buy three photographs. The seller was more than obliging. Together, we got the framed photographs ready to mail back to
Michigan. I would give the birch tree sunset one to my parents. The other two I would hang on my apartment wall. I paid $14. for the birch tree, and $60. more for the picture of a water droplet falling off a pine bough and the panoramic shot of Hawaii’s Waimea Canyon. That purchase was a little out of character for me, as it cut into my travel money, but I wasn’t charged tax and when I left, the kid said, “You just made my weekend.”

I didn’t need those photographs. I wanted them. For the first time in my life I had a place to put them and that made me feel good. I had no intention of abandoning my apartment. It was home. I had “roots” now, and those photographs were not only beautiful, they were reminders of the feelings I had had when I felt closest to nature—priceless feelings. If you can’t spend money on meaningful things, what good is it? Health is more important than money, and what is healthier than the beauty and bounty of nature, or at least in my case, the memories of it!

I’ve been giving my knee a rest for the last couple of days, but now I’m getting ready to leave this campground. By providing hiker biker campgrounds, California has been very good to me. If you walk or ride a bike into a campground you only have to pay fifty cents per night. California has always been on the leading edge of progressive thinking; now I know why John Mayall is always coming back here. Well its time to give my knee a whirl. Hopefully, it will hold up.


3 Responses to “Could I Really Give Up My Apartment, Color TV, Stereo, And Steady Paycheck For Spirituality”

  1. Dag T Says:

    Great: Wet, Writing In My Tent! It’s just what I experianced in summer 1980 – hitch-hiking with my boyfriend (and later husband and father of my son 😉 all over the British Isles: UK, Northern Ireland and the wonderful but very very wet Republik of Ireland!!! The worst were the wet socks and shoes in the morning…

  2. wings Says:

    Sounds beautiful. It is really great to have this record of your life and those times. Mine is in my head for the most part, and I do realize that it has adjusted and shifted as I have. A record like this would be much more reflective of what truly happened and what I really said…and then filtered and reread through my present filters of course. Lol. Memories are kind of funny things…I always enjoy what you share here, Dave. It is like a book I am reading slowly and enjoying very much. Thank you.

  3. dave Says:

    I’ve got a few memories yet to post concerning crawling into my damp sleeping bag, wet and muddy. That’s about as bad as it gets when you’re trying to enjoy old Ma Nature. I’m glad you can relate Dag T. We can laugh about now, though.

    I totally agree Wings, about filters and memory uncertainty. I am very glad that I kept a record of my trips, but as I have already stated, some of the conversations I am posting (nothing in the above post) are added to the people I met on my travels. It was a four year project for me to rewrite all my journals. Why did I do that? Because I ended up with some answers to the questions that haunted me all through these personal experiences and I needed some closure. That project completed, I thought I was done, but then the internet and blogging happened and I thought why not. In some cases, I almost remember the stuff I added as actually taking place. Yes, memory is a funny thing.

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