|Travels with Charley|
With appreciation to John Steinbeck (Note 24), I borrowed his title for this thread. Although I never read Travels with Charley, the three words have called out to me over the years like a mystery mantra. On reflection, the metaphor suggests my geographic meanderings have been a misguided search for self somewhere in some city someplace in the world.
The hidden part of me that I sought was always with me as Steinbeck's dog Charley was always at his side. It took most of a lifetime to discover that I don't have to leave home to find out who I am! For half of my life, I moved with my parents or my own family every couple of years. Then I spent twenty five years in the same location in the same house. But that's getting ahead of my travels with Charley.
Life in Hyde Park
As married life took over the momentum of my geographic destiny, my father-in-law set us up in a modest home near the Orlando Winter Park border on Dubsdread Circle. My only foray into the world of golf took place here. As a student at Rollins College, I had weekday privileges at the Dubsdread Country Club. Between classes, my friends and I would play a round with a stop at my house for a beer. My golf ball supply was supplemented by the strays that landed in the yard from wayward shots.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I decided to study for a masters. On the good advice of the department head, I applied to the University of Chicago MBA program. There was an obscure scholarship for sons of WWI veterans. Since my Dad served in the first world war, that program provided a full tuition waiver for my two years at Chicago. I traded the golf clubs in for a racket as tennis became my leisure sport of choice. That lasted a few years until a knee injury ended that sports initiative.
Living in married student housing adjacent to the campus in Hyde Park was more international than my Navy experience. The mix of couples and life styles in our apartment was like a mini United Nations. One of our neighbors was the first mixed couple, a white woman and a black man, I had seen. Chatting with them in the elevator, I discoverd they were also human beings trying to work things out like the rest of us. She was in graduate school, he worked full time, and they were trying to make ends meet. They were engaged in the daily task of living. What was the big deal about racial prejudice? It just didn't make sense when confronted with the reality of my direct experience with people.
Walking down the aisles at the Co-op supermarket was like a trip abroad. With a variety of nationalities from many foreign countries to cater too, the shelves were stocked with all kinds of exotic goods. Rubbing elbows with other shoppers was a complimentary treat. Their varied complexions and clothing dazzled my provincial Central Florida upbringing. This was more of an eye opener than my Mediterranean tour with its limited ethnic scope compared to the students at Chicago. What an education, having nothing to do with the classroom, to attend a truly great international university.
Gateway to the West
After receiving an MBA and taking a job with the McDonnell Automation Center, we moved to St. Louis. While I was student, we made do with little personal furniture and lived in furnished units. My father-in-law had loaned us the furniture for Dubsdread Circle. Starting my first professional job, we began the furniture acquisition process that continues to this day. I tried to break out of the acquisition cycle but have only met with modest success.
In recent years, I pared down from four bedrooms to two and now live in a one bedroom with loft. Having shed a lot of furniture, I recently found myself furnishing the loft as a guest room. Will the acquisition of things never end? The Western world is locked in a gigantic loop of spend, acquire and discard. How much can the planet take? Perhaps not as much as I assume behind the importance of "things" masquerade which diverts me from seeing through to the soul.
While in St. Louis, we saw the arch construction begin its skyward reach as we visited the waterfront to witness the initial construction. Seeing the Mississippi steamers being restored there reminded me of my water roots. Commemorating the opening of the West, my fascination with the arch signaled a deeper longing to "go West young man, go West." However, it would be several years before this theme consciously surfaced and many more before I finally acted on this deep inner knowing about my geographic destiny.
After two years in St. Louis, I returned to Chicago to take a position in the corporate operations research group of Standard Oil (Indiana). Having an affinity for the South side, we settled in South Shore which was an easy commute via the Illinois Central to the Michigan Avenue office location. As a student, I didn't take in many of the local sights and sounds. Now the museums, concerts in the park and bike rides along Lake Shore Drive assumed more importance in my life style.
Chicago Once Again
I saw my first Calder at the Museum of Natural History. A gigantic mobile hung in the main foyer. On first sight, I was a Calder devotee for life - what simplicity - what color - what scale - a magnificent object of "static" energy in "motion!" Next week I'll attend a retrospective of Calder's work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I can't wait to see it. Chicago was also my first encounter with Henry Moore whose Nuclear Energy sculpture on the Chicago campus commemorating the first sustained nuclear reaction is a revelation to behold. What an extraordinary image!
Having read Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa as an undergraduate (Note 25), I was delighted to learn that the American Museum of Natural History (New York) had been her home base. I returned often to visit the Chicago museum drawn by the Calder and Mead mystique haunting those halls. It seems as if I wanted their breadth of vision and depth of understanding to permeate my being. At some level, they were spirit guides whose importance I didn't realize at the time. The Intuitive Self took me again and again to soak in their light. While I appeared to look at skeletons and prehistoric scenes, I was absorbing the music of the spheres sung by these avatars.
Bike rides along the lake front with my young daughter in the child seat were a delight. My affinity for the water was nurtured by Lake Michigan even though I was land locked hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. The water of the seven seas runs in my veins. At ninety seven percent water with a high salt content, I know my physical essence is of the ocean. After all when I've gotten an intravenous feed to restore my body fluids, it was called a "saline" solution. Now isn't that a mystery! From whence evolved the human species? I believe that first and foremost we are creatures of the sea.
Heading Back East
Once securely settled in my work at Standard Oil, I became aware of a basic dissatisfaction with my career direction. After an extensive professional career evaluation, my geographic destiny turned East. Having decided to pursue an academic career, I entered the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to get my Ph.D. union card. Living in Drexelbrook and commuting to Philadelphia, I acquired another perspective on city life. One of the delights of this city was Fairmont Park that runs along the Schuylkill River. We spent many hours bicycling along its trails with the children seated behind.
In Fairmont Park, I discovered another artist whose vision would inform my life. A small Rodin museum was located near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The life size replica of The Kiss centrally featured in the museum captivated my attention. I would spend as much time as a family outing with two young children permitted walking around and around this extraordinary sculpture. At the time, I was conscious of my strong attraction to the image, but I was quite unaware of the deeper meaning calling out to me from this metaphor.
Later I would realize that his rendering of the divine embrace linked the nether regions of passionate sensuality to the transporting realms of hieros gamos. As the years passed, I figured out that his work captured the Divine Marriage in all its worldly and heavenly glory! I had no conscious idea what those words or images meant at the time. I only knew about my compelling fascination with his sculpture of The Kiss. My awareness opened when I encountered the eternal image of Shiva and Shakti in embrace. Hindu methodology and a modern artist had both captured a primal archetype of the human experience.
Whoops - West Again
Being A.B.D. (all but dissertation) with course work and examinations successfully completed and the ability to borrow exhausted, it was time to get a full time position while I finished the dissertation. This brought my traveling destiny to Cleveland for a two year stint at Case Western. By now the children were old enough to attend preschool and kindergarten. With my new found interest in the education process, where they went to school became important to me. That is how I discovered Maria Montessori.
Living in East Cleveland near an active synagogue, I found their Montessori classes for preschool through elementary education. I identified with the cultural importance my Jewish friends placed on education. Both children were enrolled in the Montessori program. Here I discovered the absolutely crucial difference a teacher makes. Although all teachers were certified in the Montessori method, my son's teacher need never have taken certification since she was a natural. She seemed to be Maria Montessori incarnate.
My daughter's teacher was another story. She could have taken Montessori classes the rest of her life and never gotten the hang of it. Obviously my son's experience was fantastic and hers was a disaster. He continued for a second year, and we transferred her to first grade in the neighborhood grammar school. My daughter's public school teacher was as good a "Montessori" teacher as my son's although she had not taken the first certification class. What an important lesson to learn: a classroom teacher makes all the difference in the world!
Return to Florida
Arriving in Miami to take up a career at a new university, I settled down geographically for the next twenty five years. Until Miami both with my parents and my own family, I moved from one home to another sometimes in the same community but more often from one state to another every two or three years. Originally attracted by the prospect that university education could be different, I hung onto the Florida International University dream until the day I left. However, most of the innovative energies were sucked out of the place after the first couple of years.
As the Hindu tradition so astutely notes, I had transitioned from the student phase of life to householder status in making the move to Miami. And household we did by settling into a four bedroom home with the fourth dedicated to an office. There were several opportunities for excellent private school education in Miami especially in Coconut Grove. However, they were quite pricey. Given the demands of a mortgage payment and my modest salary as an assistant professor, private schools for the children fell by the wayside.
I had learned the teacher made more difference than the program whether public or private. So through the years in public education, my children had some great and not so great teachers. The fact that students survive any educational system reasonably unscathed is a testament to the human spirit. By the time the students reached my classes in the upper division university, most of their passion for "being" had been submerged beneath layers of conventional "doing." But as this web site illustrates, I found ways to evoke the latent spirit lying buried under the debris of an overly specialized rational culture.
During my long residence in Miami, I made occasional excursions that kept my travel urge alive. One memorable departure was a sabbatical term in Finland. A colleague from the University of Oulu had spent part of a year as our guest. In return, I spent one semester teaching at Oulu. I arrived during the waning days of December to what became their coldest winter in twenty years. Coming from South Florida to endure that harsh climate, I swore that I would never complain about hot weather again! I bundled up with every warm piece of clothing I owned to wait for the bus each morning to take me to the University.
Spending an extended period of time on foreign soil, the ethnocentric attitude of Americans in general and academics in particular became painfully clear. I noticed our presumption that US academic journals were superior to their European counterparts. I had found academic arrogance pervasive in its attitude toward other professions, e.g. business professors generally looked down on practicing managers. Perhaps there's something to the observation "those that can, do, those who can't, teach." Then I found that among academics between disciplines and countries, this arrogance was even stronger.
My most striking encounter with ethnocentricity was a side trip to Leningrad, Russia that we I took at the end of my sabbatical. We were in a tour group that rode the train from Helsinki to Leningrad where we visited museums and took in the sights. One excursion took us to the Leningrad Circus. This was one of the few times we were not somewhat isolated from Russian people. They were sitting all around us on the aisle saved for us.
Our presence was more than noticeable as a member of our group nosily stood up to videotape. I was on the end of our section. Sitting next to me were a father and young son who rarely took his eyes off our behavior to watch the show which his father had treated him to. The video camera probably represented several months wages for the father. The curious adulation of the young boy was poignant. My soul reached out to that father across a wordless space.
Our ostentatiousness was palpable. I was embarrased to be part of the American group. I would much rather have chatted with the father and son while sharing their Circus with them. I wanted to know what they thought and felt about the extraordinary performers whose gymnastic and artistic skill was superior to any I had ever seen in an American circus. These were people clearly dedicated to their circus life as an art and craft with a long tradition.
After my marriage ended, my travels tied in with the spiritual explorations evoked by my separation. I joined an ongoing psychosynthesis study program that included retreats and vision quests where each person worked alone but spent part of each day sharing with the group for clarification and validation. We went to the Yucatan pennisula to spend time at Chichen Itza as a catalyst for our personal process.
One experience there was unlike any that I've had before or since. One mid afternoon while walking the deserted broad avenue from the pyramid to the main cenote (a deep natural well), my mind and being were transported to another time where I found myself swept up in a milling throng of people moving along the same avenue. Quickly I realized that I was dressed in special garments with the center of attention focused on me.
As we approached a small building at the edge of the large, deep cenote, I realized that a human sacrifice was to be performed. I was the sacrificial offering although I was not aware of what godly appeasement my drowning in the cenote would bring. To make sense of my altered state of consciousness, I wrote a poem Confronting Fear to help unravel the mystery of this metaphoric message from another lifetime.
My most recent travels took me to India with an Institute of Noetic Sciences group on a three week trip to particpate in consciousness related conferences held at two ashrams. I captured a montage of unforgettable images from the trip in Reminding Me which I wrote after several days absorbing impressions in Bombay and Bangalore. This was the beginning of the dissolution of my conscious and unconscious preconceived notions about India.
The Flower Girl
A photograph I took of a flower girl became the quintessential image from my time in Southwestern India. This beggar outside a temple in Bangalore probably had little more than her flower basket and the clothes on her back. Yet her smile was more radiant and her energy more compelling than most other people Indian or otherwise that I encountered on the trip. Without knowing the other's language, we bantered back and forth in the divine dance of life as she did her beggar's thing, and I acted out my tourist facade.
Given the participation of holy men at both conferences, I had the good fortune to come face to face with quite a few gurus of one stripe or another. The Indian respect to the point of adulation for these teachers was awe inspiring. However, I came away with a sense the spiritual leaders were struggling humans just like the rest of us. Perhaps some had the advantage of being more perceptive of and responsive to their life experiences than most people. To that extent, they were worthy teachers who could light the way along paths they had traveled to help us find our own way.
At the same time, I was taken by the narrow perspective of some. They were so specialized in their brand of salvation that their limited awareness of related ideas beyond their narrow scope was shocking. The more one learned philosopher expounded his ideas, the more they sounded like the tenets of Taosim from the Tao Te Ching. When I asked him what similarities he saw between his ideas and those of the Tao, he responded that he had never heard of Taoism. I'm sure some must have noticed as my jaw dropped to the floor in disbelief as this highly regarded man revealed his total ignorance.
From Sea to Shining Sea
After twenty five years in one place, my soul stirred for new geographic perspectives. When I made the decision to move to Miami, I noticed a deeper urge to head for the West coast. At the time, the Bay area called for me to relocate to Marin County. But destiny was to have another way, and Miami is where I ended up. Several years ago, California once again beckoned me West. To practice my intuitive arts and to test the validity of my inner sense, I searched for a new place to live.
After attending the 1995 Institute of Noetic Sciences meeting in San Diego, I spent several weeks touring the state up the coast and down the valley. Driving from community to community, I allowed my inner knowing to point me toward an area that was compatible with my soul purpose. During this excursion, I used my body and sense of self as a pendulum oracle to ferret out a new geographic location. To allow the seeds of discovery from the trip to mature, I spent three days on the train from Los Angeles to Miami. After my clickity clack ride across the US, it was clear the San Francisco Bay area was my next destination.
As the magic date for my transition neared, I returned to the Bay area in 1997 using the same approach to narrow down my new location. On a one week whirlwind tour of the area from Santa Rosa in the North to Monterey in the South, I soaked up my impressions of communities. I'd roam about on college campuses in the morning, eat lunch in the student union, take in community farmer's markets during the afternoon and walk the main street in the evenings all with an ear tuned to any inner whispers that might tug at my soul.
At Home - For the Moment
The clarion call came in Santa Cruz. I had not been in the community for an hour before I knew this was the place where I'd resettle. Since part of my excursion lay ahead, I held back so as not to prejudice my sense of communities not yet visited. Two days later on the plane back to Miami, the call of Santa Cruz stood foremost in my intuitive mind. That's where I relocated during the summer of 1997.
Here is Ed Teitcher's artistic vision of the community I call home - at least until the wanderlust strikes again. (Note 26) In the meantime, here I am waiting for the muse to call me to some other geography that I've yet to imagine. This parorama of Santa Cruz as seem from Monterey Bay highlights the wharf, amusement park, lighthouse point, seal rock, downtown, mission park, yatch harbor and the UCSC campus.
Since I learned that Charley resides inside me as The Intuitive Self, I no longer have to look elsewhere for who I am. Over the years, I changed from going out, in search of; to going in, in response to. Each day I try to flow with rather than push the river of life. The divine universe knows what it's doing. I need to get out of the way and allow it to be. As Ursula Le Guin translates the Tao Te Ching (Note 27):
Wrestling this understanding from the threads of life has shaped the fabric of my existence. There are many dimensions in the warp and woof of this tapestry. Some of those are explored in the remaining Threads organized around major themes that emerged from the essence of the experiences themselves.