The general thesis of this book involves taking a walk along the paths I have followed in this life and getting to meet a number of the people I have encountered along the way. We shall learn a bit about their accomplishments – ones that include what they are best known for, as well as some things above, beyond, and often afield of their main claim to fame. We shall visit some of the places I have lived, and dwell a bit on some of the extraordinary experiences I have had.
These people and these experiences all have made a variety of contributions to the world as it is today and perhaps how it will unfold on the morrow. There is the theory that even the flutter of a butterfly’s wing affects the rest of the planet. I believe you will agree that the flutters created by these people you will meet (or perhaps already “know,” in so many different ways have made their contributions count – some positive and some negative if you’d like to play the judging game.
There have been many ripples in the pool of my life: ripples caused by the pebbles cast by the people I have known and by the pebbles I have dropped into that mysterious pool myself. This book unfolds as a series of stories about the interesting people, special places, and important life events that constitute more than 79 years of my robust life. There is a certain element of “Forrest Gump” in the narratives -- I was involved with many of the cultural, social, and political events and people of our time. Forrest apparently agrees as he says in the Preface.
The ripples involve:
The people I have known or worked with who have influenced their time in history to help create the world as we know it today. The stories delve into who these people were, how their lives touched mine, the contributions they made, and their ideas on a broad range of topics.
The stories deal with the ideas, lessons, and contributions—many positive, some questionable—from these people and their organizations. Some of these people were particularly influential, especially in the second half of the twentieth century. I also have known others who, albeit less well known, simply have compelling stories to tell. And some people’s stories are just plain interesting and fun.
The places that influenced me and those people, and the memories those places evoke for me.
My experiences, background, and upbringing have led me to have ideas and views on some of the major concerns of our contemporary world—ideas and views that I immodestly feel warrant exposure and exploration. That’s a contribution most “elders” can and should make as our lives are extended, our experience and perspective can help with judgments and setting guidelines, and as we question “why are we still here and what can we contribute?”
The topics that emerge from a wide range of experiences and life lessons derived from those experiences. Each story played a part in shaping not only my life, but also our world today, and each story carries morals and lessons with it.
Looking down and back at my life from a perspective of one orbiting the planet (might be fun to do), I got that there is a unifying theme in the many involvements I have had. Picture a path through a changing forest (let’s make it one that includes great redwoods, original growth trees of all kinds, groves of bamboo, conifers with soft, spongy, low-growth leading to pristine meadows with crystal clear streams cutting through, and patches of wildflowers with wild strawberries and blueberries abounding). There are many windings and forks in the path, and every once in a while one comes across some side-paths that involve a diversionary stroll yet lead back to the main path. Along this path, one that I started on from the time I could walk, land -- “the land” -- had a very strong attraction and connected with me in a physical, creative, economic, psychological, and spiritual way.
I am most “at home” on this planet when my fingers and hands are in the dirt. I thrive on the whole process of gardening – in whatever manner and wherever it may be. The process of selecting a site, preparing it, getting the right seeds, planting, cultivating and nurturing, harvesting, preparing the crop, and marketing it seems to me to be the reason I (and perhaps all humanity) am “here” – this time around (and perhaps many times around). This process can be literal, it can be figurative. My experiences, my attractions, my psyche, all partake of this connection and process.
The land is a great and wonderful canvas to create upon, to preserve, to show to others so that they may –in their own way(s) – understand, grow, prosper, contribute and give back to others and to the ultimate Source. Given that, looking back (and looking forward), pretty much each step I have taken in life, each choice made, has had some relationship to the land and/or what is developed on it and from it.
I’d like to share here my favorite passage from one of Carlos Castaneda’s books, Tales of Power. As I have altered it, there is described, for me, how each of us lives their lives, particularly when those “moments of truth” come upon us – when a big decision needs to be made either to stay in place or move on to something else.
From the Edge: The protagonist, who supposedly is Castaneda, takes a trip with his teacher and mentor Don Juan, a Yaqui Indian mystic. With another acolyte, Castaneda takes a magical trip through the mountains of Northern Mexico. So get someone to read the following to you:
Close your eyes, count your breaths. When you feel calm and quiet and hear nothing but your breath and see nothing but friendly darkness, imagine you have been transported to a wild, mountainous place in Western Mexico. You are walking in the mountains with your teacher and spiritual advisor – Don Juan. You have been preparing for this journey for a long time, working to free yourself from the control of what has gone before in your life. Your understand that the past is a learning experience, that the future is unknown and undetermined.
You have been promised a revelation at the end of the journey. You are alert and aware. You are walking on a narrow trail that runs up through the mountains and along narrow cliffs. You have been walking very carefully and are looking down at your feet and the trail. Soon it will be dark. You look up and see a brightening ahead, as the trail seems to reach a pinnacle.
Reaching the top, the trail widens and becomes a road. You can see that ahead it curves around the side of a mountain. Reaching that point, the ground levels view of a valley opens up in front of you. It is a breath-taking sight: a long valley, glimmering in fading sunlight. Tow magnificent rainbows rise from the bottom of the valley. There are dark clouds showing patches of rain over the surrounding peaks.
“The twilight is the crack between the worlds.” don Juan says. “It is the door to the unknown.” He then points with a sweeping movement of his hand to the mesa where you are standing. “This is the plateau in front of that door.” He then points to the northern edge of the mesa. “There is the door. Beyond, there is an abyss and beyond that abyss is the unknown.”
You stand transfixed, looking across the mesa at the edge. “You will now be like dust on the road,” don Juan tells you. “Perhaps it will get in your eyes again, someday.” Don Juan then steps back into the darkness that has descended.
You feel very alone. It is unbelievably quiet. All you hear is the beating of your heart.
Suddenly – a strange urge, an irresistible force, seizes you. You run to the northern edge of the mesa. You see darkness ahead. You jump off the edge. You are alone.
SO: tomorrow’s task is to plunge into the unknown by yourself. Sit there and turn off your internal dialogue. Go to the edge and jump into the abyss. You may gather the power needed to unfold the wings of your perception and fly to that infinitude.
Isn’t this really about what it is – about what life is - all about?
We are all on a journey. Some of us never look up from the path to see the wonders along the way. For those who do get to the mesa, the place of choice, many see the edge, the place of risk and decision, and back off. For those who get to the edge, some carefully ponder the choices there, and turn back. Others may jump – taking the risk, making a choice of the unknown. Of those jumping, some crash, pick themselves up, climb back up and return on the trail, saying “never again.” Some find the new place to their liking and decide to stay there. Some find the trip so exhilarating that they climb back up and jump again. Life has choices and experiences. How will you walk the path?
The journey that the people you will meet ahead traversed many paths – and lucky me - I got to tread along with them. I hope as you join the travels, that you will contemplate your own journeys and some of the people you joined or who joined you. And. as part of that contemplation, that you get some semblance of your definition and your way of living “In the Grand Manner.”