The next few years, from 73 to 76, deepened my love for knowledge and exploring spiritual experiences. I was reading the great Western classics in literature and philosophy. I was attending a Catholic college which took my mom a long time to warm up to.
The most amazing experiences I had now was having my mind expanded by the range of ideas I was learning and by the meditation experiences that were unfolding. There would be times I would experience deep peace, rapture, and lightness. Sometimes lights and colors would come and go. Hypnagogic images of holy men and women would appear. Sometimes I would see myself in another place and time watching a moment of history unfold like the pyramids being built or Custer’s Last Stand. I wondered if I was accessing past lives buried deep in my psyche. I was thrilled and scared by these out of the body experiences and I remembered Patanjali saying stuff like this could happen but to not pursue it. It could distract one from the goal of liberation from the ego and ultimately become another ego trip. I kept all of this to myself.
I was trying to understand the conservative and liberal Catholic theological approach to life which was different from my fundamentalist Christian past. I discovered the contemplative Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. He was my bridge from the Catholic to the Eastern contemplative traditions. I loved Mystics and Zen Masters, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, The Way of Chuang Tzu and Seeds of Contemplation. In addition, I continued my reading of Eastern classics in literature and philosophy. It was a very enriching time. Merton became another lifetime likeminded “friend”.
I went to the Watkins Glen music festival in 73 and had lots of fun and enjoyed seeing my “heroes” the Grateful Dead, The Band and the Allman Brothers, but I was also, disturbed by the number of drugs there. I was amidst half a million people but felt the conflict of being an insider and an outsider. Have you ever had the experience of no matter how big the gathering, you feel apart from the crowd? Deep down, I believed that if someone got to know me they would reject me. I realized this much later, but it came from being rejected by my oldest sister and the conditional love I felt with my mother. Her acceptance or withdrawal was based on if my actions met her conditions. It took years for me to realize I am loveable.
The concert ended with a jam from all three bands. I remember it was musically disconnected. I later read the Dead had taken LSD, the Allman Brothers were “coked” up and the Band was drunk. It was a reminder that alcohol and drugs can limit our creativity or at least be careful what you mix!
I returned home with a determination to try to stay “clean” and stay the course with my education and spiritual practices. My love for nature I had felt in Cincinnati continued in Erie. My dad took me to Presque Isle State Park only minutes away and we would walk and fish. I would also bike there and eventually drive there enjoying hours of solitude hiking or cross country skiing the trails. My dad was one of the first cross-country skiers in Erie buying his skis in 1972. I soon followed. We skied golf courses and Presque Isle.
He was also the first person I knew who was trying “health foods”. He would buy muesli, sauces, teas and other stuff from Walnut Acres. My mom balanced processed and packaged foods with her home cooking sourced from West Virginia family recipes. She could make the best fried chicken, roasts and pigs in the blanket! Dad included natural and organic foods for his personal use and I took note. He inspired me to learn about herbalism and vegetarianism.
This was quite extraordinary when you realize my dad grew up in southern West Virginia and was expected to work in the coal mines but he won a national essay in high school which gave him a trip to DC. Leaving the hills and hollows for the first time and experiencing a big city changed his life. Without any family support, he earned a BA, served in WW2 and earned a Masters degree at Cornell on the GI bill. Somehow a career in conservative corporate culture did not keep him from developing an interest in holistic living. He also had a strong value around helping others and participated on the Board of Directors of several non-profits. He is an
enduring role model of karma Yoga. I am inspired by him to this day.
My hiking morphed into backpacking which I did a lot of in the 70’s and 80’s primarily in Allegheny National Forest. I raised my four adult sons backpacking and now my youngest son who is 13. I have found it is the best way for me to mentor and bond with my tween and teen sons and teach them how to be conscious men before they leave home. There are no distractions; no school; no work; no friends; no technology; no video games. Nature has been my favorite form of pratyahara (managing your senses wisely).
How to survive in the wilderness has taught them how to survive in the urban jungle. I never wanted to be an emotionally unavailable or distant father. Backpacking has always been a deep way for me to connect intellectually, socially, emotionally and spiritually with them. I am gratified that they have continued these family traditions. I remember Jean -Jacque Rousseau once said the most important act in life is to raise children to become good citizens. I have aspired to do that with my five adult children and hope to continue with the two at home.
Backpacking was also a way for me to seek solitude and be recharged by nature. Lord Byron wrote: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, There is rapture in the lonely shore, There is a society where none intrudes. By the deep sea, and music in its roar. I love not man the less, but nature more.” Nature was my refuge from my busy academic life at college. I was not naturally drawn to social events but wanted to develop some quality friendships.
I heard about yoga classes being offered at the local Y. I was self-taught and thought a teacher might help me with a better understanding of the postures. I was also hoping to meet more like minded people. What would it be like? I was excited and nervous.