When I was in high school I was real active in the church. A big part of my life was the church. I couldn’t stand high school. If the surf was up, I was gone. I got Bs, Cs -- sometimes Ds. I graduated in ‘70. Integration had not occurred until my sophomore year in high school and my junior year was when black students entered our school. Lots of violence and fights - a pretty ugly scene. I was an advocate of integration, and became a target of white anger, of teachers’ anger. My graduating class was 250 more or less. It was about fifty-fifty black--white.
Our church was integrated because it was the only Catholic church in town. I remember in 9th or 10th grade, the blacks always sat in the black pews. There wasn’t a sign or anything. But anyway, the Monseigneur -- we got to church one day, and the front rows were roped off, reserved -- they were always doing that for the choir or something -- and during the homily he walked to the back of the church and escorted them up there and said never again. There were a few who left that parish never to return, but not many. Most people cheered. [Subject became tearful during this statement.]
I wanted to be a priest. So another parish priest and I became very close friends, and he told me that if I was going to make that decision, I needed to make it from an informed position. He taught me to meditate, we read parts of the Koran, the Bagavahd-Gita, of all these different spiritual books from all over the world , talked about them, discussed them. First time I smoked pot it was with him. Through him I met a lot of priests who were socially active. The Berrigans were active then. Some of them were fifteen years older than me, but somehow they had become involved. For whatever reason, he had seen fit to not ... He gave me strength to fight some of the battles I fought at the high school..I was working for true integration -- the ‘68 moratorium, we wore armbands to school.
I went to seminary and immediately had major philosophical arguments with the bishop. He didn’t appreciate my views on things. I lasted a couple of weeks. His was a narrow vision. Things like, in Catholic mass during the holy sacrament and the priest all of a sudden poof! turns the wine and bread into the blood and body of Christ, and I’m like, ok, this is symbolic, but no, they’re like no, we’re all magicians here and this is, really, the -- and I’m like, ok, let’s do a chemical analysis, here -- I mean, it’s not -- I can deal with that, that’s cool, but no, you’ve gotta believe that it is or you can’t be a priest. Pretty narrow.
I went to Thailand. My father got a job working [ ] there, and the whole family went there. I had graduated from high school, and at first I didn’t want to go, but he said if I went he could connect me with work. I needed money so I could go to college. I turned 18 in Bangkok. I had to register for the draft, and I tried to register as a conscientious objector, but I had trouble with that. Catholics aren’t exactly known for passivism.
I got a job working with kids in a summer arts and crafts, athletic activities thing -- I started going to monasteries and Buddhist temples and hanging out with monks. That’s where I discovered Buddha. I really got majorly attracted to it at that time, and in September when I went back to the states and going to school, I started really working hard on my conscientious objector status.
There was a lot of redneck activity at the college, not activism. It was a small school. We were demonstrating against the war.
I had friends in high school coming back in body bags. It was obvious to all of us things were wrong. And friends who would come back alive were just wacked out -- like this shit shouldn’t happen. In college, I met vets who had been over there and came back and were major screwed up or if they had their heads on straight, were wanting to organize marches and demonstrate against it. They were real militant -- the most militant anti-war people I met in college were vets. The coalition of people organizing were a real diverse group. There weren’t that many counter-culture types of people and we ended up gravitating together politically, socially -- the gay bar in town was a great organizing place because they didn’t want to go fight either. The vets and all the women-libbers I met -- a small core of people who had this one common theme -- plus drugs -- that brought us together. Not everybody in the movement was into drugs, but most of us were and it was a bond and one other thing we knew the government was lying to us about. We were able to see things more clearly. The media was all lies.
Being 16, 17 yrs old and having people you grew up with coming home dead, cousins, you know, you see them go off to boot camp and six months later they came home dead. I saw my parents as fairly empty --- work, come home, go to bed, you know. It just didn’t seem there was any depth. I mean, what good is our existence if we don’t make some positive change -- if all we do is muddle through, all we do is perpetuate what is already there, then what’s the good of having been here, if we haven’t some kind of positive growth. Ideally, when we leave this planet, it’s no worse off than when we came. To be so egotistical to think we’ve made it better is pretty lame, but most people don’t even think about it. I think the drugs kicked us out of our complacency. I think it showed us another reality -- a trite cliche, but true. When you can sit for hours on an acid trip and come out of it more clear minded than anyone could ever dream of, something has happened.
The drugs gave me strength some times -- to believe that change could occur. They whetted my appetite for spiritual understanding. That small amount of time I spent under the influence gave me such insights I wondered what kind of thing could I learn from a people who had been delving into their own brains for thousands of years -- what can they offer me. In Thailand I played around with opium a little -- and I started thinking there’s got to be a reason for this. If these people who are very spiritual occasionally use these substances for whatever reason and when I do I start having a calmness, a solidity of spirit I never had before, an insight, a vision -- then there’s something to it. It’s opening pathways that I didn’t know were there. I started trying to discover them on my own, through meditation, through diet -- all the other kinds of ways people have experimented with developing consciousness, or getting to another level. I’ve tried it all.
In college, I meditated frequently. I read, but mostly I had to work full time, going to school, being an activist. I never got C.O. status, but by the time I graduated the war was over.
I organized a huge march -- anti-war, anti-Nixon -- the biggest march ever in that city. I found out later the government called my father in Thailand and told him to rein his son in. I knew if I didn’t keep my grades up they were going to get me. The march was a huge success. They tried to stop it in a lot of different ways, but I got the ACLU to help us. You’ve got to understand that just outside of B--- there’s a small town by the name of L--- which the first two years I was in college still had a big billboard on the outskirts of town that said ‘nigger don’t let us catch you after dark in this town.’ It was the southwest clan capitol. Rednecks. We were young and foolish. We felt like this was where we were needed. When we were planning this march, a lot of us debated whether we shouldn’t just take the contingent up to A--- and take place in the big marches there, which were quite successful. But we decided to stay there.
In the African-American community on campus, they were mostly upper middle class and they were there to party, get their degree -- mostly as the first generation [of grads] in their families -- they were pretty straight. And probably somewhat afraid, remembering the early 60s demonstrations.
I graduated from college, built a camper on the back of my truck (1974) and drove all over the 48 states for three and a half years. I’d stop and work wherever. Two weeks, two months, whatever -- I laid carpet in NYC, painted houses in Boston, dug ditches in Florida, cut a lot of timber. I connected with Tall Mountain, a Navaho in Oregon on a timber cutting crew. We worked together on and off. He got me into the peyote society -- it further reinforced my belief that those substances used in the right way can really heighten a person’s view, improve vision. It was always an all night ceremony, we fasted before -- combined tea and the buttons.
I had started appreciating visual art being out west and around the Native American works. I had a canvas cover on my camper, like an old Conestoga, painted with all kinds of things. His brother had been killed in ‘Nam and we had a lot in common, and we were good friends. I wanted to ask him for a long time -[about peyote] but I felt it would be too invasive. So -- when the wind blows real strong you can’t cut -- it’s too dangerous. I was doing ground crew and he was a topper, and he trained me to top. On really windy days when we couldn’t cut, he’d climb up to the top of the tallest pine and tie himself on and yell and scream and then I started doing that. He said -- you’ve got to make sure you don’t drink anything for several hours before you go up, because you’re going to pee your pants, totally lose control. The tree tops would make a twenty foot arc -- we’re talking Ponderosa pines, or big Douglas firs that are probably a hundred feet tall. Doing it in a snow storm -- there’s no way you can experience a windstorm that intensely --- and, back to my Buddhism, you are so ‘at the moment’ -- there’s no past or future. We were just right there, every second. [What he appreciates the most about Buddhism is] ... to be able to be totally involved, to appreciate the moment, to find whatever strength and wisdom and goodness is there, instead of wishing you were somewhere else. I don’t think I’ve ever been so much right in the moment as I was with Tall Mountain. There is so much similarity between eastern religion and Native American. I went back with him a couple of times to the reservation and met his grandfather, and stayed with him. His grandfather lived way out in the middle of nowhere. He was a sand painter, not like the commercial stuff, but for healing. He let me watch a couple of times. Years later, when I watched the Tibetans do the same thing, I thought how trippy it was how many parallels there were in design, application, and use -- they’re both temporary and used for healing.
The peyote church has changed somewhat with the introduction of Christianity. There was a peyote society before the peyote church, the church being mostly christina. The heart of it was still there, which was focused on -- [be here now]
I’ve been to some marches [on Indian rights] and written letters and sent money. The trip was a wonderful time, just me and 2 dogs. I was working with state forest service up near Boulder and a log rolled over me. I tried to stop a log coming downhill toward my crew. I jumped in front of it and tried to stop it with a peavy and it just took that peavy and threw me back and rolled over me. I was out of it, they took me out of there in helicopter -- torn up cartilege, broken ribs -- I couldn’t work forestry any more, so I started substitute teaching. I had my certificate. I ended up taking some graduate hours in special ed and got a job working in northeast Colorado for a program - rented a farm house way out in the prairie and traveling around working for this cooperative of 13 very small rural districts. K-12 -- every kind of manifestation you could think of -- autistic from school-phobic to out of control, physical, emotional, sexual -- 72 kids. (‘79, ‘80, ‘81 -- every classroom had a computer, satellite linked -- these farmers didn’t want their kids to lack anything. The most phenomenal thing I’ve ever seen in education. I was impressed they were in their kids. I did that three years and met K--- at a conference.
We moved here . I kept working on graduate hours -- over a hundred -- in three different fields. [my thought process in deciding to live so far out in the country is that]... teaching is very draining. In order for me to be able to do what I want to do, it drains me emotionally. The only I know to replenish that is to be totally by myself, without anything extraneous going on. The woods is where I meditate -- I need solitude. I love where I work - in spite of bureaucratic problems, I feel I have more freedom and flexibility to be who I am and teach the way I want to teach. And that’s true of where I live -- to go swimming naked, or sit in my garden and smoke a bowl -- I can do that and no worry about who might drive up. Both of these things are very important to me.
Regarding spirituality, [in high school when I planned to be a priest] I was ready to be celibate. If one’s spirituality is not a daily moment to moment type of existence, then why ascribe to any kind of spirituality? If it’s not totally integrated into everything you do, then it’s a farce, a dressing -- not your core, not who you are. So yes I’m Buddhist, yes I’m a quasi-practitioner of some Native American philosophy, yes I’m Hindu -- I’m part of every teaching I’ve ever experimented with or read or appreciated -- If you can’t read a holy book and grow from that, then you’re not reading it, you’re just looking at the words.
Issues I’ve actively worked on in the last ten years: incinerator, helping raise money for people in Nicaragua while our government was trying to kill them, Native Americans for a clean environment, NOW demonstrations for reproductive rights, money to Greenpeace, Sierra Club, wrote letters, Amnesty International -- we were members of PFLAG -- I actively counsel gay kids because I know they often have nowhere else to turn -- we’re vegan -- no dairy, no eggs. That grew out of my Buddhist philosophy -- I first became a vegetarian in college, but I still ate dairy. then fifteen years or so ago I went vegan. It always kind of seemed somewhat hypocritical -- in order to keep a cow in milk, it has to get pregnant, and then you’ve got calves -- but then ice cream was real hard to give up. Now it’s not so bad, there’s rice dream and soy cheese -- kind of political, very much spiritual -- I couldn’t disconnect parts of it. Spirituality is part of my political activism, part of my dealings with the kids and other teachers -- If we cannot treat each other with generosity ---- the Buddha once said, everyone is enlightened except me, and they are all there to teach me something about life. It’s up to me to find out what that is -- some people are hard.
When I surround myself with kids -- how can I not be optimistic? The way I see is that maybe I don’t change their lives, but I at least allow them to see that there is someone who genuinely truly cares about them. It’s like the troubled kid who won’t listen to my advice -- it’s not like what I say or do is going to turn him around. I’m not so egotistical that I think I’m that important. My hope is that someone else down the road will give one more little pebble, and later, someone else, and sooner or later maybe they’ll have enough of those pebbles that they have something to hold onto -- at least I have added to and not taken away from. I really see it as very valid, because -- we all know we hear truths and the first time, maybe we say, oh yeah, right, but then the second time, maybe we say well maybe there’s something to that, and that’s true of all of us. Those things build up in us, and sooner or later they register. I love them and give me so much love back [tearful] Some of them have never seen unconditional love.
Occasionally I get on that list of Who’s Who in American Teachers -- two or three times -- I was nominated for district teacher of the year a few times -- not much official, but a lot of my colleagues express appreciation for how I reach the unreachable kids -- like, they see kids working on my projects after school, on weekends, who skip their regular classes -- that without that, they wouldn’t see these kids have any ownership with the school whatsoever. They become invested -- [discussion of art, civilization, and visual arts being the first thing a society does and the thing that lasts when everything else is gone.]
The drug war -- we can’t stand up and say look I’ve been smoking pot for 30 yrs and I’m still a productive member of society. As much as I wish I was as strong at meditation as I need to be to center myself, at this point the only thing that can get me to that point in any reasonable amount of time -- and unfortunately, time is an element -- is pot. I can go sit and meditate and become calm and centered, but it doesn’t stay with me nearly as long as if I go take a couple of hits and then just sit. Everything slows down. unfortunately, just like with so many things in American life, people don’t know what moderation is. I have friends who smoke 2 or 3 joints every day, starting with breakfast and it’s like, duhhhh --- you can’t function that way. I feel it can be abused. We can choose to use it as a spiritual element, or sometimes as a party element, but it’s the overuse that gives credence to maintaining the drug war -- I mean, who gets written up in the paper being arrested with pot -- the ones with guns, and money, and crank -- that’s what the unsmoking public associates with pot.
You can abuse sex, religion, alcohol, tobacco, your friends -- or you can use things wisely. Moderation. If you choose to engage in these activities, do it with some sense of balance. Of course, play is very important and pot can help even us hard working, serious people remember how to play.