From Chapter 1. Satsang, Summer 1969
Jim pulled over to the side of the road to pick some flowers for his friend. All I knew was that this friend was a guy. When Jim came back to the car with an enormous gathering of goldenrod in his arms, I began to wonder what I was getting into. Giving flowers to guys was unheard of where I came from. This was the first inkling I had that my reality was about to change.
It was the summer of 1969. I was beyond dazed and confused. I had just graduated college, Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude, in drug psychosis—and I had no idea where I was going or what I was going to do other than physically remove myself from marijuana. I was lost and bewildered.
I had the good fortune to end up staying with my friend Jim Lytton in the summer house at his grandparents’ estate on the end of Long Island. Jim was an artist in the phase of emulating Jackson Pollock with a psychedelic twist. He would climb up on a ladder and dribble vivid luminous paints onto black-painted screens, creating abstract tangles that would glow in the dark under black light.
I was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I was agitated, restless, anxious, and depressed. My mind never stopped talking. My emotional body, hidden under the nonstop mental chatter, was traumatized, numb, and repressed with occasional outbursts of ecstasy. Inspiration came and went in fitful bursts.
Jim had studied with some guy who had come back from India. Jim practiced yoga. He had this habit of disappearing into his room every afternoon, only to emerge several hours later with a calm glow and faraway eyes. I asked him what he was doing.
“Meditating,” he said.
“What’s it like?”
“It’s more powerful than LSD.”
This definitely caught my interest.
I asked him if he would show me how to meditate. He instructed me to sit on the floor in a firm cross-legged posture, close my eyes, concentrate on the breath flowing in and out of my body, put my attention on the tip of my nose, and be aware of breathing in and breathing out.
I sat down, closed my eyes, and tried my hardest to concentrate, but my body would not sit still. I tried this dutifully many times, but my body would spasm, jerk, jump, and twitch in time with my hyperactive mind. No matter how hard I tried, I could not sit still! Meditation did not come easily at first.
I was in need of getting out and doing something, but I had no car to go anywhere. I asked Jim if he wanted to go up to New Hampshire and climb some mountains.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Oh, by the way, do you mind if we stop and visit someone on the way? My friend, Ram Dass, is living on his father’s estate in Franklin, New Hampshire.”
“Sure,” I told him, “Why not?”
Early one morning in June we took off and drove in peaceful silence up through New England.
It was when we were approaching Franklin that Jim pulled off to the side of the road, got out of the car, picked that enormous armload of goldenrod to give to his friend, and I found myself wondering about his gathering a bunch of flowers to bring to a guy. Hello?
We drove around the shores of Lake Franklin and then pulled up the long drive to a big white house sitting on top of a wooded hill. We were told that Ram Dass was in retreat in a little cabin behind the big house and was just finishing up an interview with a local radio station. Would we mind waiting?
After a while we were told that the interview was finished and Ram Dass would see us. We walked to a little cabin set apart from the main house. Jim carried the flowers in his arms. The door was open and we walked in. Sitting on the floor in the corner was a large man in a long white robe with a long graying beard and long frizzy hair falling down from a balding head—and the brightest eyes and the biggest smile I had ever seen.
Ram Dass instantly gave us a big smile of delight. The whole room lit up as if a very bright light had snapped on, filling it with white light. I had never seen anything like this. He was positively beaming at us! I didn’t have a concept for it at the time, but I knew that here was a being who was brighter than electricity, as bright as sunlight. He literally lit up the whole room!
His first words were, “Are you two coming to my yoga camp this summer?”
Of course, we said yes.
I disremember everything that was said that day, but I did notice that by his side were two stacks of books: a stack of holy books and a stack of Dr. Strange comic books. It was the Dr. Strange comic books that persuaded me that I could trust him.
That was my first meeting with Ram Dass, Baba Ram Dass at the time, formerly Richard Alpert, Ph.D., Harvard professor of psychology and psychedelic pioneer who, together with Timothy Leary, had gotten kicked out of Harvard for giving LSD to some students, who had gone to India and found God in the form of his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, also called Maharaj-ji, and was now back in the States, living in a little cabin on his father’s estate.
The yoga camp started in a few weeks. How I got back there without a car I don’t recall. But that’s what friends are for.