Since I’m 82, I have a long story, and now I can look back and see the chapters and the plot unfolding as I lived and wrote it. Everything is interconnected now, seamlessly, while during the. living of the story it was fragmented and confusing, happenings that made no sense, but could not have happened any other way.
The Tree Stages of life: (1) the land stage when we just do what is expected, following the land paths (2) the water state when we follow spiritual paths that are unseen to the land (3) the houseboat state when we see both paths as the same path, and we dock in between with one rope to the land and the other end to the sea.
The houseboat stage is a metaphorical stage where what happens on the land is metaphorical of what happens on the water: the objective is metaphor to the subjective, or as Joseph Campbell says: the land is transparent to the transcendent, which is the whole that sees both as One, yet still two.
Birth of a Soul….the houseboat is a metaphor for the Soul that unites both worlds, subjective/objective, mind/body, flesh/spirit. Thank you…That’s IT! My story is the journey that gives birth to the Soul…my soul, certainly…but the SOUL is one. So my story is metaphor for the Birth of the SOUL…the universal soul that is the soul of everyone. Some can read the metaphor, and some cannot. But the story holds together if you can’t read the metaphor. Only SOUL can see SOUL.
I’m at a Houseboat Stage in my life today where I can see both the subjective and the objective dimensions of the story, the inside and the outside as One, yet two. Like a frog, I able to move in the water and on the land. But what I would like to convey is that while all our stories, our lives, are unique and a one of a kind, they are also the Universal Story of a journey that each of us is traveling as One. We are all birthing our Soul. And there is only One Soul…but with many faces and stories.
KNOCKING ON THE INSIDE OF BEING.
BIRTH OF A SOUL (part one)
50 years ago we lived in a yacht basin in N. Miami Beach, and I was an ambulance attendant. I had the duty on the day you were born, (or the day after?) at the 3rd Super Bowl, which at that early time was no big deal. It was not super then, but more like a college game, and we just drove our ambulance on the grass to the side of the field and waited for someone to get hurt. I had great anxiety that a 250 pound linebacker would need me to come out there and put him on a stretch and get a hernia on national TV.
We had a cat on our houseboat, and it had kittens who had to learn to sink or swim if they fell overboard. Instead of rescuing the kitten from having climbed a tree, it was the piling from which we saved him.
Our bedroom was just a built in bed with a walkway next to it, and infant David was shelved at the foot of the bed so during the night he could be snatched down for nursing, which he loved.
The houseboat which we named the Naughty Knots was on a small river that emptied into the inter-coastal waterway that was the inner bay separating Miami Beach from the city. This was primitive Florida at its best then in 1969, a refuge where boat people, artists and bums lived on their boats cheaply. Surrounded by mangrove trees this was a hurricane refuge for boats as the winds would skip over the boats on the tightly packed mangrove trees. The yacht basin was named Rama Yacht Basin, then renamed for Terama Marina. When we got David’s birth certificate the hospital had named him Terama Marina Conley.
Also a side note, In 1970 I found my yoga guru and his name was Swami Rama. While on the houseboat, I had written a book of poems called Birth of a Soul by Rama.
Houseboats are magical because of the are transitional; you are neither docked on water or land..you are in transition. And so was our life at that time, And David was there to witness it.
The houseboat’s name was put on a skate board, which though broken I still have. Naughty Knots is an ironic name: one is naughty and not naughty at the same time.
When David was brought home from the hospital, his arrival was celebrated with spaghetti. We have a teenager living with us and, Tilly being in bed, she decided to fix dinner. She stuck a can of spaghetti in the oven to heat it up and then proceeded to open it. The kitchen was showered not with champaign but with hot spaghetti. Tilly, in the bedroom, could not figure out what the explosion was.
We had no money then, as ambulance attendants didn’t make much, so we washed David’s diapers in the tub with a toilet plungers and hung them on the back porch like sails. We had a rowboat to chase them down when they flew off.
A friend from NY visited and got sea sick in our living room as passing boats make the house rise and fall. David never needed being rocked to sleep.
The two outboards in the stern of the houseboat were steered at the top. I was captain of my ship. When we bought the houseboat from the fellow who designed and built it, it was moored at Coconut Grove, a hippie hang out at the time, and we were surprised when we found that we had to leave, as the dock was rented to the owner, not the boat, and we had to get out and get in line. So I had to navigate up the inland waterway to Rama Yacht Basin using a road map. We never took the Naughty Knots out again. When we sold it, I was surprise, again, to discover that one of the motors had locked up because we never started them.
In our living room we have an Aztec Sundial for our coffee table. As you can see we were both smokers—that’s right, never mind David’s health. But then everyone smoked. There was not even any garbage pickup at the basin, so the boats just threw in the river. Ah, the good old days. We would swim in the river, but only with the incoming tide, since the river was in the tidal flow of the ocean. If you swam in the outgoing tide you had to share the water with outgoing turds.
David’s beautiful mother when he came home from the hospital. We had nothing, nothing at that time, but we were very rich.
And here I was with a son. I wrote a poem about David in the womb.
knock at my hand.
Is that a head
or a stray foot?
It speaks to me
not in words that bounce off people and walls
It has no words of this kind yet.
But it has a word of a different kind
The word of all words.
Simple, quick, true
Just the Eternal
Nothing is complete
nothing that is shaped and bent
nothing that comes from time
What has time to do with
this mysterious knocking on the inside wall of Being?
I wonder if these gentle collisions of flesh with flesh
know the meaning of my searching prods?
Where did he go?
I felt him a moment ago
Ah…I hear you now
your touch and my touch are one.
How did you get in that lump of movement
When your restlessness demands a bigger world
and your Word becomes many words
Will you remember your father’s touch?
Will the eye of people and pain of time
put you in another cell?
Who will hear your word then?
My soul that comes not from me
Remember this touch
Ah…here you are.
A DREAM TO WAKE UP FROM
BIRTH OF A SOUL (Part two)
What brought me to Miami and a houseboat at Rama Yacht Basin? After graduating from Old Dominion College in 1963 with a degree in English and. Philosophy I was going to be an English teacher with my wife, who was then teaching in Norfolk as I got my degree. I had been in the Navy on a submarine for 5 years wondering what I was going to do with my life. I was going to be a teacher. I liked to write letters and I liked to read, so that made sense. My wife had a clear and strong wake.
In my third year of teaching High School English in Loudoun County, I had a unexpected and massive awakening. After going to sleep listening to J. Krishnamurti ( I had never heard of him), I woke looked in the mirror and broke out laughing. I Know You. The conflicted persona I went to bed with did not wake up. My center has shifted from being on the outside of my experience to Being experience. Just as the Buddha said when he awoke: “Throughout heaven and earth,, I am the most honored One.” The Knower of me and the world had awakened.
I went to school that morning and the halls were filled with glowing eyes. The best description that you might be familiar with was the Jake Sully in Avatar discovered his new body. If anyone had ever been “born again,” it was I.
But I remember one urge that had no second: I must find a teacher, a guru who could guide this new born child that I was. My yearning for my own missing father (he was never present for me growing up) was suddenly spiritualized, if you will, to a spiritual father. I was a driven man. No one, including me, knew what had happened.
My teaching in the educational system was over. I threw the text in the trash and began speaking from my new center. I think I was cloning Krishnamurti. I would rather teach my students to stand on her heads than lean grammar. 1968 was a crazy time, and to the principal and the institution I was just as crazy as the hippies.
We had a van, a VW, a Honda motorcycle, and I packed up and we went to Miami where I had been promised a teaching job by a principle in a casual meeting in Loudoun. We stumbled upon a houseboat for sale. Why not?
But I only lasted three weeks at the teaching job as “Krishnamurti” came back and I threw the text book in the trash. Even in a “far out” high school that hired me, I was too much, for the school and myself. So I resigned. I felt like an artist who lost his paints and canvas…What place would give me the space to teach from my heart instead of the book?
While picking up broken and bleeding victims of traffic accidents in Miami, I asked my heart what did I want to do? Well, I would be a minister, that is where I could teach from the heart, from the spirit, and I knew a Presbyterian minister in Loudoun County. He could recommend me. Why not?
We sold the houseboat, traded the van for it, got rid of the motor cycle and headed for Vermont where I would wait for the Richmond Theological Seminary to accept or reject my application. I was going to do the work of my Father.
During the samadhi of my awakening (which lasted intensely for a few weeks), I could pick up the Bible and read the words of Jesus as Jesus was speaking them. This was a timeless zone. Eternity was happening now, and I and the Father were one. It is very odd, to say the least, to suddenly drop into a timeless zone while everyone else is still bound by time and their history. You have no maps for this. I did not know that in a few years I would actually meet Swami Rama Ramkunj, the guru whose name I had inadvertently used as author of my poems. ________________-
SORRY CHARLIE, YOU CAN’T GO TO THE TUNA FACTORY
BIRTH OF A SOUL (Part 3)
I got a job at Cutler Academy while waiting, and waiting for the Richmond Presbyterian Seminary to accept me. Cutler was a small private school in Craftsbury Common when wealthy families sent their rebellious teens. My job was the repair the rooms the previous class destroyed.
Without confirmation of my application I signed on as an English teacher at Cutler. I didn’t use last teaching job in Miami as a reference, and apparently they didn’t check my unorthodox performance at Loudoun County HS.
I only have a few memories left of Cutler Academy. Instead of English I was teaching the boys sensitivity awareness. That was big in the late 60s. And I remember two boys who went to Woodstock. Vermont in the fall and winter was a magical place. But I was restless, as if I head the wolves in the forest.
Then after I started teaching, the Seminary accepted my application, and at the Christmas break, we packed up with our son and headed for Seminary, where I was given an apartment and class assignment. I remember the Hebrew class.
I remember being in the cafe where OH, Happy Day by the Edmund Hawkins singers was making me walk with Jesus, and at the table next to me some seminary students were discussing which of the Presbyterian doctrines they could accept and which they could not. I didn’t care about doctrines. My God was not pressed in the Bible or church like a butterfly. He was opening the book of my heart.
Then the Admissions official took me for a walk and told me that the seminary had rejected my application. BAM! Out of the blue it came.I remember crying as if my own father had kicked me out of his house.
Looking back over my Call to Adventure, the old TV commercial Charlie the Tuna, who would not be accepted to the tuna factory, was like a recurring dream. I would not go to the Christian tuna factory. My search for my spiritual father would take another turn, as Yahweh had shut his door. I would not be a teacher in the educational institutions, nor would I be a minister in the religious institution. Where would this Call take me?
WHERE THERE IS ZUNI, THERE IS HOPE
BIRTH OF A SOUL (Part four)
Devastated, broken, I packed up wife and child and left God’s House and took refuge in my wife’s mother’s house in Wakefield, VA. It was always a mother figure who gave me security in my life. We got a jog as houseparents in a farm school for retarded adults in Zuni. What was an Arizona Native American tribe doing here? A lynchburg based Presbyterian school it was expanding with dorms and cafeteria from a single farmhouse. I would take care of broken displaced retarded people.
To be honest I was quite unstable then, having lost my future, so to speak. How am I to be of service now? It was here in Zuni that I restored my center and found a purpose. A friend from Loudoun connected me with his yoga teacher (guru) Alice Christensen who had created the Light of Yoga Society in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where she was training spiritual seekers to be yoga teachers.
This was not the yoga of shopping malls we have today, but Indian Yoga with all the trappings. I was invited to come to Penn. to meet Alice, and I rushed there, chain smoking all the way. I must have known what was coming.
Alice was staying at a student’s house, and when I walked in she was preparing to leave, so the meeting was exact and to the point. “I want to be your student,” I said.
“OK,” she said, taking out some paper. ” Say this mantra 60 rounds a day. Here’s your mantra. Do these asanas. Don’t eat meat, smoke, or drink for one year. Then you can do what you want. Come see me then.” She left for her appointment.
WOW! I was accepted! Is that all I have to do? I was flying on a cloud. The smokes, meat, and drink just fell off like icicles from a spring roof. I was going to be a yogi, and yoga would be my ministry.
Oh, and it was not lost to me that Alice’s Guru, a real Indian yoga master was….Swami Rama Ramkunj. One day I would meet him, the father of my Soul, as my poems from the houseboat had envisioned.
I had already experience the TOUCH of the Father through J. Krishnamurti in my sleep (never have understood how that happened, as I was asleep), and now I was going to meet the guru in person someday.
Back in Zuni Presbyterian School for the Retarded (that’s the word used then), we moved into the dorms and they hired a new head master who actually inspected the dorms like a military officer. I would sit out in the cow pasture doing my japa. It took an hour to do 60 rounds of Om Ram Ramana Namaha. Yoga had stabilized my mind and heart with its goal or path.
Then on a Sunday the school was expected it’s first black kid, and I was assigned to take the “students” to the local church. The head master left order for the black kid to work in the kitchen, but he wanted to go to church and another kid wanted to stay in the kitchen. We knew what was going on. So I switched the kids.
When the head master got back on Monday he was livid, and fired my wife and I that day, and she was pregnant. It was Christmas! Where would we find a manger, since Zuni was our job and home?
Just a side note, that headmaster was later fired like he fired us. The local Presbyterian minister, who’s church we had integrated, took us in and found us a job as house parents in Hope House, in Norfolk, Va.
Hope House was a big town house for retarded adults whose parents could no longer care for them. The house mother’s arm had been broken when a resident pushed her down, and if that weren’t enough, someone set a fire in the kitchen and it needed repairs.
Hello Hope House. We moved in and became the parents of eight very large children. But I was a Yogi. I had a path.
Birth of a Soul (part five)
We lived in Hope House for two years, parents to a family of eight young adults who didn’t fit in society, not even in their homes. We hear the door bell ring and open out door to some reject with their suitcase sent their by some agency for mental, physical, or emotional problems. The Foundation gave us a salary and expenses and we were on our own.
Linwood was a 250 pound young man who would rip the telephone off the wall in a temper tantrum. He loved peanut butter. We tried to make the house operational to the boys, so we color coded cabinets so they could find things. Linwood say it and broke out in tears: Does this mean I can’t have peanut butter? (I don’t know why I remember that)
Howard would not bathe. We would have to physically throw him in the shower. Bo has cerebral and drooled constantly in a long stream. He was banned from setting the table. Charles and our son David were best of friends. Our daughter Shannon was born there. We thought the children might grow up with speech defects having learned to talk listening to the language of the residents.
James, a teen who came to us with severe depression shot himself with a 22 pistol we have hidden in the back of a closet. We didn’t have any bullets, but he found one, and he left a note saying he stole our gun. The police kept the gun and that was it. That would have been headlines today: HOUSE PARENTS GUN KILLS TEEN.
When we went shopping, everyone would get a basket. It was a riot. One boy who only had one leg got lost at the beach and we didn’t get hm back until a day later. We had no vacations unless we could get a friend to house sit. We bought a van so we could haul our family around. Hope House…the last refuge for misfits. We were happy there.
Yet, the Call of Yoga would not leave me. I went to Cleveland Heights when I could to visit Alice , and finally met Swami Rama, the mysterious Rama who had authored my mystical poems written from the back of the houseboat in Miami.
Birth of a Soul (part six)
Rama and the hologram
When I got a call to visit Rama in Penn. where he was stopping on his itinerary, I felt like I was on a flying carpet driving there. I had no idea what I would do when I met him. I just walked into the room where he stood in his white clothes. (unlike other swamis, monks, he didn’t wear traditional orange clothes of the Hindu ascetic.) His skin was olive like my father’s ocean seasoned face, and he was the same build as my father.
I just walked up and took a knee like an NFL player. He patted my head as if to say, OK, that’s enough, get up. I had a heart connection that was speechless. The host of the house was playing a George Harrisons’s new release of Oh, Sweet Lord.
As we walked across the lawn to a traditional English tea, a hologram of my father’s face came out of Rama, hovered there for a moment, and then returned into him. Stunned, I asked Rama what that meant. He shrugged his shoulders indicating to me that I had to find out for myself.
We got up early the next morning for meditation and he asked me what my experience was. I said I was on a mountain top surrounded by fog.
Birth of a Soul. (part seven)
CHARLIE GOES TO THE YOGA FACTORY
Charlie the Tuna never got to the Tuna Factory (the commercial that was a metaphor for my Soul), but I, having been rejected by the Christian Factory, had a new hope. While we lived at Hope House I mad pilgrimages to Cleveland Heights where the Light of Yoga Society was churning out yoga teachers. After all, I had been accepted by Alice.
This was to be a common theme in my life where I would seek a strong women who would give me a protected space—a garden where my unicorn could play. These “garden” were the wombs for the birth of my soul.
I was in a dilemma; should I uproot my wife and two kids again following the flight of the wild gander, or should I stay in Norfolk where we had security at Hope House. Back and forth my mind went, flying from one pole to the other.
The Light of Yoga ashram, which was a large house in Cleveland Heights, was a Mecca for young spiritual seekers awakening in the 60s. Alice Christensen had quite a story. She had been a housewife in Ohio when she began having dreams of this yoga master in Kashmir. He would instruct her about yoga. She had never heard of yoga. Who knew what this Yoga was in the 50s? She looked this dream guru up. It was Swami Sivananda. ( Sivananda was also the guru of Swami Satchitananda who created Yogaville, in VA. ) Then he began to appear in her bedroom. She was preparing to go to India, when she received notice that he had died. But she had been told that her teacher would come. Alice got involved the a local theosophical society and went to the airport to pick up an invited yoga master on a tour. When she met this olive-skinned man in white, he said, “Alice, I have come for you.” She went to India is his student. And, realizing that she was herself ready to teach, started the Light of Yoga Society. When Rama came, the society was recharged.
We would watch movies in the large attic ,and Alice’s favorite movie was Camelot. Little did we know that the Round Table with Alice and her yogi knights would have the same fate. But I digress.
Should I come to Cleveland or not. Swami Rama was in town and I went to a meditation at a devotee’s house, and Rama served me my tea, English style with milk in it. When I left the house, I suddenly dropped into this space of absolute peace, I think was samadhi. I was in union (yoga) with my world. Ah, this was the same space I had dropped into back in Loudoun County in 1968. I knew I was coming to Cleveland.
Back at Hope House a few months later, I got a call that Swami Rama had died of a heart attack in Cleveland. While having the attack, he motioned everyone off, began to chant OM and passed. Despite this blow, I knew I was coming to Cleveland anyway.
Hope House then caught fire in the upstairs. A resident had stuck something in a wall socket. That was our sign to leave. We had come there with fire and we’re leaving with fire. We were replaced not with loving house parents, but with a clinical staff punching a time clock. The Camelot of Hope House was gone. But Charlie was going to the Yoga Factory.
Birth of a Soul. (Part eight)
A thousand ways to cook squash
The four of us arrived in Cleveland and unable to find an apartment in Cleveland Heights where the ashram was, we ended up across the city near the lake where the cold winds blew through our apartment as if we were on a porch. I got a job in the Rocky River Adult Training Center, my first three institutional jobs in Cleveland working with teaching the retarded adult independent living skills. Looking back through my metaphorical lens, it was I who was retarded.
We had no money, so we ate what was brought in at the ashrams vegetable commune. We learned a thousand ways to cook squash. At the ashram I was not making progress in realizing my dream of being a Yoga Minister. When there was a group picture of the yoga student, as I was headed to get in the group, Alice turn and held up her hand. “You are not ready yet.” Later, one of the top teachers explained kindly: “You have inconsistencies in your lower nature.”
I experienced my “inconsistencies” as being the feeling of always being on the outside looking in. I felt like I did in a new school (I changed schools every two years in my military family) when the IN group was having so much fun—like the joyous people taking a new drug on a commercial—and I was always on the OUTside. How could I get IN this yoga society where the elite meet to eat?
Freezing to death on the westside of Cleveland, and feeling frozen out of the yoga society, we decided we had had enough, and plotted to return to Virginia. My wife knew a superintendent in Amelia, and he hired the both of us to teach English. As we were packing to leave, we got a letter saying she had been hired but my application was rejected. WHAT? We went anyway. Again, Charlie missed the Teaching Factory.