The Life and Understanding
Copyright 1971 By Franklin Jones
All rights reserved
Chapter 4: The Seeker
There exists a dismal photograph of me with my parents, taken on the day of my graduation from college. The day of college graduation is generally supposed to be a day of celebration. All your relatives are supposed to congratulate you with various gifts. You are supposed to be very relieved of the long effort of preparatory study and testing. In your revelry of accomplishment, you are to look forward ideally to productive life's work the beginning of some professional study that will expand your maturity in useful learning, teaching or service. But I had nowhere to go. Who in the world could teach me this thing I had to learn? Where in the world was it being lived? How at all could I accomplish what I sought?
I saw that in fact I had attained to nothing at all. I was proficient in no science or art, interested in perfecting no existing form of knowledge or productivity. I had been honored in nothing. I had failed to grasp even the one thing I had touched that seemed to make the difference. I had no impulse of any kind to succeed or even to make a living. I felt an overwhelming sense of failure. I had already lost very heavily in love. I had the sympathy of no one.
On that day my parents stood alone with me in the front of our house. There were no well-wishers, no gifts, no congratulations. There were early summer blossoms all around us, but no pleasure anywhere in me. I was heartsick and gray as death. I only wanted to get away.
I spent the summer trying to make a living as a hotel waiter. But the money was bad, and the work had nothing to do with me. Finally, in August, I quit work, and a friend who was living in a store front on the Bowery in New York allowed me to stay with him. Whenever he had a girl friend for the night I would sleep in an old chair in an alley.
He had some raw peyote, and we decided to take the drug, although neither of us had any idea what its effects would be. In the past months I had used marijuana a few times and found it very enjoyable and relaxing. And so I willingly accepted a chance for some kind of very powerful "high."
We ate the cactus raw, and soon we both became very ill. For what seemed like hours we lay separately, trying to avoid vomiting, wondering if this was supposed to be the effect of the drug. After a while my friend got up, and I could hear him laughing and moving around in the street. I got up and, feeling very dizzy, stumbled out the hallway into the street. He was standing on the sidewalk with a brilliantly gleeful expression on his face. At first I was simply trying to gather strength to keep standing, and the dizziness and nausea still persisted. But after a few breaths of air I began to feel an incredible elation.
We both caught on to the same feeling at once. There was a serenely blissful pleasure in the body, the senses were all alive, and everything seemed to pulse visibly with an internal light. The mind had no weight at all and its usual logic was undone, so that the only impulse was laughter and pleasure. We stood in the street laughing ourselves silly. And everything we pointed out to one another took on the same ridiculous quality we felt in ourselves. The whole feeling and energy appeared to simulate the moments of greatest freedom and ecstasy I had known in my life.
A few minutes later, his phone rang. It was my father. He kept asking me please to come home. My mother was very worried about me and she had fallen down the cellar stairs. He said she fell downstairs while he was away, and she must have been there for an hour or two, unconscious, her face bleeding and out.
The more he described the whole matter to me the more ridiculous it appeared. I hallucinated my mother's injuries as he described them. Her swollen eyes, her cut cheeks and lips, her knocked out teeth. But the image seemed only like a clown's face, and I couldn't understand any of the seriousness my father ascribed to it. I could only laugh out loud.
Then he put my mother on the phone, and she was very sad and seemed to have difficulty talking. I didn't tell them I was on a drug, but I was unable to create any feeling in myself besides this incredible humor. I only wanted to hang up so I could go and enjoy myself. I assured her I would come and see them in a day or two, and I put down the phone.
My friend and I spent the day at the Museum of Modern Art, laughing at the sculpture and painting. We watched the film "Touch of Evil," shown at the museum that day, and constantly laughed so hard we were nearly thrown out. Then there was the orgy of food and girls until we passed out late in the night.
When I saw my parents a day or two later they were obviously concerned about what I was doing. My mother's injuries had begun to heal. Both my parents were now primarily upset about me.
I had tried to gain acceptance into a graduate school in English, so that I could study literature and perhaps begin to write seriously. All of the schools but one had refused me, basically because my background was in philosophy. Stanford University had accepted me, but I didn't want to burden my parents with any more finances for my schooling. And I was so depressed by the fact that most of the better schools had refused me that I made no effort at all to make my entrance possible.
Even so, my father very kindly offered to pay my way to Stanford if I wanted to go. At first I refused, but after a day or two I thought it was probably Try only possibility for any kind of positive existence. I accepted my father's offer, and a couple of weeks later I flew to San Francisco.
My arrival in that place was the most instantly healing and supportive experience of a purely external kind that I have enjoyed in my life. The sunlight was so deeply radiant, the air so soft, and the hills and country all around so dramatic and beautiful that I became marvelously light and happy.
Since that time I have traveled many places in the world, but for me the areas of northern California, with the incredible mountains and forests of Yosemite, the dramatic coastline of Big Sur, and the beautiful city of San Francisco remain equal to the most glorious physical environments on the earth.
I spent my year at Stanford regaining my mental and physical well-being. I found the intellectual environment and especially the formal study of English to be far less vital than my best work at Columbia. There was a kind of country intellectual establishment at Stanford, which, like all the life in such beautiful environments, tended not to become serious about the fundamental and radical purposes of the mind.
And so I remained a kind of revolutionary, aggravated presence there, tolerable enough for one year. I passed through my courses with ease, and spent most of my time getting New York out of my system. I stretched in the sun, wrote poetry, toured the hills and the mountains, and generally regained my sense of humor.
In January of 1962 I submitted a short story to the Department of Creative Writing and was accepted as a candidate for the M.A. degree in English with a "concentration" in writing. Then I began to write seriously, and, for the first time in my life, had at least a limited audience.
Wallace Stegner, a novelist and authority on life in the western United States, was head of the creative writing program. The writers who joined the workshop were generally conservative people proficient in the traditional genre of story writing. But I was mainly interested in writing of an experimental kind, and the ideas that motivated me were visible in modern writers such as Proust, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett.
Besides myself, there were only one or two people interested in experimental fiction. The first few stories I wrote were nearly traditional in form and content, but gradually I began to explore some of the more plastic possibilities of language and form, so that my writing expanded into an instrument for deeply internal motives.
During the previous years I had written in private toward a solution or expression of the internal dilemma to which I had become sensitive. I developed a creative mechanism that gradually unfolded a source of form, imagery and movement that was, for me, profoundly necessary and satisfying. This approach to the problem or activity of writing was influenced not only by my own nature and seeking but also by my reading of modern philosophical and therapeutic thought and technique, the work of Wittgenstein, Freud and Jung, the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the "beat" writers of the fifties and early sixties, the novelists I have already mentioned, and also the works of the painters and sculptors of the late 19th and the 20th centuries. It seemed to me that the truly creative movements that led up to and included this time were generated in the form of a new subjective order of consciousness that needed to be tapped, experienced, and then expanded into a communicative external order.
As I continued to write I allowed my work to become more and more freely this intention, this utterly unqualified internal rule. As I progressed, I began to encounter great resistance in the writers at the workshop. Only one or two people became interested in my work, and they gave me the only encouragement I have ever received as a writer.
As we approached the final quarter of the year of study necessary for the Master's degree I felt that my writing was leading me necessarily into a point of no return in regard to the professionals in the writing workshop. Their resistance to my earlier work seemed to guarantee no sympathy at all for what I felt was the ultimate course of my writing.
I have never admitted any compromise to the path of my own conscious and creative development. After all, I was not at work for the sake of making a living or even for the entertainment of others. I have always been at work on the same thing, the experimental investigation of conscious life for the sake of its unfolding, revelation and eventual solution or realization. Now I saw my writing as the possible and necessary instrument for removing internal contradiction, for establishing the "bright" of consciousness.
Consequently, in the final months of my year at Stanford, I gave up all attempts to create short stories in the acceptable manner of the workshop, and I began to write in earnest, for my own sake. I found that by the end of the final quarter I had produced no single work that could qualify for credit. I went to Mr. Stegner with a manuscript that represented my quarter of effort. It consisted of perhaps three of four hundred handwritten pages. I explained to him that the manuscript did in fact represent creative work, but that it was nothing more than work in progress.
I had developed a process, over several years, of a kind of listening. I focused on the plane of the mind and allowed it to be the focal point of experiences within and without. I thoroughly believed that the individual human being was involved in and controlled by a profound, largely unconscious or preconscious logic or structure, a motivating drama or myth. I felt that this myth, prior to becoming conscious, acted only as an arbitrary limitation, and it never appeared directly in the mind or in our works and actions. This "myth" was perhaps common to us all collectively, but it was effective on the level of the individual and needed to become conscious there before any creative work or freedom was possible on its basis or beyond it.
Therefore, the plan of my own work as a writer was to remain actively attentive to the movement of my life on every level, to an exhaustive degree. I proposed to become exhaustively aware by a critical and constant act of attention to whatever experience or movement occurred on the plane of life and consciousness. Thus, I would simply perceive every form of memory or internal imagery, every form of thought or perception, every indication or pattern in my daily experience, every intention, every imposition from without, in fact every possible kind of experience.
I hoped by these means to become directly aware of the adventure of my existence. And this form or myth, the myth of my life, would, I was certain, become the source and subject for a fictional work.
Mr. Stegner listened cautiously to my theories. I was certain he understood me to be quite adolescent and perhaps irrational. He and I were of a radically different nature. He was a hardheaded practical man, and I was an intense, self-enamored, nearly violent subjectivist. Of course, he couldn't allow my little manuscript to stand for credit in his department, nor could he for himself accept my writing program as a viable plan for creating fiction. But he allowed that I could carry on my work if I so desired, and he would be willing to receive the results anytime in the reliable future.
Thus, I left the Stanford campus in Palo Alto to begin the long adventure which was to make or break my reputation and perhaps my sanity. I was fully aware that my way of life, including the work to which I was devoted, bordered on matters that settled in the brink between life and death, sanity and madness, intelligence and irrationality. But I was certain that I had no choice in the matter. I was simply choosing to endure the course which had been determined by my given nature since birth.
While at Stanford I also met and fell in love with Nina. I will never be able fully to encompass the qualities in her that have been given for my sake. She is unqualifiedly sane and gentle, tolerant and loving, flexible and supportive, to the degree that she more than any other single factor in my life is responsible for my survival. Late in the school year we began to live together in the hills above Palo Alto. In later years we were married, and she has, under the most awesome conditions, remained with me throughout this long adventure of my listening.
During the summer that followed my year at Stanford I planned to leave California and stay with my parents in New York. I had also sent samples of my more traditional writing to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont, and, with a cautious recommendation from Wallace Stegner, I was accepted and given a fellowship for the two-week conference of professional writers and students that was to be given in August.
But when I arrived at my parents' home I immediately felt the signs of old conflicts. I had still failed to fund myself in any kind of practical and productive work, and I am sure this disturbed them. I wanted to be able to write according to my lights, and this required the solitude of a positively safe and undisturbed environment.
As a result, within a couple of weeks I called Nina, who was visiting her family in Ohio. I asked her to come to New York. After her arrival it became clear that we couldn't live in the state of intimacy and freedom I required. Arguments began to build in the household. Finally, I left my parents quite violently and took an overnight train with Nina to Ohio. I abandoned all of the practical order of my life, including the Bread Loaf fellowship.
In Ohio, Nina's father reluctantly gave me just enough money to pay for a train ride to California. Nina stayed behind temporarily, for her parents' sake, and I carried all of my belongings from train to train until I reached Oakland. A friend from the Stanford writing workshop picked me up at the station and allowed me to stay temporarily with him and his wife and baby in Palo Alto.
My friend's wife took to disliking me for various reasons, and I was without money, so I needed very quickly to get some cash and find a place to live. I learned that a psychologist was looking for subjects to take hallucinogenic drugs under supervision at a nearby Veterans Administration hospital. I went and was accepted for a preliminary and a final interview, with four drug sessions in between at one week intervals, all of which would pay me fifty dollars a week for six weeks.
I called Nina and told her to return to California immediately, and I arranged to stay with her roommates at her former house in the hills above Palo Alto. Thus, we began a two year period in which I experimented with my writing, read voluminously, exhausted myself in self-indulgent experiments, and worked on my internal processes with various drugs and therapeutic techniques.
My purpose at the time was similar to the one that guided me in college. But whereas before I pursued a certain objective truth, internal or external, now, as a result of my revelation in college, I sought the removal of internal contradictions or the mutual alternatives that enforce kinds of experience, the pattern of seeking and of conflict. I pursued every kind of means, every method of interiorization and exteriorization of awareness that could possibly dredge up the lost content, the controlling myth, the forms of God, reality, soul, truth, key memory, etc., all of the false and presently unconscious logic or imagery that prevented the "bright" of simple, direct and unqualifiedly free awareness. To this end, the new or ancient hallucinogenic drugs seemed profoundly useful and promising.
In the midst of my year at Stanford I had occasion to use marijuana again. And I took a formula cough medicine called "Romilar" that had very remarkable effects if taken in large doses. At that time the formula for "Romilar" contained a non-narcotic element which I believe has since been eliminated or modified. On perhaps four or five occasions I took "Romilar" in a dose of thirty to fifty capsules or a full bottle of syrup.
I found that the dose of "Romilar" had no effect whatsoever in terms of a "high" if I spent my time at a party or in conversation with others. But if, after an hour or so, I went out alone and walked in a natural environment, particularly among trees, a profound state would come over me. My own tendency under the influence of drugs or even in the naturally reflected openings of consciousness is not to hallucinate visual or mystical imagery. This is not entirely true throughout the whole of my experience, particularly later in my contacts with my Indian Guru, but it is an essential and basic characteristic of my leading consciousness. Thus, in the state produced by "Romilar" I became deeply relaxed, mentally and physically. I became directly and intuitively aware of a form and presence in other living things that was duplicated in my own living form.
Trees in particular appeared as living beings in a much larger sense than we ordinarily suppose. They were not hallucinated as mutations of my own human life-form, but I saw that they as well as myself were entities of the same order. There was a form of energy to which the physical form of the tree or my own physical form were only analogies and extensions. The living fact was not our external and functional apparatus. These only marked the separate and distinct purposes of trees and humans in the ordinary state of consciousness. But there was fundamentally a primary, common fact or form that was sublime energy, constant and unqualified, and which bore its closest analogy to our nervous system.
I saw that the upright tree, with its lower roots and its upper limbs, branches and leaves was analogous to the brain, its spinal trunk, and its vital branches extending to every extremity. The state of my consciousness at those times was infinitely peaceful, enjoying a profound and untouchable pleasure and freedom, and a clarity that never wavered under any influence within or without. The mind itself was positively thoughtless, and the physical body enjoyed a cellular calm and mutability, so that there was profound pleasure in placing it in almost any position.
I thought this state must be the same condition described as Nirvana in the Buddhist texts. There was no problem, no question, no answer, but only the most unqualified and direct perception and dwelling as a primary and unseparated consciousness, whose meaning and continuity was in the universal presence of reality. That state seemed to me true, even though artificially induced. It was very similar to the natural condition I knew as the "bright," and it duplicated quite exactly, although more calmly, the structure of my experience during my college awakening.
It was on the basis of such self-validating experiences that I openly desired to experience the effects of the "new" drugs, LSD, mescalin and psilocibin. And so, just prior to Nina's return, and for several weeks thereafter, I voluntarily submitted to drug trials at the V.A. hospital in fountain. View, California.
I should add that these drug experiments did not serve a purpose in me to create or evolve any kind of enlightenment or permanent transformation of consciousness. They were taken during a peculiarly experimental phase of my life in which I was seeking to understand the mechanisms in consciousness which prevent and later make possible the stable, natural condition of awareness which I had already known in childhood and lately while in college. I was aware of a problem in relation to that state which I earlier called the "bright." There was an intervening and learned force or structure in the life-process which made the natural condition prior to all dilemma seem to disappear in a fragmentary and problematic state of mentality and experience. There is a long tradition in the East and West, of the use of certain herbs and drugs in order to effect a temporary removal of this intervening state which limits awareness. I sought to take advantage of these means in order to investigate that later process. It was not for the sake of the artificially induced consciousnessness itself.
Of course there is a limitation to such wisdom. It is conceived and promoted in the problematic state itself. Its platform is to that degree desperate. And it could, in certain people or under certain conditions in even the strongest individual, produce hypnotic and artificial conditions that are devastating and deluding. I would eventually suffer such conditions myself. But I was prompted by a lifelong intention with regard to the illumination of conscious life, and I was in agreement from the beginning to put a halt to this level of experimentation the moment it became aggravating, deluding or unnecessary. Therefore, it was a happy circumstance, to my mind, that in my early experiments with drugs I had discovered analogies to processes and states that I knew to be valid under natural conditions.
At the V.A. hospital I was given a dose of drugs one day per week. I was left in a small hospital room alone, except for the occasional visit of the psychologist or a medical technician. At times I was given brief physical or mental tests. Otherwise, I simply sat, rested, read, or observed the internal states as they passed. I was told that I would be given mescalin, LSD, or psilocibin at three separate sessions, and, during a fourth session, some combination of these. The precise drug or combination I was to be given at any one time would remain unknown to me. Nor was I told the exact measure of the dosage in any case, except that they appeared, from their effects, to be quite large.
During those several weeks of trials I had many different experiences, most of which were not particularly important to me. At times I would see the room and my body become quite plastic and mobile, and their various parts would become exaggeratedly large or small in relation to one another without any volition on my part. During one session, I think perhaps under psilocibin, I felt only as if I were in a profound sleep, although my mind at some depth was continually conscious, and I was unable to achieve physical sleep even though I greatly desired it.
There were also various bizarre experiences and periods of anxiety. Several times I was brought to the lunchroom at the height of the drug state. I had to appear in some state of normalcy in the midst of hospital patients who were variously amputees, shell-shocked, mentally disturbed or in various states of plastic surgery. As a result of the unnecessary shock caused by the mishandling of my condition at those times I suffered anxiety attacks and occasional nervousness for perhaps a year beyond the actual tests.
However, there were at least two experiences that appeared significant. During one of the sessions, I think perhaps while I was on LSD, I felt a profound emotion rising in me It seemed to begin at the base of my spine, and when it appeared in the heart it generated an intense emotion that was overwhelmingly loving and full and yet intensely sorrowful. It rose from the heart through the throat, up the back of the head, through the internal centers of the head, and culminated in what appeared to be a massive dome in the crown of the skull. At that point I began to weep uncontrollably, as if all of the parts of my being had been aroused spontaneously, and I was born, suddenly conscious and alive. In the midst of this experience I had a thought that seemed to be the verbal equivalent and symbol for the whole event: "Getting to cry is shaped like a seahorse."
I had become conscious of the formal structure of our living being, analogous to the nervous system, but, even more than that, what is called in Indian and occult literature the "chakra-body" or the awakened "Kundalini Shakti." It was the latent "serpent" of energy that is usually turned outward to the various physical organs and centers of our vital experience. But here it was opened in itself, and consciousness was turned to its own internal form. The "seahorse" is that shape, with its various vital or ethereal attachments, which moves upward from the base of the spine through the massive centers of the heart and the head. The result in me of this profound awakening was an uncontrollable emotion, even the sorrow of conscious birth.
In later years I chanced to see some photographs taken inside the womb at various stages in the development of a human fetus. At an early stage the body is mostly unformed, and its central axis, analogous to the full spine, is curved. The heart appears visibly as its vital center. It is massive, full of blood, and it stands out from the body as a separate orb attached to the spinal tube by a cord. The head is also quite large. Its full weight and size are generated in the crown and forehead, and the facial features, like the limbs, remain undeveloped. I think that in the event I have described I was not only experiencing the fully conscious body of our most prior living form, the heart of all real and spiritual consciousness, but I was also re-experiencing my own prenatal state. I was re-experiencing my birth as a living being in the womb, and thus the awakening was not only profound but also quite shocking and sorrowful.
It was this very "form," this spiritual -body, which I knew as a child and recognized as the "bright." And it was also this "chakra" body that I would later investigate in detail in the practice of Kundalini Shakti yoga here and in India.
One other experience stands out from that period. Several times during seizures of childhood illness, when I would pass into delirium, I had an experience that appeared like a mass of gigantic thumbs coming down from above and pressing into some form of myself that was much larger than my physical body. This experience of the "thumbs" also recurred once or twice during these drug trials.
The "thumbs" were not visible in the ordinary sense. I did not see them then or even as a child. They were not visible to me with my eyes, nor did I hallucinate them pictorially. Yet, I very consciously experienced and felt them as having a peculiar form and mobility, as I likewise experienced my own otherwise invisible and greater form.
I did not at that time or at any time in my childhood fully allow this intervention of the "thumbs" to take place. I held it off in fear of being overwhelmed, for I did understand at all what was taking place. However, in later years this same experience occurred naturally during meditation. Because my meditation had been allowed to progress gradually and the communication at each level thus perceived without shock, I was able at those times to allow the experience to take place. When I did, the "thumbs" completely entered my form. They appeared like tongues or parts of a force coming from above. And when they had entered deep into my body the magnetic or energetic balances of my being appeared to reverse. On several occasions I felt as if the body had risen above the ground somewhat, and this is perhaps the basis for certain evidence in mystical literature of the phenomenon of suspension, transport, and even ascension.
At any rate, during those stages in meditation the body ceased to be polarized toward the ground or the gravitational direction of the earth's center. There was a strong reversal of polarity, communicated along a line of force analogous to the spine. The physical body as well as the form of energy that could be interiorly felt as analogous to but detached from the physical body seemed to turn in a curve along the spine and forward in the direction of the heart. When this reversal of force was allowed to take place completely, I seemed to reside in a totally different body, which also contained the physical body. It was spherical in shape. And the sensation of dwelling as that form was completely playful. The physical body was completely relaxed and polarized to the shape of this other spherical body. The mind became quieted, and then there appeared to be a movement in consciousness that would go even deeper into a higher conscious state beyond physical and mental awareness. I was to learn that this spherical body was what occultists call the "astral" body.
These remarks are already leading toward experiences that belong to a later and mature phase of my life. I mention these experiences here because they demonstrate a continuity in my conscious experience that links the prenatal and early childhood stages with my later life. These events also show that there was a pattern in reality being communicated to me even during that period of drug experimentation and "artificial" inducement due to various kinds of experimental exploitation. I regard that period no differently from any other in my life. It contained degrees of wisdom and many indications of the same matters of living form that I have perceived at other, more natural phases in my career. It is only that, like any other stage in my life, it had to come to the end of its serviceable value, and at that point I abandoned it.
However, that point of abandonment lay in my future, nearly two years away at the time. After the period of drug trials at the V.A. hospital, Nina and I moved to in a redwood forest in the mountains above Palo Alto perhaps six or eight months in that area we moved again to a small cabin built into the hillside over the ocean at Tunitas Beach, a point nearly due west of Palo Alto.
We stayed in that cabin until some rather remarkable events brought a decision in me to leave California in search of a spiritual teacher in New York. That move came in June, 1964. During the nearly two years prior to it, following the drug trials at the V.A. hospital, I continued the exhaustive experiment of my writing.
3. The Life of Understanding - Chapter 4 - Adi Da's 1973 Course on The Knee of Listening