I suppose there are people out there who consider me to be pathologically openminded (i.e., a "pudding-head"). Also, there may be some who suspect me to be a borderline New Ager. There is a method to my madness, though; and the credulity and feeling-oriented irrationality of some New Age people, regardless of how good-hearted they are, can cause attempted conversations with them to be very trying experiences for me.
On the other hand, I am a son of my father, and he was a natural born New Ager—or rather, he was an Ancient Ager, as he looked toward ancient or even prehistoric shamanic times for his spiritual inspiration. Also, he was a rough, tough guy who appreciated a certain amount of violence in life, which seems to be anathema to the modern New Age movement. My youth was infused with his strange stories of bar brawls, astral traveling, big game hunting, past lives, prostitutes, ghosts and witchcraft, and much else besides; and his disdain for the mainstream interpretation of reality was either taught to me as a child or else bequeathed to me genetically at conception (which event, according to him, transpired in a parked car at a place called Hooligan Flats).
In his later years he wrote a sort of supernatural autobiography, the manuscript of which is one of the few material things I inherited from him after he died. The following is an excerpt from that book, from his account of a trip he took to Mexico and Costa Rica in the spring of 1981. Devout materialists may consider it rubbish, but that's OK. At least it can convey some idea of how being raised with a certain ideology can affect one's whole world.
I suppose I should add, to reduce possible confusion from the following narrative, that my father claimed the ability to see auras. Mabel was his second wife (not my mother), who was capable of entering trance states so deep that her breath and heart rate would almost stop, and who eventually became a very "talented" channeler and psychic. The "tall Chinese man" is my father's guardian spirit, a dead Buddhist monk with a name like Tai Sing. My father always pronounced the first part like "Tay." I can't vouch for the empirical truth of much of the following account, although I know he really did go to Costa Rica, and I also know that my father considered the events to have really happened—within a context, that is, of the dream world he considered this world to be.
* * *
Limon, Costa Rica, is almost a home town to me. San Jose, the capital, is a tourist trap. Limon is Limon; it has a soul of its own. There's a canal that starts there that leads 164 miles up the coast to the Rio Colorado, on the delta of the San Juan River that separates Costa Rica and Nicaragua. There are only a few small villages in the area, and probably less than four hundred people on that 164 mile stretch, including the Rio Colorado. There's a river barge that lines up and down the canal almost every week. I could usually work out a deal with them to ride up for a few colones, or by helping them load and unload, and getting out in chest-deep water and pushing when it got stuck. I had several days to kill in Limon while waiting for the barge, and that was OK by me. To demonstrate the spirit of Limon, longshoremen were on strike – but not for higher wages or better working conditions. They were striking to compel the city to repair the water mains. It's the only way to get it done.
The Atlantic coast of Costa Rica has a lot of blacks. They came to Costa Rica long ago from Jamaica to build a railroad from Limon to the Pacific. They kept a lot of their own culture, and most are not Catholic. They speak English in these parts, although some of the older ones also have learned to speak Spanish. Here I could communicate. Costa Rica had absolutely no racial discrimination, either way, that I ever saw. Not once did I hear Honky, or Whitey, or I'm being discriminated against. Nor did I hear the word Nigger. It was refreshing. They treated me like one of the boys. I treated them the same way.
My first day in town I felt that I was being watched – maybe "observed" would be a better word. I felt no hostility. The second day I discovered my observer. He was trailing me from across the street. He was a slender, well-dressed black man. I waved at him, and he knew I knew. He came across and introduced himself. "My name is George, sar." He had a soft Jamaican accent.
"I am John." We shook hands, and I liked him from the start. "What's your game, George?" I asked.
He replied, "I am a hustler. I find people what they want. Some want girls, and some want drugs, and some want to buy land. I can usually tell right off what they're looking for. You're different, sar. I don't know what you want."
"Then why don't you ask?"
His answer was short and to the point. "Sometimes the guards of assistance watch me, sar." That's the police in Costa Rica.
I invited him to dinner at the nicest restaurant in town, and he was at ease. I told him I was going to the jungle.
"You have no camera, sar, only light luggage, and not expensive luggage, sar. There's a jungle tour, and they have a very nice motor lodge."
I told him, "I take the freight barge."
He looked puzzled. "You travel alone, you stay at the best hotel, and you have no camera. You eat in this restaurant, and you invite me, a man you do not know, to join you. Then you ride the freight barge. I do not understand."
I told him, "I like you, George. You're my kind of person. You read people and try to understand them, like I do. You too are a loner."
His aura was changing; he was beginning to understand me a little. Also, he was relaxing and trusting me more. "I just like the jungle, George. I find deep peace there."
He was puzzled again. His aura kept changing; he did not understand. Then he softened. "The jungle makes you feel good inside. Like me and the stone balls."
The stone balls in Costa Rica are unique. It is the only place in the world where they are found. They are definitely manmade, but by whom? They're made of granite found only in the mountains, yet they lie in the jungle with no apparent rhyme or reason. They're not grouped in any obvious pattern, or as a part of anything. They are all sizes, some only one or two feet in diameter, some huge, up to seven or eight feet. There was just some giant hand that scattered them like a child's marbles some fifty or sixty miles from the stone deposits, crossing canyons and rivers. But who and how?
I had seen these stone balls decorating wealthier homes as yard ornaments in the larger towns. I had seen some half-buried, and some on top where the ground had been cleared away. They lay in the banana plantations and orange groves, too big and too much trouble to cart to town. "Who can tell me about the balls, George?"
He smiled. "I know someone, sar. Someone like us. I will make the arrangements, sar, maybe for tonight."
I assumed a teacher or some learned person who had a day job. Not so – that night I met Madge. George picked me up on his Yamaha motorcycle, a small one. We put-putted through back streets and back alleys, and through poor neighborhoods where all the houses were painted blue (a very popular color there). The poorer houses had no glass in the windows, only screens to help keep out the bugs. Madge lived in such a house. Poor people will steal and be stolen from all the same as rich people, but unlike most houses, there were no bars on the windows of hers. Madge looked like she should be on a box of pancake mix: I imagined Aunt Jemima with lots of bingle bangle costume jewelry. I am at a loss for words to describe Madge, but "quiet dignity" will have to do, though it does not sound adequate for her. She was much, much more. Her aura was the strangest I have ever seen. Here was real power. Her eyes looked through me, probing every nook and cranny of my mind. I waited for her to speak.
She shook her head, as if to clear cobwebs from her mind, and said, "Your head has been broken, sar. Things are all changed in your mind."
"Yes, there were three skull fractures."
She shook her head. "No, there were four times, and not fractures, sar, but busted like an egg. The time you forget, sar, was in the war. You were hit with a rifle butt, sar."
I did get a mastoid crushed, but did not consider that a skull fracture.
"Your right ear is still deaf, sar."
I nodded. While a prisoner of the Germans I had gotten mouthy.
Madge continued, "You were married to a powerful brushu woman, sar. You are not married now."
"You will be again."
"I don't think so."
"You are older now and smarter, and your mind is not cloudy with rot. Next time you don't look so much for pretty on the outside and more for pretty on the inside. You will make each other very happy." Her eyes were looking through me again. "There are many spirits with you, sar, of people and also spirits of plants and animals and smoke."
"Smoke?" I asked.
"Yes sar, smoke."
This was getting crazy. At one time I imagined that every campfire I ever built left a little ghost, and that sometimes I could hear them calling, "John, John, come back, we want you, come back, you belong with us. We are one, come back." Sounds weird, but then again I am kind of a weird person.
Madge went on. "Now the jungle plants call you. Other times it is the water."
I had long known. I had more entities – fire, air, water, and earth. In my home I had wooden statues I had carved myself with much emotion. I call them my household goddesses. When people ask what power the goddesses have, I answer, "Whatever power I choose to give them, the same as you and your God."
Madge continued, "There is a tall Chinese man who is always angry at you. He would give you a message." He did not speak through her lips as he had with Mabel. She felt his thoughts and used her own words. His message was, "Have I taught you nothing? Must I batter down the door? You try to meditate by concentrating on nothing. That makes it a something. The very fact that you can give it a name makes it a something. You do not like the word 'God.' Then use some other word. Call it The Unknown, or whatever. Whatever you choose to call it, prayer is talking to it. Meditation is listening to it. It does no good to ask for advice and then not listen for the answer."
It was so simple. I had always had a problem with meditation. But listening – even I could listen.
She continued. "You never learn anything when you are talking. You must shut up and listen if you would learn. Experience is the cheapest thing you can get if you are smart enough to get it secondhand and let someone else make the mistakes." Then he/she reminded me of something he had said thirty years before. I had asked, "Can you read my thoughts?" and he had answered, "Can the lake reflect the hill?" My answer then was, "Only if the water is calm." He didn't have much to say, but what he did say was powerful stuff.
Madge seemed exhausted. The session was over. We drank black, bitter Costa Rican coffee served Costa Rican style: a small pitcher of very strong coffee and another pitcher of hot water so you could dilute it to taste. She and George were old friends; as a small street kid she had fed him. They embraced warmly when we parted. She had accepted a love offering. I was generous.
George and I met the next day in the central park off the market. We talked of Madge, who was a powerful brushu, a person who had a powerful spirit to guide her. He looked at me strangely. "Madge says you have brushu."
This too was puzzling. Madge and Mabel were both brushus, but I somehow felt that there was an important difference between them. I've never been able to find any references to the word, and I am probably now misspelling it. I think it's an old Jamaican word, maybe even African.
When we were through hashing Madge over we talked of stone balls. I asked, "Who made them, George?"
There were no legends, no stories, no histories, no ruins to tie them to. Maybe it was all lost in antiquity after the Spanish arrived; if so, the Spanish missionaries had done their work well.
"When the stones are moved they lose their power, I think," said George.
"Yes sar, power. Much power."
"Do you know of stones that still have much power?"
"Oh yes, sar."
"Will you show them to me?"
He looked at me, pondering. "Some people steal the stones, sar."
"Steal them? From who? Does someone own them?"
"Not people, sar, they belong to the place they are at."
"Who," I asked, "decides what stone belongs to what place?"
"Nobody decides, sar." He looked disappointed in me. "The stones, sar, decide for themselves. They made themselves. They rolled of themselves. They are powerful, sar."
My mind jumped to the enormous stone images of Easter Island. The old legends say they walked of themselves. "Who told you this, George?"
"The stones told me, sar."
"Would you take me to the stones with power, George? I will respect them, and I promise not to move them."
"You couldn't, sar. They're too big and too much jungle."
"Then how do people steal them?"
"They steal the power, sar. You are like me, sar – you will feel the power. If you buy the gasoline, sar, I will take you."
Gasoline in Costa Rica is dear, almost $4.00 a gallon in the early 1980's. It was a drop in the bucket. I went for it. And by his standards, I was a wealthy American tourist. "I will even pay you wages, George."
"You don't have to do that, sar. You are my friend."
"You got to earn a living, George."
The next day, early, we took off with an extra can of gas and a machete. I didn't have to wonder long over what the machete was for. We took a dirt farm road till the road ran out. After that, a trail led to dense jungle. After half a day's hacking, we came to a stone ball about five or six feet in diameter. George put his palms on the stone. Not much power. We went on.
We built a lean-to out of palm fronds and spent the night. The stones were near. George could feel their power. I have to admit, I felt nothing. "It's best to visit the stones at sunrise." We had only a few more yards to go. They were beautiful: there were three or four of them near each other. A mound of creepers and vines covered them. We carefully cleared the brush away. They were not very close, but within sight of each other. One had the roots of a strangler fig twined around it; that one I felt had the most power. George chose a slightly larger stone about seven feet high. Near the stone he started stripping off his clothes.
"Does that increase the vibes?"
"No sar, it deletes."
We had kept a lookout for leeches the day before. Damn I hate those bloodsucking bastards. And we were loaded with them. They would even drop out of the trees on you, and sleeping on the ground you were at their mercy. In jungle humidity wounds fester and get infected quick. George selected a bush or small tree and scraped off a handful of shavings, and put some on each bite. I had always used tobacco, but this was better and stopped the bleeding like right now. The leech uses an anticoagulant that sometimes causes one to bleed for hours. Why, I wondered, doesn't modern medicine check out some of this stuff.
Deleeched, I followed George's lead, naked and standing tall, and stretched my arms out wide, placing both palms on the stone and pressing my forehead against it – and got vibes different from anything I had felt before. My body felt light as a feather, almost as though I were flying. There was a soft, rhythmic bell-ringing in my mind. I grew very sleepy, almost as if I were going into a trance, or perhaps I was. I felt as though if I didn't sit down I might fly away; so I sat with my back to the stone. The vibes were strong, and different compared with the Aztec pyramid or the cathedral [in Mexico]. The heat was sweltering, the hottest time of year. I dreamed about big round stones rolling through the jungle by themselves with a cloud of mist around them. I told George about it later.
He smiled and said, "I told you so."
On the way out the trail was already cut, but the rainy season hit with a vengeance. In this part of Central America it can rain about 600 inches a year, and a hundred inches a month during the wet season. I've seen 23 inches in 24 hours at Rio Colorado. Coming out we damn near drowned. Flat jungle was knee deep with water and leeches.
The day after I got back to Limon, we headed up the canal on the freight barge. The place was the same, wet and wonderful. It was a wet trip, but at least there was no getting off and pushing. When we reached the Rio Colorado, I couldn't see the water from all the green trees floating by; the rain was ripping the limbs off the trees up in the jungle.
I visited my friend Jim at the Rio Colorado Lodge. He was reading a copy of the Miami Herald four days old – just dropped off by the tourist motor lodge. A mountain, Mount Saint Helens in Washington state, had just blown her top….I had to get home and check on my boys. I didn't wait for the freight barge. The skipper would have to find some other Gilligan for the way back down. I took the tourist boat and made it all the way back to Limon in one day. The rain gods were angry. It was a wet trip.