"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

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The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, July 4, 2020

High Times: In Memory of Stephen Gaskin

"There is a plane of experience, other than the three dimensional plane, which can be felt by a human being...If people never get above the merely signal level of communication, and don't become telepathic, they haven't explored their full human birthright."
-- Stephen Gaskin


"We are all parts of God.  Each one of us has an electrical body field that surrounds us, and a mind field that goes on to infinity."
--Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin (February 16, 1935 - July 1, 2014) and his wife, Ina May
In meditation, the subjective nature of Time becomes obvious. 

Sometimes, an hour zips by.  At other times, I've felt like a dazed prizefighter hanging onto the ropes of a painful existence waiting forever for the bell to ring.

And that's only one hour.

As I get older, it becomes increasingly impossible to grasp the nature of concepts like a "year." It feels easier, at times, to sense the mysterious nature of the Timeless in the boundless expansiveness of each moment.

I guess my head goes to that place whenever Stephen Gaskin crosses my mind.  Interestingly, he came to mind for the first time in awhile just the other day.  Looking at the calendar, I realized it was the sixth anniversary of his passing -- to the day.  (I wrote about another such synchronicity involving his death here.)  Although I have only had three conversations with him over the years, Stephen's teachings had a profound impact on my ideas about the nature of Reality and the work to be done during our sojourn on this planet.  I came across his rendition of the Bodhisattva Vow for the first time in The Farm's first book Hey Beatnik!  I was hooked.

At that moment the vow took me.

A decade older than many of the young folks who flocked to San Francisco in the mid-sixties as part of the psychedelic revolution, Stephen always maintained he was more of a beatnik than a hippie.  Yet, wearing tie-dyes til the end, Gaskin was a central figure in the burst of spiritual energy that encircled the globe during the 1960's and 70's. It was a Collective Kensho that transformed many of our lives.  Claiming that they were "out to save the world," Gaskin and 60 bus loads of Hippies left San Francisco to tour the country on a journey known as the Caravan.  After returning to San Francisco, they decided to acquire land, finally circling in for a landing in Tennessee.  There, in 1971, they created what became the largest hippy commune in the world.  Although the size and structure evolved over the years, The Farm is still there.

Although I was a lightweight when it came to psychedelics, those were High Times.  The Collective Consciousness was so energized that even without drugs in my system, I had a number of compelling out of body experiences, saw aura's, and experienced powerful moments of synchronicity and telepathy that were mind-boggling.  Ultimately, in the spring of 1972, I had an experience of Perfect Oneness that fulfilled my deepest aspirations and dispelled the fear of death. (Admittedly, I also had some very powerful moments while under the influence of various powerful medicinal herbs and compounds back in the day.)
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Yet, as the years rolled on, it became more and more obvious to me that spiritual practice wasn't about the Big Flash's and psychic powers.  The Practice is about simply being Present. When we are not lost in our thoughts, or swept away in self-referenced, afflictive emotions (I got/didn't get what I wanted, or got what I didn't want,) we can come to our senses.  There, in what Eckhart Tolle has called "the eternal now," Reality asserts itself.  In those precious moments, we come to know that who we are is all that is.  The One Love becomes self-evident.

So, then what?
 

When you're not absorbed in your own suffering, you notice that a whole lot of folks are suffering.  At that point, it becomes clear that sitting there on your butt, although important (I meditate most every day, at least for an hour,) isn't enough.  You choose to do something about that suffering.  This becomes, Stephen once characterized it,  "an exacting discipline."

On and off the meditation cushion, the Practice becomes figuring out how to open your heart and mind enough to engage life directly in a kind and helpful way.  This calls for honesty and deep self-honesty.  It calls for getting out your head enough to stay in touch with the feelings, energies, and "vibes" of a situation.  You make the effort to hang in there with great compassion and persistence.  You try to help out.

Stephen Gaskin and the Caravan toured the US in 1970
As legend has it, Stephen sat with Suzuki-Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center.  Suzuki's photos and quotes begin both the book This Season's People: a book of spiritual teachings and Hey Beatnik!.  

Yet, Gaskin said that although he honored all the "old religions," the religion that he and fellow hippies were practicing had no name.  "It lives in the hearts of the people... It is the practice of real love, impeccable correctness and politeness and care among each other."

Thank you, Stephen.

I can't think of any better way to see it, say it -- and try to be it.  As I wend my way through the last laps of this most amazing run called "my life",  I can't think of anything better to do. 


How about you?  What are you up to?

5 comments:

KD said...

Thank you Lance. Ahh yes Thank you Stephen Gaskin! I was there at The Farm too. 1974...
He did so much. Love your pics. Imagining being on that bus “Out To Save The World “ What a wild and ecstatic adventure! A giggle of triumph for the wildly compassionate that didn’t get caught in the net of oppression! He was of many things essential to our collective growth. For one a Green Party Candidate In 2000, a political activist on many issues and especially relevant the issue of the incarcerated losing Voting Rights. He challenged that and championed for many.
After his release, his voting rights were rescinded. He brought a lawsuit challenging the legality of mass retroactive disenfranchisement under the Tennessee Constitution, Gaskin v. Collins. After winning in lower courts, the case went to the Tennessee Supreme Court and in 1981 returned voting rights to more than a quarter of a million convicts.Cut and pasted from his bio online.
I feel a need to know our heroes on every level, they get into the news of my experience often enough. Gaskin was ahead of his time. Clear and strong and confident enough to stand up large despite the predictable resistance that accompanies standing up with a compassionate understanding, an inclusive clarity for what looks like, feels like and is indisputable equality. πŸŒΏπŸ™πŸΌ One Love....One Planet πŸŒŽπŸ’—

brothermartin said...

I spent nearly twenty years on The Farm, as well as a couple of years in the Monday Night Class circuit before The Farm. Over the course of those years, and the couple of decades after that, when I remained loosely in The Farm orbit, I got to know Stephen "warts and all," as they say. There were times when he disappointed me, and things he did that made me wince, but overall I have to admit that my whole life, and the person I am today, are very much a result of his influence (not that there weren't others!), and that I am very grateful for his presence in my life.

brothermartin said...

P.S. Thanks for the good word.

Lance Smith said...

Thanks for chiming in with this info. I knew that the Farm had challenged the legitimacy of siting Nuclear power plants based on cost benefit analyses that projected the number of potential deaths incurred claiming it was depriving people of legal due process but they didn’t get to past the feds appeal court. I hadn’t heard about the voting rights suit.

Yes, the last time I saw Stephen was when he came to Woodstock NY where he spoke as part of his primary campaign for the Green Party nomination. It was quite a day, much too much of a tale to type laying on my back on a heating pad typing with my thumbs. Long story short: a serendipitous encounter with him in the morning propelled me into producing his talk preceded by a live interview with him on Woodstock Channel 3, the local public access TV station where I produced and hosted a weekly 1.5 hour show for a few years. Got to just hang out with him for awhile afterwards. The interview was taped and I learned more about what he was saying about the world (and about me personally) as I reviewed it several times later. He was a mensch for sure — warts and all.

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