Category Archives: 2018 Winter Travelogue

In January 2018 I started a trip in the southern states. These posts describe some trip experiences and reflections on my inner spiritual journey.

2018 Koinonia working visit part 1

It is February 14, 2018 as I write this post.

I arrived at Koinonia on February 1. Thanks to the generous army veteran that gave me a ride all the way from the bus terminal, I arrived in time to settle into my room in the Fuller house and meditate before heading to dinner at 6pm.

It was peaceful practicing and pruning in the vinyard.

The first several days I worked pruning and weeding grape vines. The weather was perfect for it most days, cool enough to wear long sleeves but warm enough to not need a winter hat. Some of the time I had interns to work with, or Steve my former apartment mate from when I was in intern here, and some of the time I worked alone. Like most work on the farm, it was familiar and easy enough for me to stay in mindfulness mode.

The grape vinyard is quite large. Some of the rows have not been pruned and maintained for many years; there is more work than the available people hours.

The farm currently has nine interns, four who started last year and five that arrived this year. On the first Sunday I was here, the last two new ones arrived in time for the potluck and devotions service. I’m enjoying getting to know all of them and it is fun remembering what it was like when I was in their shoes, having just arrived three years ago.

On Monday the five new interns all shared their spiritual stories, and then signed their intern agreements, just like my group did back in 2015. It was great to have a chance to hear them and I really appreciate that I was allowed to be there. For me this is an important practice of intentional community: making the space and time to get to know each other pretty deeply, as soon as is practical after a new person arrives. The new interns all did a wonderful job, courageously sharing even aspects of their past which they weren’t as proud of and that challenged them and / or their families.

Martin is a very nurturing, protective farm dog. Here he is providing a bed for one of the cats! Historically his job has been to protect the free range chickens.

It is incredible to me that it was only 3 years ago that I was starting my internship here. It feels more like 5-6. That has been the way my time sense has been lately, kind of stretched. The old adage “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t apply though, because I have been having a wonderful time even though it seems to be crawling. I think it is because I’ve been changing so much in the last 6 years, since I left my last computer programming job and started to take up spiritual practice as my primary, nearly full time priority.

The quality of my life experience has shifted so much in those years, especially in the last 3. If you have read the About the Author section of my book “Faith to Practice: Foundations of Happiness” (which is in the Kindle edition free sample) or certain parts of the history page here on my blog, you know what I mean.

I’ve been given permission to do a presentation on the ideas in my book for the folks here at the farm. I almost gave it last night, but it has been postponed until next Monday night so that more of the interns can come; it had been scheduled at a time that they would have been too tired, since they also had dinner clean-up duty and a study session the same evening. That will give me more time to polish up the presentation (I’ve created a set of PowerPoint slides). I’ll include a link to it in my next post, and I might even manage to make a video.

There is an “old intern” (meaning he started last year and has been here 5 months or more) named John that sometimes gets up early enough to meditate with me for 30-40 minutes before chapel. That has been nice. I’ve been getting to bed early enough to still do my morning routine of taking a walk before going back to bed for sleep witnessing meditation for an hour or so before I sit with him.

I always loved watching the sunrises like this one, through the Elliot pecan orchard. There are lots of beautiful sunrises and sunsets in Georgia, because it is so flat!

I’ve managed to do some sleep witnessing in the middle of the night and in the morning when I awake, without getting up and going for a walk first. I don’t know if this is a trend or just a couple of flukes; lately I’ve only been able to do it as part of my morning routine, or during the day if I’m not too tired. Like last weekend.

Saturday I did a few extra sleep witnessing meditation sessions, taking it as a mini solo retreat of sorts. I still did some regular activities, talked to folks, etc. when I wasn’t practicing, so it was pretty informal. I did walking meditation on the farm road between sessions, which was pretty sweet.

Dressed for church!

Last Sunday, I went to a Salvation Army church with John and his wife Evelyn, plus two of the new interns, Stephanie & Gabriel. I liked that the worship was very accessible, using projected videos for some of the lessons and words to songs, but I found it less engaging spiritually than a more tradional service. The bible passage and first lesson of the day, taught by our Koinonia friend John, was from Samual 1, about the story of King David. I hadn’t remembered the story, even though we share names, so it was good to review! The whole service was long: we started at 10am and were done at 12:45pm or so; there was a second adult Sunday school lesson that started around noon. I like their mission emphasis to help people that are financially disadvantaged. The church is in Albany, which is about a 40 minute drive, so it would be time and fuel consuming to be very involved with the mission work from Koinonia.

When I teach current moment mindfulness meditation, I suggest a number of different techniques and let each student experiment until they find the one that works for them. If they try a technique and find that thoughts are coming often and turning into thought trains before they realize they are thinking, I recommend they try keeping their attention on some additional thing. So for example, if following the breath is not enough, they could follow the breath and count from 1 to N on the in breath and out breath. My philosophy is to use a technique that involves keeping the attention on as few facets as possible while still remaining in the current moment and fairly thought-free.

In that light, I’ve made another change to my meditation technique, which seems to be working out well. In the last three years, I’ve gone through a process of gradually simplifying what I focus my attention on during meditation:

  • In March of 2015, I started following my breath and heart beat, counting each “lub-dub” (three beats) on the in breath and thinking the phrase “I am” on the fourth “lub-dub” at the top and then doing the same heartbeat counting process on the out breath.
  • At some point that first year I stopped counting each heartbeat.
  • At the end of December, 2017, I stopped thinking the “I am” phrase.
  • In January 2018, I switched to focusing on the space between the “lub” and “dub” of my heart beat and the pause between the in and out breaths. I was moving towards meditating on awareness itself, because Nisargardatta has said to some seekers, “You must stay aware of your awareness.” Honestly, I did not know how what he meant or to do that, so this was an experiment!
  • This week I started another experiment. I’m keeping my awareness on attention itself, with the intention of not focusing my attention on anything in particular, across all of my senses, including  thoughts.

I’ve been able to make these changes and still stay in the current moment fairly well, because my mind tends to stay clearer than it used to and when thoughts do arise, it has gotten easier and easier not to give them any energy or attention.  Nisargardatta actually says that you have to come to a state of not thinking at all (unless you have made a conscious decision to think about something) and I’m getting closer to that goal!

The latest meditation technique, described above, was inspired by a couple of things:

  1. The current tendency of my vision to spontaneously stay in the wide angle mode where I’m taking in the whole field of view without focusing on anything right in front of me. This started to occur once in a while back in September. The most memorable example was while riding my motorcycle. Suddenly, the awareness of the trees rushing by me on either side was intense! Like many of my other shifts, at first this was sporatic. Now whenever I intend to I can go to that mode of vision without effort, when it does not start spontaneously.
  2. While doing walking meditation earlier this week, I realized that I had spontaneously lost all focus of attention to any specific thing, within the full range of all my senses. It was like taking the wide angle view from just the visual sense into all my senses and thoughts. Just taking them all in equally, without focusing attention on anything. Evidently the intention I was holding during the experimental meditation technique I started in January had been fruitful! Since it started to happen without intending it and the awareness was more pure than other techniques, I decided to take the experience into my other meditation practices.

This latest technique is the closest I’ve come to Nisargardatta’s teaching to meditate on consciousness itself, with awareness of my awareness, without thoughts. The key word for me was “attention,” or rather the intention of releasing it to a state of virtual “inattention.”

February 15, 2018

Today I worked in the bakery for the first time this visit. I always enjoyed the fairly easy repetitive work of packing product because it is so good for mindfulness practice. I put on the required hair net as usual, then laughed at myself because for me it is a “no hairnet!” Later Geneva (the head cook) agreed that I didn’t have to wear one.

You may not be surprised to hear that my latest meditation technique is difficult to use during certain activities, even if they are fairly straight forward, because some jobs just seem to require focused attention to get them right! Like today in the bakery, putting labels onto packages in just the right place. So for those activities I go back to simply following the breath and releasing extraneous thoughts.

Now that I won’t be going to the monastery at which I applied to be a guest, (that process was described in a previous post ) I asked for and got an extension for my stay here through the end of February. So this post won’t include any hitchhiking or bus terminal adventures.

I’m not sure where I’ll go next. I may just head west and see how far I can go each day, with the long distance goal of checking out Sonoma, Arizona. I’ve heard it is a spiritual Mecca of sorts! But now I have a couple more weeks to discern a plan.

Patient acceptance, biking, beaching and bus terminals

I spent a lot of time on the beach.

I had a wonderful time in Sanibel Island, visiting my sister Becky and her husband John. They were renting a nice house right next to the community pool, which is maintained at a nice warm temperature for the somewhat cool and breezy days we had during my stay.

My wheels for the week at Sanibel Island

I rented a single speed bike for the week, so I could get down to Bowman’s beach in 10 minutes and take longer trips to explore the island. John had fractured his arm a couple of days before I arrived, so was unable to go rollerblading, which is their usual form of exercise which I would have done with them on the bike. So I mainly explored and practiced mindfulness on my own most days, walking the beach, taking short dips into the chilly ocean and enjoying the many species of birds.

My sleep witnessing meditation practice continues to be a once-a-day routine, done for an hour or so after I’ve gotten some exercise in the early morning. This routine was beautifully supported at Sanibel. I either went for a short bike ride and beach walk or I took a dip in the pool. Then I would go back to “my end” of their house, which has its own bathroom, for a quick shower before I went back to bed for practice. Very plush, by my modest standards!

The only group meditation practice that I found on the island was a class offered by the Samudrabadra Kadampa Buddhist Center out of Fort Myers.  So I went even though I don’t need a class designed for beginners. It was a very well attended one hour session held in the island’s small movie theater. The two monastics present, one of which was leading the class, said they had never taught in a movie theater before and hoped that we would be able to stay awake in the very comfortable recliners!

The young monk named Gen Chodor did a wonderful job introducing the most important points for beginners, including:

  • the dual motivations of finding inner happiness and contributing to the well being of others through your own more peaceful presence,
  • the basic current moment meditation technique of following the breath, while giving no energy to any thoughts that arise,
  • and the importance of daily practice even if it is only 10-15 minutes each morning.

Beyond these basics, the main subject of that week’s class was “patient acceptance.” I loved the way he put these two words together and plan to make use of the phrase myself in future teaching opportunities. The emphasis was really on acceptance, even though he introduced the teaching as being on patience. By the end he had illustrated how they support each other: It is easier to be patient with adversity when we intend to accept “what is,” and we also need to be patient with ourselves when practicing acceptance, while our judgmental tendencies still reign!

The sun rises over the inlet which I would kayak on later in the week.

I love the ocean so my week in Sanibel was a real treat, since I live in land-locked Vermont. So I spent lots of time on the beach, including one morning when I woke early and arrived before sunrise. With this blog post in mind, I took a series of photos as the light rose and played on the shifting clouds. I had trouble choosing which ones to include here. You can see all of them in the publicly shared Google photo album in which I’m putting all the photos from my trip.

The small sign says “Do Not Feed the Alligators

I also loved getting out onto the water, in a kayak made available by the owners of the house. I dragged it down to the launch ramp on a hand cart. As I launched I recalled some locals pointing out an alligator floating on the surface about 100 yards away from my launch site. Five minutes later, I gave myself a good laugh when I flinched a bit because a fish jumped right next to me. I guess I was a bit on edge at first as this was the first time I’d ever been out on alligator infested waters! I didn’t actually see one that day, but I did see the native birds at a closer range than I had from the beach. Since it was threatening to rain, I didn’t take my cell phone with which I might have taken some nice photos.

My longest bike outing was to the light house at the far south east end of the island. I had some fun walking the beach and watching kite boarders, which I caught some of on video.

The best angle on the alligator was from the top of a lookout platform.

On my last day on the island I finally made it to the “Ding Darling” wildlife drive preserve, which has 4 miles of road and 2 miles of walking and bike riding paths through the mangroves. Most of the wildlife I saw were the same bird species I’d been enjoying at the beach and kayaking, but I did get to see a modest sized alligator, around 5’ long. Most of the experience felt pretty sterile, by virtue of being on a paved road and improved path, but there was one spot called Colon’s Point where visitors could walk on the actual soil between the plants of the mangrove, right up to the edge of one of the inlets.

At the Ding Darling wildlife drive, there was only one place visitors were allowed to walk on unimproved soil, between the mangroves.

Sanibel Island to Koinonia Farm

The time came for me to start my next travel adventure. John had an appointment to have an MRI for his shoulder injury at 8am in Fort Myers, so they didn’t have to make a special a trip to take me to the mainland to attempt to hitchhike north. It turns out, attempt was the right word.

We dropped off John for his appointment and Becky took me to the closest interchange of Interstate 75. I decided to put Tampa on my sign, as it is the next major city north; I could always tell my ride the whole story once they’d picked me up. After buying some snacks for the road and walking to the highway, I waited from 9am to 1:30pm, taking a break to switch entrance ramps (there were 2 going north) and go to the bathroom in the middle. The only person that stopped wanted me to pay him $50 to go to Tampa. By the time that happened I had already been researching bus prices and knew I could do better, so I declined.

In this map from hitchwiki.org red states are known to be “difficult” for hitchhiking. From my experience, GA is actually much better than FL.

After my difficulty getting a ride in Fort Lauderdale, I had made a whole fall back plan for this leg, which included staying at a new couchsurfing.org friend and taking a bus the next morning, if needed. This plan didn’t work out, because the fellow who had agreed to host me became unreachable; he didn’t return my voicemails or couchsurfing.org messages. In a way that was good, because when looking at the bus schedules again I realized the route I had previously found was really long, going back to Fort Lauderdale before heading north, and included a 5 hour layover between busses in the wee hours of the morning. It was not a route I really wanted, anyway! So given that I had no place to stay and I wanted to make my own better bus route, I made a new plan.

I headed to the Greyhound bus station with just enough time to make a 3:10pm bus to Tampa. While on the bus I got back onto my phone and sent messages to 3-4 potential couchsurfing.org hosts in the city for that same night. According to the bus website, their terminal closed at midnight and reopened at 5am, and the bus I wanted to take to continue north was at 6:10am the next morning.

I really did not want to watch what’s his names state of the union address. Here he is waving goodbye to me as I leave the bus terminal to go to dinner!

I arrived at Tampa at 7pm and made myself comfortable in the bus terminal. At least as comfortable as I could, given the challenge that they had CNN tuned in on two televisions, with the volume loud enough to be heard anywhere in the terminal. The ear plugs I always keep handy went in, but it was still possible to pick up bits of the audio none-the-less. I was still hoping one of my requests would be answered before I had to head back out onto the street. At 8:45pm, I went to a local pizza place for dinner. I wanted to get out of the terminal before the state of the Union address started! I took my time over dinner. On my way back to the terminal I checked to see if I could find anywhere I might sleep undiscovered outside. The only possibility in the area that I thought might work, was a large cluster of bushes in a nicely landscaped, large park-like area that was really nothing more than a glorified traffic island. The bushes were tall enough that I would be hidden if I laid between them without putting up my tent!

None of my couchsurfing request messages were ever answered. I arrived back at the bus terminal at 10:20pm and the state of the Union address was still going! I had over an hour before the terminal would close, but I figured if I had to try my first experience of “being homeless,” it might has well start early enough to get a bit more sleep. So I reorganized myself to prepare for my plan: I got my sleeping bag and pad out of my suitcase and into my backpack, where they could be pulled out quickly.

All set up to sleep in the bus terminal, ear plugs installed to reduce my exposure to CNN, which was on all night.

Before I headed outside, I noticed that the ticket window was already closed. A man that by all appearances was homeless (I’d seen him checking inside a cup in the trash earlier, hoping in vain that there was something worth drinking) had stretched out in his sleeping bag across the metal wire mesh chairs. It suddenly dawned on me that the hours I saw on the Greyhound website might have been for ticket sales, not the waiting area! A security guard had appeared, so a quick inquiry informed me that the terminal was indeed available for ticketed customers to stay in overnight, and she was even happy to have me stretch out my pad and sleeping bag in a corner. Evidently the man in the sleeping bag must have had a ticket, after all. So my first experience of being homeless on a city street would wait.

A long delay leads to some new friends

In the morning the security guard told me at 5:30am that I needed to pack up because she was going to unlock the doors to begin the day. I was about to anyway, as I only had 40 minutes until my bus left, or so I thought.  10 minutes after our scheduled departure time, we were informed that our bus driver failed to report to work that morning and they were not yet sure when a replacement would be found. That status did not change until 8:30am, when we were informed that a replacement bus and driver had been found and would arrive at 11am. Everyone that had hoped to catch connecting buses in Tallahassee, the final destination of that route, was called up to the ticket window so they could go over our options for rescheduling or rerouting. I was informed that I could board a bus later that afternoon going to Fort Lauderdale and go from there (on the route I was already working to avoid), or wait until 6:10am the next day and try again on the route through Tallahassee. I said I’d wait until tomorrow.

I sat back down in the waiting area, to collect my thoughts and do some more research on my phone. I found that the local mindfulness practice group in the Plum Village tradition had their weekly practice that night, so I put that onto my calendar and continued to look for other things to do. It was a beautiful day, so I could always do some meditation practice outdoors.

I struck up a conversation with a woman I’d seen earlier, who I’d gathered was also waiting for the same delayed bus. Her name is Nina, and she wore a filter mask, which she sometimes pulled up over her nose and at other times was pulled down around her neck. I thought she might be protecting us from the flu or some other contagious disease she carried, but it turned out she is sensitive to chemical smells such as the fragrances often added to laundry detergent or fabric softener. I asked her if she was also missing a connecting bus, but it turned out that she was going to her home near Tallahassee and just needed to wait until the delayed bus left at 11am. Our conversations were interesting enough that we decided to go find something to eat together while she waited. By the time we got back to the bus terminal, she had invited me to come stay with her and her partner at their house whenever I’d like. It did not occur to me that she was actually inviting me to come that night, so I could spend the night at their place instead of in the bus terminal again. The third time she invited me again it became clear, just minutes before the bus was to depart. I was delighted to take her up on the offer. I enjoyed her company, and I would also avoid another night of hearing snippets of CNN sneaking through my earplugs!

Nina had already told me enough about her house mate’s mutual interest in theosophy that I was looking forward to meeting him too. He and I did indeed have some interesting conversations about beliefs and spiritual practices. He even challenged my use of the word “faith,” as he preferred the term “model,” because faith for him indicated a belief that people tended to hold for life. We agreed to disagree on that one! They were both very hospitable. Nina even gave me my first healing touch treatment, using her own fingers to do “off the body” muscle testing, aka kinesiology, to determine what I needed. By the time it was time to take me back to the bus station the next day, I’d promised to give her a series of distance reiki treatments over the next few days. I had given them a copy of my book, but that was a small thing compared to all they had done for me in that 24 hour period together.

I arrived in Albany, GA right on time at 3:15pm. I made my new hitchhiking sign, had a snack and started walking down the road towards the nearest major intersection along the best route to Koionia. I realized a few blocks later that I’d walked in the wrong direction, so I turned around and walked back. When I got back to the bus terminal, I man pulled over and picked me up. It turned out he had seen me earlier, but in a location where he could not get out of traffic to stop, so he had come back to find me. He was going to a town on the other side of Americus, so I knew he would at least get me close to make it easy for someone at the farm to come take me the rest of the way. That was not needed however, because he went 10-15 minutes out of his way to take me right to the farm!

As I finish this post I’ve already been at Koinonia Farm for almost a week, but I’ll leave that part of my story to the next installation. The big news I will mention now, is that my application to the monastic guest program that I mentioned in a previous post has been denied. I was not given any specific reason. They just said that from what I shared with them (my motivations and history) they could tell that program was not for me. I trust they are correct, which leaves me again open to anything and uncertain of almost everything!

Group Practice in Decatur, Hitchhiking to Florida

Saturday January 20, 2018

I guess to increase the chance that I actually post once a week during this trip, I’m going to allow myself to write a little bit at a time, in the style of journaling, and then edit the post only lightly before I publish.

As I write this, I’m all set to head to two meditation practice groups: The Breathing Heart Sangha Mindfulness Practice Center (MPC) for their once-a-week practice session and The Zen Center of Georgia, both in Decatur (near Atlanta). The later is planning a one night mini-retreat, complete with 3 hours of practice tonight and a 4:30am restart of practice in the morning. A perfect way for me to end my stay in this area!

Tomorrow (Sunday) I’m getting picked up by a new couchsurfing.org friend named Jim who just happens to be traveling north to south on return to his home in Warner Robins, GA. I’ll stay one night at his place, and then continue down to Sanibel Island, Florida to visit my sister Becky and her husband John at their vacation rental there.

On my last two days in Decatur, I finally got to spend some time with the children that my daughter Anna cares for in her nanny job.

I was planning on going to Koinonia Farm next, but they have had a crisis with their drinking water system and are also welcoming their new interns, so they asked me to reschedule. I may visit there later in the winter, we shall see. As I’ve been saying for this trip, I’m uncertain of everything, so anything is possible!

Sitting with the small MPC group last Sunday was sweet. As usual, this group practicing in the Plum Village tradition was friendly and welcoming. The following Saturday, I returned to practice with them again and the facilitator asked us for suggestions of what to talk about during our dharma sharing time. I suggested happiness and was encouraged to say what I thought about that subject, so I gave a mini version of the basic view of happiness coming from within and so on, as I also write about in my book. I don’t think I actually mentioned my book to this group except when we were sitting snacking Sunday. I think I’ve got a bit of a tendency to shy away from it, perhaps because of a (mostly unconscious) concern about being seen as self serving through book sales. I’d like to release that tendency and the underlying fear!

The main patron and host of the MPC group shared many interesting stories from his life as a former Christian minister who was very involved with the civil rights movement. He married a woman of color, so knew first hand the challenges of racism in the south. I am lucky to have met him and have already spoken to him on the phone to get his help discerning the direction my life might take next! After hearing a bit of my story, he recommended I look into the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, GA.

This Monastery is Catholic Trappist and from the photos on their website, amazingly beautiful! The church was built of concrete starting in 1944, but the photos make it look more like an ancient cathedral than a modern day church. I look forward to visiting there and have applied for a one month minimum stay through their Monastic Guest program. This would allow me to be of some service, as participants work along side of the monks 5 hours a day, and help me discern if re-engaging with Christian one or more communities feels right for my future. I’ve received a reply that the monk in charge of these applications has the flu, so there will be a delay processing my request. That will give me time to get the required letters of recommendation lined up.

Every time I’ve visited a Christian church for Sunday service, I’ve felt the spirit strongly enough to require breathing through the ecstatic reaction that wells up in me. This ego reaction to my blissful state, which used to be triggered by particularly beautiful scenes in nature, has mostly been released, so having it rise again feels like a signpost worth noting!

Evening of Sunday, January 21

My new friend Jim has taken me right from Anna’s apartment to his home, and we just got back from a light dinner at a local brew tap that features lots of craft brews. We met his friend Beth, who had lots of interesting stories of her own to tell.

As soon as I got to Warner Robins, it was so warm I had to take a walk with bare, “happy feet!”

One Night Zen Retreat

Last night’s mini Zen retreat was similar in some ways to my experience with the Upper Valley Zen Center. Both centers are in Rinzai lineages, but not the same branch, evidently. I know little of these historical details! We sat, walked in step with each other, and sat some more in a quite rigorous schedule that was mostly on the cushion with about 5 minute walking “breaks,” as I started to think of them. Not that I dislike fast walking, it was just a fairly sit-intensive rhythm. In the morning we did some chanting. One of the chants seemed to be the same as from our book at the UVZC. The rest didn’t “ring a bell” in my memory at all. But the “flavor” was basically the same: ancient Japanese syllables the meaning of which is unimportant because it is meant as a vocal meditation practice more than an affirmation of any Buddhist beliefs.

For me the highlight of the retreat was the calligraphy practice, as this was new to me. We each took our turn using a very large brush, to copy a three part Chinese symbol, one part at a time, on sheets of newspaper. We all rotated around the work area and the person immediately on the left of the one doing their art was in charge of snatching the top sheet up as fast as it was used, to clear the way for the next set of strokes to be made on the clean sheet below.

I was told that I should move the brush from my core, not just my arm. The stroke order was not indicated on the sample we were copying, so I did my best to memorize it from the people that had their turns ahead of me. We didn’t all use the same stroke order, but evidently the process was partly interpretive and partly prescribed and at least for this practice, the resulting artistic product was unimportant: it was immediately discarded.

I left this short experience of calligraphy as a meditation practice both intrigued and hoping to have an opportunity to do more. I suppose I could practice on my own with a bit of equipment, but the group aspect of the practice was certainly an important part of the magic for me. Perhaps I’ll suggest that we try it at one of our future Center for Transformational Practice retreats.

Hitchhiking to Florida
Tuesday, January 23

My first day of hitchhiking was quite a success. Jim drove me to Interstate 75 so my first wait, which was over 2 hours, was at the south entrance ramp. At some point while I waited, I realized the nice opportunity I had to send a silent blessing to the each of the folks that passed by, that they have a great day. This changed the tone of waiting from a basic current moment meditation, to a nice connection with each person as they rounded the corner onto the entrance ramp! I intended to make eye contact with them, and often got a friendly wave and a smile in the process. I think I was only doing the well wishes “Metta practice” for 20-30 minutes before I got that first ride from Scott. He took me about 70 miles, to a rendezvous with his brother at the diner where he works, where we had lunch together. Before we said our “farewells,” we friended each other on Facebook.

Heading towards Sanibel Island to visit my sister Becky.

I continued the “Metta practice” while waiting for the second ride, and after about 30 minutes I was picked up by Gary. It was a short ride, but the new interchange had much more traffic so I was grateful for for his generosity for picking me up. Once I hopped in, I recognized him from when he drove by me earlier. When I asked about that, it turned out he had actually turned around at the next exit off the highway to go back to give me a ride!

I set myself up at the new busier on-ramp, and after about 15 minutes I heard a voice behind me, calling me over to a fence that separated the ramp area from a coffee shop parking lot. The young woman said, “I know it isn’t safe to pick people up…” as she looked at me somewhat apprehensively through the fence. As her voice trailed off I said, “I’m safe!” and I patted my “Faith to Practice” sweatshirt. “See, I’m all about faith to practice spiritual practices, like meditation, so you are safe with me.” She seemed fairly well convinced and agreed it would be best for me to come around the fence to meet her in the parking lot.

We had a very nice conversation on our 40 mile ride. She asked me about my beliefs, providing an opportunity to describe some of the basic ideas in my book. It turned out she is unsure of her beliefs, though she was raised in a Christian church. She is only 18 and just starting college to study natural resource management. As we parted, I gifted her a signed copy of my book and she thanked me, saying that she was very glad to have met me. That’s good, because when I shared that the previous man had turned around to pick me up, she told me that she had done so as well! This one interaction was worth the whole day of standing by the side of the road, all by itself, but the day wasn’t over yet.

Next to the next entrance ramp, a work crew was building a new bridge over the highway. I was waiting there, continuing my “Metta practice” for over an hour before I got my final ride of the day. During that hour, I noticed one of the workers glancing my way from time to time. During one of his short breaks to get a drink of water off the back of a truck, he came across the street to greet me. We exchanged our names and a few pleasantries, before he asked if I had money. I said I have some, but am saving it by not buying bus tickets. He handed me $10, saying “Here, I can use all the blessings I can get, so take this.” I said, “You already have all the blessings in the world and are showing it by giving me this money!”

Shortly after this nice interaction, something very strange happened. I big black van came up the off-ramp from the highway, crossed the road to the on-ramp at which I stood, and pulled over to pick me up! Later I wondered if he could have even seen me standing with my sign wayback at the end of the long off-ramp, as he rambled along at his usual 80 MPH? The driver didn’t speak much English, so I had to mainly communicate through his wife, who said she had no idea what he was doing when he left the highway. She said, “Maybe God sent us to you!” Of that I’m (of course) sure, but I still wonder what was going through her husband’s mind as he turned off the highway!

This last ride, which came only an hour or so before dark, took me all the way to a Flying J truck stop, just south of Fort Pierce, FL, where we stayed the night. They in their van, and me in a pasture a mile away down a dark dirt road where I was pretty sure I’d get away with pitching my tent just for the night. I did get away with with it, but the residents came to check me out in the morning. They luckily didn’t seem to mind, or they might have come at me with those pretty deadly looking horns!

Luckily the residents of the pasture in which I pitched my tent didn’t seem to mind that I was there, as I broke down my one night camp.

In the morning I found my new friends at the truck stop and they took me the rest of the way to a highway that would take me in the direction of Sanibel Island, if I could just get a ride. I waited in what seemed like a pretty ideal location, where a car could easily pull over to pick me up and there was lots of traffic, to no avail. After two and a half hours, I decided to go to the bus fall back plan. My sister Becky and brother-in-law John were willing to pick me up in Fort Myers, so paying $30 for the bus looked pretty good, given the risk that I could end up in a city environment at dark, with no couchsurfing.org friend lined up to stay with. It would have been pretty hard to find a place to pitch a tent in Fort Lauderdale, and even if I could get myself to a commercial campsite, it would have cost me as much as the bus fare.

This sign didn’t work for me. After 2.5 hours attempting to get my first ride out of Fort Lauderdale, I headed for the bus station.

As I finish up this post, my stay at Koinonia Farm has been confirmed to start next week. They have grape vines that need pruning, which sounds like a great opportunity for mindfulness practice to me! I’m looking forward to morning chapel and the other worship routines at the farm, and reconnect with friends I made when I interned there in 2015.

Spiritual Walkabout, Sleep Witnessing

At the bus station, heading to Logan airport in Boston.

I’m starting this post on the plane to Atlanta, heading south for the winter.

This morning I realized that the best word to describe the trip I’m heading into is “Walkabout.” At least a modern version, where I have no longer term plan and relatively few resources, at least by the modern standards of a developed country. I will have no vehicle, a low budget sufficient for groceries and a suitcase on wheels that contains some clothing, a tent, sleeping bag and pad, a wood burning cook stove, a small pot, a bowl, one set of utensils, a small Swiss Army knife and a few copies of my book, “Faith to Practice: Foundations of Happiness.” I also have the usual modern bits, like a cell phone and an iPad with an external keyboard, so I won’t have to go to the library to make these posts, or to connect with the couchsurfing.org community that I plan to engage with quite regularly.

Most everything laid out to pack. Not shown: my custom designed / built folding meditation bench.

The trip was originally envisioned as a “book tour” or trip to teach about the subject of finding beliefs that support wholesome life practices, with an emphasis on meditation and other spiritual practices. Then at the end of September a wonderful thing happened to derail my will to put energy into all the logistics and human interactions that would be required to make that happen: I realized the ability to do what I call “sleep witnessing meditation.” The depth of this new practice, the pureness of awareness that I had uncovered, was quite unprecedented for me.  I spent 4-6 weeks doing it for 1-4 hours / night and sometimes during the day as well. The improved quality of awareness during this deepest practice started to be realized during some of my other meditations, while sitting and walking. Once, doing my usual “I am the witness” practice my motorcycle (of all times) I had a glimpse of a profound sense of “knowingness” which surpassed any level of personal understanding, which I’d only read about before. All in all it has been the most “exciting” (which is kind of a strange word for a seeker who is releasing all fears and desires 🙂 thing to happen in my practice since the ecstasy period I’ve mentioned in the about the author chapter of my book and on this site.  

Custom bench, folded.

At some point I vowed make it a goal to do this new practice as much of each night as possible from then on. It seemed to me I might be getting all the stress relief benefits of deep sleep and bodily rest I needed, regardless of the amount of unconscious sleep.  Very soon thereafter, my ability to do it shrunk to 1-2 hours a day, after I’d gotten my full nights sleep. Such is the way with these awakenings, at least in my experience. They tend to be realized in “previews,” then become occluded partially or completely for a time.

Like when I realized the radiant beauty of all creation, it initially lasted about 3 months, then was mostly occluded.  I had to do 1-2 days of continuous meditation practice to see it again. Fortunately I did not take it as a problem, just a wonderful new reason to motivate practice! Later it returned “to stay” (so far!)  Similarly, when I first realized unconditional Love of All, including everyone around me, it lasted about 2 months, before the ego covered it back up. It was an even more powerful motivation for practice than ever!

These previous awakenings have been described elsewhere so enough said. The point is that the same pattern may well again happen with the sleep witnessing ability, we shall see. Certainly it is yet another wonderful motivation for practice, so I’m very, very grateful.

I’ve never experienced full Unity of all creation, or full Awareness of all creation as “Myself.” The sleep witnessing does feel like a doorway through which I’d like to go, which seems to be positioned between my smaller self and my intended destination. I’m still spending at least an hour every day in that threshold, because it is such a nice place to stand. A place I’m devoted to go until I sense a better practice, or see that doorway open more fully, so I can see if stepping through will reveal my true Self.

This trip is an exploration and a test. I’m open to anything and planing almost nothing. I’m holding the intention of a better understanding how to interact with the world, now that I’ve “fallen in Love” with it. How can I best serve? All my life I’ve preferred to make decisions based on what I love (or at least like, when I was younger) to do. But I was more discriminating then! How do I decide what to do, when I experience Love when doing so many things? It is easier to find a few things I still don’t really care to do, like working on my car, than it is to find one thing that I love the best.

As I write this, I’m realizing that I could see this trip as a prayer of devotion. “God, I’ll listen to my heart to feel which direction to go next, to make it easier for you to show me the best way(s) to serve your plan of unconditional Love.” I know that there are people suffering everywhere, so I really don’t have to go far to find them, but I still don’t know where and how I can best serve. In the end, the trip still just “felt right” to my heart, even when I had not managed to plan any stops to engage formally with people to promote the book or otherwise teach / help them. I trust the trip will be perfect, none-the-less.

I’m finishing this post after being in Atlanta a week. At this point, my main concern is of cultural distractions. Will I manage to keep my practice focused, even with an increased exposure to media and the uncertainties of my travel plans? That is the biggest test. Increased exposure to mainstream culture tempts me to return to old habits of behavior, which could engender old habits of thought and occluded awareness. So far all is going blissfully well, but we shall see!