The Feet of The Yogi
From my earliest yoga classes Dawson had talked about the joy of joining with people from all over the country at the summer solstice celebration. It was a sacred and auspicious time, recognized by spiritual communities around the world since the beginning of time. The solar energy was at its peak and the spiritual channels were wide open. I could hardly wait. It would be everything I loved – mountains, fresh air, camping and lots of people doing yoga and meditation.
A small group of us went up to the site a couple of days early to set up the camp. We rode in the back of Dawson’s flatbed truck along with bags of food, propane tanks, stoves, huge pots, lumber and tents. The site was an hour drive from Santa Fe. I only realized how easy we had it after I heard the tales of others who caravanned across the country sometimes for weeks just to arrive. Back in those days nobody flew. We set up the cooking area, built a stage for Yogiji to teach and not much else.
Santa Clara Canyon in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico was one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Mt. Chicoma, graced by late season patches of snow, dominated the peaceful valley. Santa Clara Creek meandered through stands of tall spruce and fir and meadows of green grass and wildflowers. The valley was really part of a single huge volcanic caldera encompassing the entire mountain range. It was sacred to Pueblo Indians and had been to their ancestors for millennia.
Caravans arrived to great fanfare and celebration from Washington DC, Boston, Florida, Oregon and various parts of California. Each group took up residences in different parts of the valley with tents and a number of tepees. We were all long haired flower children and there were few rules. Group leaders insisted that no drugs were allowed and we were encouraged to refrain from sex during the celebration. Still the occasional whiff of pot was not uncommon.
One afternoon a mountain rainstorm sent everybody scurrying for shelter. As soon as the rain stopped I emerged from my tent to take in fresh scented air. The valley was utterly enchanting; a mystical fog hugged the ground and the rainclouds still hid the peaks. I walked down the wide and completely empty meadow in a state of wonder. Suddenly, a hundred yards in front of me, emerging from the fog was the solitary figure of Yogiji, walking up the valley right towards me. There were distant voices at the edges of the meadow as people emerged from their shelters. But for the next couple of minutes, it was just Yogiji and me in the middle of this glorious valley. In silence we walked towards each other in seemingly slow motion while the mountain peaks emerged from the clouds and the cool scented air filling our lungs.
So we meet, I thought to myself. He was the master yogi and I the aspiring student. As our paths drew us closer I pondered the words I would use to greet him. More importantly, I looked forward with great anticipation to the words of wisdom he would share with me.
In those days I used to identify with the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa, who had lived many years in the mountains meditating. Like Milarepa, I used to escape to the mountains every chance I had. I fantasized myself renouncing the world, living in a cave, meditating all day long and living in the bliss.
The fateful day when Milarepa met his guru changed his life. Upon recognizing his guru, Milarepa fell at his feet and prayed for his blessing. The guru touched him and the great illusionary curtain of Maya lifted and he glimpsed the clear light of reality. I wondered if my impending meeting with Yogiji might have a similar effect.
As we drew closer I contemplated throwing myself at his feet. Could I really do that? Then I reconsidered. Maybe I should just touch his feet. Don’t disciples often touch the feet of their teachers? However, at that time it was not common practice among Yogiji’s students. Anyway, it did seem a bit extreme. Maybe I should just bow. By this time he was getting close. I had no idea what to do. He was almost upon me and I was growing more and more frazzled. Should I say something? As it was, I just stood there with my palms together and my eyes wide. I was so petrified I couldn’t even say Sat Nam.
Yogiji walked forward like a majestic king. His huge white turban was his crown. The shawl draped over his shoulders was his royal robe. He seemed entranced by the splendor of the mountain valley and could care less about the crazy kid in his path going through mind trips and freaking out.
He walked towards me without even the slightest acknowledgement of my presence, his eyes focused on some distant mountaintop. Was he going to walk right past me with out even a nod, no greeting at all, not even a simple Sat Nam, like I didn’t exist? That certainly was what it appeared and I couldn’t believe it. Was I really such a complete nobody that he would not even say hello?
Truthfully, I was looking for his recognition of me. I had it all backwards. I wanted him, the master, to acknowledge me, not the other way around. As usual, I was stuck in my ego and had no understanding of who he was. I stood there actually holding out the possibility that he would acknowledge my highly evolved spiritual state and enlighten me with his magic touch. Yes, I was in spiritual fantasy land.
He walked right past me, head high and eyes on the distant peaks. I was crushed. But suddenly he turned and fixed me with those unbelievably powerful eyes. He bugged them out so wide I thought they might pop right out of his head. Then he stuck out his tongue. For a brief flash, he was a complete clown. That was it, nothing more, no words, no enlightenment, just the huge eyes and the tongue. Then he was gone.
Whoa! Did he just stick out his tongue at me?
There I was standing in the middle of this beautiful meadow, futilely trying to make sense of what had happened. Yes, he really did stick his tongue out. My mind was in a whirl. Did he really just make a funny face? Yes, he did and it was really silly. I stood there with the image of his bugged-out eyes dancing in my mind. It was too much. Suddenly I started laughing. I laughed until the tears flowed.
What did it mean? Why did he do it?
Milarepa’s guru never stuck his tongue out at him, at least not in his autobiography. How was I to interpret it? Did this action have some deep significance? Maybe he actually did enlighten me and I just didn’t know it. I walked on in a daze. Nothing made sense, my mind whirled until it sort of short circuited. I was left with feeling of peace and a smile.
He did reach out to me. The funny face was probably the only way he could get through my layers of insecurity and fear. And it may sound crazy, but I felt he really cared.
Years later, as I recount this incident, it always elicits laughs. Really, I was asking for it. A spiritual teacher is a mirror. His job is to reflect back to us who we are and where we are going. A clown’s face pretty well sums up where I was on that day in 1970.
Of course, Yogiji was doing what he always did, teaching, even with the tongue. One of his jobs is to break us out of our ego and limited consciousness. Sometimes it takes a big surprise, breaking the rules, humor, anger, outrageous wisdom, the utterly unexpected and maybe even a protruding tongue. I was pretty stuck in my ego. That tongue definitely got my attention. -- Chapter 10 Part II is next.