Applying my own scientific system to my own case, a researcher might come to the conclusion that my philosophical/spiritual evolution was greatly influenced by my Mom, who was a sort of instinctive Deist in spiritual matters, never quite willing to say what she may have actually believed in, nor to give offense to anyone who may have believed differently, but always willing, when the conversation turned to matters spiritual or religious, to offer up some good-feeling cliche such as “I think there must some sort of Higher Intelligence.”
And since Dad was more likely to shrug into silence in any discussion of matters religious, and never even tried a polite argument with her stated views, Mom was the largest influence on my early development, up to age 6 or so, of a generalized, vague Deistic frame of view.
However, my own journey to an adult stance of a very specific set of Deistic spiritual beliefs (though still too vague for many, I suppose, as I find the human inability to fully understand the Deity as one of our, and the Deity’s, primary fundamental characteristics) has been a very independent journey, which has passed through a number of distinct systems of belief.
It was probably based mostly on my intense absorption of basic science knowledge, and the ideology of “science as superior” that went with that in the America of the 1950’s, that I do remember moving towards a willingness to announce myself as an atheist at around age 9 or 10. This caused no scandal whatever in the local Unitarian church we attended, where more than a few adults freely professed the same, and nearly all were able to articulate a respect for all flavors of religious belief.
However, my thoughts on these matters were not stable or particularly deep, and I may also have expressed my old Deistic views at times, and after about age 11, I did shift more decidedly back towards the Deistic stance. There was even a period of time, probably around eighth grade at the height of my social alienations at school, when I was so involved in the Unitarian church that I thought I might become a Unitarian minister as an adult career. (This period 1962-64, 6th to 8th grade for me, was also the glory days of Camp de Benneville Pines, the Southern California Unitarians’ resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, where I became a footsoldier in what Tom Lehrer called the “Folk Song Army” and made my first fumbling attempts at teenage social relationships – a huge influence in my life). Yet then to turn again, my last years of high school and first year of college may have seen me articulating atheist beliefs once more.
My adult path towards spiritualism was driven by a number of extraordinary experiences, the first one at the end of my freshman year in college, that seemed to defy any possible scientific explanation I could come up with. The two events that seemed to fly the most clearly in the face of scientific explanation were two dreams I had, around age 20-21, which made no sense at the time of dreaming and were thus quickly forgotten – until the two separate days came, when I found myself in an unusual social situation, one in a job environment and one where a friend anticipated my thoughts, and I suddenly realized that this was my forgotten, six-month-old dream which was now being played out in real life! In the one case I had no idea of getting that job months beforehand, in the other case I hadn’t been close to that guy months beforehand, and there was no way I could have “guessed” or “projected” those dreams based on any actual knowledge or experience I had. There was also no mistaking the intensity of the mental feelings I experienced on the realization that I had dreamed these scenes beforehand, this feeling was far stronger than my usual, intense emotions, and more deeply rooted in some core of my being that I couldn’t normally access.
So my urge towards a spiritual path was shocked into my awareness by these two dreams, and other adventures I had on the edge of normality, yet for some years this spiritual urge found no coherent path forward. My intellect was too engaged in science to accept any of the traditional religions, my Mom’s late-60’s-early 70’s path as a “serial believer” in various New Psychology and/or New Age systems looked to me as a bad example to be avoided, my personality was too unfocused/underdeveloped to allow me to enjoy yoga or meditation. My friend Larry and I did have a lot of fun keeping up with the “new Physics” of those days, and laughingly inventing variations of Cosmic/Scientific Purpose that might explain our situation on a particular evening.
And so I wandered without a path, until one day, a door opened (metaphorically) and I was able to begin a journey, at first slow and very gradual, and then more determinedly, towards a real spiritual evolution. It was a sunny Sunday in the spring in San Francisco, it must have been like April of 1978, I had just moved back into San Fran from the East Bay, and had held a big housewarming party the night before. There was some sort of street fair going on a few blocks from my house, and I and a couple of leftover partygoers were checking it all out.
And then I found myself talking to some people who called themselves the Safe Space Church of the Youniverse, who were trying to establish a sort of cooperative of various New Age arts and disciplines for spiritual development: they had a list of 20 or more sponsors, some of them called themselves “psychics,” there were several astrologers and yoga teachers and New Age bodyworkers, one guy trying to run a Christian coffeehouse downtown and a few people coming from the Druid/European pagan tradition. Bobbie S. offered to give me a free psychic reading right then and there, and I accepted the offer, and he had me sit down and started saying calming words, and one of the first eight or ten things he said was to visualize the color pink – and I had a sudden rush of deep emotional feeling and my entire field of vision was suddenly tinged pink – whether my eyes were open or closed – and there was no turning back.
Over the next weeks I did have several private readings with Bobbie, and came to greatly appreciate this very un-tall gay man, a few years older than me, so different than me in so many ways yet so adept in helping me to open my heart and take stock of the various threads of my personality. And I started going to some of the open meetings of the Safe Space group, even though I wasn’t going to become any kind of New Age practitioner. And I and a few others who just wanted to be “where the spiritual action was” may have been part of the evolution whereby the group moved away from trying to establish some sort of school/cooperative structure, and focused more on continuing a practice they were already engaged in, having these fantastic, free-form deep group meditation sessions, going for 3 to 5 hours at a time, starting with an hour or more of group “Ohm” chanting and then into more guided visualizations/prayers/healing sessions that one participant or another might be motivated to lead, usually relying heavily on the imagery of “chakras.” We represented a radical non-dogmatic theosophist movement coming together out of many faith traditions, and in our group meditations we made it work. Of course each new person comes into the group meditation with some ego and some baggage, yet one quickly felt the spiritual energy and freedom and acceptance from our experienced members who provided a great model of letting go of ego and conscious hang-ups, and becoming, truly, vessels of love and spirit for the benefit of the group. And it didn’t take long for one to learn how to fully step away from ego within the group meditation. And while we all gave one last group hug sometime around Sunday night at midnight and chugged away in our inefficient gasoline-powered vehicles and all woke up with our individual egos in our individual beds, there was also a knowledge that one had participated in something very special, that did have a lasting effect into the following days, and that did give a great motivation to get together the next Sunday night and do it again.
The group did shrink some in this initial period, as folks who really wanted the professional-business-cooperative model dropped out, yet the 12 to 15 of us who formed the hard core of the evolving new group were, I guess in retrospect, the ones who were really feeling the power of the intense group meditations. In my memory, this group-evolutionary process took some time, yet in reviewing the documents it must have been fairly quickly in the spring and summer of ‘78 that we decided we needed to form our own church structure, and we began a “preparation for ordination” process that took up the end of the summer with increasing psychic intensity, as we were sometimes meeting more than once a week now. I particularly remember an 8 hour ritual one warm morning and afternoon at the beautiful Pulgas Water Temple in Redwood City. We also began the 2-year series of meetings in which we talked more than meditated as we struggled to come up with a “Statement of beliefs” that we could all whole-heartedly unanimously endorse.
And unlike nearly all other spiritual organizations I have encountered before or since, there was no hierarchy, and no one dominating ego. We did have a group of people who were all big-ego leaders in their own ways, and we all dropped most of our defenses in our group sessions and we all made accommodations for the egos of others. There were people I didn’t overwhelmingly warm to at first, yet I came to enjoy them very much; our member, beautiful lady with the name Star Song, couldn’t have been more temperamentally different than myself, and we had some epic standoffs over various words in two years of Statement-writing meetings, which could feel very frustrating at times — yet we had already shared so much positive energy in months of intense group meditations that it was easy to keep positive attitudes and total acceptance of her feelings, and her need to have her feelings, in the forefront of my emotions, and thus to totally avoid the negative emotions that can so easily crop up in business or political contexts when a small group struggles over words and visions. And when we finally got to the words that fourteen or so people could agree on, unanimously, at the end of the process, it felt really great.
In the course of this all, I did come to learn what it meant to feel “psychic” – and believe me, it’s nothing like what the tabloids might have you think. It was just knowing, 2 out of 3 times when the phone rang, who was on the other end. It was feeling of “connectedness” that might be stronger or weaker at times, it was learning how I processed energy, and learning how I typically reacted to others, and which of my senses were most sensitive to the vibrations of others.
Looking back on it, the group element was crucial: you might be able to do similar meditations on your own, yet without the energy of others being involved it’s just too easy to stay focused on old habits, to stay stuck in old ruts, to wander personal paths that won’t be leading to something larger than one’s self. Yet with the power of the group focus, we were able to find and feel the throbbing heart of the “Mother/Father God”and be able to take away a little bit of that power to help us through our individual and separate lives until the next Sunday night.
At the height of this process, I did feel that I could get on a San Francisco Muni bus and use my most sensitive sense to quickly read the basic state of the chakras of forty other passengers – however, that isn’t really a useful quality to have, it didn’t help me and it certainly didn’t help them. And so one learned the psychic defenses, one learned the reality of “instant karma,” one learned the value of and the techniques for channeling and focusing the universal energy. And at the height of our intensity, such as some of the pre-ordination rituals and our ordination ritual itself (Mount Tamalpais, Oct. 7, 1978) and our annual trips to Mount Lassen, we found the power, the strength, the connectedness, we were there in the heart of a Living Loving Universe … and the feeling never leaves you. Again, we were, as far as I know, the unique, radical non-dogmatic cell of theosophical experimentation, and for over five years we made it work pretty darn well.
View from Mt. Tamalpais – Image likely copyright, copyright owner unknown
Yet inevitably, times move on and change, and egos find ways to re-assert themselves. I married a lady who wanted to move out of town, that took a lot of my energy, while other members of the group found new ways to amuse and distract their egos. The group had always tolerated incidental marijuana use, or the occasional mushroom trip, even though only half of us indulged; yet now a couple of influential members were getting deeper into things like ectasy and nitrous oxide — even while they admitted blacking out on a the latter — and I had no need to go there. And so it was that I moved out of town and lost close contact; I know that Safe Space stayed alive as an organization for some years, yet at some point it ceased to be and I don’t know any of the details of that process.
Nevertheless my memory of the good parts of Safe Space endures strongly, and over 99% of Safe Space was quite good in my experience. I don’t have to scratch my brains looking for the Universal Spirit, I’ve lived it, I’ve felt it, I know for sure it’s out there and in here too.
Today I use the words the “Unknowable Universal Essence” to describe that living spirit, which is what I understand others to mean when they use words like “God” and “Jehovah” and “Allah.”
I can’t explain the inner details – and I freely admit that what I understand as Spirit may actually be some part or manifestation of the deep foundations of scientific physics that we humans don’t yet clearly understand – yet I swear I know it, I’ve felt it: The Unknowable Universal Essence is present in all matter and all energy in the Universe.
It’s probably present in all the Anti-Matter and the apparent spatial vacuums of this Universe too, even if we can’t experience those parts of the Universe!
And yet this Universal Essence does remain quite unknowable to our usual human senses, and it does have a tendency to retreat from our human consciousness as ego and economics dominate our time. I myself can lose track of it for days at a time, and even when I can take a deep breath and remember where to find the Universal Essence, I remain aware that without a strong group to support the quest, my readings of this Universal Essence may be misleading and unproductive.
Furthermore, although the Unknowable Universal Essence is indeed present in all matter and energy, at this stage in our human evolution the Unknowability of this Essence is its most important characteristic: it may or may not have a Purpose, whether or not it does have a Purpose it does not make that Purpose readily apparent to our senses, and our ordinary senses are most inadequate for any type of “Understanding” or “interpretation” of the Universal Essence. (And even when radical theosophists can encounter the Universal Essence with their extra-ordinary senses, it is not a verbal or explanatory experience that can easily be set down in words.)
So I can’t tell you where mankind is going, or that it will all work out for us even if we make huge mistakes in environmental stewardship; yet I can tell you that there is something larger than ourselves, and it mostly feels like “love” and we are part of it – even if we as a human race are digging our collective graves with ignorance and ego and poor environmental stewardship.
To bring this page to a conclusion, I do stand ready to build a new radical theosophist organization in real time – or to re-build the old one, Susan, Star Song, Bobbie, Pammy, David, Keith, are you out there, the world needs us to have the Great Safe Space Revival Tour! There is a Universal Essence, it is present in our world and always has been and always will be, and there are paths that can lead to greater awareness. I’ve lived it, I’ve been a part of it, and I do very much want to be able to do whatever I can to help you experience these things in your life also. I don’t know exactly what shape these efforts may take, yet if you’re interested let’s get together and try some things. We need to, we have to, and if we do it right, it will mostly feel good.