Tag Archives: Atheism

Giving This Famous God a Dare

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A Reprise of My Painting of Meher Baba

Giving This Famous God a Dare

–To Allan Y. Cohen

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
–Bob Dylan (It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding)

At age eighteen
I made a deal with the night air
Under stars and the influence
Of a desperate sense

I was tired

Like someone swimming at sea
So I didn’t care about talking to the air
Pretending God was real or even
Giving this famous God a dare

They say God won’t make deals
You have to love Him first
(First water, then the thirst)

But I swear it’s not gone to my head
Instead after forty years still
I’m heart over heels
On my knees crying

For no longer dying

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

I have the impression that none, or few, of my now 582 blog followers have actually read the “About” button (see atop the main page of rumi-nations.com).

And so since it in itself is pretty much a blog post, I dedicate this July post basically to a reprise of that, which gives an overview of my life and how it led to becoming a Sufi mureed, and to this website and blog..

So, here goes:

When I was five my mother had me declared a “ward of the court” and placed in a sort of orphanage, (same principle, but often parents were living, as were mine, but who for various reasons couldn’t or didn’t want to continue in the parental responsibility realm) paid by the state to provide my room and board, board not being so difficult because being farmish, Mrs. Hunt raised most of the food in house. Farmish because of raising rabbits, chickens, the odd hog and a cow, etc. and she got some other cash from when the children were expected to do what work our age level and physical state permitted.*

Five years later my mother took me and my three brothers back, but within six months released us again, this time into the custody of my father, whose new wife had stars in her eyes and notions of child-rearing experiments thinking to (like Aunt Polly in Mark twain’s Tom Sawyer) “civilize” us. These family experiments bounced us around on average every six months or even a year, dispersed among various family members on my mother’s side, punctuated by episodes with my father’s newly subsequent wives. (He ended up with four).

As it was difficult under these circumstances to make and keep friends, I became very lonely. Later, when I was eighteen and a student at UC Berkeley, I had a “religious” experience, which delivered me from this loneliness. I had until then been an atheist, mostly to please my two older “freethinking” brothers, who were then my only friends.

However, as a student at Cal, I was allowed free psychological counseling and had the good fortune to be the patient of Allan Y. Cohen, a newly minted Ph.D. from Harvard, who’d just had his own Odyssey, having been under the tutelage of Harvard psychology professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (latterly denombre Baba Ramdass) at Millbrook, famous for prescribing the rampant use of LSD under the philosophy of “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

This Allan Cohen, had since become a Sufi and a follower of a mystic, Meher Baba, and was dedicating himself to the furtherance of Meher Baba’s crusade against drug usage.

I had then a fierce chip-on-my-shoulder way of testing people (partly why I hadn’t any friends).** And when I’d come for an appointment after the night before showing up stoned at one of his anti-drug lectures, exhibiting what most others would have taken to be insulting behavior such as heckling etc., he invariably reacted with good humor. He simply looked vastly amused that I would find any fun in that sort of thing.

As for whether I might believe in his metaphysical stuff, he didn’t seem to care. Not viscerally. Though with helpful enthusiasm if and when I ever showed any interest.

Which was fortunate, in that any sort of proselytizing would have driven this atheist away. But I came to respect his unorthodox shrink methods and noticed the pictures on his wall of Meher Baba and Hazrat Inayat Khan, the founder of Sufism in the western world, which aroused my curiosity. And as I became curious about this curious man, I began to ask questions.

Like who were the pictures of?

Now, you must know that the Sufi philosophy or at least the Hazrat Inayat Khan brand of Sufism–pretty much the only kind I’ve studied, (apart from the 1000 year old wonderful Sufi treatise, by the Sufi shaykh Hujwiri, Kashf Al-Mahjub, which translates as The Revelation of the Mystery)–features the opposite of proselytizing, almost to the extent of indifference, except for the reinforcement of any pre-existing enthusiasm. Queries are answered, but unless there are follow-up questions, the matter is dropped.

I think Allan Cohen created a sort of Buddhist vacuum, that pulled me in.

So I asked if there was anything I could read by way of an introduction. But even after reading his suggested mystical writings, *** intriguing and plausible though they were, still it was just an intellectual concept. I guess I was like a later dear friend, an atheist who admitted to me she would surely like to be able to believe such stuff, but couldn’t believe in fairy tales, thank you. It is an interesting question what leads one to such a belief. Meher Baba has written (familiarly, to me at least) about a state of “divine desperation.”

Well, one night in 1968, visiting a friend in Portland Oregon, with the television blaring news of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, I was feeling so lonely that I went for a walk under the stars, and started to talk out loud saying things like I felt stupid talking to the air but as there weren’t any witnesses, okay, I’d give it a shot. I simply said, I was desperately sad and lonely and if Whoever you are would take away that feeling, I would believe. And instantly I was ecstatic. It was as if God was afraid I would change my mind, and struck while the offer was there. Tears streamed down my face, I was so happy, so grateful. And I went on to become a Sufi, in the same order that Allan Cohen was in. After seven years things happened and I moved on, but I have considered myself a Sufi ever since. And I can justly claim to be that since the essence of this Sufism is the belief that God is only accessible through an experience in one’s own heart, independent of priests and intermediaries.

Of course, this intense, ecstatic feeling wound down after a few days, but it is still there today, as a floor beneath me that I feel I can never fall through. It is rumored in Sufism that the best virtue is gratitude, and I do have that, though many troubled waters have since passed under the bridge.

But in my generative years, as Erik Erikson would say, I wish to share these Sufi ideas which I have come to love and which are the inspiration for my poetry. This “about” section begins with a poem I wrote concerning the situation I’ve just described, and my gratitude. (See above)

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*such as getting up before sunrise to feed and water 100 rabbits, or things like being farmed out to local walnut growers to harvest walnuts, for which Mrs. Hunt the Wagnerian lady from Oklahoma who ran the place was paid so much per stuffed gunny sack of walnuts. Or on Hallowe’en stuffed into a car and ferried all over the rural countryside to (like honeybees) collect large quantities of candy most of whch Mrs Hunt confiscated to furnish her baby showers or other such social life.

**To see how I’d gotten so feisty check out the Johnny Cash song “a Boy Named Sue.” Or to put it otherwise, I got tough from having been abandoned and as I say, bounced around.

***Mostly Meher Baba’s three volumes of “Discourses.”

It Makes Me Cry, Remembering Arden

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For Arden

PR–234

You Have To Believe

“…life was impossible like that, and that he must either
interpret life so that it would not present itself to him
as the evil jest of some devil, or shoot himself.”
–Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)

There are caverns deep in the sun
Where people live on legends of earthlight:

To stay alive their hearts respond
To this perceived wholeness of things
And so they live in hope:

You have to believe
In what you would be dead without

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,
November 2 was Arden’s birthday. I sent her her annual happy birthday email:
Arden,
Happy birthday! As you probably have noticed, I seem to have this compulsion to remember you every November 7. Hopefully too, you have noticed that I am not otherwise intruding on your life, and so, not to worry if somebody remembers you and loves you. After all, it is flattering, verdad?
Un abrazo,
Eric
To which she replied, Eric, you are a gentleman with a big heart. Thank you for remembering and caring.
Fondly,
Arden.

I have since learned her email was sent about two weeks before she died.

And so, to honor the memory of Arden, I am dedicating my blog post for this November to her whose birthday is November 7.

I mean to do this by reprising the post from five years ago that talks about Arden, and how she fit into my life.

SO HERE IT IS

(Posted on July 8, 2013)

Gentle Reader,
What is romance, really? This perhaps is the central question.

(This is referring to events–circa 2000–discussed in just previous biographical posts, to explain how I ended up a metaphysical poet in Guatemala).

So, I sold my house and quit my job and then moved north to Ashland, Oregon, to be with my new love, Arden. I no longer had to spend half of my time 300 miles away fixing my house in California up to sell. And so I was now free to get dedicated to making a relationship work. Work being the operative word, as it turned out.*

But there were tragic flaws in the ointment. For one, I couldn’t get work as a teacher. (When I met Arden I was a first grade teacher). In Oregon they are so flush with teachers and for even a day of substitute teaching, you have to have a full fledged, active credential. (As opposed to California for instance where all you need is any type of bachelor’s degree and pass the Mickey Mouse CBEST exam) So the competition for full time teaching slots was intense. Unless of course, one could speak Spanish (for their army of Latino students). And thereby hangs a tale. (Have I mentioned yet how neatly events dovetail into destiny?)

But we were both sufficiently romantic (very much so) to try to fit hexagonal pegs into pentagonal holes. (So near, and yet so far! So close, but no cigar!)

So of course we were always fighting. And yet truly shocked when one or the other of us appeared to be giving up. And of course a lot of this if not all is quite personal–not just to me but to Arden, who would perhaps not be amused to have our issues publicly aired.

But I will mention one thing, which has been mentioned before, and so was opened the door.

I don’t think this is a common problem, but it sure was a lousy fit for us. Because as my Gentle Readers have no doubt noticed, I am a believer in “God.” In my conception of God, (The “Sufi” one–the most liberal in the world), it is far from a matter of priests and churches but rather exists in one’s own heart. But to Arden that was like dressing up my faery dolls in less controversial clothing. Since Arden on the other hand was not merely an atheist, but one who had no respect for those who believed in such obvious fairy tales. And (go figure) it turned out that respect was a sine qua non of a good romance.

In an earlier post ( https://rumi-nations.com/2013/05/06/the-unaccountable-opportunity-to-do-experiments-with-happiness-2/ ) I told about how that played out in Arden’s heart. As if it was always logic and science uber alles. What the depths of your soul cried out for was of secondary importance. Even, apparently, if it did undo the life is worth living part.

Oddly, there’s some stigma that often seems to attach to believers in God. At least, I personally have felt that pressure. You’d think that my history of stubborn atheism and only reluctantly and in desperate straits, coming to believe otherwise, would have vaccinated me from that, and even with atheists would have given my conversion some respectability.

But alas it was the bottom line of what I believed that mattered to Arden. Not my fig leaf of why. It was like she couldn’t respect anyone who could believe such a thing. I remember once she emphasized to me, “I don’t EVER want to hear any talk of your religion.”

But she ended creditably, when I then replied, “So the thing that’s closest to my heart, the consolation without which I might want to kill myself, this is something which you do not ever want to hear about?”

So of course she backed off that right away, because she has the best heart in the world. But I do think she then saw a revelatory glimpse of incompatibility.

So neither of us was happy. Both of us wanted things we felt were not negotiable, and which we were not getting.

And then along came my daughter, Mehera, who was in medical school and had just taken advantage herself of a generously funded vaccine study by Johns Hopkins medical school, for travelers’ diarrhea. The catch was you had to go to Guatemala. (Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!)

And it paid enough for a round trip plane ticket. And the little wheels in Arden’s and my mind set to turning over the idea of me going to a Spanish school in Antigua and me supposedly being such a quick study, I would soon be back knowing Spanish, and thus employed. (As if my unemployment were the biggest problem.**)

But for all Arden’s disdain for fairy tales she bought this one, that I would just be gone a little while and come back to a rosy employed future. By that I do not mean to imply that Arden was more materialistic than romantic. Indeed if I hadn’t had the usual pride etc. she probably would have cheerfully installed me as house husband (I can cook!)

But it was just the fairy tale we needed to get me out of Dodge. (Just before High Noon, I think)

We both could hardly see to wave good-bye at the airport (for the tears).

Three months later reality dawned and Arden had a new boyfriend. So I found myself in Guatemala, with a small carpenter’s pension and $50,000 from the sale of my house in California, enough to last til I could take early social security. And then live nicely, with two incomes, if only I could find an occupation of some sort, as Lady Bracknell would say.

And I found in Guatemala something so much better than smoking! (see the Importance of Being Earnest)

So, the Guatemala saga starts next week.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

PS The photo above is of a magazine rack for a bathroom door, I made it (Remember, I was a carpenter also.) for Arden out of a rare purple African wood. With the heart cutout. Purple Heart seemed appropriate. Because asi es el amor.

We were in the midst of a bad fight and it seemed medicinal to choose that moment to give Arden the gift I had made in secret. Immediately the fight was over with Arden hugging me saying no one had ever made her anything before. And I send thanks to Jill, Arden’s friend who arranged to get the rack back to me, now that Arden has gone.

*I still have an old answering machine I keep to be able to hear Arden’s voice again and saying how much she appreciated the level of hard work I was prepared to undertake trying to keep us together. I listen sparingly though. Because it makes me cry, remembering Arden had so much wanted someone to love. And to my knowledge never found it.

**Unemployment is or should be just an economic problem. In my case of course, having quit my job, and unable to teach in Oregon, it would have been a severe and daunting one but for Arden’s generosity. She felt since I had renounced my job to be with her it was her job to feed me, etc. Case in point, when she gave me a copy of her ATM card, I asked, “You want me to have access to your money?” (asked in an incredulous tone) and she replied, “NO. I want you to have access to THE money!”

Eric, Who Believes in Jesus

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My drawing of the Virgin Mary

*(see footnote below)

 

 

New Start—271

Jesus and My Bicycle Hiawatha

When I was eight
I went out for little league
The first day when it was my turn at bat

I couldn’t see the ball
Could and couldn’t
Because for something I couldn’t see

It sure was scary
Steerike one!
Steerike two!

Steerike three!
Yer out!
(You pathetic little wimp)

But when I played Lucy in right field
He went too far
He called me sleeping Jesus

I could no longer feel insulted
I was a Jesus fan
Jesus and my bicycle Hiawatha

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Invocation:

“Towards the one, the perfection of love, harmony and beauty, the only being, united with all the illuminated souls who form the embodiment of the master, the spirit of guidance.”

~.~.~

Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Prescribed Daily Mantra:
“My thoughtful self: Reproach no one. Bear malice towards no one. Hold a grudge against no one. Be wise, tolerant, considerate, polite, and kind to all.”

~.~.~

Gentle Readers,

When I left off last time (in this series of biographical sketches) I was with my three brothers back with our father and his second wife. He’d never had a lot of independent desire to live with us (e. g. never fought for custody when my mother was having us declared wards of the court, on our way to orphanages and stuff like that) But later he married a couple of Aunt Pollys who were determined to civilize us.

The first time was better than the second.

Barbara was the first, an impressive lady who had the presence of Lauren Bacall. She was a bigshot in the Campfire Girls organization and every summer we were with them (two or three? My father had a high burn rate wife-wise.) we went with her to their deserted High Sierra camp Waswaygon. Or so it sounded phonetically. It was an old Indian name. I forget what for.

We didn’t get to meet any girls though. But Barbara did post in the dining hall a group photo of us volunteer boys shoring up a log bridge across a creek.

The principal trouble with Barbara was she had baggage. She had a son named Robby about Robin’s age (two years younger than I). He was spoiled rotten.**

Back to Barbara. She still took naked baths with Robby. ‘Nuff said.

Except for the time when we were to be punished from one of Robby’s lies, and so she took Robby out to dinner leaving our dad instructions that we were not to have any.

So when she left, we said to Dad, “You know don’t you that Robby is lying?”

He allowed that to be so.

So next question what’s there to eat in the fridge? And he said no he was honor bound to enforce Barbara’s rule.

But he wouldn’t have any either.

But he probably snuck down in the wee hors d’oeuvres hours and raided the fridge. Just like he had done with my tootsie roll from a neighbor lady when I was four.

Perhaps you are sensing a lack of filial respect. Yes, my father was hard to like. In this particular time, living with Barbara, one episode stands out as a reason for my filial distance.

Jim at this time was fifteen and only two years short of being a starting lineman for a league champion football team.

And Jim never jumped through anyone’s hoops (I could tell you such school stories!) and so when he refused to obey my father, the latter, soon finding the idea of a belt laughable, was reduced to fists. (And my father when he was seventy could still do one handed push-ups.)

So it was like two people in a prolonged attempt to murder someone with fists.

Call me old fashioned, but I say if punishment has to go that far the game isn’t worth the candle.

I adored Jim.

Not sure that I ever forgave my father.

I think that fight was the death knell of our stay there. And indeed, the stars had gone dark in the skies of his wife’s eyes. And we got tired of these wives as well, especially the next one, the Nazi wife (not an exaggeration. I mean fire breathing John Bircher stuff). Stay tuned.

So after a year or so it was time to move on.

Fortunately by then Mom had hooked up with a Mormon lesbian lady***who was really into family and talked Mom into wanting us back. It IS interesting is it not, those times when just when you need it an earlier barred door opens, and leads on to a chain of adventures, the latest chapter of which leaves you smiling? Or at least, engrossed in interesting analysis. At least on a good day.

I call my life that, and in spades.

But can you imagine a good adventure story without danger and the struggle for hope?
 
 

It was a strange and not well remembered transition from friendly popular boy (I was class president in fifth grade) to chip on my shoulder atheist at age twelvish on. I would go up to people and ask if they believed in God and if they said yes, I would ridicule them mercilessly. Belittle their bird brains. Stuff like that. And I was pretty good at it. So good no one in high school ever crossed me, though I looked the nerd out of central casting.****

And just two years earlier I was begging my brothers to type me out stuff that Jesus had said in the bible and could they please use the red ink just like the bible did, for Jesus’ words?

You must remember these older brothers (three and four years older) were then my only friends. Especially if you define a friend as someone you might call to chat with after school, etc.

Nope.

No friends.

You know they say that military kids who are always moving from one fort to another, soon give up; they know any friends they make will soon rip their heart out again . . .

It used to drive me nuts every time I applied for a college (and I was fickle!) they would all want to know the dates and duration of every school I had ever attended. So I know. We moved just about every six months. At least between the orphanage and Grandma Dorothy (in high school)

So then atheist brothers start looking good. And it was a good mystical lesson, because it taught me a taste for challenge. I mean let’s see you try to keep the respect of older brothers who were eloquent and wielding rapiers of wit and they kept making fun of “Eric, who believes in Jesus.”

Funny I can’t remember the transition to atheism.

Or the transition from being nice.

Here’s my theory: betrayal and unkindness is just too ugly to look at. At least at first.

So it got it repressed.

God be with you,
Eric Halliwell

*I wanted to put up an illustration on a Jesus theme, and Sufi-self-servingly I chose a photo of my drawing of the Virgin Mary. I say Sufi-servinglyn because the Anatolian Sufis (albeit from Muslim extraction) were noted for their fierce regard for Jesus’ mother.

**My mother always denied any lesbian connections, though she lived for years (sleeping in the same bed) with a six foot tall 200 pound woman with a mustache. And I once had found a box of lesbian novels in the garage. But I had naively never thought of that, though years later I was talking to my debate partner best friend Ralph, saying as a champion debater (We won the Los Angeles tournament) he could make a case for anything. Like I bet he could make a case that my mother was a lesbian. How so, what was the evidence? I told him about the large lady friend and the box of novels and also the butch other friends that never came with men. Rough ladies with names like “Hoxie.” Ralph’s response? Sarcasm. “Oh you think I might make a case, do you?”

*****Just like Donald Lee in the orphanage, who would follow me and shove a sharpened shovel down just behind my bare heels (in the orphanage they didn’t always issue you shoes). Just like in the westerns when the baddies shoot at your feet yelling, “Dance!” Of course I was older and bigger and so I punched him out but predictably he then went crying to Mrs. Hunt the Wagnerian shotgun wielder, his Catherine the Great grandmother saying that I had hit him and when he was only being polite. And so I was sent to bed without Disneyland, the most feared punishment in those days.

But as you can see I have forgiven and forgotten.

****My mother worked in a sanitarium for rich people, working as a masseuse and all purpose what not. One of her clients was a rich widow who, hearing she had sons, gave her her husband’s antique tuxedo. The old fashioned kind with tails and a top hat. And a black ribbon down the outsides of the legs. The top was for a guy with a pinched-in chest, but the pants fit me perfectly. I proudly wore them to school thinking that was high class. (I had enough sense not to wear the hat)

Now ordinarily a guy who dressed like that in school would be the object of ridicule. But nobody dared make fun of me or attack me in any way. I was a verbal attack dog. I would give them a nickname that would haunt them in the halls. As I have hinted at, in this atheist period, I wasn’t very nice.