Sansaku: Emergence


March alternated between mud and snow at Timberline. Morning steam boiled off the river and the cottonwoods looked ripe. Storms passed fast and the days grew longer. The sound was a song and penetrated sleep.

Spring is a time of emergence. Life explodes out of dark wet earth. It’s the big bang birth of the new year. I spent time with the pines in the grove. The dry sunny spot under the leaning tree was perfect for a sun bath. I closed my eyes and stared directly at the light.

The patterns on my eyelids, like looking into the fireplace flames, were stable and shifting. I slipped into day dreams and then back out. I thought about the old mother tree that once stood tall in the middle of the grove. I thought about Irma. Her spirit remains, like the tree.

While I consider myself a timberline tree, the one in my dreams is the old ponderosa that bends towards the river. It adds a ring each year and grows only slowly. Large branches break off and leave hawk perches, places for owls. The eagles land on top.

I had a dream. She stepped out of the bus without much fuss or fanfare. I didn’t expect much. The spirit of the mother tree was young, not old. Beautiful to the point of worship, I did not feel worthy. Her naked skin was oiled and shimmered in the sunlight.

She held my eyes and let me feel. Then she lowered her eyes and let me look. No wonder they loved the goddess.

I’d met Dahl once before. On the trip to the canyons we stopped at Two Buttes. John Milton wanted to visit the family and show me the place. I decided with a rare pledge of commitment, I’d return in the summer and learn from him. But now he was here. John Milton had taken his day off to fetch him.   No saying how old he was. Dahl was curious about the school. I knew he’d been here in the past.

We sat in front of the fireplace and sipped on brandy. Dahl had nothing against drink. He asked more questions than I asked him, which goes against my style. He was digging at the roots. John Milton had told him, “It’s a highly unlikely school.” He wanted to uncover.

I surprised myself with details. I’d never told the story in a single narrative and as soon as I finished, I wanted to start over. Dahl understood and said it’s good to spiral. The story had changed by morning and spiraled-in on dreams.

Not many people can listen to dreams and follow them. I have to take notes to concentrate. I fall into image pools and can’t get out. Dahl stepped into dreams like they were native soil.

I described the dream bus and the many-colored driver. His familiarity was such I assumed John Milton had told him all about the dreams. But John Milton hadn’t told his grandfather. Dahl asked, “How about you?”

After I shared the goddess dream, where she stepped out of a bus, he asked, “Tell me about her eyes.” Dreams and memories don’t just happen and end, they stay alive. The more we reflect, the more we can see. I said, “Spring green.” Dahl said, “I thought so.”

He asked when I was born and John Milton answered for me. “It’s his birthday.” He asked about my birth. I would have told the story, but I remembered a dream. It seemed too random to skip. I was sitting in movie theater next to an old man and watching a mystical play.

When he levitated, which shocked me, no one seemed to notice. The audience was fixated on the stage. “Why can’t they see you?” He said, “It’s the damnedest thing, they think I’m dead.”



















Sansaku: Mistakes


Doc loved teaching. When he practiced law he mostly taught. In his opening statement, he told the jury exactly what the prosecution would do and why. In fact, he laid the case out better than the prosecutor could. The jury was aware and listened very carefully.

He counted on the prosecution caving and the plea bargaining was smooth. They negotiated the guilt and punishment. The process was educational. Doc knew it’s always case by case.

Doc, by the way, corrected me on Churchill. “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” I knew I’d misquoted; I’m intellectually lazy. Doc was not. He liked to be right. I don’t mind being wrong.

Doc published a number of books earlier in his career and hadn’t told me. When I found out and said, “I’m impressed.” He wasn’t flummoxed but asked. “That impresses you? Did you read them?” It was true, I hadn’t. Doc said, “Don’t. I’m better now.”

Guru kept a journal, but unlike me he left it open. It was always on his desk. Like Churchill, he intended to write his history. Jung kept the Red Book open, but you had to be close to see it. Guru didn’t care.

During the breaks, the journal remained behind. He made no attempt to hide it. If anything, it was even more conspicuous. I used to take it home. I’ve copied pages.

We only share the good shit when we know it’s safe, which is why the norm is to talk behind people’s back and not to their face. But Guru’s journal was full of what we normally avoid. We’re conditioned to avoid mistakes and are careful not to make them. It’s why talking shit about another who’s standing right behind us is the ultimate social mistake.

I don’t know when I first learned the term, faux pas, but I’ve made them all my life. Guru preached, “What we avoid is interesting. There’s nothing better. Let’s share mistakes. Any good ones?”

He knew that after the course was over, they’d look back on mistakes and wish they’d made some better ones. In studies on regret, most people regret not going for it far more than when they did.

While talking about others is generally forbidden in group, it’s fair game to share how we feel. It’s how we get around the gossip rule and wash our dirty laundry. Guru wrote about the good stuff and left it for us.

The feedback was intense at times and more than a few penned-in comments and reflections. It wasn’t taboo to write in his journal, but he hadn’t exactly given permission. Of course, there was feedback on the feedback on the feedback. Both sides gave benefit of the doubt.

We had a national walkout yesterday to protest gun violence and demand better laws. One of my friends at the college was asked if they’d be walking out. She said, “When you walk out, don’t ask for permission. It’s a walkout.” The student made a brilliant realization.

Guru knew he could write in the journal what he couldn’t say in class. He needed the time to process and the wisdom of solitude. I asked if the journals were ever stolen. He said, “Only when I wanted to give them away.” Don’t ask for permission.

Doc was quick on his feet and the feedback came fast and furious. He didn’t worry about mistakes, he didn’t think he made them. One day the judge said, “I think you made a mistake on your calling. Do you realize how much you love to lecture?”

In terms of relative congruence, I had a lot to learn. Guru left his journal on the desk and Doc didn’t hide what he had to say. I could be a little sneaky and secretive, except with my dreams.






Sansaku: Interesting


Being the youngest son of a gifted bipolar, I’m a born co-dependent. I brought those skills to Timberline. Guru, who knew this, told me a story about a woman who was married to an out-of-control man. He’d get drunk and wake god knows where. She took to tracking him down every night so the neighbors wouldn’t find him in the morning.

The neighbors all knew and one finally took pity. “Honey, don’t drag him home tonight, let him lay where god flung him.”   Suddenly she wondered what would happen. She’d taken an interest.

I’ve made all kinds of excuses for Timberline. We’ll do that for love and pride. When Churchill was told that history would not be kind to him he said, “Like hell it will. I’m going to write it.” I like his style.

There are few personality issues more troubling than manic behavior. No wonder parents paid to send their problems to us. Since mood’s contagious, the parents found they were acting just as poorly if not worse. Manic pushes all the buttons with great intuition.

I could go in-depth on this. A few skilled individuals could infect the entire school. The manic edge is chaotic to the extreme and pushes every limit. Reality is tested and found to be lacking.

John Milton knew they were nuts and said, “Yeah, but try boring some time.” I wanted to argue, “I might like it.” Now looking back, we might have exceeded the speed limit, but we stayed on the road.

Guru had formal psychological training, but Doc did not. He was street-wise and salty. Both agreed on the way the school provided balance. While everyone was crazy, everyone wanted to stay. That was the needed stability. It kept the chaos in check.

John Milton sat-in on classes and Doc taught his at the bar. Timberline still had the old bar that’s now in Telluride at the New Sheridan Hotel. I googled it. But the shelves were stocked with books, not bottles. Doc served the spirits and the students lined up on the stools and drank from his fount of knowledge. Doc was a bit flamboyant.

He taught politics, economics, sociology, history of thought and anything else he wanted. While the school lacked an administrative boss, we pointed to him when one was needed. He’d been a lawyer in a past incarnation and still had the chops. I learned deference.

I’m not sure he assigned readings. If he did he didn’t care. And while he didn’t teach by group as Guru did, he taught implicit skills. He wanted them to learn how to listen, pay attention, learn how to dialogue, love language and be interesting. If they weren’t interesting, he turned to the big bar mirror and talked to the class via reflection. This worked. Who was he talking to?  It wasn’t the class.

They were conducting an analysis of Timberline and Doc called the school a talking dog. He assumed they didn’t know but waited for the insight. Kev was in the class and thought about Sparky. That’s not what Doc implied. Lily asked, “What’s the dog saying?” Doc decided the class deserved some sarcasm and called them dogs.

He explained, “It’s not what the dog says but the fact the dog talks. That’s what makes it special.” Nobody thought the school should work. When I described what we did to other educators they scoffed. “It won’t survive.” But it did and like a drunk who lived a long and prosperous life, it pissed them off.

And while the critics continued to predict an early death and hoped the school would fail, it didn’t. Doc said, “When something exists that shouldn’t, that’s interesting. Any ideas?”






Sansaku: Burned


Fire starting is ancient art and the symbolism is staggering. A thousand years ago, people wintered in this valley. Imagine the ordinary magic of fire and sitting around the stones. Stories were told about Prometheus and Lucifer, but they’re called by other names. The One Who Stole the Fire, the One Who Brought the Light. The Tricksters.

At Timberline the Firestarter gets up early, when both the stars and dreams are bright. The quiet of the night amplifies the inner-side of life. Associations and memories come in and out of mind. And since dreams are connected to feelings, that’s what matters.

The stove, the wood, the fire, are elemental symbols. The spark, the burn and the one who makes and tends. How we talk to ourselves makes a qualitative difference in meaning. Kev called it the best time and tried to slow it down.

He wasn’t the only person awake. Chris the cook often came down to the lodge at the same time. They stopped to star gaze. The old highway that cut through the property made a wide-open slice of the sky. The words were softly said and simple. How beautiful.

Chris went into the kitchen and fired-up the grill. She loaded the coffee machine with her secret stash of beans. It’s the only time she made it. Kev couldn’t have cared less, it wasn’t the coffee. In fact, he’d only just started to drink it. He studied the way she sipped the brew.

Kev had begun to introvert. He shared his thoughts with Chris, what he saw in the flames and stars. But Guru started the self-analysis and stoked the fire with better questions. Like what? The elegant ones.  Guru trusted him and Kev did well with freedom. It’s why he loved the school. It was low on control and high on mystery.

But he was thinking about his first trip to the canyons. John Milton said he’d been chosen. Kev didn’t know what that meant. He asked Guru who explained apprenticeship selection. Guru remembered Jumping Mouse. Mouse fell into the river. Kev burned. Both had visions.

The crushed flower-weed would only smoke when dropped on a dying fire. One needed to be close. Kev sat nearest and was first into trance. John Milton saw the moment. I wasn’t far behind.

Mouse visioned the Sacred Mountains and the Quest he’d have to make. Kev was back at Timberline and sitting in the grove. He said, “There’s a fire in the middle of the circle. The place where the mother tree stood. But it’s more like flames of light than flames from wood.”

“I was slow to realize, I’m the sacrifice. I’m the one intended for the fire.” John Milton listened closely. “Did you see her?” Kev said, “She’s the one who led me. I burned and burned. I went in two directions.” John Milton whispered, “Separation.”

I thought about ashes and dust to dust. The body turns to soil. But the other direction was harder to follow. John Milton said, “When you separated, what did you see from the smoke-cloud?”

Kev remembered the caverns in the coals and how he’d entered the vision. “I didn’t go anywhere. I stayed in the grove.” John Milton questioned him. “Nowhere?” Kev gave it some thought and nodded.

Sparky the dog had come along with us into the canyon and was a surprisingly good companion. Well-mannered and quiet, she buried her poop like a cat. But she loved to fetch and collected a pile of rocks and sticks wherever we camped. Her choices were rather usual.

Kev started making little stone sculptures and leaving them behind, half-hidden in beautiful spots. He also carved and sanded the sticks she retrieved. John Milton studied the art like I studied words.







The Firestarter

Sansaku: The Firestarter


Guru counseled Kev, “Where do you feel most alive?” He wanted to wake him up. “Don’t tell me, you need to walk around. See what your body has to say. You haven’t learned to listen.”

Kev expected the shrink to ask about the shitty things he’d done or said. But Guru broke the rules. It’s not that he didn’t follow them, he didn’t need them. Kev asked, “What’s counseling?”

Guru didn’t answer but disclosed more than Kev expected. “I’m terribly petty.” He shared how he’d eaten more than his share of the food last night. He hoped no one noticed and tried to distract when they did. Kev laughed almost as much as Guru. He had a similar problem.

Anyone walking by the room would have concluded they were having a good time and not much work was being done. They’d be both right and wrong. Guru didn’t try to control what happened, he responded in the moment and Kev took like a duck to water. He wasn’t an ugly one.

Kev wondered what kind of life he was meant to live and Guru said, “The answer’s all around you. Every minute, every day. What you need is right in front of you.”

Kev thought about a poem I’d taught the day before. “When you make an axe-handle, the pattern is close at hand.” He said out loud to Guru, “It takes an axe to make a handle.” Exactly. Guru knew the poem.

That night at dinner, Kev overheard me talking to John Milton. I was having trouble with the wood crew. They kept breaking axe handles. I asked him, “What do you make of that?” He turned around and looked at Kev. “What do you think?” John Milton thought, “Maybe he’s the Firestarter.” Kev said, “Tell you what. I’ll learn how to make them.”

Guru was well-trained and knew from Seligman that most successful therapies are forward-looking and assume responsibility. To have a better future depends on the present now. What we find here, we find there. Guru liked to lecture on path and practice. John Milton went straight to the Guru and told him what happened.

The next time Kev saw Guru he reminded, “You never did tell me.” He said this in reference to counseling. He asked, “What is it?” Guru knew it’s taking an interest in yourself but only said, “You tell me.”

We all talked about Guru, most of us had seen him. He encouraged story-telling. The students believed he could tell if you lied and others said he was bored if you didn’t. Some wouldn’t look him in the eye. I liked to sit at his table.

Kev asked to go with us on spring break. He didn’t want to go back South and knew we were headed for the canyons. John Milton agreed before he asked me. I wasn’t pleased. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut.

On the first night just below the rim, John Milton asked Kev to start the fire and watched him closely. I had the feeling he wouldn’t allow me to gather the wood much less this. He was picky with the ritual.

I knew the way he placed the stones. His smokestacks always worked and the fires were superlative. I knew the kind of wood he loved and how he sparked the tinder. He also gathered powders.

Kev walked the high-wire and pulled it off. It was tight-rope brilliant. He’d even found the flower-weed John Milton crushed and added to the embers. I wondered how in the world and suspected collusion.

Kev saved the weed and when the fire slowed to the bright-burning coals he tossed it in. I thought, “Get ready.” The powder gave off the faint familiar whiff of smoke and we inhaled the fragrance. It didn’t take long. The embers had opened the cavern.








What’s Missing

Sansaku: What’s Missing


I just spotted a lovely typo in yesterday’s sansaku. A light went off when I wanted it on. From now on, I’ll see the absence. I changed it. How I remember will depend on how I feel.

Being a musician and artist, John Milton had an ear for style and rhythm. Kevin used words that skipped a beat or jumped around. He’d clutter a sentience with all kinds of things, then pour it through a filter.

Kevin’s slow southern drawl was not as I’d imagined and it’s hard to imitate. He could smile between words and sentences dripped slowly. My mind wandered. I was often lost by the time he finished.

He went through school at the same slow pace. The bloc program allowed students to proceed at their own speed and rate of motivation. Some finished four years of English in less than two and received full credit. Kevin headed in an opposite direction.

He wasn’t dyslexic, although he couldn’t spell. The problem was organization and development. He couldn’t stay on a subject and never finished anything. And he talked so slowly, I wondered if he heard our voices the same. “Hell, no. You all talk like mosquito bees. Just a buzz.” But he was smiling, “I’m exaggerating, of course. I know what’s said, it just doesn’t seem very thoughtful.” That stopped me.

For a person so slow, the change happened fast. I could hardly remember how he used to be. Kev looked more like John Milton every day. That’s when the “in” dropped out of his name.

He gave John Milton all the scuttlebutt and underground news. The students weren’t suspicious. They trusted both of them with secrets and felt better for the telling.

Since I learned the secret secrets in dreams and told John Milton, he had a grasp of the school like no one else. Besides, he maintained the place and knew its overhead and underbelly.

People came to Timberline, toured the facilities for a few hours or days, and thought they knew the place. The land where the property stood took me years to understand. I’m still working on the school.

Discerning imagination from reality is a cornerstone of mental health. And while we’re very good at telling visual imagination from the physical, we absolutely suck at spotting an emotionally induced vision. We hallucinate feelings and believe they’re real. It’s difficult to imagine a sweet tomorrow or pleasant past when we’re feeling shitty about today. And this is true for all the emotional levels and states.

Time is hard to imagine because it’s abstract, conceptual, and not a concrete image. And when I look back on Timberline, my imagination isn’t caught in the physical; my emotional state of being is running loose in time. It’s the climate, not the weather.

This is such an important distinction. A depressed person sees the world through the eyes of imagination, just like a mystic sees through theirs. We say love is blind because it sees what the jaded cannot.

The feeling-induced imagination changes the future, but also the past. It’s a hard bridge to cross. We can imagine a better tomorrow. That’s easy depending on how we feel, but how do we reweave history?

Kev had an emotionally dominant imagination, he experienced both past and future in terms of present day feeling. Back home he wasn’t about to expose and be vulnerable. This confused him now. He wondered why he hadn’t seen it earlier. It’s about forgiveness.

When a person has a vision of perfection, the world’s complete and good. The goal is now. Kev had arrived, but he kept it to himself.











Sansaku: Yei


The frontal lobes are thin veneer and vulnerable. Our highest human values are always at great risk. The last to evolve, the slowest to mature, is also the first to go. We’ve only just begun.

The Greeks had a word, eudaimonia. The root is the daimon, the genius, and the preface means good. It’s what they called the right kind of happiness, a life well-lived, good spirit, human flourishing. It’s been studied for thousands of years.

Experience comes from the Latin “to try.” Are you experienced? Try this. And awareness comes from the Greek “to see.” Do you see what I mean? It implies observation and reflection, insight. The disconnect between experience and awareness causes all kinds of problems.

Plot lines tend to depend on trauma-drama action and character development. “What’s he going to do now?”   But since I’m using the school as a symbol to explore, it’s more like taking a walk. “I wonder what’s in that direction?”

Having been raised in the Four Corners, John Milton had many Navajo friends. The Yei are supernatural beings who bring healing power to the ceremonies and are said to be the keepers to “the door.” They’re very similar to the Latin genii. The ancients did what they could to attract the Yei, who are said to favor certain places and people.

What attracted people to Timberline, either to teach or attend, was a question we asked. But the Fates only answered over time. We thought we knew what we were looking for. Fat chance.

We sucked as a school when it came to admissions and hiring. The ones we ranked highest thought they were too good for the place and acted poorly. Some of the worst, like Kevin, we only accepted because we accepted everyone. We needed the money.

When asked why he wanted to be here, his answer was horrible. “I don’t.” His parents had made the choice for him. They were staying in their fancy motor-home camped at the KOA next to the school. They met John Milton on a walk.

The school lacked a sports field and gym, but it had an old swimming pool turned into a skate park. Kevin’s parents had stopped to watch the wild exhibition and John Milton approached. They talked about their son. His mother had a vision.

For a fix-it man, John Milton was far from being a realist, which is the belief that the things out there appear as they are on the inside. He had what’s called theory of mind. He knew the things out there were not the same as the things in his mind, and he knew the things in the minds of others were different from the things in his.

When we go looking for causality, we rarely look for absence. We lack the awareness to see what’s missing. Researchers learned that pigeons could be taught to peck at a lever when a light turned on. But they couldn’t learn to recognize the absence of light. We’re just like them.

John Milton wasn’t trained to look for a light. He noticed when the light was off in a person and tried to turn it on. “What do you think your son is missing?” It’s what Kevin’s mom was thinking and in those exact words. She turned to John Milton and looked at him.

When John Milton finally met him, both were new to the school. Kevin was sure the school was not what he wanted or needed. John Milton wasn’t sure he was wrong. But seeing in time is like seeing in space. We can’t see very far. But since the spirits and Yei exist out of time-space reality, this doesn’t apply. Kevin was accepted.