How I Learned

Sansaku: How I Learned


There’s a scene in “Pretty Woman” where Vivian the prostitute sneaks into the bathroom and Edward the corporate raider suspects addiction. He bursts in to find she’s flossing. He says, “I’m not often surprised by people.” She says, “Really? Well they shock the shit out of me.” He was learning.

When Guru went to graduate school, his best friend was a cousin I’d never known. Guru studied psychology and Lou earned his doctorate in herpetology, which is all about snakes and lizards. I knew very little about that side of the family, even though I thought I did.

George tried to protect me from my genetic loading. I can tell it as a story. The boy was not allowed to know his father or his father’s side of the family. But it was obvious to those who knew, he was similar.

Guru was the old master who came for the boy when he’d come of age. “I knew your father and your father’s family. There’s many things they haven’t told you. For instance, you don’t know about his sister. She had the vision.” The vision for what?

I liked to sit with Guru after lunch. He drank tea and I asked questions. I wanted to learn about psychology and he practiced like he taught. I didn’t know we were doing sessions for the longest time. He did this within earshot of others and sometimes changed the subject when he knew they were listening.

“Do you ever feel when the door closes you’re being caged in a room with primitive primates and they’ll attack if you don’t entertain?” But he had considerable skill as an entertainer as well as a teacher and therapist. He did all three at once.

I’d heard about transference and asked him. He asked, “How do you see and experience me?” Like many psychologists and philosophers, he answered questions with questions.

He shifted the subject to my love interest, one of the teachers. I seemed to be attracted to complication. He asked, “What made you fall for her?” I remembered the vision. She’d just arrived.

After graduating from Stanford, she moved to the mountains outside Tahoe. I imagined Yosemite. I knew she’d taken her GREs and scored 800 in math. She could teach anything, but she’d been hired as head of Languages. This was before John Milton came to the school.

Dorah taught her classes in the library and knew every book on the shelf. The students liked to mess with her and moved a few each day. They made bets on how long it would take her to notice and make the correction. When we got together they wondered how long it would take before she wanted to put me in order. I didn’t see that coming.

When it comes to predicting the future, we have big-time illusions with foresight. These problems with seeing tomorrow are not easily remedied by experience or shared wisdom. Memory is flawed and notoriously skewed by events, like how an affair ends, not starts.

Guru knew long before I, the two of us weren’t suited for each other. Most people don’t know they’re like most people because we focus on differences. Psychologists have learned to focus on similarities. It’s why a word like war is related to a word like puke, not peace. You have to think about it. I thought the two of us were similar.

“She knows who she is and you don’t.” Guru had begun his diagnosis. “You have leaky margins and need to improve your borders. It almost appears you have none. But it’s a good problem and means you can learn.” He surprised me. It’s how I learned.










Sansaku: Kami


I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like Kevin. He’d made a fool of himself his first night on campus. We were hanging around after dinner. Kevin thought he was cool. He told a story about driving into the inner city with his jock friends and beating-up gays.

Trevor said, “I wish you were kidding.” Kevin was confused and Trevor told the group, “He’s a homophobe.” Kevin had never heard the word, but the word got around.

Joey gave him shit. “I hear you like meat.” Kevin should have picked it up. “I love meat, the kind with lots of sauce.” I felt sorry for the guy, which is why I laughed the loudest.

It shamed him and for the first time in his life he felt it. He’d become a laughing-stock and went to the Guru for help. The Guru was married to Gloria, but he could have been gay. His daughter told me stories. I’d gone to him myself. We were fortunate to have him.

After a few sessions, Kevin approached John Milton. It was weird to see the tag-along jock trying to be an artist. When he volunteered to be the fire-starter, everyone took notice. About that time a dog showed up and moved in with him. This impressed the girls.

The first lesson John Milton taught, “If you want to fix something, you first have to care. Caring is part of the fix.” Kevin cared what JM said.

When he returned home at break, his friends wondered what had happened. “You’re acting gay.” He wanted to read and take walks in the dunes. His parents were afraid to ask, but they liked the change. Secretly they worried about drugs or psychosis.

When he told them about my dream class, they didn’t relax.

Instead of starting fires in the morning, Kevin took to sleeping in the lodge and tending them. He caught all kinds of dreams and wrote in his journal by firelight. The dog was close beside him.

He didn’t talk in class. He wrote what he wanted to say in his journal and I responded in kind. And then his dreams took off. John Milton wrote a song for him, “Variations on a theme by Icarus.” Kevin asked, “Who’s Icarus?” John Milton winked, “You are. I’m Daedalus.”

One of his dreams was based on Jungian psychology and since he knew nothing of the archetypal world I was curious. “The strangest thing about the pinball machine, instead of bells and bumpers counting numbers, it seemed to sing the better I played it.”

I asked about the name of the game and the motif on the face. He couldn’t remember but said it was watery blue. “Try to hear the song and see what comes to mind.” I thought about sirens and kami.

The Japanese, who are sensitive to beauty, call these life-spirit genii the kami. I love the Tao, but it’s a little abstract. The kami take on form and have a preference for living water, sacred fire.

The dog pointed and Kevin saw kami in the flames, they looked like sparks that held their form. Because of that, he began to call her Sparky and she immediately responded.

The vortex of weather over the end of the valley looked like a standing wave. It protected the grove and the oldest trees. There were seven of them and they grew in a wide-open circle. The mother tree had long ago fallen, but the soil where the stump once stood was unusually rich. Moss and mushrooms flourished in the overgrown bed of ivy.

That spot stayed warmer in the winter and wetter in the summer. The bright blue blossoms of the ivy were small and bloomed all-year. After I had the vision, I began to visit the place.













Blame It on the Rocks

Sansaku: Blame It on the Rocks


Pinkerton built the cabin that Clark Gable’s wife amended. She was sure that anything or anyone could be improved, but she knew better than to mess with the old fireplace and the river rock wall. Lady Ashley arranged the furniture to accentuate the focus of the room. She hadn’t studied dreams and didn’t know it’s not the clothes, it’s the being.

Pinkerton’s spirit infused the place and the famous couple escaped celebrity for a few hours each night. They drank martinis and stared at the wonderful wall. They had a fine home in Hollywood and never quite figured it out. It’s why the marriage was doomed.

We spent the same quality time in front of the fire and I started to see things. Since I’ve never considered brandy a psychedelic, the visions seemed more substantive and real. At least I couldn’t dismiss and blame it on the drugs.

But one afternoon John Milton came back from town with a smile. He’d been given some mushrooms and said, “It’s time we get to know this wall a little better.” I could smell the medicine in the words. It’s a common assumption we see better straight. John Milton disagreed.

The psychologist on campus, the Guru, had given him a copy of Lao Tzu. I suspect John Milton told him what we were going to do and Guru suggested we set the intention. It was Sunday night and we didn’t have school the next day. We skipped dinner and both took baths.

I’d heard Guru give a talk on the Tao and the passages John Milton read were the ones I remembered. “A sensible person prefers the inner to the outer eye.” Guru said it’s a psychological achievement and opens the inner senses to experience.   “Who would prefer the jingle of jade pendants, once he’s heard stone growing in a cliff?”

The words turned into images and I saw them in the shadow-play light on the rocks which were growing and swirling like weather. Coming through the clouds I saw tall pines waving in the wind. They grew in a wide circle around what appeared to be the spirit of an ancient pine.

The more I focused on the grove, the bigger it became. I felt like a very small animal in a very large world. The trees were immense and the numinous buzz to the place had begun to sound like chanting. And then I saw them. Two men sat under a massive ponderosa that had an overhang lean. I opened my eyes and found them already open.

I didn’t say anything. They were both made of light and when I looked at my hands, so was I. Longing to hear the chant more clearly, I closed my eyes and must have fallen asleep. John Milton’s voice brought me back to the room. He sounded very sane in that Taoist sort of way.

I hadn’t seen him in the grove, but he was there.

There’s a common existential theme where a person experiences a great vision and then returns to the ordinary world. The near-death experience is far from dead. When the person returns to the ordinary world, it doesn’t look as real. What was once important now looks petty and the person can’t stay quiet. This will bite them in the butt, but that’s part two.

Cabin Row pulsed to the beat of reggae rhythm. Bob Marley wailed, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” John Milton heard it and said, “When everything’s alright, they’re not even gonna know.”

“Do you remember what you said to Kevin?” A meathead dude from the south, he complained about the raw food. He hadn’t been at Timberline for long. “I like mine fried, very fried.” John Milton said, “That’s just how you look to me.” He wouldn’t be a meathead for long.

Where did that come from?



















Sansaku: Saltiness


An increase in elevation typically means a decrease in temperature, but Timberline was an exception. The micro-climate had anomalies, like being warmer in winter than lower down and cooler in the summer.

The place was located at the crotch of the valley, any higher and you crossed a boundary into the wilderness. The place was alive with life and living water. The first people who came considered it a temple. It’s like a school for life.

Words have lost their saltiness and so has education. Genius refers to the inner spirit or daimon. The plural is genii. Every place and person has them. Whether they were ghosts or genii, they gathered at Timberline to haunt and bless the place.

I’m disappointed when I buy unsalted chips by accident or run out of salt in the back-country. Soup doesn’t taste good. In symbolic language, salt is wisdom and incorruptibility. There’s no disguising the taste. What happens when the salt of the earth loses its savor?

Belief didn’t matter when the spirits of Christmas came to Scrooge, they were real beyond real. And after he tasted the experience, it didn’t matter that others believed or not. He knew.

Can you think of a better symbol for inner development and understanding than a school? Too bad most schools have all but abdicated, which is why a school like Hogwarts got students excited. Along with mockingbirds, we’ve killed the love of reading.

Evil is often represented as a bureaucracy in fantasy lit and most schools fit the bill. Evil takes itself seriously. The genii are not impressed. Timberline was a bureaucrats’ nightmare

When I taught dream classes, I began with recall and recording. If they didn’t remember a dream, I taught them to review and reflect on the day before. “What were you grinding on? Anything get you going?” It’s how to locate living water.

The second task is connecting the dots and discovering the symbolic secret. When the inner and outer worlds overlap, they form an eye or door that leads into meaning. If we don’t serve the genii, there’s no end to the trouble they can cause.

I learned how to scale from economics, what’s true or good for the individual shifts for the family, the culture, the earth.

One and one equals three. You plus me equals we, which is more than two. And when two plus two is added, we get eight, which was the size of a class. The school had sixty-four. The old rainmaker who lived in the grove paid attention to the ten-thousand things.

The deep has been dismissed as shallow and the shallow is the stock market news that’s never new. No wonder the arguments of the leaders in congress sound as petty as they look. In the inner world, which is a collective, words still have meaning and consequence.

Sarah spent time at a kibbutz the year after she graduated. The next time I saw her she said, “The place was great if you like raw food and sex.” It was salty and similar to Timberline.

In a bureaucratic school system, sex is black and white taboo, despite the fact it’s pedaled to the point of triviality on the internet. Our deepest needs have been commodified. The sacred has been profaned and the genii are none too pleased.

Instead of temple schools that teach the way, spiritual education is forgotten and porn’s a lousy guide. The mysteries deserve a better response. It doesn’t take a genius.



Janus et al.

Sansaku: Janus et al.


Politics proves we don’t experience the same events in the same way. And the second derivative, the experience of the experience, takes the event into the symbolic realm. I’ve been weaving history into fiction and fiction into fantasy. The school was a symbol that symbolized.

The Romans had one god they never failed to honor, remember and respect. The year begins with January, which is named after Janus, the two-faced god of thresholds and beginnings. The opening of one door is the closing of another.

In the archetypal world, the gods have many names and masks. I think of Janus as the dweller on the edge, like Pinkerton’s ghost.   He’s the one who guards the boundaries and the borders. Sometimes Janus is a dog who stands before the gate, the river and the crossing. Sometimes Janus is a dragon, the oldest of beings, who lives in timeless eternity.

All the rites and rituals began with Janus, who was depicted with two faces joined at the back and looking in opposite directions. The left side toward the past and the right side toward the future. The sum of the two views is the symbolic integration.

While Janus did not have formal priests or priestesses, the word janitor is derived from the god of doors and beginnings. Temples were not generally dedicated to Janus because each dwelling had its holy place. The portico to the lodge, that John Milton had built, also housed the bell tower. He hadn’t forgotten to propitiate the god.

While Timberline and the Tribe have long gone composite, which means many rivers have mixed and run together, there’s still an integrity to the place. It’s like meta-conglomerate rock. The parts are discrete yet inseparable.

Maintenance lasted an hour and counted the same as a class. The daily chores and rituals, like cooking and cleaning, are symbolic to the extreme and dwell at the overlapping edge of the sacred and profane. John Milton was in charge.

He’d given me the wood crew, the cream of the crop bad boys who man-handled the chainsaws and axes, while I hauled the wood in a wheelbarrow to the many stoves on campus. The fire-starter made the kindling, got up early, and deserved to be paid.

John Milton did cabin check. Since the students and faculty were busy and the cabins were empty, he opened the doors and took a whiff. He had that rare gift of perceiving what he did not expect.

Phil had a bong in the bathroom he’d camouflaged to look like a pipe, but the reek was hard to disguise and the secret spilled out. John Milton wasn’t offended and had no need to bust. He never confiscated or disclosed, but he tipped the bong to make a point.

He walked in and out of classes. Gloria taught art and John Milton interfered. She encouraged him. Phil was finishing a painting and John Milton stood behind. He was far more involved than Phil, who asked what he saw. “Looks like the night I came home high and kicked a flower pot.” He didn’t explain.

He used the knowledge he discovered to advantage and taught me the same. I had Phil in dream group. I’d been wondering about a series of dreams and told John Milton. He said, “Phil’s getting high.” I hadn’t thought to turn a face in that direction.

I found it odd the students didn’t dream of a school. It might be symbolized as a road-tripping bus with a wild-eyed driver and load of freaks, but the school was not a school. Phil was having trouble getting on the bus and thought someone was creeping around the cabins.











Sansaku: Knifewing


The year Irma and Corder married, Walt Whitman was on the five-cent postage stamp. It’s the color of the early morning sky, a lighter shade of blue. For a drunk, who was probably bipolar, I have no idea how Corder held-on to valuable stuff. Types like him make impulsive and horribly reckless choices. He had sheets of Whitman stamps and said, “With a hat and beard, you look like him.

He gambled our house in a poker game. We moved to Arizona. He’d won a share of the Sedona Lodge, but we were homeless. I wanted to know, “Why are we moving?” Things didn’t add up, but I hadn’t started school and could only count. I’d figure it out later.

The Japanese are masters of reverse engineering. They take things apart to understand and try to put them back together even better. Think of memories and stories.

Corder was a lawyer who left no will. His magnificent stamp collection was quickly sequestered and I never saw it again. It wasn’t Mary’s idea. She gave me the one thing I wanted, Knifewing.

Wendy said, “People have always been nice to me. I don’t understand why they’re being so mean.” She had a dream. “I was a beautiful and highly seductive black woman. I wore a tight black dress and heels.”

I asked, “Do you remember where you were?” She was at an inner-city bus-stop and completely over-dressed. “It’s the wrong-side of town and I’m looking good.” I wondered what and who she’d attract.

“It wasn’t a typical bus and he wasn’t the typical driver. I stood at the strange swinging door and looked in. I’ve never been a minority, but I felt proud. His eyes were welcoming. I knew I belonged.”

I asked about his eyes. I’d heard a few dreams already. She said, “It wasn’t the color, I saw tall pines and mountains, like the kind we have at Timberline.” I asked her, “Did he have a rosy glow?” She wasn’t sure, but stayed with the dream. “I’d call it iridescent.”

“How about the voice?” I was deeply curious. “He didn’t really have one, but I felt his mind in mine. Maybe our mind-voices talked, but I don’t remember words. I took a seat across the aisle and just behind him. The door closed and we headed down the road.”

But where they stopped looked like the same place. Wendy wondered how that happened. Maybe a circle. When she looked at him, his eyes had changed. “They looked like mirrors and reflected the person who was standing at the door. They must have had on lipstick ugly clothes. All I could see was the red. For some reason, they didn’t get in.”

It was an odd question but I asked, “Did the bus have an engine?” Wendy had to consider and said, “Not really, but it hummed and thrummed. I could feel it in my bones.” She touched behind an ear.

“Was there anyone else in the bus besides the driver?” She looked at Linda, who’d been listening very attentively and said, “I forgot. You and Lee were there.” Lee was Linda’s anarchist boyfriend who carried two bibles. One was a small bound edition of Gibran’s Prophet, which he had practically memorized, and the other was the Portable Nietzsche. When he wasn’t looking, I underlined certain passages and aphorisms.

They were a Tantric couple and never made to last. But they opened each other’s eyes to the higher vision of love. They would have to do some reverse engineering someday. I gave Lee a copy of Whitman. They read the poems out loud in the grove, where they’d made a secret love nest. I wasn’t surprised when she told me.

She’d had a similar dream, but the driver was wearing a Knifewing.














A Rosy Glow

Sansaku: A Rosy Glow


When Corder died forty years ago today, I was excused from the all-school meeting but preferred not to be alone. I’d have plenty of that driving to Prescott. I wanted to hear the current crisis and describe the scene to Corder, who I’d invited to live inside me. I thought he was still close and listened for the way he narrated.

I learned my favorite words from him and loved how he augmented the image with Latin. Irma also studied Latin, but wasn’t a show-off. He told me, “Colin, don’t be so maudlin. The word derives from Mary Magdalene, who’s portrayed as penitent and weeping.” Corder was pagan. He wanted me to drink and tell good stories.

His death had become a philosophical orgy and I indulged. There’s a word for the flickering tongue of light or flame that licks at the edge with a soft and graceful glow. The memory is lambent.

I was fortunate to meet him when I did. I’d come of age in terms of intellect and had a proper love of words. While I would never have an acid wit, I was gifted with appreciation.

Sheryll tended to counter what I said. She felt I was one-sided positive and legitimated his unqualified degeneracy. She reminded me of when we were poor and homeless. My memory framed it differently. We were on vacation and staying with relatives. I thought we were rich.

Most of memory is implicit and doesn’t need focused conscious attention for encoding or retrieval. It’s the mental activity that Jung called the unconscious. It’s the source. From time immemorial, it’s that experience of the hidden-inner one.   For some bizarre reason, the voice inside me sounded like you know who.

Corder said, “In the end, no one gives a shit.” He wanted me to be true to myself and find my cause. He used the term like a question, how did I aim and navigate. What guided my set of choices. Keep asking. “It’s not what others think.” Knowing I cared what he thought, I was reminded by the voice, “You’re not like me, don’t even try.”

Coyotes have a nose for trouble, which is why they learn so fast. It’s also why, when we talked about a mascot for the school, coyotes came to mind. “What about the Coyote Clowns?” We were a Clan, but that had a mixed connotation. We settled on the Tribe.

My English class made rap out of the inquiry. What kind of a tribe are you? And the chorus would sing-out lines.   We’re the kind who get in trouble. We’re the kind who say fuck you. We’re the rich and homeless kind.” I could identify.

Tribes have guiding spirits in the same way individuals do. It’s like the unconscious or implicit memory taken to a higher scale. John Milton seemed able to channel Pinkerton, who knew a thing or two about dreams. We often recruited John Milton to sit-in on dream class.

The dream world begins to become meaningful and real when we take the time to make them conscious. We do this by remembering, writing, painting, telling and bringing the dream to life. If I had one class that looked forward to doing its homework, this was it.

There’s something ominous and strange when more than one person has had the same dream on the same night. Synchronicity is very suggestive. “I wonder what John Milton would have to say?”

“He was driving a road-tripping van like yours or John Milton’s, but it was also a bus. I didn’t have time to pack. He told me to get in and closed the door. That’s when I noticed his color. He had a rosy glow.” We hadn’t seen John Milton enter. He said, “That’s Pinkerton.”