part one - two - three
Sometime around 1978, a friend named Paul and I flew to
LA to attend the opening for a show of mutual friend JB Blunk’s sculpture
and ceramics. I met Paul at his home in Palo Alto. His wife Anna was
staying behind with guests whom I was introduced to, people from the
Findhorn community in Ireland. They were going to Big Sur for the day. They were into the
supernatural and known for growing giant vegetables, maybe with the help
of the little people. Paul had written a book called The Magic of Findhorn. In LA Paul and I stayed with a friend of his in a
tiny basement apartment with an Oscar on a bureau for best short film of
Before the opening, Paul and I dropped by Fred’s trailer. I talked to Fred for a while then turned it over to Paul. I suggested I take a walk but Paul said that wasn’t necessary. Knowing how personal Fred can get I went to the couch at the far end. There was a pack of Camel non filters on an end table. Fred didn’t smoke. I asked him what they were doing there. He said they were for guests if they wanted to kill themselves. I said I’ll take one then. After that I lay down and went to sleep. I was awakened by Paul’s raised voice insisting that Fred was wrong about something. "No she doesn’t!" Fred said that’s what he sees. He was describing something that had some significance he was trying to get to and Paul would deny it again. "No, no, you’re wrong." I wondered why did it matter? I went back to sleep. When we left Paul seemed a little irritated and said, "He wasn’t so great."
Two days later I was back at home in Bolinas and got a morning call from Paul. He was pretty excited and had reappraised Fred. He said he’d opened up to a lot of what Fred had said to him. He was forced to reconsider by what he saw when he went home. What Paul had been arguing with Fred about was a coat Fred was describing that he said belonged to Anna, a coat which Paul had vehemently denied she owned. When Paul got home he learned that a woman in the Findhorn party had drowned in the ocean off Big Sur. Her coat had been left with Anna. Fred had described it perfectly.
In the summer of 1986 Fred came to the Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm to do a several day seminar that I’d set up. I was living there at the time. About thirty people signed up for the course. My mother came as did my ex and dear friend Daya and son Kelly. I scheduled some people in to get private readings. Fred and Muriel arrived in their mobile home. He said they could sleep in it but I said no need, that they had the suite at the Wheelwright Center downstairs from the conference room. I took them on a tour of the farm. As we walked down into the fields, students working on the right and left, walking past us, he noted that the people there were on a good spiritual path.
"How so," I asked.
"Because they’re disturbed."
"And how is that being on a good path?"
"They’re not satisfied with themselves, with what they know. Most people," he said, "never question the beliefs they grew up with." The Iran Iraq war was going on at the time and he said that for instance, many of those people slaughtering each other without a second thought, are being reborn time and again into the same culture, with the same mindsets, prejudices, and assumptions. They’re not disturbed, they’re just going along with it. The people he’d seen at Green Gulch were having a struggle with what was embedded, weaning themselves away from past programming, opening up.
Not everyone was satisfied with Fred’s course or his readings. Mother wasn’t overly impressed but I thought that’s because he hadn’t said what she wanted to hear. He’d claim that no one who took his course ever failed to tap some sort of psychic ability. She and some others said they weren’t experiencing anything like that. To me that was just one of the unfounded, unexamined things he said in contrast to the insightful things he said. Fred got the most negative feedback when he told a woman that she’d been molested when she was young and that her suffering was not a result of the molestation but from others convincing her that that was harmful. He said that the grief molestation victims suffer is mostly because they buy into societal assumptions, into what they're told they should feel. He said that the act itself just conveyed the message that she was desirable.
The most dissatisfied person was a woman who asked about her long-haired grandson whom she said had been run off a cliff south of Big Sur by rednecks. Fred told her that her grandson wasn’t murdered, had jumped to his death because he thought he had AIDS. Fred said he says he didn’t have AIDS and he says he’s sorry. She and two friends left after that reading.
There were several general questions about what would happen in the future, what about the planet? Fred said he’d tried a number of times to read the world but nothing came. Couldn’t do that or read countries or anything general.
A dear friend of mine was a wise and wonderful woman who would flip over into a nasty personality with a few sips of alcohol. She didn’t drink all the time, but when she did it was not good and afterwards she wouldn’t believe me when I told her what happened to her. Several times in the past when I’d given Fred her name he’d mentioned she had some sort of chemical imbalance that gave her trouble. He couldn’t get further, suggested she get tested by a doctor he knew in San Diego. I thought it was her Finnish inheritance. Another friend who’d experienced her when she’d been drinking wanted Trungpa Rinpoche to perform an exorcism for her. After she’d seen Fred she said to me that he told her she was one of the sanest people he’d ever met. "So he didn’t think I’m crazy." I told her I agreed with him "about the you I’m talking to now." Later I told Fred how frustrating it was to me that he didn’t see her problem. "She hid it from me," he said. I told him what he’d said in the past. He paused a minute looking down and said that’s all he’d get with her there or not, that she should see that doctor.
I wanted Fred and the new abbot, Reb, to meet. Back in 69 I’d asked Fred about Reb and he’d said, "Now here’s someone who’s exceedingly ambitious." He said maybe Reb should get a motorcycle and ride up mountains all day. At Green Gulch I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to get them together so I took Fred to a Sunday lecture by Reb. It was attended by hundreds of people. Fred slept through most of it. After the lecture Fred said with some urgency he wanted to tell me something. Later I went to his room. He was more animated than I was used to seeing him. "That abbot of yours," he said, "He has one of the biggest auras I’ve ever seen. It’s nine feet over his head. He definitely is the one to be abbot here. He has an aura like holy men I’ve seen in India and Egypt." When I said I might be able to arrange a meeting, Fred said no, that Reb didn’t want to meet him and he didn’t want to meet Reb. He said Reb had too much red around his ears, doesn’t listen well. Not good on back and forth. He said that didn’t matter, that he just needed to get older. I thought of Suzuki Roshi having to deal with his temper.
On the last night of Fred and Muriel's stay, I took them, Daya, and Kelly out to dinner at the Rebozo, a Mexican restaurant in Mill Valley. He expressed appreciation for how things had gone during his stay at the farm. "People there treat my wife and me with respect and courtesy. You give us a good place to stay, good food at the farm, put flowers in our room, and take us out to eat at a nice restaurant." He said when he was invited to attend a meeting of psychics at Findhorn in Ireland that he’d been treated poorly, shunted off to a side because he "didn’t come from their side of the tracks.’ He said that the people here and others I’d brought and sent to him were polite people on a good path and he appreciated meeting them.
People like Gregory, a body worker I’d met through Daya. Gregory shared Fred’s love of flying - they went up in ultra-lights together when Fred was in his eighties. Gregory called me when he learned that Fred had died - in his nineties in the late nineties. Gregory said that Fred had ordained him and given him his book - "a better investment than stocks," Gregory wrote. Gregory said he’d made a mistake by passing on something Fred said about a relative being tormented in her afterlife. Around 2005 Gregory said he’d heard that Muriel had passed on.
A few months before the Green Gulch seminar, on the way to catch a flight I visited a friend named Penn who was wasting away with AIDS. He was emaciated, exhausted, and ready to die. He said he was being well taken care of by friends, some from the Zen Center. When I said goodbye I asked him if I could contact him after he'd died and he said, "Do you really think that works?" I said it seems to, but who knows. He said, "Sure. I’ll respond if I can." Penn died three weeks later - about the time I returned. People had been sitting with him in his last days and I went to his apartment to join others sitting with his corpse. Penn’s body was in the same bed where I’d last seen him and he didn’t look much different. There were zafu on zabuton in the room, cushions for people to sit zazen on. Three people were sitting when I arrived. One by one the they left and I was alone with Penn.
"Great, Penn, I can stop sitting now. Everyone’s gone," I said getting up and taking a nearby chair. "Stop sitting zazen so I can sit chair that is." Penn was in front of me to my right and a TV in front to the left in a kitchen area. There was a dividing wall that came as far as my chair. "Hey Penn, you don’t mind if I turn on the TV do you?" I said doing just that. "Oh my god Penn, there’s a horror movie on." I reached over and opened the refrigerator which held a six pack of Anchor Steam beer. "You don’t mind if I take a beer do you?" Before long I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, chugged the rest of the beer, and was sitting placidly in half lotus when others entered the room.
Months later, Daya and Kelly and I met with Fred in his suite in the Wheelwright Center at Green Gulch Farm. After a while I asked Fred if he’d contact Penn for us.
"Has he passed on? They don't like that."
"I asked Penn before he died if I could contact him and he agreed."
"Oh then it should be easy." He put his head down, a hand on his forehead. "Penn, we would appreciate the courtesy of your answering the phone." After a while - "I see a hat. Does that mean anything? I like to make sure we’ve got the right one."
"He was a hat collector," I said. "I was given one of his hats after his funeral."
"We've got him then." Fred said. Pause. "He says he was having a good time with life but then he got a blow from behind. He suffered a lot after that but says he’s alright now."
Fred passed on a message to each of us, first to Daya who was the closest to Penn telling her how much their friendship had meant to him. Next, to Kelly, Fred said Penn said he really enjoyed playing with him. Fred stopped. "That’s funny – I don’t see any bats or balls or anything to play with."
"They played with words," I said.
Fred continued. "And David, I didn’t know you as well as I did them, but we had a special understanding." Fred said that Penn wanted to thank the people who sat there with him when he was dying and who continued to do so with his body after he died. Then Fred brought Penn’s final message, "And David - you had a beer."