ONCE IN A BLUE MOON Bill Leithhead, January, 1991.
Around Midnight, December 31st, 1990.
This night started with a storm of great strength, with strong winds, lightning and thunder. After grimly holding down out tents, we needed to eat, so my five companions and I walked soggily to the Ananda Marga tent. A mixture of vegetarian curry and rice was available, on plates, but with no spoons! So here we were, standing under a big tree which dripped water heavily onto us all. I could barely see out of the hood of my japara, and my specs were fogged up anyway! John Bevan had an umbrella which he poked into a split in a tree trunk, but it only served to direct the water more heavily onto our little cluster, and onto our curry! John, with his umbrella looked like the caterpillar out of Alice in Wonderland! It really was quite fun. Peter Hock decided to introduce us to two women friends of his in a tipi. Why, I don't know, because in the first place we were all wet and soggy, and in the second place we needed to remove our shoes, which was inconvenient, because we were all wet and a bit muddy. And in addition, these two women were in the last four hours of a 24-hour shaman journey, and totally exhausted! So we soon bowed out.
Back at the tent we played "zilch" until near midnight, plus sharing a minuscule bottle of brandy, a Mars bar, a coconut slice, and some canned peaches and yogurt. Simple, but to us, a nice little shared feast. Little did I know I was setting the stage for a time of anger, confusion and then great joy as the night wore on.
I had been intrigued by Elaine, a Vietnamese woman in her mid-20s. Apparently self-assured, she was in fact quite defensive, wary of physical contact and any form of vulnerability. She was also quite a controlling person, but of our group, she was the only one not to take her clothes off although no one put any pressure on her to do so.
As the evening flew on, we realized it was near midnight.The rain had stopped, the skies were clear, and I was keen to be down at the Chai bus area where most people would gather for the New Year. I wanted to be amongst the people, and be close to them, Our group was a bit disorganized at getting ready to go, so I set off ahead, closely followed by Elaine and Liz. I took a wrong turn and, annoyed at myself, I trudged back again to the correct track with Elaine and Liz lagging behind in the moonlight, which glistened off the rocky ground and short grass.
As I forged ahead militarily (since I knew it was a minute or two past the magic midnight hour to which I had already attributed so much significance, the two women lagged behind, calling out some remark or two to me. I just felt annoyed at myself for having lost the way (never mind that two other intelligent people had also done so with me), and annoyed that I was missing the significant witching hour of the year. I was anxious that all the celebration and hugging, and so on, would be over before I got there, and also angry that these two behind me seemed to be poking fun at me for hurrying so much. I was unaware of my anxiety as it was occurring, that is, feeling the anxiety, but not having any objective awareness of what was happening.
So, immersed in my disturbed feelings, I entered the crowd. Nothing happened! No-one sought to grasp me and hug me, or give me a kiss. Here I was, in a large free-living crowd in the midnight moonlight, and no-one came to me. In retrospect I realize, of course, that neither did I seek out another. I gave no-one my body contact as I wished from them. In my pulled-in anxiety, I probably repelled them.
Then Liz was next to me, and gave me a nice warm hug, which was very nice to feel. At that moment I saw Elaine, who was suddenly swooped upon by a large hulk of a man who said "Happy New Year!", as he engulfed her. I could see his broad back bent over little Elaine, the only sign of her presence being a set of little pink fingers clasped over each of his shoulders. it must have been a trauma for her! As the bulky man went happily on his way, I looked at Elaine, saying "Happy New Year!", as I stepped in for a hug. To my surprise, she pushed me away, looking confused and dazed. She was an Asian student, and this sort of closeness must really have been hard to deal with.
A surge of hurt feelings swept over me, and my sense of rejection was very sharp. As Elaine walked ahead with Liz, into the crowd, I said, bitingly "Got a limited supply of love, have you, Elaine?? Frightened of running out of love, are you?" At that moment, I was overcome by a wave of feeling that the energy was negative for me in that crowd, so I turned and escaped. On reflection many years later, now, I can see how manipulative I was, and how unfair it was to her.
Angry, and confused about my anger, I sought out some place to recover, and wished to examine myself, so astonished was I by the strength of my reaction. Dumbly walking along the narrow track towards the Spiritual village, I desperately hoped that the meditation for world peace that was to be there was still going. Alas, upon arrival, I only found a few little knots of people standing around talking, as though they had seen in the New Year, and were now training off. "Missed out here, too!", thought I, gloomily, as I wandered slowly around through the gathering, wanting to be one of them.
All of a sudden, a woman came up to me, threw her arms around me, and called out: "Happy New Year, brother!!" I felt a loving warmth flow into me, starting to heal my spirit. I felt good. that woman will never know just how much she gave me, but the act reminded me once more that all I can do is give the warmth, love and wisdom that I have at any moment, without reserve. I will often not know how much it is needed, but I ought not to hesitate when my instinct tells me to give, as had that woman's instinct spoken to her of my need.
The moon was bright and ripe, a special moon, the thirteenth in a year - a "Blue Moon". Sinking onto the pebbles near the river's edge, I began to share the moon's radiance with a man standing next to me, his arms outstretched to the gently glowing orb above the bare hills. With my eyes uplifted, I drew down its pure light into myself. Moon Mother and I coalesced into one, nurturing my wounded soul; I could feel its radiance enter into me.
Closing my eyes, I went further into meditation, still drawing the healing moon into me. A youth bent over me and interrupted with "Have a happy, good New Year, mate!" Snapping to in an instant, I warmly returned his wishes. he had not known that I was meditating, and it didn't matter at all, as I quickly sank quickly back into a state of increasing stillness.But my left brain was still mulling over the astonishingly hurt feeling that I felt at Elaine's rejection.
After a while, I wandered slowly through the stony grass to my tent. No-one was home. Stripping naked, I went to get into bed, but the mattress was flat. "Fuck!", thought I, testily. as I burrowed savagely into a bag of junk for a foot-pump and started pumping up my mattress. "Are you decent?", enquired John's voice from outside the tent. "I'll dress how I bloody well like in my own fucking personal space!!", I replied.
Zipping his way through the door, John entered, an enquiring look on his face, which I ignored. "Are you alright?", he enquired. "I'm OK", I lied, transparently. "Sue's outside", he said, "and she wants to see you." By now, I had slipped naked into my sleeping bag, and Sue gingerly came in the door. I supposed that Liz and Elaine had told them about the episode at the Chai tent, buy I couldn't be sure. Looking quizzically at me, Sue offered "Happy New Year, Bill", and came over to me, allowing me to hug her tightly. I felt very close to her, and that gift to me then and there accelerated the healing process which I had already begun on myself. I loved her very much at that moment of her nurturing.
I slept well, until about 4am, when I felt impelled to rise. throwing on my short little sarong and rubber thongs, I packed a few things in my bag and left, walking quietly and contemplatively to the Chai tent, the long way round, along the river. As I threaded my way through the tents, I felt more at ease, becoming centred, and understanding the significance of my feelings from around midnight. At the nearby café, the moonlight showed me that it was badly damaged by the storm. The shade cloth was peeled back and the whole windward side of the spindly framework was distorted as though by a blow from a gigantic fist. The eating area was a mass of soggy carpet and overturned tables. The food preparation area was in great disarray, and I wondered if it would ever be in action again.
Turning aside, I wandered through the grass, little igloo tents dotted on either side, with some people simply asleep in sleeping bags on the ground. The air was still, with a slight chill, and bracing, rather than uncomfortable. Several massage tests appeared to be demolished, like wrecked yachts, sails and spars scattered hither and thither. Massage tables lay forlornly open to the moonlight. Someone was asleep on one. "Less damp than on the ground", thought I.
As I emerged from the bushy pathway onto the stony beach at the Spiritual village I became aware of people asleep here and there on the beach, huddled in their sleeping bags. One couple tucked away at the top of the beach were obviously not asleep. She lay under him, her legs spread wide. He lay on top, gently moving. The were partly clothed. Holding each other tightly and lovingly, they were kissing and making love softly and gloriously. "What an excellent way to start a New Year!", I thought, somewhat enviously, as I endeavored successfully to turn aside before I disturbed them. "Obviously the Spiritual village activities were not all entirely spiritual", I laughed to myself.
Arriving at the Chai tent, I entered a cup of Chai tea from a beautiful young woman who was as naked as the day she was born, looked very happy and content, and who was putting her hands in the air and doing a little dance every now and again, apparently for sheer joy. The tea tasted even spicier because of her presence, I believe. I had to find my own cup before I could drink, for they were all used, and scattered around through the people in little groups, sitting and lying on the grass; I soon found one.
The drums were still going modestly, with some people still dancing around them. A few people occasionally slipped off their clothes and bathed voluptuously in the moonlight flooding over the Murray River. I joined the people and merged with their spirit, which I felt to be gentle and accepting. Closing my eyes, I meditated over the river, going away, away from the physical.
I entered my temple of light to do some more construction. There are glistening white pillars enclosing a beautiful garden with a sunken centre of beautiful green grass-like herbs which emit a pleasantly soothing, calming aroma when crushed by my footsteps. I can sit gently there among the sweet aroma, and let peace settle onto me. Beyond the white pillars surrounding the sunken garden is a deep blue sky like a twilight. All is peace, tranquility and utterly complete safety. There is further building and extensions to be added later, but for then I had further developed my very special place of refuge and replenishment of my love-nature.
Moving along the river bank, I found a hundred or so people in a circle around a great fire, which had matured into a large glowing heap of logs whose warmth enveloped me and at the same time drew me into itself with all the other of my brothers and sisters who were seated around, largely silent, pensively regarding the redly-shining mass of coals. The red and orange light bathed ,us with a dull sheen, as if it was to nurture our collective base and sacrum chakras, enabling and ennobling our primeval centres.
Several of the group were playing didgeridoos in concert, enhancing the primal feeling. One or two of the men in front of the fire were naked, like many others, and occasionally one or the other rose and did a sort of dance to the droning. From my view from behind, I glimpsed their testicles fuzzily swaying to the movements, silhouetted against the red cast of the fire. I could have been tens of thousands of years in the past, such was the primitive nature of our group spirit. I felt a fundamental joy at being there. To my right, another youth occasionally chanted the Hindu mantra "Om namah shivayeh" which I had first met in the in Ian Gawler's book "Peace of Mind".
Another young man ventured a corroboree-like chant in what sounded like an aboriginal tongue. I wondered at the almost magical nature of such chants and mantras in such a setting. After a while, I arose to move on, accidentally losing a thong as I stumbled slightly over the bare leg of a young girl who looked in her late teens. Although she was apparently sitting with a little group, she did say conspiratorially "Do you want a fuck?", almost as a throwaway line to me. Retrieving my errant thong, I gently murmured my "Thanks, but not just now", in reply. In the dark, I couldn't tell if she was at all disappointed, and I will never know, will I? An hour or so later, I saw her curled up asleep (or out to it?) alone on the stony beach. I felt rather sorry for her, but I don't know why.
After more Chai tea via the naked belle in the Chai bus, I wandered slowly along the river bank. In a short while I spied her picking up some of the rubbish from among the stones, dust and grass. the cast-offs of the night's revellings. By now, there weren't many people around, and she was gradually filling a carton with cans, cigarette butts and some stubbies left from the surprisingly few drinkers of alcohol. As she walked and stooped, she gave the occasional burst of song accompanied by a little wiggly dance movement.
I felt very peaceful and contented, and warmed to her spontaneity. Soon, she moved off to some chore, and I started to continue the task, as a kind of meditative emu bob. The simple act of picking up little bits of food scraps, paper and cigarette butts was my contribution to the earth, my loving act of cleansing, binding me with the stones, the river, and all my fellow human beings who were gathered here at Confest with me.
I was expressing what one writer has described as the "fat feeling", when one senses that, truly, the world of one's experiences does not stop at the skin, but the experience of existence becomes much wider than the usual constricted feeling that "I" am inside the body, looking at a universe which impinges upon one from the outside, as a separate "reality" in which one is at the mercy of outside forces which are uncontrollable and essentially hostile.
But rather, in this expanded state of consciousness, I experienced a powerful sense of unity with the perceived world - river, trees, rocks, people, stars - so that, in a very real sense, they become part of me, and I a part of them. In it's most striking manifestation, I and the other (rocks, people, etc) become one reality, as though by my very act of perception, the rivers, rocks and stars receive their existence. Furthermore, that in some transcendental fashion, I create my perceived existence, and that if I cease to perceive them, they cease to exist!! This feeling is one which has been described by many writers down the ages, seems to be universal to humankind, and seems to be an important experience in the journey towards self-realization.
So - to think that I had a Maslow-type "peak experience" whilst picking up cigarette butts!! My experience is that this can occur anytime, but can't be forced or striven towards, but all I need to do is to keep the door way of my spirit open for simple ecstasy to enter in.
By now a dawning lightness was spreading from the east, but the sun was still hidden below the surrounding hills. But as the glimmer of morning increased, glancing more and more off the lazily-flowing river, I turned about to regard the full moon, bright and indeed bluish over the western ranges. The mottled orb was just visible over the dry hills, the last remnant of 1990, as it were, like a relic of the past.
So I sat cross-legged on a little mat. clad only in a little red sarong, and gazed at the mother-moon who had given birth to a new year, herself dying in the process. Letting her beams infiltrate my soul, I drew sustenance from the clear pale blue-grey-yellow light streaming into my psyche. She healed me and made me whole. Eyes closed, I contemplated the events of the evening. I had learned so much! I had given myself time and space to let my unravelled feelings fall back into place, the new strands coiling gently and naturally into a new stream of self-hood with just that extra little bit of wisdom. Of such events is my growth constituted, in this journey in the flesh.
After some time sitting with others, all facing the healing moon, I arose and wandered along the river-bank, through the lagoon area, towards the main entrance. By now a few folk were stirring from their tents which were clustered loosely into little villages. I spoke a little with people at the gate, and solemnly observed the gradual awakening of the community. I felt fully at ease with myself, filled with the joy of self-acceptance.
As I walked along the rocky, dusty road, there was suddenly an increasing radiance, an orange glow in the east. Sinking to the edge of the road, I prepared to welcome the sun into the New Year. He peeped shyly at me over the black, ragged edges of the forested hills far away. Father sun entered the sky to inspect his new-born year. Aware that all life ultimately depends upon his warmth, I held up my palms to him, closed my eyes, and felt the flood of radiation filling the air, flooding into my hands, my face, my body and to the core of my soul. People were walking past me as I sat, hands raised up, but it didn't matter. I was fully at peace, and the glow of warmth and light felt good, nurturing and sustaining.
When the sun had fully risen, I looked for breakfast and found it as a simple muesli served with good spirit and humour at a little stall. Then I wandered around somewhat aimlessly to the far river bank near our tent, to the café which had been partly demolished by the storm. It had been restored to some order, and I had a little more breakfast of coffee and pancakes.
There were still many people still asleep next to the river. One young woman was fast asleep on a sleeping bag, with a few belongings at her side, plus a battered, beloved Pooh bear guarding over her. Next to her, a young man slumbered in his sleeping bag.
As it was, it was nearly 7am, so I resolved to refresh myself and have an adventure to start the day, so I slipped off my sarong and bag of belongings, left them on the shore, slid my thongs onto my arms, waded into the Murray and made out into the centre of the current. Many people were coming to bathe at the river's edge, and as I floated gently downstream wearing nothing but my thongs on my arms, I passed individuals and small groups of people, mostly naked, who were starting their day off refreshingly in the water. The edge of the river was quite wooded, but people appeared as if by magic, from the dozens of little tents dotted along the bank.
After a while I had floated down to my goal, the Pagan village, which was marked by a pentacle made of twigs, raised up on a little pole. Swimming to the shore, I landed amongst the tents of the pagans, wondering a little what their activities and beliefs were all about. "I must find out more about this", I thought to myself.and resolved to do so early in the year.
And so I walked, naked, back along the kilometre of pathway to my belongings near the café. The sun was becoming hotter, and the day was to be a scorcher; later on I was to drive back to Melbourne with Liz, Elaine and Sue in the stifling heat. But as I walked, I felt the burgeoning heat caress my body, drying it and giving me a feeling of cleanliness, of wholeness. As I passed people along the way, I nodded, smiled and said "Hello", or "Hi", and so did they. Some were dressed, and others were naked. It didn't seem to matter - it's like that at Confest.
After I had retrieved my sarong and bag of belongings, I appeared at the tent of my five friends, greeting them with good cheer as they had breakfast. Soon, John and I were due to do a third session of Neurolinguistic Programming, a hypnotic trip into pleasant childhood memories. It was to be great, but that's another story.
Now, healed, and with a little increased wisdom, I took Elaine's hands into mine, looked at her, and said: "Elaine, I want to thank you for the opportunity to experience a great teaching this night, for myself." As she went to speak, which I think would have gone into a lot of explanations, excuses, rationalizations and so on, I hushed her with a gesture. "No words are necessary, Elaine, for I just want to you to know that through you, I have been able to learn some valuable lessons about myself. Thank you!"
And so it rested there. She might never comprehend what I meant, but no matter. All that mattered was the message for the two of us that any adversity or conflict can be the occasion of gaining wisdom and self-knowledge. She might never know this, but I do, and that's really what matters. For in the long run, I am only responsible for myself; all that I can then give to others will flow from my own wisdom and love-nature.