In this lifetime it began around 1970. Having left Berkeley and pretty much exhausted an amazing slice of karma with the Bay Area, I arrived unexpectedly in Seattle. Cold, dreary, soggy winters and mountains characterized more by relentless vegetation than by the dazzling, endlessly proud and graceful granite of the Sierra Nevada, to which I had become accustomed. But without quite realizing it yet, that identification was rapidly being outcreated by an uncanny number of remarkable individuals in Seattle whose karma was undeniably linked with mine.
Looking for relief from my first such winter, and knowing no climbers, I was guided to Schurman Rock in an obscure corner of West Seattle. This artificial ‘boulder’, surely constructed by bored Boeing engineers, might offer some form of entertainment to rock-deprived climbers. Here, that day, dressed in my finest shredded climbing knickers, I was befriended by a soft-spoken, yet gregarious young climber named John Rutter. He was accompanied by at least one of his university housemates, and the following weekend I found myself sandwiched in the midst of the entire crew, crammed in John’s Volvo station wagon (tiny by today’s standard) as we crossed the Cascades on our way to Peshastin Pinnacles, where climbers had established mostly one pitch climbs on clean—if a little soft—bare sandstone, basking in warmer temperatures and welcome dryness.
I had never laughed so hard in my life! My hapless mind was not even close to keeping up with the hysterical banter filling that car. There may as well have been a cloud of sinsemilla smoke trailing down the highway behind us—but there wasn’t. Sitting between the Banko brothers, Peter and Paul, my face and my belly ached from so much laughter—the pure, unmitigated joy of karmatically tied souls, re-united.
Thus began what has now become a fifty year friendship. By the time of that meeting, climbing, roped with a partner, had evolved to be a treasured experience of profound nature. And while I had already recognized that I was very particular in choosing with whom I shared it, I was young enough that I had not yet realized how rare those souls would be in the span of a life. Younger yet, I wasn’t evolved enough to be shown that “I” am not the Do-er.
As an early reflection of John’s unfailing kindness and generosity, he joined a group of investors who financed my first business endeavor, Rivendell Mountain Works, and he physically participated at the beginning. After having rigorously trained at the university gym throughout the first part of a winter, we lost much of our fitness while refining and assembling the remarkable Jensen Pack for its release into the world, just before heading off to the Wind Rivers for a month or so of climbing. On our way, narrowly avoiding being pummeled by cowboys at Hailey, Idaho’s 4th of July rodeo, we escaped in John’s Volvo, long hair intact, humped hundred pound packs into the Cirque of the Towers at the height of a mercifully brief but brutal mosquito season, and experienced having that wondrous playground to ourselves for weeks of world-class climbing, dining on trout, and imitating lizards on the sun-warmed granite.
As the decades have rolled through, our paths have endured and survived climbing epics, near-disasters, departures, reunions, ups and downs, re-mergings, and the playing out of karma in accordance with the intricacies of our individual and joint paths. We’ve cried and yelled at each other. We’ve experienced total disinterest in being together. And we’ve each experienced some of the highest moments of our lives in each other’s company.
In the late ‘90s, John decided to visit New Mexico from Wyoming for some help with healthcare issues. We hadn’t seen a lot of each other for a while, and during his visit, I shared with him the incredible power I was experiencing through a new association with a spiritual master—an experience previously unknown to either of us in this lifetime. He quietly listened.
A few weeks later, I received a call from John. I had recently sent him a new herbal regimen to address altered conditions in his treatment. I launched into a detailed discourse on what I had sent him and why. Again, he listened politely. And eventually said, “Well, the reason I called was to let you know that I just wrote my letter to the Master.”
I was speechless. Well, probably not entirely, but certainly blown away. By “wrote my letter”, John meant he had made a commitment to following the spiritual journey of soul, under the wing of a true Living Master—the only way the journey of soul can even commence, much less consummate. We talked a little more and after hanging up, I cried in joy and wonder for half an hour. This soul was truly in for the long haul.
Did that resolve our karma? Ha!!! Of course not. Rather, it emblazened itself across the sky of our inner worlds. But through these twenty-some years, the Master’s divine influence, and the ineffable Sound Current which increasingly courses through His chela’s veins, we and our relationship have matured in unimaginable ways.
Being an only child, I was startled a few years later to be told by a long-time chela that he had observed John and me for some time and fondly given us the moniker of ‘the brothers’. He supported his observation with his perception that we look just alike—something so beneath my awareness that it took some time to accept.
So, as I write this (not really having an objective when I began—just following the Master’s nudge to start writing), I realize that one of the most interesting and satisfying worldly manifestations of walking this divine path is sharing and co-creating its breathtaking beauty and profundity with someone whose history I share, and share, and share—even though this Path is exclusively and solely one’s own inner journey.
Earlier last year John and Sue and I shared a lunch following yet another indescribable seminar with the Master. During our conversation I disclosed something mind had been entertaining as the fulfillment of yet another adventure in the wilderness. I had been toying with the idea of soloing an untracked route in the Escalante. Traveling light and fast along the upper rim of its sinuous canyon, heading south, crossing its innumerable side canyons via intricate route finding into and out of each one before continuing. That trajectory encounters—if one can find them—canyon entries and exits often involving exposed climbing and delicate footwork. With a pack.
I’m not in denial about my body’s increasing limits. But the spirit and love of wild places is relentless in me. Utah’s Escalante basin is a place that most strongly still draws and satisfies my age old sanskara of exercising the thrill and skill of negotiating one’s limits in the midst of drop dead beauty. In an effort to balance those realities in an intelligent, yet fulfilling way, I realized that attempting such an endeavor alone would probably be an irresponsible—even if glorious—choice.
So I tossed the idea out to John to test the waters. His response was a retelling of his own experience earlier that year. Having summited a climb in the Tetons with a young companion, John suddenly found himself falling down its precipitous descent in a thoroughly uncontrolled way. While such a mishap might not have been fatal, it was a frightening shock for him to be unable to arrest his fall—more devastating than his injuries. Badly shaken, he resolutely accepted that climbing was over for him and his body, and he disposed of his climbing gear. A perfectly understandable and intelligent response, given higher aspirations for his remaining time in this illusory, mortal flesh.
John has no interest in joining me in the Escalante, leaving me in the midst of my own experience—my own choice yet to be made. Surrender to the mind and its unquenchable desire for enjoyment of the creation—or surrender to the endless grace and mercy of the Creator and Its wondrous will for us? Our path is ours alone to walk.
And isn’t that what we’ve been seeking since the beginning?
When John and I do now have the chance to be in each other’s company, the usually brief experience is more full, compressed, rich, loving, exquisite, and pregnant with yet more beauty than I at least can contain. As is all of life.
Of the seven principles of consciousness, the third, unselfishness, has always made the mind/ego squirm—as it should. How is it that I’ve been graced, for the entirety of my life, with a steady procession of the most endlessly selfless individuals, lavishing me with their kindness? Undoubtedly, for their shining example, and my own edification.
Thank you, Master.
Thank you, brother. And happy birthday!
Most Recent Contemplation: Slices of Sky
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