After two month of traveling South and North, the Journey to the East finally started to head East on May 7th, Day 69 of the pilgrimage.
On the morning of this second departure, the resident peacock of this neighborhood came to the front yard to say goodbye. (He came to our driveway a few days ago at another auspicious occasion.) He woke me from my sleep with his signature calls, and waited for a good half an hour in the garden, gathering a small crowd of curious neighbors. I went out to sit with Brother Peacock for a few minutes. He looked straight into my eyes, as we sat a few feet across. I went back in the house to have breakfast. When I looked out the window after breakfast, he's still there! The peacock just stood in the front yard, staring at our front door, calling out occasionally, but not moving at all. So, I got down on my knees, and from inside the house, bowed to Brother Peacock three times, saying in my heart: thank you for your blessings; no need to wait for me now. The next time I looked out the window, he's gone. Almost a déjà vu compared to when I was leaving the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in Ukiah two months ago. Much gratitude to the sacred bird and his sender.
Ending stealth mode
The day before, I finally put up a sticker on the bicycle, saying "Pilgrimage for Peace and Awakening". Until then, I had not felt ready to own such a statement. I had felt shy and self-conscious about the possibility of people seeing such a message, and asking me about it. Thanks to the experiences (including a few circles of sharing) during the two weeks in LA, I felt ready to "come out of the pilgrim's closet", and invite more interactions with people along the way. No more hiding :)
Learning to receive
In order to avoid biking on the emergency lane of the freeway, I hitched a ride with a pick-up truck. The father and son are from Mexicali. Every Sunday, they drive hundreds of miles to San Bernardino to buy a truckload of used goods from Goodwill, and bring them back to Mexico to sell. The son is a 22-year-old aerospace engineering student, with bright mind and bright smile. He insisted on sitting in the cramped back seat, so that I can enjoy the spaciousness in the front. He generously offered me slices of pizza at least five time, until I explained that I do not eat meat :) He dreams of working for aerospace juggernauts such as Honeywell and UTC -- very ethically problematic companies in my privileged view (both are part of the military industrial complex), but pathways for realizing the "American Dream" for other genuine and innocent people.
At a gas station, I asked to fill my water bottle. The clerk told me that they have only hot water. Upon hearing this conversation, a big cowboy standing in line offered to buy me a bottle of water. My pride was about to explain to him that I could buy it myself, but an inner voice nudged me to put down my ego, humbly accept his gift, and give him the gift of practicing his generosity.
The pilgrimage has been teaching me the gift of receiving. Selfless giving is a great service, but sometimes, "selfless receiving" could be even harder -- and a greater gift to others. While giving, at least there is a subtle ego gratification. While receiving, one has to let go of vanity, and know that I am not receiving for myself, but on behalf of Nature.
Brotherhood at a homeless shelter
As I was asking for direction, a warm-hearted lady in a bright red pickup truck insisted that I should spend the night at the local homeless shelter, because "it is not safe elsewhere". She led the way in her truck, as I followed on my bike to the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission.
I've never stayed at a homeless shelter before, and was actually quite unwilling to go there. I knew I could knock on people's door, and get a much nicer, quieter evening. But the lady was so genuine in helping me to find a bed at the homeless shelter, that I just surrendered to the guidance, and took it as a nudge to step outside of my comfort zone.
She dropped me off at the shelter, and blessed my journey before departing. I felt very out of place as I walked into the men's section of the shelter, with perhaps 70 narrow beds on the floor. My conditioned fear of the homeless "street people" plagued my mind. It was a hard inner battle to open my heart to these fellow human beings.
The man in charge is an intimidating big guy, with the Chinese characters for "peace" tattooed on his forearm. When I asked for a bed for the night, he said loudly, "These men here will cut your throat just to see you bleed. Do you still want to stay here?!" Before I could recover from the shock, he was laughing and fist-bumping with his buddies, clearly satisfied with the effect of his exaggeration. Later, I learned that this big guy was a drug addict, and the rescue mission have helped to turn his life around. He now works here.
I was assigned a bed, and shown the shower. None of the shower or the toilet stalls have a door, to prevent any sketchy business, I suppose. The germaphobe in me was deeply aggravated during the entire time at the shelter. (Yes, I am a textbook Virgo in that respect…) But I realize that all my OCD tantrums were mind-made -- result of my prejudices and fear. Wonderful opportunity to face these impurities in me, as they manifest outward as disgust over other people's germs.
Before long, my new friends started to come over, smiling, fist-bumping, showing me the Chinese dollar bill in their wallet, and asking me about the journey I am on. One of them grabbed me a popsicle. Another made sure I get a share of dinner. No hotel/hostel experience has been as open and friendly as this one. The warmth of these homeless brothers melted my uptight defense. The light in their eyes made me ashamed of the prejudice I hold in my heart.
The next morning, as I biked out of the shelter toward the rising sun, half a dozen brothers come up to shake hands and offer their blessings. My heart was filled with gratitude and repentance.
My first state-crossing within the US happened inside a trailer/work-station towed by a big pickup truck. I realized that between Indio, CA and Phoenix, AZ lied 250 miles of almost nothing but hot dessert. So I hitched a ride with a construction crew, and sat for 4 hours inside a dark trailer, whose wall is covered with greasy Playboy posters. I spent the time listening to Art of Living, a wonderful introduction to Vipassana meditation.
It is a deep honor and joy to spend my first night in AZ with the Pandya family. Their son, B, has been like a big brother and dear mentor to me over the past two years. I am thrilled to spend more time with his wise and loving parents, who meditates for two hours or more daily, and have cultivated much merits in their life.
They invited their 92-year-old sagely friend to come over for dinner. He sang songs which he composed himself, in praise of teachers and the Buddha. I asked the glowing wise elder his "secrets" for being so healthy and alive. He said, "It's very simple: I get up before sunrise, eat healthy vegetarian food all my life, and think wholesome thoughts." There you have it :)
Arcosanti, a learning laboratory
From Tempe, Phoenix, I start to head North along the Arizona desert toward Arcosanti. The 100-degree air is so hot and dry that my eyeballs hurt from exposure.
Arcosanti is a magical, experimenting place. It is a small community of 70 year-round residents and an urban, architectural experiment in the middle of nowhere in the high desert. It is a manifestation of the vision of the late Italian architect Paolo Soleri. In 1950s, Soleri realized the insanity of the American urban sprawl, and proposed a "lean alternative": a highly compact, multi-use, three dimensional city that's embedded in nature. "If you go out of the front door, you have Culture. When you go out of your backdoor, you have Nature."
I spent three days trying to soak up the deep thinking of Soleri, and to learn about the current day situation of the community. Soleri believes that cities will be the vehicle for the evolution of human spirit, as we infuse matter with spirit. After three short days at Arcosanti, I would never look at a city, neighborhood, or a house the same way ever again. I could not do justice here to summarize Soleri's vision, and would only highly encourage people to study Arcosanti and Soleri.
Nearly half a century after the founding of the community, and three years after the founder's death, Arcosanti is facing many similar problems as other intentional communities do, one generation into their existence: mission alignment, decision-making and power structure, resources allocation, continuing innovation, etc. I am heartened by the high caliber of the people Arcosanti attracts, and hope that this city of light continues to shine its inspiration upon a world still trying to wake up from the suburban American Dream.
Here at Arcosanti, I also stumbled upon the FORM Arcosanti music festival. The unique gathering is attracting 1,200 creative types in its third year. Attendance is by application only, and otherwise free of charge. There are a few genres of music being featured here -- mostly loud -- by some of the biggest names in their field, none of which are familiar to me :) The attendees seemed to really enjoy themselves, but the only question on my mind was where I could find a quiet place to sleep after 10pm. So, with fond memory of Arcosanti, and apologies for not being able to appreciate the Electronic music, I went on North toward the red rock country of Sedona.
A fun moment during the festival: I got a bit hungry in the afternoon, and went into the kitchen to ask if they have leftover from the VIP lunch. Upon learning that there were four full trays of delicious food otherwise going to waste, I invited a friend, and took the trays out into the crowd and gave the soup and sandwiches away for free. People loved it. One incidence of trickle-down economy working :)
Red Rocks of Sedona
As the red rocks first emerged on the horizon, I was so struck by its majesty that I felt like crying. People talk about "energy vortexes" here in Sedona -- it's real, I can testify :) There's a reason why Nature creates these doorways of reverence, portals of awe and remembering.
On Sun 5/15, Day 77 of the journey, I spent the whole day among the towering red rocks. As I spent hours circling the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, I realized how insufficient my five senses were to behold the immensity of these silent giants. So, from time to time, I closed my eyes, and tried to drop the awareness down into the Earth beneath me, extend toward the mountains, and embrace their energy. As soon as I re-open my eyes, the analytical mind kicks back in, trying to process the visual data. Quite a long way to go to rehabilitate the higher senses :)
In the afternoon, I followed a path that seemed pretty short on the map, toward the Oak Creek which had shaped these red rocks over eons. It turned out to be a long bike ride, half of the way is unpaved. For a few times, I wanted to turn back, but the thought of jumping into the snow-melt water tempted me to keep going. At the end of the road, I saw a sign in front of a huge log house, "Stone Circle, Vision Quest, Spirit & Nature Journeys."
I was enticed to enter the open front gate, and saw statues of Guanyin Bodhisattva, and St. Francis, among other symbols in the garden. The garden is dotted with many 10-feet wide stone circles, medicine wheels and sacred geometries. I met Dana, the elderly man who has been building these 30 stone circles here on the property next to the creek. Dana ended up giving me an hour-long guided tour through the mesmerizing garden, pointing to one stone circle after another, explaining their deep meanings and symbolism. As we walked, he would remind me, "Watch out for the ant people," pointing to the armies of big ants marching around the ground. These circles draw inspiration from native traditions, inspired visions, sacred geometry, and mythologies. Some are thought-provoking, some are mind-bending, some are humorous. I was deeply moved by one man's labor of love, anchoring an elevated consciousness here on the sacred land.
Deepen into wilderness and mystery
The first two months of the pilgrimage have been in mostly urban areas, with the exception of the unforgettable Big Sur. Arcosanti is a symbolic turning point between urban and the wild. From here on, the journey will deepen into the wilderness and mystery, quite literally heading into the heart of the Earth, as the wheels roll toward the Grand Canyon. May the beauty and wildness of Mother Nature awake the same in our human nature!
A pilgrimage around the globe by bicycle, in service of the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time.