When I recall the past, I realize that our choice of friends, if indeed there truly was a choice involved, determined in great measure our speed along the path.
The Indians urge any spiritual aspirant to engage in satsang, which roughly translated, means good company. While commonly used to denote living with the guru, or near the guru, or with the disciples of a guru, this concept is just as important for those who live in the woods, or the city, with respect to their own success in reaching any goal, spiritual, or otherwise. Good company implies spending time with folks of like minds. It is as simple as that, and as esoteric as that.
We in the west are too often ignorant of the infectious quality of consciousness, and consequently immerse ourselves in whatever comes our way, willy-nilly. This indiscriminate choice of company has huge ramifications for our own state of consciousness, including our own peace of mind and happiness. This extends to what we watch on television, listen to on the radio, read in books and magazines, not to mention to those who we share meals with and socialize with. And in particular, an individual who has no understanding of the effect of consciousness upon consciousness, which is unfortunately the common condition in the west, just finds herself in situations that might or might not be conducive to a consciousness that she finds comfortable or desirable. So that, early on, we not only take ourselves into company, but we bring company into ourselves.
We were lucky. When we made the initial move out of the world into the back woods of Maine, we found ourselves among a group of alternative type young men and women who had already made the leap, perhaps not for the same reasons that we were to discover, after the fact, that we had, but nonetheless, they had left the world to re-enter nature and a simpler life. These friends were pivotal to our own process.
Two of these young men were Harvard educated, yet had returned to the land to eke out a subsistence existence from the land. They did odd jobs for neighbors, primarily in carpentry, and otherwise plowed their fields, and built their own houses from the ground up. They looked scruffy and non-descript, yet they were very intelligent and had come from a world similar to what we had, and thus could relate to the baggage we brought with ourselves into the woods of Maine. At the same time, while they “spoke our language”, they had shed so many of the middle class values that we very well might have appeared ridiculous to them initially. They worked the land; they mixed with other back to land people, and generally had a handle on what it was to have come from a middle class intelligentsia into a land that depended upon brute strength and cooperation with nature. So, at the very least, they provided us with a transitional state of mind which was invaluable to our own transition.
They taught us to rely on our own wits and abilities, and their can-do attitude rubbed off on us, to our advantage. One of these fellows taught us an early lesson in detachment, however painful it was at the time. He was helping us put on the shingles on the roof, and a pigeon landed at the very top of the roof. We had never seen a pigeon in these woods, nor have we since, which we took to be an omen of good fortune to our newly embraced life in Maine. He, instead, being a subsistence kind of guy, promptly threw his hammer at the poor bird, and killed it instantly. This was to be his dinner that evening, and he thanked us and the bird for providing that meal.
Being fresh out of the squeamish life of the Foreign Service, we were appalled and distressed over this apparently wanton killing on the top of our roof! What we subsequently came to realize was that we all eat “pigeons” in some manner or other, and this event was more immediate and instructive to us than all the chickens we had purchased at the local supermarket, well packaged, drained of any reminder that they had been just as alive as any pigeon on our roof was originally. He had, as our “guru” at the time, though we were consciously unaware of it, instructed us in a lesson that might otherwise have taken years, maybe many lives, to have learned. Here, in the form of this apparently thoughtless and cruel individual, sat an incarnation of wisdom and instruction that any number of more refined and “spiritual” gurus might only have been able to impart to us through words, and not through experience. This is just one small example of the many gurus we encounter every day and every moment, throughout our lives, which more often than not we fail to recognize, much less learn the lesson being taught at that moment, through blindness and self-willfulness.
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