An Overland Odyssey: Travelling America by Road

Part Three: New Mexico

Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

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Carlos Vierra –Wikimedia Commons

When I step out of the train at 6AM onto Santa Fe station, it is dark: deepest blue dark flecked with dancing swirling snowflakes that kiss my cheeks and a crisp blasting wind that snakes it’s way into all the crevices of my clothes and cackles a wild welcome to the snow-laden winter-lands of Northern New Mexico. A witch’s welcome, at which I can only laugh and thank the universe for a fresh set of challenges and opportunities, laugh as my unconscious assumptions of easy warmth and comfort pop like bubbles in the cutting icy air, laugh at the arrogance of my inner survival machine who expects and wants everything to stay the same. I laugh at the joyous novelty of a new environment, new day, and new birth.

I am utterly unprepared for winter. And it is glorious.

You see, I left home in July last year on a bus bound for Portugal in summer, a one way ticket with near-term plans fading into a thousand questions marks, without cold weather on my radar – or in my backpack, my only shoes being a pair of worn sandal-crocs (and even then I didn’t really want to take them since I generally feel more sane and grounded when my feet are in contact with earth and I am tapped into that rich stream of sensory environmental information through the millions of listening nerve-ending in my footpads, hobbit that I am, however I also know that it’s easier to get onto buses and through airports and into restaurants with some form of commonly accepted footwear). Wearing shoes has also helped me to break my identification with the barefoot yogi warrior (a noble identity, sure, but in the end everything must go, so why not start now?), and excludes me from the having to navigate the fact that if you’re not wearing shoes, many people think you’re nuts and will relate to you as such – this is usually okay with me because I know I’m not nuts (well maybe I am hahaha, but I also believe that if I know that I am indeed slightly nuts then this is a good sign of having sufficient clarity and self-reflexivity to be not totally nuts; it is this precise quality I see to be lacking in the “truly nuts”). To a barefooter, the glaringly nuts phenomenon is that 99% of all humans throughout history did not wear any shoes, and now it is considered madness’s

Whatever the case may be, I am nuts enough to decide pretty quickly, as I step off the train into an unexpected blast of wind carrying countless little white flecks of snow, crystal night kisses to my warm mammal skin, that I want to continue sleeping outside despite this unexpected climactic shift and that I will simply figure it out as I go, laughing to myself in the pre-dawn night at the arrival of a new invitation and new challenge from the universe, the ongoing grace of unexpected difficulties revealing themselves as doorways to evolution and innovation and creativity. I could run away from the cold: escape back down to warmer southern states but what the hell, where is the artistry in that, and as I enter the town of Santa Fe and see various bedraggled baroque homeless people shuffling about and getting their morning warming coffees I figure that must indeed be completely possible and my first step will be to acquire a cold-weather sleeping bag so I make a bus trip across town to Walmart and find one that is good all the way down to minus twelve, and then I shuffle about town to explore and to drop some deadweight items from my pack and video call my beloved 3Cell (emergent evolutionary micro-possibility support team) from the lobby of the public library, a place that I observe is frequented by many shelterless beings as a haven of sanity and warmth and quiet respect and the endless nourishment of story, art, knowledge, discovery, entertainment, history.

I sleep outside Santa Fe public library for three moonlit nights, sheltered from the wind by an alcove in the building and invisible under a pine-bush. With a winter sleeping bag I am often in fact too warm and I soon learn that I need to sleep with only three or four layers, rather than my daytime seven. I wake and rise at sunrise after a blanket-wrapped meditation. As soon as I leave my sleeping bag, I’m cold, and make for a cafe to write and read and talk to random people and spend long timeless minutes watching the whirling wonders of the world whisk by the steamed-up windows of the winter morning. It is a humbling experience.

Choosing to be temporarily homeless and shelterless whilst on the road quickly turns into a deep and total lifestyle experiment yielding wave after wave of challenges and beauties and opportunities and openings to a vast free open way of life, to the point where the very word “homeless” now rings distastefully for me by virtue of the simple rediscovery of the entire living breathing earth as my home: the fresh clean air and nuzzling wind and shifting coloured light, a home amongst the stars, all mine, all ours, and the only real way for that sense to be awakened in the body is to put that body back where it came from: into the great outdoors, the wild waiting vastness of the plains and skies and woods and long blinking blue dawns gifting bright new days to the waking stirring sleepers, right here on the forgotten white porch of the Santa Fe public library, each of us nestled in his own blanket-clad style into his soft warm night cocoon, and I feel such kinship with these outdoorsmen despite not really talking all too much and myself personally not having suffered even a trifle of the misfortunes that I suspect many of them have, judging by the various odd paranoid energies and dead stares and the clicking sounds of torches on meth-pipes through the night, bless their striving souls, this colossal global subculture of sky sleepers, street sweepers, river weepers, fire creepers, groundskeepers, hailing all the way back to the original tribal dreamtime of a humanity without buildings or rooves or shacks or shelters save from the odd cave or hollow tree or dried-out bearskin, the original glorious homeless, homefully in love with the life-giving earth before the ugly creep of unforgiving urban architecture and indifferent elites and aggressive “property owners”, culminating in the downfall and removal of the open commons, the free land, the unobstructed earth.

I feel blessed to enter and stand and sleep among this noble lineage of geniuses and madmen and lost ones and hurt ones and drunkards and ravers and misbehavers and carefree roaming lovers and poets and writers cuddling up close to the library in wait for the morning opening of doors and entry into the warm familiar womb of creative solace, shelf upon shelf of fellow voices waiting to be conversed with in the last great free public sanctuary of learning, long live the libraries I say and long live those who make homes and worlds therein.

Santa Fe (by the author)

Living outside is an evolutionary experiment because it is guaranteed to push the buttons of your unconscious survival machine and your basic needs for food and warmth and ease and comfort and water and hot drinks and internet and shelter from wind and rain and snow. The question is whether you will navigate these challenges with unconscious fear and low drama, or with openness and artistry and appreciation, with love and kindness and enjoyment, and whether you can hop out of the modern culture’s negative associations with homelessness and step into the waiting expanse of nomadic open air skyborne freedom, kin to the eagles and foxes and bears and privy to the countless secret blessings of a deep and ancient and multifaceted lineage, spanning across cultural-terrestrial timespace the mahasiddha yogis of ancient India and Tibet, the Fianna of Ireland, the Roma gypsies, the musical mystic Baul minstrels of Bengal, the saffron robed theravada bhikkus of Southern Asia, the Hindu sadhu wanderers, alongside countless pilgrims and troubadours and missionaries and wandering healers and shamans and traders and bards and teachers and wanderers and preachers and highwaymen and indeed entire roaming nomadic cultures following bison and deer and antelope and yak and sheep and boar wherever they might go through the big wild bleeding land, in the days before days were counted and planned, when days were lived in fervent intensity and peace under the sun in the heart of the goddess in the love of the living land so grand and wild and playful and terrible, a land demanding of one’s entire human depths in order to navigate and flourish with respect and harmony and balance, a life of belonging to the living earth community, the ultimate commitment, the ultimate blessing, the home that we in our dry dead rooms are longing for and could return to if only we stepped outside and stayed there long enough to remember, long to enough to see, long enough to feel the pain and to metabolise it into new vibrant vivifying life in service to all beating pulsing fluttering beings.

“I have no home, only God”, said saint Francis the mad blessed barefoot saint, tender weeping guru of ecstatic Italian animism and devotional love-poetry. As a young man he was a bonafide rascal, a scoundrel, a drunken bard serenading unimpressed ladies from the cobblestone streets on his beat-up old lute, wailing grisly love songs and getting into fights with fellow urchins. And then he left: his family, his town, his old and weary ways, to dwell in the forest with his brothers in a life of togetherness and prayer and communion with all living nature.

I have no home but the love in my heart, a love which permeates and connects me constantly to my conventional home in green and glorious Avalon, yet which is everywhere – and everything!

How could a human ever possibly be truly homeless, existing as one does as a body embedded in a communal living fabric of interwoven bodies? A family? A cosmic community? A miraculous marching lifeweb?

Walter Ufer – Wikimedia Commons

My claims to being a great hero dissolve lightly and fluidly in the anonymity and loneliness and relative poverty of sleeping and living outside. There is a simplicity to the lifestyle that nourishes me deeply, a spaciousness in which ideas and encounters and explorations flow freely. I spend long afternoons in the cinema and the adjoining cafe. I wander many streets, turn many corners, meet and talk with many people. I gawp and ogle at Native American style paintings in the windows of Santa Fe’s apparently innumerable private art galleries.

I find that I am reprogramming my relationship to my basic needs (food, shelter, drink, warmth, connection) such that I can source these and navigate the middle-world without drama, with simplicity and intentionality towards loving service. This reprogramming is perhaps inevitable, should one choose to enter more deeply into a life in and with the elements, close to the basic raw energetic stuff of life and of one’s being, such that one gains increasing sensitivity and attunement to the (im)balances of those elements in any system and person, in particular oneself and one’s body, the body felt as a seething conglomeration of fire earth air and water, intelligent and ingenious to an unimaginable degree, self-regulating to perfection if allowed to do so in silent soothing breathing and purifying pranic practice and awareness-opening intentional movement and kind-hearted generous action, and also by active participation in the great ecological communities of earth, in the rhythmic cycles of balance and consumption and regeneration.

The removal of easy access to resources makes me deeply appreciative of every water bottle refill, hot drink, box of chips, hour of warmth and overhanging roof to block the snow. I sincerely hope that as I continue to navigate the civilised world, I do not take these for granted and do all I can to source these for other individuals in need.

One evening I see Dune in the cinema, undoubtedly one of the greatest imaginative extrapolations of humanity’s interstellar future and spiritual-biological potentialities. It activates me on a deep level, through the symbolic life of Paul Atreides my warrior is activated, this fiery thread of energy that lives in resistance to ruthlessly destructive power systems and stands and schemes and moves and fights as a protector of life on earth. It is a strong energy and one I am still learning to handle and direct with skill, with clear pure intention to benefit all beings (including myself) without descending into low drama as a rescuer battling persecutors and saving helpless victims.

When I leave the cinema at 11PM and step into the icy night, I give the food in my pack to people on the streets. Bananas, chocolate, popcorn, pizza. I pass it on. And I notice now that it isn’t a big deal, it’s just life feeding life, without anybody rescuing anybody or anybody needing help or anybody saving anyone, and in that easy direct simplicity our shared unity is obvious and naturally expresses itself through the act of giving, free of giver and receiver. I notice that I am reprogramming my relationship to food from “food is for me” to “food is for everyone”.

As Neem Karoli Baba said, “God appears to the hungry in the form of food”.

If I think that it is me sourcing the food or the power to serve, I am deluded. If food or power comes to me, it comes as grace, and I seek to pass it on with an open all-embracing heart. How I pass it on, this is the key!

Still I walk the streets with a messianic fire, some combination of righteous overblown egoic heroism and immovable heartfelt longing to serve and protect and show up as an essential and responsible participant in the life of the world (the life of earth!). The blissful beauty comes when I remember, and I notice that I show up in this way naturally and effortlessly when I am simply aware, awareness aware of itself, the radiance of which appears as the myriad unfolding forms of my life and story and journey. Not really mine at all! Ours! And beyond that – not ownable or possessable in any way. Free!

Something else crystallises out of the dark night and into my notebook: in the Kali Yuga, this dark age of spiritual degeneration, you cannot feed everyone by being nice. In some cases, you can only feed everyone by fighting back. By digging and planting on land that elites claim to own, by not moving when you are ordered to move, by speaking up against oppression, by nonviolent direct action (and so on). Put another way, we feed everyone by confronting and meeting and working with the un-evolved (power-abusing, resource-hoarding, land-grabbing) parts of our collective being that are sabotaging our ability to feed ourselves. God feeds God. Everything eats. If we eat, it is grace. If we starve, it is grace. Whatever comes is perfect for our ongoing unfoldment and evolution and awakening into freedom. The great task before is to hold this view in our hearts, whatever comes. Then any and all suffering will be metabolised – and received as grace.

To think that humans feed humans, this is overlooking the primacy and generosity of the Mother. Earth feeds everyone, not us.

Can we return to the humility of receiving everything we are: these bodies? This food? This endlessly expanding miracle of love and grace?

We will feed everyone by digging! By meeting the earth, touching the seeds, planting our deepest intentions for a beautiful flourishing world.

I give my food away, and I take-receive what I need – no more. I lay my life down for the hungry. For the living earth. For her body and breath, her green lungs and blue mind and red jones and brown soily skin and glowing rocky molten body.

And yet, dark images rumble in my waking nightmares, my musings on futures-to-come.

Systems and power-holders tighten their grip.

Who will lead the uprising? I ask myself.

It is time to learn :

To dig

To grow

To speak

To decide (together)

To defend (if necessary)

To cook for fifty people

To run

To hide

To survive

To tap water, dig a well, purify seawater

To resist

To overthrow

To sow

To reap

To be

To love

To remember.

What to make of these visions?

These flashing scenes of a hungry starving mass migration future, deserts and hurricanes and prison camps.

Do I too easily step into the apocalyptic?

If I do not step there, do I forego my duties to the heart-warrior tribe of global collapse?

How can this crisis not drive us apart, but bring us together?

I feel compelled stick close to these dark potentials, ready to navigate them if they arrive announced like hungry vicious dogs at the door.

If it can happen to Gaza, it can happen to us.

If it is happening to Gaza, it is happening to us.

Am I going to feel the pain of that and let it transform me, break me, open me? Or do I close, go numb, protect myself?

We must be prepared, no? Internally and externally?

Hence, training.

Breaking one’s reliance on unreliable structures, identities, systems.

Learning to rely on Goddess, Godhead, Gaia, Genius. On the elements, the angels, the immortals, the soul. On magic.

The beauty and the horror are inseparable. Are within us. Are our children. And our redeemers.

The revolution cannot be all celebration and singing mantras. Hanuman went to battle for Ram. Laid down his life for his friends. Kali kills, but her wrath is all compassion.

When we have been thoroughly burned, we will find that we have been thoroughly transformed.

The enemy must be discerned and made visible, or he will continue to harm. We must continue to meet the enemy. To love the enemy and respect his beingness, even in war. To let his suffering into our hearts, that it may be metabolised and become progenitor of strange new fruits.

May our grandchildren feast and rejoice!

May we break our dead systems and compost them thoroughly in the soil of collective psyche, the shared love we emerge from, such that we may gift the future with fresh and steady streams of living power, and song, and vitality!

It’s time to plant fruit trees.

A question emerges from my questions. It is highly charged, always relevant, always urgent, always dangerous, always an imminent doorway to the immanent freedom of creative participation in the infinite improvisational symphonic of the meta-universe.

The question is this:

What is the most powerful piece of living theatre that I can create right now?

The question stays with me, turning around and around like a koan or a spinning calligraphic invitation in the core of my imaginarium.

Theatre.

It demands everything: all of one’s presence and ingenuity and kindness and spontaneity. It demands that I live my commitments, knowing them to be fictitious, and yet also knowing that fictional fantasies (that is, desires and heartfelt longings) are the prime creative drivers of the whole damn play.

And so I ask again,

What is the most powerful piece of living theatre that I can create right now?

Marsden Hartley – Wikimedia Commons

It is the Year of the Wood Dragon, you know.

How to hold that energy?

How to live that piece of theatre?

Is the dragon inside me, or out there, encased and waiting in a great stone egg nestled between the high peaks?

I ponder these questions as I catch a bus to Taos through the big open scrubby rolling landscapes of New Mexico, snowtopped mountains decked with sprawling dark outcrops of pine forest, river valleys lined with red willow, Tewa, native ancestor of the name “Taos”.

Taos is a small alternative town of 5000 people set amidst and within vast spaciousness, opening outwards on one side to wide flat desert plains and a dead-drop canyon gorge, ripped clean apart by tectonic repulsion, and high bulbous layered mountains on the other. Nearby on the mesa, the worlds largest off-grid Earthship community.

Again I sleep outside the public library in an alcove next to the entrance, under a bush. I am pleased to discover I am comfortable and warm in minus six, under clear skies and waxing moon. In the morning I make straight for the Hanuman Temple (or Neem Karoli Baba Ashram), Guru of Ram Das and many thousands of devotees across India and the West, incarnate avatar, an inconceivably powerful and loving and awakened being. I have been listening to many Ram Das talks recently and at his mention of the temple in Taos I consulted my route map and it was immediately clear that I simply had to visit, receive the blessings, enjoy the food, and be grateful. For almost a whole week I hung out there, talking and relaxing in what felt like God’s living room (full of delicious food, hot sweet chai, beautiful generous people, curling green plants, and a fire surrounded by old rocking chairs). I joined the kirtan and the aarti prayers and used big humming stillness of the temple space for personal meditation practice. I began to glimpse the immensity of the spiritual power and kindness of Neem Karoli Baba, truly a master of the highest order – and humblest lifestyle. For most of his life he simply lay on a table in a blanket! No big show, no pretense, no high-falutin’ word games.

The philosophy of NKB (and his followers) is deliciously simple:

Love Everyone,

Serve Everyone,

Remember God.

Mission accepted!

New friends from the ashram, Fielding and Kerry and I take a trip into the nearby pine-clad mountains to look out over the vast outstretching plains, out over a frozen icicle cascade to the distant white peaks of far horizons, before winding our way down across the mesa desert to lounge and regenerate in the hot springs, a rockpool filled with blissfully warm water adjoining an icy mountain river, perfect for the quick oscillations of temperature that activate and reset the whole nervous system and enable us to continue lounging like hot happy sleepy monkies for hours in the water, even after the sun disappears behind the high canyon walls.

I dance for an entire evening to electronic DJ’s at the opening of a cosy and colourful art gallery run by a group of hip young local psychedelic-style lovelies.

I’m sweating, exhausted, and undeniably alive.

Dragon energy cannot and will not be held, no more than fire can be cradled. No – dragon energy bursts in unannounced, chars your highly flammable assumptions and leaves you blinking in a cloud of smoke. Whether that is a blessing or bewitchment, is entirely up to you.

Bedecked with the jewels of new experiences and bewildered by the apparent infinity of the unknown (ongoingly yielding to the knowing-creating mind like a lover), I kiss new loves goodbye and take a long overnight bus to Denver, Colorado.

Time to hit the big cities, big smoke, big ugly.

I continue on my way, grateful for the quest: to make a worthy gift of my life to my Life, my lover and creator and collaborator.

Thanks for reading, folks. I’ll catch you soon.

Love,

Will

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Will Franks 🌊
ILLUMINATION

A Heartbroken Terrified Warrior Who Is So Happy To Be Here. Meditator. Researcher. Soulmaker.