A Circle Completed

The GPS (my gypsy friend) on my dashboard sometimes sends me on complicated routes, promising they’ll be faster. Often I’d rather go the few extra miles to avoid confusion. But overall my gypsy guides me efficiently on this 8500-mile tour of the U.S., occasionally on routes I haven’t considered. And at the end of each day’s journey, when she announces, “You have arrived,” with that wonderful tone of finality, it’s as if I’ve done something noteworthy.

In reality, all I do is manage to stay alert each driving day, a feat I accomplish by almost constant nibbling. Nothing else—not singing, listening to music or talks, observing the scenery, slapping myself—keeps me as alert as nibbling, especially on puffed kamut and puffed corn (both organic). It’s that crunch of teeth on the puffies that keeps me thoroughly awake.

The last few days of the trip I set out before dawn, the big, brilliant moon before me and the sun slowly brightening the sky in the rearview mirrors. Another kind of alertness, an alertness of the heart, is remembrance that God is the light of the sun and moon and whatever happens is his kindness.

Portland (Rainland), Oregon, where it’s fated to rain/ snow every day this week, marks the end of this book tour circle. The camper, parked in the driveway of a friend’s home on a quiet street, feels extra cozy on wet days. Grateful to be dry, warm, and safe, I’m quite certain that in this lifetime I’ll never become a truck driver.the journey's end, March 22, 2012

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Ample Space, Divine Opportunities

One of the more noteworthy statements I heard while traveling was, “As yoga enables us to stretch in ways we couldn’t before, so the Bhagavad-gita enables our mind to stretch to accommodate ideas we couldn’t entertain before.”

Recently—and unfortunately—my absorption in the mind-stretching Gita has been disappointing. Although I had great intentions and read the Gita daily, I’ve been preoccupied with keeping my camper functioning, maintaining my stock of books and DVDs, having exchanges and farewells with friends along the way, forging future plans, keeping a wary eye on the weather, and trying to stay healthy and safe.

suburban samenessMy lack of absorption in the Gita may have been due to all that, or it may have been due to my feeling like a zombie after so much driving. Or from feeling suffocated after driving through cities with office buildings and houses so similar I could hardly tell them apart, buildings so close together that children couldn’t play between them.

At Saranagati, where my family and I live, each house is pleasantly quirky in ways just suited to its residents, as if the house and its residents morphed a bit to fit each other well. There’s ample space between them—space that doesn’t separate the residents but draws them closer.

The poet Cowper says the city is made by man and the country by God; perhaps that’s why the mind breathes deeply in the country, expanding to encompass dimensions suffocated elsewhere. And in the country the spirit, stretching toward that unknowable Person who’s within and without, basks in the enchanting freedom of real, divine intangibles.

Appalachian Thoughts

winter forest scene

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” announces the sermon sign of the Fulp Morovian Church in Walnut Cove, North Carolina. I have lots of time to consider that statement as I wait in front of it while a mile-long procession for the deceased passes.

Later, finally heading west after almost six months of south and eastward travel, it’s wintry and the sky is a sullen, motley grey. The blithe vacuousness of some of the Appalachian dwellers, the sameness and foundering of their paltry existence and their aggressively reactionary mood pervade my small camper. For the first time since I left home I feel lonely. It’s odd, as I’d just left friends and by nightfall will again be with friends. But there it is, and the cold-cough and back strain I got in North Carolina don’t help. In a rest stop, tight earplugs block out some of the I-81 noise. I sleep for two hours, drive on, the sun appears, and life seems somewhat better.

How frail and vulnerable is this human body and mind!

through the camper window, Tennessee interiorLater I watch from my camper window as an old fellow fusses over a small, ornery tractor while his young assistant whips the machine with a horsewhip. Jerkily, the thing starts its tilling work on a virgin but rocky-clay field.

Deeply South

Nearing New Orleans, marshes, swamps, rivers, streams, and flooded fields border billboard-lined Highway 10. Those billboards, perched so high up they block the sky, ceaselessly blare at me: Eat here! Sleep here! Get gas here! Gamble here! (Those include a toll free phone number where compulsive gamblers can get help.) Get a no-contest divorce for only $499! Cremation and embalmment services available here!

I finally train my eyes not to look up and, after passing car dealers on the edge of town where helium balloons float from the side mirrors of each car on the lot, I’m finally out where I can see the horizon. That vision alone makes the soul stretch. Bhaktivedanta Swami writes,  “The need of the spirit soul is that it wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill its desire for complete freedom. It wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. It wants to see the free light and the spirit.” Barreling down the interstate, the sky clear, now only electric poles and wires accompany the roadway. Finally crossing the Florida border, I accidentally look up to see a huge, one-word billboard: “PRAY.” Okay, I think, that’s an improvement over the other screaming signs, but pray to whom and for what?

On the side of a grassy hill in Atlanta a plaque tells me I am standing on the same spot where, in the summer of 1864, General Sherman directed the Union army as it battled the Confederates. That summer 9,200 men died here, including the Union General James Birdseye McPherson, whose bloodied body was carried past the very spot where I stand.

As I read, sleek bicyclists dressed in black from helmet to cleats speed by.