For over a decade, the majority of us were very busy growing up, raising families and supporting ourselves. Our practices were deemed adequate and appropriate by almost everybody, including many more experienced in the world than myself who held positions of responsibility. These people could be trusted to outline the essentials for the rest of us. In stark contrast to the detailed teachings concerning the life of prayer and meditation which are usually regarded as pith instructions in most spiritual communities of the past, this aspect of our inner life devolved into the unspoken and private business of somehow striving for a glimpse of ultimate reality so that when the opportunity mysteriously arose out of randomity, we wouldnt miss our turn.
In the most practical sense, we cultivated receptivity and preparedness to grace through a life of selfless service. Our path was one of direct action in response to the immediate needs of the community. To engage as a collective and have to work together to figure out problems was a good way to begin studying ourselves. There was no sense in trying to escape personal responsibility by going on a head trip. The path was right there in front of us. It led from your house to the fields. Stephen had stated that -
The deity may not be apprehended through Aristotilean logic...
but only through
...direct revelation, direct knowledge,...direct cognition...
These statements could be considered as evidence that we subscribed to the doctrine of the sudden school and hint at the moment of satori, a flash of non-conceptual understanding, the break-through of transcendental insight. The means of bringing this to fruition was presented as the Farm itself; our daily activities were imbued with this directness. This was the here and now dharma. The only way to be of service to others is to start with fixing your own head. To live in this community and observe ourselves in relationship yielded plenty of information about our heads, but without an inner teaching and deeper level of consideration, there was very little apprehension of the deity.
Assuming the truth of such a premise as -
You can make spiritual agreements with people to help each other stay high...
- there must certainly be many skillful ways to enhance spiritual understanding, and a body of practices designed to catalyze the necessary perceptions and insights or there is very little likelihood that ones practice will mature into the realizations of the higher stages of life.
On the Farm, the basic shift through the seventies went from an emphasis on a basic form of self-transcendence to the utopian ideal of collective growth and our impact in the common world. This led to a situation where a fair number of spiritual dwarves held overly influential positions. A convincing display of worldly skills or access to financial resources became overvalued qualities that increasingly determined the destiny of our community. We became top-heavy with ego.
In defense of an ostensibly non-esoteric, anti-hierarchical position, Stephen offers his own understanding of this issue in a talk called Immanent God:
On the other hand, it is self-evident that some of us are more together than others of us, and that if you took all the people in the world and sorted them out into those that are together and those that are less together, you can take them and sort them out into something that looks like the Hindu caste system. But the trouble with that is that they would change consciousness. People would flow up and down, and you wouldnt be able to hold it still. People would be learning stuff and changing position, and you could never get it organized.
There is no value in laying it out like that. We want all of our needs, and the things with which we fulfill all those needs, to be as decentralized and spread out as possible, without artificial structure, and then the whole thing comes out even.
This was the theory. In practice it worked out a bit different. On the Farm, people were learning and changing, but by the late seventies, seasoned members of the governing system took little cognizance of this fact and due to the complexities of identity, desire and attachment to a status quo, they were often in no position to notice. The baseline level of acceptable egoity in any group is effectively determined by the everyday consciousness of the individuals. These people were not in any sense an inner circle of disciples. They were more like amateur businessmen.
In a talk from the Caravan days, Stephen stated his priorities by putting forth a pre-eminently spiritual philosophy of politics. The following statement implies that enlightenment itself is primary; the subsequent social form is a secondary reflection of the realization shared by the people who comprise the system-
Im interested in enlightenment. I figure if people are sane and enlightened theyll make the right choices. A monarchy is cool if the monarch is cool. It just depends if the people in it are cool or not. I dont care about moving the furniture around, Id rather get people cool.
A decade later, in Rendered Infamous he wrote that-
I have never been able to stand hierarchy.
This is sort of a funny thing to say for two reasons; firstly, when you consider that the system doesnt matter as long as ...the people in it are cool, what is the difference? Secondly, and I believe more important, almost everybody who has ever lived on the old Farm will be able to tell you that there most definitely was a hierarchy which centered on Stephens family and was surrounded by the four-marriages in the early days which later became the midwives families. I heard Stephen himself express this quite openly late one night while we were heading down through Chiapas on the Scenic-cruiser. He spoke of it in terms of a mandala. I still dont quite understand the reasoning behind not publicly acknowledging the relevance of an experimental wiring diagram which was obviously operative in the community. This is a very clear indication that we failed in our devotion to truth, radical though it was, beyond a certain point of social difficulty.
As the Farm grew, the use of the heavier psychedelics were played down to the point where it seemed that we were either too poor to afford any, wed changed our mind and considered them dangerous, or as was the case with marijuana, folks responsible for distribution were themselves hoarding the sacrament and predictably partial to their best friends. The purity of the officiating priests being compromised, the sacraments themselves soon devolved into an ersatz placebo for the real thing. In any case, hardly anybody was tripping and the people who did werent really able to offer much in the way of vision to the rest of us.
Without any more skillful means to regularly penetrate and undermine the ongoing egoic resistance to the deeper processes and responsibilities of spiritual transformation, we unwittingly settled for much less.
I dont punch anybodys ticket. Everybody knows that I just dont do that.
This is not altogether true. Although there were never any ceremonies wherein somebody was invested with a spiritual title, when it came to certain positions on the Farm, there was an emergent class structure that was eventually considered as inviolable as the caste system. For the first twelve years, Stephen personally appointed individuals who were to function as the steering committees and would actively speak out in their defense long after common sense would tell you that not everyone who disagreed with these choices was simply hallucinating. The Farm members held no elections. The chosen people were rarely the most developed among us in a spiritual sense and if they were not among the original seed of four marriages, they were often people who represented money coming into the community in the form of inheritances and trust funds, with a few exceptions who may have really had some skills to offer.
When I returned to the Farm from Guatemala in 1980, there was a prevailing sentiment that none of this hierarchy was very obvious and any comments suggesting such a situation were simply viewed as complaining or negative manifesting.
Looking back, I can see that I had actually observed things quite early on that revealed these weaknesses, but for one reason or another, I overlooked the implications of the moment in deference to hopes of a brighter tomorrow. At the time, I felt it was not my place to be giving instruction and chose to deal with it by confronting my own reactions.
My first experience along these lines occurred after wed been on the Farm for a little more than a year. Tenkar conceived our first child and we had moved into a large household headed up by two couples who were in a four-marriage. Soon after we had moved in, they invited a group of their friends over. All of these people had been on the Caravan and were in similar multiple-marriage relationships. I was looking forward to this gathering as I thought Id be privy to the inner workings and group meditation of the Farms esoteric order.
As we sat around the wood stove and passed herb, kerosene lamps illuminated the darkened living room. A light-hearted conversation began regarding some of the newer people on the Farm and I figured that they were just taking care of some business before getting to the heart of the communion. But as the evening wore on, this gossipy level of dialogue persisted until I realized that everyone in the circle was sufficiently amused by all of this. It was just fine to spend the evening in this way. They werent trying to focus any higher, so before I began to doze, I excused myself and went to bed. I remember feeling like wed wasted some pretty good dope and was disappointed that it was not very different in tone than most of the conversations Id heard in high school. Variations on this event were repeated periodically over the years.
None the less, these folks were all quite a bit older than me and pretty nice people. I was content to suspend any judgement about these idiosyncrasies and let them make practical decisions for the rest of us.
I had no concern about whether or not anybody had their ticket punched until midway through the growing season of 1976, when the Farm was railroaded into an astronomical debt under the influence of an unchecked machismo on the part of the Farming crews leadership, coupled with the disastrous brainstorms of an ex-coke dealer who appeared amongst us almost overnight and immediately had more social position than many of us would ever have or even want in this type of community. He seemed to come out of nowhere. The fact that he seemed to maintain himself apart at first led me to believe he was shy. When Id seen him over a few weeks and how he related with the field workers, I had to explain it to myself by figuring that he was a really busy person with important things on his mind. That summer, I became aware of a number of other busy people on the Farm who all seemed to belong to a clique that granted them a certain level of distance and immunity from the vibrational and relational standard which I had come to identify with our movement.
Our focus had shifted from simply trying to feed ourselves to financing and manning commercial produce operations in both Tennessee and Florida. But this disaster took awhile to play out. Meanwhile, there was a lot to be done. I was on the main harvest crew which usually consisted of about ten regulars and three or four visitors. Wed start at six in the morning, getting soaked from the knees down in the heavy dew and roll from field to field in an old schoolbus with most of the seats removed, filling orders for supermarkets in Nashville. In spite of our best efforts there was no way we could keep up with such an enormous harvest without a lot more help. We needed two or three more crews of this size. I had been told that in previous years, the rest of the community had been fairly dependable when it came time to help bring the food in, but this season, no matter how many announcements we made or how intensely we pleaded, regular assistance was hard to get.
At one level, it was pretty easy to understand why folks would want to avoid the fields; the sun was hot, the air humid and most of the work demanded a bent back. For the first time, a good part of the Farm seemed rather complacent to me. I had been gearing up to this level of endurance energy since Id arrived two years ago. In confronting my own conditioned resistance to hard work on the land I had learned a little more about all of us. From where I crouched, it seemed that the communitys overall lack of response was largely determined by the same subconscious, middle-class attitudes we had grown up with. As if this kind of labor was something that white people usually hire Mexicans and black folks to do for them.
As we struggled through these hardships, we soon realized that every other farmer in the south was having an equally superb growing season, and as prices plummeted, we abandoned tons and tons of food to rot in the fields. Id emerge from the harvest-trance and stand up once in awhile to look around and wonder what the karma would be for participating in this extraordinary waste of life-force.