Picture it. Sixty-four years of living, and I had never been abroad.
I had no foreign language at my disposal,
not enough in funds to indulge in paid lodging, beyond the meanest sort,
and just three or four friends scattered across the face of Europe.
That was the context in which I set out for an entire summer of rambling the European Continent, in 1991.
I did have one or two uncommon things going for me. I had learned to live on life's edge. I had twenty years of practiced skill behind me, in an artful kind of living that I like to think of as a return to Innocence -- consisting in equal parts of faith, trust and pure adventurous instinct. I also had the useful assist of a list of potential helpers, people who knew me not at all, but had committed themselves to hosting peaceful travelers along their way. But even that revolved around an infinite sense of trust, for more often than not I hadn't even contacted any of these folks before I was virtually on their doorstep.
You might recognize this as something more than a mere and thoughtlessly blind trust; it is one that arises from having followed an essentially Taoist path for many years, nourishing thereby a willing acceptance of whatever should come along. Such a path -- anathema to the typical western mind that fears and rejects what is seen as a loss of control -- leads one to a greater understanding of the delicate interface between the self and the Spirit. It is the most rigorous pursuit of such awareness to be had, taking one out of abstraction and into reality.
Let me briefly recap my long trail, so you can appreciate its significance as a foundation for what follows.
In 1971, after years of futile struggle as just another drone in the beehive, I gave in to the desperate dream that I might yet have some say in the shaping of my life -- even at the age of 44 -- and dropped out of the ratrace. It put me on a trail of complete insecurity, and began my learning of life's inner forces: a vast world of supportive hidden resources that we simply forgot how to tap into when we turned our attention toward controlling nature and the world in which we live.
The early stages of this dropout trail took me into the art of 'living by my wits,' as it has sometimes been called: creating personal 'bread trips' (non-job ways of earning a few dollars), discovering barter and how to forage for my needs, paring down those needs to a minimalism that yet remained within my limits of tolerance, in this new and scary world of making-do without the guarantee of a weekly paycheck.
Before long, I came to see a strange kind of magic at work. I was too lucky, too often at the right moment, to continue to see it as chance - something deeper must be happening. This began my learning in earnest, and I gradually came to live the life of a secular Taoist: tuning-in to the flow of an energy that proved to be an inner guidance system.
Five years into this stream, I was willing to trust it entirely as I moved beyond the last remnant of material security (which had not been much to begin with). I reached a zero bank balance, and handled it with the equanimity of a veteran metaphysician.
By that time, however, I had settled into a network-nest that enabled another kind of security: I was publishing a small donation-based magazine called Black Bart, and living among the people that this magazine (and spin-off workshops) had connected me with, in California's richly alternative Bay Area - encouraging the persistent illusion that I had simply structured for myself a world to suit my own purposes, in this very supportive environment. I knew otherwise, at some deep level, and was resolved to put this awareness to some further test.
The occasion arrived in 1985, when I put caution behind me (Black Bart had been left behind, too, a couple years earlier), and set out on the road, hitch-hiking around the country to see where the fates would bring me, and how I should manage on such a tenuous extension of that comfortable network-nest I had grown secure in. The fates brought me to the Northwest, where I began from scratch all over again - at the age of 58. A seemingly magical path kept me in complete (if not always obvious) security, as I was sure it would.
Thus, I demonstrated to myself, all over again, that the hidden world of enabling energies is a very real thing -- reliable to the point of chancing one's very survival on it. But there still remained a nagging persistence of illusion -- not that "I had done it, myself," for I knew this not to be so, but that my developed skill at 'living on the edge' had been a necessary element of my 'success' in the Northwest. After all, I had become acutely alert to all the nuances of getting along in the cracks of American culture: I knew where and how to forage for my needs, I knew the many ways of 'working the system' for its benefits, my very facility with language was a platform from which every need could be pursued to its fulfillment. It surely could not work for me, say, in a foreign land, where I'd be entirely handicapped by a lack of fluency with the language.
And now, of course, I know otherwise. Language familiarity or 'knowing the system' has absolutely nothing to do with it. Everywhere I found myself abroad, the hidden and guiding energies worked as well as they ever had at home. I was as completely embedded in a world of essential security -- in Poland, in Bulgaria, in Greece -- as I had ever been in California!
Thus, the journey you are about to embark on, figuratively speaking, provides the absolute proof that our lives are blessed with a guidance -- I tend to call it Providence -- that can be relied upon and trusted.
Strangely, it seems to work best for us only in moments of risk and need. But I would guess that these are the only times we allow it to happen, without jumping into the breach with some measure of control . . . and never knowing what else might have happened, had we only let it develop.
If you are ready,then (and I certainly am), let's move along to the opening chapter of Innocence Abroad
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