[This is the prologue of my memoir, The Long Walk Home. Click here for a complete table of contents.]
Born in 1951, I grew up believing that I would live forever. The year 2000 seemed unthinkably far off, and I would be only 49 when it came. Until then I was immortal for all practical purposes.
Then, halfway through my first hundred years, two things happened. The millennium came and went, and life as I had known it came to an end. A way of life in which I had invested my whole self for thirty years, the spiritual foundation on which I had stood since age nineteen, crumbled under me.
While still a teenager, I had committed myself to this alternative spiritual path, firm in the conviction that it was right and could not fail to lead to a happy ending. I had followed the path, two of its teachers, and their communities until each of the teachers began to stray and their communities to fracture. How long it took me to realize that the path was leading nowhere! Now, circa 2002, it was I who was nowhere.
I was not unique. I am a member of the “Ozzie and Harriet” generation, raised in a 1950s family by earnest, hard-working, church-going parents, the same folks who whipped Hitler and saved the West.
In the 1950s, mainstream religious leaders like Bishop Fulton Sheen, televangelist Billy Graham, and Civil Rights martyr Martin Luther King led an American religious renaissance. During the same period, however, esoteric or Eastern philosophies and methods began to percolate into mainstream culture. Books by D. T. Suzuki, Jiddu Krishnamurti, George Gurdjieff, Vilayat Inayat Khan, and others began appearing in alternative, “underground” bookstores.
In 1965, I was a Protestant altar boy who dreamed of being a minister. In 1970, I ran out of church like Benjamin Braddock at the end of “The Graduate.” I turned East and threw myself into the arms of a guru.
By then a second generation of alternative teachers—including the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Baba Ram Dass, the Guru Maharaji, Werner Erhard, Bubba Free John, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and Chandra Mohan Jain (alias “Acharya Rajneesh,” alias “Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, ” alias “Osho”)—had begun pouring onto the scene like circus clowns from a psychedelic Volkswagen. Today, on the far side of the millennium, every best-selling New Age author like Deepak Chopra and every teacher of a main street class in yoga, Feldenkrais, Pilates, bioenergetics, and a hundred imitative, allegedly revolutionary systems owes a small debt to these holy fools.
My teachers were none of the above. You’ve never heard of them. Doesn’t matter. They’re small potatoes in the pantheon, though both were once a big deal to me. I met the first the year the Beatles broke up and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died of drug overdoses. I gave up everything for him and his community. When I say everything, I mean everything. Then when I saw cracks in that community, I doubled down and switched allegiance to another community with the same philosophical foundation.
Oh, how one thing leads to another!
I followed this philosophy and its teachers for thirty years. Then, with one brief, carefully considered letter of resignation wedged into the second teacher’s door, I turned my back on teacher, community, and path.
Standing on the death side of 2000 now, I might have had thoughts and feelings in common with the woman who gives up on a marriage after thirty tumultuous years; the fox-hole warrior who realizes too late that he’s fighting for the wrong side; or the death-row prisoner who suddenly sees that his best thinking has led him to the eve of destruction.
I felt what Moses must have felt coming out of Egypt—liberated, relieved, and dreading the barrenness of the desert.
What could I possibly do now?
NOTE: This is a brief excerpt from The Long Walk Home, copyright © 2015 by Webster L. Bull. All rights reserved.
To read the next excerpt, “Dad: Varieties of Sex Education,” click here.