Howard grew up a mile from where I live on Evitts Creek. A spiritual adventurer/pioneer, he left the area for many years, forging alliances with several well known personas in the American Southwest and Mexico, including Don Juan Matus, the desert guru in Carlos Castaneda’s books. Now Howard’s back in Cumberland, living in town, where he is a practicing acupuncturist, among other healing arts. Every morning he starts his day by driving out to the Smouses Mill Bridge to drink his morning coffee and read the paper. I can see his car from my back yard bluff overlooking the creek. If need be, we could shout out and hear each other.

Before he starts his workday, he often stops over and we talk sports and other man-stuff. Typically way leads onto way into deeper territories, things we are working on in our interior lives, certain frustrations we are carrying regarding others, and how they most likely emanate out of frustrations buried within ourselves. Of late we’ve been coming to realize how ready we finally are to make the leap out of judgment into non-judgment. Or at least to want to.

You could say that this desire is in part precipitated out of our friendship itself, even though we’re as different as night and day. Breaking out of the habit of judging has to start somewhere, with someone who is different. And who isn’t different once you get to know them.

Howard thinks, for example, that our larger self lives in eternity, whereas it seems more likely to me that when you’re dead, you’re dead. To look past such opposite world views requires not taking one’s ideas about life too seriously, which is in and of itself a new world view, and a huge change.

Howard believes that we have made a soul contract to be born into this three dimensional world, with its dense veils and suffering that so dominate this planet. In his view a soul contract includes the galaxy, solar system and planet we’ll be born into, the time and place we’ll be born into it, etc. I can make sense of it as a metaphor, but Howard seems to speaking literally. I chose my mother and father. I chose to be born into a rural community in Michigan, and so forth.

This is the way Howard talks. We came here to be of service for others, but first we had to know, to experience, the suffering first hand. We had to get lost behind the dense veils ourselves as a preparation for the other side, for the joy of loving life unconditionally. Which is itself the essential preparation for service.

I don’t think this way myself. I can go only a short distance into this somewhat foreign language. I’m aware that the fear of sliding into that dark nothing of death can be so crippling as to make one’s life ineffectual. I can see that a fully worked out conviction that our lives are eternal would be a necessary precondition to joy. But when Howard claims that he came here from the constellation of Pleiades, unless he’s making a metaphor, his words drop off my radar.

But here’s my point. Howard well knows that I’m a skeptic of New Age thought. The remarkable thing about our developing friendship is that we have consciously agreed to not base our friendship on being in agreement on harmless ideas. And it has been a prosperous experiment because territories have opened between us that would have been otherwise left underground, or held in secret.

We have made other conscious decisions as well, for one, to meditate on Sunday mornings at my place, which is directly across the road from the Union Grove Campground, where there may well be an old-time religion revival going on. So while we are om-ing to the music of Krishna Das or a Gregorian chant, in the background we may well be hearing a rousing “Onward Christian Soldiers” or “The Old Rugged Cross.” We were both raised in the climate of old-time religion, and are pleased by its presence over there across the road.

As well, we have consciously identified ourselves as friends, no turning back. We’ve made a pact to be the “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” As friends, we have also chosen to rise above the temptations of secret, and so often petty, animosities. We hug upon parting, and say “I love you.” We have chosen to see the highest in each other.

And for all of the above reasons, there is no one I feel more comfortable than Howard to talk about this thing going on with me and my father.

A few months ago I started waking up with this powerful sensation that my father was in the house. One could say that I wasn’t awake yet, but I wasn’t sleeping either. I was in the in-between, befuddled, you might say, but not scared. I liked that Dad was in the house, sleeping upstairs, even though in a few minutes I would start talking myself out of it, repeating to myself, like a mantra: I live alone. My father has been dead for 17 years. Nobody else is in the house. It can take several minutes, but soon enough I am back into my everyday reality.

I think it may have all started a few years ago when I more or less whimsically told myself that I was going to sit with my eyes closed and consciously think about the people that I have deeply loved that are no longer alive. Since I was in my 60’s then, it included a lot of people, my parents, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, one sister, several close friends.

I decided to do that because I had observed that whenever I thought about someone deceased, I immediately dismissed that thought as unpleasant, in a knee-jerk assumption that thoughts of death are themselves unpleasant. But thinking this through, I realized that I was denying myself conscious awareness of the high place these deceased have had in my life. And still do have.

And, except for my mother, no one more so than my father. So I would take a half an hour to open up my mind and heart fully to him. To remember things about him. His essential kindness. How uncomplainingly, and with good humor, he suffered his last days 17 years ago.  How much his friends and grandchildren loved him. That generally brought the tears up — the sparkle in the eyes of others towards him. It was my indirect way of seeing my own love for him, I suppose, which was perhaps so unbearably strong that it needed that little bit of distance.

Anyway, I did that for a while, and the thought occurs to me that that’s why he’s now appearing to me as a presence in the house. Sleeping upstairs, when I awake in the morning. It didn’t immediately occur to me to ask him why he had come? I guess that would have broken too far in to my overly tight idea of rational reality — that once you’re dead you’re gone. Did I want to open the door to mystical thoughts that far. I rather prided myself as a minimalist as far as mystical thoughts go.

One Sunday morning after our meditation, I get to talking to Howard about my father appearing to me in this strange way.

“Ask him what he wants,” he says.



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