My second story cannot be called humorous. Rather it is both sad and joyous. It captures a sense of wonder and revelation that I found in “The City” (as we called it) over the fifteen years that I lived there. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned there was about that word “Guru”.
In the 1960s and 1970s, San Francisco was inhabited by all kinds of gurus who attracted people looking for guidance. Most gurus were charlatans, and the few — who were not — indulged themselves in the adulation of their followers. And, of course, the whole world has now become a San Francisco on a bigger stage.
And so I marvel that I survived all those San Francisco gurus during the fifteen years when I lived there. How? By encountering what I call Angels who entered into my life in San Francisco every so briefly, sometimes for just a few minutes or hours. They were not selling me wisdom. They did not want me to become their followers. They simply gave the gift of insight and wisdom: no strings attached.
Two of them appear in this story: Edna, the English fish and chips shop owner, and a Jewish man I call Bernstein, a businessman I met in a San Francisco coffee house briefly one afternoon.
An Angel in The City
Another angel was the psychologist Abraham Maslow. Let me tell you about my brief encounter with him before I tell the longer story:
One evening in 1968 or 1969, I walked down to the Unitarian Church near downtown San Francisco where events were sponsored by the a center of the human potential movement, Esalen Institute. The walk was longer than I expected, and I arrived to find the large room completely filled with a few hundred people wanting to hear Abraham Maslow speak about his “Hierarchy of Needs." It was a crucial idea for those of us who were expanding our minds in the tradition of California hippies!
There was not a single seat anywhere. All the walls were lined with people standing. And even the entryways were packed with latecomers. But I could see that there was a small empty space in the front, right at the foot of a seated Abraham Maslow. I was brash in those days, and so I walked down the crowded aisles straight to the front, and sat on the floor — alone, for no one joined me — at the foot of Abraham.
After the host sitting next to Maslow introduced him, the psychologist began to talk about his work. He was passionate about his research, and about those who had studied with him in past years. Then, an amazing thing happened. Abraham's voice trembled with emotion, and he started to cry. I sat motionless wondering what he would say next.
When words returned to him Maslow said something like this: “I cannot teach anymore. My students now think of themselves as liberated revolutionaries. And I have become an authority figure who they must reject. And so I no longer can teach. It breaks my heart.” (He died of a heart attack in 1970.)
At that moment I wanted to say to Abraham: “But don’t you see me here? I am sitting at your feet. I walked through this throng so that I could sit at your feet and learn from you. How I wish you were my teacher.” And there I sat, about twenty-five years-old, long hair cascading over my shoulders, dressed in a tie-dyed hippy shirt of many colors. But without the courage to speak my thoughts aloud.
When his talk was done, Maslow was circled by well-wishers and I had no access to him. My youthful brashness failed me, I turned away, and silently walked back homewards in a foggy San Francisco night. But I left with a gift. Abraham Maslow revealed passion for teaching. And his tears the burden he carried.
That was his gift to me. Not his theories about humanistic or transpersonal psychology, good as they were. Yet, I only met Abraham Maslow that one evening in San Francisco. And it was time enough. He was a visiting angel who showed me that teaching was not about knowledge, but about the joys and sorrows of a passionate, inquiring life.
Our angels visit us unexpectedly in our everyday life, give a blessing, and then quickly depart.
The Tale of Bernstein's Bread
Listen to the Story Here:
This tale is not yet transcribed into writing.
Your comments are always welcome. Email me here.