by Ray Brooks
It's not the best time to stop someone when you stark naked and have just climbed out of the cold pool at Wilber hot springs. But I ask you, what would you have done if you had seen someone pass by with a Monty Levenson Shakuhachi tube strapped to his back. How many Shakuhachi players do you bump into out in the wilds of California. Miss an opportunity like that, never. The flute carrier was with a woman and they were both fully clothed.
"Excuse me? Is that a shakuhachi you're carrying by any chance," I shouted as I approached them without any thought of getting a towel. He didn't answer until I was within normal speaking distance.
"No, it's not."
"Oh, it's just that . . ."
"I know. It's a shakuhachi container," he said, finishing my sentence. "It's a native American flute."
He must have perceived that I was a little uncomfortable standing there, bare, and blurted out something about getting dressed by the pool because they were just about to leave. I apologized for my frantic outburst and turned towards the direction of my towel.
"Excuse me? Do you play Shakuhachi," he asked.
I was back in front of them still toweless.
"My name's Sky and this is my girlfriend Catherine, please to meet you," he said, as he stuck his hand out to meet mine. I shook Catherine's hand without any self-consciousness about being in my birthday suit.
"Pleased to meet you, my name is Ray."
"Your not the Ray that wrote Blowing Zen by any chance are you?"
There was a moment of excitement from both of us when I said that, yes that was me. He said some very flattering words and said that the story had resonated with his own journey. Catherine had also read the book and didn't feel left out of our delight.
"Is your wife here?"
I couldn't contain myself and said, "Yes, she's over there," pointing to the beautiful naked body of Dianne stretched out on a wooden sun bed.
"Heh Dianne! They've read Blowing Zen."
Dianne still tells that story of how I introduced her naked to two strangers.
Sky said he would like to stay and talk for a while and could we meet later. He had some things he wanted to share with me. I said I would love that, and we arranged to meet that evening at seven.
I had never actually met anyone who
had read the book outside of people I knew. But there was one
occasion when Dianne and I were at Green Gulch Zen center in Marin
County for the day. We're not Zennists but the surroundings of
a Zen center appeal to the Adviatist in us. I remember that same
day we went to Spirit Rock, Jack Kornfield's, meditation center.
I had a chance to thank him for his endorsement of the book, so
actually there was one person who had read the book I didn't know.
Green Gulch and Spirit Rock aren't all that far apart, only a
few miles. It was Green Gulch where we spent most of our time.
I can't imagine many Zen centers in a more pristine area. From
the main lodge you can walk to the sea in twenty minutes. It was
on the way to the sea that we passed a young man reading Blowing
Zen. He was sitting in the sun next to a greenhouse on a pile
of logs just of the path. I nudged Dianne and pointed towards
the reader with my head. We walked on but I wanted to stop and
say, "Hi, how are you enjoying the book? I'm . . ."
The four of us arrived early that evening and sat in the very spacious common room of Wilber Hot Springs. After some preliminary conversation about the book tour which we were on, what they did and where they came from, Sky began with his story.
Sky was a handsome Apache Indian in his thirties with a shining spirit. He had been married with a couple of children and it had all fallen apart. He was at his wits end and thought life meaningless to the point of contemplating committing suicide. He never mentioned an escape through drugs or drink and didn't have that look of abuse. Something was missing in his life beyond the union of his family.
One day, Sky was wandering through a
bookstore and he began to browse the aisles of the new age section.
He had no idea what he was looking for and nothing stood out.
He ended up in the Zen section. I'm not sure if he was interested
in Zen, I doubt it somehow. But this was the extent of his desperation.
He said Blowing Zen jumped out at him. I think he meant grabbed
his attention but his words were, "It jumped out at me."
He read the back and flicked through it. We had both been brought
up by our grandparent's. He was lost, as I had been. He was searching,
as I had searched. This was the book for him. After reading it,
he knew there and then that he was a shakuhachi player. He felt
it in his blood.
Within day's he had ordered a shakuhachi from Tai Hei in Willits. There it was outside his door inside two weeks from ordering it. He ripped open the package and placed it to his lips. Nothing. After a week, nothing. After a month, a squeak. How could this be he still felt, he was a shakuhachi player. He was depressed. Months went by before the obvious hit him. Native American flute idiot! He rushed out and bought one, and within an hour of receiving it he could play it. In a few months, he was quite the player. As Sky told Dianne and I the story, he began to un-rap numerous flutes of different lengths. They were all exquisitely carved and looked of the best quality. People were gathering and picking up on his tale of transformation. Would he play for us was the general consensus of those assembled. "Of course, I would love too," he said, but would I join him. What followed was something special I'll never forget. Our flutes soared to the heavens together then plummeted to the earth. Sky played many solo pieces then I played a Honkyoku piece entitled San-an. Sky played his flutes like he was born to play them. He seemed to have found his spiritual home.
I received a telephone call a year or so after our encounter. He'd had a tumultuous journey. Still influenced by the book, Blowing Zen, he had sort freedom of a life of spontaneity. He had even traveled to Japan and played on the street. Being an Apache Indian, he'd done well. I was familiar with being a novelty over there. Apache has more appeal than a Gaijin Komuso. I'm not complaining. The Japanese people treated me with the utmost respect. I have a lot to thank them for. My blessings are too many to count thanks to Japan. Sky came home and was soon wandering the streets, penniless. One day, he was so hungry, he went into an Indian restaurant and said, "I'll play for you if you feed me one meal." They agreed and the customers loved it. He was hired to play nightly. I never asked Sky if it was an Indian curry restaurant or a Native American Indian restaurant. It wouldn't matter. They gave him a job, playing flute. He didn't call me just to tell me he was working as a musician in a restaurant. He wanted to know if I knew where he could get his new CD mass produced at a reasonable price. He was now playing flute to audiences of 200-300 and couldn't keep up with the demand for his CD. Our journey continue.