‘The Dalai Lama grabbed Havens by the beard and started pulling his head side to side by the hair on his chin and from Haven’s perspective, time slowed down and a mystical moment began…’
While some may consider Richie Havens a B-list star nowadays, for me, he will always be as big as his voice, as big as the day he opened Woodstock and became the voice of his generation. He was one of the first musicians I interviewed as a newbie reporter.
What I’d like to share with you here is part of our conversation that never made it to print. Out of all of the interviews I’ve done, Havens’ answer to the question “What was it like, meeting the Dalai Lama?” was by far the most intriguing answer I’ve gotten from an interviewee.
“Gene, I swear to you this is true!” he started. “I was in line to meet the Dalai Lama and I saw Harrison Ford in line. I love talking to Harrison, so I left my place in line to go talk to him.”
Havens went on to say that by the time he and his buddy — the famous recluse movie star — were done shooting the breeze the line disappeared.
Havens thought he was about to miss his chance to meet the spiritual leader, so he started making a beeline down the aisle.
When the Dalai Lama saw Havens running toward him, he got out from behind his table and started running up the aisle toward Havens. The two intersected and Havens emphasized again, “Gene, I swear this is what happened!”
The Dalai Lama grabbed Havens by the beard and started pulling his head side to side by the hair on his chin and from Haven’s perspective, time slowed down and a mystical moment began. What Havens saw was the Dalai Lama as a little boy swinging from his beard, laughing.
I feel stories like Havens’ are necessary because without them, we take a lot for granted. As vast as space is, as finely tuned as our ecosystem needs to be for our survival, the odds are infinitely stacked against us. My synapses buzz with the romance of it all.
Down the line from my microbial ancestors to my cousins across the pond in Ireland, we kept evolving, surviving and moving with an eye to the stars.
Coleman Barks is a poet. His translations of the 13th century Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi are the best-selling poetry books in America.
When I asked him, “How important is spirituality in your everyday life?,” his answer illustrated how spirituality can guide us through our lives.
“It’s the whole thing,” Barks said. “I love that old story about a theologically inclined bunch of fish who schooled together and discussed the possibility of the existence of the ocean as they swam in it. They divided up into study groups as they tried to figure it out… I’ve felt that mystery my whole life. The first poem that I was drawn to write was about an image of laying back in a river, so that your ears are under water and your eyes are out of water. You have an underwater world that you can listen to and an out of the water world that you can see. The underwater world seems to be further away. You can hear around the bend. You can hear a motorboat coming. That way of being in two places at once is an image of how it feels to be me. I feel like my ears are underwater most of the time!”
There are many cynical theories that try to explain mankind’s metaphysical leanings. Songwriter Randy Newman sings that God and the Devil are nothing more than the inventions of an animal that knows he’s going to die in his song, “Glory Train.” Other theories include, a need for order and validation of existence. But I’m an optimist. Instead of starting from a negative, I chalk my faith up to curiosity.
“Where is heaven?” That is one of my 4-year-old son’s favorite questions these days.
“Is it above the clouds?” “Is it in space?” Last week he asked his mommy to draw him a map.
It’s difficult to come up with an age appropriate answer to “Where’s heaven?” But I like that he keeps asking.
Religions show us possibilities and those possibilities connect us to others and the world around us. Throughout history religions have given us examples of our potential and they have hinted at how far the road ahead can take us if we have the impetus to keep traveling.
None of my friends helped to guide a cultural revolution, none are whirling dervishes or can talk of having the experience of being in two places at once. But enough of us have heard of fascinating things happening. Enough of us believe in the notions depicted by poets, musicians and priests that we keep moving with an eye to the sky.