by Ray Brooks
It's not the best time to stop someone when you stark naked andhave just climbed out of the cold pool at Wilber hot springs.But I ask you, what would you have done if you had seen someonepass by with a Monty Levenson Shakuhachi tube strapped to hisback. How many Shakuhachi players do you bump into out in thewilds of California. Miss an opportunity like that, never. Theflute 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 gettinga 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 alittle uncomfortable standing there, bare, and blurted out somethingabout getting dressed by the pool because they were just aboutto leave. I apologized for my frantic outburst and turned towardsthe 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 girlfriendCatherine, please to meet you," he said, as he stuck hishand out to meet mine. I shook Catherine's hand without any self-consciousnessabout being in my birthday suit.
"Pleased to meet you, my name isRay."
"Your not the Ray that wrote BlowingZen by any chance are you?"
There was a moment of excitement fromboth of us when I said that, yes that was me. He said some veryflattering words and said that the story had resonated with hisown journey. Catherine had also read the book and didn't feelleft out of our delight.
"Is your wife here?"
I couldn't contain myself and said,"Yes, she's over there," pointing to the beautiful nakedbody of Dianne stretched out on a wooden sun bed.
"Heh Dianne! They've read BlowingZen."
Dianne still tells that story of howI introduced her naked to two strangers.
Sky said he would like to stay and talkfor a while and could we meet later. He had some things he wantedto share with me. I said I would love that, and we arranged tomeet that evening at seven.
I had never actually met anyone whohad read the book outside of people I knew. But there was oneoccasion when Dianne and I were at Green Gulch Zen center in MarinCounty for the day. We're not Zennists but the surroundings ofa Zen center appeal to the Adviatist in us. I remember that sameday we went to Spirit Rock, Jack Kornfield's, meditation center.I had a chance to thank him for his endorsement of the book, soactually 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 afew miles. It was Green Gulch where we spent most of our time.I can't imagine many Zen centers in a more pristine area. Fromthe main lodge you can walk to the sea in twenty minutes. It wason the way to the sea that we passed a young man reading BlowingZen. He was sitting in the sun next to a greenhouse on a pileof logs just of the path. I nudged Dianne and pointed towardsthe reader with my head. We walked on but I wanted to stop andsay, "Hi, how are you enjoying the book? I'm . . ."
The four of us arrived early that evening and sat in the veryspacious common room of Wilber Hot Springs. After some preliminaryconversation about the book tour which we were on, what they didand where they came from, Sky began with his story.
Sky was a handsome Apache Indian inhis thirties with a shining spirit. He had been married with acouple of children and it had all fallen apart. He was at hiswits end and thought life meaningless to the point of contemplatingcommitting suicide. He never mentioned an escape through drugsor drink and didn't have that look of abuse. Something was missingin his life beyond the union of his family.
One day, Sky was wandering through abookstore 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 interestedin 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 grabbedhis attention but his words were, "It jumped out at me."He read the back and flicked through it. We had both been broughtup 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 feltit 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 thisbe he still felt, he was a shakuhachi player. He was depressed.Months went by before the obvious hit him. Native American fluteidiot! He rushed out and bought one, and within an hour of receivingit 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 numerousflutes of different lengths. They were all exquisitely carvedand looked of the best quality. People were gathering and pickingup on his tale of transformation. Would he play for us was thegeneral consensus of those assembled. "Of course, I wouldlove too," he said, but would I join him. What followed wassomething special I'll never forget. Our flutes soared to theheavens together then plummeted to the earth. Sky played manysolo pieces then I played a Honkyoku piece entitled San-an. Skyplayed his flutes like he was born to play them. He seemed tohave 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, BlowingZen, he had sort freedom of a life of spontaneity. He had eventraveled 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 havea lot to thank them for. My blessings are too many to count thanksto Japan. Sky came home and was soon wandering the streets, penniless.One day, he was so hungry, he went into an Indian restaurant andsaid, "I'll play for you if you feed me one meal." Theyagreed and the customers loved it. He was hired to play nightly.I never asked Sky if it was an Indian curry restaurant or a NativeAmerican Indian restaurant. It wouldn't matter. They gave hima job, playing flute. He didn't call me just to tell me he wasworking as a musician in a restaurant. He wanted to know if Iknew where he could get his new CD mass produced at a reasonableprice. He was now playing flute to audiences of 200-300 and couldn'tkeep up with the demand for his CD. Our journey continue.