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In the New Pastures of Heaven

By Nicholas Gagarin

(This is the second of a series of four articles.)

WHEN the Monday morning session broke up for lunch, the 13 units of humanity clustered into little groups of twos and threes and walked happily down to the lodge. The boy fell in step with his friend Paul, with the ugly Susie, who had been making eyes at Paul all morning, and with a quiet, attractive man who turned out to be Susie's husband.

"I think we hugged someplace back there," the boy said to the man, "but I didn't get your name." He chuckled. It was nice to be out in the open, to feel the warm sun and the sea breeze. The man's name was Jimmy.

It was also nice, as they ate lunch, to be able to talk of commonplace things like schools and homes and jobs, nice for the boy not to worry about what he wanted, what he would do about it, what he was afraid of, which of the old women and ugly young women in the group, if any, had their eyes on his tender young body. A wave of joy enveloped him, carried him through lunch and through the afternoon -- a time of quiet relaxation during which he sat alone, for long periods of time, looking out over the ocean.

But three things would happen to change all this. The first came late that afternoon, when the large group--the group of 40--met together to work with hypnotism and fantasy. They met in a large bare room in the lodge called the gallery. Steve, who led one of the other small groups, was the leader.

THE BOY had been lightly hypnotized a couple of times before, so it was not hard for him to lie on his back with his eyes shut, listening only to the sound of Steve's voice. For a while, Steve led them through a series of sensory awakening exercises, and the boy began to feel individual muscles in his body coming alive and then relaxing. He could feel the vibrations in his toes and feet, feel them running up his legs, feel his whole body giving way and yielding to this warm, lovely flow of energy and life. But he was not ready for what happened next.

"Breathe deeply," Steve said, "and exhale. Now again. Feel your breathing." And the boy felt himself breathing. "I am going to lead you on a fantasy," Steve continued, "and if at any point you become scared, or want to stop, just remember that you are safe in your breathing. No matter what happens, you are safe in your breathing." The boy breathed deeply and felt his stomach and chest expand. Yes, he was safe there.

"I want you to imagine a mountain," Steve said. "I want you to see a mountain in your mind, and then imagine you are standing at the bottom of it." He paused for a minute, and a lovely green mountain floated into the boy's mind and settled in place. "If you look carefully, you can see a cave halfway up the mountain," Steve went on. "But there is a door on the cave. As I count from one to ten, I want you to climb up the mountain to that door. One . . ." In a flash the boy stood in front of the door. No, that was too fast. He forced himself back down the mountain. "Four . . . Now you can make out a handle on the door." Again, instantly, the boy stood before the door. Again, he drew back. "Seven . . . You are very close now. Eight. Nine. You are now standing in front of the door. I want you to open the door. I want you to open the door, and go inside the cave."

Madly, the boy flung open the door, and saw nothing but darkness, infinite darkness, into which he was falling forward, falling over and over, until suddenly the darkness became the sea, and on the sea the boy saw a sailboat. A beautiful little sailboat, with no one in it, sailed before him. Then suddenly the sailboat disappeared and the boy saw his home, and saw himself, ten or eleven years old, happily playing in the driveway.

Steve was speaking again. "Now go out of the cave, and start climbing to the top of the mountain. When you reach the top, look over at the other side." With a kind of desperate frenzy, the boy raced up the mountain. In a second he was there, excited, exhausted, panting, straining to see what lay beyond. But as he looked, once again he saw only darkness. Again he fell forward, into the darkness, but more violently this time. He felt himself tossed around by the darkness, seized and shaken by it, and he waited anxiously, afraid, to see what would emerge.

But he saw nothing, because before the darkness had released him, Steve was guiding them back down the mountain, back toward reality. When the group came out of the hypnosis, many people described what they had seen in the cave and over the mountain. Several people had not been able to open the door. One woman had opened it only to run into a wall, another had found herself in a room with flashing purple lights, and many had found pools of water--which the boy knew from an old English course to be symbols of the death-wish. He wondered what he would have seen when the darkness cleared.

THE SECOND big event of Monday came during the evening session of the boy's group. This was to be the structure of all the days there: small group sessions--usually about three hours long--in the morning and at night, and large group work in the late afternoon.

Monday night it did not take the ugly Susie long to get the attention of the group, and soon she was in the center of the circle. She lay on her back and rubbed her eyes. John leaned over her and put his hand on her stomach, as he had done with Elizabeth that morning.

"What do you feel?" John asked.

"Your hand."

"And what do you feel now?"

"Some warmth."

"And what do you feel now?"

"Slightly nauseous."

"And what do you feel now?" John reached for the paper bag that was sitting in the waste basket behind him.

"Nauseous." Susie sat upright with a wild expression on her face and began to vomit into the paper bag. Again and again, she vomited, holding the bag over her nose and mouth.

"Ohhh!" she screamed, "My whole stomach is coming out. It's my stomach." She gasped, and vomited once more.

When the vomiting had passed, she lay down on her back, still in the center of the circle. Her eyes were shut.

"What do you want?" John was always there, always in control. The boy looked at him in awe, and at Susie with apprehension.

"O my God," she screamed, "O my God. Papa. Papa." And she spread her legs very wide, to let the man in. "Papa. O my God," she screamed again Her body began to writhe, then fell into a slow steady rhythm.

Then: "Oh, Jesus. Jimmy, Jimmy, Tell me when to push. I can feel the baby. It's on its way, Jimmy. It's coming out. Oh Jesus, tell me when to push." She spread her legs as wide as she could, holding her feet with her hands. "The baby's coming!" Her whole body tightened in a spasm, and then relaxed.

For a moment there was silence. "Look at him, Jimmy. Look at our baby." There was happiness in her voice. "Look how small he is--but he doesn't have any balls. Jimmy! Where are his balls?"

"They'll come down." John was always there. He was her anchor.

"And they did, too." Susie said, with a little pride. "Look at him, look at those balls of his, look at that cock. I'd like that cock inside of me."

So that was it, the boy thought to himself, the whole cycle. She had slept with her father, given birth to a son, and now she was sleeping with the child. The boy did not know what to make of it, and for the first time, he felt up tight himself. What were these incredibly powerful forces that were being released right before his eyes? Here was a woman lying before him vomiting, then experiencing orgasm, childbirth, orgasm. He could not cope with it. He didn't know what to think, what to do. And he was up tight, not out of any fear or pity for this ugly woman before him. He could not have cared less about her. She might as well have slept with her great great grandfather and given birth to her great great grandson for all the boy cared. But he was suddenly and deeply worried about himself. Did these same emotions exist within himself? What would happen when his turn came to act? What was he sitting on? What did he have to get behind? What would these strange, remote, anonymous people see if he opened up his soul to them?

As these thoughts ran through his mind, Susie came down from her trip, and on her face--as on Elizabeth's face that morning--there was an incredible expression of joy. The boy could not cope with that either. What kind of happiness were these people trying to buy? What was this new pasture of heaven that lay in the center of the circle?

Other stories came out that night. It was incredible, the boy thought to himself, how quickly a group of people can get to know each other, everything about each other. One of the young women, June, confessed that her husband was sterile and did not lay her nearly enough--and with that a triangle consisting of June, Susie, and Jimmy came into being. Slowly, it seemed, everything was reducing itself to two questions: Who wanted to fuck who? Who would fuck who?

The session broke up about 11:30 p.m. On his way out the door, the boy walked past John.

"Are you high on something?" John asked him.

"On drugs? No."

"Look at yourself in the mirror sometime," John said, and then turned away.

Some of the members of the group went down to the baths. The boy was restless, however, and went back to his room with Paul. He looked at himself in the mirror: his eyes were open very wide; he did look stoned, bewildered, afraid. So he and Paul stayed in their room to witness the final event of that Monday--the boy's second breakdown.

For a long time, he paced back and forth while Paul sat on his bed sipping Armagnac from the bottle they had brought. The boy could feel his flipness slipping away from him. "I just don't like these people," he said. "I honestly don't. I don't like anything about them. They're old, they're tired, they're dead, they've based lives on lies. All they can do is look back on it in despair, because they've lost it. Life's passed them by, and I don't want any part of them."

He stopped. How much of what he was saying was true? He had come to Esalen to look at another side of life. What he saw, he was afraid of. He had been afraid when Susie tripped out, but at the same time spellbound -- his strangely dilated eyes were proof of that. "You have to take the biggest risk," John had said. "The further you reach out, the more you will find." The boy wanted a trip of his own. He knew he would be incomplete without one, that there would be a side of himself that would be always hidden. But was he willing to trip out in front of these sterile, lifeless, prostituted people? Did a man have to die, to become part of this human hell, in order to be reborn?

He talked to Paul for a while and climbed into bed--and it was then, in the darkness, that the fear hit, hit as it never had before. "Jesus!" He leaped from his bed and turned on the light. His whole body had been covered with spiders and snakes and maggots--he had suddenly felt himself part of a swarming, clawing, terrifying bed of slime and dirt. The boy remembered a short story he had read once about a man in a cave filled with spiders. What had there been on the other side of that mountain?

He tried turning off the light again, but this time it seemed the entire jungle had gotten into bed with him. Later, he would laugh about it: spiders and snakes, even a gila monster which he had once seen in a natural history book, accompanied by larger animals--gorrillas and apes.

"How amazing," he said in absolute terror to Paul, trying to create some kind of intellectual distance between himself and these animals that lived in the darkness. So he and Paul, who for a long time sat by him and held him, talked about what was happening. It was a classic Freudian trip, Paul said, that rarely happened any more. Usually, modern hang-ups take on images of abandonment, running away, loss--but not head-on confrontations with the beasts of darkness. They both laughed about that. Then the boy cried for a while--simply out of fear, and at the gradual perception of his own smallness and his needs. He thanked God that Paul was there, for without him there would have been nothing.

Wait until they hear about this in group tomorrow, the boy thought to himself. Imagine if I told them that I didn't get any sleep because I had stayed up all night guarding against the spiders. They could certainly take off with that. Spiders! He laughed, and a while later, fell asleep.

TUESDAY morning's group was very bad, but for the first time the boy was drawn into the action. As they all sat around in the circle, one of the ugly young women named Alice looked at the boy and said, "There's something bugging me about you."

Up to this point the boy had said virtually not a word in the group. He had talked a little to people outside the group, but not in it. So when he felt the full attention of the group upon him, he began to feel his pulse beating. The energy was flowing in his body, he could feel the vibes. But he didn't speak. He simply stared at Alice with an empty, enigmatic stare. He enjoyed that.

"Come on," she said, in a whining frustrated way.

"Alice, what do you want of him?" John's voice was as strong, as quiet as ever.

"I want to hit him."

Instead of fighting, the two played a game (a fight substitute), in which they stood an arm's length apart and, with no other weapon than that of slapping each other's hands, tried to make the other lose his balance.

Several times in a row, the boy won. He won by teasing her, by getting her to lunge at him so hard that she fell forward. The boy felt very strong and in control.

"What do you want of me?" Alice asked him.

"Very little."

"Alice, he's rejecting you," John said. "What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know."

"What do you want of him?"

Alice was silent, so the boy said, "I'm a very good bridge player." He smiled wryly, then returned to his place in the circle and sat down. He had frustrated Alice and he felt good about it.

The other event of the morning session was the group's decision to let one of the old women named Jessica fight her way into the circle. It was a traditional game, which they played because Jessica, who had said even less than the boy, suddenly told the group that she felt like an outsider. The group, at June's suggestion, formed a tight circle, standing up, with arms and shoulders and hips locked--and with Jessica on the outside. It was her role to fight her way in.

The boy would find out later that Jessica was a physical education teacher, but he did not know it at the time, so when the old woman began to claw away at the circle, literally to tear people's arms apart, the boy was more than a little amazed. In the process of fighting to keep her out, he injured his big toe; someone kicked the nail, which tore off, and the toe started of bleed. But the boy hung on, until Jessica finally made it in and, finding herself suddenly in the middle, burst out in that same expression of indescribable joy that the boy had seen in Elizabeth and Susie.

"I'm going to go wash my toe," the boy muttered to John.

"Do you want to tell the group where you're going?"

"No, I think I'll just slip away."

A little while later, the group broke up for lunch. The boy did not feel hungry, however; he still felt the energy pounding in his body. He felt uncertain about the night before, and wanted only to be outside, by himself He walked slowly up the road to Route One, from where he could look down on all of Esalen. He felt strong. But towering above him, towering above Route One, was a small, very steep mountain. "The mountain," the boy exclaimed to himself. And he knew that he had to climb it. He would see what lay on the other side. Whatever it was, it would not be darkness.

If the boy had one thing, it was an appreciation for the aesthetics of a situation--and this situation, as he anticipated it, he knew to be fantastic. He first returned to his room, where he took off his sweater and his army jacket. It was raining out, and there was a wind blowing, but that was just right, the boy knew it. "Here I stand in my boots (no socks), my blue jeans (no underwear), and my shirt. It is a ritual, a sacrifice. I will present myself to the storm. I will give myself to the mountain, and I hope that I may return."

With those unspoken words, he left his room, went outside, and began to jog slowly up the steep hill, back to Route One. He looked at the base of the mountain (it was not a mountain, but he liked to call it that). The base was the steepest. It was, the boy thought, almost straight up for about thirty feet. There was nothing to hold onto--there was only the wet slippery clay, which three days before, in Southern California, had killed 11 people in a mudslide. The boy looked at this bank of clay, and then he began to climb. He dug out a foothold for himself, then reached up and grabbed a rock. It came loose and slid down onto the road. "If a man were to drive by now, he would think I was crazy."

He remained motionless, then he reached up and tried to grab onto something, anything. Nothing held. He felt his foot slipping, desperately reached out with one hand, and found a rock that was secure. He hung onto it, trembling, and saw that he was only 15 feet above the highway. He reached out again. Again, nothing held. Five feet above his outstreched arm, the clay bank stopped and the mountain began. There, five feet away, were bushes that he could hold onto, bushes that would support him. With one foot, he found another solid rock and inched his way up. He was closer, but still he could not reach. With every breath, he felt his hold on the mountain losing out, he felt himself letting go, beginning to fall, and almost cried out--but something happened which he did not then understand, nor would he ever understand. He melted into the mountain, he literally melted into the mountain, and the mountain held him; he reached up, found the roots of a bush, and pulled himself up. He was there. He was safe. He was covered with mud, and he was happy.

He looked up. The mountain was much steeper than he had expected; the underbrush was much thicker. He could feel dirt and little stones in his boots, could feel the dirt rubbing its way into his injured toe; and for one fleeting instant, as he stared at the underbrush, the roots and vines started to move. "The spiders!" he cried to himself. But as the fear of the night before returned to him, he heard himself breathing. "No." He shouted, looking straight ahead. "I am safe in my breathing. Whatever happens I am safe in my breathing, and nothing can touch me." He began to climb.

It was a climb like none he had ever experienced before. Often he had to simply plunge forward, dragging himself up through the heavy brush, grabbing on wherever it was possible, plunging in one foot, then swinging the other foot high, and beyond the first. As he climbed, he was scared--scared that he would turn back, that he would turn back and then have to start again or forever carry this failure with him. But all the while he felt his breathing. "I am safe there. I will climb this mountain. I will."

"Say that again." He seemed to hear John's voice.

"I will. I will. I will," the boy shouted melodramatically, and on he climbed.

The rain had stopped and after a while, the underbrush thinned and the climbing became easier. The boy climbed around some big rocks and, coming to the top of one, sat down to rest and clean out his boots. He looked down at a crack in the rock by his side. A green rose!

"A green rose!" He shouted, "A green rose. Stephen Dedalus, it's a green rose." Yes, the boy had a sense for the aesthetics of the situation. He knew that the funny rubbery mountain weed by his side was not a green

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