TWENTY ONE

Seduction

About two o’clock the following morning I finally arrived at my destination, Florida's "Gold Coast." Eighteen hours alone on the road with my thoughts had already taken its toll on the image of holy crusader I so desperately wanted to believe in. Now, the expensive oceanfront high-rises that lined the waterfront had an undeniable appeal that made me question even more what my real motives were in coming. Instead of the ascetic "Wanderer" in the I Ching that I romantically fashioned myself to be, perhaps I was just another starry-eyed snowbird fleeing to Florida, hoping to find a new, and happier, life.

Ernie, an old friend of the family, had arranged for me to stay with his parents in Boca Raton until I could find a place of my own. Because of the hour I stayed in a small motel that night, then called his parents the next morning. They turned out to be a very pleasant and friendly couple who remembered more about my family, especially my father, than I did. They seemed pleased to have me as a house guest and equally pleased a few days later when I rented an apartment in Pompano Beach.

My immediate plans were to find an entre into the stress management field in the area, then use that stage to find people who might be interested in more esoteric matters. I hoped to form a group of serious spiritual seekers, then, when the group was big enough, invite Rose down to speak and work with them. I even had dreams that he might want to spend his winters here--away from the cold that inflamed his bronchitis--and that we could work side by side on my turf, with the people I had assembled.

Ernie's father had clipped out some newspaper articles for me about stress programs in the area. My first call was to a hospital administrator who'd received a very favorable write-up about a program she was running at a local hospital. Despite my careful rehearsing, she clearly was not impressed.

"What credentials do you have to teach 'stress?' If you were so successful as a lawyer, why did you leave? Are you still in good standing with the bar?"

I chose another name out of the articles and called him, receiving similar questions and the same results.

"I'll be tied up for the next few weeks," he said curtly. "If you're still in the area next month, give me a call."

After a week of working the phones and cold-calling on colleges, businesses, and community centers, I still hadn't made any progress. South Florida was a haven for misfits and con-men, and nobody believed that a lawyer would abandon his practice--even for a year--unless he was on the run from the police or the ethics committee.

Finally, after two weeks I got a break. I stopped in at Florida Atlantic University and made my usual rounds. After being shuffled from one department to another I ended up in the office of the Assistant Dean of Continuing Education, who passed me off to their Center for Management and Professional Development. The Center's director misinterpreted the dean's hand-off as a recommendation, and the next day I was hired to teach a course in stress management.

After that things went more smoothly. With the credibility of the university behind me, I was able to get myself some speaking engagements, mostly at professional association luncheons--doctors, lawyers, dentists, architects, anybody who needed somebody to talk for free while they digested their meals. After each talk I was approached by one or two people who sensed a deeper message behind my public talk. Later, over lunch or at their office, I'd tell them about my plans to form a group. Some people from my university classes also expressed interest in forming a group, and within a month or so six of us were holding weekly meetings at the home of one of my students.

Jubilant, I reported in to Rose. He was cautious.

"Somewhere along the line you'll have to make a shift," he said. "That is, if you want to attract serious people. These burned-out professionals aren't interested in changing their lives. They just want to get up one last head of steam so they can make a final assault on fleecing the public."

I explained my opinions to the contrary. Stress management was opening doors for me, and I was convinced that people with ears to hear were getting the deeper message. Rose listened quietly for awhile, then when I ran out of steam he spoke again.

"If someone is serious about this work they have to be ready to give up whatever stands in the way of their search. If that means leaving the wife, burning down the business, sinking the boat, and giving the golf clubs to Goodwill, then they've got to do it and never look back. But people who've already put twenty years into a specific direction aren't just going to walk away simply because you tell them to. You need to catch people before they have everything invested in a certain way of life. Talk to young people. Talk to them about success. That's what they're interested in. They haven't got it yet, and they're not even sure what it means. Define success for them in spiritual terms. They're the ones who might be able to make the shift."

I persisted with my own views and when it became clear we weren't going to reach an agreement, he dropped it.

"Well it sounds like it's going the way you want it to," he said. "Maybe things will work out for you."

For awhile they did. Things worked out very well. Shortly after that phone call a man approached me at one of my luncheon talks and asked if I'd come speak at his health club, the Palm-Aire, which I knew to be a very exclusive spa. I eagerly accepted and it turned into a regular spot. Every Monday night I presented my thoughts on stress management to a gathering of millionaires, politicians, and professionals, many of whom seemed eager to help me get even wider exposure. Through them I picked up some consulting work, which generated a little income and gave me hope that the whole venture might actually succeed.

I did not go back to West Virginia for the July TAT meeting. It was the first TAT meeting I'd missed in ten years, but I felt I couldn't leave the commitments I'd generated for myself. I felt uneasy about not going, but I had to admit that secretly I did not want to go back anyway. I was feeling good about charting my own course in Florida and I worried what a weekend at the farm with Rose would do to my mood and resolve.

But a short time later West Virginia came to me in the form of Chuck Carter, the man who’d built my cabin. I'd bought a new car a few weeks after I arrived in Florida and called Chuck to offer him a chance to buy my pickup. Chuck had often borrowed it at the farm and said that if I ever wanted to sell it to let him know. We agreed on a price over the phone and he said he'd fly down as soon as he could get free.

Chuck was a "hundred percent-er," as Rose called him, which was the highest compliment he could pay. Chuck had moved to the farm in 1975 and seemed prepared to spend the rest of his life living in poverty and simplicity, maintaining the ashram and carrying on with the work. At the farm his single-minded intensity had always intimidated me, and I looked forward now to spending some time with him on my turf, in my new life.

I waited for him inside the terminal, my enthusiasm holding strong even through the hour and a half delay of his flight. I thought of the different restaurants where we could catch a late dinner and maybe run into somebody important that I knew.

But the dream world in which I was living and with which I had planned to impress Chuck vanished as soon as he walked through the gate. His presence personified everything I remembered from the farm, and everything I was not. His body showed the hardiness and fatigue of long hours of physical labor. His face reflected the frustration and determination that comes from boxing endlessly with the shadows of the mind. He was a man living under tension, the kind of tension I knew was necessary if one was to successfully court Enlightenment. I swallowed my guilt as we walked out to the car, and buried my tan, un-callused hands deep within my pockets.

Chuck's presence disoriented me. It was as if I'd been split in half and had two separate states of mind in the same head. Whether out of fatigue or discomfort he said little in the car, and for the most part we rode in silence to my condominium. It wasn't until later that evening, sitting on my balcony, twenty-six stories above the ocean, that the conversation began to flow.

"That's beautiful," he said, staring at the moonlit surf.

"I never get tired of it." I leaned back in the chair, my feet braced against the railing. "Before I knew anybody here, I used to spend whole evenings walking up and down the beach," I said. "Then I'd look up into the windows of some of the beachfront condos and see people sitting in front of TV. I couldn't believe they were watching anything but the water."

We listened a few minutes to the waves below.

"The farm seems a million miles away," Chuck said.

"So what am I missing up there?"

"Work. Lots of it. Mister Rose has a hundred things he wants to get done this summer. As soon as we finish one project, it's on to something else"

"So how's he been?"

"Oh, the same, as always. He's trying to do too much, and he gets irritated when he doesn't get any support. He says everybody on the farm is hiding from him so he can't put them to work. Says we're just putting in time waiting for him to zap us. He says nobody's changing. Same old stuff."

"Does he say anything about me?" It was a dangerous question. I knew Chuck would speak the truth regardless of my feelings.

"He says you're on a giant ego trip, and that this whole Florida thing is just an excuse for you to try and make a big splash. He says you want your name in lights and a girlfriend to impress."

"I don't have a girlfriend," I said indignantly, sitting up in my chair .

Chuck kept his eyes fixed on the black horizon.

"He says you will, sooner or later."

Chuck left the next day in the pickup truck, but it was awhile before I recovered from his visit. He had brought Rose closer to me, here on the personal turf I had begun to create, and I was left with the familiar sense of irritation, frustration and uncertainty that settled on me whenever I found myself in Rose's cross-hairs.

I was reminded of the old lawyers maxim to never ask a question in court unless you were prepared to deal with whatever answer you might get. For weeks after Chuck left I paid the price for violating that rule in our conversation on the balcony. I became conscious of how strong a role ego-gratification played in everything I did, even--maybe especially--when I was trying to deal in spiritual matters. So for awhile I tried to hold my vanity in check. But when I did I lost confidence in myself. My speaking ability deteriorated and I was out of synch interacting with others. For awhile, nobody approached me after my talks, and a couple of the group meetings were absolute duds. I began to worry, something I hadn't done since things started falling into place for me in Florida. In the end, I decided I had to forget about Rose's criticisms and move on, otherwise I was dead in the water.

The following Monday, Donna, a stylish woman with a diamond ring the size of a doorknob, approached me after a talk at the health spa. I had mentioned that I used to teach hatha yoga, and she wondered if I'd be forming a class any time soon. I'd been considering starting a yoga class as a feeder group for the philosophic meetings, and I wondered if this might be a sign that the time was right. I told her I'd been thinking about it and that I would call her if it materialized.

I asked some of the people I knew if they'd be interested and most said yes. One, a graphics designer named Lee, even volunteered his house. I called Donna and told her the first meeting would be Sunday night.

"Great," she said. "I have a friend who's also interested. I'll bring her, too."

Sunday night I sat on Lee's front porch, joking with people as they arrived for class. Surrounded by lawyers and businessmen who called me "Yogi Dave," or their "Jew-ru," looking out at the BMWs and Mercedes that filled Lee's driveway, being cooled by the fresh breeze that blew off the ocean a few hundred yards away, I felt relaxed, happy, and in my element. The almost spontaneous formation of the yoga class had removed the last doubts I had about whether I'd done right in pushing ahead instead of remaining paralyzed by Rose's comments.

I was about to start without Donna when a sleek black Porsche pulled up. Donna stepped out of the driver's side and waved in our direction. A second later the passenger door opened and a young, dark-haired woman got out. I couldn't seem to take my eyes off her as she approached. Even though I'd never seen her before she looked somehow familiar.

Her name was Nicole, and that evening I had a hard time concentrating on the class. My thoughts and eyes kept turning back to her. The following week I asked her out and it wasn't long before we started seeing each other regularly. Two months later I moved in with her. She was a good companion and a close friend, and it didn't take long for both of us to become convinced we were in love.

For awhile my life seemed complete. I had done what I set out to do. I was accepted as a stress management expert and had started an esoteric group with people I'd met through that forum. I taught classes at a university, gave yoga lessons, did banquet talks. And now, with Nicole, I was experiencing what seemed like genuine love. I had everything I thought I wanted in life.

But the problems attendant to still being a part of Rose's world refused to go away. There was the feeling of hypocrisy that washed over me when I heard myself advise a celibate life, and the ring of insincerity I heard in my voice when I spoke of simplicity and inner work. I was forced to draw more and more upon the past when trying to make a point about how a philosophic life should be lived.

And then there was Rose himself. Our conversations on the phone remained cordial only so long as we talked of trivial things. As soon as I brought up anything having to do with philosophy or the group, he waded into me, often so loud that I literally had to hold the receiver at arm's length.

I pressed on even harder, determined to prove that I could still make it work. I waited for the big break, the quantum leap that would demonstrate some real progress and put me over the top, all the while fearful of the big bust Rose had predicted. Neither came. My life went on day after day, with small victories and setbacks, and no clear sign as to what I should do with my future.

I pushed on with the talks and groups with an intensity bordering on desperation. I felt I had to somehow generate a new career that would embrace both of my obsessions: happiness and spiritual work. Nicole seemed willing to go anywhere and do whatever was necessary to make it happen, and her trust and support only increased my despair at not being able to pull it off.

The months passed quickly and my year's sabbatical was nearing an end without much being accomplished that I could show to Rose as proof I'd not wasted my time. I resolved to give it one last push.

Early in the summer I had done some consulting work for Bob, the eccentric owner of a Palm Beach graphic design company. Bob had deep insights into marketing and an interest in Zen. For reasons I didn't understand but deeply appreciated, he put together a slick seminar package for me that he guaranteed would fill the seats--at a hundred bucks each.

"What you do with them once you get them through the door is your business," he grinned.

I called everyone I knew. The professionals I'd met during the last eight months may have been lousy candidates for a philosophic group but they knew how to get the word out. More than fifty people showed up for the seminar. The audience was a good blend of men and women, students and professionals, with quite a few familiar faces smiling back at me in the crowd.

For some reason I felt relaxed, confident and enthusiastic, and the morning session was a big hit. As we broke for lunch, a dozen people came to the front of the room with comments, questions, and promises to return with friends for the next seminar. I reveled in it, and began to feel that I'd finally hit on the formula. When they'd all left, I sat down, propped up my feet and opened a can of soda.

There was a tentative knock at the door. "Anyone home?" It was Donna, who had played a big role in promoting the seminar.

I stood up. "Come on in."

"I just have a minute," she said. "I have to run to the office during break."

"So, what do you think?" I said. "How's it look from where you're sitting?" I was confident her praise would be appropriately effusive.

"Great. I mean, I think I understand much better what you're trying to do down here. You have a lot of really good things to say about what's important in life and what's not."

My smile drooped slightly. She seemed hesitant about something.

"But...?"

"It's just that I overheard a group of people talking out in the hall awhile ago. About half of them were people who already know you, and the others were here for the first time.

"Yeah...?"

"Well one of the new people was really excited by what you were saying, and talking about how important it is to live the kind of life you describe."

"Sounds good so far."

"Then one of the guys who knew you said, 'Only trouble is he doesn't live that way himself.' Then everybody who knew you started laughing. I don't think they meant anything by it. It's just that..."

"Well," I said absently. The energy drained from my body so quickly I had to sit down again.

Donna looked concerned. "I'm sorry, I just thought..."

"No, it's okay," I said.

I went through the motions of the afternoon session, but it was over. I could feel in my bones and my heart that I could no longer maintain the sham life I had tried to create for myself. It no longer mattered whether I regarded Rose as my teacher, or if he still regarded me as one of his students. The truth remained the same: you become what you do. Left to my own devices I had lived out the dreams of my youth and the result was that my life had turned into a lie. I had tried to justify a life of material ambition by wrapping it in a spiritual cloak, and it would never work. Besides, my time was up. My partners expected me back and I had created nothing in Florida that would justify my staying.

Leaving Nicole was a great agony that I had a difficult time disguising. I said I would call and write and return to visit. I said I would study for the Florida Bar and maybe set up an office there someday. I said many things. She nodded her head and said that she loved me, but she did not say she would wait.

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