The Walk in the Park

Originally printed in the MAY-JUNE 2006 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Boyd, Tim. "The Walk in the Park." Quest  94.3 (MAY-JUNE 2006):97-100.
by Tim Boyd
"We must ever be ready to accept the totally unexpected, the miraculous" 

Theosophical Society - Tim Boyd was elected the president of the Theosophical Society Adyar in 2014. He succeeded Radha Burnier.

In April 1973, during Spring break from college, I drove from New York to Chicago with my father, who was going there on business. Like many vacation idled youth, I did not have any particular plan for my holiday, and when my father asked me to join him, I said yes. It was a casual decision made without deep reflection or any sense of portent. But this casual decision would completely change the course of my life and set me on a path of training with a spiritual teacher.

I was going to Chicago visit my cousin, Barrett. I had not seen him in two years and remembered him as something of "a wild and crazy guy." Barrett's mother and father were socially prominent people who had given him far too much. He was used to the good life, and often got in trouble for pushing the limits. It promised to be a fun vacation.

After arriving, I soon noticed that my cousin had changed since we were last together. He seemed calmer, and enjoyed talking about the power of thought, healing, Nostradamus, and psychic senses. All of this was foreign to me, and seemed totally incongruous coming from my formerly delinquent cousin. Probably the oddest thing I witnessed during our first couple of days together was his morning ritual. Each morning, he would get up and sit on a cushion in the corner. He would cross his legs and sit facing the wall. What happened next was the strange part for me. He would sit there for fifteen or twenty minutes doing nothing, just sitting motionless. When I asked him about it he said he was "meditating".

I could no longer contain myself, and said, "Barrett, you have really changed since the last time I saw you." (What I really meant was, "You are not the guy I had planned to spend my vacation with.") To which he replied, "You need to meet my teacher, the Old Man." I could feel my vacation slipping away. I thought I had left teachers behind at school, and certainly the thought of spending my time with an "Old Man" did little to kindle my enthusiasm. Nevertheless, next day, I accompanied Barrett, his friend Al, and Al's girlfriend on a visit to the Old Man. 

First Encounter: "I'll See You Soon, Son"

That first meeting lived up to my relatively low expectations. A very tall young man answered the door and led us into the living room. His name was Larry. He had been around the Old Man since he was a kid. A few minutes later, the Old Man came downstairs, followed by another of his students, Calvin. The Old Man knew everyone there except me. He introduced himself, "Hello, I'm Bill Lawrence, but a lot of my young friends call me the Old Man." I was surprised to discover that he was not the crusty old codger I had expected. He was an extremely handsome man, in his early fifties, with his straight black hair combed back. He had an olive complexion, sharp features and piercing dark brown eyes. It was difficult to determine his ethnicity. My initial impression was American Indian, but after looking at him for awhile I thought he could have been from Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, India or the Mediterranean.

He turned out to be quite a conversationalist. When he spoke he was very positive and had definite ideas about things. Although the encounter did not leave a deep impression on me, one incident did stand out. While the Old Man was talking, Al was distracted and kept rubbing his forehead. The Old Man asked if he was all right, and Al responded that he had a bad headache. The Old Man said, "That's no problem. Larry and Calvin, take his headache." Larry and Calvin placed a chair in the middle of the room and beckoned Al to sit down. Larry stood behind Al, Calvin stood in front of him. They rubbed their hands together rapidly and then held them four to six inches from Al's head. After a minute or so, they shook their hands, as though they were shaking off water, and sat back down.

The Old Man asked Al how he felt. With an obvious sense of relief, Al said, "That feels so much better." I did not know what to think about what I had just seen. I had not really seen anything. They had not given any medications to Al; they had not massaged his neck or shoulders; they had not done anything but rub their hands together and point them at Al. And yet, Al was clearly relieved. Lacking a familiar mental compartment for this event, I just let it go.

After an hour had passed, we all got up to take our leave. The Old Man walked us to the door. As I passed by him, I gave him the formulaic farewell, "Goodbye, it's been nice meeting you." To which he responded, "I'll see you soon, son." For the past hour, I had sat patiently listening to his definitive pronouncements, but this time I felt he had gone too far. I told him, "I don't think so. I am leaving early tomorrow morning." He smiled, looked me in the eye and repeated, "I'll see you soon, son."

Afterward, there was not much discussion in the car. For Barrett and Al, it was just another day with the Old Man. But I didn't get it. He was an interesting fellow, and a gifted storyteller, but the reason for their inordinately high regard for him eluded me.

We dropped off Al and his girlfriend, and then ran some errands before returning home. We planned to go out that night, and I wanted to be ready to leave in the morning, so I started packing my things. While placing my few belongings in the bag, I discovered that something I had brought with me was missing — something private and valuable to me. I asked my cousin if he had seen it, but he hadn't. We searched the room. After a half hour of futile searching, Barrett said, "Maybe we should ask the Old Man."

I snapped and said, "Barrett, what are you talking about? Don't you think that you are getting a little carried away with this 'Old Man' thing? He lives on 33rd Street. We are here on 83rd Street. What could he possibly know about any of this?" Even though I was still distraught about losing my treasure, it felt good to set Barrett straight about what I was starting to view as an illogical, unthinking and misguided reverence for the Old Man.

Barrett did not argue with me. He just looked at me. The look he gave me was the type you would give to some harmless crazy person in the street -- one of those people arguing with a lamp post or having a heated discussion with some invisible friend. It was a benign glance of genuine pity for someone who simply does not understand. 

Second Encounter: "What Can Be Denied Me?

That night, we stopped by the home of one of Barrett's friends. After listening to music, talking, and dancing we left. I had thought that we were going to another friend's house.

I did not have a good sense of direction in Chicago. It was all new to me. But when Barrett pulled over to park, I realized that we were in front of the Old Man's house.

Calvin let us in and invited us to come upstairs. Although the Old Man had come downstairs to visit with us that afternoon, he was recovering from a very recent surgery and needed to conserve his energy. The Old Man was sitting up in his king size bed. Calvin had placed a couple of chairs for us, next to the bed. When I stepped in the bedroom door, the Old Man's eyes sparkled. He flashed a big grin at me and said, "Hey, we meet again." Then I remembered his words from earlier that day, "I will see you soon, son."

At that point, he had my attention. What he said next brought my mind to a complete stop. "The lost things you came here to ask about," he remarked, "you will get your answer when you get back to New York." All of this before I had even sat down. After I took my seat, he did not say another word about our previous meeting or my missing possessions. He switched gears completely and started talking about the "ageless wisdom," Theosophy. In a rhetorical way, he asked, "You think you know yourself pretty well, don't you?" "You walk in here wearing your black pants, your little brown jacket with the patch pockets. You have your hair combed just so...That's what you want the world to see, but when I look at you I see beyond all of that. This body that you pay so much attention to is the least of you. You have six other bodies that you can function in fully and consciously."

The Old Man spoke about many things that night. In the years to come, I would be privileged to sit with numerous spiritually awakened individuals, but no one expressed these deep truths like the Old Man. Even though the subject was profound and often abstract, he had a way of making it seem immediate and personal. At one point, he said, "I see a young man..." and then proceeded to describe him in great detail, right down to a small scar next to his left eye. He said that I knew him. Of course, I did. It was my former high school classmate, Bob. He said that I had regarded him as a friend, but that Bob had harbored a hidden jealousy toward me. All of this was true.

He then described an incident that had occurred three years earlier, in which I was injured playing basketball. He said that my supposed friend, Bob, had deliberately tried to do me harm. Although I had not thought about it since it happened, I remembered that Bob and I had been playing together on the same team when I was injured. At the time, I had thought of it as an accident, just one of those things that happen in the heat of the game. But replaying the event in my mind, I realized that it had definitely been a deliberate act.

p style="text-align: justify;">As if I needed further proof that his clairvoyance was genuine, he described several other events in my life which only I could have known about, with complete accuracy. Then he said, "I'm going to share something with you. It is a mantra that I created for myself. I repeat it silently throughout the day. Listen to it. It might do you some good. 

I know that I am a spark from that Eternal Flame.
I am a grain of sand on this beach of Life.
I am related to a blade of grass;
Correlated to a leaf on a tree.
I am part of the Universal All.


"What can be denied me?"

I listened with rapt attention. Never had I heard or read any of this, yet somehow it all seemed so familiar to me. Finally, the Old Man said, "Son, you probably better get up and go now." To which I responded, "No, that's all right. Please don't stop." He said, "But don't you remember, you have to leave early in the morning? Take a look at your watch." I checked my watch. It was four o'clock in the morning! I had been sitting in that same chair listening for six hours, yet I had no sense of the passage of time.

The drive back to New York City was a blur. Something odd was happening in my mind. I was not analyzing or even thinking about the many things the Old Man had said to me. I did not feel any quickening of the mind or spirit. It was more like a feeling of being suspended somewhere in space. Not fully here or there; somewhere in between, but between what and what? I could not say. 

Epiphany: I am a grain of sand on this beach of Life

In New York, I had a couple of days left before I had to return to school. I began to wrestle with the things I had heard. I went for a long walk in the park to try to digest it. When I was in Chicago with my cousin, I had asked him if he had any books about this "spiritual thing". He handed me a short book on yoga. I glanced at it, reading no more than paragraph. Nothing in it caught my attention. I put the book down and thought no more about it. But on my walk in the park, the one short paragraph I read came to mind. It was about the breath, and the power and importance of rhythmic breathing. It outlined "puraka" (inhalation), kumbaka (the space between breaths), and rechaka (exhalation).

As I began to focus on the breath, the rhythm of walking and the rhythm of breathing seemed to blend together. I felt a sense of calm and clarity. Everything around, and inside of me, seemed to become slow and quiet. I found myself thinking about the Old Man's mantra. The problem was that I could not remember all of it. The only line I could remember was "I am a grain of sand on this beach of Life." Walking, breathing, thinking, I found myself completely absorbed in that one line from the mantra.

And then something happened -- something so sudden and so profound that nothing could have prepared me for it. When walking down a broad flight of stairs in Riverside Park, in the space of time between lifting one foot and setting it down again, something inside of me shifted utterly and irrevocably. It was as if a surrounding shell cracked and fell away revealing a wondrous new world. Everything I saw and heard seemed to be alive and filled with meaning. I experienced a stillness which was not merely an absence of noise or disturbance, but something like an omnipresent foundation of being, underlying the worlds of activity and thought, and which when experienced breathed extraordinary meaning into what I imagined to be the mundane, "ordinary" world.

The Old Man's mantra no longer merely spoke of the insignificant, infinitesimal grain and the infinite beach; it mirrored my experience of union with a boundless network of life and my intimate participation in that greater life. As I continued walking, new levels of perception unfolded. I could ask a question inwardly, and then wait in stillness while an answer would play out in my mind's eye, like a movie. Some of the scenes were symbolic, others quite literal.

Whenever I have attempted to recount this experience, I have invariably encountered the poverty of our language to describe such inner states. In later years, in books and world scriptures, I encountered descriptions by others who had similar awakenings. For example, in Varieties of Religious Experience, William James uses the term "invasion of consciousness" to describe the experience of having the boundaries of ordinary awareness suddenly overwhelmed by some greater consciousness. (James 1961) There is a medieval drawing of a man standing in an ordinary room who peeks his head through a curtain. With his body in the "normal world," and his head on the other side of the veil, his normal world has disappeared and he finds himself in a startling new realm amidst an expanse of stars, comets, planets and other luminary bodies. In Psalms 46:6, there is a line that reads, "He utters His voice and the earth melts." (Bible)

Over the next two weeks, the experience deepened and became increasingly nuanced. Like a tree whose roots spread wide and deep into the darkness of the earth, I seemed to be connecting with and receiving sustenance from an ever-expanding inner world.

But then, it began to fade. As Sophocles writes in Antigone, "Nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse." (Sophocles) To be admitted to the sunlit world of my mountain peak experience, and allowed to stay awhile and explore, only to suddenly find myself cast out and returned to the shadows of my previous life seemed unbearable. Outwardly nothing had changed, but inside nothing was the same. All that I had seen and experienced demanded that my living align with it, yet the guiding vision was no longer present and vital. It had become a beautiful dream-like memory. (Within a year, I was living in Chicago and studying with the Old Man. I had planned to stay for three months. My visit lasted thirteen years, but that is another story. )

There is one last twist to the story. Although, at the time, it seemed as incidental as adding one more flower to an already beautiful bouquet, an hour before leaving New York to return to school, I found out what happened to my lost possessions, just as the Old Man had promised.


Bible. Psalms 46:6

James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Crowell-Collier, 1961

Rudhyar, Dane. Occult Preparations of a New Age. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1975.

Sophocles. Antigone.