It was 1969-1970 and Coconut Grove was a place of alternate lifestyles and altered realities. Unlike the university community of Coral Gables and other well-known areas of Miami, the Grove was hip, bold and an opening to another way of life. At the center of this community was the Oak Feed Store, one of the first health food stores in the country. Sandy, the owner, had a very relaxed approach to running a store, which drew people from all backgrounds to this hippie center of expression. In the movie Woodstock, there is a scene where a guy is standing in the river shaving and comments how great it was to be there. I believe that guy is Sandy. In those days many of the items were loose in boxes and you just took as much as you wanted into paper sacks. There were some homemade goodies that we’re always interesting and mostly delicious. I became friends with Sandy and was invited to his house for dinner. His home was on a small inlet of water nearly overgrown by trees and other foliage. He invited me onto his roof where he kept bees. It was scary fun going up the ladder to his roof to smoke the bees and then to open the hive and extract some of the honey. Sandy never was truly angry or upset. At least not for long. He was an early role model of a conscious being.
Across the street was the esoteric store, I Ching. They had books, crystals and all sorts of other items to help one enter an altered state. People ofter read books sitting on the floor and shared their beliefs on the best ways to live and to get enlightened.
A few shops away was a juice bar serving only fresh juices and food. It was here I had my first health food sandwich. At home, sandwiches were usually peanut butter and jelly or a sliced meat variety. These were typically served on white bread and had very little nutritional value. On the other hand, my first ‘health food’ sandwich was served on a whole-wheat pita pocket, with natural peanut butter, sliced bananas, and honey. It was horrible. Sweet and sticky are the best words I can use to describe this healthy sandwich. One was enough! At least I discovered there are alternatives.
A short walk from the center of town brought one to Bayside Park, the place for meetings, transformation, dancing, free food, and a wide variety of spiritual beliefs. There are still yoga classes offered each week in the park. It was here the Hari Krishnas played their music to which many people joined in dancing and all enjoyed the free food they served at the end. The dessert was always too sweet, but a good balance to the spicy food just eaten.
I went like many others to Bayside Park to sample the different spiritual offerings. Most of those groups from those early days are long gone. Although interested in spiritual matters, I approached it as an outsider, like looking in the window of a restaurant instead of going inside for a meal. One way I did this was by using my camera. A camera is a great tool for creative expression and a way for me to separate from the experience. A part of the experience gets captured, the full immersion is lost. I was an avid photographer since I was very young. I remember using a Brownie camera where the 126 film had to loaded just right for the sprockets on the spool to catch and advance the film after each shot. My parents noticed my interest and budding talent and bought me a Nikon camera when visiting Japan. I devoured the idea of being a photographer, attending workshops, reading books, hanging out at the photo store talking to other photographers. I even set up a black and white lab in my house to print photos. The dancing during the Hari Krishna’s feast was a great source of interesting photos and kept me mostly out of the actual experience of dancing.
On one visit to the park, I met Baba Hari Das. A simple holy man who had taken a vow of silence to express his devotion to God. Many people gathered around to be near and ask questions. I was standing on the edge of the group listening to the questions being asked, “Will my girlfriend leave me?” “Who will win the next baseball game?” and other mundane inquiries. I decided to go for it. I asked him how does one know God? Hanging around his neck was a small blackboard on which he would write down the answer. Now he would use an iPad. Without hesitation, he scribbled his answer and lifted it up. It read, ‘Know Thyself’. I was content and went on my way. Yesterday I came across a quote, “Delusion is the belief there is anything outside of you.” Different words, same message.
It was two years later that I found myself again at Bayside Park teaching a kundalini yoga class. We proudly hung a banner between two palm trees declaring we were part of 3HO. To be honest, I find teaching outdoors full of distractions. We have enough diverting thoughts inside our own heads. I have also made many good experiences teaching in outdoor settings.
It was a special time Yogi Bhajan has spoken about as a powerful process of awakening and how so many people made sacrifices to help bring about the needed transformation.
Jumping to 1974, I married a woman I met in the ashram, where we were both lived. One day I was showing her some of my photos and in the Hari Krishna dance photos, she froze in astonishment. A photo I had taken, enlarged, and printed myself featured her dancing. Imagine, taking a photo of your wife years before you ever meet. It was a profound moment and may point to this thing we call destiny.
It is important to remember each time, each experience, each moment is unique and will not be repeated. These were wonderful and strange times that seem like another lifetime ago. Writing down these memories feels like a completion of a process, like closing a door to a room knowing I will not return. Leaving does have a mix of sadness with a greater dose of excitement for what new experiences are unfolding.