Every time I went to a gathering of the Holy Ghost Tribe, I would hear something useful. Hungry ghosts would talk about the demoralizing depths they’d descended to on the Lower Plane, but then go on to describe the progress that they’d made since their awakening. Newcomers, fresh from the streets, possibly a jail cell, or the hospital, would arrive, often shivering and sick, and be greeted like family. There was a solution, they would be told. Just keep coming back.
At one point, someone would always mention that coming to the gathering was a good start, but if you really wanted to be healed, if you wanted your humanity restored, you had to find a guide to take you through the Twelve Awakenings. A psychic transformation was necessary if you wished to travel that far.
From day one, it was always my intent to find a guide, but I needed to sit back and watch how the senior ghosts conducted themselves before narrowing it down to a single candidate. What I noticed was that some ghosts were hot and cold, boiling over with evangelical fervor one moment, withdrawn and sullen the next. Some of the shares sounded like canned sermons. Others came off like melodramas. The one ghost I noticed who wasn’t too hot or too cold, neither too cerebral, nor too emotional, was Santos, who never seemed to speak up unless it could benefit others.
Santos was the first one to approach me when I showed up as a newcomer, in the throes of withdrawal, and he’d been very calm and instructive. He came off like a wandering hermit, with his hood, sharp beard, and walking stick, out endlessly roaming the coastline when he wasn’t at the gatherings.
I assumed he’d say yes right away when I asked if he’d consider guiding me, but instead he looked serious and said he’d pray about it. He wanted to know how far I’d go to be cured of my addictions. He, himself, was gung-ho about his recovery, and the only way he knew how to guide others through the program was with a boot-camp intensity. I told him I wouldn’t settle for anything less, and that seemed to satisfy him. He told me to meet him at the Pier Plaza around four o’clock, and we could get started right away.
When I arrived at the plaza, the drum circle was in session. The Sunday drum circle has been going on as long as I remember, but until that day I’d never paid much attention to it. It reminded me of the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert.
Free spirits, music makers, hippies, dancers, skateboarders, the homeless, tourists, tweakers, graffiti artists, and thugs, whirled like dervishes around the space in front of the drummers, some of them wearing face masks, others hooting in derision at the very thought of it. I witnessed acts of physical contortion, blatant substance abuse, and improvised trash can shamanism.
Santos was sitting on top of the small amphitheater, and in the middle of walking up to him, I had to stop and boogie my ass off, partly because I couldn’t help it, but also to make him laugh. He did laugh, and pointed a long finger. Who was the man? Come on. I owned that drum circle.
Santos and I had both owned that drum circle a thousand times back in the day. He didn’t have to say a word for me to know he’d seen and done it all. The only thing strange about our being there that afternoon, was that neither of us were drinking and using. We were as straight as two rulers and still having fun. That was messed up. Santos explained to me what I already knew, that once you open a door you’ve got to go through it. You can’t stand there opening the same door over and over your whole life, yet that’s what people try to do in their addictions.
Reaching the point where the old tricks no longer worked was a critical juncture. You were either going to break down, get arrested, wind up in the hospital, or die, quite possibly all of them, in that order, unless you found a new way to live. Once you hit rock bottom you could never get high in the same way again. For hungry ghosts, their addiction is a bottomless pit, and the only thing big enough to fill that hole is the Holy Ghost.
One drummer had a homemade bass drum, a wooden box he had to stand on a step to look down on, and two mallets that he used to pound out the beat. Santos pointed out that no matter how many rhythms joined in, or how many wildly schizophrenic dance interpretations were going on, and there were many, all the participants in the drum circle were moving to the same beat. Could you see the beat? No, but you could definitely witness its effect. In the same way, there is a driving force behind all of creation, largely unseen, often unacknowledged, but certainly experienced by all.
The driving force behind creation is most commonly called God, although many people have a problem with that word. They’ve been brought up in churches where they were bored to death and threatened with hell. They were taught to be ashamed of themselves and their natural impulses. They desperately prayed for things that never came true. When they hear the word God, the first image that gets conjured up is that of an old man with a white beard, sitting on a throne, making judgements.
As the son of a preacher, who’d been suffocated and humiliated in church growing up, I was definitely one of those people. Trying to escape from the pain church and religion had caused, had led me to become a hungry ghost at a very early age. To consider the active element of God, however, the Holy Ghost, was something entirely different, more of a presence than a person, a verb than a noun, a process, as opposed to a fixed entity. That sounded like something that might work for me.
Before parting ways, Santos dug around in his pack and gave me my first assignment. He handed me a book, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and told me to read all the personal stories that make up the second half of it. While doing so, I was to look for the similarities in my own story, and then get back to him. I told him that would be the next morning, which was just a joke, but partly true. I was that excited to get into it.