It is with great joy that I welcome Howard Wills to Yoga Soup. I’d like to share the circumstances of our first meeting — I will try to stick to just the facts, but when the topics are inner peace, cosmic light, ultimate truth, etc., the facts get pretty hard to fact check.
Here goes: Nine years ago I received a phone call from my friend and teacher Steve Ross. His message was simple: “Meet me tonight at eight o’clock in Carpenteria. There’s a guy you have to meet.”
I had enough faith in Steve to just say yes. He had proven over the years to be a realiable canary in the spiritual coal mine, having personally navigated me through some powerful experiences and introduced me to so many valuable yogic resources I’d lost count. Steve’s own excitement is what made the evening even more tantalizing.
“This guy is the real thing,” Steve added, and left me the address.
I taught that evening and shared news of the event with the class, inviting anyone who was up for an adventure to join me. Two people said yes and after class we formed a small caravan down the freeway. I remember feeling slightly disappointed that only two people decided to come. If this experience was as big as I expected I wanted more people to not only experience it themselves, but I wanted to get my spirtual “commission” for brokering the deal. If it sounds petty and self-centered don’t blame me; that’s just how the ego works.
By the time we arrived a fairly large crowd was already seated and the teacher, Howard Wills, had begun speaking. My two students went off to the side and sat down. I remained standing in the back, watching as Howard “the real thing, the guy I had to meet” Wills … paced back and forth in a big white leisure suit sounding like Elvis — if Elvis was a backwoods preacher with a bad caffeine habit.
I watched as Howard approached a woman in the audience, looked her straight in the eye with a face-wide grin and asked her: “Are you rehdeh? Are you rehdeh for the light?”
The woman said yes, yes she was ready.
Howard asked again. “Are ya showre yore rehdeh? We can only do this if yore rehdeh.”
The woman confirmed yes, yes, yes! she was ready …. then Howard snapped his fingers ….. once, twice, three times …. and pointed straight at her heart, third eye, throat, the ceiling — it was hard to tell — zapping her, presumably, with whatever invisible energy had been harvested by his vigorous finger snapping.
I thought: this must be the warm-up act. The comedian before the main event. But then the woman took in a big breathless breath ….. let out a great sigh, and started sobbing.
“Thank you Howard. Thank you Howard. Thank you, thank you.”
Sweet Jesus of Carpenteria! Steve had conned me into a tent revival! This wasn’t Ramana Maharshi asking “Who Am I?”, or Ammachi giving me a rose-scented hug. This had three a.m. Televangelist written all over it, right down to the strange hair and smug grin plastered on good ol’ Howard’s never-not-smiling face.
I looked over at my students – thank God only two of them had come – and gave them my best “what the hell?” look.
The encounters continued like this over the next hour. Some people in obvious distress – in wheelchairs, walkers, crutches – and some sharing tales of great emotional torment — and each and every story was met by the same response from Howard: The question: “are ya rehdeh?” followed by some finger snapping, finger pointing and light-saber energy zapping.
Everyone seemed very satisfied by their encounter but to me it all seemed like a sad sideshow in a small town carnival. I saw Steve sitting at the foot of the stage, surrounded by the people who had traveled with him from Los Angeles. He had on his face the rapt expression of a true believer. I thought, sadly, that this must be the moment prophesied by many spiritual texts, the moment when the student must leave his teacher and make his own way through the world. The only question was whether to rush the stage and hustle Steve the hell out of there to the nearest de-programmer, or just get the hell out of there myself.No sooner did I have that thought than Steve turned around and saw me – I had been hiding behind a pillar, out of his sight line – and he started waving his arms for me to join them. I shook my head to indicate no, I’m good, I’m fine back here, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He stood up, motioned me to come over.
Even though the walk through the crowd was awkwardly self-conscious — “I’m not one of you losers!” I wanted to scream — I couldn’t deny the importance I felt at having been summoned to the front. There I was, walking toward the stage, into the inner circle surrounded by my teacher and other important looking people I did not know, in the front row, close to the action. If it sounds painfully contradictory to be drawn toward something you condemn because it casts you in a good light don’t blame me, that’s just how ego works (think high heels).
Flaubert once said that proximity to talent isn’t talent … but in the yoga world proximity to grace does rub off. We’re encouraged to keep elevated company because it’s through the inner light of the already awakened that our own inner light is re-discovered. But this wasn’t that, I thought, even as I walked into it’s belly. This smells like a pyramid scheme and I feel like a rube.
I sat down by Steve. Howard walked over to us and Steve introduced me.”This is a friend of mine, Eddie,”Howard fixed me his mega watt smile and said, what else: “Ehdy! Are ya redhy Ehdy?”I looked at the people around me, smiling with desperate, sheep-like timidity. I looked at Steve, who’s own bright smile I wanted to rip off of his face for bringing me here. But there was no turning back.
“I’m ready Howard,” I said. “Eddie’s ready.”
“Are ya showre?”
Howard had me lay down on the stage face up. He looked out at the audience and said, “We’re gonna do a little heavy work here.”My eyes were closed. I heard fingers snapping. I could sense fingers pointing. I heard the invocation of the light. And then …. Nothing.Nothing. Nothing. Nothing squared. I was gone. I had vanished. Disappeared. Eddie was out of business.No room, no audience, no Howard, no Steve.. No Eddie. And, best of all, no more of Eddie’s relentless opinions about ….. everything.
Silence.For a period of time impossible to determine there was no “I” there. There was a body still on stage and a breath still animating it, but there was no sense of an “Eddie.” When “I” returned, when I became again cognizant of my surroundings I realized I was laughing. Not laughing politely, not haha laughing, but deep teeth-baring, belly-rolling from-the-bottom-of-my heart laughing …. … I was laughing a laugh that doesn’t come from hearing a good joke or from seeing someone slip on a banana peel … it wasn’t a laugh at anyone’s expense, or at the absurdity of the circumstances …….. it was a laughter rooted unshakably in love, in love of being, in love with existence, in love with love.
It was known in that second that this was the truth …. Howard calls it the light ….. light, truth, love ….. interchangeable ways to describe the same indescribable thing — that which I knew beyond doubt forms the core of who we are. I was laughing because every concern about every imaginery problem I had ever/never had was gone. When the “I” disappears, when who you believe yourself to be vanishes, than all the dramas that support and bodyguard that identity also disappear. What remains is the simple and obvious joy of who you are. You are not anything that can be described. You just are.
I looked up at Howard, beaming. What happened I wanted to ask, but the question had no momentum. Who cares? I looked into his eyes. He hadn’t changed one bit since I walked in but the way I experienced him sure had. I fell in love. Fell in truth. Fell in peace. Whatever. Just fell.I looked over at Steve, his own eyes ablaze in light. I saw in those eyes the joy of recognition. The joy of sharing this with his friends. Of my own recently cynical thoughts I thought: Oh ye of little faith, once again you’ve forgotten how it works. How does “it” work? When you stop looking for it, there it is. Searching implies a lack of faith that “it” is present. You wouldn’t look for something you already have. I used to think this was a lot of new age slight of hand, this kind of language, but there, in the middle of the laugh, I knew what they were talking about it.
When you stop re-arranging thoughts the way one might rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, you rest in the obvious.
Judgements are ego’s attempts to remain separate and in charge, to keep out the recognition of the light of this laughter. But why? Why would you want to keep something this wonderful at bay? Good question.Because with the light, with the truth, comes the end of the story the ego loves to tell about itself, its plight, it’s life. I can understand that. I know the stories I tell over and over in an attempt to know myself and have others know me. They’re soft and comfortable, even the bad ones — especially the bad ones, as they provide a familiar reference point for me and others to know myself.
One small problem: none of them are real. I recognized at once all the mean and petty ways that ego tries to remain separate by judging, diminishing, elevating, resisting, accusing, needing, fearing ….. all the ways ego attempts to stay in control, to not lose face …. never realizing the face it has to lose isn’t real to begin with.Absurd, right? Well hell, don’t blame ego, that’s just the way it’s built. I wasn’t laughing because I was crazy and I no longer cared what anyone thought.I was laughing because I felt what it was like to be alive without having a mean-spirited, cynical, and terrified software program running life. And though I’ve misplaced that laugh and that recognition frequently over these past nine years I’ve never lost it. What a gift!
Thank you Howard. Thank you Howard. Thank you, thank you.
Over time, with practice, the more willing one is to loosen around the tightly held version of themselves and surrender to the light — not Howard’s light, just the light that Howard delightfully plays in and with — the more truth/peace/love is effortlessly experienced. Not subdued, lethargic just-took-a-sedative peace: the opposite of that. An active, energetic peace that allows you to be in the world, as the bearded carpenter once said, but not of it. Fully in, fully feeling, but no longer fully identified with the petty control mechanisms and narcissistic fears of the ego. Will this be your experience tonight? I sure hope so, especially if you’re forking over twenty five bucks. I hope Howard snaps his fingers at you — I don’t even know if he’s still doing that — and that you start laughing the laugh of truth. But even if you can’t make it tonight know that this is your birthright — the birthright of every human being is to experience the truth of oneself. It’s the endgame of the inevitable journey we all undertake, whether we realize we’re taking it or not.
To place yourself in proximity to those who can reflect the gift of recognition, this is a wonderful way to spend time. with love,Eddie
check howard out at: www.howardwills.com