Autobiographical analysis

Paul C. Hoffman, "The Right to Know (What's Going On)"

Autobiographical Analysis

submitted in partial fulfillment for the B.A. degree, 

Friend World College, 1973

Born on an island in the middle of the Nile River... first memory: a hallucination... bullied out of high school... private school's worse pressures... "World Education"~ revolutionary concept... Isolation/Flotation Tank success...

There is much in my life that would do well in an adventure novel. 

But this autobiography is written from more of the analytical point of view.

Each of the first three chapters traces my life around a major theme: "Education", "Writing", and "Social Relationships".

The next chapter "Inward/Outward" sees my life through a next larger frame, how my life energy has continually alternated between going "out" into the environment, and "in" to my self, and how that awareness has influenced me.

The last chapter, "Four Stages," looks at my life from the next larger, meta-pattern within which all of this happens

A traveler who assimilates too much alien, strangeness is ostracized upon his return.

Confronting yourself, looking within, has been seen as a punishment.

On the roads out and in, there are many roadblocks. 

The human potential is squandered. 

Of the many messages within these pages  --and within my life--  there is one theme which runs consistently throughout: 

The little small voice that spoke to me, and which I say to you:


Look around you. 

Be not afraid of going into yourself. 

Within and without whole worlds are available, open to you now, to be experienced, to be explored, to be understood and known. 

You have a right to be here. 

You have the right to know what's going on.

Paul Hoffman,





In my home I was the good boy, in school I was the teachers' pet. My mother was Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, my father was a Ph.D. research chemist, and we children learned early the high value they placed on intelligence. I did my schoolwork well without much effort, and was happy to please both my parents and my teachers. I enjoyed flowing along with teachers' explanations and following the working of their minds, but I had no love for great challenges, nor did I want to excel and thereby arouse the jealous attention of my peers.

My eldest sister had been sent away to a private boarding school for her last two years of high school. Thinking that perhaps I too could get a better education by following her example, I mentioned this once to my parents. The idea fell on fertile soil. I was taken to visit several schools, and then it was decided that I should apply as well to "the best", Phillips Exeter Academy. When I realized that I might be leaving my comfortable classroom niche, with its easy flow to learning, to join the hardest boys school in the country, I broke down, crying to my parents, "-but I don't want to go to Exeter." They soothed me and said that this was just the normal reaction while writing the entrance application; even if I was accepted, they said, I didn't have to go. When the acceptance finally came months later, there was no question but that I would go. As it turned out, this was an important decision in my life, leaving home at age fifteen, going to a tremendously high pressure prep school, and it was a decision I acquiesced to almost unthinkingly. One day it struck me what little responsibility I had in this matter. I was going through a pile of papers underneath the phone when I came across a letter to me from the easier prep school to which my sister had been sent. I froze as I read the letter which I had not been shown. Not only had I been gladly accepted, they were offering a loan of one thousand dollars towards the tuition. I sat there looking at it, trying not to cry as I tried to believe that my parents knew better than I what was right for me.

I found Exeter to be a tightly sealed, high pressure "cooker" of mind and spirit. My casual enjoyment of academia ended, as did my camraderie with teachers. I was behind in all my courses from first day to last. Unable to retain my accustomed level of comprehension and having thus lost my basis of previous rapport with teachers, I felt myself constantly struggling, in over my head, and I was shocked by the changes.

During the first term I shut myself in my room, studied as hard as I knew how, and got a B+ average, but that now seemed a paltry, or even empty, reward for the effort which I had expended. The teachers cared not if I only got a B+, and my parents' constant encouragement was far away.

The lessons themselves held neither much meaning nor much sense for me. Suddenly the game of flowing with the teachers' minds didn't seem worth playing. No matter how hard I tried there was always going to be somebody here better than me at anything. I could not reconcile myself to working to become an average student, or at best a somewhat better than average student, through two years of prep school, and then through at least four more of Ivy League college.

The ideals of upper class college, profession, wife, house, and kids were losing credibility as goals worth striving for. I did not then have the perspective to comprehend and calmly accept what was happening to me. I emerged from the American History final knowing that I had flunked it, yet I looked up from the asphalt path to the spring wind blowing the green leaves in the trees and abandoned myself to laughter. And then was shocked at my reaction. I kept trying to get myself to work harder as my grades fell from B's to C's, but the motivation was not to be found. I knew that Exeter's goals seemed wrong to me, and that consequently my life seemed wrong by its standards. Even by the middle of my last year I did not know where I was heading. My biographical blurb in the yearbook reflected this: for preferred college I put down "Princeton", for preferred occupation I put down "part-time disciple". I had lost the only identity I had known outside my home, that of the super-bright student, and was now searching to mold my life around something else which could take its place. Roaming around the campus, town, and surrounding countryside, I found it.

I started my meandering explorations of the world outside academic life almost by chance. I had had my arm broken within three days of arriving at Exeter during an aggressive soccer game. The school physician told me that to fulfill the athletic requirement I would have to take long walks instead of the usual team sports. For several hours a day, four days a week, for three months I walked out of the prep school life and looked at the world I had never before taken much notice of.

I stopped to watch the children playing in the elementary schoolyard. I pondered the lives of the old men I passed who, nearly dying, were sitting on the public benches by the river. I saw young salesmen, stylishly dressed, dash out of their illegally parked cars to make a quick sale. I watched Exeter’s crews row their shells up and down the river as the tide went in and out. I stopped to read the notices tacked up outside the county courthouse. I sat and watched the people go by, and then followed, at a respectable distance, the ones who looked unusual or interesting. Wandering into banks, churches, stores, and restaurants, I met loud and belligerent people, and I met resigned and beaten people. I talked with bored cops, kids playing hooky, ministers, waitresses, campaigners, bankers, idlers, bums. The world became for me not only infinitely expanded, it became real. When my cast came off, I bought an old ten speed bicycle and pedaled further afield. The pressurized container of Exeter never quite held me, the attraction was elsewhere; my journeys took up more and more of my time. Two experiences stand out from all the rest.

At sunset one day I was in one of my old math classrooms on the fifth floor looking down on faculty children playing below. They were running their bicycles down flights of stairs, smashing them into walls, throwing them into bushes, screaming and punching at each other. They carried on over an hour, and their violence struck deep into me. I waited and waited for someone to show them a little love, or at least a little concern, but, as I watched, the cleaning women, the faculty, and my classmates walked by, each absorbed in their own world. How much of everyday life, of reality, had gone by unnoticed by me? I looked at the powerful, if violent, confrontations going on below me and began to see that beneath my naive mask of condescension and indifference with which I had come to Exeter was ignorance, deep fear, yet also a childlike awe and a desire to be part of something strongly engaging.

Another day, the Dean of Students was reading the Bible to a sleepy morning assembly. A tough squat man, middle aged and balding, two hundred pounds in his three piece suit, he was interrupted by a lady of the road, self-styled "Princess Running Water", perhaps two hundred and fifty pounds under four layers of clothing which hadn't been washed in weeks. She laughed and heckled him loudly from the rear as he gamely pressed on. A strict enforcer of the rule book, he had no sympathy from us. We were silently on the side of this wonderfully disrespectful woman calling out taunts to him, mocking his power openly in a way which we would not dare. Some of the faculty surreptitiously enjoyed her breaking up the serious boring lecture; others just looked on, embarrassed and flustered.

A few days later she interrupted Governor Romney's politicking. The police quickly evicted her this time, but once again the students' sympathy were on her side, and a dozen of us followed her when Romney finished. One by one the others dropped back to return to their homework until I found myself alone and engaged with this most unusual person, walking by the side of the road leaving Exeter. She walked slowly, talking constantly, for a couple of miles, pausing every now and then to rest her feet and ask me why I wanted to come along with her. Finally she turned me back, saying we'd surely meet again.

Jogging back to the dorm I realized I would be the center of attention for a while as others set out to learn from me what I had learned from her. And I knew there would be no words for me to convey to them what I was just finding out. The learning for me came from being in a situation and choosing to stay with this street person instead of going back to my schoolbooks. I thought of all the times I had slammed my books shut, pulled on an overcoat, jumped on my bike and sped off: down deserted lanes to the town graveyard, along slick wet roads crashing through pools of blinding streetlight, out of darkness and back into it again. I had sped through morning mist, spread out over the playing fields, as I raced to see the dawn. I once typed the benediction of a Unitarian minister into the school computer's memory: "I do not crave the comfort of sheltered harbors where the great sea winds cease to blow. Let my soul be tossed..." The music of Bob Dylan was in my head. My father had sent me an article explaining why the ability to adjust is not always a sign of health; it is sick to adjust to a sick environment. I could not understand why knowing who won the election of 1876 was more important than seeing the violence present in the lives of the faculty's children.  

Gradually the experiences built up until I had the perspective to comprehend the transition. I wanted to be on the road, learning for myself the ways of the world, not blindly accepting the teachings of what others thought I should know, not waiting in a dormitory for someone else to tell me what he had learned "out there".

A thrill that I was barely conscious of exhilarated me as I thought of facing life on its terms, and I began to feel again the sense of awe with which I had watched two young men engage life on TV's highway, "Route 66." For years I had hidden behind teachers, books, Mother, and Father. I expected at Exeter to be able to further withdraw into the refined company of gentlemanly scholars and, eventually, be able to take my small but secure place with the intellectual elite far removed from the noise and troubles of the world below. It hadn't worked out that way; I would not commit myself to that goal. Realizing that I would not be spending most of the foreseeable future in classrooms or offices, I felt at once relieved and excited.

By chance I heard about Friends World Institute. A woman who had played in the same college orchestra as my mother, and who had the same maiden name as she, recognized her several decades later at a marriage reception. Eventually the talk got around to children, and my mother said that she was looking for a more exciting college for my sister to transfer to. The other woman happened to know of a friend's daughter who had gone to FWI, Margot Eastman.

When I visited the campus in New York, I knew this was just what I wanted as an antidote to my years at Exeter: a school with minimal hierarchy and even less tradition, a more loving and open community of seekers traveling around the world, learning by direct experience, and trying to become the new "world citizens.” It was perhaps the first major decision of my life which I could take responsibility for, and it has been one that I have rarely regretted. Yet when I think of the circumstances which led to my hearing about FWI, the ease of my decision is far overshadowed by the improbable number of coincidences which had to happen before that choice could become available to me.

On the evening of the day we arrived, after a self-conscious first meal together, all of the freshmen, fifty or so, walked over to the Arts and Drama building where the older students were taking care of introductions. Upon arriving we found two dozen old toilet fixtures neatly arranged in a pattern on the road, racks and racks of somewhat decrepit costumes, a couple movie screens set up, a mock banquet table laid out, and strangely attired figures welcoming us to a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, thanking us for wearing old clothes as directed, asking if we'd like to slip into something unusual, and begging us to be seated.

There were a few awkward moments of staring around at each other and wondering just what to do, but soon the Mad Hatter appeared and began declaiming from the top of the banquet table. First slides, then movies, then paint was projected onto him. Each place setting had thoughtfully included small paper cups of day-glow yellow, red, and blue. Larger cups and thick brushes were offered with the encouragement to "paint thy neighbor". Others’ attention was turned to the porcelain fixtures gleefully being shattered on the road. Participation was requested of those who felt so inclined. Several pieces of art were unveiled with great ceremony and then set on fire. In the end, streamers were unraveled through the crowd, tying us all together.

For several hours this went on. If it had not already occurred during this party, then surely in the afterglow of the burning pieces of art, squatting amongst the ashes and the warmth of the small fires which had been kept going, one felt the social barriers melting.  

The following day the faculty and staff hosted the more formal introductions. We were all seated in the library, asked to rise in turn, tell our name, where we came from, and why we had chosen to come to FWI. At that tine, I considered these introductions to be more valid than than the less structured night before. I believed the notes I took on what people said about their lives more than I believed, or even recognized, the subtle vibrations emanating from around the slowly dying fire.

Although the faculty and students were much closer to each other than at conventional schools, still the contrast between them was as obvious as the different introductions we freshman received. And as the months and years went by I often found that I was learning, more from interactions with the older students who had returned from the overseas centers of FWI than from the faculty who had not. The students, affectionately called "fweaks" within the atmosphere of "FWI-dom", had been central in the development of the educational program since the first class arrived. Morris Mitchell, the first President of FWI, had identified in his book World Education, Revolutionary Concept a number of ideas, such as consumer cooperatives, intentional communities, the end to racism, and world government, ideas which he saw as crucial to the future development of humankind. Students objected to the attitude that the thinking had already been done about world problems, that we had only to go from center to center and absorb what others had learned. In 1968, when I was in my first semester, Morris left and Sidney Harman was installed, a man who described himself as synthesizing leadership out of the needs of all the power groups in the college community. He liked to call FWC, now legally a college, "a school very much in transition in a world very much in crisis". The main transition taking place during his two years as President was towards increased independent study, each student traveling outside the regional centers, seeking to define for himself the important concepts, the major problems and solutions, of our times.

The change was from a largely teacher-planned curriculum to one in which the students, drawing from many sources, largely directed their own learning. This approach fit well with the Quaker emphasis on developing the awareness of the god within. This method of education was more in line with the school's avowed radical goal of "producing agents for social change". The atmosphere at times was charged with idealism: One only learns responsibility by being allowed to exercise it; Acting, en locus parentis, as authorities evokes juvenile responses; Have trust in people and they will respond to it; Within each is the capacity to know and do exactly what is right, a capacity which must be expanded. This approach is not new; however, when the teachers did not press their own views upon the students but rather presented insights and opportunities at a distance, when, in so doing, they drew out from the students what was the best that was within them, then the extent to which we realized our goals seemed revolutionary.

What I learned under that method of education sometimes seems trivial when I look back years later, yet the experience remains vital. So much trust and faith and patience was evident. Those who could stop testing the limits, accept the freedom, and use the opportunities provided to confront themselves and their role in the world were deeply changed for having done so. It is this which makes the fweaks who stuck it out passionately concerned about the college even years after graduation, and which accounts, for the strong resistance to changes which, move the college away from the pedagogy we knew.

There were difficulties and frustrations on the part of both faculty and students as each groped towards something different from the conventional pedagogies they had known. Having learned more in daily interactions than in the planned activities, many of my classmates concluded that this education was not worth paying for. A dropout rate of over fifty percent after a few semesters was not unusual. For my part, I had long thought if others would simply get out of my way there would he so much more that I would gladly do out of my own internal motivation. I quickly settled into a routine of activities, spending the hours after dinner until two or three in the morning alone in the pottery studio. Massively alone with myself, I was writing my heart out, listening to classical symphonies, and teaching myself to become a skilled potter. Never before had I felt that the arts were not somehow beneath me; never had I had friends available and then chosen to be with myself; never had I heard such music as could engage the soul as Gustav Mahler's. These fulfilled long felt needs, and enjoyed them without external reward.

At the end of my six month stay on the North American campus, two problems remained with me: some part of me still said that classrooms were where "real" education ought to go on, and I was lonely. As I left for the Latin American center in Morelia, Mexico, I could not have known that both of these would be solved within a year.

The faculty in foreign centers had a difficult time in understanding their roles and responsibilities within FWC's unconventional pedagogy. After months of struggle between Mexican faculty and American students, the former were let go and the Directorship was assumed by two North Americans. I was living with friends of relatives in Mexico City, writing my journal and typing it, when I found the whole center's operations had moved to a nearby hotel. I stayed with my friends until I completed my journal and then, with the aid of the visiting director of FWC Study Travel, a subsidiary of FWC which organizes educational tours around the world, I was able to arrange to live with a family in San Miquel de Allende, take Spanish and Mexican History courses at a local institute, and work afternoons breaking and hauling rocks for a school construction project sponsored by the Alliance for Progress. Except for the hard labor at a high altitude in a hot climate, the project went well. I was able to join a crowded busload of students from Veracruz traveling along the Independence Trail, during one break in my courses at the institute. When I arrived at the center in Mexico City after two twelve hour days of togetherness in the bus, I was surprised to see how little contact the other students had had with the Mexican people. The timetable I had unknowingly followed, of an initial orientation, the independent project, and the return to the center, became the standard program for students a year later, and it has worked out so well that it remains so today.

Returning from Mexico, I still hankered for classroom education. Whereas I felt my experiences in FWC had been educational, they seemed too easy, too personal, or perhaps just too much fun; I wanted to see how my growth compared with that of my former Exeter colleagues. In deciding where to go to summer school, I chose the San Francisco Bay area over Boston and Harvard because I wanted to get into some of the Esalen Institute programs there on the west coast.

After years of being alone and building barriers, I found the Esalen training to be the leverage I needed to start prying myself open to others. In well led encounter groups, your isolation from the human groupings, your continual failure to disclose yourself, is made brutally obvious until you are ready to make the basic statement of who you are and hear honest reactions from others. For me it worked. I emerged with less, much less, of the tension which is caused by fear of what other people think of me. In the course work of a conventional college, I saw my hopes confirmed about the value of FWC. My face was bright; I was happy to be there because I had chosen to be there. I was using the institution for my purposes. I knew that the sociology, anthropology, and psychology which I was learning there I would be putting to work for me soon in foreign countries. In contrast, most of the other students felt the course work to be typical college drudgery. They experienced themselves as being processed by the education factory towards some uncertain end; they felt themselves being used by the institution for its purposes, goals for which they were out of sympathy. The world around them in 1969 was in turmoil. I had seen Detroit burning as I flew over it. Their campus at San Francisco State had staged a student strike and been violently and bloodily repressed. I reflected with much joy upon the condition of FWC. One of our finest hours had been when we refused to comply with the New York state legislature's demand, that all schools receiving state aid formulate a strike-retaliation procedure. Testifying against the Henderson Act, Sidney Harman and Kish Saint said that the faculty and students of our school had no intention of becoming that far out of touch with each other, that such a formulation would only harm our mutual interests. Compared to the traditional educational institutions, the faculty, students, and administration were closely aligned. Glad to return to FWC at the end of the summer, I was overjoyed, less than an hour after arriving in Bangalore, India, to hear the Director of the center say to the community meeting that, in contrast to the trouble at the Mexican center, he saw no reason for any conflict between students and faculty.

At the end of the seven week orientation, several students joined with Menon from the faculty for a month-long study trip through India and Nepal. For the next months, following my return to the center, I browsed through libraries, reading eclectically through piles of non-fiction, sat in on courses at Bangalore University, and tried to put together what I was reading by writing for several hours a day. My summer at conventional college gave me the self-assurance to quench my thirst for traditional academics using the institutions available without belaboring the point that FWC did not have the courses which I wanted. I also worked in a Baptist missionary dispensary, attended an Atheist conference, where I spoke on the need for mutual learning in the meeting of East and West, and spent several days working with a cyclone relief organization. This last group was teaching people of Guntur, on the east coast of India, how to build sturdy brick houses, after a series of storms which had "melted" their mud and thatch houses- "like butter in a hot sun." I considered making this my independent project, it felt good to be useful so far from home, but it was another project which drew my attention and then held my interest for over nine months.

I was in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, helping with the March 1970 orientation when a friend of the college offered the hospitality of his small plantation to any students that wished to stay there. I missed the group's arranged tour and eventually arrived, after the group had left, on the back of a motorcycle. I had lost my way and gotten a ride with a man who, on the return ride to my hotel, would take me via the jetty and there, pressing me against the wall with the surf spraying up from the ocean crashing on the rocks below, ask me what would I do if he were to press a kiss upon me. A man at the visa office, he was either a guard or a janitor, I'm not sure which, had made a similar pass at me a few weeks earlier, though without the request beforehand, and I had emerged intact, so I good-naturedly asked him not to and arrived at the hotel without further ado. In spite of this incident, and having missed the way by public transport a second time, I was resolved to stay at the farm. I pinned down our wily group leader, John Tucker, and insisted that he guide me there himself.

I intended to stay only a week or two to finish organizing my thoughts and writing my journal, but the peaceful setting changed me. I am from New England; in March the cold biting winds still blow snow drifts in front of my home. All my preconceptions about a tropical paradise seemed to be fulfilled: the wonderful climate, the fresh and abundant fruits, the slow and easy pace of life, the casual open friendliness of the people working there. The constant tension and fear that one lives with in a capitalist, technologically elite, citified, nation were out of context. I relaxed my hold on myself and many years of built up anger, at my condition, and outrage, at the state of the world, burst out from within me and were gone, leaving me quietly to myself. I spent over two months in this relaxed setting and frame of mind.

Having usefully employed the isolation, I returned to India to find myself not only a lot clearer about such abstract issues as the role of democracy in a largely illiterate society and the role of capitalism in the development of a country with massive poverty, I also found myself more able to get along on a day to day basis. The frame of mind stayed with me, that life need not be a constant battle, attacking problems and being set upon by many more, ever winning, ever losing. The desperation which had been my reaction to India and late-sixties America was leaving me, and a calmness was taking its place, a feeling that there is enough time, that there is enough space, enough elbow room, if we stopped rampaging and sat down to consider our situation. There was the beginning of a later realization that if I lived my life constantly at full throttle with an unyielding sense of urgency: Learn! More! Grow! Do! then I was becoming more a part of the problem and less a part of the solution.

I had planned to travel by plane from India to Japan where the next center was, taking nine months to go through eleven countries, but I got to the first country on my itinerary, Nepal, and decided to stay there and continue seriously the thinking and writing I had done in Ceylon. FWC emphasized that one’s best guide is internal not external, that the project which seems most important to the person doing it is the project which should be done.

There was still much within me about which I was confused. The two months in Ceylon had proven how valuable it was to sort through experience, to review the lessons I had learned, to create an accurate model in my mind of the world as I found it, to gain a better sense of my role in it, of my life unfolding. An insistent voice whispered urgently in my ear, "Think, think, my boy! You have a right to know what’s going on."

Three major reasons underlay the importance which I attached to this project.

I had heard it stated by David Van Blake, one of the older students, that we possess now on our planet the capability to end poverty, the struggle generation after generation for material survival, within a few decades or less, if we wanted to. Most business is routine; a computer can be programmed to do any routine task; people can be re-educated to do the creative work which is beyond the machines. We have the resources from the ocean floor, the energy from the sun, the technological know-how from the post-industrial societies, and the computer capacity of the world is doubling every few years. I assumed then that we could end material poverty in my lifetime, and several years after the publication of both reports from the Club of Rome, I still think it can be done. The question that this assumption begs is, Why are we not moving steadily, rationally, and wholeheartedly towards that objective? The thinking around FWC then was that it was less a matter of the powerful wishing to maintain the oppressive status quo as it was the lack of vision of the insouciant middle class. The fear was that without the dull and meaningless work which comprises half of our waking lives, our lives would become even more dull and meaningless than they already are. If people were not ready or able to be re-educated, and machines were doing what they had previously done, then what would we do? What was there to live for? It seemed to me that one role of FWC was pioneering the use of leisure, freedom, and opportunity. We were in a uniquely opportune position to assess the validity of this fear. To what will individuals turn when the basic material problems of the world are solved, when there is an abundance of time, a world of open possibilities, and more than sufficient affluence? Will there be a further degeneration, or will there be a regeneration, of that spirit which animates our lives?

Another outgrowth of the turmoil and confusion of accelerating change was the generation gap, the increasing suspicion of the wisdom which had served our elders. Whereas in earlier times of slower change, the children learned from the parents, now parents had to scurry to keep up with their children. It was not merely that some parents could not do their kids' homework, nor was it as easy as saying "Trust no one over thirty", yet a difference in consciousness could be felt between those born before and those born after, say, the exploding of an atomic weapon over Hiroshima, or say, for example, between those who regarded the landing on the noon with awe or even disbelief, and those in whose lives the spectacular had become so routine that they idly wondered whether the whole Moon thing could not have been faked in some back lot, Hollywood special-effects studio. If going to the Moon can become almost routine, what can not be achieved a decade after we set our minds to it? Reality is different for everyone, and perception studies would ask us to believe that we all live in our own worlds. I believe that an even greater gap will soon exist between all of us hospital-born babies and those delivered by the non-violent methods developed by the French doctor, Frederick Leboyer. Their smiling faces defy the textbook statistic, derived from observations of our infancy, that babies do not smile before two months. The world they live in is already so much different from ours. The more I considered the differences in what the world's people "knew", the more I wanted to deduce from my own experience my own set of assumptions.

The third reason was that I had found no one who could speak to my situation. Those who I most trusted said that the answer lies within. And while there may have been a number of books written on "Facing the Global Dilemma of Our Times" by both those who had traveled and those who had not, I had found none that spoke to the predicament and the potential of being a global voyager at age nineteen. It was up to me to survey both the promise and the problem before working out the particulars of my case. Nepal proved to be an ideal environment to carry on my mental work. I saw contentment in the people's eyes, in contrast both with the black emptiness I saw in eyes of Indians and the uneven effervescence which greeted me in Ceylon. The Nepali attitude said to me that they had seen wandering strangers come and go for thousands of years, and they were not concerned. I drop from out of the sky, I carry my own life support system on my back, I have my own language, manners, and names for god. Across the unfathomable gap between us, they say to me, "For as long as you do not try to force the understanding between your life and ours, we salute the god within you and bid you welcome." Thus I lived outside cultural pressure, without forced understanding, without contrived conversations, with a family on a small hillside overlooking Katmandu Valley. Before it was time to leave Nepal, six months went by.

The basic questioning process I employed, assuming an alienated stance in order to gain perspective, the thorough questioning of values, assumptions, habits, language structure, the organization of the natural vis-a-vis man-created worlds, may have been the not unusual adolescent processes. However, the many factors mentioned above combined to make something unusual occur. Delineated separately, the ingredients seem readily understandable:

• the fact that I was undertaking this as a serious project for a radical if not revolutionary college which I believed in

• the assumption that the world's basic material problems would be solved and that the organization of one’s mind, while grasping for what comes after materialist values, would become paramount

• the spectacular and the "impossible" becoming routine in an era of accelerating change

• the many varied and sometimes shocking experiences while living in India

• the mind-boggling prospects of world education at nineteen

• the Nepali environment, free from social pressure, accepting the unity of the one god within us all and expecting no further outward communion,

and finally

• adolescent alienation, free, seemingly for the first time, to take control of my life and create myself.

Yet the synergy in the combination of these elements produced within me what may only be described as a mystical experience. I was searching, as I had been doing do for the last four months, through, various patterns and symbols for a description of the basic underlying reality. I came to the nature of Time and Space and realized that each is defined in terms of the other and fell into the void which exists between the outwardly apparent physical world and the images and descriptions of it which we human beings have created about it, and which we often treat as if they actually were that to which they only refer. I have heard it since described as the difference between the word "tree" and the tree itself. Putting it like that makes it sound both obvious and trivial, reminding me of my junior high school physics, trying to define either volts, ohms, or amps without reference to the other two. Yet when in Nepal, reaching for the words or symbols which could describe the meaning and course of my life, I stumbled over this realization, that time and space are only parts of a humanly conceived relationship and knew that the synthesis I had been looking for would be outside the realm of words, beyond description to the thing itself.

That is all hindsight.  At the time, I was looking at the edge of the bed i was sitting on and at my notebook and the marks I had just made. They looked like the two halves of an exclamation point. The part which looked like a period was my two dimensional representation of matter, a seemingly stable, solid, spherical body at any instant of time. The other part, a cone, was my rough description of the increasing and decreasing in size which is perhaps the main characteristic of astronomically large bodies over astronomical periods of time. The planes reversed themselves; the solid point could be seen as a cross-section of the cone, and the successive stages in time could be seen as a succession of solid bodies, then the cone would superimpose upon the period, and all would be seen as a process of change. I saw that each contained and defined the other well enough, but that neither was by itself a satisfactory description of the whole that these two comprised. My mind could have been "squeezed up a level of abstraction" by this paradox, according to Gregory Bateson, but it wasn't. It kept flipping back and forth from one side to the other until I stopped and just stared for a long while in between the two, where the cone of "time" stopped and the solid point of "space" began. And then my mind felt like it dissolved.

My fear of not knowing what was going to happen balanced my Joy of having come upon something after months of working with words, symbols, images, and past experiences. My attitude was one of calm curiosity. I felt a long rush of thought-images leaving me, as if a barrier, against which pressure had built up, had suddenly been broken through.

As I lay back on my bed, I felt myself rushing out of me into an unknown void. I see now that what left me was the benevolent tyranny of personal history; the cultural conditioning, the lessons learned while growing up in a particular time and place, being guided/controlled and created/oppressed by parents, teachers, and friends. If this was what had to go before the new synthesis could be created, I could accept that. It is an ancient and recurring saying that one has to die before one can be reborn.

The pressure released and at the end of the rush I was empty. Nothingness within me and around me, I felt utterly insubstantial. If there is reincarnation, I was alone in the long spaces between the lives. My only feeling of identity was in the knowing that the emptiness which I contained was part of the much larger empty space outside of me. How long this went on I don't know, several minutes or several hours, but I didn't get alarmed. Time passed ponderously, slow and heavy. Calm, I waited.

At length the energy returned with a rush, many times greater than when it left me. With it came the synthesis of what had before been confusing personal history. What had been scattered and diffuse when it left came back as one radiating whole. Whereas before I had been straining to pull together greatly disparate parts, now they were together, and from this fusion, energy was being liberated. Truth: an undeniable experience, yet with no explanation for it, I felt a sense and meaning to my life, and I could perceive a pattern it fit within: the reaching out of the mind to knowledge, the withdrawal to sort things through, the synthesis into a whole, and the resurgence of energy; after the alienated questioning, the exuberant readiness to go out and commit oneself. After the death, the will to be reborn.    

My personality changed from the quiet note-taking outsider to the enthusiastic outgoing adventure-seeker. I left Nepal to go with a new friend to his home in Calcutta. I was sustained for the next ten weeks by the energy which came from my mystical experience. Thoroughly unafraid, I lived at a dangerously high energy level, involving myself in many potentially serious situations. My host and I were put in jail in Calcutta on charges of black marketeering. I found myself locked into the Red Fort after sundown, in Agra near the Taj Mahal. I committed myself to following an aged swami that I met at the crossroads outside the fort after I was finally let out. I set off with an Algerian-Frenchman that I had recently met to travel across a thousand miles of unknown desert in northwest India, without any money by hitching rides with infrequent trucks, and in one particularly desolate section I came close to being raped by the driver. Having jumped down from that truck in the night and found ourselves the next morning in the shadow of Rajasthan's Mt. Abu, we climbed to the peak, lone and massive rising out of the arid plain, with faith but without provisions. We reached the summit during a brilliant panoramic sunset and found a yogi playing with rarefied air waves on his five band transistor radio outside a large stone gate. Welcomed inside, we found sanctuary for the night.                    

It was downhill from there to Bombay and, a day's journey south, to the beaches at Goa. My health got run down so low from sleeping on cold sand and eating infrequent, nutritionally poor meals that I developed tubercular pleurisy. Returning to the center in Bangalore, I was sent straight to the hospital by the doctor who examined me and advised to go home "to Mother" for some good rest.

I stayed on in India, slowly recovering over four months with the aid of pills three times a day and a once a day shot of antibiotics. Too much had happened for me to fly on back to America. I had heard and could well imagine that the worst culture shock was in going home. I wanted to settle in my mind what had happened here in my new home before I took on the task on reacculturating myself to the land I grew up in.

Glad to have a useful role, I took part in many of the center's operations, especially helping with the arriving students' orientation. In May 1971, I attempted to continue my journeying, through South-East Asia to the next center, but my body was not yet up to the rigors of travel. After almost two years in the Indian subcontinent, I was ready to head towards home. My mind was full of experiences, but my health was broken, my energy had been exhausted, and I could no longer continue my explorations in foreign lands. Flying over from London to New York in a half empty 747, I was offered a tape machine and recorded my impressions from memory, assessing my situation. Over all was my sense of achievement, of having broken through some barrier to self-discovery. I had changed myself in ways which seemed important, and which I was learning to integrate into my life, but which I did not yet understand.

After several months in America, proving that the worst culture shock is in realizing that you can't come home, I began to sense the changes that had gone on while I was away. In particular, money had been wasted on war instead of being used to increase productivity and global wealth. The economic situation had deteriorated, negating the premise underlying my work in Nepal. There was not sufficient freedom from material problems to make the exploration of what it means to be human important, or even interesting, to large numbers of people. People were scrambling for scarce jobs, struggling to get their lives focused back down on solid earth. They were desperate for crash courses in basic survival skills, and I would soon join them.

The Age of Leisure and Abundance, Woodstock Nation, and the hippy dreams of flower children were all gone. The political movements towards equality and social justice were falling apart, as much from internal pressures as from external ones. The Nixon-backed "game plans" of Recession and Repression, to my mind brought a dark cloud of depression over the landscape. The editors of the underground newspaper Rolling Stone titled their book on "How the Sixties Ended, The Age of Paranoia".

The last time I was in San Francisco, in 1969, I met a man who had been written up in Time magazine as one of the new breed of successful businessmen, a millionaire in his thirties. When I had first met him, he had walked out on his job, was taking courses at Esalen, and throwing parties in his penthouse. Three years later I found him crowded into a smallish apartment with what was left from the five houses he had once owned. His fleet of Lincoln Continentals had been traded down to one Volvo. Hoping to retain the job he had just gotten, he discussed business details with his wife every day over breakfast. Squatting in the parking lot of the pizza store back home, I hung out with the local "heads" one day until the pot-bellied cop ambled up and told us to move along.

Passing the brown bag with the quart bottle of cheap beer, I heard a freak, just back from California say, "It's all gone now. The Search is over. In our heads, with our lives, we've been to places that would flip them out. We could tell them more about enlightenment, godhead, self-realization than they could stand to hear, but nobody's listening today... They said there was no meaning to life, so we went out and found something worth living for. We come back and they tell us we're weird... Sure we've got answers, but the only question now is, 'Who is going to pay the rent?' "

My experiences in FWC were in some ways even less help in getting a job than those of my friends in conventional colleges. The draft and the baby boom had glutted the market with B.A's. Having to get across to a prospective employer the rationale for world education was even more ridiculous than selling the rationale of a English or psychology major when applying for a job as a clerk or janitor. I made use of my medical deferment to drop my student deferment from the draft and took a leave of absence from FWC. I was disappointed to find that even on the college's main campus in New York the potential of returning seniors to direct the orientation program of students going abroad was rarely utilized. At best we were employed on the maintenance staff; at worst we were regarded as troublemakers. I left for Inverness, a quiet village on a beautifully rugged peninsula of Marin county, north of San Francisco. Supposedly, friends of friends would take care of me when I got there. What I found was I that I was treated not much better than all the other sick freaks on the roads of California. I was just one more poor hippy suffering from the confrontation with a harsh economic reality. The one difference was that my mind was clear of the general marijuana haze. I was poring through libraries, absorbing films and lectures, attending randomly selected classes at U.C. Berkeley. As I listened to Paul Ehrlich, B. P. Skinner, Barry Commoner, or saw the revolutionary dramas coming out of mainland China, I was bothered wondering how I would expand my sphere of influence in my daily life to correspond to the expanded interests in my mind. One night I sat in the Inverness coffee house, not eating anything, simply reading through the magazines they had lying around. Harpers had an article on mass transit systems, and I was thinking about some improvements on it based on what I had read, heard, and seen in other parts of the world. I thought of returning to the dark, wet, unheated cellar which was my only shelter, and from which I would soon be asked to leave, and the magnitude of the gap which existed between my thoughts and my life, between where my mind traversed and where my body slept, became very clear to me. How could I pretend to work on problems of great magnitude when I haven't even managed my own affairs successfully?

The Director of the Indian center, Krishnaswamy, once told me, "Knowledge, if unused, becomes a burden." I now knew what he meant. Knowing of a problem without having any way to do something about it may turn one not only cynical, but against the knowledge itself. Knowledge should be the precedent to action. Whether greater knowledge, or consciousness, turns one towards action from conscience or towards cynicism depends upon whether or not one has the outlet, the forum, in which to convert ideas into reality. I knew I had none, and, not wishing to turn myself against consciousness itself, I made the decision to restrict my intellectual input to that which was of obvious usefulness. Of necessity, and painfully I was terminating my ceaseless yearning for all knowledge, turning off the three hundred and sixty degree learning which the FWC environs had turned on, bringing the wandering multi-reality head-voyager down face to face with the strict, grounded, "one world, one way" perspective of "Stonewall" Oscar Brostrum.

He had been the brightest kid in his school around the turn of the century, the principal had come to his home with tears in his eyes to beg the old Swede to let the boy continue on to high school, but his father was adamant, "Nope. He goes to work". Schooling only makes people lazy." Working in downtown San Francisco, he had built up the finest automotive mechanics shop of his time. He once put in seventy-two hours straight to produce the car which would win a bet on the S.F. hills. After years on the cold concrete, his knees gave out on him; he moved on to become the chief projectionist in the classiest cinema in town. On opening night of first run movies, he was the man in charge, and if the lighting element blew in one of the projectors, well, his audiences never missed a minute.

Retired now after sixty years of proud craftsmanship, he lived with his wife on the hill above Inverness. From the time I walked up the steep two mile hill every morning to the time he drove me home after supper every night, his life of fixed rules, of fixed ways of doing things, flowed into mine, anchoring me to a solid point of reference. For years I had flung my attention hither and yon, towards whatever seemed important or interesting. Now, time and again, Oscar's horror at sloppy workmanship forced me to fix my attention on one point, in the present, on the one right way of doing things, whether that meant keeping one's word or being punctual, using a hacksaw or making a drink. My thoughts centered on carpentry and gardening, the work at hand, not on some far away abstraction, such as, Is democracy the best form of government for India?

After several months, I left California to come back east and live in my parents' home. I got a job as a dishwasher on the night shift of Howard Johnson's and began building up my economic base. My draft status changed again; now I didn't have to go back to school when my medical deferment expired. My return ticket to London ran out on July fourth, but I was not ready to take on more world education. The lust-for-knowledge part of me wanted to go learn Latin, astronomy, world history, electronics, calculus, macro-economic analysis, cybernetics, and the psycho-physiology of consciousness, but what I needed was not more high level information which would be difficult, or impossible, for me to translate into useful work.

At the end of the summer I had time and money and knew that what I both wanted and needed was to settle into a secure environment and make sense again out of what was happening in my life. The changes which had occurred in my personality and in my consciousness while living abroad had been unexpected. Now that I had integrated them into my life, I was prepared to try to understand the whole process. Through reading and traveling to talk with old friends, but mostly through reviewing memories and written records, I reflected upon the self which had been forged by my experiences, and how I would fit that self into the world which I saw emerging. More than a simple assessment of my strengths and weaknesses, it was a conscious decision to turn away from the spontaneous lifestyle which had been the inheritance of my generation.

Many times had I heard of the need for the New Man who would escape the "tyranny of history", who would die and be reborn in and of himself without the contradictions of the environment which had formed him in the past. Having been through that and been deeply changed by the experience, I now felt I had had enough of seizing control of the moment. What I would call my "time base", that is the amount of past which figured into decisions about the future had narrowed down to the point where everything a few days past and a few days hence was outside my purview. I was looking now for a sense of the overall direction to my life, and planned to let that wave from the past carry me a ways into the future. If that meant, as a small voice in my head said, that I was "abdicating responsibility for control of my life", then fine, so be it. I would return to being an historical creature.

I contacted the Director of the North American center in New York, Loren Farmer, and told him of my interest in undertaking an autobiographical project. He encouraged me to do it as my senior year's work for FWC, saying it was "the most goddamned ambitious undertaking" for a B.A. that he had ever seen. As the work expanded before me, month after month on into several years, the dimensions of the challenge I had accepted became more clear to me: to understand the processes of development in my life, then to communicate the most important of these; to a general audience, and finally to prove to a skeptical faculty that this was not all "outrageous phantasy". When the effort seemed overwhelming, it was the goal of a FWC degree which kept me persistently attached to this form of endeavor.

I was grateful for the opportunities I had to interact with other FWC students. In particular, I spent six weeks on campus in the spring of 1973, and the communication of my perception of the significance of the FWC pedagogy with the first year students helped me to establish the basis of this thesis. Mingling my slowly clarifying ideas with their experiences produced a valuable feedback on both sides.

A year later, as I tried to define what I would do with my life as a result of my FWC experiences, I set down my perceptions of the long-range developments of major world problems and potentials. I gave a series of seminars in this area, which I labeled Future/World Challenge, on the FWC campus in New York, trying to emphasize how our lives were tuned to a larger scale of changes in the world around us.

From the public school teachers' pet, to becoming an outclassed preppie, to seriously setting out to do world education, and then to explaining the effects it has had on my life, most of the important changes in my life have taken place against the backdrop of the educational institutions I have attended.




Writing down on paper what was in my mind was unimportant to me until my father did a behavior modification experiment on me when I was thirteen.  Upset that an older sister was having difficulties expressing her thoughts, he wanted to make sure it did not recur with me.  Accordingly,  he called me into his study one day and began explaining how valuable it was to be able to put ideas into words, and thus to become acquainted with the workings of one's mind.  He offered me ten cents for every page that I wrote for him.

After several weeks of daily compositions, I complained that I had written down all that I knew.  He sympathetically suggested that I write about things I did not know, using my imagination, or about what I wanted to know, writing out pages with questions that he would later answer.  I could write down whatever I was thinking about, provided it was clear to the reader, but he made it clear to me that the writing was to continue, in whatever form, at least one half page per day.

For the next three years, until I went to private school, my mind flowed daily onto paper.  Coming home from school once, before going out to play, I filled a half page with amateur sociology, an analysis of the teams on which I was going to be playing.  While sick in bed, I created a story about a nail's journey from a deep mine to the forge to a boat building factory to a floating piece of shipwreck to its watery grave on the ocean floor.  Upset at my sister, who always seemed to get her way, I filled pages with careful documentary on why I had every reason to hate her.  I asked why sound over the telephone did not travel at the normal speed of sound through air.  It was impossible for me to imagine, and hence I asked, how the speed of light could be measured. [My father carefully explained the Michelson–Morley experiment to me.]

My father's behavior mod was done benevolently, so much so that I enjoyed it and continued without his incentives. I liked exercising my mind without straining it.  Flowing with an idea without being required to come to any remarkable conclusions, I could appreciate the process without having to strive for the product.  Within a short while I began to feel a number of other benefits.  I became more self-conscious of my actions and my thoughts. I questioned and analyzed what before would have passed unnoticed.  I began learning to hold a thought until the opportunity came to write it out, and how to conceptualize an audience with which I could dialogue until the idea was clear enough to write down.  I learned about the storage capacity of my mind, and how to work within its limits.  I felt how good it was to be clear and empty after having written out a full mind.  I was creating a space in my life where what was newly real in my life could be harbored until it was time to communicate it to others.  

Perhaps most importantly, tracing the origins of thoughts and flowing across the boundaries between consciousness and unconsciousness, (though perhaps between verbal and non-verbal modes of consciousness is a better way of describing them), this led to more basic questions as to the origin of my identity and the relationship of self to environment; questions which were only to be resolved years later, ten thousand miles away.  

By that time, writing would have come to be my central tool for growth. 

It had been well honed when I was a young teenager, sitting quietly with pencil and paper, noticing my thoughts go by, writing about the patterns they formed, wondering how all those patterns had come to be without my awareness of them, and becoming more and more distant from my peers who did not take the time to notice their thought patterns. 

Exeter Academy was for me a closed system with high pressures, both social and academic.  I spent much time wandering around outside that system; within it my writing, to and for myself, was a safety/release valve.  I started out just scribbling notes on a desk calendar on the day's happenings.  These notes grew in the face of increasing antagonism and isolation, until, by the end of the first year, my journal was my closest ally.  I often felt there to be no one to whom I could speak openly. My notebooks filled with obscenity I would never shout, with violent scenes I would never enact, with fantasies which would remain the relief from reality which they were, and the daydreams of a better lifestyle which (I did not know then) they would soon become true.  

I was often criticized for not taking advantage of the score of clubs and other extracurricular activities, where most Exeter students found their release from pressures. The school minister, for one, warned me against stewing in my own juices and about my "deep fear of involvement". I regard writing to myself as the central factor in my resistance to adjusting to a sick environment, in preserving my sense of identity, if not my sanity, and in my preparation for the transition to a more loving, open, learning community when the opportunity arose.

One of the few requirements at FWC when I joined in 1968 was the keeping of a journal.  I breathed a sigh to know that the work I loved was not only approved of but also required, and I kept on writing.  For my first semester, I reflected and commented upon much of the on-going interpersonal interactions, as well as the standard journal fare of book reports and seminar notes; perhaps the largest section was the beginning of my more serious probing of what it meant to be human, and of what it meant to be Paul Hoffman.

The journal was not only a legitimized part of my life; it was functional as well. The written review of the day's learning experiences often provoked my conscious mind to change my behavior.  

One instance of this was in late January 1969.  I was sitting in my bed rereading my just-finished journal.  I would be in Mexico in three weeks, and the concluding sentences kept running before my eyes: "I am a Young One, learning to grow.  Hope, I have.  The courage I'll have to find along the way."  

Within hours I was on the road, going to hitchhike through New England, to visit old friends and well-remembered places, but more especially to see the region of my home from the perspective of a solitary traveler.  Four days later, I stood for hours by the side of the road somewhere near Keene, New Hampshire, in a blizzard.  Although the snow soon had fallen to above my boots, and visibility was down to a few feet, I waited cheerfully, knowing that I had chosen to be here, wondering how this would all turn out.  A few hours later I was welcomed into the home of the man ["Ace"] who had stopped to pick me up, and was invited to stay the night.  I hit a second blizzard at the end of my journey, driving down to FWC.  It took ten hours to get from, southern Connecticut to Long Island.  By the time our flight left the next morning, I was ready in both body and mind to go to Mexico.

Near the FWI Latin American center, I found a store that sold tiny notebooks, no bigger than the size of two large matchbooks.  I bought several and carried them everywhere, jotting down thoughts as soon as they occurred. Foreign experiences flooded my senses; as these notebooks filled up too quickly, I bought a larger size, and then the next larger size. 

As my note taking proliferated, it may have become true that I was too concerned with recording my reactions to new situations, with noting the charges I was experiencing, rather than coming to accept the Mexican's life from his point of view. This parallels the predicament of the photographer who becomes so involved with getting pictures that he doesn't experience life except through his camera lens. As anyone must do who is more than a recorder of images, verbal or pictorial, I put aside my recording implements from time to time to let the environment enter me through other channels. 

Traveling without a notebook between me and the world, seeking not to influence things but to be open enough to let them change me, often provided the motivation to carry out the changes in behavior and in my conception of the world which had been previously recorded in my notebook. Often, when filled with verbal and sensory input, I withdrew to a safe place to look again at what I had learned, and to absorb what changes I could.

Writing about the daily interchange between self and environment helped me remain conscious of the changes I was undergoing in my own life style and in my view of the world. Moreover, in reviewing these writings, I was not only watching myself change in response to a changing environment, I was also one step back watching and noting how the identity of this central character, Paul Hoffman, and his ideas about the world, were changing.  

My primary goal was making sense out of confusion, finding or creating a center to integrate experience through, finding or creating an ordering principle that worked.  

On the secondary level, I was watching myself try to do this, and wondering if most thoughtful and serious people who were inwardly directed did not also go through something similar.  This second level of review moved me from the narrow discussion of my travels and my experiences to the larger issues of what it means to live as a conscious and malleable being in a constantly changing world.         

These retreats for reviewing and rewriting, reliving and relearning, took only a couple weeks in Mexico, the first foreign country I visited with FWC.  

My second foreign stay, India, presented such a rich complexity that the several weeks, in December 1969 and January 1970, were not long enough to clarify the changes required of me. What was necessary was a major rethinking of unconscious assumptions in such fields as religion, social order, economics, and politics when confronting a country which had apparently survived well for not centuries but millennia with extremes of wealth, a rigid class hierarchy, and what was once estimated to be three hundred and thirty million gods.

I found it easier to sort through my head amid more amiable surroundings, in Ceylon. India felt poverty-crazed; all life seemed desperately tenuous; something which could only be accepted, not avoided.  In Ceylon's lush tropics, survival seemed a bit more assured.  I wrote copiously for two months.

The two basic types of thinking that went on during this time were complementary. Brain researcher Robert Ornstein, in his book, The Psychology of Consciousness, describes two modes of consciousness as the thinking of the right or left side of the brain, and documents the physiological basis for those labels. They seemed to fit as descriptions of my thinking. 

For some time, my thoughts would flow randomly over the material I was working on; eventually I would pass into the part of my mind for which I have no words, as the non-verbal right hemisphere, which does not employ strict logic in its operations, would draw subtle yet brilliant connections in the material. Presently, everything would seem clear, and I was left wondering where the problem was. 

That was the cue for the analytical left side of the brain to try to trace where the right side had gone, to go over what connections had been made, to figure what logical sense could be made out of the images coming forth. 

The two sides alternated, complemented each other, and I felt I was making progress, coming to better understand what I was going through as a young American, a leisure time pioneer, a transcultural student, a human being using his expertise to work on his consciousness and his experiences.

I kept on with this in Nepal: 

the left side, if you will, presenting the contradictions for the right side to see through, 

the right side presenting exuberant syntheses, and the left side trying to extract what logical sense there was in them. 

Finally I came to the concepts of time and space and was forced to acknowledge that beyond the logical, definable, and verbal ways of knowing there lay a reality only directly apprehendable through other non-logical, not-definable, and non-verbal ways of knowing. A mystical experience allowed me to fully accept the validity of "right side" intuitions, images, and emotions, things which before had only received credence when they could be reduced to linear consciousness of the left side. Once these were accepted on an equal basis, left or right, my desire to know myself and the world flooded me with a deluge of hidden memories and intuitions from the "dark" side of me. While this was an occasion for rejoicing, I felt as if I had become whole, it would be many months before my analytical left side could catch up, and my writing take on the linear logic necessary for moving beyond the spewing of emotion to the effective communication of ideas.

One purpose in this autobiographical project has been to reaffirm the importance of the ordered mind, not one which discredits dark intuitive imagery, but one which expands to accept and include it, a mind which is ordered, yet conscious of what that order is and ready to accept much of what can not yet be explained. For many months before I started this senior work, I was leaning strongly towards the unexplaining feeling side of me, as strongly as I leaned before towards the logical and scientific. Inasmuch as this thesis now communicates an analysis of my life, it demonstrates the order which has returned.




As early as I can remember, I have been an outsider, my inclinations in this direction overlapping with that of my peers.  Not making friends, being excluded from groups, working and playing by myself, alone in a crowd, I spent most of childhood without close friendly contact with other children.  My two older sisters, two and four years away from me, quite understandably didn't want "the baby" nagging around them.  In first grade, Homer Thompson and I swore lifelong loyalty to each other; by second grade he and his family had moved South and were not to be heard from again.  

To this day I am unsure of the origin of my isolationist tendencies, but most likely it was in my being born in Egypt, where my father was stationed with the Navy.  My first three years of life were probably so different from the experiences of my new peers that the attempts to bridge the gap between us were infrequent; the gap grew with the years instead of lessening.  The depth of experience, the foreign ways of thinking, the aloneness, and the growing social ineptitude culminated in my twelfth birthday.  I invited eighteen classmates for the occasion and was not perturbed at all that only two showed up; I was happily secure in my role as outsider.

The security in having others accept me in that role ended the next year when I went to the five town regional high school:  I got sat on, spat on, dunked in puddles, punched out, pissed on, snowballed, had trays of food dumped on me, my school books stapled shut or thrown out the school bus window, my uncle's trombone was wrapped around someone's knee.  I'm unsure how much of this is unusual for a big high school, but it does seem as though I was singled out for more than my share, and probably two reasons were incentive enough for even the unlikeliest bully: academically superior, I never reined in my ability to wreck the grading curve. And I never would fight back at anything. The social distance which had been my shield during grade school acted as an enticement in high school: my separateness was seen as distain, which in part it was, and contempt, which it soon grew into, so that the more I tried to remove myself from socialization, the more I was targeted to be brought around to the here and now reality of others.  It was easy to make me cry.

Just how far I was willing to go in my non-violence was shown one summer in camp.  The fellow standing behind me in line threw his arm tightly around my neck and began choking me.  I was ready to pass out and die in my campmate's arms rather than resist.  It was only when our counselor's attention was aroused that I was released. I'm told my face was a colorful shade of blue.  Years later I could apply for non-combatant status from the Draft Board in good conscience; the only thing I had fought back were tears.

More distant, more attacks, more contempt, more distant, more...  

For four years I failed to cope with this and finally resolved to escape from this cycle by "joining the company of educated men" at Exeter.  It was not the realm of gentlemanly scholars which I had hoped for.  On the contrary, being shut into dormitories every night but one per month, with no parents or home to retreat to, became a constant hell.  The pressure of biting competition puts a keenness on the cruelty which is a well known trademark of English styled boarding schools.  People were emotionally destroyed, often without coming to physical violence.

I remember enjoying messing up the life of a struggling young exchange student from Africa.  Partly due to the confusion we maliciously engendered in him, he did not return the following semester... A carefree prepubescent freshman walked around the campus paths singing, with a certain lightness in his voice and step that marked him for attention. The school newspaper ran a full page cover story on him, headlined, "Man of the Year".  They insisted, though not energetically, that it was not meant to be taken ironically.  The boy became the object of campus-wide attention because of that story and he stopped walking around singing carefreely.  Instead I found him, shortly thereafter, to be indistinguishable from the rest of us, trudging along as if carrying a heavy burden… My faculty adviser's wife eloped with the English teacher on the fourth floor. I was shocked at the time, but later understood that that is not all that unusual… It took but one thoughtless comment for me to end the one close friendship I had had at Exeter.  A relationship which had seemed solid and had given support to my life was gone so fast that I hurriedly sought the counsel of seven ministers and two psychiatrists.  Was this normal too in the social world?  I sat in my room, reading and rereading all the letters sent to me which had been signed "Love," to see if I still had anything meaningful left for outward support... By the end of the first year I had become bitter, hate-filled, and reclusive towards all students, excepting only those few freshmen who appeared to have been not yet "destroyed" by the social forces at work.

In the summer between my two years at private school I attended the Colorado Outward Bound School.  I joined because I wanted to work out my fears of being a sissy, "to become a man" as their film said, and to experience for the first time working closely with guys my own age, "building trust through dependency" as their propaganda put it.  It was a rugged mountaineering course, and towards the end was their "solo": the nine-man group broke up and, each of us spent three days and nights alone in a designated space, without food or a sleeping bag, getting in touch with himself.  On the fourth morning, when the group leader came by to round us up, I mentioned that one of the fellows had come by my space on the second day.  This led to the unraveling of the story that everyone of the others had broken solo, some even hiking into Aspen for pancakes. All of them were immediately sent out to do it again, all pretty mad at me for having "ratted" on them.  Alone again, I was sent on to be part of another group for the last days of the course, not to see my former friends until just before we left to go home. Weeks of building up trust and dependency vanished with one thoughtless remark.

Being a senior at Exeter proved to be no lessening of my troubles with socialization.  In one case, two lower classmen came into my room, roughed me up, and threatened further violence if I did not come across with the money to repair a jacket I allegedly tore.  Not at all eager to continue my Ivy League education, I was delighted to join Friends World.  The most pleasant times I had during my stay at Exeter were when I was away from other students, wandering around on foot or on my bicycle.  Glad to join others in similar explorations around the world, I found the idea that in doing so, through living together, we would all blend into a big caring family too much to be hoped for.

October 1968: I have been at FWC two months, and have come to town for the first Quaker meeting of my life. With me are my closest male friend, the faculty person I most respect, and the woman I secretly adore.  Around us, those who are moved to speak tell of dire problems the trials of life weigh upon them; the mood is of sadness, not to say despair.  I am moved, to grasp the hands of my male and female classmates beside me, to rise and say: 

"I am only eighteen.  I have not experienced much.  I have never been to one of your meetings before, but I want to tell this:  I go to your Friends World College and I have never been happier in my life.  I have found friends on all sides.  There is joy in the learning.  I do not know the responsibilities that come with age.  I am a young one, just learning how to grow.  But from where I am now I can say for the first time in many years, I am happy.  Life is good."

It was good. I had friends on all sides. But on the deeper levels my social inabilities showed through.  The only model I knew of how to relate to people was from my father, the distant, wise, independent male.  However, there was no one to play my mother's complementary role of adoring, dumb but happy, socially-able female.  I had neither the wisdom, nor the experience, nor the cool to carry off such an act.  Most of my classmates were attempting to break out of pre-established roles, and I slipped back into my role as outsider to watch them.  I spent much time observing them "playing their parts", as I was sure they were still doing, and once in a while got angry that the role I had learned from my father wasn't acceptable.

I thought that social ability was something I could learn by watching others, grafting their successful lines and actions onto mine.  Always though, my attitude showed through: "How am I doing? Do you like this one better? It worked when he said it, why not for me?"  

I understood the lines from pop singers Simon and Garfunkel, "I know I'm fakin' it.  Fakin' it, I'm not really makin' it."  I too became angry at all the acting and role playing.  I wanted to get out of that and, with one person at least, go into myself and bring out all the good, bad, and ugliness there, to have it exposed to sunlight and accepted as part of me which should not be submerged.  I did not want to do that alone, I'm not sure I would have known how, and no one was willing to try to do that with me.  The closest I came was in an informal un-led encounter group: I let out my anger at a faculty person; he left the room and went home.  The intensity of the emotion stayed with us in the room, but lacking a trained leader we didn't know how to work with it.  After that, although people remained outwardly friendly to me, they were a little more distant.

My relationships with most classmates stayed on this level until I took the Esalen courses in social growth in the late summer of 1969.  The groups, mostly encounter in style, were well led and moved quickly towards resolving what was most urgent and important for each member.  Within a matter of hours I was standing in the middle of a circle of strangers working out problems which had accumulated over years.  Acting out my deepest personal fears and worst social guilts, I did not find the expected response of uptight alarm, but instead one of sympathy, compassion, and acceptance.  A central burden I relieved, was "If you really knew me, if I were completely open and spontaneous with you, you would hate me."  I realized then that social acceptance has not so much to do with me, and what I am hiding inside of me, as it has to do with the setting and the attitudes of those people to whom I am revealing myself.

The Indian center, when I arrived, was crowded with thirty fweaks, some from each class which had started FWI since its inception.  I slipped easily back into the role of note-taking observer, trying to figure out what was going on in the center and what was an appropriate attitude towards this most strange country.  I thought that someone somewhere knew the answers to these questions and would tell me if I just kept my eyes open and probed deeply enough with the right questions.  It was practically the only level I related to people on during the whole two month orientation: "What are you doing with your life, in FWC, in India? Why is this happening here?"  And they got bored sick of it, as did I.

What opened my eyes and changed my behavior first was seeing the popularity of an older student who took the opposite approach to social relations.  Scotty didn't seem to be too concerned with what was going on at profound levels of inquiry; he didn't seem to care what people thought of him; he acted as if he had no great need for friends at all.  And everybody flocked to him.  I was very serious, very sensitive to what others felt about me, and let people know that I cared what they thought, that I really needed to have friends.  And people, avoided me, taking two steps away for every step I took towards them.

Social relationships were changing in much the same way as the educational systems; the pressing closely in upon from without was being replaced by drawing out from within. In both cases the smell of urgent need was perceived as the stench of dependency.  The best teacher is the one hardly noticed; anyone who has to make you see something Very Important right now is suspect.  It is best to live only with a friend who you are sure can live alright without you.  The person who has a desperate need for friendship is suspect: under the surface there is much that needs to be resolved.  So it was with me.

In response to the probing questions I pressed upon my classmates, they gave me surprising wisdom.  They said, "Ask yourself those questions.  Accept what is inside of you, for the answer is there. Go give yourself some attention, listen to the voice inside, and you will find out."   

I continually resisted turning inwards. What was inside seemed too massively confusing for me to figure out.  I wanted someone else to help straighten me out. 

"Accept myself?"  No, there was too much I wished to change.  

"Relax and enjoy myself?"  No, how could I with all these problems to be solved, all these questions to find out the answers to, all the lessons to be learned?  

"Give myself  the attention I deserve?  Get to know myself?"  No, I thought I was much too ordinary to be worthy of the attention.  There was much beneath the surface which needed to be resolved.

I tried Scotty's uncaring approach to relating to others in the center, and they immediately responded to this easing up of pressure.  The strain of being relaxed on the outer surface while broiling within helped me to focus my attention on the internal sources of my tension.  I began to work on myself in earnest.

Almost every morning for two months, December 1969 and January 1970, I moved my desk out to the front porch and dug into my writing, poring over my recorded impressions during three months in India and trying to fit them into one or other of thirty-odd categories.  In the afternoons I moved my desk indoors and sat around talking to whoever came by.  Not at all ashamed of my "selfish" work, I felt encouraged to continue, by others and by the work itself. It felt good to be directing energy where I felt the most need for it, to be investing awareness in myself. It felt almost joyous, I was out of my note taking outsider role, and my relations with other people became a lot more varied, more fluid, and eventually deeper.

When I came back to the center after two months of working on my writings in Ceylon, more or less alone, people hardly recognized the "new Paul".  I was as surprised as they were. When I left for Nepal a few days later, to continue the work started in Ceylon, the other students threw two parties for me, and then the old International [which had been driven by three students, the "Marco Polo Expedition", from Africa to India] was taken out of its garage so that everybody could be at the airport to bid me farewell.

I had originally started my selfish work because I thought no one cared enough about me to give me the answers I sought. I had begrudgingly turned my attention from them, and now they were joyous about me for having done so. I was as overwhelmed as I was surprised by their final airport gesture. The message was clear; this parting for me was a Bon Voyage on the journey into myself.

Most of the time in Nepal, I was; alone. For many months I rarely had a relationship deeper than acting as a two day guide for an Indian photographer shooting a cover story for Newsweek, or sipping iced tea in a terraced roof garden with the mother of a former Secretary of the U. S. Treasury. Occasionally I would hear a conversation in a restaurant that interested me and I would join in.  I traded warm smiles daily with the woman who, near where I lived, sold homemade cookies from her doorstep.  I was courteous with the families with whom I lived, yet I never made a serious attempt to learn the Nepali language.  Mostly I was alone with my thoughts, and what social interchange there was usually took place non-verbally.

This reversed itself completely during the last part of my stay.  The energy which I had invested in myself began paying off, and my attention reached out to grasp the lives of those around me.  Month after month I had probed myself, labyrinthine introspection had absorbed my concentration and occupied my mind.  Now I was through and out of the maze, and the rush of energy was overwhelming.  I ran into Katmandu one day, burst into a friend's room, and exclaimed "Which do you think is more primary, time or space?"

The rest of the afternoon I spent trying to explain what I meant.  Finally I left, confused and disappointed that I had not been able to get him to understand my point of view.  As the weeks went on and the same thing happened over and over again with others, I foresaw the two problems which would plague me for the next several years:

one was learning to live with the changes in my personality after having had a mystical experience; learning to curb my new extroversion was the immediate task at hand; 

the other was trying to communicate or explain those changes to others, What had happened? Why had, it happened? What was its value and significance outside my life?

Learning how to live with extroverted energy became an urgent necessity, as, for the next ten weeks, I plunged myself into one reckless adventure after another with near strangers. 

I shared a Calcutta jail cell with a black marketeer only because I had hospitably offered to stay with the person he had cheated, a man I had only met once, when he shared some floor space with me in the house of my Calcutta host, a tenuous connection at best. 

The French-Algerian, with whom I traversed the desert plains of Rajasthan had only known me for a week or so before we decided to undertake the journey. Neither of us had any idea, how possible, or how legal, it was to hitchhike trucks; he simply did not have the money for the train to Bombay from Agra. I generously handed most of my cash on hand to the Calcuttan, for him to take the train, and asserted that it would be my pleasure to join the penurious traveler on this adventure. The end of my energy coincided with the onset of tubercular pleurisy while I was staying on the beaches of Goa. Enjoying the company of several new found friends, I stayed with them several miles from the nearest town and seemed to forget about eating, sleeping, or in other ways conserving my health. One morning, dew on the sand, I woke up shivering and had a horrendous cough. 

The next months were spent recovering in Bangalore, trying to know and accept what went wrong.  By May, I had fallen in love and set out to travel through South-East Asia around to Africa.  Returning to America soon thereafter, I was still learning to gauge the extent of my energy and its potential for involvement, adventure, and commitment.  

I split for California with high hopes; my decision to return home, from the cold damp cellar where I lived, was precipitated by the knowledge that I had once again overestimated my capacity to support myself.  I am getting better at it now, being able to complete more of the projects which I start.  In making time schedules now, I readily accept that important works take about four times longer than I expect they should.  Even then, sickness and high fever regularly incapacitate me for a few days every year.  I see these periods as a time when my body comes to terms with my mind.

The second problem, of trying to explain to others the changes which were taking place in my life, proved to be no more amenable to solution than the first.  No one had described for me how to get clear about myself and my position in a changing world.  I had followed my intuition; being able to study and know oneself seemed as if it were an innate ability; I was at a loss to describe the process to others.  What others had given me was the confidence, the reinforcement, to spend all that energy upon myself.

This I wanted to communicate back to others: 

that it had been worth the effort, 

that the investment had paid off, 

that there was a large-scale change in my life for having done so, 

and that I felt much happier about myself as a result.  

The emotion bubbled up from within me, but my listeners wanted facts, information they could use. When I tried to list the particulars in my case, to breakdown just what I had done, there was no synergy in the analysis of the parts.  I was able to offer no prescription, no formula, and those who felt the energy radiating out of me could get no handle on it.  Some left disappointed, others left bitter and cynical.

Back at the FWC center, I was surprised to find the same people who, a few months earlier, had been telling me to get into myself now telling me to get out of myself.  They wanted me to tell them what I had done,  I thought it would just show through: if I was into myself and being joyful about the sense within, the energy turned outwards; that should be enough for them to pick upon.  They said no. "Being blissed out in yourself is worthless to us, useless until you can tune into where we are, transmit to us, and make us feel inside ourselves what is inside of you.  

Your so-called enlightenment, until you can do that, is of no social value."

It was true.  I was scattering my love indiscriminately. I was sending out awareness, attention, and involvement without regard to whom it was being directed or how it was being received.  Former friends were soon ignoring me, or acting in patterns I had last witnessed in high school: bringing me down and around to their experience of reality, of the problems, the helplessness, the fears, letting me know that their view of things was true too, that the here and now that they lived within was far more solid than any of my ideas about the "Potential Within."  While I went on about the potential of other people going through themselves as I had, of everybody having the leisure time and using it to explore what was inside of them instead of being caught up in the race for acquisition of material goods, of the changes which would then occur in decreased resource depletion, decreased consumption, decreased pollution, while I was trying to return to a sanely-paced life and a humanely organized world, trying to see what I was going to do with myself now, my shoes were getting hidden, my knapsack ripped off by a fellow student, my opinion denigrated, and my reputation, as somewhat crazy, increased.

The worst culture shock in trying to come home was that relatives, old friends, and sympathetic observers refused to believe that one's personality could change so fast.  Rather, they felt I had put myself in some extreme situations and temporarily lost my perspective.

© Paul C Hoffman 2012