added PS 8/14/04
"Light - A 'Definitely So' Story"
by Ramon 'Ray' Sender
original draft Summer, 1976
understanding of reality came to me over the years in a series of what I can
only refer to as mystical insights. After experiencing some aspects of the
current world religions, I focused upon the obvious source of all of mankind's
life, light and consciousness, the sun. I recognize the sun as our solar
system's god, my own center, Ray Sender, the only knowable -- visible --
creator within our normal material frame of reference. What lies beyond in space,
in the center of the galaxy, or before time within that primal moment when the
universe exploded into being, I can only conjure up in my imaginings. But my
senses, my daily experience, tell me that the light-bringer from which mankind
abstracts their multitude of notions of the deity is visible in the sky above,
perceivable to all living things every day of their lives and, according to my
observations, acknowledged as such by all creatures -- except we humans.
The above insights burst upon me in February, 1966, when I traveled to the Mojave Desert for some time alone. There I took up the long-delayed quest that I had begun ten years earlier (1957) on Mount Tamalpais where, as a twenty-two-year-old, I had spent two weeks alone on a watershed belonging to Pacific Gas and Electric. My predominant religious interest then had been Zen Buddhism, fanned to a flame by the poetry of Gary Snyder, Ginsburg and Rexroth. What few Zen books were available at that time (Alan Watts, R. H. Blythe's haiku) I lugged up the trail in my backpack. I set up camp on the ridge next to a spring under some welcoming redwoods. There I tried to meditate and to ponder the true meaning of existence.
One evening, after a week alone in nature, the sunset burst through a Baroque altarpiece of fog, beams of light diffracting through the misty curls. It communicated to me such a beatific vision that I knew then and there that I would have to restructure my life. I decided that this oceanic experience must have been 'satori,' the Zen enlightenment that I had been seeking (although later I would reclassify this as a 'nature epiphany'. But at that moment I embraced all and everything, my life's failures and its few successes, in one harmonious totality that seemed one note in the universal chorus. I said 'Yes' with all my heart to that glorious message, and decided that I had to retire to a simple cabin somewhere in the California countryside. I would turn away from society's meaningless power games, from the ruined marriage that had brought me out west for that summer, and merge myself with nature -- my nature.
I returned to New York City, and it took me two years to return to the West Coast after living with -- and almost joining -- an Anabaptist Christian intentional community where I hoped my marriage could be salvaged and our two-year-old daughter find a safe haven. The group's preparation for baptism into full membership afforded me yet another spiritual experience, but along a different route from nature or the Zen masters, this time the path of ego-death and self-denial. I had to burn my old identity in the flames of their view of God's wrathful judgment, emptying myself of everything to which I had once clung. After an annihilating confessional encounter with the Elder, there came a moment when, seated alone in my room, and having just had the last of my ego's underpinnings pulled away, I heard a voice say, with infinite gentleness, 'I love you, Ramon.' And I knew with absolute certainty that this was God's voice, and these four words melted the few remaining shreds of the 'separate me' completely away.
Yet this experience, from their Elder's point of view, was 'too over-emotional,' and somehow the realization of God's love for me despite my innate sinfulness was 'not enough' to be baptized into their congregation. After all, only the Elder was supposed to have direct contact with God and then bring the fruits of his meditation to the church.
A year later, during a second baptism intensive, I realized that I did not know what my undergoing yet another ego-death would accomplish. I had 'no one inside' except the imprinted Elder's ego. What could I confess? Also I saw that my wife's focus was not on me but -- on the Elder! I realized that she and I were never going to get back together. In deep despair, I escaped again to California, at first feeling as if I had been cast into Inferno. I knew that the community's severe interpretation of Jesus' message as 'The love that cuts like a knife' would sever me forever from my daughter, and over time this proved to be the case, despite all my efforts to the contrary. In San Francisco, I immersed myself in the writings of the Russian Christian Nicolai Berdyaev, an existentialist philosopher who celebrated the connection to the Divine through creative expression. He believed we were on the edge of a new golden age of divine and human creativity, and hailed the artist as the one who could break through the objectification that clouded men's perceptions. At the time I welcomed Berdyaev's theories because they helped me feel that I had not been thrown to the wolves. I devoted myself to composing music within the congenial Bay Area artistic community. I also began to read the collected works of Carl Jung, which helped me arrive at a deeper understanding of the individuation process. I graduated from the Conservatory of Music, co-founded an electronic music center with other composer friends, and devoted the next four years to giving concerts while earning an M.A. in musical composition.
The psychedelic awakening of the early 'sixties re-energized my spiritual search, starting with a night in early 1963 when a composer friend arrived at my house with a bagful of dried peyote buttons. After a few hours he went home and I lay down to find myself living my life backwards in a Jungian hero's journey to what seemed the instant of conceptions when I flashed into existence. Up until then I had never experimented with any mind-altering substances other than alcohol, so the doors of perception yawned very wide for me. A few more peyote sessions followed with friends until I realized that these new energies required more than just casual use. I decided to take up marijuana as a way to acclimatize myself more gradually. And when LSD became readily available for me that autumn, I was ready to venture deeper, focused at first on Tibetan Buddhism.
Meanwhile the 'concert series' theme of my musical career came to a splendiferous climax with my co-producing "The Trips Festival," a now-historic event that launched the hippie era. After an amazing weekend of 'people energies,' I retreated to a small cave in the desert south of Needles. There I recapitulated my earlier Christian experience back through various layers of self-negation (The "Neti, Neti" path in Hinduism) to that same terrifying moment of ego-annihilation I had experienced in the Anabaptist community. And once more I heard God's voice repeat those same words, "I love you, Ramon" -- actually "You're a fool but I love you, Ramon." And this time I was able to trace the voice to its source. The voice had come -- from the sun! A sunbeam had at that very moment touched the space where I sat, my head bowed to the ground.
What an incredible discovery! The sun was my higher self - was God! The answer had been literally staring me in the face all my life! What a fool, what a happy zany fool I was! Thinking back to that first time at the Christian community, I now remembered how the sun had been pouring through the window at the moment I heard those same loving words. The sun had been there all along, always next to me every day, only disappearing to shine with equal love on the other side of the planet. I felt as if I had reached back beyond the tainted patriarchal religions to man's earliest awareness, to the source of life itself. Now that I had 'awakened,' the obvious clues were everywhere -- in nature, in the animal world, even in those religious paintings that showed a ray of light descending from on high. Only man's vanity had insisted that God was invisible and out of reach in some sort of non-material, ethereal dimension.
I realized that our dualistic view of the universe was a misconception. Matter, mind and spirit were just different vibrations -- different notes on the same scale. And if the sun was a conscious being, then everything else must be conscious as well! I had read similar truths in the writings of the mystics, but it was totally different to experience this reality -- to talk with the trees and flowers, even the stars who were only our same Divine Essence manifesting elsewhere as Creator Beings of other solar systems. All was one, and that unity did not mean that only our material plane existed. Spirit and matter intermingled in ascending and descending cosmic melodies.
When I returned to the Bay Area, I was unable to live indoors, away from the true source and fountainhead of my joy. I needed to be in nature as much as possible to continue my yoga of adoration and my acclimatization to the solar presence. So almost nine years later than my original decision to live out in the redwoods, I moved to a vacant ranch in Sonoma County that belonged to a friend. My dog Katy moved with me and, later that summer, my partner Joan and some friends and fellow travelers joined us. All that year I was caught up in a love affair with the divine father and mother, the former manifesting in the multi-colored rose windows the sun made in the redwood treetops, and the Holy Mother speaking to me through dancing nature in the meadows and orchards. Others experienced her nearness, and a few even saw her standing under a tree one day. Some years later we learned, to our great amazement, that even before my friend had bought the ranch, it had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary by the Lay Order of St. Dominic.
I began to read through all the world's religions and spiritual masters, looking for where humans had lost their basic understanding, and for references to the divinity of the sun, for places where my new reality resonated with what others had experienced. I found a few hints in books where the sun was used as a metaphor for the Divine. Also it seemed that the further back I went, the stronger the hints became, such as the ecstatic hymns to the sun god in the Bronze Age Rig Veda. However I had to turn to the Native Americans to find contemporary fellow-believers.
I found some parallels in the writings of the Hindu philosopher-yogi Sri Aurobindo Ghose. He shared with Berdyaev a vision of a spiritual evolution that was leading man to a divinized light body that ultimately would replace our corruptible ones. The 'forerunners of this divine multitude,' as he named them in his epic poem 'Savitri,' were the rishis and holy beings who lived thousand-year-long lives in the Himalayas within bodies that no longer needed food, air or water. According to Aurobindo, through the meeting of eastern spiritual traditions and western technical discoveries, a synthesis of yoga and science would make the experience of this Himalayan advance guard available to everyone.
At the ranch, I lay in the semi-shade of my favorite redwood grove for long hours, staring up into the golden beams, entering various states of altered consciousness, searching for a method to 'disappear' myself, to get out of the way so that the solar light of Consciousness-Light-Love could merge with the inner 'mother' light that also fueled me, the life force. Once that merger occurred, I would no longer be flesh but instead would become the light-filled energies that bound my atoms together.
I discovered that I had an innate talent for stillness and meditation. Later I expanded my schedule to include daily Hatha Yoga and pranayama, yogic breathing that kept me from getting chilled during my long hours in the grove.
It would be tedious for the reader for me to describe all the various experiences, but I know with certainty that I tasted for a few brief instants the nectar of immortality. Upon one or two occasions I came back to my body to find it suspended between breaths, yet totally comfortable. I interpreted this as a positive sign that I was approaching my goal, that I was within reach of the 'switch' that one day would click on and merge the inner and outer lights. From there I would be able to unite with solar consciousness, one of whose side-effects might even be a lifetime as long as the sun's.
However distractions kept occurring. It was difficult for our ranch to remain merely a center for spiritual research, and for us not to welcome others who came looking for answers of their own. At least we could share with whomever was in need of a home the mother spirit that hovered over us. My friends agreed and a trickle of young people began to arrive by January, 1967.
After a first visit from the Sheriff's department in March, I left the ranch. The anonymity that I felt necessary for my launches into the cosmos had been shattered. But when I came back to visit, the energies seemed so high, the Digger newcomers so sincere, that finally I moved back. That May I built a sleeping platform on the dawn side of the property where I could watch the morning star rise over Sonoma Mountain, and thence began a tribal decade in my life for which I will be forever grateful. I learned many wonderful things about living with other seekers, but also I found myself in a double-bind because -- I was not ready to share my deepest insights!
I knew that I was only a beginner, feeling my way step-by-step into the unknown. I could take responsibility for my own eyesight during extended periods of sun-gazing, but I could not be responsible for others' retinas. What if the rumor got around that I was burning out the eyes of the younger generation? We would be closed down in minutes! About this same time, an urban myth circulated about a group of college students that had burned their retinas staring at the sun on LSD. This did not help matters, especially because I must acknowledge the invaluable role that LSD as well as plant teachers such as peyote have played in my spiritual awakening.
Even if our cultural taboo against gazing at the sun turned out to be an old wives' tale that evolved along with the concept of an invisible god, I could not take any chances. We were still in the Kali Yuga, that most materialistic of the Hindu cycle of ages. Somewhere I had read a description of the Kali Yuga as the age when mankind's spirit had become so dense, so imbedded in matter, that men could not gaze at the sun any more. And yet the Plains Indians danced all day with their gaze fixed on the sun in that most sacred of all rituals, the Sun Dance. What was their secret?
I treasured any reference I could find to ancient sun practices or current lore. I read that Romans took an oath on the sun by looking at it and saying, 'May Apollo strike me blind if I lie!' Coincidentally, a little child once had told me that the sun would not blind you if you hadn't told a lie. Elsewhere I ran across an item that nuns in Europe used to punish children for lying by making them stare at the sun! What a strange perversion, to make a punishment out of recharging one's solar battery! What was the lying business, and how had it started? And why would nature evolve an organ of sight incapable of looking at the most important thing in the sky? Somehow it seemed implausible.
I felt like the man in Plato's story who left the cave of shadows and saw reality but could not convince his fellow cave dwellers to venture forth. However in my case, my fellow cavemen were all too eager to experiment, so I only shared my insights with close friends. I also warned them to pay attention to their pain threshold as a built-in fail-safe device.
One thing was certain: the quickest way for me to achieve a state of no-thought was to fix my gaze on the filtered light of our parent star. Immediately I would feel my heartbeat quicken and a warming sensation spread from my solar(!) plexus throughout my body. However I lacked a method for stabilizing a given amount of sunlight in one place for a long period of time. After ten or so minutes of lying prone in the grove, I would find myself either in too much shade or in blinding full sun. I would have to come "all the way down" to my body in order to shift positions and then start over. Perhaps I should summer at the North Pole? I dreamed of designing a sunlight attenuator, something that would allow me to select the ideal amount for extended gazing. I tried placing my hands in different positions or 'mudras' over my eyes. Not satisfactory.
I devised a pair of pinhole glasses, but it was difficult to decide where to allow the light to enter. On the blind spot, where the optic nerve entered the retina? Filters were out, because I was not sure which were the beneficial rays. The blue to violet seemed the most important, but the ultraviolet along with the infrared at sunset seemed the most damaging, from reports I had read. I did encounter a bluish Plexiglas skylight one ecstatic day in the Santa Cruz mountains that was just terrific. How about those mirror balls they placed in the center of gardens? The answer must be simple, I told myself, right in front of me. It must be built into the human body, one way or another.
Another time I attained a remarkably blissful state in the city staring at a tensor lamp. Don't laugh. The meditation was shared by a number of new friends who, upon the strength of that experience, immediately moved to the ranch. But ultimately, nothing was as satisfactory as the redwood groves and they remained my sanctuaries.
Life at the ranch continued full of distractions, such as raids by sheriff's deputies and fly-overs by building inspectors. When a local judge placed an injunction on the property forbidding anyone except the owner to live there, those of us who stayed faced the prospect of arrest daily. Gradually we all moved to another ranch that had opened in a less accessible area, and there I continued for another few years. Finally, in 1970, I left the now-beleaguered second ranch and spent some time indoors in Santa Cruz writing a history of the Open Land Movement, the name we had given our philosophy of living together without choosing our neighbors.
While there, I visited the University of California Santa Cruz and wired myself to their eight-channel EEG-EKG-heartbeat recorder. I sat outside in the sun, the wires from my head leading through an open window to the equipment. The tests were administered by a graduate student. By the time I received the results, I was in South America on the track of ancient solar cultures. The scrap of squiggles he mailed me and his brief analysis were enough to convince me that my body underwent measurable changes during sun-gazing sessions. My heartbeat increased radically whenever I looked at the sun, and my alpha rhythms were as strong as some they had recorded with Zen meditators. I fully understood that gazing at the sun stopped my thought process, or at least made entry into a mindless state very easy.
In South America I wrote Being Of The Sun with Alicia Bay Laurel, who lovingly designed and drew each page. In it we attempted to put in the simplest language something of the religious experiences that I -- and it seemed by then many others -- were experiencing. By the time it was published, the hard-edged 1970s were in full swing. The gentle people had retreated to quiet eddies in rural backwaters to raise their children and gardens. The ones who needed the book's message were no longer interested, while the ones who were living the reality it described did not need to be told the obvious.
I wrote an article celebrating the full-spectrum light experimenter John Ott, and various other essays and novels, some published, some not. In 1980, I moved back to San Francisco, where I met and married my wonderful life-partner Judy. With her help and a NEA Creative Writing grant, I recovered my birth mother's life story and the reasons for her assassination during the Spanish Civil War. The University of New Mexico Press published it under the title A Death In Zamora (1989).
During the 1990s, I found it exhilarating to live in a high-stress urban environment with only the sun to steer by. Every morning I chanted the Gayatri mantram to the rising sun, and kept a close I-Thou devotional relationship thriving -- perhaps I should describe it as my ongoing ’romance,’ because I remained truly in love. And truly in love also with my wife Judy who continued her devoted teaching career in the public high schools until her retirement at the end of the decade, and helped my three sons mature via various growing pains into young adulthood. At this time I founded a recovery group for a large number of ex-members of the Anabaptist high-demand religious community where my daughter had grown up, married and started a family. She had died very suddenly of melanoma in 1989, a week after her diagnosis, and a few months after my mother’s story was published (she never saw a copy, but knew of it). In the more recent paperback edition, I added a final note that described their similar characters and how the many strange parallels in their lives (both died at the same age, leaving two small children) convinced me that they were the same soul. The recovery group had grown out of my determination to interview people who had known my daughter and write her biography, and my phone calls triggered a monthly newsletter, annual gatherings and four books in a series titled "Women from Utopia" that I designed and published. Before I was forced to move on via three lawsuits and the threat of losing our liability insurance, the foundation and publishing company had more than four million words in print.
In 1999, I settled into a full-time job administering the Noe Valley Ministry and community center across the street from our home. The work combined my interests in community, publishing, spirituality, children and music. I estimated that roughly 700 people walked into the building every week and my busy days were rewarding and enjoyable. Sometimes, however, I wondered if I was spiritually starving myself just for the indescribable pleasure of some future reunion. ’Dry’ periods occur on the spiritual path for every seeker, I told myself. But I continued to experience spirit and matter as one infinite continuum, and one day a chance smile out the office window led me to discover that a smile, with a glance of this type, triggered a burst of energy in my solar plexus that surged through my body and out my fingertips. A search for the phrase 'smile meditation' on the Internet led me to a Taoist 'Inner Smile' exercise that I began to use. This in turn led me to Taoist yoga and some other teachers mentioned here on my website. I then discovered the writings of Master Omraam Mikhael Aihanhov. Various of his pages on Sun Yoga I could have written myself! How sorry I was not to have met him in person before he left his body in 1986.
In August, 2004, a few months before my 70th birthday and determined to 'sunbathe’ at least every sunny afternoon, I retired to devote myself with reawakened enthusiasm to my solar studies and meditations. Beyond the exercises I’ve developed for increasing eudemony (please see the postings under OBEATA on the top menu here) and a pre-sleep meditation based on the ’wet' Vipassana Buddhist breath-awareness method, I do not practice any other yogas except for the continuing awareness that I am in The Presence every day, in varying degrees on the energy continuum (depending on the weather). Of course all light is sunlight, so even on cloudy days I bask in the light of the One in whom we "live and move and have our being."
By the time I celebrated my 70th birthday in 2004 I had discovered a series of exercises which, although not directly sun-centered, seemed to promise an entry through that final door into awakening, that stage of 'undistracted self-consciousness or true self-knowledge sometimes called the state of 'wakeful sleep,' as a follower of Sri Ramana Maharshi wrote me today. Whatever else occurs, I know that one day I will launch myself into the sky with whatever knowledge I have acquired and throw my soul as far as possible towards my Golden Center. This time I hope it will hook onto not just a sunbeam, but onto the Source of all our planetary existence. Whatever else this process is, it must be a natural one, because I know this phototropic, light-seeking urge lies coiled in the deepest recesses of every living form. My essay Why Nature Grew Humans ventures into this topic in greater detail. Until such a time, I am more than content to lead an urban existence in what I call "the left ventricle of San Francisco" while I accumulate more data on the effects of light on living organisms, and absorb the wisdom and realizations of great seekers.
Finally, if everything is conscious and the sun is our God node in our solar system, then heaven also must exist in our material universe. In one of the references to sun yoga -- Surya Yoga -- that I found in India, the sun is referred to as the place where the rishis (spiritual teachers) and kings of ancient times return after death. I agree. I think our heaven, paradise, whence our earthly souls return, does indeed exist within the sun. But how wonderful it would be if we could merge our consciousness with our higher Souls-in-Sol while still experiencing our individual planetary existences! This 'living merger' is the evolution of the physical form anticipated by many great teachers such as Sri Aurobindo and hinted at by almost every spiritual path, Tibetan, Hindu, Kabbalist or Sufi amongst others. May I live to see that day blossom for all life on the planet -- and for Gaia herself!
P.S. Since uploading a version of this essay in June, 2003, my prayer voiced in the final sentence above has been more than answered, because a whole community of sungazers has blossomed on the Internet. Please read the following links:
An excellent historical background site authored by Petre Liviu Misicu:
(Teacher Hira Manek's site, with instructions on HRM Method)
(Mason Dwinell's site, very similar to HRM Method)
(Vinny's site, overview of many different
systems/methods, also offers basic safety info)
Also please check the folder Sun Letters under the Solar Legation menu