Another Look: Love Children: A Novel

It is the mid-1970s.  The Summer of Love and the Woodstock Music Festival have come and gone.  Into the atmosphere of cynicism and doubt following the wild optimism of the youth revolution the Love Children, raised from birth by benevolent aliens, come home to Earth.  Sexually free, telepathic, and honest to the extreme, they are appalled to find that the world they left behind is full of darkness and deceit. As they set about using their extraordinary powers to bring light and unity back to their world, they run up against a sinister alien force intending to keep it in darkness.

This is my first novel, a science fiction tale that contrasts the telepathically advanced and pacifistic alien culture human orphans are brought up in with the selfish and violent societies on Earth to which they return to search for their parents. It’s a fast-paced science fiction adventure set in exotic locales such as Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Greece, the San Francisco Bay area, and a spacecraft orbiting Earth.

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Book Review:  The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel H. Pink

This book starts out strong. The author points out the fallacy of the expression “no regrets” because, well, everyone has regrets. To find out what these regrets are, Pink undertook a massive international survey and also delved deeply into past research findings. He discovered that the regrets people expressed from all over the world can be divided into four main categories: foundation regrets, which have to do with health, education, finance, and other essential matters; boldness regrets, or not taking chances when presented with opportunities for growth; moral regrets, which include cheating, deceiving, swindling, and other negative behaviors; and connection regrets, or failure to recognize and love important people in our lives.

He devotes a chapter to each of these “core regrets,” as he calls them. Explanations throughout the book are liberally sprinkled with examples from Pink’s surveys and research. Recognizing regrets, whether those that comprise things we did or things we failed to do, insists the author, can help us to use them as opportunities for growth.

As I read, I found myself wondering what the greatest regrets in my own life were. Through the descriptions and examples I was able to pinpoint several. One of the deepest and most important was the destruction of my early manuscripts. I had set out on the road to find my voice as a writer. My quest took me across the United States, around Europe, across the Middle East, and around the Indian Subcontinent. In my duffle bag, I always carried a notebook and pen. I remember clearly when the pure words started pouring out. It was in Goa, India, and I was sitting under a palm tree at the beach. They were clear, honest, insightful words. As I traveled, I filled that notebook, and then another, and then another. When I got back to the States, I stored those notebooks, along with some typewritten manuscripts I had composed in Seattle when I got back, in a box in the basement of my mother’s house. I was still traveling at the time, and I couldn’t carry them with me. At some point after I had returned to India, I felt I needed a fresh start and wrote to my mother that she should destroy that box of manuscripts. What the hell was I thinking? Wonderful pure insightful words were lost forever! Yes, a great regret indeed. And I have compensated for that loss by being more careful with my writings since then. I always back up my work – even first drafts as soon as I complete them. And when my writings are as perfect as I can make them, I publish them rather than have them languish in a drawer. After all, that’s why I write them: so that they can be read by others.

Some other important regrets have to do with personal relationships. I met some wonderful women on the road and did not always give them the respect and attention they deserved. When I got married and we began to have children, I sometimes got too busy with work and maintaining the household and didn’t spend enough time with the family. On one of my forays to the States when we were living in Greece, I had a chance to take a side trip from Seattle to California to visit my brother Jeff, who I hadn’t seen in many years. I didn’t do it, deciding that I was short of time and money. Soon after I returned to Greece he died. It is forever too late to remedy that error. But later on, I did not make the same mistake. A few years ago, one of my sons and I were on a road trip from the San Francisco Bay area to Seattle. I debated internally whether we should take the time to make a side trip to Vancouver, Washington, to visit another of my brothers. We did take the time, and it’s a good thing we did, because a few months after that visit this brother also died.

Yes, regrets are real things, and this book helps you focus on your own regrets, which can initiate a healing process. Unfortunately, the last part of the book, the part I was looking forward to the most, in which Pink supposedly offers remedies to the pain of regret, kind of falls apart. He gets into a lot of analytical reasoning that is the antithesis of the personal approach in most of the book, and it becomes rather dry, overly structured, and uninteresting. Nevertheless, the first two-thirds are very well-written and well-presented, and I recommend the book as a useful guide to identifying and mitigating the regrets in your own life.

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Book Review:  This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I read and enjoyed Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao when I was still living in Greece shortly before I moved back to the United States in 2012. It has taken me this long to get around to another Diaz offering, the short story collection: This Is How You Lose Her. The main character in the stories, most of which are told either in first person or second person, is Diaz’s autobiographical alter-ego Yunior. As the title of the book promises, the stories mainly deal with Yunior’s multitudinous affairs; each story features a different woman and his relationship with her. As constants in the background are Yunior’s relationships with his mother and with his older brother, who becomes debilitated and then dies of cancer.

Diaz is a virtuoso with language, and the stories abound in English street dialect with a lot of expletives, graphic sexual descriptions, and interjections in Spanish. This is all part of what makes them work. They are composed in a sort of rough, abrasive prose poetry that is beautiful in its own idiosyncratic way.

I think my favorite story in the collection is the last one, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” because it presents the most comprehensive picture of Yunior. His girlfriend, who he sincerely loves, finds out he has been cheating on her and breaks up with him. He begins to have all sorts of physical ailments. On top of that, he has trouble with his teaching job, with his writing, and with racist Bostonians shouting insults at him. He attempts to strike up relationships with other women but they don’t go well. In the end, his redemption comes as he begins to effectively write again, and the writing helps to exorcise his despair. He considers that the writing “feels like hope, like grace,” and that “sometimes a start is all we ever get.” I can empathize with those sentiments. Sometimes the writing is the only thing that pulls me through too.

As for the stories about the women in Yunior’s life, they caused me to think back and recall the various women I have known and loved. Oddly enough, or perhaps serendipitously enough, I was considering writing stories based on some of my past relationships just before I found this book on the library shelf. Before I met the woman I would marry and raise five sons with, there were several relationships I would call extraordinary and that involved real love. At those times, though, the circumstances simply weren’t right to continue in the long term. In writing about his ephemeral past relationships, Diaz is able to tap into profound emotional veins that are sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, sometimes painful, sometimes confusing, and sometimes irresolvable. Just like in real life. Stories don’t always have happy endings, and sometimes wounds don’t quickly heal. Sometimes the only answer is to pick yourself up and try to keep carrying on somehow. For writers, the act of writing serves that purpose.

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Invisible People Is Now Available!

My latest novel Invisible People is now available in paperback and as an ebook at various online outlets. Links to these are below.

In the near future, a member of an elite rescue unit stumbles upon a conspiracy that involves time travel, sightings of alien vessels, portals to distant worlds, and the disappearance of refugees, the homeless, and other disenfranchised people. As he and his team investigate further, he uncovers truths that cause him to question his worldview, loyalties, and the code by which he lives.

Trade Paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

Apple iBooks

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Book Review:  Whole Earth: The Many Lives of Stewart Brand by John Markoff

I’m always on the lookout for good books on the counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s. The title of this biography emphasizes Brand’s main contribution to that era, The Whole Earth Catalog. Though it delves into the making of the catalog, it tells the story of Brand’s entire life, of which The Whole Earth Catalog is but a part, albeit the part for which he is best known.

Markoff points out that Brand is often associated with the hippy counterculture, but he was never really an integral part of it. He existed on the periphery as a journalist, photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia event organizer. Although he knew Ken Kesey and many other radical figures of the time, he was not a member of the Merry Pranksters; he was not “on the bus,” so to speak, as they made their epic cross-country journey that Tom Wolfe documented in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He did assist the Pranksters in putting on the acid tests, though, and got to know many of them.

Brand’s greatest and most enduring contribution to popular culture was The Whole Earth Catalog, which was actually a series of catalogs and supplements that were published between 1968 and 1972 and occasionally thereafter. Steve Jobs referred to it as a prelude to the Google search engine. It was full of product reviews and articles intended to make it easier for those in the “back to the land” movement to have access to the tools they needed, but its functionality and impact ultimately went far beyond its initial goals.

While reading this book, I got out my own copy of The Last Whole Earth Catalog (the 1971 edition that won the National Book Award), which I had obtained while conducting some research for my hippy-era novel The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen. Back then, over a decade ago, I bought a good used copy for ten or fifteen dollars. Now, I couldn’t find used copies on Amazon for less than two hundred dollars. As I browsed the pages, I could imagine the lure of this multifaceted volume for people in the times before the internet.

The Whole Earth Catalog was only one of many projects that Brand conceived and worked on in the decades since his initial America Needs Indians! multimedia presentations. In fact, as Markoff points out, he was primarily an idea man and eventually tired of even the most dynamic of the projects he undertook. For instance, he left The Whole Earth Catalog at the height of its popularity. He later became interested in the early development of personal computers and the rise of the Silicon Valley computer culture, creating one of the first social media sites for idea exchange, which he called the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, or WELL.

Later, Brand became deeply enmeshed in the cultures of large corporations, working as a consultant for Shell Oil and other companies. He helped to found the Global Business Network and became a proponent of nuclear energy and genetically modified organisms, thus alienating many of the environmentalists that he had inspired in the past.

In short, Brand was (and is) an anomaly, a peripheral figure for various movements. He came from a position of privilege; his parents supported his early endeavors so he did not have to struggle or work for a living. In later life he became quite wealthy and aligned himself with the rich and powerful. At one point he even considered writing a book on the advantages and power associated with being rich. While reading this book, I kept coming back to a comparison with Steve Jobs, who also began in the counterculture but later rose to a respected corporate position. Both Jobs and Brand led (or lead) fascinating, multifaceted lives but had (or have) deep flaws as well as amazing talents. Neither is what one would call uplifting or moral role models, but both profoundly shaped the eras in which they accomplished their most important work.

In conclusion, this is a very well-written, well-researched biography that sheds light on the hippy era of the sixties and seventies, the early years of Silicon Valley, and some of the controversies in the environmental movement. Sometimes I felt as if Markoff introduces too many historical characters at once without adequate explanation and I had trouble keeping them all straight. Otherwise, though, it is an important book and is well worth reading. Recommended.

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Book Review:  Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas by Harley Rustad – Part Three

(For the background to this article, see Part One and Part Two below.)

Except for major classical works of literature, usually I only write one review per book. However, Lost in the Valley of Death evokes so many memories and thoughts that I have to keep writing about it. This one should wind up the series, though.

Soon after Justin disappeared in the Parvati Valley, his friends and family became aware that something might be wrong because he did not reconnect to his social media accounts. Many people offered their opinions. Some thought that he was simply off somewhere on his own living as a sadhu in the mountains, while others had a premonition that something was wrong. Those closest to him investigated online as much as they could and then started a GoFundMe account to raise money for a search. A friend named Jonathan Skeels and Justin’s mother flew to India to investigate in person. Suspicion fell on a sadhu that Justin had befriended and accompanied on a hike into the mountains.

Many foreigners go to India to look for religious teachers. On my own journeys on the Subcontinent I came across several of these. There were the teachers at the Buddhist camp in the hills outside Bombay where I spent a week studying meditation, for instance. However, the strangest teacher/student situation I encountered was in Sri Lanka, where one evening some foreigners invited another traveler and I to visit the home where they lived with their guru. He was supposedly about two hundred years old and had lived alone in the jungle for decades. Upon coming out of the wild, he drew a following of acolytes, particularly foreigners who flew from the United States and Europe specifically to stay with him and absorb his teachings. They emphasized that it was a special privilege for us to meet him. He sat cross-legged on a raised platform in the living room wearing nothing but a loin cloth; every few minutes he would hock a loogie into a spittoon at his side. He spoke in Sinhala or Tamil (I’m not sure which), a Sri Lankan would translate, and all his followers would ooh and ah. He extended my friend and I an invitation to stay, which the faithful insisted was a great honor, but we declined. We were each on our own paths; mine eventually led me to my solitary trek in the Himalayas.

Evidently Justin had become enthralled by a sadhu, whose name was Rawat. The investigation into Rawat’s possible involvement in Justin’s disappearance, though, remained inconclusive because soon after he was incarcerated he was found dead in his cell in an apparent suicide. Rustad strongly implies that the police may have been responsible.

Eventually Skeels found some of Justin’s belongings along the raging Parvati River but no trace of Justin. The search had to be called off. For awhile the Internet buzzed with news of the disappearance and opinions about what might have become of him. I couldn’t help but compare Justin’s situation with my own when I roamed the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent back in the 1970s. Justin was a celebrity of sorts and recorded his journeys on his social media sites. If I had got lost in a remote place, I was unknown, and the only notice that I was gone would have been a faint ripple amongst my relatives. It made me wonder how many travelers simply vanish somewhere in the lands they are visiting and no one ever finds out.

In the end, though, Justin’s life was an inspiration to those who knew him personally or through his online posts. The thing to remember is how much he valued the freedom to pursue the truths of life as he saw them. Occasionally I get together with a group of travel enthusiasts here in Seattle and we all talk about where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. Some of the attendees are casual travelers, retirees or those who take advantage of breaks from work to roam the world. Others, though, have embraced the nomadic spirit and travel as a lifestyle. Either way, it’s worth remembering that venturing forth into the unknown is inherently risky. Justin knew the risks, but he was willing to take them because he also knew the value of the rewards. It brings to mind once again Walt Whitman’s classic poem “The Song of the Open Road.”

All parts away for the progress of souls,

All religion, all solid things, arts, governments – all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.

Justin was one of those souls along that glorious path. One can only hope that before the end he found the peace and serenity that he sought.

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Invisible People Still Available for Preorder!

As a reminder:

The Kindle edition of my tenth novel and thirty-second book, Invisible People, is now available for preorder on Amazon. Its release date is September 15th, and at that time it will also be available on Amazon in trade paperback. Shortly afterwards it will appear in digital form at other online sales outlets. Here’s a brief synopsis:

In the near future, a member of an elite rescue unit stumbles upon a conspiracy that involves time travel, sightings of alien vessels, portals to distant worlds, and the disappearance of refugees, the homeless, and other disenfranchised people. As he and his team investigate further, he uncovers truths that cause him to question his worldview, loyalties, and the code by which he lives.

To find out more, click on this link.

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An Appreciation of Bruce Taylor, aka Mr. Magic Realism

It may seem odd to interrupt the posting of a lengthy three-part book review for an essay on another subject, but I have just received the disheartening news that my friend Bruce Taylor died a few days ago, and this situation has priority.

Bruce Taylor was a science fiction and fantasy writer who became known by the nickname Mr. Magic Realism because he specialized in the magic realism genre. One of his collections was even called Mr. Magic Realism, and I have reviewed it in this blog. His stories were generally light, fun, and fascinating.

I met Bruce at a summer party held for Clarion West students and graduates, and I also ran into him fairly frequently at other parties and science fiction conventions. He usually attended these events dressed in the costume in the photo on the back cover of Mr. Magic Realism: white shoes, white pants, white shirt, white jacket, and white top hat. Along with his white hair and white beard, the effect was perfect.

As we kept meeting by chance, Bruce and I would spend longer and longer periods of time sipping beers and talking together. It turned out that career-wise we had a lot in common. He attended Clarion West in 1972, and I attended in 1973. Both of us had published numerous books as well as short stories in magazines and anthologies, and both were frustrated that despite our efforts we were not better known. However, we also both had the conviction that despite our anonymity compared to other writers in the field, there was nothing better for us to be doing in this great and grand universe than writing. It was always a lot of fun to run into each other and share our most recent accomplishments. It seemed that the two of us always had new publications going and found great joy in the ongoing creative process.

A few years ago I decided not to wait until the next possible meeting at a party or other gathering. I wrote Bruce an email and suggested that we should get together somewhere for a drink and a talk. He enthusiastically agreed, and so I took a bus to Seattle’s Central District not far from Bruce’s condo and we met at a bar over big mugs of craft beer. We talked for a long time, Bruce and I, mainly about science fiction and fantasy, writing, publishing, and other things that were going on in our lives.

It was the last time I ever saw Bruce.

You see, shortly after that meeting the COVID storm broke and everyone went into isolation. Clarion West classes and gatherings and science fiction conventions were abruptly canceled. Bruce had to be especially careful because of his health issues, and because of my age I was considered highly vulnerable to the virus as well. We continued to communicate about our publications and our general situations. Bruce moved around a bit because mold and other concerns were giving him problems at the condo. Eventually he found a new home in a small town north of Seattle called La Connor. After he made the move, he invited me to come out and visit him there, and I had that visit on my radar. However, I do not own a car, so I was waiting for the right opportunity to take him up on the offer. It was always in the back of my mind, though. Alas; I waited too long. Now it is too late.

At least we managed that last meeting at the bar. The thing is: I think I felt closer to Bruce than to any of the other Clarion West instructors and students I met. We bonded over our similar instructional backgrounds, love of writing, and efforts to achieve greater recognition. Losing him is like losing my two closest Clarion West classmates, Paul Bond and Russell Bates. Paul died a long time ago; his health was poor and when he attended Clarion West he’d already had open heart surgery. He showed us the scars. Russell, a Kiowa Native American who wrote an Emmy-winning episode for the animated Star Trek series, died a few years back. I came across his obituary while looking for an address to get back in touch with him.

And now Bruce. I’m losing my people, one by one. It’s a lonely feeling to think of good friends and then to realize that we can never phone, email, or raise a glass together again.

Rest in peace, Bruce my friend. May we meet someday in those magical lands we have written about!

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Book Review:  Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas by Harley Rustad – Part Two

In my previous essay about Lost in the Valley of Death, I came down somewhat hard on the author’s negative attitude concerning spiritual quests that lead people to the Indian Subcontinent and other exotic locales. As I continued to read and ponder the story with respect to my own journeys in the East, though, I began to realize that Justin, the protagonist, was an exceptional traveler that might well have been prone to extremes of behavior. Rustad points out the abuse that Justin suffered from a guardian as a child and the physical discomfort he constantly experienced due to an accident that broke his back as a youth. By the time he made it to the Parvati Valley he was still seeking peace but was also confused and disoriented. It certainly couldn’t have helped at all that he habitually smoked the strong local hashish.

This caused me to remember certain people I met on my own travels who began as simple seekers of truth but later fell prey to beliefs and practices that caused them to deteriorate physically and mentally. For instance, in Katmandu, Nepal, I met an Australian traveler who, after an intense trip on psychedelic mushrooms in Southeast Asia, became convinced that humankind could return to an Eden-like state if they forsook eating anything except fruit and mushrooms. By the time I came across him he had already been following this diet for months; he had lost so much weight that he was skeletal. He told me (and anyone else who would listen) that if he was sufficiently purified by this diet he could endure any temperature of cold without it affecting him. One of my roommates found him one night outside the traditional house we had rented; he was shivering violently and near death. We brought him inside and warmed him up, but he perceived our intercession as his own personal failure. He wasn’t pure enough yet, he decided. Later I met him again in Delhi, India. He was even skinnier and so weak he had to be supported by two friends when he walked, but he was adamant in exclaiming that fruit and mushrooms were life’s answer.

Another example is the pair of German travelers I met by the lakeshore near Pokhara in Nepal. It was just before my own solitary trek into the Himalayas. I was so poor I couldn’t afford the few rupees to get a dormitory bed in a hostel, but the Germans were there by choice. They had set up a stone altar to Shiva and were praying to the Hindu god as they smoked chillums full of hashish. I partook of the hashish; it helped to mitigate the excessive cold by the lakeside, but I was wary of their plans to roam the Subcontinent as they got stoned and worshiped Shiva.

I met an even more extreme example on another occasion on a street in Katmandu. I’m not sure what nationality this man was, although he was definitely a white European. He had completely discarded western garb and wore only a dirty lungi around his waist. He had a long beard and his hair was matted and filthy. As I observed him, he ignored the people around him and intently studied a wriggling worm on the ground. He carefully picked up the worm, tied it to his walking stick with a piece of string, and strode off with a look of triumph.

I mention these people to show the extremes that travelers can come to when they get off the track. Before his disappearance, Justin seemed to be keeping it together but he was weakening. One thing he had, though, that these people I referred to did not was a significant online presence. Back when I traveled alone on the Subcontinent, since I couldn’t afford phone calls the only contact I had with friends and relatives were aerograms – thin pieces of paper that could be folded into letter shape and then mailed very cheaply. I sent and received these every few weeks, but otherwise those I left behind in the West had no way of knowing where I was and no way of tracking me if I got lost. At least when Justin disappeared, his social media accounts offered clues as to where he might be. (To be continued.)

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Book Review:  Lost in the Valley of Death: A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas by Harley Rustad – Part One

Usually I wait until I have finished or almost finished a book before I write a review of it, but I am just over halfway through Lost in the Valley of Death, and it has already provoked so many thoughts and emotions that I feel I have to address them. This book seems to be part of a growing sub-genre of travel literature, several examples of which I have read recently, of a lone traveler on a journey of adventure and spiritual fulfillment getting lost or killed before he completes his quest. A famous example of this is Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s account of Chris McCandless, who embarked upon a journey of self-fulfillment but then starved to death in the Alaskan wilderness. Another is The Adventurer’s Son by Roman Dial, about a young traveler who dies in the jungles of Costa Rica. Yet another is Riverman by Ben McGrath, about a homeless man who explores the waterways of the United States by canoe until he dies off the coast of North Carolina.

Lost in the Valley of Death tells the story of Justin Alexander Shetler, a traveler and adventurer who amassed a large following on social media but then abruptly disappeared while exploring the Parvati Valley in the Himalayas in northwestern India. The Parvati Valley has gained a reputation as India’s Bermuda Triangle because so many backpacking travelers have disappeared there. In the course of his story, Rustad chronicles numerous examples of these disappearances. Still, the lure of the spiritual in the remote valleys and peaks of the Himalayas is strong, and travelers continue to be drawn to that region.

When I began this book I was able to deeply empathize with Justin’s quest, because I undertook a similar journey back in the 1970s when I was on the road in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent, as I relate in my book World Without Pain: The Story of a Search. My first trip to the East culminated in a hike from Pokhara in Nepal up into the Himalayan Mountains along unmarked footpaths without a map. Unlike Justin, I made it back down safely; I mention this, though, to demonstrate that I can understand his thought processes and how he felt as he wandered off into the wilderness alone.

This book is fascinating, but one thing that I object to is Rustad’s dark, gloomy narrative that demeans the value of Justin’s spiritual quest. It begins with the garish, negative title. Justin became lost, yes, in that he disappeared and was never found. However, that does not diminish the value of his journey of discovery, which the title dismisses as an “obsession.” Well, okay, in a sense we can call any search for self-fulfillment and meaning an obsession, I suppose, but the word carries such negative weight that it is not completely accurate. Justin took a chance in exploring the Parvati Valley alone, but that doesn’t mean that there was something psychologically wrong with him because he did so. It simply means that the world is a dangerous place, and some places are more dangerous than others. What he was trying to accomplish, though, still has validity.

This brings me to another section of the book that was painful to read. Rustad writes of something an obscure French writer labeled the “India Syndrome.” This refers to the allure of India as a spiritual haven for westerners. In this context, though, the author seems to suggest that it is an aberrant psychosis, and that westerners who venture to India in their quests for meaning in life are somehow sick and deranged. He writes of embassies and opportunistic psychiatrists forcibly abducting young westerners from schools and ashrams in India and returning them to the dysfunctional families and situations that they had fled from in the first place – as if this forced relocation is acceptable behavior. It almost sounds as if the psychiatrists involved believe that embarking on a spiritual quest is by nature deviant psychotic behavior.

When I traveled the Hippie Trail, the overland route from Europe to India, back in the mid-seventies, I met numerous young travelers from many countries. Most of them were on a sort of extended adventurous holiday, taking months off to explore new lands and sample drugs and experiences. There were definitely some who took their spiritual journeys to the extreme, who adopted eastern garb and wandered barefoot, penniless, and befuddled, but there were many others who enjoyed their trip and returned to their homelands enriched and satisfied. I think that there are many more lost and lonely travelers currently in homeless encampments in the United States than there ever were on the Indian Subcontinent, even during the height of the hippie migration to the east. The so-called India Syndrome is really an international condition. It refers to people who are intent on changing their lives for the better; some inevitably get lost along the way. (To be continued.)

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