Crist Lovdjieff And Yvonne Childs—11/21/76
SABIRA: We are interviewing Yvonne Childs and Crist Lovdjieff. Yvonne, how did you meet Sam and a little bit about the background.
YVONNE: I had just come to the Academy in the fall of 1955 and it was a couple of days after I had gotten settled in that I was coming downstairs; there was a lecture that night and there were a lot of people gathered around, and I saw Sam. He was just whirling around, he was just spinning on the floor! I thought he was crazy. I was absolutely taken aback, intimidated, I thought he was a total madman! So that was my introduction to Sam. I don’t remember where I went from there.
SABIRA: You were telling us about some experiences in the classroom, and then how he talked to you.
YVONNE: I think that Sam recognized that I wasn’t like a lot of the other people who came to the Academy, because I didn’t have any particular bent. I wasn’t hung up on Zen Buddhism, or Sufism or whatever, and I was more malleable so I was willing to sit and listen to him. And because I found everybody interesting, and I also found that a lot of the things that he said to me were valid, perhaps I felt, at the time, because I wasn’t sophisticated enough to know that he was a crazy man.
SABIRA: What about the classes with Rom Landau?
YVONNE: I came to the Academy for—I discussed this with Alan Watts—but I didn’t know anything about Eastern philosophy and I just wanted to take classes that would give me an idea. I would start in one area and progress to another, so he assigned me, unfortunately, to Rom Landau. And because of my own feelings about being a second-class citizen and a female, and Rom’s attitude toward women, it was just a really dreadful experience. I was halfway through the classes with Rom when I told Alan that I couldn’t take it any longer and I wanted out. As a matter of fact, I think it was within the time that I could have dropped out without having suffered any academic damage, and Alan refused. He said that he thought that I should continue, so the result was that in January I walked out of all of Rom’s classes—anything that had anything to do with him. I even walked out of the Academy. I continued paying my rent but I went into hiding. I went into hiding with Thea McKenrow, and from Thea’s I went someplace else, it was just that I was not available.
SABIRA: Did you talk to Sam about your feelings about Rom?
YVONNE: Oh yes, Sam and I talked quite a bit about it, and he understood exactly what I was going through. I feel, sometimes, that maybe he loaded the gun and I fired it, because we were very much together on what was wrong with the Academy. As I told you previously, I had a talk with Alan Watts and I told him that I would never take his classes because everybody in the class was obviously much more knowledgeable on a variety of things than I was, and they spent their entire time putting one another down—it was a case of one-upmanship. And if I wanted to go to his classes, I wanted to hear what he had to say, so I wouldn’t take his classes. I would attend some of his lectures as long as those people would keep their mouths shut.
SABIRA: This was Alan Watts?
YVONNE: This was Alan Watts.
SABIRA: How interesting.
YVONNE: And this also was Sam’s opinion, that it was a waste of time and that it was just a lot of bullshit. Everybody around there was putting a value on the classes, the classes cost how much? $23 a unit, and every unit amounted to some—and then you could cash that in for a degree. You could do this, and you could do that, and it had absolutely nothing to do with people. It had absolutely nothing to do with the development of yourself—your own insight into where you are or where you are going.
SABIRA: Here is a statement that Sam wrote to Florrie (Leonard) which really corroborates that. He said, "The difference between the real Asia I have been seeking and the “Phant-Asia” presented in San Francisco grows greater and greater. Some people are afraid of reality and realities, this only reveals their own shortcomings."
YVONNE: That’s Sam—that is exactly Sam.
SABIRA: How did you meet Sam, Crist?
CRIST: I arrived at the Academy in the fall of 1953, and was to spend the next three years there, and Sam was just one of the people who appeared in the evenings to take classes. Curiously, a while ago, when you were talking about him, Yvonne, about your having dinner with him, I tried to remember a single time when I saw Sam eating or drinking anything and don’t remember. And it is paradoxical, in part, because the first time he came to my room up on the second floor, next to Bill Swartley’s, he took his shoes off before entering into the room.
YVONNE: That was very typical.
CRIST: Now, that gesture was something that I had not been doing in my own room. I took it as an act of reverence because I had only seen it done in temples before this. I feel odd wearing shoes here now, but I was very struck by that, very impressed by that. It was one of the nicest things Sam ever did for me, to me, with mer. And later when Swami Ramdas was visiting at the Academy and I went in to have a little rap with him, I felt very much, sort of in the know, to be able to take my shoes off, going into the room to talk with him.
SABIRA: This was Papa Ramdas?
CRIST: This was the old man, Ramdas, yes.
SABIRA: This was one of Sam’s teachers. Can you give us some background on what he was like, and do you remember any connection between him and Sam?
CRIST: I can just tell you that I was always puzzled by Sam’s realism, and even, to this minute, I am not sure that he was any more realistic than Alan Watts or Frederic Spiegelberg or any of the others. Certainly, his adulatory reports about the Ashrams and the Rishis and the Abbotts who certified his spirituality and his spiritual attainments struck me as abstract as a lot of what Alan Watts talked about, or Suzuki wrote about. These had to do, perhaps, with my limitations, that I just didn’t know what was in East Asia, and I still don’t, and how realistic! All I can say, in contrast to Sam’s judgment about Alan and Frederic Spiegelberg, was that when those two men talked about a somebody who was coming to see us—I particularly remember Spiegelberg talking about Swami Ramdas and showing us some slides of him when he visited with him in India and telling us a little about his Vedanta—that when the old man came with his entourage, he was recognizable. What Frederic Spiegelberg had held up as a mirror or a glass, through which one could see—revealed exactly what he said we would see.
SABIRA: What did he say you’d see?
CRIST: That we would see a marvelously childlike man who was very liberated, and very, very illuminated. I was struck at the time by several details. One, that the devotees distressed me. I have since learned to become very suspicious of all devotees and disciples, all hangers-on and clutchers. Particularly because I was cooking a meal that involved all these people and I asked the assistant Swami, the secretary, what rules should I assume in preparing the food. He began to give me these elaborate restrictions on meat and meat products and so on and so on. And the old man, himself, spoke up and said;, "No, whatever Brahmin provides." I knew, immediately, the distinction between the authentic spiritual liberation and the clutcher. The other was that the woman, Sophie Ginzburg, freaked out at Ramdas’ appearance; being present in the building. Her own balance, in my mind, was always dubious. The relationship between Sophie Ginzburg and Sam Lewis was one of the classics, for me, in the Academy days.
CRIST: Yeah, because I think she had the hots for him. He said repeatedly to me, "She’s just Kundali," referring to Kundali from Parsifal, the seductress who thinks that she can liberate you by taking you on her trip.
SABIRA: Our information is that Sam never had a sexual encounter with any woman. Now, we don’t know this, and we would like to corroborate it—
CRIST: I think that that is probably true. I don’t know why I say that, except that his associations in the years before he ever came to our world and our time was with people like Paul Reps and Gavin Arthur—they all used to shack up together—sharing a pad somewhere south of Market, I think.
SABIRA: Right, they also went to the Dunes, and lived there for awhile.
CRIST: You mean the Cayce...?
SABIRA: They were called the Dunes. It was a place where they all went, near Santa Barbara someplace.
CRIST: I was thinking of the one in Virginia, because Sam was also very much aware of Edgar Cayce.
SABIRA: Yeah, but this was something in California. But go ahead, I don’t want to interrupt you.
CRIST: Sam Lewis enjoyed Ramdas and felt quite elated, as I remember, with this man on our premises. And the more fidgety and nervous and upset that Sophie became, the more joyous Sam Lewis got.
SABIRA: That’s very interesting. We don’t have anything from her, I’ll have to find out—
CRIST: Oh, you should talk to Sophie.
YVONNE: She’s still alive. Every time I see Sophie, she is going to end it all, so you’d better do it fast.
CRIST: She was suicidal even twenty years ago.
SABIRA: Maybe that was psychological blackmail.
YVONNE: Sophie has not changed a bit, life is still “the shits.”
CRIST: Amazing, that woman is capable of turning us on to the poetry of T.S. Elliott and reading it with such verve—
YVONNE: Oh, such feeling.
CRIST: And then that could be so messy in so much else of her life, including food and whatever.
SABIRA: So do you remember any specific incidents with Papa Ramdas and Sam?
CRIST: No, I do not. I barely recall talking with Sam about it. My own interview with Swami Ramdas—I can’t even remember what it was that I went to talk to him about—I just remember feeling very nice, very pleasant, that it was a nice “upper,” as we would say twenty years later. And that Sam just kept nodding comprehension and agreement, that kind of thing. One of the other major things that I wanted to tell you for the record was that I don’t know about the sexual thing with regard to Sam, at all. What his own proclivities were, or preferences, if any. I just remember fairly early in the course of our encounters that I had somehow gotten pegged in that group as being a Christian, or a devotee of Christianity, whereas there were lots of professional devotees of Hinduism, Karl Jung and whatever floating around, as well as the Zen. I remember talking about Walt Whitman with Sam, because I had made the discovery some two years before, that many of the conceptions and the sensibility that I had been exposed to in comparative religion studies with Frederic Spiegelberg were suddenly right there in Walt Whitman, and nobody ever told me this. Nobody ever said, "Hey, Walt Whitman is writing about this, too," in later years, at the Academy. Sam was in the midst of a prolonged litigation with his family over his share of some inheritance and they had declared him insane, which, I think was to keep him from getting that. Five, or eight years later he finally got his share. He had been making his living in the interim working with the Park Department, here, as a gardener. I thought that was a marvelous, holy vocation. I was very impressed with anybody who could work with the Golden Gate Park, or wherever.
SABIRA: One of the latest books on Sam is called, In the Garden with Murshid Sam, and he used the garden as a means or a vehicle of getting to people.
CRIST: I see.
SABIRA: In the garden, the rocks that we have to get out of our psyche, the plants, the seeds that you put in the ground, so to speak, and the whole thing is just an analogy, all the way up. And it was very wonderful; so, the book is called that because he was known to many of his own disciples, in later years, as a real gardener and that’s where they learned the most with him. And he was, in truth, a real gardener, besides a psychic gardener.
CRIST: Now, when he got the family inheritance, or his portion of it, and began this journey to the East—I remember that he sent me a card from India. He had gotten to India after Japan, and after Southeast Asia, as I remember the odyssey. The point of that brief note to me was, he had seen some marvelous spiritual centers and some marvelously realized beings who recognized his spiritual clarity and stature. But in India, the particular thing that he kept encountering, again and again—oddly, he struck me as doing in India what Frederic Spiegelberg had done in 1949,which was going around and checking on how alive spirituality is in India and where are the real sages and gurus and yogis—in answer to his question, the Hindus he was addressing would reply, "Why are you searching for spirituality in India when you have Walt Whitman?" And I often wondered why Sam didn’t really hear that, or why a lot of people haven’t heard that. I remember, just as a kind of footnote to this, that about the same time that I discovered some of these depths in Walt Whitman, I encountered a woman in the English department at Modesto High School, who told me that two summers before that, she had been working on an MA in English at some university and she was amazed when this spiritual thing surfaced in connection with Walt Whitman, and then was very relieved when they could put it all away because of his homosexuality. They could then ignore him.
SABIRA: He wasn’t worth it, anymore?
CRIST: It wasn’t worth it, that’s right, that’s right. Now, I don’t know what more to add. That evening that I was talking about, when Sam Lewis sat perfectly still, bolt upright, in that chair in that dining room, that lecture room, and for such a prolonged period—and the fact that I had no notion of what this was about, or whether he could even be talked to, and in all such extremities, I always deferred to Alan Watts, who was in charge and who was in the class, and certainly seemed to know a hell of a lot more about spiritual states than any of the rest of us, and that he didn’t bother at all! The expression in Southern California is, he "just shined it on."
SABIRA: Alan Watts?
CRIST: No, the expression about ignoring and just going about your business, and you leave that man sitting there.
SABIRA: And you don’t know what triggered that?
CRIST: I don’t know. I wish I could recall what it was that had been in discussion in the first half of that class period, that evening, but I seem to remember this kind of thing. He would try to make comments and a good bit of the time, they were incorporated and accepted by Alan. There were other times when Alan would have none of it. It might have been some such time when, in turning back, or having his gift refused, so to speak, he simply turned in on himself and shined us all on. But I do not remember anything—like we can talk about his work as a gardener, or you can refer to the times when you ate with him or you had meals with him or something.
SABIRA: Do you remember any meals that you had together?
CRIST: I don’t.
SABIRA: But you said that you don’t remember him ever eating.
CRIST: I don’t ever remember him eating or, drinking, anything with us. Not even the tea.
SABIRA: You remember parties at the Academy, so do you remember Sam eating at parties?
YVONNE: There were always parties.
CHRIST: There were parties and many of us were involved in them. Some of us were involved in all of them. I wasn’t, I wasn’t quite the party type, but I can’t remember Sam being that much of a participator. I can imagine, I seem to recall him being in the background and talking earnestly.
CRIST: Always earnestly. In his last years, there was a film made and I might have seen this on Channel Nine, showing him in his black robe, frolicking with some devotees. This was outdoors, I believe.
SABIRA: You mean “Sunseed?”
CRIST: I don’t think it was "Sunseed," although there might have been a segment from it—
SABIRA: There is a film, "Sunseed," that’s out, that’s dedicated to Samuel Lewis, to Murshid Samuel Lewis, we knew him as Murshid. It shows many of the different holy teachers of the world, plus Sam and shows a lot of segments from his life, around 1970. Just before he died is when they did the filming, ‘69 or ‘70.
CRIST: His cavorting and leaping and dancing was the most energetic thing that I saw. I never saw him in one of his dervish acts. I could hear him talk about it.
YVONNE: I saw him several times.
CRIST: Is that right? What a marvelous thing for you on your first encounter to have seen the spinning top.
SABIRA: So he came through pretty straight to you—in a different way?
CRIST: He and I could talk about the Christian symbols. He was not at all uncomfortable about the spiritual meaning of the Virgin Mary, for example. That’s telling something for somebody who was sort of asexual. I remember that that figure was a puzzle to me and yet there was some marvelous T.S. Elliott poetry addressed to her, as in “Ash Wednesday,” and Sam Lewis agreeing, comprehending and this in a setting where, by and large, except when Alan Watts talked about the significance of Christian symbols, everybody else just pooh-poohed them. It was one of the reasons that a lot of the people were at the Academy, because they couldn’t hack Christianity or Judaism and that’s alright. I could never shake it all off, it had been too much a part of my background, perhaps like your friend who was a devotee of Dorothy Sayers.
YVONNE: Oh yes, Joyce Miller.
SABIRA: A lot of people turned to Sufism, it would seem, because their background in whatever, Christianity or Judaism, was just lacking. It didn’t give them what they were looking for. So they turned to something else to give them a meaning for life.
CRIST: Before I came to the Academy, I had some work in Islam at Stanford. I was always disturbed by Islam and its puritanism, the same kind of puritanism that I found in Judaism and in Christianity and I never really got all that “turned on” to the Sufi thing because, even in that culture or the cultures of North Africa and the Near East, the Sufi thing was a kind of underground suffered group, barely tolerated by the establishment. More often than not severely—just as the Catholic church has a long history of suppressing spiritual vitality, because you’ve got to have the controls to maintain the institution. You can’t have free spirits in the holy spirit; what’s going to happen to the institution? I never wanted to have to put up with all the hassle about establishment, religiosity and Islam to get to some small group out there on the edge of things that—where the spiritual vitality might be—when, it seemed that in Zen and some of the parts of Hinduism that you can incorporate, whether or not you are a Hindu yourself, were so much more accessible, or so much more readily accessible, and with a kind of respectable tradition. I guess I am just explaining the difference between Sam and me; that I never got onto the Sufi thing. The difficulties about Arabic and the severe aesthetic rules of traditional Islam, as to what could be represented and not represented in art. One of the things that I shall always grateful to Rom Landau about, was his beautiful explication about arabesques.
YVONNE: He was an artist. He was a sculptor.
CRIST: But Sam’s understanding, say, like the drama of Parsifal as a spiritual report. I was very glad that Sam had not picked up a fashionable anti-Wagner bias because it was the Jewish thing to do. So many, sort of, lesser Jews or Jewish background people that I have met carry this on, still, in a way that disturbs me no end because it is a kind of reverse anti-Semitism. But Sam was a part of a group there who had a long background and there was hardly an area that you could talk about, in the field of comparative psychology or comparative philosophy or perhaps even comparative spirituality and esthetics, that he didn’t know something about or couldn’t contribute a parallel. And I think that some of the verve with which that was done. And the loud laugh I remember with special joy and gratefulness. But I think, Yvonne, you put your finger on something very special, too, when you point out that I never got the feeling with Sam that he was involved in a one-upmanship game of the variety that Pierre Grimes and the Scharfmans played. That thing of Pierre’s, he said to me once, it was the one thing he learned at St. John’s as his way of getting back at people.
YVONNE: Everything Sam was—it was life. What they were doing was death! This is the truth, this was the big difference, and maybe that’s why they tried to deny him, because he was life.
SABIRA: How did they try to deny him?
YVONNE: They denied him any status at the Academy. He was treated as a fool.
SABIRA: That was typical of his whole life until he went to the Far East, and the Middle East, too in 1960 and apparently, at least according to his diary reports, he was recognized by all these holy Abbots and holy men and Papa Ramdas and so forth and so on. We only have these diaries to corroborate it, but they seem to be accurate.
CRIST: Yes, yes.
YVONNE: It seemed to me, that at one time, Dr. Malalasekera came to the Academy and gave a lecture. At that time, Theresa Moises was there. She had had a lot of problems and they all doubted that she was Ceylonese, they thought that she was just some “nigger” from Cincinnati.
CRIST: Or New York—
YVONNE: Yeah, someplace—and that she was just creating a big disturbance. He knew her, he knew her grandfather and he brought her a little bag of rubies and that blew everybody’s mind. But this other thing that happened, is that he knew Sam.
SABIRA: Sam had met him at the time.
YVONNE: He knew Sam and that blew their minds, too, because those were the people there that were being fucked over, royally, by everybody. Then, when Dr. Malalasekera walks in and recognizes these two people, this is the anointing.
CRIST: Yeah, yeah.
YVONNE: And they just all fell out, they couldn’t believe it.
SABIRA: Sam met this person and this Princess Poon, who was Princess Poon Diskul? Did you all meet her?
CRIST: No, you see the Academy existed for two years before I got there, and so that seemed to be the first cluster of the first batch of people and the first staff. There was also a Tibetan Lama, Tokuantada, whom I’ve never seen.
YVONNE: Nobody sees him, Crist—don’t worry about it—
CRIST: And Lama. I know that Princess Poon and Dr. Malalasekera were also in that first staff, and people like Sophie and Alan Watts could talk about them. I suppose even Lois knew those people because she had been at the Academy, already. I never met them, but I am interested to hear your story about Malalasekera recognizing both Theresa and Sam. I’ve often wondered what became of that lovely Theresa. The other day I saw a picture of Sabro Hasegawa’s daughter—
CRIST: Yes—wasn’t it at their wedding at the Zen Temple that all the girls wore lovely saris and the loveliest was this Theresa?
YVONNE: She was tall and black and striking and very straight, black hair that had not been straightened by a comb—
SABIRA: The daughter’s name?
YVONNE: Sumire Hasegawa Jacobs.
CRIST: Jacobs, she is married to Henry Jacobs in Mill Valley.
SABIRA: Oh, did she know Sam? We know that he died, this—
SABIRA: Yeah, would she have known Sam, is she a person to contact?
YVONNE: I don’t know, probably not. Let me see if I can find Sophie Ginzburg.
CRIST: Henry Jacobs might know because—
SABIRA: Is this her husband?
CRIST: Yeah, he was involved in the thing called MEA, and he might still be there, in Mill Valley or Sausalito.
SABIRA: What’s MEA?
CRIST: It was Mechanical Engineers Associates or something like that. They did the recordings or processed the tapes and LP’s of Alan Watts.
SABIRA: We can check on that. You mentioned that you didn’t know why he went to the Far East when we have Walt Whitman in the United States.
SABIRA: My answer to that, and I do not know that it is true, is that he was so vitally interested in everything that he was searching throughout the world to find reality everywhere. To corroborate what he had learned and to find what was real, and to meet these people, and to be. Also, there were inner reasons that are coming through on a lot of his papers and things. He had other reasons for going to these countries, other than the ostensible reasons. And also, he had plans; he had a Peace Plan. He was vitally interested in improving the agriculture and the ecological background of all these countries and he went as a "gardener," but he really went to try to bring these plans into fruition, at least this is what we have gathered from the Diaries—
SABIRA: I want to ask you about Sophie Ginzburg now.
YVONNE: Sophie Ginzburg was a Jewish housemother at the Academy—she never got over being the Jewish housemother at the Academy. Crist was the resident monastic or saint, and he and Swartley (?) used to run around in robes which she made for them, roped around the waist and wearing sandals. Swartley lived in a garbage closet—
CRIST: That’s right.
SABIRA: Were you a teacher there, Crist?
CRIST: No, I was a student, too.
SABIRA: Sam mentioned, here, something about a seminar that you were giving.
CRIST: At the time that this letter came out, I was in the process of trying to run a series of seminars at my own place, simply because there were people still coming around, as they had for a number of years, to ask about Hinduism or Buddhism or whatever, and I had never found it possible to join any cult or group. So, for a long while, the people that kept coming around or dropped by to ask such things, were people who were themselves not really joiners, but explorers or seekers. This thing never took off because by 1970 the nature of seeking had changed, I think. There were a number of factors involved in all of that, but when I saw “Hare Krishna” on the sidewalk some two years before, in the Haight/Ashbury and it had sort of become the symbol of the end of the “Flower Power” trip for me, that it should be misspelled. To start off, as an English Language teacher, I always found myself terribly disturbed by misspellings, and particularly where sacred formulae are involved. The people who were seeking in 1970 weren’t interested in just what is the nature of spiritual experience or what does Hinduism say about it and so on, but wanted to be taken into some cult where at least two things would be prescribed upfront head on. Number one: no meat; number two: no sex. But as long as they didn’t have those things to worry about, they could somehow stay around.
YVONNE: Division of the sexes—like Subud—was another thing—
CRIST: Although I have been a teacher, I have never really been able to make that distinction between teaching and studying. I remember, once, in a practice-teaching, or an observation, a teaching-observation class down at Stanford, seeing a very exciting class hour, and saying to the professor-guide who had taken me to that room, "There is certainly some very interesting teaching going on this last hour," and he would say, "There is also some very interesting learning," because whenever you have the one you have the other. I have really considered myself just a student all my life.
SABIRA: Did you go to any of Sam’s lectures or talks?
SABIRA: When was the last time that you saw him alive?
CRIST: Oh dear, that must be way back, oh, in perhaps, around 1960.
SABIRA: So you didn’t really keep up with him after he became the “hippie guru,” as he was called?
SABIRA: There was quite a story. I had started to tell Yvonne about that (Sam’s rise to fame,) but we won’t put that on tape.
CRIST: Yes, yes, that would be interesting to see and know more about because we all felt glad. I remember talking about this with Lois Hanns and Alicia Bryan. For all the years at the Academy of Asian Studies when he was not acknowledged, or asked anything, that in the latter part of his life he should get his devotees and his students. We felt that was very gracious of the universe!
SABIRA: It did happen in a tremendous manner, in a great big bang of a manner. What else do you remember? If you could sum him up, Crist, as a person, as a human being, his purpose in life, anything, what would you say about him?
CRIST: With his sort of squinty-eyed intensity, when he was making a point or talking about some esoteric point as if you were in the secret “know” with him, and more often than not I was not. I enjoyed Sam and I didn’t feel it incumbent upon me to pretend anything with him, even to pretending that I dug what he was digging. I obviously did not, but he also knew the thing I was saying awhile ago about correlatives or parallels between his Sufism and some of the mystics of Christianity and Judaism as well as some of the sages of the Far East, that he was very gracious and very pleasant, that he always dressed in workmen’s clothes or simply and plainly, and appreciated that. Perhaps we were all just children of the depression. But there were people around us who were clothes-horses and rag-carriers and that Sam was not onto that trip, I admired.
SABIRA: Did you ever meet his family?
CRIST: No, I never met any of the family. They were as abstract as Allah; the things that he might have called realism or realistic—
SABIRA: Did he ever talk to you about his family?
CRIST: No, except that they were mean.
SABIRA: They had a terrible relationship. How about you, Yvonne. Did he talk to you about his family?
YVONNE: Yes, a little bit.
SABIRA: What did he tell you?
YVONNE: That they were money-hungry and terrible people—
CRIST: Where were they? I never even knew that.
YVONNE: I don’t know.
SABIRA: The last house was on 9th Avenue, they lived there—
CRIST: In San Francisco?
SABIRA: Oh, yeah. I’ll tell you more about that when the tape is off, it just wastes tape. How about you, Yvonne, can you sum him up in some way?
YVONNE: We were more like co-conspirators, I think—we were like childlike. We weren’t on with this other thing, that everybody else was on. And the things that I did that horrified Florrie Leonard; she would wring her hands and say, "What are we going to do with Yvonne?" Sam just delighted in it.
CRIST: Florrie Leonard—
SABIRA: We interviewed her the other day, last Thursday.
CRIST: I liked her, I always liked her.
YVONNE: And it was just like my soul was damned to hell. I was in this nest of Christians and they didn’t know what they were going to do with me—and Sam was wonderful. Oh, he was so supportive!
SABIRA: Tell us a little more about that.
YVONNE: It was just a wonderful feeling—childlike, like Sam dancing and wearing flowers and punching holes in the other kids balloons, it was really quite an experience. I went through a lot of terrible things, so I kind of lost contact. But over those years, every once in awhile, I would get a letter from Sam. If I could just find them, because I have never thrown any of them away. Do you remember one of your old things? (holds up a piece of paper.) Look, there are even holes in it.
SABIRA: Do you remember the format of the letters, anything about them? Were they childlike too—
YVONNE: Telling me what he was doing, and the group that he was working with and the house that he had and the people that were living there, and the things that he was doing.
SABIRA: You told me that he used to call you Bodhisattva. I looked up some of the Bodhisattva letters, but there were other people that he called Bodhisattva, so I couldn’t tell which were yours and which were other peoples’. In his Diaries, he would just write, "Dear Bodhisattva."
YVONNE: Maybe that’s just because of the child-like, “I’m sitting under the tree.” I don’t know—
CRIST: That’s lovely, that’s lovely, Yvonne-
SABIRA: It certainly is, but what do you mean, "sitting under the tree?" Like Buddha?
YVONNE: Not meditating,—
YVONNE: Frolicking probably, and looking at and holding the leaves up and watching the sun filter through. That was more me than a contemplative life serious contemplation. I was too busy at that time finding out all about life. I had spent my first 21 years being programmed as an accessory for other people, like you buy handbags and shoes—I was a handbag or a shoe, and I spent my whole life being good because anything that I did would reflect on my parents. I was never free until I came to the Academy. This was a thing that Sam had picked up on me immediately, that I was going to be free and investigating my own feelings and finding out about other people. I enjoyed sitting under a tree watching the patterns of light.
CRIST: You certainly came onto the Academy with a bang, though. I remember the humor of you and that Joyce, and what an uplift that was—
YVONNE: We wrote parodies on the Academy. I still have those buried with Sam’s letters and everything—
SABIRA: Oh, you must find them—
CRIST: Those are delicious, those are delicious—
YVONNE: We wrote one called “The Seven,” a parody on The Seven Spiritual Stages of Mrs. Marmaduke Moore and it created such a furor in the Indian department that they went, en masse, to Alan Watts to make him do something about it!
CRIST: I don’t know about the Indian department, but I know that Rom Landau got terribly threatened by you.
YVONNE: Oh yes, I guess that if Rom ever has nightmares, I must be in them.
SABIRA: Did you ever wonder what happened to Sam then, after you left the Academy?
YVONNE: Every once in awhile I would hear from Sam, or I would run into him on the street and he would tell me what he was doing. We really never had any need to feed on one another, like some people would. We were just two kindred souls, I guess. And when we ran into one another, we didn’t have to say, "I’ve been doing this.” We didn’t have to fill one another in on everything. We could communicate a lot of times without even saying anything, because we knew what we were about. You sometimes come across somebody that you don’t have to talk to.
SABIRA: Oh, yes.
CRIST: Yeah, it’s very curious that one can’t say, "Hey, Sam was a friend of mine." In the profound sense, he was a friend. That was not just an acquaintanceship, that was not just an association, it was as if on some profound level of what was important or mattered much to me, it was the same with him, and the bridge had to do with the connection at that level. Other levels didn’t matter, we did not socialize in terms of visiting each other’s houses or going to worship services together or any such thing, or going to any performance of the opera. There was the connection that one has tended to call it at the spiritual level. He was older than I. He had been at it 10 or 15 or 20 years longer than I and I admired that, and I respected that, but I never felt the need to seek him out and say, "I’m being hassled by this or that," and somehow my own psychological hassles or my own psychological turmoils, at the Academy of Asian Studies times, or in the years since. I knew something of his—very slightly—some of his turmoils, but even when we had a chance to talk about those things, or might have—we didn’t, and I rather like that. I like your phrase, a while ago, "We didn’t need to feed off of each other," or eat each other to sustain some connection. There was that lovely un-manipulated kind of connection that I liked.
SABIRA: He seemed to be—from what we’ve gathered—very intuitive—how to relate to different types of people with what they needed.
CRIST: Yes. That may well have been why it wasn’t necessary to get on into the more trivial kinds of activities and pastimes that passed for a relationship. I just remembered that that was one of the characteristic things about Sam, his sort of noisy breathing or inhaling. Sometimes it accompanied intense observation or dialogue on his part, sometimes it masked outrage in being ignored.
SABIRA: How did this happen? What was he doing, was he just sitting there and—
CRIST: Just sitting there and suddenly this immense sucking in of air through his nostrils.
SABIRA: Did you ever ask him what he was doing? Did anybody?
CRIST: No, but whenever there was any discussion about pranayama or the yogas of breath, he seemed to know about that. He seemed to know something about that, but you know that. That direction was another one of those esoteric trips that I did not pursue, because I had gotten from Alan Watts this kind of Taoist view, that you don’t, finally, control the breath, that that’s a kind of absurd, wrong trip out of Hinduism. There is this other thing of just watching it and flowing with it, and beyond that I could not go, but Sam seemed to go farther.
YVONNE: We had discussions about that, about the breathing. Some people have a difficult time breathing out and other people have a difficult time breathing in. Sam said something to the effect that if you have a difficult time breathing out, you have difficulty in giving, I think—
YVONNE: Yes, that’s it, and if you can’t breathe in you have a difficult time in receiving.
SABIRA: There is a whole science of breath.
YVONNE: He used to go over this with me, because I had a difficult time in receiving.
CRIST: Curiously, I did too; it was much easier—the breath flow outward was very smooth and easy but the one in was jerky. I remember talking about that with him too.
YVONNE: We used to lie on our backs and do that.
SABIRA: Say some more about that. That’s very interesting.
YVONNE: That’s all there was to it, you just lie on your backs and stand up so that you can have full use of your diaphragm or whatever it is. But lying on your back was even best, because then you could really relax.
SABIRA: Where would you do this, in the class, or just individually?
YVONNE: No, no, on the floor or someplace. It might be on my floor, it might be on the first floor. It would be on any floor that was available.
CRIST: Some of us had rooms on floors, and so it was possible. There was some floor tripping in those days but not much, except, perhaps, in some of the rooms, again, that the various students occupied.
SABIRA: Let’s put this on tape—the difference between Rom and Sam.
YVONNE: The difference between Rom and Sam, about food. When Rom would cook, he would cook hard-boiled eggs, which was standard, because he didn’t have any imagination. Hard boiled eggs and hot dogs. He counted every bloody hardboiled egg and every hot dog, and then he would put them in the refrigerator. And if anybody stole anything during the day—he would prepare it early in the day, so he would be free to do what he wanted to do—just before dinner, he would go and he would count them and invariably, he would find that someone had been in there filching the eggs or filching the hot dogs, and everybody knew about it. Rom blew his stack, and he would storm around there that he "simply could not prepare dinner if all these people were going to come in and eat his dinner.” He used to complain against Gi Ming Shieng as "eating inordinately." Inordinately was his term and he took his problems with Gi Ming to Alan Watts.
SABIRA: Did Sam eat there?
YVONNE: Sam’s whole attitude about food was like the Hare Krishna Festival; you bring it in and it is food for everybody. It was, “everybody eats and if there is not enough, we get more.”
SABIRA: Did Sam live there, too?
YVONNE: No, Sam didn’t. I’m just telling the difference between the two. They were just totally opposite.
SABIRA: What are your memories of Sam; some more memories?
YVONNE: You mentioned that Sam was 5’1" and came in an ugly body, but I never recall him being an unattractive person, not even from the first time I saw him.
SABIRA: He looked at himself that way.
CRIST: That’s interesting, because a number of us at the Academy had self-images that were anything but attractive and alluring, or any such thing. But whenever we looked around, everybody else seemed to be just fine and Sam was always just fine, as far as I was concerned, in terms of his appearance and details about his hygiene and so on.
SABIRA: We are told that later he became quite offensive. He wouldn’t use deodorant and he would shave on one ear—one side of his face and not the other. He wasn’t as clean as he should have been and one person said that they had to beg him to go take a shower. So in those days, there was none of that.
YVONNE: That just became unimportant to him, and in this way, he is a lot like Robert Heilbuth—I don’t think you ever knew Robert—
YVONNE: But Robert is also a Libra, he is close to 65 or 70.
SABIRA: Robert who?
YVONNE: Heilbuth. But I don’t think Sam ever knew him. Robert is also a German Jew and they are very similar. We are all Libras, Robert's a Libra, Sam was a Libra, I am a Libra. So I have this to look forward to, because Robert does the same thing. One time, a few weeks ago, as a matter of fact, he found a whole cache of clothes in Golden Gate Park and he wears them. He wears the socks; sometime he’ll have on a yellow sock or a white sock and Robert also knows every gardener in Golden Gate Park.
SABIRA: Just for our record, your ideas about these teachers.
CRIST: Yeah, the thing that I particularly liked about Alan, in the later years, was not that he was coming up with any new ideas. He, himself, would say, "No, no, what it was was new metaphors," this wonderful capacity with metaphors. I miss them in the three years that he has been dead; that we haven’t had any new metaphors from Alan.
YVONNE: What about Spiegelberg?
CRIST: With Spiegelberg, I perhaps remember best, the time when Spiegelberg and Alan and three others were involved in a symposium at San Jose State. This was in 1966. A symposium on the self, and the introduction that Alan gave of Frederick Spiegelberg, and I have the tape. It is a beautiful, beautiful introduction because, apparently, Spiegelberg was a guru to Alan, and it wasn’t just accidental that Alan could tell us, "This man, whose name means “mountain of mirrors.” And that lovely story that Alan had shared about Shinto temples being intricate labyrinths of temples within temples. And finally, upon getting into the inner sanctum, you open up that sanctuary door and there is a little mirror. That is what is the point of the trip.
SABIRA: Like the Magic Mountain.
CRIST: Right, right. But you know that—with Spiegelberg, in those San Jose crowds, on that one weekend, everybody else is milling around Alan, or the guy who gave the talk on art spirituality, or the one who talked about children. But Frederick Spiegelberg walks through the crowd unobserved, unnoticed—a kind of rhinoceros, in the Hindu image—the journey of the alone to the Alone. Spiegelberg is always a very special figure in terms of my history, and my background. The very first time I ever saw him, I really had the urge to stand in utter reverence. He described, later, an evening when Rudolph Otto walked into a classroom at Tibbington, where Spiegelberg was a graduate student. These men had just been rapping with each other, awaiting his arrival and suddenly, the door opened and this tall, majestic man with white hair, walked in and they stood in profound reverence. I had, identically, that kind of feeling in the classroom at Stanford, with Frederic Spiegelberg. I always found it very difficult to socialize with him, afterwards. Here was a being on a dimension a series of dimensions, not ordinary at all. And even though I know he lives here in town, I don’t look him up. But I pick up his book, or books, and the notes from his classes, and I am nourished, still, by them.