By Paul Fetler
I could smell the eucalyptus leaves swaying with the Bay breezes upon parking and getting out of the car. My spouse Willie and I were cautiously accompanying my mom, who was moving slowly. We were grateful that she – now in her mid-eighties – was still in good enough health to want to get out of her home in Santa Cruz and visit Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We walked past the trees into the pavilion towards the art museum entrance.
Ever thoughtful, Mom suggested we might have fun going to see the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Summer of Love art exhibit at the De Young Museum. She had fond memories of some of the music of that year, when I was a couple years old.
In the late 1960’s, the pop records being played on the turntable in our home were melodic and exuberant. Most memorably they were usually sung by the four young lads from Liverpool along with guitars and drums, string arrangements, horns, and sound effects. With their longish hair, charming demeanor, clothes with floral and paisley patterns, the performers seemed to be playfully tapped into a magical world. These recordings Mom and my older sister played were before the hippy counterculture got increasingly dark, cynical, and heavy. I was oblivious of the nightmarish side effects – and many casualties – from young people taking drugs during that time.
Around 1968, my parents were divorced, Mom was in her mid-thirties working selflessly hard to support myself and my sister. While she worked, I often sang joyfully with my babysitter – or by myself – the open-hearted songs about love.
An Unexpected Blessing
Now fifty years later, a part of me felt contractive and tense as we approached the commemorative exhibit with my mom. Old karmic energy around being with family in art museums – too long a story to tell – seemed to be pulling me down, as if invisible vapors of kryptonite wisped through the air. In addition, I have often experienced an uphill challenge staying attuned with my guru Paramhansa Yogananda while being with my family of origin.
As we entered the painted walls of the initial 1967 exhibit, I was immediately stunned. A familiar large projected vertical slide of Jesus appeared on the left, the same painting as the one on my altar in Los Angeles. Then, on the adjacent right side, a large image of Sri Yukteswar appeared! Juxtaposed with eclectic imagery and flowing psychedelic patterns of color, Babaji, Lahiri Mahashaya, Yogananda also appeared and dissolved into some other images! There are no words to describe how elated I felt as some of the heaviness started to lift.
I was already aware that all our line of yoga masters of Self-realization from the altar – except Jesus – were on the 1967 Sgt Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. How reassuring it was to see – before I was even old enough to know – that the avatars who I attune to have always been visible on the album I grew up with!
Going into the next rooms, my eyes were filled by kinetic liquid-light projections, hand-embroidered bell bottoms and shaman-like outfits, macramé wall hangings, Art Nouveau inspired posters plastered on walls with saturated colors, and ears – of course – with the sounds of 1967 San Francisco music. If the curator’s intention had been to overwhelm the senses, it worked! I felt overstimulated, needed breathing space, and let Willie spend time with my mother.
Walking alone into the last main room, I looked up wide eyed at the end wall and stopped in my tracks. A large projected black and white iconic photo of my guru Paramhansa Yogananda’s face appeared with his serenely penetrating gaze. The same photo of the yoga master moved from the left side to dissolve into the front image! Then from the right side came the same image merging into the center portrait photo! The guru’s portrait was finally replaced by other projected imagery.
I could sense from seeing my guru that in my past and present karma – childhood and adulthood – the beloved avatar was, and is, always calmly guiding – even when my energetic hardwiring was feeling weighed down. My heart felt softer and my mind clearer – the master reminded me of the superconscious awareness beyond our family life stories. With deep gratitude, I was able to be more present and loving with my mom and spouse during the rest of our visit together.
A couple of lines from Yogananda’s poem Samadhi come to mind:
Present, past, future, no more for me, But ever-present, all-flowing I, I, everywhere.