Zonuton / Thom’s Story

I first met Jeannie (Kriya) in the fall of 1970 at Gettysburg College, where we were both students. We were also part of the “folkie” scene, and played music at the college coffeehouse. I always thought she had a beautiful voice, and while the songs she played and her style weren’t exactly what I was into, I loved hearing her sing.

Fast-forward to the fall of 1972, still in Gettysburg. I was living in a house outside of town and looking for roommates, since some of the people who had said they would share the house (and rent) decided to do other things. Anyhow, Jeannie and Lee (yes, our Lee/Aiyar Das), who had both graduated the previous June, had just returned from some meditation thing in CA and were looking for a place to live. So they moved into one of the spare rooms I had.

I recall sitting in the living room of that house, listening to Lee and Jeannie reading from a letter they had gotten from a friend and classmate of theirs, Mary Mohr (Morningstar). It seemed she had gone out to CA and had met this guy named Donato who was starting this thing called Morningland. That was when the three of us first heard of ML. And I also remember Lee and Jeannie looking at each other and shaking their heads and wondering what kind of weird scene Mary had gotten into.

Fast-forward again to September 1974. Lee and I had gotten to know each other more, and more letters had been exchanged between he and Mary. I had graduated from Gettysburg in June, and wasn’t really sure what to do next. So when Lee said he was thinking about going to CA to visit Mary and check out this Morningland place, a trip out west sounded good to me, and we decided to drive out together.

We arrived in Long Beach on a bright, sunny afternoon (what else?) and parked in front of the storefront where ML was located at the time. I remember walking into a small reception area that was separated by a screen from a large open room behind. No one was at the small desk near the door, but we could hear people talking on the other side of the screen. One of them heard us and asked if they could help us. We walked around the screen to see a woman watching a man trying to hang something on a wall. Just then, whatever the guy was trying to hang fell to the floor, and he made some kind of sarcastic crack about tools, grinned and laughed, and headed somewhat manically off toward the rear of the building. The woman turned to us, laughing as well, introduced herself as Karisiban (I think), and, gesturing in the direction where the guy had gone, told us that, “That was Jim, just being Jim.” That was my first impression of ML, and I remember having the feeling that you could be yourself here, and it was OK.

Anyway, Lee said he was a friend of Mary Mohr/Morningstar, and asked if she was there. She wasn’t as it turned out, and we weren’t quite sure what to do. We explained that we had just gotten into town after 10 days on the road from PA. I think Karisiban asked where we were staying, and we said we didn’t know – this was the first place we stopped. She said she knew someone who might let us crash at his place, and proceeded to introduce us to a guy named Terry. He took us to his apartment, and when we brought in our guitars, he said, “You guys play? Maybe we could jam later.” Which we did, and ended up having a great time playing music over the next couple of days.

I don’t remember much else that happened during that visit, except for stopping at ML one afternoon to pick up Lee, who had had a reading scheduled with Donato. I had spent a good part of the day trying to get the fuel pump on our van fixed. I recall walking into ML and going back to a small kitchen area where Lee was talking with an older, kind of heavy-set guy who was sitting at a table drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette. He put out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Dan. Have some coffee and have a seat, if you want,” gesturing toward a Mr. Coffee machine on a countertop. So I did, and sat down while they continued their conversation. I don’t recall what was said, except for Lee asking at one point if and when he should come out to ML. All Dan/Donato said was something like, “When you don’t think you need to, then you can come.” That made sense to me somehow, and I think I nodded my head slowly, because Dan/Donato gestured toward me and said, “See, your friend knows what I mean.” I remember looking over at him in surprise, because I didn’t think he was paying much attention to me. Later, Lee asked if I could explain what he had meant, and I really wasn’t able to. It was just something that felt right when I heard it. That incident is one of the clear memories I still have of my CA/ML experiences.

That particular chapter ended a few days later with Lee and I getting back on the road and heading back east to PA. Fast-forward now, once more, to the spring of 1976.

I had kicked around PA for about a year, then spent about 6 months in NY playing bass with a singer-songwriter team that played the college Coffeehouse Circuit. That was a good gig until I got caught in a power struggle between the guys I worked with and their management – and found myself out on the street. I did some auditions, and nothing much was happening when I got a letter from Lee telling me about his move to CA and giving me his address and phone number in Long Beach. I called and told what was going on (or not) in NY, and he said why not come out to CA and see what I could get going out there. Jeannie was there, and I could stay with him — at least I wouldn’t be all on my own. So I packed up and headed west, even though just before I left I got an offer to play with another singer-songwriter in NY. But when I thought of staying in NY and working with someone I hardly knew, or going to CA and being with folks I did know and enjoyed being with, the choice was pretty easy. I went to Long Beach. And since the people I knew were involved in ML, I began going there, got to know more people, and got involved there, too.

I guess the point of all this is to explain not only how I came to ML, but why. It wasn’t to find spiritual enlightenment. It wasn’t to be with Donato. It wasn’t to be with Sri Patricia. It wasn’t to get my chart read or things like that. It was to be with people I knew and felt good being with. And that was why I stayed, as well. Until there wasn’t a good feeling to it any longer. Until many of the people I knew and liked had either left or were leaving. And I felt had to leave, too, for my own good.

— Thom