By William M. Havens, M.A.
When I recently discovered the Gerald Heard Official Website, I saw images of the man that for 35 years I have only held in my mind and heart. No photo had been available to me since my last conversations with Gerald Heard in the mid-1960s when I got called up into the Navy during the Vietnam War, and our conversations were so abruptly terminated.
Whenever my thoughts drift toward reminiscences of the impetus of my personal awakening, when I focus on the seeds of my curiosity or the source of my eclectic intellectual interests, the memories invariably evoke images and emotions of my experiences and conversations with Gerald. This was the spark, the single most profound threshold or turning point in my life. This was the juncture in my life that diverted me onto a path of growth and enlightenment, or at least a slow and plodding quest in that direction.
I have always attributed, both vocally to those that are close to me and privately in my heart, the true awakening of my intellect and the essence of my awareness as a spiritual and intellectual entity to my conversations with Gerald. In my mind’s eye and in the emotions that arise out of my memories of Gerald, I feel as if, through my brief conversations with him, I were catapulted into a lifetime of intellectual and spiritual quests for knowledge, understanding, and enlightenment.
These memories are very frustrating for me, as well, because I have absolutely no recall of anything specific that Gerald ever said to me. The words just aren’t there. There are no “gems” to repeat to myself, no mantra to chant. I have no repertoire of sage advice, witty comments, philosophical observations, or historical commentary with which to reassure myself that any of it was real or to overcome my own skepticism regarding the extent to which I may have even learned anything from our conversations. Recalling Gerald does always, though, bring to mind a realization of a turning point, that transition in my life from being asleep to being awake.
Respect for thought, respect for sensitivity, respect for enlightenment, respect for curiosity, respect for ethics and defining my values, respect for the fundamental concept of just how little I know about life, a hunger for understanding and, ultimately, the desire to teach; I can attribute all of this, and more, to my sessions with Gerald. Thankfully, because of those experiences, I have not been the same since as before, nor will I be the same tomorrow as today.
I’m afraid I will struggle forever in search of my own adequate articulation of just how much Gerald really impacted my life, for it seems that it is through the articulation of these major events in my life that they take form and meaning; they become reality. I am just as aware of the contradiction that exists in attempting to give form to such an abstraction. “Perhaps,” I tell myself, “I should take it on faith that the seeds that were planted those 35 years ago are growing at their proper pace, and that their ultimate realization will occur only at the proper time and place, only when I am ready, only when I have evolved to a state of readiness, a condition in which I can understand.”
From approximately 1964 to 1967 I was a lifeguard at a private beach club in Santa Monica, California, at the end of Pico Boulevard, the Del Mar Club. I was 18, 19, and 20 years old. Gerald and his secretary Jay “Michael” Barrie came to the club pretty routinely and swam around and around, seemingly endlessly, in the pool as part of their exercise regimen and prior to a massage and sauna. They would circle the outer perimeters of the pool, Michael with his simple breaststroke and Gerald with his almost absurd combination breaststroke-dog paddle and wearing his water wings. Michael was actually the most conversant, possibly because the physical experience was such a demanding one for Gerald in comparison to Michael’s. I remember that Gerald’s yellowing white beard always had droplets of water on the ends. He looked so frail, and I was constantly concerned about his well-being. But his mind was so incredibly brilliant and articulate, his expression so bright. While Gerald and Michael paddled, I walked. I walked around and around with them, talking and asking, but mostly listening.
After I had been out of the Navy for a while, perhaps in 1972, I wrote a letter to Michael inquiring as to his and Gerald’s welfare, looking for news, and seeking a reconnection with the energy, stimulus, and inspiration of our conversations. It was Michael’s letter in response that brought me the sad news of Gerald’s death. Sadly, I did not maintain a correspondence with Michael. Now it is the discovery of the Gerald Heard Official Website that brings me the sad news of Michael’s death in 2001.
Following my passion to teach, I now teach American Indian Studies as an adjunct professor at a community college. The course that I am most frequently asked to teach is American Indian Religion. I like to think that as I teach I am bringing forth from somewhere in the depths of myself, even subconsciously, some small measure of the spirit and inspiration instilled in me by Gerald Heard.
After graduating from high school in 1963, Bill Havens participated in civil rights demonstrations and sit-ins in San Francisco. He has worked in many diverse capacities, including adjunct college professor of American Indian Studies and Religion, photographer, and journalist. He holds a Masters Degree in American Indian Studies with concentrations in Law and Policy as well as Societies and Cultures from the University of Arizona. He has served in politics at a very grass-roots level as the Chief of Staff to the Chairman of the Hopi Tribe of Indians in Arizona and is a scholar of the dynamics of the relationship and disputes between the Navajo and Hopi Tribes. Mr. Havens also buys and sells fine Native American art, specializing in the arts of the Hopi and Pueblo Tribes of the American Southwest. He is the proprietor of Havens Trading Company.
"I feel as if, through my brief conversations with him, I were catapulted into a lifetime of intellectual and spiritual quests for knowledge, understanding, and enlightenment."