There was once a famous population of Japanese monkeys — the irrepressible macaca fuscata — living on the island of Koshima in 1952; incidentally the year I was born. Scientists provided the monkeys with sweet potatoes dropped in the sand, and observed that they generally seemed to relish the new treat in spite of a certain unpleasant grittiness. One day an enterprising young primate named Imo discovered that if she took her potato down to the water's edge, she could rinse off all the dirt and enjoy a much tastier meal. Imo taught her mother and playmates the trick, and gradually, over the course of six years, one monkey after another adopted the practice.
Then in 1958, a remarkable event occurred: the number of potato-washing monkeys reached what is called a "critical mass," and suddenly, not only did the entire monkey population on Koshima Island start performing the new procedure, but all of the monkey populations on neighboring islands spontaneously began washing their potatoes as well!
"The Hundredth Monkey" became the name futurists used for this unusual phenomenon, and they extrapolated from monkey-experience to show that this is also the way the human community makes dramatic, collective paradigm shifts into new ways of thinking, being and behaving. Once a critical mass of people have transformed their essentially materialist world-view to a spiritual one, for example, the entire population of the planet will spontaneously choose to come along for the ride. The dirty sweet potato of being a self-centered, acquisitive, power-hungry creature, blindly bent on the destruction of life as we know it, will be gently washed in the stream of loving-kindness, peacefulness and the desire to serve God and humanity, ushering in a Golden Age of peace and prosperity for all people.
Fat chance. Not with the likes of me around. I am the 99th Monkey. If you don't get me, you don't get your critical mass, and it screws up the whole works. I seem to be single-handedly holding back the Great Paradigm Shift of the Golden Age through my simply continuing to be a resistant little putz most of the time. My apologies.
(If it makes you feel any better, I recently heard somewhere that this whole story about the monkeys and the potatoes is not true, that it didn't really happen that way at all. That really annoyed me, considering that I'd just based a whole book on it.)
I met Ram Dass, my first spiritual teacher, in 1975 in New York when I was 23 years old, several weeks after completing the est training in Boston, which was several months after having spent one and a half years screaming my head off in Primal Therapy. I was desperately trying to cure myself of being me, a futile pursuit that would continue for three decades, and would take me all around the world to meet shamans, healers and gurus, stay in ashrams and monasteries, sit for long hours on meditation cushions, chant in foreign tongues, and live up to 40 days in primitive huts on solo retreat.
I experimented extensively with psychedelic drugs, ancient spiritual techniques and outrageous new ones. I was massaged, shiatsu-ed, and rolfed, took hundreds of consciousness workshops, human potential seminars, and self-improvement courses, sat with psychics, channels and tarot readers, experienced Primal, Gestalt, Bioenergetics, Object Relations, generic talk therapies and anti-depressants. And that's the short list. (The complete one gets embarrassing. Suffice it to say that it includes learning the Tush Push exercise in a Human Sexuality weekend — you don't want to know — as well as having an obese female therapist sit on my head at Esalen Institute, so I could re-experience being smothered by my mother.)
As Editor-in-Chief of the New Sun Magazine in the ‘70s and the Wild Heart Journal more recently, and through being a freelance spiritual journalist, it has often been my job to do all these things. Like a scout sent ahead to report back, I often saved others a lot of time: "You don't have to go deep into Brazil to do all-night rituals involving the ingestion of ayahuasca, chanting in Portuguese to Oxum, the Mother of the Waters, and throwing up out of a church window at four in the morning — I already did that."