Off To The Island: Living On St John, USVI
Life in Weehawken New Jersey was contemplative, full of insight and discoveries born of inquiry as to the nature of who we are, where we are and how we come to exist. Days were occupied with piano practicing, reading and study, and central to all was my disciplined and devoted practice of meditation. At seemingly light speed, I was experiencing an auto-didactic education of psychology, philosophy, concepts of quantum field theory and how all this relates to various forms of spiritual practices. Delving into realms of gnostic Christianity, Jewish mysticism (Kaballah), Hinduism, Sufism (Islamic Mysticism and Buddhism were the routine readings within my days). Very often there were mind/body/thought experiments and self-created exercises of approaching the front door of our apartment building and suddenly emerging into a state of realization that something other than my immediate awareness was doing the walking, opening the door and taking steps one foot after the other up the stairs. I would stop and contemplate in stillness, thinking on what this impulse could be and where is it located and how it emanates. What is doing the thinking of intent? I figured this is simply garden variety philosophy on the nature of the quest to understand “self”. What I did not realize at the time was the journey that was unfolding into practices of Shamanism and the essence of Presence of Being.
I was living off of the fruits of publishing royalties, mainly from the gifts of being awarded a Gold Record for a project that was full of auspicious blessing three to five years prior. Little by little all of my keyboard and recording gear was being sold off which also afforded my lifestyle of material simplification and ascetic practices. Although not austere, my chosen environment reflected the mission within knowing that my life up until this point was wrought with lacking the insight and wisdom for a life of cultivated compassion , patience, inner quiet and stillness for the well-being of my physical health. I was enjoying an extremely simply life formerly coming from moderate extravagances of spending on material goods.
The apartment was a six room upper unit of a typically styled early 1900’s home in Hudson County NJ. We were three blocks west of a grand panoramic overlook of the Hudson River facing the Empire State Building. From the quaint community park located on the main boulevard I had a bird’s-eye view of the horror on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Our little domain on Liberty Place was a block of interactive and friendly people. The neighborhood had a large Cuban and Dominican population which brought a sweet diversity of food, music, and an overall tapestry of culture. One of the next door neighbors was a family of six where typically as with many of the Dominican families, the children are bilingual and their parents relied on them for handling interactions that require written or spoken english. Part of the enjoyment of this was a warmth of heart from imagining distant memories of my own family as my father’s parents were immigrants from Germany and Russia. Although my grandparents learned to read, write and speak english fairly early on in their new life in the United States, there was still a definitive challenge when it came to navigating more complex aspects of society in Brooklyn NY. This was around the years spanning 1915 thru 1940 and my father and uncle were always engaged in family matters and business. My grandparents owned a small grocery store in Crown Heights, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, NYC. Every morning before school my dad would be out delivering milk and other daily essentials to their regular customers. My father always lived from a place of family responsibility. He took care of my uncle who was six years younger, and the story goes that as my grandparents worked such long hours into the evenings, dinners of sardines, cans of beans and hotdogs, and foods more of jewish ethnicity were the regular dinners that my dad prepared for himself and his younger brother. At one point, after my grandfather being asked repeatedly for a bicycle by my dad, the requests were finally answered. To his dismay though, the new gleaming bike came with a side cart. The idea was that my dad would be able to cruise around with his little brother in tow. This was not exactly the independence that he had in mind. But as I say, my father was a Being of soulful responsibility to those closest to him. He honored his parents beyond anything in his life and this was continued into and throughout his marriage to my mother. His sense of family responsibility carried deeper than ever to his two sons as well. Despite a history of all that parents can potentially be unaware within lacking healthy emotional function, I was the beneficiary of parents that possessed dutiful amounts of responsibility toward their children.
Our family history includes stories of my paternal grandmother and here sister being the only surviving members of her immediate family from the madnesses of the Third Reich Nazi takeover and mind control of a vastness of the German population. The family spawns from immigrants out of the very late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s. This is one of the predominant reasons that I relate in spirit to those that were making new lives for themselves in the NYC area. The nature of this resonated deeper as I was enjoying such transformational shifts as their neighbor and friend.
The Dominican family of four children next door resembled the same kind of respect, commitment and care for family. I became very friendly with the two sons of which one became a music promoter within the latin dance scene. The other was always interested in the esoteric, whether of a spiritual nature or all that was emerging scientifically at the time, dealing with the nature of life and consciousness. During the spring summer and fall I would be out nearly every night sitting on our front stoop having conversations with a number of the young people on our block and those passing by on a regular basis. Liberty Place was a regular walking route to one of the major food stores in the area. Our eclectic pad was between Kennedy Boulevard And Park Ave, which was actually Union City. Kennedy Blvd is an awe inspiring vantage point with its panoramic view of NYC spanning the George Washington Bridge down to the Twin Towers and into the Narrows bays hosting the enormous Verrazzano Bridge connecting the NYC boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Park Avenue, was home to quite a number of diverse small eateries and restaurants. We enjoyed foods of Cuban, Turkish, Italian, Chinese and middle eastern cultures. One of our regular stops was El Unico, a small Cuban Restaurant where at the time, we would jump in for a two dollar and fifty cent lunch of roast chicken, rice and beans and absolutely delicious yucca. The lunch time hang was more of music talk, philosophy, spirituality, maybe some politics, whatever else was on one’s mind and usually a cafe con leche to round out our lunchtime meal.