For G.S. Sachdev, in memoriam

In the 1960s, when Timothy Leary was exhorting kids my age to turn on, tune in and drop out, the psychologist Frank Barron and I found one another in the crowd and became secret collaborators. I was curious about his research on creativity and the how psychedelics affected artists, and he was interested in people, like me, who had access to mystical states without the use of drugs.

For about a year we met in his office on campus for clandestine conversations, me slipping in after-hours when his colleagues were gone, very cloak and dagger, to compare notes. I loved it! Nobody knew what we were up to – maybe we didn’t either – but what we did together confirmed for me that I wasn’t alone with my visions. If psychedelic substances helped people to see the visions I saw naturally, then I knew I was not crazy. And thank goodness, because the world certainly was, trapped as we were in a ‘rational’ materialist mindset that kept us afraid of one another and badly depressed.

I intuitively saw another kind of reality, much larger than what we were taught at school, in which the world was a miraculous, positive and joyous place of many dimensions, a place of challenge and adventure, not meant to be a vale of tears where everyone was afraid of their own shadows.

When did we get talked into that?

I felt strongly about this, even at that young age, because we were clearly lost as a society, with racism and wars rampant everywhere. I felt sure that if people could experience firsthand the ecstatic wonder of this universe, we’d be able to shift the collective zeitgeist from angst and fear to a more positive, even joyous vision of what was real.

As one volunteer in the NYU psilocybin trials, as I read it in Michael Pollan’s new book “How To Change Your Mind” put it,

“…if everyone had this experience, no one could ever do harm to one another again – wars would be impossible to wage…”

What Frank and I were each confirming in our own ways was essentially this: that the universe was infinite in all dimensions, and that every particle within it was in motion – dancing – with everything else, all interconnected on every level of Being through Time and Space and beyond. And that everything in this “soup of Being” was beautiful and conscious – indeed, was Consciousness itself – and underlying the whole thing, like cosmic glue, was Love.

It was all ultimately about Love, delicious love. So utterly beautiful…then Frank and I gazed at one another and blushed…

This memory is very poignant for me right now, as G.S.Sachdev, my beloved longtime friend since we first met in India in the late sixties, died this week.

It was some kind of magic that brought us together that day. As Herb and I wandered the streets of Old Delhi, we heard someone playing the flute outdoors, and it sounded rich and deep as if there was such a thing as a bass bamboo flute! Of all things! We took off towards the sound until, in a small courtyard between two alleys, we found a fellow in flowing white, cross-legged on a charpoy playing some of the most gorgeous music I had ever heard in my life. On a bass bamboo flute!

Maybe there are no accidents, but we were meant to meet, it seemed, and the rest is history – fifty years worth of history. We became friends and then, well – relatives. On the Sikh holiday when brothers and sisters pledge their devotion by tying bracelets of jasmine around one another’s wrists, we became sister and brother and have kept our promise all these years, first in India and then in California.

Oddly, we look enough alike that we were often mistaken for siblings anyhow, but from the first time I heard him play his bamboo flute on that day in Old Delhi, I knew he was one of my own.

What I remember of that day was being spellbound by both the music I was hearing and what I was feeling. His notes poured into the air like smoke spiraling from a candle, shifting depth and timbre as they morphed into variations of themselves with his breath. I shivered, and the hairs on my arms stood up. My whole body felt carried by sound into spaciousness where the world opens up and everything is Light. I recognized this as mystic ecstasy, where sound becomes color becomes taste becomes love, a world in perfect balance even in the middle of a dank city in tropical heat, where whole families lived on the streets.

Two years later, as the world music scene began to flourish in the Bay Area, Herb and I helped bring him and his family to America where he introduced the Bansuri, the bass bamboo flute, to a whole new generation far from India, and we became family again on the other side of the world.

He started his own school here and eventually played and taught all over the world, recording many of his concerts so that, although he himself is no longer amongst us, his music continues on. We need it more than ever now, to be reminded that our lives take place in a conscious universe and we were built for ecstatic wonder, not sorrow.

Life is a miracle, nothing less, and we can wake up to it at any moment, singly and together. When enough of us have evolved to a state of heightened consciousness, however we get there, the Frumps and the Plumps will be left behind in the dust.

On good days, I can feel some gratitude that we are being pushed to wake up and see the world in new ways, because the old ways are over and are hanging on like the tangled hairs that get stuck in the bathtub drain. ‘Chaos bundles’ Jak calls them. Yuck. We can clean them up – and gag at the muck – but fresh water is available and even if it takes several scrubbings to clean up the place, we can do that.

Start by crying, grieving, sobbing. It’s good cleanser and can wash away a lot of dirt. Then run sweet water over the drain, again and again. Remember there’s a bigger picture, and it’s gorgeous and positive and always cycling. We’re not alone, everything’s playing its part – even glump-a-dump.

Try doing it to music – Sachdev’s music:

He will be cremated tomorrow, completing this cycle after a remarkable life on earth. I recall asking him one night, after a concert when his whole body glowed with warm light from his own playing,

“How do you prepare, time after time, to touch us all so deeply?” He thought for a moment, then said softly,

“I don’t prepare. I just play the flute.”