By John Schroeder — I was 13 years old when my parents made arrangements for me to stay at a rural family camp in Virginia for an entire summer. The camp was sponsored by the Edgar Cayce organization, the A.R.E., or Association for Research and Enlightenment. It was quite a rugged place with no hot showers or indoor plumbing at all with the exception of the mess hall for preparing food.
The concept of the camp was to learn a more loving way to live as well as to apply that knowledge in how we treat each other at every moment. I was between the 8th and 9th grades that summer and I had little practice feeling loved and secure with my peers back home. It was a delightful change to have 100 or so people at the camp all getting along rather than looking for opportunities to make fun of each other.
This particular summer was one that many remember well. For while there was little technology available in the camp, a small 12” black-and-white television was brought in on July 20, 1969. The TV was set up in the mess hall so everyone could watch Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon. It was ironic to watch one of the greatest technological achievements in history against a backdrop of such a simple existence.
The changes I experienced personally that summer came subtly at first. For instance, I am not a vegetarian but I actually chose to be one for that summer. The camp’s diet of food was quite healthy even with the meat they served. I found I preferred to get two slices of the delicious homemade bread, which was offered as a perk for the vegetarians among us. At 7:00 AM each day, we all gathered to do exercises before breakfast followed by a morning prayer and meditation. The water we drank came directly from an underground stream and was as pure and clean as you can get. I adapted to this rural, loving lifestyle very quickly.
That summer I stayed busy even without the usual distractions of a complex society. I spent time hiking the local fields and mountains. There were always the daily classes in subjects like dreams, meditation, reincarnation, karma and grace. Every class was given with an eye toward how the information could be used to help us become better, more loving people. Even the sports we’d play were done with fun as the goal rather than establishing a winner of the competition.
In many ways the evenings were the most fun for me. After dinner, we’d all gather around a big campfire and sing songs. Some songs were spiritual and some were more contemporary, but they were all chosen to be uplifting. The evenings always closed with a meditation before we said our “good nights” and retired to our tents until morning.
If this sounds like a boring way to live, it was not. And that perspective comes from a young teenager who was used to staying busy every moment with a lot of technology and very secular friends.
I had grown very fond of this way of life and the months went by quickly. I stayed as long as I could, but soon I had to fly back home to California or I’d miss the first day of school. I had not realized how much of a culture shock that would be for me after having changed so much both inside and out.
There were no barbers at the camp and so my hair had grown for the entire summer. In 1969, having longer hair was something only Hippies did and I had indeed lived much like a Hippie in a commune for the past three months. I came home with a whole new enthusiastic attitude toward life but found the world around me had not changed at all.
I landed at LAX on a Sunday night and the following morning I started 9th grade at the same school I had attended for the past two years. People were astounded by the length of my hair, especially since I had kept it short all my life before that summer. The ridicule aimed at me from the other students was merciless and that rough treatment continued from the faculty. I was sent home because my hair violated the school’s dress code. That was not so bad because the teasing would not have stopped until I cut my hair.
I walked home thinking of how different life was for me now than it had been just the day before. I was thirsty and filled a glass with water from the tap in the kitchen. I took a deep drink and almost choked in the process. I had not realized how poor the water quality was in California compared to the mountain streams of Virginia. I stood at the sink nearly gagging and feeling pretty sorry for myself.
My mother, having already been called by the school, found out about the rest of my day. I described the hazing I received from the other students and teachers and expressed how much I wished to return to the A.R.E. camp in Virginia even if they didn’t have hot showers or technology. Her response gave me a perspective that has stayed with me ever since.
She agreed how much better it was to live as I had in that rural A.R.E. camp where people only loved and supported each other. She acknowledged how shocking it was to so abruptly return to the “real world” and remember how we typically treat our neighbors. She then placed the responsibility squarely on my shoulders saying it was up to those who knew the difference to spread a loving world view to the people who don’t even think it is possible.
I had to grow up quickly in those few minutes to realize just how right she was. I could choose to become a recluse and shy away from the world in hopes of avoiding the unkind words and actions of others. I could also choose to show them that there is indeed a better, more loving way to live where we don’t pounce on each other for not conforming to the norm. While it would be many years before I began to understand the depth of such a choice, the seeds were planted and eventually took root in my mind.
You may find yourself reading about this uplifting world view and doubting that we can all love and trust each other with patience and cooperation. I’ve felt such fear and doubt in my own life. I have also felt ultimate fulfillment from making a real difference in the life of someone who needed my help. Too many people know far more about fear and doubt than they do about love and joy. As Robert Frost said, taking the road less traveled makes all the difference.