The Knee of Listening – The Life and Understanding of Franklin Jones


The Life and


Franklin Jones

Copyright 1971 By Franklin

All rights

Chapter 4: The Seeker

There exists a dismal photograph of
me with my parents, taken on the day of my graduation from
college. The day of college graduation is generally supposed
to be a day of celebration. All your relatives are supposed
to congratulate you with various gifts. You are supposed to
be very relieved of the long effort of preparatory study and
testing. In your revelry of accomplishment, you are to look
forward ideally to productive life’s work the beginning of
some professional study that will expand your maturity in
useful learning, teaching or service. But I had nowhere to
go. Who in the world could teach me this thing I had to
learn? Where in the world was it being lived? How at all
could I accomplish what I sought?

I saw that in fact I had attained to
nothing at all. I was proficient in no science or art,
interested in perfecting no existing form of knowledge or
productivity. I had been honored in nothing. I had failed to
grasp even the one thing I had touched that seemed to make
the difference. I had no impulse of any kind to succeed or
even to make a living. I felt an overwhelming sense of
failure. I had already lost very heavily in love. I had the
sympathy of no one.

On that day my parents stood alone
with me in the front of our house. There were no
well-wishers, no gifts, no congratulations. There were early
summer blossoms all around us, but no pleasure anywhere in
me. I was heartsick and gray as death. I only wanted to get

I spent the summer trying to make a
living as a hotel waiter. But the money was bad, and the
work had nothing to do with me. Finally, in August, I quit
work, and a friend who was living in a store front on the
Bowery in New York allowed me to stay with him. Whenever he
had a girl friend for the night I would sleep in an old
chair in an alley.

He had some raw peyote, and we
decided to take the drug, although neither of us had any
idea what its effects would be. In the past months I had
used marijuana a few times and found it very enjoyable and
relaxing. And so I willingly accepted a chance for some kind
of very powerful “high.”

We ate the cactus raw, and soon we
both became very ill. For what seemed like hours we lay
separately, trying to avoid vomiting, wondering if this was
supposed to be the effect of the drug. After a while my
friend got up, and I could hear him laughing and moving
around in the street. I got up and, feeling very dizzy,
stumbled out the hallway into the street. He was standing on
the sidewalk with a brilliantly gleeful expression on his
face. At first I was simply trying to gather strength to
keep standing, and the dizziness and nausea still persisted.
But after a few breaths of air I began to feel an incredible

We both caught on to the same
feeling at once. There was a serenely blissful pleasure in
the body, the senses were all alive, and everything seemed
to pulse visibly with an internal light. The mind had no
weight at all and its usual logic was undone, so that the
only impulse was laughter and pleasure. We stood in the
street laughing ourselves silly. And everything we pointed
out to one another took on the same ridiculous quality we
felt in ourselves. The whole feeling and energy appeared to
simulate the moments of greatest freedom and ecstasy I had
known in my life.

A few minutes later, his phone rang.
It was my father. He kept asking me please to come home. My
mother was very worried about me and she had fallen down the
cellar stairs. He said she fell downstairs while he was
away, and she must have been there for an hour or two,
unconscious, her face bleeding and out.

The more he described the whole
matter to me the more ridiculous it appeared. I hallucinated
my mother’s injuries as he described them. Her swollen eyes,
her cut cheeks and lips, her knocked out teeth. But the
image seemed only like a clown’s face, and I couldn’t
understand any of the seriousness my father ascribed to it.
I could only laugh out loud.

Then he put my mother on the phone,
and she was very sad and seemed to have difficulty talking.
I didn’t tell them I was on a drug, but I was unable to
create any feeling in myself besides this incredible humor.
I only wanted to hang up so I could go and enjoy myself. I
assured her I would come and see them in a day or two, and I
put down the phone.

My friend and I spent the day at the
Museum of Modern Art, laughing at the sculpture and
painting. We watched the film “Touch of Evil,” shown at the
museum that day, and constantly laughed so hard we were
nearly thrown out. Then there was the orgy of food and girls
until we passed out late in the night.

When I saw my parents a day or two
later they were obviously concerned about what I was doing.
My mother’s injuries had begun to heal. Both my parents were
now primarily upset about me.

I had tried to gain acceptance into
a graduate school in English, so that I could study
literature and perhaps begin to write seriously. All of the
schools but one had refused me, basically because my
background was in philosophy. Stanford University had
accepted me, but I didn’t want to burden my parents with any
more finances for my schooling. And I was so depressed by
the fact that most of the better schools had refused me that
I made no effort at all to make my entrance

Even so, my father very kindly
offered to pay my way to Stanford if I wanted to go. At
first I refused, but after a day or two I thought it was
probably Try only possibility for any kind of positive
existence. I accepted my father’s offer, and a couple of
weeks later I flew to San Francisco.

My arrival in that place was the
most instantly healing and supportive experience of a purely
external kind that I have enjoyed in my life. The sunlight
was so deeply radiant, the air so soft, and the hills and
country all around so dramatic and beautiful that I became
marvelously light and happy.

Since that time I have traveled many
places in the world, but for me the areas of northern
California, with the incredible mountains and forests of
Yosemite, the dramatic coastline of Big Sur, and the
beautiful city of San Francisco remain equal to the most
glorious physical environments on the earth.

I spent my year at Stanford
regaining my mental and physical well-being. I found the
intellectual environment and especially the formal study of
English to be far less vital than my best work at Columbia.
There was a kind of country intellectual establishment at
Stanford, which, like all the life in such beautiful
environments, tended not to become serious about the
fundamental and radical purposes of the mind.

And so I remained a kind of
revolutionary, aggravated presence there, tolerable enough
for one year. I passed through my courses with ease, and
spent most of my time getting New York out of my system. I
stretched in the sun, wrote poetry, toured the hills and the
mountains, and generally regained my sense of

In January of 1962 I submitted a
short story to the Department of Creative Writing and was
accepted as a candidate for the M.A. degree in English with
a “concentration” in writing. Then I began to write
seriously, and, for the first time in my life, had at least
a limited audience.

Wallace Stegner, a novelist and
authority on life in the western United States, was head of
the creative writing program. The writers who joined the
workshop were generally conservative people proficient in
the traditional genre of story writing. But I was mainly
interested in writing of an experimental kind, and the ideas
that motivated me were visible in modern writers such as
Proust, Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf and Samuel

Besides myself, there were only one
or two people interested in experimental fiction. The first
few stories I wrote were nearly traditional in form and
content, but gradually I began to explore some of the more
plastic possibilities of language and form, so that my
writing expanded into an instrument for deeply internal

During the previous years I had
written in private toward a solution or expression of the
internal dilemma to which I had become sensitive. I
developed a creative mechanism that gradually unfolded a
source of form, imagery and movement that was, for me,
profoundly necessary and satisfying. This approach to the
problem or activity of writing was influenced not only by my
own nature and seeking but also by my reading of modern
philosophical and therapeutic thought and technique, the
work of Wittgenstein, Freud and Jung, the poetry of Dylan
Thomas and the “beat” writers of the fifties and early
sixties, the novelists I have already mentioned, and also
the works of the painters and sculptors of the late 19th and
the 20th centuries. It seemed to me that the truly creative
movements that led up to and included this time were
generated in the form of a new subjective order of
consciousness that needed to be tapped, experienced, and
then expanded into a communicative external

As I continued to write I allowed my
work to become more and more freely this intention, this
utterly unqualified internal rule. As I progressed, I began
to encounter great resistance in the writers at the
workshop. Only one or two people became interested in my
work, and they gave me the only encouragement I have ever
received as a writer.

As we approached the final quarter
of the year of study necessary for the Master’s degree I
felt that my writing was leading me necessarily into a point
of no return in regard to the professionals in the writing
workshop. Their resistance to my earlier work seemed to
guarantee no sympathy at all for what I felt was the
ultimate course of my writing.

I have never admitted any compromise
to the path of my own conscious and creative development.
After all, I was not at work for the sake of making a living
or even for the entertainment of others. I have always been
at work on the same thing, the experimental investigation of
conscious life for the sake of its unfolding, revelation and
eventual solution or realization. Now I saw my writing as
the possible and necessary instrument for removing internal
contradiction, for establishing the “bright” of

Consequently, in the final months of
my year at Stanford, I gave up all attempts to create short
stories in the acceptable manner of the workshop, and I
began to write in earnest, for my own sake. I found that by
the end of the final quarter I had produced no single work
that could qualify for credit. I went to Mr. Stegner with a
manuscript that represented my quarter of effort. It
consisted of perhaps three of four hundred handwritten
pages. I explained to him that the manuscript did in fact
represent creative work, but that it was nothing more than
work in progress.

I had developed a process, over
several years, of a kind of listening. I focused on the
plane of the mind and allowed it to be the focal point of
experiences within and without. I thoroughly believed that
the individual human being was involved in and controlled by
a profound, largely unconscious or preconscious logic or
structure, a motivating drama or myth. I felt that this
myth, prior to becoming conscious, acted only as an
arbitrary limitation, and it never appeared directly in the
mind or in our works and actions. This “myth” was perhaps
common to us all collectively, but it was effective on the
level of the individual and needed to become conscious there
before any creative work or freedom was possible on its
basis or beyond it.

Therefore, the plan of my own work
as a writer was to remain actively attentive to the movement
of my life on every level, to an exhaustive degree. I
proposed to become exhaustively aware by a critical and
constant act of attention to whatever experience or movement
occurred on the plane of life and consciousness. Thus, I
would simply perceive every form of memory or internal
imagery, every form of thought or perception, every
indication or pattern in my daily experience, every
intention, every imposition from without, in fact every
possible kind of experience.

I hoped by these means to become
directly aware of the adventure of my existence. And this
form or myth, the myth of my life, would, I was certain,
become the source and subject for a fictional

Mr. Stegner listened cautiously to
my theories. I was certain he understood me to be quite
adolescent and perhaps irrational. He and I were of a
radically different nature. He was a hardheaded practical
man, and I was an intense, self-enamored, nearly violent
subjectivist. Of course, he couldn’t allow my little
manuscript to stand for credit in his department, nor could
he for himself accept my writing program as a viable plan
for creating fiction. But he allowed that I could carry on
my work if I so desired, and he would be willing to receive
the results anytime in the reliable future.

Thus, I left the Stanford campus in
Palo Alto to begin the long adventure which was to make or
break my reputation and perhaps my sanity. I was fully aware
that my way of life, including the work to which I was
devoted, bordered on matters that settled in the brink
between life and death, sanity and madness, intelligence and
irrationality. But I was certain that I had no choice in the
matter. I was simply choosing to endure the course which had
been determined by my given nature since birth.

While at Stanford I also met and
fell in love with Nina. I will never be able fully to
encompass the qualities in her that have been given for my
sake. She is unqualifiedly sane and gentle, tolerant and
loving, flexible and supportive, to the degree that she more
than any other single factor in my life is responsible for
my survival. Late in the school year we began to live
together in the hills above Palo Alto. In later years we
were married, and she has, under the most awesome
conditions, remained with me throughout this long adventure
of my listening.

During the summer that followed my
year at Stanford I planned to leave California and stay with
my parents in New York. I had also sent samples of my more
traditional writing to the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in
Vermont, and, with a cautious recommendation from Wallace
Stegner, I was accepted and given a fellowship for the
two-week conference of professional writers and students
that was to be given in August.

But when I arrived at my parents’
home I immediately felt the signs of old conflicts. I had
still failed to fund myself in any kind of practical and
productive work, and I am sure this disturbed them. I wanted
to be able to write according to my lights, and this
required the solitude of a positively safe and undisturbed

As a result, within a couple of
weeks I called Nina, who was visiting her family in Ohio. I
asked her to come to New York. After her arrival it became
clear that we couldn’t live in the state of intimacy and
freedom I required. Arguments began to build in the
household. Finally, I left my parents quite violently and
took an overnight train with Nina to Ohio. I abandoned all
of the practical order of my life, including the Bread Loaf

In Ohio, Nina’s father reluctantly
gave me just enough money to pay for a train ride to
California. Nina stayed behind temporarily, for her parents’
sake, and I carried all of my belongings from train to train
until I reached Oakland. A friend from the Stanford writing
workshop picked me up at the station and allowed me to stay
temporarily with him and his wife and baby in Palo

My friend’s wife took to disliking
me for various reasons, and I was without money, so I needed
very quickly to get some cash and find a place to live. I
learned that a psychologist was looking for subjects to take
hallucinogenic drugs under supervision at a nearby Veterans
Administration hospital. I went and was accepted for a
preliminary and a final interview, with four drug sessions
in between at one week intervals, all of which would pay me
fifty dollars a week for six weeks.

I called Nina and told her to return
to California immediately, and I arranged to stay with her
roommates at her former house in the hills above Palo Alto.
Thus, we began a two year period in which I experimented
with my writing, read voluminously, exhausted myself in
self-indulgent experiments, and worked on my internal
processes with various drugs and therapeutic

My purpose at the time was similar
to the one that guided me in college. But whereas before I
pursued a certain objective truth, internal or external,
now, as a result of my revelation in college, I sought the
removal of internal contradictions or the mutual
alternatives that enforce kinds of experience, the pattern
of seeking and of conflict. I pursued every kind of means,
every method of interiorization and exteriorization of
awareness that could possibly dredge up the lost content,
the controlling myth, the forms of God, reality, soul,
truth, key memory, etc., all of the false and presently
unconscious logic or imagery that prevented the “bright” of
simple, direct and unqualifiedly free awareness. To this
end, the new or ancient hallucinogenic drugs seemed
profoundly useful and promising.

In the midst of my year at Stanford
I had occasion to use marijuana again. And I took a formula
cough medicine called “Romilar” that had very remarkable
effects if taken in large doses. At that time the formula
for “Romilar” contained a non-narcotic element which I
believe has since been eliminated or modified. On perhaps
four or five occasions I took “Romilar” in a dose of thirty
to fifty capsules or a full bottle of syrup.

I found that the dose of “Romilar”
had no effect whatsoever in terms of a “high” if I spent my
time at a party or in conversation with others. But if,
after an hour or so, I went out alone and walked in a
natural environment, particularly among trees, a profound
state would come over me. My own tendency under the
influence of drugs or even in the naturally reflected
openings of consciousness is not to hallucinate visual or
mystical imagery. This is not entirely true throughout the
whole of my experience, particularly later in my contacts
with my Indian Guru, but it is an essential and basic
characteristic of my leading consciousness. Thus, in the
state produced by “Romilar” I became deeply relaxed,
mentally and physically. I became directly and intuitively
aware of a form and presence in other living things that was
duplicated in my own living form.

Trees in particular appeared as
living beings in a much larger sense than we ordinarily
suppose. They were not hallucinated as mutations of my own
human life-form, but I saw that they as well as myself were
entities of the same order. There was a form of energy to
which the physical form of the tree or my own physical form
were only analogies and extensions. The living fact was not
our external and functional apparatus. These only marked the
separate and distinct purposes of trees and humans in the
ordinary state of consciousness. But there was fundamentally
a primary, common fact or form that was sublime energy,
constant and unqualified, and which bore its closest analogy
to our nervous system.

I saw that the upright tree, with
its lower roots and its upper limbs, branches and leaves was
analogous to the brain, its spinal trunk, and its vital
branches extending to every extremity. The state of my
consciousness at those times was infinitely peaceful,
enjoying a profound and untouchable pleasure and freedom,
and a clarity that never wavered under any influence within
or without. The mind itself was positively thoughtless, and
the physical body enjoyed a cellular calm and mutability, so
that there was profound pleasure in placing it in almost any

I thought this state must be the
same condition described as Nirvana in the Buddhist texts.
There was no problem, no question, no answer, but only the
most unqualified and direct perception and dwelling as a
primary and unseparated consciousness, whose meaning and
continuity was in the universal presence of reality. That
state seemed to me true, even though artificially induced.
It was very similar to the natural condition I knew as the
“bright,” and it duplicated quite exactly, although more
calmly, the structure of my experience during my college

It was on the basis of such
self-validating experiences that I openly desired to
experience the effects of the “new” drugs, LSD, mescalin and
psilocibin. And so, just prior to Nina’s return, and for
several weeks thereafter, I voluntarily submitted to drug
trials at the V.A. hospital in fountain. View,

I should add that these drug
experiments did not serve a purpose in me to create or
evolve any kind of enlightenment or permanent transformation
of consciousness. They were taken during a peculiarly
experimental phase of my life in which I was seeking to
understand the mechanisms in consciousness which prevent and
later make possible the stable, natural condition of
awareness which I had already known in childhood and lately
while in college. I was aware of a problem in relation to
that state which I earlier called the “bright.” There was an
intervening and learned force or structure in the
life-process which made the natural condition prior to all
dilemma seem to disappear in a fragmentary and problematic
state of mentality and experience. There is a long tradition
in the East and West, of the use of certain herbs and drugs
in order to effect a temporary removal of this intervening
state which limits awareness. I sought to take advantage of
these means in order to investigate that later process. It
was not for the sake of the artificially induced
consciousnessness itself.

Of course there is a limitation to
such wisdom. It is conceived and promoted in the problematic
state itself. Its platform is to that degree desperate. And
it could, in certain people or under certain conditions in
even the strongest individual, produce hypnotic and
artificial conditions that are devastating and deluding. I
would eventually suffer such conditions myself. But I was
prompted by a lifelong intention with regard to the
illumination of conscious life, and I was in agreement from
the beginning to put a halt to this level of experimentation
the moment it became aggravating, deluding or unnecessary.
Therefore, it was a happy circumstance, to my mind, that in
my early experiments with drugs I had discovered analogies
to processes and states that I knew to be valid under
natural conditions.

At the V.A. hospital I was given a
dose of drugs one day per week. I was left in a small
hospital room alone, except for the occasional visit of the
psychologist or a medical technician. At times I was given
brief physical or mental tests. Otherwise, I simply sat,
rested, read, or observed the internal states as they
passed. I was told that I would be given mescalin, LSD, or
psilocibin at three separate sessions, and, during a fourth
session, some combination of these. The precise drug or
combination I was to be given at any one time would remain
unknown to me. Nor was I told the exact measure of the
dosage in any case, except that they appeared, from their
effects, to be quite large.

During those several weeks of trials
I had many different experiences, most of which were not
particularly important to me. At times I would see the room
and my body become quite plastic and mobile, and their
various parts would become exaggeratedly large or small in
relation to one another without any volition on my part.
During one session, I think perhaps under psilocibin, I felt
only as if I were in a profound sleep, although my mind at
some depth was continually conscious, and I was unable to
achieve physical sleep even though I greatly desired

There were also various bizarre
experiences and periods of anxiety. Several times I was
brought to the lunchroom at the height of the drug state. I
had to appear in some state of normalcy in the midst of
hospital patients who were variously amputees,
shell-shocked, mentally disturbed or in various states of
plastic surgery. As a result of the unnecessary shock caused
by the mishandling of my condition at those times I suffered
anxiety attacks and occasional nervousness for perhaps a
year beyond the actual tests.

However, there were at least two
experiences that appeared significant. During one of the
sessions, I think perhaps while I was on LSD, I felt a
profound emotion rising in me It seemed to begin at the base
of my spine, and when it appeared in the heart it generated
an intense emotion that was overwhelmingly loving and full
and yet intensely sorrowful. It rose from the heart through
the throat, up the back of the head, through the internal
centers of the head, and culminated in what appeared to be a
massive dome in the crown of the skull. At that point I
began to weep uncontrollably, as if all of the parts of my
being had been aroused spontaneously, and I was born,
suddenly conscious and alive. In the midst of this
experience I had a thought that seemed to be the verbal
equivalent and symbol for the whole event: “Getting to cry
is shaped like a seahorse.”

I had become conscious of the formal
structure of our living being, analogous to the nervous
system, but, even more than that, what is called in Indian
and occult literature the “chakra-body” or the awakened
“Kundalini Shakti.” It was the latent “serpent” of energy
that is usually turned outward to the various physical
organs and centers of our vital experience. But here it was
opened in itself, and consciousness was turned to its own
internal form. The “seahorse” is that shape, with its
various vital or ethereal attachments, which moves upward
from the base of the spine through the massive centers of
the heart and the head. The result in me of this profound
awakening was an uncontrollable emotion, even the sorrow of
conscious birth.

In later years I chanced to see some
photographs taken inside the womb at various stages in the
development of a human fetus. At an early stage the body is
mostly unformed, and its central axis, analogous to the full
spine, is curved. The heart appears visibly as its vital
center. It is massive, full of blood, and it stands out from
the body as a separate orb attached to the spinal tube by a
cord. The head is also quite large. Its full weight and size
are generated in the crown and forehead, and the facial
features, like the limbs, remain undeveloped. I think that
in the event I have described I was not only experiencing
the fully conscious body of our most prior living form, the
heart of all real and spiritual consciousness, but I was
also re-experiencing my own prenatal state. I was
re-experiencing my birth as a living being in the womb, and
thus the awakening was not only profound but also quite
shocking and sorrowful.

It was this very “form,” this
spiritual -body, which I knew as a child and recognized as
the “bright.” And it was also this “chakra” body that I
would later investigate in detail in the practice of
Kundalini Shakti yoga here and in India.

One other experience stands out from
that period. Several times during seizures of childhood
illness, when I would pass into delirium, I had an
experience that appeared like a mass of gigantic thumbs
coming down from above and pressing into some form of myself
that was much larger than my physical body. This experience
of the “thumbs” also recurred once or twice during these
drug trials.

The “thumbs” were not visible in the
ordinary sense. I did not see them then or even as a child.
They were not visible to me with my eyes, nor did I
hallucinate them pictorially. Yet, I very consciously
experienced and felt them as having a peculiar form and
mobility, as I likewise experienced my own otherwise
invisible and greater form.

I did not at that time or at any
time in my childhood fully allow this intervention of the
“thumbs” to take place. I held it off in fear of being
overwhelmed, for I did understand at all what was taking
place. However, in later years this same experience occurred
naturally during meditation. Because my meditation had been
allowed to progress gradually and the communication at each
level thus perceived without shock, I was able at those
times to allow the experience to take place. When I did, the
“thumbs” completely entered my form. They appeared like
tongues or parts of a force coming from above. And when they
had entered deep into my body the magnetic or energetic
balances of my being appeared to reverse. On several
occasions I felt as if the body had risen above the ground
somewhat, and this is perhaps the basis for certain evidence
in mystical literature of the phenomenon of suspension,
transport, and even ascension.

At any rate, during those stages in
meditation the body ceased to be polarized toward the ground
or the gravitational direction of the earth’s center. There
was a strong reversal of polarity, communicated along a line
of force analogous to the spine. The physical body as well
as the form of energy that could be interiorly felt as
analogous to but detached from the physical body seemed to
turn in a curve along the spine and forward in the direction
of the heart. When this reversal of force was allowed to
take place completely, I seemed to reside in a totally
different body, which also contained the physical body. It
was spherical in shape. And the sensation of dwelling as
that form was completely playful. The physical body was
completely relaxed and polarized to the shape of this other
spherical body. The mind became quieted, and then there
appeared to be a movement in consciousness that would go
even deeper into a higher conscious state beyond physical
and mental awareness. I was to learn that this spherical
body was what occultists call the “astral” body.

These remarks are already leading
toward experiences that belong to a later and mature phase
of my life. I mention these experiences here because they
demonstrate a continuity in my conscious experience that
links the prenatal and early childhood stages with my later
life. These events also show that there was a pattern in
reality being communicated to me even during that period of
drug experimentation and “artificial” inducement due to
various kinds of experimental exploitation. I regard that
period no differently from any other in my life. It
contained degrees of wisdom and many indications of the same
matters of living form that I have perceived at other, more
natural phases in my career. It is only that, like any other
stage in my life, it had to come to the end of its
serviceable value, and at that point I abandoned

However, that point of abandonment
lay in my future, nearly two years away at the time. After
the period of drug trials at the V.A. hospital, Nina and I
moved to in a redwood forest in the mountains above Palo
Alto perhaps six or eight months in that area we moved again
to a small cabin built into the hillside over the ocean at
Tunitas Beach, a point nearly due west of Palo

We stayed in that cabin until some
rather remarkable events brought a decision in me to leave
California in search of a spiritual teacher in New York.
That move came in June, 1964. During the nearly two years
prior to it, following the drug trials at the V.A. hospital,
I continued the exhaustive experiment of my

1. Stanford,
Thumbs and LSD

2. Lesson
of Life

3. The
Life of Understanding – Chapter 4

Adi Da’s 1973 Course on The Knee of

4. The
Knee of Listening – Chapter 5

5. The
Knee of Listening – Table of Contents


– Important adjunct to reading of chapter – Adi Da
discussing chapter