The Hasnamuss on the Mountaintop
Mrs. Esperanza remains a mystery to me, even to this day. I’m still not sure how she knew what to say, or why she felt she needed to say anything to me at all – but she did, and it had a massive impact. As we sat in that circle in the basement, she looked me straight into my eyes, and simply said to me: “BE YOURSELF.” It was as if I were hearing a GOD/DESS speaking to me saying “BE YOURSELF”. Hearing this brought me into a higher state of consciousness as if I were watching all that was going on outside myself, somehow having an OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE.
The entire room was silent, and those two words of hers struck me with great force. The words themselves are innocent enough. To be quite honest, they’re even a bit of a cliché, and I’ve heard them a hundred times since then, though never in quite the same way. At that particular moment those words seemed to contain more than what is possible to convey in everyday language, even if I spoke for hours. Something inside me just clicked into place. Again and again, whenever I hear just a powerful title I realize there is no need to read the whole book, when you get the message, hang up the phone.
Upon hearing her say it, I suddenly entered a state of altered consciousness. It was a kind of heightened awareness a deeper energy field, as if time itself stood still, and as if my mind was suddenly operating on a different frequency. I sat there, stunned, but fully awake, for the longest time, with a deep sense of self-realization coming over me in waves.
Mrs. Esperanza was saying how she arrived here from Italy after WW2 with her Father and how she saw the horror of war and that her beloved country’s soil was soaked in blood from all of the murdering and horror she had witnessed. She went on to say that if America did not WAKE UP it would soon be the same here: more senseless killings by unconscious beings. She also added that she had no interest in being part of our group nor any group, that she had a husband and three children who needed her more than any of us needed her. She was not interested in being paid for her words of wisdom and reiterated that the only reason she came to this meeting was that she was certain that I would completely hear her words if spoken in front of my friends. Therefore, she was only here to tell Antonio “BE YOURSELF”.
When my mental state returned to normal, more or less, I noticed that she had already left the room. I asked one of the other ladies present to check the ladies restroom and see if she was there, but it was no use; I knew someplace deep down inside myself that she had vanished: Mrs. Esperanza was gone, and though I searched everywhere for her, hoping to get some kind of explanation about what had happened, I never saw her again.
The Inner Circle
The following weekend a trip was arranged to the mountain, where the new inner group was to meet up with the ‘Master.’ It was said that he was a deeply knowledgeable and highly conscious individual. He could speak on the most widely divergent subjects, and he was going to teach us about the secrets of consciousness. I was intrigued. It was exactly what I was looking for. Now that I was given the Secret Elixir I was ready for any adventure and “BE YOURSELF” was echoing inside my very being. I felt magnetized once again knowing this was the Journey I was searching for.
Those of us that were invited were expected to read certain books before we went. I’d never heard of these books. One of them was entitled In Search of the Miraculous, and it was written by a Russian– P.D. Ouspensky. He in turn was a student of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. I didn’t know it at the time, but these ideas would later inspire a lot of growth in me. Gurdjieff would take me to another dimension and create a search in me that would bring me half way around the World and back again to face myself, so I could “BE MYSELF”.
I later came to know more about the teachings and the life of this great man, Gurdjieff, who would become my First Real Spiritual Teacher. He was one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the twentieth century, even though he wasn’t very well known, probably because in those days during the early 1900’s, when he was alive, there were no iphones, nor Google, nor Twitter. As a young man Gurdjieff travelled the world widely, on expeditions in search of truth, and he went to great lengths in search of ancient spiritual teachings. Some of these journeys are described in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men.
It was rumored that Mr. Gurdjieff had gone to and studied with the same ancient Monasteries that Jesus Christ was claimed to have studied with. It is known that Jesus Christ disappeared from age 13 to 30 and it was during this time it was mentioned that Jesus traveled from one brotherhood monastery to another in Search of the Miraculous!
His quest led him to the secretive Sarmoung brotherhood, among many other teachers and remarkable individuals; and he developed a unique system of teaching. I could describe him as part guru, part mystic, part scientist, and part dance instructor. I wished I had got the chance to meet him, but sadly he died in 1949. Yet, I was soon to meet and to study with the so-called 1st-People. These are folks who actually lived and studied with Mr. Gurdjieff during the last years of his life.
The man we were going to meet on the mountain was supposedly one of Gurdjieff’s students, and he claimed to be in possession of similar spiritual understanding and charisma. Like Ouspensky, he was supposed to teach us about the system called “The Fourth Way.”
I didn’t read as much of the material I was supposed to because I found the books difficult to digest at the time. They seemed interesting enough, but way too complicated. The book by Gurdjieff’s student, though, was different. In Search of the Miraculous had a profound effect on me, and it opened my eyes to a new world. I realized that my views of religion, Catholicism in particular, and spirituality were completely inadequate, and his ideas were ringing the bells, somewhere deep inside my psyche. The one book that held my complete interest was written by Fritz Peters, “Boyhood with Gurdjieff”. It was this book that peeked my interest the most and that pushed me more to where this journey was leading me to.
Instead of the usual religious dogma, which you have to believe without understanding, here were words that smacked of truth and first-hand knowledge of the ancient esoteric secrets. I will talk more about Gurdjieff later in my story – but for now let me describe what happened when I went to meet Alex Horn.
Anticipation grew all week while I went about my business at Elizabeth Arden’s offices and salon. I was to join a car pool that was leaving from North Beach Park on Friday and I couldn’t wait for it to happen. It felt like the start of an important journey – my personal quest for the truth, and the search for meaning and fulfilment. I wouldn’t have missed that trip for the world, so when the departure time arrived, I was there, packed and ready to go. All the ‘students’ were divided up into cars. We set off, and we would soon be leaving San Francisco behind, heading up into the wine country in Napa Sonoma.
Long after the sun set we arrived at Louie Martini’s winery and continued up a dirt road to the top of a hill, where there was a small settlement and a couple of buildings around. We were shown to our rooms, where we crashed out, exhausted after the long drive.
I was almost certain that what everybody was so excitingly talking about was going to be exactly what I had been searching for…
Alex Horn a Mystic or a Villain
He was a large man, very charismatic, almost theatrical in nature, and he was smiling from ear to ear as he strode towards us. He seemed totally in control of himself, and extremely self-assured. He appeared to be open and friendly, and intimidating at the same time. We all assumed that this was what it meant to have “presence” – as the leaders in the group had been explaining it to us all along. Alex got into his discussion right away. He told us that he had purchased the property we were on from the Martini vineyards, and he had a vision of what he was going to create there – and we were going to be a part of it. This made us all thrilled, of course.
He told us why we had asked us to come, and wanted to assure us that he had found the meaning of existence. He made all kinds of promises, including showing us the fountain of youth. He bragged about how he had traveled the world, and how he had met remarkable men who showed him esoteric secrets that had transformed him into a conscious man. The alarm bells should have been ringing in my mind already, but I was in awe of this man, and still not sure about what I had gotten myself into. I was going along with it, hoping it was all true. I had finally met my first Real Conscious Being and I was going to make the most out of all of it.
Alex was an incredibly persuasive man, and he had a way with words. He had been a playwright and an actor, he was well educated, and could quote anyone from Blake to Ibsen, to the Greek classics. He was a master manipulator and could switch from being totally intimidating to being as charming and mild as a daisy in a second. It threw you off balance and you never knew what to expect from him. He started going around the group of new arrivals, asking each of us “What is your Question?”
As each person replied with their own ideas, he would quickly shut them down, saying that their question wasn’t a ‘real question’ after all, and he kept challenging us to find “The Question.” His energy was so explosive, and so dynamic, and when he gave you his full attention, it felt like all the doubts were dissolving in your mind. We were all very impressed, and there seemed to be something solid behind his teachings, which put all the silly thoughts in our minds out of reach. Everyone else seemed small and insignificant in his presence.
His system of teaching was very loosely based on what the true master, Gurdjieff, used to do. It was a combination of transferring head knowledge through explanations and arguments and transferring something deeper through hard physical work. I spent that weekend on the hilltop and went back again the following weekend for another visit, even though I was inwardly becoming skeptical about what Alex was teaching us. Despite my doubts, it was exhilarating to be there. We were told we were transforming grapes into wine and thus we were ourselves soon to become wine through our hard labor and insights. Alex kept promising us all that true Transformation would happen on his Hill Top Retreat Center.
We were loaded into trucks and taken to the fields where we were supposed to plant vines. It was explained to us that this work was “outer” work – and it was supposed to correspond with the work we would do on ourselves – the “real” work. These terms had been borrowed from teachings in The Fourth Way. It was like a living metaphor: as the vines would grow and mature, so would we. As the outer work would yield rewards in the form of wine, so the inner work would bring us the joys of heightened consciousness. That part made sense, and it was amazing to see it unfold.
Everyone was enthusiastic, and there was a buzz of energy that drove us to work harder than we had ever worked before. It was quite an experience. The sun was blistering, and the soil was rock hard, but we worked as if we were possessed. We amazed ourselves at how much we could lift, how long we could endure, and what we could accomplish. It was unlike anything we had experienced before. We felt superhuman. Alex oversaw the work and spurred us on to lift heavier and heavier rocks, and to work harder and harder. The energy was contagious, and we transcended ourselves, in a way. Alex and his wife, Anne Burrage, kept on telling us that we could do the impossible, and that we could do it easily. We couldn’t believe what was happening. It was otherworldly.
Anne was overseeing work on a massive wall made out of stones that were collected from the surrounding area. We were lifting rocks that weighed more than a hundred pounds and carrying them around as if they were bags of groceries. We got no sleep at all, and just kept working, learning, listening to Alex, and then working some more. Alex and Anne were explaining that when you work on yourself consciously, you are able to unleash higher potentials in yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally – and from what we were experiencing, it seemed to be true. I felt incredibly, physically powerful during the whole weekend; but there was something about what they were saying that didn’t sit right with me.
Alex introduced us to some ideas from the tradition of Gurdjieff, and some of what he said was absolutely true. A lot more of what he said was just the product of his imagination, and blatant lies. I came to see that his motives were not pure. He told us about his plans to set up a village in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which was in preparation for the bleak future. He made prophecies about a coming world disaster, which would occur within the next two or three years. According to him, the economy was about to collapse, major cities would be destroyed, and the world as we knew it was coming to a catastrophic end.
Each student was expected to pay $100 in cash to him directly, each weekend, and there was no receipt, of course. Even more alarming, he told us that if we were prepared to hand over all our worldly possessions to him, personally, we would be fast-tracked for development. That was the final straw for me! There was a lot of talk, and a lot of philosophy – and there was a unique camaraderie in the group. But Alex was a master manipulator, and it was becoming clearer to me. When he wasn’t bullying or intimidating you, he was sweet talking, and he knew exactly which buttons to push to get control over people. He had a knack for spotting people’s weaknesses, and relentlessly taking advantage – all in the name of ‘inner work’ on yourself, or some esoteric principle or another – whichever one suited him at the time.
My misgivings about this strange place, and these strange people started growing, and I began to doubt everything I was learning. If these were truly ‘conscious beings,’ then why did they need all that money? Certainly, anyone who was conscious could create more money out of thin air. As amazing as it was, there was something dark and ominous about that ranch. It was clearly a cult, and nobody could say for certain what Alex and his wife’s true motives where. Perhaps they were sincere, or more likely they were con artists, but as my eyes began to open, I realized that this was not the place for me.
The tension bubbled up to the surface and, on my last night there, I confronted Alex on the question of money. I wanted to know why he got the sole right to decide everything, and why he got to own everything that the community was contributing towards. There was a hot debate on the subject and, as usual, Alex rose to the occasion theatrically. He told everyone that was listening that the fault was with me. I was clearly suffering from a lack of consciousness and that he, as the only truly conscious one among us, clearly had the right to do as he pleased. Completely disillusioned and with a feeling of disgust, I walked out, gathered my belongings, and hiked down the long dirt road alone. It was clear to me that I was leaving Alex, Anne and their ranch behind, and was heading back towards San Francisco feeling elated yet mystified on how to continue my Search for the Miraculous.
As I trudged towards the main road, I felt a kind of elation and let out a big sigh of relief. I had surely dodged a bullet – who knows where I would have ended up with those people. But even though I had seen through their illusions, there were certain ideas that I had come across with that were calling to me. What I had discovered about Gurdjieff, and his authentic teachings seemed like a bright light in comparison to what Alex and his wife had been saying. I later discovered that they had been loosely quoting from Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s teachings on the Fourth Way, and that they had invented all the rest to suit their own tastes.
Later, I would learn firsthand from Lord Pentland and Mr. John G Bennett that Alex Horn was truly a Hassnamuissan, a piece of shit burning itself out of the Universe, another one of Gurdjieff’s made up words to explain the unexplainable. The words that had started me off on this journey still rang in my head: “BE YOURSELF.” And I was determined to do exactly that. As bizarre as this ‘cult’ experience had been, it had shown me another important part of the puzzle – the need to work on myself, in my deepest nature. I had seen the possibilities of how unlocking the secrets of consciousness could revolutionize my life, and even if these people were charlatans, there was still some value in the whole experience, at least. More importantly, they had inadvertently introduced me to a true teacher – Gurdjieff, and I was determined to follow up on that lead.
I knew that my time in San Francisco was coming to an end, and that I had found the clues that I had needed to find. It still wasn’t the final answer – in fact, I probably had more questions now than I did at the start – but I felt like I was progressing, learning, and discovering incredible new depths to life – and they were all right there, inside me. I sensed that I was on the right track. Truly the way OUT was IN. It was a comforting feeling and as I walked, I dusted off my regrets as if they were nothing and kept heading down the road. Upon reaching the main road, I felt a relief and knew that there was a new life ahead of me. I thought about hitchhiking back to the city, but realized there were no cars on this road. So, instead, I kept walking and sang along the way, while feeling a surge of relief because I had finally found my entrance point into my Journey and learned that I would never really know what I wanted as I was discovering understanding vs knowledge. Yet, I truly found out what I Did Not Want and that was anything more to do with Alex Horn and his fake, false teachings. it was a green light to get out, move forward and not to go any further on this road of cultism.
My first awakening
After what seemed hours of just walking in exhilaration, singing and feeling a true sense of what it meant to be truly happy, I suddenly heard a distant roar of a car engine heading towards me in the pitch-black road ahead. The car that was clearly going at a high speed whizzed by me at lightning speed, but then shortly came to a halt before reversing. I could hear the tires screeching as it reversed and headed back to where I was walking. The car stopped suddenly and let me get in. I got into the back seat and two young men sat in the front.
Exchanging brief introductions, it seemed that these two guys were quite stoned and headed to San Francisco and would be able to drop me off right at North Shore, which was about one block from where I lived. I sat there in silence in the back seat piecing all that had happened in just the past 3 days while the two new friends in the front talked all the way back to San Francisco as though I no longer existed. A few hours later we arrived in North Beach and they pulled to the side of the park to drop me off. I was elated to have gotten home so easily from that deserted road. This was truly a miracle! I offered them some money for the generosity of bringing me to my door, but they declined and simply wished me well. I wasn’t going to just take “no” for an answer, so, I got my belongings together and then dropped a $20 bill on the back seat in gratitude for being saved at the last hour.
Upon arriving home, I dropped down into bed and fell off into a deep sleep. It had almost been 72 hours since I had last slept, and all the mad happenings were spinning in my head as I slipped off to BE YOURSELF. I was back to square one, but with a new insight into Mr. Gurdifeff’s Search of the Miraculous.