by Bob Howells
I’ll start this story at the end, at 5 a.m., January 1, 2010, my 57th year on the planet, and the best year ever.
Euphoria. Ears ringing. Ecstasy. Body joints singing with...strong stimulation. Exhaustion. Not the traditional kind. Not the “I gotta get to sleep” kind. Rather, a knowing that the body needs rest now, so I submit to that—while my soul flies on its own, soars blissfully into a stratosphere filled with love and gratitude, echoing with sounds and sensations, silence and inspiration. And did I mention love and gratitude?
Michael. It’s all Michael. And for Michael, blessed Michael, I now shift the time and revert to the beginning. Ha! It’s so clear to me that in our timeless world, beginnings and endings—like clocks and calendars—are mere constructs. We live beyond them. But I’ll let them serve my purpose now: to recount as best I can the 2009 New Year’s Eve Meditation and Celebration.
Arrival. 8:45 p.m., and Calvin is lighting candles behind a gauzy curtain and they cast a magical glow in a room already transformed. It’s a place ready to receive, ready to host, ready to grow silent and explode.
Calvin, Reza, and Mark S. have articulated the beauty of the room. Greg B. and the men of the Yes Collective have spearheaded the day’s cleaning, prepping, and decorating to bring it to this magical state of readiness.
David G. greets me at the door with a bear hug. His impetus and leadership were instrumental in bringing us to this point. Our men, the Yes men, stand with presence. Our friends are arriving. We greet them, welcome them. Let the hugging begin!
Larry J. and Tom P. hustle in the background, working with Karen C. and many other beautiful women to ready the food, drink, and mood for the celebratory feast that will follow. Arnie’s a greeter, too, and he hasn’t stopped smiling.
My station is outside, standing under a full moon, and each Royal Wayan who arrives strikes me as the most beautiful person in the world. Some come bearing desserts. All the better! Chris B. deftly receives them and delivers them to the kitchen. I greet Maggi—an annual pleasure and honor—and as I park her car I remark to myself how extraordinarily beautiful she looks. Her glow outshines the candles.
Maggi signals the beginning of the meditation. Ja-Cums. We call on God to fill our lives, to fill our room, to rise up here in us and bless the world. A brief thought—our dear friends at the Ranch are doing exactly the same at exactly this moment. We link, and the universe hums with our calling to God. What a pleasure to hear nothing but that.
The bell rings. Time to sing. Steve M. and I sing “Timeless Journey.” A few seconds in, our voices connect and somehow we’re more than two old friends singing. We are the words to the song, this beautiful song by Richard and Des G. Greg B. and Rick K. stand to sing “Being with My Teacher,” and the room grooves to the truth of the words and the jazzy lilt these guys bring to Greg’s song. John P. and Larry J. sing “Here I Am,” by Harry H. I feel so proud, so full of love for these guys. All three of them. Harry, man, you are divinely inspired.
Ja-Cums. Then silence. Silence beyond silence. This, I know, is where I live and who I am and it is impossible to say more than that about this. It is the meaning of this event, of all we do, of who we are, of all that Michael gives us.
Bell. Its ring lingers in a quiet that’s tinged with anticipation. And then: BA, BA, BA! Go for it, John F. and Masoud! We’re with you! (John F.? Look at this man standing before us. Wasn’t he flat in a hospital bed a week or so ago? Such pride, such manliness. Both of these guys. Lions!) BA, BA, BA, BA! (How does Maggi’s voice shine through a room of 240 voices?) BA, BA, BA, BA....
This will remain, we chant. This is our life, and what we feel now will always be. BA, BA, BA!
Happy New Year! The words are being uttered in parties everywhere. The world may say it but we know what it really means. It is 2010. It is a happy new year. The year is born from silence and emerges like a sweet bubbling cherub in a room filled with love and welcoming. I kiss my wife. Is she beautiful or what?
We rise from our seats and everywhere is a beautiful soul to hug and repeat the words and know what they really mean. Smiles, joy, happiness. The room is rocking and the music hasn’t yet begun.
Toasts. Tom, Greg, and Masoud honor our Beloved Teacher Michael. Their words are our words and we are all one in drinking to Michael’s health and the blessings he has showered upon us. As the men speak their toasts, I’m drawn to one face in particular. Tim M. Pure joy. A smile that extends way beyond the lines of his face, a smile that says it all, and I am moved to tears.
Later I mention this to Tim. After all you’ve been through, I see you standing here on January 1, 2010, with nothing but joy on your face. Tim: “It’s because of all I have been through and all that Michael has given me through it all that I can stand here with pure joy on my face.” I love this man.
The music begins and we are ready for it. Arash is our first disc jockey and we match him beat for beat. Two hundred forty unique souls dancing uniquely with joyful abandon. Pulsating energy, and as we like to say and love to know, “It’s not the music!”
Scents of feast waft over the top of the beat. There’s a joy in this room for every one of our senses right now. Man, this is fun!
After 45 minutes of full-on, beat-filled music and dancing, the drummers form an arc on the dance floor. No stage for these guys. They’re us, not performers. They’re the men of Royal Way. We are the men of Royal Way. The best men on this planet. We dive into the beat. Go, Bijan, go! We surround the drummers and their beat. Nothing else in the world exists. I imagine there are women in the room and I imagine they feel the wild masculine abandon of the best men in the world dancing to a beat that feels timeless as the spark of life itself. The women are here somewhere. But I know where I am, and I am entirely, totally, here, dancing beyond anything I have ever felt, beyond anyone I have ever been. Each dancer is like a drummer, articulating a thumping, ecstatic wild beat. One by one and together, we celebrate the joy of being men with Michael.
Music again. Women again. So beautiful. Maybe even the more beautiful for having bathed in the extraordinary masculine energy that has been filling the room. I don’t know. I just know they are beautiful.
At last, I’m hungry. Good food. Pasta, chicken marsala, lamb chops. And talk about dinner entertainment!
Michael H. is spinning the tunes now. You gotta love a DJ who can’t stop smiling, who can’t stop rocking to the very beats he’s playing.
“I Will Survive.” A New Year tradition. Dig those crazy divas. More passion than the real singer ever had!
More music, more dancing. I didn’t wear a watch tonight. No idea what time it is. Swinging my wife. There’s Doug Doss swinging his. There’s Masoud swinging his. Steve D. swinging his. Are we cool or what? Woo-wee!
Then: A single dramatic chord is all the Royal Way divas need to hear. We’re hours into the night, but this party isn’t over yet. Because “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has begun. “Ain’t no valley low. Ain’t no river wide enough to keep me from you-oo!” There’s Leila, nearly as dramatic as Katherine, singing into rose microphones. Sarvy and Jan. Sachi and Shauna. Shauna is hilarious. The world’s tiniest diva. A few game men form a ring around these babes. This moment is theirs. And babes they are—smolderingly hot. Wow! And check out diva Maggi. She rises to the occasion with soaring, searing drama and for all the fun and theater of the moment you know she’s in a place of ecstasy.
We all are. The lights soon come up, and people move to retrieve jackets and chairs. Bags of leftover food are put out. Nothing wasted. Most people have headed off into the night, into the year, dancing their way back to Long Beach, back to the Valley, back to Brentwood and Santa Monica and beautiful Culver City.
But the party hasn’t ended. Not for the men of the Yes Collective. The floor is ours. The final dance is ours. David, Scott, Calvin, Steve Day, Steve M., Michael H., LJ.... (Hey, Riley, Reza, Sheldon—yes, you were too sick to be here, but we’re dancing for you guys! Larry Wolf, you’re with your wife, but you were a big part of all this. We’re dancing for you too.) We dance in a ring of our own. The Yes Collective. Maggi lilts by us: “Great job, guys!” Music to our ears. “Good night, Maggi!” We keep dancing until finally we have to shut down the sound system.
We transform the room once more. We put its pieces back together. Masoud directs the breakdown. Scott dances up and down ladders—a man as comfortable on ceilings as on floors. We fold tables, we stack chairs, we sweep the floor.
Calvin blows out the candles.
And you already know the end of the story.
I love you, Michael.
Before Royal Way I was isolated, angry, armored, and scared. I had spent six years flying in the backseat of a fighter aircraft, prepared to drop bombs on any given target, at any given time. I was afraid and found it difficult to be with people. People found it difficult to be with me, so I pretended—a lot. Today I am far more than happy. I'm in love.
I wake up in the morning eager to meet the day, feeling the lightness and aliveness that come with being in love. My days are filled with magic moments. I don't do anything to create them; they just happen. The craziness of the world is still there. I navigate through it, as we all do, and I don't carry much of it with me. I don't have room for it.
I'm in love with the world. My life is grander than I had ever imagined possible. I am forever grateful to you, Michael.
Once a month we come together as a community to experience our true selves. Strengthened by the collective energies, we have the opportunity to reach for our depth. Will I give up my mundane thoughts and concerns for just a brief time and discover something new? Will I fully use this time and clear my mind of past experiences and future expectations?
Moving moment to moment with totality and focus, I open my heart to each segment. As I notice the thoughts, I gently remind myself to let them go.
Michael, you teach us that the outcome is not up to us, but the input is. If I let go with intention, I can open up vast new spaces for new experiences. Connecting with myself in this way gives me indescribable joy and connects me with the whole. What an incredible gift! What an amazing Teacher! What a beautiful community! What a rich life!
Welcome, Michael. Welcome to this Doo-Dah!
Every day, thousands and thousands of people get married. That first day of marriage is the start of the honeymoon period. The honeymoon period can last anywhere from three to 12 months, or as long as you want it to last. During this period, nothing seems to go wrong, and you want to do everything you can to make the other person happy.
After the honeymoon period, something happens. Maybe both people take each other, and their marriage, for granted. One or both people feel undervalued. You become so comfortable that you leave the toilet seat up and scatter your clothes around the house. You don’t bother to dress sexy or make those fancy dinners.
Remember the days when you often held each other’s hands while out—anytime, anywhere? You would cuddle all the time. You would have romantic nights out, date nights. Now, it appears that your marriage is stuck in a rut, and though you still love each other, you’re a little too comfortable in each other’s company.
What’s a married couple to do? Call Firouzeh and schedule a case with the Royal Way Marriage Court. Thirteen years ago, on the Greek Odyssey, Michael created the Marriage Court. Michael knew that married couples needed a place to go where they could vent, express their frustrations, and get impartial feedback. He chose five couples to be on the Marriage Court. Elisabeth and I were one of those couples.
I can imagine how difficult it must be to expose the difficulties a couple is having in front of 10 people. It’s also the beauty that Michael created when he created the court. He knew the couples on the Marriage Court would listen objectively, with openness, and provide straight feedback.
When a couple comes to the Marriage Court, I feel a connection with them, because there have been times in my marriage when I’ve experienced some of their issues.
I experience myself at my best when I’m on the Marriage Court. I feel connected with Michael and his teachings. I experience the wanting and caring for each couple that comes to see us.
After each Marriage Court session, I examine my marriage and my life. What can I do to be a better person, husband, and father? I’m so thankful for each opportunity.
Many times at the end of a Marriage Court session, the couples thank us. They’re surprised when we thank them. All of us on the Marriage Court get so much from each case.
This year at the Patron Day Celebration, there was a dance for all the married couples that have come before the Marriage Court. It was incredible to see how many couples have taken advantage of this most incredible opportunity that Michael created.
On a different note, I’ve never felt comfortable sharing the good things in my life. So here I go:
I had the most incredible, abundant, bountiful harvest of my Fuji apple tree in 17 years. Each bite of apple was like biting into a beehive full of honey.
While companies fired and laid off thousands of people every day, I got promoted and received a fairly substantial raise. I love my job. I enjoy going to work every day. I’m constantly being challenged, and I learn new things daily.
I feel more connected to people. When I start a conversation with someone, I don’t have that feeling of wanting to leave. I actually enjoy having a conversation. I enjoy hugging every one of you at the end of the Doo-Dah. If I hug you too hard, let me know.
A couple recently came to the Marriage Court and said, “Thank God for the Marriage Court.” I say, “Thank God Michael gave us all the Marriage Court.” I feel blessed for being part of the Marriage Court all these years. Thank you, Michael!
Daisies grow next to the weeds
Rosebushes grow with sharp thorns
At times it seems random and whimsical
Sometimes everything makes perfect sense
God’s garden is endless with possibilities
My life in Royal Way is my little garden
Michael, you taught me that
My garden is my choice
The being is the seed
The doing is in growing
I don’t know what it will be yet
But as part of God’s garden
Whatever it will be
Whatever it is
It is beautiful
Just the way it is
Just the way it should be.
Each time I go to RW Ranch, I feel my heart and have a deep knowing that change is possible. Consistently going to the Ranch creates a poetry inside and grounds that feeling when I come back to the city.
During one of those times, an idea that became very clear was that all my thoughts, all my accomplishments, all my failures and sufferings in my life, anything of my mind is dead. The real truth is finding meaning, beauty, and happiness in every moment. This is my experience. The sweet drink of the divine, thick with joyous moments, is mine forever. That is what service can bring. That’s what being at Royal Way Ranch means to me. If I weed a garden, build a rock wall, sweep the patio, or create a sculpture at the Ranch, I have the opportunity to open my heart and connect with God.
Through the many days of service, I feel I have grown into a man. A man with purpose, living creatively and bringing my warmth to all I encounter. This has been and is a pleasurable experience. The more I open my heart through service, the more gratitude I feel. I can experience the beauty of the world and our Royal Way community.
Thank you, Michael, for the gift of RW Ranch.
by Bob Howells
Like ribbons of rivers flowing to the shore
We stream from afar to reach this magical space
Where merging with you creates the spirit for
Dancers to fly in flourishes of grace
Singers here find voice for the heart’s own prayer
And piano keys free sweet melodies
To the envy of angels’ harps everywhere
That long to touch what we daily receive
Ah, this room, this hallowed hall
Has seen miracles that mortals could not fortell
But you, dear Teacher, animate it all
And train our sights to where divine muses dwell
Here mere mortals we need not only be
For with you we touch the glory of eternity
Michael, my beloved Teacher
You have taken me in
And made me more
Than I ever could have been
Without Royal Way.
You give me your love
That is so powerful
It burns through me
Igniting who I really am
And taking me to my highest place
You listen to me
And hear everything
Even the parts I am unable to say
And in one word, glance, or smile
Give me everything I need
I have my own power now
Because of you
I have my own beauty
Because of you
And because of you
Michael, my Teacher
In my innermost place
I am love.
What an adventure! What an amazing, incredible adventure my life has become with you. I am no longer going to settle for just having a good life.
You have made me the ruler of my world. You have shown me that each moment is an opportunity to know God.
With awareness and intent, I am open.
On this holy day, I am filled with gratitude.