The Man Behind The Warm Spiritual Greetings
by Steve Heilig, August 3, 2016
Attentive/obsessive AVA readers might recognize the name Craig Louis Stehr - he has long been one of the paper's most frequent and loyal correspondents. His missives usually tell of his travels around the nation, with ambitious and optimistic plans and wishes for political action and spiritual progress, often sent from transient locales. But who is the man behind these words and why does he take the time to write to us? We decided to ask…
Tell us about your earlier history — where born, education, where you live, a couple of most formative experiences.
I took birth by cesarean section at 10:45 AM in the Catholic hospital in East Cleveland, Ohio, on September 28, 1949. My father once observed: "You came out screaming, you haven't stopped yet!" I graduated from the Summit School for Boys in 1963 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the accelerated English class and first in my class in Latin. I graduated from the private University School of Milwaukee in 1967 in the advanced placement English class. (Instructor: Peter Straub wrote "Hot Story," I was also in a class of six studying Ciceronean Latin. I was captain and most value player in the sport of golf. One of only two high school students admitted to the Avant-garde social club which featured mostly blues acts from Chicago.
I graduated from the University of Arizona in 1971, with a Bachelor's degree in World Literature (specializing in 20th century American writing, particularly Saul Bellow), minor in economics, specializing in the economics of poverty and discrimination, particularly housing issues. I moved to New York City and was active with the experimental living theater, dated my college sweetheart who was from there and lived mainly in jazz clubs. I wrote about it all, featured in the East Village Art-Literature publications and so on and so forth. I remained friends with Judith Malina for the rest of her life which inspired me beyond description.
What is your connection to Mendocino County and the AVA?
I held the position of "Cook" at the Big River Farm Zen Retreat Center located exactly six miles up the county road from the town of Mendocino in 1972 before going to New York City. Our sister commune was Ken Brandon's place in Casper called the Casper Compound. I enjoyed hillside parties featuring The Little River Band and Canned Heat. Also enjoyed naked hot tub parties at our retreat center which is where the San Francisco Zen Center members stayed when they chose more relaxed schedules.
My secondary connection to Mendocino County is that in the 1980s my motley collective housing group in Bernal Heights in San Francisco ended due to the sale of the house. Members moved to Ukiah to put children into Ukiah High School, buy a house at 296 Gardens Avenue and start two businesses. (Greenfield Ranch resident King Collins was a collective member.) Just got an e-mail from him this morning. We are still in touch.
You seem to travel widely. Is that out of desire to see much of the nation and world, necessity, or…?
I do not travel for pleasure, only to get to a location for radical environmental direct action and attending peace and justice activism, all of which I write about. I cannot even imagine being a "tourist."
Your letters express political convictions. What if any political persuasion or party would you say you belong to or be leaving?
I have never belonged to any political party. I generally vote according to the recommendations of the League of Conservation Voters and generally support Green Party candidates.
What political policies, proposals, actions or initiatives do you most favor? Do you have some most or least favorite political figures, past or present?
You also often express "spiritual" sentiments. What kind of spiritual tradition and/or church do you subscribe to; or more generally, how would you describe your spiritual tradition and leanings?
My spiritual identification is a result of having performed sufficient sadhana, to the point of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. I once sent the Anderson Valley Advertiser publisher Bruce Anderson pages of detailed accounts of profoundly mystical experiences both in the United States and in India. He replied: "Craig, the mystical stuff isn't right for the AVA. I suggest the you re-read 'Animal Farm'."
What do you do "for a living," or how do you support your travels and efforts?
Presently I don't do anything for a living. I've got $150,000 in my Mechanics Bank checking account and a debit card. I just finally paid the 2014 taxes which were necessary due to having received an inheritance. Previously I was "Top Temp" at AccountTemps in San Francisco on and off for 15 years. I was once head of the Cheese department at Other Avenues community food store at 44 and Judah in San Francisco. In 1979 I was a cashier at Zen Center's Tassajara Bakery at Cole and Parnassus in San Francisco and was the only Zen Center city center member with no absences for morning zazen the entire year. I left after that concluding that the Zen Center was not ultimately my cup of tea. I enjoyed a significant literary friendship with the poet Philip Whalen. Also occasionally said hello and chatted with California Governor Jerry Brown who was dating singer Linda Ronstadt and partying at the Baker's private residence located next door to the Zen Center main building at 300 Page Street. Actually, my initial connection was Linda's brother Mike who was my drill instructor for ROTC Air Force at the University of Arizona. I enjoyed Linda's early band, The Stone Ponies which played at the Stone Pony in Tucson regularly. Jerry Brown lucked out with her.
Regardless, I made $6 per hour at the Zen Center bakery, lived frugally at a nearby apartment building with the Zen Center bakers, and found out that if I just stay centered in my own svarupa that I would go where I need to go and do what I need to do.
By the way, in the early 90s Swami Satchidananda (the guru who opened the Woodstock Music Festival) told me at Yogaville in Virginia where I was a Karma Yogi during the rebuilding phase that God had no choice but to give to me everything that I needed because as a Karma Yogi. I was doing spiritual work in accord with a "higher will." I submit that this is a significant factor in regard to my ability to survive.
Most recently you've expressed a desire to "settle down." Can you say more about that?
I have no interest in "settling down," per se. I do have a strong predilection to win a lottery and create a living experiment for all who identify with the fourth dimension. Feel free to bring your well-worn copies of Animal Farm.