A Blessing From Wavy And Larry

Posted by Nipun Mehta on Dec 4, 2010
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"Nipunzzzzzzzzzer," Wavy greets me.  It's the opening show of the opening night of his movie release -- Saint Misbehavin'.  He's, as always, dressed in a tie-died shirt.

Sometime last week, I got an email from the film director, Michelle Esrick: "Larry told me about you and Wavy admires you very much. Would you allow us to honor you with The Wavy Gravy Basic Human Needs Award, at our (world) premiere on Dec 3rd?  Celebrating each other reminds us that we are all in this together and we CAN make a better world - together."  Are you kiddin' me?  Anything for the truly brilliant Larry and Saint Wavy, let alone an award!

Courtesy of the award, we manage to sneak in a dozen CF'ers to the sold-out premiere. :) 

Before the show, Larry wants to review his introduction of me, but as he's pulling up the notes, his Blackberry runs out of battery!  "Larry, its a sign.  Just speak from the heart instead of the head."  He agrees. :)

We all huddle in sofa-style Red Vic's theatre, as the movie starts.

Just in the opening scenes, everyone is cracking up.  Most people know Wavy to be a pop-culture icon, but very few have seen actual footage of him emceeing half a million people at Woodstock.  Its surreal.  Similarly, most people know that he's an ice-cream flavor, but its quite another to see him use his free-ice-cream-for-life at a local Ben-and-Jerry's store. :)  The bus rides from Europe to Afghanistan (yes!), the labyrinth with the kids at Camp Winnarainbow, and the visual of Jahanara (his wife) lugging him to a protest while he's still in a full-body cast from his previous police beatings -- its all surprisingly powerful when seen in succession.   In recent decades, Wavy's  probably best known as a clown, but here's the inspiring back story:

He first donned a clown’s face to help cheer young patients at the cancer ward at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital cancer ward. One day, when he showed up at a protest at People’s Park still wearing his clown get-up, he was surprised to discover that the police refused to pummel him. While a political Jester is born to pester, no cop wants to be seen clubbing a clown. In the film, Wavy is shown steering his van through Berkeley’s streets on a shopping trip and chuckling as he points to the blue handicapped placard dangling from his rear-view mirror. "Because the cops beat me up, I can now park anywhere I want, anytime, for the rest of my life!" It’s a typical burst of irrepressible positivity. When you are Wavy Gravy, even persecution has its perks.

For the casual observor, all of that may feel like a smorgasbord of anecdotal trivia, but the quite articulation of Ram Dass and Larry Brilliant really help contextualize Wavy's life as an uncommon spiritual figure of the West.  In the end, it is his wife of 44 years, who offers the most touching -- and humanizing -- moment: "He's got many weaknesses, and we're actually opposite in many ways.  But when I see us with a broad lens, he is my teacher and I'm his protector."

Everyone claps all the way through the extended credits.  Throughout the movie, the soundtrack is just downright  awesome, but I still enjoy 'Basic Human Needs' in Wavy's own voice:

Wouldn't it be neat / If the people you meet / Had shoes upon their feet / And something to eat? / And wouldn't it be fine, / if all human kind had shelter?

(Here comes the chorus, sing it with me, it goes:) Basic human needs / Basic human deeds / Doing what comes naturally / Down in the garden / Where no one is apart / Deep down in the garden / The garden of your heart.

And wouldn't it be daring / If folks started sharing / Instead of comparing / What each other Was wearing?

After the movie, there's Q&A.  Love is in the air.  When Somik asks, "What is the toughest decision you've faced?", Wavy spontaneously (and comically) responds: "To be or not be? Just breathe."   After about a dozen lively questions, Larry introduces me generously, as Wavy garlands me with a beautiful metallic pendant of the labyrinth shown in the film.  I share a short speech that include this anecdote:

I don't know how many of you have had the experience of being in a meeting with a professional clown slash spiritual warrior, but it always makes for an unbeatable combo.  Several years ago, I was in such a meeting with many distinguished folks -- and Wavy.  Now, at a particular moment, things were getting pretty heated, so we all decided to take a short break.  And when we came back, the antagonist of our  discussion sat down on the chair and lo and behold, there was this loud audible -- prrrrrrrrrrrrr.  Even he didn't know what it was.  Wavy had managed to sneak in a whooppeee cushion on his chair!  Everyone just cracked up!  It not only humanized the situation but changed the whole atmosphere in the room.  It wasn't comic relief, but it was a kind of cosmic relief.  Vintage Wavy.  And only Wavy can get away with it. :)

I also underscore the ripple effect: "My work, as Larry spoke, is about supporting this shift from me to we.  Of course, there are many wonderful people who work to support that shift -- but we typically tend to reduce that work into a predictable, definable, replicable box.  What inspires me most about Wavy is that he's out of that box.  He's been planting spontaneous, joyful, and artful seeds for his whole life.  And like shoots, who knows when they will sprout -- and that's just fine." Wavy interrupts: shoots? So then I address him, "Yeah, there's these Bamboo shoots that can take as long as 300 years to sprout.  You have planted countless seeds, and please know that I, along with many others, will continue to till the soil and water the seeds that you've put in motion.  Thank you."

In fact, I *am* grateful for my unexplicable connection with the undefined spiritual lineage of Wavy & Larry. :) The common threads between their journey and the CharityFocus journey are a bit uncanny too.  On Wavy's altar is the bumper sticker: "Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty."  Inscribed on the ceiling of his bedroom is "Smile" (and he loves Smile Cards too!).  A transformative part of their journey started with a walking pilgrimage in Nepal.  At Woodstock and many other places, they setup a gift-based kitchen (Wavy and Jah are due to visit Karma Kitchen).  And ultimately, as Ram Dass notes in the movie, "When we all started Seva, we didn't really know what we were doing."  :)

The entire evening feels like a blessing, not just for me but for all the like-hearted guests that ranged from celebrated scientists like John Gage to spiritual teachers like Jack Kornfield to organizational leaders like Paula Kravitz to everyday heroes like Dr. Sri of the CF posse ... as we're about to leave, we even find a quick occassion for a photo (I think Wavy was telling us a joke that we didn't exactly understand, but Larry and I were all smiles anyhow :)) ... 

As the 9:15PM show is queue-ing up, we are all asked to take our do-we-have-to-leave party outside.  Just naturally, the CF posse gather outside in a huddle formation and all of us are thinking the same thing: everyone should see this movie. :)

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Comments (12)

  • Sri wrote ...

    thanks nipun ... you captured the night well.

    I was marveling a bit after how eloquent you were on the fly when i saw you get the award... and I was thinking it makes sense you are eloquent because you are so authentic.

    and thats what wavy gets right too. his life seems to have followed a trajectory from being a poet in the 60s, to taking on that bus, to speaking at woodstock, to running the kids camp- all the disparate things seem to have an authentic thread of striving for some compassion, some laughter and some connection no matter what moment you find yourself in.

  • Tracy wrote ...

    I'm so happy to learn about this. Years ago, when my daughter Alexandra was 4 or 5 years old (she's 20), I took her to a free learn-to-meditate event in a big meadow in Central Park. Friends who organized the event invited Alex and I to a reception for the meditation teachers that took place afterwards. Wavy Gravy was there. He introduced himself to my little daughter, telling her that he had an ice cream named after him (Ben and Jerry's Wavy Gravy). He gave her bubbles to blow (as he had been running around doing in Central Park). He also gave her a camera that was really a squirt gun and told her to go squirt Gelek Rinpoche, a lama who was sitting in near us at a table. He sat very still with dignified expression on his face. Alex accepted the squirt gun but refused to "shoot" the lama, saying that it didn't feel right, that it might be mean, that he might not think it was funny. Wavy gently inspired her to play in the situation, to play in life, but she really stood her ground. So irrepressible old Wavy "shot" the lama, who looked startled and, well, ruffled. He didn't laugh. Oh well, maybe the little girl was right on that one, no harm intended. Later, Wavy came up to me and said "I really like your daughter. She has a special quality. She bet she would like my camp. I would love it if she came."

    Alexandra didn't get to go to the camp, but she cherished that squirt gun camera, the bubbles, and knowing the man behind Wavy Gravy ice cream. I cherished seeing a glimpse of a man who wasn't just playing a part, inhabiting a "persona." He had this beautiful connection to life and was in an ongrowing process of learning how to play with it. His engagement with life was like a green shoot, still growing. I think there is real understanding and compassion for us all in a quote I heard attributed to him: "You have to laugh or it just isn't funny."

    Congratulations again, Nipun! And thank you!

  • Sriram wrote ...

    From front-page of Yahoo, a short interview in the Examiner ...

    Who has had the biggest influence on you in your life?
    A toss-up between Gandhi and [Martin Luther] King.

    Is there a golden rule by which you live?
    I roll on "Put your good where it will do the most," which is a transmission I received from Ken Kesey.

    Where do you find inspiration?
    Everywhere.

  • pavi wrote ...

    What joy to read this :) Beautiful account of an evening celebrating beautiful souls. Gratitude for sharing, and for the compassionate clowns within and among us.

  • Sylvia wrote ...

    Thank you for the story of your magical night with Wavy Gravy and friends ... he is one of my heroes!!! I wish I could have been there in person too this weekend. Wavy is light, joy and love personified! And the photo of you and Larry and Wavy could be turned into an icon painting of three saints ... I imagine anyone seeing it would feel tickles all the way to their toes and an irresistible urge to immediately do something good!!

  • Parth wrote ...

    Thank you for sharing the details of such an incredible night! Congratulations for receiving the award as a reflection of the space you've created for all of us to connect, share, grow, and most of all PLAY together :)

  • Hilux SR wrote ...

    if you don't mind i think some of my readers would enjoy this post, im gonna past your url around some

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Wow. Can't wait to see the movie now after this awesome review..

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Wow. Can't wait to see the movie now after this awesome review..

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Wow. Can't wait to see the movie now after this awesome review..

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Wow. Can't wait to see the movie now after this awesome review (of the preview)..

  • Sheetal wrote ...

    Wow. Can't wait to see the movie now after this awesome review (of the preview)..