The Grail Quest of Ralph White
by Craig Chalquist, PhD
The Jeweled Highway: On the Quest for a Life of Meaning
Divine Arts, 2015 (Purchase it on: http://www.amazon.com/gp/
Visit his website at: www.ralphwhite.net
Every now and then arrives a man who contains within his life the momentum of an entire movement. Hermann Hesse comes to mind for the spirit- and soul-starved generations of the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s.
The man for our time is Ralph White, a native of Wales who started out as a shy boy dreaming on the coast of the Irish Sea. From there he traveled around the world in search of depth and wisdom, met and spoke with virtually every significant representative of the Human Potential Movement, and co-founded New York Open Center on an aspiration that came to him in his twenties: to create oases of meaning, in urban settings particularly. In many ways his life has been one extended pilgrimage to rediscover the lost sources of Western esotericism.
The Jeweled Highway is the story of White’s post-World War II search for meaning and wisdom as the collective relief of beating Hitler and Hirohito succumbed to materialism, mechanization, and disillusionment of the kind White saw close up when his family moved to a grimy, smokestack-riddled English town at the clanking core of the Industrial Revolution. If the God he had heard about in church permitted global slaughter and Holocaust, he wondered, what mattered? What endured? At age 21 he stuck out his hitchhiker’s thumb and went to find out.
White’s memoir takes us to many places along that journey, including Chicago, where he found his street smarts; Vancouver, at that time a scenic site of counter-cultural resistance to massification; Machu Picchu, where mountain and lake awakened his sense of the immanence of spiritual knowing; London, New York City, and many other places not only cities or landscapes but, in a higher view, shrines and sacred sites along the Quest, each described in vivid and even gritty detail.
While reading this memoir I kept seeing parallels to Sir Percival’s quest. The wasteland, for example: “Two hundred years of hard grind and subsistence for the world’s oldest working class; centuries of small lives, poor diet, and grim labor conditions had left a pall of depression hanging over the place.” The questions: “What murmurs in the soul prompt the search for the elusive and mysterious chalice? What longing still stirs for some deeper stream of reality beyond the gray, dreary world of so much contemporary life, with its shopping malls and work for faceless corporations?” The search, so often in the guiding presence of insightful young women, Grail Maidens as traveling companions; and the mentoring, not only by spiritual masters past and present, East and West, but by drifters, stoners, depressives, and bums, each bearing his bit of light.
Steinbeck would have understood. So would the young knight in red armor (one root of the name “Ralph” is “red wolf”) trying to make his way in the world.
And then the fulfilment, “The Work”: “I have been fortunate to find a path to an independent spirituality and to help create centers, vehicles for cultural change that serve as focal points for a new awareness now rising to meet the need for a sustainable future where soul and well-being return to their rightful place.”
That is an understatement. Having been program director of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, White designed and taught the first accredited course in holistic studies at New York University. He has organized and directed conference-quests such as Prague, Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition; The Italian Renaissance and the Esoteric Traditions; Psyche, Spirit and Addiction; Voluntary Simplicity; The Grail and Arthurian Traditions; The Golden Age of Andalusia: Sufis, Kabbalists and Christian Philosophers in Medieval Spain; The Mysteries and Philosophy of Greek Antiquity; The Art of Dying; and A Quest for Ancient Alexandria: Greco-Egyptian Cradle of Western Esotericism.
Who would have thought that the Grail Castle could reappear in the heart of Manhattan? Yet it has. New York Open Center sees sixty thousand visitors a year searching for the life and health, purpose and magic that wait below the everyday surface of things and beyond the daily round and rush. I realized this while helping Ralph assemble a new and experimental Certificate in Holistic Psychology: every illustrious name I could think of as a possible instructor he had previously hosted there. Furthermore, through Ralph the Center linked to Findhorn, Esalen, and other holistic centers all over the world: the Jeweled Highway spread and thickened into the sparkling Jeweled Net of Indra.
Among the many revelations contained in the book, this one came with “an experience that has remained with me my whole life”:
Listening to a record of Crosby, Stills & Nash singing, “Guinnevere had green eyes / Like yours, milady / Like yours,” the awareness suddenly flooded me that I was here, on this earth, for one primary purpose— simply to be myself.
From that insight followed White’s version of what Sir Percival asked the Fisher King at the end of the Grail Quest, a question with which to face our own troubled time: How might I be of service?
Of late it has become trendy, especially in business circles plagued by outdated thinking, to sneer at Joseph Campbell’s call to “Follow Your Bliss” as hopelessly impractical, a recipe for fiscal disaster. Far better, advise the contemptuous, to land a reliable income–as though there were such a thing anymore as global economies oscillate and fabulous amounts of wealth continue to funnel upward to the super-rich.
The Jeweled Highway demonstrates exactly the opposite: that those who are called to depart the Wasteland of empty careerism and faddish frippery will find, perhaps after many trials and turns in the trail, the long-sought nourishment of meaning and greater awareness that will keep them going, fill their souls, and reveal to them the beauty of the world.