James William Liles (February 21st, 1933 – March 21, 2016)
Birth—Macon, Georgia, Death—Tecopa, Mohave Desert, California
Welcome Sisters and Brothers. Thank you for coming to celebrate Bill’s life with us. My gratitude to Carl, Carol, Sean and to all the Ripplewood family and staff for their love and many kindnesses to Bill over the years and for moving us forward at a time when we were in shock about Bill’s lost or found, alive or not alive status in the Mohave Desert.
Most everyone in our family is here with the exception of son and brother Wili who sent along this email this morning: “mum, don’t censor me.
On Sat, May 21, 2016 at 7:30 AM, wili liles wrote:
My father was not a joke even though he had a lot of them. His life was not easy, starting with the great depression, fleeing Georgia, taking care of his brother then moving to Alaska when he was 14 to work like a mule. Maybe it was those years of strife at an early age that made him such a tough son of a bitch with a sense of humor that would pop out in the worst of times. I can’t help but feel that he knew something behind the veil of this world where that came from i do not know but i feel it tugging at me sometimes. On the night that he died, and make no mistake he chose to die where he wanted to; it might have been a little too soon but i guess his shell had given out and he didn’t have the resources to be nos tra fucking damus. Anyways on the night he died he talked to me in a dream don’t laugh its not funny I’m dead serious he gave me a name and said “now that i am dead you are a man now”—whatever the fuck that means.
Apparently he was a good healer. Unfortunately there is no cure for hepatitis c and old age unless your rich, which my father was not probably deliberately. I’m sure he would have hated wasting away in a mansion clinging to life like a little bitch.
That’s not how the Liles clan rolls.
Any ways i guess i gotta say some thing nice and sucky so people feel ok about death.
How bout my dads favorite quote when i was feeling down, “Oh luke say something soft and mushy.” James William Liles would not want anybody to feel sad about his death that’s why he went the way he did, like a man.
I could ramble on for days but its too much so i will leave you with another mans words.
“Man sacrifices his life to make money.
Then sacrifices money to recuperate his health.
Then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present
The result being that he does not live in the present or the future.
He lives as if he is never going to die.
And then dies having never really lived.”
i love you dad.
You get what you settle for and i ain’t settled yet.”
I would like to express my deep gratitude first to Bill for our two beautiful sons Wili and Nate, our shared love over the years, new friendships, our Big Sur and many other extended families and for your manner of taking leave of this sweet earth. It would have been terrible if you had been in an accident or suffered long years with an illness. Thank you for choosing the conscious exit that you did in your beloved desert where the rhythms of day and night, the forces of the sun and earth, the planets, zodiac and universe could work naturally on you and your ancestors and descendants could celebrate and assist you into a grander space of consciousness and on to a new life.
To quote Ravi Shankar at George Harrison’s memorial, “I feel strongly that Bill is here today. How could he not be with all of us who loved him so much and have come together to celebrate his life? I feel sure that Bill is here.”
May my love be woven as offering
Into the sheaths now surrounding you
May my love cool your heat
Warm your cold
May you live carried by love
Showered by light
Upward –Unsere Toten
This is a poem that I have been reading to Bill as he moves upward shedding his bodily sheaths and offering his life’s deeds and beauty to the spiritual hierarchies between death and a new life. From his perspective the journey is so totally different and more beautiful than we can possibly imagine from our earthly and limited three-dimensional one.
The events that occur when a human being sheds the body to return home to Spirit are something truly to behold. It is during this time that the persons, places, circumstances and events of the next life are born out of the seeds of the last incarnation’s web of karma and destiny.
Indeed Bill’s passage has made me more attentive to the finer details of life, the people that I meet along the way and how the spiritual beings might meet me when I cross the threshold. I consider myself blessed to have known and shared a love and a life with Bill and that sweetness, beauty and grief is more than I could ever ask for one lifetime. With our 19-year age difference Bill and I used to joke about how I would meet a young man when he moved on. It will be enough to have a soul friend to play and adventure with who shares a similar worldview, enjoys sitting around a fire and hiking in the wild places.
When I first heard that Bill was missing in the desert I contacted an intuitive friend. This is what Barbara and her friend Terrie brought through:
“When Bill went out on this last trek, he was truly seeking a vision quest to return home. Bill knew his roots and what home was for him, in this life and others. His Cherokee heritage is what his heart sang to, and how he truly felt his best self. He returned to this place with intention on that day.
During his transition, there was some confusion, pain in his leg, and yet this helped him to connect with the Grandmother Elder on the other side who had cared for him in the past and where he felt home. He crossed peacefully and very happy.
His visit to Wili would be the first healing and validation of his peaceful crossing and that he was truly okay. Other loved ones will feel his presence, when their hearts have healed a little more.
He chose this timing, knowing that more time would merely be passing his physical pain and care onto others, and he was ready and his work here was complete.
He is able to help so much more from this healed place above, without the bodily pain or confusion in his mind.
Bill travelled well and had the crossing that people dream of, with a reconnection to his true soul family and others he has journeyed with in love.”
Bill was born in Macon, Georgia and moved to California when he was nine with his father, sister and brother to live with his paternal grandmother. His mother had died from a congenital heart condition after his younger brother’s birth. He spoke lovingly of his black nanny that grew him up in Georgia until his family left for California on a troop train. He spoke of how his southern dialect and Georgian accent was poked at by his schoolmates in California.
When he was 12 or so he had the opportunity to go to Alaska with Ralph Kincaid who had a homestead in Homer. Of Alaska and Ralph he said that it was here where he learned to truly work and to love the wild places. He returned to LA in his teens and spent some rough years in the city and around 20 he was hospitalized with TB. One of his nurses Betty became his first wife and Jamie and Diana their children. While he was in the hospital his sister Betty died from the same congenital heart condition that his mother had, after giving birth to her first child.
He went into journalism and was involved with the many changes across the country in the 60’s and early 70’s. He photographed the Watts riots and of other wild events of the day. I never needed to check on the news. Bill knew exactly what was happening in every corner of the globe and the deeper meaning of it all. When we lived in the Hot Springs Creek cabin across the road from Esalen I asked about his family photos and how I would love to see them. Bill retrieved them and the cameras that he had used during his journalism days. When we were on our homestead in the Nass that same year the Rat Creek fire burned the cabin along with all of the photos and his cameras. Benj wrote to tell us how the fire had started from a single bolt of lightning.
He was close to Vince Bradley who was a dear friend both in LA and when he and Vince lived in this area. Here are Vince’s words after hearing about Bill’s passage.
“Many Mahalos to you for sending us notification of Bill’s passing. When I saw him last in Big Sur we discussed teleology, and it is indeed apropos that he found solace in the desert. As a Pisces and Cherokee, I know he found great balance in the desert, as he intimated to me when we once met at Hot Springs Creek.
I lovingly acknowledge Bill for his many contributions to this life, including journalism, creative writing, travel series, Native American studies, physical therapy, metaphysics, music, philosophy, marine biology and many other contributions to the expansion of human potential.
He gave both Anita and me his love and we tried to return in kind. In the 60 years I knew Bill, whether near or far from me, I always knew that he was a close and devoted colleague and true friend. I will miss his love.”
We will be at Ripplewood in spirit, and in my letter citation. And, since I know Bill to be a pantheist and ecumenical in his pervasive outlook, a Roman Catholic mass will be celebrated on the Island of Oahu (Bill’s home for a period) in his honor.
Another dear friend Al Huang couldn’t be present today and he writes:
Dear Barbara, Nate and Will:
Appreciate hearing from you, with your search for Bill on his journey in the desert, missing and transcending….
I recall so many treasured memories knowing Bill, sharing with him, feeling his magic healing touch when he worked on my body at Esalen.
Also, his meeting my mother there, and his writing the feature article about her in the Big Sur paper.
So many fond memories of Bill flooding back…
I think of him and of you as family with much Loving CHI-eers! Do keep me posted and in touch please—I am with you in spirit.
I will be tuning in from Middle America at Bill’s celebration of Life on May 21st in Big Sur. I will be flying back to Illinois from Minneapolis after my seminar on “Body and Mind in Harmony” there, most appropriate for me to remember Bill with fond reminiscences of his life’s work and his therapeutic touch when I received his massages at Esalen, I feel blessed and grateful knowing him. Have a great celebration of Bill’s life. I will be dancing with you ALL in spirit… Chungliang Al Huang
Rick Tarnas wrote:
Thank you for sharing with me this weighty news about Bill, and for including your insights that provide a larger context to take it in. It seems like a noble and fitting way to pass from this life into wherever he is now. I didn’t know about his Cherokee ancestry. When I think of what the long, painfully extended last years of life have involved for many people I know, including my 93-year-old father, leaving the way Bill did, and at his age, feels like something he may have willingly embraced at some higher level.
A small thing to add: Yes, it’s so appropriate that his son Nate would have this experience during his first Saturn return, on so many levels. If Bill was 82-83, however, he would have been going through now his Uranus Return — which lasts between 82 and 85, and brings all those things that Uranus represents: often creative breakthroughs of various kinds, a quickening of the life impulse, new insights, and the potential for a deep liberation. Joseph Campbell had this, age 83, when he did the famous Moyers interviews, which brought his work so much more widely into the world, and then he passed away later that year. I feel Bill’s Uranus return may represent an even more appropriate archetypal process at work.
When Bill lived in LA he always remembered his time in Alaska and wanted to move out of the city. In 1970 he began travelling around looking for a place that felt like home and wandered into Big Sur where he lived first in a goat shed and first went to Esalen. He became interested in polarity therapy and trained with Randolph Stone and Pierre Pannetier. He told me that all of his learning was pretty direct and while he was on acid. Bill could take psychoactive substances in the most unlikely places and be totally relaxed. As Lila says life with Bill was very much an altered state experience.
Here is Brita a friend and colleague on Bill:
Bill Liles: Massage and Polarity Teacher, Esalen Institute, in Memorium
“The problem of healing involves the harmonious relationship
of man’s inner energies to those of the without.”
~Randolph Stone, osteopath, naturopath and chiropractor
“In the pioneering days of Esalen® Massage Instruction, Bill was a wild card. He had developed his own method of bodywork, gleaned from his background in Dr. Randolph Stone’s Polarity Therapy, his work with Nikki Swartz, and lots of practice in California and Hawaii. He was willing to take on injured clients and eager to link up their polarity points to unblock channels of energy flow, chi. It was all very clear to him. Initially he regarded Esalen® Massage as something frivolous.
For me as an Esalen massage teacher my task was to integrate this brisker style of work into the flowing touch of Esalen® Massage and its focus on awareness rather than therapy. We co-led many groups together. Massage was something new in the American culture, and we faced willing students who welcomed Bill’s style of healing and his focus on the energy body as much as the flesh and bones. When teaching a group in the baths, he would look up with a smile and wordlessly incorporate the sea and its horizon into his demonstration. Many of our students were inspired to develop their own practices based on one five-day workshop.
He invited new teachers to co-lead with him. I had something to learn from his teaching method. I liked to show new stuff. He liked to practice what they already had been shown and then incorporate one of two new things. You can guess which style was the most effective. When he described massage, he turned back into his days as a journalist and wrote simply with few exclamations, each word carefully chosen.
Bill always displayed his treasured Polarity books, as well as well-worn copies of other books on healing, such as the one by Evelyn Eaton. He devoured books and confided to me that at one point in his late childhood he had virtually lived in a library. He continued his very close relationship with libraries to the end of his days, as we all know.
Bill didn’t forget his friends. He greeted unexpected guests from years past with a smile and “well, look who’s here!” He will be missed.”
Brita Ostrom 2016
I first met Bill when I came to Esalen in June of 1983 for several workshops after caring for my stepfather who had transitioned the previous November. I had withdrawn from a doctorate program, signed up for a 4-year program at Victoria College of Art and was looking for some adventures beyond the confines of science. I heard about Esalen in the Dancing Wu-Li Masters, called and ordered a catalog and signed up for the workshops.
The first time I saw Bill was in the lodge kitchen when he had just returned from Death Valley where he and a group of friends were caring for Evelyn Eaton during her transition. Bill had studied with her in the native traditions of the sweat lodge and medicine wheel. The next time I saw him was at the baths. He was working on a client and the two of them appeared as one body. I was spellbound and thought that I would like to get to know him. He was living at that time in the parking lot in his Toyota Chinook. I had a massage from Bill and began to hang around the south lodge door and in the solarium at the most appropriate times to run into him…
We began to spend time together when I was a work scholar in the garden for a month in December and January of 83/84. After I returned home to Victoria he invited me to come to Esalen and I left art school behind. He introduced me to Ruth Albee who lived in Palo Colorado Canyon who was a fire lookout at Cone Peak and in the area. Ruth and I hiked and made pine needle baskets and Bill was very much a part of the Albee family. She was like his spiritual mama and he lived there in the 60’s helping her to keep her back-to-the-land renters under wraps.
When we lived in the cabin in Hot Springs Canyon, Bill worked and taught on the massage crew and I in the various departments at Esalen. Daily we went to the local beaches hauling monstrous rocks and other treasures back to the car, which much to Sydney’s annoyance were placed in the Esalen gardens. We also went to the desert and sat around fires watching Sirius rise and set on the night sky horizon. Indeed, our time together was definitely beyond the confines of science! On the way to the desert during one of the many journeys we stopped at a store and I noticed when we were inside that Bill’s collar was disheveled and straightened it for him. He said, “I am out of my cage now.”
After one Death Valley journey we went directly to Brooks Peninsula on the west coast of Vancouver Island spending 10 days under a tarp in April storms beside a giant Spruce that both of us could not wrap our arms around. Talk about polarities…Time under the tarp was interspersed with beach walks when the rains let up. We searched for Japanese glass fishing floats and other treasures that had been washed up by the Japanese Current. The fisher folk called Brooks the windy city. Hours under a tarp with an open fire, staring at the profile of the craggy windblown treetops where they met the beach impressed on us how the totem poles of the coastal First Nations had come into being. By the time we left we felt that we had been rebirthed or first born out of a clamshell, an Eagle’s feather, a Raven’s beak or the grandmother Spruce we slept under like the many legends of the west coast First Nations. Returning from that trip we stopped to visit a friend in Comox and made plans to sail to the Queen Charlotte Islands in July. The islands were being returned to the Haida as Haida Gwai.
In July we sailed from Comox to the northern tip of Vancouver Island stopping at the U’Mista Cultural Center at Alert Bay where we saw the Potlach Collection of the First Nations peoples that had been returned to them after the potlatch banning in 1921. We sailed overnight each taking a time at the helm and in the morning arrived to see the sea lions on the southern most tip and anchored at Hot Springs Island for a soak before sailing up the east coast of Moresby where all the villages were being restored to the Haida culture. During this voyage I saw my first Albatross and was sick for the first time ever out on the ocean.
We flew to Comox and Victoria and Bill returned to Esalen. The morning after he left I couldn’t drink my coffee and later in the day did a backward review of our journey north from Esalen. Willum had been conceived on the banks of the Feather River in Ishi territory enroute to the Charlottes. I made plans to go south to be with Bill at Esalen as a space mate and continued to work in the various departments.
We wanted some land to farm and in December we drove north to the Nass Valley where we had had a response to our Harrowsmith land ad. Bill insisted that we camp out sometimes driving through blizzards and December weather in northern British Columbia. It was due south of Alaska so this area was of great interest to him. We bought the land in the dead of winter clueless about the 5 species of biting bugs and blue clay there and turned south arriving at Esalen on Solstice of 84.
When Will’s birth was approaching I went to Ruth Albee’s in Palo Colorado Canyon and on April 8th at one thirty in the morning Bill caught all 10 lbs of him. Midwives Peggy and Robin arrived about 10 minutes later along with Jane Milletich and later Jaelitza came to help. A few days later Bill brought Ruffie, an Aussie pup home one day. My dog Sasha had been hit on the bridge above Esalen earlier that year.
A month or so later we drove to Victoria and readied our supplies and pulled a loaded trailer on to the inland-passage ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Then we made the final leg of the journey from Terrace on a 70-mile dirt road to the valley and put Willum, just over a month old on the one-room cabin floor with no electricity and no running water.
We came to know many of the neighbors including the valley’s original homesteaders who told us they had seen Sasquatch nests in the area. The country was truly skookum and ethereal with its long days and twilight hours. The garden plants grew overnight. Bill once drove to Hyder, Alaska and found a toque made by the natives on the side of a glacier that I still wear today. He hiked with Willum on his back and they saw moose and many of the other wildlife that inhabited the region.
We left for Victoria in the late summer then drove south to Esalen and returned again to the Nass cabin in December. We were on the boat on Winter Solstice of ‘85 at midnight docking at Bella Coola for everyone to disembark in that native village. It was heart warming to see the homecoming— dogs, people and music playing and the whole village on the wharf to meet their families on their arrival home from Vancouver. I remember an awkward moment in the passenger section changing Willum’s diaper and Bill commenting, “Laurel and Hardy have a baby.”
There was snow on the ground and the climate in the valley was a mix of coastal and inland weather. The night after we arrived it snowed and then rained leaving an icy coating an inch or so thick on the 18 inches already on the ground. We were down a hill on the other side of a bridge on the Grease Trail and needed to get the car out and on level ground to Nass Camp…definitely a feat.
Bill returned to Big Sur in the spring and I stayed on in Victoria. In May Gen Windsor, Willum, Ruffie and I took a lot of supplies and a rototiller north to the Nass and we got a start on the garden and an outdoor playpen for Willum.
After Gen left Ruffie treed a bear on the trail behind the cabin for the umpteenth time and I had discovered earlier in the day that a bear had snapped off the Landcruiser’s antennae while it was parked at the end of the driveway. With Willum still asleep in his playpen I loaded the 20-gauge single shot and the treed bear came out of the tree and hit the ground with a thud. The local Nishga came for the skin and meat. Soon after another even larger bear came a little too close for comfort so it was the same story all over again. When Bill heard about this he came along promptly from Esalen. By that time we had running water from a spring in the cabin, proper mosquito netting over the bed and the cabin had been mouse proofed. We came to know some neighbors who lived down the Grease Trail and Bill went fishing with them for Sockeye Salmon and brought 10lb fish up the driveway by the wheelbarrow full.
Sometime in July, still nursing Willum I realized that Nathan was coming to join our family and in late October we headed south for Victoria and Nate was born on December 1st 1986 while a new moon was setting over the Haro Straights. Thanks Nate for getting us out of the Nass Valley. We really didn’t need to be walking up to the unfinished barn in Grizzly tracks in blue clay.
We decided to put the Victoria property up for sale and a week later Bill and Willum returned to Esalen while I packed and closed the sale. Nate and I went to Esalen to see our family then north again to begin another land search in the Kootenays where we had looked on a previous occasion. My maternal ancestors had lived in the Nelson area and after reading the words from the I-Ching, “it furthers one to go across deep waters,” I took the ferry across Kootenay Lake with a local realtor and found a sweet little hobbit house next door to the Yasodhara Ashram. It was a bankruptcy sale and formerly owned by Gary Kurtz the producer of Star Wars and his wife. The Ashram was also interested in the property and had put an offer in on the last day when it was due to close. After contacting Gary to rent the property we decided that it would not have made a farm and made arrangements with the Ashram for an 18-month rent-free lease while we looked for some farmland.
We came to know many of the local people many of whom became friends and clients of Bill’s. Our dear friend Ojan Cromie couldn’t be here today and has this to say about Bill.
“I would like to say a heartfelt hello to everyone who is gathered together today to remember Bill. I wish I could be there with you.
At first when Barbara asked me if I would like to write about what Bill meant to me in my life, I was resistant. Later, when I started to think about what I might say, I felt a constriction in my chest and a catch in my throat. I realized my resistance came from not wanting to believe it was true, that he is gone and I won’t be able to see my friend again. So I am grateful for this opportunity to allow grief to start moving through.
I first met Bill when he moved to the Kootenay’s with Barbara and their two young sons. Nate was in diapers just beginning to learn how to walk and William so proud to be able to pee in a yogurt container. I was struck by the strength and independence of this unique little family unit and very quickly fell in love with the boys. I was able to stay connected over the years – after their move to Creston and the biodynamic farm and later when Bill found a home in Ripplewood.
When I close my eyes and feel Bill I see gentle, kind, brown eyes that hold my gaze steady and true. I feel grounded and rooted and totally accepted just as I am. I hear his measured tone and cadence – slow and easy– with a slight drawl, humor bubbling beneath. I sense his wisdom and big mind.
If we are lucky we meet mentors in our life that can show us how to live. We remember them and they are like beacons.
Bill was curious, always exploring, appreciating everything around him. He had a deep respect for the land, earth, and trees. He accepted people for who they were and was trustworthy, a gentleman, an Elder. He was not afraid of being alone.
I send my love to everyone there. What a great reason to be together. Remembering Bill.
During the time up the lake we looked at three properties and settled on a 32-acre hilltop in the Kootenay River Valley near Creston, B.C. where we moved to on May 1st of 1989 when the boys were still toddlers. It had been the dream of two architects, rented for 7 years. Bill said it was a money pit, which was true. It was also the perfect home for the boys to grow up and to establish Aurora Farm. With thanks to Bill for the farm’s name—Aurora. Bill continued to travel back and forth to Esalen and Moscow, Idaho and up the lake where he had clients.
It was a blessing and a joy to have Jamie Bill’s older son come to visit one summer. The boys and I were so happy to get to know their big brother from Los Angeles and a joy to meet Diana, Bill’s daughter and his grandson Brian who are here today.
Bill’s paternal ancestors were Cherokee and his great grandmother Lavender was a full blood. He also thought that there was some Blackfoot in his heritage and spoke a lot about all the indigenous peoples as we traveled through their former landscapes in California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia. He knew the history and I had many a detail filled in with my dearth of the real history of Turtle Isle; sometimes ongoing lectures for hours…the captive audience that I was in the passenger seat. I often thought that he would have been a great historian or history professor.
Bill was a perfect gentleman with the finest manners. When we met I most definitely felt that we were remembering, dreaming and traveling many former lifetimes where we had known one another as Native peoples on the land. He is a deeply sensitive soul with a sharp intellect and a quick wit. With his love of literature he always had a book beside him and he introduced Will and Nate to their first books, the weekly library visit and read them stories every night at bedtime. We would often listen to the Dick Estelle reader on NPR, Prairie Home Companion and we never missed the Paul Horn Consort on Winter Solstice from the Cathedral of John the Divine in NYC.
He sung to each of them as babes after they came off the breast and held them up to the starry heavens shortly after they were born. Bill often took one or both boys on journeys to Banff and into the wild landscapes in British Columbia. Any time any of us went somewhere with Bill it was an adventure through and through and each day with Bill was always nothing short of one too.
I remember the day that we started pulling rocks from the fields at the farm and exhausted I dragged myself to the house for lunch. Bill was already inside with the boys and took one look at me and said, “So you want to be a farmer, eh?” and then proceeded to massage my feet.
The time came when Bill and I parted company knowing that the karmic web we were beginning to weave neither served us, nor did it serve Wili and Nate. It was a sad day for everyone when he went down the drive. I was so glad that our home cow Bessie got out of her field and was about a mile away when I got to her having destroyed the neighbors’ corn patch. To be distracted during such a time and be tired out from chasing Bessie was definitely a blessing.
Bill and I continued to communicate either on the inner, in person, by phone and later by email. Like Vince whether we were near or far from each other we remained close in our hearts.
When I came through Big Sur in late February of this year and stayed overnight at Peggy and Dick’s, Peggy and I were reminiscing about George King and shared some tears about how we missed him. Little did we know that Bill would soon begin his journey home to Spirit.
I remember the last time I had a massage from George. After the session we sat on the lawn out in front of the lodge. As usual George was in joking mode this time about how when the various members of the massage crew died their skeletons would be demos for the massage workshops…No doubt George and Bill are together in spirit now maybe glad that they no longer have skeletons never mind bodies and perhaps saying, “Look Ma, look Pa…No hands, no body, no ego. It’s me your spiritual Sun (son)…I’m free now and I love you…”
I know that Bill is absolutely safe now in the arms of Divine Mother. I thank my guru Paramahansa Yogananda, all of the Great Ones and the spiritual Beings for guiding him home carried by love, showered in light and upward in Peace.
Last words to Leonard Cohen and his poem—For Annie
“With Bill gone whose eyes to compare to the morning sun.
Not that I did, But I do now that he is gone.”
May you Rest in Peace Bill. I love you.
And may we all, alive or in spirit together row Archangel Michael’s boat ashore.
Thank you. With thanks to Jackie Moore for the painting below.
Lost or Found in the Desert.