Spiritual Enchantment

As you drive north on the boulevard, the road winds and climbs and carries you to a special place. Not unlike an oasis in the desert or a diamond in a coal mine, this place is both a lifeline and a treasure. Shaded by the oaks and maples, the address is 855 Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard. Sure, it sounds ordinary enough---heck, it even looks ordinary. But testimonials swear that this particular place is nothing less than extraordinary; some even call it magical. And just what, or shall we say who, is the secret behind the magic? The answer is simple---he's Bobby Ray. To try to label him is to attempt to harness the wind---he's a "retired" fisherman, recovering alcoholic, cancer survivor, gardener and an absolute paradox.

Ray was born in Kentucky of American Indian ancestry but kept it quiet while he was growing up, which was often the case in those days. "It just wasn't cool to be Indian back then, but now it's okay," says Bobby Ray. "I have Cherokee on both sides of my family, and I practice Indian spirituality. But I'm actually coyote [which he pronounces cay-o-tay]---a mixed breed." Then he jokes, "I got a beefalo skull instead of a buffalo skull." His monotonic voice and tranquil nature is spiked with a racy and sometimes dry sense of humor that disguises the profound message in his words.

Bobby Ray spent a large part of his adult life as a boat captain and fisherman. "I fished the waters from Newfoundland to Venezuela," he says. With some gentle persuasion it is revealed that he was, in fact, a gifted fisherman who caught "the big ones that got away" from other anglers. He was, therefore, sought after as a fishing guide by clients from all over the world.

Unfortunately, along with the fishing lifestyle came a drinking lifestyle that would eventually become catastrophic. "I was just getting too drunk to run the boat, and the guy who owned it didn't want to fire me, so he sold the boat," says Ray. "After that I freelanced a while before I finally bottomed out. You see, alcoholism takes it course and you end up either dying or going into recovery. Fortunately, I went into recovery---most people never make it there."

Today, 12 years later, a rehabilitated Bobby Ray is strong in his recovery process, and one of his many missions is reaching out to others who suffer from this disease. "On Monday nights at 8 o'clock, we have a 12-step meeting designed to help those who are on a path of recovery from alcoholism," says Ray. "Aspects of the recovery process include rebuilding your self-esteem after bottoming out, not beating yourself up over the mistakes you made, and finding a support system."

But there's more. "This meeting has evolved into a very spiritual 10th and 11th step gathering where we focus on meditation," Ray explains. "Meditation is about silencing the committee that's going off in your head and not worrying about what you did yesterday or what needs to be done tomorrow. It's about being in the moment and aligning yourself with your higher power. If you can do that, you can beat any addiction." And, according to Bobby Ray, "An addiction is simply anything that makes your life unmanageable."

Another dimension of Bobby Ray's outreach is to cancer patients and survivors, of which he is the latter. "I was diagnosed with lung cancer back in '98 and had a lung removed," Ray says. "But thanks to meditation and the singing bowls it didn't spread, so I didn't have to go through chemo." The singing bowls ceremony Bobby Ray speaks about is a form of sound therapy and is used in many countries throughout the world to treat everything from stress to Alzheimer's as well as cancer.

"We ring these bowls every Thursday night at 8 o'clock, and people seem to get well," says Ray. "For some, 'well' is the cancer completely disappearing from medical x-rays; for others it's about coming here desperate and leaving with hope. And then there are those who are terminal, but they seem to attain peace and acceptance in facing death." Interestingly, Nostradamus made a prediction that by 1998, we would heal cancer with pure sound.

These individuals with cancer are also working closely with their doctors, and Ray doesn't claim magic. What he does say is that these bowls are a form of meditation, and meditation reduces stress. And just what does stress have to do with cancer? According to Bobby Ray, "The same immune system that fights stress fights everything else, too. If you have your body worried about the trivial, it can't take care of what ails you. If you can get stress free, you can heal---I can't prove it, but I'd swear by it," says Ray. He also facilitates a bowl ceremony on Sundays at 4 o'clock that's open to everyone.

Bobby Ray, the gardener, grows the fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers for Café Bretton. He has transformed what was once a parking lot layered with gravel, clay and exhaust residue into a breathtaking garden of abundance, and he's done it the organic way. "You don't need to use chemicals to grow plants. There's a softer, easier way called companion planting. I knew my grandfather planted this way, and I knew that there was a lot of research on the subject so I read every book I could find about it."

He shares one of his many tips: "In order to grow a garden for the two-leggeds [that's us], you have to hide it from the critters. The way you do that is to disguise a plant you don't want the critters to have by planting a stronger smelling plant next to it. If they can't smell it, they can't find it." He continues, "Then you plant something you want them to have somewhere else. It's called a trap crop and is devoted to giving the critters what they want and getting along with nature rather than fighting it. That's why this garden may produce a little better than some---'cause I'm not in charge. I allow nature to police itself. As my Indian ancestors would say, it's in harmony."

So, in what way is Bobby Ray a paradox? Well, let's just say that his reach goes far beyond the labels he has been assigned, and within his seemingly simple words on addiction, regeneration, and gardening is a depth and universal truth that is applicable to any aspect of life. Furthermore, his essence emits an intangible energy, much like a summer breeze. You can't hold it, nor can you see it, but you can feel it and witness the effects it has on everything it touches. Perhaps that's the magic.

As for the humble Bobby Ray, he doesn't accept credit for any of it. He simply smiles and says, "All I know is that I don't understand all it is that I know about it." Then he disappears into his salubrious garden somewhere between the herbs, the corn and the sunflowers.

Photo credit: Nancy Fohrell

Cindy Edwards enjoys the adventures of life and writing about it. She is an avid reader, traveler and yoga practitioner who resides in Annapolis with her husband and her dog.


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