The Hobo Code (for Spiritual Pilgrims)

    —
June 24, 2013

Right behind the Sounds True office backyard, just a hop over tangled barbed wire, run these local railroad tracks:

AndrewY - 002 - The Hobo Code - image 1

The other day I was watching television’s most underrated exploration of the Jungian “shadow principle”—Mad Men—and it reminded me of these tracks. In the episode called “The Hobo Code,” we get a glimpse into the protagonist Don Draper’s childhood during the Great Depression. And we learn about a secret vocabulary that was chalked and carved on fence posts and telephone poles across America.

As it turns out, the hobo code was real. It varied from region to region and across the years. Countless souls used it to help each other find food and shelter and to avoid the perils of the day.

Here are some of those hobo signs (scraped from cyberspace) that still feel relevant to me, if only metaphorically:

ST Blog - AndrewY - 002 - The Hobo Code - image 2

I spotted one of my first “hobo marks” decades ago. It came as a crackling transmission of Roy Tuckman’s legendary Pacifica Radio show “Something’s Happening.” I was homeless, hopeless, and definitely “hobo” at the time, couchsurfing in a friend’s farmhouse in Carmel, California.

The clock radio clicked to 2:00am and, drifting in and out of the night static, was the voice of Alan Watts. He was chuckling at the folly of “trying to catch an ocean wave in a bucket.” Which is exactly what I was doing with my life at that time—trying to rack up achievements and experiences that would assure my permanent, foolproof success.

Um, yeah, right.

Alan’s “hobo mark” pointed me onto the boxcar of radical self-inquiry, though I didn’t realize it until years later. And ever since, I’ve shared his humor and wisdom whenever it’s felt right to.

In fact, I had the privilege of working with Alan Watts’ son, Mark, to hand-pick the sessions for the audio set Out of Your Mind. Alan’s “catching waves in a bucket” allegory is in there.

Is the spiritual path so different from those rolling train tracks? Maybe the markers we find on our own journey—a haiku by Ikkyu, a meaningful photograph, the advice of a friend—reflect the same pilgrim’s spirit that says “we’re all in this together brothers and sisters.”

If I ever go back to visit Victoria’s family farm, I think I’m gonna chalk this symbol on their fencepost:

image3_hobo_sign_watts_bucket

So, what was your first metaphorical “hobo sign” on your life’s journey?

 

Author Info Coming Soon

Also By Author

Six Summer Reads You Won’t Want to Miss!

After the stillness of winter and the slow waking of spring, summer is a time for getting up, getting out, and getting our hands on what inspires us the most. Here are some recent Sounds True releases for tapping into a life well lived.

1. The Biophilia Effect – Clemens G. Arvay 

Summer Super Sale - The Biophilia Effect

This is a book that celebrates our interconnection with nature and shows how to deeply engage the natural world wherever you live to dramatically improve your health. Clemens G. Arvay presents fascinating research, practical tools and activities,

inspiring stories, and more in this accessible guide to the remarkable benefits of being in nature.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-biophilia-effect.html

 

 

 

 

2. The Healing Code of Nature – Clemens G. Arvay

The Healing Code of Nature - Clemens G. Arvay

Human beings are inseparable from the natural world, coevolving with all of life. In order to thrive, we need to nourish this bond. In his latest book, biologist Clemens G. Arvay illuminates the miraculous ways that the human body interprets the living “code” of plants, animals, and our larger natural habitat for healing and sustenance.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/the-healing-code-of-nature.html

 

 

 

 

 

3. Book of Beasties – Sarah Seidelman

Summer Super Sale - Book of Beasties

From an ancient perspective, everything—including all natural things, like rocks, flowers, trees, insects, birds, and mammals

—is alive and infused with conscious energy or spirit,” writes Sarah Seidelmann. If you’re one of the many people looking to reconnect with the creativity, wisdom, and vital energy of the natural world, here is a fantastic guide for tapping into the power of animal totems, or “beasties.”

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/book-of-beasties.html

 

 

 

4. No Recipe – Edward Espe Brown

Summer Super Sale - No RecipeMaking your love manifest, transforming your spirit, good heart, and able hands into food is a great undertaking,” writes renowned chef and Zen priest Edward Espe Brown, “one that will nourish you in the doing, in the offering, and in the eating.” With No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, Brown beautifully blends expert cooking advice with thoughtful reflections on meaning, joy, and life itself.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/no-recipe.html

 

 

 

 

5. Yoga Friends – Mariam Gates & Rolf Gates 

Summer Super Sale - Yoga FriendsFrom the creators of Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga comes a beautifully illustrated city adventure that introduces children to the delights and benefits of partner yoga.

Perfect for teaming up with a friend, sibling, parent, or caregiver, each easy practice shows how cooperation helps us to imagine, move, and have fun in a whole new way.

Includes a back-page guide for parents and caregivers, showing how to do each pose and how to connect them into an easy-to-follow flow.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/yoga-friends.html

 

6. Happier Now – Nataly Kogan

Summer Super Sale - Happier Now

What if you could be happier, right now, without radically changing your life? As nationally recognized happiness expert Nataly Kogan teaches, happiness is not a nice feeling or a frivolous extra. It’s a critical, non-negotiable ingredient for living a fulfilling, meaningful, and healthy life—and it’s a skill that we can all learn and improve through practice. In Happier Now, Nataly shares an illuminating, inspiring, and science-based guide to help you build your happier skills and live with more joy, starting now.

Get it here: https://www.soundstrue.com/store/happier-now.html

 

 

 

 

 

Have other books you’ve read by the poolside or under a shade tree ended up changing the way you see the world? Tell us about those summer reads that ended up being more than you expected!

 

Singing Bowl Meditation Sounds True Spotify Playlist

Sounds True is on Spotify!

Need some tunes for rest and relaxation? Check out our Singing Bowl Meditation Playlist! A variety of artists who make a soothing mix of infinite rhythms using Tibetan singing bowls. Perfect throughout a meditative practice.

 

November New Releases and Giveaway

NOVEMBER NEW RELEASES

 

 

The Integrity Advantage by Kelly Kosow

Are you ready to open up to new levels of self-trust and self-love, to get where you want to go?

You vowed to speak up at work, and then sat silent in the meeting yet again.

You told yourself “this time the diet is going to stick,” only to watch the scale inching up.

You felt that something just wasn’t right about someone that—until you learned the hard way that your instincts were right.

“Every time you bite your tongue,” teaches Kelley Kosow, “you swallow your integrity.”

Before Kelley Kosow was a renowned life coach and CEO, she constantly second-guessed herself, let her “to-do” lists and others steer her dreams and passions, and played it “small and safe.”

Inspired by the groundbreaking principles of her renowned mentor Debbie Ford, who hand-picked Kelley to be her successor, The Integrity Advantage is Kelley’s step-by-step guide for facing the fear, shame, and false beliefs that cause us to lose our way.

Through life-changing insights, true stories, and proven strategies, this book will show you how to live on your own terms—according to you—from the inside out.

 

Daring to Rest by Karen Brody

As modern women, we’re taught that we can do it all, have it all, and be it all. While this freedom is beautiful, it’s also exhausting. Being a “worn-out woman” is now so common that we think feeling tired all the time is normal. According to Karen Brody, feeling this exhausted is not normal—and it’s holding us back. In Daring to Rest, Brody comes to the rescue with a 40-day program to help you reclaim rest and access your most powerful, authentic self through yoga nidra, a meditative practice that guides you into one of the deepest states of relaxation imaginable.

It’s time to lie down and begin the journey to waking up

 

 

 

 

Breathe and Be by Anna Emilia Laitinen and Kate Coombs

Teaching mindfulness helps kids learn to stay calm, regulate their emotions, and appreciate the world around them. With Breathe and Be, author Kate Coombs and illustrator Anna Emilia Laitinen team up to present a book of poetry and art for young readers to make mindfulness easy, natural, and beautiful. Here is a book sure to delight parents and kids alike, blending lovingly illustrated nature imagery with elegant verse about living with awareness and inner peace.

 

 

 

 

Leopard Warrior by John Lockley

A Teaching Memoir That Crosses the Barriers Between Worlds

A shaman is one who has learned to move between two worlds: our physical reality and the realm of spirits. For John Lockley, shamanic training also meant learning to cross the immense divide of race and culture in South Africa.

As a medic drafted into the South African military in 1990, John Lockley had a powerful dream. “Even though I am a white man of Irish and English descent, I knew in my bones that I had received my calling to become a sangoma, a traditional South African shaman,” John writes. “I felt blessed by the ancient spirit of Africa, and I knew that I had started on a journey filled with magic and danger.” His path took him from the hills of South Korea, where he trained as a student under Zen Master Su Bong, to the rural African landscape of the Eastern Cape and the world of the sangoma mystic healers, where he found his teacher in the medicine woman called MaMngwev

 

 

Things That Join the Sea and the Sky by Mark Nepo

A Reader for Navigating the Depths of Our Lives

The Universe holds us and tosses us about, only to hold us again. With Things That Join the Sea and the Sky, Mark Nepo brings us a compelling treasury of short prose reflections to turn to when struggling to keep our heads above water, and to breathe into all of our sorrows and joys.

Inspired by his own journal writing across 15 years, this book shares with us some of Mark’s most personal work. Many passages arise from accounts of his own life events—moments of “sinking and being lifted”—and the insights they yielded. Through these passages, we’re encouraged to navigate our own currents of sea and sky, and to discover something fundamental yet elusive: How, simply, to be here.

To be enjoyed in many ways—individually, by topic, or as an unfolding sequence—Things That Join the Sea and the Sky presents 145 contemplations gathered into 17 themes, each intended to illuminate specific situations.

 

 

                NOVEMBER GIVEAWAY

 

WIN OUR NEW RELEASE BUNDLE:The Integrity Advantage, Daring to Rest, Breathe and Be, Leopard Warrior, and Things That Join the Sea and the Sky

TO ENTER: Simply reply in the comments with why you’d like to win!

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Tami Simon

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  • Foster Brashear says:

    Great post, Andrew!

  • Caroline Hinkley says:

    Hi Andrew — this is wonderful…….such blogposts should become a book.

    • Andrew Young says:

      Thanks for the comment, Caroline. A real compliment from one of my favorite “intentional hobos” and photographers extraordinaire!

  • Michael Boxer says:

    Well Done. My symbol (which I cannot draw here) would be the “pride, protection and purity” of the infamous “Stick of Shame”.

    • Andrew Young says:

      Heh heh, nudge nudge, wink wink. For those unfamiliar with the Stick of Shame practice for travelers, it’s quite simple: When visiting a new town or city, find the ugliest and grubbiest branch available, turn it into a walking stick, and then carry it onto every bus and into every nice restaurant or coffee house you go to. It’s an urban taoist practice in humility, in the spirit of Chuang Tzu’s “Useless Yet Perfect Oak Tree” parable.

  • Vivienne says:

    Loved this post..am going to go home tonight and draw my hobo sign and make a whole creative journey with it.Cant post it cos the page doesn’t allow for it :-)Thank you..always good to know that you are not alone.

    • Andrew Young says:

      What a great idea, Vivienne—creating our own symbols and icons as a creative or spiritual practice. I drew the “You can’t catch a wave in a bucket” image without much thought but now I want to try making some more as an intentional exploration. Thanks for commenting!

  • Joe Ditta says:

    Great post AY, I’ll share this with all my railroad enthusiast friends. It’s interesting that you mention hobos in the context of the spiritual journey. It reminds me of something Jeff Foster wrote about when he describes what it is we’re seeking. I guess all of us seekers are hobos in our own right; that is, we’re “homeward bound,” hopping trains en route to the depot of freedom in the perfection of the moment. I’ll be on platform 9 3/4 in the meantime….

    • Andrew Young says:

      LOL, your Harry Potter & railroad geekward leanings are showing! Jeff Foster is for sure one of my favorite helpful spiritual travelers (who loves to remind us that there’s nowhere to go). Here’s a fantastic “hobo sign” that I recently found on his website:

      “Sometimes you will doubt what you are doing, and you may romanticise the old days when things were easier and more predictable, but then you will suddenly remember that the old way was false and never worked for you and that’s why everything had to change. Yes, it’s a risk to donate your life to what you love and what moves you and brings you joy, but having a comfortable and predictable life pales in comparison to feeling deeply, passionately alive and meeting each new day with fresh eyes and an open heart…”

      Jeff’s full essay here:
      http://www.lifewithoutacentre.com/read/essays-transcripts/be-passionately-alive/

  • Cierra says:

    I love the spiritual angle of this post, but am more fascinated by the historic angle. I grew up with stories of how my grandparents prepared a plate of warm food and brought it to the porch whenever a “tramp” (hobo) would knock on the door. My grandparents said they knew their house was marked in some way as friendly to hobos, but they never knew how or where. This answers part of those questions. Thank you!

    • Andrew Young says:

      That is SO cool. I wonder if somewhere near the house that your grandparents lived in, there’s still a little picture of a cat (“kind lady lives here”) or a top hat (“gentleman lives here”) scratched into a fencepost….

  • Mitchell Clute says:

    Love this post, Andrew. I didn’t know much about hoboes until I was living in Iowa City in the early 1990s. One day I met a man in overalls with a very large beard, selling his books of poetry in front of the natural foods store. He gave me a little card he’d had printed, which read: “Iowa Blackie for Hobo King.” Iowa Blackie has since passed away (or, as the hoboes say, he ‘caught the westbound’) but he did become Hobo King that year.

    Did you know that, every year for the last 112 years, the town of Britt, Iowa has hosted the national hobo convention, where hoboes choose their king and queen? Britt is also home to the Hobo Museum. This year, the Hobo convention is August 8-11, just in case anyone is looking for some excitement before the Wake Up Festival. The primary hobo website, strange as it sounds, is http://www.hobo.com/

    And here’s how hoboes distinguish themselves from bums: “A hobo wanders and works, a tramp wanders and dreams, and a bum neither wanders nor works.”

  • Steve says:

    I loved your post. That hobo episode touched me also.

  • Paige Plumlee says:

    Man, I love the hobo code! Fascinating stuff. I think my hobo code symbol would be something like a diamond or a cash symbol, meaning, “No intrinsic value.” I have to remind myself that money (and everything else) only has as much meaning as we give it. It’s easy to confuse wealth with success.

    • Andrew says:

      I totally agree. I think the four things I value the most are love, insight (spiritual and scientific), humor, and aesthetic beauty. I need to come up with some hobo signs for those and start chalk-marking places where people provide those gifts.

  • Deepesh Faucheux says:

    Sorry to be riding the caboose on this sweet train, but we were on vacation in that most beloved of hobo destinations, California (especially Santa Cruz), and I missed your posting. Great topic and all very well expressed, Andrew. Keep it up, and please do consider a book on the subject. I love the approach you are taking. And if you do, please let me tell you about the (nefarious) Rajneeshpuram social experiment, called “Share a Home” in which we rounded up and gave homes and food and clothes (and therapy and meditation) to several thousand hoboes and otherwise homeless ones. I was one of the “rounders” and keepers of the motley herd. Care to take a tour of all of the major skid rows in America? Although almost all of us Rajneeshie participants were idealistic and innocent, it turned out to be a ruse, a bad idea dreamed up by the Rajneeshpuram mayor to stack the voting polls in our county. Nevertheless, it was a rich experience for some of us. Lots of good hobo stories!

    • Andrew Young says:

      Ha, I would LOVE to hear the inside scoop on the Rajneesh “hobo project.” I’ve heard only second- or third-hand accounts, almost all certainly biased. If nothing else, perhaps the shelter and food helped out some of those folks when they needed it. Thanks for your comments, Deepesh.

  • Chris Gordon says:

    Always suspected the Kind Lady was a Cat.

    Just moved again. Found your boots. Apparently they wound up in a container. Good shape.

    Excellent seed for a grander project? Must be a larger contemporary vocabulary.

    Hope you are well. Best.

    • Andrew Young says:

      Meow, glad to hear from ya Chris! I was actually planning on doing a post on haiku that don’t suck (of which there are so so few). I shall email or call you momentarily. Cheers! – Andrew

      Other blog readers: Chris Gordon writes and publishes haiku of the kind that will leave you either bewildered or blindingly awake. He turned me on to the poet Ikyyu mentioned in this post. Here’s a blog that includes excerpts from the various haiku journals that he’s published or contributed to: http://antantantantant.wordpress.com

  • Jack Adams says:

    the story is fabulous. More amazing was that it is you, Andrew. So great to encounter you after all these years. A funny thing: about six months ago I came across your astrology. Yes, I had your chart. Anyway, I hope you are well and thriving. My very best to you, Jack

    • Andrew says:

      Great to hear from you, Mr. Adams! If there ever was a footloose explorer who fits the “spiritual hobo/wandering sadhu” archetype, well…I’m writing to him here. Word has it that you are currently bringing your keen sensibilities to the art of the vinyard, grape, and barrel. Could it be true??

  • Heather W. says:

    Thank you for this post, however belatedly I’m encountering it. I’ve always had an affinity for hobos, railroads and Steinbeck, and as a 45-y.o. mom, I’m currently considering a ‘kind-hearted lady lives here’ tattoo on my forearm, and your compilation shows the image truest to my mind. Even a kind heart sometimes needs a reminder to remain that way, and at the moment, this feels like the best method I can think of.

    Best,
    Heather W.
    Boulder, CO

  • Bornik says:

    Here in Finland so called “hobo signs” are extremely rare. Some of those (different carvings, of course) are found, usually some 150 years old.
    Knowing of friendly farms and people, were more like “mouth-to-mouth” knowledge among gypsies, wandering loggers etc.
    I must note that finnish gypsies differ a lot from many other gypsies; they allways dress them (both men and women) high quality, and they are very proud, in good way.
    Back in old days, for example my late grand father allways let them camp on his lands, and gypsies usually paid his kindness by taking care of his horses, sharpening every tools, and chopping some wood.

    Funny thing is that my grandpa has died decades ago, and i have accompanied with gypsies in southern Finland, some 800km from there, and their great aunties and old men have told stories, where there was a gentleman, who allways wellcomed “wanderers”! After a while talking with these old men and women; it was my grandfathers farm.. (they have had strickt rules, that this farm must be treated well, there lives “hortto kaaje”,, a “good white”. I have that name now, and im a good father to a young gypsy-boy.

    Of course, they have sworn, now that im in “family”, that if i have any kind of problem, they surely will help me. Was it lack of food, having an enemy or anything else, they stand for me and help. Of course i do the same for them, but since im a “old man” (43), i dont have to do so much. 😀

    • Andrew says:

      Hello, Bornik. Sorry for the very delayed reply—this blog does not notify me when people comment. In Los Angeles, California, I lived in an apartment above a gypsy family for a time. What you describe of Finnish gypsies is very true to my own experience of U.S. gypsy immigrants. The family I knew were very private at first, even “cold.” But after I befriended them, they were so generous with their time and treated me as one of their own. The father and son could fix anything—automobiles, heavy farming equipment, fences, bicycles, and so on. They were also FIERCE with the gang members and house thieves in our neighborhood—no “bad guys” ever dared to rob our apartment complex! Thank you so much for sharing your story. Best wishes, Andrew

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