Waking up isn’t for everyone, but for those who have gotten a taste of becoming fully conscious, it is the only game in town.
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.
— Oscar Wilde.
For most people, the process of becoming fully yourself unfolds very gradually throughout our lives, through lots of hard work. This is how it worked for me for 73 years. Then – at 3 a.m., on Monday, June 26 2019 – many things fell in place at once and I made a 100% commitment to reclaiming my integrity. I was given a gift – and poof! In that moment I became a new person.
Learning to walk the walk and claim the voice of this new person is in itself a gradual process – but I am being unerringly guided by Spirit, and in a very real way it has all become easy.
I have become, in the words of Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul), “unreasonably happy” – and nothing can seem to dent this happiness. I endure the shocks of human life: my checking account is suddenly overdrawn; the chronic pain, sometimes pretty rough, that has been with me for 30 years – and still hasn’t been diagnosed – is still there; a friend is in the midst of great pain and I go there with them (actually more acutely than ever before). But happiness always sits in the background and is the baseline to which I always return.
I have for thirty years been diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder (see my blog Bipolar Integrity). My energy still cycles powerfully up and down, but words like “bipolar”, “manic” or “depressed” no longer apply to me and I will not use them to describe myself. I am returning to the comfortingly descriptive, non-psychiatric words I have used for years: “expanded” and “contracted”. These I can live with.
which no one recognized or knew how to support or guide. This crisis, rather than being treated with reverence as the sacred process it was, was “treated” with psychotropic drugs that snowed me and kept this sacred process from ever resolving.
(I myself was trained as a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and worked in the field for 20 years; while I was in some ways an especially awake psychotherapist, all that psychology training finally made it harder for me to truly “wake up”. I have been very supported lately by the Asheville Center for Spiritual Emergence.)
For a while, I was confused by the fact that my waking up process does not look like that of some of my role models: I do not consistently come from a place that looks like peace and love like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. My “new person” has a sharp edge – more like Byron Katie or Fritz Perls, two of the big influences of my life. (And truly, even Thich Nhat Hanh – my teacher for four years – also has a ferocious side, as I saw revealed when the U.S was preparing to go to war in Iraq.)
I readily tell people truths – or reflect them back to themselves – in ways that they seem unready to hear. I can be ferocious at times, will raise my voice – will look and sound very angry (even if, in at least some of these situations, I actually feel completely peaceful inside). This “new person” sometimes shocks my friends, who have always thought of me as a “nice person”. When someone around me (even my customer in the grocery store checkout line) is being harmed or threatened, I can suddenly become “an avenging angel – a sword of truth”.
The political situation in our country – with Donald Trump and the forces of reaction, separation and hate – remains profoundly disturbing and I feel committed (required) to finding the right ways (as Spirit guides me) to be involved and try to make a difference, to take our country back. Thich Nhat Hanh was a pioneer of “engaged Buddhism” during the war in Vietnam – where he and his order of monks worked heroically to put that war to an end – and remains in this area of my mission a role model.
And I am more loving than ever before – love that has integrity and truth and often great gentleness.
Fifteen years ago, I wrote a book – as yet unpublished, but soon – called Radical Integrity: Reflective Stories for Reclaiming Your Self. There are some real gems in that book – I was already on the path, and some of those chapters will turn up here. There were times that I would show up with great integrity and even courage. But I had not yet undergone “the change” – I had not become integrity, I still basically had no clue who I really was.
Whether your process of claiming your integrity is very gradual or whether you, like me, have had – or soon do have – your own moment of “waking up” (and this moment is happening to more and more people), my wish is that the words and stories in the blog will give you encouragement, inspiration, maybe sometimes guidance, and maybe sometimes excitement.
For the last six months, I have been telling myself a story of “waking up”. On June 26th – after a very difficult year and finally just bottoming out and truly giving up hope for my life, something snapped: I saw clearly all the lack of integrity that had slipped into my life and made a 100% commitment to take it back.
Or actually I just saw a lot of the lack of integrity – as I clear up one area on non-integrity, the next one surfaces. It seems maybe never-ending, but each area of my life I put into integrity just makes me happier and stronger – makes my life better.
I have been non-stop happy for six months. Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul) defines “enlightenment” as “unreasonable happiness”. That’s been me for the last six months – happy without any reason for it, or even in the face of some problem (infected foot that put me in the hospital, an overdrawn checking account) that would usually have made me unhappy.
And, for my psychiatrist, that six months of being happy is all the proof she needs that I am “manic”. After all, I have been diagnosed as “bipolar” for 30 years. (I no longer agree with this diagnosis.) And – very gradually and in complete collaboration with her – I have for several months been weaning myself off the potent concoction of three psych drugs I had been taking. And she sure doesn’t get this business of “spiritual transformation” – to her, that is just more proof that I’ve been going off the deep end.
The only four times I have gotten sad or scared in the last six months have happened the day after she – or one home health worker who followed me when I left the hospital with my foot infection still active – have directly attacked my newfound spiritual and personal happiness. They have directly said to me that this all – all the wonderful things that have happened for me over the last six months – is all just “mania”. That I will wake up one day, probably soon, terribly depressed – and that depression will probably be long and terrible. And that being depressed now will confirm that I have been manic for the last six months – and that therefore none of my good experiences have any validity.
Is it already clear to you just how cruel and utterly wrong this stuff is? And these nasty messages worked! While, in the moment, I clearly and calmly pushed away these destructive ideas, they actually slipped into my unconscious. Thirty years of psychiatric hypnosis, in which I believed the idea that I had a “mental illness” – and that only the doctors’ drugs held any possible respite for me – went to work on me overnight.
By the morning, the undiagnosed “psychogenic” pain that greets every morning – and that for the last six months I have found no longer intimidating and have, with more or less effort, always pushed past – that morning loomed very oppressive and frightening. My whole story had changed and I was believing that I probably had really been “manic” – and that now I was “depressed”, and that basically everything had turned to shit.
In that state, I started to tell myself that these last six months were “just a story I had told myself”. It took me a few days to realize, “What is not a story we are telling ourselves?” Everybody has got a different story about the nature of God or the meaning of life. So much of our life is determined by whether we tell a story that we are a winner or a loser – or whether life is benevolent, on-our-side… or whether the deck is stacked hopelessly against us.
What about the psychiatric hypothesis is not a made-up story? None of them knows what “bipolar disorder” really is. It’s just a name/diagnosis they made up, so they could go ahead and try to treat it. “Mania” and “depression” are just medical names they made up for some behaviors that they still do not understand. The drugs they use to treat this “disorder” are totally trial-and-error – they just try one after another until one seems to help, and it never helps all that much. (One very benevolent psychiatrist, who I trusted a lot, said that usually the drugs never help more than about 5% – but “that’s still 5% less suffering!”
Yeah, but at what cost? They pretty much all have some pretty potent side-effects. When I told that same, very high-integrity psychiatrist who I saw for three years, that a friend of mine claimed that the reason I don’t cry any more is because of my meds, he agreed. “Probably that is actually the cause. These ‘mood stabilizing’ drugs tend to mute our emotional highs and lows – and to also somewhat muffle everything in between. You just need to decide whether the trade-offs are worth it to you.” And, lost in pain as I was – pain for which no one had a good explanation or a direction for how I could leave or transcend it – I chose to keep taking the terrible trade-off.
I have always greatly preferred the terms “expanded” and “contracted” to the pathology-based terms “manic” and “depressed”. They are purely descriptive – not pertaining to any “illness” – and for me they are very descriptive, they really capture what it is like for me.
I have always had very strong ups and downs. Everybody has them, but mine have always been – and probably will always be – kind of dramatic. In my “up”, expanded cycle, I am happy, creative, productive, emotional (full of powerful genuine human emotions), funny and loving. What’s not to love about that? But even one of my most beloved psychotherapists – a 30 year Buddhist with a very high consciousness and a loving nature, and who genuinely loved me – told me that, because I didn’t seem to need a lot of sleep in this state, it was therefore “disregulated” and no genuine friend to me.
When I am expanded, I don’t just fill the room – I fill the universe! I know that I am one with everything – that, in fact, I belong everywhere I go. I touch the divine. I am completely in touch with core spiritual truths, which meditators spend their whole lives trying to touch.
But then my energy turns down and all this wonderful and genuine spiritual awareness is cruelly snatched from me. Is there any surprise that I might feel bad? Lacking a shaman or other genuine spiritual teacher to explain all this to me – and to help provide me with tools to ride out this rollercoaster – I flounder, I become lost.
Living in a materialistic society, which does not understand or care about spiritual experiences, I don’t have anybody saying to me: “You are genuinely touching God – it is the real thing! Now let me teach you how to integrate that glimpse, to ground it…and to hold on to the truth of it when your energy turns down and all this connectedness is harder to grasp.”
That is my new story about my powerful energy swings – which I will never again refer to by pejorative, made-up names from the destructive psychiatric story. I am on a hero’s quest – not a mentally-ill, crippled, damaged life.
I will find people and resources like my Jubilee Spiritual Community, with its wonderful new minister who totally affirms that I am whole and complete – and whose music (“Amy Steinberg” – five albums on Pandora) helps to ground those ideas in a powerful, emotional, gut experience.
And given that I no longer think of myself and my life as sick, I am free to be very, very grateful. Thank you, God. Thank you, Life. Thank you, Majo.
(Since I first wrote most of this blog post, my energy has actually taken that dreaded “turn-down”. And you know what? Now that I know, in my guts, what it is – just lower energy, not “depression”, not “mental illness” – it is really not such a daunting foe. I have a harder time getting up in the morning – but I do it. I need more sleep overall, but I still manage to have fulfilling days. I am not sad or discouraged – partly because I know in my heart that all the wonderful things I experienced over the last six months were real and good – and awarenesses I can keep building on. “It’s all good.”)
Every Thursday – 6:30-8:00 p.m., optional 30 minutes before and after.
Trust that we won’t always just be having verbal conversations. Sometimes we will practice hugging or other kinds of touch that should not freak anybody out. Sometimes just with our eyes. Pretty much every week we will dance, i.e. move some part(s) of your body any way they want to move.
I’m Majo and I will be facilitating this weekly gathering. The story of how I got here is told in my “Waking up” blog. You will see there that the style of my “waking up” is not what we usually picture as “spiritual”.
The title of the book I am working on is Reclaiming the Body: Sex and Power in a New Age. These two areas – in which I have never in my life had any particular expertise – are now my turf. I have been assigned them by Spirit – to learn everything I possibly can about them, to explore the whole spectrum…and now to teach about them.
I think you will find the blog and these weekly community gatherings provocative, fresh, eye-opening and body-opening.
The gathering itself – 6:30-8 – is all you are required to attend. But I very enthusiastically encourage you to be here for the “optional” 30 minutes before and after – you may find that half-hour the most powerful, fun, educational, fulfilling part of the evening.
touch base, catch up – verbally/emotionally/socially settle in to the space
get used to and enjoy the beautiful penthouse room
savor the balconies and the 13th floor views of the city and the mountains to the west
6:30 – gathering starts right on time.
penthouse door is closed for five minutes or more
Below is one format for the gathering. Particular evenings may be very different than this. Maybe we will have a little workshop: do interpersonal experiments all evening. Maybe we will have a big dance party (no, not maybe – count on it).
Partner exercises – 15 minutes
physical and verbal connection to explore your inside environment while connecting with another.
Sensory awareness, “dynamic movement” and exploring movement around the room – 15 minutes.
Dance – 15 minutes
“Ecstatic dancing” – free form improv
do just that which your body wants to do – any kind of movement
no way to do it wrong.
Guided imagery – 10 minutes
Exploring the Trailhead, the Meadow, the Forest and the Garden
about whatever Spirit is wanting me to say
I thought about putting a topic out in advance, but actually
I am not going to have any advance topic or prepared notes
I will find out what I am going to say when I hear the words coming out of my mouth.
Q&A – dialogue – spiritual conversation
I’m hesitating to put time frames on the talk or the Q&A – it’s unpredictable.
the dialogue will usually be longer – or much longer – than the talk
I will always end the dialogue by 7:50, so you can leave by 8
7:55 – wrap up
tips for goodbyes
tips for hugs
8 – Gathering ends
8-8:30 – optional
Questions about what you have read here?
Put them in a Reply after this post
this is the best option for dialogue – others may have the same question you have
or discover that they have it when they hear you say it
Or contact me – see info below.
Gathering is offered on a love offering basis.
In the beautiful Roof Garden penthouse of the Battery Park Apartments
1 Battle Square, directly out the north entrance to the Grove Arcade parking on the street (no meter fees after 6 p.m.), Rankin and Wall St. lots
– if no parking spots in these places, don’t just keep crawling around looking. If you don’t have mobility issues, you can park behind the Visitor Center on Montford – a pleasant 10″ walk. Front door to the building is always locked. We will have a greeter just inside the door to let you in from 5:55-6:25. Before or after that time, you can try to act not-shifty and ask some resident to let you in. Often they will. But it’s easier to just get here on time.
Pancho and I are driving north on Kimberly Avenue, my favorite alternative route to North Asheville. (Let’s face it – Merrimon Avenue is a big pain in the ass, right?). Sitting in the driver’s seat, I am completely rocking out to our new Jubilee minister Amy Steinberg‘s Simplistic Logistics of Existence – which is a totally badass rock ‘n’ roll song .
I say to my little chihuahua, sitting quite contented – and almost always focused on me – “Well what do you think, Pancho? Caffeine high?”
Let’s review: after two days of no caffeine, I decide – when my water bottle turns up empty after lunch – to have a Coke from the Sonic drive-thru. Then, while we are waiting for our car to be repaired at Curtis Hi-Tech in East Asheville, we wander down to Filo coffee and pastry shop, where I have a 16-ounce coffee – and then the refill is 50 cents, so that’s a no-brainer.
So could this be a caffeine high? No question. (I have been pretty sick with a cold all day. This is such a blast! A little vacation from being sick.)
“Do you have any problem with this being a caffeine high, Pancho?”
1) Thank the past – all the great stuff that my unconscious was chewing on during the night.
“May you, dear unconscious, find just the right way to bring these goodies across into my waking life!”
2) Experience the present. Feel your body in the present moment. Notice what you notice: what parts of your body are asking for attention?
Do a round or two or three of the “Contraction- expansion practice”: tighten your whole body, hold your breath, feel the painful contraction – then exhale, release, let your whole body go soft and free.
Do 20 seconds or more of “Dynamic Movement” – let your body move as it wants to move: big breathing, yawning and stretching, waving your arms in the air, etc.
2a) (maybe just for me, though you may have a variation of this). Think, “I’m not afraid of you, life!”
For me, that means I don’t have to be afraid of the contracted band of pain that confronts me ever morning – and gets worse when I start to move and then especially when I get out of bed. “I know, pain” (which I am playing with calling “Fred”, which feels less intimidating) “that you are not bigger than me – that I can always push through you to the other side.”
3) welcome and look forward to the future: What’s something in your day (maybe as soon as you get going or get to the other side of the pain) that could be nice or pleasant or maybe even wonderful: some music to listen to or dancing to do (me with these-days Amy Steinberg’s music, almost every morning), someone you are going to see that day, some place you like to go, a task you want to accomplish.
It’s really pretty easy – and, once you have done it a few times, you can either choose to really enjoy the three steps and spend a few minutes making a very gradual and experiential transition from bed>the big world, sleep>consciousness, limitation>no limits – or you can quickly touch these three bases in a minute or less:
thank the past
experience the present
look forward to the future
Be grateful that you have this practice – and that now you know a great way to start your day!
Krista Tippett. hosts a weekly interview program on public radio called “On Being”, in which she hosts all kinds of spiritually or philosophically of psychologically “deep” people – people who the Asheville tribe who regularly listen to this show might describe as “very evolved souls”, or some shit like that. Ms. Tippett herself is obviously very “deep” or something like that – and has a very versatile, open mind, so that she is able to carry on intelligent, informed, interesting, provocative conversations with a very wide range of people.
If I were to host such an interview program today, I would definitely call it “On Being an Asshole” – and I would interview all kinds of just regular folks, who would share very interesting – maybe squeamishness-inducing – stories about times they behaved like a complete jerk, or worse yet, a schmuck. I would both identify and empathize with these people – and I would feel some relief and forgiveness for being a total asshole today. It’s really the first foray I have made into that territory since “waking up” five months ago.
The specifics of my assholiness today had to do with my dog Panchita aka Pancho. I totally adore her – I really love dogs, consider them a fabulous species, and have no doubt that she is the best dog in the whole world – except for your dog, of course. In fact, it seems to come with the territory of befriending your dog that you come to totally adore them. It really seems to me that if a person does not adore their dog – and vice-versa – that something is going very wrong, wrong with the person or the dog or their warped relationship.
But sometimes even a pretty good dog owner fucks up. I used to say of my parenting of my wonderful child Terry that I was really glad that no one could watch a videotape of every moment of my parenting – because there sure were some moments that I was not at all proud of.
I do pretty well with my little (20 pounds, way over her fighting weight) chihuahua Pancho – though she is mixed with something definitely bigger than a chihuahua. (It is a source of much speculation what that other dog breed might be – and I may someday break down and fork over the hundred bucks or whatever for a DNA test.)
I definitely do not do one of the ditziest things that the several really stupid dog owners in this building all seem to do: they walk their dogs right up to another dog, when the two dogs are already snarling and barking at each other. One of these women the other day – when I had just physically pushed her somewhat bigger dog away from my dog (she got outraged and said “Don’t you hit my dog!” – which I had obviously not done. I said to her, “I did not hit your dog – I pushed him rudely away from my dog, because you stupidly kept coming, even though I was yelling at you to keep your dog back.” To which she stupidly said, ‘Pancho and Arnold get along fine.” “Not today, they don’t!”
No, my jerkiness with my truly very sweet – but sometimes obstinate – dog today had to do with the even more classic example: she won’t come with you when you want her to, you lose your temper and drag the dog in the direction you want them to go. If little doggie brains and emotions are capable of feeling humiliated, I think this does that to them. It also definitely momentarily strains the bonds of trust and camaraderie that we develop so diligently over hours and days and weeks and months. Pancho is famous for her uber-deep eye contact – it was how she originally landed me, at the Rusty’s Rescue dog adoption day at the local Petsmart. But for the next half-hour (maybe a whole hour – it certainly felt that way), she did not make eye contact with me or me with her.
So what are the parameters of “waking up”? Is that one-time event supposed to suddenly make you perfect? It seems clear to me that it doesn’t prevent you from, in certain situations, behaving like an asshole. I guess someone might try to claim that this “bad behavior” rules out the possibility that you have become “enlightened”. (Are these two terms – “waking up” and “getting enlightened” – interchangeable? Do they point to the same thing? I don’t know the answer to this – I only know that “enlightened” feels lots more elegant and “high-consciousness” than I observe myself being. I like to say that I am walking the “low road to higher consciousness”.
There are all the ways I am so clearly dramatically better than I have ever experienced in my life since this did happen. This guy who has always been a little anxious is now one calm, cool customer – the opposite of manic so much of the time. I walk into a room slow, calm, clear, quiet – so present. My presence is palpable. It radiates from me that I’m a force to be reckoned with. When I do speak, it has a calm authority.
I no longer pursue people. I don’t ask women out on dates. When I did sign up for the Facebook dating site last night, on a lark, I loaded a bunch of pictures and didn’t bother to fill out the profile. “If they can’t get who I am from all those pictures – at least enough to decide if they want to initiate to me, then I’m not interested in them.” I know for sure that I will not shop the site or write anybody else. People seem to be coming towards me a lot these days.
At Earth Fare, during my breaks – or when I’m shopping for myself – I don’t pursue any of the many friends I see there. If they don’t see me, I don’t go after them. I don’t call people for lunch. At church or in other big social situations, I no longer “work the room”. I don’t run around connecting with my various friends – even people I am happy to see across the room. I stand in one spot and let people come to me – and they do.
I am in no way isolating myself: I do have lots of people coming to me. And I just don’t need a lot of interaction as I used to. I am essentially impervious to disapproval. I was thinking that exact thought as I walked from my car into work the other day. I didn’t specifically think, “Life, hit me with your best shot – send me a test.” But that is exactly what Life did. A woman who I have traditionally put on a pedestal – but also had a very warm and loving relationship with – came through my line and told me she was “sad” that I had been unkind to someone online. I said, “Wow, I feel really great about what I wrote. I think it was kinder than that person deserved to be called.” I did reel, just a bit, that this particular person was upset with me: was this really evidence that I had actually been way out of line?”
But it didn’t take more than a few moments for me to get to: “You know, she said she was ‘sad’ – but she wasn’t sad, she was disapproving.” It never had occurred to me that this very sweet, very high-consciousness woman could even have a disapproving side to her – duh! Not only does she, but I just got the brunt of it. So the whole thing reshuffled for me in a moment, and I knew that her upsetness was way more about her than about anything I had written. Life had sent me the test and I had passed. I do, in fact, seem to be impervious to criticism and disapproval.
Learning to walk the walk and find your voice is a gradual process – the Lord isn’t through with me yet.
I do sometimes call a spade a bloody fucking shovel. I am clearly experimenting with the whole range of my power/assertiveness/even aggression. I think aggression gets a bad rap. When one of the senior students in my old aikido martial arts school was roughing up the newer students, the sensei or teacher would ask that offender out into the middle of the mat to “demonstrate a technique” – and then proceed to both humiliate them and to put a definite physical hurt on them. They probably would be sore for a week. I call that aggression – he intentionally beat them up – and, in a martial arts setting, it was responsible aggression that was a teaching experience for both the offender and really everyone who was there.
I still do have one Achilles heel that clearly isn’t all healed yet. I have taken a huge step towards throwing off the label of mentally ill. But after 30 years of deeply believing that story, I still am vulnerable to it. Some of the mental health people – not all, not my therapist – are scared about my changes, my high energy, the speed with which I am sorting things out, healing from things, and walking away from destructive situations. While I’m telling people to not give me the BS that one has to be kind all the time, much of the time I am quite kind, warm, supportive – loving, really. But some people who are steeped in the mental illness model believe that you can’t be this clear, this productive, this non-stop happy for five months if you are in a normal state of mind. I must be manic.
Three times in the last five months – each of those instances immediately after some mental health person had gone out of their way to tell me that I am not actually in a really great, productive place – but that actually I am biochemically toxified and what I am calling “unreasonable happiness” is actually an upsurge in pathology.
In each of those situations, in the immediate situation I put up an absolutely clear Brene Brown-style boundary
and the perpetrator did not touch me – and I thought I walked away completely intact. But each time, by the next morning I had been totally undermined. In each case, I slept longer than I usually do – which allows the pain body to take over even more – and makes it very difficult and painful to get out of bed, insert myself back in the body, and get going.
But having stared in the eye the possibility that I might shrink away from life, shrink back under the covers, and genuinely get depressed – maybe for days – I have in each of those cases found the heart to push into the pain of moving around, going back into that body where the pain resides, and get moving.
One day I was able to do it by going directly to the shower – which tends for me, in that very warm stream, to be a place of solace and even a little pleasure and amazingly often a place of surging inspiration. I tend to take very long showers – what often finally drives me out is a thought like “I gotta go get all of these great thoughts written down. I immediately list them all in bullet-form in a recurring daily entry in my calendar that I have titled “From the world of Spirit” – which had until recently been titled simply “From the shower”.
I have always had especially strong energy cycles – more, I think, than most people. It was my tremendous misfortune, 30 years ago, that the really very kindly and mostly helpful male psychologist psychotherapist I was seeing – convinced me that the presence of these big swings was a sign of a biochemical condition that could be treated by psychotropic drugs.
And so I was delivered into the hands of the psychiatric establishment. They taught me to view these two states as symptoms of psychopathology and to give them the names of “mania” and “depression” – which in our society definitely refer to psychiatric conditions. Years later, I tried valiantly to push back against this brainwashing by substituting the purely descriptive terms “expansion” and “contraction” – which have no psychiatric loading. In many ways, this effort failed – because I never really got myself out from under the other toxic labels. These days – when I am ferociously committed to resisting those depressing psychiatric words – the terms expanded and contracted are still very useful to me.
Don’t call me “mentally ill”. Just call me an asshole – that won’t fuck me up for days.
Thank you so much for giving me “Confidence” yesterday – when I really needed it! (Must Be the Moon album on Pandora)
Two messages ago, I told you how that wonderful song helped me fight back from being capsized by an attack by a highly esteemed “light-chaser” friend. Well, it just seems that the clearer and stronger I get, the more challenging are the tests that life is sending me. And, thanks to my new musical friend – who gives me power amulets like “Shine” and “Confidence” – I’m getting through them in flying colors. I don’t know what my morning would have been like yesterday without being armed with “Confidence” – but that song was definitely the light saber that I used to fight off two very difficult attacks.
Just a few minutes after arriving at work yesterday for my 8-4 shift, I was in the staff break room putting on my team apron. The same music plays overhead in that room as in the bigger store, but you can hear it a lot better in that smaller space. And, just before I left that room, I realized that the song that was playing was your “Exactly”! I had never heard it before seeing you do it live on Friday night, but then had heard it on Pandora several times over the weekend – and had been dancing wildly to it just about three hours earlier!
I was so excited about this that I ran out to tell a cashier friend, Suzie, before the song finished.
“Suzie, Suzie, listen to this song! This is Amy Steinberg – our new minister who I saw at the Isis Friday night!”
Suzie: “I can’t hear anything.“
And it really was very hard to hear the music from where we were standing by the cash registers. I was able to follow it, because it was so in my head – and because I was just hearing it clearly back in the break room.
“Yeah, it’s Amy – this is her biggest song, ‘Exactly’. I knew that this song had made it big – but here it is, right here at work, when her music has totally dominated my weekend!”
Suddenly Suzie went from not hearing the music at all to being totally positive that what she was hearing was totally different from what I was hearing. “That’s Michael McDonald.”
“No! No! It’s Amy Steinberg – ‘Exactly’. I was dancing to that song three hours ago.”
Suzie, with more forcefulness: “No, that’s Michael McDonald.”
“No – it’s the same music out here as back in the break room, right? It’s hard to hear it clearly out here.” I ran 10 yards to stand directly under the speaker. “Yeah, yeah – it’s definitely Amy. I know this song really well.”
“There is no question that that is definitely Michael McDonald.”
“What?! Is there another speaker out here somewhere? The speaker I was just standing under is playing Amy Steinberg.”
It was so shocking and disturbing: it was the classic case of looking at the same white object and having the person next to you claim that it is black. And it was kind of horrifying that my friend, who had so little real information (a moment before she “couldn’t hear anything“) could become so arrogant and defensive and unwilling to consider any other way to perceive things. “What is making her do that?”
So not only had she very directly challenged and invalidated my reality – but she had taken my “miracle moment”, my thrill at hearing my beloved Amy on our Earth Fare stereo – right after coming back to work from a weekend that was so dominated by your music – and said that I was not having a miracle at all, that I wasn’t even hearing your song.
I gave up trying to reach her and quickly walked to the cafe to get coffee (free for staff). I was really supposed to be at my cash register by then, but there was no action yet at the Front End – and I needed to walk this off. And half-way to the cafe, I heard you singing, “People will try to tear you down…”
The miracle state that I had lived in all weekend – and which had followed me to work – was very directly challenged and even kind of attacked. Your song helped me to find my strength – and, yes, confidence.
Confidence by Amy Steinberg (from the album Must Be the Moon)
(To Amy Steinberg, our new Jubilee minister, 11/26)
I am going to make it. I have been dancing to your “Get up” and “Infinite Soul Superhero” for about a half-hour – crying intensely on and off. I’m stronger, looser – the pain no longer has me in its vice grip. I could dance much longer and I know it would help, but now I am being called to write. And the most powerful thing I can write is this: My “Gift” for the Jubilee Sunday services on 12/15
4 minutes – two minutes of talking (I have timed it) and two minutes of all of us dancing to “Get up” (not the whole song).
A Gift of Story: “Get up” by Majo (song by Amy Steinberg)
This last year has been very emotionally difficult for me – I was hospitalized on psych wards twice last Spring for coming very close to killing myself.
At 3 a.m. on Monday June 26, I “woke up”. I committed to living 100% from a place of integrity, telling all the truth and letting nobody mess with me.
The story of that Monday is here. The whole story is all through this blog. I have completely rejected the mental illness label and know that all along I was having a spiritual crisis – that the true self was trying to push through the conditioned social persona, the ego. I have reclaimed with a vengeance my personal power and the power of my sexuality – including thatI recently came out as bisexual.
I have been non-stop happy for six months and am totally impervious to disapproval from others. I am more loving than ever and simultaneously a total badass.
But the pull of the old psychiatric story that I have “bipolar disorder” – which I’ve been told will last forever and means I will have to take heavy-duty drugs forever – is still very strong. Four times in the last six months, some mental health professional has said to me some version of: “This happiness is really all mania, because we have been letting you reduce your meds. Any day now, you are going to get very depressed – and you will realize that all this ‘waking up’ stuff has been an illusion and you will be very humiliated. You need to increase your medication again immediately.”
In each case of being told this horrible shit – in the name of “helping” me – I have had the presence of mind to say some version of “You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I’m great. Everybody else knows I’m fine – my psychotherapist, my best friends, the counselor in my seniors building, my minister. You are trying to keep me believing a story that I very unfortunately fell into believing – because I was so desperate for relief from my pain – for 30 years. I have woken up from that story now. Reducing my meds has not made me manic – it has allowed me to be a full human being again. I’m going to continue to reduce them whether you help me with it or not.”
Pretty great – huh? Very exciting stuff. But in each of these four cases, their destructive hypnotic suggestions actually worked. Overnight the 30-year destructive story came out of my unconscious and took over again. I have been unable in the morning to push through the undiagnosed chronic pain that I have learned I can push past and get on with my day. Instead, I have retreated into the bed and said, “Come take me, depression. I knew you would come back for me. I’m yours.” I always eventually pushed through the pain, got going – and had a great day.
This last time was the hardest to get up. Finally I heard in my head Amy’s song “Get up”, to which I have been dancing non-stop lately. I yelled and grunted and cried my way into the living room and I danced – and I was back!
Today, I want to ask you all to dance this song with me. Hear the words of fighting back against the voices that say, “Who the hell are you? You can’t do that.” Look at each other and say, “I know you can do it.” or “I know I can do it”.
This is my big shot – this is what I need from my Jubilee peeps. Let’s dance.
On November 3rd, Amy Steinberg – our wonderful-dynamic-exciting-musically-rocking new Jubilee minister, who we all knew before we interviewed her was a prominent lesbian leader back in California – was speaking from the pulpit on a Sunday. I do think it was in a moment of happy, enthused spontaneity rather than from a prepared script, that she said “When I saw Richard Gere and Debra Winger in ‘An Officer and Gentleman’ – that was the moment that I knew I was bisexual.”
Three very exciting things happened for me at that moment:
I got very excited that such a breathtakingly open and honest and vulnerable thing had just gotten said from the Jubilee pulpit: “Wow! Pretty much anything could be fair game now.”
Jubilee is such a relatively open, welcoming and even celebrating place for gayness. But I knew that Amy’s naming of bisexuality would open even larger our freedom and maybe even conversation about sexual identity.
I thought, “I’m bisexual, too!”
I had actually known this for a long time. Back in my early 40’s – for the first time I could remember in my young life at that time – I had started having sexual thoughts about men. Usually real men I knew well and liked and admired a lot – mostly straight (as far as I knew), many of them married and (as far as I knew) monogamous with their wives.
I always felt completely accepting – and sometimes very hot – with these fantasies. I never, that I could ever remember – felt guilty or ashamed or like I was doing something that was in any way “wrong” by having these thoughts and feelings and fantasies. I think that my sexual education as an adult – and lots of liberation work for all manner of oppressed groups, including gays, had freed me a lot.
And my huge, 25-year commitment to Reevaluation Counseling peer co-counseling – a movement with a huge and consistent commitment to wedding your own personal liberation to the liberation of all oppressed people – had cleared me of a lot of my internal oppressive thought and feelings. Being in a five-year co-counseling men’s group in which three of the eight guys were gay had helped a lot. And taking Bill Firebaugh, such a sweet guy and so beloved in that group, up on his challenge to us straight guys to spend a night in his bed, cuddling but not being sexual. I was glad I had done it, even though I never got real comfortable with it – much as I really did love Bill.
I must at least have considered, back then, the idea of acting on these thoughts/feelings /fantasies about men out in the world – though I have no memory of this thought process. I do remember, however, deciding something like: “No, not in this lifetime. The world is still too hard a place for gay people. And I, who am kind of constantly just barely afloat with all my feelings and childhood trauma and intense ups and downs and life chaos, don’t need one more challenging and confusing thing in my life. I will love and bless my gay friends, continue to work for social and sexual justice – but not go quite to the front lines on this issue, this time around.’
I think that it must be a better time in the world now for coming out than it was when many of you found the courage and integrity to do it – however many years ago. When, in my early 20’s, I heard Holly Near – in a live concert in Rochester, NY – sing “Imagine My Surprise”, about her process of discovering that she was in love with a woman, I cried copious tears for the beauty and dignity and liberation of her story. But it never once occurred to me, back then, that any of that story might someday have any personal relevance for my life.
I guess you, my gay friends, will have to tell me to what extent this post-Obama, highly toxic Trump America (or maybe even wider-world) is still feeling like a safer place for being gay than it used to be. Certainly my little Asheville-Jubilee bubble feels to me like a place where my newly-claimed gayness will be mostly welcomed. Again, I’m sure you know more than I about the overt, subtle or even unconscious homophobia that remains in Asheville and certainly in Buncombe County. Maybe I will start to freak out the next time I notice (or imagine) that someone is avoiding me, not making eye contact with me, not touching me as freely, etc.
I don’t know to what extent, identifying myself as bisexual, people will also apply the concept and term of “gay” to me. It certainly feels to me that I am “coming out” as “gay”. I am openly acknowledging that I do now have – and have had for a long time – sexual fantasies about both gay and “straight” men. I am publicly announcing that I am open to sexual contact with men. (Don’t all line up at once, guys.) This part of actually potentially acting on these thoughts/feelings/fantasies is going to be brand new to me.
I have never in my life – that I consciously remember, there’s a lot in my college years that I don’t remember – had any overtly sexual contact with men. The really pretty funny guys in my fraternity – while also some of them were still overtly racist and homophobic – used to have fun singing, to the tune of Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night”, “Fraters in the nude, exchanging glances – fraters in the nude, taking chances, we’d be sharing love before the night is through.” It was all in play, there was not an “out” gay guy in our fraternity, and probably one would never have been accepted, even to start pledging. But still, in its own way, singing that song did feel like a softening of the overall homophobic attitudes of our society in the 60’s – not the knee jerk anger at the idea of even thinking about that world.
I so far feel mostly enthused and excited about this new identity (“thank you, Amy”). I am aware of no guilt or shame. I no longer carry – at age 73 and so far removed from my childhood Catholic roots – any notion that this could be in any way “sinful”.
My 44-year-old son Terry may go through some changes about my new – and public – identity. I don’t know if he has any gay friends. He is really solid in his own straight identity, has a fabulous relationship with his wife and gorgeous young kids he dotes on. He has, over many years, gotten progressively more relaxed with all the ways his dad is eccentric and even odd.
When he was in his late teens, I arrived at his house in Louisville, KY from my then-home in Cincinnati Ohio – only 100 miles from him, rather than the 300 from Chicago. Although I did find a “good” job in my field of organization development before moving to Cincinnati from Chicago (it didn’t turn out to be such a great job), giving Terry more access to me in his crucial teen years was the real reason for the move.
I had come to Louisville the night before, directly from a Halloween costume contra dance – for which my really good friend Shirley had had a blast “dressing me” in one of her really cute sundresses. I arrived at Terry’s house looking normal, but for some reason felt inspired to show him my costume. When I came out of the bathroom in my dress, he did say, “I don’t really need to see this” – though he never actually seemed upset by it.
I wore that dress a few more times for special occasions, including when I was performing – at Alecia’s 40th birthday party – a skit I had written about two of the couples at the party, in which the two husbands played themselves and I played both wives, switching back and forth between a blonde and a brunette wig.
That was an absolute gas – and I always felt free and happy wearing that low-cut (with two rolled-up sweat socks pinned inside the chest) and short-skirt dress (I never did shave my legs to wear it). Somehow that dress got lost somewhere and I have not yet gotten around to wearing the slinky little black number that I bought on consignment at Plato’s Closet and is still hanging in my closet. I do know exactly where it is.
At that original Halloween costume contra dance that unleashed all this energy, three other “straight” guys came dressed in drag, but each had left on himself prominent facial hair and danced the man’s role in the dances all night. I shaved off my mustache and danced the women’s role all night. It was big fun to be spun into the arms of my next male partner, looking them flirtatiously in the eye and saying “Hey, big boy.” (Their reactions to being presented with this package were often pretty funny – and all over the waterfront.)
A very sweet guy at one point took me aside and taught me how to really release myself into being spun, which was very thrilling. A really nice young woman said to me early in the evening, “Honey, you need some lipstick” – and promptly took me into the lady’s room to apply it. That made me feel more complete and like I had really arrived. Over the next several days, I told several male and female friends that dressing and dancing like a woman had released me from some of my stuck “competent” and “strong” male conditioning – and that I had felt really free and had a lot of fun. I haven’t ever that I can remember – in the here and now – allowed myself to have immediate sexual feelings for a man. It’s all been afterwards, in fantasy.
So, by posting this I may have just in some ways complicated my life. Even in 2019 – but in the crazy, angry, oppressive Trump America – I may have opened myself up to some disapproval and prejudice, I guess maybe even some danger. But my life – over so much of it, but especially the last five months (see my exciting and very risky new blog “Waking up”) – has been strongly characterized by more and more self-love and freedom. I less and less give a shit about what anybody else thinks of me. But, even with all that liberation and truth-telling over the course of my adult life, I have just taken a huge step towards my own integrity and freedom. I feel happy. I imagine that some (or many) of you – maybe including my son – are just shaking your heads and thinking, “Finally! I knew this about him a long time ago.” Yes, I obviously have been a fucking slow learner. But oh, well – even at 73, better even very late than never.
And, friends – after all is said and done – please remember that now nobody is safe!
Today Cathryn Davis, amazing and charismatic long-distance Jubilee Minister of Movement, gave a fabulous guest sermon and told us how, at their social justice actions in Charleston, they all have kazoos – and when they are being heckled from the side with someone who is preaching against abortion or of the elegant beauty of MAGAmind – or some shit like that – they just surround the “person” (I will pace my profanity) with kazoos and drown them right out with a happy noise.
She gave us all kazoos and encouraged to right-away affix them to our keychains, so we are ready.
I wrote this that afternoon and immediately put it on the Jubilee Facebook page. (Yes, I did.) The first paragraph above captures some of what Cathryn was telling us. The following paragraph is pure Majo. I really wish that some of my kindness-Nazi light-chaser friends would see it, if only to really pull their chain.
“I’ve got my kazoo firmly attached to my keyring and am totally ready now for that asshole in the Meat Department at work. I was proud of myself yesterday for not just totally losing my shit on him – which I wanted to do so badly I could taste it – and just going toe-to-toe with him, looking him in the eye and saying “I’m not going to say anything to you!” But next time I will totally hit him with the kazoo. That will bamboozle the motherfucker.”