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Overview of this blog

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. 

I have become convinced that I was always misdiagnosed, that I was actually having a “spiritual emergency” (Stanislav Grof, in his book The Stormy Search for Self.)

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Stanislav Grof

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.

220px-Thich_Nhat_Hanh_in_Vietnam
“Thay” (“Teacher”) with some of his students

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 more information about what led up to my breakthrough and what followed it, you can read the Page “Waking up: a tale of depression, integrity, assertiveness and good boundaries”.

Become a part of this community of waking up. Subscribe to the blog. Add your voice in the Comments section after each blog post. Write me. I want to be here for you.

Kazoos and bamboozlement

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.

“Cathryn –

“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.”

“Grounding like a lily pad…”

A couple of months ago, earlier in my process of getting used to being a mystic, I took some real satisfaction from trying to reassure people that I wasn’t manic by telling them how I was employing an ancient Tibetan meditation technique – which in Tibet they call “Grounding like a motherfucker.

I would proceed to describe how often I consciously plant and feel my feet on the ground, how when a customer going through my grocery line seems to not get my sense of humor or to not be in any way charmed by my little verbal patter – instead of getting my feelings hurt or irritated or judgmental with them, I instead thank them inside.  In much the same way that the great Vietnamese Buddhist Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh encourages people to thank a red traffic light for grounding us, for stopping our forward momentum and giving us a chance to breathe and drop back into oneness, beingness – in a similar way this customer is giving me a chance to slow down, breathe and not do anything but swipe groceries.  Chop Wood, Carry Water is a classic American Buddhist book.  Do one thing at a time.  Carry your tea with both hands, so you don’t try to do something else with the other hand.  “Thank you, Ms. Customer, for ignoring me – you just really helped me to, for a moment, stop ‘performing’ and come back to myself.”

My one real problem with GLMF (“Grounding like a motherfucker”) these days is not the “bad language” – although a couple of really sharp and non-moralistic women friends have said that “fatherfucker” would be less oppressive.  When just one of them had expressed her discomfort with the MF word – the initials are a genuine and widely-used alternative to the whole word – I honestly thought she maybe just was having a personal issue and sweetly told her how much I love that word.

I also sent her a blog post story that I think elegantly and even classically uses the word.

I also sent my lovely woman friend a link to this poster which tickles me a lot:
middle name

Actually, though, the next day still one more solid, non-oppressive woman friend – of the 18 friends to whom I had circulated a promotional piece I had written, looking for their feedback – got back to me with her concerns about my sentence that went “I am writing like a motherfucker.”  This sentence had seemed fine to me, in the context of a kind of work where I am encouraging people to not give a shit what other people think.  But, when this friend also encouraged me not to use the word, I decided not to.  “Who knows? Maybe the promo piece really is stronger for leaving it out.  But I know for sure that I want to show my two lovely friends that I value and am grateful for their input.  ‘Leave it out!'”

No my real problem with GLMF is that it makes it sound like I am doing it.  And, in fact, reassuring my friends, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, etc. that I was “working hard on staying grounded” was exactly what – at that stage in my evolution as a beginning mystic – I thought I needed to do.

These days I am much more likely to say something that perhaps does not reassure my psychiatric listener.  But I really do think that – except for my real good friend Tom Kilby, who I think found the GLMF formula mostly entertaining – that phrase was just a little too jocular to really reassure most people that I was appropriately serious about all this.

I pretty much across-the-board, with only a couple exceptions over the last five months, am no longer ever afraid.  One of the exceptions was when I was in the hospital, kind of delirious from a serious foot infection.  Up to that point, no antibiotic was seeming strong enough to get my infection under control.  In the middle of the night I started to think “I could die from this.  I’ve seen people die or almost die from out-of-control infections.” 

But, remembering that night now, it doesn’t seem like I was genuinely afraid even then.  My experience, as best as I can remember it, was more like, “Wow! I could possibly die from this.  This is potentially serious.  This is like a big deal. I need to pay close attention to this – and think carefully about what I want to say about it to different people.”10516757-a-lily-pad-floating-in-a-pond-

I decided to put my laptop away and – now that I had some concerns about maybe dying – to not respond to any more Facebook messages.  “Let’s not scare anybody unnecessarily – this may look all different in the light of day.” 

But a lot of my emotional health coaching told me that I should not keep this to myself – that I needed to confide it to somebody.  “I know!  Even though I don’t know if Tom keeps his phone ringer on at night – and even though it’s 2 a.m. – let’s text him and dump all of this on him.”  I had lived with Tom for three years and never saw him get hysterical about anything.  I thought “He can handle it.”  I think I even told him in the text that I was maybe delirious from my infection.

tom and Joy
Tom and Joy

I think that, when I talked with him the next day, I discovered that he had actually been woken by the beep of the text message and had read it at two in the morning – but had not gotten hysterical or anything.  I think he thought, “If Majo dies, I don’t need to know about it until tomorrow” – or something like that.  And, in fact in the light of day the next day, the concern about death evaporated.

At the end of last week, I was talking to the supervisor of the home health worker they assigned to me when I was discharged from the hospital over my foot infection – which still was not completely under control.  This supervisor was expressing her concern that, since I was reducing my bipolar medication (specifically, right now, Lithium – the “king of the mood stabilizers”), the “unreasonable happiness” (Michael Singer’s definition of enlightenment) I had been experiencing for several months was really mania.

I told her that I was reducing the meds only in consultation with my psychiatrist who knows me very well – and was doing it very gradually.  “My ‘waking up’ experience actually happened two months before I started to reduce my meds.  I have now been at that process of reducing the meds for three months – and am now off of two of my three drugs.  And, at the pace my shrink and I have set, I won’t be off of that last med, Lamictal, for another four months.”

Ellen told me she was very reassured that I was being “careful” about all this.  Out of integrity – which, with truth-telling, is so big for me these days – I told her, “Well, let me make you a little less comfortable.  Even a couple of weeks ago, I thought the issue for me was to strike a balance between ‘let ‘er rip’ at one end of the continuum and ‘leave it out’ – grounding – at the other end of the continuum.  

I said to her, “But I have reevaluated all of that.  The thing I want to do more than anything else (and have actually been doing like a motherfucker) is to surrender to Spirit.  The nature of surrender is that you either do it or you don’t.  You don’t surrender to Spirit 90% and then save the other 10% for reassuring people you aren’t out of control.  You – your ego – really are out of control!  That’s the beauty of all of this.  So my job is to let go, “let ‘er rip”, surrender.  Then, when I do that, Spirit – in addition to big-time supporting my new freedom and release and integrity-expressing improvisational interactions – automatically sends me cues to gear down when that is actually the more useful thing to do.”  feet on the ground

My experience is that, if I do my work of surrendering to Spirit, Spirit then very naturally grounds me when I need to be more grounded.  This often happens because of my deeply developed faculty of empathy.  As soon as I see a friend worried, scared, hurting or even especially serious, my inner pilot says “Something serious is maybe going on here.  We are going to drop the hilarity, the high energy, get serious and grounded – and see what is going on.”

The other primary source of grounding for me is my commitment, when I am overstimulated, to “leave it out”.  When a customer is not into engaging with me, I thank them inside.  This gives me a chance to plant my feet, breathe deeply, let go of the “Majo show” and just be.

When I walk through the store during my relatively short breaks, if I see a friend in the store (which happens many, many times a day) – no matter how much I like/love them and may wish to engage with them – if they don’t see me I ‘leave it out’ and keep going.  I again feel my feet on the floor, take a breath and think something like “You are so overstimulated from being constantly ‘on’ at the cash register.  If you don’t need to engage with this person, leave it out.  Keep going, get quiet, come back to Spirit.”

Some words are just so motherfucking beautiful!

It is just plain impossible to miss the linguistic expressiveness and versatility and value of the word “motherfucker” if you are at all in touch with the street language of black America.  The tragedy is that most of us white people really have become that separated from our black brothers and sisters – really do not know popular black culture, except for what we (might, if we choose) get from movies or rap music.

My apologies to my two beautiful white sisters who recently expressed their discomfort with me saying “I’m writing like a motherfucker” in my draft of a promotional piece for my blog.  I genuinely wanted to honor your worth as people and value to me a friend and gladly took that sentence out of my promo.  I thought the use of that expression would help to “weed out” the people who really will just not take to this blog, but maybe that promo piece is really more useful without it – I dunno.

(I did, ironically, substitute for that rougher sentence the more vanilla sentence “I am writing like crazy” – which I realized today is maybe not what I want to say when I am attempting to throw off the oppression of “mentally ill” labeling.  A couple of mental health folks are still maintaining that my current extraordinary creative output is probably a sign of “mania”, that I certainly could not have had a genuine “waking up” experience – which maybe is by definition psychotic – and that actually my bipolar disorder is probably really stronger than ever.)

With all due respect to any of my friends who hate it when I (so often these days) use the word motherfucker, being so uptight about that objectively wonderful word is really just so fucking white. canary

So much to learn from each other!

I wrote this last night to Amy Steinberg, new Jubilee minister and rock-funk goddess.  Then I realized I wanted to share it with more of y’all.

Amy escited laughing - wild hair
Amy Steinberg

 

I was walking through the Earth Fare cafe the other day, talking with a customer friend, when she said, “I think I have a lot to learn from you.” I didn’t miss a beat – it just popped out of my mouth so natural, totally without thinking or planning, “Everybody does.”

I stood back, a little shocked at myself (and yet really not). “What is happening to you?” But I really think it’s happening to all of us, some of us more consciously. We all have so much to learn from each other. I want to learn from you Amy – and from Elizabeth Likis

Elizabeth L
Elizabeth Likis: on your right, she is so not about herself – all of her Facebook pictures are with someone else.

and Amanda Levesque

amanda l
Amanda Levesque

and Brian Claflin Brian Cand everybody.

I want to learn from me. I want to learn from that inner voice, whispering things to me that I maybe never have quite thought out loud – but when they come out they look really familiar, like some part of me knew them all along.

I want to come home. I want to come home on Haywood St., jamming to “Infinite Soul Superhero” by Amy. I want to come home more every Sunday. I want all of you to be there when I come home.

I’m an “Infinite Soul Superhero”!

Sometimes I have little imaginary conversations in my head, for no reason that I quite understand.  This afternoon, as I was dancing down Haywood St. downtown, I pictured my good buddy Steve Swearingen asking me at church tomorrow how I’m doing.  In this little imaginary conversation, I say to him, “I’m living in a state of infinite bliss.”  Why be shy about it?  Why lie to him?  Holding it under a bushel will muffle the brightness of it even for me.  If Steve or anybody has been reading this blog, my secret is pretty well out by now.  

I wrote the post below as a Facebook personal message to Amy Steinberg, our new Jubilee minister, who I have met face-to-face all of once – when she was working the crowd before her Isis concert last week.  Most of the way through writing it to her, I realized that it was kind of stingy not to share that sweet moment – actually two sweet moments, the dancing down the street and the telling my dear one Amy about it.

Then, when I realized that I had shared it on the Jubilee Facebook page but not my own, I thought “Shit, turn it into a blog post and share that on Facebook.”  So here goes…

Jubilant friends – I wrote this note (a few minutes ago) first just for Amy, as a personal message on her Facebook page – expressing my gratitude for a couple of her songs, and for her. But part way through writing it, it started to feel selfish holding it just for her. I feel just a little shy telling everybody that I was dancing down Haywood St. today – you may think I am totally losing it, which if you have been reading my blog “Waking up” you already know that I totally am, in an amazingly wonderful way.

I am also, by sharing this note with whoever sees it here, outing myself about what a shameless Amy groupie I am. I adore that woman. She may not be “my Teacher”, but she is such a powerful teacher for me. My theme these days is “embodied Spirit”. The book I am working on is currently titled Reclaiming the Body – Sex and Power for a New Age. And Amy has got it all: embodiment, sexuality and power. I want to learn from her – and already am, big-time. I have only once ever so far hugged her or even been within a few feet of her. No difference. Maybe that’s all I can handle right now.

So there, I’m an Amy groupie – big-time. Letting go to her spell is almost right up there with the way I’m letting go to Spirit’s spell (it is actually clearly to me part of the same thing).

Majo

Amy –

In the warm afternoon sun today, I danced Pancho through her usual loop through the downtown, getting down with your wonderful songs “Get Up” (2x) and “Infinite Soul Superhero” (4x). I started with kind of minimal dance steps – stuff people wouldn’t notice me doing. But I knew that I was just kidding myself about nobody noticing – normal walking just doesn’t have the kind of flow that those two songs have.

As I walked up Haywood towards the Civic Center, I got bolder and bolder with my dance moves. I now knew it was totally obvious that I was dancing past Malaprop’s – and I didn’t care who noticed. I knew, on some level, that most people who saw me would be made happy by it – but that was so far away from my motivation that I really only thought it just now. I was dancing down Haywood to celebrate that I’m an Infinite Soul Superhero. I want to celebrate that I have a cosmic secret: people think I’m an ordinary human, but I actually have turned into a mystic.

But at the same time I was letting my secret totally out of the bag. I was letting us all know that Asheville is a place where people dance down the street – that this obviously old guy with a little chihuahua can do it, so we all can do it – anybody can do it.

By the time I passed the Civic Center doors towards 240, there were fewer and fewer people – though still lots of cars driving by – and I was holding back less and less. I was starting to really cut loose.

When I hit the top of the overpass on 240 – with all those cars going by below me – I just totally let it all go. I stayed in one place – right at the top of the bridge – and just danced. I threw my hands in the air! It was thrilling – I was totally happy. I was an Infinite Soul Superhero!

walk3
I have actually been kind of building up to this for a while….

Oh, Amy – I was gonna write this just for you. But as I relive the joy of getting freer and freer over the course of my dance and finally letting it all go, in the background a little voice has been saying “Let everyone know. Don’t hoard this just for you. Don’t worry that people will say, ‘Now Amy’s song is driving him to dance through the downtown – He’s turning into an Amy freak!'”

I am! I am an Amy freak! I love what you are doing for us! I love what you are doing for me! I don’t want to hide it! I am so thrilled, so grateful for you coming here to be with us.

I actually have danced down Haywood St. before you came to Asheville. But not as fully as I did today – and not dancing to an Amy song that has become my anthem – a funky dance tune about surrendering to Spirit.

I want all those people on Haywood St. – and all my Jubilee loved ones – to know that we can all do it. We don’t have to dance down the street downtown. But we can a little more let ourselves feel the power of Spirit working through us. We can a little bit more let our personality – all our old stuck patterns – just slide out of the way.

We can a little bit more feel the rhythm of Life, celebrate who we are, celebrate how connected everything is, celebrate how good Life is.

I think my own “waking up” happened before you came to us – June 26. But it’s a perfect time for me to be waking up, when the blood of Jubilee is stirring – when there is so much electric Life energy in that Celebration Room on Sundays.

It’s funny: when I am in that room for Sunday services, it both grounds the cosmic energy that has been buzzing through me kind of all the time – to be feeling it in the company of my community. And at the same time, it makes it all so intense that sometimes I can’t tolerate it all and have totally maxed out by the time we exchange the peace. I left at that point last week.

I’ve been promising myself all week that I would go back and watch the video from last week – and hear your message about “laying down weapons”. But I have been so inspired all week by my own writing that I almost never have been willing to be an “audience” for anything – I just want to keep (how’s this for a paradox) I want to keep letting Spirit have its way with me, use me for the writing it is pushing forward through me.

But I think that right now – 11:41 on Saturday night – as I begin to ramp up to all the newfound excitement of Sunday mornings, is the perfect time to settle in, with my little Panchita next to me, and watch the wonderful video.

See you – and all of you – in just a few hours!

*Find “Infinite Soul Superhero” here on Amy Steinberg’s album Shine- Be Glorious.

Spiritual emergence

The purpose of having a human life, according most traditional societies, is to learn about what it means to be human.

We humans occupy a middle ground between unthinking bodies and the world of spirit.  We have undergone the trauma of being shoved into a human body – which looks and thinks like it is separate from all the other physical objects, including other human bodies, in the universe…with a sensory apparatus that confirms the delusion of separation.

Our task is to clamber back to the awareness of cosmic oneness – and preferably, if you follow the “embodied” or low road to spiritual evolution (which I do), to bring your body along with you as you progressively re-enter the world of spirit.  Psychospiritual disciplines from massage to primal scream therapy to kundalini yoga and tantric sex – and some forms of meditation – all aim to reunite the body with its spiritual essence.

Stanislav Grof, the great, ground-breaking transpersonal psychologist, talks about spiritual evolution: the “true Self” pushes to break through the crusty soil of the human body and ego to re-unite itself with spiritual essence.  This is the “one true path”, but is mostly not understood in modern materialistic societies.  The person – who is bewildered by the information breaking through from the cosmic unconscious, has no models for what he or she is experiencing, no markers for what to expect, and no role-models or teachers or shamans to guide them along.

This natural “emergent” state of high energy – of spirit emerging from the physical body – can get rougher and rougher, can look pretty untogether.  The person may need significantly less sleep and food – which can unnerve the people around them.  They may get very big, very expressive.  As they get progressively more direction from the world of Spirit (their Inner Pilot, their Self), they may get progressively less concerned with societal or organizational norms, less impressed by rules.  They may become impervious to the disapproval of others.  They may “fit in” less well at work. They may dance down city streets.

This exact behavior got my “soul friend” Diana, as a budding teen mystic, arrested, put in handcuffs in the back of a police car and – when she resisted – shot up with something that did not wear off for three days, until she woke up in front of a psychiatry class that had been given the task of coming up with the right diagnosis for her.  Many of them were laughing at her as she came to.

Mona Lisa
My “soul friend” Diana Buchanan – one of the most amazing and beautiful “survivor” souls I have met. Read about our friendship here.

Thus began a forty year (and counting) relationship with a very socially powerful psychiatric establishment – in the face of which this innocent indigenous peasant girl accepted their labels (which changed over the years) and their powerful psychiatric drugs (which also changed a lot, because all honest psychiatrists admit that they really have no idea which drug is going to help which person and that it is all trial and error).

And each new psychiatrist has their personal preferences, so part of the experience of a “mental patient” is to have their biochemistry violently jerked around by changes in medication.  It is almost standard that inpatient psychiatrists – who fancy themselves the “real experts around mental illness” – take the patient off of all the drugs that their body had more-or-less gotten used to and put them on something altogether new, sometimes two or more changes in the course of a one or two week hospitalization.

This is what happened to me during my most recent (last Spring) hospitalization, when I totally lost track of all the meds that had been tried on me.  At my discharge, I thought there had been one major change – but my inpatient psychiatrist, who lamented that “we tried everything we could think of” – to no avail, told me of several drugs that had been used on me, of which I had no memory.  Along the way, I had no memory of my friend Amanda visiting me for an hour – or of whole days in those two weeks.  He very genuinely apologized (a refreshing anomaly for his profession) that over two weeks nothing had helped – and that I was clearly leaving in almost as bad shape as I arrived.

They were letting me go just because they really believed that they couldn’t help me, because I was every day hating it more to be there – and because I promised them I would be “safe” if I went home.  I was very consciously and intentionally lying to him.  I felt pretty sure that I would within a few days – or maybe a week or two – follow through on my original plan to kill myself.

In so many societies, the person who is experiencing the “heightening” of this re-emergent state – heightened energy, aliveness, expressiveness, happiness, powerful affect  and spiritual connection with all of life – is viewed as sacred, crucial to the overall health of the tribe…and sheltered from the onslaughts of daily, dualistic life until they have a chance to integrate all that is going on inside of them.

In our society, this “heightened” state – not understood and not supported – can get more and more ragged, with the person not looking good, not thinking as clearly, maybe not functioning at work.  Western medicine, which is all about “being normal” and “functioning well”, is likely to diagnose the person as “manic” or even “psychotic” – and hit them up with powerful drugs that make it impossible for them to function at all, much less integrate all the powerful and confusing forces at work within them.

My dear and very close friend Tom Kilby –

Tom and Pancho 2
Tom and my Panchita

who at one point lived with me for three years – recently said to me, “I know you manic – and this is not that.  I’ve been reading your blog and am inclined to believe that you have got it right – that you actually are going through an experience of ‘waking up’.  My biggest fear about this comes from watching the experience of another friend who I likewise thought was genuinely having a big spiritual transformation.  What happened for him was that he then came to the conclusion that he actually was God.  He became totally psychotic.  I don’t yet see any sign of this with you, but fear you will go the same way.”

Kim Bella, the clinical psychologist/director of Asheville’s Center for Spiritual Emergence – which provides psychological and drug abuse “treatment” through the lens of “spiritual emergence” and “emergency” – floored me, when I told her of my friend’s concerns, by saying “We’re not intimidated by psychosis around here. It comes with the territory that, when a person is suddenly flooded with all this power and energy and awareness and cosmic connection and powerful emotion, that they would sometimes get confused about the source of all this: is it coming from Spirit, from God – a possibility for which none of their education, spiritual or otherwise, has prepared them? 

Or is this experience- since the ego has been telling us our whole lives that it is all about us –  also somehow all about me? If I feel the power and oneness of God flowing through me, then maybe that means that I am God.  To psychiatry, this is the worst thing that could happen – the dreaded ‘psychosis’, the king of mental illnesses, the proof that the ego has always been fatally flawed, and probably unfixable.”  To Kim Bella, this is a natural and understandable confusion – a misperception that can be pretty reliably rectified with enough support, safety, reassurance and spiritually-oriented coaching and counseling.  Someone who understands what is going on and isn’t afraid of it.

I never sang for my father: I feel everything!

I had been married about two years.  My wife and I were sitting near the back of a darkened theater, watching the 1970 movie “I Never Sang for My Father”.  The movie explored the relationship between a man just a little older than my 23 years with his aging father, who haunted his here-and-now romantic relationships.  While the story offered some hope, showing the man make some headway in a big relationship, at the ending it did not soft-soap the fact he was still haunted.  The last line of the movie was something like, “To this day, the word ‘father’ causes my blood to run cold.”never sang

The movie ended, the houselights came on, and people started moving into the aisles.  And I sat there, absolutely frozen – tears rolling down my cheeks.  This was a very big deal.  In those days, I did not cry.  I had not shed a tear since seventh grade – when I think I had had the wind knocked out of me in a football game and shed a few tears.

My wife and I were both alarmed.  What did this mean? What were we to do?  I knew that I had been engrossed by the movie, but not once – until that last line was uttered – had I thought about my father or that any of the content of the movie might have relevance for my life.  Now my father and my non-relationship with him were sitting on my chest: I could not breathe, and I was crying.  I was panicked.

And I knew at the same time that this was important.  I was in my first year of clinical psychology graduate school and if I had learned anything it was that feelings were important – even if, in that clinical worldview, feelings were also frequently suspect and to be analyzed.  I wanted desperately to keep feeling these feelings that I was feeling in that moment, but not in that situation – with the now-glaring houselights on and people filing past the row where I sat there helpless.  Any of them might notice my tears – and I would feel humiliated.

“Let’s get out of here” I said to my wife.  I wanted to hold on to this thread that might lead back to some aliveness in my relatively cold and empty relationship with my feelings.  Maybe if we got back out to the darkened street I could keep this spark alive.

We got out to the street, but that spark of aliveness was already slipping away.  Maybe this was still too public, too exposed.  “Let’s get to our car.”  But by the time we got into the relative privacy of our car, the moment had passed.  The tears – and the sudden, unexpected, sharp stab of emotional pain…of deep sadness and loss that had provoked them were gone.  This sudden glimpse of a whole, vivid emotional world that I hadn’t realized was still there had passed – and I didn’t know if this was perhaps a one-off.  Perhaps I would never find my way back to that doorway.

But I wanted to find my way back.  Besides the professional psychotherapy which we were just beginning to learn about in our Ph.D. clinical psychology classes, I had been learning about a much more wild-and-unruly, radically peer-oriented approach to the exploration of feelings.  Bob Pierce, one of the supervisors in this program’s clinical placements – way more hands-on and experiential than our somewhat cold and analytical graduate school faculty – was a big admirer of a non-degreed personal growth facilitator named Harvey Jackson.Harvey Jackins 2

Harvey had developed this peer-counseling approach called Re-evaluation Counseling that led to “emotional discharge”, in which non-professional people would learn how to help each other reclaim their feelings in a kind of radically strong, deep way.  Periodically, Harvey would come through Rochester, NY, to lead a workshop in the “Re-evaluation Counseling Community” – in which “professionals” and budding professionals like myself were welcome, but slightly suspect and definitely held no greater respect than regular people who were developing their counseling chops on the street.Human Side

Every time Harvey was in Rochester, Bob would bring him to the Rochester University teaching hospital for a one-day workshop on counseling skills – where psychologists and trainees like myself would be shocked, horrified, amazed and inspired by Harvey’s brilliance (he would say this “brilliance” was only developed skill from thousands of hours of developing and practicing this approach to emotional discharge) as he would take student therapy volunteers right to the heart of their emotions – which they would “discharge”…release in explosive or very deep ways.

When I came back home from my powerfully revelatory movie, I sought out this local “counseling community” and began a laborious process of reclaiming my feelings.  I would pound on pillows, yell loudly, or be held by a peer co-counselor as I attempted to feel my feelings.  And little by little they came.  Some tears started to leak out again, as they had at the movies – but this time intentionally welcomed instead of shockingly unbidden.

These feelings that started to emerge in a genuinely emotional way felt a little threatening at first: I had no idea how to manage them and feared they might take me over.  But, in fact, I began to learn that my emotional life had a wisdom of its own – and I still had very powerful defenses against it – so my feelings would only bubble up in manageable packets that little by little started to add some color to my grey emotional life.  The first time that – pounding on pillows – I went from a rote exercise to the eruption of powerful, red-hot anger, this similarly threatened my illusion of “emotional stability”.  Was there any bottom to this emotional power?  Again, I little by little learned to both respect and trust this return of my feelings – it never seemed to take me over.

Feeling my feelings became, over time, a natural part of my life – tremendously enriching and satisfying.  I was learning, once again, to live within my own human skin – my body, rather than just my head.  The content that at first led me into this emotional world was my relationship with my father.  I truly had never sang for my father – my father who never sang for his father and so on for many generations back.  These Irish-Catholic men were hard workers and hard drinkers, who carried loads of emotional guilt, and never felt any feelings when they were sober.  My father was an exceptionally remote, self-contained man who slid way into his very private world of alcohol, was awkward with children and never really connected with his own two sons.  I had a much more bright, extroverted personal style, never (aside from my wild college years of temporary “alcoholism” that no one ever attempted to diagnose as a real “problem”) seemed to develop the Irish “Curse” of alcoholism – but did inherit the curse of being not able to feel my feelings.  Until now, at age 23.

In my early 40’s, a whole other – much more ominous – layer of my emotional life emerged.  This bright guy, who was frequently described as “enthusiastic” and only occasionally as “too intense”, started – over the top of powerful emotional resistance – to to have dreams of childhood sex abuse that began symbolic, indirect and relatively detached and then become progressively more progressively more vivid, horrific and terrifying.  My practice of Re-evaluation Counseling, which I had stayed immersed in for those 20 years – in lieu of ever getting professional therapy – had no apparent capacity to manage the terrifying onslaught of dark, menacing, overwhelming, despairing emotion.  I felt an entirely new kind of helplessness and hopelessness, I could nowhere near control the raw, powerful pain that was taking me over – and my life started to fall apart.  I tried sex abuse support groups and, when those didn’t help, finally got professional therapy from a male clinical psychologist who specialized in men with this history.

This post is getting pretty long – and, this is the unfinished state that I find it in today – not having looked at it for at least a couple of months.  I’m going to just go ahead and post it – and trust that the rest of this story will get told in other places in the blog.  

I wish I could add to this post pictures of me as a young man, but – after many years of the emotional chaos of “mental illness” and many, many moves – I have preserved essentially no belongings from the earlier parts of my life.  This includes, very sadly, essentially no old pictures.

Jmm- straightarrow
This may be 20 years ago – and may be the oldest picture I have.

Ten years ago, as I was preparing for a “move to Mexico” that never happened, I sent a whole lot of old photos and documents to my brother Terry in Chicago – for “safekeeping” in his garage.  Years later, when Terry’s widow Lesia and I were looking through the garage, it was jam-packed with his daughter Alana’s stuff, but we could find nothing of mine.  

Living in the world of Spirit

For over 30 years now, the shrinks and even some of my psychotherapists have been telling me that my “up” moods are “mania” and my “down” moods are “depression” – both equally toxic and pathological, both “symptoms” of a “disease” that they called “bipolar disorder”.  When they put that name on me, they thought they had mastered something – had proven themselves experts, even though they had no idea what caused it or how it worked, had accomplished nothing except to invent some words to label behaviors but add no understanding to them.

What they had really accomplished was to wreak powerful damage on me by giving me a label, a diagnosis – a pathological lens through which to look at myself, my emotions, my behaviors.  I had never quite realized how truly damaged I was until they pointed it out to me.  I had to get over the idea of trusting myself, my feelings – because I actually had a disease that I certainly had no idea how to “manage” or “treat”, much less cure.  No more relying on my natural process of emotional release to heal what hurt me – extreme emotions were certainly signs of mania or depression.  No, now the Holy Grail became not aliveness, but “mood stability” – and they backed that up by giving me anti-seizure medications that they thought maybe made my brain more stable (as in, maybe, stuck or frozen or anesthetized or paralyzed).

I on-and-off fought the toxicity of calling myself “manic” or “depressed” by coining my own terms for those states.  At least I don’t remember getting these terms from anybody else – but they are so intuitively obvious that I gotta believe other people have been using them.storm and bright tree

My “up” state became not “mania” but expansion.  I get big – I fill the available space.  I feel in contact with everybody and all of life.  I am happy.  I like myself.  I feel the full breadth of emotions – not worrying about whether any of these feelings are “healthy” or “functional” or “appropriate”.  Somewhere along the way, someone had told me that feelings aren’t good or bad – they just are.  But if you are not deciding what’s right or wrong, good or bad, healthy or pathological, what kind of an expert are you?

My “down” state became not the pathological world of “depression”, but the simply painful world of contraction.  Sometimes an awful lot of pain, but maybe it doesn’t mean anything beyond contracted pain – maybe it is not a symptom of some underlying disease.  Maybe we don’t have to invent some story about it at all – maybe it just is.  Most psychiatrists were never trained in research, but my psychologist’s research training wants to coach me to “stay with the data – don’t stray far from the data”.pain 1

This contraction can actually be extremely painful.  It can feel like every cell is in a vice.  It may feel like every movement intensifies the pain.  In this state, I want only to be unconscious – to get really still and hope that I will either (preferably) go back to sleep or get so quiet that I feel nothing.

Ah, there’s an aspiration – to feel nothing.  And the more I stay in bed trying to get quiet, the more dense and contracted my body becomes – the more the life essence gets squeezed out of me, until sometimes it seems like there is nothing left in life but unremitting pain, and I become preoccupied with how to end the pain, even if that requires also ending the life.

No one ever said “Don’t collapse into the dense, contracted, stiff, frozen, numb world of the uninspired body (body-minus-spirit) – that way is death.  Come back to Life – come back to the world of Spirit.  Move.  Push through the pain to the aliveness on the other side.  Don’t go back to bed – you will only anesthetize yourself.  The longer you sleep, the more encased in death you become.”

I tend to wake up almost exactly every two hours, needing to pee.  At my first two-hour increment, getting out of bed is painful.  I have to push myself to walk to the bathroom – walking is a struggle.  But if I choose to get up and get busy at this point, it’s not too hard to push through the pain and get to my computer, writing happily.  If, after 2-4 hours, I am falling asleep again, I return to bed for a couple of hours before starting the day.
cultivating creative aliveness
At the four-hour point, I have sunk farther into the pain-body and everything is harder.  My old fearful voice says “Go back to bed.  Get real quiet.  Get under the radar. You can get up at the 6-hour mark.”  But I know from very hard experience that at the six-hour mark the pain will have sunk in so deep that I really do tend to believe that the “depression” has come back – that all of the good feelings have actually been mania and the truth is that I am sick, basically hopelessly fucked.

At the four-hour point this morning, I wanted so desperately to go back to bed.  But that voice came right up against a voice saying, “If you go back to bed now, then when you do get up you will have to go straight into your work day and you will do it from a place of pain, of unconsciousness, of fear.  You will spend your whole day in a survival mode.

“Get up now!  Rise!  Shine, be glorious!radically alive If you need to do this first, stand under the hot shower for as long as you need.  You know from many experiences now that by the time you get out of the shower you will throw on your robe and – even before shaving – go to your laptop or phone voice recorder app and start capturing all the exciting thoughts you are having.  If you get up now, you will have time to dance – to cue up Amy Steinberg on Pandora, your favorite music now, let your Spirit infuse your body and fly free.

“If you give yourself some time in the world of Spirit before you go back into battle – out there in the world of performance and survival, where it is so hard to stay connected to Spirit – you will have a fighting chance to bring some Spirit, some connection, some love along with you.  If you write and dance, you will have inspiration on your side and your body will not be that torporous, pain-body but a lighter, freer body that may just throw some dance moves into your day.”

So today I chose the world of Spirit over the world of pain and death.  I had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, played and teased with my customers – and yes, did dance a little behind my cash register, when I heard a good song through the overhead speaker.  dolphin jumping

Are you going to call this joy, this aliveness “mania” because i didn’t have as much sleep as you think I should need?  Do you think that your fearfulness is somehow supportive or helpful to me? To take this beautiful experience – so full of life and love – and give it a stigmatizing mental illness diagnosis would be so cruel, so destructive as to seem actively malicious.  What are you so afraid of?  Are you jealous?

 

Solid like a mountain

I have about 60 blog titles in a spreadsheet named “Blog posts to write” – some of them with more or less content already attached.  And I have probably seven posts in one state of almost completion or another on my short list of posts I want to write today.

But this one has just jumped ahead of all the rest of them – partly because it is about an amazing experience I had yesterday, but even more because I have been having the same amazing experience for the last half-hour.  I want to catch it, describe it, while it is still hot – while it is still right in front of me.

This desire to capture it now is pretty paradoxical, because the experience is one of pure being – non-doing – and describing, writing about it, typing these words certainly requires moving into the world of doing.  I’m feeling some scarcity about this – some fear that this sweet experience will leave me and not come back. But it has now visited me two days in a row – and a milder form of it has been there very often over the last four months – so I feel pretty optimistic about getting back there later .

And the experience is so much about fullness, wholeness, prosperity, enoughness that the scarcity feeling – the fear of losing this sweet state – is really a whisper, more like a memory of something I have frequently felt in the past than a real here-and-now feeling.

I stopped in the manager’s office of the building where I live, to transact what was on one hand a very minor piece of business – to schedule a room for a meeting.  But at the same time it is very personal, even important: the meeting is going to be my first “satsang” ever in this young life of mine. It is me deciding that – after four months of this new “waking up”, this experience has gotten so solid that I am ready to impart it face-to-face, not just in writing. Will this newfound peace of the last half-hour survive a very short conversation in the office?  It mostly did – and now is mostly surviving the activity of putting the crystalline, silent experience into words… into verbal noise, into typing. It is surviving enough: enough to make it worth a little “doing” for the purpose of capturing it. 

Yesterday I was in the men’s room of the Earth Fare grocery store, getting ready to start my relatively short 5-hour shift.  And my brain was quiet. I wasn’t trying to do anything. I wasn’t worrying about anything. I wasn’t planning or preparing anything.  I wasn’t analyzing or criticizing or praising anything I had recently done. I wasn’t thinking. 

I have been having frequent tastes of this experience over the last four months,. I will walk into a room, or be sitting in a room, and notice that I am quiet.  Thich Nhat Hanh, my old meditation teacher, used to have us meditate that we were “solid like a mountain.”

Thay 2
Thich Nhat Hanh

I seldom actually experienced that back then. I would intend to experience it, would picture what it might feel like to experience it – would think the words “solid like a mountain”, but the experience itself would never come. These days it comes unbidden.  The last two days it has come with power I have never experienced before. It has shown up like a motherfucker.  

This experience stuck with me as I moved from the restroom to my cash register, logged in, and started serving customers.  I found that, with my first many customers. I wasn’t charming or nice or funny. I wasn’t trying to be efficient. I found that I often showed up in each of those ways, but it wasn’t from trying.  If anything, I was trying to extend this sweet experience of only being. But I wasn’t even really “trying” to do that. I wasn’t holding on to it – I was actually holding it very lightly. I was observing it, enjoying it, relishing it.  I was smiling almost non-stop, but not a big giddy smile – just a sweet little smile. I was having a great deal of fun – not raucous ha-ha fun, but very happy and satisfying. I felt like the cat that had swallowed the canary. I had a wonderful secret.

I saw my friend Ann coming my way through the store.  Ann and I are so far mostly just “Earth Fare friends”.  We have had some significant short conversations. I greatly admire the memoir she is in the process of getting successfully published.  We have become Facebook “friends”, have exchanged a few messages, have “like”d a few of each other’s posts. We have raised the possibility of getting together for coffee.  It makes total sense in terms of how many interests and values we have in common, but so far we have not made it happen. And that is feeling blessedly unimportant to me – the measure of our friendship is not how much time we spend together.  

I felt happy to see her coming my way.  I could tell her about what I was experiencing!  I knew that this “activity” of talking with her would run the risk of blowing my precious state of non-doing, but Ann is such a deep, thoughtful, sensitive, supportive friend – overall just such a great person to talk to, with an easy, lovely smile – that it seemed possible that talking with her would only heighten my pleasurable experience.  

But I feared that revealing my secret to Ann would be so much fun, so satisfying that I would not be able to rein it in – that I would easily dominate the whole conversation.  So I started by asking what had been fun for her lately. She started by telling me that her beautiful, deep, poignant book now has a publication date. She so totally lit up that all I wanted to do was to keep her talking about this.  I wasn’t avoiding my topic, just “leaving it out”. It was no longer needing to be talked about, in the face of this new topic that was so hot – so right for the moment. I made myself a mental note to write Ann about my secret – but now I will just share this post with her.  And I went back to having a great time listening to her. 

This process of not doing anything is proving way more satisfying than anything I have ever tried to do.  My ego argues that I will never get anywhere that way.

Just where is it that I would want to get to?

Nobody’s ego likes a mystic.

You may be totally fine with mystics.  You may like them.  You may think they are cool and different.

But your ego will never rest easy around a mystic.  No ego has job security around a mystic: “If he doesn’t need an ego, then maybe I don’t either.”

Mystics don’t function normally.  They aren’t logical: rational, analytical thinking is not the way they operate.  Analysis has a subject and an object – things are separate.  For a mystic, everything is one.  The mind just can’t operate this way.

This world is dualistic.  You have to learn to not cosmically merge with busses.  The good parent in all of us wants to teach children just enough fear to protect themselves.  A good mystic is no longer afraid of anything – his lack of fear scares the bejeesus out of most people around him.  “If he’s not afraid, I had better be afraid for him.”  He knows that Spirit is always looking out for him, always making good decisions – so he doesn’t have to decide anything.

Doesn’t need to try, doesn’t need to plan, doesn’t need to review or second-guess or learn from his mistakes.  All of this drives the ego fuckin’ nuts.

Definitely does not need to shape his behavior to please anybody else.  “How can you run a business this way?” He knows that lots of people will disapprove of him: this may sometimes make him a little sad, he may sometimes feel a little lonely – but then he remembers that he actually is one with everything (“There is that”) and he doesn’t feel so lonely any more. Having some people disapprove of you is not a bad trade-off for feeling total peace, total freedom, total happiness.

open-book-with-mystic-bright-light_1284-12772
Why is this supposed to evoke “Mystic”?  I dunno – ask Google.

“You’ve gotten too big for your job.  You don’t care about rules.  You aren’t impressed with organizational status or power.  You are totally free of norms.  You aren’t focused on ‘performance'” – whatever that is.  You may be actually doing a great job, but it sure doesn’t come from ‘trying’ – and trying and worrying and stressing are what really get rewarded around here. The whole concept of rewards doesn’t compute for you: ‘If I am totally content coming out of the starting gate, what is anybody going to add on top of that?'”

“You’re going to lose your job if you don’t rein it in.”

“I didn’t get here by compromising or reining anything in.  I have totally surrendered to Spirit.  You don’t 90% surrender to Spirit and 10% ‘keep your feet on the ground’.  You either totally surrender or you aren’t surrendering.  Do you really think that any job in the world would make it worthwhile to in any way tamper with this magical state?  Do you realize what a terrible deal that would be?  I will leave this job when Spirit wants me to leave it – not one day earlier or later.  Having the job or not having the job will in no way affect my wholeness, my integrity, my completeness.”

“People are going to go away from you.”

“I no longer pursue anybody.  The right people will come to me at the right time.  Most of the people who go away will be relationships that have been lacking in integrity for a long time.  The more integrity – wholeness, alignment – develops in me, the more bright is the light that shines on anything that is out of integrity.  Shedding – things, attitudes, beliefs, agendas, and yes people – is just part of how I operate.

“Along with attracting – the people who respond to my message, my vibration, my path, my teaching.  The right people will always come to me – my people.  I don’t have to manipulate or seduce or in any way try to get them to come with me.  If I get quiet and just ‘be’, they will be totally magnetized to me.  14 people signed up to ‘Follow’ my blog yesterday.  What did I do to draw them in?  Nothing that I know of.”

My “self” is totally gone.  As in the ego.  No self-respecting psychiatrist is going to like that.  And no one else’s ego – those are just going to instinctively attack.