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.
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
and Amanda Levesque
and Brian Claflin and 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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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 –
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 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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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! 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.
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?
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.
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 (“Thay” in Vietnamese), used to have us meditate that we were “solid like a mountain.”
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 trying to be 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 half-smile, like Thay used to encourage us to wear when we were doing walking meditation. 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.
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.
“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.
Actually, that is “recovering from having been labeled mentally ill”.
Back in my early 20’s, I got deeply involved in something called “Reevaluation Counseling” – a peer-counseling movement with a big emphasis on “emotional discharge”, big physical/emotional release of feelings in deep crying and sobbing, screaming, pounding, etc.
I reclaimed my ability to feel and release my feelings. Supported by a kind “co-counselor” who would hold my hand or hold me in their arms or just look at me with love and confidence, I would actually weep, wail, moan – none of it in any way theatrical, just the genuine release of old pain that I finally had the courage to face, feel and release. It didn’t always all get released in one session: the really tough stuff I might have to return to several times, but over time – or sometimes actually in just one session – things did get released and I felt lots, lots better. Freer, stronger, more self-confident. I trusted myself more. I believed in myself. I felt confident in myself. Over the next 20 years, life was not always easy. I lost a job – actually a couple of jobs. I went through a divorce. I had to come home to a house where my son no longer lived. Then his mom and I moved hundreds of miles apart – and my son went with her. There were lots of things to cry about – but fortunately I could cry. I could actually cry by myself – and feel better from doing so. I know that doesn’t always work for everybody. But especially I could do this with wonderful, supportive, loving, affectionate co-counselors. It kept me going. Even with all the onslaughts, I felt like I was getting stronger – that my life was in some meaningful ways getting better.
Then, in my 40’s, I contracted mental illness. I know that’s not quite how it works, but in a real way that’s how it has always felt. It was like coming down with cancer. There was my life before mental illness – and a very, very different life after mental illness. I lost my belief that feelings were something that I could – with enough support and determination and courage – move through and keep moving. This was different: this was a disease. These were not healthy and completely releasable feelings – these were “symptoms”. No longer was it true that “I know myself best and – with enough support and tears – I will not just fix this problem, but I will get my life back on track and keep growing.” In co-counseling, the word was that I will keep “Re-emerging”. I had always believed in this. I had experienced myself as definitely and confidently “re-emerging”. I was sure there was no limit to how far I could take this. Then I was stamped with a diagnosis. I had “clinical depression” – which meant that I could no longer just release my feelings. I couldn’t even rightly understand them – the doctors knew all this much better than I did. No more co-counselors – I needed the help of trained professionals. “Healing” was, unfortunately, not part of the equation. This is something you never will actually be able to heal from. You can cope. You can manage. You trust your doctor. You stay in “treatment”.
You hold out the desperate hope that If you find the right doctor you might eventually find the Holy Grail – a medication that actually makes you better. Oh, it won’t actually really make you better – nothing can do that. But it might do more than make you feel a little better – the most I ever got. It might make you almost “feel like your old self again”. Certainly, in various therapy and support groups, I did hear people say that Lamictal or something else had done that for them. And God knows there were TV commercials with beautiful actors who now were leading happy and even beautiful lives. “This disease will be with me forever. I must always stay in treatment. I must always trust my doctors. I must always take these stupid, poisonous drugs – for the rest of my life. The best I can really hope for is to be compliant, to maybe not go back in the hospital, to somehow slide through this lifetime without killing myself.” They turned me into a fucking zombie. Oh, the drugs,.. My initial deal with the devil went like this: I was trained as a psychologist in the 70’s. Between that professional psychological training and my immersion in peer counseling, I really believed that everything was psychology – that everything had plasticity, could change.
Then a smart and kindly man psychologist, when he could not “get me through” my sex abuse memories, convinced me that I also had “clinical depression”. He had me see his psychiatric associate, who – in addition to being definitely brilliant – was young and beautiful and exotic and wore very tight, very short black skirts that I will never forget. When she looked me deep in the eyes and – in truly a very compassionate way – said, “Dr. Dan was right. You do have clinical depression. It is a biochemical condition, probably hereditary. You will have it forever. We will work together to try to find the right medications for you. They may not make you all better, but your pain should be less and you should be able to function. You will have to keep taking your meds, probably for the rest of your life.” I drank the Kool Aid. I looked back deep in her eyes and basically pleaded. “I will do anything to have this pain be less. I will accept whatever diagnosis you give me and wear it as a badge of honor. Just give me your drugs.” About twenty years later, a kind friend convinced me that the reason I had for so long been unable to shed even one tear was my meds. I went to my current psychiatrist – who I liked, respected and trusted – and put the question to him. He was gratifyingly honest in his reply: “Yes, it’s probably the meds. They take the drastic excesses off your mania and depression, but they also tend to flatten everything else. You have to decide if the trade-off – to reduce your pain – is one you are willing to make.” For him, clearly, the trade-off would be worth it. This was why he continued to do that work. He believed in this – it was his religion. He didn’t come right out and say, “Yes, you really need to make the trade-off”, but I heard that from him. I decided to take the soul-killing drugs in hopes that they would make my pain bearable – that I would not do the unthinkable, fuck up everybody else by killing myself.
I am so, so blessed that – in my current “woke up” state – the healing process is miraculously fast and efficient. From my “Integrity moment” on June 26, I started – with some help from my friend Doug DeCarlo, who had been reading about the process of “spiritual emergence”in Stanislav Grof’s book The Stormy Search for Self – to try on the idea that I had never actually had a mental illness, but that my process of spiritual emergence – the true Self pushing through all the hard layers of personality – never got enough support by anyone who understood what I was going through. Without the positive vision and the guidance I needed, I started to unravel – and getting a mental health diagnosis and being put on potent drugs sealed the deal. I was no longer “emerging” – I was sick.
By last Saturday, I had gotten so strong and clear and sure that I was never mentally ill – that my grief and rage around the 30 years that “they took from me” finally clicked in. I was so angry and feeling so much pain that – even with all the miracles I have had around me lately – I felt daunted about could I ever get through this one.
In about a week, I see my newish psychiatrist. She is smart and thoughtful, personally hip and obviously, reassuringly carries some values and lifestyle connections with me. She knows about and is open to some new treatments I also am interested in. Bless her heart, she has been willing to help me try to get off the drugs – even as she told me it might not work, that I might end up deciding that i really needed them.
And, as far as I can tell, she is still about 80% imprisoned in the same psychiatric model in which she was professionally brainwashed for so many years – and which pays her bills. She has never in any way questioned my “bipolar disorder” diagnosis and has for a year never hesitated to keep writing me prescriptions for potent combinations of psychiatric drugs – three different ones at a time.
In the middle of my grief and rage on Saturday night, my image was that I would spend most of the 30 minutes in this next psychiatry appointment standing – not passively sitting – raging at her about “what you people did to me!” I would maybe preface it by saying, “You only carry responsibility for the last year of 30 years. You are in many ways better than the rest. But you are the psychiatrist in the room right now – and you are still part of the problem. So now you get to hear this.” And I would rage at her. That was my image Saturday night. Then I went to church at my beloved Jubilee on Sunday. Jess Powers, a traveling singer-songwriter who was in town for the weekend – to see her friend, our minister Amy Steinberg, herself an amazing musician – offered a song about self-forgiveness.
While overtly the theme of the song was self-forgiveness, I took her words and beautiful music directly to where I needed it – to forgiving the psychiatrists. I cried very hard through the whole song – not in pain, but from relief and release. Tears of forgiveness: “Oh my God – I’m letting go of all that hatred, all that rage! What an unbelievable miracle!!”
About four minutes after Jess started singing, she was done – and I, also, was basically done. The anger was 90% finished (there still is a little bit popping up – in my therapy session yesterday, in my writing about all this, etc.). I can see that I still am carrying a lot of grief about the “thirty lost years”. I think I will probably save some of that for my psychiatrist to hear and see next week. She doesn’t necessarily need to receive my rage, but I think that she really does need to be confronted with my grief. Even if I know that I am going to heal from all of this – maybe already am healed – I want her to remember the sight of me grieving my “30 lost years”. What I really would wish for is for my psychiatrist friend – every time she is about to give someone a psychiatric label, every time she is going to write a prescription – would think of me and at least pause a moment to think…to remember the awesome power in her hands to help or to harm.
I know that, in this here and now, I am healed and whole. I may never completely understand why that experience of 30 years wandering in the mental illness desert was just the right experience for me in this lifetime – any more than I will ever completely understand the meaning and value of being raped by my uncle for four years of my childhood. But I already have glimpses with each of these parts of my life around how they have made me deeper, more compassionate, more real, more humble and more loving.
And I have been given the unbelievable gift of “waking up”. And, at 73, I still have potentially many wonderful years ahead of me.
Even Majo, who actually is Majo, clearly has his hands full trying to keep up with being Majo. Do you think that you – who are not actually Majo – are going to have any better luck trying to be Majo?!
Be radically and ruthlessly and recklessly and ridiculously who you are.
Don’t know yet who that is? Welcome, totally, to the club. That particular process of discovery is exactly what this wild ride is all about – what this blog is about, what my book Radical Integrity is all about, what our Thursday night gatherings are all about.
I can be fun and even inspiring to hang out with: I’m big and wild and reckless and unpredictable and crazy and risky and dangerous and playful and fun and sweet and affectionate and warm – and so fucking funny! So if you want to also go to some of those places in yourself, come play with me! But don’t expect that I’m going to teach you how to go to those places. I can’t – you will only be disappointed, and maybe then disappointed with me.
You have to learn your own paths to go inside yourself. You have the whole Garden already within you, waiting for you to savor its delights. It’s your Garden, not Majo’s or anybody else’s. You just need to find the door, so you can open the door and walk in. Majo can offer things that will increase the likelihood that you will find the door – often through exploring your capacity for sex and power, because those are his major subjects. (They weren’t even offered when I was in college or grad school. If they had been offered, I might not have been ready – back then – to take them, even as an audit.)
If you are to be a warrior of self-expression, you need to become impervious to disapproval. You need to just not give a shit. For most of us, this is very hard work – or alternatively, when we let it be this, totally fun play. Brene Brown says that the personal quality that correlates most strongly to “open-heartedness” is “solid boundaries”. To the extent that you know how to protect yourself – to keep the transgressor away – then you can relax and then open your heart.
You need to have available to you as much as possible of the whole spectrum of aggressive responses – to use them when you need them. I know I may be taking this to an extreme when I challenge strangers on the street to fight me:“What are you going to do about it, motherfucker?!” I actually fucking said this to a strange guy the other day, who was giving me shit for bumping his truck with my car door. I’m taking it seriously that I need to learn about this whole dimension. I haven’t had to back any of this up yet with an actual fist fight, but trust me – I am so, so ready.
But you don’t need to explore all the outer limits of the aggressive, boundary-setting dimension. What I do suggest is that everyone should have in their hip pocket what I call the “nuclear option”. 20 years ago, I used to teach this to nice white middle-class suburbanites at the local community college – and totally got away with it. If even one student had ever complained about it, I would definitely have been history in that “college extension” program – but nobody ever did.
If someone has got you backed into a corner and is threatening to take away your integrity…if you know that in this moment it is crucial that you not back down, but you don’t have anything clever or biting or less totally aggressive to say, you need to be ready and willing and able to plant your feet, inhabit your whole body, take a deep breath and ferociously hit them with a good, solid “Fuck you!” You need to hurl it directly into their fucking face. If your good boy or good girl patterns – or any other kind of persona or “niceness” or self-consciousness or bullshit beliefs that this is not a “kind” thing to say – as long as any of this bullshit prevents you from being ready to powerfully protect yourself, you will always be vulnerable. And there will be limits to how willing and able you are to open your heart – limits that don’t need to be there.
Come play with me. Let’s yell “Fuck you” at each other. My son learned to do that with me at age 18 – and it changed everything between us, opened everything up, allowed us to be fully peers, brought so much freedom and joy into our relationship. It was, I absolutely know, part of how he became the amazing guy he is now.
Want another tool for the preservation of your true, beautiful self? One that doesn’t go quite as far as the nuclear option but is very, very powerful – and musically wonderful to boot? Check out Amy Steinberg’s song “Confidence”on her album “Must Be the Moon”. It came to me on Pandora at 4 a.m. on Monday, immediately after I had read an email from a “friend”, where she had really slimed me for saying something she considered “unkind”. (I think the irony of this was probably lost on her.)
I decided that the best way to rally my wounded spirit was to dance. I put on my headset, dialed up my Pandora app to Amy’s “Must Be the Moon” album I had been listening to the day before – and the first song it was cued up was “Confidence”, which starts with the line, “People will try to pull you down…” The song is an anthem of self-protection – but really much more than self-protection. Pride in who you are, self-love…tending the garden that is one’s self.
This is not a path of transcendence. We are not walking the high road. We are learning how to protect ourselves from “light-chasers” – people who are so identified with being “conscious”. This word has been so corrupted – in the common Asheville parlance, it truly does not mean fully conscious, it means that I identify with “high consciousness”. Which a lot of the time means that I do not fully live in my body. The body is really, truly still not seen as a friend, as our human home. Especially, “light-chasers” do not experience the full power of the body for sexuality and power – which are not “higher powers”, but simply huge sources of human power.
This is a path of full embodiment. We want to be as totally human as we possibly can. Sex and power are two amazing gifts that we are reclaiming for ourselves. Sex and power get a bad rap because they are so horribly misused in our society – used in manipulative or self-oriented or oppressive ways. This is really only possible because we still have so many taboos around them – because we do not bring our sexual and aggressive power out into the light, to be embraced by all of our society, to be a garden tended by all of us.
Try this experiment (or get a kick out of imagining what it would be like to try it): put something like the next paragraph into a “life resume” that you hand out as an extra whenever you hand out your work resume. Or post it on Facebook.
“I am a sexual hero. I adore being a sexual being. I am constantly thrilled by the power of my own sexuality. A am 100% committed to exploring the full range of this power. I am devoted to sexual pleasure. The extraordinarily human faculty of physical pleasure linked to full human connection – really seeing and recognizing the other, totally feeling our connection with them – is one of the faculties that most keep us alive on the planet. I will not manipulate others or try to get anything from them or use them for my sexual pleasure.
“When I fully love my own sexuality, sex comes to me. I radiate it so richly that others are magnetically drawn to me. They say ‘Oh, you seem so fully at home in your body – I want to be with you.’ And then I get to decide if this is anything I want – or, more likely, how I want to experience it with this person. Maybe, with this person, the form of connection that is being called forth is to look in each other’s eyes, or to share a sweet hug or hold hands or to give a shoulder rub or back rub – but not a fully sexual adventure. It’s all an exploration. If I am open to a full explosion of sexuality, I can be open also to a very minimal little touch – which may, in that moment, carry with it the charge of total connection with all of life.
“When others are physically close to me, when they hug me, when they are in my arms, they get what they need. If what they really want or need is the comforting connection of human touch, more a personal connection than a physical one – simply coming home – that is what they get from me. If what they are really needing is sensuality – is to feel the pleasure of being in a human body – then that is what tends to happen for them when they are physically connected to me. If a crucial need for them right now is to tend to their sexuality, then that energy tends to come alive for them around me – because I am available for that, also. Because I am getting more and more at home with the whole range of touch, of physical human connection.”
Yeah! That’s the ticket! Say that to your friends. Put it in your phone and read it out at social gatherings – maybe Thanksgiving. Even if it is not an actual conversation-starter, it will at least be a memorable moment.
About a year ago, I had a woman “light-chaser” friend accuse me of hugging her wrongly – that I touched her in some questionable areas and held on to the touch a little too long. I knew there was something way off in this charge – I especially know that I am really a master at releasing the touch at the instant my hug-partner is even getting ready to want to let go, maybe even before they are yet conscious that they want to do this.
But I was still in the thrall of her “high-consciousness” and it had not really occurred to me that she could be so totally off-base in matters like this – that she might be so inclined to project shit around sexuality. So I was not adequately prepared to protect myself from her and I reeled a little. I took it personal. It felt sad, like a loss. I knew there had been nothing wrong in the way I touched her, but I also knew that now there would be all this self-consciousness between us in the area of touch, that the naturalness of it would likely go away.
It would all have been so much easier and sweeter if she had known how to fully take responsibility for her own experience – for the reactions of her own body. She might then have said something like “Sometimes when I touch you, I experience things that are mysterious, confusing, powerful. I get uncomfortable. It feels at least potentially out of control – I don’t know where it might go.”
This would have given me a chance to say something like “Lots of people feel lots of physical and emotional reactions when they touch me because everything is on the table with me. I’m basically available for it all – so with me touch can go wherever you need it to go. What you can know for sure is that I will not manipulate you, will not try to get anything from you, will not try to take our physical connection in some direction that I may want but may not be right for you. I’m just here – fully available. You come to me.”
As long as sexuality remains so in shadow in our society, as long as we still project so much garbage on it, then – when you do not hide that you are fully, deeply, creatively sexual – some people will project on you the full range of their disapproval, their personal confusion around sex.
So feel free – as long as you want or need this – to keep your powerful exploration of this deep part of yourself on the QT. It can be your little secret. I myself will say it openly for all of us, because I have been asked to teach about it. To the extent that you are ever called to also teach in this area – even in a moment-to-moment or case by case basis – then you can also come out of the closet that you are doing your homework, are becoming a fully sexual being.
If you want to really stir the pot, you can sweetly – or in a very hot, fully embodied way – say something like “I am a volcano of sexual energy.” Or you can just plant your feet, take a deep breath, feel your whole body and just think this thought to yourself – and feel happy, feel excited, feel content. Be the cat that swallowed the canary.