I have long been amazed, and frankly, puzzled, that most people I know have, at least at one point in their lives, either been “in therapy” and/or have taken prescriptive meds for depression, anxiety, and so on. I have done neither, ever. However, I have discovered instruments to help me in my own process, all of which are both priceless — and cost nothing!
In 1997, I decided to list my “ten tools for transformation,” and write a chapter detailing each for what turned into a 200-page book called MY SECRET LIFE. This book, like so much else of my written work, has sat there, in manuscript form, for over 20 years, untouched — in secret! So I’ve decided that it too, needed to be dredged up, and shared. Here’s the Introduction. I will make an e-book out of the whole thing at some point during this post-AKID year when transit Saturn crisscrosses my natal Mercury/Venus.
What Is Sanity and What, Madness?
In the spring of 1974 I was attending a cocktail party, talking with a man who had been visiting the Mendocino commune where I lived. I remember the moment clearly because suddenly, with no warning, he blurted out: “You are the first continuously splitting schizophrenic I have ever met!” Dramatically bowing low, I responded, in genuine, if shocked, gratitude, “Thank you!” He looked surprised.
He thought I would take offense at his remark. To call a person “schizophrenic” is to brand him or her as at least odd, and more likely “crazy.” Instead I thanked that man for recognizing me. For if I was the first “continuously splitting schizophrenic” he had ever met, then he was the first to see me in a way which resonated with how I felt myself to be. I doubt I would be classified as clinically schizophrenic, but I am (at least) two people, and I do “split,” moment by moment, ego from essence, over and over again.
Schizophrenics, like others whom we call “mad,” supposedly exist in their “own little worlds.” And for the first few years after “the-illness-which-almost-killed-me-but-instead-left-me-changed” (more on this later), I did feel unbearably, unspeakably alone. This is probably why I remember being struck by Gertrude Stein’s remark, “I write for myself and one other stranger.” Exactly. For if that stranger exists, then I am not mad.
It used to bother me that I felt so alone. At one point I did wonder if I was indeed “crazy.” But if sanity is defined as common sense, our sense of the world as created by common agreement, then once I was not alone I was no longer crazy. So that stranger at the cocktail party, in recognizing me, announced that we shared a common world.
One of the hallmarks of what those who share a certain culture call “sanity,” is that its (hidden) rules, when followed, seem to be “common-sense.” And yet, if common-sense is truly a sensing in common, then the so-called “sanity” of our western mainstream culture — where each of us senses the world alone, through the poverty of the five external senses — is literally, by definition, mad! What could be more isolated than billions of lonely egos?
Moving into Magic
For the past 27 years I have been moving more and more deeply into a world-view which has magic at its heart and synchronicity as its connective tissue. Not just in theory but in reality. I know few others who have embraced this “right brain” way of organizing reality so thoroughly and for so long.
No longer am I the only stranger in a strange land. Now there are strangers everywhere — some just beginning to awaken to their larger life; others, long-term pilgrims, are discovering their tribes and rejoicing. There are now, within the western world, two distinct cultures, the mainstream and the magical. The latter, though still miniscule, is homeopathic, potent, and ultimately, curative.
Usually, when a person begins to “drop out” of mainstream culture, and does not know it, he, or she, seeks help for her predicament, thinking something must be “wrong.” What usually happens? She goes into therapy, to help her “cope;” and/or she goes on anti-depressant drugs, to make her “feel better;” and/or she buys more insurance, to help her “feel secure;” and/or she distracts herself with addictions.
I am 54 years old. I dropped out of the mainstream into the magical world 28 years ago. I have never been in therapy. I have never taken prescription drugs for depression. I carry no insurance. I rarely watch television. During my 40s I released my substance abuse addictions, except for caffeine, which I imbibe in green tea. I’m still working on the more serious kind: my addiction to judgment, my tendency to fundamentalism.
Don’t get me wrong. Life has not always been easy. I rely on certain tools to help me as I experience the ongoing breakdown/breakthrough — let’s go all out; let’s call it evolution, or better, mutation — of my so-called “self” as it continues to split, moment by moment. It’s that moment before the split (which can go on for years) where the danger lies. Always there is fear, that I will split in two, that “I” will no longer exist. Always, I must choose to move through fear, to face it, embrace it, and ultimately, erase it. This process is expansive. I split, to include both poles of whatever paradox troubled me. My small self dies — into ecstasy, the Void.
This is a book which talks about the tools I use to help me both stay on course and amplify my own evolutionary process. I write it for all those who think I, and others like me, have no fear. As if fear automatically stops us. As if, when we are afraid, we are excused from following our soul’s call.
My own longstanding fears materialized into monsters one soft, aromatic May evening in 1969 . . .
Scene: I am lying on our marital bed. The children are asleep. I’m stretched out on my side, savoring the sensual breeze through the open window on my face. In a meditative mood. What luxury! Smoking my last cigarette of the day, drinking out of a jelly glass, contemplating the amber liquid. Two “shots” each night to help me sleep. I’m down to the last bottle of our little liquor cabinet, symbol of middle-class life. The gin went first, then the vodka, the bourbon, now the whiskey.
Alone. Alone! All by myself! For the first time in my life I look out at a future to be determined by my choices, my mistakes, my plans. I am 27 years old. My husband moved out three weeks ago. What a relief to finally get up the nerve to tell him to go! Three whole weeks now! I turn on my back, spread my legs luxuriously. All this space! All mine.
I stub out the cigarette, suck up the last drop, turn out the light. Lie there, relaxed, slightly drunk. Then, like a little worm, a whisper of fear stirs, begins to invade my aura, burrows into tissues, settles in the solar plexus. Fear. What will happen to me? How ill my children and I survive?
Quickly, I push it down, turn over, try to sleep. For 20 minutes I lie still, trying to quiet my buzzing staticky brain. No luck.
A few more minutes pass. Have to go to the bathroom.
Fear pops up again, intensifies to terror. All of a sudden I am a little girl again, afraid of the dark. Afraid of the monsters, hiding in the corners of the ceiling, lurking under the bed. Everywhere, monsters. I can’t sit up and put my feet on the floor without one of them grabbing me from below. I can’t, I can’t, I . . .
Another voice chimes in, this one soothing, practical. “It’s okay. You can do it. You’re just going to the bathroom. Just turn on the light by the bed and the light in the hallway and go! Nothing is there, nothing will hurt you.”
The voice calmed me down. But I did not turn the lights on. Instead, another, deeper, part of me surfaced, and moved, in a new way — spontaneously, without thinking. My mind still terrified, my body arose, slowly walked to the door, passed down the dark hallway to the dark bathroom to pee and then retraced its steps, slowly, each step measured, despite the monsters.
I got back into bed and lay there. Shocked. What was that? All of a sudden I did something I had never done. I went to the bathroom at night without turning on a light. I got up and walked, afraid, through the darkness. How? I had no idea. What was this deeper part of me which had moved my body so surely, with such authority, despite the play of surface fear?
Somehow, I knew this was a propitious moment, that I needed to understand this moment, its larger meaning. That I needed to glean from this moment a general principle to guide me into the future.
Right then and there, I resolved: Whatever I am afraid of, that is what I must do.
And that is what I am still doing. “Pushing the envelope,” we call it now.
Only as I face, embrace, and thereby erase my fears do I expand beyond them. Franklin Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Without fear, I would not know what direction I am meant to go. Fear is my compass.
The word for courage, in French, stems from “coeur,” which means “heart.” In order to face, embrace, and erase fear, I must open my heart — and allow in the world.
For a long time, my “courage” was more bluster than real — I didn’t really pause long enough to open my heart. Couldn’t afford to. That meant I would have to be vulnerable — really scary! The kinds of fear I could afford to deal with in my 30s had to do with external situations.
Like the time I was fired from my job teaching at an experimental college in California (more on that later) and plunged into a grey, leaden depression. I was 30 years old. For the first time in my life, I had failed; the ladder I had been climbing had been yanked out from under me, and I was falling into nowhere, fast. For the first time in my life I was touching into a feeling from early childhood, though I didn’t know it at the time; I did not realize that depression, when allowed, descends into soul. Instead, in an attempt to break the spell of depression, I gave myself an external challenge.
I was living on unemployment checks, in Marin County. I had always wanted to see Mendocino, but I had no car and no friends. So I decided to hitchhike (something I had never done) to Mendocino, and do it with only a one dollar bill in my pocket, intending to stay overnight and return the next day.
Hitchhiking with no money put me face to face with every fear I had ever had, and forced me to be completely dependent on the universe for that 24-hour period. In order to make it through, all my survival instincts had to be aroused. And were. The experiment worked. The depression disappeared.
But the experience was not a pleasant one. I ended up in a house on top of a cliff against which ocean waves were crashing, with two men who, of course, both assumed they would have sex with me in exchange for shelter. Luckily, I sensed who they were as human beings underneath their assessment of me as a stray woman, and our shared humanity prevailed. By morning, the situation had calmed down, but as you may well imagine, I was exhausted. And the experience reminded me of others where, as a woman, I had been dependent on men, using all my wits just to survive.
Experiences like these taught me that I needed to create a corollary to the general principle of facing my fears, namely: “Try not to make the same mistake twice.” From then on I committed myself to truly learning from each mistake — so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.
So for a long time I tried to never repeat myself. I hated the idea of going round and round in circles and wanted everything to be “new.” The result was a sense of rootlessness, a lack of sustained focus.
At 40, I began to sense that I was running away from life, rather than living it. I had to stop, to face the thing I was most afraid of: myself. Now I really had to open my heart — not to the outer world, but to the inner. And what I discovered was shocking. For who was this “I” but a bundle of merciless addictions, each one desperate for attention, sapping energy through its small repeating pattern? No matter how much I thought I had gotten away from the past, I was, apparently, condemned to repeat it.
Someone once defined psychotherapy as “the progressive depopulation of the room,” so that when therapy is complete, only two people remain.
I was beginning to do therapy — on myself. To catch myself in lies, evasions, addictions. The truth did not come easy. I had to learn to tell it. Had to learn to tell all the many ways that my slippery ego had disguised its ravenous appetite, its need for seeing itself as heroic.
For the first time I was facing the truth about myself. The old fear of doing so mutated — into fascination. Commitment to truth focused on the point where the doors opened into the unconscious. I began to explore this mysterious, shadowy world which, all my life, had dictated its terms to my conscious self, and which, until now, had captured my attention only through its emissaries, those addictive cravings that torqued my attention and kept me running in circles.
I resolved to break the cycle of addiction, to free myself up, so that I might flow into and through each moment as if for the very first time.
Whatever was going on in my external world, I began to understand as “projection,” the unconscious throwing of my internal dramas out into the external world, so that I could forget they were really mine.
In other words, anytime I was triggered by anyone, “because” they were “so” (angry, or simpering, or devious, or arrogant, or weak, etc.) I aimed to notice both that I was triggered by this person and why, the particular quality they expressed that bothered me. Then began the hard word — of both truly sensing how that quality which I had “hated” in them lived in me, and of honoring them for (unconsciously) bringing it to my attention.
During my 40s I took on the monumental task of “taking back” projections wherever I found them. I resolved to claim them, to name then, and then, through a process more intuitive than rational, to understand their origins in my own early childhood and beyond. In this manner, I aimed to dissolve the dramas which, at first, appeared to surround me like a miasm, and which I would eventually come to see through, as maya, illusion.
Now, at 54, I realize that though there are times when I still seem to make the same “mistake” over and over again, each time it is with a lighter, more humorous touch.
Instead of going in a straight line, it’s as if I’m on a sailboat, tacking into the wind. In order to go straight ahead, I have to tack first right, then left, in a series of corrections to the median.
Now I view such “mistakes” as nodes, checkpoints, where expectation clashes with a larger reality. If I connect the nodes to one another, I can construct a fairly good map for my current view of reality. Since I am forever clashing, then the map is always expanding. In this way, I only barely manage to keep up with the creativity of the universe, which of course, is expanding faster than my capacity for mapping it. So I value my “mistakes,” for those nodes, the clashes, are what connect me to reality. Otherwise, I would be mad, living in my own little world.
Instead of being perpetually caught in repeating circles of addiction, I now move through space/time as it continually spirals into bloom. As before, I am continually circling, but now the circles become larger as I go. So that though I am always going around, passing through the same points as before, each point is on a higher or lower level of the spiral than it was previously. Sometimes, as I pass through a certain point, an old feeling is activated. A feeling that I now interpret as originating at the same point in the spiral, but many cycles ago. The temptation, of course, is still to react — in all the old ways. But I catch myself sooner now, so that I don’t “act out,” nearly as often, nor as intensely. Instead, I stop, notice what is happening, how I am feeling, what is mirroring that feeling in the outer world, and where in the spiral long ago that feeling originated.
I stop the world that way, so that I can get off. So that I can see the silly thing I am doing or about to do, and neutralize the need for it. How I go about that is the subject of this book.
In this book I look at ten tools which assist me in my life process. These tools help give my life shape, meaning, and direction. They assist me in overcoming old habits that tend to make me stuck. Most of them, moreover, are “free”: they do not depend on buying anything, or paying any expert for anything. Further, in my growing facility in using them, they free me up more and more, so that I move ever further from mainstream reality, into magic.
By magic, I mean the sensed, felt perception and experience of a multidimensional reality. A reality in which each moment opens, blooms into infinity, where creation is the law, where the meaning of life is continuously deepening, where compassion is the ocean we swim within. In order to access this magic reality, all we need do is open — first to our fear, and then, ultimately, to our fascination. For what lies on the other side of that very thin line which divides “fact” from “fantasy” is bliss, paradise, what we all long for, and, disappointed, have tried to forget. Heaven, right here, on Earth.
THE TOOLS, IN ORDER, CHAPTER BY CHAPTER