AK Reader, MY SECRET LIFE (1997), Chapter Seven, “Autobiography”

This chapter speaks for itself. I detail here, the process that led to it. An amazing time in my life.

During the same year when I was writing the autobiography, I also married myself for the first time, buying a gold ring for the occasion, embedded with a garnet. I’ll never forget waking up that first morning, eyes open to my hand on the pillow, garnet gold ring on left ring finger. An amazing moment of intimacy that felt just as strong as had a human beloved been lying next to me. Looking back on that year, and the ring, I’m reminded how much I recognized that in order to be whole, I had to fully accept, honor, and integrate all parts of me, especially male and female. 

After the year was done, I handed the ring to one of my spiritual daughters for her to wear and treasure.

At some other point in my long life, can no longer remember when, I married myself again — these two marriages are aside from my four marriages to men! So six marriages altogether! I ask: Am I fickle? Or do I evolve at a rate others can’t keep up with? Or both? — and wore another gold ring on left ring finger, this embedded with aquamarine, as I recall. Can’t remember how long I wore the second ring; but clearly, I must have needed to be reminded that my first loyalty must be to my essential self, or Soul. 

Which makes it not surprising that except for my first marriage to the father of my sons, I didn’t wear wedding rings during marriages to the other three husbands!

Chapter Seven

AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Writing A Soul’s Journey

 

Introduction

In 1970, the year I spent investigating my assumptions, I knew I had to use an electric typewriter; neither handwriting nor a regular typewriter went fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. I was living on my own for the first time, with two children on a $4000/year doctoral  fellowship, and I sacrificed whatever necessary to purchase that typewriter.

By 1985, I was hungering for a computer. The electric typewriter was too ponderous, too slow. I needed to be working with a machine which could translate my thoughts into words instantly, with no friction, no lag time. I knew that as soon as I sat down at a computer, I would start to write. Write what? I didn’t know. It didn’t matter. First things first. Get the computer and see what happens.

When I finally did purchase the computer (a used Apple IIe) sent to me with the former owner’s clear hand-written instructions on attaching the cables, I did manage to get the machine up and running the very first day. I was thrilled, and couldn’t wait to start writing.

Despair hit the second day. The word processing program didn’t work like a typewriter. So many new buttons to push, and nobody to help me figure it out.

In order to deal with the terrible feeling that I would never be able to learn how to use a computer, I decided to limit my learning time to one hour per day. That way I could master little bits at a time and, sooner or later, become familiar enough with the machine to begin writing.

But write what? After a few weeks I was ready — or at least sort of ready, so what should I write about? That’s when I hit upon the idea of writing my autobiography. I wanted to practice using the new machine, and I figured that if I just started with the first year of my life and went on up, this exercise would give me plenty of practice.

I mention how I started this project because I think it is often true that what we think our motive is in starting something turns out to be quite superficial — and thus easily reversed. The project never gains momentum. However, if we persist, actually committing ourselves to the project without quite knowing why, sooner or later we lock in; over time, both the deeper underlying motive for doing the project as well as what the project is really about will seep in.

That’s what happened to me. At first, with stunning naivete, I thought I would write a long, detailed, point-by-point history (herstory) of my life. But this, of course, is impossible. As Jose Louis Borges reminds us, in his wonderful story, Funes, the Memorious, to remember something exactly is to do it over again, taking exactly the same amount of time as the original experience. All stories are selections, even one so mundane as a chronological telling of everything one can remember from one’s own life.

Deciding on a Framework

Though, in the beginning, I didn’t think about what criteria I would use to decide what parts of my life were worth telling, I did make one major decision, to limit the story to my first 30 years. By this time I was an astrologer, for whom planetary cycles are experiential wholes, and I wanted to be able to understand my life as a whole. Thirty years is one complete cycle of the planet Saturn. I would tell the story of my life up to my first “Saturn return,” i.e., to the point when the planet Saturn returned for the first time to the exact degree of the zodiac it had occupied at my birth.

This decision felt good, felt right. And it also felt right and good that I would hit upon the idea of telling this story in 1985, when I was 44, though I had no idea why.

Then came one of those outstanding moments, moments with which, as an astrologer, I have been gifted repeatedly. I realized that just as I was about to begin this project, Saturn’s position in the zodiac was exactly half-way through its second cycle, 180° from where it was at the time of my first Saturn return! The 180° “aspect” in astrology, is akin to the full moon. It describes a time of full illumination. How fitting! That I should be giving perspective to the entire first cycle at the very time when I was half-way through the second cycle!

Already the project was beginning to pique my interest. Perhaps it was not just an exercise, a way to practice learning how to use my computer.

The Project Begins

I decided that the way I would go about writing my autobiography was to begin from the beginning, with birth . . .

“Head first, intensely alive, the girl-child slips quickly through the birth canal into harsh mechanized light. Birth is a shock. She screams. It is 8:02 AM, Central War Time, December 19, 1942, in Fort Sam Houston Hospital, San Antonio, Texas.

“Meanwhile, during that same winter month, under some bleachers one thousand miles north in Chicago, scientists conduct the first successfully controlled chain reaction experiment on the atom.

“Sharing the same birth time, these two events are linked. What was born during that time shares the quality of that time. No matter where it occurred. No matter how large or small. No matter. Nothing matters. Only the links between them do. The patterns they show. Shimmering, reverberating, light shows. E=MC squared. Matter converts to energy. And energy, Blake knew, is ‘Eternal Delight.’

“This is the story of the binding of one small child’s energy into matter, a long, slow, painful process.”

 

The die was cast. The process was begun. Already, it was apparent that a more profound motivation had taken hold.

I didn’t realize this yet. But I did know that I was intensely interested in this project, that it was not just an exercise.

The Process: Glitches and Gift

I had already decided to proceed chronologically, looking at each year of my life in turn. This is what I did. Working two or three hours a day, the manuscript took exactly one year.

The process wasn’t a smooth one; there were a couple of serious glitches. The first came after I had finished the first 50 pages. I was invited to dinner by a friend whose husband was a relatively famous film editor and producer. At one point in the dinner conversation he asked me, politely, what was I doing. I answered, slightly cringing, “I’m writing my autobiography,” knowing full well how pretentious that sounded, and yet not at all emotionally prepared for his reaction.

With barely concealed scorn, he asked me why I was doing this, since I was neither old nor famous.

Later, when I got to the point in my story where I was investigating my assumptions and “deliberately,” one might say, “going mad,” (i.e, deconstructing the psychological, intellectual and social networks within my own psyche that constituted so-called “sanity”), I realized that I couldn’t finish the book until I went home to see my father. That I was still mad, still furious with him, and that this knot in my emotional body was keeping me in a certain place, so that I could not finish telling the story.

So I stopped writing. And drove the five hours to Sun Valley, Idaho, ostensibly to visit both parents, but really, to have a talk with just my father. I wanted to transform the dynamics between us, to heal the lifelong hostility that had kept us polarized. How to do this, I had no idea. Nor did I really want to go see him! It was one of those journeys I knew I had to make, because the minute I considered it, I noticed a feeling of dread grab hold of my solar plexus. It was one of those things that I was afraid of doing, therefore it was something I had to do — to push the envelope, and thereby open up space within myself.

As a child, I had been a good girl, cowed by my father’s stern German parenting into an unquestioning obedience — this included a sheep-like compliance with the dictates of the Roman Catholic religion. As the eldest, I was expected to serve as the model for my seven brothers and sisters and did so, getting good grades and serving as mother’s little helper from an early age.

When I was 26, and changed, via the first attack of peritonitis, my role in the original family dynamic shifted. Within a two-year period, I gave up first my religion, then my husband, then my “sanity,” and finally, my own children. From the model good daughter, I flipped into family scapegoat, and had been there ever since. My fury, so long compressed and buried under saintly behavior, now burned hot and fierce, though cathected from the emotions into the mind, where it was channeled intellectually into ideological differences.

He was a doctor. I hated allopathic medicine.

He was a devout Catholic. I became, at different points, first an atheist, then an agnostic, then a goddess-worshipping pagan.

He was Republican, I called myself an Anarchist.

We hadn’t been in each other’s presence alone for many years. The tension and frequent eruptions between the two of us were a constant source of concern and gossip for everyone else in the family, and allowed them to project onto me any of their own latent rebellions against his rule.

During those hours driving from Jackson Wyoming through the central Idaho desert, my mind wanted to work overtime, trying to figure out what I was going to say, how I would control and manipulate the conversation between us so that it would work out the way I wanted. But I knew I couldn’t do this, that if I did, I would still be in the same place, trying to control him as he had controlled me as a child.

Instead for those five hours I worked to let go of my mind, and move into the center of my being. I wanted to center myself, to be present within the moment, to bring all of myself to this point in time, this crossing from my home to his, this meeting with the man who had been my first teacher, my worthy opponent for so many decades. I had told my mother on the phone that I would stay overnight. Sometime during an approximately 24-hour visit, I wanted to find myself alone with my father. This hostility was between him and me; it was time for my mother to get out of the middle.

When I arrived I was surprised to find one of my brothers there. Mark was going to stay for dinner and leave around bedtime — so that evening was out. I went to bed early, feeling anxious — the old dread again, exacerbated now by being in their presence and in their home. Feeling that old sense of suffocation, I opened all the windows in the guest bedroom as wide as possible before going to sleep. Even so, I could sense depression gnawing around the edges of my consciousness, feel it pulling me into its yawning maw.

The next morning I wake up early, before dawn. And lie there, depressed, numb. Hardly remembering why I have come. Simply being in their psychic space has undermined all my determination. Now it is already the next day. I must leave by noon! How will I pull this meeting off? (“Forget it! Just get out of here!” — says the little cowardly devil on my left shoulder.) And then I remember: Aha! Dad gets up early, before Mom. I bet he’s up now. I can speak to him now.

I arise, put on a bathrobe, and peek out my door into the living room. There he sits, on the couch, studying theology (by this time he had become a deacon in the Catholic church).

“Dad?” I call softly, my face in the crack in the door.

He looks up, startled. “Yes, Ann?”

(Already something has shifted. I am remembering, and I imagine he is remembering, those years when I was a young girl and he and I would both get up at 3 AM and sit reading companionably — him his medical journals, me the Lives of the Saints. We shared something then, are we to share something now?)

“Dad, I say, hesitant, — I’d like . . . to talk with you.”

Gruffly, he shoots back: “About what?”

I smile, and say, gently, “I think you know.”

At this he immediately pulls the blanket off the couch pillows beside him and motions me over.

I can’t remember all that we told each other that early morning in October 1986. I do know that I told him that I had begun to realize that there was no way I could change the way I felt about him as long as I stayed in my head. That as long as I stayed in my head we would always disagree. That I wanted to learn to get out of my head and into my heart.

As I was saying these things, he was nodding his head, as if to say that yes, he too had gone through exactly this process.

I know I also thanked him for the teachings he had given me, for his discipline, his seriousness, his commitment to follow truth as he saw it no matter where it led.

And in turn, as a grace note, unexpected, completely astonishing to me, he responded: “And I want to thank you for making me question every single one of my beliefs.”

As precious as that meeting was, I learned later that the old hostility would not just disappear, that both of us would have to surrender our mutual paranoia over each other’s presumed ill will over and over and over again. That meeting was over ten years ago. It was the first step in a long stairway to what does feel now like a real and relatively continuous peace between us.

I found, in writing the story of my first 30-year Saturn cycle, that it gifted me with the beginnings of peace with my father. (In astrology, one of the keywords for the planet Saturn is “father” . . .) Far from being a mere exercise, this project turned into a major process initiating me into the second half of the second cycle of Saturn. And by the time the project was complete, I had discovered its name.

The Preface

Here now, is the Preface, written afterwards, of my autobiography, A Soul’s Journey.

“This book was written as a closing ceremony to a period of extended reflection upon the first 30 years of my life. It is an attempt to discover the actual driving force behind a chronological account of external events. I wanted to show how the soul, by inciting numerous infinitesimal shifts in awareness over an extended period of time, gradually reveals itself, its message, and even something of its purpose to the personality which has unknowingly camouflaged it all along.

“In this book I wanted to be as honest as possible, both about my experience of what happened, and why. In order to do this I had to allow a sort of controlled schizophrenia, splitting myself into two parts, the experiencer and the witness. In this way I could be both utterly absorbed in and yet view with detachment my own story as case history. I was contemplating my blossoming self as the subject of a kind of experiment, unknown to myself as it was going on, and yet yielding very definite results. These results are such that they are both individual and specific to me, and yet, paradoxically, through their concrete particularity, also archetypal.

“In other words, insofar as I have succeeded in telling my own story, I may also resonate with yours. For though our experiences may vary utterly, the patterns that structure our lives, and the kinds of lessons our souls are learning, are often much the same.

“People ask me, ‘How do you remember so much of what went on so long ago? I could never remember my life like that.’ Nor could I, unless I had decided it was a project worth doing. Once I made the decision to go back through my life and truly re-member myself — put myself back together again — all I needed was a methodology for encouraging that process.

“My approach to the subject was simple. For each year of life I would enter, for a few days, a meditative mood, attempting to feel my way back into the atmosphere of that time, how it felt, what it was like for me to be say, three years old, or twelve years old. Then I would take a blank piece of paper and start jotting down things that I remembered having happened during that year, ordering them chronologically. This exercise would take a few days. By the time it was completed I would be so thoroughly immersed in the temper of that time that the writing, as a result, came easily.

“The assumptions governing this project were the following: 1) what I did remember was, for some reason, important to remember; and 2) by stringing my memories together chronologically, a pattern would eventually emerge which would make sense of those memories, why they, and not other experiences, were worth remembering, and therefore, of value to me.

“One could argue that what is important in our lives is exactly the opposite; that the experiences we don’t remember are the really valuable ones — so valuable that they guide us, blindly, to repeat the same patterns over and over again.

“I would agree. What is forgotten is often full of emotional charge. A charge that, if allowed to express, would bring untold consequences. So we “forget” it; we deny it ever happened by pushing it down into the unconscious where it sits, simmering, for years. Yet “what is repressed always returns” — to haunt us; to press us into habitual ways of acting and thinking over which we have no control because we are ignorant of the roots of motivation which attend them.

“But we don’t want to lose control. That’s why we refuse to remember certain things that happened, because we don’t know what would happen if we did. We might change our careers; we might divorce our spouses; we might stop doing what our parents, or our children, or our friends, want us to do . . . We are afraid to remember because to remember would be to change. We fear change, especially the kind of change over which we seem to have no control.

“So either way, it seems we are doomed to go out of control. Either we succeed in forgetting it or we wish we could forget it but can’t — either way the experience was important, it haunts us, and it causes us to act in ways that seem to go against our own free will.

“As certain events were so full of emotional charge that we attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in forgetting them, so these events which we are consciously willing to remember are also charged. They seem like turning points; or they illustrate, in one short hour, the pattern of a decade; or they show some subtle but slight shift that we do not understand but which is somehow important, and which we only gradually recognize as we grow older. The longer we live, the larger, the richer the background against which all future experiences take place, and the more complex and subtle our understanding of our own past.

“To me, the most interesting question about human memory is why only certain events, rather than others, carry a charge. Where does the charge come from? It is my personal feeling that our souls are, through these charges, nudging us to notice these events as somehow meaningful. In pondering them we enter a larger, more symbolic order. We meditate upon our character, and how it creates our destiny.

“I feel that those events we like to remember and those we would rather forget are both charged because they participate in the same kind of reality, that of change— the evolution or unfoldment of character. The unconscious decision as to whether or not to consciously remember certain events probably has to do with the magnitude of change, and how willing we are to risk it.

“So we can say that what is remembered and what is forgotten form two sides of one whole experience of change. Certain experiences jut out — or in; they become projected or protected from the endless round of seconds and minutes and hours that fill the tedium of everyday. Both the experiences we remember and the ones we unconsciously refuse to remember are somehow “charged.” They loom out — or in — from the mass of the otherwise continuously passing show. They carve our lives into a gestalt, or form, or structure; they weave the patterns that connect and illuminate the meaning in things.

“In this autobiography, I make no attempt at being objective. I am not interested in what actually happened but in my memories of what happened. My memories are a selection from the flow of my experiences. They are there, as re-membered, to reveal, as a certain story, something of my soul’s purpose in this life. Others with whom I was involved at various times would remember the same events at least slightly differently, and it is precisely the differences that show the particular meanings attributed to these events by the souls in question.

“To my knowledge, this way of viewing memory, and the import of selective memory, has not been approached before. Usually, when people attempt to remember things, if they wish to be ethical, then they wish to be as objective as possible, with any deviation from that norm being assessed as a sort of failure. This way of proceeding strikes me as absurd. For to be completely objective, one would have to remember something exactly the way it happened by repeating it exactly. This process of remembering would take exactly as long as did the original experience. To remember a year would take a year, and so on. Which is ridiculous, impossible; and thank God we can’t do it! For if we could such a procedure would lock us into the most suffocating kind of intensely repeating pattern.

“I wrote this book between June of 1985 and June of 1986. Since then I have returned every couple of years to look it over. Each time I do, I notice that the gestalt of my entire memory system has subtly shifted, so that everything looks slightly different. Indeed, at this point I would even subvert the meaning of my central metaphor, that of Plato’s Cave, and its shadowy light a metaphor for pale approximations to the Truth, as illumined by the Sun. Now, I see the Cave as a metaphor for female and earth wisdom, to which we must return if we are to harness an energy equal to that of the masculine Sun.

“Be that as it may. That’s the way it is. Time is a river, and life is a process; we don’t step into either of them the same way twice.

“What has not changed is the spirit of the endeavor. My aim, in any year of my life, is not objectivity, but a most radical kind of subjectivity. Only as I plunge deeply into the specific way I remember the events of my life, can I remove the trappings that conceal the soul.” — Ann Kreilkamp, 1987

 

 

 

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