Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
Preaching on the Prairie: Chapter 12
“Seek the lost word, among the hierophants of great Tartary and Tibet.”
§ My latter days in Phoenix led to my own healings and transformations through two different people who seemingly came from different worlds. One American-born but a Tibetan at heart, the other an Englishman who worked through the hands.
Interestingly, I contemplated joining an excursion with some Wellspring people to far-off Tibet. The landlocked, mountain horizons of secret Tibet had called to me for several years.
I remember from my earliest years staring into volumes of old Books of Knowledge and being drawn especially to two places in the world. Egypt and Tibet. Cayce in his Ra Ta era caught my attention in my early adult year. Then increasingly, I read on Tibetan Buddhism, the gurus and yogis of the Himalayas, and the books of the Tibetan D.K. I thought for a time that to visit Tibet was a dream to be fulfilled. The trip, though costing around $5000, was within the realms of possibility. “Consider All the Possibilities.” A group was forming to make the venture in the fall of that year. So, I set my sights on a pilgrimage to one of my certain homes in distant times. But, I didn’t make the trip. Not yet, anyway.
We all pass through this existence under different rays, varied astrological influences, and the effects of myriad past lives in the present age. Thus, it is not surprising that many of us need deep experiences and wide opportunities to uncover the spectrum of possibilities suitable to our natures. As mentioned earlier, in this era, our karma brings the potential to live a number of lifetimes in one. And, so I did in Phoenix AZ through unique medical and para-medical experiences. §
When I moved to Phoenix, I carried with me a long-time, unfulfilled interest in the healing touch. One of the greatest boosts in that direction was the continual suggestions for laying-on-of-hands, massage and magnetism, chiropractic and osteopathic care which I found in the Edgar Cayce readings. Cayce indicated that the touch of a centered and potent human being was more valuable than most any therapy. He encouraged laypersons to use their hands to aid family and friends, and pointed practitioners to clearer understandings of the subtler work which they might perform. While Cayce often discussed “the coordination of the nervous systems,” he occasionally went deeper in his monologues to emphasize the activity of the energy centers and the kundalini force. I was fascinated by the implications of his words, yet bewildered as to how I might implement Cayce’s suggestions.
I started out doing simple massage on my wife. I followed a general pattern which Cayce indicated. I rubbed Cayce’s olive oil/peanut oil/lanolin mixture onto Kathy’s body. Although K. always enjoyed and appreciated those massages, I was never quite sure of their physiologic benefit. I wasn’t any clearer about the value of many chiropractic adjustments and osteopathic manipulations when I saw them performed. All the same, I believed in their potential value because Cayce was so regular and logical in his recommendation of them. The idea made sense.
I spent many free afternoons during medical school at the Pasadena Chiropractic College watching students go through their paces in the College Clinic. Although I envied their developed sense of touch and their ability to “pop backs and crack necks,” I was made quite aware of their scientific shortcomings. The professors and students seemed to have a rather naive view about disease and, at the same time, a grandiose belief in the powers of chiropractic. I suppose medics are more or less in the same boat as chiros, but don’t realize it either. On the other hand, physicians see a much wider variety of patients with a broader spectrum of ills. Chiros predominantly treat people with neck pain, back problems, headaches, and oddities which M.D.’s give up on. While allopaths see patients from the cradle to the grave, chiropractors rarely treat infants, the aged, and the dying.
Still, there are many similarities between the two professions, the main one being the generally simplistic nature of their work. For physicians and chiropractors who simply follow traditional textbook training, patients are either biochemical factories or mechanical devices. Doctors of both guilds usually look for a single material cause of their patients’ ailments which they expect to respond to their generally singular material treatments. Both professions have successes, though they usually get superficial and short-lived responses because that is the kind of therapy which they offer.
During my latter med school days, I especially looked forward to spending time with Reggie Platt, D.O. Again largely on Cayce's recommendation. The Cayce readings gave high praise to gifted osteopaths who “touched” their patients. The bearded, white-jacketed, professorial Platt exhibited a rapport and friendship with many of his patients which pictured to me the comforting country doctor of years past.
My first real entrée into wider osteopathic experience came through the elective I spent at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1977. It seemed to me that hands-on contact would be a wonderful way to “get in touch” and offer a personal bit of healing to patients. While I already believed in the necessity of teaching and promoting patient responsibility, I also recognized the need for multi-level interactions with patients. And that when a person is really sick, it is very hard to pull oneself up by the bootstraps all alone.
Over time, I came to the understanding that there is both a subjective and objective component to every human ailment. Inner mechanisms demand patients to develop new lifestyles, make changes in consciousness, and pursue fresh orientations which fit prevailing conditions. While the mind definitely has to be set straight (mind is ever the builder), the body itself usually requires attention of one sort or another. Human contact through massage, manipulation, or “energy” therapies can be of great value. Subtle interactions stimulated through the hands can have dramatic effects far superior to those created by many of our crude material remedies.
Prior to my time in Arizona, I was still in the stage of observing others demonstrate or practice manipulative therapies. On occasion, I had “put my hand in.” Sometimes, I had a real experience.
Still, I determined to learn more about manipulation even though I wasn’t going to become a D.O. or a formally trained hands-on M.D. I started a track program in Neuromuscular Integration sponsored by the American Holistic Medical Association attending sessions in Missouri and Michigan. I visited an annual convention of the American Osteopathic Association and even joined the American Academy of Osteopathy. The latter organization is designed for osteopathic manipulators only and was not eager to have an M.D. on board, but a good word from Paul Kimberly in Kirksville helped me get an associate membership.
During my tour at Fort Riley, I drove to Colorado Springs for an annual AAO meeting. Again, I tasted real osteopathy. The old-timers were out in force. At that program, I finally began to grasp some of the reasons for Edgar Cayce’s admonitions about manipulative therapy and his decided preference for gentle osteopathic treatments. I got clear about my discomfort with the Kirksville Crunch and the Chiropractic Thrust. I put my hands back into The Real Thing – Cranial Osteopathy, which I had first experienced in Kirksville. Some of the old pros let me in on their practice sessions and told me what I was feeling and still didn’t fully sense. Despite my continued insensitivity, I figured that someday I would get the “hang of it.” My yearning for authentic hands-on work continued to grow.
But, there was another angle to my growing interest. By the time I had worked in Phoenix for a few months, I was in a bit of a dilemma. My belief in allopathic methods (with the exception of some acute and emergent therapies) was practically nil. I was somewhat disgruntled with the ARE Clinic, its own shotgun methods and patient-lumping procedures. I found little lasting value in some of the Cayce remedies which were prescribed often just because “The Sleeping Prophet” had recommended them. How much of their benefits were due to short-lived psychosomatic influences, momentary changes in consciousness, or placebo effects?
I believed the mind in relation to the spiritual nature to be the key to healing and the body to be entirely secondary. Yet, the body is still a law unto itself, according to Cayce. It cannot be denied or overlooked. It must be attended and respected. Ultimately, the avenues to the deeper human physiology must be appreciated, the mind-body connection elucidated, and the apparent dichotomy overcome. As it surely will be. Seers from East and West have proclaimed, “The mind is not so much in the body, as the body is in the mind.” Think about that one.
The seeming contradictions and paradoxes intimidated me. I oscillated with them like a pendulum, in part because I had a reasonably clear understanding of the mind’s functioning in health and disease, but also because I had no effective handle on dealing directly with the body. I increasingly saw the body as a symbol of the inner nature, yet as an intricate and magnificent part of the whole.
I viewed it as our worldly projection, our medium of communication and transportation in physical plane life. Yet, I surely wouldn’t deny the continuity between our parts and the integration of the whole. There is no separation and can be none except to us who haven’t yet the vision to see. The body being more intertwined and enfolded with the mind and spirit than a hand in a glove.
I could not simply rely on counseling patients to think their problems away, to change their lifestyles, to look more deeply within for answers. First of all, patients are usually keen to gain relief for “what ails.” People will only accept so much counsel and advice, especially when they are ill. Furthermore, one of the major functions of the physician from ancient times has been to alleviate pain and discomfort. While a certain amount of suffering can be valuable and stir us to discover faults and make changes, there are definite times, places, and needs for effective bodily therapies. Unfortunately, many effective remedies inevitably produce obvious side effects as well as hidden ones. One of the major defects of allopathic medicine is its tendency to suppress symptoms and drive disease back into the internal mechanisms. There must be and definitely are ways to alleviate without suppressing symptoms, to attenuate pain without producing additional traumas to the system.
My attraction to cranial osteopathy matured for these reasons and also because I desired a way beyond the spoken word to communicate with and touch my patients. I must say that there are numbers of ways to accomplish such a goal. My own choice suited me best at the time. It gave me an avenue to contact the body and many touching experiences.
I yearned to experience through touch, to contact and relate to patients at a basic level, to use my hands and be more directly involved in the healing process. At the same time, I encountered a resistance within myself to the step which I knew was forthcoming. I still do not understand all of the ramifications of the resistance. Actually, my thoughts and feelings on the subject are hard to put into words. But, let me try.
For some years, I had “given” to patients through nursing care, medications and remedies, prescriptions and minor surgical procedures, counseling and advice. I felt comfortable with the concept of “giving” in those ways, although I had reservations about operative and drug therapies. But, when I thought deeply about “giving” through my hands, there was a hesitation. “This is entirely different,” I thought. Although I was glad to share of my ideas, money, talents, possessions with patients and non-patients alike, giving through my empty hands suggested offering a part of my very being.
I reacted with some discomfort to that perspective. I mulled over the implications of touching people many times as I sensed the time coming when I would learn more about deeper aspects of healing via the laying-on-of-hands. I don’t think I ever gained a clear answer to my questionings. I just went ahead and did what I knew to do. As I touched patients and was touched by them, I slowly gathered a sense of the interplay, the flow of the forces between us, and the greater field of healing energy of which we were but a part.
I had a number of mundane as well as a couple of “shocking” experiences leading up to my “initiation” into healing touch. The mundane ones began with having massages at the Clinic. Those led to me take a weekend course taught by Peter and Alice Riddle. It was only a smidgen of a course, but allowed several people to get started or further involved with Cayce style massage. We all had a good time and I decided that I preferred to give a massage much more than have to receive. That has not changed over the years.
My first shocking experience occurred on the road as I returned from the AAO meeting in the winter of 1981. It was a simple, yet still unexplained, incident as was the second. I checked into a motel midway on the return drive. I unloaded the car and sat for a while to catch my breath and release the road vibration. Then, I went into the bathroom to clean up. I washed my hands and face in my usual fashion. But, even before I got out of the sink, my hands were warm, tingling, vibrating, and humming. It was like I had plugged them into a high-frequency, low-current electrical socket. The sensation was mind-stirring. I just stood there and stared at my Electric Hands. The feeling lasted for several minutes, but then abruptly dissipated. All I could think was, “Wow! What does this mean?”
Almost a year later, I was back in Colorado to visit a friend. During my stay, we were invited to join in a sweat lodge ceremony on the rural property of a white man who took great pains to follow the Sioux ritual authentically. The man had built a permanent structure which could accommodate eight to ten people with reasonable “comfort.” When we arrived, he had been firing the rocks to be used in the lodge for some hours. The sun was going down and the rocks glowed red hot as we half-dozen imitation Indians got naked and crawled into the lodge.
The fireman used a long forked pole to scoop up the large rocks one at a time. He carried each rock the few yards from the fire pit and placed it in a depression in the center of the lodge. When the last rock had been deposited, he sealed the entrance to the sweat lodge. The heat had been mounting steadily even before the doorway was shut. At that instant, the leader splashed water on the radiant rocks and a steamy, scalding heat wave whirled through the tent. It almost knocked me over and tried to take my breath away. It was something fierce.
The ceremony itself began with prayers and continued with prayers. The leader had no end of prayers to offer. He also led us in intermittent chants to the Great Spirit and “All My Relations.” Eventually, each person in the lodge was allowed to offer words, petitions, and prayers. Between them, the leader took up the slack and offered more prayers. From time to time, he threw more water onto the fiery rocks and the heat intensified again. Bits of sage and sweetgrass were also offered to the fire.
The sweat lodge experience was many-faceted for me. It was stirring and draining, exhilarating and exhausting, uplifting and enervating. But, I certainly had not the stamina to find composure or peace in the midst of whole shocking ritual. The heat was almost stupefying and I was hanging onto myself and sometimes to the ground beneath me. I was anxious for my short prayers to come and the ceremony to be completed. I was eager for air and water, but I wasn’t going to break up the sweat for a little discomfort. I waited, next to last in the circle, while trying to be attentive when I became aware of my hands. I felt them spontaneously balloon in size although I could see them in their normal perspective amidst the lodge’s shadows. Then they began to vibrate and to hum – maybe even to sing. Next, they pulsated and throbbed. Finally, they were afire. Between the heat waves wafting round the lodge, the scalding mist upon my body, and fiery vortices at my hands, I was overwhelmed. I interrupted the ceremony, blurting out, “My hands! My hands! They’re on fire!”
The door was opened quickly and air rushed in. We each got a draft of water to drink. I couldn’t explain much of my experience to my fellows. (Still can’t.) Within moments, the sensation in my hands disappeared. When we resumed the ceremony and my turn arrived, I said, “Thank you, God, for this body and these hands through which I may do some small portion of your work. Teach me how to use these hands as instruments of healing for my brothers.” Whatever the meaning of those memorable moments, it was clear that I needed to put my hands to use for my own learning and for the aiding of others.
John Upledger and patient
As the new year of 1982 arrived, I looked forward to the A.R.E. Clinic Symposium. Dr. John Upledger was one of the headliners on the Symposium program and was also conducting a 12-hour workshop on Craniosacral Therapy. When the seminar opened, I listened intently to Upledger’s presentation and was duly impressed by his wide experiences, apparent sensitivities, and studied reformulations of Cranial Osteopathy.
Upledger was middle-aged giant of a man. He was imposing as well as engaging. John had been a researcher before and after becoming a D.O. He put a great deal of technical as well as vital energy into the investigation of Cranial Osteopathy. At the time of the program, he was still working at one of the osteopathic schools where he had produced a number of credible papers on his pet subject. Later, Upledger wrote a ground-breaking book and eventually started his own teaching institute.
John captured his audience with story after story of his experiences in the laboratory, in the operating room, in the office, and in his own personal life. He even shared a memory from a past lifetime which was entangled with his recurrent experience of shingles. Upledger was obviously a talented researcher as well as an expert osteopathic practitioner, acupuncturist, and hypnotist. I was taken in by the wealth of his knowledge and wide abilities. I was eager to sit in on his workshop. (Elmer Green at the Menninger Clinic eventually studied Upledger along with Rolling Thunder and Swami Rama. Apparently, Upledger and his gifts stacked up well alongside the other two notables.)
Dr. Upledger was hardly disappointing when I saw him close up in the short course he offered. He was an excellent teacher – organized, adept at his trade, bursting with anecdotes, capable of translating ideas into practical resources. John gave us a minimal overview of his field and had us soon jump into the work of feeling impulses, flows, motions, and symmetries. The most impressive part of his “show” was the evidences he gave of his keen sense of touch. I had never seen anything quite like it before and haven’t seen it since. Dr. John could put a finger on the toe of a student lying upon a table and explain the precise movements which were taking or not taking place in the subject’s head. On another occasion, Upledger was asked to check a finding on a particular person. While merely looking over the operator’s shoulder, Upledger diagnosed and explained what was going inside the patients body from a cranio-sacral angle.
I eventually had the good fortune to take a week-long workshop with John on one of his return visits to Phoenix. I added to my modicum of sensitivities and experiences in cranio-sacral therapies. I also augmented my observations of Dr. John Upledger. While John was an incredibly talented practitioner, he carried a real burden because of his gifts. Upledger seemed to be touching into forces and perceptions which were almost overpowering. They flowed through his large persona and intimidated people without his even trying. That power also troubled his own ego and threatened to overwhelm him. I wondered if his perceptual sensitivities might not outrun his spiritual development placing him at risk. All that aside, John Upledger made a profound contribution to the healing arts and to my own abilities to touch and relate to patients.
Some time after my initial contacts with Dr. Upledger, I had an experience with a patient at the ARE Clinic which I can best describe as delightful. I owe much of the credit for the happening to Upledger and the ideas he offered for my consideration during the Symposium. On call one evening for the Clinic, I was asked by the answering service to contact Mrs. Johanson. My phone call was intercepted by her husband who said that she was having some breathing trouble. He thought it best that she be seen right away. I readily agreed to meet them at the Clinic as soon as they could make the drive there.
I walked the few blocks to the Clinic and was there when Mr. and Mrs. J. arrived. Lena Johanson was wheezing and sputtering a bit, but otherwise seemed her usual anxious self. I had only seen the lady on a couple of routine visits previously, but didn’t need to refer to her thick chart to feel comfortable seeing her. Her recurring problems were asthmatic attacks, high blood pressure, and obesity. Lena was short and round. Despite her afflictions, Mrs. J. was sweet, jolly, and rather childlike. She lived with her husband somewhere on the eastern edge of Phoenix toward the mountains.
While her husband waited in the lobby, I took Mrs. J.’s vital signs and tried to settle her down. She was breathing rapidly and noisily, but it was obvious that she was in no danger. I eventually moved her to an examination table, making her as comfortable as possible. As I did, I asked questions and tried to get a handle on her sudden asthmatic attack. When Mrs. J. was suitably reclined, I suggested that she rest while I placed my left hand between her shoulder blades and my right over her diaphragm.
I maintained that position trying to be receptive. While I just sat there for some time, I felt her breathing and muscle tension begin to ease. A little, and then more. Then, the thought passed into my awareness that my patient may have been worrying herself. I had to ask.
Lena quickly responded, “How did you know? My husband read something from the newspaper which really bothered me. I’ve been stewing about it ever since. The paper said that they have discovered cracks in the dam above where we live. And, someday the dam may break and all its water come flooding out. We might get caught in its path. Oh, my! It really scares me!”
I probed a little further and Lena added, “Lars said things were probably safe until repairs can be made. I’m worried just the same. Guess I’ve gotten myself all worked up over it. Lars told me not to worry. He says, ‘If it happens tomorrow, we will be okay. We have a boat.’”
Lena’s apprehensions were not allayed because of the boat that Lars had “moored” in their backyard. Nor would her worries go away with any of my intellectual counsel. But, by simply touching, waiting, and listening, Lena’s breathing spasms disappeared and her state of being was considerably improved – at least for the moment. I was pleased and so was Lars. Lena didn’t seem to know what to think – in more ways than the obvious.
In retrospect, I imagine that Mrs. J. was anticipating an injection or some other medical intervention when she arrived at the Clinic. I sent her home with some recommendations about using her regular medications as well as a few words of counsel. I told Mr. J. of my sense that Lena’s anxiety was a key factor in the asthmatic attack. “Be careful what items you read out of the paper to your wife.” Lars laughed. Some weeks later, Mrs. Johanson picked up her medical records to take to another clinic. I wondered why. Did I miss something? Was my approach inappropriate for that person?
My main teacher in the area of touch appeared at the Clinic in mid-winter 1982. I had heard the name of Dr. Armitage passed around for weeks before he finally arrived on the scene. Peter Armitage: terribly English sounding, isn’t it? As I heard his name repeated over and over again, I became attached to his joining the Clinic. I imagined that having an osteopath on the staff might be a real breakthrough for the Clinic. I also became attached to Dr. Armitage himself before he made it to Phoenix. It was like I knew him and yet I didn’t know him. I expected him to be an older fellow, a bit crusty, but with an English charm, a dry sense of humor, and a teaching bent.
I was, as you might expect, both right and wrong. Peter was a young man – at least in age. But, he seemed to have a large experience and awareness in his hands. That and much patience. I learned a great deal from him as did other students along the way.
Peter’s story, as I remember it, was one of travel and travail which ultimately led to finding his niche in the healing arts and his place in America. In his early 20s, Armitage worked in documentary filmmaking in Britain. Later, Peter came into contact with osteopathy as the result of the illnesses which his wife, Flavia, experienced. Armitage was quite easily drawn into the profession. He completed the course of training at the European College of Osteopathy in London. As a European osteopathic student, Peter was taught manipulative therapy and its supporting sciences as opposed to American students who are laden with heavy burdens of allopathic pathology, pharmacology, surgery, etc.
After graduation, Peter had the urge to plant his feet on American soil and nail a shingle to a doorpost. But as a practical matter, that desire was not easy to fulfill. First of all, European osteopathy is not equivalent to American osteopathy. Peter’s degree could not stand on its own in the U.S. and he was not licensable as an osteopath in any state. Secondly, Armitage had to find a way to obtain permanent residency status: a green card.
Having made contact with the ARE Clinic, Dr. Armitage journeyed with his family to Phoenix in 1981 hoping to make some arrangement to work under the auspices of the Clinic. While the Clinic was generally accessible to a wide range of practitioners and would have welcomed Peter with open arms under other circumstances, the fact that he could not qualify for a license put the Clinic President in a bind. However unfounded his fears may have been, Dr. McGarey focused on the malpractice issue when he considered accepting Armitage into the Clinic staff. McGarey emphasized that Peter would have been uninsurable without some kind of a state license. At the same time, he ignored the fact that there were other therapists on the staff who had no licenses. Some of them were involved in activities which were more likely than Armitage’s to precipitate a malpractice suit.
Nonetheless, Peter was convinced to pursue a naturopathic degree as a prerequisite for coming on staff. Dr. McGarey gave him assurance that he would be welcomed aboard upon his graduation. At the time, the N.D. route seemed a reasonable idea when it was proposed to Peter. Armitage moved on to Oregon with his family to enter the Northwest College of Naturopathic Medicine under the stipulation that he would be granted a degree after completing the twelve months of senior level courses.
For a short time, the novelty of the naturopathic program engaged Peter’s interest. But, when he was introduced to the clinical setting and expected to recommend “vitamines” all around, Armitage recoiled. “Every patient was prescribed vitamines and a host of other therapies. Everyone got everything.”
While many of the theories behind naturopathy appealed to Peter, its practice irritated his sensibilities. “After all, I just wanted to use my hands.” Peter tried to hang on and hang in with the program. The promise of a slot at the Clinic awaited him. But, Dr. A. eventually gave in to his frustrations and gave up the naturopathic route. Peter returned to Phoenix where he owned a condominium. As soon as he arrived, he made tracks to the Clinic where I met him.
We immediately became friends and I supported his efforts to find a niche in the Clinic regardless of the lack of a license. We knew that the battle for instatement would not be easy, but imagined that the Clinic’s philosophy and need of a talented hands-on practitioner would open a side door for him. For a time, Dr. Bill made an effort to come up with a name or title or department into which Peter might fit. I remember McGarey playing around with the idea of “Energy Therapist” for some time. Peter didn’t much like the tag. But given the option, he most surely would have lived with it.
Interestingly, the Clinic was even then heading in the direction of Energy Medicine. It already had a corner devoted to the Graham Electromagnetic Therapeutic Apparatus which had no orthodox validation. Furthermore, the man, who ran the device and improvised counseling for its users, had no medical training whatsoever. (Harvey Grady was definitely talented and one of the Clinic’s bonuses, but he was not credentialed in therapy or counseling.) Biofeedback and colonic therapists had little or no standardized training, but were still carried under the Clinic’s umbrella.
As the decision came down to the wire, I, as “Chief of the Medical Staff,” offered to take responsibility for Peter’s work and deal with issues which might arise from his “practicing without a license.” Actually, that is pretty much what eventually transpired – but without the Clinic’s direct involvement. The Clinic President gave a final “No” to Peter’s request to join the staff. At the same time, I began to refer patient after patient for him to see at a makeshift office in his home.
Peter, who became one of my finest teachers, was quite the opposite of John Upledger. He was introverted, reserved, deliberate, and self-effacing. While John was dramatic, blustery, and imposing. Peter was a slight man with small delicate hands – and the gentlest touch. He was not accomplished and renowned like John, although he would eventually make his name as therapist and teacher among European osteopaths. The patients I sent him invariably raved about Peter’s sensitivity and service. They directed friends and family to him.
But, it was still difficult for an unknown and unlicensed practitioner to become recognized in the community. Peter was quite uncomfortable trying to promote himself and did it only in indirect ways. I was glad to “advertise” his talents and stimulate his practice in any way I could. Armitage eventually asked if he might open a “real” office with my name on the door. I readily agreed, but doubted that my name and M.D. on the shingle was of much value.
Peter was glad for me to join him on occasion as he practiced his own brand of therapeutic touch on a small clientele. It was probably bewildering for patients to have four hands working on them at one time. But once they got used to it, they seemed quite pleased. Maybe they got “twice the benefit.”
I learned and gained many things from my times with Dr. Peter Armitage. Not soon to be forgotten was his admiration for Rollin Becker, one of his osteopathic colleagues who worked in Dallas, Texas. I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Becker, but have read some of his writings (thanks to Armitage.) Four brief excerpts from an article by Becker on Diagnostic Touch may fit in usefully here.
LESSON§ “There are always three problems every time a patient enters your office. There are the patient’s ideas and beliefs of what he considers his problem to be; there is the physician’s concept of what he considers the patient’s problem to be; and, finally, there is the problem of what the anatomical-physiological wholeness of the patient’s body knows the problem to be.
“To sum it up as simply as possible, the patient is intelligently guessing as to the diagnosis, the physician is scientifically guessing as to the diagnosis, but the patient’s body knows the problem and is outpicturing it in the tissues.”
Rollin Becker was sharing some pretty foundational ideas in his article, ones of which practitioners as well as consumers should, but sadly too often aren’t aware:
• Believe it or not, your physician (lest he have Cayce-like abilities) is almost always GUESSING about your complaint or illness. Both patient and physician make GUESSES about illness and injury. One intelligent and the other scientific (so-called). Too often the “scientific” guess is no closer to truth that uninstructed.
• The patient’s problem is “outpictured” into the tissues. We might want to think about the other layers of the human being. We might say that “the problem of the whole being is outpictured into the body.”
Becker goes on to say, “You learn to feel into the heart of the patient’s problem from a still-leverage point that allows the functions and dysfunctions of the patient to be reflected back into your touch and feel. The first step in developing this depth of feel and touch is to reevaluate the patient from the third problem standpoint, just what does the patient’s body want to tell you? Take the patient’s story and opinion and set it aside, take your opinion and diagnosis and set it aside, then let the patient’s body give you its opinion. Place your hands and fingers on the patient in the area of his complaint or complaints. Let the feel of the tissues from the inner core of their depths come through your touch and read and ‘listen’ to their story.”
Dr. Becker and his talented colleagues seek to “touch and read and listen to the story” of the body. This is a huge and sometimes sufficient step to bring useful changes and relief to ailing patients. But generally, it is only an early step in gathering together the complete package required for healing. Healing is dependent on the creation or re-creation of wholeness of the being, not just the body.
“At the very core of total health there is a potency within the human body manifesting it in health. At the very core of every traumatic or disease condition within the human body is a potency manifesting its interrelationship with the body in trauma or disease. It is up to us to learn to feel this potency. It is relatively easy to feel the tensions and stresses of trauma and disease as they are manifesting this pattern of trauma of disease. But within these manifesting elements there is a potency that is ‘able to control or influence; having authority or power.’”
Becker suggests that the ‘potency’ of disease and injury can be detected with the hands. This prompts further thoughts as to the ‘potency’ which can be redirected toward health and healing. The hands of the operator are extensions of brain, mind and heart. A true healing interaction between patient and practitioner surely calls out cooperation at inner levels of mind, heart and soul. §
Practitioners like Rollin Becker and Peter Armitage and John Upledger suggested to me that there are true and deep possibilities for understanding and healing human ills. But, I kept coming back to the “layers of the human onion.” Surely, we are not just bodies, however intricately and delicately we are perceived, scoped and examined. There always seem to be more layers to investigate.
Dr. Armitage saw a wide range of patients, but he was most successful in working with people who had suffered some sort of physical trauma. Peter endeavored to release what he called “vectored forces” which had been driven into bodies through injury of one kind or another. It was as if he, as operator, induced the rerouting and releasing of those forces which had become stuck, clogged, or damped in particular areas and parts. The energies with which he dealt were quite real, but not yet subject to simple laboratory investigation.
The subtleties which are capable of being apprehended in such work are both wonderful and surprising. Cranio-sacral therapy and other forms of therapeutic touch can not only spur the release of trapped forces “inside the body,” but also seems to permit the realignment of forces which have been projected “outside the body.” This potential was demonstrated to me in the striking case of a disabled young woman named Carrie Munson. I heard about Carrie quite unexpectedly from Sam Meranto. Sam knew Carrie’s mother and when he heard about young woman’s condition, he wanted to help.
At the time I met them, the Munson family had been going through a slough of turmoil, disruption and pain. First, the elder brother suffered a neck injury in a motor vehicle accident leaving him quadriplegic. He lived on his own, but his trauma and subsequent depression affected the family deeply. Second, Mr. Munson suddenly abandoned his wife and children for another woman. He moved to distant parts. Third, Carrie and her kid brother rebelled and acted out their pains and hurts. Carrie totaled her school car. Then within a week of getting a shiny new one, she had another near-fatal collision.
Carrie was hospitalized at a major Phoenix medical center for almost three months with various diagnoses and complications. The physicians said she had suffered a brain stem injury among other things. Despite numerous setbacks, Carrie was finally stabilized and sent home in a hospital bed to be attended by her mother, aides, and visiting nurses and therapists.
Sam Meranto hoped that a “personalized” tape might stimulate her recovery. Yet, he could not stand the thought of seeing a young woman in such a state as he imagined Carrie to be. He asked me to drive to north Phoenix, deliver the tape, and pass on his good words to the Munsons. I was unsure about the request, but did not consider saying no.
I, too, was a little uncomfortable about such a visit. When I was taken into Carrie’s room, I found a frail, young woman with eyes staring vacantly in one direction. She responded only to pointed questions, rarely making spontaneous actions or noises. Most of the time, it seemed like “no one was home.”
Carrie’s arms were locked over her chest and her legs were drawn upward. During my first visit, I saw her raised from the bed and then “walked” mechanically around the room as if she were a robot. Carrie was sustained by a feeding tube which had been surgically inserted into her stomach. She had yet to recover the use of muscles required for chewing and swallowing.
The situation was frightful, but not hopeless. Carrie had already survived a host of traumas and, despite her fragility, she obviously had a vital core. She also had the wondrous strength and dedication of her mother upon which to draw. Karen Munson was convinced that her daughter would get out of bed and go back to school. She told me that the doctors were hopeful as well, but could give her no definite prognosis or timelines to go by. Actually, I suspected that having given the diagnosis of “brain stem injury” to Carrie, the physicians had limited expectations.
Mrs. Munson was taking all offers, utilizing a variety of nurses, therapists, and volunteers, and following up on everyone’s suggestions. When I indicated that my associate, Dr. Armitage, might be of some aid, Karen was receptive to his gratis therapeutic efforts.
Peter was interested as well and drove with me to the Munson home on an appointed day. After introductions, he intently went to work. According to Peter’s readings, Carrie’s whole cranio-sacral system had been disrupted by the mishap. He recognized all sorts of “lesions” which demanded attention. Peter visited Carrie on a number of occasions with me looking on. I put my hands on a couple of times, but was thoroughly confused by what I felt – or thought I felt.
I couldn’t understand Carrie’s situation from a strictly physical or even a cranio-sacral view. But, I came up with my own fairly plausible explanation based on an energetic perspective. First of all, I believe that Carrie’s subtle (etheric) body had been displaced from her physical form – or maybe it was the other way around. The accident basically propelled Carrie “out of the body.” She was either having a struggle getting back in or just taking her time about the whole thing. Maybe both.
Secondly, Carrie’s hold on the body was at the level of the heart. I sensed that she was not going to let go of life. She was “hanging tight.” At the same time, I suspected that Carrie had some essential fear of returning to the “real” world because of all the recent trauma which had touched her and her family. It seemed to be a twisted case of adolescent existential ambivalence.
There came a breakthrough some few weeks after Carrie came home and days after Peter and I stopped visiting. Whether Peter’s efforts helped nudge her back in the direction of life, I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but ... After the turning point, Carrie made a speedy and dramatic recovery. She returned to high school and graduated with her class.
Unfortunately, I never saw her again. Sam believed that his tapes had been influential in Carrie’s recovery. I didn’t tell him about my own recommendations and independent input into her case. Nor did I tell him that his tape was hardly tried. Carrie did react to pop music tapes. I also think that she responded to the power of touch – from Peter and Karen and all those who ministered to her and loved her.
CONFESSION§ I force myself to report that I required Dr. Armitage’s ministrations as the result of another auto accident – not my last – I had in the fall of 1982. The mishap came at the culmination of stress overload when I was trying to be a “good” doctor, neighbor, and friend in more situations than I could handle at one time. The retelling of the story may be instructive, although embarrassing.
Some weeks prior to the accident, I had opened my house to two young men to “help” them deal with their addictions. One was a drug addict of several years, my friend Jesse Chrisman, an alcoholic since his teens. After being absent from the area for months, Jesse had crossed my path again while I was trying to get Gary Dolton off dope. I brainstormed, “They might be good for each other. They could help each other out.” How wrong I was. They quickly came to despise each other. I suppose the mirror that each held out to other man was pretty scary. At the same time, they helped themselves to my food and shelter for a few weeks. I might have known better.
Two other people were “using” me at the time. One was a young blue-eyed woman who had caught my own eye and brought Gary to me. Victoria Ennis was a former drug user herself, but quite clean at the time. Still, she seemed to draw a vicarious thrill from her friend’s short-lived and weak efforts to kick the habit. The other member of the foursome was a middle-aged Latino patient named Elizabeth Huerta who was on the fringes of reality. Being an open-minded and sometimes naive experimenter, I consented to let her share her church with our “household.” Elizabeth also offered to pass on some of her charismatic gifts, but fortunately we never got to that stage of the scenario.
My contact with Elizabeth produced a funny episode which I must tell. After a bit of coaxing, Elizabeth convinced the three of us – Gary, Jesse, and me – to attend an Assemblies of God worship service with her. “It’ll be good for your souls,” she said. We loaded up in her car one evening and drove to the meeting which was held in a former high school, the temporary home of the burgeoning congregation. We followed Elizabeth through the huge parking lot into the school auditorium where pre-service activities were in progress. When we took seats at the front, I got a real “feel” for the event.
As we arrived, a “pep” band was accompanying the opening hymn sing. The group was composed mostly of junior high kids with an odd set of instruments. Their renditions were weak and scratchy, but I was probably the only one who even noticed. Still it was a family affair, and most of the early part of the evening felt much like a rally for a small-town football game.
Eventually, there was a lull in the action when the team leaders were introduced. A half-dozen of the church leaders bounded across the stage to the cheers and applause of the excited congregation. All were sportily dressed and looked like they had just finished blow-drying their hair in the men’s locker room. The star player, Tommy Thompson was more than impressive. Slim and trim in a slick navy blazer, crisp-pressed slacks, and white saddle shoes, Tommy gave the appearance of a true All-American. I swear he might have rivaled Pat Boone in an earlier day.
Tommy spent a good deal of time celebrating his team, his church, his congregation and all its accomplishments. He carried on for twenty minutes or so even before he introduced his church school teachers one at a time. Eventually, Reverend Tommy turned to give his message. His tune changed to an unexpected and opposite pitch from his upbeat opening. I was disappointed. He seemed to spend the entire sermon warning the congregation of the “forces of Satan” which were intent upon dragging down the church, destroying the school bus system, and infiltrating the congregations and its programs. “Satan never rests, nor can we. We must be vigilant and fight. God is with us, but only if we fight for what is right and holy. This church and our bussing program for the children are bulwarks which must stand against all that Satan uses to obstruct the sharing of the Gospel. Fear not. We will be victorious.”
I could only stand so much. Despite the fact that Elizabeth was sitting at my side eating up Tommy’s every word, I got up and left the auditorium. Gary followed not too far behind. He had to have a cigarette. We talked for a while and then just wandered the parking lot until the service broke up.
Jesse came out in the midst of the crowd. He had to tell me his story. “When they had the altar call, I went forward. I said that I was a sinner, but I wanted to accept Jesus back into my life. So, they prayed for me real good. Afterwards, I told one of the people there that I needed a job. I gave him your number. Do you think they’ll call me?”
Elizabeth exited with the latter train of people. She got in on the end of Jesse’s story and had to add her input, “You’re a brave young man. Jesus will reward you. I can see him watching over your shoulder right now.” Elizabeth appeared to have some really powerful connections. But, I preferred to live in what I thought was a more sensible way without her unneeded gifts. I never saw her after that sadly funny episode.
You might well imagine from the foregoing the strange vortex of forces in which I lived for some weeks. There was a real lack of clarity and peace in my life at the time. But, there was an exception. My faithful dog, Lady, lived in the midst of storm. While her life was innately more intact than the rest of us combined, she naturally fed off the erratic human energies around her and got caught in the middle of “the craziness” which was stirring at the time. One day, Lady accompanied me as I jogged along one of the irrigation canals in Phoenix. I got caught “away from the controls” and ran across a street forgetting that Lady was somewhere behind me. As I reached the other side and remembered Lady, the traffic started up and she dashed across the street toward me. The dog was bowled over by a slowly-moving van, but fortunately sustained only minor injuries.
You would think that I might have gotten a clue by then that I was in “over my head” and needed to find a way out. Well, I hadn’t, yet. Just a few days later on a workday afternoon, I left a lunch meeting in Phoenix and drove toward my Scottsdale office. I don’t recall what was on my mind at the time, but it was undoubtedly clouded with all of the strange comings and goings of recent times.
I attempted a left turn at a busy Phoenix intersection – one of those intersections which has a left turn lane but no separate signal for the turn. When the traffic temporarily cleared in the oncoming lanes, I incautiously started my left turn. I seemed to be magnetized into the intersection. Suddenly, a car appeared speeding toward me as I continued what felt like a slow-motion pace toward Camelback Road. While I thought to myself, “Oh, no! Not again!,” the oncoming car smashed into the passenger side of my vehicle causing it (and me) to rotate and skid into a parked automobile. Still in the midst of all the commotion, I was aware that there was some overriding purpose behind the scenario. There was a surreal sense to the whole moment – until I got out of my car and surveyed the situation and the damages.
The results of the “accident” were damage to three vehicles, a traffic ticket for “failure to yield the right-of-way,” a bruised ego and a disoriented state of mind. I accepted the ticket sheepishly and tended to arrangements for automobile repairs. I brooded for some days over the significance of my “failure to yield” and eventually came to some helpful conclusions on the subjective aspect of my problem. I was also fortunate to have a colleague who could tend to some of the physical effects of the mishap.
I put my body in the hands of Peter Armitage. Actually, it was Peter who recognized my “disjointed” state of being a couple days after the incident and offered to help me with his touch. As I lay still upon his treatment table, his hands joined physically and energetically with my body. He sensed the movement of forces which jarred my body and being in the “accident.” Peter coaxed a release of the forces which I had absorbed during the mishap. Instantly, the whole of my bodily energies seemed to equilibrate. Soon, it seemed I was back together again.
In the midst of that single session, I relived the sensation, motion, and emotion (anger at myself) of the accident. In addition, as I passed through a replay of the episode while on his table, I was aware of the releasing of the energies which had entrapped me for some days. To my relief, I stepped down from the table with “lightened” energy and a fresh view of the mishap and the moment. My disorientation lifted like a veil and I subsequently set about “the righting of the way” in my life.
I realized that I had not been failing to yield. Rather I was yielding too much of myself. I had really been letting people “run over me.” The nice guy approach is not always the best. I came to the conclusion that “The Big G” didn’t always send people my way just for the benefit of my medical talents or personal comfort. I recognized that I wasn’t capable of handling everyone’s problems. Some of the people and patients who came to me needed to be told, “No, you need to do for yourself first. When you do, someone will be ready to give you a hand along the way.”
I proceeded to disentangle myself from Gary and Jesse and the two women.
Synchronistically, I discovered that Gary had been forging prescriptions with name for some of his favorite drugs behind my back. He had been getting his fixes legally, but in a very illegal manner. It was time for him to leave. Our mutual friend Victoria needed to find someone else to play games with and I let her know. Elizabeth must have read my mind, since I never heard from again.
Jesse may have been the most innocent of the group. I told him that our experiment had been a failure and that I hoped the church people could find him employment and new place in life. He handled the message with aplomb. There is more than a bit of sadness in me to be reminded of J. Chrisman. His talents were never (as far as I know) tapped, identity not developed, possibilities left unexplored. He did live a life – a street life. His experiences must have produced some sort of gain for his soul. I write as though he were dead. He may very well be. His life expectancy had to be short. I remember receiving a letter in the mail addressed to Jesse Chrisman some months after seeing him for the last time. Having no forwarding address for him, I opened the medical bill from an emergency room visit he had made. The statement gave some basic information on the services performed and the patient treated. The form gave Chrisman’s age as 40!
From the MVA, I learned about the power of manipulation as well as the weakness of “being the nice guy.” Those were two valuable lessons. Experiencing within my own body and being the shifts of energy produced at the hands of Peter Armitage was certainly a comparable gift. The fact that I had no collision insurance on my vehicle created some other problems for me. But inevitably, I decided all my lessons were worth much more than $1500. §
Peter and I shared numerous experiences in various office situations as he practiced and I learned therapeutic touch. I was always the student and receiver even on the occasions when Peter asked me to work on him. Armitage would stretch out on the table and guide me through an individualized treatment for himself. He would tell me what order to perform operations, where to place my hands, and even what changes were occurring beneath my touch. Ah! What a wonderful way to learn!
Along the way, I began using more aspects of cranio-sacral therapy in my own practice. Often, the touch was incidental to other aspects of the care I gave. Sometimes, I used it simply as a means to relax and calm a patient. Some clients would nod off and even snore, others would be freed up to talk and discuss their inner concerns and secrets. I gradually made my own discoveries about the potentials of touch therapy, finding that the effects often far surpassed physiological changes. Using a gentle hands-on posture, a listening ear, an encouraging voice, and a meditative attitude, I was able to elicit startling results – from time to time.
One of my hands-on efforts was with a husky 30 year-old man who unexpectedly entered the Wellspring office in the company of his wife. His complaint was of intermittent, excruciating flank pain for the past 72 hours. He had been diagnosed as having a kidney stone at a hospital emergency room and was given narcotic analgesics for home use. The relief he gained was only temporary. His pain returned quickly, but was compounded with a narcotic fog.
The young man was quite aware that he was then passing through some critical moments in his life – losing a job, relying on his wife to pay bills, wondering which way to turn in reorienting his career. It was encouraging that he could see that his “passing a kidney stone” was just the outer manifestation of all the subjective changes he was going through. The patient was quite clear and expressive about his fears and worries. And, his wife was right there with him.
After hearing his story and considering his situation, I realized that I had little but my hands to offer him. I made some short and rather fumbling explanation about using therapeutic touch as an aid for his problem. He readily agreed to recline on the treatment table as his wife nodded an ascent. I started with some general relaxing techniques at his head and neck, and worked my way slowly toward his feet. I had no great expectations for my efforts. I merely hoped that the young man’s discomfort would be eased.
I eventually moved down to his abdomen, placing one hand over his solar plexus and the other under his mid-back. I maintained that position for some moments in the stillness of the room. Suddenly, there was a pulsating, throbbing vibration between my hands. I could tell that the patient and even his wife were aware that something was going on. I held on while the throb turned into a momentary glow and then slowly faded away. I took a few more minutes to complete the contact.
When the patient sat up, his pain was entirely gone and there were tears of relief in his eyes. His wife was at his side. We had some good-bye hugs after sharing final words. I saw neither man nor wife again. While it appeared that my hands had been a benevolent aid to the pained patient, it may have been I who received the greater gift. The whole session – the one and only contact I had with the couple – was almost magical.
The dimensions of healing, as of life, are myriad. Likewise, the dimensions and forces which can be contacted through the touch are numerous. Yet, the tendency is for an operator to fall into a rote pattern of working with patients. But no two people are identical. No two bodies, well or ailing, are the same. That makes each therapeutic incident potentially unique. With such an entrée as hands-on therapy, there is no limit to what a practitioner (or layperson) may co-create with a patient.
The body, as we sense it, and the being, as it is, are the crossroads of uncounted forces – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social, environmental, etc. Each being is an intricate, magical vortex of forces which spiral in, through, and out of it to the rest of the world. “Modern physics tells us that our bodies are open fields – we are continuous with the cosmos and with each other.” (Irving Oyle)
Anyone who touches another human being or even comes close to one – contacting the other’s aura – makes connections with that person and engages in a transfer or exchange of energies, however unknowingly. The touch therapist is particularly involved in such a process. While much of his/her work is inapparent or even unknown, the hidden forces which meet in a healing encounter are awesome. Dimensions of mind, heart, and soul can be quickened and wonderful transformations set in motion. Extraordinary things can happen when one touches or is touched.
Totally baffling to me have been the occasional results of placing my hands upon or near a friend or patient. I have sat meditatively and watched for long times as they were transported to different times and spaces, entered altered states, or entirely lost consciousness (without going to sleep). Fortunately, such occurrences were uniformly freeing and uplifting. Sometimes, the subjects “returned” with unspeakable experiences and grateful sighs of release.
Parenthetically, I think it worth noting that healing moments are never independently occurring, totally spontaneous events. Neither are there causeless diseases or true accidents. The touch may be one of the keys to healing, but the material aspect of it or any other therapy is not the driving force or essential ingredient. The body and material nature are the outer projection of inner layers which hide our deepest nature. Changes move from within outward. A therapeutic interaction which facilitates true healing only succeeds because the groundwork has been somehow, sometime laid in a deeper dimension. The preparatory work must have been done in some level of consciousness within and beyond the body. Mind is ever the builder.
LESSON§ Sadly sometimes, the mind can be drawn to destruction more easily than it does to construction. Another instructive moments from the records at Wellspring rises to awareness. A woman from back East somehow appeared to consult with me on extraordinary illness.
Yolanda had the terrifying experience of seeing her husband killed before her eyes. He was crushed to death between two vehicles. Thence, it seemed that Yolanda was “crushed” as well. Soon after her husband’s death, she was diagnosed as having an auto-immune disorder which manifested in pain and partial paralysis, inflammation and edema in her legs. Yolanda received orthodox medical therapy including cortisone and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Yet, she remained confined to a wheelchair and had recurring exacerbations of her disabling symptoms.
We reviewed many parts of story, but my offering during our one consultation came to sharing simple questions. I asked her what she would do when she was healed. She replied, “That one is easy because I understand how it feels to be crippled. I will visit people in the hospital who are bedridden or stuck in a wheelchair. And I will go to church again.”
As if I was channeling Edgar Cayce, I quite simply recommended that when Yolanda returned home she begin to do those two things, preparing for renewed health while she shared with others. I also explained that if she could go to the hospital or clinic as a patient, she was able to go there as a visitor and a helper. Similarly, if she could find her way to medical appointments, she could make her way to church on Sunday. Acting AS IF can be an important part of the process of becoming well, being healed, achieving wholeness.
“Be purposeful in self.
These as we find are the attitudes.
What would body do WITH itself IF healed?
Promise that – believe it – do it.”
All healing is really self healing. The only question is about which self we invoke. How big is the Self? Still, it can be a big step to move from the old self to the new one, from the small to the greater Self.
Opportunities are waiting patiently in front of Yolanda and you and me. Whether we recognize them and put them to good use for ourselves and others becomes the big question. Physicians who came out of the Islamic tradition in the Middle Ages knew full well that, “God sends down no malady without also sending down with it a cure.”
Yolanda, like all of us, had it inside her very being to pass through her trauma, grow out of adversity, and to vision a new self. That Self is, was and always will be found within.
It is well worth remembering that healing most often comes quite incrementally and unexpectedly outside the office, the clinic, or the hospital. Most therapy and transformation occurs in the activities of daily living entirely independent from such institutions. §
Another layer began to blossom in my career from the moment that I arrived in Phoenix. That was the medium of group work. To me, the greatest innovations of the Clinic were its residential Creative Living and Temple Beautiful Programs. Although the programs had shortcomings, they definitely offered the integration of health care, self-discovery, and community spirit.
There is a peculiarly potent kind of geometry at work in group activities. In the medical office, no geometrical relationship is possible – just one or two lines between patient and practitioner exist. (I must add that “wherever two or more are gathered ...”) For a truly therapeutic rapport to develop, I believe one or more triangular relationships must arise. From the very outset in group settings, multiple geometries are activated and developed. Group vibrations magnify and accelerate change. There is really no holding back the movement of forces with the group. That is also one of the pitfalls of group work.
The Clinic programs spurred my first recognition of the healing potencies inherent in groups. I saw them offer participants the senses of belonging, of respect for their struggles, of hope in the place of dire and dread prognoses. People in the Health Awareness groups were empowered to deal with the stresses of life, to discover the peace and calm at the center of whirlwinds of change, and to search for new opportunities on the other side of turmoil. For many members of those groups, their experiences were singular events in their lives yet hints of greater things to come. The Clinic and Health Awareness programs gave me a taste of group energies, process, and discovery. They prepared me to touch my “Tibet experience,” a deeper level of group work, and my next teacher.
One June day, I followed my usual routine at the Owen Marcus Group. As I passed through the waiting area, my eye caught sight of an attractive, dark-haired woman seated in the corner. Some moments later, we sat face-to-face discussing her medical history and desire to undertake a series of Structural Integration treatments.
Outwardly, the woman was not my type at all. Susan Oliver seemed much too refined for me. I immediately wondered if I should address her as “Madame Susan.” Oliver was dressed simply, but elegantly, in a white cotton outfit made by East Indian hands. Her jet black hair was cut and combed to perfection – not a strand was out of place. Susan’s makeup was done flawlessly. She wore an expensive gold watch and carried a stylish bag. Her hands were small and delicate, and hinted at some of her career potentials.
Despite my first impressions, we developed an immediate rapport and our consultation ranged wide of her health situation. We discussed religion and spiritual development, psychology, and holistic medicine. I got a synopsis of her recent life and not “just the facts.” When we did delve into some essentials of her problem for a few moments, Susan was both receptive and understanding of my query, “Have you been angry with God?”
One of the things which most attracted my deeper attentions (and later intentions) to Susan that day was a response she made to a question on the medical history form. In the section marked SEX, Ms. Oliver had written “F2.” I could hardly avoid asking, “What does this F2 mean, Susan?” She immediately flushed and laughed when I showed her the form. We smiled and chuckled about that one for a long time to come. It still brings laughs decades later.
While Susan never came out in plain and simple English with an explanation of “F2,” it became clear to me that her response on the medical questionnaire expressed that she was not a typical woman. And, I wasn’t a typical man. I was looking for a deep-thinking, spiritually-oriented, creative woman with whom to teach and learn and grow. I telephoned her within the week. We dated and shared our stories and potential futures with each other. Our desires and aspirations seemed wholly compatible. We soon became both romantically and professionally involved.
Susan was the strong-willed daughter of an Army major. Susan was a military brat, attending 18 schools before receiving her diploma. Both of her parents were alcoholics and emotionally distant. Somehow, she managed to grow up, the eldest of three children, in a much strained and pained environment. Still, many scars lay upon her psyche.
After high school, she trained to be a dental hygienist and soon married. Susan claimed that her husband was too good. “He loved me too much.” After the delivery of her first and only child, a stillborn infant, the marriage dissolved. Susan moved to New York and obtained a position with Revlon, eventually becoming a highly-paid sales representative. For seven years, she was a true glamour girl, based in Atlanta, but traveling the length and breadth of the country.
Susan Oliver tired of the frills and thrills of the big cities and the national travel circuit. Then, she met an airline pilot who fell deeply in love with the Southern belle and carried her away to his mountain home in Colorado. Martin and Susan lived idyllically for a couple years until Susan felt the call to deepen her spiritual life. Such a thing was quite foreign to a pragmatic technician like Martin. But, Martin really loved Susan – enough to support her move to Nevada City, California, where she joined the Ananda Community, the ashram of the American-born Kriyananda.
For two years or so, Susan submerged herself in the development of the Ananda Press and the advancement of her spiritual practice. Eventually, she saw through some of the holes in the Community and tore herself away from the endearing and enlightening aspects of Ananda. The contradictions were too much for her to tolerate. In her latter months in northern California, Susan assisted psychologist Ron Mann in the “energy work” that he did with individuals and groups. In so doing, she discovered her own subtle talents of which she had been previously unaware. Those talents were to be real aids to me and lots of others in later times.
With great reluctance, Susan eventually left Ananda and her beloved Sierras in a state of disillusionment and pain. She made a temporary move to San Diego where she stayed with her test pilot brother. Susan spent several months at loose ends, depressed, lonely, and unsure of which direction to turn. She tried to continue her meditative practice, but met with strong resistance. “It was no use. It just added to my pain and hurt.” Oliver became incensed with the God who brought her journey to a dead end. In the midst of her rage, Sarah met with a car crash on the San Diego Freeway. The mishap left her with a cervical whiplash.
Wearing a collar around her neck and holding a grudge against her God, Susan returned to meditation only to be shown that she was to move to Phoenix. “Phoenix! The desert! That was the last place I wanted to go!” But, the Holy Mother of her meditations tried to allay her pain, fears, and anxiety. When a position as a cosmetics sales representative in Phoenix was suddenly offered her, Susan had no choice but to accept.
This would-be yogini packed a few possessions into her Honda Civic and braved the desert heat to make the trip. She arrived in the strange oasis knowing not a soul except the kitten who had traveled at her side. Yet, Susan quickly found a tiny adobe “hut” to call home and made valuable contacts through a group studying A Course in Miracles which she briefly attended. Within a few weeks, she was besieged by new friends who wanted her to teach. Sarah obliged by initiating an “Energy Group” which she held on a weekly basis in her 400 square foot hacienda.
Her first teaching effort in Phoenix was a great success and she soon developed a following. Susan was an instant guru for a number of people. A forty year-old woman name Donna became her chief devotee and helper. While Donna organized the teaching program for the fall, Susan and I took time to get to know each other.
We shared our homes and lives and disciplines. In a corner of “The Adobe” in which Susan had created an altar, we sat for meditation on numerous occasions, sometimes daily. Candles, incense, and crystals crowded around pictures of saints and gurus. Close at hand was a harmonium which Susan played from time to time to set the mood for inner quiet. At other moments, we sat with soft New Age music flowing from a cassette recorder or merely allowed the silence to sing to us.
Meditation before Susan’s altar was most uniformly a buoyant experience and occasionally almost rapturous. Late one evening, we ended our “silent” sitting and turned toward each other, saying almost simultaneously, “Wow! Did you notice the crickets? It sounded like they were chanting.”
Only a few weeks after our initial meeting, we drove with a group to Asilomar at Monterey, California, where we joined in a holiday conference presented by Dr. Brugh Joy and Tara Singh. Curiously, Susan was taken in by Dr. Joy’s intellectual offerings and I gravitated to Singh’s mystical explanations of A Course in Miracles.
At the end of the summer, we returned to California – to San Diego and the annual meeting of the Association for Holistic Health. Because of Sarah’s previous involvement with the conference, we both were able to sign up with fifty others for an intensive week-long workshop called the Health Optimizing Institute. Our group shared the same experiences almost as a family for a week. I remember HOI as a real high point in group sharing and interaction. A faculty of holistic authors and practitioners shared their stories and insights and visions with us throughout the week. Several of them even offered us some inspiration and demonstrated the spirit at work in their lives.
Such was also the case with one of our fellow participants. I can’t help but think that the most effective teacher of the week was a person who sat and listened quietly along with the rest of us. I only remember him speaking aloud in the group on two occasions. But, his words and sentiments and being came across powerfully.
I stood in line next to Jack Mason during the sign-in procedure on the first day of HOI. Outwardly, Jack was decidedly different from the rest of us. He was quadriplegic and had been so for 24 of his 42 years of life. He managed to get around on his own in a motorized wheelchair. But initially, Jack didn’t get around to communicating in the group. His guard was up and he seemed quite distant and unapproachable.
Yet in the course of the week, whatever barriers he had brought with him vanished. Jack opened the door to his heart and people started knocking. He began to experience many of the interactions which he had missed in a life cloistered with his fawning mother over the past two and a half decades. Heart-to-heart became the flow of expression between Jack and the rest of us. He touched a deep core in everyone before the week was over.
One day, Harold Bloomfield (of Transcendental Meditation fame) and his wife spent a couple of hours with our group discussing and considering gems of wisdom from A Course in Miracles. At the end of their session which was held on the lawn of the SDSU campus, the Bloomfields led us in a meditation focused on The Miracle. When it was concluded, Mrs. B. asked us to share what we thought a miracle was. There were a few silent moments before Jack’s clear voice penetrated the group with, “It’s a miracle to be alive.” There was no way to follow that response. We soon dispersed in a quiet, peaceful glow.
By the end of the week, Jack had become involved in everyone’s life. He managed to participate in all group activities offered through HOI including the beach party held on the final evening of the program. Susan and I rode along in Jack’s van as he drove to the beach north of San Diego. When we made our destination, a foursome of men lifted Jack in his wheelchair over the sand dunes into the midst of the celebration. Jack was the center of attention for the whole of the occasion.
On the following day, the closing session occurred in which participants were each given an opportunity to express what HOI meant to them. Everyone shared how touched they were by the speakers, the program, and the group interactions. Tears flowed freely during those final moments, but most especially when Jack had his turn.
He told us, “I came here with a chip on my shoulder. I had been angry and frustrated for years because of my lot in life. But somehow without my ever suspecting it, my heart melted and the chip fell off. As the week wore on, I knew I was being healed. I now know that I can go home and change my relationship with my poor old mom. Instead of fighting with her, I can love her now.
“Today, I feel a lot like the crippled man in the Bible story – the one who was lowered on his pallet through the roof into the presence of Jesus. The Master told the man his sins were forgiven and to take up his pallet and walk. The man was healed and went his way home. Well, I got part of the deal. I can’t get up and walk home today. But, it really doesn’t matter. Because I’ve been healed on the inside.”
Susan and I left HOI like most with tears in our eyes and aching, but warm hearts. When we returned to Phoenix, we were eager to start our group work. With Donna’s able help, Susan recommenced the “Energy Group” and the two of us initiated the “Chakra Group.”
I must admit that while “our” group was a real joy, Susan’s was neither always uplifting nor comfortable for me. There was a host of reasons for the way things proceeded. Susan was the lone leader of the “Energy Group” and I was just another follower – or was supposed to be. Her teaching methods were quite different than my own. She was much more intuitive and sensitive than I. My method was more organized and intellectual, at least outwardly.
Susan seemed to follow no concrete outline, but led through her sense of the flow, the emotions, the energies active in the group(s). I never knew from moment to moment what Susan would do next. I’m not sure that she always did either. That caused me to wonder all too frequently, “What is she trying to do? What’s the meaning of this exercise? I wish I didn’t have to this!” Still, she invariably brought her charges – including me – to some endpoint of realization about energies.
The real rub was in Susan’s ability to read my energy even when I didn’t say a word. On a number of occasions, she confronted me after the group dispersed and said, “If you don’t shape up and cooperate, I’ll have to kick you out of the group. You should know that your resistance hinders the exercises and the group.” I often made rationalizations as to my behavior, defensive in my responses. But, I always ended up being penitent and asking for forgiveness.
Through a variety of exercises, most of them now quite forgotten, Susan endeavored to teach us how to feel energy. She used music, touch, movement, meditation, stories, remembrances, and the like to stir our imaginations and emotions. S.O.S. carried us from level to level, sense to sense, and place to place. Her words often came out like, “Donna, did you feel the shift?,” “Chuck, can you tell us what you’re getting?,” “Abram, get out of your head and into your heart!,” “Cathy, what are you experiencing?,” “Karen, where are you? Where is your consciousness right now?”
The group members were often both stimulated and bewildered by the maze of “energies” to which we were introduced. That even though we had been swimming in them for the whole of our lives. Most were awed by Susan’s abilities, a couple became envious, and a few just didn’t know what to think about the whole situation.
Donna’s 50 year-old husband, Chuck, was a happy-go-lucky man with a young boy’s heart. He adored Susan, participated in all of her classes, and could almost always “feel the energy.” But, it didn’t seem to matter or mean much to him. He really came to most of the programs to spend time with his wife. He kept waiting for her to get her fill and come home. That didn't happen. For, Donna was determined to find herself further along the path as time went by.
Chuck’s short, busty wife was enthralled with Susan’s teachings and gifts. And, she was keenly searching for some magic to bring clarity into her life. Donna was counting the months and days until she could break from the humdrum of middle class American life. When her only son graduated from high school, Donna planned to sell the house, quit her consulting business, and travel. “As far as the rainy and quiet side of Fiji wouldn’t be too distant.” I never quite figured how Chuck fit into the picture.
Dr. Abram and Moselle Ber were a curious couple. She, a native of India, was strikingly beautiful and had a charming accent and soft, mellow voice. Moselle was quiet and reserved, but had real intuitive talents which she only expressed on occasion. Abram, like me, was in his head a lot and presented a sharp contrast to his wife. He was thin, pale, and almost frail in appearance. Yet, he had a sharp and inquiring mind and a generous spirit. On the other hand, he had a temper and carried a heavy load of what he thought was righteous anger toward “the oppressors.”
Like most holistic medical practitioners in the valley, Abram had worked at the ARE Clinic but only stayed for a short time. The Clinic experience did help to catalyze changes in his medical thinking and direct his steps when he started his own holistic practice. Ber was a Romanian Jew who found his way to the U.S.A. via training as an anesthesiologist at McGill University in Canada. Over time, Abram settled into a homeopathic practice, eventually became President of the Arizona Homeopathic Medical Association, and developed a reputation which drew loads of patients as well as the unwanted attention of the State’s allopathic medical board.
My own relationship with Aaron had its ups and downs. I first met him at a meeting of holistic practitioners held at the Clinic to discuss political issues and the new homeopathic law which the Arizona legislature was considering at the time. In the small group, I sat next to Dr. Ber and was almost shocked on first meeting him. Aaron seemed almost emaciated. He reminded me of one of the survivors of the WWII concentration camps.
At the same time, I was struck by the animosity which he expressed toward the Arizona Medical Board. Ber believed that he and a couple other holistic M.D.’s were being “targeted” by the board for investigation of their practice methods. That group was anxious to forestall any pronouncement which might come down before they could be accepted for licensing under the new homeopathic board. Although Ber and his colleagues were obviously being surveyed under a magnifying glass, their outrage and one-sided views of the situation made me less than fully sympathetic of their cause.
Abram Ber - in later years
My next contact with Abram was through the AHMA (Arizona Homeopathic Medical Association) which became, in effect, the educational and political arm of the eventually-mandated Arizona Homeopathic Medical Board. The AHMA, under Dr. Ber’s leadership, presented regular programs for the public on holistic and homeopathic topics. At the same time, the AHMA made it quite clear (at least to me) that its ulterior motive was to influence public opinion and assure that the homeopathic licensing board be renewed at the end of its first five-year probationary cycle.
As I attended the AHMA forums, I picked up the mixed messages which were mouthed as well as the jumbled motives which were unspoken but clear to anyone who tuned in. Therefore, when Abram approached me to become involved in the organization, I was unsure how to respond to the request. I was supportive of efforts to educate the public in general. Information on medicine and alternatives was certainly needed. But, I had a real problem with what seemed to be conflicts of interest on the part of presenters and AHMA officers alike. I decided to decline Ber’s invitation. I wrote him a letter expressing my concerns and discomforts with the organization. I was direct, but I think, diplomatic in my response to his offer. I received no return letter. However, I heard via the grapevine that Aaron had been hurt and displeased with my letter.
Time passed and my only contacts with Ber were indirect ones through Sam Meranto, Ber’s receptionist who was a friend of mine, and of Susan Oliver. Abram and Moselle had attended Susan’s first “Energy Group” in the spring and were already signed up for the fall session when I entered the picture. So, I joined Energy Group II with some trepidation. Although I was welcomed by all and even Abram was reasonably cordial to me, I sensed the friction between us.
A few weeks into the program, I got up the courage and made a phone call to Abram at his office suggesting that we get together to clear our differences. Abram jumped at the chance and invited me for lunch a few days hence. He took me to a health foods shop near his office for a sandwich and soup. I had been pretty much a vegetarian for some years by then, but my food restrictions seemed minor compared to his. Based on Abram’s personal beliefs and medical practice, he had given up “wheat and dairy.” I’m not sure what was left for Abram to make a diet when those restrictions were added to the traditional ones of his Jewish background. However, he seemed quite content with his wheat-free, low-fat, no-salt sprout sandwich. My choice was just so-so even on hearty whole wheat bread.
We talked almost comfortably about his practice and continuing battles with the alien allopathic medical board and intrusive health insurers. Our previous problems were glossed over and Abram made no mention of my participating in the AHMA program. At the end of the meal, he invited me to see patients with him at his office. I responded affirmatively and we repaired to his busy practice. Besides trying to be friendly, I think Dr. Ber was looking for both a convert to his brand of homeopathy and a junior partner in his practice.
Abram led me on a quick tour of the office, then back to his consulting room. The latter was modest-sized and packed with furnishings and books. Instead of the typical medical consultation in a treatment room, he initially conferred with patients in a relatively comfortable office-like setting. After introducing me to each new patient, we all settled into our designated chairs. The eminent Dr. Ber sat behind his huge mahogany desk piled high with papers. He fiddled for a few moments with the patient’s chart before leaning forward to peer through his wire-rimmed glasses and fuzzy face. With a high nasal pitch, he invariably asked, “So, how are you doing?”
Ber took but a bare few moments to listen to the patients comments before leading him or her off to a special diagnostic room several doors away. He seated the patient next to his Dermatron, an electro-acupuncture device designed in Germany. Dr. Ber placed an electrode in one of the patient’s hands, then quickly took readings from certain points on the fingertips of the other hand.
Next, he put a small vial containing an homeopathic remedy in circuit with the patient and tested again. The process was repeated a few times until Aaron’s electronic assessment was completed and new remedies or variations on the old ones were determined. The patient was dispatched in a matter of a very few minutes from start to finish.
There was a minimum of interaction between practitioner and patients. Ber did no physical exams and patients rarely removed a stitch of clothing. They seemed not to mind in the least and accepted the procedures quite readily. Many of them had waited long months and paid rather large fees for their quick consult and script.
Ber’s practice struck me as lacking in many aspects of real therapeutic or even basic medical attention. I can only imagine what an observer from the Arizona Medical Board might have thought had he looked in on Aaron’s activities. Yet, neither the Medical Board nor I could really judge his practice other than to say it did not fit orthodox or even common non-traditional modes. I left Abram’s office with mixed feelings – glad for the opportunity to begin healing an old rift, but skeptical of Ber’s “homeopathic” approach to living, feeling, hurting human beings. I suppose that I might better have focused more upon the idea that we – even patients – get what we ask for.
One of the positives of Ber’s work was that he met customers face to face. He made “contact” with patients in a number of personal ways. His process seemed more comfortable than a doctor in white coat standing imposingly over a half-clothed patient in a stuffy treatment room.
During the course of Energy Group II, I got to see several sides of Abram Ber. Most of them fit with my previous experience of him, others happily did not. Interestingly, the time of the program sessions coincided with the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. The great Imam was continually featured on TV and in the press haranguing his followers and calling for the destruction of the United States and its middle eastern puppet, Israel. For several weeks running, part of our weekly meetings focused on Abram’s preoccupation with the Ayatollah.
According to Moselle, Abram was continually in a bad humor because of his worries and concerns with the Iranian situation. His Hebrew homeland was in jeopardy and Abram naturally fretted over it. But, he carried his anxieties and hostilities with him moment-by-moment and would not let them go. He was vindictive and angry with the American government because, “It just doesn’t do anything.” Abram admitted that he glued himself to the television each evening to catch up on the latest of the Ayatollah’s tirades and that just made things worse in his environment.
The group did its best to divert Abram’s attention from the Iranian leader, but to little avail. Someone suggested that he stop watching TV news and reading newspapers for a time. Another person offered Abram the idea that he might pray or meditate on the Middle Eastern crisis for a period each day comparable to that he spent in TV watching and personal worry. My hint was that he find some positive way to vent his potent feelings, feelings which were only adding more fuel to the psychic energies pouring into the Iranian pyre.
In the midst of Ber’s discomforts and angers which were mirrored to a degree in us all, there were times when the real Abram shone through. In moments of group unity and meditative silence, Abram would come up with an insight or intuition which touched us all. Still, some of his offerings were merely murky brainstorms which only he seemed to appreciate. Nevertheless, there was a real sensitive, innocent being hidden behind Ber’s angry, frightened facade. I got a hint of that soul during one of our many exercises.
On a particular evening, Susan led us in a practice in which we focused the whole of our consciousness on one individual member at a time. The subject lay down on the carpet of the adobe encircled by the rest of the group who were meditatively postured. When Abram’s turn came, he removed his glasses and reclined on the floor with his arms crossed over his chest. I closed my eyes for a time and listened to Susan’s suggestion. In the midst of the exercise, I blinked my eyes open to glimpse a man laid out in his tomb, a recently-deceased (possibly murdered) leader of hoary Egypt. The body of the pharaoh had been prepared for entry into the netherworld. Instantaneously, I had another sense of the intricate connections which bound him to us other reborn ancients, which drew him into his present iconoclastic leadership position, and which caused him to disdain the head of a turbulent Arab state.
My experience of the Energy Group was interlaced with that of the Chakra Group. Both were initiated within a few days of each other and met one evening per week. Several of the same people participated in both groups and there was some overlap of information and experiences. The Chakra Group members had a book with which to work, outlined materials, and practical handouts. The Spirit unto the Churches: An Understanding of Man’s Existence in the Body through Knowledge of the Seven Glandular Centers by Ray Stanford was our text and provided grist for my first significant teaching effort, Susan’s exercises, and the group discussions. We tried to cover one chapter and one chakra each week, but that produced a bit of an overload. Eventually, we were forced to extend the program from 8 to 16 weeks and we still hardly scratched the surface of some fascinating material. (I was tipped off at one point along the way that the McGareys were instrumental in helping Stanford’s work develop and become known in the Valley. Another one of their pioneering efforts.)
Although Ray Stanford channeled some extraordinary information, it really only came to life when Susan and I massaged it into an experiential framework. The group was eager to listen, discuss, and exercise, but many of them found it difficult to keep up with the 20 pages of reading which went along with each chakra. We all found it interesting when certain persons seemed to avoid certain chapters. Susan had the hardest time getting into the chapter on the Throat Chakra. You may remember that we met because of her recent whiplash injury. Other people missed meetings which seemed to have been almost tailor-made for their concerns and needs.
Regardless of the shortcomings of the students or the leaders – Susan and I had a few tussles over turf – the Chakra Group became a living, breathing, loving entity much greater than the sum of its parts. It also seemed to me to have a more holistic quality than the Energy Group. The dual leadership, the balance of intellectual, experiential, and extracurricular components made the group a fairly well-rounded being. The Chakra Group became a anchor and source of strength for members in their life changes and personal creative efforts. During the course of the series, most everyone entered a state of being temporarily employed, underemployed, or unemployed. It seemed that we listened to and supported each other in rotation.
Nancy initiated a vegetarian cooking class and several of us learned some of her culinary secrets. Leon had an exhibition of his exotic art at a local gallery and the Group came out in force to show our interest and love. Karen was homebound for a few days and we took our meeting and our healing hands to her apartment that week. Chuck and Donna opened their house for some weekend workshops which we duly supported. Susan passed another birthday and we celebrated en masse at The Good Earth Restaurant.
So many seeds were sown and sprouts sprouted during that time. It is hard to imagine what things have matured hence. A letter which Susan received in the fall of 1986 from a young woman who joined our latter group sessions gives an idea of some of the effects of the group work. The letter reveals that Lauraine used the Chakra Group and Susan’s other teaching as catalysts for her growth. “Through the energy group you invited me to participate in I started seeing glimpses of a beautiful light and truth that I had never before remembered experiencing. From there I participated in the Chakra workshop which was real awkward for me to comprehend – but today I can truly say that I have never utilized any information more than that which I attained through that class – Such a true understanding of our true selves and how we sabotage our physical bodies and lives by being out of touch with the balance we are here to express. That time in my life was the beginning of a wonderful path for me. A path of exploration of truth and change and resistance in response to that truth.”
Chakra Workshop Group at Valley of the Sun Religions Science Center
As the teacher has the most to learn in any educational situation, he or she also has the greatest opportunity or call to change. That was certainly true for Susan and me at the time. It seems that Susan and I and the adobe became for a moment the focal point of a host of energies which pushed, nudged, juggled and rearranged us. It has become more and more clear to me over the years how leaders not only become the center of group activities but also the eye of their storms. One of the main demands of a leader is to learn to deal effectively with the many energies which are active in the group. He or she is not immune to anything which goes on in our around the group. But rather the opposite.
So, while Susan and I taught, demonstrated, and experimented with a range of energies in our group sessions, we also dealt with them intimately and continuously in our relationship and in our lives. We both struggled with finances and job security. We had little of either. Although we were neither satisfied with our work situations nor expectant of maintaining them long term, we were hopeful that they might last at least until we found some new direction. Security was a big issue for the whole group as most all the members went through work and life changes. Our psyches and bodies showed the effects in various ways which gave the group added topics for discussion and speculation. For a long time, we used to laugh that because of our greater interest in the Chakra group than in “real” work, “Sarah … got hemorrhoids and the arches in Bob’s feet caved in.”
The stresses became most intense directly around classes and confrontations were quite common between Susan and me. Fires, explosions, and floods – though, thankfully, small-scale – occurred in and around some of our teaching sessions. One afternoon on the day of a group meeting, there was a knock at the door of the adobe. A lineman from Arizona Power presented his authorization to turn off Susan’s electricity for failure to pay her last two bills. Susan claimed total innocence. In any event, the Power man needed cash payment immediately or he would have to disconnect. The temperature was over a hundred, and without her air conditioning, Oliver would have gone from irate to non compos mentis. She raced to the bank, which was fortunately just a few blocks away, and returned to save her electrical utility. However, Susan-O-Suan. didn’t save her temper. Susan was, for one of the few times I’d ever seen her, down right furious. I tried to calm her with some naive words like, “Why don’t we just sit down and cool off a bit. We could maybe meditate for a while.”
Susan blew up, “You cool off and meditate. I’m angry and I’m going to enjoy it. Get out of my way.” I got out of her way for a time and it was probably a good thing.
Most of her life, Susan had not been allowed to be angry. Her Army major father was always in command and his daughter could only act in ways acceptable to him. Even when the major gave her a spanking, Susan wouldn’t show her feelings, “I wouldn’t cry or talk back.” I didn’t want to give him anything more to hold against me.
As a Revlon representative, Susan Oliver had to conform to definite guidelines. As an Ananda devotee, she put work and Ashram demands above any call to express her deeper feelings or ideas. In almost all her relationships, Susan played the sweet, shiny, suppressed innocent. She paid for it in different ways.
But by the time she met me, all sorts of things were beginning to change. Although Susan was once a fine cook and did wonders with pastries, I never once tasted an Oliver berry pie. For that matter, she rarely cooked. I didn’t really mind taking up the slack in the cooking department. But, I often wished I had tasted one of those pies. I still do.
Susan was no longer interested in or willing to coddle a man. Her life, her beliefs, her pursuits were important. So were her feelings. She let a lot of them out on me. Somehow, I didn’t really mind. On a number of occasions, I even encouraged her to vent her frustrations on me. More than once, I had to suppress my laughter because of how and when Susan’s anger came out. Sometimes, the laughs and smiles broke through for both of us.
One weekend in the fall, Sarah was in a particular snit about living in Phoenix. “There’s no water in this city. There are no trees and no places to walk or hike. There is no air here. It’s just desert. I hate it. I just hate Phoenix.”
Oliver said those things just as we were preparing to go to church. While she drove her aging Honda Civic, I tried to bend her attitude a bit and get her to look at things differently. I told her, “You know, Susan, you’re going to have to learn to love this place somehow. Or you’ll never get out of here. Instead of hating, you’re going to have to learn to love or at least adapt to this place. It really isn’t that bad here. We can find most of the things that you miss, if we try.”
My pep talk really got nowhere until we made it downtown and were circling the church looking for a parking place. As we made a second round of the block, a white Cadillac with gold trim pulled up to the intersection and “flashed” its personalized license plate. It read, “I LUV PHX.” Susan cracked. The tone of the whole day summarily changed.
Susan was not the only one who had trouble seeing and touching the best of Phoenix. I had my own blindspots to overcome and senses to expand. Susan and Donna were with me when I had a startling experience which is still changing the way I relate to the world. The three of us attended an evening talk on the topic of “LOVE” at the Valley of the Sun Religious Science Center. About fifty people waited for the speaker in the church sanctuary which was decorated entirely in soft blue colors – the walls, the drapes, the seating, and the carpets.
Eventually, Prince Hirunda Singh was introduced to the audience. He was a tall, imposing man and appeared more so due to his attire. He wore a white turban and a long-sleeved white jacket which reached to his knees overlapping his equally white pants. He had a full black beard and a dark complexion. The Sikh prince began to speak, but I noticed little or no reference in his words to love. In fact, he seemed to be spending most of his energy on criticizing governments and the state of world affairs. The longer I listened the more irritated and uncomfortable I became. I wished that I had not agreed to go to the program. At the same time, I did not gather that anyone else in the audience was disturbed by the prince’s words.
Eventually, I decided that as long as I was criticizing the speaker, even if only mentally, I was part of the problem. I closed my eyes, put my hands over my heart, centered myself, and meditated with the word “LOVE.” I spent the remainder of the speech in that manner and began to notice a change in myself and eventually in the tone of the speaker. I felt a bit of love and I even heard some encouraging statements from the prince which lightened the moment.
Just before the speech was concluded, I opened my eyes, looked at the prince and scanned the room. I was amazed to see new colors before my eyes: the draperies and walls appeared to be cast in pink and even the prince’s white attire was then obviously of a pink hue. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. I surveyed the audience. No one seemed to be aware of anything extraordinary.
Inevitably, the pink aura of the room disappeared, but as the speaker walked past my aisle seat, it was quite apparent that his garb was totally pink. I happened to see Prince Hirunda Singh one further time at the same church. His garments were the same – distinctly pink.
Both teachers, Susan and I, had much to learn – maybe more than we had to teach. Yet, we taught and learned and shared together which made our struggles more sufferable. Susan did try to find some of the missing parts of Phoenix. I helped a bit and benefited as well from her efforts. We first tried hiking on Squaw Peak which stands in the middle of north Phoenix. Unfortunately, the people traffic there was often thick, not to mention the dogs and joggers. And, it was halfway dangerous because of the macho runners who trounced up and down the steep hill as if it were an Olympic track. But, Susan persisted in her searches and discovered a large expanse of rugged, rarely hiked space just beyond the Peak. She tried it out and decided that there was some hope for PHX after all.
I joined her on a number of brisk “wogs” through the midtown desert and rather enjoyed it. One time, our trek was cut short when Susan scratched her eye on a twig projecting from one of the few large bushes on the whole range. If I recall correctly, Susan decided that she had been finding too many twigs in other people’s eyes (mine included) before her painful encounter with a real branch in her own. A couple days of rest with a patch over her eye helped her put life in better perspective.
The north Phoenix wilderness was the site of another irregular, but somewhat enlightening experience we had. Sarah was in the pits again and a hike was scheduled in hope of raising her out of the prevailing gloom and doom. It didn’t work. She was snippy, harpy, and almost nasty through most of the two-hour excursion. Towards the end of the return leg, I somehow got myself beyond the dark and doleful scenario. I suggested, “If you must be bitchy, you might as well do a good job of it. Don’t do it halfway. Give me both barrels. Say the meanest, nastiest things you can think about me. Do it. I can take it.”
Susan, who had proclaimed herself the “Mean Mouse” some months before, tried to rise to the occasion with some “good words” for me. Although some of the feeling was there, her vocabulary was totally inadequate. She hesitated and sputtered, and finally even snickered, as she said, “Why, you’re just ignorant. You’re clumsy and eccentric. You really are weird. I know what you are. You’re ... you’re perverted!”
By the time we made it back to the adobe, Susan was in a fresh and decent humor. I patted myself on the back for discovering a new psychological tool for communication with a depressed friend/lover/mate. I recall only using it on one other occasion with some success.
Susan never did find the running streams which she so craved. I tried to convince her that the irrigation canals which networked the city were “running streams.” I ran by them almost everyday. Their sidings made for great jogging tracks. S. and her friends did walk along them from time to time. But, she was right that they were not much of a substitute for the rippling rivulets of the piney Sierras which so marked Susan’s memory.
Despite her protestations over Phoenix and my own flagging interest in it, we made a number of further attempts to make the Oasis City work for us. We made plans to rent a $1000/month house in Scottsdale with the expectations that we would live, teach, and do counseling there. The arrangement fell through at the last moment and I, having vacated my house, moved across the courtyard from Susan into a nearly identical adobe cottage after sharing hers for almost a month. I was thereafter convinced to initiate a “regular” medical practice with Owen Marcus and Associates while Susan started her own sewing business, “Lace and Little Stitches,” at the adobe. Her effort was decidedly more successful than my own and it became the seed of a firm which she built over coming years.
Susan helped me set up my office and I typed the instruction sheets for the first sewing kits she marketed. S.O.S. (Susan-O-Susan) taught more classes in the adobe. Though they were on sewing, she still found ways to share the added touches of heart energy to her work and students. Several of her devotees followed Susan into her new programs and became “needle freaks.” Lauraine, who was by that time a budding photographer, took several wonderful pictures of Susan’s handiwork. In a jovial mood at the time, I got into one of the shots with Susan amidst all of her colorful creations. There were smiles on both of our faces and laughter in our hearts on that memorable occasion.
And, there were many others like the magical, but low-key Christmas party for students from all the groups and classes in adobe #2. We also put on a weekend Chakra Workshop at the Religious Science Center with the help of our energetic students. In a few hours, we tried to cover material in which we had previously invested weeks of class time. Although we only managed to give the participants a taste of “Energy and Consciousness,” they seemed to be more than pleased with the results. We were, too. Another wonderful photo – of the group – came out of that experience.
Yet, the weekend was not wholly glorious. Midway through the program, Susan received word that her father had suddenly died. It was gut-wrenching news for her. Susan bravely shared the information with the group at one point, pouring out her sorrow from past abuses and the pains of unresolved conflicts with her father. “Oh, Daddy, you always had such a bad sense of timing. How could you leave when I am so unready for you to go? How could you do this on such a weekend as this?”
Nonetheless, Susan might well have said, “It’s somehow perfect and just at it needs to be. Doesn’t get any better than this.” It was a time to share both in teaching and in learning – and equally of joy and pain. Susan was in good company to pass through her personal trauma.
The timing was also critical for Susan and me to make plans for the future. Our teaching and learning in Phoenix was apparently coming to an end. Susan had learned at least in a few ways to LUV PHX. I learned several of my own lessons during my 2 1/2 years in the desert oasis fulfilling some of my own ancient Egyptian karma. It was a memorable, expansive, and stressful time.
Susan wanted to return to the Sierra Nevadas – to peace and calm, to fresh air and a gentler climate, to a slower, more moderate pace, to a more progressive community. I was certainly willing to consider that possibility. S.O.S. put me in touch with her friend, Dr. Steven Crabtree, who lived in the middle of the Sierras and was trying to ease his way into holistic medicine. He was looking for a partner to share the load in the remnants of his standard practice and help in the development of an holistic one.
Steven and I became instant and fast friends. Over the phone, he offered me space in his office and the willingness to work together on a new medical venture. I responded by beginning the application procedure to gain a California medical license while terminating my few commitments in Phoenix. Susan and I scheduled our move to northern California in stages. The first one involved our motoring over the Holidays to the Sierras with a towed UHaul carrying most of my goods. In stage two, which was to follow in the spring, we would repeat the trip bringing Susan’s possessions across the desert and up into the mountains.
With some strain and tension, we completed the initial phase of our plan. We landed at the home of Ted Lyons, a retired physician. Ted’s house was really a dormitory for varying numbers of transient New-Agers. Under three levels, Lyons’s residence contained close to 40,000 square feet of living space. Yet, it was constantly being remodeled by design and by circumstance of groups, families, and singles who dropped in to share in Ted’s spacious abode.
When we arrived, Ted and the dozen or so other housesitters made us welcome. We temporarily moved into a ground floor room and tried to make ourselves comfortable despite the penetrating wet and cold Sierras weather. We also had to get used to Ted and company. While Susan had known Ted, stayed at his home once upon a time, and knew his ways, she still had some adjusting to do. For me, it took days to gain some ease with him and his unique situation.
Tall, gray, and ramrod straight, Dr. Lyons was an unassuming and compassionate man. Actually, he was benevolent to a fault and let himself become the patsy for many people. Ted had been a prominent psychiatrist in the Bay Area for many years until he ran afoul of the California medical board. I gathered that he had been asked to give up his practice credentials because of too many instances of overprescription of narcotics for various patients. After he left the profession, Ted moved to the Sierras and became a home builder though he needn’t have worked at all. Lyons was an heir to a fortune accumulated by his family in the shipping trade.
Regardless, Ted took up the new calling and built homes around the Sierras for several years. His own home was undoubtedly the largest and most used. It became a hostel for great numbers of people moving physically and psychically through the area. Lyons seemed to handle all the comings and goings exceedingly well. His wife couldn’t and left him abruptly some years previously. Ted was able to tune out noise and discord quite easily. He just turned off his hearing aids and holed up in his room whenever he needed to “get away.” Those occasions were fairly rare as he seemed to be constantly busy with one project or another.
Ted had lots to do to maintain his huge house, gardens, and grounds while he seemed to get little help from his non-paying tenants. Dr. T. was also active in a variety of community activities and sat on a number of non-profit boards. Despite his obvious eccentricities, people thought quite highly of Lyons and asked for his input on many issues. Ted readily helped out when called upon. One of Ted’s main interests was recycling. “Reclaim, recycle, and return,” might have been his motto – both literally and symbolically. He was president of the recycling center which functioned out of the city-county dump. Lyons made rounds most everyday to pick up cardboard from various businesses around town. Ted also made daily stops at the local grocery stores in search of discarded, but usable foodstuffs. He passed most of the food on to Operation Blessing, but not until he had picked it over first for its potential use by the members of his own household.
On occasion, I jumped into Ted’s pickup and joined him on his recycling route. We packed his truck bed full of cardboard a few times and unloaded at the dump. Ted was quite proud of what the recycling center was doing and could recite the exact tonnage of cardboard which passed through it each month. I listened most of the time. I hadn’t much to say. And, Lyons wouldn’t have heard much of my words anyway – with his deafness, the roar of the truck, and the noise of the road.
As the sun was going down on our recycling expedition, we stopped at each grocery store. Ted checked first at the backdoor for anything which might have been left specifically for his rounds. Then he headed straight for the dumpster. Within moments, he had climbed right in. As any experienced recycler surely knows, to recycle out of a large, loaded dumpster is an inside job. Ted wasn’t bashful at all about getting in with the garbage. As he pulled his aging body up and over the metal sidewall, he said, “It’s much easier to see things in here. I can take better advantage of the situation.” Before long, I was in there, too. We had a great time. Oh, if my mother had somehow seen me in such a state ...
I don’t think my mama ever heard about the incident, but Susan soon got the full report. Over the evening meal, she couldn’t help but make light of the “Two physicians operating in the grocery dumpsters. This is priceless copy.” Actually, with a camcorder and some slick reporting, our venture could have make a humorous clip for the local “News at Six.”
Lyons and I were definitely not the only characters in the household. Most everyone fit that bill or they wouldn’t have been living there. First, there was a middle-age woman passing through at the time who was trying to interest the community in developing a tele-communications link in the area. A couple of young men were settling for a few days in the midst of a hiking excursion along the West Coast states as another adolescent named Bubba was on his way out. Bubba was a fiery devotee of some noted guru, but hadn’t had time to grow into the teachings. Although he mouthed his teacher’s sayings precisely, Bubba had an explosive temper which landed him in the county jail. I’m sure that the accommodations were none so comfortable as Ted’s place.
A 30 year-old woman named Leona had been a resident for months if not years. She didn’t work, although she did spin records on her own show over the city radio station. Leona spent most of her time fussing with her diet, worrying about her health, and occupying one bathroom or the other. She just had to have an enema every morning, “It’s very important for your health, you know. It’s just like brushing your teeth.”
Gary Goldschneider - recently
Most fascinating of all the tenants was the Goldschneider family. They were seven in all – an extraordinary group, to say the least. Gary, the paterfamilias, was a musician like his wife and children. (They were the group who believed they had been great Russian composers in previous lives. Dr. Ted liked the idea that he had been one of the Rubinstein brothers.) Gary had formerly taught music in college back East, but couldn’t handle the politics and discipline of the educational system. The Goldschneider family made its way to northern California and Ted’s retreat where they were awaiting a break in Gary’s career as a pianist and composer.
The burly, bearded, and bespectacled man had quite a musical talent, but lacked an ear for his wife and kids. His career and brainstorms were of paramount interest. And, he easily seduced Ted into backing his various ventures in recording and other unspecified fields. Gary’s claim to fame at the time was his marathon piano performances. On several occasions, Goldschneider sat at a piano for hours playing the entire repertory of Beethoven’s sonatas. On others, he played Mozart’s. That was no small feat, but it wasn’t enough to create a career. So, Gary leaned on Ted and kept hoping that his airy piano compositions, New Age tape recordings, or other business schemes would bring recognition. Goldschneider’s day was yet to arrive. He eventually became an author of some renown.
So was Susan’s and mine. We had great hopes that our new venture and her return to the Sierras would be the real start of our romantic and professional idyll. We celebrated Christmas in the one and only place she ever considered home, meeting and greeting bright, engaging people, enjoying the beauties of Gold Country, and imagining that we would live happily ever after.
She then flew back to Phoenix to prepare for our next Chakra Workshop. I had my own immediate chore to attend to. That of California licensure. I had received an application packet from state medical board the previous November. I was expecting a simple, but tedious paperwork process and a hefty fee to procure the new credential. I had been through the mill a few times before. But, there was a kicker to the Golden State’s program. The packet stated that all applicants who had graduated from medical school more than five years past were required to pass an oral examination before deputies of the California Board of Quality Medical Assurance. My instantaneous response on reading that proviso came out, “Oh, shit!”
While I have never feared or failed a written test in my life, performance exams have been another thing. Strictly speaking, I never had to face one in all of my medical school or internship days. We had reviews and practical exercises, but no formal examinations in the old oral, rhetorical style common in decades and centuries past. My instant utterance on reading the Board’s requirement arose because of my experiences in other situations. And, maybe I just knew what was coming.
The few performances I made before examiners in my past usually left me a temporary failure, at worst, or in a state of high anxiety, at best. I was always ill at ease in gym class and athletic competitions, science labs, and typing drills. I failed my first behind-the-wheel driving examination. Then, there was the rifle marksmanship test in Army basic training.
I prepared for the exam not even half-heartedly. Instead of cracking the books at the time, which in any case would have been too late after I had developed my own brand of medicine over the prior seven years, I spent most of my time reading and writing a manuscript about chakras. I told myself and anybody who asked, “Oh, the exam is just meant to find out who can speak English and weed out druggies and drunks.”
The day of the exam, I arose at 4:00 to get ready for the long drive into City by the Bay. Although I had a suit that I might have worn, I chose my usual semi-casual look. The beard and long hair were gone by that time. I put on a beige sweater and matching slacks and drove toward the Coast with lots of time to spare. I made it halfway to Frisco when the car had a flat tire. While I hustled to change to a spare, I just dared to ask myself: “I wonder what this means?”
It didn’t take too long to find out. When I arrived in SF, I wound my way through the city and found the testing site without too much trouble. But, my anxiety level increased progressively as I encountered the flat, the traffic, and the imposing medical center. I gulped a couple more times when I entered the appointed building and found the other applicants decked out in fine suits, gold watches and rings, and blown-dry hair.
I sat impatiently through the preliminaries until being called with a small group to a testing station to wait once again. After what seemed hours – but was really only minutes – I was directed into a room with two physician-examiners. One was an older woman who was obviously an ophthalmologist. She asked me only a few questions, all in the same vein, “What would you suspect if you saw a patient with dilated pupils?,” “What would your differential diagnosis be if you met a patient in the ER who exhibited constricted pupils?,” “What kind of emergency is associated with nystagmus?” I was quite sure that my answer to all the questions, “Drugs,” was not going to be satisfactory. But, I also hoped that my exam was not going to be limited to testing my knowledge of the diagnosis of human eye symptoms – left, right, or both.
The woman sat back through rest of the session while her colleague, a man in his late 30s, proffered the remaining questions. He covered some generic areas of emergency medicine and then made specific queries which tipped me off that he was an obstetrician-gynecologist. I never learned or needed to know much about eyes or babies and it had been four years since I had been close to an emergency room. So at the conclusion of the exam when I was told to stand in the adjoining hallway, I recognized that I had been totally unprepared for my short-lived trial.
The testers conferred and after a time handed me a form which was opened at the main station. I had been failed but was magnanimously given the opportunity to test again with another set of examiners. I took the gift, but within minutes wished I had passed it up. I was confronted by two middle-aged physicians who were surely surgeons. They could not disguise themselves even if they had tried. The men posed rapid-fire scenarios involving meaty neurological and surgical issues. I might have answered them with some facility and accuracy during my med school days, but I was at a definite loss in those cold, depressing moments. My responses were short and weak. I should have gotten up after their first question, but I hadn’t the sense to do it. It was simpler to endure the quiet humiliation and wait for the surgeons to close off the session.
I was finally dismissed and told by the clerk that I had the option of returning in six months for a repeat. I took myself out of the building and trudged to my car. I was crestfallen, but hardly shocked. I knew that I wasn’t a “real doctor.” I hadn’t been for years, if ever. The examiners just sensed the truth which had been hidden from view for some time and from some people. They perceived that I didn’t look like a doctor, dress like a doctor, respond like a doctor, act like a doctor. (I never was much of an actor.) Therefore, they rightly decided, “You are not a doctor, at least for California.” I really couldn’t blame them. I could only blame myself for trying to hang onto an orthodox label which never quite fit me: Doctor of Medicine.
I pondered many things as I passed the day in San Francisco until my late afternoon flight to Phoenix. Susan would be waiting at the airport for me. We were scheduled to do another weekend chakra workshop. And she expected me to return with a grin on my face while I told her that I would have a license to practice medicine in the Golden State in a few days. We would be ready to start our lives anew in northern California.
While passing time, I reviewed my passage through the medical field:
Training as a military corpsman,
Enduring a year in Vietnam,
Working in a hospital emergency room back in the States,
Following pre-medical studies,
Taking a degree in medical technology while doing part-time ER nursing,
Discovering Edgar Cayce then entering medical school,
Splitting my allegiances and interests between the two,
Struggling through, but surviving a year of internship,
Playing Army doctor for three years,
Facing the vagaries of holistic practice at the ARE Clinic,
Working with alternative practitioners as an insurance doctor,
Learning to become a teacher as my medical interests ebbed away.
Honestly, I did not feel any great loss at the imminent prospect of giving up medicine. Except in the sense that it was my livelihood and security base. Doctor had never been my identity. It was really no more than a title. Medicine had been a wonderful opportunity to learn, to try to serve and help my fellows, and to keep the bills paid. A great turning point had finally been reached. Which way would I travel next?
REGRESSION§ In the midst of my cogitations and calculations, I decided to drive to the Presidio where I had been stationed for training before going to Vietnam in 1968. I walked the beach which fronted the barracks in which I had been billeted. I stared at the massive city across the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz Island. It seemed a lifetime since I had lived and walked that stretch of earth on a daily basis. In a moment, I was taken back to another time of which I had no conscious memory. I recalled the story told to me in Houston by William David.
In my second consultation with Mr. David, I asked about my last lifetime and David responded thus, “Your name is Benjamin D’Estarte. You are born in France. You receive a medical degree, but decide to work in hypnosis and follow some of the teachings of Mesmer. Your goal is to go to the United States. Eventually, you travel across the country to San Francisco with a wife at your side. You put up a shingle with your name as being a doctor.
“But, gossip, gossip. Where are your degrees? The medical field detests you. They consider you a quack. They find out that you are from France. You cannot prove your training. You are taken to court and told to desist from being a physician because you do not have a degree in the United States.
“You become a pharmacist and this is when you begin to dabble with all different kinds of chemistry. Then, [appearing] as a pharmacist you do your [other] work in [the back of] your shop. You still do your work but under a tremendous amount of stress and strain.
“You’re repeating a bit of that now, you understand that? Don’t get up tight about how you’re going to be challenged again. You have to meet the challenge. Your intellect will be challenged. Your training will be challenged and you’re supposed to be capable of just going through it – as best you can – without feeling a sense of tremendous bitterness and putdown.”
At the time, I didn’t remember those exact words (which are here transcribed from an audiotape). But, I was for an instant caught up in in the experiential recapitulation of a previous lifetime. I have no way of proving that Benjamin D’Estarte ever existed or that I was he. But, the qualities, interests, and experiences of nineteenth-century D’Estarte certainly meshed with my own in this life. §
As those moments passed, my future life was totally unclear. I only knew that I would “go through it.” I took the Board’s determination as a powerful hint. Actually, both the Board and I were in concurrence. Neither they nor I wanted me to practice orthodox medicine anymore. I had been holding on to my sheepskin for some time with neither the best motives nor the clearest mind.
For the longest time, I had hoped that there was a wavelength in the medical spectrum in which I could fit. But, when that Board said, “No. We don’t want you practicing medicine here,” the veil lifted from my eyes long enough for me to realize that I had to move out of the charted profession into unknown territory. Though I knew it not at the time, I would be doing all sorts of “house calls” in the future.
I parted from the Presidio, drove to the International Airport, and flew to Phoenix. Susan and Karen greeted me with smiles. I responded with a frown and the retelling of my fresh story. They both tried to console me, “Oh, don’t feel bad. You can study up and take the exam again. Everything will be okay.”
Over the coming days, I became more determined to give up medical practice entirely and search for a new life. I rationalized that there had to be life after medicine (A.M.). I tried to explain to Susan, Karen, and others that to pass the exam I would have to do a complete about-face, relearn things I had left behind, and, at the same time, turn my back on a future which was not bound and limited by the medical dogma. To practice medicine in California, I would have had to revert to being a “real” medical doctor when the only kind of doctor I was interested in emulating was the teacher-toucher type. To bury myself in orthodox texts, to study standard methods again, and to return to the emergency room for retraining would have been a lie and a sham.
With a heavy heart, I left Susan in Phoenix after we gave one more weekend workshop. It was not easy, but I was sure that the thing to do was to go home to spend time with my family. My mother had been struggling with cancer for three years and her prognosis was dim. After I drove once more to the Sierras and loaded up what belongings would fit in my auto, I headed eastward toward home. I had little more than a destination as I pushed across the Nevada desert. I did have hopes to find a way to teach in the coming days, but knew not how I might accomplish such a goal. I also imagined that I would be returning to the West within a few months, but my imagining had little substance or hope of occurrence.
As I traveled through Colorado and stopped for the night, I considered what had transpired in my life not just in the previous few weeks but over the past several months. I recalled my intention to travel to Tibet which idea was turned aside when I met Susan. A potential journey in the physical world had been replaced by one in the present worlds of energy and consciousness. Susan and the groups had started me on what I slowly began to realize was a transformational journey in consciousness. Tibet, so distant and mysterious, came to symbolize Transformation to me. Without flying to the “Top of the World,” I had reached toward a higher level of consciousness. Yet, my transforming travels were only just beginning.
Many times in later years, I reminisced about that Christmas I had spent with Susan at Ted Lyons’s. I had selected and presented her – at the time still a devotee of the great Hindu teacher Yogananda – with gifts which foretold her future! Done with little conscious awareness, it was really quite amazing! I gave her a down comforter, a brass meditation bell, a box of Tibetan-made incense, and a large line drawing of Gautama the Buddha. Within weeks of her moving back to Nevada City, Susan found a lama-teacher, started a new spiritual practice, and “took refuge” as a Buddhist in a Tibetan lineage.
I made it to South Dakota which is near the top of the U.S.A., if not the top of the world. I concerned myself with my family and finding a new career. But behind the scenes, I too would be touched by a Tibetan teacher and start the real journey home.