I had never heard of Caroline Myss when I dropped by the Bodhi Tree Bookstore in West Hollywood CA in mid-June of 1997. The center of the new books display was devoted to Caroline’s latest book, Why People Don’t Heal and How They Can. Since I had been diagnosed with cancer less than a week earlier, I thought it was worth investigating. I bought the audio cassettes and listened to them as I drove about Southern California meeting with radiologists, oncologists, nutritionists and others in an effort to discern the best treatment options for me. And there were lots of options.
A week later I returned to the Bodhi Tree and bought the audio cassettes for Caroline’s previous book, Anatomy of the Spirit and a recording called Spiritual Madness. I’ve listened to Spiritual Madness dozens of times over the years and it remains my favorite of all of her teachings.
The first aha moment came when Caroline talked on the tapes about diseases of the second chakra. I had only a vague idea of what a chakra was. Caroline said that the prostate and ovaries are located in the second chakra which is where, energetically, we store resentments. She asks the listener to imagine a wound that has been unattended and left to fester for thirty or forty years. She went on to say that’s how long people allow resentments to fester and that holding onto those resentments was dangerous to one’s health. I had never heard anything like that before and it’s unlikely it would have registered with me a month earlier.
Until that moment, I had taken great pride in my deeply justified, self-righteous resentments of which I had many. I remembered my doctor, Jim Blechman’s wise counsel that a cancer diagnosis was a challenge to change or die. I asked myself if I was willing to die for my resentments. The short answer was an emphatic, “No!” I began to pray to God to release me from my resentments. Less than a week later, as I was sitting in my morning meditation, the faces of the people who I felt had betrayed me floated by and in an instant I was able to see that everything they had ever done was absolutely necessary to the movement of my life and the development of my spirit. Not only must I forgive them, I realized, I must be grateful to them. This experience was like my own private version of the film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. At this time, Caroline had not finished her next book and I had no idea what a Sacred Contract was. Yet, this is what I had been shown.
If this had been the only gift of wisdom I ever received from Caroline it should have been plenty; but I wanted more. I wanted to meet her.
Through well-connected friends I was able to get her phone number, but I was unable to get past her friend, Mary, Caroline’s Guardian of the Gates “If you want to meet Caroline,” Mary told me, “Sign up for one of her seminars.” The next one in my area was in Monterey, CA in February of the following year. I signed up. It was still June.
In the fall of 1997 I received notice that Caroline would be speaking in Los Angeles. I attended the event with several friends.
The audio tapes had introduced me to and enamored me with Caroline, the brilliant teacher; they had not prepared me for Caroline the charismatic entertainer. Indulge my passion for the etymology of words. The word “entertain” comes from an Old French word meaning “hold together”. Great entertainers hold an audience together in an embrace until the group responds as one. Caroline does that. She also possesses a dead-pan comic timing worthy of Johnny Carson and Jack Benny.
At the Los Angeles event, Caroline asked for questions from the audience. A middle-aged woman bedecked with an abundance of crystals stood up, took the microphone, and asked with great sincerity, “How do I become enlightened?”
Caroline paused for a moment and then asked the woman what she thought enlightenment was.
“Well,” the woman answered, “If I was enlightened, I would have no more debt, no more financial worries, I could afford a new car, I would have a wonderful husband, and I would have the job of my dreams.”
Caroline put her hand to her face, paused in the manner of Jack Benny at his most exasperated, and then asked, “So that’s what you think enlightenment is?” Then Caroline spun on a dime to address the other side of the room and said, “Next question.”
I had a crush on Caroline. I could not wait for January.
There were more than two hundred participants enrolled for Caroline’s January seminar in Monterey. Roughly ninety per cent were women. Of the men who were enrolled, I would guess that it was 40% straight, 60% gay. The median age was late-forties, early fifties.
When asked why there were so few men in attendance, Caroline responded instantly, “They have yet to see any financial advantage in studying what I teach.”
I had enrolled in the seminar because I assumed that a medical intuitive was the same as a healer and I had thought that attending this seminar would be an efficient and cost-effective way to be rid of the cancer. (Someday, I have to learn to read the fine print.)
Caroline quickly made it clear that she was not a healer. “What, then, am I doing here?” I asked myself.
Then Caroline and her mentor and teaching partner, Norm Shealy, began to speak about archetypes and symbolic language.
Within moments I realized this was my native tongue. For the past ten years, my business partner and I had used “archetypes” (which we called “essences”) to find the roles that would readily advance the careers of our acting clients. Actors don’t act archetypes, they inhabit them. While actors can play lots of parts, it’s the roles that match their archetypal make-up that will, nine times out of ten, advance their careers.
Caroline’s archetypal model includes four universal archetypes which all of us have—the child, the victim, the saboteur, and the prostitute.
Mid-morning of the second or third day, Caroline asked the participants, “How many of you knew on your wedding night, or within a week of your marriage, that you had made a mistake?” Using a conservative estimate, roughly fifty per cent of the participants raised their hands. “How many of you are still in those marriages?” Caroline continued. Half of the students who had raised their hands in answer to the first question kept them raised in answer to the second. As she had in Los Angeles, Caroline paused and then with razor-sharp timing announced, “Now we’ll discuss the prostitute archetype.” I thought to myself, she doesn’t hesitate to go for the jugular.
The female participants began to make a laundry list of all of the assumptions that men make about them. As I watched the squirming of the minority of heterosexual males in attendance, I was delighted and relieved on this particular occasion to be gay.
Shortly before the session ended, I raised my hand and Caroline called on me. “Here is one of the assumptions that women make about men,” I said, recalling my college years in the early 1960’s, “If I have sex with you, I own you.” There was an audible gasp in the room. Caroline smiled and said, “Ladies, he got you.” Caroline never says, “Ladies, he got us.”
By the second or third day of the seminar, participants who were intimidated by Caroline (she can be intimidating) were standing in line during the breaks to talk to me.
My favorite was a woman named Sue. She looked a lot like Ava Gardner or Wonder Woman. She was a statuesque brunette who exuded “Goddess” energy—Venus, in particular, as few women I’ve ever seen. Sue sat down next to me and said, “I’m not really getting this. Can you help me?”
I looked at the archetypes she had chosen. The Goddess archetype was missing— many of the crystal wearing participants had chosen the goddess archetype.
Sue was a goddess. She entered the room, her hair still in wet ringlets from her morning swim. She wore cork high-heeled, sandals and a purple one-shouldered toga, covering her bathing suit. She looked like she had just descended from Olympus.
“I can’t be a goddess,” she pleaded, “I’m from Detroit.” I told her that there are many myths about Zeus’s randy behavior and the effect it had on his wife, Hera. “Zeus’s wife, Hera, declares war on all of Zeus’s lovers and Zeus has to hide them from her. Detroit, I told Sue, was the last place that Hera would think to look for a goddess. Ever since then Sue has remained in my imagination and in my heart, Venus of Detroit.
Caroline reconvened the class.
Everything she said made sense to me. It was as if she was speaking in my native tongue.
Even though I was thoroughly enjoying myself, two or three days into the five day seminar, I still had no idea why I had been called there. Then Caroline began to speak about spiritual direction. To the best of my recollection, she said, “People today are in spiritual crisis. They are going to see therapists and spiritual crisis is not a therapist’s area of expertise. What most people need is a really good spiritual director and they are in short supply.”
This was one of a handful of times in my life when I felt like an arrow had been shot straight into my heart. I knew that my life (the quality of it, not the length) depended on my willingness to respond to what seemed to be a call to become a spiritual director. I had had my own spiritual director for several years, but it had never occurred to me to become one. Now it made perfect sense.
At the next break I asked Caroline if she had any suggestions about where I could train to become a spiritual director.
“I have no idea,” was her helpful reply.
During one of Norm Shealy’s afternoon presentations, I noticed Caroline unsubtly beckoning me to a side door of the classroom. I wondered for a second if she was going to throw me out of the class. “Come have coffee with me,” she said (actually she commanded).
“Who are you!? Where have you come from? Why are you here?” she asked in rapid fire succession as we sat in the hotel coffee shop waiting to be served. Thus began one of the most extraordinary and rewarding friendships of my life.
As soon as I returned to Los Angeles, I began to search for a spiritual direction program that I could attend while keeping my day job. The three year program offered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles was a perfect fit. I applied to begin the program the following September. Sr. Thomas Bernard MacConnell, CSJ, the nun who created the program explained that she and her advisors had chosen to offer a certification program rather than a degree program. “A diploma says you are a spiritual director. A certificate means only that you’ve completed the program. Only God can decide if you are a spiritual director. We’re here to offer resources and techniques to support you if you and your directee show up for a meeting and the Spirit doesn’t.” I’m sad to say that the program to which I guided several of my own directees, no longer exists. It’s a great loss.
I kept in regular touch with Caroline and signed on for an additional six-day training with her and Norm Shealy in South Padre Island in Texas.
In mid-Summer of 1998, Caroline called me and said, “You’re coming with me to Egypt in January.”
“I can’t afford . . .” Before I could complete the sentence, Caroline interrupted me: “My treat!”
The trip to Egypt followed by only a few days the week I had spent in Pittsburgh with Lewis Mehl-Madrona. By the time I got on the plane for Egypt, I had committed to spending “two weeks in the desert before the green grass grows” with Lench Archuleta. I was concerned about the strain my absences would have on my business partner and on my clients. In my new circumstances I could no longer make them my first or only priority.
I became more and more aware that I was saying yes to things I never would have said yes to before my cancer diagnosis. It no longer made sense to me to postpone life or refuse life-changing experiences.
Two of Caroline’s favorite characters in fiction are Alice in Wonderland and Auntie Mame. This makes perfect sense. I joined several of her closest friends on the pilgrimage to Egypt and made several friends for life. The thing about Caroline’s close friends is that they would be equally comfortable at an outrageous cocktail party hosted by Auntie Mame or following Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Spending time with Caroline is frequently a mixture of these two experiences. For better or worse, I fit right in.
I could write an essay (and maybe I will) about each of the pilgrimages I’ve made with Caroline and the gang—to Egypt, Peru, Ireland and India as her guest and to Bali and Egypt on my own frequent flyer miles because I couldn’t bear to miss out on the adventure.
In 2000, I had to undergo some very expensive medical treatments including chemotherapy. I wasn’t old enough yet to qualify for Medicare and the deductible on my Health Insurance was huge. I mentioned this to Caroline. “Do you need money?” was her instant response. I told her I didn’t need money but that I needed work to stimulate me and remind me that there was more to my life than being a cancer patient. Two weeks later, Caroline had arranged for us to teach four classes together one each in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and New York for the Learning Annex. Describing these in detail would take another blog.
When Caroline began the CMED Institute she invited me to be a faculty member for the Sacred Contracts Training and I discovered a brand new way to make use of my passion for films. During the course of every weekend, Caroline never failed to endorse me as a spiritual director and an archetypal consultant which is largely responsible for the still thriving practice I have.
With each year, Caroline has become a closer and dearer friend and colleague. And she has never stopped being my teacher. I’ve never sat in a classroom with her that I didn’t come away inspired and even more curious than when the class began.
If this sounds like a Valentine in October, it’s because it is.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not possibly born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” -Anais Nin
“Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What you, too? I thought I was the only one.’” C. S. Lewis
“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” A. A. Milne, Winne the Pooh
“Some souls just understand each other upon meeting.” N. R. Hart