Reality Check Two

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality. What is reality anyway? Reality is nothing but a collective hunch.”

From “The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin

In the book “Sacred Contracts,” author Caroline Myss describes the archetype of the Saboteur as the Guardian of Choice. The challenge of making a good choice is governed entirely by the clarity of our perception. If our perception is sabotaged by projection, prejudice, pride, fear, anger, distortion, insufficient information or insufficient reflection, the likelihood of making a wise and clear choice is severely diminished, hence: sabotaged.

I spent much of last Friday at the Norris Cancer Hospital at the University of Southern California. I had fasted from 8:30 AM in the morning in preparation for both a PET-Scan and a CT-Scan which were scheduled for 2:30 PM.

When I was ushered into her office, the lab technician and I recognized each other. She said, “I remember you.” Then, as she poked a needle in my arm in preparation for an IV line, she said, “We have to stop meeting like this.” I loved her for that.

As Joan Crawford once famously said, “This is not my first rodeo,” and yesterday was not my first scan. I’ve been getting them annually for several years.

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Homesick for Oakbrook

In the past six weeks I’ve seen two exceptional low-budget, independent films. Unless you live in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco, it’s unlikely that either will be showing at your local Cineplex. I’m sure they will be available soon enough on Netflix, Amazon Prime or On Demand. This is an okay way to see these films, but it’s not optimum. Both deserve to be seen with an audience, in the intimacy of a theatre, cell-phones and other electronic devices turned off and put away for the duration of the screening.

Each film stars an actor that I represented when I was a talent manager during the nineteen eighties. I have great affection for these two artists. I worked with them both when they were in their early thirties and their careers were just beginning to take off.  Now, three decades later they are in their early sixties and are currently doing their best work in years—maybe career best.

As I watched these movies, I was filled with a longing that I haven’t felt as strongly in some time. I didn’t long to be back into show business; I longed to be back in Oakbrook, IL at a CMED reunion so I could introduce these two marvelous films to my friends, colleagues and students, my CMED family.

If anyone has any ideas for another platform for doing film weekends, I am wide-open to suggestions.

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Your Job Is Joy

“Gladness of heart is the very life of a person, and the joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days.”
Ecclesiasticus 30:22

In the early 1990s I was introduced to “plant medicine” by friends of mine who had spent time with shamans in the jungles of Peru and had invited them to bring their rituals and ceremonies to the California desert.  I don’t know why I felt called to attend but I did—in large part because I trusted the integrity and wisdom of the people who were hosting the event. I went on to participate in about a half dozen ceremonies over a period of eight years.

The name “Ayahuasca” means “Vine of the Soul” in Quechua, the language of the indigenous peoples in the area of the Andes that was once home to the Inca Empire. It is a brew concocted of the vine and a few other plants native to that area. The mixture creates a psychoactive substance that, when ingested, induces a spiritual experience.

There are those, I know, who are skeptical of the validity of a spiritual experience that involves any use of substances. The use of such substances is an integral part of the spiritual life of many indigenous peoples. My own experience affirms the authentic power of these sacred substances.

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The Divine Ms. Myss

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.

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Lench Archuleta: Wind Spirit Teaching

It was not easy to explain to my business partner and to my clients my decision to spend two weeks in the Arizona desert with a Yaqui shaman at the height the television casting season—the busiest time of year. Regardless of the consequences to my career, I felt I had to make this journey. Since my cancer diagnosis a year earlier, my discernment process had switched from an “I can’t afford to” attitude to an “I can’t afford not to” reality.

A limited knowledge of Carlos Castaneda’s books had led me to expect a Yaqui Shaman to be mysterious, intimidating and unapproachable. Lench Archuleta, when I met him in February of 1999, was none of these things. He was a welcoming, down-to-earth, middle-aged man living with his second wife, Patty, and their infant son, Eli, in a modest two bedroom house on the edge of the Arizona desert.

Lench had served in the Vietnam War as a “tunnel rat.” He was assigned to search the underground tunnels that the Vietnamese soldiers built and to make sure they were abandoned and not mined or booby-trapped. Lench survived for a tour and a half because of, as he characterizes it, his intimate relationship with the earth and living things which he learned as a child from his father and grandfather.

Lench told me this story the first evening:

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Coyote Medicine

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live one’s life in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”  -Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard

Shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1997, I was introduced to Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s work by my therapist, Jim Fain, who had recently heard Lewis speak at the annual Creativity and Madness Conference in Santa Fe, NM. Jim suggested that I get a copy of Lewis’s book, Coyote Medicine, that it might be helpful in discerning the most appropriate response to the cancer diagnosis.

I was inspired and reassured by the book, especially by Lewis’s insistence that healing necessitates the integration of spiritual practice, complementary medicine, and allopathic medicine. He also stressed the importance of story in the work of healing. One of the first pieces of intuitive guidance I had received after my diagnosis was that “if I could keep my story interesting, God would let me live.”

I made arrangements to spend the first week in January, 1998, a quiet time at work, at the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh where Lewis was Medical Director.

I arrived in Pittsburgh in the midst of a blizzard and below freezing temperatures. The storm had delayed Lewis’ return but he had given his staff instructions for an immersive week-long nine-to-five healing intensive which included a physical, acupuncture, meditation classes, shiatsu massage, sessions with a nutritionist,  sessions with a psychiatrist who practiced hypnotherapy, and with a woman who practiced energy medicine and was a psychotherapist.

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Would You Just Try It For Lent?

As I write this, the president will reportedly announce his decision on DACA in the next 24 hours. If he continues to be true to form the decision will be a cruel one.

Justice and compassion for the children of DACA is personal for me. I know firsthand of the sacrifices and hardships they and their parents have made in order to have a new life here. I know firsthand of the contribution the immigrant community—whether documented or not—has made to the culture and community of both Los Angeles, the city where I’ve lived for 44 years and Denver, CO, the city where I was raised.

In the fall, winter, and spring of 1982-83, I suffered through an almost year long bout with suicidal depression. I was unemployed (and, at that time, probably unemployable) and low on funds. This was barely a year after my experience at the Camaldolese monastery where I had experienced the love and intimacy of God more deeply than I ever had before. I had plummeted from the ecstasy of that experience into the darkest time of my life. Many days I barely got out of bed.

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Holy Curiosity

In the almost ten months since I have begun posting weekly blogs, I’ve become aware that if there is a unifying theme to them—I say “if”—I believe it is freedom. I’ve been reflecting on what experiences in my lifetime have inspired my impulse to freedom. I track its inception back to my four year liberal arts education at Regis College (now University) in Denver and to two teachers, in particular. These two teachers, more than any others, encouraged—even insisted—that their students think outside the box.

The invaluable Merriam Webster dictionary app on my iPhone defines liberal arts as: The studies (as language, philosophy, history, literature, abstract science) in a college or university intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop the general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.

The old joke about a liberal arts diploma was that it and a nickel would buy you a cup of coffee.

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I’m Being Called To Be What???

In February of 1979 I became acutely aware of the fact that I see things differently, that not everyone— maybe not anyone—sees the way I see. I don’t remember when I began to see the sacred in secular symbols. It always seemed normal to me and it didn’t occur to me for a very long time that not everyone saw things this way.

This way of seeing likely developed in high school and college where the Jesuits taught us “to seek the presence of God in all things,” a core spiritual practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

I don’t remember committing to this practice consciously. Then in 1979 I attended the Advocate Experience, an intensive coming out workshop for LGBT community. A friend of mine recently referred to the encounter I had there as a “Baptism of Fire.”

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Do You Want To Risk Sending Your Parents To Hell For All Eternity?

Throughout my life I have been blessed with extraordinary teachers beginning in fourth grade with Sister Jane Mary, who, to my mother’s dismay, insisted all of her students have library cards and use them. Every other Friday afternoon the good Sister marched her class to the corner of the school playground where the blue bookmobile was parked. I loved checking out new books. The problem is that I almost always forgot to return the old ones. Overdue notices with two cents a day fines turned up regularly in the mailbox. My mother would mutter under her breath when she opened mail from the Denver Public Library and berate the good sister (never to her face) about how irresponsible it was to trust a nine-year-old with library card. “This is your last warning,” she would warn me, “from now on the fines are coming out of your allowance. If I get any more overdue notices, I’m tearing up your library card.” She never did.

I still have and regularly use my library card.

From the beginning it has been a gateway to freedom and the exploration of new and previously unimagined worlds and ideas. Reading, attending movies and being taken by my parents to see live touring companies of Broadway shows like Oklahoma, Carousel and South Pacific (before I was in my teens) all contributed to the creation of an inner world far more exotic (and as a child and adolescent far more fulfilling) than my outer one.

My father introduced me to adult literature when he recommended Herman Wouk’s World War Two novel The Caine Mutiny while I was still in grade school. I devoured it. Wouk’s next book, Marjorie Morningstar, was published my freshman year in high school. I was eager to read it although I had no idea what it was about. My mother, who did know what it was about, insisted I get permission from one of the Jesuit priests who taught at the high school. I took the book to Father Lander, the school librarian and told him my mother insisted I get permission before I read it.

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My Godmother Harriett Stumbles Upon My Soul’s Code

A couple of years before my mother died in 1995 (a few months short of her 81st birthday) she had an epiphany and called my oldest sister, Mary:

“Did you watch Oprah Winfrey today?”

“I missed it,” Mary replied.

“Mary,” my mother confided, “I think my family might have been dysfunctional.”

Mary has never said as much, but I imagine she bit down on her lower lip hard enough to draw blood. “Oh,” Mary said. Mary does noncommittal and non-confrontational better than anyone I’ve ever known.

As soon as Mary hung up with my mother, she called me and our two younger sisters to alert us to our mother’s a-ha moment. “Just take it in,” Mary advised.

All four of us had long since come to this conclusion about Mother’s family and thought it close to miraculous that she escaped with as few scars as she did.

Had my mother had this revelation some 40 years earlier, my life might have been quite different; but she didn’t.

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The Day We Buried My Father

My mother and I were waiting for my sister Deborah in the backseat of a mortuary limousine in front of my parents’ condo when a manifestly bow-legged man walked passed us. My mother started to cry.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Every time, that man walked past our building, your father would say, “Oh what manner of man is this who wears his balls in parenthesis.”

The limousine driver chortled, accidentally hit the accelerator, and, for a moment, it looked like we were going to rear end the parked car in front of us.

My mother’s crying became sobbing. “I’ll never hear your father say that again,” she gulped between sobs, “I miss him so. What am I going to do?”

Deborah got into the backseat and asked, “What’s the matter?”

I shook my head and mouthed, “Don’t ask.”

“Are we all here and ready to go?” the driver asked solemnly, his composure restored and his professional mourner’s mask back in place.

My parents’ marriage was not just a marriage; it was a life-long love affair.

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What is Mine To Do?

 

Franciscan friar, Father Richard Rohr is among the most challenging of contemporary spiritual teachers and a long-time favorite of mine. I have at least a dozen of his books on my bookshelves and a drawer filled with his recordings. His CD series, Great Themes of Paul, transformed every bias I had held about St. Paul and, seeing Paul from Richard’s perspective, have come to love and revere him.

For a while I was a Rohr groupie and showed up at every lecture, class or conference he gave in Southern California and I attended several weekend conferences that the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) presented in Albuquerque.

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Both Angels Do The Will of God

In early August of 2000, I arrived in Paris to visit my friends Terry and his mother, Alice.

I wasn’t a stranger to Paris. I’d first visited the city in 1961 with sixteen fellow college students as part of a whirlwind tour of 10 countries in three weeks with 16 other students.  It was classic “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.” Our guide/chaperone, Father Maginnis, S. J., was an opera-loving, epicurean Jesuit priest who was plagued with food poisoning seemingly every time he ate at a high-rated Michelin restaurant, while those of us who ate street food did just fine. Ill or not, Father Maginnis was determined to fill us with respect and awe for the culture of Europe even if killed him and it almost did.

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The Most Beautiful Funeral I’ve Ever Seen

My friend, Joseph Kramer is a visionary and one of the most courageous people I know. Joseph studied for several years to be a Jesuit priest. Then he had his “aha” experience.

One of Joseph’s Jesuit housemates at the Jesuit Theologate in Berkeley, CA took massage training at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur, CA.. Upon his return, he offered to practice what he’d learned on his Jesuit housemates, including Joseph, who at the time was a scholar who lived largely in his head. During the course of the massage, Joseph, in my telling, experienced, for the first time, full incarnation, full embodiment—body, mind and soul perfectly aligned. (Joseph doesn’t dispute this.)

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