The mystery of my missing memory on the eve of the 2012 Solstice clung to me for months as I searched for words and some sort of framework to hang it on. While working on the play at the gallery in Oakland, I met Lisa, a friend of Lenore's, who had also been at the Solstice ceremony. I pressed her for details when we went to fetch dinner. She found my story to be rather incredulous for she was not there after the ceremony to hear me ask the same question over and over—"Did I come with someone?" She was, however, able to tell me how many people had been there (a whole roomful backed up to the walls) and that the lighting had indeed been low at floor level.
"You must have been so scared," said my mother when I related the story to her.
"I wasn't actually there to be scared", I reminded her. I more felt like I had been through the looking glass like Alice. The experience was so dreamlike.
Catherine was also worried when I told her that I had no memory of where I had gone the night before (by myself with complete strangers except for Lenore and two others I only met once). But when I told her that every time I tried to grip my mind around the experience, I felt a reassuring sense that everything had been alright, she was willing to trust that nothing serious had happened.
I did ask myself, as soon as I could hold a coherent thought in my head the next day, if I should abandon all things shamanic. My answer was immediate. No, I was not going to let this incidence take that away from me. That much I was certain of. Besides if a shamanic ceremony had been powerful enough to dislodge my mind, then it was worth further investigation. Our science minded culture wanted to put it in a medical context, a malfunction described as a black out, but I was looking for something else, a metaphorical meaning, a narrative explanation.
"It could be viewed as an initiation," Dave agreed when we discussed it weeks later after he had taken me for my soul retrieval ceremony
. "Especially for someone who put such significance on the date," he added.
Ah yes, I had forgotten about the significance of the 2012 Solstice date. Once it had passed and all the hullabaloo about the end of the world being for naught, only the seriously out-there New Agers wanted to mention it again. But I had indeed spent over a year focused on the Mayan prediction, not as an end date, but a gateway to a shift. I just hadn't thought of it as my own personal shift.
I decided to ask my Grandmother spirit about it. On a journey to the upper world, I sat at her kitchen table and asked why the Solstice ceremony had unfolded as it did.
"Well it got your attention didn't it?" she asked. "The ceremony connected you with Lenore who could help you. And the soul retrieval was necessary to help you move along on your spiritual journey," she explained. It sounded quite logical and efficient especially given my disinclination to ask for help of any sort. And it was a soul retrieval I had asked for though I knew nothing about it and I don't know how I knew to ask for such a thing. My spirit Grandmother's answer still didn't explain the incredible feeling of lightness that it left me with.
At the close of 2012 Catherine was nearing the end of her cancer treatment. When I asked how she was doing her most frequent answer was that she was anxious about "impermanence" the Buddhist term for the temporal nature of the universe.
At which point I would say "Oh, is that all?", extend my condolences and go back to my room for we had made an agreement that, in my caretaker role I would not attempt to offer much help in these existential matters. I would be allowed to save myself and not inhabit with her the state of anxiety. She had our dharma teacher and her therapist to help her cope with impermanence. But once I had lost my mind to the universe I was giddy with it, with the cosmic joke of it all. The next time Catherine complained of impermanence I could hardly stop myself from snorting with suppressed mirth.
"Can't you see it from my point of view?" she asked as she faced yet another test that might reveal a recurrence of cancer.
"I just drove home from Berkeley with no memory at all and noting bad happened. Why should I worry again?" I said and giggled at myself.
I continued to think of life as a cosmic joke. After my soul retrieval with Lenore people treated me differently as if they could now speak to me where before I was a bit too enigmatic no matter how transparent I had tried to make myself through my writing. These essays had certainly helped by allowing me to be seen like a creature in an aquarium, but the formality of the essay form was as thick as aquarium glass separating me from my reader—keeping us both safe. Now the glass was disappearing in places, as I began to be able to talk to people in a more heartfelt way. It was liberating, like breathing fresh air. This part Catherine greatly appreciated; it allowed her to know what I was feeling in real time.
My thoughts now turned to the metaphysical. My mother, who was also interested in metaphysics, was holding out for a scientific explanation for things; she wanted me to read a book someone had given to her called "Proof of Heaven", wanted to know what I would think of it.
"It's about a surgeon who had a near death experience and he talks about how he found heaven," she said. I sighed inwardly. Yes for phenomena to be accepted as proof it had to come from the mouth of a man at the top of the medical pecking order and be a majorly dramatic event.
"I don't need a near death experience to know", I said, "I just had a near lost-my-mind experience and now I know I'm in the lap of the gods. I will never worry about anything again; everything was just fine without me even being there." My mother looked worried as though I might now throw caution to the wind. Hearing myself talk like this; my words sounded grandiose, but glorious at the same time. Sitting in the lap of the gods sounded like a box seat for an Egyptian prince.
The Collective Unconscious
It was not until my birthday, five months later, that I would find a satisfactory explanation from my friend Martine. Martine was our resident expert on multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) having shepherded an ex-lover through years of ineffective medical care for a lifetime of blacking out episodes when other personalities took over. I cornered her at my birthday party and asked her what she could tell me about this event of my having disappeared from myself only to have my ten year old personality take over.
"The first thing I can tell you is that everyone has alters." she explained. (Alters were personalities that were fragmented from the core personality and those personalities can come into play at any time to do different things.) "The only difference for people with dissociative identity disorder is that their alters have become separated from their personality and they have lost contact with them. Just be glad this happened to you now and not when you were a teenager," she added. Yes having to explain where you were when you were supposed to be in school and having no idea where exactly you were, would certainly make adolescence a harrowing experience. You'd have to make stuff up.
"Do you think soul retrieval would work for this disorder?" I asked her.
"Sure," she said, "but it's never going to happen with our medical system. All they're interested in is drugs." Yes we all knew that. It was hardly worth discussing. I gave her more details of my experience. She had not read my essay on account of Microsoft piling more work on her programming desk after the year of firings.
"How did you feel after you came back?" She asked. I described how euphoric I had felt for three days after. How every time I thought about the event I knew that nothing bad at all had happened. She nodded as though this was an expected part of such an experience. Then she told me that Jung had said that those who can slip from one personality to another are much more able to join the collective unconscious in that space between personalities. Which would explain the heightened sense of well being I had experienced. I knew it. I had touched the Universe. I had experienced the universal oneness of all beings.
"And it was the solstice of 2012," I emphasized. "I was out there with the collective unconscious helping with the transformation." This was the story I most favored because if I was missing from myself why not? I could have been anywhere and no one could prove otherwise even myself. "And it was your birthday too," I added. Martine was indeed born on the winter solstice which just made her role in explaining all this to me even more significant.
She was perfectly happy to accept that I had assisted in the 2012 shift. Then Dave who had been listening in chimed in about how recent research on alternative perceptions of reality had been censored from the prestigious TED talk series. Stacy joined in as the conversation drifted to how science, with its dogmatic worldview being the undeclared religion of our time, was completely threatened by these alternative views of reality. The conversation carried on while I poured oil in a pan to fry the chicken we would have for dinner.
As initiations go, a near death experience is standard for shamans while other equally dramatic paranormal events had brought many to the practice. Okay so maybe contemporary people, need to be hit on the head with a 2" x 4", but some of us may just need to be woken up from a culturally induced numbness and welcomed back with a big cosmic hug.
Now that I was back in the lap of the gods, I could remember incidents of my childhood when I felt this connection. Of being alone, once, after school, outside drawing on a chalk board which was resting on the ground against the school house wall. I paused and sat back on my heels, drawn to look across the yard at the quality of the afternoon light. Looking at that warm light, I was struck by a sense of a fully populated universe accompanying me and being a part of me. And I wondered then, at 8 years of age, why did adults worry so much when clearly just to be alive meant we were being buoyed up by spirits. I did not have all those words then, but this memory would stay with me asking me for a place to put it. I had written about it before 25 years ago, but my secular American writing teacher saw it as childhood naivete and I dropped it. Nor did it make it into my memoir of Thailand though I saw it as a encapsulating experience of my life there.
The rest of my childhood in Thailand was equally filled with spiritual conversations with myself prompted by the acknowledgement of the unseen world in the vividness of Thai culture. I was so adept at slipping from my mother's British culture to my family's Thai culture that it was not hard to think of the world of spirits as just another culture to enter. And when we came to California I picked up all the new thoughts of the human potential movement of the 60s and '70s just as readily.
At a free lecture on self-hypnosis that my parents took me to when I was fifteen, I was one of two in the room to admit that I had indeed been floating along on a cloud with my name on it just as described in the guided meditation. My parents humored me, their dreamer child, but they themselves were self-consciously, poo pooing the whole thing especially my father (who suffered from nightmares and wasn't about to let anyone lead his mind anywhere).
"You're very suggestible," said Stacy when I told her that story.
And having thus kissed the Universe on the 2012 Solstice—the birth of the age of transformation, I was now aware that I was in danger of becoming unbearable in that way that people are when they have found Jesus. I tried to keep a lid on it.
I still made all my walks with the dogs an opportunity to communicate with the universe and look for signs just as I had done the first dog walk following the solstice ceremony. And when I directly asked for things I found answers. Early on in my work with Lenore, I asked the Universe to show me the money to fund this spiritual work I was doing with her. When I got home there was a message from a client I had contacted a month before, but wasn't sure she would ever confirm. She would be a regular weekly gig. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I chose to see it as confirmation and gave thanks profusely.
The more convinced I was that the Universe was communicating with me, the more sensitive I became to the TV shows and movies we were ingesting. All of them were about desperate people, especially desperate white guys choosing a life of crime. These stories reflected Catherine's view that life was harsh and she appreciated the clever, well written scripts full of ethical dilemmas. While I had to fight to keep these stories from draining my energy and from eroding my own internal truths.
It was a bad week; an old friend of Catherine's had just been diagnosed with liver cancer and would likely die from it. I still refused to believe that life was set up to be harsh. People died. Whether they died well or not depended on their acceptance of it, but I had nothing to offer to prove otherwise. I feared being sucked into this vortex of despair, this dark night of Catherine's spiritual struggle.
At my next session with Lenore, I told her that I felt my relationship with Catherine was at a crossroads. I described how we were now living at opposite poles. At one end life was harsh and at the other life was a cosmic joke. I had not the strength to bridge this. Lenore asked how long it had been since Catherine's diagnosis. In April of last year I told her. "Not very long", she noted sympathetically. Then she told me that I could take a journey to find and talk to the spirit of my relationship with Catherine. And ask it what was the meaning of this "crossroads" as I had put it.
Whoa, there was a spirit of our relationship? I was intrigued by the idea. Enough to make the journey right away with Lenore drumming for me. I lay down on the couch and put my cap over my face. With the drum beating, I ran down to the lower world calling for my power animals.
Mongoose and Bear and I set out to find this spirit. We rode Bear into the jungle rather tentatively, looking into the trees at all the ghosts. Along came a cobra crossing our path. "Don't make me talk to a cobra," I thought. And it disappeared. Well why not I wondered? It's true I was deathly afraid of snakes and maybe for good reason, but this was the dreamtime and I was with Mongoose (who was, of course, quite handy with cobras). The Cobra appeared again much larger, looming over us, facing us, ghostly like a phantom. I drew myself up to ask my question.
"What is the significance of this polarized crossroad in our relationship?" I said. Then I collected myself and waited for a response.
The Cobra's voice echoed in my head. "It is your task to learn compassion for Catherine's darkness. Your lightness will help her shift her view of things. It helps for her to know that you are okay so she doesn't have to take care of you as well. And it is fine for you to continue to nurture your lightness."
"That's powerful," said Lenore when I told her about the Cobra.
"Yes you have to be very careful how you step with a cobra," I said acknowledging the challenges of my relationship with Catherine. (But given the right tune cobras can also be charmed and domesticated.)
When I told Catherine about this vision she was pleased that I had taken the trouble to inquire about our relationship and assured me that she was coming out of her darkness. A week later she went to help her friend Al get to his chemotherapy treatment. She had to drive to LA to do this, but the four days she spent with him filled her with the purpose and perspective of the caretaker. And Al, who was a Chinese medicine doctor had such an equanimous view of his death, that he was ready to go. He just wanted to get his affairs in order and Catherine and other friends helped begin this process. He died two weeks later and Catherine was sad, but not devastated. She had learned valuable lessons from him she told me and seemed to have a renewed strength.
While I had so much to read and investigate from a list of books and resources that Lenore had recommended that I would be busy for a while building context for the shamanic culture I would further immerse myself in.
Labels: family, Shamanic, Shamanism