“Waking up” on June 26, 2019 – a milestone on a long, painful, joyous journey towards becoming a “real human being”.

(To hear Majo read this post (17″), click here:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0CYNo29Ystx6jzb0yv8QwRZwA)

I describe here a life-changing experience that happened for me a year-and-a-half ago. For quite a while after that experience, I was kind of wandering around asking myself “What the hell just happened to me? “

Did I just get in lightened? What the hell does that mean? I tried, awkwardly, can you describe what it happened to me to my men’s group. I came away thinking that they had not understood me at all.

But the next day? My friend Lee from the group Wrote me that he had read in the book the untethered soul this definition of “enlightenment: being “unreasonably happy”.

I like that definition and it helped the word “enlightenment” set a little easier for me for a while. But I still mostly didn’t like it. “Waking up” was the description that worked best for me.

I was genuinely confused about the spot what this experience meant in my life. At one point, for about 48 hours I got obsessed with questions like “am I meant to be a guru? Am I supposed to have disciples?”

(In my early 30s, I was for three years a very devoted “disciple” of a “guru” named Sri Chinmoy. There was no question for us disciples that Si Chinmoy was our guru. We even used that word as a term of affection for him.

(In by the same way that I was students of tick not hon much later called him tie Dash Vietnamese for a teacher. But took not hon was very clear that he was not a spiritual master to anybody. “Teacher” was the only title he would except.)

For about nine months after the “waking up” experience, It seems to me like I was no longer afraid of anybody or anything. I even said that to some key friends like Tom Kilby.

I may have even boldly written it on my “Waking up” blog (majowaking up.com – currently off-line until I can get the word press company $100 to renew it).

Waking up isn’t for everyone, but for those who have gotten a taste of becoming fully conscious, it is the only game in town.

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

For most people, the process of becoming fully yourself unfolds very gradually throughout our lives, through lots of hard work. This is how it worked for me for 73 years. Then – at 3 a.m., on Monday, June 26 2019 – many things fell in place at once and I made a 100% commitment to reclaiming my integrity. I was given a gift – and poof! In that moment I became a new person.

Learning to walk the walk and claim the voice of this new person is in itself a gradual process – but I am being unerringly guided by Spirit, and in a very real way it has all become easy.

I have become, in the words of Michael Singer (The Untethered Soul), “unreasonably happy” – and nothing can seem to dent this happiness. I endure the shocks of human life: my checking account is suddenly overdrawn; the chronic pain, sometimes pretty rough, that has been with me for 30 years – and still hasn’t been diagnosed – is still there; a friend is in the midst of great pain and I go there with them (actually more acutely than ever before). But happiness always sits in the background and is the baseline to which I always return.

I have for thirty years been diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder (see my blog Bipolar Integrity). My energy still cycles powerfully up and down, but words like “bipolar”, “manic” or “depressed” no longer apply to me and I will not use them to describe myself. I am returning to the comfortingly descriptive, non-psychiatric words I have used for years: “expanded” and “contracted”. These I can live with.

I have become convinced that I was always misdiagnosed, that I was actually having a “spiritual emergency” (Stanislav Grof, in his book The Stormy Search for Self.)

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Stanislav Grof

which no one recognized or knew how to support or guide. This crisis, rather than being treated with reverence as the sacred process it was, was “treated” with psychotropic drugs that snowed me and kept this sacred process from ever resolving.

(I myself was trained as a Ph.D. clinical psychologist and worked in the field for 20 years; while I was in some ways an especially awake psychotherapist, all that psychology training finally made it harder for me to truly “wake up”.  I have been very supported lately by the Asheville Center for Spiritual Emergence.)

For a while, I was confused by the fact that my waking up process does not look like that of some of my role models: I do not consistently come from a place that looks like peace and love like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. My “new person” has a sharp edge – more like Byron Katie or Fritz Perls, two of the big influences of my life. (And truly, even Thich Nhat Hanh – my teacher for four years – also has a ferocious side, as I saw revealed when the U.S was preparing to go to war in Iraq.)

I readily tell people truths – or reflect them back to themselves – in ways that they seem unready to hear. I can be ferocious at times, will raise my voice – will look and sound very angry (even if, in at least some of these situations, I actually feel completely peaceful inside). This “new person” sometimes shocks my friends, who have always thought of me as a “nice person”. When someone around me (even my customer in the grocery store checkout line) is being harmed or threatened, I can suddenly become “an avenging angel – a sword of truth”.

The political situation in our country – with Donald Trump and the forces of reaction, separation and hate – remains profoundly disturbing and I feel committed (required) to finding the right ways (as Spirit guides me) to be involved and try to make a difference, to take our country back. Thich Nhat Hanh was a pioneer of “engaged Buddhism” during the war in Vietnam – where he and his order of monks worked heroically to put that war to an end – and remains in this area of my mission a role model.

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“Thay” (“Teacher”) with some of his students

And I am more loving than ever before – love that has integrity and truth and often great gentleness.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a book – as yet unpublished, but soon – called Radical Integrity: Reflective Stories for Reclaiming Your Self. There are some real gems in that book – I was already on the path, and some of those chapters will turn up here. There were times that I would show up with great integrity and even courage. But I had not yet undergone “the change” – I had not become integrity, I still basically had no clue who I really was.

Whether your process of claiming your integrity is very gradual or whether you, like me, have had – or soon do have – your own moment of “waking up” (and this moment is happening to more and more people), my wish is that the words and stories in the blog will give you encouragement, inspiration, maybe sometimes guidance, and maybe sometimes excitement.

For more information about what led up to my breakthrough and what followed it, you can read the Page “Waking up: a tale of depression, integrity, assertiveness and good boundaries”.

Become a part of this community of waking up. Subscribe to the blog. Add your voice in the Comments section after each blog post. Write me. I want to be here for you.

Update on Narwal the Whale

Narwal – our 1988 Ford Econoline camper van – has been our mobile home for the last six months now.

This old beast has been so inextricably woven into the story of our journey through Appalachia that I’m going to devote a whole tab of this blog to her and her exploits.

Just a little over a week ago, I had heard very discouraging words about her from two mechanics and it seemed like she might be headed to the junkyard – or to be donated to public radio or something.

But now she lives!

I am not very enthused about the idea of riding out the whole winter in this little, drafty, unreliable van – but it now looks like we’re going to get established in an apartment by January 1, and Narwal may continue to be our mobile residence long into the future.

In the video below, we have not yet left our campsite at the Orchard at Altapass, south of Spruce Pine North Carolina – so you will get to see more of the fabulous views of the Appalachian mountains.

The video ends abruptly when I turn to greet some workers who have arrived to prune the apple trees in the orchard.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0io7bTpRJPTr_VtjzbukOJssA

Happy winter solstice 2020 – in the year of the pandemic

The night before the winter solstice, I found myself in an extraordinary, remote Appalachian Mountain setting. I describe it in this 30-minute video:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0o7JISAiJdZfhX5MaxvXRhdsw

The next morning, as I sat in my van attempting to wake up, I saw – through the windshield of Narwal the van – a slight line of pink creep over the eastern horizon.

I was instantly awake: “Holy cow, I have got to capture this!” I threw on some clothes, grabbed my iPhone – and spent the next hour videotaping this historic sunrise.

I don’t know about you, but never before have I so much needed to know that the sun had turned its face to shine more strongly once again on me.

The following two videos capture the sunrise on Monday, December 21, 2020. They are slow and minimal. But, if you set all distractions aside and just focus on the experience of waking up to a new day in the Appalachian mountains, these videos can take you there.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0v0ElrhTPxF94JJMtFfY30mtA

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0c9_thQNCDcOTMa1J9A-cxKHQ

Brother Sun is offering us a brand new day, in the middle of all this devastation and despair. I encourage you to take an hour to go there with me.

(If you find that these videos have offered you some value, please consider dropping a tip in my PayPal tip jar. This will both let me know that my mission has been successful – and help me to finance my winter in Appalachia doing this work.)

Thanks.

PayPal.me/heymajo

Reminiscing about an old dog and a previous girlfriend

Surrendering to the mountains of Appalachia:

I was talking on the phone with my friend Diana as I walked up the hill. I had no idea how high I had climbed!

Pancho makes an unexpected new friend:

Pancho and Linda’s neighbor dog “Buddy” had checked each other out from a distance.

“Buddy” is probably not this sweet little dog’s real name. But he reminds me a lot of my old dog Buddy, so – for want of knowing his real name – Buddy is what I am calling him.

I think he is probably quite old – and also maybe deaf. But he has an enormously sweet, calm, grounded presence – and I want Pancho to become friends with him.

But now – with some very patient coaching – they became a pack.

Remembering my old girlfriend:

Pancho made friends with Buddy when Buddy handled a little nastiness from Pancho with great poise. That can work in human relationships, too.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0ZTMmUb0fotXDZjgiRT4YRuGQ

Happy solstice, everybody!

I shot this video today at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, above “The Orchards at Altapass”, south of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

(Website for the Orchard at Altapass – check out it’s amazing history: https://altapassorchard.org/)

It carries my wish for a happy solstice – happy return of the sun – for Spruce Pine, the Appalachian Mountains, America, and planet Earth.

Watch how dramatically darkness falls in the mountains during the 30 minutes I was taping this video.

Videos #2 & 3: sunrise on the solstice 2020, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Happy sunrise, happy solstice – the return of the sun, shining his face brightly on us. The sun – which the Native Americans wisely worshiped – bringing us light and hope and warmth, in the middle of a still-raging pandemic.

There seems now to be no way to avoid this being in many ways a terrible year for the humans of planet earth.

But could it somehow paradoxically also be the start of something new and positive and powerful for all of us?

Altapass solstice #1 – 8 minutes

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0SyN-TxWB6xXzve7Ocn4EWVcg

Altapass solstice #2 – 39″

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0ejt8wGHTYSzZFrBy1np7zZVQ

Indian Country

All of us in North America (and South America) live in Indian country. Here is my “Indian Country” video:

When I lived in the city, in Asheville, it was pretty easy to not be aware of all this. But in our eight months of “Majo and Pancho: two outlaw cowboys running the back roads of Appalachia during the pandemic”, the reality of what the country was before we ever were here has been pretty much in my face.

We started our Appalachian journey with six weeks in the mountains outside of Barnardsville – guests of my friend who I call “Petula” because she is very concerned for her privacy.

When I would stand on a rock outcropping over the Ivy Creek in Barnardsville, I was struck by a very clear sense that Native Americans had stood in that spot before me. These intuitions have grown stronger and more frequent as we have pushed farther and farther north – and farther and farther inside ourselves.

Many of my white cohort out here in Appalachia do not share my felt sense of the Native American history.

Up in Bakersville, I was chatting with a lovely three-generation family walking along the Toe River that runs through Bakersville. I asked the charming, intelligent, college-educated mom what she knew about the Native American history in the Bakersville area.The night before the winter solstice, I found myself in an extraordinary, remote Appalachian Mountain setting. I describe it in this 30-minute video:

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0o7JISAiJdZfhX5MaxvXRhdsw

The next morning, as I sat in my van attempting to wake up, I saw – through the windshield of Narwal the van – a slight line of pink creep over the eastern horizon.

I was instantly awake: “Holy cow, I have got to capture this!” I threw on some clothes, grabbed my iPhone – and spent the next hour videotaping this historic sunrise.

I don’t know about you, but never before have I so much needed to know that the sun had turned its face to shine more strongly once again on me.

The following two videos capture the sunrise on Monday, December 21, 2020. They are slow and minimal. But, if you set all distractions aside and just focus on the experience of waking up to a new day in the Appalachian mountains, these videos can take you there.

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0v0ElrhTPxF94JJMtFfY30mtA

https://share.icloud.com/photos/0c9_thQNCDcOTMa1J9A-cxKHQ

Brother Sun is offering us a brand new day, in the middle of all this devastation and despair. I encourage you to take an hour to go there with me.

(If you find that these videos have offered you some value, please consider dropping a tip in my PayPal tip jar. This will both let me know that my mission has been successful – and help me to finance my winter in Appalachia doing this work.

Thanks.

PayPal.me/heymajo)

Product review: the Dolby On app for audio and video recording

(This app has become so central to my process of video recording that I do not hesitate a second to give it a commercial plug.)

I have never used probably 80% of the functionality of this app, but what I do use performs beautifully.

It records both audio and video – and I think you can even create a livestream with it.

Every recording starts with three seconds of sampling the background noise, which it then filters out.

Pushing one button allows you to record in Dolby stereo – which I thought was reserved for movie theaters.

 Recording in this app puts your recording automatically on a cloud, whereas recording in my iPhone recorder stays in my phone until I find a way to upload it to the iCloud – which, with the terrible Wi-Fi signals that are available in the country, is a real issue.

It’s easy to write a title for your video, which can be a headache on the iPhone. 

iPhone recordings seem to provide light for night recording, which I have not yet found a way to do with the Dolby On app. But – just recording on the settings I currently have – videos on this app are more brightly illuminated than my naked eyes can see. 

I am way beyond happy with everything I get out of this app. I have to pinch myself that all this functionality actually came in a free app. I never tire of telling people about it.

Who he was

Some of you will find this relevant, and some of it is still relevant to me.

“John Michael Madden” – the old me:

  • was born on 9/26/46, to a working-class 3rd generation Irish-Catholic family
  • grew up in a (then) blue-collar suburb (Brookfield) southwest of Chicago. A kind of sweet little conservative lily-white town.
  • was raised by a sweet, loving, neurotic, guilt-inducing, Enneagram 2 mother and a passive, withdrawn, alcoholic father.
  • was born nine years into his parents’ marriage and was the “miracle baby”, the little prince. His mom always told him he could be anything he wanted to be – and that he was a complete disappointment.
  • his brother Terry was born 16 months later. (“He also is nice.”) Their relationship greatly shaped John’s life.
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Terry James Madden, 2014 (1 year into cancer treatment, RIP 6/28/16)
  • was influenced in his early years by old-time Catholic culture – with all the neurosis and genuine, hell-fearing trauma attendant to that.
  • was sexually abused from ages 6-10 by his much older tormented alcoholic cousin, who lived next door. The memories of this powerful, extended trauma stayed totally suppressed until they returned – completely unbidden (actually fiercely resisted), starting with a Jungian dream group. The return of these memories pretty totally blew his life apart – and allowed the surfacing of a pattern of feelings and behavior that were identified as “Major Depression” and then “Bipolar Disorder”. He had all manner of personal support and psychotherapy to heal the sex abuse and after several years declared himself “healed” – though the remnants of this trauma still definitely affected him until his “Integrity Day”, (6/26/19). Since that day, this part of “John’s history” is pretty much irrelevant.
  • attended Catholic schools through college (Loyola University in Chicago). For his four years of high school and his first year of high school, he was in the Catholic seminary – studying to be a priest. He left that specific vocation behind, but truly all of his work since then – as a psychologist, organization development management consultant or as a front-line customer service worker (for seven years now a grocery store cashier) has in a very real way been pastoral.
  • in his last year in college (1968), experienced a genuine transformation from a straight, middle class kid into a real immersion into the counter-culture and political radicalism. This, in a very real way, changed the trajectory of his life. In many ways he was an aspiring hippie (he tuned in and turned on), but never became a true hippie (he never really dropped out). Instead of moving to Haight Ashbury and really “living the life”, he stayed in Chicago and quickly married a girl very much like his mother.
  • got a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester. Did not in any way identify with his academic faculty, charting for himself a course towards psychotherapy and personal growth. Rejecting the influences of Sigmund Freud and B.F. Skinner, he and many of his classmates were irresistibly drawn to Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Fritz Perls. His class and the class ahead of him were the first (and maybe last) wave of “student radicals” to hit that program: they and their academic faculty made each other crazy for the next four years – and he escaped with his Ph.D. by the skin of his teeth.
Carl Rogers, creator of Client-Centered Therapy

Abe Maslow, creator of Humanistic Psychology
Fritz Perls. seriously serious dude, creator of Gestalt Therapy
  • was married right out of college. A tormented, ten-year marriage that did, however – right near its end – net a wonderful adopted son, Terry, who lives in Louisville, KY, and still is his heart.
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Terry Madden and son Felix
  • Having grown up in a sheltered, all-white midwestern suburb in the fifties left him completely ignorant of racial issues until his final year of college. Then, along with the rest of his political and societal waking up, the scales began to fall off his eyes about racism and white privilege. Over the last fifty years, he has – among many other influences – been shaped by
    • raising a black son
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My son, Terry Michael Madden
  • Martin Luther King (marched with him in Chicago),
  • Re-evaluation Counseling , with its passionate, across-the board commitment to liberation issues – a real distinguishing characteristic from so many personal personal growth paths. “I can’t be really free until everybody is free.”
  • ten years of his management consulting and training specialized in “diversity issues” – race, gender and sexual orientation in the workplace.
  • a long and powerful commitment to “men’s issues”. He was groomed to work with men by: having six brothers, five years in the Catholic seminary, four years of working in a VA hospital, and 15 years working with mostly-male corporate managers. He passionately loves his brothers and has organized and participated in men’s groups for the last forty years.
  • has been influenced by many personal growth influences, especially Re-evaluation Counseling (peer “co-counseling – a passionate 24 year involvement, formally ending about 20 years ago but forever influencing him) and Gestalt Therapy.
  • Has been in therapy for himself for most of the last 20 years, with therapists who have practiced
  • in his 20 years of practicing psychology, he (among other things)
    • taught college for two years at Alfred University
    • worked in a mental health center in Amherst, Nova Scotia, for two years
    • offered psychotherapy in a private practice in Syracuse, NY, for seven years
    • (in his last psychology job) was for four years the psychologist in a Day Hospital program at a tough, mostly black, West Side of Chicago VA Hospital
  • in his 15 years of practicing organization development management consulting, he:
    • worked full-time for four years at AT&T, including a lot of work at its headquarters in Basking Ridge, NJ – where he grew from a psychologist into being a genuine systems-oriented organization change person
    • while at AT&T, he was greatly influenced by the brilliant and incredibly progressive organizational hero Peter Block and his ground-breaking book Flawless Consulting (which Peter teased that he had considered titling “Smash the Patriarchy”), was certified as a trainer of the corporate training course based on that book and was briefly a part of Peter’s training firm, Designed Learning.
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Peter Block, author of Flawless Consulting
  • Worked two years at Cincinnati Gas and Electric – a sleepy old-fashioned utility that was the opposite of the vibrant AT&T, was as resistant to change as AT&T was relatively open to it.
    • While at CG&E, went as an OD consultant with representatives of the Training Department to an extended series of trainings with Peter Senge on “Systems Thinking” as applied to organizations. A lifesaver while he was working in a system that so feared change.
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Peter Senge’s ground-breaking bookon systems thinking and the “learning organization” – one of the most influential business books of all time.
  • Participated in the 54-day (over 18 months) Organization and Systems Development (OSD) professional training program at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Influenced the way he worked with corporate clients – and his whole way of being in the world.
  • after his “mental health breakdown” (should have been a spiritual transformation) thirty years ago, did not work for a couple of years
    • was hospitalized 13 times over eight years in Chicago and Asheville. Those hospitals ranged from very benign (if never truly therapeutic) to snake pits
    • was treated for 30 years with very potent cocktails of psychotropic drugs
    • separated by a year, was treated with two extended rounds of ECT shock treatments. The first round was relatively traumatic: he discontinued it when he became very aware of much erosion in his subtle mental faculties. The second round was totally devastating and precipitated a three-day psychotic episode (the only psychotic experience of his life)
  • in 2004, somewhat on impulse, in a desperate attempt to re-invent himself, moved to Asheville, NC. – as counseled a year before by his son Terry (“Dad, if you ever get suicidal again, no matter what don’t hurt yourself. Move to a place where you have never lived, where you know nobody, do work you never have done – start over.”) The funky, artistic Asheville really fits him – has supported his development as an artist/writer/performer. 
  • In his fifteen years in Asheville, has held 13 different front-line customer service jobs – including restaurant server, cab driver, call center customer service agent and grocery store cashier (his last 7 years). Has become “the working class hero I was always meant to be”.) Read his “Working Hard for the Money” chapter in his in-progress memoir A Dark Awakening.
  • meditation and eastern spirituality: has been a meditation student of
    • Sri Chinmoy (three years)
      • Bengali teacher of Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love, devotion and surrender
      • teacher of classic jazz guitarist “Mahavishnu” John McLaughlin and Carlos “Devadip” Santana
      • stumbled into the guru’s backyard and joined a group of about 15 people who got to hear the guru instruct Santana on how to meditate when he is playing for thousands of people in a rock concert
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Sri Chinmoy
  • mind-expanding drugs – did four powerful acid trips in grad school. Each was intended and structured to be a “spiritual experience” – and each was, until it turned terrifying and out of control. Had no one around him then to help him integrate these experiences.
  • mental illness: was diagnosed with “clinical depression” in his early forties, and “bipolar disorder” a few years later. Today, influenced by the thinking and writing of Stanislav Grof (famous pioneer of Transpersonal Psychology, the meeting point between personal growth and spiritual growth – especially in his book The Stormy Search of Health), is no longer willing to identify himself as having a mental illness and sees his “symptoms” as signs that he was having a “spiritual emergency” – which no one around him was equipped to do anything but define him as mentally ill.
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Stanislav Grof, pioneer of Transpersonal Psychology
  • psychotropic drugs: has for 30 years taken potent cocktails of 2-4 drugs. He is convinced now that none of them has ever really helped him – in collaboration with his psychiatrist, is in a process of weaning himself off of all three drugs he has been taking.
  • has been very influenced by the 12 Steps and (until very recently) has for many years thought that really “working” the Steps, with a sponsor, could be very powerful. Not sure if any of this still pertains to him.
  • was a Myers-Briggs ENFP and an Enneagram 7. Today, being pretty totally guided by Spirit, none of that is really who he is any more.
  • a writer – threw himself into it since elementary school. His writing really caught fire when he moved to Asheville 15 years ago.
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Diana Buchanan and my chihuahua mix Panchita aka Pancho
  • 5 Rhythms free-form improvisational dancing
  • he has also been very influenced by three dogs:
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Buddy
  • 5 pound yorkiepoo Toni
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Toni and the amazing vocalist Paula Hanke
  • “Woke up” – 3 a.m., Monday, June 26, 2019