Forgiving 30 years of psychiatric heartache in four days

How do you forgive the rage you got in touch with in the last two days – over 30 years of heartache – through a four-minute song about forgiving yourself?  I dunno, I can’t figure it out – ask Jesse Powers, tonight (Sunday, 11/10) at the Jubilee Mystic Cafe (7-9 p.m. at 46 Wall St.), or at her web site.  

Over the last four months, I have discovered that the “bipolar disorder” psychiatric label that got pinned on me in my early 40’s was actually a tragic mistake.  Stanislav Grof in his landmark transpersonal psychology book The Stormy Search for Self describes how a “spiritual emergency” – a powerful and difficult and potentially wonderful psychological event – can be misdiagnosed as a psychiatric breakdown.  The person can be given a psychiatric diagnosis and put on powerful psychiatric drugs that can keep them snowed for a very long time – potentially the rest of their lives.

I will be forever grateful that this psychiatric bondage, for me, lasted only 30 years – and that I “woke up” at age 72.  This journey is described in my new blog “Waking up“.  I have some potentially wonderful years left – a reprieve that many people never get.

In the last two days, I finally got in touch with the grief and loss and rage I feel over the 30 years that the psychiatric profession “took away from me”.  (I know that I will, over time, come to at least believe –  if not understand why or how – this path has been just right for me. But hey, right now it’s all pretty new and raw.)  This morning this pain seemed so deep and potent that – even in my current context where everything seems to heal fast – I feared it would be a long, long time before I could forgive this great harm.

This forgiveness happened in about four minutes at Jubilee this morning, through a song by Jess Powers about self-forgiveness – it wasn’t even about the forgiveness of others, but that was the healing I needed this morning.

Catch Jess tonight at the Jubilee Mystic Cafe (46 Wall St., 7-9).  The wonderful person and very deep poet Aimee Morrison opens the show.  If you can’t make the show tonight, you can find Jess online.

Stanislav Grof’s ideas are practiced and taught in Asheville at the Center for Spiritual Emergence.

“Pretty little girl”

pretty girl with hair

These days, when – at the cash register – I tell a little girl that she’s pretty, I always follow that by saying this:

“One day here, when i told a little girl she was pretty, her mama said, ‘You know what we say, honey, when some nice person says you are pretty.’  And then in unison, very powerfully, they said ‘I’m pretty, I’m smart, and I’m strong – huh!’”

The little girl I am speaking to at this point will almost always say, “I’m smart!” or “I’m strong.”  And I will say something like, “Boy, you really are, aren’t you!”  And the mother (or father) will usually beam with delight at their daughter.

“You guys are great together!” Families

After my first four days back at Earth Fare, after a year away, I have been very keenly reminded that my greatest satisfaction in this job comes from validating people – affirming them.  And, while I really love doing this with individuals – especially if they seem lonely or depressed or like they could really use a shot in the arm – the greatest challenge and satisfaction comes from validating couples and families.  Here I will describe two families.

Read this post at my grocery store blog, Real Life in the Checkout Line, rlcol.com.

“I love you guys” – validating couples

Why do I have such an especially great time validating couples?  I think it’s really my specialty.  Maybe it’s because they have something I want – a happy, successful partnership – and focusing on what they are doing right gets me closer to my own goal.  I dunno.

See this post at my grocery store blog, Real Life in the Checkout Line https://rlcol.com/2019/07/10/i-love-you-guys-validating-couples/

John’s work

John –

In my head just now, I was having a fantasy conversation with no one in particular – maybe never anyone – about some topic that’s on my mind. I do this sometime when I feel less pressure around tasks, to do’s. Today I have a long afternoon and evening with nothing scheduled, in a good mood and happy to piddle.

The topic today is “My friend John and his relationship to work.” Hopefully at least enough of it will ring true – it would be a great conversation sometime, maybe on a hike, what hit the mark and (inevitably) what did not…and what’s missing.

Here goes:

My friend John’s current work – a highway flagger for paving jobs – is by no means his long-term aspiration.

He would like to get back into the building trades. He has pawned his tools when he was broke, but would never let go of them. He is a natural handyman and construction pro. He seems sometimes like a wizard. It seems like there is nothing he can’t do. He has a passion for fixing things, for making them work. When, out of the corner of his eye, he saw that one of my blinds wasn’t closing correctly, it continually distracted him from our conversation. “Do you mind if I fix that?” “Thanks – that would have haunted me all night.” If a friend has some kind of light construction or fixit need, he springs into action – he loves it. It’s a passion for him. It seems there is nothing that completely stumps him.

His life mission is to help people, to “facilitate” – to make things work better for them.

He has not given up on a long-term dream to work in the forest service – maybe construction. At 52, that possibility may be slipping away. It would take a big push, which could happen, but not until after the current spate of infections and other health challenges.

Highway flagging may seem like an unlikely vocation – and passion! – for someone of so much talent and education. (But my Ph.D. does not spoil grocery store cashiering as a vocation for me.) John’s capacity to turn this work into something creative and satisfying is admirable to say the least.

  • John applies his mission to help, to “facilitate” here – in ways that a less resourceful and motivated person would never accomplish. John has a vision that highway closures create stress and even some measure of pain for people – and his mission is to help this inconvenience be light for them. Where some other flaggers regard the lines of motorists as ignorant assholes to be dispatched – processed through with minimal expenditure of effort – to John they are customers, basically good people in pain.
  • John uses this work as a context to express his creativity. He dances his job. As much as the work allows, he stays in motion. He is always finding new and interesting ways to express information. How much relevant information can he feasibly impart?
    • what the project is
    • what’s happening up ahead
    • any feasible bypasses
  • he really is trying to make their day
  • John uses this job as a background to express his love of nature
    • he uses his camera to get interesting/educational/accurate pictures of nature
    • he has a circle of Facebook friends who are back and forth with each other with beautiful nature photos and the quest to identify interesting/beautiful/rare insects/plants/flowers
  • John has a huge work ethic and takes satisfaction from living it out.
    • Even if the day is rainy and there is not likely to be work on his particular paving project, he reports to the staffing office at 6 a.m.
      • Many of the workers don’t have cars, some of them may be staffing indoor jobs, some may need a ride to work if they are to get to work
        • many have families to support – John gets satisfaction from trying to make sure they get work if they can and he gets paid for transporting them and this establishes him as a go-to resource for the staffing service.
    • No matter how different his co-workers, he finds ways to like and respect them
      • even if they are uneducated and irresponsible
      • they have a family, they get paid on Friday, and Monday they are broke – can’t afford cigarettes even on a week where bad weather is predicted – no income.
      • He finds them interesting and creative where are there overlaps on their musical tastes
      • Their nihilism, dark humor and love of practical jokes may converge
Caddis fly?

In short

  • How can I help people?
  • How can I see and reflect what’s good in people?
  • How can I express myself and find the opportunity for creativity, dark humor, nihilism, music and anarchy in situations where if I did not work hard and stretch myself I might just succumb to helplessness and depression?

Bailey

I was in the big general hospital, being evaluated by the psych staff for suicidal depression. The night before I had come precariously close to killing myself. At age 72, part of my crisis had to do with age. “I’m used up. I have nothing left to offer and no one is interested in what I do have. I might as well not be here.”

I was in one of the rooms in the E.R. with my really good buddy John, who had ordered the ambulance for me that morning. A young woman who identified herself as Bailey had come in with her little typewriter to register me. My first judgment about Bailey was kind of harsh (“kind of mousy”) – but then I was not in a real positive state of mind.

Which made even more surprising what happened next. Halfway through Bailey registering me, I stopped her and said, “You’re a very real person.” “What?” “Yeah – you’re genuine. You know, for the native Americans that was the highest compliment: ‘You’re a real human being.'”

“You’re a real human being.”

Bailey pulled herself up a couple of inches taller, pointed her finger into the air and said “Authentic.” I had gotten her. I had affirmed her for something that actually meant a lot to her. It was not some generic thing like “You’re a nice person.” It felt really good to her because she felt seen. She was doing that which she very much wants to do.

Bailey left. I pointed my arm towards John and – with tears running down my face, as they are right now – said emphatically “That’s what I do.” And for just a little while the charge “I have nothing left to contribute” had no power over me.

Healing validations – my mission

Fifty years ago, when I was 22, I was learning a form of peer counseling called Re-Evaluation Counseling. A big premium in RC was placed on “validation” – saying nice things to each other in ways that would really have an impact on the other person. I will literally never forget the time that Mio Archer, a lovely young woman who had been doing this stuff for a while and was good at it, told me “You’re the handsomest man I’ve ever met.”

Now I honestly think that accurately I’m pretty average-looking – sometimes I think worse than that. And now that I’m 72, there’s a whole extra “old” thing that contaminates the whole picture. But ever since Mio said that amazing thing, there’s one little part of my brain that thinks, “What if? What if I actually am good looking?” It’s pretty cool to think about. Mio changed my relationship with my own appearance for good.

And now my new friend Diana – my favorite person in our whole seniors building – likes to say that she thinks I’m handsome.

I have for fifty years devoted myself to learning how to affirm people in ways that stick – and noticing what it is in affirmations from other people that cause them to go under the radar, to do an end run around my logical brain and land where I live.

Last week i was in the hospital for suicidal depression. My most recent attempt to launch a course that could make me feel like I had value – “Affirmative Poetry”, kinda like this stuff but in some very big ways not (I’ll write about it later) – had been a colossal bust, one person came out. I felt like a complete waste of space. Pair that with the “old” thing and I felt really useless. I said all this to the social worker on the unit. She – a very smart 65 year old who has specialized in studying the spiritual life of seniors, said, “Your mission changes at every stage of your life. It’s not the same in your 70’s as it was in your 60’s. Your challenge is to clarify for yourself what your mission is now.”

The idea that I might still have a mission – and that it would be unique to my 70’s – rocked me back on my heels, shaped my whole experience of my six days in the hospital.

My overall mission – for my whole life – has something to do with validation. The particular spin for my 70’s is stuff I still need to ferret out. Writing this blog – and dialogue with you, my readers – will help. Welcome aboard.

Infinite soul superhero

Sometimes I have little imaginary conversations in my head, for no reason that I quite understand.  This afternoon, as I was dancing down Haywood St. downtown, I pictured my good buddy Steve Swearingen asking me at church tomorrow how I’m doing.  In this little imaginary conversation, I say to him, “I’m living in a state of infinite bliss.”  Why be shy about it?  Why lie to him?  Holding it under a bushel will muffle the brightness of it even for me.  If Steve or anybody has been reading this blog, my secret is pretty well out by now.  

I wrote the post below as a Facebook personal message to Amy Steinberg, our new Jubilee minister, who I have met face-to-face all of once – when she was working the crowd before her Isis concert last week.  Most of the way through writing it to her, I realized that it was kind of stingy not to share that sweet moment – actually two sweet moments, the dancing down the street and the telling my dear one Amy about it.

Then, when I realized that I had shared it on the Jubilee Facebook page but not my own, I thought “Shit, turn it into a blog post and share that on Facebook.”  So here goes…

Jubilant friends – I wrote this note (a few minutes ago) first just for Amy, as a personal message on her Facebook page – expressing my gratitude for a couple of her songs, and for her. But part way through writing it, it started to feel selfish holding it just for her. I feel just a little shy telling everybody that I was dancing down Haywood St. today – you may think I am totally losing it, which if you have been reading my blog, you already know that I totally am, in an amazingly wonderful way.

I am also, by sharing this note with whoever sees it here, outing myself about what a shameless Amy groupie I am. I adore that woman. She may not be “my Teacher”, but she is such a powerful teacher for me. My theme these days is “embodied Spirit”. The book I am working on is currently titled Reclaiming the Body – Sex and Power for a New Age. And Amy has got it all: embodiment, sexuality and power. I want to learn from her – and already am, big-time. I have only once ever so far hugged her or even been within a few feet of her. No difference. Maybe that’s all I can handle right now.

So there, I’m an Amy groupie – big-time. Letting go to her spell is almost right up there with the way I’m letting go to Spirit’s spell (it is actually clearly to me part of the same thing).

Majo

Amy –

In the warm afternoon sun today, I danced Pancho through her usual loop through the downtown, getting down with your wonderful songs “Get Up” (2x) and “Infinite Soul Superhero” (4x). I started with kind of minimal dance steps – stuff people wouldn’t notice me doing. But I knew that I was just kidding myself about nobody noticing – normal walking just doesn’t have the kind of flow that those two songs have.

As I walked up Haywood towards the Civic Center, I got bolder and bolder with my dance moves. I now knew it was totally obvious that I was dancing past Malaprop’s – and I didn’t care who noticed. I knew, on some level, that most people who saw me would be made happy by it – but that was so far away from my motivation that I really only thought it just now. I was dancing down Haywood to celebrate that I’m an Infinite Soul Superhero. I want to celebrate that I have a cosmic secret: people think I’m an ordinary human, but I actually have turned into a mystic.

But at the same time I was letting my secret totally out of the bag. I was letting us all know that Asheville is a place where people dance down the street – that this obviously old guy with a little chihuahua can do it, so we all can do it – anybody can do it.

By the time I passed the Civic Center doors towards 240, there were fewer and fewer people – though still lots of cars driving by – and I was holding back less and less. I was starting to really cut loose.

When I hit the top of the overpass on 240 – with all those cars going by below me – I just totally let it all go. I stayed in one place – right at the top of the bridge – and just danced. I threw my hands in the air! It was thrilling – I was totally happy. I was an Infinite Soul Superhero!

walk3
I have actually been kind of building up to this for a while….

Oh, Amy – I was gonna write this just for you. But as I relive the joy of getting freer and freer over the course of my dance and finally letting it all go, in the background a little voice has been saying “Let everyone know. Don’t hoard this just for you. Don’t worry that people will say, ‘Now Amy’s song is driving him to dance through the downtown – He’s turning into an Amy freak!'”

I am! I am an Amy freak! I love what you are doing for us! I love what you are doing for me! I don’t want to hide it! I am so thrilled, so grateful for you coming here to be with us.

I actually have danced down Haywood St. before you came to Asheville. But not as fully as I did today – and not dancing to an Amy song that has become my anthem – a funky dance tune about surrendering to Spirit.

I want all those people on Haywood St. – and all my Jubilee loved ones – to know that we can all do it. We don’t have to dance down the street downtown. But we can a little more let ourselves feel the power of Spirit working through us. We can a little bit more let our personality – all our old stuck patterns – just slide out of the way.

We can a little bit more feel the rhythm of Life, celebrate who we are, celebrate how connected everything is, celebrate how good Life is.

I think my own “waking up” happened before you came to us – June 26. But it’s a perfect time for me to be waking up, when the blood of Jubilee is stirring – when there is so much electric Life energy in that Celebration Room on Sundays.

It’s funny: when I am in that room for Sunday services, it both grounds the cosmic energy that has been buzzing through me kind of all the time – to be feeling it in the company of my community. And at the same time, it makes it all so intense that sometimes I can’t tolerate it all and have totally maxed out by the time we exchange the peace. I left at that point last week.

I’ve been promising myself all week that I would go back and watch the video from last week – and hear your message about “laying down weapons”. But I have been so inspired all week by my own writing that I almost never have been willing to be an “audience” for anything – I just want to keep (how’s this for a paradox) I want to keep letting Spirit have its way with me, use me for the writing it is pushing forward through me.

But I think that right now – 11:41 on Saturday night – as I begin to ramp up to all the newfound excitement of Sunday mornings, is the perfect time to settle in, with my little Panchita next to me, and watch the wonderful video.

See you – and all of you – in just a few hours!

*Find “Infinite Soul Superhero” here on Amy Steinberg’s album Shine- Be Glorious.