"In the uncertain hour..."

I've chosen to begin this section, The Spiritual Wasteland, with another of T.S. Eliot's poems.  In it he effortlessly rakes through the ashes of lost spiritual identity and the crumbling of a lifetime's best endeavours.  I love this poem for its simplicity in describing what is, with all its paradoxes.  This is in stark contrast to the false hope of what we might have wished for.

In poetry language is often condensed.  If you find it difficult to get into I suggest you try reading it aloud.  That's how I read poetry.  That way sense can more easily be made of the content without the distraction of the short lines and capitalisation.  After you've grasped the content the lines and spacing take on a charm of their own.

This is an extract from part three of "Little Gidding"
In the uncertain hour before the morning
     Near the ending of interminable night
     At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
     Had passed below the horizon of his homing
     While dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
     Between three districts whence the smoke arose
     I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
     Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
     And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
     The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
     I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
     Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
     Both intimate and unidentifiable.
     So I assumed a double part, and cried
     And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not.  I was still the same,
     Knowing myself yet being someone other -
     And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
     And so, compliant to the common wind,
     Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
     Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
     We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
     Yet ease is cause of wonder.  Therefore speak:
     I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
     My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
     These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
     By others, as I pray you to forgive
     Both the bad and good.  Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
     For last year's words belong to last year's language
     And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
     To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
     Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
     In streets I never thought I should revisit
     When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
     To purify the dialect of the tribe
     And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
     To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
     First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
     But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
     As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
     At human folly, and the laceration
     Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
     Of all that you have done, and then; the shame
     Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
     Of things ill done and done to others' harm
     Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
     Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
     Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
     Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking.  In the disfigured street
     He left me, with a kind of valediction,
     And faded on the blowing of the horn.


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Speechless  

Speechless ~

This is an extremely difficult area for me, which I have tried to write about many times.  Each time I've found myself going over and over certain details.  Each time I've found the task overwhelmed me and I've set it aside.  

Amidst the wreckage is such a tangle of difficult emotions, paralysed blankness, numbness, panic, amnesia...  I can feel myself going under with mental anaesthesia as I sit here.  The screen on which these typed words appear seems to float some distance away from me, blotches of its illumined face wavering about independent of its present solidity and that of the desk at which I sit.  I can feel the chair firm underneath me and at my back and the out-turned feet of the chair underneath mine.  It's good to remind myself of these physical signs of my existence when I start to feel this strange sensation of somehow dissolving ... into what? 

But I'm much better than I was - about all this.  There was a time when I used to feel physically sick, nauseous thinking about it.  When I did speak of it I fought against waves of fright, and would find myself starting to tremble.  It would take me a long time afterwards, maybe half an hour, to stop shaking.  

So, it's an extremely difficult area, and the reasons for this are complex.  While I've sat here typing I've repeatedly deleted what I've said about it.  I'll try to talk about some of the major aspects in a number of separate parts both to make sense of them for myself, and also to offer some thoughts which may be useful or at least interesting to others with similar experiences. 

Suffering of a deeply personal nature often seems to be accompanied by strange and incomprehensible taboos about speaking of it.  I must exert myself to break through these if I am ever to free up the pent-up, compressed, enraged, violent, desperate, vulnerable, weeping, grieving, disoriented, occasionally brilliant, fun-loving, laughing, talented, damaged, shredded person I really am.  Those parts of me anyway.  Without doing so I'll only be living a half life, or less.  While it has been necessary to withdraw into silence for a time, for years, the seasons of my inner world have turned, prompting me to persevere in expressing much more of myself, to begin to open up again. 

In the ashes of my discarded past there has been laughter and enjoyment, which serves to make the loss of the whole more painful.  Even at its best life is a study of paradoxes, and in this aspect of my life especially so.  Here goes nothing...

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Don't ask me to forgive (this) 

Don't ask me to forgive (this)

In the usual rough and tumble of everyday life I quite readily forgive all kinds of things - breakages, rows, and annoyances of various kinds - we're all human, make mistakes and have failings of one kind and another.  

But I find I am not prepared to extend forgiveness to one particular woman whose influence proved ruinous. 

Clairvoyant and healer:
This woman was, and probably still is, a practitioner of what might be called New Age healing methods: she used gems, essences, prescriptive prayer, guided meditation, and so on.  It was all very beautiful, a very creative approach to what might be termed spiritual matters, and initially it seemed insightful and helpful.  How could it have turned out to be so wrong, so injurious to me?

Looking for direction:
When I took up that acquaintance I was about thirty.  I was looking for direction in my life and didn't know what to do with my talents, such as they were, with regard to work and career.  I'd always had a strong spiritual bent and, being a free thinker, was open to the idea that a clairvoyant might be able to help me find some leads.  So I took up that line of enquiry out of general interest, not because I was off the rails.

Mentoring and collaboration:
I didn't find quite what I was looking for but I did find a level of mentoring and working on my own development that was fascinating.  I loved the gems and essences and found I had a natural talent for working with them.  I also found I had a particular ability to intuit a great deal.  I was affirmed in this and in my ability to think in abstract ways, which no one else had recognised.  So far, so good.  It filled a gap in my life that had been empty since my father died when I was still a teenager.  He and I had shared this interest in spiritual matters and since then I had had no one I could really talk to about those sorts of things.  It seemed suitable.  And I was good at it.   

As well as this, friends:
We became friends.  I was immensely flattered by this.  The demands began to stack up, but I accepted these as part of the friendship.  Quite often I was phoned up and told that I was "the only one who would know" whatever was causing the upset of the hour.  We would frequently spend hours working things out like a pair working on a jigsaw puzzle.  We both contributed what we could to the overall picture...  I continued to see her as a paying client.  Occasionally she even paid me. 

Things became complex:
The boundaries had become blurred and would become more so.  The concepts which had been reasonably mainstream and harmless, and already familiar to me from childhood, gradually became more obscure, as did the language used to describe them. 

Self-healing and taking responsibility:
Taking responsibility for one's own issues was a point which was emphasised again and again.  We should never interfere with or 'look in' on other people where it did not directly concern us, unless asked for insight or help.  Every action we took was to be carefully respectful of others, and to be carried out in a prayerful way.  The ethic was that through helping ourselves we would then help every other person with whom we had connections, both in the past and the present. 

Past lives:
In the process of my 'self healing' exercises, we explored past lives.  Listening to her 'source' she told me horrific things about mine, things I had done, which I needed to take responsibility for and pray that they be healed.  This would free me up and also heal those I had harmed.  I believed her.  After some of these 'revelations' there were days that I went about in a state of shock and could barely function.  The self-blame experienced was severe.  Although I was later to see these 'histories' as the distorted imaginings of a disturbed mind, the effect of them proved destructive for years to come.

All the people crowded round:
She knew a lot of people.  Those I met through her were distinguished by being well dressed, well educated, well to-do, and mostly women.  They were interesting, lively and self-assured.  And she commanded them all, more or less, for a time anyway.  I should think that most of them had been clients at one time or another.  It was astonishing what she could get people to do for her, often through sheer force of personality and the bare-faced assumption that they would want to do what she wanted.  She made a lot of ordinary things seem glamorous, 'spiritual' and exciting.  It was all in the service of some lofty, idealised higher power. 

The predominance of women is not surprising.  I don't think this sort of dynamic appeals to many men.  Even where it it does, I think that few men would tolerate being controlled to that degree by a woman.

In response to her role as spiritual teacher and clairvoyant people asked her advice on all manner of subjects from the sublime to the exceedingly mundane.  And while she routinely complained about this to me, and no doubt to others, it was her livelihood.  If she didn't know the answer straight off she'd go away and 'find out'.  I don't know how often she was right, sometimes she definitely was, just as sometimes she was hopelessly wrong.  Like anyone, I suppose, except that she wasn't 'just anyone'.  She developed an atmosphere around herself of having the hot-line to some higher source, her's.  But then, she was in league with 'the Masters'. 

The teachings - helpers and adversaries:
She talked about how people could link into the energy fields of other people and feed off them or otherwise drag them down, and frequently complained that people did this to her.  We spent hours figuring out who was affecting her adversely and in 'detaching' whoever it turned out to be.  Or they might be 'entities', not people at all but patches of discarded energy, thoughts and emotions which drift about in the ethers.  And so on and so on. 

Then there were the aliens, not humans either but beings from other planets or universes, who might visit, might 'look in', or be laying various schemes for stealing Earth's resources. Groups of us worked on all this, clearing it, 'healing' it.

And of course, earth-dwelling humans didn't actually originate from Earth at all, but from other star systems who had, for whatever reasons, colonised Earth and continued a chain of lives, reincarnating many times until their souls had completed whatever it was they needed before moving on to 'higher planes'.

Ascended Masters:
All this was attended by a host of 'Ascended Masters', perfected human beings, most of whom had completed their Earth experience and transformed their earthly bodies into those composed entirely of light, who could be called on to assist, and who it seemed did.  This was a goal for us all, to become as perfected. 

All the chores:
In addition to this I was also expected to run personal errands, such as posting letters, banking money, doing grocery shopping, etc, and often took her for long drives.  Somehow she couldn't do these things herself so needed a lot of help.  She seemed to need what I could do for her particularly.  Thinking her to be special, possibly a genius in her field, and very vulnerable in her own way, I complied.

I stayed with this for about ten years, and during that time our 'study' and the concepts became increasingly obscure.  

Throughout this time I was holding down a full time job and had a relationship to sustain.  

Overload:
It all became too much.  I started having panic attacks.  I had no idea what they were - I struggled for air when there was no impediment, and there being no cause naturally these episodes caused panic.  She told me this was due to interference from other dimensions.

Backing off:
Difficulties in other parts of my life began to stack up, finally pushing me to a point where I was unable to keep being so closely involved, unable to continue to be so available on the phone, to run messages and all the rest of it.  And the content of the 'study' had became questionable - even to me.  I backed off a bit and began to wonder what on earth I'd got stuck with.  I began to say 'No'.

She backed off too, so much so that I became concerned that she was unwell.  I phoned a friend.  She told me cheerfully that she was fine.  Another friend relayed the message that she said I had reached my 'most damaged parts' which made it impossible for her to see me because I affected her so badly.  I began to get angry.  This is not how I treat my friends and this is not how I expect to be treated.  I began to wonder whose damaged parts were whose...  

However, I had been unwell, and had begun to recognise a pattern of this as occurring in the week after I had been to her for 'a session'.  I stood back further: when I had started seeing her I had been in relatively good health, now I was really struggling just to do ordinary basic things.  My emotional and mental equilibrium had become very fragile.  I considered this 'healer': when I had met her she had breezily made the statement that "Nothing is incurable", yet it wasn't long before she disclosed some very major problems, both in health and relationships.  I noted that these had not improved in the least and very possibly were worse.  If this was the result of 'healing' I wanted out.   

Severence:
Finally the phone call.  I said I needed time out, and wanted to leave things for a while.  And that was it.  I knew that when she said good bye I wouldn't hear from her again, and I haven't. 

I knew that there was no middle road with her - it was either all or nothing, and in the end I had to cut my losses and save my own life.  The 'help' I had had from her was not healing at all, but weakening.  

Despite this I was concerned that she might struggle without my daily assistance, both practical and as a collaborator in her work.  I phoned a mutual friend.  Was she all right, I asked.  She was fine, apparently, and had plenty of people around her.  And no, she never asked after me or even mentioned my name.  Oh!  Well, that was surprising.  All those years I'd been hanging in there because she needed what I could do for her so badly, and now she was managing perfectly fine without me.  I found I was shocked.  And upset, and angry.  Had I been used, or what?

Even so, I grieved for the loss of friendship and all I had invested in it, but actually I was too busy keeping my head above water to pay much attention to it.  

The fallout turned out to be massive and enduring:
It wasn't until I became too unwell to continue working that I began to realise that there was a great deal more to it.  I resigned, and away from the daily structure and routine of my very ordinary job the true legacy of that association became more visible. 

Problems with language:
I had got so enmeshed in the concepts we had worked on together that my view of my life and what was happening to me was too obscure to be communicated with people outside that particular group: 
     It didn't fit with any orthodox religion.  I was sure anyone there would regard me as having been in league with the devil and certainly wouldn't have been able to sort me out in any way that would make sense to me.  
     Having become so upset about my experiences with that 'healer' and confidante I was allergic to the idea of going to a counsellor or any other healer and in any case they would think I was mad, or make things worse, or have a connection with her and gossip about it.
     No doctor in their right mind would understand what was the matter with me and would very likely think I was mad. 

The spectre of madness:
The possibility of being considered mad was very real to me.  Indeed, it is to some degree surprising that I managed not to flip out into that state given the pressure I was under.

I struggled on alone, increasingly depressed, isolated and ill.  And anxious.

I've written more about that aspect of my situation in my earlier article "What happened to me ~ my falling tower". 

Setting aside 'the teachings':
I really was most unwell and incapacitated.  I realised I needed to set aside all I had learnt about 'healing' in order to free myself of the influences of the previous ten years and to see more clearly what had been going on.  Besides, none of them worked any more.  Everything just seemed to make me feel worse.  I survived by being as still as I could as much of the time as possible.   

Once I began to consider what had really been going on in a ruthlessly practical sense, the more dubious it looked.  And the more these concepts came apart, the more all the related concepts crumbled, until I didn't know what I believed any more.  I had to start again from the bottom up.  

I looked at the trees and watched the birds.  At least they made sense.  And rested me.  And provided reassurance in my increasingly uncertain world.   

Energy fluctuations or vampirism?
I became aware of frequent energy dumps, usually at least once a day, when I would abruptly become so drained I could barely function.  I felt drugged.  Oddly, my partner often experienced them at the same time but for him it registered as dizziness or light-headedness.  Sometimes even at night when we weren't in the same bedroom, we would both wake up and wonder what was wrong.  

In desperation I would summon up all my remaining strength to find out what was causing it, who or what was draining me - using a pendulum as I had been taught.  I knew no other way of dealing with it.  Often it took ages to track it back to its source but somehow or other it always came back to one person, the discarded healer.  If this were so, how could she do this to me?  She had been so repetitively adamant that we always be very careful about our own energy and where it came from and never to take it from others, which wouldn't be right for our own systems anyway.

Once I had figured out the route and prayed that it be given to God it stopped, but not before.  Then I'd be back to what was then a normal state for me.  This was serious freak-out territory.  I wept tears of abject and helpless fury.  It happened again and again and again and again.  Every time I had to work out again what route had been used because each time it would get through to me a different way.  This got longer and more difficult to trace with the passing of time.  Finding this same 'cause' again and again nearly destroyed my sanity, and resulted in deep emotional harm.    

It took me at least a couple of years to rid myself of this trouble from that source.  It is exceedingly ironic that the method I used to track it back each time was one she had taught me.  Looked at another way it is possible that she inadvertently saved my life, by giving me the one tool that saved me from her bleeding me to death...    

Now whether this is really what was happening or not is a good question and one that I have left open.  Regardless of whether it was true of not, the belief that it was true trapped me and resulted in trauma.  If I had simply regarded it as an energy fluctuation I wouldn't have been so harmed by my emotional response to it.  But then, I might never have got rid of all the hooks she had sunk into me either.

Since then I've experienced this problem to a lesser degree from other sources, and now deal with it differently.  

Obstruction:
The obscurity of my belief structures and my bad experience with her completely obstructed any pathway to mainstream support when I most needed it.  

Violation:
Believe me I was angry both at this woman's apparent double standards, and at what I experienced as repeated violation of my personal boundaries and energy systems.  I found out the true meaning of rage and contained this only with extreme difficulty.  I became very afraid of the violence of my own feelings.  The distress was almost unendurable. 

Forgiveness?
Those who meant it kindly told me I must forgive her, that until I did so I'd be still attached to her and to that situation; I had to let it go or I'd be stuck with it forever.  

Forgiveness means different things to different people.  To me it means letting go of past offences and just being normal again, so no, I am not about to forgive her.  I know very well how charming she can be as well as designedly hurtful.  My guess is that if we ever did meet again she would exert herself either to drop completely back into the old easy familiarity or just as completely stone-wall me, probably the latter.  To forgive would be to make myself vulnerable again to all the pain which is still there and I am not going to let that happen.  I've been through enough. 

The volcano of my rage is quiescent but not yet spent.  This is primal stuff.  Only by hanging on to my mind with the tips of my fingernails have I been able to push her out and finally get rid of her.  My anger keeps that boundary very clearly marked.  So be it.  I do not forgive (this).  

...Perhaps once I've completed this series of articles and launched them as a cautionary tale to others, I'll finally be able to brush the dust of it from my hands and walk away.

Further explorations:
Since those dark days I have continued to re-examine New Age ideas and the concepts I worked with at that time.  It has taken me years to re-formulate my spiritual territory, which is now very different.  When I use the term 'spiritual' I refer to what might be the purpose of life, and our place under the sun and our attitude to our own lives as well as those of others.  It's a much simpler ethos than formerly.  I'll describe some of my explorations in the following articles.

Postscript:
Those readers who can identify with aspects of the above may find this article by Carol Giambalvo helpful: "Post-cult problems: an exit counselor's perspective".  Although I was not part of a group per se, the situation described does have cult-like qualities.

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Quandaries about personalities and beliefs 

Quandaries about personalities and beliefs

The collapse of my association with the 'healer' was followed by the collapse of my beliefs.  I felt as if the tree of my life had been ripped apart taking with it much I held dear from childhood.  I needed to reconsider everything.  I did, but could only do so by very slow degrees, the chasm was so great.  

For the sake of convenience I will call this woman Teri. Nothing in my past prepared me for dealing with anyone like her.  I was trusting, confiding and foolishly generous, then unwisely loyal.  I have tended to idealise people, seeing the best in them even when they are behaving badly, and this has made me vulnerable to those with hidden agendas.  I was easy to manipulate because I was kindly and unsuspecting.  If a person seemed nice I assumed they were, or at least believed that they meant well.  I had no insight into the politics of relationships at all. 

My childhood relationships with two adults with whom I had shared an interest in spiritual matters had been warm and secure - and had included quite a lot of teachings which were similar to what Teri taught, or so it seemed.

One of these people was my father.  My relationship with him, while stormy at times, had been close and nurturing.  I had read many of his wide-ranging books at a young age.  Others were read aloud to me.  His books included quite a number that would later come to be referred to as New Age in content.  A portion of them were about special, spiritual people who lived lives of asceticism and abstinence in India or the Middle East, or if living elsewhere, certainly travelled there regularly for spiritual refreshment, or spoke of it as the home of their guides and masters.  These books were full of miraculous events and rang with high ideals and exhortations to the reader to live similarly.  I now see them as romantic. 

The other adult I had been close to as a child was our family friend, Zelda.  She was a great friend of mine and similarly devout to my father, if in a slightly different way.  With both of them I felt completely safe - and confident of my welcome.  I knew they both loved and valued me.  I knew my mother did too, but my relationship with her did not include this mutual interest in spiritual matters.

I'm sure I unconsciously expected the mutual trust and warmth I experienced with my father and Zelda in this new association with Teri, possibly projected it there, which would have lulled me into a false sense of security.

I could have looked more closely at her actual behaviour.  Looking back the warning signs of contradictory statements and behaviour, personal excesses and unreasonable demands were there right from the start, but I was flattered at the proffered friendship and allowed myself to be drawn, almost immediately, into a subservient role.

Later, my distress about how badly Teri treated me did turn me back to examine the nature of my relationships with both Dad and Zelda and the legacy of what they had believed in.  The difference I noticed was that although Zelda and Dad were both quite dyed in the wool (in different ways) about what they held to be true, they never demanded I follow their dictums - beyond the line of minding my manners and showing due respect, and NEVER used those standards to belittle me, which Teri did, repeatedly.  

With her everything came with a hook - she wanted something back for herself, so while in some ways she seemed kind, it was highly conditional, which in my view now is not kindness at all.  It took me years to see this.  Dad and Zelda both valued my friendship and companionship but never made demands on that score.  They were both emotionally generous in the truest sense.

Teri's extrapolations of the ideas I already knew about were highly unusual, creative yes, but in the end I think reflected her own inner confusion.  While I later came to consider the books these were drawn from unlikely I felt quite differently about them in relation to Dad and Zelda: I saw these two as fundamentally sound human beings whereas I had to conclude that Teri was not.

It took me years to unravel all this.  The more I considered my experiences with Teri, the more confused I became, both about her and as to why I had persevered with that situation so long.  What on earth had really been going on?  Finally I decided that the most generous conclusion I could reach was that she was disturbed, at least latterly if not for the full stretch.  This is not a good state in which to be giving paying clients advice about spiritual matters - or about anything else for that matter.

These key differences meant that I could accept that Dad and Zelda may have held views I later came to consider unlikely or fantastical, and still feel warmly about them as individuals.

With Teri I did not accept it at all.  She had treated me shabbily as a friend and as a client. She had used those ideas to rule my life and in the end they not only wrecked what happiness I did have but also rendering me severely depleted and unstable.  That was not healing, that was ruin.

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What were all those 'spiritual' books?

What were all those 'spiritual' books?

In the previous article I mentioned the books on spirituality familiar to me from childhood.  These belonged to my father who would have collected them over a number of decades.  I remember these books well, having read most of them myself, at least in parts.  I still have some of them in my own collection.

Having been raised in the Anglican faith Dad was familiar with the Bible, but his interest in exploring spirituality more widely led him further afield.  While he did not dispute the Bible my understanding was that he considered its interpretation of the life and death of Jesus limited and in some parts incorrect.  During his explorations he read the thoughts and teachings of philosophers and spiritual adventurers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

In the wake of my own reassessment I have mixed feelings about these books.  I recognise them as one of the factors that caused me to be easily influenced by Teri, who drew much of her own thinking and therapeutic practices from these or similar sources.  This common ground led me to believe I was on much safer ground with her than turned out to be the case.  So it was with trepidation mingled with curiosity that I set out to do the background reading about these books which had fired my imagination so vividly and made such a lasting impression so early in my life.

Nowadays the term New Age is in common usage, and although it originated in the 1800s this common usage is relatively recent.  In the conservative society that was New Zealand in the 1960s the sorts of ideas associated with it were considered not only unusual but odd, and largely disapproved of.

My parents choice of vegetarianism, teetotalism and a generally abstemious life-style did not fit at all with the usual choices and attitudes of most other New Zealanders whose social activities very often included the consumption of meat and alcohol, and involvement in sport.  They were not interested in sport either.  Their interests lay more in the realms of the arts and sciences, and an appreciation of the natural world.  And then there was Dad's interest in spiritual and philosophical matters.  He meditated on the lawn under a tree each morning except when the weather was really inhospitable, in which case he meditated in the bedroom.  We were definitely an odd family.

As a child I felt this keenly but was always determinedly myself.  This could be described as character forming, I suppose, but for a naturally sensitive child it contributed to a life-long sense of struggling against the flow of what everyone else thought and did, and with it a certain level of defensive antipathy to others.  I didn't expect to be accepted socially and by and large I wasn't.  One of my teachers of my early years later described me as 'quaint'.

Alongside my childhood books, school work and child's play I delved into this other literature.  Some of it was more accessible than others:

I always loved "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramhansa Yogananda, the story of an Indian man who grew up to be a well-known teacher of a certain form of yoga.  I paid special attention the photographs of these kind-looking people in their simple flowing robes and wished I could grow up to be like them.  I still love this book although I haven't read it for years.  It's gentle and its tone good-natured.

There were other books about yoga on the shelf, the physical kind, and sometimes I would try to imitate the poses myself.  I wish I had had someone to laugh with about these because they really were extraordinary - contortions of the strenuous type - lotus positions and back bends which are impossible for most of us.  There was one which I was proud to be able to do, which made my tummy go into a strange shape, which no one else in the family could do.

"Man visible and invisible"  by Charles W. Leadbeater contained fascinating depictions of human auras indicative of different moods and personality types. The one depicting anger and malice was especially memorable, containing writhing coils in red and black.  I think this depiction may have influenced my father and others like him to avoid wearing these colours!  It certainly was a fearful sight.  The auras of people who were serene and spiritual were shown to be filled with delicate colours.  Each colour indicated different states and pre-occupations.  Listings on the Amazon.com site show that this book is still read and reviewed enthusiastically.  It was a forerunner of other books on this subject.

It was Leadbeater who "discovered" the young Jiddhu Krishnamurti, whom the Theosophists considered to be the potential new spiritual world leader.  The year was 1909 and Krishnamurti's family lived next to the Theosophical headquarters in Madras.  He was then fourteen years old.  In the Wikipedia article about Leadbeater a questionable side to his character comes to light with accusations of pederasty coming from a divergent set of boys.  Help!  Not the sort of person you would choose to send out in search of the new Messiah, or to oversee his tutelage, which is what he did for the young Krishnamurti.

For those who have an interest in reading more about the controversy surrounding Leadbeater I provide the link here to the Wikipedia discussion page.  Krishnamurti later very publicly broke away from the Theosophists and went on to be an independent thinker and teacher.  I came across his books later on and have great respect for him. 

Dad had a book by Rudolph Steiner the title of which is lost to me now.  I remember being delighted by an early chapter which described the patterns made in the air by butterflies in flight.  I've since tried to read his work but have found it somewhat heavy going.  However, I am pleased to have made this early acquaintance and greatly appreciate the contribution he made to thinking about organic farming, education, and the care of the disabled all those years ago.  He had been associated with the Theosophists, but separated from them after the introduction of Krishnamurti to the scene by Leadbeater and Annie Besant.  The movement he subsequently formed is known as Anthroposophy.

There was a row of books on the shelf by Murdo MacDonald-Bayne which I never took to.  He outlined health regimes and was also prescriptive about how you should think.  He was one of the early proponents of positive thinking.

I don't know how far my parents took the dietary advice, but they did go though various phases: in one of them the egg yolk was no good and you threw it away and in another you ate the yolk and threw away the white.  By the time I was old enough to remember this sort of thing neither regime featured at all.  Like any other form of dietary regime each was taken seriously, until the next one.  The vegetarianism stuck though, basically because my parents considered a carnivorous diet unethical, unattractive and unwholesome.  So do I, but we all have to make our own choices.

MacDonald-Bayne declared that if we lived according to his dictum there was no reason why we shouldn't all live greatly extended lives, if not forever.  This theme of greatly extending our lives is a common one in these books.  His narrative centres around his journeys to the Himalayas.  I have more recently heard that he never went to that part of the world, which is rather surprising, since he wrote about his travels there in such detail.  So far I have been unable to substantiate this point.  However I did find that he died of a heart attack at the age of 67.  So much for longevity.

A different series of books influential on me at that time was "Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Middle East" by Baird Spalding.   Like the books of Murdo MacDonald-Bayne these featured mysterious saintly beings of extraordinary age and astonishingly youthful appearance and exhorted readers to learn from them so that they could live likewise.  Unlike MacDonald-Bayne's books these were very easy to read.  If they had been fictional accounts they would have formed an early genre to do with spiritual adventure.  And I think that's the best way to view them - as fiction, or perhaps in the realm of parallel realities or maybe's.  In the introduction the author himself says he leaves it to the reader to decide if the content is a factual account...  While I believe he was entirely earnest in his way, I can't imagine what his motives could have been.  Like all those others who wrote these high-minded books about longevity and immortality he met a mortal end - at the age of eighty.

A common theme of many of these and other books was immortality.  Death was described as the back door to heaven.  Wouldn't we prefer to enter Heaven by the main entrance?  The idea was to so purify our bodies that they could be translated entirely into light.  Surely this is what is meant by Ascension.  And Jesus had shown us the way to what was possible for us all, or so they said.

Chief among those touting this goal that I came across was the I AM Activity a spiritual group based in America, with which my father was involved for a time.  As a child I found the whole set-up impressive: Dad held 'meetings' at our home twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  As children we were not permitted to attend, but I loved the music, which came on semi-transparent violet coloured vinyl LPs, and all the literature was printed in purple ink.  For a time Dad used violet ink in his fountain pen...  Reproductions of paintings which I found beautiful, showed the Ascended Masters with glorious flames of multi-coloured light around them and included special signs and symbols.

On our living room wall there were three special art works: one of Jesus, one of St Germain (in purple) and one of the I AM Magic Presence, which was an artists impression of a human accompanied by his or her Higher Self, which others might identify as a guardian angel.  This third depiction occupied the central position and was in vivid colour.  It had a majestic scenic background with mountains in the distance.  My brother-in-law later referred to this artwork as 'the man in the milk bottle' which was apt, with the Higher Self lodged rather like a cork in the top but surrounded impressively with a colourful rainbow-like aura and outpouring rays of light.  As a child I found it striking and rather beautiful.  As an adult I found it increasingly annoying and it was relegated to storage.  Over the years age and various corrosions both insect and chemical varieties have mostly destroyed it.  Like most earthly objects these things age and eventually pass back into dust.

After some years Dad moved on from the confines of this highly prescriptive teaching, so full of rules and prohibitions.  According to my mother he found it too limited, too prescriptive, but family friend Zelda, stayed with it until her death decades later.

The I AM movement was founded by Guy Ballard, later referred to as Godfre Ray King.  While I have discarded most of these books I have kept a few of them, "Unveiled Mysteries" being one of them.  It reminds me of powerful elements in my past which are part of who I am now even though I don't agree with them any more.  It's helpful to pick these books up from time to time and re-read them from this different perspective.  They're romantic and include powerful imagery.

In doing the research for this article I found that after Guy Ballard died there was a row within the order about the ascension business, and it was decided that this was figurative and to do with the journey of the soul, rather than the body...  This was news to me.

I wish now that Dad had talked about his move away from the I AM school of thought because it did leave me holding that crucible, rather too credulously, and I expect he was unaware of this.  In any case he was a busy man with an impossibly large number of commitments and a large family of argumentative teenagers to support.

He moved on to study Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and also had a long row of books by Maurice Nicoll which he often studied late into the night.  These were the various volumes of 'The Mark'.  I never got anywhere with them but remember them on the shelf.

There was also one by Edgar Cayce, which I did find absorbing, entitled "Edgar Cayce's story of the origin and destiny of man", which told the stories of Atlantis and ancient Egypt and much more besides.  I now see these stories as benign in tone but fantastical in content.

Annalee Skarin, the writer of "Ye are Gods", I detested.  She wrote about spiritual life and goals as if she had a gun to your head, marching you forward on The Path.  A very uncomfortable person, by the sound of it.  She too, was into the immortality lark.

Although I didn't take to Annalee at all, I did like Christine Mercie's little book "Sons of God" which I still have.  In it she claimed friendship with Annalee and related the story of her friend's mysterious disappearance in some detail.  Annalee's house, belongings and all her clothing were found apparently abandoned.  It seemed she had ascended taking her physical body with her if not her clothing.  In the above Wikipedia link I read that in fact Annalee wrote the Christine Mercie book herself and faked her own disappearance to boost the sales of her other books.  You can visit her grave in California.

It seems very strange and certainly ironic that significant elements of the stories related in these books purporting to be about the Truth with a capital T were either embellishments on real events or in some cases complete fabrications, and deliberately so.  While it could be argued that the truth has many layers and therefore perceptions about the truth can vary, the manner in which some of this material is put across invites the reader to infer a great deal which may not be true at all.  That seems unethical to me whichever layer of perception I look through.  It certainly can be seriously misleading and lead to distortions with far-reaching results.  Look what happened to me!

The authors of these books may have been writing with the following dictum in mind: never to let the truth stand in the way of a good story, even if it's about the truth!

This might well have been the maxim of the indefatigable Helena Blavatsky whose vast body of writings were formative in the minds of many prominent New Age writers and teachers for decades to come.  Her own life was punctuated by accusations of fraud and interpersonal conflicts of a dramatic order.  She was nothing if not theatrical, and her life story could be said to have launched a thousand writers, some of which must surely have been satirical.  (I can think of one such character, Princess Popoffski, in E.F. Benson's novel "Queen Lucia".  Benson's light pen effortlessly caricatures a raft of such personalities and attendant situations.)

While these individuals have died, the quest for longevity, immortality and transcendence from earthly constraints lives on and others have continued to write about such things.  Perhaps this is testimony to our fear of death and decay and our unwillingness to fully acknowledge that, like other earthly life forms, we are subject to such forces and not above them after all.

Not all of Dad's books were so extreme in content.  Much more down to earth and very easy to read was "A man called Peter" which Catherine Marshall wrote about her husband, a Presbyterian pastor.

Also in the Christian camp was C. S. Lewis, whose books on Christian thought have proved enduringly popular over the years.

"Dreams, Memories and Reflections" by Carl Jung  proved a good introduction to that great man's work and writings.

A long row of books by Laurens van der Post gave insight into a very different way of life and a thoughtful assessment of other cultures.  But oh dear: following the above link I read that one of his biographers wrote that not only had he very often merged his actual experiences with stories of his own devising, but that during a sea voyage from England to South Africa he fathered a child on a young teenage girl who was in his care.  Not only was this an criminal act but a serious instance of abuse.  Here again it would seem we have the imaginative blending of fact and fantasy written most convincingly as direct personal experience.  Van der Post's routine depiction of himself as a heroic figure casts these failings into deep shadow.

In a more cheerful vein Catherine Ponder became a lasting favourite, and although I didn't find her regimes of positive thinking all that successful her brisk, cheerful writing style always perked me up no end.  I didn't go for her millionaire series at all, but still have her two books on healing affirmations and prayer.  I've said some very scathing things about positive thinking as a healing technique elsewhere, but if reading a book of this sort makes you feel better, then that in itself is worthwhile, and fine as long as you don't take it too literally.

I've also kept "The Sufi Message", a series of books by Hazrat Inayat Khan.  It's beautiful to read and contains some very worthwhile material.  When looking for information about him I also found this biography at the Poet Seers site.

I can't imagine ever being able to write with such natural beauty as he did.  When I read these books it's like smelling roses of a literary variety.  I think he would have liked that since he believed that beauty was an important aspect of spiritual life, a point which the Sufi's acknowledge and which other spiritual paths seem to miss out.

After I had written a list of all the other books and gone away and looked them up, I remembered one more pair: Walter Russell and his wife Lao.  I must say that when I read the prĂ©cis I shed some quiet tears.  I can understand how what they believed in and worked so hard for would have appealed to Dad: a fusion between spiritual practice and a modern science, guided over all by the science of love - for all others of all nations and all persuasions, no exceptions.  Here is a YouTube clip of Lao Russell being interviewed.  And here is a site which gives more detail about Walter Russell's philosophy.  Very idealistic, but also very admirable.

Dad died suddenly and without warning when I was still a teenager.  He was only 56, not much older than I am now.  So much for immortality.  His youth and what we had both read about longevity greatly added to my shock.  I was terribly shocked, for years.  I was left with the rows of books and my young adult life to work out.  I had no idea what to do.  None.

So it's not entirely surprising that some dozen or so years later, when I met Teri, that I was pleased to expect that she could help me with some of the the issues I'd been left with at that time, grief-stricken and unresolved.  I think this expectation was unconscious, but it certainly fits with what happened.

In the course of my preparatory reading I was surprised to find that the books mentioned here are all still available and avidly reviewed, the teachings eagerly followed, which goes to show that Dad's choice of reading matter wasn't as obscure as I had thought.  In fact it probably never was, except in the society we lived in at that time.

From this same reading I've also come to see more clearly how flawed we all are, and numbers of these writers particularly so.  The books in which they have so zealously expounded spiritual realities would seem to represent fragments of their own truths and parts of their individual quests for something greater than themselves, something beyond the physical world as we know it.  It's all a quest, not The Truth in itself.  Rest easy Dad, I begin to understand.

Postscript, 28th August 2011: 
It's been over a year since I wrote this article, the research for which was so helpful in freeing me up from the influence of the books mentioned.  Just recently I had occasion to go through a couple of boxes of books I had put away - and decided to burn one whole boxful.  There seemed no need to cart them around any longer or give house-room to them, even in the basement.  And certainly I no longer needed to hold the role of archivist or librarian for a collection of books that had caused me lasting harm.  The others I can give away or sell, but the ones I decided to burn I wanted to see the end of: their contents were distorted and misleading and for me the most responsible thing to do was to destroy them.  A number of these were from Dad's collection.

I remember Dad saying that there are too many books in the world already, and I agree.  As I sat by my sister's fire and fed the blaze she remarked that Dad would probably approve and I'm sure that's so, even though he had paid good money for his and been inspired by them for a time.  It was a good feeling, seeing them all blaze up before turning to ashes.  It took two evenings.  On the second evening, in one of those unaccountable coincidences that spring up from time to time, my sister and brother-in-law just happened to be watching a remarkable documentary entitled "Waste Land" - in which things of value and beauty eventually arise out of the most appalling acreage of rubbish in the world.  So be it!

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
"Autobiography of a Yogi"
Fishpond.co.nz - other editions available - click on author link of this edition.
Autobiography of a Yogi: 1946-2006: Complete Edition

"Queen Lucia"
Fishpond.co.nz - this title is one of the novels contained in this most enjoyable omnibus edition of the series: (Other single title editions available)
Lucia Rising:

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Clairvoyance ~ or a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes"?

Clairvoyance ~ or a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes"?

Claims of clairvoyance and the tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes" can have much in common: the credulity of their admirers.  Come to think of it, the term 'subjects' is not out of place.  While I am confident that some such individuals do exist, I am sure that many more claimants are not, or have only a partial capability.  It's an area in which few rigorous tests exist and fewer are looked for. 

Continuing on from the previous article in which I mention C.W. Leadbeater, I wonder whether he was one of the real ones, or not.  Public opinion is divided.  But whatever the case I found that reading of his dealings with Krishnamurti turned my stomach, bringing up much unease and a raft of serious issues.

I wonder if you have ever visited a clairvoyant for a consultation.  If you scoff at the very idea, give a little thought to how it would feel if such people did exist and you chose to be 'looked at' by one.  I'm sure that for most people this would be somewhat unnerving, and thanks would be offered up that not many people have this facility.  Most of us are not as pure as we might like to be, and besides, we value our privacy.  Add to that a belief in God being ever-present, all-seeing, and all powerful (just as the Bible says) then put the two together: this (imagined) clairvoyant is hooked up with God and consults with this Over Lord during your consultation.  How do you feel?

Perhaps you really did see a clairvoyant and felt calmed, soothed or helped by your first consultation and later decided to go back to them for more help, more advice.  On your next or subsequent visits you are told less comfortable things about yourself some of which you didn't know, possibly about other lives, other incarnations, things you couldn't verify by any other means.  You are told that the events of these past lives are impacting on your life now, and this is the reason why you are suffering in particular ways, this is your karma.  You can pray for this to be healed...  Feel better now?  Or worse?  Place this into a string of many such consultations over a number of years.  Which is what I did.

Gradually, the charges of past life misconduct mounted up and I was often made to feel extremely uncomfortable.  It was important to feel remorse, I was told.  I must pray for healing, for all those I had harmed...  I leave you to consider what effect all this might have on any reasonably sensitive individual.

Then spare a thought for a young impressionable boy with all the energy and uncertainty of a fourteen year old born a hundred or so years ago.  Think of his proud father: he is told his son is expected to be a great spiritual teacher, possibly the new Messiah.  

I know what a trap all this can be.  Clairvoyants, both genuine and supposed, can wield enormous influence.  If their positions are misused the resulting harm can be immense, a form of spiritual abuse which can cause lasting trauma.

I sincerely hope that Krishnamurti was not abused, but even setting that aside it seems a very strange way to treat a child, a very weird environment and a most bizarre set of expectations.  I'm surprised he did survive and that when in early manhood he had the strength of personality to rebut what had been built up around him and go his own way.  It wouldn't leave you with much.  I can understand why he then turned his back on all organised religions and philosophies, insisting that "the truth is a pathless land".

The suffering I've endured as a result of being lead down Teri's particular garden path is simply staggering.  I have difficulty believing it myself.  Still less do I expect others to believe it.  Yet there it was, and is, and when I have discussed this with my psychotherapist she says it is perfectly clear to her, not only the depth of my suffering but also the reasons for it.  Fortunately the worst of that is now behind me - I think.

Great difficulties arise from the very nature of clairvoyance which is largely unverifiable.  To put it baldly, an imaginative person lacking other qualifications and possessing a degree of what might be termed extra sensory perception, could easily burnish up what impressions they did receive if they were bold enough, well enough read, and had sufficient imagination...  Stacks of money in it: spout on about 'facts' that can't be proved, and then be the only person who has any idea how these could be 'healed' and hey presto, guaranteed repeat customers.  People come and go, but most stay attentive long enough to make a solid contribution to the household coffers, and others come.

Unfortunately though, this sufficient imagination may have its roots in the clairvoyant's own troubled past and shades of mental illness.  But what harm can it do?  One does always pray to God and Jesus for guidance and protection, and places careful emphasis on safety and ethics.  In this way those serious in their commitment to The Path progress slowly and carefully higher into The Light.  This gradual ascent is made possible by gradually purifying oneself of the dross of this life and the preceding ones, not just on Earth but across other star systems.  How exalted!  How generous to all humanity, were all those acts of healing!

But wait, no, sadly, it's not so simple.  Otherwise how could I later have ended up alone, crying out in agony with the sensation of having performed multiple acts of spiritual self-mutilation?  Don't for one minute imagine that spiritual pain is any less real than physical pain.  And the collapse of my health - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  I think I'd call this a breakdown.  Couldn't cope.  Crawled away, shaken to bits, and feeling so completely drained that physical death seemed a real possibility.  And all for what?  For an elaborate series of castles in the air?  Good grief!  No, good riddance!

Perhaps this surging resentment, this impulse to spit it all out, was what kept me alive, kept me fighting.  This and the recognition that to die would very likely be more risky, to lose even the frail boundaries of my physical body, physical space and the locks on the doors.  It was definitely safer to live!

Many people say glibly we are all One, that even in our unconscious we are all ultimately connected.  While I think this is probably so it is an exceedingly uneasy point to consider if you have experienced trauma and abuse: it means that you and your abuser and the situation(s) in which that occurred are one.  This is a horrifying thought at a time in which all ones energies are already engaged in pushing back in an effort to form some kind of boundary, a safety barrier between oneself and the intrusions of the past, or the present for that matter.

This boundary is likely to be all the more fragile if the abuser has had a role of spiritual authority.  If one turns to God for comfort, or even the idea of God, there is the tormentor, standing in that doorway, or seeming to.  Small wonder many turn to atheism!

I did too, I had to, for a time.  I had to find what I could rely on, what I could prove, what was evident in physical existence.

I remember standing on a particularly beautiful beach and wondering miserably, if what I could see was really all that existed.  Maybe none of the rest did.  I paused a long time.  And then the thought came that if this really was all that existed, then it was completely extraordinary and exquisitely beautiful.  Having believed in God implicitly all those years I'd taken for granted that the natural world was wonderful, but this other viewpoint gave me a very different appreciation.  I've always loved the natural world, but at that moment came to it in a new way.

But such massive transitions do not come quickly, and this insight was a mere first step on a long and very stony pass.  However, my new perception of the natural world was to provide a sense of safety and reassurance through a very unsafe time.  I started again, very gradually coming to terms with my life having a very different context - in every respect.  I was the same person, but much changed, and those changes, many of them painful, would continue over many years. 

When I look back over my association with Teri I can see the warning signs there from the beginning, and my own naivete and complicity contributed much to the eventual disintegration.  I concluded that she was substantially less psychic than either she or I had believed and was quite possibly disturbed.  This seemed more probable in the later stages, when her behaviour and 'channelled' material became more questionable. 

Lots of us have degrees of 'sensitivity'.  I certainly do, but it's possible to make huge blunders by extrapolating impressions in directions which are too easily influenced by others, or by our own misplaced imaginings.  I think that's what happened.  I may write more about this another time.

In the meantime, all of you who wish you had psychic powers or the faculty of second sight, or wish you knew someone reputable who did, my suggestion is that you live your lives as well as you know how, and leave these sorts of muddles to those so encumbered.  If you decide to push ahead with it anyway, you have been warned, and I wish you well.  I have put my points bluntly to prompt thought about what the bottom line may be.  You now have much more information than I did.  Be safe, be whole, be yourself, not someone you and/or others might like you to be!

In my next article I look at how to work out which spiritual teachers and practitioners are genuine and which are not.

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Evaluating teachers and healers ~ spirituality and healing vs. delusion and chaos