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by Daniel Weatherbee Fulmer

Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved


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My Own Story: Beginnings My Story Continued: The Long Whiteout The Rest of My Story: Through the Door Stories of Others In Consideration of the End The Challenges of Pain and Problems The Story of Imagination and Fantasy The Fourfold Program of Easy Living A Summing Up


My Own Story: Beginnings

If you picked up this book expecting to be told exactly what spirit is, I ask you instead to explore your own inner world. Confront it, take chances with it. Let it teach you rather than trying to control it. The inner realm, in my experience, is more wonderful than most of what I find in the outer. Give it a try. You might be surprised. In any case, the decision to set out on a spiritual journey emerges from within you. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the decision is given to you, on the inside. It may evolve very simply from what the spiritual teacher A.H. Almaas calls the basic human desire for peace and rest. Know at the start that such terms as inner realm and spirituality have no generally accepted definition. The first challenge, then, is to find meanings that resonate in the place in our consciousness where we experience conviction. The closest I can get to a basic definition of spirituality is the search for and engagement with ultimate truth. It involves questions such as: What is the meaning of life? Is there a reality beyond the one Im aware of via my everyday mind? Where am I going after death? You have probably wondered at times what the ultimate truth is for you. Now I am inviting you to open yourself to a new order of awareness. This is all about your own experiences. The pages that follow contain many personal storiesboth my own and those of others who have answered my questions about their spiritual lives. These stories are presented not as models to be imitated but rather as potential sources of inspiration and encouragement. I suggest you start by entertaining the possibility that you can and will evolve in the direction of spirit. See it at first as a response to the very human need to enrich and deepen the meaning of our lives. Along the way, you will not be obliged to discard core values such as compassion, generosity, truthfulness, and commitment to peace and justice. Instead, you will investigate your life, your entire

being, including your grandest and most mundane experiences. You will move along faster if you are willing to drop any insistence that the zone of spirit must be bounded entirely by reason, intellect, or even your senses. And dont be surprised if your journey is not what you expected. Believe that your own personal experience may be unique to you. In my personal quest for spiritual illumination, I have asked that it come in the best way possible for me, knowing that spirituality can manifest in my being in countless ways. My observations of myself and other people have convinced me that spirit is not confined within the bounds we set for it. We can never exhaust its capacity. When I first tried to reconstruct the story of how my own spiritual journey came about, I felt quite stuck in the writing. I closed my eyes and focused all my attention on waiting for something to show itself. I was aware that I wanted something to reveal itself about the beginnings of my own journey, something with which to start the book. Then I remembered one of the main lessons of this journey:- to ask for help from powers beyond my ego. But I needed to be patient, because I had learned that often nothing comes up right away. After waiting a while, I suddenly realized that something was present on my inner screen and had been for a while. I was being shown the kitchen of my paternal grandmothers house in New Jersey, with me as a baby. It was more a sense of the scene than a graphic image with vivid detail. I became aware of a feeling that gradually revealed itself as a powerful sense of great comfort. It was the comfort of familiarity. I came close to tears, but they were tears not of distress but of relief. I was overwhelmed by the conviction that the experience of being in my grandmothers kitchen was a crucially important part of my life, indeed a primary ingredient in who I had become as a person. It was now clear how I should start my book: with the infant who was totally loved and cherished. This realization was a moment of ultimate truth.

However, I was then attacked by doubts and confusion. My wide-awake mind wanted to remind me that my immediate family life was not actually a close, warm experience at all. It tried to argue with my conviction about the importance of this early scene. It insisted that the really seminal influence on my life was an alcoholic household ravaged by discord and conflict. This assault went further: I was besieged by insecurity about my memory. After all, didnt I have only the dimmest memories of life as a very young child? How could I trust this purported flashback, coming now so late in my life? Doubt and insecurity are old companions of mine, often pushing me off the cliff of conviction. Fortunately, I was rescued by an inner practice I have developed along the way: that of awareness. When I give my full awareness to a chronic tendency of my psyche, I am somehow able to distance myself from it, which enables me to turn off its power over me. Again, I seek help from a source beyond my ego, and often such help comes. This may not have been a memory in the usual sense of that word because, after all, we rarely remember what happened when we were infants. But if it was not a memory, what or who planted it in my consciousness? Whatever the agent, it launched my inner life with this experience of peace and security, introducing my consciousness to its existence and qualities. Lets postulate a power beyond personality, and even beyond concept, a force that can make itself known to us? What if this power planted my dream picture like a seed, aware that it would take years to come to fruition years of sorrow, doubt, confusion, and pain? And could we go further, speculating that those years of suffering, which have not yet drawn to a close, also play a vital role in my inner growth? This scene was a revelation in the innermost part of my being, in response to my request to the invisible realm of spirit for help with my writing. I continue to ask for that kind of help as I write this book. How curious it must seem to you, my reader, that I launch this book with a frank caveat that it is not a complete account of the inner life that everyone should be able to claim as his or her right. At the same time, I also assert unabashedly that each person is responsible for tackling the

ultimate questions, and the responses received in a state of heightened consciousness may be different from those received by others. One characteristic of ultimate truth is that, although it confers certainty on the person who is granted a glimpse of it, that certainty cannot easily be transmitted to others. Does one, then, just give up trying to find common ground in this vitally important area of our lives? I think the answer lies, somewhat paradoxically, in the individual experiences themselves, like the one I have just recounted. I shared my inner being with you. Different though your experiences may be, I will hazard a guess that something similar has happened to you on occasion, simply because, as a human being, you possess an inner life. Years ago, in a college writing class, I was instructed to write a biography of a person I knew. I chose a fellow classmate I had befriended, and I spent many hours interviewing him. Eventually, I produced the essay, but I felt it was insufficient. Only now do I know why: it was lifeless. Nothing really intriguing could be found in those pages. I had written a dry account of what this classmate had done, where he had lived and worked, and who surrounded him in his life. Missing was what stirred and animated him, the values he expressed in his countless choices, the impact he made on other people. All those things would spring from an inner life I hadnt even thought of investigatingbecause at that time I was totally unacquainted with what lived inside me. I finally realize, after several decades, the crucial importance of what goes on inside mewhat I think, how I feel, what I dream, what I imagine, and much more. Increasingly, something very elusive and difficult to describe takes place in my consciousness. These are times when I sense messages from some other level and meet presences that seem to have originated outside me but taken residence within me. I write about these experiences primarily for my own sake, by which I mean for the sake of my ongoing journey. Only by doing so can I move toward a deep understanding of their importance. Writing about

experiences in which I sense something beyond my everyday self is more difficult than anything else I have tackled. But to leave it out would be to suppress the core of the truth I am striving to share. Now a vivid memory is emerging: I have the sharpest mental picture possible of a time when I was five years old and standing with my mother in front of the church my family attended in New York City, where we had moved from New Jersey. As I focus on that memory picture, it seems that mother and church are strangely blended. In my minds eye, I clearly see my mother and the red doors of the church above the wide stone steps leading from the sidewalk. What I see most, though, is my mother getting sick all over that sidewalk. Even today I have a hard time saying she threw up. That is an inheritance from my mother; she would have hated the use of such an expression. She was a very fastidious person who leaned heavily on her very proper, class-conscious upbringing in a more than comfortable Midwestern home. I realize today that she really never left that home. When her drinking ruined her brain and her ability to function rationally, she indeed acted as if she were still back there. She had no short-term memory but instead relived over and over again various incidents of her childhood. Today I am sure that the reason for all this was the disease of alcoholism, which felled her siblings in addition to her. But when I was a child, I didnt have a clue about this disease. Even the scene in front of the church got buried inside me. Although, during my high-school years, I was not conscious of how her ridiculous memory games, to say nothing of her rage attacks, her schemes to catch my father out, her obsessions with masturbation and homosexuality were affecting me, I now see all too clearly the impotent fury they generated at my core. My denial of what was happening in our relationship is a typical syndrome in alcoholic families. I am sure even my father never gave the matter the serious attention it deserved. Instead, he soldiered on silently, losing himself in an unending succession of duties and chores, whether at his

business, in our kitchen (he was a fine cook), or in the garden. My brother and I, in turn, were regimented for household tasks and held to demanding standards. The one area in which my father, my brother, and I found some kind of community was our struggle to outwit my mothers endlessly clever stratagems to get a drink. That we were only dimly aware of our emotional reactions to this grim drama was probably a blessing. It never occurred to me that I was entitled to more from my home life, and I certainly harbored no thoughts of rebelling against the paltry parenting and care I received. I see now that church provided me, in important ways, with what I did not get at home. Ironically, it was my mother who led me to this oasis of inspiration and caring. (Thank you, Mommy!) Living just down the block from the church must have added to its drawing power, as did its appearancenot a typical Victorian or Gothic pile of stone but neoclassical Georgian in design, looking more Protestant than Roman Catholic. A balcony of black-bordered white pews hung above the nave in the style of many a New England Congregational church. From the ceiling hung elegant crystal chandeliers. Below was a marble floor with a black and white checkered pattern of a kind more likely to be found in London than in New York. During my childhood, the building did not even have the usual stained glass. Instead, light streamed in through huge, opaque, multipaned windows. Its aesthetics were often a subject of discussion in my household where both parents were trained designers. These days, I recognize how fortunate I am that so much of their aesthetic sensibility rubbed off on me. (Thanks, Mommy and Daddy!) The church was interwoven with our familys life. Above the sanctuary were two floors of a school I attended, and above them was the convent of the nuns who taught us. My mother had been taught by the same order. A few of the nuns even knew my mother from her schooldays. Although my teachers were formidable-looking women in severe, heavy, black-and-white habits, their behavior toward me is a sweet memory. They were caring and dazzlingly intelligent. My brother and I were so mesmerized by them that we

would often sneak up to the roof of our apartment building so that we could spy on them in their quarters. The first time we watched them disrobing, we were startled to see that under their outer habit lay another, just as heavy. However, we wouldnt linger at our observation post; part of us, I think, could not bear to see these holy personages as merely human. In my minds eye, the church kindergarten still looks magicala large, airy room full of all kinds of colorful building blocks and scaled down model grocery stores and kitchens where I would play house or store until I was dragged away. There was also an assortment of simple musical instruments: chimes, bells, and a set of glass bottles in graduated sizes, which produced distinctive tones when they were tapped. I loved to experiment with them, trying to pick out a rudimentary tune. All of this was presided over by a very tall, thin woman who seemed to be everywhere at once. This nun still is in my mind as the epitome of kindness and skill. Sometimes I think I should remember more about the religious education these nuns gave us, but perhaps religion seeped into me via the aesthetics of architecture, incense, and music. The nuns taught us the old pre-Vatican II Baltimore catechism, and we learned by rote to answer its questions. This is not a memory of cold, boring drills. The practice seems of a piece with choral reading sessions, which we had in each grade. Thus, the doctrines of the Church were intoned in the classroom in the same manner we recited the poetry of Tennyson and Longfellow, full of cadence and sentiment. This may be why many of those answers still remain with me, word for word. I am not by nature a good memorizer, yet today I can still tell you the answer to the question Why were we made?: To know, love, and serve God in this life and to be with him forever in the next. The fact that the nuns were exceptionally well-educated and sophisticated undoubtedly strengthened their capacity to inculcate the religion into us youngsters. Again, there was the connection with my own family, which prized learning

and the right answer. It was often uncomfortable to sit at our dining-room table, where disputes could last for hours after the food had been dispatched. I would be terrified of giving incorrect answers in the exacting atmosphere of that room. My reaction to this memory today is a mixture of dread and surprise. The reawakened dread is of my failing to produce what I imagined was the one and only right answer to a question (because all questions had but one answer). The surprise is the realization late in life that the intellectual rigor of our dining-room conversation built my love of learning as much as my school did. In fact, it fostered a true precocity, illustrated in the following schoolroom scene: I can still see today my second-grade teacher standing over me wanting to know what I was hiding in my lap under the desk. It was the sixth-grade reader, which I was trying to read at the same time I was following along with the class in our second-grade book. I do not remember what punishment was exacted. Perhaps, as the well-educated person she was, the nun secretly admired my desire to move higher in the learning chain. Certainly, by then, reading had already become my private obsession . . . and refuge. Again, my parents played a role in this, continually reading to me fairy tales and adventure stories. The books they gave me, such as East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Poppy Seed Cakes, now tattered and yellowed, are still among the treasures on my bookshelves. A little bluecovered book sits there too: The Child on His Knees, with an inscription from my mother. It is a collection of poems that I now find so sticky sentimental it is hard to imagine I would ever have read them on my own. Yet I open the book and remember one of them fondly: In the Morning. See God! I make a little Prayer For You, and through the golden air Of morning let it fly away Across the world, across Today, In the writing of this book, I see how spirituality was eased into my consciousnessthrough a love of learning, through

the caring of intelligent nuns, through the beauty of the church building and its rituals, and even by a mother who, despite a lack of sobriety, had a steadyindeed, obsessedfocus on religion. I recall my early responses to her as attempts to please her, to give to her. For instance, I have stashed away in a dresser drawer a little red leather purse, which I stitched together as a classroom project in some early grade. The stitches are fraying and coming undone now, but it still holds what it was designed for, namely, my mothers rosary. When my father died, years after my mother had, I was in charge of cleaning out his house and found this little purse buried in his own dresser, and, as soon as I spotted it, I felt compelled to save it from the dumpster. By then, I had crawled out of my alcoholic haze long enough to want to put back in my life, in some new way, the benign influences of those early years. Of course, first I had to work through the baleful childhood effects of my familys disease, to say nothing of the mess of my own creation. (For more on alcoholism and its effects on family life, see James Milam and Katherine Ketcham, Under the Influence. Seattle: Madrona, 1981; George Vaillant, The Natural History of Alcoholism Revisited.Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 1995); and Janet Woititz, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 1990) The writing of this chapter has brought back to me events in my early life that I had forgotten. I believe I have been led back to them so that I can see the gifts that were bestowed on me at the start of my journeygifts I neither sought nor worked for. This is what some people would call the action of spirit. Whatever spirit means, I know it can guide me and direct my actions. I will now turn to other early influences, which are more accessible to my conscious mind than perhaps I would wish. It is easy for me to access the dreadful moments of my past. They are very much present in my conscious memory, as contrasted with the strangely beautiful images of past moments that I have written about earlier. Nevertheless, I

know that first I should ask for help, just as I did to find my beginnings. When I look inside, I immediately see my mother and her life. Recalling the gifts I made for her as a child may have prompted the memories that come back to me now. I remember squirreling away most of my spare change to buy her silver earrings in the shape of doves. Her response was no response. That was typical. You might think I would recall the pangs of rejection I experienced when, in a drunken haze, she ignored the gift. But I had not yet discovered that I had feelings, or indeed what it is like to feel. Maybe it is a blessing that at the time I did not feel any hurt. Eventually, when my mother was long dead and I could face my wounds, this particular brutality surfaced in my awareness. These days, I can experience the pain, yet it comes to me unaccompanied by agony. Why? Because the very affliction my mother suffered was passed on to me with enough force to wake me up so that I could work through the trauma of those early years. Back then, neither I nor my father or brother saw my mothers condition as an affliction. Incredible as it may seem, we did not even connect her awful behavior with alcohol. Throwing dishes, setting traps for my father at his work, darkly hinting that I was not wanted as a child, predicting that I would go madall of this seemed the work of a person who could only be described as evil. That is how I saw hera bad person who needed to change. I did not know then what I know today. She was not bad just very sick--completely captured by the insidious disease of alcoholism. Emerging from this disease rarely happens through the efforts of the afflicted, try as hard as they might. This understanding was obscured from me as a child because the disease had already begun its march through my own being. It first showed up in the very area my mother, stupefied by drink, warned me againstsex. When I found myself alone in our home I would pore over the art books my parents had collected in their design careers. I searched through these books for pictures of naked people. Similarly, I climbed to the top of the bookshelves where the works of

Zola and Balzac were stowed away. I would flip through these books to find the sexual scenes. As I see them now, those scenes were as tame as the naked images in the art books, but the driver of the obsession was not the content of the books. Way before puberty, I began to manipulate my genitals in what might be called proto-masturbation. At some level of awareness, I sensed that what I was doing was forbidden and therefore had to be kept under wraps. I particularly hid it from the probing eye of the church. Every Saturday afternoon, my class would troop into the dark interior of the edifice down the block from my home, and one by one we would file into the confessional. I think I saw the same priest every weeknot the sophisticated and gentle pastor but his gruff and severe assistant. It was an awful ritual, in which I was expected to cough up bad things about myself. Code words and phrases were used in such a way as to make the forbidden behavior seem even dirtier. The chief admission that seemed to be required of me was to disclose how many impure thoughts and impure actions I had indulged in during the prior week. The priest never asked for details, and I certainly never furnished them voluntarily. Numbers sufficed and were met by equally ritualistic penancea march to the communion rail to peel off ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys. Shame lay at the heart of this routine: shame in avoiding actual words, shame in suppressing specifics. My mother followed the same rules, using her own code. Increasingly she would inveigh against the dire consequences of playing with yourself. Her favorite warning was that such acts, if continued, would lead to homosexuality and the inability to have children. When interrogated about my own behavior, my reaction was a vehement and pious denial. Thus on top of secrecy came the inability to perceive the truth, the kind that almost led me to believe my own denials. But I lived in terror that I would be exposed. Not that this brought the practice to an end. In fact, I began taking rather dangerous risks. Across the street from the church was an alley where there was a gym for men in Naval Reserve Officers Training. The gym and its pool were housed in the basement, whose only windows gave off to a kind of

drainage trench. I discovered a way to climb down into the trench, where I could sit for hours unnoticed, gazing at the naked male swimmers. The very thing my mother had warned me about had already taken residence in my being. As odd as it may seem, I myself put no label on this activity; its name was hidden from me. Yet, like the sessions with the art books, I had some sense that what I was up to was wrong. Every Saturday, I would go to the silent priest in the confessional and swear to himas well as to myselfthat I would never commit another impure act. I must somehow have believed that I could stop. But I never could. That was the beginning, as I look back on it, of experiencing powerlessness over a habit I dearly wanted to banish.


My Story Continued: The Long Whiteout

When I try to recall other things that influenced me in those years, I come up blank. I close my eyes and ask for help, but there is still an empty void. I nevertheless stay with it a while. Gradually, a realization dawns that emptiness was the main feature of the years following the scenes I have described. The long whiteout, I call it. I wasnt fully present. At some point I fell into a huge hole, and if I now peer down into it, I get a dim view of myself as an automaton, simply doing what I thought was expected of me, without any introspection, without acknowledging the fear that animated me. I feel most of suburban high school was spent trying to fit in, so that I could assure myself I was a worthy person. My behavior, as I see it in retrospect, was a frantic attempt to earn the credentials of the right kind of personhanging out with the in-crowd, performing successfully in extracurricular activities, getting into a fraternity, having a girl friend. I was acutely conscious of the opposite potential. At a high-school assembly one day, the principal spoke to us about life goals. She said there were two kinds of people: those who wanted to do something and those who wanted to be somebody. A wave of apprehension went through me: was I a member of that self-promoting second group? It was the same kind of moment as when I overheard talk about people who were insecure. Was that me, and would I be found out? I had to hide my insecurity. I was ashamed of my shame. I think what kept me from falling to pieces were the aspects of myself that were solid and estimable, such as conscientiousness about my studies. My innate intelligence, the example of my parents, and the foundations laid by the nuns all contributed to a genuine love of learning. Learning kept me going, kept me from noticing how I felt deep down in my unconscioustotally alone.

There were other ways I found relief from reality. For instance, I sometimes joined class outsiders who would gather behind the school, where no one was around, and practice hyperventilating. We would stand as tall as we could, hard up against the wall, and breathe rapidly and deeply until we were on the verge of passing out. This was a way of getting high, and thus escaping. It was like my other secret practices, such as drinking vanilla extract or sneaking a swallow of medicine that had alcohol in it. Strangely, there was very little intention or premeditation involved. I would do these things essentially on autopilot. I did not have anything approaching an authentic life. Certainly I had no contact with my inner self. Probably for that reason, the Church ceased to play an important or satisfying role in my life. So much of my religious practice had become mechanical or simply a response to command. What I realize now is that the missing element was genuine contact with spirit. I had never learned to pray on my own initiative. The idea that a young person like me could communicate directly with the Supreme Being we called God would have been inconceivable to me. The college I went to was situated in the middle of old farmland, and its secluded campus was generously protected by many ancient and grand trees. In those years, I think the place was as close to being like an ivory tower as any modern institution could be. I will never forget the moment my father deposited me at the door of the freshman dormitory and drove off. Suddenly, I felt free. There before me stood the portals of grown-up sophistication and sensitivity: a shrine for books, art, learning, culture, and true civilization. In some way, the experience at college forged a link between my mind and my soul, between the word and the experience. Reading is still today a launch pad for my spirits flight. Learning and lore are integral to my inner journey, for which much of the foundation was laid at college. That foundation included the works of Emerson, Thoreau, Mill, Shelley, Racine, Goethe, Eschenbach, e.e.

cummings, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Miller, Wordsworth, Plato, Trollope, Moliere, Norman Thomas, Cleanth Brooks. In some respects, I read as I eatgobblingand as I hike always eager to know what is over the next hill. But it is not just curiosity or thirst for knowledge that drives my reading. Rather, when I read, I feel as though I am traveling, flying over the text, on my way to unknown places. You could call it escapism, but I prefer not to characterize my reading in that way. I have come to see it as a form of prayer or meditation that takes me to the world of what I call spirit. Of course, back in the Fifties in college, and in many of the following decades, I was not aware that spirit or imagination were the driving forces of my reading. I simply acted instinctively. Some fundamental aspect of my nature constantly impelled me to exchange my everyday reality for an alluring universe that seemed so far away. Some of the books I read back then are still to be found on my bookshelves. One of the earliest is East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a traditional Norwegian fairy tale about a quest for a distant kingdom and a magical treasure. My original copy is long lost, replaced by one given to me a few years ago by a dear friend. But I can call up the image on the cover: a dome of glittering glass, presenting a slippery slope the voyager may climb on his way to a supreme prize. The prize has all the more value because it is not reached easily or by conventional means. My first weeks on the college campus were full of drunken pledge parties in the fraternity houses, which have since been banished, largely because of their boozy subculture. I had begun to binge. And to vomit in places where it was unlikely I would be seenno street scenes for me. I wanted to show othersand certainly myselfthat I was a grownup man who could hold his liquor. So, instead of becoming alarmed by my growing outrageous behavior when I had emptied a bottle, I focused my embarrassment on getting sick. The goal was not to stop the drinking but to stop the vomiting . . . or at the very least to stop people from seeing me vomiting.

There were a lot of other errant behaviors, but I cant summon them up even now that my mind is clear and I have been in recovery for years. This lack of memorywhat I call the long whiteouttook over after I left college. Even relationships were touched by alcohol. Although I comported myself in the way I thought was expected, I see now that alcohol made it easier. And made it another obsession. I dont think I really knew love so much as I wanted pleasure and the feeling of being attached to someone else I could depend on. It is painful to own up to that today. I struggle to this day with guilt for having hurt people by not really being there for them. The pain is all the more acute because so many of those hurtful actions took place in a fog that I could not see through then and cannot penetrate even today. I have to use words like I think or Im not sure to talk about my past. Making it even more difficult is that the people I believe I hurt have their own difficulties in recalling the past, perhaps because of the same alcoholic disease that afflicted me. So there has been little closure because none of us can fully talk about it. If I try to focus on this phase of my past, I dont come up with any clear story line involving specific events. I do have strong positive, if scattered, memories about many sweet moments and active times with my wife, my children, and my friends, as well as at work. But when I look inside and ask for information, the overall recollection that emerges is a sad one: a sense of emptiness and might have been pervades my mind. I connect with years of fear, but fear not fully faced at the time. I see that my life in those years was ruled by the worst kind of fear: the fear of fear itself. The memory of that fear makes me feel more grounded. I can see more now from that time. I have a picture, albeit fuzzy, of my behavior as a parent. Insecure about being a father but not able to admit it, I took on the role of manager, the one I had seen my own father perform so well. My tacit assumption was that if I did not oversee every aspect of my childrens lives, they would fail. As a result, I became the abominable no man. When saying no didnt work, I turned

to punishment, mostly in the form of sanction or withholding. My children must have experienced me as a cold and withdrawn father. A deeply submerged fear drove my work life, too. Although I told myself I was totally focused on the substantive issues I had to deal with, I see now that I was actually driven by an obsessive need to be right, a voracious appetite for control, and in general by a fixation on power and prestige. I was oblivious of these traits, but I am sure they were all too glaring to those around me. Side by side with this ego spectacle was my everaccelerating drinking . . . and then my drugging. I fooled myself with a popular notion that great spiritual freedom was to be had through psychotropic drugs. First it was marijuana, then speed, then acid, then MDA. Foolishly misguided, I did very little to hide these growing habits. I actually flaunted them, inviting all to join me in the new Heaven on Earth. Did I worry about being caught? I was not aware of worry, but I now see I was worried all the time. As I write this, I suddenly recall that some people used to call me by nicknames associated with a knitted brow, yet I failed to get the message. Clueless, I pushed ahead. Or it might be more accurate to say that this worry, this fear did the pushing. Even now, there is a residue of terror that lies coiled like a cobra deep within my being. Such fear as that has its roots in my childhood spent in an alcoholic household. Fortunately, I am now fully aware of this fear and capable of separating the emotion from its supposed object. Whereas control and ambition were the means by which I first took this fear out on the world, my behavior gradually changed to a pattern of absence and distance. If anything, I delighted in tuning out. It produced a gulf between me and my family that was far more harmful than my controlling behavior had been. To the extent that my children can today tell me what those years were like for them, there is one sentence that seems to sum it up: You werent there. Finally, something happened that brought the worry and fear to the surface. It emerged from the other part of me that I

had been hiding from, my sexuality. I was working at that time in the Washington, DC area and had to take a business trip. In the Midwestern city that was my second stop, I was walking around downtown after dinner and found myself in a public park. I saw almost immediately that it was a pickup venue and, without any premeditation, fell into a prowling mode. When I realized what I was doing, I was revolted and ran from the scene as from an advancing tsunami. In the week after returning home, I must have seemed different because my wife told me I looked depressed. It was true that I was more withdrawn than usual, but until she made the remark I had no awareness of my inner feelings. Depression. The word alone terrified me. It meant, I was convinced, that there was something wrong with me and it was my fault. In time, my wife, who had been through therapy before we were married, persuaded me to see a mental health professional. So began a relationship with a doctor I will call simply P. In those days, it was still possible to enter into psychiatric treatment to be cured of homosexual urges and behavior, and this is what I did with P, whom I saw individually and with my wife and in group settings for over six years. P is dead now, and I am left with some very deep and mixed feelings about our relationship. A skilled practitioner who could help a patient uncover the hidden springs of the psyche, P was probably the first person in my life with whom I was totally open. On the other hand, he was blind, as many therapists still are, to the most damaging effects of alcohol and drugs. In fact, he would often encourage me to experiment with substances he thought would be useful to me. We were in the crazy Seventies, when even Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, experimented with psychedelics. My own drinking and drugging behavior accelerated during the years I lived in the Washington, DC area. I started going to gay bars, staying out long hours, and lying about it to my family. It is hard for me now to understand how I was never caught out. Alcoholics and addicts are sometimes said to lead charmed lives. Perhaps so. The closest call I had was

waking up one morning, looking out the window, and seeing that my car was on the neighbors lawn. Fortunately, it was very early and I was able to race out of the house in the dawn light and move the car into its assigned space before being discovered. Eventually, it was all too much to hold together and my life disintegrated. I first lost my family and then my job. After some insane lie I made up to hide an alcoholic relationship with a young man in my therapy group, my wife asked me to leave and so we separated. Strange, I sit here now so many years afterward and view those days with at least partial knowledge of the emotions that were hidden from me then yet were no doubt ruling me totallyhorror, shame, and blinding fear of the future as I left a safe nest for a completely unknown and uncharted life. With these emotions locked away, my outward reaction to my changed circumstances told a quite different story: I was high-spirited, excited, ready for a new adventure that promised a grand party. My mind at some level assumed that my separation from my wife would be temporary and that after the grand party was over, I would return to the safe haven of my home from which my wife had ejected me. The partying indeed took place, but very little of it was grand. I sank deeper into alcohol, as well as ever fancier drugs, and got fired once more. Looking back, I can see that I was steadily losing touch with reality, as well as my grip on decency and common sense. I suppose I should also note the loss of values, but, to be honest, I dont think I ever paid any attention to that part of life. Though I was well brought up and had been taught basic manners and civility, the word value had never penetrated my consciousness. It could be said that I was often saved by habit enforced by parental and cultural influences. Perhaps there were deeply submerged instincts that kept me from plunging totally off the good path. Could these have been spiritual instincts? What had happened to my spiritual life? My memory is jogged by journals I kept at that time. As I flip through the pages of these books, I notice an increasingly earnest desire for more than what I was

experiencing in life. I write about giddy moments in an almost desperate manner, although there is no conscious realization, much less notation, of that despair. There are many fine quotations from a wide range of writers Emerson, Unamuno, Jung, Bertrand Russell, Karen Horneybut all seem to be about the quest forindeed, the demand forhappiness. I wrote as if happiness were a right that society was keeping from me. I should mention another event that seems like an intervention of spirit before the final descent into alcoholism and addiction. My psychiatrist introduced me to an internal development program, Arica, and after the separation I decided to enter its 40-day extended training. I still have the printed material on Arica, including an interview by Sam Keen of its founder, Oscar Ichazo, in the July 1973 issue of Psychology Today. In the very first words of the interview, Keen describes it as the nearest thing we now have to a university for altered states of consciousness. I was drawn in immediately. Oscar, like me, was the product of an intensely Roman Catholic background. Raised in Bolivia and Peru, he began at the age of six having what he called astral body experiences in which it seemed to him that he died, went to another realm, and then returned to his earthly body. He discovered in this journey that hell existed only in his own subjectivity. Aricas transformative tools did not include psychedelics; that was my addition. At the time, I had no objection to taking drugs, nor did I see any conflict between spiritual regeneration and drug use. Quite the contrary, I had bought into the notion of the Seventies that psychotropic agents were a positive force for good. The program was highly structured and esoteric. Very little of it was familiar to mewhich probably made it all the more appealing. I remember as if it were yesterday a meditation training in which we were taught how to contact the Logos, described by Oscar as the governing principle of the universe. We sat much as one would in Eastern meditation, with crossed legs and straight spine, hands extended palms up as if to receive. Like many of the processes we were given, this

practice was a blend of various techniques borrowed from Eastern and Western philosophy, religion, and psychology. While sitting in the posture, we were instructed to use our index fingers to close the flap over each ear and to listen for a high-pitched sound deep within. We were told that in time we would be able to hear that sound without having to seal off our ears. I heard it on my first attempt, and what I felt and thought was extraordinary. I knew with an entirely unprecedented confidence that I had made contact with a divine forcein fact, more than a contact: an experience of being with Someone. Not a belief, nor a thought. It was as if another real person was in my consciousness. This experience was an island in the midst of a swirling sea of doubt, confusion, and emotional turmoil. My journal entries of the time reflect all of this. The pages capture the mood swings, the all-night drinking and drugging, and a life that seemed to revolve around getting to bed with somebodyanybody, as one entry reveals. Memory in the following few years is empty of all but a few highlights, some bright, most dismal. I do recall returning to the Roman Catholic Church on a recurring urge to go to confession. I chose a church some distance from where I was living in Washington. Very nervous and not really prepared, I remember stumbling through the ritual opening and finally blurting out that I had not been to confession in many years and really had no idea what to say. The response of the priest surprised me: he told me it didnt matter. All that was important, he said, was that I was there at that moment. Then he further stunned me when he gave me my penance by asking in his very soft and friendly voice if I would do him a favor by praying for him. Sometime thereafter, I discovered a neighborhood church pastored by a man of great, infectious faith. In my first meeting with him, I revealed my orientation and he shook his head, saying with much sorrow and real sadness in his voice that homosexuality was a subject the Church had not yet come home to. Then and there, I decided to make that particular parish home, but I think I was moved along more by the pastors tangible warmth and passion than by my own

convictions. To me, the Church was more a place where I was cherished than a locus of spiritual practice. During my sojourn in that parish, I returned to keeping journals. By then I was living with a man I thought I was in love with, whom I will call G for the sake of his privacy. We considered ourselves married and had in fact undergone a ceremony in our house presided over by a gay priest. My journal at the time indicates that G agreed to embrace the discipline and austerities of the seven-week Lenten period with me, though I am sure his convictions were as paperthin as mine. The regimen obliged us to set a spiritual goal, and ours, as recorded in the journal, was to avoid despair and keep hope. The remaining Lenten entries are too full of pious purple prose to be believable or authentic. It is as if I had moved back into the Church too far, too soon. I had gone to the extreme opposite of the position I had held for so many years, and the entries in the journal contain rash promises and earnest commitments to put faith into action in the service of others. The journal sputters out at the end of Lent, but there is a postscript dated a month after Easter recounting an incident at the Washington, DC Arboretum, where I got stoned and had a realization that sheer will power on my part would rid my body of its pain and anxiety. I used to feel less pain when I was on acid or MDA, but said to myself that I should be able to reach that state without chemicals. It never occurred to me that the need might be for no chemicals at all, but I was blinded by the agenda of willpower. I thought my basic problem was that I had too little of it. I am not surprised to find that the next journal volume I wrote was devoted to a training in selfpower that I had been asked to join. The training, like other intensive growth programs, first stripped participants down to the bone. Painfully, we were shown how we appeared to others. I was shocked to be seen as unfriendly and cold. My reaction was to become even more withdrawn and afraid. In one small group exercise, we were asked to look inside ourselves and ask honestly what we really wanted rather than what we thought we should want. It was an almost impossible exercise for me, since I had unwittingly spent my whole

life assuming that others knew better than I what was good for me. My insecurity and fear were such that approval from others was the paramount goal. Finally, at the end of an evening when I had all but given up, something flashed on my inner screen. It was a message to me from myself: I was to accept myself as I was rather than work hard to become somebody else, a person others would approve of. I knew immediately that this was the message I needed. Perhaps that prepared me for a bigger moment. It is one I recall with almost complete detail and clarity. I was standing in a large crowd of participants when suddenly I heard the chief trainer call me from across the large ballroom we were using. She was a big woman with a formidable personality. One listened when she spoke. What she said at that moment was: Well, when are you going to stop drinking? Although the question took me quite by surprise, I found myself answering without hesitation: Right now. It turned out that right now was not the end of my drinking. That unhesitant and determined answer proved to be just another symptom of a disease that was based on a wish for willpower and control. A comment often heard about alcoholism and drug addiction is that the chief symptom of these diseases is the addicts confident assessment that he does not have a disease; in other words, his denial. To those on the outside, denial, like most of an alcoholics behavior, is difficult to grasp. Another common delusion of the alcoholic, mirroring a prevalent cultural attitude, is that will power is the chief ingredient in attaining sobriety. There was a strange moment one afternoon in 1978 that I only now recall, with vivid detail. I was standing in the kitchen of my home, and the thought crossed my mind that I could never stop drinking. Furthermore, I was convinced that I was unique in that disability. Topping it all was the firm belief that the disability was not damaging to my health and welfare even though by that time I had a diseased liver. At the training site I did not have access to that instant of truth that willpower had nothing to do with recovery. After

all, the training had convinced me that, faced with any challenge, all I needed was to summon up my will power. I felt as if I could stomp around my life in seven-league boots. Sometimes I tried to heighten the feeling by smoking ever-stronger varieties of marijuana. No one had told me recovery should apply to drugs as well as alcohol. Or maybe they tried to tell me and I was not listening. My focus was on soaring up higher and higher. The falls when they came were all the more painful. The first took place at a college reunion where, of course, alcohol was flowing liberally. My class dinner was preceded by a cocktail hour at a local country club. I felt as though I were walking into a strange pressure chamber the moment I arrived. I did not connect the pressure with any urge to drink. Up until then, I had not experienced any such urge. For almost a month, it had not been on my mind. Of course, I took credit for that, and so it was all the harder to face what happened at the cocktail party. What started as enthusiastic sharing of my new life gradually took on a manic, nervous edge. I became aware of something churning inside me. Suddenly, I was at the bar, where I became convinced that vermouth on the rocks would be all right. After all, that was not drinking, was it? The drink vanished within a few minutes and I found myself right back at the bar feeling that I had to have another one. Then the agony became exquisite, because even in my muddled mind I realized that I was in the grip of something. Today, I would call that something a compulsion. I thought I just needed to redouble my efforts. More determination was what I needed, stronger will power. But whatever fear or horror I experienced at the time was not enough to change my behavior or me. The next few months, during which I had other experiences like the one at the reunion, are something of a blur, but one incident does stand out in my mind. I had been invited to a party, and I remember making up my mind not to stand near the bar, much less have a drink. I dont know how long this resolve lasted, but at some point I

had a frightening experience. It was as if I were standing on one side of the room and could see this other person who was obviously me cross the room, get a beer, and start to drink it. Some part of me was watching another part of me. I was not in control, but I dont think that insight registered with me at the time. I do remember fleeing the party in panic. It turned out that I needed an even more terrifying event to induce a change in me. One evening in late October, I was spending time with my best friend, and we were smoking pot. As had happened on other occasions during this period, I noticed that the pot was not doing much for me. I had consumed quite a lot more than I usually would, yet still felt dissatisfied. I did not share this discomfort with my friend. I was feeling more and more restless and irritated when suddenly I heard some part of me talking to myself: To hell with this, Im going out to get really drunk. With that, I muttered a lame excuse and left my friends apartment, made for my car and headed down the street. Almost immediately, I realized that there was something wrong with my driving: I could not keep the steering wheel straight. My body was shaking and soon became a single giant tremor. I felt totally out of control. Driving was impossible, so I instinctively pulled over to the curb. When I came to a stop, I noticed a nearby phone booth. Then, to my astonishment, a thought appeared in my mind, like a message on a board, telling me to make a call to a recovering alcoholic I had been introduced to months earlier. When I made the call, I had no idea what I was going to say. What I actually blurted out was John, I dont know what you did to stop drinking, but I think I need to have it. Johns response was to invite me to meet with him the next day.

3.The Rest of My Story: Through the Door

I have no recall of what was said or what happened when John and I met, in the company of several of his friends, but I know I came away with a very good feeling. Friendliness and good humor were the elements that stuck with me. Everyone went out of his way to support me, and they all gave me their phone numbers. I walked out in a sort of cheery daze. Something had happened to me that I had neither planned nor initiated. I was now connected to a mysterious Other, and the connection had been made not by me but by something or somebody else. I had never had such an experience. As I look back on it, I recognize it as a moment of awakening. A long sleep had come to an end. I could now see more of reality and see it so clearly. And it was the beginning of a process of recovery that continues to this moment, over 30 years later. Today I feel an entirely different person from the one I used to be. Yet I am not sure I played the principal role in this great change. Some force grabbed me the night I tried to drive down the street. If there is anything to the phrase struck sober, I can say that is what happened to me. I was now capable of listening to and retaining what was said to me. Little by little, I began to apply what I heard and read. I took to heart the oft-heard adage in recovery: Dont try to think your way into right feelingact your way into it. Throughout my earlier life, I had taken for granted that action came only when one was certain, when the thinking and analysis had taken place, the pros and cons weighed, the doubts resolved. My goal had always been to be right. What particularly helped me through moments of doubt and hesitation during those early days of recovery was a statement I kept hearing: The people who talk get better. And another: Secrets keep you sick. I began slowly and

hesitantly to talk about my doubts and hidden fears. The phrase the fear of fear was one I would often hear from other recovering alcoholics. I could relate to that. All my life I had kept that brand of fear buried inside me, mixed with a deep uncertainty about who I was. My unceasing anxiety was that there was something radically wrong with me, that I had been defective from day one, contaminated by the family insanity. And I lived in dread that others would see my wrongness. From childhood on, I craved reassurance and struggled to do what I thought others wanted me to do. In my recovery, I could clearly see that child and his burdens of doubt and fear. I saw myself as I was. I think it was in my second year of recovery that I was challenged in a way for which I was not prepared. When it was suggested that I make a decision to turn my life and my will over to the care of a higher power, a wall rose up before me. I clearly remember sitting in a room and being overtaken by discomfortwell, more than discomfort. I was immobilized. Today, it is clear to me that the real force at work was resistance, but I did not have such insight at the time. All I could say was that the idea didnt make sense. It didnt apply to me. Fortunately, I had gotten into the habit of asking for help from those who were more grounded than I in sobriety. I called the person who had first suggested I might need help. What he said surprised me. I hadnt thought he knew me well enough to say, I know you believe in God, so why dont you try praying to that God for help in turning your life over to his care. Try doing it every day for a month. It seemed like such a reasonable suggestion, and simple enough to do. Was I willing to do it? Yes. I felt great relief that I now had a specific activity to practice. There was no need to think my way through it. All I had to do was find a quiet place and time every day to ask God for help. It didnt take the full month for the problem to be resolved. One day, I suddenly realized that I could no longer remember what the problem had been! That alone was

enough to show me that some power had intervened in my life and helped me. What else about those early days in recovery? In February 1980, I started keeping a journal again. I wrote from a motel room in San Francisco, where I was on business: I dedicate myself here and now to living by these words . . . the need for me to work hard and not lean on golden oars . . . to look outward, to get out of my self and hopefully to give to others . . . . Even my relationship with God was tainted with striving and extreme promises. Two weeks later, I wrote: . . . in my relationship with God [I must] change from a life largely of prayer, insight and thought into a life more of actions, the main one of which must be love of neighbor. Curiously, in contrast to these pledges to work harder, are accounts of experiences in prayer where I seem to be receiving a message to take it easy, to experience love coming to me from outside, and to accept myself. The most important thing I did was to begin the practice of communicating with the higher power and to rely on it more. That power, not any efforts on my part, effected all the major changes I experienced within myself. In those early days, I gradually lost the desire to drink or drug. At first I rather took it for granted. Only now do I see it as the stupendous miracle it was. My journal shows that I wrestled in those days with what I should do, and I went through a period when I fancied I would join a religious order, not realizing that this thought arose from a sense of obligationnot a spiritual or religious obligation but a personal one. I dont think at the time I recognized the old siren call of shame, the voices of my mind that doubted I was good enough as is. I was increasingly aware of my efforts to resolve my sense of inadequacy by trying to change myself or by grasping for some far-off spiritual prize and often thinking, Now Ive got it. Yet, around me in the fellowship of recovery, I was hearing about the concept of a power beyond me performing the change, rather than I myself. Meanwhile, I found strength in the words of my friend John, who would often

tell me that my real need was to be nice to myself and gentle in my self-appraisals. In time I began to pray to be shown what was next for me. Again, a change was thrust upon me when the job I was doing came to an abrupt end because of a lack of funding. With help from my employer, I sought a counselor, who suggested that I start over in some other place, preferably where it was sunny and warm. The list of potential locations was long, and I was determined to research them all. Early in my nationwide search, I headed to Houston after spending time in the Deep South. Most of the trip was over a flat and undistinguished landscape. When the map showed that I was approaching the outskirts of the metropolitan area, I noticed a rise in the highway that obscured what lay ahead. As I reached the top of that rise and was greeted by the grand skyline of Houston for the first time, a feeling came over me that is almost impossible to describe. Its keynote was an excitement that seemed to raise my body aloft. At the same moment, a song I had always identified with, Danny Boy, began playing on the radio. I felt as if my body was expanding even further, or that I was actually leaving my body. I had to pull over to the side of the road. I found myself saying, No, no, God, not here. This was the first time I had let something other than my mind or wishes suggest what I should do or where I should live. Somebody or something was guiding me. My counseling colleague at my old job helped me look at various new careers, and I set about networking in those fields as soon as I recognized the wisdom of setting down in Houston. After a period of weeks in which I seemed to be getting nowhere, I received two job offers from therapy organizations specializing in alcohol and chemical dependency. My initial reaction was confusion and doubt because I had been otherwise counseled as to a future career. New friends in recovery suggested I pray for help, which I did. To my astonishment, I heard a voice inside me almost immediately. It conveyed the strong message that I should work in the treatment field. When I shared this with others,

their responses only confirmed the message. Its wisdom was self-evident to them. I had been trying, without success, to go down one road while another was clearly beckoning to me. By then, I had found a new friend who became a mentor to me. Bob liked to style himself as someone who just listened, but he was actually more directive than that description would suggest. The match was an excellent one, because I was ready to take direction. I looked up to him and grabbed his words, just as I did with the head of the alcoholism therapy department at work. To this day, Bobs words fly out of my mouth when I least expect them to. Our relationship lasted for seven years and only ended because I moved away from Houston. He relied heavily on spirituality and practiced its principles consistently. One of those principles is acting on principles, often before one fully believes in them. There are several old sayings that encapsulate this concept. One is Fake it til you make it, which means to act and let the belief and understanding come later. Another is Bring the body and the mind will follow. Of course, it helps if a person sees results in the form of spiritual experiences. In my case, praying and asking for help had enabled me to make decisions about matters that troubled and confused me, as had happened before I took my job in the treatment program. I also noticed that recovering people usually checked out their inner guidance with other people. This whole process helped to build a strong foundation for my life, a foundation that still supports my everyday action.I had also begun to notice that many people who were established in recovery talked about a personal relationship with God or some higher power. I guess I unconsciously assumed I ought to have that, too. But try as I might to achieve the feeling of a divine presence, it eluded me. Again, I had to learn the lesson of humility: my own desires were insignificant in comparison with what the higher power wanted for me. And again, the lesson did not come to me through my own efforts. It was Bob who articulated it

for me, suggesting I pray only for the knowledge of Gods will. This counsel changed my spiritual life. I had been asking for a close personal relationship with Jesus, but now I prayed instead for Gods will, for Gods guidance in my daily life. Several weeks after I took this new direction, I began to realize that something had changed in my consciousness. I would often feel a great inward calm, and these moments simply descended on me. After a few more weeks, I also began to feel a presence, as if a person were inside me somewhere. Although I could not see the features of this presence, I would experience it as somehow physical. There would also be an accompanying emotion: initially, one of satisfaction and, as the months stretched out, a warm feeling, as if the presence were keeping me company. At first, this would happen with particular clarity when I was out hiking in the woods or simply walking under the sky. Later, I might just be sitting at home and sense that I was being invited to close my eyes, at which point the presence would make itself felt. It was not the presence of anybody in particular, nor even a person in the usual sense of that word, but rather something or somebody who radiated care and love toward me. I was used to thinking that change was up to me, that my assigned task in life was to try harder. Anything less would be irresponsible. Yet, again and again, I would hear people talk about letting life come to them. In effect, they were instructing me in surrender and letting go. And they changed my life. These lessons may have hit home because, even in recovery, I had tried to take charge of my life and failed. I hadnt given myself over completely to the principle of allowing things to come to me. I was still wrestling life to the mat, driven by my lust to accomplish or have something. In late 1990, a new opportunity did come to me without my prompting: I received an invitation to return to Washington, DC to try my hand at the private practice of law. Though there were obstacles to saying yes, they all, amazingly, dissolved without the slightest effort on my part.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake by going back to Washington. For one thing, I discovered that I detested law practice. Merely going into court made me cringe. Fortunately, I was by then in the regular habit of praying for guidance and direction, and I had developed some patience in waiting for things to unfold. One day it popped into my mind to revisit a Trappist monastery where I had spent time in years past. I decided to do a weeklong unguided retreat there. Although I had not done so before, I took the opportunity to have a private conversation with a monk. He had a lot to say to me, as if he had been given some uncanny insight into my life and character. For instance, he quickly picked up on my habits of self-doubt and worry, of fearing that I was wrong. He told me that other alcoholics he had met over the years also had those traits. The limitations of character, he said, were a mystery that called for a mysterious treatment. In this case, he suggested I learn a form of meditation called centering prayer. The key aspect of this method, he informed me, was that one concentrates not on trying to still the mind but instead on being with God. If one gets distracted during the practice, the recommendation is not to try to rid ones mind of the distracting thought but instead to lean gently toward God and ask for his presence and help. I met with this monk several times during my week at the monastery, and his parting advice to me was that I try to work as little as possible and direct my energies to a contemplative way of life, meditating and frequently talking with God. He suggested a practice called lectio divina, in which I would read a passage from the Gospels or some other spiritual source three times. The purpose of the first reading was to acquaint myself with the setting of the passage and to try to place myself in the picture. After the second reading, I would ask God whatever question presented itself to me. On the third reading I would listen for an answer. My journal entries from the days following the retreat show that I was still preoccupied with the question of what I was supposed to be doing, but many delightful surprises are also

recorded. Although it was a struggle to deal with the minds distractions while meditating or praying, more and more I had a sense that I was communicating with a strong spiritual presence, and I kept hearing somebody tell me with great conviction that I was indeed talking with God. The voice was utterly direct and real. The more I practiced the lectio, the more arresting became the answers to my questions. They seemed quite removed from, and irrelevant to, whatever reading I had picked, yet this very fact only lent them more spontaneity and persuasiveness. I found myself dredging up ideas related to earlier spiritual practices, such as listening to the high-pitched sound in my inner ear, as taught to me in Arica training in the midSeventies. I often had the conviction that the next right thing for me to do during the day was to sit still and listen to that sound because it was the presence of God. Over time, this experience convinced me that I was in contact with the word of God made flesh, that is to say, transformed into an earthly experience. My journal entries at the time include references to continued visits to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C., where I felt more comfortable alone than in a crowded service. I sensed a strong spiritual presence there. One afternoon, I wandered into the rear of the Shrine where there is a facsimile of the grotto in which Mary supposedly appeared as the Immaculate Conception. The shrine is always filled with banks and banks of candles and tends to be populated primarily by elderly women. My first reaction was aversion to the place. It reminded me too much of my drunken mothers superstitious sentimentality when I was a child. Yet something drew me in, and I sat down and closed my eyes. Nothing. I opened my eyes and rose to leave, noticing as I got up that, farther down the pew, there was a small brochure with what seemed like a picture of St. Thrse of Lisieuxthe Little Flower on its cover. I reached over for it and found inside a suggested novena to the saint. Again the aversion of old, but I picked up the brochure and put it in my pocket.

The next day I read in the brochure the story behind the suggested novena. It was about a priest who had asked for help with some problem and, in prayer, felt prompted to ask for a sign that the problem would be solved. The sign he chose was a white rose. He then prayed to St. Thrse for almost a week, repeating the ancient doxology, Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Later in the week, a nun on the churchs staff surprised him by coming into his office bearing a white rose, saying it had dropped out of a vase in the church. Instead of putting it back, she had an urge she could not explain to bring the rose to the priest. When I read this story, I remembered that for some weeks I had had the nagging thought that something more was expected of me by God. I had tried to figure out what that was but got nowhere. So, with the brochure in mind, I thought it could not hurt to use the novena as a way of getting guidance on what that something was. Like the priest in the story, I said the novena every day for almost a week. Then one night, in the wee hours, I woke up with a start. Most of my life I have been a heavy sleeper and rarely wake up during the night. On this occasion I became almost immediately aware that a message was trying to reach me. I was being prompted to go over to my bookshelf and pull out my copy of Thoreaus Walden. I opened it to a page I have not been able to find since then that talked about living in the woods to be with God. As I read it, I suddenly became convinced that this was the something being asked of me. I managed to get back to sleep and was surprised to wake up with the conviction still strongly resonating in my being. I decided neither to act on this nor to talk about it with anybody just yet. I wanted to wait and see what would happen to the conviction. Would it just evaporate? It did not. Later in the week, on Valentines Day of 1993, I came out of a downtown building in D.C. and noticed there was a flower store next door. I thought it would be wonderful to buy a bouquet of red roses as a Valentines gift to myself. After purchasing a dozen, I turned from the sales

counter to make my exit. As I did, I passed a woman working on some flowers near the door. I felt inclined to smile at her, and she smiled back. Then, without saying anything, she offered me a flowera single white rose! I still had not talked about all this with anyone, but I was scheduled to make a promised trip at the end of the week to the Virginia monastery. I wanted, of course, to get some reaction to my experience with the novena. When I met with the priest who had been advising me, I started to tell him the whole account, but he interrupted before I was able to finish and asked if I had received a rose. So it turned out he knew all about this novena and had prayed it many times himself. He told me that once, when he had been invited abroad to lead a workshop on meditation, he had prayed the novena and was met at the arrival gate of the airport by a person offering him a bouquet of white roses. I told him of the message I had received, and he was enthusiastic rather than skeptical, as I had imagined he would be. He told me he thought I had the makings of a hermit. On the basis of a recommendation from my Trappist mentor, I moved to a cottage at the edge of woods in central Virginia on the first of July 1993. I was 60 years old and at the start of a totally new life, one without any work in the customary sense. My job was to live as a contemplative, a modern-day hermit. I was not quite sure about the label of hermit, though that was the term used by my monk adviser. His choice of that label would in time provoke trouble between us. At the outset, however, I was comfortable taking guidance from him. He was right about the location for my hermitage, and he was right about using the Liturgy of the Hours as my basic routine, praying that liturgy at least three times a day just as monks have done for centuries when their chapel bell rang the hour. Also at his suggestion, I went to morning mass at least once a week at the nearby convent, where my adviser was the absentee abbot. Meanwhile, I continued with the lectio divina and centering prayer. Given my long absence from Catholic liturgy, it came as a surprise to me that I took so easily to the strong

churchly emphasis of my routine. I still had not made my peace with the Church, much less Jesus. Who was he? What did he want? Those were questions that remained unanswered. But the force of the messages I got from the lectio kept me going. In an early entry in the journals I kept while living at the cottage, I wrote about a meditation on Matthew, Chapter 11, verses 28-30, where Jesus describes his yoke as easy. During the question phase of the lectio, I was moved to ask Jesus what that specifically meant for me, and I heard a soothing, clear voice reply, Just lean gently toward me, incline yourself toward me. Gradually, I began to see that waiting on God took many different forms, forms I would not have hitherto acknowledged, such as riding my bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mountains above my hermitage and dancing to Vivaldi in the cottage. More and more, I allowed myself these activities because they seemed right to me when I prayed for guidance. From moment to moment, I would ask, Whats next? knowing increasingly that I could expect answers to that question, answers I could trust. And stranger than strange to me, the answers themselves were full of love and acceptance, particularly love and acceptance of me. I also note in many of the journal entries that the quasiCatholic road I was traveling on was less than smooth. I often worried about my discomfort with much of the liturgy and with the very concept of Jesus as laid out by Church teaching. I also hadand have todaya habit of thinking I should be better. Sometimes that takes the form of believing I need to be more Catholic, more traditional. But what seems to win outboth inside me and with friendsis a growing confidence that I need to keep it simple, trying only to follow the path that comes up for me. During one of my periodic visits to my counseling monk, I talked with him about my difficulties with traditional ritual and dogma, as well as with my sexual impulses. His reaction was to ask me what I was going to do about these problems. Remarkably, I allowed an instinctive answer to come up: Nothing. And my mentor totally affirmed that response.

We both found ourselves talking about grace. I was learning to let God and his grace take care of my problems. The months at the cottage flew by. I never experienced long periods of boredom. I became more attuned to my inner consciousness, more aware of my shifting moods, so that whenever I had a moment of anxiety or restlessness, I was able to recognize it and turn to prayer. More often than not, it was a simple prayer. Usually, I would merely make a connection with God and ask for help, as if I were talking to a friend. Likewise, meditation became less frequent and shorter in duration as I awoke to the idea that the goal of any of my practices was presence, something that could sometimes be obtained just by being still, aware, and patient. As for my daily routine at the cottage, I eventually moved quite deliberately away from Catholic traditional liturgy and closer to A Course in Miracles, a program of spiritual development based on affirmations that are distinctly removed from the formulas of conventional Christianity. With these developments in my spiritual life, I suppose it was inevitable that I would clash with my monastic adviser. Without fully recognizing it, I had made this man my human authority figure. He made clear his displeasure at my move outward, telling me it was his role to discern Gods will for me. He even tried to dissuade me from visiting an old friend from early recovery days, who had become a full-fledged monk at a Trappist monastery in South Carolina. On the way there, I stayed overnight at an old friends house where I noticed a book entitled Who Told You That You Were Naked? Interestingly, the author was a Trappist monk, John Raub, who sought to superimpose A Course on Miracles on the biblical traditions. I was surprised to see a strong dismissal of the Genesis account of original sin and Adam and Eves expulsion from Eden because of their disobedience. Raubs opinion was that the biblical authors had inserted that episode out of their personal sense of shame. As the days passed at the monastery, where I was treated more like a novice than a guest and introduced to all the

liturgies as well as the work of the monks, I became more and more restless until finally I told my friend that I thought I would have to leave. His reaction was to caution me against what he called flight. What he feared was the temptation of Satan. He urged me to stand and endure my discomfort with the liturgy and the monks path. But the more I talked about my growing disaffection with the traditional Catholic regimen and dogma, the more I realized that I was leaving more than the monastery. For years, I had thought I needed a spiritual community and, deep down, romanticized the idea of a penitents return and a total surrender to Mother Church. In this fantasy, I was redeemed, not just forgiven. But now, as I faced the disapproval of my friend, I felt a strong confidence in my unique spiritual path where I could borrow only what I needed from conventional Christianity. Moreover, I could foresee the end of my hermitage experiment. I was moving away from solitude. But the question was to where. One thing seemed sure: I felt I no longer needed a prescribed regimen or a particular place for my spiritual life and development. I was completely satisfied with an approach that simply stressed getting close to Gods power and asking to be guided by it. And I certainly felt more convinced than ever that my spiritual life was not about improving or changing myself. In July 1995, I dipped again into Who Told You That You Were Naked? Its message to me was to stop trying to escape from my human condition, stop trying to compensate for shame and guilt. Those two forces are what Raub considered the real sins. I went to San Francisco to visit various friends who had moved there from Houston, Washington, DC, and Baltimore. And one day, on a beach outside that city, I heard a new call: Move to California. As usual, I was nervous about that guidance. Was it right? I asked myself, as I had on other occasions when I was visited by the inner voice. I talked about the experience with a woman I met through recovery channels, who suggested I go back to Virginia and make no plans or decisions. Rather, she advised, wait to see if it comes up again and with what force. Well, it did

return, and the voice seemed to get louder and louder. So, at the end of spring, I moved to California. At first, I tried to throw myself into the many social activities of the big city. Even if I had kept a journal during those early times in San Francisco, I would not have been able to recount specific attempts at connecting with people. It was a haphazard approach, but one that I now see as a determined search for a new gay life for myself. It seemed natural for me, as a gay man, to spend a lot of time in gay organizations and haunts. Now, in retrospect, it is clear that my need for affection and attention had reasserted itself in a new way. I spent a great deal of time with an old friend. We hiked, and talked even more when we did so. After his own move to California, he had acquired as a spiritual director a priest who had been trained in Jungian therapy. Discussion of dreams was a major interest of this priest, and I was so intrigued by the work he did with my friend that I sought him out as my own spiritual director. As soon as I entered into a relationship with this person, my dream life knocked at my consciousness with intensity, as had happened before. He thought a particular dream I recounted to him represented something I needed in my life but was trying to block, some part of my shadow that needed to be incorporated into my persona; otherwise, I would be in continual warfare with it. Having given my new director a brief rsum of my past spiritual life, including my back-and-forth relationship with Christianity and the Roman Church, he guessed that, though I may have ditched Jesus, I nevertheless still needed him. In rejecting the Church, I had tossed the baby out with the bathwater. Then he surprised even himself by making a suggestion, which ordinarily he would not do at such an early stage in the counseling relationship. He asked if I was willing to find an open church every day and sit inside for an hour, asking Jesus to show himself and to tell me what he wanted from me. My concern was that my director was trying as a priest to get me back to the Church, and to dogmas and routines with

which I was intensely uncomfortable. My fear was all the stronger because I had, in recent years, become convinced these rituals and concepts were not right for me. I shared this fear with my director, who was very understanding and suggested that I ask for help by praying, in particular reading Psalm 63: God, you are my God, I pine for you; my heart thirsts for you, my body longs for you, as a land parched, dreary and waterless. Thus I have gazed on you in the sanctuary, seeing your power and your glory. Better your faithful love than life itself; my lips will praise you. Thus I will bless you all my life, in your name lift up my hands. All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods, a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth. On my bed when I think of you, I muse on you in the watches of the night, for you have always been my help; in the shadow of your wings I rejoice; my heart clings to you, your right hand supports me. . . . I read this psalm for several days, and it brought me surprising relief. As they say, there are no coincidences. The church closest to me in my neighborhood was open most of the day, unusual in a big city. Another distinctive feature of this church was its architecture, which was in the style of the Seventies, the age of San Francisco hippies and flower power. Probably for that reason, it did not have any traditional crosses. Christ stretched out on the cross has always put me off. At this church, there was a huge painted mural behind the altar depicting Christ with his arms outstretchedrisen, not crucified. The atmosphere made me comfortable. There was nobody in the church when I made my first visit on March 15, 1997. No sooner had I sat down than I thought I heard a voice inside me say that the chair standing by itself near the altar was my fathers chair. I tried to reason with the voice, saying that the words referred to the pastors chair for Father

whatever his name was. The response was insistent disagreement. So I settled down, closed my eyes, and asked the questions my director had suggested: Where are you? Who are you? What do you want me to do? No answer. I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the huge painted mural of Christ risen. I could not take my eyes off it, and then I heard a voice inside say, Look at my wounds. I had not noticed them. As I looked at them, the voice said, We all have our wounds. Did you think I was better than you? I was so moved that I almost dissolved in tears. My next visit was to a church farther away. The architecture was an old-fashioned style of Spanish Baroque, very ornate. It was a Saturday, so the church was not empty, as I had hoped. There were many mothers with their children, all of them moving in and out of the confessional. I was extremely ill at ease, particularly because the mothers near me seemed to be coaching their children as to what to confess. The commotion and the atmosphere were in my way. I asked the questions and got no answers. After half an hour, I gave up and rose to go. From my mind spilled out an involuntary inner remark: Well, goodbye. It has been nice being with you. That surprised me since I had had no feeling of contact or communion while I sat there. As I wondered about this, a strong voice seemed to come from somewhere within me, saying that perhaps Christ was a part of me and the time I had spent with myself had been time spent with him. Or vice versa. There was an aftershock. When I came home, I happened to turn to my Course in Miracles textbook and stumbled on a page that contained the following statement: In Heaven our seemingly separate identities mingle and merge, uniting to form a single universal self. In the parlance of the course, that universal self is called Christ. The more I sat with these notions, the more I had the strong conviction that the Christ as Logos was within me in some way, perhaps in the form of the high-pitched note I heard way inside my head. With this thought came a

recollection of the opening words of the gospel of John, where Christ is called the Word become flesh. Christ, I thought, is in me, in all of us, in all the flesh that is the created world.


Stories of Others

I have been on my spiritual journey for some time, yet I feel keenly the need of light from the stories of other inward voyagers. I must absorb those stories and sometimes make their messages my own. Here I select a few particularly meaningful ones in the hope that they will inspire you, by which I mean speak directly to your spirit. Lets start with the story of Ellen: (Some names have been fictionalized to protect privacy.) Spirit to me means the true essence of the life force; it flows through me. I particularly feel its energy when I am in a natural setting. Through working A Course in Miracles years ago, I have been opened up and really sense that spirit IS! . . .When I feel a deep, inner peace and have a very quiet sense of harmony, I feel I am in alignment with Gods will for me. Then I have a very interior sense of communication, mostly wordless, and I trust it because its so not from me. At most I hear short words like no or go or not now, and I have grown to trust this. I, too, crave the presence with which Ellen has contact, and often find it as she does, in nature. Another friend, Arthur, is transported by the power of imagination when he is in a natural setting of great beauty and power: All nature seems filled with invisible people, many beautiful beyond anyone we have ever seen. These beautiful beings are not far away when I am walking in pleasant and quiet places. And sometimes I imagine I am looking at the finest show of light and shadow ever made among green leaves where the magical people are . . . We are among these passionate and creative people when we keep our natures simple and open. We were all creative when we were children and had open minds before convention ironed impressionability out of us.

For me, natural beauty is a springboard to ecstasy, one that does not depend on my saying certain prayers or invoking a deity. For this reason, I read the accounts of great mystics such as the Indian sage Ramakrishna (1836-86), who would have described some of his experiences in this way if he stood before us: At the age of six while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught my vision. I became so absorbed by this scene that I lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state. Throughout my life I have had similar experienceswhile worshipping the goddess Vishalakshi and when portraying as a child the god Shiva in a drama during a festival. Trances became common for me and in my later years of life I experienced almost daily what we Hindus call samadhicomplete union with the divine, the oneness of Spirit. Another of my favorite pathways to spirit is reading the works of those who have studied the subject long and deep. The historian Karen Armstrong (The Great Transformation. New York: Anchor Books, 2006) taught me how Aryans over a thousand years before the modern era experienced an invisible force within themselves and in everything they saw, heard and touched. Natural phenomena like storms, wind, trees, and rivers, according to Armstrong, were not impersonal and mindless to these people. The ancient Aryans revered them as divine, parts of an ultimate truth. They saw no separation between the inner spiritual life and everyday existence. It was all of a piece, a divine spirit they called mainyu. It not only inspired them but actually gave them life, sustained them, and built their community. Even today, there still exist around the globe small, isolated tribes we dismiss as uncivilized, yet who see all life as spirit. Not that civilization and awareness of ultimate truth are mutually exclusive, but one often has to dig harder to find a personal encounter with ultimate truth in a society where so many other claims vie for dominance. And with so many competing belief systems, we lack a common language to express this transcendent experience.

Popular religion in the pastand to a great extent in the presenthas been wedded to long-hallowed ritual and literalism, often suppressing or minimizing the spontaneous and mysterious experiences of individuals. However, spiritual communion within the person, even when institutionally marginalized, remains at the core of all authentic paths to truth. Ellens vital inner life can be found among many adherents of traditional religion that encourage private prayer and individual expression. For example, here is what a longtime religious scholar, Jay, wrote to me: Spirit is the deepest level of the self, the level that is, in reality, Self. Through spirit we are all connected with each other and with the ultimate Self of the universe. Different cultures have different words for this reality: Dao, Brahma, God, the Friend, etc., but I am suspicious of all names and titles, for the Ultimate is not some THING that can be made an object. Spirit is always subject. . . . At the deepest level I am spirit. Jays connection with truth needs very little prompting. When I asked him if he had a personal spiritual practice, his reply was simply observing silence. For most of us, more is needed to bring us into contact with ultimate truth. Mac, an acquaintance of mine, discovered that prayer was essential: I first had to learn that only through asking was I able to sense that spirit was the life force . . . and an active one at thatof God here on earth. Every day I try to pray for more awareness and closeness to that spirit, and, you know, I actually do feel its presence, which is warm and affectionate. I truly feel love. And sometimes, out of the blue, I get this strong spiritual awareness without even asking for it. In this story of Macs, I see the need to invite the presence of spirit. The accessibility of ultimate truth is a topic on which there is intense disagreement. There is no definitive answer, only a mixed bag of phenomena and individual experiences. Some seekers can always count on the gift, while others need to wait patiently for the miracle to occur, with or without active prayer.

Often I need a nudge or suggestion from something I read or from another person. In God is a Verb, by Rabbi David Cooper, I found a guided meditation that I decided to try one day. Here is what happened: The beginning is a cave guarded by a figure who grants entry following the reply to a question. Once in the cave, I was amazed at how much light there was. The walls glowed and the whole place was luminescent. Next I was asked to visualize a special place to sit, which I saw as a golden throne whose seat was a floating, feathery cloud. I was asked to sit and was immediately transported to a large garden, guarded this time by angels, who let me enter. Inside I was very tiny in relation to huge, oversized plants. However, the atmosphere was very friendly. I was told I was in the Garden of Eden. Four angels came to me bearing a garment that seemed at least twice my size, but when I got into it, I had grown into a large figure with wind instead of feet. My attention was then directed to a pillar of light made up of three colors: slate blue-grey, violet pink, and white. The pillar was guarded by a figure who demanded a special password. I surprised myself by instantly knowing what that was (though I have since forgotten it). When entering beyond the pillar, I was told I was being carried to the Gates of Righteousness, also open only to those with the right answer to a challenge. Again, I knew the correct answer instantly. Having being admitted, I was informed I was now within the Being of God, yet there was one more challenge to overcome to enter the Inner Sanctum of God. The question this time was Who is God? to which I replied, Everything and everyone, and this allowed me entrance. Asked to describe the experience of being in the inner sanctum, I said it was a light that absorbed everything, including myself. Many of us need more than one nudge, and sometimes from several different sources. Take Sanders, for instance, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church but also a person who regularly practices Buddhist contemplation and

meditation. Both of these strands emerged from spiritual experiences. Sanders had a Christian conversiona sudden, life-changing realization that he had been saved from his sins by Jesus Christthat led him to the seminary. Later, six days spent with the Dalai Lama confirmed the Buddhist strand in him. His benefit from all this is so beautifully simple that it took my breath away: I have a deep desire in my heart to live a life of loving kindness to all creatures. For some people, personal values and spirituality come together. That is the case with my friend Johnny: I try to do well by peopleand not to hurt others. I believe in the old adage that what goes around eventually comes around. I walk and think. I listen to music and try to be absorbed by it and absorb it. I live in my mind where I know all things are possible. And I dream and am grateful for imagination because it lets me go beyond my self. Sometimes I pray but usually only quietly and alone. I suspect that many of those who told me they had no spiritual life are more like John than they might realize, in that they try to live an ethical life and respond to messages they get from their conscience. Cannot conscience be viewed as a source of ultimate truth? Note that my friend Johnny experiences spirit alone and without routine practices. Fusing prescribed behavior with spirituality has been a subject of interminable debate. Set practice and routine are embodied in most of the worlds traditional religions. For example, Buddhist practice is understood as both the path to truth and a way of life. That practice typically takes the form of long, focused meditation and devotions performed on a regularusually dailyschedule. Another example is found in the Hasidic tradition of Judaism, where prayer is identified with the very essence of God. Are there preconditions that must exist for spirituality to blossom? An often heard requirement for spirit is that first a person has to improve. Personally I do not stand with those who assert that people have to become better persons before

they can have a spiritual experience. There is a long-held and stubborn belief, sometimes operating unconsciously, that only to the pure goes the truth, that moral failings are insuperable barriers to the divine encounter. But I think it more likely that morality may be the fruit of spiritual practice rather than the other way around. That is what I see happening in the lives of many people I have met. In todays world I see more and more people refusing to be cowed by the dictates of others that are not basically attractive to them. Having to go to church is such a dictate. Many people find in the sanctuary of their own home an appropriate setting for their spiritual practices. In the survey I made for this book I heard many people claim to be spiritual and not religious. Another notion I deplore is that ultimate truth is accessible only by admission to a secret ceremony or group. Perhaps this notion is borne of human fear and has its roots in the most ancient of times. The Greek Eleusinian Mysteries, for example, were so hidden that participants in the ceremonies were sworn never to reveal what went on in them. Today, it is common for eastern gurus and schools of meditation to restrict the most advanced knowledge to those who have gone through a formal initiation laden with significance. I have periodically been drawn into organizations that required long months of preparation before a mantra or form of prayer or meditation would be bestowed on me. I never stayed the course; the conspiratorial rules aroused too much distaste in me. In any event, traditional assumptions about the route to ultimate truth are losing their authority. More and more, those who are hungering for depth in their lives are exploring independently, guided by their own instincts and intuitions. Some of these independent thinkers may still have ties to the religion that has previously been their home. Others may have the good fortune to find new communities more inclined to the ways of independence. I, for one, need the support of other spiritual seekers in my quest for truth. When sharing in communal prayer, I find my contact with

the divine presence vitally intensified. Quite a few whom I encountered in the preparation for this book mentioned that spirit is met through connections with other people. The desire for community can, in some cases, be an obstacle rather than an asset. When like-minded people congregate to share their spiritual lives, personal and unique expressions of faith are often drowned out. The individuality of my own inner truth was stifled, so many decades ago, by the dictatorial judgments of fellow church members. Our new social networks and other Internet tools should make it easier to forge bonds with compatible souls without having to surrender ones core spiritual identity. For myself, I have settled on a mixture of traditional and nontraditional practices, a formula that is increasingly common. Here is the story of Doris: Through friends who shared the 12-step process of AA, I came into contact with the eightfold path of Patanjali, an Indian sage who lived one or two centuries before Christ. Like AA, Patanjali developed a program based on sequential steps, the eight limbs of Yoga. And also like AA, one of the steps involves self-inventory. I always had little luck in changing my thinking. I needed other kinds of process, and both programs have provided this, teaching me to surrender my life and will to my higher power. I also learned from Patanjalis sutras a rhythmic breathing technique as the precursor of meditation. I find programs based on action and behavior, like the 12 steps and Patanjali, easier to follow than one that asks me to bend my mind to some concept or belief. My aim is conscious contact with God, a goal I carried over from AAs 11th step. Not only do I mix traditional and nontraditional routines I also listen to the inner voices that speak to me. It has taken me a long time to make peace with this independent and eclectic path of mine. Along the way I have been helped by the example of courage in others. A friend, Blanche, is an example:

My inner life is where I experience what people call Spirit, where I derive the meaning of things. Getting sober remains a mystery as to how and why. Something penetrated my awareness, and I guess I would call that a higher power. I talk to itwhatever it is out there sometimes jokingly, sometimes pleadingly. And sometimes its just a conversation or appreciation. Like, thank you for inventing cats and ice cream. And thank you for the beautiful world you put us in; please help us not to wreck it. In that story and in those of many others, the view is blurry as to the locus of spirit or ultimate truth. But despite being something of a spiritual maverick, I believe that, at my core, I am connected to the deepest wells of spirit and truth, which account for both the traditional religions and idiosyncratic individual paths. The Eastern religions say that enlightenment is found within us when ego or self dissolves, while Christians rely on Jesus repeated proclamations that the kingdom of God is within us. Catholicism says, in the words of its recently updated catechism: the desire for God is written in the human heart . . . and God never ceases to draw man to himself. The common ingredient is the inner being of a person. If you follow me so far, perhaps I can add more to the mix by quoting from a Sufi, whose branch of Islam is the one most familiar to me: All meditation and contemplation are taught with this purpose: to harmonize one's innermost being with God, so that He is seeing, hearing, thinking through us, and our being is a ray of His light. Hazrat Inayat Khan, Unity of Religious Ideals As for changing ones ego or self, I do not consider it my task to get rid of my ego or my self, as some people urge. To be frank, I dont think that is possible for me. I believe only a spiritual power can bring it about. That power for some might not be called God or Allah or anything. I have known people whose spiritual source within them is a nameless guide. Here is a story from Will, a friend:

Through a person Id describe as a spiritual devotee, I have been introduced to three spirit guides. When I cant sleep, I talk to them. They always have given me the same messages that relate to keeping myself oriented, connecting to spirit, and proceeding without blame. . . . Otherwise, my connection is probably mostly through peoplechance comments, moments of unexpected connection. Id love to say I have Technicolor visions, but no such luck. As somebody said, the road to enlightenment is not a circus. For some the guide may seem a presence to the person. A major feature of my journey toward ultimate truth is my strong physical and emotional response when I feel the presence of spirit. Our feelings, rather than being a hindrance or distraction, as some contend, are avenues to the spirit. Here, too, I am encouraged by the stories people have shared with me about their spiritual experiences. For example, Rene experiences presence in an unusual way: Once, my car lost all power on the freeway on a foggy night. My windshield wipers slowed down, then my radio stopped playing, and then my engine died. I remember a sense of being surrounded by a force that helped me safely across two lanes of traffic and down an off-ramp. I remember being amazingly calm and started to recite the Lords Prayer. A tow truck came quickly. I got a ride home from a friend, and everything went smoothly. I felt protected, even though something bad and potentially dangerous happened. I remember coming home that night and feeling thankful that I was OK. I noticed that my bedroom light flickered a few times, which had never happened before. I felt it was spirit or angels or something like that saying, Dont worry, were looking out for you. In this story one notices that the felt presence is not that of a particular figure or person. There are so many differences in personal temperament and nature that I think it foolish to lay down laws and rules about the ways that spirit can be experienced. It might be argued that my perspective on ultimate truth is too simplistic. But why, I reply, does it have to be heavy

lifting and complexity? Again, I turn to the fellow voyagers I know. Here is Don: At the moment I am most upset, I stop, let go, and breathe. I let go of the story that seems to be happening. I connect with emotion, with my feelings, and let go some more. At that point, something seems to connect me with the inner voice inside of me. And perhaps I share all of that. Or maybe I dont work at it anymore. I just let myself be, and then I feel that it is all fine and there is nothing more I have to work at. Letting oneself just be. It sounds simple, but most of us are involved in many activities, and our minds are perpetually on the run. Perhaps some degree of effort and discipline is required to quiet the mind, as well as a real commitment to diving deep within our being. I have talked with people who say their experience of spiritual fulfillment came to them after they had labored to control the mind. However, sometimes spirit bubbles up to the surface quite spontaneously, without any conscious preparation. In many cases I have come across no one single characteristic of a persons spiritual journey. Not only are many people experiencing a multiplicity of characteristics in their spiritual lives, over time, an established spiritual path or practice may, for any number of reasons, be superseded by another. Moreover, practice must not be confused with spirit itself. I have seen in myself a propensity to idolize practice, just as I have observed others seeming to pray to their beliefs or worship a text. I think it is wise to hold the reins of routine loosely, acknowledging that rigid rules are the province of the ego-driven mind, not of infinite being. None of the people I surveyed for this book followed a strict spiritual regimen. They were not like the saints we read about who bound themselves to an uncompromising schedule of daily ritual and prayer, embracing stark austerities such as fasting and celibacy. But I do not live the life of a monk, nor aspire to be a saint. The question is: To what extent are we called to push against our human limits?

To know God, are we required to become something other than human? Johnny, whom I quoted earlier, is averse to the idea that spiritual life demands effort : Working for spirituality is like being taught the mechanics of prayer or trying to analyze belief or asking the moon to explain itself. The idea of working for a spiritual life is foreign to me. The very essence of working may shut me away from it. I think you simply open a doorif you want to feel the wind. Feeling the winda metaphor expressing the notion that spirit is caressing us right now, waiting for us to awaken to it. The awakening is itself a gift, which often comes unbidden. Such a gift is termed a grace in certain spiritual traditions, including the Christian. I consider most of what I have received on my journey demonstrations of gracethe discovery of love, the end of a depression, the ability to be sure, and so on and on. Perhaps for many it is a mixed experience of work and grace. Revisit my friend Will: I do feel much of what is best in my life has been conferred by grace rather than hard workor perhaps I should say hard work has been involved, but the achievement of my goals would not have been realized without elusive experience, a player that tends to operate behind the scenes and shuns dramatic recognition.

5. In Consideration of the End

There is a vital question that remains to be answered: What about death and its aftermath? Though I used to be hardly aware of it, terror of death and what happens after death stalks my being. The curious thing is that consciousness of this terror is itself the route through it. That is an astonishing discovery, one of the most important lessons I have ever had. Awareness of feelings can often be a route to awareness of spirit, as I wrote about in an earlier book Truth Letters. It is the aftermath that bothers me more than the actual fact of death. My fear is of judgment. This is not a new fear, arising only in old age. It cycles back to my childhood, when I often had to listen to my mother warn me of my eventual fate if I continued down the path of self-pleasuring and intimacy with males. Mixed into this, of course, were the primitive versions of Catholic doctrine I absorbed, more in the playground than in the classroom. In my life since then, I have been a prey to worry that what I said or did was being judged by others. Underneath this worry, I have discovered, is a terror that when I die, I will be judged by God and found wanting. Often I am rescued from this terror by voices I hear within me, including those of family members and friends who have passed on. Experiencing the presence of a person who has ostensibly died is a much more frequent event than many would think. A friend related this story: My niece had a dream after my mother died in which she saw my mother in the afterlife. In the dream, my mothers job was to smoke cigarettes (which she loved to do in this life but tried not to), gather the ash, put it in flower pots and grow a whole array of bright flowers. It seemed like such a perfect assignment for someone in the afterlife. It spoke to my mothers particular joys. It turned what we think of as possible and appropriate inside out, and it suggested the prospect of a long and graceful and

beautiful unfolding based on patience and cultivation. I have no idea if this is what my mother is up to these days, but as they say, may it be so. Likewise in spirit, if not in the details, for us all. There are many stories that mention communications with those who have died. Janis Amatuzio, MD, a forensic pathologist, writes in her book Forever Ours of hearing such stories from survivors of people she had autopsied. One fairly young man had expired without warning while watching TV. His widow really wanted to know how this had come about, since her husband had no known ailments or disabilities. The autopsy revealed a benign tumor that had put intolerable pressure on his heart. Just knowing this helped the widow a great deal. The information may have made it easier for her to tell the doctor something she had not told anybody else. She had been having rough nights, often tossing and turning, unable to find sleep. One night, she thought she heard footsteps outside her bedroom door and at that instant she saw her husband walk into the room. Even though it was dark, she was able to see him clearly: he glowed and had a wonderful smile on his face. She was dumbfounded when he walked right up to the bed and started talking to her, telling her what to do with the children and how to pursue their future plans. Calm and reassurance settled on her, to such an extent that she didnt want him to leave. So he sat on the bed next to her, put his hand on her shoulder, and told her that their love would be forever, that whenever she needed him, she could just think of him and he would rush to her side. In the book Ultimate Journey, Robert Monroe, tells of a Hindu monk who was trying to comfort a woman on the death of her son. She was almost inconsolable, and the monk, mentally reviewing all the teachings he had previously absorbed, anguished over what he might say that would mitigate her intense grief. Finally, in a moment of deep quiet, he found himself saying something that just came to him, as if borne by spirit. He leaned closer to her and said: You know your love is eternal, and so is the

object of the love, as well as you yourself. That is the truth I know. When I conducted my survey, I was struck by the number of people who felt strongly that there was indeed an afterlife. They described it in the most exquisite words. An American who follows the path of the ancient Indian yogis had this to say: When we die, our soulor, if you wish, spirit goes over. Our mind and soul go into the spirit world, which has a very different vibration than the world here, with its illusions. Death is like getting out of a tight shoe. The soul or spirit is pure energy. Were all one soul really. With practice, one can be aware of that soul in meditation. The metaphor of getting out of a tight shoe was used by more than one respondent. Others, such as Phil, employed different words: I sense that when I leave this earthly plane, I will move to a nonphysical plane, whether you call that heaven or not, and my consciousness will come with me at whatever level I have grown to through the lifetime just completed. Maybe I could say that the afterlife is already close, in the here and now. Its like going home. One person thought energy changed but love endured. Another said simply that her view of the afterlife was unknowing expectation. And a woman I know told me that the afterlife will be good . . . I will be reunited with people and animals I now miss. Let us listen again to Blanche: I believe without understanding it all that we are more than our bodies, and I wonder what happens to the person weve been in our lives and what we have learned. I dont know, but I suspect somehow it isnt wasted. And it matters what we do while were here, and whether or not we add a bit to the sum of love in the world. In the religions of the East, too, there is much difference of opinion, but the variations rarely include a place of eternal damnation or hell of the kind that Christianity proclaims.

The notion of sinning against God is not universal. Danielle expressed herself in Buddhist terms: My view of the afterlife is reincarnation in this world or another. How one is reborn is very much dependent on ones own karma, as well as the levels of clarity and peace and desire present in one following death. This is a time of great opportunity for realization, but also potentially of great fear or desire, which can catapult one into rebirth willy-nilly. So it is important to do ones spiritual practice in this life so that one can die with awareness, clarity, consciousness, love, and serenity. Some take their stand in the present, seeing life as a series of problems and rewards in the here and now. They maintain that we make our own hell right here on earth, or in our minds. For me, it is certainly difficult to reconcile eternal damnation with a God I experience as love. You might respond: Then what about evil people like Hitler? What about the presence of evil in general? Personally, I feel I cant be for God as love and exclude from that love sociopaths like Hitler. Maybe Jesus would see him in the same way he saw the thief crucified next to him. A Course in Miracles proclaims that our function in life is forgiveness, and that makes a big impression on me. I, too, hope for that kind of forgiveness, and I am speaking of both this life and the afterlife. I imagine myself even communicating with those I leave behind. That would parallel the efforts we mortals make trying to communicate with those who have gone ahead of us. The latter is expressed by Darlene, a person of the Jewish faith with whom I have corresponded: In the Jewish religion, we light a candle on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. When I light a candle, I also say a prayer and talk to that person . . . or animal. I feel very connected with them at that moment. I myself have had conversations with what seemed like the spirits of my parents and brother, as well as dear departed friends.

6. The Challenge of Pain and Problems

Fear of death is by no means the only challenge on the journey to ultimate truth. The obstacles and roadblocks are too numerous to list. Let me concentrate on the times when I feel quite the opposite of joy. I have found that I have little control over the arrival of instances of depression, worry, nervousness, annoyance, disdain, or a somewhat vague or foggy sense of not being comfortable in my own skin. What to do? Here is Doriss answer: In conflict situations where I am lucky enough to be aware of my feelings, be they anger or fear, the challenge is to know how to respond to them. Instead of reacting to the situation, what I have found extremely helpful is to pause, allowing myself the time and space to be totally in the moment despite its discomfort. My first response then is not rejection of the pain but an attempt to accept its existence in me. The pain will or will not abate and if not I relax further; I let go. I am always astonished how when doing that I sink further into my being.The storm may still rage but I am facing it calmly Eventually I might think of my higher power, and turn my troublesome feelings over to that power, that is to say, put them in his hands. There are three elements of Doriss answer that are key to dealing with troubling moments. The first is awareness. I have learned from excellent therapists and counselors, mentors and friends to cultivate the part of my mind that is observer. Whenever I am down, I avoid despair by, first of all, acknowledging the pain to be there, trying to accept it before moving beyond it. I mentioned earlier that the route beyond terror is through terror, that is, to become aware of the emotion, rather than resisting it. The same is true of other feelings, such as anger or sadness, guilt or shame. After achieving awareness, the task is to determine whether or not I should disconnect the feeling from the thoughts accompanying it. For instance, I

might be put off by a particular situation or person. I ask myself what is the emotion in me. If it turns out to be fear, then I ask the logical and analytic part of my mind to assess the reality of this fear. Many times I see sooner or later that the situation presents no danger or threat to me. In that way I am separating the thought from the emotion and am freed to enter the situation. In the meantime I do not beat myself up for having the fear. In other instances I might feel emotional pain over some loss. My knee jerk reaction over the years is to try to think my way through the pain, thrash around in my mind for a way out, and otherwise try to flee the feeling. At such a time I have learned it is better to get out of my head and into my body. It may even be that allowing the pain or accepting it will lead to opening my heart. Many spiritual writers maintain that suffering builds ones capacity for faith and surrender. I will take that even further: full-out joy on my spiritual path does not come until I have experienced and allowed all of my pain as well as all my other feelings. Happiness is a package deal, and suffering is part of the package. The second notable element in what Doris writes is the contrast she draws between reacting to the situation or person involved in it and responding to her own feelings. Reaction is the often automatic surge of anger or vengeance against an aggressor. Response is a humble recognition of my own responsibility for the pain I am experiencing. My reactive mind wants to blame somebody or something, but as a responding person I seek to look deep within in order to see what is my personal truth. In other words I try to tell myself that it is my pain and my thoughts that are really the important ingredients of the situation, and they need to be disentangled. The third key principle that comes through in Doriss story is seeking the help of spirit. Too often, we either forget to do that or we consider it a symptom of weakness: we need a crutch. It has taken me a lifetime to fully accept the necessity to ask for help from outside my ego-mind. Just the action of turning to spirit or asking for help seems to bring me at least a modicum of inward peace.

For me, the biggest obstacle to faithfulness is the silence of the voice of truth for a lengthy period. But I have finally recognized that such times come and go. They are rocks along the path of spirit. When they present themselves, I must repudiate my fear-based thoughts, as well as my pretensions of self-sufficiency, and rely instead on my past experience with spirit. What is my response to these difficulties and challenges? First of all, I try not to resist these moments of silence but to accept the reality of their pain, again concentrating on the feeling and emotion rather than the bewildering maze of thoughts. Secondly, I remind myself that I have made a commitment to growth in spiritual consciousness. This could be called faith, but I tend not to use that word. I prefer reliance. I rely on the force I have found inside me. What and who that force is remains something of an open question, a mystery beyond my understanding. I allow that mystery to persist. The name of the force is not particularly important. I am open to most of the names that have commonly been given to it in various cultures, among them God, Holy Spirit, Allah, Great Spirit, Higher Power, Brahma, Higher Consciousness, Conscience. Reliance then depends to some extent on my remembering the moments when I felt sure of Spirits presence within me. It is possible that I would lose that contact if I stopped playing my part. So, it is my commitment that brings me to the next step after I have accepted the existence of my pain. When the voice within is silent or I dont feel the presence inside me of a divine power, I simply put the whole matter in the lap of that power, which I am comfortable calling God. Or I might say a silent prayer to God, asking to be shown the next right thing to do . . . or how to just be. It still thrills me when I respond in this manner that such deep peace of mind comes to me even though I dont feel a presence or sense an inner voice. As a child, and for a long time in adulthood, I used to think that faith was something I had to work very hard for, mostly by trying to reconstruct my mind and to dispel every single doubt forever. I also picked up the notion that if I ever lost my faith, I would probably not regain it and would fall

under eternal damnation. Of course, doubt cannot be totally eradicated; it is something we bring along with us on the journey. I no longer think belief is the key ingredient in a relationship with a power beyond my control. More important is my continuing willingness to try new modes of approach and my awareness of an expanding range of experiences. But above all there is the gift of spiritthat is, grace. A final word about pain and difficulties: many people told me that these can act as a call to enter the realm of spirit. Pain as incentive might strike a reader as extreme but wait until difficulties arise and see if spirit becomes a haven from problems. What the great spiritual teacher of the recent past, Gurdjieff, called intentional sufferingthe conscious embrace of discomfort-- can lead us to profound inner depths where resides the true self or Self.

7. The Story of Imagination and Fantasy

In the previous chapters, I wrote about the gift of spirit, sometimes earned and at other times appearing without effort on my part. Now I would like to emphasize spiritual life itself as story. This theme has grown in me since childhood, when I would make hills and valleys out of my bedclothes and gloried in the exploits I read about in fairy tales and adventure stories. The romantics of the past were moved in the same way. William Wordsworths long poem, The Prelude, celebrated his life as a story: The mind of man is fashioned and built up, Even as a strain of music. He writes of the spirits that communed with him during his upbringing and guided him along his lifes journey. In my search for the sublime, artspecifically but not exclusively poetryhas played a big part. If the artist is successful, he invites his audience into the story. Spirituality seen as the exercise of reading oneself is not narcissistic or self-centered, but rather in keeping with an ancient contemplative practice of looking inside for the Other. In this mode, the artist/poet is what Wallace Stevens, a modern romantic, called a metaphysician, twanging an instrument, a lovely blue guitar that plays changes on ones emotions, gateway to the spiritual source. Imagination and fantasy have been given a rough overhauling in our modern culture. We have somehow lost the sense that they are expressions of the divine. The nineteenth-century romantic poets thought what they found in their imagination had an independent reality above and beyond the realm of the senses. Walt Whitman never wanted to say goodbye to fancy. I have on the wall in my study a framed excerpt from a letter John Keats wrote to a friend:

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Hearts affections and the truth of ImaginationWhat the imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth . . . the Imagination may be compared to Adams dreamhe awoke and found it truth. Of course, sensibilities like these have their roots far back in recorded and unrecorded history. Plato argues for the existence of truths that can be accessed in ones consciousness because they were planted there at birth and can therefore be remembered. Reason was a necessary tool to reach this stage of perception, but it was not the last door before truth. Reason always wants to make sense of external reality, but the ancients, like the Aryans described by Karen Armstrong, saw in their rituals the revelation of the inner meaning of external appearances. Owen Barfield, a British author, took as his lifes mission the resurrection, as he would put it, of the old ways of grasping truth, in which inner meaning is hidden behind external phenomena. He wrote of moving from contemplation of the transient to contemplation of the eternal, a gradual metamorphosis not unlike the gradations of love. This forms a stark contrast to our own time, when truth is understood as the product of a rigorous intellectual process of theorizing, investigation, and experimentation. That is the way of science, as it should be, but science has not cracked the riddle either of consciousness or of spirit. However, even in the realm of science, there are now cornerssuch as in the field of psychologythat yield insight into ways of knowing other than by the processing of hard facts. There is new respect for fantasy as a manifestation of the human psyche that is both natural and useful. Close observation of the world around us reveals that almost everybody has a fantasy home of some kind to which they retreat, a place some scholars regard as the birthplace of our essential values. (See Ethel Persons, By Force of Fantasy, New York, N.Y.:Basic Books, 1995)The world of material facts is not enough for most of us. Indeed, its

difficulties and pains and dissatisfactions could hardly be endured without the promise of something more. We may, then, view our fantasies not as things we construct in our minds but as experiences that evolve in our natural consciousness. They can be seen as forces that drive us on and fuel our values. For instance, we can see truth often in the spontaneous play of children. Similarly, those attracted to fairy tales might be preparing for a life of adventure. Daydreams, which we all have, might involve the wish for a love that could come only from an extraordinary being, such as a deity. Even the scientists who dismiss whatever is not hard, replicable fact may be driven by a fantasy of a pure world totally understood and controlled. In the end it is up to each of us to decide whether or not to invest, spiritually and mentally, in our fantasies. At least we need to be honest about what is going on inside us. We should be willing to take responsibility for our fantasy and our imagination and then test them against the only standard that can ever be trusted in such mattersa firm confidence, known in the gut, when we have the experience of being helped and comforted. It is wise to discuss our fantasy wishes with others so as to guard against hurtful or unethical acts. What we should not do is attempt to convince others that they ought to strive for the very same experiences we have had. Much damage is caused in the world by those who try to foist their revelations on the people and communities around themor, indeed, on the entire human race. Khalil Gibran, author of The Prophet, has a sage reprimand for such proselytizers: Say not, I have found the truth, but rather, I have found a truth. Say not I have found the path of the soul, say rather, I have met the soul walking upon my path. For the soul walks upon all paths.

8. The Fourfold Program of Easy Living

Several months ago I awoke as if startled and bolted upright in the bed. Almost immediately, I realized that I had just seen a message written on my inner screen. It was titled The Fourfold Program of Easy Living. The four prescribed elements were: rest and relaxation, reflection, contemplation, and devotion. I didnt see a sharp picture of this program; it insinuated itself in my mind in ways even I cannot understand. All I know is that it was given to me. You, too, can experiment by closing your eyes and being receptive to a message, be it ever so vague and simple. As I lay in bed that morning, something more came up: a thought that we are used to externals but what delights is internal. Internal is eternal. Since getting these messages, I have meditated on the four elements, letting ideas come to me rather than forcing an analysis that would be contrived. The following is a summary of these thoughts: Rest and relaxation The activities referred to here are not sleeping or napping but simply taking a rest break during our busy days. For me, it is an opportunity to let my tensions fully subside as I sit with eyes closed in a comfortable chair, relaxing every part of my body one by one. I concentrate on regular breathing, inhaling and exhaling through my nose rather than my mouth, letting my stomach expand and then my chest, holding the breath a second and then slowly letting it out. As I exhale, I focus on some part of my body and tell it to relax. Then I might just sit and breathe for a few minutes, making sure to let my shoulders drop, as I have a tendency to scrunch them upward toward my head. I sit up straight throughout and visualize my head suspended on a string attached to the top of my skull. Sometimes I sit with my eyes open and just watch the world pass by, taking

everything in as passively and with as much acceptance as I can. If my mind is churning with thoughts, so be it. Instead of being absorbed by them, I focus on observing the passing scene. I often do this out on my balcony eleven stories up. From that vantage point, I can see the horizon, as well as miles of lush landscape, an abundance of trees, and whooshing traffic on the streets below. My only task is to rest, letting come to me what will. I wait on my body for a signal to be still even if it is just for a minute or two. Reflection Now I focus on what I am thinking or feeling and wait for a dominant theme to emerge. Or I might look back over my life and ask myself what is important. I stare deeply into the well of my inner self, confident that something precious and pure lies there, waiting to be drawn up. The root of the word reflection is the act of bending back, so letting my life roll backward, allowing me to see its total context, is highly appropriate for reflection. Even though I am proactive and deliberative, I dont force conclusions. As always, I let the reflections come to me. Contemplation The word contemplation has been subject to many interpretations. A near-synonym is gazing. I think of it as a distinct type of single-minded focusing. Although the focus may be the external world, as it is when I am observing from my balcony, contemplation may also be turned inward. Close your eyes and relax, as suggested above. Stay in this state regardless of distracting thoughts. Eventually, you will probably become aware that what you are seeing is not just blackness or blankness. Rather, it is a constantly changing field, with flashes of light and bursts of color. You might hear the mysterious high-pitched sound within you, and if so, you can concentrate on it to the exclusion of everything else. I often pick one particular subject to put my attention on. Or I pray to God to reveal his will for me. I continue looking at the screen of my inner consciousness with my eyes closed, watching and listening When I notice my often unruly mind wandering, as it inevitably does, I gently remind myself to return to inner

observation. I sit comfortably upright in my chair. I take deep breaths, and stay as relaxed as possible. I want the object of my contemplation to be in charge, which may be a higher power, the Holy Spirit, God, or Jesus. For you, it might be Brahma, Allah, the Great Spirit. or Higher Consciousness. The object could be a person or a place. Or it could be a value, like love or peace or justice, or simply the immediate moment, in which you hold the awareness of the timeless Now. Whatever you might conceive as the source or a facet of the source is a fit object of contemplation. Contemplation is receptive engagement with the essence of things; that is, the good, the beautiful, the divine. There are times when I have no object, in which case I simply gaze for a long time at the inner screen of my consciousness. This could be described as staring into the void. You might be surprised at the experiences and revelations that often result. At other times, I ask to be guided, surrendering to the good or beautiful or divine spirit that is the object of my contemplation. I give my life over to its care. I seek its will for me. Martin Laird, author of Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation and A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation, states that the opposite of contemplation is not the active life, because the latter may include moments of contemplation. The opposite, he says, is the reactive life, in which we are governed by the turbulence of our thoughts. A.H. Almaas, a respected spiritual teacher, conceives of contemplation as the activity of looking deeply into our hearts. When we do so, he says, we discover that what we most desire is peace, or rest. In some very deep sense, he writes in The Unfolding Now: Realizing Your True Person, this desire leads to greater fulfillment than our urges for pleasure, happiness and freedom, for without this ease of simply being, none of the other things we pursue will truly satisfy us.

Devotion The root of the word devotion is vow, a solemn commitment to perform an act or to give oneself over to the service of a person or entity. The word does not necessarily refer to acts of ritual prayer, which is how it is used in many church settings. In the larger meaning I intend here, devotion is a turning of my entire life toward spirit in one of its many manifestations, whether internal or external. For me personally, this means putting my life in Gods hands. If you are spiritually oriented but do not relate to the notion of God, your devotion could be directed to a principle or a value, such as truth or compassion or conscience. Or love. Through repeated practice of the four elements, I have come to see that I not only experience the Holy Spirit, I also adore it. I have fallen in love with it, just as I might fall in love with anyone with whom I had spent considerable, profound time. It is that simple and that human, human in the sense of spending time with a force for long stretches of time.


A Summing Up

Among all the spiritual practices I have tried and incorporated into my life, I would say the most important are letting go and opening myself to whatever emerges from the void of my blank inner screen, including prompts to action or inaction. I invite and welcome these

communications of spirit. I have also learned that I need a routine of daily practice, though that practice is not easily labeled. It takes many forms, from continually looking within to sharing what I find there with others, from reading inspirational writers to deep breathing, from quiet contemplation in my home to solitary walks in nature, from asking a divine power for guidance to listening for the wisdom of others. Many times I have been able to reach Spirit and to receive its messages. My prayer life is often an experience of twoway communication, in which I ask Spirit for help or for the knowledge of Gods will for me and hear an answer that rings true. (For examples of this experience see my book The Voice of Truth That Sets Me Free) . Each day, there are usually reminders to stop what I am doing, close my eyes, and.waitwait for Spirit. Its like wanting somebody intensely, pining for a presence. While I wait I focus simply on being in the present, peering deeply into my innermost being, and saying to myself in silence,

This momentthis momentjust this moment now. The present; the presencemore than two words that sound alike and belong together. For me they are both expressions of the power that brings delight. I have described process and technique at some length, but I would not want to leave the impression that they are the crux of the matter. The essential ingredient of my life is my commitment to the force that is beyond my ego or everyday thinking mind, a power some call Spirit. Spirit is in us but we are not in charge of it, nor did we create it. Eventually, my embodied self will come to an end. Thoughts about death invade my consciousness almost daily. I do not bring them up deliberately nor do I dwell on them, but they are constant companions. Perhaps this is a characteristic of most people over seventy. However, many contemporaries with whom I attempt to talk about this subject shy away from it. Some consider me foolishly morbid. But I do not suppress what comes to me spontaneously. Sometimes I feel in my earthly body an exquisite sensation of being, which suggests to me that the so-called end of life is, in truth, just a step toward a greater Being I can only describe as the essence of love. At least, I have developed a strong conviction that I am going somewhere . . . somewhere good, in fact thrilling. I believe that, deep down, all of us hunger for some kind of external or internal meaning in their experience and in the universe. I am also certain that our faithful search for it will not be in vain. You, reader, are no exception.

However, dont imagine you will ever be in possession of all you may want to know. Furthermore, some confusion and doubt are likely to persist, and you must bring them with you on your journey. Likewise the images and messages you receive from your inner depths will probably be wrapped in some cloudy ambiguity. It is best not to expect the inner realm always to reveal itself with the same vivid clarity as external reality. Nevertheless, if you wait patiently, you will often perceive shining through the hazy inner scape a word or vision that you cannot deny. You will know their truth when they touch that part of your consciousness that is grounded in conviction. Know also that the right to choose your journeyor to have it choose youis a sacred privilege. Honor it. Dwell in possibility. Explore any path that seems to call out to you. Do not worry if it differs from all others; conformism is not a spiritual virtue. On the other hand, you might find yourself returning to an old, established path from which you drifted long ago. The one essential is not to give up. In reality, it is not possible to do so anyway, because to be human is to ask the big questions and to plunge into mysteries.