Stephen Hunt: Radiant In The Prime
RADIANT IN THE PRIME & ULTIMATE LIGHT A Personal Memoir by Stephen Hunt [1935 - ]
At home one late afternoon in the early 1990's I routinely turned on a kitchen appliance's small utility light, and experienced the non-induced spiritual surprise of my life. The incidental change in light level somehow triggered within me a radical peak experience arising from irrepressible emergent mysticism. I was seized through and through by a tremendous divine White Light of ecstatic force. I stood arrested in awe within a bright plasma – the prime and ultimate light. The seed-light, as it were, of a low-watt bulb propagated instantaneously until the greatest radiance I have ever known filled my consciousness. The happening was like a shock-visual clip of the big bang -- super-expanding in the first nano-seconds of creation. In no time the light grew more brilliant than a coiled ribbon of magnesium metal burning edge-on in pure oxygen. I felt totally radiant in the energy's sphere, though my eyes did not hurt. The peak phenomenon, essentially beyond words, was unprecedented in my life. What was happening and what could have led up to the experience, I wondered at the time and later in an associative rather than chronological way.
Often before I had spent my early evenings sitting alone beside a reading lamp that I veiled for the novelty and comfort. When looking outside by day at nearby partially shadowed spaces, I sometimes detected an intriguing soft-focus “graining” effect, precipitating and dancing in brownian movement in the atmosphere (or my retina...). Some nights from my window I watched distant but identifiable small round lights, south below the Chicago skyline. Police car beacon blue, stoplight yellow, and a roving few of red accompanied by trailing off sounds, these lights drew my attention because I could relate them to mandalas I had meditated on concerning my future.
From the same window sometimes I could metaphysically envision the mutability of all forms, even as I looked at material car traffic moving below on N. Broadway Street. Some mornings when I woke, the scene from my window seemed to present a look of composed artistic order – like a planned oil-painted panorama of building shapes fitting together. Certain casual shapes of wall shadows, cast and slanted by moonlight, seemed suitable to be hung in MoMA – if only I could have masterly rendered them in the right media. Other times before sleep I flashed inwardly on detailed (but non-existent) landscapes that I had never consciously laid eyes on and could not place. In one particular glimpse my inner eye beheld a quick rivulet of liquid mercury coursing down from the sky and spreading until level everywhere on the land; surely a symbol of changes descending upon the earth. Another image I saw was a diamond crystal pyramid that scattered down into individual component jewels when tapped on its apex, separating like a Droste apple. Habitually, when I looked at anything natural, written or fabricated my eyes invariably sought out the highest values they could find.
In the '90's I began feeling a need to be sequestered, even to go into hermetic hibernation, to protect my inner self and sensitivities. I appreciated why the occult best stayed hidden. The time was right to release common distractions I had chased with excitement, and to choose instead to become lost in what personally interested me. I felt over-exposed and overly answerable to others. I bought ear plugs and a noise suppressing gun muffler to wear, I turned the phone off, I postponed watching television until Masterpiece dramas and Nova nature programs aired. Even so, television as such assaulted my consciousness, and diminished my ability to hear the whisperings from my intuitive nature. I became intentionally low-key over the Holidays. I needed time to make an inner migration into sanctuary where I could sustain the long period of radical self-remaking following early sobriety. Though not prey to self-pity, when I felt especially sad and lonely I slept in my clothes for comfort. I went to films; all my life I felt safe to feel my emotions as a gay man only in the dark of movie theaters. (Earlier in the '80s my decision to live low-risk, safer, and celibate for the duration of the AIDS pandemic, had eroticized my view of men, while closing down my impulsive openness and allowing me to arrest dangerous lust by trading it for a just bearable feeling of being deprived). Once, pausing alone on the stairs in the hotel's skylighted stairwell, I suddenly realized I had been quite unconventional all along and how very difficult it was for me to fit in or to be understood anywhere.
In solitude and leisure, creative ideas occurred to me not only about one's curious human condition but also about the practical world. Couldn't the tons of meteorite dust falling daily on Earth be manipulated scientifically to precipitate out quantities of atmospheric greenhouse gasses treated at source to condense on dust particles, and thus be solidified and grounded? Couldn't spine-bound books be printed using an innovative computer program positioning the text on each page progressively closer or farther from the edge, so that any page appears centered and flat for readers' eyes no matter where the book lies open? Could it still be undiscovered that electricity subtly demonstrates a useful, characteristic 'signature' (neither amperage nor voltage) specific to whatever conducting metal or material it enters, transverses and leaves – I suspected so. Couldn't commercial honey bees be treated to eliminate the transfer of diseases at the point they are packaged live for transport? Couldn't a safer one-story California house be designed on a central plinth -- to have its roof slide off into a sand bank and its walls fall outward harmlessly during an earthquake? Couldn't retractable balloons, plying between earth's surface and the cold stratosphere, keep life-saving injectables suitably refrigerated against spoiling in vast rural Africa, as Bill Gates said is vital?
At the time of the intense White Light described above, I sank to my knees. I was motionless. I felt ineffably disoriented then stymied and fearful. Was the Light coming to me from afar or from within me? I prayed surpassingly that my body could endure the great Light and survive through this experience. My instincts told me I would either be extinguished or blessed by whatever was happening. I was transfused and enraptured to the point of surrender, but unsure. My hands' empty cupped palms felt a unique sensation of growing lighter and warmer, though not in any sense like being impaled with stigmata. I hardly knew how to cope from moment to moment or what next move to make. I felt I was outside of linear time in a vast space where I, despite my great anxiety to survive, was minuscule. This White Light anomaly was not leaving. It felt too strong to control or escape. I yearned simply for my own familiar little everyday inner light of steady, vital magenta. I wanted to be back experiencing nothing stranger than the landscape vistas my inner eye saw at night before sleeping. At length I surrendered to the luminosity that possessed me from finger- to toe-tips – come what may.
Still I wondered, giving in to the Light's total transformative sway, was I making my transition? Was my living entity about to shut down and “me” dissolve into egoless non-being -- dispersing like a wisp in eternity? I chanced thinking I might with luck live to remember being filled by this extraordinary Light. I chanced thinking some churchman might someday interpret for me in his own terms that through intercession and grace, I had been brought to atonement.
I overcame my fears and continued breathing. Reorientation took the form of my innate observant curiosity. Objectivity was a viewpoint still serving me. I began to realize, “This is It, enlightenment, first hand. I am in a peak experience. I am bathed in Light. The White Light must somehow have come upon me.” Later, I began to accept that the state of being I had spontaneously entered could only be the epiphany-at-acme described by mystics, spiritual masters and other illuminati down through the ages of the Great Tradition – accessible to this day, obviously.
Presently I felt buoyed up emotionally in some new balance and ambient ground-of-being. Now I sensed the Light present more on my right-hand side. Nothing seemed disparate anymore. Everything made exquisite sense and was wonderfully lucent and consonant down to the smallest right details. I could now envision (envision!) what before had been just science to me: the energetic interaction of atoms with polarized components existing in a omnipresent medium that was like light but even more like a universal conductivity adjoined to or comprising dark matter. I could feel the overall state of atoms reciprocatively attuning at zero point. I had the sense of it. I had the feel of it.
The White Light, no momentary fluke, stayed with me for a good two hours before trailing away into lessening euphoria. I was a man stunned to his essence by this plasma-miasma of splendor. I went from feeling enthralled by a power from afar, manifesting energy on a scale beyond my knowing, to a feeling that the Light was altogether beneficial and at one with me. I was profoundly perfused, impressed, and grateful. I moved, rapt and cherishing, among the growing house plants and favorite books in my quiet room three floors above the Loyola University lakeshore campus. Here at the inner wall across from my south-facing window, I meditated daily on my dhurrie-style rug and rested during occasional short fasts. My walls were closely covered with very many tear sheets and scrap printed images I was alive to. Though filled with super-abundant Light, I felt not in the least overheated; instead I was comfortably warm. On the sash of my window a keepsake crystal prism emanated a coursing rainbow of refracted colors. It was a keepsake from my friend Leonard Johnston of the UC Berkeley French Department. He had given it to me after our Baja California vacation in the late '60's. Near my meditation spot was an open shoebox containing my constantly growing collection of found-art objects, many potent to me as symbols -- the shiny ones, which ancient Greeks would have enjoyed, reflecting opalescent glints of bliss consciousness.
What could have led up to my present tipping point into awakening and illumination? Despite my Methodist mother's disapproval, from early adolescence I felt deeply and ecumenically curious about the metaphysical dimensions of world religions and how they related at a practical level. The trouble-making gossipy wife of the local VA Hospital's chief did me damage and caused consternation by reporting on me to my mother -- for being curious enough to enter and look around the local Catholic Church in my hometown Butler, Pa.; I was called susceptibly sensitive and to be watched. The etiology of divine inspiration fascinated me, as I felt such originating inspiration to be still purely possible. As a Protestant of course I was baptized before reaching the age of reason, but apart from on Sundays I was not conventionally devout nor was I “called”. Secondary knowledge of others' religious sensibilities and experiences did not satisfy me. I could not relate much to forms and rituals of Christian religion, because I could not summon up through them the originating transfigurations and fiery inspirations that led writers to pen the sacred books of the Bible and worship – though I intuited such states of mind had existed and still could be experienced. I was on a quest. I read an expanding selection of the works of acknowledged spiritual masters in the Great Tradition. Two tantalizing lines from somewhere persisted in my mind: “You shall see when It is come / Illuminations are all one.”
During the '90's my own mediumship potential was encouraged and took form as a direct psychic giving readings in Chicago at First Temple of Universal Law, dedicated May 2, 1965 and located at 5030 N. Drake Avenue and the river. The founder's son Rev. Robert E. Martin occasionally spoke. Over coffee and pot luck fellowship dinners several classmates from Rev. Rose Spiros' Saturday class reiterated that they identified me as an old soul (which I at first imagined was like being some sort of a kindly generalist). On my part, I was learning from the example of the older worshippers I mixed with how to age gracefully into active retirement, for when I reached that stage. At church I explored the Temple library's collection, filling a separate room. Absorbed church members happily called their study and service to others their “work” -- with an attitude that struck me as inspiriting and quite unlike my needs be nine-to-five clerking drudgery in corporate business offices for a livelihood. At home I sought the trance state and spaced out during the magnificent moments when the sky's light changed mode and transitioned into dawn or sunset. I was drawn too to stroll along Lake Michigan especially when Chicago weather created vast pastel effects of light washing through the sky. As my vision expanded I enjoyed stronger intimations that spirit lay behind everything in the streaming omnipresence of time and generation.
I learned to command my metaphysical gifts reliably, despite sometimes feeling depressed and experiencing underlying sloughs sans volition (not to mention hours sunk in idiocy because of old unresolved anger). After much self-mortifying reluctance on my part and an eye tic from stress (suffering through the inevitable 'imposture syndrome'), I accepted Rev. Rose's urgings, overcame stage fright, and commenced giving well-received psychic readings for others on Sundays and Tuesdays at the Temple. (Next to challenging my sense of blood loyalty earlier and learning to stand outside my birth family, this was most difficult to do.) As a new intermediary and healer, I found it particularly surprising that very simple things I saw around me often provided the germ for spiritual answers to the questions others tendered me for elucidation.
After some months in place as a Temple reader, I was approached by Marlene Berndt the 'Rock Lady' owner of the successful suburban J&M Psychic Fairs which enjoyed psychic Irene Hughes' favor and working presence. Marlene Berndt found me both situation-wise and psychic. Several times I accepted her standing offer and commuted to the various venues of her fairs in Chicagoland to work among the company. However I was unknown to the public and had little draw at fairs, in contrast to my work at the Temple. Sustaining energy to give but a few psychic readings intermittently booked during long hours of waiting in place at the fairs, disheartened me. While I was reaching out, in April, 1994 I decided to explore another commercial niche. I applied to the American Assn. of Professional Psychics, Inc. for membership. An applicant being tested was required to do individual cold readings by appointment over the phone. These sample psychic readings had to convince three assigned critical AAPP peers sitting in judgment out of state. The imperatives were to be professional, be psychic, and be accurate – altogether and quickly. Despite my anxiety over never having read at a distance for strangers, I was approved for membership on my phone performance. I then worked from home some seasons as a paid psychic partaking in popular culture and answerable to questioning callers. I was open to the experience and answers came readily, but working this commercial way added little to my spiritual growth. At length, I gave on my own only very occasional readings by request.
During this time of life-changes more encompassing than midlife crisis, I was puzzled where to be and how to be. Each Chicago spring I felt more changed by the winter past. No fully mentoring person appeared with the time, education and experience to understand my underlying potential as well as conflicting complexities -- and to identify for me a whole picture of my core changes manifesting through recovery. I was trying to solve a most baffling Gordian knot while entangled within it. Jungian Jack Miller said I evidenced personality “inflation”; members of 12-step programs advised me “don't think you are special, don't be self-pitying, and don't experiment,-- just show up at meetings”; my siblings considered me “devilish, very unhappy and sometimes not in your right mind”; and I realized that consulting ministers operated from and espoused fairly exclusively only their own church value systems and dogma. Adlerian Dorothy Previn, when I worked on the Psychiatric Unit at St. Joseph Hospital, reluctantly tested me after my repeated requests as a worker alongside her within the treatment milieu. (Raising her sons by herself at home, perhaps she felt she had to maintain a strict focus and energy-efficiency at work.) Dorothy Previn found I had been able to claim available roles for myself as a middle child, but I had not developed into a successful adult. I pondered that objective finding of hers a long time, as well as my main mistakes in life so far as I could determine them. Few Chicagoans of my acquaintance had the time to hold patient, sensitive, reciprocal conversations with me. I felt I was not living in the right city, or country, or even the right century. With my unconventional consciousness, gay sexual identity, and disengagement from getting ahead materially, I gathered I would always be a stranger anywhere.
I considered returning to live in Taos, New Mexico, visited several times in the past. I liked Carmel, California. I considered returning to Lake Chapala in Mexico where I wrote one summer. I had always dreamed of speaking French as well as Edmund White and living in Paris, where I had sojourned. Would I flourish going back to the beloved student environs of Exeter, Devonshire as an ex-patriot this time -– perhaps to live as a scholar gypsy in a cottage in Jane Austen country? I was especially keen to practice the contemplative way of life at New Camaldori Hermitage in Big Sur (later to be threatened by the wild fires of 2008). I became interested in South Africa from reading about Laurens van der Post, the formative intellectual and spiritual guru of Prince Charles. I might find it compatible to be a non-governmental think tank resource person, or make a home and garden in Israel, or emigrate to Canada where I had visited on four occasions. I day-dreamed of retiring to Santa Rosa, California to serve as a docent at Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, which I knew of from weekends spent in the Russian River area. A traveler told me if I visited Pondicherry in South India, I would stay and never leave its appeal. (My mother's country, western Pennsylvania, held stark memories for me of my several suicide attempts there in 1952 over thwarted homosexual feelings for slightly younger C.H.P.) I applied for a writer's residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois to finish my manuscript of far eastern influenced poems, titled “A Few Gourds & Strawflowers”, to no avail. I realized that much incidental good happened for me when I gardened. During the growing season I felt content, creative, looked up to, and able to integrate the spiritual side of my nature as well as to read widely at night.
Sometimes I yearned to live in New York City again, this time to follow an envisioned new career as a professional psychic for successful actors and artists. I dreamed of having my office at home in a Gramercy Park floor-through condo, my own atelier for creating in Greenwich Village, and a spray-weathered summer place on Fire Island. Perhaps I should stay in Chicago after so many years, and commute to a job at Chicago Botanic Garden? Though restless with wanderlust and nostalgia for so many genius loci places, I wondered too if in fact my roving years were over. Was my destiny to stay put and explore inner space through meditation? With these considerations in mind, I sometimes walked to the lake shore very early and sat beneath a tree in Hartigan Park near Crown Center -- to see the sun rising over Lake Michigan. Before taking me to dinner at The Bakery years previously my father from the shore had pointed out the direction of my birthplace and how the lake's eastern horizon showed the curve of the Earth. He sometimes quoted from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's The Future of Mankind, and questioned me, “How's your progress?” Nonetheless, the feeling that I am in Chicago by default and that the city is essentially incompatible with my nature, has never left me.
Years before, my father had once shown me a spontaneous glimpse of his soul, when we visited my mother's hilltop grave in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. He shared that he had only been able to let go of my late mother's image and bond with his second wife, when he experienced an inner image of one favorite tree being replaced by another. He said, “Let nothing you dismay”, and that in his inner eye he identified with a triangle shape, which represented the strength to bear his life's unsettling changes.
I recall experiencing the spiritual dimension in the mid-1980's once when I stood beside my college friend Mark A. Miller just before dusk in his hillside garden above Oakland, California. At that moment, in words echoing J. Krishnamurti's style, Mark linked for me the beauty of the surrounding hills, Bay, and sky we were beholding, to our ever-expanding horizons of understanding as Berkeley students. (On a more grounded self-image level, I was benefiting from reading The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Also, I earned high marks in UCB's first undergraduate course on homosexuality). The next summer I attended Harvard summer school to study Spanish, while remaining ever curious about expanding on the survey courses and interdisciplinary approaches I had studied earlier.
Since that time I had re-read the books of Aldous Huxley and his wife. Spiritually I felt the Huxleys, though I had not met them, stood in loco parentis for me. I remained inspired by their lives and interests through all my changes. When I lived and worked in the Haight-Ashbury, I found and tacked up a poster, “APOTHEKER”. The figure and flora held for me a deep significance taking years to unfold. One dawn at Asilomar near the chapel by the sea I felt spiritual. More often I felt a strong uplift and élan, beautiful freedom, when hiking up through the botanical gardens of Berkeley's Strawberry Canyon. On my special high-perched bench there, I ate my lunch on the hillside and was somehow imprinted with the sky-high magnificence of spirit as I gazed out towards the Farallon Islands. I enjoyed similar feelings one afternoon biking through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park to the ocean shore, a ride during which everything I beheld seemed to be poetry about to become words.
Another precursor of the White Light's manifestation was my finding Normandi Ellis' evocative translation of Awakening Osiris. The work's images of an ancient land where people's faith held was held in common, its declarations and invocations -- simply spoke directly to my soul as no other book. From first reading, it evoked in me a signal magenta light pervading my emotions and thoughts whenever afterwards I closed my eyes to be entranced or vitally encouraged. Lying on my bed reading Awakening Osiris brought tears to my eyes. I recognized that I had a spiritual nature capable of being deeply touched across time, even though I was struggling to find and make my way in a mass society at war(s) during a materialistic epoch. Awakening Osiris became my touchstone bedside book – its messages resonant and mysteriously inspiriting. My tears sprung from recognition of my spiritual dimension – and of how distracted, neglectful and under-serving I had mostly been toward my soul without knowing it.
More lightly in the early 90's I explored a nearby Eckankar teaching center where out-of-body practices were taught. I easily managed to go spacial subjectively and to sky-float while envisioning a silken tether from earth attached to my navel. I was but one of an aggregate of questing Chicagoans at the time. We chased enlightenment from place to place like a restless flock of hungry sparrows second-guessing where the next thistle seed and suet would be flung. We drove or took the 'L' and buses here and there, curious to be where it was at, to experience rebirthing breathwork, recovery program meetings, bookstore events, public appearances, indy art films and more. I dipped into the old curiosity shop of Ric Addy's Shake Rattle & Read Book Box adjoining the Uptown Theatre (circa 1927). Taking a necessary break, I enrolled as an outpatient for a month in Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago's pain program where I learned how to manage my work-abused scoliotic spine, thinned in the past by malnutrition during third stage alcoholism when I also lost seven teeth. Through meditation I found the strength to commute to RIC and to work through the program's instructional content and exercises. Finding the strength was like earlier discovering that my body ever adjusted to changes, vital energy from the Source eventually rising up through one's soma into the renewed and realigned consciousness. I grew kinder to myself; after all, I was but the identified alcoholic in a somewhat dysfunctional extended family. Moreover, I gained faith that my higher power step by step continuously accompanies me through my health challenges and healing.
I met and socialized with editor Guy Spiro at his growing print and online Monthly Aspectarian magazine's offices. Exposure to his work was an excellent counterbalance to the usual outworn carping denial of metaphysical matters in mainstream journalism. His periodical was "dedicated to awakening consciousness, with the focus of our efforts being in the areas of personal growth, healthy and holistic living, spiritual transformation, and global awareness." I was growing too. Higher mathematics, no longer a field of rote study I had been taught unimaginatively, became more comprehensible to me as a beautiful notational sphere of complex but tinklingly interrelated images. I was especially fond of 4's and 7's, and happened upon them everywhere. I recognized set points, but also had a persistent urge to deckle-edge the corners of book pages and stationery. I became interested in the early recognition of childhood genius, and examined my own boyhood for traces. Now in the '90s I felt like a cocooned pupa reconstituting itself while awash in living caterpillar cell soup -- preparatory to breaking out to take wing as a whole new thing. For several seasons I experienced numinous dreams of being able to fly. My musical ear instinctively sought out and identified with any heralding high notes and measures I heard played or sung. My true inner self saw itself as standing on a rising incline on Mt. Kilimanjaro just a few final steps below the Shirr peak. I entertained reveries of traveling to Machu Picchu; and four possible ancient methods occurred to me for how, initially and at such a great height, the mountaintop redoubt's great puzzling stonework might have been engineered.
To continue, when the initial two-hour period of the White Light mellowed and sufficiently attenuated to permit it, I dressed and walked toward the lake to enjoy the fresh air and familiar sights along the circuit of my daily walk. (I recalled another time, when I was struggling to find my way forward in life I passed a much older man nicely dressed in a suit and approaching with sure steps from the other way. He seemed to me a presentiment that I likewise would live on and be well in the next stages of my life.) Habit, I felt, just might get me through the present paranormality and back to the familiar. Before opening my door, I wondered if any Loyola Arms tenants, especially Sophy Pransky the watchful old manager, would confront me for perhaps looking as changed as I felt. What if I alarmed others by showing strong Light pouring from my eyes?
Encountering no one, outside I passed the mixed-border garden I had cobbled together and tended in front of the hotel. (Eventually the Loyola Arms was torn down and replaced with a dedicated parish garden on its site just east of St. Ignatius Church.) I sensed a great wheeling motion in the sky. Too, I was more than usually aware of the surface intricacies and underlying forms of found objects. I took my time walking along the lake and home again, marveling at my peak experience possibly of a lifetime as it trailed off. Before midnight the event folded into my awareness until I was able to sleep. Years later I moved away to Uptown carrying a keepsake vial of the hotel site's sandy soil with me. I also had with me then the late Sophy Pransky's Holy Bible, Sacred Heart Edition of 1962, bound in red leather, and showing a lifetime of use when it came into my possession.
I remained curious about what people, experiences, and influences had converged and compounded to precipitate my sudden epiphany into White Light. During the 80's and 90's in Chicago, in the San Francisco Bay Area, and before in New York City, an urge of divine discontent and unending search spurred me on despite everything -- to find my way to the mountain peak, to understanding and to enlightenment.
One deep hurt, I surmised, considerably shaped the direction for my natural spiritual capacity, curiosity, and drive for knowledge, discovery and fulfillment. I suffered being imprinted with a strong emotional imperative during one agonizing trauma under surgery at age five. This emotional imperative remained influential, though submerged, in my subconscious for years. In 1940 at an Army clinic in Louisiana, I was given only local skin anesthetic injections and made to watch my father assist at a sanguinary surgical operation on my leg bone. The procedure required a deep incision several inches in length and multiple stitches. Under the knife, I suffered the excruciating fright of a trapped creature, jaws clenched, desperate to get free but nicely overpowered into silence. Ever afterwards, clenching my jaws has brought on a terrible semi-psychotic feeling of being undercut. As a pre-rational child patient I desperately felt the only escape from my agony was to jump up into the strong light overhanging the operating table on which I was constrained. Flight-to-light became my imperative! Paradoxically, the physical ordeal visited on me so young may have formed the matrix and route to the blessing decades later when I at last reached freedom in the ne plus ultra of the White Light. Why the blessing took so long to manifest, until age fifty-five of my maturity, is not a question I may ask -- nor perhaps is even the question. The point may be not when the White Light occurred, but that it occurred. Perhaps like a photographic plate my consciousness needed only one exposure to get the profound picture. Perhaps I am not the waste of a good mystic but a late-maturing one.
I gained understanding from a quote I found: “What god wants god shall have, and so I say, make it easy on yourself. The divine will asks only that things happen, that what it asks to exist comes to pass. My desire, my little will gives it form. If I struggle it comes anyway, malformed, a lesser power than it should be. If I give myself to it, it passes through me and I nourish it as it nourishes me. The difference is in the knowing of it. If there is confusion, I have not allowed life, the will of god, to change me. If I know it, I am changed by it. Awakening Osiris (65/A Field of Flowers, p. 216) “
In Chicago I was greatly influenced by Dr. Carleton Whitehead through services and coursework he led both before and after the First Church of Religious Science moved into Water Tower Place on Michigan Avenue. My friend, social worker Lucien Read, first took me to hear Dr. Whitehead. Lucien, commending the congregation to me, said, “They are such free spirits.” After some months attending services and lectures, I dared give Dr. Whitehead a written creative critique of my considered impressions of Religious Science and the Center's activities as my gift of feed-back. After reading my comments he looked me in the eyes and affirmed my thoughts as my teacher, “You've got it.” And so it was. I was awakening. We talked together in his office from time to time. He took me to lunch at the Blackhawk Restaurant. I did not understand at first the recognition – and moral imperative to develop and use my full spiritual potential – implied by his saying to me, “You've got it.” (But I well understood I could not be open about my sexual identity and become a leader in most churches.) He gave me for my own keeping the late Dr. Claudine Whitaker's annotated personal copy of Ernest Holme's The Science of Mind (Dodd, Mead & Co. 25th printing, 1957). I thanked him and read it through. I fashioned a book jacket of gold paper to protect its covers. I began years of reading day by day Creative Thought magazine from California.
Eva Goldblatt, too, listened to my feelings and thoughts. As a Practioner she advised me at the Religious Science Center and during one-to-one counseling sessions at her gracious condo overlooking Lake Michigan. I was impressed and moved when, at the close of our sessions together, instead of showing me out she sat with her eyes closed. I learned that during these moments Eva was following through, upholding me in her thoughts, envisioning my life healing, coming together and being in the present tense a true demonstration of my spiritual qualities. I attended small soirees with a few other church members invited into her home. The condominium was the right setting for this attractive woman (resembling screen actress Natalie Wood) of many accomplishments and informed spirituality. We participated in group meditations and shared conversations together near a grand piano intermittently played softly in the living room. Once Eva Goldblatt, after having travelled to be in the presence of a contemporary great spirit of whom she had a deep sense, spoke of her admiration for his life and work when she returned to us. Her feelings seemed very like ones I formed after spending a evening in a private home near Stanford in the company of Alan Watts lecturing in the late '60's.
My interest in Thomas Troward's published comments on intuition led me to discover and develop my gifts as an emerging psychic. (At thrift shops I kept finding half-burned candles that I came to believe symbolized so far unfulfilled prayers that my grandmother Bess Heazard had made for me.) I found and attended Rev. Rose Spiros' Saturday developmental classes in spiritual healing and mediumship at First Temple of Universal Law on Drake Street in Chicago, where she was Pastor. Rev. Rose, with her ever-at-hand glass of water in a clear restaurant tumbler, was a warm, energetic and convincing teacher. Since much earlier in the century she had taken part in Chicago spiritual life and prayer circles. To help myself determine what kind of psychic I was, I visited the tables of long-experienced women to see them in practice, intuitively reading cards for clients in a curious, upper floor tearoom in an old elevator office building, west across from Marshall Fields department store in the Loop. Gradually I saw my gifts can be best centered and expressed as a direct psychic, interpreting from immediate images I see in my mind's eye when reading for another.
My hardest challenge was not only to practice a willing suspension of what I had previously been educated to believe were the literal-minded facts of life, but also not to turn totally into a selfless man for others, since I had to provide for myself. Nonetheless my psychic skills unfolded opportunely and were empowered through Rev. Rose's faith, instruction and encouragement. My mediumship potential found its form and expression when I dared begin practicing as a direct psychic.
In the Loyola University environs I first met Dr. Jack Miller, a former priest who had returned in January, 1991 from study at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich. He had lately founded his grief-healing and self-discovery Phoenix Project, which I participated in as one of the lay pioneers, with fee kindly provided for as I was impecunious. The sequential group I joined committed itself to being in sacred time during our section's methodic weeks together -- until our final celebration event, open to the public. During this opportunity to heal and get current with my issues, I was impressed by the well-traveled Jack Miller's first inspiration for and then successive realization of his life's dream. Jack was open about himself and in rapprochement with scores of people in many places. He followed our lives encouragingly and stayed in touch with everyone long after our individual group's participation in the Phoenix Project. It was at my group section's final celebration that I rose to the considerable challenge of giving unorthodox direct psychic readings personally to a long line of people attending the event -- held at this quite Catholic university generally protective of its quite Catholic values
My former University of Exeter tutor was Richard. N. Parkinson, M.A., educated at Cambridge during F.R. Leavis' time and having done his national service in Egypt. He corresponded with me before he traveled with his ecologist wife to teach a year in the American Midwest, away from the home they had built in Devonshire, his son Henry having gone to Australia. I had not recovered my health sufficiently to meet the Parkinsons when they drove to the Midwest. By letter, though, Richard Parkinson did steer me to a biography that enabled me to learn about (and consider cautionary all but too late) the later life and addiction of W.H. Auden. The renewed contact with Richard even after so many years led me to explore for a while an interest of his, Christian Science. Soon I was befriended by Chicagoan Earl Welther of that denomination. I went to church and gardened with him – albeit aware that he had semi-secret designs to take over a local church's leadership. We planted a red maple in the front garden of Christian Science's 12th Church, 635 W. Grace Street, Earl's home place of worship. When I was invited to the Welther's apartment, I noted that the couple with loving-kindness had posted homey signs here and there, enjoining all whose eyes alighted on them to give one another Love.
Crossing Loyola campus, with its many attractive looking students, in the '80s I occasionally ran into Gregory A. Sprague. He was friendly, informative and seemed always rushing somewhere to accomplish tasks. Once, just back from visiting New York City, Greg was still wearing his S&M style black leather jacket. He died of AIDS in February, 1987 -- long before Gerber/Hart Library moved to a larger W. Granville Avenue location south of the Loyola lakeside campus. Reviewer Larry Bommer, whom I had met, was writing more and more accomplished pieces about Chicago theater – some later reviews were as incisive as sonnets. I read a few early Paul Varnell newspaper columns, as well as those of handsome young freelance writer Steven Friess, a prizewinner of ambition. Privately I was journalling to understand myself better, but what I set down week by week to ruminate over provided me with no whole view so far – nor did another's New Yorker short story at the time that loosely veiled and described my supposed situation.
Gerber/Hart Library was once located in a buzz-to-enter basement across from Gay Horizons organization offices on N. Sheffield Avenue. Under the latter's auspices my blind lover Terry Gorman and I ran our gay books recording program called Lambda Resource Center for the Blind. At Gerber/Hart I first made a point of introducing myself to young Rex Wockner. Intent on pursuing facts in the stacks, he took with testiness my interruption of his very eye-on-target work. But he managed a few words back and split. Later, Rex went west to become a successful San Diego-based newsman, after having considered residing in Washington, D.C. Eventually he matured into a popular, even key, American marvel of journalistic experience, accuracy and constancy -- freelancing his news stories and columns to gay media in our hemisphere and all over the world. After he went west to 'Sandy Eggo' (as he quipped) I bicycled by his old apartment building on Marshfield Street in Chicago to see where he had lived and to imagine his life. Rex had a brother who was into ecology; Rex liked men of the bear type. Years before fearless Brit Bear Grylls climbed into heroic popularity, part of Rex's appeal was his own enthusiastic travels abroad with personal computer and documenting camera.
I myself became interested in journalism – perhaps, I thought, to try my hand as an inference reader secondarily circulating apt materials. I serendipitously found a key model description of an American journalist whose regular columns were simply a compilation of selected news items of the day. Too, I liked writing headlines and witty one-liners. I noted that Rex had studied at Meinrad and Mundelein before Drake University in Des Moines (along with Tracy Baim). He wrote somewhere that he broke off celibacy because his undergraduate classmates did – (thus precluding, one supposes, overly-pressurized epiphanies.) I found the example of Rex Wockner's professional work and travels filled out my picture of the queer fourth estate's array and work.
Tiptoeing into media-land, from the start I felt at a disadvantage. Still, I read widely and had a knack for finding signal articles and sending them out selectively, juxtaposed in composite news clippings before the Internet changed journalism. Simply put ideas out there, I decided, and let the right readers in Gaia serendipitously find them via the six degrees of separation, and so add to the rising tide of equality rights. Eventually this action tack brought me the friendship of Washingtonian communications executive Robert Witeck, who understood me early and encouraged me greatly. I felt very like an older, out of practice returning student trying to learn from a younger, inveterately competitive professional, too busy to give me ample tips and anyhow out of state and often the country. Nonetheless midwesterner Rex Wockner engaged my interest. It occurred to me that gay issues might be well served over time if I gave my enthusiastic support to such talented thought-leaders – and could avoid the known perils of extended news work: cynicism and burn-out.
Eventually the law of attraction, serendipity, and the six degrees of separation notion were to bring me into a long-term relationship with leading Ukrainian glbt activist Andriy Mamulakhin (aka Maymulakhin Andriy Yuriyovich, born October 26, 1969) a founder in 2000 of the national Nash Mir/Our World Gay & Lesbian Center  which later moved its headquarters from Lugansk to Kiev.
I met the warm, well-favored author and lgbt activist Chris Glaser when he visited and spoke at Unity Church of Chicago on W. Thome Avenue. (I was impressed anew by our celestial Creator who gives life and form to intelligent and handsome humans like Chris Glaser from generation to generation for millennia). I thrived in Unity's enlivening services led by Mike and Sara Matoin, in its mindfully stocked bookstore (later to have shelf space for the documentary “Why We Fight), and in the three acres of improved gardens surrounding the stylish former country club. I knew Sara from Unity's earlier days at Ambassador West Hotel, where she once generously gave me tapes that I needed but couldn't afford. Significantly, Sara said in my hearing, “You can't create if you are depressed.” Her words suggested to me that some keys to the kingdom are biochemical, and my underlying challenge was to find ways out of my sloughs of depressed volition so I could express the magnificence of spirit. Sometimes I felt like an overburdened recruit on The Long March.
I attended most Sunday services as well as Saturday artists' support meetings at Unity Church. I knew former New Yorker Ed Townley, whose ministry followed Sara Matoin's, from meetings at a Newtown club. Sometimes I deeply missed living in New York (while resenting those there who had taught me to drink). A church member gave me my first IBM computer; at age sixty I was shocked to discover, after 54 years of reading, that I was computer-illiterate and needed to master the steep learning curve of personal computing and cyber skills. Sometimes I returned to visit Good Shepherd Parish Metropolitan Community Church on Wellington in my former Lincoln Park neighborhood. I liked attending services at MCC especially during the pastorate of Rev. F. Jay Deacon. Rev. Troy Perry, a big, rushing man, flew in from California on one occasion -- and into the pulpit to exhort us heartily. Years earlier in 1953 as a pre-college teenager I had worked a summer at Chicago's Laird Community House when Miss Corbett ran it; that summer I lived in the men's dormitory of McCormick Theological Seminary at Fullerton & Lincoln Avenue, quite near MetroHelp/National Runaway Switchboard where years later I worked as office manager under Dave Palmer, whose successful $100,000 grant proposal to Washington passed through my Selectric typewriter. When I returned to Chicago permanently in the early '70s, churches again figured in my life. I worked at United Methodist Lake Bluff Homes for Children headquarters in the Loop's Temple Building as intake coordinator and secretary to the well-known African-American social work figure Bertha Swindell.
As it happened later, for several weeks I enjoyed a temporary assignment performing office work at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies before the sparkling new building was constructed on South Michigan Avenue. From working on the locked psychiatric ward at St. Joseph Hospital several years, I already knew of the influence of the somewhat linked Adler School of Professional Psychology. During lunch hours, I explored the Museum of Judaica on the ground floor. It was Sukkus holiday, and I received an inclusive spiritual blessing while celebrating with friendly staff over bowls of ripe autumn apples. This was deja vu for me, recalling a formative student summer spent with office staff transcribing home studies for Jewish Child Care Association, then on Madison Avenue in New York City. There I had been warmly socialized, so far as my own nervousness over being gay allowed me, and I became a yiddishe neshuma for life. Later I enjoyed the invaluable publishing industry mentoring of Dorothy Sharif, my superior while working for New American Library in the Rights & Permissions Department on Madison Avenue. Years later I fathered the concept of reviewing new books beforehand in provincial cities (like Broadway plays are tested and refined before full production) and book publishers took up the practice, calling the promotional form “Advance Praise”.
When our paths crossed in Boystown around 1980, I readily had coffee with the accessible, out-and-about, ever-chronicling street columnist Jon-Henri Damski wearing his trade-mark baseball cap. He commented to me -- pointedly, and especially -- that it was always easier to destroy than create. I had come to at home one morning having bled through my pillow from a unfelt lesion suffered during a blackout; another morning I found I had been sleeping rough under the Cubs Stadium, and once in an open field in Saugatuck, Michigan. I felt at the time that one could not blame the tiny yeast cell for man's appropriating its defensive fluid into the ready escape of high proof spirits. (The nadir of my hereditary and denied disease of abusive imbibing along with cross-addiction to mood aids, was not to occur until 1982 -- during a very low bottom indeed.) Jon-Henri and I twirled around together one evening on the big dance floor at the after-hours disco Charlie's Chicago. Another time he showed me upstairs to his old hotel home snuggery, with alcoved typewriter, in a furnished room. He was involved with his sidekick, the quirky twink Omega Michael, whose art work decorated one wall. I could never come to terms with Jon-Henri's puzzling, popular journo writing, because I could neither identify nor fathom where he was coming from. Perhaps he enjoyed that. He was off my map, but certainly more inspired than any journeyman hack scribbler. Jon-Henri had taught college in the East, and at Truman College. He recommended I read Huston Smith, the religious studies scholar, and I am grateful to Jon-Henri that I did.
Novelist Richard W. Peck came to town from New York City for a book signing, staying, as of course he must for his image, with suitably chic friends on the North Shore. We got caught up on personal news in a long phone call, Richard wittily chatting in his rapid, bantering, self-appreciative manner. By contrast, when I was eventually overtaken by personal ambition myself, the irresistible thrust to achieve seemed a side issue I hardly recognized in my life, though I eventually became listed in Who's Who in the Midwest, and later in Who's Who in the World. “Oh,” I thought, “ have I become a thrall of the tyrannical goddess Fortuna that one chases for glittering prizes?” Annie Proulx was to win the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction in 1993. I meet her at a Miracle Mile hotel lobby around prize-giving time. She joked, “Well we are not ninth graders any more at Black Mountain High School in North Carolina!” We had a rushed walk to the lakeshore and back before she had to leave for O'Hare Airport. Another time I saw her when she read and signed books at Borders Bookstore at 830 N. Michigan Avenue. I wondered why Annie had convinced herself she was obliged to do wearisome book tours, when her forte was composing quality fiction.
Several articulate students who took classes at the Jung Center in Evanston shared with me some of what they were learning, and I visited the Jung Center out of curiosity. Too, members of the Temple on Drake Street told me about their summertime visits to Lily Dale Spiritual Community in upstate New York and to Camp Chesterfield Spiritual Center, Indiana. The huge domed Baha'i Temple of pierced stone on Chicago's North Shore attracted me. I bicycled there to meditate and to explore its sanctuary, below ground exhibitions, and symmetrically laid out flower gardens.
On one of many day trips to Chicago Botanical Garden, I experienced a distinct mystical feeling. An image came that prompted me to caress plants with the shadow of my hand and then reveal the sun to them in passing. On the Fruit & Vegetable Isle another time I came upon a happy mother standing unselfconsciously in the sunlight; on impulse she was lilting out a song for her two smiling pre-school children. I meditated within sight of the central fountain's great column of living water rising in a single thrust from the lake. I returned often to Chicago Botanic Garden. To me it became a Monaco size enclave almost like a separate country, as I familiarized myself with its greenhouses' micro-climates, special plantings, islands, library, and exhibitions. The presence of many intrusive service roads, however, must have been a planning error – as were distracting noises from the highways bordering on two sides, and airplanes in flight overhead.
One noon I, like a haiku figure, ate my lunch undisturbed on a bench being gleaned for wood fibers by an absorbed bald-faced hornet. And once a box turtle routed by an earlier rainstorm appeared at my feet as I sat daydreaming about nearby Ragdale artists' cloister, full-up with my betters. I met my brother and sister and their families for a picnic at the Garden. But there was but one gay me and so many of them in the extended family following a different narrative. Their unrelieved parental preoccupations jangled my soft-focus feelings for nature, we did not jibe much any more, and I never repeated gathering at my Garden with them. AA was indeed turning out to be truly “a program of change” for me. Talking with one another, they voiced a kind concern for one another's welfare – a tender manner I had long had to smother in my expediency to survive. Since my earliest childhood in the South, trees, shrubs and flowers seemed indescribably evocative and special to me. It was enough for me to look at a new green plant to sense its characteristics and remember its condition and location. Through many troubled years I kept houseplants and cobbled together little gardens where I could. Green to begin with, in time I became a credible guerrilla gardener.
I also enjoyed bicycling along the city's lakeshore, and west to North Park Village Nature Center with its pond, sugar maples and working demonstration honey bee hives. I felt a profound almost incredulous sorrow that the Earth's climate was imperiled, that living things I had liked all my life were threatened or disappearing forever. I remembered and wondered about a certain hilltop garden with strolling gay befrienders that I had frequented in Ulm, Germany in the '50's as an infantry soldier before the coming of acid rain.
I went several times with friends to services at Unity Temple in Oak Park. We also went to hear a noted priest-healer visiting from Ireland. I explored a suburban Cicero church where the psychically sensitive minister answered billets submitted by some members and visitors. Earlier that Sunday morning I had been open-stitching a glove at home, and the completely unprompted minister saw for me psychically a green inch-worm with open-stitching movements. I explored a Sunday service at Moody Church – for the choir music. Friends and acquaintances in my milieu always were sharing with me: news of upcoming events, affirmations by Louise L. Hay, Cabbala insights, self-improvement and music tapes, new books published by Bear and Company and The Theosophical Society in Wheaton. and more. A friend introduced me to the Men's Movement and took me to an animal-animus men's gathering in Evanston where I began learning about Robert Bly, his poetry, and activities. (I was already a subscriber to James White Review.) Although Joseph Campbell had died in 1986 his work was still being read, watched and talked about. (Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith interviews over WBEZ Chicago were years in the future, in the new century.) I met a very beautiful, erotic-neurotic member of MENSA at a 12-Step program meeting, and she invited me to attend a social gathering at an O'Hare hotel with her; I readily did as I had long been interested in MENSA, its members, and their activities.
Rev. William B. Glenesk, a close Presbyterian friend from Toronto, continued our decades-long friendship and exchange of correspondence. We had first met at his arts-friendly Spencer Memorial Church, Brooklyn Heights, before he became known for officiating at the 1969 wedding of entertainer Tiny Tim on The Tonight Show. In the '80s I airmailed him a copy of The Christian Century from Chicago, and he wrote a published piece for it from London. I saved most of his correspondence to me over the years.
I especially liked Kitaro's music during this period and listened to it often. Also, I liked music in a minor key, music that changed key, and music played with the French horn, my favorite. I first heard Constance Demby's Novus Magnificat: Through the Stargate over late-night FM. My spirit was especially uplifted by this music from Hearts of Space Records in San Francisco (1986 Gandarva). I searched for and bought the cassette, tellingly described as a Magnificat and Exaltate for digital orchestra, choral voices and special electronic images – finding its mystical roots in Western sacred tradition, and its themes in the timeless archetypes of the transformative journey. It touched my soul.
I accompanied my friend Charles Gill to Irene Hughes' Michigan Avenue office suite and classroom for his appointment to have a reading from this Mid-American psychic of note. For a while I attended a long-standing weekday evening healing and worship service on campus at Loyola University. A Loyola departmental secretary I knew, Mrs. Connie Steinke, kindly steered me to the service after I happened to find a guide to spiritual growth on a campus sidewalk, and took it as a sign to work further at overcoming my spiritual crisis. At one such campus service I made the acquaintance of the Classical Studies Department's John Makowski, who had mounted the lectern and contributed compellingly. I realized soon enough, after I later spoke with John and visited his office and walk-up apartment near Edgewater Library, that I could become too fascinated and absorbed for my own good by this charismatic and passionate teacher of many attractions. In addition to his presence and accomplishments, John had a very interesting family history stemming from WWII-era Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, shortly after the outset of the friendship I reluctantly but necessarily withdrew to concentrate on my own development.
In these years Sherwin's Health Foods was open in two Chicago locations. The hearty Sherwin himself waited on me and steered me to special items somewhat ameliorating my mood disorder. I found a blend of twenty free form amino acids that diminished my depressions, as did avoiding the co-factors in coffee – but not some caffeine in tablet form. I patronized Dr. Michels Herbs on N. Western Avenue as well. For years I raised a series of kombucha mushrooms for their tonic tea -- each fleshy fungi disk resembling a quivering, living placenta. I learned to fast and dropped below obesity level by thirty-five pounds, excess weight I had supposed could be a hedge if needed against the risk of wasting away should I ever contract AIDS. Howard Cohen's Booksellers Row bookstores were open in two, then three locations. I visited one or another store weekly, bringing books in for sale and taking others out -- perhaps excessively but it was the feverishly acquisitive 1980s. I read incessantly to satisfy my mind's university of interests and to stay above the undertow of daily depression.
Through several groups I knew Paul Samuelson, a visual artist, gallery owner, and Far East traveler. I looked up to him, a vital, cultivated man. He invited me to his home, a Manhattan-style double-condo off N. Marine Drive, when he had open house and entertained. I never fully outgrew my need, developed during my New York decade, to be befriended by older mentors. I joined other New Age adventurers for one memorable past life regression session during which I tranced into my 18th Century identity as minister of a straitened chapel with a stony grave yard in central Devon. I dipped into the I Ching for answers. I sampled sessions of breath work in Unity's social hall until I experienced rebirthing for myself. Learning to meditate was a long process that I eventually mastered on my own. I took an interest in Tarot cards and their history. I explored Kabbala. In an OBE group, I easily embarked upward to experience floating between earth and moon by a silken terrestrial tether attached to my navel. I yearned to evolve in serenity and live my daily life from plans I glimpsed as possible during sacred moments. Learning and practicing yoga in a Mr. Hunt's small neighborhood group, I painfully worked through my body's rigidities and adhesions brought on by years of working sick, hunched over by day in subservient office work and hunched over by night on bars stools. In the 1950's my being discharged from the U.S. Army with an Undesirable Discharge for being gay subsequently led to my ever-present fear of being ostracized or outright fired by my employers, who might find out. (During my basic Infantry training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, while sitting on the barracks steps one night I strongly felt the moon pulling me towards suicide.) In civilian life I often felt like a beetle trapped in a matchbox being shaken from all sides. When my self-esteem healed enough, I vowed I would never again force myself to waste my time and talent upon incompatible, soul-destroying jobs – though I was not work-shy.
My wealthy younger friend John Feldman squired me about the city in the early '90's and thus enabled me to maintain the fiction of still being part of Chicago's upward mobile gay scene. However, in successful recovery at last, I was determined to avoid casual sex and drinking situations as certainly too risky. Only very slowly did I recognize and accept that through ill health I had dropped economically from the middle-class. As I was partly awakening and regaining self-control, though, bursts of freed energy expanded all my interests and appetites -- even while I was dealing with bodily tics and glitches of my autonomic system, and self-defeating mental resistances. A new acquaintance Jason Serinus, a California performance whistler and author, sent me a cassette of his music and his new lotus-embossed book Psycho-immunity & the Healing Process. Jason also was first to excite me about the ongoing international activities of the Prophets Conference . Later he sent me a little unexpected and welcome money, as did Boyd McDonald from New York City and Jay Deacon from Boston.
During my recovery and radical reformation, I pondered optional future roles for myself. Clearly I was more reader than writer, and I was increasingly aware of writing's masochistic side. I read much, often wholly absorbed in the activity. During the early '90s, my eyes took on a new mode of motion. Their movements became neither jumpy, nor fleet as in speed-reading, but gliding. It was very pleasant feeling my open eyes gliding swiftly and tirelessly, caressing the undersides of their lids. Not having needed glasses until my 50's, I could still see unaided the wisp of vapor from a cup of coffee across the length of a room. I bought a new dictionary. I personally became most aware of the strong emotional and behavioral link between our deep-time mammalian antecedents' skill at habitual grooming, and modern man's ability to focus acutely, through like skills, on reading closely for a considerable attention span. (And, like Nikola Tesla was fascinated by women's earrings, I became fascinated by men's features.) I made a point of reading printed materials under whole light, because I had developed a practical interest in the range of commercially manufactured light sources, from plant lights to sun-tan lamps. My pupils, butterscotch-rufous in color, dilated when I looked at what I liked.
Another well-read church member, who served as a healer and psychic at the Temple on Drake Street, most fortunately referred me to Evelyn Underhill's classic work Mysticism. I comprehended at once from the table of contents that this book was key for me. It was nothing less than the author's masterly study of the nature and development of Man's spiritual consciousness. Many fine mornings I then dedicated to bicycling with Mysticism and my lunch to Elliot Park on the lakeshore in Evanston. In splendid isolation at a picnic table, day by day and chapter by chapter, for an entire month I carefully read Mysticism from cover to cover, pondering, underlining and absorbing it. Within Mysticism's pages I found conclusive matches for many of my own feelings, experiences, and growing understanding of who I had been and who I was becoming in maturity. When I took a respite from studying for a turn in the park and looked south, I recalled the sandy spot where I had celebrated my eighteenth birthday down the shore on Montrose Beach, and north of St. Joseph's Hospital where I was to work on the psychiatric ward and become as patient-centered as opportune during caring shift work on the nursing team. I recalled a time earlier still, playing in 1939 as a kindergartner in the courtyard of International House on the Midway when my father was a medical intern at Chicago Lying-In Hospital. To the north I could see Northwestern University, where Aldous Huxley taught for six years.
I could understand a dark night of the soul, having endured depression for decades while never being certain that accepting medicine per the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic & Statistical Manual would not dumb down my creativity and spirit. More than an existential condition, I experienced depression as an affective slough, an absence of willingness and emotions. I was late in accepting I must protect my core nature, my privacy to meditate and practice inner migration, and my leisure to develop spiritually. Still, I had eventually found my sole sanctuary and particular setting in all the world, for now, at the Loyola Arms. I considered the odds of my having reached even my present coalescing situation as one in five million. The odds of developing my potential to full self-realization I judged even higher, in a dollar-driven city where many rushed between two jobs and the fierce subway cacophony destroyed one's subtle inner promptings. Yet, somehow I had managed to discard old ideas and habits I learned were necessary to release. Also, I had accelerated my personal energy enough to achieve emotional escape velocity -- thrusting myself free from my conventional family and overwhelming, careening, physician father whose latterday psychiatric records citing manic depression I eventually requested and read (but certainly not alongside Mysticism in Eliott Park...). Growing up, I had felt like a Phoenix fledgling in the midst of a mob of starlings. What is more, somehow I had survived with my essential nature principally intact despite the assaultive and intrusive impact of American mass society, money-driven and ad-saturated, surrounding and confusing me.
Perhaps it is true, as Robert says in Paris to the Moon, “. . . it is only in moments of crisis that we find lucidity about ourselves – though only after the crisis is over. Still, that's enough lucidity for anyone. Anyway, it is all the lucidity that life will give you.” (A Handful of Cherries, p. 293)
Lena Biernacka was very much in my life for over eight years. Non-anonymous, she was an open, articulate and reactive recovery maven well-known about town in 12-step circles. A Polish-American from Warsaw, she took a keen interest in spiritual matters and languages. She possessed a huge unabridged English dictionary such as Joseph Conrad might have used – or held in mind. We attended many meetings, where sometimes she and sometime I gave lead talks as now dry, clean, smoke-free alcoholics. I spoke about mediating in 1982 in my back-porch container garden on Wolcott Street and praying to have my disease lifted from me -- and it was lifted, feeling like a convectional vapor moving off me and skyward. For a while she lived in her own space at the Loyola Arms. So I had a supportive sponsor practicing sobriety as my exemplar under the same roof. Lena commented on the dailiness of living: the routines and chores required. My first sponsor, John Townsend, an urbane travel agent, had died earlier. Neither sponsor made the writing of one's Fourth Step easier during the first years following my June 23, 1982 anniversary date. Over time going to and from meetings, I collected a three-inch roll of public transportation transfers, one proof of my willingness to attend recovery meetings and restore myself. For exercise I often bicycled miles to meetings and on errands. Lena followed me to the Temple on Drake Street, where she pressed the leadership to adopt A Course in Miracles. Though Lena gave me tough love and affection, in myself I felt I had no one confidante with the comprehension, experience and gay élan I needed to understand myself and break into full being.
To minimize interruptions in my life I cared and charred for myself at home without anyone's direct help. I was journaling, but writing entries continued to seem a partial and incremental activity, for only the whole view would satisfy me. Lena taught me a healthier diet, and continued calming me away from chasing common excitements, though I never outgrew my insuperable susceptibility for appreciating male glamour by grace-through-vision. AA being a program of change, Lena and I visited Montreal with other Chicagoans in July, 1985 for the international AA 50th Anniversary. There, out walking alone, I experienced an uplifting spiritual moment standing before a plaque commemorating Canada's discovery. In the shape of an open bronze book in Parc Mont-Royal overlooking Montreal and beyond, the plaque faced south with the United States in the distance -- and I had a transcendental glimpse of the whole panoramic scene. (I also sensed I carried the burden of feeling I had to be the measure of all things, without knowing why that should fall to me.)
After the ineffable White Light in Chicago irradiated (or imploded) me into deeper self-understanding and renewal, I was more aware of my life's path and more tolerant of others along the way. I could appreciate the meaning of the once puzzling phrase, “where one is coming from.” To me the phrase now meant the standpoint a living person held in our planetary- cosmic setting. Two hours of enlightenment brought me the most complete experience of my life. A true feeling of compassion for others returned, after long suspension, into my emotions. I felt a spiritual sense that the Great Tradition is paramount, cumulative and ongoing. Hope arose in me as I gradually became dependably premised in positive energy, steadier and healthier -- grateful to be able to care, act and cherish. My sense of humor returned. I felt I was more often in a Beta waves mood. I began to accept my mortality and believe that dying is less a problem for me than from others foisting their fears and superficialities upon med; self-preservation seemed only a function of the passing condition of being alive. My inner critic abated and I found after years of feeling blocked that I could compose in writing with a newly solved facility, the words seeming to slip into my field of vision from the right hand side of the paper -- in a half-conscious way I wondered I had not hit upon before as I had always been left-handed. Yet some unsoothed divine discontent in me continued to wait, wondering if I shall experience the White Light again in my lifetime.
I wonder why my experience of enlightenment was so late in coming – withheld until age fifty-six. It seems a humbling paradox that I have come later rather than sooner to the conviction that I am potentially a mystic. Am I to be but the waste of a good mystic? What choice has one if covered in the mantel of mysticism from birth, no matter when he realizes it as so? For good and all, was I a church member, a contemplative, a psychic, a mystic, or perhaps with resolve a potential patron yet of younger mystics I would surely recognize and know to help? Nonetheless, the Light radiated a direct and lasting awareness in me that a powerful sustaining spiritual dimension informs my entity, and indeed pervades everything in my view. Learning to trust and tap into spirit, I became empowered for constructive activities. Keeping access open to the divine, and especially acting as a psychic interface for others when required, was not without its cost in exhaustion, however. Nonetheless, in quiet times I experience equipoise, peace of mind, and the priceless inner integrity and outer synergy known to the ancient Egyptians as ma-at.
By contrast, in former years I suffered confusion and I despaired of finding out how and where I could fit into the world. I was never economically motivated beyond basic survival; I carried no credit cards. But neither was I lacking a work ethic and a desire to achieve – perhaps to win succes d'estime. Depressed, I got through academic and job failures, broken relationships, self-neglect, and grinding daily chores while working sick with chronic pain seemingly beyond remedy. Perhaps my years of preparing meals on a hot plate and eating alone led to a borderline anemia that wilted me into asceticism, despite St. Ignatius church's distribution of food from their basement. Though I had worked many years, I dropped below the poverty line and into Chicago's patchy safety net. SSI did not cover my disease, as recovery provisions would have in Sweden. Reaching my milestones in recovery, I saw many not flexible enough to cope slipping back into denial and active alcoholism, the lonely disease. Astoundingly, I was and remain HIV-negative. The examples of my lover Jerry Gregory's death from AIDS, and that of my last fond intimate Tom Koch (with his nearby bungalow and garden) led me to chose celibacy along with sobriety in 1982. So radical a change in my lifestyle brought psychosomatic symptoms of aphasia and avoidance of touching or being touched -- except eventually by pets. Yet through all my wracking emotional disruptions, soul-killing employment mismatches, housing crises and other degradations brought on by inexorable dependencies long practiced and denied -- some genuine core of innocent willingness to renew and fulfill myself survived. All along, I had a feeling I was a late-bloomer and above all I wanted to retain and improve a clear mind to perceive intimations from spirit.
To me depression was like a deep cold current atop of which the balmy Gulf Stream of belief circulated uncertainly. For slow submarine days I drifted sunk in it, subject to my mood disorder, all the while aware of what was potentially possible during the times I felt well. Every week for years when I sharpened my kitchen knife I realized the importance of decisively cutting through my confusion. I waited through many winters only to find I experienced no uplift of vernal renewal in springtime, and I learned to go on “as if”. Self-monitoring my moods was like watching a fishing float bobbing down while I willed it upward. I often felt inured to everything, as if I were developing the frustration tolerance of a zombie. When I managed to be in the flow above depression, I lived in claritas, hope and possibility. I knew both toppling chaos and fine order in myself and surroundings, and I was not at peace living the paradox.
I pondered going to London to take metaphysical courses at the venerable Spiritualist Association of Great Britain on Belgrave Square. After my White Light experience I felt, “Now I have seen I have the capacity to ascend to spiritual fulfillment as a mystic, to be at one with the source and to serve the living with my best. Why else have I been affirmed for my potential, and vouchsafed a peak episode of enlightenment within the very ne plus ultra?” (Eventually, it occurred to me that broadcaster, journalist, and author Krista Tippett might be someone with answers.)
I listened over and again to Novus Magnificat. The music invariably brought wonderfully ascending, wider and wider panoramic views to my mind's eye. Though still weighing my life situation long after the White Light, I progressed slowly over the years and improved in stages -- in a patient Carl Rogerian long-term wending way. The realization grew more acceptable to me that my spiritual vocation might simply be for the most part what it already was: an aware urban gardener volunteer living longer and longer within a medium-sized group milieu in a world city -- where I read in the evenings.
When my lifespan comes to full circle, perhaps I shall be blessed with the release I would wish – to die serenely by myself, held by no one's hands, asleep in my own space in the midst of a natural dream. Perhaps beautiful wavering bands of aurora borealis will brighten into a steady White Light above me, having returned to my birthplace on the Huron River. For I would like to have gone back by then to Ann Arbor, the place I first saw and felt the sun's light. It is the city where I wandered as a twelve-year old boy into the Arboretum at the foot of Harvard Place -- and up to the paths surrounding a fragrant peony garden planted on a broad hilltop -- beneath the Pleiades circling Alcyone with its torque attenuating even to me. Through some latterday peony flower petals may my scattered dust shine radiant once more in the sun's portion of the prime and ultimate Light.
- from notes made before & after the White Light event of December 2, 1991, Chicago. Revision 2.2:[24 June 2010] <comments />