"What we observe as material bodies and forces are nothing but shapes and variations in the structure of space."
I’m feeling a bit whimsical on this brilliant and shining afternoon. While taking up a permanent residence in southern California beach towns doesn’t bode so well for my personal well being, extended visits do wonders. At this tiny organic cafe, just footsteps from the mighty Pacific, I am humbled by the majesty of the sun and grateful for the negatively charged ionic power of the sea. The science and history that normally informs and inspires these little articles has given way to a calm serenity, a realm of depth and authenticity. Today, I’m feeling tremendous gratitude for my own history and the pseudo-science (aka woo-woo spirituality) that has played such an integral role in my human experience thus far.
What drives one toward mystery? What circumstances create such a strong proclivity toward the exploration of mystical realms? Does one carry questions and curiosity with them into this world or are the questions informed by life experience? Yes to both? Neither?
As far back as my internal experience goes, I can trace a distinct thread of inquiry and intrigue toward the divine. For whatever reason, be it innate or learned, I’ve known with the utmost certainty that this world of stuff-and-things-in-action is only a portion of the whole story. It’s been my life’s mission, my only true goal, to understand this peculiarly mystical conviction and how my fairly obsessive path of discovery may be of value to others.
It all starts with space. As a child, I was obsessed with the vastness of space. The question, “Where are we?” was all consuming. To this day, no one has provided a suitable answer. The best answer we can get from science tells us that we’re situated on a delightfully hospital planet in the Milky Way galaxy, found in a small group of galaxies known as the Local Group towards the edge of a relatively small supercluster called, by people in the know, the Virgo Supercluster. Utterly and entirely unhelpful, right? Where is that supercluster? The only accurate answer to this question, as far as I’m concerned, is: We are here.
Unsatisfied, I moved onto the next question: How are we here? Consulting the Ouija board proved futile so I thought I’d try the more conventional approach of traditional religions, they claim to have plenty of answers.
Being raised in a home essentially devoid of religious piety, I had to make a choice as to which religion I'd follow. I chose to dig into the tradition of my father’s ancestry, Judaism. Someone told me that there was a mystical branch of the Jew tree known as Kabbalah and the only way to study it was to know the Torah and Talmud backward and forward and to observe their rules as strictly as possible. Turns out, that’s not at all true, but to a 14 year old boy craving answers this seemed like a reasonable ticket price for entry. So I convinced my parents to join a synagogue and allow me to begin studying for a bar mitzvah. Side note, a bar mitzvah party for a 16 year old is SO much more fun than the ones you went to when you were 13…just sayin’. After this cute phase followed a gnarly spat of zealotry. Being the only kid in public school wandering the halls with thrift store bell bottom golf pants, the fringes of my tzittzit dangling out, a yarmulke on my head, and using my lunch break for davening (that furiously rocking prayer you see the black hatted, old bearded guys doing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem) combined with placing shamefully high levels of dogmatic stress on my family proved to be a bit too much. Orthodox religion, shockingly, isn’t a very direct route to Spirit. Go figure.
On to college. Did you know that placing a 17 year old, with a proclivity toward the mystical, in a dormitory at the largest university in the country is an explicit invitation to make very poor decisions? If you don’t know, now you know. Let’s just say that my time at The Ohio State University was short lived and leave it at that shall we? Cool. Thanks.
With my tail between my legs I found myself, once again, under the watchful eye and in the comfort of my parents’ love. Safe at home and working as a front desk clerk at Days Inn, a friend invited me to join him at a “Native American drum circle.” Being the good hippy that I was, of course I accepted the invitation to a drum circle. This, however, was not what I had expected. No nappy dreadlocks or patchwork pants to be found, this circle was a portal to a magical realm of synchronicity.
Encircled on the floor amongst the twenty or so folks, much closer to my parents’ age than my own, a rapid paced and steady drum beat commenced in order to carry our spirits off to a shamanic world of wisdom and healing. Was this the magical land of speaking plants that my cousin told me about four years prior as a pimple-faced 15 year old?
Growing up, my father’s first cousin, Myron, would visit from Boulder, Colorado fairly frequently. As far as I understood, he often lead workshops in Cleveland and needed a place to crash. The nature of his work was never very clear to me until curiosity finally grabbed hold and I inquired for myself. He told me that he uses the drum to carry his spirit off to a magical world where plants and animals speak to him and teach him how to heal the countless clients he sees every year. I wasn’t entirely able to grasp the astonishingly confounding meaning of this vocation until a couple weeks later.
For the two years prior, I had been dealing with extreme acne. Every evening was zit-pop festival with dozens of daily forced eruptions. It was embarrassing and gross. Quietly witnessing this puss party (sorry, I’ve got a thing for alliteration), Myron took it upon himself to journey to the sprit world on my behalf. A couple weeks after he left Cleveland I received a package in the mail. In it was a bag of dried plant matter and a letter in which Myron described his journey to the “lower world” where a plant called out to him and told him that it would heal my acne. All I had to do was make a tea from the provided bag, drink it, and apply it to my face twice daily. Badaboom badadbing badaboom…my face was clear. I mean, pristine. Two years of failed visits to dermatologists were eclipsed by barely two weeks of tea. Amazing. I was immediately a believer.
Asked to share our experiences one-by-one around the circle, I decided to reveal that while it was my first time doing this “shamanic journeying”, I was pretty sure that my cousin told me about this phenomenon years before. Once everyone had shared their experiences and we were all standing around chatting, Herb, the owner of the home and leader of the night’s events asked for the name of my cousin. When I told him, he nearly fell over. I came to learn that he had been very close friends with Myron for many many years and that he often hosted him when the depth of the spiritual work he was doing was too heavy to bring into my parents’ home. Apparently, Myron also held a position of some fame in this community because everyone else in the house had previously attended his workshops and began to creepily ask if they could touch me, as I was a blood relative of his. Whoa. What was this world that I had synchronistically fallen into?
To be continued….