Cancer’s ABCs

sundance mandalaGabor Mate, M.D. (2003) describes a study done in 1984 where cardiac and cancer patients and a control group with no medical illness were shone slides designed to elicit psychological distress. These people were also asked to note their subjective level of how calm or disturbed they felt on reading each statement. The researchers then compared the physiological data with the subjects’ subjective reports. Mate says, “This study demonstrated that people can experience emotional stresses with measurable physical effects on their systems—while managing to sequester their feelings in a place completely beyond conscious awareness.(p.124)” When The Body Says NO: The Cost of Hidden Stress. He goes on to say,

“It was in relationship to melanoma that the notion of a “Type C” personality was first proposed, a combination of character traits more likely to be found in those who develop cancer than in people who remain free of it. Type A individuals are seen as “angry, tense, fast, aggressive, in control”—and more prone to heart disease. Type B represents the balance, moderate human being who can feel and express emotion without being driven and without losing himself in uncontrolled emotional outbreaks. Type C personalities have been described as “extremely cooperative, patient, passive, lacking assertiveness and accepting. . . .The Type C individual may resemble Type B, since both may appear easygoing and pleasant, but . . . while the Type B easily expresses anger, fear, sadness and other emotions, the Type C individual, in our view, suppresses or represses ‘negative’ emotions, particularly anger, while struggling to maintain a strong and happy facade.”(p.125)

Other studies which Mate references enlarge the list of traits. “In 1991 researchers in Melbourne, Australia, investigated whether any personality traits were a risk factor in cancer of the colon or the rectum. Over six hundred people, newly diagnosed, were compared with a matched group of controls. Cancer patients, to a statistically significant degree, were more likely to demonstrate the following traits: “the elements of denial and repression of anger and of other negative emotions . . . the external appearance of a ‘nice’ or ‘good’ person, a suppression of reactions which may offend others, and the avoidance of conflict. . . The risk of colorectal cancer with respect to this model was independent of the previously found risk factors of diet, beer intake, and family history.” Self-reported childhood or adult unhappiness was also more common among the bowel cancer cases. We have already noted similar traits among patients with breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, leukemias and lymphomas, and lung cancer.”(pp. 125-126)

dr-gabor-mateMate is suggesting there is a relationship between how we adjust to our environment psychologically and the resulting stress such adaptations create in the body. “While we cannot say that any personality type causes cancer, certain personality features definitely increase the risk because they are more likely to generate physiological stress. Repression, the inability to say no and a lack of awareness of one’s anger make it much more likely that a person will find herself in situations where her emotions are unexpressed, her needs are ignored and her gentleness is exploited. Those situations are stress inducing, whether or not the person is conscious of being stressed. Repeated and multiplied over the years, they have the potential of harming homeostasis and the immune system. It is stress—not personality per se—that undermines a body’s physiological balance and immune defences, predisposing to disease or reducing the resistance to it. (p. 127)”

All of this takes us back to our childhoods and how we responded to our environments. Although there might have been a semi-conscious decision at age four or five, the choice to adapt in a particular way establishes a pattern of behavior, which soon becomes unconscious. Whenever we wake up to the fact that such an unconscious pattern has been running our lives, we can then begin to change the pattern. Of course it helps to be able to talk to friends and counselors about this new awareness. Often we can learn from people who have traveled the road before us and hiring a guide is frequently the most effective aid to change. The man who was mentoring me in Jungian dream interpretation was dying of cancer. Malcolm had a dream which he shared with me, because he knew my abilities and background. The dream said that if he were to heal from the cancer he had to take Bill Barnes with him. So of course my first question was “who is Bill Barnes?”

old west churchWhen my seventy-four year old mentor was seventeen, his dad was a Baptist missionary pastor of a small church in Colorado. A rather unsavory character in the town was a retarded, and frequently violent, Native American by the name of Bill Barnes. He was the typical drunken Indian and Malcolm was afraid of him. At the barber shop the cowboys teased Malcolm by saying, “Bill Barnes is looking for you.” Having grown up in a similar town in Idaho, I knew exactly what the seventeen year-old was feeling, fear. The flight response is instinctual and Malcolm was fleeing just as he ran head on into the man he was trying to avoid. The irony was that Bill wanted Malcolm to write a letter to the bank, explaining that he would pay the mortgage when his cattle were out of quarantine. Of course the boy, being a good Christian, swallowed his fear and wrote out the letter for the scary Indian.

When I asked Malcolm to tell me more about the character and family history of the man he had to “take with him”, he explained a very sad, tragic story. Bill Barnes’ father was a rancher, who had an affair with a Native woman. This was complicated by the fact that he was committing adultery. The elder Barnes had a wife and a son at home. According to the story the mother did not want the baby. When she came to term she delivered the baby alone, and evidently standing up, so the baby fell on his head. She then nursed the child and took him to the father’s ranch. She handed the baby to the rancher announcing “this is your son” and left. The rancher’s dutiful wife raised the boy without love and, according to the custom with Native children, without education. He never learned to read or write. He worked on the ranch, which he eventually inherited. He didn’t go to school. He was a model of what we now call attachment disorder, with its attention deficits, avoidance of intimacy and addiction to alcohol.

Malcolm’s shadow, in Jungian terms, was everything he had denied about his childhood and the dream was demanding that he integrate those characteristics into his conscious personality. It seemed easy enough for me to see that at forty-three, and I gave my mentor the perfect book for his illiterate inner child. Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm was written by a half-breed Indian, who had a vision during the Sun Dance that he was to share his people’s stories with the world. The book was written at the reading level of the author, who had completed eighth grade. The editors corrected the spelling and grammar and added lots of photos of Native Americans from the beginning of the 20th century. sevenarrows mandalaThere were also several beautiful plates of original Native American mandalas, which illustrated the sacred/psychological concepts being elaborated. It was perfect. Reading the book was the way he could take Bill Barnes’ culture into his inner world. Bill was everything Malcolm had denied and repressed. By accepting these things about himself, Malcolm could take his Shadow into his heart and love him. He and Bill could be friends at last. That is what Bill said in the dream, “this time you have to take me with you.”

I was heart broken to hear from Malcolm’s wife a few months later, that he was soon going to cross over into the spirit world. “Did he read the book I gave him?” I asked in disbelief. “No he didn’t. He chose to follow a guru’s macrobiotic diet. I’m sure he will want to see you. I’ll call you back after I talk to him.” she said, hopefully. When she called back, she was obviously choking back the tears, “I’m sorry Michael, he doesn’t want to see you. He’s abandoning all of us.” I explained to her about his dream and why I had given him the book. She thanked me and said, “it’s difficult to do the Work. God shows us the path, but we have to choose to go down it. You pointed him in the right direction and I wish he could have accepted his Shadow. He always had difficulty with that. When he left the Presidency of the Baptist college to become a Jungian analyst, it seemed like he had found the balance he needed. We moved to Santa Monica and Anais Nin was one of our close friends. But the Native American shadow was something he couldn’t integrate. I’m sorry, Michael, I know he loves you, he just can’t show it, he turns off his feelings and goes into his head. You will be his last student. He’s very proud of you. Continue his work. Integrate your shadow. Don’t repress your feelings.” As I also discovered, it is easier said than done.

Dreams diagnose in their magical mirroring way. Synchronicity puts people in our path, as if the Dream Maker were orchestrating our life story. But we must pick up the magic thread, if we are to find our way out of the labyrinth of dis-ease.Cooperaton Dances with wolves

Dr. Burry, MDSelling short is betting against a popularly held belief. The Big Short is a documentary type visual-aid for the world to understand what happened in the economic collapse of 2008. The main insight into the housing market’s vulnerability is gleaned by an M.D., Mike Burry, who runs a hedge fund. He admits that all he’s ever been able to see and understand is numbers. A childhood disease left him with only one eye  and he found his wife on Match.com while in medical school. He is eccentric to say the least, but almost a perfect character to illustrate the Asperger—autism continuum diagnosis in the DSM. He’s brilliant, socially inept, and aware of the truth. And of course he’s not practicing medicine; he’s a economic doctor focusing on making money through number crunching. He runs a hedge fund in Silicon Valley, and he realizes that the banking industry is inflating its bond market with a bundling technique which is impossible to sustain. He’s analyzed the numbers in the history of the world-wide Great Depression of the 1930s and sees a pattern reemerging. He acts on his insight by playing along with the banks and betting against himself. The banks are more than happy to take his money. Eventually he gets theirs, or should I say “ours”, since the American taxpayers funded all this fraud in the end.

My dad was a stock broker. He asked me to give him my savings, with which I was planning to finance my honeymoon, so that he could triple it in the commodities market. Throughout my life my dad had lectured me about the high risks in commodities futures. He specialized in mutual funds. Commodities was too much like the love of his life, gamboling, so he couldn’t in good conscience recommend that market to the conservative farmers to whom he sold stock. I have always been a good student and told my fiancé about my dad’s proposal. I told her of my reluctance as a graduate student in philosophy to give my dad any money. She insisted that I trust my dad and give him the possibility of blessing our marriage with his skill. I did what she wanted and Dad lost everything. The “sure thing” was a gambol which didn’t pay off. But Dad didn’t tell me until breakfast on the day after the wedding. I was crushed. My wife told me to forgive him. She didn’t grow up in an alcoholic family and she didn’t understand my distrust. So the movie, The Big Short, was a reminder of lessons learned in this lifetime; why I became a college professor, a Montessori School co-owner and director with my wife, and ultimately a counselor of psychology. I have been trying to understand human behavior patterns since I was a child. It was my survival strategy.

As a teacher I must highly recommend The Big Short both for the acting and the masterful explanation through story of our recent history. (My sister lost her home in this scam.)  The scene with economists at the blackjack table in Las Vegas is classic. They explain in easy to understand terms what a short sale is and how public enthusiasm can inflate the situation, and lead to disastrous loss. It reminded me of my Big Fat Greek Wedding  and its morning-after-surprise. There are a few comic shots which illustrate the subject matter. My favorite was when the New York hedge fund manager Mark Baum and his staff

were doing their research in Miami, Florida in 2007. They decided to go see what was for sale and talk to some of the people whose loans were behind in payments. There is a scene with the bartender turned realtor, who is bragging about getting loans for people who have no collateral. He’s laughing about all the money he’s making while the fund managers are stunned by his story. Only their “numbers guy” realizes that the realtors are proud of their fraud. Later they go out to a housing development. In the neglected swimming pool they are surprised to find an alligator, which has taken up residence. You could call this a kind of foreshadowing. The reptile has no emotions, just survival instincts. It just waits for its prey to arrive. The least suspecting are the most tasty.

Emotional coldness is the chilling factor in The Big Short. Luckily there is one thaw in the movie. There is a suicide reminiscent of the big crash in 1929, when brokers who lost everything in the market crash were jumping out of skyscrapers to their deaths. The New York City hedge fund manager finally faces his grief at his brother’s suicide and his own guilt for not being emotionally available when his brother needed him. I would say that is the one redeeming theme in the entire movie. By facing the truth and allowing ourselves to feel the pain, hurt, anger, and despair which is deep within, the ice around our hearts will melt. None of this changes the fact that we are living in a culture which values deceit, fraud, and abuse, and that our political leaders are willing accomplices in the alligator game. But it is better to know the truth, because it does set one free. We can live our lives differently. That’s our choice. Fraud never pays in the emotional realm nor in the spiritual. Our actions do make a difference.

The Big Short

It was fun being perceived as Saint Nicholas last night. I wore my red sweater and white stole to the late night church service. 20141009_181051My rotund belly, long white hair, and white beard got lots of looks from the children. Even one of the elders in a wheel chair asked “Are you, Sir, Saint Nickolas?” and I smiled at the child behind those tired eyes, and said, “Yes.” I had fun. I felt like the spirit of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’ story. My spirit son, Nick, motioned to me and when the opportunity arose, I walked over to join him and his mom. His twin sister was home from college and singing in the choir with her dad. I met Nick last year at the Christmas eve service and a lot has happened since then. His parents have opened up to me because of their son’s desire to have an elder/mentor. I met his grandfather at his high school graduation in May. We are about the same age, but I must admit I am doing better than he both mentally and physically. We were attracted to one another, both college professors, he taught engineering and I philosophy. We got along great until the conversation strayed into my new field of expertise, counseling psychology. There I had to take a stand on clinical research and my new friend fell silent. He didn’t like my arguing with his opinions. I noticed the women were also silent, now. They were affected by the increased tension which lasted until we got to the party. I was diplomatic and didn’t insist on continuing the conversation. With lots of space, we found ways of being with the graduates and put our cherished beliefs back in our pockets.

Somehow the identification with Saint Nick made space for unconscious feelings to surface. Last night there was a family sitting in front of me who didn’t seem familiar with the Episcopal service. All the songs, words, Scriptural verses, responses and the liturgy in general are printed on the programs. Last night’s service was what some refer to as “High Church”. There were lots of candles, incense, and singing, sort of the Western version of the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy which I enjoy attending. The family was intriguing, sort of Hollywood. The father was my age and it was obvious that his thirty-something-year-old son was there to support his dad’s desire. The younger man had brought two male companions, who could be his brothers or very close friends, probably the latter, because the father only talked with his son who sat beside him. The woman was the man’s wife, but she didn’t act like the son’s mother, so I guessed she was a new addition to the family. The friends were very uneasy and began to make comments to one another during the service. They were laughing and eyeing each other throughout the service. I was getting annoyed. I didn’t say anything, but I felt like swatting them with my hand and shaming them. But I didn’t.

During the last Brazilian Santo Daime Work which I attended, I had offended one of the Brazilian men because I was humming. He put up with it as long as he could and then he snapped at me. “No humming!” he said. I was dumbfounded, confused and asked, thinking I hadn’t heard the English correctly. He repeated his admonition, “No humming. Mestre Irineu said it was an abomination. Sing the songs. Learn the words. No humming!”

Raimundo Irineu Serra

Raimundo Irineu Serra

I was shocked out of my childlike reverie. No one in the Daime tradition had ever spoken to me so harshly, nor did I know that humming wasn’t permitted. I felt hurt, anger, and shame. I pulled my chair away from the man whom I had offended and began to withdraw into myself. This has been my response to shame since childhood. It was a good lesson and I am grateful that I learned from it. I wasn’t going to do anything like what had been done to me, even though I felt like it in the moment. I knew the three men in church were uncomfortable in these novel surroundings and were trying to take the edge off of their anxiety through joking with one another. And it paid off. When they took the Holy Communion/Eucharist, everything changed. The entire family kneeled rather mystically and quietly, each in their own inner space connecting with the Divine.

After we passed the light from one to another, by lighting one another’s candles, we ended the choral service by following the choir, cross, and priest out of the church. As I turned back toward the front of the church with my lighted candle, I noticed the family was now turned toward me. They had already blown out their candles. That’s when Saint Nickolas spoke through me, in Greek.

Translated, I said, with the lighted candle in my hand, “Come and receive the light.” It was the Greek Orthodox Easter (Pascal) invitation which is said only by the priest as he relights the flame of the altar candle and then passes it to the acolytes and they out to the people. Saint Nickolas was a Greek Orthodox Bishop. Those words came right out of my mouth without thinking. The woman looked at me from under her Botox expressionless face with eyes wide open. She said nothing. Did she understand at some level of depth beyond English? Who knows? As I was walking out of church I kept wondering why had I done that? Maybe this identification with Saint Nickolas has gone too far. I wonder if he would have felt like I did, if he could project himself 1500 years into the future and see through my eyes the Christmas of 2015.  I could get an answer to that tonight in my dreams. It is a long winter’s night, after all.


An Episcopal priest, Father John Sanford,  wrote a book about how the Divine communicates with us in 1968 called Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language.  It was his doctoral dissertation at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, translated into German and published there.  Two years later the original English text was published in the United States. I think we were in Zurich at the same time, but I didn’t meet him until 1976 at a dream workshop in Orange County, California.  Strange how these magical circles work.

An elder told me that she remembered Pearl Harbor day (12-07-1941) as a three year old. She said her mom raised the window to shout down to her dad what she had heard on the radio had happened in Hawaii. 12-6-Pearl-HarborHer disclosure occurred when I asked her about her tendency to cry uncontrollably whenever death was mentioned. She had been telling me that she could have been a professional mourner, because of the tears which always flow. This conversation took place before a luncheon a couple of days after the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. It seemed to me that the trauma of that little girl had never been addressed, and because of that, it is still manifesting today in her spontaneous tears. Most children, when they are 3 or 4 years old, are in what I call the “psychic soup” which was termed “the collective unconscious” by Carl Jung. Children feel everything in the environment and are channels for the un-felt feelings of their caregivers. My comment about my friend’s memories led, unfortunately, to a not-too-surprising story.

The elder told me that when she worked for a psychotherapist, he instructed her not to greet the clients with her joyous smile, because it robbed them of their feelings and distorted their sessions. She adapted to his direction by going for a walk ten minutes before a client would arrive, because she could not control herself. I guess her boss thought it was fine for her to smile at the client on the way out of the office, thus reinforcing the “good work” the client had done with the counselor. The guy sounds a bit too manipulative for my lineage of psychotherapists. It also seemed odd that her boss never addressed her need to cheer up sad people. To me, her behavior was clearly a way to avoid the sadness of others. If she couldn’t cheer them up, then she had to walk away. When asked about her first memory of her tears, she offered the key. It occurred when a terrorist attack was reported and experienced by her family in 1941. And the child’s perceived need to cheer up her parents’ sadness was right there too.

Alice Miller

Alice Miller

As Alice Miller used to say, “the body never lies.” All we have to do is ask what is coming up for the person and they will tell us.

Today’s research on post-traumatic stress probably wasn’t available to the counselor at the time she was working for him. It wasn’t until people working with Vietnam veterans’ symptoms were able to connect the dots with the same set of symptoms described by those counseling Holocaust survivors, their children, and grandchildren. That’s when inter-generational patterns were first acknowledged as real. Anyone working with Native Americans in the past two hundred years in the United States might have noticed the pattern as well. I guess the important thing is that someone finally figured it out and we are trying to treat the symptoms. Given the connection with drug and alcohol addiction, marital violence, and attempted suicides, I think it is understandable why my friend would be crying lots of times now days. We have a lot of healing to do before we can have peace on earth. But the good news is that it starts now with me and you.

Our love and compassion, our empathy and understanding provides a foundation for trauma to heal. Of course we have to face the pain and the suffering. We can’t continue to look away. Acknowledging the suffering, our own and that of others, provides a step toward healing. Let’s try walking together toward that healing today.

The American Way

Wow, Whole Foods has Greek pastry dough in their freezer! I snatched a box up and went to check out my purchase. The young man who was checking my groceries had never seen it before and I warned him not to squeeze it or bend the box. “It is for making baklava. The sheets have to separate easily. I’m making baklava for Thanksgiving.” I said. His response was impressive, “I’m coming to your house [for Thanksgiving]. I love baklava.” Normally reserved and business like, the checker became passionately animated for a few seconds before dropping back into his role. “That kind of enthusiasm deserves a reward,” I thought. “I’ll surprise him with a sample.”

After a day of baking, I placed one large piece of baklava in the container which had housed the paper muffin liners. I wanted to recycle and the plastic was small enough to fit one piece beautifully. When I returned to the store, I handed him the container, which he ran through the scanner like a robot. It still had the bar code on it. “No, no, it’s for you. It’s the baklava I made. Remember when I showed you the box and told you, you said ‘I’m coming to your house’.” After checking hundreds of people, he was on automatic. I used to check groceries and I remember the holidays. Then he recognized me. “Oh thanks.” He said. “Let me know if you like it and I’ll bring you some more,” was my parting comment.

After Thanksgiving the checker recognized me with, “That was killer baklava! The best!” “Glad you like it, that’s my wife’s improvement on her mother’s best baklava recipe. My Greek relatives love it too. It’s the best they have ever eaten.” I gave him four more slices. Now he knows my name and greets me when he sees me. I didn’t tell him the secret is in the real butter. Fat and salt improve the flavor of anything, even desserts. My mother-in-law discovered her recipe always won over her sisters’ baklava. The butter was the secret. Of course I use two pounds of walnuts which I chop myself. That’s twice the amount Eva Zane uses in Greek Cooking for the Gods (1970). ZaneHer recipe is half slivered almonds and half walnuts, still two pounds of nuts, but she uses unsalted butter. Zane’s book is almost a classic for Greek Americans. I gave a copy to the chef at Athena’s Restaurant in Canyon Country after I tasted his moussaka. The egg plant was tough as shoe leather.

When the Greek owner retired a few years ago, he sold his restaurant to a couple who gave it their son and his young wife to manage. The owner was a handsome woman in her late fifties, her son a typical Southern California guy who loved racing bikes, football, and running the bar. I thought she might be Athena. “No,” she said, “that was the name of the previous owner’s daughter. We bought the restaurant from him a few years ago. It came with the recipes.  We added the pizza.” “Oh, that explains it,” I said. “Explains what?” she responded. “Two things, the Frank Sinatra music and the cold moussaka. It is supposed to be served hot. Mine wasn’t even lukewarm. I wondered how a Greek would do that.” She apologized. She didn’t know how it was to be served nor how it was even made. “I’ll check into it,” she said.

About a month later I noticed a new guy and his lady were running the restaurant. They were much more friendly and service oriented. He was strikingly handsome like many of my Greek relatives. “What happened? Why the new people?” I asked him. “Oh we’re the new owners.” He said. “Are you Greek?” I was hopeful. “No, Armenian” was his answer. “Even better,” I said, and much to my surprise he and his dad burst into smiles and welcomed me. “You weren’t born in America were you?” I wanted to know. “No, I’m from Armenia. My friend’s from the Ukraine. We’re immigrants.” I could tell he hadn’t just arrived. His English was too good, so I guessed. “You’re also going to college on the side aren’t you?” Yes he was. I was impressed. He was running a business full-time and going to school. He was also surprised how much I knew about Armenian history.

I have an Armenian friend in Santa Barbara who taught me a lot about his ancestors and turned me onto Hitler’s comment about the Turkish government’s genocide under Ataturk. “Who ever heard of the Armenians?” was Hitler’s comment. He was planning to do to the Jews what the Turks had done to the Armenians. From that point on the young restaurateur trusted me. He found the Greek radio station on his computer and piped that into the space instead of the Italian singers.

The new cook’s moussaka was even worse than before.Moussaka-recipe-Traditional-Greek-Moussaka-with-Eggplants I explained to them that Canadian rape seed oil does not taste good in food. Canola used to be a machinery lubrication oil until they found a way to process it at higher temperatures. It’s Monsanto Corporation’s slickest, best selling product and they have successfully sold the world on its use in cooking. I remember tasting Singer’s sewing machine oil as a curious child in the 1950’s. That’s how I knew that today’s canola oil couldn’t come from nature like  olive oil. My son did the research on canola oil and informed me why he refused to eat it, or anything containing it. When I told the cook at Athena’s I didn’t like his moussaka, he insisted the eggplant was fried.  “In what?” I retorted.  “Why oil, olive oil, I’m sure.’ he said defensively.  “Pure or is it a blend?” I asked.  “A blend of olive and canola oils.”  I shook my head and said, “it tastes like sewing machine oil. It’s got very little olive oil in it.”  I handed him a copy of Zane’s cookbook. “I want you to succeed. You aren’t Greek, so here’s what these foods are supposed to taste like. You’ll notice that Eva Zane uses butter. It’s worth the added expense. Your customers will come back, if they like the taste.”

Yesterday, after church I drove to Athena’s for my usual giro sandwich. Nick and Dana in Santa BarbaraThe young manager brought me a sample of the new moussaka. The cook wanted me to taste it. He had listened. It was excellent, maybe he could add more cinnamon for my taste, but now, it won’t be rejected by Greeks or people who know what moussaka is supposed to taste like. I can even recommend the restaurant to my Greek friend Jackie, who owns It’s a Grind Coffee Shop in Castaic. She’s the one who told me about the Greek Festival in Northridge. Those Saint Nickolas parishioners sure know how to party! We support the things we love by sharing them with people who also love them. It doesn’t matter that refugees are running the kitchen or serving us lattes. Even white boys like me and the guy at Whole Foods love baklava and can learn to make it.

That’s the American way, isn’t it?Statue of Liberty

AlbanA few years ago I found a great recording and sent it to my family. A Greek Orthodox priest had gone to Africa and found people in Kenya who were receptive to Christ’s teachings. Their choir sang much of the Greek liturgical hymns and then switched into English. My ex-wife told me that she loved the album, especially the one about being Christ’s ambassadors. It was called “We are Christ’s ambassadors”.  I loved that song too. We certainly can be representatives of the Christ consciousness. As ambassadors we should be models of good behavior. That doesn’t mean that we are perfect, just that we are trying to represent the person or government which has sent us out into the world. For me that means being kind and loving our fellow humans.

When I think of the stories written down after the death of Yeshua, whom we now call Jesus or Iesus, depending upon which alphabet we use. (The Greek “iesus” was used until 200 years ago when the printers invented the letter “J” for the English language editions of the Bible.)ichthos Most of those stories tell of a kind and loving man, who taught forgiveness of others and mindful self-reflection. He taught his followers to examine themselves and consider the motivation for their actions. When we are out of alignment with love and kindness, we ambassadors are to readjust ourselves. Yeshua apparently thought we should visit prisoners, help the sick and dying, give of our time, energy and monetary resources to make the world a better and safer place to live.

The one exception to being kind and considerate seems to fall on the story of Yeshua’s anger in seeing the Temple turned into a market place where bankers used the exchange rate to enrich themselves. Since the Hebrew Temple was supposed to be the central place on earth where the Divine manifested Itself, one would expect to find prayerful respect in the House of God. This was the house of the Abbaun, the Father/Mother, in the oral traditional. Yeshua was angry that the Abbaun’s House was being desecrated and he reacted like a righteous child of that tradition. He lost his cool and had a temper tantrum. He overturned tables, picked up a whip and lashed out at the vendors and bankers. This behavior resulted in his death at the hands of the Roman government.Roman

The Hebrew political structure was subservient to the conquerors, who owed their allegiance to the Senate and the Roman People and to the Emperor in Rome. Keeping the peace was important to the Roman government and unruly vassal states were unpleasant, but necessary evils. A rabble rouser who goes unpunished could cause a revolt and that would be costly, so the Romans killed Yeshua. He was disturbing the peace. It wasn’t because of his kindness and loving ways that he got caught and punished. It was because of his hotheadedness that he slipped the noose over his own neck. Are we to follow his example and get ourselves killed by the Empire as well? Or is the Christ a slightly different concept, one of enlightened conduct?

The question for me is how do we represent the Christ, if we are his ambassadors? Assuming that Yeshua was the Messiah, the anointed one (hence the Greek word for anointed, “Christos” the golden one), then he is the Christ. Do we bomb the people we don’t like and use the cleansing of the Hebrew Temple as the justifying example? Do we return hurt with hurt or do we return hurt with love? Do we welcome wounded people into our homes or turn them away because we are afraid of their energy? And if we are afraid of them, what does that say about ourselves and our message? An ambassador is often a messenger.Risen Christ icon

Sometimes we carry messages which people don’t want to hear. Sometimes they kill the messenger. But shouldn’t we continue to carry the message out into the world that light and love can change everything? And what of forgiveness, ought we not to forgive one another as our Abba forgives us? Can we forgive the terrorist within ourselves? Can we take responsibility for creating terror in the hearts of our enemies and trying to do to them what they have done to us? Does that mean we have to act on that awareness? Can we stop ourselves from killing the innocent or are we to be like King Herod and send our missiles to destroy all the infants who might be the Christ? Can we start talking to our enemies and find some common ground before we destroy ourselves and our planet? I hope so.

Tis the season to be jolly, hopeful and filled with love. How about spreading it around the globe and becoming one of Christ’s ambassadors?Santa-Claus-Resting1024-716886

Mocking JayWhy do we sacrifice ourselves? That’s the question the heroine asks in the final action packed episode of The Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen, the Mocking Jay, is feeling the devastating effects of trauma and betrayal (like many of us today, who are aware and are riding the wake of terrorist attacks around the world). Her friend and lover, Peeta Mellark, who was programmed to assassinate her, responds like any brainwashed and tortured Veteran. He wants to make sense of all the suffering, injustice, brutality, and manipulation by the political, military, and industrial complex. He struggles with flashbacks and tricks of the mind, but remembers a slender thread of his previous life, the memories of Katniss and their childhood friendship, their adolescence and emergence into the spectacle of Reality Television called The Hunger Games. The strong and sensitive Baker’s son has become a tool of war and torture, Petahso who better than he can answer the difficult questions Katniss ponders? No one, and that’s why she listens to him. She makes up her own mind and suffers the consequences, but she cares about all of her friends and their beliefs.

Basically it is all about life, love, and family. How do you want to live your life, under what conditions, as a slave of the empire, as a free person in a democracy, as a vassal in a feudal state? These are all possibilities in Peetah and Katniss’ world, as they are in ours. We may have to fight and sacrifice our lives for our friends and lovers, for our families. We might be killed because we happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as thousands of humans have discovered when bombs and missiles have exploded without warning. It doesn’t matter which country you live in or what kind of government you enjoy. You could be dead tomorrow. There’s no way to guarantee we can stay alive by belonging to any group or cultural belief system. But we can make some meaning out of our lives. We have to decide what is important and whether or not it is worth dying to defend that meaning.

Since ancient times it has always been important that the masses be informed of the purpose of war, so that they can align with those directing the war. That’s how we can joyfully give up our lives. Is it law and order, freedom of choice, the greater good, the culture’s values for which we will lay down our lives? How we answer these questions is the way we make meaning out of the chaos which surrounds us. Katniss decides that her friends’ lives were valuable and should not have been shed in vain, that their sacrifices and suffering must be worthwhile. That’s where the meaning lies for her, that something good can come out of all the misery. Peetah literally spells that out for her by reciting all the names of those who have died.Katniss

That recitation determines the trajectory of her arrows and, as Plutarch says to her in his final letter, “you never disappoint”.  Katniss realizes that she is a pawn in a game and makes her final decision based upon her value of family and friends. In that act she makes a statement as the mythological figure of the Mocking Jay and chooses love, life, and family. She has lost most of her family, but she can choose life by bringing new children into her world. We see her at the end of the movie hoping for a brighter future for her lover and her children.

Child sacred space

Life goes on and sometimes it gets better.

Healing can take a very long time, especially when we aren’t conscious there is a wound. Fifty years ago an automobile accident changed my life forever. I was driving along the ancient shoreline of the inland sea called Great Salt Lake, when a car pulled in front of me.

Trying to avoid a collision, I steered my dad’s 1957 Pontiac into the outside lane and put on the brakes. Nothing happened; the brakes failed. We were thrown onto the gravel shoulder and the car was beginning to fishtail. I couldn’t control it. We hit a telephone pole and the car flipped over. Suddenly my buddy and I were walking in a field of green grass, approaching a bright white light. That’s when I remembered being there before. We were crossing over into the spirit world. But I didn’t want go on with my friend. I wanted a wife and family, so we parted ways with an embrace. He walked on and I experienced time reversing itself. I reentered my body. That was painful.

Part of my grieving was to pick up something I had abandoned in puberty. I found a piano teacher and a piano and lost myself in hours of practice. She was positive and encouraging, said I could be a concert pianist, if I wanted to be. I was terrified. There was no way I would ever perform in public. I refused to exhibit my skill except for my teacher, my wife, and a few friends who visited my home. Then I put the piano away for forty years. grand pianoWhen I noticed the grand piano in the social hall of Our Lady and All Angels Liberal Catholic Church a few years ago, I wondered if it were time to try again. I hired the church organist to teach me. That lasted only a few months before I quit. I had found the Bach workbook from my college days and was starting to remember things from 1966. Perhaps that’s why I quit. There was so much pain associated with the accident and the loss of my friend, that I just couldn’t “afford” the lessons.

Two months ago the organist at the Episcopal Church offered to teach anyone who wanted to learn to play the organ. That had been a childhood dream. My grandmother had a foot pumped ancient instrument which fascinated me as a child of five. I would push the pump while adults would play the keys. Sometimes grandma would let me sit on her lap while I pressed the organ’s keys. That was something I wanted to be big enough to do on my own. That never happened. When I was ten my dad, an accomplished trumpet player, bought us a piano and I was given lessons. I loved playing certain melodies over and over. My mom loved hearing me play, but my piano teacher didn’t. She found my rebelliousness unacceptable. I wouldn’t count out the measures. I hit the wrong keys, wouldn’t practice things I didn’t like. I was a spoiled brat with no discipline. She said that I had no ear for music and refused to teach me. When the possibility of playing the church organ was offered, I jumped at the chance.

Ah but here’s the rub, one must know the piano keyboard before touching the powerful organ’s keys. My teacher is very clear about timing, beat, and other essential matters. Scales, lessons in dexterity, emphasis on the left hand, on weaknesses which needed correction, all these things were stressed, but like a good intuitive teacher knows, you have to find the student’s inner motivation. I wanted to play the Bach piece I had started in 1966, so she had me do just that. In the process I became aware of everything I was feeling at age ten. I was anxious, made lots of mistakes, was rebellious, and would space out in places. Unlike any of my previous teachers, this one is an accomplished professional who knows her psychology. She stayed firm, insisting that I count the measures and not miss any notes. She gently caught me and redirected my energy like a Tai Chi Sensei. And she kept encouraging me to perfect the Bach, which I accomplished in six weeks’ time. Her approach to overcoming stage fright was to have me play my piece during the prelude meditation at the beginning of the church service.

Since I could name the feelings and the attitudes of the pubescent child within me, we could work together on overcoming his/my fears. It worked. I have befriended my inner child. He trusts me. My piano teacher sent me this message today,

“I just want to let you know how nicely you played yesterday. I was very pleased, the congregation was pleased and I hope you were as well. I look forward to your continued lessons and improvement. Won’t it be great to play a congregational number on the organ?

Keep practicing and see you on Thursday,”

So here I am, the seventy-two year old man, who made his first public recital. The healing took fifty plus years, but all that work in psychotherapy paid off. I feel great, and glad I am that my Russian benefactor provided his grand piano for the little boy inside of me. Last year, I was about to be homeless. Today I have a home, a piano, a spirit family, a new church, and many new friends. I have all my old friends, I am learning Portuguese, writing stories, and cooking for my loved ones. All my “heart” related symptoms have disappeared. My body has healed and I am thriving. All my prayers have been answered. I love life and watching all my work succeed. Such beauty there is all around us.


Letting go

I have been sitting in ayahuasca ceremonies for several years. Lately it has been the Brazilian tradition called Santo Daime, which, literally translated, means the “Holy Give-me”, give me love, give me firmness, give me insight. The sacred plant medicine is the same basic recipe as other tribal traditions, but the Santo Daime tradition keeps it pure. There are no additives. Different traditions of the Amazon Rain Forest might mix in other helping plants, depending on the shaman’s spiritual advisers (his plant teachers). A shaman’s experience might invite him to add other plant medicines to the basic mixture, thus achieving additional benefits for his clients. The Santo Daime tradition does not do this. hummingbirdThe medicine is made in the same way, with the two basic ingredients as it has been made for the last eighty-five years. Even so, with the basic recipe, there are a wide range of individual spiritual responses, and surprises abound.

During the last Santo Daime Work which I attended, a novel phenomenon occurred. I was sitting in my folding chair when I felt someone touching my ribs from behind. I could feel fingers grasping me, pulling me toward the person. Then I felt the crown of a person’s head pressed against my back. Although we are told to stay in our own space and not touch others, sometimes it is impossible to have that kind of firmness, for which we pray. I sat still, while the Guardians dealt with the person behind me. They encouraged him to let go of me and go with them to the healing space, where he could lay down. There he could go through his “passage” while they could watch, and attend to him, if he should need further support.

After the Work I was upstairs in my sister’s bedroom taking off my uniform, when the man who had been behind me came in to change into his street clothes. Since we were alone, I asked him what had happened during the Work. He told me that his father had recently died in their home country. “I was very close to my father and couldn’t see him before he died. When I looked up, I saw my father sitting in the chair in front of me. You have his build and energy. I didn’t want to let go of him. I couldn’t control myself. I just reached forward and held onto him.” He was a little embarrassed, but relieved to be telling me. I asked him if he would like me to be his father in that moment. “I can be your dad’s incarnation right now. I have had these experiences before and will gladly let your father’s spirit hold you, if that’s what you want.” Sobran and angelHe did, and he embraced me as though I were his father. I held him as he began to cry. He put his head on my shoulder and snuggled into my neck. I felt warmth, affection, and love flowing through me.  I was his father in that moment. After the tears and the very long embrace began to wind down, he straightened up, still holding me, and he looked into my eyes. “Thank you,” he said, “that’s just what I needed. I feel complete now. I let go of my father and am grateful you could be him for me. Thank you again.”

father and son
When I told my son about the encounter, he thanked me for “the beautiful story”. And I realized I needed to share it. The ayahuasca (daime) facilitated a spiritual transformation for both of us. I got to hold my son and say goodbye. He got to hold his father and let go. We are both the richer for the opportunity and grateful to the medicine for making it possible. Thank you ayahuasca and Viva Santo Daime!

La GuitarraThe bees stop by every day for water from the honey jar with an avocado pit protruding from it. Instead of a sprouting avocado tree, I got a bee feeder. Bee Jar

After a month of refilling the jar several times a day, my friend, the Raven, invited me to a guitar festival concert in San Luis Obispo, California. There we saw and heard Duo Melis, which roughly translated means “two honeys” or “honey two” in Greek. Duo MelisThe married couple are Greek and Spanish. They teach in France. And their concert was incredible, flamenco from Andalucía, as well as French and Yugoslavian composers. The surprise in their performance was the piece composed during the civil war in Yugoslavia. Alex said it embodied their duo, “sometimes we fight”, he said. The couple’s perfect timing made it hard to imagine anything but cooperation. That was inspiring for me, because I had a working relationship with my spouse for sixteen years and I remember how important it would have been to have a creative space for our arguments.  Working together creates incredible tension, as the couple must bring something to the relationship which complements and improves their overall performance. Seeing that Susana Prieto and Alexis Muzurakis are unique masters of their art, who cooperate to create a stunning performance, underscored the meaning of passionate devotion to one’s art.

After their honey, came the flawless performance of Ana Vidovic. Ana VidovicHer Australian guitar seemed huge in her hands. It seemed to be the externalized masculine aspect of her body, which she played with astounding skill and interpretation. Ana and her guitar were another expression of the honey duo.  Surrounded by the beautiful peach colored dress she wore, Ana looked like a bee playing with the stamen of a giant hibiscus flower. The sounds were exquisite. Although I am a keyboard guy, I was surrounded by guitarists who jumped to their feet at the end of both concerts. Everyone agreed, Ana, Susana, and Alexis are world class masters of the guitar.  Their performances were astounding. The concert inspired me to return to my piano and apply some of the things my teacher has been encouraging me to do. Ana’s interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s work was a living illustration of how instruments sing divinely in the hands of their lovers. My piano needs that kind of devotion, care and love from me.

I suspect that had I continued playing the piano throughout my thirty year marriage, I would have found a creative outlet for my feelings and might be celebrating fifty years of relationship with the woman whom I loved. It is hard to imagine what might have happened had I not acted out my anger, and expressed it with the help of my piano. Sadly I chose not to put that beautiful instrument into the moving van in 1981. I was afraid the move from Southern to Northern California would damage it. Instead I unconsciously damaged my marriage and carefully held onto my rage, stuffing it down into the unconscious depths of my soul. I knew theoretically that I was making a mistake, but the head, which doesn’t listen to the heart, loses its honey in the end.