May 7, 2020

There's No Place Like Home

Trigger warning - this essay contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault.
By Josh Liveright / filmsforaction.org
There's No Place Like Home

In August of 2019, I picked up my rental car at the Denver airport and drove into the mountains above Boulder toward the tiny town of Nederland. A full moon followed me, playing hide and seek amongst the clouds. I had my Libba playlist going on the Bluetooth. A gorgeous assemblage of songs I put together in honor of her mom Margaret who recently transitioned to some other plane yet felt like she was riding along with me. Stevie Wonder’s “As” played loud as I felt called to pull over and soak in the moonbeams, feeling a relationship to deep rest for the first time since I left New York City. I also soaked in a feeling of possibility, of potential, but decided it’s really a sense of wonder I was feeling, welcomed by the mountains and the moon.

The way I must enter

Leads through darkness to darkness –

Oh moon above the mountain’s rim,

Please shine a little further

On my path.

~Izumi Shikabu

Our unconscious contains deep pockets of shadowy spaces, forgotten, scary and unfelt, with thick veins of gold to mine. The journey in can be treacherous and the rewards bountiful. The cosmic joke is the perception that everything remains static when in fact the mind is always updating, just as our cells are constantly regenerating.

I pulled into the driveway and Libba was there to greet me. I owe her so much. She has saved my life over and over. She’s a shaman, a witch, a friend. I’ve known her for over thirty years and am eternally grateful for our connection. Hard not to melt in her presence, we embraced. We talked a little and she showed me to my room.

I’d been fasting since early evening in preparation for my first Kambô ceremony the next morning. I laid in bed with the full moon shining through the window like the face of a good friend, like Libba’s face. I imagined it was her. I took a few deep breaths and slid into a deep, comfortable, dream-filled state.

I have the currency, have had it all along. There’s deep programming in us and, for so many, the story of “not enough”. How about enough of not enough? It draws our power, our core energy, using up precious hard drive space in our operating systems, slowing us way down, rendering us useless at times. As thoughts, feelings and sensations enter my conscious mind I can inquire, what do they mean about me? What do they mean about others around me? What do they mean about the world?

At the closing of a Kambô ceremony there’s an instruction to dump the contents of your purge bucket and say goodbye to all the shit that came pouring out of you, stuff you no longer need, and then say thank you to it. It’s an act of reciprocity with the pain, the trauma, the grief, the illness, the disease, the dis-ease, the poison, the physical and emotional toxicity you’ve been holding onto. Thank you and goodbye.  Like a rogue wave of sanity in a sea of tears, washing it all away.

My first round of Kambô was a knock-out followed by a big purge. The way this medicine works, you fast for twelve hours, no food no water. Then, just prior to application, drink close to a gallon of water, which is much harder than you might think. The guide, shaman or server, or whatever self-applied title they may have, then burns a point on your skin, in my case on my left upper arm. Three points is traditional but for first timers like me, we get one point of frog venom that had been dried onto a piece of bamboo by a member of the Matses tribe in the Amazon rainforest. The server then moistens the dried venom using the blade of a knife and creates a small booger sized ball of goo that is then applied to the burn mark they made previously, literally burning off the first two layers of your skin with a matchstick sized ember. The venom contains several different peptides that enter your body directly through the lymphatic system with ferocious power. These peptides allegedly seek out various problem areas in your adrenal, immune and lymphatic systems, drawing your body’s attention to them, often creating an evacuation route for toxins and emotional baggage.

After the point was applied by Libba, I felt intense heat followed by a tidal wave of something indescribable that brought me to my knees and flipped my internal breaker. I found myself in a dark sea of voices and I was moving through a strange landscape that soon felt familiar as the voices were saying my name. And then I heard Libba’s voice clearly above the others. Her voice lifted me and I opened my eyes to see her face, her eyes, looking into mine, saying my name. Saying her name. It took me a little while to adjust. “Josh, Josh, Josh… it’s Libba, Libba.”

Narratives form later. Our storytelling function forms a half second after our experiences. While out, I realized I was in a room of people speaking to me all at once so I didn’t hear anything they were saying. I also didn’t recognize any of them. It wasn’t scary but it wasn’t pleasant either. I came back to the material plane but didn’t feel I was anywhere grounded. My eyes were open but I was halfway between here and there. I sat with it and remembered to breathe. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t anything really, but suddenly I was super aware of the nausea. I purged twice, two big motherfuckers. What came out of me was bright red and gushing, like a bloody waterfall. And it was over. I sat some more, another few moments or so and as consciousness returned, I decided it would be more comfortable to lie down on the cool concrete floor.

Why did I pass out? Why have I passed out three times during Ayahuasca journeys? Why have I passed out at various times in my teens and twenties? This is something Libba and I have discussed in the past. I’ve also brought this up with various family members, doctors and friends. But it wasn’t until I read Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory that it made any logical sense.

Innately, we want to feel calm and safe with the important people in our lives. Overall, I haven’t felt very calm or safe around certain key people in my life, namely my parents who I now refer to as my food-givers. Polyvagal Theory is an understanding of the biology of safety and danger, based on the relationship between certain high-resolution experiences and how our nervous system responds to them. It posits we are constantly scanning for threat in our environment and we react to it in a three-part hierarchical way. To put it really simply, either we feel safe and secure, or we run or fight, or, in extreme situations, we freeze or pass out. The third option is generally the result of severe threat or danger. And it’s all autonomic nervous system function meaning it’s not a choice, it happens automatically, our natural security system. Obviously, some people are more sensitive than others so let me self-diagnose for a moment. I’m what you call a SAF person. Sensitive. As. Fuck. Things get to me. I feel things deeply. I crumble when criticized, made fun of, even chuckled at. When someone abandons me, I feel the end is nigh. My world falls apart on a regular basis. Then re-assembles. The full catastrophe.

Libba and I have discussed how my dramatic faints may be related to my sexual trauma experiences, some perhaps early on and pre-verbal. I know the stories, the mythologies maybe. And I mostly felt I was at peace with them. What I discovered recently is that these memories were hiding out in my body.

Last spring, at the recommendation of one of my medicine friends, I made an appointment with a tantric healer. I didn’t really know what to expect. Before the session, I experienced a mixture of fear, excitement and dread, mostly related to spending $500 for a ninety-minute appointment. I had never experienced tantric healing before so my mind cycled through quite a few scenarios. I succumbed to accept that this is what I do, put myself in uncomfortable situations for the sake of healing.

I left work early on a Thursday and took the train from Greenpoint, Brooklyn to a Midtown West address in Manhattan. Lauren’s apartment is a medium sized one bedroom with unbelievable views looking south down the Hudson. I asked to use the bathroom to take a moment to breathe. She offered me water and we sat down on her couch and talked. I noticed a Murphy bed on the wall opposite us.

“Were you sexually abused?” Lauren cut right to the chase. I was floored by her acute awareness and made the immediate decision to roll with it, sidestepping the arising resistance. If you’re shelling out several hundred dollars to defend and resist, it simply isn’t financially justifiable. Turned out Lauren was into plant medicine, like me, and we had a few folks in common. She was abused too, no shocker. We spoke the same language so I immediately felt safe and held in her container. She knew exactly how to establish credibility, which was not lost on me.

Credibility. Safety. Vulnerability. Intimacy. That’s how it rolls. We talked for a bit about some historical aspects of my life. What bubbled to the surface was the time I was assaulted by a group of teenaged boys and was faced with the choice to either give them all blow-jobs or get thrown off a high cliff into the ocean. I was seven, living on the rocky coast of southern Oregon. After Lauren processed what I was expressing through my words, body language and reading my energy, things suddenly got tantric. She opened up the Murphy bed and asked me to take my clothes off.

I laid down on the bed, stomach first. Lauren stripped to her panties and proceeded with the session. Everything was extremely consensual, she always informed me of what was coming next and asked if it was okay. The intention was to identify the trauma in my body and release it, allowing me to feel safe, vulnerable and intimate while doing so. She was helping me redefine my relationship to sexual intimacy. This started with a full body massage. Lauren encouraged me to moan and release the emotions arising as she gently guided me through the memory and details of my rape. This went on for a long while and my moans became more and more guttural, surprising even me. I was releasing this trauma experience somatically and with intention, something brand new to me.

When she felt I was ready, she asked me to turn over on my back and she stroked me. All the while, acutely aware of what needed to shift in me. Yes, she was essentially jerking me off but I never really got hard as it wasn’t exactly sexual. The trauma was present, in my body, in my nervous system and my focus was on Lauren as nurturer, goddess, mother and healer teaching me how to feel safe. I have never experienced anything like it in any relationship ever, this kind of attention and presence. Sex with an awareness of a need to feel safe was brand new to me. This tremendous reframe shifted everything.

As things progressed, I felt such gratitude for Lauren, who represented the divine feminine, all women. I wept and wept and it all came pouring out. And then Lauren suggested I come, so I did. It didn’t feel at all sexual, felt more like a purge. Like my Kambo purge in Colorado. In both situations I felt one hundred percent safe, in the arms of The Mother.

Here’s something that needs to be clarified, I don’t feel safe in the arms of my mother. My food-givers have been the number one challenge on this healing path. And, in all fairness, it didn’t begin with them, they learned plenty from their food-givers, and their food-givers’ food-givers. So much is passed down the generations, as in the coding, the programming, the learned behaviors. Programmed into the hard drive right from the get go, maybe even in the womb. The brain learns how to survive by seeing the world in myopic ways as we succumb to the operating system that is loaded for us. It works for us for however long it takes until the unlearning process begins.

Unlearning the unlearning actually. Think about it, we’re born to connect and feel things directly, right? Like all animals. Then we unlearn quite a bit of that when we’re taught a series of cultural filters usually defined by value – good, bad, right, wrong, ugly and beautiful to name the most obvious ones. So essentially in unlearning the unlearning we are returning home to the place of connection and direct feeling. An advisory statement for those of you jumping on the healing train, just when you think you’re done, there’s more to come. Lauren located the trauma in my body and helped me become aware of it. Now that I know I need to feel safe in intimacy which is truly a “duh” moment of awareness, I am capable of noticing when my armor goes up and I can sometimes make choices from that place. I say sometimes because it doesn’t always happen the way I’d like. Sometimes I defend, sometimes I resist, sometimes I get angry and frustrated. And that’s okay. I can then go back and adjust if I choose. Sometimes I don’t. This isn’t always satisfactory for a lot of seekers, especially those who think there’s an end game, a resolution to all this. The resolution may be death, or maybe not. How can we be sure of anything? What a relief to enter the realm of mystery willingly.

Back in Colorado I laid on the floor for a while, then on my bed, and allowed everything to be as it was, unfolding maybe, unraveling possibly. In this state, there’s either resistance or no resistance. I fell asleep and dreamt about bears. Benign bears. Big furry creatures with elegant snouts and sharp teeth. Black bears with shiny coats. I was invited into the realm of bears, even became one, and didn’t really want to wake up because it was all so blissful and present. Like when I had my near-death experience. I didn’t want to come back to this plane. Why would anyone want to re-enter this realm of suffering when you get a taste of nirvana? I don’t fully know why we do it, this constant drudgery of existence, never have. It’s more or less a sentence, following a rigid set of guidelines where we usually have little choice but to comply. With not much evidence of mental sovereignty. Succumbing to the construction we’re born into, showing up naked, slimy and clueless into a world of limitless sensory experience we can make neither heads or tails of. We’re taught how to live by people who have not much more of a clue what they’re doing, who showed up under the same circumstances a couple of decades or so prior. Before we know it, we’re flailing through life, often without a clue, and then we have a couple of little slime-balls of our own to pass on our limited knowledge to. It’s mindboggling to think how little we know and how much we pretend to know. And how much suffering we could avoid if only we had decent teachers to begin with. And if only we understood from the beginning that all language, including this gobbledygook, is completely fabricated in order to make sense of things. We forget that direct experience is lost as soon as we open our lying mouths.

I reluctantly woke up and rejoined the circle. Things were wrapping up. Libba gave me instructions to empty the contents of my bucket but to first give THANKS and then, after pouring out my puke, say a hearty GOOD-BYE to all that is no longer needed. Outside, I directed my gratitude to my red tinged vomit. I imagined it seeping into the earth and transforming into something useful. Afterward, I helped Libba clean up by washing buckets and doing the dishes. I ate a little and she handed me a hot cup of tea to help with the nausea. Everything felt off, a feeling hard to describe, but nothing new, something I’ve experienced many times over several years of medicine work. It’s like your preconceived notions have been shaken like a snow globe and the dust is settling slowly but in a completely different configuration. In every ceremony something new emerges from the quantum field. Have I found my way this time? Hardly.

Sometimes I grow tired of how rigid the human brain truly is. It doesn’t budge much because most of our beliefs have been programmed in our hard drive early on, largely between the ages of two and seven, fixed and rigid. Think of it this way, if you recorded something onto a device, like an old cassette tape recorder for example, and then you started yelling at it to change what’s been recorded, good luck. It will be a fool’s errand. The most effective way to shift things in our programmed and coded brains is to go back to the source and re-record something new. I believe a useful method is to soften the filters, to drop into the deepest part of the unconscious and rewrite the narrative. It first requires the awareness there’s something to shift, then clear intention, and after that, hard work most people aren’t willing to do because the stories we’re taught are all we know in our extremely limited view of the world. We usually cannot see beyond them as it’s all constructed. Language is one hundred percent constructed. The “truth” is constructed. I can argue the only “reality” we ever know, also a human construction, is direct experience, the sensory relationship to the present moment.

So, what keeps me alive? Perhaps it’s the challenge of unlearning the unlearning. We are born with a unique ability to connect on a conscious level. There are three fundamental layers to how we move through the world. One, with cognitive awareness. Two, with emotional consciousness. And three, in an unconscious generative field, a quantum field or chi, or the tao, the universal energy source. When these three layers are integrating well, and our natural filters are softened, allowing for flow, then we are connecting in the way we were built to connect with the world. And the beautiful thing is it’s effortless so nothing really needs to motivate us, we’re already cooking. The challenge is we’re born into a culture, a constructed framework where case-making and constant threat quickly becomes the new normal. Case-making – which includes comparison, analysis, judgement and interpretation – removes us from a direct relationship to the world around us and can sever our connection to the natural world, animals, plants, sky and earth. When we are removed, the language of threat enters our sphere and we, with our time traveling brains, succumb to a constant relationship to the story of ourselves in opposition to other, the story of separation, mostly due to the perceived threats we encounter almost hourly. As time traveling mammals, we have the unique ability to think about the past and the future yet there is no way we aren’t always living in the present. Think about that for a moment. Living in the past or the future is impossible even though we’ll think a memory or imagine the future. The mindfuck is that when we travel to the past via an unpleasant memory, we find ourselves reliving that traumatic experience that isn’t really happening. With a deeper understanding of how our brain, our nervous system, is functioning, we can move through those moments without getting stuck, or worse, panicking about something that isn’t really happening.

It really comes down to our filters, the programmed way we were taught to experience the world. If our filters are rigid then we might experience threat and therefore our blood will flow to our extremities and eventually make us sick. This is constant hypervigilance. If our filters are softened, and we can more easily move through life in a down regulated state, then our blood will flow to our organs where it’s supposed go. We will experience a flow state where unpleasant experiences and trauma events are more easily met. A life of grace and grit. Full catastrophe living.

The problem with what I’m describing is that language is not direct experience. The best way to learn anything about anything is to experience it firsthand. This is where hypnosis, trance and psychedelics come in handy. For others, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, exercise, holotropic breathing techniques and Wim Hof cold immersion training might be useful. If you ever want the direct experience of extreme pain, try sitting in an ice bath for a couple of minutes. That shit’s for real! But what might happen is, your body will likely release many of the natural drugs that enter your bloodstream when you experience extreme threat. If you can maintain an aware state, you may end up pushing past the pain and experiencing euphoria while sitting in that ice. Again, very hard to do, but it’s something we’re all capable of and what that tells us is that we can create a different relationship to life, even in extreme conditions. This alone could be our salvation.

Last summer I drove up to Maine to pick up my son at camp. I spent a couple of nights with my step-father and his wife at their place in Camden. We all had breakfast at my sister’s the morning my son and I were driving back to New York. I’ve known my step-father since he got together with my mother when I was two and a half so essentially, he raised me. Sure, we’ve had some challenging moments but overall, it’s been a solid relationship and he’s been an important part of my life for over fifty years.

At the breakfast table, he told a jovial anecdote about a man who molested me in Philadelphia when I was twelve. It was one of my first after-school jobs. I was hired to carry stuff around, sweep up the shop and, unbeknownst to me, get my dick played with by the proprietor. My boss would play this game with me with quarters. He’d put a quarter in my pocket and then take his time fishing it out, fingers roaming all over my adolescent johnson. Pretty benign compared to the gang of teenaged rapists in Oregon yet not what I signed up for. I remember telling my food-givers about him and they either chose to ignore it or maybe they simply didn’t believe me.

With my family around me, including my teenage son and my niece and nephew, my step-father suddenly and inexplicably launched into how he just heard from a friend who ran into this molester recently. He proceeded to fill us in about where he lives, how he’s doing, and isn’t that amazing? I might have forgiven this transgression, except he had already told me the same story on the phone previously, and I had made it clear to him then that it made me uncomfortable. This time around, in reliving the experience, perhaps actually acknowledging it for the first time, I had a visceral, out of body reaction. I retreated into a mild (for me) dissociative state, somewhat in shock. The work I had done with Lauren was showing up and I felt myself drawing closer to the root of the trauma until I noticed my son was there too and mustered up a few old coping mechanisms in order to take charge of the surging awful feelings. I remained quiet until he finished the story and then, in a relatively calm voice, told everyone it was time for us to go, avoiding confrontation, at least for the moment. I felt obliged to protect my son, as well as my niece and nephew. I stuffed it all inside and beat it on home, down the interstate, hoping that would be the end of it.

The next morning, I woke up feeling unsettled and on the verge of panic attack. The rage was surging through me in the car on the way to work. I was not okay about what my step-father did and I decided to let him know. When I got to Brooklyn and parked, I took a few breaths and composed a text. Here’s the exchange between us that morning:

Me: In the spirit of honesty, I feel called to let you know that your story yesterday was deeply disturbing to me. It appears you still don’t believe this man molested me.

SF: I am really sorry you feel this way. But I am disappointed, it seems that no matter how I try not to, I end up abandoning you on some level and I don’t want to keep doing that. I honestly don’t know where to go from here. That does not feel good.

Me: I feel horrible because I relived that experience of feeling unsafe and unprotected at the breakfast table in front of my son. Maybe ask yourself why you told that story. I’ve heard that story before and already expressed my discomfort to you. And yet you brought it up again in public with a smile on your face.

SF: I think I need to say it again, I am very sorry you feel this way, but I don’t want to continue to put myself in the position where I am repeatedly abandoning you and where you feel unsafe. I am very sorry, I don’t want to do that anymore but it seems inevitable unfortunately that I will continue to disappoint you. I really don’t know where to go from here but I know I don’t want to do this anymore.

Me: Why did you tell that story knowing what you know?

SF: Frankly, I wish I could have done better by you. I don’t know where to go from here so I am going for a walk.

Me: Have your walk and don’t do anything. I would be dishonest if I did not tell you how your words and actions wounded me. Take it however you want.

SF: I wish you well with your journey, and hope for good healing of all of your wounds.

Me: And yet you never answered my question. Was it okay to bring up that story yesterday?

SF: It was clearly not okay for you. I hear that. I really do hear that.

Me: Was it okay for you?

SF: Obviously, yes, I did it, didn’t I? I am not denying it. I don’t think you are going to get me today so I don’t see the point of pursuing it. I am sorry for all of this. Do what you think you need to do, but you don’t need me to tell you that. What else is there to say now? I will say it again, good healing.

I didn’t respond, I was frustrated that I wasn’t getting through to him, that he wasn’t hearing me. And clearly he didn’t feel I was hearing him. Later, I emailed him.

I think you are gaslighting me. I came forth via text and described how bringing up that story was troubling to me and you turned it into your discomfort. I truly think you are missing an opportunity for real honesty here. Let me be clear, that man molested me. I was also molested by other kids when I was even younger. I was raped by a group of teenagers in Oregon. It's possible I was sexually assaulted before I could talk, possibly by my babysitter. I can only feel these unsafe feelings in my body. Do I need to own these feelings and thoughts? I guess. But that's philosophical, and maybe even political. But completely conceptual, a framework you claim you know longer want to use but seem to anyway. Did you bring up a story about a known molester at breakfast yesterday. A story I've heard before and expressed discomfort about? YES! Own that and cut all the other gaslighting and bypassing. An apology would be welcomed. That's as clear as I can be in my hypervigilant state. Be glad you're not me. I've felt this kind of stress my entire life.

Then a text arrived.

SF: Let’s start over. I am sincerely sorry for any insensitively on my part that was so deeply disturbing to you. I did not realize that it would be, given that I didn’t include any details of the incident. I know I wouldn’t have done that. I do believe your story about it, and assure you there was no hidden agenda on my part that I was aware of, and neither did the smile that you mentioned. I am sorry that all of this happened the way that it did.

Me: Thank you. I accept your apology.

And then he stepped up to the plate.

SF: You are my kiddo, I am listening. This is about you, just you, and I am here for you. I want to know more about the molestation, the rape in Oregon, the molestation by your babysitter before you could talk. Oh my God, I didn’t know or understand and I am so sorry about that, your hypervigilant state, and the stress you have been living with your entire life. I am listening, I really wish you would share it with me now, so I can understand better. That was the message I intended to send. I am sorry if it came off differently. 

Me: I appreciate your words and your willingness to listen. Acknowledging what happened is new territory for me and is allowing for some clarity as well as opening the door for new possibilities. 

SF: Wondering if you’d like to talk about what happened, if that is possible or something you would want to do. I’ve been doing some research on the trauma associated with it to try and understand it and you better. What can I do to make it safe for you? 

Me: There have been several times in my life when I've passed out. Most recently in Ayahuasca ceremonies. I've only recently discovered that a potential reason for this has to do with how my nervous system has dealt with threat from an early age. I've experienced stuff in my life that's felt like too much and I've checked out. Recently, memories of sexual trauma experiences have come up strong for me. I realized, as you've acknowledged, that I need to feel safe. As for the details of what happened, I don't remember everything. Much of what I've described up to recent times I’ve cast off as insignificant or as funny anecdotes. That's one way I took care of myself. That's changed. What's been the hardest part for me is not what happened but how people who loved me didn't take care of me or even notice. What can you do now? You're doing it. Listening without defensiveness is an act of service. Listening and acknowledging without laying your own guilt or projection onto me is useful as well. All these experiences led up to this moment and there's nothing that can change them. And I am grateful for all of it. What I would truly like is to be seen and heard. I have only recently begun to emerge from the layers and layers of protection. I confused vulnerability with rage for so long. I confused a lot of things with a lot of other things.

SF: Thanks for this. It’s helping me understand some things. Tisha B’Av begins on Saturday. Tisha B’Av is the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, and the loss of a home and a grounding for the ancient Jews. Homelessness, loss, wandering, grief, fear, confusion, calamity, and the loss of connection with a Divine Presence which was felt and experienced at the Great Temple in Jerusalem. It was all the beginning of Rabbinical Judaism, there were no rabbis before this, none needed, just the Temple. The Days of Awe for me is a yearly journey of collapse and recovery, of death and rebirth, and forgiveness, and I try to invest myself in it as much as I am able. It has been a very powerful ritual for me and I am looking forward to putting myself in the hands of five thousand years of wisdom, and connection, and grounding. You will be with me for the entire journey.  

Me: There's much to learn by turning toward the darkness which can contain many troubling aspects of our lives and of the lives of the people we are connected to, all the things you mentioned above experienced after the temple falls. What powerful medicine.

Amazing how generative that first text became but the exchange, truncated for this essay, was exhausting. And perhaps played directly into how aggressive and righteous I could be throughout my life. Defending yourself is hard work but easier when you understand the fine art of gaslighting. I was always pretty damn good at it myself. All this healing work has mitigated the rage, the shame, the mistrust, and I’ve been unlearning the unlearning but part of me, even now, wants to attack like a wounded animal when I’m faced with situations of threat. When I’ve gotten called out by the women in my life, I’ve usually retreated into my wounded animal routine and struck back even harder. Yet for the past several years I’ve been attempting to soften. To submit. To open. To forgive. To be truly vulnerable. To be loving, kind and gentle. To listen. To stop fixing things. It’s been a slow process of unlayering the onion peel of protection but it’s going okay. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lost my fire, my passion, even myself, but I now know it’s my way of looking for something familiar in myself that has served me in the past.

Maybe acknowledging what happened to me, and making it known to my step-father and others, has helped me reclaim my fire. Taking no shit, but in a clear and vulnerable way. Setting clear boundaries. Taking my true power back. Maybe feeling the dragon’s breath. Maybe feeling the heartbeat and pulse of the quantum field, the universal chi. Ready to love. Ready to feel.

This journey has been rough, uncomfortable. Stressful. The static and the noise and the low-level frequency and the road blocks and the speed bumps and the crazy drivers. It’s all showing up and it’s like I’m cutting through the shit at the speed of light this time, identifying the gaslighting motherfuckers who love to get in the way because they are in their own motherfucking way, myself very much included. The intention for my Colorado trip took shape.

Reclaim creativity and sensuality. Deal with the perpetual lump in my throat, the constipation. Release the relationship to fear, to shame, to rage, keeping me locked and loaded. Let it drop away. Let it soften. Longing transformed into expansiveness. There’s not much time left and I have things to do before I transition out of this mortal coil.

Two days before Kambô, I dreamt I had a young companion who trusted me, felt safe with me, believed in me, and told me I should run for president. He helped me build inner confidence and was full of optimism. At some point in the dream, dark elements entered the landscape, ambiguous and scary, the “shadowy bits” as Libba likes to call them. As this storm cloud of darkness began to obscure the optimism, the younger lad fled, and I was alone with the fear. It overwhelmed me quickly and I experienced a visceral reaction, almost falling off the bed, waking up with a start, my heart beating fast.

What am I doing? Is all this processing, this exploration, a waste of time and energy? Is my very existence a waste? About a year ago, after a failed attempt at communication with my partner, I experienced existential dread that registered off the charts and found myself marching toward the George Washington Bridge, ready to throw myself off. The story of separation taking full hold, I wanted to end it all, never feeling so ready to be done. All I do is take care of business, the finances, working a job I hate, without fulfillment, feeling unloved, misunderstood, the darkness washing over me, erasing the young man inside who once lived with optimism, with a passion to create. He felt completely gone, wiped out, and wouldn’t it feel good to jump to my death and experience that relationship to the divine, even for an instant. I’ve paid my dues in the currency of stress. I stop at the top of the hill in Fort Tryon Park and look out at the river. A storm had been raging and I notice it for the first time. It’s night, the rain is pouring, I’m soaked. I lean up against a tree and repeat the words, this is not me, this is not me, this is not me, this must end, no more, no more. It’s over. And then, inexplicably, I wake up from the nightmare and think of my children. I notice the unpleasant sensations in my body, in my chest, in my head, in my stomach, all three pulsating with fear, shame, guilt, regret, my breath shallow, gasping for air, everything has tremendous weight, the heaviness bearing down on me. I can’t die. I have these two kids. I feel fear. About everything. Mundane tasks feel untenable. Getting stuff done feels impossible. Every thought. I stop and listen. A message. Time to stop and listen. Rest. Say no. Stop accommodating. Rest. Slow the fuck down. Way down. It’s not death itself I crave, it’s to put an end to all this, this way of being that I’ve learned, insidiously and systematically controlling me, the deep programming that is simply killing my soul.

I didn’t pass out during my second Kambô ceremony. I didn’t even vomit. However, the guy next to me in the circle puked orange chunks filled with live parasites. It was quite something to behold. I wondered what the hell might be going on inside him.

Afterward, I walked into the forest, sat on a rock for a bit, and had a conversation with myself. For some reason I wondered aloud what was wrong with getting up every morning with my kids and making them breakfast and lunch. My partner tells me I’m spoiling them, that they need to learn responsibility, do it themselves. How long do I have left to spend mornings with them? It gives me great pleasure to cook for people, to be with the people I love, to watch them enjoy my food. Serving people can’t be bad and in that moment, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it.

For me, life comes down to the simple things. Writing a passage that resonates. A good cup of coffee, a delicious meal. An unexpectedly solid bottle of wine. Fresh baked bread. An embrace. A satisfying book. A walk with my dog. A long afternoon nap, a kiss. I think of Patti Smith, someone who cherishes the creative spirit and sees the divine in daily mundane activities. She finds poetry wherever she roams. Coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, museums, churches, graveyards. These places all have essence and, in her musings, she elevates them to the divine. She cherishes the old, the relics, the ritual. All my old stuff, including old projects, screenplays, plays, ideas, I hang on to like they are some kind of lifeline to the past. Like my anger toward my food-givers. I judge people for hanging on to shit but to be fair, I do the same thing. I love to beat a dead horse, it’s one of my filters that feels rigid and unyielding. I yearn to be done with the old, to watch everything float downstream. To vomit out everything I no longer need and say thank you and good-bye.

The trees were breathing, pulsating, throbbing. I watched them dancing for a while and it came to me. Fuck it, all I really wanted to do was head back to the house and make coleslaw, my contribution to the potluck post-ceremony meal. Making coleslaw became the single most important thing in the world, the meaning of life, my ritual offering to humanity. I was going to march back to the house and make the best fucking coleslaw my dear friends would ever taste and prove to them there’s nothing more important, nothing more meaningful! Unconditional love in the form of cabbage, carrots, onions, mayo, apple cider vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.

So that’s what I did. And it was delicious.

 

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