Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 4
We return to NYC in 2009, but not until we wrestle with the return of H this past weekend...
This is the fourth chapter in an emergent serial story called Tenacious Magic. It weaves back-and-forth in time between my story which is autobiographical and takes place in the early 2010s in New York City, and Katherine Mansfield’s story, which takes place during the last months of her life in 1922-23. Both women are working through complex dynamics with powerful, male spiritualists; finding that tenacious magic, but losing themselves in the process. My intention in sharing the stories now is that together we (me and you, my readers) can see, own, feel, and process some of the subtle dynamics that arise in the archetypal journeys of the student/teacher, masculine/feminine, and the sacred marriage. I couldn’t see them on my own, so I invite your questions, comments, and curiosities each week. The more we share our perspective on these stories, the closer we might come to including and transcending the shadows. It’s an experiment and I so appreciate your participation. Here is some background on the project. Here is chapter one. Here is chapter two. Here is chapter three. Enjoy!
“This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.”
New York City, 2023
The hotel room was in Williamsburg. We could see the Empire State Building across the East River from our balcony. It was an epic view, but it made me sad. The skyline had changed so much since my arrival in 2001. It was no longer the mythic city I fell in love with. It wasn’t even the New York City I had left in 2020 when the pandemic descended like a tidal wave and I fled upstate with my daughter. I hardly knew this city now.
It was Friday afternoon and I had just published the third chapter in this story. My boyfriend, who was visiting from Los Angeles, was sitting on the bed with me looking for restaurants on his phone. I felt accomplished; excited to have finally introduced Katherine’s story into the world. We were ready to celebrate. While he made a reservation, I picked up my phone and glanced through recent emails. My heart stopped when I came across H’s name and this:
It’s been a long time … Hope you are well lets have a call much to catch up
I stared at Ari in disbelief. Unable to form words, I turned my phone towards him. He saw the email and looked at me in confusion as he worked to put the pieces together. I finally managed to say, “It’s been seven years since we’ve spoken.”
“What do you think he wants?” he asked gently.
“I don’t know…to connect, I think.”
“Does he know about the story?”
“He must…Someone must have forwarded it to him. But, he doesn’t mention it,” I was searching the room like the answer might be in there somewhere. “I guess it could be a coincidence…but that would be some coincidence after seven years.”
He laughed and immediately put me at ease, “Well, whatever he wants…it’s good content.”
We sat there for a while as the shock settled into wonder. Now, I searched myself. I felt many things. Most pronounced was a kind of relief. I realized this was what I had feared, but also what I was hoping for—a reckoning. I didn’t want to write the story without his knowledge. But, I also wasn’t in touch with him, and didn’t trust bringing the idea to him—for reasons that will be come clear later. But, here he was. Now, we would talk. Now, he would know.
I responded to his email and we made a plan to talk on Monday. I thought about it over the weekend. On Sunday, Ari and I visited museums on the Upper East Side. I wanted to go by the old office space, the place where H and I met for years. I expected to feel something—excitement, regret, nostalgia. Surprisingly, I felt very little. This suggested that I was already integrating it.
Monday morning brought a nervous anticipation. I imagined that he knew about the story, but it scared me to think he might not and I’d have to bring it up. This was curious to me. If information is power, was I afraid to be in a position of power in our dynamic? Maybe, but there was something else bothering me.
I felt afraid that I was betraying him by telling the story. As I worked through this I could justify it as art, as storytelling, but that didn’t change the fact that the art might have an impact on him. I realized I had disowned this aspect of the process. In order to feel brave enough to put my story out there, I had disowned his experience. This wasn’t good or whole. I needed to feel his position more fully. Actually doing that required me to own my own power in the situation—and see that my power can heal, help, and yes…hurt. This recognition is essential to owning one’s power responsibly.
That morning I worked on feeling and holding his position. I saw us both as victims of the patriarchy. I saw how the dance we were in all those years ago was beautiful and fraught with danger. I appreciated how he’d held a strong boundary with me for years…maybe until he couldn’t anymore. I recognized that there had been circumstances in his life at that time that might have made him weaker in his resolve. I walked the fine line between understanding the man and excusing the behavior. It wasn’t easy. But, including more felt like the feminine wisdom at work. Including H’s experience brought me more compassion for us both. When the softening came, I felt ready to re-connect.
At noon on Monday, H called. I spent the first few minutes bathing in the tones of his voice…a voice I hold deep within me. I had to listen through his thick accent to catch his words—an experience I remembered well. He updated me as old friends do. There was precision and certainty in his report…a dryness (he used the word now and often used it back then). He talked about how he’d stopped working with clients and was now working at a tech company he’d started. I kept waiting for him to turn the conversation to the story I was writing; to broach the subject of what happened between us a decade before…I was ready to hear him out and if necessary, to defend my position as a writer and storyteller. But that moment didn’t come. Instead he asked about my life and I realized, he didn’t know. There was a silence as I struggled with what to do.
How could I say it without startling him? There was no way, so I just described what I was doing. I had to be explicit.
I wish I could say he took it well. I wish I could say he wanted to hear more; that he’d thought about it himself over the years; that he had regrets. I wish I could say he apologized or took responsibility for his part. I wish I could say he had questions or requests. I won’t share details, but the call ended badly. He hung up on me. I don’t think we’ll talk again.
When it was over, I sat there on the couch by the window, looking out at Manhattan where we’d met so many times so many years ago; where our story had taken place. I didn’t feel sad. It felt good to have expressed myself clearly, shared my experience honestly. I felt I’d retrieved the power I’d projected onto him all those years ago, and reclaimed the values I had compromised. I felt an old chapter of my life come to a close. But, I also felt a new freedom to express myself open...a new chapter beginning.
The person I spoke to that day was the same man I’d known years ago as a masterful mystic, but he’d seemed so…normal. I saw his blind spots. I felt his inconsistency. I had to wonder about how much power I’d projected onto him those years ago when I’d been his student and he was my teacher, even my master.
I wondered…What if all of that power was mine all along? What if he was there to help me through a genuine spiritual awakening, but wasn’t the source of it? What if my love for him was mostly a desire to reclaim and reincorporate the magic and power I had granted him? It was as if a spell had been broken. I could see more about who I am and who he is; and who we were then—how we were captured in an epic, archetypal, and numinous adventure together.
If I am charitable—and I want to be—I believe our story is epic because that was necessary for my development. My soul desperately needed to step into a new story, a bigger story…one that was a better fit for the person I was becoming. I needed to be re-enchanted. He was the mage I’d longed to know, that my soul believed existed but had never encountered. I was 34 and beginning to doubt, beginning to feel like that old Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?” When we met, I poured all of my longing for magic and divinity into H. And to his credit, for three years he held that projection with grace. He guided me through a beautiful awakening process and was as steady as a rock—ha, dry—for most of it.
I can see now even more clearly that this is a story about our relationship to power. When we’re not clear about it, we hurt each other. When the power dynamics are imbalanced and there is a sexual tension or attraction, the consequences can be painful for one or both parties. My path has always been a relational path, a path of polarities, of alchemy, of tantra. It’s been a sensual path, a path through the body and emotions. It’s been a feminine path—a rarity in a patriarchal world. I know that my experience with H was a great initiation and the teachings from it are still ripening. This story is my way to see it all clearly (with your help) and to integrate what needs to be integrated. I hope it will help others not make the same mistakes, especially other women…but men, too.
As for Katherine…I believe she was in the same boat with Gurdjieff. I think she probably projected her own power onto him because she needed a savior. Like me, she was searching for awakening, immortality and an epic expression of love. The difference for her was that she died before she could reclaim her power. I wonder if this is why she came to me and insisted on my receiving her story…so I could tell it and in the process, help her retrieve what she willingly gave away.
Speaking to H reminded me that I care about him. I care about his experience and don’t want to hurt him. I want to create a place in my heart, a container, a story, big enough to convey the facts, and hold us both in our experience. Reader, I warn you again, the narrator I was then in 2009-2010 is unreliable, but sincere. She is having a consciousness-expanding experience. I will write her as true to the time as I can. But even now, I can feel that all of the characters: me, H, Katherine, Gurdjieff…are changing out from under us. This is what I mean by the story still being alive.
New York City, 2009
An inner transformation was taking place as a result of the work with H. He guided me on my mystical journey, while I crafted letters, communication plans, and websites for his various business ideas. It was an extraordinary barter and one I felt blessed to be engaged in.
Very quickly, I realized I’d been invited into a relationship of great spiritual significance. In order to be an effective scribe for his philosophy and ideas, I needed to understand them intimately. We spent countless hours in deep dialogue, sometimes twice a week, and frequently continuing thoughts by email and text message. I absorbed all I could at a cellular level. I was, in essence, an apprentice.
It was clear to me that H was a mystic with spiritual gifts cultivated through intense study and self-sacrifice. As the work began, more questions were raised for me than answered, even as he illumined great mysteries of the human condition. The path was sometimes obscure and disorienting, and he did little to quell the mystery. Something about his manner and the otherworldliness of that space we occupied in his office discouraged direct inquiry and demanded surrender to the unknown. A few times I tried to ask him where the ideas came from that we discussed. He always dismissed the question.
What was he teaching me? It was impossible to know. I identified aspects of Tantra, Hermetic philosophy, alchemy, and Jewish and Christian mysticism. The process was as veiled and esoteric as the philosophies themselves: very little was discussed overtly, while much was transpiring below the surface and as direct transmission. With H. the energetics of talking were different, more potent. Every word he said landed in me, resonated through me, shed light, and transformed parts of me that had been hidden even from myself. With his guidance, I came face-to-face with my demons and explored the underworld of my own psyche.
Some of our sessions were quite humorous as I coached him in the workings of the material world. He had simple questions about how business works and often consulted me about how to relate with people professionally. There was a naivety to his business dealings that contrasted completely with his mastery of other dimensions. It felt sometimes like I was guiding a time traveler, someone from another century. He had little interest in the internet and technology. Ordinary rituals like going to a fancy restaurant or a popular bar seemed to delight him overly. The few times we interacted outside the four walls of his office, I sensed that he was floating through the world, as if maybe others weren't seeing him at all. He left no trace. Eventually, I began to wonder if he was even real. Once, I met a friend of H’s who had started, like me, as a student. We related over the intensity of his presence in that small room. “It’s like sitting in a cage with a lion,” he said.
I practiced the small exercises he gave me with intense dedication: journaling, recording regrets, tracking unconscious habits in the body, creating obstacles to routine, watching dreams, noticing and distinguishing between feeling, sensing, and thinking.
The changes within me were significant. Noticeable. Life-long habits—mental and physical—disappeared. My mind and body were still. I had learned to recognize the subtlest tensions in my body and release them; learned how much energy is expended holding onto energetic contractions in the body and old emotional patterns that manifest as physical symptoms. As I released these patterns, that energy was freed up again. I slept very little and had incredible amounts of energy. A wise, older friend of mine who had been on his own mystical journey said to me once when I described my state to him, “Yes, it’s like taking tiny little hits of cocaine throughout the day. But, much better.”
My husband noticed. We had been together for a couple of years and married for one at this point. He was curious about this person of sudden significance. For a brief few months, he agreed to see H, too. He enjoyed the discipline, but didn’t get much more than a few good life hacks out of it. I appreciated that he’d tried, but was troubled by the disparity in our experience. A gulf had already begun to form between us—it would only grow. Even as we discussed the possibility of having a child, some part of me resisted. This was our first big tension…he was ready to start a family and I had found my path. I didn’t want to slow down or worse, step off it, for motherhood. I couldn’t see how I could do both at that time. They seemed irreconcilable. My husband became frustrated with me and tired of my relentless seeking.
But I felt younger, stronger, lighter. I was finally experiencing my life as the magical journey I’d always known it could be. In moments it was completely destabilizing. I clung to the distinction Joseph Campbell made: “the mystic swims in the same waters in which the psychotic drowns.” Sometimes my state was both fragile and perilous. I needed H to ground me and he did this beautifully, though sometimes it could feel harsh. Whenever I became too engrossed in any particular experience, he would pull my attention back. He did it mostly by not indulging me.
When I became particularly excited about the emergence of some new gift or power of perception he made sure my ego was in check. Once I described something like astral travel and he told me, “Leave the broomsticks to the witches.” Once I thought I could enter the energy field of another human being and shift things in them. He told me sternly I needed permission for that. When I told him I felt I could read other people’s minds, he said, “Do you really want to swim in such a pool of garbage? The average man’s mind is not worth exploring.” And once, when it occurred to me that I had no way of knowing if H existed for anyone other than me, or whether he was even human at all, I broached the subject of extraterrestrials and laughingly said, “I thought you might even be one.”
I didn’t realize until later in the conversation that he’d never denied it. He only said, “It wouldn’t matter anyway.”
Reflections and Invitations…What Happens Now?
So, if you’re new to this serial story or need a reminder, here is the invitation:
Use the comments—Please put your questions, comments, and curiosities in the comments below. Let’s see what others are thinking. Let’s riff. I will receive the comments deeply and weave them into the next week’s installment.
Note - I may eventually use the text feature on the app to make our conversations more interactive and natural.
Be skeptical of your narrator—Because the story is about my own personal experience and it happened in the past when I was literally a different person, I know there are things that I am missing. I am telling the story, but you may have a better perspective than me. Also, my inability to see is precisely why I got entangled—why we have a story at all! If you feel skeptical about something I do or say, let me know. Ask questions. If you are wondering about a character, let me know. Let’s *see* it all more precisely together. The heroine is extremely imperfect and not trustworthy due to her blindspots. This is part of what I want to bring into better focus.
Intuit, feel into it, bring your wisdom—I am a decent writer, but not a great one. That’s fine! What I am actually better at is facilitating conscious group process. I really hope to make this a well-written and exciting literary journey, but we’re not trying to write the Great American Novel here. We are trying to use art and collective storytelling as a tool to heal the past and therefore, the present. As we get deeper into the action, you may have a strong intuition about something…I want you to trust that, bring it forward. It’s not so much about keeping the story and characters consistent or believable or whatever as it is about alchemizing what needs to be transmuted.
Subscribe!—I will start posting these chapters behind the paywall either next week or the following. I’d like to encourage as many of you as possible to subscribe if you’re excited about getting into this story. After every 4th chapter, there will be a ZOOM forum to discuss and feel into the action.
THANK YOU, my friends, for your precious attention. 🙏🏻
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