Tenacious Magic ~ Chapter 8
S and Paul in Brooklyn, S continues the work with H, an introduction is made
“The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.”
A seed of hope that was buried deep in my heart has sprouted: Katherine is here with us. She came to me in a dream Wednesday night. I woke up at 2:09am and wrote:
There she was! I felt her again. So present, but a little distant and indistinct—like there is some work to do to become close again (not emotionally, but literally…astrally). I didn’t recognize her in the dream…only after waking. How sweet! She sent a message. The message was…We are making wine of these old cherries, putting it away for winter, storing up so we will be nourished always. It’s a beautiful operation we have going. Here is the scene:
I’m in a big house with houseguests. Not my house. It’s hers? There is an operation in the works. They are/she is making wine in the basement. She is efficient, brisk, and confident and quite a large presence. In the dream she is robust, even stocky, beautiful in a natural way…my grandmother would have called her “a handsome woman.” Striking, I’d say. I realize the contrast with how I am holding her in my mind: thin, frail, fragile as she was in her final months. In her youth she was fuller, more vital, and it really suits her. In the dream, she seems in the prime of life and health. I wonder how this woman (in her prime) would have related to Gurdjieff.
She stands in a kitchen at the top of the stairs to the basement. She is proud of her work and wants to show me. I notice lots of people are hanging out, waiting, watching…enjoying the process. It’s communal. (Is that John Middleton Murry there?) She shows me bins where old fruit, like raisins or dried cherries, wrinkled and shriveled, are soaking. Tubes are leading down the stairs and I see an elaborate set-up down there. I’m not quite sure why I’m being shown this. She seems to be waiting patiently for me to get it. Then, she has to go and she suggests (directs) that I go downstairs to see the whole thing and wait for a cup of the finished wine.
I go downstairs. She points out the first light switch to me and then I have to intuit how to illuminate the whole basement with a complex set of switches. I worry it will be hard and I don’t know how, but I feel around and it comes. I intuit the correct switches and soon every corner is full of light. In fact, it’s all set up very neatly. It feels comfortable and user-friendly even if it’s a bit homemade, homespun. I seem to be taking ownership, coming into some recognition that I have something to do with this process.
I notice all the various apparatuses and it’s a much bigger operation than I imagined at first. It’s really pumping and gurgling to make quite a bit of wine. I study the beakers, flasks and tubes; the mechanics of heating and cooling—it’s all automated…working on its own volition now. Doesn’t need manning.
As I remember the dream now, it really is more like a laboratory, like an alchemist’s lab! Yes. These dried old fruits (memories) are being reconstituted and turned into wine. I can feel the essence being restored to what had been relegated to trash (the past). I begin to see how clever it all is. I feel excited by it and proud. There is a sense of making something precious and sacred/a spirit (like Jesus turning water into wine) out of old useless things. They’re no good for eating anymore, but look what we can do!
Then, I am outside the house watching the process from the street and I see that there are lots of people happily waiting for the next batch. Waiting for a glass of this wine made from old memories.
KM, thank you for inspiring this alchemy.
Before we get into this week’s chapter, there’s something else I want to say about what this process is revealing to me about H and his teachings.
As I read through old journals I am finding beautiful detail about this important period of my life and the work with H. I never took notes in the sessions, but as soon as I left and got on the subway, I wrote. He had such a distinct way of speaking—a strong accent that forced me to listen closely and a way of filling his words with meaning—that I remembered a great deal almost verbatim. In this story, I am mixing and matching events from different sessions to compress three years of study. Of course, I try to stay true to the essence of his teachings.
Re-reading, I am struck by his profound wisdom and his commitment to the teachings. I had never met anyone like him then, nor since. He was a remarkable person and a great teacher of the mysteries.
I can also see now something I couldn’t see then, which is a shortcoming in the work. This has to do with exactly what has become my expertise: EMBODIMENT, especially the embodiment and integration of the emotional body/subtle body, and the restoration of trauma/healing.
Again and again I can see, especially in this early work, how he was trying to “break me” of the bad habit of being overly emotional. He was right, in a way. I was overly emotional and my emotions ruled my entire existence—they were killing me. I was in their grip. I can now see that this was the effect of being a highly-sensitive, empathic person raised without training or trauma healing. I didn’t know about trauma at that time. I hadn’t integrated my parts. I didn’t yet know about feminine wisdom and the healing of the Great Mother. All of this would come later.
H helped me control my emotions by suppressing them and using my mind to override them. This was helpful in that it taught me how to work with them (that they COULD BE worked with) and it actually did give us the space to move into some deep esoteric states (as you will see). BUT, it was bad…really bad…for me as a woman, an empath, and a healer of the emotional body. I became dry (his preferred mode) and disconnected to my intuition and emotional wisdom.
When the work with H ended, I spent years repairing the damage this caused me. It was totally unnatural for me to suppress my emotions. I know that many of my readers will know me as someone who prizes embodiment and emotional intelligence and healing above all! I am a champion of these modalities and the healing, integration and healthy relating they support. I’ve already had one reader (Charlie, it was you, thank you) point out that the Schuyler he knows now would never put her emotions aside or suppress them in the ways H insists upon here in this chapter and as we go on. All I can say is that I couldn’t see then what I can see now…and I may have had to go through this to learn the process for repairing the emotional connection.
Ultimately, I think this blind spot is key to what happens in our story and how it all unraveled. I want you to know that I did not see it then and that was important. I had to go there, I had to get dry before I could re-integrate my emotional gifts. I see it now. So bear with young S.
A note about this story going behind the paywall. If you are new to my Substack, you can find the introduction to this series here and Chapter 1 here. This week is the first week the post is behind a pay wall, which was the original intention. If you have been following this story and for whatever reason cannot afford to pay the monthly subscription fee, please let me know. I’d hate to keep anyone out. At the same time, if you’ve been enjoying the story and you CAN afford the monthly subscription fee, it makes a huge difference for me. This is my livelihood and primary source of income. Your support makes this work possible. I have been conflicted about making this move and I’m open to suggestions. Thank you for continuing to be in collaboration with me on this project.
Now, back to New York in 2009-2010 where we will revive the essence of the raisins back into grapes for wine.
Brooklyn, June 2009
It’s late June when they find an apartment: a perfect, quiet, two-bedroom on the top floor of a pre-war building on Eastern Parkway. The ceilings are high and the views are spectacular: the east side of Manhattan including five bridges and a direct sightline to the Empire State Building. It’s small with only one bathroom and the kitchen is outdated, but S knows this is the one as soon as she walks in. She can see them here. She can see their family here.
She stands in the second bedroom which the current owners have decorated for their children. Two small twin beds, the ceiling painted with a mural of the cosmos. Paul finds her there with tears in her eyes.
“Why are you crying?” he asks as he puts an arm around her shoulders.
“I feel…it seems impossible…but it feels like we’ve already lived here. Like this has already been ours. Like these beds are for our children. It’s like a memory…but of the future.” She wipes the tears and smiles because she knows how it sounds.
She looks around and wonders to herself, “Is it possible to feel what is to come as distinctly as you might feel a memory?”
She turns to Paul and whispers emphatically, but so the agent can’t hear, “This is it!”
They’ve been looking every weekend for months, all over the borough. It hardly seems possible that this place is available and in their price range—like they’ve found a hidden gem in the fabric of the city. They leave and walk around the block once. Paul is cautious, but optimistic. She is certain.
“Look at this neighborhood—the library, the museum, the botanic garden, a playground…everything we need is right here. And the views…you had views at the top of your list, Paul. Views like this are hard to come by in Brooklyn. Trust me, this is the one.”
“It’s true. It’s a great view. And the subway is right here…” They’re both excited now.
“Do you think we can close before my birthday?” She asks excitedly.
“I hope so…that’s in August.”
New York City, July 2009
S is sitting in H’s office. The air conditioning is humming in the window, barely covering the sound of construction outside. H seems oblivious to the distractions, she is struggling to focus. “The jackhammer is a nice touch,” she thinks with annoyance.
Their sessions have gotten harder. She feels nervous, unsure what direction he will take them. H is determined to break her of her bad habits—to teach her self-mastery. Of course, she wants this, too. But, it brings up shame in her. She takes it all personally when he shines the bright light on her dark corners. Even taking it all personally, is one of her bad habits. The process can be excruciating.
“So what have you learned about yourself this week?” he asks. He listens closely as she recounts an experience she had firing a client.
“Why does this give you so much trouble? Move on. The fit was not good, you saw it, you made a decision. This sounds like good business.”
She sighs heavily knowing he is right, but financial anxiety has been weighing on her. The purchase of the apartment is imminent and she has never parted with some much money. She shares this with him expecting understanding. Instead he is harsh.
“You have the mentality of a poor girl. You are not a poor girl. Where does this come from?” She begins to sink into herself. He looks at her closely and asks, “What sits on you?”
Suddenly, she feels the weight he is pointing to, like a blanket of lead draped over her shoulders, like…depression. She has spent over a decade running from this part of herself. “Well, my family was poor. They lived in poverty…in Appalachia. My grandmother was one of eleven children and her childhood home had dirt floors…my grandfather…” She feels shaky as memories flood in. She begins to cry in a way that is all too familiar.
“Stop this,” he says with force—it’s a command. He is not angry or irritated, but clear. “No self pity. There were challenges, life was hard…but they had dignity, too.” He stresses the word and she can see how she is using the story to justify something weak inside her. She stops crying and opens to a new possibility. He softens, “Look, it’s hard. That’s what all the mystical books are about. Let’s just agree that it’s hard. Throw it in the trash. The weak, vulnerable female does not become you.”
He speaks slowly, holding her full attention, “Let me tell you something. There is a difference between the crying that releases and the crying that binds one deeper in. If you cry like this right now you might feel temporary relief, but then you’ll leave here and all you will be is tired. You’ll have to go home and take a nap. When you wake up nothing you were crying about will have been solved. So, what’s the point? Don’t cry like this.”
They sit and she becomes aware of the noise outside the window again. He notices this, “You have to become immoveable. You cannot be distracted. You are not as sensitive as you think.” She feels his eyes pull her into a state of heightened clarity.
“You want it to stop? It can stop.” The jack hammer outside comes to a stop. They sit in the gentle hum of the air conditioner, which feels like silence now. Her whole body relaxes. “But, you have to be indifferent.”
He releases her from his grip and they both shift in their seats. The hour is coming to a close. He says more gently now, “Get rid of this soft female…She does not become you. She only allows you to get away with things, to procrastinate the real work.”
“I feel like I’m failing.”
“You are not failing. You are not a sensitive girl. At the beginning it’s ok to fall, to make mistakes and not know. It’s ok not to ‘succeed’ at first. It’s like surfing. You fall a lot before you stand up. Just ride it out. You may not beat it just yet, but you must become aware of what’s happening.”
“You don’t yet know how happy you will be and how miserable you are now. Yes, it’s hard. But, it’s harder to stay where you are. It’s harder to be unconscious…”
They sit in silence for a long time while the sadness dissolves in her body. She feels calm.
“Controlling this,” he puts out his palm face down and wiggles it in a wavering motion, “is the whole practice.”
That evening after work neither of them feels like cooking. Paul suggests they go to Frankie’s, their favorite restaurant. Despite the crowd, they are immediately shown to a corner table in the back garden by Little Frank. Big Frank is out tonight. Paul has known the Franks for years—drinking at the bar, on dates and dining alone as a bachelor. As he settles them at the table they chat amicably.
“It’s busy for a Monday,” says S surveying the full backyard and bustling wait staff. She loves this garden. She can almost imagine she is in Tuscany except for the metallic sheen of the elevated F train as it passes the back fence before plunging underground again.
Frank sighs and rolls his eyes, “It’s busy every night now. I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I haven’t had a night off in weeks. The old neighborhood is changing fast now.”
“Yeah…I can never seem to get far enough ahead of the yuppies…just when I settle in, they find me. I feel like a scout.” says Paul.
As a born-and-raised New Yorker, Paul is both sensitive to change and inoculated to it. Growing up in the city in the 70s created a kind of ever-present-resignation in his character. Sometimes when they fight she calls him a pessimist, but he claims to be a realist. He’s fond of saying he subscribes to the “theory of low expectations” in life: if you don’t get excited about anything, you can’t be disappointed. She senses this in other New Yorkers, too—like they’re used to being up against something bigger than themselves and have grown accustomed to the grind of “progress.”
“How’s Sal?” Frank is asking about their elderly landlord who lives on the ground floor of the brownstone and has since he was a boy. His parents were part of the original immigration of Italians from Bari in the early 1900s. Carroll Gardens, has been largely Italian for decades.
Paul nods, “Getting up there. When he goes, I don’t know how long the building will stay in the family. His daughter lives on Staten Island. It’ll probably be sold and gutted like the rest.”
“There goes the neighborhood,” says Frank as he places the menus in front of them and pours some water, “Well, buon appetito.”
The F train rumbles by. S waits until it has passed to speak, “Why didn’t you tell him we’re moving?” She asked.
“I couldn’t. Not yet. Anyway…it’s not a done deal. We haven’t signed the contract,” He looks wistful, “the end of an era…” she grabs his hand across the table.
They order and chat. Her mind is still on the session with H earlier. He can be so ruthless, but he’s almost always right. Once she gets through the initial shock to the system, she can usually integrate the insights. This is the process of growth, it requires tenderizing, humbling. Ego death is no joke…the ego puts up a big fight.
She feels mildly distracted through the meal. Paul doesn’t seem to notice. Later, as they walk home he brings up the subject of children. It’s been a source of tension between them. Tonight, he is gentle, but her answer is the same:
“I’m not ready, yet.”
Before this was her answer because she wasn’t ready to give up her freedom. Now, she knows she never was free. But, she can feel she is in process; in a midst of a transition and things will not be clear for a while.
They are watching a movie later that night when she receives a call from H. She goes into the bedroom to take it. He is calling to see if she is ok.
From a place of calmness, she can now say with sincerity, “I know you’re right, but I feel things so deeply. It’s always been like this for me. I’ve been called depressed, they’ve tried to medicate me. I won’t do it. I know there’s nothing wrong with me. I know these feelings are important…they’re a kind of wisdom. It’s just that lately everything feels so intense…The sorrow is almost unbearable.”
“This happens on the path,” he reassures her, “You are just beginning to understand the ups and downs we are all subject to. Remember…you’re not feeling anything new. This was there before you met me, now you’re just aware of it. It’s important when you are feeling low, not to let your thoughts get low…”
“The emotions are so strong,” she confides.
“You will see that there is something higher that is even stronger.”
“When I’m with you, it all makes sense. I feel I can handle it,” she says, “But, when I’m not, I feel alone. I feel in over my head.”
“You’re swimming in an ocean right now. If you can overcome fear and melancholy, you’ll make it.” He pauses, “the key is not wishing it will go away, but developing the technique to force it out.”
“Technique? Like what?”
“Let’s start like this…every time you begin to feel sad, put an ice cube in your pocket. I want you to learn to recognize sadness.”
She laughs, “An ice cube. Really?”
“You think I’m joking? You will see how your sadness is different from suffering. Intentional suffering…Gurdjieff called it ‘remorse of conscience.’ This is real. This will prevent you from making the same mistakes again. Suffering is necessary for insight, but sadness can weigh you down. It will drown you. You have to be able to suffer without sadness.”
They hang up and she walks through the living room where Paul is still engaged with the movie. He glances up to see if he is needed.
“Who was that?” he asks.
“It’s nine o’clock,” he says with some irritation. She keeps walking and blows him a kiss, he turns his attention back to the screen.
She steps out into the hallway. It’s a quirk of the apartment that the bathroom is the size of a closet and located outside the apartment. Initially, it felt like having an outhouse, but she’s grown used to it. Everyone who lives in New York City has something to get used to.
She replays the conversation with H as she washes her face and brushes her teeth. She feels giddy…hopeful. It may be, in part, relief at being truly held—for the first time. She feels like she has an ally, a mentor…a teacher. She feels such gratitude…bordering on awe. She remembers the yogic maxim, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” He came.
She stands there, looking in the mirror, she can touch all four walls of the room from where she is standing and it feels private, safe. She looks at herself, really looks at herself, and realizes she has been avoiding this person for a long time.
She stares into her own eyes the way she has been staring into H’s all these weeks and now months. She looks into herself. As she does, she becomes very still, barely breathing, focused. She looses the surface focus of seeing “things” and drops into a deeper level of sensing. Now, she is really seeing. Her eyes turn into black holes and she falls in. The mirror becomes a portal and faces emerge and overlay on hers: male, female, old, young, all races and nationalities, all times in history. She is witnessing a parade of identities. Are they all hers? Was she each of these people?
She whispers to whoever or whatever is doing this, “Show me the original. Show me the oldest one.”
At this, the light around her head and face grows and floods the room. Her face is briefly dark, in complete shadow. Then, she is radiant like a star—the white light H has shown her—and there is an old woman with eyes so ancient and penetrating they break the spell. She is once again looking at her own reflection.
Her heart races. She walks into the apartment and grabs her phone. She texts H a description of what she’s just seen in the mirror. His response comes instantly,
“Sounds like you’re doing alchemy.”
S and Paul travel that summer. They spend a week on Fire Island, a tradition for Paul’s family. S tolerates the ghosts and the family dynamics; running on the beach and writing to stay sane. And they make a big road trip through California to Oregon, stopping to attend a multi-day yoga festival in Lake Tahoe on the way. This is S’s idea, but Paul is game. He tolerates the yogi fest for the chance camp in the Redwoods later that week. She loves his love of the outdoors. Nature is like oxygen to this city boy.
S misses her regular sessions with H, but she does the work of self remembering religiously. She is integrating, opening, experiencing life in new ways. They go hiking and she tracks her thinking, feeling, and sensing for miles. She meditates in the mirror, trying to see more of her past-lives. She begins to experience her body as light.
When they return, they get the word that their offer has been accepted on the apartment by the museum. They are thrilled. The job of packing begins. S goes back to work and resumes her sessions with H. She is excited to show him how she has grown, what she has achieved.
On the morning of her first session in a month, she decides to dress how she feels. She puts on a navy dress and platform sandals. She spends time on her hair and make-up. She leaves the house feeling young, alive, wonderful. She walks the few blocks from the subway to H’s building, aware of the impression she is making on passersby. She feels…powerful.
She takes her seat in his office and he sits across from her and takes her in.
“You’re very dressed up today,” he says appreciatively.
“Yes, I decided to dress how I feel and I feel wonderful.”
“I can see that,” he is watching her like a hawk.
They begin their session catching up on the travel. She is feeling electrified by some of the insights she’s had. She is speaking with an authority that feels new and heady.
H listens closely and begins to ask questions. He also starts to correct some of her assertions. He asks after every point he makes, “Do you understand?” looking at her hard.
S feels invincible, clear. His direct questions seem pedantic and simplistic. She interrupts him and gives clipped responses. Again he asks, “Do you understand?” Suddenly she snaps, “Of course, I understand. You underestimate me!”
He becomes still and locks her in a gaze that dominates her ego immediately. He shakes his head, “Never do that again,” he says.
She is frozen, embarrassed. He softens when he sees her shame and says softly but with force, “I don’t want to hear you say you understand the sun, I want to see you be the sun.”
She relaxes and feels a healthy sobriety set in.
“Let’s sit,” he says. They sit and bathe in the light between them.
“Don’t suppress the rising tide of energy. Just let it rise…like a wave…and ride it out. You don’t need to act…just experience it.”
She feels something rising within her. The movement of the energy is strong, though she cannot move. She feels pinned. The sensation is so unusual, she feels fear. She wants to run away, but has no idea why or from what.
He breaks the connection.
“Let me ask you something…why do you stop this?” He sits up straight in his chair and fills his lungs and chest with air and then indicates with his hand a rising from the abdomen upwards, “Just let it come.”
They go into the light again and she is able to sit very still. She focuses on allowing the energy to envelop her by relaxing her inner body.
His eyes become timeless and pure. They no longer belong to a particular man, they are a portal to another time and place or all times and places…beyond time and place.
“You have to stay in this state as much as possible. Sustain it as long as you can –– until you are walking around in this state all the time. And believe me…when it happens, there is no advantage to anyone knowing. Until then, you’ll just get glimpses.”
“Tell me, what is this state? What is the light? Where does it comes from?”
“This is the purification of the sexual energy. It can give birth to higher states of being…A man is born as a woman inside and a woman is born as a man inside. Each becomes what they will be. You must give birth to the goddess within you. You go about things now as a man would, like a man you are aggressive, competitive, controlling. You have to learn to relax, to receive, and become the goddess you are. When you try to be other women or imitate other women you rob yourself of becoming the goddess. God didn’t want you to be Mother Teresa. He wants you to be you in your fullness.”
They go back into the light and it plays through the space of the room, between them. It seems to be alive, sentient. S smiles and for some reason feels like laughing. She wants to explode with joy but she’s being held in place by the same power that is making her feel so free. Without speaking she asks a question. It arises from somewhere deep, deep inside. She doesn’t think it, but feels it forming itself…not from words, just images.
She sees him in robes, on a throne. She sees herself in a long gown, veiled, standing regally, dancing sensually. The images are fleeting and incomplete…like a memory resurfacing, like a vision.
“Were you…? Was I…?” she says this aloud.
The questions seems so outrageous to her she cannot even finish the thought. Inside her it sounds like this: “Were you the priest and was I the priestess?”
“Yes,” he says. One word uttered without hesitation.
Their time for today has come to a close. They sit again as H and S in midtown Manhattan. The room becomes a room again.
As S collects her bag and moves towards the door, she is a little wobbly on her platform sandals. H stands and walks casually to his desk—moving gracefully as always, cat-like.
As she opens the door, he suddenly says, “Katherine Mansfield.” The name hits her from behind like a ton of bricks, stopping her in her tracks. She turns around, filled with a strange curiosity. He is holding a book nonchalantly, flipping through the pages, not looking at her. Without looking up he says, “Do you know her? The poet.”
“Sounds familiar,” she says, searching her memories...poet? Writer? A strange knowing enters her body…like a déjà vu.
He looks up at her and says firmly, “Look her up.”
She leaves the room and closes the door. Standing there waiting for the elevator, she realizes she is trembling. She considers using her phone to search the name, but a strong intuition has her wait. She needs to sit down. She needs to be at home for this.