Over a lifetime one has many teachers but only a small number who teach them something essential that transforms everything from then on. Some of the lessons are big, some tiny, and some are absolutely huge. All lessons, big and small, play a role in growth, survival, and individuation.
You know who your teachers are. These are mine, along with when (and/or how) I met them and the simple version of what they taught me:
Martha Rothkrug (Towers), my mother. I met her at my conception in February, 1944, if not earlier. What she taught me was: pure terror—and, by terror, magic, ancient clan magic in its raw and primal form, plus the profound sorrow and exile of earthly existence. By showing me the abyss, cruelly before I was ready, she gave me the tools of revelation and an intimation of freedom. She made getting myself deep enough a necessity, for it was the only way to antidote and transmute her dark service. She conferred on me an alienation so engulfing that I could never escape it in a lifetime, so I had to create something out of it. She was my shamanic tutor in the most primeval and bearlike sense.
Robert Towers (nee Turetsky), my stepfather, the ad-man, some time in 1946 when he moved in with my mother. He taught me the rudiments elegant language and artful diction, the spirit of spontaneous joy, baseball’s rudiments and core moves, his own rabbinical apostasy, and the meaning of the social world around me. He was a gentleman and a nice guy who acted like a tyrant because he thought that was his required role. Dandy and poseur that he was, he was still my first intellectual companion, my first debating partner, my first sponsor before the council of the elders.
Jonathan Towers, my half-brother, April, 1948. He taught me the battle, the war, the defiance, the ferocity of our family legacy, and, ultimately from that heritage, compassion, because I had to learn the hard way how to liberate and feel native empathy for him. He taught me that we were twin initiates in a dark lodge, children of a witch. He taught me the catacombs of madness as they lay in the world’s commons outside my own mind. He took his own life in May, 2005.
Philip Wohlstetter, my first friend, at P.S. 6 and Bill-Dave Group, Borough of Manhattan, 1951. He taught me sacred mischief and secular mystery; he invented the intellect for both of us. He taught me how to compete in sports and how to follow baseball and collect cards. He taught me how to rebel, how to flaunt the authority of the elders. He initiated me in the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt, Rick Blaine. We rediscovered our dialogue half a century later, and then he taught me the esoteric logos of international politics, occult money systems, and rogue governments.; in other words, the Hardy Boys writ large. He is still flaunting that authority. I mean, he was in Chile and almost died when Pinochet overthrew Allende.
Abraham Fabian, Greenwich Village, my first psychiatrist, November, 1952. He woke me up and taught me that I existed. He held up the first mirror. He taught me the logos of dreams. He introduced me to the symbol and demonstrated for me how all things held symbols, multiple symbols, and all symbols were ceaselessly transformative and bottomless. He also taught me to be a witness.
Larry Abelman, July 1953, my first camp counselor at Chipinaw, Swan Lake, New York. He taught me custodial boundary, simple affection, and the safety of play.
Bunny Grossinger, August, 1953 (though we met anonymously years earlier). She taught me essential things: love and joy and gaiety, the utter basics. She taught me friendship and camaraderie. Then she taught me goofiness. Then she taught me responsible intelligence. Then she introduced me to great novels and invited me to write my own one, which I did for her and for which she almost never forgave me. Without her, I could not have survived the brutality of my childhood. She gave me intrinsic kindness and its prana, in the world and in myself. Before her I did not know that love or pleasure or hope existed or could be called on and embodied in oneself. She was not my mother and could not have been my mother, but she taught me what my mother was supposed to and didn’t.
Abraham Hilowitz, 1956, my tutor from Columbia. He taught me that I could want knowledge and learn. He taught me that we can tell stories in the face of fear. He showed me how much fun it could be to learn.
Robin McCardell, 1957, my eighth-grade English teacher and adviser at Horace Mann School, Riverdale. He taught me how to be a student instead of a hoyden. He gave me discipline. He introduced me to science fiction. He made responsibility for one’s work and work habits interesting enough to actually do.
Maurice Friend, my psychiatrist after Dr. Fabian’s death, Central Park West and 86th Street, 1958. He taught me how to separate the horror of my nightmares from the secular world and find solace and space in its neutrality and ordinariness. He taught me the Freudian dialogue at an avatar level. He revealed that my parents were narcissists of the most extreme sort. I experienced that aspect of them so directly I didn’t actually know it or know how to think it for real. He taught me that my irritability and resistance held feelings of the most delicious and redemptive sort, a lesson and practice I have never forgotten and enacted at a thousand or more desperate moments since.
Charles (Chuck) Stein, my Horace Mann colleague and life-long friend, 1959. He taught me metaphysical, hermetic, and literary dialogue. He introduced me to poetry, Charles Olson, Robert Kelly, tarot, alchemy, philosophy, self-inquiry. He initiated me as a publisher and an occult seeker. He continues to teach me: ontology, Dzogchen, the Eleusinian Mysteries. Mystery itself is what we shared. He made the mysteries of the universe, of number, of life and death, of revelation in practice acceptable to myself through him while we were both still teenagers.
Kingsley Ervin, 1960, my creative-writing teacher at Horace Mann. He found the writer and witness in me and assigned them to me as life missions. He taught me how to never stop writing.
Leo Marx, 1962, my freshman-English teacher at Amherst. He taught me the dazzle of the intellect and the drunken-ness of inspired discourse, and he identified me to myself as a great writer. He taught me that intellectual passion is a fire that never goes out, and how to feed it. Then he turned against me forever.
Jeff Tripp, my fraternity brother at Phi Psi, September, 1963. He taught me Dylan, Beckett, Brakhage, the uses of cars, but most of all how to grow up and take on a male persona. He enforced not being an asshole or a prig. He gave me bravado and style. He was the first male peer who cared enough about me in that way to think that it mattered how I behaved. He was the master of the impeccable gesture, of the single strike of the sword. He gave me my own sword and chuckled at my first swipes. The stories are in New Moon.
Lindy Hough, Laura Scales House, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, my wife, my life-long partner and companion. October, 1963, three weeks before the Kennedy Assassination is when we met. She taught me trust, putting myself into the care of another. She loved me as a human being and a man, and that contained a teaching and orientation beyond words. She taught me the depth and complexity and multidimensionality of another person. She taught me family and how to co-parent our children. She taught me resilience and forgiveness: the resilience of a sacred bond, loyalty, and that she would always return—and I would too. She taught me intentional risk, how to live in danger. She gave me the world and myself as a man. She totally woke me up and made me do this whole thing for real. All told, it’s amazing that I found a woman who is not only quite a woman but a dame too.
Richard Crowne, 1964, my sophomore English teacher at Amherst. He taught me that my own intelligence was simple and direct and I should stand by it against the pomposity and bluster of others.
Virginia Stangeland, Northampton, Massachusetts, my first real girlfriend (Lindy started in my life as a Platonic friend), 1964. She taught me touch, that physical curiosity was okay, and she touched me.
Harvey Bialy, Bard College, November, 1964. He taught me how and why to talk shit. Introduced to me by Chuck Stein, he introduced me to Robert Kelly.
Robert Kelly, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, November 1964, my mentor. He initiated me into occult practice; he made me a serious writer and then a serious lover for my girlfriend and wife-to-be. He gave me the ancient mysteries in a state of beauty and wonder such that they stuck forever, probably even for lifetimes to come. He was the mage and hierophant who was there at the crossroads. He introduced me to avant-garde literature and myself as a practitioner of it. He taught me Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Diane Wakoski, and the Sufi, Gurdjieffian, and Gnostic masters. He knew how to hand off the football and then let me make my own moves.
Stan Brakhage, Rollinsville, Colorado, December 1964. He taught me outsider aesthetics, experimental film, the 8 mm. camera, but mostly sacred rebellion.
Greg Dropkin, my Phi Psi buddy, 1965. He taught me topology and music, not only the shapes and notes of the immediate world but the geometric and algebraic mysteries of the universe and dimensions beyond space-time. He taught me how to turn Navaho symbols into abstract sets. He taught me how to turn any set of dimensions into any other, overthrowing the authority of the academics. Then he fled the draft and the country and disappeared.
Nels Richardson, my Amherst peer and Io co-editor, 1965. He passed on the primary dope about angels and messages and that they are the same root word: the messages of spirits and the messages of birds and sky and wind, a gentle, free magic I had missed in my own troubled complication and self-absorption. Messages and their singular grace were Nelson’s gift.
Mitchell Miller, close buddy in Aspen, Colorado, July 1965, he made Lindy and me into a couple as he taught me the McLuhan Galaxy and a unique form of whimsy. With his left hand he patterned the hip and the beat and a spacey, wide-eyed awe and, with his right, he enforced on me a politically and artistically radical world.
Frodo, the first animal friend in my care, July, 1965, Aspen. She taught me the bond between animal and human and how to befriend a being from a different species. She taught me secrets of her cat world and by keeping others to herself, taught me a obscure mystery dance. She created our family: her, Lindy, and me. She was our clan guardian and totem spirit. Then she left for good. By that she taught me fidelity and loss. She remains in my dreamlife forever.
Donald Pitkin, my first anthropology professor, Amherst College, September, 1965. With masterful gentleness and gentility, he introduced me with to cross-cultural thinking, physical anthropology, non-Western mythology, the origin of Homo sapiens from other primates, the symbol, Navaho ceremonialism, Arthur Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man, and Paul Radin’s Mind of Primitive Man, with their dreaming children, Omega Points, transdimensional Suns, and Maori spirit-souls. He then dispatched me into graduate anthropology. He also taught me the honor of simple academic accomplishment and the bounty of well-practiced liberal arts.
Roy Rappaport, September, 1966, my graduate-school professor and anthropology advisor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; later, a founding Board member of North Atlantic Books. He taught me how to be a mensch and stand up for myself. He all but dragged me into professional manhood. He gave me a portal into critical thinking and made academic achievement possible for me. By being amazingly candid and confidential, he modeled a mensch-hood that required my respect and an answer in myself and my own behavior. That’s the only way anyone could have gotten me through a PhD. Along the way he taught me that if I didn’t finish the degree and let my critics win, I would waste a lot of my life bitching about them later. It was more expedient and economical just to give in to them and win.
Robin Grossinger, my son, 6:19 AM, June 19, 1969, Ann Arbor, Michigan. He made me a father. He taught me to take care of both of us. He gave me back my childhood.
Wendell Seavey, lobsterfisherman Bernard, Maine, the wharf at Thurston’s, September, 1969. He taught me now to man up and to stand by my words. He taught me the practice of active courage and labor. He introduced me to innate psychic knowing. These are big pieces to come from one boatman.
Dona Wheeler, September 1970 (though we met in 1965). She taught me that you have to simply ask, plus a certain blind grace, acceptance, and humble service to another.
Edward Dorn, West Newbury, Massachusetts, 1971. One nasty dude, he taught me humor—complex irony with bite. He made the pre-Socratics and the Neanderthals indispensable and placed that understanding and acknowledgment inside me so that Parmenides and the Stone Age were there henceforth, always in shouting distance of my mind. By playing an interrogator and bully, he made me take a stand. Robert Creeley did that too, but with more bumble and bluster and less attention to me as a person. Ed liked me and didn’t like me, both of them enough to invest time in me and get my attention. I don’t think that Creeley actually cared that much.
Gerritt Lansing, Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1971 (though a few years earlier we met in passing, via Robert Kelly). He presented me the key and the map to the psychic realm, though it was decades before I used them. He imparted me, secretly without my realizing it, the dark goddess and the unseen real. He managed to get across that the esoteric and occult are no more exotic than furniture, and can be enjoyed just as much. He taught me to speak my truth in English to animals, even insects.
Sheppard Powell, July 1972, my student at Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont. He taught me wildness and to dare to be outrageous. He taught me the subtle rhythms of hip and cool. He helped name me Chard, though Art Cole, another student, sourced the actual form from Ree-chard. He taught me that, if you want to do magic, just do it. If you want to house-clean, tell the ghosts to leave. If you want to remove a curse, throw salt—real salt in a real circle around the offending object or its replica. My kids will never forget those rituals. They define their parents’ weirdness. But Shep later taught my daughter Miranda, as a teenager, the tools of simple psychic practice and magic.
Rob Brezsny, September 1972, my student at Goddard. He taught me baseball magic, rock ’n’ roll divination, epiphanic performance, pop occult service, and the worship of the anima as a lifelong mission. See also under “Friends” on this website because the other half of it is there.
Miranda Grossinger (July), my daughter February 15, 1974, Barre, Vermont, my daughter. She taught me the path of both the committed artist and creative clown. She taught me the ways in which I failed as a father and an artist myself. She gave me our family constellation with all its reincarnative baggage and potential. She took away from me the many vanities by which I disguised the sloppiness and indulgence of my parenting path. She threw a profound mirror to Lindy and me as a marriage. She taught me that my generation’s moment had passed, quietly and while reminding me that I still had her as my daughter. She taught me that, at the worst moments, something else is also happening and to find it and pay attention.
Andy Shapiro and Carolyn Smithson, 1974, Barre, Vermont. Most simply, they taught me t’ai chi ch’uan, but they also taught me to recover my sacred pagan body and move it in a way I had never imagined, and that opened the door to other movements.
William (later Ellias) Lonsdale, 1974, Plainfield, Vermont. He taught me magical and astrological seeing, the Rudolf Steiner universe, Atlantis, the zodiac as life epitome and, years down the road (1995), the nature and mystery of death and deathless existence. These are huge items, and I cannot emphasize enough how dramatic a veil he removed and how penetrating a light he shown into the darkness sections of the universe: the astrological universe, the astronomical universe, and the daily universe of simplest actions. He revealed the esoteric message contained in every event and action of our lives. His lesson was how to take the karmic and reincarnative lesson from everything.
Bernadette Mayer, 1965, Milwaukee and the Lower East Side. She taught me the seriousness of the work and flirtation in one lesson—and that they were the same thing.
Paul Pitchford, McKinley Street, Berkeley, California, 1975. He taught me practice and initiated me into a Stone Age guild. He was my first real t’ai-chi teacher, my first meditation teacher, the first person to teach me about diet and nutrition—food as consciousness and practice. He introduced me to Buddhism and Traditional Chinese medicine. He made my spiritual path serious and playful both and then demanded it of me. He taught me why martial arts and meditation were really “playing.” He told me the great cosmic joke. See the rest under “Friends” on this website.
Ian Grand, Lincoln Street, Berkeley, California, 1975, my first bio-energetic therapist and bodyworker. He taught me the healing practices of pure anger and pure laughter, and he transformed my frozen childhood psychoanalysis into a a living illuminated path. He taught me how to cry, how to feel bliss in my flesh. Pure bliss, unconnected to any event or trigger. And that’s quite a gift and lesson. He gave me space—space inside myself. He taught me how to find it and use it, and I have played that hand whenever necessary ever since.
Polly Gamble, Rose Street, Berkeley, California, 1976. She introduced me to formal bodywork and taught me how to breathe. She also taught me to transform pain into energy. She taught me that whatever I was resisting or hiding from her was the path, every time. She introduced me to her teacher Richard Heckler and, years later, her husband Randy Cherner.
Merrily Pascal (Weisbord), Montreal, 1976. She taught me it was okay to be Jewish and that, after all, I was just a regular guy.
Anne Marie Molnar, Vermont, 1977. She taught me innocence and innocent trust.
Stanley Keleman, Francisco Street, Berkeley, 1978. He taught me the mystery of the embryo and the ritual of the body. He taught me emotional anatomy and how the body lives its mind. He also taught me that sexuality is both self and survival.
Charles Poncé, Uranus Street, San Francisco, 1979. This half-Panamanian, half-Greek Jungian mendicant taught me dreamwork and the transfiguration of everything in the symbolic and psychological universes, and he remade psychotherapy into jazz and jive. He also taught me the shifting and supple meaning of the revelatory moment, the symbol beyond the symbol. He taught me that he who lives by the symbol pays homage to a rigid and simplistic interpretation for the rest of his days. He taught me that, when dealing with archetypes or planets or gods, always enter by the back door. See also “A Primary Reading List” on this website for the rest of Charles’ goods.
Richard Strozzi Heckler, Marin, 1980. He taught me prayer and submission and the warrior path. He made it clear to me that we had to do what we had to do—no way out, no other choice. He told me the he could not protect me from gale force winds and that he expected me to encounter them anyway and see the act through.
Charlie Winton, Emeryville, 1983. He taught me how to be a businessman and a publisher and how to make money.
Randy Cherner, Corte Madera, 1987. He taught me how to convert my literary and verbal skill into other, nonverbal skills. He taught me how to use my hands for healing and, lesson by lesson, he gave me the art of palpation. He made me find my body at much deeper levels than I had thought possible. He gave me zones upon zones of somatic space inside myself. He taught me craniosacral therapy, how to locate and read the cerebrospinal pulse, how to make a chi ball and use it energetically. He set me on a somatic quest that I had all but given up on for this lifetime. He showed me palpably a different way. He enticed and teased me into my second path as a bodyworker. He taught me that you never get anywhere unless you are willing to take the first step. And he also taught me a subtle thing: don’t set yourself up to do impossible exercises for the sake of failing. Only do what you have to do. He also suggested that, instead trying to do everything well, I do one thing well.
Seymour Zises, Madison Avenue, 1988 (though we met earlier as children). He taught me how money and the secular world work, and he assigned me my actual place in their schema and instructed me in how to live it. He taught me that we all have a place in the social structure, class system, and financial pantheon—and just to play it by ear.
Kathy Glass, Berkeley, October, 1989. She taught me, by her simple presence, that we have all lived before, on other worlds and as other beings. She made the room in which we both stood larger. She saw me as an adept and so turned me into one. She taught me radical politics and radical policy from the lived ground up. She taught me sacred rage. She initiated me into the power of spiritual friendship and unconditional loyalty. She taught me a boundary that can never be crossed or crossed only at unacceptable risk, and she taught it and taught it and taught it, even as she simultaneously taught limitless reincarnation by being a bump on my same log.
Amini Peller, Randy’s class, Corte Madera, 1990. She taught me female sacred wisdom: power, courage, faith, and service, and she put me in direct touch with the chakras and their colors.
Cindy Frank (Paradiso), Randy’s class, Corte Madera, 1990. She taught me a safe path to what was forbidden, or a path that was almost safe. She gave me the gift of my own healing hands and how to transmit energy with them.
Cybèle Tomlinson, Breema class, Oakland, 1991, my bodywork partner. She taught me the purity of presence, disciplined presence in the heart of danger.
Elizabeth Beringer, Feldenkrais master, Berkeley, 1991. She taught me courage, honor, and the requirement of taking total responsibility. She taught the warrior pose that is beyond gender. She taught me how to reinvent movement.
Eugene Alexander, San Francisco, October, 1991, my therapist. He taught me how to drop my harsh self-judgments and my despair at being so afraid. He taught me how the crucibles of greatest darkness are chrysalises of the most exquisite and playful light. He taught me how deep a trauma I had been through and, by showing me how only one in a hundred survive such a blow, he let me be a hero rather than misfit. He taught me to trust someone else, other than Lindy. He taught me how to give myself permission and space. He taught me the shared nature of our human existence and that we are all afraid and in it together. He modeled humanity and friendship. He was there.
Peter Ralston, Oakland, 1991. He taught me that practice is repetition plus intention, nothing more. Do it 50,000 times. He taught me to always measure space, angle, and energy—and that these are what stand between “I am here” and “you are there.”
Ron Sieh, at Peter Ralston’s martial-arts dojo, Oakland, 1991, my teacher and sparring partner. He taught me traditional warriorship in the ring, spiritual urgency, how to fight with commitment and integrity, basic practice, the undying resolution to be the best you can be and to stay on a path at all costs. He taught me never to speak empty words without energy and action behind them, never to carry out empty actions without heart and spirit and intention. He also taught me the specifics of hsing-i and its animals and introduced me to grounding and running energy and martial playfulness. Then he held open the door and pointed the way to psychic work. See also “Friends” on this website.
Mary Buckley, Ukiah, 1992. She taught me tantra and the sacredness of desire.
Denise Forest, Empty Gate Zen Center, Berkeley, 1992. She showed me how to commit to daily spiritual practice.
John Upledger, 1994. He taught me how to accept miracle healing and walk brazenly into the unknown. He showed me how just to do stuff and trust the universe to work it out. He transmitted how and where science and clairvoyance, medicine and telekinesis were the same things. He taught me inklings of a language that transcends all languages—cell talk. He show me how once you know something, just do it. And do it again. And keep doing it. Don’t waste time trying to prove its worth to someone else.
Terry Leach, major-league baseball player, 1996 (though we met briefly in the Mets’ locker-room in 1987). He taught me the simple patriotic American virtues—how we have to look out for one another and have one another’s backs. He modeled the spunk and chivalry of everyday life. He also taught me how to lay back and take it easy. He taught me something that a lot of other people tried but never got across: how to take a vacation, how to give yourself permission.
Frank Lowen, Albuquerque, 1997. He taught me the quantum nature of hands-on energy and gave me the imperative to use that energy only and always. He taught me that anatomy was no different from energy. He taught me anatomy, even of stone. He taught me karmic duty and pilgrimage.
Richard Handel, Bar Harbor, Maine, 1997. He taught true artless humanity; he modeled the cosmic prank and the karmic riddle. He taught me how to make what wasn’t light light.
Paul Weiss, Town Hill, Maine, 2001 (though we met in 1997). He taught me how to channel and move energy and embody the chi arts. He made the flow of cosmic energy palpable. He taught me how to smile from within, even through bad moods and irritation. The thing he wasn’t able to teach is how to do it all the time.
Mark Ouimet, Berkeley, 2004 (though we met a decade earlier). He taught me how to run a business, how to manage a staff, how to navigate professional trouble, and how to interface with other businesses and people playing business games.
Patricia Fox, Bass Harbor, Maine, Featherlane Yoga Studio, 2006. She taught me how to unlock secrets hidden in my own body, and that that (not postures or exercise) was what yoga was about. She gave me a yoga that I could do when she wasn’t present. She taught me that it is all yoga, all the time.
Robert Simmons, Montpelier, Vermont, 2006. He taught me faith, opening oneself as a channel, honoring stones as living beings, and how to stand behind your word even when the son-of-a-bitch in you is raising holy hell to get you to reneg. He taught me how to keep opening yourself anew to cosmic possibility.
Miha Mazzini, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2006. He taught me Eastern Europe and introduced me to the unseen past.
Javier Thistlewaite, Berkeley Psychic Institute, 2008. He taught me how to turn everyday life into practical magic and that psychic work is not about past lives or secret information but is simply spirit communicating with spirit. This one-time race-car driver lived the riddle and the sphinx, and he manifested actual magic.
Robert Sardello, Marshfield, Vermont, 2008. He taught me the phenomenology of the body and how to distinguish the spirit world from private fantasies and rank suggestibility.
John Friedlander, 2009. We have never met, but he has guided me psychically onto the theosophical path, taught me how to extend the range of my consciousness to other dimensions, and given me a method for establishing a dialogue with my soul. He has also taught constant daily attunement, plus he teaches the impossible, beyond time and space, and thus makes the universe “amusing,” to use his word, and at hand.
Emily Davis, Manset, Maine, 2009. She taught me how to teach.