Amherst Class of ’66 Fiftieth Reunion Notes
I wanted to share some of my thoughts about our just-completed reunion, partly to help me integrate the experience, partly to keep some of the reunion spirit going. We each have our unique perspectives, so I hope that classmates will provide their own retrospectives and insights.
I will write three installments of these notes, as there are a number of topics I’d like to reflect on separately, and I will post them on my website cumulatively; see http://www.richardgrossinger.com/2016/06/amherst-class-of-66-fiftieth-reunion-notes/ to read these all together at any point.
What strikes me most is the emergence and power (or wakan, to choose a more accurate Lakota term) of our group identity. I don’t know how universal this rapport is in college, high-school, and other such classes and contingents, but I assume that it is widely the case. The same sort of bonding takes place in any group that underwent an intense, personally transformative experience together—sociologists from Durkheim on propound the psychological and emotional force of the collective totem—but that doesn’t mean we didn’t put our own special spin on it. It’s the unique nature and quality of our confederation finally that counts. We may be sharing a phenomenon common to all herding creatures, but its denominator does not dilute or minimize our individual experience of it.
At the twenty-fifth reunion, my first, what I noticed most was dissolution of some of the barriers that separated us as undergraduates: fraternity affiliations, fields of study, topics of interest as well as dichotomies of jock/nerd, markets-oriented/service-oriented, political persuasion, etc. It was more than just a dissolution; it was a conscious effort to overcome adolescent differences and relate to each other’s humanity. AD, Chi Phi, Psi U, Beta, or Phi Psi were strongly determining social factors for us as undergraduates, almost cults. At the twenty-fifth reunion they had become, at most, vestigial masks.
I missed the thirtieth but attended the thirty-fifth, fortieth, and forty-fifth. A five-year span serves significant personal change, especially as it bridges life passages: fruitions of careers and transitions to retirement—and of course the ongoing effects of ageing and mortality. There is a gradual progression with regular tipping points and unexpected quantum jumps. What I felt at the fiftieth (as distinguishable, subtly, from forty-fifth or fortieth reunions, but also as an evolution of the underlying trend) was a breakdown of far more substantial barriers. We were becoming alike as representatives of our species, our specific era, and our antecedent cultural gestalt. Our humanity had become our most precious and distinguishing feature, and we took pleasure in the earmarks of our convergence; its communion transcended former careers and styles of behavior, as it replaced the yardstick of achievement.
All sorts of residual traits had not so much vanished as mellowed and resolved into deeper meaning sets. Vying and aggression had softened into compassion. Pride in our own accomplishments became pride in each other’s accomplishments and our shared survival. What had evaporated was a former radius of physical, intellectual, social, and sexual competitiveness. Each caliber of amelioration in these youth-valorized spheres is a big deal in itself and requires significant reflection and personal growth. In place of unacknowledged competitions we developed compassion, empathy, vulnerability, authentic interest in others, and the willingness to extend oneself personally and take emotional risks. At previous reunions I experienced lingering imperious poses mixed with sardonic witticisms. At the fiftieth I found zero, absolutely none.
Our basic intelligence and skill-sets, factors that once led deans and bureaucrats to assemble us out of their demographic sort, had become tools to bond rather than to compete and achieve.
And that goes for the spouses and other family members who attended the fiftieth reunion with us. They confided and bonded similarly.
This is not an easy incarnation even under the most benign of circumstances. In a relative sense (globally), we are among the top .01% in terms of safety and opportunities most of our fellow Homo sapiens don’t have. Yet the challenges of ordinary life even in an opulent culture are intimidating: bodies, emotional bodies, relational crises, interpersonal conflicts, archetypal shadows, and the like. In our coming together after fifty years, our response to these challenges was what connected us.
We also have come to look more alike physically too, as the years have worn us down toward the generic human, much like the creatures at the end of Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. We are all being sorted back into the genome, drawn toward the Ur creature at the start of our lineage. It is not a happily received transubstantiation, but our ability to take pleasure and amusement in it played a role in the camaraderie of the reunion.
My favorite exchange in that regard was, I believe Larry Hard with someone in the Drew living room (apologies if I have misidentified the players in this dialogue). To the line, “I don’t recognize anyone,” Larry replied, “I don’t even recognize myself. I look in the mirror and I see my father.”
And someone else greeted an old friend with, “My god, you used to be—” as he leaned over and spoke the name on the badge.
I already have trouble recognizing faces, a touch of nonclinical prosopagnosia perhaps, so after a number of enthusiastic greetings of the wrong person, I stopped jumping the gun until I had at least read the name tag. Others reported the same perplexity; I myself had no trouble distinguishing my Phi Psi mate Al Leisinger from John Hillman, but a classmate said he couldn’t tell them apart. On the other hand, I confused John Jacoby’s wife seen from the rear with Al and initially greeted her over-exuberantly. Then I confused someone, I think Jack Lewis, with John Vine. I can’t remember my other misses (Mike Katz with Al Rosiny was one, a conflation of memory more than reality). After that, I became more cautious.
It was amusing to me when a long-time reader of my work, John Shershin (Boston University, originally class of 1965), came down the hill from the Sirius commune in Shutesbury, Marshall Bloom territory, to meet and chat at Drew House. (In a subsequent email he described the “Sirius” compound with its one-room schoolhouse: “Although they started as an offshoot from the Findhorn Community and still refer to that spiritual direction, in concert with Steiner work etc., they have focused more recently on ecology & sustainability: gardening, building and eco-friendly alternatives. The night sky is crystal clear out there in the hills, and I could see Mars & Jupiter blazing like gems!”)
If John looked like anyone in our class, it was Marshall if he hadn’t decided to leave us so soon after graduation. Of course he wasn’t wearing a name tag, so passers-by stared in query with occasional smiles of (understandably false) recognition. In a certain sense it didn’t matter. We had classmates present at the fiftieth who had spent only a brief time with us freshman year or enrolled after sophomore year or started or finished in another class (“Dave Sperber spent more time with us at Reunion than he did at Amherst,” someone remarked). We also had a few visitors from Class of ’67 and ’68. John could have put on a badge and passed.
Our class officers—Dusty, Paul, and R. C.—were great in modeling tolerance, patience, good humor, and mutual respect. A sustained four-day blend of kindness and levity is challenging, but all three continued to stay droll and gentle, thus kept matters entertaining at no one’s expense.
My only pique is with the one classmate who crashed Reunion (again). He seems to feel that it is okay to drop in for and hour or two with his spouse and then vanish. My lament is that I never got a chance to talk to him—either time—and he was a good friend once. On Friday I was delighted to see him, began a conversation but then got interrupted and expected to pick it up later (as with so many similar exchanges). Then someone told me that he had already left, and I recalled an identical instance five or ten years earlier. He didn’t even bother to tell me (or most others) that he wasn’t really there or staying, or explain himself further, or apologize, or give any indication that he knew he was violating basic courtesy and decency. I was pissed because I felt tricked and a bit disparaged.
I was curious to know what anyone else thought about it, so I asked some mutual friends why they imagined he crashed again. The answers I got were: “He doesn’t want to pay but wanted to say hello to a few friends,” “He’s an unsure egoist who doesn’t want to take risks with his classmates,” “It’s a protest against the college,” and “He thinks it’s cute and clever. He drops a few bon mots and then vamooses.”
I have no problem with not attending reunion. Come if you want. Don’t come if you don’t want. But don’t condescend by popping in and out as if you’re special, too cool for school. That’s exactly what the Reunion is not about. In fact, the class offered to waive the fees of anyone who couldn’t afford to attend, so poverty shouldn’t have been a deciding factor. I don’t think that it was an issue here.
Contributing to the Reunion is not like contributing to the college as part of the fund drive, so that’s no excuse either. It’s more like chipping in together for a community party. Not supporting it, yet attending, is not holding up your part of the community; it has nothing to do with scamming the corporation, a topic I want to discuss in a different post.
The Chapel on Sunday morning was particularly intense and moving and a true culmination. Everyone who spoke on behalf of others (and themselves) literally rose to the occasion. Everyone was appropriate, astute, and heartfelt in his fashion. It didn’t matter whether someone was moved to tears on the spot or told an incidental funny story, or both. Every witnessing was performed with vulnerability, compassion, and love—a willingness to stand present and be revealed. There was no slack. There may have been moments of bewilderment or loss but slack—nada! That was true of the audience too. Everyone seemed to know what was happening and make space for their classmates when necessary.
What I want most to acknowledge and communicate to those who weren’t present is that the Class of ’66 has its own distinctive spirit which is profound and stunning. For all the clashing and individual differences at earlier times and gatherings, what is evolving is a remarkable capacity to drop gripes and grievances and honor and allow each other. More than that, there is the tacit message that whatever happens—and lots has happened and is yet to happen—the community of ’66 stands together behind its members and will support them as best as it can. In life and in death. There’s a limit, of course, to what any of us, with our own complex lives, can do for others, but the ’66 collective stands above and beyond those limits. That was the promise made again and again, affirmed implicitly and occasionally in words by speaker after speaker, and in communal presence and energy by the rest. In that sense, we continued to echo Dusty’s toast to last living member at the twenty-fifth reunion: “Don’t be scared, buddy; we’re all with you.”
The session began with R. C.’s representation of himself as a mystic—probably not something he imagined himself saying back when we first convened in 1962. He disclosed—I am loosely paraphrasing here—that death is “no big deal. It’s like talking a step to the left across a line.” He went on to say that he believed that our classmates who had passed were present and could hear and were participating in the service. I want to explore that notion in a different post.
None of the subsequent contributions at Johnson Chapel was a bromide of gratuitous or ceremonial speech. I could actually feel the collective vibration, the energy, humility, and love, and it moved me to a deep place and the point of tears.
The Reunion began with hanging out in the tent and around Drew House (the former Phi Psi, the dropout fraternity in which I as well as about half a dozen others attending the fiftieth lived for three years). What followed dinner in the tent was a panel at Fayerweather on Parkinson’s disease. The quintet on stage and screen included our classmates John Vine, Aaron Latham, and Evan Maurer as sufferers of the condition (Evan on Skype or some such website projected from Santa Monica), classmate Bruce Leopold as psychiatrist and medical overseer, and Aaron’s spouse, celebrated TV journalist Lesley Stahl, as moderator. It was a dynamic inquiry as well as an encapsulation of many of the themes that would follow during the weekend.
The courage and ingenuity of our ailing classmates were evident, from John’s demonstration of how he made the philosophical shift from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” and his experiments with new remedies, to Aaron describing putting on boxing gloves and sparring with other Parkinson’s men, to Evan visibly handling not only Parkinson’s but at least five simultaneous debilitating ailments—a combination of loss of balance, neuropathy, spinal pain, malignant cells, etc., that added up to the trials of Job—handling them with spunk and dignity. The dude came off as the great warrior he is: a holyman capable of life-sustaining prayer, an art historian with an Indigenous American specialty who is also a veteran of the Sun Dance and Sweat Lodge and other native ceremonies, and a former football star, an inside linebacker, who nakedly accepts and proudly exposes the divine deterioration of even the most Adonis-like body.
Lindy and I visited Evan at his apartment in March and drove him and his walker to the nearby boardwalk to spend part of an afternoon together. I am in awe of how he models self-respect and character, guilelessly exposing his pain, vulnerability, and the daily hope that sustains him in simple affirmation of life. For all the psychospiritual practice, meditations, and Taoist martial arts I have undertaken, I have come nowhere near Evan’s level of mastery. He is an edification for us all, and I nominate him as class shaman and psychopomp—soul guide.
He also delivered the deadpan line of the Reunion—wordlessly. When Elliott Isenberg raised his hand to ask his second question of the night, many of us held our breath because Elliott is our gadfly and trickster and doesn’t necessarily prize social appropriateness. The question was, not surprisingly, about medical cannabis, and Evan answered by taking out a pipe, lighting it, and blowing some smoke. That brought down the house that he already held in his hands.
I also want to note that Bruce served as a thoughtful, mellow professional commentator. His placing of our human condition under the night sky in a field of stars, which he did for me too moments before in a discussion of consciousness outside Drew House, was the perfect touch, light and cosmic, at an affair that could have turned clinical and maudlin. And Lesley Stahl, not confined to a Sixty Minutes format, proved more adroit, sincere, and elegant than on television, while striking the perfect balance between TV persona and class spouse.
The 1906 Senior Song is a profound and sobering mantra of our situation. Year after year, reunion after reunion, we perform its function. It changes like a good Zen koan as we change, dancing with us, evading us, beguiling us, slapping us across the face. I used its line “Now we’re bound by ties that cannot sever / all our whole life thro’” as an epigraph for my book Out of Babylon. The chorus about raising “the rosy goblet high” and “linger[ing] yet a little while [in] youth and you and I in college days” gets to the heart of the matter each time it is sung—the simultaneous brevity and timelessness of every moment, every breath, in this case a few shared days at five-year intervals. That is what turns the goblet into a chalice and straggly reunioneers into a sangha.
The reading of the list of classmates no longer on this plane, an incantation shared by Dusty and Paul, followed a somberly rising curve, from one every several years in the sixties and seventies, to a bell tolling monthly. The chant had its own music, not as a dirge or necrology but an expression of existential presence and shared hope—the will to stick together under the hungering heavens. As in our singing of “Lord Jeffery Amherst,” a much maligned and dubious ballad from a sociopolitical standpoint but an irreplaceable and stirring chorus of our long-running off-Broadway Amherst musical, a simple fact is expressed—that free will and imagination overcome any mere algorithm or sentence of ultimate doom.
When I left campus during the closing brunch I told a few people the story of Benito, a spacy Puerto Rican from New York whom I met one night during the year I sat zazen at Empty Gate Zen Center in Berkeley, 1991-92. We were moving North Atlantic Books out of our home to an office and warehouse then, and Benito offered to help us pack and unload the truck. We had already hired a coterie of Berkeley High students, so he joined the crew.
All during the move he amused our staff and the high-school kids with talk of nonexistent cats.
“What cat?” they kept asking him.
“That’s exactly my point.”
As the move wound down, I asked if I’d see him again; he said, “You see me now.
Amherst Class of ’66 Fiftieth Reunion Notes
At Reunion we reconnect with not just classmates but the college. Like its alumni who attended the “McNamara” graduation, Amherst has changed dramatically and evolved over five decades. Our group may break into “O, Lord Jeffery Amherst was a soldier of the king….” at moments of spontaneous exuberation but, if we are to take the word of present members of the community, most underclassmen (and women) don’t even know that such a song exists to oppose its political incorrectness. Amherst has morphed so radically in fifty years that virtually the only connection between the two colleges (1962 and 2016) is the campus, the colors and insignia, and high academic and ethical standards. Yet that is enough to bind us and inspire alumni to support a multi-generational community with shifting educational templates.
Elliott Isenberg was resourceful enough to reach out to history professor Catherine Epstein at our forty-fifth reunion. After I met her through Elliott, I read her book on East Germany and exchanged thoughts with her both during the reunion and after, including a lunch at a Chinese restaurant in town last fall. She is open-minded, smart, and receptive, so I was thrilled that she was chosen Dean of Faculty. I made a point of attending her seminar on the college during the Reunion Weekend. Pretty much everything she explicated about Amherst’s curriculum, faculty, and faculty-student relations defined a college I would map if I were asked to invent one today, something that the “Amherst” I attended decidedly was not. Current Amherst College is sensitive to the emotional and intellectual needs of its students, engaged in demographic and cultural diversity at the deepest levels, encouraging of liberal-arts exploration by faculty as well as students and through carrots (incentives) rather than sticks (rigid requirements), intelligently and creatively interdisciplinary, dissuading of competitive achievement for its own sake, and opposed to pedagogical cults. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Amherst College of my era was the diametric opposite on each of these points.
Amherst today is the sort of institution I would love to have attended when I logged in at the 1962 version; it is also the exemplary academic setting and curriculum I sought for a decade after graduating when I attempted (unsuccessfully) to get teaching jobs at Hampshire, Reed, Swarthmore, UC Santa Cruz History of Consciousness, and a few less progressive schools. During the final year in which I looked for such gigs (1977) before I became a full-time writer and publisher, interdisciplinary studies were pooh-poohed to the point of ridicule while liberal arts as a concept was devalued. Nowadays liberal arts have been even further marginalized in mainstream circles, as conservative politicians and administrators push colleges into vocational schools. Against that trend, Amherst has upheld liberal arts as the basis of a functional society and effective, moral human beings and, at the same time, has gone to the heart of interdisciplinary studies where they form a Rosetta stone that links disciplines rather than a superficial façade that serves recreational fads.
Yet the Amherst I attended was seminal to Amherst of today, the grindstone against which I (and others) honed our personalities, careers, and dialectical capabilities. There is no way to arrive at Amherst’s current relatively benign, liberal environment and curriculum without first working through hierarchies of required curricula, fraternity life, and elitist and racist biases. Those provided the foils, seeds, and structures out of which a truly substantial antipode evolved. To begin a college on the premise of the current Amherst paradigm without Amherst’s history, legacy, and tradition of excellence would produce something closer to the flawed and boundaryless Goddard College of the early seventies at which I taught for five years than to the vibrant Amherst flourishing during our reunion.
You have to include and integrate the shadow and emerge from its darkness and austerity in a material way or the shadow eats you alive. A make-believe “perfect” college rooted in ideological precepts is useless. Amherst’s lineage makes it was it is.
Ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity at Amherst has been generously sponsored by our classmate Arthur Koenig who, I believe, attended his first Class of ’66 reunion at our fiftieth. By Arthur’s admission his financial coup was uncanny, even magical, by comparison to concurrent investors of his era. When I met him for the first time a few years ago on his visit to Berkeley and heard his remarkable story, it sounded more like a parable or fairy tale than an actual investment ledger. I told him then that, despite the fact he denied being psychic (or open to such a possibility), he was one of the most psychic people I had met.
Arthur was also an unlikely benefactor of Amherst, as he attended the school for only junior and senior years, had almost no subsequent affiliation, and achieved success through means not particularly connected with his undergraduate education. When approached while living abroad by a representative of the college (if I remember his account accurately), he set stringent terms for any gift he might give: underprivileged kids from Third World countries, no ringers or children of diplomats, to be chosen solely on the basis of potential for learning and service by an unbiased committee.
It panned out. Arthur now supports twenty full scholarships at a time. One of his students was among the charismatic group that served our class in the tent and around campus throughtout the fiftieth. They deserve a shout-out for their good humor, courtesy, sprightliness, and grace: Patrick Frenett, Jessica Maposa, Seanna McCall, Koenig scholar Takudzwa Tapfuma from Zimbabwe, and Gonzalo (Zalo on his name tag) Crivelli of Miami, Florida. African, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, et al., the undergraduates across the campus inspired hope in a future that fuses Amherst’s high standards, academic touchstones, and intangibles with the heterogeneity and integrity of the Earth’s cultures.
There are many good causes in the world, far too many (of course) to address effectively in the current sociopolitical frame, and no one, not even Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, can devote themselves to more than a tiny fraction of them (which is not to say that I think those two made great choices about what to try to improve). A philanthropist with sufficient means might well prioritize cleaning the oceans of debris, saving endangered species, housing the homeless, settling refugees internationally, etc., over giving money to a wealthy college. There are dozens of causes that might be deemed more critical than putting Third World students through Amherst, but that’s not the point. Since one can’t do everything and it all needs doing, people have to pick causes about which they are passionate and on which they can put their personal signature and invest love. That’s how real energy and resources get transferred from one domain to another. You can’t aim at everything or your resources get diluted and your goals are inevitably subverted by the complex structural tangles and corrosive bureaucracies of the world. Best to do something intimate, lucid, and discrete, as Arthur did.
I think that his choice is fantastic and I’d like to believe that it’s precisely the choice I would make were I in his position.
I say this intentionally as well as ironically because I have balked at donating to the college in any form from the time of my graduation. I have refused on principle, so my commendation of Arthur might seem a contradiction as well as a cheap accolade since it costs me nothing.
Yet there are legitimate paradoxes under the surface.
On the other side of Arthur’s donation is the position of a classmate who commented at Drew House (and was instantly backed by two adjacent classmates, all three of them professors in state systems) that he was damned if he was going to donate money from his skimpy salary to better-paid professors no more skilled or educated than he as well as to overpaid bureaucrats decidedly less so. “It makes no rational sense,” he added, “so I offered to donate the total sum of my raises over the last ten years, which is zero.”
I don’t hold his exact perspective, but I think it is sane and defensible. There is countering value to Dick Klein and Tom Sturges’ sentiment that we donate as a class to the preservation and future success of an institution that incubated us, holds us together, and sponsors our reunitings.
I may get to their view, but my present objection is only personal. I have experienced far too much entitlement and mean-spiritedness from foes in the Amherst hierarchy over the years—from faculty and deans when I was a student (acts that admittedly would not pass muster today and, in some cases, would lead to expulsion and legal action), from faculty I never had for classes or even met who opposed me clumsily, gratuitously, and unnecessarily in the years after graduation based solely on my reputation as an outlier (all now retired or deceased), from bureaucrats during my son’s application process in 1987 when he chose not to attend Amherst, a decision I still regret (they were implementing policies that have been totally changed since), from administrators who blocked the creative collaboration between me and the library on my literary archive and that of North Atlantic Books as recently as our last reunion in 2011.
Despite the evolution of the college and structural changes that have addressed pretty much all the items that troubled me in the past, despite the complete turnover of personnel, there is still a spirit somewhere within the hierarchy that opposes the heart and core of what I consider my life’s work and mission that challenges my very legitimacy. That is why I don’t donate even a token $50 to better our class percentages. I don’t want a penny to go to the philistines, on principle.
It has something to do with my struggle getting my work out and my long-time desire to have Amherst at least not oppose me if it is not going to put its institutional weight behind me, a weight that it puts behind other alumni with equivalently ambitious (if less controversial) bodies of work. Gabriel (Ken) Cousens of the class of 1965, a top North Atlantic Books author and former Amherst football star, has a similar issue with the college. We both want them to acknowledge and respect radical and alternative agendas beyond those in sociopolitical arenas—something they now do throughout the operating undergraduate college anyway. I can’t entirely explain the vestiges of an old paradigm except that it makes sense because I encounter it in the world at large in some of the least likely places. Why else would The New York Review of Books and New Yorker side with Monsanto over Indian anti-biotech biologist Vandana Shiva? Or the AMA over any and all forms of indigenous and alternative medicine?
Now if I were in Arthur’s position, I imagine I would laugh this off, dismiss the whole petty affair as trivial, call on the best of myself, Amherst, and the world and, like him, create full scholarships. But $50 or $150 from isn’t going to do it. I’d rather spend it on elephants or sea turtles where there’s no attitude or ideological blowback. That’s the irony: a token payment lands you in the muck whereas a vast and generous sum soars above it into an idealistic future.
(I had thought that this was a fairly balanced discussion of issues that are real for many, but not everyone agrees. A classmate wrote as soon as it was posted, accusing me of being niggardly and small-minded. When I wrote back suggesting a rational discussion instead of name-calling, he said that that was the same sort of thin-skinned response that Donald Trump would have. Then he said that my argument was a priori wrong and not worthy of rebuttal and told me to “just write out a check.” This is the sort of big-shot, self-righteous bullying that characterized our class in earlier years and that I thought we were past. Shaming and bullying within the class are also principled reasons not to give. I see an unexamined conflation between our class identity and the college identity and another between the college as myth and the college as reality.)
Part of Reunion weekend is our intellectual fellowship and accompanying seminars and panels of classmates and other reunion classes in our five-year-interval sequence. I got sick, so missed much of what I planned to attend. When we arrived on Wednesday of Reunion Weekend, Lindy had a severe head cold bordering on a flu, almost serious enough not to make the trip; then she recovered quickly and I took it on. Saturday was a totally lost day. I managed to attend an astronomy talk on Venus, Vesta, Ceres, and Pluto by Emily Lakdawalla of the Class of ’96 (that class particularly interests me because it would have been my daughter’s if she had stayed in college instead of dropping out, though bailing gave her the great line, “See, Mom, the colleges you wanted to send me to now pay to have me come.”) Back in California in February I also saw a brilliant Korean-American play at Berkeley Rep by Julia Cho of Class of ’96 and got to meet her in a discussion group with other Amherst alums. Kudos to my daughter’s non-class; there are women in it with her own gumption and equivalent talents!
After the Solar System, I spent much of the rest of the day dozing on the couch at Drew House (which seemed to be the same grimy piece of furniture in the same spot as in Phi Psi days, attractive only in my lethargic state). Every time I tried to get up, I ended up back on the cushions.
I regret missing political and scientific presentations of my classmates. I heard some of the aftermath between dozes as people returned to Drew full of heated discussion: insiders’ data about Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and the Iraq boondoggle. I learned, for instance, that Wolfowitz never considered Weapons of Mass Destruction more than a p.r. gimmick to sell “doing the right thing,” which ostensibly was freeing the Iraqis from Saddam (its own self-delusion), but on the other hand he assumed that there would be WMDs and was shocked when the reality diverged from the propaganda.
I learned that Rumsfeld was less gung-ho than has been conjectured; he was more or less pushed into acting beyond his comfort zone, that Colin Powell was too much of a soldier to buck the chain of command. Imagine what I would have learned by going to the actual seminars! I later heard Dave Morine say, “Democracy is a great thing except when it gets corrupted like now; then it’s the same as everything else.”
I also missed a bunch of stuff on Friday after Lindy stared at the pair of pants I was wearing, which I had randomly grabbed from the closet back home as perhaps dressy (I rarely access that sector of the closet) and said that I looked like a hoodlum, which made me feel instantly that I had to replace them before my presentation later that night. We spent two hours at Penney’s in the Hadley shopping center because once we got there, she decided she was not dressed properly either, given the extreme weather. It was hot hot hot. For those who didn’t attend, it got up to around 97 degrees after having been in the rainy 60s when we arrived two days earlier. Added to my head cold and flu-like symptoms, New England humidity made me feel devoid of energy and at my seventieth more than my fiftieth. We missed the student presentations and other good stuff while shopping, but I did replace the baggy polyester bought god knows when.
Conversations I had with classmates replaced seminars, delightful, long rambling talks with Dave Ramsey, John Storer, John Hart, Win Rodgers, Kurt Senesky, Al Leisinger, Larry Hard, John Jacoby, Pete Sawyer, Sam Jackson, and/or their partners (when present) and others who dropped in and out of engagement and whom I knew more or less well before we began talking (or not at all). I spent chunks of time on the Phi Psi lawn talking psychotherapy, madness, mortality, existentialism, and cosmology with Bruce Leopold, the sort of luxurious chatting that is too often missing these days. (At a previous reunion I discovered that our grandson Leopold had been named after Bruce’s father because Luna Leopold was our son’s ecology mentor, also that Bruce had started working at Sheppard-Pratt, the psychiatric clinic in Towson, Maryland, months after my brother was released from there in 1975. Only a few degrees of separation there.)
At lunch on Friday I had the pleasure of discussing Darwin, consciousness, the origination of mind from matter, teleology, and Aristotle’s four causes with Jeff Hoffman, a well-trained scientific mind.
These are the hallmarks that make Reunion what it is.
My own books constitute an enigma even to me. I stacked up about a dozen recent titles on the table at Drew House (all published since 2003) along with the books of three classmates (Al Powers, John Merson, Sid Schwab) I helped publish through North Atlantic (a press, as most classmates know, initiated by Amherst funding through Cal Plimpton back in 1965 and presently employing 25 full-time people and going strong in Berkeley, California, even though Lindy and I have moved to Maine). I felt a mixture of consternation, curiosity, and praise along the lines of “I don’t even know what the titles mean.”
It is slightly awkward putting out so much work, and I feel I owe an effort at an explanation, even if it adds to more chatter. I don’t want to seem that different from my classmates, as though I have done some weird thing (even if I have). I am not that different; it’s just a slight shift of emphasis, like taking English I to its natural conclusion.
I have published about forty books altogether, a scary number. I don’t feel as though I write all that much—a few hours most mornings. I am not a workaholic. I do lots of other things: watch ballgames and movies obsessively, hike, kayak, bullshit hours at a time. I also don’t put all that great value on the printed word (books as well as languages are perishable). Since I do at least ten passes on everything, I don’t churn out rough drafts. The fat is, a small amount of work done everyday (with a few inspired all-day binges) leads to a lot of production over ive decades and also, as I get more experienced, the text comes more easily, as it rests on the foundation of what I have already done.
I write as a literary and spiritual practice and a meditation. I go by the premise that you learn as you write and what you learn you pass on in the act. I also believe that one can channel a higher intelligence, whether one’s own or of a transpersonal source.
In my book 2013: Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration I offered this explanation:
I write because it is the only way to keep from getting overwhelmed by the voices and mysteries. My commitment to this text, going back to my first descriptions of thunderstorms as a teenager at summer camp (1958), is not about writing per se; it is about witnessing and tracking. The literary overlays accumulated gradually as a sort-mode and prayer. They are the preliminary lyrics to an unknown song. When addressing gods, you use the most formal, respectful language of which you are capable. You show humility. You show respect. You demonstrate art. You confirm that you care. You try to meet them where they are. Service can be cultivated only by loyal attention. I know it sounds vain and gaga, but I consider this work not ordinary prose, not even channeling, but transmission….
Language is my tribe, my union, my synagogue. It was the first mediation that got placed between me and the void. It took me almost fourteen years on Earth to decide to address the gods, to cultivate an appropriately sacred tongue. Without it I was too alone. Baseball and rock ’n’ roll were not enough. A child’s blind errand, but it did turn America into a magical place.
I am still that teenager with his games and 45s, his thunderstorms and night skies, still wondering, still in awe, still keeping the faith….
As to whether anyone reads this stuff, the answer is yes and no. Certainly not enough people read it to support its ongoing publication if I weren’t a publisher myself—though my earliest books, ones I no longer claim and deem practice work, were signed by Harper, Doubleday, Shambhala, Tarcher, Sierra Club, Black Sparrow, Mudra, and Avon. I have about 1000 people worldwide who consider my overall oeuvre unique and would rate me somewhere in the top three or top ten people writing on the planet today, and that group includes prominent scientists, spiritual teachers, and literary writers. But not all of them buy all my books, so my sales are subcommercial. I also hear from paranormal sources; two years ago I got this channeled message from New Zealand:
“We note that you have spent decades attempting to understand the connection between the spiritual and the physical. Your encyclopaedic efforts are exemplarily in their thoroughness as well as their breadth and depth. We also note that often you have felt somewhat like a prophet crying in the wilderness, there has been so little demonstrative response to your writings. Be assured it is noticed. In future years, after your death, edited versions of your prolific work will find an eager and stimulated readership. None of these types of publications will ever be best-sellers. But they do have the potential to change lives. Your work will eventually rank among this category of literature.”
I am not the one to judge the success of my body of work. I only know the feeling as I plow into hidden and mysterious territory. I presume that it is a major work, taking on serious and important topics that pretty much no one else is exploring in the way I am. I also think that my topics are basic and obvious, so I don’t entirely understand either the paucity of readership or why others are not engaging them as I am: the nature of this reality from galaxies to bricklayers and wasps, things like how we get bodies and minds in the context of both evolution and phenomenology, how our internal projection onto the heavens and matter forms the external scientific rubrics of astrophysics and mathematics, and how the art of shamanic and manual healing veers from the science of medicine. The guy who heads the website Reality Sandwich, a strong sponsor of my work, told me last year, “You are pretty much the only person addressing cutting-edge scientific and spiritual topics together and doing it in a literary voice that includes pop culture, so that assures you of no audience.”
Here is what I wrote a year ago in response to a question by new readers on Facebook:
A number of people have asked me what to read of mine, so I will try to reconstruct the arc of my work. No, I am not happy that there are around 40 titles, but when it is happening, you are in the present, you don’t see your whole snail trail going around in circles. It’s just the way it played out for numerous reasons.
- Apprenticeship books from 1965 to 1976. I don’t relate to any of these now, and they are officially out of print (though I have copies of many). I think of them as my practice run, though I do still hear from people who pick them up and read them believably—and why not? A sincere person wrote them and they were the best he could do at the time. They are like my own pre-Socratic fragments, just not fragments, at least not yet. These are, in rough chronological order. A. The Black Sparrow/Mudra titles: Solar Journal: Oecological Sections, Book of the Earth and Sky (two volumes), Space Wild and Tame, and The Continents. B. The Harper title: Book of the Cranberry Islands. C. North Atlantic Books general experimental prose: The Provinces, The Long Body of the Dream, The Book of Being Born Again into the World, The Windy Passage from Nostalgia, and The Slag of Creation. D. Io/North Atlantic Books essay collections: Mars: A Science Fiction Vision, Early Field-Notes from the All-American Revival Church, Martian Homecoming at the All-American Revival Church, and The Unfinished Business of Doctor Hermes (or Cosmic Shootout at the All-American Revival Church). That’s fifteen early books that you don’t have to address as part of my live oeuvre—trial runs, getting a voice. They probably never should have been published, but then what’s publishing on a planet where everything not sopped by the rising Okeanos will be incinerated by the nova Sol?
- Expository projects done for other publishers and rewritten subsequently for North Atlantic Books (1976-2003): Planet Medicine, The Night Sky, and Embryogenesis. Add to those the general sequel Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life, written at the tail end of the cycle. Planet Medicine was published by Doubleday Anchor, then Shambhala, then twice by North Atlantic, under the subtitle From Stone Age Shamanism to Post-Industrial Healing. Each edition was to some degree revised (from Doubleday to Shambhala the biggest revision). Then I rewrote the whole book into three volumes beginning in 1992, in fact revised them again in 2000-2003, as Planet Medicine: Origins; Planet Medicine: Modalities; and Homeopathy: The Great Riddle (originally Homeopathy: An Introduction for Beginners and Skeptics). The first two need to say “Revised Edition” to be 2003 rather than 2000 versions.
The Night Sky was published by Sierra Club Books and then J.P. Tarcher under the subtitle The Science and Anthropology of the Stars and Planets and then rewritten by me for North Atlantic Books in 2012-2014 under the subtitle Soul and Cosmos.
Embryogenesis was typset and put into film by Avon under the subtitle From Cosmos to Creature and published by North Atlantic (after the Avon editor left). I then rewrote it from 1996-2000 under the subtitle Species, Gender, and Identity.
The most recent versions of all six of these books are part of my core work: Planet Medicine: Origins; Planet Medicine: Modalities; Homeopathy: The Great Riddle; Embryogenesis; The Night Sky, and Embryos, Galaxies…. Planet Medicine has been redone so many times for different publishers that it is a bit of a muddle, so I have posted a guide to the mishmash on my website (see the foreword to the e-book versions).
- My three memoir books written concurrently with both book cycles above. Versions of New Moon and Out of Babylon: Ghosts of Grossinger’s were published in the mid to late nineties, but I am writing new versions while dropping the subtitle of Babylon.
Episodes in Disguise of a Marriage was never published, but I am presently putting it together. As a whole, these books have writings that begin before 1965 and go up to the present. They span my whole process and are the most fiction-like and literary things I have done.
- On the Integration of Nature: Post-9/11 Biopolitical Notes, The Bardo of Waking Life, and 2013: Raising the Earth to the Next Vibration. These are three books running from 2003-2010 that return to a different version of the same sorts of mixes of topics that I used in the earliest experimental prose books: a mixture of landscapes, dreams, political essays, science-fiction stories, pop-culture views, mythology, spiritual process, life narratives, plant stories, animal stories, stone stories, ecological investigations, etc. They are really one long book in which individual pieces run from a sentence to about ten pages.
During this same period I wrote two books as the publisher of North Atlantic Books: Migraine Auras: When the Visual World Fails and The New York Mets: Myth, Ethnography, and Subtext. I wrote the former because there was no book explicitly on the topic of optical migraines without headaches and it turned out to be too expensive to hire a writer. I wrote the latter because a New York sportswriter (Mike Vaccaro) thought my essay “Playing Catch with Terry Leach: Baseball as an Act of Transgression” was an interesting and quirky baseball piece and he offered to write an intro if I could turn it into a book. Instead I wrote a companion piece (“Endy’s Catch”) and then collected all my other writings on the Mets from their beginning in 1962 for a collection.
5- Dark Pool of Light: Reality and Consciousness. I wrote this three-volume book after finishing 2013. It started out as a discussion of neuroscience and psychic practice, two opposite poles that I intended to begin together on their own terms. The discussion got broad enough that I eventually formed three books out of it. The first was subtitled The Neuroscience, Evolution, and Ontology of Consciousness and summarizes the scientific arguments for the material evolution and basis of mind (biological, astrophysical, anthropological, psychological) and the critiques of them. The second was subtitled Consciousness in Psychospiritual and Psychic Ranges and brings together Eastern and Western views of mind. The third was subtitled The Crisis and Future of Consciousness and intuits the destiny of conscious life forms in the universe. The revised edition of The Night Sky, the one subtitled Soul and Cosmos, is effectively Volume Four; its subtitle in the series would be The Universe. I am currently working on another book in the series: Bottoming Out the Universe: Karma, Reincarnation, and Identity (its drafts have posted on my website).
When people ask me where to begin, of course anywhere is possible, but I would say—Not at any of the early experimental prose books or earlier editions of the books on healing, cosmology, or embryology. Pick one of the latest version of Planet Medicine, The Night Sky, or Embryogenesis, depending on your predilection and/or Embryos, Galaxies…. Read one of the three from among Integration, Bardo, and 2013. Read one of the volumes of Dark Pool of Light depending on whether you are more interested in the science, psychic practice, or speculation on consciousness (each one stands alone). Read one of my memoir books (either now or after waiting for the new versions). Go from there (or not) according to your interest and patience with me.
A number of classmates have a copy of New Moon, either because they bought it at earlier reunions or at large, or because I gave it to them at this reunion (I have been giving away the remainder of the hardcover before the new paperback comes out in September).
New Moon covers my time at Amherst. That part of the book was composed in rough draft during my time there. In fact, I wrote the core of New Moon between 1960 (when I was a junior in high school) and 1966, though the 1996 hardcover edition includes events all the way into the eighties, a mistake and one of the reasons I am redoing it. The other main reason is that I thought, back in the nineties, all I had to do to my old high-school and college writing was clean it up and organize it. I never wrote the book that it contained. It took me 1400 hours in 2015 and 2016 to get from the published hardcover to the version that is coming out this fall (the advance galley some of you picked up represents about 1000 of those hours).
I hope that many of my classmates will read New Moon in its 2016 version after it comes back out. I need old-fashioned readers—a sincere plea. Even if you read the earlier version, this is a different book. I also hope that some will take up the sequel to New Moon, which I will be finishing in the next couple of years, Episodes in Disguise of a Marriage. It engages issues that many of us share but which are not generally talked about and its experiences are rooted in Amherst. In fact, it has stores about Amherst not in New Moon.
I want to close this second installment with Rich Rubenstein’s post, which followed my first installment and Jon Huberth’s video and restates my own sentiments and, I’m sure, those of others, if at a different frequency. It is also an emotionally perfect link to what I want to discuss in my third and last installment: the psychic dimensions of our Fiftieth Reunion:
“It was truly wonderful seeing you and all the other ’66 attendees at the reunion. I find myself mourning the end of our short-lived coming together, the five days of reunion being an incarnation of our collective group spirit, marked at its end in Sunday’s amazing Memorial Service by its own special liturgy of death. I regret the brevity of our collective visit—the brevity its own kind of tragedy. I love these guys so much, yet we all go away so soon, the departure making a mockery of our collective spirit. Given our age and the many of our number who have not made it to this point (57? 58?), we would be foolish to take for granted the likelihood of getting together again. We can never regain the wonder of our collective bonding as a group in our now mythic first year together, yet getting together again is precisely what I wish would happen, and with much greater frequency than every fifth year. How special it would be to do our own ’66 Burning Man event each year. As Richard Grossinger so ably described, we are a unique tribe and our coming together is loaded with power and emotion and (for me) provided a seemingly profound perspective on the course and meaning of my life, as somehow defined by participation in the common experience of this amazing cohort of classmates.
“Love to all!”
My idea of conducting a psychic workshop at the Reunion originated in my unofficial valedictory address given at the 45th Reunion, in particular the closing exercise: http://www.richardgrossinger.com/2011/05/valedictory-address-for-amherst-college-class-of-1966-45th-reunion-version-delivered-may-28-2011-hamilton-house/.
I had written the speech as a contribution to Club ’66, but it got too long for the format, After I asked if I could have a separate slot, it was scheduled for after the banquet and before Club ’66 began. However, the banquet and its speeches events ran late, over my starting time, so a few classmates came to Hamilton House and invited me to come down and deliver it in the tent after the other speeches.
It was an experiment. I didn’t know if it was a good idea or a bad idea, but if you don’t take chances, things tend to follow an established formula. I was looking for a way to break out of that.
If you don’t know the talk, you can read it on the link. The proposition itself was a stretch for the occasion, though I believe that many classmates knew what I was trying to do. A few loved it; some hated it or were confused by it. It’s not that I don’t feel bad about imposing it on those who didn’t want it—embarrassed too—but I was interested in improvising and figured that risking disdain was worth it if I added something valuable and lasting to Reunion.
My calling it “valedictory” was mostly tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t have a rubric for a class retrospective segueing into a psychic exercise for pulling everyone together.
When Paul discussed the fiftieth reunion with me from the standpoint that I might try to build on the energy of the talk (as opposed to running a copy of it in the class book), what I finally arrived at was a workshop to enlarge the closing meditation into something resembling its full framework.
After considering a number of slots, we settled on 9 p.m. Friday evening after everything else was done—a quiet time in which those who were interested could participate without foregoing competing activities. Trouble was, the caterer arrived an hour later, and everything got bumped forward accordingly, insuring that, like five years earlier, class activities would run into my slot. You could consider the repeated obstacle more than just a coincidence in that the psychic elements may have required a fundamental rupture in the plans for a bigger picture I couldn’t see.
Back on May 27th I had no choice but to leave our class events in progress and go to Fayerweather for my workshop, as it was announced in the program campus-wide. A few classmates showed up, but my audience was mainly from other classes and mostly female, not unusual for psychic events. I think that about twenty people came.
I did not do the main exercises I planned. Instead I adapted my central guided meditation, a tour of the theosophical version of the Hindu Seven Planes of Consciousness, for the group that was there and left out any class-related exercises, including the continuation of the 2011 meditation.
It worked out well enough. It wasn’t anything close to perfect, but it worked in the sense that an exogenous energy field was created and people absorbed its intelligence, me included. In order to get all Seven Planes in, I rushed through them at more than sixty times the speed necessary for an introductory tour, sort of like those X2, X8, X30, etc., on DVD players. It was the only way to take the complete tour. I left barely enough time for people to catch their breaths. It was like going on a tour of Europe with plane trips to Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Berlin, etc., with only ten minutes per city. Ridiculous at face value.
The best thing about the workshop was epitomized by the words afterwards of a woman from the class of ’86: “This was great. I get so tired of hearing I’m in financial services, I’m a lawyer, what do you do? And I have to say, ‘I’m a psychic healing counselor.’”
I think I made it work by pure energy, conviction, and force of will, to transmit my own internal experience to the group. My words were incidental in that sense; it was my commitment to the collective energy field. A bit like a preacher.
I feel similarly about R. C.’s words at the beginning of Sunday memorial service. Individuals may have found his notion that our deceased classmates were a step over the line to the left and still present more or less credible (depending on their own belief systems), but it wasn’t his statement as such that set the frequency of Johnson Chapel at the group exercise, it was the sincerity and purity of his vision, the heartfulness he put into it, the conviction he could share it, and the collective affirmation of his sentiment, even if many did not actually believe that the dead were present. We believed it as a group. Those who didn’t believe it operated on temporary suspension of disbelief.
The energy I had on Friday night I poured into the guided meditation and the conviction that we could manifest all Seven Planes that are integrated in this complex reality within the human operating system.
My plan was to come back to Drew House at 10:15 and do a variation of the workshop more like the meditation at the end of my 2011 talk. But I was already getting sick and the crowd in the tent had dissipated by then. We were five years older and most folks had gone to bed.
I thought about doing a shortened version on Saturday informally at Drew House, same time (9:00 after the meal) while others had gone to hear the Zumbeyes, but I was sick all day and headed for our place in Florence right after dinner. Not only wouldn’t it have worked, but I had no strength even to imagine trying.
I considered whether an even shorter version—a single brief meditation—could be adapted to the service on Sunday. I played with various abridged versions in my mind and, at the same time, went back and forth between what it would be like to try and whether it wasn’t an inappropriate, self-referential intrusion on a sacred space. I settled on the latter interpretation, many times in fact while still considering very short versions. Once I was in Johnson Chapel, I understood implicitly and at once that it wasn’t the time or the place and I dropped it.
I did have an agenda. I didn’t want the service to become hopelessly sentimental and tragic. But it didn’t. My classmates, R. C. leading off, generated a collective vibration so powerful and positive that it would have been foolhardy to try to impose a different frequency. I watched the members of ’66 do a better psychic workshop than I could have done because it was their workshop—our workshop—and they generated it out of their own raw psychic material. The most I could have done was to encourage us collectively to come to a similar group intention.
I still have something to offer in that regard, to enhance and extend the experience as per Rich Rubenstein’s post about our class tribe and prolonging the every-five-year weekend, inventing our own “Burning Man.” To meet his parameters, the dead have to be included with the living.
What I would like to do is reconstruct a hypothetical psychic workshop of willing class members. Anyone interested in the Seven Planes tour can get a copy of the audio I brought to the workshop online at a number of sources. Here is the Amazon link for identification: http://www.amazon.com/Navigating-Seven-Planes-Consciousness-Psychology/dp/1583942785/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465062343&sr=8-1&keywords=friedlander+seven+planes.
Other than leaving out the Seven Planes, I will try to replicate the language, tone, and pacing of what I would have done at 9 p.m. on Friday of Reunion weekend so that those of you who wanted to attend but didn’t can have a version of it. I can’t replicate the collective energy of us in the same room, but we have a different collective energy when spread out and in our own time frames.
It also won’t be entirely the workshop that would have been Friday night because I will take into account things that have happened since like the service at Johnson Chapel and Rich Rubenstein’s post. Here’s my try:
What is a psychic workshop? A classmate today wondered why I called it that. He thought it was a bad idea, too “woo-woo and off-putting, and would not attract many Amherst people.” He may be right, but I never actually considered calling it anything else and and I’m not sure I could have given it a more attractive name. That’s what it is. A psychic workshop is not like a psychic hotline or séance or fake crystal ball. It is a workshop in intuiting the nature of our situation and life reality through the subjective condition of our conscious being instead of by an objective analysis of external factors in play. My presumption is not that we are going to do paranormal feats (or debunkable tricks) but that we are going to enlarge our perspective about the world we were incarnated in an instruction manual.
There are two reasons that I don’t expect anything spectacular to happen in the workshop. The first is the obvious one that it takes more than an hour to develop advanced skills, plus realities rarely change spectacularly on a dime without hallucinogens or cataclysmic events. The subtler reason is that this reality is spectacular enough. Our everyday, moment-to-moment flow of consciousness and the phenomena it is disclosing are a remarkable, inexplicable thing worth much finer focus. If we explore it directly and intentionally, we are indeed experiencing something spectacular. At the same time, we are never not experiencing it, just perhaps not acknowledging its full spectacular-ness.
The notion that science has explained reality and consciousness is something that anyone who looks closely at the arguments of biologists and neuroscientists would dismiss in a heartbeat. Consciousness does not fit into any of the equations for it in physics or biology, and attempts to shoehorn it into those that are used are ludicrous and acknowledged as such by more sophisticated scientists.
This is not a concession to Intelligent Design. I hate the know-nothing attempt to personalize the universe along fundamentalist lines. This is about a reality that includes consciousness in its unified field theories and is hundreds of times more complex than anything proposed by Stephen Hawking.
The whole premise of this workshop is to examine your state of being—right here, right now—to be open to what it is and what you are. Is your flow of awareness, minded existence, and personal identity an electric-chemical hallucination generating an elaborate mirage (as scientists generally believe) or a mysteriously originating whirlpool arising, in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology, as the ground luminosity of All That Is, producing a self-authenticating reality? You may well believe it is the former. That’s fine. You don’t have to act like a hallucination to believe you are one. No one does. Even the most confirmed skeptic believes in the reality and meaningfulness of his or her own existence. That’s a whole other discussion
You can still do these exercise on from a skeptical viewpoint. In fact, skepticism is critical to getting deep enough into this tough reality to make the meditation work. Nothing is gained by passive belief or wishful thinking. It merely grazes the surface and doesn’t get to where you live.
Where the paradox of existence bottoms out in a nihilistic sense that there is nothing there but atomic space and curvature or an algorithm generating terms for us (or anything) in the middle of nowhere for no reason is where you gain the tensility and gumption to make something that can withstand its own nihilistic terror. Anything less severe or less ironic is mere decorative mysticism.
These exercises tonight are based on experiencing your thoughtforms as real—real, powerful, enduring, and capable of creating realities. Not controlling realities but creating them—and there is a big difference. Reality is not controllable and to try by magic is a fool’s errand.
To create reality through thoughtforms is not merely wishful thinking. If you were a member of a Plains Indian warrior sodality or a Tibetan lama in training, you would start from the same premise—there isn’t another. The thoughtforms I am asking us to cultivate tonight are the same thoughtforms used to contact spirits and to direct reincarnations. We are the doing kindergarten version, and most shamans and lamas were doing advanced graduate work before they were ten. It doesn’t matter; you begin where you are.
If you look around you at the planet we know inhabit, you will see the fruition of a massive collective thoughtform. Picture Earth during the Neolithic period after the Pleistocene. It has been utterly transformed by thought. Of course, it could be argued that what you are looking at is the cumulative result of evolving technologies and empirical application of scientific principles to a complex molecular configuration with unrealized potential for resource shaping and organization. I think it is both, and that the application of thoughtforms to matter has complexly designed the civilization and global city we now inhabit. Some thoughtforms take thousands of years to manifest material; others do so instantaneously.
This is not only a product of collective human society. All sentient life participates in Earth consciousness in some fashion much as the cells of your body independently collaborate in your existence. On a subtler level, sentient beings through the universe, in physical and other realities, collaborate. The multidimensional spirit spoke to this when he said (through his channel Jane Roberts):
“[T]his dimension [e.g., source realm] nurses your own world, reaching down into your system. These realities are still only those at the edge of the one in which you have your present existence. Far beyond are others, so alien to you that I could not explain them. Yet they are connected with your own life, and they find expression even within the smallest cells of your flesh…..
“We do not understand the nature of the reality you are creating, even though the seeds were given to you by us. We respect it and revere it. Do not let the weak sounds of this voice confuse you. The strength behind it would form the world as you know it and sustain it for centuries.”
When we experiment tonight, it will be on the basis of thought creating realities, first of all the sorts of realities we can all agree thought regularly creates, the kinds of actions that are planned in endless domestic, civic, and corporate sessions, but also secondly realities that many of you will consider impenetrable effect by thought.
I would suggest that we do the exercises for their own sake because the overall ontological question is unanswerable. If you answer it beforehand either way, you will not be able to do the exercises or get their value. I would put it this way, you change yourself for its own sake, but sometimes the universe changes too. Don’t take my word for it. Do the exercises honestly without sabotaging them or prioritizing your cynicism. Then see what happens.
I am an amateur. I hadn’t a clue as to this kind of direction during my Amherst years, but I was interested in myth and religion and mystic poets like Blake and Yeats there. My path is roughly psychoanalysis (before Amherst), reading Jung (during Amherst), then in the seventies: Wilhelm Reich, bioenergetics, t’ai chi and trying to feel the energy ball. From there I went to craniosacral therapy and feeling the life pulse, Zen meditation, and other Taoist martial arts in the eighties and early nineties (I brought the manual pulse back to my failed chi energy ball. Then I studied at the Berkeley Psychic Institute and with John Friedlander (beginning in 2008 after a long spell of vegging out and making no headway in this kind of work at all.)
My skill level matters less than your willingness to open to your own nature and to use energies that you innately have. All I can do anyway is set you in that direction, toward your own autonomous capacity to create reality.
There is also a group energy or frequency here. It was invoked at Johnson Chapel during our Sunday service where it was palpable and everyone took it seriously. It was a great psychic configuration and, if you are willing, we can try to take it a bit further.
Our first act is to put down a grounding cord. This is as much to establish our transition to a psychic mode of being as that a grounding cord is going to be maintainable or work in the intended traditional fashion the first time. A grounding cord runs from the base of your spine to the center of the Earth, a core which is avowedly neutral in relation to our concerns.
Run any excess energy, energy that is not yours (i.e., is a relic of others’ projections onto you), toxic energy, problems, and doubts down the grounding cord to the center of the Earth, which (again) has no dog in any of these hunts and thus receives your spill-off neutrally. The grounding cord can be made of anything—wood, metal, cloth, protoplasm—but remember that it is energetic, so give it an energetic component. All those things are made of electrons and positrons anyway. Likewise, if you make your out of water, electricity, or thought itself, give it enough solidity to channel energy down to the Earth’s core. I find that maintaining the grounding cord in a functional manner depends on realizing just how far it is from you to the center of the Earth and thus how long you have to make the cord.
The grounding cord is a thoughtform, and it is reality is imaginal, but that doesn’t make it unreal.
In further preparation you might move your personal identity to the center of your head topographically so that you are balanced; you might become aware of your chakras helping to spin the seven layers of your aura (if you have a sense of these). If you don’t, then imagine them. Begin making such a thoughtform.
When I did the Seven Planes tour, I explained to people that the planes are not places but energies. Yet they map as planes or places in our mind. In fact, on this physical plane stretched out in all directions that we can traverse only with a physical body or vehicle, all seven other planes are present at different energy frequencies, in some cases at more than one frequency per plane. They constitute etheric, emotional, causal, collective, and cosmic aspects of the same reality. They add thickness and dimensionality to the ordinary physical landscape without which you would not recognize it as physical.
Likewise in the three exercises I propose, we will be traveling to other places, but what we will really, or also, be doing is changing frequencies and gradations of energy.
I know that energy is a free-for-all word with scientific as well as pop definitions. For now, let’s just say that energy is the thing that roots thoughtforms in the ground luminosity of All That Is and makes consciousness a medium that is capable of intelligence, personal identity, and agency. It is the part of the universe that makes what its material aspect more like thought than like matter. An atom is a point of energy, but so a grounding cord.
I am going to lead three exercises, again as an amateur. They all use roses. These roses are energetic focal points. They are grounded in traditional psychospiritual imagery, notably the ancient Rosicrucian rose which had its own forerunners. You can use something other than a rose, for instance the Tibetan Buddhist lotus tulpa, or even a nonflower. The goal is to have a shape to contain a thoughtform.
As a guide, think of how a baseball, golf ball, football, hockey puck, etc., is a focal point without which the games they give rise to would not exist. They are solid objects that contain and transfer a great deal of energy.
The first exercise is an incredibly simple and powerful one. It doesn’t seem like something that will work or like something, if it does work in some fashion, that can change reality rather than just its own thoughtforms (it even seems unequal to that). I recommend doing it without expectations, which is probably an unnecessary caution. It’s not usual to expect to create reality. But you do have to do the exercise with commitment, intention, and open-ness in place of expectations—perhaps curiosity and amusement too. You shouldn’t presume that you know what a successful outcome will be. How you are configured energetically and how you do the exercise will determine the measurement of success. And that may not be consciously available to you. Expect to be surprised and to realize after the fact, perhaps, that something key has changed.
Take your biggest current problem or obstacle. Visualize it as an energetic shape. That is, pull it out of words and internal dialogue and see it as energy. It could be electrical or some sort of scintillating form, or it could be entirely different, more holographic or gossamer. Its energetic shape is what it feels like to you as well as what you feel like addressing it—both.
Put that shape into a rose of any size, color, scent, etc., or fuse it with the rose such that the rose encompasses it and takes on its characteristics while containing it. If the shape is irregular and angry or scintillating, the rose will be, but it will also still be a rose (or lotus flower or whatever you choose).
Move it to the edge of your aura, the near field of your subtle field. If you don’t know where that is, move it to where you think it is. You will probably be close.
You may well find that there are tendrils, cords, and/or integumental fields—other thoughtforms with different shapes—connecting the tulpa to you (I am reusing the Sanksrit term here to give it some authority). Dissolve or cut those. Dissolve them with mercurial water, acid, golden sunlight, a laser—your call—or cut them with scissors, psychic hands, or whatever. Repeat this as often as necessary, which means repeat the base exercise as often as necessary, in this moment or over days, weeks, months, years (serious practitioners add “lifetimes” to give a sense of what is afoot).
Now work on the tulpa itself. Gradually cleanse it of excess energy and energy that’s not yours. Use light, heat, liquid, lasers, dynamite, whatever fits your temperament. Some people would rather dissolve it or clean it, others blow it up or shoot it to another solar system or galaxy. You can try various methods and see what works best.
In the Reunion Psychic Workshop I was only going to give a few minutes for this, but you can take as long as you want.
An alternative or collateral method is to take an imaginal photograph of your energetic rose while it is out in your aura and insert it back in the zone where the shape formed in the first place. This is by homeopathic or isopathic principle to replace it with a neutral copy. It is the mental form of a vaccination to prevent a disease.
The second exercise is different but related.
First, be sure to create a new grounding cord to replace the old one that has probably gotten stale by now. Then make an image of an experience in your past that worked out extremely well, a situation in which you were successful, pleased, and fulfilled. Set it at the edge of your aura. Explore the energetic nature of the image, how it sits in your aura, what particles (ethers) make up its thoughtform. Its thoughtform is what you have now, not the original experience.
Next to it set an image, a visualization, of something that didn’t work out, where you didn’t get what you wanted, where you were terribly disappointed. Explore its energetic nature.
Compare the two images. How are they different? How are they similar? Is there a way in which there is less difference between the two than you expected?
Did the thing that worked out have other, unexpected consequences over time?
Regarding the thing that didn’t work out, did you perhaps dodge a bullet?
Vis a vis both, how do you hold them now in relationship to yourself?
Afterwards, dissolve both images and repeat the overall exercise as often as desired (now, days, weeks, years, etc.)
The third exercise is the one designed for the Reunion.
Make a new grounding cord out of something different.
You might start by going back to my talk from 2011 and reading the last exercise and attempting to perform it in whatever fashion appeals. It is a difficult exercise to do individually.
I am open to the idea of picking a time when some of us do it and what follows simultaneously in our separate places or even to getting one an Internet links that allows conference calls and doing the exercise aloud and in synchrony together. I don’t know if there are enough people interested to make this worth exploring, so I mention it more as a way of picturing the reality of it rather than as a serious proposal.
Make an image, a visualization of our class as you imagine us entering freshman year. Include people who joined the class later by appending them to the image, perhaps with spider strands. Set that image in your aura where it is comfortable. Spend some time with it, examining it not just as a photograph but a thoughtform with a depth, richness, and ambiance.
Make an image of us at some chosen point while at Amherst. Same thing. Enrich and explore the image. Include as many classmates and college events as you can bring to the same vibration. Set it alongside the first image. Take your time.
Make an image of our class now. Same care. Same depth. Adjacent placement. Take your time again.
Make an image of our class after no member of it is alive. Same care. Same depth. Place it next to the other three images while merging it with a visualization of Amherst College without us. Set it in Johnson Chapel.
Conduct an imaginal service of your own making for us all and our class. Take your time. You might read over Rich Rubenstein’s post and make it part of the service, not literally but by integrating it energetically, its shape as you read it and feel it and consider RR’s feelings.
Merge all these tulpas together carefully and hold them in a single ether-like consideration.
Repeat the exercise as many times as desired (months, years, lifetimes).
Remember R. C.’s words—a step to the left.
Make it real.
Make the Class of ’66 eternal and real.
Make yourself real.