The outdoor weather is gorgeous. It’s hard to believe that yesterday we woke up to a white world. Our neighbor's pink flowering tree is covered in heavy wet snow. Spring always feels like a miraculous thrust for a new beginning. This used to make me depressed, this time I’m determined to follow this progression of seasons with a hopeful though edgy heart to the next season.
Spring brings up feelings of my personal spring and what a struggle it was; much like a true Rocky Mountain spring which is always a battle between winter and summer until the tilt in the earth finally determines the outcome. Why was I afraid to leaf out into the activities I loved the most since early childhood? What I do know is that it all began with the Monkey Bars in Vallejo California when I was two-and-a-half. I wasn’t old enough to get beyond the first rung and I wanted more than anything to climb those bars. I gazed far into the sky and to the top of the equivalent of Mount Everest where the older kids looked down at me, and knew they were tremendously superior because they could climb all the way to the top.
|Old Style Monkey Bars, now considered too dangerous for kids.|
At that time, we lived in government housing so that my dad could work repairing ships at the Mare Island shipyards. When my mom became pregnant and we needed more room, my family moved away from that apartment near the Monkey Bars, and I ran away several times to visit those Monkey Bars. I got a spanking and a serious scolding each time but held it in my heart that I would go back any chance I got. We moved back to Colorado before the Monkey Bar issue was resolved. After the move, I remember looking in every playground for Monkey Bars like those. There were many small ones, but none like the ones I remembered from Vallejo. When I was 26, I finally found some exactly the same in New York’s Central Park. It was vindication that after all those years, my memory of what they were like was accurate.
Since the Monkey Bar setback, I have pursued many skills. The only ones I didn’t master to my satisfaction are those that expressed my heart and soul. I learned to garden, cook, design and sew my own clothes, type, mix cement, finish wood, tile a bathroom, apply wallpaper and paint, take care of horses, dogs, cats and chickens but there was no challenge to my heart and soul involved. All these things were everyday tasks that anyone could do. They were all first rung accomplishments. In fact, I was hiding behind things that came easy. Of course, I drew and painted as well, but was secretive about it. The parental judgement on art was that it was a frivolous self-indulgent way of shirking real work. I drew, painted and read when I wasn’t under surveillance. I was sick a lot when I was a kid, and I suspect that it had to do with having permission to do the things I liked to do such as drawing and reading while recovering in bed. There were many things that were off the table because they didn’t fit our religion or lifestyle—things such as swimming lessons (my folks figured I didn’t need to know much to swim in the irrigation ditch) or gymnastic and dance lessons (dance was considered showing off, immodest and thus against our religion) and of course art.
I developed a lifelong habit of publically going against my true feelings. Well, not entirely. Although I often bought things I didn’t really like for reasons I thought practical or did tasks I didn’t want to do because I felt guilty for doing something that I wanted to do (case in point I almost quit writing this to rake dead leaves out of the garden), what I really did was go underground. I just did everything I felt passionate about in secret. This wasn’t terribly difficult because my family didn’t bother to inquire about things that didn’t interest them.
There are good things even in a bad situation. I quit school at fifteen because I could no longer tolerate the dissonance between my inside suffering and my outside life. Of course, this created a huge uproar at home, but it was a necessary survival move. I waited for the walls to collapse around me and instead I found myself very alone, and very free. I attempted to get back into school the next year, talked my way into high school and succeeded but it was totally empty and meaningless so I walked away and never went back.
My world turned inside out, I began falling into a tube of bottomless blackness. I expected to be doomed forever. I had broken through all the safe boxes in my life and there was nothing to fight and nothing to achieve. To call it a dark night of the soul wouldn’t come close. It was more like being lost in endless nothingness without form, sound or anyone else around.
My folks sent me to a psychiatrist. He sat 20 feet away behind a desk at the other end of his office and I stared out the window. He asked me things such as “what are you thinking when you stare out the window?” I didn’t trust anyone and I didn’t answer because he like everyone else wanted to get me back to school and I knew I couldn’t do that. He once asked me why I hated pastel colors and that was the only question I could answer. I said, “Because my mother loves pastels. Babies wear pastels and my baby sister died and then my mother faded away. Pastel is less than alive.” He said nothing but it caused me to think about the psychological connection between pastel colors and fading away. I checked out books by Freud and Jung at the Library. That was the beginning of my new identity. I was sixteen.
For several months I went down town once a week to this psychiatrist until the day I told him that I felt guilty about the money it was costing my parents since it would never do any good. After that, I mysteriously developed interests in topics that I had never even heard of before. Many years later, some proponents of New Age thought referred to people with this experience as walk-ins. I knew I wasn’t a walk-in, I was a walk-out and that is when I discovered my forbidden self. I read sociology, psychology, history, philosophy all the way back to before Plato, various camps of theology, art history, method acting, the Kama Sutra and Rig Veda and then the Bible from Genesis to Revelation trying to generate the faith I was supposed to have but it blew my Baptist upbringing out the window forever. I read all the depressing Russian novels I could find in the library and forced myself to watch films about the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. I was trying to understand the true scope of human consciousness and depravity. It wasn’t just me. There was something very wrong with the human world.
I went with the existentialists, became cynical, foresaw the overthrow of Batista, knew Castro wouldn’t be America’s darling very long, foretold the assassination of Martin Luther King, and was shocked but not surprised when Kennedy was assassinated. Now and then, I would literally float off the couch and a powerful vision of the coming world from miles in the air would appear. An unseen voice told me that I was acquiring the vision to share with others who would also have these experiences. I was getting the stereoscopic view in order to graduate beyond personal misery. Was all of this another kind of Monkey Bars? The trouble was, with the exception of Kennedy’s assassination I wasn’t yet 18 when a wave of insights and knowledge rushed in like a tsunami. It didn’t create an ego charge because it isolated me from my peers and adults didn’t believe me.
Years later, I got into Red Rocks Community College, took all the hardest classes because I didn’t know any better and maintained a 4.0. It was another transition. Most students were working adults trying to better their job chances and they didn’t dive too deep. Nevertheless, it was my re-entry into society and I had dreams of someday getting a degree in psychology or anthropology, maybe both. However, there was one class that changed my life. Ironically, it was considered a fluff class and was the only one graded on attendance rather than performance and I missed two classes due to a severe blizzard thus lowering my grade point average. Of course, I could have gone to the instructor and explained the circumstances but back then, I was unaware that it was negotiable. Oh yes, about the class, it was on metaphysics with aura reading, the historic background of Tarot cards, astrology, energy paths, divining and many other metaphysical topics. I discovered that I was good at aura reading. I also remember an exercise that momentarily stopped gravity. This was impressive because it was a physical result that I actually experienced. Anyway, this class opened up an unfamiliar world--one that I had been raised to believe to be both silly and satanic.
In the following years, I attended many workshops that could be lumped into the Human Potential Movement, alternative healing and transpersonal psychology. I really intended to become a practitioner because it all helped profoundly on my personal journey. I thought this was my calling and the impetus toward climbing my personal Monkey Bars, but why did I get stuck on the first rung?
Next, I got a job with an oil company during a time when they were not hiring permanent help. It was such a stroke of luck that I worked there five years out of gratitude even though I felt like an alien in the corporate world. Next I went to an alternative school but soon ran out of money and then the school folded. Although that school was an amazing experience, it was one of my first encounters with the fact that idealistic people cannot cooperate nearly as well as corporate sharks.
I got into a very complicated marriage to a man who was bi-polar, and although very psychic, well- traveled on several dimensions and adventurous had yet to touch solid ground on this planet. He knew a lot of people who were involved in the metaphysical world or as alternative healers and I often became their friend after he alienated them. I learned astrology and started practicing it. We went through bankruptcy. Next, I worked for a huge bookstore that was like a whole village of people who didn’t fit into conventional society. My husband had several extreme manic episodes and undermined me at every step. We finally came apart when we moved to Taos, New Mexico. The move was my idea. An entirely new chapter opened and my husband moved back to Denver. We remained friends but our lives took different trajectories.
Taos wasn’t easy. Although I saw my life as a failure and thought I was too old to start over or do anything meaningful, I met interesting people and resolved to use my flickering embers to warm the hopes of my friends. I was always better at serving other people than myself. Taos didn’t allow this. I won’t go into all the dramatic cliffhangers that followed but before long, I was working in a gallery featuring Indian art, living at poverty level in an old adobe and painting every night into the morning hours. I’ve made my peace with unachieved dreams or, so I thought. Then a few days ago, while talking to a dear friend she mentioned that she was considering putting long dormant healing knowledge to work again. This was an amazing revelation because I had been thinking about something comparable but didn’t know how or where to start.
When I approach them, what will the Monkey Bars look like now? For one thing, I’m taller on several levels, and they don’t seem quite so high. I know this would involve letting past judgements and failures dissolve in the acid of transformation. No, I don’t know just how to do this but maybe if I leave the slate clean it will attract content. As the saying goes, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Perhaps all I have to do is not move away.
To be continued.