These days all of my identities are converging: whether I am offering a blessing in the grocery store checkout line, offering a prayer in a poem or experiencing the kinship with all life while walking my or a client's dog - it's all the same. It's all Life.
I was in the big general hospital, being evaluated by the psych staff for suicidal depression. The night before I had come precariously close to killing myself. At age 72, part of my crisis had to do with age. “I’m used up. I have nothing left to offer and no one is interested in what I do have. I might as well not be here.”
I was in one of the rooms in the E.R. with my really good buddy John, who had ordered the ambulance for me that morning. A young woman who identified herself as Bailey had come in with her little typewriter to register me. My first judgment about Bailey was kind of harsh (“kind of mousy”) – but then I was not in a real positive state of mind.
Which made even more surprising what happened next. Halfway through Bailey registering me, I stopped her and said, “You’re a very real person.” “What?” “Yeah – you’re genuine. You know, for the native Americans that was the highest compliment: ‘You’re a real human being.'”
“You’re a real human being.”
Bailey pulled herself up a couple of inches taller, pointed her finger into the air and said “Authentic.” I had gotten her. I had affirmed her for something that actually meant a lot to her. It was not some generic thing like “You’re a nice person.” It felt really good to her because she felt seen. She was doing that which she very much wants to do.
Bailey left. I pointed my arm towards John and – with tears running down my face, as they are right now – said emphatically “That’s what I do.” And for just a little while the charge “I have nothing left to contribute” had no power over me.
Fifty years ago, when I was 22, I was learning a form of peer counseling called Re-Evaluation Counseling. A big premium in RC was placed on “validation” – saying nice things to each other in ways that would really have an impact on the other person. I will literally never forget the time that Mio Archer, a lovely young woman who had been doing this stuff for a while and was good at it, told me “You’re the handsomest man I’ve ever met.”
Now I honestly think that accurately I’m pretty average-looking – sometimes I think worse than that. And now that I’m 72, there’s a whole extra “old” thing that contaminates the whole picture. But ever since Mio said that amazing thing, there’s one little part of my brain that thinks, “What if? What if I actually am good looking?” It’s pretty cool to think about. Mio changed my relationship with my own appearance for good.
And now my new friend Diana – my favorite person in our whole seniors building – likes to say that she thinks I’m handsome.
I have for fifty years devoted myself to learning how to affirm people in ways that stick – and noticing what it is in affirmations from other people that cause them to go under the radar, to do an end run around my logical brain and land where I live.
Last week i was in the hospital for suicidal depression. My most recent attempt to launch a course that could make me feel like I had value – “Affirmative Poetry”, kinda like this stuff but in some very big ways not (I’ll write about it later) – had been a colossal bust, one person came out. I felt like a complete waste of space. Pair that with the “old” thing and I felt really useless. I said all this to the social worker on the unit. She – a very smart 65 year old who has specialized in studying the spiritual life of seniors, said, “Your mission changes at every stage of your life. It’s not the same in your 70’s as it was in your 60’s. Your challenge is to clarify for yourself what your mission is now.”
The idea that I might still have a mission – and that it would be unique to my 70’s – rocked me back on my heels, shaped my whole experience of my six days in the hospital.
My overall mission – for my whole life – has something to do with validation. The particular spin for my 70’s is stuff I still need to ferret out. Writing this blog – and dialogue with you, my readers – will help. Welcome aboard.
Words can hurt and words can heal. Anyone can develop powerful tools for “Healing validations” – affirmative words that make a difference in another person’s life. This blog is devoted to developing that skill.
Sometimes I have little imaginary conversations in my head, for no reason that I quite understand. This afternoon, as I was dancing down Haywood St. downtown, I pictured my good buddy Steve Swearingen asking me at church tomorrow how I’m doing. In this little imaginary conversation, I say to him, “I’m living in a state of infinite bliss.” Why be shy about it? Why lie to him? Holding it under a bushel will muffle the brightness of it even for me. If Steve or anybody has been reading this blog, my secret is pretty well out by now.
I wrote the post below as a Facebook personal message to Amy Steinberg, our new Jubilee minister, who I have met face-to-face all of once – when she was working the crowd before her Isis concert last week. Most of the way through writing it to her, I realized that it was kind of stingy not to share that sweet moment – actually two sweet moments, the dancing down the street and the telling my dear one Amy about it.
Then, when I realized that I had shared it on the Jubilee Facebook page but not my own, I thought “Shit, turn it into a blog post and share that on Facebook.” So here goes…
Jubilant friends – I wrote this note (a few minutes ago) first just for Amy, as a personal message on her Facebook page – expressing my gratitude for a couple of her songs, and for her. But part way through writing it, it started to feel selfish holding it just for her. I feel just a little shy telling everybody that I was dancing down Haywood St. today – you may think I am totally losing it, which if you have been reading my blog, you already know that I totally am, in an amazingly wonderful way.
I am also, by sharing this note with whoever sees it here, outing myself about what a shameless Amy groupie I am. I adore that woman. She may not be “my Teacher”, but she is such a powerful teacher for me. My theme these days is “embodied Spirit”. The book I am working on is currently titled Reclaiming the Body – Sex and Power for a New Age. And Amy has got it all: embodiment, sexuality and power. I want to learn from her – and already am, big-time. I have only once ever so far hugged her or even been within a few feet of her. No difference. Maybe that’s all I can handle right now.
So there, I’m an Amy groupie – big-time. Letting go to her spell is almost right up there with the way I’m letting go to Spirit’s spell (it is actually clearly to me part of the same thing).
In the warm afternoon sun today, I danced Pancho through her usual loop through the downtown, getting down with your wonderful songs “Get Up” (2x) and “Infinite Soul Superhero” (4x). I started with kind of minimal dance steps – stuff people wouldn’t notice me doing. But I knew that I was just kidding myself about nobody noticing – normal walking just doesn’t have the kind of flow that those two songs have.
As I walked up Haywood towards the Civic Center, I got bolder and bolder with my dance moves. I now knew it was totally obvious that I was dancing past Malaprop’s – and I didn’t care who noticed. I knew, on some level, that most people who saw me would be made happy by it – but that was so far away from my motivation that I really only thought it just now. I was dancing down Haywood to celebrate that I’m an Infinite Soul Superhero. I want to celebrate that I have a cosmic secret: people think I’m an ordinary human, but I actually have turned into a mystic.
But at the same time I was letting my secret totally out of the bag. I was letting us all know that Asheville is a place where people dance down the street – that this obviously old guy with a little chihuahua can do it, so we all can do it – anybody can do it.
By the time I passed the Civic Center doors towards 240, there were fewer and fewer people – though still lots of cars driving by – and I was holding back less and less. I was starting to really cut loose.
When I hit the top of the overpass on 240 – with all those cars going by below me – I just totally let it all go. I stayed in one place – right at the top of the bridge – and just danced. I threw my hands in the air! It was thrilling – I was totally happy. I was an Infinite Soul Superhero!
Oh, Amy – I was gonna write this just for you. But as I relive the joy of getting freer and freer over the course of my dance and finally letting it all go, in the background a little voice has been saying “Let everyone know. Don’t hoard this just for you. Don’t worry that people will say, ‘Now Amy’s song is driving him to dance through the downtown – He’s turning into an Amy freak!'”
I am! I am an Amy freak! I love what you are doing for us! I love what you are doing for me! I don’t want to hide it! I am so thrilled, so grateful for you coming here to be with us.
I actually have danced down Haywood St. before you came to Asheville. But not as fully as I did today – and not dancing to an Amy song that has become my anthem – a funky dance tune about surrendering to Spirit.
I want all those people on Haywood St. – and all my Jubilee loved ones – to know that we can all do it. We don’t have to dance down the street downtown. But we can a little more let ourselves feel the power of Spirit working through us. We can a little bit more let our personality – all our old stuck patterns – just slide out of the way.
We can a little bit more feel the rhythm of Life, celebrate who we are, celebrate how connected everything is, celebrate how good Life is.
I think my own “waking up” happened before you came to us – June 26. But it’s a perfect time for me to be waking up, when the blood of Jubilee is stirring – when there is so much electric Life energy in that Celebration Room on Sundays.
It’s funny: when I am in that room for Sunday services, it both grounds the cosmic energy that has been buzzing through me kind of all the time – to be feeling it in the company of my community. And at the same time, it makes it all so intense that sometimes I can’t tolerate it all and have totally maxed out by the time we exchange the peace. I left at that point last week.
I’ve been promising myself all week that I would go back and watch the video from last week – and hear your message about “laying down weapons”. But I have been so inspired all week by my own writing that I almost never have been willing to be an “audience” for anything – I just want to keep (how’s this for a paradox) I want to keep letting Spirit have its way with me, use me for the writing it is pushing forward through me.
But I think that right now – 11:41 on Saturday night – as I begin to ramp up to all the newfound excitement of Sunday mornings, is the perfect time to settle in, with my little Panchita next to me, and watch the wonderful video.
See you – and all of you – in just a few hours!
*Find “Infinite Soul Superhero”here on Amy Steinberg’s album Shine- Be Glorious.