Who’s Douglas?: 3

This is the third of a four-part series of posts. Part 1 can be found here.

Seeding Wax Statues

Douglas and I are sitting together on Temple Hill. It’s a warm Indian summer afternoon in 1977. Douglas is 47; I’m 32. Doug and Stan have just moved up from Norfolk and are living in a small camper at Transdyne, the land they bought two years ago. It’s within easy walking distance of ALM (Associations of the Light Morning), where Doug and I are now talking.

Far above us, a raven traces a lazy circle in the sky. Douglas again wants to hear why our guidance in Virginia Beach said that the Essenes were to serve as a model for the community. He’s alluding to a few lines from Season of Changes. It’s the passage that first sent him searching for ALM and for me. By now I know the words by heart.

You have come together to build an example of family living, of cooperation, of child and adult education on the many different levels, and the expression of the greater perfection and love within you, that you know man may become.

But the greatest ideal, the greatest purpose for your coming together rests on one idea, one ideal, and one principle, and your whole community must hinge on this. And that is to be a vehicle, a vessel, by which the Christ Consciousness, by which the Christ, may again enter into the earth. For He shall not come but for those who build to make this possible, that are also already within the earth plane.

This is not to say that this would be the only group that would do such a thing, that would help with such a vibration and such a purpose. But it is important that you add your power and love and dignity to such a matter. This is your greatest desire and purpose, and this is why those peoples, those groups of Carmel — the Essenes — were given as examples to you. For this, you see, is what they had done.

Douglas listens carefully, his eyes bright.

“But who were the Essenes?” he says. “What were they really doing?”

His intensity sets free the words I have just recited from their prison cell of familiarity. I suddenly realize that I don’t know what the Essenes had been doing; and I want to know.

Doug’s well-aimed question takes me straight back to a memorable dream from the first night we spent here after buying the land. It was the eve of Saint Valentine’s day, we had set up our tents, and snow was expected. While drifting off to sleep, I asked my night mind a question: “What is the purpose of this community? What have we come here to do?”

The morning brought a light snowfall and a strong dream.

I am sitting with a few friends in a small outdoor theater. Someone shows me a tiny sculpture. It has been carved out of wax and is fastened to one end of a piece of copper wire. Looking more closely, I see that there are actually two figures, standing back to back.

Both of them depict Jesus. In one representation his right hand is uplifted, the first two fingers raised and the others folded into the palm of his hand. The second shows him with his arms crossed over his chest, as though in a gesture of surrender. Given their small size, the wax statues are surprisingly detailed. The workmanship is exquisite.

Then the scene shifts and someone is passing me a grapefruit. It shifts again and I’m watching a vendor at a fair, standing intently over his machine, making cotton candy. This scene, too, fades away and I awake.

The conjoining of Douglas’s question on Temple Hill — “But who were the Essenes? What were they really doing?” — and the evocative images of this dream will lead to a year-long series of discursive meditations. When these are interwoven with a strengthening flow of dreams, they turn into a sequel to Season of Changes. I eventually call this new book Wax Statues, Cotton Candy, and the Second Coming: An Inner Exploration of the Essenes, the Birth of Christianity, and Its Impending Renewal.

Intercepting a Punch

A drill instructor at work

We’re sitting around the community shelter on a Sunday afternoon. Doug and Stan are here. Their normal Sunday morning routine is to drive out to Smith’s Store and get the newspaper. After they’ve read it, they bring it over for us to read.

John Eggleston is here, too. He’s in his early twenties, boisterous and fun-loving with a booming voice. John is the youngest son of a Roanoke lawyer and his wife who bought the old farm next to us just before we bought ours. John’s building a vacation home for his parents. He also wants to move into a vacant cabin here and become a member of ALM.

Douglas is casually insulting George Stalling. George isn’t part of this Sunday afternoon gathering. He met Doug and Stan in Norfolk during the the Bookworm and symposium days. Later they hired him to build their home here. But he and Douglas recently had a falling out. That seems to be an occupational hazard for those who become close to Doug.

George lives in the wider neighborhood now. He’s a few years older than John and the two of them have become friends. They like to hang out together, drink a bit of tequila, and play penny ante poker.

The scowl on John’s face deepens as he listens to Douglas belittle George.

Then John snaps. He jumps up, stalks over toward the older man sitting on the couch, and cocks his fist.

“I’m gonna pop you!” he shouts.

Taking advantage of his warning, I leap between them.

“You’ll have to hit me first, John.”

John stares at me for a long moment. Then the rage drains out of him. We step outside to talk, leaving a surprised Douglas behind. This time he hadn’t intended to set John on edge; he was just running his mouth. But he was happy if the nerve he happened to hit would help cause motion.

Shortly thereafter, John chooses not to join our community. Instead, he finishes his parents’ house and moves to Richmond, where he finds a job, gets married, and has a son. Douglas approves of the move. He has maintained all along that John’s path of growth lay in the mainstream culture.

* * *

John and George were far from the only ones who had trouble dealing with Douglas. He had a well-developed gift for pushing people’s buttons. He could intuitively sense what would irritate someone or make them become defensive. Then he would start poking around to see what he could find. It was another facet of his bird dog nose. When Douglas smelled something amiss, he would follow the trail to see where it might lead.

But he was also selective in who he targeted. If you were committed to ALM — or like John, if you were considering such a commitment — Douglas could become a thorn in your side. Most of our neighbors and visitors, however, found him to be fascinating and engaging, a model of southern hospitality and charm.

Why the difference? Why did Douglas deliberately infuriate those he was closest to and leave the rest alone?

We wrestled with this question off and on for decades. Sometimes we tried to modify his behavior; but he was immune to such attempts. Or we chalked it off as being an understandable result of his conditioned insecurities. Or we tried to avoid him. Joyce even stopped speaking to him for at least a year.

One day over at Transdyne, I confronted Douglas about his continual harping on the shortcomings of others and his myopic intransigence. When he effortlessly deflected my accusations, I became so enraged that I stormed out of the room, slammed the door behind me, and stomped back down the road toward home.

Halfway there I was overtaken by grace. From some completely unexpected place came a simple but heartfelt question: “Why do I need this?!”

Maybe the question grew out of a deepening belief that like attracts like; that everything unresolved is recreated; and that hard but healing dreams can come during the day as well as the night. Or perhaps it echoed the wisdom of The Rolling Stones.

You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime, you might find,
You get what you need.

As soon as I got home I took out a pencil and a pad of paper and starting writing. Page after page poured out with no forethought or analysis. By the time I stopped writing, I had answered my question. Given the self-imposed word-count restraints of this post, I won’t share the visceral specifics of what I saw. Perhaps another time.

The short version is that after venting my angst at Douglas, after listing all his numerous foibles and failures, I finally understood that I had been using him as a surrogate; I had been using him to work out everything unresolved in my relationship with my father. The parallels between the two men were striking: their gifts, their twists, and how those twists impacted their closest relationships.

The results of my epiphany were long-lasting. Never again did I lose my temper at Douglas. I became frustrated with him, yes. But not angry, let alone enraged.

And in a way that I can only describe as magical, my relationship with my father changed as well. He lived across the country and we saw each other only occasionally. I had done little if any healing work with him directly. But after my trauma-induced therapeutics with Douglas, my father and I became significantly closer.

A final unexpected result of mending my relationship with Doug was that I became more willing to consider his rationale for deliberately provoking his fellow crew members. Once I no longer had to cast him in the role of a villainous authority figure, I could simply listen to his perspective. And I was surprised by what I heard.

Douglas told me that he needed to see how his teammates would handle stress. For if we submitted to the refiner’s fires in order to become fit vehicles for something more than we knew ourselves to be, then escalating stress was a given. When put under pressure, would his fellow crew members resort to fight and/or flight? Would they take refuge in blame and/or denial? The only way to know, before the stakes became too high, was to apply pressure.

I wasn’t completely convinced, and I still had many questions, but I could see his point. It’s as though Douglas saw himself as a dental probe checking for cavities. The probing could often be painful. But it showed where remediation was needed. Left unattended, the pain would increase and the tooth might have to be pulled.

Later, a second intriguing metaphor came to mind. Many years ago, Douglas had stood up to a naval drill instructor. (You can find the story here.) Had he himself now become a drill instructor?

Drill instructors are responsible for forging new recruits into a team; for deconditioning and then reconditioning their sense of self; for preparing them to perform well under extreme pressure; and for instilling new values, values strong enough to supersede the human instinct for survival.

Douglas hated every minute of boot camp. He especially disliked his drill instructor. Seeing that he might be playing that role now, in relation to ALM, was both ironic and amusing. And maybe the role was even needful.

A Thousand Thursday Afternoons

The Redeemer, by Leonardo da Vinci

When Doug and Stan moved from Norfolk to Transdyne in the fall of 1977, they came over to ALM frequently. They brought us the newspaper on Sunday afternoons and stayed on to visit. They were here for the Tuesday night group. And we often invited them for supper some other evening of the week.

After a while, Douglas took to reminding me that “the road runs both ways.” He was looking for a time when the two of us could get together on a regular basis. We finally settled on Thursday afternoons. So I ended up going to Transdyne for two or three hours every week. This pattern continued for twenty years.

We would catch up on each other’s lives, then discuss the book we were currently studying together. It was often one of the Seth books by Jane Roberts. After meditating together, we would have a simple treat and call it an afternoon. We spent a thousand Thursday afternoons together.

It would be impossible to convey all that we explored on even one those Thursdays, let alone twenty years of them. So I will instead offer a collage of impressions; a bouquet of carefully selected flowers to give you a glimpse of this unusual man.

The first flower is a brief quote Doug clipped out of a newspaper. His notation says that it was by Karl Menninger and was written in 1930, the year Douglas was born.

The adjuration to be “normal” seems shockingly repellent to me; I see neither hope nor comfort in sinking to that low level. I think it is ignorance that makes people think of abnormality only with horror and allows them to remain undismayed at the proximity of “normal” to average and mediocre. For surely anyone who achieves anything is, essentially, abnormal.

The second selection is from Seth Speaks, by Jane Roberts. It was the first of two books that sent Douglas searching for ALM; the other book being Season of Changes. This particular passage is from a chapter called The Meaning of Religion. (A digital version of Seth Speaks can be found here.)

The outer world is a reflection of the inner one, though far from perfect. The inner knowledge can be compared to a book about a homeland that a traveler takes with him into a strange country. Each man is born with the yearning to make these truths real for himself, though he sees a great difference between them and the environment in which he lives.

An internal drama is carried on by each individual, a psychic drama which is finally projected outward with great force upon the field of history. The birth of great religious events emerges from the interior religious drama. The drama itself is a psychological phenomenon in a way, for each physically oriented self feels thrust alone into a strange environment, without knowing its origins or destination or even the reason for its own existence.

Douglas and I both believed that a “great religious event” was gestating. My primary focus was on the interior religious drama; he was just as firmly focused on the exterior religious drama, and on what role he might possibly play in it. I once wrote him the following note.

Historically speaking, Seth says that 2075 represents the time by which an external religious hero completes his mission of laying the foundation of a new order in the ruins of the old order. Preceding this religious drama is an internal religious drama: the gestation of a new God concept within the collective inner consciousness of the species.

To me, our purpose is to participate in this gestation by clarifying our beliefs about the relationship between the personality, the soul, and God, and by then becoming what we say we believe.

The external drama — and the nature and degree of our participation in it — will largely take care of itself. As we develop a more conscious and constant contact with our soul, others will start to project upon us their own unknown selves. Having an experiential union with our source self will help us use these projections wisely, rather than using them to feed the unacknowledged needs of our conditioned personalities.

My concern was that Douglas might veer off into a Messiah complex and/or succumb to delusions of grandeur. He sometimes identified too strongly with the apostle Paul. Like the Old Testament prophets before him, Paul was convinced that God spoke to him and had great plans for him. And according to Seth, the new religious drama would center around Paul.

Who (or what) did Paul and the early prophets tune in to? How god-crazed must a person be in order to be a conduit for spirit? How does revelation play through the filters of the conditioned personality? These were the red-flag questions I had while reading a sheaf of papers Douglas gave me one Thursday afternoon. The words had come to him spontaneously, all in a rush. I will share only a page or two. It’s one of the large flowers in our bouquet.

Foreboding. A terrible foreboding, going on for a week now, starting as apprehension. The world is not as we think it. God is not as we think of him. All have vested interest. No being, entity, plane, or person is without vested interest. All seek to maintain a status quo.

All is duality; something outside oneself. No action is felt alone. It is felt always and in all places. No thought is without reaction. A body, a plane, a hierarchy is an encasement; a prison. None last. All disintegrate. All is change.

Christ is not a person outside. He is us; as we are; where we are. It is as it is. I am not peace. I am dissension. I judge. God is a feeling; but not a feeling. A feeling is a modifier. A feeling is a judge that modifies. Experience modifies feeling. Feeling is energy. God is energy. We are energy, encased by our feeling. God is not encased.

Desire brings experience. Experience brings understanding. Understanding brings love. Desire brings Christ. Where there is desire there is understanding; there is love. There he is. He is there regardless of whether we desire/understand or not. He is under every rock. He is every rock.

I desire. I do not understand all. I therefore bring experience. My experience is total. I therefore bring destruction of encasement — that I may understand; that I may love. Destruction is total and comes quickly. I therefore require no understanding as to my actions by others. My desire alone brings the needed experiences to each and all.

The world goes surely on its way to revelation; to its release. Each goes surely to revelation, its encased destruction, its liberation through understanding. I am myself. Love. I am desire that brings destruction. I create desire. The desire of darkness. Darkness so total that no star or hope can be seen. For all such are encasements, or have their formation in past conditioning.

Total desire I bring. For without total darkness/desire there can be no light; no new beginning. All plans and all building will be fruitless to save us from this darkness. All plans and all building will, however, bring understanding. Therefore I shall continue to plan and to build. Each shall do this.

There can be no glimpses of what awaits us on the other side, for all such would be built on conditioned mind. Only unqualified desire will bring the transformation. Only complete despair will bring complete newness or transfiguration…

Douglas often used a phrase very similar to “unqualified desire.” He called it formless desire.

Something he found in one of Loren Eiseley’s books, The Invisible Pyramid, spoke to him: “I am at heart a voyager who, in this modern time, still yearns for the lost country of his birth.” This parallels the passage from Seth Speaks quoted earlier: “The inner knowledge can be compared to a book about a homeland that a traveler takes with him into a strange country.”

I’ll draw this long portion of the story to a close with three brief examples of how Douglas occasionally found in the outer world something that spoke to the deep feelings he carried within. The first is “The Redeemer,” by Leonardo da Vinci, as reproduced above. Douglas possessed several prints of this painting.

The second example is a verse from a poem called “The Seekers,” by John Masefield, the poet laureate of England. I came upon it one day and thought of Douglas. After Joyce turned it into a lovely calligraphy, we gave it to him. It hung on one of his walls until he died. Then it came back to me. I glance at it now as I type.

There is no solace on earth for us — for such as we —
Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.
Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch-fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.

The final example — the last impression in the collage, the last flower in the bouquet — is directly related to this poem. For another line from “The Seekers” clarifies which hidden city Masefield is referring to.

We travel from dawn to dusk, till the day is past and by
Seeking the Holy City beyond the rim of the sky.

One Sunday morning Douglas heard a hymn on public radio. It moved him deeply. After going to unbelievable lengths to get a copy of it — I have all the relevant correspondence — he finally succeeded. Joyfully writing to the man who had sent him the long-out-of-print record, he explains that,

“This hymn evokes emotions that have been felt three times in my life. The first time upon hearing it by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. The second time in the early 70s upon seeing three meditative visions, which I called a City. The third time when I heard the Robert Shaw version. Upon receiving your record, I saw that the hymn was called The Holy City. I did not know the hymn’s name, nor had I heard the words, nor do I necessarily feel that words are of prime importance.”

What was of prime importance were the strong feelings that were elicited when Douglas listened to this hymn. Thanks to the instant gratification of the internet, we don’t have to go through all the contortions Douglas went through in order to listen to The Holy City. Our desire doesn’t have to be nearly as unyielding as his was. We merely have to follow a link.

The fourth and final portion of Who’s Douglas? will be posted next week.

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