Yes and No- Synchronicity, Bonds, Knots and Evil.
This is really Coming Clean. Full Circle was once the title of my book Involution, about the omnipresence of memory guiding events. Here you have it. Full Circle in a day.
In the cross hairs of today the past came tumbling in. Not only my own, but the wider circumstances of echoes, of history and the continuing influences of the present past. Nothing is ever incidental, or accidental, everything contributes. They all take a particular shape by being connected to me, and what that shows is dominantly the ‘yes’: But ‘no’ is always present because their correlations are not simple. So there is more to them and if clear for one, that means for everyone.
I will lay out ingredients. Starting with today.
First thing: I opened a blog post from Sivan Butler-Rotholz’s site called As it Ought to Be. The poem she published was called
HOPE, TRUTH, FEAR, AND MY SPIRITUAL QUEST. YES! By Stephanie Wellen Levine.
I had never heard of Stephanie Levine The poem searches for the spiritual meaning to be found in everyday encounters and asks (more than once) ‘Isn’t there more?’
I was so taken with it I re-posted it on here ( see below). I then turned to other work, notably some preparation for ‘selling myself’ to possible agents by writing a literary CV in bullet points. One of those bullet points was this:
- Surviving an unrepentant cross-dressing Nazi landlady in Bavaria. Her name was Frau F***, she played Schubert on a windup gramophone, and sailed off in a Mercedes Cabriolet to preserve medieval Regensburg from modernity and take tea with Herbert Von Karajan.
Frau Fick (yes German meaning as discreetly indicated) was the widow of a Roderich Fick who worked on Hitler’s Berghof with Albert Speer. While staying in her eleventh century mill I encountered unadulterated Nazism within a short drive of Dachau concentration camp. So I refreshed my facts by reading about Speer who largely escaped the death sentence by acknowledging that he should have known about the holocaust but chose not to. So for him it was ‘no’ but actually really ‘yes’.
While reading this entry in Wikipedia a pop up happened alerting me to a new post from Watkins Bookshop where a lecturer called Philip Pegler was talking about his new biography of a man called Martin Israel. He had been married by Martin Israel ( once he had turned priest) and adopted him as a spiritual mentor and guide. The book was about how to deal with evil and exorcism, and during this lecture he mentioned that the esteemed Martin Israel was not immune to possession and once had had to deliver an Easter sermon while confronted throughout with it.
It happens I knew Martin Israel very well, and I was, I suspect, the ‘evil’ that sat throughout his Good Friday Service. I too had adopted him as a spiritual mentor from a distance ( I was awaiting a divorce in Mexico). He wrote frequently to exhort me to maintain my spiritual path and secure my ‘radiant spirit’ It was giving me rather a hard time. When I reached England and called on him to ask for his help in recovering from a profound series of mystical experiences he summoned the police and committed me to a mental hospital. I escaped and, believing he had mistaken my appeal, ( which was for a referral to a whitewashed room in a monastery where I could recover- since he gave retreats at all of them and held the keys so to speak) I returned to his flat in Kensington. Before I was even admitted over the threshold he re-called the police and I was recommitted on a police order without a single word being exchanged. In one of the most notorious mental hospitals in Epsom I was shackled to a bed with wrist bands in a locked ward. The day room was filled with the terminally deranged in strait jackets and catatonics. If I escaped I would be returned compulsorily. I was threatened with a frontal lobotomy and nobody knew I was there!
So much for the spiritual ‘loving’ Martin Israel. He had abused not only my trust but his position as a lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons. He was not a clinician but was prepared to end my sentient life! On the authority of his letterhead. At the time it was incomprehensible, but very frightening.
Shortly after he became truly ill, and incapacitated, requiring round the clock nursing but nothing medically wrong was discovered. He recovered slowly and took orders in the Anglican Church. When I had first met Martin Israel at a conference on Nature Man and God at Culham College, Oxford he was verbally violent about any religious orthodoxy. ‘These people have not begun to wake up’ he said of the assembled clergymen, one of which, the Chairman Richard Milford, had been Chancellor of Lincoln and Master of the Temple, who became a close friend of mine after the Conference. It was he and his wife who rescued me before the lobotomy after Martin Israel has written to them to say they should have nothing to do with me ever again. They ignored that and instead collected me from the hospital and asked me to drive them home!
Which brings me back to the Good Friday Service in Sherborne Abbey: I went to show Martin Israel my ‘recovered’ rational sanity and as I filed past him at the door I held out a hand ’Hello Martin’ I said. He looked straight through me without a sign of recognition. ‘I knew but I chose not to know’ Yes and No. He took the next hand proffered.
That next hand belonged to a woman who had taught me Theology in South Africa. I had not seen her for twenty five years, nor expected her to be there, but she had recognised me and hastened up behind.
‘Do you know him?’
‘I did once’ I said.
‘Well he didn’t recognise you!’ she said, sceptical. Martin Israel was too important to know her ex pupil.
‘Yes he did; he chose not to acknowledge it’ I said.
Yes and No.
Fifteen years after this service this my mother died in Swaziland and I went to bury her. The presiding woman priest at her funeral service had been in Swaziland for only three years. Although she had ruined the occasion ( another story) I invited her to lunch to thank her. On the bank of a sullen river, in a valley of oppressive heat with cicadas almost drowning the narrative, this priest told me she had formerly been a nurse and nursed Martin Israel during this collapsed state during which he had no control of bodily functions, but it was clear he was phobic about women physically. She was convinced his illness was due to repressed homosexuality to which he could not reconcile himself. Her view was that the priesthood was a shelter from himself. Whether true or not it helped me. Yes and No
My mother dies: I go from England to Swaziland to meet the only person who could corroborate my own near death/destruction and offer an explanation that made sense.
After listening to the eulogy in Philip Pegler’s lecture today about a man now being lionised and while wondering whether to write about this I received an email from a long standing virtual friend. Brian George has been the most generous supporter of my writing and we have communicated constantly for perhaps three years. He simply wrote to say that he did not realise I knew the poet Stephanie Wellen Levine but that she was a frequent visitor to his salon in Boston. He assumed I must! I had merely read her poem this morning. Yes and No.
Many years ago I wrote an imaginative story ‘The Obituary’ about a memorial service for Martin Israel when I knew he had died. My way of laying him to rest ( and getting small restitution). Since I had had no knowledge of him since that dreadful time I set it in a part of London that I know well. During this lecture today in which Philip Pegler was pegging out Martin Israel’s last years he named the church at which Martin Israel presided ‘Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road’. The reason I know the area well is because my daughter was at The Royal College of Music, almost opposite. That was where the service happened in the story. So again today I discovered I wrote truth, without any knowledge of Martin Israel’s terminal career as a priest. Holy Trinity is right where I planted him. I knew but I did not know. Yes and No.
Evil denied, knowledge denied, mistaken identities all gathered up to weave with unerring synchronicity the links in the chain. It began with a poem and called up friends, the past and the clearest signposts of well thumbed evil in Bavaria. You could not put it in a novel and be taken seriously!
Mindblowing. Even though I knew all of that. When it strikes so coherently it affirms the Yes Yes Yes. As it Ought to Be. As it is.
P.S. The Milford’s ( my rescuers) daughter married the son of the Founder of Watkins Bookshop, and I gave a talk there three years ago. Nothing is for Nothing.
Addendum ( I hope you will read this because it changes everything.)
Many readers known to me, and perhaps a few that might find their way here will find this searing and personal post inappropriate. The conventions of blogs is to keep it light, general and, if personal, undemanding of emotional investment. I took some courage to defy all those because the circumstances of split second synchronicity arrested me and catapulted me back to a time when thought and outer event were constant companions. Hence the accusation of insanity. The co-ordinates to which I was (at that time) privy made living in time impossible. The ‘Power of Now’ when it is all there is ( for all its theoretical hype and mindfulness applications) is like being buffeted in a stormy sea. There is no anchorage if past and present are all equally available and indistinguishable. So MY first reason for sharing it was because it came as a reminder of the richest inspiration for my life and my work. If you recall I have called Involution ‘The Book that Wrote the Life’.
BUT to implicate the role of Martin Israel and more immediately to make his biographer Philip Pegler aware of an aspect that I suspected he might not know- might prefer not to know-was almost an act of cruelty. Why did I decide to contact him? I thought long and hard before I did but in the end gave him the choice to know- if he wanted to, precisely because my own illusions about Martin Israel’s infallibility had so endangered me (and punished others). My experience of Martin was not Philip’s, and I had to trust that he would sustain his own even when accepting mine differed. It was a huge risk that he might perceive me embittered or pointlessly destructive. What I hoped was to balance what had, from his lecture, seemed an unquestioning admiring and devoted eulogy.
I took a chance and he rewarded that risk with extraordinary generosity. Let me quote from his response. First of all – thank you for taking the trouble to write as you did. It cannot have been easy after all you have been through, and although you may find this difficult to believe, I am very glad you did so. I much appreciated the searing honesty of your carefully considered communication, even though it made distinctly uncomfortable reading late at night. It is quite true that I have long respected and admired Martin, feeling grateful for the wise counsel and support I have received over the years, but I would never wish to slip into the trap of heedless admiration of anyone. I have had far too much salutary experience of my own for that.
Philip went on.
29 thoughts on “Yes and No- Synchronicity, Knots & Evil”
Come to think of it I am not getting them either, or not consistently! So equally pleased to get yours.
Good Lord – I very much mean that in the habitual sense of the expression – what a fascinating read !
So much so I’m going to have to return for a re-read at some point…
“…the priesthood was a shelter from himself.” Oh, indeed it was, and so many more of them…
Forgive me not my cynicism, for I know too well what I write.
Greta stuff, Philippa, keep up the good work.
Finally inveigled you into my lair. Thanks for reading Chris. Yes it flushed out some pretty powerful ghosts from the past, but in an intriguing manner knotted them into the present most tellingly.
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The pleasure is all mine, Philippa. Outstanding read. I’m having a lot of trouble with WP accounts at the moment, and am not being informed of comments or return comments via email. All going over my head. I thought I’d check back in just in case. Good job I did…
A powerful post, Philippa. I could feel the betrayal and the liberation at the end. A wonderful release.
Thanks for reading Diana. Unfashionably long as well as defiantly too candid BUT it was a release, maybe even of the book that takes a reader all through it? Still not sure about the wisdom of publishing! Mulling.
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Dream of Robberg and finding a pansy shell on a dawn walk? Will do my best Susan.
Thank you for this peeling back of the layers, each one revealing another aspect of both the truth and the illusion, as well as the peculiar connection between the two. A courageously deep post and one I connected with. But it was also so graceful. Loved it Philippa because you have expressed in measured elegance, without smoothing over the rucks or veering away from truthful investigating. Something I find terribly difficult. Yes the tiptoeing. I know that feeling. Mr Israel was afraid. Because when you have an image the truth can only wreck it:)
Thank you Atulya, and for dropping in to start with. I always imagine you en route, and piled up with next essentials. This has provided a truly overwhelming confirmation that trusting is rewarded. I was apprehensive, as I said, but the active participation of so many, and at such length of identification, topped by Philip Pegler’s generosity has now confirmed that risking the deeper truths might lead to fewer but more meaningful exchanges.
I find these days that unless I have something worthwhile ( to me) to uncover I prefer to remain silent but that is not how blogs are meant to work. Little and often is the rule which you so deftly escape by having limited access to the internet. A natural restraint underpinned by a good excuse, which is why your posts gained such value when they came!
This has been after nearly a lifetime, the most extraordinary three days. Not yet fully assimilated but it feels like stepping out onto a beach with a limitless horizon, and fresh fresh air. So glad you joined it!
Sleep the sleep of honey suckle and babes tonight Philipa awakening fresh and determined to carry on wise and beautifully crafted prose in which we delight ❤️
Indeed, Susan! I only just read your Addendum, Philippa. Wonderful!
I looked up Martin Israel and found an obituary in the Telegraph Obituary form 26th Oct 2007. It says:
… He was particularly sensitive to other people’s psychic needs and to the presence of evil … he was an exorcist … etc.
Could he have been too keen to be spiritual, too virtuous, lacking humour? And the projection onto you, could it have been due to an unresolved anima issue that stirred a deep neurotic fear in him?
I rather like this talk by Alan Watts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlAQaakSEzE
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What’s up, Ashen. There’s something refreshingly dewy mist in your presence, often a rainbow appearing through it.
I read this, Philippa, and gasped, “Oh my God.” To think that Martin Israel said those things to you which indeed seem so supportive and encouraging. I can see more clearly now why you put your trust in him. The more details you bring out, the more sting one feels in the betrayal. It just goes to show the treachery of words too. Words and acts are often simply not in alignment. People talk and talk, develop their beliefs, their “positions” on issues, then when something real happens, overwhelming or catastrophic, where there’s no room for just talk anymore, but one is forced to act, true colors and character comes out, one no longer having any place to hide.
There are certain confrontations where there can be no more pretending, no more playing a “role” (priest, politician, seller, wife or husband, etc.). At the peak of your mystical experience you were a pure light of truth, shining around indiscriminately, even in spite of yourself. It burned in you and carried you along, no longer subject to prosaic rules and regulations, no longer able to be contained by the usual forms of etiquette and courtesy. I find it utterly fascinating.
It also makes me realize in my coolness, more sober moments, in this everyday life we see going on all around us, the humdrum everyday, where everything sort of sleepwalks along, everyone going about their daily routines, what things are latent in the depths, and all the falsehood happening on the surface, the playacting. Being completely honest, I myself don’t necessarily know how I would act under certain overwhelming or catastrophic circumstances, undergoing certain intense pressures and being forced to act. We like to do all this talk about mavericks or forerunners, individuals way ahead of their time, but on a more personal level, I’m not completely sure how I would’ve acted, in the flesh, if you came to me back then when you were at the peak of your mystical experience, with that incredible light shining from your eyes. It would’ve scared me too. You yourself, Philippa, were so overflowing with the power of your vision, that you didn’t have words. There’s a communication breakdown there. Words were insufficient. Or if you did speak, it probably was in nuclear fragments, one might say. (I wonder if you have any unedited writing from that time, just spontaneously flooding the pages. What a read that would be!)
I think there are breaking points within each of us, which could push us into playing the part of the betrayer. Think of war conditions. Under life or death circumstances, there’s no time for niceties, finely honed passages of poetry, and whatnot. I’ve had encounters with “insane” persons before. I myself am a bit nutty, and have this whole other level operating in me where I’m just fascinated in psychology, so maybe I hang in longer than most would when confronted by something really different and appearing as crazy. But to return to complete honesty, I think just as in the Buddhist saying there is both flower and weed in us, and one can water the weed and choke the flower, or do vice versa, I think there is both the Jesus and Judas principle in all of us, and one can under certain circumstances, if one has lived in a false way and brought oneself to a certain condition, end up when the absolute moment of truth comes acting as the betrayer.
I bet you, Philippa, Martin Israel in his most private moments, when he looked down into himself, when he looked in the mirror, and reflected on what he had done, felt the horror of it. It might have very well taken him by surprise. He first believed he was acting on behalf of the Jesus principle, then the veil was torn away and looking in the mirror he saw Judas staring back at him.
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I meant to ask , Phlippa, where did the wonderful image of the horses came from?.
Re: The full circle and synchronicity, I hope you can put the betrayal to rest.
Here a few of my thoughts …
Our societies like the familiar, protecting what the majority has invested in. Individuals with powerful insights, who peer into the future and develop new visions, tend to be regarded as odd, controversial, or simply mad by institutions and individuals whose position is at stake, especially if a truth-vein is touched.
Many such unruly ones were later called prophet, saint, or genius (we know their names.) Innovators with a major impact during their lifetime usually had crucial support and a little luck on their side. Others were shunned, locked up, or received little understanding in their lifetime. Then again, innumerable insights were never shared, because of doubt or justified fear, and must chance another opportunity to be aired. But does it matter?
Since we’re all connected, each singular experience must influence our collective mind and heart, celebrated or not, maybe not even shared through a recognisable medium. In that sense, every significant insight expands our collective consciousness.
Last year I posted something on a controversial explorer of consciousness who is still hardly known, Stanislav Grof : https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/a-cartography-of-the-psyche/
And then there are spectacularly controversial people who are catapulted to fame …
MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/651b5c58-3120-11e6-ad39-3fee5ffe5b5b.html
He was also interviewed on Paris Review in 2010
Re the Photograph I bought the right to use it but can’t remember which library Dreamtime? perhaps.
Thanks for commenting. As you know I am more than aware of the pattern of rejection of the new- one can hardly research the story of scientific ideas and not be- but my difficulty was in coming to terms with the rejection by the one man who shared that knowledge. He, above all, despised the narrowly entrenched paradigms, whether of science or religion. Hence the complete trust I placed in him, because he already was ‘there and back again’ on Involution:On the collective nature of consciousness. His opening remark to me ( without any preliminaries) was ‘You are ten years too early. Go back to America. England is still locked into materialism’
My inability to comprehend the depth and lengths to which he would go-indeed went-to annihilate me was due to my esteem for him ab initio. That was doubled because of his ‘standing’, his authority and the wider respect accorded him. Yet I have now to accept the pitiful and injured man he clearly was, so injured he lacked all judgement and all self control. As is usually the case when one confronts the inexplicable in someone else, one is somehow implicated and failing in judgement. I was because I was desperate to find a single fellow traveler ( not having made the journey to Pondicherry- or any ashram) I had read a fair few, mostly dead, Meher Baba, Shri Aurobindo and other mystics and had no doubts about the validity of my experiences but needed what Martin, at first, offered- recognition! The alteration of that recognition- to insanity- was simply unbelievable. Literally. So I did not believe it and have cogitated ever since. Now I feel I can just swallow my own error, an error born of need, a need born of vast remove from the human condition. To find my own way back I had to accept that solitude, and what he did forced it upon me.
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So much to reflect upon Susan. I had grave misgivings about putting up this post- not for the obvious reasons of self disclosure- but wondering whether it might be understood for what it intended. It was the resurrection of the minute by minute synchronicity that took me back to the period of (alleged) madness when it was happening all the time. This then focussed on Martin Israel through the lecture by Philip Pegler. BUT the decision to publish it has been thrice fold vindicated. Not only has it introduced me to Philip, a man who has made a study of MI and who was generous in accepting an experience somewhat at odds with his knowledge of him, but THAT encounter seemed to offer me a possible peace with the past. Now that seems the reason for reminding me of it!
Although the experience was not only harrowing and life threatening I would not now eliminate it, because ultimately it made me responsible as nothing else could have, for survival, and survival intact. In a madhouse, prison though it is, you have the freedom to do anything, and nothing to lose. I discovered powers of invention, observation and fearlessness that only arise when sanity and escape are at stake. That, of course, is the comfort of hind sight. I may not have survived but just as his ruthlessness condemned me I shall never forget the rescue by the Milfords in their eighties who drove up instantly they knew where I was and in front of the consultant psychiatrist held out their car keys. ‘We’re rather tired dear, would you drive us home?’ The extremes are always linked! That was trust that put their own lives on the line! They had Martin Israel’s authoritative warning that I would never recover and would have to be institutionalised for ever- and their own knowledge of me. They chose to rely on the latter.
In a way this post and Philip Pegler’s response is a mini version of that. One never discovers what is possible unless one takes the risks!
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Greetings, Susan. Thanks for the likes. I do fear I do too much scribbling, taking up too much space. This is simply wonderful, Philippa. I love how all this has panned out for you, bringing something deeply troubling toward peace in yourself. I say again, and you appear to agree, that your madhouse experience really adds poignance to your whole story – legitimizes it in a way perhaps very few other things could. It’s akin to a near-death experience. You could have perished miserably, locked away, pounding at the walls with your fists, sliding to the ground, defeated and silenced forever; but if that possibility wasn’t there, the bite of it wouldn’t be there, the very punch to the guts which awoke the survival instinct in you, and ended up moving you out to a higher sense of purpose and personal responsibility. It’s a curious blessing in disguise. I think in one way or another you were bound while you were undergoing your intense mystical experience to have a more dangerous confrontation with another who would feel threatened by you, and really do something about it. If it wasn’t Martin Israel I cannot help but to think it would’ve been someone else of the same ilk. Any great light casts a great shadow, and you had to experience that too, to truly own the whole mystical experience. It’s heaven and hell. It’s medicine and poison. It’s Yes and No. It’s life and death. You drank deep from the mystic well, and at first it went down smooth and sweet, but you had to drink the dregs too, where it turned to bitter slop.
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Hello Philippa, and John …. I almost feel like having a double shot of alcohol … even though it’s not even 10 a.m. I feel outraged on your behalf Philippa though I know of your incarceration from previous posts. It is a most terrible story as are all those where the lamb is led to the slaughter. I don’t know what to say really, except that the synchronicity is extraordinary. The comments by John elaborated on it well – I recall a terrible injustice done to me last year but I also have to ask myself what hook was there in me that such a projection was made onto me. I’m still trying to figure that one out …
The greatest thing we can ever do is to be ourselves in amongst all the falsity in our world. You do that in spades and hearts.
Evil is not just the absence of good … I think it has a reality and force of its own.
I’m now going to check our Stephanie Wellen Levine …
That is a grim quote John! Often perhaps apposite, not always true. There has been a significant development from the author Philip Pegler who has written the book referred to, and I am hugely touched and grateful for the generosity of his response. It somehow makes the synchronous events of yesterday signposts to a recovery. More anon.
With regard to the recognition I had only myself to rely upon, bear in mind where I had been! Nobody else, however kind or compassionate, had been there ( Unless I went in search of a God Intoxicated Indian Mast- and even he would have been no help because I needed to return and he had no intention of doing so!) The spider abseiling thread I had to navigate back was thin thin and easily broken, even by well meaning kindness. Only I could navigate it hand over hand. That was true at the time. Later an apology would have restored, and that never came. Yet I reflect on the equally improbable presence of my one-time theology teacher being there as witness. Nothing is for nothing and the future summons the presence of the past. This has been an exciting two days and thank you for your contributions.
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You’re a great woman, Philippa. I’m probably one of your odder admirers in that where you have failed is where I find the most bracing lessons and inspiration in your life story. When I hear the voice of indignation in you, I think, “Ah, now here she’s struck on something with meat in it.” I find you all the more intriguing for having been dragged against your will to a real madhouse. There’s something so poignant about that, and it speaks also on a symbolic level, pregnant with meaning in the history of arts and sciences and in the memory of all the ordeals and sufferings other mavericks and forerunners had to endure for thinking outside the box. I think you’re in good company, as little consolation as you might find grinding away in relative obscurity in the immediate present. Almost all of my favorite writers and artists were never “successes”, so far as mainstream cultural standards go.
It’s wonderful to know that even after all you had been through, the injustice and unspeakable misery of it, there was still an opportunity for reconciliation and water under the bridge. That proves the wisdom of your understanding, the resiliency of your character, and the quality of your heart. My own heart is similarly disposed. No matter what happens, some genuine kindness goes a long way with me. I’ll fight like a devil for what I believe in, I’ll even take some licks which sting me, but with most, afterward, I’m ready to let bygones be bygones. It’s Mr. Israel’s loss that he didn’t take your hand when he had the opportunity. I’ll check out now and leave you to your other developments. I have a couple weird but intriguing drawings I’m working on nearing completion.
P.S. Here’s another thought by Leopardi to put a charge into the heart of those who in pursuing truth find themselves kicked off into obscurity or shoved onto the margins: “No profession is so sterile as that of letters. But the world puts such a high value on deceit that with its help even letters becomes fruitful. Fraudulence is as it were the soul of social life. Given its effects on the human mind, no art or human faculty is really perfect without it. If you were to study the histories of two people – the one honest in all things, the other deceitful – you would always find the latter more fortunate than the former. The honest man is in fact almost entirely barren of good fortune. Artifice lacking truth is valuable and effective, but truth lacking artifice is impotent. I don’t think this is due to the wicked inclinations of our species, but rather because in everything he does man needs some illusion and glamour, since truth is always too flawed and impoverished. Illusion pleases and inspires him. He lives for the promise of something more, and better, than what the world can actually give. Even Nature is deceitful toward man: it makes life congenial and tolerable only through imagination and artifice.”
I re-read all these comments, and “great” – “you’re a great woman” – now reaches out and, deservedly so, gives me a good hard poke, squirts cold water in my face. I wince now when I read that. (I do learn my lessons.) Deciphering this now, I see you keep a good clarity between levels operating, that you in your everyday personhood are one thing, bumbling along like anyone else, trying to make the best of things while trapped in mortal clay, but genius and daemon when they sweep you up and begin operating in you, carrying you along, your words even against your will transformed into poetry, that clay by invisible hands, as it were, shaped into a pot (or I think of Keats’ Grecian Urn), are something else. “The book that wrote itself.” You don’t take personal credit for that. It’s not a matter of ego. The book is a gift to humanity, and you were simply the vehicle through which it manifested, and transformed itself into song. You’ve struggled mightily with why it’s you to whom this happened, and you have suffered. To this day doubts linger in your mind. To call you personally “great”, directing praise to your ego, I see now by its misapplication even arouses disgust and indignation. It would probably be more accurate to say O what a marvel is nature and all power and glory to God.
Heavens alive John! How do I respond to this profound understanding? I was drawn to Martin precisely because I sensed his suffering. He was a conspicuously ugly man, short, waddled, inhibited, afraid superficially yet emanated a deep certainty. I was floating in a tempestuous sea, his certainty was a raft I reached for. But he had written me many letters encouraging, affirming, seemingly predicting each development, confirming that the raft might look like balsa but was in fact good oak. I had lost everything, my children, marriage, right to remain in the US and he was the only possible source of an integrated return. Something happened that caused him not only to commit me but to try and ensure no return to normal life. He wrote to everyone he knew I knew exhorting them not to assist any belief in recovery, and not to help it happen. Pontius Pilate had a fair admixture of Judas but at the time that also seemed kind of appropriate
BUT apropos your supposition that what happened HAD to happen (in a wider perspective) his rejection and my incarceration forced my own initiative to realise I could not depend on anyone, and that is what got me out in less than three weeks. He was the buffer I hit at speed and rebounded to retract. Yet I came back in one piece with it all still available ( although needing years of integration which was the purpose of writing Involution- to bring it all back!)
Perhaps the most telling aspect of why he seemed the oak was his refusal to countenance any allegiance to ANY institution. A study of most of them in order to draw the beneficial and profound.; yes; belonging to any, absolutely not. His disappearance into the Anglican Church seemed as monumental a volte face as his change towards me, and they still seem most logically connected. Whatever it was that had terrified him stripped him of all he seemed to be.
The interesting thing is we were both from South Africa, attended the same University, came from much the same milieu but none of that did I know when I encountered him. I had no thoughts beyond a spiritual recognition and a sense of companionship. It was his phobia that created the terror that dressed me evil. A severe disability in a spiritual adviser, the creation of evil makes a Lucifer with which to battle as a Galahad ( to mix the mythology!)
I agree that Brian has managed to enfold his experiences with a detached creativity that seems to flow endlessly, and his generosity to others must stem equally from a sense of self worth. I do not have a great sample of fellow writers to draw upon but just as the overt racism of South Africa ( visible for all to see) could be expunged by Mandela, and drew many to put bleach to the task, it seems to me that the overt competitiveness of the American literary world leads to an acceptance of success in others that is not common in the UK. Here we are ‘nice’ on the surface. That neglect is I suppose what my short stories try to remedy!
That is why I question the conventions of failing to see, speak and illuminate the instances of what you call (appropriately) the alloy components of ‘evil’ or simple abuses of power through jealousy etc. As writers we are esteemed for the creation of villains in fiction, but should never allude to their wellsprings in life! Just as I believe overt racism being seen was the component that went far in eradicating it I wonder whether overt jealousy being named might not do the same?
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Pardon the mini-rant, Philippa. Sun was rising and I was short on sleep. Better now. Thanks for this elaboration. It did jump out at me that both you and Martin Israel grew up in South Africa. I figure that tie would redouble any effort to be your defender and protector when you needed it. It just adds to the bitterness and indignation of the thing that he took that action he did against you. It does appear personal. One wonders about what’s behind it all. If he did that to me, I’d be seething. If he pretended not to recognize me years later, I’d have felt like grabbing him by the lapels and slamming him against the wall, dreaming of a scene where I say to him staring him straight in the face as I have him pinned and squirming, “Remember me? I’m your worst nightmare!” But of course the better part of myself would catch me before I acted impulsively or foolishly, realizing that would only confirm him in his phobic projection that I’m “mad”.
It’s beyond sad that your stay in the madhouse made you realize once and for all that you can only depend on yourself. There’s something so hopelessly lonely about that, but I think it touches on the truth of the fickleness and cowardice of human nature. It reminds me of what I read some time ago in Leopardi’s Pensieri:
“Let no one think he has learned to live until he has first learned to regard the generous gestures people make as nothing more than sheer syllabic noise, all the more when the repetition and seriousness of such offers make them seem spontaneous. I’m speaking not only of offers of assistance, but also of the countless lively propositions by which people make their services available to others. They specify the details and circumstances of your problem, then explain away all the difficulties. But once you have been won over – or simply overwhelmed by the tedious repetition of his proposals – if then you reveal some genuine need to such a person, you will see him suddenly turn pale. He will change the topic of conversation or give you some irrelevant answer, then leave you hanging. Consider yourself lucky if at some future time he tries to see you again or answers your letters. Men refuse to help others not just because it’s a nuisance in itself, but also because everyone in some way enjoys seeing his acquaintances in need. Men, however, like to be thought of as benefactors. They enjoy the gratitude of others and the feeling of superiority that comes from doing good. But they really have no intention of giving what they offer; and the more proudly you act, the more they insist, at first in order to humiliate and embarrass you and then because they are much less afraid that you will accept their offer. Their extraordinary bravery thus drives them to the farthest extremes. They are contemptuous of the constant danger of being exposed as imposters and ask in return nothing more than the gratitude of others. But as soon as the first real question is raised, they turn and run.”
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Fascinating, Philippa. Tragic too, with dreadful firsthand repercussions you suffered, if Martin Israel lived his entire life closeted. But it would explain his inability to connect more deeply and intimately, more humanly, and be of real help to you at that time you desperately needed it. It’s terrible what you went through, the ordeal he played a significant part putting you through, having you locked up in a madhouse. Traitor might not be too strong a word for him. He acts as your spiritual advisor, gains your trust, then when you try to share your powerful mystical experience, something beyond words, needing relief from its overwhelming force, needing sincere help interpreting it, he grows scaredy cat and calls the authorities. What a wretch. It’s very telling that he didn’t acknowledge you during that encounter later on. That acknowledgement, if he truly opened his heart to you, hiding nothing, might have led to him eventually falling to his knees and asking for your forgiveness. But that might have shattered his pious illusion, the position of “spiritual authority” that he carefully built up through the years out of his self-denial.
It does appear in some sense that “…the priesthood was a shelter from himself.”
I get the bitter irony and black humor of your quip that perhaps you were the “evil” which caused him to struggle with “possession” while he was preaching from his pulpit.
On a lighter note, I’m truly warmed by Brian’s intro of you and Stephanie Wellen Levine to each other. It just made my day reading that.
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Always you ‘get it’ John. Luckily I escaped with the help of true friends. Somehow today the eulogy tipped me into a kind of retrospective indignation. But the extraordinary sharp shooting synchrony was more interesting. I am still reveling/interpreting/reflecting on why now!? Thanks for reading and for contributing.
Yeah, Philippa, these matters are ultimately complex. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Up close, one can become quite indignant at the blows of fate, at injustices suffered. I grow indignant too. There is much in this world at which I’d like to swing a wrecking ball. I wonder if it’s not our Aries disposition to have fire burning in the guts, but such fine sensitivity up at the surface, where we do our choosing and translating with restraint, practicing self-control, so as to have a modicum of friendly relations with others. It’s a damnable combination. Such elemental power and fine empathic sensitivity don’t really go together, or at best they always sit in a very uncomfortable relation. I’m always struggling to word things in such a way that I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings but at the same time am not being false to myself. The older I become the less I say, tending to silence and reserve, because of the more that I see, often with smoke coming out of my ears. I grind my teeth at night.
On the other hand, if one zooms out and from a good distance looks at the same devil-filled details, they do appear connected to a more profound overall process, much larger than ourselves, and to serve some higher purpose. Something bad that happens appears to be a confluence of elements seeking originally to find concord and harmony but due to pressures, primal eruptions one might say, they miss and find the opposite, resulting in wreckage and injury. Quite often no one person deserves all the blame.
“Evil” seems to have a life of its own, most of the damage done by it happening inadvertently, or by “accident.” Being impatient, we create the set-ups for our own ruptures and conflicts, our own rude awakenings. We are unknowing participants in brewing what eventually might explode in our faces. Only in rare cases is evil actually embodied and becomes a conscious and active principle. I think a purely evil individual must be as rare as actual genius. Mixtures or alloys are more of what exist in the world. There are more momentary geniuses, individuals who have their golden moment, then tumble back down into the ordinary, banished and condemned to live with the memory. Evil needs some mixing with other things, a watering down, to extend and prolong itself, to make a life for itself. It lives in shadows, rarely showing its unspeakable ugliness, its mortifying and petrifying nakedness, adorning and decorating itself beyond what’s natural or necessary, camouflaging itself with continual excuses and justifications, endless misdirections. Evil needs distractions.
A man does something based on dread of who he is in the flesh, even building his entire career on denial of the cause of that fear, projecting it onto others, struggling to master the fear through displacement, while putting up a front and acting essentially what he is not, and a space within opens for the spawning of evil. The “evil” collects and begins to brew in the hiding place, and only waits for an opportunity to break out and cause havoc and harm.
Who knows all the factors operating in the life of Martin Israel. I can only imagine what he must have suffered privately. I’m sure there’s an untold story there, just as there’s an untold story to so many others, including myself. One wonders also about your susceptibility to his influence, why at that time you didn’t detect the falsehood of his position, the actual disposition of his own heart and soul, so unfavorable to you. I suppose you took him for granted. You appealed to him with your guard down, to some extent actually “out of your mind” or flooded with a mind so cosmic and “other” to what you were used to or had the strength to contain, and sure enough the so-called shepherd (or wolf in sheep’s clothing?) led the lamb to slaughter. You at the time were so carried away from what we call “common sense”, that you developed blindspots to the more immediate in the everyday.
Following any incredibly intense experience which overturns everything one knew, one becomes defenseless and vulnerable, like a child again. (Brian George’s coolness of detachment and equanimity is interesting to consider in thinking about all this. I think that very coolness of detachment, that distancing he has developed which puts everything in perspective, opening up new horizons and possibilities, has served him very well by not denying but protecting him from the more dangerous and explosive elements of visionary experience, even putting them in his service.) I think your initial instinct of isolating yourself so that you could process your mystical experience and bring it more in line with your everyday life was right. You had looked directly into the Sun, taking a golden ray of it into yourself like a spear through your heart, and though inwardly undergoing transformation, being reborn through the wound, you were also blinded. You reached out, feeling around for what was near at hand to help you regain your balance. You unfortunately grabbed the arm of one who couldn’t bear such overflowing of the divine, which perhaps he was jealous of in you, desiring it himself, and to try to put an end to it he betrayed everything he should have been standing for and fighting for, and turned you over to the authorities. It seems the Jesus principle by one who embodies it is bound to find one who embodies either the Judas or Pontius Pilate principle. The irony cuts both ways. There’s something about “forbidden knowledge” in all this. Maybe in some way what happened to you is some kind of divine compensation.
The more rare and precious something is, the more dearly one must pay for it. Deities are jealous and protective of their secrets. Anyone who steals a secret or gains access to one can’t honestly expect to get away scot-free, leaping up and clicking one’s heels with stars in one’s eyes. Perhaps the just tradeoff for seeing a heavenly vision, pure and unalloyed, is a trip to the madhouse. But by the same token I think it says something that you got out!
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So…what next? A fine careless rapture perhaps?
Thinking about that Viv. You are the only one who thinks I should! I am tempted to write a blog about the convention that prevails in England, (and especially on line) that one should withhold negative truth. It is as though by denying it exists ( or failing to draw attention to it) it goes away. It doesn’t. It merely takes concealed and sometimes pernicious forms. It is okay to be fierce about political or social injustice but personal is taboo.
The irony about this recent focus on Martin Israel is his emphasis on dealing with evil, as though elevating it to a force to be reckoned with objectifies it. Yet his heartless and ruthless treatment of me was entirely personal, as were the reactions of various academics to Involution. If it had no value why did they bother wasting such energy?
The prevailing climate suggests that we should all ignore the existence of jealousy when it has such power to destroy creativity, value and more importantly, personal encouragement and co-operation.
I find its prevalence truly interesting because it gives the lie to all this talk of spiritual growth and advance. One act can illuminate hypocrisy and ruthlessness. All the talking in the world cannot conceal the single act that belies it. If anything I wonder whether the ‘spiritually advanced’ have more to lose by honesty, and more to gain by concealment?
Re ‘Rapture’ I doubt I could rewrite a seventh draft. Whether I put out something less good than it might be, rather than not at all is the question. No two opinions on it agree about anything ( like Involution!)
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Not in the slightest disagreement with this, Philippa! I too hate the tip-toeing around the truth, the concealment, the games. That’s part of the point I was trying to make in my longer comment. Evil gathers and brews where there’s tip-toeing around the truth and concealment. I wish there was more of a climate for direct expression of what’s really on one’s mind and how one really feels. Giving it straight and unvarnished, and airing everything out. I myself am more robust and resilient than I often find myself pretending to be, for the sake of etiquette and courtesy. I do feel deep down a goodness, a real goodness, and it has bone and heart and entrails in it too. It’s not only mental. A good fart doesn’t make me blush. It makes me laugh. Around the overly dainty and fastidious in following rules and good form, or around the overly intellectual, I almost pray for a good fart, like an indian dances and prays for rain. The whole man is in how I express myself, and how I desire to express myself, not only the “spiritual” man, the intellectual man, but also the animal man. I grow impatient and the smoke starts coming out of my ears when I find myself in an environment where I feel I must deny what I really think, cutting parts out, censoring myself.
I’m not sure it’s a good sign that I’m growing more angry the older I become. I wish it were the righteous fury of Jeremiah, but it’s not that kind of anger unfortunately. I don’t speak for a whole people. Of course I have different levels. I’m content one one level, and have some small degree of happiness, but it’s on an unstable foundation. I’m full of anxieties, a neurotic mess, but I’m not necessarily miserable. I haven’t lost my sense of humor. But on another level I’m just another angry white man, with an eccentric streak to boot because I spend so much time alone, where my peculiarities and oddities now flourish, really having had time to ripen. I’m a goddamn crank, ha ha! I’m downfallen and crestfallen, maybe in some sense not unlike a bagman or a hobo, digging around in the garbage for my lost genius, if I ever actually had any (my memory is also starting to fail me), looking around for any spark of inspiration at all, like a hog rooting around for truffles. I can see myself waving my cane at young ignoramuses who have their heads up their asses when I’m old and gray. Then when they’ve all run away, calling me names, heads not even a moment later looking down to text each other on their smart phones, I’ll tap my cane on the ground and raise it above my head like a conductor of a great symphony orchestra taps his wand on the stand and raises it with silent command just before the music begins.
I’d love to accompany you to the madhouse, Philippa. I can cut a caper. We can ballroom dance in the middle of the world – because, you see, the world itself is the real madhouse!
The writer Robert Walser, a writer I adore, reportedly replied to a man who came to visit him at an asylum and asked him about his writing: “I am not here to write, but to be mad.”
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