Friday, March 21, 2008

“The Deal Maker”

It was silly, of course, for him to have believed that love could be lost, even sillier to believe that he could purchase it by something he either did or didn’t do. But since he was only six, what did he know? (It took him fifty more years for him to learn something else about love—or more accurately to discover what obstacles he had placed in the way of recognizing that love’s presence lay all the time there within himself.*) But at age six he had adopted (or made up?) several other silly ideas. For instance, the terrible idea that no one loved him. And that thought was so very frightening because he also believed he could not survive without it. It became a matter of life or death.

If he indeed was without love, at the very least he must find a way to get someone to recognize him—not only to recognize that he was there, but to be pleased that he was there. (To be recognized by people who liked him was certainly preferable to being noticed by people who were mad at him or even hated him. He’d tried that option and definitely did not care for the result.)

But one day, a seemingly perfect solution occurred to him. Somehow he had come upon a book that he was able to read. He was fascinated, for the left hand page contained a script that matched the face of a character that took up the whole right hand page of the book. And if he cut out the face, cut out a space for the eyes, and put rubber bands on the ears, he could make himself a mask of that character.

The character that fascinated him most was called “The Stuttering Dutchman.” The Dutchman’s features, though smiling, decidedly gave a strong impression of someone we now label ‘mentally challenged.’ What delighted the little boy was that, when he put on the mask, though he appeared to be stupid, he knew how very smart he really was. It was all a set-up to fool everyone! Of course, there was a certain amount of delicious power in that as well.

Even better, the script contained many stammers (the silly Dutchman couldn’t even talk straight), and those lines might make people laugh, for he laughed himself as he read them. So he cut out the mask, cleared the eyes so he could see, and with the rubber bands placed over his ears, he proceeded to go out to play with his friends. He had taken pains to memorize the stammering script, and eagerly awaited meeting his friends.

Just as he thought, when they all gathered around him, transfixed by the mask, and listening to his recital, they howled with laughter—and even asked him to do it again and again and again.

The little boy couldn’t have been more pleased. Then one of the boys said, “Hey, this is so good why don’t we ask the teacher to have him do this before the whole class?!” “Yeah,” another said. “It could be a kind of Show and Tell.” And so they did.

And so it came to be. And when it happened that the whole class erupted in laughter, they pleaded with him to do it again. He couldn’t have imagined anything better than this! Not only was he recognized, but better than that, he had made people want him and like him. When they smiled and laughed, it seemed to him to be even better than what he imagined love to be. And then, when his teacher proposed to the principal of the school that every class might also enjoy the show, and the principal agreed, the little boy couldn’t believe his good fortune. For smiles, laughter and recognition accompanied him everywhere—or so it seemed.

But his illusions of happiness were not to last, for by the end of the week, when he took off the mask for the last time, he was horrified to discover that he now could not speak without a halting stammer himself!

It seemed as if by some cruel magic the Dutchman’s stammer had now become his own. Try as he might, he found he was simply unable to speak clearly. What had happened? How could this be? Surely this was some nightmare from which he would soon awaken. No such luck, for it would take another thirty years for him to free his mind from the stammering curse that he had chosen. In the intervening years, he would be unable to raise his hand to ask a question in class, unable to do so also when he knew the answer to a teacher’s question. Fearing the humiliating snickers from his classmates, he was paralyzed into speechlessness. Now when his classmates laughed, they laughed not at a silly mask, they laughed at him. In place of happiness and euphoria, now came hate—hate of himself for being such a fool and hate of those who laughed at him.

It was a Faustian bargain he had struck; what a monumental price he was to pay for his yearning to be recognized. A very bad deal indeed.

*ACIM, Introduction

Copyright 2008, Frank E. West

The Purging (Continued)

Last night I had the third nightmare that seems to be a part of the purging I must endure to facilitate the coming renewal and release from the illusion of guilt.

The Nightmare
Two brothers who lived two houses up the street were out to get “John” and me. Therefore I gathered some chains from the yard and brought them inside (chains to imprison me?). They saw me and ran to break in just as I slammed the front door, but one of them got a hand in and I unsuccessfully attempted to break its fingers. A second reached in to attack my groin, but I swiveled away. “John” was in the back of the house and I shouted: “They’re on the porch. Hurry!” “John” was a huge giant of a man and he ran around the house to get them. Some mother and child were in the kitchen of the house. I felt they now would be safe.

This is another ‘kill-or-be-killed’* (and/or imprisonment) dream. What triggered it? I had been impatient with M and making a correction of it as well as my brief envy of C. But I think the major cause was my plea during meditation before bed. I said to the assembled ‘spirit guides:’ “BRING ON THE PURGING.”

It was not that I wanted to push to achieve the inevitable. Rather, I wished to be open to its happening—a desire not to flee from it, but to accept it, to welcome it.

I see no redemptive figure in the dream, only the projection of the Ego’s hatred; of conflict, struggle, a sense of vulnerability, fear and threat. My desperate call for “John’s” help—is symbolic of my ego idea that power solves all conflict, ends all fear and presumes to make guilt moot.

Of course force fails; it generates more guilt since it is by definition separation; enemies do not join when force prevails. The premise of the nightmare was that attack was real and merited counterattack and defense.

It was again clear to me that if I wished peace from the fear and guilt that I had constructed, asking for help was necessary. And of course, as I did so during the meditation that followed, serenity returned to my mind.

It seems clear to me that until the dregs of the repressed unconscious guilt are brought to the healing light of the Holy Spirit’s gentle forgiveness (forgiveness of what has not been done or thought), there can be no complete redemption. Right now this seems to be what I am in the midst of. I must say the process necessitates faith that the outcome of healing is assured.

*ACIM Manual 17, 7:11

Copyright 2008, Frank E. West

Purging of the Darkness of the Ego’s Unconscious Thoughts

Tonight I had another nightmare that seems to be part of the purging that the psychic Priscilla predicted that I must go through in order to experience the healing of my Ego mind.

The nightmare is as follows: I am a prisoner of the Nazis and I am to be called before a bureaucratic judicial panel. One of my superiors in the prisoner group sitting in this room gives me a loaded pistol, cocked and ready to fire. I had asked for a machine gun—like an AK47—but it would have been too conspicuous. Thus, as I am called to stand before this trio of Nazis, I am able to hide the pistol under a gray blanket. And as I approach them I begin firing. I expect instant retaliatory fire and imagine many bullets thudding into various parts of my body as I die. The idea is to kill and be killed.

The trigger for this dream, I am led to believe, is not only this purging I am to go through. —Yesterday Ed responded to reading “The Scream”(with its murderous wish to kill Martha), and criticized my writing for being “too personal.” I found I was able to hear that as coming from his own fear of revealing his Ego thoughts, but I also wanted to withdraw from him, making the mistake of feeling judged, and demanding praise instead. It was a reflection of my Ego’s guilt for the dark unconscious wish to kill which I have repressed into my unconscious. It was guilt that caused the need to repress the dark thoughts into the unconscious. And guilt which demanded praise. Both in that moment of hatred of Ed and in the dream of last night, I experienced the ‘return of the repressed,’ as Freud put it.

Now, thanks to Jesus’ course, I have the opportunity of laying those murderous ‘kill-or-be-killed’ thoughts on the altar of my heart and call for the Holiness in my mind to shine on them—resulting in their disappearance, the relief from the illusion of guilt, and the healing of my mind.

It’s this process that brings me nearer to the awareness of Love’s presence—as I remove the obstacles I have placed on the way, that block my capacity to reflect my essential Holiness to the world. And all this is happening in my mind. All I have to do is ask for help, have faith that it is instantly given, and confidence in the superior power of Divine Love to shine away the darkness I have made—the guilt for murder in my mind. That is the “last dark cornerstone”* of my Ego mind. (That cornerstone is the “tiny mad idea”* that I killed God by thinking I could separate from His Love, and that now I am prisoner of the guilt which will surely end in my death.) I see God as the Nazi power to which I am subject and which in vengeance will kill me for my hatred of Him—the Nazi God I have made.

Part of the trigger for this dream was also the clarity of thought (this very thought) which I articulated in the Tuesday p.m. group yesterday. (I am now experiencing Martha’s presence, so I know I have returned to Love by the process of writing this.)

I also had experienced my love of the group, my love of Robert and Celia last night at dinner, and the response of love from all of them for me. At this moment, my separation from Ed is healed.—Happiness returns. And laughter wells up from within me—laughter at how seriously I had taken the world, my actions in it, and the response of others to me.

And so this nightmare ended in laughter, just as the idea of a real world will also end in laughter (ACIM Manual 14, 5:5).

*ACIM, Text, 13 III 1:9

*ACIM Text 27, VIII, 6:2

Copyright 2007 Frank West

“Two Gifts”

In the last ten years or so I’ve become increasingly aware of the gifts that come my way via the persons who come into my life. This has resulted also in an increasing gratitude during my more frequent moments of meditation. I’m speaking not only of persons who are demonstrably kind and thoughtful, but also of those who exhibit hate, cruelty and moments of angry attack. These figures in my life allow me the opportunity to look within myself for those same characteristic thoughts, feelings or actions, and to bring them to the healing power of forgiveness that I believe lies within the hearts of all of us.

Lenore’s Gift

This is the story of a person who brought to me a huge blessing. Her name is Lenore and her story is a necessary prelude to my own.

At age thirty, Lenore was not only an accomplished professional musician, but a busy theatre director and stage manager as well. One of her gigs was stage managing a dance troupe headed by a dancer friend named Margo. During a dance performance, it happened that Margo, while intending to leap into the arms of a six-foot male dancer, instead leapt completely over his outstretched arms, landing just behind him on her head and shoulder. The result, of course, was serious injury to one side of her body.

Margo’s injury got no better, despite dozens of visits to doctors, chiropractors and bodyworkers. Lenore and Margo prayed together for help in healing Margo’s injury. Help is what they got, though in a form neither of them expected.

Over the weeks that followed, Lenore noticed that her hands were becoming more and more painful, to the extent that she began to worry that she might be developing rheumatoid arthritis or other serious condition that would impair her ability to play her wind instruments.

Fast forward several months to Christmas Eve in a Congregational church in a small Connecticut town. Lenore had gone to the church with her brother, who had a gig to play his flute during the Christmas vigil service. They sat in the choir loft along with the organist, soloists and choir. There is some irony here in the fact that Lenore and her brother are Jewish.

It was during the singing of “Silent Night” that the piercing scream of a young woman down in the chancel brought the service to a halt. The church deacon appeared in the choir loft and approached Lenore. “She’s calling for Lenore,” the deacon said. “Aren’t you Lenore?” Lenore and the deacon had never met before.

When Lenore went down to the woman who had screamed, she expected to find someone she knew—perhaps one of the dancers. To her amazement, she found a young woman she’d never seen before. “Can you help me?” the young woman pleaded. Lenore noticed that, while turning in the pew, the woman had somehow dislocated her knee. So Lenore did what she had done so many times for the dancers: with her hands she popped the knee back in place, instantly relieving the pain. The paramedics arrived soon after and took the young woman to the hospital, while Lenore returned to the choir loft and the church service resumed. But Lenore was left with the persistently puzzling question—How to explain that her name had been called out by a complete stranger? More puzzling still was that, as she sat there in the church, she noticed that the pain in her hands had gone. Instead she felt a warm rush of energy that seemed to move from her heart down her arms to her hands. Her hands no longer hurt, they glowed. Even stranger was the fact that she, a Jew, felt at that same moment that she had received a gift for healing from Jesus. There was no question in her mind that this was so.

Coincidentally her brother had just given Lenore a gift certificate for a session with a local psychic named Ed Moret. Not long after her miracle in the church, Lenore met with Moret. As soon as she sat down for the reading, Moret, who knew nothing about Lenore, asked, “What’s going on with your hands?” Lenore told him what had happened that Christmas Eve. Moret confirmed that she had indeed received the gift of healing. And not only that. Moret told her that she’d be going back to school in order to develop and refine her new gift. “No way will I ever go back to school!” thought Lenore, for she was content with expressing her talents for theatre and music, and she wanted no more schooling.

Now for some time Lenore had been helping the dancers in the troupe, in an informal way, with the various minor strains, stresses and joint dislocations that dancers are prone to. The dancers would tell her what to do and she would use her hands to massage and manipulate the painful areas. The dancers invariably commented that Lenore had great hands, and a wonderful touch.

So Lenore decided to see if there wasn’t something she could do to help Margo, whose injury was as debilitating as ever. Something led Lenore to a bookstore where she found a book by a bodyworker and healer entitled Healing Hands. She read the book and began applying some of its ideas with the hope of helping Margo. Having no massage table, Lenore tried working on Margo on Margo’s dining room table, along with a comforter and some pillows, hoping to bring Margo some relief from her constant pain. To the amazement of both women, there was one moment, as Lenore worked with her hands on Margo’s neck and right shoulder, that there was instant relief from pain and freedom from bodily paralysis. In that moment, Lenore had discovered another talent. She was a healer.

All that Ed Moret predicted did come to pass. Not only did Lenore enroll soon after in a physical therapy degree program, but she today runs one of the most successful physical therapy practices in Connecticut, with patients coming to her from all over the country in order to receive her unique healing gift.

It was Lenore’s fascinating story that helped me reach another level of spiritual awareness, and that story follows.

Martha’s Gift
Some are appalled when I tell them that my wife’s death was a gift to me. I had thought at first that I’d had an immeasurable loss, only to discover the opposite was true. I had no loss— Her death was instead an immeasurable gain. Let me try to explain.

After some five years of dementia, the severity of which escalated markedly at the end, Martha died after only four days at Hospice. The dementia had a name: Diffuse Lewy Body Disease, and it included a terminal closing of the esophagus. It was clear to me that Martha chose to die after a final fall that brought with it considerable pain. Also she did not want any part of tubular feeding.

I grieved for about a month. Having lived with her for fifty-five years, I of course missed her; though I was relieved that she chose not to suffer further.

Before Martha died neither she nor I were ever able to satisfactorily meditate. Our minds skipped about in distraction during the process. About a month after her death I decided to try again. And this time I was able to stay focused, at times for over half an hour.

It was during these meditation times that I experienced a strange tingling of the skin about my lips, cheeks and throat. At first I attributed this to some unknown physiological cause. But as it persisted, sometimes occurring during my sessions with patients or while taking my daily walks, I began to think: “Could this be Martha’s spirit communicating with me?” “Oh, no,” I thought, “since I miss her so and am capable of making up many thoughts and feelings, I’m just making up a sense of her presence as well.”

Nevertheless, as weeks went by and the suspicion of her presence persisted, I decided to clear up the matter for myself. Having heard Lenore’s startling story, I decided to visit Ed Moret and ask him about this continuing electric-like tingling of the skin.

I did not get an opportunity to ask him; for as I entered his presence he exclaimed: “Who is that woman with her arms around you kissing your neck? Do you feel her? I think her name begins with an ‘M.’ It’s Mary—or Madeleine—Oh no—She’s telling me her name is Martha. And she is sorry for your sadness.” (Even as I write this I am experiencing her presence in the manner described above.) Ed went on: “And she wants you to know how very grateful she is for the fifty-five years she lived with you, and that she will be with you until you decide to cross over. Whereupon she will help make your transition easier for you. Meanwhile, for instance, she will be riding in the car with you as you drive, and will let you know of any dangers that might be up the road that are unknown to you.”

By this time I was overcome with gratitude, thinking that nothing could be better than what I was hearing. I was wrong about that, for Ed continued: “She also wants you to know that in the next 18 months she will help open a door for you to enable you to rise to a higher level in your quest to experience the Source of Love. And if any of your patients are open to receiving her help, she will be there for them.”

Subsequent events have substantiated those communications. For my capacity for serenity when confronting disappointing events or hostile encounters with others has greatly increased. And I have become more patient and less preoccupied with outcome than my usual selfishness had heretofore demanded.

Then some four months after this visit with Moret, I had two newly acquired patients say on separate occasions: “Strange things are happening to me recently. I awake at 2:30 in the morning with the sense that a woman named Martha desires to help me heal. She reminds me that forgiveness of those I hate is not only crucial for me but absolutely possible. She says the same things you do, but sometimes I can hear her more easily.” Neither of these patients knew I had been married to a Martha, nor that she had died nor promised to help my patients.

And so I am grateful for these gifts. I believe they reflect the Source

Two Gifts of Love with which all of us seek to re-join as we continue on our spiritual journey. And the end is certain, as A Course In Miracles declares:

Yet at the journey’s ending there will be no gap, no distance between truth and you. And all illusions walking in the way you traveled will be gone from you as well, with nothing left to keep the truth apart from God’s completion, holy as Himself. ( Workbook , 155:10 )

Copyright 2007 Frank West

On Choosing to Fall from a Tree

This is a story that in some ways is a metaphor that illuminates a process of mind that characterizes all of us. I tell it because it is both interesting and instructive.

The Fall

Some forty or more years ago, I was in the process of building a fledgling practice of psychoanalysis and still learning from its founder, Sigmund Freud. With four children and a wife to support, and the expense of living in New York City with both apartment and office to finance, we were barely able to get by. Despite this, when the kids’ summer vacation arrived, Martha and I decided we would take two months as a family to be together. But how to do it with little or no money? The answer of course was to go camping, and this we did for many years. One of the places we enjoyed most was Maine, and we found a small campground on Islesboro Island in Penobscot Bay. We made friends with the family that owned the campground and returned there often.

One year, however, rain and fog seemed to be present continuously for the two months we were there. But we discovered that if we took the ferry to the mainland, the sun was often shining there whereas fog covered the outer islands. Thus we decided to spend more time on the mainland. Martha would take the kids to the playground in Belfast or did the grocery shopping while I explored the dusty tax records in the county courthouse, looking for land, the taxes for which had not been paid for some time. If the taxes were in arrears for an extended period—(I forget the length of time)—the land reverted to the town that was due the taxes.

To my joy I discovered what appeared to be twenty acres, half of a forty-acre island, just off Islesboro, the taxes for which had not been paid in a very long time. The quit-claim deeds of many relatives turned out to be a complex matter, but in essence, the town of Islesboro owned most of that twenty acres (one person had paid on their ‘undivided portion,’ and they agreed to sell). I approached the town fathers and asked when they would put up their newly acquired land for auction bid (they did not know they owned it). An auction of such land was required by law. The result was that my bid was the highest, and with a loan from a bank, I bought it.

During the following winter, with some more borrowed money, I had a tent platform constructed on the highest point of land on a cove.

All this was a significant event for me, since I owned nothing at that point. I was still making car payments. So when we arrived at our newly-acquired island (no one lived on the other half so in phantasy we chose to believe we had it all), I was quite happy. Martha was pleased, and the kids ran about exploring the woods and the littoral.

As I put up the tent on the newly built platform, I thought how lovely it would be to sit there at sunset in front of the tent drinking coffee as the sun went down behind the Camden Hills. But as I turned around to the west to face them, I saw only a huge spruce limb blocking the view. After a brief moment of disappointment, I was relieved by the thought that, young and strong as I was, climbing that tree and cutting off that view-blocking limb would be no trouble at all. So I took my woodsaw, climbed the tree and happily began sawing away.

While halfway through the spruce bough, I distinctly heard a voice in my head say: “NOW YOU ARE ABOUT TO FALL.” And instantly I did so. My muscles went limp, I lost my foothold and my grip and down I plunged, nearly fifteen feet, landing especially hard on my right ankle. It swelled up like a balloon and I was sure it was broken. Fortunately, instead, it turned out to be a very severe sprain (severe enough to immobilize me for the next seven weeks). My vacation plans were severely truncated; all I could do was sit as patiently as possible and contemplate what on earth that voice was all about.

And so I did. Fortunately, what was instantly clear to me was that the cause of this ‘accident’ was all in my mind. My mind was the source of my behavior; not my body; not some outside incident or external force. I had no one ‘out there’ to blame; instead, I saw its cause was but a very strange decision in my own mind. (All this was before I knew anything about the metaphysics of A Course in Miracles—indeed, in fact before the book was scribed.) But I did know about the writings of Freud, which I was studying at the time. In fact, I had brought some of them along for ‘summer reading,’ and I turned to them for some explanation of this strange episode.

I considered Freud’s “death instinct,” as he called it, but at that time found it to be too abstract an explanation. But then I came upon a paper he had written with the Victorian title, “The Negative Therapeutic Reaction.” In it he described his observation of a frequent phenomenon that occurred during the course of his “talking cures,” as he called them. What he observed was this pattern:

A patient would enter treatment with specific symptoms and, as the therapy progressed, sometimes the frequency and/or severity of the symptoms decreased and the patient was therefore happily relieved. However, there came a point when the symptoms returned, sometimes with a swift vengeance, returning far worse than they were at the beginning of the treatment. And if the patient did not quit in disgust, but continued the therapy, the same gradual improvement would be repeated, again reaching the same plateau, then precipitately dropping with the symptoms’ return. Freud called the point of symptom reversal ‘the negative therapeutic reaction.’ Basically, I suppose another term to describe this phenomenon would be ‘the fear of happiness.’

Certainly, I was most happy with my life at the moment I decided to fall. Certainly it was in fact an illusion that I owned either the new platform or the island acreage—(the bank owned them both)—but I was certainly happy in my delusion. My wife was humming contentedly as she put away the groceries, and the children’s excitement of discovery pleased me greatly. Could it be I was experiencing the same thing as Freud’s patients? At the time it seemed to be the best possible solution to that nagging question, “Where did that voice come from?”

So I decided to make a life study of that question, seeking its answer primarily in myself, but also in the data I collected from the patients I worked with. I looked for evidence of this ‘fear of happiness’ and I found it. Now I am aware that our eyes see what they want to see and our ears hear what they want to hear. Nevertheless, I have since found this idea to be true for everyone I’ve been privileged to know with some intimacy. It seems we all have it. A Course in Miracles calls this part of the mind the Ego, and one of its most potent passages is:

“The ego is, therefore, particularly likely to attack you when you act lovingly, because it has evaluated you as unloving and you are going against its judgment. The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased.”

(Text, Ch 9, Section VII, paragraph 4)

This quote, I believe, explains my choice to listen to that voice in my head—and explains that voice. For I had for many years, that one included, believed I was unloving. But as I proceeded to cut through that limb, I had a newfound joy in the moment—a joy of providing in some small way for the happiness of my wife and four children. It was the closest

I had come to daring to think I might be expressing love for both myself and them. Thus, the fall. I have since determined to make a correction when I hear the ego’s voice and see that voice as “the great deceiver,” and do what I can to deprive it of its pretence to power. To the extent that I have been successful in that endeavor, my contentment and serenity have in direct ratio increased.

Copyright 2007 Frank West

How I Learned to Love (and Hate) - A Spiritual Path

For some fifty-seven of my eighty years I have been on a quest to find inner peace.

It was, of course, only due to my growing unhappiness that I was driven to seek respite via the route of psychoanalysis. My first attempt failed, for the analyst I chose rarely spoke, remaining passively silent for hours on end (being a conservative Freudian). I gave him up, but I was tenacious in my quest.

Once I was given an opportunity to study at the American Foundation for Religion and Psychiatry, and later to join the faculty there, I was introduced to the British school of Neo-Freudians. Their ideas I incorporated and used in my private practice as a psychoanalyst for many years. (At AFRAP I was grateful to Herb Holt, M.D., Fred Kuether and others.)

During my training I was required to again embark on a period of personal analysis. This time I was fortunate to have chosen Ralph Rosenberg, M.D., a student of Karen Horney. Over the twenty years I spent with him, I learned much about the darkness of my unconscious mind and found some relief from its destructiveness.

Further healing came when my wife Martha and I embarked on a process of couples therapy with Kitty LaPerrier, Ph.D., at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy. That experience saved our marriage. Since I saw the efficacy of what I had experienced, I decided to learn it. So I applied at Ackerman for training, was accepted, and learned much there of family systems. I am indebted to my then supervisor and now friend, Ann Korelitz, MSW, as well as Peggy Papp, Lynn Hoffman and Olga Silverstein. Then I decided to travel weekly to Washington and intern with Jay Haley and his wife Chloe Modanes.

Yet with all this therapy and training that was directed to changing the mind, I had not yet found the peace I sought.

The Gift of Martha -

My late wife Martha was the source of many gifts over the fifty-five years of our marriage. Next to her copious love, I consider her greatest blessing to me to have been her introducing me to the spiritual path A Course in Miracles.

It came about in this way. In 1984 we decided to sell our house in Garrison, New York, and our condo in Manhattan and move to Guilford, Connecticut in order to be nearer to our two young grandchildren who then lived with our daughter and her husband in Wallingford.

Once in Guilford, Martha made a new friend in Susan Santora who at the time was a member of a group in Old Lyme studying A Course in Miracles. Martha found the Text, Workbook and Manual for Teachers fascinating. She brought the book to me and said: “You might be interested in this.” I took a quick glance at it and dismissed it, saying: “I think I’m doing fine without it.” Being wisely aware of my capacity to be stubborn (not to mention willful), Martha gently and patiently persisted.

Deciding that I might as well take a closer look, I began seriously reading it. And to my amazement I found I couldn’t put it down. I was hooked! For when I took that closer look, I found a highly sophisticated thought system aimed at retraining the ego mind. Not only that, but the psychology was derived from the very sources I had studied at the American Foundation (now the Blanton-Peale Institute) in the 1950s and 60s. In addition, though it was built on the psychological foundation of psychoanalysis, it went far beyond it—to the spiritual truths which I had been long yearning for but never found.

That is not to say that I have not struggled against the Course, fought it, hated it, and at times fallen asleep while reading it (a sure sign of my resistance). In fact, I believe if you do not hate the idea of giving up your egotistical love of your special, individual self, you are not really ‘getting it.’ The process requires resenting the very idea: “I do not perceive my own best interests.” (Workbook, Lesson 24)

Nevertheless, over the past twenty-three years, as I have gradually come to make the frequent corrections of my “wrong minded” thoughts through “the awareness of Love’s presence” (ACIM, Intro), and the forgiveness which Love promises, I have increasingly found that “light, joy and peace abide in me.” (Workbook, Lesson 93)

Thank you, Martha, for leading me to the source of that peace I have so long sought; a great blessing, indeed.

Copyright 2007 Frank West

'Love' As Sacrifice (“Seek and Do Not Find”)

My first love was an adolescent infatuation with a girl that, at some level, I knew wasn’t ‘right’ for me—or better said, good for me. She was what we boys then called a ‘loose’ girl, an ‘easy’ girl; i.e., one with whom boys could have their way sexually. She, of course, attracted many boys. I chose to see myself as rejected by her. Thus I stood at a distance—a sad, deprived onlooker, unfulfilled, with a yearning spirit. At the same time, I also saw myself as more virtuous, ‘better’ than all the others, special in my virginity. But not happy. I mooned about, at times standing outside her house hoping to catch a glimpse of her, wanting her to notice me—even be attracted to me, yet fearful at the thought of it. At some level I’m sure I must have hated her. I know I was aware of contempt for myself.

As I reflect on this strange matter from my present perspective, it seems that I was choosing sacrifice and calling it love. Certainly it was all about need, but of course I denied that. I do know that I experienced a perverse pleasure in the deprivation, in the soulful longing. It was all very subtle, but at the same time an extremely intense and powerful state of mind. I had chosen a kind of martyrdom that gave me a sweet sense of uniqueness—of a special, even superior view of myself.

What was this all about? At the time I had no idea. But I was soon to find myself in a similar situation, apparently repeating the first scenario, but in an altogether different form.

As I have mentioned before, I lived at a time and in a setting colored by religious bigotry. If one married a Catholic girl, one had to raise the children within the Roman Catholic faith. As a Protestant, I found that injunction distastefully coercive and arrogant. So what did I do but ‘fall in love’ (a term certainly denoting helplessness and weakness) with a Roman Catholic girl during my senior year in high school. And during my absence from her while I served my years in the army during World War II, I yearned deeply for her from afar. Along with that yearning was the acute sense of being victimized by her religious faith. Despite the fact that somewhere deep inside me I knew this was not a suitable choice for me, I pined for her sorrowfully, feeling the sweet pain of deprivation for many, many months. Again I had chosen martyrdom.

It has taken me some time to understand these choices destructive of my happiness.

One thing seems clearer to me now when I try to understand these decisions for pain. I was cleverly involved in a scam. Having insanely given up any hope for love (in its true sense), I was attempting to manipulate those around me to be concerned for me, to pity and worry about me. Or, even more insidious, to attempt to create guilt in those who seem to have chosen some form of happiness for themselves—ignoring me. For as they looked upon my sense of unfulfillment, my soulful unhappiness, how could they continue on their happy way, ignoring me? I would make them stop and consider me. As I see it now, all this was an expression of hatred for those I saw as happier than I.

A Course in Miracles gives a metaphysical explanation for all this insanity. It says we have a part of our mind (the Ego) that fears love (the only love being the Love of God) and come to this world both to flee from that Love and seek to find it here. But that egotistical mind, having one motto, “Seek and do not find,”* leads us, if we listen to it, to choose the misery I’ve described above. My experience has led me to believe this is true for all of us and is responsible for the misery we see in the world. This helps me see other’s hatred—and my own—as a deep cry for love, which we all have been unsuccessfully seeking and not finding. Yet all the while possessing within our mind that essence of our creation—the holiness of Eternal Love (ACIM Workbook #36).

This seeking on my part led me to find Martha.—And certainly, she proved to be a very much better choice. At some level I must have been more willing to be able to begin the quest to understand what love was all about; more able to receive it, as well. It may well be that this willingness was the result of my experiencing the devastation I saw in war-ravaged Europe. I do not know. I know only that for sure I had made a fortuitous choice in Martha.

That does not mean that I gave up the insane idea of looking for love outside myself. That was to come much, much later. Nor does it mean that Martha was free of that idea (we all make the same mistake).

I cannot explain my choice of Martha without resorting to the idea that I was led to her. We use the word ‘luck’ for such a moment. On another occasion I used the metaphor of finding a gem. Actually, in 1945 while stationed with the Army in the Bavarian Alps, I visited the castle built by mad King Ludwig of Bavaria. As I wandered, almost alone, through that baroque structure, I found what I took to be a piece of glass that had fallen from the ceiling of one of the rooms. It was attractive and at the time I thought my mother might like it. Actually I stole it—looted it—as all occupying armies do. It turned out not to be glass, but a semi-precious stone.

It was like that with Martha. At the time I found her (or she found me) in the garbage-strewn alley in the Chicago slum where we both worked as college students one summer, I had no idea of the value of what I had found. She was far more than semi-precious; she was precious. But it did take my egotistical mind a number of decades to truly discover the value of what I had found.

Psychics have told me that Martha and I had decided before we came here that we would meet again, having spent a number of lifetimes together in different forms. I do not know about all that. But I do know my capacity to perceive the love she represented was due to my capacity to begin to see the same love in myself. Actually, to see that we were the same. The two following quotes from A Course in Miracles were important to both of us as we sought to free our minds from the Ego’s motto, “Seek and do not find:”

You are one Self with me. I honor you because of what
I am and what He is, Who loves us both as one. (Workbook 95, 15:4)


I give you to the Holy Spirit as part of myself. I know you will be released unless I want to use you to imprison myself. In the name of my freedom I choose your release, because I recognize we will be released together. (Text, Ch. 15, XI, 10:6)

It is so ironic that what we so desperately seek for we already possess, and fail to recognize its presence.

*ACIM Text Ch. 12, IV, 1:4.

Copyright 2007 Frank West


As I’ve recounted elsewhere, before being drafted into the infantry in 1944, I had obtained a scholarship—four-year tuition paid—to study chemical engineering at a leading engineering university. So after my tour of duty, I anticipated returning there to complete my degree.

It was not to be, and this is the story of why. My first introduction to the devastation of war came on my first night in Etretat, France. While asleep along with a thousand other replacement officers—all on cots in a large gymnasium—I was awakened by a French prostitute who jumped atop me crying, “Fuck me for chocolate!” I was frightened to death. As an eighteen-year-old virgin, I had promised to remain so for my then sweetheart back home. What appalled me most, however, was the degradation I heard in the voices of the hundreds of desperate women. It was not the sex; it was the desperation that frightened me.

The next morning we were loaded onto a train of boxcars to be delivered to a town in Germany. The old wooden freight cars had absolutely no amenities. Somehow the confused engineer got it into his head that we were destined to a similar-sounding town in France. As a consequence we spent many weeks in those freight cars traversing France and part of Germany. But what was illuminating to us as we viewed the landscape from the open door of the boxcar was how completely ruinous were the towns and countryside through which we passed. Then, at every stop, there were the ragged, emaciated children gathering at the open door, begging for food.

My first assignment was to head a transportation company that administered motor pools for troops in the Mannheim-Heidelberg area. Mannheim was especially shattered by the allied bombings, and its people were gaunt and cold, with little or no fuel during winter. I can remember the incongruity of attending a concert of the music of Bach and Mozart in the dead of winter. There was no heat in the hall. The musicians wore gloves, and the audience huddled together in overcoats and scarves. It was, however, my introduction to the transcendence that classical music can bring, whatever the context.

My next assignment was to supervise two prisons of captured German soldiers. One was in a town on the Ammersee, and one was located in Ettal, near Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps. I commuted between the two prisons. There was little destruction of the lovely Bavarian countryside. But the horror of war did not leave that beautiful area untouched. Two examples illustrate.

The first was the result of the decision by Occupation Headquarters to use Polish displaced persons to guard the German prisoners. For these Polish officers and ex-soldiers had become slaves of the Nazis after their capture and forced to labor in factories and concentration camps. We dressed them in blue-dyed GI clothes and sent them out to guard the prisoners on work details. The result was mayhem on occasion, for the hatred of the Poles for the Germans was extreme. Often the work detail would return minus two or three prisoners. The story the Poles told were that these prisoners had to be shot for they tried to flee. It happened too often for me to completely believe these tales, especially as I observed the glee and laughter of those who did the shooting.

The second example of devastation in beautiful Bavaria occurred one morning as I entered my office to begin work for the day. I was greeted by the acrid smell of gunsmoke and the sight of two halves of a man’s brain that had made bloody streaks as they skidded across the floor of the outer office. Slumped across the rifle rack that contained some two dozen rifles locked in it was the body of one of the prisoners. He had apparently found a shell that fit the rifles while on a work detail, had placed it in a chamber, put his head over the barrel, and pulled the trigger. It was my first experience with violent death resulting from despair. And a vivid one, at that.

I believe it was that very moment that I decided I could not possibly devote my life to the study of any form of engineering.

I knew I had to add whatever abilities I had to the alleviation of the pain and suffering that I was observing at the tender age of eighteen. There just had to be something that could counter the despair and hopelessness that I saw everywhere.

So when I returned to college after the war, I forsook the scholarship; and with the help of the GI Bill that paid for tuition, I enrolled for a degree in Psychology. This too, however, proved to be a dead end, though that is another story.

Sherman is said to have made the statement “War is Hell.” What my experience has taught me is that Hell and its devastation can be seen in such a way as to provide a potent motivation toward a career of healing.

Put another way: love is far more powerful than the devastation of hatred.

* “The miracle looks on devastation and reminds the mind that what it sees is false.” (ACIM)

Copyright 2007 Frank West

“Defenselessness Is My Strength”*

Recently I have been judgmental of myself for not progressing faster in the process of divesting myself of my selfishness and egotism. At the same time, I found myself resentful of my six ‘spirit guides’—they weren’t providing sufficient help. Coincidentally, I found myself resentful of one of my daughters who, despite my many appeals over some eighteen months, had not returned a photograph I’d given her, nor had she done the processing of it which she had promised.

This morning I awoke with an awareness that all three of these resentments were of a piece. My self-hate for my ‘slow progress’ had clearly projected out onto the figures in my dream—the ‘spirit guides’ and my daughter. As usual I had attempted to rid myself of my guilt by blaming the ‘others!’ My resentments were not making me feel any better about myself—in fact, just the opposite: they increased my guilt. And my self-criticism was not in the least alleviated. I had just made a mess emotionally, and by this morning I guess I decided I’d had enough of the misery. So I did what A Course in Miracles prescribes—I took all three of my attacks to the Source of eternal Love that is my true Mind and asked for the clarifying awareness that nothing had really happened at all. I had merely been asleep, dreaming the nightmare of guilt, dreaming that I was separated from my ‘guides’ and my daughter and my God; merely making the mistake of forgetting that there is only one Mind of Love, and that we are all subsumed there.

In that briefest of moments when I experienced a glimpse of what freedom there is in defenselessness, I could give up all three of my attack thoughts. When I was aware in that moment that I was my daughter and my guides, I was the innocent Son of God with them, and I did not need my attack thoughts. They just seemed silly, costly and imprisoning, so I let them drift away.

I have no illusions that I will not run to seek them again. But at least I know the peace and freedom that comes when I choose to remember that I’ve made up the idea of separate figures who victimize me—or that I, myself, am merely a figment of my imagination. I see more clearly today that self-attack, i.e. guilt, serves only to preserve my beloved separate identity and brings but unhappiness in its wake.

*ACIM, Workbook, Lesson #153

Copyright 2007 Frank West

A Healing of a Belief in Deprivation and Loss

One of my earliest memories was accompanying my father to his job after supper. I joined him in sweeping out the offices of a local oil company. I saw the look on his face of humiliation touched with bitterness as he emptied wastebaskets and dusted desks. I did not know until much later why those grievous looks appeared on his face. I just knew I didn’t like them.

It was 1933, and America was deep into its economic depression. Some say poverty is a disease; my father certainly thought he was an afflicted victim of it. He saw himself as a skilled artisan, and indeed he was. Before he lost his job with the Pullman Company, he was foreman of a nine-man crew that installed fancy wood inlays in the Pullman car interiors. He had built himself a house in a small Illinois town, prospered, and seemed on the way to a successful life as a skilled craftsman who took great pride in his work. But now he was reduced to being a janitor.

For the Depression had struck and he lost all: his job, his new home, the mortgage which he could no longer pay, and all his carefully garnered assets. Worst of all, he lost his sense of self-respect. A defeated man, he chose to return to the town of his birth to face his parents and siblings. He chose to see himself as a failure, as a victim betrayed by the Puritan God in whom he believed; i.e., a God who blessed with prosperity the faithful, those who worked hard, were pious, and who diligently obeyed the laws laid down by that God. I do not believe he ever recovered from the disillusionment of those beliefs. He thought he had kept his part of the bargain (and bargain was what it was), but his God had not kept his.

Another memory is one of my standing beside my father as he stood in line, waiting to be given a free bag of cornmeal that the government in Washington had sent by boxcar to feed the unemployed. Once again I could feel the shame and humiliation my father felt at being on the dole. I must have been eight years old, and I think it must have been at that moment as I stood with him on that railroad siding that I made the firm decision to do all I could to avoid repeating this same experience in my life. Hence quite early I chose to deeply believe (of course wrongly) that money brought security, self-respect and peace of mind. I listened to the ego’s idea:

You really think you would starve unless you had stacks of green paper strips and piles of metal discs. (ACIM, Workbook, 70, 3:2)

A third memory I have involves stealing those “stacks of green strips.” When in my teens, I got a job to work beside my father on Saturday mornings. So we got up very early to journey to his workplace where he stripped wood furniture with paint remover and refinished the pieces with spray lacquer (again, not the work of a skilled craftsman). The stealing came in this way: we would arrive an hour and a half before other employees, punch the time clock, and then sleep until the other employees arrived. We were thus paid for sleeping. This was my first experience of conscious guilt (and fear as well), for I dared not question my father’s decisions. His anger could be terrifying. (Also I did so much like those extra “piles of metal discs.”)

My final memory concerning the ‘value’ of money came upon my father’s death. For the first thing my mother asked me to do with her after we returned from placing my father’s body in the ground was to go down with her into the basement where my father spent most of his free time. Her intention was to seek hidden monies that she was certain he had withheld from her and stashed somewhere among his tools. Together we tore the place apart, but alas, to her disappointment, we found nothing.

All the above is a preface to the following ego attack that I recently experienced.

* * * * * *

Most of our guilt is unconscious, and in this case it most certainly was. In the last few months I had been feeling especially generous. So much so that I had recently set up educational trusts for my four grandchildren. And I had set up another trust that enabled one of my daughters to maintain and pay the taxes on half of some island property that I was about to give to her and her brother. (Having fibromyalgia, she has been unable to summon much energy to maintain that property herself, nor work with much constancy.) I had also helped another daughter set up a solar/wind electrical system for her home.

I had been feeling good about these matters (a sign I was listening to my right mind). But I had also been concerned about the health of a third daughter who had been ill with walking pneumonia for the past ten or twelve weeks. Since she, lacking the energy, had been unable to work much, I expected a request for money from her. Although I had not been resentful of past requests of help from her, curiously, this time I began to dread her call.

This was a warning sign to me that I was listening to the wrong side of my mind. I made the mistake of not taking this evidence seriously. And not making a correction.

When she called requesting money to pay for her mortgage I replied: “Sure, I’ll drop a check in today’s mail.” However, what next came roaring up from my unconscious (and which I spoke aloud) was the hateful attack: “I guess I’m supporting you too.” Instantly I was stricken with guilt. Where was all that good feeling of generosity now? In place of perceiving her truly, as a daughter I loved, I saw her in that moment as my victimizer, exploiting me.

I knew I had to get to work fast on my insane and hateful mind. So I did what I teach. I chose to look carefully at what I had condemned her for. I saw her as seeking to take from me what I considered mine. I saw her not as loving but exploiting me. This was clearly a twisted and distorted view of her. My mind was in chaos, and my mind was drowning in guilt. In my misery I chose to remember the fourth Law of Chaos:

This seeming law is the belief you have what you have taken. (ACIM T., 23; 9:3)


But in a savage world the kind cannot survive, so they must take or be taken from. (Ibid., 10:4)

I also chose to remember:

Projection makes perception. The world you see is what you gave it, nothing more than that. (ACIM, T, Intro, 21, 1:1,2)

Now I had a way out of my misery. If I saw my daughter as exploiting me (instead of loving), I must be guilty for all my brothers I have exploited. (Projection makes perception.) All that happened in that regrettable moment when I attacked her was the result of failing to heal my mind in the hours of dread prior to her call. It was clear to me now that I must have repressed guilt for using and exploited others. It was so painful to me that I had projected that guilt onto my daughter, hoping to thereby be free of it. (Of course, as events proved, I only increased my guilt—now adding the guilt of hating my daughter. Meanwhile the original guilt remained unforgiven.)

So, again I did what I teach. I remembered: “My sinlessness is guaranteed by God” (ACIM, W-93, 8:3). And remembering all the many ways I had used and exploited my wife for fifty-five years; and remembering all the patients I exploited in the early days of my practice when I was attempting to support a wife and four children in Manhattan (patients whose needs were beyond my competence to deal with, but whom I took because they were a source of income). I lay these events on the altar of my heart and asked to be reminded that “all my sins were forgiven me.”

Immediate relief resulted and in place of the misery of guilt came “light and joy and peace” (Lesson 93). All of the above healing of my mind took under fifteen minutes. So now perceiving my daughter as innocent I called her and said: “I hope you will forgive me for my vicious attack upon you a few minutes ago. I now realize that I was dumping on you my own guilt for exploiting others over my lifetime.”

It turns out I left that on her answering device, for she had not picked up. Later in the day she called me, thanking me for my call. She said it had helped her heal her own mind. She ended the call with the words, “I love you, Dad.” So this story also illustrates the following quote:

And so you let yourself be healed; you see all those around you, or who cross your mind, or whom you touch or those who seem to have no contact with you, healed along with you…you are never healed alone. (Workbook, Lesson 134, 10:1,3).

In retrospect, it occurs to me that it is no coincidence that all this repressed, unhealed guilt arose from my unconscious at the specific time it did, for as it is written:

The ego is therefore particularly likely to attack you when you act lovingly, because it has evaluated you as unloving and you are going against its judgment. The ego will attack your motives as soon as they become clearly out of accord with its perception of you. This is when it will shift abruptly from suspiciousness to viciousness, since its uncertainty is increased. (ACIM, Text, Ch 9, VII, 4:5-7)

That is the ‘bad news’ of course. The ‘good news’ is that every time we make the mistake of listening to that part of our mind, we have another golden opportunity to once again open ourselves to the readily available healing power of forgiveness — a power that is far greater than our guilt can ever be. All that is required of us is to watch our minds carefully and then ask for help from the Source of our innocence. The result is inevitable.

Copyright 2007 Frank West

Decision for Change—A Life or Death Matter

There is an idea that today’s Physics seems to support and it is this — that the idea of linear time is an artifact, an illusion we perceive to be true. There is also a second idea— i.e., that we come into the world at birth with a script we have chosen to live out in this lifetime; also that the pre-written script can be altered by decisions we make in the present ‘instant.’ As my life draws to a close, I’ve come to believe that these ideas are indeed true. By changing our perceptions about ourselves (perceptions that are largely fearful or based on fear), we change our lives accordingly.* I have a personal story that illustrates such a change and it concerns a choice of life over death.

For some forty to fifty years, I have believed that I would die in a particular manner. I had a firmly fixed notion that my end would come in this way: that I would, while sailing alone, fall off my boat while the motor was running, and I would die by drowning as the boat sailed off without me.

Several years ago one cool November day, I was sailing alone on Long Island Sound. No other boats were in sight. The wind had been favorable, but began to diminish. So I decided to lower the sails and return to the marina. I started the motor in order to head the bow into what little wind remained so I could easily lower the sails. I sail a cutter, that is, a boat with three sails (all of which, in this case, could usually be dropped from the cockpit). On this day, however, the middle sail became fouled and was unable to be lowered. Since the seas were now calm, I thought there was nothing dangerous about going forward to the bow for the purpose of freeing the tangled sail so it could be lowered.

What I did not notice was an approaching swell caused by the wake of some large ship that had long ago, some miles away, passed down the Sound. As I bent over to free the sail, the swell lifted myself and the bow high in the air and then dropped us both in an instant. And I landed in the water, just close enough to seize the edge of the deck with one hand.

With horror I remembered my fearful script predicting my certain death in this form. At this point, two of the three factors in that ‘dark dream’** were present. Being November, I was dressed for the cool weather, and my long pants, sweater and windbreaker were all soaked, adding considerable weight to my 200 pounds. When I attempted to pull myself up the three feet of freeboard at the bow, I realized the futility of the idea. It was too high.

Then it occurred to me that midship might be easier—there the lift required was a foot less. But no success there either, despite a determined attempt. Then with relief I remembered a triangular extension just a foot above the water at the stern. It secured the backstay of the mast.

So I worked my way aft, holding to the edge of the deck. With a great deal of effort, I managed to get my body across that extension. But two and a half feet remained before I could be in that cockpit. The motor was running and I had fearful visions of the undirected boat hitting a submerged ledge and tossing me off my perch, again into the water. As it was, I was in such a position that I had purchase to raise myself only by the means of one leg.

By this time I was not only cold but tired. I was in my mid-seventies and waterlogged. But my mind was determined to change the ‘fearful script’ I’d written so long ago. So I prayed aloud for strength from that one leg to lift me the last 30 inches. Where that extra strength came from I do not know. I do know it came, and I tumbled into the cockpit, my knee in pain but my heart beating joyfully. I had decided against death and chosen life. For some 18 months a strained and painful knee was a reminder of that moment.

When I described this incident to my son, some twenty-five years younger than I, he marveled at the feat, saying that he didn’t think that he could have had the strength to do the same thing. I’m convinced that the strength was not my own alone. Rather, the strength to choose life over death — to decide against the script I’d written — came from my mind. For I had decided to align my will with the will of God in that crucial moment.

I gave up my will for death and allied myself with the will for Life. The one evidence I have for this is a thought that accompanied my final burst of energy. It was this thought that saved me — “I have more work to do here; I have more gifts to give the needy world. My purpose is not yet fulfilled! Not my will, but Thine be done.”

* “You wrote a fearful script and are afraid accordingly.” ACIM Text Ch 30, VII, 3:8

** “Your dark dreams are but senseless, isolated scripts you write in sleep.” ACIM Text Ch 30, VII, 6:15

Copyright 2007 Frank West

Beyond This World, There Is A World I Want

I have a memory of being about age 6, playing under the porch in the dirt, making toy roads for my toy autos and trucks. The vivid part of this memory, however, is not the play, not the setting, and not my age. Rather, what fixes this memory in my mind is an idea that crossed my mind during that playful moment. It was: “I do not belong here. I belong somewhere else.” There was no emotion attached to that thought, no self-pity, no loneliness or painful sense of alienation. Just a quiet, somewhat detached observation. Something akin to—“Oh, that’s interesting.”

I don’t think I focused on that idea until much, much later in my life—perhaps the past twenty-five years. And it has returned with an increasingly strong intention to focus my attention on that ‘other world,’ beyond what my eyes see here.

There is, however, another vivid memory I have, and this one occurred some forty years ago. I cannot exactly recall the date, but the context and the experience are crystal clear.

Martha and I had built a modern house in the woods above the Hudson River in the Hudson highlands—Garrison, New York. We had just moved in, having left New York City. I was attending to something or other in the crawl space under the building when the doorbell rang. Martha must have been away shopping at the time, so I ascended the ladder leading from the crawl space to the first floor. As I emerged from below, I glanced toward the front door—a huge glass door that revealed a figure standing looking in. It was a lovely woman holding a bunch of flowers. Our eyes met. I was instantly shocked, frightened and bewildered by what happened next. For an intense blue light, like a brilliant ray, shone from my eyes to hers—or her eyes to mine. I had never had that experience before nor have I had it since. I say I was frightened. My fright came from my ignorance of what that phenomenon really meant. At that time in my life I could only interpret the experience as sexual in origin. Sexual because of its intensity, and the fact that the woman was so beautiful. Only much later was I able to see that it was in reality a vivid experience of that ‘other world.’ It was an intense perception of an inner connection with another person on the deepest of levels. For as I got to know the woman, I discovered how deeply involved she was in the study of spiritual matters.

It turns out that she was a neighbor coming to visit, bringing flowers of greeting to her new neighbors. I never mentioned the blue light to her for the next five or six years, until one evening when a number of friends gathered for dinner. During dinner I said to her: “Do you remember the day when you brought flowers to our house to greet us as new neighbors?” She instantly answered: “You’re going to tell me about the blue light, aren’t you?”

I tell the story for it illustrates the truth, the truth about our purpose for living our lives here. The blue light symbolizes for me the truth that we are all connected on another, deeper level beyond what our eyes customarily see—the truth that we are all joined as one on that level. It is a level free of expectations, demands, judgments, fears and guilt. A level free of neediness, exploitation and attack. A level where “light, joy and peace abide.”* It’s a level I have chosen more often to forget than to remember. But when I do remember, I experience a sense of freedom, and a happiness that is difficult to put into words. And what brings me even more happiness is the thought that we are all capable of this same freedom, this same joy, for we are all the same at the deepest level (despite our many superficial differences in form and appearance).

Copyright 2007 Frank West

The Scream (And the Miracle)

That blood-chilling scream was a very long time in coming. It, and any other like it, had not been heard in the over fifty years I’d lived with her. Then one evening, its suddenly painfully piercing cry broke the silence of half a century.

We had retired early—eight o’clock as I remember. She in one room; I in another. It was strange sleeping alone; I missed the warmth of her body beside me. But sleep came easier since her restlessness had recently appeared. Her nocturnal tossing and turning was new. It seemed that a lot of different things were new lately, and they were happening with a distressingly greater frequency—like the day when she found herself in the middle of an intersection with a huge truck bumper but a few inches from the right front fender of our car. She was deeply troubled by that event, for she had utterly no awareness of how she had come to that fearful, dangerous moment. “What’s happening to me?” she asked. At that time, neither of us could answer that question which hovered over our lives like a ghostly demon. All that we knew was that we were entering into a new stage of our life together.

As I lay there, thinking about that moment in the intersection, the floor of my bedroom suddenly shook, as if from an earthquake. The bed trembled, and with it the sound of a loud crash—a sound that came from the other bedroom. I leapt from the bed and ran toward it.

What I found lay in a crumpled heap. She was sprawled on the floor, dazed and silent. As I knelt beside her cradling her in my arms, she said, “I think I fell.” A cold fear clutched my heart as the word ‘osteoporosis’ leapt to my mind. I’d known for years that she had that bone disease, was taking medication to hinder its progression, and that she dreaded falling. Images of fragile, eroded bones shattered lurked at the periphery of our minds.

“Let me help you to bed,” I said, and began to raise her body from the floor. With sudden ferocity, that long withheld scream burst forth from her lips, tearing my heart with it. “My G-d, she must have fractured a vertebra,” I thought. I knew that the only pain medication we had available that her body could tolerate was Tylenol—and what value would it, even at ‘double-strength,’ be with the pain she must be dealing with—a pain that could evoke such a scream as I had heard? But once vertical, she seemed to experience no further distress. A wave of relief swept over me as I helped her to bed.

But the relief was short-lived, for once I began to lay her down, that penetrating, horrible, heart-rending cry repeated. Louder than before, it emerged from deep within her, causing her every muscle to clench in pain—and my heart simultaneously to clutch in fear. I left her to get the Tylenol (for which I had little hope), and I returned with it. As she gratefully swallowed it I asked, “Don’t you think we should call 911?” “Oh, no,” she replied (typically). “I’ll be all right after some sleep.” Since I desperately wanted to believe that to be so, I somewhat doubtfully tucked her in, kissed her, and left her hoping that indeed, a good night’s sleep would help us both.

It was not to be. Barely two hours later, I heard her call. “Help me to the bathroom,” she said. I knew what that meant, for another one of those recent changes in our life together was her increasing incontinence, which involved constant changing of the paper underpants that absorbed the urine.

The trip to the bathroom, of course, involved my again lifting her upper body to a sitting position on the bed. It was this move that once again triggered that hideous cry of anguish from her lips. Thankfully, once again, when she was vertical there was no pain. The trip to the bathroom, the changing of the wet underpants and the return to the bed were all uneventful.

It was when I once again lay her back to lie on the pillow that the damnable, terrifying wail of agony burst forth. Its rasping sound thrust through my heart like a knife and along with it a thought: “I wonder how much of this horror I can endure?”

I was soon to find out. For despite my earnest hope that untroubled sleep might come to us both, the scenario I’ve just described repeated three more times in the remaining six hours before dawn.

When I heard the fourth call, it was with dread that I anticipated that which was about to follow. I did not wish to answer her call. But how could I not? Thus I arose from my bed the fourth time. And as I walked the twenty feet to her bed, a sudden and grotesque thought crossed my mind: “Oh, wouldn’t it be better if she were dead?!”—swiftly followed by the horror of what I had just thought. “My G-d, I just wished my beloved dead!” Guilt and shame flooded my heart, stopping me dead in my tracks. How could I go to her with that awful thought in my mind? The pain of the guilt was overwhelming. Now I could do but one thing. And that was to pray a desperate prayer for forgiveness for my insane wish to kill. So with sorrowful heart I raised high my right hand and silently, fervently cried out, “Gentle Jesus, take my hand. I need your help. Help me see my murderous thoughts through your kind eyes. Help me see I am forgiven for my dark wish for death.”

And miracle of miracles, in that very instant my prayer for the cleansing of my mind was granted…because my plea had come from my heart. So an instant peace had replaced the murderous hate; a calm compassion had replaced the anguished guilt.

As I returned to her bedside, I walked with lighter step, for I possessed a lighter heart. Of course two of the same heart-piercing screams were repeated. But this time as I lay her head on the pillow, she reached up and put her arms around my neck, kissed me and said, “I’m so glad I have you in my life.” And thus at that moment our hearts were joined. It was a brief and ‘holy instant’ in which, “An ancient miracle has come to bless and to replace an ancient enmity that came to kill.”

Copyright 2007 Frank West

“The Authority Problem—Redux”

The boy lay in the darkness, his heart beating fearfully—It was those loud, angry shouts and the muffled sobbing of his mother that brought fear to his heart. He had never heard such sounds before. On the other hand, he did remember the suppertime when he was five. He had sat there puzzled. Why was there such ominous silence; such tense faces and sharp looks? Later he would describe the moment as one in which, “The air was so thick with tension, you could cut it with a knife.” Then, he had wondered what he had done to cause such a thing. Had he spilled his milk? No—but he better not try picking up the glass now.—It might indeed spill, so trembling was his hand. Maybe it was something that he hadn’t done! He searched his mind for the slight mistake he’d made—and came up with all sorts of things, certain as he was that this horror was all due to him.

Now, at age ten, lying there, he did the same thing. He desperately searched his mind. Could he have been responsible for this eruption of chaos in his mind or the war ensuing in the other bedroom (actually the living room where they slept on a pull-out couch)?

The next day, when he came home from school to find his mother furiously doing her best to install a newly purchased sliding bolt on the kitchen door (and later silently crying as she did the dinner dishes in the kitchen sink), he still did not know if he was the cause. Yet there seemed no clear reason that he could see for it at all. What he did see, however, was his father’s clothing, thrown in a disordered pile on the back porch—His heart sank at the awareness of what that meant. It was all clear now. Father must be to blame; at least that was evident by mother’s angry actions at the back door. Nevertheless, his anxious mind dare not allow itself to consider the horrific possibility that they might actually hate each other. For if that was so, what would happen to him? Too frightening to think of.

A simple solution leapt instantly to his mind. From the dark depth of his terror, from the trembling dread of his helplessness came the saving solution. He must be the cause, because only then would he have the power to bring an end to their conflict—and an end to their war was crucial to his survival.

The solution seemed brilliant and, best of all, at no seeming cost to himself. All he had to do was to be good—no, be better than he had ever been before. And in every one of the ways he knew they expected of him. He was certainly smart enough to figure all that out.

The trouble was, the solution he found didn’t bring happiness! For one thing, being good took an awful lot of effort, and constant questioning whether or not he were good enough. It all bordered on a kind of slavery. And with the slavery came resentment. Certainly it was no recipe for happiness.

And another thing: despite all his efforts, his plan wasn’t working. For father had chosen to live in humiliation down in the basement, down with the coal bin and the furnace. Not only that, there were a lot of spiders down there—he’d seen them! Worst of all, as Christmas drew near—(that usually wonderful time when his family seemed really to care about each other, gifts were given, and the house seemed brighter, and warmer)— his father was still down in the basement. Maybe he wouldn’t be upstairs to open the gifts on Christmas morning! The young boy cried, every time he thought about that. So he tried not to think about Christmas at all. Of course he failed. Despite his fervent prayers, when Christmas morning came, father was still in the basement. The boy slowly carried his present, wrapped as tenderly and carefully as he could manage, down the two flights of stairs to the basement. As he walked down, the stairs seemed to go on for miles. It seemed to take an eternity to reach the basement door.

It may have been at this moment, as he stood there at the basement door, that his idea of who was to blame for all this shifted. Shifted from himself and his father to his mother (shifted at least for the moment). As his father opened the door, the boy may have well thought, “How can I blame Dad? He looks so sad—just as sad as I feel this Christmas morning.”

Mother then became the one who was the force that was punishing both of them. After all, wasn’t she the one who hatefully put that bolt on the kitchen door? Wasn’t it she who threw father’s clothes on the porch floor? Perhaps it was at that moment that the boy became aware of his hatred for his mother. And of course also the inevitable painful guilt that follows in hate’s wake. Surely it was at that moment that the boy made a fateful determined decision—that he would never, never, ever allow himself to be put in such a humiliating position in which he now saw his father, and as he now saw himself. It seemed crystal clear to his impressionable mind that power and control were crucial if he were to avoid the bitter pain of helplessness and the humiliation that accompanied it. It would be many long and torturous years before he learned the enormous cost of that early, bitter, embedded idea. It was only much later that he would come to the liberating truth that the lust for power and control brings with it the horror of separation from others—and worst of all, separation from himself, and the loneliness and empty despair that accompany it.

Copyright 2007 Frank West