I want to tell you about my time in San Diego this past July with old and new friends, but I need to begin by offering in contrast something that I wrote many years ago. It is just as true for me today as when I wrote it.
Everything was as it is. All that has changed is my perspective. I’ve run, stumbled, climbed, and fallen through life. I’ve plowed headlong into pits and briars obvious to others – more times than once, many more times than once – careening off of pain and pleasure to land in a heap on a perch that works for now.
This is how it looks from here…
Please forgive me for speaking in general terms. I speak of us as a movement, as a community. There were many individual exceptions.
We meant well.
Actually, it felt to me like most of us were trying, sometimes successfully, to convince ourselves we meant well… by my definition of well meaning, that is.
Most of us would rather have helped than done harm, and yet we helped Dad and his circle do great harm, either with a direct hand or by feeding the Temple’s unhealthy appetite in some other way.
We knew how to play.
Laughter was our favorite thing, with song and dance a close second. We were in great need of its relief, its release. The gloom and doom can really weigh on you after awhile, all that “us against the world” shit.
Our laughter could be pathetic and mean, and quite often beautiful.
It’s a doorway to harmony, to Oneness, to The Creator when seemingly very different people find the same thing funny.
We were not a “good” organization that turned “bad”, or lost its way. We were not healthy then sick. From the very beginning, we were ruled – not led but ruled – subjugated, and manipulated by a narcissistic, paranoid, bitter, disillusioned, delusional, and frequently ridiculous man, who was, as far as I can tell, pretty disturbed before he made it out of his childhood.
Our “good works” were often a means to an end, and while most of the good people performing those good works were doing it from their hearts, the people directing those works were too often primarily aware of how it looked and who it would impress.
This is what can happen when your credo is “The end justifies the means.” Never, the way I see it, never has there been a more pernicious, toxic belief.
I would argue that the means justifies the end, but never the other way around.
Nearly every kind of person joined and stayed for every kind of reason – from purity to perversion, altruism to amorality. We were a mixed and mixed up bag. Compassionate, mean, passionate, depressed, courageous, cowardly, faithful, paranoid, vivacious, dull…
…and they taught me so much about soul and sacrifice.
Listening to my father and living with my Temple family (often largely against my will) instilled the values that I pray will guide me every day…
I pray every day that they will guide me every day… This is necessary when you’re as messy as I am.
My words could never do justice to the beauty and power of black and white and yellow and red, every skin color imaginable, dressed in every other color imaginable, swayin’ and bumpin’ and thumpin’ to somethin’s-got-ahold-of-me-gospel, and a good dose of sooty and sensuous soul. All our barriers crumbled, our lines rubbed out. You forget who’s who and who you are. We’d mix and melt and enter the music as it entered us. No past, no future, no thought stood a chance.
Utter belonging… with some of the most lovely, remarkable people I’ve ever known.
Oh my God, I had no idea how much I loved them until I lost them.
And that belonging, that sense of great purpose… it’s hard to let it go, even when every inch of you screams at you to do so.
We hated hatred and were bigoted against bigots. We wanted to rule the rulers and torture the torturers. Everything and everyone – but us – was wrong, wrong, wrong. Again, of course this is not how all of us felt or operated, but as a whole this is how we felt to me, especially at the top – and there WAS a top – in what was supposed to be an egalitarian society.
We talked about waiting out nuclear Armageddon so we could build our utopia. I remember thinking, “When we dance on the ashes of the world we claim to love so much, maybe then we can stop talking about how fucked up it all is.” Of course, Dad never revealed the secret of how he would make us all radiation free.
We wanted to make others wrong, rather than do what we felt was best for ALL of us, inside and outside the Temple. Even when I resisted Dad, it was about making him wrong, about showing him how bad he was. It had very little to do with me asking myself what was best for the greater good – or just for me – and standing up for it.
A BATTLE OF EGOS.
INspiration and INsight were discouraged, dampened…punished.
So far I’ve found that change, growth…Evolution…REVOLUTION is, first and foremost (if not entirely), an inside job. In the Temple my insides felt crushed, not cultivated.
If I desire or dislike something too much, if I place my happiness and peace on the absence or acquisition of anything remotely material, I can be hooked, played, and left on the bank gasping for air, wondering what the hell happened and who I can blame – other than myself, of course.
As long as I hold myself separate from Creation, from The Creator, I am capable of doing and allowing great harm.
Dad and I and some others tapped into something deep and genuine in ourselves when we worked people, when we showed them what they needed to see, in order to get them to do and give us what we wanted. People saw the “good” works and looks of the Temple and the “genuine” warmth, compassion, and eloquence of the man who seemed to be the force driving it all, and they spent the rest of their Temple lives rationalizing and redirecting responsibility for the sickness that coated and snarled all of it.
I think that, as a community, we were gradually blinded to and shamed out of the one thing that could have saved us. Albert Einstein describes it well.
“The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of true science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand in rapt awe, is as good as dead.
To know that what is impenetrable to us truly exists, manifesting itself in the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religion.”
(And I would – with great reverence – add “true courage and compassion”)
I hurt people, directly and indirectly. I and a small group of men (white and black) humiliated and terrorized a man on the orders of a man I despised, and whose approval and love meant more to me than I could ever have admitted. We lost control of the situation and he fell into a shallow well. And shame – a toxic and worthless feeling that is entirely about what others think of me – drowned out compassion and remorse after we rescued that lovely man from ourselves. And nearly a thousand people sat in the Jonestown pavilion and did nothing. Many of them cheered or otherwise showed their approval and a good number of them were probably horrified and terrified while doing so.
How am I capable of such evil?
When I lose my soul in my image of me, when your view of me is more important to me than the eternal in me, when all connection is lost to that part of me which is of God…
Here’s what I know:
This belief that you and I are separate, that your pain is not my pain, that your misery is not my misery, that your joy and peace and bliss are not mine…
it is a lie
Einstein called it an “…optical delusion of our consciousness…”
I believe this with all of my heart.
Problem is my mind and actions often don’t align with this, and my amends for the inevitable harm that results must be painstaking and thorough
And is between me and Our Maker
And it ALL brings to mind the words of the mystic poet, Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
So, that is what I felt our community had become and it is not at all what I believe we have become. That last bit from the magnificent Rumi, that level of Being, that soul-fed, ego-free way…well, I got glimpses of that with my brothers and sisters in San Diego in July. And it was sweet.
Someone dear to me recently helped me see that “home” for me seems to be wherever I am, that I kind of carry it with me. This has been true since we lost so much that was so dear, and I topped it off with a few months in Guyanese prison. At first, it was rootlessness, an inability, an unwillingness to connect in a world that is so transient, so impermanent, so damn unreliable. I’d like to think it’s evolving to where I feel most rooted, most connected to creation through my being, my soul, that part which is permanent.
Last July, as I rode with Mac and Laura from the airport toward our gathering, I felt like I was heading home for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. It was truly a reunion – and I absolutely include the people that I met for the very first time. Y’all were easy and I was at ease with you. The cynicism I’d felt in and from the Temple was replaced by hopefulness. Realistic, but hopeful. And the realism was held as a relative thing. We all knew that we had many different perspectives on many different things, and that was accepted, even embraced.
I felt from you, my friends, something that I’ve come to believe: that there can be many different perspectives on something and all of them can be correct in the moment they meet. I also believe that if we all truly feel that way and seek to fully understand other perspectives before (or instead of) seeking to have others understand our own, if we’re all that open and excited by our “differences”, we can conceive of – or even create – something none of us could conceive of on our own…and I felt like I was tilling that kind of rich soil when I was with you.
And we saw eye to eye on a lot, as well. And we just refused to take any of it too seriously.
So, how did we feel to me? At times, tentative. Always, forgiving, positive, playful… Loving–
And on the mend.
Thank you. I’ll be back for sure.
I have something I say to my girls, as often as they can stand it, the same way every time:
“I love you with all my heart…forever…no matter what.
“And God loves you more.”
Of course, I don’t always feel this way, and I sure as heck don’t always show it, but I know at my core it’s absolutely true. And I pray that Asia Moon and Kali Nita and Jaden Rose know it’s true too. I pray that they know that they saved my life, that without them busting into it, this tired and broken heart would have died a miserable death years ago… and without their absolute insistence that I keep my heart open, I would not have gained an inch on the path to wholeness and happiness.
And, although from a human perspective, I must reserve all my heart for my girls and my God, from the deeper place in which I’d like to reside, the same goes for my Temple family, every one of you – gone, remaining, and new.
And yeah, my healing and growth demands that I include Dad, too.