Read an Excerpt
NAVIGATING THE COLLAPSE OF TIME
A Peaceful Path Through the End of Illusions
By DAVID IAN COWAN
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2011 David Ian Cowan
All rights reserved.
GETTING FROM THERE TO HERE
As I see it now, I was blessed with never quite "fitting in" here. In the phase we call growing up, it usually felt more as if I were cursed, especially as a young person desperately trying to discover myself in the actions and reactions of everyone around me. And maybe nobody ever really feels as if they fit in here, as this is a very strange planet operating on some very bizarre premises. It takes real effort to adapt to a dysfunctional system, and it never truly works, as there is always this underlying feeling that, "Something is terribly 'off' here. Is it just me, or does everybody else know this, and if so, why is nobody saying it?" And "Isn't that Emperor actually naked?"
Maybe I was more of the sensitive type growing up. Or maybe we are all the sensitive type, and some are more successful in denying this to themselves. At any rate, I remember being out of step with my peers as early as the third grade. This was a time when the prevailing wisdom in education was to "skip" students who seemed to be academically advanced for their age. My dad was a teacher and my mom a nurse, so perhaps I was blessed with being raised in an intellectually stimulating environment. I'm not sure. At times I could argue so well with my mom, she often said I should be a lawyer. Lucky for both of us, that didn't happen. I know my parents loved me and did their very best for me.
It soon became apparent to me, however, that skipping from grade three to five was like sliding down the slide in the game Chutes and Ladders—from the peak of feeling smart and cool, to being at the bottom of the social pecking order—a "runt of the pack" if you will. No longer was I the apple of the teacher's eye; I soon found myself scared to the core and out of step with kids more socialized and developed than I. Whereas in my third grade teacher's eyes I could do no wrong, I now had a brand-new, very insecure, teacher fresh out of university who seemed to find in me a good reason to exercise her disciplinary authority! The other boys in the class were bigger, more self-assured, and better at sports, but not necessarily smarter. I've had a lot of judgment around "bone-head jocks" to get over, folks! The peer-group misstep starting at this point followed me for the rest of my school years, and beyond. Having a year or a few years difference in age in adult society makes little or no difference in relationships, but in the tender growing-up school years it made all the difference in the world. This sense of not belonging basically set the template for the rest of my school years, and well into my career years for that matter.
Please do not think that in any way I am whining or blaming anyone at all for these circumstances. From where I sit now, all is in perfect order, and I am eternally grate-ful for not fitting in to what I now clearly see as an insane illusory world. No apologies are needed from anyone. But at the time, I definitely felt like the odd man out. Maybe, on some level, we all do.
Then of course, the whole Hippie thing happened, and I found myself instantly drawn into a lifestyle that seemed to appeal to my alienated sense of self. This was right around the time of the Vietnam War. Even as a school kid growing up in western Canada, the war had a profound effect on me. This was likely due to the fact that it was the first truly televised war. News and entertainment blurred. We could sit around with our TV dinners and catch the body count along with the hockey scores. What the hell was that? At an age when, developmentally, most youth are expected to question the mores and wisdom of their parents' generation as a normal part of individuating, and perhaps creating a world where some "wrongs" could become "rights," here I was seeing the abject murder of innocents ("It's okay, they're not like us!") for clearly political and economic motives. Even I, as a naïve 15-year-old, could understand that. I lost all interest in "making it" in a world that could sit back and watch this happen. Clearly, we had learned nothing from all the wars in the past. Clearly, this place was insane.
I remember a few years later, as a first-year university student, meeting a young American man who had just gotten back from Vietnam. My roommates and I befriended him because he had a great car and some good drugs. I couldn't help but sympathize with this guy, however, as he seemed hell-bent on obliterating his mind with dope—maintaining a 24/7 high that he was using to try to numb the pain of what he had seen and likely done. It was just so tragic. My disillusionment with the world grew deeper.
It was easy for me to drop out of university, move in with a band of rock musicians, and become a non-committed gypsy, along with many from my disaffected generation. As we all know, the world continued on its dysfunctional trajectory despite the number of societal drop-outs. But at the same time, a renaissance in the arts and creativity blossomed out of this movement. For me, I was able to survive on the fringe of the global war-boom-bust economy as a musician and private music teacher. In my own way, I was keeping the faith by spreading the joy of creativity through music to my young students and appreciative audiences. Later, during the 1980s, it was even possible to make a passable income, raise a family, and not go too deeply into debt by playing music instead of "working for the man."
But let me backtrack to around 1970. By now, I was a committed Hippie and had begun to dabble in meditation, Eastern thought, vegetarianism, etc. while playing in a rock band. I was pretty much looking into everything—except disco! A couple of years prior I had an experience when a friend asked me if I would like to pray to Jesus and "have my sins forgiven." Religion and traditional Christianity in particular had always left me feeling queasy, conjuring images of dust, cobwebs, and moldy old doctrines and empty rituals. Religion still feels this way to me for the most part. There is a definite distinction between religion and spirituality. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they often don't mix well either. There was an innocent sincerity in this particular invitation, however, and so I said, "Sure, why not?"
Although I don't recall what I said in the prayer, I do distinctly remember feeling all "warm and cozy" with an inner sense that somehow my prayer was heard and answered. There was a new, tangible lightness in my being, especially when I thought about the things I knew I had done that hurt others. I felt less guilt, and that's a good thing! The friend went on to follow a path of fundamentalist belief that held no appeal for me (take the "fun" out of "fundamental" and it leaves "duh ... mental"), but I did start to develop a curiosity about Jesus and the Bible, which I started to read and tried to understand. Life went on, but a new under-standing—a glimmer only—was beginning to form.
My girlfriend at the time, later to become the mother of our six children, invited a couple of Jesus Freaks back to our humble flat. These were Hippie Evangelists who pounded the pavement looking for lost souls to save. They were clearly sincere and committed fanatics. When I came home to this rather unusual company, one of them asked me, "Have you accepted Jesus?" I told him about my experience with prayer.
He then pointed out, rather matter-of-factly, that the next step in the process, as outlined in the Book of Acts, is to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit in order to live more in alignment with Jesus' teachings, as the disciples had. This seemed reasonable enough for me, and the guy was sincere without being obnoxious, so again I said, "Sure, why not?" I don't know how much of this was just my being courteous, but I do know I was curious and had no resistance toward the idea of Jesus somehow being real.
I have not told this story to many. What happened next was of a deeply personal nature, and so I am taking a strong leap here in writing this for publication. But, as Sgt. Friday from Dragnet says: "Just give us the facts." So I will. Maybe some-thing similar has happened to you or someone you know.
As soon as I prayed and asked for the Holy Spirit to fill me, I was hit, literally, with an energy blast the likes of which I had never known. It literally "blew my mind." I found myself immediately in a state of being where, for lack of a better description, I understood everything in my experience and environment on multiple dimensions simultaneously. It was as if all the TV stations available came on together at the same time, but I could still understand each one individually. Needless to say, this was staggering. It made the best acid trip seem like a mere preview—this was the big feature!
The next few days found me stumbling around quite disoriented. Yet I was fascinated as well, like an archeologist suddenly overcome at the sight of an immense treasure. I understood this was a state of expanded awareness, but I had no roadmap or set of instructions, or anyone to share it with. All this as a result of a half-hearted prayer? Thinking back, my poor wife must have been freaked! She really did keep her cool, however, and must have had some level of trust that all would turn out okay. Either that or she was secretly planning to have me committed.
The fascination and awe of the experience, however, could just as easily slip into fear. Sometimes my own thoughts loomed so large I did not seem to have a way to shut them down. The chains of my own thoughts could easily imprison me with thoughts of catastrophe and calamity that seemed to come out of nowhere. The biggest fear was, "What if I never come down? Is this how my life will be from this time on? How can I survive being in such a state?" I truly felt that if I were voluntarily to take myself to the hospital for a check-up, I would quickly be fitted in a white coat with oversized sleeves!
The energy moving through me was so strong and palpable that when I walked into a crowded room, conversations stopped and people turned to look at me with stares saying, "What the heck just happened, and who the hell are you?" This didn't help my inner freaked-out state.
Needless to say, these changes left me for the most part confused, self-conscious, and wishing "it" would just go away. As it turned out, it was about three weeks into the experience that I recall lying on my bed saying to God: "Look, I don't even know if I believe in you or even if you exist, but whatever this thing is, please take it away. It's killing me!" I was truly afraid. Then, just as amazingly as it had come over me, the energy left at my request, feeling like a cool breeze passing from my head to my toes. That in itself was a big confirmation that whatever this was, God was part of it; the experience was part of a bigger plan somehow—and it was probably okay.
As soon as the energy left and I was feeling normal again, the quest began. What was that? Was it Divine or demonic? Who could help me understand? Who could possibly understand what I'd been through?
As a "default" response to my experience, I ended up being a devotee of the particular band of youthful fanatics who had introduced me to the experience. What else was one to do after this? Funny, however, no one in the seven years I spent immersed in that particular movement ever provided an explanation; they just accepted me as I was, and I guess that was good enough at the time. I did, how-ever, learn first-hand what a personality cult is all about, and how human organizations, even ones centered on an altruistic or spiritual path, all eventually succumb to the same process. I call it the "cheese principle." The cream rises to the top and, because it likes the power, authority, and respect of that position, refuses to leave. It then becomes hardened, authoritarian, and fear-ridden that it will lose what it values most. And so the organization becomes a tool for ego-aggrandizement. It is simple, really. I see it all around in almost every human organization.
Yes, I did eventually leave that group. The time spent there was the time in life when most of my peers were getting locked into careers, families, and mortgages. Again, I see the perfect orchestration of events to keep me from being totally drawn into the corporateconsumer culture of our time. There was another path for me. I was not destined to "fit in."
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
The first source of information that shed any light at all on my experience was the biography of Sri Aurobindo, an Indian sage who was one of Gandhi's big influences. (Sri Aurobindo or the Adventure of Consciousness, The Institute for Evolutionary Research, 1970). Sri Aurobindo was educated in England over 100 years ago, returning to India as a young man to explore the depths of his own culture and religion. He talked about spiritual awakening as a process of "descension" rather than "ascension." In ascension, we try to get out of the body and the world, escaping, as it were, into a higher more pure state of being. With descension, however, we find the power of spirit wanting to join with us here in the body, creating a more integrated and fully multi-dimensional experience.
This seemed, at least, to begin to describe what I had experienced. I had been touched by the Divine, and would never be the same. The Divine literally "descended" at my request and left me permanently altered. I now appreciate that there are many terms and descriptions that could fit my experience. The Divine is not concerned about what concept or language we use to try to describe the indescribable. In one sense, I experienced my Higher Self coming through with a sneak preview of a future potential and maybe just as a curious observer as to what is going on here in this dimension. It is said that the conscious mind operates at only 10 percent of its potential. So even if we are hit with another, say, 10 percent of our total Being, it may seem like a stupendous opening of awareness.
I also had a sneaking suspicion that what I had experienced for that brief period was a prediction or foretaste of the future and that, if I were ever to return to that state, I would (hopefully) be much better prepared to handle it without freaking out. And not just predictive of my own possible future, but the future for all of us—who we could become when we fully awaken to our real nature as Spiritual Beings having a human experience.
More recently, I read of a researcher in the San Francisco area (John Weir Perry) who was studying traditional cross-cultural Shamanic initiations. He noticed some similarities between the emergence of what the natural tribal people recognized as the marks of a new Shaman, and what we call schizophrenia. These spontaneous events seemed to occur mostly to young males. The big difference was that in our culture we pathologize this sudden onset of a different way of perceiving. In natural societies, in agreement with the ideas of pioneering psychologist Carl Jung and psychiatrist R. D. Laing, these symptoms are recognized as the early stages of spiritual emergence, and are treated with respect, even reverence. These cultures had a specific ritualized program in place to help young initiates navigate the disorienting process. In forty days, a new Shaman emerged, confident and in calm acceptance of his power and calling. He was welcomed into the tribe and afforded the respect of the people. Of course in our world, the person with a spontaneous spiritual-emergence experience is diagnosed as sick and all efforts are made to suppress or divert the symptoms by means of toxic chemicals, with the goal of curing the "disease" and returning the "patient" to the former state. (See pp. 343–345, Geoff Stray, Beyond 2012: Catastrophe or Awakening? Rochester, VT: Bear & Co., 2005.)
Perry thus set up a study where for forty days he simply supported the new schizophrenics admitted to his clinic and did not try to suppress or deny the validity of their experiences. The results were the same as in the natural societies; after forty days the patients were able to negotiate their new state of consciousness and integrate back into the world—to be "in it," but no longer "of it"—adjusted, as it were, to the formerly "real" world.
The memory of this time in my life and my quest for meaning proved to be a prime motivator for the next few decades, eventually pushing me to study psychology as an adult. I also found myself in a dual career of musician/ music teacher and child and family counselor. The musical side gave me an opportunity to express feelings, and to teach others to do the same. It was "safe" for a male to wail on the guitar—safe and socially acceptable. I just loved the whole British Invasion thing, and am still a fond fan of Sixties music, blues, and avante garde music.
I also felt myself drawn deeper into the "helping" professions. I had an inner knowing that I wanted to work on the level of the mind rather than the body. The few laboring jobs I picked up did not do it for me at all! I also knew I wanted to work with individuals, as I felt social and collective change must begin there. It is on the level of individual choices that all other human activities and experiences emerge, I felt. As a youth counselor, and eventually a counselor for the unemployed, it dawned on me that many were running their lives on dysfunctional assumptions and beliefs. Many also were woefully ignorant in areas of nutrition and the cultivation of a healthy lifestyle. No wonder their relationships sucked, or they couldn't hold down a job! Running on sugar and caffeine is no way to be a well-adjusted human!
Excerpted from NAVIGATING THE COLLAPSE OF TIME by DAVID IAN COWAN. Copyright © 2011 David Ian Cowan. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.