A Journey of a Thousand Tongues
The psychologist Carl Jung tells the story of a patient of his, a Christian minister, that came to him for psychotherapy. In one of the first sessions, he told Jung of a dream he had where he was sitting naked in the middle of a room and rubbing shit on himself. Jung advised him against therapy because, by the man’s dream, he saw a psychosis that might be triggered by it. The man was not in any kind of crises, although he wasn’t without life difficulties, why he’d come for therapy to begin with. He was a family man, upright and responsible, although rigid and moral-minded, and there was no need to risk setting off the psychosis by the inner work the therapy would have him do. It made Jung realize not everyone should do or needs therapy, and, especially with people who were religiously devout, it was best to leave some people be. Sri Aurobindo, who became my teacher upon leaving Israel, says that such people oftentimes are following the movement of their soul in following the religion they so ardently follow, and that to be rigidly religious like that is a necessary lifetime to have as the psychic being[i] matures, and so it’s best not to try and ‘convert’ them to spirituality, that being actual personal inner experience of the soul and the divine, as opposed to religion, which is adopting beliefs and a moral attitude and doing rites, rituals and practices. But does this general rule of leaving the religious alone apply in every case? That’s the question of this story.
“I’m going to throw my Bible in the fire, and if it burns then what you say is true,” Andre said.
That was not all he said, neither the first nor last thing, but it had been at that point I turned my head around to look straight at him, congruent with the surprise of hearing someone say the impossible, and it was the flare of sudden fire in his normally tranquil eyes that showed you he defied the impossibility it wouldn’t burn, such was his faith. My first reaction was to be rather pleased with myself that I’d made him question and confront his beliefs, feeling that fine familiar rise on the swell of an ego wave: how profound I was, how important things happened around me, how this thing and that. But seeing him distraught, my fondness for this man, Andre, took the helm of my feeling and then quickly overtook my thought, where it became admiration because he could live up to his high ideals, and I could not. How refreshing it was to be around someone who was slow to anger, lived without lust, a help to everyone, a lover of the world, a friend to the worst people, and a good one to me, I rumored to be of that latter crowd.
Andre was a French Belgian self-proclaimed Catholic monk that had been roaming the Holy Land for 2 or 3 years as a vagabond pilgrim, trying to embody the principle teachings of Jesus, earning his way by his friendly and open manner and his strong back and hands that could handle heavy work. He was a year older than I, 34, and in the past few days, which seemed like ages already, we’d taken to discussing our differences in opinion regarding religion. We were both part of a small group of several people camping in tents on the Mount of Olives, near the top just below a Palestinian village, in its dump actually, which we somewhat cleared so to erect our tents. Below us and off to the left, as you walked down the mountain, was the Russian Orthodox church, and near the bottom of the little road we used was the entrance to Gethsemane. We had tentatively named ourselves The Jerusalem Peace Group, Andre having joined our group as we were leaving our previous location in a park outside of Jaffa Gate, a group that had formed around a hunger strike two of us were doing for inner and outer peace, Lars and I, where there was no real hunger nor the sincerest desire for peace, because every other day we had a milk and fruit or vegetable puree. And I must admit both Lars and I were doing it more for personal motivations than for peace, and here on this day we were going into the third week of the strike and were scheduled to stop at Easter and Passover, which occurred at the same time that year (1995), just a couple of days away.
Our other vagabond pilgrim, Zeke, a Russian Jew, Torah scholar, and Kabbalist, who I’d been having such conversations with before Andre, couldn’t camp up there with us because it was Palestinian-owned land, and Hamas was rumored to hold meetings in the village we were camped directly under. If a Jewish person came to our camp, even in disguise, the young village boys always about our camp would quickly discover them and heckle them loud enough for nearby adults to hear until they left, fearing the worst. Andre was nowhere as learned as Zeke, nor as skilled in such subtle conversations, he so young and Zeke in his 50’s, but he had a sincere faith that made up for that. He was one of those kinds of people you like just the way they are, religious fanatic though he was, and here I’d gone and messed with his engineering.
So as to dissuade him, feeling now his mental anguish more than my ego, feeling something aptly called empathy, I reminded him about that scripture that says not to tempt the Lord thy God, and with a mixture of both agitation and devotion he told me how much God loved and cared for him, and how he wouldn’t let him down. It was then I saw a danger you see befalling people that you can’t warn them about so blind they are to it coming, a danger that mixes well with the kind of faith he had equally blind, sincere or no. He believed his Bible would not burn.
It was precisely here we differed on religion. He believed whole-heartedly not only in Jesus as the only way to God but also in the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church, so much so he lived homeless and without possessions, going to mass everyday and taking others (our whole group would go with him on Easter so as to appease him). At that moment in my life it was my ideal not to believe anything about God and the soul until you had experienced it personally, unconscious of my own belief system whose totality I had not experienced yet and may never, at least not in this present incarnation of my soul into the vehicle of Donny, meaning I too had to fill in the infinite gap in experience with belief. Even though you know your personal experience is inadequate to encompass the totality of things happening all at once everywhere, past, present and future, or, how I might say it, ‘the all at once’, when you’ve nonetheless had genuine firsthand experiences of God and the soul, and the person you’re discussing those things with only believes in some inflexible shadow of them, you see that person as being limitedly orthodox, however much you limit yourself by belief much like they do, and neither is the agnostic and atheist excluded from this universal limitation of relying on belief. We all use belief to fill in the gaps in the knowledge and experience that inform our ideals.
Like I said, he believed in the Catholic Church, all of it, its doctrines and practices, blindly you might say, and the only time I saw him come close to anger was when he was telling me, as he did in that conversation, as he had in previous ones, that I, a single, little person only 33 years old, could not negate hundreds of years of tradition with the wave of my hand. Who was I to do that? All the great people that had built that tradition surely knew more than I. If I’d been a little more observant, less intent on making my point, I’d have seen that his irritation resulted from the fact that our conversations were making him question that tradition, the ire his protection against doubt. You’d wonder what it was I told him that made him doubt his beliefs.
I guess you just have to be there, I mean, be physically present with me, see my face and look me in the eyes as I relate my experiences, because I’ve done that so many times on the net and hardly even gotten a nod from anyone, much less this degree of soul searching engagement I was getting from Andre. I say this because, when relating my experiences in person with another person, it’s rare that they don’t believe me and aren’t moved to the point of putting their spiritual beliefs alongside my experiences to see how they stack up. I’d have to add though that it’s not my path and never has been to be a spiritual teacher or speaker, although it’s part of it to share my story and my creative work on the net. In the past, I wore my experiences on my sleeve, or as merit badges on my chest, and I related them more to impress people than anything else, but I must say that oftentimes too it was to get a meal or a place to lay my head for the night, as I was to become a vagabond pilgrim myself a couple of years after this, for some years, in a journey that at least touched upon 5 continents, only taking a plane ride twice, once to go from South America to Europe, and once to return to India, where I remain to this day. I must say even today the ego is still involved in the telling.
Sitting there in old Jerusalem under the Moslem masonry, in a little sitting area just off the road and just inside Lion’s Gate but well past all the commotion of pilgrims getting off buses and filing to the Dome of the Rock, I had one of those moments you have when it’s almost as though you’re seeing outside of yourself watching yourself act and speak, one of those moments that somehow passes muster as one of the snapshots most viewed in an important journey in your life, or among the top ones in an especially rich cycle of time, when in the years that wane by you look over the big moments in the significant movements of your life. That it was more his big moment than mine attests to the mystery of such moments, why it is your selecting mechanism chooses this moment to throw up when you’re going over the big moments. Maybe the mechanism is not as centered on ourselves as we’d like to think, and maybe neither do we know yet what qualifies as a big moment and think of it only in terms of the greatening of ourselves or our people. This moment has always stood out in my mind when going over my time as a vagabond pilgrim in training in the Holy Land, when Andre and I were sitting there in a quiet cove under Moslem arches and debating the question of him throwing his Bible into the fire to see if it burned.
At the time, I passed his impulse off as him simply having a momentary loss of faith, and it didn’t even cross my mind he would actually test his faith like that, although I was quite surprised to hear him entertaining such an urge. In all of our conversations he’d been Peter the Rock, and he never conceded a single point, gave no indication, that I saw at the time anyway, that he was at all impressed with what I’d told him in regards to experiences of God and the soul, or what you can but give those titles to so spiritual and totally other such experiences are. I didn’t realize how fanatical he was, that he’d gone in his belief much further than the institutionalized uncritical thinking of the Christian mind– virgin birth, God needing a human sacrifice, etc. – and had crossed over into the delusional by believing his Bible wouldn’t burn, and so it wouldn’t be too long before his hands heard about it.
Andre, however, wasn’t without his vices, which were principally cigarettes and coffee, which, if you took a look at how attached he was to them, how much he needed them, showed you he was stuffing something, some stronger hunger that he was using those substances to try and pacify. Watching him play with the boys who invaded our camp from dawn to dusk, his easy, affectionate manner with them, his patience with what to most of us was simply intolerable behavior (they tore our tents down, picked up and tried to break everything that wasn’t tied down, were always trying to saw a tree down with our saw, which in the end they finally succeeded in doing, which got us kicked off the mountain immediately) you saw his color for the boys, color being desire you feel for people that only expresses itself as ‘color’, not any overt romantic or sexual word or deed. It’s the driving force behind so much of human relations and isn’t a bad thing when it simply stays as color. It’s not to be confused with lust, and, oftentimes, the person feeling it isn’t even aware any desire is present. With Andre, you got the impression he wasn’t. I would learn later, however, it wasn’t desire for boys he was denying. That desire, or color, was part of another more general desire complex he denied.
A handsome devil Andre, he had that generations of French face about him, though with a Belgium twist. He was rather tall and slender, with dark hair and eyes, the former made of soft curls kept well under control, the latter large and slumberous, though lit by purpose and conviction in his faith. Always on his head he wore a taqiyah, or a skullcap, a more general variety that didn’t look precisely like either a kufi or a kippah. He shaved regularly, and I think he did so more because he didn’t want to look either Jewish or Muslim than because he preferred to shave, because his vagabond lifestyle made it difficult to have the infrastructure to do so.
You’d think he would be a hit with the ladies, but he seemed to have no interest in women, had no color towards them in their presence, nor they to him, despite his good looks, and it was easy to just pass that off to his strict religious vows (he’d readily tell you he had taken a vow of celibacy), but something was up with him in regards to sex and that whole nine yards that added up to more than simply to a vow of celibacy.
Regardless what that added up to, and you knew like you know the feel of fresh air that there was not a nightmare thing about him, Andre was one of those people that was under a lucky star, that is, he was taken care of by thy universe. I saw that most clearly one day when we’d walked out of Damascus Gate and were walking towards New Gate, following the outer road that runs parallel to the wall of the old city. Damascus Gate was the most lively of gates, was where the market was, and we’d find ourselves just drawn to it in our wanderings in the old city. We did a lot of walking and talking, especially in the mornings, when, as had become our habit, I’d give him the shekels he needed to buy Nescafe and a pack of smokes. I had only arrived in Israel with, once I changed money, about 700 shekels, but because I was sleeping outside and basically wasn’t eating, I wasn’t spending anything. Still, I knew the strike would soon end, and our group go its separate ways, and I’d be shekelless in no time, and so I wasn’t a happy giver to Andre, and he’d picked up on that.
I always waited for him to ask, and on this morning, he was hesitant to do so, when, voila!, he swooped down and picked up a whole pack of cigarettes, unopened and undamaged, from the gutter that lined the side of the street closest to the wall. I then gave him the shekels to get a cup of coffee, without being asked, since it was obvious to me the universe at least, and maybe even God, was providing for his vices, and so maybe it wasn’t out of line for me to do so too. It’s hard to appreciate from the distance of reading this how much of a ‘thing’ that event was to us at that particular moment. It seemed divine. In any event, it’s an event I’ve recounted countless time to people to show that the divine isn’t moral-minded and will even give us our desires, harmful ones at that, if we really want them, sort of like how a parent indulges their child with way too much sugar just because it makes their kid so happy to have it. I have the feeling, however, in the case of the divine, that we’re sometimes given what’s bad for us if we insist so upon it, not so as to indulge us, but so that we get burned by it and learn to want what’s better for us instead.
Not long after that, a few days, the strike ended, and all but Lars, his sister, Zeke, and I went to the four winds. After the poem postings in the old city, Zeke and I went to Safed, which is captured in the book in progress, Between Jerusalem. After Safed, I did day labor in Tel Aviv and then Eilat, returning to Jerusalem to go to the Sinai and Cairo to post poems in those locations, which is captured in two preceding stories of “A Journey of a Thousand Tongues”, also posted on my blog here along with the first story in the series. On my last trip to Tel Aviv before leaving Israel altogether to go to India, I met Andre ‘by chance’ in the street. I’d last seen him five months before, and boy had he changed.
The first thing I noticed was he no longer wore the skullcap, but then I saw the change in his whole person, which was accented by his new look, different style of clothes, longer hair, and so on, but those things didn’t determine his persona as they had previously, or, I should say, were not what he was wearing so to determine it. There had come about in him a global change in his person. His face was more relaxed for one thing, his posture too, but looking deeply into his eyes as he grabbed both my hands and pulled me close so glad he was to see me, I saw they were no longer lit with purpose. It was obvious to me he’d left religion. After a moment of surprised greeting, he took me to where he was staying, an apartment not far from there. As he was showing me his recent drawings and paintings, which were quite good, had a spiritual behind to, he told me what had befallen him after we had parted company, I a person he most wanted to tell.
He got right to the meat of the matter and said he went to Ein Gedi to pray and fast so to put his Bible in the fire. Ein Geti, a place I visited on my way to Eilat, where I began the journal that never made it into book form, The Overthrow of I Am at the Equality of Soul, excerpts of which I relate in the story “Clambers on the Mountaintop” , found also on this blog, is an oasis and nature preserve near the Dead Sea. He said he’d initially wanted to fast for 40 days as Jesus had done in the desert before being tempted by Satan, or so the New Testament says, but, if I remember correctly, and I may not, after about 15 days he’d just gone and done it, thrown it in the fire, and then watched it burn like he was watching his life burn down.
He said he just lost it after that and wandered around Ein Gedi for a couple of weeks, having momentarily lost his mind. When I was there with the new little group I was part of, calling ourselves the dharma bums[ii], there was a young man there wandering around and guarding the dumpsters like a dragon does its treasure (but he couldn’t guard both at the same time), who was obviously a little touched in the head, and by his appearance, he’d been there awhile, and so, at least at that time, I knew such was possible there, although my group had to get special permission to sleep there even one night. I guess they just left the crazies alone. Food was not a problem because the two dumpsters at the bottom near the sea were always full of unopened tourist lunches from the buses full of tourists that visited every day. Andre spoke very fondly of those dumpsters. I imagine at some point they got locked, as the world power came in and closed a door, as it always eventually does, that opens to experience beyond the limits of what’s considered normal.
Anyway, he very slowly and quite painfully came back to himself and went to Tel Aviv, where he lived on the street for a short while, until an older gay couple, the owners of the apartment, found him and took him in. They were well off, and they could afford to take care of him. It was a nice apartment, and artwork lined the walls. They cleaned him up, bought him new clothes, and encouraged him to draw and paint and address his denied sexuality. Andre, if you haven’t figured it out, was gay.
I don’t know what happened with Andre after that, as keeping in contact back then meant having a physical address and/or a land line, the net not yet being the ticket, although Zeke had given me his email address, the first person to do that and the first time I heard of such. I left him there in the living room of that apartment his life up in the air. Where he landed I can only guess, but one thing’s certain: he began living life a gay man. If you were to accept it, and it’s being pushed with a lot of force today, he should be proud of that because being gay is as right as rain, as natural as being straight, and it’s a toss of the coin which you’ll be, has nothing to do with any kind of pathology, and it isn’t even remotely connected to pedophilia. I would point out those are statements of beliefs too.
I guess I should state my opinion about being gay, although in regards to Andre, he certainly needed out of that religious straight jacket, needed to be himself, confront himself, but he didn’t need to leave God altogether or not for the remainder of his life. About being gay: I believe that like pedophilia it’s a social disorder, although not near as harmful to society as the sexual love of children, and what harm it does cause to society isn’t harm to individuals but to social maturity as whole, although at the same time the outcast station of being gay, that conflict of an individual with their society, has contributed greatly to the evolution of society, to a culture, for example in art and thought. I’m a person under the impression that it might very well be a necessary stage for someone to be actively gay, how long depending on a person’s soul needs, and it’s important for it not to be illegal and subject to punishment or be a social stigma, in other words shouldn’t be persecuted, but if a person is to realize God and the soul, it’s a stage that needs to end at some point, any kind of romantic and/or sexual indulgence, not because it’s morally wrong, but because you won’t have either the will or life-force necessary to find God or the soul spending those on that, so much finding those things cost your will and life-force.
[i] In his yoga the psychic being is the evolving personality of the soul, what is maturing, or growing up, what is evolving, as one goes through their lifetimes. Grown, it would become the leader of the life.
[ii] It bears mentioning that the four of us that made up our group were on our way to Eilat to find work, taking a bus as far as Ein Geti and then dividing up into twos and hitching the rest of the way. I’d told them about the book of that name, by Jack Kerouac, and we began calling ourselves that. When we arrived in Eilat we got beds at Home Hostel, and under my bed I found a copy of The Dharma Bums, and that was the only book there, and there were no more books under anyone’s bed, or even a bookshelf in the dorm room. I’m just saying.
[additional notes] To see the cause of being gay, as well as the cause of pedophilia, at least as far as a divine revelation is concerned, one I received, seeing also where those causes are linked, read the poem “Tonight on Television” .
For a prose version of this theory, though also applied to sexual harassment and rape, read the article “Make Peace With the World”