The Dying Portal
“You can’t fool me! There ain’t no sanity clause!”
—Chico Marx, A Night at the Opera
On the fourth day, I approached John with his wife outside the university building where the meetings were held. The thought of approaching him filled me with apprehension. It was like meeting a childhood hero—e.g., Clint Eastwood—and it required a concerted act of will and courage to do it. I put my arm around my wife, steering us over to where he was. My wife seemed as nervous as I was. She asked John if it was okay to say hello. He nodded. She introduced herself to Leigh-Anne, and we both shook Leigh-Anne’s hand. Automatically, I extended my hand to de Ruiter. I had met someone who claimed to be enlightened in London in 2007, and they didn’t allow physical touch; so as I extended my hand I said to John: “I don’t know if you do handshakes,” thinking this would spare us some embarrassment if he didn’t respond.
He took my hand in a firm but gentle grasp. I gazed into his eyes. He had an eerily placid smile on his face and his eyes were unlike anything I’d ever seen before. There was an indescribable motion to them; it was as if the pupils were swimming around inside the irises. It was a bit like gazing at the night sky. He looked the way people look when they are on LSD or magic mushrooms. He had a baby’s eyes. I saw boundless wonder in that gaze; he seemed to be drinking in my being.
I told him that I was an author, and asked if he’d like me to tell his story. He looked at me for several seconds, then softly, almost apologetically, he said, “Someone is already working on it.”
I did my best to conceal my disappointment, expressed enthusiasm (genuine), and asked if it was a regular biography or a (ghost written) autobiography. “Regular,” he said.
“I do desire a personal connection to you,” I said. “I think it’s to do with something you said the other day. ‘An innocent heart . . . uses intelligence to get closer to what moves it the most.’” I had paused on “innocent heart,” doubting my heart’s innocence. He nodded again.
I was aware of Leigh-Anne pulling on his arm. She said something about having to go and I realized that their taxi had arrived. My wife made a polite comment to ease their exit, and they left without another word.
During the Bristol seminar, a volcano erupted in Iceland and all flights were cancelled. Since de Ruiter and crew were unable to leave as planned, they set up more meetings in Amsterdam, and my wife and I followed him there. We were on a grand adventure, on the trail of Christ. I knew I was starting to sound like a brainwashed cult member, and that it was an experience few people would understand. It was hard for me to understand that others couldn’t understand it. This was more than a part of my life, it was my life. Everything I did, it “John” was doing it through me. I was an extension of his being.
There had also apparently been a shift in what de Ruiter was doing. He had done an interview on Bristol radio, talking almost like a normal person—an unusual occurrence at that time. He was having someone write his biography. He had just got married, more or less the same time I had. There were so many resonances that convinced me of the deep affinity between us. I was ready to move to Edmonton and sit in front of John for the rest of my life. I knew that was nonsense. If I did move to Edmonton, it would be to serve “Truth” in some way. But surely that wasn’t the way it worked? It was an extending consciousness, and I would become an extension not of John but of what John was an extension of, which was what I already was anyway. There was no need to move to where he was. But then again, to be able to actually report to a living embodiment of that—the idea of it changed everything.
When my wife and I left Bristol, I had a powerful, visceral sense of being embraced by the energy and awareness of de Ruiter. I felt it around us, like a nest. I sensed a hidden latticework of connections that John was at the center of. It was inevitable, I had always known it would happen; but to have actually made personal contact with not just somebody in that realm but with . . . I didn’t know John was the One. I didn’t know he was Christ. I only knew that he was beyond anything I’d encountered before, so far beyond it that I couldn’t imagine anything beyond what he was, and I didn’t feel any need to. From where I was standing, everything was over. Everything was vibrant and alive and shimmering with beauty and intensity and searing honesty, reality. I was on the line. I had been hooked.
The first Dutch meeting was in a tiny village called Lage Vurrges. The venue was extremely hard to find but we managed to get there at the last moment. Just before the meeting began, I ran into John again. He was in the toilets, waiting for his wife to wash her hands. I came up behind him on his right and he swiveled around like he was on a pivot; our eyes met and I said, “Hey John.” “Hi,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. He seemed pleased, and perhaps surprised, that I had come all the way to this obscure Dutch village to sit at his feet again.
At the meeting, my wife and I sat on the floor in front of the little stage, the closest I had ever sat to John. For the first part of the meeting, I experienced extreme physical well-being in which I felt as though I might levitate. John was speaking to a woman about awakening, and I began to get the clear impression that he was tuning into my consciousness, “mining” my experience to add it to his own. I couldn’t quite explain this impression, but it was unmistakable and clear. The next day we traveled to Amsterdam for the rest of the meetings (three more days of them), and it was there, on the last day, that I had my third direct encounter with de Ruiter.
I’d brought with me a copy of my book, The Secret Life of Movies, published earlier that year, to give to John if the opportunity arose. I knew he was a film fan and that he screened special “truth movies” for his congregation in Edmonton. I didn’t know if he read books, however, so I inscribed the book to Oasis as a collective offering and handed it to one of the crew, Dorine, on the last day. Dorine insisted I give it personally to John. I reluctantly agreed, though it was what I’d secretly hoped for. Before the last meeting, in the lobby of the American Hotel, Dorine had me wait in an armchair outside the meeting room. Waiting to meet the man of my dreams was like waiting for the firing squad. Seeing my nervousness, one of the women on the team, Carla, reassured me. “John is a lovely man,” she said. “How could he not be?” I replied.
De Ruiter arrived with his wife and I did my best to look casual and at ease. Dorine waved her hand at me in a “No” gesture. John and his wife stopped in front of me, facing the doors of the meeting room. Neither acknowledged my presence. I was invisible, my input was not required. I had no choice but to sit there, book in hand, while the royal couple waited to be announced. I looked at John for several seconds, and finally he looked over (I was on his right) and said “Hi.” It was an acknowledgment, but not an invitation.
Soon after returning to Canada, I was pleased to notice that my Bristol dialogue with de Ruiter became the first video download at the College of Integrated Philosophy website, and was numbered “001.” I took this as a secret sign from the Master, letting me know that I was the One, the beloved disciple, the chosen apostle, the Messiah’s right-hand-man. Watching the video was an uncomfortable experience, however. I looked like a frightened rabbit caught in the glare of headlights, a New Age sucker under the spell of his guru. I looked like just the sort of person I would once have despised.
“In your life be me instead of you.”
—John de Ruiter, 2017
On June 17th, my brother was found dead of a heroin overdose in his apartment in Soho. I flew back to England for his funeral. I spent time with my mother, whose health had deteriorated rapidly since my last visit (more from malnutrition than cancer), and I considered staying in England to be near her. In the end, I decided not to. In late August, less than two months later and a few days after a long telephone conversation with her, my mother went into a coma. I flew back a third time, and after two days at her bed side, she died.
In my dialogue with John in April, he had predicted “waves of change,” and a “massive, clean, clear growing up.” Now I was coming of age whether I wanted it or not. During this period, I had also begun to develop sciatica pain, and the night before my mother’s funeral, it became severe. By the time I returned to Canada a few days later, it had not improved. Soon after, despite repeat visits to a chiropractor, I was walking with a cane. My father began to walk with a cane in his early forties—roughly the same age I was. In the last years of his life, my father was confined to a wheelchair. By the time my wife and I flew to Edmonton to attend the Oasis autumn seminar, in October 2010, my condition was severe enough for me to use a wheelchair at the airport. Although sciatica is not related to his condition, the symmetry was too exact to ignore. An ancestral wound had opened up.
I had never seen John in his habitat before, and we arrived a week before the seminar so we could attend several of the ordinary meetings. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I had been getting to know people in the Oasis community (“John-ites”) a little by posting at the Google group, “Birds of Being.” One of the group, Kesh, had offered us a place to stay in Edmonton. Kesh was a former Sanyassin who had been in Edmonton for ten years. Kesh went to all the meetings so we had easy transportation back and forth—essential in my condition. We had timed it so that we arrived just before a Friday evening meeting, and Kesh took us straight there.
The College of Integrated Philosophy was an impressive building. Built by Oasis in 2003 under the direction of de Ruiter and his common-law wife, Benita von Sass, it held meetings four times a week ($8 a meeting), and seminars throughout the year ($30 a meeting), which sometimes lasted as long as two weeks. The rest of the year the space was rented out for other functions. The front part of the building was the Jewel Café, designed by Benita.
As I entered the café, I noticed an air of excitement and expectancy hanging over the gathered crowd. People looked at me with curiosity, possibly recognition. I suspected they had seen the Bristol download and/or found out about me via my various internet media. Just about everyone I spoke to recognized me from the Bristol download, and they all complimented me on it. I felt myself being absorbed into the Oasis community the moment I walked through the doors. These weren’t the normal quick, furtive glances of strangers. They were warm and open gazes that invited conversation. Behind them was an unspoken assumption: if you were here for John, you were a kindred spirit. Potentially, you were a new member of the Community—a fish fallen into the net.
The meeting hall was impressive. With marble columns and crystal chandeliers hanging from an extremely high ceiling, it was like a cross between a church, a movie theater, and a five-star hotel lobby. Rows of very comfortable, theater-style seats, perhaps five hundred in all, were arranged around a small stage. On stage there was an adjustable leather chair and a table with the ubiquitous vase of flowers and glass of water—John’s props. On both sides of the stage was a large screen. Two cameras were mounted on metal poles, one directly in front of the stage, the other off to one side, to capture both side and head-on angles. At the back of the room was a sound-proofed recording booth.
That first meeting, on Friday evening, the 1st of October 2010, John was less talkative than when I’d seen him in Europe. I put it down to his being with his own crowd and not needing to cater to non-initiates. The questions he was asked weren’t especially profound, and neither were John’s responses. Towards the end of the meeting, however, I had a visceral experience of being connected to everyone in the room. For some reason, I imagined all of us dying at the same time as we entered into “the more of us.” I focused on my brother and my mother, now passed over to the other side. I thought about my wife’s future death, John’s, and my own, all inescapable events in the very near future. It seemed possible, desirable even, that we all go together. We were there to let go of our false identities, and John was the focal point of that surrendering motion. He was the portal through which we would all be passing, at the designated hour.
When In Rome
“You are the only light there is
For yourself, my friend
There’ll be no saviors any soon coming down
And anyway illuminations
Never come from the crowned”
—“Illumination,” Gogol Bordello
After the first couple of meetings, I felt raw and vulnerable. The “kingpin of sovereignty” was coming loose and I was dying to life, freefalling. I felt an undercurrent of anger without object, mild but persistent. I attributed it to my ego putting up inevitable resistance. My wife experienced some discomfort being at the café because so many people approached her and identified her as “Jason’s wife.” (My wife is autistic and prefers to pass unnoticed.) She had lived four years in Edmonton, so she was also being recognized by people in the community who were surprised to see her back. (The impression I got was that generally, when someone leaves “the fold,” they do not return.)
We were told how, since Benita left, or was pushed out (stories varied), and Leigh-Anne had replaced her as First Lady, the atmosphere at Oasis had improved drastically. The warmth and openness so apparent to me had not been there before, people said, and this extended to John himself, who now hung out in the café before meetings, interacting freely with his community. (During Benita’s “reign,” this would never have happened.) We were told that John liked to meet new arrivals and would probably want to chat with us. While I was hoping for just such an opportunity, I was also wary of trying to force it.
In the months leading up to our trip, I had interacted with Oasis several times, via email or telephone, and had become aware of an unpleasant tendency in me, a constant, only partially conscious attempt to get special attention. As often as not, this came out in the form of subtly questioning John’s authority. For example, when I found out my talk with John in Bristol was available as a download (for $32), I emailed Oasis and asked for a free copy. I suggested it might be a good policy to give free copies to people who were featured in the videos. I was told they would check with John and get back to me. A day went by and I began to have misgivings. Was I just trying to get daddy’s attention by creating a scene? Did I really want to bother John with such trivialities and become known to him as the guy looking for hand-outs? I quickly emailed Oasis and assured them I didn’t want special treatment. I received a prompt and grateful reply.
A similar incident occurred when I volunteered to assist with the Victoria, B.C., seminar in September. I had assumed that volunteers would, at the very least, be given free entry to the meetings; but when I asked about it, I was told there were no perks beside the delight of being part of John’s team. I made a skeptical sound and was told that the seminars often barely covered their costs, and that a large part of the revenue came from the volunteers. I accepted this explanation at face value, and agreed to help on those terms (I never went to Victoria in the end, as funds did not allow).
Earlier in the year, I had heard from a friend in England, the afore-mentioned Gifford, that de Ruiter traveled first class (at least he had when Gifford worked with him). This idea caused cognitive dissonance for me. John preached a philosophy of surrendering to discomfort as a means to “go finer”—and he liked to fly first class?! After thrashing it out in my head for several days, I eventually decided that, if it was true, it might not have been John’s decision but that of one of his wives. Maybe he had simply gone along with it in his supremely surrendered fashion? This put my mind at ease, for a while at least.
When I heard about Oasis not being able to cover the costs of the seminars, the doubt resurfaced. Were volunteers helping to pay for John’s first-class air tickets? The bottom line was that I didn’t actually know (“stay in what you know”). As always, I returned to the fact that this was John, and all bets were off when it came to living embodiments of truth. His goodness, honesty and straightness were not in question, and that effectively canceled out all my other doubts. Who was I to judge a man like this, based only on hearsay and rumor and what were, at best, pieces of the puzzle? I didn’t trust myself not to make a mountain out of a molehill and turn trivial details into excuses not to surrender. (From what I’d heard, John even smoked cigarettes!) John taught his followers not to trust thoughts and feelings but only “what they knew.” What did I know here? That I did trust John—he was trustworthy, and I was not. The rest was idle speculation. Perhaps, by not paying volunteers, John was providing them with an opportunity to surrender, to do what they knew in their hearts was true without receiving any perks for their persons?
I already had a track record of being rebellious and of questioning authority, of either breaking the rules or demanding they be bent to suit me. Did I want to bring this sort of energy to Oasis? Wouldn’t it just create unpleasantness for others and be painfully exposing for myself? Wouldn’t it be better if, for once in my life, I respected the rules and honored Oasis’ way of doing things? The bottom line was that, if I trusted John as my guide, guru, and “nagual,” couldn’t I trust him to run his own business affairs? The real challenge was to surrender my doubts and trust John, all the way, regardless of anything my thoughts or feelings might be telling me about him.
When in Rome . . . surrender to Caesar.
“I know nothing, except the fact of my ignorance.”
In order to give the reader a better sense of my overall experience during the seminar, here are some thoughts I expressed via an audio journal at the time:
It’s very hard to talk about John or describe him without expressing religious awe, without wanting to use terms that are going to be meaningless, if not offensive, to people who haven’t encountered that goodness, that subtlety of goodness, which he is. Of course everyone here is in awe of John, and many do worship him, have a worshipful relationship with him, or to him. I don’t think he takes any of that anymore. I haven’t really interacted with these worshipful ones, though I sense them. It may well be that there are two types of people here: the worshippers, and those who are beginning to embody what John is. Though they also look to John with awe, wonder, love, and adoration, it is without projecting to the same degree their own wants and needs.
I know the Aries [my astrological sign] thing is to do what you’re afraid of. I’m afraid of just going up to John, if there is an opportunity, when he’s just standing there, and saying Hi. There’s nothing forbidding about him. He’s the opposite of that. It’s in myself. The implications are so huge, of going and talking to this man who is like a cosmic point of awareness, like a node of perception of the Universe: you just don’t walk up to that casually. It’s like entering into—or getting very close to—a portal to infinity. It could just pull you right through it. And yet, he’s also just a man, so one can just go up and say Hi, and be “adorably awkward.”
John’s wife, Leigh-Anne, is a very pretty country girl [actually, a Texan heiress] with real presence, tall and a very sophisticated dresser with her grey suit, yet not masculine. She came out to the front at the beginning of the second meeting, her face glowing. She said that John and she had been talking about what was happening and that they were both very excited about what they were seeing. The best word they could find, she said, was “burgeoning.” There was a blossoming happening in the group, something new was coming into being. Hearing her, I felt glad to be there, to be part of that burgeoning. It felt immense, the implications of it. This was the center of the awakening of the planet, or at least one of the centers, right here. Maybe it really was the center. It certainly felt like it. A very slow nuclear reaction, as John once put it, now speeding up. Shifting gear, right there and then, at that seminar. And our being here was part of it: we were adding our energy to that shift.
Sometimes when other people talk about John, I want to say, “Oh come on, he’s only a man.” Sometimes I come from the other way and say, “This is John you are talking about here!” There’s definitely a feeling of envy. Why don’t they talk about me the way they talk about John? Or, Wait till they see what I can do. It’s not strong, they’re not thoughts and feelings I give energy to, because they’re absurd. And yet John’s a father figure, and the desire to defy the father and even usurp the father goes very deep. So it can’t be left out either, it has to be owned and integrated; and to some extent maybe it even has to be acted out, to be experienced and recognized.
More than most people here, I think, I see myself as John’s equal in potential. I know that I am far from what he is in action, but in terms of my potential, I don’t experience a great distance between the two of us. I don’t know how much I delude myself there, but there’s also a part that wants to believe the opposite, that wants to be a disciple and defer to him. But I know that he doesn’t want that (I think I do anyway), that he actually wants equals, people who will step up, give their face and their voice to the subtleties of goodness as he has done, and become “forward benevolence.” It’s foolish to compare, and this is a big part of what I am letting go of now. The idea that I am better than other people because of having a more profound awareness of reality within, this is a distortion, and also the result of a distortion. The distortion feeds more distortions.
That profound reality is in everyone, so to be aware of it in myself and not aware of it in others is to separate myself, to turn myself into something I am not. That’s an illusion, and the main pin for me, or part of the main pin, of sovereignty: that I can measure my self-worth according to my profound sense of reality. So then, if I see others who aren’t as aware as I am, then they are worth less than I am. In this case in John’s eyes: they are less like him than I am, so then he’ll love me more. That’s a distortion. It’s untrue, and it’s the need to believe that that’s creating this constant dissatisfaction in me, the need to have that. It makes what I am seeing that is true, untrue. Then I become less than everyone else. And the first gets to be the last.
This distortion is one that I have put a lot of energy into.
On the first evening of the seminar, my wife and I took seats close to the Chair, in John’s direct line of sight. A young woman asked him about her mother’s passing, clearly upset. John spoke of the generosity of her passing. “The generosity to you . . . is the opening, granted . . . making dying a kindness. In that way, what occurs in dying shows you how to live.”
Since I had mentioned my own mother’s passing to John, I believed he was addressing me also, and I was deeply affected by his words. They brought a new acceptance of my mother’s death, and it suddenly made sense to me in a new way. What he said was true: my mother’s death allowed me to become more rooted in what I knew, in my heart, and to open my heart whenever I needed to simply by thinking of her. Her death was indeed a gift.
On the third day of the seminar, John looked at me after the meeting, just before getting up to leave. I was in my heart rather than my head and I looked back without fear. Whenever John glanced over at me, it was like I had been given something, validated in some way. I kept still and felt an awareness welling up into me, body, mind heart, tears falling down my face as I was gazing up at him. He stared at me for some time, and I sensed that he was gauging to see what had changed in me.
Besides the café, the occasion on which I came closest to a personal encounter with John occurred in the Oasis garden. The garden is no doubt a source of much pride to the community, and so far as I could determine, it was (like the building) designed by Benita, with (as-ever) unspecified input from de Ruiter. It consists of a large stone patio with a double square design at the center (a Masonic symbol), grassy banks on either side, a few trees, some shrubbery, and a small pond in one corner. At the end of the square there’s a raised area with several steps leading up to it, behind which are more shrubbery and trees, as well as some vegetable patches.
On the first Sunday after my wife and I arrived (the 3rd of October), we were informed of a lunch picnic in the garden which John and Leigh-Anne would attend. Everyone brought their picnics, including my wife and I. I was hoping, even assuming, this would be the ideal opportunity to interact with John. We sat on the steps with the other community members all around us. John arrived with Leigh-Anne and they sat a few feet away from us, on our right, a couple of steps above us. John was not quite within hearing range (especially since he speaks in such a quiet tone of voice). My wife was in the café when John arrived, and when she got back she sat next to me and wondered when John was going to show up. “He’s right there,” I said, and nodded my head towards him. My wife looked over and laughed, then buried her head into my coat.
The archetypal nature of the encounter only occurred to me later: Adam and Eve in the Garden, with their teacher (the Serpent) on the level above. I was even eating dried fruit at the time. Perhaps it’s also significant that I was amusing myself, and I think others, by repeating the more peculiar phrases John had used in the last meeting, some of which verged on incoherent. I found it very funny, and was laughing openly about it. It occurred to me at the time that John might be aware of my making fun of him. I hoped he was.
Into the Fire
“You can be what you know the truth of, within; or, as-awareness, you can lie to knowledge and fool your self. Either way, you will be paying a great price. Cost is constant. The cost will be to your self or it will be to your own core, depending on the way you choose.”
—John de Ruiter, 2010
As the reader has seen, my experience of de Ruiter was of being uplifted, filled with a sense of meaning, purpose and truth—all of which I attributed to John himself. He was the source of that meaning, and the catalyst for all the feelings I was having. He was it. The proof was that, after the meetings were over, I felt devastated, crushed, destroyed. Being in that space, connecting to John and even “merging” with him (whatever that means), inevitably led to the moment when he was gone and ordinary reality took over. It was similar to being away from one’s beloved: life suddenly seemed dull and empty. It was not a comedown so much as a profound contrast. The fullness I felt in his presence brought home the emptiness I felt without it. I told myself that, the longer I spent in his presence, the more transformed I was becoming. Maybe a junky tells himself the same thing about his heroin, and what I didn’t consider until later was the possibility that I was becoming more and more dependent on de Ruiter, and on the “Truth-high” he provided.
As the seminar progressed, a lot of people were asking me if I was moving to Edmonton. This was a standard question for new arrivals—at least after they had shown the kind of gushing enthusiasm I had. The assumption was, if you were getting it, you would want to keep on getting it all the time. You’ve tried the drug, you’ve seen how good it is, why wouldn’t you want to keep using? I told the people who asked me this question what I had learned by then to say: “I can’t see any good reason not to.” It was true, I couldn’t. I was hooked. I wasn’t only hooked on John’s presence but on the whole community vibe. It answered a deep emotional need in me—the need to belong.
Add to that the excitement of being part of a planetary awakening, and my overall feeling was, “Just try and stop me from joining this party!” The feeling answered a sort of apocalyptic longing which I had had since my early twenties: the profound sense that I was destined to play a central role in a global shift in consciousness that would, to paraphrase the song, be the end of reality as we know it. As if to cater to that deep predilection in me, there had been an unmistakably cosmic dimension creeping into John’s teachings that was generating some excitement in the group. I felt like I had showed up right on time, just as the real show was about to begin. For the first time ever, CDs of the meetings were available before the seminar had ended. John-speak was coming hot off the presses. History was in the making.
“The conversion of your self,” John said on the penultimate day, “is the highly accelerated evolution of your self, making up for time, far beyond any scope of your life, bringing you into the more-of-you, accomplishing shared responsibility in where everything—is going. By the time that lands, something entirely different has landed on this planet, appealing only to the innermost of what this planet is. Appealing not to its understood structures; appealing not to its ways; giving invitation for awareness from within its outermost, to surrender to knowledge coming up from within its innermost—answering everything.”
“Something entirely different has landed on this planet.” I didn’t know if John was talking about an alien invasion (he was talking a lot about a “black ship”), a day of reckoning, a planetary awakening, the arrival of Christ consciousness, or all of the above. All I knew was that I wanted in.
In the meantime, my sciatica had become so severe that I was facing the possibility I might wind up like my father, crippled for life. I lay on the bed in pain and wondered if I would ever walk, run, dance, or make primal love again. Could I be “warmly okay” with that? In the end, what choice did I have? My relationship to my wife was not providing much comfort or solace, either emotionally or physically. Outside of planet landings, my personal future looked bleak. When I told her of my fears, she asked me to imagine having to choose between the use of my legs or John.
“That’s easy,” I said.
“Well then,” she replied. I realized that she thought I would choose John over my legs! I had put John before my mother, family, friends, my clientele. I drew the line at my legs. When I’d told John I needed help, he had said all I needed was me. Was that a subtle rejection? Or was he setting me up to stand on my own two feet? Was there a difference? I looked to John as to an almost unfathomably wise, all-knowing father, a teacher and a Master, an embodiment of the divine. At the same time, I saw myself as his equal. What was wrong with this picture? I knew that I was neither wise nor all-knowing. I was constantly floundering in a sea of patterns and unmet wants and needs, hovering between the edges of despair and my best imitation of “tender okayness.” I reconciled this paradox by telling myself that it was all part of the process. I was letting the conditioned self come unraveled; I was burning in the fire of the patterns, those patterns which, courtesy of John, I could no longer allow to define me. I was going finer.
The Good King
“And some of us are hoping
To end up with a perfect life
I’ll trade you everything I got
For the chance to be someone else”
—David Byrne, “Self-Made Man”
On the last day of the seminar, I made a vow to speak to John, if possible and without forcing it. It had been weighing on my mind more than any other single factor: did I have the balls to face the father? I had done it before, and I knew it wasn’t really that hard. But still I was divided as to whether it was actually necessary. I couldn’t sort out my motivations. If I was going to approach him, I wanted to be in character. But who was I exactly? What was my role at Oasis and in John’s life? I decided finally to ask John if there was a reason to keep my distance from him, both in terms of approaching him in the café and in the larger context of moving to Edmonton. Maybe the town wasn’t big enough for the two of us? Maybe we were like two planets that shouldn’t get too close together?
During the first meeting of the last day, I began to silently ask John this question, curious to see if I could get my answer this way. Suddenly, it struck me that my question was a kind of vanity. John wouldn’t turn anyone away; for me to think I was different was just inverted pride. I then had a little epiphany: My coming to Edmonton was the return of the prodigal son. The prodigal son was Lucifer (it’s the same myth roughly, except that the Lucifer myth has no happy ending)—and I had long identified with Lucifer.
I was playing the role of the rebellious son because, deep down, I felt like a rejected son. John had reinforced that feeling by turning down the gift of my book. (It’s a perhaps significant detail that, one of the only times I can remember my father expressing approval of me was when I published my first book, The Blood Poets, also about movies.) It wasn’t up to John to placate or satisfy that part of me; it was up to me to integrate it by not acting on it. Only then would there be a clear space to connect to John. Knowing John had presented an opportunity for me to let go of all the doings and beliefs which I’d built up around myself when I was still trying to be a man, trying to create an identity that didn’t need a father (in imitation of my brother, who hated our father). So if I wasn’t actually the rebel son but the returning son, it was time to let go of those rebel-myths I’d used to construct a sovereign identity. It was time to return to “the heart of a child,” to get to an older myth, one sourced more deeply in childhood, a simpler and cleaner myth. In that myth, I was not the One, was neither Lucifer nor Messiah, Christ nor Antichrist. I was only a wayward son, returning home.
All of this was playing through my mind while I gazed at John in his chair. I felt such love and awe for him that I began searching for a word to express what he was to me. My Lord? My Master? Neither seemed to fit. Then I hit on the word I was looking for. The myth of Camelot came to mind and matched the feelings of love and loyalty I was having. Like Arthur, John was the Good King whose law was “right is might.” He had spilled over from myth into reality.
In retrospect, though I didn’t consider it at the time, the seed of this idea—that of the good king—had been planted by John himself, two days earlier when he spoke to Kesh, my host in Edmonton. Because of our positions, the three of us made up three points of a triangle, and I imagined I could sense the energy flowing between those three points. The feeling was so intense that I experienced a mild stage fright, as if John and I were working together on Kesh. At the start, Kesh was uncomfortable and clearly wasn’t speaking from the heart. He seemed to want to approach John as an equal, perhaps because they used to have a personal relationship. (Kesh was John’s driver in the early days. This might also have been part of why, until now, Kesh hadn’t ever got in the Chair.)
What John said to Kesh: “Your self is in your care, and not as king. If your self is king you will be a bad king.” My experience of being one point of an energetic triangle with the two of them was a visceral, bodily experience. I spontaneously remembered that Kesh was a father, and that a bad king was a bad father. Kesh had three children, two boys and a girl, fully grown. Thinking of his desire to be a good father, I felt deep empathy for him. Like Kesh, John was the father of two boys and a girl (also fully grown), and this was the same configuration in my family: I was the youngest, with an older brother and sister. So there were three triangles, of one girl and two boys, which itself mirrored the original triangle of the mother, father, and son. My talks with Kesh revolved largely around his father, and I had mentioned my father to John on the last two occasions we spoke. The wave of empathy I felt for Kesh, as a father and a “bad king,” was especially poignant because John had brought up the ancestors in the previous meeting. Now he was speaking of Kings.
Two days later, when I had the epiphany of John as the Good King, it seemed to have emerged fresh from my own consciousness. And the more I thought about it in those moments, the more right and true it seemed. Everybody wanted to be the special one and to receive special attention from John. He was the supreme father figure, which is what a king is: an impersonal father to his people. That’s also what a guru is, and an avatar—a “guru of gurus” as John was sometimes called—was a father figure for the entire world.
As a child, though I hadn’t been especially taken by the Arthur myth, there was another, even older myth-story that had caught my attention for a time. When I was around ten years old, I had been taken to see Jesus Christ Superstar by my mother and stepfather. My brother and sister were there, as well as some other family members (possibly my stepfather’s children; I was definitely the youngest there). There had been a mix-up and we had ended up short of a ticket. It seemed like an insoluble problem: if one of us couldn’t go in, none of us could. Then my stepfather suggested a solution. On his suggestion, they all bunched around me until I was concealed at the center of the group, and we moved forward as a mass while I shuffled along inside a cocoon of warm bodies, excited and comforted at the same time. At the door, the ticket collector took the tickets, counted heads, and let us pass. I sat on my mother’s knee throughout, and adored the show. The character that impressed me the most was Judas, and my favorite number was “The Judas Song.”
As I gazed at my King, some thirty five years later, I pictured myself as a Good Knight, kneeling at John’s throne and offering eternal allegiance. I imagined myself as Parsifal, the fool, and as Lancelot, the most loyal of knights. I didn’t think about Judas. Then I remembered that Lancelot betrayed Arthur by sleeping with Guinevere, and this sparked uncomfortably Oedipal associations in my mind. I pushed them away. I would never betray my King, whose goodness and power was not in question. His mightiness was his righteousness, his authority the supreme authority—that of Truth.
There was no doubt or question in my mind as to my undying loyalty to John. I didn’t experience any misgivings about subjugating myself to another man. It felt deeply right to place myself utterly in his service. At the same time, it felt strangely empowering.
I had “entered”—all the way in.
The author, on returning from Edmonton