“Testifying to Love” was my attempt to sum up and convey the benefits received via my relationship with Dave Oshana. After publishing it, I went back to some older pieces I had written about our time together, including a series of reports I wrote during the summer of 2012, when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia, a short ferry’s ride from Helsinki where Dave lived at the time. Most of what follows is cherry-picked from those reports.
Besides this culling process, I have done very little to bring the material up to date—i.e., make it more congruent with my current mood and perspective—as to do so seemed counterproductive. So this shouldn’t be seen as a follow-up to the last article so much as a series of “prequels” that provide background information for readers curious to delve a little deeper into my ongoing “process” with Dave (as well as to accompany the four-part podcast conversation which begins today).
By chance, while I was contemplating sharing this material, Dave sent me an email titled “Memory Lane” that contained my first ever emails to him. Struck by correspondences with my present perspective—making a visible through-line—I think sharing (my end of) these exchanges is the logical place to start this recapitulation.
My first ever emails to Dave
i wish to attend the hampstead meet on Dec 13th. do i need to get tickets in advance?
[a bit later that day]
I just turned 40 this year, coinciding with a recent split with [my girlfriend], I am in the process of being “ground down” by material pressures (financial and health-related; i have been “sick” with “CFS” for 20 yrs but this year has been the worst). It seems that nothing is left of my former zest for life or my once passionate sense of purpose. I have been on the warrior’s path for many years and I guess I am still on it, just barely, but I seem to be stuck on a daily basis, hiding in routines that provide comfort and solace but that are slowly sucking the life out of me. Simple things like eating have become a source of mental torment to me—as tho there were something “wrong” in living a simple, day-to-day life of incidental pleasures. And yet trying as I am now to live without goals, what does this leave but moment to moment existence? I feel like I am a slave to habit, but becoz these habits aren’t “bad” in and of themselves (I eat well, don’t drink or smoke or watch TV, try to meditate daily) I don’t know what exactly to DO about them.
I was directed to your site by a piece of synchronicity and then found out your [sic] are coming to my neck of the woods, Hampstead, next month. Of course, I will be there, but I am writing to see if I can open a dialogue with you in the meantime. I definitely need help, but whether you or anyone can “help” me—whether anyone can “help” anyone—is something I am extremely unsure about. My dilemma seems to center around a sense of being tested and forced to draw on inner resources that I don’t even know if I have, rather than seek any sort of external guidance or inspiration. But all the same, it can’t hurt to ask!
[Following the workshop]
Thought you’d wanna hear dream I had last night, after the workshop.
I’m looking at myself in a full length mirror, into my eyes. It’s as though I no longer recognize myself or identify with the person I see – who is this person in the mirror? I’m saying, “I don’t love you anymore, sorry. I don’t want to see you any more. Goodbye.” In a weird way, it’s as if I am speaking to my Father. There is an intense sense of unreality, and although I am not aware of dreaming, I am fully aware of being unreal. I gather up several pairs of shoes to leave. I realize consciously that I have lost my mind—it’s a good feeling and I begin to run, letting out a triumphant whooping sound of joy, or relief.
I pass three young people, two girls and a guy; the girl, red-haired and odd-looking (maybe dead?), looks at me, frightened. She runs after me, says “stop that, you’re scaring me!” I apologize, the guy is there too and he mocks me, mimics my words, I realize I have shown “weakness” by apologizing. He attacks me—but it as if I’m not there, I don’t experience the attack. The dream goes blurry, then an arrow is fired, which kills the guy. These two beings arrive, with bows and arrows, like Elves from Lord of the Rings. They have come to rescue me and take me with them. I am one of them, now that I have said goodbye to my old self.
Alas, I did not wake up enlightened. Or if I did, I went back to sleep again and forgot.
But still, an encouraging dream.
Four and a half years later: One-to-One in Helsinki, May 25th 2012
At the start of my one-to-one with Dave, he mentioned that his eyes were tearing from an allergic reaction and asked if I minded him keeping his sunglasses on. I told him I’d rather he didn’t, but that it was up to him. He took them off.
I didn’t feel nervous or uncomfortable, only a little odd. “Dissociated” was the word that came up during the 1:1. I felt the way I feel all the time, whenever I bother to look and when I’m not immersing myself in activities (reading, movies, writing, emailing, etc.): as if I wasn’t there. That sounds like it could be liberating—freeing from inhibitions—and it can be. But most of the time it’s not. Even though I feel like I’m not present, the patterns of identity are still firmly in place, and so the main effect is one of confusion, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence or focus. I am not present because I am off in my mind, and since the mind is not real, and I am identifying with something that doesn’t exist, the sense I have is that I don’t exist.
The first thing Dave talked about was making the necessary distinction between having him as a friend and as a teacher. Friendship, he said, so often depended on complicity, “like two alcoholics getting together.” I agreed.
After clearing that up, the one-to-one lasted a hundred minutes. Dave asked after an hour if I wanted to continue, so I gave that figure. (We actually went over by ten minutes.) The only thing that dissatisfied me was my own contribution. I had come, not exactly buzzing with questions but feeling as though there were plenty of subjects I wanted to delve into; but once I was there, it all melted away and I was just doing my best to absorb, and process, the things Dave was saying.
There was very little to disagree with, or that I didn’t understand (or believe I did). But there was still a nagging desire to say “But” just for its own sake—my mind presenting objections that even I was tired of, hair-splitting or over-intellectualizing and so on. Since I didn’t want to indulge in that, but since my mind kept putting forward such stuff for me to consider, I wound up not saying a great deal.
While I was rejecting the mind’s useless proposals, I was asking it to give me some better ones— a bit like going back to a salesman who just sold you a piece of junk and expecting to get a good deal. I wanted to come up with the “right” responses that would show Dave (and myself) that I was getting it. The ego’s number one strategy is to always bring my attention back to the fundamental question—“How am I doing and what can I do to create a good impression and feel better about myself?” Perhaps, once upon a time, the ego provided good, working tips, at least once in a while. That might explain why I continue to go to it for advice, when it only ever sends me round in circles.
The central insight of the session, for me, was when Dave talked about how my mind had installed itself in my body so that when I, my awareness, tried to get out of the mind and into the body, it was so uncomfortable there that I quickly gave up and took refuge in my mind again. The mind, he said, did not want me to invest in any other corporation. If I did begin to overcome my resistance to that discomfort, and override the subterfuges of the mind, I would begin to see the shape my body was in, and just how much care and attention it really needed.
While he was talking, I had a sudden, unexpected emotional response. I recognized my body as being similar to a lover that I had abandoned, who as a result of my neglect had been deprived the love and care she needed to keep her healthy and safe. I got tears in my eyes. I was less aware of the feeling of sorrow or grief than the deeply felt knowledge that came with it: that I had abandoned my body and that my body was my first, in a sense my only, true love.
Shortly after (I think we had changed positions by then), Dave referred back to a metaphor he had introduced for my body: that it was a cabin which I had left untended and that I was going to have to go in there and clear out all the junk, sweep it out, and do what I could to restore it to habitable conditions. He said that the building plans were still there and I had all I needed to get it back into shape. His tone inferred, or at least I understood, that it would be impossible to undo all the damage (I’m 45, let’s face it, so some of it is simply time doing its thing); but it was still possible to do what was necessary and complete my mission.
Two years later, in April 2014, my wife and I bought an old crack-house and spent a year restoring it and creating a home for ourselves. We were fully aware from the start of the metaphoric significance of the enterprise, that it had the potential to bring about integration and healing via a physical enactment, and that the house stood in for my body. What I don’t think I realized until now is how this “mission” had first been seeded in me via Dave’s choice of metaphor two years earlier. Whether he knew it or not, he was truly speaking for my unconscious soul.
(Continued this Wednesday 26 Sept.)