[These excerpts are from BURNOUT, Book 1, Burnout to Bliss series.]
From Part 2: Down the Rabbit Hole:
Astrologers, Tarot, and the Psychic
The next two sessions with the psychiatrist depended on dreams, and I wasn’t having them. Not having dreams isn’t unusual for “people who travel at night,” but I didn’t mention that to him. Instead, we chatted every which way about that first one, enabling me to clear years of garbage from my emotional baggage.
Because I couldn’t afford to see him anymore without insurance, I considered what else I could do to understand what was going on between me and Nemesis. I decided to let go and drop down the rabbit hole by trying alternative healers. My insurance didn’t cover them, but they didn’t cost $150 per session, either.
I consulted astrologers and read my cards almost daily. My experience with Tarot was moving into its 13th year, and the cards almost always helped me put things into perspective. The astrologers confirmed the “negativity” I was experiencing at work because it showed up in my current transits. Reading my cards clarified it even more.
One reading was especially helpful. It also spoke to me in my current language – the language of a computer freak. The cards showed me that, like the contrast button on my PC monitor, I apparently had to turn up the intensity of the negativity until I could see it for myself before I could get rid of it. In other words, on a subconscious level (or a soul level, take your pick), I was an active participant in creating my nightmare at work by somehow increasing the intensity of the conflict to force me to do something else, like actually leave teaching. Yikes! That was so unexpected! And I had no idea how I could possibly have “turned it up.”
And somehow, most likely out of fear – as in “How would I support myself if I weren’t teaching?” – I promptly forgot that part because it wasn’t happening now. I had no idea what else I would do. I was a professor. Now, I needed most of all to understand. Instead of problem-solving the issue of alternative jobs, I focused on “Why did I create this?” as in the personal war with my friend.
I concluded that I had somehow created a war with Nemesis knowing that she would be a “formidable enough warrior” (not only because we had been friends but also because she would step into the chairman position when no one else would). And that she would do this so I could get it – the bad feelings about my workplace – out of myself all at once, like lancing a boil. I could see that I had made heavy judgments about her. I no longer saw her as the same funny girlfriend and helpless neighbor I had shared dinners and rides with. Instead, I had judged her as being way too casual about office hours and community service. I saw her as the epitome of selfishness, someone who didn’t give a fig about anyone but herself.
Judgments never hurt the one they’re directed toward. Instead, my judgments were poisoning me.
Because I had read Greg Braden’s article in Sedona magazine about the Essenes’ position regarding relationships – that our judgments of others are a reflection of our own thinking or beliefs – I could see that she was mirroring to me something I had an emotional charge about or wanted for myself but wouldn’t take. She took incredibly good care of herself! She did what she considered to be her job then left and played elsewhere. Because I was a workaholic like my dad, I had a strong opinion about that! I did my work and that of anyone else who asked me. I was full of resentment for all the extra work I was doing, work I could have refused by saying “no,” but I didn’t know how to say “no.” I envied her ability to easily refuse anything she didn’t want, then turned around and made her wrong for it!
Because I keep journals, I was also able to see that all my “stuff” about my life is all tied together, all connected. Most of the yucky feelings I was having were about over-extending and never saying “no.” I either imagined I was “the only one who could do it” (as my colleagues seemed to believe regarding my friend with bipolar disorder) or I was coming from some victimized place and felt like I didn’t deserve better. From the latter perspective, I could see that the love I was looking for outside myself would never happen until I began to love myself. Maybe that’s what Mom was trying to say?
That meant facing my disgusting self, who blamed and passed judgment on others, then not only accepting but also loving her!
It all came down to something Christians have heard about all their lives: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I saw in that mandate a math equation. Substitute an equal sign for the word “as” and both sides are the same. “Love thy neighbor” = “Love thyself.”
That subtle shift in perspective allowed me to see that we have to love ourselves as much as we love others – actually, even before we can love others – and that truly accepting myself and others was the opposite of negativity and fear. Amazing!
I also could see how I was literally making myself sick – for example, with chronic bronchitis – by not setting boundaries, by constantly saying “yes” to volunteer work and by taking on my colleagues’ work in addition to my own. I had made myself sick by not taking care of myself and by not spending any time in nature, not spending any quiet, reflective time. In short, I learned I needed to treat myself the way my nemesis treated herself, the way I imagined I treated others. I needed to be more nurturing of myself!
This wasn’t my only realization. But it blasted away a sizeable chunk of the boulder that was blocking the flow. Now insight flashes came to me without even coaxing, without even writing in my journal, like what I learned in the shower one morning.
“Every time I try to step in and save someone, take care of them, it turns out rotten for me,” I thought. “Each person I save accepts my generosity, then becomes a huge burden, causing me to resent them later.”
The last person I saved was the stranger whose trailer pipes had frozen. She became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, the instrument that forced me to change, when she got a blow-out south of town and expected me to pay for her new tire!
I didn’t fall so easily this time. I had just read Cloud and Townsend’s book on Boundaries from the Christian perspective and was itching to practice.
I was sitting at the dining room table having a quiet cup of coffee when my temporary housemate waltzed in to tell me she left her car out on the highway because she had a flat and no spare. She stood there, staring at me like I was supposed to do something. I was too stunned to say anything, too polite to say what I was thinking.
“I need a new tire,” she said.
“Yes, you do,” I acknowledged, without commitment.
She continued to hover. I continued to sip my coffee.
“But I don’t have the money,” she continued.
“Then you’ve got a problem,” I said.
Her shoulders drooped. She sighed, hissing like her deflated tire. But she didn’t move. I imagined the inner voice screaming inside her head, “What happened to Miss Soft Touch? Why isn’t she opening her wallet, pulling out her checkbook?”
The thunder of her silent hovering wore me down. I had only just learned about this thing called “boundaries.” I wasn’t very skilled at it yet! Finally, I looked her square in the face and said, “I’ll help you get your car into town, but then it’s your concern.”
She sighed again, loudly, and left the room.
I waited a moment to see what would happen when I finally dared to set a boundary. No loud voice from above boomed at me. No lightning pierced my heart. I did not die.
She returned to her trailer not long after that.
I’m beginning to get it. I will no longer save people from problems they’ve created for themselves. I’ll let them learn their own karmic lessons. Picking up their load only wears me down and delays their own spiritual trips. I still want to be kind – offer a lift into town or an overnight or two while they get their life together – but I’m neither the bank nor the free motel of the universe. I’m a low-income professor, and I have my own destiny! I don’t have to attend a pricey workshop or buy a special recorded program to learn how to do this. I can do this simply by living my own life and allowing others to live theirs. What a concept! Whew!
And what’s funny to me is that “keep your head down and focus on your own business” is a concept I follow at work and teach to students! Apparently, in life as in school, the student must learn how to generalize a concept learned in one area to other areas of their life where it isn’t known or practiced.
When we light a fire, it takes more than understanding to put it out. I now understood that Nemesis was a kind of teacher. Contrasting her behavior with mine, I saw that she took care of herself, doing only what she thought was good for her, whereas I was trying to take care of everyone but myself. But understanding that didn’t make me feel any better, nor did it improve my experience.
Knowing that she left the office when it suited her while I stayed forever, living on junk food from the machine in the foyer outside my office, did not negate the consequences of my choices. Likewise, discovering that it’s okay for Christians to say “no,” didn’t mean I had mastered setting boundaries. I needed help – lots of it.
And sometimes the best help comes from sources you least expect, that you once poo-pooed.
It wasn’t long before I was forced to learn the hard way why it’s important to take care of myself. Suddenly I was experiencing the results of all that living on coffee and Snickers at work, and then having a beer or three after work. The first alarm bell clanged in the form of a lower back pain that wouldn’t quit. There was no position I could walk or stand in without my spine complaining. I also had an interesting nerve kind of thing that ran down the backsides of both legs – sciatica, the doctors said – and thundering headaches.
My body was screaming, “If things don’t change pretty soon…”
On the spiritual plane, I was spinning in circles. Just because I had developed a new perspective of my work situation didn’t mean that Nemesis quit harassing me. In fact, if anything, she seemed to be more on my case than ever. I finally realized it was indeed happening to me. I had become the target. But I was still determined to keep “turning the other cheek” – “forgiving 70 x 7 times” – doing my damnedest to give her love, as described in A Course in Miracles, and trusting that somehow everything would work out okay.
I went to church every Sunday and listened to tapes on unconditional love and forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest relief I experienced all semester was being invited to speak before a psychology class about depression and what it feels like to be at the end of your rope! That talk occurred just three days after an intended suicide: mine!
I manage to cope because I am, above all else, a survivor – that, and the pot, courtesy of the roadie housemate who had become my new best friend. I kept telling myself, “I have only a few more months of school. If I can just make it to the end, then I can collapse for a while.” And to the pot, I’d say, “You’re just in for this round; when it’s over, back to your corner!” Besides, doesn’t everyone enjoy a toke after a hard day at work? In this town they do.
About that time, a flyer crossed my desk inviting proposals for original papers at the International Society of Education Biographers conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. I drafted one quickly, and, by golly, it was accepted. My intention was to distract my mind by throwing myself into a research project to get me through the last stretch, the last few months of the term. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that academics love research. Not only would this project re-stimulate my fried brain cells, but the joy of producing something to “prove my worth” would help repair my ego, which was wounded from getting zip appreciation at work. It would also keep me so busy I wouldn’t have time to whine.
I decided to write about Harold R.W. Benjamin, an international educator and “rough and ready” cowboy kind of man I had always admired because he was able to juggle so many things and do all of them exceptionally well. I re-read every book and article he had written during his illustrious career. I also liked that he could roll a cigarette with one hand while riding a horse! I wrote a pile of letters to his family and colleagues all over the United States and Europe, requesting “personal glimpses” of the man.
Working on his biography not only stimulated my brain with powerful endorphins, it also gave me someone to look up to. He became a kind of mentor in my time of need, because even though he was a brilliant and dynamic man, a few of the personal accounts his friends and colleagues provided me suggested that he was somewhat the loner, not especially warm or even well-liked. I prefer to say that he made a huge contribution to the world with his dedication. Others didn’t like his constant traveling. They wanted him to stop – and do what, take out the trash?
I could relate to that. In the tiny pond I swam in, some people, outside my department, considered me an above-average fish, and I did not feel especially well-liked, either. We were two of a kind, ole Ben and me, cut from the same rugged denim. I already hand-rolled my own cigarettes; I would try it with one hand! Perhaps on the back of a horse!
I was feeling less the victim now and more the powerful conquering warrior, keeping pace with the blows from Nemesis. She slugs; I take it and am still standing!
That the meeting where I would present this paper would take place on the same morning as our spring graduation exercises did not occur to me. What a surprise to learn that not only did I have a challenging, exciting project to get me through the end of the semester, I would also get to enjoy sunny Scottsdale while Nemesis sat for hours in a stuffy gym!
I felt a rush of new energy. I had created enough diversions that I didn’t have to look at my personal stuff for a while. I had a scintillating academic project consuming every waking moment that wasn’t otherwise occupied with teaching, college activities, and community service. Aided by my crutches of astrology, personal development cassette tapes, Tarot readings, I Ching coins, Runes, and church, I knew I could do it. I could limp through the rest of the semester and get to the finish line, when it was okay, finally, to collapse for a while.
My fascination with astrology was fueled by a friend’s suggestion that Jesus studied all the knowledge of his time, including astrology. I wanted to know what guidance it could offer me on my path. Was I having so much grief because I was supposed to be doing something else besides teaching? If so, what else was there for me?
I had also heard that if God gives us a desire and we act on it, we get the skills, talents, and resources to achieve that desire. But if He gives the desire and we refuse to act on it, nothing else we try to do will work for us. Deciding that astrology was a place to begin to understand why I was here and what my life’s purpose was, I felt compelled to read the daily forecasts. I read several books on astrology and listened whenever someone who had studied the discipline spoke. I even ordered a natal horoscope by mail. If they couldn’t peg me there, I would not pursue this avenue further.
However, the information contained in those computer-generated horoscopes seemed to hit the mark with my experience. They described me as being a magnet for “bohemian types” who don’t fit in with mainstream society. I’m thinking, “Yep! That’s me all right!” But truthfully, in my mind, such people seemed to be following rules of a Higher Order because their existence, at least on the surface, appeared to be predicated largely on faith!
Whereas I believed that I alone was responsible for “making it happen,” those bohemian types, whom I fondly referred to as wuu-wuus, seemed to simply trust that the Creator was manifesting itself through them. They seemed to have no fear. I actually preferred them as people, because they generally were not as judgmental as the types I had associated with most of my life.
I don’t think anyone knows where the term “wuu-wuu” came from. But everyone who uses it seems to agree what it means. For me at least, it includes people like psychics, card readers, jewelry makers who use gemstones for their metaphysical properties, and alternative healthcare providers like massage therapists, energy healers and acupuncturists. However, more than 20 years later, I came across a post on ScienceBlogs.com that said the syllable “wu” by itself was a Chinese word corresponding to the Sanskrit “bodhi,” meaning “enlightenment” or “awakening.” For me, this diverse group of alternative-reality folk truly was somewhat “enlightened,” because they didn’t seem to have the same obsessions with ego that mainstream people did. I wanted to learn more about them.
I felt desperate. The crappy scene at work was now joined by psychic attacks at home. I felt like a voodoo doll being stabbed with pins. Then someone guided me to an astrologer who taught me a local shaman’s method for shielding. It went something like this.
Stand with your arms by your sides, palms facing out. Now take a deep breath and imagine pulling white light down into your body through the crown of your head to your toes, swirling through every cell… When you’re full, let that white light flow out from your heart space and circle your body like a cocoon. Now line the inside of your cocoon with mirrors so you can see what part is yours. Line the outside with mirrors to reflect what’s theirs. Now imagine a pyramid on top of your crown pointed upwards. See another one under your feet pointing downwards. Place mirrors on each of the five points for both pyramids. Now magnify the force by 250 times, for the highest good of all concerned.
I did this every time I left my house, sitting in my car while the engine was warming up.
I started hiring wuu-wuus, including local readers, on a regular basis. I wanted to know “Why am I here?” and “What am I supposed to be doing?”
I engaged two astrologers, and they both said that I was a healer of sorts and that I should be writing. I dismissed the writing suggestion because I’d been rejected by all the big publishing houses already. But I agreed that I had always been “a healer of sorts.” Not only my students but also colleagues and people from the community frequently came to me with their problems, because I was a good listener. I didn’t try to tell them what to do or interpret their experience for them. I listened and reflected back to them what they were saying so they could hear it.
When I was in graduate school, I had wanted to be a counselor. But the only fellowship available to me then was attached to a lab – injecting animals with lethal doses of drugs and cleaning out cages. As one who reveres animals and regards most people as less evolved than most animals, that option simply was “not on” for me.
Despite following the shaman’s method for shielding suggested by my astrologer, I still felt like Nemesis was attacking me physically every day at work. It got so bad that I finally called a psychic that some friends in town said could teach me how to better shield myself. I made an appointment to see her the following week.
The very next day I saw a flyer taped to the door of a large classroom where I taught classes, announcing that the very same psychic would be giving a free introductory lecture on campus that evening. I decided to check her out.
When I entered the lecture hall, I chose a spot in the rear, under the projection booth. I wanted to observe her and the audience’s response to her before I met with her myself, and I wanted to be inconspicuous about it.
She scanned the audience as she began her talk, telling us different things she noticed about us. Then she looked straight up at me and said, “You like to leave your body.”
I looked around to see who she was talking to. Then she pointed her finger directly at me.
“Yes! You! Please make an effort to stay here tonight.”
I admit to being an escape artist. Her ability to see me, even from that distance, intrigued me. I looked forward to our appointment.
But on the evening for our appointment, I was in the midst of an intense suicidal wave. I’d had enough. I intended to drive my truck off a cliff at one of the steep mountain passes leading out of Purgatory, like Red Mountain, a sheer drop some thousands of feet – short and sweet, deadly effective. I was on my way out of town to do just that when I remembered I had scheduled the appointment. It was only my Southern manners that made me change my plans. I had made an appointment; it would be rude not to keep it.
____end of Chapter 6_____
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About the Burnout to Bliss Series
Book 1, BURNOUT — How a Desert Lizard Restored My Faith, was written to help educate others about extreme burnout. I wanted the reader to feel what I had felt in that time — a kind of madness that included psychotic visions which might occur even while I was teaching — and the chaos of doing my job while trying to understand what was happening through the lens of a spiritual seeker. I tried to achieve that by grouping events by topic rather than writing the entire book as a timeline story of this happened, then this, and then this.
The first get away from that extreme situation was to a “sanctuary” in California as related in Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY. That get away apparently was presented simply to heal myself enough to take the next step.
In Book 2, CYCLING in the CITY, I wanted to share the experience of “loss of self” — like not being able to do even familiar things like riding a bicycle after extreme burnout — and how I fought back, how I got my self-confidence and self-esteem back. That led to wanting to show others how they could make whatever change they wanted to make, so it ended up being written in two parts.
The real story of the ego surrendering control began when that sanctuary was no longer available and I became like The Fool (Tarot card, pictured here), jumping off a cliff with a tiny knapsack and a little dog for company…
Book 3 is a full-length book, currently sitting at 70,500 words. It’s a tale of trusting God (or the Universe if you prefer), of letting go and trusting that life is good and safe and that all my needs will be met even before I realize I have them. It is the final story of an awakening experience, my two-year journey with one modest paycheck and no plans that was launched with BURNOUT. (Working title is “Practicing SURRENDER.)
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Next: Chapter 7, Psychic, Massage Therapist, and the Mountain Lion
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi