In the last few weeks I have felt a strange urging to retrace with my pen the experiences of the past six years of my life. So it is very likely that I shall deny myself the luxury of sleeping late in order to relive and write down what has happened.
I met you only one time, and yet I feel a real kinship toward you. Even before we met last summer, I liked you and felt that I could share with you many things that do not dare to surface in the presence of others. I would actually prefer to have you sit across from me, dear Phyllis, and have you unravel my thoughts. But then, this letter would never be written. And the final product would probably be rather disorganized.
I have never dared to give liberal expression to my imagination for fear of being called a lunatic. But this hesitation is now largely a thing of the past. Until six years ago my life was quite ordinary. No one suspected, not even I, that all my values were to be turned upside down. Everyone who knew me considered my life, my family, and my children as exemplary. Though I was enjoying the elusive “good life,” my personality was beginning to crack. If anyone noticed, he did not say anything. My ambition to scale the lofty heights of success had caused me to abuse myself physically and emotionally. My ambition or pride was actually a sickness. There were enough people around me who applauded and encouraged me to climb higher and higher. I was not able to make pit stops for minor repairs or refueling. I did not know how to stop anymore, yet I could not drop out of the race until I was totally spent.
There were many signals hoisted to warn me of an impending disaster, but I could not interpret any of them correctly. An undiagnosed pain in the right side of my face was probably the first warning I received. X-rays revealed no problems. To handle the matter, I began to enjoy a few martinis at night.
Two years later a depression descended upon me and sapped my vitality. I could perform only the most necessary functions and slept every possible moment. I lost my job and collected unemployment for five weeks. My self-confidence was severely shaken.
My next job was a disaster. I quit after two months. Eventually I was re-employed by a company that I had served well previously. Trying to erase the memory of past failures, I threw myself into my work with singular dedication bordering on a state of frenzy.
I think God was trying to get my attention in a tactful and benevolent manner, but I ignored Him, not deliberately, yet as effectively as I knew how. I began to drink more. Martinis did not agree with me too well, especially at night, so I switched to wine. It numbed my pain; I liked it; it was not too expensive; and none of my friends seemed to object. These were all good reasons why I should not worry about the habit. Alcohol became a substitute for aspirin and similar products, which I had been taught to avoid as much as possible. Any relief from pain was only temporary, however. The right side of my face became numb to the touch. My gums started to deteriorate, and the nerves in several of my teeth died. I underwent painful gum surgery and extensive dental treatment to save my teeth. Nothing helped – the pain persisted. A brain scan revealed nothing.
In the meantime, my wife became obsessed with the idea of moving. I was perfectly satisfied with our housing arrangement and tried to stall a move as long as possible. I did not have the strength to disagree with her preferences. We finally moved. All our savings were required as a down payment. Both of us needed to work to meet our obligations. I believe our combined yearly income at that time was about $30,000.
Inwardly, I resented having this load on my shoulders. I loved and hated the new house at the same time. I resisted doing any work around the house. Every time the pool service sent their bill, resentment flared up within me. I managed to repress all the resentment, not realizing that the gnawing ache in my face represented unresolved emotions.
I made a valiant effort to bolster my health and deal with the pain. Every morning, winter or summer, weekdays or weekends, I would swim. At first I swam morning and evening. Then the chlorine began to hurt my skin, so I swam only in the morning. I used to put fifty marbles in a coffee can at one end of the pool. Every time I swam a complete lap, I transferred one marble to another can. When the first can was empty, I got out of the pool and took a long, hot shower. I was rather proud of the discipline I imposed upon myself; and I believe that I may have inspired a few others to make better use of their pools. My two boys swam with me for awhile, but they did not keep up the routine. The swimming failed to reduce my pain. Somehow I learned to brace myself better and complain less.
In November of 1969 my strange adventure began. I will try to recall it with as much accuracy as possible and make it sufficiently readable so as not to bore you.
A neighbor had heard about my excruciating pain. He told me about a friend of his who had had a similar problem and had found total relief through a drug called Dilantin. I visited the friend and then his doctor. My appointment was on December 15, 1969: on the same day, I began taking Dilantin, one capsule - 100 milligrams, four times a day. I was convinced that Dilantin would permanently relieve me of all pain. I called my wife and asked her to join me for lunch to celebrate the occasion. She joined me at Genio’s in Burbank, a favorite place that I frequented for lunch. Instead of water, I used wine to swallow my first pill. I soon discovered that the medication did not help, but I did not discontinue taking it. I want you to know that none of the strange things that happened to me seemed unusual at the time. They were all very real. Whether the medication opened a new dimension of feeling or perception, a new appreciation for beauty, a new ability to identify with others, I cannot tell you. It is possible, and that is why I mention it.
Since then I have been warned not to mix barbiturates and alcohol. I also have learned that it is far more dangerous to withdraw from barbiturates than from heroin, but I did not learn about these things until years later. I probably would have run out of gas without the possible side effects of Dilantin. I was driving myself so hard that some kind of disaster was inevitable. Unfortunately, I was not aware that I was on a wild roller coaster ride and had lost my brakes. Maybe if someone had placed the right kind of book into my hands early enough, I would have been helped. Who knows?
Most stimulants or depressants eventually take their toll on us. We become less able to deal with stress in a realistic way. Our reason becomes warped in order to justify our dependency. We develop peculiar idiosyncrasies and generally withdraw into a subculture where our behavior is acceptable and considered normal. This change may happen gradually and create little turmoil or very abruptly and cause a great deal of confusion for those near and dear to us.
Let me tell you what happened that made it apparent that my personality was beginning to crack. A friend had given us a very unusual formation of wood called a “wood blossom.” This formation is the result of a tree cancer attacking a tree limb. The subsequent struggle of the tree to overcome the disease forms the wood blossom. Very unusual and often grotesque formations of wood result. Indians in Mexico collect these wood blossoms, clean them, and offer them for sale. In Spanish they are called “Flores de Madera.”
When the piece of wood was given to me, I liked it, but it was not singularly beautiful or symbolic of anything in particular. However, shortly after I started to take my medication, I literally fell in love with the wood blossom and made a concerted effort to share my enthusiasm with others. My company granted my request to display it in the main lobby. I was permitted to exhibit it at the public library in Burbank, and I even approached an art museum about exhibiting the strange formation of wood. A few days before I was taken to a mental institution, I arranged for a rather spontaneous “wood
blossom festival” at our house. It was a kind of mystical affair that included music, candles, holding of hands, and even prayers of a sort. In my imagination I was already taking the wood blossom all over the world. In fact, I think my brother-in-law will remember that I had asked him to build me a suitable carrying case.
I have asked myself many times why I ever fell in love with an ordinary piece of wood. The only reasonable answer is that the wood blossom may have been symbolic of the life-and-death struggle going on within my soul. The cancer has a parasitic nature. When the host dies, the cancer can no longer live. You can imagine the terrific life-and-death contest that must ensue. I have come to realize that pain and suffering may build a type of chalice into which God can eventually pour His purpose and Spirit. At the time, however, I was reacting to impulses far greater than I was and over which I had little or no control.
I cannot recall when I stopped taking Dilantin, possibly around the middle of January, 1970, or about month after I had taken the first medication. The drug did not alleviate my pain, so continuing to take it seemed useless. Not certain what I should do with the rest of the capsules, I merely placed the container, which was three-fourths of the way full, on the kitchen counter.
I decided that I must get away to sort things out, to cry where nobody could hear me. I arranged for a leave of absence from my company. It was to start Monday, February 2, 1970. Little did I dream that I would be taken to a mental institution that day, the thing I feared most. The events of the preceding week were the most earthshaking of my life and have left indelible marks on my personality. They traced a story on my mind that I have been reluctant to share with anyone. The fact that I am not totally incoherent, more like a vegetable, is a miracle and a grace.
Tuesday evening, January 27, a friend invited me to join him at a yoga class. I accepted the invitation and made every effort to twist my body into different positions. I was unsuccessful and did not enjoy the experience. During the class, however, I looked at a young girl and experienced a strange but powerful exchange of energy. This was a new experience for me and rather pleasant. It seemed as if our personalities were locked in on the same frequency. There was no way of recreating the experience even though I wanted to. I have never seen the woman again, but the picture has faded only a little in almost six years.
After the yoga session, my friend joined me at my house with six other young men and women. The purpose of the gathering was to fathom the mystery of the wood blossom. The atmosphere that evening was very strange, mystical, and somehow very sensual. My wife wore a garment that previously had been reserved for lounging in my presence only. I was surprised that she could be so uninhibited in the presence of others. She had always been very discreet in the way she displayed her femininity.
The evening progressed with music, candlelight, food, and conversation. We all tried to discover the secret of the wood blossom. I considered it to be a masterpiece of nature, a magnificent flower in wood. Someone else saw the face of a boxer with a cauliflower ear. We were not consciously playing any psychological games, but as I look back, I think we might have been giving a Rorschach test to each other. This is a psychological test in which patients are asked to interpret a series of unstructured inkblots. Everyone saw something quite unique and different.
The music by Jim Nabors also had a hypnotic fascination for me. I sat listening with one ear glued to the speaker, and stepped inside one particular song as if it had been written for me. I played it over and over again, completely indifferent to the preferences of our company. Later on I realized why I was so completely able to identify with this song:
You Gave Me a Mountain
Born in the heat of the desert,
My mother died giving me life.
Deprived of the love of a father,
Blamed for the loss of his wife.
You know, Lord, I’ve been in a prison
For something that I never done.
It’s been one hill after another,
But I’ve climbed them all one by one.
This time, Lord, you gave me a mountain,
A mountain I may never climb.
It isn’t a hill any longer,|
You gave me a mountain this time.
My woman got tired of the hardships,
Tired of the grief and the strife,
She’s tired of working for nothing,
Tired of being my wife.
She took my one ray of sunshine,
She took my pride and my joy,
She took my reason for living,
She took my small baby boy.
With these words, I was being prepared for the death of my old nature, my old way of life – the driving ambition, insatiable pride, and my desperate need to please everyone. There was a premonition in my soul that I was on the threshold of an awesome experience. A life-and-death struggle was going on in my soul. I was no longer the captain of my own ship, but I did not know it.
The evening progressed. It was quite late by now, maybe close to midnight. We decided to hold hands and pray. It seemed to be important who was holding whose hand. One couple was asked not to participate. No words were spoken. No previous prayer requests had been made. No one knew what the other person was feeling, thinking, or praying for. Suddenly my friend Don said, “My prayer has been answered.” I did not know for what he had prayed or how he could be so positive. I had prayed that the crack that was beginning to show up in my marriage would be healed. I felt nothing and had no mystical experience.
Later on I asked Don how he could have been so sure his prayer was answered. He told me that as he was praying, it seemed as if a bolt of lightning were traveling down his spine. He interpreted this experience as a positive response to his prayer. Spiritually, I must have been totally closed, as I felt nothing but pain and agony.
Finally, there were only four persons left in our little party. We began to provoke and tease each other. Our behavior was so contrary to what we knew to be proper that I was totally perplexed. When my wife and I were finally alone, we reviewed our conduct. The atmosphere became tense and harsh. It was as if we were two different people. About two o’clock each of us, on our respective sides of the bed, tried to fall asleep.
The alarm went off as usual at five-thirty. I slipped off my pajamas and went outside to take my customary swim. After about the third or fourth lap, I felt an unusual sensation pervade my body. It was a tingle, like tiny little needles massaging every area of my body, as if every nerve cell in my body were discharging a small amount of electricity. My first impulse was to stop swimming and get out of the pool. Maybe this strange feeling would stop? But then I said to myself, “I will let this strange thing continue, since it is rather pleasant and I must finish my laps.”
When I finally got out of the pool, the tingling sensation stopped, and I broke down into uncontrollable weeping. I had not cried for sixteen years. In fact, I thought I no longer knew how to cry. Every ounce of tension that had accumulated for sixteen years was drained from my body. The strange thing was that I never realized how tense I really was until that Wednesday morning, January 28, 1970. I came into the house to take a shower. I continued to cry and shake for maybe twenty minutes. The pain in my face was gone. It was a miracle. I was healed.
These are the first words that I spoke to my wife: “Josephine, I have been healed. A miracle has happened.” I showed her my two hands and said, “And these hands can heal.”
My wife was concerned about what had just happened. Was I well enough to go to work? I assured her that I was. In fact, I was very eager to tell as many people as would listen about my miracle. I had never heard about Kathryn Kuhlman. As far as I was concerned, my healing was the first miracle in two thousand years.
You can imagine that my conduct that day was viewed by many as rather bizarre. Everybody I met had to listen to my story, whether he wanted to or not, whether he believed in miracles or not. I was like a bolt of lightning traveling through a company of a thousand employees. Nobody tried to stop me. As I look back, I know that I must have left many puzzled, confused, and even frightened people in my trail. I told my friend Les that I would cancel my doctor’s appointment for the following day. He encouraged me to keep it, just to be on the safe side. He hoped that the doctor would see my condition and have me committed to an institution.
The examination the next day was very routine. Since I had no pain, it was not very extensive. I may have spent ten minutes with the doctor, really not enough time to share the unusual healing with him. In fact, I was already beginning to learn that it was safer not to tell everybody everything. When I left his office, I had the satisfaction of having kept my appointment, but to my knowledge, nothing had been accomplished.
During the previous night, I had awakened and noticed an unusual fragrance. It seemed as if someone were sitting on the edge of my bed. I did not investigate the fragrance other than believing it might be the laundry soap my wife had used or a box of Kleenex near the bed. The odor was rather pleasant and quite strong. It was more like perfume or deodorant. The following night the same fragrance woke me again. I was filled with a strange anxiety. I felt that someone was in the room. “I must do something,” I thought, so I called the well-known founder of a metaphysical group. I do not recall the nature of our conversation, but I remember that I asked for help. A few moments later I was calm again and went back to bed and fell asleep immediately. My wife slept through the whole episode.
A little later on I will have more to say about my association with this metaphysical group. I will not name the leader of the group. Some of her books may be found in the public library. As I remember, she writes profusely. Today I would consider her a white witch, if there is such a thing. Impressionable people, who have a weak sense of identity, follow her around like little puppy dogs. I did for awhile. Doing so is fascinating; but one can become quickly and completely alienated from society. According to her, I was some minor savior the world had been waiting for. I believe everyone in her little flock has some kind of exalted calling and everyone is the reincarnation of someone important.
I want you to know, dear Phyllis, that I swallowed all these things, hook, line, and sinker. When I get trapped by an idea, I cannot think myself free. I have to be either set free by a bulldozer or be blasted loose. Somehow my analytical skills used to build computer systems have only fractional value in the metaphysical world.
I have become aware of numerous groups similar to the one with which I was associated. I have found it next to impossible to persuade members of such groups to dissolve their affiliations. I have discovered that generally such groups do not discredit the Word of God; however, they give their own writings at least equal status and priority. When such is the case, we must proceed with caution. It is written:
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things, which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into
your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that abideth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. (II John 7:11)
The following day my friend Jerry took me fishing in Big Tujunga Canyon. He knew something was wrong with me. His own sons had experimented with drugs, and he could tell when someone was under their influence. Jerry said nothing to me about his suspicions until much later. Since then I have discovered for myself that working with someone who is on the edge of going psychotic takes a great deal of skill and patience. Telling someone that he is losing his mind is the one thing you must not tell him.
I did not do any fishing myself that day but just walked along with Jerry. While he was fishing, I picked watercress and took a refreshing swim in the creek. In the water I suddenly imagined myself to be a fish. This flight of fancy was a totally real experience. I then lay on a large boulder to let the sun dry me. I gazed on the wall of granite, and all at once I was inside the wall looking back at myself on the boulder. I imagined the boulder to be Mother Earth and became totally intimate in my relationship. Only a real effort of the will divorced me from the fantasy. My being had dissolved into the rock; and the rock, into me. Every part of my being participated in this union. If I knew how to repeat the experience, I would be tempted to do so. I have never gone back to that particular spot in Big Tujunga Canyon, but I believe I could find it without too much trouble.
The next morning, Sunday, the first of February, I awoke early. The dawn was beginning to break. I went out to the pool. I cannot remember if I was in my pajamas or what I was wearing. I started to walk around the pool and sing, “When He’s coming around the mountain, when He comes, He’ll be driving six white horses.” I imagined that Jerry and his girlfriend were coming and I was to baptize his girlfriend. I could see the taillights of their car reflected in our bedroom window. I strained to hear the approaching car. I heard nothing. The light reflected in the window was the beacon light from the Hollywood-Burbank airport. Then I imagined I was to take Jerry’s girlfriend to Big Tujunga Canyon and baptize her in the same spot where I swam the previous day. Nobody came. I became more and more agitated.
My overriding thought still was, “My wife must not know what is happening; she won’t understand; she’ll think I’m going crazy.” The fear of insanity was awesome. I went farther away from the house in order not to disturb anyone. I started to walk in a circle, maybe about twelve feet across. I walked at first, then ran. It was as if I were caught in a vortex. I couldn’t stop. The circle became smaller and smaller. Somehow I knew I would not stop until I collapsed. Then I imagined I was standing on a mountain, leaning over the edge and gripping a rope. The scene was very real. Even as I tell you about it, the picture takes on life once more. My mother was hanging on to the end of the rope. She was extremely heavy, for she was grasping all her worldly possessions. The most vivid in my mind’s eye were her baby grand piano and a diamond ring. I strained as hard as I could to pull her to the top of the mountain. With my last ounce of strength, I succeeded, and then I collapsed and fell to the ground. At that moment I envisioned that my wife died. I began to sob uncontrollably, for how long I can’t remember, maybe ten or twenty minutes. Unexpectedly, my wife stood in front of me. I was confused. I thought she was dead. She took me into the house and tried to comfort me and to reassure me that she had not died.
We called my parents in San Diego. I think the time was between nine and ten o’clock Sunday morning. My father answered the phone. I told him that Mother had died. He said, “No, she is fine.” I asked to speak to her, but he said that she was still sleeping. I could not believe what I was hearing. He went to the bedroom to check, then woke her. When I spoke to her, I became more confused. I thought that her crippled right hand had been miraculously healed, but that was not true either.
My wife took care of me that day with a great deal of skill. She tried to make me feel as comfortable as possible, neither asking unnecessary questions nor ridiculing my behavior in any way. She attended to the needs of our two children and did her best to screen them from any bizarre behavior. I think people are sometimes given supernatural abilities to handle problems without being aware of the endowment. Had Josephine committed me that day to an institution, I might have gone irreversibly psychotic. The fear of insanity was still hovering about me like a dark cloud.
When we deal with people who are on the borderline of a psychosis, a single word can either save them or push them over the brink. A grave responsibility rests upon those who work with and live with the emotionally distraught. Our words and actions become like surgical instruments. Skill, love, tenderness, patience, and authority must form a perfect team. The mentally ill person and the mystic are both living in a world of symbology. I once gave a young woman of eighteen a bar of soap, and she interpreted the gift to mean that she was unclean. In fact, she subsequently assumed the role of Mary Magdalene before Jesus had healed her.
Although God can and does talk to us through signs, we cannot afford to lay aside the screening value of our intellect. Everything God can use, the devil can abuse and pervert. Everything that God can make, the devil can counterfeit. As you know, the devil is known as, and has the reputation of being that great deceiver. A few years ago someone told me that across from every exclusive department store can be found a cheap dime store. Something good is seldom cheap.
I do not want to get too far from my subject, dear Phyllis, but when there is an opportunity for me to say a few things about saints and sinners, mystics and lunatics, it is like uncorking a bottle with a genie inside. A great deal of restraint must be used to limit the genie to a few appropriate remarks. As far as the treatment and care of the mentally ill is concerned, God gave to me a little of what He gave to Dorothea Lynde Dix. Read her biography, Dorothea Dix – Forgotten Samaritan, by Helen F. Marshall. The book is pretty strong medicine, but it will make any woman proud to be a woman.