To Be Weightless
You know what I’ve learned about doubt? What I’ve learned is that it’s not a natural part of the human soul. Just think about it: we’re born in a state of perfect openness. We have to be—how else, Aric says, could we ever learn to walk or talk or love? And so it’s only later, as we move through life, that those negative responses come in from outside us, get added to who we are, layer by heavy layer. In fact, the way I think of it—this is my idea, not Aric’s—doubt is like fat, like our bodies are actually filled with questions instead of flesh, and that the fat is there as a kind of protection, though of course usually what it protects us from is our own Best Truths. And so, when I stand on the bathroom scale every morning, I sometimes think that that awful number I’m seeing is just how much my doubt weighs, and that, if I could release all of that, I would step onto that scale and it would come up perfectly zero. I don’t mean that literally, of course. It’s just a way of thinking of things. And it’s only mine—it’s not, like I say, something that Aric would necessarily advocate.
I know that I in particular have a Pathology around doubt. In my former life I dealt an awful lot with money—not just my parents’ money, when it came to that, but also working at the bank—and there’s something about money that naturally leads a person to suspicion. I know that’s not an original idea. I saw it in my life very clearly, though. Greg, my old husband—I’m starting to be able to talk about him a bit now—used to make fun of me for feeling that way. “It’s money,” he’d say. “It’s a means. Just a means.” And then he’d pinch my waist too hard and tell me I should use some of that money on a gym membership or something. Really, it’s still hard to talk about Greg.
And yet I don’t blame him, on some level. When you look back at your life from a better place, you can see that things were very different than they appeared to be at the time. Like my loneliness. I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was married, and I used to say that was because of my husband’s possessiveness. And he was possessive. He made things very difficult. But the point Aric would make is that I had actually created that situation, in some sense—that I had brought Greg into my life because of what Aric would call my Fetishization of the Free Agent Mythology. Aric says that I was in fact using Greg to help me hold on to that fetish myself. Which I think is certainly true.
We all come to this work from such different places. I’m thinking of Ellie, who spent a couple of decades not basically alone like me but in a variety of groups. Scientology was one of them, and a proselytizing kind of Buddhism, and there was another one, but I can’t remember what, and I know she went through sex and drugs and was in and out of one job and another, and so hers was really an active quest, a search for rightness that was a lot less dysfunctional than it looks. I mean, some folks would look at a person like Ellie and see someone who’s lost, someone who’s just going to wander for the rest of her life. But she’s been doing the work with us for almost four months now, and when you see someone who’s in her Right Place, who now smiles sometimes like a person in her Best Truths, you know that she wasn’t lost before—she was what Aric calls “stalking her own soul.” I like that. It’s instructive. A soul can be a hard thing to track down, and someone searching for it can end up in some difficult places, but that’s not the same thing at all as being lost.
I was lost, though. I was. When I look back at the person I was, the life I allowed myself to live, I can barely stand it—though lovely-hearted Aric would remind me that the work is about forgiveness, and that you don’t need to abuse yourself for your past life as long as you recognize how wrong it was and what your role was, and as long as you do whatever you can to stay away from it from now on. As long as you do the work. He’s the one who says it’s good to think about your old life just as much as you want, when you’re ready. Once you’ve been here a while, you see it through a new lens.
Let me give you another example of that. It’s about how I now look at the morning when I decided to leave Greg. On that morning, I was carrying around this dream in my head. The night before, Greg had been fully in his role of blocking my Best Progression, and we had one of our really intense arguments—he wanted to eat his dinner in front of the television, watching market analysis, and I wanted to sit in the kitchen, which had these big windows that I liked—and he squeezed my wrist so tightly I could feel that no blood was getting to my hand. And so later that night I had a dream that I was holding eggs, chicken eggs, in my hands, and I was carrying them from a tree to a bush, going back and forth, back and forth, really moving them along, and all of a sudden I saw this tornado coming toward the bush. That’s when I did something totally unlike me: I ran toward the tornado. And then there I was, lifting into the air, and all around me were these unbroken eggs, slowly spiraling up. I was filled with this terror and awe and horror. And of course that’s a pretty easy dream to work on; Aric has helped me see all kinds of Progression there. That awe is just like a big flashing sign.
Anyway, the next morning I was walking around with this dream in my head, and so when I made me and Greg some scrambled eggs before work it felt like such a significant thing to be doing. What happened was that I picked up the bowl of raw eggs and there was this very sharp pain in my wrist, and all of a sudden everything was clear. We see this kind of moment as a crucial Liminal Space between the sleeping soul and the waking body. Crucial. A moment like that is so important because you can see—I probably almost saw it even at the time, standing there over the frying pan with the bowl in my hand—you can see that, typically, when you’re asleep you’re awake and when you’re awake you’re asleep. And in the liminal space none of those things are true in the same way.
It’s hard to explain. It’s our obligation to try to explain it to other people, which is why we give so many presentations wherever we can, but it’s not easy. What I can say clearly is that I stood there with that bowl of egg in my hand and the awful pain in my wrist, and I knew that I wouldn’t be standing there doing that the next day. I had a clear image in my head of me driving away, in a classic example of what we call a “memory from the future.” You’re remembering your soul in its best, true state. It’s “remembering,” because the purity of the soul is of course primal, and everything wrong with it has been added on since. So the future is, ideally, the past, and so on.
We did one of our presentations just the other night. We’re always looking for new people to talk to; the population in this part of Vermont is pretty thin, and most of those folks definitely know about us, already have their opinions formed. This time it was Aric and me, and Maureen and June and Bob, plus Ray and Sherri, and Ellie, and we drove and drove from our little town down into the valley to get to this artist retreat center that I’d never heard about, this quiet group of cabins surrounded by trees that had probably been growing for more than a century. Everything was perfectly still when we got there; the artists, according to the director, were in their studios working. It was all very beautiful, beautiful and romantic. Before we got out of the van, Aric reached across to me in the front seat and held my hand tightly.
“You’re ready,” he said.
“Are you sure?” I said. I was introducing the presentation that night. I had eaten very well that day—hardly anything—and I was shaking a little.
He leaned in to me and let go of my hand, cupped my chin in his palm, almost as though he was going to kiss me—which he never does in public—and he said, “I wouldn’t let you do it if you weren’t ready.” His eyes were so bright. He held me in his hand like that until I was calm enough to get started.
We set up in their meeting house, which looked a little like an old church, as the artists started to arrive in little clumps of two, three, and four. Like I say, it was romantic thinking about all these artists in the woods, though of course it wasn’t community at its best; you could just look at all those people in their sloppy clothes and listen to them talk in their loud way—like a bunch of pots and pans banging—and it was clear that these were people who fetishized the Free Agent Mythology. Their eyes were so wild. And yet that kind of Pathology may just be unavoidable in a life that’s all about self-expression, and the point is to meet people with compassion. It wasn’t hard; when I looked around at the people there, I thought they seemed eager for the Best Truths. I felt good about being there to help. And there was even something extra nice in the fact that we weren’t charging them the way we usually do. Normally we do have to charge money for a presentation like that, but that’s how Aric is—if he gets the chance to share the ideas for free, that’s what he’s going to do. And that was one of the conditions that the colony laid down on us—it had to be free.
I think it’s important for me to acknowledge the money. It’s true that I’ve given quite a lot of money to support the work that Aric has been doing—basically all the money I inherited from my parents, which was quite a large amount of money, and also a great deal of my savings. I think it’s important to acknowledge that because people view it with a lot of suspicion. But let me tell you that it’s been a relief. Getting rid of money is a relief. Like when I did finally get in the car to drive away from Greg: I drove in a fairly random way, highways and scenic roads and town streets, east and west and loops all around, and everywhere I went I left money. Not just big tips, though I did do that, but also secret stashes for other people to find, or for nobody to find. I left bills in the drop area of vending machines, and under table legs in restaurants—though even then I was trying to get my eating under control as much as possible—and in night table drawers in hotels, even in stands of grass along the highway. That was like shedding weight, too. Have you ever really looked at a twenty-dollar bill? Have you looked at the expression on Andrew Jackson’s face? If that portrait is any indication, there’s never been a more suspicious man in American history. Getting rid of him was like, well, like leaving behind a very bad marriage. Sometimes things are what they’re like, very simply.
And I think anyone would have to see that I traded that money for things of real value. I’m talking about a lot more than having people to meet with a few times a week for candle lighting and doing the work, though that’s also so crucial. No—I have a community now, and I never knew what that was before. I don’t know how many people really do know. But to have a community, one that’s all around you, like light, a system of closeness among people you see every day, a system that operates in hugs and kind words when you’re in the supermarket, say, trying to get control of yourself—it’s unbelievable. And I have found the health that comes from that. There’s more weight to lose, always, but I’m absolutely on track.
So I think the way people bring up the money issue misses the point. So much of what we do isn’t even about money. Like this presentation at the retreat center, which, as I said, we did for free.
I started by setting up my chart, which is a picture of a spiral—I think of it as a tornado—which reaches between the past, when we were Best, and the future, when we will be Best again. “The way to go forward, and to return, is through knowing yourself,” I told the audience, “and the way to know yourself is to know your dreams.” I had heard Aric say these things many times, but it was a whole other thing trying to get them to sound just as true coming from my mouth. It was so hard to read these artists, especially with some of them sketching in their sketchpads while they sat there.
When I had finished the introduction, Aric held my chin again, there in the room, and thanked me, and then he read everyone a description of one of my dreams, this crucial breakthrough dream I’d had. In it, I was in a swimming pool and all around me were these synchronized swimmers—maybe three dozen of them, jammed in there—doing everything just the same, in their swim caps, and yet I kept insisting on thrashing around in the water. Which is so like me. There was someone with me, someone I didn’t recognize but who wasn’t one of the swimmers and who was supposed to be a friend, a woman, and she kept saying, “Watch out. Just watch out. Watch out, okay?” And tugging on me. Trying to get me out of the pool. Tugging on me. And I wanted to get out of there. First of all, there wasn’t that weightlessness that you expect in water—I was in danger of sinking, it felt like. And you should have seen the faces on these swimmers in my dream—horrifying. Gaping faces, empty. Just terrifying. There must have been some awe in me as well. It can be hard to recognize that, but I know from Aric that this is the kind of dream with secret awe hidden in it.
So we worked our way through that description, acting out the parts while everyone watched. That’s one of the things we do that is so amazing to watch; we bring the dream “out of the night and into the light,” where we can confront it directly. Most of our people played the roles of the swimmers, making their synchronized movements all around, their faces transforming into those gaping faces—especially Ray and Bob, who almost made me feel like I was in the dream again. They made these incredibly awful faces. Which was very intense. Very, very intense. Meanwhile, Ellie was the “friend” trying to get me to watch out. Her hands were like claws on me. Even in the light a dream can be very intense.
Then Aric analyzed the dream for the artists, which he had first done in a one-on-one session with me, one of our most powerful sessions ever. It wasn’t that long after I started doing the work, actually, but I understood that it was a big moment; Aric was absolutely energized by the dream. I remember him stroking my hair, which he never does during sessions; we might hold hands or sit close, but in general we draw a pretty sharp line between our personal relationship and the work, as sharp as we can realistically draw. But that time he touched me very tenderly. I may have even closed my eyes.
At the retreat center we re-enacted that analysis, with him taking both my hands and asking me the same questions he’d originally asked me. The swimmers were close around, swimming. And Ellie was tugging on my shoulder, hard. At the retreat center I definitely did close my eyes, so that I could focus on Aric’s hands. Even in the light, it can be hard to feel safe when a dream like that is being recreated all around you.
“Why don’t you want to join them?” he said. “The swimmers?”
I shook my head. I was trembling, trying to hold myself still. “I—they’re so—I’m very frightened of them.”
He addressed the audience. “So this is an example of what we call a ‘threshold dream’—an extremely important event indeed,” he said. “Because here we encounter something that’s standing in the dreamer’s way.” He turned back to me. “What exactly are you afraid of?”
I made an effort to calm myself, tried to think carefully. We’ve re-enacted this a lot, but it’s still hard, every single time. “I’m afraid that they’ll destroy me.”
“And what would that mean?” he said.
I swallowed and swallowed again. “I wouldn’t exist anymore.”
He addressed the crowd again. “This is a stage many people reach in their work with us. It can feel very threatening, opening yourself to a group like ours. But in this work you have to open until your broken self breaks.”
My hands were really shaking in his hands. He squeezed them until they were almost still.
“Do they actually destroy you in the dream?” he said.
“No,” I said. “I wake up first.”
“So you have no reason to be sure that you’re in any danger.”
“That’s true,” I said, trying to feel it.
“And you have no reason to believe that your ‘friend’ in the dream is actually a friend.”
What always blows everyone away is the way Aric can flip a dream over, how he can see the truthful reverse of it. In a dream your friend is never your friend. Your enemy is never your enemy. They’re always the reverse of what they seem. Which is why it was a sign of Progression when I stepped into the tornado in that crucial dream from before. Culturally, we’re supposed to be afraid of storms—any kind of storms—because they require us to relinquish personal control. But that doesn’t mean that we really should be afraid of them; it just means that our conditioned minds use storms, or the image of storms, to hold us back.
Personal control is so difficult. It’s unbelievably difficult. But we have it in us to transcend it; I’ve come to see that. One of the most interesting things about that morning when I left Greg was that picture I had in my head. I saw myself driving away, but it wasn’t like I saw it from my own perspective. I didn’t see the road through the windshield, my hands on the steering wheel. I saw it instead from behind the car, like I was flying along behind the car, watching me drive away. And that, Aric has suggested to me, was an early sign that I was capable of transcending that need for personal control. What I remember was how strange it was to be seeing my choices from the outside, though of course it wasn’t the first time.
So, when Aric said to me, “You have no reason to believe that your ‘friend’ in the dream is actually a friend,” I said, “No. I can’t be sure.”
“Exactly,” he said, and he let go of my hands.
I kept my eyes closed; I knew what was next, and I didn’t want to see it. He asked the swimmers to gather even closer around me, which made me feel very dizzy, and when we were all pressed tightly together—Maureen, Sherri and June, Ray and Bob up against me, everyone except Ellie—Aric wrapped a bolt of cloth around us, bound us together.
“So now we hold the dreamer in the dream,” he said. “And we demonstrate the Better Truth. Are you okay?” he asked me.
“I’m scared,” I said. It felt like there was tremendous weight on me. Like I could be crushed into nothing.
“But are you okay? Are you being physically harmed in any way? Are you being destroyed?”
Again I tried to calm myself down and think. “No,” I finally said.
Then Aric unwrapped me and everyone else and I opened my eyes, still shaking. He was in front of me, smiling. The relief was overwhelming. It was like being born. Every time we do it, it’s like being born. And the world you emerge into is so vivid. I saw this roomful of artists, all the shaggy hair and piercings and the tattoos, the old pews, the busy sketchbooks, the—the unconvinced faces. I could see that they were unconvinced. They applauded, but in that moment of fresh birth I could see what their applause meant and what it didn’t.
We had a Q & A session—I’ve never liked those, but Aric says they’re important—and people asked the usual things about whether we’re saying there’s only one valid interpretation of any given dream, which is of course that same individualism fetish, and about whether a dream is always the opposite of what it appears to be, and so on, and Aric handled the questions as well as ever, but people did start to leave during that part of the presentation, and the rest left as soon as the last question was answered. At the end it was only the director of the retreat center, a big man with big, curly white hair, and he just said, “Well, that was very interesting. That was certainly interesting,” while shaking Aric’s hand.
As we cleaned up, I thought about one thing that Aric asked when he analyzed my dream for the first time, in our one-on-one session. We don’t re-enact that part, because he says that people wouldn’t understand. But in the session Aric was holding my hand, touching my hair, and he said, very unexpectedly, “Love, do you think that what we’re doing is a cult?”
I know I opened my eyes then. We had just been written up in the newspaper—just a small-town newspaper, but still—very unfavorably, and that word had come up. I looked at Aric, my head still in his soft hand, and I didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t been expecting the question. I hadn’t expected him to ever use the word.
“It’s okay if you do,” he said. “We know that some people do. Just know that that belief is standing in the way of your Progression. And it’s very exciting to know that. It should be very exciting to know that. Because you can beat it.”
I remember nodding, as best I could, in his hand. And I remember the relief there, too. I was relieved just to be having the conversation, somehow. We spent the rest of the session in silence, just holding one another. It was desperately wonderful.
But it’s so disheartening to come away from a presentation experience feeling like you haven’t reached anyone. I can’t pretend it’s not. Afterward, before we all got back in the van, while the others were eating their sandwiches and I was keeping my distance from the smell of the food, I spent a few minutes in the woods. It was very dark by then. I stood in that darkness and just breathed in that mixed-up smell of the woods, and felt heavy and sad about things. It isn’t that I need everyone to do what I do, but when you’ve found a route to your Best Self that other people—miserable people, so many people—a route that other people aren’t even seeing, aren’t even willing to see, you of course have to have some grief about that. It’s a matter of compassion. Aric would of course remind me that you can’t control other people.
I guess it was that presentation that got me thinking about doubt. Or sort of. Doubts seem like they can come from wherever, but Aric would say they come, ultimately, from ourselves. Not our Best Selves, but the selves that we’ve got. And I know that’s right. I know they come from me.
And it’s still sad, thinking of those people in their individual cabins, doing the work they think they need to do. How would they have any idea whether what they’re doing is right, or whether it’s wrong? They’re alone in their studios, and they don’t know.
As we drove our way up out of the valley, naturally I remembered what it was like driving away from Greg. And I found myself seeing all of us from outside the van. Honestly, I’ve been doing that for a long time, seeing things from the outside. This time I was overhead. I could see the trees close up against the road and I could see the van going up, up, up the road. We were rising. And there I was again, flying, emptied out, perfectly zero, watching my choices from the outside, relinquishing control. It didn’t matter that the steering wheel was still in my hands or that I was still the person pushing the gas pedal while Aric debriefed us about the evening, while he helped us to regroup; it wasn’t me, or mine, the driving. I had no control. I relinquished it, again and again. I was just the witness flying along behind, watching my body be swept up out of the valley and toward its Best Self, toward its future, toward its past.
David Ebenbach is the author of two collections of short fiction—Between Camelots (winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, University of Pittsburgh Press) and Into the Wilderness (Winner of the Washington Writers Publishing House Fiction Prize, WWPH)—as well as a chapbook of poetry entitled Autogeography (Finishing Line Press), and a guide to the creative process called The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books). His first full-length book of poetry, We Were the People Who Moved, won the Patricia Bibby Award and will be published by Tebot Bach in 2015. He has a PhD in psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in writing from Vermont College, and he teaches creative writing at Georgetown University.