The Tree of Life

The minute I heard that Andras Jones had his book Accidental Initiations published, I was magnetized and couldn’t resist the pull.  It arrived in the mail, and I dropped what I was reading to dive right in.  It is strange and kind of wonderful to read a book written by an acquaintance.

“… we are sent to schools where we learn the agreed upon truths our CULTure calls reality.  These institutions ultimately release us into the wild, civilized world, to parse the varied sub-cults available to us and find our way toward a truth we determine best serves our nature (Jones, 22).”

When I first met Andras he unnerved me.  That feeling never went away.  He is quiet and introspective.  It bothered me that I never knew what he was thinking.  This was heightened by the fact that it is obvious he is a mischievous visionary, spiritually heightened but always on his guard.

In the book, Andras writes of his life experiences through various cults and relationships while guiding us through his own personal Kabalistic Tree of Life in the city of Olympia, Washington.  He finds ritual and symbolism in the map that represents different aspects of being.

The symbol of the Tree of Life has appeared to me several times, and each time it did, my life changed dramatically.  I found it again the night that I met Andras.  It was my last year living in New York.  That December, people from Seattle kept appearing, drawing me back west.  Their spirituality overwhelmed me in a place that tends to be so matter of fact.

A massage healer who was also a confessed energy vampire was staying with me off and on.  I had met him at a party in Seattle the summer before.  He was extremely pale and had a disease that aged him in the sun.  The more time he spent with me, the darker his skin got, and the lighter mine became.  Things were very trippy with him around.  I liked that he made me uncomfortable.

“Yes, many of my new friends and teachers were well-meaning charlatans or self-deluding shamans, but at least they were trying for the big consciousness shift (Jones, 52).”

He took me to midtown to an apartment where traveling tantric practitioner’s stay while working in the city.  Andras was staying there with his girlfriend at the time – an escort turned sacred sex worker.  My friend mentioned that Andras did a show called Radio8Ball based on concepts of synchronicity.  Audience members submit questions to the Pop Oracle and random songs answer their questions.  I eventually became a fan and saw the show in New York, Seattle and LA.

Andras’ girlfriend made mushroom tea, and though I normally do not do drugs, the mushrooms seemed so natural and called to me.  I played it like this was nothing out of the ordinary, but I was nervous.  Here I was with three people I didn’t trust at all about to do shrooms.  Anything could happen.  And in fact, it seemed that night that everything did happen.

At first I felt ill, but once outside and moving, the feeling subsided.  Everything unnatural was disturbing, and in New York City, that’s pretty much everything.  I realized I was not experiencing an altered state exactly.  This was true reality in another dimension, as seen through the soul of a mushroom.

“… the high was only a perspective shift from which to experience reality more realistically (Jones, 36).”

We walked past a man and I knew right away that he had killed many people.  My friend thought he could speak in foreign languages.  And I realized, in my suede jacket, that I was wearing a cow.  I could feel the cow and hear it mooing.  Unnerved, I asked my friend, “Just be my reality, okay?”

We went to Central Park and I could suddenly breathe and the world was made of rainbows and light.  Andras said nothing at all.  He had the grin of a Cheshire cat.  His girlfriend seemed like a doe – innocent and pure, an awesome contradiction to her line of work as a high-paid sex worker.

We came to a stage and my friend walked into the shadows becoming darker, then walked back becoming lighter (his favorite trick).  The three of them felt far away from me.  I climbed the stairs behind the stage, wanting to escape.  There were thick vine trees lining a path and I found the Tree.  I sat in it and the Tree began breathing up through me, rocked in a cradle of inhaling and exhaling wood.  We were melded together as one.  I wanted to be alone and away from all the uncertainty.  But my friend kept calling me, “Lauren, we’re moving on.  You need to come now.”

“No, I don’t want to.  This is where I belong.”

Eventually, I caught up to them.  We walked through a horse round and circled a statue where a panther mutated into a squirrel.  Live animals had become fluffy unreachable entities with no connection to humanity.  Electronic music was a terrible noise while church bells were the most beautiful sound I had ever heard.  People moved in herds except for some crazy disco roller skaters that all moved to their own rhythm.

When we returned we descended into an emotional slump.  I became obsessed with willing a rose to open, and then felt depressed as it began to wilt.  My friend worked on Andras doing massage and Andras had a break down, conflicted over his own masculinity.  We all sat down and my friend began to cry as he confessed that in a past life he had been on intimate terms with the insides of human bodies, opening them up to look inside.  Andras’ girlfriend wanted to work on my friend in a healing exercise where she needed to feel connected to him spread eagle on the massage table.  Andras was getting pissed, so they left us and went into the dark bedroom to finish the therapy.

Andras and I sat on the couch awkwardly feeling jealous.  He began to obsessively clean the kitchen and the living room.  I wanted to catch the train back to Hoboken, and he had plans for the next morning.  He began to yell all of this towards the bedroom, and finally my friend and I got the hell out.  I couldn’t go to sleep when we got back home, and I found the dark room disturbing.  So we lay there for a long time with the lights on, talking beneath the covers.

I would see Andras randomly here and there over the next five years.  Mostly through his show, once at an awkward networking event, and once at his past job as a bartender at Bottleneck Lounge.  He approached me at one point to help find sponsors for his radio program, but I was not at all right for that kind of job.

Accidental Initiations is enjoyable to read, and I don’t think that’s just because I knew many of the stories and people he writes about.  It’s a shame that on Amazon his ‘boring haters’ have made quite the mark, although their crazy attacks made me want to read the book even more.  He left KAOS radio station in Olympia on bad terms, fired for indeterminate reasons.  There was much slander and harassment against him and he’s hell bent on getting his show back on the station.  But he needs to let it go and move on.  The low point of his book is including all the dirty details involved in the case, including letters (that according to the ‘boring haters’) are not accurate.  This chapter has nothing to do with the spiritual journey we are all on with him throughout the rest of Accidental Initiations.  It is more suitable to a temporary platform like an article or a blog, not the pages of a book, which had the potential to go beyond his current audience for Radio8Ball.

Next week I am off to a place of solitude to finish a memoir that has been in the making for the last ten years.  Andras reminds me that our shared history is a strange one, with details impossible to recreate.  I too am not as social as I used to be because of people that have let me down.  And though I began my memoir out of spite, I somehow was able to forgive my enemies as I wrote through their voices.  I became the people that I loved, the people that I hated, and left behind the person that I was.

“One of the key components of any effective cult is some level of getting over yourself as a route to getting truly into your Self (Jones, 51).”

After that night when I sat in the Tree, everything changed.  There is strength in knowing the earth is made of magic.  I didn’t need to find my identity through someone else, because I had my own.  Nothing could stop me from being an artist.  It was time to go home.

Elite Syncopation

In E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime we are taken into the vulnerabilities and motivations behind such historical figures as Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and Emma Goldman.  We are witness to the making of revolutionaries and criminals.  War is on the horizon – the great equalizer between massive wealth and massive poverty.

Each character ricochets off the next, creating a stream of events flowing from one to another.  The book begins with Evelyn Nesbitt.  Her beauty causes a murder among the rich and powerful.  Her picture sends newspapers flying off the stands.  She becomes the standard model for every sex goddess that follows after her. “Goldman sent off a letter to Evelyn: I am often asked the question How can the masses permit themselves to be exploited by the few.  The answer is By being persuaded to identify with them.  Carrying his newspaper with your picture the laborer goes home to his wife, an exhausted workhorse with the veins standing out on her legs, and he dreams not of justice but of being rich (Doctorow, 71).”

One of my favorite scenes involves J.P. Morgan, who in his quest for Egyptian mysticism spends the night in a Pyramid seeking a sign of his greatness.  He only finds that the place is infested with bed bugs.  His feeling of elite superiority to be in such a place is even more diminished when he is led out in the morning to find a team of ill-mannered baseball players goofing off on the ruins.

Coalhouse Walker, a liberated black man, seeks justice against the crimes committed against him.  He turns into a revolutionary willing to sacrifice his life, staking out J.P. Morgan’s library of artifacts and rigging it with dynamite.  As Booker T. Washington tries to reason with him, Coalhouse replies, “It is true I am a musician and a man of years.  But I would hope this might suggest to you the solemn calculation of my mind.  And that therefore, possibly, we might both be servants of our color who insist on the truth of our manhood and the respect it demands (Doctorow, 238).”

Throughout is the rage that we are experiencing in our own time in the same phase of a century – rage against the one percent.  I grew up around wealth.  I went to high school blocks away from Bill Gates’ mansion in Bellevue, Washington.  My sixteen-year-old classmates drove BMW’s and Mercedes’.  My mother wanted to make up for doing without as a teenager, so she bought me one thousand dollars worth of clothes every fall and spring.  I learned quickly, that having everything you want doesn’t make you happy.  And after college, I had no idea how to deal with real life or live on very little.  It took years to train my brain how to stop being magnetized to extravagance.  Eventually I gained the survival skills I needed.

My number one lesson was that I was too impulsive to own a credit card.  As a teenager I’d never looked at a price tag, but now I became an obsessive bargain hunter.  I sought out the cheapest market in my neighborhood and bought all the food I needed for a week for under $40.  I learned to like my natural hair color and taught myself how to cut my own hair.  Instead of buying beauty products, I only use almond oil.  Natural remedies have replaced doctors and prescriptions.  When buying clothes I tend to do day’s worth of research, and think out my choices and price options for the best quality at the lowest price.  It pays to buy things that last.

I have yet to own a car, though I did spend six months puttering around on a sporadic 1974 Honda CT90 motorcycle.  I realized my own two legs were more dependable and I like the exercise.

I’ve been living on random jobs for eleven years telling myself that I can keep doing this while I wait for that book deal to happen.  And every year has seemed like the last year I will do it, to the point that it amazes me that this distant carrot could keep me going in the same way until the day I die.  I’m okay with that.

Jobs always come up when I need them, like magic.  But there is a constant scramble for backbreaking work.  One of those jobs is as a part-time contractor.  I am the person wearing dirty overalls, up in my head all day sanding, patching and painting in the routine movements of a machine.  When I work in public places, I note that people regard me as being beneath them.  When I wear my normal clothes, the same people regard me as their equal.

I sometimes work for a friend, serving food and mixing cocktails at parties.  We work for the one percent.  I hate the feeling of subservience the very rich can make you feel.  You’re not allowed to really exist.  And I’m good at being a shadow on the periphery, taking care of their every need.

At one party, the couple was our age, in their mid-thirties.  He worked in commercial real estate and she did nothing but buy designer clothes for all I could see.  She didn’t know how to work the stove, and he couldn’t be bothered with knowing where anything was in the kitchen.  They owned a mansion with forty-foot floor to ceiling windows with a full skyline view of the city.  The kitchen counter was also forty-feet long.  The house itself was built like a fortress with a ten-foot wide wooden door opening into the courtyard, and a glass door twenty-feet tall to the house.

Usually the very rich live in houses that are not to my taste.  But in this place I found myself becoming more and more green with envy as the night wore on.  I was disgusted with myself for feeling this way.

They were lonely people living at the top with the usual token gay bestie who worshiped their lifestyle.  The husband did the usual boasting of only flying private, and told boring tales of doing without comforts in foreign countries.  He was anal and obsessive compulsive.  You could see he wouldn’t have gotten this far, this fast, if he hadn’t been.  Everyone was slightly bored and more amused by the view of the city than the company.

I appraised their lame choices in art and thought of the paintings I would hang instead.  I imagined where I’d put the grand piano and how I’d rock star the place out.  Desperately, I wanted to go back to my own life so I could begin to forget.  Then back at home I kept looking over towards their neighborhood from our balcony, pin-pointing exactly where that magnificent house stood amongst the crevices of the hill.

Is it bad, or is it okay to find motivation from being around the rich?  On a good day I feel like the upstanding socialist – equality for all.  And I am lucky to have the life I lead – rich with experience, vibrant, full of love and time enough to write.  But as a human being, we are all competitive by nature.

It all reminds me too, that there is a part of me that is still that spoiled adolescent.  She resides deep in my subconscious, causing me to make impulsive choices every now and then.  Like J.P. Morgan, sometimes our illusions of grandeur need to be taken down a notch by bed bugs in the Pyramid.