The response to my recent blog “Your Magnificent Self” was enormous. Last week I published PART ONE of my reply to your having asked for more. Here is PART TWO . I hope you enjoy it...
One of the most important keys to connecting with your essential self lies in learning to pay attention to your peak experiences. These are times when you perceive reality through fresh eyes, experience the world as a whole and everything in it as being right. All of us have peak experiences yet too many of us don’t even stop to notice they are happening to us.
The occurrence of these small moments of awakening can be tremendously enriching, for you are temporarily set free from habitual ways of thinking and behaving that tend to stifle your creativity. Look for peak experiences, surrender to what is happening to you, enjoy them when they come. Then record them in your notebook. The occurrences of both small and large moments of awakening can be tremendously valuable. You are temporarily set free from habitual ways of thinking and behaving that may be stifling your creativity and joy. Stay open to epiphanies. Sometimes they can be life-changing. Let me share with you how I discovered the power of peak experiences which many times have completely changed what, at the time, I believed to be true.
When I was 18 years old, in my second year at Stanford University, I fell in love for the first time in my life. It was not long before I had to leave California to live in New York. His name was Dick Givens. He and I had never spent a night together. Now we would have twenty-four hours together in San Francisco before I had to catch a plane. We walked through Golden Gate Park. I had been there many times before on my own—visiting the Japanese garden, lying on the grass in the sun, looking at the paintings in the museum. But I'd never paid much attention to what was around me except in the vague way I had always appreciated being amidst the trees, grass and flowers. Today was different. He and I wandered aimlessly, aware that, in a few hours, we would probably never see each other again.
I could feel death sitting at my shoulder. I loved this man with such intensity that I could hardly bear the fire that burned in my flesh when he touched my face, nor the surges of bliss which flooded my heart and body when we made love. Then, without warning, my whole world shifted. For reasons I will never understand, my consciousness – my awareness of the ordinary world – became transfigured, luminous. I had never experienced anything like it.
As I walk with him, the structures of ordinary reality crack wide open. We come out of a wood, cross a road and step onto the curb. Old men are bowling on the green. Absorbed in their game, they pay no attention to us. Without warning the trees, the grass, the small knoll behind the men rising to a copse above, turn into a wondrous but terrifying universe. Space expands in all directions as though a million tiny holes are piercing the fabric of reality. Each one emits brilliant light. The air, the grass, the pavement, the bodies of the men, the clouds above us, the trees around us – everything trembles with a radiance. It breaks over me in great waves, simultaneously wiping me out as though it is even bringing me to birth in a new form. I understand nothing of what’s happening.
In the presence of this overwhelming beauty, I sensed I’d tumbled into a deep mystery. Discovering love with my son, Branton who was born several months before. had been my first epiphany—my first peak experience. That day in Golden Gate Park brought my second. I am quite sure that the intensity of the love I felt for this man had triggered it. But the experience itself was far greater than either of us. I knew for the first time that by own essential being was urging me to live a different kind of life than I had lived until then – deeper, richer, larger and more connected to all living things. This was my first experience of something overwhelming which, instead of being terrifying, it carried with it a sense of exhilaration and excitement. It brought me incredible hope. That was the day I became certain that the universe is a place far greater than I had ever imagined.
TELL YOUR TRUTH
What are your own peak experiences? Think back and record them. Stay alert to when they arrive and enter into them. Epiphanies come in all shapes and kinds. Some overflow with bliss, others are brimming with sorrow, still others can be funny revealing to you something important about yourself that you were not aware of. Write them down whatever they are. Be as honest as you possibly can. Telling the truth first to ourselves and then, when appropriate, to some others, has enormous power. Too many of us lean in the direction of being diplomatic and discreet—adjusting our opinions and answers to fit with what we think others want to hear. This leads to a sense of confusion where instead of bringing you closer to your essential being and allowing it to guide you, you become confused—not sure what you genuinely think about anything.
That was very much the state I found myself in when at the ago of 13 an embarrassing epiphany forced me to turn away from what I had been taught and decide for myself what mattered to me. Here’s how it happened: I was sent away to a school called Castilleja and thrown in to a clique of privileged girls with whom I was quite sure I didn’t belong, I was terrified. I hoped being at this boarding school would give me the time I needed to work out the kind of human being I was supposed to be so I could survive. I was desperate. It was do or die.
Once a month, as part of our ‘cultural development’ we girls were packaged in best dresses, shoes and crinolines and ushered off to view paintings, hear opera, or take part in something else which the school considered an essential part of our ‘intellectual, artistic and social development’. I learned that the trip this month was going to be to the San Francisco Opera House where we would be forced to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, conducted by some Englishman called Sir Thomas Beecham.
LESLIE THE PARROT
Having been brainwashed by my opinionated musician father to believe that any music written before the twentieth century was ‘irrelevant to now and therefore a total waste of time’, I had taken on his beliefs as though they were my own. All the way to San Francisco I blabbered on about what a stupid idea it was for us to be spending time listening to ‘that old stuff’. When we arrived at the opera house, I was still seething with disapproval at having been press ganged into being there at all. In short I made an ass of myself at everyone else’s expense.
THE CURTAIN RISES
Then the music begins. No more than three minutes pass before my mouth drops open. I am scared to breathe, afraid that the sound of my breath will prevent my immersing myself in this wonderful sound. Incredible. Magnificent. Beethoven. In the presence of this music something occurs that has never happened to me before. His music cuts through my fear, my rage and my confusion. It fills the hollowness inside me with something so stark, so real, so vital, I can’t begin to describe it. The music and I become one. So long as it is playing, I am no longer alone.
For the first time in my life, words come to me – words which will return again and again in the years that follow: ‘If such things exist, I want to go on living.’
Thanks to that experience I would come away from that night with a great gift. It opened up a world of music that had been hidden from me until then. It gave me spiritual nourishment and encouraged me to seek my own values in the world. Decades later it would also lead me to spend four and a half years writing my first novel Ludwig... A Spiritual Thriller.
To free the Magnificent Self which is who you really are, consider new ways of doing things instead of mechanically following the same old patterns. Never be afraid of making a fool of yourself. When you do, as I did then (and have done many times since it must be said) you can learn some wonderful things about yourself while shaking off a lot of old baggage. Risk standing out from the rest—your own natural way of living, thinking, dressing, working may be quite different from the way you have been trained to do these things. Your opinions may differ greatly from those of people around you. Be courageous about seeing things your own way. Dare to be different in what you say and do if you feel different. The sense of freedom this can being is exhilarating. Listen to the whispers from within you. Find out what you want and then go about getting it. Whatever you work at, work hard and wholeheartedly. This brings a sense of self-reliance and also frees a lot of otherwise frustrated energy for constructive use.
Take a look at the roles you play. There are dozens. We all play them—the 'intelligent woman', the 'man to be reckoned with', the 'expert’ the 'sexy lady', whatever. Some may be useful in getting what you think you want Most are irrelevant. They do nothing but sap your energy. As you become conscious of your own ‘roles’ you discover that have free choice to decide if you want to go on playing them or let them go. The more you leave roll playing behind, the freer you become from the hold they have exerted over you. This lets you come closer and closer to living your own authentic life with self respect, celebration, creativity and freedom. Your unique Magnificent Self is calling to you. Set it free. Discovering who you really are becomes be the most exciting thing you can do The time is now. Just do it.