After sixth grade, we moved to Erie, PA. We didn’t know where it was. My mom was concerned it was a “Catholic” town. My Dad was excited about a new position that seemed much more fulfilling on a professional and financial level. My oldest sister had just graduated and was going to college. Her OCD helped her to get straight A’s and very few friends. She seemed happy to leave. My other sister who was very popular was transitioning to eleventh grade and was ready to adapt and make the best out of it. I admired her positive seize the day attitude.
I was going to junior high school -7th to 9th grades – and had to start all over again. Adding to my insecurities I had to get glasses and braces that year! I was miserable. I acted out a lot as a class clown to get attention and continued to enjoy books, television, music and nature. I discovered other misfits and we tried to navigate the next three years as best we could.
The music of the mid to late 60’s united some of us especially the psychedelic music of the Beatles, the Byrds, the Moody Blues, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Pink Floyd, the Doors, the Grateful Dead and many others. Music helped me to understand what our country was going through. Civil rights and the Vietnam War were a steady widespread media and cultural manifestation of dissonance and a source of contentious conversations at home, school and on television. Music clarified my understanding of “What’s Going On” and gave me some hope despite the personal and cultural emotional fallout. I knew I could be drafted in a few years. Another source of hope was the Beatles going to see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to learn meditation which inspired me and eventually changed my life. I wanted to learn but had no resources or support from family or friends.
I wanted to ease my emotional pain but did not know how other than to escape from it. I became addicted to TV until I could drive. It was my way to check out and not feel my inner turmoil. It kept me comfortably numb. My family was tense and chaotic. My dad had to negotiate labor contracts with the union and those negotiations were very difficult. He wanted to come home to a harmonious family and instead he got a tyrannical controlling older daughter who bullied everyone. She eventually returned to live at home and commute to college. By the time I was in high school she was married, divorced and had a child. My fantasy of being home alone was replaced with more chaos.
My other sister – the cool one – was quietly and skillfully navigating an unwed pregnancy and future adoption. This was a difficult time for my parents. What would the neighbors think? It was a big secret. Keep in mind this is around 1968. She was taken to a facility outside of Erie to have the baby with other moms. Her memory of floating in a pool with other unwed pregnant moms sharing the joy of pregnancy remains a powerful image for me. She was young and knew she was not ready. I admired her courage to decide on her terms. Afterwards she returned home briefly and had to endure the wrath of her sister and mom. She quickly left and started her journey toward a more meaningful and fulfilling life. She was always kind and supportive to me. I missed her.
Mom was more anxious and judgmental than ever. My oldest sister and my mom argued a lot. Their exchanges of verbal and emotional abuse scared me. My generally kind and supportive dad would come home to World War Three. I had never seen him lose his temper so often.
I hid in my room, watched TV, played baseball and walked or biked in our neighborhood and woods. TV was a way to see how other adults acted outside my family. Even the idealistic middle class utopia of My Father Knows Best, My Three Sons and Leave It to Beaver provided an escapist reality I could embrace. Other addictions to avoid emotional pain would follow once I gained the freedom of driving.
One day I went to the public library. In the card catalog, I looked up meditation and found Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. I also found a few books on India and began to read. His thoughts about the mind gave me a new perspective: “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts”, “Our life is what our thoughts make it” and “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” I had been blaming my misery on my family and society and would do so for many years to follow, but I began to slowly understand if I wanted to change it was up to me and how I wanted to think. I felt powerless in my environment but maybe as he said the real power is within.
I discovered “The Secret” long before it became mass marketed and commercialized.
His meditations nurtured me and made me hungry to learn more about other worldviews besides Christianity. During junior high and high school, I had to go alone with my parents for a one hour drive each way to a Church of Christ outside of Erie that fit my parent’s criteria for the correct interpretation of Christian doctrine. As in Cincinnati, I heard fire and brimstone talks every Sunday plus a two-hour drive with my parents grappling with the changing values of the 60’s that undermined their core values. I was so confused and afraid to speak my truth while not sure what my truth was, but I knew I had to get out of that car without upsetting my parents and eventually go on a different trip. My inner life was not in synch with my outer life. Little did I know at the time what taking trips would later come to mean.
Marcus gently and persuasively sent me on the path of seeking and exploring. Seeking absolute or relative truth would define my life for the next 20 years. The tenets of Stoicism like self-control, mental peace via dispassion, equanimity, wisdom, justice, tolerance, logic, oneness, being in the present moment and that God is immanent would be rediscovered in the classical philosophy of Yoga and in Buddhism, Sufism and Christian contemplative traditions that I would study in my 20’s. I witnessed these values in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. He inspired me.
“Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things that exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the structure of the web.” — Marcus Aurelius, HYPERLINK “https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditations” \o “Meditations” Meditations, IV. 40
My 1945 Classics Club edition of Marcus Aurelius and His Times is on my shelf next to this computer as I write. I still return to it for inspiration and solace.
I wanted to experience this oneness and wholeness. I was tired of separation, chaos and struggle. I wanted to feel expanded and not contracted. Then I heard from friends and the media about The Doors of Perception by Aldous Huxley and LSD. Music was literally tuning me onto different states of consciousness – think White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane or Ride My See-Saw and the Legend of a Mind by the Moody Blues. The first time I had heard AUM or Om chanted was on the same album, In Search of the Lost Chord.
It was only a matter of time that I would jump into the rabbit hole and hear the grass sing. A new trip was beginning. I wanted to break on through to the other side. Do I take the blue pill or the green one?