September 4, 2002
Alex Simack

 

When I wake up in the morning I know I'm a long way from home. My body seems an empty vessel, my mind is snapped shut, there is no love in me. I yearn to feel that pulse I have known, I confuse it with things it has caused, I seek the surfaces that love has made.
In time I exhaust my past, I rake the coals and find no flame, my life lies about me in ashes.
And now I am an empty longing, I can give nothing to myself, I can give nothing.

All this time I have been dead

To be alive is to give life.     I have no life to give.     I am empty and alone.
Even the yearning ceases.     I am lying quiet now.     I am at peace.
Something disturbs my peace, the world intrudes, I feel anger, I rise up to remove the disturbance, I am alive
At first I hate life, it makes demands, it disturbs my rest, the world is such a mess!
I am forced to do something about it, one thing leads to another, I am awake and changing the world....

Mel Lyman

Mel Lyman wrote many things that were deeply embarrassing to me. I especially think of the short piece on the last page of the Second Coming issue of American Avatar (above).

How could a professed world savior admit these things? I could not comprehend a daily crucifixion and resurrection. Even though I considered myself an agnostic, if ever I thought of the question at all, in my heart. I wanted something like the Christian belief I'd been raised with: you got the crucifixion out of the way once and for all (the crucifixion being whatever struggle you endured before you surrendered and accepted Jesus as your personal savior) and afterwards Jesus saved you from such extremity. This unconscious belief later dovetailed with the Eastern religions filtering in to the West in the sixties, with the concept of a one-time enlightenment and consequent freedom from pain. And the Easternism was all the more appealing because you didn't have to drag along an old childhood friend, Jesus, whom you'd long since outgrown.

I wanted to idolize Mel and his followers, not see them as struggling men and women such as myself. Years later, in reference to another great communal leader, a man named Daniel Wright, I heard this truth: "The natural progression is from disciple to friend.

The disciple yearns to idolize his teacher, and only the teacher can break the idolatry." Daniel taught that idolatry is one of the strongest drives out of the unconscious heart of man. It is the second of the Ten Commandments, following immediately the first, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." This first commandment has to do with pride, or pre-eminence — quite baldly it means putting self before God. Idolatry seems to me, now, a complete projection of pride onto others.

The sins we cannot acknowledge in ourselves we see in others. It is no wonder to me now that my old college friends spoke so disdainfully, even hatefully, of Mel. It was so painful back then to hear them, for it cast me adrift. There was no going back to the womb of academia.

I yearned desperately to live wholly inside my mind, for books and learning had been a great escape from reality for me from the earliest years. To have to live outside the mind seemed an unbearable exile. Of course, this was the projected view from inside the prison of self I had already built, and anytime I followed a leading from self it only made the prison-exile worse. Yet my soul knew the inevitable death and rebirth must come. Mel's words touched something so deep in me, beyond my conscious reach. It is as Emerson wrote, "the man of faith consternates the man of reason."

Mel's dialog with his readers in Letters to Mel still seems to me the most moving and profound of communications, the deepest interplay of faith and reason of the 20th Century.

Daniel Wright also reinterpreted the third commandment for me a few years ago. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," is understood by most, including my late mother who explained it, when I asked her as a boy, as not to say "God damn it" and such. Of course, my Dad yelled "God damn it" whenever he hit his thumb with the hammer while renovating our old farmhouse, so I wondered about it. But Daniel gave me a word for it, just as he was given by revelation a word for each commandment — and it makes sense that Moses would hobble down a mountain with ten words, not sentences and paragraphs, carved in stone (and indeed the literal translation is footnoted in my bible as "words").

The word for the third commandment is clannishness, and this touches again on the fear and hate which many had for Mel and his communities in the sixties and seventies. It took a while for me to make the connection between clannishness and "in vain," probably because it is painful to observe my own vanity. The key is for any group of people living together to be honest with each other, to overcome the fear of exposure, of breaking the "group norm" (so often the "norm" is already something crystallized, something dead that needs breaking), and of inciting the group's censure. As Emerson wrote, a man may write or speak truth, but it's quite another thing to hear that growl of the mob — the instinctive group hatred and fear of truth.

Mel heard it, certainly. I believe now he even rejoiced in it! Why? Because he could lead a few through it. And Daniel heard, on one of the very first occasions that he heard a Voice that spoke to him for many years, "It is the greatest joy to present souls blameless before Me."

The fourth word, concerning the Sabbath day, is activity. We must "labor to enter into our rest." This can be, at least for me, the most exasperating work of all. Most of our activity, even hard physical or mental labor, is escape, is vain hope, directed toward a vicarious rest only, an even greater distraction from the important. Some would seek out monasteries and ashrams to concentrate only upon the most important work of attaining that true rest, yet Mel and Daniel preached "here and now."

It's a hard knot to deal with. Every commandment/word has to do with a human drive, deeply rooted in the unconscious, which contains both positive and negative — the tree of good and evil. It is good to be active in the world, good to take pride in one's work, good to look up to heroes and heroines, good to be loyal to one's clan. Yet God lives not in that tree of good and evil but in the tree of life.

And we rebel — and it is good to rebel. And rebellion is the fifth word, correlating with the commandment to honor thy father and mother.

And how can we come to terms with the goodness of murder, lying;, stealing, adultery and coveting?

Faith, sacrifice, and self-examination are the means given symbolically in the Book of Exodus — the Mosaic Covenant. God put his mark on our sex drive with the Abrahamic Covenant, with the circumcision, and now it was time for another step. Faith and sacrifice are the first gates of the temple, which was then the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, which later Jesus proclaimed as the human body itself, and therein is the holy of holies, the presence of God. I love what the Lyman Family wrote in the U&I magazines, that God is feeling. But pure feeling, not simply emotion which usually remains self or group-centered, with its mental component.

It's worth a look into that Book of Exodus. I never would have believed I'd be reading the Old Testament again. It always had seemed such a dark and bloody place — death, blood, and betrayal on every page. Now a light has broken through that blackness.

And if so few today are in touch with their own vital center, the soul — look at that symbolism in Exodus, that place of God in the desert, the tabernacle that's behind the ugly, stinking goat and badger skins, under which you must humbly crawl on your knees, bringing your best beast to sacrifice!

As then, so today. Few will risk the loss or wounding of some aspect of self-control of their inner beast, for which they may have given many years of toil. Few will bear the threat of loss of material possessions. Few will pursue the uncertain possibility of nonmaterial gain. Maybe it's predestination (and I know that's an old word and an old concept).

Even if one does find a seemingly agreeable spiritual discipline, there's no guaranty of success. As Taisha Abelar writes: "The pull of the daily world is so strong and sustained that in spite of their most assiduous training, all practitioners find themselves again and again in the midst of the most abject terror, stupidity and indulging, as if they had learned nothing. My teachers warned me that I was no exception. And that only a minute to minute relentless struggle can balance one's natural but stupefying insistence to remain unchanged." (Taisha Abelar is a member of a group of seekers which included Carlos Castaneda. Her book is entitled The Sorcerers' Crossing.)

Mel wrote, in a letter to his followers, that they should let go of people unable to keep up, that these would eventually find him in other people. I wondered about that, yet the years have proven its truth. One reason I could not wholly accept Mel was because he seemed too young. In one of my younger periods of solitude (a couple of weeks long, but then it seemed forever!), I had dreamed and fantasized of a white-haired old man — a homeless man who lived in city alleys and scavenged for his needs, who was free, who would teach me truth.

Now maybe that old man is me, as I move closer to my old age. But it's also the teacher I met a few years ago, Daniel Wright, a wise man like Mel Lyman, a communal leader, musician, writer, poet, and lifelong truthseeker.

In time, Mel's paragraph on awakening in the morning came to be increasingly moving and meaningful for me. "Even the yearning ceases." Peace was possible in my raging torment.

Sixteen years later another piece of writing — this time it was Eben's essay in U&I No. 1 on falling in love — brought me that same deep embarrassment. (How can one grow without ever being embarrassed? In my childhood, when the relatives visited and little Alex was paraded before them with announcements of his growth and accomplishments, how my face burned hot and red.) Eben's essay seemed just too, too personal, too exposed.

Now I see that we must accept ourselves, and especially leaders, communicators, artists and teachers, in the full spectrum of their being and our being. Here Daniel spoke of "beast, man, priest." The beast is our genetic inheritance from a million years of pure animal survival. The man governs, builds and reasons. The priest finds access to the spiritual realms. The man can only grow from experience in both realms of beast and priest, and so every awakening in the higher dimensions is balanced by awareness surging deeper into the instinctive needs — and hence the need for ever greater sacrifice and self-control. When Peter unknowingly tempted Jesus' darker side, Jesus said, "Get thee behind me Satan." That was putting his beast to work, harnessing that power rather than just "getting off' on it.

Hundreds of years of idolatry toward Jesus and other leaders has hidden truth, and so to many sophisticated moderns "priest" has come to automatically mean the goat hidden in sheepskin, a predator in disguise. A new generation today denies all leadership, and continues the process of stripping former heroes of all virtue in "revisionist" history. Anarchy is espoused, ignoring the need for order. Are we setting the stage for another world anti-Christ?

It seems a great man today may only touch a few, at least in his own time. So many seem not even to contain a concept of a communal father. And real communal effort is only briefly glimpsed in its heroic extreme, in the wake of great tragedies such as last year's terrorist attack, or historically in a "greatest generation" of the Depression and World War II. No wonder we are getting desperate for another war, and our young people are so self-destructive.

The communal father is demonized as a dictator, like Iraq's Hussein, or a Mafia godfather. The latter is part of a morbid contemporary obsession with crime and death in all their minute forensic details. Meanwhile, our academics seek to explain the huge mistake God made 6000 years ago when he established the patriarchal order, which now only Mother can rectify.

Whether earthly or heavenly (and never mind a combination of both!), there's not much feeling for the father. He can't make it beyond the level of a football coach; he's still the bumbling jerk of a television sitcom.

No one hears the cry that Daniel Wright heard, "Come out of Her, My People!"

As Mel Lyman wrote, mankind today IS ready for another huge step forward. Daniel called it a new covenant with God. Will it again begin with only a precious few, the "called-out ones", the Remnant? I hope not, that sounds too lonesome for me. After all, we've got television, we've got the internet. We ought to be able to reach a few more. Probably another bunch of stiff-necked Israelites.

I don't know of Mel Lyman's last years, but Daniel Wright said during his final years that he had to "eat every truth" he had ever preached to others. He was limited physically by blindness and illness, yet like Moses and Martin Luther King, he'd been granted a powerful vision of the promised land. His joy and marvelous sense of humor were unflagged. Daniel's responsibilities and his spiritual growth continued to his last day. He fought every day to overcome his limitations. He's been a mode for me because we all must accept an ever more difficult struggle with the way things really are and with the way we really are.

© September 4, 2002 Alex Simack


Mel Lyman