"I want to get to know Little Will," I told Jill Leigh one late fall afternoon in 2006.
"That's a lot easier said than done," Jill said. She reminded me that the "little me" each of us carries inside is that part that split off when we were very young due to a trauma, real or imagined. A trauma in which some part(s) of our core truth were labeled inferior, shameful, or just plain wrong.
"Little Will has spent a long time in the wilderness of your psyche," Jill said. "He's lonely. He's hungry. He’s scared. And he’s been that way for years. Getting to know him will require building trust, being patient and offering unconditional love."
I asked Jill where to begin.
"When I want to get to know some part of Little Jill, I see myself sitting in a rocker, gently moving back and forth. It's the way I used to calm my son when he was a baby. Quietly rocking. Back and forth. Until he was settled and felt safe. That's how I invite Little Jill. I offer her a place of love, stillness and peace. And when she's ready, she crawls up and shares whatever she is ready to share."
"Create such a space for Little Will," Jill said.
"But I've never had a rocking chair in my life," I responded, feeling a bit like Charlie Brown.
Jill chuckled (more Peppermint Patty than Lucy). "That's ok, be creative. The Universe likes creativity. Maybe a room…”
That was it. Yes, a room. And I knew precisely which one.
It was the bedroom my grandparents made for me when they left Dallas to return to Riverside, California in 1975. The room that looked out on the orange and lemon trees Granddaddy had planted. The room I first saw when I visited Gran and Granddaddy, all on my own, for their first Christmas in their new house. The room I visited only once before Granddaddy died of a sudden heart attack only three weeks after I returned home to Dallas.
I loved that room. I loved it because, at least for one visit, the grandfather I adored was right down the hall.
I loved it because, unlike my room back home, there were no monsters in the closet.
I loved it because, unlike my room back home, I was never sick in it.
And I loved that room because it had a small ceramic frog that sat on my bedside table. He was a silly frog with a silly grin, put there by my grandmother that first night in their home, my room. “Welcome Willo!” read the note under him.
Small, silly frog. Two words.
Sometimes in life it really is the little things, isn’t it? That bring stillness, love and peace.
It was attention to the little things that guided me in the late fall of 2006 as I set about creating my room from 1975. I put the twin bed against the wall so Little Will would feel secure. I opened the closet doors so he could see there were no monsters. I emptied the dresser drawers in case he wanted to stay for awhile. I turned on the bedside light so he could see. And, finally, I put the frog on the table so Little Will would know he was loved.
I told Gran and Granddaddy what I had done and why. And I waited. Every day, after I said my hellos to the Universe, I’d go down the hall of my grandparents’ 1975 house, turn left at the end and peek into the room.
Empty. Light on. No one home.
Until one day, as I made my way down the hall, I saw Gran standing at her bedroom door and Granddaddy shaving in his bathroom. He winked at me as I passed. Looking into the room, I saw Little Will, feet swinging off the side of the bed. He was holding the frog in both hands.
There was a, I’m not sure what, about Little Will. It wasn’t sadness. But it was something. Something that a little boy shouldn’t carry.
I walked in, closed the door and sat down on the bed. Without saying a word or even looking up, Little Will hopped off. I followed.
He reached to open the bedroom door. As he did, we stared out not at my grandparents’ hallway, but my childhood backyard on Lake Haven Drive. Hand in hand, we walked out between the switch bush and the crabapple tree.
So it began. The adventure of getting to know Little Will. And me.
You know, I can write with ease about flying dragons, rising ravens and cycling spirit guides. But when I sit down to write about meeting Charles Lawrence, words fail me.
Perhaps that’s because I’d rather piss off a dragon than annoy Charles.
Perhaps that’s because you do not meet
Charles Lawrence. You experience
Perhaps that’s because there’s a part of our meeting that, to this day, I still don’t fully comprehend.
But. What the hell! I’m going to try anyway. If I disappear, please see “Perhaps #1” above!
I first experienced Charles at a time when my life was full of questions. My first initiation
had shown how foolish it was to question what was happening to me. Yet, I still wanted to know why it was happening…and what I was supposed to do with it.
When Jill Leigh
suggested I meet her Manhattan friend, Charles Lawrence, to learn more about shamanism, I jumped at the chance.
Ah-ha, I thought. Someone who will give me the answers I seek.
When the day came for our first encounter, I took the train from Back Bay to Penn Station. For 3 ½ hours, I wrote, revised and rewrote a long list of questions.
Walking down 7th Avenue towards Charles’s Chelsea apartment, I practiced the questions in my head.
By the time, I took the elevator up to his 18th floor corner apartment, I was ready. Questions in hand. Script in mind.
Then everything blew away.
Charles’s apartment was dimly lit and completely silent (which is quite the feat when the windows are open and it’s 6:30 in Manhattan). He was dressed all in black, which made his white shock of hair, his big eyes and his rich, baritone of a voice all the more imposing. He was seated, occupying a chair with such regal flair that I could have sworn it was a throne.
“So!” he announced in a tone that signaled the start of our match. “Tell me what you seek here tonight.”
“I have a list of questions for you. I was thinking you might be able to give me some answers.”
Charles’s face was expressionless. “Such as,” he intoned.
“I want to know what type of shaman I am,” I said.
“Well. What type of shaman do you sense you are?” Charles volleyed.
“That’s why I’m here. I thought you might know.”
Charles sat motionless. Silent.
After a few seconds, I asked “Why was I called?”
“Why do you sense you were called?” he questioned of my question.
“I don’t know. I thought you might know.”
This wasn’t going anywhere. Fast. “What do you think my calling might be?”
With the same disdain in which a cat greets a mouse that is too puny to eat, Charles replied, “How am I supposed to know that? Tell me what you
“Well,” I whispered. “I’ve read….”
Charles sat up in the chair in a way that said this little match was over. “I did not ask you what someone else thinks,” he snapped. “I asked what you
think. What do you want to say?”
The truth is, I didn’t know. The truth is, I wasn’t prepared. The truth is, I had shown up looking for someone else to do my work for me. To shine a light down the path of my journey and tell me how it all ends. So that I could walk, knowingly, into the unknown.
Charles just stared. Through me.
After what seemed an eternity, that stare caught the attention of Little Will, who had been watching the whole scene from his favorite tree.
He jumped down off, came up through me, and responded to Charles.
“I want to say that a lot of people didn’t think I’d live past the age of 10,” Little Will said. “I was sick all the time, which meant I didn’t often get to play with other kids. Basically, I was raised around adults. I read adult books, attended adult parties, and went to hear Peggy Lee with my grandmother. I always felt like Patrick Dennis in Mame.”
With that, Little Will left me and went back up his tree.
Looking down, I added, “I was happy as a kid, I think. But I never felt like I belonged.”
Silence. More silence. But now there was a softness around it.
Very deliberately, Charles said that what I had described was consistent. With the way. Some who become shamans. Are raised.
He wasn’t saying I was a shaman. He wasn’t saying I was anything. He never has.
But he was issuing an invitation. To explore. To experience.
And he wasn’t just issuing that invitation to the man who sat on the couch. He was issuing it to Little Will. And it wasn’t just coming from Charles. It was also coming from his own Little Charlie.
Because, here’s the funny thing: Charles Lawrence has been many things to me over the years. A mentor, a teacher, a guide, an ancestral grandfather.
But, at the root of it all, his Little Charlie has been a big brother to my Little Will.
Someone who shares his wisdom, but only in a way that pushes me to discover my own. Someone who believes in me, but cuts me no slack. Even on, especially on, my darkest days.
Stick around and you’ll see what I mean. Even if it does annoy Charles from time to time!
I remember precisely the moment of my first initiation. It came from out of the blue. It lasted only an instant, yet its impact was ever-lasting. And transformative. Isn’t that the way life’s best moments are? The moment you meet your true love. Hold your first-born. Or experience your first initiation.
It happened on November 5, 2006. It was not a day I would have picked for my first initiation. I was grumpy. I was feeling overwhelmed. And I was feeling very disconnected from the “work” of my all-of-six-months-old journey.
My hero, dear friend and political mentor had died suddenly. The garden level of our brownstone had flooded due to a fire. And my largest client was mired in controversy after controversy (and I was in charge of PR).
These were the things occupying my scattered mind and heavy heart on November 5, 2006.
Still, I sat down. To do my work.
Immediately, I travelled to my Shadow Door. There, on the curb, were bins of fear, doubt, and the all-time favorite of many a gay man, self-loathing. “I am so not in the mood for this,” I thought to myself.
Raven soon materialized curbside and indicated that I was to empty the bins into white cloth bundles, close each one with a simple knot, and then carry everything up to my 11th chakra (Yes, folks. There indeed are chakras above your crown. Go on, take a look up right now and say “hello” to them. Don’t be surprised if they say “hello” back!).
I liked this bundling idea. No picking through scraps of this emotion or that one. Nope. I just had to dump the bins into bundles and then haul them up to my 11th chakra where I’d be done with them forever!
It took all of about three seconds to empty the bins and maybe two seconds to get up to my 11th chakra. When I got there, there was a beautiful, lush green meadow. A singular dandelion flower stood sentry at the end of a low, three-stone high-wall. To the right of the wall was a simple stone house.
Of course, I didn’t see any of this. All I saw was the psychic landfill for my emotions. Impatiently, dismissively, angrily, I tossed my fear, my doubt, my self-loathing over the wall with a loud “good riddance” and turned to leave.
Raven was waiting for me. And I knew.
“This isn’t right,” I said to my emotions, to the meadow, to the Universe. To me.
I turned back around. Stood next to the dandelion and stared at the stone house. “These bags no longer belong with me," I said, "but I bring them here with wishes of compassion and healing. For them. For me."
With that, I was back at my Target table. Mama Earth sent up a new grounding cord and I did a final sweep of my chakras to release any lingering Shadow dust that was ready to go. Like the bundles before, the dust rose up to the stone house. Next to the stonewall. In the lush meadow. With the singular flower.
I looked up to watch the dust rise, rise, rise away. And, as I did, I saw the face of God (or what I would now simply call Source).
There wasn’t a face, of course. There wasn’t even a light (there wasn’t even, for those of you old enough to remember, George Burns).
There was just a sensation. A filling up and a spilling out. As wave after wave of safety, happiness and bliss washed over me. Simply. For an instant.
Prior to that morning, I had been running around asking what was happening to me. I never asked again. Not because I knew or understood. Because I knew there was no point, no need. Because, what precisely do you ask after a moment like that?
Now, I will stop here because, as Rumi re-minds us, “these words I’m saying so much begin to lose meaning.”
But, before I do, I leave you with this: maybe this moment—yes, this very one—is a moment to look up and see which waves are ready. To wash over you.
By mid-October, 2006, I was a shaman with one bad case of ADD.
I knew I couldn't completely turn things off, but I was wondering if the Universe couldn't just turn things down a wee bit. Sheesh.
Way too many things were competing for my attention. There was the Raven. Plus a dead great-grandmother and a dead grandmother (not to mention occasional appearances from a dead grandfather). There was Dragon, Shadow, and Little Will. Plus, a veritable petting zoo of critters were bringing me messages: jaguars, turtles, frogs, wolves, owls, horses, oh my. Even the rocks were talking to me.
"Listen to the signs," someone who thought they were being helpful told me.
Easy for them to say. You try listening when everyone on your shaman bus is talking at once!
"Walk through the doors that are opening," another helpful, irritating soul chimed in.
I did a lot of walking.
I walked through doors opened by books. Over the span of about six weeks, I read: Jack Kornfield's A Path with Heart; Rudolf Steiner's How to Know Higher Worlds; St Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle; Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainty; Caitlin Matthews's Singing the Soul Back Home; Carolyn Myss's Anatomy of the Spirt; Gurmukh's The 8 Essential Human Talents; Anodea Judith's Wheels of Life; and Gregg Lovoy's Callings.
I walked through doors opened by suggestions. "You really should study Reiki," someone said. So I became a Reiki master (or is that "Master"?). “You really should meet my psychic,” a Boston friend said. So we met. “You really should explore your musical side,” came another idea. So I did. I bought a drum, a guitar, a bunch of Apple music programs. Even a didgeridoo!
I walked through more doors than are at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. And I left with just about the same feeling: a bright, immediate rush...and then nothing.
Oh, sure. Some things connected with me. I was moved by the experience of witnessing Sister Teresa's mystical awakening. I nodded my head at the simplicity of Gurmukh and Judith's words. Reiki influenced the development of my own shamanic practice. And music will always be the wave I ride into higher planes (though not by strumming a guitar or spit-blowing into a didgeridoo!).
But, most of what I experienced? It was one big Chinese take-out dinner. For an ADD shaman. Which is not the combination platter I sought.
A lot of that was because most of what I read--and most of what is still out there--is way, way, way too rigid. Too mind-full. Too ego-centric. Carolyn Myss pronounces that there are seven stages of power and healing. Gurmukh says there are eight human talents. Most memorably, that psychic in Boston explained that the afterlife was a big office full of file cabinets. Each of us has our own drawer. If we are particularly evolved--but only IF!--we have an entire file cabinet (he, of course, had a file cabinet).
I don't know about you, but I think Mama Nature and Papa Universe hear such ridiculousness and just laugh. Seven this. Eight that. File cabinets?!?! My, my, my, what the ego constructs to make one feel worthy. Ha!
Better yet, in a scene straight out of L. Ron Hubbard, to enter all of these doors, you have to pay to play. Hmmm....
By my birthday in 2006, I was pretty much at my wit's end. My consulting business was going full force...and competing mightily with both a cacophony of signs and a plethora of doors. Further, Kalin and I returned from a most splendid adventure to New Mexico’s mountains to find that a fire in the front of our brownstone had flooded our downstairs and my political mentor, Gerry Studds, had died.
Like I said, fried. With ADD. Not pretty.
About a week after returning home to fire, floods and death, I took our dog, Tyra Banks, for her early morning walk. Somewhere on Appleton Street, between Clarendon and Berkeley, my grandmother appeared to me. Dressed in her finest, flowing chiffon, Gran was standing in front of a crossroads, facing me.
To her left was a cluttered path, writhing in dense underbrush, cascading, entwined vines and looming, thick trees. It was a path that could never be cleared. It was the path I was on.
To her right was a pitch-black dark path. As Gran pointed to it, a single, distant flash of lightening illuminated it. It was clear. It was the path I was to take (though I must admit, that lightening did make me feel a bit like Brad and Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show!).
When I went home, I wrote these words:
"Where does it lead? I do not know."
"How long will it take? I do not know."
What will I have to give up? I do not know."
"OK,” I said out loud, “I'm in."
A few days later, I told all of this to Jill. She nodded, paused for what seemed like an incredibly long time and said, simply, "I think it's time you meet Charles."
I just love working with Mama Nature (I'm sorry, but I can't call her "Mother Nature"...it conjures up too many images of those campy 1970's Chiffon margarine commercials!). Mama is compassionate. She is wise. And she has an awesome sense of humor. Every now and then, you get to experience all those qualities at once.
Like this past Tuesday.
A client came to me still riding the high from a visit to Short Mountain, a Radical Faerie space in Tennessee. When he sat down, Matthew was full of wonderful tales of his three-day adventure. In particular, he wanted to visit a snake that someone had told him had been inserted into his field just below his right shoulder. But he also wanted to talk about dancing a naraya, about reclaiming his power, about a most decidedly not-short mountain of things.
"Why don't we start by grounding you," I suggested.
Matthew agreed, albeit with a little reluctance, and came into the room to lay down. Almost immediately, I began to see roots. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of roots coming out of every chakra, every layer of his auric field. Winding this way and that they were reaching down into the center of Earth where they were met, collectively, by Mama Nature's glowing embrace.
Now, this was all very interesting because, usually, you ground via a single chord at the base of your spine as well as through the soles of your feet. This wasn't usual grounding. This was grounding on steroids! But, Mama had a beautiful smile on her face, so I smiled down to her and reminded myself how much we can limit ourselves if we let "usual" get in the way of "true". Like I said, Mama's wise.
I asked Matthew how he was doing. "Not well," came the reply. And he wasn't. Doing well. His jaw was clenched, his face tightened and his hands were in fists.
"What are you feeling," I asked him. "Like a tornado about to crash to the ground," came the reply.
"Let yourself crash," I said.
"OK," he barely whispered.
I then sat down and watched the most beautiful show for the next 30 minutes as Mama Universe sent up her maternal love, her eternal compassion, her grounded ecstasy through the roots that were coming out of Matthew. Roots that had appeared to help him reconnect with his true roots. The roots of earth, water, fire and air that every living being shares. At one point, I even saw some past life figure jump up and dart away as a mass of roots became untangled with Mama's clean, grounded energy. I don't know if the figure was running away or running free, but I do know that Matthew let out a laugh just as it happened.
When it was all over and the roots began to fade, Mama Nature emerged and enveloped Matthew in a wonderful hug. Ah, yes, Mama's compassion. As she, too, faded, Matthew opened his eyes. "What happened?"
"Tornado you crashed so that grounded you could rise," I said.
Matthew and I then talked for a few minutes about how tornadoes have awesome energy, but it's energy that is completely unfocused. Highly destructive. Plus, it picks up the energy of who knows what as it bounces along. It can be a great high, but it's hardly sustainable. Grounded energy, on the other hand, connects you with the Source of all being. But the source of the sharing is, well, Source, not your next-door neighbor, ex-lover, or the texting driver who cut you off on your way to work this morning.
As Matthew sat in the chair, tying his shoes, I said "Before you leave, let's balance and adjust your chakras." He sat back and I began with his first chakra, balancing it and then closing it to 35%. Then on to his second chakra (25%) and his third (45%). As I moved up to his fourth, Mama Nature showed back up and gently nudged me out of the way. "I can take it from here," she said.
I fell back laughing.
"You're all set, Matthew," I said. "Mama's got you."
As he walked out onto my stoop and down the street, I chuckled at Mama's humor. Her compassion. Her wisdom. There are a lot of folks who run around saying they're healers. They're not. None of us are. We are simply vessels. Vessels through which Mama Nature, Popa Universe and others do their work. Sometimes they need us. Other times, they don't.