Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Sacred Contracts - Part 1

This is an article I wrote for a magazine last year, which unfortunately never got published! So, at least I can publish it here. This is the "spiritual" aspect of myself, thus far mostly unrevealed on this site.

I'M STANDING IN A LINE that stretches one block around the corner from the front door of St. Andrew's Wesley Church in downtown Vancouver, waiting for the doors to open. At 6:30pm, the sun has long disappeared over the horizon, and the temperature hovers around one degree celsius, making the wait barely tolerable. In front and behind me are mostly middle aged women of two types: the first tend to be dressed in rich, well-cut fabrics with silk scarves, and expertly styled and coloured hair that shimmers under the sodium street lights; the second type appear to spend their time and money on other pursuits. I imagine them raising organic vegetables in their own garden, or perhaps covered in mud, spinning pottery in their home studio.

"Where are all the men?" I think.

A tall, successful looking woman with a maroon and gold scarf around her neck asks her friend, "I wonder how much she charges to do speaking engagements?" I notice that her scarf matches her copper hair.

"I don't know. Maybe $500?" suggests her friend.

I smile at their niaveté, and turn around to talk to them. "Carolyn Myss (pronounced 'mace') is on a book tour, so her publisher probably covers most expenses," I say to them.

A woman with an official demeanor interrupts our conversation by addressing our section of the line-up. She says, "Does everyone in line have a ticket? All fourteen hundred tickets are sold out, so if you don't have a ticket, then you're out of luck."

I silently calculate fifteen dollars times fourteen hundred people… Maybe the book publisher doesn't contribute! Someone's making half my yearly salary in one evening.

A petite and attractive dark-haired woman in front of me asks, "Have you seen Carolyn Myss talk before?

"Only on video. This is my first time," I say. "Have you?"

The dark-haired woman says, "Me neither. But I've seen her on PBS and boy, is she ever… brutal. It makes me nervous." I notice she's in her mid-thirties and looks anxious. "Have you read Sacred Contracts, her new book?" she asks me.

"Yes, I just bought it last week." I say.

"Oh, it's so scary," she says. "All that stuff about archetypes - like the prostitute, victim, child and saboteur - they're so disturbing. It makes me realize how often I'm a prostitute, always selling my soul to get other people's affections. It's so hard to take." Her wide eyes plead with understanding and longing.

I take a deep breath in to ground my energy. She's feeding off it, trying to replenish herself. Obviously she hasn't read Carolyn Myss's book Why People Don't Heal and How They Can. Myss explains how our self-help culture has become one that's based on "victimology." Our identity is founded on our suffering rather than our strengths. Within seconds of meeting this anxious lady, I already know too much about her. But I'm practicing compassion, and try to think of something to say that would empower her, while showing empathy.

"They're not meant to create fear," I say to the dark-haired woman. "The archetypes are meant to give you tools to understand, observe and transcend your behavior patterns." On the street behind us we hear horns blaring, because a car tries to turn into a one-way lane, nearly causing an accident.

"Oh my god," she says. "Driving is so dangerous. That reminds me of when I ran into a car and the driver turned out to be a lawyer. Of course, that's just my luck - out of anyone, I hit a lawyer! I haven't driven since." She looks at me, expecting approval and confirmation of her beliefs.

Thankfully, the line starts to move forward, and I don't need to respond.

WHEN I HEARD about the Carolyn Myss speaking event on January 21, I immediately bought my ticket. I knew they'd sell out quickly. Since discovering Myss' writings, I knew I'd found one of North America's most influential and insightful healers. Since her introduction to the world with her books, Anatomy of the Spirit and Why People Don't Heal and How They Can, she was recognized worldwide, to great acclaim, and twice made the New York Times bestsellers list.

Myss is regarded for three reasons, the first being her medical intuitive ability. She combined forces in 1983 with C. Norman Shealy, M.D., Ph.D., with whom she worked to refine her skills as a medical intuitive. He would back up her paranormal insights with scientific fact. Myss is able to read the energy field around a human being, and describe the energetic dysfunctions that are present within her client's bodies. She treats the body and spirit equally, as interdependent aspects of oneself.

Myss is also honored for her academic knowledge and interpretive abilities. After receiving a degree in journalism, and working in the new age publishing industry as an editor, she felt an inner calling to study spirituality. She received a Masters in Theology at Mundelein College, which followed with a Ph.D. from Greenwich University, in Intuition and Energy Medicine. As a result, her writing is grounded in academia - including philosophy, theology and contemporary new age thought. She quotes source texts from major religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam; Celtic myths; and popular fairy tales. In a cross-disciplinary manner, she examines their shared spiritual meanings. And in each book manages to find a way to tie these disparate thoughts into a new working model of healing - one which increases our understanding of the spiritual journey.

Finally, Myss is notorious for her ruthlessness with people. When she sees into the fears that stop a person from empowerment, Myss delivers her insight with force. In Sacred Contracts, she explains, "in those moments I am looking through the personality and into the heart of their passion to transform the ordinariness of their lives into the extraordinary - meaning their greater potential in this lifetime." The queen is the archetype that corresponds to her actions here - Myss says she, "symbolically decapitates people who are yearning for liberation from their fears." Perhaps the anxious dark-haired woman I spoke with in line has reason to fear Myss. She doesn't soften her interactions with people until she feels they have, "made a conscious connection to their excuses and self-sabotage." While it's shattering to be in the line of fire of naked truth, it's ultimately transforming. Myss isn't the gentle, nurturing mother often expected in new age circles. Instead she's the Shakti, a force who destroys in order to create anew.

I wanted to attend Myss' talk because I wanted to see her in action. It's like the dark thrill of seeing a car accident, while knowing no one gets hurt.

I SLOWLY SHUFFLE into the main Sanctuary, designed in the Norman architectural style. It's characterized by its massive pillars, and semi-circular doorways and windows. The vaulted ceiling is high enough to allow a legion of angels to flutter about. An unseen pianist is playing Bach in the background. Being among the first in line, I think I have a good chance of finding a seat in the front. But once up there, I see that the first twelve rows are already packed with eager Carolyn Myss fans. Returning to the pews at the back, I see a hand waving at me, and the maroon-scarfed woman I was in line with earlier stands and says, "We saved a seat for you."

"Is that ever nice," I say with a big smile. I feel blessed by her generosity. Looking down the fifteen foot long bench, I don't see any spaces. "Are you sure there's room?"

"Oh yes, just scoot in. We'll find some room for you," she says.

After upsetting about nine seated patrons who irreligiously stand on the bench to let me pass, I find a cozy seat, giving me just enough room to hold my shoulders square. I wonder, "Would I be thoughtful enough to even think of holding a seat for a stranger?"

I wait, chatting occasionally to my new friends, while watching swarms of people fill every corner of the cross-shaped sanctuary. Men of every age begin to appear in the pews, scattered in pockets among the women. There's even a kid with raspberry kool-aid coloured hair, whose eyebrows, nose and lips are pierced with rings. Thirty minutes later, the lights dim, and into the chancel walks a small, slender woman. She's wearing a bland outfit of gray slacks and jacket, and a pink, black and gray striped sweater. But I notice she walks with a regal grace.

"Now remember. You're not born yet," Myss says sternly, like an evangelist preacher looking for recruits to be baptized. She speaks into a cordless microphone, like a pop star, with a moderate Chicago accent. "Imagine you're not yet born and are being prepared for incarnation. You must be born for some purpose, and this purpose is going to be burned into your soul, so you won't forget when you're in a human body," she explains. The audience and I are silent, caught up in imagining such a state of being.

"Your purpose is clearly defined. Human experience is about discovering how powerful you are as vehicles of creative expression," she says. "In order to discover your power, you're given a schedule of people you may meet, places you may go, and experiences you may have. It's a situation where destiny and free choice walk hand-in-hand."

A young woman arriving late attempts to make it to her seat in the second pew from the front. She's an easy mark for Myss' unmerciless humor. "What are you doing?" Myss says aloud. "Are you trying to make it to your seat without being seen?" The audience laughs nervously. "I've never understood how people think they can be invisible by stooping around and tiptoeing to their seat." Myss unkindly mimics her, appearing more like Frankenstein than her target. "It's like when people whisper," she hisses loudly, "Thinking that no one can hear them." Bursts of audience laughter.

"And that feather boa you're wearing isn't helping," she adds.

Myss gets her payoff. The audience peels into horrified laughter. Her technique is as subtle as spraying mace into open eyes. She continues, "No one is born empowered. Not even the saints or Buddha himself. It's a journey that you must take on your own. Fortunately, each of us is given lots of help on the path. This includes your allies, people with whom you form positive and supportive relationships, as well as your adversaries, who teach you to grow spiritually, albeit painfully."

It occurs to me that Myss antagonized the woman with the feather boa for a purpose higher than just getting a laugh. Was she indirectly telling her to own her power, and walk without apology for her existence?

"And you're given archetypes. These are the blueprints that guide you in your decisions," Myss says. "Learning to recognize how they influence your reactions gives you greater choice and understanding on your own path to power."
To be continued tomorrow.