When I woke up on the morning of August 7, 2005, I had a massive pain in my groin.
It was my 25th birthday.
I pulled down my boxers and had a look. Everything seemed normal. I’d been drinking and smoking weed the previous night, so I figured I’d pulled a muscle while in the middle of doing something stupid.
The next day, the pain was worse. It was a deep, dull, insistent pain – the kind of pain that makes you nervous because you know something is wrong. I had ignored it most of the morning, but by the afternoon, it had gotten so bad, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
I went into the bathroom, took a breath, and lowered my drawers.
The sight of my left testicle nearly made me cry out. The swollen area was about the size of a grape.
I called my dad, who’s a doctor.
“You’re fine,” said my dad. ”Don’t panic.”
“Is it testicular cancer?”
“Testicular cancer doesn’t just sprout up over night. It sounds like you have epididymitis.”
“It’s an infection of the epididymis.”
“It’s the tube that connects the testicles to the vas deferens.”
“It’s really swollen.”
“And red. And angry-looking.”
“Yep. That sounds about right.”
“How’d I get it?”
“It’s a bacterial infection, so you could have gotten it a number of ways. Sex, urinary tract infection, or sometimes bacteria just works its way down there. It’s hard to say.”
Sometimes bacteria just works its way down there…
“What do I do?”
“I’ll prescribe you some antibiotics. It should clear up soon. Just relax and don’t panic.”
As promised, my dad prescribed me the antibiotics. It was around this time that the pain intensified. I developed a fever.
Sometimes bacteria just works its way down there…
It hurt to pee. It hurt to lie down on my left side. And forget about masturbation.
Sometimes bacteria just works its way down there…
Eventually, the antibiotics did their thing, the infection went away, and the swelling went down. Physically, I was fine. Psychologically, though…
I’d never been a germaphobe before. Now I was. I constantly washed my hands. I always had a bottle of hand sanitizer wherever I went. I was afraid to shake people’s hands and touch door knobs. I became adept at turning sinks off with my elbows.
I talked my job into giving me health insurance and made regular visits to the doctor. She told me I was fine, but sent me to some specialists just to make sure. I complained about pains coming from my liver, so I got an MRI done of my liver and groin. Everything looked fine, though my doctor noted that my prostate seemed larger than usual. She recommended I see a urologist. I went. The urologist seemed annoyed that my regular doctor had even bothered sending me to him, because my MRI didn’t look the slighest bit unusual. But since I was already there, he might as well give me a prostate exam. He noted that I was probably the youngest guy he’d ever examined.
Everyone kept telling me I was fine, but I didn’t feel fine. Every now and then, I’d feel residual pain in my groin. I also felt a weird tingly sensation throughout my entire body. My dad kept telling me that it was all psychological. But the symptoms felt too real.
My OCD got worse, spreading into other areas of my life. Before leaving the house, I would check the locks and the burners on the stove multiple times. My imagination ran wild as I visualized the worst possible things happening to me and people I loved. I had trouble sleeping. I developed chronic acid reflux. My stomach felt like it was on fire.
One night, I was rolling around in my bed, unable to shut off my thoughts.
This is hell, I thought. I’m creating my own hell. I’m torturing myself with my own thoughts.
For the first time in four years, I missed God. I missed the feeling of comfort and security it gave me to know that there was a Supreme Being looking out for me. Even if that wasn’t true, it didn’t matter. I needed to believe in something.
I prayed to God and said, “God, I’m going crazy right now. I can’t do this alone. I need your help. I’ll come back to you. But things can’t be like they were before. I need to find my own way back to you, but I’m open to whatever suggestions you have.”
A little voice spoke in my heart, saying, “We’ll take it one step at a time.”
I used Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way as a roadmap to getting back on the spiritual path. I wrote three pages of stream-of-consciousness each morning to flush out my mind.
I still felt residual pain from the infection, as well as tingling in my left leg. My intuition told me that physical exercise, such as yoga would probably help.
I only went to yoga once a week, but I noticed improvement immediately. Less tension in my body, more of an optimistic outlook on life, all that good stuff. Then I saw that my yoga studio was offering Zen meditation classes.
Our teacher recommended a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. While reading it, I came across a passage that described the mind like a river constantly flowing. Rather than trying to resist our thoughts, one should allow one’s thoughts to come and go.
The image of the river was a good one. I wanted to treat my mind that way. Relaxing it. Letting thoughts come and go.
So one night, in September of 2006, I lay in bed, on my side, breathing deeply, envisioning my mind to be a flowing river. No resistance. No grasping for thoughts. Just going with the flow of mind.
Eventually I fell asleep.
I don’t remember exactly what my dream was that night. Only that it had to do with The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, a show I never really liked. In the dream, I was watching Boris and Natasha talking. Natasha said something about “moose and squirrel” in that thick Russian accent of hers, and I started laughing hysterically.
Then I woke up. I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed. But I could still hear the sound of my own laughter inside my head. It was like I could hear someone else laughing, but they were laughing with my voice.
The laughter was becoming more intense, more high-pitched, more frightening. I told myself that this laughter was simply a projection of my subconscious mind, and that it wouldn’t and couldn’t hurt me. I relaxed.
The laughter ceased.
Within an instant, I felt an immensely powerful Force surrounding me, moving through my body, enveloping me. It was the most exquisite, blissful sensation I’d ever experienced. My face split into an involuntary grin.
But in my head, I was freaking out. I still couldn’t move my body. At first, I thought I was on drugs, but I remembered I hadn’t smoked cannabis in months.
Great, I thought to myself. I’ve done it this time. I’ve really fucked my mind up.
I tried to move. No luck.
Okay, I told myself. I’m going to get out of bed on the count of three. One…Two…THREE!
I gathered my will and put every ounce of mental strength I had into trying to get up.
And then…it was as if my consciousness had become partially dislodged from my body.
One minute, I was perceiving everything from my head (through my eyes and whatnot), and the next thing I knew, I was perceiving everything from the center of my abdomen. There was a terrible pain in my…well, where my head should have been.
I felt something like a gravitational force pull my consciousness back into my head where it belonged.
I lay there, still unable to move. Still feeling this Power flow through me.
“God,” I prayed in my head, ” I don’t know what to do right now. I’m going to just trust that no matter what happens, you got me. You support me. I’m giving myself over to you.”
I let myself relax.
The Power left. My body was free. I sat up in bed, staring at the wall for I don’t know how long. Then I got up and walked into the living room.
My roommate was on the couch, watching TV. He saw the look on my face.
“What’s up, dude?” he said.
I told him what happened.
“Wow,” he said. ”That’s crazy.”
I went back into the bedroom. I didn’t think I’d be able to fall asleep. But I did. The rest of the night passed without incident.
But the next night it happened again. Only it wasn’t a beneficent force that entered my room this time – it was very malevolent. It whispered hateful things to me about my life, about what a terrible person I was. I was taken aback by the sheer amount of hatred it was giving off. My only response was to concentrate on sending it as much love as I could. I don’t know what made me think to do that. It was just instinct. But when I did that, it disappeared.
The following night, there were no visitations, but a series of extremely vivid dreams.
I was with an old Russian woman who was telling me about a past life we shared together.
I saw Martin Luther King standing behind a podium, saying: ”Behold the Land of Canaan, whether Caanan’s Land is here or not.”
My final dream visitor was a friend I knew from work. She told me that I had chained all the people I knew in my life to my ego. I needed to let them go. ”Nobody can give you what you already possess within yourself,” she said. ”Release your brothers.”
And that was it. The dreams, the night paralysis…it all stopped after that. For one year, everything went back to normal, for the most part.
For one year.
Then in September 2007, almost a year to the exact date, it all started happening again, but with greater intensity.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night, surrounded by spirits. I was almost never able to see them, but I could feel their hands on me, and I could touch them with mine. (There’ve been only two instances in which one of them materialized in front of me while I was in a hypnopompic state, and I nearly shit my pants).
Sometimes I’d hear messages. Sometimes I’d feel power radiating through me and it felt like my whole body was going to explode. One night they were opening blockages in my chakras. I gritted my teeth the whole time, and did my best not to scream.
I remember after one such session, I got out of bed and whispered harshly at them, “Are you trying to drive me mad? Are you? Well, I’m not going to go mad. You hear me? I’m not going to go crazy. I’m still here!”
I made a fist and pounded my chest hard. “I’M STILL HERE AND I’M STILL ME!”
Then there were times when they would pull me out of my body and take me to other worlds. There wasn’t too much I could say after that.
The whole time this was happening, I was holding down a full-time job as a writer and script assistant for a children’s television show. I somehow managed to get my work done for as long as the job lasted. There was a good friend at work who I was confiding in, and that helped a lot.
But eventually, I could feel the spirits around me all the time – even at work. It was too hard to concentrate.
As I started researching spiritual emergency and began to put this all into context, I suspected that I was either going through a kundalini awakening or a shamanic illness or both. But I still didn’t entirely trust the spirits.
Because one of them – a female spirit – gave me a message that was way too terrifying to even contemplate.
Feeling completely out of my depth, I went to others to find answers.
When my job ended, I went down to Peru to work with curanderos in the Amazon for a week. Over the course of three nights, I drank ayahuasca and tried to listen to what the plant spirit had to tell me.
Then, for over two and a half weeks, I traveled around northern Peru, visiting sacred sites and working with the huachuma cactus (known popularly as “San Pedro”).
Then I spent four months in Guatemala, studying Tarot, lucid dreaming, and the Kaballah. I spent over forty days in silence, limiting my food intake, meditating on the Kabalallistic Tree of Life.
I’m going to have to save the details of those trips for another time, because they would be a blog series in of themselves.
I gained a wealth of experience, met some amazing people, and saw things that left no doubt in my mind that the spirit world was real, but I still didn’t know why all this was happening to me.
I spoke with shamanic practitioners, mystics, channelers, and diviners to get help with figuring out what these spirits were all about. The answers that I got were as varied as the people I went to. For the most part, though, I was told that the spirits meant me no harm, and that their purpose was ultimately benevolent. One person told me that I needed to learn how to communicate with them myself.
But I still had doubts. I still didn’t know how all this fit into my overall life plan. I needed a mission statement.
But see, the spirits had already give me hints about what to do. It was contained in the message I spoke of earlier – the one that was too terrifying to contemplate. And I’d pretty much forgotten about that message anyways. From time to time, it would spring back to my memory. I’d turn it over in my mind a few times, and then forget about it all over again.
I decided to go to Israel – the Holy Land. The spirits always sang to me in Hebrew and Arabic, so I thought there was a connection there.
Amazing experience. Great people (though there is so much turmoil there, it’s heartbreaking). Renewed belief in the power of the spirit world.
But still no mission statement.
My despair grew. I felt empty and without purpose. I thought about traveling to Mt. Shasta, finding a cave, and meditating until I just withered out of existence, like Enoch.
But then I thought to myself, “If I’m going to walk all that way just to sit in a cave by myself, maybe I can take up a walking mission and walk for world peace, like Peace Pilgrim.
So I tried to walk across the United States in the name of world peace. You can learn about how well that went here.
After that, I finally decided to give it all up. The questing. The searching. Everything.
I moved back in with my parents, took on a series of low-level part-time jobs for about a year and half until I’d saved enough money to move back to New York and try to re-start my writing career.
When I arrived in NYC in September of 2011, Occupy Wall Street was already in full swing. I camped out with them for two weeks and then used my experiences as the basis for a new play, which was given a reading by an off-Broadway theatre company. Then I decided that if I really wanted to get a steady paycheck as a writer, I’d need to move to Los Angeles and work in television again.
So I moved again.
Keep in mind that during all of this, the spirits were still with me. But I was consciously trying to shut off my connection to them so that I could do what I needed to be doing.
So they waited. Patiently. And they didn’t have to wait long.
After one year in Los Angeles, I was so crazy, I was so depressed, I was so out of sync with myself that I finally said, “Enough!”
I moved out of my friend’s apartment and decided to go on another walk, this time up the California coast. I based this pilgrimage on the pilgrimage walks of Paul Munn. I was hoping to make it from L.A. to San Francisco, but I decided to go easy on myself. No definite plans. I just needed to hit the re-set button.
I walked for about two days, and then gave it up. You can read about that whole saga here.
I ended up back home.
34 years old and living at home. No job. No prospects. And a laundry list of failures as long as my arm.
All because I couldn’t face what the spirits were trying to communicate to me.
There was no where to turn now. I was finally willing to sit and just listen to them.
I was ready to contemplate the message too terrifying to contemplate.