Strange Medicine

Sansaku: Strange Medicine


We have no idea what’s “really” out there. Physicists say most of the matter in the universe is made of dark energy. What we perceive is less than five percent. It’s the same with a person, most of their matter is composed of a similar energy.

I’ve also heard it said that the nonverbal content is ninety percent of the message. It mostly depends on who’s talking, their intentions, under which circumstances, to whom, for what reasons, how it’s said, and what it “really” means. This is the dark energy.

Words rarely mean what they say, even when we try. The contents are not the container. But strong liquor tastes the same out of pottery or crystal. And the great mythological themes pour out and into ordinary life, where the divine energies are the same whether dressed in proper clothes or looking like a well-educated tramp.

I doubt the gods praised Prometheus, although the poets did. As far as Zeus was concerned, he defected. When I asked my dad, he said his unpardonable crime was defending too well those people who didn’t deserve it. They didn’t like that he won using tricks. He added, “Of course, when I did it for the rich and powerful they praised me.”

He was very aware of the hypocrisy. If you steal a kingdom, they’ll call you a king. Good luck if you steal some bread. Corder was losing his idealism the longer he practiced the law, which punished both the rich and poor alike for stealing bread and sleeping under bridges.

I suppose Prometheus had a similar sense of justice. I know they suffered a similar fate.

He said, “Most people get their freedom too cheaply. You have no idea what I went through.” It wasn’t an eagle that came to eat his liver, his was an alcoholic bird of prey. The irony wasn’t lost on him.

After landing from his fall from grace, Corder changed his name. I’m sure it wasn’t legal. That wasn’t his way.   He signed his checks as Denver Smith, but when he went into bars, they called him Doc. He was hardly incognito.

I’ve heard it’s a joy to hide, but a disaster not to be found. This is one of the reasons dream group worked so well. Someone almost always said, “There’s something I’ve been hiding.” They wanted us to find and see them. It’s how my father and I felt about each other.

He wanted to know my secrets and I wanted to know his. I can’t express how much was riding on this. Our myth was at a turning point.

When I found my father, I met the man. History lived in him. When he met his son, he wanted to know what kind of a man he’d become. It was obvious I was not like him and yet we needed each other to be whole and free. Strange medicine.

If equanimity is that larger and more inclusive view of joy and sorrow, he had it. When I didn’t, he reminded me, “This, too, will pass.” Unlike our mother’s even temperament, which came from love, his came from a shadow-side awareness. Almost nothing surprised him, especially the darker shades of life.

When he was eighty-sixed from the Colorado Bar Association, he took those well-crafted talents southwest. The bars in Tombstone, Arizona, had swinging doors and gladly let him in.

The myth changed stage, set, and scene.   Now playing the piano, he held court at the Crystal Palace Saloon. He was still the same character.











A Complex Diagnosis

Sansaku: A Complex Diagnosis


He might begin the story with some ripped-off and slightly altered lines. “Call me Prometheus.” He wasn’t like Ishmael, the ship-wrecked outcaste in Melville’s classic, nor the cast-off and banished child of Abraham in Genesis, even though he lived and looked like that.

It’s easy to story-book the myth. Prometheus was an obvious trickster, and I don’t know why. I suppose he was wired that way. We do know he tricked the gods once before. It had to do with the sacrifices we make to them. He rigged it so the humans got the choice parts and the gods were served the left-overs. It pissed Zeus off.

The next time it wasn’t a trick. For some reason, the gods had taken fire from the humans and Prometheus stole and gave it back. This time Zeus punished the wise guy by chaining Prometheus to a rock. Each day an eagle came and ate his liver. Each night the god, being immortal, grew a new one. This was supposed to go for eternity.

Hercules finally rescued the bound god by breaking the chains and slaying the eagle. And as far as I know, Prometheus went free. I don’t think he changed all that much. The myth doesn’t say.

I’d never thought much of Prometheus until I met-up with my father. I was curious about some things that happened during childhood. I asked about his time in the hospital. I thought he’d had tuberculosis and when I mentioned this he said, “Whatever gave you that idea?” It turned out he wasn’t sick, not like that. He was in the psych unit.

I hadn’t heard that story and it takes a long time to tell. But I’ll start with his diagnosis. After a failed attempt at therapy and a patient rebellion he led at the VA, another story, he was sent to an expert clinician at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka. He didn’t mind.

The psychiatrist there, besides knowing Freud, was educated in the liberal arts and humanities. The two of them got along famously. Their minds weren’t all that different. He’s the one who said, “You have a Promethean complex and I’m afraid it’s incurable.” Corder thanked him and returned to Colorado to face his punishment.

Freud said the Oedipal myth was an immorality play that found all of us guilty. We might believe we’re innocent and good, but not when you lift the covers.   Freud was a truth-teller. He’s easy to criticize and has been properly punished by the righteous, but he had a righteous side.

Jung was grateful the old myths came alive with him, but when Freud accused the young disciple of patricide and betrayal, an Oedipal charge, Jung pleaded Promethean. His defense went beyond good and evil. And while this might be pushing the truth, if Freud spotted the dark repressions, Jung spotted the spiritual.

I’ve decided there are four general stages to the Promethean complex. There’s the time before the trickster god plays tricks and there’s the theft of fire. The third stage is the time he spent on the rock with the eagle. It’s not necessarily what it looks like. And finally, there’s the time after Hercules. That’s when the god goes free.

It’s said that the gods like to hide and wear disguises. I’m interested in that. Jung said we’ve lost the language used to see and serve them. Instead of the gods we’ve got diseases and they speak in symptoms.

So, what would Prometheus look like in the flesh? How would his life play out? This would depend on the stage and it would depend on the person who met him.

I was lucky to be his youngest son. I was lucky he was my father. And I was lucky to know him when I did. I’ve got a lot of people to remind me, he wasn’t always like that.










Before the Fall

Sansaku: Before the Fall


It’s a phrase that’s used with the beginning of recovery from addiction, stepping out of the shadows. It’s also called a new beginning. In the spiritual traditions, it’s called liberation and it’s all about freedom. Freedom from what? That depends.

Imagine a room. Bright sunlight pours through windows. If you look at the light, it’s blinding. Turn around and look at the room. You can see in this direction, but there’s a shadow in the far corner. It’s too dark to see. Imagine you’re standing in the shadow.

Looking out, you can see where the others are and what they’re doing, but they cannot see you. Imagine being in a world like this. It takes some time to realize the implications. What would you do?

Corder learned he could see what others could not. It goes way back. He was born to social and intellectual privilege. But gifts can also be curses. When he entered adolescence, it wasn’t cool to be the tall and skinny smart kid who read too many books, played violin and clarinet, and knew things he shouldn’t know.

He was pushed around, not too much, but he had a high opinion of himself and didn’t like bullies of any kind. Brute power pissed him off and instead of fighting, which he couldn’t at the time, he decided to be wicked and he studied the bullies closely. He learned about their soft spots and how to use their weapons.

He came of age in college. It was a new beginning and beginnings are vastly important. You must choose from the eight directions. The northeast is not the southwest. And the further you go, the harder it is to change. But you can always make a new beginning.

When Corder arrived in Boulder, he took his time to emerge from the shadows. He’d been shunned for his intellectual and artistic inclinations, and wanted to be sure it was safe. It didn’t take long.

Irma said, “He was almost always the leader and one of the first Barbs to be elected student body president.” I asked her about Barbs. She laughed and said, “It comes from Barbarian. The student government was traditionally lorded over by the Greeks and their fraternities.” He judged them as belonging to the same order of bully he’d dealt with in high school.   He was a barbarian and loved taking them down.

The sad truth, the anti-bully bully slowly learned to bully.   And when he did, he joined them.   But this was still before the fall. The redemption was a long ways away.

When we met, after so many years, the first question he asked was this, “What took you so long to find me?”   My first was this, “How did you become the devil?” He asked me, “How long are you going to be here?” I asked, “How long are you going to live?” He said, “We’d better get going.”

The devil tells lies, but that’s not the half of it. I hadn’t expected the truth. Imagine if the Trump finally decided to come clean, like the time when he stepped off the bus in Hollywood. Fat chance. If it wasn’t so tragic, it could almost be a comedy.

The great tragic heroes in Shakespeare have more reality than even the bard who wrote them. We know Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear and Othello much better. Had Will written a play about Corder, the villain would have looked like Trump.

The psychiatrist said, “You are not an ordinary psychopath. I’m reminded of Prometheus or Lucifer.” Both defected from the heavens. The devil stole the fire and the light. The big wigs didn’t like it.







The Devil

Sansaku: The Devil


She graduated from high school at sixteen and I don’t know what she did that summer. She would have said, “Not much.” It meant she worked long hours on the ranch and dreamed about Boulder. She had all kinds of expectations, all kinds.

When she arrived in August, she needed a place to live and some money. The scholarship paid her tuition, but for room and board she had to work. She found a wealthy family that needed a babysitter and some help with the chores. She’d never been a servant, but she knew how to serve.

The great depression had not overlooked Colorado and jobs were hard to come by. She did not want to quit, but when the father made a pass at her one night, she chose not to serve him. She told me, “I knew what I had to do.”

If there had been counselors, she said she would have seen one. Instead, she visited with the Dean of Women who gave her the same advice she’d already given herself. “I didn’t want to punish him, but he needed to know what was right.” That’s when she moved to the boarding house and met her best friend.

Her next job was with the registrar and who wouldn’t want her to work for them? She stayed on, even after graduation. And because she copied every grade of every student into the records, she had great privilege of information.

She told me, “The college was much smaller back then and I knew every student’s name and face. They knew mine. But I knew much more than just that. It’s how I met your father. He was different back then.”

After her freshman year, she was much less innocent about her beauty. Besides the unwelcome pass by her employer, she’d been asked out on many dates. He was, by far, her favorite. I won’t say school took a back seat, but the back seat took a place in school.

While he’s remarkably easy for some people to judge, they probably didn’t know him. Even for those who did, the narrative had to be often revised or completely rewritten. He didn’t just change like the breeze.

I’m no expert in world literature, but I’ll bet the character of Satan is far more developed and fascinating than any characterization of God. And I have never heard anyone say he was boring.   He was born that way.

There are many fairy tales about a wild animal or being who, for some reason, takes the form of a human. Sometimes it’s a crane, sometimes a seal, sometimes a trickster god. They’re only allowed to stay under certain conditions. They cause joy and grief, and make great stories.

It’s not their fault if they have to be true to themselves. Wild beings need to be free and man-made laws can do them harm. He was never intended to be a lawyer, much less the kind who lies for lots of money. Fate messed with him and he messed back.

She said, “He was very shy at first and lacked confidence with women.” But she knew his background and his career as a student. He had two stellar skills. He blamed them on his mother.

She projected her positive masculine shadow in the form of creative intelligence onto her youngest child. Somehow, he held the magic and by the age of four was performing on stage.   While he was classically trained in violin and clarinet, he took up the piano in college. It gave voice to his other gift, his voice.

They say the devil lies, but that’s not the half of it. Have you ever heard his wisdom or his stories?








Tumbleweed Art

Sansaku: Tumbleweed Art


Most every Sunday morning for twenty years or more, I could expect a call from Boulder and later Montana. She rarely missed until the week she died. I used to read the paper before she called, but the weekend edition now comes on Saturday. It’s why I almost forgot to water the house plants. It’s getting harder to recognize Sunday.

It got me thinking about the woman who lived out on the prairie at Two Buttes. Come this June, she would’ve been a hundred. I worked hard to get these stories and because she didn’t like to boast, I needed to be patient and persevering. Actually, it was easy.

I love beginnings and she had a good one.

She told me the place wasn’t much to look at and the cars on the Kit Carson Highway went as fast as they could to get by. “It was a place that didn’t seem to offer much support or encouragement for the creative mind,” but then she laughed and said, “But that didn’t stop me.” From a distance, I could see her mind drifting into clouds.

She said the clouds on the edge of the prairie could hold their own with any on earth. She rarely missed a sunset and her mother loved the sunrise. Even her hard-nosed dad had to stop in the afternoon to admire the clouds. He was the one who always asked, “Do you see that?” And he’d point to a pattern. “You wouldn’t believe what we saw. It’s why I had no trouble imagining heaven, sometimes hell.”

She said the weather was wild and wicked. “Until I moved to Boulder, I didn’t know snow could fall straight down.” She described the snow crossing the prairie in sand-blasting waves. She said, “We didn’t measure snow by inches, we looked at the drifts.”

She assured me the summers weren’t much better. It’s the lowest corner of the state, and definitely the hottest. This was long before air-conditioning. It’s when the family napped. I suspect they all had fever dreams.

Irma, however, didn’t fall asleep. She lived in a house with books and planned on reading all of them, at least until she discovered romantic adventure and fiction. Now she knew her field and the imagination took notice. “I was always a dreamer,” she said.

The family usually took trips back to Nebraska and Missouri to see relatives, but one summer they went camping. They visited Boulder and drove up into the mountains and Estes Park. She loved the high-country beauty, but preferred the university.

“I’ve known since first-grade I would go to college in Boulder. There was never any doubt.” It was Hogwarts for her, maybe better. She knew for a fact true magic existed. She wasn’t a muggle.

Her first-grade teacher lived in one of the out-buildings at the ranch, and she rode on a mule to the one-room school behind him. He hated the weather and didn’t last. When a beautiful young teacher from Boulder took his place, she fell in love. There is no better teacher.

The playground was full of tumbleweeds and the kids used them to build forts and houses. The weeds were light and stacked well, but the first strong wind would send them tumbling. Irma was creative and saw their artistic potential. She started making sculptures by the road. I doubt she noticed, but the cars that passed started going slower.

While she intended her art to be beautiful, the wind messed with her designs. I’m guessing the tumbleweed sculptures could look a little super-natural and spooky. But weird beauty is hard to forget. I like to imagine she gave the highway a reputation for a time.



Sansaku: Medicine


Chyako said, “Look, two fox on the woodpile.” There was just enough light. I was pleased to see the pair, it’s been awhile. They were so playful and loving, I forgot I was sick. It’s been three days now.

I’m reminded of Okasan, my Japanese mother. She thinks moments like these help to slow us down. The modern world is fast and noisy, life can pass us by. This sickness is definitely a slow-down. She might say, “It is healthy to contemplate beauty.” The foxes are good for me.

When I’m in Japan, she always takes me to Cloud Bank Monastery, Unganji. It’s a magical place. Basho, the great haiku poet, spent time worshipping the bamboo and pine mountains that surround the temple grounds. Beauty and religion are closely connected.

Okasan translates a Basho poem she knows by heart. “Silence so deep/ The sound of cicadas/ Penetrates stone.” She looks at me and nods her head. There’s no need to speak. Silence says it all.

The Roshi or Zen master at the temple was a healthy ninety-seven. He was also a poet and loved calligraphy. She described one of his scrolls. “It’s the image of a crane flying past a thousand-year-old pine. There is also a tortoise. The pond is even older.”

She tells me the crane and tortoise are symbols of good luck and longevity. Since I’m still sick and lacking brain power, the medicine does me good.






A Dark and Earthly Sense of Humor

Sansaku: A Dark and Earthy Sense of Humor


I’m pleased Jung’s image of god has a dark and earthy sense of humor. I can’t help but laugh. First god comes as a phallus, then god takes a dump on the church. Jung said that he wept for happiness and gratitude when he woke from that dream. God had evolved.

When Jung wrote Answer to Job, he returned to this theme. It’s not just humans who need to evolve in a spiritual way, but god needs to grow.   He’ll have to be human to learn about love and compassion.

I’ve been thinking about that crazy-making double-bind where god intends us to sin, sets up the sting, and then makes us promise not to sin. It’s maniacal, but also a Zen koan. How does one enter the gateless gate?

There is a way not to sin and yet sin to your heart’s delight. When god became human he clearly implied: if we loved, we had no need for morals, and could do as we pleased. But then he added the sneaky double-bind: to love your enemies. Talk about trouble. No wonder we’re all crucified. Love is just a four-letter word.

Imagine god, especially the one the atheists don’t believe in, deciding to incarnate as a limited human being. Usually there’s a reason, like things aren’t going right and the glitches in the system need fixing. But god must take form and come to earth.

How is god to choose? There’s so many decisions about the disguise and how to appear. Will gender split?   Or, as some stories have it, will god be sexless? Where will the mysterious one show up? Surely not in Washington. What about temperament or social standing? Is god awake from the get-go-come-to-earth or does god need to awaken?

Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero with a thousand faces, but the thousand faces of god he called the masks of eternity.

Put a mask on god and send the mask to earth. What happens?   Now change the mask and send that mask to earth. What happens?   And what would happen if god decided to incarnate in the heart and soul of every person? And what if god were love?

Run that program and see what happens. It won’t take many iterations to discover it’s a good one. Shit pops out from under the throne and underground a powerful presence is rising. Dow followed love and ended up in Eden. He plans on eating the fruit.

I didn’t know how much I loved Japan until we visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Stone monuments filled the peace parks and my wife translated the poems that were carved in an elegant script. “From now on I will not use words to describe what happened.”   But the poet broke his promise and did his best to use them.

I looked at Chyako and Japan looked at me. Once upon a time we were enemies. Disaster and black rain fell from the sky. Now salty tears are falling. The gods take notice. Offerings.

I experience a relatively profound let-go in Japan. I don’t worry so much about doing what’s right or wrong, because I’m gaijin and too ignorant to know. But I trust in love and let the feeling guide me. It looks like Chyako and I’m walking a few steps behind.

In the past, Dow had not been skilled at letting-go. You can only let-go when you know who you are and Dow was just beginning to learn. He’d made some poor assumptions.

Dahl said, “Let them go. You need to realize the god in you has a dark and earthy sense of humor.” He found this very funny.