I am a T'ai-Chi Teacher and Singer/Songwriter living in Ashland, OR. Please visit my site: www.GeneBurnett.com for more info about my teaching and music. At my site I have over 20 albums of songs available for downloading free or with a donation. This blog is dedicated to musings about what I like to call "The Unforced Life".
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
And The Best Mushroom Experience Of My Life
When I was a young kid, I used to love the training scenes in the old "Kung-Fu" TV show with David Carradine, as well as the training scenes in "Empire Strikes Back" with Luke and Yoda. I think I was hungry for guidance from an older person with some wisdom to offer, someone who would take me under his wing, something my dad totally dropped the ball on when he chose alcohol over just about everything else. That hunger led me to trust some sketchy characters at times and I had to learn some hard lessons. But it did lead me to some great teachers as well. And, while I ain't no Yoda, I have become something like the kind of teacher I used to want as a kid.
But back in the early 80's, before I learned T'ai-Chi and began to teach it, I was still groping for some kind of center in my life. Ironically, I was involved with a therapy-cult group called Direct Centering in New York City, which proposed to do just that. I did learn some valuable lessons there, but they were expensive ones and many of them were negative, things like learning what not to do, and who not to trust. I was struggling somewhat with my involvement in this group, as well as with doing music as a career, which was ostensibly why I was in New York in the first place. Neither felt completely right, even though I said they did, and wanted them to.
One day a friend called me and said, "Let's take mushrooms and go to "Return Of The Jedi." I was a big fan of the first two Star Wars movies and I'd had a couple of enjoyable mushroom experiences, so I eagerly agreed and we made plans to go.
We took the mushrooms, I don't remember how many, probably one each, and while we were waiting in line I felt this familiar kind of hollow feeling in my legs that told me I was beginning to get off. We found good seats and the movie began and I had what turned out to be one of the most pivotal experiences in my life. I'll describe what happened during that experience, but the power of it is something I don't think I can fully capture in words.
While I was watching the movie, I began to have a second "screen" in my mind's eye simultaneously. I was able to follow the film totally, but in my head I also had this other screen, this alternative inner movie, that somehow I was also able to follow. This inner screen seemed very real. More clear and real than the movie on the big screen in front of my eyes.
I saw the planet Earth from a distance, just this little blue globe. Then I sort of panned out to zillions of miles away. I could literally feel how small and insignificant the Earth is in the vastness of space. It felt smaller than the tiniest pebble. Then I zoomed back in and saw myself as this even tinier little spec on that pebble, running around with my guitar, trying to become rich and famous. It struck me as deeply absurd and in a flash I decided/realized that I didn't want to do music as a career anymore. I just liked writing and singing songs for my family and friends. The rest seemed incredibly silly and pointless. Not to mention unpleasant, because, aside from a few of the musicians I had met, I literally could not stand anyone I'd met in the "business" of music. So, right there, in a flash, I decided I was not going to do music as my career anymore. I felt a huge burden lifting off of me and a deeply right feeling settling in to replace it.
The inner screen then faded away and a little while later this "voice" came into my head and started telling me that some important opportunities were coming my way in the future but that I was not ready for them. When "I" tried to talk back to this voice, it literally stopped me so I could not "speak" with my own voice in my own head! It just silenced my own inner thinking voice. I can theorize now that this other voice was some deeper part of me, and maybe it was, but at the time it felt like it came from elsewhere. Who knows what the Hell it was..I didn't care at the time and I still don't. It was what the voice was saying that was important to me.
This voice told me that I should see my whole life as training to meet this opportunity. It told me not to get arrogant about this, that it was not about "me", but about the opportunities coming toward me in time. It said this with a kind of authority that was overwhelming to me at the time. Like it was just The Truth. I had not a glimmer of doubt about it. After a few more things, just before it sort of "signed out", it said, and I'll never forget this, "Oh, and you'd better learn to defend yourself." I instantly thought of my friend Roy who taught Filipino stick fighting and resolved to contact him right away.
And then I was sitting there, without this strange inner voice, or the strange inner screen, just a guy watching the Ewoks and Han Solo, Luke and Leia, Chewy, C3P0, and R2-D2 fighting the Empire. I had been following the movie totally right up to this point, so I just continued watching and enjoying it, while simultaneously feeling very different inside.
After the movie, as we found our way out of the theatre, I immediately announced to my friend that I was quitting music. He of course, said things like, "Hey, Gene, you're tripping. Don't make any rash decisions here." But I was absolutely sure this was what I wanted to do.
I found a Yoga teacher and contacted my friend Roy and started taking a few classes. It turned out to be a false start, but I was happy to be doing something in line with what the voice had told me. Before long, with music out of the way as a career, I realized I had very little motivation to stay in the city, so my girlfriend Toby and I ended up leaving Direct Centering and moving to the San Juan Islands off the coast of WA. Her family lived in Seattle and had property up there. After a six months or so of enjoying Nature and decompressing, I realized I had to go back to the city. It just felt too soon to be living the simple rural life. Something was missing. I didn't know what it was but I knew it was in the city. It was then, after a lot of soul searching, that I decided to learn something physical and teach it. I moved to Seattle and started training for real.
I found great Yoga and T'ai-Chi teachers and started massage school. I fell in love with T'ai-Chi right away, and though I did the other two for several years, T'ai-Chi was the one that stuck, the one that I still practice and teach today.
So those 'shrooms, which came from the Northwest by the way, got me to leave New York and Direct Centering, quit the music business, and got me to start training in T'ai-Chi, which became the central practice of my life. I also met and married Samarra, the love of my life, in Seattle. Many years later, here in Ashland, I've found a better way to do music than as a "career", but giving it up back there in NYC was a great thing for me. It cut me loose from things I didn't even know were holding me down. And it led me to a life that feels deeply right to me now.
I should say too that I've only taken mushrooms a handful of times in my life. After that pivotal experience, it was many years before I took them again and I didn't enjoy the experience very much. It upset my stomach, which is somewhat delicate anyway, and gave me a woozy, dizzy, drunk-like feeling which was very unpleasant. So I'm pretty sure I'm done with this particular avenue of exploration. I'm glad I had that one experience though. It changed my life for the better in so many ways.
I don't recommend mushrooms or condemn them. I leave it up to you to decide for yourself what to experiment with in your life. Get as much information as you can and trust your inner genius, your inner sense of right and wrong. But whatever feels right to you, whatever you do, whatever you don't do...