Life as a Recovering Four (Mostly Five Wing)
Amidst a time of great turmoil I sought counseling with my future Gurdjieff guide. I was fifteen years sober as my life as I knew it had dissolved through some Type Four Trap of Death and Most-Unlikely-Redemption and I was dragging my aching soul through a map-less desert of sorrow and confusion. It was then that my therapist said, “Ah, Michael, read this book Personality Types and pay close attention to the Type 4 description. See what you discover. Oh, and take a look at this book, In Search of the Miraculous.” In reading Personality Types it felt as if the skin of my soul was being ripped off leaving me in a pool of just-realized-delusions particular to my type. Horrifying. What I thought was most interesting about me, what I drank as the vodka of grandiosity, was actually causing me substantial suffering and the capacity to make the same mistakes over and over again, most especially in my relationships. Entranced by my Type 4 patterns, i.e., most especially by the engine of infatuated-attraction-to-imaginary-and-idealized-romantic-partners, I relentlessly and passionately chose partners who I was not attuned to, and who who were not attune to me. Yes, a prescription for residing in hell. My imagined Type Four self-image of being so deep and sensitive that even God cheered for me instead was revealed as an illusion, a distortion of epic proportions, pride preceding a cavernous great fall, and fall I did into a great wasteland. Well, no, a vast and bottomless abyss handmade for my Type 4 temperament. I lost everything I cared for…Kaboom! Gone! My future teacher and now therapist was cheered up by this, as was my Zen teacher, Genpo. Well, Genpo, when I told him the results of what I thought was a superior journey into authenticity that had gotten horribly side-railed by my Type 4 delusion of being an advanced-yet-sorely-overlooked-and-misunderstood-emotional-genius-in-the-making, said, “Michael, you are on the brink of a great break thru. People sit on their zafu for fifteen years before they get to this possibility. Just don’t do anything stupid.” Okay, captain, I hear you, I thought to myself. Something good could come of this spirit crumbling experience. Little did I know just how long it would take. My dear friend Margaret added this consideration: “Michael, if you’re not willing to wait seven years for what you care for, you’re not committed!” (Gulp. Who made up these rules, anyway!) Low and behold a door swung open and I was thrown through it! Fling!
And a moment of silence, breathe and…lets continue. Finding myself pressed to the ground with new awakenings regarding how my inner world was twisted in a hundred different knots, I began the work of healing my heart, my mind, my body, my connections with others. As fate and very good luck would have it, I met Donna, my wife, my companion to be through all of my desert journeys looking for my map home, my near-death abyss escapes, and what seemed like never-ending soul-retrievals from my most interesting swamp-like emotional body. Thus I continued to walk through unknown territory assisted by Donna’s kindness and support. Peeling away one layer of defensive structure after another from the soul of my being, and learning that each healing and soul retrieval was a journey down a spiral such that each time I felt I’d finished with a particular healing theme, low and behold I’d meet the same themes at a deeper level several years later. At first I thought, “I’ve made no progress whatsoever.” But learned soon enough that indeed, I meet my inner issues at deeper and deeper levels until finished with them. Onward I pressed, doing body work, Jungian therapy, breath work, Zen practice, yoga, Primal Therapy, observing the quickness of my patterns, apologizing way more than I thought I should have to. I asked my Zen teacher about this. “It seems that I’m getting worse. I see more and more of my patterns and they often take me where they want to. What am I doing wrong?” He replied, “Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?” Hit me with the bad news, I replied. “Okay, this apologizing for unconscious behavior, that will get worse. You’ll see yourself and your unconscious reactions more clearly than ever as you continue your inner work and this of course won’t cheer you up. But if you can relax, not beat the hell out of yourself each time you observe a pattern, things will get better. You’ll begin to get some freedom from your patterns, slowly however, very slowly.
But in the meantime you’ll discover that you have many of the same patterns and difficulties that everyone else does, and then you will begin to build a heart of compassion for self and others. You will feel it more deeply–that everyone suffers as you do. You’ll be kinder and way less judgmental. Your heart will soften and love will be able to reach you. These are the fruits of your labor, this observing your patterns runaway from you like an elephant-on-steroids, then apologizing for the suffering this elephant causes–which you didn’t create and which you didn’t decide as a little boy to be ruled by–and then having to make amends again. And again. You’ll experience moments of genuine tenderness, calmness, inner peace. And then of course, you’ll lose it because the personality takes a very long time to observe, unwind and tire out. It’s nearly immortal, as Mr. Almass says: ‘The personality will do anything in its power to preserve its identity and uphold its domain. This tendency – or, let’s say, this need – is so deep, so entrenched, so completely the fabric of our identity, that only the person who has gone a long way toward establishing the essential life will be able to apprehend and appreciate this. This need is in our flesh, blood, bones even our atoms. The power of the personality is so great, so immense, so deep, so subtle that the person who contends with it for a long time will have to give it its due respect. Its power is awesome. Its subtlety is unimaginable. Its intelligence is limitless.’ So don’t be discouraged if you can. Well, you’ll be discouraged but relax into this process more and more and you’ll develop an awesome sense of humor, and you’ll have much greater patience for the mechanical patterns of others. You’ll see that they too aren’t in control, just like you. You’ll come to understand the words of Maurice Nicoll who said…’You’re a fool and I’m a fool, so we can relax and have a conversation. Change happens slowly, and you don’t make it happen.’
“As a result of your inner work, habitual personality patterns will begin to transform. But you don’t ‘will’ these results. There is magic in nonjudgmental observation. So be of good cheer if you can. The more joy you bring to this, well, the more fun and the easier to sit in the grace of unconditional kindness towards self and others.” So, back to this Four journey. Several things caught my attention as a result of understanding more clearly my Type Four inner psychology. I discovered that I’d had this relationship with ‘longing’ since I was a little boy, this inexplicable hunger for something I could not put words on. That which could not be named. I wanted something in my depths that showed itself as a hunger, an emptiness, a sense that something was missing that I craved–what the heck was it! And as a little guy I didn’t have a language for it. Mom did not say, “Dear son, I see you’ve got the heart and soul of the Type Four, so with it comes an inexplicable yearning for something that is invisible. Haunting in that it won’t leave you alone. This particular facet of human life, which many will experience as they take a deeper dive into themselves, you as a Type Four cannot put to sleep. Others can, temporarily at least, until the great spiritual hunger begins to haunt them too. But you, little one, you start with this. And at times you will misinterpret its meaning, well, for many years you will attach to the idea that you are different than others, unique in your suffering, somehow an outsider to the human experience. But alas, one in nine human beings have this predilection, and this will take time to discover. And I as your mother, having no formal training to help you with this, I will mostly be as kind to you as I can and wonder to myself, what is my son dreaming about that makes him so apparently unhappy and dissatisfied? And why is he so sensitive that his heart can appear broken at the drop of a hat?” Poor mom. But, her kindness, she being a Type Two, did wonders for me in the long run. Her love was constant.
So you can imagine what this little guy, at a very young age, Uncle Wiggiley at his side, wondered about the weird dilemma he faced: a longing for something no one knew about, an ever circulating confusion that after moments of grace and joy, waiting for him was the ‘longing’, the ’emptiness’, playing through him like a ghost. Such that privately and wordlessly to himself he felt, “There must be something wrong with me. I shouldn’t be experiencing this.” Add to this the huge sensitivity to other people’s suffering, somehow having inherited eyes to see and feel the hidden darkness and emotional pain of mom and dad that often was tucked underneath the rug, placed in the basement, or masqueraded as fake happiness, or as competitive zeal. Yet he had eyes for the dark and could see it and feel the accompanying sorrow and heartbreak that resided in them. This too was a mystery, this serious side of his psyche that also could not rest. He had a good heart, a kind heart, that just needed a little bit of guidance for navigating this inner world. Not that anyone could actually do that for him, because, well, they couldn’t. That would be his work.But it colored his world with a pretty thick lens of darkness particular to his Type Four temperament.
All of these insights came in the aftermath of my discovery of my Type Four patterns. I began this childhood journey deeply introverted except when I played sports, and at age five, sitting behind the backstop of a baseball field with my dad watching a game, a giant beacon of joy lit inside my chest. The ball, the bat, the running, catching, sliding, throwing the baseball touched my soul with profound joy. This I must do. This I must learn. Here was a place where relief from this dogged Type Four interior world would occur. Here I would remember myself devoid of the thick emotional texture of my inner states. Miraculously I’d inherited an athlete’s capacity to play sports, to move gracefully, to intuitively sense the next right move, to possess the kind of depth perception and hand-eye coordination that can’t be taught, and to love engaging these gifts from the unknown as often as possible.
I loved baseball from the depth of my soul. Everything about it lit me up. And freed me temporarily from my inner torment, inner seriousness, inner reflection on psychological issues that I would not be prepared to really deal with until I was an adult. Who knew? Thanks the heavens for sports and an innate passion to play, run, catch a ball, swing a bat. And a mom and dad who loved sports. Only a year or so later I would discover basketball, and a second home was born in me. Dribbling the ball, shooting hoops, learning the skills of the game–pure joy. On a dark winter night, a string of Christmas lights illuminating my basketball hoop in the driveway, I’d shoot and dribble till my hands were too cold. 30 minutes later, hands warmed, I was back at the hoop. From age 6 to 18, this was my religion, where my spirit was captured. Two homes, baseball and basketball, my instinctual center wired and at one with these sports. The joy of playing sports, the aliveness that came from being on high alert in any game, the energy available, near inexhaustible, was a delight. And so for many years I lived in two worlds. The inspired world of sports, and the world of Type Four deep concern, sensitivity, introversion, longing for something mysterious. Two strangely wedded worlds. On the one hand, when a game was on the line, the intuitive instinctual center was a bright light of knowing where the opponent was moving, where my teammates were, seeing the path of the ball slowed down and vivid, reading it with an instinctive set of eyes, often driving the ball into the open spaces of the outfield. And in the other world, sensing the suffering around me.
About In Search of the Miraculous, well, what can be said about this gem of a weird and difficult to read book by Mr. Ouspensky. On the flight in 1996 from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon I entered another hemisphere of awareness. Riveted by the mysterious story unfolding in the book, this man named Gurdjieff, and concepts utterly distant to me, I read with a 1000% attention. Three Centers, the mechanicalness of human beings, the illusion that we are conscious, the Law of Three and Seven were a hurricane force destroying the conceptual framework of my imaginary life as I knew it, most particularly the Type Four stories I’d collected in the cathedral of my mind cataloging all the hurts and suffering my dear mother and father had caused me, sure I was that I knew who they were. Well, up in flames the cathedral went. Poof! And for the first time in my life I met my father and my mother without the heavy context of the stories I worshipped at and got a glimpse of their souls, and the deep wish and intention and love they felt for me. This was, is, miraculous. For ten years further I spent appreciating and feeling the warmth of my heart for them. The gift of reconciliation was given to me. What an unexpected joy! Miraculous beyond anything I could have imagined. To be with them without the non-stop judgmental stories playing in the background of each moment (acquired from reading way too many self-help, inner child, exile your parents as a form of healing books), well, it had a very positive effect on them. They were happier and more relaxed in my presence. Little did I realize the heavy climate I brought with me to our meetings. Thank you Mr. Ouspensky and Mr. Gurdjieff!