Robert: Seeking a vision
Running out of stories to believe in
Writing Human Earth Awakening has been the most exciting journey of my life. It began many years ago during a dark time when I had run out of stories to believe in. In my heart I was crying out for a story that could guide me.
One day from out of the blue, I experienced a startling vision that opened up a new connection to the world of spirit. That day the seed of a story was planted in my heart and it began to grow.
In my meditations, I heard the voices of sacred storytellers. The stories they told me were different than any I had ever heard before. For many years now, I have watched spellbound as fascinating characters take me on astonishing journeys into uncharted territory. I see vivid scenes that open my eyes and sometimes shake me to my core. At times I am inspired and energized, at other times shocked and horrified. Later I write down what I have seen and heard.
After writing a chapter, I read it to Christine. She helps shape the narrative and breathes life into the characters. She brings a woman's perspective that enriches every page. I could not have written this story alone. Christine has lived every scene with me.
Human Earth Awakening is a cosmic story about humanity's purpose and the fate of the earth. Yet it's also an intimate story about the personal challenges that my family and I face as we live each day during this time of global crisis. Human Earth is a living story with over 7 billion authors.
That life-changing vision was not my first. Much earlier in my life I experienced a vision that woke me out of the Empire trance into which my society had hypnotized me. It launched me on a path of discovery that eventually led to writing Human Earth Awakening.
Back in 1963, during my freshman year at the University of California in Berkeley, I faced an existential crisis far beyond my understanding. I had graduated with honors from high school. Yet when I looked around me at the adult world I was being trained to enter, I was surprised to discover that I did not want to become part of it.
In November of my freshman year, President Kennedy was assassinated. I had a disturbing feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with the whole system that society was based on, but I had no idea what it was.
I suspected that I would not find the answers I was searching for in any university lecture hall, scientific laboratory, government building or religious institution. Yet graduating from college and having a successful career had been my goal since childhood. My mind was churning with conflicting desires. I needed to do something to clear my head.
In the spring I hitchhiked up the California coast. In the seacoast town of Mendocino I had a vision that revealed a startling new world to me.
Visions are mysterious. They can arise from the fears and desires of the ego or from the clear vision of the soul. I was open to the importance of visions because the first stories I ever heard were Bible stories, which were filled with people having visions. I heard them in Sunday school and when my mother read to me at bedtime. I could sense that my mother, a devout Christian, had faith in an invisible spiritual world.
In the Bible stories, I learned that the true heroes were not the kings who led armies into bloody battles but the visionary prophets who led people back to God. In Sunday school they told me that Jesus had a life-changing vision when he was baptized in the Jordan River.
As a child, I also observed that my father, a biochemist and cancer researcher, put his trust in the scientific method. He dedicated his life to discovering medicines that could relieve human suffering. Sometimes he took me to his laboratory and showed me how he conducted his experiments. The lab was filled with Bunsen burners, beakers, tubes, microscopes and centrifuges. There I learned that a visionary idea could come in the form of a scientific hypothesis and that visions needed to be tested and verified in the real world before they could be considered true and useful.
Another reason I was open to visions was because of a book I was reading during my freshman year. Bored with my classes, I had been exploring books and articles about the connection between the body and the mind. I had been taught to believe that my body and my mind were two separate entities. Religion said that matter and spirit were two different worlds. But science said the world of spirit didn’t even exist. I had begun to wonder if any of these ideas were really true.
I had a personal interest in the whole mind-body question. I experienced the mind-body split in myself as a basic sense of discomfort, a vague anxiety, an unease with my very existence. I was up in my head and out of touch with my body. I often felt I was at war with myself.
Was it possible to heal this mind-body split?
While researching this question I came across Aldous Huxley's book, The Doors of Perception. He was a writer and philosopher better known for his earlier novel, Brave New World. In The Doors of Perception Huxley described the mind-expanding visions he experienced after taking mescaline. Mescaline is a psychedelic substance derived from peyote, a sacred plant used in rituals by Native Americans for thousands of years and still revered by the Native American Church.
Huxley found that mescaline enabled him to perceive a world that was far more vibrant and multidimensional than the one he inhabited in his normal consciousness. Huxley took his title from a William Blake poem: "If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite."
In 1963 the hippie movement and psychedelic scene were still several years away. The only drugs that I saw being used on campus were caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. I had no idea what to do with my new awareness. But I was not the only one reading The Doors of Perception. The band known as "The Doors" took their name from his book.
In Human Earth Awakening I write about the four great planetary tribes – the European, the African, the Asian and the Native American people. Throughout my life, I have benefited from the gifts of all Four Tribes. Often those gifts came in surprising and unexpected forms.
When I arrived in Mendocino, a late afternoon fog cast a mysterious aura over the picturesque seacoast town. Through a series of serendipitous encounters, I ended up spending the night with some friends who introduced me to the visionary power of peyote.
The sacred intelligence contained in this humble cactus plant initiated me into the paradise of the present moment. The veil of ego filters that I had accumulated over the years fell away. I saw life directly for the first time, in its naked beauty and absolute perfection.
I saw a world where everything was vibrantly alive and glowed with a mysterious energy that I could only call love. And I understood for the first time that, since I was part of this beautiful universe, I too must be perfect in my imperfection.
I also came face to face with a dark monster that lived inside me. That monster inhabited a fear-based world where it rampaged destructively and wreaked havoc on my self-esteem and my ability to think clearly.
I sensed this monster was related to the dark cloud that had hung over my childhood home. My parents' wartime marriage had brought together two good but mismatched people. As a child I breathed in the cold, gray atmosphere of their trauma and their conflicted marriage.
I was often sick with colds, fevers, asthma and allergies. At the age of eight, a potentially fatal illness hospitalized me and introduced me to the angel of death. Sometimes that dark childhood cloud gave me nightmares.
My father was a Dutch army veteran who had narrowly escaped the invading Nazis. I remember hearing him play African-American gospel songs like "Swing low, Sweet chariot" on the piano -- and singing them in his heavy Dutch accent! I didn't know it then, but those songs of suffering and redemption were helping him heal from the horrors of World War II. The soulful music of the African people has been healing my heart since I first heard my father sing those gospel songs.
In my teens my father finally told me something about himself that he had kept carefully hidden. Though he had converted to Christianity as a teenager, the Gerzon family in Holland was Jewish and many of his close relatives had lost their lives in the Holocaust. That dark cloud of trauma that I had sensed as a child included the souls of beloved family members who had died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
That night in Mendocino I caught a glimpse of the destructive monster that lurked within me. It was the source of my anxiety and my self-sabotaging behaviors. I knew it would kill me if I didn't bring it to full consciousness.
The life-affirming experience that I had with the help of good friends and a sacred Native American plant gave me a vision of new possibilities. I had seen the light and sensed the darkness.
My healing journey had begun.
Mythic quests often begin with questions. As I look back, I can see that there were four questions that guided me on my quest for healing.
Truth: How can I discover the truth about life?
Love: How can I experience authentic love?
Peace: How can I find inner peace and how can we create world peace?
Power: How can I align myself with the mysterious power of the universe?
At the age of 18 after completing my freshman year, I embarked on a vision quest that took me to Yosemite and then to Hawaii. In Hawaii I spent several years living close to nature and learning from the spirituality and aloha of the indigenous Hawaiian people.
I experienced healing in the warm, womblike waters of quiet coves. I felt the pulsating rhythm of life as I surfed the waves. At night, I slept outside under a tree listening to the lullaby of ocean waves cresting onto the sandy beach. When I hiked and camped under the stars at 10,000 feet in Haleakala Crater, I was awed by the fiery volcanic power that formed the islands. In Hawaii I connected with the great goddess and saw her many faces as creator and destroyer.
Having dropped out of college and enrolled in the school of life, I began to learn from my experiences and my mistakes.
Coming of age in the turbulent 1960's, I saw people all around me waking up, questioning authority, raising consciousness and seeking freedom. I started searching for natural ways to heal from the disease of modern civilization. I sought out teachers, communities, books, methods, spiritual traditions and indigenous wisdom. I began to meditate and eat whole natural foods. I felt healthier and happier than ever before.
In the social realm, descendants of the African people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela inspired me with their example of courageous leadership founded on love. Both men brought healing to the African and European peoples during a time of escalating conflict.
The 1960's and 70's were a time when Eastern spiritual traditions became much more widely known in the West. The wisdom of the Asian people fascinated me. Their sacred writings opened my Western-educated mind to a new way of looking at life. I learned to respect my ancient ancestors instead of thinking of them as primitive savages.
I heard an Asian version of the Four Tribes legend in Boston from Michio Kushi, a wise Japanese philosopher and proponent of a natural way of life based on the Tao of Yin and Yang that he called macrobiotics.
For several years I studied with Kushi and became part of a community of people dedicated to natural living and world peace. I immersed myself in holistic medicine, diet, herbs, acupuncture, massage, meditation and martial arts. I managed a communal study house and worked as a carpenter and natural foods chef.
I have always had an urge to share what I learn with others. So, as a "wounded healer," I began helping people through teaching, counseling and acupuncture therapy. This took my life in the world to a new and rewarding level.
But my own healing was still far from complete. I was unable to experience love in my personal life. Like my father before me, I got married and started a family without a true understanding of myself, relationships or family. When my seven-year marriage ended, I faced the biggest and most unexpected challenge of my life. Suddenly I was a single parent with sole responsibility for the support and care of my two young daughters.
My carefully constructed yet fragile world came crashing down. All my concepts, techniques and philosophies seemed useless. I nearly drowned in a flood of fear, anger and shame. I wanted to run away from the catastrophe of my life. But what I remember most from that time was the love I felt for my daughters and the desire to give them the best childhood I could. I began to live my life more humbly, one day at a time, with a beginner's mind.
Transformed by love
In my mid-30's my world was transformed when Christine came into my life. When we met we were both recently divorced with young children from previous marriages. With Chris I was finally able to experience the most powerful healing force in the universe – true love. When we were together, the world of the past faded away and we experienced the paradise of the present moment.
We developed an authentic partnership and began to heal our wounds and grow into our true selves. Gradually we created a new Eden of love and trust.
With Christine's encouragement, I opened a practice in the Boston area as a holistic health consultant, offering clients an array of healing modalities, combining energy therapies like acupuncture with mind-body counseling. Chris and I were overjoyed when we had a child together. We began collaborating through our counseling, workshops and writing.
Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety
I earned a Masters degree in psychology. As a psychotherapist and life coach I created a safe space where clients from all walks of life could share their inner world with me. This often took me into the heart of darkness. I saw that suffering is universal, yet the way each person experiences it is unique to them. I witnessed the power of the human spirit to heal from trauma. I learned that our individual lives are part of something larger and we all need a vision greater than ourselves.
I kept searching for the root cause of the problems that I and my clients were experiencing. I realized that my daily "inner talk" was the mental software that ran my life and determined my moods. By changing my inner talk to be more truthful and loving, my life started to change. That dark cloud from my childhood began to dissolve. I helped my clients and workshop participants use creative inner talk to tell themselves a new story about their own lives.
As human beings we all experience fear and anxiety. How we respond to it shapes our lives. Unfortunately, our social conditioning trains us to either stuff anxiety inside (using denial and distraction) or dump it on others (using anger and abuse).
I practiced shining the light of awareness on my own anxiety and that of my clients. I discovered a surprising new way to approach anxiety, as a key to transforming our consciousness.
When I examined the tangled knot of anxiety, I found three distinct yet interrelated strands – toxic anxiety, natural anxiety and sacred anxiety. If we face the natural anxiety that's a normal part of human life, we can transform it into excitement, personal growth and achieving our goals. If we embrace our sacred anxiety about death and the purpose of life, we can grow spiritually and experience inner peace.
But if we respond to anxiety with the stuff-it-or-dump-it reaction, anxiety turns toxic and results in symptoms and dysfunctional behaviors. My discovery motivated me to write Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety which was published in 1997.
My message resonated with many readers and gave me the opportunity to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Show and talk to her about how we can get anxiety working for us instead of against us.
In Finding Serenity in the Age of Anxiety I also described how nations, like individuals, have a choice. If a nation finds the courage to face anxiety, it grows and prospers. If a nation fails to do so, it becomes trapped in escalating cycles of toxic stuff-and-dump reactions that result in aggression and self-destructive behavior.
During the past 20 years I have watched the age of anxiety escalate into an age of terror.
Visions grow stronger
In midlife, I began to feel the spirits of the Native American people in the New England countryside around Concord, Massachusetts where I live. As I walked through the woods and meadows, canoed along the rivers and swam in the lakes, I started to see my American homeland through different eyes. I learned that Concord was once a frontier outpost on the edge of "Indian Country." In 1676 this region was the scene of bloody battles that destroyed the Native American culture that had existed here since the end of the last Ice Age.
Yet Christine and I also became aware that Native Americans have not disappeared and that those who remain don't all live in reservations out West. We discovered that they are still our neighbors. For many years we have enjoyed participating in a local talking circle hosted by the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness. I am grateful for this opportunity and inspired by their example. Native people, despite centuries of oppression, continue to extend their hand in friendship.
My research led me to a little known, historically-based Native American story about peacemaking. For several days I listened to Jake Swamp (Tekaronianeken "Where two skies come together") share his people's sacred stories at the Mohawk Nation of Akwesasne in upstate New York. Jake was a revered Mohawk elder and Haudenosaunee faithkeeper. He founded the Tree of Peace Society and planted Peace Trees all around the world.
The spirits and stories of the Native American people have guided me back through the mists of time to walk the path of peace and to see the beauty of the land they call Turtle Island. This inspired further visions during my daily meditations.
My meditations gradually grew into inner councils. I began my day by seeking guidance with the Seven Directions Ritual.
These visions grew stronger and I set aside time to write them down. Eventually they grew into Human Earth Awakening.
As a Euro-American, I appreciate my ancestors for their adventurous spirit and their audacious curiosity. For many years I lived in Concord near Walden Pond. There I felt the enduring transcendental influence of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In their clear American voices, they communicated their vision of nature, society and the individual human spirit existing in harmony.
I am grateful to my Jewish ancestors, the ancient Israelites, for engaging in an ongoing conversation with God and for writing their stories down in the Bible. Their dream of tikkun olam, healing the world, lives on today.
Cultural philosopher and mythologist Joseph Campbell showed me how the mythic dimension of life still frames our existence today. He taught that each person's life is a hero's journey. He said the root of society's problems is that our regional myths and rituals no longer guide us effectively in a modern global age. His prescription for humanity's survival was the creation a new mythic story that integrated science and ancient wisdom.
I am deeply grateful to be alive at this pivotal time in world history and I thank all the seekers of truth and lovers of life who have enriched my journey. I appreciate the indigenous wisdom keepers who have kept their stories alive through the generations. I am grateful to the artists who paint our cultural imagery and play the soundtrack of our lives, and to the scientists whose discoveries have illuminated the wondrous web of life to which we all belong.
Return to the Tree of Life
The miracle I have experienced in my own life, transforming a fear-based world into a loving Human Earth, gives me faith in my species and confidence in our future.
I believe we evolved by gathering in families and clans, loving each other, and joining together to create a better life. Being part of a family grounds me, enriches me, challenges me and gives my life meaning. Being a son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend, husband, father, uncle, and now a grandfather and an elder are among the greatest gifts in my life.
I want my children and grandchildren to live in a peaceful, creative world where they can experience the joy and the beauty of life. And that can only happen on a planet where that's true for everyone's children.
As I look back, I see that those four questions about love, truth, peace and power that guided me on my quest were the Four Roots that would eventually lead me back to the Tree of Life.
Now as I enter my 70's, I dream of healing stories that travel through our global nervous system and resonate with people of all cultures. I feel Human Earth growing in the hearts of billions of people all around the planet who yearn for a better world. I sense Human Earth rising in the millions of organizations, large and small, that are healing the earth and its people. I want to share our story and be part of the great awakening that is happening on our planet today.
Will we continue to reenact the tragic drama of Cain and Abel? Or will we heal that ancient wound, sit together in the sacred circle and share our stories around the Tree of Life?
From the creation story in Genesis to the latest evolutionary research, the message is the same. We all share one mother. We all belong to one family.
Read Christine's Bio