THE ISLAND OF MY LIFE
An Original Work of Nonfiction
By: David G. Yurth
Copyright All Rights Reserved
An Introduction to Woundedness
Thirty years ago, when I was still a young man, I went on a back-packing trip with two friends to the Book Cliffs area of Southern Utah. We had planned to be in the wilderness for four days, so our packs were heavier than they would have been for a shorter trip. The Book Cliffs area is real wilderness, situated at the Southern end of the Uintah mountain range, 90 miles from civilization in any direction. Brian and Fred had been there before, knew where they wanted to go and were prepared as only old hands at such things can be. I felt totally safe with them.
For three days we climbed the gentle slopes from the jump-off point to an elevation of about 8,500 feet. At the end of the third day, we stopped late in the afternoon on the edge of a thickly wooded forest of pines. A precipice dropped off below us for perhaps 500 feet, to a wide, spectacular draw yawning more than half a mile to the cliffs on the opposite side. The sky was crystal clear and the air was deliciously cool. For more than an hour we gathered dead fall to build a huge fire stack. After dinner, we rolled our sleeping bags out on the ground just short of the cliff’s edge, brewed some hot coffee and laid back to watch the stars. No one said much of anything for most of the afternoon and evening – we were content to simply be in that place without saying much of anything about it.
After the sun went down, we lit the pile of fire wood and made a pot of hot coffee. I had cadged a hip flask of brandy for just such an opportunity, so I shared it with my friends. Before we could start drinking, however, Brian leaned over and dusted some sort of gray powder into my cup. He smiled, put some in his own cup and then in Fred’s, without saying anything. When I began to inquire about what he had put in my coffee, he just smiled, put his finger to his lips, and lay back on his sleeping bag. I drank the coffee and did the same. It tasted so delicious I can still feel the warmth of it seeping into my tired and aching bones.
Within ten minutes, I noticed I was standing at the very edge of the cliff, looking down on an enormous pile of house-sized boulders heaped upon each other below us. When I turned around, I saw three people laying on the ground in front of a roaring bonfire. It was interesting to see them there – they all looked strangely familiar to me. On a whim, I decided to fly over to the other side of the arroyo to see if I could find any petroglyphs on the stone walls. The fact that it was very dark and that I had no reason to believe I could fly over there didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to me. I just did it.
I realized with absolute glee that I could fly anywhere I wanted to, instantaneously, with no more than a thought to take me there. So I took off. I went out the stars, circled the moon, and then went to California. I went to a little town I had never been to before but had always wanted to visit since my childhood days in Point Arena. Years later, long after this experience, I went back to that town and found it to be precisely as I had seen it during my journey. After what seemed like hours and hours of going to all the places I had always wanted to visit, I suddenly began to feel very uncomfortable.
I found myself standing beside what I soon realized was my inert body, lying on the ground next to the smoldering ashes of what had once been our magnificent bonfire. I realized I was cold, so I simply went back into the body laying on the ground, woke up and snuggled down into the sleeping bag. I was instantly asleep and slept like the dead until early the next morning.
When I woke up, I found Brian and Fred already awake, already making coffee. They looked at each other in a knowing sort of way, smiled at me and went on about their business. While we were making breakfast, I asked them what the hell Brian had put in my coffee and he told me had dusted some Peyote into my cup. We talked about what had happened with each of us, where we had gone and what we had experienced, until late into the morning. It was during this conversation that I first learned about a guy named Carlos. Carlos Castaneda.
The first time I read Carlos Castaneda’s book “Tales of Power” it absolutely set me on fire. As I began to understand the significance of the metaphors he had developed, it became increasingly clear to me that the most vexing of all the personal issues that plagued me could be dealt with in a completely new and exciting way. The idea that I could alter the internal landscape of my own island changed my view of myself and my place in the cosmos forever. I have re-read his book many times over the years and still find it compelling and illuminating.
Many years ago, after re-reading portions of the book, I found myself in a shopping mall. It was Christmas time and the halls and shops in the mall were filled to overflowing with people. On a whim, just to see if I could do it, I took a couple of deep breaths, focused all my energy into the center of my chest, cast my eyes down to the floor at a distance of four to five feet ahead of me, and began walking. My purpose was to make it as far as I could along the bustling hallway of the mall without anyone actually seeing me or noticing that I was there. The first time I tried this, I only made it about fifteen feet before walking directly into a garbage can that had been positioned in the middle of the hall. But before long, after only a few attempts, I discovered something very intriguing about this exercise.
When I controlled my own energy by concentrating my focus into my own center, I found I could walk anywhere along the hallways I wanted without attracting the notice of anyone else in the place. In fact, I deliberately stopped in front of the Mrs. Fields Cookies booth for more than three minutes, just standing there, five feet away from the counter, without attracting a single inquiry from anyone, including customers on the outside of the booth and servers on the inside. After I walked away, I came back with my jacket off and asked the people at the counter if anyone had noticed a short, balding, middle-aged man standing in front of the counter. None of them remembered seeing anyone at all like that.
Each Christmas season, I go back to the same mall and practice this same exercise. As the years have gone by, I have become much better at controlling my personal energy field in this way. I have learned to enjoy the game by walking the length of the busiest malls in the area without attracting the slightest notice from anyone. In a manner of speaking, I have almost learned to be invisible to others in this way. It is interesting because it helps me remember that I can exercise deliberate control over the way others see me, and whether they even see me at all.
Since Tales of Power was published in the early 70’s, other writers have refined his insights with their own writings. Miguel Ruiz, James Redfield, Fritz Perls and Werner Eckhardt, among others, have all contributed significant insights to this discussion. Alberto Villoldo’s “Shaman, Healer, Sage” comes as close to keeping pace with Castaneda as anything I have read. Just when I thought Brugh Joy had found a way to show us how to move forward, he wrote “Avalanche” and disappeared from view. All these writers and practitioners of the arts of healing and personal actualization share one common notion – we are born into this world with a set of attributes and challenges that are fixed, defined and immutable. Beyond alteration of their external appearances, there is little, mostly nothing, we can do to alter them. Taken together as a primary set of fixed conditions, all these finite elements constitute what Carlos Castaneda referred to as “The Island.”
What we do with our island during the time we occupy it is analogous to the way we live our lives. That is why this book is entitled “The Island of My Life.” In the beginning, I believe it is hugely useful for us to become intimately familiar with all the features that make up our personal island. I believe it is fair to suggest that we seldom if ever take the time or are willing to conduct a careful survey of this place where we live out our days.
What we do not know, beyond the superficial exterior features we see in the mirror, is which of the many features of our internal landscape can actually be changed. If the all-pervasive presence of the fashion and cosmetics industries can be used as a reliable indicator, we spend a huge amount of time, energy, money and attention engineering how we appear to others. I believe this phenomenon is driven by the deeply embedded, utterly insatiable urge we feel to come to terms with the imbalances existing on our islands. When we are unable to do anything to alter the ways we experience Self, we substitute clothing, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, hair transplants and conspicuous consumption of all sorts for internal coherence. In short, we spend all our time and energy moving the deck chairs around because we can’t figure out how to mitigate the sinking feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with us. As a culture, we are empty and unfulfilled.
In a sense, this is really good news. The more focused we become on the importance of outward appearances, the more likely it is that eventually we will be willing to entertain the possibility that the internal landscape can be transfigured to give us peace, comfort and a sense of purposeful loving kindness. In some aspects, though, this is a fearsome, daunting and extraordinarily difficult process. Most of us neglect to really engage this process because we are genuinely afraid of what we might discover about ourselves if we look too closely. Most of all, we harbor the deep-seated fear that we will discover that the myths we have constructed about ourselves are actually true. Besides, it far easier to change hair color than it is to change our view of ourselves from the inside out. Rediscovering what our personal myths are and understanding how they came to be, learning how they prevent us from becoming actualized, and finding safe, manageable, nurturing ways to alter our internal landscape by re-writing our dysfunctional tapes is what this book is all about.
As you read these words, you may already have begun to hear the warning voice whispering in your ear, telling you that this is something you must not, should not, cannot do. No way. Not me. I don’t need it. I don’t want it. It’s a total waste of time. It’s stupid. It’s worthless. It’s all a bunch of limp-wristed New Age nonsense that isn’t worth considering. Not to worry. Everyone who has ever set foot on the path to wholeness has heard those warnings. It’s natural. There’s a part of you that knows something important is about to change if you continue with this, and if there’s anything we don’t want, it’s change.
As a first step, learn to hear and listen to this voice. When we introduce workshop participants to this concept, we give the voice a name. Brian O’Leary called it the Purple Pig. You can call it anything you like if that makes it easier for you to recognize, accept and hear it. The warning voice is an inextricable part of our makeup. He [in the generic sense] is your guardian. His job is to keep you safe by protecting you from harm. We will work with the voice extensively from the beginning of our journey together, so it is important for you to consciously learn to recognize and listen to this voice.
Here’s a simple way to let this happen. Close your eyes and breathe deeply while you move all your attention to the center of your Being. In the beginning, while you are getting accustomed to doing this, the Center will appear to be in the center of your head, right behind your eyes. This is the place where Jean-Luc Picard sits on the command bridge of the Starship Enterprise, monitoring all that occurs around him. Listen to the voice inside your head. Listen to what it is saying to you. Discover why the voice is speaking to you in this way. Eventually, if you persist, you will discover that this is the voice of your best and most important friend. This still, small voice is an essential part of our Being. It is indispensable to our ultimate safety
Once you have gotten in touch with this voice, ask “Who are you?” Without planning what you will say, simply open your mouth and give it a voice. Ask, “What is your message for me?” and listen to what it says. For this to work, you have to consciously give up control of your speaking apparatus and allow this part of you to give unrestricted utterance to its message. Let it speak and listen carefully to what it says. What comes out of your mouth will surprise you. Write it down. Start a journal. Keep track of these conversations with The Pig so you can refer back to them as we go along.
Reporters, journalists and writers make it a practice to carry notebooks with them wherever they go. They do this for two important reasons: (1) the paper does not forget. Details, nuances and other essential facts quickly fade from memory and are easily distorted over time to suit our current preferences. Experience colors our memory, so if you want to preserve the wisdom you will receive from the voice, write it down; and (2) the practice of observing things in minute detail, remembering them in their totality and then dumping a whole raft of feelings, insights, thoughts and fact sets onto paper immediately thereafter frees us to become acute observers while things are happening. It enables us to be completely present without worrying about whether or not we will forget something important. Knowing that everything we observe can be faithfully and completely recorded when the time comes, makes it possible for us to eliminate internal and external distractions. This is one of the skill sets you will help you to help you focus more and more personal power on the task at hand.
Finally, ask yourself this question: “What is sacred to me?” If the process of healing your woundedness is on this list, then consider how useful and empowering it might be for you to record your most private thoughts and powerful insights in a journal that is also sacred. This business of healing our own woundedness is not a casual or trivial undertaking. The things we learn about ourselves and the magical things we experience during the process deserve to be recorded in a book that is as special and sacred as we can make it. What your book looks like is entirely up to you. If you can amplify the personal power generated by this experience by using a journal that is rich and beautiful and sacred, you will have taken control of one more important aspect of this experience.
Writing is one of the most personal of all undertakings. Intensive research conducted over the past 45 years has discovered why we express ourselves differently when we write on paper with a pen than when we use a computer or typewriter keyboard. At Brown University, scientists have discovered that keyboarding accesses internal archives from an entirely different part of the brain than writing by hand. What their research shows is that in most cases, we express feelings with considerably more cogency when we write with pen and paper than we do with a computer.
On the other hand, when it comes to writing about more linear topics, such as facts and figures, our internal architecture responds to keyboarding with significantly more effectiveness. This finding is significant because it tells us something important about how we are architected.
Writing is a tactile experience. When we press pen to paper, we actually draw the letters that give expression to our deepest inner experiences in a way that is simply not possible with a computer. More importantly, this entire exercise is all about getting in touch with our inner landscape. If we are to have intimate access to the wellspring of our most deeply buried past experiences, we will need all the help we can get.
Writing by hand helps us get closely in touch with our feelings, memories and mood states. I have used a computer as an aid to writing ever since the personal computer became available, almost 35 years ago. When I write about legal, scientific, engineering or other linear, fact-based subjects, I find that I am much more effective and efficient when I use my computer.
But when I write about matters of the heart and soul, I have discovered that I am far better served by a beautiful fountain pen and the right kind of specially prepared paper. Writing with a pen is personal. It is intimate. It is contemplative and delicious to my hand and mind. I derive as much sensory pleasure when writing on fine paper with a beautiful pen as I do while tasting a wonderful wine, inhaling the fresh scents of Spring, or massaging my lover. I am drawn to the process of writing in this way almost as much by the physical pleasure of it as by the yearning to give expression to something fulminating inside my heart.
You can write about your experience in any way you wish. Whatever means you employ should put you deeply, personally, intimately in touch with the sacred places on your island. When you have decided what to do and made the commitment to move forward, you can relax about it. Once the decision has been made, it is time to move on and never look back.
Think carefully about it. If you were invited to accompany a live television news crew down the streets of downtown Baghdad, would you go there? What is the first and most important question that instantly pops into your mind? Danger! It’s all about safety, isn’t it? Few of us are willing to go where we are not safe. While the adrenaline rush that follows any activity we view as ‘risky’ is something we crave, as we get older we find ourselves less and less willing to risk life and limb, reputation, hard-won credentials or other valuable things simply for the sake of an adrenaline rush.
Reality television programming is one way to partially fill this void. By vicariously participating in other people’s adventures we temporarily satisfy the deep inner craving for danger, excitement and a temporary holiday from the mundane. It helps us to feel alive, at least for awhile. Viewing the Olympic Games or any highly energized sporting event serves exactly the same purpose. And for this reason and by this means, as we go through life we find ourselves becoming increasingly passive spectators of our own lives rather than energized, active participants in life itself.
Who would knowingly, willfully, consciously put their life at risk in exchange for nothing more than a dose of excitement? Lots of people do it every day. Pilots. Surfers. Hikers, mountain climbers, river runners. Sky divers, bungey jumpers, back country skiers, wake boarders, scuba divers. Why? We are willing to put everything on the line once in awhile because when faced with danger, we are able to find a place of safety within ourselves. When we are satisfied that the experience itself is worth the risk, regardless of how badly it could turn out or how seriously we could be injured, we manage to find a balance point that makes the prospect of injury somehow worth the risk. This measure of safety, however we define it or manage to create it for ourselves, is what determines first, last and always how far we are willing to go to explore the outer limits of our own risk tolerance.
In the metaphor we are using, our island represents the entirety of our mortal experience. So the extent to which we are willing to explore, penetrate, and manage the way things operate on our island is entirely a function of how safe we feel about the process. I am convinced that no one can make us safe except ourselves. In our experiential workshops, we always begin by going through a process called “Am I Safe With You?” We do this in order to give participants an opportunity to put their own considerations aside with respect to any unfinished business, prejudices or judgments they may have about anyone else in the group. This helps to raise the level of safety in the group, but it also gives us a springboard to demonstrate that safety really comes from within.
No person outside us can determine how we feel about anything. Despite anything that may be done to us, we alone have the power to decide how we will allow ourselves to feel about any experience. We alone have the power to decide what we will do, how we will do it, what we will believe, feel or say. This power is reserved to each of us, all alone, all by ourselves. If the survivors of the Holocaust have taught us anything, it is that this business of creating personal safety is totally up to each of us. How well we accomplish this, even while under duress, is solely determined by how much personal power we have at our disposal. Healing woundedness is the one thing we can do to free up more and more personal power. Carlos Castaneda and Miguel Ruiz are absolutely correct about this.
In the final analysis, discovering who we are and healing the woundedness that is an inevitable part of living, is all about learning how to regulate and focus the extraordinary power reserved to us while we occupy the island of our life. Some who read these words will experience an immediate, visceral, negative reaction. So many of us are so terminally wounded that we can no longer remember what it feels like to exercise conscious choice over our internal state. A willingness to revisit this natural state of being is the first step along the path to ultimate self-control and actualization. In order to allow ourselves to take the first step, we are compelled to find a way to summon up enough personal power to create sufficient safety to make the danger of the first steps tolerable. Don’t think about it. Just do it.
Let’s take some easy steps together. The most important decision about this process has already been taken. You are reading these words, giving some degree of consideration to the possibility that going on this journey will help you in some important, meaningful way. So just keep reading. The words cannot hurt you. The process of reading and understanding them is safe. Your judgment is sound and reliable. Your inner voice will not allow you to be injured by this part of the process.
Next, before you tie the bungee cord to your ankles and dive off the railroad bridge, it is essential that you find a safe physical place to do the things that are part of the introspective healing process. All the choices that need to be made are easy. Taken together, when you are ready to begin this process in earnest, they constitute the most profound demonstration of your willingness to harness and deliberately exert your uniquely personal power.
There are probably an infinite number of ways to actually go about creating a safe and nurturing space for yourself, but because I have found it easier to this by simple, manageable steps, one step at a time, I suggest we follow the simple pattern that has worked so well for others.