I’m going to tell you a story about someone who became a part of my life in a way few other people ever experience. Well, I wonder about that. I wonder how many other people go about their day-to-day lives only vaguely aware that there’s something unusual going on in their life, but just can’t put their finger on it.
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.
~ David Gilmour
That verse, from Pink Floyd‘s album, The Wall, rose into my awareness like blinking neon lights in center frame. A bit ironic, given the nature of its meaning. But it acknowledged a vague sense of mine. It seemed to me I was often catching a glimpse of something, out of the corner of my mind’s eye, but it would cloud itself in a misty withdrawal whenever my mind would turn to it. And I could go back to being comfortably numb. Or, rather, uncomfortably numb. Had it been comfortable, I wouldn’t be writing this now. This is a story about how I did put my finger on it, and how music and a book played a part in the journey.
Music is my main muse. Songs come at times when they’re needed. On the radio, on the iPod, or as a post on someone’s facebook wall. Or they’ll just arise out of the mind-chatter that is my semi-conscious ego and it’s constant conversation with itself in my brain. These are often the most important because whatever finds its way through that cacophony has something very important to say.
A song’s lyrics might contain pertinent, poignant insights. Or the song itself may carry associations that signal immediate or imminent change. It seems we all share this about music, how a song is there at pivotal moments in our lives, or becomes associated with the flavour of an era or a moment, or becomes a mantra when we need to be strong, or feel more connected. And perhaps you all have experiences like mine, when it seems like something else is at work, when some force greater than all of us — call it god, gaia, the universe…whatever — seems to be, at least a little bit, willing to order itself around the life events of just one small individual in their time of need. The music of a sleekly powerful, tattooed, and deceptively punky fellow Vancouverite swept through my life as if ordained by the workings of a benevolent universe.
Bif Naked first crossed my path with I Love Myself Today, a rabble-rousing, defiant, post-breakup reassertion of self-worth that immediately became a favourite, and received heavy rotation on my iPod. The girl can rock, but we left our relationship just there, with just that one song between us for a couple years, maybe more. Still, it was a good relationship. Even now I like to crank that song up and sing along at the top of my lungs. I love myself today! Not like yesterday! I’m cool. I’m calm. I’m gonna be OK! Uh huh
Bif’s first visit came between bouts of therapy. About a decade before I’d been working with a psychologist who practiced “Rational Emotive Therapy” which amounts, pretty much, to thinking your way out of your mental issues. At the time, RET seemed to be effective. When you’re living in your head most of the time (because you can’t deal with your emotions) techniques that help clear your head of its irrational tendencies make for good outward progress. After a couple years of that the therapist asked, “Why are you still here? We both agree you’re not crazy.” I did agree. There seemed no good reason to continue.
There wasn’t. Whatever had been hanging out in the corner of my eye was now hiding out completely beyond the edge of frame. Uncomfortable numbness became rather comfortable. More importantly, no purely traditional therapist is qualified or equipped to touch upon the true source of my discomfort, which had nothing to do with any mental process, conscious or otherwise. No, I wasn’t crazy. But if the truth had come out in those sessions, both of us might have thought otherwise.
That would have been worse for me than the numbness, which lasted a good number of very good, very comfortably numb years. Wealth, travel, love, early blogging success (long before blog was a word) … life was good and easy, and yet slowly unravelling all at the same time. The uncomfortable was creeping back into the numbness underlying what seemed like an idyllic life. In 1999 it came to a head: a conflagration of memories from a disturbed, dysfunctional childhood in confluence with a painful relationship breakup … and something else I still couldn’t quite put my finger on. It all left me shattered and I knew I needed help.
Every now and again in our lives we do or say something that we realise, years and years later, was uncommonly wise. I went to a trusted friend of mine, a drama therapist, and asked for some referrals for names. She wanted to know what I was looking for. “I don’t know,” I began, “I’ve done the traditional therapy thing and that didn’t work for me. … I think I need something more like a spirit guide.”
How little I knew what that question implied. How literal the answer to that need would become.