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Toby Johnson's books:
YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned
from Joseph Campbell: The
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:
Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods
THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers
THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell
IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Articles and Excerpts:
Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
EnlightenmentYou're Not A Wave
Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
What Anatman means
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
Cutting edge realization
The Myth of the Wanderer
Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss
What the Vows Really Mean
Manifesting from the Subtle Realms
The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse
The est Training and Personal Intention
Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven
So I’ll tell you two stories about straws.
In 1997, my partner Kip and I were getting antsy to do something different. We’d run the lesbian and gay community bookstore in Austin for some seven years and thought of ourselves as “gay community service providers.” A little while before, we sold the store to a gay chain based in Dallas. We’d always talked about going into the B&B business. Thirteen years into our relationship, now seemed like the time. We started looking for real estate.
Almost ten years before I’d written a novel, Getting Life in Perspective, that had been set in the Rocky Mountains outside Denver, so one of our real estate hunting trips naturally took us to Colorado. Over the Internet we’d made a connection with a realtor. He showed us quite a variety of properties in a very short time; only one of them was really of interest to us. With five bedrooms, a Great Room with vaulted ceiling and a huge stone fireplace, it was big enough for a B&B. And it was only a mile off a freeway that headed southwest out of Denver, so easy to get to. But it was priced far beyond our budget. The realtor urged us to make a ridiculously low bid just to “get our feet wet” in the house-buying business. Wanting to placate the realtor, we figured nothing ventured nothing gained and the sellers weren’t going to accept a bid barely more than half their asking price, so we thought why not. We signed the bid, then headed home to Austin, planning to come back to Colorado in a few months to search further.
Since I’m telling the story, you can guess what happened. The sellers accept our bid, and suddenly we were committed. It seemed like karmic destiny. The “prophecy” I’d made by setting my novel in Colorado was self-fulfilling. That was good. It was a great house.
In my novel, set in the 1890s, the two young gay protagonists are forced to jump from a railroad train out in the mountains near the fictional town of Perspective, Colorado and come upon a utopian colony modeled on Millthorpe Farm, the “Uranian” colony established in England by proto-gay philosopher and spiritual writer Edward Carpenter. I really hadn’t understood how the mountains were situated, but I’d described the colony in Perspective having a view to the west of snowcapped mountains and to the east of the plain with the city of Denver down below.
After we’d been living there a month or two, I came across a history of the region. What was now the freeway a mile down the hill had been, in the 1890s, the railroad right-of-way. The view out the back windows of the house was of the snowcapped peaks of Kenosha Pass; and from the top of the hill on the other side of the road from us, you could see the lights of Denver. This house was located almost exactly where I’d imagined the gay utopian colony in the novel.
The people we bought the house from were named Gadpaille. (There’re are a whole set of stories there I’ll pass over, except to mention that the husband’s mother lived with the family; she was a short French woman who went by a nickname based on her being petite. So he was a Freudian psychiatrist who lived with his mother named Teat!)
The Gadpailles were very nice people—even if he were a Freudian. But what is especially interesting is their name. “Gadpaille” is French, of course. Paille means “straw,” and “Gadpaille” originally meant master basket weaver. Paille is also the game of drawing straws. And “Gad” can be a corruption of “God”—as in the expletive “gadzooks” (“God’s hooks” for the nails that crucified Jesus) which you might recognize from Batman.
So “Gadpaille” can be translated “God’s straw pull.”
Though we only stayed there a few years, running the gay Bed ’n Breakfast in the Gadpaille’s house was clearly a demonstration of drawing a long straw.
From my early days as a gay liberationist in San Francisco I’d been saying “being gay is drawing a long straw in this life.” That prophecy too had fulfilled itself. ]
I told a story above about how Kip and I—almost inadvertently—buying the Gadpaille’s house demonstrated drawing a long straw in God’s straw-pull. There’s another story in my life about drawing the long straw.
In the early 1970s, I was on staff through several summers at a Jungian-oriented conference center in Northern California. This is where I was blessed to meet Joseph Campbell. The second summer I was there, Dr Salvador Roquet, a psychiatrist from Mexico City led a week-long workshop on psychedelic therapy. (He didn’t speak English and so gave all his addresses through a translator. No wonder it took a week!) Halfway through the workshop the psychiatrist announced he was going to give a demonstration and asked for volunteers. There were more of us interested in being his guinea pigs than he’d brought “medication” for, so we drew straws to select two specimens.
You guessed it, of course, I drew one of the long straws.
It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. The Mexican psychiatrist was a combination medical doctor and Yaqui shaman in the tradition of the then very popular Don Juan of the Carlos Castenada stories. He prepared concoctions of his psychedelic medicines based on intuition and mystical wisdom he said. (Here's a photo of Dr. Roquet; for more info, see The Vaults of Erowid.)
The two winners of the straw pull lay on the floor on cushions while the 20 or so other seminarians sat in a circle to observe the demonstration. Once he’d given us the drug, the psychiatrist took a position over the stereo and chose various records to play. His therapeutic skills seemed to be those of disc jockey, but the medicine he gave us had power all of its own.
The two of us in the middle of the circle were supposed to describe what was happening to us. I’d taken LSD a couple of times before so psychedelic consciousness wasn’t entirely new to me, but in fact this was an experience like no other—partly because I was supposed to be putting it into words for the observers.
But as the alteration of consciousness came out, I quickly lost the ability to tell when I was talking or somebody else was asking a question. The distinction between me and them disappeared. Then soon the distinction between myself and the furniture disappeared. (Shades of Jean-Paul Sartre: I couldn’t tell the difference between myself and a chair!) Then the distinction between here and there disappeared, then between near space and far space—out the window overlooking the coastal mountains. There was only me and God. And then that distinction disappeared.
They told me later that at that point I rose up on my knees and spread my arms and announced “I am God.”
Then God disappeared and “I” was floating in vast empty space. Far off in the distance was a bright pinpoint of light, like the gleam in a star sapphire. And time stopped.
In retrospect, I've imagined that that "star sapphire" was, in fact, the Big Bang. "I" really had gone back to the beginning--at least, within the psychedelic vision. But maybe the Big Bang is inside everyone of us.
Dr. Roquet found a phonograph record of the BBC commentator—and precocious gay spirituality wiseman—Gerald Heard giving a speech titled “Is the Universe Friendly?”
The other guinea pig, a woman named Elizabeth, was annoyed by the sound of Heard’s droning voice; she asked me to try to stop it. And that broke the spell.
In retrospect—and to some extent even while it was happening—I realized what the drug was doing was anesthetizing the part of my brain that handles ego and location within the barrage of perceptual experience. And I was unlearning ego in just the same order in which as a baby I had learned it. For a baby self-awareness evolves as the distinctions are learned between near and far, here and there, body and surroundings, and finally self and others.
The most interesting lesson from all that was that what I think of as myself is the set of experiences of distinction and separation. In fact, it was very clear to me—and remains so today 40 years later, though mostly as an idea rather than a direct experience—that that experience of oneness with ultimate consciousness, the bright gleam of the star sapphire, is going on all the time. That is what “I” really am. But layered over it is the series of distinctions I, and all human beings, learn to help us orient ourselves within the perceptions of space and time.
Talk about deconstruction!
That really was a long straw. I saw God. I saw God beyond God, ultimate reality beyond the categories of perception and cognition. And I saw that is what is really happening all the time. The world is just a set of stories I’ve learned—we’ve all learned—to sort experience into manageability.
This isn’t a unique or special insight. It’s a basic idea in William James’ psychology. Remember, James said ego/mind is like a reducing valve so that we are not overwhelmed by the “booming, buzzing confusion” of the barrage of sensory data. And Aldous Huxley explained the mystical power of psychedelic drugs, using Blake’s image of “cleansing the doors of perception” to “see things as they really are, as infinite.”
The point here isn’t so much about drugs—though certainly drugs are part of the experience of modern gay life, for good and for ill, because we tend to operate outside the conventional rules—but about the mystical experience of oneness with all things, beyond duality, beyond the duality of male and female and masculine and feminine.
William James—brother, you know, of the great homosexual storyteller Henry James—also said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that man can alter his life simply by altering his attitude of mind.”
That's "Revolution by consciousness change," one of the key tenets of the American 60s Counterculture and the notion of the New Age.
Gay liberation--and the tremendous success of the movement by 2013--is a major example of the success of revolution by consciousness change. Gay people changed how we thought about ourselves and how WE thought about homosexuality, transforming it from a badge of shame to one of honor and dignity. And, look, the world has changed.
The hundredth monkey turned out to be gay!
Being gay now is drawing a long straw!
There were ordeals. There were "karmic debts" to be paid, lessons to be learned, and lessons to teach. The revolution by consciousness change about same-sex love and the relationship of equals has been as traumatizing as it has been victorious. And the trauma--of AIDS, of crystal meth, of bullying, of suicide--goes on. The Great Work goes on.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness.
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They
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