Dave Burns

Submitted by admin on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 04:07


My name is Dave, and I've been working with the Freedom Center since the very first meeting about 2 years ago. We've been cooking. We've been boiling, we've been baking, we've been frying. We've been in the microwave -- no let's leave out the microwave imagery. I'm a person in recovery. I don't even like that expression, but the alternative expressions are even worse. the language we use these daysis so alienating, and disempowering, and simple inaccurate, that we have to struggle to ind new words for how we desecrivbe ourselves in oru lives. the onle psychiatric expression I am comfortable using is the one used by the great American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan, who talked about "having problems in living." And so I've had my share of pain my share of suffering in my life. But I'm here to talk about the joy, the joy of healing, the joy of being a conscious human being.

And to me that is the most import thing that the Freedom Center does stand for the joy. We might even dare talk about standing for happiness, which is something that human beings have a great problem achieving.

So I drank and drugged for 20 years. I was convinced that God wanted me to drink and take drugs, that was my fate and I accepted it. And in some ways that was entirely true, because when I finally had periods of sobriety, I found myself in a terrible psycho-spiritual condition. Found myself in this unlivable state and I faced the greatest challenge a human being can face in living with those states of consciousness, those very extraordinary states of human consciousness. And I came to understand them later. But at the time I was only aware of unbearable pain a d a life that simple wasn't worth living. Over a long period of time, I managed to accomplish sobriety and started living in these states of consciousness.

I'm going to use the psychaitric term of obsessive compulsive disorder to describe my conditon, because I like to use psychiatric language as a sort of code or obscure way of making references to things, like some kind of medieval map of consciuousenss -- when we need a new map of what it means to be a human being and the states of consciousness that human beings have. The only thing that I've been able to accomplish is to re-name obsessive compulsive disorder "Howard Hughes Syndrome," which is a traditional medical practice -- to name the condition after the most famous person who suffered from that condition. I like the expression "Howard Hughes Syndrome" because the implication is that anyone who has the least bit of recovery from that condition is better off than a billionaire who had no recovery during his whole life.

I came to understand that living in sobriety and taking on this experience as a challenge and a burden and a fate and a human possibility gave me a tremendously meaningful life. But I want to talk for a minute about the problem with the language, and the mindset that the language expresses. For me the main problem I have as a member of the Freedom Center is how we look at human beings, and how we have a medical model, which leads to a biochemical model, which leads to a biochemical understanding of consciousnes, and biochemcical interventions into consciousness as a means to healing. I've just had to make up some new words and new expressions that might be totally useless, but they've been fun to make up, and of course talking about "psychospiritual reality," that's a good expression.

In order to get the cosmic groundedness of all this, I like to use the word "psycho-bio-geological" I was walking in the woods and this word just came to me. You've got the psyche, you've got the bio, and you've got the geo, and you've got this reality. So this is also a very spiritual and Christian idea coming out of the work of Teilhard de Chardin, the great Christian writer. And I like to use the expression, I like to talk about, a reality that is spiritual and organic.

Anybody who can make up some new words or find good old words we can use -- we can't talk about mental illness because it's not particularly mental and it's not an illness. It's a psychospiritual reality. So there are a lot of words I could reject right now, but I just as soon not even bring them up. So I want to talk about my spiritual journey, and I have this list here of spiritual moments one through six -- I crossed out a bunch of them, but maybe I'll read them anyway. I stand here, I've been hospitalized twice, I've been in therapy for many many years, I've been living with my psychological reality for 30 years. And the important thing about me that matters to me about how I see myself, is as a person who's gone through a slow and painful process of transformation as a spiritual being.

I remember when I was very young sitting in my bed in my house, maybe I was seven, and I was sitting there, and I realized: I was free to move my arm. I was sitting here, and it was like, Here I am, I'm a conscious being, and there is a body, and I moved my arm. And I was filled with awe: that I could make a simple movement with my body.

I remember another experience: we used to go out and drink in the woods, and I remember one day after drinking two beers, that I was able to get away from my scientific, technological consciousness that I had as a child. Those two beers gave me a sense that I was a creature who was conscious and had potential. Those two beers were enough.

Over a period of time I went through more experiences, and I was sent like a package to Harvard college where I became a student, at a pretty terrible time. One day I was sitting in my room and a friend from MIT came by, and he was selling grams of methedrine. Well I was always buying grams of methedrine, that was nothing unusual. But it turned out that the methedrine made in the MIT labs -- it was unusually strong and pure, and I had an experience that I still don't understand to this day At first as I was taking this stuff I felt that I was losing my ego, I was losing control. And I went up to visit my girlfriend at the Radcliffe library, and I was sitting with her, and I went over to open a book, the Harvard Theological Review, picked up the copy, put it down on the table. The book opened itself to page 91, to the obituary of Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit archaeologist, anthropologist, and mystic, and writer. It opened to his obituary. And it said Teilhard de Chardin died, and he struggled during his lifetime to accomplish these three things, and it described his intentions during his life. As the book opened and I read that passage, I was thrust into a state where I was seeing God all around me. And I saw God, I lived in God's breath for some hours after that. And under the influence of this not particularly highly viewed drug, I had an experience that completely transformed my life. It was sort of a Christian revelation, I'm not really a Christian, but it was an experience of becoming a Christian.

Then over time I gave up those drugs and I was finally sober and I was suffering these terrible states of consciousness that I was in. And I began to have the occasionally joyful experience of sobriety. I remember when I got sober I had a place to live for the first time, I was out of treatment, I was alone and I was entirely free. I was free to drink or drug, to live my life however I wanted to. And I sat in a chair, it was winter, it was snowing out, and I decided to stay sober. That decision brought me this wonderful experience, sitting in this chair and looking out the window to the slate roofs and seeing the snow falling down. I sat there in this intense state of joy and peace at being a person who had freely decided to move out of the drug and alcohol thing that really should have killed me after all of those years.

Second experience I was just recently in th Florence woods. I really wanted to walk down to the liquor store, but I walked in the other direction, I walked into the woods, and stopped. And I looked at this bush. It was just a twiggy, stupid, woody kind of bush. And I looked at this bush and it was transcendently beautiful. It was this glorious manifestation of some kind of power. I call it the "whiskey bush" now. It was just... Then began a fifteen year process, a 15 goddamn year process, when I went inward and lived in the unbearable state of consciousness that I hadn't been willing to face until now. And I made it my second priority. My first priority was to be clean and sober. My second priority was to face the terrible feelings of contamination, the obsessive-compulsive disorder or Howard Hughes syndrome, brings with it -- it's an unbearable state of consciousness. And I just hung in there with that state of consciousness, and prayed that it would transform itself into something meaningful and sustaining.

And over a period of time I penetrated into this evil mostruous dark thing. And I found the spiritual energy in this demonic, horrible place. By living in this horrible place I found the spiritual energy that has somehow sustained me to today. It was there waiting for me. Carl Jung writes that there is no gift a human being can receive greater than a major neurosis like obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is the greatest blessing any person can have, to have this thing that I was given. The thing didn't kill me, a lot of people kill themselves, a lot of people drink themselves to death, drug themselves to death, or commit suicide who have this situation that I've been living under. So I found a way of moving into this dark thing and finding healing. It's a very long story, 15 years, and I'm not particularly into going into it right now, but I intend to write about it and share that with people.

At this point I have depending on my situation I have a tremendous amount of joy in my life, there's the joy of laughing, laughing and I'm not noticing, but for me to laugh I'm aware of the intense joy I'm experiencing with the laughing. Or with the weeping. I do a lot of laughing and a lot of weeping, as much of either as I can possibly do. The joy of doing hatha yoga on the beach in the woods in back of the house, just the tremendous states of exaltation that a human being can experience.

I just want to tell one brief story about the kind of inner work I am doing now, I am learning from some people in Oregon, the Process Work people. I'll just describe an experience I had -- Will likes this one -- of how inner work can take a dark thing and find life and joy in it. I was in a lot of pain, I didn't know what I was feeling, I was very unhappy, I was very demoralized, disempowered, and I tried to do a little piece of inner work.

One of the things you can do is take a movement, and you can work with it. So I did this spontaneous movement, and I realized I was holding a scroll that had writing on it, and I was crumpling the scroll. I was making the movement and doing the visualization, and I crumpled it and I set it on fire, and I realized that I was burning the book addiction, the writing addition, the intellectual addiction that my father has, my brother has, my sisters, my mother, my grandparents, and that I have, this terrible addition to being that particular kind of person who is intellectual, scientific, and literary. And I took that scroll and I burned it, I took all the books my father has, all the books my brother has, all the books in the world, put them in this fire, this is a powerful visualization. And I have this fire. And I sat over that fire, it was a scary fire, and I sat over it and felt this tremendous feeling of comfort, of healing, and joy, and relaxation and safety and healing and I sat with that fire for a couple of minutes. I was sitting right there actually before an AA meeting. And I felt all the healing come that healed the feelings that I wasn't having before, and the emotional state that I didn't understand, from going through this very simple inner process, I was terribly depressed, I did two minutes of inner work, and the depression was gone. Thank you.

Read Dave's essay Mapping The Labrinth here.

Read Dave's manuscript about living with RD Laing's therapeutic communties in London here.

Audio interview with Dave here.



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