What follows is a summary of the final flurry of phone calls I had with Karaj over the course of two weeks in mid-December last year. The background is provided by the challenges detailed in the first two posts of this 4-part series (Love, Relationship & Healing and The Paradoxical Parent), as well as my response to those challenges (in A Critical Point Is Reached). This piece also serves, rather neatly, as an end to our work together, if that is indeed what it turns out to be.
At the beginning of the first call, I asked Karaj if he had reflected on our previous conversation – on his challenge to me, and how he challenged me. He immediately referred to the reassurance I’d received from my wife about my parenting. It felt like he was offloading on me and criticising me at the same time. He talked of how my training days had been full of people seeking reassurance but doing nothing with it. Instead, in his eyes, they kicked back at him.
There followed a brief but heated discussion about it, during which I claimed that reassurance is an understandably human need in a difficult world, and that many competent and capable people experience imposter syndrome. He didn’t like the imposter stuff, using it as proof that people must be ill, and that their need for reassurance has to do with conditioning.
I shared how sometimes, many years ago, at end of an extremely difficult day, he would tell me I was doing well. Those reassurances had meant everything to me, particularly during 2003, the last and hardest year of my training. (Curiously, when I looked for an example in my journals, what I found in the penultimate paragraph of Remembering Why I’m Here, was actually kindness rather than reassurance. Maybe that’s the point I’m making. I later found another of Karaj’s comments – in the last line of We Can Help Each Other. It was both reassuring and kind.)
When asked for my thoughts, I shared some of what I had written over the previous week. He listened (I had accused him of not doing so) as I talked about him pushing me away, his love being procedural, and him not having given his wife ‘everything’ as he had claimed (because the love and reassurance wasn’t there). I drew attention to the fact that he is alone (he has pushed everyone away), and that the Experiment in Self-Healing Community he set up, failed.
I also talked of the crossroads we find ourselves at, and that whatever we may have achieved so far, it means nothing if we do not continue our work together.
I explained the feeling I’d had about the crystal in the super-saturated solution: drop a single crystal into a liquid poised at the transition point and the whole solution crystalises in an instant. It seemed such an apt image because his challenges showed me I’m so much closer than I thought to being the kind of father I want to be. I’m a better person, too, because of these latest insights and reflections. His response was typically clear:
‘The first part is bullshit. The second part is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Excellent. I agree 100%.’
I wondered quite what he meant. Initially, I reasoned that the bullshit was the stuff about reassurance, and the brilliance was the rest. Eventually, my conclusion was that the bullshit is where I’m putting an argument together against Karaj, and the brilliance is the insight about where we are and where we need to go.
He called me back later that day to continue our conversation, saying that I was clear in what I had said, and accurate, and that I was a man (not in Child Ego state, which is how I had been so relentlessly in the beginning). Then he called again to tell me I’m beautiful and that he actually agrees with the bullshit part, too, because it came from love. He added that I am standing up for myself and saying that I count. In addition, he emphasised that I need to develop my intuition and insight, connect with myself, and give voice to what I feel.
Then came yet another call with a big insight. Karaj explained it this way:
‘What you are confronting is that your mother called you a little shit [I was a particularly manipulative child] and that was her idea of love. Now the only way you can exist is when you are a little shit, not when you’re okay. You are actually okay. Similarly, my mum wanted me dead. So we are fighting our conditioning (not each other). Remember how you were raised and how you were treated.
A few days later, I wrote that Karaj’s challenge to me about my son – and its consequences – indicate how far I have come since 2003 when I was just angry at Karaj (see My Battle Is With Myself and My Mind At Work) without any of the insight of this time around, or any appreciation of my brilliance. (Don’t get cocky.)
We spoke again that same day and I discovered that he was experiencing pain and some chaos about my challenge to him, and just wanted to sleep. On top of everything else, my comment that reassurance is a universal need, especially in a world which seems to be falling apart around us, had really made him mad. As he said to me today, children need reassurance, adults do not.
He explained that my challenge to him has woken him up to the fact that he is being seduced again. It has put him back on the straight and narrow, but what is causing him the pain is the part about me being labelled a little shit, and him being dead (both injunctions from our respective mothers). With such a start in life, how can we hope to help anyone? Moreover, how can we change our scripts?
I responded that life has a healing quality to it, if only we get out of the way; and that this feels as though we have to move deliberately and carefully so as not to disturb anything. The time for large movements is over. Now it’s about subtlety and awareness of movement. He agreed, saying something he has said before: progress must be invisible.
I asked if he had read the 11 pieces I had sent him from the preceding six months. He hadn’t, but that’s okay. The main point from those writings is that I have listened to him recently in a way I used to listen to him at the beginning, and that it has brought me to this place of appreciation and solidity. He felt and commented on my centredness in this conversation.
Later, talking to my wife about it, the slow deliberate movements invoked the nature of Qi Gong.
Our final conversation was a short one. We spoke for 15 minutes, during which I told him I cannot come and see him as planned in February (because of the pandemic). He was in a grumpy mood and when I told him about the pain in my knee and how it feels like I’m spinning plates with the various physical complaints – knee, back, shoulder (not to mention – and I didn’t – the similar conclusion I sometimes have regarding my exercises, Qi Gong, and a lack of meditation), he interrupted me saying, ‘So you’re spinning plates now are you?‘
I felt all desire to talk to him fall away. The conversation lasted a little while longer – long enough for me to ‘reassure’ him that we are doing well. His glib reply was something along the lines of, ‘Oh is that so?’, or perhaps more like, ‘I’ll leave that to you’. There was just enough time for him to add the assertion that most (good) teachers are aggressive. I offered a perfunctory acknowledgement, said my goodbye, and hung up. As I did, I felt unsure whether I wanted to talk to him again for a while.
Having thought more about that last comment of his, he’s right of course. Some of the best teachers are aggressive, or disagreeable, or antagonistic; and traditionally such strictness has been glorified. But that does not make it right. In fact, it has always been my intention to strive to offer the same kind of service as Karaj offered me, but with more kindness. There it is again. Kindness, not reassurance.
In the days that followed, I felt a little sad and alone at the thought that I would not have Karaj in my corner, but also that maybe I need to move on and step out of his shadow. I had told him he pushes me away, and in those last two conversations I definitely felt pushed away. It’s interesting because I think that if we can work through this, it could be mind-blowing what we create.
These last four posts have been an intense, concentrated version of my experience over the years with Karaj. Whether over the course of one phone call, a few weeks’ work, or two decades, the process has always been the same: share where you are, accept whatever challenges come your way, see the learning and the alternative way of being, make the changes, observe, reflect, feed back, and repeat.
My serious commitment to work with him inevitably brought the most difficult challenges, thoroughly exposing all elements of myself and my script, such that the only thing that helped me at times – the only thing I could really lean on – was that original commitment, remembered and restated over and over again, especially when I wanted to give up.
Amongst the struggles, I have been repeatedly shown – and have eventually seen for myself – just how good I am, but whilst Karaj has always wanted me to see that, and celebrate it, he has never allowed me to dwell on it because there has always been work to do.
He has said many things to me over the years – from the extremely confrontational, to the genuinely loving and appreciative – and he has always been straight with me. He has done and said things which have been difficult for both of us, but they have always contributed to my growth.
So I end this post with the same two words with which it began. They were the words he used to describe my response to one of the deepest challenges he has ever given me. Moreover, in the context of these last few paragraphs, those words serve to describe the results of all my work with him, gained over many years of commitment and perseverance, and embodied most simply in who I truly am: Absolutely brilliant.