Strangers in a Strange Land
Harvey Newman
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I just finished reading two books that resonated very deeply with me. One was an old science-fiction book called Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, and the other was a non-fiction work by Ernest Becker called The Denial of Death. That I happened to read these two books in sequence turned out to be a wonderful example of how synchronicity operates in life.
Stranger in a Strange Land is the story of Valentine Michael Smith who becomes an orphan on Mars and is brought up as a Martian. When a second expedition arrives on Mars years later, they decide to bring Valentine Michael back to Earth. The paradigm Michael has learned on Mars is very different from the one he now has to face on Earth. He soon discovers that he can teach his paradigm to other Earthlings and that in so doing that, he improves their lives.
Since we all have been pressured to fit into the paradigm of our families and our culture, in many ways the story of Michael applies to Everyman. The only difference between us and Michael is that we, to one degree or another, have been willing to give up our birthright for the security offered by our environment so we may fit in. Those of us who resisted fitting in too much were labeled as "misfits" or assorted psychiatric terms.
This brings me to the second book entitled The Denial of Death. Ernest Becker's Pulitzer Prize winning thesis is that "...the essence of normality is the refusal of reality (italics Mr. Becker's)". Mr. Becker has come to the conclusion that our entire culture and all other cultures are built around the refusal of the reality of death. Therefore, it stands to reason that, since the psychiatric profession calls refusal of reality a mental illness, all of our society is, in fact, mentally ill. The only difference is that the so-called "normal" ones keep their lies better than many of us. Just consider the current news about the state of the human race to understand the prescience of Mr. Becker's thesis. The desire to fit in is a form of cowardice which forces us to face the lie of our existence. It is heroic to choose to not to fit in, especially when there will be clear damage to our psyche when we do.
My own personal experience with not fitting in may begin when, at the age of five, I joined a Hebrew choir and performed in a synagogue for the first time. While I was on the pulpit singing glorious praise to God (even if I didn’t know what the Hebrew meant) I felt a connection with everything. When I came off and was with people who did not act as if they were connected in the same way, I experienced confusion. This confusion ultimately caused me to disconnect from my spiritual self, but did not offer me something with which I could connect. It took me many years of pain, suffering and suicidal thoughts before I began my process of spiritual integration in therapy.
In 1966, while I was in the army, I had a peak-experience one Friday evening walking alone to chapel at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. I found myself saying to the starry night, “God, if you get me out of this alive I will serve you for the rest of my life”. I had total amnesia of this for 8 years until, in 1974, I read Abraham Maslow’s Religions, Values and Peak Experiences. As soon as I read Maslow’s description of “Peak Experience”, I remembered what had happened 8 years earlier. More important, I realized that everything that had happened to me since that event had brought me to that moment of recognition. It was a second “Peak Experience” that I had at that moment.
Years later, as a street performer in Central Park, I began connecting synchronicity and peak experience and my life became one wonderful flow. I found a woman to be my soul-mate, I eventually found my path that I call Life-Mastery and I began working in Market Research.
Originally, my work was per diem, which suited me best. In 1981, I was earning enough money to marry my soul-mate. In 1983, I was offered full-time employment, which was more challenging. The new job enabled me to become an Interfaith Minister in 1984. In 1989, when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma I realized that I was hoping that my condition would be fatal. It was that realization that made me aware of how disconnected and depressed I had become. I went to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as “atypical bipolar” and prescribed Lithium for me. Immediately I felt more balanced and able to deal with the stresses in the office. Of course, I had to give up the connected peak experiencing I had come to love. What I received in return was the ability to remain on the job for another 15 years. When I retired in 2004, I was financially equipped to manage my and my wife’s retirement for many years to come, God willing.
In 2004, my doctor asked if I had considered stopping the Lithium now that I was retired. After a few months, I was Lithium-free and once again enjoying my connection with peak experiences. It has been over 2 ½ years and I am experiencing my life again as I had when I was a street performer.
There are many stories I can share with you about the spiritual journey on which I have been, but for now I will stop here.
The aim of this column is for me to tell of my trials and successes over the past 64 years of my life and to invite you to share your personal success stories in navigating the "Strange Land" in which we have found ourselves. My email is I look forward to your comments and your success stories.
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