There's an old saying, "Those who can, do--those who can't, teach." As an ex-teacher, I've always resented this statement, but after coming from a recent conference where Whitley and I were the only non-academics, I'm beginning to see the truth in it. This conference was held at one of the world's most wonderful places: Esalen in Big Sur, a place by which its very nature (or BECAUSE of the beauty of nature surrounding it on every side), invites contemplation and as much wisdom as one can muster up. There's gold to be found there--sometimes shining through the grass like a gold coin, just waiting to be noticed and picked up.
One example was a conversation I had with a stranger while I was there. We happened to be sitting across from each other during a meal and we began to talk. He introduced himself as a massage therapist (Esalen offers some of the best messages in the world) and I assumed, from his perfect pronunciation of Hebrew words, that he was an Israeli. We got into a discussion about Jesus--one of the most famous Jews--and it turned out to be one of the deepest theological discussions about Christianity that I've ever had.
Whitley and I have always been kind of distressed that academia has rebuffed us to the extent that it has, because we feel we have so much information to offer that scientists of all stripes--from neuroscientists to quantum physicists to psychologists to sociologists--could base their research on. With all the mysterious adventures that Whitley has had, and all the experiences that I've read about and been told about by "contactees," WE have real gold--just lying around, waiting to be snatched up. I would love to see someone do something more with it than I can.
The conference started off with people taking turns talking about their research. Since I was still recuperating from recent kidney stone surgery, I was there just listen and comment (something I'm always eager to do!) I have a Master's Degree in Education, but lately I've been contemplating getting something more practical--a degree I could USE. I loved teaching kids, but it takes every ounce of energy you've got, and working with Whitley on his books, producing our Dreamland shows and posting stories on the website means that I don't have that kind of time and energy to spare anymore. Then I began to hear the academics speak and I said to myself, "I can do this! I won't get another Master's degree, I'll get a PhD and go into academia!"
But I became disillusioned very quickly. A young woman gave a presentation on "suttee" in India, which is the practice of widows throwing themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. She said that this practice started because of a small typographical error in a religious manuscript, where a syllable was changed so that a word which had once read that widows could APPROACH, or stand near, their husbands' funeral pyres now read that they could go ONTO the pyre. I commented that this reminded me of the verse "Thou shall not suffer (allow) a witch to live" in Exodus 22:18 which was (intentionally?) mistranslated when the King James bible was being compiled (the word translated as "witch" is actually the word for "poisoner"). This verse has given Wiccans great grief over the years and may have even justified the witch burnings in New England in Salem, Massachusetts in the late 17th century.
This woman had written her PhD thesis on the practice of suttee in India and had gone there, learned the dialects these people spoke, and interviewed some of the women who had somehow survived burning themselves alive. She discovered that by choosing, then surviving suttee, a woman who was normally completely powerless in that society could become considered to be a sort of goddess--kind of like the Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome--who was then consulted for her wisdom. I found this morally appalling--a classic example of someone who has no chance to gain any sort of autonomy except by risking a painful suicide. Driving to Esalen, we heard the usual news story on the radio about a suicide bomber in a Middle Eastern country killing hundreds of people by blowing himself up, and I now reflected that this was an example of the same sort of thing--a young kid brainwashed into the decision that his only choice in life was to become a human sacrifice. In doing so, he became a human "weapon" for one side to use against another.
The woman who was brainwashed into committing suttee, instead of surviving widowhood as an autonomous human being, became a human "tool" to reinforce the secondary position of women in that society. Both are old-fashioned tragedies of exploitation that are still going on today. But as much as I ranted, I couldn't get the young woman to see the horrible moral dilemma of these women--for her it was just an interesting topic of study.
The conference was run by someone I respect very much, because he's a great disseminator of information, but aside from the chilling "suttee" presentation, most of the invitees didn't seem to have any NEW information, they just "renamed" old information. It made me reflect that the way to control people is to NAME things, whether the names are appropriate or not. For instance, if you're a North Korean who is told that your dictator, Kim Jong Il, is the "dear leader," perhaps you won't realize that, thanks to his policies, you're starving to death. We may not be burning witches anywhere in the world today, but a starving nation of millions of people has been brainwashed into thinking its leader really cares about them. And we're still brainwashing society's "disposable" people into killing themselves in a way that is convenient for the people in power.
After each of these presentations, I tried to point out that we DO have new information--REAL "gold"--in the form of what "contactees" are telling us about their experiences, and that I would love to see academia tackle these stories and maybe figure out what's going on. But I couldn't raise any interest from anyone. No one saw the gold coin that was lying right under their feet, waiting to be taken up and examined. For instance, I mentioned my near-death experience and visit to the World of the Dead to another conference member, who billed himself as studying reincarnation, but he seemed supremely uninterested in hearing my story.
The conference reminded me of a great story in the collected "Nine Stories," published in 1966 by the late J.D. Salinger. In it, a young art student becomes an instructor in a mail-order art school. He is given the usual group of mediocre students, including "a twenty-three-year-old Toronto housewife who said her professional name was Bambi Kramer" who sent the school a drawing in which "the tallest boy appeared to have rickets in one leg and elephantiasis in the other--used to show that the boy was standing with his feet slightly apart." The story ends with him leaving the school and saying, "The last I heard, she'd branched over into designing her own Christmas cards. They'll be something to see, if she hasn't lost her touch."
At the end of her presentation, the "suttee" woman said that she was moving onto a study of the Holocaust next--that the motivations of the people committing this atrocity were not as awful as everyone thought. That will be "something to see, if she hasn't lost her touch."