Thursday, November 18, 2010


I recently got in a conversation with some folks here at Creation Point about the programs we all seem to have—some of us more than others—worming through our hearts and minds, telling us that we’re not good enough.  That we somehow don’t deserve the best that life has to offer.  That we’re small, insignificant, unworthy.  At the same time, my wife—who (among her many other talents) is an interfaith minister and a practitioner of Process Acupressure—told me about several clients and friends that were facing the same issues.  It was as if the universe was drawing a line under the subject, asking us both to examine our own self-defeating delusions.  (You can read Diane’s take on the subject right here.)

I’ve danced with those delusions—as many of us have—for a good part of my life.  It’s like there’s a constant tug of war going on between who I think I am and who I really am.  It’s not always overt, I’m often not even aware of it; but, sometimes, God draws that underline in a huge, and unforgettable,  way.  (Perhaps because I’m too dumb to get it when He’s being subtle.) 

The biggest underline I’ve ever encountered came in 1988, on my second trip to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine (also known as the Samadhi) near Ahmednagar, India.  I’d been to Meherabad for the first time in the summer of 1987 and was planning a return trip the following July.  But in early March of 1988 something strange happened:  One morning I woke up—abruptly yanked into awareness—to hear a voice:  very clear, very powerful, as if someone was in the room talking to me.  Only the voice wasn’t coming from across the room, it was coming from inside me.  It was coming the center of my chest, from my heart.  I don’t recall the exact words, but the message—actually, it was more like an order—boiled down to this:  “Come to Meherabad.  Come now.”  Those words had such force, such impact, that I couldn’t ignore them.  Oh, I tried to.  There was no way I could just drop everything, get on a plane and go to India.  I had work, I had obligations.  Even if, by some miracle, I could go, the ashram where most visitors to the Samadhi stay during their pilgrimage was only open until March 15th.  (After that, the Maharashtra heat becomes unbearable.  The Meher Pilgrim Center doesn’t reopen till the end of June.)   If I was going to travel around the world, I’d need to stay for at least two weeks, not swoop in and out like some spiritual lunatic.   Nope, no matter what that voice was, no matter where it came from (a passing angel, my unconscious mind or Meher Baba Himself), I was ignoring this order.

But the thing is I couldn’t ignore it.   It was as if the order itself contained the ability to execute it.  As if each of those words, spoken in my heart, were energy-eggs that cracked open and provided the strength and will for me to (with seeming effortlessness, I don’t recall there being any blockades along the way) rearrange my life, race to the Indian Consulate for a tourist visa, buy a plane ticket and—within a few days—fasten my seat belt for a journey to Bombay (which, for the record, didn’t become Mumbai till 1995).

By the time I arrived in India, I was—as I’d been the first time around—a sleep-deprived wreck (I’m not one of those people who can sleep on airplanes.  I’m from the fitful dozing school).  I hustled from the international to the domestic airport, waited the requisite interminable hours, then took an Indian Airlines flight—aboard a small, propeller-driven plane—to Pune.  From there, I rickshawed to a taxi stand and began the long drive to Ahmednagar.  You can imagine the shape I was in when I got there:  it was as if I was a creature molded from cracked glass and every step brought me closer to totally shattering.  But, after arriving at my destination and settling into my room at the Pilgrim Center, I couldn’t go to sleep.  However exhausted I was, I had to make the trip up the hill to Meher Baba’s Tomb-Shrine.  I had to lay down my head at his feet and say, “Baba, I’m here.  I listened to the voice, I followed the order, now wrap your arms around me and flood me with your love.”  (One thing you have to grok in order for this story to work:  Despite the fact that He died in 1969, my experience with Avatar Meher Baba has been that He’s very much alive, and incredibly accessible.  Master and companion, guide and best friend.  And MB’s Tomb-Shrine is, for me, like a direct radio link to that Living Presence.  You don’t have to believe that—feel free to think I’m completely nuts (you won’t be the first)—I’m just asking you to understand it.)

So up the hill I staggered, into the Samadhi I went.  But there was no love-bomb waiting to engulf me, no warm arms waiting to envelop me.  The instant I rested my head against the cloth-covered marble, it was as if a Cosmic Hand sliced open my mind, reached in and untapped a psychic geyser that had been waiting years to explode:  all my self-loathing—every wretched program that told me I was small, insignificant, unworthy, a hopeless waste of space on the planet—erupted up and out, wave after wave of psychic sludge:  pitch black, oily and utterly repugnant.  I felt poisoned, toxic, as it flooded every cell of my body, every corner of my soul, washing away all other thoughts and feelings, every other aspect of Self, until all that remained was the Black Sludge of Unworthiness.  How bad was it?  I remember noticing a bug crawling across the Tomb floor and feeling that the only difference between us was that the insect had more of a right to be alive than I did.
Devastated, I staggered out of the Samadhi and down to my room. wondering why the hell I’d dropped everything and raced across half the world only to be spiritually ambushed by a God who suddenly seemed less-than benevolent. 

Once I was rested, free of jet lag and psychic aftershocks, I began to understand what had happened.  I’d been with Meher Baba long enough to know that one of His methods is to shine a light on the shadowed corners of the soul, corners we’re often not even aware of, peeling back the hardened layers of psychic excrement that cover up the Divinity we all are.  Magnifying those aspects and dragging them to the surface of our minds allows us to work with them more directly and, ultimately, dissolve them in the light of awareness.  By letting me see the Black Sludge in its full, flowering ugliness, Baba gave me the tools to deal with it in a conscious way.  Twenty-two years later, I can’t claim the Sludge is gone—I suspect that, being human, I’ll always carry echoes of it, sometimes faint, sometimes loud—but, since that day, it’s certainly diminished in power.   

But perhaps it hasn’t diminished:  perhaps it’s just transformed.

As the years have passed—and this is something that deserves a lengthy post of its own—I’ve come to believe (well, I think I’ve always believed it, I’ve just come to see it in a deeper way) that these seeming demons, these apparent nightmares born of our unconscious darkness, aren’t really there to prevent us from reaching our true height and power:  they’re here to help us reveal it.  In fact, I’m convinced these devils are actually angels-in-disguise, waiting for the moment when we recognize them so they can spread their wings wide and invite us to fly with them into the heart of a magical, and sacred, universe.   (I’ve also come to believe that it’s ultimately far easier to fly with angels than dance with demons, even illusory ones—that joy is a far more efficient, and delightful, path to awakening than suffering—but that, too, is another discussion for another time.)    

Our true height and power.  I had a memorable glimpse of just how high, just how powerful, we all are two years after my encounter with the Sludge.  It happened, again, in Meherabad—on a December night in 1990.  I had a dream—one of those dreams that seem more real than our waking life—in which I was at an event where one of the Meherabad residents, an extraordinary man called Mohammed the Mast (Mohammed, by the way, was the inspiration for Charlie Limbo in Seekers Into The Mystery), was sitting at a table signing...well, I’m not sure what he was signing:  it might have been books (which, given the dreamer in question, makes sense).  I approached the table, but, rather than sign my book, Mohammed instead scribbled on me, writing his way up from my hand to my upper arm.  When he did that I felt disrespected, powerless, small, ashamed—another echo, I see now, of the Black Sludge—and very angry.  But my anger was so bottled up, my rage so impotent, that I couldn’t express it.  The best I could do was grab Mohammed’s pen and throw it—without even looking—to the floor.  It was a pathetic throw, like something a weak, exhausted two year old would do.  (And that’s pretty much how I felt:  like a vulnerable, utterly overwhelmed child.)   But then...

Then I turned around—absolutely stunned to discover that my “pathetic” throw had sent the pen hurtling across the room, where it smashed into the wall, lodging there with such incredible force that it collapsed the entire thing, not just in the main room where we were, but in the adjoining room, as well.  And, in that moment of assumed weakness, revealed as inexplicable power...

I woke up—not just from sleep, but into myself.  To who and what I really am.  To my true height, my true power.  This wasn’t just an intellectual knowing, this was a visceral experience, an inner vision that touched a deeper reality.  I could see and feel that height, that power—I was that height and power—and it was far taller, far mightier, than anything I could have ever imagined:  like looking down at all Creation from the highest rung on Jacob’s Ladder.  I can’t say how long the experience lasted, maybe just a few seconds, maybe a few centuries, but looking at the universe, and at myself, from that extraordinary height became so dizzying, so overwhelming, that it actually frightened me. 

And the experience passed.

But the memory didn’t.  I’ve held tight to that vision, that gift of grace, and treasured it all these years, knowing that my job—no, not my job, my pleasure—is to grow into the height and power that I already am.  Looking back, I see that what I was shown was just what I could handle at the time.  It was only one small hint of my true height.  Jacob’s Ladder extends up into infinity (and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say)—and I can, I must, continue to grow with it.    

Understand, please, that this experience wasn’t unique to me.  It became very clear that this is the height we all truly are, the divinity that lives and breathes within every last one of us, if we could only see it.

And, yes, that includes you.

So when the Black Sludge comes calling, remember:  take a deep breath, grow tall.  And don’t be afraid to look down. 

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis        


  1. Wow, JMD. That's a stunning and beautiful account.

    First off, I'm a big believer in the power of dreams. I like the allusion to Jacob's Ladder, because it's such a powerful testament to the way God can speak to us through dreams and visions. It's a gift, really, and one that I don't know I personally have, but I believe it's there. I'm certainly open to the possibility, though I suspect I've always been frightened by what God might have to say. You were very brave to follow through, and have clearly reaped the rewards for your persistence.

    As for dark forces ultimately working for our benefit, I've always loved the story of Joseph confronting his brothers who had sold him into slavery: "You intended evil, but God worked it for good."

    So yeah, I'm absolutely agreed that God uses what can seem like utter devastation to bring us to a better place that we could ever have imagined. In my experience, it usually is about dispensing with our preconceived limitations. It's turning a specific, "I can't do THIS" into a universal "I can do ANYTHING I set my mind to."

    In Christian theology, we tend to look at devil(s) as unwitting agents of God, which I think is similar (if a little different) to your line of thought here. The word Satan is translated as "adversary" or "accuser," and he fits the role of the guy trying to convince you you're never going to accomplish anything quite well.

    I might have some more thoughts later, but thanks so much for sharing your experience here. I can't commend you enough for your bravery in following through. Your life and your work are an encouragement, so I'm glad you did. I know I'm not alone.

  2. Thanks, David. Much appreciated.

    Your line about turning a specific "I can't do this" into a universal "I can do anything I set my mind to" really hit home. Thanks for sharing that and for your continued eloquence and insight.

  3. That's a wonderful telling, and wonderful story, JMD. Thank you for sharing it.

    I often call the Black Sludge the Dark Cloud, as it feels like a rolling cloud of darkness creeping across my mind where it rains down denigrations and despair. And a part of the self always fights it, but it is a major uphill struggle, as a bigger part of the self succumbs to it.

    Yet despite the victory of the Cloud a part of me, probably my higher True self, knows that that isn't me. That it isn't true. That it's the voice of everyone that has ever insulted, disparaged, ridiculed, or generally treated as less then human... the voice of anyone who has ever said "you'll be nothing" "you'll do nothing," "you are nothing." And every other discouraging word or phrase ever been said to one's self.

    And as I'm writing this, I'm realizing that, for me at least, that Darkness comes whenever on the verge of completely something good or true or right (even if it's just good, true, or right for the one creating it)...

    It comes when on the verge of accomplishment and achievement, no matter how small the accomplishment and achievement...

    It comes to stop me, to try and make me give in, to concede, to roll over and die so to speak...

    "I’m convinced these devils are actually angels-in-disguise, waiting for the moment when we recognize them so they can spread their wings wide and invite us to fly with them into the heart of a magical, and sacred, universe."

    I really feel, now, that that is very much correct... if you don't give in to this Darkness (as I have a history of doing), or reveal that it is nothing more than test from Above (why will your inner Divine shine if you fall prey to simple words in the darkness?), then you start to soar. Mentally, spiritually, in all the ways that really matter.

    And David (as ever, a wonderful response), "we tend to look at devil(s) as unwitting agents of God..." That does seem to ring true. If you're trying to achieve something that matters to you, and the Devil is saying not to, well, I can't think of a better reason TO achieve it.

    Maybe the Darkness is a sign of being very much on the right path. Maybe a psychic soul slug manifesting from the lower reaches of the collective unconscious that doesn't want one to rise up, because when we rise others stay behind it shines a light on them and they realize they aren't living to their potential. They aren't living their True selves...

    And waking up one morning to realize that you've been consciously living less than you are capable isn't a pleasant experience.

    Fear of falling is no excuse for not flying, so to speak.

    To me, people like you, JMD, who live their Light, their Higher Calling, their True Self, and do not lose themselves to greed or hubris over their success are shining examples of what all people are capable of.

  4. I used the words eloquence and insight to describe David's post, Kyle -- and the same applies to yours.

    Thank you for sharing your soul, so honestly. It makes me very happy to know that Creation Point can be a place where we can all connect not just about comics and the writing life, but about the deepest --and often most intangible -- aspects of our lives.

    If you're so inclined, click the link in this post that connects to my wife's blog. She quotes a poem by Marianne Williamson that really applies to what we're talking about here.

  5. Wow! That's quite the experiences and very generous of you to share with us all, J.M. Same to Tyler and David. I, as well, continue to fight my 'up's and down's' to be quaint. Being a writer isn't the easiest job in the world--nor the most profitable at most times. But I do find great fulfillment in it when I'm in the zone--which has been lately, thank the big guy up stairs. We all have things that can, and more than not, do fight off the Sludge or Darkness that fights to keep us down. I have my writing, workouts (fitness and eating well do notably make me feel better), friends, family, movies/TV, and of course, reading. Other's have their own things. And that's a blessing in itself. And a tip of the hat and a 2nd to Tyler's ending comment: I have met numerous writers in the business, JM, and the fact that you always respond and reach out is a testament to the kindness, generosity, and respect that are just a few of the grand qualities within you, that stands a part from all the rest. Thanks, man! I could go on and on; let's just sum it up as YOU ROCK!!

  6. Profound thanks for the kind words, A. Jaye.

    It's a strange and wonderful journey we're all on here and, as you know, the most important part of being a writer is having a chance to share our inner landscapes in the outer world. My primary outlet for that is, and will always be, my stories -- but it's a genuine treat for me to be able to express myself through this blog...and an equal treat to have these dialogues with you and the other thoughtful, wise folks who take the time to comment here.

    Speaking of those folks: I think you meant "Kyle" when you said "Tyler"...correct?

  7. Thanks again, JMD for sharing another heart-full experience.

    The paragraph "And the experience passed." is particularly powerful to me.

    The truth that 'this too shall pass' continually reminds me that I'm not fully grasping its totality.

    I've experienced many things from bleak apathy of depression devoid of all meaning to exalted heights of Universal Oneness in bliss and contentment, and much more between. All of these experiences have passed, and at the same time, all of them are here.

    I experience the 'Jacob's Ladder' as a spiral, with experiences revisited in similar forms, along a continuing progression. The hindsight induced improvements that never quite catch up to my expanding field of vision creates an exciting, living adventure that is fulfilling and meaningful precisely because I get lost in the dark over and over again. Without the forgetting, I wouldn't remember.

    Concerning the 'angels in disguise' portion, I think of the many mirrored funhouse model of the universe mentioned here a while back. The already deep truth that continues to blossom in my own life that the Universe simply tells (and shows) me over and over 'It is exactly as you believe'.

    Looking forward to the 'other times' when the touched upon discussion topics of 'easier ways' and 'efficient and delightful' paths of Joy vs. Suffering return.

  8. Beautifully said, Tim. Especially "Without the forgetting, I wouldn't remember." That's part of the game, isn't it?

    Those "moments of exalted Oneness" never go away, though. We KNOW they happened...even if we can't live them in every moment. And they're always there to guide us. Unless we forget. Which, as you point out, allows us to experience the beauty of remembering all over again.

    Deep thanks for sharing your heart and your insights.

  9. Whoops! Sorry, you're right. Props to Kyle! I don't know where that part of my brain was. Sorry, Kyle!

  10. Thanks for the kind words, JMD. I checked out your wife's blog and that sums it up pretty well. A lack of confidence, indeed. And the Marianne Williamson poem is spot on perfect.

    Now to get that pesky Head Knowledge transformed into Heart Knowledge.

    And A. Jaye, no problem whatsoever. Funnily, when I first saw your post it was on my phone and it left me scrambling back to see if I missed a post. When I hadn't I realized I'd been transformed into Tyler.

    It reminded me of when, for a good two or three years, almost every time I introduced myself the conversation went;

    Me: Hi, I'm Kyle.
    Them: Tom?
    Me: No, Kyle.
    Them: Tom?
    ME: No. Kyle.
    Them: Ooh, Kyle.

    And it was always Tom, no matter the person. I never quite understood that.

  11. That's got to be INCREDIBLY frustrating, Tom! :)

    But, seriously, folks: Very glad you enjoyed Diane's blog and the Williamson poem.

  12. Self-loathing might be the #1 underlying subject one encounters in literature, discussions about the Human Condition, even religion and economics. It's hard to even recognize, as it is often layered over with arrogance/bravado, just as self-loathing itself is a layer which, as you described, covers one's essential spiritual nature. If everyone could be honest about their own self loathing and also compassionately acknowledge it in others, there might be actual improvements in the way we treat one another. But then again, I'm just a miserable worthless specimen, and all my words are meaningless...

  13. Very true, Jeff...and very funny.

    You use the words "compassionately acknowledge" -- and hit the nail right on the head. As I was just saying to someone the other day, the older I get the more I realize that compassion is the single most important quality in life. If we all were more compassionate to each other -- if we all RECEIVED more compassion -- it would be a very different world.

    Sounds easy...and sometimes it is. Other times -- for me, at least -- it's extraordinarily difficult. But that's the game, right? We keep trying, keep growing, keep evolving.

  14. Thanks, Kyle, I appreciate it. Yeah. I have often get the response "Adrian?" when I introduce myself as "A. Jaye" I've come to just laugh it off these days, as well as enunciate my name very clearly when first meeting people. : )

    And yes compassion should be a very valued and admired quality that we all should embrace. And I like to think that "Respect" needs to be at the foundation of us all. Hard to attack, hate or hurt someone you respect. Thanks everyone.

  15. Thanks to ALL of you, again, for sharing yourselves so honestly.

  16. The moments when I feel like I am not worthy of my position is when I feel unproductive. When procrastination seems to have gone too far. It gets reinforced by reading the accomplishments of others and thinking "why can't I get myself to work as hard as they?" It usually comes to mind when I have a lot of work to do and the work moves glacially slow.

    I think these feelings resemble the feelings one can have when hiking a mountain. The way up is hard, exhausting, long and glacially slow. But when you reach the top, you look down and see all that you have accomplished, get a beautiful view of the world and realize just how much good you did with the hard work that seemed to be giving you nothing. The way down is also full of pleasure as you get to enjoy the accomplishment.

    This last couple of weeks I've been working very hard in my field, trying to prove a theorem, writing up my results and preparing a talk. I gave the talk last Thursday and it felt fantastic having something tangible I can share with the world.

    I've come to appreciate some level of procrastination, understanding it is just my minds version of relaxation before it can focus on the mathematical problems I have to solve.

    It also helps to have a loving wife and a loving dog.

    Life is good and full of wonder.

  17. I totally agree re: procrastination, Quique. It took me years to understand that so-called writer's block was just the time needed for my unconscious mind to work out the story. Once I began to respect that, it didn't feel like procrastination at all. (That said, sometimes procrastination really IS procrastination. We have to have finely-tuned self-delusion detectors to make sure we're being honest with outselves.)

    "Life is good and full of wonder." I couldn't agree more.

    Congrats on the successful project. May there be many more!

  18. Again off topic, but wondering if you saw the American Masters on Lennon in NY and what your thoughts were on it?

    The part that moved me, in a good way and bittersweet way, were the audio recordings of Sean singing "Get By With A Little Help From My Friends".

    (PS- I kept expecting you to show up when they were talking about some of the sessions in NY, remembering your story from earlier when you met him.)

  19. I recorded the show but ended up watching the second hour anyway (I'll probably watch the first hour tonight). I didn't see anything new, but it was certainly well done and I'm always amazed at how moved I am by the end of these Lennon documentaries. It's not like I don't know it's going to end tragically. And I'm constantly amazed by Lennon's wit: he was such a funny guy.

    Yes, that bit with Sean was very sweet. The other thing that got to me was when you hear John in the studio saying goodnight to John on the phone. After Yoko says, "Sean says he loves you, too...", John says something like: "Well, he should. I'm the only Daddy he's got." Knowing that, a few months later, that Daddy would be gone... Well, it's heartbreaking.

    I mentioned this elsewhere, but there's a wonderful new book out called STARTING OVER: THE MAKING OF DOUBLE FANTASY that's a great chronicle of those last months of Lennon's life. It paints a vivid portrait of a man who was fully engaged with life, creatively energized, grounded in his work and family...and ready for new challenges. Well worth reading.

  20. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

    I'm thankful for Creation Point, for the opportunity to talk to JMD and everyone else who makes this such a great blog to bounce ideas around.


  21. Thanks, David. And a very happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone who swings by Creation Point to share their hearts and minds. You're an amazing bunch!

  22. This is offtopic, but since we have discussed Thor here...

    THUNDERSTRIKE #1 by Defalco, Frenz, and Buscema is an INCREDIBLE comic book.

    I kind of missed the boat on the first Thunderstrike run, but wow, I think I'm going to check into the back issues. Or maybe they'll put it in trade soon.

    Great stuff!

  23. Not surprising that it's incredible, David, since those three guys are incredibly talented. Thanks for spreading the word!

  24. Wow...what an incredible but very familiar story. Thank you for sharing it. I had a quite similar experience a few years back when my life seemed to be toppling from the facade I'd built it upon. Those voices screamed incessantly at me every night after I'd awaken at 1,2,3 in the morning. I, too, have found that experience, although difficult at the time, an absolute blessing, awakening me to the voice of and power of what I have come to know as my Soul. I have a little mantra that helps me as I am remembering who I truly am, who we all are. I say for myself (and I believe this for all), "I am an infinite, eternal, unfathomable, all-knowing being having a third dimensional experience which is now passing as I remember who I am while alive in this body I call myself. I Am That I Am. Amen." Since what I now call my awakening, life has never been the same for me. I now experience far more joy and happiness within myself and with others than I have in decades. I've also found the courage to follow my passions...and for all this I am eternally thankful. JDM, I'm embarrassed (a little, not too bad) to say that I hadn't known about you until today when I got an email from Marc Rosenbush about his movie based on your book. I felt compelled to follow the Internet trail to the author of the book it was based upon (you). We both know that when you are COMPELLED by that inner voice or whatever, to do something, we must. I am so glad to to have found your blog and have access to your writing. Thank you...Thank you! Namaste. Orlando

  25. Namaste right back at you, Orlando -- and deep thanks for sharing your story. What you went through certainly echoes my experience, and yet it's uniquely your own -- which, of course, is how this amazing game works. Glad you followed the internet trail to Creation Point. Come again!

  26. Again totally off topic, Mr. DeMatteis, and I am posting it here because I didn't want to post it under your remembrance of discovering comic books because those are happy memories. Was wondering if you saw this weekends Lennon Lost on CNN.

    I just got done watching it and, well, let's just say that I am going to re-watch the American Masters doc they did last week. (My mother always said if you cannot say something nice don't say anything at all.)

  27. I caught a little bit of the CNN special and also saw a similar show Fox did the same night. My feeling about both of them was the same: Why are you wasting our time putting a spotlight on the depraved person that killed John Lennon? Along with that, neither show seemed especially smart, knowledgable or informed.

    The AMERICAN MASTERS show, on the other hand, was quite good. As I've said before, it was nothing really new, but it was put together intelligently and entertainingly. And, again, I'll plug the new book STARTING OVER: THE MAKING OF DOUBLE FANTASY -- because it paints an honest, and hugely positive, picture of the last months of Lennon's life.