Saturday, August 13, 2022


Into the Deep Woo-Woo and Beyond


“There is no question that there is an unseen world. The problem is, how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?” - Woody Allen


“That which secures life from exhaustion lies in the unseen world, deep at the roots of things.” - Rudolf Steiner





The word woo-woo is often used in a snide way to describe those whose gullibility leads them to gravitate to supernatural, paranormal, occult things. Apparently, the word made its appearance during the 80s. Some say it was intended to imitate the kind of eerie music used in sci-fi/horror films. 


I don’t think of myself as woo-woo, but I probably qualify. So did my father, who became quite animated whenever he explored the possibility of UFOs, Sasquatch, and other strange, inexplicable things. Even as a child, I had similar leanings. As my mother sometimes pointed out, we were two of a kind.


This woo-woo tendency has led me into the main preoccupations of my life, including astrology, homeopathy, energy medicine, the Enneagram, pendulums, crystals, sound healing, and more. I don’t feel the need to convince anyone about the depth and validity of these forms of learning. We human beings are attracted to many different things to further our evolution. 


Even though our culture tends to discredit and mock the energetic and unseen world, I continued to be drawn into those territories. I yearned to make sense of my confusing life experience. I wanted to understand why I was alive. Nothing else seemed to have provided useful answers for me, until I turned to astrology in desperation, the way a person who has gotten every kind of conventional test, diagnosis, and treatment without any result finally turns to Chinese medicine, naturopathic medicine, or homeopathy, not understanding anything about it, fearful of having gone outside of the accepted bounds, but desperately hoping for some help. As it happened, astrology was very helpful. In my 30s, I had my first real understanding of the underlying themes and challenges of my life, thanks to a natal reading by astrologer Demetra George.


I kept a page of the notes I took and have referred to them over the years when I need a reminder. They begin “Sun & Moon in Taurus. Taurus Rising. Completion phase of a karmic cycle, visionary, characterized by feeling that there is something “weird” or different about them. Feeling of having a special destiny. Distillation of their experience passed on as a legacy. Large constellation of planets in 12th house. The collective unconscious, Bodhisattva intention. Uranus on ascendant. People who have this usually have unusual lives. Uranus the awakener, breaking up old forms. Revolutionary, but because all in Taurus, connected with Earth. Lifework involved with establishment of metaphysical, bringing spiritual down to Earth and grounding it.”


I remain grateful for that reading. Thank you, Demetra George. My long friendship with astrologer Kate Maloney gave me continued guidance and insight over the years.


I’m sure it was my inclination to plunge into the vast mysteries of the unseen world that led me to Tibetan Buddhism, an esoteric form of study and practice that has been at the heart of my life for 50 years now.


Here’s something that convinced me early on that I was in the right place. I was studying at the time with Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche at his Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. In the neighborhood of Padma Ling, where Tarthang Tulku lived, a father had died. Two of his grown daughters knocked on the door, asking if they could speak with Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche. They knew nothing about Buddhism. They were disturbed because their father had died with a terribly contorted body and a horrible facial expression. He did not seem to be at peace, and they wondered whether Tarthang Tulku had any way to help.


After hearing their story, Tarthang Tulku gave them a flat metal disc covered with various prayers, and told them to put it on their father’s heart. In addition, he suggested that they recite the mantra Om Mani Padme Hung at their father’s bedside. The daughters followed his suggestions. I don’t know how much time went by, but their father’s body relaxed completely, and his tortured expression became peaceful. They returned the metal disc to Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche and reported what had changed, and they were very grateful.


I felt great joy on hearing this story, and even now, decades later, I rejoice. How wonderful that the consecrated metal disc and the daughters’ prayers had a positive effect, even after their father’s physical demise.


I had not yet learned anything about how important the life/death passage is in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I knew nothing about phowa, a yogic practice for sending one’s consciousness out the top of the head at the time of death. I had no idea that the bodies of some highly developed Tibetan yogis remained warm for days after their death, with no sign of decay, as they rested in meditative concentration before exiting. I had no idea that the bodies of some evolved practitioners actually dissolved into rainbow light at the time of death, as they allowed their consciousness to stream back into primordial purity. 


But even before I knew anything about these rarified examples of moving through the life-death transition, that story of how the tormented father’s body and face relaxed into peacefulness gave me confidence that I was in the right place to learn about how to encounter and navigate death-- a topic that seems to belong in the category of deep woo-woo. 


I'm going to be writing more about death, so stay tuned. And drink deep of the beautiful summer.