They say the things we learn from parents, family, and community during the first twelve years of life become entrenched in the psyche and form a kind of hardwired code we end up following forever, often without any awareness. In the world of depth psychology, James Hillman has been a pioneer, insisting that viewing the limitations and traumatic experiences of our youth as pathologically devastating is incorrect. He saw challenging childhood experiences as vital components of the total package, just as necessary to the fated outcome of one’s life as ten toes, ten fingers, and a healthy, functioning liver. While this may be true (and, of course, seeing the events of one’s life as the crucial building blocks of destiny can certainly alter the psychic vibe), it does not change the fact that a sort of code is written in the soul, and, for a time, at least, we follow this code to the letter regardless of how it bodes for us. I say ‘for a time’ because it is my firm belief that we must question and closely observe the code, then slowly transform its detrimental aspects while strengthening and following its creative and transformative prerogatives.
It’s a tall order.
Because of my own code, I learned from an early age that instability—emotional, financial, familial—was the correct ground upon which to build my life. I was never really taught how to grow up and earn a living. To say my parents coddled me and failed to set the right kinds of examples would be an understatement. But let’s say that this was necessary because it gave me the powerful urge to question (economic) reality, and to question, observe, and discover the meaning of value. I admit that if I had had a happy family life, a steady upbringing, and enough money I would not have been infected with a terrific passion for finding out what is real, and what really has true value.
I was living a fairly stable life one moment, and the next moment I purposely threw napalm on it, insisting that what I was doing was for the best, that it needed to be done, that it was the calling of my soul, that it would lead me to where I needed to go. The endeavor involved me living in my car in Los Angeles for three months, which I did. I felt a need to drastically restructure of my life—literally, mentally, spiritually, emotionally. I still felt immature, I couldn’t seem to get my head around economic responsibility, I couldn’t spiritually jive with the outward manifestations of that responsibility, the way my stability necessarily funds the instability of others. I couldn’t make peace with all the iniquity. Napalm was poured on my idyllic little scholar’s life in upcountry Maui, and so began a maddening and enlightening journey into the death of old, familial, inherited ego, for that is what ultimately happened.
I embarked on this journey, going from Maui to Washington, D.C. in late June of last year. Preparing for the trip, I gave away almost all of my possessions (clothes, shoes, food, kitchen stuff) keeping my precious sound system, record collection, and my books. I did a ton of research about car living, I made all my plans, and I shipped my car to LA. I went to the airport (all this, incidentally, with my beloved pooch, Georgie in tow) and flew to D.C. where I had signed up to give a twenty-minute presentation on the topic of what I’m calling Archetypal Disco to the Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies. As I meandered through the conference, I felt myself living with a secret—I am homeless! The fact that I had elected to go live in my car had no bearing on the feeling of being officially homeless. After all, I chose to live in my car because, a) I was determined to move back to the mainland and live closer to school and b) because I didn’t have enough money to ship my car, go to the conference, and pay first and last on a new place to live. I had made all sorts of justifications about why this would be like a spiritual “Time To Grow Up” boot camp, but I nevertheless hit my head hard on the feeling of being a loser. This was, of course, part of my plan. Like many other people all over the world, I suffer from feelings of inadequacy. My feelings of inadequacy were placed inside my soul early on when my father said things like: “You are so fat I am embarrassed to introduce you to my friends,” and countless (countless) other detrimental word gems a father should never say to his daughter, repeated at a variety of ages so the message got inside good and deep. I’m not boohooing, everyone has these monsters in them, some more than others. But, again, this and other inherited and/or self-inflicted wounds and fears were exactly the monsters I was hoping to vanquish during the summer of car living.
In truth, the summer itself ended up being a little miracle. After a few initial weeks of intensity and fear, I found a groove that worked for me. I wasn’t working so I had all day to do whatever I wanted. I would wake up in the morning, go to nearby Balboa Park and walk with Georgie. I had a system of getting hot water just before bed each night from the nice kids at Coffee Bean so my tea would be ready in the morning. After the walk, I would meditate under a tree in the park. Then, Georgie and I would have breakfast in the parking lot and wash up in the bathroom, both of us brushing our teeth and our hair. I would change clothes, put on some makeup, and head on over to Coffee Bean to complete the day’s schoolwork. I became one of those people who sit in a cafe with headphones on, staring at their computer for hours. Sometimes I had other things to do but mostly that was it. I would draw and write and read at Coffee Bean and/or at the park. I was lucky because it was a fairly cool summer with only occasional heat waves. In the evenings, I would go to the gym and work out for an hour, then I’d shower and get back in the car. I would park in the Coffee Bean Parking lot and watch TV on my computer since there was free Wifi in the parking lot. Georgie and I would eat our dinners. Then, as I said, I would get hot water for tomorrow’s tea and we would drive to our little location on White Oak Avenue and go to bed. I had built a platform in the back of the car with a mattress on top and all my stuff in containers underneath. I had a cooler where I kept my food and I’d get ice every couple of days. I adapted and learned how to do it. I knew it was temporary, so it was fine. I wrestled with self-hatred and pride, and I faced many fears. I kept up my Zen practice and even made some important progress on my path of non-attachment. I saw a lot of people living in all sorts of cars in all sorts of levels of (dis)comfort. Many looked like normal people—innocent victims of the massive inequality crisis in America, made worse by the massive Los Angeles housing crisis. I even called NPR during their weeklong exposé on car living and homelessness in LA, and I spoke to them about my experiences and how they were impacting my life.
The point of this journey was to make a new life in California, closer to friends and family. I felt I had been isolated in Hawaii for far too long. But there was nowhere to live that I could afford. Nowhere nice, anyway. Meanwhile, my younger brother suddenly confirmed that he was indeed in the country and on his way to college at Virginia Tech. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be near him and it turned out the rents in Virginia were very affordable. I felt I wanted to become a big girl with a big girl house, I wanted to have an extra bedroom, some extra space, not be squashed into a tiny box, working two jobs to pay for a crappy little life on the corner of Noisy and Ugly.
I started (again) to weave a big fantasy for my life. I will build an herb farm and a school and a disco! I will change the world and make money and get a Ph.D. and fix my family life and, and, and . . . . I planned a perilous cross-country journey to Virginia. I paid a lot of money for a place I thought was perfect—a three bedroom farmhouse with a separate studio where I could paint, all on five acres where I would build the herb farm, art school, and disco. I knew that my money situation would be very tight, and all the while I had a lot of anxiety eating away at me; anxiety I tried to avoid. If something went wrong, things would get really bad. The whole thing was built on false hope and I kept trying to make myself believe it was the right thing and that everything would work out perfectly. But fear and anxiety and worry and doubt plagued me like some diabolical chorus singing songs of woe.
I departed LA with my dog and BFF, Maryam, on Monday, October 9th, 2017. I was so nervous and worried and my stomach was churning with fear. Not exactly auspicious vibes. Within an hour my jacket flew out of the window. A few hours into the trip, the car broke down. We ended up stranded in Seligman, Arizona for four days, bleeding money and bleeding soul juice. I was, on the one hand, jovial and making the best of things, and on the other hand, filled with terror and fear. What kind of terror and fear? That needs a whole new paragraph.
I don’t know whether you’ve ever experienced this, for me, it was a new perspective. I got the first indication of it on July 4th, which was the second day I lived in my car. I had managed to run around all day and pick up all the stuff I needed (wood, tools, mattress, plastic containers, coolers, etc.), but it was very hot and I felt harrowed the whole time. I had secured my best friend’s driveway so I could empty out my car, take out the back seats (I had watched Youtube tutorials that taught how to remove the seats) and build my platform bed. I chose 4th of July because her roommates would be at a pool party all day. Because, all summer, we lied to Maryam’s roommates and to everyone else including my mom. Lied through our teeth. I told everyone I found temporary, cheap housing nearby. We didn’t want to burden everyone with what would have been a very difficult thing for them to understand or live with. Maryam could barely understand but she helped me shoulder that crazy burden all summer long. Anyway, after I was done with all that work in the suffocating 100-degree heat, I met Maryam so she could help me get a gym membership. I desperately needed a shower by then. As we walked to the gym from her house, I told her that I felt scared, truly frightened, because I felt I had purposely taken a stable life and thrown it into absolute chaos. This action of throwing my life into chaos was one that I didn’t seem able to control. It had this insidious power of coming on as my own idea, an idea that I had concocted, one I supported and found perfectly rational and reasonable.
While we were stuck in Seligman, I started to get that scary feeling again, like I was throwing my life into chaos, that I had no control over my own actions. I began to see that something autonomous was controlling me and my desires and forcing me into these crazy situations. I felt it, in the way you might feel a hand when it’s closing around your throat. There was also this feeling of inevitability because I knew from the beginning that I had to make the journey alone, but I had acquiesced to my mother’s request that I not go alone. In the end, that’s exactly what happened. My inevitable solo cross country (literally across the face of the country, Los Angeles to Virginia) road trip which came with all these feelings of fear and this sense of having been abducted by a force beyond my control—it demanded to be and so it was. I dropped Maryam off at a very cute cafe in Flagstaff around 4 pm on Friday, October 13th, and off I went, back onto Route 66 heading east. The feeling of dread accompanied me for a while longer but it was getting less intense. I needed to be alone with my demons and finally, I was.
I kept my spirits up with dreams of how successful I would be in my new venture, how much glory there would be in finally getting my heroic life in order, and how nice it would be to have a stable family life again, with my brother nearby and my mother coming to stay with me. I drove twelve hour days for four days, sleeping in creepy motels along the way in Gallup, New Mexico, Shamrock, Texas, and just outside Memphis, Tennessee, finally making it to my five-acre oasis late at night on October 16th.
From the minute I got off the freeway I knew something was wrong. There were no street lights anywhere, and the road directions my phone was giving me were taking me up and up deep into the woods on dark winding roads with no streetlights. I suddenly realized the food store was nowhere around, so I turned back and found the store and got some food and water. I had absolute vertigo by then because I had been driving for fourteen hours, my body exhausted and vibrating. When I got back to the car, my phone said No Service. I drove up to a poverty-stricken looking store on the main road and called the landlord’s daughter and she gave me written directions. I got completely lost on those roads because I missed that first turn in the dark and it took me forever to find the place, especially because I just couldn’t believe my eyes. The road I was to be living on, Dobbins Farm Road, the road I had fantasized about, was a super narrow unpaved road leading down and down and down into what looked like a scary forest in pitch black darkness. With the car lights shining on the entrance to the road it actually looked like a scary scene from a Snow White illustration where she’s lost in the woods and the trees come alive and menace her. I was terrified because my gas was running low and my phone was out, so if I got lost I had no way of letting anyone know. Plus, it was like forty degrees outside. I finally decided to believe that the house was actually down that road and I started to see mailboxes with numbers that were getting bigger until I finally found 1003. I managed to get inside and was met with a massive mildewy mold smell and a house that was way smaller than the pictures had shown. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of having just made a huge mistake. Over the next eleven days, I alternated between trying to make the best of it and feeling like I hated the place. I was barely sleeping, the place was filthy and isolated, and the landlord ended up being a slumlord asshole from hell who, among other things, hadn’t even put smoke detectors in a house with a wood stove. I felt unsafe from the moment I set foot in that house.
What I discovered one day when I sat down to read, was that all I really wanted to do was read and study. And I realized that this farm idea and all the heroic questing in my heart, the throwing my life into chaos for the sake of some heroic achievement with its fantasies of recognition and “success,” these were not my own but given to me, bequeathed to me, by a demonic and spiritually degraded father who hates himself, and hates me because I remind him of himself. I was basically just following a code written into my soul by his insanity. I felt some instant relief when this realization hit me. I reorganized my spiritual goals and got the hell out of that house.
Fortunately, I found a lovely little house in Roanoke owned by the most adorable couple and I’m finally safe and cozy.
Now that I’m writing this story from the safety and comfort of my awesome study, I’m looking back on this incredible journey. I think I lived through a literal version of questioning my inherited code. I took a long, hard look at what my parent’s lives had been and I determined to live in a different way. This meant slogging through a few months of rage because first we must become enraged at the stupidity which caused our suffering, and we must find someone to blame for it. But if we are wise, sooner or later we reach a new level where we can accept responsibility for our choices and also start to see how the dark stuff gave us immensely valuable lessons, and these become the more stable ground of our new being. I would still be under the control of that diabolic paternal heroism instead of happily engaged in my private little world of scholarship if it were not for this dangerous and difficult journey.
From the ancestral and cultural chaos to the peace of just being me, getting to this place where I can say to myself, “Yes, actually, you are just fine, exactly as you are, with all the usual amounts of garbage and goodness that all people have” is what this whole thing has been about. And this realization has opened the door for the divestiture of deeper things, the ancient things I couldn’t let go of before because I was still in the thrall of old narratives. Old ghouls and demons are connected to these places of the deep. These will go and leave behind vast open spaces where new things can come and live, nicer things, living things. Compared to this new letting go, living in my car looks like child’s play, like play-acting about divestiture and non-attachment, while this new shake-up feels like the real thing. It’s deep and subterranean and heavy, like Saturn.
Once, many years ago, I read about letting go. I recall thinking, “How? How does one let go?” It’s an ongoing process and one day I found it in the breath. But I underestimated the power of self-delusion. In every phase of my life, I have thought of myself as an open-minded person who is committed to self-awareness and personal growth. But the more I grow up, the more evidence I find of all the times I was just lying to myself, not seeing the complexes that were ruling my choices and behavior.
I want to wish for and work towards peace and stability, but I have to be careful about all the projections about life. I’m going to have to just take it one day at a time for now and watch myself like a hawk. The nonexistence of anything solid or permanent is finally sinking in and it’s very disorienting. But I’m glad that the ancient old subterranean gateway has opened.
Let my captive ghouls go to a new home, just as I have done at last.