by Judith Orloff
Beginnings of Wisdom
I am large ... I contain multitudes.
It was 3:00 A.M., the
summer of 1968. A magical southern California night. I was sixteen years
old and had spent the weekend partying at a friend's house in Santa
Monica, oblivious to my exhaustion. The soft, warm Santa Anas whipped
through the eucalyptus trees, blowing tumbleweeds down deserted city
streets. These winds were seductive, unsettling, conveying a slight edge
The scene was Second Street, two blocks
from the beach, in a one-bedroom white clapboard bungalow where my friends
and I hung out. We were like animals huddled together for a kind of
safety, apart from what we saw as a menacing outside world. Brightly
painted madras bedspreads hung from the ceiling, and candles in empty Red
Mountain wine bottles flickered on the floor. Barefoot and stretched out
on the couch, I was listening to Bob Dylan's "Girl from North
Country." I was restless; I wanted something to do.
A young blond man I'd met only an hour
before invited me to go for a ride up into the hills. He was a James Dean
type, cool and sexy, dressed in a brown leather jacket and cowboy boots, a
pack of Camels sticking out of the back pocket of his faded jeans: the
kind of guy I always fell for but who never paid much attention to me. I
wouldn't have missed this opportunity for anything.
The two of us headed out, stepping over
couples who were making out on a few bare mattresses placed strategically
on the living room carpet. We jumped into my green Austin Mini Cooper, my
companion at the wheel, and took off for Tuna Canyon, one of the darkest,
most desolate spots in the Santa Monica range, a remote place the Chumash
Indians had consecrated, made sacred.
The road snaked up into the mountains to an
elevation of about 1,500 feet; we could see the entire Malibu coastline
laid out before us in a crescent of lights all the way from Point Dume
down to the southernmost tip of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The balmy
night air blew through my hair, filling my nostrils with the scent of
pungent sage and fresh earth. A few lone coyotes howled to one another in
For a moment, the man I was with glanced
over at me and I felt something inside me stir. The softness of his voice,
the easy way he moved his body excited me, but I did my best not to show
it, determined to play the game of acting as if I didn't care. The heat of
his arm extended across my body, his hand now on my leg. I reached my hand
over to meet his, slowly stroking each fingertip, one by one. I felt
intoxicated: He was a stranger, completely unknown to me. It was the
ultimate risk. The closer our destination became, the more my excitement
grew. I was anticipating what would happen when we reached the
breathtaking view at the top.
The higher we climbed, the more treacherous
the curves in the road became. But we were paying little attention,
talking nonstop, high on a potent amphetamine we'd taken an hour before at
the house. On the last curve before the top, he didn't respond quickly
enough and the right front tire plowed into the soft gravel along the
shoulder. The car lurched wildly as he wrestled with the steering wheel in
a frantic effort to regain control. He slammed on the brakes. I heard the
tires shriek and then we were skidding off the pavement and hurtling over
the edge of the cliff, plunging down into the darkness below.
I recall only fragments of what happened
next. I do know that time slowed down and I began to notice things. The
night sky was swirling beneath my feet instead of above me. I could hear
peculiar sounds, as though amusement park bumper cars were crashing into
each other. I made the emotionless observation that something was
distinctly odd, but couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. The horror of my
predicament—my imminent death—never really registered. Instead,
something shifted; I found myself standing in a sort of tunnel, feeling
safe and secure. It didn't occur to me to question where I was or how I
got there. Although far in the distance I could hear the wind rushing past
the open windows of the car, I was now suspended in this peaceful
sanctuary while we fell through space toward the canyon floor hundreds of
With no impulse to move or to be anywhere
other than where I found myself, I looked around the tunnel now
surrounding me. It was an amazingly still, long, cylindrical space, its
gray color gleaming as if illuminated from behind by a subtle, shimmering
source. Though the tunnel did not seem solid, as in ordinary reality, its
translucent walls appeared to extend endlessly in both directions,
comprised of a swirling, vaporous material resembling billions of orbiting
atoms moving at enormous speeds. Other than enclosing me, this surreal
world was completely empty, but comfortable and soothing: There were no
harsh edges, and the whole tunnel seemed to be vibrating gently. In fact,
my body now also looked translucent and was vibrating, as if it had
changed form to suit this new environment. I felt utterly at peace,
contained, and self-contained, in a place that seemed to be without
limits, going on forever.
Suddenly I remembered being a little girl,
looking up into space while sitting on my rooftop, fascinated by the sky
and the planets, sensing an invisible presence. For hours I'd stare at
what I couldn't see but could feel more strongly than anything material.
From my earliest memory, I always believed in God. Not so much the God of
the Jewish religion in which I was raised, or any other religion for that
matter, but a formless, ever-present being that twinkled through all
things and lovingly watched over me. That same presence was now with me in
the tunnel, more familiar and closer than it ever had been when I was a
child. Enveloped by it, as if wrapped in a warm cashmere blanket on a cold
winter's night, I was in perfect balance, impervious to harm, protected by
an invisible but somehow tangible, sustaining life force.
Time had stopped, each moment stretching
out into eternity. From what felt like a great distance away, I gazed
through the shattered windshield, noticing soft moonlight streaming
through the canyon. The car bounced off huge boulders, turning end over
end through the air as we plummeted down the mountainside. And yet I never
perceived that I was in the slightest danger; I experienced not a single
moment of fear. With the coolness of a detached observer, I counted the
times the car somersaulted: once, twice, three, four, all the way up to
eight. Protected by the shelter of the tunnel, I remained in a void,
suspended in free fall, not knowing if this was life or death.
As abruptly as I'd been pulled into it, I
was jolted out of the tunnel and back into the present, just as the car
crashed down on solid ground. With a high, shuddering bounce and a grating
sound of steel against rock, we careened to a grinding halt, the front
wheels of the car projecting over a narrow ledge. We were precariously
balanced, actually teetering on the precipice.
Thrown by the impact of our landing, my
companion and I had both ended up in the backseat. Fragments of broken
glass were scattered all over the inside of the car, but miraculously,
neither of us was hurt. We quickly realized, though, that we were still in
danger: At any moment the car might slide forward and tumble into a large
ravine below. We had to get out of there fast.
A live oak tree trying to crawl in through
the window appeared to be our only available support. Without looking back
I grabbed on to its branches and managed to pull myself out of the mangled
car. My companion close behind, we scrambled up the side of the cliff,
pushing through thickets of manzanita and wild mustard, barely penetrable
scrub brush and wild chaparral. Trying to avoid the loose, unstable mounds
of dirt and slippery leaves beneath our feet, we used shrubs as ropes to
pull ourselves up the sheer hillside. Yet even as we inched our way to the
top, I kept asking myself, Why were our lives spared? We should have been
killed. Instead, we were walking away with hardly a scratch. And already
the image of the tunnel haunted me.
Very relieved to be on solid ground again,
we were soon able to hitchhike a ride down the winding canyon roads back
into the city. Faint rays of pink dawn light were beginning to illuminate
the hills. I don't think either of us said a single word the entire time,
but I'm not certain. I have little recall of the trip. Staring off into
space, I replayed the accident over and over in my mind, unable to account
for how we could still be alive. Only a miracle could have saved us.
For many days, I blanked out the details of
the actual fall but retained a few disjointed images. I could distinctly
remember the car rolling over the cliff and the giddy, weightless,
out-of-control sensations during the drop. It was like going over the
first big dip on a gigantic roller coaster. I also recalled how every cell
in my body had screamed in protest in the instant of the screeching,
bone-jarring landing. As for the tunnel, I had no idea what to make of it.
It was an enigma, a mystery I would continue to try to unravel for a long
time to come.
For my parents, what happened that night
was only the latest in a series of drug-related calamities in my life. I
was their only child and they were frantic. It wasn't so long before that
my mother had sung me to sleep with lullabies, that my father and I had
played miniature golf on the weekends. I looked up to my parents, and I
knew they both wanted my life to be easy, to shelter me, but the tighter
their hold, the more I rebelled. When I began to take drugs, I could see I
was breaking their hearts. I knew they feared for my safety, saw our
relationship slipping away.. But I felt I had no choice. I had to break
free. During the past years, they'd watched me change from being a quiet,
sensitive girl into a stranger—unreachable, out of control.
Before the Tuna Canyon wreck, my parents
had done all they could to get me some help. My mother, a strong-willed
family practitioner, and my father, a soft-spoken radiologist, were both
prominent physicians in Beverly Hills; they had the resources of the
community behind them. A practical man, with a root integrity, successful
but satisfied with the simplest pleasures, my father would look at me with
his large oval, blue-green eyes as if trying to see where I'd gone. And my
mother, powerful, gregarious, afraid I wouldn't fit in, seemed to be
determined with all her intensity and faith to straighten me out, even at
the risk of being overbearing. But I was stubborn and rebellious. I just
wouldn't listen, was convinced my parents were incapable of truly
understanding my inner struggles, perhaps because I didn't understand them
Among other things, I was fed up with being
so sensitive. I felt no one could understand me anyway—how I sometimes
knew things about people before they said a word. Or how I made accurate
predictions about the future, often unhappy ones. My father never gave
these predictions much credence or even said anything about them. Loyal, a
man of few words, he was a strong, steady presence; his chief concern was
keeping peace in the family. His mind sought the concrete, was most
comfortable with the world in which he'd succeeded so well. The strange,
the unusual ? well, if it created problems, he was against it. But for my
mother, my predictions seemed to touch a raw nerve. She never encouraged
them; they made her uneasy, fearful that such talk would keep me from
being normal. Much honored, my mother took enormous pride in being part of
the Jewish community, the medical community, having a celebrity practice
in Beverly Hills, many friends, a phone that never stopped ringing. But my
predictions made me no more comfortable than they made her. In fact, I
would have done anything to shut them off. And drugs could do that for me.
They provided a way out and I took it.
After the accident, my parents did their
best to protect me. The next morning, they packed up my things from our
Westwood home and sent me to stay with some of their close friends in
Malibu Colony, a well-guarded and affluent section of Malibu Beach. While
they were deciding how best to help me, they insisted I remain there,
isolated from my own friends, and most importantly, away from drugs. I
knew their motives were good, but still I went grudgingly.
Nonetheless, I'd reached a turning point.
My close brush with death had shaken me, but more than that, I'd undergone
a passage, had in some strange way come back to myself. I couldn't stop
thinking about the tunnel, its utter tranquility, and the miracle that
somehow, in defiance of the laws of physics, it allowed me to survive a
When my parents dropped me off at the
Malibu beach house, a dense fog was beginning to burn off as the sun lit
up the coast. Disgruntled and moody, I settled in as best I could.
Refusing to talk to anyone, I installed myself on the living room sofa and
turned on the TV. There I lay, in a pink tie-dyed tank top and bell-bottom
jeans with flowers embroidered on the pockets, mindlessly watching a Star
Trek episode. Soon, however, my parents' friends barged in and introduced
me to a neighbor. Viewing any interruption as an intrusion, I was hostile
when I looked up at him, but I quickly did a double-take.
Jim was a tall, lean man in his midforties,
with full, curly white hair and a white beard. He also happened to be
standing in front of a backdrop of golden rays being reflected off the
ocean, creating a halo effect. He looked like a storybook version of God.
I wanted to burst out laughing, but I stopped myself. On sheer principle,
I refused to cooperate, and laughing might be misconstrued as my
"coming around." But in the celestial light of Jim's' presence,
this whole mess suddenly took on a comic twist. Here I was, exiled in
Malibu, very much alive for no apparent reason, and now a man who looked
like God was towering over me.
Almost before I knew it, Jim was sitting on
the couch beside me and gently asking me questions about myself. Annoyed
by how forward he was, I wondered, Who is this man anyway? I wanted to
dislike him, but somehow I couldn't. His large brown eyes and kind,
unassuming manner soothed me. His presence gave me a feeling of
acceptance, something I seldom experienced around adults. The quality of
his voice and the tender way he looked at me seemed familiar, as if we'd
sat together a thousand times before, though in fact no one in my life
remotely resembled him.
I instantly connected with Jim, felt some
sort of magical alliance between us. But there was no way in the world I
was going to admit that to anybody. I'd programmed myself to be miserable,
and nothing would change my stance. Adamant about refusing to give in to
my parents' demands, I hardly spoke to him that first day. Eventually he
said good-bye, got up, and left. I made a point of not watching him, kept
my gaze fixed on the television.
The next morning my parents issued me an
ultimatum. As usual, my mother did most of the talking while my father
quietly sat back, giving her his silent but strong support. Either I had
to agree to go into psychotherapy now, or they'd send me to live with
relatives on the East Coast. My only exposure to psychotherapy had been
the few instances when my parents dragged me to family counseling sessions
that always ended up in yelling matches, after which we all went home in
frustration. As a result, I viewed therapy as a farce, punishment for the
inept who couldn't work out their own problems. But since I wanted to stay
in Los Angeles at any cost, I reluctantly consented.
Late that August afternoon in 1968, two
months after my high-school graduation, the three of us headed for Beverly
Hills in the family Lincoln. I sat in the backseat, watching my father's
somber but kind face in the rearview mirror. My mother's eyes were
unflinching, but whenever she glanced at me, they were sad. To stay numb
and pretend I didn't care, I kept silently repeating the words to
"Purple Haze," a Jimi Hendrix song.
Our destination was a modest, four-story
office building with two cramped elevators and long, windowless halls.
While sitting in the waiting room before the appointment, our tension
mounted. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not fly out the
Not a moment too soon, a familiar figure
greeted us: Jim, our friend's neighbor in Malibu, the man I'd met the day
before. He was the psychiatrist we were scheduled to see. I was furious; I
felt I'd been tricked and set up. At the same time, I was strangely
attracted to him, intrigued by my sense of our intangible rapport. Against
my will, it seemed I shared an unspoken camaraderie with him, almost a
kinship. Whirling with feelings, I nodded at Jim and grumbled a guarded
hello. Then my parents and I followed him into his office.
For the first session, Jim met with us all
together. He sat in a black leather swivel chair and motioned for me to
sit beside him on an oversized rust-colored ottoman. My parents stiffly
sat opposite us on a green-and-beige-striped couch. Soon my mother started
sobbing and told Jim how worried she was about me. I pulled my knees up to
my chest and rolled into a tight ball. I felt suffocated by the intensity
of my mother's love. Her attention always seemed to be on me. I knew how
much she cared, but was afraid that if I let her in too close I'd be
devoured. She was so dominant a personality that the only way I could be
real, I felt, was to oppose her. Given her intensity and persistence, to
do so took every ounce of strength I possessed.
Jim listened patiently to both my parents.
Then he listened to me. I felt unusually timid around him, paying
attention to his opinions, sneaking looks at his clothes, noticing his
wedding ring, how he held his hands. I never once intentionally provoked
him or cut him off, as I did so often with other adults, particularly
authority figures. At the end of the hour, I surprised myself by agreeing
to come back again, to try whatever "therapy" was supposed to
Relieved that I was at last cooperating
with them, my parents allowed me to move back into their home. But after a
few months, Jim suggested that I stay in what he called a "halfway
house." He knew of two therapists, Pat and Ray, who rented rooms to
people like me, people who were in transition and needed support. They
lived on the premises with their two young daughters, a cat, and two dogs.
Jim thought the move would give me a chance to grow up and begin to
separate from my mother and father. I was all for it; I couldn't wait to
be on my own. My parents were wary but they'd made a decision to trust Jim
and so reluctantly agreed.
I fell in love with the house the moment I
saw it. It was a two-story, weathered pink Victorian A-frame on the comer
of Park Avenue and the Speedway, an alley that runs along the entire
stretch of Venice Beach. The boardwalk and the sand, separated from us by
an empty dirt lot, were less than a half block away. At night, I could
hear waves breaking on the shore as I fell asleep. I quickly became fast
friends with Pat and Ray, good-hearted hippies in their midthirties with
degrees in social work who now devoted their lives to helping others. They
welcomed me into their home.
The big surprise was the other residents:
Pete, a schizophrenic in his early twenties who mostly kept to himself,
and Dolly, a wired manic-depressive woman. My God, I thought, Jim put me
here with the mentally ill! Pat and Ray agreed: That was exactly what Jim
had done. And yet, somehow, it didn't matter to me. What mattered was that
I felt free. Still, the first time I opened the medicine cabinet and
placed my toothbrush beside Pete's Thorazine and Dolly's lithium, it did
give me the creeps. But besides the times when Pete was hearing voices or
Dolly had her bouts of insomnia, we all got along just fine and life was
I continued my therapy with Jim. Yet
despite the bond I felt I had with him, I didn't open up immediately. Nor
did my initial timidity last: I was a hard case, fighting him at every
turn, testing and probing to see how far I could go. For several months I
missed appointments, challenged him, threatened never to come back again.
Then, one day, after being in therapy about
a year, I told Jim about a troubling dream I'd had when I was nine years
old. The dream was similar to a wakeful state, vivid, not at all like a
regular dream. I'd never discussed it before with anyone except my
parents. In fact, I'd purposely kept it a secret. Recalling it now as part
of my therapy, I described it in my journal:
My nightgown is drenched in sweat as I bolt
awake, knowing that my grandfather, who lives three thousand miles away,
had just died. I can hear his voice saying good-bye to me over and over
again as I struggle to get my bearings. It's the middle of the night. My
bedroom is pitch black. I can't tell if I'm dreaming or if this is really
happening. Almost too frightened to move, I drag myself from bed and run
as fast as I can into my parents' room to give them this message.
Instead of being upset by my announcement,
my mother smiles and assures me, "You were having a nightmare.
Grandpop's fine." The absolute certainty in her voice makes me doubt
myself. Of course Grandpop's all right. I've simply overreacted, I'm told.
So I head back to my own room again, comforted by the notion that my panic
was unfounded, and drift off to sleep.
A few hours later, my aunt calls from
Philadelphia, to tell us that my grandfather has died of a heart attack.
As I recounted the dream to Jim, he
listened intently without flinching or recoiling as I expected he would.
Instead, showing genuine interest, he asked me to speak more about it. I
first told him my mother's reaction to the dream, which had confused me.
She'd been intrigued and quite tender, yet at the same time seemed to be
holding something back, as if she was purposely trying not to make too
much of it. Even after she learned of my grandfather's death, she seemed
to write off my dream as coincidence. But something in her eyes said she
didn't fully believe what she was telling me. And neither did I. I was
certain my grandfather had come to say good-bye. The way he looked and the
sound of his voice had been too alive, too real, to be mere imagination.
Unable to resolve this puzzle, I'd wondered if somehow I was to blame for
my grandfather's death.
Grandpop and I had always been close. Years
before, he would hoist me up on his shoulders and promise that even after
he died we'd never be apart. All I'd have to do was look up at the
brightest star in the sky to find him. Our love ran deep, and it was
unbearable that I might have hurt my grandfather.
My capacity to bring up these feelings was
enhanced by a growing romantic relationship I was developing with Terry,
an artist I eventually moved in with for two years. He lived across the
street from the halfway house in an old two-story converted brick
Laundromat with enormous clear glass pyramidal sky-lights in practically
every room, including the bathroom. As the sun shone through them, the
light was pristine. Terry also used the space as his studio. A few inches
taller than I, twenty-five, Terry had a short, blond ponytail and piercing
blue eyes. He habitually wore a pair of paint-splattered jeans that
mimicked the colorful brush strokes of a Sam Francis canvas.
Terry was one of a four-member group of
male muralists, who were futurists of a sort. They painted visionary
disaster scenes such as earthquakes, snowstorms, and floods. Their murals
so closely resembled some of my own premonitions that it seemed they'd
been painting my inner life. The group called themselves the Los Angeles
Fine Arts Squad and did their artwork on huge bare walls of commercial and
residential buildings all over the city. A first of their kind, they were
a central part of the Venice art scene.
Terry and I related to each other through
the world of images and dreams. I used to speak a lot to him about the
dreams that I'd written down for years. I dreamed voraciously, and
relished waking up in the morning and retrieving my dreams. On the days
when I couldn't hold on to them, I felt empty and vacant, as if I'd missed
out on something important. When the images lingered, their richness
filled me up like the finest food. They were sacred to me.
Terry and I used to take long walks at
night in front of the deserted amusement park—Pacific Ocean Park—where
he shared his artistic visions and I shared my dreams. With our faces
eerily lit up by the blue mercury lights lining the boardwalk, Terry said
that sometimes he could see the images shining right through me. He
believed that my ability to generate them indirectly influenced the
quality of his art.
Terry's only desire since he was a little
boy was to be an artist, to create. As I watched him, so calm and
directed, sketching at his rough-hewn pine drawing table late into the
nights, lost in the world of art, I prayed I too might find a calling that
could give me so much joy.
When at the last minute I decided to forgo
college in favor of living with a struggling, long-haired artist eight
years my senior who wasn't even Jewish, my parents were exasperated.
Having already paid thousands of dollars for my tuition at Pitzer College
in Claremont, where I was supposed to begin the following semester, they
forfeited the money and refused ever to meet Terry. Convinced that at
seventeen I was throwing away my future, they couldn't support that. Not
knowing what else to do, my parents decided to withdraw all financial help
except the fees for my therapy sessions.
To help earn living expenses, I got my
first job as a salesgirl in the towel department at the May Company,
earning seventy-five dollars a week. It was located on Fairfax and
Wilshire, less than half a mile away from the Climax nightclub, where
Terry had been commissioned to paint an outdoor mural. From our studio in
Venice, he would drive me to work each morning on his BMW motorcycle. On
the coldest, rainiest days, our eyes tearing from the cold, bundled up in
our army jackets, I would hold tightly on to his waist as we sped through
the city streets. I had never felt happier or more free.
It was through Terry's love and insight
that I slowly began to accept myself and my images. Whether or not they
were psychic, they were an intimate part of who I was, and Terry
recognized that. He understood and valued their importance as no one had
ever done. Terry was the first man I'd been with who I felt could truly
"see" me. By encouraging me to explore my psychic life, he also
helped me to start trusting Jim.
In the course of my therapy, I slowly
recalled other premonitions I'd had as a child. For instance, one day when
I was nine, my parents introduced me to Evan, a longtime friend of theirs
from London who took frequent business trips to the States. An impressive
man, he was an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur who appeared to
have it all: a beautiful wife and family, good health, and the means to
maintain an elegant lifestyle, complete with servants, a Rolls-Royce with
chauffeur, and a country estate in Surrey.
Within minutes of first being introduced to
Evan, however, a sense of dread overtook me, a sinking feeling in my
stomach, a certainty that something bad was about to happen to him. My
feelings alarmed me because I could see no apparent reason for them. Here
was this successful friend of my parents, but I couldn't wait to escape
his presence. When I told my mother, she said, "How can you feet
that? You've barely met him." I couldn't explain my feelings; there
was nothing to back them up, and I felt terrible about myself for having
them. We both gladly dropped the subject. Nonetheless, I couldn't help my
response. It was automatic, instinctive. I was reminded of how my dog once
reacted to a friend of mine, barking and growling at her whenever she came
to the house. That was annoying to me, so I had a sense of how my mother
But then, three weeks later, my parents
received a call from mutual friends. To the surprise and shock of everyone
who knew him, Evan had committed suicide. This time my mother didn't call
it a coincidence. Rather, she acknowledged that I must have sensed
something: "You were right about Evan. I can't figure it out, but
somehow you knew." It was also clear, however, that she was
unsettled, reluctant to have further discussion. There was an unusual
resignation in her voice, a heaviness, a mix of awkwardness and sadness.
She seemed not to know what to do with me—I was odd, a curiosity,
something from another planet. My mother had validated what I'd said, but
in the end she left me more mixed up than ever. She dropped the subject
and life went on as if all this had never happened. Once again, I felt
alone, tainted, fearing I'd colluded in something awful, as if stranded
with my own thoughts on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. So I
tried to act normal, didn't talk about my feelings.
Jim's attitude toward these incidents was
enormously comforting. What I appreciated the most was that he didn't seem
judgmental or afraid. A psychiatrist, trained of course in conventional
medicine, he could very well have pigeonholed me as a "nut" and
dismissed my experiences. Worse, he could have analyzed and interpreted
them, searching for hidden meaning rather than taking them on their own
terms. Or he could have prescribed antipsychotic medications to squash my
abilities. But he didn't. Nor did he hide his bewilderment. It was an odd
situation: He was confused; I was confused. But we were trying to sort out
our confusion together, which in a roundabout way, allowed me to feel
One day, Jim recounted a psychic experience
of his own, which occurred when he was a psychiatric resident at the
Meninger Institute in Kansas, During a snowstorm, his car had a flat tire
on a remote country road. When it was clear that he wouldn't be able to
return home on time, he knew that his wife would be worried. He really
wanted her to know he was okay, but there were no phones. During what they
later established had been the same period, his wife had a dream in which
she saw Jim's car having tire trouble but that he was unharmed. Not
surprisingly, this unusual communication between them had stirred Jim's
interest in the psychic.
I was touched by Jim?s story as well as
incredibly relieved to be in the company of an educated person with
advanced academic credentials who'd also had such experiences. At least I
wasn't the only oddball running around! This gave me solace. Also, I'd
taken a risk in trusting Jim, and he didn't let me down. Far from
condemning me, he'd shown a profound respect for what I was going through.
So when Jim encouraged me to go farther and remember other such events, I
felt safe enough to do so.
My mother had a close friend, Harry, a
Superior Court judge in Philadelphia. She thought of Harry as her mentor,
loved him dearly, credited him with inspiring her to attend medical school
in an era when few woman were being accepted. When I was ten, Harry ran
for reelection to the post he'd held for the past thirty years. Few things
in life meant more to him than being a judge. A week before the election,
I had the following dream:
I'm in a huge, well-lit room jammed with
people. Harry is up on the podium giving a speech. It's so crowded I can
barely breathe. My head pounds. I'm afraid of something but I don't know
what it is. A man's voice comes in over a loudspeaker and announces that
Harry has lost to his opponent. Harry lowers his head, walks into the
crowd, and is about to leave the room when suddenly a woman whose face I
can't see rushes toward him and bites his hand. From Harry's expression, I
know he recognizes the woman and is crushed.
I didn't want to alarm my mother,
especially after her reaction to my premonition about Evan. But I was
upset and wanted her support, so I took a chance and told her.
Anticipating the success of her friend, she of course found my dream the
last news she wanted to hear. She sighed and put her arm around me.
"Why do you say such negative things?" she asked, exasperated.
After my predictions of her father's death and her friend's suicide, this
was just too much. I sat there and wished I could take it back, but the
damage was already done.
The night of the election, I sat with my
parents in Los Angeles, anxiously awaiting the outcome. Nightmarishly, it
was as my dream had predicted: Harry lost by a landslide. If it had only
been his defeat, the dream would have seemed less significant. But there
was more. At the polls that night, Harry's daughter-in-law, a
manic-depressive under psychiatric care, had an acute psychotic break and
rushed up to him, viciously biting his hand. Immediately following this
attack, she fled into the crowd to hide. Later, she was found and admitted
to a hospital for treatment.
Of course, the lives of Harry, his son, and
his daughter-in-law were radically disrupted that evening. Over the next
few months I heard a lot about their suffering, and couldn't help but
question what role my dream had played. Although my parents never
suggested that my prediction was in any way responsible, I had my doubts,
especially when in a moment of frustration my mother told me never again
to mention another dream to her. I knew she was disconcerted by what had
happened; I knew she hadn't meant to hurt me. She was simply on overload,
and I backed off. But it was also true that she could be overbearing, that
she was a woman of great force, and that I couldn't help reacting to her.
From that day on, in any case, I kept to myself what I'd come to regard as
a shameful secret.
With Jim's support, I was able to feel my
tremendous sense of guilt about having made these catastrophic
predictions. It seemed, in fact, that I could easily foresee death,
illness, and earthquakes, but rarely picked up anything on a happier note.
I'd grown up believing there was something malign in me, that somehow I
was causing the negative events I was able to predict. Could I have
contributed to Harry's defeat, triggered his daughter-in-law's psychotic
break? I wondered. None of my friends ever spoke of such experiences.
Increasingly, I felt like an outsider, never quite fitting in anywhere.
Then, I told Jim, in 1967, my junior year
of high school, I discovered drugs. Although I attended University High,
affectionately known as "Uni," in nearby West Los Angeles, most
of my friends were seniors at Palisades High in the Pacific Palisades, a
more prestigious part of Los Angeles some ten miles away. After school my
"Pali" friends would pick me up and we'd go get stoned. I found
that most drugs, with the exception of hallucinogens, dulled my psychic
abilities, giving me the illusion that I fit in with my friends. My
yearning to feel a sense of belonging would temporarily be satisfied. But
no matter how many friends I thought I had, a part of me knew I was living
a lie. Then came the night of the accident.
Was the tunnel I encountered as I plunged
downward over the cliff related to my premonitions? Neither Jim nor I was
sure, but he taught me to trust the authenticity of my experiences. Most
important, he helped me see how irrational it was to believe I was causing
the events I predicted. He conveyed how children with these gifts who were
not educated about them were prone to making preposterous assumptions
about themselves. Jim showed me that the real issue was not my abilities,
but my misunderstanding of them.
Jim's only concern about helping me explore
this aspect of myself was that I'd get so absorbed in it I'd let go of the
rest of my life. He had watched people become obsessed with extrasensory
experiences and lose track of reality. Even so, he felt I had enough
strength to straddle both worlds.
When I first opened up to Jim about my
psychic abilities, he had to accept whatever I told him on faith. For all
he knew I might be fabricating grandiose stories to manipulate him. There
was no proof because, out of fear, I'd suppressed my gifts, and they
didn't come back right away. But Jim trusted me, in part because he
believed that everybody had such sensitivities but discounted or rejected
them. They just got crushed by parents, teachers, or therapists along the
way. But Jim didn't think these abilities ever really disappeared—they
kept trying to reemerge, and that scared people. He said it took immense
energy to keep anything so powerful sealed up within, resulting in
depletion and depression, but added that he'd get little support for these
beliefs from his peers.
Though everything Jim told me made sense,
I'd lived with isolation for many years, and still resisted his authority.
It was a long time before I could really let him in. Over a year after the
car wreck, I was in one of Jim's group-therapy sessions. Six of us met in
his Beverly Hills office each Tuesday afternoon. I was the youngest and by
far the most angry, combative, and disagreeable. It wasn't that I really
wanted to pick fights; I just wanted to keep others at a distance.
Everyone else in the group had been in therapy long enough to understand
that I would either work through my anger and settle down, or leave. I had
little doubt that most of them were hoping for the latter.
Toward the end of one of our meetings,
John, a businessman in his late fifties, and our newest member, started
talking about his depression. Though I was listening to, him, my attention
began to drift: I must have been either daydreaming or in a light trance
when suddenly I saw a car catch on fire with a woman and child trapped
inside. I gasped, and everyone fell silent, their attention focused on me.
When, as Jim asked, I recounted the vision,
John's depression turned to anguish. Through his tears, he revealed to us
for the first time that his wife and young daughter had recently been
killed in a tragic explosion when their car collided on the freeway with a
Even though I logically knew I couldn't
have been linked to his family's fate, at that moment I felt responsible
for John's sorrow. Every childhood fear I'd ever associated with my
psychic abilities erupted; the self-accusatory voices in my head took
over, full of blame.
After the session ended, Jim took me aside.
It had been one thing for him to sit in a plush Beverly Hills office and
listen to my far-out stories week after week, but it was something else to
witness a living demonstration. I remembered when I was a child, my
mother, in her desire for me to have a normal, happy life, had warned,
"Don't tell anyone about your predictions. They'll think you're
strange." I'd believed her. Now I was really worried that Jim
wouldn't want to see me anymore, that he'd decided I was too much to
It turned out that my apprehensions were
unwarranted. Reassuring me, Jim said I wasn't crazy; my suffering and
confusion had been caused by the suppression of my "gifts."
Rather than being gotten rid of, they needed to be developed with proper
guidance. He suggested I meet Dr. Thelma Moss, a psychologist and psychic
researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute who specialized in the
study of paranormal phenomena. I was astonished that such a person
actually existed. In the past, she'd referred numerous people to Jim who
were having difficulty coping with their psychic experiences. Jim was
certain that if anyone could appreciate my experiences and support me in
learning more about them, it would be Dr. Moss. For the first time, I felt
a glimmer of hope.
Copyright © 1996 by Judith Orloff, MD
Excerpt posted with permission from http://www.twbookmark.com
Many thanks to Time Warner
Bookmark (Little, Brown & Company, Warner Books, A Time Warner
Company) at: www.twbookmark.com.
We appreciate their cooperation with OfSpirit.com to share this chapter of
their book with our visitors for education, entertainment and
this book from Amazon.com by clicking here