The contact between those who quicken and those who are
quickened, the association between the two, that is true legend.
Tales of the Hasidim,
Take as long as it takes
Arthur and I drove from Mallorca to London in June 1968 when I was five months pregnant and crying all the time, I only stopped crying long enough to eat. Arthur said, 'do you realize that you've cried all the way through the Swiss Alps?'
I had recently come out of Russia where I missed out on having a childhood, a youth, a life, and Arthur was the first shore I had ever reached. At last I felt secure enough to feel how insecure I was.
Arthur said he had never seen anyone hate their mother as much as I did. I thought anyone who didn't was cutting off their feelings. It wasn't because my mother was a hateful person, it's just that she invaded my whole being without knowing what she was doing. The total annihilation of my right to my own experience combined with the general bleakness of life in Russia during and after the Second World War ... the time of the worst Stalinist terror ... sent me into fantasy: I am a little gypsy orphan dancer in rags with nothing to lose, I get picked up by a handsome captain of a ship at an exotic marketplace and he takes me with him on his ship where my dancing delights and elevates everyone beyond envy. I was already frightened to be good at anything out of fear of envy.
When I met Ronnie Laing I thought here was my fantasy coming to life...my captain of a ship, but Ronnie pre-empted me with a warning that he was not Noah, and that there wasn't a Noah's Ark. I thought if he says so there must be something better.
As I grew older the fantasy grew with me. One day I am going to get discovered by a film director and become a famous star, then they will know who I am, I'll show them, I'll be loved and adored by an older wiser man. And there was Arthur, two years younger than me and looking up every second word in the dictionary, so shy that he combed his crew cut for five minutes before even thinking to go and book a room in a motel in the middle of the night in the Karu desert, and then asking me to go and do it, and me sulking and crying that he wasn't the man who will take care of everything while I just receive it all in my Sleeping Beauty state.
Shortly after we arrived in London Arthur got himself admitted to the London Film School. His dream was to become a film director, and I was hoping that he would make me into a star. We belonged to every cinema club in London, and spent most of our time watching movies. I worried that I'd give birth in a cinema, but then what wasn't I worried about?
I gave birth to our daughter Kira on the first day of Arthur's school term. To say I 'gave birth' would be a gross exaggeration. I felt no con nection with the baby in the womb, and never heard of anyone who did or that such a thing even existed. My two main impressions of birth were Anais Nin's description of a horrific life-and-death struggle ending in a still birth, and my mother who said that my birth was the worst experience of her life and if she had her life over again she would never have children.
The Harley Street obstetrician said, 'If you want me at the birth we bet ter have you induced, because I might be at a golf course when your baby decides to come.' I hastily agreed, not wanting even to think about it.
So my baby was evicted out of my womb, pulled with forceps while I was under heavy sedation. All I remember is 'coming to' for moments and not having the faintest idea what was going on. Later in the ward Arthur was next to me saying, 'It's a little girl.' I asked, 'Is she all right?' which was what I'd heard someone say in a film.
The nurse put the baby on my breast, but overwhelming grief was stopping the flow of milk in my breasts and the flow of love in my heart. Nobody spoke to me about breastfeeding or the emotions which get stirred up during this momentous event in a woman's life at the best of times, never mind a Russian childhood of starvation, fear and misery.
I was reading a Russian book called Kira at the time, about a family during the Revolution in Russia, being evicted out of their home by the Red Army; and the little girl Kira, before running out of the house, grabbed her most precious possession, her photo album. The story awakened a memory from my childhood: I am with my mother and step father in a shop, he is planning to visit his stepbrother in a town called Gorky, on the river Volga, and is looking for a present for his stepnephew, who is my age, seven years old. I see a small photo album with a red velvet cover, I hold it and stroke it, my stepfather takes it from me and looks at it. Then he reaches into his pocket for money, and buys it. My heart leaps for joy, he bought it. I am waiting with bated breath for him to hand it to me. He says to my mother, 'Do you think he'll like it?' He bought it for his stepnephew, I gave him the idea.
We called our baby Kira. After ten days in the nursing home we went home. Sitting in the car, holding the little bundle in my arms and with hot tears streaming down my face, I thought 'What have I done?'
Kira woke up and cried in the night as babies do. Holding her in my arms, feeding her from the bottle, tears rolling onto her, I felt so disconnected from myself that I felt unlovable even to a baby.
Arthur tried to cheer me up, he put on classical music but the violins made me weep ... my father died when I was four and he was a violinist. Arthur tried the Beatles, that made me feel even more alienated. I couldn't understand what Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was all about, and what was all the fuss about Let it be, Let it be. Everyone else seemed 'with it', and I felt an outsider. It was a mystery to me what was this 'it' that other people seemed to be 'with'. Fortunately Arthur delighted in Kira, he could gurgle and coo with her, change her nappy without any trouble, feed her, lie with her on his stomach ... the two of them looking into each other's eyes.
The trouble was that he went to the Film School every morning and I felt he was leaving two babies alone at home. The whole day I was just waiting for him to come back.
One day a friend of Arthur's from the Film School handed me a magazine with an article about the Scottish existentialist psychiatrist practising in London, Dr R. D. Laing.
When Arthur and I met he was reading Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre's theory of bad faith, or self-deception ... how it is possible to lie to your self and to other people at the same time, rang a bell, although I thought of self-deception applied to other people, it was them who were lying to themselves ... still ... there was a strange glimmer of hope. If I could become aware of myself, realize that I see life through my experience ... which includes in it all my past pain ... there might be a world out there which is different from my wretched view of it, as later I heard RonnieLaing say: 'We describe our world and then suffer from the description.'
I thought R.D. Laing must be like Sartre but with one advantage, I am fully qualified to approach him. The article spoke about Kingsley Hall where people diagnosed as psychotic or schizophrenic were able to live with a number of psychotherapists, without being given any medication. Laing said that among them there were no staff, no patients, no locked doors, no psychiatric treatment to stop or change states of mind. 'We declared a free for all: freedom of biorhythm (autorhythm) for all of us. On the other hand transgressive conduct for whatever reason, of what ever kind is objectionable. On this and other issues we took our chances together...'
The article said that 'to his patients he is Ronnie'.
I went out and bought two of his books: The Divided Self and The Politics of Experience. Reading those books I had a feeling that he was speaking directly to me. Only years later was I able to realize that many people had the same experience.
It was beginning to dawn on me that crying every day is not what every human being does ... like brushing their teeth and having breakfast.
I looked in the telephone directory, expecting it to be difficult to get in touch with someone famous like him, and was thrilled to see his name. I telephoned but was told that 'Dr Laing does not take on any new patients.' I phoned every day and was told the same thing. I kept phoning and saying 'I have to see him.' His secretary finally said: 'Write to him and say why you feel you have to see him.' I did, and got an appointment.
Dressed and made up like for a date ... mini skirt, hair done at Ricky Burns ... I sat in the waiting room, expecting to be called in. I saw a head pop around the door and say 'Mrs Balaskas?' I thought I am probably not mad enough to be called by my first name... typical...don't fit in anywhere, not sane enough and not mad enough.
As I walked towards him in my habitual mode of flirtatiousness with men, I was struck by something in his presence that stopped me in my tracks. I experienced a lightning flash of my being, stripped of all the attitudes I arrived with. It was frightening and at the same time strangely safe.
I followed him up the stairs, and noticed his walk, which was doing its own thing, reminding me of Groucho Marx.
His consulting room was an elegant study, the walls lined with shelves of books, a beautiful oriental rug on the floor and two big inviting armchairs. He pointed to one while he sat down in the other. I looked at him and met the stillness and depth of his dark eyes. I sat and waited. There was silence.
After a while he asked: 'Why did you come to see me?'
I was instantly disappointed, surely he must know? He is the captain of the ship with whom there is exquisite intimacy of kindred spirits, understanding without words. He must know that I am like the people he talked about in his books. I sat looking at the books on the shelves, trying to appear intelligent and well read.
Finally I forced myself to say: 'I come from Russia.'
One eyebrow moved a little.
I said: 'My father died during the Second World War when I was four.'
Another eyebrow moved a little.
My heart beating fast.
I said: 'I want to do something in life'
He said: 'Then do something.'
I said: 'I don't know what'
He said: 'Then do nothing.'
'But I want to do something'
'Then do something'
'But I don't know what...'
Tears started in my eyes and at that moment he smiled.
I said that I had 'made a deal with I don't know whom (I wanted to say God, but felt I wouldn't know who or what I'd be talking about): let nothing exceptionally good happen to me so long as nothing exceptionally bad happens either, and I made a promise I won't attempt to rise above mediocrity'
'Do you realize that you'll have to give up the deal if you want to do something in life that is meaningful to you? Do you think you could?'
'No, I can't ... I am afraid that if I really start living the Third World War will break out ...and I'll lose everything again. My father was a violinist, he was sent to a labour front and died there in the bitter cold of the Ural mountains. It was so cold that their tears turned to ice. We heard that his body was thrown onto a heap of dead frozen bodies. He gave up his coat for a little money to send to us and died of pneumonia. I was always ashamed as a child that he didn't die a hero's death like the ones they spoke of on the radio or sang songs about.
'Your father committed suicide,' said R.D. Laing with such an intimate directness that it made my father for the first time real: his despair, fear, his longing and his death
Ronnie had the knack, which later I had the good fortune to experience many times, to make you see into the core of things if you were prepared to look, and I was prepared to out of sheer unbearable mental agony.
I said: 'I cant do anything and at the same time I feel I have a lot in me that wants to express itself, but I don't know what and I don't know how. This discrepancy between what I feel inside and my inability to express it makes me feel suicidal. My childhood was a time of emotional persecution which only you will be able to understand.'
I knew I was quoting him and was pleased with myself for having said that. I thought I noticed reluctant agreement in his eyes.
He said he was planning to go to India and Ceylon for a year to look into Buddhist meditation, that he had come to an impasse spiritually and needed to take time off, and was interested to look into the practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Noble Truths, the teach ings of the Buddha. I had never heard of these things. I don't think I'd even heard about the Buddha, but what spoke loud and clear was the fact that R. D. Laing didn't think I was too stupid or ignorant to understand. He was actually sharing with me feelings about his life. And the effect of it was that even if I never saw him again, I would have not forgotten the sensation of being spoken to as an equal, taken seriously and accepted on a very deep level. After a thoughtful silence he said: 'I don't think I can take you on in therapy at the moment. I am planning to go away in six months, and since you've lost your father so young, you will be in deep emotional waters by then and will find the separation hard to handle.'
I said: 'I don't care about then (which was a lie), all I know is that I have to see you now' (which was true).
He thought for a moment and said: 'Make another appointment and we shall see.'
In those days I was terrified of flying. It was the only time I was pre pared to take a sleeping pill, but after I left Laing's consulting room in Wimpole Street, I looked up at the passing airplane in the sky with confidence and felt unafraid. The feeling of being accepted, treated as an equal, instantly toughened my spirit, filling me with new assurance.
At the next appointment he said he would take me on. When I left him that time, I felt as if I was given a part in a very good film.
The LSD session (London, Wimpole Street, 1970)
Dr Laing asked me if I knew of LSD. I said that I had heard of people who take it and have psychedelic experiences, but I didn't know what it meant.
He said: 'It's probably better if you don't know much about it; would you like to try it?'
He was the first human being who made me feel that such a thing as trust exists, so I said yes. He had a legal licence to use it in therapy. We arranged a date and time. It would take six hours and I was told that I must have my husband come and pick me up.
I was nervous and excited on the day, mainly as I was to spend six hours in his company. When I arrived he gave me a glass of water with the substance in it, I drank it, then he put some water In my glass, shook it, and drank that.
After what seemed like minutes, I felt as if I was going down a well, deeper ...deeper...deeper... and found myself sitting on the floor curled up in a little ball, in a damp cold room in the Tartar Republic. I am four years old, my father is dead, my mother is lying in bed with covers over her head crying, and the Tartar landlady, whose son was just killed in the war, was lying behind the Russian oven wailing. I am sitting with shoulders hunched, sandwiched between their grief, my dress feels cold and damp, almost standing up, I am feeling a nobody, not considered, beaten down by life and abandoned.
After a while I started to surface and I was back in the room. Ronnie was sitting there. He was so present, that I felt he saw it together with me, as if projected onto a screen. Tears were streaming down my face. I said: 'Could it have been as bad as that?' and he answered, 'probably worse.'
This experience was the catharsis in my therapy. I got in touch with myself where I had left off, dissociated because of unbearable pain, and found myself huddled under the weight of it.
I said to him: 'Did you notice I came into focus?'
He said: 'Yes I did, I even felt a little tingle when it happened.'
I said: 'By feeling the full extent of deprivation, of what my mother didn't give me, I got in touch with love in me. It is all in me if I can let go of the anger and resentment of not getting into it. I got rid of my mother inside of me by realizing what she didn't give me. She did not consider me, did not respect my separate identity because she didn't know how.'
There were no psychedelic colours. Ronnie transformed in front of my eyes a few times from a Turkish Pasha to a Japanese samurai and back to Ronnie, but the most important thing was the finding of myself underneath the heavy stone of unbearable deprivation ... coming into focus, feeling in one piece.
But soon the experience started to recede into memory, and doubts came up: did it happen, is it really as valid as it seemed a while ago? I kept asking Ronnie if it really happened and if it really meant what I said it did spontaneously and without any doubt?
He said: 'You told me that you felt you came into focus through experiencing the full flavour of deprivation in your childhood.'
I felt panic. It meant all I have to go by is my own experience, but how can I trust it? I felt so alone again.
'You understand me,' I said. 'But how can I be sure you understand me? Do you understand me?'
'You want me to tell you if I understand you or not. How will you know even if I tell you?'
So I have to trust my own experience... but how can I?
He said: 'Arthur is coming to pick you up in about half an hour?
He asked: 'Would you like a cup of tea?'
'Tea???', I was furious. 'You offer me tea when I have just found myself and lost myself again?'
He got up and put the kettle on and while it was boiling I felt boiling inside of me. He stood with a mug of tea, looking suddenly a lot younger and not like the wise older man who seemed like a father, a sage and a master at the same time. I came out with the worst insult I could think of: 'You look just like any guy in a pub.' He grinned and his face, in response to my words, gleefully turned into that of a Glasgow hooligan.
When Arthur came to pick me up my everyday reality walked in with him and my newly-found self had no place in it. Driving home there was the most excruciating pain in my heart, an unbearable longing for being back in that place where there were no doubts and where I felt whole.
Although the experience was stimulated by a drug, it gave me a taste of the full kaleidoscope of my childhood pain, and the insight that by fully feeling it and not cutting it off I can experience my wholeness.
It awakened a sense that true forgiveness can only come about by looking honestly within and finding there all the things I blame other people for.
But it took years of inner work before this insight started to bear fruit.
'Even broken hearts can be mended if we have the heart to let them.'
'My life feels like a nightmare.'
'It's easier to wake up from a nightmare than a pleasant dream.'
'Ah, it means there is a need to wake up.'
'Have you heard about Chiang Tzu's dream? He dreamed he was a butterfly, and when he woke up he was not sure if he was Chiang Tzu dreaming he was butterfly, or a butterfly who was Chiang Tzu.'
It was an introduction, an opening of the mind to the glimpses of other realities. It was strangely comforting. Again there was a glimmer of hope that my view of the world might not be the only way to look at it.
'Yes, but, if I start living now I'll have to admit that I've wasted my life up until now,'
'If you don't admit it, you'll waste what's left of it also.'
Take as long as it takes
'Love is letting the other be, but with concern and affection,'
I used to complain to Ronnie about not having friends: 'People like me at first but then seem to lose interest.'
He said: 'It's not that they lose interest, they just can't be sure what you are going to spring on them next. They get a bit weary. Do you realize that when you approach, you carry the gloom of the Russian steppes with you?'
'I am unhappy.'
'I have nothing to be happy about.'
'You are certainly making the most of it.'
'It's too late.'
'Better later than never.'
'It's already later.'
'Take as long as it takes.'
The psychotherapeutic relationship
'The psychotherapeutic relationship is a research, a search for what we have lost and which some can perhaps endure a little more easily than others, like some people can stand lack of oxygen more easily than others. We must continue to struggle through our confusion to insist on being human:
This was most reassuring. It was a totally new idea to me that when you enter into therapy you enter into a relationship, and not going to see some specialist, who is supposed to be an authority on what is the matter with you, and who is going to sort you out, whether you like it or not.
I read in Martin Buber: 'Only in eras when the world of the spirit is on the decline, is teaching even on its highest level regarded as a profession. In epochs of flowering, disciples lived with their master just as apprentices in a trade lived with theirs, and "learnt" by being in his presence, learnt many things for their work and their life, both because he wills it and without any willing on his part.'
This is what happened in our network ... my first 'family' ... the people I met around Ronnie who were all united by the same need, to discover our authentic being free of dogmas and conditioning by society and parents, and find authenticity in our relationships with each other.
That was the theme. And we met often, singing songs and dancing and meditating. Sometimes at a social gathering people sat cross-legged with eyes closed as if it was a meditation centre. There were so many suppressed emotions opening and surfacing that it was difficult to cope with it all, and the most we could manage was to sit still with eyes closed. I remember once sitting cross-legged on the floor at Ronnie and Jutta's place in Belsize Park Gardens at an ordinary social gathering and Ronnie came up and put a candle in front of me, acknowledging my need to be still and creating an opening for it within a social gathering. Often at the beginning of an evening everybody would be tense, wanting to be close to Ronnie, to express, to impress, but after a whole night of sitting - talking - singing - dancing - everybody would become more relaxed. Simpler.
First lesson in concentration
'Envy eats the bones.'
I: 'I am envious of everyone, even reading about the veterans of Dunkirk in the newspaper makes me envious, at least they've got something in common while I have nothing in common with anybody. The only thing I ever had were hungry mice running all over our only room looking for non-existent crumbs and lice crawling on my forehand, after my mother put kerosene in my hair to chase them out:
Ronnie: 'Let bygones be bygones... or form "a mice and lice" club.'
I did manage a smile in spite of myself.
Ronnie: 'Do you think you could follow a second hand of a watch for one minute without losing concentration?'
It seemed easy, for only one minute, and so I said: 'Yes.'
He put a watch in front of me and asked me to follow the second hand for one minute. It was a revelation. My attention couldn't stay on it for more than a couple of seconds without my mind wandering.
Again hope beat in my heart, maybe if I can manage to bring my mind into the present for one minute I might be less obsessed with the past and the future.
Why do you wear black all the time?
'Mina, why do you wear black all the time?'
'I am in mourning for my life. I am unhappy,' I replied quoting Chekhov's character Masha from Seagull.
'The difference between you and me is that you identify with Chekhov's characters and I identify with Chekhov,' said Ronnie.
How to win friends and influence people
I thought he can't be serious, surely I am more profound and philosoph ical than that, but he was serious. He said: 'Get the book How to Win Friends and Influence People.' I certainly needed to become aware that I can't just dump all my complaints and problems on the first person who'd listen and expect them to seek my company and admire my philosophy. I did buy the book and another one called Positive Thinking. I bought them pretending I was buying them for someone else.
The books worked, I went on a fast from complaining, and noticed that I felt better, since I didn't scatter my energy in complaining, and hav ing to feel guilty, and frightened of rejection. Although I couldn't sustain it for long, it was a beginning.
Ronnie asked: 'Why do you keep saying my husband?'
'What should I say?'
'But you don't really know him.'
'That does not make a difference.'
'It does,' I argued.
Eventually certain events led to Ronnie and Arthur meeting again.
It started one evening in St John's Wood, in our duplex flat, when Arthur for the first time bought some hashish and decided to eat a piece to get in touch with his feelings. We sat around waiting for it to start working but nothing seemed to be happening. Arthur ate another piece, still nothing, so we went to sleep.
I was awoken out of that first deep sleep by the whole bed shaking. In the dark I saw Arthur's pelvis moving up and down in an uncontrolled way.
I panicked. 'Arthur, what is going on?'
'Shh... don't interrupt.
'But Arthur, I am frightened.
'Please don't interrupt. Don't say anything.'
The bed was shaking like in an earthquake: 'Arthur, should I call a doctor?'
'Don't be stupid... shut up.'
'But what are you doing?'
'I am fucking my mother.'
Arthur had been reading Wilhelm Reich's The Function of the Orgasm which led him to practise breathing techniques during sexual intercourse to achieve the streaming of energy in orgasm that Reich spoke about, leading to the involuntary movement of the pelvis. I was furious - what an idiot he is, how inconsiderate, how stupid, how contrived. I consoled myself: 'Luckily I am having a session with Ronnie tomorrow morning, I am going to tell him all about it. He will agree with me what an insensitive, crude man I am married to.'
At the session I told Ronnie indignantly the story of the previous night. He listened attentively and when I finished said to my amazement 'Could you ask Arthur to write it up for me?'
The meeting at Hugh Crawford's
Ronnie asked me if Arthur, Kira and I would like to come to a meeting of friends, patients and colleagues to discuss the alternatives to the existing nurseries for our children. I couldn't believe it. I felt so worthless that an invitation like that sent me into regressive girations of gigantic proportions. It reminded me of Fellini's film La Strada when Anthony Quinn is being nice to Cullieta Masina and she is so unused to anybody being nice to her that she starts clowning, in an awkward, clumsy way, expressing how pleased she is.
We did go to the meeting. This is where I first met Leon Redler, who was playing with the children, crawling on all fours, being a lion, with little pieces of coloured papers stuck to his eyelids and nose, and where the three-year-old Adam was just about to hit the lion over the head with a big wooden pole when Ronnie at the very last moment diverted the pole without fuss, quite calmly. I was impressed the way Ronnie would take Adam's hand away from a candle flame just seconds before he was about to touch it and without startling him.
Jutta was there with the newborn Natasha, Dorothee von Greiff, Leon Redler and Hanna, Jane and John Haynes and their little girl Tanya, David and Sarah Salmon with their brood, Hugh Crawford and his family.
I remember exactly what I was wearing, and I remember Kira pulling me by the hand to go into the garden where all the children were and I was like a stubborn mule, refusing to budge from the spot, so greedy was I for Ronnie's presence, terrified to miss anything.
The whole scene seemed to me as if a veil had been lifted and revealed another world, where children were confident and treated with respect and the women looked so beautiful in long colourful dresses. Ronnie wore an Indian print jacket and I thought he looked like a prince.
Criticizing other people
'Show yourself more human than critical and increase your delight.'
I complained to Ronnie, 'Arthur says that I am critical and judgemental of people.'
'And you don't think you are?'
'No, I don't think I am.'
'That's all you do all the time when you talk about people.'
It came as a shock to me, I thought I was just being discerning. Yes, I was raging and throwing tantrums to God, complaining and blaming, feeling justified in my fury that life had dealt me such an unfair hand.
A ray of hope was shining through the clouds of my mind that although I couldn't change my past memories, maybe a lot of pain could be avoided if I became aware of my behaviour and included in it responsibility for the way I think, speak and act.
I am still working on understanding the difference between judging and being discerning. I think judging is dismissing the human being with their behaviour ... throwing the baby out with the bath water ... and discerning ... recognizing that which is off tune and responding with compassion.
Is it expected of me to stand on my own feet?
I asked Ronnie, 'Is it expected of me to stand on my own two feet?'
I really believed that after what happened to me I should be exempt from responsibility, as flat-footed men are exempt from army service.
He said without flinching, 'Yes.'
I said, 'Oh.'
I couldn't get a toe hold in the place in me where inner confidence lies, it got knocked sideways by many 'insults added to the original injury'. I needed to retrace all the painful memories in order to get in touch with my self. Ronnie's presence gave the opportunity for such pain to surface and get healed. In some sessions I spent the whole time just sitting in front of him crying uncontrollably.
Intuitively I could sense a glimmer of my real self but didn't have the strength to stand my ground.
Like a bridge over troubled waters, Ronnie stood in for all the times in my life when I felt unseen, unheard, with my experience unacknowledged.
I began to learn to stay with my intuition, to trust my inner voice ... the trembling place of knowing.
'Yoga is controlling the activities of the mind.'
Ronnie said, 'You should write about dissociation, you know about it first hand.'
'But I can't write like real writers.'
'If you write about your experience honestly it will say more than many books that are on the shelves in the bookshops at the moment.'
He suggested it after I got caught stealing a pair of knickers from Miss Selfridge's in Regent's Street. Shoplifting was the only thing that gave me a sense of independence in those days. The police were called, I was charged and a date for the court hearing was arranged. I asked Ronnie if he would come to court, he said 'Yes' immediately. I liked it the way he would not keep you waiting if the answer was a yes, or a no. After he heard what it was I stole he said, 'Couldn't you have gone for something bigger, at least a diamond. I am going to plead that you are suffering from dissociation.'
I smiled, thinking that he was conspiring with me.
Noticing my smile he said, 'I am not going to lie. One day you could write a book about dissociation, it hasn't been done convincingly enough.'
'But if I am honest I can't say that I don't remember what I was doing?
'Dissociation which is disconnecting from knowing what you are doing, can occur on many subtle levels.'
That wiped the conspiratorial smile off my face and made me think a little deeper about what I had done.
He did come to court. I can't remember what he said as I was standing there in a thick cloud of shame and panic.
I was let off with a fine. Outside of the courtroom Ronnie came up very close to me, 'You are lucky, the Holloway prison psychiatrist might not have been a nice chap like me.' Apparently the judge recommended having me examined by the prison psychiatrist to prove that I was suffering from dissociation and Ronnie had managed to talk him out of it. I was let off the hook and cured of shoplifting for ever.
This was the day before we were leaving to go on holiday to Italy with the Laing family. Unheard of. Unethical. Irresponsible. Unprofessional.
Ronnie had no problems with being clear and honest about his boundaries at any time. It didn't make a hoot of a difference where we were; if I had problems ... my whole life was a problem anyway ... it did me no harm to be confronted with myself in that situation.
It was during the holiday that Ronnie introduced us to Yoga.
We hired a Palazzo by the sea, set in a beautiful garden of fig trees. With it came a cook and a cleaner. Mel, Arthur's sister and Lolly, her friend, were helping with the children. We swam in the sea, played with the children, ate ripe figs from the trees in the garden, we had meals together ... prepared by the Italian cook ... and in the evenings Ronnie played Bach on the clavichord which he brought with him from London wrapped in a green velvet cloth. And I was tired all the time.
I asked Ronnie, Why am I tired all the time?'
His response was, 'Have you heard of yoga?'
I said, 'I heard from a friend of Arthur's who said she started talking to trees after practising yoga and it made her grow taller.'
Ronnie suggested we gather in the garden the following morning and he'd show us some yoga postures.
Early the next morning for a swim and a run on the beach to be in good shape for my first yoga lesson. When I came back Ronnie was standing in the kitchen eating yesterday's ratatouie from the fridge and talking to Arthur about the Buddha's Four Noble Truths.
· The truth of suffering: the unsatisfactory nature of life in all its guises.
· The origin of suffering: our mistaken views,
· The cessation of suffering: peaceful heart,
· The path leading to the cessation of suffering.
He spoke about the book by Nyanaponika Thera, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation and the four domains of mindfulness, which he said should be the foundation discipline for all therapists: attentiveness to emotions, body posture, breathing, mental contents.
'In other words; he said, 'get yourself together and be your own light... you can never realize it by thinking. It is in the region of unknowing ...agnosia. Dionysius the Aeropogirte said, "Agnosia is not ignorance, but rather the realization that no finite knowledge can fully know the Infinite one. He is only truly to be approached by agnosia or that which is beyond and above knowledge".'
The day in the garden of the Palazzo is a very memorable day for me and one of the luckiest of my life. I took to yoga like a duck to water, feel ing that it was going to save me in the nick of time,
Jutta holding five-months-old Natasha in her arms, Adam three years old, Kira almost two, Arthur, Mel, Lolly and I were all gathered in the gar den. I found some postures easy, and was inordinately proud of myself. But I couldn't do other postures and felt dejected. Arthur tried to bend forward and got stuck in his shoulders on which had been dumped responsibility since the age often, after his father left and his mother had said, 'Now you are the head of the family.'
When Ronnie asked us to sit on the ground and take a deep breath I could only whimper with frustration. My chest was so tight I couldn't breathe. No wonder I was tired.
So what started was a totally new experience of learning about our selves and our relationship to each other, uncovering and releasing the childhood traumas and memories in the body.
When we came back to London, at the airport I started to feel like Cinderella at midnight ... the horses turned into mice, the carriage into a pumpkin, and my newly found hope into rags. I had no trust in continuity. At that moment Ronnie came up to the taxi and said, How would you like to meet and practice yoga together, early mornings before work?'
My heart lightened with happiness, at last I was going to be part of something meaningful for the first time in my life.
We started meeting every morning at 7am and practising from B. K. S. Iyengar's book Light on Yoga. We took turns being teacher by looking in the book and conferring whether the arm should be here or there, and every week we took one new posture to learn. We discovered health shops, made our own yoghurt and had breakfast together after yoga.
I still had fears and anxieties that it was all a mirage and would dis appear. At the time my dreams were of my stepfather Grisha coming to yoga and spoiling everything.
In my experience of therapy with Ronnie he put mental health in the context of spiritual health right from the start, and he lived what he talked about. He talked about the need for inner silence, the lack of which makes us ill, he'd reminisce about the days when parents and children sat by the fire together, not doing or saying anything at all, just gazing into the fire. Ronnie didn't have the pretence of invulnerability, he often wept in front of people. I remember asking, Why are you cry ing?'
'Because I don't love enough.'
You are extraordinarily naïve, which is not the same as innocent
'If anyone ever tells you that I've been rude about you behind your back ... believe them.'
Noel Coward to a friend actor
Ronnie told me, 'Women are talking about you, saying that you neglect Kira, which is how you manage to practice yoga.'
I was overcome with fury, 'How can they, don't they realize that for me it is a matter of life and death? How can I be there for Kira if I am in pieces myself? It is not selfish to want to come together, be in one piece, gantz ba zikh zeni as they say in Yiddish.'
Ronnie said, 'You are extraordinarily naïve, which is not the same as innocent and extraordinarily complex which is not the same as experienced.'
Naïve ... artless, amusingly simple.
Innocent ... not guilty, sinless, harmless, idiot.
The year Ronnie was away
Time did come for Ronnie to go away to India and Ceylon. At the last session before he went off I was aware of a new feeling of trust, that he'd be back, that I wouldn't fall apart while he was away, and that I was not experiencing the famous separation anxiety' which I heard spoken of in the psychiatric jargon. But the devil was prodding me to say, 'I'll never trust anyone again, everyone always goes away and never comes back.'
Ronnie lunged forward, 'I am not your father, I am not going to sell my coat and die in Siberia. I'll be back.'
I felt a little regretful that I didn't let him see that I knew it, but I suppose I still wanted to hear it from him ... 'the more you reassure me, the more I ask for more.'
Then he gave me Yoga Sutras of Patanjali handwritten out in his own writing, with each chapter underlined in a different colour.
I still have the Yoga Sutras and Ronnie's comment on my childhood stories: 'You don't have to die of disappointment.' And I treasure them.
The year Ronnie was away we found a yoga teacher and had two-hour lessons every day. Arthur and I sold all our records and listened only to Indian music. We sold a collection of Proust's Memories of Times Past, which we thought we had no use for any more, cut the legs off our table, got rid of the chairs, sat on the floor and became vegetarian. When Ro nie came back he noticed, 'You've certainly lost your muscular defences.' We had lessons with Iyengar when he was in London, and! complained to Ronnie that Iyengar said, 'Good' to Arthur many times and never to me. Ronnie suggested, 'Would you like me to make you a one-hour tape of, "Good Mina, good ... very good... good... goooooood" so you can put it on while you are practising yoga?'
It still bothered me that Iyengar didn't acknowledge me. I felt I didn't exist unless I was noticed, that's why I looked in the mirror such a lot.I even looked into spoons in the restaurants just to see that I was there. It was only after many years of yoga, numerous fasts and brown rice diets, that I started to experience my existence from within.
Experience of a relationship
'We all hope to share an experience of a relationship, but the only honest
beginning or even end is to share the experience of its absence:
R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
How many people dare to go so deep into the truth of what is, rather than what should be or could be. And this is what really helped me to face the whole truth of how unloved, unlovable and unloving I felt, or I could have been stuck in the shame, blame and guilt of it for ever. When Kira was born I was in shock, not able to realize the full truth that I was so incapable of loving the little creature entrusted to my care. When Kira was ten I said to her 'It took you and me ten years to connect up.' She thought for a moment and said, 'No, nine.'
But in fact when she was 25 we went to see a therapist together, because we were unable to communicate with each other when certain issues came up: she couldn't bear to hear me talk about my childhood as an explanation for why I was as I was. What she wanted was a mother, while I saw 'red' because she wouldn't hear me.
The therapist was able to be a good mediator between us and we began to hear each other. At some point he kneeled down beside us and said, Well, it all boils down to loving each other.' I thought, 'Don't ask me to hug her, don't ask me to love her', and felt horror in my heart at this full flavour of lovelessness. I could only sit there and pray for a resolution. I said to myself, just stay with the feelings, accept the total lovelessness and deadness, don't weaken and start pretending, and after a while by the grace of God there was a special moment when my heart started to melt and I wanted to look at Kira and she at me, and our fingertips touched and love started to flow between us.
It could never have happened if I was unable to be honest about the pain of no love and stay in it till it transformed.
The therapist said that in his experience he had never seen it happen so quick. But then we already had such a rich legacy.
Autorhythm or biorhythm
'Authority and reason are present in equal quantity.'
Ronnie was deeply committed to staying in touch with his biorhythm and encouraging others to do the same ... this is what he most respected and allowed space for in others. Autorhythm is what brings us closest to the sense of responsiveness, responding to our deepest being, our own experience of the pulse of life. How else can we be truly responsive to another if we are not in touch with our own rhythm?
Sometimes Ronnie would not answer a question or would come back to it much later. When I asked him about it he said, 'I don't like interrupting myself.'
Our autorhythm is buried under the conditioning which got imprinted in our minds and bodies from very early on. Consider the panic people feel if they can't sleep ... how many mothers have implanted their own anxiety in their children, 'You must get enough sleep or you won't be able to get up in the morning, you'll be too tired... you won't be able to concentrate... What? You haven't had lunch and it's already 2 o'clock!'
Being fed every four hours, according to somebody's schedule, not when the baby needs warmth and comfort. Watch out. If you respond to the baby when the baby needs it, it is going to make him or her demanding and manipulative at the age of two months.
So we've lost our capacity to know when we are hungry, and when we are truly thirsty. Endless cups of tea ... could it be compensation for all the timely comfort we didn't get?
I am on Primrose Hill in February The ground must be damp as it's been snowing and raining in the past weeks, although not today. I feel an impulse to spread out on the ground. Oh no, I mustn't, It's not done. It's winter. After all it's February. But if I listen to myself know I have enough sense in me to give in to the impulse to lie down on the ground without endangering my life. I do just that. Oh, how wonderful the ground feels under me, and the breeze so gentle and refreshing, blowing away the cobwebs. I become aware that the damp is beginning to reach my back after about three minutes. So between my mother's voice from childhood commanding the moment I lay down, 'Get up immediately, you'll catch pneumonia and who will have to look after you?' and me feeling when it is sensible to get up, there are three delightful, glorious minutes of my own experience, of following my own impulse and making my own decision. This is what I understand to mean autorhythm. It includes instinctual trust in your common sense. Thank you, Ronnie.
The parable of the prodigal son
One evening sitting by the fire in a Norfolk house, Ronnie read out the Parable of the Prodigal Son to a group of us.
The Bible was for me a book filled with frightening images, connected with everything superstitious, dark and punishing. At school in a suburb of Moscow, a girl whose grandmother was seen to make the sign of the cross was teased and isolated. Children threw stones at me all summer and snowballs in winter, shouting, 'Jews killed Jesus Christ.' It was all so dark and confusing.
Once in a hotel in London I opened the drawer of the side table and saw a Bible. I closed it quickly as if I saw a ghost.
So when Ronnie started reading the Parable from the Bible it was the first time I was prepared to open myself to it.
I listened to the story about the son who squandered his inheritance in a life of debauchery, and got into debt. The creditors were after him, and so he had to work very hard to pay off the creditors. He was exhausted, finally appealed to his father asking for help, and when the father heard the news, he was so overjoyed that he ordered a big feast to celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son. The other son who spent all this time tilling the ground and working felt jealous, 'Why do you order a feast for the son who hasn't worked, and for me who's been working so hard, you don't?' The father replied that one sheep that is lost and found is a cause for celebration more than all the other sheep who have not been lost.
There was silence in the room, and I could feel my heart beating very fast. Ronnie asked, 'What do you make of it?' My heart was practically jumping out of my chest. It stirred something up in me but I couldn't articulate what it was: the mixture of all the prejudice about the Bible and the fear of squandering what I was given, and yet there was hope if we could humble ourselves and admit it and go back to the Heavenly Father. It is this return which brings hope that it is possible to start anew, that we are not condemned because of our mistakes.
Nobody said anything, but there was a lot of turbulence in the room.
I appreciated years later how Ronnie offered no explanation, no analysing, but left it for us to ponder upon and mature in each of our minds and hearts in our own individual way. This kind of gratitude to Ronnie arises in my heart many times, for things he said and for things he didn't say.
Once when I asked him, 'When you pray who do you pray to?'
He said, 'Whom indeed?
Years later I heard him say, 'Prayer is listening to the silence of one's own heart, a waiting or attentiveness that doesn't specifically ask for anything. You can't do better than that.'
The spiritual relationship
'The spiritual relationship between Adept and disciple is a paradoxical one. To relate to the Adept as a parent figure, cult idol or God substitute only undermines the spiritual process, depriving the disci ple of responsibility. Rather the Adept must be recognized as the transparent Agency of the Being Consciousness that is the true iden tity of all beings and things including the disciple. In that case, the disciple's surrender to the Adept provides the spiritual connection to the Living Force of Consciousness that directly instructs the disciple and quickens his Awakening.'
R. D. Laing, Sparks of Light interview
Not afraid of being afraid
Ronnie said, 'Temptation has not so much to do with being drawn into all sorts of bad thoughts as it does with being intimidated by the worst sort of terrors and demons that can be presented to oneself. In the Buddha's last meditation before he achieved enlightenment, he was beset by demons and his only response was to touch the Earth. That fearlessness is the final release from anything that can be thrown at one. It goes beyond the need to be courageous. I still get frightened myself. I cannot claim I am not afraid of anything, but I am in the next best position: I am not afraid of being afraid.'
All the things my mother called me
I wrote out 'All the things my mother called me' and showed it to Ro nie. The first part were all the curses and insults she'd pour over me: 'You are helpless... you can't even wash a glass, or wipe your own arse. You are worse than the worst. I like you less than yesterday's shit in the lavatory. You have a head like a clay pot. To talk to you is like talking to the wall. Who will marry you, whoever will be so stupid will throw you out a week later. Useless. You'll be lost without me.'
And the second part: the endearments and blessing she would shower me with when she was in a hopeful mood: 'My beauty, my love, my clever little girl. May God give you love and happiness for all the deprivation you've suffered.'
Ronnie commented that the second list was considerably shorter. Her hopeful moods were also rare but they did happen.
West Indians believe that if you are harsh with a child the child's soul moves away from the body, but it is possible to bring it back again,
Ronnie asked, 'Do you believe all the things your mother called you?'
I said, 'Yes.'
He said, 'You are suffering from a post-hypnotic suggestion. The question you should ask yourself is what was your mother's motivation in saying all those things to you?'
'Oh , maybe I am not as incapable and helpless as I believed.'
The good news is that it is all grist for the mill, as the saying goes. How could we climb a mountain if it was smooth? We need the rough edges in order to get a foothold, and to move on.
The dreadful has already happened
'In this particular type of journey, the direction we have to take is back and in, because it was way back that we started to go down and out...We have a long long way to go back to contact the reality we have all long lost contact with.'
'If my mother and father desert me God will care for me still' (Psalm 27), and what is meant by 'desert me' according to Hasidic teachings is that they didn't think of me at the time of conception.
I needed to go through a period of blame, shame, resentment, hate, guilt, and take as long as it takes to realize that if I don't let go I'll be pass ing on the same old patterns to my daughter, and she to her daughter and so on. The hatred I felt for my mother was of monumental proportions, hatred of an organism ... me... constantly interfered with, prodded, not allowed to be,
Ronnie told of an experiment done on an amoeba: when prodded it shrank and then expanded when the danger was gone. When prodded again it shrank and this time expanded a little less, the next time it expanded less till it remained a shrunk version of itself.
This is what happens to us, and the task is to go deep into ourselves, open up to life and regain trust and joy.
Heidegger said, 'The dreadful has already happened.' Ronnie saw that our habitual responses now are reverberations of the old events, that the pattern has been set up from as early as conception: did your mother want you, were you a twinkle between your father's and mother's eyes before you were conceived, were they in a harmonious loving relationship, or just borrowing each other's genitals? When the implantation took place did the womb welcome you, or did you have to struggle against strange, hostile forces to find a place to settle? All this reverberates through life. You might walk into a room and always feel unwelcome, you might feel 'I cannot find a place in this world.' If the mother is uptight, and nervous, and worried all the time, and not staying in touch with the life growing inside of her, not expanding with it, not opening and breathing with the process, the foetus might experience claustrophobia in the womb, it might begin to feel too big for the womb ... later, a fear of closed spaces. I was swaddled at birth. The belief was that if you didn't swaddle a baby, it would have crooked legs, so you were wrapped up tightly, straight after coming out of the womb, with only your face showing, arms and legs in a tight swaddling sheet, so that all the little subtle movements of the hands, all of the natural develop ment of unfolding are swaddled.
No wonder there is such a struggle with creativity later in life.
The last therapy session
I came for a session, sat down in the by now familiar chair and started complaining about my life.
Ronnie said, 'Can't you think of something else?'
It was the first time he had said that. It alerted me, it must be a sign that I better stop therapy before he tells me for the final time it's time to think of something else.
There was another session also when I came in, fell into the chair and said 'Phew, the traffic was impossible.'
Ronnie said, 'Congratulations.'
I looked puzzled.
He explained, 'It's progress, you never talk about such ordinary things.'
The next session I decided was to be my last one. In my imagination I would bring flowers to celebrate the end of an era and we could sit and recall some episodes from my therapy and have a good laugh together.
But I didn't bring flowers. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to carry it off and would look like a nervous fool with flowers. I walked in and blurted out at the door, not giving myself a chance to change my mind, 'I've decided it to be my last session.'
Ronnie said, Congratulations.'
"Congratulations" again? I must be coming into some good times.' But I felt isolated, left out alone in the cold and terrified. And there was no way back.
I'd decided I was going to tell him the one thing that I had kept secret or the therapy would not be complete. It was that I had been lying about my age.
I said, 'I've been lying about my age', and wished I could have disap peared through the floor with embarrassment.
The Glasgow hooligan glee appeared in his eyes, 'How old are you then?'
'36 and I've been telling everyone that I am 34.'
'At least you haven't spread out like some women your age.'
'Your age?' My mind was on fire, what does he mean 'Your age'?
'There are tribes in New Zealand who use older women for pin ups, maybe you should go and live there:
'Older women?', I was speechless.
As at any other session, as it came time to leave, I said goodbye to Ronnie and went out into the world in my new status: a woman who owned up to being 36, with little tender green shoots of a sense of her own autonomy pushing through towards the light.
Life after therapy
The contact between me and Ronnie was not cut off with the end of therapy. Our meetings continued at regular parties, seminars, lectures and workshops in which I started to participate as a helper.
I bought a piano and started piano lessons which was a long-cherished dream. In childhood my mother promised me a piano because I cried every time I saw a girl play the piano, and because she believed a promise with no hope of fulfilling it was still better than no promise at all. I used to draw a piano keyboard on the windowsill and pretend to play and sing Russian gypsy songs.
Ronnie played my piano a lot. At least once a week a few of us had a sing-song together. I desperately wanted to sing and believed I could. It took much suffering to become conscious that I was out of tune and out of rhythm, but how can you change anything without first becoming conscious of it?
Ronnie encouraged me, and continued being a barometer for my states of mind, at which he was a virtuoso: if an inch was due he would give an inch and a half, but when I swung to arrogance and pride and went over the top he'd reflect that without mincing his words. Some time before I stopped therapy I said to Ronnie, 'I am afraid that after I stop seeing you in therapy I'll have nothing to talk to you about', and he said, 'Only then we'll begin to talk.'
I kept asking, 'When can we have a conversation.'
He said, 'It's a good question, there aren't many people I can have a conversation with.'
I telephoned from time to time, trying very hard to be casual.
Sometimes Ronnie would say, 'I don't have the inner space at the moment, I need to stew in my own juice.'
On one occasion when I persisted, he said, 'Mina, as far as you are concerned, I am out of town.'
Ronnie had a way of giving a shock to one's self-esteem, but if you could take it in the right spirit, you'd find in it an antidote to the discomfort of the disintegrating ego. Some people around him appreciated it, others found it destructive, and cruel. I did not find it cruel or destructive, because if I cared to be honest I had to admit that I was trying to go back into the womb, pretending it was just a friendly phone call, and his response was to give me a shove just like a wolf mother pushes a cub out if it's hanging on too long, being dependent.
Sitting at home in Blomfield Road, feeling gloomy. The phone rings, it's Ronnie, he is asking if Kira and I would like to come skating with him and Adam and Natasha. I hadn't reached the stage yet of wanting to have some good healthy fun. The fact that he asked meant more to me than actually going skating. I could have stayed at home eulogizing about it.
I felt inadequate and painfully self-conscious when he actually came to pick us up in his white Jaguar with spiked wheels.
I remember a handsome guy skating past and saying to me provocatively, You can do better than that.' Instead I was telling Ronnie how in Russia everyone skated at the outdoor skating rink surrounded by pine trees, with the moon shining and how romantic it was and howl was not allowed to skate. Dear Ronnie... how tiresome it must have been for him. He was inviting me into life now and I was still going on about how I couldn't do it then.
When he dropped us off at home, I was about to slump into gloom again when he asked: 'Would you like to come back with us and sing some Russian songs?'
This was my dream coming true to sing Russian songs with the piano, and with him to boot. I said, 'I'd love to, of course', and went all stupid and coy, and he said, 'Oh come on, go and get the music.' I did and returned in a state of sacred trepidation.
The children went to play in the garden and I followed Ronnie into his study where the grand piano was and he went through all the songs in the song book and I attempted to sing them all rather recklessly and with a lot of 'Russian feeling'.
He played the song Ochy Chornya (Dark Eyes) and started improvizing on it, opening to me the world of the key of D minor.
My heart was melting and I was feeling like a fish back in water after a lifetime of being deprived. I didn't know how blocked and inhibited my voice was. I thought I could sing because I could feel the emotions of the songs, and only vaguely knew what he meant when he said, 'You have to become dry-eyed yourself, only then can you make them cry.'
I remember playing with the children after that and doing my first hand balance in the middle of the room, which I was terrified of before. All my fear had gone.
It took many years to connect up with my inner voice. There is a lot of pain hidden in the vocal chords, all the pain of being shut up, the original uninhibited full sound suppressed. My mother had said, 'When you were four months old, a neighbour came to visit and said, "Oy vey still sucking a dummy, if you don't get it out of her mouth now you never will", so my mother who prior to that used to dip the dummy in sugar water in order to entice me to suck it, (not a pip out of you), now dipped it in mustard and put it in my trusting mouth, (you were no fool, you made such a face, spat it out and never wanted it again). But now my mouth was not so trusting any more, I became a child with eating problems. 'You would eat everything up at our landlady's but not at home. I could never understand it.'
Ronnie said many things regarding my singing: he told me he believed in me, after hearing the songs I had recorded some years later with Eduardo Niebla, the wonderful Spanish guitarist. He also told me, 'You'll have to pay them to listen to you' after I would overeat and lose my balance. He also said, 'It is not easy at this stage, after a life time of suppression. Your dreams can come true, whether they do or don't I can't tell.' I wanted him to say, 'Yes, your dreams will come true', like a fortune teller might, but Ronnie was saying, 'You've got what it takes, you are behaving as if you haven't, it is pretentious of you and confusing for other people, but whether you will come out of it or not I don't know.'
Fortunately I was not going to give up, I could feel the voice in me and felt deep pain about not being able to bring out what I felt. An impossi ble tension was created in me between my miserable deadening childhood and the dream of glory and success, leaving me helpless to do anything in between.
My voice started to open only after I met Anthea Parashchak, seven years after Ronnie's death. But it was the work I did with him which provided the foundation upon which I can rely and allow the further opening of the most painful areas of suppression.
Anthea's teaching of singing is based on the same principle as the yoga I've been practising and teaching: grounding in the centre and allowing the release to happen. The vowels are formed inside, some where between the breast bone and the dorsal spine, only then the throat opens and allows the sound to come out, so whether the note is low or high it comes from the same place.
This helped me to understand how different it is to sing from within rather than trying to perform from without.
Do you know what you are doing?
Fritjof Capra, the scientist turned mystic, was visiting with his wife and I was invited to Ronnie's place. Fritjof's wife asked me where the toilet was. I was feeling proud of being on such intimate terms with the Laing family that I knew where the toilets were. We stood on the stairs and I was trying to decide whether to direct her to the toilet downstairs where Ronnie's consulting room was, or ... they are personal guests, not patients, maybe I should tell her to go upstairs, or ... maybe that's too personal, maybe it's presumptuous of me. While I was standing there like a donkey between a pile of hay and a bucket of water, unable to decide if he is more hungry than thirsty or more thirsty than hungry, Ronnie came up to us oozing with charm, put his arm around my shoulders and said, 'Mina, do you know what you are doing?'
Any whore in Paris can do that
Suppleness from the practice of yoga gave me something to show off at parties and gatherings.
I sat on the floor and put my feet in the full lotus position without using my hands, expecting praise, admiration and applause.
Ronnie didn't miss a chance when he saw one, 'Any whore in Paris can do that.'
Somebody in the group gasped, 'Ronnie, it's not fair.'
But I knew what he meant, he was reminding me of the fact that yoga is not about being able to twist your body into all sorts of positions, and the fact you can does not necessarily mean that you have let go of grasp ing for the ungraspable and have become capable of truly loving.
Ronnie and two friends were walking back from a lecture talking about the innermost essence, and I joined in and said, 'Nothing is to stop me from staying in touch with my innermost essence in spite of everything.'
Just then a gigantic dog with a mane passed by and gave us all a long look. Ronnie said, 'Unless it's a dog with a mane' and laughed heartily. So did I.
23 August 1989. Ronnie died.
'I don't like to go so far as to talk of actual union with God or becoming God. Such expressions tend to encourage man's vanity and spiritual ambitions. I would much rather speak of being a slave of God, in whose service is perfect freedom.'
R. D. Laing, Sparks of Light
24 August 1989. I got up very early to drive to Wales to visit my friends Jeb and Mike. Mike's son Tam was coming over to get a lift. We drove smoothly and leisurely, stopped for breakfast and arrived in the early afternoon to the magic of silence on the hill where the old farmhouse stands. I noticed Jeb didn't come out to greet us as she always did. We walked up to the house. It was her birthday. I brought smoked salmon and champagne, her favourite. Jeb came outside, I was hugging her and singing 'Happy birthday.' I felt her response was strange, somehow with drawn. She pulled away and said, 'Sit down, I am going to do your head in.'
I panicked, 'What?'
She said, 'Ronnie died.'
No... no... how can it be. Ronnie is dead. It wouldn't sink in. I always thought that he would live till an old age. Jeb and I sat in the silence. We sat and remembered: 'Life is great if you don't weaken', 'There is plenty of room at the top.' His unforgettable hands on the piano: 'It's possible to feel the weight of each key with the eyes closed', 'Make up your mind which side of the footlights you want to be on.'
Arriving at the door of Blomfield Road for a party, with a bottle of champagne, smartly dressed for the occasion. Somebody said to him, 'You are full of yourself. 'Who else should I be full of?'
'Good for you, Mina,' when on the plan from Amsterdam I took out an elegant cognac flask and offered him a swig.
Another time at his place he poured me a full glass of the most expensive cognac. I said, 'I won't be able to drink it all.' He said, 'Do you know that you don't have to finish it?'
My mother told me, 'All men want from you is one thing and then they leave you.'
Ronnie, 'You should be so lucky.'
'Why am I earning seven pound and fifty pence a week teaching yoga?'
'It's because you don't have an undeterred mind. It all depends if you can put a good word in for yourself.'
When I was taking part in the BBC series Everybody Knows written and taught by Arthur Balaskas, Ronnie told me, 'Hugh Crawford thought you looked divine.' He let me wallow in the effect it had on me for a while and added, 'I personally didn't think so... not yet.'
One day on the phone he was trying out an idea with a chuckle in his voice, 'Do you love me?' I did think before I replied. I was conscious of the fact that I couldn't really say that I knew what loving was, but felt I could come closer to it in this case than ever, so it was just about not dishonest of me to say, 'Yes, I love you.'
'Do you believe me?'
'Yes, I believe you.'
'Believe me, you don't love me:
'So I don't have to believe you in order to love you?', I worked out.
Ronnie laughed, 'If you can't make it, fake it.'
'Come on . . . at this time of night . . . sing me a song . I am going to slope off:
Oh my God, Ronnie is no more on this earth. Tears didn't come immediately, they came at different times, unexpectedly, deep gentle tears for Ronnie. His suffering. Physical pain in the last couple of years. His tenderness. His really caring for people to find their own ground. Be their own light. How deeply I felt that he truly cared. Did I give him anything at all? I did try. I wish I could have really sung him a song.
Strange how his death emphasized his spiritual presence in my heart, in so many people's hearts, for ever, and ever.
I spoke to him on the phone a few months previously.
I asked, 'How are you?'
He said, 'Very well,'
I said: 'It doesn't sound like you, usually you say "plodding on", or something understated like that.'
He said, 'One doesn't want to incur the jealousy of the Gods.'
I said, 'But can't one say I am very well, thank God.'
He said, 'That's what I am saying.'
I didn't know at the time that he was already very ill and knew he was dying.
A friend asked me, 'If he was so in touch why did he have to drink so much?
I had no problem answering the question
I said, 'Ronnie lived his humanity to the full, he never skipped over anything, like water covering every nook and cranny. He didn't adopt an attitude of holiness, he was as he was. And how do any of us know what he had to put up with in order to stay so present. He drank but it didn't stop him from staying in touch with "the healthy spirit" which he said was the first English translation of "the holy ghost". I never understood what the "holy ghost" was about, but I can relate to "the healthy spirit", and I can understand what he was after when he said that "we are all sparks of light in the same fire, and that is what unites us. That companionability in the light of our healthy spirit ... which is light and love and the way and truth and life ... is what I have become less embarrassed about affirming in the course of the last 30 years or so". I am very grate ful to Ronnie for deciphering these old moth-eaten Christian terms and breathing new life into them, diving deep to retrieve the pearls of essence and not throwing the baby out with the bath water. Is that going out of fashion? Is breathing and feeling out of fashion?'
Some people will say I idealized him, but I think it is they who are idealizing him, wanting him not to have drunk, not to have been as he was... human... all too human perhaps. Himself. He did what he needed to do to be where he was, and there is nothing more to it ... 'a slave of God in whose service there is perfect freedom'. And look what he gave the world. And does anybody take notice? They prefer to talk about the amount of alcohol he consumed. A good way of avoiding having to face the truth about one's own being. They'll never believe us, they'll never believe us... Ronnie used to break out into the song prophetically, addressing somebody in the room, searching for a sign of recognition of what he was on about. And why not, he was thirsting for the 'companionability in the light of our healthy spirit', which is not easy to come by.
Sparks of light
'When we start to doubt, hope is the anchor that binds our faith to love. I am speaking in the vocabulary of Christianity. It is a pity that this vocabulary is so degraded. The first English translation of what is now called "the holy ghost" was by John Wyclyffe, who translated it as "our healthy spirit". That is the manifestation of Divinity within and through our own nature. All our natures, with this healthy spirit, are sparks of light in the same fire. That immediately unites us. That companionabil ity in the light of our healthy spirit ... which is light and love and the way and truth and life ... is what! have become less embarrassed about affirm ing in the course of the last thirty years.'
This sounds a reconciled man to me.
Or will they say I did not resolve the transference?
To all those who choose to focus on the amount of alcohol Ronnie Laing consumed and to spread the legend of his drunkenness:
'When a pickpocket sees the Buddha, he only sees his pockets: