I am full of fear about my new life. I am planning, with my friend Fred Timm, to start a not-for-profit organization called Conscious Community — a hub, online and also in-person, for people interested in and dedicated to becoming more conscious. This is the first time I have spoken publicly about this group. We have been working hard on formulating its principles for some time and it’s almost ready to go. I don’t want to say much more about it right now, beyond that its ideas are in synch with the values I have been espousing for the last ten or so years.
In framing this essay, I’d like to ask myself some questions about my fear. Sometimes I find interviewing myself to be quite helpful. So here goes.
To start, why do you have so much fear?
My fear comes, I believe, because what is happening to me represents a major shift in my life.
But if you’ve been publicly sharing these ideas (like “don’t have kids, it’s a terrible idea”) for ten years, what is different now?
I think the big difference is that I’m talking about it less and living it more. My life is becoming more integrated. A big part of what’s so difficult about this is that a lot of people I’m close with, in one way or another, do not share many of my values. So there’s tension in many of my relationships.
Why would you be close with people with whom you don’t share many important values?
I think a big part of this is that not all the work I’ve done has encompassed the totality of my values. For example, this holds true for the films I made about recovery from psychosis without medication. Through that work I have connected deeply with many wonderful and inspiring people, but that doesn’t mean we share the same range of values. Some values yes, key ones even, but not all.
Now things are changing. I haven’t felt the sense of satisfaction that I once did with focusing my energies in areas in which all my values don’t line up. It’s just not working for me anymore.
But that sounds healthy. Why would you be scared?
I am scared because it’s not easy to say goodbye. It’s not easy to make a shift in my life. It’s not easy to know that I am standing up for things that contradict basic values held by others people who have been such important allies in one part of my life. But on a deeper level this ties in with my history — my childhood. I was rejected by my family, my parents, for being myself. When I became more open and direct about how I felt about them and their actions, especially their past actions toward me, they attacked me, and on a psychic level tried to destroy me. That shocked me to my core — and also taught me a thing or two about people who have a lot of denial to defend.
Yet it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Deep down I pretty much always knew who my parents were. I knew the stakes of the game into which I was raised. And the stakes were this: you play our game, you silence the parts of yourself that don’t fit in with our denial, and if you don’t we will reject you. As would be true for any child, that rejection spelled emotional death for me. I simply could not tolerate this overwhelming possibility, which is why I became like them for so long. I had Stockholm syndrome — a great defense against fear and rejection. That’s how deeply my rebellion was buried. But as I grew older and more independent, certainly into my 20s and 30s, my true self began thawing out and my breaking away, though terrifying, became inevitable.
But again, how does this connect with what you’re going through now?
Well, I have a history of deep pain associated with growing and changing. I have learned the hard way that allies don’t necessarily appreciate me standing in the light of values that contradict theirs. My family certainly didn’t. So in a sense I remain traumatized by that familial rejection. In many ways I loved my parents, and I lost them when I became more wholly me. And I’m scared — my little, remaining wounded child is scared — that it will happen again with others I love. And I’m scared that it will hurt.
So part of you is still a wounded little child?
Yes. That little wounded child has grown up a lot, and many sides of him have matured into adulthood, but remnant parts of him remain. He still exerts some influence over my life. But I don’t want to put all the focus on him. Rather, I think it’s just as important to realize the radical nature of what I’m doing — and attempting to do — with my life. I’m sticking my neck out pretty far by saying some of the things I’m saying and doing some of the things I’m doing. I think so much of what people do — even what many of my partial allies do — is rotten. I think people having kids in this modern world is rotten. It’s bad for the kids, bad for the growing adults, and bad for the world. I also see people doing so many other things to avoid growing, healing, and being altruistic. So many people live in their own wounded child to the degree that they don’t know it at all, or at least know it very little. In a way I relate to them, because I was there.
But their lack of evolution doesn’t leave me with many great allies. I wish I had a lot more.
Is that why you’re doing this — this ‘Conscious Community’ idea — to find more real allies?
In part, yes, I am doing it to find more allies. But I’m also doing it for reasons of altruism. One thing I’ve learned as an adult, especially in the last ten years, is that what I do can really help people. Tons of people have reached out to me in that time and told me so. That feels good, and is yet another reminder from life that I’m on the right track. So I keep doing it — in new and improved ways. I want to help our world heal. I want to help others grow. I want to be more honest about who I am and what I stand for. And I want to share ideas that I wish I had come across earlier in my life. And if I can create an organization that really does good on a broader scale, then I’m willing to make some sacrifices. And one sacrifice is that I’m scared a lot.
Do you think this fear will go away in time?
I think, yes, it will. I’ve learned that whenever I’ve stuck my neck out, whenever I’ve taken a healthy risk in my life, I feel fear. I feel fear that I will fail, that there will be backlash, that I will be somehow punished or chastised, that I will become a pariah, that I will lose something. And often most of these, to a degree, are true. But failure — real failure — no. I haven’t yet failed. That has never come true. I think that is because real failure, if you just make the effort and don’t hold back, if you really go for it and give it your best shot, is impossible. I’ve always learned something from trying. So even if my new project doesn’t come to full fruition and if my hopes and dreams about its success don’t come true, there is gain. Learning is gain. Experience is gain. And that’s just the minimum — because sometimes a project takes on a life of its own, far beyond my expectation. That happened with my film “Take These Broken Wings.” In the seven or eight years since I created it, it’s grown beyond anything I imagined. It’s now been translated into more than 20 languages and it’s free on Youtube, where it gets watched nearly a thousand times a day. And oddly one of its most popular audiences is Arabic viewers across the Middle East — who watch it with Arabic subtitles. And to think, eight years ago when I was going to fly out to Colorado to film an interview with Joanne Greenberg, one of the film’s “stars,” I had an urge to back out — to find excuses to cancel. I was so scared that I didn’t want to get out of bed. The voices in my head were screaming “failure, failure!” And they had their reasons. I barely knew how to operate a camera. I’d never before interviewed a famous writer. The project was costing me a lot of my savings. I had to take off from work. There were so many things that could go wrong. I would be out of my comfort zone. But I did it — and I’m glad I did. It changed my life.
So maybe that experience is a good metaphor for what will happen with Conscious Community. I definitely feel what I’m doing now is new. And I definitely feel the fear. Yet I move forward anyway.