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I had this experience many years ago, if memory serves, in the early 2000s (aka “the aughts”) and this morning, spirit awakened me with insistence that I share the story again.
The person that I am writing about died in 2018, and he lives on in my heart as a guardian angel. There is a method to my madness as you will read beyond this trip down memory lane.
“When my Spirit is in need of a lift, I call my friend Murray Needleman. Seems like I have known him forever; but it’s more like close to half my life. I heard his voice before I actually met him live and in person.
You see, once upon a time, Murray, a Clinical Psychologist, was a radio talk show host on Philadelphia station WWDB. He had a call-in show on Friday nights and people would pour the contents of their hearts out for Murray to help them sort through and patch back together.
In soothing tones, with a strong Philadelphia accent, he would challenge their worn out beliefs and assist them in finding their own answers. He became a friend of ours when my husband Michael and I were publishers of Visions and we sponsored him as a speaker at our office.
I know it’s a platitude, but to know Murray is to love him. He always senses when to call me or if I call him, he always says the same thing: ‘I was just thinking about you, dear heart.’ This time, I needed an emotional tune up, precipitated by the ordeal with the loss of voice and the accompanying fears, so I called Murray to schedule an appointment with him.
A few days later, I found myself in Murray’s eclectic office, greeted with a warm, welcoming hug. My friend contains multitudes…part Buddha, physically and spiritually, part playful imp who loves to make waves and then help people ride them, part colorful cosmic clown, part compassionate listener (one of the best I know), and part dedicated therapist for the past 40 some years, with an encyclopedic knowledge of human behavior.
Also know that Murray is his own man when it comes to fashion. Year round, his feet are shod in Birkenstocks sans socks. He generally wears a tropical style shirt. His crowning glory these days is snowy linen white that encircles a face with angelic eyes that peer out behind many years of laugh lines.
Ushered into the waiting room and offered ginger tea (the strongest I have ever had) and Clementines, I gazed at the walls which were embellished with photos that his wife Anne had taken of the Grand Canyon, a poster of Albert Einstein, another that gave instructions for ‘How To Launch A Dream,’ a sign that encourages the reader to ‘Embrace The Weirdness’ and another that says ‘When you don’t understand, the world is as it is. When you understand, the world is as it is.’ On the wall near his office was a familiar sight—the framed cover of Visions Magazine that featured the grinning face of Murray circa 1988. He still had it!
Entering his inner sanctum, I beheld the image of one of my spiritual teachers, Ram Dass, a poster from the original Woodstock concert in all its psychedelic glory, several photos of Murray with one of his teachers—Muktananda, others of Murray and his grandchildren and still another of Murray wearing a dashiki, standing in front of Cinderella’s castle with Anne and their two young children back in the 1970s. On his desk were a few Buddhas, Yoda, a crystal, a big toothy grinning smile on a spring and another with an ear with a sign that read ‘I only have ears for you.’ On the inside of his door was an Alex Grey poster and on another door, a sign proclaiming the virtues of ‘Paradox and Surprise’ which is really what life is about.
Settling down into a comfy chair within arm’s length proximity of Murray, the better to allow him to reach out with physical support, the session began. In the nearly two hours we spent together, we left no stone unturned. His on-target observations had me laughing and crying alternately and then simultaneously. Good thing he had lots of tissues.
Three of the biggest represented demons that I have long carried. Some of it involved the persona that I present versus who I really am. He reminded me that I need not do anything to be loved, that the magic isn’t in being the writer-speaker-clown-healer-networker.
‘You’re the magic,’ he emphatically told me. ‘All that fluff isn’t necessary.’ Then as we explored relationship issues, he said, ‘I want to you say these words…come to me, I won’t kill you.’ Gulp and then sobs…for so long, on some level, I believed that although I hadn’t killed my husband (the Hep C virus that had ravaged his body and ultimately took his life was within him long before we met), I couldn’t heal him either.
There wasn’t enough love in the world to do that since I knew on some level that 48 years was all he had signed up for. My fear on an unconscious level was that I would love again and the person would die. No wonder I have kept ‘The One’ at bay! Lastly, he asked me, ‘Can you accept someone in your life right now, as is? As you are, without changing anything in your situation or yourself? Are you ready for that?’
Another deep breath and big swallow. At that point, the familiar (from last week) fifth chakra closing/choking sensation kicked in, and a sharp pain in my left ear ensued. When I told Murray about these unpleasant sensations, he grinned, knowing that we had hit a home run on that one. ‘Who are you if you come as you are?’ he queried. ‘Just average, nothing special,’ I replied sadly.
He assured me again that the magic wasn’t going anywhere. He invited me to end the contract with Michael—the one that spoke of pain and loss. He encouraged me to end the contract with my 18-year-old son Adam—the one who dictated a commitment to take care of him beyond what was reasonable. He instructed me to write a contract with myself. And so I am doing all three simultaneously. Today, at work, I posted a two-word sign on my office wall that says quite simply: as is.
As I am integrating all of this today, I express deep gratitude to my dear friend Murray for loving me, as I am learning to love myself: ‘as is.'”
The story continues. I kept that sign on my office wall in a psychiatric hospital where I worked for more than a decade. Any time a patient would notice it, they would ask me what it meant. I would explain that it was about self-acceptance.
When I left that position to work at an outpatient substance abuse treatment program, I placed it in a box with my other office accoutrement. As I was unpacking, I noticed that the paper was crumpled and worn. I thought about printing a new one but then thought, “Nope. As is.” So, I tacked the paper on the wall that made it an even more potent reflection of how we navigate this human existence. Tattered, worn, and sometimes torn, we are still loveable.
As this is Mental Health Awareness Month, it felt like an appropriate reminder that there isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t harbor self-doubt, fear, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or grief at one time or another. Even those who on the surface present as having everything may feel as worthless as that messed up piece of paper. The truth is, regardless of history, symptomology or diagnosis, each of us has a magnificent core that shines through.
In the face of world events, where life, limb, personal rights, and sanity are on the line, it is essential that we learn to value ourselves as we are, even as we strive to renew and sometimes reinvent ourselves. I ponder how much of the violence that occurs in the world is due to a severe lack of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-love. Decades of ancestral messages that shout “Not enough!” infiltrate our brains as we, as a human species, look for ways to fill that hole in the soul. We attempt to fill it with substances and spending, with attempting to overpower others with violent words and actions. None of those things ease away the pain, and they leave behind a shattered world.
Many are told that the color of their skin, country of origin, immigration status, financial circumstances, educational experience, career path, gender identity/presentation, sexual orientation, or age puts them in a one down position and renders them powerless.
What would you like to accept about yourself? How can you love yourself even in the face of sometimes insurmountable challenges? What would you be empowered to do if you could accept the person in the mirror?