End User – An Unusual Life

On the journey of my life I met the savage that dwells in us all. I had to search into dungeons to find my abandoned and terrified infant self. I struggled with the snake of sexual power, and fought the dogs of my own instincts. Finding beings of light and love I knelt before them to gain their wholeness and wisdom, and climbed the mountain beyond their cave to see the view.

It was certainly a journey that only a few others were willing to take with me. It was also a voyage to the source of the living rivers that flow into the world as us – you and me. In other words I managed to find my way Home, back to the Source, into the wonderful Garden. I walked in the High Pasture and gave myself to that shimmering ever-shifting eternal moment that is at the heart of all things.

That is why I want to tell you my story.

Chapter One – My Birth

My birth took place about ten in the morning on May the tenth 1937. I was born in the upstairs room of a small house in Amersham High Street, Buckinghamshire, England. The house was nearly opposite what used to be the old fire station. My birth was two months premature, and in the thirties there was no nearby hospital intensive care unit for me to be nurtured in. My hearsay is that my mother had a prolonged and difficult labour due to the conception taking place at the end of a fallopian tube. At my birth the attending doctor pronounced me dead, threw my body to one side on the bed, and said, “Let’s look after the mother.”

His aside was to my grandmother who took no regard of his suggestion and quickly carried me off to dip me in hot and cold water to start me breathing. My life is a testament to her skill. She had mothered thirteen children herself, some of whom had died, and I have a sense of her bearing an old and deep wisdom passed on through generations of women. I can barely glimpse the motivations she might have felt, and it leaves me with the question as to why she gave me life.

I ask such a question because the doctor’s words were not flung out casually. Each of us is a witness to our times. We all exist within a huge web of influences and understandings, and if I try to grasp the view from which the doctor’s words arose, there is sense in what he implied. If we have children and say to one of them as he or she goes out the door, “Be careful”, we don’t need to mention all the things in today’s world that one needs to be careful of. If the child is old enough to manage the streets alone, they can already fill in most of the details about dangers they should avoid, such as drug pushers, muggers, child molesters, and other violent children.

When I was born childbirth was surrounded by very different attitudes than exist today. The shadow of enormous mortality still fell over mothers and babies, and it influenced doctors. Antibiotics didn’t exist. Infant care was not developed to the degree it is now. So the doctor who delivered me was implying all of this. He was telling my mother and grandmother a straightforward and accepted truth of the times – ‘Why attempt to give life to this premature and tiny baby? It will be difficult to rear, more prone to illness, and it will be harder for it to cope with life. It isn’t breathing at the moment, so forget it and try again for a healthy baby. Leave it’.

I am still uncertain if there is any truth in modern day astrology, but I do know the moment and experience of our birth stamps us with indelible marks of destiny. It cuts us with injuries. It plants seeds of opportunity, and unfolds countless connections with the past out of which we can weave a future. Our birth does this in very apparent ways, not at all mysterious. But perhaps we overlook or ignore them. A lively extrovert Australian male doctor once told me part of his life story that explains this. Two of the big birth factors for him were that both his parents were Jewish, and both parents were the sole surviving members of their respective families after the Holocaust. This had coloured his life so much that he was led to the realisation he could be murdered for no other reason than being himself – in the case of his forebears this meant being Jewish. Out of our conversations he had come to realise for the first time, and with a shock, that this unconscious realisation of unreasonable death had been a push from within for him to work hard to become a doctor. His equally unconscious reasoning about this had been that if he managed to become a doctor, then he would be the last one to be thrown overboard when murder was on the loose – even murderers need doctors.

Apart from my premature birth, the shaping forces in my own life were the year, the mixed cultural background provided by my parents, and their different temperaments. But there are roots of influence underlying birth itself, and those roots draw sustenance from our conception. It is from the wonder of that moment that our life unfolds or blossoms to whatever colour and form it does. The moments of love that lead to conception create a subtle matrix that shapes us. I have no formed memories of those moments my mother and father shared. But when my heart and mind are still, with that sort of silence one gets in the early mornings when the world is not full of countless sounds, and you can hear small creatures move with quiet footfall across the earth, then I can feel the ripples still rolling through my being from that mating.

In that silence what I experience is the courage my parents displayed in their marriage.  Courage because my mother was a simple country girl, and my father was an Italian immigrant.  Or at least he was the youngest child of two Italian immigrants living in London.  I also sense an impression of my mother’s unquestioning dedication to my father.  I’m not suggesting she was without conflicts.  But I believe she was unconscious of them, and so the flow of her life was toward my father.  And from my father I feel the enormous force of containment.  The force leading him to always hold himself back, to never give himself away, except on very rare occasions.  Sex must have been something quite wonderful and tragic for my parents. Wonderful in that my mother’s passion and my father’s containment met.  Tragic in that it must have called upon my father to give himself away, and thereby threatened his defences.

The year of our birth is important too. My nativity was just before the Second World War, so I lived my childhood through that incredible period in a country deeply involved in war. Unlike many children living in Britain at that time, the physical events of the war didn’t leave much of an imprint on me. I remember guns going off as a regular background to nights. Rifle shells were easy to find around the fields from the training activities of troops or Home Guard mock battles. Strips of aluminium foil often littered the fields, dropped by enemy aircraft to fool the radar. The sound of the siren warning of an air raid attack made my hair lift and feelings run up my spine, but I didn’t feel any great fear, living as we did, thirty miles outside London. In a way there was a certain amount of entertainment value in what was happening. The gas mask drills for instance were quite ridiculous, as was the drill to get all the children out of the school into the nearby air-raid shelter. This shelter, attached to St. Mary’s School in Old Amersham was a farce. It was s single thickness brick walled building about sixty metres away from the school. Tightly packed, all the children and teachers could just about fit into the shelter, all of it above ground. If the area had been bombed, the shelter offered less protection than the thick walled old school. Being all in one small place, a bomb could have killed us all. The only valuable feature of the shelter was that it didn’t have windows, so there was no danger from being injured by flying glass due to bomb blast.

The other entertainments were the troops marching through the streets in mile long lines, moving across the countryside. I lived in Whielden Street next door to the British Legion hall. This was used as stores for army supplies, and there were often American soldiers just across the fence from where I played in our garden. The British troops were friendly but quiet, but the Americans seemed to carry a completely different aura with them. It felt to me as a child as if wherever they were, the world was different around them. This was partly that living in a country where all the important items of everyday living were rationed or unobtainable, seeing Americans producing substances such as chewing gum that I had never even seen before was magical. British people were very grey in comparison. They didn’t laugh and talk as loudly, they didn’t play so easily, they didn’t acquire things with such ease. American comics at that time seemed almost as if they came from another planet. Comparing them with Beano or Dandy, or the text filled Hotspur, led to a feeling that America was full of available BB air rifles, bubble gum, and booklets on personal magnetism and sex appeal. The fact that Superman and Batman are still a part of world imagery, whereas the heroes of British comics such as Strang The Mighty, Wilson the mystic superman, and Desperate Dan are forgotten or only local heroes, shows how godlike the American imagination seemed at that time.

Betty, my mother, was however, much more impressive than the war or the Americans in engraving indelible marks on my soul. I was her first and only baby, and I believe my size and vulnerability frightened her into believing I was always on the verge of death – which of course I was in the beginning. Being only four pounds in weight, suffering jaundice, and not moving about with great signs of life, I believe created some anxiety in my mother.

She was a country girl born in Amersham. Her father was from Irish stock with the name of Banning, and her mother from English parents by the name of Atkins. I see my mother as being an uncomplicated woman without much subtlety, but powerful, strong and very shrewd in her assessment of people. I don’t think she was capable of intellectual thought, but her instincts were clear enough, and one image I have of her is that of a cow, and I don’t mean this as an insult, but as a description. It’s an image that explains to me some of the things she did to me as a child, and how she responded to me.

For instance a cow simply gets on with what is happening to it. If it’s frightened it feels fear and runs. If it is angry it throws its head around and throws its body about in total abandonment. It doesn’t mince about being diplomatic. My mother had that sort of directness. Although she was innocent to the extent that when my father, after seven years of courting first kissed her, she was convinced and terrified that she must have become pregnant. When I was born she related to me in a primal way. The missing eight weeks of development in the womb meant it was difficult for me to digest anything. I was on the brink of death. So imagine a wild cow whose calf doesn’t show much signs of life. It is imperative if the calf is to survive that it get on its feet quickly, that it moves around and looks lively. So when I try to understand the things my mother did, it makes sense that she saw me like this and gave me a good kick now and again to get me on my feet and looking lively. She had no subtlety remember, and didn’t think about things. She simply responded. If I didn’t stand up then I would die, so a good kick might stimulate me into being a bit more alive. I think this was heightened with my mother because she had several heftily built sisters who produced babies weighing in at the magnitude of 9 pounds. My tiny frame of 4 pounds appeared tragically fragile beside them.

The kicks my mother gave me all related to threats of leaving me or giving me away. These would perhaps have been felt as mild parental emotional beatings except that my mother didn’t connect with me easily at birth because of my fragility. In fact my grandmother took over my rearing until she died when I was eighteen months old. This meant that I had not connected fully with my mother or she with me. My grandmother had been my mother. When she died I lost the one who had mothered me, and I felt abandoned, as I had felt at birth.

So at three when I was taken away to a convalescent home because of my sickly constitution, my world fell to pieces. The wound of abandonment cut into me at birth, then at the loss of my grandmother, was ripped open again, and it took over fifty years to put some of the pieces back together again. I wasn’t long in the home, but that I was there at all stabbed a blade of pain and fear into me that left a wound that didn’t heal. The convalescent home shattered whatever frail sense of being wanted I had been able to build in the intervening years. Going into hospital again at six to have my tonsils removed, opened the injury again and deepened it.

What is so strange is how little parents understand about the inner world their baby or child lives in. Perhaps it’s because most of us manage to brick up memories of childhood so it is all but lost except for a few snapshots and what they portray. Without remembering how it felt, the adult has no idea of what they faced and how they dealt with it themselves as a baby. I have to conclude this bricking up, this building of an impenetrable wall against feeling ones early years, has been going on for generations. It must be so otherwise adults could never treat children the way they do. As a group we could never expose them to the tortures involved in some aspects of school, hospital, and in fact everyday life as it occurs in many families.

As an adult I learnt how to knock out the bricks between my adult self and the feeling memories of myself as a baby and child. The horrors behind the wall shocked me as I realised what had happened to me and was happening all around me to other children. It may seem strange for adults with their wall still firmly in place when I say that I can remember being born. I can remember what it felt like to be dying because I couldn’t digest properly – what it felt like to need with terrible urgency that my mother hold me close as if I were still in the womb, and not let me go or put me down until I was mature enough to want to exist apart from her. I can remember that my whole being made a decision at that time to have nothing to do with this new world outside the womb. It was painful. It hurt. It was terrifying. There was no welcome or warmth in it to make me want to get involved in it. Is it surprising then that all my feelings curled up in a ball like a hedgehog to shut the world out? Is it surprising that it wasn’t until I was in my mid forties that I managed to learn how to meet this little curled up ball of feelings that was my baby self, and help it unfold? In doing so I realised that many of the dropouts, drug addicts and alcoholics in our society are in a similar inner state as I was – curled up and trying to withdraw from the world entirely – if only their body would let them. If only the bloody body wouldn’t keep growing and demanding new things from them physically, sexually, emotionally and socially.

As a baby there isn’t anything else in the world apart from your need for your mother, your need to feed, your need to be wanted. There aren’t any neat diversions like watching the tele, going out to a club or bar that is so noisy you can’t even feel your own thoughts and body, taking in enough booze to sedate you, or fucking constantly to keep ones emotions away from what it’s like to be alone. There aren’t any handy tranquillisers to keep your noisy soul at bay. There aren’t any dealers selling dope. As a baby you have no bank account from which to pay an unwilling mum to induce her to provide your emotional needs, to make her stay with you instead of farming you out to a child minder.

If you have ever fallen in love – really up to your eyeballs in love – and the person you want and need to be with desperately is completely indifferent to you, then you begin to understand what it feels like to exist as a baby with its tremendous capacity to want love. You begin to understand what it is like to know you are on your own, that you are simply a lodger in the house. The question the baby asks with its whole being is “Do you want me?

If the baby could put its feelings into words it would say, “I don’t want to hear all these excuses about ‘Yes mummy loves you, but now she’s going out with her friends, or she needs time alone.’ That’s all bullshit. If you love someone you want them to be with you wherever you go. My love for you isn’t a head-trip. It isn’t a bloody quiz. It isn’t a game of the month on TV. It’s ME. It’s my whole life.  If I am going to give you my love I want to know – I want to KNOW – I want to know beyond any doubt, whether you’re trustworthy – whether I can trust you!”

If you think that is what someone would feel who is totally dependent, you’re right. The baby is built, deep down etched in, to be totally dependent. It’s called a survival instinct.

When I was meeting such feelings and pondering if they were a form of sickness or a natural situation, I was lucky enough to watch a nature documentary on British television about a herd of elephants. The film centred on a baby elephant that had become separated from its mother and the herd. The separation had come about because the baby had got stuck in deep mud at the edge of a waterhole. Hyenas were not far away, and the baby knew instinctively that if it cried out for help it might attract the hyenas, which meant death. So it remained silent but desperate, because it would die anyway trapped in the mud. Then it heard a group other than its own herd nearby. A dominant female always leads such herds. The baby called and the herd came, recognised the baby didn’t belong to the group and started to leave. The baby cried so desperately the dominant female tried to pull the baby out, but failed, and the group started to walk off. The baby called again, and this time the group succeeded in pulling the calf out of the mud and adopted it.

The point is that certainly in the past, and still today in many parts of the world, abandonment means death. The greatest and most prominent drive in a baby animal is to stay connected with its parent or group. If it doesn’t it will almost certainly die. That instinct has been built into us as vulnerable animals for millions of years. The baby cannot help but feel that imperative.

When I met the feelings involved in being apparently abandoned in the convalescent home, for six weeks I couldn’t function normally because the emerging emotions and states of mind were so strong. If you have never had an actual experience of this nature it may not be possible for you to understand or believe. But I will try to explain.

Remember that what you take for granted as an adult is not operative in the baby and young child. For instance a sense of time is something you learned as you gained the ability to speak and grasp certain concepts such as morning, midday, evening, a new day, minutes, hours, etc. Before that you lived in a timeless world without beginning or end. A day, even a minute is eternal. So when a mother says, stay there I will only be five minutes, to the mother that seems very reasonable. But to the child it has no meaning whatsoever, and the length of her departure is only measured in terms of its own inner feelings. If it misses its mother, the pain is eternal. Perhaps that’s where the concept of Hell originated.

Also, from the drives and needs a baby and young child operate from, it doesn’t compute that a mother would let her baby be separated from it. Remember that it has the imperative to stay near, to go everywhere the parent or family group go. So just as we can add 2 and 2 and arrive at 4, but it doesn’t compute if we say it adds to 5. So with the baby it doesn’t add up that the mother would leave it anywhere. The baby’s drive is to stay close. If the mother and family don’t match that, an extraordinary confusion grows in the baby’s feelings. It isn’t that the baby can think this out. Like any young animal, it responds from the fundamental information built in, such as instincts. So what it arrives at in an intuitive or instinctive way is that it isn’t loved. It feels it is of no value and has been abandoned. This leads to an enormous internal kick that stimulates other instinctive responses. There is murderous rage on the one hand, and a tremendous desire to please the mother by doing everything that would make one acceptable and loveable. When older children exhibit either of these two responses by murdering their parents, or continually placating them by behaviour or gifts, such behaviour probably arises from this level of feeling response.

The instinctive or automatic responses that follow after that are complex, in that the baby can go in one of several different directions. But one of the first actions is to seek the mother or try to attract her attention. Like the elephant, the baby may cry out. But also like the elephant, the cry will only go out if there is hope of response, not if the child feels hopeless and vulnerable. If succour – a breast – is offered, at first it will not be taken unless it is the mother’s. But if the mother fails to arrive, the next stage is to accept the breast that is offered, while continuing to hope for and seek the mother. In adult behaviour this can lead to a person taking multiple lovers while trying to establish a safe relationship with one person.

Another possibility is that because the baby is not getting nourished by knowing deep down in its guts that it is wanted, it may develop a compensatory inner life. It may turn inwards and find an image – such as Jesus, God, an imagined person or a dead relative – from which it can receive unquestioned love. Many of the classic forms of prayer or meditation can be seen as this process in action. The person closes their eyes and creates an experience of bliss or transcendence out of their own emotional and mental energy. In the end this is a sort of auto-stimulation, but it has a very real advantage if the child – or adult – doesn’t get nourished by external love. The internal image enables the child to continue its inner psychological and emotional growth without an external source of love. For the adult it enables them to continue living in what may be harsh or impoverished external conditions – for instance without a sexual partner. The inner compensatory figure or image may later be difficult to give up. After all, external people have proved themselves unreliable with the child. But the change can be made from an internal to an external love.

I believe all the reactions described happen on a purely reactive or instinctive level, and are almost entirely unconscious. As happens when we have driven a car for years, most of the things we do are not noticed, as they are so deeply habitual. What fascinated me as I discovered them in myself and others, is how level after level of survival reactions are built into us.

I was recently reading an old book by Tony Buzan and Terence Dixon – The Evolving Brain – in which they describe the work of professor Luria. Luria defined that the brain operates on system functioning rather than on area functioning. He described this using the example of the respiratory system. The lungs are usually enabled to inhale and expel air because the large muscle of the diaphragm does most of the work. If the diaphragm is made inert with an injection, the muscles in the ribs – the intercostals – take over. If the intercostals are also put out of action the muscles in the windpipe – trachea – take over.

Similar actions or fail-safe systems are built into the body at every point, particularly noticeable in the circulatory system. What Luria was pointing out was that the brain, like the body, has interconnected activity. Just as the lungs do not work simply through the action of the diaphragm, so the brain doesn’t enable us to see or speak with one area of its lobes. What I have seen in regard to levels of response in connection with survival of our identity seems to have a similar basis. If one level doesn’t work, or doesn’t meet with the necessary requirements, then another level of reaction arises.  I think this is particularly true regarding birth, childhood and parenting – both giving and receiving. With my mother for instance, my premature birth triggered in her quite a different set of responses than if I had been a healthy full-term baby weighing nine pounds like her sisters babies. Intuitively, I feel the way my mother behaved toward me was based on experience that she didn’t gather in her own lifetime. It wasn’t personal knowledge, no more than the way a bird builds its nest is personal knowledge. I have the view that her actions came from a collective experience gradually gathered through untold generations, and through unimaginably vast periods of time. Because my birth, with its pain and stress, both on my mother and myself, had pushed us both beyond the resources of our personal life, I believe we both became wise from this collective wisdom.

Something that started me thinking along these lines was a dream I had in the early eighties. In it I was walking down a sloping cobbled road in Italy, a country I had at that time never visited. I knew in the dream that I was there to learn the language. The dream didn’t seem particularly important, but at the time I was exploring dreams by taking time to allow spontaneous feelings, memories and associations that might occur in connection with the dream. As soon as I started exploring this dream the connection with Italy was obvious. My father was full-blooded Italian although born in London. So this dream had something to do with my family background. I didn’t understand what learning the language referred to, because I had never learned the language, nor had my father. But as I allowed feelings and associations to arise something quite remarkable happened. Lots of different pieces of my life and the things I experienced in myself and in connection with my father came together, forming a larger picture, a greater understanding. I was about forty-four at the time of the dream, and up till then had not voted. Politics, or involvement in any other mass organisation was something I avoided. I didn’t know why. I had always taken it simply as an expression of my personality, perhaps of my ideals. What emerged more and more clearly as I entered the dream, was that my father had passed on to me a deeply etched message that any such organisations were dangerous, and this was why I had avoided involvement.

At this point I couldn’t see, and I didn’t understand, how this message had been passed to me. My father hardly ever talked to me. He had certainly never talked to me about such issues, or impressed on me with fervent tone that I must avoid organisations. But the process behind the dream was still unfolding, allowing deeply unconscious material to surface and be known. The bricks were coming down between me and my child self, and I saw with deep awareness that my father hadn’t needed to speak to me about these things, his every small mannerism, his relationship with other men, his whole approach to life, had been telling it to me all the time. It had been a purely non-verbal communication. It was as deep and as soundless as the communication the mother bitch gives to her pups when she licks them clean after birth, when she picks them up in her mouth, when she gives them her milk. So my father had passed his soul to me in silence and in quiet union, and my own soul had understood in its own silence. Now, out of that silence my soul was speaking to me and unfolding what it had learned of the language of Italy.

The way I had learned from my father was the way all mammals learn from parents, by a sort of mental osmosis of behaviour. The fox has no words to use in passing on to its offspring the lessons of survival learnt – how to hunt for instance. But the lessons pass down generation after generation because mammals can absorb enormous amounts of information non-verbally. A wonderful study of the African wild dogs showed exactly the value and wonder of this. The dogs had been wiped out in a large area and attempts were being made to reintroduce them. A documentary film showed two packs of dogs. The one pack were established, and had arisen from an unbroken line of descent and social relationship for thousands of years. The second pack had been reared in captivity and released in the wild with some support. The descended pack showed enormous social skills in acknowledging and supporting each other’s rank, in working together to hunt, in feeding the pups and mutually caring for them, and in sharing food with those who stayed to care for the young.

The released pack didn’t have any of these skills. The information was not being passed on to them from a previous generation. They couldn’t work together. They fought amongst themselves instead of respecting leadership. They didn’t share food but fought over it. They all quickly died. The unspoken wisdom of generations had not been passed to them. They had no survival skills. They died.


The other chapters in the book include:


 Chapter Two – Childhood

 Chapter Three – Adolescence


 The book is available in Kindle and Paperback-  See all my books HERE

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