“The truth is not ashamed of appearing contrived.” Isaac Bashevis Singer
The other night I caught the last twenty minutes of a spiritual talk show. My initial positive reaction to the guest speaker morphed into disaffection when I realized he was one of those guru types who believes he knows everything and nobody else has a clue. He also had zero detectable sense of humor, which always makes me wary, even when someone is talking about the collapse of the global ecosystem, which is what he was talking about, among other things. Then he said something about alien abductions and aliens invading earth disguised as humans in order to take over the planet and wipe out all the Homo sapiens because we’re destroying the earth and these beings from other planets want Earth intact because she’s such a rare and groovy planet in the vastness of space.
Alien takeovers are not my cup of tea, so I turned off the radio. I wanted to dismiss the guy as a wacko, but instead recalled a passage from Carlos Castaneda’s posthumously published book The Active Side of Infinity, which I recommend as a novel if you can’t buy it as a memoir, and who knows, maybe it is the truth. No matter. The passage I recalled was of Don Juan giving Castaneda a glimpse of a huge slug-like alien that had, indeed, invaded the earth and feeds on stress-induced human emotions, notably fear and sorrow and rage and anxiety.
And that reminded me of the Mayan shaman Martín Prechtel’s fabulous talk on Grief and Praise in which he says, and I paraphrase, that the spirits of the dead are nourished and vitalized by our tears. He means this in a positive way, for in the Mayan view we are in reciprocating relationships with the spirits, which is how multi-dimensional reality maintains its balance. Don Juan, on the other hand, assured Castaneda that these alien psychic leeches are definitely malo.
“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.” Oscar Wilde
I used to think a psychic leech drew energy from us and gave nothing good back. I thought psychic leeches were typically hysterics or dead beats or drama queens, depressed, selfish, greedy, and exhausting to be with. Little did I know.
Some twenty years ago I was invited to join a small meditation group. There were six others in the group when I became a member. We met every other week in our host’s commodious living room, a fire burning in the hearth. We sat on the floor in a circle and meditated for an hour, after which we shared thoughts that had arisen during the communal silence. And then we would have supper and socialize.
The group became extremely important to me; these twice-monthly meetings providing me with a rare few hours of sanity and calm in my otherwise insanely unsettled life. Occasionally someone would invite a guest for a time or two, and if this guest then wished to join the group as a permanent member we had to be approve them unanimously. Within six months of my joining, two members left us and two new members were added.
One of the original members, I will call him R, only attended every second or third gathering. I found when R was not present my experience in meditation was always noticeably deeper. Indeed, in his absence, I felt the group often shared a remarkably deep communion. By contrast, when R was there, though our experiences were not unpleasant, we plumbed no great depths.
On a cold November evening, I arrived to find that R was in attendance and had brought a guest. A friendly woman of fifty, D was, by her own admission, overjoyed to be with us. Eager to please, she had brought a lavish feast of sushi and teriyaki salmon to thank us for allowing her to attend.
We arranged ourselves in a circle, our host performed a brief welcoming ceremony as was his custom, and we settled into quiet. And I immediately felt as rotten as I have ever felt. I had never in my forty-some years had a headache, but now my head was throbbing, my bones were aching, and it was all I could do not to groan in despair. Was there a gas leak or something toxic burning in the fire? When neither proved to be the case, I reviewed my recent food intake for possible sources of food poisoning.
I opened my eyes. Everyone was sitting perfectly still. Was I the only one feeling so miserable? And though I had no logical reason for thinking D was the cause of my distress, I knew she was. Never mind that beatific smile on her face, I was certain she was making me violently ill. Yet despite this intuitive certainty, I insisted to myself that I must be experiencing what meditation teachers say every practitioner eventually experiences: the painful truth of egoistic suffering.
By the end of our meditation, I was a sweaty mess. During the sharing-our-thoughts phase I said nothing, nor did anyone else say much, save for D who gushed about this being the happiest night of her life, and R saying that D’s presence had decided him not to quit the group because he was finally happy with the group dynamic.
I found it impossible to stay for D’s feast and had to restrain myself from screaming bloody murder as I ran out the door. The cold air was a salve, and after a few minutes in the winter chill I laughed aloud at my stunning shift from misery to joy. Indeed, so enormous was my relief, I told myself my misery couldn’t have been caused by D and must have been caused by…me.
I went to bed that night a few hours earlier than was my habit and slept like a stone for fifteen hours. I woke in the early afternoon feeling totally discombobulated. Did I have the flu? That would explain why I felt so horrible during meditation. Yet I had no symptoms other than exhaustion. Oh, well, I told myself. These things happen, though they had never happened to me before.
D was at our next gathering, gushing about how happy she was to be in our circle, how this was her dream come true. And, yes, she’d brought another fabulous feast. We took our places in the circle. Within a few minutes my head began to throb and my bones to ache. So I jumped up, grabbed my coat, and ran out the door, murmuring, “Not feeling well.”
I was absolutely entirely totally freaked out. I was also sad, for now I would have to quit the group. I didn’t want to be the lone vote against D. The others seemed fine and chummy with her. Too bad for me. I’d had a good run. Don’t cry over spilled milk. Ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe. Etc.
The next morning, as I was rehearsing my resignation spiel, the host of our group called and invited me to go for coffee. We settled down in a cozy café and I was about to announce I was leaving the group, when he asked, “What do you think of D?”
“Made you sick,” he said, completing my thought. “Made everybody sick, except R.”
I was so relieved to learn I was not alone in my suffering I could have kissed the guy, only he wasn’t my type. “How does she do it?”
“She’s a psychic black hole.”
“A psychic black hole? You mean…”
“I’ve encountered a few others,” said my host, a seasoned psychotherapist, “though none so extreme as D. Seems impossible until you experience it. Friend of mine holds group therapy sessions at Esalen, and he says these kind of people are drawn there like flies to honey.”
“But what’s actually going on? I didn’t just feel drained, I felt invaded and poisoned. My bones ached and I was half-dead the next day.”
“That’s what’s going on,” he said, nodding. “The poison renders you defenseless so she can suck your life force. Or something like that. Defies belief, but it happened to you, right?”
To our collective relief, R was the only person who voted for D to become a permanent member. Terribly offended by our rejection of his friend, R quit in a huff, after which a year of marvelous communion ensued.
Two times in my life since then I have experienced what Ross Perot famously declared of Clinton’s NAFTA, “that giant sucking sound” as my life force was guzzled by beings who appeared on their surfaces to be regular old human folk. Do I believe psychic leeches are aliens? Well, that depends on your definition of alien. From another planet? I resist that idea. Surely we have all the ingredients for growing emotional vampires right here at home. Tibetan Buddhism refers to these beings as hungry ghosts. No matter how much they consume, their hunger can never be appeased. But why was R immune to D? Perhaps he and she were fellow aliens, or at least vultures of the same feather.
(This article originally appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser, August 2010. Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com)