“It is the finest and most succinct everlasting love story that I have ever read. It is also an excellent crash course in religious metaphysics.”
I had been doing various kinds of factual writing for many years when I finally wrote a fictional story that I felt was good enough to publish: The Metamorph, written in 1992. It was well received in alternative press circles, and it was gratifying to hear that a fair number of readers said that they just couldn’t put it down until the end. Of course such things are a matter of taste, and I got critical feedback too; but here’s a review I specially like, sent to me personally by a reader:
Looking back at it now, I see that it does indeed feature some high-calibre information on the basics of the spiritual path, presented as natural stages in the unfolding of the soul of Peter, the title character. At the time I wrote it, I was awash in a blowout from having carried certain practices too far in advance of the karmic purification which I thereby learned is a strict prerequisite. So a lot of the details of the higher stages in the story were from teachings that I knew from various sources but had not yet personally attained. Now, though, I’m finally getting caught up! And naturally the caveat is that the path goes ever on.
Now I’ll talk a little about the story and the spiritual ideas it contains, but without giving away crucial details of the plot that might spoil it if you read it later. Here’s the introductory blurb:
Peter and Melissa were lovers in the psychedelic euphoria of the Sixties counterculture. At decade’s end they parted, and the only similarity in the paths they traveled was that they both gave up drugs. Melissa sought wealth and success in a business career, while Peter remained on the furry fringes of society, pursuing spiritual development in the changing waves of the anti-establishment youth movements. In a series of “chance” encounters over the years, they compare notes, reaffirm their love, and try to work out the conflict that has separated them. Their final resolution of the dilemma is a breathtaking venture into the miraculous.
The setting for most of the story is the San Francisco Bay Area. In the first of the encounters after their parting, Melissa has just graduated from college and Peter is no longer a hippie. She’s astounded to hear that he’s given up not only drugs but such things as meat, caffeine, sugar, and even sex. Why? Because he’s embarked on a rigorous course of soul-building. He says:
“Us smartass hippies thought we knew it all ~ just trip on up and talk to God, or become God. But we didn’t know anything about HOW to do it. All we knew was drop a bunch of acid.”
Now he’s discovered that there are other ways, and adds:
“I think the right use of psychedelics is to let ’em give you a glimpse of what’s possible, then chuck ’em and build yourself up till you can do it on your own steam.”
This perspective is affirmed in the teachings of Gurdjieff, whose work I encountered in my own post-hippie stage. It affirms the validity of drug-induced spiritual experience, but warns that it’s not a path to true attainment.
The next meeting occurs in 1977 in Haight-Ashbury, where Peter and Melissa used to hang out as hippies. Now she’s decked out in a business suit, and gets snickered at by some punk kids on the street. Suddenly a big punk in a purple Mohawk and full regalia shouts her name and runs toward her. After a moment of fright she recognizes him as Peter. They fly into each other’s arms and embrace, to the startlement of passersby.
The two get reacquainted at one of their old spots in Golden Gate Park, and are joined by a punk girl named Cindy. In the course of the conversation Peter and Cindy casually kiss. Melissa feels jealous, and asks if he’s still celibate. He says, “Not exactly,” and explains a little about tantra:
“There are ways to attain sexual union without squandering the energy. It’s subtle, and tricky, and sometimes it doesn’t work if you’re not an extremely skilled adept. But it can get pretty amazing even for amateurs like us. I can have my cake and still eat a piece of it now and then.” At this, Cindy giggled.
Peter tells Melissa that since their last encounter he’s begun building not just a soul but a solar body. He distinguishes this from the astral body, which everyone is born with as part of their nature, whereas “the solar body is a do-it-yourself project.”
They meet again seven years later in Berkeley. Now Peter is wearing elegant Renaissance-style clothing, and has a bevy of friends arrayed in colorful costumes of every description, with names to match their raiment: Ulysses, Athena, Parsifal, Guinevere, Cinderella, Valkyrie, and Captain Kirk. As for Peter, he’s Peter Pan.
They all engage in heady conversation centering on human spiritual transformation. Peter calls it “the metamorphosis”, and compares the soul’s journey to the life-cycle of a butterfly; he also uses symbolism of the Sun as a spiritual source of nourishment for the soul at advanced stages of its growth, when it’s transmuting into a solar body. Most of the people are young, and obviously relate to Peter as their inspiration and spiritual guide. In a private talk, Peter explains to Melissa that playacting the roles of deities and superheroes in daily life is a form of psychospiritual self-discipline that he’s created, one that’s a lot more fun than most paths. It breaks people out of the roles they get imprinted with in normal society, and radically expands their perspective on who and what they can possibly be. “And even if the role is beyond you in a practical sense, it elevates your spirit trying to live up to it. Someone who’s honestly trying to become a God is bound to be a nobler human being than someone who’s trying to become an accountant.”
A long time passes before the next encounter, when Melissa leaves work one evening to find Peter standing there playing a guitar. He says that he’s been waiting for her, deliberately seeking her out to tell her that he’s leaving the Bay Area. He and his friends, including a couple Melissa knew from their hippie days, have established an alternative community in northern Montana, the first step in fulfilling Peter’s lifelong dream; he calls it an Earth Colony. They exchange addresses so they can stay in touch, instead of relying on the synchronicity of a shared locale. Before parting, Peter tells Melissa a Hindu tale of a man who lived a selfish, materialistic life, but was saved by calling on the name of God at the moment of death.
The following year they have an exchange of letters in which Peter relates the adventures of the first winter in the wilderness and how the group is coalescing into a true spiritual family dedicated to living a natural life outside the system. Melissa still has conflicted feelings about Peter, and doesn’t reply. Several years later Melissa receives a letter from the Earth Colony saying that Peter has died. In spite of herself, she sobs in heartbroken grief.
She loses her enthusiasm for business, and retires at the age of seventy. This leads up to her own death, but it won’t spoil the story to reveal that it doesn’t end there! Feel free to read it if you’re so inclined, and in a future entry I’ll have further comments for those who have ~ i.e., it’ll include “spoilers”.