EDGAR CAYCE — America’s Sleeping Prophet

cayceIn 1910, the New York Times called Edgar Cayce “America’s Most Mysterious Man”; after his death in 1945, JAMA, the highly-esteemed Journal of the American Medical Association, called Cayce “the father of holistic medicine.” What happened in between those years is one of the most fascinating stories of the 20th century.

Edgar Cayce was born in a small town in Kentucky in 1877 to a poor though devoutly Christian family. As a quiet but highly inquisitive child, he could memorize pages out of a book merely by sleeping with it under his pillow. Later, he would further astound his family by being able to imagine events that had taken place months before and many miles away. He could also proscribe home-spun (and usually successful) cures for neighbors whose ailments had befuddled the local doctors.

As he grew into his teens, his reputation for effecting “miracle cures” likewise developed, eventually spreading to towns throughout Kentucky and beyond. His method was always the same: under the loving eye of his grandmother, who would quietly take notes, young Cayce would enter a sleep-like state, say the subject’s name, and then slowly begin to “see” the actual cause and hence the best cure for the ailment. In doing this, his mind would go back in time, trying to find the root cause of the ailment. Coming out of his trance, he would remember very little of what he had said, but his grandmother had transcribed it all. Without exception, these “readings” were of benefit to his “subjects.”

A few years later, however, a reading would take Cayce into a new dimension. The subject was a renowned urologist from New Orleans who, along with his wife, was visiting relatives in Kentucky. Considering his medical specialty, the man had an ironic ailment: at age forty, he could not control his bladder, and often awoke in a very wet bed. Distraught, the doctor had sought treatment with specialists all over Europe; none had found a physical cause for the problem.

Encouraged by his wife, who had heard stories about the remarkable cures the teen-aged Cayce had brought about, the doctor grudgingly agreed to see the boy. What transpired would be a life-changing moment for the doctor, but especially for Cayce himself.

With the doctor and his wife in a darkened room inside the Cayce’s humble home, Edgar went into his sleep-like state, and as was his habit, began to go back in time, searching for trauma in the doctor’s past that might suggest the cause of the current problem. Tracking back a decade at a time, the reading finally ended at infancy; then, as Cayce later related, with a flash of light, the past went into a previous lifetime — and then even further back.

The year was 1692, the place Salem, Massachusetts, during one of the most hideous moments in American history: the time of the Salem Witch Trials. Many were burned at the stake for being “witches,” but for lesser alleged crimes, some were repeatedly dunked in large vats of vinegar, which always made the “miscreants” violently ill. Now . . . imagine that the good doctor from New Orleans, in a previous lifetime, had been one those doing the dunking — and that for years afterward he had been psychologically crippled by guilt.

Now presume this guilt was manifesting itself in one of his far more recent incarnations, and that the remorse was manifesting itself by causing his present humiliating condition. Then, believe that when Cayce came out of his trance, and his grandmother read out her notes to the doctor and his wife, the man, in tears and stunned to his core, quietly asked if there was anything he could do to atone for that ancient sin. Smiling, young Edgar said that a way would be shown to the doctor.

Returning to New Orleans, the doctor decided to set aside a full day for the free treatment of people who ordinarily could never have afforded his professional services. The experience exhilarated him, and within a short time, the bed-wetting ceased, never to occur again.

Of course, those knowledgeable about psychiatric techniques know that what Cayce was doing resembled what Sigmund Freud would introduce to the world during the latter part of the 19th century. But where Freud made deductions based primarily on what his patients told him, Cayce needed no such assistance; further, Freud could venture no further than one lifetime, whereas Cayce’s “passport” allowed him to travel much farther back in time. Moreover, while neither Freud nor any of his disciples could foresee the future, Cayce repeatedly did so — with amazing accuracy.

Now, all this sounds rather preposterous, right — and probably just a coincidence. But before Cayce’s life ended at age 68, he had conducted some 17,000 readings, about 14,000 of which are on record at the Association of Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Today, the A.R.E. draws millions of visitors from all over the world to its beautiful facility. The organization also has a huge presence on the web.

Edgar Cayce is one of the most “documented” psychics in all of recorded history, having inspired several documentary films and dozens of books, the most famous, There is a River by Thomas Sugrue. Cayce’s readings covered thousands of topics, and he himself wrote many books, one of the most popular his book about Jesus Christ, as well as a book called Beyond Death: Visions of the Other Side.

For those who are still skeptical, they should reflect on a few words by the greatest writer who ever lived: “What’s past is prologue.” (The Tempest) and “There are some things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, that are not dreamt of in your philosophy.”(Hamlet)

In Defense of Liberals

RooseveltExactly when it happened is still in dispute, but happen it did and thereafter liberals suddenly were regarded as only a few steps up from child-molesters. Yet given the definition in most dictionaries of a liberal, i.e., “generous…tolerant, broad-minded, favoring reform or progress…,” it would seem a most worthy thing to be.

In keeping with that definition, the liberal movement has been responsible for a great majority of the social and economic advancements of the past 100 years. Go back to the birth of Social Security, the right of black soldiers to fight alongside white ones, school integration, the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Medicare, Operation Head Start, child labor laws, banking reforms, the fight for universal health care, the minimum wage, (which, disgracefully, hasn’t been increased over the past several years), environmental safeguards, female suffrage, equal rights and protection under the law. Courageous liberals were in the advance units of each and every one of those noble crusades.

Today, liberals and conservatives alike (and yes, even neo-Cons) all enjoy the benefits of those historic battles. Still, the Far Right, while grudgingly conceding most of the above, has fallen back on other anti-liberal arguments. They brand as “unpatriotic” liberals who were against the war in Iraq, snorting that criticism of the war was aiding our enemies; yet Congressional conservatives railed again the war in Kosovo, and Trent Lott, their former leader in the Senate, went so far as to say that President Clinton was “worse than Milosovic!” But nobody ever called those conservatives who were carping about that war “unpatriotic.”

As for the charge that Democrats are a bunch of wusses who can’t be relied upon to protect us against our enemies, the Right-Wingers forget that four of the greatest war (hot, cold and otherwise) presidents of the 20th century were Democrats: FDR, Truman, Johnson and Kennedy.

Another snide accusation is that liberals are too concerned with “fringe elements.” Yet, going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson, liberals have believed that government has no more noble purpose than the protection of its least fortunate or under-represented of its citizens. The theory is that as the weakest of them grow stronger, the more durable and dynamic the nation itself becomes. Yet often those who fight for the poor are derided as “bleeding-heart liberals,” those who struggle to improve the global environment are branded “crazy tree-huggers,” those who wage war against prejudice and discrimination labeled “anti-religious.”

Here is the contradiction: the vast majority of those hurling the accusations profess to be Christians, and proudly boast of their deep belief in the teachings, sanctity and example of Jesus Christ—even while forgetting that Christ was the Ultimate Liberal. Don’t believe it? Go back to the classic definition of liberalism at the top of this editorial. Is there a more accurate (political) word for the short but glorious ministry of He who gave His name to the most powerful reform movement the world has ever known? He worked among the poor, associated with the humblest of men, was tolerant of every human frailty, devoted to replacing the status quo with something more equitable, and left us with hundreds of all-forgiving quotes such as “Let him without sin cast the first stone.”

Is there a single word which could characterize such a compassionate attitude, such an inspiring message? I suggest to my fellow Christians that it might be… liberal.

Robin Williams — The Pagliacci of Comedy

Sigmund Freud once said that a person’s disposition is often set by the age of five — and perhaps this was true of Robin Williams. Born and raised in a wealthy suburb of Detroit, his father was an executive with one of the auto industry’s Big Three car companies, but neither he nor his wife spent much time with Robin, who was an only child. Years later, he would recall that left alone to play with dozens of expensive toys, he tried to break the solitude by giving them all names and voices. Later, as a small, chubby child in grade school, he would often use humor to disarm schoolyard bullies; so despite a privileged background, and perhaps from an early age, he came to regard life as something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

Luckily for him (and most of the rest of the world, as well!), he discovered that he did greatly enjoy acting, and after high school enrolled at the Julliard School in NYC, where he became best friends with Christopher Reeve. Many years later, after Reeves’ fall from a horse had left him crippled for life, the handsome actor would recall that his good friend was the first to visit him in the hospital, storming into an intensive care unit fully dressed in a doctor’s scrubs, sporting a foreign accent and announcing to Reeves that he was a Polish proctologist there to conduct a personal examination. Reeves later said that had he not been strapped to a table, he would have fallen to the floor with laughter.

The mold had been set, and it was only a matter of time before the comic was hired on Mork and Mindy, which soon became one of the most successful TV shows of all time, often playing to some 60 million viewers each week! In another great stroke of luck, Williams would meet Jonathan Winters, who became his idol, mentor and fellow space traveler, but whose own life would end sadly.

Winters, though a great improvisational artist, lacked the younger actor’s depth and range, talents that would eventually bring Williams many of the entertainment world’s most prestigious awards. But there was more at work here than mere critical and financial success. A famous French writer once said that up until age 40, God is responsible for what we look like; after that, we are. Ultimately, Robin Williams came to look like the man he had become: a noble humanitarian, spokesman for the disenchanted and disenfranchised and a proud vessel harboring a talent for the ages.

In his relatively brief lifetime, he raised tens of millions of dollars for the homeless, this among many other worthwhile causes — and like Oscar Wilde, another unique talent, he knew that if you purport to tell people the sad truth, the best way is to make them laugh. In doing this, he became like a great clown who could make people’s eyes dance with mirth even as his own filled with tears.

My first thought upon hearing that this magnificent human being had committed suicide was of Frank Capra’s immortal film It’s a Wonderful Life. Made in 1946, the movie is today a perennial holiday favorite with TV audiences all over the world. For those unfamiliar with the story, it deals with a small town businessman who believing that his life has been a total failure finally attempts to kill himself. But he is saved by an “angel,” who to prove to him that he is not a failure, takes him back in time to show him that he did far more good than he had ever known. His life had touched so many others whose own lives had become better because of him. The original inspiration for the movie’s script had been a single sentence from a 1930’s greeting card: No man is a failure who has made at least one friend in his life.

Robin Williams made tens of millions of them, but still he who had brought so much joy to so many people could no longer find it for himself. Where was Capra’s angel when we really needed him?

MEXICO: Life Can Be a Bitch

LifeI first arrived in Chapala some twenty-five ago with a motor home, two cars, two dogs and a distinctly dismal-looking future. I was coming off a couple of years in Hollywood where I had developed an acute case of the Midas Touch in Reverse and had finally decided that if I couldn’t change my luck, at least I would change my location.

Quite by accident, I found a lovely little trailer park right down by the Lake Chapala where a space cost only sixteen dollars a month. The park was owned by a Mexican family that had been there since 1936, and in accordance with ejido law, was still farming a small portion of the property. Continue reading

REVIEW: Hooray for Morrie Schwartz — and Mitch Albom, Too!

SchwartzThough it is not our custom to review books, exceptions are what prove the rules. Such an anomaly concerns Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie. The book falls into the category of “spiritual/inspirational,” and ordinarily we would not venture within ten miles of this genre. Books such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Illusions, and The Celestine Prophecy, all of which are, in our opinion, the intellectual equivalent of baby food, have long since served to inoculate us against this species of literary virus. Such books, straining to be “inspirational” often arouse little more than boredom—and as someone once said about writing, while there are no rules, there are sins, and cardinal among these is dullness.

However, the book under discussion was recommended by a woman with impeccable taste and a no-nonsense attitude toward all things, literary or otherwise. Thus, with something resembling a slight chip on our shoulder, we began to read and within only a few pages, the author, as well as his subject, Morrie Schwartz, had straightened us out.

Many years before the birth of the book, Mitch Albom had been a student at Brandeis University, where one of his teachers was Morrie Schwartz, a Professor of Sociology. The fun-loving and gregarious Schwartz was greatly admired by all his students, though he forged a special bond with Albom, the man who 20 years later would immortalize him in a book which has become an international best-seller.

Even so, after graduation, the younger man had drifted away, eventually becoming a well-known sports columnist and local TV celebrity in a faraway city. He had not seen his old college professor for almost two decades when one night, quite by chance, he was amazed to see him being interviewed on “Nightline.”

By this time, Professor Schwartz had developed the malady today known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, an affliction that melts the nerves until the body is about as functional as a pile of wax. Watching the program, Albom decided that very night to fly hundreds of miles to visit his old mentor, hoping to see him before the teacher had taught his “final class.”

Their reunion was joyous and within an hour they decided to enter into a collaboration wherein Albom, who despite his professional success, had lost his way in the world, would document the thoughts and feelings of the older man, who would soon be leaving that very same world. They agreed to meet each Tuesday of every week, until the collaboration was complete, or . . .

Morrie Schwartz wanted to live out what remained of his life with as much dignity, courage, humor and composure as he could muster. He came up with plenty of each, though sadly, dignity is usually the first thing diminished by the grip of impending death. Yet, with little or no attempt to handle any intellectual heavy-lifting, the old professor taught several beautiful and humorous life-lessons as he inched toward the day of his last lecture. The writer was there to record it, and soon after his friend had gone on to his reward, Albom completed what is as inspirational a book as this jaded observer has read in many a moon.

Mitch Albom’s life was greatly enriched by the experience — and it’s a good bet that anyone who reads his valuable little book will someday be able to say the same.

POLITICS: The Nine Words that Changed America

Bill of RightsIn 1734, in a small town outside New York City, the editor of a newspaper called The New York Weekly Journal was walking across the village square when he noticed a man who, having been severely flogged, was still out on public display, his arms bolted into wooden stocks. The editor, whose name was Zenger, asked the prisoner what his crime had been.

He had spoken out against the British Crown. The case had never gone to trial, yet the man had been severely punished. Outraged, the editor wrote an article about the matter, and was soon arrested himself. Left in jail for several weeks Continue reading

On the Nature of Political Dissent

We the peopleA journalist friend of mine recently wrote an article for a foreign publication, condemning various Hollywood celebrities who had come out against the war in Iraq. The article implied that these individuals were not patriotic Americans. The writer is not unique in taking this attitude. The Bush administration has for months been doing the same, as have many far right-wing publications in the U.S.

The article further declares that the celebrities in question “demean the values of their own country.” Obviously, the journalist knows very little about the United States of America. Continue reading

The Electrifying, Yet Stultifying Thomas Edison

EdisonIn any roll-call of the most important people in all of American history, Thomas Alva Edison (the “Alva” has been traced to Hispanic ancestry) would have to be ranked near the top. Edison was of an era, however, that saw Samuel Morse invent the telegraph and Alexander Graham Bell the telephone.

Yet even against such scientific geniuses, Edison stands alone, and the company that he founded more than one hundred years ago is today among the largest and most influential in the entire world: General Electric. By the time of his death in 1931 at age 84, Edison had patented over 1,000 inventions, including (among his less-known devices) a stock market ticker, a mechanical vote recorder and a battery for an electric car. Continue reading

MEXICO: Salma and Frida Meet the Mexican Press

FridaRemember the story about all the crabs in a barrel, and how as soon as one of them had almost made it out, the others pulled it back down? I was reminded of that story when I read of how the national press has reacted to a movie about the life and career of the painter Frida Kahlo.

The film’s star, Salma Hayek, might have thought she was returning in triumph to her homeland, but as surprises go, it must rank up there with General Custer’s shock at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. In a country noted for its sense of decorum and polite manners, the journalists were outrageously rude, many of their press-conference questions not only hostile but irrelevant to boot. They resent that Hayek has pursued her career in Hollywood Continue reading

HOLLYWOOD SOUTH: Director John Huston

HustonFrom the day I arrived in the movie capitol way back in the mid-1960s, it seemed Hollywood was not really a town, but rather a shrine to the film business, its inhabitants fervent believers who had come, much like those who still journey to Lourdes in France, in search of benediction and acceptance.

Yet as the Bible says, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” and for the first few years in Tinseltown, I came to know the place while working as an insurance claims adjuster. In this job, I met several people who while not famous themselves, had at least occasionally flirted with the famous: the actress who once played a sizable role in the movie Viva Zapata, and whose tiny apartment was a veritable memorial to the picture; an elderly carpenter who proudly led me to a small sound stage on the Columbia Studios back-lot, where the mock-up of the airplane which had crashed in the Himalayas in the unforgettable Lost Horizon lay still half-buried in fake snow. The old-timer had worked on that 1937 film, and it was obviously his proudest achievement; the middle-aged men and women who while never having done anything of distinction themselves, had been the friends or mistresses of people who had achieved cinema celebrity. Movies were the narcotic of choice, and everyone wanted to stay close to their “connection.” Continue reading