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The Sun Magazine

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Facing The Struggle (Part Two)

Dear Friend: My cancer messages are flooding me these past few days. The explosion of understanding which I described in Letter 6 is in better perspective. 

Cancer in my body is a symptom of disease. As long as I do not correct the basic problems, the message will persist, and so I can use it as an indicator to know whether I have corrected the disease. To allow cancer to be removed surgically or by radiation before I have changed and located the root problem means it will simply re-occur another way.


I was wishing I didn’t still suffer and struggle so much, but that seems to be at the heart of our human nature. Without that firsthand experience, which involves the whole human being, all our wisdom and understanding don’t mean very much. Each of us has a different and separate and lonely battle with what hurts us — but when we suffer, we know we exist fully as human beings. We aren’t remote and apart and immune. We are here. We are susceptible. Vulnerable. We can be killed, treated cruelly, maimed. Psychically and physically.

The Dance Of The Elements

Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. To some, these are images from antiquity, symbols of superstition; to others, intimations of some cryptic alchemy, promising the transformation of consciousness. In astrology, which is the interface of nature and psychology, there are no symbols more fundamental than these four. The primal Elements are the bedrock from which all the elaborate symbolism of the birthchart arises. So transcendent are they in character that they are beyond the grasp of pure reason. Far more ethereal than the twelve Signs, they stand in the same relation to our mental faculties as does the earth to our five senses: they are simply too large to conceive. ln school, most of us were taught that the philosophers of ancient days, in an effort to explain the universe, assumed that all creation was synthesized from various admixtures of fire, earth, air, and water in their physical forms. Our teachers then very likely went on to talk about how nowadays we know that there are not four ele- ments but over a hundred. All this is typically presented in a condescending manner, as though Plato and his cronies were not dumb really, just uneducated. As is so often the case when crossing lines of time or culture, we have misconnected . The old Doctrine of Elements was never intended to fill the shoes of our contemporary Periodic Table of Elements.

There Is No School On The Sixth Floor

Last summer I found myself unexpectedly teaching school. My classroom was a hallway on a deserted floor of a mental hospital. The students were five adolescents hospitalized for psychiatric treatment and eight “street kids” paid to attend school. The school program was a part of an unusual experiment to prepare psychiatric patients for the real world.


Where am I? is a question I often ask myself in the woods; not out of lostness, but in order to say what I see round about me, where I stand relative to the sun. I come to terms with my surroundings so that I won’t grow dizzy with inarticulate experience. I have a deep responsibility to remember and reveal what moves me, whether a death angel (Amanita virosa ) lifting its one white wing through the leafmold at my feet, or a black man who drudges for the university all day, but spends dusk at the creek religiously casting for sunfish while mosquitoes sing a vicious hymn in his ear. What I see comes as an offering, and an offering asks a return: a bow to the death angel, a visit with the poor fisherman. Such sights should radiate to and from the seer-like spokes from the hub of a wheel, a mutual dependence that makes experience move in an ordered way. To put it in emotive terms: as I am moved, I want to be moving.

Books: Fearing Life, Writing Lives

Review Of Bernard Malamud's Dubin's Lives

The style in which William Dubin the biographer writes, in which he speaks, and in which this novel about him is largely written, is detached and often ironic. Dubin is obsessed with lives and the lessons they impart: say the magic word and he rattles off a capsule biography, or at least a few choice tidbits, that could be inserted without change into a dictionary of biography. He believes that he writes lives in order to find direction in his own, and is ceaselessly didactic, but there is something dry and barren in all his teaching. A total stranger confesses that her husband is impotent, and the best that Dubin can do in the way of sympathy is to tell her that Mahler went to Freud with the same problem. About in the middle of the book, his wife is confessing an affair that came to nothing, and to his question — “But he wouldn’t oblige?” — she finally speaks out in anger, “I hate the way you distance yourself from me. Why do you put it so meanly ?”

Notes: Orbit

By the time you read this, Skylab may already have tumbled out of orbit and crashed back to Earth.

I wish something else would tumble: the kind of mentality that put Skylab up there in the first place, with so little regard for the future. To me, that kind of careless curiosity isn’t science: it’s the drunken enthusiasm of someone tossing a beer bottle out of the window of a speeding car — or an airplane.

*NOTE: Original copies of this issue are no longer available. Unbound, laser-printed copies will be provided for print orders.

Readers Write

Drug Experiences

It was 1969. I was 15. “The Sixties” was far from dead. ’68 was last year. Just. Next door. Nixon was just really getting started. Exxon (wasn’t it just Enco back then? before Enco it was Esso, and somewhere in there it had been Humble: Humble — Esso — Enco — Exxon, a strange progression in aggression) was just really getting started. Gasoline was $.30 a gallon.

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