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Ambidextrous Pronoia Therapy

excerpted from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia

Experiments and exercises in becoming a mysteriously truthful, teasingly healing, fiercely magnanimous Master of Impartial Passion

1 What three ideas do you hate most? Pretend you believe those ideas devoutly. Write about them as if they were the cornerstones of your philosophy of life.

2 The Shinto monks of Iso, Japan, have a curious custom. Every 20 years since the year 772, they've dismantled their central shrine and rebuilt it from scratch. In so doing, they pass down the knowledge of their sacred construction techniques from generation to generation. It's also an effective way for the monks to participate eagerly in the transitoriness of life, rather than merely being resigned to it. They practice the art of death and rebirth not just in meditation but through a practical long-term ritual.

Can you think of an analogous custom you might create for your personal use?

3 There is a disproportionate abundance of evil stepmothers in traditional fairy tales. Storyteller Michael Meade believes that's because the stepmother is a symbol of the soul's nemesis, and everyone has a nemesis. In fact, he says, we all need a nemesis to keep us honest, to challenge our assumptions and call our bluffs. With this in mind, brainstorm a short fairy tale in which you're honored by a visit from a stepmother.

4 We're acquainted with a group of Hell's Angels that has a unique way of honoring the deceased. Once a year the gang throws a party in the cemetery where their fallen comrades are buried, pouring beer on and snorting coke off their graves.

Think about developing a similar approach to dealing with the dead parts of your own life. Don't just cry mournfully over the dreams and influences that have helped make you what you are. Dance for them; sing for them; leap into the air and kiss the sky for them.

5 Oceans are not exactly teeming with life. In fact, they're mostly barren, and could rightly be called "wet deserts." Likewise, not all your emotions, even those that come in floods, are fertile. Some are automatic reactions that have discharged thousands of times since they were first programmed into you many years ago. They're mechanical, not organic. They became fixtures when you were a very different person than you are now. Identify these.

6 We all have a war going on inside ourselves. What's yours? Is it a just and fruitful war or a senseless and wasteful war, or both?

7 Hundreds of years ago, it was seemingly possible to buy forgiveness. Until Martin Luther came along to spoil the fun, the Catholic Church used to sell "indulgences," which buyers could supposedly trade in purgatory for a reduced punishment for their earthly sins.

The forgiveness freaks at the Beauty and Truth Laboratory have revived this practice in a mutated form. For the right price, we're able to guarantee your absolution. To take advantage of our offer, simply send us a million dollars for each sin you want to have forgiven.

There's just one condition: You can't pay us with the government's legal tender. You must make the money—literally. Using crayons, paints, scissors, glue, collage materials, or other media, create your own version of large-denomination paper money. Instead of the images of politicians that typically appear on government currency, draw pictures of your muses and heroes and friends and pets. Rather than patriotic clichés and meaningless decorative frills, add sayings and symbols that make you happy. Be sure to write a description of the sin you want "indulged" somewhere on the bill. Send your payment to the Beauty and Truth Laboratory at P.O. Box 150628, San Rafael, CA 94915.

8 Many supposedly scientific debunkers deride astrology but have done almost no research on the subject. That's one reason why these ill-informed "skeptics" spread so many ignorant lies. For instance, they say that astrologers think the stars and planets emit invisible beams that affect people's lives. The truth is, most astrologers don't believe any such thing.

Is there any way in which you engage in behavior similar to the lazy debunkers? What subjects do you speak about with authority even though you really don't know much about them? Do you ever spout opinions about situations you've never experienced first-hand? Do you pass judgment on ideas you've never studied and people you've never spent time with? We all do these things—I confess to being guilty of it myself—but this is your special time to make amends.

9 In our culture, vultures are considered ugly and disgusting. But in ancient Egypt, they were sacred. Scholar Elinor Gadon says they were called "compassionate purifiers." As devourers of corpses, they transformed rotting flesh into usable energy, and expedited the soul's transition to heaven. Queens of Egypt wore vulture headdresses to signify their divine consecration.

How would you invoke the help of mythical vultures in your own life? Here's one possibility. Meditate on death not as the end of physical life, but as a metaphor for shedding what's outworn. In that light, what is the best death you've ever experienced? What death would you like to enjoy next?

10 In one old fairy tale, a virtuous hero throws a punch at an evil witch. But because of her wizardry, the thrust of his fist boomerangs and he smashes himself in the nose. Blood flows from his nostrils. He wipes it with his fingertips and flings a few red drops in the witch's direction. This is the unexpected magic that sends her fleeing. He's saved. Moral of the story: The hero's self-wounding produces his ultimate protection. Give an example of this theme at work in your own life.

11 The 17th-century surgeon Wilhelm Hilden had an interesting theory about healing. He developed a medicinal salve that he applied not to the wound itself but rather to the weapon that inflicted it. Though today we may sneer at such foolishness, the fact is that Hilden's approach has great potential if used for psychic wounds. Jesus understood this when he articulated the revolutionary formula, "Love your enemy." More than any other action, this strategy has the power to cure you of the distortions your enemy has unleashed in you. Try it out.

12 "Every great player has a screw loose," said basketball coach Tara VanDerveer. What's the loose screw in you that's most likely to lead you to greatness?

13 Chaos comes in two varieties. One is destructive and disorienting; the other is rejuvenating and exciting. Give examples of both from your own life.

14 Beauty and Truth Laboratory researcher Rebecca Rusche coined the word "careenstable." Here's her explanation of how it originated:

"In high school, my mom used to let me use her VW Beetle to go to basketball practice. One night after practice, a friend and I were chatting and drinking Coke when we decided to see how fast we could get the Beetle going down a nearby dirt road. Soon we were careening at 65 mph, shouting 'careen!' every time we hit a bump and flew into the air. When we arrived back at the gym and got out of the car half an hour later, we saw my Coke can sitting on the front bumper next to the license plate. I nudged it softly to see if it was lodged in there, but it fell right off—wasn't stuck at all. I thought, 'There must be a word for this magic,' and thus 'careenstable' was born. It came to mean anything that maintains its poise in the midst of wild, fast movement."

Give an example of careenstable working in your own life.

15 POP QUIZ! By now, you should be sufficiently knowledgeable about pronoia to speak about it with some authority. Your assignment is to write a pronoiac rebuttal to the following news story, which appeared in a weekly tabloid:

"If you want to be happier, feel better, and do more in life, just turn your back on reality—and inflate your ego! A new study reveals that an unrealistically positive attitude and unfounded optimism, along with some denial of reality, help you accomplish great things in all areas of your life. In other words, you don't need a firm grip on reality to be successful and happy."

16 Leaving behind her beloved Europe, a young Anais Nin arrived in New York full of misgivings. "I hate it," she wrote about the city in one of her famous diaries. "I find it superficial. It's an ugly prison." She was not unwilling to have her mind changed, however. "Make me love New York," she told photographer Alfred Stieglitz, a long-time resident. "Show me what you love."

Be inspired by Nin's challenge. Imagine I've come to visit you. Envision the places you'd take me and the experiences you'd give me to demonstrate what delights you about your home turf.

17 Here are a few of the "Things That Don't Suck" listed in an article in The Wave newspaper: "Eating someone else's food out of the refrigerator and not getting sick. Buying someone a great gift and keeping it for yourself. Losing your virginity to someone completely out of your league." Make your own list of ten Things That Don't Suck.

18 Do something that you will remember with pride and passion until the end of your days.


To buy PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia, the book from which the above piece is excerpted, go to Amazon or Powells.
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