Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rerun: Death of a Healer - Ron Urquhart

Another post in honor of World Suicide Prevention day ...

This is a terribly difficult piece to write. Last week, I Googled the name of someone I had known two decades ago, while living in a different country, in what seemed a different lifetime. All I could find was a discussion thread a year old. The news was grim: In 2005, this individual blew his brains out with a gun. He was about my age.

Let me rewind:

It was the late 80s. I had just moved to Melbourne Australia, but the promise of a fresh start was hijacked by my runaway brain. Things began to fall apart. In desperation, I was ready to try anything. A colleague at the newspaper I was working on recommended a certain “rebirther” - Ron Urquhart.

Rebirthing is a guided breathing exercise, based on the work of the New Age prophet Leonard Orr. Sustained circular breathing can induce the type of dream-wake state associated with mystics and shamans. A lot of New Age hocus-pocus is wrapped up in rebirthing, but the basic premise is simple and universal: When the conscious mind gets something new to look at - perhaps buried memories, perhaps a sense of connection to something greater - surprising (and often life-changing) realizations tend to emerge.

My journalistic bullshit detector threw off some blinking warning lights. Nevertheless, in a number of sessions, Ron proved exceptionally adept in picking the locks to various realities lurking just outside my conscious reach. In the aftermath, I gained some important insights into where I had been and where I needed to go. Still, my personal life continued to unravel, then crash precipitously.

Ron came back into my life about 18 months later. He had quit his day job. He was now referring to himself as an “energy meditation” (EM for short) practitioner, which was basically rebirthing with a kundalini yoga twist. I was an unemployable journalist scrambling for free-lance work. Ron had a proposition. He could use my help with a book he wanted to write. He was about to train his first crop of energy meditators. Would I care to take part?

There were about 20 of us. Over the course of a number of weekends, Ron ran us through a bunch of drills and activities, from trust falls to karate-chopping boards to building an Indian sweat lodge. Plus, we got to practice energy meditation on each other.

Ron’s running commentary involved the standard New Age tenet (most recently recycled on Oprah as “The Secret”) that we can literally create our own reality - health, prosperity, love, everything. The smokers in the crowd interpreted this to mean that by putting out the right thought, the nicotine they inhaled would have no effect on them. It never occurred to them that it might be more useful instead  to apply the same principle to stopping their cravings.

Personal misgivings aside, I did find the course extremely helpful to me, and so did the others. But the needle on my bullshit detector was fluctuating wildly. Ron had an unfortunate tendency to overplay his brief experiences among Buddhist monks and American Indians while giving no credit to rebirthing and various New Age courses he was freely borrowing from. When I pressed him on this and other issues, he would grow extremely evasive.

In our private conversations, he fleshed out his personal story. Several years back, his personal life had fallen apart and he had attempted suicide. Then he took stock and began applying the things he had learned toward his own healing and growth. There was no doubt he had special gifts. His intuition was uncanny, his manner charismatic and inspirational. When he laid a hand on you, you could literally feel intense heat radiating out.

But over the months, he grew increasingly more grandiose. It’s an occupational hazard in any profession. It’s a natural tendency to think big following initial success. But imagining that the business you started in your garage will become the next Apple Computers is a far different proposition than seeing yourself leading a worldwide spiritual-personal growth movement.   

Under the circumstances, I could no longer continue my association with Ron. I wish I had handled the situation better. We fell out of contact, then, about a year later, I packed my bags for the US. I gave him a call just before I left, and we shared some reconciliatory words.

About seven or eight years ago, I Googled Ron’s name and discovered he was still practicing EM. It seems he had scaled down his earlier expectations, and had settled into doing what he did best - helping individuals and small groups of people see their personal realities in new ways.

Then, late last week, I once again Googled Ron, and read: “I just found out today that Ron passed away a few years ago.”

There was no shortage of appreciation for the man: “Great teacher to many,” “I’ve never had any other teacher like him,” “He helped all of us a lot,” “Ron has touched and changed the lives of all who have come into contact with him.” His celebration of life service ten days following his death attracted more than 200 admirers.

But, sadly, I also read: “There is only one person that is still practicing EM in Australia that we could find.” This was a far cry from what the Ron I once knew had envisioned for his EM movement. He sincerely believed we could think our way to a better reality, and there is a certain truth to that. But reality also has an unfortunate way of showing us who is boss.

Ron dared to confront reality, a force far greater than any one mortal. There is great merit in trying. There is no shame in losing.

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