An Excerpt from The Guru Next Door
Cor Super Ratio — Heart Above Logic
Annie, December 8, 1995
People were waiting in line to get into the memorial service for Bruce Di Marsico. There were so many mourners that the funeral directors had opened the seldom-used overflow room across the hall from where the service would take place. I had been to the funeral home the night before helping to get things ready. I had seen the place where the black marble urn with his ashes would go — the urn his wife had picked out of the catalog. I had helped arrange the quickly collected pictures among vases of fresh flowers. There was one of him taken five years ago in Atlantic City, a stock hotel publicity photo taken with two leggy showgirls. Another showed him as a very young man sitting under a tree at the seminary, lost in thought but somehow still connected, as if at any moment he would suddenly look up and say, “So, how can I help you?” — a question he seemed to have invented.
Other photographs chronicled his life within the close circle of friends. There were shots of them together in Mexico, Jerusalem, Puerto Rico, New York City, and many more of him alone, camped out as he so often was in his backyard, cigarette in hand, with pen and notebook, and Pepsi with lots of ice. And there were shots of the later years, with new props — fanciful walking sticks supporting a still robust but fading man, followed by sleek oxygen tanks and aluminum canes for the bad days, but always that expectant look, that willingness to stay up all night talking if it would help someone clear a path toward a happier life.
I had come late hoping to get lost in the crowd. I was content to be in the overflow room. This was going to be an emotional experience for me. I had known Bruce for most of my life and even though our relationship was unusual, it had been one of the most important in my life so far. I would be much more comfortable listening through the loudspeaker they had set up. How appropriate, considering how much time I had spent over the years eavesdropping on Bruce’s conversations. We had lived in the house next door to Bruce and his wife from the time I was born — when my mother and father were still together, then afterwards, when Dad left for good and Nana moved in. Even as a young child, I found Bruce fascinating. My mother once told me that the first time I saw him, when I was just nine months old, I threw my arms wide open and smiled a huge gurgling smile. In nice weather, she used to sit with me in our backyard, she in her lawn chair, and me in my playpen. If I caught sight of Bruce in his yard or on his back porch, I’d bounce up and down until my mother picked me up and took me over to say hello.
When I was old enough to be allowed to play outside by myself, I would sneak over to Bruce’s house and play in his yard. Often when he was sitting outside writing or puttering in the garden, I would go over and plop myself down beside him. His wife would bring out cookies and lemonade, and Bruce would read me little snippets of what he was writing, words I didn’t really understand, but I loved the warm weightlessness of his tenor voice and the way he talked to me as if I were important. If my grandmother noticed me there, she would always come and get me. No matter how many times Bruce told her it was okay, she insisted I was bothering him. I think it probably would have been okay with Mom, but she was no match for Nana, who ruled the roost whenever Dad wasn’t around.
So as a young child, I created more and more strategies for insinuating myself into Bruce’s life in the most unobtrusive way possible, including hiding on his property. I watched him constantly. The window of my bedroom faced his house. The first thing I would do each morning was go to the window to see what was going on. Bruce often taught groups of students in his home, and in the warm months he would bring them out to the backyard to talk or sit on the porch. They always migrated to the kitchen later in the evening and talked long into the night around the kitchen table. If it was a quiet evening, as it often was on our secluded block, I could hear parts of the conversations. I loved falling asleep in my bed hearing the sound of Bruce’s voice from across the way.
The minister’s voice came over the loudspeaker, describing Bruce’s life, how he had grown up in New Jersey and wanted to be a priest, how he had eventually left the seminary to pursue psychotherapy, how he had developed his own approach called the Option Method right around the time I was born, 1970. How he had eventually left the trappings of his doctorate behind and taught the Method to lay practitioners. How he had wanted to create a system where anyone could help themselves and others to be happier. “Some of you have given me your favorite of Bruce’s writings. I’d like to read one from Annie,” the minister said.
At the sound of my name, I sat up a little straighter and looked quickly from side to side to see if anyone was looking at me. No one was, but I did recognize some of the people in the room. I had seen them at Bruce’s house for years. They probably would have drawn a blank if asked who Annie was. But I bet many would remember if someone said, “That’s the little girl next door who always seemed to appear in Bruce’s life from out of nowhere. She’s all grown-up now.”
. . . I could see myself and my life in a completely different light.
The minister read, “To enter into a new life, which is in our sense spiritual and miraculous, it is possible to do by choice.” I knew the words by heart. It was the first line of a kind of poem Bruce had written one summer thirteen years ago, when I was twelve. By that time, I had became more and more disobedient when it came to “bothering” Bruce, which became easier as our household increasingly revolved around my mother’s emotional ups and downs. “We can choose to live a miraculous and spiritual life,” he had written. None of the adults in my life talked this way. These were ideas that swirled around Bruce all the time, like a gentle whirlwind that from time to time would envelop me and transport me to a place where I could see myself and my life in a completely different light.
I learned later that that gentle whirlwind spun off into a breeze that made its way far into the world, that Bruce had many students who followed his Method and his teachings, that he wrote volumes about the possibility for personal happiness. That gentle breeze had blown through my troubled life — whispering an alternative view of the world where I could escape the burden of adult problems and be an innocent child again.
“To enter into a new life, which is in our sense spiritual and miraculous, it is possible to do so by choice.” That summer he was there in his backyard every afternoon as I came home from babysitting or the pool or tutoring — one of my many excuses to get out of the house, to get away from the oppressive atmosphere of my depressed mother and overbearing grandmother. I would see him there under the huge oak as I careened up our driveway on my red Schwinn. If I caught his eye, I’d ask, “How’s it going today?” He would look up and wave his yellow pad at me with a smile that went directly to my heart.
I’d go and sit by him, and he’d read me what he’d written:
To enter into a new life, which is in our sense spiritual and miraculous, it is possible to do by choice. One can choose a way of life and state of mind which makes it possible to receive the gifts and graces which are fruits of being in union with happiness.
Bruce’s words were mind-boggling to me then, and I understood them in a completely different way than I understand them today. He made it sound as if happiness was something we could choose. I had never heard anyone say that before. In fact, the adults in my house never even spoke of happiness. That was something reserved for other people who didn’t have failed marriages and bouts of sadness like the ones that settled over my mother like bad weather.
“How can we choose a state of mind?” I asked him.
“That doesn’t sound like a real question,” he said, smiling. “Are you really asking or are you saying it’s not possible?”
I thought about that. I wasn’t really asking. I had already decided it wasn’t possible. I told him that.
“So how did you decide that?” he asked. “Was it a choice?”
“It doesn’t feel like it,” I said. “It feels like it’s just the truth.”
“How do you feel about that?” he asked me.
I had to stop and think about that. “I don’t like it,” I told him.
“So, what if,” he asked, “what if you can question this so-called truth? Does that make it seem more like a choice?” I laughed. “What’s so funny?” He smiled.
“I was just remembering how when I was little, I’d bend forward and grab my ankles, let my head hang down between my legs, and walk around like that so that the world was upside down and backwards,” I said. “Talking to you makes me feel that way.”
Then I’d go home and find my mother watching from an upstairs window. “Annie, how many times do I have to tell you, don’t bother Bruce and slow down, Annie, please slow down. You don’t have to ride your bike so fast.” That summer, everything I did seemed like too much or not enough for my mother. I either talked too much or not enough. I hung around the house too much or spent too much time “gallivanting around the neighborhood.” If I wasn’t hungry, she’d accuse me of starving myself. If I cleaned my plate, she’d make a comment about overeating.
One night we had a huge fight about asparagus. She had made them every night for a week, and I was tired of them. I refused to eat one more asparagus and she refused to let me leave the table until I did. We were sitting on opposite sides of the table glaring at each other over the asparagus when I suddenly realized that nothing was holding me there. I could simply get up and walk out the door. So I did, and she locked me out of the house. I pounded on the door and rang the bell, but she wouldn’t let me in. I was so frustrated that I sat down on the steps and cried for an hour.
As it got darker, I noticed the glow of Bruce’s cigarette in his breezeway porch, which was directly in front of me, across our two driveways. I realized to my embarrassment that he could probably see and hear me. “Can I come over?” I said into the darkness. “Sure,” he answered. I went over and sat next to him. We were silent for a while and then he asked me if I would like to hear what he was writing. He read:
The essence of God is Happiness.
“To enter into a new life, which is in our sense spiritual and miraculous, it is possible to do so by choice. One can choose a way of life and state of mind which makes it possible to receive the gifts and graces which are fruits of being in union with happiness. The essence of God is Happiness. Confess that no one has to be unhappy and do whatever you want.”
“It’s the upside down poem,” I said.
He laughed. “I call it Cor Super Ratio — that’s Latin for Heart Above Logic. But I like your description better.” He tore the page from the yellow pad and handed it to me.
“The essence of God is Happiness,” I read out loud. No one had ever spoken to me about God and happiness. I thought God belonged to other people. At my house, God was ignored or sneered at for his incompetence. What kind of God would allow concentration camps? What kind of God would allow cancer and earthquakes? And happiness? The idea that God and happiness were connected was an amazing thought. It made God so accessible — something I could understand and relate to.
But at that moment, I didn’t really want to hear that no one had to be unhappy, especially me. I was the poor little girl from the broken home, whose mother was unbalanced and whose father was unavailable. Anyone would be unhappy, wouldn’t they? I did like the part about doing what I wanted. In my anger, what I wanted most at the moment was to grab the nearest rock and smash it through our window. I wanted to break into my own house and sit there like a statue until my mother behaved herself. I told Bruce that. He asked me to just think about what I might want if I considered that I didn’t have to be unhappy. I didn’t want to consider such a thing. I wanted him to feel sorry for me, to tell me that my mother was mean.
“What if you weren’t unhappy?” he asked again.
“I don’t like the way she’s acting,” I said.
“If I weren’t unhappy, it would be like saying it’s okay.”
“Why would it mean that?”
“Because. If I’m not feeling bad, why should she change?”
“Why does she have to change?”
“So I don’t feel bad.”
“So does her behavior make you feel bad?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying.”
“And how does it do that?”
“Didn’t we just go in a circle?”
He smiled. “It may seem like that when you’re inside it. But it’s really more of a spiral. At some point, the circle opens up, when you’re ready to see the way out.”
I couldn’t disconnect my mother’s unwanted behavior from my feeling bad, but I was beginning to imagine a possibility — that there might be another way to see things. Even at twelve, I could see that I wanted to blame her so that she would have to be the one to change. The problem was I hated the way it made me feel.
The minister continued reading:
Listen to your heart, for that is where knowledge acts.
Do only what attracts you.
Do what you feel like doing.
Cor Super Ratio . . . The Heart Above Logic.
For many years I had slept with the “upside down” poem under my pillow. For some reason it had always been my favorite piece amongst the many, many words that Bruce had shared with me over the years. I would find them in my secret hiding places around his property that he always pretended he didn’t know about. He would give them to me when we spoke from time to time, and in later years I would write down things I heard him saying to others.
Look inward to see what you want to do and be glad to do it. Being obedient to your heart is not obedience — it is your life and your joy. Your whole reason for existence.
. . . the last ten years of his life had been filled with excruciating pain and serious illness. Yet he never seemed unhappy.
What was my reason for existence, I wondered. Here was a man who spent his life helping others to be happier. He had only lived to be fifty-three years old, and I knew the last ten years of his life had been filled with excruciating pain and serious illness. Yet he never seemed unhappy. In fact, he was often filled with joy and enthusiasm. His life seemed well-lived, complete. Where would I be when I was fifty-three? What was my reason for existence? How had my exposure to this remarkable man affected me? I realized that up until now, I had simply relied upon him to be there. I knew I could always go and ask Bruce; because he was there, there was always another way to look at things, a way out of unhappiness. Had I shortchanged myself by relying on him so much? Hadn’t he always told me that I already knew everything? All he did was ask the questions, he always told me. I was the one who knew the answers and saw the possibilities.
For the next two hours, dozens of people shared their stories of how Bruce had helped them. What story would I tell? There were so many stories, so many times over so many years when he had asked me a question, or I had heard him say something or do something that turned my head around. There were so many times when in the midst of some confusion or problem, I would remember something he said. So many times when we would talk together and I would come away happier. So many times when I watched him live the lessons that he taught. So many times when he seemed to be writing about exactly what I needed to hear.
As I sat listening to the stories of Bruce’s many students, friends, and family, I wondered what would happen to all the wonderful stories. What would happen, even, to Bruce’s teachings, which were spread out among people’s memories and within his unpublished writings. If I were to tell my story, I would want people to know Bruce as I knew him so that they could understand why I loved him so much. If I were to tell my story, I would have to go back to the beginning, to my first memory of Bruce. If I were to tell my story, it would start with the words of the child I once was, who knew a man who was happy.
Excerpt © 2007 by Wendy Dolber. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, please contact Dialogues in Self Discovery LLC, 41 Watchung Plaza, Suite 153, Montclair, New Jersey 07042, 973-714-2800.