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"The Great Work"
A term of the Alchemists that I’ve known about for forty years, but only realized yesterday afternoon what it truly means, “The Great Work” is the allegorical transmutation of lead into gold.
Yesterday, I spent the whole day in a workshop for people to speak about their journeys with a psychic, spiritual guru of sorts. Two weeks prior, I attended a conference on public speaking in which people shared their stories. A good story tells of suffering and transcendence.
And then it hit me…reintegration of the traumas and your shadow self determine whether you are the hero or the victim of your story.
The difference between The Joker and Batman isn’t the trauma. The villain shows the world it is meaningless, selfish, and cruel because that is who HE is and deep down, he doesn’t want it to change because it supports the significance of his internalized trauma.
The hero accepts that the world is meaningless, selfish, and often cruel but decides to serve others, tame his demons, and bravely face new challenges.
"Harold and Maude" - The Monomyth
Suzanne told me that one of her first appearances as an uncredited extra was as a funeral guest in my favorite movie, “Harold and Maude”. This story is the Monomyth of the heart, a term that Joseph Campbell used to describe the Hero’s Journey. I can sum it up in three sentences.
A young man with a narcissistic mother and no father stages absurd mock suicide attempts to win his mother’s love or attention.
By chance, he falls in love with a much older woman who connects him to his capacity to love.
After his love euthanizes herself, he is faced with despair and suicide and instead chooses to be happy.
A life of significance
Suzanne wrote two books about her life. She grew up with an alcoholic abusive father and aside from being attractive, had none of the advantages that would predict such an impactful life. Before the actors of “Friends” shook up the Hollywood patriarchy, she asked for pay equity with her costar, John Ritter, who was making 5X her salary at the end of the fourth season of their popular series, “Three’s a Company”.
The Patriarchy didn’t like that coming from a (insert derogatory term for attractive but unmeritorious female here) and they decided to kill the proverbial goose laying the golden eggs for everyone.
Without falling into the role of the victim, she transcended into the hero. She continued work in TV, had Las Vegas residences as a singer, raised her family, created Thigh-master infomercials, posed for Playboy to pay medical bills for her son, authored numerous NYT best-selling books on health, wellness and relationships. and created a business venture promoting alternative health products.
I can name at least three big ways in which she moved the medical culture. She questioned the establishment when they offered chemo despite negligible benefits and untold risks. She used stem cell therapy to regrow breast tissue after mastectomy. She advocated bioidentical hormones, which over the years, has somehow become a standard belief over what we used to use – horse estrogens.
My personal recollections
I recall from her book launch fete, conference meetings, and house calls that we shared, a few things that you won’t hear elsewhere.
When she first started taking TA-65 she verbalized an interesting phenomenon that I and other recognize. The dreams that occur can be so vivid that they can create memories so vivid that they become almost like things that occurred in waking reality.
She sang beautifully, like a classic torch song chanteuse that I would compare to a mix of Phoebe Snow’s timbre and Carmen McCrae’s phrasing.
Her husband and protector fired their own literary agent when he stated he thought Suzanne used a ghost writer.
She once got up a left a dinner party hosted by a CEO who manufactured glyphosate that she felt was unsafe for human consumption.
She was warm, intelligent, and present, unlike the many much more famous people that I’ve met in my travels.
Are you a victim or a hero?
This week, I was mentoring a young man who is going to be interviewing for medical school. I had helped him rework his life story for essays and the response was to get 27 out of 30 requests for secondary applications. When I first heard his story, I knew it would present well: at the age of 17, his heroin-addicted father took out credit cards in his son and wife’s name, forcing the boy to drop out of high school and work two jobs to pay back the debt. Not your usual story.
When I told him of the importance of knowing his father and reintegrating the perceived trauma, he seemed daunted at the amount of courage and “WORK” that would be required.
He rhetorically asked, what about sexual abuse? How can you overcome that? I told him of the psychic guru’s past and one of my best friend’s past. Where there is trauma, I can tell you others have had it worse. But what separates the victims (i.e. villains) and heroes is whether they choose to take on the “Great work” of facing those demons, reintegrating and accepting what was, and reframing it into the untarnished gold of the final act and denouement.
Your spirit, your ancestors, and your other selfs want you to accept, transcend, and grow. When you are stuck in your story and trauma, you are imploding into a smaller and more limited creature who doesn’t get the happy ending. Each moment, day, season, chapter, and life require us to accept, transmute, and imagine better choices. See this old blog for a discussion of the Hero’s Journey
From author to author
Suzanne was kind enough to endorse my first two non-fiction books and asked me to contribute to one of her last. This was her review for my previous book, “The Telomere Miracle”:
“Reading the Telomere Miracle deepened my understanding of physiology and inspired me. Dr. Park has an open mind and a big heart and that’s what makes his book not only easy, but really fun to read”
I suspect that if she had read my new book, “Exosomes: Songs of Healing” she might have felt the same way. Anais Nin said “we don’t see the world as it it, we see it as we are”.
I know she responded that way because she too had an open mind and a big heart.
So long, Suzanne, and a humble thank you for your legacy of a life well-lived. You transmuted every trauma, setback, exploitation, and rejection into an opportunity to grow, teach, and shine more brightly. You are a hero.