I recently spent several super-enchanting days immersed in the wonder of my tribe at the United Astrology Conference, the world's largest gathering of astrologers, an event that only occurs every few years.
As if being surrounded by a horde of intensely thoughtful, passionate astro-weirdos isn't enough to turbo-charge one's energetic vibration, this year's UAC was held in New Orleans, a town that exists in its own most mind-blowing alternate-dimension.
If you have never visited New Orleans, you might not know it's a complicated vortex of magical energiesand we're not talking the 'love and light' variety either. I know of no other American city with so much friggin' soul and so many ghosts and witches and vampires and zombies (terms which I throw around quite literally) wandering the streets. It is not for the faint-of-heart, which thankfully I am not. You either roll with its jazzy improvisational rhythms, and find yourself continually touched by profound synchronistic happenings or it chews you up and spits you in the gutter along with all the empty to-go cups and the mounds of voluminous vomit they rouse.
I was so ready to dissolve into New Orleans's otherworldly time-space when I arrived. Its alternate pace synced up with my latest personal challenge, which has proven to be one of the hardest: to learn to flow more smoothly, moment to moment, with what the universe presents to me, rather than assuming I know better how everything ought to go. I am putting effort into striving for more presence in the Now, to decrease the amount of suffering I create for myself by trying to force the minor logistical details of life to abide by my presumptuous know-it-all willfulness.
Despite feeling incredibly blessed on the big-picture level, I find I'm tripped up many times each day by little shit not functioning like I think it should. I encounter my 'lowest self', for example, behind the wheel of my car, spewing insults and obscenities at the countless 'idiots' who get in my way (seemingly just to slow me down or spite me) in line at the bank or the grocery store, critically analyzing how poorly the staff is doing their jobs (because it doesn't suit me) in any context, really, where my grand plans for accomplishing certain feats a certain way in a certain span of time are foiled, due to the infuriating presence of other people having their own plans and asserting their own wills.
Persistent ranting and raving, I've realized, adversely impacts my ability to enjoy my blessedness. Plus, it's the height of self-absorption to presume my timeline ought to trump the Celestial Order (or whatever you want to call it) in which everything always happens in its perfect time. I'm practicing talking myself down with reminders that an unforeseen traffic delay, for instance, just might be divinely rescuing me from a gnarly accident up ahead. And while I'm stuck here, why not appreciate the comfortable car-seat and the great tunes I've got pumping and the view outside my window? Breathe, and regroup.
This was my attitude upon arriving in New Orleans past midnight, greeted by an extra-long taxi line snaking down the sidewalk: an easy-breezy vibe, all is well, happily affirmed by the cab that finally pulled up for me being emblazoned on its side-door with the logo from the new-age phenom The Secret. The power of positive thinking. I still held that vibe upon check-in at the huge downtown conference hotel, when the gal at reception asked if I minded staying in a 38th-floor room right near the elevators. 'Why not?' I smiled, intending not to be one of those difficult guests who irritates the staff. 'Whatever's cool. No worries.' I am blessed and appreciate life.
Then, I met the elevators.
I hope I can sufficiently convey how utterly strange these elevators were. I'm a fairly well-traveled guy, but I have never experienced elevators quite like these. See, on the inside of these elevators, there are no standard numbered buttons for every flooronly door-open and -close buttons, and the ones for emergencies. Instead, when you call the elevator, you type your floor number into a keypad, and then the digital display flashes you which elevator (labeled by letter and identified by sign) will be taking you to your floor. Once the designated elevator arrives and the door opens, you can see on another digital display along its side which floors it will be stopping at. The travel slate has been set; you are carried onward.
At first mention, this may sound like a civilized alternative to the typical set-up. Yet, in actuality, I have never witnessed longer lines and wait-times at an elevator in my life along with the mass confusion that ensued whenever anybody new to the elevator process showed up, or if you forgot to pay attention to which elevator you'd been electronically directed to board and ended up taking the wrong one headed the wrong way. With no floor-buttons inside, once you were aboard, you couldn't change your mind. The best you could do was get off and try your luck again, or else exit somewhere in the general vicinity of your floor and walk a few flights of stairs up or down.
Settling into my room (which shared a wall with the elevator bank) for the first night, I didn't notice how loud the elevators were until I shut off the lights and lay down in my bed. It wasn't just the whirring sounds of the cars traveling up and down (ambient noises which I, an imaginative chap, probably could have transformed into ocean waves). Every time someone typed in a destination floor, the keypad chirped multiple beeps and if, as commonly occurred, they forgot which elevator they'd just been directed to, they'd have to reenter their destination once again, emitting another set of beeps.
Ordinarily, I'm the type who would've rather hastily called downstairs and insisted on being moved, though it was now after 3:00am and I knew the hotel was pretty much full. Instead, as I started getting agitated worrying about how I would ever get any sleep on this visit, I kept telling myself to breathe deeply and accept this reality. I had, after all, agreed to this room and I was generously saving somebody else, perhaps someone who has a harder time sleeping than I, from this incessant annoyance. As it turned out, I ended up staying up past 3:00am every night I was there, thanks to the dual-influence of rambunctious socializing astrologers and zany New Orleansa habit totally contrary to my characteristic 9-to-10-hour slumbers, but which seemed to work just fine in this context. (Ironic sidenote: Back home in SF, I later discovered, there had been 24-hour-a-day construction going on right outside my bedroom window for the duration of my trip. I wouldn't have gotten a good night's sleep anyway.)
Willingly giving in to this truncated sleep-routine also meant I was implicitly assenting to miss each day's 9:00am session, which helped ease the self-imposed anxiety I often suffer when trying to plan my days' conference schedules. At past events, I made sure to attend as many lectures as possible, so I would feel I'd 'gotten my money's worth' (natal Capricorn moon strikes again). This time, accepting I'd be staying up late socializing (since the elevators wouldn't let me sleep anyway) and thus skipping the earliest sessions, I reminded myself the benefits of these astrology conferences are not measured solely in knowledge reaped from workshops, but is just as potently received (if not more so) from contact and camaraderie with other astrologers, my colleagues in this bizarre life-path.
This was a good reminder to hold, once I noticed athisrecurring trend in the first few astrology talks I attended: Many of the lecturers not only weren't sticking to the topics they'd advertised in the program descriptions, but the lectures themselves often seemed to follow a somewhat non-linear pattern. Tangents became main threads; other planned segments were eliminated altogether. Quips triumphed over so-called substance. Sentiments were reiterated circularly. At one point, even, a malfunctioning air-conditioning system created a distractingly loud hum as symphonic accompaniment to one presentationbut thankfully, that presenter was Caroline Casey, so she simply suggested we 'metabolize' the noise into a message from the ancestors. And what might I metabolize the all-night-long sound of the beeping-and-whirring elevators into, I wondered aloud to Ms. Casey, when I ran into her later where else, but in the elevator?
I surrendered to attending whatever session I'd spontaneously decide upon, based not on topic but on who was speaking and/or which of my colleague-friends was also in attendance. This proved a winning strategy. I cannot stress enough how deliciously meaningful my encounters with my astrologer peers were, teaching me more about astrology and consciousness-in-general than anything lectured about. Because we all make our livings in intimate dialogue with clients about the real important matters of existence, I believe the 'chit-chat' between us astrologers instinctively transcends the superficial and tends toward genuine exchange. I delighted again and again in the realization we are largely a pretty smart, aware bunch (with the exception of one woman I met, who I won't mention by name but who I'll never ever forget, who somehow felt it appropriate to relate an anti-Semitic anecdote to a group of us even as with my 'Barry Perlman' nametag clearly in view). No one seemed out of their social element relating with depth.
Back at the elevator banks, between sessions or during after-hours fun-time, I played to this receptive audience by continually raising discussions about all we had to learn from these wacky elevators. A couple times, I regaled big-name astrologers (who wouldn't know me from a hole-in-the-ground) with my elevator 'readings'. As I watched other folks grow frustrated with waiting and wondering which elevator would take them where, I light-heartedly proselytized about the wisdom I was reaping from letting go of expectation a helpful practice when, at certain times, the elevator would decide, seemingly on its own, to add extra floor-stops or subtract ones it had originally planned to visit.
At the busiest transit moments, with eager elevator-riders massing expectantly around, the elevator's computer would get apparently overwhelmed: When someone typed in their desired floor-number, the digital screen would simply offer a flashing question-mark, then go dark, no further direction given, like a magic 8-ball reporting: The timing is not right. Ask again later. The only reasonable response was a chuckle.
I'm sure many of my colleagues (at least the ones who don't know my style too well) thought I was a bit bonkers when I'd mention offhand that my greatest spiritual teacher at UAC was the elevator, and that I intended to write an essay about it when I returned home. I was partly just being glib (I love an oddball conversation starter) though on another level, these repeated interjections of the mundane into this broader context of a world-class gathering of celestial philosophers couldn't have been more spiritually meaningful. Rather than a circumstantially necessary logistical evil, these mysteriously-functioning elevators contained ideal microcosm-illustrations of what we're here to develop greater consciousness about: what we have control over and what we must simply accept; our surroundings and the people we share them with; our indivisible interconnectedness with all. (This, of course, comes from a guy who watches Real Housewives and likes to take photos of trash on the street. I know a thing or two about the mundane.)
After the conference was officially over, my partner Ricky met me in New Orleans and as we took one of my final rides inside the consciousness elevator, he drew my attention to the 'secret control-panel' that had been popped up, revealing the previously-hidden buttons, numbered for every floor, just as one would expect in a normal elevator car. I squealed like a child presented with his first bike on Christmas morning. The proverbial man-behind-the-wizard's-curtain had been exposed! It was perfect timing, too, since (for whatever reason I can no longer recall) we'd intended to head to 1 but had ended up on 4. I smugly showed off as, from still inside the elevator car, I dramatically pressed the newly-exposed button labeled '1' and awaited my direct journey downward.
When I pushed '1', however, the button did not illumine as expected. Instead, the elevator let out a series of beeps unlike any I'd heard over those past several days, a short-circuiting hiccup of sorts, then reopened its doors on 4 and refused to budge. In fact, the doors wouldn't close again at all. Just when you think you've got it all figured out oh, geez. We took the stairs, as I giggled all the way.