Drums and Words

A collection of poetry, essays, and a unique perspective on philosopher John de Ruiter

Fire by the River

Fire by the River

Information, as much as experience, has shaped me and my life. Information can defeat relationships or build life-long character and love. Many years ago my father gave me information liable to upset thousands of sensible people. For me, managing this information affirms that, like heart-ache or broken bones, nothing can threaten my relationship to goodness. As a result, I am learning to meet difficulty with an equal reaction of inner growth, like flame to gusts of wind. This story describes how I gained understanding of John’s sexual relations outside of his marriage, how I found clarity amidst confusion, and how inflammatory news can either burn wild or shine light on the ancient stream of wisdom.

In the quiet of the evening, my brother and I pushed off the river bank. The nose of the boat took the current in time for us to leap aboard. John called to clear the grate and we jumped to it. He lit the engine but it jammed and suddenly the evening was in crisis. The boat was mute and drifting quickly. We dropped into knee-high water and towed a rope to a fallen tree bleached on the rocks. We were forced to camp there, while downstream our boat lay half submerged. I loved watching the water. It ribboned in shades of amber, and blue, and silver, and then it was a murmuring in the darkness.

I returned to the fire carrying a load of driftwood.  The silhouettes of John and my brother floated in front of the blaze and I felt rested on the edge of the night. We laughed and drank beers till the first light, for long happy minutes, my arm slung over my father’s shoulder. The three of us slept on the floodplain and in the morning my brother and I swam in the river before rescuing the boat.

The river opens my mind every time, humbles my senses, and connects me with a greater presence, but one stormy night reached more deeply than ever. Bivouacked on an islet, the three of us were lounging around the fire. Dry lightning shimmered and the eddies pulled on the boulders. There John told us that he would be proposing meetings of complete sexual intimacy with women outside of his marriage.  A weight falls in the stomach. The night is vast and black, but underneath it all, the waters are calm.

The conversation at the river was the second time I had been confronted with such notions. The first was years earlier. After John’s extramarital relationships with two women sent our family into confusion and divorce, a decade of turmoil was resolving. I had gained clarity within that issue when my system could hold at once the controversy around John and my direct experience of his character; when I came to understand John not according to the world’s nature, but his own. I let go of the Christian beliefs that had both supported and confined me in my teenage years. I left my friends and family, and the shelter of my home in the Netherlands, to see for myself what John was really about.

Soon after moving to Edmonton, John and I were parked in his truck. We had been out for a beer in this beautiful renaissance of our friendship. And in that spaciousness, I was able to express lingering concerns. I thought of an article from the year 2000, in which the reporter asks whether John had been with any woman other than his wife and the Von Sass sisters. John’s reply in the article is to the effect of, ‘isn’t that a personal question?’ Sitting in his truck that evening, I asked John why he didn’t deny the question. He told me he would explain later, and while some anxiety flared, I decided to relax in trust, since I had no actual basis to judge.

Months passed before I questioned again. He paused for a very long time. ‘Dad?’ I repeated.  John waited again and then began to explain how, years before, his calling had brought him to an extreme threshold, a ‘knowing,’  one that would forever change him and those who love him. What he would do is be with a number of women in sexual relations with a purpose of meaning, truth, and the realms he opens in meetings. He said that it was the same level of realization which dissolved all his illusion when he was 17, which led him to hold meetings, and enter into relationship with Benita and Katrina, that required him to be with women in this way. At first, his attempt at explanation only spurred more questions.

What is knowing? How could such vagueness justify actions that seem inherently wrong? The answer would have to wait, as I would, in my troubled heart and mind. We were in John’s black truck on the way to a College meeting. ‘Of course, “knowing” would be his  convenient answer,’ voiced the skeptic in me. I looked at him and felt a fire of doubt whip against him. In the survival reflex of a collapsed paradigm, my thoughts were drastic: would I stay in Edmonton? What would I do with the rest of my life?

But despite these impulses, I coached my mind to higher ground: ‘no matter what you feel or think, do nothing.  Sit in the meeting and make no decisions while disturbed,’ I told myself.  In that breathing space, I was able to see more: my knowledge of John’s character defines my understanding of his relationships. My experience of meetings shows me the essence  of knowing, cutting deep into the heart, defying conditioned ways of being, and allowing me to see other dimensions. John’s actions raise the stakes, but they don’t change the core truth that I do know. I trust my father and I know that his meetings reveal the cosmic in me. I rested in that, and rather than fleeing, I remained in the meeting.  When my actions followed my clarity, my clarity grew. The sky was not falling and I was sure in my individual footing, which, either held or lost, was my responsibility.

When John and I returned home from the meeting, we brewed some tea. He had deep empathy without apology for my concerns. One voice in me already disbelieved whatever John would say. Deeper down, however,  I knew that the level of controversy was a world away from my connection to my father. Why would I believe what this world has taught about sex, and question trust and love that I know is true?  I already know that John’s actions would always reflect the dimensions that he opens in meetings – they would have to – and I already know those levels by direct experience in meetings. No shock or strain to my conditioning can change that fact.

Logically, I found John’s trustworthiness most compelling by looking at the alternative. If I consider it a possibility that John could exploit any kind of power, could I say that John would dismiss his family, his following, his personal values, for sex? No way. It is easy to generalize about male sexual appetite, but I believe that a true man would be taxed and not enticed by sex with multiple women. The scale of responsibility, the physical reality, the meaning of it all, would be immense. The misuse of that was less plausible  to me considering my knowledge of John, than the truth of it is plausible to the common beliefs of this world. Compared to millennia of abuse and the projection that results, I chose my direct experience of John as the higher standard of truth.

Much deeper than cultural norms is the relationship between my own integrity and my father. I can sense it like the first warmth of spring. It is beyond understanding, yet demonstrated by John’s consistency all of my life, as one night in my teen years, my father and brother were laughing and drinking in the snowy woods. I guess my brother retired the same way I did, helped to bed like an invalid, but I was too drunk to remember. I recall my boots being pulled off, thicker socks put on  my feet, a warmer top pulled over my bare body, and as I lay cocooned in my sleeping bag, a kiss on my face.  I have so many memories of a father who was true.

When I moved from The Netherlands to Edmonton, I had been told that John would consume my life, cripple my university studies, and blanket my mind. I was determined to be independent and approach John on my own terms, but to my delight, I found nothing to defend. John’s meetings were pure goodness and life around John was opposite to the warnings. My grades climbed to the A’s, I gained 15 pounds of muscle, I immersed myself in golden friendships, and my heart and mind were overflowing. After finding quality everywhere I looked, I decided to put my weight into this regained trust and move in with my scandalous dad.

When I told John that I wanted to live with him, he strongly advised against it. In the following days I emphasized how much I wanted to put both feet into my relationship with him. He repeated that it was not a good idea, but he wouldn’t refuse me, so I moved in with John and one of his two partners. I was facing the biggest issue of the last ten years, the furnace of my subconscious. I was walking into the dragon’s mouth, and though it was an intense experience, the dragon was lucky and transformative. Soon after I moved in, John was vilified whenever he wasn’t around. I would ask him about everything I heard and he would offer his perspective. I discussed the issues with each person in turn. John would warmly offer his experience when I asked, and encouraged me to explore further. I continued to negotiate these differing views until I became the last bridge left in their relationship.

As I was on a mission to build my connection with John’s partner, I ended up outstaying John in that house. Eventually the antagonism towards me was so fierce that I phoned John in tears. Staying there seemed infeasible, but John encouraged me to stay as long as I could: there was so much value in learning and building, and none in giving up. If I was asked to leave, I would know I did everything I could for the relationship.  “Stay in the dragon’s mouth until it spits you out,” John advised playfully.  John was relaxed while he was slandered. He allowed me to figure it out, and trusted that I would face the upheaval with perspective. After that, I lived with John for another 4 years, and fully allowed experience to wash against projections. I saw how practical life was congruent with my inner knowing of his character. This was the basis of my trust when John told me that Sunday afternoon about his extramarital relations.

I could relate to John’s account of anticipating sexual relations outside of his marriage, as he compared it to a mountain falling upon him. As pure as his own awareness was, the significance of his actions was heavy in the matrix outside of his own conscience. And I was a part of the conversation, either feeding reaction or honouring quiet sense. I felt the intensity of standing so far outside of popular opinion, yet I was receiving my life’s wish – unimaginable truth. I find it within my heart’s clarity amidst a charged psychology and social stance. Such moments of clarity had already been watersheds in my life, like when I moved from the Netherlands despite my terrors of being brainwashed. I reached that point of clarity again as I knew my responsibility lies with my own way of being.

A year later, with my brother and father, the lightning flickering and the river flooding, John told us that, after many years, sexual relations with some community members would continue. The sense of profound threat returned, and pushed me into core honesty – as a nightmare waxes mystical when you let go of fear. How many women will John end up being with? Will this all be finite or continuous? How involved will John’s sexual meetings be? My oak-like brother was comfortable with the news, even though he didn’t have the background knowledge that I had previously heard. His equanimity reminded me that the conflict was in myself, not in John’s actions, which are a cultural and not an inherent issue. As I had learned to do when I was 12, being told about John’s relationships with Benita and Katrina, I left the drama, and followed the voice of reason.

Over time, questions were to be answered and deepen my integration of the extreme. John thought it would be valuable to inform me, with the understanding of those involved, of their names. The reason for my inclusion in that information, as I understand it, is to create a third party for accountability and support. My interest was to continue in the awakening and growth that the topic provoked.

Each name of a person intimate with John impacted me. What John was doing was real and the repercussions weren’t mitigated by ideology or philosophical ideas. On the one hand, I could hear directly how people were processing their involvement with John, in their difficulties, awakenings, and insights. These conversations opened inner eyes for me, and I saw the surface of reality peel away, levels of meaning cracking open; beings cohabiting our urban spaces. I saw an ache, cocooned in a man’s heart, break open like a butterfly of realization. I saw the skin of the world removed, showing structures of meaning that move subsurface, where controversy and confusion become two-dimensional. Other times, the wisdom of another would spark my own, and one by one, great lights engaged in corridors of the deep. I saw how people’s hearts can hold much more than we think, more than the facilities of the world.

I was also able to hear the tone of John’s voice and see his face as he spoke about what he was doing. I saw his transparency as he revealed sensitive information about himself to his own son.  I could see human goodness in his face. As I took in the information, my open heart allowed me to grow. I housed with increasing ease the details of a bizarre reality. I lifted the typical assumptions projected onto sexuality, and became clean so that I could discern what was clean.

I remember John, Leigh Ann and I were in Brussels, speaking about the meaning of sexuality and the community. I lowered my head with the ache of letting it in.  Somewhere inside, I still wished that John’s extreme practices would end.  Somewhere I valued the comfort of the familiar.

Over time, such moments  of shock grew brief.  I pictured myself as a school of fish learning to coalesce after being dispersed. And then I thought, ‘if I inevitably return to wholeness anyway, why lapse in the first place?’ Why react, why give five seconds to comfort or preference? Sitting in a cafe in Brussels, I scanned the city. History builds structures rigid and beautiful, I reflected, and they hold so firmly. The music in the cafe was a cry from Carlos Santana’s guitar. I imagined the frequencies in the tone, the physics of beauty, the spirit of a forest, a tumbling river, a bumblebee, or my own pure knowing. Instead of being scattered by human patterns, I can rest in what I know in my heart, which is as pure as that musical note. At the core, I am more than I can imagine. With that confidence, I was whole within. Like John’s meetings, his actions, or my own relationship to the eternal, I was radical and natural at the same time.

From adapting to controversy, I have learned to relax in change, to flow in complexity like a school of fish. I recognize the seriousness of John’s relationship to those who trust him, and I align myself with what has proven true, that in John’s meetings I find the deepest consciousness I have ever known.  My understanding of John benefits from seeing his care and integrity for everybody in the community around him, and their depth, but the crux of my agreement is distinguishing reaction from quiet sense, which may depart from the common sense of our society. Whatever influences play upon the mind, a still small voice invites deeper consideration. I listened and arrived at a perspective that is vast and clear.


Part II: I Not Peace but a Sword

Yet, while I write, I know that others will have a different perspective. I’m humbled by the integrity and wisdom of those who have been with John. I also respect that most people see John very differently than I do. John’s position in the public is already contentious. Now the increase in significance is drastic and more divisive than ever. The issue distances the wider community from those who love John, and within an individual, emotional reaction separates from knowing, as neither outrage nor doubt can ascertain the meaning of another person’s actions. In writing, I don’t hope for agreement, but understanding. How can such a controversial issue sit comfortably in a person and a community? How can social and psychological division still form a whole?

In my experience, the mind can endlessly weigh a dilemma, but in order to resolve it, I have to become one inside. I have solved many inner conflicts by reducing the variables to one: what opens my heart, what warms me beneath thoughts of comfort or benefit? The world outside brings a vast spectrum, but deep inside, where there is hardly a relationship to consequence, I can exist in black and white.

One of my favourite lines of the Bible is Jesus’ proclamation as he sends out the disciples: ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matt 10:34) and I think life itself works that way. The influence from the inside out is wholeness: truth and love lives in the heart originally, like a baby or the first seconds of wakefulness. The heart opens to the truth and the person evolves according to the heart. On the other hand, external life tends to provoke separation, tempting with pleasure or threatening with pain. Harsh words spur resentment while praise teases out conceit. What keeps us snug with our hearts is core-splitting honesty, and that is the essence of John’s teaching.

Igniting the mind so powerfully, the topic of sexuality highlights its weaknesses. In John, we face taboo, negative stereotypes, and a figure of authority, making the story especially provocative. Even so, our reactions speak of ourselves rather than John. The more intensely we feel or think about it, the harder and more essential it is to rest in the heart. We think we’ve finally seen the truth about somebody else, but we’ve just gained a keen sense of ourselves. Being the one responsible for everything he’s doing, John’s character is definitely on display, but in how he stands, clear and transparent, in his manner to everybody, whether they express love, pain, or criticism. Owning our projections and speculations, we might see that John moves with integrity. You might even be able to believe, as I observe, that John’s conduct is true and beautiful.

The topic certainly awakens something true and beautiful in me. John’s teaching is to honestly see and surrender to what we know in our hearts, nothing less or more. In the meetings, I do that with ease. The words and ambience create expansion and clarity, and within that space, honesty does its slicing, shaping, and sculpting. John’s radical life-turns have the same effect, but cut with more force. It may cut you down, cut you off, or cut you free. Confronted by John’s ways from a place of trust, I am released from false beliefs, emotional attachments, and fear. I leave behind fear of criticism, fear of being wrong, even fear of existential loss. I just know who I am and what I live for.

I believe that anybody can appreciate the parting of reaction from quiet knowing. What do we really know about sexuality? What do we truly know about relationship? Honestly, I know love and little more, a realization which grows when I am near John. Since my own recent marriage, the truth of that has become deeper. The less I expect, the more I receive. The less I assume, the more I see, and the less I know, the more I love. The blade of life cuts. The fire blazes by the stream, and I choose to see, and grow, and love.

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