When I was born, with a high level of reverence and devotion, I was given my middle name in memory of a man called Herbert Schwartz.
Herbert Schwartz was praised, revered, and idolized by the community that he’d built around himself over the years. My parents were a part of his community for almost 15 years.
The members of the community believed that Schwartz was a man of faith and a man of principle.
He was strict, but taught a discipline that he proclaimed would lead people to God.
He built a community in New York state that attracted hundreds of people over the years. People lived in simplicity, away from the distractions of modern life. They wore simple clothes, they consumed simple food – prepared en masse for the whole community, they celebrated their devotion to God together, they loved and lived together. Some ventured daily outside of the community to earn money, and all earnings were contributed for Schwartz to use as he saw fit.
I imagine that most of the people who ended up there were suffering on some level – that they were seekers of deeper truths within an existence they couldn’t themselves find peace within.
Schwartz died when I was alive though not yet born. His lease on life gave out less than two months after I was conceived.
Named Robert Herbert Schwenkler, I became a living memorial to the the man they revered, the man who professed to lead an entire community to salvation and freedom.
35 years after my birth:
I’m in a hotel room with my mother talking with her, listening to her, and being with her through what I’d call a PTSD reaction. She’d been up literally all night researching Byron Katie, who’s 9 day School for The Work she and I were attending together.
There was plenty of damning evidence she found when googling “Byron Katie cult,” and she seemed nearly in a panic.
An exercise we’d been invited to do the day before had upset her deeply… we’d been invited to remain in complete silence while relating to people out in the wide world. That afternoon my mother ended up hurting the feelings of a woman who was offering kindness to her.
By following the letter of the exercise she’d violated her internal GPS of love and truth, and in a moment her experience of the commune rushed back in.
The essence of what Schwartz and Katie both taught was not all that different: “Don’t believe your own thoughts.”
The underlying message, for better or worse: “Disregard your own guiding principles. Obey my directions regardless of your own thoughts, feelings, and values. And this will lead you to freedom.”
I’d known about the commune since as long as I can remember. It was never a secret in my family. But the truth? That was a secret that had never been spoken, at least not to me.
As the words fell out of my mother’s mouth the tears began to come, and with them so did the full truth.
After my mother was done sharing I called my most trusted friend to process what I’d just come to realize.
The emotion rushed through immediately. I broke into tears and I felt the pain of a truth I now realize I’d known my whole life – through the felt experience of my body but never in my conscious mind. I knew in that instant the middle name I’d been given at birth was no longer mine.
Schwartz was a master builder. He worked wonders, but as it turned out, they were not the kind of wonders you or I would wish on any other human being.
If anyone ever thought that perhaps they were not the only person who’d experienced a certain darkness with him in private they certainly didn’t speak about it publicly for fear of revealing what they’d been manipulated to believe were their utterly unique deep, dark sins – forgivable only through a man who had given himself the devastating occupation of standing in for God.
In the lexicon of Herbert Schwartz, if you could be forgiven by him for replicating – with him – the darkest and most shameful things you’d ever thought and done, then so would God. Schwartz taught that this would bring forgiveness and salvation, for which the members had ransomed their very existence to attain at any cost.
Over the years Schwartz implemented and executed a masterful strategy that simultaneously kept the community together – yet utterly separate and divided from one another.
Not until more than a half-decade after his death did people come to realize the full impact he’d had upon this community of seekers.
When the first woman came out with her story the community was thrown into immediate turmoil, and the quiet destruction that Schwartz had wreaked for so long in secrecy began to tear the community apart. The man they’d praised as a savior and father was in reality a sex addict, a rapist, physical-mental-spiritual abuser, thief, and a destroyer of souls.
What had formerly been called “commune” began to be known as “cult”.
As if through some cosmic and perverted sense of divine irony the name of the place was Mount Hope.
6 months later:
On a hilltop in the countryside of northern California, I began to open the third scroll that my men’s group had prepared for me – the final step of a ritual that I’d asked them to create for me, but that I knew no details about until the actual moment of its unfolding.
I’d already taken the first two scrolls from the container they were in and opened them. Each one was bound by braided colored string. The names they contained and the inscribed meanings that I knew my most trusted men had thought deeply about were beautiful, though none of them felt like the name that was supposed to be mine.
Nervously, I opened the third scroll, tied in beautiful woven blue and light blue strands of thread.
I unrolled it to reveal a gorgeous drawing of an angel, the name “Raphael”, and a short description of its Hebrew origin.
Holding all three names in my mind and heart I softened into my inner guidance and deeper truth, and allowed myself to be chosen by the name that would fill in the newly blank space between my first and last names.
“From the Hebrew name רָפָאֵל (Rafa’el) which meant “God has healed.”
“Archangel Raphael, whose name means ‘God heals’, is the archangel designated for physical and emotional healing.”
In this moment as I pause from my typing and check into my inner experience I’m deeply touched by the sequence of events that’s brought me to this place in my life. From the compost of deep pain and trauma have emerged strong, beautiful, and powerful seeds of healing. This has been true for me certainly – and throughout it all for my family, friends, clients, and community as well.
The simultaneously painful yet beautiful irony is that the transmutation of Herbert Schwartz’s legacy lives and breathes through me in the form of a life devoted to creating exponentially more healing in the world than that tormented man was ever able to effect in harm.
The thought is bringing tears to my eyes and I’m letting them out. (I’m sitting in a coffee shop and only 10 or 20 percent concerned that others will notice – a huge shift from how I’ve lived the entire previous portion of my adult life.)
That I’m called to touch so many souls on such deep levels is a profound blessing to me.
Its a blessing that I hold as incredibly sacred.
It’s a blessing that I am devoted to spending the rest of my life deepening into integrity around.
I pray that I may do this calling justice.
But just praying is not enough. Schwartz had plenty of prayers to say, and not a single one of them ended up bringing healing to his tortured heart.
More than just pray, I do the work.
I commit my life to the deepest inner inquiry and somatic integration that I possibly can. I am devoted to turning toward and healing the darkest, most terrifying, most painful components of my experience. To transmute the parts of me that suffer – the parts that would inflict violence upon myself or others whether intentional or not.
Because only people who are hurting go on to hurt others. And those who’ve healed go on to heal.
At a deep soul level my life is given over to the journey of cleansing out every ounce of the trauma, pain, and fear that live inside my body. My life is given over to deep, embodied integrity in leadership – in my own life and in the lives of those I have the privilege of making a difference with.
The stand that I take in this world is complete and utter truth.
I know that not everybody is ready to face their deepest truth.
But some are, and those are the people that I continue to call into my life. They are people who are ready to experience true freedom and peace within their lives, relationships, and hearts.
They are people who are ready to make a truly heart-driven impact in their relationships and the world around them.
I am a living embodiment of the purpose that I was brought into this world for. I am a healer.
At the core of it all my only job is to be a clean enough and safe enough space that for those I spend time with their darkness may come to the surface, be felt, and be transmuted into beauty, purpose, joy, and stillness at last.
So that others too may feel the dissolution of suffering and come to know through their hearts, bodies, and souls that, truly, God Has Healed.