In For a Penny, In For a Pound...of Flesh:
Enter the Bakemono
Enter the Bakemono
by Anthony Servante
A Typical Bakemono
In July, as I have written in my current Trauma & Therapy Update, I attended my Painting Therapy session at the Buddhist Temple in Santa Monica, California early Sunday afternoon. I expected to continue my new therapy, that is, to draw stream of consciousness images from my dreams in an effort to free up the memories that brought on my "associative amnesia", a condition that has plagued me since August 2018. At these painting sessions, I not only drew images randomly, I also practiced two-point perspective drawings, which I found quite useful for capturing buildings and houses. These structures were not related to my condition; I only wished to expand on my learning in this new artistic field for me. The free-form style that the therapist encouraged for our dream images did not require perspective or realism. We were told to draw without thinking about form, to simply allow the lines and shades capture the dream images without "remembering". Draw quickly and let come what may. And I followed these instructions. But I wanted to understand how to draw beyond the therapy and thought this was the place for me to try to explore such lessons. Volunteers from the local college Art Department were invited to assist those of us who had questions beyond the "dream images". I asked about perspective. And two volunteers helped me.
The following Sunday, these two volunteers were uninvited from the session. We were reminded that we were there for therapy, not classes. When the therapist brought this up, he addressed the entire group, but after the session, he talked to me alone about not losing my focus on why I was there. It was then that I knew that I was causing the therapy session to stray from its goal: The dreams. I didn't realized how much more deeply this rift I was causing was until the following Sunday.
That Sunday afternoon, the Painting Therapy group and its therapist brought in a guest speaker who led an intervention to get me back on track with the goals of the therapy. They covered a lot of territory and information that was taken directly from my blog. I won't go over what was said because you can read it for yourself in the last Update. What I do want to go over was the question I had asked sarcastically, a question I directed at the guest speaker, and indirectly, the entire group and the therapist: What I asked was: Has this therapy group turned into a cult? Without waiting for an answer, I walked out of the intervention.
I calmed down since and plan to return to the session for the August therapy at the temple. But that question of the matter of the "cult" still hung in the air. I mean, I have never been to an Alcohol Anonymous session, but I've read the literature. It sounds like a cult. You have to accept a "higher power" as one of the first steps toward recovery. As a matter of fact, all the steps smack of proselytizing. Is this what I could expect from the painting sessions? Or was I being defensive because of my trauma? Victims sometimes try to protect the habits they develop to keep the bad memories at bay. Some people whistle nervously, some people crack bad jokes, some people get angry for no reason. I get angry a lot.
Well, regarding my question about the "cult", I got an answer by email. As I have chosen to return to the therapy, I thought it prudent to share this email with you readers. I know the therapy group will be reading this as well, so this is my "paranoid" way to letting you know what I'm returning to next Sunday. If anything should happen to me, you know where I'm being held captive by the cult members. But I joke. It's better than anger, I suppose. But no, I'm not going to accept a "higher power". I'm there for the painting therapy; it has been more productive for me than any medical treatment I've received over the last year. So if I have to put up with these beliefs from the group, so be it.
Well, I've said my piece.
Here's the email that answers my question about the Temple being a cult. It was a terrible thing to leave hanging when I walked out of the last Painting Therapy session. So, please take the response with a grain of salt. The therapy is held at a Buddhist Temple and the therapy is conducted by a Buddhist priest. I won't let my defense mechanisms or belief system cloud my chances for learning to deal with my trauma. I know I will never recover. I can only hope to learn to live with my trauma. So all I ask of you, dear readers, is to please keep your belief systems in check as you read this email. I know you will want to protect me from my perceived threats because that's what friends do. But just keep in mind that this Priest is trying to help me. The fact that he even sent this email to me shows his concern for my leaving the group so abruptly. I left the Shrink in similar fashion. It's something I need to work on. So, thank you ahead of time for not passing judgment on these people who are trying to help me. Even though that's just what I did.
The Email from Priest Bobue Horaguchi
Are we a cult?
This is the question you asked. You left before you could get an answer. What group of people who belief singularly is not a cult? You didn't ask if we were a religion. The word "cult" was foremost in your accusation, though you may believe you were asking a question, for you used the interrogative form. But your irony was not lost on anyone in the group. And your early departure revealed that you believed the answer was "yes". Even though you enter a Temple of Buddhist belief and practice, you accuse our therapy group of sinister motives. Let me clarify that the group is not Buddhist. The parents of our young members are part of my Temple and do practice our ways. The rest have different beliefs.
So, what is it that our group believes? We believe that our trauma has affected us each in a special way. We believe that our trauma is related to each other. We believe that we are the last of our group, and that one year ago this month of August 2019, the group was nearly twice its size. We believe that we cannot overcome our trauma, but we can learn to live with it. We can learn to endure and prosper if we shed a light in that darkness that traumatized us.
What is in that darkness? Well, now we must turn to Buddhist teachings. Just as every religion has a good and an evil, a heaven and a hell, our "cult" relies on the Buddhist learning to find the light to shine on the darkness. The therapy is just a tool to relax the troubled mind. Yes, I do read your "Views from a Troubled Mind". Very insightful. They are echoes of the very thoughts of every member of our group. What troubles you is the darkness because you can feel what is inside, but you cannot see it. Some in our group have seen it. They are no longer with us. Those who have not seen it are the current members of the group, the smaller version. I'd like to keep it from shrinking further.
What is in the darkness is called "bakemono" by the Japanese, "demons" by the Catholics, "devas" by Buddhists. But I am quite sure that there are better words for these creatures. They are also called paranoia, anxiety, loneliness, amnesia, regret, shame, and fear. This covers the demons of our group. And what's the commonality? Trauma. Where is this darkness? In our minds. What is the light? Dreams. And how do dreams depict our devas and bakemono? For us, it's a combination of real and unreal. A mixture of memory and fantasy, or false memory and the fantastic. We've seen it in the drawings. The birds with human features.
How do we conquer our demons? Well, listen to the children for starters. The Plumage Pvnk pajamas. The children plan to wear their "armor" next time they enter their dreams when they will face the bakemono. The trouble is, there are more than one. Again, paranoia, anxiety, loneliness, amnesia, regret, shame, and fear are the devas. To conquer these creatures is to conquer the source of the trauma. That is, take control of it. Fear, for instance, will remain, but we will each have our own armor to deal with our own demons.
Allow me to explain, in the metaphoric language of my first language. I will translate to English. Please forgive that which gets lost in translation.
Dreams mutilate memories by feeding the demons hiding in our minds. When trauma shocks the body, a door to the mind opens. The bakemono enter. These are normal things that we see everyday in our waking life. The demons eat parts of the memory till only the crumbs of the memory remain, and when we wake, we remember the half eaten memories as if they were the real waking ones. These mutilated remembrances are thus deemed real. For instance, the memory of a homeless man that is killed in a flashflood becomes a two-headed reptile, one head a man's, the other a gila monster's. The beast is the bakemono. We created it by giving it residence in our troubled mind. The news showed us the tragedy of this man's death. Then our dreams alter the memory into a bakemono. When we wake, the bakemono replaces the news report. The beast killed the homeless man, and we believe it because the mutilated memory is now real. Everyday we wake with such twisted memories. We must learn to separate the real from the unreal memories, which is hard for those of us who deny that these memories are not unreal. That's my struggle as a therapist, to strip away the denial in order to find the first layer of the mutilated memory. You believe we are trying to cover up the existence of these winged demons who are preying on the homeless and other victims, including your petting zoo animals.
These monsters have taken on a life of their own. We see them in the real world, in our waking world. One year ago this month, our group had a joint trauma. You and I, SaraH and Norinko's father, Torinko, entered the Santa Monica Tunnel that bridges the 10 Freeway to the 101 Pacific Coast Highway. This is where Norinko was lost. We found that inside the tunnel, there was an opening to an old office space that the railroad company once used while building the last leg of the train passage to the West Coast. A homeless group found the opening and used the old office as a living space. It was in the news when the Santa Monica Police evicted them from the site. But before they could seal off the opening, you believed that Norinko may have found her own way into the opening. Once you found that she was not among the group that was evicted, we agreed to enter the opening the night before the opening was sealed off the next day. We entered the opening around midnight, pressing ourselves against the wall of the inside tunnel as freeway traffic whizzed by. You cared not about the danger. You knew in your heart that we would find Norinko in there.
And we did. At great cost. But, also, at great success. For we found many lost people behind another false wall inside the office. We literally walked in darkness for miles, following the cries echoing the the dark caverns. We followed the cries, touching the scaly cold walls. When we saw the light in the distance, it was not a friendly light, but still we pushed toward it. Once there, we entered the glowing redness. I can only imagine that there were hundreds of homeless people living there. The redness came from the many fires burning throughout the great cavern. It was easy to see how the police did not find it. Easy to understand how so many people searching for a missing girl could get lost in it. We found Norinko and the other children, the three policemen, and others who could not find a exit, who wished to leave this place. There were those violent men in the cavern who prevented the lost group from leaving or from searching for a way out. But when we found a way in, we also found the way out for those who wanted to leave. We held hands and returned to the cavern opening leading back to the office. But some of the firestarters, the trouble-makers, were angry with our being there and attacked us. I could only imagine this is how many of the people here got trapped here. Thank God for Torinko, who fought off the firestarters while we escaped. You were attacked as well. Still you managed to escape. Together the rest of us found our way to the office, out of the tunnel, and back to my van. But Torinko never made it out. Later the police returned to look for him, but the cavern was collapsed.
Honestly, I don't believe that we were believed about the cavern. But the missing people were found. And since we each told a different version of what happened, the truth was lost. Subconsciously, you wrote about this in your essay on "Chinese Whispers". Little did you realize, you were remembering the truth.
Afterwards, each of the group of survivors dealt with their ordeal in their own way. We never learned what each of them suffered, for we suffered in silence for months. We pray for those who couldn't bear their memories and took their own lives. We reach out to those who yet live, but who live a life between dream and reality. You were hospitalized. And after you were released, you cut all contact with us. But then you started your Trauma & Therapy series. You were trying to reach out without knowing it. Each of our group sent in their narratives about their ordeals, but you also received my accounts by people who are not part of our group. You couldn't separate us from them. That is, until we invited you to the Painting Therapy.
SaraH was already part of the group. She helped convince you to join us here at the Temple. This is why we seem so familiar to you. You know us and we know you. While you saw your psychiatrist and took your drugs, we waited. But with the direction your blog was taking, we knew we had to reach you soon. Your denial was growing stronger. You were abandoning medical help and medicine. That's when we decided on having the intervention as the first step toward awakening your memory. We needed to put you back on track to remembering the real homeless people in that cavern. For you, those poor people became bakemono. But those creatures are the mutilated memories that have begun to tilt the scale of your perception. We must tilt the scale back to a real waking perspective where birds are birds, dead squirrels are acts of nature, and conspiracies are a cult of your own making.
There is yet more work we must deal with. Your memory is fading with age. Your short-term memory is also beginning to deteriorate. We'd hope to tell you this in person. Let this email be the second step of your recovery. The intervention being the first. The third is the Plumage Pvnks. There is much we can learn from these children, for they have insights to the ordeal that only they can share. They waited a long time for you to re-join us. It's the next step in your therapy. You need it, and we need you. You and your blog are our voice.
I understand why you left so abruptly. You saw a glimpse of what is in your darkness. The bird-creatures of your dreams are real--real to your traumatized mind. Are you ready to face them with your eyes wide awake? Then join us this Sunday on the Labor Day weekend. We'll be serving barbecue, French Fries, and coffee.
The next step is up, and that is Pajama Therapy. You don't have to make any pajamas. What you will learn is how to make armor that you can wear in your dreams. Sound foolish. Good, because if that makes sense, you sure as hell don't need this group. We're the crazy ones. We're the cult. But you even have an iota of a memory of that night last August 2018, we need you here this Sunday. It will mark our one-year anniversary of our trauma. And the beginning of recovery. It's okay to get angry. We're all angry. That's how we know the Bakemono are among us. We haven't learned to control our emotions and defense mechanisms. Come.
Priest Bobue Horaguchi
Summary: I don't remember any of this. But at this point, it doesn't matter. Like my friends on Facebook, I know them and I don't know them. As long as I like them, that's all that matters. These are my friends now, traumatized victims each and every one of us, each of us dealing with our demons in our own way. For me, it's being with people like me that "may" help. Or not. In either case, I will be returning Sunday. Hell, it's time for Pajama Therapy. And barbecue.