Down the Rabbit Hole - Research Notes from Tawwaba
WALI ALI: Sam tells the story about going to Dr. Baker, when he went to Dr. Baker he said, "If my case isn't the worse case you've ever heard, I'll pay you a hundred dollars, but if it is you do it for free, and after he got through telling it, she said his case was the worst she'd ever heard.
GAVIN: He had this fearful inferiority complex, which she cured; I believe she really did, because after Sam got through with her course of psycho-analysis, he emerged as a very, very different person. He was no longer with a chip on his shoulder all the time. And because he had devoted all his time to seclusion when he felt that the world hated him, he was drawn into his shell. He made good use of the loneliness by becoming a tremendous scholar. He was one of the greatest scholars, everybody admits that.
~ From the interview of Gavin Arthur in the Murshid SAM archives
When we began researching Murshid Sam’s life for this biography, Murshid Saadi kindly offered a few things to track down that had interested him while writing “Sufi Vision and Initiation” which he hadn’t been able to fully uncover. One of these was Dr Blanche Baker, the psychotherapist with whom Sam had worked in the later 1950’s. He felt sure that there was more to be discovered in this Google era.
Gavin Arthur was a good friend of Murshid Sam’s. They lived in the same building on Harriet Street in the early 1950’s. He was a well-known astrologer and author, and an open homophile – a positive term in use at that time for men who love men, whether exclusively or not. He introduced Sam to his friend Dr. Baker, feeling that without help Sam would not be able to overcome the deeply seated feelings of rejection that had become ingrained and eventually self-fulfilling.
Wali Ali wondered whether it was possible to learn about the course of therapy Sam had received. I was skeptical since therapy notes are confidential and generally destroyed at the end of a clinician’s career. There began another research adventure.
With significant help from Colyn Brown we found that Dr. Baker was quite well known and beloved as the preeminent psychotherapist for the gay and lesbian community of San Francisco and California. She wrote a series of monthly advice columns for ONE magazine, one of the first publications addressing the interests of gay men. Through the lens of her advice to these readers on a wide array of challenges unique to their community we were able to perceive her approach.
This was in the time when homosexuality was seen as a mental illness to be treated and cured through psychological intervention. Blanche had a very different perspective. She was both a doctor and a psychotherapist. She did not see same sex attraction as a pathology. The essential message in all of her advice was “These problems are not caused by a flaw in your innate nature. They are caused by a false belief of society which you internalized as true. If you accept your nature as wholesome, and find others of your tribe to reflect this back to you, your difficulties will diminish.”
Reading these columns, one is reminded of an oft-told Murshid Sam story. A young girl arrived on the doorstep of the Mentorgarten on a Christmas eve. She was strung out and shaking, a mess. Wali Ali brought her up to Murshid in the kitchen. As he tells the story, Murshid fixed her with his glance and said in a loud firm voice “You have never done anything wrong in your life!” One can easily hear some variation of this message from Dr Baker taken in by Sam so that he could offer it with great positivity to others who were similarly wounded by externally shaming conditions.
We have no indication that Murshid was a homophile, even if repressed. But he suffered from life conditions in which he was misunderstood, unseen, unrecognized and shamed. Dr. Baker incorporated hypnotism and regression in her work. Through this she brought forth past-life experiences which she saw to create complexes worked out in the current life. For instance, one feature of her theories of homosexuality is that a person had a prior life in the body of the opposite sex of the current incarnation which created such a strong impression that it carried into this lifetime.
Working with Sam, she brought into his awareness a complex that he had formed in past lifetimes in relationship to dominating older women – this time around his mother, Murshida Martin, and eventually Ivy Duce although she was close to him in age.
She also worked with the impressions he formed being born unwanted, in an unattractive body, into a family that did not recognize his intellectual capacity and spiritual nature. In this period of his life he was meeting rejection when he tried to share from his profound spiritual experience and study at the American Academy of Asian Studies by scholars like Allan Watts and Rom Landau. She found venues for him to speak to interested groups on topics which for he had great knowledge and enthusiasm.
She also welcomed Sam to her Sunday salons, where a select circle including Gavin and others shared their oracular gifts and skills in readings of various types came together for self-exploration and growth.
This inner work might be seen as a pivot point that allowed him to flower into the being he became, shining the unobscured light of his love into the hearts of his disciples. Thank you, Dr. Baker!