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Chapter 9: Max’s health

Life settled into a pattern at Max and Isabel’s modest second-floor apartment in West Hampstead, north London where they lived from the early 1970s. From the front entrance on the first floor, stairs led up to a small galley kitchen and then up more steps to a sitting room within the building’s sloping roof. At the back, overlooking a railway with trains rattling by, was a bedroom which, during the day, doubled as Max’s consulting room for people who came to him for individual therapy.

He and Isabel were running the classes regularly for most of the year, in the house in nearby Chesterford Gardens; and Max  always had new papers to write for the courses. Journalists and television programme makers sometimes took an interest in his work and friends and visitors, most of them involved in the health and healing movement, dropped in.

Occasionally, Max and Isabel held a dinner party to celebrate a birthday, inviting close friends for an evening of good food by candlelight and irreverent laughter.  At weekends they would take a walk. A favourite route was through Golders Hill Park, a mile or so away, where they usually sat with a coffee on the terrace at the Italian cafe.

I introduced them to France and their enjoyment of good food often drew them back there for holidays. We went together to Brittany, Provence and other regions, staying in country hotels or bed-and-breakfast establishments. One year we toured to Carnac, in Brittany, and visited many of the prehistoric sites with their granite megaliths standing in carefully designed patterns, marvelling at the sight of four-kilometre lines of stones by the light of a full moon. With no distraction from other visitors, we fell easily into the timelessness of these ancient sites.

Another favourite place was in the north of Provence, in the Luberon, which I had discovered a few years before.  The hotel in which we stayed was in the heart of the country and consisted of what had been a whole village: a few houses and a church which had been joined together.   A swimming pool had been added, which Max enjoyed using most days.

The woman who owned the hotel was very friendly - she herself believed that she had been cured of cancer a few years before by a healer.  These holidays were great opportunities to exchange ideas and explore possible anomalies in the work.  On one occasion, I wondered out loud whether we were psychically making our subjects produce the State 5 EEG pattern to fulfil our own theories. We eventually decided that it was very unlikely that we were causing lamas and swamis to show us this pattern and therefore State 5 did indeed have a genuine value when our subjects achieved it.

Though their life was busy and contented, it was not carefree. Max’s health began to deteriorate because of a combination of factors. After he broke his neck for the second time, in the hit-and-run accident while working for Smiths Industries, his sight deteriorated badly - to the extent that for a while he became almost blind.  But the accident was probably not the cause.  His research for the Royal Navy had exposed him to high-power radar beams and at the time it was not known that this could lead to eye cataracts.  Max believed that he prevented the cataracts developing during the next 25 years by meditation.  Whatever one may think of this, his eyes were functioning before the accident and after it he could no longer see. Fortunately, by this time an operation had been developed to remove the outer layer of the pupil together with the cataracts.  After the operation was carried out, he had to wear contact lenses to replace the missing lens of the eye rather than simply correct the normal visual defects.

Max had been diagnosed as diabetic at the age of 38, bringing all the complications of diet and other inconveniences the condition can create in everyday life. By his late fifties his health was causing increasing concern. Max said “function is everything” and kept going despite the cumulative effects, sometimes observably drawing on remarkable inner resources. The classes for the most part continued as normal, but he was in increasing pain and his deep understanding of the workings of mind and body was by now being sorely tested.

In the early 1970s, he suffered a stroke at home.  Here he demonstrated extraordinary fortitude.  It happened one Friday.  Isabel wanted to call the doctor immediately but Max, unable to speak, looked so red and angry that she did not dare do so.  Though incapacitated, he would not accept that very much was wrong and was determined at the weekend to take his Monday evening class as usual.

Monday came and he began the first session, but after an hour Max could see that the group was not following him and had to accept he was incoherent.   On the Tuesday morning, the healer Addie Raeburn was due to visit to discuss healing research.  It was very fortunate that she arrived at that point for she was able to offer her remarkable healing ability.  She laid hands on him and afterwards Max said later the experience was “like being in an express lift going down very fast”.  He woke up the next day, 18 hours later, and Isabel cautiously asked how he was.  To her surprise he answered lucidly: “I am very well indeed; thank you very much for asking.” You can imagine her relief.

Max immediately set to work and spent the whole of the Wednesday typing. The stroke was still having its effects: he had to correct almost every letter on one sheet of paper but succeeded in regaining his typing skills.   The next day, his “Thursday evening group” were delighted to see him back.  He gave a public talk three weeks later at the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit at Olympia.  His only worry was that he might forget who he was in the middle of the talk.   Max told me,   it seemed at the time as though a zip fastener between the two halves of his brain had come undone - he knew perfectly well what he wanted to say but could not communicate across the gap to his voice to convey the words.  He said that when the stroke happened, the only way he had been able to tell Isabel not to call the doctor was to demonstrate that he was angry at the idea.

In 1980 we were invited to Italy to give a seminar on biofeedback and healing in Florence, by Bruce MacManaway and his group based there. Max, Isabel and I decided to take a holiday first in Provence and then continue on by car to Florence.   On previous journeys there had been no problems but this time Max was already suffering with his circulation soon after we arrived in the South of France.  The soft car seat, pressing on the back of his legs, intensified the circulation problems in his legs.   The pain in his feet was intense and we could see when he took off his shoes and socks one toe had started to turn black.  On one scenic route, he was in agony just walking a few steps from the car to look at a magnificent view along a gorge.

We did not know what to do but the car journey to Italy looked as though it would not be too difficult, with a good motorway for most of the way, and we decided to give the seminar in Florence if at all possible.  In the event, we had underestimated the distance and the journey was a nightmare; the roads were crowded with heavy lorries along the coast road through Monaco and into north Italy.  Max was in a bad way when we arrived and the local hospital was adamant: one of his big toes would need to amputated immediately.

Max needed to get back to London fast, to be on his home territory and seek proper advice.  He and Isabel left as soon as possible and flew home.  I stayed behind and with the help of an excellent translator held the seminar in Max’s place using our usual techniques of relaxation and guided imagery.

Arriving home, Max concentrated on his circulation. Students in the Thursday class rallied to help. Sidney Crawford remembers: “Our group of 12 to 15 people would sit in a circle holding hands. Max’s foot would be on a chair, and we hoped we were sending powerful waves of healing to the dark toe now visible. Over the months the dark wine colour of the toe began to fade and became a normal pink.”    At one biofeedback weekend, the whole group offered their healing ability to Max as they concentrated on his toe.  The specialist could not believe it as, day by day, the colour came back and finally an operation was not necessary. As Isabel said much later:   “He died with his big toe on.”

In the classes, too, people saw Max grimace in pain at times and realised that he was fighting a long battle. Isabel was now heavily supporting Max in his work, helping him to choose the papers and meditations for the evening and developing as a teacher herself. Sydney Crawford was gripped by the slow deterioration of Max’s body, month by month, while the man maintained a shining brilliance of mind and spirit.

Each Thursday evening, Sydney would arrive at Chesterford Gardens a few minutes before the class and watch Isabel help Max out of the car.  Max would slowly walk to the room with the aid of a stick and then to his chair.  Often his voice would be faint at the beginning but then grow in power.  By the time the group reached the 8.30pm break Max would be in full flood, inspirational and compelling as in earlier days. Body highly energised, he appeared to have risen above his earthly woes; to Sydney, it was a supreme example of how mind could arise above matter.

In early March 1985, Max was taken ill after the first week of his latest series of five-week courses.  He had to go into hospital for a fairly routine prostate operation and I volunteered to lead the courses in his absence, expecting that he would be back in time to take them for the last couple of weeks.  Max was very pleased that I was filling in because, for him, such an undertaking was a commitment he would not break if it could be helped.  I found it not too difficult to give the two beginners’ courses - Psychocybernetics and Hypnopsychdelics - nor was it too demanding to find something for his long-term followers, the Thursday evening group.

After waiting for a couple of weeks in hospital, Max went into the operating theatre one afternoon for the prostate operation.  There was no reason to expect that it would be any more complicated than that.  The operation was performed successfully but he died of shock a few hours afterwards, on March 28, despite the efforts to save him.  This was during the fourth week of the courses.

I do not think I was expecting his death but I had been aware by Isabel’s tensions and reactions for the preceding year or so that she was unconsciously expecting it sooner rather than later. Maybe I am saying this with hindsight because we could not imagine him not being present and continuing to surmount his health obstacles as always, even though we knew it had become increasingly difficult for him to do so.

I want to give you my experience of Max’s death.  In the early part of his final evening he had convinced Isabel that he was all right after the operation and she went home. But she was almost immediately called back to the hospital, where she and I found that Max had died in the emergency ward.  The nurses were very supportive and allowed us stay with him where we chanted Aum and Hum by his side.

I believe the nurses were very moved by his presence and they allowed Isabel and Helen, my wife, to return again to the ward, where they stayed until dawn.  Looking at Max’s face before going home that night I had a strange experience: it seemed to me that, as I watched, his nose and chin reached towards each other in an expression of terrible anguish. I could shake my head and the effect would vanish, but again as I watched the effect would be repeated.  Seeing him in death two days later, the effect was quite different.  As I looked an ecstatic smile appeared.  If my psychic impressions are true, then it seems that a high-tech death in hospital is not very easy even for someone like Max.

The reaction from some of those who had attended the last courses and who had met him only once on the first evening, was poignant. “I thought that I had at last met my true teacher,” said one student.  Max's charisma was with him until the end.

Then came the final Thursday evening, a few days after Max had gone.  Students who wished to do so offered some guided imagery, a meditation or a poem.  Isabel remembers: “When the moment came to have a meditation, we played one of Max’s meditations on tape.  I almost jumped out of my seat, for it was like hearing his voice for the first time. In that moment I had a realisation of the power of Max - and why people came week after week and year after year to our groups.”

For me, he seemed to be sitting between the tables at the centre of the room.  Max was certainly present with us as we made our offerings to him: present, alive and vivid without all the handicaps of his last few years of illness. Barbara Siddall, who was there that evening, recalls: “What we all experienced together was profound, intense and deeply moving.  We all felt his presence; for me, it was a huge loving heart of which we were all part.”

“This may sound macabre,” she says, “but Max looked so relaxed and well at the undertakers.  Some of us called in to spread a few crystals or snowdrops about him.  The undertaker’s two Siamese cats loved to be with him and insisted on using him as a bed.  The woman undertaker said she felt such a presence and wanted to know: “Who is this man, is he a Master?”

The funeral was held a few days later and Max was buried in Fortune Green cemetery, West Hampstead. About 30 people arrived at the church, many of them from the biofeedback classes. Barbara read his Meditation poem from The Awakened Mind. Afterwards, we all walked the short distance to our house for a glass of wine, to talk and mark his passing. More people arrived. The atmosphere was cheerful – “a great send-off”, as Barbara put it. But we did not quite believe that he had gone.