Leonard Nimoy and Me
Let’s start this with a practical joke that I collaborated on with Leonard Nimoy as the target.
In May, 1974 I was a young writer living in Manhattan, and I’d just started working on my first novel, a few years later published as Alongside Night. One of my friends was Michael Moslow, another writer who circled around the NYU Science Fiction Society and its two founders, Samuel Edward Konkin III (at that time an NYU post-graduate student in Theoretical Chemistry) and another NYU post-graduate student, Richard Friedman.
One of the advantages of hanging around NYU students and attending an on-campus club, to non-NYU-students like Mike and myself, was easy access to the many celebrities who came to lecture. One of them was 1956 Nobel laureate in Physics, William Shockley, who at the time was much more controversial for his writings outside of his field, on eugenics and comparing the intelligence of racial groups.
There were, not unexpectedly, major campus protests against Shockley speaking on the NYU campus, covered widely by all media. It was big news.
Mike and I did not attend Shockley’s lecture. But speaking in the same NYU auditorium exactly one week after Shockley (and without any protests) was Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock … and I had a sick idea that once I told it to Mike he could not be stopped doing it. Not that I even tried.
Nimoy began his lecture to a packed house, Mike sitting near the back of the hall, me seated somewhere nowhere near Mike, because I wasn’t a complete fool.
About twenty minutes into Nimoy’s talk, Mike jumps up and shouts, “I came to hear Shockley. This isn’t Shockley! Who’s this clown?”
Everyone, including Nimoy, cracked up as Mike marched himself out of the auditorium, still shouting.
At a Star Trek convention not long after that I met Leonard Nimoy and let him in on the joke, which he remembered and still thought was funny.
(This was also the convention where I first met Nichelle Nichols, who three decades later starred in my first feature film, Lady Magdalene’s.)
Look, I’m a Trekkie old enough to have watched Star Trek in its original first-run NBC broadcasts. A TV Guide description of the next episode was enough for me to convince my ninth-grade history teacher to write on the blackboard the episode “Bread and Circuses,” broadcast on the Ides of March, 1968.
In later life I’ve worked professionally with four actors from Star Trek series: Nichelle Nichols, Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series, starred in the title role of the first feature film I wrote, produced, and directed, Lady Magdalene’s.
Tim Russ (Tuvok in Star Trek Voyager), Garrett Wang (Ensign Kim in Star Trek Voyager), and Gary Graham (Ambassador Soval in Star Trek Enterprise) all have featured roles in the second feature film I wrote, produced, and directed, Alongside Night.
When I spoke with Ayn Rand in August 1973 I asked her about Star Trek.
“She told me that she watched Star Trek and Spock was her favorite character.”
–J. Neil Schulman: “I Met Ayn Rand“
Leonard Nimoy at the 2011 Phoenix Comicon in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore
So Star Trek has a permalink in my consciousness.
But Star Trek, and Leonard Nimoy in particular, also had a profound impact on my understanding and describing some of the most mysterious experiences in my life.
Here’s three excerpts from my book The Heartmost Desire, describing aspects of those experiences.
Now, I had thought of myself as somebody who, if he identified with any character out of Star Trek, it was Spock. I was out of control. Suddenly my emotions were out of control. It was “Amok Time” — or something like that — without the mating ritual.
It got to the point where on the night before my birthday I lay down in bed and this feeling of uncertainty — and remember this combined with this death phobia — I was afraid I was going to die from this, that something was happening in me that was killing me. I didn’t know what it was.
I lay down in bed – and bed for me was a futon on the floor in this bedroom – and I felt a hand on my heart inside my chest. I can’t describe it any other way. I felt a physical presence of a hand, as if it was holding my heart. Not squeezing it but holding it so I could feel it. In my head I heard this voice and it said to me, “I can take you now.”
Suddenly my worst fear, death was coming, you know, God is going to take me. I’m in the middle of a Twilight Zone episode. Hand on my heart. I’m scared to death – literally. And a voice — The Voice, which I knew was God’s voice — was saying, “I can take you now.” And I was scared.
Something unusual happened at that point. The Voice, which had just said “I can take you now,” started laughing at me.
And I said, “Why are you laughing at me?”
And The Voice — God, I might as well just say God, because that’s how I identified it — God said to me then “Because I can’t believe that you’re scared.”
I said, “Why would you be surprised that I’m scared? I’ve always been scared of death. You’re surprised that I’m scared?”
It was totally inexplicable to me that while this is going on, God’s first reaction is to be astonished, and laugh, that I am scared of death. Who am I that God would be surprised that I’m scared of death? I’m not a war hero, who’s been an Audie Murphy who’s charged machine-gun nests, or anything like that. Why on Earth would God be surprised by that? This was one of the things going on while I am, in essence, scared out of my mind.
After He stopped laughing at me, God said “You have to make a choice. I can take you now. You will die now or I can let you live but here’s the thing. No more promises. No more deals. You have in your mind somewhere that you can make a deal with me and I’m going to make everything come out all right and you’re going to be safe from everything and you’re not going to die and the people around you, who you keep on praying for constantly, are not going to die. And if you stay – if I don’t take you now – all bets are off. You stay, unconditionally, with no promises, and whatever happens, you have to let happen.”
And I was more scared of death than of fate. And so I said “I’ll stay.”
And I felt The Hand leave my heart. I had accepted the contract.
I thought, at that point, I wonder if this is simply some sort of psychological event, some fantasy my body is having to tell me that I’m having a heart attack?
BRAD LINAWEAVER: While this was going on, weren’t you thinking about Heinlein’s situation as well as your own?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, I was thinking in terms of everybody. Not just Heinlein, but I was praying for my parents, and my wife, and all my friends, you know, “Don’t let any of them die, don’t let me die, don’t let anybody die.”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I just remember conversations I had with you at the time. Heinlein seemed to be very prominent in your mind.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Very prominent, but at that particular moment I don’t know, okay? But again, it was this clinging to God, praying so tight that nobody dies, that no harm comes to everybody. You know this panicked clinging, which was what He was breaking. In essence He was telling me, “Don’t pray so much! because I’d been praying every day, constantly. Not just the Lord’s Prayer, but also the prayers for everybody to be okay – and not in the Christian sense of praying for their soul – but praying for them physically not to die, not to get hit by a truck.
So, God ended that at that moment.
Nonetheless, again, being the rationalist, I’m thinking maybe this is my science-fiction writer’s brain telling me that I’m having a heart attack. So at this point I woke up my roommate and I said, “Call the paramedics, I think I’m having a heart attack.”
The paramedics arrived and they put those sensors on me to do the electrocardiogram, which they do instantly, and they looked at me like I was crazy. They said, “Your heart is perfectly fine. What are you talking about? There’s nothing going on.” One of them asked me an interesting question. He said, “Are you going through a divorce right now?”
“No,” I said, “everything’s fine. My wife is coming out tomorrow to celebrate my birthday. Everything’s great. But I thought I was having a heart attack.”
“No, you’re not having a heart attack. Forget it, you’re fine!”
They didn’t even want to take me down to the hospital for observation. My heart must have been rock steady at that point.
They left. My roommate went back to sleep. And my panic was over.
Whatever had happened – now that I knew that I was not dying — what had been going on for a week, with this recurring hyperventilation, this emotional lability, it stopped at that instant.
It was over. The event was over.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now, important question. So what would have been your first contact with God — when it was over you thought it might very well be God but you weren’t one-hundred-percent certain that it was God?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I was pretty certain that it was God.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Ninety percent or one-hundred percent?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Ninety-eight percent.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But there was still two percent of doubt?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: So you thought very likely it was God but you weren’t totally convinced, just almost.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. There was always that two percent of doubt because I might be crazy. I knew that the human body was capable of doing odd things, and the human brain was capable of doing odd things. I thought that maybe I was suffering from some toxic poisoning from coffee or something like that. Maybe this was some sort of hallucinated experience.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Now another question. What would be your first encounter with God? Because a lot of people who have known you over the years, when they see your license plate “I met God,” or when they see the title of this book, are going to be thinking about your econd encounter — which we we’re not getting to for a while yet — which you call the Mind Meld with God, which is the most intense meeting with God. But, in fact, this is the first meeting with God?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: This is the first direct encounter, or actually the first one which I identify as a direct encounter, because I have had experiences —
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But this is not the Mind Meld. That was a later experience?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is correct. This is a frightening and entirely confronting and unpleasant experience.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And, it’s the most unusual thing about what would be your first encounter of God. The first time you move from agnosticism to pretty damn close to the theistic position, that you now believe there is a God. You’re awful close to it now, that the first thing, in effect, you get out of your first encounter with God is?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: God telling me to stop praying.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right! You don’t normally hear that from somebody who prays, prays, prays — God finally communicates and says, “Stop all that praying!”
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. Bizarre. And also, just as bizarre, God laughing at me because he can’t believe that I’m afraid.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right, so there’s two things. The sense of humor, which a large part of your argument about God, you’ve argued. A large part of your novel, Escape from Heaven, and many times on Jack’s show when you’re explaining your real beliefs, your view that God has a sense of humor, is a very, very important part of everything you’ve been building out of these experiences. This was the first time you had the idea that God had a sense of humor, his laughing at your fear?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes. You know a really rough sense of humor.
But two events happen. One of them is Heinlein dies. I let go and a few weeks after that he’s dead. Okay? I’m told that I can’t keep him alive any more and a few weeks later he’s dead. And it’s almost like what was going on with me was not, in fact, a caffeine reaction, or a coffee reaction or something like that. But in essence this link, which I have set up psychically with Heinlein, is killing me, and unless I let go I’m going to die.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Die along with Heinlein or in place of Heinlein?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Along with, I’ll go with him.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Were there were links to others, too? It sounds like there were a couple of links.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Yes, but the others weren’t dying. I’ve linked up with a number of people and one of them is dying and it’s going to drag me along with it. On the metaphysical level if we want to look at it in these terms, that’s what was happening.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: This psychic link with a dying person, dangerous move.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. And then he dies, May 8th, was that the date?
Now. Something else happens, very significant. I have a dream.
In my dream I am in a courtroom and to my side is my counsel and my counsel is a woman and my counsel is God.
Not, in some same sense, the God who had his masculine hand on my heart a few weeks before that. But God as a female and God is my lawyer.
And there is a panel, a panel of judges up on the judge’s bench, and I’m at the defendant’s table. Although it’s more of a hearing, an inquiry, than a trial, I’m not on trial for having done something wrong. But it is a court of inquiry. And the question before the court, I am told by God, my lawyer who is female, is, “Why was I afraid?”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: The same question repeated?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. What was it, why was I afraid? God is obviously surprised that I could be afraid and apparently it’s something that needs to be resolved.
Here is something very interesting, I am told by God, my lawyer who is female, “The judges need your permission to unlock the records. They are sealed. None of us are allowed to look at them without your permission. Will you give us permission to look so that we can find out why you are afraid of death?”
I said “Yes, permission granted.”
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But God is asking for permission to look at sealed records in effect.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Not only God but all these judges in this courtroom.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: But what’s impressive is, God won’t look at these records without permission. Do I have this right?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: That is correct. And I said, “Yes you can look.” And only a few seconds go by — it’s not like court is adjourned, we’ll be back later — a few seconds go by and they have the answer immediately after I give permission.
I am told, “We have just searched the records and what we found out was that in your immediate incarnation before this you were murdered as an infant and died not understanding what was going on, that the imprint of this carried over into your current life as fear, as an irrational fear of death.”
Now, I woke up from this dream and the phobia that had dogged me my entire life up to that moment was gone.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: The phobia was gone?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The phobia — something, which had dogged me my entire life – was gone. Okay?
Now what sort of dream is it that you have, that changes your life, that changes something fundamental about you? This was remarkable to me, I have a dream and then suddenly, this thing which I have never been able to go to bed without distracting myself so I wouldn’t think about death, suddenly this is gone?
BRAD LINAWEAVER: The dream reinforced the first meeting with God. You could actually argue that this dream is either an epilog to or a second encounter with God, but it’s logically tied to that first encounter. It is all of a piece with the hand on the heart and that you’ve got to let go what you are afraid of, all of that is a piece of the same experience, the same event. Therefore, at the end of what might be called this first encounter with God, you’ve had a major psychological change and you as somebody who used to be an atheist, and then have gone through this agnostic period, are wondering why the thing that would get you over the hump of such a dire problem, why you of all people ould be imagining that it’s God? Since you’ve never felt for most of your life a need for God.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right
BRAD LINAWEAVER: And yet God shows up in this situation and suddenly a huge life problem of yours is resolved. It’s like, what is it eight years later when you have the Mind Meld? There’s a good chunk of a decade that separates this event from the next encounter with God. Which means you’re not just having — like these people who claim they have born again experiences and God’s in their heart and they’re in communication with God all the time — you go through a long period of time from this moment to the next time you have an encounter with God.
–J. Neil Schulman, The Heartmost Desire (Section 2, “I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith,” Chapter 3: Contact)
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Napoleon, or Jesus Christ. As you say, the asylums are full of people who claim to be Jesus Christ or Mary or something like that. But the point is they’re going around trying to convince other people of it.
The last thing I wanted to do was tell anybody about this. Because, if I thought I was crazy, certainly they would think I was crazy, too! I didn’t want to tell anybody that I was considering — inside my skull — the idea that I was God. They’d put me away!
I was pretty much back to myself after the first few weeks, when I started feeling physically stronger again, and no longer had this fear that this was an end-of-life experience. Because, by the way, people who I’ve spoken to about this experience since, say that, in some senses, it matches up with the near-death experiences of those who have had their hearts stopped or something like that and found themselves out of themselves. Because, when I would try to explain that I was out of my personality, people would hear it and think of it as an out-of-body experience.
I wasn’t out of my body. God was in my body with me. That was different.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: No, it’s definitely flipped from the normal. It’s definitely different.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. So, again, I didn’t want to go around telling anybody I was God. Not during the experience and not afterwards.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: You weren’t floating around looking at your own body. You had decided that God had invaded your body —
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: No, it wasn’t an invasion because it was welcome. The experience was entirely welcome.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I don’t know what verb to use but God had overlapped with, intruded upon…
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: How about had communed with me?
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Or double exposured, or whatever?
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: How about conversation in the Biblical sense? That it was a joining? Instead of a physical joining it was a spiritual joining? Or to use the metaphor which I came up with later, it was a Mind Meld.
–J. Neil Schulman, The Heartmost Desire (Section 2, “I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith,” Chapter 8: Aftermath)
After the book is already published, after Escape from Heaven is in print, that’s when I start discovering what I put into the book. What God has revealed to me without my even knowing it.
And two things in particular. One is that I got ahold of Leonard Nimoy’s photographic book, Shekhina, and I had never heard the word Shekhina before then. But this is what was interesting to me, and here is the sequence of knowledge and learning here.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: Back to kabbalah…
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Right. Leonard Nimoy was raised Jewish, in Boston, and when he was taken to the Orthodox synagogue, you had the ritual of everybody turns their back so they can’t see the Holy of Holies and I guess the Rabbi holds up his hands and does the Vulcan greeting, as we know, with the two fingers separated into a “V” in the middle.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: “Live long and prosper!”
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The “Live long and prosper” symbol, which is a representation, Nimoy explains in his book Shekhina, of the Hebrew letter “shin,” if I’m not mistaken, which is the representation of Shekhina. Shekhina being the Holy Spirit, the feminine aspect of God.
And I am learning, when I start now researching this — having learned about it — that it’s God’s wife, the female aspect of God. And here’s the important part: the advocate of man to God.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I have to ask you a question.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But let me, before you ask me the question. I can’t let this go by without emphasizing it too strongly.
We go back to 1988 where I had that dream, the dream that changes my life, where my attorney — my advocate — is God and she is a woman. God was a woman in my dream, okay?
I put that in Escape from Heaven and now I find out that Shekhina, the Holy Spirit in Judaism, is a central part of the hidden kabbalistic doctrines, and I’ve met her in my dream in 1988, and put her in a novel? And only now I find out who she is? That the defender of humanity before God, in essence, represented me?
This is — I’m starting to think — this is a central part of Judaism which I never knew about.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: I always thought it was a hidden part of Judaism.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Hidden, but you know it’s not something I was taught in the year of Hebrew School.
BRAD LINAWEAVER: That’s what I mean, I always thought it was kind of like secretive.
J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It is. It’s secretive. It is deliberately secretive.
Here is Leonard Nimoy doing a book about it, telling me about it, starting me researching about it, and what I find out is that who Shekhina is, the Holy Spirit, the defender of man before God, was in my dream, defending me in 1988, after I had the experience where I had God — the male God — having His hand on my heart.
I’m blown away when I learn this.
–J. Neil Schulman, The Heartmost Desire (Section 2, “I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith,” Chapter 9: Collaboration)
These experiences formed the backdrop of my 2002 third novel, Escape from Heaven, so when I first received printed copies of the novel I decided that the man who had told me about the Shekhina should be given a copy.
Living in Culver City it wasn’t far to drive to Leonard Nimoy’s house in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles.
As I drove up the gate was open, and Leonard and Susan Nimoy were outside their house. Susan approached me. “Delivery for Leonard Nimoy,” I said. “No signature needed.”
Leonard Nimoy’s eyes were on me as I handed Susan the package with the book. I don’t have any idea how well he could see me or whether there was any chance he’d recognize me from our few convention encounters. But while Leonard Nimoy was looking at me, I gave him the Vulcan split-finger salute and said, “Live long and prosper.”
Susan Nimoy smiled but Leonard Nimoy didn’t return the Vulcan salute and in true Vulcan fashion, he didn’t smile as I drove away.