I have been musing about the phenomenon, whether real or a popular culture myth, of the 100th Monkey scenario. An observer of some macaques on the island of Kojima around 1952 reported that after a few female macaques started innovatively washing their fruit in water before eating or sharing it, very quickly all macaques within a wide region also changed their normal habits and started washing their fruit, too. Now when I read further it seems this could most likely be accounted for as a case of rapid but ground-level social transmission, rather than as a psychical ‘quantum leap’ in macaque consciousness after a critical mass of macaques had changed their behavior. But what interests me is to contrast this sort of collective fortuitous adaptation with how we humans generally do not learn positive lessons en masse.
I can just hear the backlash:
“Wash our fruit? Not for me or my tribe! Fruit washers are fruity! Mind your own fruit!”
Human societies, to be clear, do undergo transformative adaptive change over time, as when societies might transform from Band to Tribe to Chiefdom to State social organization. This sort of collective adaptation stems largely from shifting subsistence modes (from hunter-gathering to more and more complex modes of horticulture, intensive agriculture, and industrialism), as they adjust to increases in population density in relation to pressure on available resources. But if, say, a group of horticulturists in the Amazon used to defending their lands and raiding their enemies were to suddenly one day—without external coercion—decide to put down their weapons (as the 6 Iroquois tribes once did in ‘burying the hatchet under a tree of peace) and make lasting peace with all of their enemies, this truce would not likely lead all other tribes in the region to likewise opt for peace, no matter how successful, or not, this local truce might be (e,g, the Huron Iroquois, who did not join the Iroquois confederacy themselves).
Okay so this is my anthropological conundrum. Wouldn’t it be just wonderful (and of obvious evolutionary advantage) if our species or even one nation or subcultural community or local city neighborhood even would one day agree, for example, to relinquish all military weapons of mass destruction (e.g. AK 49‘s) for the sake of the greater good, and for this local adaptation to suddenly or rapidly become a universal human adaptation, leading to the total eradication of mass murder events perpetrated by unbalanced citizens?
But no. Our “advanced” (complex, state level) societies have become so fractional, so internally divisive, that it would appear such collectively adaptive, massive cultural change is no longer feasible. What I am asking is, Why? What is the logic or value of the sort of constant school of hard knocks and violence to which we modern humans regularly subject ourselves and others?
What I arrive at in pondering this conundrum comes down to recognizing the essential individuality of human experience—so-called free will—along with the factionalism of social structures. In fact, the more “advanced” (i.e. stratified, centralized and specialized) human societies become, the more internally divisive and bellicose against ‘the Other’ we have generally become.
But I want to add a spiritual perspective to these basic anthropological and sociological observations. Whatever the society, family or culture an individual might incarnate within, as human beings we are faced with choices—more or less constrained, of course—that allow us to navigate the human condition and to glean values and insights for our own spiritual growth and development (or, perhaps not). It is unlikely that our life lessons will affect the collective whole, yet we strive to learn and to share what we have learned with others in our family, community, nation, or world. Wonderful it is if we might be so fortunate as to have some modest degree of positive influence within our social sphere by the time we transition out of the human frame to continue our Soul’s journey. But primarily, we are each here to carve out our own path of possible learning and growth.
Images are from pixabay.com
As a foundational optimist I believe that eventually (based on my own acceptance of the twin principles of reincarnation and karma), each Soul—and not only humans but other animals or life-inspired forms—will return Home to our original Source to become truly advanced, conscious coworkers as vehicles of divine love and awareness.
Such as it is—and I certainly do not expect or suggest for others to adopt my acquired point of view—the MyStories we each live and reflect upon can yield positive lessons by which to live and grow. And as we go, perhaps we may share of our greatest life lessons with those we love.
Reflecting on the previous post, Finding Out Who You Are, last week I found myself going back to and enhancing a technique I have often shared with students, based on the idea of ‘the onion skin self. ’ Francis Hsu, a psychological anthropologist, has used a similar approach to examine variation in cross-cultural concepts of personhood.
First: Reflect and list 7 personal traits that answer, for you now, the question, Who Am I? List these seven identifiers as they naturally come to you.
Second: Look over your list of personal identity traits and NUMBER them 1-7, according to which of these traits or characteristics you identify with most deeply (highest = 1), especially right now, from your current life perspective.
Third: Rewrite your list of self-identifiers, placing your #1 rated trait at the top of your new list and writing the traits down from that through #7. (When I did this for myself, I started with 10 traits, but then only enumerated 1-7, lopping off the 8-10 traits.)
Fourth: Review your rank ordered list. Are there thematic (or else, distinctive) KINDS of traits that these traits represent in your life? For example, are one or more of these traits based on Family or Relationship, Career, Spirit/ Religion, Talents, etc.? NAME these KINDS of identifiers to the right of each item on your rank-ordered list (see below for my example), so you will label each of your seven traits according to its KIND or type.
Fifth: REFLECT about the question prompt Who Am I, Now? Why or how are these seven traits ranked for you as they are from your current point of view? You may journal, or contemplate about, or talk with a loved one about, or create art around what this listing reveals to you about your CURRENT, core sense of personal identity.
I was surprised when I did this exercise for myself last week. Some KINDS of identifiers that a decade ago or so I would have listed and ranked as of high priority were either not on my list at all or were in the #8-#10 items sloughed from the current set of seven. While in the past I would have identified myself highly according to my profession or public facing roles, below is my current profile:
I find that in my early-retirement stage (still teaching part-time but having relocated to be nearer to my family five years ago), my values have shifted, so relationships are of even greater importance to me now in terms of my sense of core self. To me this represents a welcome, still emerging ‘better ending’!
What does your current ‘onion skin’ self-portrait say about you?
images are from pixabay.com
I can envision my #1 trait as at the CORE of an image of concentric circles, with the other six traits radiating outward as bands from nearer to further from the core.
To add another layer to this technique, try imaging yourself at an earlier stage or marker point in your life, and do the exercise again from that earlier perspective. Then you can compare who you were then to who you are, Now.
I woke from a dream a few weeks ago where I was attending an advanced acting class being coached by my high school English teacher and theater director. He had invited me to join the class, which had already been meeting for some time.
I arrived to the class as it was ready to begin. The drama coach said to find a partner to sit near, then he selected a young man as my partner, who was hiding under some clothes to avoid being picked. I said to the young man, “Acting is not scary.” Then both he and I in unison added:
“Acting is about finding out who you are.”
I woke then, and I thought about that statement off and on all week Really all of life is about finding out who you are, isn’t it? Trying on this and that persona, this and that archetypal part of self in different scenarios, building and aiming to express a core sense of self as best you can, day by day. And all of the episodes that comprise the scenes, chapters and major acts f your life story, your MyStory, unfold distinctive facets, different dramatic Masks, of your Self in different contexts as you interface with various partners, other personae enacting and finding out about themselves in their own MyStories, too.
So, living—experiencing a lifetime (or many, perhaps)—is set upon a stage where you can find out who You are, what You are made of, in a process of transformational unfoldment.
There is, therefore, a strong sense of purpose at least potentially driving any lifetime. Gradually in learning who we are we also come to recognize who or what we really are not, or do not wish to be.
A life well lived is forged in drama, crowned in the comedy of glimpsing the very essence, the divine Soul that we are, and seeing this also in others.
So it can be helpful to reflect on what we are finding out about who we and others are as life unfolds. Journalling, expressing artfully or even contemplating about the lessons in your MyStory can reveal the deeper mystery of your—of all of Our—greater Soul journey.
images are from pixabay.com
Who Are You? What have you been finding out about your Self in differing scenarios, different chapters of your MyStory?
This past full month (and ongoing), I have been revisiting a lower rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: dental issues! It is difficult to blog about events while in the midst of them, but since I haven’t been blogging since the troubles began, I can at least briefly review how dentistry has been a significant theme in my own MyStory.
When I was four, I fell from a booster seat at the family’s dining room table and knocked out my four front teeth. They did not grow back in until I was nine, and in those days bridges were not yet used, so when those adult teeth did come in, they were gnarled. In my early teens my parents took me for braces; they extracted five teeth because of how jumbled the teeth were and how small my mouth is. The braces experience was a tough one for me. I threw tantrums trying to refuse to go; the pain from tightening the braces was hard to bear. When the braces were finally removed, I honestly tossed the retainer after a few months because I just wanted to be done with it all. So, now as an adult my teeth still have some positioning issues, and I have had a lot of dental work throughout my life. I had some very good dentists in Colorado the year or two before retiring in 2018, and they took care of refilling most earlier fillings, plus I needed a crown and an implant.
But recently my dental issues have been flaring again. After a dentist used props to hold my jaws open to replace two metal upper teeth fillings, I ended up with pain radiating throughout my mouth for the next three weeks; plus I realized the lower premolar implant tooth was loose, further contributing to the nerve pain. My new dentists here put off a revisit and I no longer felt trusting of their care. Then my dear sister who has had similar issues referred me to her dentist; from here on I will call him the Good Dentist. I have long been concerned about the dental problems that could come with aging, and I feel grateful that my sister and Divine providence have led me to the Good Dentist’s care.
But this has not been fun yet. Two days ago he removed the too shallow implant which had worn down all the surrounding bone and the gum was infected. Then he packed new bone matter into the opening and sutured gum around that. Youch, yes. And around 3 months from now he wants to replace the implant with a better, deeper one.
Meanwhile through all of this I have needed to be on pain meds, which have their own risks that I have been testing for. I hope to be done with all but Tylenol by tomorrow, plus must finish the second round of antibiotics.
Yuck, right? Now you know where I have been this past month.
So, to try to extract (bad pun) some MyStory meaningful lessons or messages from this lifelong theme, let me see: Dentistry has revealed various aspects of human character through the years, both of myself and of dentists and their assistants. I have learned the best of these professionals are not only well trained; they are caring and gentle in their treatments.They are good listeners and good communicators. Others tend to be more focused on the matters at hand—the teeth condition—rather than the whole person or the therapeutic relationship. I think this pertains to issues of control for me: I do not want to submit to a less than caring doctor.
Now the Good Dentist, whom I feel guided to along with his good assistants, has already earned my trust and cooperation. Though yes, I am coping with a painful recovery process from the extraction surgery this week, I feel his care and am grateful for his truly visionary considerations of how best to proceed. After one of the early visits while I was still in lots of pain, he put his hand on my head and said:
“I am sending you good energy; we will make you all better.”
images are from pixabay.com
So I am left with gratitude and acceptance, glad to have found a path forward with my dental issues that is likely to be as positive as possible.
How about you? How have health matters Mattered in your own MyStory adventure?
Allow me to introduce a journaling prompt I have been working with lately for reflecting on My Story tales: those events or experiences which have become meaningful episodes within a person’s overall Life Story. What if you were either facing your impending death transition or if you had recently ‘crossed over’ and find yourself reflecting on the life you have just completed. Then what if some spiritual Being or your own higher consciousness Self were to ask about the life you have just completed:
“What Life Lessons did you learn well, and how?”
I am playing with ideas for this prompt based on the book The Journey of Souls, by Dr. Michael Newton, and the also afterlife-based comedic film, “Defending Your Life.”
In The Journey of Souls, the psychiatrist Dr. Newton reports on tape recorded interviews he conducted with over one hundred clients under hypnosis, responding to his questions about what has happened between lives for these individuals. While these clients did not know each other and had no knowledge of the questions they would be asked under hypnosis, the degree of intersubjective agreement or similar sorts of afterlife accounts was nothing short of amazing. Most described meeting with a relative or spiritual agency and later meeting with a “soul group” of Souls who checked in with one another between lives to talk about the lives they had completed, the lessons they had learned, and where they might have fallen short of their goals or ideals from that time around. A spiritual guide would then also help the soul to reflect on these factors, often in order to prepare for the next incarnation.
In the lighthearted film “Defending Your Life” (with Mel Brooks, Meryl Streep, and Rip Thorne), the scenario is Judgement City: a first stop in the near afterlife where Souls go to trial—with an assigned defense lawyer—to determine whether they must return for another physical embodiment or whether, instead, they have demonstrated the spiritual capacity or readiness to “move on” to higher spiritual dimensions. The Mel Brooks character, Daniel, meets and falls in love there with a woman, Julia, played by Meryl Streep, who herself has recently completed a very heroic lifetime; she is a no brainer for moving on. Not so much for Daniel, though; his lawyer (Thorne) has a hard time trying to convince a judge and jury of his readiness to move on because he had shown fear and avoided risk too often in his recent life. The ‘better ending’ story twist in this film is well worth watching; I will not spoil the ending for you here. But the point here, as in The Journey of Souls, is that reflecting on our Life Story–and I would say especially BEFORE passing on–can help reveal the lessons of a lifetime that we may have come to Earth to learn.
images are from pixabay.com
So then, imagine one of these fantastical scenarios: meeting with a spiritual guide or your soul group between lives (after this one), or ‘defending your life’ in Judgement City.
“What Life Lessons did you learn well, and how?”
I am doing my own private journaling in my own MyStory Journal for this one, and I encourage you to do the same. One suggestion is using a dialogue format with your spiritual guide, members of your soul group, or with your own Higher Self. Just let the dialogue flow until you feel you have identified some meaningful life lessons relating to some of your most meaningful MyStory events. These might be episodes worth also expanding upon in your journal.
I use the expression Homo Narrativus (coined by others, as I have recently learned) to frame the primary human cognitive orientation to conceive of our life experiences as either linear-serial, cyclic, or random episodic narrative events (see Your Life Path, 2020; Better Endings, 2022). For as far back as we can trace language, every human or hominid society has had a storytelling culture. We reflect upon and relate to others about our life experiences—even our dreams—in narrative form. We construct our life history in terms of narrative episodes. We each possess, and develop over our lifetimes, a Life Story that in large part defines as well as expresses our individual identity as embedded within our collective cultural Whole.
We are Storytellers. And the stories we tell, both to ourselves and others, are time capsules: seeds that inform and influence the further unfolding of events that either complete or transform our Life Story narrative and hence that affect the development of our own—and significant others’—character arcs over time.
This is why telling and reflecting on our own and others’ stories matters so much: they are the stuff of myth and legend as well as the foundations of our own Life Path.
Any story conveys a message linking past, present, and future as a meaningful whole; a narrative moment that encapsulates lessons either learned or not, repeated or abandoned.
Your story…what I call in this blog your MyStory…is a gold mine to explore and to reveal. Your story feeds not only your own unfoldment but is a seed that can nourish others.
Why do we read and tell bedtime stories to our children or watch television serials or watch some films over and over again? This is how we understand the dramatic and mythic contours of life itself and one another.
So I encourage you to journal about your MyStory, to reflect upon the meaning of your own uniquely informative story seeds!
images are from pixabay.com
As a lighter way of thinking about all this, I am reminded of one of my favorite movies: Stranger than Fiction. The plot itself works precisely because it acknowledges the universal human experience of living our lives as Story. The main character Harold (played brilliantly by Will Ferrell), an IRS auditor somewhat bored with his lackluster life, comes to realize he is actually a rather lackluster fictional character in a novel being written by an author other than himself (played also brilliantly by Emma Thompson). Harold consults an English Literature professor (Dustin Hoffman) to better understand his predicament, and the professor asks him to take notes on his life experiences to determine whether indeed the story he is a character within is a tragedy or a comedy. I will not spoil the rather satisfying ‘better ending’ in this tale, but I highly recommend the film. Suffice to say in the end Harold’s character in the author’s story takes a transformational turn once Harold becomes actively engaged in figuring out who he is in this story, hence making it his own story after all.
Writing has been a life theme for me for as long as I can remember, as I expect it is for fellow bloggers and for many who read or follow blogs. As a blogger for nearly a decade, sometimes I muse about how these posts we create and publish on the web float out and expand into the Blogosphere, like radio waves or the Voyager space probe streaming forth into the endless Cosmos.
Why do we write? Or create music or sing or produce art or communicate in any public domain? One notion I embrace is that we are each vehicles for God expressing Itself and expanding Its love and awareness via the vast diversity and evolution in form and consciousness of Its creations.
And, why does it matter? Growing up, through various stages of my education and while producing academic as well as creative writing, I have often asked myself, “What difference does it make?” This has been sort of a writing mantra for me in fact, a test of the worthiness of whatever I am expressing.
More recently I have found this self-test has all but disappeared, as gradually I have come to understand how what I express out into the universe or Spirit DOES matter, irrevocably, and it may indeed make a difference. The size of that difference does not matter. The thought expressed, or love itself, has a life of its own and contributes to the unfolding of Life in its totality. Maybe just the wavelength of positive intentions matters; who can say? But as a small voice of God energy or consciousness expressing Itself, it can be of value to the very air we breathe and the social connections we share.
These ideas about how what we express matters no matter the form it takes or whether or not it is “finished” have become clearer to me after losing two excellent friends who passed away within a year of one another a couple years ago. One, whose name I will not share in honor of Native American notions about not speaking the names of those who have moved on, was a writer. She was an excellent writer, with an amazing clarity, humor and wit. She spent many years working on a book where she was rewriting the story of Scheherazade. She never let me read what she was writing and she transpired before she ever finished or published this work that was so close to her heart.
A few months ago, I had a dream in which I met with my departed friend. She told me that she was going “on a vacation beneath the Grand Canyon, with Sherzi.” Those were her words precisely. When I awoke I thought about it and realized she must have meant Scheherazade! I would not have conjured up this nickname on my own; this was for me a very clear proof of having communicated with my friend in the afterlife. Also I looked up Hopi beliefs about under the Grand Canyon and learned (for the first time for me) that Hopi believe there is an area under their Place of Emergence or sipapu in The Grand Canyon that is a passageway to the afterlife.
What stood out for me from this conversation with my departed friend was how the book she had been working on for so many years had indeed mattered! It exists in a completed form, I now believe, on planes beyond the Physical. It does not need to have been published ‘out here’ in order to have its influence or to be an expression of divine awareness and love. My writer friend had forged a connection with Sheherazad herself in the process of imagining and writing her revisionist story.
Images are from pixabay.com
So, write on! Perhaps the very thought streams we weave in the process of creation expand like ripples through the fabric of Reality, in ways we can hardly begin to comprehend with our meager physical senses or mind. What you think, imagine, dream, believe and express is creative and makes a difference.
Inner guidance has been a significant theme along my own life path; I would not be alive today nor certainly where I am at currently, except for seeking out, accepting and attending to inner guidance.
I have long practiced exercises in active contemplation and dream study to seek out inner guidance, often with the assistance of using mantras to focus attention for glimpses of higher awareness and clarity. The story that follows is an example, for me, of the benefits of attending to inner guidance.
Finding Quan Yin
I was living in Arizona, around a year before completing my doctoral studies at ASU. I had a friend, Dana, who had a beloved pet cockatoo whom she named Quan Yin. Dana was somewhat a loner in life; she was closer with her bird friend than with most humans.
One morning I received a phone call from Dana. She was distraught because while preparing to clip Quan Yin’s wing feathers, a normal routine, Quan Yin flew out into Dana’s back porch area and from there she had flown out into the neighborhood.
Dana asked if I could come over to help her to locate Quan Yin and bring her home. This unfolded into a three day ordeal. On the first day, Dana and I took neighborhood walks in opposite directions, aiming to cover the area broadly and hopefully to find Quan Yin. The bird was white and we hoped if she saw Dana she would show herself. For my part, I tried to practice a sort of intuitive radar awareness, scanning the neighborhood, looking in the trees, and asking for inner guidance or awareness. I came back from that walk feeling I had sensed Quan Yin could have been in a certain directional sector, but we had no luck that day in retrieving Dana’s avian companion.
On the second day, Dana was more worried, fearful that Quan Yin might come to harm unless we could find her and bring her home soon. Near success that afternoon: we did find Quan Yin, perched high in a tree in the direction I had sensed. She would not come down to Dana on her own, so Dana called the fire department and they sent over a truck. Dana climbed the ladder up into the tree, but just as she reached out and was about to grasp Quan Yin, she flew off again!
On the third day, Dana was despondent, feeling she had lost her best friend forever. No one from the neighborhood had responded to posters we had placed from the day before, and by now Dana felt that without food and water, Quan Yin would be weak and very vulnerable if she were even alive and in the vicinity any more.
That third afternoon, after taking another lookout walk without success, on an impulse I decided to climb a ladder Dana kept on her back porch that led up to her flat, porch-like Arizona rooftop. I looked around 360 degrees from this high vantage point, but still I had no success in spotting Quan Yin.
While on the roof I decided to sit for a spiritual contemplation. Mainly I just wanted to center so that I might help my friend Dana to accept her loss. After singing the universal spiritual mantra of HU (as a love song of divine love), I started singing “Quan Yin” as a mantra. After all, Quan Yin refers in Buddhist tradition to a Chinese goddess of compassion, so it felt like an apt mantra to use!
images are from pixabay.com
I sang ‘Quan Yin’ outwardly on a slow, outward breath about three or four times. Then suddenly, I opened my eyes and, guess what? I was staring directly at a white bird perched in a tree in the adjacent neighbor’s yard! I informed Dana and we quickly took a step ladder over to her neighbor’s tree. This time, Quan Yin was somewhat depleted and she gratefully leaped onto Dana’s extended forefingers.
That is my story of Finding Quan Yin. She and Dana lived happily ever after so far as I know. The End.
For me, this experience was about more than helping a friend find her missing pet. I was happy that Quan Yin and Dana were reunited. But the ‘miracle’ sort of moment I had of singing ‘Quan Yin’ as a mantra then suddenly opening my eyes to see the bird we had been searching for for three days, felt amazing, humbling, and instructive. I felt and still do feel grateful for the gift of inner guidance, of an available inner connection with divine Spirit that could lead to such a beneficial result.
May the Blessings Be!
Have you sought and received awareness from inner guidance in your life in ways that have helped you grow or that has helped you at times you have most needed insight or protection? I invite you to write out or otherwise share your MyStory memoirs about the theme of Inner Guidance if that has been a meaningful theme in your life.
A theme that would likely be included in everyone’s MyStory journal or book these days would be how they have endured these Pandemic Times, since around February or March 2020. Many have suffered deep losses of the heart from losing loved ones to this horrific virus of Covid-19, plus there have been many other repercussions of our having had to live through this pandemic for these past few years, with continuing effects as we move forward. I invite you to write or otherwise share your Pandemic Times story, focussing on the life changes and lessons you have experienced.
For my own pandemic record, I recognize how my life has changed dramatically since before and after Covid-19 spread as a global pandemic. I relocated from what I had previously thought would be my long term, near lakeside retirement house, selling my patio home in a small and comfortable resort community to make a Big Move to my high school hometown. I felt trapped by the pandemic in this small community. People chose not to mask, feeling perhaps overly safe and protected. I even bought 300 masks and distributed them throughout the community, hoping neighbors would choose to help protect one another, but to no avail. (As a daily dogwalker, this mattered to me.)
I took the emerging pandemic very seriously, wanting to stay healthy for the sake of living alone with my cat and my dear diabetic dog Sophie, who relies on me for an unusually special and time-consuming diet. I used Instacart, having all my food and sundries delivered outside my door, and then (at first anyway), wiping down everything that would enter the home.
I had a dream very near the beginning of the pandemic, in which a man entered a semi-darkened theater (with about three or four rows of seating) while those of us seated were watching some video or movie. In front of us he opened a backpack, took out a gun with a long, thin barrel, and proceeded to shoot every one of us, either in the abdomen or in the chest! For me it was the abdomen, and it paralyzed me so that all I could do was watch as he completed his task, then he went into an adjacent kitchen to do his deed there as well. For a long time this dream haunted me…were we all doomed? But more recently I wonder if being “shot” could have also been a harbinger of the vaccines to come…
By now I have had all five available shots (plus flu, shingles, and pneumonia), so that I feel like a pin cushion. But I have not (yet anyway, knocking on my oak wood desktop) succumbed to Covid and I intend not to ever do so.
Masks, teaching entirely from home remotely, increasing texting contact with my family and friends, walking Sophie daily, and writing were my havens. Eventually I realized I would feel more supported and comfortable in my beloved Home Town, where my best friend from high school still lives with her husband and family, and closer to my sister for visiting with her. Besides, external spiritual community activities I had been engaged with before the pandemic were no longer “in person.” Zoom stepped in—and up! This was and has been good, but I still am not as happy with online events as with face to face interaction and contact. I mean, you really do not get to look into a person’s eyes with Zoom, though it is very good at expanding networks beyond the local sphere.
So, I moved “during Covid times.” Still, at the new home I used Instacart and Zoom for a long while to come, masked in public, and have to this day generally avoided large or densely gathered groups. I finished and published the book I had begun in 2018 (Better Endings, 2022). I continued (still) to teach remotely online for Colorado though not for Ithaca, because the Covid economy crunch led to the department I taught for there being dismantled.
Now, since vaccines have effectively reduced the worst dangers of the pandemic disease, we are still beset by new variants flaring. I see news reports that suicide rates, substance abuse rates and related deaths are up still. Many of the students I teach have suffered losses of heart and many deal with depression and fears for their future.
Yet we endure. We share. Despite a growing polarization of viewpoints, we reach out to one another in our families and communities, aiming to offer solace and a welcoming spirit of neighborly kindness and divine love. In this, I would simply say, We Are Not Alone. I am grateful for the guidance along the way and for the deepened friendships with family, friends and neighborly folks in my home and spiritual communities. Perhaps having witnessed the worst of these pandemic times—with enormous loss of life and diminished health factors in all our communities—we (I at least) have come to better appreciate the value of life but also that there is much more than just this life spiritually, so that pursuing one’s spiritual goals and interests is as or more important than simply getting by from day to day. Love matters, awareness matters, reaching out to others in service is its own reward.
I live near the Buffalo, NY community and its neighborly love values extend far and wide in this region where the “Buffalo Mafia” (Buffalo Bills football fans) means Family. In a region where heavy snowstorms along the Lake Effect areas have long called family and neighbors to support one another through difficult ordeals, these values of neighborly love have carried through and even intensified during these Pandemic Times. So I feel fortunate to have returned Home to this environment, and I look forward to gradually returning to “in person” life, without masking or cocooning. And yes,…Go Bills!
images are from pixabay.com
Your story—your uniquely epic MyStory—matters. As I like to say to my pets, family, friends and students, there has never been and will never again ever be the unique Person that YOU ARE. If we are spiritual Beings living physical lives (as I do personally believe) then our meaningful stories, our unique life experiences, can be thought of as the Divine experiencing facets of Itself in all the diversity of life’s expression.
So again, I invite you to write your MyStory for the sake of contributing to the archives of Life Itself. As I am exploring some of my own life theme stories with this current blogspace, I am sorting the stories into thematic files on my computer, adding to the stories as I go, intending to eventually combine the thematic topics as chapters of my own MyStory book. I encourage you to likewise explore and express your own insights and lessons from your invaluable life experiences around your own life themes.
What about you? How have these Pandemic Times affected you and your loved ones, both as challenges and in terms of your positive lessons gained?
I am and have always been a Dreamer. Are you? Since dreams, visions and reflections have inspired some of the pivotal turning points of my life, I would include them within one of my own MyStory Life Theme chapters. I do hope that as you read any of the stories I am sharing in this blog from my own MyStory experiences, that these stories might help you to reflect on YOUR OWN MyStory stories and themes. I have always understood it is best to write about what I know best, which is why I share from my own life experiences, but the point of sharing about them here and in my books (Your Life Path, 2018; Better Endings, 2022) is TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO REFLECT ON and to write and/or creatively express yourself about your own Shaping Events, to inspire your own Better Endings. So, I invite you again to keep a dedicated MyStory Journal, wherein you can record memoirs that are most meaningful to you and could be helpful for you to collect and share as a legacy of insights with others in your life.
So, I add here one of my own MyStory short stories from the theme of Visions, Dreams and Reflections. I have been blessed to occasionally recall a very clear “visionary” sort of dream. These inner experiences usually occur in that zone of consciousness between sleeping and waking, when lucid dreaming commonly occurs. I hesitate to share many of these openly, because they are of such rare and deep significance. But since I definitely include this one in my own MyStory collection, I choose to share it here in case it may carry some insight for others.
Between sleeping and waking, around a decade ago: a beautiful Being appeared in my awareness as a Visitor. It is difficult to describe this Being, whom I think of as a Silent One. Male or female? Olive toned or other? Old or young? Just this beautiful Presence.
S/he/It asks me a simple question, and the following brief dialogue ensues:
Beautiful Being (BB): “So, how are things going out there?”
LW (somehow aware of the slant of the question): “Well, there are many people, with many different religious beliefs, but most people are still afraid of death.”
BB (after a prolonged, pregnant pause): “Next time, we won’t do Religion.”
Then I awoke. I felt humbled and grateful to have received such a Visitation, and I have never forgotten our clear, brief exchange. It has led me to ponder the cosmological and/or spiritual basis of this Being’s words.
Just two days ago, I was reading Michio Kaku’s interesting book, The Future of Humanity. As a footnote of sorts to my visionary Visit, while reviewing several theories about how the known universe might end, Kaku relates an interesting perspective based on Olaf Stapledon’s idea of a Star Maker:
“This takes us back to Olaf Stapledon, who imagined that there is a Star Maker, a cosmic being that creates and discards entire universes. He is like a celestial painter, constantly conjuring up new universes, tinkering with their properties, and then moving on to the next one. Each universe has different laws of nature and different life-forms.” (Michio Kaku, The Future of Humanity, pg. 303)
images are from pixabay.com
I am also reminded of a section of a book I read many years ago by Paul Twitchell, I think Dialogues With The Masters or maybe The Far Country. Twitchell similarly describes a sort of highly evolved being—I believe referred to therein as Silent Ones—who experiment with creating and designing universes.
So, what might be the relevance for my own understanding? To me this insight from the Visitor in my waking dream has helped me to accept the wide diversity of religious or spiritual viewpoints, knowing that no matter how much I might—and do—explore spiritual awareness, likely I will never achieve higher clarity than my puny mental capacity may contain until after my own translation (death) from this bodily state.
And you? I invite you to write in your MyStory journal about some significant vison, dream or reflection(s) that you would wish to remember and share.
Following from the last post where I mentioned Carl Jung’s Red Book, which was his record of active imagination encounters with his personal unconscious archetypes, allow me to add to the exploration of (your) MyStory memoirs a way to identify your own “Archemes;” a concept which I introduced in Your Life Path (Skyhorse, 2018). Just as we each have a finite number of definite themes or threads of experience that run through our lives either in whole or during specific life chapters or segments of our lifetimes, with each of these Life Themes we also all develop specific sorts of ROLES that pertain to those themes and that transform dramatically over time just like the character arcs of any narrative epic protagonists.
For example, some common Life Themes people identify by sorting types of their significant shaping events into KINDS of events include: Family, Education, Work/ Career, Romance/ Relationships, Friendships, Spirituality or Religion, and Travel. Notice how when you reflect on some of your own significant or “shaping” moments with respect to a few of these different Life Themes, you are somewhat a distinctive character from one to the other, and these characters evolve or transform as you have developed through these thematic movements in your life.
As an educator, for example, Education has certainly been a major, lifelong theme for me. And within that theme I have been the STUDENT (role type/ character) and the TEACHER, in various modes over time. Friends have sometimes chided me when, during a conversation, I might “shift into Teacher mode.” Whereas, as a spiritually oriented person, my persona can be quite more ‘esoteric’ or even ‘dreamy,’ as I practice daily contemplation, chant mantras, keep a dream journal, and allow myself to “surrender” to inner awareness or nudges from inner guidance. Yet still, with my pets it is all about unconditional love and gratitude; I sing spontaneous song lyrics as though life is a musical while walking with my beloved dog, Sophie. So yes, I recognize a pantheon of characters within my Self, as did Carl Jung. Like Jung I also realize how we project archetypal character forms onto or into those we interact with in our life relationships.
This week then, I invite you to take some tome to reflect in your MyStory (or any) journal on who you ARE, how your character shifts with different thematic expressions of your own Self. You could simply list some of the Life Themes you recognize, and next to those, name the character Roles or personas you have been developing in your life with regard to those different themes.
Which of these Archemes are best or least mature or developed in your life? Would you like to give some of your more submerged selves some more breathing room by getting back to some hobby or pasttime that helps you expand your deeper self?
Why do we so need a good Vacation or Holiday now and again? (For our more carefree Traveler or Family based selves to emerge for some needed ‘time out’?) Why do we wear special apparel and let ourselves get so excited by some hobby or at a Sports event? More profoundly, how do your different Parts of Self relate to and interact with others as well as among themselves? Try dialoguing in your journal sometime amongst some of your own various personas, especially with regard to some difficult decision or choice you might face.
Recognizing some of our own distinctive archetypal personas allows us to move consciously in the direction of a higher integration or polishing of our individuated Self, in Jung’s parlance. Joseph Campbell noted that those who refuse to accept and exercise their own internal archetypal diversity are the ones most in danger of a ‘schizophrenic’ breakup.
As we proceed with building a corpus of MyStory tales, our most memorable and thematic life stories, I am reminded of Carl Jung’s significant record of his own ‘depth’ MyStory explorations in The Red Book. Jung used active imagination (contemplation) techniques to sink deeply into his personal unconscious realm, to explore and interact with his internal archetypal personae. After engaging with each archetype long enough to glean its message for Jung’s emerging, more fully integrated Self, he artistically created a colorful Mandala image and wrote in his Red Book (journal) about what he had learned. Jung recommended that anyone likewise interested in actively promoting their own individuation and integration of Self would do well to create their own ‘red book’: their own journal about their archetypal parts of Self, their own exploration of the Life Themes and character shards of their ever-emerging Self.
So that is what your MyStory is intended to be: your compilation of meaningful life stories that reveals the deep character of your dynamic Self.
For my part I find myself moving forward with my MyStory reflections to the Life Theme of personal relationships, which is a key theme for me, as it is for many. My most significant Relationship theme stories are rather too personal to write much about in a public blog, but some of the most transformative of these are fodder for deep excavation and I can share at least some shards here which I will explore more deeply in my private MyStory journal. In the process of exploring Life Theme lessons and insights, it is vital to detangle the curious web of relationships that have emerged and developed over a lifetime (at least!), to date.
To know me at all deeply is to know something of my relationship with Donna (pseudonym here). This relationship has evolved since I was 17 and continues even after this dear friend’s passing around six months ago. I will share some of what I can here, embellishing further in my private MyStory logs, seeking to unravel through layers of import to better glean kernel messages from this relationship for my Soul journey going forward.
I met Donna when I was 17. A good high-school friend, Larry, himself a budding poet and close comrade in our drama club (the actor who played the soldier dying under a tree in Viet Nam as recalled in the previous post), approached me in the hall one day at school, and with his signature panache said:
“Yes,” I responded faithfully. “What did I just agree to?” “Fencing!”
Thus began a journey that has woven through my life ever since, both in terms of wonderful adventures with fencing throughout my college years and into my life overall, and through my relationship with a dynamic, uniquely gifted lifelong friend, Donna. She was the instructor for a ten-week class in fencing at an arts center in my home-town (where I have returned to live recently, in part for the sake of reflecting on this deep relation).
So, Donna, and fencing (the latter a theme I will explore separately down the road). Donna is one of the most dynamic persons I have ever known. I feel most fortunate that after the ten weeks of our fencing class, she invited the students to order some equipment and I ventured to her apartment one Thursday after school to pick up a mask, glove and foil that would launch my later fencing career (on a college fencing squad), and that would initiate one of my most influential friendships. We began a conversation that afternoon that developed and evolved such that even in my current active contemplations and dreams, I still visit with this dear Soul friend.
Donna became a mentor and friend over several years throughout my last two years of high-school and through my college years in Buffalo, continuing by phone and letters after that. She took interest in helping me explore and develop my own creative and spiritual awareness. I shared my journals with her and she gave me lists of books to read and discuss, as we met weekly for the next two years, every Thursday after school. As Avatar portrays for a close connection, Donna “saw me,” and in turn, I now realize, I saw her, as Soul, too.
Some shards of memory from those initial several years of my connection with Donna
Books and poetry, including: Camus’ notebooks and The Stranger; Schopenhauer’s Either/ Or; Yeats’ Selected Poetry of W. B. Yeats (much of which I memorized) and The Vision; Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (whom Donna knew in NYC while an actress there); The Moveable Feast by Hemingway; Anais Nin’s diaries and Seduction of theMinotaur; The Chalk Garden play (the first work we discussed); and The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell (the second). (These and others set me up very well for my English major studies to come in college.)
“Who is the real LW?”
Fencing: Donna’s visit to my fencing club, where my early coach was also one of her friends; Our team’s (and my own) placing 9th (by 2 pts from 7th) of 125 or so university fencing teams in intercollegiate nationals, 1975
Visits to Donna over college breaks and over summers
Visiting Donna at a hospital’s mental health ward when she was in for ‘nervous breakdown’ and MPD was diagnosed (see below)
My own poetry about our friendship through the years; her mentorship continuing through my undergraduate and Masters study college years
Flash forward: to my early doctoral study times in Arizona, some ten years or so into our friendship. One night I felt a clear inner call to communicate with Donna. We had long shared an unusually ‘psychic’ connection. The next morning I dialed her number (she by then living in Florida) from a pay phone at the Anthropology building at ASU:
LW: “Hello. Is Donna there?” (her housemate/ partner had answered)
K: “Who is this? Yes, Just a minute…”
D: “Hello?” (a deep voice at the other end of the line;
was this a friend who was to tell me
of Donna’s recent passing?)
LW: “This is Linda…”
D: “Yes, hello!” (It was Donna; as I listened more closely
I recognized my Friend)
D: “I have changed my name, Linda.”
LW: “Okay.” (I took out pen and paper, ready to write down
Donna’s new married name.)
D: “It is Donald. You have called on the very day
before I am going for my final operation.”
I had not communicated with Donna for nearly a year, so this conversation brought quite a surprising revelation about my dear mentor and friend. Lots had developed that I have mostly not recorded above that led Donna to this transformational choice. She had experienced several years of eventually successful therapy after a diagnosis of Multiple Personality Syndrome. A highly talented actress and theater director, Donna had developed a panoply of at least eleven distinct personalities since around the time of my sophomore year in college. She had first been diagnosed with ‘nervous breakdown’ episodes, then her MPD condition fully emerged. She underwent a successful hypnotherapy program, but it revealed that Donna’s core personality was actually, at least after the integrational therapy, Donald. So, after the requisite year of transgender living and hormone therapy–during which it was discovered Donna had had a blue bracelet applied after birth, with a surgical “correction” such as more babies than most of us realize still receive—doctors unanimously approved Gender Congruence Surgery, and Donna transitioned ‘in place’ in Florida, to Donald. This baby then, raised as Donna, had never been fully comfortable in that persona. Donald was central to this Soul’s outlook and personal consciousness.
Okay, so the first time I met Donald in person was the summer after that revelatory phone call. When I saw him (as him) for the first time, at the airport when He came to greet me, inwardly I felt myself stating over and over: “That’s it!” There had always been a sense of something mysterious and unusual about Donna’s persona—like there was always something hidden, something so unique that other than her amazing intelligence and creative virtuosity, I could never pinpoint. But seeing Donna as Donald ‘made sense’ of some of that mysterious quality.
My connection with Donald continued though not at the level of closeness I had shared with Donna. Yet I found through the many years to follow something unexpected in my own internal, spiritual life: dreams of visiting Donna, as Donna, developed into a frequent feature of my very active dream life. (I have long felt there should be a clinical interest in such dreams of the friends and allies of ‘sex-change’ cases.)
The first dream: I go to a house and knock on the door. A man opens the door, and I ask if I can visit with Donna. He says no, but I can see her if I go to the patio. I am then on a patio that reminds me of a classical Greek villa (a courtyard surrounded on at least three sides by its house). Looking up to the top of a small knoll just beyond the house, I see Donna standing there, and she sees me. She sends like a girl scout down to give me a message. (Later I realized the other residents of the house included Donald—who had answered the door—and Donna’s other MPD personae. She had been sort of expelled from the assemblage.)
Another significant early dream: I see Donna at an intersection, a crossroads. I could tell she was in some pain; that something had been ripped out from her right shoulder. Around the same time a dream of seeing Donna at another crossroads, where two pathways were to diverge. Her path was binary, one person (Donald) moving off to the right, and Donna herself to the left. She held up a placard (like in a a Brecht play I had recently read, Mother Courage), with one word: Eternellement. (I felt she showed me this as a sign of our enduring spiritual connection.)
images aare from pixabay.com
Then over decades, similar dreams of Visiting Donna: I would visit her at an apartment overlooking a pond with a walkway around it. We would talk as we had in our earlier year visits. We would sometimes play Scrabble or some sort of game while overlooking the pond. (I felt that this apartment setting was like a “purgatory” sort of existence that Donna had to endure so long as Donald continued in his occupation of their erst shared body; that Donna would not be able to “move on” until Donald’s passing.
NOW: I maintained a connection with Donald through nearly forty years, visiting with him twice and more regularly (though not so deeply) after he invited me to play Words with Friends with him, where we sometimes would Chat, for around 15 years.
Donald had an excellent life experience, as a behavioral health liaison and eventually a director there, still active as an actor and director in local theater productions, and with a long-term partner for over twenty years. He experienced a lot of physical health hardships, as do many on long-term hormonal treatment. He dealt with joint problems then also cancer over a long duration until finally he transpired, some six months or so ago.
Yet my dreams of visiting with Donna continue. Only once so far, shortly after his passing, Donald communicated. He said there was something he had wanted to tell me. (I hope that would have been that he had always remembered the depth of our friendship.) I went to visit Donna recently at another apartment setting, but she was in a car in a garage with several people attending to her (it felt like she was in distress because she was still not being allowed yet to move on.) And last week, a sweet though brief visitation with Donna in the dream state, to suggest we will continue to be in touch…eternellement.
And you? What have been some of the deepest, most transformative relatioonships in your life? I invite you to write in your MyStory journal, to explore and plumb the depths of your core relations.
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, 1387-1400AD
Teaching has been my career and remains my passion along with writing, for over 47 years. In my youth I was fortunate to have several excellent role models for teaching that led me to choose to become an educator. Certainly Education, with its personal subtheme of Mentors, has been a primary Life Theme for me as it is for many. So allow me to share a couple of MyStory tales in relation to the educator theme.
Professor G was one of my English profs in Buffalo at my undergraduate college. He was the consummate Teacher, as he had begun teaching at 18 in a one-room schoolhouse before teaching certificates were required, and he had taught some fifty years to when I took his course in Chaucer as an English Literature major. In fact, the semester I took his class was the last one before he would be required by law to retire.
Prof G related the tale of how once while he was undergoing an operation, I think having to do with removing a section of his intestines, the anesthetic wore off and he awoke. Rather than asking for more anesthetic, he began reciting the entire Prologue to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and he continued this recitation through the remainder of his surgery!
So, when Professor G passed away shortly after the end of his final semester teaching, his colleagues made sure that etched into his tombstone was the Middle English line shown above (and below), from the Clerk’s tale in the Canterbury Tales Prologue. I have always remembered this line and hope to be living up to its inspiration with my own lifelong teaching career.
And gladly wolde (s)he lerne and gladly teche.
Then also Mr. S., still a much respected resident here in the high-school hometown to which I have recently returned, was a primary mentor as my tenth-grade English teacher and as the talented Director of our high-school theater program. I gained excellent experience as Student Director and then as Stage Manager under his guidance in my final two years of high-school. In my eleventh grade we put on a play (in 1971) called Summertree, about a young soldier dying under a tree in Viet Nam while his brief life passed before his eyes, in three acts. For this I was Student Director. Our cast and crew became such a closely bonded unit, so dedicated collectively to communicating the anti-war sentiment to our audience, that on the final performance, after Act II opened on the stage, I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I cried openly backstage, shaking uncontrollably in tears, for the entirety of the rest of the play.
In my tenth grade (1970) class, Mr. S. introduced our class to Harlem Renaissance authors for at least a full half of the semester. This was somewhat radical in our hometown that had very little ethnic or racial diversity at the time. We read Black Voices, an excellent anthology of poetry and fiction, along with Richard Wright’s Native Son; and we each selected a favorite Black author about which to write a term paper. (I chose the ‘mulatto’/mixed race author Jean Toomer, who preferred his Black identity because of its closer sense of community.) This exposure to the African American experience in the 1970’s, just two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was life changing for me as it increased my awareness of the benefits as well as the challenges of diversity.
images are from pixabay.com
One day in my senior year as I was contemplating my soon to come college adventure, Mr. S saw me in the high-school hallway and walked with me and asked about what my college major would be. I told him I wanted to be an English teacher, like him. He coached me wisely. He advised me that, if I could see myself being satisfied in my life when after some thirty years I might overhear a former student repeating some fragment of insight s/he might have gleaned from some material I had exposed them to in class, whether or not they even remembered where that insight or line had come from, then I should indeed become a Teacher. Otherwise, if I were seeking a more wealth or ego-boosting sort of career, then perhaps I should choose otherwise in going forward with my college ambitions.
I did begin college as a secondary education major then shifted to English Comparative Literature for my BA, then I earned my MA in Linguistics and my Ph.D. was in cultural and linguistic anthropology, after which I served as a university professor for 25 years and still continue post-retirement teaching part-time online. Mr’ S’s wise words during that hallway conversation confirmed my natural passion for a teaching career. I have often remembered his wisdom and have repeated it to several of my own mentees and students through the years.
And you, dear reader? What was the inspiration for your career? I invite you to write in your MyStory Journal your own memorable tales about your Education or mentorship theme. MyStory tales are memoirs which you find yourself often thinking about and sharing with others, embellishing their narrative force through the years. These stories embody the lessons of your lifetime. Collectively they encapsulate the mythic narrative legacy of your own heroic adventure!
In composing MyStory memoirs, we are looking at particularly meaningful events, relationships, and themes that have deeply impacted and shaped the person you have become. These are situations or events that we tend to tell ‘our stories’ about, again and again, refining and embellishing these signature tales to bring out their messages as life lessons or as highlight adventures that have come to define us. We each have these stories in us that we have shared time and again. I believe it is helpful and illuminating to collect these tales, to assemble them in a volume or journal that you can rightly title MyStory.
MyStory tales are usually about transformational moments or relationships in our lives, so recording these stories allows you to uncover and reveal the mystery of your MyStory: to unravel the interwoven key lessons and insights of a lifetime or of a meaningful chapter of your own mythic Life Story.
This week I will focus on my own Life Theme of Mentors. If you recognize a similar meaningful theme, or maybe a larger umbrella theme such as Relationships or Education, I invite you to reflect and journal your own stories around this theme this week. (Please feel free to share your story with me and I would be happy to reblog it, or you can refer to your journaling insights in Comments.)
To exemplify what I mean by a transformational MyStory tale, I will focus on one of three hugely influential mentors from my life: Dr. Antoinette (Toni) Mann Paterson, whom her Philosophy students sometimes referred to as “Tone-the-Bone” Paterson.
My Life Mentor, Toni P.
I have so many significant memories of Toni P that it is difficult to select just one or two; cumulatively her mentorship and moreover her friendship changed me entirely. From her I learned to contemplate the majesty of the smallest details of life and to expand my own potentials accordingly. I also learned that one can be a learned scholar in academia without sacrificing one’s creativity and spiritual practice. So, I will assemble a few of the most memorable insights and stories I have acquired from the blessing of this great mentor in my life.
The Mighty Acorn
I mother-sat for Toni P’s mom, Mary Mann, around three days a week for 2-4 hours a day over several years, at Toni’s old Victorian home in Buffalo, New York. Dr. P was a full Professor of Philosophy at Buffalo State (SUNY) College, where I met her while an undergraduate student. Mother-sitting provided a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with both her mother Mary and with Toni herself. One day over lunch, while we were discoursing about religion and whether she believed in (a) God, Toni shared with me about an interaction she had with her son in Delaware Park when he was young.
Toni found an acorn on the ground beneath a giant Oak Tree. She held the acorn in her hand, studying its magnificence. Then she handed the Acorn to her son as a special gift.
“This,” Toni said to her son, “is God!”
The small acorn carries, in seed form, the grand design of a majestic, mighty oak. TP shared this story also to explain why all the furniture in her beloved Victorian Buffalo home was made of Oak. Most of her furniture she had acquired from Salvation Army stores. She loved finding gems where others might see only used, disposable objects; this too was a lesson for me.
Who Are You, Really?
Shortly after I first met Toni P (another tale worth telling!), after a Creative Studies–my Minor–class that she had visited to talk with us about ‘the philosophy of creativity,’ She asked me point-blank:
“What is your name?”
“Linda,” I answered.
“No, I mean what is your REAL name?”
I was flummoxed. “What do you mean?,” I asked her. Then I told her of how when I was around six or seven my brother had told me I was adopted, which I could not disprove because my mother had lost my birth certificate. I had created a fictional name for myself: April Thornton.
“April.” Toni repeated the name. “Yes, I will call you April.”
What was this about, in retrospect? I think she was asking me if I had yet discovered my IDENTITY. Truly at that point in time, I had not. I was whom others saw in me; I had no mature, core sense of self. I carried this question with me for many years and in fact underwent several periods of psychotherapy to explore and gradually to discover and express Who I Am. I am grateful to TP for this quest.
So What? Whan!
To complete this ensemble of MyStory tales about my dear mentor, Toni P, let me describe her a bit further and tell a classic story of how she taught me to probe deeply into the meaning of life.
Toni published a book called THE INFINITE WORLDS OF GIORDANO BRUNO, and she was a supporter (and colleague) of Immanuel Velikovsky–who, like Bruno (burned at the stake in the 1400s for the heresy of telling people to seek truth experientially Within instead of through priests), was vilified in mainstream academia for his WORLDS IN COLLISION book, where he explored historical truth via studying cultural myths.
Also, while not religious, Toni P was one of the most spiritually aware persons I have ever known. She would stand before students in her Philosophy classes lecturing with her eyes closed, and then she would open her eyes and stare directly at a particular student to ask a bold question. E.G. That first day I had met her at the Creative Studies class, she arrived early and was sitting at a round table with students to whom she had not yet been introduced. She picked up and examined a papier mache art project of a student who had come from an art class, of a human dancer, I think. “HOW THE HELL DID YOU DO THIS!?” Toni asked the astounded student. “I mean, how the Hell can you do this, when I can hardly draw a stick figure?” Then as class opened and she was introduced, Dr. Paterson discoursed about a philosophy of creativity.
When I mother-sat, one day over lunch Toni explained how every day she “dived into the Ocean,” meaning she took a contemplative ‘nap’ (what Jung would call active imagination) on the little cot she slept on in her bedroom.
Now then, one day I was depressed. I came into her office for my Independent Study on a topic we had agreed to: ”a philosophy of, not Science, but Silence.
“So, what?” I asked my mentor.
She responded: “Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write two words: So, What, question-mark.”For your assignment this week, answer that question. Bring me your answer next Wednesday.”
So, all that next week I searched the library for literary and philosophical clues to the question I had posed of “So, What?” I abstracted readings and wrote in my journal. Ralph Waldo Emerson, for instance, wrote an essay on “The Transparent Eyeball” that I found useful to the probe. Again I found this was about personal identity, whether “I” had any distinct meaning or purpose as an individual.
I arrived at Toni P’s office for our class session that next Wednesday. I told her about some of the thoughts I had arrived at but admitted I had not really answered the question.
Toni had set up a card table with a large, blank roll of sketch paper draped over it, and she called me to sit down at the table. With a large felt pen she wrote the following words at the compass points of the paper:
She placed each of these WH- words strategically in a circle on the paper, like compass points, and then drew lines to connect them to one another. She intersected them all at the center of the page, where she wrote one more word:
W H A N
“There is the answer to ‘So What?’,” Toni said. “It is WHAN.”
This solution was totally understandable and made total sense. Yes, of course. At the intersection of all the WH- questions, is WHAN. What is the meaning of Life? WHAN. The purpose? WHAN.
In other words, questions are meaningless in themselves. Life IS what it IS, and that is not only OK; It is GOOD; It is WHAN, and that is enough.
“It Just Is!”, I soon after discovered independently, is a profound spiritual Truth. Try sometime just chanting the word IS, over and over as a mantra. (I did that for several hours one day, and arrived at a remarkable inner awareness!)
There are more stories about Toni P that I will include in my MyStory logs. But this is enough to share here!
images are from pixabay.com – – – –
What of your greatest Teachers or Mentors? What life lessons have they helped you to learn? I invite you to write your own MyStory memoirs, to probe your own mystery: Who are you, really? Why are you Here?
To build at least a workingTable of Contents for your MyStory tales, after identifying your recurring, dominant Life Themes, you can make a list, for each of your key themes, of Shaping Events that you associate with that Theme.
I repeat below from the last post a simple, tried and true way to identify and name your dominant Life Themes:
Reflect and compose a list of significant events that have “shaped you as the person you have become.” You can include a phrase or sentence about each event to remind you of its significance. Please note: This does not have to be a “complete” list, and the events or situations on your list do not need to have been earth shattering, just significant.
After you have composed your list of significant “shaping” events or situations, read back through this list several times, and SORT these events into KINDS of events or situations. (For example: Family, Travel, Work, Education, Spirituality, etcetera).
Reflect on the TYPES of events you have identified, and assign your own personally meaningful NAMES to each of these recurring these Kinds of Events. (E.G.: Disappointments, Relationship Matters; also you can still include standard sorts of names like Family, Relationships, Romance, Work, etcetera).
So now, for each of your Life Themes, you can reflect and identify (list) some key ‘shaping’ events or situations that you associate with that theme. This will likely include several of the events you used to identify the Theme, but you can also include other events or situations that come to mind when you reflect on that Theme in your life. Consider providing meaningful titles for these events that you will be writing about.
images are from pixabay.com
In developing your MyStory Table of Contents with some of the most meaningful events related to your recurring Themes, remember that a Shaping Event is any event or situation “that has influenced the person you have become.” Some shaping events are so monumental as to be Critical Events, events or situations that have been so impactful in your life that you feel you were a different person before and after that event occurred.
A sampling of topics to represent this second step from my own MyStory Themes (but, of course, use your own) would include:
My Mother, a Hero (two tales)
Using Big Moves to Change Up (Finding Myself)
Crossing the Great Waters
My Mother, the Cat!
The Running Dog (Losing Elly)
Sophie’s Dogwalking Song Lyrics
B.E. and A.E.: The Bus Ride “Home”
Acceptance of Change
Using the steps outlined above, go ahead and begin to develop your own MyStory Table of Contents. This is only a start, a working Table of Contents that you can add to and build on as you begin composing your MyStory tales. Next, we will start moving through some common Life Themes and you can begin to write out your stories. As you do so, the focus will be on the lessons and most vital memories each of these events or situations have added in value to your unique, mythic MyStory legacy.
Allow me to invite you to a very simple and effective way to identify your Life Themes, those recurring situations and KINDS of events that form the “stuff” of much of your life experience within your Life Story:
Reflect and write a LIST significant events that have “shaped you as the person you have become.” This does not have to be an exhaustive list, and the events or situations on your list do not have to have been earth shattering, just significant.
After you have composed your list of significant “shaping” events or situations, read back through this list several times, and SORT these events into KINDS of events or situations. (For example: Family, Travel, Work, Education, Spirituality, etcetera).
Reflect on the TYPES of events you have identified, and assign your own personally meaningful NAMES to these Kinds of Events. (E.G.: Disappointments, Relationship Matters; also can still include standard sorts of names like Family, Relationships, Romance, Work, etcetera).
These personally meaningful, recurring types of events and situations are (at least some of) your dominant LIFE THEMES.
Make a list of your LIFE THEMES in your MyStory journal, or you can save them in a file on your computer. Over the next year or so at this blog site we will be exploring several common Life Themes and I invite you to journal or write your personal memoirs about events and situations that have been significant in your life in relation to the Theme (or similar theme for you) being explored.
The MyStory principle we are exploring is our tendency as humans (i.e. Homo Narrativus) to frame our Life Theme shaping experiences AS STORY, as narratives, with meaningful narrative structure, plot, characters, messages, spiritual principles, and lessons to impart to others based on our own life experience. Consider those thematic events about which you have tended to tell the ‘same story’ over and over again, refining the story to ferret out deeper meanings and messages, both for you and for those with whom you might choose to share your most meaningful MyStory tales. This is part and parcel of your Legacy that you may pass along to your loved ones or to posterity.
images are from pixabay.com
As Joseph Campbell has emphasized, your life (your MyStory) is mythic, even Epic, because it is imbued with meaning and lessons for your own growth. As you grow from reflecting on your pivotal life experiences, you are ever more able to help others find meaning in their own Life Themes, as well.
Now too, a SECOND level of identifying Life Themes, which I would recommend you could apply after the tried and true method above, is to work backward from those stories you tend to retell and embellish, asking what sort of THEME does that story reflect in your MyStory that may just not have made it into your list from the above method. For instance, while Pets have been a HUGE Life Theme in my life, in the process of listing biographical shaping events, it is possible I could overlook these while focussing more on obvious themes for me like Family, Education, Relationships (which might include with my pets), and Spirituality. But when I think of very important shaping events, losing my dog Elly, for example, is a huge event I would want to make sure to include in my MyStory corpus of stories.
So for this week, I invite you to explore and discover your own MyStory Life Themes!
What about your own MyStory pet tales? What gifts and lessons have your beloved animal Soul companions brought to your life? Are there some stories about your pet Friends that have been meaningful episodes or chapters from your Life Story? I invite you to journal, write about, or share with a loved one—human or otherwise—about your special, MyStory pet tales.
Indeed, I invite you to start a new journal, which you can call MyStory, for you to explore and collect some of the most meaningful tales of your life’s journey in relation to your major life themes.
Since Pets has been such a prominent theme in my life, it will take this and maybe a few more posts about my pet memoires to explore the underlying mystery of MyStory in relation to at least some of my other-than-human loved ones.
Here’s a story that definitely belongs in my corpus of MyStory Pet Tales”
Some thirty years ago while I was completing doctoral work in Arizona, I was preparing to teach an anthropology module about hominid evolution when I had a very significant past-life ‘story dream’: a dream with a fully developed narrative.
In this dream, I am an archaic homo sapiens boy walking along in an open veld. I only have a rudimentary language, with some basic nouns and verbs but little or no syntax. I look up and think “sky” then “storm,” seeing that the sky is a greenish hue. (BTW It was only long AFTER this dream that I ever learned a green sky could precede tornadic weather.) To my right then in the dream I see “cave” up on a cliff side, and I scramble up the cliff to take shelter from the storm in the cave. Clouds darken and the storm rages outside the cave. I sense a presence and look around me in the cave, seeing a pair of eyes: “yellow eyes”, “tiger”; also taking shelter from the storm. We are each wary of one another but we seem to make an agreement not to harm one another while waiting for the storm to pass. As soon as it has abated, I step backward to allow the Tiger to leave the cave, eyeing me again on her way out.
As I am waking from this dream memory, another, seemingly later life incident flashes also in my awareness. I am a young African man walking along on a jungle trail. A lion leaps to attack me from my left, but at the same time a tiger leaps out to repel the lion! As I am waking, I am thinking gratefully again: Yellow Eyes!
These story dreams truly felt like they were “past life” memories. Then, flash way forward as I have shared loving and deeply meaningful relationships with a series of feline companions in this life who each, so it has happened, have had yellow/ gold eyes: Chela (13 yrs.), Ariel (20 yrs.), and currently Emily (now 14).
I had these dreams while beautiful Ariel was in my life: a female tortoise-shell calico. The story about how she and I found each other is as significant as my archaic Yellow Eyes dreams. It also started from a dream story:
I am (in this dream) leaving a castle grounds where I have been visiting my former philosophy professor mentor who had recently passed away. It was this professor, Dr. Antoinette Paterson from Buffalo, who had introduced me to my beloved cat Chela over 13 years prior. As I go to close the large, wrought iron gate of the castle grounds on my way out, I look down and see this beautiful female cat walking toward me. She is black with orange splotches and white on her paws and on a blaze under her chin. We recognize each other very familiarly and I kneel down to greet her as she comes over and jumps into my arms.
After waking from this castle dream, I went to campus where I was then in graduate school. The first person I saw on campus that day was my then Anthropology professor-mentor PhD advisor, Betsy. The first words out of my advisor’s mouth to me that morning:
Betsy: “Linda, can you take a kitten?”
My answer: “Only if she is black and white with orange splotches!”
Betsy: “One of them is!”
I went over to my advisor’s home and of all the litter of kittens she had acquired, one was timidly hiding out in a dresser bureau drawer. When we looked at each other I knew right away, this was Ariel. The orange tiger striping on her forelegs and crown had similar patterns to my earlier Chela who had passed away about six months before. And her eyes: yes, they were golden.
images (except my Emily) are from pixabay.com
During cold weather (or relatively cold, in Arizona) or when I would need to leave Ariel on her own for several hours, I would prop up a firm pillow on my bed under a blanket so Ariel could cuddle up either by my side or on her own in this Cave for warmth and shelter. After my archaic homo sapiens dream, I would sometimes address Ariel while she was in this Cave as Yellow Eyes.
So what MyStory messages do I take away from these dreams and experiences with my beloved cat Friends? I believe in reincarnation and that animals are Soul, too. Pet reincarnation, for me, is quite real. I feel deeply blessed and ever grateful.
Preface: In my previous post I introduced the topic of a new book I am working on, called MyStory (or, YourStory/ Mystory or simply Your MyStory, TBD). Each chapter explores Life Theme events that have punctuated a person’s life. I am trying on several of those themes from my own MyStory here in the blog while developing the manuscript. Hope you enjoy! – LKW
If you value in a relationship unconditional love, loyalty, mutual commitment, trust, loving companionship and lifelong cohabitation, live with a pet soul companion, or two or more. This I have learned from a lifetime of living with my pet Friends. Human relationships may come and go—such is the sometimes-capricious nature of free will and the obligations each individual has to their own goals and interests which may shift over time—but bringing a pet home is a commitment with benefits and responsibilities for a lifetime of loving companionship and adventure.
I have benefitted from so many spectacular ‘pet’ relationships that it is not possible to select just one or two to focus on as I reflect on the value and lessons from these connections. Recently I have outlined an entire book that I would like to write to cover this theme of my other-than-human animal Soul companions.
But I would do well to start here and now to spotlight my current pet family of Sophie (a ‘golden’ Shorkie/ Shitzu-Yorkie) and Emily (my orange-white golden-eyed female tabby).
Photo by Anne Lyon
Sophie has accompanied me on seven cross country trips between Colorado Springs and upper New York state, the last of which in 2018 moved us—with Emily too—Back East after over forty years, for me, Out West. Since then, Sophie and Emily have moved with me two more times until we have arrived in our current rental house in my original hometown village in Western New York.
I am grateful every day, every moment, to Sophie and Emily for their constant love and companionship, especially through moves to locations where I have had few if any immediate local human connections. As a singleton, retired but still working remotely person living “alone,” I have never actually been or felt alone due to our loving family.
When Sophie was 7 (now 12), she was diagnosed as diabetic. On that day, on hearing the somber news, I actually fainted in the vet’s office and ended up at a hospital, having collapsed ostensibly from dehydration but really from the shock of awareness of my dear friend Sophie’s dire need for special care to save her quality of life. But over time, Sophie’s health condition has proven to be a gift or at least a mixed blessing. We had a terrific vet in Colorado and good friends who helped me research and develop a homemade diet and care plan that, after plenty of trial and error and readjusting after each of our Big Moves, works! (Sophie’s diet, which I have blogged about, will be a chapter in my book!). I cook all of Sophie’s meals from scratch, including a litany of supplements and eye care treatments, and managing her diet along with our daily walks and regularity of routine have helped me improve and manage my own health conditions, plus our unconditional interdependence and love has no parallel. Right this weekend Sophie is recovering from stitches to her eyelid because of my mistake in trying to trim some hair over her eye (know better!) that nicked her eyelid. Not fun for either of us, but as with other incidents in our times together, we will get through this with deep love and reciprocity.
Photo by Pamela Flynn
Emily, too, is such a special, loving, quiet, healing cat friend. Initially she and her brother Arthur were feral. Rescued by a good friend in New Mexico who already had 10 pets, one frigid New Years weekend, my friend Madeline lured them from the subzero desert night where coyotes and loose dogs roamed, onto her enclosed porch, with warm milk and an electric blanket they could sleep on. The next day I drove with them back to Colorado Springs. Arthur, who was his more petite sister’s guardian angel on earth, survived here only 5 years. He developed a blood clot after dental surgery that took him from us. Gradually Emily has grown into her own mature (14 now) loving self, a constant source of daily cuddles and purr mantras and a regular visitor to Zoom sessions especially with my spiritual community in New York since Covid-19.
Images (other than photos above) are from Pixabay.com
Animals Are Soul, Too(by Harold Klemp) is the title of a book I enjoy. Sophie and Emily teach me about cross-species spiritual companionship every day and in many ways. Truly I cannot imagine having made the recent moves I have needed to make without my Sophie and Emily family. I am many times blessed and grateful. Many other pet friend Souls have come before (and earlier with) them in my life, each with their own amazing tales of love and companionship. But my current family unit of Sophie-Em-and me has brought, on the whole, great joy and comfort to our lives. Home is where the Heart is, and together we have forged our own way Home.
One of the people with whom I piloted the Life Mapping tools provided in Your Life Path: Life Mapping Tools to Help You Follow Your Heart, and Live Your Dream, Now! (Skyhorse, 2018) was a brilliant young man who gave himself the fictional name Thomas, as he was about to embark on his graduate studies in Philosophy and Anthropology. To begin the life mapping process I ask people to list and describe significant shaping events from their life and then to sort those events into types of situations or events as their Life Themes. Important to the self-discovery goal of this life mapping process is that people are to identify and name these Life Themes themselves.
Thomas named one of his recurring Life Themes as Revealing Myself to Myself. These were critical breakthrough moments of awareness for Thomas when he could finally understand a valuable life lesson. Overall, I have found that the simple process by which “life mappers” are able to identify and recognize the significance of their own recurring Life Themes is always self-revelatory, as it exposes meaningful threads by which a person has woven their own mythic Life Story.
So my next major book project, as a third installment in the self-discovery based Life Paths series (Your Life Path 2018; Better Endings 2022), I am calling Your MyStory; or alternately, YourStory or just MyStory (n.b., blogging confers copyright to the title). After guiding the reader through a few simple steps to identify and name their own Life Themes, I will invite the reader to journal memoirs around these key themes that have punctuated their lives, from past to present to future.
Everyone has certain stories about episodes from their life that they find themselves telling and retelling, over and over again. We embellish these ‘signature’ tales over time, refining their message to impart basic principles we have gleaned from our experience that we may wish to share with others.
As I have presented earlier, I regard the human species as Homo Narrativus. We are, at heart, Storytellers. We live our lives in episodic moments and reflect on our life experiences in mythic terms. So, these stories that we tell and retell build a narrative corpus of interconnected tales.
For this next year or so I will be introducing and inviting you to journal your own memoirs about a series of common Life Themes. I will also share a process by which you can discover your own versions of these themes and/or discover unique ones. Each, in fact, you will find to be uniquely yours in how YOU have framed the theme and how you assign meaning to your own Life Story episodes.
YourStory reveals your MyStory, see?
Next time then, I will begin with a Theme very near and dear to my heart: Pet Tales. Reflecting on this theme I realize I could (and might just) write an entire book around this one theme. I have been an animal lover and Soul pet companion all this life, and I have learned many life lessons about unconditional love from my other-than-human animal Friends.
Recently I went to a local bakery shop to get a slice of their quiche and some coffee and to read. After receiving my food, I looked about and found all the tables were occupied. One table had some space at one end, so I asked the man sitting at the other end with his friend whether they would mind if I sat there.
“Go ahead,” the man said; then he added, “We do have people joining us.”
So after having initially taken a seat, I got back up and said that was okay; I would not want to be intruding.
“This is Lewiston,” the man said. “You are always welcome to join us.”
I thanked him and sat back down with my quiche and coffee and book. The man at the head of the table introduced himself (I did not catch his name), and then he introduced me to his friend, Frank. I turned to look more closely at his companion.
“Stapleton?” (pseudonym here) I asked him.
“I am (LW).”
We recognized one another. This is the second time since relocating back to my dear hometown that serendipity has brought me into contact with my most influential and favorite high school English teacher, (FS). He not only introduced me to Harlem Renaissance literature and Black Voices as well as Shakespeare in tenth grade, but he was also the Director for our high school drama club productions for which I served as Assistant Director and then as Stage Manager in my junior and senior years, respectively.
The play Summertree, about a young man whose life is passing before his reflections while dying as a soldier under a tree in Viet Nam, which we staged in 1971, was so gripping that for the entire second and third acts of the final performance, with actors who had become dear friends in the process of staging this poignant drama, I cried uncontrollably backstage. Memorable, indeed.
So, I had the good fortune of sitting at a conversation table for an hour or so with FS, his friend, and three of their friends who joined the table, a regular meeting date for them. Good conversation with caring, concerned citizens of this, Our Town. Funny, not a week before I had been consciously wondering if our paths would ever again cross.
This encounter has led me to reflect about how returning to my high school hometown has been a blessing. It also leads me to consider how I have so often moved, three times fully relocating in just four years since retiring in Colorado.
I want not to bolt this time. I have no regrets about the cumulative moves I have made, as each move has opened specific opportunities for growth and adventure. Fortunately, my dear dog and cat Soul companions Sophie and Emily have been my constant companions and touchstones through all these recent moves and for many years prior in Colorado.
I am renting now and will have another decision point in 19 months when the current lease is up. But this move has certainly been a special one, a journey Home. My best high school buddy, Barb (with her husband Neal), still living nearby. One of my sisters, less than an hour and a half down the road.
Time will tell. If Spirit leads me onward as the adventure hound I have become, I will follow. But whatever happens, I am grateful. I feel I owe a lot to my hometown. I owe the fortitude to potentially put down some roots this time that might actually endure for a while.
The prodigal story of departure—transition—return (á la Joseph Campbell in The Hero with 1000 Faces) is a universal, ‘heroic’ spiritual adventure cycle. Our outer adventure cycles are but a metaphor, a microcosm of the greater Journey of Soul: out from the originating pulse of Creation; through the ordeals of embodiment, to experience life and gain understanding and wisdom; and—eventually, when the individual is ready—the Return, gradually, Home to the Heart of Divine Love. So I believe and imagine.
And so, one of my all-time favorite poems (thanks again to Michael R for his introducing me to it) comes to mind, again: Ithaca, by Cavafy:
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge. The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops, the angry Poseidon — do not fear them: You will never find such as these on your path, if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine emotion touches your spirit and your body. The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops, the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter, if you do not carry them within your soul, if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long. That the summer mornings are many, when, with such pleasure, with such joy you will enter ports seen for the first time; stop at Phoenician markets, and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony, and sensual perfumes of all kinds, as many sensual perfumes as you can; visit many Egyptian cities, to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind. To arrive there is your ultimate goal. But do not hurry the voyage at all. It is better to let it last for many years; and to anchor at the island when you are old, rich with all you have gained on the way, not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would have never set out on the road. She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you. Wise as you have become, with so much experience, you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.