Finding Quan Yin: A Lesson in Inner Guidance

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!

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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.

These Pandemic Times

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

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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?

Visions, Dreams and Reflections: A Visitor

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.

A Visitor

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.

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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.

Your Epic Cast of MyStory Archetype Characters

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.

E.G.  Education:  TEACHER, STUDENT

          Spirituality: MYSTIC

          Travel:   IDEALIST

           Relationships:  LOVER, DESCENDER

           Family:  SISTER, DAUGHTER (and re. Pets: PARENT/ COMPANION)

           Friendships:  FRIEND

           Vocation:  ARTIST (Writer)

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.

images are from pixabay.com

Enjoy your journey!

Detangling the Web of Core Relationships

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.

Donna/ Don

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:

“Say Yes!”

“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 the Minotaur; 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.

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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.

And Gladly Teche: A Mentor’s Guidance

Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,

And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.

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!

Who Are You Really? Gifts of a Mentor

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:

WHO

WHAT

WHERE

WHEN

WHAT

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?

Your Mystory Table of Contents

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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:

FAMILY

  • My Mother, a Hero (two tales)
  • Orphaned?

BIG MOVES

  • Using Big Moves to Change Up (Finding Myself)
  • Crossing the Great Waters

PETS

  • Yellow Eyes
  • My Mother, the Cat!
  • The Running Dog (Losing Elly)
  • Sophie’s Diet
  • Sophie’s Dogwalking Song Lyrics
  • Ariel Pegasus

TURNING POINTS

  • B.E. and A.E.: The Bus Ride “Home”
  • Acceptance of Change
  • Fencing Lessons
  • Zuni

Your Turn

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.

Discover Your MyStory Life Themes

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!

MyStory Pet Tales, II

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”

“Yellow Eyes”

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!

Emily

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.

A MyStory Life Theme: Pet Tales

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.

Turning a New Leaf: Discover YourStory

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. 

images are from pixabay.com

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. 

Thanks for your patience, and for reading!

Home Sweet Home

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.

“Yes!”

“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.

images are from pixabay.com

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: 

Ithaca

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.

–Constantine P. Cavafy

Of ‘White Holes’ and NDE’s

The darkest Night comes always before the Dawn.

I read and watch a lot of science books and documentaries about cosmology and (astro- and ‘New’) physics.  Why?  Because I am fascinated by the intersection between contemporary science and universalist spirituality, and I find cosmology and recent ideas from physics offer an interface between these two domains of knowledge and exploration. One concept that I have been particularly interested in is the notion of White Holes.

Some recent astrophysicists have speculated theoretically that: The other side of a Black Hole is a White Hole. This notion lights my imagination, literally. When a colleague who was primarily atheistic himself was approaching his immanent transition (death), I sent him a card with the above statement: “The other side of a black hole is a white hole.”  I sent this message because of the well-known experience, reported by Near-Death (NDE) survivors, of transitioning through a dark tunnel of sorts toward and into a realm of Light.

I wanted my dear colleague to potentially be aware during his transition process that death of the physical body may be but a release or transformation of individualized conscious awareness and energy, rather than a loss.

This notion of Light associated with White Holes is to me a fundamentally significant consideration.  Based on some of my own recent active-contemplative probing on this subject (what Einstein might call thought experiments or Jung, active imagination), without choosing to describe my subjective experiences directly, I can offer some questions for your own contemplation:

  • What If:   At the center (or, edge) of the entire Universe is a MACRO ‘black hole’ or wormhole; on an order higher than the ‘Massive’ black holes found at the center of galaxies?  Many have already postulated that what we think of as a Big Bang could actually be the expression of a white hole issuing from a black hole in another dimension or universe.

  • Then, What If:  Given a Multiverse or Metaverse scenario, every universe’s Macro black whole/wormhole empties its energy into—and receives its originating impulse from—the SAME, central or CORE-MACRO ‘White Hole’/ Light?  Hence, at the convergence and originating thrust of all universes is Pure Light (and I would speculate pure Sound as well as a motivating impulse).  Alpha and Omega without beginning or end, but with transformation and cycles of creation and dissolution, as we experience on a miniscule scale with our own lives, and with all that appears to exist and transpire and dissolve.
images are from pixabay.com

Perhaps William Butler Yeats expressed some of this awareness with his poetic musing about a dialectical universe, in his obscure but magnificent theosophical treatise, A Vision.  Therein Yeats envisioned:

The Universe like an Egg,

Turning  Itself inside out,

Without breaking Its shell.

Through the Eye of the Needle

What do the following plot devices (or spiritual practices) have in common?

  • Alice stepping through the Looking Glass
  • Dorothy transported over the Rainbow, from B&W to the colorful Land of OZ
  • Star Wars rebels or the Star Trek Enterprise popping through Hyperspace
  • Robert Conway rounding a Himalayan mountain pass, to descend into the verdant Shangri-La
  • Rumi spinning as a whirling dervish to explore the heavens of his departed Teacher, Shams
  • Near Death and general Out of Body Experiences
  • Magic Eye art that transforms 2-D images into 3-D hidden objects
  • Transitioning from waking consciousness into your Dream world awareness

There is a common thread running through these devices listed above, which I will call traversing “through the eye of the Needle.”  The commonality of this theme occurring in fiction as well as in accounts and techniques of spiritual exploration speaks to the naturalness of the underlying phenomenon of seeking and achieving higher consciousness awareness. 

I call attention to this phenomenon of traversing through the Eye of the Needle because it is a central aim of most human experience to transcend the mundane, to elevate one’s experience of life to its highest potentials and to discover and explore what lies Beyond.   Meditation, centering prayer, contemplation, and even daydreaming—all of which rely on cultivating our imagination—allow us individually to transcend any life experience, to gain higher understanding and wisdom. 

When I first began to study spiritual topics and to practice contemplative techniques some 48 years ago, my goal was to eventually be able to shift between states of consciousness “at will.”   I now realize how this is a natural human capacity, but we do benefit from developing this capacity with conscious awareness.  For example, we gain much more from our dreams by focussing on utilizing our dreams to help understand daily life as well as to plomb the depths of spiritual understanding (e.g. see The Art of Spiritual Dreaming, by Harold Klemp, about which I am currently in a discussion group).

But the real reason this topic is important to me right now is because I have recently rediscovered—for me anyway—a wonderful “transport” device, at the local gym!  When I ride a rowing machine, I am able to close my eyes and enter into a contemplation activity that absolutely allows me to approach and traverse through ‘the eye of the needle’, to explore consciousness states at will!  I think this is similar to the whirling dervish activity of Rumi and the Sufis, who likewise use the spinning and internal prayer to transcend the physical body to higher states of spiritual awareness and exploration. Something about the regular physical activity as with the rocking of the back and forth motion of the rowing machine, I find frees my imagination to soar! 

images are from pixabay.com

The benefits of traversing through the Eye of the Needle, howsoever you choose to do this, are limitless. Being more mindful and aware of whatever we choose to focus our attention on allows us to consider our options and choose, or repair if need be, our course of action.

Better Endings to All!

Changing the Narrative

We are in a crisis of narrative schismogenesis in the sociopolitical climate of America (at least) today.   Gregory Bateson, in Steps To an Ecology of Mind (1981), described schismogenesis as an ever widening schism of viewpoints between opposing sides or persons in argument with one another.  An example Bateson gave was how an argument can escalate between spouses. The more each person “digs in” to their position as antithetical to their opponent, the further apart their viewpoints become until there is no way to bridge the chasm behind the barriers of which they are each entrenched.

Let’s say the husband asks where they would like to go to eat dinner, for instance, and the wife says Chinese, knowing that her husband is not particularly fond of Chinese cuisine.  He then declines and suggests a polar-opposite sort of cuisine, say Mexican for example, to which she declines and then they dig into why each of the choices they have proffered are not only the best solution but an absolute necessity for that evening’s meal.  In the end, perhaps the two spouses each go their separate ways for dinner that night, leading to hard feelings for days.

This is a trite example, especially given the deep gravity of the dangerous schismogenetic chasm so many are entrenched behind with today’s fractious tribalism of the Partisan Divide.  We harbor two tribes living within distinct reality fields, each accusing the other side of not only being wrong (using “fake news”) but even regarding each other as “evil” in their supposed intentions and actions.

I try to remain as neutral as possible, aware that truth is absolutely relative, after all, depending on one’s basis of evidence and their sources of information.  People dig in to the banks of the side they have chosen—or to which they have been conditioned—often unwilling to even listen to let alone to hear or comprehend statements from the enemy tribe.

Anthropologically (my professional field), it is clear that schismogenetic ruptures have often led tribal groups to divide or fission into distinct, rival factions, sometimes—where there is space enough available—resulting in the opposing factions actually moving away from each other to establish separate villages.  The Blues and the Reds do not have such luxury of spatial expanse to divide into.  North and South are no longer culturally divided in toto, so we live side by side with neighbors from rival factions every day.  We are thus divided within the same village, state, nation, and global society.

How can we overcome this Divide? We must somehow, locally and personally as well as collectively, find ways to change the narrative.  Couples psychotherapists–and Bateson himself in Steps to an Ecology of Mind–would suggest mediation is a key first step to confronting and dismantling a factional schismogenetic divide. Representatives from each tribe or faction need to convene and meet somewhere at the middle, in the company of an agreed upon mediating person or agency. 

Each side’s story needs to be aired—and heard, without opposition or resistance—with the mediator serving as a buffer.  After both narratives are fully expressed, the mediator might summarize each point of view succinctly, validating facets of both viewpoints and helping to delineate some commonalities that could begin to construct a narrative bridge, upon which both persons or sides might at least meet upon to acknowledge the availability of a middle ground.

After such an open hearing and mediation process, each representative returns to share with their members and then of course each tribe is free to do what they will with the knowledge gained. They carry the awareness of a willingness of the Other to have at least sought mediation with them. This can lead to a gradual rebuilding of trust and mutual acceptance, at least.

images are from pixabay.com

I speak from some experience about the therapeutic value of a mediation process.  I and a dear friend, she now being departed, once ran into a barrier with one another that grew into a painful schismogenetic chasm for many months.  We agreed to meet with a psychotherapist, which made all the difference in helping each of us to find a greater balance in understanding and mutual acceptance.  We came away remembering our ultimate friendship, which has remained vital ever on.

So when faced with an immoveable common barrier between opposing narratives, seek mediation.  

Give it a try!

Tomorrow Is a Parallel World

Though I have other posts to get to putting up, today I have had two influences that lead me to want to add a follow up to the post last week about The Value of Now.

The first nudge is based on a wonderful quote by C.S. Lewis from Soul Gatherings, a blog I follow and love to read daily like a fortune cookie, by Theresa:

You can’t go back and change the beginning,

but you can start where you are and change the ending.

~ C.S. Lewis ~

Obviously C. S. Lewis was advocating for a practice of Better Endings.

Then today I happened upon a movie about the implications of parallel realities: Yesterday. This is a fun story about a fairly unsuccessful but well-motivated musician in England named Jack Malik who, after a bus accident caused by a global blackout, wakes up to find he is living in a reality where, among some other odd glitches, nobody has ever heard of The Beatles! So, Mark reintroduces Beatles songs as if he were the original songwriter/ singer, and he attains great success and fame for his apparent genius. 

I will not spoil the ending to Yesterday for you; this is a film well worth seeing.  But it led me to think about how, since Time as we think we know it is an illusion according to modern physicists as well as many spiritual philosophies, then past and present Moments can rightly be considered parallel realities.

If we consider the future, such as Tomorrow, to be a parallel reality to Now, then what are some implications for, again, the value of Today?

A better endings visualization: Imagine that tomorrow is a parallel reality to today.  Many aspects remain stable across these parallel worlds: you are still where and how you are living though a day older, most routines are intact, etcetera.  But creatively envision adding one TWEAK to your parallel reality of tomorrow.  What element(s) might you change as you shift upon waking tomorrow morning into a slightly more ideal or satisfactory reality sphere?  To be effective with this technique, you might consider only tweaking tomorrow slightly, to a reality it is quite feasible and possible for you to realize without too shocking of a reality shift.

images are from pixabay.com

You can extend this thought experiment to a future a bit further out to add some more meaningful or life-changing, reality bending tweaks. Six months from today what might your future look like from an ideal standpoint? Write it down, describe yourself living in a parallel reality six months from now that contains the sorts of changes you wish were possible.  Then consider, what steps can you take now, and in the near foreseeable future, to bring this new reality about?

Since the future IS a parallel reality to the present Moment, we CAN tweak those elements we would like to change, then carry forth in that direction.

Better Endings to All!

The Value of NOW

In my early college years, I often mused over the thought that “Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow.”  Now while exploring implications of the principle of Better Endings for creative re-visioning, this phrase has come back into the foreground for my understanding.

It is a truism that yesterday’s future is where you stand/ think/ act today.  As well though, consider:  When you have a memory of a “past” event, this memory is transpiring in your mind’s eye only NOW, filtered through your reflection and projection in the present moment.  As your consciousness changes, so does your view of the past, coloring a memory and recasting it in the present moment.

We rescript our life story and hence our personal reality moment by moment, day by day.

Likewise, when you conceive of or envision a “future” condition or action, this visualization is occurring in your mind’s eye right NOW, also as a projection from your immediate-present waking awareness (or in your dream awareness: when you dream of a future or a past event, the dream is still occurring NOW). 

The future has no reality apart from our projections about it, for as soon as the next day or another moment arrives, it is NOW.

As well, your anticipations or expectations about “future” events are multiplex; you may envision a wide array of possible or probable outcomes of present conditions, yet these can unfold only as a future-NOW event. 

The future, as a mere projection from our current outlook, exists as a potentially infinite array of possibilities limited primarily by the constraints we impose as determined by our present state of bias or beliefs.

The simple fact, then, that Tomorrow’s Yesterday is Today carries great value; this is the value, the amazing potential, of NOW.

images are from pixabay.com

Below is a Better Endings Seed, a visualization exercise that you may use for journaling or contemplation:

What’s Coming Up for you Tomorrow, and how may it be influenced by aspects of the thought world you inhabit Today? 

If you desire to improve your Tomorrow, how might you tweak your prospective outlook today?

An easy way to apply this Better Endings visualization technique is to make a list of some of what you expect to do or aim to accomplish tomorrow. THEN: ADD ONE NEW ELEMENT that will make your tomorrow more exciting or more creatively productive. Add ONE THING that will propel you forward Tomorrow in a different, more progressive direction.

Please feel free to Comment about the results of this thought experiment!

Pursue Your Dreams! (A Better Endings memoir)

Having moved back to my high-school hometown for over a year and a half already, I have had time to reflect on those formative years of my life, as this not-so-little village I live in now did indeed propel me into the adult life adventures and careers I have forged.  Adventure is the keyword here, as I was fortunate to have had a highly adventuresome life as a teen and through, well, the rest of my life and forth!

As a teenager, I had a best friend Barb, who is still but twenty minutes away today.  Barb and I claimed our own freedom, regularly.  For one type of frequent adventure, we snuck out!  We never did anything “wrong” or illegal; we just enjoyed the thrill of escaping into the night from her or my basement, to walk, talk, and be free. A few of our escapades were particularly memorable, and I realize now how they were a setup for me to learn about the creative principle of ‘better endings’.

It was sometime in January, 1971.  Barb and I were 17 yo each.  She was the best artist in our high-school class, and I was a would-be poet/dramatist/creative writer.  We entertained the goal of living in New York City, where our art and creative juices could be better harnessed and thrive.    Since our art was our ideal, we felt at 17 that we were ready; impatient to have to wait yet another year to graduate and launch into our ambitions. So one night, having met a pair of guys in Niagara Falls saying they were from New Jersey and would be returning there the next morning, we talked it over and decided it was time: we would sneak out and walk the seven miles or so to the Falls to meet up with these fellows who could take us to The City, where we would begin our artistic careers.

As it was winter with deep snow outside, we decided that rather than carrying suitcases—which would have been too obvious for anyone looking for us anyways—we would stay warm by wearing all the clothes we would need to get a new start. We wore three pairs of jeans each and several shirts and sweaters under our coats. And as we did not have watches (long before cell phones!), we would chain-smoke (yes) Virginia Slims to keep track of time, around seven minutes per light (In retrospect: yuck!).  We left letters for our families: we loved them but we were old enough and ready to launch our artistic careers.

Then we left. We got started probably around 2 o’clock am.  We silently maneuvered up the stairs from Barb’s basement and out the sliding doors to the back yard.  We were free!  We walked quickly along the road and through backyards until we reached the Escarpment (carved out by giant glaciers and defining the upper boundary of the village community we were leaving).  We started climbing through the woods and deep snow, straight up to the top of the escarpment, which took us a couple of hours or so, so we reached the top of the escarpment around 5 or 5:30 am.  From here we would need but to walk the six miles to the Falls by 8 or so to meet up with the fellows who had offered us a ride to NYC.

But then, I realized: my grandmother was visiting.  I could bear leaving the family with the letter we had written, but my grandmother would be very disappointed.  I could not do that to her! Okay, so we decided to go back to Barb’s, but now we had a short time before her mother would be up.  So, we literally SLID down the escarpment using our coats as sleds, surely in record time had there been any means for comparison!  Then we ran, again literally ran, the mile or so further, and slipped back into Barb’s basement by around 6:45am. Fifteen minutes later, Barb’s mother was up and soon came to the top of the basement stairs to announce that breakfast was ready! 

So here is the ‘better endings’ aspect of this memorable adventure: First, the experience itself contained a ‘better ending’ twist: we decided to turn back and not complete the journey as planned, but rather to complete high-school and then go after our creative dreams. 

Second, Barb did become a highly successful artist—a painter and a wax figure sculptor who has filled whole museums with her work in the US and Ireland.  And I have become an author in addition to being a professor of Anthropology, both of which I love dearly.  We pursued and have achieved our creative ambitions, and I feel that our teenage escapades were a big part of our later determination to follow our bliss, as Campbell would say, and Live Our Dreams, Now!

pictures are from pixabay.com

So, pursue your dreams! Allowing that you may find even better ‘better endings’ along the way, every step forward carves out the direction you choose to forge into the reality of the life you CHOOSE to live!

So, how about you? Were there formative experiences in your younger years that set the stage for your own self-realization through the years? Is there an escapade you could plan yet today to propel you even further, to fulfill your deepest ambitions? 

A Contemplation Seed on ‘Anti-Gravity’ (for Better Endings)

Imagine: You live in a world where “gravity” does not exist. Instead of perpetually falling toward heavier matter, you rise or move about in any direction at will, according to a Law of Assumption. You simply assume a viewpoint at whatever vista you allow; even multiple viewpoints at once, if you wish.

You perceive as a conscious, distinct, unique and aware point of view, with no fixed body yet you may try on or project whatever self-image you choose.

You are Soul, the IAMTHATIAM. As Soul, you may occupy bodies to experience the gravity of this world, see? Yet the IAMTHATIAM is able also to transcend the pull or warp of embodied life situations or addictions.

From the Soul perspective, IAMTHATIAM is free insofar as It (I/ you) chooses to rise above the grooves the body falls along.

I/you can dream, meditate, contemplate, reflect, refresh and renew, at will.


I composed the above contemplation seed after watching a Science Channel program about how difficult it has been as yet for scientists to develop antigravity propulsion that would allow space travel without the need for expensive and burdensome fuels. I see this as a metaphor for our experience as embodied Souls going about our existence in the physical realm of matter-energy-space-time. So, let me continue:

Whatever is the Matter in your life circumstances or habits, you can rise above the density as a point of view that Sees, Knows, and that may Be or become whatever It will accept or imagine. When you are able to See where you are at, how you got Here and where you appear to be headed, you have the freedom of choice to make changes and/or to learn from the course upon which you have embarked.

This is why assuming some time-out-of-time daily to dream, to contemplate actively, to deeply imagine or visualize, to journal, to Center, to practice whatever techniques you may choose to attain greater Self-realization or higher awareness may open your capacity to review, to reflect, and to project forth from a more creative, ‘better endings’ perspective.

images are gratefully free from pixabay.com

Such an ‘Antigrav’ perspective is neither a panacea nor an escape from the necessary consequences of our matter-bound courses of action already in motion. We live and hopefully learn from our experiences, which is after all the core value and benefit of Gravity. Still, we can rise above to observe the Moment, to exercise our ultimate independence beyond the worldly illusions of solidity.

Better Endings to All!