Mortal Decisions: How life can turn in an instant



The warm and sunny February day was not to be denied.  I left my computer and my phone and went for a walk today.  I usually choose the rural direction from my house, quiet roads with no one to see me, but today I decided to walk toward the human race.  I’ve driven Searsburg Road up from town a thousand times, heading to and from home, but realized I had never actually walked it.

One particular spot stopped me cold, I had stood there before.  I was next to a low flat trailer home on the edge of a rise, I turned to take a picture of it.  I didn’t notice a man standing on the porch until he spoke in that slightly defensive tone you reserve for strangers staring at your house.

“Can I help you?”

“I had an accident here a few years ago.”

I had always meant to knock on their door and explain the tire tracks in the snow that went right up to his front wall, so this was a small but welcome closure.  I briefly recounted the accident, one where no one was seriously hurt and how it nearly ended with my Prius in his living room.

“Oh, yeah, I remember, geez we only left the house for a little while and when we came back we were like, what happened here?”

We laughed and shook hands.  His name was Nick.  “Now if you ever do find a car in your living room, you’ll know what happened.”

What happened was that as I was driving home on a very cold fifteen-degree day in January five years ago, black ice on the clear pavement and a wheel grabbing mealy slush on the shoulder, I saw the car in front of me, about a hundred yards away, suddenly swerve to miss an oncoming vehicle that had crossed into his lane.  This Subaru station wagon now headed for me and began to fish-tail as the driver woke up and over-corrected.

As the car got closer, I could see that the driver was a woman, and alone.  I watched her swerve back and forth across the road and my options dwindled quickly.  A Prius is little more than a glorified golf cart, they don’t GO when they need to go and they do not STOP worth a god damn.  There was no way I could slow down enough to lessen injury, if I braked too hard I’d spin myself.  Our closing speed was about 80 mph.  I tried to time my passage by her, between the swerves, but she fish-tailed with her driver’s side broadside right across my lane.  Nowhere to go.

There were trees and a telephone pole off a four-foot embankment to my right—no escape there it seemed.  To pull into the snowbank would clearly pull both wheels into the ditch and I would end up sideways headed straight into a large tree that would take the top of my car off, and my head along with it.

The only reasonable option was to hit the car.  Cars crumple, airbags go off, this would easily be survivable and I might even walk away unhurt.  I resolved to hit right behind her driver’s door square on her passenger door—the soft spot, don’t hit the wheels, don’t hit the driver.  I had just totaled another Prius the year before, because, guess what, the brakes failed.

“Goddammit, I don’t want to total another God damn Prius!  This idea makes sense, but it just feels wrong.  I WILL NOT DO THIS.”

I glanced to my right and saw the last fleeting chance at a trajectory that MIGHT take me between the trees and the pole.  It’s not an easy sell when your brain tries to tell your body, one that spent a lifetime learning to keep the car ON the road, to suddenly fly your car off an embankment and into the midst of big scary trees.  In the fraction of a second left of my fleeting window of opportunity, my thoughts returned to hitting the Subaru’s passenger door.


“Fuck it.”

Still going 45 mph, I yanked the wheel just past the passing bark of the last tree and aimed for the right side of the distant telephone pole, then felt the wheels leave the ground.  There was a lot of snow, and I honestly thought it would cushion the fall.  It did not.  I lost both bumpers on my little sleigh ride and missed the pole by less than six inches.  Next, I realized that there was no way my Prius was going to stop before going into the house.  In the spirit of “I really don’t give a fuck anymore,” I turn the car sideways intending to stop like a downhill skier after the finish line.  It actually worked.  A Prius will stop…sideways.

The car still ran, and I walked away although my back was pretty messed up.  The young woman, barely past twenty, was in a ditch by now on the other side of the road.  I approached and asked if she was okay as she got out.

“Yeah, I’m fine… I was working late last night and I… I was so tired I…”

“Don’t worry about it (YOUR insurance will pay for everything) as long as you are okay, you need to sit down?”

“I’m okay, I just don’t know what’s supposed to happen now… my dad will be…”

“Don’t sweat it, I’ll call 911, they’ll send a police car, they’ll write up an accident report, you call your dad, he’ll call the insurance company, it will all be okay.  They’ll fix your car, everything will be fine, okay?”


I peered through her dirty windows into her station wagon.  I could see that one half of her back seat was down and could make out that there was junk all over.

“Hey, it could be worse, ” I said.  “You could have a kid in the back there.”

“Oh, I think he’s alright.  Just got jostled around a bit.”

“…you what?”

She opened the rear driver’s side door, the one I was about to hit, and there was a seven-month-old little boy in a car seat right behind the driver’s seat.  Right in the “sweet spot.”

“…umm… Let’s get him out of there and out of this cold.”

It was cold, but only then did I go numb.  Neighbors came out to let her stay in their house to wait.  I stayed out and directed traffic around her car which was partly in the road and just over a blind rise.

I can tell you, as sure as I am writing this, that I would have killed that baby, had I decided to hit the car rather than taking the harder choice.

Do you know how people who experience tragedies sometimes spend a lifetime asking themselves “Why did I do this”, “Why didn’t I do that?”  They torture themselves with “what ifs” because they know that one tiny decision could have changed the course of their life or that of someone else.  I know that this outcome was a happy one, but those what ifs still make my blood run cold, even five years later.

I never told the girl just how close she came to losing her child, or spending the rest of her life hating and questioning herself (or how close I came to it).  I spared her that.

It makes me think, though, how easily we forget how incredibly powerful we are; how with every passing instant we can change the course of our destinies.  I think about this most in relationships, especially these days, of how if our choices are not genuine and right, or if they are made out of panic and fear instead of love and compassion, how they can injure the lives of those around us, and perhaps rob us of our own best destiny.

Have you ever noticed that the decisions that are hardest, so often turn out to be the right ones?

Do we speak up or hide our feelings?  Do we answer or remain silent?  Do we stay or do we walk away?  One quick turn of the wheel and our lives diverge forever.  Or is there a way to circle around again?  I’d like to think there is, but I am also a dreamer.

I’m glad I met Nick today, I’m glad I chose to walk toward people instead of away, I’m glad I solved his mystery, and I’m glad for my small closure.  I’m glad I turned the wheel on that very cold day.

I can’t explain how connected I feel to that little boy, I think about him a lot.  He would be as old now as my daughter is in this photo.

I would like to meet him someday.

Just to see how he’s doing.



Wookin’ Pa Nub: Love, Relating, and the Muse

Love sculpture - Robert Indiana -  ShinjukuI love being alone. Wait, that’s not right, I hate being alone. I love solitude. A solitary mind is not alone it is connected with everything. The difference is that there is no one around whose presence alters yours. Zen masters call it aloneness, and it is not lonely, it is full and resonant and whole. Have you ever sat and looked up at the night sky and contemplated the stars and your existence? That is aloneness. Have you ever done it in a crowd or with even one? There is a difference isn’t there? Solitude is where you can project your consciousness out into the universe and sense what is reflected back to you, a sort of echolocation wherein you may find yourself in the deepest sense of the word.

I love solitude, right up to the point that I realize that I am terribly lonely! It’s true we are not islands. We require connection with others as part of our realization of who we are. That realization, and pardon my use of the broadest and therefore most meaningless term we have for it, is Love. Finding it is easy for a fortunate few, but for most of us, not so much.

Allow me to narrow if I can my meaning here with regard to this our most over-encumbered word. The union of souls, there that gets us a bit closer. We might call it romantic love, though sexual intimacy is not a necessary aspect of it, neither is gender.

As this post’s title implies, we are all “wookin’ pa nub”, with a grateful nod to Eddie Murphy’s SNL skit where he plays Buckwheat from “Our Gang” singing pop favorites. Truly, looking for love should never be taken too seriously. If Love eludes us, it is usually for a reason. News flash, it isn’t them, it’s us, and unless we find and escape the patterns we set, we are doomed to repeat our failures.

As for my own farcical search, it has been largely fruitless. It is a sisyphian tragedy, a fable of sorts, but the old kind, with a cruel recurring ending.

For me, the only type of people I truly understand, the ones that fascinate, engage and inspire me are artists; actors, musicians, performers, painters, sculptors, dancers, but with regard to the true union of souls, I had painted myself into a corner from the beginning.

I have always played the role of leader among artists, either as a producer, director, talent booker, or manager. There is a cliché in the theatre about the type of actress who carries on with her director, and this notion extends to my other leadership roles as well. It holds that any woman that takes up with the man in charge is either a mindless tart or a manipulating bitch. (Most directors are content enough with the former, and often fall prey to the latter.) Any good girl is unlikely to put herself in the line of fire of that cliché. They will be too afraid that they will become a target, one suddenly in competition with other women, judged, scrutinized, ostracized. Those fears are phantoms of course, anyone who truly cares about you, who sees you truly happy, will be happy for you. The rest can go hang. But try explaining that to a good girl.

To make matters worse, the only kinds of relationship I value are intimate ones, whatever the type of relationship. I am not an acquaintance kind of guy; I acquire precious few, and very close relationships. When I encounter someone I feel I understand and see clearly, I seek closeness, intimacy. With women (the only way I lean) it doesn’t have to be romantic or sexual, and often it is not, but since I don’t know how to stop seeking intimacy, and refuse to label what I don’t yet understand, there comes a point where I get too close and they don’t know how to let me in. Confusion and fear is the result and they play it safe, turn tail and run. I have been around that block more times than I will admit. This is my pattern, and a trap I still do not fully understand my way out of. It’s either that pattern or not being accessible at all, which is worse.

I wish I liked tarts.

Give up being a leader? No, that won’t work either. Though it sounds special, being in charge is not what it’s cracked up to be. I dislike being a leader, but I lead because the only thing I like less than leading is following. I stand in my painted corner brush in hand.  eyes-6-wallpaper right

Sad to say, I gave up on my failed pattern long ago with no resolution. Disgusted and bruised, I locked away wookin’ pa nub in a trunk, and shoved it under the bed. This time I decided that it was better for me to focus completely on my four-year-old daughter dealing with a newly divided home, than waste my energy on looking for Ms. Goodbar. It was a good decision, but even good decisions have their expiration dates. It has been clear recently that my daughter would benefit from my finding Love as much as I would. So I reached for that dusty old trunk and opened it. When I looked inside I was surprised and deeply moved to see that what I had left there so long ago was EXACTLY THE SAME AS WHEN I LEFT IT! What was I expecting, the problem to solve itself? Time to roll that rock up that hill again Gary, maybe this time it will be different.

In a fit of compassion for my little girl I tried on-line dating. I put up a profile and spent three hilarious days watching pings come in. They couldn’t even wait for a date before they started telling me what to do, how to post, and what I need to do to fulfill their expectations. “No thank you, when I want a girl who is looking for the next stub to blame her misery on I’ll call you.” After three days I scrubbed every bit of it off the Internet. I will put my faith in the Law of Attraction thank you, even if I die alone!

Guys are simple; they are looking for either their mother or a porn star. God forbid their mother was a porn star. Women will too often compromise their truth by settling for less than what they want in order to not be alone. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that, but they will be dishonest with themselves about their expectations, still hoping for their desire, and end up resenting the fella who is only there to hold space. I submit that there was never a relationship that “failed” where there was real honesty with one’s self and with the other, a true understanding of expectations, and the integrity to follow through on them.

Even the word “relationship” is misleading. It’s a noun. We are not nouns; we are verbs. We are ever evolving and changing things, our relating must also change, evolve, and be new each day. The correct word is relating, the verb; a relationship is something that was, not something that is.

I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a failed relationship. Every relationship, no matter how good or how bad has its gifts. There is always growth and value to them, so how can we call them failures? My biggest peeve is people with a two dimensional view of relating. We are either friends or lovers, lovers or strangers, right or wrong, good or bad for each other. Bunk. There are as many kinds of relating as there are people to relate with. Each one is unique and should not have to fit into our cultural conditioning or confined by common archetypes, values, or morality. As unique as the individuals are, so too is their relating. How much love has been lost in the world because it did not conform to accepted standards, sad.

This understanding can answer some confusing questions about relationships that “didn’t work out.” Some souls enter our orbit, and we theirs, for reasons that we do not fully understand when it happens. The power of their pull and the serendipity of their arrival lead us to assume that these must be lovers sent to us by destiny. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. I call them Doorways, they are captivating, inspiring, and open us up to parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed, and break wide open a sky full of new possibilities. They fill our lives with light. This has to be destined love, right? Maybe not.

We often serve the same purpose for them as well, making it seem impossible that we should not be together, but there always seems to be some block or consequence or taboo that gets in the way of smooth sailing with Doorway people. Yet we are at times gifted with these unlooked for miracles of love for a special and often finite purpose. When their orbits are complete, when we have opened the doorways they offered, and they ours, their trajectories shift away from us. If we failed to understand or accept their true purpose for us, we would believe that we have lost at love, that the relationship had tragically failed, and it can leave us deeply heart broken. These can be deep, mystical, intimate and powerful connections, and for the unaware they can be quite a handful. Just the awareness that there can be lovers in our lives, even ones we never touch, that are not part of the ‘ever after’ myth can be a valuable insight for healing.

Did I mention they hurt? All growth hurts my friends. Never abdicate your happiness in the present for fear that it will end in the future, because guess what, everything has its ending.

eyes-6-wallpaper leftThere is another word used to describe my Doorway people, the ones who inspire us to new heights of achievement and depths of self-insight, it’s an old fashion word used mostly by artists, but anyone can have them, they are called Muses. My advice to you, and trust me on this, because I have encountered them many times, if you are lucky enough to find one, grab them by the hand and run as far and as fast as you can, while you can! The benefits far outweigh the risks. They are precious things, gifts from the Gods, do not run, do not hesitate, dive in, and conscience be damned.

I believe that much of our trouble finding Love has to do with a true understanding of what it is. We shroud it in illusions, some of which are not at all pleasant to release. What we call love is really a whole spectrum of relating. At the primal level, love is sexual attraction. Many of us remain stuck there, because our conditioning has burdened our sexuality with all kinds of expectations and repressions. As our awareness rises, we can begin to experience the love that exists beyond sexuality and honors the unique individuality of the other. We begin to understand that our partner often functions as a mirror, reflecting unseen aspects of our deeper self and supporting us to become whole. This love is based in freedom, not expectation or need.

One magical night you will finally meet your soulmate, that one perfect person who will meet all your needs and fulfill all your dreams. Right? Wrong! This myth that songwriters and poets are so fond of perpetuating has its roots in the womb, where we were so secure and at one with our mothers. We yearn to return to that place, and look for it in others. To put it bluntly and quite brutally, it is a childish dream. Nobody, whether it’s your current mate or some dreamed-of partner in the future, has any obligation to deliver your happiness on a platter, nor could they if they wanted to. Your happiness is self-bestowed. Real love comes not from trying to solve our neediness by depending on another, but by developing our own inner richness and maturity. Then we have so much love to give that we naturally draw lovers towards us. This is what I mean by the Law of Attraction.

Often we are not able to see each other clearly. Each of us may be projecting an image we have constructed in our minds, covering the real face of the person we are looking at. We all get caught up in this sometimes, projecting movies of our own making onto situations and people surrounding us. This happens when we are not fully aware of our own expectations, desires and judgments, instead of taking responsibility for them and owning them, we try to attribute them to others. They are clouds that prevent us from seeing reality as it is. We must recognize the game. Does what you see in others really belong to you? Is your vision clear, or clouded by what you want to see?

What are your definitions of Love? If you don’t have any, then how can you find it? I will share a few of mine that I have found, in case I caught you off guard. My favorite is, to delight in another’s happiness. When you experience bliss in another’s bliss even when it has no connection or benefit to you, chances are that Love connects you.

There is a marvelous story that Joseph Campbell told about two cops trying to talk a man off a bridge who intended to commit suicide. As one cop tried to coax him down from the railing, the man jumped. This cop jumped after him, right over the side himself. He caught the man by his legs as the other cop caught his, saving both of them. The first cop had a family and kids and everything to live for, so why did he throw his own life after a perfect stranger’s? He was asked this afterwards, he struggled for an explanation, and being pressed for how he felt at the instant he jumped after the man, said that it felt as if he was jumping, that he was the man throwing his life away. This is my next definition of Love, a recognition of oneness.

We are all made of the same stuff, we are one, and in extreme moments of clarity this inner knowing shows itself. What is this stuff? This stuff of which we are made is love. It’s not a metaphor; we are actually made of it. We are love. Find someone within whom you can see this truth, and you will have an end to all your fruitless searches.

My sister recently reminded me of what my mother said of love. The next day I was certain I remembered her saying it to me; she probably said it to all her kids. It is indeed the simplest and most profound observation of love I have yet found. She said, “You do not love another person for yourself, you love them for them.” Having a child can teach you that about love, and I know that I love others that way as well. Imagine though, loving another person like this, who loves you in that very same way. That is a true bond of love, and a union of souls.

My mother would also say to me somewhat ruefully, “Gary, you want the world to be a perfect place,” that’s right Ma someone has to. If I ever find a perfect world, it will most likely be in a pair of eyes, one that sees in me what I see in them.

Now that would be something.eyes-6-wallpaper

Beginner’s Eyes: What My Daughter Taught Me About Perspective

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I am fifty-six years old, and the number makes me laugh. I still can’t wrap my brain around it. When people ask me how old I am, I tell them I am twenty-three, then they laugh. It’s a joke of course, but only sort of, because I still feel twenty-three, and I actually do think of myself as that age, less the angst, plus the life experience. Perhaps “thinking young” is the reason why people still guess my age as low as forty. Even at forty, the number sounded so ridiculous to me that I began a practice of counting down in years each birthday thereafter. Next year I’ll be “twenty-three” and the timing is just right.

Why twenty-three? Because that was the age I just began to know myself well enough to know what I really wanted. It was when I best recall having all the energy, vision, and time I needed to take my life wherever I desired, a time when everything was possible. I feel that way today, but it hasn’t always been that way.

DSC_0115I have somehow always known that I would have a daughter. I was first married at twenty-six, but was in no hurry to have a child. I wanted to wait until my thirties to raise a child, because I wanted to have the life experience to do it properly, and not while I was still so absorbed with starting my own life. It took a little longer than I expected, but that’s another story. I was forty-seven when Madi finally came along. By then, I was hoping that raising a child would keep me thinking young.

It worked.

I remember the moment I heard that my fifteen-year quest for progeny was finally realized. It was over the phone, I was sitting alone in the dark, in a garden. Suddenly magic, beauty and wonder that I hardly knew was missing seeped back in to the world. The dark garden filled with colors I hadn’t noticed, and I decided then that I would not let them fade again.DSC_0192.JPG - Version 2

I set my intention to seeing the world through my child’s eyes, to reengage life as I had originally found it when I began it myself. I wanted to reach back, if only in fractured moments, to life in its newest, purest form. I wanted to touch, if I could, original innocence, trust, play, bliss, and above all wonder. Of course we can’t go back to being a child, nor should we want to, but if these things can be brought forward to where we are now, how much more potent would our lives be? Seeing through my daughter’s eyes became a practice of mine, one I came to call seeing with “beginners eyes.”

What does that look like? Let me ask you, do you remember a time when you walked down the street in the middle of the road because it just made natural sense? Do you remember the feeling of an open space needing to be filled, or a time when there was never a question of trust? Do you remember when colors had no name? Do you remember when your only concept of time was dusk in the sky and your mother’s voice calling you in for dinner? Do you remember when a woods or open pasture was a choir of adventures calling your name? Do you remember nature? Do you remember what it was like when the word future had no meaning? Can you recall when understanding the world around you was more important than understanding yourself and your place in it? These are the things you see with beginner’s eyes.DSC_0171 - Version 2

If we had this view, if we found the practice of it in our daily lives, we could see past the thought-forms and constructs we adhere to in order to survive in an orderly world; how the clock and the agreements we make segment our life. We could see from a greater vantage the way we steep ourselves in a complex game of achievement. How we barter and compromise ourselves in relationships, and the way we run the race to the future, and overlook the present.

We choose this game of life, and so far as I can determine, we are here to know ourselves within its context, to find and actualize ourselves as best we can for some secret purpose that must somehow include growth. It’s a great game, a wonderful game, but we invariably get bogged down in it and lose our bearings, like a war we fight until we forget what we are fighting for and the battle becomes all that matters. My daughter taught me to keep stopping, stopping to look at things I knew well, as if they where brand new.

One dewy Spring morning Madi and I leave the front door in a rush to get into the car.

“Daddy wait! Look at the flowers!”

“Aww, Madi don’t run through the wet grass with your good shoes, come on we’ll be late!”

She turns and gives me a curious, almost sympathetic look as though I must be thick or something, “But Daddy, it’s the first flower.”

“Of course, right. My bad. They’re called crocuses…” They were white with purple and looked like little girls bent over with their long hair thrown over their heads, feet in the dirt like my daughter. We were late to wherever it was we were going, with wet shoes, but we had marveled over our garden’s first flowers and had given them their due. It is amazing what you will see when you stop to look.DSC_0319

Winter. We’re in the school parking lot for a morning drop off at school, there is a light snow, and it’s cold.

“Daddy look, snowflakes!!”

“Yeah, yeah sweetie it’s snow, let’s go, come on now.”

“No… Look!

She was staring at the car window. The temperature was just right for each snowflake to fall unspoiled and perfect on the darkened window.

“Wow! Cool Madi!”

“How do they do that?”

“When water in the air freezes, nature turns them to crystals, they say that no two snowflakes ever look the same. Imagine how many snowflakes have fallen and each one is completely different.”

“Awesome. Daddy can we save them?”

“No, but I’ll take a picture of them for you, so you can look at them later.” After I dropped her off, I spent fifteen minutes in the cold staring at them.

DSC_0116 - Version 2Summer evening. There’s a new moon and the sky is brilliant with stars.

“Daddy, what are all those lights up there?”

Stars, some planets, and Galaxies, which are huge groups of stars, but mostly it’s stars.”

“What are stars?”

“You know the sun, the sun is a star. Imagine the sun so far away that it looks like those tiny points of light.”

“Whoa, there are so many. How far away are they?”

“Well, they are so far away that the light we see from them takes millions of years to get to us. In fact, the light we see is so old, that the stars we are looking at may not even be there anymore.”

“Then what is behind the sky??”

“What indeed Miss Madi, what indeed?photo inchworm

I take great comfort in the fact that even though she takes as commonplace the stunning visual effects in movies and dazzling electronic toys that would have blown my mind as a child; she is still in rapture over a caterpillar on a stick.

I have incorporated “beginner’s eyes” into my work, in the form of exercises I use in my creativity and improvisation workshops. Participants might begin by pointing to and naming objects using anything but the name we all agree upon for them. They will be asked to find and hold an object in their hands and look closely at it, then they are tasked with forgetting its name, color, shape, purpose, until every cognitive construct we use to associate it into our understanding disappears. Then they are asked to see everything around them without any artificial symbol or association, and finally to see themselves in that way. The way the world comes alive for them, and the realizations they come to about themselves is often quite moving.

DSC_0119The practice of this gives you the ability to break tightly held mental patterns, and to broaden your perspective. We walk a maze of our own creation, following arbitrary and self-imposed rules. So what shall we do when our life’s maze offers us a dead-end? We climb over the damn wall!

The gift of a child’s experience, installed in an adult life grants us a nimble perspective. When we lose our job, instead of feeling trapped and failed, we may see a new career beckon. When we lose love, instead of feeling lost and alone, we may see a fresh new page turn. If we have a dream, we may run to fill it. When we run out of time, we may learn to let go of time. When we find ourselves directionless, we may listen for what calls us next. We may learn to stop throwing our happiness into the future, and learn to accept it now. We may even learn to stop searching so hard for ourselves that we forget who we are, or fail to see others.

My daughter will grow up, and she will fall prey to all of these things, as we all do, as we all must at some point. She will forget her beginner’s eyes someday, but I will never lose her gift. When she needs it most, her father, still twenty-three years old, will be there with these eyes, the ones she gave me.

And I will return the favor.

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The Kachina Woman: A Battle of Conscience and Compassion

SedonaYou may as well know now that I am prone to “odd” or what some would call mystical experiences. No more than many, and far less than some I am certain, but I cannot do much justice to The Amber Road without letting you in on a few of my secrets. That being said, this is not a blog about religion, faith, or even God for that matter. For the big questions I tend toward a more secular spirituality, lean Zen, and don’t go in for Dogma much, despite being raised a Catholic. Sorry, my religious friends, more power to you. I grant a wide-open space for anyone who finds what works for him or her so long as it harms none, and I hope you’ll do the same for me.

I have finally embraced the idea that I am “highly intuitive”, mostly because it explains a lot, but I still hold that everyone else is as well, if they only pay attention and explore it. The following story is excerpted from an old journal entry and details my first experience with The Kachina Woman.

A Kachina (kah-chee-nah) is a spiritual being central to the religious life of the Hopi Indians, who live in the arid highlands of northern Arizona, and have done so for twelve hundred years. The “Kachina Woman” is a particular spirit said to inhabit a rock formation of the same name in Boynton Canyon, near Sedona. This first visit of mine has inspired a number of others in the years since, and has offered me some powerful insights. Since it is my intention to share a few of the more recent insights, it only makes sense that I begin at the beginning.

Before we head back to 1996 for this story, let it be said that I do not have a “Belief” in past lives, rather I hold an “Openness” to it. Belief is a strict and stringent concretization of a perception that I try hard to avoid. Blame it on my practice of the creative process, but I would rather embrace ambiguity than do battle with conflicting ideas that I will never understand anyway. It doesn’t matter whether we see “past lives” as a returning on a great wheel of existence, or an active subconscious, or a parallel existence, or the shared Now of a Multiverse, what matters are the lessons and insights we gain from their stories, if we allow ourselves to be available to them, and that we use those lessons to better our experience of life here and now. Fair enough?

Other than the Kachiona Woman herself, the other character in this story is Nancy, my first wife. If you’re going to be divorced, it’s best to do it twice so that you can use a number rather than the “X” prefix, which is no way to refer to a person. Nancy and I spent a good deal of the 90’s exploring all manner of spirituality, and that lead us to Sedona and the Hopi.

I love the Sedona dessert, and the red rock canyons, the sweet pinch of conifer in your nose and the bare blue sky. I could walk it until I drop, which is what Nancy and I tried to do that week on our quest to walk all of the energy vortexes that abound in the area. The New Agers will tell you that they are earth mother energies, and the scientists will tell you they are magnetic fields generated by iron deposits in the rock. I don’t much care, I just feel better here, more connected, and strangely at home.

We made our way up the canyon to the base of the Kachina Woman. The formation itself was a tall spire set apart from the cliff face at the very end of the canyon wall. It had a roundish mass of stone at its peak, which made a sphinxlike head, and gave the vague appearance of a human form. It was easy to imagine a presence inside the rock.Kachina IMG_3435

When we reached the base, I set my pack down and Nancy and I sat with our backs to the rock and began meditating.

I am no master at the art of meditation even today; I do okay, but I was certainly less so then, so I was completely unprepared for what happened. Never before, and nowhere since, have I ever had a more immediate, visceral, and impactful connection to something outside myself. This place is my little mecca.

I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and following the Hopi aphorism, “Keep the top of your head open.” I prepared for the usual vague dance of thoughts and impressions, uncertain of what was merely my imagination and what is not. Instead, I felt my consciousness suddenly drawn up into the spire of rock like smoke through a flue, imbedding me in the red stone. It was a force quite outside myself. My vision was clear and waking. I looked out over the canyon from the top of the spire, high above the man seated against the rock below.

I was with a very powerful presence, wrapped in it in fact, unmistakably real and distinctly feminine, but larger. I made my greeting and asked if the Kachina Woman had any messages for me.

“Many roads,” she said. The words were loud and clearly audible in my mind. Her communication was a mix of spoken word and emotional impressions.

“Many roads?” I asked.

“You have traveled many roads”, she replied, referring to many past lives, and that I was an old soul. Yes, it sounded corny to me too, but it was part message, part observation. I felt her regard me with some openness and acceptance. I responded in kind, trusting, and was taken further into the rock. I was enfolded in its arms, embraced, cradled as in a mother’s arms, and felt such a solid, peaceful serenity!

“Do you remember me?” she said with a meaningful curiosity. The feeling is impossible to describe in words, a safety and belonging deeper than bedrock and so familiar! “Yes I do remember you,” I said. The Kachina Woman was showing me my connection with a more expansive realm than I could have imagined possible. It was deliberate, instructional. I was in school it seemed, only I felt like a toddler at a Doctoral dissertation defense.

My analytical nature took over, as it often does when I am fearful that I am becoming “embarrassingly New Age.” I thought about how long she had been in this rock, the millions of years it took to form this canyon, and the improbability of the whole thing. Here I was, in the presence of a great spirit playing with the Tinker Toys of intellect, I should have been embarrassed about that.

I no sooner held the thought out to her, than she showed me her age. My mind expanded across time, silent ages, sand and wind over stone. Then, briefly, she allowed me to glimpse the ages she had passed. My consciousness stretched needle–thin as though forced through a wormhole. I saw before me every instant of countless millennia, every minute detail of every moment, drawn out in an impossibly long line. This line had no perspective, no vanishing point, I saw all of it, and it was endless. Each instant I saw singularly, and I saw every instant simultaneously, at the same instant, the original instant, the perfect Now. She did not sit for ages inside a rock.  Her mind exists outside time.  She had always been there, and it has always been the present.  I experienced a moment well beyond my mind’s reach, she had granted me a part of her “ageless mind” in order that I could know it. It hurt, I must tell you. I do not retain this experience directly; rather I retain the impression of it.

Now fully sober, and still reeling from the experience of being afforded a glimpse of the unknowable true nature of time. Again, ouch! I put away my intellectual Tinker Toys and decided to go for broke. I asked her what my purpose in this life is.

“It is yours to find,” I appreciated the candor of her answer, the celestial equivalent of, “go fish.” What was I expecting? I tried again, choosing my words carefully.

“How can I come to know this purpose?”

“Through faith, trust, honesty, and truth to your Self,” she replied.

“How about a hint as to what my life purpose is, if you care to offer one,” I ventured.

“It is who you are.” She answered.

“Whatever that means,” I thought. “Okay, thank you. I’ll have to chew on that, but later.” I decided that it was much better to let her offer information rather than my asking insipid and shortsighted questions.

I relaxed, refocused, and invited her to send me a message of her own choosing.

A vision came immediately into view. I was looking at a cliff face of red rock, though not quite as red as the Sedona rock. In the side of the cliff face was an angular cave. A long flat ledge extended from the base of the cave and gently sloped away from the entrance. A small promontory on the ledge held the figure of an Indian warrior. Just inside the cave entrance could be seen an Indian woman and an infant child.

The Indian was a warrior, and those in the cave were his wife and daughter. The emotional impressions came: He lived on this rock, she was his whole life, and the child was the gem of his life. I gathered that this was one of my “many roads.” My attention kept coming back to the rock. It was so vivid. Its color and texture stood out. It seemed alive.

“Fine, I thought, another Indian past life. What’s all this with Indians?” As I said this, I felt I knew where it was going, and I didn’t like it. Greyness came over the scene like a mist, and I knew I would see what befell the family next.

“Nope. No thank you! I’ll have none of this.” What approached hurt in too familiar a way, pain like an old wound rubbed raw again.

A few noisy climbers jarred my concentration just then, and I used it to wriggle free of the arms of this vision like a panicked rabbit. “Nope, nope, nope.” I opened my eyes and sat forward to get up, and felt decidedly uneasy. It was as if I still had part of my consciousness inside the stone.

“Oh no you don’t,” I heard as an unseen hand grabbed me by the back of my collar and physically yanked me back against the wall hard enough to whip my head back and smack it into the stone.

“Oww! Fine, show me! (as if I had a choice)”

The first thing I saw was the mist clearing. It wasted no time to reveal the woman and child lying across the sloping entrance; their bodies slit open, gushing blood onto the rock, a dark deep red flowing over the stone. The warrior was there. There had been an attack and he had failed to protect his family, his one greatest charge. I felt the man’s rage, sorrow, and isolation. I knew his shame and self-hatred had only vengeance and anger to act upon, there was no redemption.

I had seen plenty, and I was livid for being forced to see it. “Yes, yes, betrayal and abandonment! I know this place; abused women, dead mothers, absent children. I’ve seen this play! So what!? So I am supposed to have lived another life as some poor bastard who lived these things and they have significance for me this time around too, I get it. Big deal!! I know my demons Kachina Woman, tell me something new!”

She did.

“You are the rock.” Her voice was soft, absolute, and breathtakingly kind.

“I’m the what? I thought I was the warrior guy?”

Slowly and very patiently, she repeated, “You are the rock.”

She then showed me an impression of the rock ledge and mountainside holding, supporting, and cradling this family. A new door in my understanding began to move on its hinges. I asked her to show me what happened to the warrior.

The scene returned with my knowing that with vengeance as his only remaining purpose, he had found his battle and he had lost it. He was lying on the same ledge, cut open and dying. His loss and despair was incomprehensible, I pushed with all my strength to keep it at arms length. He had failed in his sacred charge to protect what he loved; he failed himself, and even failed in his useless vengeance. The emptiness in him was vast.

There alone, his blood flowed over the same stone. In his final agony, buried in his shame, he became distracted by the sparkling in the red stone. He watched his own blood pool and flow into view. He became absorbed by the contrast of his red blood and the redness of the stone, and thought how beautiful it was. He was glad to die, glad to be rid of his life that now held no meaning for him. As his strength faded, his anger gave up and let go. In his final moment, he embraced surrender. He himself thought it strange, but he rejoiced as he died, and in his agony thanked in his heart those who took his life.

Stories have happy endings, I thought, but life sometimes does not. I watched then as his spirit arched up from his form. Behind him, from the spot where they perished, the spirits of his wife and child also rose. Once beyond the earth, they were rejoined. I saw the three glittering spirits embrace, swirling in an ecstasy of reunion. They seemed to merge into one shining mist, and then they rose again, up and away from me to some higher place.

“You are the rock”, she said again.

The epiphany landed, “Oooooh..” I finally caught the leap in understanding that she was bringing me to all along. I am not the man who lived these events, I, the truer, deeper self she knew me as, am like the rock that held these lives, kept them, created them. The man, the entire family for that matter, was an aspect of me. I am not a character in my past lives; I am the rock upon which they play out their pageants, the foundation; deep, solid, whole.

This was the purpose of her playful question, “Do you recognize me?” She was asking if I could see her as she sees me; the greater self that I am. Her message was planned from the moment I sat down. She answered my question about time to show me how much greater the breadth of existence is than the tiny one I thought I knew. She wanted me to know that all of the pain I knew had a purpose and a meaning, and that I was the one who chose it. There is no such thing as a victim.

The Kachina Woman made me aware of a whole new truth. Once I am able to see myself as she does, my whole sense of reality changes. I create my own meaning, direct my own life purpose, and it has all to do with who I am. How can I come to know this purpose?

“Through faith, trust, honesty, and truth to your Self,” she said.

My poor mind was stretched to its limit. I had to leave. I thanked the Kachina Woman for her wisdom and patience. She seemed pleased with me. I slowly drew my consciousness from the spire, and gathered myself back into this my current pageant.

I have since that time began a practice of trying to see others the way she saw me, and I have gotten pretty good at it. We all walk through life carrying a collection of luggage in the form of fears, doubts, anger, questions of self worth, inhibitions, insecurities, mistrust, misconceptions, projections, lies, and a sense of separateness.

In my work as a director and teacher, it is my job to cut through the luggage to discover the artist inside. In my relationships it is my job to see most clearly the person I love. It is easy to get lost in all that garbage we tote around, unless you know how to keep your focus on the prize.

It’s not that hard to do. You just find them in a quiet moment when they have no one to perform for, and watch their eyes. Then look. Don’t look into their eyes, because that makes you an active player, watch them when they are not looking at you. The hardest part is not to see through your eyes. We all look at others through the lens of our own expectation, perspective, and judgment. You’ll have to learn how to see through your own greater self first.

If you do this, you will see them as their original self, in the same way we see a child, before all of that luggage is acquired. If you can do this, no matter who it is, you will be rewarded with a view of an absolute and perfect beauty. Once you have this picture, you will find all the patience you’ll ever need to deal with the luggage.

I don’t try this with everyone; I will pick and choose when the need or desire arises. I think if I tried to do this with everyone my head would explode. My only caution is to be prepared for something quite powerful, and don’t mistake it for something else.

If there is a word for people who can see everyone this way, it must be Greatness. This is its architecture.

For we mortals, I know for certain that there is a word for setting yourself aside in order to see through to the truth and beauty of another.

It is Compassion.