Why This Syrian Boy Resonated So Deeply for Me

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I woke up this morning with the image of little Omran Daqneesh in my head and it finally dawned on me why he looked so familiar to me.

THAT is my inner child.

Seriously, no joke–that is what he looks like right now. I’ve spent three years in a kind of slow free-fall of stress, private anguish, trauma, and loss that my skill could not diminish no matter what I tried. Sometimes all we can do is persevere.

If by “inner child” we mean a personification of that source within our core that is pure, joyful, innocent, trusting, playful, and loving, then we should be able to picture it, recognize it.

This morning I have, and THAT’S HIM.

As that image resonates with what I see in myself, it is heartening to know just how durable the little fellow is. As I begin to crawl out from under the rubble of things I needed like a hole in my head, the proof is there, of the ineffable, indelible innocence and goodness that is the origin and seat of who we are.

Persevere, my friends. Whether it be by fire, flood, war, or personal strife, sooner or later, someone will walk by that pile of rubble you are buried under, and pull you back into the daylight.

 

(5-year-old Omran Daqneesh suffered head wounds but no brain injury. Workers feared internal injuries, but an X-ray and ultrasound revealed his wounds were superficial. Omran’s three siblings, ages 1, 6, and 11, and his mother and father were also rescued from the building. None sustained major injuries. The Russian military said Thursday it was ready to back a U.N. call for weekly cease-fires for the city of Aleppo. …curious, what opened eyes can lead to.)

 

Change the World: It’s easier than you think

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The world is a dangerous place.  Life is unfair.  People are cruel.

We must all unite together, stand up and demand change!  Politics, the global stage, war, business, arts, society, economy, all are rife with cruelty, abuse, and inequity.

These things have existed since the dawn of civilization, and it is time that they STOP!  Join with me and we will make the world the place it is meant to be; safe, secure, prosperous, equal, joyful, and compassionate, once and for all.

In an uncertain world, there is one thing for which we can be virtually certain.

We will not succeed in this.

We can look back upon ten thousand years of human evolution, seeing where we have come from and compare it to where we have come to and know that the world has not changed at all.

It is essentially the same as it has always been.

Despair?  Maybe not.

Let’s reframe.  Let us take the evidence at face value and concede that perhaps the world is not SUPPOSED to change.  This is a high-altitude view, so get your wings on.

PERHAPS, struggle is the nature of the human experience.  Struggle is why we are here.  Struggle is our gift.  The innocent mind will discover the cruelty of the world, rightly conclude that it is wrong, and falsely assume that it is the world that must change.

Maybe, just maybe, in the heart of our hearts, the home of our homes, the self of ourselves, our mission and destiny are only to find our course through this world of marvels and maliciousness, danger and wonder.  What if we are here only to learn for ourselves to make the right choices, turn the correct turns, find our own small, safe, and sacred beauty in this world.

Does that sound too selfish?  Too easy?  Instead of only being satisfied with a changed world, can we be satisfied with just our changed self?  It’s easier to blame the world than to task ourselves.

The truth may be that we do not own the world and that we may have absolutely no right to it.  We may only own and have the right to our individual path THROUGH it.  Within the part of my path that touches yours resides my experience of the world.  I don’t need to change the entire world, I just need to make your’s and my experience of it better.

We all can make ourselves mad with anger and despair by living with the mindset that nothing is right until the whole world changes.  We can split our guilty consciousness with a thousand worthy causes, ten thousand, and ten times that.  We can maim our spirits and throw away all belief in the goodness of life by refusing to accept that the world is the way it should be.

What if the world were not the insurmountable “task” we imagine it to be, but a “garden”; a garden of love and fear that we get to pick our path through.

Instead of insisting that the world change for us, that every wrong should be righted, every problem solved; let’s instead, from this high-height, understand that the context of the world will never change.  Light the path in front of you, and avoid the darkness.

What would the world be like, I wonder, if we all chose ONE CAUSE that resonated deeply for us, aligned with our own personal destiny, and strove for that one achievable goal, being at peace with the rest; knowing that the rest is for others to choose.

I would rather help one person utterly, than a thousand imperceptibly, and let the collateral goodness fall where it may.    

But I guess that’s my path.

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What the World Needs Now: 9 Ways to Develop Empathy

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Empathy is part of our humanity, allowing us to organize ourselves into community and create society; we all have the ability to empathize, but to what extent do we use it? There’s the rub.

Empathy is the feeling and experience that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings, even if they are far removed from your own.

Empathy in business and communication has recently become a new buzzword; one can readily find people teaching techniques to increase one’s ability to use empathy for one’s self and others. (Not surprisingly, they have found a way of monetizing it.) I’ve been doing some research on this and my personal reaction has been, “What the fuck, you mean people don’t already know how to do this!?” Apparently not.

I have always been afflicted with this ability (and you’ll see why I ruefully use that term later on), so it has been hard for me to realize that it is not as pervasive as I have assumed. How easy it is to simply assume that everyone else holds an ability that you find natural?

One evening, when I was just out of college and pursuing my plan of being a famous comedian, I had an extreme experience of empathy that taught me a lot. I was living in a rented room at a friend’s house, broke, in the midst of a college town in Syracuse New York. Barely surviving, head full of dreams; I took a walk one balmy evening down a quiet street of lovely turn-of-the-century homes that knew generations of families long forgotten, now used for frats and college life, and some few families still raising their children as their immigrant elders did. It was dusk, just that time when the lights from within each house illuminated the rooms inside, allowing you that accidental glimpse of the lives they harbored.

I loved looking inside as I passed. Like a wind-blown skirt exposing a hidden thigh, I couldn’t help but look. I loved environments and what they revealed of the lives that created them. As each one passed, I’d step further outside of myself and into those rooms; the pictures on the walls, the keepsakes on the mantles, the arrangement of furniture, the mislaid clothing, all drew me into the feeling that they were my home. This favorite chair was mine, that picture full of my memories; before long I could see a half-open bathroom door and know that behind it was a bathrobe, a belt hanging, and a cap on the hook behind it, out of my view but known to me. I felt the people who lived there as if they were I; all of the joys, the troubles, the love, back through time, were mine, were me.

I was overtaken that evening by a genuinely indescribable feeling, uncoveyable—but I will try. Each of these houses were like illuminated books on the self of a great library; rows of cardboard comfort, and I knew all of the lives, all of it, and I made the singular realization that, “everything was alright.” Not only that, but everything had always been alright, and everything always would be. All at once, the light of every hearth was made known to me; I stopped, doubled over, my knees weak, my breathing difficult and halting, my vision blurred and my head (and heart) felt like it was about to explode. The best way to describe it is that it was the exact polar opposite of an anxiety attack. I almost fell to me knees but managed to stay standing. When it subsided, I thought, “I am standing in ‘town center’ of college coed angst, depression, and uncertainty, and here I am blissing-out over interior decor—what a weirdo.” Such is the power of empathy.

All of us have the ability to empathize, but some of us are what they call an empath. (Also known as clairsentient.) It took me a long, long time to recognize and deal with this. There are people who can teach you how to cope with this, but most empaths have to figure it out for themselves. I am not a true empath; I have some annoyingly pronounced empathic tendencies. There are really very few empaths around—only a tiny percentage of the population.

empath 2.jpgEmpaths can have a difficult time in life if they don’t recognize themselves as such and understand it. They must learn how to work with their clairsentient ability without getting overwhelmed, and need to accept that they have a more sensitive nervous system and that this has implications for how they lead their life.

Here are the traits of an Empath: See if any of these sound familiar to you. If they do, I recommend researching how to control the skill:

  • Random mood swings even though you have no idea why. You search for possible reasons why you may be feeling the way you do and attach labels that don’t really fit. (You don’t realize that they are not your emotions; you are feeling the emotions of others.)
  • In crowds, your emotions run high and change often–you get anxiety-ridden, panicky, frustrated, angry. You may want to be in a large crowd, but every time you do, you end up feeling tired (and it’s because you emotionally run a marathon of different emotions).  You can even feel physically ill or have intense headaches.
  • People seek you out to confide in you.
  • People like being around you, but every time they are, they end up talking about their problems/issues and yet, your problems/issues are rarely spoken of, if at all.
  • You have a need to make everyone feel better/feel happier and take steps to make it happen.
  • You somehow just “know” what people need to hear in order to feel better about themselves.
  • You have difficulty expressing your own emotions and much prefer to focus on someone else.
  • You often ignore people’s bad treatment of you–explaining it away because they need you, and on some level, that’s enough for you.
  • You are the natural healer, helper & you always sacrifice for others. You NEED to help people. (This is because their need and pain feels like your own.)
  • You are a magnet/receptacle for negative energy. Not because you started out feeling negative, but because others need a place to put their negative energy (and there you were, ready to receive it!).
  • You don’t like feeling bad/down/negative/sad, but you feel resigned & believe it to be part of your lot in life.
  • You are the natural animal lover! You love animals–they make you feel happy and a love that feels like pure innocence.
  • You are a “nature baby.” Being in the country, by the water, at the beach, a good rainstorm, etc.–anything to do with nature brings you a sense of peace that you just crave.
  • Those you love feel physically connected to you, even when miles apart. You can suddenly feel strong shifts in emotions; good or bad that you know are theirs.
  • You can sometimes see emotions in the form of colors or auras.
  • You struggle with setting boundaries because the disappointment, anger and grief (and other emotions) of other people impacts you deeply. It seems that, no matter what you do, it’s always lose-lose for you. Either you stand up for yourself, and get overwhelmed by the negative reactions of others, or you do what they want and don’t feel good about yourself.
  • Your body often feels icky, murky, dark and unpleasant, even if you have no medical condition to attribute those feelings to. For that reason, you like to do things that take your attention away from being physically aware of how your body feels.

These traits do not make an empath, rather empaths generally exhibit some or all of these traits. If you recognize some of these, you may have a strong empathetic tendency or nature.empathy 3

People who are naturally and consistently empathetic can easily forge positive connections with others. They are people who use empathy to engender trust and build bonds; they are catalysts that are able to create positive communities for the greater good. These are the people who inspire others; people tend to refer to them as “a light”, “an inspiration”, “a gift”. They tend to bring people together and bring out the best in people, without really trying. But even if empathy does not come naturally to some of us, we can develop this capacity.

If you don’t recognize many of the above traits, here is how you can increase your ability to empathize with others.

  1. Listen – truly listen to people. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to others’ body language, to their tone of voice, to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you, and to the context.
  2. Don’t interrupt people. Don’t dismiss their concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.
  3. Tune in to non-verbal communication. This is the way that people often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different.
  4. Practice the “93 percent rule”. We know from a famous study by Professor Emeritus, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, when communicating about feelings and attitudes, words – the things we say – account for only 7 percent of the total message that people receive. The other 93 percent of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language.
  5. Be fully present when you are with people. Don’t think of your response while listening to them. Don’t check your email, look at your phone or take phone calls. Put yourself in their shoes; listen as if it is you who is speaking.
  6. Smile at people.
  7. Encourage people, particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up. A simple thing like an attentive nod can let them know you understand them.
  8. Give genuine recognition and praise. Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the right things. When you give praise, spend a little effort to make your genuine words memorable: “This was pure genius”; “I would have missed this if you hadn’t picked it up.”
  9. Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and have genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions and so understand their challenges, their families, and their aspirations.

The bonds that connect empaths to others are not mere metaphors; they have power, they are actual, visceral, energetic bonds. These connections have real physical/emotional consequence, and can be confusing and problematic for the unwary Emp. Though few have this ability (or affliction, as I jibed earlier), all of us can learn the positive aspects of empathy and use it to make a better society and a better world.

If we can all learn to step outside our own perceptions, beliefs, attachments and behaviors, and seep into those of another, even if we do not agree, and can see, if only for a moment, the world through their eyes and in a compassionate light, we can understand them—and through understanding comes harmony.

Empathetic people are precious and important. Be one.

When we look at the news today, and witness the hatred, intolerance, violence and unconscionable lack of compassion in the world, it is easy to hear the words of that famous 1960’s song sung by Dionne Warwick, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love…”

We can always use more love in the world, but what we really need now is EMPATHY.

“It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of…”

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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

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.