“Grandma, your house is too relaxing,” Adele commented to me. I knew she was right; I have not been able to figure out how to raise the energy in my house; I want to take a nap all the time. “You need to paint it all white with black trim!” was her solution. The black trim didn’t sound right, but I considered white walls. I do love the light green in the living room and the dark intense red in the dining room, but I realized that white walls would, in fact, lift the energy.
Once decided, I was at it immediately, grabbing the first available non-painter to do the painting. In one day my very petite but determined housecleaner, Ruthie from Indonesia, had done the entire living room (she’d never painted before) and then the next weekend she did the dining room. And it does the trick! The energy is WOW! – lifted and light.
However, the rest of the house is in chaos, as we had quickly moved everything in these rooms “elsewhere”, just anywhere; now the dining room is completely empty and happy and light, the rest of the house is a stumbling muddle.
I’m reluctant to just return all that was in these rooms back to the way it was. The new feeling of lightness is to savor. In the chaos, I’ve been finding what I need here and there, moving things a little to be more convenient, and feeling strangely happy and laid back. No compulsion drives me to get going with this re-ordering process. A matter of fact, something-in-me feels NEW and happy!
I feel an opportunity here to do what I always say and “get rid of things”. I wonder what I really will miss? I feel like putting things back just one piece by one piece, very slowly as they call to me.
This re-ordering is not just about “simplifying”, making things look and feel lighter and more open. This is really about cutting ties with my past! I am a sentimentalist, keeping souvenirs of every person and experience I’ve treasured, even those that were heartbreaking or mixed bags. I also collect against the future: books I hope to read “someday”, projects started and yet to finish ”someday”. Following the basic guideline of the young Japanese advisor (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo), I feel ready to be completely honest about how each item makes me feel. She says, “If it doesn’t bring you joy – Get rid of it!”
This sounds logical but really requires immense honesty and courage. With some items I feel an obligation to be “respectful”, maybe grateful; to this impulse I respond by respectfully either burning or burying such items, unless, of course, they can be given away.
I have found that giving myself permission to be truthful about my feelings towards people and events is immensely healing. Truth, truth, truth: the medicine for endless ailments of body and spirit. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free!” said Jesus. Learning to be thoughtful of others has been a valuable learning in my life, but protecting others from my honest experience of them has sometimes gone too far, for their well-being as well as my own. Truth heals everyone, in the end.
And anyway, even wonderful experiences at some point are “past.” One has the choice to just turn forward and face the adventure, let go of the pulls of the past, good or bad, and see what’s there yet! New learnings, new fun! Who knows what unexpected abilities are still inside me?
Last night in my dreaming, wonderful feelings of freedom were coming up. Here are a few of the images that came:
Some part of me has been a prisoner in a basement! / I’ve been an “indentured servant” to the happiness of others, to what others needed from me. Now I seem to have gathered enough experience to cut out on my own, to follow my own knowing of what is right for ME.
“No one owns me. My life belongs to me” came back to me. I know this was from a previous life, something I scribbled in the dirt in a dungeon as I refused to eat, having been kidnapped….
Riding a tiger, a dream image from the nearer past, now I feel the tiger is my assertive self who knows how to find its own true path, even in the dark through a jungle. “Walking under the stars in the dark, the tiger knows that it knows the path.”
I walk in wildness, off the thread that would connect the past and the future that it would lead to. I find a thread inside me and follow it to an unknown future….
Now I stand on top of the dune, free.
Alone? No, there are many who cheer the true me, adventurers in their own lives. We inspire each other.
“Alting du behover.” (Swedish: Everything you need [will come to you]) This had come to me as a message from spirit in my past and then I saw it again on a wall painting that I will keep. From somewhere comes the promise of Power with me, behind, below, around.
Different; The chaos in my house enables different. It protects me from limitations I no longer need.
and “How things look?” = Distraction!
I use my gathered resources and stand in this still-intact body. My riches, my support, are all my experience that I carry invisibly with me.
I, the giant, hiding in my little body, face forward into adventure, protected by chaos, …..
Here I want to summarize a 286 page book that has influenced me enormously – The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman.
Hillman was a maverick Jungian analyst, founding his thinking on that of Carl Jung. Hillman’s hypothesis about our human condition he calls “The Acorn Theory.” “The acorn theory …claims that each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.” P.39. …each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.” P.6
“… is already present before it can be lived” – in the same way that the oak tree is already present in the acorn. From the beginning, everything in the acorn calls it to become not only an oak tree, but a specific oak tree. Before we were born, our soul selected an image or pattern; perhaps general or specific learnings or gifts that would be possible in this particular lifetime. The image itself is the soul-companion, the daimon that guides us here through our life. The daimon remembers what belongs to our image and tries to keep us on track to do/be what we came here for.
The word daimon is Greek and much of Hillman’s ideas come from Plato and other Greek thinkers. The Romans called it genius and the Roman Catholics call it your guardian angel. I must admit this is confusing, as the daimon is called an “image” we are born with, yet the power of the daimon seems beyond our conscious control and affects us like an outer force that accompanies us. Perhaps “destiny” is a similar (Greek) word – something we can neither fight nor do we need to try to fight. The daimon will keep us on track! Trust, then, of “how things go” is a proper relation with our lives.
Free will is still functioning, but here’s an example I made myself to understand free will and destiny: A particular acorn is buried by a squirrel; later a human happens to place a sign over the buried acorn. Nevertheless, it grows. It bumps against the signpost and decides to grow to the left or the right. It comes up around the signpost and now is in better or lesser sunlight then it might have been had it chosen the other direction. Nevertheless, in the current conditions it continues to try to grow up into the particular oak that is the image calling it forth.
The image calling it forth: this is the cause of Why We Are The Way We Are! Hillman totally rejects all the current psychological theories: My mother didn’t X, my father always y’d, my teachers never z’d. The criminal was bullied as a child. Over time, genetics caused A. Poverty caused B. An accident caused C. No, No. Hillman gives fascinating examples one after another of famous people we know whose lives deny all these theories. Causation does not function from the past; there is a future – the image of the particular Oak tree – that is the real cause of everything. In philosophy, it’s called the “final” cause: the goal pulls us toward it. Other experiences affect us, but the final cause keeps pulling us towards what we came for.
Here we might think of “odd” things about ourselves: Why did you always feel interested in X? When you heard certain words, music, stories, a spark would jump up in you while not in others. For example, as a Catholic child I heard the stories of Jesus and the images of God the Father over and over, but whenever I heard reference to “The Holy Spirit” something jumped up in me. “What is that – the Holy Spirit?” I would wonder. “They say it will bring you wisdom and courage. Why don’t they talk more about the Holy Spirit?” Over many years I stumbled forward learning about the Still Small Voice inside me that I can trust, that guides me in my best interests, that is available through my intuitions at any moment I need it.
The most obvious way the acorn theory (and also that of Carl Jung) differs from most other theories about human nature is that it looks at life from “before and after”, from an eternal view – that we are most basically eternal spirits here for awhile learning and growing and being creative. In this way the acorn theory fits very well with modern physics, which is getting stranger and stranger… Quantum mechanics/physics is seeing everything as “consciousness”, expanding into ever larger units, and the Universe seems to be endlessly expanding. Are we consciousness and parts of larger units of consciousness, expanding by trying out new ideas? Growth, creativity, seem to be the primary pulse of All. I would add that in our experience we find some ideas are more successful than others: “pain and suffering” guide us to conclude that some ideas are more creative, productive, pleasing than others. We naturally look for ways to live that please us more – and that is important! I was raised with some unhealthy ideas that in some strange way suffering is good, “God loves us when we suffer silently,” we show how we love X by suffering, etc. This is very contrary to Nature and not healthy. Suffering should guide us towards finding a way out of it, i.e. towards change, towards growth.
One more important aspect of our acorn: it must grow down before it can grow up. When a soul is born into this world, it first must learn how to manipulate in a body, how to speak a language, how to relate to people around it, etc. We have many images in religions of reaching upward for the skies, of getting ahead of ourselves by letting go of all desires, living less and less fully here and now. We are here to be here. There’s no need to fear physical experience, nor the desires that arise in us which may actually be our daimon guiding us! The more we try to get rid of what attracts us, the stronger “Fate” must work to keep us on track with the image that pulls us forward.
In 286 fascinating pages full of clarifying stories, Hillman examines this possible view of human life in greater detail. For example, how to explain Hitler and other horrible people? What if we don’t succeed in what our soul intended? What about people who die in childhood? I hope you might be tempted to read this book. I may write more on it in the future. James Hillman sees our lives as starting with a unique and beautiful image, and it is always trying to carry us forward to live out what we came for. We can trust our lives! But – watch for “guidance”…
I grew up in western Michigan, where fun is the way of life for all.Summer camps, swimming, canoeing down the Pere Marquette River, climbing sand dunes and jumping in the waves of Lake Michigan, picnics all through the Manistee National Forest, hay rides in the fall and horseback riding across fields, ice skating on real ponds and tobogganing down steep hills, all were part of my formation and have had great influence on my writing style.“A certain fresh naturalness” someone has called it.“There’s a simplicity and playfulness in your style.”
Perhaps I also owe it to my French-Canadian father who certainly had a taste for enjoying life, that Joie d’ vivre that bounces back in me even when life takes a bad turn. Plus my always cheerful Swedish grandfather, who I watched live through many challenges of spirit with quiet gracefulness. I can find the rainbow in the rain, eventually and always.Much of my writing, then, is an attempt to share the positives that I’ve gotten out of the negatives of my life.Much of it are learningsI wish I’d known as a child.I instinctively try to express what I’ve learned in a way that either a child or adult might enjoy taking in this learning.
After plodding through the brain-exhausting college years, I married and immediately began the completely different work of raising a human being, for which NONE of my education had prepared me.As I walked out the hospital door to get into our car, the nurse handed me this fragile little being, wrapped in a snuggy blanket and quietly looking up at me.I took him in my arms, climbed into the front seat holding him delicately, and we were off!I thought to myself “What am I supposed to do with it?How on earth do I care for this?I know nothing about babies!”I could not believe the nurse was entrusting this precious life with me.
Two ignorant humans are a little more help than only one, and my husband and I began to figure things out.“He’s crying! I’ve fed him, he’s napped, I held him and rocked him and he’s still crying! I exclaimed in fear and frustration.“How about his diaper? Said the other brain.….“Oh!The diaper!”I remember throwing the pampers down the toilet – I thought that was how we dispose of them – but it plugged up the plumbing badly and the landlord was most unhappy with us.I sat the baby on the kitchen table facing me and watching the fishbowl in front of him.Next thing I knew he’d pushed his feet against the fishbowl and fallen on the floor, still strapped in his infant seat.Yes, we were off to the doctor, and yes, a concussion. “It will heal by itself,” the experienced pediatrician assured me.“Their heads are malleable in the beginning.”How did the first one survive my ignorance?Somewhere I read that the miracle of raising children is not so much that parents raise children to become adults but that children raise parents to become adults.
From those first tender exhausting years, finally we arrived at kindergarten with the firstborn.At the school door, the little Hungarian boy from up the street stood crying pathetically and hanging on his mother’s skirt.He did not know English yet and was completely scared to leave her. My heart went out to the child and next thing I knew I’d volunteered to come to school twice a week and help that particular child learn English.I had no training, just the intuitions of mothers about children and language. The teacher gave us chairs in the coat room, I brought magazine pictures, and thus began many years of teaching English as a Second Language with immigrants.From there a Cuban friend who was a social worker asked me to teach Mexican mothers English.Again, I just jumped in with no training, we all brought our babies and the social worker watched them while I used my simple magazine-pictures technique and we did something with the English language.I went on to paid positions with titles without even knowing there was a profession called “teaching English as a Second Language” and one could be trained for this work.
Again with no education in how to raise a child, we grew on with our two children, learning as we went.Fortunately my husband, Tom, was a problem solver (a math major) and he had a great sense of humor and play so we relaxed into the years with many happy times.We did tent camping and eventually were able to get an old popup trailer so we could sleep off the ground.Tom had a telescope so we’d often stay up late into the night out in the state parks looking at the stars.Teaching the children to swim was a must for me, being a Michigander.Soon it was time for Cub Scouts!And then Brownie Scouts followed.We “got involved”, as parents must in volunteer programs like these.I recruited and trained leaders and Tom was Scoutmaster.Then I led a day camp for the Girl Scouts. Such fun!I got to sing all those wonderful songs I’d learned myself as a Brownie and Girl Scout!Games and crafts and fun, fun, fun; I, the director, took the name “Stretch” because I’m so short.Then the next summer our local professional Girl Scout trainer and I designed a two week camp for both boys and girls in the area who were from other countries.The neighborhood was a little United Nations, 32 different languages were spoken in the elementary school!In the summer the children lost much of their language learning while out of school, besides needing to get to know the Chicago area.I directed this two week program, with field trips, and recruiting the shy parents to help out.
Meanwhile, back in the back of my mind I had realized I wanted to get some practical education so I could do something professional and financially helpful.I’d begun taking college courses preparing to direct Religious Education programs for Catholic public school children.I received my Masters of Arts in Religious Studies, focusing on religious education, and I took a full time position in a Catholic parish.What a joyous opportunity!I’d grown up in a rural Michigan town where my own Catholic parish did almost nothing for the children because they believed that nothing can be done with the public school situation; “someday” they’d be able to build a school and then the children could learn about their faith.I’d observed my Baptist friends at school:not allowed to go to movies or dances at all, yet the Baptist kids enjoyed being Baptist and learned their Bible and beliefs well.They had all kinds of sports teams and outings and fun together.All the Protestant churches had very lively summer camps.I knew we could work with Catholic children in public school situations if we wanted to do it and I began to dig in as Director.I was responsible for 1,000 children, preschool through high school, to design the program, recruit and train all the teachers, order all materials, supervise the class times, and also be in charge of the religion program in the parochial school!The nun who’d tried to run this before me had also taught eighth grade!She’d had a nervous breakdown.
I worked there two years, often hurrying home to pick up my two children after school and then bringing them back to my office with me.I felt exhausted but happily satisfied that I did begin a thriving program for all ages, including a social and learning program for the high school students.However, it was at this point that I hit bottom with my Catholic faith, feeling entirely discriminated against as an intelligent competent woman.Strangely, also, when the Mass had been put into English this had turned counter-productive for me; it felt like there was too much talking, too many thoughts to handle too quickly!When I’d had to deal with Latin, I’d become used to more quiet, contemplative worship.
I looked for a new spiritual home to feed my spirit, and was led by slim chances to discover the unprogrammed Quakers, who worship in silence and equality, waiting for Spirit to lead anyone present to speak out of the worship.I joyfully embraced this new spiritual family.However, these Friends do not hire anyone, not even pastors!There were no jobs in religious education in this denomination.I began serving on the religious education committee for my Meeting and then also for the regional gatherings, called Yearly Meetings.At summer Yearly Meetings I often taught the middle grade children and then eventually the high school students.These were dear and rollicking times, as we all camped out in tents and wooden dorms in the middle of corn and soybean fields in central Illinois.Campfires and singing at night, dancing children and adults on the lawn with live fiddle music, doing crafts with the children under tents in the afternoons, carting all to the nearby town to swim, I got to go back and forth between being an adult with the children and being a child with the children.
My own two children continued to grow and we all together entered the world of high school and challenges of the teens. I went back to college and took courses in teaching at the high school level and began to substitute in the four local high schools.Every day was a different “adventure,” directing choirs, teaching languages and subjects I didn’t know, trying to keep a balance between seriously trying to teach something and just relating to these young people as human beings.
These years were interrupted by the sudden death of my husband from a heart attack , the result of having been given too much radiation for cancer.My life took a break here; my son fortuitously was able to get good scholarships to a Quaker college. My daughter and I had three close years as I tried to accompany her through a serious high school attempt at a music career. Finances were more difficult for her college as a music major. During these years I taught English as a Second Language in local junior colleges and designed and taught E.S.L. programs for factory workers.
Somewhere in between all I’ve remembered here were a few other children’s activities.I was trained in the Children’s Creative Response to Conflict Program of the Fellowship of Reconciliation; from that, I and my daughter led a two week summer camp for poor children in the inner city of Chicago at The People’s Church in Uptown.
I also worked with Illinois Quakers to revive the work camp opportunities that Friends had done after World War II in Europe.We helped our own young people develop leadership skills working with us in committee work, and later several went on to design what is now called Quaker Volunteer Service, an internship program for young adults.
I had taken training in counseling in the method of Carl Rogers and was certified in Client Centered Counseling.When my children were both launched off into college, I took a position in Triton Community College as counselor for the Adult Basic Education Department.I counseled adults and young people learning English as a Second Language or getting their high school G.E.D. or still learning to read in the Literacy program.This work was the richest work of my life.It was so deeply touching, such an honor, to help support the lives of people struggling against so many odds to build a future.All these students worked while going to school, many had children to raise, too.
Eventually, my life took another sharp turn when my adult son died of melanoma at the age of 40.I had remarried after my first husband died but my second marriage had been short when that second dear man had a brainstem stroke and eventually also died, after I cared for him for 2 ½ years.Now the death of my first born and only son really brought me low.I did immediately try to pick up where he left off with his high school students in their Robotics Club and in the creative contests of Destination Imagination.I worked with these delightful high school students for three years but then decided to move closer to my daughter, now married with her own two children.
I had followed the lives of children now from newborns through elementary school, through the teen years, and the college years and young adulthood. Where I am now is back at the beginning, immensely enjoying the best job I ever had – being a grandmother!And finally, I have no responsibilities except doing my writing, which has been waiting patiently in my heart. I look forward to sharing more from my life experiences with children, youth, and adults in interesting and creative self expressions.