This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.
Time slides by. It’s December, 1995. Twenty years have passed since Season of Changes was published and Wax Statues was germinating. I have just returned from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course. And I’m coming apart at the seams.
Vipassana means insight. At the deepest level, it means “seeing into” and becoming one with the flowing golden wholeness, the luminous radiance that indwells All That Is. Practicing Vipassana also generates insights into the challenges and opportunities of daily life. The technique was developed 2500 years ago by Siddharta Gautama, who became a Buddha (an “awakened” or “enlightened” one). In more recent times it was disseminated worldwide by the gifted Vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka.
At the beginning of each 10-day course, Goenka states that the purpose of the practice is purification. Done with diligence, the technique indirectly reveals and dissolves long-standing complexes. He describes the process as being like “deep psychic surgery of the mind.” My first course proved the truth of this assertion. The unbearable agony I had endured as an infant suddenly re-surfaced on Day 8. The following weeks were both traumatic and cathartic.
This experience also confirmed a visceral Light Morning principle – paid for with blood, sweat, and tears – that everything unresolved is re-created. Sigmund Freud, nearly a century before, had called it repetition compulsion. How far down, though, do the taproots go? Certainly to early childhood. Most of us were raised by less-than-perfect parents in a less-than-perfect world. So were our parents; and so were their parents. Whatever interplay there may be, then, between multi-generational family dynamics and the predisposing tendencies of genetics, those taproots go way down deep.
But what if it’s not only the knots and twists and complexes that get passed down? Or the way we walk and talk and see the world? What about the unfulfilled gifts and visions and lodestone values of prior generations? Might these also be portions of our familial and genetic inheritance?
I’m coming to believe this may be true. Don’s beloved father birthed and nurtured an intentional community. I spent my entire adult life doing the same. Don introduced me to Edgar Cayce and Virginia Beach, where Light Morning would later be born. After his stroke, Don told me that he shared Edgar Cayce’s belief in reincarnation. Then on his deathbed he confessed that he had always believed that I was Patro in my past life. His Dear He-She telegram, therefore, was not only Don’s way of welcoming me to the world; it might also have been his way of saying welcome back.
I don’t necessarily believe in reincarnation, but there’s one more strange twist to this story. When Don died, my mother came east. One day she opened an old coffee can and found a gold ring. Etched into the inner surface of the band were the names Frank Stephens and Ella Getty. My mother asked Joyce if she would like it. (We had just been married and Joyce as yet had no ring.) It fit perfectly. For the past fifty years, then, my wife has been wearing the same ring that Patro’s wife once wore.
The second of the two Vipassana insights was on the Quaker side of the equation. Granny had woven her deep faith into the acrostic that she penned to honor my birth. She had raised a “universal prayer” to an “eternal, changeless Spirit, moving everywhere.” She also spoke from her heart about “the power of Love.” For my sixteenth birthday she had given me Thomas Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations. Traherne was an Anglican country priest and mystic whose passionate love of the natural world bordered on pantheism. He was also a contemporary of George Fox, who founded the Religious Society of Friends. Granny’s influence on my adult life, however, had been less direct than Don’s and Patro’s. It had been more subliminal – like a recessive gene or a long-dormant seed.
This changed dramatically in November, 2014. I was attending yet another 10-day Vipassana meditation course, two decades after my first course. In the interval, I had maintained a strong daily practice. Midway through those ten days, I felt quietly compelled to explore my Quaker heritage. This quiet knowing, which Friends might call a leading, came out of the blue. So when I returned home, I assembled a Quaker library.6 While reading these volumes, the Religious Society of Friends suddenly came alive. Granny’s seed was no longer dormant.
Two Roads Diverging
Light Morning can be a hard place to live. The homesteading, labor-intensive lifestyle is complex and demanding. Running a center, while gratifying, isn’t always easy. And a common-table, shared-work community can stir stuff up. By far the greatest difficulty, however, is the slowly letting go of a well-fortified worldview; a worldview comprised of good guys and bad guys, victims and villains, right and wrong, God and the Devil – all that tempting fruit that hangs from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This ever popular but increasingly outmoded paradigm must be replaced by another paradigm, one represented by the Tree of Life, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. For only within this new paradigm may genuine power, love, and dignity be found.
To counterbalance such daunting challenges, Light Morning urges people to find and follow a path with heart. A clear inward calling must be discerned before someone becomes too deeply engaged in this enterprise. For when someone’s why starts to waffle, when price consistently outweighs value, then the grass seems greener elsewhere. It’s a familiar, recurring pattern.
Light Morning was therefore back to its original crew of four by the time I had my Quaker awakening in 2014. Everyone else had either died or moved on. I wanted to attend the Roanoke Friends Meeting, but could only do so very occasionally, since Light Morning had a forty-year tradition of hosting potluck Sunday morning pancakes for neighbors and friends.
Not quite a year ago, though, everything shifted. Two roads appeared, one leading to a deepening engagement with the Quakers; the other to a potential renewal of Light Morning. The roads opened when Marlene, one of Light Morning’s co-founders, received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. She came home from the hospital, “to let nature take its course.” Ron, Joyce, and I would no longer be able to host Sunday morning pancakes.
So Joyce and I started attending the Roanoke Friends Meeting on Sundays. Honoring a fortuitous inward nudge, I also applied for an 18-month Spiritual Nurturer program offered by a Quaker organization called School of the Spirit. Both of these ventures have been deeply rewarding.
The road leading to the potential renewal of Light Morning opened when a couple with two children asked to join the community. I certainly had some ambivalence. First, it takes more to run this place than a couple of couples; so they would have to become the nucleus of an expanded renewal crew. And second, the incremental orientation to this lifestyle is long, arduous, and hard to choreograph. It can also be hard to receive. We had been down this road before. Other young couples, having been drawn to Light Morning, had stayed for several months or several years and then left, most of them understandably wanting “a place of our own.”
Nate and Melissa were in their 40’s, though, not in their 20’s or early 30’s. They were in a committed relationship; they were Vipassana meditators; they had taken a Permaculture course; and they had some experience running a center. It was an unusual resumé. Then there was the name of their young son. Aube is a French word. It means dawn, daybreak, or light morning. Watching these telltales fluttering gently in the breeze, we said yes to their request. They moved in this past August.
The Illusion of Agency
Robert Frost’s indecisive traveler saw two roads diverge in a yellow wood. And long he stood, agonizing over which road would be the road not taken.7 Whereas I have traveled two roads for most of my life; sometimes sequentially, sometimes in tandem. My own questions and concerns, then, are different than his. They revolve around an ancient riddle. Do I direct the course of my life? Or am I laboring under an illusion of agency.
Did I choose to found a community and later become a Quaker? Or did these roads choose me? Were Quaker and community, in other words, birthright tendencies? Atavistic throwbacks to the unresolved quirks and callings of earlier generations? Part of a hand of cards dealt to me in San Francisco in 1945? Perhaps the cards could have been played in different ways, with different people, at different times and places. But were they somehow fated or destined to be played?
Turning to scripture, the Old Testament prophets didn’t simply awaken one morning, have a cup of coffee, and decide to become prophets. Their decisions weren’t personal, voluntary, autonomous. For each of them knew full well that the prophetic zeal which had seized them had clearly come from Elsewhere.
In the New Testament, Jesus continually disabused his disciples of their delusions regarding the source of his teachings, the autonomy of his actions, and the nature of his goodness.8 He also set before them a choice between two roads, one of them far less traveled than the other.9 Does this imply that the disciples were free to choose which road to take? Or had they themselves already been chosen? Had Jesus pre-selected them, in other words, having already discerned which choices each of them were likely to make?
On a less arcane and more practical note, am I shortchanging Light Morning and/or the Quakers by trying to travel both roads and be one traveler? Am I stretching myself too thin? Viewing this creative tension through a different window, might there be some hidden synergy between Light Morning and the Religious Society of Friends? Complementary gifts? A potential for cross-fertilization?
Finally, and closely related to all of the above, how shall I best use my remaining days?
So many questions.
Questions with no easy answers.
Questions to be taken into stillness.
Queries for the seeding of dreams.