This continues a three-part series of posts which began here.
Just as the loss of story is essential for children outgrowing shoes or adolescents going through a rite of passage, so may collective upheavals be natural and needful. Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,16 defines paradigms as broadly agreed-upon theories. Examples of current paradigms include the heliocentric theory, the germ theory, the theory of plate tectonics, and the theory of quantum mechanics. Prevailing paradigms get so firmly fixed in the minds of their adherents, however, that they often seem less like theories and more like reality itself.
Yet everything changes, and the human capacity to conceive the inconceivable is overrated. Anomalies start to appear even in well-established paradigms. Soon they multiply, until the paradigm becomes so riddled with inconsistencies that the map is no longer a reliable guide to the territory.
In the summer of 2018, I began an 18-month program offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” My application to this program, which was called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer, can be found here. During that year and a half, we were to write three “reflection papers,” on themes that were largely self-chosen. This two-part post is my first paper.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood…” Robert Frost1
Two strands of what might be called destiny have shaped my life. Both have been with me since birth. One is from my father’s side of the family and concerns the Religious Society of Friends. The other is from my mother’s side. It pertains to a visionary community called Light Morning, which has been my home for the past forty-five years. These two roads have sometimes intertwined. More recently, they’ve been pulling me in opposite directions. But whether conjoined or in opposition, the Quaker and Light Morning force fields generate deep undercurrents of uneasiness whenever I consider just how strongly family, genes, and/or fate have determined the trajectory of my life.
Remembering Douglas Dean Todd Born March 3rd, 1930 Died on Good Friday, 2000
One morning over breakfast, in the autumn of 1999, I mentioned to the other members of the Light Morning community that I would be going to Roanoke to see Douglas that day. Following his stroke, Doug had been staying at Salem Health and Rehabilitation, just across the street from the V.A. hospital. Then someone sitting around the breakfast table said, “Who’s Douglas?”
Cecile had become part of the community only recently, and her question stopped a spoonful of applesauce midway between my bowl and my mouth. It seemed inconceivable that someone living at Light Morning could not know who Douglas was. For me, it was a watershed type of experience.
Douglas had played different roles for different ones of us during the 25 years when he and Stanley lived just down the road: mentor and interrogator; a reliable source of both irritations and insights; an occasional enemy; and a best friend. He could be effortlessly charming one moment and fiercely adversarial the next. But above all else, Douglas was fully committed to exploring the interplay between his own unique and pricey calling and the founding vision of Light Morning.
These are the final three letters I wrote when participating in a bioregional seminar in the late 1980s. The first two letters, with a fuller introduction, can be found here.
Letter 3: February 1989
I stayed up late last night, trying unsuccessfully to find a theme for this month’s letter. As I finally went to bed, I asked my dreams for help. But this morning I was unable to recall even a single dream. Joyce, however, who was consciously unaware that I had been puzzling over this letter, awoke with a surprisingly relevant dream. It almost seems as though the dream I needed had come through her.
In the dream world Joyce is attending a workshop on environmental issues. Many of the other participants are castigating the government and/or the big corporations for their unresponsiveness to the critical problems facing the planet. Joyce is moved to say that we have no right to demand significant changes from anyone “out there” if we are unwilling to make comparable changes in our own lives.
“The changes we must turn to first are personal changes,” she says passionately. “And they have to be radical.”
This is the first in an occasional series of my strong medicine dreams. An introduction to the series can be found here. The dream was recorded on the morning of March 4th, 1984. It has five scenes. Each of them — in a nod to internet readability — has been given a title and an illustration. Following the dream are some of the personal and cultural associations which the dream evoked.
I’m in a courtroom, sitting at a long rectangular table. To my right, at the head of the table, is the judge. To my left is an advocate. Although he seems unfamiliar to me, I somehow know that he’s my father.
Other people are seated around the table also. There’s an air of expectancy in the room. Everyone seems to be waiting for something to happen.
I turn seventy-five next week. That means that I have spent close to twenty-five years (one third of my life) asleep. For many if not most of those twenty-five years I’ve been fully immersed in the swirling world of dreams. Having grown up in a dream-demeaning culture, however, it wasn’t until I was twenty-four years old and living with a woman for the first time that I became aware of that world.
The opening happened in Arden, a small experimental village founded by my great-grandfather at the turn of the twentieth century. Joyce and I had known each other as children there. But my family had moved away when I was in grade school and we hadn’t seen each other again until we both returned to Arden as young adults.
This is the second of two posts containing my application to the School of the Spirit for its program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. The first post, and a fuller introduction, can be found here.
A well-chosen question can have quite an impact. Several years after moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was gifted with such a question. It was posed by Douglas, the same friend whose birthday would later coincide with the Testing the Water retreat in Roanoke.
It was a sunny afternoon at Light Morning. We were sitting on a grassy knoll called Temple Hill, close to where Douglas now lies buried. High above us, a raven traced a lazy circle in the sky.
“So why did your Virginia Beach guidance,” Doug asked, “say that the Essenes were to serve as a model for your community?”
[When Light Morning was an active community, those wanting to visit or intern here sometimes asked about our core values. In response, we posted three articles to an earlier version of this website: Living Close to the Earth; A New Kind of Family; and A Transformational Journey.]
Choosing to live close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, is to risk intimacy. What drew us to Light Morning in the first place, however, and what keeps us here, is riskier still: a whispered call to cast off our moorings and embark upon a transformational journey.
This journey grows out of an audacious assumption that humans are mutable creatures. As a species, we routinely engage in nearly inconceivable atrocities and generosities. Who could even hazard a guess, then, about what any individual’s capacity for goodness or godliness might be?
This post will approach the complex nature of the human heart from several directions. First we’ll consider a disturbing tension between the soul and the human. Then we’ll turn to an emerging Light Morning paradigm called The Four Cairns and a threefold path of meditation, dreams, and prayer.
Shortly before the turn of the millennium, Light Morning experienced an unprecedented population explosion. For twenty-five years we had been a relatively small intentional community. Then, seemingly overnight, our family of six adults and a teenager morphed into a bustling warren of sixteen adults and six children. The transition was chaotic and overwhelming, exhilarating and exhausting.
Almost as soon as it had formed, however, the bubble started to deflate. A few of the recent arrivals packed up and moved on. Others wondered what their next steps were going to be. Still others were trying to discern how their personal values aligned with those of Light Morning.
All of us were deep into the stretch zone. The newcomers were adapting to a place where every meal, most of the work, and much of the money was shared. The old-timers found themselves suddenly outnumbered by those who didn’t understand – and sometimes didn’t want to understand – how or why Light Morning had become what it was. The crucible of community gifted everyone with psychic bruises and blown fuses.
The intensity tested our resilience. It also forced us to wrestle with several essential questions: Why are people drawn to Light Morning? How much do they know, beforehand, about its founding vision and core values? How do visitors become committed members of the community? What systems and values are we willing to change? What remains non-negotiable?
The questions kept gnawing at us. So when four of us left for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in January of 2000, we took the questions with us. Jonathan, Joyce, and I were fully committed to Light Morning. Kent was a former member of the community and a fellow Vipassana meditator. Little did we realize how insightful and harrowing this midwinter pilgrimage from southwest Virginia to western Massachusetts would turn out to be.