Differing Perspectives on East and West

I awoke this morning with a quickly dissipating cluster of dreams. By the time I had finished dressing and was kindling a pre-dawn fire in Julia, our airtight wood-burning cook-stove, the dreams had mostly retreated to the refugium of my subliminal mind. Their evanescence caused me to recall the opening lines of last week’s post about Tom Hungerford, who lived at Light Morning for many years.

“Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.”

In the same way that I have been moved to save (however briefly) some stories about Tom and Douglas and Marlene from imminent oblivion, so have a few of my strong medicine dreams found their way onto the pages of this blog. Navigational aids to the slowly growing collection can be found here.

What follows is one of my shorter strong medicine dreams. As with the others in this series, however, its shelf-life or half-life has been long. Hopefully some of you, too, may find that its medicinal qualities are still active.

* * *

Differing Perspectives on East and West
21 November 1994

Joyce and I are on a long journey. It feels as though we’ve been on the road together for ages, traveling through an unfamiliar land. It’s winter, the midday sun is low in the sky ahead of us, and we have arrived at a crossroads.

Since the next leg of our journey is to the east, I start to turn left.

“Wait a minute,” Joyce says. “We need to turn right.”

I pause to double-check my assumptions. The winter sun is ahead of us. That means we’re facing south. So in order to go east, we need to turn left.

“East is to the left,” I say.

“No,” she replies, gazing at the sun. “West is to the left. To go east, we need to turn right.”

We look at each other with mutual surprise and dismay.

Then, in a sudden flash of understanding, I see that either one of our differing perspectives on east and west could be correct. It depends on where we’re coming from. If we’re in the northern hemisphere – which is my own bone marrow set-point – and the midwinter sun is ahead of us, then east is clearly to our left. But someone from the southern hemisphere would look at the same midwinter sun and say that east is to the right.

Since the path we have been following has been long and circuitous, our gut-level assumptions about how to distinguish east from west are no longer reliable. Standing at the crossroads, we have become disoriented. We are confused about where we’re coming from and are therefore uncertain about which way to turn.

Amplifying the Dream

Joyce and I recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. We also knew each other as children. So as the dream suggests, “It feels as though we’ve been on the road together for ages, traveling through an unfamiliar land.” In waking life, of course, the strangeness of the terrain is often obscured by a veil of familiarity.

At the time of this dream, we were about to celebrate our 25th anniversary. And soon I would embark upon my momentous first Vipassana meditation course. Part of that journey (here) was an unexpected insight into how profoundly our earliest childhood experiences had shaped both of us.

Our traveling companions often have perspectives that differ significantly from our own. Regardless of whether those differences are due to gender, race, or class, to family, politics, or ethnicity, we sometimes arrive at a crossroads where pivotal decisions must be made. The decisions can be unilateral, consensual, or somewhere in between. But choose we must.

May we be blessed with confusion and disorientation.

Choosing To Age in Community: 3

This is the final portion of a story that begins here.

Christmas at Light Morning, 1992
Tom with Ron & Marlene and Lauren, Robert, Joyce

Prologue

Tom Hungerford was born in Winslow, Arizona in 1916, shortly after Arizona became the 48th state. He died at Light Morning at the dawn of the new millennium. Quite soon Tom will become one of the unremembered multitudes — a wave receding down a beach; a raindrop touching the surface of a lake; an autumn leaf falling from a family tree.

Yet in the brief interval between when Tom took his first breath and his last breath lies a span of some 30,000 days, each of them a tapestry woven of stories. Thus did J.R.R. Tolkien speak of a tree of tales in a forest of days.

In this concluding portion of Choosing To Age In Community we’ll see that Tom was deeply influenced by two books, The Razor’s Edge and The Comforter; that he loved a little cabin in the woods called Snowberry; and that a chance viewing of a movie freed Tom from a trauma he’d been carrying since World War II. Since he was always a traveling man, we’ll close with the story of how Tom ended his days at Snowberry, and finally traveled on to who knows where.

Continue reading Choosing To Age in Community: 3

Choosing To Age in Community: 2

Thomas W. Hungerford

Born in Winslow, Arizona on April 29th, 1916
Died at Light Morning on May 25th, 2000

This is the second part of a story about Tom’s unusual life.
The final portion of the story will be posted in two weeks,
following next Wednesday’s post — Seasonal Images: Winter 2020.

Robert and Tom watching a gravel truck in 1995, as Rivendell,
Light Morning’s new community shelter, was being built.

Choosing Light Morning

Robert–What did you do after your mother died, Tom? You were in your late 60s by then and you were trying to find an environment that was philosophically compatible with what your values were.

TomIt didn’t have to be compatible. I was just looking for somebody who was working on themselves in a different sort of way. The only thing I could go back to myself was what I had found at the time of my divorce — the Edgar Cayce material and Joel Goldsmith’s Infinite Way. So I started looking in that direction.

Continue reading Choosing To Age in Community: 2

Choosing To Age in Community: 1

Thomas W. Hungerford

Born in Winslow, Arizona on April 29th, 1916
Died at Light Morning on May 25th, 2000

Tom at Light Morning in 1986

Prologue

In the spring of 1976, a large white van pulled up to an old 8×10 granary shed which served as Light Morning’s community shelter. We were working outside, building a small woodshed out of salvaged materials. Dry firewood was a necessity. We used it for both heating and cooking.

Eight or nine people climbed out of the van, looked around, and introduced themselves. Almost all of them were our age, in their 20s and 30s. One of them, however, was 60. We wondered what had attracted someone our parents’ age to visit a remote rural commune in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia.

That’s how we first met Tom Hungerford. During Tom’s many subsequent visits, and more fully after he moved here, we drew out portions of his remarkable story. Finally, on the eve of Tom’s 79th birthday in 1985, he and I sat down with a tape recorder and he reminisced about the circuitous path that led him to choose Light Morning as a place to both live and age.

Continue reading Choosing To Age in Community: 1

Striving To Die Smilingly

A Tribute to Terrell Jones

October 25th, 1942 to August 15th, 2002

An earlier version of this story was first posted
to Light Morning’s website in the Autumn of 2002

Terrell Jones, a good friend and a fellow Vipassana meditator, died at his home just down the road from Light Morning in mid-August. Many of us in this area are indebted to Terrell, not only for introducing us to Vipassana meditation, but also for modeling an exceedingly rare quality — a learned ability to die well; to leave with awareness. As a small token of my appreciation, here are several stories about my Vipassana relationship with Terrell.

Continue reading Striving To Die Smilingly

A Sword In My Side: 1

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

The following story has three parts. It’s told from the perspective
of how I experienced it 25 years ago this month, in December of 1995.

* * *

After the trauma had served its intended purpose, I would come to believe that the path I was traveling needed to unfold as it did. The hard-earned clarity of hindsight would show me clues I had missed and traces of long-dried blood on the tracks. But we don’t see what we’re not ready to see. Or shouldn’t see. Foresight would have made me run from the pain that awaited me. And from the improbable healing that pain would bring.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 1

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Marlene cutting tomatoes for canning

This photo shows Marlene, one of Light Morning’s four co-founders, prepping tomatoes for canning on the porch of the old community shelter. She taught me how to work; I learned by watching her. Marlene’s hands moved at the same consistently fast yet careful pace, whether she was typing, cutting tomatoes, or bow-sawing firewood.

Marlene also deepened my understanding of what Light Morning half-humorously refers to as U.P.S. — Unresolved Parental Stuff. In a previous series of posts (here), she shares a harrowing tale of how primal childhood woundings leave scar tissue, which in turn causes us to re-create our unresolved trauma with other people and in other settings. How much of our trauma can be healed and how much will remain unresolved is an open question.

Finally, Marlene taught me about death and dying. The teaching was up close and personal, as Marlene chose to die at home, here at Light Morning. The following story (in three parts) charts her journey from receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness to taking her last breath. It’s based on a series of email updates I sent to Marlene’s far away family and her many friends. It’s also a story about the shadow dance between the acceptance and denial of death.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Liminal Gifts: 3

This is the final post in this series.
Part One and the introduction are here.

The Gift-Giver

Each of the first two posts in this series revolves around a strong medicine dream. But where do dreams like “Down Under” (here) and “Harvesting the Moment Points” (here) come from? They’re certainly personal. I’ve already shared visceral associations with the imagery. It’s quite improbable, then, that anyone else could have dreamed either of these dreams, any more than they could have my face, my voice, or my fingerprints.

Yet strong dreams can also be more than personal. Other people’s thoughts, words, and images sometimes come alive within us. That’s why poets, painters, and storytellers ply their trade. That’s what makes conversation and communion possible. That’s why myths and scriptures resonate. They help us approach the threshold between the worlds from one side. But what awaits us on the other side?

Continue reading Liminal Gifts: 3

Liminal Gifts: 1

This is a revised version of the third and final reflection paper I wrote for an 18-month School of the Spirit program called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer.” My application for this program is here. The first paper, Two Roads, starts here. The second paper, Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans, starts here.

Between Two Worlds

This paper explores the probability that we are a species poised between two worlds. It suggests that on the threshold between sea and land, inner and outer, heaven and earth, we receive liminal gifts from a mysterious Gift-giver. For this is what liminal means: on the threshold. Although the luminous offerings we find on such thresholds are not always easily received, they are the ultimate source of our charisma, our callings, and our special friendships.

* * *

In the middle of the night I’m walking along a beach on the North Carolina coast. Bare feet on wet sand; the soothing sound of surf to my right; the long row of beach houses to my left. Some are dark. Others have a lamp or two still burning. A few are decked out with security lights.

“The inner light alone makes us feel secure,” I muse. “Security lights feed our fears.”

Moonlight on the beach

The mid-September night sky is clear. The waning gibbous moon behind me casts the distinct shadow of a walking man on the damp sand in front of me. It mimics me perfectly.

Sirius has climbed above the eastern horizon, faithfully following Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades. Moonlight plays across the surface of the receding waves. Looking more closely, I smile to see the faint reflection of Sirius there as well.

The waves keep breaking; I keep walking. Slowly I slough off the constraints and conceits of this present time. The beach houses, lights, and power lines fade away, leaving a solitary human doing what our species has done for thousands of generations – walking at night by the edge of an ocean, hearing the same sounds, seeing the same constellations, marking the same phases of the moon.

Continue reading Liminal Gifts: 1

Befriending Dangerous Neighbors

How do we learn to live with those who might do us harm? What if some of our neighbors are dangerous? Why wouldn’t we simply move away; or cause them to move away; or try to do them in? How do we balance caution with compassion?

Very occasionally an all-too-human friend or neighbor has become sufficiently unhinged to be dangerous. More often, however, it’s been one of the other-than-human creatures with whom we share this land who has tested our willingness to be neighborly. When the path that Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow are following leads into a dark wood — in the film version of Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz — their fears run away with them.

“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” they exclaim. “Lions and tigers and bears!”

We’ve never seen, outside of our dreams, any tigers at Light Morning. By slightly paraphrasing Dorothy’s fearful refrain, though, we can easily relate to it: “Lions and serpents and bears, oh my! Lions and serpents and bears!” Stories about our encounters with mountain lions and black bears may be shared later. This story is about learning to live with venomous serpents.

Continue reading Befriending Dangerous Neighbors