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.

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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.

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Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans: 1

This is the second of three reflection papers I recently wrote for a program offered by The School of the Spirit. My application for this 18-month program, which was called “On Being a Spiritual Nurturer,” can be found here. The first paper I wrote, “Two Roads,” is here.

What follows was submitted in September of 2019. How can that be? Surely far more than a year must have passed since our class gathered at the Franciscan Spiritual Center outside of Philadelphia for our fourth residency.

My sense of time — not to mention my sense of reality — has gone topsy-turvy since the coronavirus pandemic circled the Earth. For most of us, the pre-pandemic normal is no more; and whatever the post-pandemic reality may turn out to be, it has yet to appear. In this tensioning interval, many of our former assumptions and certainties are being deconstructed.

That’s why Medicine Wheels for Story Orphans feels increasingly relevant. As tumultuous and disorienting as these times are, they aren’t unprecedented. Stories are maps of meaning, and we are hardly the first generation to be shorn of our stories.

Map of America by Sebastian Munster. 1561
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A Midwinter Pilgrimage

The woodshed in winter

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.

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