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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Assimilating Vipassana

Last week’s post brought to a close the story of my first Vipassana meditation course and the first nine months of my life. It was a story — told in three parts and beginning here — about trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity. In the spirit of compensation for that longer story, here’s a haiku version of how and why I currently practice Vipassana. Perhaps down the road I’ll be able to flesh it out.

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A Sword In My Side: 3

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This concludes a story that begins here.

Come Out Steaming

It’s Christmas Eve, 1995. I’m alone in a rental house on Inverness Ridge, an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, where I was born 50 years ago. My wife Joyce and our 11-year-old daughter Lauren have joined my parents, my sibs, and their families for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. It’s part of a long-planned family reunion. I haven’t joined them because outwardly and inwardly I’m unable to do so.

Classic signs of the flu set in this morning: congestion, fever, fatigue. But these are symptomatic of a deeper dislocation. A week and a half ago, on my first 10-day Vipassana course, I was plunged into psychological crisis. Since then I’ve been tumbling through a bewildering array of insights, anxieties, communions, and paranoia. Given the traumatic aftermath of the course, including my dissociated flight to San Francisco, it’s somewhat surprising that I haven’t ended up in a psych ward.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 3

A Sword In My Side: 2

Everything Unresolved Is Recreated

This is Part Two of a three-part story, told from the perspective of how I experienced it twenty-five years ago this month, in December of 1995. Part One can be found here.

A Frightened Octopus

I’m sitting in Light Morning’s community shelter. It’s December 18th, 1995, and I have just returned from my first 10-day course at the Vipassana Meditation Center (V.M.C.) in western Massachusetts. When the course unexpectedly turned traumatic on Day 8, I stopped eating or drinking anything. Now my mental status is becoming marginal.

Continue reading A Sword In My Side: 2

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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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?

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Two Roads: 2

This is the second and concluding portion of Two Roads, which began here.

Two Insights

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.

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Two Roads: 1

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.

Continue reading Two Roads: 1

School of the Spirit Application: 2

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.

Wax Statues

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?”

Continue reading School of the Spirit Application: 2

School of the Spirit Application: 1

In March of 2018, I learned about an 18-month program called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. It was offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” Feeling ready to explore my Quaker heritage, I requested an application.

“Write a summary of your experience with spiritual nurture ministry,” the application said. “Reflect on how you have been drawn toward or clearly discerned a call to spiritual nurture and its study. We seek to understand how this call has risen out of your personal faith, faith community, life experience, education, and training. We encourage you to offer stories that describe your explorations, wrestling, insights, and lessons learned. Please include your experience of desiring, seeking or receiving support concerning this call.”

What follows is my response to this request.

Prologue

Spiritual nurture ministry is an unfamiliar phrase, but it stirs deep associations. Good friends nurture each other. They’re responsive to one another’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Quakers, moreover, self-identify as a Religious Society of Friends.

I have a knack for making and keeping friends. I’m a good listener and often ask good questions. People tend to trust and confide in me. I have been with friends who are giving birth and others who are dying. I have helped some friends get married and others get divorced. I’ve been there for friends who have become suddenly and seriously unhinged, just as they, in turn, have been there for me.

Continue reading School of the Spirit Application: 1