YOUR MYTH

What is the myth that you are living? To answer that question we first need to define “myth”: I will suggest that myth is a story that points toward a truth that our consciousness cannot totally comprehend using only the gifts of the rational mind– we need to open ourselves to the gifts of the intuitive Self!

These gifts of the Self come to us through our conscious understanding of the energy of the collective unconscious or Self–Carl Jung calls this archetypal energy–and its source is not limited to the lifespan of our physical bodies. We benefit from these energies of the spirit/soul/Self; they help us to understand the lives we are living and to find wholeness of body and soul!

There are many ways to explore these gifts of Self–my way is through stories–and these imaginative stories will take the liberty to share information of the historical Raymond Lowell Gray and the intuited Raymond Lowell Gray!

Curiosity is succor for the human soul, sometimes producing joy, sometimes grief. The secret lies in finding a balance…your path between the dark and light of life.                                      

A last sharing before the first story: I have chosen to use another name for the main character in the stories. There is a reason for this decision–when I started this project fifteen years ago I was not aware that I was creating my own myth: and in fact, I was focused on creating a children’s story about dragons! It was years later that I realized I was exploring Jung’s concept of archetypal energy and how it found it’s place in my life.

A TIME BETWEEN TIMES

The summer of 1951 Edward R Davis’ family moved from a mill town on the bank of the Ohio River to a house along a country road five miles from town. That fall, when it was time to go to school, he was assigned to attend a one-room, red brick, country school about a mile from his new home. There were no school buses to transport country kids to and from the school. Edward had to walk a mile every day to school and back, rain or sunshine. Now you might think that was a bad thing, but for Edward it was the opposite. He treasured this time alone, a half hour, two times a day: away from family, away from teacher and other students…away from reading, writing and arithmetic…free to be lost in the world of nature with the creatures that inhabit it.

Edward might have walked to and from school with other kids. No, he planned his walk just five minutes from the time when he knew the other kids going to school would be walking the country road. Now if you had asked this boy in 1951 why he chose to walk alone, he would not have given you a reason for it–it was an unconscious act–and he knew nothing of such ideas as conscious and unconscious, or having a reason for your actions in life–nevertheless, the collective unconscious was at work in the life of this boy. His connection to the natural world had been established in a time long past.

A walk along a Pennsylvania country road with young Edward R was an opportunity to experience a distinct reality that many did not bother to engage. He noticed and felt a connection to many things along his road. By the middle of September the roadside was home to milkweed plants, their pods bursting with white floss–or as Edward called it, “Santa Claus’ Whiskers”. He loved to blow his breath on the pod to release the floss into the air. For Edward it was a bit of joyful play.  He did not think about his role in nature–helping to sow the seeds for next year’s milkweed plants– but unconsciously he was part of the natural rhythm of life!

On a sunny and warm fall afternoon, the blacktop of the country road was inviting for a variety of snakes that welcomed the warm surface as the season turned cooler. Using a stick, Edward liked to stir the snakes from their slumber–sometimes the snake was dead because a car had run over it, other times it wiggled and scurried away. Again Edward was not aware of the hunter in himself–though he did sometimes think about what it would be like to eat a snake for supper!

One morning, as he walked to school, Edward spied at Red-Tailed Hawk at the edge of the woods. The bird seemed to beckon to the boy and he responded to the calling. When the bird flew deeper into the woods, Edward followed after it. For nearly half an hour he continued his pursuit–calling out to the creature–until he remembered his human duty to another form of education. And indeed, he was late for school and the teacher reprimanded him when he arrived at the one-room school.

Edward’s attraction to the natural world was not limited to his walks along the country road.  Behind the house where he lived with his mother, father, older sister and brother, there was an orchard that mixed with a pasture where milk cows grazed. On warm summer days, when Edward had time to daydream, he often made his way into the pasture and walked among the cows. Some summer days he went down to the barn where the cows were milked. The farmer did not mind that he watched the milking and feeding of his cows. Somehow, for some reason, Edward found in this bucolic activity a sense of contentment.

Actually, in truth, there was no familial reason for his attraction to the natural world–he came from a family where the males had worked the steel mills and coal mines of Pennsylvania for nearly a hundred years. Men focused on work that brought in a paycheck to support the family. The natural world was a place where you worked in your vegetable garden after an eight hour shift in the mill or mine. On weekends in the fall of the year you might go out to the woods to shoot a deer to provide extra meat for the family. So in Edward’s world, your connection to nature was tied to the practical need to feed a family and make a living–there was little appreciation of the mystery of nature and the creatures that inhabited it. This was about to change for Edward–he was about to have an experience of life that few are privileged to encounter–a time between times.

Perhaps at this point in our story it would be useful to share a little more about our friend, Edward–beside his love of nature. He was nine years old and big for his age. Physically he was taller and stronger than any of the boys in his grade at the one-room school. After the first marking period in his third grade year, Edward’s teacher sent a note home with the report card. She commented in the note that she thought Edward was a good boy, but for some reason he had trouble with reading. When the third graders read aloud he often labored over his words and other children would chuckle and smile at his struggle with the written word–Old Stumblebum became a name used behind his back.

Nicknames were common in Edward’s world. At home, his father often called him, Nebnose, because he was always curious about everything, always tinkering, taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Sometimes Edward would struggle with the “back together” part of his play. One day when his father found him taking his bicycle apart, he complained, “Would you leave that bike alone, there’s nothin’ wrong with it!”

Edward’s mother heard the criticism and defending her son, “He’s not doing anything, bad, leave him alone, he’s just trying to understand it.” Yes, if there was one thing you could say to describe Edward R, he was curious about the world around him and he was always playing, exploring things, trying to understand them…and that is central to our story.

One crisp autumn morning Edward came out of the house: as usual he waited until the other kids passed the house on their way to school. This morning Edward’s busy mind was not thinking about the creatures that inhabited the woods along the country road; no, this morning, he was remembering a conversation from last evening around the dinner table. His older brother, James, told a story about a man who lived on a side road off the way to school. The man’s name was Charles Wilson, but in the community he was called Noface Charlie. This derogatory nickname grew out of a family tragedy. There had been a fire in the house where Charles lived with his parents and sister. All died in the fire except Charles. He was badly burned and his body was permanently scarred–his face a mass of rubber-like scars that disfigured his appearance. According to James, he and his friend had encountered Noface Charlie walking along the country road the previous night and they had been brave enough to talk with him–face to face!

The apocryphal stories of Noface Charlie circulated around the community. Young people proved their mettle by telling stories about meetings with him. Naturally the stories gained potency by vilifying the character of Noface Charlie. Some said he carried a gun and threatened those he met on the road. Others claimed: If Noface learns your name, he will put a curse on you! So as the years passed, the stories of Noface Charlie became like a puss-filled sore that grows ugly and threatens to poison all around it.

This morning, as Edward started his walk to school, a part of him feared a chance encounter with Noface along the country road, but another part of him wondered about the truth of these stories. This mix of imaginings lasted only until he topped the hill past the side lane that led to Noface’s shack and he could see to the one-room school in the distance. When he saw the green wooden door of the red brick school house, Edwards’s thoughts turned to the reality of the day–first thing this morning, he had a reading lesson that required that he stand in front of the room and read from the third grade reader. For Edward this stirred a real and present fear, not some creation of his imagination. He did not understand the existence and role of dyslexia in his life, but he sensed its presence. He did understand that for some reason he had trouble reading–and reading aloud in class was particularly difficult. He understood that other students saw his stumbling over words to be humorous. He understood that the teacher saw this as a sign that he was not as smart as most of the other kids in the school. This reality, this understanding created in Edward a strong sense of rebellion against his life in the one-room school.

This morning Edward entered the front, green door of the school and paused to take off his coat at the back of the room. He looked about him and saw kids talking, the teacher, Ms. Pliffer, was sitting at her desk in the front of the room–she was correcting papers from yesterday’s lessons. With one arm out of his jacket Edward surveyed the scene, this world that he did not feel part of…and then he pushed his arm back into his jacket, turned around and walked back out of the red brick, one-room school! No one noticed this action, this rebellion against a world that Edward did not want to be part of his life. Without thinking, he started back along the country road toward home.

For five minutes Edward walked. What was he doing? Where was he going? If he went home, his mother would just send him back to school. If he found some place to spend the day, he could go home at the usual time, like he had just spent the day in school….but where could he spent a whole day? Just then he found himself passing the side road that led to Noface Charlie’s place. Edward thought about his mother’s warning when he did things that were a little crazy, “better to be safe than sorry”. Edward thought this, recognized it and said to himself–out loud–“No, I’m willing to take the chance that I will be sorry”–so he turned and started up the lane to Noface Charlie’s house!

The side road was not paved with blacktop–it was a gravel road. Noface’s house stood in the woods near the top of a rise in the land. It was in reality a one-room shack–the exterior had never been painted and now was weathered, gray-brown in color. As Edward came near the front door, he paused on the edge of the gravel road and looked toward the place–his eyes searching for some sign of Noface Charlie. Cautiously Edward moved toward the door.

Suddenly he heard a hi-pitched scream–WA-WAAA-WAAANN!

The boy felt an urge to flee danger, but something in him held him in place and he did not run. Then from around the far corner of the shack there came a bird, a big bird, not flying, but running toward him with its tail feathers expanded like a great fan. This aggressive behavior by the bird–first the call and then the action–convinced Edward that it was better to be safe than sorry–he turned from the shack and ran back along the gravel road toward the main road.

When he came to the blacktop, Edward stopped to consider his action. Should continue toward home or return to school? This day he decided to go back to the one-room school and face the teacher’s wrath–and indeed she accused him of sleeping in and being lazy in additional to not being a very good reader.

Edward’s encounter with a peacock–he was able to identify his nemesis that afternoon after school when he explored the family bird book–stirred his curiosity. He read that the peacock was called the bird with one-hundred eyes because of the coloration of its tail feathers. The ancient Greeks said that the peacock was eternally awake and aware. He–only male peacocks have the exuberant tail feathers and coloring– was the helper of the Greek god, Argus, who watched over the lives of all humans for the great god, Zeus. In addition, he learned that the peacock was a symbol of eternal life because its tail feathers retained their beautiful color after you kill them. Edward did not understand much of what he read: What is a symbol? And eternal life:  he had heard those words related to Heaven when he went to the Presbyterian Church with his family. Nevertheless, his curiosity had been piqued.

The next day was Saturday and Edward was still thinking about the peacock that lived with Noface Charlie–at least he thought there must be some connection between the bird and the scary man who lived in the old shack. Saturdays were family work days–clean your room for Mom, get your clothes washed and help Dad with work in the vegetable garden. All day Edward’s thoughts kept returning to the old shack along the gravel road just half a mile from home. After supper the family always watched the television news, but this evening Edward did not join them. He slipped out of the house and headed off to satisfy his curious mind and heart.

The sun was already slipping below the tree line as Edward made his way up the gravel road to the shack. Thoughts swirled about in the mind of the nine year old boy: He thought about his mother’s favorite saying–“better to be safe than sorry”–this was balanced by his father’s favorite saying–“go get ’em boy!” Edward weighted his family wisdom as he approached the shack; his heart and mind were ready to confront the fearsome bird.

No matter how well you steel your mind for a frightening experience, you cannot repel the shock of it. As Edward approached the shack his eyes searched the bushes and shadowy spaces under the surrounding trees for signs of his nemesis–suddenly from the shadows he heard a hi-pitched scream–WA-WAAA-WAAANN!–and the bird came charging toward him.

This time Edward did not turn and run: he stood his ground and the Peacock stopped ten feet in front of him. The two combatants tested the mettle of each other.  I will not venture a description of the Peacock’s experience, but Edward felt a wonderful sense of presence, of living an experience and being wholly aware of it. In awe he watched the bird arc his great tail, a display of the peacock blues and greens, and then Edward looked directly at the countless eyes that seemed to assert their authority over him…but he did not back away from the challenge. For a time–perhaps aptly described as a time between time– Edward starred at the beautiful creature that seemed to belong to a world other than his own country road community in the hills of Pennsylvania!

“You boy, what do you want?”

Still frozen in place, Edward could turn only his head to look to the shack door where Noface Charlie stood. At first, no words came to answer this question–WHAT DO YOU WANT? As Edward’s champion, I will suggest this experience set a standard, a measure of life for the boy who would become a man one day. For the rest of his time on this earth Edward would contemplate all of life and consider what he wanted from it.

“I want to….to, to talk with you”, offered Edward in an unsure voice….for it was the first time for him to assert his will. Edward looked directly at Noface Charlie and he saw not the anger of one rejected by society, but the compassion of a human, Charles Wilson, who understands the pain of others. He continued: “I, I want to be your friend.”

“So you have confronted your two fears” said Charles in his raspy voice, “and you will be rewarded for your courage.”

Now Charles Wilson turned to the peacock that stood between them with his tail feathers now gathered to his body. Charles spoke a command and slowly the bird  opened his tail feathers to display the opulent colors–greens and blues that dramatized the eyes of wisdom. Mesmerized by the display Edward stared in wonder at the bird and then he turned and looked back to the man, Charles Wilson. He felt a presence, a balance of heart and mind that he was able confront his fear and discover a truth that was not common in the world that had birthed him. So began Edward’s friendship with Charles and he understood the gift we receive when we find the courage to face the monsters that haunt our imaginations!

The human psyche is not just of today.Its ancestry goes back many, many years.Individual consciousness is only the fruit of a season;But it spring from the perennial rhizome beneath the earth. The psyche finds truth when in accord with the present and the past.For the root matter is the mother of all things.

ANOTHER TIME BETWEEN TIMES

There once was a boy called Arrd who lived in a world that held strong beliefs in the powers of good and evil spirits; curses and cures were common in every village. A lock of hair could be used to call down an evil spirit by a savvy practitioner. Likewise, a word spoken in prayer to a good spirit was believed to have power to heal the body.

Yet, in Arrd’s time, few people believed in the power of dragons as they had in the past. These compelling spirits had been reduced to imaginary characters in stories shared to frighten young children into proper behavior. The path to the Blue Mountains, where the dragons were said to live, was choked with the growth of new ideas. Soon this path would be lost forever.

The village called Nestore was home to Arrd. It was a gathering of earth-colored cottages huddled on the south bank of the rushing, dark water called Allegewa. This river meandered, west from the Blue Mountains, past the village and on to a world unknown by the people of Nestore. Few villagers tested the strong currents. Most were happy to farm the rich, moist bottom land along the river and live their lives in peace and quiet. 

Still, the potential to travel on the river was there. Young people walking along its banks in the evening often talked of riding the waters into a new land of adventure. Many dream-talked by the yellow light of evening, but few were willing to risk the unknown by the hard, white light of day. Life in Nestore was good; it was normal and there was no reason to take risks–indeed, this reason, was one of those new ideas choking the path into the world of dragons.

Rising up from the river bottom land there was a hill that opened the path leading to the Blue Mountains. The people of Nestore called it simply the river hill. Half way up the rise stood a gnarled dead tree. The older children of the village liked to play a favorite game with this tree. They pretended this tree was a dragon that threatened the people of Nestore. Small groups gathered near the tree with bows and a quiver of arrows–a scar on the bark of the tree represented the heart of the dragon. The youth whose arrow first hit the heart of the dragon was declared winner of the game and regarded as a brave warrior for killing the fearsome monster.

Past the dragon tree on the river hill there lived a real test of young courage. In a small clearing near the top stood an old, one-room shack; there lived a man the villagers called Noface. He was so named after a terrible accident. As a boy, he had lived in the village of Nestore. One night a fire destroyed the cottage where he lived with his family. Only this boy survived the blaze, but he was terribly disfigured by the flames. Unkind villagers named him Noface, which forever linked the boy with his family’s tragedy. Ashamed and angry, Noface eventually withdrew from the village and chose to live in isolation on the river hill.

Older children in the village sometimes dared to climb the river hill, past the dragon tree and up to the clearing where Noface lived. One’s metal was measured by how close you dared to come to the shack where Noface lived. Most stopped at the edge of the clearing and called insults. Some hurled rocks from a distance. A few ventured too close to the shack, causing Noface to emerge and chase them from the clearing.

Over the years of rejection and taunting, Noface’s appearance grew more angry and hideous. His shoulders hunched over; his face became a shapeless mass of gray scar tissue with two holes for a nose and a lipless mouth through which his voice could be heard, sounding like the hiss of a coiled snake. In the heart of what had been an innocent child there grew a will for revenge; it festered like a puss–filled sore, and then grew hard, rubbery and senseless like the scars on his face. Noface bided his time; he waited for fortune to provide the means for a reckoning with the people of Nestore.

Arrd was the only villager who regularly traveled past the shack of Noface and over the top of the river hill. His daily trips had nothing to do with a wish to prove his bravery or torment Noface. No, Arrd made his daily climb of the river hill to fetch milk from an old woman who herded milk cows. She lived contentedly on the far side of the river hill with her animals, and she paid Arrd to carry fresh milk back to the village.

One morning Arrd hurried down the narrow steps from the humble room he and his mother shared over the village bakery where she worked. A cuckoo bird greeted the morning from a plane tree against whose trunk rested the yoke and buckets Arrd used to carry the milk. The yoke was carved from oak wood to fit the contour of his shoulders. The iron hooks attached to the yoke, clanged against the buckets as Arrd slipped the empty load onto his shoulders and started up the rough cobblestone path to the river hill. As the grade grew steep, Arrd leaned forward, his muscles flexing. Already, his body showed the developing form of young manhood, but his childlike courage and resolve were still untried. He did not know that this day the spirits of the land would begin testing the strength of his mind and heart.

The switchback path led steep up the river hill and past the dragon tree. The path leveled a bit near the shack of Noface and a small clearing appeared in the woods. Once there had been a cottage for a woodcutter and his family; now the clearing was overgrown with sumac and briars.  Only a single, old apple tree stood near the one-room shack where Noface lived.

Arrd stopped suddenly as he entered the clearing and saw Noface was outside his shack, bent over something under the apple tree. The clanging of the empty milk buckets on their hooks alerted Noface to the young boy’s presence. He whirled about and called out an angry greeting: “You boy, what are you doing here so early?”

“I’m, ah, I’m on my way to get the milk”, answered Arrd, “before the heat of the day.” Arrd’s eyes now focused on the body of an old man lying on the ground under the apple tree–his face covered with blood from a blow to the head.

Arrd looked back at Noface and saw a distorted grin and laughing eyes that sent a chill through him. “Come here boy”, hissed Noface, “I won’t hurt you.”

Arrd steadied his yoke and buckets; then he bolted back down the river hill to Nestore. Over the clanging of his milk buckets he could hear the hissing laughter of the hermit who lived on the river hill.

Back in the village, winded and still wild-eyed, Arrd climbed the steps to the room over the bakery and found his mother eating her morning meal. “Mother, Mother, I was on my way to get the milk when….”

Arrd’s mother listened to the terrifying report of her son, and then, together, they ran to the village center to find an authority. One of the village elders, aware of Noface’s anger, saw a reason to confirm the boy’s story.  So Arrd, his mother and the elder climbed the river hill back to the clearing where Noface lived: but when they came to the apple tree, there was no dead body beneath it.

The elder, exhausted from the hike up the hill, looked angrily at Arrd, “Boy, I see nothing. Where’s this dead body?”

Arrd looked around the tree and then turned and pointed to the shack: “Ask Noface, he knows. He was standing over the body when I came this morning. He knows who killed the man!”

The village elder shook his head doubtfully and went to the base of the steps that led to the shack’s front porch and called loudly, “Noface come out! I know you’re in there! Come out!” No answer. Then the elder climbed the steps to the door of the shack and knocked loudly on it. Finally there was a stirring inside; the door creaked and slowly opened.

Noface appeared in the doorway yawning–as if just awakening from a night’s sleep–and said, “Master, what brings you to my door this early morning?”

“Noface, this boy says he saw you standing out here over a dead body this early morning!” said the elder, pointing to the apple tree. 

“Dead body”, repeated Noface as he looked to the tree. “I know nothing about a dead body.” Now he looked to Arrd, “This boy is making up a story to stir the hatred between us.”

The elder looked hard at Noface and then gave Arrd and his mother a look of disgust. He said nothing, but turned on his heel and headed back toward the village. Arrd and his mother followed slowly behind.  As his mother put an arm around him, Arrd looked back to the shack. Noface let out a quiet, hissing laugh as he slipped back inside his shack. That day there was no fresh milk in the village and no money for Arrd and his mother to buy food for the table.

Next morning, even earlier than the day before, Arrd lifted his yoke and buckets to his shoulders and started up the cobblestones to the river hill. Anxious to get past the shack before Noface was up and about, Arrd moved steadily up the hill to the clearing where Noface lived. Nearing the shack he slowed and looked around. Holding the buckets so they would make no sound, he slipped past the shack. Once safely in the woods again, Arrd increased his pace over the river hill to the open pasture beyond.

Sleek brown milk cows grazed on the lush, green grasses that reached down to the barn of the old woman who cared for them. Each animal was fitted with a collar from which dangled a bell. As the cows grazed on the grass the valley was filled with the music of their bells. Arrd loved the sound and he relaxed as he approached the house-barn where the kind old woman lived with her animals.      

Mereth was her name and though she was old–gray hair and sun-wrinkled skin–she moved without the usual signs of age.  Mereth lived happily alone with her animals and seldom went down to the village. She had no house–only a single room that adjoined the barn where the cows were milked and housed through the winter months. These animals provided her with warmth in winter, income from their milk to provide the few things she needed from the village, and most important, life-sustaining companionship. Mereth believed that her cows were as intelligent as humans and kinder by far. Arrd found no disagreement with the herder’s way of life, or her notions about her cows.

With no tone of criticism, Mereth called out: “Boy, you did not come yesterday.”  She motioned for him to put his buckets down under a spreading ash tree near the barn door. There was a water spring in the shade of the tree and a wooden bench on which to rest. The old woman sat down on the bench as Arrd dropped his load and dipped into the cool water for a drink.  After satisfying his thirst, Arrd told Mereth the story of his encounter with Noface and the dead man.

When he finished, Mereth shook her head, “Old Dragon’s Breath is about his ways again. Stay clear of him. The world has created a monster in that one.” 

“Why do you call him that”, asked Arrd.

The old woman laughed and then added soberly, “Have you not heard his hissing voice and smelled his evil breath? He is one who sends a chill through the mind and heart–better to be safe than sorry”

After resting a short time Arrd filled his buckets with milk from the spring house. He thanked Mereth for her advice, slipped the yoke on his shoulders and started back to the village. On the way, Arrd tried to slip quietly past Noface’s old shack. He was unsuccessful.

“You boy, come here!” Hearing the hissing voice, Arrd froze in his footsteps. The door to the shack was wide open and Noface was standing in the gaping doorway.

Arrd’s first thought turned to Mereth’s words of caution: “Better to be safe than sorry”. Yet some unspoken force, contrary to mind, some spirit of the heart–good or evil–drew him toward the eerie looking shack. Under the apple tree he dropped his yoke and buckets of milk and turned to the door of the shack.

Again, Arrd’s mind told him to run, but his heart gathered courage to confront this evil nemesis. Noface withdrew into the dark shack as he called out again, “Yes, yes, come inside. I have something to show you….a treasure!”

At the door Arrd paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the inky darkness inside the shack. It was like a hole in the ground, an animal’s burrow where no light of day can penetrate. Again, Arrd’s mind reasoned a warning: “Better to be safe than sorry.” Yet his heart cautiously pushed his body across the threshold and into the world of Noface.

Slowly the shack’s interior became visible to Arrd’s eyes: he saw a hearth and fire burning on it. By the glow of the flames he could make out the shadowy figure of Noface moving toward the fireplace. From the timber mantel above the hearth, he picked up an object. It shimmered and flashed a crimson red color as it caught the light from the fire. Arrd moved toward it.

“Yes, yes, ha, ha, haaa”, hissed the inviting voice, “come see what I have here….a treasure, yes, yes a treasure to be sure. The old thief you saw under the apple tree will have no further use for it, ha, haa, haaa!”

Arrd could now smell Noface’s foul breath. He reached out to touch the treasure.

“Careful boy, careful!” said Noface, “it is a dragonstone. Touch it and the dragon’s curse will be upon you…..Death comes to all who touch it!”

Now Noface reached out his scarred hand to touch Arrd, but the boy whirled around and ran out of the shack. At the apple tree he clumsily gathered his yoke and buckets. Spilling milk as he went, Arrd hurried down the path and away from Noface’s shack. From behind him, he could hear the hissing voice: “Cursed, I am cursed. The whole village will soon be cursed!”

                                       ………………………………………….

So Noface’s threat of a curse on the village of Nestore hung over the river hill through the seasons until the coming of a new year. One morning in early spring, the apple tree near Noface’s shack opened its first green leaves.  It was then that Noface took the dragonstone to the tree. As the rising sun cast first light over the branches, Noface circled the tree, touching its branches on each side: north, south, east and west. As he touched a green leaf with the dragonstone, he spoke these words: “May the curse of the dragon be upon the fruit of this tree and all those who taste it.”

The next day the apple tree came fully into blossom, but the tree was not covered with the usual white blossoms tinged with pink; rather, its blossoms were red, red as the dragonstone’s color. When Noface saw them he cried out: “I am cursed, the tree is cursed and all who eat its fruit will die!” 

It was soon after that Arrd passed the tree on his way to fetch the milk of Mereth’s cows. He admired the ruby red color of the apple blossoms, imagining how delicious the fruit would taste when it came ripe in the fall of the year. So the seasons passed and fall came to the village of Nestore.

                                       ………………………………………..

Now it was a custom in Nestore to celebrate the Harvest Home every fall. The villagers who farmed along the Allegewa River thanked the good spirits for the bountiful harvest and shared part of their crop’s yield with the less fortunate of the village. For Arrd, the Harvest Home was always a time of embarrassment. He and his mother had no land to farm, so they always received from others and never had fruits to share with their fellow villagers.

The morning of the Harvest Home celebration, Arrd hurried up the hill to fetch the milk for the day. His thoughts were of the festivities to come that night: music, dancing in the village center, feasting, storytelling and finally the time when thanks would be given and the earth’s gifts shared with others less fortunate. Thoughts of sharing the fruits of the harvest happened just as Arrd approached Noface’s shack and the apple tree. The tree’s limbs were now bowed by the weight of many, luscious, red apples, perfectly ripe for the picking.

Stopping by the tree, Arrd dropped his milk buckets to the ground. He looked at the apples and again his thoughts turned to words as he imagined sharing this fruit at Harvest Home: “All will admire my gift. Yes, it will be stolen, but I’ll only take a few….there are so many…Noface will not miss them.”  With a quick look toward the shack, Arrd ran to the tree and filled his pockets until they bulged with apples; then he gathered his buckets and hastened on his way.

Arrd thought his theft was unseen, but Noface saw all and called after him: “The stone is cursed. I am cursed. The apples are cursed and death to those who eat them!”

Crossing over the river hill and down to the barn of the cow herder, Arrd found the old woman in the barn still milking the last of her cows for the day. Mereth called a greeting, “Arrd, I see you’ve come for the milk on this special day, Happy Harvest to you.”

Arrd dropped his buckets to the ground with a clanging sound and returned the greeting: “Happy Harvest to you, Mereth!”

The old woman looked at the young man standing before her and saw his bulging pockets full of apples. Pointing to Arrd’s pockets, she said, “What have there, a gift for the Harvest Home?”

Arrd looked down to his pocket and said, “Yes”, he lied, “I have apples. I bought them in the village. Would you like one?”

Mereth stood up from the stool where she was milking one of her cows and reached out a weathered hand. Arrd struggled to pull an apple from his bulging pocket and handed it to her. Accepting the apple, Mereth held it in her hand. She could feel its energy. For a moment she paused, and then went to a bench, picked up a sharp knife and cut open the apple. The apple’s meat was blood red and the juices the same. Mereth turned to Arrd and said quietly but sternly: “This apple did not come from the village. From whom did you steal it?”

Arrd fell silent for an awkward moment and then spoke: “I’m sorry Mereth, the apple came from Noface’s tree! I didn’t think when I picked it……he has the dragonstone.”

“All of these apples have the power of the dragonstone”, said Mereth with authority, “anyone who tastes one will die…we must return the stone to the dragon….that is the only way to negate the power of the curse on this apple and on all the apples from that tree.”

Arrd looked fearful as he responded to Mereth: “Noface would sooner die than give up the stone. He is determined to use its power to visit his revenge on the people of Nestore for wronging him.”

The old woman slowly nodded her head in agreement, “And he has reason for revenge, but two wrongs do not make a right. I can neutralize the power of the lethal dragonstone with a bit of my own magic. A dried birth sac of my animals will protect us from the curse. Come, we will act before the coming of Harvest Home.”

So that day Arrd and the old woman with a birth sac hurried back over the river hill to the shack of Noface, the hermit. They had one purpose–take the dragonstone from Noface and return it to the dragon.

The sun was high in the afternoon sky as the two souls, young and old together, approached the clearing where Noface lived. Before the door they both stopped and Mereth called out: “Noface, are you in there?” No answer. Again she called out: “Noface, come out and bring the dragonstone with you!” No answer.

Mereth stepped forward toward the door, but Arrd touched her arm and said, “I started this adventure and I will see it to an end.” He motioned for the old woman to pass him the dry birth sac in which to carry the dragonstone. Without hesitation Arrd stepped up to the shack’s door and opened it.

That day the sun was shining as it was just past midday, but when Arrd opened the door , he found the inside of the shack to be as dark as night. Pausing, he let his eyes adjust. Again, it was like a hole in the ground, an animal’s burrow where no light of day can penetrate. And again, Arrd’s mind reasoned caution “better to be safe than sorry”, but his heart boldly pushed his mind and body across the threshold and into the world of Noface.

The flickering of a single candle on the mantel over the fireplace was the only light in the shack.  Once accustomed to the darkness, Arrd saw Noface sitting on a chair facing the cold fireplace.

“Noface, are you sleeping”, called Arrd.

No answer followed.

Arrd stepped around the slumped figure on the chair and looked directly into the eyes of the old hermit. What he saw was the blank stare of a dead man and there nested in his limp hands was the gleaming dragonstone. Arrd could feel the pulsing energy of the crimson stone, but he did not touch it. Instead he first admired it: the shape was like that of a teardrop, the surface smooth and the color a rich, dark red. Again he felt the urge to hold it, but Arrd did not touch it.  Instead he reached into his pocket and pulling out the dried birth sac given him by the old woman; he carefully slipped the sac around the stone. Securing it with a binding, Arrd carried the precious and powerful omen of the dragon’s world out of the shack.

Mereth saw the sac and knew what it held. She said nothing of Noface and his fate; instead she turned and pointed to the path that led from the clearing, back to the verdant green pasture where she cared for her animals. Silently, they walked with Arrd carrying the wrapped dragonstone in his hands.

It was evening and the sun was setting when Arrd and Mereth came to the barn. While she tended the animals, Arrd sat down with the wrapped dragonstone on the bench near the spring.  His thoughts were of the stone and its power to bring death into the world of humans–already two had died–and he feared for his own life if he tried to return the stone to the dragon.

In his mind Arrd heard the words of caution: “Better to be safe than sorry.” He recognized the reality of the dragon and its power to bring death to those who touched the stone or ate the apples from the cursed tree. At the same time, Arrd’s heart urged him to explore a new reality–an unspoken thought between thoughts–a thought that the dragon might bring good into his life and the lives of all who lived in the village of Nestore. This balanced Arrd’s mind and heart. Mereth understood Arrd’s unexpressed thoughts and was prepared to support him in realizing his destiny.

At the first morning light the old woman said simply, “Follow the sun to the dragon’s lair.”

 So Arrd set his path to the west, toward the Blue Mountains and the home of the mythical creature. For a day he followed a branch of the Allegewa River, upstream. The way was easy, but by afternoon he saw the stream was turning north and away from the direction of the setting sun. To the west, Arrd saw the rising mountains, but no path showed the way to them. Without hesitation he turned from the well-worn path along the stream and set his purpose to reach the mountains by the next day.

That night Arrd found a place to rest on the brow of a hill that looked out to a high mountain in the distance. He built a small fire to warm him and from his leather pack he took the bread, fruit and spring water that Mereth had prepared for him. When his hunger was satisfied, Arrd wrapped himself tightly in a blue wool blanket and lay down to sleep.

Deep in the silent expanse of night, as Arrd lay sleeping, there came a shadow that blocked out the moonlight. Down from the mountain it came, hovering over the boy. Though asleep, Arrd sensed the dragon’s presence and drew the birth sac holding the dragonstone close to his body. The dragon paused overhead for a moment like a messenger who leaves a missive at the door and disappears into the night without a greeting. In his dream consciousness, Arrd recognized and understood the message.

Awakening, Arrd was greeted by the first light of a new day. He had one clear thought in mind–there was a field of yellow flowers on a mountainside and this was the place of the dragon’s lair. Once more, Arrd’s heart ignored the mind’s reason–“Better to be safe than sorry”– and he pursued instead, his unconscious thought that had come to him in the night. Without taking time to eat or drink, Arrd set out for the mountain with the coveted package clasped in his young hands.

Stories of the dragon’s lair are filled with chilling descriptions of dark caves, monstrous creatures and threats of death. They speak of fear, not the promise of joy and new life that Arrd felt in his heart as he climbed the mountain. The sun was bright and the cloudless sky, a robin’s egg blue. After an hour of arduous climbing, Arrd stopped to seek further assurance that he was doing the right thing. He lifted the dragonstone high into the air, sensing an even stronger energy radiating from the stone. This sensation was followed by the thought of the yellow flowers that had come to him as he’d greeted the morning light.

After hiking for still another hour, he came to a cave secreted into the mountainside. At the cave’s entrance was a patch of bright yellow flowers, just as he’d imagined; from within the cave, came a glow of light that harmonized with the color of the flowers. 

Arrd called out: “Most Honored One, I come bearing not a gift, but that which was stolen from you by one of the humans from my world. Please forgive our mortal understanding of good and evil and accept us despite our shortcomings.”

There was no sound–no response to his greeting. Arrd stood for a time before the cave and his mind said, “Do you really believe this creature exists? And, if it does, should you not fear it? Is it not better to be safe than sorry? Turn and run!” 

A moment later he heard another calmer voice speaking words of the heart: “Patience and strength….have faith that your dragon exists and will come forth to speak with you.”

Standing uncertain before the cave entrance, Arrd listened to both voices and did not run away…time passed until a time between times came to be for Arrd. Then it was that the great dragon emerged from the cave, first bending its horny head low to clear the cave’s entrance and then raising up to its full height, to tower over Arrd.

The dragon’s body was the color of well-aged copper. Slowly the creatures’ mouth opened and Arrd saw its great red tongue moving about. Arrd feared a rain of fire might fall upon him, but he was reassured in seeing the dragon’s eyes – they shone with a look of human understanding. Then the dragon’s tongue formed words that Arrd could understand, “You have brought the stone.”

Arrd was astonished to hear the dragon speak. For a moment he was tongue-tied, but then he found the words to respond: “I….I have . . . and I ask that you release the curse of death on my village.”

“It is done”, said the dragon, “and for your courage and love for all, I give you the gift of common understanding.” Bowing low before the dragon, Arrd laid the ruby-hued stone on the ground before the cave entrance and turned from the lair of the copper-colored beast.

 As Arrd descended the long path from the mountain, he felt a sense of wholeness, a feeling of oneness with the earth and all creatures that call it home. He sensed his mind and heart were now one….a new balance that bore its first fruits as Arrd passed a plane tree. Sitting on a twisted branch of the tree were two, shiny black crows. One crow looked at the boy and remarked to the other bird, “There goes the one who understands the language of all on earth and heaven above.” And, Arrd, the milk boy from Nestore, wondered at the meaning of these words for the life that lay before him.

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HEART AND MIND, how the creative self expresses thoughts

This afternoon Susan enticed me to watch a presentation on Zoom…it was about Carl Jung’s concept of God. For an hour and twenty minutes I listened to a Jungian analyst explain the master’s understandings of the subject…the dreams of his patients were used to illustrate different concepts. The whole hour and twenty minutes I felt “a burr under my saddle”, something was irritating me. It was not until the lecture finished and Susan and I were talking about the experience that I recognized the source of my discomfort.

Fifteen years ago I created a performance of Jung stories-IMAGINING THE WORLD OF CARL JUNG. The work had a short life…maybe ten to fifteen performances over a period of two years. I recognize that you could say I did a bad job of creating the character of Carl Jung. That was my reading at the time of performing the work; but while watching the presentation today, I came up with a new interpretation of my failure. When it comes to learning about a subject, some of us prefer a lecture, a rational detailing of the information to be learned; others prefer the information to be presented in a story with a plot and emotions.

 As a child, I was never a good student in school. For many years I blamed my poor grades and dislike of school on my being dyslectic. It is true that I have difficulty reading words on a page. When I started my business of presenting school assembly programs, I told myself, ‘I am going to teach children in a new way…no reading words on a page…they will learn by seeing pictures on a screen and hear music and me telling a story!’ For thirty-five years I taught using a multi-media format to share information with school children.

Today, as I think about my way of teaching and learning, I see another reason why I chose to teach through the story form. To capture my imagination, I need to feel as well as think about a subject…I need to feel with my heart as well a think with my mind to capture and hold thoughts. I do not claim this as being true for everyone, but for me, I remember thoughts better if they come to me through a story.

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Finding Soul at 80!

This past week I turned eighty years old. We had a little family gathering for lunch under the magnolia tree in the backyard. Susan prepared a wonderful meal and she had several presents to give me as mementos of my achievement. One is this story that she created to reflect on our relationship:

To an Earth Goddess, he came in a dream . . . a man of green and grace.

She opened her right hand to find his diminutive body parts,

nestled in the cradle of her palm.

But in no time she could feel him growing and melding into a whole,

like yeasted dough in a warm nest, roofed over by so many fingers.

Then, he burst the confines of her hand so suddenly that she startled!

There he was — standing in fine form before her . . .

A shimmering emerald sheath of flesh upon solid bone.

His feet were shod in soft leather slippers,

through which he could sense the earth’s energies.

His two legs rose like sturdy, twin tree trunks from his footed roots.

He stretched and flexed his limbs,

muscles rippling like waves on a viridescent sea.

His short crop of hair was a mess of curly ferns;

His rascally brown eyes were edged by kindly crinkles…

A broad, stubby nose divided dimpled cheeks, plump as ripe green apples.

 Below, a bemused and impish smile played across his ample lips.

Green Man looked ready to take the world by surprise!

“What came you for?” asked Earth Goddess in some wonderment.

He declared without hesitation: “Tikkum olam!”

— drawing on a term familiar to his Jewish ancestors.

The pagan Earth Goddess did not understand Hebrew, so asked:

“And what does that mean?”

“Repair of the earth” Green Man replied.

“And how do you propose to go about that?” She asked.

He answered: “Not by might, and not by smarts, but by story upon story.”

“And how will this storytelling repair this broken world, my friend?”

“Because the stories we hear and embrace as persons, families, or nations;

they become for us the lenses through which we see our experiences.

 And how we choose to tell our own story —

shapes us into being the persons we are, for better or for worse.”

“Well said,” remarked Earth Goddess.

“I believe we can use your peculiar gifts in this earthly realm . . .

may the stories you tell be for the better, as best you can discern it!”

And so Green Man set out to tell story upon story.

When Green Man reached the 80th year from when he’d emerged from the palm of

Earth Goddess, he came back looking for her . . .

He found her by the seashore, nestled in the curl of a huge conch shell.

He plopped himself down in the sand in front of her where she rested.

Looking into the deep pool of her hazel eyes, his heart opened. . .

and putting his green head in his hands he wept in her presence. 

“Why fore do you weep, Green Man of Many Words? “

“Because I have storied all of my days, until I am bone-weary . . .

and still the earth is not repaired!

If anything . . . it is worse off than when I began!”

“Ah, so it is, she replied, “but I have it on good authority that in your little corner of the world, matters

might have been much worse, much sooner, had your stories not been heard . . . had they not shaped the

lives of so many young ones . . and more recently, old ones. You have planted many good seeds with

your stories, and seeds take time to grow.”

Green Man smiled and sighed: “Well, I suppose that’s enough to know for now.

Am I done?  — must I prepare for my ending?

“Not quite yet, I have need of you a bit longer”, said Earth Goddess.

“For what purpose?,” asked Green Man quizzically.

“Just to be” . . . Earth Goddess replied in her most gentle tone…

to be my lover . . . to behold, and savor, and attend, and touch and

be amazed at what comes your way in this late season of life . . .

and tell the occasional story when you are so moved.”

Green Man protested: “But mustn’t I be getting ready for Sister Death’s grim arrival?”

“Ah”, replied Earth Goddess, “what I have asked of you, is the best way to prepare for her coming . .

for she will come clothed not in somber dark robes, but in vivid colors that sing the fullness of Divine Love.”

“If this is so,” Green Man mused, “then I would do well to get on with what’s left of my life…and love

and be loved by the one I’m with.”

And so, he did!   

As is often the case with a birthday: I read the story that day, but I did not take time to reflect on it until four days after the celebration. On a quiet morning I sat down in my study with the artfully prepared script of the story…without a title…and read it again. The story tells of the relationship between Earth Goddess and Green Man–from his birth in the hand of Earth Goddess to his eightieth year. The essence of the story turns about Green Man’s purpose for life–Jung would call it his “individuation”–being “Tikkum Olam”. Green Man questions the results of his life telling stories.

It does not take much reflection to see this story is about the relationship between Susan and Ray! Susan, after thirty-five years as a Christian clergy person, still sees her “individuation” as strongly tied to her being the mother of four children…and I have dedicated my past fifty plus years to creating and telling stories. And, I agree with the story, we both feel we have found a sense of wholeness in the roles chosen for our lives!

One last reflection: yesterday when I took time to consider this story, I experienced a revelation, a kind of metanoia, about my Self. My memory took me back to the age of about six years. At that time my family was living in the country parsonage of a Presbyterian Church in rural, western Pennsylvania–previously our family had lived in a housing project in a steel town not far away. One day I went out to explore my new home environment in the country. The property next to the parsonage was a farm with a small herd of milk cows. To feed the cows the farmer had an alfalfa field that he cut a couple times a year. That day the alfalfa was in bloom–just before a cutting– and there were honey bees feeding on the sweet clovers. I was curious about the bees and their feeding process. I got down on my knees in the tall grass to watch the bees. My curiosity led to one of the bees stinging me for messing in their business!

My reflection on Susan’s story is that it has reminded me of my attachment to the natural world. I gain spiritual energy from my time spent in the world of nature…more than I ever found in a Presbyterian Church service. This is not shared as a criticism of religion–I am still spiritually supported by singing Church hymns–but being engaged with nature is more important for my experience of Soul/Spirit/God! This is not a new discovery for me, but I give thanks to Susan in my eightieth year for understanding a bit about her husband!

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LIMINAL TIMES IN LIFE

Liminal…in Latin it is “limen”…threshold in English, so liminal is the threshold between two spaces. It is the place when you are on the verge of something new; you are between what was and what will be! You are waiting and not knowing about what will come to you.

I find myself approaching the age of eighty years in just over two weeks. How do I feel about this milestone? I will best describe it as a “liminal time” in my life. What do I mean? It is an in-between time; I have already lived 3-4 years longer than the average for American males…so I know that “death” is close, on the other side of my in-between space. Despite this grim sounding declaration: I choose to do my best to be present to this reality of my life. I think about what will happen when I take my last breath of air; is there something of Raymond that will live on when his physical body stops functioning?

There is a certain sense that our whole life is a liminal space between birth and dying. Certainly I remember, and have written about my first experiences of death as a child–going to funerals of family members and telling myself: ‘you better get started with your life, you’re not going to be here forever!’ That form of liminal space is real, but this new sense of the liminal is close at hand and there is not much room to get it wrong and try again!

This awareness of the closeness of death does not mean that you drop everything and just prepare for death. I made the decision last fall that I wanted to marry again after the death of my wife a year earlier. Susan and I have a relationship that is very real and intimate on many levels. Presently we are going through a shared experience of the Covid Virus-caring for each other as we see need. Even this illness has not deterred our enjoyment of the intimacy of sleeping together-touch and conversation savored only by the old who find new ways to be together as one. This morning I touched Susan’s breast and I found myself reflecting on other times in my life. I remembered myself at the age of 3-5 yrs. touching my mother’s breast and then touching a girl friends’ breast at the age of 14-15 yrs. This need for feminine intimacy–not overt in its sexuality, but perhaps tied more to my need for touch and closeness. I know that my need for touch was a driving energy that led me into marriage again.

Susan shares my need for touch and we have found synchronicity in our liminal state of being old together. We enjoy working together on creative projects-presently we are involved in producing a storytelling performance at a local theatre and recently we led a church service where I told a story and she preached a sermon based on the story theme! So we find ways to engage life despite the reality of death’s ever presences.

There is a gift in finding a balance in this liminal state at the end of life. We need to honestly engage the end of life issues and still be present to living life until that last breath of air. The balance I believe comes when we understand the reality of this liminal state. It is a state when we are on the verge of something new; we are between what was and what will be. All we can do is be present to what is passing and what will come to us as a new state of being!   

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Still Pondering Knowledge!

The gift of being wholly human is to appreciate our ability to reason and at the same time to explore the spiritual side of life! These distinct gifts of the mind and soul do help us to engage life as best we can while we live in our physical bodies. Nevertheless, I will suggest that being wholly human in mind and soul has its limitations when we begin to explore the divine in ourselves. Our physical bodies keep us from truly experiencing the Self…the god/divine part of us!

The desire to experience “the Self” in us has been explored through the Greek word “kenosis” which is defined as the act of “emptying” one’s self of all things expressed through the ego. In the New Testament of the Bible, it is said that Jesus had to empty himself in becoming human–so it is the opposite of we humans emptying ourselves to discover the divine in us!

I will suggest another way to explore the act of kenosis through the creative process. I have spent the most of my life creating and sharing stories. When I tell a story in performance, I work long and hard to prepare the story, but when I step in front of an audience I clear my mind by paying attention to my breathing to clear my mind, to empty my self/ego to allow the creative process to come into being. When I tell a story I share what comes to me intuitively. Sometimes I tell the story as I have prepared it; sometimes, I am influenced by the audience and the setting to make changes to the story. It is about emptying the ego energy and being in the moment that we create the story appropriate for that particular audience.

The process of emptying is also part of the process when you create a story. You open yourself to sharing thoughts and ideas that may not reflect best to display your ego, but it creates a story that touches the souls in your audience.

One last thought on emptying one’s self to allow for the creative process: I think the act of kenosis may be helpful when we approach the moment of death. We open ourselves for discovery of that which we know will come when we are no longer a captive of the physical body!

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A GRAY WOLF

Life is continuously changing though I tend to focus on the sameness in it….today my sameness was shaken a bit. This morning I was working at my desk–as I do every morning– when the phone rang. I saw that it was Susan calling me.

I felt a little annoyed: ‘Why is she calling me when she is in the kitchen?’

I picked up the phone and heard: “Come, I need your help, Tai Chi is lying on the ground, I think she is dying!”

I ran out the garage door and found Susan standing over her dog who was lying on the ground. I could see the fear in Susan’s eyes. I asked: “What happened?”

She responded: “She just dropped down and won’t get up. I think we need to get her to the vet.” I agreed and Susan went into the house to call the vet while I tried to rig a way to get the dog into the car…our vet is only two blocks from the house and they were willing to see Tai Chi as soon as we could get her there. I skipped the cart and picked her up and put her in the back of the car.

The vet confirmed our worst fears. Tai Chi had internal bleeding and not long to live. We made the decision to end her life and not try any heroic medical actions…she is twelve years old and has had a good life. The doctor gave her a shot to end the trauma. Afterwards we spent a few quiet minutes with our dog; on the way out we agreed that her remains would be cremated and return to us.

As we drove back to the house Susan thanked me for helping with the dog care during the short time that she and the dog have lived on Clemens Road. I reminded her that I am a dog and caring for Tai Chi was like taking care of a sister!

So how did I come to this identity as a member the canine family? It goes back to my first exploration as a storyteller. I was hired by the New Jersey State Museum in about 1969 to create programs for children coming to the museum. Somehow I learned about a research study of wolves living in Algonquin National Park in Canada. I contacted the scientists and they invited me to join them that summer at the park.

The part of the study that most captured my creative energy was a nightly activity. We tracked the movement of a wolf pack by going out to howl and the wolves would answer us (this was before digital tracking colliers).  For me there was something elemental, deep inside me, which was stirred to life when I heard a wolf respond to my call. I imagined it as the “wolf” in me!

I created a program for children coming to the museum in Trenton, New Jersey. It was called, “Way of the Wolf”. I began by telling an oral story and then I showed the children a film I edited to compliment the images in the oral story. The story and the film all came from my experience of the lives of wolves in Algonquin National Park…. and this was the beginning of my career as a multi-media storyteller!

My time living with Tai Chi was short, two months short of a year. Nevertheless, she did remind me to honor the “dog” in myself–to open myself to that non-rational energy.  This way of engaging the world is central to my creative life and I imagine it will help me to engage the experience of my own death…..thank you, Tai Chi!

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THE PATH OF LIFE…understanding it

It is six years since the completion of my memoir: GRANDPA JUNG’S LESSONS, for a slow reader. I am still a slow reader, but life continues to balance this negative by giving me creative ideas into my eightieth year! I give thanks for this time to continue to explore the path of life; I will make use of this time to reflect and try to share my understanding of the common life we share together.

There have been two major events along my path of life in these past six years. First, my wife, Nancy Wicklund Gray, was diagnosed to have esophageal cancer three plus years ago. She lived just over a year with the disease. During the last month of her life I cared for her in our home on Clemens Road in Doylestown. She died on September 2, 2019 in her study with her art on the walls, books on the shelves and desk where she did her writing. The other major event on my path of life is that I was married to Susan Scott on October 16 of 2021! Now Susan works in the same study of our home on Clemens Road…and she has her own art, books and desk to do her writing! So again I will suggest that life has balanced the loss of a wife I deeply loved by giving me a new mate to share my last years on the path of life.

Hold up there old man! You seem to have stumbled on to an important understanding about the path of life. Our lives are always filled with both positive and negative events; the gift is to find a way to balance the negative and positive in it. I recognize that this balance of negative and positive is not always possible–some live and die in times of great conflict such as war. Nevertheless, when we are given time after a negative event in our lives, there is always a way to return, to shift back to the positive path of life if we are open to change.

This positive change is not always easy to find after a time of negative experiences. This was true for me when my first marriage, that created my two children, ended in divorce. There was a period of three to four years when I lived alone and struggled financially. This type of experience is shared in one of my stories called, Monkeyshines and Miracles. The story is found in my memoir both in written form and the video recording of a live performance. This story depicts the pain that a man feels when his wife dies–my wife did not die, but for me, it felt like a death when the marriage ended.

Recently I watched the video of this story with Susan and I felt the tears welling up in me. So many of the feelings shared in the story came to actually be when Nancy died. I will suggest now that the negative experience of my divorce turned out to be a positive support for facing the death of Nancy later in my life. This brings to front and center the subject of “death” in our lives: Can we balance the experience, the energy, of death in our lives?  Let’s talk first about death as it relates to loved ones in our lives; and then I will offer observations about my own death.

Before I share these experiences of death, I want to speak briefly about the concept of “presence” in our lives. For me, presence is a gift from the eternal to live both the positive and negative in our lives and find a balance that helps us to move forward on the path of life. Sometimes this balance, this presence, is consciously pursued, but often we pursue it unconsciously and it is only later that we reflect back and see the decisions made to move forward on the path of life.

Let me share my gift of presence in dealing with the grief of losing my wife, Nancy. Because Nancy was under hospice home care when she died, I was invited to join a group of grieving spouses run by the hospice organization that supported me in caring for Nancy. I attended only two meetings of this therapy group. I could not find solace in listening to the negative experience of others living with grief. I had to find my own way of being present to my grief over her death.

When I went through Nancy’s work files at that time, I found she had gathered a series of journals kept from the age of ten until near the time when she died. They were nicely collected together for me to find. I imagined these journals as a positive stimulus created by Nancy to help her husband deal with his grief. Immediately I started to think about a remembrance that would be either a documentary film or a book.  After considering the sources provide for me, I decided that the book was a better creative project than a film.

The book, THE MUSIC OF LIFE, A Remembrance of Nancy Wicklund Gray, took five months to create. During this time I focused most of my energy on this creative process. The book is only fifty-one pages and it is illustrated with many visuals from Nancy’s time of this earth. For me, the creator, there were many times of tears shed in the process, but the book was my form of positive grieving…my best way to be present to the pain of loss. I will share just a bit of the writing:

Beginning:

The creative idea for this remembrance grew out of a dream Ray had shortly after Nancy’s death. In the dream he found himself listening to a musical performance with Nancy. Afterwards, she said to him, “Turn this music into a story.” When Ray woke up, he immediately thought of either a documentary film or a written remembrance–with the title: THE MUSIC OF LIFE. The resources for this creative work were mostly journals and photos, not video, so the written remembrance was created.

Ending:

“This remembrance is part of a husband’s grieving process for the loss of his mate in life. It has served this purpose well. I have learned many things about my Nancy that either I did not know or did not take the time to think about when we were sharing our lives.

I have tried to tell Nancy’s story as honestly as I can. For me it is the story of a strong, clear thinking woman who was capable of great love. She faced much adversity in her life, but this adversity did not deter her passion to love and to be loved in the time she was given on this earth. She has taught me much about the gift of love–how to love and be loved.

 I will close this by sharing one of the last conscious communications between the two of us. Nancy said: “I want you to be happy.” I understand that to mean that she wants me to go on with my life and not live in a perpetual state of grief and loss. She wants me to explore new relationships and be open to finding a new mate; or find happiness in being alone through my last years of life. I say a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to share a part of my time on this earth with this beautiful and wise woman“

This remembrance is available on Amazon:

Through my eighty years of life I have had one other intimate experience of a loved one’s death. This experience came about because of a family decision to have my mother, Ruby Bessie Fink Gray live to the end of life with Nancy and myself. The end of this experience, Ruby’s death, is described in my journal and shared in my memoir:

October 31, 2011 (Halloween)

            Ruby died this evening.

The day started with a visit to the funeral home that now holds her remains. I went to make the arrangements for her death, but I had no idea that they would be needed on this day. After the funeral home, I went to the bank to look for an insurance policy that I thought might be in our safe deposit box. While I was rummaging through savings bonds, jewelry, wills and old coins I had a call from Neshaminy Manor where Ruby lived. It was the afternoon shift nurse. He wanted to know if I had been updated on Ruby’s condition. I said, “Yes, I talked with the hospice nurse this morning. I will come tomorrow to visit with Ruby.” He suggested: “You might want to consider coming today.” It was then about four in the afternoon. I decided to go home and eat before I went to visit with her, thinking that it might be my only chance to get a meal. I went home and ate leftover wonton soup and a scrap of good sourdough bread with butter. On the drive to the nursing home I put on a CD, a Bach cello suite, sensing I needed to collect myself for my work ahead.

When I arrived on the floor where Ruby lived, I looked up Ralph, the nurse who had called me. He said he was concerned because Ruby was under hospice care, but there were no orders to keep her at Neshaminy Manor. A nurse could decide that she needed more care than they could provide and therefore call for an ambulance. I said that I did not want her taken to the hospital. He said that was fine, but if I went home and another nurse came on duty, that nurse might decide to send her. I said I would call hospice to make sure that my wishes were followed.

I put in a call to Donna, the hospice nurse. Meanwhile, a supervising nurse came to the room and checked Ruby. She said she was going to order morphine to slow Ruby’s breathing, which by this time was like a runner’s after a ten mile-run. I wondered at her ninety-seven year old heart. How long could it work so hard? The morphine was given and I noticed a slight relaxing of her breathing. Sitting beside her, I started to get sleepy myself. I was looking at the family pictures on the wall. I looked at a young and beautiful Ruby in one picture. I guessed that it was a picture from her brother Raymond’s wedding.

By this time it was nearly five-thirty. I started to think about my brother, Cecil, who was scheduled to leave the next day for a family vacation in Hawaii. Should I call and warn him that Mother might be dying? I decided that I would; I could let him decide if he wanted to change his plans before getting on the plane to the islands. When I finally talked with Cecil, he said he would think about changing his plans overnight and call me in the morning. We left it there and I went back to Ruby.

When I looked at her in bed, she seemed a little more settled. The hospice nurse returned my call and confirmed Ralph’s observation. There was no order to keep Ruby at the nursing home; the family was expected to make the decision. This was the very thing I hoped hospice would help me to do, to allow Ruby to die without medical intervention. I decided I would stay there as long as I could–overnight if necessary. I asked Ralph if it was all right for me to sleep in the chair. He said that it was no problem.

It was now close to seven in the evening. One of the aides came in to check on Ruby, to see if she needed her diaper changed. We talked about turning Ruby on her side to help her breathe easier. While the aide worked to make Ruby more comfortable, I went out to call my sister, Gloria. We talked briefly. I suggested that, if she wanted to see her mother alive, she might want to come to Philadelphia. We agreed to talk again in the morning. I still did not suspect that Ruby’s end was so near.

I went back to the room. The aide was gone. Ruby was propped up higher in the bed. Her eyes were open. Her breathing was quieter. I thought she was looking at me. I started to talk, saying that I was her son, Ray, come to visit her. There was no expression on her face. I started to watch her chest to see if she was breathing. For the first time I thought she might be dying. No, she was still breathing; each breath was shallow and taken after a long interval. I started to sing to her. I do not know what I sang, but most likely they were hymns. After singing for a while, I started to talk to her. I was direct. I encouraged her to go, to leave this life–it was almost like a chant. I sang out, “Go, go, it is all right to go; go, go, it is all right to leave this world.”           

Now I knew she was going. She was dying. At one point I thought she was dead, and then there came another breath, and another. I do not know how long this went on. I stroked her head. I sang to her. I encouraged her to go, to find her way. Finally, I was fairly certain she was gone. I put my hand on her chest to see if I could feel a heartbeat. I thought about a story I was working on. In the story a man, in his human vanity, tries to bring another man back to life by breathing into his mouth. I thought about breathing into Ruby’s mouth to bring her back to life.  I did once try to resuscitate a young man who was injured and dying. I did not try it with Ruby. It was her time to leave this world. I went back to encouraging her to find her way to the next world. I sang more hymns. I said several prayers for her release; then I witnessed the last function of her body. As she expired, a tear was formed in her right eye. We both shed a tear as we said our silent goodbye.

At that moment, the phone rang and it was my wife, Nancy; I told her that Ruby had died. She said she was coming to be with me. I said that was fine and hung up. I sang and prayed for a while longer, and then I went out to find a nurse to declare Ruby officially dead. When I approached one and told her that I thought that my mother was dead, she looked shocked. She called for Ralph and they both came into the room with me. The female nurse used her stethoscope to listen for Ruby’s heartbeat, and then shook her head to agree with my assessment that Ruby was indeed dead.

When the nurses left the room, I continued to sing for some time, until the supervising nurse for the evening shift came into the room. She smiled and told me that I was so fortunate to be here when Ruby died, that most people deal with death without experiencing it. She shared that her cat had died today and that she was so happy to be there when it did. I agreed that I was happy to be part of Ruby’s end. I said, “She helped me to come into this world and I was here to help her to leave this world.” We both cried.

The floor nurse came back into the room and asked about Ruby’s clothes. I said, “Give them to whoever needs them.” She suggested that I call the funeral home to come for the body. I called and a woman answered the telephone; she said the funeral director would call me back. For a while I was again alone with Ruby until Nancy came into the room. We hugged and talked. The funeral director called and said that he would be there within half an hour. It was time for our last goodbye. Nancy and I both kissed Ruby one last time and left the hospital.

We drove home silently. I had a big piece of apple cake with vanilla ice cream, followed by two glasses of Irish Mist. I tried to go to bed at about ten-thirty, but I could not sleep. I have been writing for an hour and a half.  Maybe I can sleep now.”

In one way my experience of Ruby’s death was more intimate than my experience of Nancy’s death. I feel that Nancy chose to die when I was not in the room with her. She literally died when I went out to the kitchen to fix a meal for myself. As the above description shares I was there to see Ruby’s last breath of air; nevertheless both experiences were intimately connected with the death of a loved one…and in both experiences I felt very honored to accompany a loved one to threshold of death.

So yes, I have been present for an intimate experience of death– I will share that I found both experiences very positive–what many might find a negative experience in life, I found for myself, a balance, a positive that grows out of being willing to be present for a difficult time in life. Many talk about dealing with death as a battle–“she fought bravely her battle against cancer”. You might have said that about Nancy, but she did not choose those words for her experience. It was simply a negative in life that she had to deal with, to be present for the experience and find the positive where you can in it. After Nancy’s death I have felt her presence several times in my life.

This brings me to a couple of thoughts about my own death: How will I be present for this last act of a long life? First, I will say I don’t agree with a storytelling friend who said: “Just keep on keeping on!” She suggested that you continue to live your life as always and ignore that your time on this earth is nearing its end. I want to think about my end and prepare myself to be as present to the event as I have tried to be in living my life.

You could argue that Raymond talks out of both sides of his mouth when it comes to presence about the subject of death. It was about three months after Nancy’s death that I received a sympathy letter from Susan Carol Scott. She shared that we had met at one of my storytelling performances and talked about the fact that were are both graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary. Like me, her mate had died in the past year–so we were both foot-loose and fancy free! At that time I was working on the remembrance of Nancy: and as I have shared here, Nancy said to me just before she died: “I want you to be happy.”

 I wrote in the remembrance: “I understand that to mean that she wants me to go on with my life and not live in a perpetual state of grief and loss. She wants me to explore new relationships and be open to finding a new mate or happiness in being alone through my last years of life.

I will share that I did think about living alone for the rest of my life–and I could have managed it–but I soon decided that I missed having a mate sleeping beside me in bed at 68 Clemens Road! It was soon after I published Nancy’s remembrance that Susan and I agreed with one of Nancy’s boyfriends who said: “I think our bodies like each other!” I had found that quote in one of Nancy journals and published it in her remembrance. So in some sense I agree with my storytelling friend who suggested that “you just keep on keepin’ on” in your life: I also think at the age of eighty you cannot ignore the closeness of death and I want to think about being present in the time I have left on this earth and how I will be present for my end of life.

It was in the spring 2020 that I created a story– A Conversation with Death. I shared the story with Susan and we talked about it. Susan has worked as a hospice chaplain, so she is not uncomfortable talking about the subject of death. She even made some comments that helped me to refine the story and finally she agreed to help me to create a video recording of my telling the story. I will share this little story and our recording of me telling it–Susan was the camera person!

A CONVERSATION WITH DEATH

I often talk to myself, Raymond Lowell Gray—don’t we all to a more or lesser degree? I may be a little different in that I earned a modest living as an oral storyteller; that involved creating characters and inhabiting them to share a story.

Most recently I’ve been imagining the character–Death. I am interested in the subject of death because I will soon be seventy-nine years old. When I read the morning paper and come to the obituary page, I see a lot of names of people younger than me. The immediacy of death then became particular real last summer when I cared for my wife, Nancy, as she faced death and died. Since her death, I’ve been imagining a conversation with Death that explores the positive in this end of life process.

If you will, come with me to the home where Raymond Lowell Gray lives alone; it is a cool summer night. We find Raymond sitting on the couch in front of the big picture window in his living room. Outside a lite mist partially obscures the branches of a magnolia tree–creating visons of the real and imagined for Raymond to contemplate.

Raymond closes his eyes to encourage his creative process. For a period of time he lingers between the states of sleep and wakefulness, conscious and unconscious, like the misty world outside his living room window.

It is a sense of presence that encourages Raymond to open his eyes again. Slowly he turns– though not hard and fast of flesh and sinew, he sees a night visitor sitting next to him on the couch. This visitor is not devoid of humanity–indeed he is dressed in jeans and flannel shirt much like Raymond often wears. As he turns to face Raymond, there is warmth in his wrinkled smile.

The visitor speaks softly, “Thank you for inviting me into your home this night.”

“I, I, I don’t know what to say”, responds Raymond. “I mean, I imagined something else, like in a Bergmann movie, you know hooded, carrying a scythe, full of endings, not beginnings….what should I call you?”

Death stands up, his face toward the darkened window, “I would like to be called, Teacher, maybe even, Friend.”

Now Raymond stands up next to Death and they both stare out the window for a quiet time. Then Raymond responds: “Since childhood I think I have unconsciously wanted to think of death as a positive. I mean kinda like a kick in the butt to remind me that life is not eternal. We should have a purpose, things we want to do in life. So, I guess in a way I have…unconsciously…thought of you as my teacher.”

“And have you found that purpose?” inquires Death.

Raymond Lowell does not answer immediately. He stands with his new friend and teacher–like two travelers on the bow of ship at sea–they both stare into the misty night outside the big window. Finally without assurance, Raymond responds: “Yes, I think I have. I mean I have not found great material success in life–no fame or wealth, but, but I have found purpose in my creative work.”

“Your world of story”, says Death.

“Yes”, says Raymond, “and in old age, I have developed a fascination for spiritual stories. The Greek write, Nikos Kazantzakis, put this way: “God made us as grubs, by our effort we become butterflies.”

“Ah, God”–Death sighs–“the bane of my existence. The source of all positive and I am left to shepherd the poor soul who face the negative in life. So tell me Raymond Lowell Gray, how have you found in old age a purpose, a way to turn into a butterfly?”

Now it is Raymond’s turn to sigh…”I think it has something to do with the balance of opposites, the god positives and the death negatives maybe…but I am old and my time to die is coming near. I fear the loss of control, control of my life! Every night I close the blinds of this window, I lock the doors. I try to control my life, but I am isolated, alone and …and I can’t imagine a world without me, me, me…I’m exaggerating a bit to make my point.”

Death interrupts, “Yes, this human ‘me’ thing is a point to make, but if we think of your idea of opposites: then the opposite of ‘me’ is ‘you’ and I suggest that the balance between them is ‘love’. Raymond I think you, Old Man, need to find someone to love…love listens to all and endures all!”

These last words from Death seem to soften and float away. Outside the mist has disappeared and a full moon now illuminates the shape of the magnolia tree. Raymond senses a moment of clear-light understanding and turns to thank Death for sharing this time with him…but his teacher and friend has disappeared like the mist on the night air.

Dropbox Link to Recording: https://www.dropbox.com/s/aymzjbghvddsfs1/Death5.mp4?dl=0

So what do I have to say about my own death?

First, I do not have any understandings that come from theology or philosophy about the experience of death. The only thoughts I have to share come from living with death, not experiencing it. As I have shared here, my thoughts and experiences of death have all found a way to balance the negative with a positive response by doing my best to be present for the life experience. As for my own death, I do fear the unknown about it. The best I can do is to be open to being present, being like the new born babe I was eighty years ago when I came into this world!

This presents a question about being: Are we more than the physical body that came out of our mother’s body? Here the intuitive, creative part of me–I will call it the “Self”–declares its existence separate from the body. I think and feel that I know this Self through the creative experiences I have been given in my life. It is not something that I read about in a book, it is part of my life experience discovered in the creative life I have lived. So yes, I believe that I am more than the physical body that came out of my mother’s body…and my Self will live on after my physical body turns to dust.

Like the creative life that I have lived, I do not expect to control my experience of death. I simply have to be open to the experience–to be present– and do the best I can to imagine how it will happen. Here I will use another metaphor to describe the experience. I have often imagined my creative works as the seeds of a plant that are scattered on the wind and land where they will. I do try to spread them, but I do not control where they take hold and come to life again in a new human body. So something of my Self will live on in new life and add to the growth of a new Self…no longer my Self, nevertheless supported by my creative energy!

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I KNOW SOMETHING, I DON’T KNOW, I KNOW

Do you have a friend who repeats the same personal story over and over? You say to yourself, ‘All right, I’ve heard that before’. Sometimes we need to forgive them because growing old often leads to repeating ourselves. It can also be appropriate if there is someone in your company that does not know your friend’s stories. You know them because you are…well, good friends, you enjoy each other’s company and spend a lot of time together! 

My friend, Edward, is one of those old ones that I forgive for repeating his story about human consciousness. What can I tell you about my friend, Edward R Jones…to get to know him? First, I will share that I am writing this because he died last week and I am trying to come to terms with the loss.

Edward was one of those humans who never quite fit into a standard mold created by society for us all to follow. First, he was dyslexic and started his education before this disability was identified. Teachers underestimated his intelligence and he resisted their evaluations…developing a strong characteristic of the contrarian in his personality.

This negative part of Edward’s personality was balanced with many positive abilities. He had a strong sense of curiosity about the world around him–everything from the mechanics of his bicycle as a boy to an interest in nature and the creatures that inhabit it…including the humans throughout his life. Edward was good at asking questions that made his friends feel his interest in them and the lives they were living. This curiosity about the world around him often led to observations that other found thoughtful and worth consideration…some even called them wise…Edward’s contrarian nature seldom found the worth in being identified as wise, but he loved the engagement with the minds and hearts of others.

Edward’s connection to the natural world was shown clearly in his first ever creative project. As a young man he wanted to explore the human expression of spirituality. After graduating from college he contemplated a degree in theology and a career in the Christian Church of his family of origin. This traditional career path was soon rejected and he began to explore his spiritual energy in a non-traditional–contrarian you might say–interest. He developed an interest in research being done to understand the ways of wolves. He traveled to the Canadian north woods to participate in a study of their pack habits.

Scientists from a Canadian university were engaged in learning the habits of wolf packs. This was a time before the development of technology for tracking animals. They followed the movement of their subjects across the wilderness by going out at night, howling, and the wolves would answer the human calls….and so the scientist could determine the nightly movements of the wolves through the woods.

Edward found this communication with another species elemental for his being; indeed, he would later describe the experience as spiritual–communion with the divine. When he returned from his summer’s adventure, he created a program called “Way of the Wolf” and sold it to a museum.

Later Edward jokingly declared to many of his friends that he felt that he was a “wolf”…there was an elemental energy in him that he first consciously identified on those nights of howling and hearing the wolves responding back to him.

This elemental energy founded in the natural world became the basis for a career for Edward. For more than thirty years he created multi-media programs that he sold to museums, schools and community groups….canoeing the Yukon River to create a program about the Alaskan Gold Rush…and paddling a sea kayak across the Aegean Sea to understand the adventure stories in Greek mythology….to name just a few of his programs. For Edward these programs were a way to explore, grow in understanding and share with others your adventures in the natural world!   

The performing career of Edward R lasted for thirty plus years. It was at the age of sixty-four years that he experienced a metanoia, a change of focus for his curiosity. At that time his mother, Thelma, was living with Edward and his wife. One day Thelma saw Edward reading Carl Jung’s memoir–Memories, Dreams, Reflections. She asked her son an innocent question: “How long does it take to read that book?”

Edward thought a long moment and then responded: “Forty years!”

Thelma laughed and said: “You must be a slow reader.”

Edward smiled in return as he started to consciously reflect on this unexpected truth: Why had he turned these stories of Jung’s life, his individuation, into his own personal bible, his holy scripture?

For the first time in Edward’s life his curiosity turned consciously inward and he started to think rationally about stories he might create from Jung’s exploration of the human experience.

One of the concepts that peaked Edward’s interest was the idea of “archetype”. Jung’s idea of archetype is described as an innate, unspecific energy, derived from the sum total of human history, which prefigures and directs conscious behavior. Edward immediately thought about the energy that had driven his choices for subjects to explore and create programs for others to enjoy and learn about life. He recognized his energy was connected to the natural world and he started to think about how this energy had directed his life.  

This led to a time for Edward when being was more important than doing in his life. He stopped advertising his programs, his money making and ego engaging activities. Over a period of several years his work slowly disappeared. He became accustomed to spending most days alone–reflecting on the way he wanted to spend the last third of life…however long that might be.

Slowly a philosophy of life became conscious and Edward explored feelings and thoughts about it. He thought about life as being meaningful when we find a balance between the opposites in our world. This led him to describe himself as “wishy-washy…..always seeing the positives and negatives in life, but not trying to direct his path, or the path of anyone’s life. This attitude about life brought more of a sense of wholeness where you accept opposites, you do not try to change them; instead you accommodate them, to balance them.

This will to accept rather change the world opened the door for introspection and reflection. When Edward’s wife became ill, and a year later died, he struggled to maintain his balance with Death on the other side of the seesaw we call life. Luckily, his wife Mary had left her journals for him to read and learn many things about a remarkable life that she had lived. He learned many things about Mary that he would not have known if he had died before her. For six months he worked on a remembrance of Mary’s life…many days crying as he worked to create it. When the book was published he felt a new balance…but now Death was part his balance of life and he needed to understand this new relationship, this new relationship with his natural world.

These are a few of Edward’s thoughts about death that he shared with me: We live in a world where many prefer euphemisms when they talk about Death– Our friend “has passed away”; or, “she’s gone on to better place”. We have trouble talking about Death as a reality in our lives. These euphemisms are a way to ward off this reality of life, the balance of positive and negative…that is, our lives all end in death. This is the negative, but there must be a balance, a positive present in the reality of death. Edward started to think about ways to confront the reality of death–to seek a balance of mind and heart, or reason and spirit as we engaged this end of life. So one day he sat down to write a story about a conversation with Death.

                                                            ***********************

Come….Let’s join Edward as he sits on the couch in front of the big window in the living room of his home. There is the dark of night outside the big window. Edward closes his eyes in a meditative state and imagines a conversation with Death. The shadows of the night meld together, and after a time of quiet reflection, Edward opens his eyes to see a figure beside him on the couch. Though not hard and fast of flesh and sinew, the visitor is not devoid of humanity. Indeed he looks much like Edward–gray hair, dressed in blue jeans and sport shirt that fits tight around his belly. Slowly he turns to face Edward; there is warmth to his wrinkled smile that Edward finds welcoming.

The visitor speaks softly: “Thank you for inviting me into your home this night.”  

“I, I, I don’t know what to say”, stumbles Edward. “I mean, I imagined something else….like in a Bergman movie, hooded, carrying a scythe, you know full of endings, not beginnings….I can’t think how to begin. What do I call you?”

Death stands up, his face toward the darkened window and says, “I would like to be called teacher; maybe even, friend.”

Now Edward stands up and looks out the window as he gathers himself to converse with Death. “Now that you say that, I think unconsciously I have thought of death as a kick in the pants to remind me that life is not forever. I need a purpose for life, things I want to do before I die. So I guess, in one way, I do think of you as my teacher.”

“And have you found that purpose” inquires Death?

Again, without assurance, Edward responds, “Yes, I think I have. I mean I have not found great material success in life, no fame or wealth, but I have found purpose in my creative work.”

“Your world of story”, says Death.

“Yes, my creative work has been a positive in my life, a balance to the negatives in my life….but I’m growing old and I fear the loss of control in old age….the negatives seem to outweigh the positives: my physical body doesn’t work like it used to, there is the threat of dementia, being alone without a partner since my wife’s death is big also…but maybe most, I find it difficult to imagine a world without me, me, me! I’m exaggerating a bit to make my point.”

With a meaningful nod of his head, Death responds, “Yes, me has its place in your human life; but the opposite of me is you… and the balance between them is love…I think it says somewhere that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all thing and endures all things. I know Edward, you have had a great loss with Mary dying, but a new love can help balance that loss…perhaps you may even find a new partner to share a new love with you.”

Outside the big window Edward now sees a full moon illuminating the shape of the Magnolia tree in the back lawn. He turns to thank Death for sharing these thoughts with him…..but his teacher is gone.

So ends this lesson for one human soul who seeks to balance the mind and heart, the rational with the creative, the human with the eternal in us all.

                                              ********************************

This brings me to the purpose– you might say the heart of this story–during the last years of Edward R’s life he became fascinated (curious) about the ideas of Gnosticism. Gnosis is the Greek word for “knowledge”. Edward wanted to explore the idea that: “We know something that we don’t know that we know. “ I will not say that he ever declared a belief, a certainty, about his exploration of this idea, but he did try to understand it. Edward often shared his idea that this knowledge is hidden from us because our physical bodies prevent us from being wholly in touch with our spiritual selves. It is only at death that we are freed to discover this knowledge that we don’t know that we know!

So you see my friend Edward found another way to balance the negative inherent in the process of dying. He felt that Death is a friend and we find wholeness in death that we cannot find in our physical bodies

I will share one more detail about my friend, Edward R Jones. Death was right in suggesting that Edward should be open to finding new love after the death of his wife, Mary. Whether it was God’s spiritual blessing or Death’s good reasoning, Edward did find new love with a mate. Edward was happily married to Sarah for six years before his death!

And I will end this contemplation by sharing that I want to thank Edward for helping me to understand and reflect on my own end of life experience through telling his story!

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A God In My Pocket

I am preparing a performance that grows out of Carl Jung’s, The Red Book. The performance begins with the telling of Jung’s story about the giant (demi-god) called, Izdubar, in Mesopotamian mythology. My hope is that the performance will engage the audience in several ways. First, I hope to distinguish our human gifts for exploring the world through both our powers of reason and creative soul. As Jung suggests in his story, we in the west do sometimes depend on our powers of reason as the only gift to understand and engage our world. We need to explore more our creative and intuitive powers that open access to the energy of the unconscious. Jung used the concept called “active imagination” to describe the way we open ourselves to communication with the unconscious. Jung exercises a form of active imagination when giving voice to his unconscious by describing a conversation between himself and his soul. I will share my interpretation of this conversation that occurs early in The Red Book.

                                                A Conversation with My Soul

My Soul: Dear Gramundos, it is time, time to turn inward and consider the questions that have long haunted you.

Gramundos: I don’t understand. Of what do you speak?

My Soul: You know well of what I speak. Since your youth you have struggled with the eternal questions…..questions that have confounded the human race from the beginning of consciousness. WHERE DO I COME FROM? WHY WAS I PUT ON THIS EARTH? AND, WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO ME WHEN I DIE?

Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I feel I must be direct. I am exhausted from the day’s labor. Why will you not allow me to rest, to enjoy my night’s sleep?

My Soul: Beloved Gramundos now is not the time for sleep. Night is the time for the struggle that awaits you.

Gramundos: Soul Dearest, I find there are no answers to these questions. At best, we speculate and tell stories that point to a truth, but there are no answers that satisfy the rational mind.

My Soul: Precisely and to the point, you are one who has some understanding of the non-rational, the symbolic truth, and you can help others to explore the divine and share it.

Gramundos: I can’t see why I should do this: Is it not a fool’s errand to speak of a subject that has no popularity in the world today? You ask me to risk my mental and physical health, not to mention my place in society, to speak about a subject that no one knows they are missing.

My Soul: You know, and you have known from birth that you are called to this task. Your time of worldly success has passed. Your time to explore the unconscious, the life of the soul is present.

Gramundos: Why should I listen to you now, at this late time in my life?

My Soul: Yes, you have ignored my voice for many years, but it is not too late to renew our relationship and move forward with the foreordained task set at your birth. You have arrived at the time in life when all humans are asked to loosen the bonds of reason and engage the soul.

                                                        ************************

So this imagined conversation between my Soul/Self (Unconscious) and my ego-self leads to a second way I hope to engage my audience through my performance. Times, stages in our lives, ask us to focus on different ways to engage life. As Gramundos’ Soul suggest, he has ignored her voice for many years, but now “your time for worldly success is past” and it time to engage the work of the soul. I would argue that it is in the last third of life that we need to find time to consciously communicate with our Soul.

I will share a bit of my own story of how I began to focus on communicating with my soul in the last third of life. When I was about sixty-four–fifteen years ago–I was confronted by a reality that my storytelling business in schools was diminishing….I was feeling depressed and wondering if I needed to make some changes in my life. One day, my Mother, Ruby (who was living with my wife and I at the time) saw me reading Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (MDR) and she asked a simple question:

“How long does it take to read that book?”

I thought a moment and responded with a smile: “Forty years.”

She laughed and said: “You must be a slow reader.”

It was that prod, innocent on her part, which led me to realize that I had been reading Jung’s MDR over and over for most of my adult life–it had become my Scripture! This realization kindled my desire to better understand this spiritual focus in my life….and, my way to explore and understand is to create a story!

For several years after Ruby’s prodding I followed a transitional path from being Ray Gray, the presenter of storytelling for school children, to Gramundos (name created by one of my storytelling friends) the explorer of the human soul! I stopped promoting my storytelling programs for children in schools and over a period of two-three years the work disappeared. In the place of the children’s storytelling, I started to work on adult stories that I loosely imagined as stories for the last third of life. First, I created two performance from MDR titled, “Imagining the World of Carl Jung” where I performed Jung in the first person–these performances had the widest presentation from England to Canada and several cities in the US. A third performance, “The Red Book Stories” had only a couple of local performances and never found an audience.

It was three years into my transition that I decided to expand my exploration by writing about my life. I started to work on a multi-media memoir with audio and video recordings that augment the writing. The memoir was published as a kindle book, “Grandpa Jung’s Lessons, for a slow reader”. Work on the memoir led to the decision to self-publish two of my children’s stories as paperback books with illustrations. These stories had been shared as oral stories in school programs for many years, but now they were important for understanding the path I had chosen in life.

It was just over three years ago, at the beginning of the project to publish one of my children’s books, “Ice Cream Mud”, that my wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with stage-four esophageal cancer. It was during the year that we worked on the book that she struggled with her illness and finally died just weeks before the book was published. Nancy’s death lead to the last book project I have created since starting to work on stories for the last third of life. This is a remembrance of Nancy Wicklund Gray, “The Music of Life”. It was my way of understanding and dealing with the grief of losing a mate that I deeply loved.

I share these personal experiences to illustrate the third way I hope to engage my audience through telling Jung’s Izdubar myth. I believe that life is a creative process. We either act as the creator or receiver of the benefits from the creative process– the interaction that moves past the rational to understand life and engage the soul through an experience of active imagination. I know that I benefited by creating Nancy’s remembrance. And, in a different way, I benefited from reading Jung’s story because it introduced an idea that invigorated my creative process, my engagement with my soul. Jung introduces in the Izdubar story, the idea of a god my pocket! This idea has suggested to me that much of my adult life; I kept my god in my pocket. Only now, in my late seventies am I now taking that god out of my pocket to explore and understand how I may benefit from my relationship with the Collective Unconscious or God! So if you’re up for it, let me share my version of Jung’s Izdubar story…how in old age I am trying to open a conversation with My Soul.

                                                            Izdubar, the Giant    

So it was through imagination and the power of story I set out on a journey to the east to discover the birthplace of my Soul…..and my imagination transports me to a place of bare-rock mountains intertwined with narrow, dry valleys…..stifling hot by day and freezing cold by night. Then an experience is given to me: I hear a rumble of thunder; I look up, not a cloud in the sky, only the sun dissolving all moisture in the air.

I am quiet….I listen, look and feel: Then through a pass in the mountains there appears an enormous man. He has two bull horns protruding from his great head. His head is covered with thick, curly, black hair……He has a broad chest shielded by chain mail armor the color of midnight blue….a double-bladed ax in hand.

Then in a moment, with three giant strides, he is standing before me: I freeze in the shadow of this fearsome creature….slowly I look up at his face expecting to see belligerence…. Instead I see a look of expectation.

Hesitantly, cautiously I say: “Most Honored One please spare my life and forgive me for lying like a worn in your path.”

“I do not want your life”, responds the Bull-man, “Where do you come from?”

Raising my head more, I call to him, “Please forgive me Most Honored One, I come from the west.”

“You come from the western lands.” I hear a sound of anticipation in his voice. “Do you know the place where the Sun goes to be renewed after its daily labors?”

“Most Honored One”, I respond, “I fear I am the bearer of unsatisfying truth–what we humans call science–there is no place where the Sun goes to rest each day after its labors. The Sun stands a great distance from you and me. You see, you and I, we live on a planet called Earth. Our Earth spins on its axis as it circles the Sun creating the illusion that the Sun sets in the west each day.”

Now the Bull-man looks puzzled: “You tell me there is no immortal land where the Sun goes each night to be reborn for the coming of the new day?”

“Most Honored One, again forgive me for speaking my human truth.”

The Bull-Man drops his ax to the ground and calls out again: “Damn your truth…you tell me there is no western land where I can go to attain immortality, to be born anew as the Sun is born anew each day!”

I point up to sky and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, can you understand, the Sun is a celestial body out there, far out in unending space.”

Now I see a look of fear on the Bull-man’s face: “Unending you say, I cannot go there if I keep walking to the west?”

I reach out to him in sympathy: “Insofar as part of you is mortal, you cannot reach the Sun.”

Now the Bull-man drops to the ground and says in despair: “I am mortal, I will never be immortal as the Sun. I cannot do battle against endless space. There is nothing left for me to conquer.”

So time passes and the sun slowly disappears over the western mountains. Then the Bull-man raises his eyes and looks to the heavens, “Go damned father of the gods, wrap yourself in immortality. Your faithful son is left without hope for eternity.”

The chill of the coming night finally stirs me from the side of my fallen hero god. I gather wood and light a fire. Slowly the heat begins to warm the two of us, most unlikely companions.

Then, for the first time, the Bull-man looks directly into my eyes and says: “This truth, this science, you speak of, is it a god to replace my Father, the immortal Sun?”

“Oh no”, I say with a little sarcastic laugh, “It is no more than words, just an idea about the truth.”

The Bull-man looks trouble, “Then you have nothing to believe in?”

“You speak the truth”, I say with a nod of recognition, “Science has taken from me the capacity for belief and it is because of this that I have come to the east to the land of the rising sun to seek a new way to understand my world.”

The Bull-man says nothing in return; so we both rest before the coming of a new day and hopefully a new beginning.

When first morning light shines, I rise up and kindle the fire again. The Bull-man does not rise up to sit by the fire. The experience of the past day has left him in a weakened state and he cannot lift his heavy body from the ground.

Recognizing this new reality, I feel the Bull-man’s loss: “Most Honored One”, I call across the fire, “I know that I am greatly responsible for your loss of power.”

“This poison you call science has cut me down”, says the Bull-man, “let me be, death must come to us all if your science speaks the truth.”

 “But I cannot just leave you to die”, I say. “I feel a great sense of responsibility for your plight my friend….and added to that I will share that I have never felt as alive as I did when first we met. I did not want to harm you by sharing my truth. I said what I was taught in school, not what I know from living. We are both wanderers on this Earth……. We both seek the truth that will fulfill the lives that we have been given to live.”

“I do not blame you”, says the Bull-man.

Now I start to think about our predicament–the Bull-man is too big for me to move him–I stand up from the fire and walk a short distance, stop and call back to him: “I have an idea!”

The Bull-man looks incredulous: “Why should I find hope in your human idea: Was it not your idea of science that condemned me in the first place!”

I come back to the Bull-man and say: “Please forgive me Most Honored One, but we in the west believe that ideas can both help and harm us. We have to be rational in our thinking process, but also open to the energy of the heart. I believe this idea will help us.”

“Then speak your idea”, says the Bull-man.                       

“Thank you”, I say, “In the west we have what are called myths. A myth tells a story that is true in the inner world of the imagination…it speaks to our heart and soul. Please understand me Most Honored One, I do not wish to offend you, but you are not real in the western, scientific sense of reality. You are the imaginative creation of an ancient storyteller. If I remember Mesopotamian mythology correctly, you are Izdubar a demigod or superhuman in these ancient stories. If you can accept this new reality, I may be able to carry you back to the west where you can find your immortality through the telling of your story!

The Bull-man, demi-god, Izdubar, sighs, “Damn your science, your new reality, your story……but I have no other choice. Life changes and new realities appear whether we choose them or not. I accept the truth of your reality.”

Then, in a magical moment, for both me and the Bull-man, we are metamorphosed into the reality of an ancient story! We find ourselves standing before a great tree with roots that reach into the earth and branches that disappear into the heavens. I understand that this tree is the Tree of Life and it provides an avenue for journeying from the world of humans and our powers of reason, to the world of the gods–the powers of the heart and soul. I understand that the branches closer to the earth provide support for those humans most bound to human reason. As you climb higher into the Tree of Life, the powers of reason and science are of less use as you create stories of the relationship between the human and the divine.

The understanding of this reality is as a clear light for me. I look to my god-man, Izdubar and see that he has become lite as air. So I reached out and take hold of him. Now Izdubar’s body is soft and pliable: I begin to work his shape, squeezing and folding, I work this godly reality into a size that I can manage in the world of human reason….a god that I can carry in my pocket!

                                                        ***********************

 The idea of a “god in my pocket” is a new for me. I will allow it to ripen and mature a bit on Tree of Life before I try to create a story, my form of creative engagement with My Soul!

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STILL WALKING TO MY GRAVE

I find it energizing to see a tombstone with my name etched in it. Presently my name and birth year, 1942, are on the stone, followed by a line that awaits the date of my death. When I look at this marker for my life I imagine a time one hundred years from now. I imagine someone who has a connection to me coming for a visit. They will see that I have left a message, a communication for them to appreciate and wonder about the person who created it.

I could make an argument that all creative work is a form of the tombstone. We leave markers for others to read, to interpret and to understand how we have engaged the world. I think this is particularly true for older artist; we are past the need or desire to gain fame or fortune from our work, but we still feel the need to communicate how we have experienced this world! I like to think about it as my wish to leave my scats about for others to find after I am gone from this earth. I think of my blogs as a form of creative scat that I am leaving for people to discover long after I have died.

We should not forget to mention the idea that a stone, particularly the philosopher’s stone, was thought to have the power to give immortality to the person who knew how to mix different kinds of stone–a form of alchemy! So perhaps there is a bit of the alchemist in me when I visit my tombstone–just another way to become immortal!

One last thought about visiting my tombstone–a thought that contradicts or balances thoughts about immortality–this tombstone reminds me that my time on this Earth is limited. If I have things I want to accomplish, I best get started, motivated to get it done! I will not be here forever. I learned this lesson early in life because I came from a big family that lived in one area of western Pennsylvania. As a child I saw many old people laid out in a casket with flowers around them. I remember thinking: That will be you some day, Raymond Lowell, if you want to be and do in this world, get started!

So I will continue to climb the hill to Doylestown Cemetery to remind me of my mortality and at the same time appreciate my desire to be remembered for the life I have lived on this Earth!

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