My favorite local aunt took me out to lunch last month, to celebrate my return from Nepal. We met at a favorite Middle Eastern restaurant, and in the pale light of the low winter sun from the large front windows, with the congenial background clinking and low chatter of other diners, we shared recent stories of our lives.
My aunt listened with great presence as I told her about co-guiding this transformational trek in Nepal. It was great challenge for me in ways, but clearly on track with my soul’s greatest calling. After the debrief, we turned toward other subjects, letting things all flow in and out and together, as good conversation does.
My aunt mentioned how amazed she was at her sister, my mother. My mother, at 74, has been teaching neighborhood exercise classes for 15 years. She gathers music and exercise moves of all kinds and synthesizes them into a rigorous and entertaining class that she teaches both at her neighborhood church and the local VA hospital. She has quite the following. My aunt attended her class and recounted to me how her sister, my mother, was up there leading the class, hardly stopping ever to take a breath! “The next day”, says my aunt, “I was sore here, and here and here . . . and I do Pilates and I breath a lot!”
It suddenly struck me that this exercise class was my mother’s soul calling. Her endless passion for it, her caring for the women who came to her class year after year, and the genuine community she had created, all had the qualities that I recognize in my love for the rites of passage and transformational work in Nature that I do. Passion, pull, curiosity, flow.
I asked my aunt, what is YOUR passion? She paused. I spoke the thought that came up strongly: “Your passion is awareness of the mind, meditation and self-knowledge. Is that so?” This seemed clear to me, because this is the subject we always drifted toward, eventually. She had been very involved in Zen Buddhism years ago and spent many years getting up at 5:00 am to meditate with a sangha (spiritual practice community) four days a week before her teaching day. She began to ruminate about the history of her meditation practice . . . and she told me a story about the first time she became aware of her own mind as observer.
She was in high school, a time in her life when she was excited about a new creative idea or project that would not allow thinking to stop, and could not sleep. She tried to make sense of all her thoughts, emotions and inner chaos. At times she had fun observing the reactions of others. One time she experimented testing a boyfriend as to his music preference before allowing herself to become emotionally involved. This did not work out so well. She had better success confronting her random thoughts and darker emotions one day riding in the back seat of a car with friends on a long ride on an Arizona Highway. She remembers noticing how BUSY her mind was! “What are all these thoughts?!!” she said to herself.
“I was also overcome by darker feelings they oppressed me I could not escape. Usually I talked myself out of this dilemma fixing things with my positive thoughts until I felt better. Instead, with one inner swoop I turned my eyes inward and saw my thoughts and my feelings, with one gaze”.
“At that moment”, says my aunt, “I decided I was going to JUST WATCH. So I WATCHED the cars, and I WATCHED the people . . . I just WATCHED.” It was a moment of spontaneous clarity, of original knowing. Only later in life did she make the connection to that moment in the back of the car and her lifelong interest in meditation.
It hit me hard, hearing her story: this is my aunt’s first soul story! It is a vivid memory of a time in her life when she first consciously connected to the invisible thread of her unique life, or as James Hillman names it in his book “The Soul’s Code”, her ‘dameon’s call.’ That story is a precious one, as it is the defining moment, in a sense, to what her life perhaps is all about.
Her story piqued mine:
I am about 12 or 13 years old and lying in the sun on my back, in the mowed and green summer grass on the hill behind our house that the University of Utah keeps up (as it is their property). I feel very clearly, in my body, the entire earth below me, curved like the hill, a great majestic globe hanging in space. I am on the top of that giant ball, as it turns slowly in space. I am part of it, and it a part of me. I am warm, safe, part of everything.
Now, from the perspective who I am now and what I do, this small story of mine takes on new weight, new meaning. It is my soul’s first story.
What is yours?