Way back in the late 1960’s in the summers after my seventh and my eighth grade school years, I went to the most wonderful camp. It was in Canada on Manitoulin Island. It was called camp Adanac, which is Canada spelled backwards. I spent eight weeks on this island in the middle of Lake Huron and I was in a cabin with seven other kids and a counselor. It was a wonderful camp in a beautiful place with lots of great kids to hang out with.
I had become aware that every year they issued an award to a select number of campers called the Objiwong Award for an outstanding camper. Now me, with the low self-esteem I had back then, I thought I didn’t have a chance because, well, I just didn’t win these kinds of things. So, I go along my way not thinking much about it and as the summer progressed it came time to award the Objiwong to the winners. It was done in the middle of the night.
I went to bed one night and I am in my sleeping bag sound asleep and I am abruptly woken up by counselors who put a pillow case over my head and tell me to come with them. Now I heard that they came in the middle of the night to get you and my immediate thought was, “Oh my God, I won. I am one of the winners!” But I wasn’t sure of this pillow case over the face. I wanted to know where I was going but we were not permitted to know that.
They take us out of the cabin and I hear some other counselors and kids and we are all being herded together. So, with our guide, one by one we walked along the camp road. We came into a part of the camp road where the lake was coming up to the road. They made us get on our hands and knees and crawl through the water. We got up and they continued to move us along and then they took us through brush and made us walk through it. This was paying our dues like a fraternity hazing, but very mild.
After a long walk, they took us to a fire. I had no idea where we were. They had us line up in front of this fire and took our pillow cases off. There we were and there were long sticks with toilet paper wrapped around it, made into torches. The camp adults were standing there and the counselors were all there and I could see who the other kids were. And then we received a solemn speech from Mr. Roberts who told us how important this occasion was and how significant to have been selected for this award.
We then were led back to our cabins with the pillow cases over our heads to get our sleeping bags. Then we were led into the woods where we spent the night with just our bags and our pillow case to contemplate receiving this award. The pillow case was to cover us because there were many mosquitoes. My guide leads me on and on through thickets of brush and I am just wondering where I am and where I am going. We stop and the counselor said, “I want you to count to a hundred. Once you have counted to one hundred you can take the hood off. And you are going to stay here overnight and we will come and get you in the morning.”
I was like, “Oh My!” I was so excited and a little nervous about being in the woods all by myself. I was a kid and the bugs didn’t bother me so I got into sleeping bag, covered myself up with the pillow case and went to sleep. The next morning, they came and got me and I was sworn to silence. I was not allowed to talk until after lunch that afternoon. If we did we would lose our award.
On the way back to my cabin I am walking by myself and my brother James, who was there with me, was sitting on his cabin steps. And he asked me questions and I silently gestured that I couldn’t talk. He gets it immediately, “Oh, you won the Objiwong Award!” And then he does everything within his power to get me to talk. I prevailed through much frustration and amusement on his part. He could not get me to talk.
I get back to my cabin and all my cabin mates were asking where I had gone and what had happened to me. I gestured to them that I couldn’t talk. So, I remained silent through lunch and when lunch was over I was able to talk again. That night at our camp fire, in front of the whole camp, we were presented to the whole camp as the Objiwong Award winners of 1969. It was one of the greatest experiences of my early life.
Sam Wichman; Durham, North Carolina
A couple of years ago I had tons of anxiety. I just couldn’t do anything. Having my mom on the front porch and me inside, I couldn’t handle it. The fears were so irrational. The main one I can really remember would be my parents dying, or leaving me. Now I realize that it could happen but it is a one and a million chance. I couldn’t go to school for ages. I was terrified. I would ask to leave the classroom every five minutes. Dealing with my anxiety was like climbing a giant mountain. I went up and down then started to level out. I still have to go that much more.
After a while my mom said to me, “We could try this” and it was a psychologist I was like “Yes, anything that could help.” I went there and I was so happy because it helped so much. He talked sense. He introduced a thing called points.
There would be little rewards after you earn so many points, like go out for ice cream after 25 points. Things that might earn me points would be like being in my room while my mom was out on the back porch reading for 25 minutes would be like 10 points. As it grew easier for me we would lower the points to maybe more like seven and then to five then to three. Or we would up the point ratio, 50 points to go get ice cream instead of 25.
If I remember correctly, the highest points were 500. This earned me Sam is the Boss Day, within reason. They learned that pretty quickly after the first time. Within reason meant that we could go to like a fun park and or go out for dinner, maybe go out for ice cream. Now, we don’t do that anymore which is sad. But it worked, I loved it, I felt so much better. I could let my mom go on five block walks and I could just be home. I got quite a bit better at school but there was still that bit to go.
After a year my mom came up to me and said, “Sweetie, we have something else for you to try.” And that was going to a pharmacist and see about getting stress relief medicine. I still take that and that helped so much. But there was still more.
Now it is like a year or two later. My mom comes up to me again and says, “Honey, I have something else for you to try. I think this might be the last thing.” I said, “Well, what is it?” She said it is another type of medicine. It was a homeopathic remedy. Many people don’t believe in it but I personally do.
We went to see the doctor and we must have sat in there two hours just talking about what was wrong. Everything you can imagine we talked about. Eventually, he prescribed me with this treatment and he said, “Before I let you have this I want you to read what this remedy does.” So, I open this BIG book, it is gigantic. He flips to a page and reads off of it. It sounds just exactly like me. Nervous all the time, stressed, likes word and letter games, has trouble with reading, often has dyslexia. It said, and this was the thing which really pushed it over the top, doesn’t usually like chocolate. I was amazed, “That is me, that is exactly me!”
He says, “Okay, we can try it.” He gives me a little bottle and then I am out the door, it was hot in there. My mom stays to say good bye, I swear parents take forever to say good bye. They don’t know what a good bye is: “See you soon, Bye.” They take like half an hour to say that!
At any rate, he said to my mom, some people have amazing taste buds and they can taste what is in the remedy. It is like 98% water. I take it as soon as I get in the car. Three drops on the tongue like a baby bird. I make this horrible face, it tastes just like alcohol. By now we are out the driveway and we can’t turn back around and tell him. So, my mom emails him and says Sam says the remedy tastes like alcohol.
He responds, “That is really funny. That is what everyone who takes this remedy says it taste like if they don’t say it just tastes like water.” I have gotten more used to it, but I still don’t like it that much but if it helps me with my anxiety it is worth it. Now I am down the mountain so far with just a little left to go.
Of course, the anxiety will never go away. I am still scared of major field trips and by major, I mean like going bowling or starting school and of course just nightmares. But that is just really just amazing to me that three drops every three days made that much of a difference. And now I can go to camps and enjoy them. Every time I drive past this man’s house, his name is Hart, I always thank him from the bottom of my heart that he was able to make it so that I could enjoy summer camps.
When we went to Colorado, Daniel my boyfriend, had rented this big ol’ Escalade and we were taking a day with our friends, Becky and Brian, to go through Rocky Mountain National Park. We are driving through, taking in the sites and thinking where should we go next. Should we hike a trail and what trail should we hike? We didn’t know where we were. We were just winging it. So, I look on the map and I see Gem Lake and I had heard of that place. It was really close to where we were so we went and we got to the parking lot. We stopped and decided that since it was only 1.7 miles this is pretty simple. Let’s just go ahead and bring our climbing gear just in case we find a place to climb.
We put all this equipment on our shoulders and we are like, “Okay, let’s go! It’s not that far.” Little did we know that the 1.7 miles was literally straight up this crazy mountain. It took us about four hours to get to the top. The sun had already set by the time we got back down. But we just kept walking and saying, “Oh, this is going to be worth it, I bet it is going to be beautiful.” So, we are climbing, climbing, climbing, and each little vantage point we would stop and take in the sights. We just kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is the most beautiful setting I have ever seen in my whole life. How can it ever get any better?”
We kept going up, up, up further and further and it was probably the hardest hike I had ever done. It was insane, it took us forever. Climbing, Climbing and we keep asking all these people who are coming down the mountain, how much further? Are we almost there? “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, just keep on going you are almost there. The lake is right at the top of the mountain.”
We are like, “Okay, we are almost there,” so we keep on going and we get to the very top where there was this little opening. We look and there is this measly little puddle. We are like, “What?” I mean I didn’t have the energy to express any emotion. We sat down and I am like, “Crap, I drug us all the way up this stupid mountain and now there is this puddle we get to look at.” We are sitting there drinking water and our friend, Brian finds this little rough ridge that continues to go straight up. He walks over there and I am not paying him any mind and the next thing we know he is, “Hey guys! Look up here!” and he is at this very top point on this little overlook that overlooks the puddle.
We are like, “Oh, cool so let’s go up there.” We dump our stuff down and we are free climbing up this little ridge. It was kind of scary. We get up there and we look and we are “Wow, this is so beautiful!” There were two mountains that were meeting and our little puddle which was actually kind of pretty from the top. And then there were these snowcapped mountains in the background because it is October. It is absolutely beautiful. And we are hanging out for a second and I am taking a lot of pictures with my friend Becky. I remember I am recording this video and I am circling around and I see these tiny little people, Daniel and Brian continuing to climb this tiny little point of the mountain. I thought, “What are they doing?” I ask Becky, “Do you want to go up there with me?” And she says, “No way, you guys are crazy!”
So, I start up by myself. We are climbing boulders up and down, up and down trying to get to the very top and I am yelling for Daniel, “Daniel, where are you?” My legs are shaking with the climb because it is so narrow and one wrong move and there I go. I mean we are at ten maybe eleven thousand feet up in the air.
Daniel couldn’t hear me, He was oblivious that I was climbing up behind him until I am right next to him. I stood up and my legs are wobbling the whole time and I am trying to breathe. And there is just the most beautiful view of these awesome snowcapped mountains. I looked down, I hadn’t realized how far I had climbed but there is Becky a tiny little dot way below. We watched the sun setting behind these snowcapped mountains, and I got a few pictures in. In my mind, I was wondering how I was getting down. I told Daniel, “You are going to have to carry me because I am going to die.”
One at a time, we slowly go back down, figuring it out as we go. Obviously, we survived, thank goodness. I never would have believed I could have continued climbing after reaching the puddle. I never even saw that part so making it to the last peak and down again was kind of like a silver lining almost. Life gave me this little puddle, but look there is a mountain I can climb.
When I was taking ballet, I remember whenever my Mom and I went I would bring an imaginary elephant. It was pink. I don’t remember its name anymore. When we would start I would tell my mom to hold the leash. If she was going to get her phone or she would move her hand I would say, “No Mom, you can’t. The elephant is going to run away. You can’t let go!” So, my Mom would just have to stand there holding this elephant’s leash. When I got done with class I would take the leash and we would go down to the car and go home.
The Birth Story -Teagan
“The Birth Story,” Regina laughs, “It sounds like we are talking about Jesus.”
It was a Sunday when my water broke. I wasn’t having any contractions. I went to church anyway and everyone said, “What are you doing here? Do you want to do this? Do you want to do that?” and I said, “Well, I think I am going to go and have a baby.”
My husband, Scott and I went to University Hospital and checked into the birthing suite. I was right on time but my labor wouldn’t start and the baby wouldn’t come. My doctor decided to give me Pitocin to get labor started. I really don’t like pain so I always asked for an epidural. I wish that they would give me the epidural a day before labor starts, “Just put it in me and I will figure it out!”
The Pitocin did get my labor started. I remember holding onto the bar of the bed. The nurse asked me to turn over and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t lift my body up. I felt some pain, which I shouldn’t have because of the epidural but it was like my body was in shock or something. The nurse pulled up the covers around my legs, pulled them back down and said, “We are going to do an emergency C-section.” My uterus had ruptured and within three minutes they had Teagan out of me. It was insane.
I remember feeling very peaceful like I knew it was going to be okay. I just felt very peaceful. On one side of me was my doctor. She was crying and my husband was on the other side, holding my hand. You could hear a pin drop in the room. They had whisked Teagan away and we hadn’t heard her cry. They took her away to aspirate the fluids she had inhaled. When we finally heard her cry the whole room collectively let out a huge sigh. It was the loudest thing in the room.
The doctor looked at me and said, “This uterus will not sustain another child. It is done. You are going to have your tubes tied!” I mean she was obviously really startled but I remember thinking that she had just told me what I was going to do with my body. Then she goes, “Okay?”
When I was pregnant with Teagan, my husband and I were having a lot of struggles. We were losing our house, I had had three miscarriages before being pregnant with her and I was ready to leave Scott. When I found out that I was pregnant in the middle of all that, I thought, “This baby is going to stick because this is a horrible time to get pregnant!” God saw that this baby was going to change everything. Right after my fortieth birthday here comes Teagan, she just zoomed into this world like gang busters.
Her birth changed my whole perspective on marriage and family. You don’t realize until you are done having children that you are done. You don’t realize when you can’t have any more children that you are always waiting for the next child to come. Especially if you are planning on a large family. The next one, the next one, the next one and then all of a sudden, there will never be a next one. I was never going to be pregnant again and I loved being pregnant. It was the best. I loved the closeness you feel to a baby when you are carrying it inside.
The whole next day, after Teagan was born, I was not able to see her. I had been stitched back up and I had to lay flat on my back for twenty four hours. After that I wanted to see her so badly. So, I told them I was fine and off I went down the hall to the nursery, holding on to the railings, my hospital gown flapping open and my butt showing. When I got to the NICU Teagan was the biggest baby there. She was just so peaceful and beautiful.
Teagan and I came home five days later and I started to get sick. It was one thing after another. My doctor wanted me to come in for a blood transfusion. But I didn’t want to come in, I had all my kids home. I asked if there was something I could take over the counter. Meanwhile, the people at Holy Rosary Church had heard my story and came to help. The women came every day for a month, bringing a meal, doing my dishes, putting a load in the washer, just above and beyond the call to duty. They would walk in, see what needed to be done and do it. Just like a woman will.
One night I woke up with a fever. Sweating and shaking uncontrollably I felt this tingling start in my head and go all the way down my body. In the morning, I called my mother in law and asked her to drive me to the hospital. She couldn’t do it. I felt so abandoned. It was the first time I couldn’t take care of myself and I was all alone with the kids. We didn’t have any other family in the area and that is when I called you, Debbie. You came right over, prayed, stayed with me and talked to me the whole way to the hospital. Just tried to put my mind on other things. It was the first time since my Mom had passed that I felt like I had someone to lean on.
I had always been the one taking charge and taking care of things. Now, I felt like God was saying to me, “This time just sit down and shut up and let people take care of you. Get in bed. Your job is to stay there, nurse that baby and get well.” There are important lessons in asking for help. We have to mother each other.
I finished college late, well into my thirty’s and when Debbie and I were pregnant with a baby I learned about constructs in a logic class. A construct is something that people agree what a thing is going to be. We agree that a dollar bill is going to have some value but by itself the paper doesn’t so it is an agreed upon construct.
So, when Debbie was pregnant with Abie I said, let’s do this kind of fun construct experiment. Whenever we make mashed potatoes we are going to dye them blue so Abie will grow up eating blue mashed potatoes at home. Then when he goes to grandma’s house or his friends and they happen to serve mashed potatoes he will say, “What’s this?” And they will say, “Mashed potatoes.” And he will say….well, we won’t know what he will say. But Debbie said, “Why do you want to screw up our baby?” I said, “Debbie parents screw up their babies so many different ways, this is one way we can screw him up and we will know where the source of the screw up was.” She said, “We are not doing that.” I said, “Okay, it was just an experiment.”
We wind up having two boys, Abie and Zack, and one day we are in our pickup truck to go to Alesci’s Italian grocery store to buy pizza dough, pepperoni and cheese and once in a very long while I would also buy a package of cigars. These are little, short, hard Italian cigars called Parodi cigars. My grandfather smoked them, he would keep a whole box of them on the top shelf of the dining room closet. When we were kids we would steal his cigars and try and smoke them. I would also buy the boys a Slurpee at the 7-11 around the corner.
So, I lite up a cigar and the kids are slurping their Slurpees and I say, you know these Parodi cigars are the finest cigars in the whole world. And the kids are like just listening, they are nine and ten and they listen attentively to their Dad. “My grandfather smoked these but you know what makes these special? They are called Parodi’s and they are named after the Parodi geese. Now, you remember when we go hiking in the park in the spring and there would be goose shit all over the grass and paths?”
And the kids are “Uh-Huh, slurp, Yeah, slurp. ”Well, they grow the tobacco in Virginia because that is where the finest tobacco is grown, they ship the leaves over to Italy, they feed the tobacco leaves to the Parodi geese, not just any geese….Parodi geese. The Parodi geese eat the tobacco but they can’t digest it so they poop it out. It looks just like the goose poop that we see in the park. Then these little old ladies come in their aprons and they pick up the dried goose shit, which is really just masticated, that means chewed, undigested tobacco. Then they take a tobacco leaf and roll it up. Then they cut the ends and that’s how the Parodi cigars are made.”
And the kids are like “Slurp, Slurp, Oh, okay Dad smokes these stinky goose shit cigars like twice a year."
Fast forward, the kids are now like 21 and 22 years old. We are going to close up my mother’s house. She is leaving her home for the last time. My dad had passed away and it is the last hurrah before the house is sold and mom leaves. We are reminiscing about things and my brothers bring up the memory of Parodi cigars since Grandpa used to smoke them.At the mention of Parodi cigars Abie blurts out, “I know how Parodi cigars are made, they are made from goose shit!” My brothers start looking at him like, “What the f*** are you talking about?” Startled, Abie turns to me and gives me this look like I betrayed him.
It is total betrayal and I humiliated him and I got all red in the face because this was like the blue mashed potatoes time bomb but it happened there in my mother’s kitchen. And only this wasn’t a construct, rather, it was an out and out fiction that only I knew not to be true. Abie was so angry at me and anytime I tried to explain it to him, he got so frustrated. We never talked about it until about two weeks later.
We were together and I said, “Abie, have you ever heard of * coffee? He said no,” Well,” I said “ * coffee is a very special coffee because of certain kind of cats that lives in Madagascar. The people grow coffee there and the cats will eat the coffee berry and then they shit out the beans and then people pick up the beans and the beans have been transformed by the acids in the cat’s stomach…….”and before I can finish Abie is like, “F*** you dad, “F*** You F*** You F*** You. You are not doing this again to me.”
“No!” I am like, “Google it! It is true, honest, God’s truth.”
“F*** you!” says Avie.
But it is true, ………coffee is made by these cats, they eat the berries, they shit out the beans, the beans are collected off the ground and the coffee is very expensive.
I never fully understood how profound an act of betrayal my Parodi cigar story was until most recently. It always felt to me like a harmless fiction. I have come to realize that this cigar story breached a kind of trust, a bond broken, between my sons and I.
I had always been honest and forthcoming with my sons yet this one fiction may have placed doubt on the whole history of my interactions with them.
Last April I saw that there was a group of Sioux women who were concerned about a pipe line coming through their ancestral land. I feel a connection to land and spirit and earth and water. At twenty-four I found out that my biological dad is an indigenous person from upstate New York. When the Sioux people put out a call for help to save their river from energy transfer partners for the Dakota Access Pipeline I knew I had to do something.
I wanted to go right away. I tend to run toward things. I was ready to go but I had poor health and I couldn’t just leave. So, I started collecting things that they would need out there and advocating on their behalf. I have an amazing friend who said, “Well if you do go, I will rent you a truck and you can fill it and go.” That was great. She committed to a sixteen-foot truck.
By golly, it took me until September to say, “Okay I am going!” and then I was finally able to leave the beginning of November. I collected all the donations and realized I had more room to fill the truck. A friend suggested that I talk to her aunt out at The Mission of Love. She told me that she has a warehouse and she, “Will help you fill your truck.” So, I called her and she said, “I have all sorts of things.” That was awesome and I went down to pick them up and we loaded up the truck. To include a kitchen for the Standing Rock community, warm clothes, food, water and toys. The Mission of Love filled up every possible inch.
So, my friend Terrence and I drove out to South Dakota together. About Wisconsin I decided that long term trucking was not for me so Terrence drove most of the way. When we finally got to Standing Rock, we ended up setting up in the dark and we were invited to join people at the camp where we dropped off the kitchen. We were sitting there at a submerged fire pit that had been dug to use for ceremony at the beginning of the Standing Rock encampment. We were a little nervous because we didn’t know anyone. I looked across the fire and a young person’s face lit up with such joy when meeting my eyes. I had not seen this person since we had done hurricane relief together. There she was excited to see me and I knew that everything was going to be okay.
We warmed up and we set up camp. It was freezing. It was the first week in November and it was very cold. I woke up in the morning and looked out of our tent. There was the most mystical mist. Imagine if you were to take a picture of, like, God in heaven and added Van Gogh’s swirls in Starry Night well, the whole plains looked like that. It was like cotton candy, surreal, ethereal swirls of light and color. I could hear the sounds of geese and coyotes. It was the most beautiful thing.
I returned to bed because of the cold and was awakened by a guy on a microphone that echoed through camp. He was like, “Get up! Get up! Standing Rock! Everybody get up! It is a good day to die. Get up! Get up and go pray with your Grandmothers.” This was not a vacation and every morning he would give a call to rise.
Directly in front of my tent was a circle of seven teepees and I didn’t know anything about these teepees and their relationship to the camp. I discovered that these were the seven tepees of the seven nations of the Sioux people and there was a sacred fire burning in front. There was a prophecy that when the seven nations would come together that seven arrows could not be broken.
Because of the swirls of mist in the early morning I had not seen this vision. I looked to my right and the pipeline was a hundred fifty feet up the hill. And it was spotlighted, rather like a ski resort, if you can imagine. A line of spot lights on a hill and a bald eagle was coming at me when I stepped out of the tent that first morning. It flew from where the pipeline was, right next to the machine gun turret. It came right over the tepees through what they called the Horn. It was the Horn of the Buffalo, the strong hold of all the Seven Nations. And there is my little tent, right next to the Horn.
The bald eagle flew right at me and flew right over the sacred fire through the middle of these tepees and kept going to the river we were trying to protect. My friend Terrence, who had driven the truck, was down at the river already, praying with the grandmothers. And that just began my experience at Standing Rock.
Some people experienced some horrendous things at the hands of law enforcement, pipe line security. I did not experience anything like that personally. Instead there was a tremendous sense of place and I knew I was in the right place. It was a Spirit rich place. The smoke of the fire, the smell of the sage connected me to something visceral that I had been disconnected from my whole life. Regardless of whether I have the privilege of connecting with who my father’s people are, my time there is all I ever really will need to make that connection with my indigenous ancestors. I was so welcomed everywhere I went and I was invited to something that I think the world needs more of. It was called a forgiveness ceremony.
There was a Sioux veteran in line for lunch one day and he invited me to this ceremony for a Sioux young man who was wrongfully accused of raping someone in camp. It was a lie and they were having a forgiveness ceremony for him. It was to be held at the sacred fire in the main part of the camp. I felt really honored and I went without any expectations. Instead I went with the understanding that I would do whatever was asked of me.
After the ceremony all his friends decided to take a knee to honor him and apologize for actions that they had taken against him. And all the elders were involved in the circle, from his tribe and all the tribes there at Standing Rock. His family all came in from Washington. I was standing next to his friends and I had met a couple of them. I felt comfortable and I don’t know what possessed me. I went down on my knee to the young man too.
It was a long time kneeling there and I was wondering what I had done, not wanting to give any offence. We were all shaking from the strain of being on one knee. We closed the circle with a handshake as an acknowledgement of participation and a thank you. I followed the young men around as my turn came and people would not let go of my hand. And there was an energy we shared and we were present with each other in our eyes. I felt like I was holding up the line but there was an energy there that was really uplifting.
I came to a medicine woman and she thanked me for taking a knee and explained that by my doing that it gave him a chance to forgive all women. Then I came to a man around my age and he would not let go of my hand. I felt that his grasp gave me a chance to forgive all the men in my life who had wronged me. I let go of so much anger in that moment.
I grew up very Catholic so you know my life was pretty certain about good girl-bad girl. I was going to go to hell if I didn’t do the right things. Then I met my husband, Brian and he was a big thinker. He was a breath of fresh air for me. Listening to Brian’s ideas is when things started to shift in me. I started to realize that there was so much more than growing up in suburbia, trying to be a good girl, getting a job, buying a house and all those other things that you are taught.
I started a meditation practice in 1978 under Babuji and for two years a lot began happening spiritually. I was kind of like a child in a candy store. I was like how can this be? I remember my very first spiritual experience while in meditation and my first thought was, “This must be God.” I went to Brian and I said, “How can I be experiencing so much because of this little enlightened man in India?” “How can he be on the other side of the world and I am experiencing it here?”
Brian said to me, “I am telling you this is the real deal. You don’t come across too many enlightened beings in your life.” I said, “I want to go see Babuji.” So, in 1980 we traveled to Germany, where Babuji was staying, for what was probably the culminating moment of my spiritual journey. We knew he was staying there through other practioners and that this would be a good opportunity to see him. You only knew about Babuji through word of mouth, there was no internet then, no advertising. People would write letters to each other saying I have met a real guru in India. So, if you were meant to meet him, you met him. It was that way.
Brian and I arrived in Germany and went on the first day to meet him. We were walking through a forest and I said to my husband, Brian, “Do you feel that?” We were pretty far from the residence. You could feel the whole atmosphere changing as we got closer and closer to where Babuji was staying. It was so light and so palpable. It was very clear. You almost felt that you could hardly feel yourself. The closer you got to the house the more profound the atmosphere felt and by the time we entered the house it was like everything was pure space. There was no weight to anything. You could feel it in your own body, you own heart and your own mind. I entered the room and there he was, Babuji, sitting on the sofa. My very first thought was, “O my God! Why didn’t anyone tell me to look for a saint today?”
Calling him a saint was my only point of reference at the time because I had learned that sacred, holy people were called saints and that they had lived in the past. We were never taught that you could reach a state of holiness today. Either you were good and you became holy when you died or you did not.
So here I am a Catholic girl, leaping into something that was a whole new world. I remember thinking,
“I am definitely going to hell for meeting this man.” But something inside kept telling me to be brave even though my Catholic teaching was saying, “No this is not a good thing.” But when I look back, I think I was so courageous for doing something that felt so right even when I thought I could possibly go to hell for exploring this path.
My second thought was, “I have to have what you have. Teach me.”
Brian and I went to see Babuji again in 1982 before he passed away in 1983. That was another moment for me. I knew he wasn’t well and he was going to leave the earthly plane soon. I was very distraught. I had just found my teacher only two years ago, what was I going to do now? That was part of finding an enlightened teacher, realizing I had to let go of him. I got to go into Babuji's room one night and he was just sort of looking out into space and all of a sudden, I heard these words inside of me, “I will be leaving soon.” I started to cry. I said, “Why would you go now, I just found you?” He said, “I will be with you for all eternity.”
Babuji left his successor, Chari, and I began a twenty-five-year relationship with someone just as enlightened. But this relationship eventually had to come to an end also. Right before Chari was about to pass I went to see him in India. There was a moment when he went to introduce me to his successor and he said, “This is one of my oldest friends in the United States.”
I fell on my knees and I started crying. It was the first time I understood why people touch the feet of a living guide. I knew it as an Indian tradition but I could never do it myself. But suddenly I saw the pure essence inside him, what this lineage of masters had discovered. That it wasn’t the person that houses the essence, the essence existed everywhere and this particular lineage of masters was teaching us how to do that too.
When I saw the essence inside him I fell on my knees and I put my hands on his feet and it was another culminating moment. I saw it wasn’t the person that I loved. It was the people who were showing me the way to find love within myself. I understood the lineage of Jesus, his apostles, his disciples. I understood Buddha. I understood these masters were living a full existence because they had both worlds integrated. The world of being human and the inner world of being able to connect to the Source that animates all of existence. And I realized that what they had I also had. What they had everyone had. And I understood it for all paths.
That to me is what it is all about. That is why we come here. That is what the purpose of human existence is. To be able to break down all those walls and all those prejudices of my way verses your way and instead seeing it as the Way of human experience.
I guess for me, all my stories tend to be spiritually oriented. I would like to tell a story of the first sort of clear inner message I got. I was young, I was about 15 0r 16 years old. I had been doing a lot of meditating, I had begun meditating when I was about 12. My father had put me in Aikido, which is a form of martial arts. That is how I got introduced to the mind flow of chi energy and the alternate ways of thinking about things. This got me to studying on my own, Buddhism, Christianity and all kinds of mysticism. I was really an intense seeker and I was seeking enlightenment, so to speak. I wasn’t much interested in the philosophy or religion behind it, I really wanted to have the experience.
I love nature and I used to walk from my house down to a park called Tuxedo park. It was about an eight mile walk to get there and I would either walk, ride my bike or hitch hike. I knew that park inside and out. I knew every part of it and I would walk down by the river, down the trails and I would sit up on the hill and just commune with nature. One day I had just arrived at the park where it is a steep walk down the hill and I had just arrived at the bottom of the hill to a parking area. I am walking across the parking lot to go to one of the trails and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I heard a voice say,
“God’s awareness of itself is only as far as the highest soul has advanced.”
That was a lot of food for thought. It was a number of years later that I was given a master teacher, Babba Ge. One thing he wrote in his books was that God does not possess mind. God has no mind. If God had a mind God, God couldn’t keep judging God. If God had power that would mean God could lose power. He said that God is neither with attributes or without attributes which was in the history of Buddhist philosophy. You would have people who believed God had attributes and you would have people who believed God didn’t have attributes. God is neither one.
So, just this past week I had an understanding about this after all this time. It makes perfect sense God is that which gives rise to attributes. God can only be that which brings either of those into existence. God is the source of all things but it is not those things.
Much later on when my first master, Babuji, passed the next master in succession, he said something interesting. “God creates and human beings are in charge of evolution. “And this was like another addition, another little understanding, “God creates but in itself is not the creation.” Human beings are in charge of evolution, it is a frightening thought, but really, we are made with free will so effectively, it is true. We are the pushers and pullers of the evolutionary process.
So, the last bit to this story ties all of this together. We moved to Richmond Indiana back in 1990 and that was a big transition in so many ways. A lot of things happened spiritually, I was having many experiences, it was a change of career, it was a change of place. We went to Richmond because I got hired to work with a guy who was in the music industry. I have been a professional musician my whole life but there was no money in playing music. So, I got a job as a sales rep and to make a long story short, after a few years I became a partner in the company and eventually I owned it. That was unexpected.
In the midst of all that change, one morning, while meditating for my usual hour, it was around five in the morning and I was sitting in my chair. As usual I started getting into it and I started going really deep, I was completely absorbed inside. At the end of the meditation, just as I am starting to come back to awareness, the simplest and most amazing thing happened. I felt God was waking up into me and was in awe of his existence. It only lasted for maybe three seconds. But it was such a state of complete wonder. It was not a wow. It wasn’t some fireworks going off, not anything like that. It was kind of like a miracle of existence. In a way it made me question, are we slipping into God’s state or is God slipping into us?
It took me a long time to find a husband. I really wanted to be a good girl and being Catholic was really important to me. There was a period where I was either dating good Catholic boys that I wasn’t attracted to or bad boys that I knew I shouldn’t be with. Neither of that worked.
Jim and I met on Catholic match because I decided that my husband being Catholic and wanting a Catholic marriage was really important to me. Jim definitely wanted to get married and have kids and that made things so much easier. Our values were the same. He knew what he wanted and he wanted me.
What it finally came down to was that the most important thing I was looking for was a man who was willing to wait until marriage to be sexually intimate. I learned the hard way that this had to be the most important thing for me. It has been wonderful with Jim because I know he really loves me for me. I am his wife and he is committed to making our life work together. He is a sweet heart, a real sweetheart and he is CUTE.
Debra Wuliger, figurative artist working with color, texture and pattern to celebrate life.
Image silhouetted with story. Ready for hanging.