My Heroine’s Journey on the Red River of Grace

My Heroine’s Journey on the Red River of Grace

A Call to radically change my external life led to a month-long Heroine’s Journey. My task was to distribute the accumulation of two busy, creative people’s lives for fifty-six years. I fine tuned a definition of “Home.” And, a surprise! My Road of Trials flowed on a Red River of Grace, and in the Nigredo I discovered how I am woven into the fabric of our world.

Scot Pin on Stewart Plaid Rose

Covid kept us on our family farm in Costa Rica, which my husband said was being quarantined in Paradise. When the borders opened he said “I’m not returning to the USA. This is my home now.” Our son, a builder, designed this house with railings and space for my husband’s wheel chair. Our condo home in the USA is up seven stairs, with narrow doors designed in the 1930s. It was with retirement in mind that we bought land in Costa Rica twenty years ago. Now, our sons asked why pay money to house our furniture and things when we could be renting the condo. I thought “because it’s my home.” Home: the place where the journey begins. And now where something was ending. This Call to radically change my external life led to a month-long Heroine’s Journey.

I believe every Hero/Heroine’s journey can be described as a pilgrimage. I hope you will be thinking about the pilgrimage you have undertaken in this lifetime.

The Gate In, A Hedge and Decision Criteria

My husband said, “It all goes. I want nothing.” Because the choice was so final for him, we decided to divest, not store. With a care team in place in Costa Rica, I would return to the USA and focus for one month on giving away the things of two busy, creative lives living together for sixty years. Plus, both of us inherited much from our family lines. That decision to go and manage the divestment was the Gate In to my Heroine’s Journey.

It wasn’t as easy for me to say, “it all goes.” To make it possible for me emotionally, I created a Hedge: I would store what I loved most in the condo’s storage unit. After all, I lived with very little in my Costa Rica home and liked doing that. But there were eight things I did not want leaving my life:

  • The green/red/white Tibetan carpet bought in India from refugees
  • The two velvet chairs we found in the trash in college; the oak arms have been rebuilt twice for two generations of children reading while stretched horizontally across them.
  • The gold leafed white china from my father, stemmed crystal from my mother, and a cherrywood box of silverware from both.

So far so good. But what about our extensive, classical library? All the paper files? And my mother’s piano? The rest of the furniture?

The size of the storage unit served as a creative constraint, but I needed more criteria to make the hundreds of decisions ahead, 95% of them needing to be “No.”

Decision Criteria for Keeping:

  • Will it fit (not take up too much room) in the condo storage unit?
  • Is it alive in my life? Do I feel it’s connection to me?
  • Am I using it or will I use it in the next five years?

I bought my plane tickets and went through the Gate In.

Hero/ine Journey, Joseph Campbell

First Steps on the Road of Trials

I am lucky in having a savvy friend who is musical and widely connected. Living close to the airport, she invited me to stay at her house the late night I arrived. In the morning I described my overwhelming task, my Road of Trials, and used my mother’s piano as an example. Where would it go? The answer was her house, so she could finish the room in the basement for chamber music practice and performance.

Taking me to the condo in the morning she calls another friend whose house burned to the ground last year in a giant prairie fire. Our friend says “Yes to the bookcases and furniture – I’ve just rented a house until mine is rebuilt and I need everything!” I am barely one day into this Journey and already two major issues are solved, and are blessings in my friends’ lives.

I said “I feel like I am moving on a River of Grace.” In that moment I realized I was on a Heroine’s Journey, and already in the Temenos, the place where usual time and space change into a more protected yet vulnerable environment.

The Road of Trials becomes a River of Grace

We’d planned for a Scandinavian wing of my family to live in the condo while they vacationed. Now I was there, sorting. They arrived, and immediately pitched in, spending some time each day on the project carrying boxes, and encouraging me. Their shared interest in martial arts led to thirty years of practice armor, posters, art, books and weapons going to a new dojo they located. Some things went back with them. They were companions on the Road of Trials, full of energy, understanding, and laughter.

My husband’s “it all goes” sentiment embraced his choice to stop performing Shakespeare. Done with the work, the tools could go. All costumes, books and stage weapons went to his beloved Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Another friend, met fifty years before at the CSF, took these things in several trips to the Festival’s artistic director, Tim Orr. He was a little amazed at the volume. Then he said, “We’ll sew his name into his costumes.” Of it all, I kept two Shakespeare hats to wear when we work on the new Fearless Creativity Shakespeare texts in our Costa Rica home.

Everything else Chuck owned went with the same finality: muzzleloaders and equipment went to our nephew with twenty years as an Historic Enactor. Drums and music stands went to our church. A few weapons made by friend and farrier, Denny Graves, went to sons and nephews who studied with Denny as boys. The comic collection went into a grandson’s hands who learned what twenty-five years does for a good collection. His father, our first born, managed all the things in this paragraph for his father, and is going through the stamp and coin collections.

Under my feet I could feel a river flowing—not my physical feet and not a river of water. The feeling was supportive, sure of direction and outcome. Its gravity pulled in people who showed up at the exact right moment with right action. “Ask and it shall be given you….” Jesus says in Matthew 7:7-8. My task became opening each night to the next part of the work to be done as clearly as I could form the words. If I stayed connected to the sense of the river, answers arrived as the next day’s work was done.

My oldest grandson took all our slip drives and combined them and all the computer files on the best of our old computers. Twenty years of work or more in one place. Our younger son in Costa Rica went through his boxes by Zoom.

Our elder son said, “Take the books to the Book Worm – that’s where we shop.” I called.

“My son says you might be interested in our library. I’m disposing of almost everything. An example is the Greek box at my feet. On one hand you have the complete plays of Aristophanes, and on the other novels by Mary Renault, which give excellent insight into the lives and culture. Altogether the library is at least twenty-five boxes.”

“We’ll take all you have to give.” (Long pause on my part – was it really going to be that easy?) “Er, what about complete series like the Great Books, Harvard Books…”

“We’ll take them. Did you want book credit?” The first edge of hesitation.

“No. I want them in the world, used and appreciated.”

“We will find them good homes. Bring them all in at one time.”

I kept the Science/Fantasy fiction bookcase, Mythology, and book sets of authors I love.

Storage Unit

More friends showed up, packed the books going to the Book Worm. Others came to help sort and carry. The dining room table and cane chairs went to my younger son’s friends; as teens and in college they sat around it playing Dungeons and Dragons and other games (as full adults poker) long into the night. Our unit space in the garage filled with things to give away to the Vietnam Veterans. Friends took other things away and put them to use.

Nigredo: Red River of Grace

At a much earlier time when my husband was very ill, my children reacting to the changes in our lives, my work situation untenable and dangerous, my friends suffering their own crises…I was bicycling home after work, so exhausted I couldn’t pedal. Suddenly I felt I could not take another step, and lay down in the grass in the park I crossed each morning and night. I didn’t move but I wasn’t asleep. It was dark when I came to myself, feeling deep in the earth beneath me a sense of flow, a living energy that had come flowing into me, comforting and filling my heart with courage. I got up and I went home feeling I’d died, and then been given my life back. I wondered if I’d contacted an artery of the earth, thick, muscled and oxygenated. There have been times since then I’ve called up that feeling, and immediately felt it flowing.

I’ve been led by a similar feeling often when working with a group or individual on a conflict or strategy situation. Sometimes the nudge is “wait” and in the silence some new thing arrives. If I’m listening, often words come to me when speaking or writing. I’ve known at times I was listening to the Spirit, serving as an oracle or comforter or door.

My current experience was different from working with these practices. Now the feeling of the river was present at all times, flowing beneath my feet, a dark rose color, thick as blood, low and resonant in tone, moving like very slow lava. Can I describe the sense of walking slowly on a river flowing from the source to the ocean of all-being? Like Grace, it is always there, only needing my choosing. “Ask and it shall be given to you” is a way of living, not a moment in time. I barely form the thought and way opens. It is beyond synchronicity. It is living inside Love, the Prime Mover that asks nothing and is present always. It is beyond Gratitude, though thanksgiving begins and ends my days.

I add new decision criteria:

  • What is going away?
  • Who is coming for it?
  • How will the gift transpire?

Nia Focus Center Cards

It’s a two-way exchange: This person wants X, and I have X, and give it to them. And I have X and want to give it away, and this person wants it. Walking on a Red River of Grace my task is to stay centered, relax and trust in its flow. This Nigredo is one of Love.

I have a set of eight handmade cards that I create each new year for my NIA exercise class with Rachael Resch; they join other people’s cards and one or two are selected as a prompt for the class each time. I thumb through mine each week to see what feels like my focus; if it’s not clear, I turn them all down and douse to see what the energetic field selects. In this Nigredo of Love I doused. What came was two of them. The message was clear.

Wrestling with Agency

At times I would catch myself thinking, “Surely I need to be DOING something. I am project manager of this task, after all.” Sitting to make a list for tomorrow’s work, the things to put on it come from listening to the river, watching images float up into consciousness. Waiting for images, and listening for nudges feels passive.

I find myself reflecting on a story from Genesis 31, in the Old Testament. Jacob (a refugee) works for seven years for his father-in-law to be, Laban, who tricks him into marrying the elder daughter Leah. Then Jacob works seven more years for Rachael, the younger daughter he loves.

At some point Jacob, Leah, and Rachael pack up everything and leave in secret to return to Jacob’s homeland, departing when the tricky father, Laban, is away shearing sheep. Rachael steals her father’s household gods.

Laban chases after them for seven days, and searches their goods for his gods. Rachel is sitting on a camel bag with the idols inside it. She tells her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the way of women is upon me.”

Looking it up I am surprised by her sitting “on a camel bag” as my memory had her sitting on a camel as they traveled along their Road of Trials. So many details left to our imaginations. Maybe they are camped for the night. Maybe she’s in a “Red Tent,” similar to the one in the excellent novel by that name by Anita Diamant.

Now I ask “What were Rachael’s “idols”? In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. Pritchard, 1974, pp 219-20, footnote 51 is this information:

The findings of archaeologists in Mesopotamia and adjacent areas indicate that the possession of the teraphim images had a bearing on who would receive the family inheritance. According to one tablet found at Nuzi, the possession of the household gods could under certain circumstances entitle a son-in-law to appear in court and claim the estate of a deceased father-in-law.

Perhaps Rachael makes the choice to steal the gods to secure the inheritance for her husband and their clan. She is busy doing, thinking, planning. It’s her Hedge. But they never return to Laban’s land.

Reflecting on Rachael’s idols helps me ask some questions beyond whether I would keep the 1950’s waffle maker, or Grandma’s ranch style teapot and mugs.

Over thousands of decades the Jewish people have moved Home, sometimes taking nothing that might ID them as being of their born-to faith. Maybe the door mezuzah travels sewn into the lining of a coat.

What if my need to put things in the storage unit is my way of keeping the family idols safe? I ask myself:

  • What are my idols?
  • What of our inheritance do I keep and why?

My first answer to the idols, I realize, were the items I knew before I left I would put into the storage unit. Others answer what I keep and why:

One: I think my family pin is as close as I come to a mezuzah. The pin and any remaining original stones are from Scotland. In the photo you can see the jeweler’s marks. Any lost stone was replaced by a stone from the place the family lived (South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado). If I were to lose a stone now I’d choose something from Costa Rica.

Scot Pin on Stewart Plaid Rose
Scot pin, mezuza

Two: My daughter-in-law will care for and use the kilts. To wear on high occasions I bring down a shawl off my plaid, and a small folded fabric of my husband’s with his favorite kilt pin – he can wear it on his shoulder, or hold a tiny piece between his thumb and forefinger like his ancestors had to do. A mezuzah.

Three: I keep the scrapbooks. I will make video histories using them. My relatives want the stories.

Four: Thirty years of martial arts practice yields a number of idols: our rank certificates from Japan go in one of my father’s dresser drawers along with both steel swords. The Monkey King tsuba comes to Costa Rica. Of Sensei Umemoto’s calligraphy gifts, one comes to Costa Rica; two to go to storage.

Musin Muso

The calligraphy in the picture says in the center “Mushin Musho,” which is a state of being translated as “no mind/heart.” It’s time without thinking or emotions. In the West the term is sometimes “being in the flow.” You are very present but not in an “ego” state. People enter it in competitions, meditation, prayer, gardening, artistic endeavors, deeply concentrated work. I now am living in this state every moment.

The Worm of Doubt

Except I doubt, believing that sooner or later I will ask for something and it won’t happen. That my friends will say “Sorry, I can’t help any more.” That I would have to worry out an answer to a problem rather than watch the solution appear. I expect the River of Grace to stop flowing, similar to people waiting “for the other shoe to drop.”

This doubt is another idol: my habit of independence and self-reliance. I am like Rachael, carrying my inheritance of independence in my heart’s saddlebags. Who am I if every step is supported by life itself? It really couldn’t be this… simple. Be in the River. Where is the discipline in that? Where is free will, for that matter? What if I don’t want to flow where the river is going? Is this why Eve eats the apple? Is this the Eden they sacrificed for independence? Taught to be independent by my parents and my life so far, what would life be like if I just flowed along the Red River of Grace?

This journey’s Nigredo ends when I divest myself of those doubts and the need for control. I allow myself to be woven into the fabric of connection created by all things. I choose to flow along in this synchronous way, moving towards others, making exchanges in a dance of reciprocity. I un-choose independence. I choose to accept a life of Constant Reciprocity.

Road of Trials to the Gate Out: Constant Reciprocity

The practice of Constant Reciprocity takes a different kind of discipline than independence. Once I accept my new state of being I find it takes maintenance work to stay there. To live in a state of constant reciprocity means I need to stay centered, because when I am off kilter I can’t feel the River. If I ignore the nudges they get weaker.

And what I was sorting now, in the outer world, were endless boxes of paper: notes from conferences, articles I’d found interesting, paper scraps (like napkins) with notes I wanted, lists of books to read and movies to see….Now hundreds of decisions were required. It made me grouchy. I’d just about decide to throw the whole file away, and then I’d find a critical gem—a piece of the 5% to keep.

I learned how to do these things, and am practicing them daily:

1) Center – Attune to where the River of Grace is flowing, and move with it.
2) Free myself of need – ask, listen: Yes or No. If No, let it go.
3) Stop the head chatter – be where I am, do my work.
4) Listen to and act on nudges and hear small, voiced prompts.
5) Give thanks every moment for being who and where I am.

It was now that this message arrived from my Sacred Geometry teachers, Dominque Susani and Karen Crowley-Susani.

As concerns about our health, the planet, and climate change continue to dominate our lives, there is an imperative to focus on our homes. Our home, our sanctuary, is where we return to ground ourselves, restore our energy, and create love and abundance. The energy of our home affects our families, community, and livelihood.
By creating an environment around us that is supportive of our inner and outer senses, we can enhance our life force energy and vibration. When architecture and objects embody these principles of universal harmony, they sustain rather than drain us. In this way, the objects, and buildings we live with daily, nurture our well-being, affecting our mental, physical, and spiritual health, relationships, careers, and creativity.

Life force energy and vibration: The River of Grace flows beneath my feet, a dark rose color, thick as blood, low and resonant in tone, moving like very slow lava.

Objects…nurture our wellbeing: in clock time I inspect all that I own, choosing to keep only my heart’s essentials. The River takes what I release onward to friends and strangers, who embrace the gift to be loved as we loved, used as we used.

Gate Out:

My friend who is helping me sort holds up the last piece of paper. I say “No, that can go.” Then the recycle box, the trash box, the shred box are carried away. My work is done. My friend sweeps the floor, and the door of the last room is closed. My daughter-in-law will schedule the painter and manage the property.

“Do you feel lighter?” friends ask.

“No. I never felt weighed down.”

But, upon reflection, I am glad I no longer tend heirlooms I didn’t like, like the 175-year old china blue willow platter so heavy I never put it in place on my wall when it came to me from someone I never knew. There is something weighty about nostalgia.

And, upon reflection, the next years’ projects are defined, in labeled boxes, sorted and ready for my attention. There are not so many; it looks like I have time to finish them, one at a time. They wait in the cool basement storage room, ready to enter the flow whenever the River takes me there.

Home Again:

I return to where I live now, to my husband, a rainforest home and way of life. I’m quarantined because we don’t understand monkeypox yet and Covid variants still could endanger him. A lizard welcomes me, and at the river the monkeys are howling. I stand at the window of the guest room, which is in a separate building near the upper greenhouse. The tall plant at the greenhouse gate has bright red berries on it. I think “Where are the birds?” (I actually think “¿Dónde están los pájaros?”) A blue-grey tanager immediately lands on the plant, clips a berry and lifts its head to swallow it down. A kiskadee follows. Then a hummingbird.

John 16:24, “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” I relax into the River of Grace, flowing in this other place, not only in the Home I’ve left behind. It amuses me when I think “It understands Spanish.”

What Makes A Home for You, Journey-Maker?

If you are a traveler, a refugee, do you want a home? How do you know when you find it? Are there way-stations?

Are there idols you carry with you – both physical things and attitudes, trained approaches to living your current life? Do they help or hinder your journey?

Will you share a time when you experienced the deep state of being I’m calling the River of Grace, a time of Mushin Musho. I believe we will have very different descriptions for what we experience.

Please contact me either here in the comments or by email.


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  1. Jen September 21, 2022 at 11:08 pm

    Gorgeous post, Lola! I got chills a few times reading this. Having been to your tropical refuge, I especially resonated with those birds at the end. May you and Chuck enjoy your time there to the fullest.

  2. Cherie Karo Schwartz September 29, 2022 at 12:32 am

    Radiant, dear Lola! I just finished this post, and am filled with gratitude for your allowing us this glimpse into you, and that you have shared so openly a glimpse into more wisdom, more insight, more spirit, more YES.
    I had, as a “nice little Jewish gal” (as I was once called), never considered in this light the gods that Rachel had taken from her father’s home. They were, after all, her father’s, yet part of her, too. Help or hindrance? What became of them? I am sure that the Rabbis of yore had plenty to say about that; they created midrashim from the missing parts of the sacred stories.
    What do we leave behind? What do we take with us into the next part of the adventure, the next path, the next year (as Jews are doing mindfully at this time of year at the High Holidays). These are deep and important questions.
    One image that really sticks out for me in your gracious post is that of the pin from your Scottish family, and how stones had been replaced in the pin from the countries where your people wandered, and how if another stone falls out you will replace it with a Costa Rica stone. How beauteous! Actually, a mezuzah can move from place to place, yet its place is on the doorway of the home so that it is seen (and connected with) upon going out and coming in. And so do we travel, and so do our stories travel with us. SO so so much to take in deeply. Thank you for letting us come into your world more in these writings. Such deep waters, such spirit.

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