Confessions of a Cayce Doctor
“Goin’ places that I’ve never been,
Seein’ things that I may never see again,
And I can't wait to get back on the road again.”
§ With my year as interim pastor at the two small churches, I thought myself ready then to attend seminary. I truly enjoyed my pulpit experience filling in for the country congregations. But, I had been told I could not continue in the UCC system without proper training. The second time around, I intended on entering St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri. At one point, I took a few days to experience the school, sit in on classes, and visit a young Montana friend who was en route to becoming a minister in the Methodist church via St. Paul’s.
I had chosen St. Paul’s because it was closer to home and because of a book written by one of its professors on the contemplative life. He had gone off to Snowmass Benedictine Monastery in Colorado for a year to find “true spirituality.” Even though his experience seemed more intellectual than spiritual, I was impressed by his candor and effort. I eventually imagined doing something similar in later years, but eventually decided against it.
However, my time in St. Paul’s classrooms left me wondering. One professor who spoke had been spending time with the poor in South America. His thesis was to be a real Christian one had to live with the poor. “Give up your riches and follow me.”
I thought his thesis lacking. He had lived most of his life in America, was taking a sabbatical to fly back to the U.S., and was able to leave his post any time he felt he needed a break. For those and other reasons, he would never be really poor in this lifetime. I tried to ask him about Jesus’s call to be “poor in spirit,” rather than poor in material goods. He seemed to glide around the point.
At the same time, I was not much impressed by other speakers. It felt somewhat like medical school. Professors reading out of or parroting one text or the other. Was God in the classroom?
Nonetheless, I sensed a call of some sort while carrying those thoughts with me for some weeks. When summer came I checked into the financial aid which had been allocated by the Mitchell church for my planned attendance in Berkeley. But by then, the money had been directed elsewhere. My father responded with, “Well, Mother and I have some set aside which should get you through for a year or so.”
Thence, I decided there were enough signs saying, “The seminary in not in the cards for you, Buster.” Eventually, I pointed westward without career, direction, or outer guidance.
I had had the good fortune to minister to two small Dakota churches for a year and to a couple others later on for brief periods. They were grand, cradle-to-the-grave experiences. Ones fondly to be remembered. But, my life has a course much different than many. One-of-a-kind, I seem to do things out of order, reversed. I don’t quite fit common molds. For that, I am thankful. But, it does create problems for myself and for others.
My horoscope with Uranus in the first house and my inner nature lead me some of the time. My Soul oversees the whole deal except when I don’t get the message or simply rebel. We all have cycles in our lives, but they are all a bit different from the next person. Mine have been and continue to be a lot different from the next man or woman. The maps are charted for all of us, we just have to learn to read the unique messages they render.
A good friend used to say, “We have about as much free will as a camel tied to a post in the desert.” Surely we must have free will. But, our range of play is limited. We need to turn to the task at hand, act and do as we are called.
I am confident that Karma comes in to fill in the gaps when we fail to read the signs, hear the call, and turn to selfish directions. Thence, we will be drawn back to our appointed path. However long it takes and however harsh the path of return. “The Fates lead the willing, and drag the unwilling.” (Seneca) §
The world continued to turn and I eventually followed Judith Barr to Montana. There must have been meaning in that change, as I have remained here for over thirty years. Judith moved on in a year or so to Washington, a larger church and a new husband. Judith wanted and needed not just a husband but a father for her two daughters. She made the right choice, giving up on Robert from Mitchell and inevitably marrying Robert Mitchell in Seattle.
My immediate call to Montana came when the senior pastor of Judith’s Billings church, where she was choir director, was to be away for the summer and was open to a house-sitter. Playing drummer for a time under the wing of my brother Tom the salesman, I ventured forth. I made three sales of his electronic message boards and soon looked for other means of support.
I lived and always live frugally and had the good fortune to soon be offered another house-sitting job for Mrs. Senia Hart. Thanks to her, I resided for many months in a huge old sandstone house on the edge of Pioneer Park within easy walking distance of much of the city. Mrs. Hart also opened the door to one of her offices on Level Three of the old Stapleton Building in downtown Billings. I don’t remember the Stapleton’s ancient history, but in recent years she had created space in the third and fourth floors for small shops and offices at tiny rents. Thus, new entrepreneurs and fledgling non-profits could have outlets for their efforts at a mere pittance.
Mabel Senia Hart was a real gem – a somewhat timid yet smiley woman with a big heart. The latter was one things I told her she had reinforced when she married Russ Hart, one of the top businessmen in Montana for a time. Senia and I would get together almost weekly to talk shop while I shared a relaxing session of cranio-sacral therapy with her. She always felt better and more at ease after our moments together. I was happy to find a way to give to her in some measure as she had to me. But, I never was quite sure what it was that touched her. Whether it was my hands or time or words or presence. Did it matter?
While Mrs. Hart was reserved and awkward in a group, she was yet in her latter years something of a dynamo in getting projects going for the public good. Whether it was regarding history or the arts or city improvements, she lent a hand and shared of her gifts and resources.
Senia even joined in a number of times when I began my teaching efforts in Billings which expanded from my little rented office which I called Light Works Laboratory. I bought my first Macintosh computer and put it to work writing early manuscripts in one room and used the other for regular but small meditation meetings.
Having experienced Unity at the Golden Pyramid in Houston years past, I was soon drawn to try Unity of Billings on the edge of the downtown business section. It was just a small spot with no room to grow, but the church and its minister seemed to have some influence in the area and in the community at large.
I took to the minister, Bill Modes, who had been a businessman in his previous life. By then, Bill was white-haired, full-faced, and in his sixties – warm and outgoing, a man with few pretensions. What you saw is what you got? He had need to be no more than he was or had been.
However, there was one tell-tale sign that the pastor had another story surely left untold. Reverend Modes often had a tear or two dribble from one eye or the other onto his cheek. He would pull out his handkerchief, wipe away the drops, and stuff it back into the pocket of his suit trying to appear nondescript. Most folks must have passed it off. “Ah, must be allergies,” Bill might have said much the same if asked. But in the midst of Modes’s shiny presence and full-spirited being, there was surely some sorrow or hurt that brimmed over. Such as, the writer Frank McCourt might say, “The bladder overflowed at your eye.”
The services and messages of Rev. Modes were cozy and friendly, but not particularly Christian or Godly. At least, Bill never “Lorded” such onto his mostly New Age audience. Still, the Spirit moved with him quite anonymously yet abundantly. I found it more than interesting that numbers of churchgoers split their Sundays between the Unity Church of Billings and the fundamentalist Faith Chapel on the far west end of the River City.
Beyond Bill Modes’s warmth and openness, I only remember one lesson he tended to share from time to time. It was and still is a real keeper. “We are living in eternal life, right now,” he was wont to say.Suggesting that we should live the life for which we were born and intended right now. Don’t put off doing good or finding reward in the next life, because it is happening right now. The world of spirit is in our very midst. The kingdom is at hand.
Within a few weeks of my regular attendance at Unity, my mind was churning because I heard the words “Spiritual Healing” repeatedly. While I intercepted the words and thoughts, I recognized nothing happening at Unity to indicate any church focus in that direction. So, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I buttonholed Ian Elliot, one of the board members, and presented the idea of my offering a program on “Spiritual Healing” at Unity of Billings.
His response was something like, “Why not? Put your ideas into a proposal and I will pass it by the minister and the board.” Before I knew it, the word came back as a “Go ahead.”
I was in business and flabbergasted when the church was full – well over a hundred – as the doors opened for the first session of “Spiritual Healing” in the spring of 1988. Looking back over by shoulder and many years, I have to believe that the people in the seats were expecting some sort of Oral Roberts rather than Robert McNary when the program unrolled.
I then worked more from the perspective of Edgar Cayce and Charles Fillmore the founder of Unity. They “preached” much the same general message, but Fillmore focused almost entirely on teaching people how to view health and life spiritually: “It is the work of the true healer to instruct the patient, to show cause and remedy from the viewpoint of spiritual understanding. All other methods are temporary.”
The “mind of Christ” won the day with Fillmore as much as Cayce ever repeated “mind as the builder.” Cayce’s latter RE-MINDER became the centerpiece of an early session in the series of seven for which the turnouts gradually trailed off when nothing miraculous took shape.
I felt in my element prepared from several dimensions when standing in front of the audience. I did my homework, had been studying medicine and alternatives and spirituality for years – and lifetimes. Still, I was “wet behind the ears” in many ways, as my mother might have said. But, I knew more than the people in the seats and was comfortable sharing knowledge, experiences and exercises for the congregation.
I also had the good fortune to enlist the musical aid of Mr. Steven Bergquist from the beginning of the venture. It was Steve and his mother Betty who helped get the ball rolling each evening using their musical talents to boost the sense of community and lift the spirit. Steve played song-leader while Betty played the piano.
Bergquist deserves more than a thank-you in this narrative. He was a recurring and radiant figure in my life for several years. I remember him as a look-alike of Jim Bakker, the television evangelist of that day. Bergquist not only looked like him, but also had that kind of big-stage churchy flair. Steve was evangelical from early on but somehow got the Unity bug while bringing his mother and father into the mix.
By the time, I met Steve he was romancing the woman who would become his sixth, or maybe, seventh wife. Though still a man in his thirties, Mr. Bergquist suffered from a dilemma which seems to have affected numbers of fundamentalists. He candidly told me one day, “Bob, I was raised in a pretty rigid and moralistic environment. The reason I’ve had so many wives is because I was taught, ‘If you sleep with a woman, you marry her.’”
For a time, Steve had wanted to become a Unity pastor. But the commitment to take three years to study at Unity School of Christianity in Missouri taxed his financial stratagems, his hopes for a good income, and his plans to marry his next wife and have a family. Soon after we became acquainted, Bergquist let his pastoral plans pass away to concentrate on other desires. He got married and had a child. He worked at various sales jobs to support him and his family. Some years later, Steve came to work for a company named International Heritage for whom he was selling jewelry on a multilevel marketing basis. Appearing at the small celebration I held for my 49th birthday, he raved about their program and his commodious expectations for the future.
Unfortunately by then, Bergquist was separated from his wife and child. At the same time, his future with Heritage did not feel all that keen to me. I didn’t read any tea leaves, but something announced to me that Steve would not be with that company very long. I told him so. “Sorry, Steve. You won’t be with them in a year.”
I was surprised at myself for saying that out loud. But, I wasn’t surprised when, within a year, Steve was going to a free clinic in Billings for what eventually was diagnosed as leukemia. I remember visiting him in the hospital after he had gone through a round of tests and treatments. He was shorn of hair by then. No one could help but notice the large differences in scalp covering between him, his bald father who always wore a wig, and my shoulder-length hair of the day. Steve and father Carl without toupee joined smilingly for a photo with me in the middle.
That was the same evening that I recognized moments overflowing from a previous lifetime. Another friend, Jeanne, and I were waiting to go in to visit Steve and his new partner Jane. As Jeanne and I sat in the hospital waiting room, another visitor appeared coming or going who had to ask, “Who are you folks? Are you related to Steve?”
I immediately responded, “No, but we’re Jane’s parents.” The questioner didn’t make anything of the comment, one way or the other. The words, however, got a rise out of Jeanne, who later had to ask what that was all about.
My response was something like, “Well, it just seems obvious to me how the three of us are connected. And, how we treat Jane like a daughter. Then, we could add in Dan [to appear later] who is like her grandfather.” The four of us – Dan, Jeanne, Jane, and I – had run together on occasions including a visit to Dan’s cottage on Flathead Lake in a recent day. We even had a “family photo” taken on the spur of the moment. Steve was not yet “in the picture.”
Bergquist inevitably traveled to Seattle to be near family while he underwent chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He did not survive the ordeal. But, he apparently took it all in good humor and was the focal point of some family healing, according to people in the know.
Steven Bergquist departed a few years after he led the sing-alongs for my Spiritual Healing programs. That while he was deciding on a future in one direction or another. I have to wonder, as per my habit regarding peoples’ decisions, whether my friend Steve might still be with us had he turned to selling God instead of jewelry. Does Fate decide our time of death, or is there some leeway for us to continue the Work?
The first series of Spiritual Healing was a genuine success, even though attendance diminished toward the end. We had sessions on Energy, Mind, Consciousness, Symbols, Body, Disease, Healing. At each gathering, we started with music and a prayer offered by Mr. Bergquist. We quickly moved into exercises which were suitable for large numbers in limited space. The task was to present some basic ideas, to get people interacting and sharing, and to promote community spirit and healing. There was a break midway through the evening and a small homework suggested at the end.
Networking and the development of community were major benefits of the program, however little it may have been discussed or noticed. The participants had the sharing of the night, handouts and experiences to carry home, and something to look forward to in a week. They also had the opportunity to make new friendships or resurrect old ones. Community experience is often healing in and of itself.
Several moments and people from that first series stand out almost thirty years later. During the session on Mind, I asked participants to discuss famous quotations, chosen as they were passed hand to hand, which spoke to the power of mind. People with the same citation grouped together to consider their quote plus another which read, “Jesus Christ was a carpenter.”
There was one quotation which remained entirely unchosen. So, I decided to work on it while the groups conferred. A young man came forward and said that he wanted to share that job with me. The quote was somewhat abstruse and we didn't get far with it. But we did better with the idea that “Jesus Christ was a carpenter.” Much better. My partner, Sid Ayers, was himself a carpenter. He shared with me how a carpenter uses tools and materials to create something new and valuable out of raw materials. Sid then suggested how the Christ spirit was working even now to build us into new and better beings.
His words were so poignant that I asked him to share with the larger group. Sid resisted doggedly. He claimed to be shy and afraid to speak in front of a crowd. He told me how embarrassed he had been at meeting he attended with his woman friend where she forced him to stand up and speak.
Nonetheless, I “dogged” Sid and gave him the choice of talking from his chair in the audience or standing with me at the lectern. When his speech was made and the audience had applauded for his efforts, I offered that the group had just witnessed an effort at building and a moment of healing. Sid was building with ideas and courage and making it easier to express things he valued in the future. Mr. Ayers and I are still friends, even though we have not met in years. Quite interestingly, the last name of his romantic interest was Carpenter.
When we came to the session on Body, I had typed one-liners onto slips of paper. They were in the likes of
• My body is a vehicle for my expression and transportation.
• My body is a hank of hair and a bag of bones.
• My body is my home away from home.
• My body offers me a place and a space in which to learn to bear the beams of love.
• My body is the slave of my mind.
• My body is on duty 24/7 even when I am not.
• My body is a realm of trillions of cells of which I am the unknowing king/queen.
• My body is one of my greatest teachers.
• My body has all sorts of lessons to share when I am ready to learn.
• My body is my playground and classroom, prison and hospital all in one.
• My body is the perfect expression of my consciousness.
• My body is a great gift of a loving God.
• My body is intended to be a holy temple.
The invitation was made for volunteers to come forward. A number of participants, mostly women, smilingly stepped up one at a time to choose a phrase at random, read it to the audience, and explain what the words meant to them.
In my experience, such exercises always hit the nail on the head. At the same time, volunteers are not always able to see themselves as they really are and/or bring forth suitable words to fit the occasion. I had to preface the operation saying that while I wrote the notes, it was not mine to explain what they meant for any individual.
The first couple sayings were handled fairly easily. But, then it got harder when a retirement-age woman came forward. Phyllis was a sparkly sort of woman sporting a golden permanent. She was slim, active, tidy, engaging, and always snappily dressed. When she read, “My body is a hank of hair and a bag of bones,” she was almost struck dumb. She still tried to smile while soon returning to her seat with the simple words, “Well, I’ll be.”
A younger woman came forward. She was new to the church and tagged along for an evening or two with her husband who was working to build a Stress Management training program in which he wished me to be involved. Pam was all smiles, at least until she read her line: “My body is a perfect expression of my consciousness.”
Pam was a large, buxom woman and decidedly on the overweight side of the scales. She was much in the same state of speech as Phyllis except that she wanted me to interpret for her. I demurred saying, “I wrote it, but you picked it. If you continue with the Spiritual Healing sessions, I expect you will begin to understand the meaning of the words.” Pam returned to sit next to her husband for the evening, but did not come back for later meetings.
More congenial notes came for other volunteers when they read their aphorisms. And in similar exercises down the line. But, I explained repeatedly and understood well from my own experiences that life gives us the appropriate symbols and events, lessons and opportunities wherever we turn. They may be uncomfortable and hard to fathom, but we wouldn’t have them lest they belong to us. Clearly opportunities, to meet self.
Know that in whatever state ye find thyself,
that – at the moment – is best for thee.”
When working with Energy, I shared some things I had learned from Susan O'Sullivan and other teachers. During that session, we demonstrated the use of dowsing rods to get a sense of the human aura. A man stood in the aisle of the congregation in the middle of the church while another tested his aura with the dowsers. Then, the audience sent him a burst of positive vibes, later some negative ones, and then another dose of good vibrations. The dowsing rods got the message and so did the people watching and sending out mental force.
In another moment, I asked for a volunteer who had a bodily complaint needing attention. A young man stood up and came for a short interview. He reported having low back struggles. That wasn’t quite the kind of problem I wanted to deal with. But, I proceeded while trying to remember that good intentions in such cases almost uniformly bring benefit.
Just the two of us stood in front of the group. I had the volunteer take some deep breaths and asked the rest to point healing vibes to us while I placed my hands gently on the rims of his hip bones. There was a tingle in the air and before long, the man began to bob and weave as if he might even fall. Thankfully, he merely was unwinding – or experiencing a “Somato-emotional Release” in the words of John Upledger. In a few short moments the subject came back to a steady, stable upright stance. He took a breath, opened his eyes. I don’t remember his words, but he was obviously pleased to have gone through the experience.
At the final session specifically on Healing, Ruby Modes, the minister’s wife, kindly volunteered. Every body got involved in one way or another. Once Ruby was resting relatively comfortably on a portable massage table, people came forward to place their healing hands on her. No one had any idea what might have ailed Ruby or needed attention. But, most humans, especially those in the retirement age group, have one or more areas in the physical form which can use relief and easing. Before long, their was quite a crowd surrounding Ruby. When we ran out of space, I asked those remaining in their seats to intentionally send healing vibes to the “healers” to pass on to Mrs. Modes.
That was a wonderful way to complete the opening series of Spiritual Healing. I am sure everyone gained some benefit from that final exercise. All were aglow, smiling and uplifted, when Steve Bergquist led us in the usual closing song, Let There Peace on Earth, as we made a circle around the sanctuary.
Over time, further programs developed, first at the church and later in homes as The Portable School was formed and took its a name. The numbers in those groups slipped down into the teens and then to just a few. In those times, the energies and experiences different than with a full church. The members were more intent and intentional in their interests. The focused groups became family-like for the period of each series. All tolled Spiritual Healing lasted for close to a year.
Over time, I got to know the members more personally. In the second series, I interviewed a member each week ahead of time and then finished off the interchange at the weekly meeting. Florence (Flo) and I had a wide-ranging conversation ahead of one class about her life, interests and aspirations. Flo was a rather nondescript middle-aged woman except for a hint of light coming from her eyes and a glow when she smiled. Still, Florence had made the rounds and had stories to tell. Some were hopeful, but several she shared were sad. At the time, she was cleaning rooms at a motel and not liking it, maybe understandably so. Especially it seems, when Florence remarked that she had been told by some unnamed persons about her healing potentials.
Flo lit up when she announced that morsel to me. But in a moment, she turned to tell me that she had been struggling with her own ailment, I think recurring back pain, and was endeavoring to get certified for a disability. Thus, Florence would have a monthly check and could give up her motel maid job.
The obvious question came out of my mouth as gently as I could share it, “You seem to have a dilemma or two here, Flo. I am wondering now about what may be to me a large one. If you had your choice now between being a healer and having a disability check, how would you decide?”
Flo took only a few moments to respond in saying, “Well, I regret to answer but I would have to take the check.” Florence’s story has been unshared until this day. I cannot judge. But again, I have to wonder how Flo’s life thence proceeded and how her stated preference would affect the rest of her life.
Then, there was Dr. Dan Henning, the grandfather figure in the foursome which included Jeanne, Jane and me. We probably met at the second Spiritual Healing series. Dan must have been otherwise occupied during the first because he was a workshopper par excellence.
Dan was a tenured college professor nearing retirement. He was warm, funny, sincere and generous, but also tall, gangly, awkward, and needy. Henning was quite affectionately and accurately known as Big Foot. Dan had overcome his addiction to alcohol in the somewhat novel way of becoming addicted to self-help meetings, workshops, and miscellaneous therapists. Once he found me, Dan came to almost every class I taught. I might have been flattered, but I knew that he went to any class or practitioner who might lift his faltering sense of self.
I eventually visited him at his Billings home as well as his lakefront cottage on a few occasions and found all kinds of health oriented books piled here and there. He had many bottles of vitamins strung around the kitchen and bathroom. Somewhat like Doug Putnam, Dan subscribed to the idea that, “If one is good, two is better.” That became clear as I noticed that Henning had TWO tape players running continuously with TWO different subliminal tapes buzzing away. You know, subliminal messaging to bypass the conscious mind, something like automated hypnosis.
While TWO tapes at a time may have been stretching things, there was another factor which made the process seem almost pathetic. You see, Dan was hard of hearing and wore aides in both ears.
Dr. Dan often appeared at class meetings with something new to share. I will never forget the evening he came to a session and proudly displayed a tiny bottle which contained “healing oil which was expressed from the bones of a dead nun.”
That stopped me in my tracks to the point that I had to remark, “Wow! Dan, you’ve tried so many of these things, been to so many workshops and classes and therapists. You ought to write a book about your experiences.”
Henning chuckled and responded, “Yeah, Bob, I think you’re right. I might do that. I would call it Gullible’s Travels.”
While Dr. Dan is in mind, let me share a couple episodes outside of class in which he drew me to some interesting territory. On one occasion, he wanted me to join him at A Course in Miracles meeting. I was not keen on going, but the session turned out to be congenial. It was a smiley gaggle of middle-agers, almost all females, led by a respected businessman in his 50s and held at his home.
Gene, the host, garnered extra attention leading a group of older folks and being practically the only man at most sessions. By then, I had studied the Course, attended other groups, and even led one briefly in Phoenix. That put me at an advantage – I knew the material. And a disadvantage – I probably knew too much and had developed ideas extraneous to the Course. I also was aware through Dan that Gene had been having health problems and attending medical providers. He was diagnosed with leukemia and was in the process of “taking the cure.”
“Illusion” and “perceptions” being recurring themes in A Course in Miracles, students are enjoined to look at attachments and beliefs as being major illusions which prevent us from living more fully, changing our perceptions of the world, and experiencing the “miracles” of life. Things just aren’t really as they appear and as we wish them to be. And, that’s much of what brings us pain, anger, fear and loss.
During that evening session, recurring and repeated comments were made to the effect that, “This is an illusion,” and, “Oh, that belief is an illusion.” Just before a break, medicine came into the conversations a number of times. Medicine being sacrosanct, no one dared say or imagine the obvious about it. No one but I.
I couldn’t help myself, raised my hand, and suggested something like, “I know this may be hard for some people to hear. But, medicine and our belief in it is as much an illusion as many other parts of life that we hold onto so tightly.” That turned out to be a good time for the break. Nothing more was said of medicine as an illusion. Nor did I return to the group meeting to bring the idea up again.
But, I did join Dr. Henning at another one of the groups that he frequented. It was the downtown-bookstore-Saturday-night-Buddhist-gathering. Henning had just taken me out to dinner and pressed me time and again to join him “just for this brief meeting.” I said NO several times, but finally gave in.
This was a different group. Somewhat younger, but seemingly devoted not so much to Buddhism as to the leader. Reverently called “Buddha Bud,” he was said to have spent time in training in monasteries in Asia. In Billings and especially in the midst of his teaching group, he became the Guru.
Although I found myself relatively comfortable with his teachings, I soon realized that he was playing Lord and Master. Living the illusion of the one, and seemingly only purveyor, with the Truth. I soon had to venture forth saying, “It appears that you have the Whole Truth and no one else can compare with your knowledge. That doesn’t sit well with me. How about you?”
Interestingly, Bud said little. But, his followers erupted with fierce defense and rather forceful attack. I had no illusions of becoming a student. Nor did I imagine his devotees would listen long to my observations. So, I exited before the attack got out of hand. That was the last group of Dr. Dan’s recommendation that I dared to attend. Henning followed me out the door, apologizing with vigor. I told him not to worry. It was an illusion, practice, opportunity, etc.
So many moments in the Spiritual Healing classes were positive and light and sometimes almost holy. When they got to that point, it was certain the real leadership was either shared or coming from another plane. Still, the moments were fleeting. “What we keep, we lose. What we give away, we keep forever.” Hopefully, some of the latter occurred. We are told to give as we have received. The harvest is not our responsibility.
Although there is dogma deep in my bones, I have tried to be open and tolerant as possible in teaching situations. Teaching implies education which I understand to mean the drawing forth of the knowledge which lies within the student, in fact or in potential. In that sense the teacher may really know little more than his students. His understandings are often just a little closer to the surface of consciousness because of recent study, practice and application.
It may bear repeating the “favorite doctrine” of Socrates in which he differentiated between learning and remembering. He suggested that most – Socrates may have said all – of what we seem to learn is really due to our remembering from past incarnations. My sense is that if something comes easily to us, likely we have done it before. If not, it may be our first time around with the subject, or we might have resisted learning it last time and have to struggle with it again. Such I believe to have been the case with some of my lessons with music and emotions.
Socrates wanted to point his fellows toward the tracks of knowledge garnered through the eternal journey of the soul. He considered the talents and traces, not the knowledge itself, as most important in leading us to the inward source of life and truth. Socrates and Cayce surely taught upon similar lines regarding the value of recollection through reincarnation.
So when I see another lording it over less developed people in the seats – as in the presence of Buddha Bud, my dander gets riled and I have to make some sort of stand or statement. That has lost me friends and jobs a number of times.
The Portable School classes earned me enough income to pay expenses for a time. Again, the teaching was a real gift – as when I was ministering in South Dakota – to be paid for doing something in which I could teach, share and learn all at the same time.
Before long, I had to find other means of support. Which turned me to temporary services and manual labor. I worked for a season on an annual “campaign” to produce Western Sugar from sugar beets and was employed in the 1990 U.S. Decennial Census. Eventually, I received another gift of a contract with the Billings Deaconess Hospital.
I had managed to find a place on the board of the new Cable Access Television Station, Channel 7. Even though I had no television at the time and for years before and after, the value of media is quite apparent to me. I spent many months working with the station and even produced a short-lived series which I called A Work of Heart. I interviewed people who were living and loving their work. I did one with Ella Greene, the very aged widow, of the western artist LeRoy Greene. Mrs. Greene loved her husband’s work and was happy to share it with my television audience. Ella and I had been friends for some years and continued on until she died at the age of 104.
Other favorites of my series included the musical/novelty group The Montana Logging and Ballet Company. The versatile foursome who attended Rocky Mountain College together many years past continued to perform together quite often at events for charity and the promotion of peace and human rights. They produce a high mark for entertainment and have earned the esteem of Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
Dr. Dan Henning sat for a one session on his favorite ecological interest. By then he was Professor Emeritus in Political Science and Environmental Affairs at Montana State University in Billings. Gradually over the years, he gathered his experiences of nature, his politics, and his residences for long periods at Buddhist Forest Monasteries to profess a philosophy worthy of modern viewers and readers. Eventually with the aid of a journalist, Dan put his passion a book called Buddhism and Deep Ecology.
While playing producer and board member at the Cable Access station, I came to know Mr. Mike Pennachi. Pennachi was for many years the top dog in the Education Department at Deaconess Hospital. We became immediate friends and before long he offered me a job to develop and package programs for health and safety training. The idea was to make it convenient for workers to do their annual training at a computer linked to a television and video player. I watched his videos, then wrote and programmed quizzes. When employees had open time, they went to a PVS (Personal Viewing Station) where they watched a video. Then clicked a switch and the monitor was set for them to take a quick quiz to show they had viewed and learned the salient material. The computer retained the record of the event and could be transferred for data purposes later.
The part-time job paid bills for a few years, even though the process got tedious after the initial development with some basic computer software. However, working with Pennachi was always upbeat and enjoyable. Both Virgos, we were almost exactly ten years apart in age. Mike being the elder.
Memories remain in mind from my time on the edge of medicine at the Deaconess and at the side of Pennachi. One appeared unexpectedly relating to a past life. In that instance, Mike took me along to a meeting in an outlying building with a number of people from other hospital departments. The topic is long forgotten, but a group picture remains in memory. All the other participants were women and all wore something that clearly suggested connection to Egypt. One woman had very dark hair trimmed tightly like Queen Nefertiti. Another had a watch that looked like a sundial. A third wore turquoise jewelry much like I imagined – or remembered – from my ancient lifetime. Pennachi was only dressed in his usual suit and appeared his regular self. But, his Mediterranean heritage could have allowed him in appropriate costume to pass off as a Bedouin or other nomad. An interesting memory to be sure. One that leads to others.
Like myself Pennachi was an inventive professional on the edge of the medical system at Deaconess Hospital. He was also thoughtful, kind and caring. At a yearly hospital talent show, Mike sang and cavorted as one of the Blues Brothers. One holiday season, I remember him decorating the Fortin Educational Center auditorium with the theme of It’s a Wonderful Life.
He and I often brainstormed together, but many of our projects didn’t get off the drawing board. At one point, we entertained the idea of presenting the film, The Doctor, as an opportunity for workers – hopefully to include physicians – to take another look at the experience of illness. The effort never came to fruition and may not have been accepted well if it had manifested. The common resistance among physicians to new ideas was always in mind as we contemplated our eventually aborted project. The idea would certainly have been approved by the great physician Osler, who said, “You can’t truly be a physician until you have been a patient.”
Based on Dr. Edward Rosenbaum’s book A Taste of My Own Medicine: When The Doctor Is The Patient, the film reveals a successful, talented cardio-thoracic surgeon who has no bedside manner. He is bent on getting as much work out of day and his staff as possible, and has a “get-in, get-out, get-it-over” attitude. But, The Doctor eventually “Gets It” himself.
Driving home with his wife from a professional dinner, Dr. Jack MacKee has a fit of coughing up bright red blood on the interior of their new car. The frustrating demeaning experience of having abiopsy done by an insensitive specialist follows as does diagnosis of throat cancer. Jack encounters cold and emotionally sterile hospitals with physicians to match. He begins to empathize with patients and recognize the kind of medic he used to be. MacKee befriends a cancer patient with an inoperable brain tumor who eventually dies.
Jack recovers and is changed dramatically. When he returns to work, he begins to talk to his students about compassion and sensitivity towards their patients. He also gives them opportunities to learn what is like to be on the other side of the stethoscope by making his residents and interns “become patients” and be treated so in the hospital for a few days. It is not clear that The Doctor himself ever learned patience, but he certainly slowed down. The writer has had his own encounters with dis-ease – most of them after leaving the medical trade – which have helped him learn patience with the processes of life, recognize that he is often not in charge of his own body, and that time is one of the great healers. Physicians and patients alike need to gain more of these understandings in the future.
“Once a doctor, always a doctor,” I have been wont to remind myself. Thus, others memories come to mind which are in a more healing mode. The computer whiz who pointed Pennachi and me to software for our PVS project also introduced me to a kind, sensitive and enigmatic physician called George Hart. One quite the opposite of the man in the Doctor film. George was working at that time as a psychiatrist for the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch west of Billings, Montana. We sat across from each other for lunch at a downtown cafe with our mutual friend in between. George’s story – or parts of it – unfolded quickly. A soft-spoken, graying man in his early 60s, he was obviously a very caring medical professional. Hart had recently moved his second family to the West.
As opposed to many psychiatrists who seem to hide behind desks and beards and pipes, George was more than willing to share his story and expose himself. The most poignant part of his life up to the present concerned an experiment in the 60s and 70s when he purchased Great Duck Island (off the coast of Maine) to treat and nurture psychotic patients without drugs.
He apparently had some successes, but he also took on a large burden which modern psychiatry pretty much avoids by prescribing high powered drugs to sedate and pacify difficult patients. That was the tipping point. He helped others, but to his own detriment.
In the midst of his storytelling, George recalled the beauty of the island and the variety of animals which roamed its open spaces. Then, he got absorbed in remembering a striking experience. He was alone walking the land in a pensive state. He turned down a path and encountered a lone DEER. He stood within feet of it. Their eyes met and George had some sort of ecstatic moment of other-worldly communication. The remembrance caused him to sob openly in the midst of lunch. Which was fine with me, but may have startled our mutual friend.
This encounter was obviously a profoundly affecting experience for Dr. Hart, though he didn’t seem to label it so. I spent occasional moments with George in coming weeks and months and, on occasion, sought to get him to revisit the DEER meeting and draw out more meaning from it.
To do so became a more incumbent proposition when I met his new family and visited their rural property in the direction of Red Lodge Mountain. Dr. Hart had a younger wife, Martha, and two little children, a boy and a girl. George seemed to have found family success later in life as well as a nurturing retreat in the Montana countryside.
When he was not occupied with his professional work at the Boys and Girls Ranch, he could relax and enjoy his own ranch. The ranch had no cows or pigs or sheep or even horses, but it did have dozens of DEER. That seemed to be a perfectly poetic sequel to the Duck Island story. Martha spoke of George going out to spend time with the deer in the evening. Sometimes, he took a portable radio and tuned in classical music for them.
But, there was a flip side to the idyllic picture. Mrs. Hart told how difficult it was for George to do veterinary tasks with the animals. Vaccination, tagging, de-horning and minor surgeries on them created pains as well as chores for him. He seemed to feel what his animals felt.
What was even more disturbing for George was his intention to eventually slaughter the animals and sell their meat to area restaurants. But, he didn’t seem to be fully aware of the conflict. He was an extraordinarily sensitive helping person who worked with disturbed youth and cared for some of God’s equally sensitive creatures. Deer are gentle, inquisitive, and acute creatures. Have you ever met one? Simply put DEER are DEAR. They are much like George was.
On more than one occasion, I tried to suggest that there might be an alternative to slaughtering the animals. “If these deer can nurture and heal you, maybe they can do the same for young people like those who are struggling at the Boys and Girls Ranch.” The idea went nowhere. George thought his ranch had to pay like similar operations. Although I don’t think George got very far along in his plan to make his ranch venison available to local eateries.
One day out of the blue, Bill, our mutual friend, told me, “George is in rehab at St. Vincent’s Hospital.” I went up to see him. It was never quite clear whether he had had a stroke or a heart attack. George was a psychiatrist, not an internist. Still, the episode gave him a jolt and laid him up in the hospital for quite a period.
Hart recovered and was able to return to work at the Boys and Girls Ranch. He later told me that it was in that time period that he had an epiphany of sorts. It came to him that he personally had been dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder his whole life without realizing it. The obvious question arises as to how a man with ADD was ever able to get through college, medical school, residency? This psychiatrist, past 60 years of age, decided after all those years that he had his own mental problems. George determined that he needed to do something about them.
And he did. He convinced the family practice physician at the Ranch to prescribe Ritalin for him. George was lost from sight for some time. I eventually heard he was living at the Sage Apartments in Billings. I went for another visit and found him holed up in a dinky flat. His place was cluttered and in disarray. His mattress was spread on the floor without frame or accessories. He made no apologies but was glad for the visit. Then, he recited the update of his life since our last meeting.
It seems Ritalin pushed George over the edge and into a nervous breakdown. His psychosis had played out in full view of his wife and children. Martha initiated divorce proceedings after Dr. Hart was sent as a patient to the State Hospital in Warm Springs. He eventually was released and returned to what appeared to be a totally empty life.
I don’t know the final chapters of George’s story. I discovered that he died in 1997 (I last saw him in 1993) in Butte as noted in a small obituary in a Harvard University bulletin. Some recurring thoughts come to my mind when George Hart appears there. One concerns whether or not Dr. Hart had Attention Deficit Disorder and the sense of having its symptoms in his seventh decade. That was his belief and so he acted at a critical passage. Then, Life really got his Attention and he had the rest of his few years to consider the consequences.
Furthermore, I have always wondered whether George had the capacity to learn the potential lesson which seemed to emanate from his meeting with the deer on Duck Island. If there was a lesson and had he learned it, could his life have ended differently?
The DEER definitely caught his attention in that poignant moment. Could he have retrieved its essence? Or, was he fated to end his days so sadly? I wish to think that George had the potential to awaken to the meaning of that lone, lovely DEER who looked deeply into his being. George might then have made a large step by merely realizing that from ancient times a DEER has been known also as an HART.
Another experience from that period resolves itself more easily and positively. A final Deaconess memory remains as I see myself sitting at the bedside of man stuck in the hospital for many weeks of a harrowing medical ordeal. I had gotten it into my head to do some volunteer work on the wards. When asked how I would like to help, I replied, “I would like to read to patients.” For other volunteers that usually meant newspapers, but I wanted to read books. My effort extended to just two patients. But, the first made it all worth the while and kept me reading with him for months.
Mr. Les Trafton had already been in the hospital for weeks by the time I arrived on the scene. A retiree, Les had developed lung cancer which prompted removal of one lung. He arrested on the operating table and a series of sad complications ensued. Trafton had a tracheotomy and could not talk, but was clearly pleased to have new and regular company. His wife, Max, and sister-in-law were often in attendance when I appeared several times a week to read from Louis L’Amour treasury. We went through a number of L’Amour westerns, then a modern novel, Last of the Breed. I had gotten my fill of western novels and the Sackett family by the time many weeks later when Les was finally transferred for to his hometown hospital in Miles City.
I could only take so much Louis L’Amour and got agreement for me to read the classic western, Shane. As we finished the book and just before the Traftons left town, Max and I went out and rented the video. The three of us watched the movie version of Shane in the hospital room and drew even closer together.
I can’t help recalling moments when Trafton’s thoracic surgeon “peeked his head” into the room or stood at the foot of the bed and made his daily hospital call. In later weeks, Les’s tracheotomy had been repaired and he was able to speak. Still, the give and take between physician and patient seemed miniscule and distant. I wonder if Les’s surgeon ever sat at the edge of his bed and had a man-to-man talk with him like Jim Duke did when I was back in medical school. I wonder if the surgeon ever did that with any patient. Did he ever take time to read a western to anyone?
Louis L’Amour writings were a real change of pace for me. A.B. Guthrie’s Shane was more my speed. But either way, they are pieces of art. The Traftons and I shared them both. Some months after Les was discharged from the hospital in his own town, I found my way over to visit Les and Max. We had two family-like visits at their home in Miles City. Hospitality replaced hospital time.
I always like to spend time with friends and neighbors and strangers in their home environment. That even though, it can take some gumption to knock on doors. As mentioned before, house calls can be so valuable for physicians and ministers and just plain old kin. To be accepted into another’s home, share food, look at wallhangings and pictures: that is is to enter into personal space, sacred or otherwise. And, maybe stir a little healing.
At the Trafton home, I got to experience Max playing piano in an extraordinary way – simply by ear. She didn’t read music but could crank out all sorts of tunes on her old upright. If she had heard the melody before, Max could do it justice on her keyboard.
Only twice otherwise have I witnessed that phenomenon. Bob Howell, a physician, demonstrated his similar talent once while we were at Fort Riley. Then, there was Ian Elliot, a multi-talented man around whom all sorts of fine arts circled in Billings for many years. He was director of the Fox Committee for the Performing Arts with an office near to mine in the Stapleton Building when I first met him. That business kept and promoted entertainment on the stage of the old Fox Theater until it was renovated into the Alberta Bair Theater.
Elliot was always busy with many projects including his involvement at the Unity Church. With the grandly renovated theater in the city, the Fox Committee was dissolved and Elliot was out of a job. So, he created Starfire at the Babcock. A musician (bagpiper), actor, director, and promoter Elliot put all his talents together to come up with another entertainment venue in Downtown Billings. While his new non-profit probably was never financially successful, he opened the doors in a number of ways for many performers and viewers.
With much volunteer help, including mine, he re-opened the Babcock Theater and did some renovation. The theater showed movies again. Solo guitarists hit the boards once the stage was extended. Vaudeville reappeared. And, stage plays of modest proportions and means unfolded.
Robert got to experience much of the fun and action and talent. I saw the classic movie A Christmas Story there for the first time. “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The Virginia City Players appeared with a great show. Elliot demonstrated his sense of humor and old-time wisdom with a vaudeville program in which he and another talent played Chester and Lester.
From working behind the scenes, I got drawn into performing as a “roughneck” in a melodrama called Deadwood Dick or the Game of God. I remember the bit part “getting into my blood” on one occasion. There is, to my way of thinking and experience, truth to the idea that life imitates art. And, I do believe people should be careful about what kind of roles they take on in even small scale productions.
My next step was to be the assistant director in play with a cast of three couples. AD (Assistant Director) was just gopher stuff, but I enjoyed it and watched a play being developed from the directing side of things. How the Other Half Loves was fun to produce, got decent reviews, and drew responsive audiences.
Mr. Elliot was well known for producing and directing a favorite annual Broadway musical. He had done South Pacific, Carousel and others when My Fair Lady was announced. I decided to stand on the Babcock stage and put myself through tryouts. I thought I was just going to be reading lines, but that was the easy part of the affair.
After reading lines, we were placed in small groups on stage and led through some dance steps. The director and choreographer apparently wanted hints of the talents they had attracted that evening in the area of terpsichory.
That exercise was almost tolerable for me. But the next round came for us to sing a few lines individually next to the pianist and in front of the rest of the future cast. I was almost petrified. I’m surprised I still had a voice when it was my turn to sing a verse of “Get Me to the Church on Time.” The whole thing was frightening, but the hardest part was waiting for my moments to come up. Tryouts for My Fair Lady was one of the most stressful moments of my life. Thankfully it was a brief one.
I must admit that tryouts were only trying in the sense of stretching one’s abilities to face fears before an audience small or large. I felt somewhat like Sid Ayers did when he had to stand up in front of the Unity Church and tell about Christ as carpenter. Everyone at tryouts got a place in the cast. The stage at the Alberta Bair Theater was huge and had room for a very large “chorus.” Elliot found room and roles for all of us. I was given two bit parts, one with just a few words to yell out. The other was more just for show. Lord Boxington was announced in a receiving line and I got to waltz with my romantic interest of the time. I clearly remember the discomfort of the waltz steps being changed a number of times to accommodate one thing or the other.
I also remember Art Brandvold, the musical director, singling me out on a couple occasions in rehearsals. In front of the whole cast, he upbraided “the curly haired fellow” over some musical miscue. In another moment, he quietly stopped in front of me while no one was near and said, “You’re singing too loud. Do you understand?”
I understood. But by the time the show came live for three nights, there was an orchestra in the pit and my voice certainly would be drowned out by my fellows and the small band. So, I let her rip and tried to enjoy the moment.
I have to recall that I thought our own Fair Lady did a smashing job in her role as Eliza Doolittle. Lynn Huber seemed to me to be a talent who might have rivaled Julie Andrews. I believe she went on to be a music professor in an east coast college.
Not long after the show, I determined to move to a smaller rural setting. Thanks to Mr. Rogers, I took up residence for several months in the countryside on his property 40 miles north of Billings. Then, I was “called” back to California via a camping trip. Mrs. Crabtree, the wife of my intended medical partner in the Sierras, had told her sister about me many months past and gotten me to join a camping trip at Lake Alpine for a few days. Diane immediately wanted to take me home with her, but I resisted.
It was a year or two later, a repeat adventure was decreed and I got an invitation to join in. The whole world had changed by then. Karen Crabtree had been diagnosed with a serious tumor and sister Diane was more appealing, at least for the time being. Before long, directions changed and I relocated to northern California again to help the Crabtree family in their hour of need and to see about a long-term relationship with their neighbor Diane. I lived between two households over the winter.
While the Crabtrees ended up counseling Diane and Robert on several occasions, I was called in as “consultant” over the winter of 1994 for Karen as she went through the early stages of a very serious dis-ease. For several months, I actually became part of “the family.” I call her Karen, because she was always “carin’” for others, most notably her husband and children.
Karen and the Crabtree family lived in the Far West outside the small Sierra Nevada town populated with many granola folks and tree huggers.They topped the heap, more or less. Husband Steve was the physician, tall and blond, sensitive, gentle, soft spoken, who had a small holistically oriented office in town. Karen had been a counselor until her three children arrived. She raised them, took care of the household, helped with the book work at the office, and recently had found time to get back to some of her counseling work. The three young people – teenagers on the way to adulthood – were bright, talented, and energetic. The whole family was as health oriented as one could imagine. They were vegetarian, organic when possible. No salt, little sugar. The youngest child wouldn’t eat dairy products, but he made exceptions for ice cream.
The Crabtrees were into all sorts of exercise and outdoor activities – jogging, skiing, hiking, camping, swimming, cycling. Most of the family was musical and friends would be corralled on occasion for social nights including singing, instrumentals, stories and jokes. Early morning and late evening walks among the pine hills were also favorite pastimes for the family.
The whole “family” situation was idyllic. How could anything mar the life that the Crabtrees had built over 20 years? But, the fairy tale began to unravel suddenly when Karen started to have seizures. Quickly, she was seen in a large medical center, scanned and diagnosed with a slow-growing but still inoperable brain tumor.
The good news was that the tumor was benign. The bad news came with the slow-growing part within the confines of the skull which might eventually squeeze the brain more severely than to just produce occasional fits. “It might have been developing for several years,” she was told by a neurosurgeon who would not operate. At least at that point in time. Other opinions were mixed, but no surgeon was eager to recommend surgery. The professional hope was that the tumor would grow very slowly to allow her to live to her old age. The seizures might be her only symptoms. And they might be controllable.
Those pronouncements sent Karen back to her own resources, alternatives, and inner guidance. Karen was a tall woman, sandy haired, soft and sensitive, always chipper and supportive of others. A real caregiver who seemingly was given an opportunity to be on the receiving end of things. But, Karen was used to being the giver, and habits, even good ones, are hard to change.
With some family input, Karen decided to use a number of modalities including vitamins, visualization, art, exercise, and journaling to deal with her inoperable, slow-growing brain tumor. She also went to Episcopal prayer and healing services, consulted readers and took an occasional few days in southern California with her mother. But, being on her own away from her family was outside her comfort zone.
After I came into the picture a few weeks after the diagnosis, Karen and I got together once a week for some hands-on work and conversation. Becoming part of the family and one of her therapists, I was privileged to hear her recite snippets from the journal that she had begun to keep. She wrote religiously and voluminously filling one notebook after another every few weeks.
Karen took up the Ira Progoff method of journaling. As a journaler, she got into a relaxed state of mind and addressed anything or anyone she wished. Then commenced a give-and-take conversation. Karen did that regularly and her most frequent conversationalist was her tumor.
I got to read some of the journaling that most captured her attention and that she thought worth sharing. The gist of the confabs seemed to come down to Karen’s understandable fears and worries, and the tumor’s efforts to explain that it had not come to destroy her but rather to change her life. Which it was surely doing, although maybe not always as intended.
Listening in, I couldn’t help adding my take that the tumor was bringing her an opportunity instead of a problem. We – Karen and you and I – are often easily intimidated by our illnesses, so that we miss out on their potential benefits. I repeated more than a few times in various ways that I believed, “This is meant to be a life-enhancing not life-threatening experience. Tumors are also called growths. This presence is benign and wants you to GROW, Karen.”
Nevertheless, Karen focused on relieving her symptoms, getting rid of the tumor which tried to insinuate to her that it was her friend. That was clearly hard for her to accept, but she kept talking and journaling. The simplest, most dramatic and eye-opening journaling conversation she ever shared with me was one that went like this:
Karen: When you go away, will I be healed?
Tumor: When you are healed, I will go away!
I wish I could say that my friend Karen understood the clues and got the messages that the tumor was trying to share with her. Maybe she got some of them. I only read a few of her journal entries and only lived close by for a six months before I returned to my mountain home. Nor could I or anyone know all the ramifications (brain tumors often have rami) of things which go on in someone else’s life. It is hard enough for us – even with our eyes open – to understand what is passing through our very own selves.
That said, this is how I remember the rest of the story. “Being healed” was the simple but elusive answer. The common thought is that health is the absence of disease. Karen continued act as if she could get the tumor to depart and then she would be healed. The tumor suggested the reverse. She persisted focusing on the tumor. She worked on one of the in-things at the time, guided imagery and visualization. Karen added to her regimen sessions of visualizing her white blood cells in armies coming to – lovingly – dispatch the tumors cells and carry them away to be flushed out of the body. Karen didn’t want any violence done to the tiny cells. But, her focus was narrow. She still pointed mostly at her body and “getting rid of her tumor.”
In our latter sessions together, I tried to get her involved in the idea of wholeness. Expanding her horizons outside of her family where she thought she was indispensable. Getting away for herself regularly. Letting her husband, children and friends live their lives and be responsible for themselves. So everyone could grow up.
I am reminded that Karen was a bit on the obsessive side. About some things, anyway, most particularly her family and household. Mrs. Crabtree was one of only two people I ever met who arranged the wastebasket. The other was my former wife.
I endeavored to get Karen to understand that real healing results in wholeness – or wholeness brings real healing. I didn’t get too far. But, I was heartened on the day of my leaving the family, her sister and the area when Karen asked if I had any parting suggestions for her. I said, “No. But, I do have a question for you.”
Bob: “What or who will you be when you are healed?”
Karen: “Oh, I will be an artist.”
Bob: “How much time will you spend painting to get there?”
Would that had been the case. Another part of the story was that in years past – possibly coincident with the onset of the growth in her head – Karen had walked through a craft fair. Stopping at a particular stall, she became captivated by the pieces of watercolor art on display. She broke down in tears, thinking, “Oh, that is wonderful. I should paint like that. I can do that. I must.”
Karen had taken art classes intermittently over intervening years and became a credible artist. But, she never thought she was good enough. Always needing to take more classes. Keeping only a small corner in her bedroom for her work and never making it a priority. Even after declaring, “I will be an artist.” For a fleeting moment, however, she permitted some of her pieces to be sold on auction at a benefit given for her. Karen then made some other pieces into greetings cards and began to open the door to become that artist.
After I left, we communicated regularly for a time and then less so. Later, I received updates from sister. The story seemed to be that Karen couldn’t or wouldn’t push herself to “Be an artist.” Family and other obligations came first. She didn’t take much time away from home “responsibilities” either to explore the world and her talents or even to invest in her deeper self.
By the time I saw Karen again – eight years later – on a visit to “the family,” she had undergone two surgeries for her supposed “inoperable tumor” as well as other aggressive treatment. Two of her three children were in college. The third was in his final year of high school.
Her husband had found another woman, and Karen and Steve were then divorced. Karen was alone except for her son who would soon be gone. Her artistic dreams had slipped away, the tumor remained and continued to grow despite de-bulking surgeries. Karen had not been healed yet. Else the tumor would have gone of its own accord.
Even at that visit to the Crabtrees, Karen was nearing death’s door. She got around with help and talked a bit. Mrs. Crabtree joined the family including her then former husband for Thanksgiving dinner in a very sad moment. Karen died a few weeks later. Where the growth then took her I cannot say. But assuredly into deeper, more sublime levels of healing.
Following that interlude in northern California, I returned to Montana and took up residence 45 miles north of Billings in a small town called Lavina. To get started there, I traded my house painting skills for a room in back of a former bar on Main Street. The Wise family had returned from Oregon, having lived in Lavina years before. They bought several properties on Main including the hotel and the cafe which became the Lavina Crossing. Tom Wise needed help refurbishing the old Adams Hotel and I jumped in. The Adams had been the larger of two railroad inns which had had relatively short lives serving Milwaukee Road customers. Hard times hit central Montana within a decade of its construction in 1908, the town shriveled, and the hotel took on sundry roles as the years advanced.
The two-story clapboard building once housed 22 rooms, sitting areas, a bar and ballroom, dining room, kitchen and annexes. The Old Adams was quite a structure in its day, having a full front porch with balustraded deck above from which the town band was said to have played on occasion. From a distance the hotel is quite a specimen, looking solid and plumb square.
Looks we know can be deceiving. The Adams was never totally solid. Its foundation was laid on sandstone. So, it shifted and settled when water leaked into the basement over the years. The building must have been a drafty place and hard to heat even when brand new. Insulation was merely a single salmon-colored sheet of paper meant to deflect the rugged Montana winds. People were hardier in the olden days and must have slept in their long underwear in the winter regardless of the radiator, testing even the hardier folks. Those might have been accurately called the Colden Days.
Both town and hotel had some history. The story went round and round that the town was named quite differently than most along the railroad line. Typically, railroad towns were labeled after the local RR agent, or the mayor, or a rich rancher. For a change, Lavina was named for Walter Burke’s sweetheart (not wife). Burke was a very early local, being the stage line superintendent and town postmaster dating back to 1882. The railroad depot appeared in 1907 and the town of Lavina was incorporated in 1920.
A taped song which hearkened back to decades past surfaced during our early efforts to resurrect the Adams. The tune called “The Old Hotel Lavina” appeared in the hands of the Wises, one day. It was clearly done by Waylon Jennings who sang about a couple dancing round the ballroom of the Old Hotel. Tom and Rose thought for a moment the Jennings country and western tune might help move the project, but it didn’t. The melody never circulated nor got radio station play.
I applied myself to painting the Old Hotel Lavina. Basic white, one coat. No primer. One coat was enough for one man, I thought. The Adams hadn’t been painted in many years and needed it badly then. (It needs another coat of paint now, 20 years later. The recent owner once said the next coat will be pink. You might get some ideas why as you read on.)
From time to time, friends would appear to “tour” the old hotel. My Billings friend Jane came up once to paint for a few hours. I gave her the economy tour and she was delighted. Jane was taken by the place and its history, as were others. Our mutual friend, Jeanne, came by on a separate occasion. No painting for her. She liked what she saw but didn’t make much remark then. Later on however, Jeanne told me she “remembered” the hotel being a brothel and that Jane was one of the workers there. She told me that I had a corner room there as well, being the house doctor. Jeanne never spoke of her own involvement nor her means of knowing such history of the Adams Hotel. What might the reader think?
Interestingly, I had already heard a similar story within a few days of my arrival in the town of Lavina. Jamie Wright, a former nurse recently moved to the countryside, was putting together a short-lived day care center in the front of the old bar building on Main Street. One day, a number of us were moving bar trappings back to their original station at the hotel. Jamie stopped me and said, “You know I dreamed about you last night. I saw you living in that upstairs corner room in the hotel. When it was new.”
I didn’t know what to think of those two revelations then and am not quite sure twenty years later. There was likely something to them being shared spontaneously by different people. But literally or symbolically true, I cannot say. I can say that with advancing years it appears that I have more affinity for the Old West than anyone might imagine. Hints will arise in further experiences.
I also can say that not long after settling into Lavina, I got the urge to teach and travel at the same time. At this moment, it is hard to figure what possessed me and what made it happen. Nonetheless, I pursued the idea to some level of fruition.
I had had a good experience and some successes with the Spiritual Healing programs begun at Unity of Billings. So, I decided to reach out and offer weekend workshops to Unity churches in the West. I sent out mailings to numerous churches and got a surprisingly good response. That may have been because I asked only for a venue for programs called Conversations on the Heart and Soul of Healing. Freewill Donation along with housing for a few days at the receiving end was all that I asked.
Over the course of the summers of ‘95 and ‘96, I put on workshops at ten or so venues – all but one a Unity Church. They stretched from Minnesota to Arizona and Iowa to Oregon. Amazingly, I managed to visit most of the churches in advance of the events and visit with some of the pastors weeks ahead of programs. Still, I remember on more than a few occasions driving down the highway in my little Toyota wannabe pickup before one workshop or another asking myself, “What am I doing this for? I know hardly anybody at these places. I will only spend a few days and be gone and I may reap little of no income. What possesses me to do this?”
Well, I had no good answer for my own queries. I did have some great experiences, covered lots of miles seeing wide swathes of the Western states, and met some fine people while stimulating some to think and relate no doubt in ways outside their usual. I collected a number of testimonials as well as friendships. Some of the latter short-lived and a few which persist twenty years later.
I, however, went in debt rather than making an income from the venture. I found that freewill donations are often not freely or willingly shared. Unity Churches often preach prosperity but don’t necessarily manifest it. But then, my retort to that idea is that prosperity of the material is often fleeting and ultimately rather irrelevant. Spiritual vitality is of much more import. Physical and financial wellbeing only allow us more avenues to share.
By then working intently with symbols, I found it more than interesting that logos – of the time – for ARE and Unity were much alike. Each had a dove in flight carrying a twig in its beak. Members of both organization have struck me as being much alike in beliefs and in interests. Their theologies and philosophies overlap a great deal.
I could almost pick those folks out from a crowd. Members of many organizations have similar looks and feels. Mainline church people appear much alike. As do fundamentalists. Having crossed the paths of many Mormons in recent years, I recognize that they give off their own very similar vibrations.
While covering lots of territory and visiting a dozen churches, I yet retain only a few significant memories from my tours. Those were mostly through being housed by members and pastors of churches along the way. I was well cared for at every venue. I remember staying with the Litzels in Iowa in part because my room there was larger than my whole house in Montana.
A memory from Salem, Oregon, was being taken to the McNary Estates on the last day of the workshops. The McNary name still has presence in Oregon, although descendants have all but disappeared. Charles McNary was a prominent and talented Oregonian. That McNary is famed for his work in politics and law, eventually become a U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential nominee of the Republic Party in 1940. Charles was also a renowned horticulturist who helped establish the filbert industry and developed the Imperial prune.
I got even closer to the old McNary clan on my first workshop excursion to northern Arizona. It was then that I passed through McNary, Arizona, on the edge of the Apache Indian Reservation. McNary had once been a thriving sawmill town. Pictures show it being much like a prosperous military installation in the early twentieth century. I had the good fortune to meet a daughter of James McNary who raised Southwest Lumber Mills to prominence for many years. When we met, Mrs. Chilcot talked on and on about her father for whom two other towns were long ago named in Texas and Louisiana. Inevitably, the Arizona sawmill was largely destroyed by fire in 1979 and the town thence fell into disrepair. Today, McNary has little more than five hundred residents, a school and a post office. It appears far from prosperous in the present time.
My travels were never meant for sightseeing. I am not much of a tourist. I simply set out to share some healing ideas and experiences. But, I set myself up for small monetary return and only modest investment of churches and ministers. In fact, some ministers were absent when I appeared. It was an opportunity for him or her to absent the church and the pulpit. I also made it too easy for the churches. Since they were called to make no financial contribution to my appearance, they didn’t have to work to hard to find participants. The presenter himself had a variety of lessons to learn.
While breaking even financially a few times on the road, I was warmly surprised on my second stop on the road at the small town of Show Low, Arizona. I got a very positive response from the church president and visited Linda ahead of time somehow, reappearing several days before my weekend “show.” That event at Unity of the White Mountains in 1995 was the highlight of all my teaching travels in a number of ways.
Ralph Robinson, a church member, kindly put me up at his house. Thence, I started getting to know people and presented myself at a Wednesday church study group. It was a much livelier and younger one than I was used to. The group was led by Sylvia, who managed to keep things together and stay mostly on target amidst some levity and carryings-on.
LESSON§ I learned or re-learned a few things from that study group meeting. The first came from the leader who decided to recount how she had at some recent time started telling a harmless joke. But, she repeated her joke too many times to friends and, in particular, to family members who were followers of evangelist and healer Oral Roberts. Her intention was to get a rise out of her kin. But, it backfired.
With animation and theatrics, Sylvia told that Oral had died and gone to heaven. He was immediately greeted by Saint Peter. When Saint Peter discovered who his new guest was, he was elated and overjoyed. “THE Oral Roberts? Oh, my. Are we glad to see you. We have been looking forward to your joining us.”
Saint Peter eventually got the word through Jesus on up the line and Oral was invited to stand before the Almighty. Roberts was thrilled and humbled at the same time. Soon, he was brought into the Almighty’s Presence. After just a few pleasantries and bows, GOD stared beseechingly at the newcomer for a moment.
“Oral. Oral. I need your help. Yes, I do.”
“Anything I can do, My LORD. Please say it and it will be as good as done.”
“Oral. Oral, I have a pain right here,” said GOD, as he pointed to HIS shoulder.
The story was funny, although it didn’t go over well with family members. It also boomeranged on Sylvia. In the midst of her repeated tale telling, Sylvia developed a frozen shoulder – in that same shoulder to which she pointed time and again. She eventually had to take herself to see an orthopedist for help. (Roberts wasn’t available.) It was quite a learning opportunity and Sylvia was repentant, at least for the moment.
Interestingly, Sylvia never called her shoulder names. But, she made it clear that it was not okay by her repetitious, negative talk. A lesson which we all might be wise to recall is that the body listens to our words and sentiments about it. There are no “bad shoulders” or other body parts. Rather, they may not work as well as others but have been wisely and wonderfully made. I can assure the reader that his or her anatomy, regardless of aches and pains is still performing quite amazingly (from various perspectives), doing much of its intended work, and continues to fulfill an extraordinary proportion in healthy function.
Would that we treated our bodies as true temples and their parts as key pieces thereof. Thence, we might properly and accurately say, “This member doesn’t work as well as it used to, but certainly has served me well and has the potential to be rejuvenated.” §
Sylvia’s group was composed of ten or so people which surprisingly included more than a few men. Standing out amongst them was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, cheery-faced, New York comedienne. Bibi was constantly wisecracking and keeping the group awake and involved. Bibi had bits of the trickster and the elf and a few other mischievous roles in her. She carried more than her share of blarney as well, playing the part of Bridget O’Flynn from time to time. (Since she prefers not to be identified, I will submit to calling her Bibi as we continue.)
Bridget O’Flynn, young lady, was that you sneakin’ in?
Now look at the state of your Sunday clothes!
Look at your shoes and your new silk hose!
Why, you've been doin' the rumba, I suppose.
There was something else though about Bibi that captured my attention. It felt like deja vu, but not quite. Meeting Bibi was surely a repeat experience. A reprise performance from another time. I surely have known her somewhere and sometime before. I recognized her. Although the details were understandably a bit hazy.
Bibi joined in the weekend workshop festivities. There was a big turnout on Friday night for the opener and good attendance the other days, and even generous donations. Bibi was in the middle of things again. During the opening session, she did a pencil sketch of the speaker and presented it to me before my visit was over. The drawing made me look angelic. Quite a compliment, but maybe it was really a self portrait.
During the weekend program, I couldn’t help noticing that there was a lot of energy passing between O’Flynn and an almost 90-year-old woman named Millie. They sat next to each other and traded jokes. Palling around, obviously enjoying each other’s company.
Before the program was over, I had a “date” with Bibi. The church president had won a consult I had donated and she passed it on to Bibi. We met at a park near her home and walked and talked about her life – her little daughter Ellie, and her husband Ralph. I don’t recall any major revelations coming from the meeting. Life is complicated. But, I did suggest she develop a more regular and frequent friendship with Millie. Which she proceeded to do. That helped on both ends, as Millie aged and as Bibi went through family struggles.
The consult also solidified our friendship. I kept in touch with Bibi directly and through her friend Mr. Kinerk who was also looking for more “family.” He became an annual Montana visitor and livened up my new town – little old Lavina.
The high points of my workshop weekends were opening evenings, if there was a crowd. That first one in Show Low was much like my initial experience at Unity of Billings, but without the musical assistance of Steve Bergquist. Opening evenings allowed me to test the water, share my history, and begin to get people talking, sharing and involved.
During the workshops themselves, the main efforts were to help people reflect through symbols and stories focused on health and disease. I shared many angles with my fellow travelers. One which hit home well was citation passed down from the Unity founcer, Charles Fillmore: “The wise metaphysician resolves into ideas each mental picture, each form and each shape seen in visions, dreams, and the like.”
The spirits of Cayce and Fillmore may have been close at hand as we worked to make sense of the pictures which passed in and around our lives. Volunteers took seats near me, chose a symbol or story “at random” and set to seeing themselves in their choices. Most had easier times than Phyllis and Pam did back at Unity of Billings. Their choices hit closer to home and maybe even into the “Heart and Soul of Healing.”
Participants were generally in the midst of friends and fellows, and in small numbers. And, there was no push to come up with responses. Friends even came to their assistance, knowing some of the experiences and challenges which they experienced.
From Oregon to Minnesota and Washington to Iowa I took home pats on the back in the likes of:
“Your workshops are very unique, and I have never known a presenter to gain the trust of the group as quickly or thoroughly as you did during your evenings with us. You don’t just create safe space, Robert, you are safe space...” Minister in Salem, OR.
“Robert has a special way of drawing people out so that they feel free to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas. His workshops are presented in an atmosphere of love and humor. He brings to the participants an opportunity to share and that sharing becomes a gift given to everyone present. It is in the giving and receiving of these ‘gifts’ that healing takes place.” Church President in Show Low, AZ.
“I saw individuals open up and receive encouragement and insights they needed to move forward with their life purpose. You have a wonderful gift for bringing people out and leading them to a new awareness of who they are.” Minister in Port Angeles, WA.
“I had one of the best experiences or true feelings of being part of a loving community that I have ever had. I think it was due to the relaxed and participative nature of the workshop and that an environment was created where everyone felt very safe and loved.” Participant in Ames, IA.
CONFESSION§ Yet, all was not peaches and perfection in my tours and teaching. I can’t help but remember and confess one of my latter experiences on the road. That occasion was really a short hop into Bozeman, MT, which occurred as the church celebrated Thanksgiving while looking for a permanent pastor to join them.
I remember feeling less than fully warned when I did my workshop to a smallish group. The church secretary had assumed some duties and I accepted her assurances on them. Still, the turnout was disappointing even though the participants were interested and involved.
At one point, I shared some of my supposed musical skills while students were doing an exercise. The secretary made some unkind remark about my needing some lessons, which was probably quite true. I had to respond on the order of, “If workshops were more supportive, I might be able to pay for some.”
Well, that outburst forced me to look at some of my own needs in the healing department. And, when I spoke in the Sunday service I discussed how we all have places in our lives which warrant aid and healing. In my case, it was for financial health and well-being. On that day which I called Thanksforgiving, we all – self include – had much for which to be grateful as well as more to heal and to share in healing. The experience was one which recurs from time to time in my life. Like most of us, problems and challenges cycle and spiral throughout our lifetimes of healing. They calls to give and forgive, on and on. §
Living Symbolically: Chapter 14