Reflections on Time 3 – The Amazing Runes

June 28, 2011

The logical mind flinches at the prospect of an inanimate object like a rune stone containing wisdom of future events yet time and time again I have observed this to be true. How does it work? Frankly I have no idea however when we consider how many things that we take for granted today like iPads and mobile phones that would have been considered magic only a century or so ago, perhaps in the future we will. For the moment I can suggest the answer lies in quantum reality; at some level everything is vibrating subatomic particles; perhaps there is a connection that can occur at an energetic level between the soul and the rune.

Runes are symbols derived from the Runic alphabet, used by early Norse peoples, the runes have no clear origin as an oracle although the word “rune” derives from the Gothic word “runa,” meaning “mystery.”  Their popularity today stems significantly from the work done by Ralph Blum, who dedicated himself to the re-introduction of this “sacred oracle.”   He suggests that runes assist “training of sacred Intuition – a new way of listening to the inner voice.”  I find runes particularly helpful to pinpoint error in my assumptions; they help me see when the ego has taken control;  I also find them inordinately helpful when I am feeling confused and particularly for transportation plans. I never book a trip without drawing a rune first – seeking a simple yes or no.

For example I was planning a two-week driving trip and suddenly ran into obstacles in organizing it. My primary resource when faced with this type of confusion is to draw a rune. Occasionally when I am feeling pissed at not getting my own way I will draw two, on this occasion I drew three, each one advising me to change my plans. As a result I shortened my trip and by being home early was available to meet with two new clients. When I book an airfare I will normally bring the airfare up on my computer screen and not press “book” until the runes give their blessing. I saved $300 on my airfare to Toronto last Christmas by waiting to purchase until the rune said yes.

However recently I had one of those awe inspiring moments that prompted me to write this piece. I had been invited by a friend in Seattle to a small party to celebrate her retirement. I accepted and said I would come down by train. I pulled up Amtrak and found a fare of $68 return, way cheaper than driving. I hesitated before buying to draw a rune and to my irritation I got “Constraint”. Because I have developed such confidence in this oracle I decided it would do no harm to wait. A couple of days later I again checked the fare, to my annoyance it had increased to $72 but once again the rune said “Standstill”. I waited two more days before trying again and this time the rune was

Hagalaz - the rune of disruption

“Disruption”. I gave up and e-mailed my friend, “I have had an interested time with the runes and my proposed visit. Three times I have gone to book my train and drawn a rune to check-in. So far I have got Constraint, Standstill and today Disruption. Too weird. I guess I will wait on the will of heaven.” Fortunately she relates to my strangeness and was totally understanding. Imagine my incredulity when she called three weeks later to cancel the party because three of her close friends had been unable to make the occasion. Somehow this knowledge beyond my conscious state was known at a soul level and manifested in the runes I drew. It reminds me of the statement by Hamlet, ‘There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Perhaps we just have to expand our horizons.

Reflections on Time 2 – The Cosmic Two by Four

June 27, 2011

My introduction to the concept of the cosmic two by four coincided with a moment when it appeared that the

Unity Village

limitations of chronological time had been breached. It is story I have been reticent to share in detail, fearing accusations of delusion, but as it changed my life and my belief system, I felt it consistent with my intention to “shine my light.”  This experience took place at Unity Village in Missouri where I was undertaking a fairly rigorous program of study and personal growth. One course I was taking involved healing and was based on the belief that we have amazing untapped capacity to heal. Although somewhat skeptical I was open to the possibility and found myself deeply engaged as an inspiring teacher shared her own experience of healing a burn that under normal circumstances would likely have required hospital treatment. She expressed a belief that the major challenge in healing of wounds was the mind which once engaged could not shake free from old patterns.

A little later in the week I had arisen early to meditate and was shaving when I felt the razor seriously slash my jaw. Instinctively I turned off the light in the bathroom as I did not want to see the seriousness of the wound. I am not unused to deep shaving cuts and tried to let go of the image of blood streaming down my face. I attempted to check in with my intuitive guidance so when my instinct was to have a cold shower, I followed along. Then I was told to go back to bed and meditate. I have no idea how long but during this meditation I experienced a profound sense of vibrational energy flowing through the wounded area of my face. After this had elapsed, I felt guided to go to one of the many chapels and meditate. During this period I believed it was important not to look in the mirror. After returning to my room, I stretched, got dressed and went to class not knowing whether I had a stream or a trickle of blood running down my face, I just knew I was not ready to check. I sat in my first class of the day and the teacher put on a piece of music called Daystar by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and I found myself in floods of tears. I felt a combination of fear that I would not be healed as well fear that I would. At the break I knew it was time to find out. I walked to the nearest washroom and I gazed anxiously in the mirror, no blood, just a faint scar of a healed razor cut. It was a miracle! I was convinced that I had experienced an accelerated healing process created by faith and my belief it could happen.

Now if this was the end of the story, I can imagine that anyone other than myself and the few who share similar beliefs, would be rolling their eyes and suspecting that I had made it all up. What proof did I have that I had even cut myself? Today upon reflection I wonder if I imagined it all. However in reality whether it actually happened is not the key issue, the essential element is that I believed it had occurred. Now I had learned this capacity to heal, there seemed no limit to the possibilities, I need never get sick again. So after a week of intense spiritual and personal encounters I was ready to return to Vancouver and put these things to work.

However I have missed a key factor in this saga. It may seem irrelevant but came to play a remarkable role in the ensuing drama. Sometime during the week, one of my friends named Robin had given me a tape with these words, “This sounds a bit stupid but for some reason I have to give you this tape.” Despite sounding a little like a take from Mission Impossible, I knew it was well meaning so I promised to listen to it on the way home, dropping it in my case and forgetting all about it. I had important things to think about. Where should I next employ the new healing powers I had mastered. En route to the airport I decided that the perfect opportunity would be to correct the myopia in the one eye that had not had laser surgery (seriously, I really believed I could do this). In hindsight I embarked on a bizarre experiment that involved, meditation, visualization, wearing a black eye patch like the Hathaway shirt man, and finally walking at 5.00 am on a beautiful Sunday morning preparing for the unveiling of yet another miracle.

I can still recall standing upstairs in my condo, holding my breath and removing the eye patch and for an instant I  could see, and then I couldn’t. I felt crushed. What had happened? Was it lack of faith? Was it a cruel cosmic joke at my expense? I sank into a slough of despond, feeling totally disillusioned, betrayed, and bereft of belief. I began to feel like a fool. How could I possibly have deluded myself in this way? I slipped into inertia and grief. I lay on my couch unwilling to move or face the day. My ex-wife arrived to take me to the Unity church and I refused to accompany her. I decided that I was finished with all this religious/spiritual crap. I was going to slip back into my happy-go-lucky existence that preceded all this spiritual inquiry; I was getting off the Unity train; I was done like toast.

Then something unexpected intruded into my misery. I sensed a voice suggesting that now was the time to listen to the tape. For a moment resistance won out; at first it was “what tape?” and when I recalled Robin’s gift of a few days earlier I had no desire to hear it. Finally however, curiosity got the better of me, I found it and pressed “play”. I lay listlessly feeling sorry for myself as the tape droned on in the background. It was some Unity minister giving a sermon. Then I heard these words, “then God will strike you with his cosmic two by four”. I sat up; I had not heard this expression before; it sure sounded like I was feeling. I rewound the tape and sat in wonder as the Reverend Sally Taylor, told my story. “When you get in a state of ego-inflation, taking credit for your good then God has a cosmic two by four with a nail in it to blow away all that egocentricity.” She reminded me of something important, “you can’t take a creative response to one situation and use it for something else” and you can’t go back once you have started the journey of spiritual awareness.

I sat in awe. How could Robin have known that I was going to fall into this trap? She didn’t even know the story of the original healing, let alone anticipate my egocentricity that would develop. Yet she gave me the tape days before it all happened. I learned a valuable lesson about how easily the ego can attach itself to our spiritual life and seek its own aggrandizement but the ego alone does not have the power of co-creation. It may dress itself in God’s clothing but has no power to perform miracles. I reflected on the amazing power of intuition, and its ability to defy the normal constraints of time and space. I had been given a glimpse into just what a magical place the universe is, and a sense that God, whoever he or she is, has a great sense of humour.

Living with a Death Sentence

June 6, 2011

“Am I wrong to want treatment that I believe can keep me alive?” This question was posed in a recent men’s support group at Inspire Health. The inquirer is a feisty, energetic eighty-three year old man who had been told by his oncologist that he should take it easy and enjoy the rest of his life because it won’t last more than a year and a half. “ I am concerned about your quality of life for your remaining time” he was told. This had no appeal to my friend, “You let me worry about the quality of my life, I want to know what treatment is possible.” The result was that he was scheduled for radiation last Monday and is already feeling more comfortable and in less pain.

This led to an impassioned discussion amongst the group about ageism, oncologist pronouncements of life and death and the inevitable impact on the psychology of a patient to be told they are going to die. The first speaker had been told a year earlier of his predicted demise and so far seemed to be taking no notice at all. At Inspire Health two of the foundations of the healing journey are will to live and hope. Far too often patient’s hope is sapped by being given a terminal prognosis; will to live can easily be compromised by someone in a position of authority; in fact one of the key goals at Inspire Health is to help patients feel empowered to make their own decisions on their healing journey. Oncologists telling them they are going to die undermines that autonomy.

“It is like Voodoo medicine,” observed the psychologist in our group. He related the oncologist’s power to that of a witch doctor in Haiti who points the bone at an unfortunate target, who is then convinced he will die and does. Four of this group have been given death sentences of this kind yet beaten the odds. Each could recall the impact of the pronouncement and how important it had been for them to find support of a different kind. One shared a story from ten years ago when his oncologist had jabbed him with his finger and stated, “You do what I tell you or you will be dead in two years.”  He tried not to smile at the memory of attending his oncologist’s funeral. (He had died a couple of years earlier after taking his own advice.)

One can understand the desire of the medical profession not to give false hope but using the appropriate language is so critical and one wonders how much consideration is given to this in training. For example one patient of Inspire Health had brain cancer and was told his cancer was terminal and he had little time to live. He was devastated but in his own research realized that there was a 5% chance of cure, not great odds but something to hold on to during his darkest hours. He believed there was a way for oncologists to be realistic while not removing hope. Every man who has passed through my support group has managed to overcome the odds given to him by his oncologist but each one suffered from the prediction.

One of the best examples of an oncologist taking a less aggressive attitude occurred when my mother was dying of cancer in Hammersmith Hospital. He had just told her that in his opinion future treatment would be palliative rather than curative. This was a shock as up until this time we had all assumed she would recover. I pulled him aside and asked him how long my mother would live. He replied, “ I am not God, I do not determine life and death.” When I told him that I had a brother in Canada who had a trip planned for August and wanted to see his mother before she died, he responded, “Tell him to come sooner rather and later, and definitely before the end of May.” I have always appreciated the gentle way he communicated his knowledge and insight, which proved so prescient – my mother died just before the end of May. If only all oncologists could be as gentle and caring, and perhaps letting go of the need to be the authority over life and death. It’s not what you say as much as how you say it.

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Serendipity as a Metaphor

June 4, 2011

What I love about serendipity is how quickly the universe can support and instruct us when we trust that the events of our lives carry meaning and each moment of synchronicity or serendipity is potentially a signpost. For example last night I broke a wine glass. Well I didn’t just break it; the lightest touch of my index finger created a chain reaction that precipitated the empty glass from the tray, I had just set on the kitchen counter, to the floor shattering into numerous fragments. My initial reaction was shock followed by exasperation then curiosity. I have not broken a wineglass in an eon; the brush of my finger had been so feather-like that I cannot comprehend how it toppled the glass yet the evidence was right in front of me. Surely the sign of a meaningful event.

In moments like this I draw a breath and see what comes to me. Immediately the words I Ching, a Chinese divination tool that I use, sat like a balloon bubble ove my head. I resolved that first thing the following day I would throw the coins for a reading. Of course overnight I completely forgot so the next morning while bending to plug in my iPod, I banged my head on a plant holder. Certainly not a major catastrophe but it gave me pause for thought as I perform this action every day and have never banged my head before. A breath, the first thought was to get rid of the plant holder that has hung there for years without a plant in sight. (The previous incumbent had died a slow painful death.) Then “I Ching” – ah of course a quiet reminder – what better than a gentle tap on the side of the head.

I throw the coins and record the pattern: two tails and head, one head and two tails, the same again, then two tails and head twice and finally three heads. Each head carries a score of three and a tail two. Once transposed numerically the reading is 7,8,8,7,7,9. In the reading of the I Ching it creates hexagram number 25 – Disentangling – about extricating myself from a situation “there is nothing you can do for now, the time is wrong, leave things alone.” I don’t have to think about it, I know immediately what it means. I had just been reflecting on a conversation with a dear friend who I have been trying to “help”. I can see that my support is too connected with what I think she should do; during our conversation I had noticed myself becoming quite directive and insistent on a course of direction; even this morning I had been contemplating a follow-up e-mail. It is time to let go. Suddenly the metaphor of the wine glass seems totally and magically symbolic as I recall a beautiful poem by Hafiz that ends:

“Any thought that you are better or less

Than another man

Quickly breaks the wine glass.”

I LOVE it! I recall a quote by Julia Cameron in her book Blessings, “Synchronicity, coincidence, reinforcement, and serendipity – these are friendly companions that speak to me clearly of higher realms.” Certainly the truth of my life.

A Conspiracy of Serendipity

June 3, 2011

One of the challenges about my commitment to be guided by synchronicity and serendipity is when it conflicts with the ego’s carefully orchestrated plan. In April I had a trip planned to a gathering of my Spiritual Community in Los Gatos just outside of San Jose. This seemed like a wonderful opportunity for a road trip. I wanted to visit a dear friend who lived in Santa Barbara then drive to Sedona, one of my favourite places where I would camp, hang out in the red rock desert, check out the sacred energy vortexes and allow my muse to inspire me. I would finish the trip with a drive through the high desert and visit my lovely friend Alicia in Mammoth Lakes before heading home.

April in Vancouver was wet, cold and very unspring like and as my departure approached, I became more and more enthusiastic about the opportunity to spend a few days in the desert. Then strange things began to happen. First my friend in Santa Barbara decided to attend the spiritual gathering so one leg of the trip was eliminated. Next I began the process of planning my drive; I started with MapQuest and to my considerable irritation it would not allow me to plot a route past Los Gatos; I could see the route clearly but the software would not permit me to add it on. Muttering under my breath that I had never liked Mapquest as much as Google, I switched sites and with just a little difficulty plotted out my twelve-day excursion. Feeling pleased with myself, I pressed send, to e-mail the details, and the browser promptly crashed. I stared in disbelief at the screen, what on earth was going on? Then a bizarre thought entered my mind, was this a sign that I should change my plans?

Feeling great resistance to the idea, I sat and tried to cancel the thought but recalling my morning affirmation “to live a soul directed life guided by synchronicity and serendipity” I realized I could not just push ahead regardless. My primary resource when faced with this type of confusion is to draw a Rune. Occasionally when I am feeling pissed at not getting my own way I will draw two, on this occasion I drew three, each one advising me to change my plans. Reluctantly, feeling a little like a recalcitrant schoolboy who has had his escape thwarted, I return to my computer and check out flights for a shorter trip. Everything goes smoothly; the best way to San Jose is to drive to Seattle and this allows me the opportunity to have dinner with my friend Maryann who had already asked if I would have time to stop for a visit. My change of plans made this viable and I sensed support for my new itinerary. I even squeezed in a couple of days in San Francisco enjoying some quality time with another friend I would have missed, then I had a magical day on my own, walking for seven hours through the city and along the bay, discovering the delightful Lincoln Park and a spectacular path with the intriguing name of Lands End Trail.

Upon my return to Vancouver, I was wondering whether I would ever get a glimpse of why serendipity encouraged me to change my plans. Had I avoided some unpredictable event by not driving, or was there some reason I should be in Vancouver at this time rather than on the road? As a result of my early return, I rescheduled my men’s group at Inspire Health to the Thursday originally planned. I felt good about restoring the schedule because it equalized the time between meetings and avoided confusion for people who are used to the routine of last Thursday of the month. After leaving the group at around 4.30, I had some chores to perform so I packed up my materials in my pack and set off. Upon my arrival home, I was horrified to find that I had lost my folder of poems and my book of Blessings by Julia Cameron. I could clearly recall putting them in the pack and realized they must have slid out somewhere when the pack was open. I felt upset as the poems in particular were a collection I had made of my favourites over the years but I had no idea where to look. Finally I let go of my angst with the realization that I could compile a new collection, perhaps it was a sign for change.

The next day I went for my afternoon Americano and as the weather was surprisingly pleasant, I decided to take a stroll along the seawall. My route took me in the direction of Inspire Health and for some reason I found myself considering dropping by, just to eliminate the very remote possibility that I had left the poems there. I checked at the reception and no one had seen them. Unsurprised I took one last peek into the room where we had met and to my complete astonishment they were there. I was both stunned and jubilant, but there was another surprise yet to come. On my way out I encountered someone I had not anticipated meeting, it was a member of one of my dream groups. It was as though he expected to meet me, “I need to talk to you, do you have any time?” We agreed upon coffee the next day and as a result spent a valuable hour together that eventually led to him committing to work with me as his spiritual coach.

Upon reflection, I can see a mystical hand that seemed to coordinate the events of my life for that particular moment. If I hadn’t change my trip, if I hadn’t rescheduled my men’s group, if my poems had not somehow remained in that room, we could never have met up. Once we step outside the paradigm of logic that so confines us then miracles indeed can happen, life becomes a magical mystery tour and as my talented niece Amy Newton once recorded in a beautiful song:

“It all made sense for a moment.

It all became clear for a while

The answer was in a glint of an eye and the uncontrollable smile

It made sense for a while

Amy Newton

More Confessions of a Gambler

June 1, 2011

Part 5 One More Time

“One more time,

‘cos I just don’t say no

One more time

then I’ll let you go”

Amy Newton

It is a depressingly familiar state. I feel upset with myself, a sense of shame and stupidity combined with a desire to bury the whole experience and never mention it to a soul.  Somehow I managed to ignore most of the insights covered in my Confessions of a Gambler ( and fell once more into the same hole. The song “One More Time” by Amy Newton ripples frustratingly through my brain. Why didn’t I just say no?

It started so innocently, a conversation with a dear friend of mine who happened to mention that she and her partner had been to a casino the previous evening and not only had a lot of fun but won over $300. Like bait dangled temptingly in front of a fish, it attracted my interest. It sounded like a treat to go and have some entertainment at my local casino. I would ensure I took only that which I could afford to lose; it did not seem an unconscious response to being on my own, in fact I had quite a social weekend planned; it felt like an ordered adult desire for some recreation. However having learned my lesson in the past, I decided to be guided by a Rune, if the Rune said “no”, I would not go. I drew Possessions upright which seemed like a positive sign. “Possessions is a Rune of fulfillment: of ambition satisfied, love fulfilled, rewards received. It promises nourishment from the most worldly to the sacred and the Divine.” The hook was now firmly set, I read no further, I was off to the casino for a couple of hours of fun.

It started well with a lovely walk along the beautiful False Creek to Edgewater Casino. One of my conditions is to I take the forty-five minute stroll to the casino as a justification for my excursion. I arrive feeling fully in my adult persona, staying fully present to my behaviour, and looking forward to being mindful. I have taken the eighty dollars I had earned the previous evening from facilitating a dream group. It seemed like free money. And the universe seemed to support my endeavour; I did not win but I did not lose and every machine provided the kind of entertainment that makes it fun, winning free games and features; as my allotted time wound down I found myself with a $100 in my pocket. The rune had fulfilled its promise, I had enjoyed my visit, I was twenty dollars ahead and it was time to go home.

In hindsight the next twenty minutes appears somewhat ethereal in the worse sense of the word. (It can mean tenuous) My descent into my netherworld of my gambling addiction began simply with a contrary voice that suggested that before I went home, I should spend the additional twenty dollars because I had not planned on keeping it, I was there for entertainment wasn’t I?  Who knows this could be the “big win”. It was seductive and on the surface quite logical but precipitated a spiral that was made even more fascinating by my self-awareness of the journey I was taking. At each step there was a discussion between two voices that I now recognize as the voice of the adult and the voice of the child, who became more pressing and insistent as children often do. The first twenty dollars disappeared so quickly that it could have been imaginary. “Well that was no fun, we can’t conclude this enjoyable experience like this.” Before the adult could intervene another twenty had slid inexorably into the machine and been vanquished just as quickly. The conversation continued like this. “We are slipping into an old pattern. This is not going to end well.” “I don’t care, we can’t let the machine take the money and give us nothing back.” Another twenty was engulfed by the waiting jaws of an avaricious beast that would not be denied. “Let’s leave while we still have forty dollars and a modicum of self-respect.” However desperation and recrimination had set in against the machine as though it was a living being, “This isn’t fair” was the plaintive response, “the machine has taken the money and offered nothing in return.”  Finally surrender and the last few dollars flowed away, offered not with intent to win but more like a petulant child throwing away a prized toy. The pattern was complete. Sadness and dejection set in followed quickly by judgment. “How could you be so stupid, won’t you ever learn?”

Alas had I read and taken to heart the latter part of the Rune of Possessions, things could have changed. “This Rune calls for a deep probing of the meaning of profit and gain in your life. Look with care to know what you require for your well-being. Is it wealth and possessions or rather self-rule and the growth of a will… conserve what has already been gained, vigilance and mindfulness in times of good fortune for it is then you are likely to collapse yourself into success or behave recklessly.”

However it was not until Saturday morning that I began a serious, less emotional reflection on what had happened. Only then did I notice the childlike quality of the voice that squandered the money. I began to see the stages of descent with a clarity that I had not had the previous day.

1) It starts with the adult in control seeking an experience believing it can be fun.

2) That experience completes and the adult is ready to leave.

3) The child isn’t ready to leave and pleads for “one more time”.

4) The child is upset when it doesn’t get the fun it expected.

5) The child’s frustration and anger lead to a steady decline. (No adult is around to make the child go to bed!)

6) The child resorts to pleading, sadness and finally surrender.

7) The adult emerges sinking into recrimination and judgment.

Writing these steps out I realize that there must be some complex at play. It is almost as though I play out my old rebellion pattern against my father with the machine yet that seems crazy. However it seemed clear to me that I still had something more to learn from my gambling complex and that was why I had created this episode. Although just seeing the pattern and the role of the child was helpful, I sensed there must be more.

The following day I was walking with a dear friend who is also a psychotherapist and related my story. By now I was able to laugh with her at the craziness of the dialogue and she commented on the voice of the child that was so clear in my inner debate. “So what does your child want?” she asked me. In that moment the insight came. As a child I was governed by the strict religious discipline of Evangelical Baptist parents. My childhood could be defined as, “no dancing, no movies, no fun.” One of the few escapes as a child was the seaside holiday each year where I could go and play penny slots in the arcades on the pier. Perhaps this was an example of rebellion to the strictures of my childhood. Suddenly I could see yet another dynamic in my gambling scenario. I had just completed a couple of intense days of spiritual coaching and doing dream work. Although I love to do it there is obviously an aspect of me that relates it to the confines of my childhood and the child’s need for entertainment gets set in play. The casino provides an opportunity for the old child pattern to take the upper hand; the cluster of energy that Hollis describes as a complex splinters off and creates a life of its own free of my usual adult restraint. What an amazing journey this is.