“I saw a shimmering white being . . .”
Anne is in her early forties and works to create order in her life by touching base with herself and radiating from there to her family and beyond. She has two small children and sees being around them as a sweet privilege despite the work to keep on top of their physical needs. She teaches pre-school, returning to an earlier career.
She describes herself as a patient person who likes to laugh but is not frivolous, is fairly hard working and competitive at sports. She likes simple, ordinary things and takes time to settle into nature and her family. She doesn't like to be rushed. She likes to visit beautiful places and be with lofty people. She sees herself serving and helping people, especially kids, to feel their oneness. She likes to be growing and feels that she is. (Interview: late ‘80s)
Anne’s inner life:
My main trustworthy friends were the trees. I felt quiet union with them. There was a beautiful bent elm that grew over the croquet court. There were two other big elms, a hammock and a swing with a big rope hanging down. We did tricks that weren't really tricks. We thought they were great. Playing in the trees I felt a physical sense of freedom.
My experiences weren't so much other-worldly. I realize in retrospect that the physical place where I grew up had a oneness about it. I would go outside for comfort and peace as in the twenty-third Psalm. Inside our house, what I thought were stable, dependable guidelines for qualities of life broke down quite early, so I would go outside and just be. Whenever I needed to regroup I would go out and lie in various pockets in the hills, or I would go to the grove of pines at the end of the croquet court and feel at home. When I was outside I felt embraced by Mother Nature. That was my experience of God at the time.
There were days when I was completely embodied in silence. I would say, "That was a perfect day," meaning that the day went super smoothly. I'd be playing with a friend and we'd do one thing after another that was incredibly fun. The day would go by with utter ease.
One night after I'd lost a tooth I knew the tooth fairy was coming, and was trying to stay awake to see it. It must have been one of my first teeth so I was alert. A fairy actually did come and was there in my room. I saw a shimmering white being in human shape and life size, in the air, not touching the ground. The being was visually clear, but not as concrete as a physical person. The light was diffuse but had a definite shape. It was clothed in robe-like garments. The light was predominantly white.
I thought, "Oh, that's the tooth fairy."
Later when it became clear that the tooth fairy wasn't an actual phenomenon, I was confused because I had taken for granted that I had seen the tooth fairy. I assumed other people saw things like that, and this called my mother into question. The experience had been so real that I looked at my mother differently afterwards.
I used to have the experience of oneness which I felt outside and in the house, too. Quietness and being by myself would set it off. The experience would come and go freely and often, so I didn't look after it much when it wasn't there. When I would lie in one of my pockets in the hills, I would become one with the earth. My awareness would expand and I would feel in touch with my basic self. Everything would be familiar to me. I felt completely at home.
I was always looking for a spiritual teacher. When my parents took me to the movies, I never watched the movie. I would turn around and stare at the people in the audience behind me. My mom was embarrassed. I would see certain aspects of people that would give a glimmer of what I was searching for. It was like a patchwork. When I went to college I wanted to have a teacher who lived what they taught. I studied religion because it seemed closest to what I wanted to learn: to know myself.
I didn't like church. I was confirmed in the Presbyterian Church and it felt like stiff old clothes. What was taught there wasn't integrated in my parents' lives. From seventh grade on I looked beyond myself. I remember reading Emerson, "Trust thyself. Everything vibrates to that iron chord." That seemed right to me.
The most important thing to me as a child was to have the experience of oneness. Our family life was so tumultuous at times that I'd go outside to reestablish myself. I gravitated toward that free flow which I experienced clearly and which seemed to me what life was about.
I didn't have a concrete dream of marriage because of self-doubts and my own crazy family. Looking ahead I saw myself as a religious person, and being a nun appealed to me. I wasn't clear how to pursue that because we were Protestant. I had a sense of destiny, not so much in terms of the world as of my own thought. Unless I heard "yes, yes, yes," all the way down inside, a deeply integrated knowing, I wouldn't proceed. I had to be true to myself.
Today spirituality is the most central point in my life. I believe that we're all on a spiritual path and, to the extent that we're aware, the path reveals itself. Over time it's gotten clearer how central spiritual life is. As I peel off layers of ignorance my focus comes back in line with that deep central core. What I do during the day—my family and all that it entails—springs from that center.
More about Anne’s childhood:
I grew up outside Philadelphia in a very old house on eighteen acres of beautiful land. My older brother and I were close, stride for stride. He was three years older, and my sister, two years younger. When we were younger I was mean to my sister, but that ended later on. We both revered our older brother.
I was happy as a child although my family life was confusing. My dad was an alcoholic, and what confused me was that he was a wonderful, sensitive, intuitive person. My mom was steady, but my dad seemed more real, more creative to me. I felt more comfortable with him. I had high ideals, and I wanted my mom to be perfect for me. I like to have something to fashion myself after, and then I can plop along on the right track. I need to know I'm on the track, but it became clear I was going a different direction from my mom. I needed her approval and tried to get her attention in many ways, even becoming school president.
When I was small I was a chubby, roundish child. Later on I entered a lean stage. I was pretty feisty, happy and bright, and not too shy. I had brown eyes and light brown hair cut in a page boy style. I was very physical and spent as much time as possible outside.
Our house was two hundred years old, and near it stood a giant elm tree with a girth of probably ten feet. A plaque set into the trunk said the tree had been there when William Penn came to Pennsylvania.
We looked for snakes and other animals in the pond, and blue herons would land there. A woods adjoined our land, and there was a river and a cave-like spring house with fresh water coming into it. We liked to investigate the spring house because it was a place other people didn't go. We had a barn and a chicken house and a big vegetable field. Near the house grew a wild garden with a flagstone path that wound around to a miniature waterfall and a little pond that recycled the water. Frogs jumped around there, and big snappers crawled up from the pond and found their way to the bottom of the swimming pool. To the side of the wild garden a croquet court was set out on a big lawn.
Until I was five or six I was enthusiastic and lively. After that I became more pensive. At that time my mother had a tuberculosis scare and had to go into an asylum. My sister was only three and was able to stay home, and my brother went off to camp. I got sent off to Prout's Neck, Maine to the house where my mother grew up to stay with my grandmother and my cousins. My grandmother wasn't comfortable with kids, and the six weeks I stayed there seemed like an eternity. I had to keep my feelings inside because showing emotions wasn't part of my mother's tradition, and I was certain I had been sent away because I'd been mean to my sister. I remember my room there where I would pretend to sleep until late in the morning. When I came home I resolved to be a good girl and put a lot of strain on myself.
When I was little I was probably a bit mischievous, but as I got older I became a goody-goody. There were three neighboring families who had kids we played with. There were a lot of pranks and sneaking out. The other kids were afraid I'd tell on them and would tell me I should become a nun. Actually I was afraid to be part of the pranks.
We had a window in the living room that had a ledge with a curtain in front where we'd perform plays, but really, I wasn't artistically free. Somehow that door got closed in me, but I did have fun doing projects in Sunday school. I remember making a book about the Old Testament and maps of the ancient world. As long as someone else set the boundaries, I'd cover in. Just recently I've discovered and enjoy drawing and music.
My older brother is creative and would mastermind big projects I'd join in. Once we did a painting of a housewife chained to her duties. He drew it and we all painted it. He was in sixth grade, and I, in third. Between our property and our neighbors' we had about thirty acres, and during the summer we'd spend all day setting up tents to camp out. My brother made great Halloween costumes, and in the winter we'd build snow and ice castles. Once we built an altar to an imaginary couple we named Walter and Pearl.
I expressed myself in athletics and played team sports in school—lacrosse, field hockey and basketball, and in high school I won the award for the best athlete in my class. Sports were good for releasing tension, excelling my limits, and experiencing my total self.
For the most part school was fun, and I especially liked learning in grade school. Going to junior high and high school was more of a job. I felt social pressure and was caught in an awkward phase. Until my junior year in high school I felt awkward around boys and would withdraw. I found myself in the limelight a lot, but couldn’t relax. I did manage to be almost everyone's friend by tiptoeing around delicately and developing the fine art of friendship. Even then I didn't reach out first but would wait until someone selected me.