Ellen is forty-three, married, and has three daughters. After dropping out of high school, art school and college in her early years, she is now an artist and teacher finishing a Masters in Fine Arts. She has strong ties to her home and her career, needing both to feel satisfied.
She is intuitive and optimistic and is strongly inclined to seek spirituality. She is friendly and people feel at home with her. Whatever Ellen does becomes a full-time preoccupation and is her channel for fun. Right now being an art student and painter are fun. (Interview: late ‘80s)
Ellen’s inner life:
We lived isolated in the country, and not having children easily available to play with contributed to forcing me to rely on my own experience and to go inward for my entertainment. I played alone a lot. I'd walk around looking at things.
I had visions and was physically absorbed in the experience and not aware of my body. It was like being outside myself in a state of rapture. It filled me with joy, with incredible bliss. I wouldn't have been able to say how long I'd been kneeling down in the stony wet grass looking at the rocks in the creek. Was it a few minutes or the whole morning? I had no awareness of time passing. I was a mystical child.
Even when my mother spanked me one day and I was outside crying and feeling sorry for myself, I looked up at the sky and noticed that my tears made the sun become rainbow all around.
I thought, "Oh, how neat," and I stood there and cried as long as I could so I could watch the great thing happening.
I often delved into inner silence when I was a child. I'd be walking around looking at things. It would be thrilling and blissful. I was an artist in the making, and I'd go inside myself on the vision of things I'd see. I'd be gone and not know where or who I was. All that would exist would be whatever I was looking at, and then I would go within.
I'd be outside on a normal West Coast gray day looking at something. Light would come from the object I was looking at. It's hard to describe, but there was always light. It was like bright sunlight but sparkly. The whole scene would be transfused with light. It would be very clear, very sharp. The light would be emanating from inside the objects, from all around the objects, and from me to the objects. It would be light and blissful.
I remember one day walking along looking at rocks. There was a little stream in a ditch flowing downhill, and there were rocks in it and little weeds and minnows. There was the sound of the water and the sunlight on the water and all the colors and the movement and the sound altogether. It was a celestial experience. The visual was the trigger for experiencing myself.
One particular occasion when I was five I was visiting another little girl for the weekend. My friend and I went into the woods to pick some wildflowers. We knew there were lady's-slippers and bluebells growing there. I saw fairies, little beings, hovering around the flowers.
They didn't have a corporeal form, they were beings on the transcendental level. They had a definite presence, but their form was more light. They had an ethereal body, with wings something like a large insect, if you can imagine. They weren't big at all, maybe six to twelve inches tall. They would flash and then disappear, pulsating.
There were two of them. They were all colors at a time, but light colors. It was like looking through a prism, and my eye would catch the light a certain way and I'd see all the colors. Then the eye would move and that would change the way the light was playing off of it. It was a very fine visual experience, really fine.
The fairies seemed to be interacting with the flowers more than with each other. I think they were the guardians of the flowers because it seemed to me that they were hovering protectively over them. Bluebells and lady's-slippers are rare and special flowers.
We were planning to pick the flowers, but now, I'm not sure whether we did or not. I think we each picked one lady's-slipper. Being kids we probably couldn't resist. I didn't say anything to my friend about seeing the fairies.
On the same day something else happened. We were playing outside near the edge of an evergreen forest, building a hut out of evergreen boughs. For some reason it didn't quite work out, and the hut wasn't high enough in the middle for us to sit up. We were really upset about it.
I said, "Well, let's sit down and ask God to lift up the boughs for us.”
She said, "Oh, that's dumb."
I said, "Well, I'm going to do it. You never know."
So I scrunched down inside the hut and closed my eyes and asked God to lift the boughs and make the hut bigger, to have them lift to give us room. Sure enough, I opened my eyes, looked up and watched them lift to give us room to sit up. I had complete trust, and in my child's mind, I thought it must have been angels who came and floated over the top of the hut and lifted the boughs up.
I thought, "Oh, it must be an angel."
My friend didn't believe it. She said, "Oh that was just . . ."
When I told my parents this experience, the first thing my mother said was, "Well, you know there's really no such thing as angels, and anyway something like that could never happen. You're making things up, imagining things. Don't be silly.”
I was crushed. I felt like a fool for telling her and I felt angry because I knew it had happened.
I thought, "If I can't tell my mother these things, who can I tell?" I couldn't tell anyone.
That response killed the feeling of faith and trust, not only in my mother, but in the phenomenon, in the happening. I was so disappointed. It was such a special experience for me, and to have it briefly dismissed crushed me. Now, I'd love to try it again.
Those are the only clear experiences I remember. Shortly after that we moved away to Manitoba which caused a real upheaval in my life.
When I was outside in Manitoba sometimes I would have visual experiences, but there were so many personal difficulties. From age six to twenty was a traumatic time for me, but the magic would come back from time to time. I think stress submerged the feeling of magic which had been dominant to that point, but it would always flash to the surface again if conditions were right.
My visual experience was an experience of God, although I've never been religious in the sense of worshipping God apart from everything else. I've always worshipped God through nature. When I would look at a tree it was a part of God's creation. That would be an experience of God for me.
As a child I had a mystical view of the world. I was a nature worshipper and was transported by natural forms. I was deeply religious by nature and, to me, God was the mysterious power in charge of everything. I could feel the presence of God and strongly sought to know God. It was the driving force in my life. I wanted to understand the workings of God in nature. How does it all happen? No answers came to me, and I felt frustrated by that.
My parents weren't particularly religious, but I always had questions and thoughts about God.
I wanted to know, "Where is God? Why can't we see him? What does he do?"
I carried my questions to my mother, and she'd answer the best she could. She's a sincere person but didn't have a lot of deep thought in that direction, and I was too shy with my dad to ask him.
I thought of the world as full of magic and thought everything that happened had a magical basis. I thought fog, for example, was miraculously arranged. I believed in supernatural causes and was quite at home in the world. It was an interesting place.
I felt my experiences were a gift of special magic to me. I was aware that other children didn't have them and that adults didn't understand. To me they were evidence that God was near at hand and that knowing God was possible.
I was always the seeker, and my early experiences formed the basis for my later seeking. When I first meditated the experience of going within was completely familiar to me. It was like going back and being a child again. When I opened my eyes there was that light all over the place.
I'm Ellen, married to Ed. Wife and mother and artist, in that order. Spiritual principles are number one in my life. I'm exploring the Greek myths and their link with other ancient cultures and painting them. It's a deep experience for me. When I read about the gods I feel thrills, and their stories give me a vehicle for painting. They are a way into a level that I want to paint on. All the elements melt together and painting is a spiritual practice.
Sometimes I have the experience of visual bliss now. More and more. I stopped painting and drawing for a long time, but now I'm back in there for good. Even without painting I have a strong visual sense, but when I paint or draw, it brings that out and refines it.
More about Ellen’s childhood:
The first six years of my life I lived on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. We lived out in the country near Courtney on the northern shore of the island. It was very beautiful.
At the time I was born I had twin sisters thirteen years old. Another sister came along two years later, then a few more later. We ended up with seven children. I was the oldest of the second family. I don't know why they decided to have me and then decided that I should have company, but they had my sister whom I hated right off.
I was quite slender but sturdy, what you'd call "wiry and active." I had straight blond hair, brown eyes, knobby knees and an absent-minded expression. From what my parents have told me I was serious and said "amusingly precocious" things to grown-ups. An old lady lived down the street. One day I ran into a low-hanging branch in her yard and scolded her, "You know, you really should cut that. Somebody might get hurt." I was generally considered a little serious.
For the most part I was orderly and obedient, but I lived in my own little world. I daydreamed a lot and had my own thoughts. I looked at things outdoors and contemplated what I saw. I observed everything around me.
Once when I was two years old, my mother left me in the yard which was fenced with a six foot wire fence. She went to the post office just down the street overlooking the wharf.
Someone in the post office looking out the window said, "Mrs. Ward, isn't that your little girl on the wharf?"
My mom looked down and there I was on the end of the wharf dangling my new shoes in the water. She had no idea how I could have gotten out of the yard.
I wasn't really mischievous but self-contained. If I thought something was a good idea for me to do, I went straight ahead and did it. I didn't consult anybody about it. I must have been a trying child because I had an extremely strong will and great determination.
I was fairly quiet and thoughtful but I was active. I was always on the move and self-sufficient. I didn't need to have a lot of friends or someone to confide in. I didn't make friends easily. I was bossy, serious and a little rough around the edges, but it didn't bother me then. I was absorbed in my own consciousness.
I felt secure and happy up to the age of six when we moved suddenly and precipitously back to the prairie in Manitoba where my parents were from. I wasn't happy about that because we moved from a beautiful place which was scenic, peaceful and picturesque right near the ocean.
As a small child I spent a lot of time outdoors stumbling around looking at trees and rocks and water and having a great time. I never had a fight with anyone except possibly my sister. I didn't know that bad people existed or that people were mean to each other.
My father had a log salvaging company and a landing barge. Once I travelled to an island with him on his barge. Going up in the pilot's cockpit with him was noisy and smelly and fascinating.
My mother was preoccupied with her own troubles and her own affairs, and my father was away a lot. They were both preoccupied people, and I was a fairly easy child. As long as I didn't make any trouble for them, that was fine. I toilet trained fine and I ate all right. They didn't really notice me much.
Then we moved to a horrid small town on the prairie where everyone was awful. The first thing I had to do was to have about ten fights with kids on the block. I wasn't happy.
On Vancouver Island we lived way out in the country on an acre of land which was surrounded by farms. There were a lot of big trees, and there was a stream that ran by the property. We had a big old garage which seemed magic to me. It was very satisfying to be outdoors. There was a one-room schoolhouse down the road, and the nearest neighbor was half a mile.
We used to go up the road to visit one neighbor or another. There was an elderly lady who lived up the road who used to have us children for lunch sometimes. We'd go down the road to visit two other little girls who lived there.
Mostly we'd go out to play. My mother's style of child-rearing was to shove us outside in the morning and let us come in for meals. The climate was mild and we'd entertain ourselves. We made up games with a huge barrel. We'd roll it around the yard, climb on it, turn it on end, create scenarios with it.
We were quite poor. I remember books and being read to, but I don't remember many toys. I liked playing with dolls and dressing up. My mother was easy to get along with and advanced in her thinking. She let us run around naked in the house after our baths.