In the 1970s I lived in Sweden. I went there to live with my boyfriend. He later became my first husband. Entry into the country on a visa was easy. Since I was living with him, I had no problem. Had I been a refugee the process would have been a bit different but not too much more difficult had I been able to prove refugee status. After six months my visa was renewed for another six months. Permanent residency took a lot longer to achieve. We waited somewhat nervously for the authorities to approve my staying on. Eventually, after several years, full residency was granted.
As soon as I entered the country and applied to stay on, however, I was automatically granted entry into the system, into the state medical plan, into the sick leave plan, into higher education should I want it, into Swedish language classes. If I remember correctly I could vote too, at least in local elections. There were schools for retraining. Had I arrived with no discernible means of making a living I could have retrained, for free, in any number of occupations or skill sets. It’s a Socialist country after all.
The Swedes have had a working system in place for dealing with migrants and refugees for a long time. During World War II they began taking in people fleeing the Nazis. I knew of a couple, in their late fifties when I met them, who had escaped from Germany, as seventeen year olds, along with a group of other children of all ages, led by members of the underground, all heading to Sweden where they were welcomed with open arms. They traveled on foot for weeks during the cold winter months. The woman, Dora, lost several toes from frostbite. She and Herman met on that long trek, fell in love and married upon arrival in Sweden. They were inseparable.
They told of being compassionately cared for upon arrival, given everything they needed, though they were frightened and couldn’t speak the language. They were given the opportunity for new life and they never forgot it. They spoke always with gratitude for the compassionate people who had risked their own lives to help them along the way and for the Swedes who took them in. They did learn to speak the language fluently and eventually became Swedish citizens.
Sweden, whose population had been slowly dwindling, had invited in foreign workers during the 1960s and 70s to temporarily work in the car manufacturing plants, providing badly needed labor making Volvos and Saabs. By the time I arrived their intake system was well established and pretty seamless.
I read in an article in The Telegraph the other day, that along with Germany, another country that also took in guest workers during the 60s and 70s, Sweden is one of the key destinations for the Syrian migrants as it is offering permanent residency to all Syrian asylum seekers. That’s compassion. It has already gotten 64,700 requests for asylum. For a small country that’s an awful lot.
The article in The Telegraph addressed the dilemma that the Danish police faced as they tried to stop the migrants, who had come by ferry from Germany, from entering Denmark. The migrants had no intention of staying in Denmark; they just wanted to pass through. Many were attempting to walk along the highways in the direction of Sweden when they were stopped.
After a while the Danish police released the migrants. They did not want to fight or harm anyone. They let them stream into their country. They opened their borders for that moment and let the people go to whatever fate they chose. No borders that day.
There is no easy solution to what is happening to the Syrians and others who are running as fast as they can from the approaching apocalypse, as they see it, but perhaps the compassionate Danes, in stepping aside and letting those desperate people travel safely through their country, offer one solution. And perhaps that’s all it will take, at least for the time being, making decisions based on what is right in the moment. True, they could have also let in ISIS adherents traveling among the migrants, but they took that chance for the betterment of some many hundreds of lives.
It’s been in the news, a man wakes up from a coma speaking only Swedish. He doesn’t recognize his wife or family. A diagnosis called Transient Global Amnesia has been applied to his condition. Medical personnel assigned to his case have also decided that he’s most likely in a dissociative fugue state, wherein a person forgets their past and can sometimes take on a new personality. When I first read the headline I was intrigued, having had my own experiences with the Swedish language and inventing a new personality, wondering if the man had woken up in a past life.
The man, it turns out, had lived in Sweden as a child and for much of his adult life, so the fact that he spoke the language was no mystery. The mystery in his case was, how could he forget his current life so easily? The Shamans of Ancient Mexico would diagnose him as having suffered a jolt to the assemblage point, a shift in awareness into a totally new world.
My own first encounters with speaking Swedish came in a dream when I was in my early twenties. In the dream I was traveling across the United States by wagon train. I leaned against the back of the wagon, in which I was traveling with my husband and children, and wept. Great sadness had occurred, the death of our child, whom we had just buried along the trail. My husband came up to console me. We spoke a language I had never heard before. I spoke fluently and without hesitation.
My dreaming self observed the entire dream episode, saw what I looked like and heard myself speaking this strange language. I even understood what I was saying, even though I didn’t understand the specific words. I saw that I was a tall and strapping woman, with thick blond hair tied back in a long braid. I was dressed in neat, clean, but poor cotton clothing, a long dress and apron. My husband was taller and wore a hat. His pants were tucked into high boots. My dreaming self watched as he came over and embraced me.
We wept together and then he told me that we’d have to move on, keep going, that everything would be okay. The rest of the people traveling with the wagon train were preparing to leave. We had to stay with the group. Moving on was essential. It was a strenuous journey, but I knew we’d make it to our destination. I just needed time to gather myself together, I told him. I’d be alright. Then I felt myself pull inward, into deep inner silence. I felt a core of strength shoot through me, like a fire rising out of the depths of me, energy like I had never felt in real life. Then I shook off my sorrow. There was life still to care for, life still to live. Times were tough, but the tough keep going. I woke up as I shrugged off my sorrow, that core of strength burning brightly inside me.
Upon awakening, I was immediately puzzled by the strange language I’d spoken and the sense of connection I felt with the woman in the dream. I knew it really was me, had been me, and that I too had that fiery core of inner strength inside me. I suspected, at the time, that the dream was related to a past life, though I had little knowledge of how that could be possible.
Within a year of the dream, I met my Swedish husband-to-be and six months after meeting him I was living in Sweden. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the Swedish language as the same language I’d spoken in my dream. I took language classes and within no time I was speaking Swedish fluently, like a native I was told, like a native from the southern part of Sweden called Smaland that had been so devastated by drought that the vast majority of farmers left and moved to America during the 1800s. I spent considerable time exploring the country and always found this southern region extremely warm and inviting, the forests and thick-walled cottages so familiar. At the time, all of this reinforced the real possibility that I had indeed lived a past life in Sweden.
At the time, however, I was dealing with my own deep issues, undiagnosed at the time. Indeed, I was living out my own dissociative fugue state. Many years later, as I write about in my books, I started working with Chuck. The first thing he did was give me a diagnosis of PTSD. The diagnosis gave me a sort of anchor, an anchor from which I could dive into the dark pool of the unconscious and do deep inner work, but it was not the answer. However, it was during that time that my past, including my decision to move to Sweden in the blink of an eye, all began to make sense. Unlike Michael Boatwright, however, the guy who woke up speaking Swedish recently, I had never lived in Sweden before, though I felt so at home there. I assimilated very quickly, learning not only the language but all the nuances of the culture as if I were, indeed, a native Swede.
Sweden offered me many opportunities. First, I got away from my past and, much like Michael Boatwright, I forgot what had happened to me during a certain part of my life, most of my childhood, in fact, as I write about in my books. I was also offered the opportunity to become a new me, and I did. I changed a lot while I was there. I stalked, as the Shamans of Ancient Mexico call it, a new personality. My introverted, shy self soon felt comfortable to become a new being. The distance really helped. I was so far from everyone and everything that had influenced me up until then that I felt really free for the first time in my life. And so I lived a new life for several years, until it was done, until it was time to return to what I had run away from, for I knew, instinctively, that I had run from something.
It would still be some time before I was ready to face my own mysteries. And, as I was to learn, a diagnosis, whether it be Transient Global Amnesia or PTSD, is not the real answer if one is to evolve. As Chuck likes to say, “Now let’s do the work!” The only thing that was going to help, was the work of recapitulation: facing the past, finding out why I was the way I was, and why I had to move so far away to begin with before I felt safe.
Upon return to the States, I had to reinvent myself once again, for the Swedish woman I had become was not appropriate for the life I embarked upon in New York City. Once again, I stalked a new personality, and I kept stalking different versions of who I thought I really was until I ran out of energy, until I finally collapsed and gave up. It was then that I met Chuck and began to learn about my own inner mysteries, the Shamans of Ancient Mexico, and the process of recapitulation. It was then that real change began and everything made sense.
It was then, as I embarked on a new journey of self-discovery, that I found I really did have within me that fiery core of inner strength that I’d experienced in my dream of the Swedish woman on the wagon train journey. For the most part, it had been deeply buried and inaccessible, as most of my life had been spent in a state of numbness, that dissociative fugue state. It was during my recapitulation that I saw my decision to move to Sweden in a different light. It became clear that it was a move on the part of my psyche to jolt my assemblage point.
That journey to a foreign land had been pivotal in rediscovering some important things about myself, to not only awaken a past life experience in this life—and live it again in a sense—but more importantly to give me a hint of the possible self to one day look forward to in the future. For I now know that the free woman I became in Sweden was an immature model of my more mature, true self. I didn’t know any of this at the time, of course, but all of this and much more has been revealed as I’ve stayed on the trail of a life of change, the same kind of trail that my dreaming self was on.
The other thing that my time in Sweden hinted at, I understand in retrospect, was the first hint that I would have to go back in order to go forward. If I was to birth myself into a new woman and allow that fiery core strength to become a part of this life in a real way, I would have to go back into the darkness of my past and retrieve it. I would have to, singlehandedly, move it forward, out of my past life, into this life.
This is the real energy that moves through all of us, through our many lifetimes and many life experiences, but we must discover our own path to retrieving it. We don’t really have to go anywhere to do it, either, unless we have to. We can stay right where we are and do our deep inner work. But if we are to evolve we must take the journey of deep self-exploration so we can harness our energy, hone it, and utilize it as we travel along our life’s journeys.
It’s been hot. I’ve been trying to get the weeds pulled and the seeds planted. The dandelions have taken over. I like dandelions. I pick the young leaves and add them to salads and chop them into sautés. I juice them along with chickweed, lemon balm, and plantain leaves. I snip wheatgrass and mint into the mix too. But the dandelions are insistent this year, so I’m letting them take over one section of the garden. I water them and thank them for coming to feed me.
I’m pretty sure that if things got really bad in our present day world I’d find enough food to eat right here in my yard. It’s a grim thought, but the more I discover that not only our food and water sources, but practically everything we make, consume, and depend on in this country is compromised in some way, the more I wonder about us as a people and a nation. I wonder if I really belong here. Should I leave, desert a sinking ship so to speak? Really, I think about it sometimes.
I try not to get depressed about it. I try not to worry about what our children will have to contend with. I try not to think about ignorance and stupidity and aberrant behaviors. I try not to think about unfairness and greed, about the corporations selling us their poisons that make us sick, everything from the food in our supermarkets to the drugs in our pharmacies. Nothing is real anymore, and that’s what bothers me the most. “Just eat real food,” I tell my kids. “Moderation and balance in everything, but keep it real.”
We don’t even treat our fellow human beings as real people with real needs, needing things like a living wage to simply afford the basic necessities. I lived in Sweden in the 1970s, when its Socialist agenda was in its heyday. Olaf Palme was Prime Minister. He’d sometimes walk home to his apartment after a hard day at the Riksdag, wending his way through the streets of Stockholm, greeting people as he went. He even rode the subways like other normal working people. It was really a pretty idyllic society, good intentioned. Sweden lost its innocence when Palme got shot coming out of a movie theater with his wife one night, a place I had been to countless times. Sweden wasn’t perfect by far, but people mattered—children mattered, women mattered, the unemployed and the sick mattered—and as far as I can see they still do. There were no poor people in Sweden, everyone got what they needed.
The Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland all lived by the same ideals, that no one should be without the basics: food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare. Things were affordable, such as housing and food, and a lot of things were free, paid for by the high taxes we all paid, but I always felt it was a great deal. You got what you paid for; it was pretty real in that way. The government delivered on its promises. As an immigrant I received the same benefits as a natural Swede. From day one I had my health card and access to free education. I took free Swedish language courses through a variety of schools, including the University of Stockholm. You had a sense that the government was just like you, the Prime Minister just another working guy, and that you were really cared about.
An overall sense of social justice, responsibility, compassion and respect for fellow human beings prevailed that I have rarely experienced since, especially on a governmental level. The cold people of the north—as they were sometimes referred to—had warm hearts at their center. As a society they were not selfish or greedy. Memories of their own recent history of hard times were still raw and still talked about. Human suffering became the most important matter to address and they found a means of relief. There were a lot of problems too, the homogenous population was fast changing and new difficulties loomed on the horizon, but overall there were few complaints. Everyone mattered.
I noticed one of those obnoxious polls the other day: The Most Democratic Countries in the World! I couldn’t help myself; I had to look. The U.S. got a mediocre ranking, 21 out of 25, but guess who was at the top: Norway, followed by Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. I wasn’t surprised. Back in the 70s, Norway was the first of those countries to ban certain food colorings and preservatives because they were deemed carcinogenic and how could you feed your people something that was poisonous! With no food coloring, things looked kind of unappetizing. It was most noticeable in the street vendors selling gray hot dogs and sodas that were clear in color. We still haven’t banned food colorings and preservatives from foods, in fact we’ve simply renamed them. And as for feeding people carcinogens, don’t worry, there’s plenty to go around! As I said, I try not to think about these things, but I can’t help wondering when the greed is going to be stopped so REAL can become the norm again, when the new buzz word is REAL and it really is REAL!
The Buddhists say to accept ignorance and have compassion. The Shamans of Ancient Mexico say that life is an illusion anyway, so why fixate on it. Both of them say work to free yourself. And so I work to free myself from my own ignorance and from my own illusions. I refuse to get caught in the fear and the worry that comes so easily whenever I think about the earth and the world we have created. I see it as my duty to work on myself, to free myself of the corporate greed, to detach as much as possible from what seeks to draw me in. I decide what I really need and what I can do without.
And so, in keeping with that decision to energetically detach as much as possible, I canceled our cable TV. The bill was outrageously high, and I saw no reason for it. Someone has been making a lot of money off us. We don’t want the meaningless spin and the constant selling permeating our home environment. Even what once seemed to have integrity no longer appeals. I see commercial television as a home invasion and I don’t want it or need it. There are other things to do. We recently cut the expensive car insurance we were paying in half by going with a different company, and our escalating health insurance premium by a good amount too by finding a new carrier. We weren’t getting better service for all our dollars, but some corporations sure were reaping huge benefits! We’ve put thousands of dollars a year back into our own pockets, money we can put to better use.
So, as I pare down my life, I stay local, as local as possible, REAL local. I support the efforts of my fellow human beings to produce real foods and goods and so I shop at the Red Hook Farmer’s Market and the Red Hook Natural Foods Store where local produce is always available. I simplify. I eat the weeds in my yard. I constantly look to new places to pull the plug on the things I don’t need. It feels like a lot more people are doing this too. Local organic farms with everything from fruits and vegetables to meats and cheeses are growing in number, and it’s really good to see. I don’t see it as just a trendy thing, but more as a longterm trend toward taking back what we’ve lost: our personal power as real human beings. All of this local-ness is helping us regain our realness, our compassion, and a sense of social responsibility to the earth and our fellow human beings.
It felt good to be out in the heat, planting my seeds, welcoming them to my soil. The birds sang to me all morning as I weeded and planted. The robin nesting in the rafters of the deck didn’t fly off her nest as I worked just a few feet away from her. She’s used to me now, she knows I’m real and that I won’t hurt her, that I’m just doing what she does, tending my nest, keeping it real.