Category Archives: Jan’s Blog

Welcome!

Currently I put most of my energy into the weekly channeled messages, the daily Soulbytes, and the completion of The Recapitulation Diaries, but archived here are the blogs I wrote for many years about inner life and outer life, inner nature and outer nature. Perhaps my writings on life, as I see it and experience it, may offer you some small insight or different perspective as you take your own journey. In addition, I manage The Recapitulation Diaries on Facebook where each week I write a post about recapitulation and its many healing aspects.

With gratitude for all that life teaches me, I share my experiences.

Jan Ketchel

Mortification

Mortified no more!

I had been given my first skis for Christmas when I was five. It was a big surprise and I remember being very excited about learning to ski. I imagined gliding effortlessly over the snow. They were wide wooden skis, painted blue, that I strapped onto my snow boots. My boots slipped out of them all the time and I found them heavy and cumbersome. At five I was not a good skier. I would take the skis out every winter for a few years after that and try them out, but I never got the hang of it and was always disappointed in how difficult it was. I preferred sledding or ice skating.

At 12, I got another pair of skis for Christmas. This time it was not a surprise. One evening my father took me and my two brothers, one a year older and one a year younger than me, to get fitted for skis. This time they were real downhill skis. We got outfitted with boots, poles, and even snazzy ski pants with heel straps so they didn’t ride up out of the boots. This time I was not so very enthusiastic. I kept asking my father why I was getting skis, I didn’t want skis. He insisted. I got the skis. My brothers really wanted their skis and they both became good skiers, in fact my younger brother became an excellent skier and even went to Europe one year and skied in the Alps with a friend of his whose family was living there for a year. I remember one of his skis broke on the return trip, in the cargo hold of the plane.

I tried skiing in those new skis, mostly around the neighborhood with friends, on hills in my backyard or other people’s backyards. I’d occasionally go to a nearby ski area with friends, a little mountain where there was a small beginner’s slope and a much larger expert slope. I spent my time on the beginner’s slope. I was the person going down the hill screaming, arms flapping and poles akimbo, crashing into the flimsy fence at the bottom of the hill in order to stop. I did take a few lessons and learned the “snowplow” to stop so I didn’t have to crash land. But I was still pretty bad, had little control, and often rode down the hill sitting on the back of my skis. I’d end my ski adventures bruised, with bumps on the back of my head, snow down my neck, and my ankles aching where the boots dug into them. I was just not a good skier.

When I was 14 I got convinced by a friend to go down the big hill at the ski area. My first challenge was getting up to the top of the hill. As soon as I grabbed onto the rope tow lift I found that the rope just slid through my hands. My mittens were fake red fur on the tops with palms made of a heavy plastic material that the frozen rope just slipped right over. I grabbed as hard as I could, but no luck. I was asked to get off the rope pull as I was causing a back up, people piling up behind me, yelling, “Go, go, go!” My friend and I moved over to the T-bar lift. I had never used a T-bar before.

“Just stand in the tracks, and grab onto the T-bar as it comes up behind and let it basically drag you up the hill,” said my friend, a much better skier, as we prepared to ride up the hill together, one on either side of the upside down T. Sounds easy, right? Well it wasn’t. For some reason I kept falling down every time the T contraption came at us. Finally after many attempts, the lift guard yelling at me to give up, I managed to somehow grab ahold of the dang thing and stay on my feet and up we went. Next problem, how to get off! My friend and I discussed this on the way up.

“Just ski away from the lift as we get to the top of the hill,” my friend said.

“Okay, right,” I said.

Luckily I always had a good sense of humor and could laugh at myself, so there was a lot of laughter as we went through the process of getting to the top of the mountain. Taking a big breath, I was able to “just ski away” from the lift, but even so there were other people coming up fast behind me yelling, “Move! Move!”

At the top of the hill I looked down and said, “No way! I am not going down that hill,” a frightening sheer drop. “It’s not as bad as it looks,” my friend said, and she explained how to go down by slalom skiing back and forth at the steepest part and then skiing straight down where it evens out. Sure. And then she took off, leaving me to fend for myself. Shit! I guess she thought I was just going to follow right after her!

I hemmed and hawed for a long time, getting up my courage, and then I went for it. It did not go well. I started out okay, basically skiing across to a spot on the other side, trying not to get in the way of other expert skiers who were shushing past me at incredible speeds. I went back to the other side, down a little further, and that went okay too. But then I fell and I kept falling. I could not stop.

Like a turtle on its back I went spinning down the hill, my slick ski jacket skittering over the icy surface of the mountain, my skis and poles flailing in the air as I passed everybody, going at such speed that I could not tell what was up or what was down. I barreled along like a bowling ball knocking down pins as all the people at the bottom of the hill, waiting on line to take the lift up to the top, scattered as I sailed past them and crashed into the fence beyond. It was mortifying. A woman asked me if I was okay. I said I was, as I pried snow out of my neck, from inside my jacket, and from down my pants.

My friend was nowhere in sight. I finally found her and said I’d wait for her in the lodge. When I asked her, she said she hadn’t seen me go down. Luckily! That was one humiliation I would not have to live down!

A few days later I was on the school bus. Two girls were sitting in the seat behind me. Cheerleaders. They were talking, giggling. I didn’t really tune into what they were saying until I realized that one girl was telling the other about going skiing over the weekend.

“She went down the whole slope ON HER BACK!” I heard her say.

It suddenly dawned on me that they were talking about me. Oh no! Mortification! Someone I knew had seen me! Did they not know I was sitting right in front of them? Of course they did! More mortification! How will I ever live this down? I slunk down in my seat and finally accepted that I was a bad skier. The humiliation was just not worth it. I don’t think I ever skied again after that.

We take on “badness” and it manifests somewhere in us, psychologically, physically, emotionally, even spiritually. Not only did I take on being a bad skier, but I took on the humiliation and mortification that came with being a bad skier. It inhibited me from trying other sports, as I was sure I would be bad at them too. I stuck to what I knew I could do. I limited myself.

Years later, I was in my twenties and had moved to Sweden to live with my boyfriend, a very nice young Swedish man. One day he announced that we were going skiing. I explained that I did not ski. That I was a really bad skier. He explained that it was not downhill skiing, and everyone in the country basically did it and I was going to do it too. No backing out. The whole family was going, meaning his parents and sister, aunt and uncle and numerous cousins, most of whom I’d yet to meet. Oh boy, here comes the humiliation and the mortification!

I was nervous all week leading up to the winter break when traditionally all families got together for winter sports, the most popular being our equivalent of cross-country skiing. When I lived in Sweden during the 1970s, literally everyone skied.

By the time the day came I was ready, outfitted with a set of boots, skis, and poles and ready to go. I decided to just relax and enjoy, pretend I’d never been on skis before in my life, and just have fun. Like it or not, it was time to get beyond my ingrained idea that I was a bad skier. We set out into the wilderness, newly fallen snow on the ground, backpacks filled with thermoses and food, skis strapped to our feet. I got a quick lesson and then off we went. There was no time for hesitation. There was no time for limiting beliefs. I just began to ski because I had to; it was time to go and I had to keep up with everyone. But from the moment I started I loved it!

There I was gliding along, just as I had imagined doing when I was five and got my first set of skis. It was magical. I watched carefully how everyone else skied and started to add little techniques to my own process as we went along. There were no judgments, only kind encouragements, everyone just out to have a glorious day of fun in the snow. Over hill and dale, through woods we went. It was magical, and by the time we stopped for lunch on the edge of a forest, sheltered by large boulders, I was hooked. When asked if I was enjoying the skiing I declared that I loved it and everyone agreed that it was a marvelous sport.

A fire was built, hot dogs were pulled out and stuck on sticks, hot milky sweet tea was poured, and we all sat down in the snow and had a marvelous, delicious picnic. It was just the first of many such skiing trips I was to enjoy with those lovely Swedes, all of whom congratulated me on skiing so well for someone who had never done it before. I did tell them that I had done downhill skiing before, but nothing like that.

I learned something about myself that day, how an idea can be so limiting, how we plant ideas about ourselves in our minds and live them out, to our disadvantage. I really was mortified that day on the slope when I fell onto my back and the day I heard those girls talking about me only increased my mortification. But I learned that in order to get beyond our limiting beliefs we have to dare ourselves to override them, to live them down by facing them and daring to live beyond them. Limiting beliefs keep us away from having experiences that are life enhancing, that help us grow and change. That day in Sweden I discovered that I was no longer a bad skier, but a competent one, and have enjoyed many skiing adventures since.

We never really know who we are until we push ourselves beyond our perceived limits, beyond what we believe about ourselves. In the process of challenging those beliefs we not only discover more of our potential but we allow unforeseen joy to enter into our lives.

P. S.: There are plenty of hilarious Youtube videos of people trying to ride T-bar lifts. I was just like everyone of them that first and only time I ever rode such a lift.


A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

 

Taking The Dream Back

Time to get rid of those old crutches?
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Our woundings define us, control us, give us structure and purpose. They offer crutches so we can limp along through life making the best of it. What would happen if we threw away those crutches, if we decided to let go of everything we think we need and instead go in search of our dreams? If we lose touch with our dreams we lose touch with our spirit. The only way of getting back to our spirit is to get back to not only dreaming our dreams but actualizing them, and to do that we must get rid of our crutches.

Crutches can be everything from ideas, such as that we are not worthy of success, or a mate, or wealth or health, that we must bear the life we have, continually punishing ourselves because of some idea that that’s just the way life is, or because we repeatedly blame someone else for hurting us, for leaving us, for abusing us. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Crutches are also our comforts, and that’s where it gets tricky when we try to let them go. Part of us wants to just throw them away, but if we do will our back and legs be strong enough to carry us forward? Will our feet know where to take us? Do we have what it takes to go it alone without our crutches? Whatever our crutches may be they will try to convince us that we need them, that we can’t live without them, that we owe them for how they have helped us survive. How can you leave something, or someone, that has been so important to you? How can you just walk away?

When the time comes to change, to move on, to throw away the crutches, we have to dare ourselves to stand on our own two feet. It can feel as if we are throwing ourselves into the great unknown, which we are. As if we are jumping off a cliff, which we are. As if we are taking a great leap of faith, which we are. The first thing we will encounter as we take that leap is fear.

As we untether ourselves from what has kept us safe and secure for so long we go reeling into the great nothingness of free fall. We don’t know where we are, who we are, or how to navigate without our crutches. We don’t know what to do, so we grasp for our crutches again. “Just stay with me a little bit longer,” we say. “I know you and I trust you. Even though you are bad for me, you keep me safe and grounded.”

During my recapitulation such times of free fall indicated that I was actually making strides. I was being challenged to embrace life, to get out of my safety zone and confront reality. Perhaps letting go of a crutch meant challenging myself to go beyond my depression, such as: “I won’t stay in bed all day today. Today I will go to the grocery store, or make a phone call, or take a walk.” Such simple things, you might say, but to a traumatized person these present major feats. Sometimes every day could be like that.

Perhaps a moment of free fall was instigated by an outside influence, such as someone requesting something of me, someone else needing me, or a job that needed to be done. To go outside our comfort zone when we have been badly wounded takes courage, fortitude, and strength, such ordinary characteristics of being human that for someone suffering from PTSD present mountains to cross, rivers to ford, the great unknown to encounter, and all without our usual crutches!

If we are to heal we have to change, and if we are to change we have to leave our crutches behind. The things that now keep us safe also keep us isolated, lonely, stuck in reliving our woundings and our ideas of ourselves as wounded, over and over again.

“I am wounded, poor me! I will never have a good life because someone did something bad to me! I have trauma in my background so I have permission to be sad and lonely. It’s my lot in life.” These are some of the things we tell ourselves to keep us aligned with our woundings, and each time we speak them our crutches are right there for us to grab onto, saying, “Yes, you need me. I told you that you would always need me. You don’t need anything else. I am here for you.” Are we really going to settle for that?

We are easily convinced by our crutches because the truth is that yes, they have been our salvation, they have stood by us through it all, and they have worked for us, to a certain extent. But they have also kept us stuck in our nightmares, and the truth is we would be better off without them. We’d be healthier without them.

I used to run every day. It was one of my crutches. I thought I needed running to survive. I have not run in 12 years now. I just stopped one day. At first I felt bad about not running, thinking I’d get out of shape, physically and mentally, and for a long time I’d whine, “Oh, I should be running.” But I never did again and once I really let go of it, in my mind too, I was just fine. I am physically and mentally healthier than ever. I don’t need to rely on running anymore. I have myself to rely on.

When it’s time to finally let go of the crutches, the crutches will try to stay attached. We suffer with them and we suffer without them. But if we can look at them closely, examine them, ask why we think we need them, we are well on our way to getting rid of them forever. We have to ask: “Are they part of some idea, some ideal that I latched onto a long time ago at a time when I needed something to support me? Do I really need that kind of support now?”

Times change. We change. As we choose to heal from our traumas, our dreams come back to haunt us, reminding us of what we have left behind that might really matter to us. In the long run, it’s our dreams that we should go running to. Is it time to throw away the crutches and go running toward your dreams?

In this time of #METOO, it is so important that we point fingers, that we expose the hypocrites, that we gather together, united against what has been going on in the shadows, but at the same time we can’t just stop there. It does no one any good if all we do is point fingers. If we are to heal our wounds we have to be willing to do the healing work, and that is an individual task. No one else can heal our wounds for us, for only we know what they truly are. Only we know what they have done to us and how we have survived with them and in spite of them. And only we know what all of our crutches are, many of which we have kept in the shadows of our own psyches.

Healing can only happen if we are each ready to take the personal journey within. If we are to heal we must put down our crutches, one at a time, and head off into free fall. In the end, I can attest, that we will land on our feet, and that our own two feet are indeed strong enough to bear the tension of taking back our health and our energy, as well as take us where we will go next. Time to take the dream back.


A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

Why Do People Do The Things They Do?

Who’s rocking the boat?
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

We’ve all been taught to be nice girls and boys, to not rock the boat, not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing up disturbing issues. Who among us grew up in a household where things were really discussed, addressed, and resolved by coming to a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do? Not me.

In my house you kept quiet. You didn’t rock the boat, make anyone uncomfortable, or even talk about what bothered you the most. You held everything in and hoped for the best. If you got caught doing something bad you were blamed, shamed, and punished, but no one ever asked if you needed something. No one ever asked if you were in pain, in need, or suffering. No one wanted to know if something was disturbing you or confusing you. No one wanted to deal with feelings or emotions. They wanted it simple. You followed the rules so everything went according to plan, or else. You were told to act like a lady, get good grades, and stop being an embarrassment to your parents. In the end you just ended up feeling guilty, ashamed, and bad.

But growing up where nothing is ever discussed, where you are supposed to figure out some of the most frightening and complicated experiences in your life on your own is a daunting task, especially for a small child who just shuts up and shuts down, finds ways to self-soothe and somehow makes it through childhood and into adulthood. Having been sexually abused, I empathize with others who also had a bad time of it, but I also know that we must move beyond our traumas, not only entertain a new vision for ourselves and the world but embrace it as well. We must all dare to change.

In spite of my background I have always been able to see the good in others, no matter how bad they appear to be. Perhaps it’s just part of my personality, the part of me that somehow knew how to survive and thrive in spite of what happened to me. Suffice it to say, I’m an optimist. I’ve always been able to weigh all sides of an issue. Often this makes it impossible to take sides. I was never good at debating. I’m much better at taking in the whole picture and seeing how all the pieces fit together. This is a Buddhist perspective, the middle way, all things in harmony and balance. In the end, I tend to be okay with the way things are because I know that things have a way of resolving, often in the most unexpected of ways, but often in the most simple of ways.

For most of my life I felt like I was living in a daze. I didn’t really wake up, except occasionally, until I was 50. It was then that I started to gain clarity on what had actually transpired in my childhood, why I had lived in that daze for most of my life (because I was only half in this world, the other half still back in the past), but once all that insight about my past started to flood into me all I wanted to do was stay awake. I got interested in life in a new and different way.

I wanted to know why and how things happen, and how to change myself and the things in my life that I could change. I saw the bigger picture of what had been, but I also wanted to intend a new bigger picture for the future. I wanted to be actively involved in planning my future life in a different way, consciously aware of myself as part of the process. I didn’t want life to lead me; I wanted to meet life and take a new journey with all that it offered me. It meant I had to be prepared to really change. I had to learn how to let change work for me in positive and good ways, with intent and purpose, rather than just because it happened anyway.

I have since learned that not everyone wants to change, not everyone is ready to change, and in fact many people don’t care about changing at all, they just care about themselves. This seems to be what we are being confronted with now, just how many people really only care about themselves, how caught up they are in their own hubris, their own greed, and how little they care about others. We must all be accountable for what is happening now and we all have a responsibility to try and figure out how to resolve the chaos of our times. There are many forums, and many people are taking the opportunity to finally speak out, but for most of us perhaps the best forum is quietly within.

To truly know ourselves as human beings must be the first step in changing our world. Why did my abuser rape, torture, and assault me? Why did he sell me to others like himself? Why do people do the things they do?

I have discovered that if I am to understand others I must try to understand myself. The first step in doing that, I learned, is to give up all preconceived ideas of how things should be, all preconceived notions of what is right and what is wrong, of what is supposed to be. I learned that I have to empty my mind of everything and be open to understanding life at a totally different level and from many different perspectives, be open to new concepts, new twists, new notions of possibility never before imagined. I have to be totally nonjudgmental, abundantly curious, and insatiably interested in learning new things.

In being open in this manner I come back to myself, to that young girl who could always empathize, who could always see the good in others, who could always see all sides of an issue or a problem. That little Buddhist girl is still in me and she still presents me with her open mind, and every day I am grateful for her. I had to work very hard to find my way back to her, wading through the muck of years of duty and adherence to principles and ideas I did not really believe in but followed blindly because I did not want to rock the boat, get into trouble, or be misunderstood. Then I decided it was high time for a different approach. I recapitulated. In so doing I had to break down the world I knew into dust and debris and pick from it only what was important and leave the rest of it behind, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Sometimes that’s all it is, just something to leave behind.

Now, as I said, I am awake, and in being awake I have to look at myself from all different angles all the time. How am I like those men who abuse? How am I like my own abuser? How do I abuse others? How can I judge another when I know I am not perfect?

When I accept that I have deviant behaviors inside myself, perhaps even to the same extent as some of the worst offenders, then I begin to know why people do the things they do. I do the things I do because I act impulsively or greedily or selfishly. I might be fearful, sad or lonely. I might lash out. I might take. I might overdo. I might be greedy today and selfless tomorrow. I might be hostile now and loving later. I might be inflated in the morning and by nightfall totally deflated and depressed. I might hate one minute and feel bad about it the next. I might get angry and vent, knowing that it’s important to state what is bothering me, but then I can also be the kindest person in the room, wanting the people around me only to feel comfortable and happy. I am all of these things because I’m human.

I have written about my demons, I accept them as part of me. Even if I don’t act on all my impulses, even if I don’t let all my demons out of the bag, I have to accept that they exist inside me. I too am culpable, fallible, weak, and sometimes I fail. That’s what it means to be human. And that’s why I cannot hate, even those who do bad things to me. I can only love. Love is what I always come back to. It is the glue that holds us all together and it is the glue that must keep us together as we address the current climate of change, as people in power get sacked for their indiscretions, as others suffer the shock of knowing that people they love did bad things. What do you do with all that? You just keep loving them.

Love is powerful and hopefully it will get us through this to a deeper understanding of all that we are, the human animals as well as the loving spirits. We accept the loving spirit part of ourselves so easily, but it’s much harder to deal with the other side that we are too, the instinctual animal that we have yet to fully confront and accept into our lives and our world. We all need to work at it, within ourselves first and foremost. Only then will we understand why people do the things they do, because we do them too and we know why. Then we can truly be empathic, nonjudgmental, loving, total humans. Then we will be able to not just accept the bigger picture but embrace our wholeness as well.

Some things just have to be accepted as we wade our way through the chaos we now find ourselves in. Some people just won’t get it, will refuse to change no matter how much they are confronted with how badly their behavior harms others. Some people just aren’t that evolved yet and we have to let them be where they are, for the truth is they are part of what creates balance, they are part of that bigger picture. The Buddhists know that you can’t have the light without the dark, the good without the evil, the day without the night.

At the same time that I accept all that, I do have expectations of everyone I know and everyone I don’t know. I expect to be treated as a fellow human being. I expect to be given the same opportunities as everyone else. I expect the same fairness I grant others. I expect the same kindness and compassion I extend to others. I expect to be allowed to live in a safe world, free from violence, war, nuclear disaster, free of angry people with guns. I expect the same for others.

I want us all to live in a world where we make room for others, where we share what we have with others, where we embrace everyone as human beings just like us, where color and race and gender are not issues of divisiveness but what bring us together. I want the bigger picture to be bigger in love and kindness and compassion.

At the same time, I see how we are all rushing to the same side of the boat now, tipping it too far in our exposing, in our rooting out the evil in others in our need for validation. We have gone from never tipping the boat to nearly capsizing it! The truth does matter, but it can be taken too far, doing more harm than good in our eagerness for a quick solution. There is no quick solution. We might just tip that boat over and then where would we be but all awash in the same stuff we dredged up.

Somehow we have to get back into the middle of the boat again, back on the middle way, where everyone is given the opportunity to work on their issues with support and help, because the beautiful outcome of this process could be that we have finally exposed that we all have issues that need to be addressed without judgment, without blame, and without shame. We all know what judgment, blame, and shame do to us, how devastating they can be, sending us deeper into our traumas and deeper into hiding. We are all just human after all.

We’ve already rocked the boat. Now let’s get it back into calmer waters and meet in the middle, bringing with us all that what we’ve learned about others and ourselves. Let’s offer the same support to others that we expect to receive ourselves. Let’s not be the family that refuses to accept feelings and emotions. Let’s be the family that sits down together and talks at a deeper level and tries to understand each other. Let’s be the family that talks about all that uncomfortable stuff that has left a lot of people feeling confused and frightened, perhaps resorting to acting out because they don’t know what to do with it all.

Let’s try to figure out what we’ve been missing in our personal and workplace relationships, and what’s really needed for us all to heal and finally live peaceably together, as one, in the middle of the boat.


A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

Demons!

When it’s time to make a change, to move forward in life, to take a leap, to start something new, or finish up something that has been dragged out for a long time, there is usually a backlash from the psyche.

First light struggling to emerge from the darkness…
– Photo by Jan Ketchel

Reluctance arises, doubt arises, fear arises, worry rears its ugly head and for a moment, or longer, there is hesitation. Just as dawn struggles to pierce the dark of night, so does new life struggle to emerge from the dark of the self. Often our old demons, so familiar, reliable, and comforting, come to our aid, begging us to stay with them, to stay as we are.

“Why change?” they say. “You’re fine as you are!”

I became well acquainted with my personal demons during my recapitulation. I realized how long they had been in my life and how stuck I had become because of them, afraid of everything. Worry and fear were always nearby to step in and rescue me from doing something new, from changing anything about myself.

Even if we really do want to change, it is often very challenging to take that first tentative step toward what we know will bring us closer to the transformation we so desire. During times of change we get to experience how our demons work to entrap us, enticing us to remain in the safety and comfort of their arms as we face what scares us the most, new life looming on the horizon!

Just as we are about to take a leap, trusting that life really can be different, our demons can step in and drag us back into our habitual comforts, freeing us of the anxiety that surrounds any great leap into new life. Instead we are coveted and protected by our demons, as they bring us back to the familiar, to that which we may hate about ourselves but which comforts us too.

I often had to deal with my worry demon. It would bring me a perseverating worry-rant of financial ruin, an incessant tale of an inability to make enough money, worry over all the bills piling up, worry over the mortgage to be paid, the studio rent, things the kids needed. The lists were endless, even when there was no reason for such worry, even when I was financially doing well, with plenty of money in the bank, these worries would and did rise up like the old demons they were, intent upon ensnaring me.

I started to see how they came just as I was about to do something new, to take control of my own life and my own destiny, to start a new venture, or to leave someone or something. Those worry, fear, blame or shame demons could pop up so fast, speaking with such rationality that I would easily fall back into believing what they told me.

Much like an addict I’d let them take me spinning off into oblivion. Later I’d realize how hypnotic they were, how they had taken me from awareness of the present moment and lulled and dulled me for a long time with their old tales. Numbed by them I could lose hours, days, weeks, while I struggled to do what I knew I needed to do in order to move on in my life.

In the final throes of breaking away from those demons I learned to appreciate them, but also to recognize them a lot quicker so I could avoid them. I faced life more squarely, became less afraid and less frightened by change as I continually pushed myself forward, as I dared myself to keep embracing new life, no matter what happened.

Gradually, as I finished the recapitulation of my childhood sexual abuse and shed the symptoms of PTSD that had also been a big factor in my life, I learned that life really did like it when I dared myself to do something new, that life was eager for me to live more fully. Eventually those old demons left me alone, for I had no energy left for them, it was all going elsewhere.

As long as we entertain our demons, as long as we open to them, they are eager to entertain us. But as soon as we see what they really do to us we can begin to reject them. Instead, we can begin to take responsibility for creating our own life, the way we want it, even though each step forward may be full of anxiety. And then our demons, as they realize we are no longer interested in them, go away.

Life, I realized one day, was not going to meet me if I did not go out and meet it. Rather than blame others for what had transpired in my life I became more daring and life became more exciting. Sometimes just going to the grocery store was the most daring thing I did in a day, but with persistent work on myself I started to go other places, to do other things, and after a while life was no longer so frightening.

When I met life, it met me too.

Still doing it. Still meeting life, and it still meets me. As I said to Chuck last week, “Let’s not waste a moment. Let’s go have fun!”


A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

No Blame

“[We] are in the world to train [our]selves to be unbiased witnesses, so as to understand the mystery of ourselves and relish the exultation of finding what we really are…” – don Juan Matus*

That anxious time of year again…

Every year since I was very little, probably before I started school, I attended the December birthday party of a girl I knew. Our mothers were friends. She did not live in my neighborhood but she did attend the same Catholic School I did.

A lot of kids got invited, girls from school and girls from her neighborhood. The basement rec room at her house was packed with kids, parents and siblings, grandparents and anyone else who showed up. It was always a big affair. There was a table for presents, another table for birthday cake and ice cream, drinks, plates, snacks, etc., pin the tail on the donkey on the wall, a semi circle of chairs upon which all the party goers sat to play the various guessing games that we played year after year, guessing how many marbles were in a jar, how many shoelaces in another, how many chocolate kisses in another, etc. My memories of these birthday parties were that they were anxious affairs.

Why such anxiety over a birthday party? Well, each year this same scenario played out: I’d get invited. On the day of the party I would get ready. Where was the present? There wasn’t one. My mother never provided me with a gift to bring to the party. Instead I’d make a card and 2 or 3 dollar bills would go into the card.

My mother did not drive so I would need to get a ride with another friend going to the party. There was one other girl in my neighborhood who usually attended the party too. Her mother, who also had seven kids, like mine, knew how to drive and never seemed to have a problem stuffing any number of kids into her car and driving wherever needed. I usually got a lift with this mother.

One year she forgot to pick me up. I waited a long time outside in the cold, standing in my driveway wondering where she was. I waited patiently, aware that this mother often ran behind schedule. I finally went inside to find out if my mother had indeed set up a ride for me. Just then the other mother drove up, greatly apologetic. They had headed off to the party only to realize they had forgotten me and then driven all the way back to get me.

I got into the car, clutching my homemade card and feeling bad for needing the ride, only to be greeted by my friend holding in her lap a big, beautifully wrapped gift with a pretty bow on it. I was immediately embarrassed. Why couldn’t my mother do something like that? I covered my meager card with my hands, wishing I had a better, more sensitive mother. Didn’t she know you brought gifts to a party? I don’t remember ever having brought a gift.

At the party, I snuck my card onto the table laden with gifts hoping that no one would notice. When present opening began I cringed, waiting for my card to be presented to the birthday girl, usually last, sometimes not even noticed. Sometimes I’d see it lying there on the table long after the presents had been opened, unseen. When the birthday girl did finally open my card she was always thrilled, “Yay! Money!” she’d say, with such enthusiasm I had to believe she meant it.

With the party over it was time to be anxious about getting home. I’d hope that the mother from my neighborhood remembered I was riding with her. One year she left without me and the party girl’s mom had to find me another ride. Another year I had to stay on for several hours for my father to pick me up on his way home from work.

I don’t blame my mother for any of this. She didn’t drive until I was much older and so it was necessary for us to depend on the kindness of our neighbors. I have so many memories of other people driving me places, even to the hospital in emergencies.  One time, when she was actually learning to drive, though I don’t think she had her license yet, my mother asked me to get into the car with her while she drove about 4 miles to the nearest little store to buy a few groceries.

She had me sit in the backseat with my littlest siblings while she bravely yet badly drove along the winding country roads to the store. She stalled the car, a stick shift, innumerable times, lurching down the road in gut-wrenching jolts, finally slamming on the brakes so hard as she arrived at the store that the car went into a long skid and we all went crashing to the floor. I remember thinking at the time—I was about 10 or 11—that when it came time for me to drive I would never drive like that!

When my mother did finally learn to drive she did so adequately enough, though she was a nervous driver and had numerous near misses. Several times while I was in the car with her she’d go off the shoulder on her side, veer over to the other lane, into oncoming traffic, and in just the last second somehow manage to swerve back into the right lane. “Well!” she’d say, and drive onward with a shake of her shoulders and a defiant aire.

One time she slammed on the brakes so hard I flew into the windshield and smashed it. I never knew why she’d done that, as we were about a quarter mile away from the car ahead of us. But this was the beginning of my ability to “see” and “know” things before they happened. I am convinced that this hard knock on the head activated my pineal gland and it has been active ever since.

As children we trust the adults in our lives to take care of us, to provide and teach us, to nurture and sustain us until we are ready to go off on our own. I vowed to myself quite often that I would do things differently from my mother, her bad driving and lack of party etiquette just two examples. But the truth was that for a long time I was depressed, felt deserted, abandoned, neglected by the mother I got, and I did blame her for a lot of things. Now I see the reality of her life, stuck in the country with a bunch of children, unable to drive and depressed, shy, and withdrawn herself. I have to admit, she did the best she could.

It wasn’t until I took responsibility for my own depression that things began to change. By taking on the challenges of my own life, I was able to release my mother from any blame and really go on to live my own life. And I discovered that: No Blame = Freedom. Freedom is truly releasing emotional attachment to what was, to what is. Freedom is pure acceptance of the truth, with judgments peeled away and lessons gained. Freedom carries no blame. Freedom is living as an “unbiased witness,” as don Juan suggests.

I learned how to do it right…

By the time I was in sixth grade there were no more big parties at my friend’s house. Instead there was a much smaller sleepover with just four girls that year. This was much more to my liking. The main point was to stay up all night. No problem, I couldn’t sleep anyway! Still anxious!

Oh, and at that party I brought a real gift, one I had paid for and wrapped myself, the kind of gift I knew you brought to a birthday party, tied in a big bow!


A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries

*The Fire From Within by Carlos Castaneda, p 152