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. An occasional blog does still get written when the creative urge strikes. 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.

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

Jan Ketchel

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

Mother & Me

Seeking to become my own true self…
– Detail of artwork by Jan Ketchel

I have been writing stories about the imp inside me, the fun loving, bright being who never seemed afraid, who was impetuous and daring, who seemed to easily handle life and its iniquities. She was the light side of my normally quiet and withdrawn child self. Today I leave her for a more serious subject: Mother.

In his blog earlier this week Chuck wrote of a man’s relationship to mother and how crucial it is that he separate from her and go on into life fully available to have a true relationship with another person freed of his infantile attachments to mother. In the end he must return to mother and love her from his separateness in order to achieve full masculinity. Whether his mother was a good mother or a bad mother is not important; a man still needs to rid himself of his attachments to her if he is to truly individuate and wholly become who he is. For women it’s a different scenario.

Women have an initiation ceremony built into their DNA. Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 16 a female begins to menstruate. This is the initiation into womanhood. Like all women before them, every young girl has to accept and deal with monthly bleeding for a good deal of her adult life. Some initiation! It lasts a very long time! I remember reading a little booklet my mother gave me when I was about 11. The phrase “you’re a woman now” still sticks in my head. Just like that, I was a woman! Just like that I was like my mother. But I did not want to be like my mother!

I did not have a good witch for a mother. I got a bad witch for a mother. If you have read my books, and especially Place of No Pity, Volume 4 of The Recapitulation Diaries, you know what I’m talking about. She was harsh and neglectful, not the kind of mother I wanted, not the kind of woman I wanted to grow up to be. Nonetheless, she was the mother I got and the mother I had as a role model. I was however always at heart a kind and gentle soul, even when I was being an imp.

The shamans would call the type of mother I got a petty tyrant. A petty tyrant is someone whom you probably hate for what they do to you, for the way they torment and belittle you, but may later realize that they taught you a great deal about how the world works and, most importantly, about how you yourself work, as they relentlessly and cruelly force you to face what you are most afraid of, most angry about, most resentful about, etc. When you cease to blame them for all your problems you may begin to see just how good they are at making you confront every uncomfortable and disagreeable thing about yourself. The petty tyrants of the world are the projections of all that we must sift through if we are to achieve our wholeness. For a woman, the kind of mother I got presented quite a challenge.

During my childhood I dreamed about other mothers, wove fantasies about the perfect, loving mother, the caring being I longed to have in my life. These fantasies got me through a lot of terrible times, as I could always envision a good and comforting mother in times of need. These loving mothers, fantasized though they were, became good role models, based on my own feelings and perceptions of what a good mother would be like. So even though I got a bad witch for a mother I was able to construct images of good witches who came to my rescue when needed.

As I grew into adulthood I had to figure out how I was different from the mother I got, just as I had to figure out how I was like her. For I am, in many ways, just like my mother. It has taken me a long time and a lot of work to accept this fact, that I too have the bad witch inside me. Though I have tended toward the good witch side, the bad witch has popped out often enough. I can truly identify with my own mother. At the same time, I had to extricate from deep within myself who I truly was, separate from her. For I am truly not my mother, I am me! And that’s where individuation takes place for the woman, in both accepting that she is like her mother but that she is equally her own being with her own emotions, feelings, and beliefs based on her own experiences in life, totally separate from mother.

My mother is still alive. Nearing 94 she now lives in a nursing home. Since my father’s death 12 years ago she came back into my life in ways I never imagined. Never a good driver and having not driven in 15 years or so at the time of my father’s death, she needed someone to take her everywhere. After a few years of accommodating her from afar, it became clear that she needed to be closer to me. Although I have many siblings I am the eldest daughter in the family and the one she calls upon most often. We moved her out of the family home and into a small apartment nearby. For several years she lived there in the company of her cat and some very nice neighbors, one or two of whom she grew fond of, until it became clear that she could no longer care for herself. Too many accidents and near fires paved the way for the next stage.

It soon became clear to me, as my mother’s demands and needs encroached on my own life, that I was not yet done with my mother. I was not going to be able to just walk away from the bad witch. We still had things to live out together. What they are continue to unfold to this day.

Demanding and petulant, like a spoiled child, she has relied greatly upon the kindness of my heart. I have met in her every permutation of the bad witch. Very rarely, she has thanked me or told other people how much I have done for her. It’s a rarity, but it does occasionally happen. However, most of the time I am the target for all of her own unresolved inner disturbances, resentments, and regrets. It can be pretty hard to be in a small room with a woman who did horrible things to you and still love her, have compassion for her, and be kind to her while she’s belittling you, laughing at your clothing, commenting on your hair, or angry because you didn’t invite her to Thanksgiving. And yet I accept all of this from her, for in her own way she has been my greatest teacher in what it means to be a woman, a mother, a lover, a kind and compassionate being.

To this day, though I sometimes quake in my boots at the sight of her angry demeanor and the mood she’s in when I visit, I am grateful for all she still teaches me. Indeed, I truly am a full-fledged woman because of all that I have learned from her about being a woman. She has often been an excellent example of how not to live, but also how to stoically face what must be faced. Every time I see her I must face myself at her age, in her physical condition, and wonder, “how will I face what she faces every day? How will I choose to face my death? How will I live out the last days of my life?” She is my greatest advisor. She has given me a lot to mull over, and I still learn things about myself and about being a woman from her.

So, to get back to the point of this blog: women, though we are naturally initiated into womanhood, still have to learn to be the woman that we truly are, biologically alike and yet totally separate beings from our own mothers.

I had to find a way to fully embrace and live life as my kind and loving self, the gentle soul I really am, so different from the mother I got. I had to learn to be this kind and loving being toward her too, even after discovering and understanding the truth about her.

But even as a child and living in my mother’s house I was always kind to her, from the time I was very young, complimenting her on her clothing or hair, and every evening at the dinner table I always told her how delicious the food was, without fail. It was almost expected. The meal could not be eaten until I had delivered my opinion, always positive, and she said, “Thank you, Jan.” Only then was the meal consumed in earnest. In a sense, perhaps a part of me was trying to placate the bad witch, being nice so she might be nice in return, but the truth is, I always meant what I said. I really am a kind person and always was, that too is in my DNA.

I am a kind and gentle soul partly because I have had the greatest petty tyrant of a mother to teach me how to be that way. She pushed me, through her neglect and cruelty, to find and embrace my true self, the kind and loving being I am, the part of herself that she always seemed to reject. For some reason that she has not ever revealed she has hated herself and been exceedingly hard on herself. But she was not going to let me be like her. In her own strange, unintentional way she made sure of that.

I often wonder how evolved a being my mother might actually be. The possibility exists that she planned and accepted the role as one of my petty tyrants in this life, and the truth is, it benefitted me! I thank her for that. And yes, I do love her.

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

Life is Change & Change is Life

The Tao, nature,  is constant change…

I share a passage I was reading this morning from an old favorite of mine, Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He reminds us “that everything changes is the basic truth for each existence. No one can deny this truth, and all the teaching of Buddhism is condensed within it. This is the teaching for all of us.”

He goes on to say, “Without accepting the fact that everything changes, we cannot find perfect composure. But unfortunately, although it is true, it is difficult for us to accept it. Because we cannot accept the truth of transiency, we suffer. So the cause of suffering is our non-acceptance of this truth.”

Those of us who have difficulty accepting our own truths may also find difficulty in accepting the transiency of life. Often we want things to stay the same so we don’t have to feel or re-experience what once caused so much distress, that which fragmented us and sent us into depression, dissociative habits, and any number of behaviors that we deemed necessary for our survival.

The truth is that life is all about change. Life would not exist without constant change. We know this to be truth in our own lives. If we don’t change nothing happens, we stay the same, and yes, we suffer. We aren’t able to more fully live and embrace life if we are afraid of making a move to change something in our lives. In the end we may even find pleasure in our pain and in our refusal to change; we elect suffering over change.

Recapitulation is all about daring the self to accept the changing aspects of life. It means we are saying that we are ready to face what holds us back so we can finally live in this world. Otherwise we remain entrenched in a world that is not real, a world where perhaps only fear and loathing exist, where change is given the boot, and we miss out on the true reality of this world. I spent most of my life in that other world. It’s what my books are all about, the rediscovery of my traumatic beginnings but also the discovery of just how entrenched I had become in the world I had created for myself in order to feel safe.

If we can dare ourselves to investigate just what it is that has us in its grip we slowly begin to find ourselves evermore ready to accept the changing aspects of life. And it’s then that we realize change is life, and that in daring to change ourselves, through the deep inner work of recapitulation, we offer ourselves footholds in new life, in a changing world. As we do deep work on ourselves we begin to trust and enjoy that changing world in previously unimaginable ways.

As we accept that life is change we begin to flow with all the changes that come our way, bidden and unbidden, knowing that this is how life is, and that this time will soon change too. Every time we accept that life is change we let ourselves experience more of living and eventually we are flowing right along, no longer afraid of change, no longer suffering in the way we once did.

Part of accepting that life is change and change is life is accepting that which we run from, that which we hide from, that which scares us the most. It entails turning and facing and finally accepting what once happened to us without judgment, without self-hatred, without fear but with compassion for our frightened self, with kindness for our traumatized self, with love for our noble and strong self.

We remember that those bad times in the past eventually changed too and that new things happened to us, so we see that we have already learned the lessons of change, but to learn those lessons in full awareness is what the process of recapitulation entails. To consciously elect change and allow ourselves the benefit of life in a new way is to readily accept what life offers us to help us grow and evolve.

Then we understand what Suzuki means when he says, “When we realize the everlasting truth of ‘everything changes’ and find our composure in it, we find ourselves in Nirvana.”

The road to Nirvana—to composure and to acceptance of all that is as it changes, without attachment—is one well worth traveling. If I can do it, so can you!

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