Journey to My Self: What My Inner Shaman, My Grandma and a host of Otherworld Beings Taught Me About Courage, Creativity and Reclaiming My Power

Journey to My Self: What My Inner Shaman, My Grandma and a host of Otherworld Beings Taught Me About Courage, Creativity and Reclaiming My Power

by Karen Klein


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504351522
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 03/15/2016
Pages: 114
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.24(d)

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Journey to My Self

What My Inner Shaman, My Grandma and a host of Otherworld Beings Taught Me About Courage, Creativity and Reclaiming My Power

By Karen Klein

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2016 Karen Klein
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-5152-2


My mother left Earth on December 14, 2003. After that phone call from her nursing home, I felt like an orphan — an old one, but an orphan nonetheless. I was aware of a dramatic shift on a deep level. I mourned and grieved, gathered my family, and memorialized her life with a slideshow I put together from that huge box of photographs she had moved so many times. As I was growing up, whenever the family gathered, a drawer filled with photographs of our relatives would be put on the dining room table for all of us to look at again. In that experience, we asked questions and retold our family's stories. Now those photos had another purpose. A beautifully haunting violin solo of "Amazing Grace" accompanied the slideshow. I felt that my mother would have liked the tribute — so complete in its simplicity.

Then I got back to working at my job, getting on with my life as I knew it. I received my degree in studio arts in 1988, but as soon as I had that piece of paper, I went to work in the "real world." For lack of time and energy, I did none of my own art during my employment. In 2005, I decided to retire and focus all my energies on my artwork. I understood that time is precious and whatever of my time remained, I was going to spend it on my artwork, not the nine-to-five. When I disconnected from my work life and focused on my art, many personal concerns, interests, and questions arose. One of them was my spiritual void, bankruptcy, blank — something that had started after my mother's transition into spirit. Now it seemed to demand my attention.

A journalist published a weekly column called "The Seeker's Diary" in the local newspaper. He attended a different church every week and wrote about what he found there — the environment and the experience of worship. I started to follow his lead, attending church after church to find a place that would resonate with me.

I was seriously working on my art, learning about digital cameras and Photoshop. The more I worked and learned, the more productive and experimental I became. The art I was making was indeed personal and deeply satisfying.

Over time, I created a body of work that I titled In Focus, Out of Memory. It eventually consisted of seventeen black-and-white images documenting my personal journey. With such titles as "She Knew Why, but Not When," "She Thought He'd Know," "She Had That Dream Again," this work became very important to me. The more I created, the more I could own my life experience. I submitted this work for exhibit at every opportunity. In 2010, it was selected for a two-person show at Monterey Peninsula College. That meant not only that my work would be matted and framed and shipped, but that I would have an artist's talk-and-meet with the photography students. Yikes! I was always afraid that my work wasn't good enough, so this was a significant validation I readily accepted.

Having had many good experiences with classes I had attended and books I had read, I continued my spiritual quest too. And I always sought more — more answers, more questions, and more experiences.

During this period, after a fitful night of sleep, I awakened with an image that I needed to draw. I fumbled for my notebook and pen and sketched a little girl walking with her hand in an adult's hand. I had no idea what it meant, but I understood I needed to record it. That was in the fall of 2011. Now I realize it was foretelling of things to come.

I was browsing away at a used bookstore — looking for the answers to what I felt was my spiritual bankruptcy. In the metaphysical section, I came across a book titled Personal Mythology. I picked it up, and on the lavender cover, I read the subtitle: Use Ritual, Dreams, and Imagination to Discover Your Inner Story. Sounded good to me, and for $5.48, I was on to a new experience. I took the book home and embraced the possibilities it offered (even though I wasn't sure what they were). I truly believed that anything would be better than where I was in my endless and fruitless search to "own" my spirituality.

I curled up in my favorite stuffed chair and began paging through the prologue, "Expanding Your Mythology Beyond Limiting Cultural Images." There were suggestions to use a personal journal, instructions on guided imagery and working with dreams, and tips on overcoming resistance. All of this was new and acceptable to me. I eagerly turned to chapter 1, "Into Your Mythic Depths." It began with a quote from Joseph Campbell: "It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that move the human spirit forward." To my hungry mind, it just kept getting better and better!

The third paragraph header was "A Journey Back to Your Ancestors." The guided meditation, "Personal Ritual: Meeting Your Inner Shaman," said the Inner Shaman might be in the guise of a wise old man, the Earth Mother, a known master, a Celtic priestess, Jesus, Confucius, or whoever emerges into awareness. As the directions in the book stated, "The Inner Shaman is not revealed to the unprepared or casual seeker." And so it was, the fall of 2011 marked the beginning of my Inner Shaman journeys. I went about setting up my meditation space with candles. Per instructions, I closed my eyes and followed the directions to locate myself in a timeless and dreamlike reality, then to follow a path into the dark places of my being.

Fall 2011: First Visit

I am slowly walking on a dirt path. It is very worn; the dirt is dark and hard, but smooth and cool. I appear younger than I am now (maybe in my twenties), and my hair color is darker. I am barefoot and wearing a light colored, mid-calf '60s-era, flower-patterned cotton dress.

One cautious step after another leads me to a clearing surrounded by lush green plants with trees on the left side. It is very beautiful in the natural disorder of nature with bamboo, birch, eucalyptus, many varieties of fern, blooming magnolias, hibiscus, orchids, and wild roses everywhere. All the shades of green foliage, the peeling white bark of the birch, the multitude of the blooms burst forth to present an orgy of color. There is a sweet, fresh scent that I breathe in deeply and slowly. On the right side, there lies a dark, small body of water, like a swamp. On the banks are lots of tangled roots and large-leafed dark growth, all uninviting and ominous.

At the end of the path, there are two willow trees, one on each side, with long, hanging branches forming an archway to the shaman's door. The door appears to be in the middle of a large mound of dirt that is completely covered with vines of dark-green ivy. As I approach the door, I see it is made of vertical planks of old, faded, gray wood. I am reminded of the weathered wood from the barn on the farm where I grew up.

I lift my right hand and gently knock. My inner guide tells me my password phrase: "I am because I create," and after I say it, the shaman opens the door. I enter a large, round space filled with warm, golden light. I look up and see that it is open — there is no roof, no ceiling, no sky — just open to the infinite. The energy is palpable, and I experience joy and awe, a nice replacement for my usual anxieties.

When I was little, my paternal grandparents lived with us, so I had an awareness of an extended family whose names, stories, and photographs were familiar to me. In seeking an ancestor, I knew the ancestor I would most relate to was my great-grandfather Karl Emil Otto. In the drawer of family photos, I had seen pictures of him with his family and his students. His roll-top desk is now in my living room. At the age of twenty-eight, he was sent from Mansfeld, Germany, to Wisconsin to minister to the immigrant farmers. He arrived in Milwaukee on April 29, 1865, and from that humble beginning, he went on to become the president of Eden Seminary in Marthasville, Missouri, and a professor of theology at Eden. At some point — and this is where he became my hero — the synod asked him to leave because in his classroom he taught and encouraged a "symbolical method of Scripture interpretation." Indeed this is a very shortened, distilled version of his teaching and the event at Eden; my point is that I revered his commitment to his truth. Eventually his teachings were reconsidered. He went on to serve many years as a minister and as a professor of ancient languages and history at Elmhurst College.

When I went to scatter my mom's ashes in Missouri, I stopped at Eden Seminary and met with the archivist. As soon as I entered the room, I saw my great-grandfather's picture on the wall of the archives in the basement of the library. I immediately recognized him. I knew he had a full beard and thick hair. I remembered that my dad sometimes referred to his grandpa as "Rot Otto," as his hair had a reddish cast. Today, in the Eden Seminary Chapel in St. Louis, Missouri, there is a stained-glass window dedicated to his memory. Something about my truth-seeking, rebellious great-grandfather was very important to me, so when the book's instructions were to introduce myself to my Inner Shaman via the meditation, I was very confident and excited to proceed.

Fall 2011: First Visit, Continued

Now I meet him as my Shaman, and he still has a thick beard and lots of coarse hair, but it is all white. He has pale blue eyes, just like mine are and my dad's were. I know he expects me, and he welcomes me by placing his hands on my shoulders. He looks directly into my eyes and smiles. Then he takes my hand, and I walk with him to the left. There are no words exchanged.

The golden light makes the inner space feel very welcoming and comfortable. The floor feels like hard earth. I am aware of the space feeling magical, like in a dream where walls are transparent. There is no sound or smell, but the air is charged with energy. I look around and see there is no roof, no ceiling, yet also not a blue sky but something beyond that — just space emanating golden light. The inner space feels very large, but without contents. I cannot see the other side, but in the middle of the space, I do see a very large mound of down feathers.

We proceed on our walk; first he leads me to the Creative Bush. It is tall and round, heavy with dark green foliage and blueberry-size red berries. He picks some berries and feeds them to me; they are sweet and juicy. He then gives me a spoonful of green liquid. I notice that it has no flavor.

He takes my hand, and we walk around to a rocker where my beloved Grandma Klein (his daughter, Clara) is sitting! I am so happy to see her — my saving grace when I was a little girl. She and Grandpa Klein lived with us, and she always had time to play with me, either making shadow puppets on the wall in their room or playing house with my dolls. Her lap was a place of refuge and welcome. I hug her and sit down next to her; her love envelopes me just like when I was a little girl sitting on her lap while she rocked me, stroked my brow, and assured me that all was well. I thank the Shaman and leave.

I found my first experience with my Inner Shaman exhilarating — visually powerful and very safe. I knew I would repeat this, and now it is part of my early morning ritual.

Fall 2011: Second Visit

A few days after my first visit to the Inner Shaman, I follow the same routine. I walk the path to the door, knock, say the password; the door opens, and there he is. This visit, I observe myself as a young girl, little Karen, about five or six, who was sexually abused by a male cousin five years older than she. I take her to my Grandma Klein, who is slowly rocking back and forth, seemingly waiting for me to arrive with the child. She reaches out for the pale child (me), puts her on her lap, and rocks her, stroking her hair and reassuring her that she's okay now. Later, I see them making shadow puppets on the wall by the light of the kerosene lamp.

I did not start this meditation with the intent to bring forth this part of me. It happened; I believe the Inner Shaman knew I needed to heal this part of me, so this "little Karen" appeared. Over the years, I had discussed this issue in therapy — many different kinds of talk therapy. And I never escaped the cloud of knowing I was different. I had lost innocence; I had been robbed of discovering my sexuality as a positive, joyful part of me.

Fall 2011: Third Visit

The next time I go to the Inner Shaman, after the welcome and walk to the Creative Bush, he leads me to a dark, damp hiding place on the left side of the pile of down. I have not been this far around the space before, but now I see there are two more little Karens cowering under a large canopy of dark leaves. I sense their fear and their shame. This dark, dank place seems connected to the dark water stream that is outside by the path to the entrance.

The five-year-old had received a wounding message in kindergarten — a comment from a piano teacher during a lesson: "You are the most ..." and my five-year-old self immediately knew, by the tone she used, that whatever that word was, it wasn't good; I was hurt and ashamed. The other Karen was hurt by a thoughtless remark at age eight. While I was singing Christmas carols with a cousin who was playing the piano for our duet, my dad had walked into the room. "You can't sing," he said, laughing at my efforts before leaving.

I didn't want to take piano lessons, but I did — for twelve years. I wanted to take dancing lessons, but my mother thought that was too sexual, so I couldn't do that. And I have never enjoyed singing. The self- consciousness I absorbed from both of these events impacted me greatly; I am slowly healing. I felt that my discoveries with the Inner Shaman let me own and know myself, even the parts that were frustrating and self-defeating.

In early December 2011, after a twenty-plus year marriage, I moved out of our marital residence into my own apartment. This was a second marriage for both of us, and many things came into play.

My granddaughter had lived with us from age ten to eighteen, then she started college and moved to campus. My husband and I had her to absorb our attention, and after she moved out, we faced the dilemma of sitting across the table with nothing to say. I was more and more absorbed in my art and felt a separate space would be best for both of us. I found my little apartment (a room of one's own) to be perfect for my art, my evolving journey, and me.

Early December 2011

The next time I visit the Inner Shaman, he greets me, then blesses me with light, knowledge, peace, and insight — kind of a '60s thing. As I leave, I see my six grandchildren standing alongside the path, waiting for me — all smiles, and all of the same age, maybe nine? I realize that it is always daylight and warm here; I never thought about that before, but I am so grateful since the dark winters make me so depressed.

December 29, 2011

I take the infant girl my mother birthed at 6:05 a.m. on December 29, 1942 — me — to the Inner Shaman. I follow the path to the plank door, knock, and say "I am because I create," then he opens the door. He smiles, and I show him the infant Karen. He takes her/me and holds her in his arms, shifts her to his shoulder, and rubs her back. He returns her to me, and I take her in my arms, where she is quickly absorbed into my body. My first thought is, "Now I am complete, and I can nourish her, and we will make really fine art together!"

I remember hearing my mother say she thought I was hungry all the time, from the moment I was born. At that time, babies were fed on schedule, not demand. I probably was hungry and did my best to make that known, but she wouldn't disobey her doctor's orders about the feeding schedule.

January 1, 2012

On this visit, I bring my infant Karen with me again. My Inner Shaman takes my hand and we walk to the left, first to eat berries from the Creative Bush then on to whatever adventure/information/education he has for me. This time, we go to Grandma, who is slowly rocking and telling stories to the growing group of little Karens. They vary in age a little, but they all wear the same little royal-blue cotton dress with a sailor collar, patent leather shoes, and white anklets. I give Grandma the infant Karen. She takes the infant and begins to breast-feed her.


Excerpted from Journey to My Self by Karen Klein. Copyright © 2016 Karen Klein. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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