By 2010 my daughters had grown and I had an empty nest. I was, mostly subconsciously, looking for a change. The idea of stepping towards the unknown has always been attractive to me – full of hope and mystery. One afternoon in April, two different friends called to invite me to the same event. It was a slide show about a service trip to Thailand, put on by a local group about whom I had been curious. They had recently moved to my rural area from Santa Barbara, California, had a “teacher,” and did service work in developing countries. That’s all I knew about them.

With nothing better to do and moderate interest, I accepted the invitation that was to change my life. The way the narrators of the slide show spoke about their experiences made me sit up and take notice. All these years later, the impression is still clear – they spoke of inner exploration, seeing themselves clearly, heart-opening experiences, and much more. I had never heard anything like what they were saying anywhere. It was intriguing, and when they invited people to come back next week to find out what they were all about, I took the bait.

Teaching art in Cambodia

I have been living with this fascinating group of people for the last ten years. What makes them so different? One main thing is that they (now we) are intrepid explorers of the human condition in order to remove the obstacles to experiencing higher consciousness. How has this come to be? Here is where all of our stories coincide – we each happened to meet J Jaye Gold (Justin).

In the beginning, Justin helped me to see that I had a lot more possibilities and choices than I realized. His method had everything to do with asking questions and practically nothing to do with giving advice. The questions were sometimes gentle, but many times tough – the kind of questions only a true friend would ask: “What makes you think you are so irreplaceable at your job?” “Are you willing to leave some things behind, to follow what is beckoning?” and most importantly, “When are you going to get going???”

So, after prolonged agonizing, I stepped out of my old life into – what? An ever-changing, ever-challenging road of discovery. Justin is always there to light the way with his ideas, questions, guidance, and love. There are several households of us living together. The pandemic, of course, has presented challenges, and now the California wildfires are blanketing us in smoke.

Despite this, I feel my fortunateness to be facing these times with a community of people who have overcome many challenges and have formed a family who can depend on each other. We are living in a “bubble” of twenty people. The value of living in community has never been more evident. We have companionship, inspiration, grit, and just plain fun together. And together, we navigate the challenges of these times.

Long ago, Justin had a teacher who passed down immense wisdom to him, and he is passing it down to us in a myriad of circumstances. As he reminds us often, “Life is the school.” Almost anything that there is to learn can be learned in the small moments in life. And almost anything that you can dream, you can do – especially with a community of like-minded people.

Burmese refugees – our puppet show audience in Thailand

We usually travel a lot, often to do service work. In the last ten years, we have helped marginalized peasants in Cambodia, Syrian refugees in Turkey, hurricane victims in North Carolina and Puerto Rico, orphans in Mexico, and Burmese refugees in Thailand.

This year we are staying home, feeling our common humanity with friends all over the world. Since we can’t travel, we are venturing into the absorbing world of social media, trying to learn the ins and outs in order to send out inspiration to grow and change to the wider world. Justin has led the way in this unexpected endeavor, tweeting, messaging, and giving interviews.

His leading is always from behind, letting us stumble, course correcting when necessary, and asking questions. Over the years, I have learned to, not necessarily like, but value the tough questions, both from Justin and from my friends. Who wants to look at themselves in a moment of selfishness or anger or avoidance? Not me! But the value has proven to be worth the discomfort – many times over.

In the Herman Hesse book, Steppenwolf, the main character comes across a sign: “MAGIC THEATER. ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY.” I’m a participant in a Magic Theater now and very grateful to be here.