Beacons: Stories to Ignite Your Imagination

Living Their Light:

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a 12th century mystic, medicine woman, musician, playwright, poet, author and abbess. (And we think our schedules are full!) The 10th child of noble parents, she was born in what is now West Germany in 1098 and entrusted to the care of Benedictine nun Jutta von Spanheim at age eight. After her mentor's death in 1136, Hildegard was unanimously chosen to succeed her as abbess, and she led the blossoming convent until her death in 1179.

In 1141, she was flooded with Divine Light, thereby receiving her commission as a prophet. From then on she devoted herself to a life of intense and passionate creativity. Her superabundance includes books on nature; medicine; an extraordinary gathering of chants, hymns and sequences that she called "The Harmonic Symphony of Cosmic Revolutions"; gospels, and plays. It is the work of a deeply engaged artistry. In Hildegard's own words, it's the creation born "of writing, seeing, hearing and knowing all in one manner."

The "Sybil of the Rhine," as she was known, understood the origins and healing of illness as being inextricably connected with the forces of nature. She called the healing force viriditas. Viriditas literally means greenness, growing energy, the principle of life and sexuality. Life from Spirit transmitted into plants, animals and precious stones is viriditas.

Hildegard's renown extended far beyond Germany. She was also involved in politics and diplomacy; popes, emperors, and people from all walks of life sought her advice and friendship. However, after her death, her wealth of natural healing wisdom remained dormant for 800 years. Today, as the Western world reawakens to the power of a multidimensional approach to wellness, Hildegard's groundbreaking contribution is inspiring a new vision of balance and planetary attunement.

Helen and Scott Nearing

Long before words such as "permaculture" and "sustainable" entered our everyday vocabulary, Helen and Scott Nearing exemplified how homesteading could be a practical, peaceful, fulfilling and healthful alternative to wage-based labor. In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, they left New York City for rural Vermont, with the intention of living simply and sustainably on the land. At the time, Scott was close to 50 years old.

During their two decades in Vermont, the Nearings hand-crafted a dozen stone structures, grew organic fruits and vegetables year-round in a challenging climate, chopped their own wood for heating and cooking, welcomed thousands of visitors to their guesthouse (never charging rent!) and published and spoke widely on the virtues of simple living and social justice. Daily, they followed a 4-4-4 model: four hours of "bread labor"; four hours for reading, writing, and other personal development pursuits; four hours of community service and activism. Their steadfast commitment to this system was the cornerstone of their success.

When ski resorts started encroaching on Forest Farm, the Nearings pulled up stakes and relocated again, this time to coastal Maine. Scott was almost 70, Helen, 50, when, with the same indomitable spirit that had guided them throughout their journey, they began to create another self-sufficient haven in Harborside.

Scott left the good life at the honorable age of one hundred, fasting into a peaceful, spiritual death with Helen by his side. Before her own transition at the age of 91, Helen founded The Good Life Center so that young people might continue to benefit from the Nearings' vision and practice, through their books, ongoing workshops, apprenticeships, and residential stewardship.

Peace Pilgrim

At an Earth Day celebration in Taos, New Mexico in 1997, someone handed me a copy of Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, as well as a booklet summarizing Peace's beliefs and practices. I've carried the booklet with me ever since, and read it countless times. It's been a ceaseless inspiration, bringing me home to myself time and again.

This extraordinary woman criss-crossed America on foot for nearly three decades, walking as a penniless pilgrim for peace. Her journey began on the morning of January 1, 1953, when she set out from Pasadena, California, carrying in her blue tunic her only worldly possessions. Her vow was, "I shall remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the ways of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food."

Her entire life was an embodied prayer for peace: among nations, among groups, among individuals, and in our own hearts. Her message was simple: "This is the way of peace: Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love." In her book (compiled by some friends after her death, from the many talks and interviews she gave over the years), she recounts her own "spiritual growing up" that led to the pilgrimage, emphasizing preparations, purifications and relinquishments on the road to inner peace.

The Preparations are:

  • Assume right attitudes toward life.
  • Live good beliefs.
  • Find your special place in the Life Pattern.
  • Simplify your life to bring inner and outer well being into harmony.

The Purifications are:

  • Purification of the bodily temple.
  • Purification of thoughts.
  • Purification of desires.
  • Purification of motives.

The Relinquishments are:

  • Relinquishment of self-will.
  • Relinquishment of the feeling of separateness.
  • Relinquishment of all attachments.
  • Relinquishment of all negative feelings.

Caroline Casey

Self-described "Visionary Activist Astrologer" Caroline W. Casey is calling upon everyone to "Believe nothing, entertain possibilities." An internationally renowned speaker, author, and host of the weekly radio program, The Visionary Activist Show on KPFA in the San Francisco Bay Area (Thursdays at 2 p.m., 94.1 FM), Caroline is reverently irreverent, deliciously witty and engagingly topical. Her remarkable ability to wed esoteric teachings and mythology with modern political and social concerns makes her a potent catalyst for change.

Her "initiation school disguised as a book," Making The Gods Work For You, invites us to "Think of your life as a spiritual detective novel. Each aspect of your life, especially the really quirky, maverick parts, are clues to your task, your destiny, and your gift to the world...Entertain the possibility that you are an undercover agent parachuting down to this beautiful planet in its time of need. Astrology is a language that catalyzes your memory of your mission. Each of us has some crucial task to perform in the Grand Intrigue, a task that will not only transform us personally, but also transform the entire climate of culture."

Caroline suggests we replace what she calls "the Reality Police" with a possibility parable. "We need to tell ourselves a new story, because vision is to be found not in celebrity, but in what the culture has forgotten, exiled or suppressed. These are the people whose stories we most need now," she says.

And embracing paradox releases our creativity–and humor. When she signed my copy of her book, Caroline wrote, "Here's to full bloom of your wild disciplined playful compassionate trickster self."

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