Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society

June 2012 – Vol. 15 Issue 4

Compassionate Listening Behind Bars

Rolling up to the barbed wire fence of the Washington Corrections Facility for Women, I prepare myself for teaching some of the institution’s residents the practices of Compassionate Listening (CL). It’s part of a program designed to help them “turn around” conflict in their lives.

With all of my jewelry, money and identifying information left behind, other than the driver’s license which I’m required to give the guard for safe-keeping, I’m ready to meet the women who have voluntarily signed up for the workshop. After going through multiple levels of security and passing a number of residents clothed in loose gray sweats along the way, my colleagues and I finally arrive at the education building where approximately fifteen women are waiting for us. I know nothing about the people present what they’re in for, how long they’ve been there, who is a wife or a mother, and whether there are some who might be there for the rest of their lives. What I see before me is a very diverse group of women curious about what we have to offer and perhaps wondering why we’ve traveled so far to offer it.

After introductions, we do a brief centering and exploration of what it means to be fully present with our hearts – from that special place of beauty that lives within each of us at the core of our being. And then we do listening exercises. The women experience what it’s like to be listened to without judgment, interruption or fixing. They practice reflecting back the facts, feelings and values contained in each other’s stories. They laugh, they cry and they’re grateful. They’d like us to return, and we do. A few sessions later, I gift them with a copy of Practicing the Art of Compassionate Listening which I wrote with Leah Green and Susan Partnow. They excitedly read portions of to each other – clearly “getting” the power of our work and wanting more.

This is just the beginning of my story about teaching Compassionate Listening to women behind bars. A number of my fellow CL colleagues on both coasts have been doing similar work with incarcerated men and women in their communities. Why do we keep going back? Because we have something important to share skills and practices that can make a difference in the residents’ relationships with themselves, their families and the people they interact with “on the inside.” By what stroke of fortune, circumstances of birth and personal choices made, am I not the one living behind barbed wire? What are these women there to teach me – about courage, patience and commitment to growth?

Without regard to how we’ve each arrived at this moment, now is the time when, perhaps together, we can help heal our world … from the inside out. A lofty goal that truly begins one heart at a time. Andrea Cohen, Senior CL Facilitator

[For more information about the Compassionate Listening Project visit or write to them at PO Box 17, Indianola, WA 98342.]

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey is a skillful meditation on both snails and life, with serious undertones from the author's sudden, mysterious, debilitating illness which struck her at age 34. Formerly a very active artist, she is bedridden in a friend's studio, so weak with paralysis she can't even sit up. Another friend drops off a pot of wild violet plants with a common woodland snail. At first somewhat irritated by the creature on her nightstand, the author gradually becomes absorbed, watching the snail day after day and developing a sense of kinship: "the snail had emerged from its shell into the alien territory of my room, with no clue as to where it was or how it had arrived; the lack of vegetation and the desertlike surroundings must have seemed strange. The snail and I were both living in altered landscapes not of our choosing; I figured we shared a sense of loss and displacement."

The snail becomes a focus that helps involve her in life again. As she writes: "Survival often depends on a specific focus: a relationship, a belief, or a hope balanced on the edge of possibility. Or something more ephemeral: the way the sun passes through the hard seemingly impenetrable glass of a window and warms the blanket, or how the wind, invisible but for its wake, is so loud one can hear it through the insulated walls of a house." Finally when she returns home, she releases the snail into the woods on her country property in Maine. But her interest in snails remained strong, and in the course of her story she shares gracefully the fruits of years of research into these creatures. Anyone reading this will be charmed to learn a great deal about snails as well as the human spirit. Sally Dougherty

Islamic Arts and Cultural Festival

Celebrate creativity, culture, and community with the Muslim Association of Puget Sound on June 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at their Center at 17550 NE 67th Court, Redmond. This free event aims to share the diversity of Islamic heritage and the creativity of MAPS members with all, and will feature art exhibits, booths about Islamic countries and their cultures, youth and children activities, performances, and food (a lunch is available for $5). Come and learn more about your Islamic neighbors.

Theosophical Views

Reincarnation as Taught by Early Christians

By I. M. Oderberg

Was reincarnation unknown in Europe until recently? Why doesn’t Christianity teach it? Actually, the idea is found in the oldest traditions of Western civilization, and there is solid evidence that during its first centuries Christianity did indeed impart what it had learned about the pre-existence of souls and their reimbodiment.

Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived during most of the first century AD, records in his Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews that reincarnation was taught widely in his day, while his contemporary in Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, also refers to reimbodiment in one or another form. Moreover, there are passages of the New Testament that can be understood best if seen against the background of pre-existence of souls as a generally held belief. For instance, Matthew 16:13-14 records that when Jesus asked his disciples "Whom do men say that I am?" they replied that some people said he was John the Baptist, others thought he was Elijah, Jeremiah, or another of the prophets. Later in Matthew 17:13, far from rejecting the concept of rebirth, Jesus tells his disciples that John the Baptist was Elijah. John 9:2-4 reports that the disciples asked Jesus whether a blind man had sinned or his parents that he had been born blind. A blind man from birth could not have sown the seeds of his blindness in his present body, but must have been thought to have done so in a previous lifetime.

The earliest Christians, especially Gnostic sects, included reimbodiment among their important teachings. For them it enabled fulfillment of the law as well as pro-viding the means for the soul to purify itself from the muddy qualities resulting from its immersion in matter and the egoism we have developed in the first stages of our journey through earth life. After the original generations of Christians, we find early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr (100-165), Clement of Alexandria (150-220), and Origen (185-254) teaching the pre-existence of souls and taking up aspects of reimbodiment. Examples are scattered through Origen's works, especially Contra Celsum, where he asks: "Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds . . . ?" And in De Principiis he says that "the soul has neither beginning nor end." St. Jerome (340-420) in his Letter to Demetrias states that some Christian sects in his day taught a form of reincarnation as an esoteric doctrine, imparting it to a few "as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged." He said of Origen that he was "the greatest teacher of the early Church after the Apostles." Synesius (370-430), Bishop of Ptolemais, also taught the concept and in one of his prayers says: "Father, grant that my soul may merge into the light, and be no more thrust back into the illusion of earth." In Hymn III he states his views clearly and pleads that he be so purified that rebirth on earth will no longer be necessary.

After Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion of the Roman empire, the church allowed itself to become entwined with the administration of the political arena. Its destiny became linked to the fate of the empire itself and its rulers. The several differences in teaching among fourth-century Christian sects paralleled provincial disturbances under the weak emperors, so that by the time Justinian took charge in 527, he had serious problems. He worked desperately to reunify his crumbling empire, and toward this end set out to enforce a uniform canon of belief, to be strictly adhered to. In 553 he called the Fifth Council of Constantinople and enforced the acceptance of the decision of what seems to have been merely an extraconciliary session anathematizing Origen’s teachings, making it appear to have ecumenical endorsement or sanction. What concerns us here is that the clerics opposing Origen's teachings, mainly the one dealing with the pre-existence of souls, thus secured an official condemnation, which they tried to make binding. From the point of view of public teaching, the idea of rein-carnation disappeared from European thought after this Fifth Council and this on the grounds that it conflicted with a proper understanding of redemption.

Despite the anathemas, Origen's influence flowed down the centuries like a steady stream, through leading Christians of the day to Maximus of Tyre (580-662) and Johannes Scotus Erigena (810-877). It reached such late figures as Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and St. Buenaventura (1221-1274). Apart from Christian sects like the Cathars, Albigenses, Waldenses and Bomogils, isolated individuals such as Jacob Boehme, Joseph Glanvil (chaplain of King Charles II of England), the Rev. William Law, Henry More, and many modern Catholic and Protestant clerics have supported the concept of reincarnation on logical and other grounds.

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