The Harmony Project

Christianity
Interview with Thea Jackson

"Thea is one of my spiritual teachers."

  • When my mother died, I was so angry that I remember telling God in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely never going to believe in Him again. I always giggle when I think about it, because I wonder whom I thought I was getting back at if there was nobody there.
  • Unity gives you support to take out all of your beliefs one at a time and look at them to see if they're your beliefs or someone else's that you have adopted because you think you ought to, or somebody told you that you were supposed to. It really helps you to draw out every belief and then identify what your core beliefs are. I found that very, very rewarding. The message really was that the kingdom of God is within. Obviously, I had learned that in my other traditions, but the worship seemed to indicate that the kingdom of God was up there.
  • I think love is the predominant factor in all the religions I've known. I think that the two Commandments-love God, and love each other-are Commandments across the board. The way you do that may differ, the prescriptions for doing that may differ, but the basic Commandments are consistent.
  • I think one of the things that get in the way of connecting with God is trying to emulate somebody else's spiritual experience. I think that there are times when I ask for very specific direction around very specific issues and my mind gets real busy trying to manufacture answers for me. My mind is telling me all kinds of stuff that it would like me to accept, but I know it's not the true voice. When the true voice comes it affects the totality of me, not just my mind.
  • The hymn Amazing Grace has had a profound impact all over the world-just that hymn. And it came out of the experience of slavery. We can't know all the things that came out of that experience-we can't know all the things that come out of any horrible experience.
  • We are certainly all one, and everything that has an impact on one person definitely has an impact on all of us.
  • If a person is talking to you and you're totally still, you are getting exactly what the other person is saying. But if your mind is going, if you are rippling waters, you are not hearing clearly what they are saying; you're getting a distorted message, so then you react to a distorted message, and more than likely the other person reacts to your distorted message. If everybody can be still, then the communication can be clear.
  • It's very sad to me that in this country we have such an amalgamation of rich cultures from which we don't really benefit, because we keep trying to insist that everybody be alike. We don't care much for differences. We don't encourage the sharing of differences, which is sad because all of us would be so much richer if we did.

Ann: In what spiritual tradition were you raised?

Thea: I was raised as a Southern Baptist in Virginia. In all of my childhood memories, God was a very active part of the family…and Jesus; it depended on whether I was with my grandparents or my parents. Any major decision that had to be made, it was my understanding that first you talk to Jesus or to God about it, and you wait on the answer. You wouldn't think of deciding where to go on vacation or to school or maybe even whether to buy something…I grew up with the understanding that you talk all these things over with God first. I grew up with the understanding that this is the way adults behave; this is the way adult decisions are made.

I don't remember what I felt about making my own decisions. As a little girl, a lot of my play was with God/Jesus. And I have to keep saying it that way because God and Jesus were rather interchangeable. Once I became so mad at God, because He dumped me out of a swing on my head while I was praying! I often played by myself, and my conversations were with God or Jesus as I played.

Ann: So you opened a direct circuit to God from the time you were little.

Thea: Yes.

Ann: Some people don't even realize that's a possibility. How old are you now?

Thea: I'm seventy-five.

Ann: I know you've studied other spiritual traditions; when did you step outside the traditional Baptist Church?

Thea: When I went away to college I went to church almost every Sunday on the campus, but it was non-denominational and much more ritualistic than I was accustomed to. It was just a matter of going, and sitting, and singing, and listening to a lecture and leaving. There was no opportunity to engage in any joint activity or joint worship other than the silent portion. In my other church there was much more communicating, it was a family. You took part in things, whether it was the service or caring for the children, or maybe helping with ushering or a recitation. In the congregation I grew up in, the children were very well trained. It was expected that they would participate in the various aspects of the service. It could be passing the plate for the collection or giving out the programs or singing a solo. Everybody was expected to participate, and you stayed in church a long time.

Ann: Did you ever lose faith in your tradition?

Thea: I don't think I ever went through any process that I would call losing faith, although, when my mother died, I was so angry that I remember telling God in no uncertain terms that I was absolutely never going to believe in Him again. I always giggle when I think about it, because I wonder whom I thought I was getting back at if there was nobody there. So I did lose my sense that God was going to take care of me in the way I thought best. It was an extension of what happened in the swing. When I went over on my head I was disgusted that God had let that happen. I had been saying the Lord's Prayer. I thought, "If I can't trust You to take care of me while I'm saying the Lord's Prayer, how can I trust You at all?" But I always just got into more intense conversations with God around these things.

I think there have been periods when I've been more consciously drawn to things of the spirit than other times. Shortly after my husband and I got married, we went to a church in Moline, Illinois, which was the only black church there. It was not one where I felt particularly comfortable, and so we really never became regular members. Then when I went back to Ohio, I joined the Episcopal Church, because Jack's family belonged to the Episcopal Church.

I'm not sure how to explain my spiritual life during that time. I want to say it was not as joyous and celebratory. In my growing up days, my mother sang hymns all day long. Everybody teases me now that I don't need the hymnbook because I know all the words to every hymn in the hymnbook-that's because I was raised on it. When my mother was dying, I was eleven, and I didn't know she was ill. She had pernicious anemia, which was terminal at that time, so she knew that she was dying for about a year. I think that her singing was her way of being in constant prayer.

But it was joyous singing; the house always felt like it was filled with joyous song. We did a lot of family singing around the piano. But my mother sang all through her work. There was no radio or television. Eventually we got a radio, but that was only turned on two or three times a week for a half-hour program here and there. But we had a house full of music all the time, because everybody was singing. It seemed as though when I went to the Episcopal Church the services were much more ritualistic and much less joyous. People were not making a joyful noise unto the Lord!

Ann: And it was only an hour service, and then you went home.

Thea: And that was it for a week. Where I grew up there was some reason you were in church almost every day. Fortunately we lived right across the street from the church, so it was easy!

Ann: So then you did start to study other spiritual paths? You went from Baptist to Episcopal and then…

Thea: When we moved to Queens, the rector at the low Episcopal church had left, and the rector from the high church was substituting until they could get a new rector. The church service became so high that we were uncomfortable, and we didn't stay there. We went looking for another church, and we found a home in a Presbyterian Church, which was really lovely. We raised the kids there, so that was a very good experience. We were very active; Jack was superintendent of the Sunday school and I taught Sunday school.

Ann: And that's where you began to talk about Unity?

Thea: We became involved in Unity in a very interesting way. We had left the Westminster Presbyterian Church and joined another Presbyterian Church because we lost our minister, and the new minister was not somebody I could relate to. I didn't become quite as active in the other church, although Jack did. When my best friend's husband died, we went to Washington, and when we were getting ready to come back to New York, there was a little pamphlet stuck in my friend's door. The title attracted me, and I asked her if we could have it. As we got on the highway, I started reading it aloud to Jack, and both of us were very taken by the message. It said "Unity Center, 151st Street, New York City." So that Sunday, we went to look this place up and heard Eric Butterworth. We were just bowled over. We were delighted with what we heard, and we kept going back. We became very active in the Unity Center: We became group leaders for the retreats and had a very good experience.

Ann: Did you feel that Unity was in conflict with Christianity?

Thea: Unity is not in conflict with Christianity at all-it's called the Unity Center for Practical Christianity. We found that there were even some Jewish people who thought that it helped them. Eric says in no uncertain terms, and I think this is really true, that the goal of the Unity Center is to help you to become a better whatever it is you are. It's not in conflict with any order. We still attend the Presbyterian Church in Katonah.

Ann: And what could Unity teach you that the church couldn't teach you?

Thea: Well, the Unity Center starts from a different base. Eric Butterworth said that Unity gives you support to take out all of your beliefs one at a time and look at them to see if they're your beliefs or someone else's that you have adopted because you think you ought to, or somebody told you that you were supposed to. It really helps you to draw out every belief and then identify what your core beliefs are. I found that very, very rewarding. The message really was that the kingdom of God is within. Obviously, I had learned that in my other traditions, but the worship seemed to indicate that the kingdom of God was up there.

Ann: Outside of the self?

Thea: Yes. So the emphasis was on going to heaven, and heaven was out there. In Unity, the emphasis was on going to heaven in here.

Ann: Which is not really in conflict with Christianity. It's just a different way of teaching the same things. I think that's one of the major lessons I didn't receive as a Christian-to go in. I think that's why I dropped away, and yet that lesson is part of Christian teaching.

Thea: Oh, yes, it is. That teaching is definitely in Christianity. Although I've talked to a couple of Jewish women who feel they are much better Jews because they listen to Eric. When we had the retreats, there were two nuns who were group leaders, and they used to study with us. They said it really helped them to be better Catholics. It's better because of the emphasis on the goodness-the Godness-that is omnipresent, that's in each person that I meet. There's a different emphasis, but it certainly is not in conflict with Christianity at all. It's very scripturally based. In fact, sometimes I think that it's more clearly scriptural than a lot of the sermons we hear in more traditional arenas, because a lot of the churches use fear as the basis for getting your attention, and Unity goes in exactly the opposite direction.

Ann: I've done maybe six interviews so far, and in each of the traditions the goals are the same. They are about goodness, protecting family, compassion-and yet there is some teaching that separates us. I'm trying to find the bridges so that we can see that we really are working for the same thing.

Thea: Yes. That's one of the reasons that-although I belong to a Presbyterian Church-I do not call myself a Presbyterian. I've been asked to be an elder, but I would never become an elder because I don't know enough about the dogma, and I don't want to. I'm not at all interested. I like my particular church because the message of the minister is beneficial, edifying, growth-inducing for me. The people are the most welcoming and the most service-minded when it comes to living their Christian beliefs, acting them out, and I love the way they take care of the children. So it feels like a very warm, loving family. I think about that song, "They'll Know We're Christians by Our Love." You can see that in my congregation, and I appreciate that. That's why I'm a member of the Presbyterian Church. That church could be anything; I don't care what the denomination is. I don't want to be distracted by that, so I don't get into it at all. I don't know the difference between Presbyterian and Lutheran. I know that the Baptists baptize by immersion; that's about all I know. I don't know the doctrines and I don't want to. I think love is the predominant factor in all the religions I've known. I think that the two Commandments-love God, and love each other-are Commandments across the board. The way you do that may differ, the prescriptions for doing that may differ, but the basic Commandments are consistent.

Ann: Now your heroes…one of your heroes would be Butterworth?

Thea: That's right. I call him my main guru.

Ann: Do you have any other spiritual heroes?

Thea: I had a lot of spiritual heroes in my family. My grandfather was a major influence in my early life-and my mother and my father also. After my father retired from teaching, he finished all the work on his doctor of divinity degree except his thesis; he didn't complete his thesis. He was really quite a student.

The books of Joel Goldsmith are very important to me. He's gone now, but he was a fine teacher. I like what I hear from Matthew Fox. I haven't done a whole lot on Matthew Fox, but what I know of him I like. I like Thich Nhat Hanh. I like Howard Thurman; he's one of my spiritual gurus. He was the first black dean at a white university, and he was hailed by Life magazine as one of the great preachers of the twentieth century. He's quite brilliant and very, very inspiring.

Ann: Have you had any profound spiritual experiences associated with death or sickness or birth, when you could feel a presence that directed you in some way?

Thea: My most profound experience related to death was seeing my mother walking up the steps toward me a few weeks after her death. I became frightened at seeing an unexpected figure on the steps in the middle of the night, but her presence was loving, and it was reassuring for me. I felt fear, and she disappeared. I kept trying to see her again. Although I haven't seen her again, I have felt her loving presence on many occasions through my life.

When my favorite cousin died I was pretty devastated, but when I went to the funeral home and looked at the corpse, I had an experience that I don't know how to verbalize. I had known from other experiences that the spirit left the body, but this was a different knowing. I looked at this beautiful figure lying there, and all of a sudden the grief dissolved, and there was a blessed assurance that everything was fine. He had vacated a very beautiful house, but he was the real beauty, and he was fine. I was about forty at that time. I had looked at dead bodies before and had realized that the person wasn't there. That's why I say I don't know how to put it in words, because it went way beyond that knowing. It went much deeper, and I guess that's why the phrase "blessed assurance" came to mind.

Ann: Can you think of any experiences that have taken you to the edge of despair? And where did that lead you?

Thea: The experience of despair that is most prominent in my memory is my mother's death. That was excruciatingly painful. Where did it lead? It's hard to tell. I guess it led to where I am today. Certainly my mother's death has had a profound effect on many aspects of my life…many more than I could be aware of.

Ann: Some of the really hard things that we go through can close us and destroy us, or open us to a kind of understanding and compassion that we can't get anyplace else. I know how deeply involved you are with your own children and your grandchildren. Did your mother's death open you in any way to become a better mother or a better grandmother?

Thea: I don't know the answer to that. I have learned-I've been told, and I accept-that I am a mentor for a whole lot of people. I never intended to be a mentor, and I never realized that I was until so many different people brought it to my attention. Several people have told me that our relationship has nourished them and helped them to get where they are.

I got a beautiful note from a young woman who's a very fine lawyer in Washington, and she said she had me to thank. Well, I didn't know she had me to thank! When she was my intern years ago, I could see she had a lot going for her. We just had fun, and I used to get on her about certain things. I remember having her practice saying the word "ask" over and over and over after work. A lot of black people have difficulty with that word; they say "axe" instead of "ask." It can have a negative impact when people are speaking in certain professional groups, so I was trying to help her with her diction. We would just sit there and practice the word after work.

Ann: But you were willing to take the time to do something that you knew would assist her. Sometimes it's a very little thing like that that says, "I really care."

Thea: It could be that there were lots of people who cared about me when my mother died. You know, I had a very interesting thought that came to me after I became a mother. I kept trying to figure out what my mother could have thought, having an eleven-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy and knowing that she was going to die. I realized that she had a very, very peaceful demeanor-very quiet, somber. I believe that she trusted God to take care of us. She knew that God was going to do it, and God did it. So it may be that I developed as a mentor to people because of something that came out of her leaving. I think there is a connection. But I don't know how her death affected me as a mother to my own children.

Ann: How many children do you have?

Thea: Three. And we have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Most of them are not involved in the traditional church, although all three of our children are tuned in to things of the spirit.

Ann: Now, how about your own spiritual practices? What spiritual practices do you follow?

Thea: You know the saying "pray without ceasing"? I used to say, "How do you do that?" I am learning what that means, because I feel like I am doing that much of the time. My dialogues with Jesus/God are very similar to the ones that I had as a little girl. We're talking all the time. Formally, Jack and I have a devotional period about five out of seven mornings. We have a routine: We have a guide that has readings for each week, and we start with our own prayer. Jack usually does the opening prayer, and then I read the invocation. There is a psalm for the week, and the guide contains readings and reflections, and we have things we do besides the reading and reflection. There are daily scriptures that are used throughout several Protestant churches. Bruce, my minister, uses them; so on Sunday his message will incorporate all the readings for the week.

Usually, Jack and I go through prayer, psalm, daily reflection, daily scripture and the closing prayer. I try to take the time to do writing based on what comes up in any of these areas. Usually things come up for me during the scripture reading, but sometimes it's from the psalm (book in the Bible) or any of the other things. I write about what has tugged at me during the reading, and that's when more and more comes to me.

I usually start my day with meditation. I use different forms; I have several different kinds of tapes that I've used over the years. I don't use any of the tapes anymore, but I tend to sit and wait for the rhythm for that day. Sometimes it's watching the breath, aligning the breath with the mantra. I usually do the meditation first thing when I wake up, before I get dressed or anything. So sometimes when I wake up there's something that says, "Be still." I just sit and make contact with the stillness and then let that carry me and determine the direction of the meditation. The basic thing is to still the mind, and when it becomes still, something takes over.

Ann: I think the concept that something takes over is a difficult one for people who don't meditate. But you get a sense of the bigger picture, a sense of the universe. There's a good water metaphor for meditation: If you imagine that you are a drop of water, when you meditate, it's not that the drop of water taps into the universal ocean of energy, but the ocean of energy comes into the drop of water. The more you meditate, the more you have a sense of the ocean.

You've been talking to God since you were a little girl, as your family did, so you have forms of communication that are easy for you. Is there anything you can say to somebody about how to get those circuits open? So that when they talk to God they have a sense that there is the possibility of receiving something back?

Thea: I don't know. My sense is that because each of us is unique, each experience of God is unique. I think one of the things that get in the way of connecting with God is trying to emulate somebody else's spiritual experience. I think that there are times when I ask for very specific direction around very specific issues and my mind gets real busy trying to manufacture answers for me. My mind is telling me all kinds of stuff that it would like me to accept, but I know it's not the true voice. When the true voice comes it affects the totality of me, not just my mind.

Ann: And you may not get an answer right away?

Thea: Not right away. I also believe that the answer is not one short sentence. I think when you ask for an answer it starts coming, but it may take time before it comes in its fullness. There's something that's going on from the minute I've asked. So something is happening that is edifying and growth-inducing and all those good things. I can be confident that the answer is in process, but I also have to be ready to receive the answer. Part of the process is being ready to receive the full answer as it is coming to me. Also, I think that when I realize that my prayer is in the process of being answered, it helps me tune in so that I reap some rewards on the way to the answer.

Right now I'm asking for a different way of seeing a situation that looks very problematic. If I were going to respond to the situation from my ego state, I would make a couple of phone calls and have a couple of conversations that would make two people feel very guilty…but it would allow me to get something off my chest. I know very well that I would be coming at the problem from a place of fear and not a place of love. I want more understanding, more clarity, and more direction on how to make certain that I'm coming from a place of love in addressing the situation. So I wait. I've asked for direction, I know it's coming, and I wait. When something happens that brings the issue to the fore, I announce to my monkey mind, "You're not ready to do that yet." It's a very peaceful place to be. I had a telephone call yesterday from one of the people. When I heard that he was on the phone, I got a little bit concerned and I started to feel that I needed to pray. And I said to myself, "You don't need to do anything, everything is fine, you just wait." I got on the phone and had a phone conversation with no emotion, no repression. I felt like a clear channel, and I was most grateful. I trust that I will not be called on to confront anything when I'm not ready for it; whatever occurs from here on in is in God's hands.

Ann: When your ego wants to solve it, it just causes chaos.

Thea: Oh, absolutely. My mother used to say, "The problem is, we take our burdens to the Lord, but we bring them back." We decide that we can do it better. When you get to the point where you think you can do it better; you have to start all over. You've messed up the system.

I listened to a tape called "The Buddhist Way," and one of the things he said was that when you recognize that you're coming from a place of fear, you should stop and try to understand the fear. Then ask yourself, "What are my other options? Coming from a place of fear, I could do this, this or this. Is that what I want to choose, or would I like to choose something else?" We have freedom and choice, which keeps us from feeling that somebody else, can determine how we're going to act.

If I'm having an issue with somebody I'm not living with, I find that it isn't that hard to deal with, because when the thought of the person or the situation comes up, it's like the computer: You just cancel it. You just say, "I'm not ready for that yet. I'm waiting on the Lord. I don't have to deal with that."

Ann: How about in a family? What happens when you feel attacked?

Thea: Jack and I have lived together fifty-six years, and when we feel attacked by one another we handle it immediately. If something comes up, we talk about it right away. We don't wait. Both of us have to be willing to do that. I'm very blessed, because a lot of men won't do that. It's harder for a man; I really appreciate the effort he puts forth. It's much easier for me to do than it is for him, but he's very committed. So the minute any tension arises, one or both of us will say, "Wait a minute. What happened? We were only talking." We learned to do that-Marriage Encounter helped us with that. It's really a very good system.

Ann: There are so many systems in our culture now that really can help people grow and change, we're very fortunate. But you have to want to change and then do it.

Thea: That's one of the things that I enjoy about working in the prisons. The women who are working on themselves realize they have to change, and they put everything into it and they get marvelous changes.

Ann: When I taught in the prisons, I learned a tremendous amount working with lifers. I thought, "You're in prison for life and you're going to change?" But despite the darkness and the limitation of that life, they nurtured richness.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God give us enormous problems-say, the shortening of a beautiful life?

Thea: I never did relate to that saying, "Bad things happen to good people." I guess I relate more easily to Diedrick Bonhoffer's ideas. He said, "One cannot know what is good or bad unless one stands at the end of time and has the wisdom of God." There's no way to know what's good. I know that my life would have been totally different if my mother hadn't died. I don't know what it would have been. It's highly unlikely that I would have met the man I married, because if my mother had not died when she did I would not have gone away to school. I would have had a very different life. What is my calling? Why am I here? What is my place in the universe? I just don't think we have sufficient information to be able to tell.

The hymn "Amazing Grace" has had a profound impact all over the world-just that hymn. And it came out of the experience of slavery. We can't know all the things that came out of that experience-we can't know all the things that come out of any horrible experience.

Ann: So that readers will know the story of the song, there was a slave ship captain who had brought over many slaves. Then all of a sudden, Spirit spoke to him and he saw the darkness and the evil and the pain that he was helping cause.

Thea: He was blind and then he saw. We don't know enough to be able to tell what that man's mission was here and how long he needed to perform it. We don't know if he believed in the life to come.

Ann: Do you believe we have many lives?

Thea: I don't know. I think I might have told you, Glenn and Karen, my two youngest children, got very interested in reincarnation when they were around twelve. They kept trying to draw me into the discussion, I guess to validate their ideas. So every day they learned something new, they'd come and start the conversation again. "Don't you believe such and such? And don't you believe such and such? Doesn't this make sense?"

I'd just laugh and say; "I'm just delighted that this is exciting you. I love hearing all the things you're telling me about it. Please follow your questions as far as you want to. It's just not my question." And it never has been. My sense is that we are not equipped to see what there is outside of this life.

There's a story about a two-dimensional being who left his two-dimensional world and was transported to the three-dimensional world. Then he went back to try to tell the two-dimensional beings about the three dimensions of life here, and he couldn't. Well, I just think that we don't have the equipment to understand what the next dimension is like. Anything I can imagine is going to be very limited. I believe that there is a much, much larger reality that is more amazing than anything we could possibly imagine. I feel that I've gotten a few glimpses of it: I've had a few experiences when I felt that if it continued any longer I would disintegrate. It's that powerfully different. I trust it; I know whatever comes next is going to be marvelous, and I don't have to know what it is.

There was an autistic youngster who could do absolutely nothing. His parents took him all over the world, trying to get some treatment. Finally, they took him to Virginia, to Edgar Cayce. Cayce informed them that the child was a very highly evolved being who had only one more thing to complete before full transcendence, transformation. He had come in that form to complete this one thing, and he had chosen the parents because they too were highly evolved. So, you had two people who went to Edgar Cayce feeling like the worst thing in the world had happened to them, and they were carrying a burden, and why did God do this to them? And those same people-with the same baby, in the same condition-left feeling as if they were the most privileged people on the planet to have this Divine soul choose them.

So they took the child home and he couldn't do much. At first he couldn't even sit on his own. But within the year, the child was sitting, and one day the mother was taking a nap and she heard this beautiful music. She thought the clock radio had gone off, and she got up, because she didn't want to wake the child…but the child was playing the piano. He turned out to be a very gifted pianist: He couldn't talk, he could hardly walk, but he could play the piano like a genius. Their whole attitude toward him changed. Their whole understanding of who they were in relation to him changed. They were filled with love and appreciation for this special privilege, rather than feeling downtrodden. So why did this young man come in this form? I don't know. Maybe he did choose to come in this form to finish his work. That's a very comforting way to look at it. I don't need to look at it that way, but it's logical. There's nothing wrong in believing that. It makes sense.

Ann: I'd done some past life regressions, and then I worked with some Christian people who didn't believe in past lives, but I had the same experiences I'd had during the regressions. The Christians called it genetic memory. There's some aspect of us that carries the line of humanity within the very structure of our bodies. So you can go back to that structure and learn something. Whether you call it past lives or genetic memory, there is some truth that we carry.

Thea: You know, I know something that is totally irrational: All time exists now. I just know it-there is an eternal now. We can experience each other, we can experience past lives, we can experience all kinds of things. What I know is our connection; we are certainly all one, and everything that has an impact on one person definitely has an impact on all of us. I know that.

Ann: My experience of prisons and psychiatric hospitals has taught me that each person carries his or her individual darkness, and if people stay in their darkness nothing can happen. The energy is jammed. But when one person tells the truth, it brings in the light, clears the darkness. It's as if that part of the room lights up, and then that gives someone else in the room the possibility of overcoming the darkness. If everyone in the room takes the risk, then everything changes. Everybody can only do it at his or her own level-it's not like a competition.

Thea: I've had many touchy one-on-one experiences with people, and I have been able to, as Eric Butterworth says, "…get my bloated nothingness out of the way." That's Emerson. Emerson is one of Eric's gurus. When I can get my bloated nothingness out of the way and just be still and allow Spirit to come through me, it clears the air. The other person is immediately calm. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about being still water. When you're still, you can get an accurate reflection of what's coming at you. So if a person is talking to you and you're totally still, you are getting exactly what the other person is saying. But if your mind is going, if you are rippling waters, you are not hearing clearly what they are saying; you're getting a distorted message, so then you react to a distorted message, and more than likely the other person reacts to your distorted message. If everybody can be still, then the communication can be clear. I think the most profound communication goes on in spite of words.

Ann: In some Native American cultures, when a council is held, any person can talk for any length of time they wish, and everyone listens, but there's no discussion at the end. Everybody goes home and thinks about what they have heard. No one jumps to try to solve a problem. The next time they get together, they continue the talking. So there's time to really listen, which is quite difficult.

Thea: It's very sad to me that in this country we have such an amalgamation of rich cultures from which we don't really benefit, because we keep trying to insist that everybody be alike. We don't care much for differences. We don't encourage the sharing of differences, which is sad because all of us would be so much richer if we did.

Thea was awarded The Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award by the governor of New York State in 2001. Thea and her husband, Bailey, have won several awards for their work with The Center for Redirection Through Education, a program to bring college programs to inmates in New York State prisons.

 
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