Storytelling at Work
July 10, 2020
The Meaning of Love


NOTE: What follows is a wonderfully evocative story from the equally evocative and wonderful Burrill Crohn. Enjoy!

It's 1991, Budapest, Hungary. I'm in the Grand Ballroom of one of the city's majestic old hotels for an elegant reception to mark the beginning of that year's conference of The International Society of Shamanic Research. The room is crowded with people ranging from academics, in suits and gowns, to ornately costumed Siberian shamans. I'm there as the co-founder and co-director of a small non-profit that facilitates the recording and gathering of film and video of shamanic practices around the world.

Crowds this size tend to overwhelm me. I'm not a good mingler, so I'm staying off to one side when I notice a beautiful, much younger, blond woman seeming to wave at me. "This can't be", I think -- I wasn't so young, even then. She must be trying to get the attention of someone behind me.

But there is no one behind me and now she's not just waving but beckoning me to join her. So, not quite believing this is really happening, I walk through the crowd and the two of us begin to talk. Her name is K. and I find out she's there helping a publisher of esoteric books.

And then, as we continue talking, a small synchronicity occurs: I learn that the first two letters in the name of the co-founder of my non-profit and the first two letters of K's employer are the same. Yes, it seems to be small change in the world of larger synchronicities, but if you're a believer, as I am, it was still worth noting (especially considering what was yet to come).


The ballroom is too noisy and crowded for easy conversation so we leave and find a plush, quiet bar in the lounge of a nearby Hilton hotel. As we talk, I learn she's from Norway, though living in Paris, which happens to be the city of my birth. But after another ten minutes I begin to feel, though she's magnificently beautiful, that there's not much of substance between us and maybe we should just call it an evening. And then, as if reading my mind, she goes a step deeper, asking me about dreams -- do I have them, do I believe them.

And then, she begins telling me one of hers, which goes like this:

"I'm on a frozen tundra in the far north. There is nothing on the landscape except a single, ancient hut. Then, as I watch, a flock of birds enter from the right, flying in formation and, one by one, each bird slams into the hut's side and, in doing so, transforms from bird into a naked human, dropping to the ground on both feet, walking around to the door in the front of the hut and entering."

Suddenly, I feel like I am crossing some kind of psychic sound barrier. I still remember the feeling, a cliche come true, of goose bumps forming on my forearms -- because I've had almost the exact same dream.

This was mine, the one I now tell her:

"I'm in an open, green field. In the middle there's a thatched roof hut. As I watch, also from the right, comes a flock of birds flying in formation, each bird hitting the hut, one by one and, upon impact, transforming into a naked human, landing on two feet, then walking around to the front of the hut and entering the door. Except, when the last bird hits, I am that naked human appearing upon impact and I, too, land on my feet, walk around to the front and enter. Inside, it is not medieval looking at all, but rather it's an army commissary where each of us are issued a uniform, then told to go outside and stand in formation. Somehow, I know or am told by an inner voice that, indeed, this is an army, but a spiritual army, one that has come to earth to help its people. So I exit, the last person to join, occupy a spot in the last corner of the last row and am very happy to be there.

Now K. and I are no longer passing strangers. We have become almost one, joined by our common dream. We leave the hotel and stand under the clear night sky. When we hug, in parting, I make some sort of clumsy, adolescent, pass at her. But she stops this easily, saying with soft but great clarity, "We will have just one night together. I'll come to you the last evening of the conference and that will be that. I'll go back to my life and you will go back to yours".

Which is how it happened, with one exception.

The conference is scheduled from Monday through Saturday. I am staying with my friend, T., a freelance cameraman for ABC News, in a big apartment in the famed Castle District. On Thursday night, K. joins us for a meal at a small Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards T. says, yes, she is very nice, but that he is leaving for the weekend so it would be best for me not to bring her to the apartment because of all his expensive video and audio gear which, if lost, which would cripple his livelihood.

Saturday, the last day of the conference, is spent at a re-creation of a rural village still practicing an older way of life full of folk tales, hand-made tools, and shamanic practices -- a day that culminates in a dinner that might have been made several hundred years ago. As the dinner ends, K. approaches me, takes my arm, and says, "Now we can be together."

And off we go, me guiltily suspending T's admonition about bringing someone to his home.

The apartment is elegant, with white walls, elaborate cornices, old inlaid floors and, through a billowing gauze curtain, a curved wrought iron balcony, plants rimming the edge, overlooking the glistening cobblestone street below.

Standing there, K. begins singing French nursery rhymes, songs from my own childhood. I join in and it is just about as romantic as can be. Then we turn to go inside and, again, she reminds me that tonight will just be one night -- that she already has a boyfriend who lives in America and will soon be joining him. The realization dawns on me that maybe this isn't an ordinary encounter, that she is a kind of messenger to bring some beyond-my-present-comprehension lesson of love -- and just as one shouldn't shoot the messenger, one shouldn't marry her either.

And so we go to bed, me anticipating some new secret of lovemaking, some tantric mystery revealed, some conversion of me into a great lover beyond imagining. The experience is wonderful -- tender, intimate, joyous, and wild, but nothing really new has been revealed, no illumination of infinite lovemaking, no glimpse into the previously unknown.

In the morning, I awake and the bed is empty. I panic. T. was right, I think, she's gone, and some of his equipment with her.

But then I hear soft humming from the balcony and there she is, naked, on her knees, tending to the plants. We have breakfast together in the apartment, not able to keep our hands off each other -- then, later, still not able to stop touching each other -- have lunch at the old hotel with other friends from the conference.

And then... she's gone, back to Paris... and me to my small town in the mid-Hudson Valley. There, I pick up my life, but my feelings for her remain -- the spiritual side of me accepting what she said, my human heart, nonetheless, aching and longing.

The next day I drive my bicycle to the repair shop where, after dropping it off, I somehow manage to close my Saab's hatchback on three fingers of my left hand. In a moment they begin to swell with a throbbing pain, bruising beginning to show, blood seeping from the cuts. I go inside to the shop's bathroom, stick my hand under cold water for a while, then continue on to my next stop of the day, the local health food store.

There, in the entrance, the first person I meet is C., another shamanic practitioner and leader of a woman's drumming group in town, just as I am leader of a men's group. We embrace and she immediately asks, "So, how were things in Budapest?" But before I can say a word, she looks closely at me and says, "Why you fell in love there, didn't you?" And with that I break down, all the pent-up feelings come bursting out in a form of sobbing I haven't remembered since childhood. When that is done (by now we've retreated to a corner of the store) she asks, "Besides all that, how are you doing?"

I tell her about my newly injured hand, raising it to show her. With that she takes my hand in both of hers and begins looking at it with an intensity and focus that seems beyond anything had ever seen, something that stand out in memory almost 30 years later. Then she lets go, we hug, she leaves. I continue shopping.

Ten minutes later, I'm in my car when, suddenly, I realize my hand is not throbbing anymore. I look and see that the bleeding has stopped, the bruising and swelling gone, the only sign of trauma being a few flaps of skin still hanging loose. In the ten minutes it takes me to drive home, that too is gone, my hand back to a state where the injury never happened, or was even imagined.

So, of course, I call C., tell her about my hand and ask what, in the world, she did. And she answers: "I did nothing. It was you and the love running through you that did the healing. Love heals."

And here the story could end...

But it doesn't, even if I thought so at the time. Instead, it was just the beginning of the lesson, my "magical" healing serving more like an inoculation whose results would take months, even years, for me to begin to appreciate, incorporate, and manifest -- a kind of basic training for those of us in that spiritual army, as hard as any regular army boot camp.

The real work -- the heavy lifting -- is first learning to be kind and loving to our inner selves (how hard for almost all people), and then, perhaps, bit by bit, to manifest this love and, with it, touch others -- whether a friend or a passing stranger -- simply by our presence, the essence of real magic, not some flashy healing of bruised knuckles.

Years later, I am still left with the staggering amount of synchronicities, merging of events, or whatever you wish to name it -- beyond any statistical probability -- that had to concur, conspire even, to hit me over the head so benignly for all of this to happen.

Which brings up other questions: Do we control our own destiny or is it already pre-planned (perhaps by us, between incarnations, as some would say)? Are there deities around us blowing wind in our sails, as Athena helped Odysseus? Or is it all a very convincing illusion -- that everything out there (to paraphrase mystics and quantum physicists) is really just a product of our own minds, nothing real existing apart from our perceptions?

Yes, we do whatever dance we do in an outer reality, but perhaps, to create lasting change, the real work is done from within and that is how the world heals.

Just in time, too.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Petr Sidorov, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at July 10, 2020 07:56 PM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
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