ANOTHER NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
The original Stepping off the Edge bears a 2006 copyright. It was my first book. I thought I should start my career with something meaningful. I wanted to create a work that was deep and significant, expressing eternal truths. I wanted readers to see who I was and remember that when they read my future works. The first edition of Stepping did that and much more: the darn thing won six national awards, quite a surprise for a first time author. For years, it’s floated in and out of Amazon bestsellerdom.
In the first edition, I note that I was pushing sixty. Now I’m pushing seventy. I feel the same; I can touch the stars and hear their song. I walk that path on my ranch every day. The dogs that accompany me have changed. So have I: I walk slower and am careful of my step. The horses are present, but not so many. I no longer ride, but continue to adore our equine family.
If you found this book through my fiction, you are likely to realize that my made-up stories echo these true words of love and pain. My fiction comes from my life, as does my nonfiction. The inspiration to write both comes from the other side, the world of light and bliss. In writing fiction, I simply disguise what actually happened in a stew of monsters and heroes, good an evil. What comes out is a unique form of visionary/horror/romance/adventure that is a metaphor for the truth. Here I just talk about inner demons and personal bugaboos.
After reading the first Stepping off the Edge, people told me, “You reveal so much of yourself in the book. Are you sure you want to do that?”
I’m mystified by these comments, because I don’t go anywhere near the dark parts of my life. This is the “processed for regular people” version. The deeper, darker, sadder, more painful currents of my soul impelled me to write this book, but I don’t illuminate them here. You’ll find their shadows dancing in my fiction. I got the authority and credentials necessary to write this book recovering from what I won’t talk about.
People also ask me why I don’t write more nonfiction. I have written more nonfiction. I wrote that cute little kids’ book, Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could. But that’s not serious nonfiction. Going over the first edition of Stepping to release this one answered that question. I haven’t written more nonfiction because I covered everything that I wanted to talk about in Stepping off the Edge. And having said everything I had to say in one book, I have no need to write another.
Stepping contains the theories that moved me, the psychological tools that grooved me. Everything that rang true when I got my MA in counseling and everything that worked elsewhere in my life is in this book.
But don’t worry about the theory–-I make it fun! This book is fun. Really.
The 2014 version of Stepping off the Edge is very similar to the 2006 one. The thing about eternal truths is that they’re eternal. Reviewing the manuscript showed me that while my personal issues are different today, probably more people are struggling with the material in the original Stepping than when I wrote it.
The nasty eBay addiction I studied meticulously in the first edition is tamed for me, but millions more people have discovered the joy of spending 90% of their time in front of a computer screen, grabbing at shiny trinkets. They’re/we’re like rats in some experiment, trying to reach nirvana one food pellet at a time. Call it gaming, participating in social media, book marketing, personal branding, or plain ol’ eBay addiction, the possibilities for destroying your life on-line have multiplied over the years. You can apply what I say about on-line addiction in the first Stepping to dig yourself out of your hole.
Same with writing. Much of the first edition is about my struggle to see my work in print, rake in tons of money, and eventually dominate the world. No. Wait—that’s what they do in gaming.
Today, millions more share my literary agony. I know: they’re self-pubbing like crazy and marketing a gazillion books that compete with mine. All the material in the old Stepping concerning the Author’s Path is valid today. The trip’s changed for me, but every scribbler will be able to relate to its bones.
Stepping Off the Edge is awash with Native Americans. Its interior design has a Native theme and chapters and chapters take place at a spiritual retreat held by this country’s First People. Bill Miller (Mohican/German), my all time favorite musician, artist, and speaker, was the spiritual leader of that retreat. He gifted me with an interview and testimonial that are in this volume.
Want to know why a San Francisco-born, Silicon Valley-raised woman is so obsessed with Native Americans? I’d suggest reading my bio, which is somewhere in this book. It talks about my fall from American royalty into the desperate condition of being a regular person. Recovering from that fall has formed my life and turned me into a writer. I created this book and a few dozen other books and manuscripts from my angst.
So why all the Indians? I dubbed my first fiction series the Bloodsong Series. Why? It’s written in my blood. After I’d drafted a few thousand pages of the Bloodsong books, I had this giant Aha!
At least half of the characters were Native Americans. Why? I’d lived on the San Francisco Peninsula all my life. I’d never seen an Indian.
I realized that I had lived the lite version of what happened to Native Americans. They had the kingdom––the entire continent––and lost it. I know how that feels. They were treated abominably for centuries, and had the worst abuse hurled at them. Then they were asked, “What’s the matter with you? Why aren’t you doing better, you lazy bums?” I know all about that, too.
One more thing: I talk about the value and need for spiritual practice and practices in Stepping off the Edge. I do not sit you down and teach you how to meditate, pray, or figure out what’s sacred to you and what you should do with your life. Some things you have to do for yourself.
This book is a roadmap containing everything that helped me heal and move forward. Some of it is from my years in school and looks a bit theoretical. (Or pretty darn theoretical.) Other portions of the map are rendered in stories, often about highly personal spiritual experiences. That’s what I offer you. You have to apply your mind and heart to what’s in this book and transform its content to fit your spiritual needs.
Having set the stage, here’s the Author’s Note to the original Stepping of the Edge. It’s as valid now as it was on the first go round.
* * *
I want this book to touch you and heal you. I’d like my writing to open your heart so that the love inside flows out and transforms your life. I want my words to make you laugh and cry and feel and become the person you were meant to be. I want to move so many people that the world of hopes and prayers becomes real and we live together in paradise.
Negotiation coaches tell you to set your aspirations high. That way, you’ll have a better chance of achieving them, or at least you’ll get closer than you thought you could. My goals are set out above: You can tell me if I attain them when you’ve read this book. Right now, I want to tell you about it.
At first, I wanted to write a book about a Native American spiritual retreat called the Gathering. As I wrote, I realized that what I was writing about was bigger. I was writing not just about a particular retreat or spiritual activity, but also about how we can become mature, spiritual beings. What must we humans do to grow up?
If that is too big a question, how did I grow up? I’ve grown up over thirty years of spiritual seeking. The issues that troubled me all those years ago seldom do now. I can tap into my inner well of bliss pretty much at will. I’ve got a great life. My husband and I have been together for forty years and are still in love. My family’s wonderful. I still experience my old crud now and again, but that’s not the norm.
How did I achieve this?
By what I do and how I live. Spiritual practice made me the woman I am. So I wrote a book about spiritual practice. This is a real “show me, don’t tell me” volume, because you don’t learn spiritual practice from reading a book. A book can tell you about spiritual practice, but doesn’t give you its fruit. Trying to learn spiritual practice from a book is like trying to train a dog without having one.
Spiritual practice is alive and requires a living body committed to learning. Given this, I used my favorite demonstration tools, my soul, body and life, to illustrate the road to spiritual maturity. (A few of my friends chip in their stories, as you’ll see.)
This book is a trip. I cover the bases of prayer, meditation, worship, spiritual retreat, dedication of one’s life to experiencing the divine, taming the mind … I write about many things, using stories and examples that anyone can comprehend. I hate books that are so highfaluting that the average person can’t understand them. Life is hard enough without me making it worse with intellectual pretension.
I suggest that we get going. Who knows how much time we have for our journey? None of us will come out of this earthly voyage alive: We’d better start now.
CHAPTER 1 STEPPING OFF
THEY FOUND CANCER ON ONE SIDE, but they got it in time. Then it showed up on the other side. Your child was stricken with a disease so disturbing that some people still won’t look you in the eye. You’ve battled drugs and alcohol and the results of what your fellow human beings did to you. You never talk about your life: If people heard the outlines, they’d laugh. They’d call you a victim or a tragedy queen. But you have lived every minute of it, and no one knows how hard it’s been. You have done everything to change how things are, but still the pain continues: illness, trauma, loss, despair.
Or perhaps your story takes a different turn: Born to success and all the right schools, you decide it’s time to make it big. For the last seven years, you’ve worked harder than you knew a person could; no vacations, not even a day off. Not once, but dozens of times, you’ve awakened at your desk to find yourself blinking in the morning sun. Hobbies, friends and family are memories from a past life. You’ve given it every dime you have, and signed a stack of notes at the bank. You know you will succeed––you have never failed.
The start-up fails. You’re so bankrupt that you can’t even cry. The Feds are hounding you for taxes.
You find yourself speaking into silence, “Why? Why me? Why at all?”
On the other hand, some lives unfold like they’d been touched by a genie. From the kick off to the final play, everything works. In elementary school, your science project wins the Grand Prize. Sailing through grade after grade, you captain every team. After serving your country with honor, you come home and start the business. Sure, you work hard and long, but success arrives like a flood. Years pass with champagne and congratulations and another round of applause.
Until one day, you look around. Your husband or wife has passed on; the kids are gone. Younger people run your business. Something lurks out there, a terrifying mystery. You’re sliding toward it with no brakes. Questions keep coming: What did I accomplish? Was it worth it? Should I have done more?
You gaze into space and your reflection looks back, a hollow ghost.
What do you do when life gives you everything you want? What do you do when you get the crud on the bottom? What do you do when living in a human body hurts too much?
You do your life.
“You do your life?” You may want to scream. “What do you mean, do your life? I just told you about my life. It’s a mess. I’m miserable. Why would I want to do my life? Other lives are much better. You can see them everywhere––on TV and in the movies. Some people have skinny butts and six-pack abs. Some people have great jobs and lots of money. Some people don’t have my wife. Or her mother. I buy this book for help, and you tell me to do my life?”
I’m sorry. That’s the most useful thing I can say to you and the only thing you can do––your life. That’s the message of this book:
Your life is your spiritual path.
It’s also the ultimate truth. You life, as you complete the breath you’re on right now, wherever you are, is it for you. You can’t do anyone else’s life, all you can do is imitate a picture your mind got from somewhere and act it out.
Live your life or be a fake. If you copy someone else’s life because it photographs better, you’ll destroy the one change you have at real happiness: your life. Brutal, I know. The alternative is worse:
Women with faces stretched like drumheads sport butterscotch hair and fingernails curled like beetles’ backs. Puffed up men wear muscles as camouflage. Kids with moused spikes, pierced and tattooed head to heel, wag tongues with silver barbells. Guys in suits move so fast you think they’re on speed. They’re not: They’re in the fast lane, making something of themselves .
If you look into the eyes of the people I described, people we all know, you can see who they are: living souls, the most valuable entities on the planet. Living souls longing to emerge and express themselves, souls that have always been perfect and know it to some degree. These are souls that weren’t strong enough to battle the world’s imperatives: You must be thin; you must be rich; you must act like this.
The spiritual path is the process of the soul reclaiming its dominion over the world’s programming. Living this process feels like a battle to the death, because it is: Parts of the personality will die as other are born. The person being born and dying will feel it all.
A note from Sandy Nathan: This is the first section of Chapter One. It’s not all so hard hitting: Some of the book is hysterically funny; and some isn’t.