A Voice of Initiation, Reconciliation, & Gender Intelligence

Turning Points

Turning Points of Robert McDowell

Several years ago, a four-year-old girl flew down a hillside on a small, circular sled toward a precipice and dense stand of trees. Through calf-deep snow, I ran to stop her as the sled angled away from me. I thought, “I’m not going to make it!” At the last possible second, I went airborne (the first baseman in me re-emerging), and two fingers of my left hand latched onto the back of the sled as it zipped by. I held on, straining ligaments in my neck and shoulder, but the sled, the child, and I skidded to a halt inches from a 30-foot drop.

The next month, I witnessed and was first on the scene of two accidents involving 18-wheelers. I comforted battered drivers and passengers, called for help, and rescued a terrorized truck dog who had run a mile down the freeway.

Two weeks after that, I stopped on a country road behind a pickup lying on its side in an expanding pool of gasoline. I pulled three hysterical children and their dazed father to safety while anticipating the truck’s explosion in a fireball.

That night, I lay awake reviewing these high-adrenaline surprises. I knew they were signature moments, but signifying what? I’d spent most of my adult life in literature as a writer, teacher, editor, and publisher. I’d been fortunate enough to have books of my own published. I’d taught at high schools and universities, traveled widely, and been a guest speaker and teacher at conferences and other venues around the world. As a publisher/editor for 22 years, I’d published and developed books and anthologies by more than 500 authors. I had also co-created the Rural Readers Project, which brought 75 published authors to hundreds of middle schools and high schools in California, upstate New York, Arkansas, and the Northwest.

This appears to be a life of accomplishment and success, and in many respects, it was. And yet, and yet…. More and more, I felt a calling to do something, well, more!

The call became stronger over the next few years as I suffered many setbacks. My longtime business faltered after 9/11, sweeping away many of my close associates and friends with it. The harder I labored to preserve what I’d had, the more I stubbornly pushed that boulder up hill, the faster it rolled back down on top of me. I was so locked into surviving that I couldn’t change or adapt to new realities.

My desperation and tunnel vision even stunted my spiritual practice. I dropped out of the community outreach programs I’d always enjoyed. Eventually, I stopped attending Mass. I was close to becoming a barren, finished thing, a numb, crazy man banging around in the dark for a door he could not find.

Horses with Ominous Clouds

Then I recalled how I’d acted during those strange six weeks of others’ accidents and misfortunes. Without thinking about it, I’d become the person each situation had called for. If I’d become that person then, why not now?

I let go. I asked for guidance from powers greater than myself, and cherished friends and mentors read my heart, reminding me that abundance and the ability to do good work is in each of us. They encouraged me to look to poetry, which has proved sustaining in every situation and time of my life.

Through their mentoring friendship, I discovered writing, reading, and sharing poetry had always been integral to my spirituality. I began meditating and working with a spiritual teacher. I practiced a daily celebration of prayers, poems, and recitations, and in time I discovered my desire to share and teach the good news that poetry as spiritual practice is liberating and possible for all, regardless of one’s faith.

I was also drawn to narrative healing through the work of Rita Charon and John Fox, among others, and I developed a devout Venus practice in which I honor, celebrate, and support the Goddess, the Divine Feminine, in every woman.

This practice, evident early on in my practice of publishing many women authors via Story Line Press, has deepened thanks to my associations with Jane McDowell, Dr. Rama Mani, Dr. Alexander Schieffer, Jane Ransom, Lysa McDowell, Dr. Jean Houston, Peggy Rubin, Dr. Diane Powell, Michael Meade, Robert Bly, Steve Bhaerman, John Ollom, Cathy Coleman, and Trish Broersma.

Inspired and guided by these mentors and friends, my efforts now include workshops on initiation and reconciliation rites for boys and men, daughters and fathers, parents-teens, and women in peril around the world. With Trish Broersma, I occasionally coteach therapeutic equine courses. I also perform with Dr. Rama Mani on the subject of historical violence against women and the reconciliation of women and men in the new paradigm.

This journey of the last decade and a half has not been one of steady ascension in which I never looked back. Those years include periods of grave financial hardship, isolation, and a long heart-wreck of a never-quite-there relationship that lurched along, wasted time, and ended in sorrow. No matter what happened, though, writing, meditation, and spiritual practice always comforted and directed me.

Today, through poems, performances, meditations, stories, coaching, and mentoring one-on-one or in classrooms and at conferences, I help women and men heal emotional trauma and step into new, more positive relationships and new paradigm roles. I work with parents and teens, helping them hear each other and deepen their empathy. I coach boys to experience rituals that carry the childish masculine through the necessary energy plateaus it must pass through to manhood, and I coach men who never experienced these rituals at all.

I believe each of us is born a poet and storyteller, but the moment we enter this world we forget that and all that we knew. We come in chanting, Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? and spend the rest of our lives searching for the answer.

Through the magic of poetry, performance, and story, we reconnect with our spiritual tongue, deepen our practice, discover and refine the intimate conversation with self, and heal the wounds caused by violence, disconnection, and obstruction.