Bring me my knife and shield and magic


There’s a distinction I’ve learnt through Landmark Education: am I being at the source of my life or at the effect of it?

Most of us, most of the time, live at the effect of life. We tell ourselves we can’t do this or that because we don’t have the time, the money, we’re not young enough, old enough, pretty enough, smart enough, senior enough, because of how our father is, how our mother was, our husband, our son, the economy, blah blah blah.

We locate the responsibility for our lives outside ourselves, in circumstances and other people. And yet it’s an illusion. Behind each of these statements and all their kin is us. To distinguish this illusion, and take responsibility for one’s experience of life, is what it means to be at the source of our life.

I have a friend who has her share of sorrows and struggles, and like all human beings, a unique curriculum which she is here to learn. What she also has is an unusual degree of mastery of the distinction “being at the source of life”.


N is somewhere in her mid-60s. She’s cagey about the exact figure. When I asked her one day, she offered an anecdote instead. “A few years ago, I used to tell people I was five years older than I was and people would be stunned and intrigued that I looked like this.” This made me laugh. Only N would trade vanity for the possibility of magic for herself and others. In fact, this is what she does in every aspect of her life: she lives in the expectation she’s going to create magic.

We examine the same situation and where I might see nothing, she gives her giant kaleidoscope a quarter-turn and sees possibility.

She sold a house she owns last week in order to buy another in her dream location: on an island, within walking distance of the beach. Mind you, she hasn’t yet found the house in the dream location, but there is nothing more certain than she will. Anyone else would be happy enough with the sale. Not she! She immediately started speculating how she could use some of the sale proceeds to bring forward the month-long holiday in Venice she has planned for her 70th birthday. “And maybe I could work there too, and extend the stay”, she said, completely oblivious to any issues to do with visas, language or being of an age when most people are retired.

She actually owns four properties, despite earning a very modest salary as a grief and trauma counsellor for many years, working in hospitals and government agencies. She’s single, with a daughter and three grand-children. When she was 40 she almost died at Mt Everest base camp from an undiagnosed heart condition. She was once wrongly imprisoned by the Indonesian militia when Suharto still ruled East Timor, has lived in a cult community in the US in the 70s and travelled around the US and Europe on a shoe-string budget with a small child.

When she moved temporarily into a down-at-heel apartment block a few years ago, within the week she had mobilised the semi-comatose residents and launched a painting and gardening transformation. Naturally, all the materials she either found or was given.

N is a wise, wild woman, a woman who with knife and shield and magic makes the world her own.


Image: Alice Popkorn


16 thoughts on “Bring me my knife and shield and magic

  1. Oh I like N. She sounds like an amazing soul to spend time with and learn her way of engaging people, of letting go and running risks… Of creating that magic everywhere she turns.

    I’ve been eyeing off the Landmark courses for a little while and would dearly love to attend one soon. To be challenged in the way we think and see the world is truely an addictive experience.

    Thank you for sharing this. :-)


    • Hi Ms Butterfly. A little while ago I was feeling glum about something and was taking it out on my wrinkles and I asked N for a word about ageing. She said, “Live dangerously.” I’m pretty sure she would have said the same thing if I’d asked her at 20 :) Then when I was writing this blog yesterday I came across an archaic meaning of the word “danger”. It meant something like “to protect or shield” as in “stand in my danger”. This is what it’s like to live in N’s vicinity: like being in the penumbra of a giant flowering tree.

      I highly recommend the Landmark Forum to anyone who wants to live with power, freedom and full self-expression. It changed everything for me xx


    • Hi Jann. There’s a line by one of the ancient philosophers — “Something lovely is still possible.” — which is close to who N is for me and everyone around her. Her way of living says to me, “It’s OK to get older, magic is always possible, power and delight too, and maybe you’ll be surprised by what you find.”


  2. Great story about a fascinating woman. But I am intrigued by your question: are we living at the source of our lives or at the effect of our lives? I think it must by the very nature of the inherent dualities and ironies of life, both. Maybe some live more in one direction than the other, but we probably all waver between being the creator of our experiences and the victim of our creations.


    • I look at it like this: there’s a default, ordinary way of living human beings have. In this ordinary way of operating one is living virtually 100% at the effect of life. On the rare occasions when one is at the source, it’s fleeting and accidental. The experience is wonderful but we don’t know what we did to have it happen. We don’t have our hands on the levers so you could say even this is being at the effect of life. And then there’s another way of living which is not about the default, ordinary way …


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