Inner Transformation

The metamorphosis in my inner life was affecting more than outer lifestyle changes. I had been living in a little box, comprised of all the people and things I was familiar with. And now there was a whole world of ideas out there to explore. I started reading voraciously, but instead of novels and adventure stories my interest turned to philosophy, art, comparative religions and psychology. There was hardly anything I wasn't interested in. I knew there was more to this existence than "seeking the good life" and my mind was like a thirsty sponge, gathering information.

When I read about an organization called the Theosophical Society I was drawn by the group's purpose, which was to encourage the study of comparative religions, science, and the powers latent in humankind. What particularly attracted me was their motto: "There is no religion higher than Truth." The national headquarters in Wheaton, Illinois housed a staff of forty in a beautiful setting of trees and gardens. The forces calling me were strong and I had no intention of resisting.

Within a year following my experience in the forest we were packing up to drive from California to the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, Illinois. We put our house up for sale and turned the mortgage over to the first couple who were interested. We called Good Will to come pick up the furniture in our 4 bedroom house. We turned in my husband’s company car, gave the rest of our belongings away and found homes for the cats. We kept L'il Bit, a small Papillion, and drove away in my old green Pontiac. The Pontiac died as we reached the Great Salt Lake in Utah. We moved the few belongings we had with us into a rented van.

When we arrived in Wheaton we drove up to the entrance of the main building and knocked on the front door. In the whirlwind of this bold move and leaving all behind we hadn’t thought to let anyone know we were coming. The woman who answered the door was stunned and a meeting was hastily called. A decision was made to take us in but there was nowhere to put us. The handful of individual houses on the property were already occupied by families. The main building housed 40 adults, several offices, an auditorium an and a grand formal library. The basement included a kitchen and dining room where people gathered for meals and recreation. No children or animals were allowed to live in the main building.

By the next day an apartment had been rented for us. We would take our meals with everyone else and both my husband and I would receive twenty-five dollars a week in exchange for work, he in maintenance and I as assistant housekeeper. It became a very doable situation for all. I was able to work with my daughter in the mornings and then she would accompany me to the main building to finish her lessons in the library. When she had completed her studies she was free to join the children who lived on the grounds. At times she was a guest for special programs at her new friend’s school. I didn’t fully realize at the time how extraordinary it was that our unexpected arrival had been received with such grace.

It wasn't long after our arrival in Wheaton that I heard about a woman who would be coming to stay at the Theosophical Society for several weeks while she was speaking in the Chicago area. This unusual woman, who called herself Peace Pilgrim, had been walking throughout the United States for 23 years and was much sought after as a speaker. Her engagements were booked and her itinerary planned years in advance. She considered herself a religious pilgrim, carried no money and didn't accept any, and owned only the clothes on her back. She had made a vow to walk until humanity learned the ways of peace, accepting shelter and food only when it was offered. She never asked.

I had read many stories about saints and inspiring individuals who lived exemplary lives of devotion and faith. My prayer had been to meet, in the flesh, a person actually lived the ideals I wanted so much to believe in but I was still skeptical that the living of such ideals was humanly possible. The only characters of flawless virtue that I knew were in books and I wanted tangible evidence that there was a real chance of attainment in the process of growing toward the potential I was feeling inside. I waited in anticipation for the day she would arrive.

theosophical society
The Theosophical Society in America, located in Wheaton, Illinois

Cheryl Canfield, CCHT, 2023