I spent decades reading thousands of personal development and spiritual books. I challenged myself to create new habits of thinking, acting, and being. I was pleased with my process, but still it seemed that I was often tooling around in the weeds. One author advocated one method and another the exact opposite. I frequently wondered, Which is correct? What's more, some personal development advice was too advanced for me, while others were child’s play. I was spending a lot of time checking out every approach, yearning for a big-picture perspective.
That’s when it hit me how often I naturally thought about life in aviation terms. I knew from experience that getting a big dream off the ground required a long runway. It was silly to fall for marketing that promised overnight results. I noticed that being in the zone—being in the flow—worked exactly like the fluid dynamics I’d studied in my engineering classes at the Academy. And drag wasn’t just something pilots have to be concerned about if they didn’t want to stall. Clutter in thinking, habits, and distractions slows us all down. In short, we must be streamlined to fly in life. So, I began to play around with the four forces of flight that every aviator is familiar with, and I quickly realized it was a compass that others could use to defy gravity. Anyone could give themselves flying lessons just by observing their life and making the appropriate adjustments. They could navigate to their destiny!
I walked in that door believing everything I’d done had been in vain, but I walked out knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d found my path forward. It wasn’t until years later that I would look at the sequence of events and marvel at the way life had prepared me in advance for this path. I never would have registered that announcement if I hadn’t taken flying lessons. And I never would have been qualified for the Academy if I hadn’t already taken those difficult classes and been on varsity teams. It would have been too late in my junior year. I never could have planned for this destination because I had no idea it even existed.
After being catapulted out of the only world I knew as a child, I heard the Call of my Wild Soul. I followed. I acted. It took me places I never could have imagined or orchestrated. After obtaining my private pilot’s license in high school, followed by an appointment to the US Air Force Academy, I became an Air Force pilot, an aircraft commander in war, an international airline captain responsible for hundreds of lives, a life coach, and a medical qigong practitioner. The little girl who at a very young age began preparing for her expected future by learning to bake bread, sew clothes, cook for a large family, garden, can and freeze food, and be extremely obedient wouldn’t recognize this life.
A Practical Mystic's Story
Several years ago en route to China, I remembered a high school assignment to read about the infamous Soviet Gulags. Out the window, stretching to the horizon, and 35,000 feet below the warm cockpit, lay the vast territory of Siberia—the forbiddingly cold and desolate landscape of those
gulags. Straining to hear the Russian air traffic controllers, whose heavy accent sounded like they were talking with golf balls in their mouths, I looked at the instruments in the Boeing 777 cockpit, and then down at Siberia and back again several times. For a long moment, I wondered if I’d awakened from a strange dream. Had I imagined the entire journey to this place in time? How had it been possible to get here, to a place so far from where I’d begun life . . .
The Early Years
Growing up in a community similar to the Amish, I’d been programmed to follow the
same path my ancestors had followed for hundreds of years. Church members could only drive black cars, and the women all wore white caps, black bonnets, and long dark dresses exactly alike. Forbidden to own a television, go to the movies, wear makeup, serve in the military, or even press charges when someone robbed our home, we lived a life cut off from the mainstream. Having friends outside the church was discouraged, as they invited corruption. To leave the church was to be excommunicated and shunned by everyone near and dear. In some ways, the simplicity and isolation made it idyllic, even if it was also repressive. For men, only a handful of paths were acceptable. Allowable occupations were mainly confined to farming, business, or mechanical jobs to avoid becoming “worldly,” and college was discouraged for the same reason. And for women? Only one path was permissible: enter the church, marry only a member of that church, obey my husband, and have many children.
Transformation Through Trauma
Destiny intervened early in the way it sometimes does, through trauma and catastrophic upheaval, and my family left our close-knit community. Due to the events that ejected us from the fold, we lived on the run for many years and had little money. I loathed this insecurity and, determined to escape, I decided that I when I grew up, I’d get a well-paying job and be financially independent. I figured I’d need to go to a good school, even though my father had always been adamantly against any of his children attending college. I also had no clue how to get into college nor any money to pay for it. But my eldest brother told me to take the hardest classes and to make sure I took four years of math, science, and language. Math and science weren’t my favorite subjects, and I’d have avoided them if I could, but I figured, “Okay, if that’s what it takes.”
Through a series of coincidences, I found myself in another new territory—on varsity sports teams and then running marathons. I became sure that the answer to funding my dream of going to college must be a sports scholarship, but the look on my coach’s face said otherwise. I ignored his opinion for a long time, though, because it was the only hope I could hang on to.
As a tenth grader in 1980, nobody thought of women making a living as a pilot. It certainly never occurred to me. But flying lessons somehow arrived on my radar, and even though I got airsick and didn’t particularly enjoy flying then—and it meant spending all the money I earned from my jobs—I continued taking lessons. By my junior year it was clear that I simply wasn’t talented enough to get a full sports scholarship—or a full academic scholarship. Having blown every cent on flying lessons, I was broke and out of ideas. I’d worked so hard, and still the future didn’t look any more promising. Apparently, I wouldn’t escape gravity after all.
And then . . .
One day just before Thanksgiving, I was trying to decide what to do for next period’s study hall. I didn’t have any tests to study for or any projects to complete, which was a first. I was standing by my locker, flummoxed about how to spend this hour, when the loudspeaker blared out an announcement. The principal said there would be a cadet from the United States Air Force Academy in the guidance counselor’s office in three minutes, and any student who was interested in learning about this should go there now. With my background, I had no clue what the Air Force Academy was, but it sounded like it had something to do with flying. And I didn’t have anything to do, so . . .
I’ve come to see over and over that the Universe always begins with the end in mind. It’s a far better travel agent with far more information at its fingertips than I have. It whispers an invitation to your personal path of transformation, beckoning you toward greater freedom and power—and especially toward the evolution of your soul. All you need do is listen and summon the courage to follow.
Every transformational adventure in my life has arisen out of a quiet voice that said, “Go here,” “Try this,” “Persevere,” “Leave,” “Revise this belief,” “Let it go,” etc. Sometimes it was an inner voice and sometimes an outer one. Often the path didn’t unfold in a logical manner, go as I planned, or lead
The 4 Forces of Flight Model
The early Barnstormers flew by the seat of their pants because they had no choice. Pioneers of the sky, they had to figure out how to fly through trial and error. Many crashed. But eventually their learning was passed on to future generations of pilots who would benefit, going farther, faster, and higher.
Like the early Barnstormers, much of my life felt like flying by the seat of my pants. I wished for someone to teach me not merely how to survive in life, but how to truly fly. I searched out people who I thought might teach me, but often they only wanted me to obey whatever they said, follow the step-by-step instructions they had taken, and buy their very expensive programs. I never felt like they could see me or that they cared about my path.
So, I set out to teach myself.
where I thought it would—or should. And yet it always led to more freedom and deeper contentment. Many of my journeys were incredibly arduous. Had I understood how difficult they would be, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to go, yet I don’t regret any of them. I’m awestruck by the magic of this process, and it has led me to call myself by a term many people haven't heard before—the title of "practical mystic."
What’s a Practical Mystic?
Robert Masters' elegant description of the practical mystic reads: “A stubborn passion for a deeper life.” I would add a passion for a "freer, more adventurous, more vibrant life, and an unquenchable desire to live true to oneself." This is what guides us to take the road less traveled. Following The Call of The Wild Soul—that mystical intuitive inner voice unique to each one of us—practical mystics are the heroes, adventurers, and artists of the soul. They navigate via this inner knowing, along with signs, symbols, synchronicities, and wisdom, and they continuously walk the path of transformation, listening always for that still, small voice.
Lest you think this is not a grounded way to live, practical mystics are indeed practical. They are not called to live in some ethereal otherworld, but right here in the messy present. They work, plan, fail, revise, and persevere to manifest an inner calling and vision. They don’t blindly follow anything; they use reason and logic to test what they are seeing and hearing, simultaneously questing and questioning. Walking the razor’s edge between the mystical and the mundane, they create magic in their lives and illuminate magical possibilities for others. Like the Barnstormers in the 1920s and 30s who put on colorful daring airshows above cornfields for the crowds, practical mystics, through their daring feats of transformation, inspire others to defy gravity too.
In addition to being largely self-taught, I’ve also taken many workshops and courses, including life coach training, medical qigong training, Carolyn Myss’s Sacred Contracts archetypes training, and various modalities that fueled my understanding of normal and trauma psychology, as well as the evolutionary path of spirituality. During the extensive research for the book I co-wrote with gifted teacher, Pat Shannon, I learned an enormous amount about the impact of our early years on our ability to thrive. I bring this lifetime of wisdom with me when I work with clients. And I instinctively use the 4 Forces of Flight model to evaluate what the core issue is when someone is struggling to fly, which allows me to know what to suggest they focus on.
The Joy of Guiding Others
I’ve been formally guiding individuals, small business owners, and a few groups since 2009, and every partnership is a joy to me. I genuinely don’t care where a person is in their life or how big or small their goal. Whether it’s about a relationship or money, leadership, career, or purpose, or a bucket list item—if it’s a longing they carry, I trust it’s their Wild Soul calling and is not to be ignored. Together, we set out to understand what they are being called to, what the next step on that journey is, and how to creatively reach that destination and make the inner changes necessary so they can hang on to it when it arrives.
Along my way I found some truly gifted Guides, including a treasured life coach for myself. I came to appreciate the value of having different perspectives and resources on my journey—and now I see myself as a Guide for those who are motivated to transform their lives. Nothing makes me happier than helping people find and use their power, interpreting what is showing up in their life for their highest good. I am as delighted as a child when a client achieves a goal they were afraid was out of reach or becomes someone they are proud to be.
13 Takeaways from the Practical Mystic’s Path
There is no such thing as THE Way. Everyone has their own path and their own inner guidance system.
It is crucial to understand the cycles of transformation and the laws of flight so you don’t become discouraged and quit just before the breakthrough.
Life is much less stressful when you trust the process and the timing.
It is absolutely necessary to develop character so you’re capable of walking your path.
There is a need to take smart risks and be willing to fail to learn.
You can’t go very far or very fast on your path without self-management skills.
Everything on your path can be used for transformation.
Suffering can be a path of accelerated growth.
Trauma throws you into the deep end of the pool. Some become strong swimmers as a result, and some are too traumatized to do anything but cling to survival. If you become a strong swimmer, I believe you are called to a path of service—teaching others to learn to swim too.
Magic rarely comes searching for you on the couch. You have to get off your @#$.
Compassion for self and others unlocks hidden abilities.
The journey of evolution continues ever upward. (Even after all the evidence in my life, I still sometimes fall into a pit of doubt and think, Am I screwing up? Why isn’t anything happening? Why isn’t it happening faster? Oh no! Maybe it won’t work out this time. Yet it's all unfolding the way it should.)
All that’s ever really asked of you on your Path is to keep walking in the general direction that calls you. Rumi, the 13th-century mystic and poet said, “As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.”
Life’s an adventure—live it!
A quick story . . .
My nephew (a recent high school graduate) had a big dream to work for a company in California that he idolized, but he had no idea how to make it happen. I learned he felt dejected, and that nothing seemed to be happening in his life, nor was anything on the horizon that excited him. So, I quizzed him a little about this job and the obstacles. When he finished I told him I didn’t think what he wanted was out of reach at all. He was going to need to develop a budget and contact the owners, but there was hope. I helped him with his budget and a creative plan for living on the meager salary he’d earn, and we devised a strategy for getting hired. Armed with a plan tailored to his circumstances, he worked that plan with newfound energy. Three weeks later, he was driving across the country. I was so proud of him. And even I was astonished at the speed things moved.