"WATERMELON GIRL, WATERMELON GIRL, SOFT AND ROUND, STRONG AND TRUE. WATERMELON GIRL, WATERMELON GIRL, I LOVE YOU." –PRAISE SONG
I met Angeles Arrien – literally and figuratively – at a threshold in San Salvador. We were walking through a doorway from opposite directions. She was a tiny, lively presence with a brilliant smile and raven hair. I was three times her height, preoccupied, worried I had come to the wrong place. "I'm Angeles Arrien," she said. "Thank you for all the work you are doing in the world."
Did she know I had come from frozen Canada to this tiny Caribbean island drawn there by an intuitive force I did not understand, but obeyed? Did she know I needed to face some big questions about my work, that I had lost my way? Sensing I was home and touched by the warmth of her greeting, I burst into tears. It was like meeting a lost sister, one who had been nothing more than a rumor, a dream fragment, now standing there in front of me. "I'm here to learn from you," I said blubbering. "I know, she said patting my arm. "I've been waiting for you. You're late."
That was the beginning of a twenty-year apprenticeship, friendship, and teaching partnership. "There are only two purposes for human beings – to love and to create," she would say. "That makes everything simple. Don't forget."
Watching her at close range, as I did for two decades, made such forgetfulness impossible. Everyone was important to her. A young women waiting on tables in a restaurant in Peterborough, New Hampshire became the recipient of a scholarship to college; a homeless woman begging in Union Square found comfort and financial support from a new best friend; an unknown poet found an early champion and the encouragement to gain international acclaim.
Angeles Arrien loved life and created everywhere she went. For forty years she impacted the world with joy, curiosity, insight, and compassion. This tiny force of nature died April 24th, 2014 of pneumonia. She was just 74. Countless friends, colleagues, readers, and legions of students will miss her.
Angeles was a gifted teacher. Her wisdom, authenticity and compassion helped others find the peace, clarity, and courage to grow – often through the most difficult passages of their lives. A tsunami of gratitude was unleashed at her passing.
Every year Angeles provided mentoring for approximately 800 people, either in person or via telephone consultation. Approximately 30,000 people over 40 years received encouragement and advice. She was a champion to those facing difficult career, health, relationship or financial transitions and challenges. Seneca could have been describing Angeles Arrien when he suggested: "Choose as a guide one who you will admire more when you see them act than when you hear them speak." She walked her talk.
She could be rigorous. She never practiced false compassion that avoided difficult conversations or massaged egos. She was more committed to the empowerment of those seeking her guidance by telling difficult truths in a compassionate way than supporting illusions, limiting fears or self inflicted roadblocks.
Many times over the years I was the recipient of that support. At our second meeting in the Twin Cities Angie had transportation problems so she pressed my wife, Lynne and me to chauffeur her to the workshop she was leading. Angie sat behind us leaning in between the seats. "We're going to work together," she said full of mischief. I almost drove off the road. It was like having Albert Einstein invite you to help solve the mystery of relativity.
The first couple of years of teaching together were rocky. I was in over my head, a fact that seemed painfully evident to everyone but her. "Whatever you can face, you can handle, Patxe," she said calling me by the Basque nickname she gave me. "Otherwise, it wouldn't be there!" Eventually, I got the hang of things and working together grew into an effortless dance.
That work – rooted in her Basque heritage – was devoted to the essential similarities that exist within the world's wisdom traditions. She synthesized this research and presented her insights through speaking engagements, classes, books, articles, audio learning programs, media interviews, non-profit charitable outreach and consulting to organizations.
Angeles pursued a life-long commitment to building bridges of understanding between people of diverse spiritual, cultural, ethnic and generational traditions. She remained faithful to her commitment to cross-cultural, non-denominational spiritual teaching to those seeking to live a purposeful, ethical, and service-oriented life.
But she preferred to be known for her "personhood" rather than her contribution. The human qualities that distinguished her were many – warm-hearted, humble, compassionate, generous, wise, and abundantly creative. She embodied each of the archetypes she taught – the leader, healer, visionary and teacher. She had a wonderful sense of humor. And she was a terrible driver.
In South Africa, I witnessed Angeles greeting young people scarred by their experiences of war, apartheid, and refugee camps. She took each child's hands in her own – all 300 – as though they were the Royal Family. With her complete attention, she bathed them in the warmth of her presence and profound respect. She extended this same healing, generosity of spirit and acknowledgement in countless exchanges with people from all walks of life. Those who were sick, alone, afraid, or had lost their way knew instinctively they had a friend in Angeles.
Starting in 1986, Angeles offered Four-Fold Way educational programs in a variety of formats and around the world. These programs provided cross-cultural skills and practices that enhanced personal effectiveness in leadership, wellbeing, creative problem solving and communication.
Thousands of people participated in The Four-Fold Way. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, clergy, teachers, business executives, therapists, judges, social activists, students, homemakers, and military personnel found peaceful co-existence in the Four-Fold Way.
As part of the advanced 12-day residential retreat program, approximately 10,000 people had an experience of a supervised three-day, three-night, wilderness retreat. For many, it was the first time they had ventured alone into nature. Angeles said she could account for the safe return of them all. I brought each of my children to the desert to work with Angeles on their 16th birthday. Auntie Angie became their confident, friend and mentor. She never forgot a birthday or a special occasion.
Angeles was a sought after keynote speaker and reached approximately 40,000 people directly through her speaking engagements and classes. Being in the audience for a talk or a class was to be reminded of the incredible beauty of the human spirit and the great gift of life by an insightful and inspiring orator. Speaking without a note, Angeles encouraged her audiences to take positive action in support of their life dream, relationships, families, communities, organizations and the environment.
Her words revealed how indigenous and perennial wisdoms are relevant in our families, professional lives and our relationship with the Earth. She was invited to 16 countries to share a message that was both inspirational and pragmatic, including China, Bali, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil and Germany. She was a keynote speaker at international conferences, including TedX, The State of the World Forum in San Francisco; The Woman's Forum in South Africa; The Praxis Peace Institute in Croatia; and before the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.
During that time she wrote seven best sellers, including "The Four-Fold Way", her best-known book. Over two million copies of her books, translated in thirteen languages, have been read over and over, and cover-to-cover. Angeles was also a prolific publisher of audio and on-line learning programs. She covered a wide variety of topics, including: change and conflict resolution; creativity; love, intimacy and relationship; symbolism and storytelling; the universal aspects of healing; The Four-Fold Way and The Second Half of Life.
Angeles Arrien played an important role in advancing international philanthropy through the small, but mighty, Foundation for Cross-Cultural Research and Education. Its mission was to foster and promote cross-cultural knowledge and indigenous wisdom to support human sustainability.
Businesses, institutions and other organizations also embraced Angeles' work. She provided consultation and board directorship to corporations, medical and therapeutic communities, academics, and Church, school and community organizations. Angeles was an advocate for the principles of cooperation, communication, conflict resolution, creativity and diversity in the workplace. She was deeply influenced by the "Basque Cooperative" approach to enterprise, which features a commitment to mutual gain and long-term sustainability.
In recognition of her major contributions to education, Angeles was awarded three honorary PhD's: Doctor of Transpersonal Education from ITP; Doctor of Divinity from Interfaith Ministry and East-West Ministry; and Doctor of Philosophy from CIIS. The California Pacific Medical Center's Institute for Health and Healing granted her the Art, Science and Soul of Healing Award in 1999. She won the Distinguished Teaching Award from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). She is also a past Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a Trustee of the Fetzer Institute and a faculty member of the Metta Institute.
If your legacy is the beauty that you leave behind, Angeles Arrien walked "The Beauty Way." She was a genius of the human spirit. Her message and model will live on in those who she impacted through her life and work.
She asked those who wish to remember her to light a candle once each month on the 24th – the day she died – for a year. Another way to honor her memory is to practice the principles she taught us:
Show up, choose to be present
Follow what has heart and meaning
Tell the truth without blame or judgment
Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome
A very big light in a very small package has gone out on this earth. But if you look closely, you will see a bright new star to guide us in the night sky.
I was lucky to know her. The work will continue.