What We May Be
By Karen Lauritzen
She arrived at my front door with a large container under each arm. One container held the prepared dough for her Sicilian Grandmother’s Fig Cookie recipe, the other the filling. It was December, 2010 and this woman would join a group of others in my home for a day of Christmas baking, “Hi, I’m Mary Margaret,” she paused, then added, “Haven’t we met?” We had not. I took in the energy that seemed to swirl around her, “Well, you do look familiar.” Yes, there was something. Oh, well. Maybe it’s just that we’re both Italian and she reminds me my nine beloved Italian aunts. But it was much more than that. Over the next three years she would profoundly influence my life in ways I could never imagine.
The fodder for our friendship began that day in my kitchen and, over time, grew. Immediately our friendship became cinched tight as a belt and was held fast with the easy banter and familiarity of two Italians cooking together. She asked nothing of me. Nothing. Yet, offered all of herself to me each time we spoke giving me her undivided attention, focusing only on what I was saying, staring at me through her bottomless black eyes. I was drawn to this woman who had been a nun for forty-five years, left the order at sixty five, moved to Brevard to retire after working many years in her private practice as a psychotherapist in Lafayette, Louisiana. Restless in retirement, she returned to her work as a life transition counselor and spiritual guide.
When the friend who invited Mary Margaret to my home was later diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, Mary Margaret and I walked that final walk with her. I was honored, humbled and profoundly changed on the day she guided our dying friend on a path of peace and giftedness. I watched as she guided her soul, enabling it to fly free from its body, to become one with the Divine.
I have taken her six week Psychosynthesis Workshop, one of many she offers, and had all I believed about myself challenged and transformed. I was curious about how she moved from there to here, hopeful of capturing a tiny piece of her amazing story.
She was born on January 8, 1937, at home in Louisiana in her grandmother’s bed, the oldest of twelve children and lived in her paternal grandparents home for the first four years of her life.
A man who played a pivotal role in her life, Uncle Mike, was in his early twenties when she was born. “He taught me love and abundance and I learned from him that I am always safe. Mary Margaret remembers being carried around the neighborhood on his shoulders, “He held me up so I could see and be in the Light.” Her world was forever changed when he left to fight in the war when she was four years old and was killed in combat. Mary Margaret found out he’d been killed as she overheard her parents and grandparents discussing his death. She remembers going to her bedroom, staying there alone and silent for a very long time and coming out of the bedroom and not speaking of it again. To anyone. And, no one spoke with Mary Margaret about her uncle who she knew by then was, “the love of my life.” The death of her Uncle Mike plus the move from her grandparents’ home became her earliest lessons in loss and detachment.
When I asked Mary Margaret to describe herself as a young teen, she says, “Headstrong and determined to take anything to the limit … I stretched comfort zones and took risks. I had so much pain deep within me and had difficulty expressing it. All this surfaced as rebellion and anger.” This, of course, covered up the pain of losing Mike and having an overabundance of responsibilities as the oldest child. Many years later she realized pain opens the heart to truly love. “The opening of our heart comes from having your heart broken over and over, until it is broken open. Love does not belong to us. We belong to love.”
At eighteen she made the decision to go into the convent. Her parents were thrilled and proud. She knew there was spiritually something more and felt driven to seek it and found it in the sacred, hallowed halls of the convent. But, Mary Margaret found the separation from her family difficult and there were few visits due to the distance between the convent and her family.
When she entered the convent she was part of a group of sixteen novices. It was customary to give each novice books to read and study. Mary Margaret was the only novice given books to read on mysticism, especially books by Thomas Merton. She was drawn to this radical Trappist monk and in many ways identified with him. He looked at the world from a psychological perspective and had a love for Eastern Spiritually. Merton separated the True Self or Soul from the False Self or fragmented parts of the personality. Merton taught her, “We must reach a point of absolute poverty of the ego, and only then are we open to become who we really are, a spark of the Divine. Letting go of the fragmented or False Self allows us to live in the light and love of our souls.”
Her life radically changed while she was on a retreat and read these words by Merton, “The journey to find your True Self is not an outward journey. Rather, it is an inward journey into the very center of your soul. At the center of your soul you find your God and when you find your God you find your Self.” It was then she began an inward journey to find God. That journey became deeply trans- formative. Merton is her most profound teacher to this day.
As a nun she was well-educated, receiving a B.A. in Elementary Education and taught second grade. As a second grade teacher all her pupils thrived. Not just the bright kids, but every single student. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad kid. “I was twenty-three years old. How does a twenty-three year old know that? she asks. She believes it came from the unconditional love she received from Uncle Mike. “He must have said, You can be anything. Years later she met one of those second grade students, now an adult, who told her that after second grade she was moved into a special reading class for slower readers. In fact, it was not until third grade did she learn she had been in the slowest reading group in Mary Margaret’s class.
During the Vietnam War grief over Uncle Mike resurfaced. “Psychosynthesis helped me begin my healing process. To be an authentic therapist, I knew I could never take anyone where I’d never been. What we may be is limitless. We are a Spark of the Divine and it’s only through examining the false parts of our ego, then allowing love and compassion to enter that we can live from our True Self. Today I feel grounded to the earth and connected to my Source.”
The years studying Psychosynthesis were years that shifted her emotionally, spiritually and mentally. At 47 she opened a private practice. As words spread her practice grew. She began attending workshops and retreats given by master teachers:Virginia Satir, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, Jack Kornfield, Carolyn Myss, Beautiful Painted Arrow (Joseph Rael), Stan Grof, Alberto Villoldo. She was regularly featured on television and radio shows and became known for her work with death and dying and AIDS. At that time AIDS was a death sentence.
At sixty-five she left the convent simply saying as an explanation for leaving, “It was time.” She moved to Brevard, North Carolina, a place she’d loved to camp when she was younger and found her present home. Through the help of friends who contributed sacred art and her own sense of aesthetics, Mary Margaret has created a sacred space for a private practice. She is known for her life changing workshops including Psychosynthesis, Meditation Circles, Chakra Workshops, Midwifing the Divine Feminine and Grief and Loss. Currently she gives workshops in Brevard and The Salt Spa in Asheville.
At Terra Nova, a Non-Denominational Center in Cedar Mountain,The Rev. Marian Starnes, the minister there, invited her to become ordained. Marian became her mentor and dear friend and Terra Nova became a second home. She attends most Sundays. Other church communities in and near Brevard have invited her to speak.
In June, 2012, I listened to Mary Margaret speak at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brevard. Her topic was “Soul Renaissance.” She said, “The giftedness of letting go, and of emptying the ego of its fragmented selves is Oneness with the Divine. That’s what soul renaissance is all about. … You become love, become compassion, become tenderness, become mercy. You love to love. Period. You become a spark of the Divine … Love is all there is … we have forgotten this because we come from the ego so much … As we live this Oneness our lives become abundant … peaceful … alive.”
Mary Margaret says trusting the process is our greatest challenge. All is in perfect Divine order if we have “the eyes to see.” Everything that happens to us in perfect order. There are no imperfect parts of the self, no defects of character we must overcome. Our only task is to move beyond our misunderstood false selves, the selves that have helped us to survive. Conscious awareness and conscious choice allow our lives to evolve awakened.
All my life I had it backwards. I didn’t need to climb the mountain of character defects to find my true self. I learned that I’m a spiritual being in a physical body. I always believed I was a physical being longing for the spirit. I had it backwards all these years. The soul is the True Self. She calls it, “… learning to live from the giftedness of your soul.” I call it transformation-alchemy!
Contact Mary Margaret Camalo at: marymargaretcamalo.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or at 828-399-0473.
Karen Lauritzen is an author whose book, Nothing Vanishes, Memoir of A Life Transformed, is available through her website at NothingVanishes.com, at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, at Highland Books In Brevard and on Amazon.com. She also writes short stories, essays and poetry and has been featured in WNC Woman Magazine and in literary journals nationally.