(August 3, 1933 - May 4, 2011)
When I first saw Patti, in 1973, she seemed larger than life. It wasn't because she was giving a talk to thousands of people. And it wasn't the fascinating experiences she shared about her time as personal assistant to the founder of Eckankar, Paul Twitchell, and the unique training she went through working for him.
It was the ease in her voice. The simple way she had of saying the most amazing things. It was her honesty, her sense of humor. She wasn't trying to be anything but who she was, and somehow she made that seem grand.
In other words, she loomed so large because she wasn't trying. She was just being who she was. In fact, she seemed to enjoy making fun of herself:
"...to my knowledge, I have never made the same mistake twice. Actually, that is not really such a remarkable feat, considering how many mistakes are available to us without our needing to repeat any. And I say, with some chagrin, that while I may not hold the record, I have accomplished a respectable volume of work in that category."
This only brought her more fans. To which she responded by assuring us that she didn't deserve it:
"...no matter what I have done, or how often I might have appeared to be in a role of leadership, I have never been anything but a soldier in the trenches. Nor have I lost the sense of wonder, the sense of the miracle, that all this happened to me, a basically average, unremarkable human being."
Unremarkable? Hardly. Patti's life was extraordinary.
She taught a three week course in Beginning Japanese Cooking at Fassero's International Ecole de Cuisine, only to say that she didn't intend to repeat the experience because "There were too many things to think about and do all at once."
She decided to take sailing lessons one day. A friend asked her, "Oh, do you have a sailboat?"
"No," she said.
"Are you going to buy one?"
"I don't know."
"Well, then why in the world are you taking sailing lessons?"
Which left Patti speechless. Later she said, "I was dumbfounded at her viewpoint that there had to be a very practical reason for me to go to so much time and trouble."
She was doing it for "the glory of new adventure; the challenge of pitting yourself against the unknown quality...the learning of a thing being aware of what and how it is, is the reason to do it."
You won't find more of an adventurer, who loves exploring the edges, the out-of-bounds areas, and the mysteries, with every project she takes on.
Especially now. Nothing's changed.
* * * * *
When I sat down to write this article about the passing of Patti Simpson Rivinus, her presence surrounded me. It was unmistakable.
This was curious, since I knew she had already moved on to bigger and better things, in the worlds beyond this plane of existence. So, this wasn't her, they were blessings: A gift wave she left behind. I've never experienced this before.
As I followed this wave, I saw it reaching thousands of people, friends, and family. I was amazed at how many Patti touched around the world, from all different walks of life.
Some knew her only from reading the books she wrote, or hearing a talk she gave, or from one of her many articles published long ago. Some knew her from art classes they took with her, or the sharing of a book, or a helping note she sent out of the blue. Or from her free counseling moments that she dispensed regularly, especially for those in need.
Let me give you an example. I got to see one of her unexpected acts of friendship, one day.
She called to say that she had just returned from a trip, and a stewardess on the plane had broken down in tears. Her husband had just died and she was completely lost. She didn't know what to do. Patti took her under her wing, and asked if Karen and I could help.
We drove over together to spend time with the stewardess, who none of us knew, and to help around the house. We cleaned up, fixed some broken appliances, which her husband normally took care of. But more than anything, Patti just wanted to share some light. The results were unmistakable. You could see the spark coming back to the stewardess, as she started to perk up, feeling a new kind of energy that she had forgotten.
Life. It is so important, and Patti dispensed it like candy.
After the worst of the storm passed, we left the stewardess a little more hopeful than before, feeling that she had received an unexpected gift from people she didn't know.
That was Patti. She was doing things like that all the time. So, I shouldn't have been surprised that she would leave her friends and family with another gift, with her passing.
* * * * *
I've never seen anyone who left such a trail of grace behind her, as Patti did. I wasn't the only one who experienced this.
Fred Foos wrote:
"I was in Portland on business all week and had the experience of Patti's great golden pillar reaching into the Universal Source of All Being."
Christopher Rivinus, Patti's step-son, wrote:
"I am finding a ton of good memories sharpening in my mind. Patti came into my life at a critical time and so much of who I am today is because of her. Somehow over the last few days the big lessons she taught me, the critical lessons, are coming back to me. It's as if she's talking to me and reminding me of things I'd forgotten. Good things. Things about how the universe really works and things about who I really am inside."
Rosalind Richards wrote:
"My husband and I took a walk tonight fairly late. A few seconds out of the house and we heard the train horn blowing a long, low and beautiful tone. It was very deep and noticeable because I don't remember hearing the train before. After walking down the hill, we heard it again at a distance. It must have stopped and rang the horn again as it went on. The tone now was at a lower octave.
I thought to myself that this was Patti's love. Then the symbol of another octave lower and there she is again as her love continues on into the other worlds. I thought about her, the whole walk. What a happy, loving, generous, bright Soul. What a thrill it was to hear her talk at Seminars with her wonderful humor. How much Paul trusted her and depended on her.How important she was to him.
If I had any doubts about her sending love to me and others tonight, that was quelled through the Sound of the Train Horn. As I finished the walk there it was again. Three beautiful whistles of Patti's love and presence. How lucky we all are to have known her."
* * * * *
This article isn't going as I planned.
Patti smiles. "That's life," her presence says to me.
Her laugh is infectious.
She doesn't want me talking about the past. "That old stuff," she says. If her death is about anything, she says, let it be about this moment now.
A presence that speaks such wisdom is rare. It can only be found with those who have moved into the universal life. This is a sign of mastership, which is not a title, but a state of being.
Patti is absolutely right, this moment of celebration about her life is about now, the experience and adventure of life. It's not an ending, but a poignant turning point. It isn't the closing of a circle, but a spiral that keeps growing.
"However," I say to Patti, "I have a story that needs to be told. It starts in the past, but brings us something for this moment now."
* * * * *
I had the pleasure of working with Patti, through the mail, in 1978, when I worked at the ECK World News.
Patti started EWN, an international news magazine. Paul Twitchell, the founder of Eckankar, had talked about his vision for such a publication, and it resonated with her. Patti got it up and running, and ran it for the first two years, from 1972 to 1973. Then, she turned it over to others.
One of her classic trademarks, when she was editor, was the way she ended every edition with her "PS."
Sometimes PS stood for Post Script, a final comment for the edition, usually a funny quip. For example, she ended the September 1973 issue this way:
"Since last month's issue hit the streets, homes, prisons and libraries, we have been receiving some interesting mail regarding Black Holes. It seems that readers everywhere have recognized that Black Holes are not necessarily 'out there' but right here. Many of us have chucked out forever such ideas as negligence, absent-mindedness, and the other nasty incriminations usually applied to mysterious disappearances. It's been a great relief to those of us who tend to lose things to discover that we are not remiss after all‒but have just had certain items confiscated by some nearby insatiable Black Hole! I find this explanation very satisfying and much more to my liking than the idea I used to have that I tend to lose things. I personally suspect that I have more than one of these in my general area, but I thought I'd let you know ‒that black shoulder strap handbag I usually lug around with me is one that has been positively identified."
Other times, PS stood for Parting Shot. Such as this beauty:
But, of course, PS always stood for Patti Simpson, although she never once said that.
* * * * *
When I was co-editor of the ECK World News, I asked Patti if she would contribute an article. She sent a short piece that has always been one of my favorites. She began The Bombing of a Philosopher:
"One thing we are as sure of around here as death and taxes is that come spring the mockingbirds will reverse the natural order of things and begin dive-bombing the neighborhood cats. It's one of my favorite things and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it is just the fascination of seeing creatures jump out of traditional molds and do the daring and unexpected."
This put her into a philosophical mood about the amusement of nature. She laughed at the ridiculous picture of the next-door cat running from the little bird. She ended her article like this:
"I was still musing about the silliness of the powerful cat when I heard the mocker shrieking again. I looked up thinking they both were back and I'd be in for some more fun. But only the bird was back. He was perched on a rosebush about five feet from me and there was no doubt as to whose shiny hair he had his eyes glued on. It was an eyeball to eyeball confrontation. I said, 'You wouldn't dare!' He fidgeted and shrieked again and I suddenly remembered I had some things I should be doing in the house and I quickly disappeared behind the door muttering to myself."
The Bombing of a Philosopher, was therefore both about her being bombarded by a mockingbird, backing down from the silliest of threats, and at the same time it was about her failure as a philosopher.
It's easy to laugh with her, but what I love is the subtle way she hints at something profoundly moving. We love to sit back and observe life from a distance. We look out over the world and philosophize about the craziness of it all. The joke's on us, since we are part of it. That's where we belong, in the fracas, not watching from the sidelines.
This article also showed her love for the offbeat, especially when it included reversals to the natural order. I think that is why she wrote in such an unassuming way. In the middle of her most thoughtful articles and lectures, you still feel as if you were sitting next to her, having a casual chat.
For example, take the way she begins her book, Hello Friend, written for new students of Eckankar:
"It was one o'clock in the morning, in the Spring of 1980, when I was awakened by you...
"I know a lot about you. You have carried within you a deep yearning to know more about the nature of things. In your quiet moments you have asked yourself strange questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here?...
"You have within you the seeds of a revolutionary; a pioneer. You sense or know there is far more to existence than is commonly accepted and you can't help being curious about the unknown, although there are moments when you wish it weren't thus; moments when you wish you could be as satisfied and accepting of the safe, traditional forms as others seem to be...
"You didn't tell me all this specifically when we met in the middle of the night. What you conveyed to me was that we are very much alike, you and I. And so, I have just written for you a fairly accurate description of me as I approach the path of Eckankar. There's a name for this condition that we have. It's called 'Divine Discontent.' It is the mark of the Seeker. And when I meet one, I call him or her, Friend."
When she called you Friend, she meant it. She made thousands of friends down through the years.
This note came from one, the day after word of Patti's passing got out:
"Many years ago, when I was introduced to Eckankar by my Dad, one of the first names I got to know was Patti Simpson. I really can't remember how or why it stuck, but when I found her on Facebook, it didn't matter. She just seemed to have this light permanently in her eyes that is so unmissable. I wasn't very close to her even on Facebook, but for some reason, that name became engraved in me.
"She was a beautiful Soul...
"Know that from far away, in Nigeria, Patti meant something to someone and we will all miss her dearly."
* * * * *
"Enough with the old tales," Patti says to me. "It's time for something new."
"Okay," I answer. "Then it is time to tell the untold story. But, first, let me give everyone a bit of background."
* * * * *
At the peak of Patti's popularity, in the mid-1980's, she made a move that surprised everyone. She resigned from the long list of responsibilities that she held in the organization of Eckankar, and turned away from the spotlight completely.
She and David, her husband, also packed up all their personal belongings and moved, leaving California and all their friends, to live in a small town in Vermont, where Patti knew no one.
Few could understand why she would give up everything. Some wondered if she left in protest over something, but that was never Patti. I never saw her running away from anything, and she never had a problem speaking her mind. She was always moving toward something new.
Patti went radio silent on the subject until a few years ago. An ECKist wrote asking why she made such a change in her life back then. Patti answered in a letter dated, July 2007:
"The time came when my extensive work on the outer path was no longer where I needed to be. This became clear to me in many different ways. I needed to be doing my work on my own, with my own inner life, instead of such a public forum. Everything I ever found myself to be on the outer path, I continue to be, with the added richness that I work quietly and anonymously in the world with people who have no idea what I have done in the past."
It wasn't an easy change at all. It was one of the hardest things she had ever done.
She didn't want to leave all her friends behind, and she loved the work she was doing. But inwardly, the message was getting stronger and stronger that it was time for a change. A big change. But she wasn't quite ready.
That's when she slipped on an icy curb and busted her ankle to smithereens, as she described it. Her bones were fractured in so many places that she required four separate surgeries, with pins and plates, to put her ankle back together. Now she wasn't going anywhere.
She talked about the waking dream "accident" with David, who had been giving talks on the subject. They both agreed that the inner message was clear: It was time for her to make a clean "break."
A while later, after her ankle healed well enough to get around, she got a request from a long time friend to be guest speaker at an Eckankar seminar. She wondered if maybe she could do this one last little thing, since it was coming from a close friend. So, she agreed. On her way to give the talk, she tripped down some steps and broke her elbow.
Then she knew that there was no choice except to go forward with life and see where it was taking her.
In a letter dated June 2007, she wrote to some close friends:
"You know, on the outer path, most of your friends are ECKists. Most of your work and your identity is that. Then you move into a small New England town and no one knows you and you have to start over, from scratch. David was a tenor and got involved with the music scene. Tenors are always in great demand. I did nothing at first except sit up on my mountain nursing my fiercely wounded ankle. My first contact in the town on my own were my dentist and my orthopedic surgeon. All the music people put up with me because I was 'the tenor's wife,' but in the beginning that was all. It was total anonymity. So, I had to be Patti, pure and simple. I had to share my expertise, my humor, my time and work on very mundane levels.
"But gradually I emerged from my cocoon and became a person to them (and if you can do that with New Englanders, you've really done something.) I like to think of that time, in that small town of 13,000, as giving birth to myself. A new self, with all the experience and talents and insights I developed in Eckankar, but without the ready made audience of folks who loved and listened to me in the past. In ECK I was very known, very visible. In Brattleboro Vermont, I was no one. But when we left, people were crying, over both of us. 70 people came to our going away party.
"And since I've done this once, I have no reticence about doing it again. Every one of us have things to say, and to give, and we need to do that without tying ourselves, in any way, to an organization. That just helps us grow. Because we need to come from our own authority. We are co-creators. And we need to move into the freedom and joy and service of that space.
"All this is to say, I think Paul waited a long time to see us realize this."
I agree completely with Patti, that this is indeed one of the lessons Paul hoped we would learn. But it is one of the hardest lessons to leave our old paths behind to find where life is taking us now. Yet, this is how the path of life works. We can't be so caught up in our path that we miss The Path of life itself.
Paul put it this way, as captured by Patti's trusty tape recorder:
"...the majority of ideas that go on in these fields of religion and philosophy have narrowed themselves down to a very narrow path. I can be a Christian or I can be a Moslem, I can be almost anything, but then I'm put into a strait jacket...
"So, what we have to begin to think about, ‒and I'm guilty of this point myself, ‒is that we can't really say that ECK is even a path. It embraces so much of life because It is life itself. The only thing we're doing is using certain exercises and certain ideas in order to open ourselves to this flow, ‒or whatever you want to call It, that is coming into us, ‒or we are traveling out to It. So we find that we are embracing the whole of everything and not a small, narrow path. And the minute that we begin to put ourselves into this narrow path, we have failed, because we then put ourselves on another path."
That's "another path" because it is no longer the path of the whole of life.
* * * * *
Patti was a pioneer, always exploring. So, it shouldn't have surprised anyone when she suddenly left the spotlight, to lead a life of anonymity.
In the middle of her most serious writing, she would often say something like this, from her book, Hello Friend:
"...these are great and important things we are discussing. And I'm feeling neither great nor important. Such things are better left to the big guys. But just between you and me, I find small, simple things work the most profoundly."
That is indeed where the spiritual path strikes gold. Not in the shining lights of fame, but in the small and simple things. It isn't about finding glory, but the glorious moment of now, here, filled with the fullness of being.
You can see it in her artwork, during her anonymous years. Both the Dalai Lama and African Lady paintings show her upmost respect for the strength of individuality, facing truth in daily life.
The piece she liked best, however, is also the simplest, and one of her most recent. A red truck, in the stillness of a field. You can hear the quiet, far from the spotlights.
She wrote this note about her truck paintings, just a year ago:
"Living for many years in rural Vermont where almost every farm has at least one old truck and/or cars tucked away in the nearby forest or in a weedy forgotten place, I developed a deep love for this interesting phenomenon of rural America. The old trucks seem to be like old grandfathers, once strong and dependable, hardy workers, who can no longer produce, but remain beloved."
For Patti, the painting was also autobiographical, showing her the completion of a good life: An old work vehicle put out to pasture. It wasn't being used any more, but was filled with too many good memories to be sent to the junk yard. The telephone pole is a bit off kilter from the weather and years, symbolizing old communication lines that are now out of date, but were once used on a daily basis.
* * * * *
To understand fully the magnitude of what Patti was working on, when she turned to an anonymous life, we need to hear a personal story that no one knew. She never told anyone, outside of David, what had happened, until about a year ago, when she pulled me aside, in her home.
She said, as best as I can remember:
"Paul asked me if I would be the next Living ECK Master, but I had to turn him down.
"He told me that I had the ability. I could do what he was doing. But he didn't ask his question directly. I was too much in shock at what I was hearing. It wasn't until I got home that I realized he was asking me if I would be his successor.
"I still had four kids growing up, at home. I had Pete [her husband at the time], who had already sacrificed too much for my work. I couldn't abandon my responsibilities as wife and mother.
"I had to say no, but I hated doing it.
"I knew I had to give Paul my answer in person. The next day I saw him, and I saw what a letdown it was."
This happened after Paul had been poisoned. He knew he needed to find a successor. Even Gail, his wife, told him to pick someone, before it was too late.
I asked David if he would share his memories about this untold story. He wrote me the following, and gave permission to include it in this article:
Patti being offered the position of the Living Eck Mastership by Paul was an incident that haunted her until only a few years before she died.
As you know, masters, when they really have something to say, rarely speak their minds directly. So Paul broached the subject indirectly to test the waters. Patti was anything but spiritually blind and she was certain enough of Paul's "hint" that it put her into a near panic.
It was a double-edged sword. One blade of that sword was that she was forced to confront the possibility that she HAD understood Paul correctly. She imagined herself in the role that was‒, she felt reasonably certain, ‒being asked and expected of her, namely, that she was to take over the leadership of Eckankar in the responsibility of its Living Eck Master. She saw herself, still in her late thirties, married and with small children, and with all the accompanying responsibilities that this role entailed, being suddenly catapulted through a series of intense initiations, ‒then being obliged to take over the guidance of a young spiritual movement with its growing number of chelas, each with his or her intense spiritual needs. (Can you imagine?) She knew almost immediately that she could not do this, certainly not at that juncture in her life; that her responsibilities on the physical plane, ‒her marriage, her children, her role as mother, ‒had to take precedence. There had already been one broken marriage in her young adulthood and she would not put her children through that experience again. She knew she had to refuse Paul.
That led to the other blade of the sword: What if she had misinterpreted Paul? What would this do to their close working relationship, now oiled like an exquisitely running machine, if she went to Paul and openly, directly (arrogantly?) turned down an offer that he had never actually made?
She was beside herself. But, as we all know, Patti was no shrinking violet. She mustered every ounce of her courage, went to Paul, and told him that she could not accept the role of the Living Eck Master; it was simply impossible for her at that time in her life.
If there had been any doubt at all in her mind up to that point as to whether Paul had actually made the offer, his reaction put it to rest. She told me that he said nothing, simply nodded his head in understanding and resignation and then she watched as he VISIBLY, PALPABLY, GRAVELY took the entire burden of the path back onto his own shoulders.
Her decision broke her heart. Paul was the individual on earth whom she respected and loved the most and she felt that, in that moment, she had profoundly let him down.
Until a few years ago, when you approached her with questions in regard to your writing of "The Whole Truth," the only person she had related this incident to was me. She repeated the story several times during our marriage and never once did she alter a single detail. And always, there was the sense of misgiving, the fear that, especially in light of what happened during the Darwin years, she had made a decision that was horribly, horribly wrong.
The first relief she got was during our Vermont days. Patti was now in her 60s and she attended a workshop by an author and spiritual teacher named Richard Moss. He's not associated with the Eck movement and Patti was there as much out of curiosity as anything else. But as we all know, sometimes the Mahanta speaks through unexpected sources and something Richard said struck home so deeply that Patti knew it had come directly from Paul. I wasn't there so I will have to paraphrase the words, but the message was this: The first and most supremely important spiritual prerequisite to mastership is to be absolutely and uncompromisingly true to yourself.
Patti said that, as the meaning of Richard's words began to sink in, she felt a burden lift off her own shoulders that gave her immense relief. She knew, at last, that she had acted correctly and that Paul had understood and had accepted her decision from the moment she had made it. That allowed her, finally, to share it with you a few years later and, at that point, she completely let the responsibility go. For her, it was a colossal weight removed.
Yet for me, sitting safely out of the line of fire, her decision, from the moment I heard of it, was nothing shy of awesome: I cannot imagine a more courageous act, done by a young woman exploring completely uncharted territory, and doing so leagues and leagues away from being in sight of any shore. What a blindingly bright light she was--and still is for that matter, in that even more vast arena in which she is currently working!
As this story would come up from time to time during our Sunday pillow talks, my own curiosity would lead me to ask any number of questions, the most puzzling of which was, "What about the Eck doctrine that claims only a male can be the L. E. M? Patti would raise her palms and shrug her shoulders, the message being crystal clear: "I know what it says and I also know that Paul asked me‒a woman‒to accept the job. So you go figure it out, then tell me and we'll both know." It was one of those wonderful, rich paradoxes of being married to Patti that made life so frustratingly and profoundly beautiful.
When I asked Patti if she would contribute to my book on Paul Twitchell, The Whole Truth, she jumped in with both feet. She dug out her old notes and recorded an audio tape for me on her thoughts.
She told me that this allowed her to finish a promise she had made to Paul, to write his biography. She felt her book, Paulji: A Memoir, was a personal account, and something more was needed.
I was thanking her for her help, while she was thanking me.
After we were done with the book, she got serious and said something almost identical to what she wrote in her book, Hello Friend:
"More than once, as Paul was talking to me, teaching me, sharing his life history and his visions, I would ask myself, 'Why is he giving me all this? Why is he spending so much of his physical time and attention on me?' Sure, he needed me to help free up his time to get his books written. But that was too obvious. And there was too much more going on for it to be only that."
When she spoke with me, she still had this feeling that there was some other purpose that Paul gave this to her, and she felt the need to pass it on.
That's when I realized what she was asking me: Would I take this from her? It was a subtle question, more on the inner than the outer, but I could see her need to fulfill this final task for Paul, to pass this on.
Outwardly, she asked if she could give me all of her files from her notes with Paul. I said that I would be honored, seeing the full meaning of the gift she was giving, and that I could help in some small way for her to let it go. It was the last bit of Paul's mission that she carried with her.
She may have turned down Paul's question about her being the next Living ECK Master, but I don't think she ever turned down mastership. That was what she was working on during her years out of the spotlight, away from all the things that came so easily to her, thanks to Paul. To see what it meant to be ruthlessly true to herself, and to live from her own inner authority.
That is a sign of mastership, as I see it. And so is this gift wave she left behind, the trail of grace.
One week after word got out about Patti's passing, David had already received an avalanche of emails. He showed Karen and me the stack. It was over two inches tall. Over a hundred messages from around the world, in three different languages, from Israel, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Nigeria, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Columbia, Switzerland, South Africa and the US.
Thank you Patti for your presence, right now, and the way you encourage everyone to be themselves. You've made the meaning of it grand, indeed.
But, of course, it is only fair to let Patti have the Parting Shot. So, I'll end with the last words she used in her book, Paulji: A Memoir. It seems even more appropriate now:
"The hour grows late. The story has been told and ... well, Paulji, I think we ought to take off..."
* * * * *