“We must let go of the life we have planned,
so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell)
Part of the application requirements for the graduate program with the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, was the submission of a brief (5-6 page) autobiography. I have had, and continue to have, a very dynamic life filled with many adventures, trauma, joy, accomplishments and of course, many mistakes and regrets. It will likely take me years to complete a full autobiography, but this was a GREAT exercise in trying to pull out the most important, significant and influential events in my life which I believe have strongly shaped my character and personality, for good or bad. Although I believe I have covered the most significant and meaningful events in my life, I have limited the number of regrets or mistakes I have made in this initial version. All of my mistakes, all of my regrets (to the best of my memory), will be in the complete autobiography when I get it written. The mistake/regret I do describe in this version (car accident), is far and above the worst mistake of my life which caused incredible harm to someone else, yet taught me an incredible lesson. Although there are many things I do regret in my life, none as much as that split-second and irresponsible decision to run a red light at 70 miles an hour through the intersection of Mountain Highway and Frederick rd. in Lynn Valley, on (I believe) February 22 1977.
I was the first born to my parents Lisa and Dennis Stork on November 2 1960 at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver BC, Canada. My father (of Czechoslovakian descent) worked mostly as a truck driver, laborer and for a time, he worked at a steel mill in Vancouver. The early family environment was not unusual to the best of my memory, there was almost no drinking and I don’t recall ever seeing either of my parents drunk. I recall that both my mother and father cooked, and the meals were almost always epic events especially around holidays. My parents rarely fought and although I recall being punished by my father with a belt, or by my mother with a wooden spoon, I don’t recall anything that would have been considered abusive or even negligent. Other than a short stint at Sunday school in a Lutheran church (I believe my parents considered themselves Lutheran), there was little or no discussion of God, religion or belief of any kind.
This decade must count as the most painful, disruptive, transitional and psychologically influential. Around 1970 my mother, brother and I moved to Germany into the home of my mother’s parents, and uncle who owned a house on the same property. From what I recall, the “plan” was that my father would remain in Canada working for one year and then would join us in Germany. I went to a German school and quickly learned to read, write and speak the language. However, for reasons which I don’t believe were explained to me at the time, my mother, brother and I were back in Canada around the end of 1970 and we moved into an apartment in Richmond BC.
During the summers back in Canada, I was spending time on a small farm in Langley owned by a Dutch friend of the family. One summer, possibly the summer of 1971 or 72, my mother called me at the farm to tell me that when I come home, my father will not be there. I recall feeling incredibly confused and anxious. I learned later my parents were to be divorced.
I don’t have many memories of the early periods immediately following the divorce, other than some vague memories of stress, anger, fighting and both my mother and father trying to convince my brother and I of the evils of the other parent. I don’t recall when, but at some point during this phase I must have seen my mother drunk for the first time. It would not be the last. Something else I distinctively recall were the many times that my mother would be drunk and would wake my brother and I. She would start yelling, insulting, accusing us of all sorts of things before tossing us into her car, driving (recklessly) into Vancouver and dropping us off at our father’s after at least one yelling and screaming session. At some point my mother remarried and we moved into the home of my new step-father in North Vancouver. This man soon became the first and most positive male role model in my young life.
Introduction to Spirituality
Although I was doing lots of reading, sometimes staying up all night to finish a book, I was still (as far as I recall) reading mostly about wilderness survival, famous animals which were hunted, and maybe a novel or two like Call of the Wild. The point where I was clearly introduced to anything of a “spiritual” nature was while sitting on a bus around 1974, heading over to some youth camp on Vancouver Island. I was sitting next to one of the camp counselors who must have been around 16-17. I imagine I was reading something and he asked me if I had ever heard of Carlos Castaneda. I said no and although I don’t recall details, I recall whatever he said to me, whatever we talked about, however he tried to describe what the books of Carlos Castaneda were about, I knew that as soon as I got back home I would look for the book he mentioned titled “Journey to Ixtlan”. When we returned home, I found the book in the local library, stole it and was absolutely consumed by the material. By the time I finished JTI, which was likely the same day I brought it home, I started on the first of Castaneda’s books and went through all of the ones I knew about at that time. Unfortunately I stole most of them from the public library by tossing them out an open window and then picking them up outside. I then started from the beginning (Tales of Power), and read them all again. I was hooked, I was changed, I was becoming aware of something completely knew, strange yet unavoidably compelling. I was drawn to the stories and I could not put the books down. There is no doubt in my mind that this early introduction to the spiritual, mythological and shamanistic writing of Carlos Castaneda set the wheels in motion for what has now become a lifelong pursuit of meditation, spirituality, philosophy and psychology.
Unfortunately, the period from around 1974-1976 was also a time of increased drinking, alcoholism and almost ritualistic physical, emotional and some sexual abuse on the part of my mother. I believe I was the only target of this abuse from my mother but my brother’s abuse would come later. All of my most painful memories of childhood occurred during this time. I also believe this was an extremely difficult period for my step-father who must have known what was going on, but felt helpless to do anything. However, I do seem to recall on more than one occasion that he stepped in and tried to stop some excessive attacks from my mother, only to be attacked, insulted and abused in return. My only solace that I recall during this time was to spend time alone, or with my dogs, in the wilderness, often alone and at night where I would sit for extended periods of time trying to “shut of my internal dialog” (Castaneda). I did not know it at the time, or that this had another name, but clearly I was learning and practising meditation.
Turning Point (Leaving Home)
Shortly after my 16th birthday in November of 1976, I seem to recall standing up to my mother as she was about to begin another drunken attack. I recall yelling in her face in a defiant manner, “I DONT HAVE TO KEEP TAKING THIS AND I AM LEAVING!” or something to that effect. I was now around 6’ tall and so I believe I could now at least physically defend myself and prevent her from hitting, pushing, attacking or abusing me in any fashion. My memories are vague from this period but I do seem to recall a sense of resolve, commitment that I had to leave. I was soon living in my father’s basement suite in Vancouver and working in a gas station in North Vancouver.
Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness
Following a horrific car accident in February of 1977, where I nearly killed a man, I was kicked out by my father, living on my own and still working at a gas station. During the first couple of years after leaving home in 1976, I was introduced to various recreational drugs but the ones which left a lasting impression on me were the hallucinogens such as acid or mushrooms. For some reason, I was extremely comfortable hallucinating and with one exception, never really had anything that could be considered a “bad trip”. On many occasions, often after reading a particular chapter or section in one of Carlos Castaneda’s books where he used mescaline or peyote for various shamanistic rituals, I would go into the wilderness around Lynn Valley, locate a safe, quite spot, often on a cliff or outcropping with a view, and I would take the drugs and hallucinate. Many of the hallucinations were formed around themes and images from the Castaneda books. Themes and images dealing with the “spirit”, animals, the wilderness, First Nations etc. Most hallucinations often had an intangible quality or sensation of unity, universal awareness – a connection with all things. A sensation of being part of something “beyond” my physical body, part of something intangible yet possibly aware or conscious. I also recall that emotionally and psychologically I always felt as if I had experienced something profound, privileged, something beyond my regular state of consciousness. Often, the hallucinations also seemed to present a sort of image-based narrative, a story. There is no doubt in my mind, these early experiences and perceptions while hallucinating with acid or mushrooms, were similar to, or identical with, a later Near Death and Out of Body Experience while climbing. I didn’t realize it then, but I believe these were my first experiences with a “transcendent self” or some form of “universal consciousness”. Clearly these were my first experiences with “non-ordinary states of consciousness”.
Bonding with My Brother
After a short stint living in Williams Lake and working in a copper mine, I returned to Vancouver (Port Moody), where I started working for a Vancouver steel foundry and moved back in with my parents and brother whom I had not seen for nearly 3 years. I eventually moved out when I realized my mother’s drinking and abusive behavior had not changed. At some point in 1979 or early 1980, I received a late-night phone call from the Port Moody police. They told me they had my brother in custody and asked if I could come down to the station which was only a few blocks from where I lived. When I arrived, my 16 year old brother looked pale, frightened and confused. One of the police officers took me into a room where I believe there was also a social worker. They explained to me that my parents, particularly my mother, were well known to them and they had regular calls of fighting, drinking and abuse, almost on a weekly basis. I believe they told me that social services had already been involved and on that night, apprehended my brother and declared my parents unfit to care for him. Since I was 19, I was told that I could assume custody which would avoid placing my brother into foster care. This was an easy decision to make and I believe he came home with me that night.
The next couple of years were the most memorable years I had with my brother. I gave him some basic rules about school, homework, grades and helping out around the apartment and each week he would earn $20.00 allowance if he kept up his end of the bargain. Although I don’t know how he recalls this period, I hold each and every day very close to my heart. We started going to a gym together, he encouraged me to quit smoking and start running and I introduced him to 4x4ing, trucks, cars and stereos. I fondly recall coming home from work at the foundry on more than one occasion and my brother had supper ready for me. I was so moved the first time he did this I had to turn my head and walk into the bathroom because I was crying.
At some point in the early 80’s, after my brother turned 17 and realized he no longer had to stay with me or remain in school, he moved out and left school. Although I tried to keep in touch and often gave him work either as a painter or even some security work, he seemed to be changing into a different person and soon became very violent and unpredictable. At one point, around 1986 after having previously broken my nose for complaining to him for not showing up for work for multiple days, he stalked me and nearly beat me unconscious, breaking two of my ribs outside my Port Moody townhouse. I have not spoken with my brother since.
Birth of my Son ( My First Epiphany)
Although I was earning a good living in the foundry, also working evenings at the gym I lived above, I took a weekend job delivering pizza at this place where a girl I wanted to meet, also worked. I eventually left the pizza place, moved out of the room I had above the gym and moved into another apartment in Port Moody with this older woman I had met at the pizza place. Since this was my first real relationship, I was very much overwhelmed, in love, happy and was very receptive to her desire for a child. She was 29 at the time, I was 21 and on July 30th 1982 our son Jesse was born. Witnessing the birth of my son was the most incredible, moving and emotional personal experience I ever had and was unquestionably my very first epiphany.
Near Death & Out of Body Experience
Over the year or so, my relationship with my son’s mother deteriorated, the steel industry crashed and so I was now painting houses and living in my own apartment and visiting with my son when I could, when I was permitted. I was soon working with some rock climbers from Czechoslovakia and since I was in pretty good shape as a weight lifter and runner, they introduced me to rock climbing. I was soon completely immersed into the sport and climbing nearly every weekend in Squamish on the Smoke Bluffs, the Apron and other locations on and around the 2000’ granite monolith called the Stawamus Chief.
Somewhere around the mid 80’s, I reached the psychological and physical peak of my climbing abilities and was regularly leading more and more difficult routes. Somewhere below the Grand Wall of the Chief, I was leading a route and had fallen 2-3 times near the start of the pitch. I then “ran out” about 20 feet of rope past my last bit of protection when I hit the REAL crux of the route. I think we were about 400-500 feet up. I was tired from the previous falls and attempts to get past what I thought was the crux and now I was at the end of a 20 foot run-out and had to let go with one hand to try and find a suitable piece of protection. Things seemed to happen so fast at first, but I know I had a realization that I screwed up big-time and this will end in a long fall, and likely one that the gear will not help with. I was physically and psychologically exhausted but the moment I let go with one hand, I knew this would be it and something inside me snapped, broke free. I recall a sense of resolution, letting go psychologically, an acceptance that I would die. What seemed like no time at all, I realized I was falling but suddenly I was not aware of the fall, where I was or the experience of time. I was transformed; I was experiencing a sense of awareness like nothing I had ever experienced before. All the fear, anxiety and tension were gone instantly and it felt like I was inside of joy. It was soothing, timeless, a sense that I was aware of everything all at once, free from psychological stress and as clichéd as it sounds, it was like I was surrounded by enveloping white, cloud-like phenomenon or light and I no longer had a “separate” self, I was Self. The sensation was so overwhelming, so comforting, so universal and transcendent of anything I had ever experienced before. If I were given the choice to remain in that state, or return to any sort of “real” world I could imagine for myself with all the money, fame, success or recognition I could ask for, it would have been IMPOSSIBLE to leave that transcendent and metaphysical state. However, in spite of falling around 40 feet, and putting incredible strain on the gear and my belayer, he caught me and I smashed into the rock breaking my leg. I was hanging upside down and my friend was yelling “are you ok, are you ok!”. It took me a moment to realize where I was, why everything was upside down and why my leg hurt so much.
Although this was a significant experience for me, and I thought about it often, I had little knowledge of NDE’s, OBE’s or the many other ways in which these metaphysical and transcendent experiences are manifested or explored in spiritual, psychological or shamanistic practices. That would come later. I also found that trying to talk about or describe the experience to others often evoked a look of doubt or “he must be crazy” so I gradually stopped trying to talk about it with others. However, the memory and impact of that day will never leave me. In a way, now that I have a better (academic) understanding of the spiritual, psychological, metaphysical and transcendent nature of the experience, it is almost like I was given the experience or “proof” of the unity of consciousness first, followed by a life-time trying to better understand how, why and in what ways we may learn from this form of transcendent, metaphysical awareness and universal state of consciousness.
Return to School ( What Led to Psychology)
Around 1985 I went on a long cross-country climbing trip with my Czech friends which took us through BC, Alberta and into Saskatchewan where they had some friends. When we got to Saskatchewan, we stayed a few days in the home of their friends and although my father was Czech and I knew a few words, I could not join the conversations my friends had with their Czech buddies. Consequently I spent most of my time with their 10 year old son who spoke english very well. We went out bike riding, hiking and I think we went to a movie as well. He really warmed up to me and I enjoyed the time I spent with him. On the last night in Saskatchewan we were all partying in the basement. Everyone was a little drunk and at one point the young boy’s mother was sitting next to me on the floor and she leaned towards me to say something. With a bit of a slur, and very broken english, she said “I have been watching you with my son. He talks about you every night and really enjoys spending time with you. You have made a very big impression on him and I think you would make a great (some Czech word)”. Nobody knew the english translation of what she was saying so someone found a Czech-English dictionary. The expression was “child psychologist”. I made the decision right then, that when we got back to Vancouver I would give up my painting company and try to go to university.
I had already been feeling frustrated and unfulfilled working as a painter or security guard, and I had been reading many books on topics related to psychology (sexuality and relationships). While working as a security guard, I made friends with a young math student from SFU named Harvey who was encouraging me to go to university. This was not something I had ever considered since I believed it was unattainable due to having quit school in grade 11. However, when that young boy’s mother in Saskatchewan said she thought I would make a good child psychologist, it was the last bit of encouragement I needed to give it a try. In 1985 I began taking university transfer and psychology courses at Capilano College and then in 1986, I was accepted into the psychology undergraduate program at Simon Fraser University. Although my initial focus was developmental (child) psychology, this eventually changed to a focus on neuropsychology and then, experimental psychology and statistics.
Working with Youth
Shortly after starting university in 1986, and while still working as a security guard, I also met a man named Bob who had a long and successful career working with youth in Ontario and was now living in BC. Although Bob was working as security guard, he and his wife were also caring for high-risk young offenders in their home. At some point Bob offered me a job to be a sort of recreational support worker on weekends with the boys. On Saturday’s and Sunday’s I would take the boys out hiking, camping, exploring, biking, anything outdoors. This weekend work as a sort of recreational support worker soon led to helping Bob develop, and working weekends at, one of BC’s first treatment centers for adolescent sexual offenders n Yarrow BC. Although I was beginning to acquire an academic understanding of developmental psychology, I learned more valuable and important skills for working with, supporting, encouraging and counseling youth from Bob, than in all my years of university.
Introduction to Comparative Religion
Throughout my years at SFU, I would often take other courses in philosophy, some anthropology and did a great deal of my own reading in areas of spirituality, consciousness studies etc. But the real turning point with regards to my (renewed) interest in spiritual matters occurred when a friend introduced me to the writing of Joseph Campbell. I believe he gave me a copy of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. I also came across the now well-known documentary with Bill Moyers titled “The Power of Myth”. I had already read some of the works by Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Jung, Huxley and others which Campbell often references and so when I was introduced to his extensive research and knowledge of mythology and comparative religion, it was truly an AH-HA moment for me. Since that time, around 1987, I have read around a dozen of Campbell’s books, watched numerous documentaries and lectures from Sarah Lawrence College where he taught for 30 years, and I continue to read and explore Buddhism, mythology, comparative religion, philosophy and spiritual practices from around the world.
During the years 1986 to when I graduated from Simon Fraser University in 1991 with a Bachelor or Arts in Psychology/Statistics, I helped care for my son who had come down with Legg Perthes Disease. I also continued to work as a youth counselor, started a computer company and also started to provide research and statistical consulting services to other students, graduate students, faculty and businesses in Vancouver. After graduating from SFU in 1991 I was living in Maple Ridge with my new girlfriend. My son was also living with us and I had started to take in and develop programs for high-risk young offenders while also running my computer company and doing the odd statistical consulting contract. I was no longer climbing as much but 4x4ing continued to be one of my favorite recreational activities, which was also pretty popular with my son and the other boys I cared for.
In 1995 I decided to move to Prince George and after renting a house on a lake north of town, I moved all my belongings from Maple Ridge and started to look for work. Initially I moved to Prince George for two reasons. The first being lower housing prices (I later bought a private, lake-front house on 7 acres for less than the cost of a Vancouver lot), and the fact there was a new University. Within a year of arriving in Prince George I was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Northern BC pursuing a (part time) Masters of Science degree in psychology and statistics. I also continued with my statistical consulting work, computer business and started taking in high-risk young offenders once again.
As my (part time) graduate work and studies started to put more pressure on my time, the boys I worked with were also getting more and more volatile and dangerous, requiring excessive measures such as 24 hour supervision, alarms, bars across windows etc. At one point some of the boys went AWOL, broke into other houses, stole guns and started shooting farm animals. I had become more of a prison guard than a counselor and with all my other responsibilities, and some pressure from my neighbors, I did not renew any of the youth contracts when they each expired near the end of 1998.
Although no longer working with high-risk young offenders reduced some of the pressures in my life allowing me to focus on my graduate studies, the loss of my advisor to UBC and lack of anyone to take his place at UNBC, left me with an incomplete degree and having to radically change my thesis topic and area. Relationship problems with the woman who moved in with me, along with work, school and personal struggles and later, the loss of my job with Canfor in 2001, left me with little reason to remain in Prince George. After a short stint in Vancouver I moved to Calgary where a woman I had met in Prince George, had already moved. I am still with this wonderful woman today.
After moving to Calgary in September 2002, I was recruited by a technology head-hunting company for an analytical/statistical and database position with an office of the Ministry of Health in Vancouver. I was soon commuting each month to Squamish where I lived in a room at my friend’s hostel, working in Vancouver and driving back to Calgary for 1 week each month. After nearly two years my girlfriend and I thought, “what’s the point” and so we moved to Squamish, bought a condo with views of the Stawamus Chief (the granite monolith I spent over a decade climbing), as well as views of the ocean (Howe Sound). My partner was soon working at the new private and Liberal Arts University called Quest University Canada, and I was continuing to work in technology and business consulting.
After a decade of business and technology consulting, I was finding the work less satisfying, certainly less challenging and as I got older, less available to me. I continue to read extensively in areas of philosophy, religion, mythology, psychology and spirituality. I have also become more engaged with a Vancouver Buddhist (I built and manage www.theravada.ca) and even started a local “Philosopher’s Café” (www.philosopherscafe.ca) in Squamish.
However, I continued to feel as if I did not fully engaged on my path, or I was on the wrong path and so I started to consider the possibility of returning to graduate school, but this time in the area of Transpersonal Psychology. I had never even heard of the term until a few years ago and may have stumbled across the ITP site accidentally. What immediately caught my attention was how the field of humanist psychology had expanded, positive psychology was an actual field of study now and there was an acceptance of mythological, spiritual, religious, altered-consciousness and even shamanistic practices in the academic field of psychology. FINALLY! I thought to myself. After a couple of years of procrastinating, and making excuses, I decided that pursuing graduate studies in transpersonal psychology was my ONLY path and I would do whatever it takes to begin this journey. With the full support of my loving partner, I am now taking that first step and applying to the Global Master’s Program in Transpersonal Psychology.