Angeles Arrien

A Bridge to Our Better Pasts

Posted May 12, 2014

She did not take Fleetwood Mac’s advice. She did stop thinking about tomorrow. She also once spent a year making sure she stopped thinking about what others would think of her. She knew thinking of not ruffling feathers would hold her back. She kept her original point of view.

Angeles simply pursued her truth and helped all of our futures by understanding what First Nations around the world mean for this time now. What a loss now that she is gone. Thank you, Angeles, for appealing to our better angels by knowing how to bridge us, the lost children of the modern scientific age, to our wisdom traditions.

I am speaking about the incomparable Angeles Arrien, who died in late April, 2014, in her 74th year. All those she touched, and there are thousands, were given the gift of the cultural anthropology she lived and taught. She did not go into the field as observer/intruder studying “primitive” ways. She lived her heroine’s journey, as a young woman excavating with her research and imagination, the sacred ways of indigenous people, and then, as an elder, teaching from those traditions from her center in Sausalito.

In her work she build a bridge for us, the rootless moderns pursuing our 401Ks and second homes, to the deepest human roots human society has to offer.

If you do not know her work, go to her website,, to see what is available.

Her home for the last many years of her work was the world of First Nations, and her Four-Fold Way® was her most popular work. My wife and partner Patti Kane went to her class on these concepts and used Angeles as a coach on some occasions. Angeles gave those of us needing more than psychological or neurological language an approach to understanding our lives through the language and wisdom images from indigenous traditions. Some, believe it or not, can more naturally navigate their inner life without Dr. Phil-type talk it seems.

Angeles adopted the vocabulary of those she had studied so she could provide an experience of our inner life in a way that we need. Like the Navaho, the aborigine, the Inuit, and the Celtic forms of knowing, the modern language of big words and science was not the primary way for her to the deeper energies within us. Our old and mid brains have been informed by a more ancient set of images than those that our neo, as in new, cortex responds to on our computer screens. Angeles knew both, and bridged these two worlds within us, the ancient and the modern, and made us more whole and connected for her work.

Some will not be able to join her on her terms. But the inner world she knew, lodged in the implicit memory networks of the old and mid brain that are factory-equipped with story patterns, and myth, like what Joseph Campbell lived his life teaching, was the language she best taught and used.

My friend Cathy Robinson-Walker was the one who told me Angeles, as her coach, had spent a year of consciousness development, making sure she did not let the fear of others' opinions cower her from speaking her truth. My friend and mentor Peter Block did a lot of workshops with Angeles and told me what an in-the-moment person she was. She was, and stayed, an original.

So we have lost a great one, not to be replaced. We can admire her and thank her and pay it forward, and devote part of our work to bring wisdom to life in our own lives and work.

She lived the way James Michener wrote about:

"Masters in the Art of Living draw no distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation. They simply pursue their vision of excellence in whatever they are doing and leave it to others to decide whether they are working or playing. To themselves they are always doing both."

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