I am a very old soul.  I am also a very old woman.  I was born in Macau on August 12, 1937.  It took me a lifetime to see that there is a pattern to my life that extends beyond the boundaries of events.  I will not go so far as to say that this pattern is the meaning of my life.   Like everyone else, I lived each day as I found it, with dreams, joys, disasters, struggles, sorrow and loss.  That was meaning enough.

I did not dabble in the occult.  I did not seek out gurus or psychics for guidance or foreknowledge.  I liked my future to come to me gradually, each moment unfolding into the next.  That is not to say that I did not have transcending experiences, or dreams that seemed truer than life, or even weird moments such as the one when an x-ray of my head shuffled my thoughts like a deck of cards.  But I always returned to my familiar and trusted linear reality.  One thing happened after another, and I would know about it soon enough.

It took me until this year, when my life is near the point of flashing before my eyes, to realize that I could not see the whole pattern without including the coincidences, miracles, and off-the-wall happenings in my long life.  It also took some serious nudging from what I will call Out of the Blue forces.

There is no reason that you should be interested in my life unless you have wondered about unexplained things in your own life.

In the following letter to my old friend, I use the term “reincarnation” because it is the nearest communicable word to what I mean. It is also the word used by the psychic who did a reading for me.  My friend sent me that reading as a surprise birthday gift.  I wish I didn’t have to use the word reincarnation because that word carries a lot of baggage.  I see this phenomenon in my own way:

I am only myself, historically and eternally.  I am as unique as my DNA, my fingerprints, iris scans, and most likely in ways we have not yet discovered. I value my uniqueness.

On the other hand, there have been some key (and keenly remembered) events in my life, as well as in my attitudes, that do not fit my narrative of myself.  These things sometimes exasperated me.  I saw them at the time as self-destructive, what-possessed-me, how could I, and what-am-I thinking events.  But from the vantage point of two other specific “past lives” that were made known to me, through the intervention of other people, these key events have become not only clear, but clearly necessary to my journey.

How do we influence one another across historical lives?  I don’t know.  But we do.   Perhaps we should look at the interstices of our being, the fractal edges of our science.

Or maybe, when we pull out the thorn in our side we could examine it, closely, before we throw it away.

To help you make sense of my memoir,  I am reproducing here a letter.   Recently, I wrote to the friend who gave me the first step towards this project.   When I was in my early thirties, she sent me a cassette as a birthday present.  On it was a reading by her friend, Ellen, whom I did not know.  Besides having psychic gifts, Ellen is a numerologist.  She was given my full birth name and date of birth.  That was all.

February 15, 2013

Dear Josette,

It is time to tell you what has been going on, since you are very much involved.  You will see, as you read on.

As you know, I was busy once again, writing a novel, which was straightforward enough.  But something didn’t feel right.  One morning, I woke and found my left arm lying stiff at my side all the way to the shoulder.  I couldn’t move it without feeling excruciating pain.  Even dulled with painkillers I could move it only a little.  I thought that my arthritis was flaring up in a new place.  As the day wore on, and my arm hung by my side, my hand seemed to swell up a little.   I forced my arm into a homemade sling to relieve my hand.   I looked at my arm in a sling, and in a flash I knew!  The unfinished business I needed to do was not write a novel, but the thing Ellen had said I was to do—write a book “on reincarnation.”   When I heard Ellen say that in the reading you had sent me so many years ago as a birthday gift, I thought it was the one thing she didn’t get right.  What did I know about reincarnation?  It wasn’t even something to which I had given any serious thought.

In the meditation Ellen did on me, she said that I was “a very old soul,” which I had always felt metaphorically.  But she saw only one previous life.  She saw a young servant girl in an ancient Greek courtyard.  The girl was dressed in a long, simple gown.  Her left arm was paralyzed at an angle, as though it were in a sling.  A dish of grapes and olives rested on the crook of that arm, from which she served the guests.  She was also “speaking” with her right hand, because she was deaf and mute.

Ellen went on to say the servant girl was very beautiful, a blonde in a part of the world where most people were dark-haired.   A rich and powerful man saw her, fell in love with her, and took her for himself.   With him she lived a pampered life of luxury.  But she blew it because she did not “give back to the universe.”

Ellen said that in this life I wanted to learn two things, wealth and service.  I belong to that class of souls who are teachers and creators.  I had brought into this lifetime everything I needed for the task.

The Greek part immediately rang true.  My mother died when I was eight.   I went to live with my grandmother.   She was a widow and lived in the same house in which she had raised eleven children.   It was a very large house, with sections added on that had a different style, with staircases and verandahs and nooks and crannies for children to play in.  There was a garden on several levels, rabbit hutches and many kinds of tropical fruit trees.  Both my grandparents were from the high society of Macau.  My grandfather died in a fire when my mother was a child.   All except two of her siblings married and went to live in their own homes.   Some came and went.  If you were family, you could always go to my grandmother’s home and stay as long as you wanted.  There was always room.  At one end, there were even two stacked apartments with their own verandahs and a separate staircase and outside door, far enough from the center for a bit of privacy.  However, in the whole house there was only one kitchen.  It was separated from the house.  It was built on a higher level than the dining room and had a wide flight of sheltered steps leading down to the dining room.  This ensured that heat and smoke from the kitchen would not affect the house.   Everyone in my grandmother’s house (except very young grandchildren) ate at the long table in the dining room.

It was never a question of extra work or bother for my grandmother.  She didn’t do any housework.  She had a core of four domestic servants.  They had their own house on the property and managed their own work schedules.  Besides them there were gardeners and drivers and others who came during the day.  If any family members showed up with very young grandchildren they brought along their own “baby amahs.”

A cousin, Pat, had always lived there with her father, who permanently occupied one of the apartments by himself.   Pat did not stay in his apartment but had her own room across the hall.  Her parents were divorced.  While she was visiting her mother in nearby Hong Kong, her father, or someone, acquired a set of about twenty slim volumes that had its own small bookcase.  It was probably some sort of World Books for young people.  The books sat in the hallway.  I began reading them.  Each book was about a different country.  Almost immediately, I opened the book on Greece and saw a full-page picture of a public place.  I was transfixed.  An overwhelming feeling that I knew this place intimately, came over me.  I had a nostalgic feeling of “home.”   The feeling haunted me so that I returned to that picture every day.  The feeling faded, and in a few days it was gone.  The books too, disappeared.  Perhaps my uncle had decided not to keep them.  I didn’t miss them.  But I never forgot the strong feeling for the Greek picture.

Another incident sprang to mind.  When I was three or four years old, a young man who was my parents’ friend, became my “favorite” friend among the grown-ups.  Whenever he came by there were whoops of joy and laughter as he greeted his “favorite” little girl, and everyone played along with this game.  I called this man “Uncle Adelino.”  One day, Uncle Adelino was going to take me for an outing.

I arrived at his house with my nanny, who went everywhere with me.  His servant went upstairs to announce us, and we waited in the foyer for him to come down.  I was delighted to see Uncle bounce down the stairs, smiling and greeting me in his usual playful way.  Then I saw his arm in a sling.  I started to scream and cry, hiding behind my nanny.  Everyone was flustered, none more so than Adelino.  He tried to explain that it didn’t hurt, that he got it from playing tennis and that it was there only for a short time.  I kept screaming.   I shrank away from him.

I couldn’t explain myself or stop crying.  My nanny took me home.  No one spoke to me about my behavior that day.  They seemed to have shrugged it off as a weird childish fear.   Strangely, I remember that incident as though it happened yesterday.

The first overseas trip Herb and I took together was a month-long tour of England, France, Switzerland and Italy.  We took four-year-old Neil with us.  We asked a dear old friend of the family, an older woman who was a nurse, to come with us as Neil’s nanny.  We sailed both ways on the SS. France.  It was a glorious trip, but Greece had not been on the itinerary.   After Ellen got me thinking about Greece I began to wonder when I would ever get to go there, since Herb was a reluctant traveler at best.

But then, out of the blue, my brother-in-law called me and said that he was giving his daughter, Lisa, a trip abroad as a high school graduation present.  He and his wife were divorced.  Lisa did not want her mother to go with her and asked whether I would.  I asked Lisa what country she wanted to visit, and she let me choose.  We went to Greece.

Lisa’s father made all the arrangements for the two-week tour.   His travel agent came up with a comprehensive schedule that included all the usual historical sites, a white-knuckled bus trip on narrow dirt roads through the mountains, and an Aegean cruise.

I can’t say that anything as memorable as that childhood recognition of a Greek landmark ever happened again.  And yet, something special happened to me at the palace of Knossos.  I discovered that my favorite colors, those in my bedroom, the shades of sand and turquoise and little orange accents, were exactly like those in the royal chambers.  The heavy round pillars were my favorite shape too.   I felt I could live there.


Master Master


Santorini blew me away.  The way part of the island just sheared off and fell into the sea haunted me.  I was reminded of an old recurring dream.  I am outside my grandmother’s house.  All through the years when I was at the Grail and in college, and even when I was single in New York, I thought of that house as “home.”  In my dream, that house, which actually was surrounded by other homes and gardens, sits by itself on the top of a low hill.  Suddenly I notice that water is rising around it.  The water reaches the house, and it explodes and disappears.

The scene shifts.  I am standing on slightly higher ground to the side of the house.  The water keeps rising.  I am a young woman in a long, simple gown.  I see the water rising on all sides.  I take a step down into what looks like a subway station, but after seeing the tombs in Egypt I realize that it is a tomb.  I turn, and a woman stoops and places a baby boy on the crook of my arm.  I take another step down into the tomb.  The dream ends.  In times of crisis and transition I’ve had dreams of rising water, an entire floor suddenly tipping into water, floods and other water disasters.  There were also real-life incidents, but for now I want to keep this as brief as possible.

In April, 1983, Neil brought me a novel that had been assigned at school.   I won’t mention the writer’s name here, as I don’t want it slipped out until the right time.   I found some old letters from you and Ellen that jogged my memory on what happened.   At the time, I received dream messages and other strange hunches, so much so that I asked Ellen to see what she could do with them.  She and you and others had a meditation on this writer.  Ellen saw a vision and sent an “urgent” message back that it was “yes”.  So I started reading up on the writer’s biography – first thing that jumped out was the date of her death.  Factoring in the difference in time zones, It was the exact day I was born!  I got goose bumps.  From there on, there were just endless correlations.   Still, I sort of was writing a novel, but really was reading piles of books.  Herb became increasingly ill with early stages of Alzheimer, and he was always my priority.

A few years ago, I considered joining a retirement community.  I have a very good friend who still loves it there.   I changed my mind.  But during an interview in the process, I was asked, “What was the single thing that you are proudest of in your life?”  I hadn’t even thought of that, but I immediately answered that it was taking care of my husband at home until he died, because I had promised him I would.

Only recently I finally realized that I wasn’t here to write a novel (this writer had been unbelievably productive).  However, she had abandoned her mentally ill husband. I had done what was intended.

Ellen had said I was to learn two things in this lifetime: wealth and service.   How right she was!

Love and hugs,


P.S. To jog your memory,  I’m including partial scans of a letter from Ellen to you that you sent me.  [Scroll down for scans]

Ellen's Letter p1


Ellen's Letter p2



This is part of an email to my friend, Roberta, in March, 2013:

Hi Roberta,

Back in early 1970’s, a friend of mine, who lived down South, sent me a birthday gift – a cassette from a psychic who was also a numerologist.  All the psychic was given was my full birth name and the date of my birth.  She knew so much about me, and even things I didn’t know and had to ask my sister (who confirmed them), that I had her do readings for several of my friends.  We were all blown away.

The psychic saw only one past life — a very ancient one in which she saw me as a servant girl in Greece.  The servant girl was deaf and mute, and had one arm paralyzed at an angle as though her arm were in a sling.   There was a dish of grapes and olives resting on the crook of her paralyzed arm.  She gestured in a kind of sign language with her normal hand, serving people in a public courtyard.  But she was beautiful and blond in a place where most people had dark hair.  A prominent, powerful man fell in love with her and took her for himself.

Consequently, she lived a pampered life of luxury but she did not have good karma–she didn’t give back to the universe.  The psychic also said that she/I would not have to relive the deafness and paralysis part.  It was all very interesting and explained some of the puzzling things that happened when I was child.  The psychic also said that I was to write a book on re-incarnation.  That’s the one thing I figured she got wrong.  I didn’t know enough about that subject to write even an article about it, never mind a book.   She told me that in this life I wanted to learn about service and wealth.  I had already learned quite a lot about those things, so I figured I’m about right on course.  I worked on and off on a novel set in my mother’s world–sort of as a tribute to her memory.  But all sorts of obstacles got in my way.

Actually, you must remember how difficult it was for me to get Herb to go to Mark’s bar mitzvah, as well as other dark stuff.  Herb was increasingly isolating us because he was suffering from early stages of Alzheimer’s, although we didn’t know the diagnoses yet.  I can’t go into that at length here.  In the early 80’s Neil was in an advanced class at Greens Farms Academy, and one day he handed me a short novel that he had read as a class assignment.  It was a dark novel, and I could see the spiritual similarity to our family situation.  Then I started getting dreams and other hunches that wouldn’t leave me alone.  Finally, I decided to ask my psychic about this.  I gave her the novelist’s name. She and our mutual friend and a few others gathered and meditated on this.  They were not successful.  But then, in her own meditation, the psychic wrote that she had seen this author at her desk, and the message to me was an urgent “yes.”  So, I decided to read up on this author.  The first thing that struck me was the date of her death, which when coordinating time zones, was the exact date of my birth!   I can’t begin to tell you all the other similarities.

I cared for Herb for years as he descended into dementia.  He died peacefully at home in Jan. of 1993.  The autopsy revealed that he had Alzheimer’s ( he also had some little strokes early on.)  Years later, someone asked me what was the one thing I was proudest of.  Without even thinking about it, I said that it was that I took care of my husband at home until he died, because I had promised him I would.  Many years later, as I read more about that author, I discovered that she had abandoned her mentally ill husband.  They had no children.  She went on to a brilliant career and also did many charitable things.  But as someone said- karma is a bitch!  And it hasn’t finished with me.  Forget the novel — it’s that re-incarnation “book” I know zilch about.  But I’m trying to find a toe-hold.  I have to –I’m already deaf in one ear.




In 1983, about ten years after the psychic’s reading, my teenage son, who was in an advanced class, gave me a dark novel to read that had been assigned at school.  He had never done that.  As I read the short novel, I saw that the spiritual truth in the characters’ lives had something similar to that of our family.  We had been struggling with the increasing symptoms of my husband’s mental illness.

I knew of the novelist, that she was an early twentieth century writer.  I was familiar with the title of this book.  I even knew someone who had written her PhD dissertation on this author, but I don’t remember reading any of her books.  I looked her up, but it seemed that her other novels were not at all like this one. They were all about life and society.   This dark novel was about deprivation of every kind in a narrow, stark, cold world.

Somehow, this short novel gnawed at me.  It seemed to be giving me a message.  I knew it too well.  I was working on a novel set in old Macau, as a way of remembering my mother.  It was not going well, it had never gone well.  Mostly, I was “researching” and reading piles of unrelated books, in my usual way, several at a time, just as the psychic had described.

Now I had dreams about this dark novel.  I had dreams of being so cold it woke me up even though the weather was warm.   I suddenly remembered myself as a little girl running up the aisle to my mother lying in her coffin.  My mother looked beautiful surrounded by flowers.  I kissed her.   Her cheek was so cold on my lips I knew instantly that this was death, being cold and unresponsive as stone in winter.

Finally, I was so bothered by this book that I decided to turn to the friend who had sent me her psychic friend’s tape.  I gave her the writer’s name and asked if they could get any kind of message for me.

Eventually, the message came back.   The answer was an “urgent yes!”  Not sure how to interpret this, I started reading this writer’s biography.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the date of her death.   Correlating the difference in time zones, it was exactly the day on which I was born.

Still, all it really meant to me at that time was that I should work harder on my novel.  But I didn’t.  My life was getting more and more chaotic.


In numerology, the name one is given at birth as well as the date of one’s birth, are keys that unlock personal mysteries.  It seems arbitrary.  But then, too many things remain beyond my understanding.

In the psychic’s reading, she said that I (or rather, the shared spirit in a previous life) did not get the name I wanted.  I decided to ask my sister whether she remembered any ruckus over our names.

Oh yes, she said, our dad was furious at the priest who messed with her name.  Our dad had named her Gwendolyn.  At her baptism, the priest said that he had never heard of that name and that it was not Christian.   He asked if anyone objected to the name Fatima.  It happened to be a famous name at that time because of the appearance of Our Lady to the children at Fatima.  No one objected.

Our mom insisted on Gwendolyn at least as a second name.  The priest conceded, but he changed the spelling to Gwendolene so that it would be more similar to Christian names like Elena.

Our dad was outraged.  When it came time to name me, he said Doreen Cotton, and no second name to mess around with.  The priest accepted Doreen as a Christian name, but he insisted on a second name.  Our mother said to use her family name Jorge.

So I asked my sister, would there be a name that I couldn’t have been given?  She thought about it and came up with one name.  It was Edith.  Our uncle’s wife was Edith, who was widely thought of as the most beautiful woman in Macau.  He was head over heels in love with her.  Eight months earlier, Edith had given birth to their first baby girl.  My uncle had named her Edith, after her mother.  There was no other Edith in our family.  There was no way my parents would have named me Edith.

If they had, my name would have been Edith Jorge Cotton.

Names are important.  In telling my story  try to use people’s real names.  Since this is about my own journey, not other people’s lives, wherever possible, I simply left out a name if it did not interfere with the narrative.  In a few instances, I change a name to protect a person’s privacy.  I realize that although someone may have had a negative role in my life they should not be seen only in that light.  But since this is not fiction, I do not try to go beyond my experience and speculate on anyone’s character.

There are no composite people either.  I write what I remember, as I lived the events.

Lastly, I have always had trouble remembering people’s names.  It is a fault I have to work hard to overcome.  There are people whom I remember vividly.   I can almost “see” their facial expressions and body language even now, but whose names have gone down the memory rabbit hole.



The reading came on a cassette tape.  The significant messages were these:

You are a very old soul.

There was a conflict over your name, and you did not get the name that you wanted.

Your life is in sixteen year cycles.

You belong to a group of creative types and teachers.

In this lifetime you are to learn wealth and service.  For this reason wealth will come to you, one way or another.

You have brought with you everything you need to accomplish your tasks.

On this journey you have two guardian spirits.

In the psychic’s meditation she saw you as a young woman in an ancient Greek setting.  You were wearing a long, simple garment.  Your arm was paralyzed at an angle, and a dish of olives and grapes rested on the crook of that arm.   You were “speaking” with your other hand because you were mute.  You were also deaf.

You were a servant girl.  But you were beautiful, a blonde in a place where most women were brunettes.  A prominent man fell in love with you and took you for himself, after which you lived a pampered life of luxury.   You did not give back to the universe.  In this lifetime you are to write a book on reincarnation to give back to the universe.  You will not have to relive the deafness.