REDWOOD: I was struck when reading your biographical sheet that it contains an unusual combination of pursuits. You’re a clinical psychologist, but you have also been director of marketing and later president of an independent video and film production company. You co-wrote the recently published book Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound with Robert Gass, one of the great spiritual music pioneers of our time. You also seem to have a great love for animals. Is there a common thread here that helps explain how you became the person who you are?
BREHONY: Because I'm a Gemini [laughter]. I have a lot of varied interests. I think we all have certain innate directions that our personality and our type pull us in. Mine is always to not take on too many different things, but to have enough depth in the ones that matter to me. There's just a lot of things I love. I see this whole existence as a kind of buffet. And now that I think of it, that’s kind of the way I eat at a buffet too - I take a lot of things in order to see what I like. And there is a thread, there's certainly a thread in all my nonfiction work, and that is always consciousness. Whether it's about midlife, or goodness, or this new one about growth through pain and suffering. They all follow a theme that says, "What can each of us individually, and all of us collectively, do to help each other to become more conscious, awake, aware, and alive?"
There is a story that I love that I included in Ordinary Grace, about St. Francis and the almond tree. According to the old legend, it's the middle of winter and the ground is frozen. St. Francis looks out to this almond tree and says, "Speak to me of God." And the almond tree blooms. Even when I say that now, I start to feel myself become very emotional because it's such a powerful image of what I think is simply what we’re here to do.
REDWOOD: I'm remembering a few years ago when an intense storm came through here, with strong winds and pounding rain. There’s a tree - crabapple, not almond - just outside the office here. Shortly after the storm, half of the tree went into bloom a second time, something I've never seen before. Perhaps these special blossomings often come after a storm.
BREHONY: You know, they do. I don't watch much TV, but I love documentaries on the Discovery Channel. There’s a series called "Wonders of the Weather," and if it's on, I'll watch it. One was a documentary about the earth after wildfires go through. And while you can still see these burning embers of trees, there are tiny tendrils, green shoots, coming up right next to them. In nature, I think that’s one of the purposes of those kinds of clearing out, to make room for new growth. And I think we often have to do that as human beings, too. We don’t like it, particularly. We don’t have to like suffering or pain, but I think that if we make a commitment to ourselves that we’re going to use it to grow, to become more of who we can be and who we really are deep inside, then I think somehow suffering doesn't hurt you quite the same way. Not that we don’t grieve; I think we should grieve.
REDWOOD: So that if we handle it right, what doesn't destroy us does make us stronger.
BREHONY: That's my first epigram in the new book! In fact, my aunt Theresa, who I adore and who died two years ago, and who the book is dedicated to, told me that so often that one of my clients did a hand calligraphy of it, and attributed it to "Aunt Theresa." It was only years later that I read that it was from Nietzsche.