She was born Alice Elizabeth Jager in Albany, Ore., and her destiny was to be a nun. Everyone said so, and she herself felt the heart's call.
So after she graduated from Bishop Kelly High School, she joined the convent. She was 18 years old.
She says: "They were right. I did go to the convent.
"I was there for probably six months but something didn't feel right to me. I just couldn't do it."
She returned home to Boise, got married, had two children, worked as an administrative assistant, settled into a relatively normal life.
"Somewhere along that path, I began to read a lot of different books that changed my perspective on life. I began to ask a lot of questions."
Her questions took her to varied and untraditional spiritual sources far from the Catholicism that she grew up with. She discussed metaphysics with a group called Inner Forum in the early 1970s; lived in a haunted house and combed the library - as well as the church - for explanations; she became a "ghost buster," explored ESP and tried channeling.
"The Catholic Church seemed to no longer be able to answer the questions that I had - and actually discouraged my asking those questions."
Continually searching, it was after a vision quest that her path became clear. For three days in the Owyhee desert in 1991, Alice Elizabeth fasted. She prayed, she sang, she meditated.
"What happens for a person in that state is they begin to have insights - insights into who it is that I really want to be: What is my true purpose? How do I want to show up in the world? What is Great Spirit asking me to do?"
It was an intensive review of her life, one of many she had done consistently over the course of years.
"It was a long process. Usually you find pieces each time. Each time one goes out for a quest, we find a piece of ourself, a piece of our true self. Then we put that together into the new pattern."
This time, Alice Elizabeth went into the desert. But it was a woman named Shayshoshewa Dawe who returned in her place, her new name reflecting her new role in the world. (Shayshoshewa means "White Owl Woman," and Dawe means "Child of the Light.")
"In a way you die to your old life, and all the things from it, and become that new person. So that you are reborn in a very new way.
"And you're obligated - one's responsibility is - to create a new life in that pattern of service and sacrifice and generosity and compassion for others."
For more than 30 years now, Shayshoshewa's service has been as spiritual leader to a sangha, or congregation, first called Ilowan's Children and now called Amaraji Maha Marai - "People of Love of the Great Promise." As their leader, she is called Mother Shayshoshewa.
Equally as important is an even more untraditional role: Also for more than 30 years, she has been the channeler for Mother Ilowan, her spiritual guide and master.
"All spirit truth is truth, and no one has a monopoly on it. There are many paths, and they all lead to the same place - and that place is to live a life of love; to live a life of peace, to live a life of creating joy; to live a life of shareful abundance, to live a life of compassion and kindness."
Mother Ilowan is, to the congregation, akin to a saint, a bodhisattva, an avatar of the Buddhist goddess of compassion, Kwan Yin. She teaches and guides and heals, and, most importantly, has given the congregation a teaching called the Metta, which is a Buddhist word that means "loving kindness." (See sidebar.)
"We are asking that people consider that this would be a way for us to make decisions in the world and in our life. Yes, we know that's not how it's done right now. But that's how it could - and should - be done."
Shayshoshewa recites it by heart. It is a straightforward statement about basic, essential needs for humans, animals and plants.
"Human rights are something people can have a quarrel about - what this means or that means. There's not much to quarrel about in this: All beings should have fresh, clean water to drink. Or food to eat. Or a home. There's not a lot to discuss about that.
"If we're truly going to live in the world as human beings, and not just as humanoids, it's going to be very important for us to practice loving kindness with one another and just start in this small way.
"Which could be a very big way."
Spreading the Metta - saying it, coaxing it into being, sharing it - has become Shayshoshewa's life's work. It is so important that, about three years ago, it was both perfectly odd and perfectly natural that, when she was 63 years old, Shayshoshewa felt the stirring in her heart again.
As she came full circle back to her destiny, this time her answer was different. Shayshoshewa founded a monastic order called Society of the Compassionate Heart and has taken solemn vows of service, sacrifice, devotion, compassion and obedience.
"I felt once again the call to become a nun. This time I believe it will stay permanently for the rest of my life."
Five other monks and nuns are in the process of taking their vows. They live at Sacred Mountain Monastery, tucked into the hills near Idaho City, following a life of prayer and prayerful work in service of others. Someday they hope to be large enough to staff a perpetual prayer chapel, with prayers offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Living monastically is holding a place of peace - and not just for ourselves, but to hold that - for the benefit of others. ...
"A calm space to actually be able to hear the voice of the Great Spirit where, in a frantic world, you can't. Monastics, many times, are the people who would be the voice of Spirit speaking to the rest of the world.
"I have become a nun so I can serve this way in the world. And bring the Metta and these teachings, and hold space sacred for the whole world, even though (we are) just a small group in Boise, Idaho.
"A little light is a great light when it's in the dark."
Know someone living "from the heart"? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.