To love fully and live well requires us to recognize that we do not possess or own anything – our homes, our cars, our loved ones – not even our own bodies. ~ Jack Kornfield

A very close friend of mine told me when her son was dying, droves of people wanted to come to visit him, but he had limited energy for visitors, which left her conflicted. Their hospice nurse explained to her, “It’s like your son is the guest of honor at a party and its rude to be the first one to leave. The presence of your friends, because of the love between you, forces him to go beyond his limits to attend the party. So you have to end the party.”

The party can mean different things to different people. For me, connecting with people means sharing where I am and seeing where they are and being there for each other. I am interested in others’ processes and cannot help myself from continually looking for an opening to strengthen our connection by identifying obstacles to self-awareness and self-love. After all, it’s been my work my whole adult life, however, at this point, at the end of my life, this practice is too other centered when I’m needing all of my dwindling life force to be more Self oriented.

This party metaphor really hit home for me. Not only is my friend a hospice chaplain, but she has been initiated by Death and also deeply initiated by what lies beyond the doorway called death. Her son died at sixteen and this experience did not destroy her; on the contrary, it was a springboard for her to experience different dimensions. We do have different curricula, don’t we? And we do draw those people to us we most need in our life to help take us to the next step in our development. If interested, she tells their story in A Swan In Heaven: Conversations Between Two Worlds.

I have many reasons to want to stay in this dimension. I have so many Beloveds wanting connection with me, deep connection. I feel insensitive wanting or needing to leave the party. And believe me, this body is not holding up so well.

Last night I finally said it, “I don’t feel like I belong here anymore.” And there it was. This no longer feels like my Home. My body is turning into bones with little connecting the bones. Still, I am reluctant to leave. Who wants to end their party, especially when we live in the illusion that we are truly losing something dear?

As I explore my reluctance, I see how many things I have completed in the last three months. If I listed them, it would exhaust you. Although I am confined to a body that is extremely restricted, I have learned that I am much more than my body. And that part of me has been: joyfully connecting with Beloveds, completing more and more legacy defining projects, and even forging new relationships.

Concurrently, I am getting increasingly more excited to see my Beloveds on the other side and they are getting increasingly excited to receive me. Still, what is before me is familiar and where I am going is unknown.

I am seeing that many people visit me with different intentions and expectations. I tend to want to meet all their expectations, to focus on their needs over mine; then I find myself completely exhausted. Many are unaware of their own unconscious intention to keep me at the party. Who wouldn’t? I am an awesome person, a good friend, and an interesting character with a good sense of humor when I don’t take myself so seriously, which is becoming more of the time. Still, staying at a party after it has peaked is not in good form.

Staying at the party after the musicians have left and the food is put away just because it is hard to say goodbye, to me is an avoidance of what is, a rejection of the natural process, or worse, a refusal to truly be with myself and my circumstances with honesty and courage.

My body is shutting down. There is no ambiguity about that. My Home is shifting, my breath is becoming much more shallow making it difficult to even write, my last creative outlet. Large parts of the day, I cannot even communicate audibly. I have stomach pain most of the day due to gastroparesis, the shutting down of the upper digestive system; the lower shut down years ago. And, I feel sleepy much the time.

One of the greater disappointments I feel at this time, besides “leaving” my children and grandchildren, is where my effectiveness in working with others has become so fine tuned, that all I need to do is say a few words and there is spontaneous change and transformation in the other person. After a lifetime of service, it has taken much inner work to get to this place of working with others so effectively. I have been questioning why I couldn’t stay to help when it is most needed? I have just been sitting with this question.

A few days later, I had the last event of my life in my home. My intention was to offer a profound Shamanic Journey by Peter May to a few people who had been reaching out to me, but I didn’t have the energy to receive them. Jordan and Emily have been here for the past month to care for me at this time and I thought this would care for them, as well. During the journey, I heard an amazing answer to my question. I heard, “When you are fully in the other vibration, you will be of more service than you ever have been while embodied.” As soon as I heard this, I knew it to be true.

Being between the worlds is a profound, sacred, yet awkward place to be with more uncertainty than I’ve ever encountered. May I be here in Grace.

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Your body is the church where Nature asks to be reverenced. ~ Marquis de Sade

Dispelling the Cultural Phobia Around Death

When faced with the inevitable challenges life brings, I have tried to meet each trial head-on, once I was able to tap into the hard-earned resources I have acquired through the years. The diagnosis of progressive multiple sclerosis in 2003, presented me with the greatest ordeal I would have to face in life. Mysteriously, when the symptoms began in the late 80s, I instantly grasped the profound level of disability that would eventually evolve from this illness. This resulted in the greatest fear of my life, yet I slowly began to move forward with the willingness to simply not know.

I and my family are coming to terms with the shortening of my life that used to be an abstract concept, but has become very real recently as my organs are beginning to shut down. Little did I know when the symptoms began, there was no treatment for this neurological disease. Meeting my death at 64, has presented my greatest challenge as well as my greatest opportunity. There may be no treatment for many of the these devastating neurological illnesses, but we ARE developing options to meet an inevitable and sometimes premature death, with more compassion, awareness, and humility. As our culture begins to meet death with greater acceptance, we are better able to care for ourselves and for each other. In doing so, we will be better able to meet our final transition with Grace and awe, knowing we are coming face-to-face with the Sacred.

Meeting the Unknown

When I recently realized my organs were shutting down, it took a while for my mind to grasp the significance. My modus operandi for meeting each physical challenge has been to just keep moving forward. Most of the acute obstacles to moving forward were in the form of injuries that had to be addressed immediately. Concurrently, there was the constant background noise, the signs of a continual downward trajectory in functioning. Injuries were easier to manage, because they had: the initial injury, a recovery time, and then finding a new baseline. Functional decline was more difficult to deal with. I was continually strategizing: being vigilant to avoid further injury, listening deeply to my body to what was wanting to be heard, and attending to the changes required. Due to the efficacy of this strategizing, I, and my beloveds, had become lulled into a form of denial that somehow strategizing could actually keep my body going, ad infinitum.

At this sacred time of shutting down a vibrant, generous, and loving life, I have begun my life review, which is a common practice once the shock and grief abate. Looking back, I am aware that I have lived a good life, yet as with any life well lived, I have also made many questionable and downright poor choices along the way. However, with this broader perspective, I am realizing that there really are no mistakes. Each supposed mistake was a learning experience that provided an opportunity for acknowledgment, forgiveness and led to more educated choices in the future. For me personally, it is about discerning how to live my life with greater integrity, authenticity, and grace as I move toward the doorway we call death.

It was merely ten days ago when it became obvious that my digestive system could no longer process foods as it had. Concurrently, my appetite plummeted and it was clear where I was in the trajectory of my life – that I was facing my death. I began to grieve acutely, revealing an understandable level of denial. I am aware of the many times I told clients that some denial is necessary during times of great change. I recognize that I could not have lived such a regenerative life without this ability to compartmentalize. My body was no longer wanting the fuel that would sustain it, so I knew my days were being drastically shortened and that I needed to consider my options carefully.

The Many Options Open to Us Now

Since Colorado passed the end-of-life options act last November and I had gone through the arduous process of securing the prescription, I had the comfort of knowing I had the safety net it afforded, should I begin to suffer needlessly. Another option would be to do V-SED – voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, a process my body had already begun. Although not eating felt voluntary on a certain level, I knew in my heart of hearts that if I were to live in full integrity, it would mean following the direction my body was leading. MAID and V-SED are both viable options, but they just felt too abrupt for this body at this time, given my lack of pain and suffering, at least at this time.

I knew my soul was ready to go and I wondered what it would take for the rest of me to let go and follow. My body was already beginning the process of letting go, but my mind had been strategizing for many years in order to live alone with this condition that demanded continually being in survival mode. Rejecting food appeared voluntary on the surface, but what I knew internally and was afraid to admit, was that it actually was involuntary and I felt to force it would be out of integrity. I knew my soul was ready to let go, to move on to my next adventure of going Home, but I felt conflicted, because it would cause others so much pain. Was I betraying my beloveds? Was I betraying my body? How could I possibly share this with others and feel their grief along with mine, when each of ours was so raw?

As I am sitting with the predicament, a new option has appeared. I could eat and drink only when there was the desire and open to my body’s natural timing. I could find the courage to completely let go of control, and see how this new way of being could serve me (and also serve others). Taking this option meant suspending any sense of knowing and opening to my loved ones’ love and generosity when I am the most vulnerable! This meant that I had to fully embrace being the recipient of so much love that it would stretch my remaining feelings of unworthiness that I knew I still harbored. To me, receiving love and not feeling deserving represents the last frontier of my arduous and sacred Work.

It is essential to clarify that this slow moving illness that is accompanied by very little physical pain is extremely unusual. If I had unbearable pain, acute cancer, ALS, or if I had less support or fewer resources, I would choose MAID in a New York second, as we said in New Orleans.

Given my propensity to struggle with letting go, I decided to write a love letter to my body/mind in the hopes it can finally relax and let go. Although it is very personal, I graciously want to share this with you, my devoted readers. Thank you for your unyielding support over the past months and years.

Love Letter to My Body

My dear loving body/mind, my precious vehicle for this lifetime,

You have served me well. Thank you for being a body with so much endurance and so much forgiveness. I am humbled at your service.

You have taken so many insults, so much abuse, and you have met it all with so much grace. You have had your bones broken, twisted, forced to go beyond your capacity, but you have served us well.

You grew two of the most amazing children I can ever imagine. And from them came amazing grandchildren and perhaps there will be more. I, Aliyah’s soul, will be watching, listening, ever giving my two cents, but always loving.

You have weathered quite a curriculum to teach me how to better love and that I am worthy of being loved. The former, I came wired with the ability, but the latter was more hard earned. I guess that is why it’s called a “curriculum.”

You have fulfilled your Sacred commitment to me with generosity and grace – I release you with loving gratitude. You are free to do what bodies do. You have served me to the utmost and I can’t imagine any better body to carry me through this life.

I will not force you to eat when your system does not want to digest. I will not trick your body with medications, I will let you shut down with as little struggle possible. I will help you let go, if your mind pushes you beyond your limits due to the guilt from perfectionism that has plagued you, or an unrealistic belief that you are necessary to lessen others’ grief. I will not abandon you. I will help you let go of needless suffering with whatever resources I have available to me with the same generosity you have afforded me.

Your mind has served me well. It has helped me be the first person in my family to have an advanced degree and use that in service to others. What better joy in life can there be? You have helped me to strategize an impossible curriculum with impossible circumstances. Without you I could not have accomplished living alone unable to move from the neck down for as many years as I have, touching so many lives. I learned to receive love and the greater challenge was I learned to ask for help.

Without my body and mind, I would have left long ago. We did really really well!

It is almost time to completely let go, to scatter joy to the earth, the air, and water, especially the water. We can know that we did what we came here to do. We can let go and let Love!

Weekly, Crestone’s Threshold Choir comes to sing a cappella at my bedside. Here is an example of one of their songs:

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. – Joe Klass

Ram Dass and Reb Zalman

I have always been an independent person. I have jumped off mountains in California and Maine with rappelling gear, I rode my motorcycle to Key West alone for weekends in college, and I learned to jump my very large thoroughbred horse when I was nearly fifty years old.

Today, I find myself unable to move from the neck down with continued weakening of any peristalsis in my body’s alimentary canal that moves food North to South, or East to West if lying horizontally, an asana I assume throughout much of the day and night.

My sense of autonomy has always been important to me and is fiercely defended by my will – condolences to my parents and gratitude to my husbands. One of the most difficult parts of aging and/or disability is losing one’s autonomy. 90% of the people who choose to end their life using medical aid in dying (MAID) is due to loss of their autonomy.

Erik Erikson, a German-American psychologist whose work was covered extensively in my Masters degree program at Tulane University in the 70s, developed a theory of human development comprised of eight stages from birth to adulthood with each stage ending with a developmental crisis that led to the next stage. He was best known for coining the phrase identity crisis.

Stage II of Erikson’s model involves developing a greater sense of self-control. It has been commonly observed that when individuals age, they revisit the psychosocial stages of development from childhood. Often children end up parenting their adult parents either physically, emotionally, or both. I believe multigenerational healings can occur during this reversal of roles, when unresolved issues from the past resurface to be healed. Occasionally, the trauma is too great to be reworked or it is just not time, which can be overwhelming. Families get through this time the best way they can. Perhaps, if people can cultivate a sense of empathy, either through counseling or other support systems, working with these crises can be extremely restorative.

In this essay, I will explore my own personal experience of how Erikson’s second stage Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt has manifested to clear residual shame and doubt during the end of my life. Each stage has its own particular challenge, it’s crisis of identity, but each stage moves toward healing, interdependence, and communion/love.

For me, letting go of control has always been a challenging requirement in this theater called life and often I do it kicking and screaming, with sometimes bone shattering consequences, quite literally. During major transitions, letting go and trusting the natural process of life has been a challenge for me. Giving away my power to external sources of authority in lieu of trusting my own inherent wisdom has been a related and recurring life lesson. Mediating between the two tendencies of deferring authority and needing autonomy during this end-of-life time has been challenging.

Last week, I experienced a sense of anxiety so huge that with my level of frailty, it could have ended my physical life. Nevertheless, I decided to sit with the fear, not an easy ask. This is probably one of the hardest spiritual practices, to sit in the place of not-knowing. (Ironically, all I really can do is sit, but I could have distracted myself, or quite honestly, having the lethal prescription, I could have chosen this as my exit point, if the suffering was too great.) There is no right or wrong decision. Each has their own sovereignty to decide for themselves. Instead, I decided to just BE with it to see what would emerge. Fortunately, I also have been given healthy doses of determination and stamina to meet these areas of limitation.

I sat and felt more and more fear until it was beyond overwhelming. I called my very skilled caregiver/fellow traveler to be with me, revealing yet another challenge in my life – asking for help. I just knew I could not go there alone. She tenderly affirmed she was there, completely present, and available for whatever I needed. With someone I trusted deeply to hold the container, I went there.

It was like entering a dense orb of anxiety that had been suspended in time. I was transported to the pregnancy with my first child, which had been one of the most joyful times of my life. Once it was time for her birth, however, I found myself feeling completely alone and unsupported, with no sense of trust in the natural process. Feeling that vulnerable, I asked the doctor for a cesarean which started a series of events that spun completely out of control. I was given a general anesthetic that upon awakening left me in tremendous physical pain and completely disoriented – Where is my baby? Two days later, when the confusion began to clear, I demanded they bring my baby to me and called my mother who got on a plane immediately. The doctors threatened me, because that was the 70s and they didn’t yet have the practice of rooming in, nevertheless, I persevered – alone, helpless, and disoriented, I persevered. Two days post cesarean, I developed a postpartum depressive reaction, the likes of which I’d never before experienced. I just did not have the internal resources to integrate the trauma. This was before midwives and doulas were welcomed in hospitals. I felt completely ill prepared for the onslaught of feelings of fear, helplessness, and shame.

Just recalling the memory makes me cry all over again. Then I realized that this orb of unresolved feelings, now relegated to my unconscious, were familiar and had recurred a few times later in my life. Each recurrence left me with the exact same feelings – fear, helplessness, and shame. It began to make perfect sense that it would resurface as I was preparing for another major transition – dying! With this awareness, I felt gratitude that this ominous trauma had reemerged into my awareness. I felt in awe of the natural order of life during this auspicious time. When confronted with the end of one’s life, the holes in our souls caused by past trauma can become more evident, along with the neurosis that had taken up residence. These are the places that most need our love and acceptance for healing. In our culture, I’m sure these karmic appointments often get medicated away. Again, no right or wrong. For me, this was an important piece to clear before my final transition of birthing myself through the doorway called death.

At this point, I would like to digress to the timely issue of aid in dying in our culture. Personally, I am grateful to have the safety net of having the prescription in my possession, whether I choose to use it or not. I am grateful I was able to open to my greater suffering necessary to meet the emotional crisis presented at this sacred time of transition. When I secured the prescription, I made an agreement with myself that I would not use it to avoid anything emotionally uncomfortable, but because I was ready to go forward. I intuitively know I don’t need to endure needless physical suffering. It is my style to confront obstacles for my greater good. I wouldn’t begin to make this decision for others or take it away. One of Erickson’s criticisms has been that he excluded the emotional and spiritual aspects of development. I don’t have that limitation in my toolkit. If you know me, you know I am fierce with passion and determination to fill these holes in my soul with love and joy (and anybody else who crosses my path).

During the aging process, losing one’s independence and sense of control in life can lead to despair as the body deconstructs. In his own words, Erikson reflected on his view of his life now in his 80s, You’ve got to accept the law of life, and face the fact that we are disintegrating slowly. Deconstructing the developmental stages that were so hard won when we were young is a mirror image which requires acceptance and letting go of will. From a spiritual perspective, one needs to shift from the egoic level to the spiritual, which is not a path for everyone. Sometimes, what is called for is just planting seeds and that is enough.

In their ninth decade together Erickson and his wife, his lifelong collaborator, expanded their theory which included issues that arise during the old age years. They identified the conflict during this stage as Integrity versus a Sense of Defeat (despair). The fruit of this tension can ripen into wisdom. The Ericksons further posited that the lessons during this time of life involve developing empathy and resilience, that having the courage of our convictions to move toward greater wholeness dispels the ominous sense of despair that so plagues many elders. This is not unlike Viktor Frankl’s theory of attributing greater meaning to adversity, a practice he developed while in the concentration camp with his family in the 40s.

In his seminal work, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi described the importance of mentorship in one’s older years, or as he called it spiritual mentoring when he wrote From Age-ing to Sage-ing. (It should be noted that Reb Zalman was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi until he experimented with the “the sacramental value of lysergic acid” in 1962. His experimental style along with the cross-cultural influence, which included feminism and LGBT rights into Judaism, mysticism, and a rainbow prayer shawl he designed, inspired me to reconnect with my Jewish heritage in the 80s.) He traveled with other rabbis to India to meet the Dalai Lama. His holiness was interested in knowing how the Jewish people had survived with their culture intact, a significant issue for the Tibetan Buddhists in exile. If this interests you, read Beyond the Ashes, written by a rabbi ordained by Reb Zalman and Jew in the Lotus, a book that chronicled this journey.

If you read my last essay, you likely understand when I describe the anomalous quest of those of us who need to reach the summit of the Himalayas. Having been a psychotherapist and in therapy myself much of my life, I have had the privilege and opportunity to develop a huge capacity to ride the suffering with the faith that in doing so, I would eventually find liberation.

During the height of my anxiety, my prayer was for PEACE. Reb Zalman spoke clearly about anxiety, how it helps the ego become more translucent and transparent, to remove the opacity so the divine light can shine through. These words hold such TRUTH for me now.

It is my hope that anyone facing adversity find the same comfort I have found during this sacred time. Here is medicine for all who are facing life’s sacred transitions. It is a trailer from Ram Dass’ documentary Going Home:

The task is not to live our life in which we never got our hearts broken. The task is to become larger with each heart break. – David Whyte

In a past essay titled Mountain Metaphor, I described Michael Brown’s brilliant metaphor about life choices. Click here for the original or below is a [paraphrased] excerpt:

Some people feel deeply drawn to the Himalayan Mountains, so much so that they might have a photograph of the mountain range on their refrigerator and they are happy with that level of appreciation. Fewer people might have a picture book of the Himalayas on their coffee table and they are happy with that. Even fewer travel to India to see the Himalayas in the distance and they are happy with that. Some will go to base camp at the foot of the mountains and they are happy with that. Still fewer will have to hike all the way to the summit. Going to the summit is not for everyone. It is important to hear this with no judgment, no right or wrong, no hierarchy. People merely have different needs and capacities during their lives, different soul plans in each lifetime.

Recently, a dear being died after a prolonged struggle with multiple sclerosis after living a life of deep contribution, especially to young people. Since our first conversation in 1990, she has been in my heart and just a few steps ahead of me in this illness curriculum. While in my 30s, she was the first person to affirm my greatest fear, that my subtle neurological symptoms were likely early signs of MS. There are worse things to get than MS, I remember her telling me knowingly, because she had been diagnosed a few years before. Somehow, it was easier hearing this from her, someone who was, part of the club to which she would sadly welcome me when I was diagnosed at 50, than a doctor who was emotionally removed and outside of the club I now had the dubious distinction of being an intimate part of. As her illness progressed, I observed her Grace as the fear of my future grew, exponentially. For many years doctors told me my concerns were nothing, that I should just get on with my life. If I had known then, that this was the most progressive form of this neurological illness they call MS, and that there was absolutely no treatment, I don’t know how well I would have lived my life. I eventually stopped going to doctors who were, many inadvertently, peddling false hope in the form of pharmaceuticals with scary, permanent side effects. It would be many more years before I could find my own Grace and eventually Gratitude for this arduous curriculum. Today I am grateful to my friend and others I have come to know who have blazed the trail for me. This essay will explore how friends and their beloveds can help each other through the most perilous parts of our journeys if we can be open to the changing forms.

When my husband who had been with me prior to my diagnosis, during my diagnosis, and after my diagnosis, left our marriage after we moved to a new home in a new state, I was emotionally devastated. He had always been a fixer and when it became clear that this could not be fixed, he moved on. Although I came to understand this as a necessary parting of our paths many years later, at the time I was devastated. (Did I say that already?) At the time, the thought of living alone in a big house, in a new community, with a degenerative illness was more than I could bear.

I was reminded of a powerful and effective intervention in my psychotherapy practice when an individual was presenting with Major Depression (acute depression that leaves the person unable to eat or sleep), because they were brokenhearted after their long-term partner had left them, if they were able to feel the grief deeply and let in the necessary support from others, they might realize that they, in fact, had been the one who left the relationship first, emotionally. With this awareness, their partner had no other choice but to leave. If this can be acknowledged, there is often an existential shift and the grief may disappear completely. The story of having been left shifts into a whole new story of having ignored one’s own needs which unconsciously set up the leaving in order to avoid being the one who leaves. Byron Katie, founder of The Work, a powerful process for decreasing suffering in the world, describes this as the turnaround. If you are not familiar with Byron Katie’s worksheet, check it out. It could change your life.

When I heard my friend’s husband had moved on, it triggered my own feelings of having been left. [Caveat: This is MY projection. I know her husband and he did not in any way move on or away from her. His commitment to her I found exceptional and I have told him so many times.] All of my feelings from ten years ago resurfaced as if it had just happened. With that level of grief, I knew I needed to speak to my friend directly, to go into deep meditation, not too different from what I learned in Gestalt therapy in my late 20s and that is exactly what I did. Whether one believes it was she who came forward, a projection of mine, a symbolic story, or a Guide speaking on our behalf, it doesn’t really matter; I know that the information I received was not in my awareness before this auspicious meeting.

I was able to hear from my friend something very personal that only those in such a club could share. She told me that we had agreed before we took bodies to go all the way to the summit, no matter what the cost. And she continued that we had actually left them, because we had to in order to get to the summit! She told me that our partners had their own paths they needed to follow and that we are all still connected exactly as we should be, despite what our consensus reality indicates. In the past, I remembered seeing a photograph of my former husband’s new partner playing lovingly and joyfully with my former grandchildren. At first I felt heartbroken, betrayed, and unworthy. Then, it occurred to me like a revelation (the turnaround) that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing! With that realization, all of the grief disappeared and what was left was a sense of honor, dignity, and self-respect much greater than the grief I’d previously felt. I also experienced gratitude toward his partner for being able to be there for my loved ones I’d never gotten to know. My friend reminded me that she and I were, indeed, fulfilling our soul agreement and so were our partners.

During a time of self-doubt, Terri Daniel, an author, educator, and end-of-life advisor who became a dear friend once told me, Your life is an expression of the highest possible commitment to spiritual awakening. I am reminded of that quote by Donna Roberts ~A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Thank you Terri, you have been there when I most needed you.

In my heart of hearts, I know I had no other choice but to aim for the summit. She and I had gone to the summit and our partners supported us according to our respective soul agreements. Her husband had once told me that the three of us were in the same lifeboat together. He and I have had many soul-level conversations over the years for which I am deeply grateful. Perhaps she was telling me that we were in the same soul family and her husband used the lifeboat metaphor to express this. Friends – we just cannot do this in isolation, can we?

I am not special. Everybody has their own zenith they must reach at some point in their life or lifetimes. Perhaps our summit is indistinguishable from our eternal Home. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke of the promised land in his mountaintop speech. I want to end this essay with this speech that he tearfully, fearlessly, and prophetically delivered the day before he was assassinated fifty years ago:

Dedicated to my cousin Doris for reasons she will understand–

When we awaken the ego does die, but it is not what many think. The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, dies to its old form and can never go back to being a caterpillar. Yet, if you look closely, the main body of it still retains its caterpillar form. ~ Atreya Thomas

During the White Awake workshop described in the two previous essays, we were encouraged to mend the fabric of the inevitable disconnection with our ancestral roots. When I did, I began to realize why my family had been silent about their histories. Not only did I encounter their overwhelming religious persecution, but I began to understand my grandparents’ abject rejection of speaking about anything related to the old country, as they desperately tried to embraced a whole new culture of becoming Americans and all that meant to them. For them, it was about basic survival – a new beginning in a new country. Severing ties from everything that was familiar to them, including their parents, aunts and uncles, their grandparents, and their whole way of life was a prerequisite.

During the late 1800s in Lithuania, pogroms (organized massacres targeting Jewish communities) were instituted which resulted in mass emigration to America. Some emigrants chose acquiescence, desperately wanting to assimilate; whereas some who had become revolutionaries in the old country brought that energy of resistance to America. The latter group had sought to unite all the Jews in Lithuania in a class-based fight for social reform. They had organizing to demand: an improvement in living standards, a more democratic political system, and the introduction of equal rights for Jews. They were revolutionaries, socialists and communists. My grandfather brought these ideals with him to America. In his 80s, my father first acknowledged to me that he had gone to the Workmen’s Circle, a socialist camp during high school. He explained that there was a communist camp and a socialist camp and he attended the latter.

I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have told my grandfather that, perhaps through osmosis (or DNA), I had received the teaching that hatred of other, whether expressed as racism, classism, sectarianism or anti-Semitism, was something to fiercely resist against! I would have told my grandparents that their suffering was not in vain, that I got the message. My whole life has been about dispelling hatred in myself and others. And now, in the 21st century, many of those socio-political issues are still present and growing. Dad, you prepared me well. Although, I didn’t understand all of what our ancestors endured when we had this intimate, revealing conversation just a few years before he died, I did begin to piece together why our home was secular, devoid of God. Many of the revolutionaries from Eastern Europe who had experienced such trauma became atheists, at least my father, and I suspect, my grandfather did. I don’t know how this trauma manifested in his older brother Azer, the firstborn, born into a family of immigrants, trying to piece together new lives amid the catastrophic trauma from which they fled, to carry-on in America. The firstborn often carries more weight than the other children, more responsibility, and more of the raw, direct trauma from the parents and grandparents, whether physically present or not.

My grandfather, who arrived in America around the turn-of-the-century, was a craftsman who built furniture and started selling his creations and used furniture along the railroad tracks in Pennsylvania where the trains would bring them to his storefront. My grandmother was more of a pragmatist who chose to not eat their limited rations during the Great Depression so her children could. After bankruptcies and dire survival struggles, my father began working with his father while still in high school. As I mentioned in the previous essay, I suspect my father (who was a bit of a mama’s boy) rejected his father’s ideology and became a capitalist to save his family. He would sacrifice a great deal not have his siblings, wife, or children starve as his family had. With a high school education, my father provided for his family and left a legacy of abundance and philanthropy, not scarcity and financial hardship.

I suspect he rejected his father’s gentle, humanistic way of being and saw it as passivity, and maybe it was, as trauma can take the form of immobilization. I see these polarities of capitalism versus socialism, revolutionary versus pacifist in myself. During our present, tumultuous times, having this internal conversation between the polarities of ourselves is necessary preparation for contemplating how we want to express ourselves, both personally and politically. Understanding our ancestry is an important part of our identity. If you understand epigenetics, trauma from previous generations actually can change the expression of our DNA and manifest in devastating and mysterious ways. For an interesting article click here.

When I knew him, my grandfather had advanced Parkinson’s disease. Having been the only two people in our family with progressive neurological illness, I have developed a kinship with him that only increases as this illness progresses. I can viscerally imagine the despair this loyal, enormously strong man felt as his body began to fail him. He was known to have carried an iron woodstove up a staircase by himself, something no human I know could accomplish. As his body weakened, he had to surrender to his somewhat caustic, but faithful wife who likely didn’t understand how past trauma may have manifested in herself and her husband. I remember my grandmother’s fierce loyalty caring for her husband as he grew more disabled and her unwillingness to place him elsewhere, regardless of the excessive demands on her. Love and trauma, trauma and love. There are no heroes or villains in this Sacred Work that is Life.

I consider myself spiritual, but not religious. I dutifully attended Hebrew school and synagogue in my early years, but there was little continuity at home which seemed to reveal a fracture I didn’t quite understand until later in life when my father finally admitted to having been a staunch atheist his whole life (until his death which I described in previous essays – our most intimate moment).

I found the Old Testament scary, presented by a rabbi who had little rapport with children. A punishing, threatening God was more of the stuff of my worst nightmares than a power that informs and heartens me. When I later learned of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of the church, this further reinforced my resistance to organized religion. The Jesus that was talked about in my early years, the prophet who was killed by Jews, created further shame in me for being different, for being Jewish.

Always having been a spiritual person by nature, the more mystical aspects of Judaism appealed to me when I later studied Kabbalah. I found that the mystical aspects all major religions seem to converge at the same point, the point where Jesus and other masters spoke from – Love. When we live from the soul, there is no other; there is only We.

The spirituality that I gravitate to is inconclusive, profoundly compassionate, deeply mystical, and emanates from my heart and not my head. That being said, I came to realize through the workshop that I had blatantly and aggressively rejected all aspects of the religion in which I grew up – the baby with the bathwater – and with that I had rejected significant parts of myself and my lineage.

The facilitator explained our relationship with our ancestors brilliantly – like with any intimate relationship, if one person has not achieved wholeness, they are like two halves of a whole, but two whole people can move past duality and co-create.

Today, we live in a world where capitalism has run amok and we have forgotten how to take care of each other. We have work to do. I am so grateful to stand on the shoulders of those who went before me, to reintroduce myself to them. The courage, the grief, the fortitude is quite a legacy they left for me to recover, by my willingness to feel shame and grief fully. This is what I contemplate when I sit at my altar to my ancestors.

Many immigrants do not talk about what they endured back home. They were fleeing that world, and when they left they didn’t want to talk about it because there had been pain and heartbreak. ~ Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

Altar To My Ancestors

Zayde means grandfather in Yiddish. The few stories I’ve been able to collect of my grandfathers’ fathers are scant, but tender, and the stories about the women in my family are even more limited. The photograph above is Zayde Rosenthal who became a widower and married a second wife.

I always felt strangely drawn to this photograph. Perhaps it was because my Aunt Paulie, Zayde’s eldest daughter sat at her antique Singer sewing machine and told me stories of the old country and their desire to come to America. Aunt Paulie came first and worked in sweatshops in lower Manhattan to bring her siblings to America. Although I felt riveted by the stories, I never detected any grief or had any idea about the trauma they carried, that is, until it all began to unfold for me last week.

During the White Awake: Before We Were White workshop (link in Part One), we were encouraged to create an altar to our ancestors. The purpose was to reestablish a connection that had likely been broken. Each individual’s journey during this process was unique, many perilous, requiring much courage to face the trauma that caused the disconnection, but all were deeply meaningful, filling in the dots of our ancestral stories that would have been lost forever. I was surprised how satisfying it felt to construct my altar and feel a yearning to learn more about my ancestors’ history.

Upon noticing my newly arranged altar, someone told me that I looked like my maternal great grandfather! Until then, I had never considered there might be a resemblance or even a direct bloodline between the strangers in the odd photograph that graced my grandparents’ central room in their meager Bronx apartment during the late 1950s. I was told that they had never left Eastern Europe – that they never made it on the boat. To have a photograph taken during that time period in Lithuania, they had to stand for a long exposure requiring a brace to hold their heads still. As I look at it now, almost 60 years later, I imagine the photograph being rolled up and carefully tucked under someone’s arm on a crowded boat traveling across the Atlantic seas. It was then framed in the Bronx, not far from Ellis Island, the port where my grandfather immigrated alone, at seven years of age!

All my grandparents traveled on the boat when they were very young. Three were immigrants from small villages (shtetls) in Lithuania. (Fiddler on the Roof, based on the stories by Shalom Aleichem, was an authentic representation of the villages in Eastern Europe.) My father’s generation was not allowed to talk about the old country, We are Americans, they were quickly corrected. They fled pogroms, the draft, and growing malignant anti-Semitism.

As I researched the villages where my grandparents’ were born, I knew that thirty years later 95% of the Jews would be exterminated in Lithuania. When I imagined what could possibly motivate a mother to put her 7-10 year old child, a mere baby, on a boat never to be seen again… it was just unimaginable to me. What horror did they predict, and why?

From what I read, it wasn’t just the Nazis that murdered Jews around World War II, but many Lithuanian collaborators joined in. It could be one’s barber, dentist, or middle school crush. Could these parents in the late 1800s possibly have predicted what would happen to their children thirty years later? What level of hatred must they have endured to anticipate this? And what did they imagine if they did not let them go? Were my grandparents actually protecting us by trying to erase their past and only look forward to their new American identity?

The workshop led us through ancestral recovery, a necessary step for the collective shift in consciousness mentioned in Part One. If we go back far enough into our family histories, we can find our own indigenous roots. When I began to scrape together the few stories of my family from the old country, I uncovered lumberers and herbalists. I also uncovered the roots of social activism born out of religious and cultural persecution that I would label as heroism. With courage and perseverance, we can restore the disconnection caused by ancestral trauma, and begin to restore wholeness to our family lineage.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. I became so physically ill during this process that I wondered if I would survive the grief that was nearly more than this frail body could process. I did survive this life-changing process and will describe more in the Aftermath and Integration in my final essay of this series.

Here is a gift to begin the integration process. I must express a disclaimer that jumping into forgiveness before processing all of the grief, in whatever form it needs to be expressed, only leads to more suffering. With Heart and Help I trust I will eventually be able to lighten my heaviness. But, hey, there are no guarantees, are there? In my essays, I like to be on the other side of the Great Grief and speak from there. Not true this time.

For now, I will grieve and rage and sick it out, as I have done with all unimaginable catastrophes I’ve experienced through life. And I will await the shift that is ultimately sure to come and turn my worldview inside out, as most multigenerational or family constellation work does. And if I and my helpers have what it takes, healing will happen seven generations backward and forward.

Kuan Yin’s Prayer for the Abuser

To those who withhold refuge,
I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.
To those that cause a child to cry out,
I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.
To those that inflict terror,
I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.
To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,
I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.
To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,
I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.
To those who cling and grasp,
I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.
To those who vent their rage on small children,
I return to you your deepest innocence.
To those who must frighten into submission,
I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.
To those who cause agony to others,
I give the gift of free flowing tears.
To those that deny another’s right to be,
I remind you that the angels sang
in celebration of you on the day of your birth.
To those who see only division and separateness,
I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.
For those who have forgotten
the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,
I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.
To those who still feel somehow incomplete,
I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

~Vera de Chalambert

 

 

 

The fight against racism [anti-Semitism, xenaphobia] is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help People of Color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do. ~ Anne Braden

A month ago my hospice physician gave me surprising news that I would likely be around a while longer! I realized how I have been living week to week, hour to hour, injury to injury. I took a shallow breath, which is the best I can do, and thought – How do I want to live this more time? The answer was not forthcoming; sometimes just asking the question is more catalytic.

A few days later, while trying to sleep, I slipped into a four hour riveting download. Downloads seem to happen more frequently during this end-of-life time. I believe we are continually receiving downloads, we just may not be aware of them. Our guides and loved ones on the other side are constantly trying to assist us. Sometimes my downloads involve life review and sometimes they are a direct transmission prompting healing that can take place while I am still embodied, should I be willing. These communications always leave me with tremendous gratitude, determination, and awe.

Unlike my usual meditations or downloads, I was met by an Ascended Master (so I knew it was serious), as the quality of the input was clearly from that high of a frequency. I was riveted for four hours, hearing that the next stretch of my life will be about FIRE. Fire is neither an element I am comfortable with, nor is it easily accessible to my gentle soul, in this particular incarnation. I understood that to embrace my fire, I had to go beyond my fear of disapproval from others and consciously enter the fire of eternal love, a fire that burns away the obstacles to fully embodying the Divine.

I was about to publish my previous essay – The Shadow of My Shadow is My Friend – and I was told that that essay would be the beginning of this accelerated stretch. I knew that times were dire and the Sacred Feminine would be greatly needed to get us out of this mess we’ve created. We have recklessly squandered our inner and outer resources and, as I mentioned in my aforementioned essay, a critical mass of people would be necessary to restore Love from fear. It is heartening that She is emerging through #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #neveragain, and other movements to bring violence out of the collective Shadow and into the light.

The following day, after a brief contraction, I began receiving communications from many people that confirmed the veracity of the download. It is necessary that I have compassion for my contractions, because I need to take my ego along with me, as I am not yet free of this body curriculum.

Then Allison, my dear friend and primary caregiver asked me if I wanted to join her in a workshop she was participating in titled White Awake – Before We Were White. I didn’t quite know what Before We Were White meant, but I knew that growing class inequality and racism were issues I have always felt deeply in my bones, connective tissue, and DNA.

Participating in a workshop with hundreds of like-minded beloveds was something I believed was part of my past, however now video technology could bring it right into my living room. Although my voice was too weak to be audible, I had a visual presence and Allison generously offered to speak for me.

The workshop spoke of colonialism and the resulting genocide of indigenous peoples perpetrated by white people. It dispelled myths, particularly our American origin myth and explained white privilege in a way I could deeply ingest. I was surprised to hear that the concept of whiteness and the power hierarchy of skin color was a strategy propagated during the 1600s. The purpose was to sew hatred and division by a few, intent on staying in power at any cost to the vulnerable. (Sound familiar?) The workshop was presented by white people to mostly white people in order to hold all of the grief, shame, and complicity necessary to create a collective shift in awareness. The shame turned into deep acknowledgment/responsibility which turned into empathy for all the victims including we white people, who have been so victimized that we ourselves have become victimizers!

In keeping with my previous essay where I described the Karpman Drama Triangle as a destructive expression of conflict when it is unsafe to express our own authentic vulnerability, we assume one of the three faces of Victim – Victim, Perpetrator, or Rescuer. In the case where fear of other is stoked (xenaphobia) and we succumb to the fear, we risk becoming reduced to the role of Victim, either by being victimized or by doing the victimization.

During my last essay, I described my consequential  breathwork session where I was able to reach deeply into my unconscious Shadow and cathect the Nazi archetype. I found liberation by releasing this suppressed energy that had accrued over many lifetimes. Through this process I was able to understand white supremacy from the inside out. By dissecting the pathology of this distorted fire energy, it became less frightening as it is once again manifesting in the world today.

I will conclude Part One now. During Part two, I will describe my own particular process of ancestral recovery and its importance to me. During the process I developed the flu and I wondered if I would survive the physical and emotional demands of this sort of recovery. I thought I was merely signing up for an interesting workshop. I now understand the power of ancestral relationships, family constellation theory, and the illness that can come from unresolved fractures. I also understand the liberation of healing this family multigenerational family structure.

I request help from my ancestors to complete this two-part essay. Thank you for your continued support. May you realize how important your support has been to my process. We just never know how much we affect each other, do we?

For more information about White Awake: https://whiteawake.org/about/

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. ~ Anaïs Nin

Much has been written about The Shadow, originally described by Austrian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung, a pioneer of Depth Psychology, an approach to psychotherapy close to my heart that includes the exploration of the unconscious and transpersonal aspects of the human psyche. The Jungian construct of the shadow involves those parts of the Self that we deem as flawed and unlovable, often due to early trauma, and therefore, relegate them to our unconscious. Eckhart Tolle describes it as the painbody, a semi-autonomous psychic entity of old emotional pain not faced, accepted, and let go of in the moment they were experienced.

Encountering the Shadow

Often these traumas have roots in our childhood, transferred by the unexamined (shadow) aspects of those in our family of origin whom we most trusted. Delivered as criticism or rejection, we learn to deny these injured parts to avoid further pain and, ironically, end up attracting to us exactly what we are trying to ward off.

Our shadow reveals our deepest wound, which also holds the key to our greatest healing. Our unexamined pain accumulates and combines with that of others’ to form a collective shadow. Wars have erupted due to our unconscious collective shadows. I believe by working to bring these aspects to consciousness, one person at a time, we can not only lessen the conflict in our own lives, but ultimately achieve world peace.

Robert Bly describes the shadow as the bag we drag around behind us through our life and when aspects of ourselves appear that create discomfort, we throw them into the bag as unclaimed, unlovable parts of our persona. The bag becomes heavier and heavier until we develop the courage to begin to take each dissociated part out to bring it into the light of consciousness.

In shamanism, the shaman, or healer, is seen as one who can walk between the human and spirit worlds to retrieve our discarded parts in order to restore balance to the soul, whether the imbalances are caused by fear, loneliness, addictions, or other ills.

Dancing With the Shadow

If we are courageous enough to enter into long-term, committed relationships, it is likely we will encounter the proverbial mirror that forces us to see our shadow projected onto our beloved. Discerning what is ours from theirs is the crisis and the opportunity of deep intimacy. For me, it took a series of divorces to realize who the common denominator was. During my first and most tumultuous marriage, it was easy to shrug off any criticism as his projections, but when I encountering similar criticisms during my second marriage, I began to recognize recurring patterns.

I don’t believe my rigorous life path of learning through relationships has been arbitrary. I believe it was specifically designed for me to learn and teach others self-love through the healing power of intimacy. As a psychotherapist, being of service has been a large part of my mission and doing my own personal work has been an essential prerequisite. I remember asking my former mentor, “Do I have to experience everything in order to be of service to my beloveds?!” Not everybody needs to experience a curriculum as extreme as mine, but as a psychotherapist, you can only take other people as far you have already gone.

From another former mentor, Werner Erhard, a complicated but significant leader of the “human potential movement,” I learned that in order to truly have a relationship, you must be willing to not have that relationship. To me, this meant that in order to truly have an intimate relationship with another person, I needed to be willing to risk it for my own Truth. This is not an easy principle to follow, especially when the ego is invested in maintaining status quo at all costs, but it is a tenet I have learned to follow more and more as I have matured spiritually. As Maya Angelou eloquently stated, “When someone knows better, they do better.” Choosing our Truth over our egos’ desires is the difference between feeding our shadow or feeding our authentic Self – choosing Love over fear.

Opening to the Teachings

From this end-of-life perspective, sitting still twenty-two hours a day, I have opened into what could be called my life review. Those who have entry into what some call the bardo or the life between lives, either through dreams, meditation, or visions, are able to begin a broader process of self-reflection over their lifetime and begin to identify the themes the soul has come in to work on. My many years in non-ordinary states of consciousness through Holotropic Breathwork, both as a practitioner and a facilitator, has helped me to access these healing states.

Throughout my earlier life I struggled with feeling victimized by energies outside of myself over which I felt powerless. This common pattern is often an imprint from the family of origin. My mother was my initiator in this journey of duality (drama). I was terrified of her and then of my teachers and went on to attract relationships that affirmed this worldview.Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer are three different expressions of victim in the dramatic triangle. (For more information, see the Karpman Drama Triangle – three faces of Victim, a must for psychotherapists and addictions counselors!)

Drama vibrates at a low frequency and like attracts like. To maintain a low vibration, which serves to keep vulnerability at bay, a victim can only draw a persecutor or a rescuer, which then always switch roles. Shadow Work involves bringing each role to consciousness to allow vulnerability and intimacy, a high frequency.

Breakthrough From Drama to True Self

During my breathwork visions, for years I was a Jew in a concentration camp. However, one day, to my shock I suddenly became the Nazi – feeling the power/control of oppressing, enslaving, and murdering others. (This collective shadow, by the way, is the core of racism, or othering, a fear prevalent in the world today. A critical mass must be reached to bring this hatred out of the shadow, one person at a time.) I let myself marinate in these excruciating feelings until I felt the energy complete itself. I didn’t know what to think afterwards – feeling shame mixed with horror that shifted into empowerment, and even liberation.

For me during breathwork, as in life, the most arduous part of the process is learning to stay with uncomfortable feelings. I learned firsthand that it was much more comfortable to experience Victim than Persecutor; the latter forced me into shadow of the motherwound. However, by avoiding the pain, I suppressed my natural fire energy – creativity and passion (joy). I was so afraid of being my mother that I couldn’t fully be me! After this breathwork retreat, I knew my life would be different.

Staying in drama temporarily lessens anxiety, but the cost is one’s true power. The role of Victim (the one down position) was familiar to me. When people emulate the childhood abuser who appeared to have more strength and power; the Persecutor becomes their go to persona during conflict. The Rescuer (the one up position) feels the illusion of safety from the messiness of intimacy, by staying above the fray. Feeling less than was my shadow and Persecutor was the shadow of my shadow. Only when I allowed myself to fully experience this repugnant role, replete with abuse of power, shame, and fear, could I liberate myself and experience Wholeness. In that way, I was my own shaman.

Integration

During this sacred time of life review, I want to honor the teachers in my life of which I have only mentioned a few. I especially want to honor my mother who chose to play this role with me in this lifetime. Mother, I know you are with me and I look forward to dancing with you soon with less fear and more joy.

Put a candle in the window… ’cause I feel I’ve got to move. Now I’m goin’, goin’… I’ll be coming home soon. Long as I can see the light. ~ Creedence Clearwater Revival

The A Team

If you haven’t been to a cremation in Crestone and you feel so inclined, you would do well to go, even if it is 10° outside. The love, the intention, and the ritual of the community will keep you warm. I learned that last Sunday when I left the house for the first time in a year and a half. Confidentially, I’ve been afraid to die during the winter, because I didn’t want to put my loved ones through a cremation during the Crestone winters, before sunrise, when the fire threat in our high desert climate is reduced. My friend Marv just died and he and his family are giving his almost 90-year-old body a ceremonial sendoff. For the last few days of his life, his body was completely still, but clearly waiting for something unbeknownst to us. When his beloved grandson arrived from Japan, he took his last breath. Marv had his own perfect timing. He was then given the allotted three days to allow for his soul’s reorientation for his sacred Passage, his Pilgrimage, freedom.

I informed Lauren, my dear caregiver of nearly five years, that Marv had left his body. We stood in silence as she sensed a longing in me I had long since learned to suppress, due to the physical limitations that left my body immobilized from the neck down. Being close with Naomi, his wife and partner of a zillion years, someone who shared love, children, and laughed and cried with him, I felt the paradoxical combination of deep grief and relief she must feel. I had the honor to witness their deep, oceanic connection firsthand, during a concert performed in 2015 in my living room, by a few dear friends and brilliant musicians, who generously play for me, because I am housebound. That is the sort of community I live in. There were a few songs that elicited tears of grief and joy that revealed a direct channel between Naomi and Marv, the depth of which none of us could ever share, but was palpable and spread throughout the room as such feelings do.

I first met Marv a decade ago, after moving to Crestone from the New Orleans area after Katrina. Marv is someone you don’t forget; he makes an indelible impression with his colorful history of thirty-five years in the Hollywood music business, including being vice president of Columbia records. He had many stories to tell. Those days, Marv and I were getting around much better. More recently, we shared a particular experience of being at the end of our lives, which created a sort of connection in and of itself. As my life began to unravel shortly after arriving in Crestone, an experience shared by many Crestonians (knowing smile) and some initial resistance, I let go into facing an uncertain future alone, my greatest fear of my lifetime.

My former husband, while on his way out of our eleven year relationship, informed me that my horse Jasmine had a companion who loved her deeply and wanted to buy her. All I knew was her name was Elizabeth, she was the wife of a local Rinpoche (a highly respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher), and she would care for Jasmine, my elegant, billowy, chestnut mare, as I no longer could.

I suspected Elizabeth and I shared an auspicious bond. In the last year when she came to meet me, we coincidentally gifted each other photographs of horses. Her father, Marv and she had a deep connection with Jasmine. Although our lives were very different, there was a mutuality that couldn’t be understood in our three-dimensional reality, that horses tend to illuminate.

Naomi has been in my women’s circle for a number of years. (Don’t tell anybody, because it’s confidential.) One day Naomi came to visit me by herself. I wanted to show her my voice software that completely controls my computer, hands-free, thinking it might help her. We ended up talking for hours as she shared her life, her Dharma, perhaps one and the same, and her gratitude for my having reached out to her.

When Lauren sensed my feelings for the Mattis-Namgyel family, she naturally and innocently, in her own Lauren way, offered, “Do you want to go to the cremation? I will take you.” For a moment, I was speechless, because I had let go of the possibility of leaving the house long ago. After all, I am housebound and in hospice care! It was just too precarious for this frail body. Still, a moment later I replied, “Yes!” It was completely incomprehensible, but our intention was stated aloud, so we just needed to work out the details.

First, Lauren called Stephanie, the director of Crestone End-of-Life Project, to see if it was possible to logistically carry out this plan. After Stephanie realized from Lauren’s telephone call that someone had not died, as many of the calls to Stephanie portend, she was less in facilitator mode and more in exhilaration from our Vision that we still didn’t know could be actualized.

Next we called hospice to see if I really had lost my mind. I’ve been reluctant to even go in the courtyard of my home and hadn’t ridden in my accessible vehicle, since I realized my vestibular system and my connective tissue could no longer tolerate the movement. At the time, I felt like my internal organs would fall out of my body.

My hospice nurse said, “If you want to go, do what your soul wants.” With this encouragement Lauren and I both cried as we knew it really could happen! We had the blessings of Stephanie and hospice; I now had to inform Allison (drumroll). Allison is my primary caregiver, the one who holds my organs together, both metaphorically and quite literally, at times. Allison provides the voice of reason. If we had not considered the “what if’s,” she would provide them. Allison was scheduled to tend the fire at the cremation that Sunday, which would require her full attention. She is off on the weekends and I try not to engage her, unless it is an emergency. If I had not consulted Allison, it would have been an emergency of a different sort.

It was the day before the cremation, that Blue Rooster offered to play music for me and any friends and my living room was packed. I’m usually tired for three days after a concert, but the cremation was the next day and I didn’t have the luxury of a slow recovery! Waking at 5 AM the next morning to prepare for being at the pyre by 7 AM, would require nothing short of a miracle. Ironically, the musicians provided the necessary fuel when they dedicated the concert to Marv! My first request was the Creedence Clearwater Revival selection that is the title of this essay, my favorite request, which happened to be Marv’s as well.

The song transported me back to the concert with Marv and Naomi in 2015. The most common question I get when people hear I have MS is, “can you feel anything?” Often people with paralysis have no sensation, but the opposite is true for me. Sitting in my chair I felt a sensation I hadn’t felt in over a decade. Naomi, sitting across from me with constant loving communication of gratitude to me for providing this opportunity, Marv on my left, sitting unsteadily, yet joyfully on his walker, I suddenly felt a hand on my thigh and looked over and saw Marv’s sparkling eyes. His eyes sparkled with a combination of the innocent joy of a three-year-old boy and the dangerous joy of a sixteen-year-old. It was so dear, Marv, Naomi, and me, in this marvelous triangle of love together with the vision that only comes from an end-of-life perspective. It was both comical and deeply sacred at the same time.

At 5 AM, Lauren, Cindy, and Marie arrived for the Herculean task ahead of us. I have a back brace that we put on backwards with the hope of holding my organs in place and I took Dramamine for the inevitable motion sickness.

Lauren’s experience with me, Cindy’s practicality and confidence as an EMT and a sister in so many ways, and Marie’s wisdom to strategize with buckles, seatbelts and blankets – lots of blankets –  gave us the confidence that we could do this, despite the knowing that, as with any encounter, this could be my last.

Everything fell into place as we got to the pyre at 7 AM as planned. Being at the site was like a dress rehearsal for me, as I had registered with CEOLP (Crestone End-of-life Project) many years ago. I saw Marv’s family sitting where my family will soon be. I had not been to a cremation in nine years and the site had changed considerably. It was now lovingly embraced by a meticulously crafted bamboo fence with copper finials. In such an intimate community, I knew the artisans and the committed team members who contemplatively orchestrated such a meaningful way to leave this beautiful life with our beloved family and community as witnesses.

The intimacy and generosity of Marv’s family for sharing this sacred time together was nearly overwhelming and just the miracle I needed and hoped for.

(Dedicated to Barbara and Leslie, who loved and lost Spectre, along with us. Thank you.)

Remember to love deeply and hold loosely. – Gussie Fauntleroy

Fly Spectre Fly!!

What I didn’t want to cover in my last essay about Spectre was that, although his body was unable to function due to the melanomas wrapped around his jugular vein and intestines, he was not ready to go. When we prepared to euthanize him, we gathered in the remote, upper field – our animal graveyard, where the bodies of our beloveds returned to the soil. Moving a dead horse is not an easy task and the death ritual has to be planned in advance. The backhoe has to be ready to dig the hole, right then and there, to bury him. If a horse dies in a stall, you have a serious problem on your hands.

When Keith inserted the needle to euthanize Spectre, despite David holding him, Spectre boldly tried to walk on. Two men were nearly unable to keep the needle in his neck. Barbara and I stood by in horror at the scene where our veterinarian was trying to end the life of Spectre, our beautiful, mighty Patriarch of the barn. Finally, Spectre went down on one knee; he needed to be completely overpowered to go down. He demonstrated to me what the body is capable of: that the body wants to live at any cost, whether it has melanomas strangling organs from the inside out, or not. In looking back at the trauma of the spectacle, I saw Spectre’s warrior nature. I saw his power and I saw his terror. With Spectre’s strength, he could have overpowered us, but he just walked on – always a gentleman. Spectre didn’t go gentle into that good night.

In my last blog, I did not talk about the emotional cost of keeping my body alive. I did not talk about the intermittent, insidious bladder spasms that often leave me soaked in urine that inevitably accelerates skin breakdown. I don’t like to complain about the small stuff; I just do my version of walking on. I believe much of my suffering so far has been necessary, humbling me, stripping me to my basic core. I have learned that when I can love myself with this illness, I can love myself wholly and in that way, the process becomes a holy practice. The true love of my life has been my inner work which extends to my work with others, so they can also access that holy state of being. This illness has served my highest soul’s desire and for that I am deeply grateful. I am not special; it is just my time and I have said yes to the Universe. Everybody will, in one’s own time.

When I listen deeply to my bladder, I hear that it is trying desperately to expel the catheter, the foreign object that has invaded it for the past six years. In the vernacular, my bladder is pissed off. When I realize this, I have compassion and know that my body is not my enemy, but my advocate, and a damn good sport at that!

I didn’t mention my extreme diet and protocols I have followed for the last thirty years – the daily green smoothies I force myself to swallow, knowing that they make my skin more resilient to heal the inevitable pressure sores from sitting twenty-two hours a day and the multiple injuries I am sustaining more frequently, due to my body’s increased structural weakness. The disease progression continues, despite my efforts to enter remission. I am constantly strategizing on how to prolong my life, while lessening the suffering. For me, it is a Sacred practice chosen by my soul. I know that, because my ego would never freaking choose this!

I refused the traditional MS drugs, because I did not want to suppress my immune system, which was the best the medical profession had to offer this unrelenting, mysterious illness they call primary progressive multiple sclerosis, or PPMS, and have no clue how to treat. I searched for healing on three continents over twenty-five years, both alternative and allopathic. My main criteria was that it had to resonate as true healing, not tricking the body. In retrospect, many of my friends who attempted the mostly ineffective MS drugs have more debilitating symptoms today, due to the disastrous side effects, without having slowed the disease process, as promised. I don’t feel righteous or resentful; I feel tremendous heartbreak watching the physical devastation unfold in those I care about and for those who courageously watch mine.

We are all just walking each other Home – Ram Dass

Ram Dass says, when we live more from our souls, then death becomes just another moment. As we become initiated by life: either due to body breakdown through illness, injury, aging, death of a loved one, or even our beloved pets dying when we are young, we learn that we are more than this vehicle we call our body. As we meet our initiations and move through the anger and fear, we can begin to live more from our Souls.

If my beloveds experience me only as my physical presentation, the loss is devastating. If we have a soul connection beyond the physical my process can also be awe-inspiring, because paradoxically, as my body deconstructs, my spirit grows, exponentially. I am left with gratitude as it has helped me grow patience in accepting my circumstances with Grace and dignity. (If you are reading my blogs, you are likely in the latter category and you are being initiated right along with me. Thank you for that. It is clearly the road less traveled.)

We tried any experimental drug available on Spectre. Like progressive MS, there is no treatment for progressive equine melanoma, at this time. We would have extended his life at any cost, however I am now learning that more time does not necessarily equate with more quality of life. I came to realize that by prolonging Spectre’s suffering, I was avoiding my own grief at his expense, not an easy realization to hold.

Fortunately, for our animal friends we have euthanasia to help them avoid needless suffering. Some of my Buddhist friends reject its use believing that all suffering, in animals and humans, is necessary for our evolution. Every animal communicators (those gifted individuals who can speak to our beloved animals “on the other side”) whom I’ve read, or spoken to directly about euthanasia, have, unequivocally, expressed our animal’s gratitude to the humans for helping to end their suffering.

I believe animals are here to teach us humans. Many states have begun to offer aid-in-dying, which is popular with over 60% of the people. The qualification process is arduous for those facing death, but empowering once completed. Now we have the choice to discern what resonates for each of us as ethical and true to help our physical bodies come to completion, gently.

Six years ago I was told that my kidneys were going to fail if I didn’t allow a urinary catheter to be inserted permanently. I agreed, because I had places to go and people to see! There is a cost for going against nature; the contraindications need to be considered. My bladder revolts at times resulting in spasms (mentioned above) and urinary tract infections. Constant use of antibiotics can result in resistance leading to superbugs. Kidney failure, aspiration pneumonia, and sepsis are common causes of death, when allowed to follow the natural progression of the illness. One doesn’t die from MS, one dies from “complications from MS.”

As we evolve as a culture and there is less fear around death, more options for supporting this sacred transition are becoming available to ease one’s suffering. When the body is ready to complete itself and turn from the physical toward the soul for animation, other initiates will appear. Perhaps they will be in the form of friends, family, those being trained as death doulas and midwives. As the Feminine rises, there will be less fear around choice, and the desire to control other people’s bodies will be seen as archaic.

There is a time to walk on and a time to take a knee in surrender to the soul’s desires. May we be granted the Wisdom to hear our  inner guidance and the Courage to follow our own Truth.

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. more...

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