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At the community mental health center where I worked for nearly ten years, which provided psychotherapy to children and their families as well as providing emergency evaluations for people in crisis, I used to say facetiously to my supervisor, “I need a Just Say No workshop.” I had a caseload of over two hundred children, which included their immediate family members at any given time. This workload was way more than any one human could manage by herself. Realize that these were some of the most complicated cases in East St. Tammany Parish. There were children at risk in the school setting, at home and/or with legal authorities. This meant that I needed to attend meetings with many collateral organizations. There were meetings with child protective services, individualized educational planning meetings in schools, as well as staffing at the Youth Service Bureau and the state psychiatric hospital, all of which needed to be kept current.

I’m not sure if this is where I began to feel like Edith Bunker running from room to room when I was summoned, but run I did. This is where the phrase, “your wish is my command,” became operant. I felt a deep calling to this work and wanted to provide the most holistic, comprehensive and compassionate service possible. However, there was very little consideration of my own needs. This was a recurring theme throughout my life. Having been bred, raised and indoctrinated into the Jewish culture, I probably had MARTYR ingrained in my DNA. A true sign of a martyr is that one’s own needs are rarely considered and consequently the people around them always feel guilty. Whether my professional persona bled into my personal life or vice versa, I ran from room to room in all areas when summoned.

Fortunately, I entered intensive therapy concurrent to the early development of my career. Some of the most problematic patterns that I have seen in faltering relationships is the inability to even acknowledge one’s own needs. At nearly sixty years of age, when identifying my own needs, there are times when I have to consult a needs list. Realizing this leads me to question whether there is a relationship between this underdeveloped part of the personality and the hatred and violence in the world.

In working with couples who were in a great deal of pain, I often presented the metaphor of two people drowning; they didn’t wish ill will on the other, however, in their own struggle to breathe (sustain life), they were pulling the other underwater. This is a graphic representation of what actually happens when one’s needs are chronically neglected. The struggle in the body is experienced as life-threatening. This is also what makes relationship yoga such an accelerated path to transformation. When conflicts are experienced as life-threatening, internal resources are rallied more readily.

What would’ve happened if the deferential Edith Bunker was able to identify, acknowledge and meet her own needs in her adult life? What would’ve happened to Gloria and “Meathead’s” relationship? Gloria would still be Gloria having been raised by Edith, but she would also have the imprint of Edith’s empowerment. After all the few times this sweet, naïve woman actually spoke her mind, she was the wisest in the family.

Without the drama and the tension between the characters, there would have been no one drowning and consequently no iconic sitcom in the 70s. What would relationships be like with less drama? What would life be like if we attended to our own needs? What if Edith plopped herself down in Archie’s chair and said, “not right now Awchie, I’m resting.”  Would the ceiling have fallen in? And what if Edith tended to the ceiling once and only once she was rested?!

Right now I am resting.

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Nobody is immune from bigotry and hatred. Nobody. I believe that if you are in a human body it is antithetical to imagine being free of intolerance regarding differences. How do I know this? I don’t. But as with everything else I can only feel these theories through my emotional body, through my experiences with others and then synthesize it through my physical body.  Generally, I consider myself a person who is extremely open-minded and tolerant of other people’s differences. After all I have actively cultivated this capacity over time if you have read my past blog entries. If I were to consider my mother’s most positive feature, it would be her generosity toward others and tolerance of their differences. I believe this quality was acquired through nature and nurture.

Just when I think that malevolent feelings are impossible for me to experience, a shocking knee-jerk reaction will register. Just when I think this work is complete and it is others who struggle with these demons, in a flash I can have a thought about a group of people that will neutralize them in their tracks with my bigotry. I render them invisible at the very least and despised at the very worst. Where does this primal hatred come from? In a moment, after looking at a photograph of African-American children, with the rejection of a white supremacist, I rendered them inconsequential. These fleeting thoughts are a major confrontation to my self–concept. I think of myself as a person who has risked my life by hitchhiking to a black school in Miami during college to volunteer with minority students. At one point in my life, I would have married outside of my race and would have had biracial children. I don’t know how I can have these two seemingly polar opposite thoughts and beliefs in one body.

I feel overcome with embarrassment and shame just to admit these abhorrent feelings. My body temperature is raising and I have a compulsion to run and hide, certainly not to EXPOSE this part of my Shadow. However, I am also strangely curious to explore how these errant feelings can actually simultaneously be alive in me. That is how I make the assumption that if it is still in me, it could be in anyone. At least for me it is merely on the surface whereas with many others it is a part of their deeper personality structure. I have to dig for it, I have to be willing to hear it and therefore have to be willing to have my self-concept annihilated by its very existence.

What is also true is that I really do not believe these hateful utterances anymore. It is almost as if they are unrooted in the very fabric of my being. It feels like a disconnected reflex completely visceral in nature and not grounded in my kinesthetic or emotional body. Can it really survive as a free-floating, perhaps collective delusion? I seem to have more questions than answers. Perhaps it is just important that one questions, that one is willing to explore these fleeting, destructive thoughts and not identify with them. Perhaps it is because I no longer own these thoughts and beliefs as mine that it is easier for me to unpack them, explore them and release them.

I feel somewhat undone in anticipation of posting this entry. I believe that we can never become complacent and avoid the uncomfortable areas of the Shadow. This is a time in history where the cultural Shadow is extremely active, where racism and sectarianism are resulting in profound cultural carnage. I think it is no accident that this feeling arose in me after watching the evening news. Of course, I cannot blame it exclusively on the news. I can see it as an opportunity to bring awareness to this disconnected thought pattern that seems to be omnipresent in the current collective energy field.

I believe that the only antidote to this level of hatred is empathy. It is through empathy with self and other that these seemingly enigmatic thought forms can be seen, affirmed and truly accepted as part of our collective wounding. It is only when we can visit our wounds in a complete way that we can understand where this level of contempt truly comes from. I believe all hatred is ultimately self-hatred. It is by acknowledging our own suffering that these destructive feelings can be dismantled, accepted and held in LOVE, and only then can  these be released ultimately and completely.

The greatest impulse in dealing with this progressive autoimmune illness is to stop, rest and wait for energy. Sometimes it is a loving act to rest, but often it brings on more debilitation, a pattern I have only been able to see over time. Like with the Serenity Prayer there is wisdom in knowing the difference–knowing when to rest and when to move. One of the greatest teachings of this illness has been in the area of patience and self love. That has helped me to acquire body wisdom in avoiding more pronounced disuse atrophy.

Then there is discerning the difference between disuse atrophy and atrophy caused by nerve damage. Meandering, often stumbling through this autoimmune challenge is not for the cognitively challenged. Fortunately, my nervous system damage is more motor, less cognitive. I am also fortunate to have very little physical pain. Many of my brothers and sisters with this illness have both cognitive issues and neurogenic pain; neither of which I would wish on my greatest enemy, if I were to have one. This leads me to an update of my protocols:

I continue my daily routine of one hour in my standing frame and twenty minutes in the sun. (Remember that my healing trajectory is not linear and I had to overcome my double fractured ankle that I sustained in Pennsylvania. I also had to accommodate the lack of oxygen at eight thousand feet. My breathing, low blood pressure and stamina continue to improve and I was able to increase my standing time back to sixty minutes.) My primary protocol seems to have become the Budwig Protocol which I believe in tremendously for curing cancer. I’m not sure about this progressive form of multiple sclerosis/lyme disease. What I am coming to believe is that it has to be tremendously helpful after doing the research. The central part of the protocol involves a daily mixture of low-fat cottage cheese and flax oil emulsified until it becomes water-soluble, which is then more usable during cellular metabolism. What I have noticed is that after a lifetime of chronically dry skin, my skin glows with a vibrancy that I have never had.  Since it has only been two months on the protocol I will reserve judgment. I just know that people comment on my vitality pretty frequently these days.

As I soak in the sun’s rays, I remember being told by four different healthcare practitioners over at least a decade to practice this form of photon therapy. It is interesting that it has taken until now to begin this practice consistently. Being closer to the equator makes it easier year round. And after two and a half months of being exclusively indoors, being out in wide-open spaces with the big sky of Colorado makes it a spiritual experience.

After twenty-plus years of experimenting with protocols to improve my health and finding minimal improvement that registers on the physical level (but with much improvement on the mental emotional and spiritual levels), I understand that this has been a complex undertaking. Certain states of mind have become like old friends: pregnant anticipation, discouragement, scintillating excitement, despair, unfathomable hope. Yet through all of this I continued to return to a baseline of acceptance and reconciliation. The whole repertoire of internal reactions has been available to me and fortunately lately there has been much hope.

A therapy that I have looked at in the past has once again come to the forefront. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, has been found to be helpful with both Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis. Research in the United States appears to have mixed reviews, but treatment in Europe, where it seems to be much more mainstream, is revealing more positive results. I have reason to believe that my vascular system and oxygen availability are two areas of tremendous vulnerability. The Budwig Protocol has begun to reestablish more effective cellular metabolism (thank you Cheryl) by balancing the electrical system. Although I have not yet made a decision about this form of treatment, I am looking for my next step toward healing and continually…Moving Forward.

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun.
~ Kahlil Gibran

Boy, I’ll tell you, the last year has been challenging. This has been the year of my second Saturn return, which comes to everybody between the ages of fifty–eight to sixty and represents, astrologically, a second chance and possibly the last chance to “get it right.” It is a time to deal with any pockets of unfinished business in one’s life to finally become an elder with wisdom from the hard work of deep self–examination. It is the time when you become your own authority, the author of your own Story. This passage is often rigorous and wrought with exhaustion and sometimes depression. As with most significant transitions, the outcome can be tremendously life-giving. Mine was no exception.

Living for decades with the symptoms of a chronic illness affords one the opportunity to explore the concept of death from every direction. In our culture, death is a concept that is mostly feared and rarely celebrated as one of life’s greatest accomplishments. Being alive at this point in history is both a tremendous challenge and an enormous opportunity for expansion. As a large part of the population is aging, more and more people are moving toward that time in life where they consider making “the transition.”

Birth is commonly seen as a celebratory event. It is becoming more common for the aging population to develop an appreciation for their “final transition.” In order for one to engage in celebration of the latter, one must get right with the trajectory of one’s own life experience. Why is it that in our culture death is generally seen as, at the least, disappointing and, at most, a failure?

There is a growing ‘subculture’  that is cultivating a new, more progressive relationship with the final transition in one’s life. What if, instead of being experienced as a burden on the family when a loved one dies, the community joins with the family to celebrate this time with ceremony, prayer, and song to honor this passage in a way similar to birth, graduation and marriage?

In Crestone, we have an end-of-life program, the mission of which is to encourage individuals to create their own end-of-life rituals commensurate with their own sacred beliefs. In 1998, the community began providing green funerals and private open-air cremations to support this end. The program serves as a prototype to other communities interested in transforming these experiences. Here, when a loved one passes, the body is cared for in a sacred way–cleaned and anointed with sacred oils selected by the loved ones and community members. Often the body is visited in the home and a green burial or open-air cremation can be initiated if desired.

Perhaps if I described my few personal experiences with this it will help elucidate the concept. My introduction to this aspect of Crestone life occurred just prior to my arrival here. A very beloved and respected educator in the community lost her twenty–one year old son to an apparent overdose. Along with the family, the community was devastated to hear of this loss, especially since he had appeared to be straightening out his life and was on a progressive trajectory. Not only was the loss of this young man felt directly, but the grief echoed throughout the community in the form of empathy for the mother. I had not yet physically arrived in Crestone, but the grief was personally palpable. There is something about sharing that level of grief with a community that somehow makes the unthinkable more bearable. The mother was able to prepare her son’s body in a sacred way, with people who loved him. She selected special hardwoods and candles and such for the funeral pyre, making it a more personal sendoff.

Once I had been living in the community for a year, my neighbor and friend who had been struggling with cancer for over a decade made his transition. He had a love of horses and a business practices that we had shared.  After he passed on, I joined his family and our community for a heartfelt sendoff. This was my first open-air cremation and I was impressed with the content of his procession. Even his beloved horse and dog were included! If you know me, you would know that this would appeal to me.

I understand that this ritual may not appeal to the majority in our culture, but most Hindus have believed for thousands of years that open air cremations are the most auspicious way to release the soul from the body. Those who feel drawn to this practice should have be able to follow this practice. I would not want to impose my own desires on others and at the same time I would like my choices to be honored.

Protecting the sanctity of life is very important in our culture. Protecting the sanctity of “death” is equally as important, in my opinion. There has been a lot of research on people having near-death experiences or NDEs. While working on my masters degree in 1975, the first book on NDEs was required reading at Tulane University. It was Raymond Moody’s classic titled Life After Life. And in 2001, the book was rewritten with Elizabeth Kubler–Ross titled Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon–Survival of Bodily Death. This book investigated over one hundred cases of people who experienced a “clinical death” and were revived. There were striking similarities among the personal accounts, revealing a  state of profound peace and unconditional love. In later years, much has been written on After–Death Communication. One such classic is titled Journey of the Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives, by Michael Newton, which investigates a case study of twenty-nine people under hypnosis who describe strikingly similar accounts of their lives after death. These books and others similar point to the fact that there is no such thing as “death” as we know it.

Once death has been established as just one more celebratory and normal transition, choosing life can become more of a conscious decision and the quality of that life becomes more of a creative opportunity.

Having a life-threatening illness for over ten years, and learning to live in the present moment and not project into a fearful future, has given me the opportunity to explore different realms of consciousness that we all will be experiencing at some point. It has been important to me to live each moment in a regenerative way and to know that when the time comes to make the transition, as Emmanuel describes it in his many books, “Death is perfectly safe.”

Since I’ve been back in Crestone, in addition to relief, I have felt a deep layer of grief that is all too familiar. Overall, being here I feel a level of vitality and well-being that I hadn’t felt in Pennsylvania. Underneath that, however, there is this deep sadness that gets triggered by the slightest provocation. Perhaps there is a connection between the vitality and grief. When I am here in the wilderness I have a deep desire to participate in life: to hike to the waterfalls, to search out wildlife, to walk my dog. Every day I sit in front of my partially completed oil painting of the blue Chevy truck on its easel and wish I could complete it. In the dining room, where I sat for hours and built over one hundred pieces of jewelry, my supplies and tools sit impotent. Everywhere in my home there are reminders of my former life, which was full of robust activity and promise.

One of my favorite moments during the day is when I sit for twenty minutes in the sun in my perennial flower garden. While I sit taking in the sun’s rays, I look around at the weeds that need to be pulled. I grew up in a family where projects were always cultivated and deeply satisfying. Looking around my property I see horse stalls that are empty, tools not being used and much work that needs to get done. In the past this would excite me with the potential for creative and exciting fun to be had. Circumstances have changed.

Often when people visit me for the first time and it’s been a while, they present with sadness, which I feel moved to correct. “My life is not a tragedy” is usually my response. And often that is truly how I feel. This illness has required me to cultivate what is indestructible in myself. I have found a sense of determination and optimism I’ve never experienced before in my life, for which I am tremendously grateful. What happens in those times when I do not feel gratitude, but I feel the apparition of a life not fully lived? How do I ‘be’ with that level of grief and loss without running from it? It occurs to me that there are ways of metaphorically running that don’t involve my large muscles at all.

Despite my inability to complete these projects, I noticed that there is little sense of feeling victimized by this illness. I am grateful that I can avoid that pitfall and just deal with what is driving the compulsion to run, to avoid the Great Grief that will often lead to an expansion. I am not naïve enough to think that this level of grief is merely a reaction to the illness. This sense of despair predates the physical symptoms and perhaps predates my birth. I suspect it may have cultivated an environment for the symptoms to manifest and perhaps flourish.

Sitting with the grief provides an opportunity to, as my friend Karen recently wrote, “move toward it.” It occurs to me that one of the teachings of this illness over the years has been to develop a certain spiritual maturity to be able to be with my own discomfort to a greater degree than ever before. Perhaps I am at the precipice of another quantum leap in my development. We always have the option to reject what is in front of us, however avoidance is not a part of my repertoire these days. It occurs to me that perhaps the family projects were a way of avoiding the deeper unresolved issues that created the internal angst in the first place. This type of avoidance of feelings and attempt to stay in an illusory sense of safety can solidify into a self-imposed imprisonment if not dismantled in my personal experience. To experience a quantum leap in development, one must be willing to venture outside one’s safety zone.

Being back in Crestone affords me something that I had not experienced anywhere else. There are endless resources of people who are deeply committed to healing the human Spirit. On a daily basis people stop by and share their deepest challenges and deepest triumphs with love and deep respect. There is no time for superficiality in Crestone, not even while interacting with Daily Dave the UPS driver. Literally.

Last night, five people came together at my home to participate in a Tibetan shamanic Journey practice. The planning for this session seemed arbitrary on the surface, but upon deeper reflection, the timing was actually auspicious; a hurricane was nearing New Orleans as a direct hit exactly seven years after Katrina. As the intention for the evening became more apparent, I felt the enormous grief of the last seven years. After all, New Orleans had been my home for thirty years; I had attained adulthood there as well as raised my beloved children. After Katrina, the whole world changed for me as well as for those closest to me. Feeling transported to an earlier time allowed me to touch more deeply into this grief I had been harboring. After fifteen minutes of real-time–timelessness in Journey time–I felt the lifting of a thick veil of grief that was replaced with a seemingly endless experience of joy and increased life force.

What I know from many years of working with non-ordinary states of consciousness is that this state affords an opportunity for tremendous healing to occur. Still being in a human body, it is inevitable for the grief to return, but perhaps it will return in a new way, with new insights in which to experience a more profound transformation. I feel fortunate to be able to live in a place where these opportunities are readily available on a daily basis. Whether it is a shamanic journey or an interaction with the UPS driver that transforms you, the importance is to allow oneself to be transformed, to be transported out of the dense states of mind where one can be imprisoned indefinitely.