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The beauty of horseback riding is that you need to learn how to be in complete control while at the same time in complete surrender. It’s a condition you cannot explain until you have climbed on the back of a horse and held the reins in your hand. – via obsessionreflection

Spectre and Clarice

I thought of Spectre as the Patriarch of the horse farm, the head of our horse family, the alpha of our herd, both equine and human. He was the most beautiful horse in the world to me and still is, in my heart. Since he was a thoroughbred stallion when we got him, being gentle was important for us novice riders. Spectre was a paradox; he was both gorgeous and powerful with stallion lines including a big, thick neck and he knew how to strut his stuff, yet he was compliant and sensitive and wanted to please. It’s as if he knew his power and used it judiciously. David bought him for $500, because as many gray horses do, Spectre developed melanomas. The primary tumor near his lymph node was wrapped around his jugular vein, so it was inoperable. We adored Spectre with all our hearts. The previous owner told David that we might have five years with him and that was exactly what we had.

Horses were always special to me. As a young child, I started taking riding lessons at the same stable where my mother had ridden a generation earlier. I treasured her English riding boots she gave me and kept them most of my life, despite being two sizes too large. By twelve, I had a horse of my own and during graduate school in New Orleans, I exercised people’s horses at City Park Stables. Horses were in my blood.

Being able to finally have my own horse farm was a dream come true. Our barn drew an extraordinary community of riders, horses, and dogs. We began learning dressage with Specter until we found out that he loved to jump! Our close friend, Barbara, a professional jumper, showed him in his first jumping competition ever and he won a blue ribbon! He was a natural, but mostly he was a natural born lover.

Little did I know that a few years later I would be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness as well. I don’t have melanomas, but I do have a progressive, neurological illness that is slowly deteriorating the musculature of my body and has landed me in hospice at 64.

80% of gray horses eventually develop melanomas, but Spectre was young when his developed. Everybody loved Spectre, but more importantly, everybody respected Spectre.

The last time I was thrown from a horse, it was from Specter. He’d been a stallion for most of his life, but a well-behaved stallion. People who know horses would smile at that statement. I was riding Spectre in the arena with a friend riding Jasmine and little did we know, Jasmine was in season. Usually Spectre was disciplined, and riding with other horses wasn’t a big deal, but I guess he was strenuously trying to contain his enthusiasm and gave the slightest little rear end bunny hop and I was instantly sitting in the sand of the arena. Realizing something was wrong, Spectre turned his head around 180° and looked at me. Thought bubble: Hey, what are you doing down there?

Only 15% of people with multiple sclerosis have as progressive a form as I developed. When I was 33, subtle symptoms began, but weren’t physically evident for another decade. In 2001, my horse Ransom broke away requiring me to catch him when I noticed that I could not run. I would be diagnosed two years later and the physical decline would be rapid.

Spectre’s last day

During our fifth year together, the melanomas were surrounding Spectre’s intestines creating a blockage. Keith, our beloved veterinarian, put on a glove up to his shoulder and relieved Spectre of his life-threatening impaction. David would have happily done this daily if Keith agreed, but he told us Spectre needed to be euthanized. Not wanting him to suffer and knowing that melanoma was a progressive disease, we scheduled it for that evening. Spectre’s appetite was unaffected, so on his last day with us, Spectre was given as much grain and carrots as he wanted. I wonder if he sensed our sadness as we celebrated our five short years together.

A decade later I found myself in a similar predicament. Muscle weakness became evident in my gait first and spread through my body, mercilessly. Peristalsis diminished from my esophagus to my intestines. Eventually, bowel problems similar to Spectre’s and difficulty swallowing would manifest.

I have a high tolerance for suffering, because in my heart, I believe it can be for a greater purpose when the suffering is emotionally regenerative rather than avoidance of the inevitable. Learning to discern the difference has been both rigorous and liberating. The feelings of helplessness from having a terminal illness only became bearable when I realized I could choose some of my circumstances.

Due to the slow progression of this illness, I often feel like a correspondent reporting from a war zone hoping to educate and empower others about their choices.

Update from the war zone– I have been choking while eating and needing help eliminating for six years. Despite the choking, I have chosen not to have a feeding tube, choosing quality of life over quantity. I designed my diet to strengthen the mitochondria of my cells, hoping it would clear the illness, but it hasn’t. I began to see that there is a greater plan at work for me and for all those whose lives I touch so deeply and being a reporter from a war zone is a large part of that plan. A feeding tube and a colostomy are not in my plan. To protect my kidneys, I agreed to a urinary catheter six years ago. Moving around with a catheter is something I’ve learned to live with; it is acceptable, despite having pulled it out once, accidentally. If you can imagine pulling a balloon through a penis, it was almost that bad. Wars zones elicit graphic images and dying is messy.

Being unable to cough or blow my nose, I have decided not to be resuscitated should I have a recurrence of pneumonia; drowning in my own fluids is not a form of suffering I need to re-experience. Images of waterboarding and other torturous methods come to mind. Inserting a nasogastric tube is one of the most painful and common procedures performed in the ER. Experiencing the suction machine was similar enough to determine a redline for me. So, no more 911 calls or ERs. If it were to restore me to a healthy life, that would be different.

Being virtually quadriplegic and living alone is not for most people. Fortunately, I have had the internal and external resources to pull this off. I have a care team of exceptional people who support me in this experiment. I have the opportunity and the joy to affect people all over the world with my writings and conversations.

I have learned a great deal from this curriculum from the inside out. I believe everyone has the sovereignty to choose for themselves how to live and how to die. More opportunities are being made available to empower those who choose to use them, from DNRs to MAID (medical aid in dying).

I believe as we evolve, we live more from our hearts (souls) than from our heads (egos). I know this, because my head would have given up long ago. Being a psychotherapist, I have come to understand that people make the best choices they can based on their level of development. We all have consequences for our choices, both good and bad– that’s how we evolve. In my heart of hearts, I believe that is what we are all here for.

I feel comforted knowing that the aid in dying law is passing state-by-state. If one meets the rigorous criteria to determine eligibility, it can reduce needless suffering that often plunges the dying and their families into helplessness and debt.

Nobody wanted to see Spectre suffer needlessly. He taught me a lot about having the courage to make the hard choices, despite my grief. I believe we humans have the same right, when death is inevitable.

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These bonds with our children as we are their mothers in this lifetime – like Joni Mitchell sings,’permanent tattoos’ that transmit all kinds of emotional knowing and intuitions about their states-of-being into our bodies. Indelible. Love’s burning mark. – Kathryn Brady

When I was 26, I had an explosion of love like none I’d experienced in my life thus far – the birth of my first baby. It was in that moment, feeling that degree of love, that I realized just how much more vulnerable I was in life. I never really had very much to lose, that is, before now.

It’s a girl. I had always been a tomboy, didn’t really know much about girlie things. The men in my family and the men in my mother’s family had been the nurturers. My mother was the matriarch and wielded much power, impetuously. I think she missed the nurturance gene.

I never wore pink. Intuitively, I knew that Casey was a pink baby. She was completely uninterested in the trucks, farm animals, and backhoes I bought her. Casey loved to wear pink and always had a baby doll in her arms. Early on she made it clear that she was an Artist, drawing hearts and balloons on everything she created. As a conscientious mother, it was always a mad dash to provide blank pages on her two-sided easel so her creativity could flow endlessly. Entering her room, I never knew what creations I was going to encounter. A happy being, Casey woke up  every morning singing in her crib until I heard, “Ma!” and my day began.

She was around two years old when I became a single mom and it was Casey and me for the next few years. I rode her to pre-school on my bicycle down St. Charles Avenue and sometimes we rode the streetcar. When I took a few classes in premed, she watched me study, enjoyed my wonder, and was curious about the dead frog in the refrigerator that was my homework.

Casey was strong-willed and she came by it honestly, if you know me. She is a third-generation fiercely strong woman and, also, just the medicine my mother needed to open her heart. There was a special bond between them that I was not a part of, but for which I am deeply grateful.

At four, my creative daughter built a clay Madonna that her art teacher found exceptional. Unfortunately, it exploded in the kiln. Nevertheless, my daughter was to be an artist no matter what else she did with her life.

Any program, class, or experience I could find to enrich her life, we participated in. I loved to watch her blossom and blossom she did. Aside from being creative, Casey was very grounded and sure of herself. In preschool she asked for the telephone list of her Montessori school and began calling each student and telling them to bring a particular fruit to school the next day. Casey was planning a fruit salad! During these moments, I watched her in awe and happily became her assistant.

Another quality noticeable at a young age was Casey’s selfless generosity, an attribute she shared with my mother. When Casey was three, she grabbed a plastic bag and started putting her stuffed animals into it. When I asked her what she was doing her reply was, “I’m giving these to the ‘crooked childs.’ ”  This quality has been consistent throughout her life.

We used to draw letters on each other’s back at bedtime and excitedly guess what each other drew. It was a sweet, simple time. There was strong connection and love between us that has surrounded us throughout our lives.

Conflict arose in her fourth year when my second husband joined our family. Casey is fiercely loyal and I suspect this quality was triggered, perhaps including Sid felt like a breach of trust on some level. Also, Casey had to share me for the first time which made for a bumpy transition.

We eventually found a new equilibrium, that is, until a few years later when I dropped into a sense of unworthiness and self-loathing almost too painful to contain. I later recognized this as a replay of the postpartum depression I’d experienced for a few hours after her birth.

Dense feelings have a cumulative effect throughout our lives and once they become unbearable, the earlier triggers may have been long forgotten. They often become lumped into general malaise and even medicated. Our culture doesn’t value vulnerability and the trauma that contributes to it. Postpartum depression is usually minimized to just hormonal when it is more like a lantern illuminating, or bookmarking, an issue to be explored at a later date. Embracing a greater vision of the cumulative, multigenerational nature of trauma is essential if we are to heal the depression and fear so prevalent in our culture. As we are learning with epigenetics, trauma can skip one or two generations and really wreak havoc making it more difficult to connect the dots. The mother/daughter dyad can provide a mirroring aspect that is often unconscious and evocative. Understanding our ancestry can be a helpful part of the tremendous healing process that is possible with same gender dyads. Some useful tools are Holotropic Breathwork and Family Constellation Therapy.

Being a psychotherapist and open to different healing modalities, I was able to bring much of my angst to consciousness which became grist for the mill for myself and my children. Fortunately, I raised children who are self-aware and communicative. My parents, having been first generation American born with parents who immigrated from the traumas of Eastern Europe and grew up in the Great Depression, made physical survival a possibility for our lineage. I try to make it a practice with my children to give gratitude to their grandparents. Our ancestors’ lives were not easy.

Considering this, my mother was likely struggling with similar feelings I had, but she struggled silently and with fewer internal resources.

Aside from family issues, Casey and I share something unseen. There is an energy between us that is beyond our limited, concrete understanding. For example, when Casey was very young she, her father, and I swam with the manatees in Florida. We had not spoken of manatees for decades. When she was in France, twenty years later, she was walking into their rental telling Kumar about the manatees when she checked her mail and I sent her a Valentine’s Day card with the name of a manatee I had adopted in her name!

After the disability became physically apparent, Casey agreed to go to Brazil with me for a couple of weeks to see John of God. I wrote more specifically about this profound journey in my book and in a previous blog essay, click here. After two weeks in Abadiania, Brazil sharing one of the most profound experiences of my life, I saw more of how Casey and I were similar, than different. I experienced the deep soul connection between us and how it had profoundly affected the community of others seeking healing and their loved ones. The collective grief was palpable as we left on the bus.

It’s as if something was activated during that trip that I had not been aware of previously. When I was preparing my book for publication, Casey told me she wanted to go to the river in Louisiana where they grew up and do an art project with photography and that’s where she would speak to me after I left my body. I titled my book Meet Me By the River – A Woman’s Healing Journey after asking her permission. For the book, click here.

I could have written a full-length novel about my relationship with my daughter. When she feels joy, I feel joy; when she feels pain, I feel pain, like permanent tattoos. I can also feel my mother’s compassion and joy at watching Casey grow and learn, after all, that’s what we are here for. It is not an easy curriculum here in human bodies. It is the PhD level of evolution and my mother, now in Spirit, knows that. As I can now feel my mother’s unbridled love, I hope my children will feel mine and when we are together again, we will all have a celebration.

Hard times require serious dancing. – Alice Walker

No. I don’t have a pretty picture like a great ship sailing in stormy waters or an image of a physical body’s particles dissolving into eternal, ecstatic light. This is my latest injury. My right leg sustained yet another injury last Friday while transferring to the stationary bike. (I know it’s bad when the hospice nurse cries.) What will I do when my legs can no longer support any of my weight, when I cannot stand or ride my bike or even take care of the basic daily living skills? My body is known for healing quickly, but each injury is more debilitating and each recovery finds a new baseline with less ability.

The night before the injury, I slept ten hours which is nearly a record. My sleeping has been getting better and even my occasional naps are becoming longer. I’ve heard that as people move toward dying they sleep more. I believe we are given much preparation for our transition in our sleep, whether it is received consciously or unconsciously. The day after the injury I woke up from a dream that was partially autobiographical, but with dreamlike embellishments. I believe they – the Voice I’ve spoken of previously– wake me early some nights, because there is something I am needing to acknowledge and/or process that in waking hours I cannot access. In my dream, my former husband was becoming more distant from me with coldness and resentment. I tried to call him near, but he told me that he was closer to his new girlfriend’s family than my family. When he told me this, I cried desperately from the grief and fear of going forward alone with this illness. This was mostly biographically accurate, but I received it as a reminder to grieve. Being able to grieve is so important in our bittersweet, human lives and I believe it’s necessary to grieve well in order to truly feel joy. Since I began psychotherapy in my 20s and through fifteen years of Holotropic Breathwork practice and becoming a trainer, I have become more comfortable with grief knowing that joy is just on the other side. David was unable to process grief openly during the eleven years we were together. No one could navigate this curriculum without the capacity for grief/joy. I understand that this is an accelerated course in life and not for everybody. It is not a failing to be overwhelmed by my life. Believe me, I get it.

In her seminal book, The Hero Within, Carol Pearson, presents six heroic archetypes that exist in all of us. To access this best-selling classic with strong Jungian influence, click here. According to her teachings, we all have access to each archetype, or ally, and when made conscious they can elevate our self-awareness. The archetypes evolve developmentally as we evolve.

Suddenly in the dream, I slapped my face. Referring to Pearson’s archetypes, I realize that I have been avoiding the feelings of the Orphan archetype (vulnerability, innocence, fear of abandonment), wanting more the Warrior archetype (strength and physical persistence). This translates literally to my waking life. Authors like Carol Pearson and Michael Brown offer us so many tools to aid in our evolution.

By waking up 2 1/2 hours early, I had the time to explore the meaning within the dream. I remembered an earlier time when I sustained multiple injuries while I was avoiding the use of a wheelchair. If you know anyone with a progressive neurological illness, as the disease progresses and one’s equilibrium is affected, one may tend to wall-walk in order to stay upright. I became adept at wall-walking, that is, until I fell with my computer landing on my knee to avoid damage to my laptop. My kneecap cracked with the force. Still, I persevered and dragged myself onto the tractor. If will could have kept this illness at bay, I might have dragged myself up Mount Everest. Climbing off the tractor, I fell on my knee again and broke my patella in half! I have always minimized my injuries, that is until I couldn’t.

I required crutches and then a walker while the injury healed. Soon, I fell onto my computer desk and cracked my sternum! When I finally sat in the freaking wheelchair, I felt the relief of surrender. The dream last night and my time in contemplation allowed me to wonder if the series of injuries I’m experiencing now is an indication that I am needing to surrender once again.

The Orphan archetype, an ally that brings resilience and realism to situations through a willingness to feel vulnerable might be the exact medicine I most need now. Ironically, the illusion of abandonment is the pitfall of the Orphan when life is not met head-on. So it seems that these recurring injuries may be a message that I am needing to meet what is head-on.

Ultimately, letting go of my will means letting go of the illusion of control, an illusion we share as humans and seems to be a recurring theme in my life. Feeling the grief of what I am leaving behind is part of the work of moving from Orphan to Innocent to Warrior to Magician, to ultimately allow myself to be transformed, to be more of who I truly Am.

My dear friends tell me daily how courageous I am and what an inspiration I am for their lives. If you are reading this, you are one of them. I appreciate being received as inspiring, but I know everybody will be facing this level of surrender eventually in our lives. I am just doing it earlier than most, in slow motion, and reporting in real-time.

I am moving into the next level of this heartbreaking and joyfully sacred path we call life, which includes death. May I do it all with Grace and Gratitude. Namaste.

When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. There can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are made for. – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

When I was a young girl, my father had a 1923 Ford Model T antique touring car that had a crank on the front that needed to be turned to start the engine. I’d heard you had to be careful it didn’t jerk your arm out of socket when you cranked it, it had quite a kick! The purpose was, in my seven-year-old understanding, to create a spark for the engine to start.

In looking back over the 40 years since completing my masters degree to practice psychotherapy, I recognize that I have played that same role with the people I served, to create a spark to get their psycho/spiritual engines going. This is neither a responsibility I take lightly, nor has competency come easily. It is a sacred task so deeply-rooted in my being that I believe I must have agreed to it prior to incarnating. My desire to serve has been just that pervasive throughout my personal and professional life and the joy I experience when their metaphoric engine gets running is profound!

Learning to hear the call of this sacred assignment began while I was still in single digits of age. In order to be effective, however, I had to reach a level of confidence that was not easy to come by. This journey toward self-love was wrought with many challenges, but I came into this world with a fierce desire to serve and I came to realize that in order to serve others, I first needed to heal myself. With this awareness, I started a life of seeking that led to many teachers and disciplines to help overcome my limitations. I’ve spoken before of my greatest teaching – to learn to trust my inner authority, which I believe is the only way to truly know one’s power. The experience of learning to drive a manual transmission in the late 60s served as a useful metaphor for understanding and developing this teaching.

Our parents and our older siblings serve as our first authority figures to help us practice vital lessons of personal power. When my brother was 21, he became my instructor and his 1968 GTO with a clutch that was about to fail became the instrument of my education. He knew the clutch could fail if handled recklessly and, believe me, he let me know it. What a set up for high tension. I knew if I didn’t learn fast, I’d be in serious trouble with my brother. What a perfect metaphor. My lack of confidence in life manifested as a fear of my own power (acceleration). Engaging the clutch unskillfully would immobilize the engine abruptly and infuriate my brother. Immobilization (shutting down) was my go-to strategy for warding off anxiety. My brother amplified the voice in my head creating reluctance, (fear). He taught me about the friction point, the point where the clutch and acceleration meet for forward motion. When met with accuracy, there was no damage to the clutch. To add to this tension, I was learning to drive a manual transmission in the hill section of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Engaging the clutch with your left foot on an incline could cause the car to roll requiring quick use of the brakes, also with your left foot. If there were a car behind me, catastrophe could ensue. The tension was great with the potential for collision with another car. You get the picture.

This mirrored a conflict that I refer to frequently in my life – immobilization versus empowerment, clutch versus accelerator. Applying the brakes offers more control, but I only have two feet! As I became more proficient at driving a stick shift, I felt less immobilized in life, less afraid of my power (acceleration). This has served as a good example of meeting my fears at the exact point where acceleration is required, to avoid stalling in the middle of traffic, to avoid a collision with fate, or my brother’s rage.

Another powerful metaphor was learning to waterski on one ski. Learning to ski on two skis was elementary growing up on a lake, but learning to slalom demonstrated the next level of proficiency. Learning to slalom, one needed to be able to shift one’s weight from two skis to one. This required shifting one’s whole equilibrium from two points of contact to one point of contact. Having the tendency to lose myself in relationships, the kinesthetic sense of balancing over my own center of gravity reminds me of learning to slalom. I often felt this shift after a divorce. After processing through the stages of grief, I always felt empowered when my center of gravity shifted over one ski, my ski!

And there is the snow ski metaphor when you have to lean forward as you ski downhill in order to navigate through the snow without losing your balance. Intuitively, we lean backwards to compensate for the downward slope. Leaning into issues sometimes means going against one’s intuition and one’s comfort zone. Thank you for indulging me in exploring these teachings.

Having spent most of my life in my body learning kinesthetically (in motion) to be still and listen deeply has been a huge gift that my ego would never freaking have chosen. Nevertheless, it has served me well. This carnal (physical) curriculum is not for the faint of heart. If my heart were anymore faint, I could never do terminal illness nearly as gracefully. As I live this end-stage form of neurological illness, I can see things in slow mo. My life force is growing exponentially as my body is weakening. My identification with this blessed vehicle is shifting to a greater me, the part of me that is more aware of other dimensions. There are times when my perceptions and my sense of love is so heightened that I know that transition to Spirit will be a minor step. Each time I experience this, fear of the unknown diminishes.

In their published work, James Lawley and Penny Thompkins assert that “metaphor is an active process which is at the very heart of understanding ourselves, others and the world about us.” I have much gratitude for the teachings that surround us when the intention is self-reflection that leads to empathy. After all, teachings that lead to having greater compassion for ourselves and others is the essential work of this time. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes so beautifully reassures us to not lose heart, because We were made for these times.

There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West, and my spirit is crying for leaving… – Led Zeppelin

Beginning the conversation

Since the onset of subtle neurological symptoms in the late 80s, I have lived an increasingly more conscious, full life. I have valued my lifelong mission of service to a greater degree and lessened my fear of death, considerably. I am left with few regrets and incompletions. Having been given the opportunity to live a long life, to see my children grow up and have grandchildren, gratitude ekes out of my every pore. I have had the time for all the difficult conversations with my family and my beloveds. We have shared our grief which is, of course, never enough, but a good beginning.

Having lived what I feel is a “good” life, I have less fear of death. There may be minor regrets and incompletions, but I have the courage to be present with any unfinished business with the people most dear to me. I have come to terms with the limitations of my ability to control life, and death. Many people open to religion or spirituality when facing one’s mortality which may lead to questioning what happens after death when one’s physicality becomes less central and awareness on the soul level becomes more accessible.

At this point in life’s journey, completing The Five Wishes, a comprehensive guide for personalizing the circumstances surrounding one’s death presented HERE may become useful. Living with the kinesthetic understanding of impermanence, I have come to value each moment like it could be the last, because it could.

Until recently in my dreams I have been walking, running, or riding my motorcycle or horses and my dreams have been completely devoid of any disability. Others readily came to me with their own dreams of me being ambulatory. For the last year, my dreams have become more constrained with wheelchairs and disability. The “costume” for this curriculum is becoming too heavy to bear.

Death is trending

The topic of death is becoming less charged. Perhaps baby boomers, or the children of baby boomers, are beginning to experience physical decline, first-hand. Some are observing loved ones who experience prolonged, excruciating deaths due to the ability of modern medicine to prolong life by any means, regardless of the suffering incurred. Our culture’s phobic reaction to death is being revealed. Witnessing loved ones suffering a “bad” death has led many to consider offering more choice and autonomy during this sacred time in one’s life. For those who are less fearful, moving toward the understanding that life is eternal and the physical body temporal, can be truly liberating.

I received a communication from a woman from Australia who is known as the Deathwalker. She walks people through their transitions, including performing wedding ceremonies and death rituals. She came to Crestone to learn about our groundbreaking end-of-life program. Our open-air cremations and green burials are an attraction to those wanting to share this passage in a meaningful, ceremonial way with their community.

I have planned my cremation impeccably, down to every detail: my preferred music – Bruce, the Native American flute player/maker with his portable amplifier; clothing – my cobalt, silk dress and silk fabric from India; traditional prayer – Cindy will say Kaddish (the Aramaic prayer for mourners to sanctify the Divine); what I will hold – Mark’s and Basha’s ashes, sage from Wounded Knee, and my “lifeboat” fabricated with handmade paper by Allison to accompany me on my journey. My Beloveds will be able to speak if desired. I have no doubt that I will be there.

Self-determination as a Sacrament

I know that systems take time to change, but those who oppose the aid-in-dying law want to deny people the right to choose how they might die, when death is iminent. Don’t they know that people are suffering needlessly? For some people, suffering is intertwined with their religious beliefs. That is not a part of my belief system. I believe since people have the autonomy to choose how to live, they should also have the right to choose how they die. If their religious beliefs are in conflict with certain choices, they have the right to make the choice for themselves consistent with their own values. Of course, death brings its own circumstances, but life-prolonging medical interventions merely prolong suffering rather than extend quality of life in many end-of-life scenarios.

Historically, ancient Greeks and Romans practiced self-determination when facing the end of their lives before Christianity. Indigenous peoples knew when it was their time and they walked into the mountains to enter the spirit realm. Self-determination to me is a sacrament – a visible sign of divine Grace.

Crazy Horse, a holy man of the Lakota people, was immortalized by saying these words while going into the Battle of Big Horn, “Today is a good day to die.” This statement epitomized the philosophy of the indigenous peoples, to die an honorable, brave death:

Our lives are a circle just as the stars; the moon and the sun are circles. We are born, we live and we die. There were no greater prophets than Crazy Horse and the holy men and women of the many tribes of what is now America. – Tim Giago, founder of Lakota Times

My personal Journey

I am in a body that is like a prison cell. I have learned to love my cell: it keeps my organs together, it allows my heart to beat, and my lungs to breathe, diminished as it all is. I have learned so much in my prison cell. I am a Cancer, so I could call it my crab shell; it has supported my Sacred Retreat. I have studied life, learned to write, I have communicated wholeheartedly with loved ones and have repented my indiscretions. Through all of this I have been able to connect with the Beloved and learned that beyond ego all there is is love. I have faced my greatest fears and learned that what I have been seeking outside of myself all these years is inside.

My beloved body has been deteriorating at an accelerated rate since the diagnosis in 2003. It is progressively more fragile with each week. One injury, choking incident, or one errant virus can bring an end to my already limited quality of life. The resources it takes to maintain an ever-declining baseline is exhaustive. Nevertheless, I have much determination and life force.

To me, every day, every minute, is an opportunity to love: to express love, receive love, and to help others remove the blocks to love. I have been received on seven continents with the lessons of love, I have integrated and supported many through minor and catastrophic challenges. It is my Work. It is my joy.

I have worked hard to bring aid-in-dying into the conversation standing on many peoples’ shoulders, wheelchair and all. Why would anyone refuse to unlock the prison door if one has the power, the responsibility, and the law on one’s side?

I know I have the capacity to live longer in my cell and I will reap wonderful rewards in my confinement, but what about the people suffering needlessly without the financial resources to maintain a regenerative quality of life? What about the people suffering without the internal resources to turn poison into medicine, as my Buddhist friends say?

I trust that when my time has come, I will know it. I live a paradox with an ever-fading body, yet with much life force. If we can omit shame from the process of choosing how to die, are able to feel our grief of letting go fully (my greatest challenge), listening to a deeper Knowing is available to everyone. It is in the natural order and death can be a sacrament that completes the circle of life.

We are all beads strung together on the thread of life. – Amma

I was a determined willful child, not easy for a parent to raise, but with these qualities I developed the necessary skills for living life well with extreme physical challenges. In my household growing up, I wielded a lot of power which does not make for a happy child or a happy family. Parents who are secure in their authority teach their children surrender, a necessary skill to avoid becoming an egocentric adult. We often learn to surrender to a higher power when we have a masculine influence who is in right relationship with his/her authority – not dominating to create powerlessness in the child, but confidently guiding the children toward empowerment and respect. As this quality is modeled, the child grows up with self-confidence and self-respect. Our culture is confused about authority and healthy balance rarely evolves naturally. When a parent is unclear of their own power, the child must learn with surrogates to learn their ego is not the center of the world. In a culture where egocentricity is the norm, many different forms of addictions develop. Fortunately, there are many paths and programs to help individuals surrender to a power greater than themselves. Life has a way of dancing us into the rhythm of a spiritual life, whether it happens consciously or not.

I grew up Jewish, but I received my first holy Communion in a Catholic church when I was a tween. My best friend, Cathy, came from a religious family where many of her aunts and uncles were nuns and priests. She and her brother were adopted from St. Michael’s Children’s Home very early in life. We were inseparable during the summers where we lived at a lake. Her family recited Stations of the Cross every night and I knew the Lord’s prayer and Hail Marys by heart. I often went to church with them on Sundays. We went everywhere together and it seemed natural to follow her when she went to the front of the service for communion. When I realized not everybody was following us, I looked back at her family who looked shocked, but motioned to me to keep going. I received the host that day. There was no fanfare, but looking back at the many different initiations in my life, that was surely one of them.

During my years of exploration, I also received a Gohonzon, a sacred scroll in Nichiren Buddhism tradition, I received 2nd° reiki, which is an attunement of the heart for activating a healing technique that transmits Universal life force energy through the body, and, in my teens, I was confirmed in the Jewish religion.

Although I received these different initiations through my 20s, I refused to believe in a God that was imposed on me, externally. Having read some of the Old Testament, I refused to believe that God was a man in the sky with a beard who doled out punishments to those “he” felt deserving. I would not suspend my innocence for such a harsh teaching. At this point, my will overrode anything I deemed irrational.

In my 30s, I participated in a progressive psychotherapy community which involved attending three groups per week and five-day intensives at the Gulf Coast beach. Through this concentrated experience, I was able to access my own authentic understanding of what God is to me. As I looked around the group and felt the love and acceptance I had always yearned for, I realizing that I no longer felt the depression that had been with me my whole life. I realized in that moment that all everybody in my circle wanted was to be seen and feel loved. In this circle of beloved souls and while learning to resolve any conflicts that separated us, I learned that love was the medicine that drew out the poison of what ever ills were in the way of our connection to ourselves and each other. In that way, I understand what Ram Dass means when he says, “All sickness is Homesickness.”

With this realization, an internal shift happened and I had the felt-experience in my heart that God is love. In this circle of my Beloveds, I witnessed one person after another transform fear that might have taken the form of anger, resentment, or hatred into love. My whole worldview shifted in that circle and I have not deviated from that belief since.

Knowing that love and fear cannot occupy the same space and having experienced much fear in my life, I have become adept at seeing the many forms fear takes by understanding all the forms of fear I experience. When I feel separate from others, either through anger outwardly expressed or inner self-loathing, I notice there is always a thought that triggers separating behavior. Identifying the thought that precedes the reaction can be transformative and restore the desired connection. Once this is mastered, compassion just happens. This is not an easy practice, but a necessary one to restore love and compassion for self and others.

My willfulness served me well to find my own experience of God, the Divine, Source. I was not one to follow others blindly. I believe everyone must arrive at their own experience of God and this perception will change as we change. It is not something that can be imposed on another person, in my opinion. Arriving at one’s own sacred sense of the Divine is one of life’s greatest teachings and surrendering one’s ego to a power greater than ourselves, no matter what one calls this power, is the only way to true liberation.

By finding peace inside of us, one person at a time, we can come together as a collective in peace. That is the medicine that is so needed at this time. Namaste. I bow to you.

You are a drop and God is the ocean. Just allow yourself to fall back into it. – Michael Brown

Healing means different things to different people. For some people, healing means that the body ceases to have physical symptoms that were causing discomfort. Once they heal physically, they may choose to inspire others who are suffering. Healing on this level can bring physical and emotional relief and inspiring others can be a valuable contribution. Many of us experience this level of healing, frequently.

Some people who heal physically also heal mentally (thoughts) and spiritually. They often have a broader story of healing to model and to teach others.

Some Self-selected individuals may have taken on challenging curricula in order to heal personally and to accelerate their soul family’s journey, called soul contracts. (Many are not aware of this consciously, but that doesn’t negate the likelihood.) Often these people heal mentally and spiritually, but not physically. Myself and, I suspect, many people I know with progressive, incurable illnesses have chosen these rigorous paths while in Spirit. Not for the faint of heart, these distinct teachings can reduce the emphasis on of the ego in the physical world, if embraced with awareness. Our personalities are egocentric and limiting our identification with the ego can open doors to the numinous. In my experience, the more catastrophic my curriculum has been, the more liberating. Living this curriculum with grace can spread these teachings through the collective, to the seen and unseen worlds.

Occasionally, I come across others who appear to have similar curricula for whom I feel an instant kinship on an intuitive level. Marc Stecker, AKA Wheelchair Kamikaze, a fellow blogger, profound in his scope, humor, and development over time, is one such individual. If interested, you would do well to follow his blog.

Some healers who have healed physically, mentally, and spiritually have developed their own processes to help bring the collective forward in our development toward finding peace in our lives. One such teacher is Michael Brown, who I have spoken of in previous blog essays, because I find his work profound. Fellow psychotherapists/colleagues have used The Presence Process with their clients to deepen their therapeutic work. He has many YouTube videos along with his book to guide people through his teachings.

Michael often uses different parables and sacred Stories in his teachings similar to the stories disseminated by indigenous cultures. Here is one of my favorites:

He teaches about the three stories we tell ourselves. The first story, is of the “bad” one—about our damage, our victimization and how this shaped us—even how it might have driven us to doing some good things in the world, but how we were driven by the ghosts of our childhood or loss of parent figure [literally or figuratively, perhaps searching for the nurturing (mother) or direction (father) we’d never had], at some juncture, to enter the world in search of the missing parent in the external world. That’s the first story.

The second story is the flip side of the “bad”–it’s the “good” story of what we found on our search for our missing mother or father figure and how when we got down to the bottom of it—the details of the story dropped away and we met this energy inside, not outside of ourselves—and we felt a foundation of self-love at last.

The third story includes his spin on the word “Legend”—-he says after living the “good” and “bad” stories in a lot of fullness, we are completely freed from the history of those—we don’t carry the wounds in the same way, we don’t organize our waking moments around the same obstacles or false longings—and everything is different and we aren’t questing in the same sense—instead we just enjoy being as we symbolically stand on the ledge of our life, on the very end of the ledge of our life. And then we step off—and we live our own ” ledge-end.” We are free to define ourselves, our work, our resources, our abundance, our relations—in any way we want that serves this open-endedness we have stepped into.

When we are in our “bad” or “good” stories, there is work to do that can be grueling, because we must feel the grief of each story fully.

We each have our curriculum that is sacred and perfect for our lifework. From healing the issues with our mothers, or those who may be a surrogate for mother, we learn to nurture ourselves. From healing the issues with our fathers, we understand our perspective on God, the Divine, the Source of Universal Love. To do this, we must pass through the illusion of separation Stephen Levine described it well when he called it, “learning to opening your heart in hell.”

Whether we access this Knowing now or later in our development, our Beloveds have entered an agreement with us, soul to soul, for the well-being of all. And it is through this level of awareness of the soul, beyond the ego, that opening our hearts in hell is possible and finding peace can be a true reality.

Feeling good is not the point – it’s being connected so that the highs and lows don’t matter. You spend less time at the mercy of all those heavy negative thoughts. – Krishna Das

My brothers were born four years apart and five years later I was born. They slept in a bedroom together and I slept alone. I don’t know when the terrors started, but I had a very hard time getting to sleep. In the new house where we moved when I was three, I was on the opposite side of the house from my parents. I would call to my mother, sometimes frantically, and she never came. I cried myself to sleep every night and sucked my thumb until I was eleven. I didn’t like being alone every night in that solitary room, where the lights from the traffic would shine across my wall and keep me awake.

One time my father came to my bed and asked me how I was feeling. I talked to him about how my legs hurt and he told me they were growing pains. I shared my deepest secrets about how afraid I was of the teachers and how I could not go to sleep at night. He taught me a self-meditation technique to help me sleep; I still use it to this day. Although he came to me only one time, I remember it like it was yesterday. I wonder if they consciously considered whether to talk to me or let me learn to self-soothe. I doubt the latter, because there was little conscious conversation in my home growing up. They just didn’t have the capacity. My fears escalated along with my anger.

I began to refuse to go to school; my teachers were too scary. My mother pretended to call the truant officer to report me, so I reluctantly went. Tough love. My mother was tough and distant, emotionally. It wasn’t until my 50s when she was dying that I actually realized she’d always loved me. Some people never know, so this is not a complaint or a tragedy, it’s just what often happened growing up in the 50s.

Being born in July had its advantages; we lived on a natural lake during the summer. It was a simple, intimate lake, before it became a resort area. I was happy there and so was my family. However, being born in July when the sun was in Cancer meant I had the potential to be hyper-sensitive, moody, and overly dependent/clingy. A clingy child and a touch-me-not mother created quite a challenge for compatibility and connection. The casual lifestyle at the lake nurtured my more positive traits: spontaneity, athleticism, in a community that loved nature. I didn’t fear being alone in my bedroom at the cottage, but when we moved back to city life each year my whole body contracted. The isolation, the inactivity, the stark school with the scary teachers were overwhelming.

My pillow was my transitional object and I kept it until well after I was married. During my early life, I avoided being alone at all costs, and the costs were dear. I clung to unhealthy relationships much too long. I did, however, experience a great deal of self-love when I finally had the courage to leave. Finding the courage to leave unhealthy situations seemed to be the edge I needed to meet what some call the Great Aloneness. There is an expression – we come into this world alone and we leave this world alone. That used to sound sad to me, but once I was able to hold grief long enough to fully feel it there was a shift and I was able to finally feel safe and to begin to love myself, deeply. I see that only by feeling everything, instead of feeling good, can self-love really be acquired. One must grow into it. I certainly had to.

It was only through experiencing the Great Aloneness that I began to understand that in our core we each want the same thing, to feel loved, and when we mature spiritually we begin to know that we are loved. If we follow this thought and are able to stay with it, our Awareness grows and we find that we are Love. When we internalize this, we open to the Knowing that we are all one. I was working at a community mental health center in Louisiana when this awareness began to take root. I remember the timing clearly, because my supervisor asked me to propose a password for the state computer system. I offered, “Allone,” imagining that in our area of the state of Louisiana, at that moment in time, everybody would be using Allone as their password to enter the mental health system! I love that irony/synchronicity. Don’t tell anybody, but this is still my password, or variations of the theme.

The moments I have felt most connected to my heart, connected to my Beloveds, connected to the Universe, have been the times that I Know that we are all inextricably linked, all one being, and that we are only separated by the belief, a mental construct, that we are separate. Many people fear loneliness, but loneliness is never about another person. It is and has been only through the felt-sensation of Oneness that I know this to be Truth.

I don’t for one minute believe that one has to be facing the end of their life to enter this Knowing that we are all one and we are all in this together. Crises can accelerate this awareness. They have a way of cracking open the defensive hardness that appears to separate us. By practicing empathy and forgiveness of the self, the boundaries of protection fall away.

Then, all that is left is Love. And, it is love, that we truly are all in together.

**This essay is dedicated to Kirsten Schreiber, my dear friend, sister of all ages, who nudged me to finish it.

There is a feeling we have sometimes of betraying some mission we were mandated to fulfill, and being unable to fulfill it. And then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it. And that the deeper courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you find yourself. – Leonard Cohen

People are usually surprised to hear how I really feel about living my life under such extreme circumstances: being unable to move from the neck down after being a competitive athlete my entire life, living in a body that can barely keep me alive, having difficulty speaking audibly when tired and barely being able to whisper. It just boggles people’s minds that I could live my life with so much gratitude for being, so much gratitude for having as much independence as I have, defying what our medical establishment is able to tolerate due to the excellent, compassionate, spiritually-driven circle of women and men who surround me and care for me. The paradigm we have co-created has allowed me to focus on what I truly value – connecting deeply with the people I love and helping them to allow more Love in their lives.

I live an interesting paradox. My body is in hospice, but my mind and my Spirit are experiencing the most joy I could ever imagine in life. How can that possibly be? I could never understand it without living it. It is true that I cannot move, eat, eliminate, without complete dependence on others, however, there is so much I can do that I would never have been able to with a fully, functioning body.

My life has always been about service–service through my psychotherapy practice, service through my interracial gospel choir in New Orleans, service through my nonviolent communication groups and my caregiving and women’s circles, not to mention service to anyone who enters my house, including the UPS man. There’s nothing that gives me more joy than helping someone recognize and allow more beauty and love into their lives, especially self-love which is from where all love emanates. It is only through love that world peace can be achieved.

With my body slowly dying from a neurological illness, the progression happens gradually; I lose one function, one ability after another. Everybody goes through this process during aging, mine is merely accelerated. To me, death will be an adventure when the time is right. After allowing myself many years of grieving, I began to see the brilliance of this curriculum. Suffering is minimal. I believe that grief only becomes suffering when it is not fully felt. My suffering has been mostly emotional. If I’d had too much physical pain to bear, I might be having a different conversation. Earlier in the illness, I broke many bones during accidents: sternum, toes, patella, femur, but they have all healed. Unlike most people with end-stage illness, I am fortunate to have little neurogenic pain. Everything is firing from the neck up, so I am able to strategize my circumstances to avoid pressure sores from becoming septic, aches from becoming chronic, my mind from becoming stagnant, and to free my heart to continually emanate and feel love.

When one is moving toward the end of their life, often dreams can become more vivid. Upon awakening, recounting the dreams of my sleeping state often reveal inner work that is yet to be addressed. Sometimes my dreams merely clear emotional material that is clouding my clarity; dreams are always regenerative teachers. Lately, I have been experiencing my dreams as a bridge to the Spirit world, perhaps to aid my transition.

In one such dream, I was painting columns of an antebellum home a particular color well known to Southerners – shutter green. Shutter green is the color many shutters are painted in Louisiana where I lived and raised my children for 30 years. I frequently dream of the turn-of-the-century home where I raised my family. The house in the dream was clearly a variation of that home and magnificent property. We lived off a highway called Military Road where confederate soldiers were rumored to have marched, thus giving it that name.

In the dream, I was painting these columns with the woman who owned the house. I knew her name clearly. It was Monique (or Monica) Marie Crane. I remember feeling that it was essential to me that the woman feel good about the work I was doing. Her husband would be home soon and I wanted the column he would see first to be meticulously painted. Doing a meticulous job felt almost like a spiritual calling. There was no duress, no external pressure.

I remember looking into a full-length mirror and seeing a very pleasant black man! I can remember moving my arms to see if the reflection would move with me. It did. I was clearly the man in the mirror. The love I felt looking for the man was profound. I can still feel it today as I recall the dream. There was no sense of time, no feeling of enslavement, no sense of victimization. Pleasing others with my craft was deeply satisfying.

After I woke up, I felt such love for this man that I told my friend who is a hospice chaplain about the dream. She affirmed its significance and offered her own perspective. She saw how this man’s life appeared to parallel my life, that I’ve lived life’s circumstances with much gratitude and no feelings of enslavement, despite the lack of freedom of movement. As she described this, I felt the kinship with this man. I felt deep love that I cannot understand cognitively.

We live many lives in one life and perhaps we live many lives in many lives. The I who is, is constant. The I is forever.

The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly. – Frederick Nietzsche

There are times I feel on the periphery of life, that life is an illusion, and not feeling a part of it is, perhaps, less illusory. I’ve heard the theory that our dream life is more real than our waking life. Much of the time, I feel I am living in a liminal state on the threshold of a great adventure.

On the other hand, sitting in my chair twenty-two hours a day, does not preclude me from experiencing a vital and extraordinary life. I thoroughly enjoy the care and relationship with my caregivers, family, and friends. They know how important they are to me and how much I love them. They also know that I love my alone time. I tell them, I love when you come and I love when you go. This statement often relieves any concern they might have about leaving me alone, as I add, I am good company.

Some of my time is spent connecting with people online, supporting people experiencing grief, change, or even perilous challenges in their lives. I enjoy listening to podcasts, my friends’ blogs, archival news programs, or advocating for the latest issue I feel passionate about contacting senators, congressmen, or other officials. I call my chair command central.

The fly can survive the harshest living conditions and still manage to feed, grow, and breed. It is one tough survivor and plays a vital role in the cycle of life. Sometimes I feel like a fly on the wall of life. Often there is sadness when I cannot connect with my family when desired or when I feel out of sync with their lives. If I could fly and visit them on the East  Coast and share their lives, that might be a different story. Recently, I read a book by Robert Monroe titled, Journey Out of the Body, published in 1971, about the author experimenting with separating from his physical body. He was a scientist and took meticulous, contemporaneous notes. When he finally achieved his goal, his hand went through the wall feeling multiple layers of texture until he was on the other side of the wall and could journey freely without the encumbrance of his physical body.

Lately, when I think of myself as a fly on the wall, instead of feeling like there is a wall between myself and others, this wall is beginning to thin, to become permeable. It feels more like a portal, a sacred threshold leading to a sense of freedom I have never felt before in this lifetime. Intuitively, I just know on the other side of the wall is an expanded space of connection and love.

When I was a child, I used to have flying dreams. I could leap from building to building. Flying dreams are common, but often diminish through our lives. I wonder if, as one nears the end of one’s life, these dreams reawaken. Perhaps there is a Knowing that’s getting evoked, like recovering a memory.

People ask me how I could possibly feel so calm, so accepting of my physical circumstance. I sometimes sense a recollection of plans made prior to this lifetime. They are not vivid memories, but more allegorical. The feeling that I am in exactly the right place, doing exactly the right thing, is quite literal.

It is, perhaps, this knowing that gives me the peace and calm that is perceived by others and it is, perhaps, this Knowing that forms a bridge from this reality of matter to the numinous.

Soon enough I will get my wings and fly away from this beautiful life, this identity, this extraordinary curriculum I have so dearly cherish. And in that Knowing, I have no doubt I will assist my loved ones from the other side and be like a fly on the wall, ever persistent and ever present.