Joy is the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. – Brother David Steindl-Rast

If I’ve learned anything from this “terminal” illness, I’ve learned I cannot get sucked into the vortex of my fears. When I was diagnosed, my partner said, “I guess we have an adventure ahead of us.” We have an adventure ahead of us.

There is an expression, “We are only as happy as our saddest child.” We have not been seeing the level of grief on the planet.” Now, those who choose to see and have the capacity, can begin the work of holding and releasing this grief together. Not a small assignment for a grief illiterate culture. We are up to it. I have no doubt, or it would not be in front of us. Here is balm for our souls. We must grieve and grieve welL

Now it is time to have faith. Gridlock and obstruction would have continued and accelerated. We will see the wisdom in retrospect. Trust me. Trust all that is, ever has been, and ever will be.

This is a loving universe. We cannot understand these circumstances with our heads. Our hearts need to lead now. But first, we must grieve and grieve well, for ourselves, our children, our ancestors, as they grieve with us.We must grieve for the disenfranchised. We have not been listening. We must grieve for the disenfranchised parts of ourselves. Grieve fully and we will know the next step toward LOVE.

Death is a fiction of the unaware. There is only life, life, and life alone, moving from one dimension to another. – Sadhguru

Woman-hiking-in-nature

When my symptoms first started thirty years ago, I made a conscious choice to explore healing on every level available to me: body, mind, and spirit. For three decades, I turned over every proverbial stone in an effort to heal, holisticly. What ever was in the way of perfect health was what I courageously explored. If I listed the healing modalities I pursued, it would take many pages, and maybe be a novella.

Along the way, I helped many others in their healing journeys. The wounded healer is a powerful archetype, intimating that all humans have frailties and limitations; we are works in progress. The wounded healer is a model based in shamanic teachings where a person struggling with physical, mental, or emotional dis-ease, or imbalance and once they heal the imbalance can show others the way of healing. I assumed that I needed to heal physically in order to be of help to others. In my case, healing physically proved to be unnecessary for helping others heal, though honestly, I would’ve preferred a completely healthy body. Ironically, the wound has rendered me more effective in helping others heal, even physically.

All of my efforts to heal physically brought much foundational and constitutional healing, but the disease process continued to progress. After much self-reflection and anger, I came to the conclusion that with all of my work, there was a higher purpose for this rigorous and sometimes heartbreaking curriculum. This understanding helped me to reach acceptance, psychologically and move into a state of transcendence, spiritually, but my nervous system continued to deteriorate.

I’ve recognized that the two trajectories, one of bodily healing and strengthening, and the other, of the disease progressing, were at cross purposes. I feel grateful that I can understand this consciously, as well as knowing there is a higher purpose. Nevertheless, I recognize a scenario where my body will continue to thrive while my brain and spinal cord continue to deteriorate. An infection, and injury, or choking can be lethal at any moment which would render a death with much more suffering for myself, my family, and my caregivers. Many other people facing death have much more acute diagnoses than my own.They deserve a choice on how they will die when death is imminent within six month.

I am not a proponent of prolonging life at all costs which I believe will prolong suffering. I do believe my body is a loving vehicle for this lifetime. However, I believe my soul will live on. Suffering has its value, but having the wisdom to know the difference between necessary and needless suffering is essential and can only be determined by the self in concert with the soul. Being pro-choice is across-the-board for me. I believe a tenant of love is that we have free choice. Becoming informed and in right relationship with our own truth is an inside and an outside job.

Proposition 106 is on the ballot in November. I believe everyone should have self-determination. I believe we learn from our choices, ultimately. I believe that God or a higher power also resides in all of our souls and we are constantly informed by the Source of all existence.This is not up for litigation, in my opinion.

There is a choice on the ballot that we must consider that will allow others self-determination and in situations where individuals are not clear, they will have support to reach a decision that is right for them. It is all about choice and letting Source inform our personal decisions. Honestly, I don’t know what my personal choice would be, but knowing I have the choice would make all the difference between feeling helpless and empowered.

Vote YES on proposition 106 in November 8 in Colorado or when it comes to your state, which it will, because having a CHOICE is an idea whose time has come.

As soon as I saw you I knew an adventure was about to happen. – Winnie the Pooh

family-love

I was young when the Dicksteins came into my life. (Actually, I just felt a strong nudge. I already published this essay, but Aunt Gerri always would tell me that she was the second person to have seen me after I was born in the hospital. I don’t know how I forgot this, but I think she just reminded me, again.) I called Aunt Gerri my second mom, after all, she was my mother’s best friend and her husband, Uncle Howard, was one of the nicest men in my small world. Not only did I experience his exemplary kindness, but others acknowledge this quality, as well.

Nurturing did not come naturally to my mother. Being first-generation American-born, she was strong and skipped grades in school, but found herself pregnant at nineteen with a high school education, a husband and a modest home to manage, following the cultural norms for a women in the late 40s. On the other hand, Aunt Gerri was overtly loving with me, laughed at all my jokes, and I never questioned where I stood with her.

Aunt Gerri 2nd from right

Aunt Gerri 2nd from right

Aunt Gerri was a beauty, with blue eyes and jet black hair, an unusual combination for an Ashkenazi Jew. Her cousin told me she had married the kindest man of all of their friends. Uncle Howard’s kindness was only overshadowed by his generosity. I spent a lot of time with Uncle Howard going to Carvelle, the ice cream stand, ordering the largest cone they could possibly assemble, much of which had to be retired to the freezer when I got home. Who would’ve thought you could have too much ice cream? The Dicksteins lived a half block from the amusement park and city zoo, a location very desirable to this seven-year-old child. We frequently walked their medium-sized poodle, Chi-Chi, who Uncle Howard meticulously groomed and manicured, bimonthly.

Chi-Chi and I had a special relationship. She was my playmate and extremely smart. I would tell her to go to her bed where she would sit and wait for her next directions. I would hide in the house and call her. Then she would barrel out and find where I was hiding, whether I was behind the sofa or in a closet. We were always ecstatic when she found me.

Uncle Howard let me hold Chi-Chi’s leash when we went to the park. We would stop at every corner until she sat, like a religious practice, then we would walk across the one busy street. The leash was always wrapped around my wrist, like a monk wraps his prayer beads. Chi-Chi knew her structure and felt safe with a seven-year-old at the helm. Uncle Howard’s generosity was always a little over-the-top and I remember going home with motion sickness from all the rides. We just didn’t know when to stop.

My family extended to include their two sons, who were like two more older brothers. Alan, the older, had his mother’s good looks and his father’s kindness. He drove a red Corvette and seemed legendary to this seven-year-old. His brother Paul had such depth he could access the deepest parts of the ocean floor and grounded this with his musical brilliance.

I was not used to being held or touched by my mother when I was a little, but I would sit on Aunt Gerri’s lap and lay my head on her large breasts while she would laugh and say, “Just put your head on my pillows.” How did she know exactly what I needed? I would kiss her under her ears and make her giggle uproariously. She was clearly, my second mom.

Aunt Gerri was known to be fragile and a bit of a princess; she was certainly royalty to me. She ended up outliving her husband and younger son. I continued to visit her throughout her life. The last was in her assisted living home where she continued to surprise me. Although she maintained her elegance, she had a level of gratitude for the service she received that was way beyond the entitlement of a princess. During my last visit with her, she mentioned some physical issues. Later, I was told she went to the hospital and as she was leaving, Aunt Gerri thanked the staff profusely and said, “I won’t be coming back.”She was clearly a remarkable woman.

At her funeral, her son-in-law spoke eloquently about how he and everybody else in Aunt Gerri’s life felt they were in the center of her love circle. I was surprised that I was not the center of her life and I was heartened by her skill at making everybody in her life feel this way. I wondered how I could incorporate this Grace into my life.

We come into these challenging curricula to learn to love and help each other along the way. I am forever grateful to my second family, as I have strived in my life to provide this unconditional love to others: For my children, my stepchildren, for many non-blood related beings placed in my care, and I hope I will have a chance with my grandchildren.

Perhaps the Universe conspired to place Uncle Howard and Aunt Gerri in just the right place at just the right moment to nurture me to nurture others. I hope their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren know from where they’ve come. It is a place where children are loved simply and elegantly. I can see in their family the seeds of love they planted years ago has grown, exponentially.

If you identify with your soul while you’re alive, death is just another moment. – Ram Dass

heart

When my husband left our relationship of eleven years, I knew my life was about to change dramatically. I could not imagine what living alone with this progressive, degenerative illness would require of me. Kicking and screaming, however, I moved with the flow. I knew my physical life as I had known it was shutting down and I now would live the adage – When one door closes another door opens. It soon became clear that I had been resisting this passage: entering the doorway to my Heart, which would require complete openness and vulnerability. I was entering a life of asceticism and unbeknownst to me, through this portal many miracles of healing beyond the body would happen for myself and for those around me.

Upon David’s final departure, he told me, “I hope you have a lot of love in your life.” When he said that I knew he meant romantic love. After all, he had been partnered with me for more than a decade and he had seen how much love I had in my life. After all, this quality is what drew him to me, my ability to receive and generate a form of love that was broad in scope, not restricted to romantic love. I didn’t realize at the time that having to face this ordeal alone would force a level of spiritual maturity, catalyzing a higher expression of love that would explode exponentially. This evolution would involve more the upper energy centers of the body, including the heart, throat, and crown chakras rather than the lower chakras developed earlier in my life, involving physical survival, creativity, and the development of the I am.

Twenty-five years of inner work, two divorces and raising my children contributed to a strong foundation for my next passage. Everyone who raises children knows how gut-wrenching, ego-stripping and deeply heartening this process can be. In retrospect, I can see how this prepared me to blast open my upper energy centers, exponentially. Having led a very physical life, the thought of living life with a paralyzed body was way more than I could bear. As the trajectory of my life became clear, I knew I needed to find higher meaning in this rigorous curriculum I had in front of me. I was unwilling to leave a legacy of defeat; a life of tragedy was not my calling. That fact was clear when nothing else was.

Derived from the Greek word áskesis, meaning “exercise” or “training,” Wikipedia defines asceticism as a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. In retrospect, this was the trajectory of my life, and I don’t believe for one moment that it was arbitrary or any failure on my part. I have come to understand that I came to live a bigger inner life than I was accommodating, and this curriculum would offer this certain and sacred opportunity. When I fully embraced the greater meaning offered, a much purer form of love became abundantly available, my inner and outer work were more effective, and people around me either left or came with greater offerings and experienced accelerated growth.

As I integrated the effects of these changes, it became clear to me that I would lead a life stripped of ego. My deepest yearning had always been to be of service, but fear had been an interminable obstacle. Developing faith seemed to be a necessary prerequisite; faith, not centered around the belief in an unseen being, but of a spiritual system based on love, above all.

When I shifted my focus from loss to unconditional love, I knew my physical life and my lifelong yearnings had intersected. The pursuit of spiritual goals could be realized. Did my ego plan this? As we say in New Orleans, “Not for a New York second.” Do I grieve for what could have been? You bet. All in all, it has been my life, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung

The Veil

Have you ever had an old aunt or parent who was in assisted living and they complained that you never came to visit? Maybe you were there the day before, but in their minds it was never and you knew there was no way you could convince them otherwise. Feeling exasperated, you thought, “What’s the point? I can never do enough.”

Well, from the perspective of someone who is alone eighteen hours a day, seven days a week and having felt this Great Aloneness my whole life, the kind of aloneness that being with other people does not touch, I am beginning to understand this dilemma in a completely different way. With this new understanding, beloved family members finding themselves in what feels like a bottomless pit of despair they could never climb out of, just a shift in perspective could significantly reduce suffering.

Many people, like myself, have lived much of our lives close to the veil that lies between this physical existence and our Soul selves. The veil is getting thinner as people are becoming more conscious, whether our egos accept this or not. After all, we, our souls, have chosen to enter human bodies for a courageous reason. When entering the lower vibrations of duality, the work of evolution of the soul is, paradoxically, accelerated. From duality, we move toward unitive consciousness. (Our culture is craving this shift and this is the hope for humanity.)

As people near their transitions, they become closer to their soul selves. It begins as an internal process that may not become outwardly visible until a critical mass has been reached within the consciousness of the individual. It can be subtle, where the person we’ve known all our lives becomes different. It may have a balancing effect where they appear belligerent where they were gentle or they become peaceful where they had previously been hostile. Sometimes, this process happens through acquiring dementia to fully experience their Shadow, the part of their personalities they were unable to live due to a lack of acceptance of these behaviors. (Maybe a significant person in their lives had been aggressive and they chose to live passively, refusing any angry impulses.) We take on human bodies to acquire experience, to grow and heal by balancing karma. The more determined the soul, the more likely one may choose illness, addiction or injury to assure we are following the soul’s plan rather than the ego’s plan.

My mother would have been a Renaissance woman if born during a different time. She was an independent, able woman who skipped grades in school, but married young and began having children at 19. She never completed college, which I imagine created much frustration due to limiting her options in life. Over time, her personality became aggressive and belligerent, which was not her true nature. She was frustrated and I felt terrorized by her behavior. I learned to not be my mother, so I denied any feelings of anger. On the surface, I appeared to be a sweet person who could have won a prize for “most congenial,” until one day a spiritual teacher gave me a Shadow gift of a plastic machine gun. I instantly felt shame, but a part of me felt liberated as I began to love the sound of the plastic machine gun, and, more importantly, I began to experience the buried aggression in my personality. Allowing myself to feel the repressed aggression and befriending it freed me to begin to allow vulnerability, a quality necessary for intimacy in relationships, and therefore freeing me to live a more authentic life.

When it became dangerous for my mother to live alone, we had to place her in a nursing home. She went through a period of confusion and outrage, until she surrendered and became a sweet old lady. My brothers and I commented on the irony, “A sweet old lady called me today, do you know who that might have been?” She was finally able to live her true self.

Understanding the changes in ourselves and our loved ones as we near death can significantly decrease suffering and allow us to truly come Home to our own true nature.

 

“Our holy grit… it’s the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious.”  – Jacqueline Small, on Shadow

Lake Winola

Lake Winola

Karen turned sixty this month.

I grew up on a glacial   lake at the end of the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania during the summer months. Karen lived with her parents and three brothers in the cottage next-door. My best friend, Cathy, rented the cottage behind them, at least her parents did. The circumference of the lake was approximately three miles, so children knew each other for long stretches that were walkable from their cottage. The lake was a friendly community where families looked out for each other and their children.

Being born in July, this lake was my first home. Sometime during the 60s my home became a state lake and everything changed. But prior to this, the lake was serene, the people familiar and it was a safe, aesthetically beautiful place in nature to grow up.

Our neighbors became extensions of our family. Karen lived next door and since we grew up together, I didn’t notice the developmental delays. Karen was mentally disabled, but we all thought she was odd. From a child’s perspective, there was just something different about her, damaged, maybe. Children were unkind to her, but not her brothers. Karen always liked me. One day, however, I joined the heartless descent as she walked in front of the trajectory of the swing I was on. I didn’t stop abruptly as I could have. I knocked her down. Fifty years later I remember that moment and I cry with so much shame. Perhaps I can understand the other children’s cruelty by understanding my own. Karen was an external manifestation of the damage I felt inside of me, the damage the other children must have felt, as well. Christians might call it Original Sin, Jungians call it Shadow, the unlikable parts of ourselves we hide until we have the inner resources to heal these parts and integrate them into a more forgiving personality.

Cathy’s family was very religious. Her mother, Lucy, told me children like Karen were sent here by God and reported back to him about how others treated her. Now, from my perspective, I can believe some of Lucy’s story/parable. Karen and her sacred curriculum was a mirror for people to look at themselves through. Not everybody liked what they saw.

Soon after that, Karen no longer lived next door. She came home on visits and loved to go for a boat ride with me. Karen never held a grudge. Her older brother became a minister and I worked with disabled children for a couple decades, as a teenager and an adult.

I wonder if Karen knows how much she affected the others around her or how much she taught people something about themselves, that they probably didn’t want to see.

Karen turned sixty this month. Happy birthday Karen. From my end-of-life perspective, I now understand the careful selection of the costume you chose for this lifetime and I know you are what some call an angel and I know, without equivocation, that you were my and many other children’s sacred teacher.

**One of my very favorite books on the subject is: Expecting Adam – A true story of birth, rebirth and every day magic by Martha Beck.

 

Stephanie“Death is a wardrobe change.” -Pete Bernard

Dearest Stephanie,

I was so happy to hear from you from your hospice (!) after my last blog essay. I know you cannot interact with me the way you would like to. I miss that and I will grieve. What else can we do?

I don’t know how you found me, but I do know why. I will listen for you in the wind and hear you in my heart. You are so generous with your offerings. And I know you will be, forever.

Write if you can. I will be listening.

When you can no longer connect with me, I will see you on the other side . Thank you for all the articles and your loving support.

I will love you always, Aliyah

 

Stephanie Sugars is a beautiful, survivor of Life who has had metastatic cancer for nearly twenty-five years. She has been a lifelong activist, perennial teacher and has, in the last year, become my friend.

Stephanie reached out to me nearly a year ago with much support, identification and empathy for my challenges, with so much love. She is a proponent of natural death and she is presently, with the support of hospice, teaching by example.
http://www.pushinglimits.i941.net/?p=488

“When you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.” Nietzsche

SpeechlessRecently, a caregiver asked me with a slightly horrified tone, “What if you can no longer speak?” Actually, there are times now, during the day when I cannot speak, like when I am on the stationary bike, when I am on the stander and late afternoon when speaking in groups, of which I am in ten per month. This particular disability has been happening gradually for the last four years, especially since I returned to high-altitude and It has become much more pronounced in the last six months.

I have learned to accommodate yet another disability, dysarthria– motor speech disorder caused by muscle weakness with neurological illness. I have learned that if I pause or whisper for a few sentences, I can often get my breath back and project a little more to make myself heard. Summer and the heat it brings exacerbates this symptom.

The potential for having this disability has been obvious to others, but being unable to speak and the ramifications had never occurred to me. I tend to not project into the future imagining what abilities I might lose next. This has probably been an effective strategy for lessening what is called “anticipatory dread” and, therefore, decreasing unnecessary emotional suffering. This represents another way my personality has evolved. I used to be accused of seeing the cup as half empty, as opposed to half full. Ironic that with this terminal neurodegenerative disease I’ve become more optimistic.

Actually, my first thought upon hearing this question was of recently having seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film about a man with “locked in syndrome” who, after sustaining a severe stroke, could not communicate after having been a robust communicator all his life. Somehow, I trust I would get my point across, even if I need to blink my eyes three times as he did. Sometimes I practice that while laughing about the irony with my caregivers. Fortunately, I don’t take this ordeal very serious much of the time. I don’t tend to marinate in fears of the future, at least not these types of fears.

What I have learned in accepting this “curriculum” is that if I become unable to speak, there is a greater teaching in the symptom. I have no doubt that my focus would need to go beyond the cortically-based area of the left brain where speech arises, exploring areas much deeper than the fears of becoming speechless. I bow to this anomaly and will accept it as my next teacher.

In my humble opinion, nothing is arbitrary when I have accepted such a rigorous path and it becomes more clear that I have, in fact, entered the Holy ground.

“Pain and happiness are simply conditions of the ego. Forget the ego.” -Lao Tsu

Late 80s

Late 80s

 

Jordan was born in 1985. His father and I were deeply in love and Jordan was born with much love and readiness on the part of his immediate family. His sister Casey, had been asking for a baby sister or brother for years. Being nearly seven years old when he was born, she was allowed to hold him and watch over him as much as a seven-year-old could.

There is an expression that true happiness is when you realize your children have grown up to be wonderful people. My son is a wonderful person. He is deep and sensitive, intelligent and he loves his mother very much, which is a quality I find admirable. Smile.

When his father and I separated, his heart was broken for the first time. No doubt this catastrophe in his life also fed his depth and sensitivity. Who knows why “things” happen to people. I never believe these things are arbitrary; not marriages, divorces, illnesses or addictions for that matter. (For an evocative read on this theory see Robert Schwartz’s books on soul plans. They changed my life.)

During my last essay, when discussing my difficulty breathing, Jordan offered a quote from the Smashing Pumpkins:

A pure soul and beautiful you, don’t understand
Don’t feel me now, [I will breathe, for the both of us]
Travel the world, traverse the skies
Your home is here, within my heart

This, and much more, is what my son offers the people he loves. I have come to terms with many of the losses from this terminal illness and have transformed those losses into gains. The hardest is losing physical proximity to my children. When Casey, my firstborn, left for college I had to prepare emotionally for years to deal with this grief. I talked about this grief, performed rituals surrounding my perceived loss and wrote about it. Probably, the deepest teachings on grief surrounding my children have been from five discarnate monks who imparted these profound words. Instead of paraphrasing, I will print their original, penetrating communication:

Loved one, you must rest assured that death and loss are an essential piece of life that is so often ignored in this time on earth. Not only will your family be ok, but they will be matured through this gift of sharing your experience. Death is a beautiful path home to a place of peace and joy and magic. We are bothered with the sanitization of death from life as though it were a disease or a plaque or scourge or evil. It is none of those things. The false sense of immortality that cripples the souls of so many will not cripple your family. Your family will always be more aware than others, more present, more able to love and forgive. Please understand that through what they have witnessed in you, they will be much more aware as human beings with a broader perspective on life. We suggest again, although we know it will take much will power (of which you have an abundance), that when walking through the valley of the shadows of fear, you tell yourself “this is not real”. Right now, your fears of death and for your family are fears of the unknown. That is truly what they are. Just like the primal need for survival, the fear of the unknown is powerful. And the lower self can chime in and say “what will they do without me?” The truth is that your power becomes a part of all of them. Your words and your presence and your attitude and experience filters through them even now, but in death, you are sealed into their souls. This is not what we say to sound “Pollyanna”, but this is truth. Real truth. Try to resist the “boogey men under the bed”. Your loved ones will miss you and they will grieve, as is healthy for the emotional body, but they will rebound with your power and take that into the remainder of their lives with them as a part of their constitution. Continue to show your grandchildren your hope and power over mind. They will not be lost in a quagmire of sorrow or loss or feel abandoned. They will always be strengthened by your courage and their lives changed by the acceptance and awareness of the transition of the body as a natural flow of life and love.

Whatever one thinks about how these teachings were imparted, one cannot discount the quality of the message. I have found tremendous comfort in these words and hope others, my beloved readers, will as well. I think it was Ram Dass who said that we are all just walking each other Home.

House 3On my last post, I had technical problems with an incompatibility between Word press and Dragon, my voice software. Hopefully, Lauren can work her magic on Friday, but I added a quote at the beginning you might enjoy.

I got the following personal comment from my son Jordan I wanted to share. Realize, Sid is his father.

 

Really nice new blog article, mama. The scuba metaphor is a beautiful one. It reminds me of a lyric my friend calls his favorite lyric of all time by the smashing pumpkins —

A pure soul and beautiful you, don’t understand
Don’t feel me now, [I will breathe, for the both of us]
Travel the world, traverse the skies
Your home is here, within my heart

I love you so much, thanks for writing the blog. Your writing has really gotten very good. This article felt ethereal.

So much love,
Jordan

Sent from my iPhone