Riders on the storm. Into this house we’re born. Into this world we’re thrown. Like a dog without a bone. An actor out alone… – The Doors

himalayas

There are times in our lives when we need others and there are times when we absolutely need to be alone. Sometimes discerning the difference is easy and other times we learn by default. In my opinion, there is no right or wrong, just living life with, what Krishna Das calls, a pilgrim’s heart. We learn by following or avoiding the inner promptings we designed prior to taking bodies, by allowing, or avoiding the flow. There were times in my life where resisting the flow was a necessary teaching, not easy, but humbling and has made my ego more pliable, more open to surrender.

I have had many incarnations in my sixty plus years on the planet, including three wonderful marriages, living in multiple geographical locations, and raising two deeply talented children. I used to live in much self-doubt questioning all my choices, but I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are no mistakes. We each do the best we can with the internal resources we have, listening deeply to best adhere to the plan we’ve made for our life. Some people live a single lifetime with laser focus in relatively static relationships; others live many lifetimes in one with a meandering trajectory. There is no better or worse, right or wrong, but merely different curricula. My particular curriculum has been more the latter, many lifetimes including different immediate family members for long stretches of time. Living family life with so much change, yet with deep intimacy, requires an enormous amount of emotional elasticity.

Often there are tools along the way for expediting the journey if we are fortunate enough to recognize them. Michael Brown, author of The Presence Process and South African shaman, generously shares a process that has been enormously helpful to himself and many others, certainly to me. It merely involves reading his book and following the steps with his generous guidance. Recently, I have completed this process for the second time. In short, his book presents a ten week process of developing more presence by deepening one’s self-awareness. By sitting twice a day and following specific instructions, deep change occurs. It is the most effective process for eliciting a deepening of one’s consciousness.

Being at a crossroads in my life and having others I am working with who would benefit from the structure of Brown’s process, I decided to repeat it while helping to facilitate my beloveds. The crossroads I mentioned involves revisiting the question of whether the time is right to enter hospice. The illness has progressed which has accelerated my decision to enter hospice. Noticing internal resistance and needing the stillness the presence process offered, I started the ten week once again.

During my sitting last night, in the stillness and the safety this process provides, I heard, “If I enter hospice, people will give up on me.” It didn’t take long for me to hear the resistance, the blockage to fully opening to the gifts hospice offers. I understand why it was difficult for me to hear these fears, because it’s always been hard to make the hard choices, to go places where others cannot go. As I suspected, some people are moving away from me and other people are coming closer, being attracted to this accelerated form of my curriculum. Michael Brown uses an interesting metaphor involving the Himalayan Mountains to explain this daunting and painful tendency that really spoke to me:

Some people feel drawn to the Himalayan Mountains and they have a picture book of the mountains on their coffee table. They are happy with that. Fewer people have a photograph of the Himalayas on the refrigerator and they are happy with that. Even fewer travel to India to see the Himalayas in the distance and they are happy with that. Some will go to base camp at the foot of the mountains and they are happy with that. Still fewer will go to the summit. Going to the summit is not for everyone. There is no judgment, no right or wrong. People merely have different needs and capacities.

Everybody has their own version of the Himalayas in their lives. Some yearnings are more easily satisfied, some more arduous, but each has his/her own journey. Once we agree to make the journey, there are many lessons along the way, like following the breadcrumbs left in the path as in Grimm’s fairy tales. For me, learning to let go of control has been like releasing a huge backpack on the climb. Developing the capacity to feel grief has been another requirement along this beautiful adventure we call life.

Developing Presence, being present for every moment, no matter what is required, is a tall order for this grief-illiterate culture. Fortunately, there are trailblazers like Michael Brown showing us the way to live more authentically in this increasingly complex culture. One of my favorite lines in his book is, “It’s not about feeling better, but getting better at feeling.” Ironically, when we develop the capacity to feel anything and everything life presents, our sense of peacefulness and joy grow exponentially.

crestone-eagleMany years ago, a close friend who was a hospice social worker asked me to cover her hospice clients while she was out of town. I told her, “I don’t do death.” She then taught me something that was way beyond my 40 years. “Hospice is not about death, it is about life.” Because I had been experiencing subtle neurological symptoms for years and I feared a degenerative, life-threatening illness building in my body, this concept peaked my curiosity as it assaulted my logic. How could dying be about living? Almost like a Zen koan that evokes enlightenment by showing the inadequacy of the logical mind, I had the next two decades to contemplate this paradox, because two weeks ago I became a client of Hospice del Valle in Alamosa.

When I was considering entering hospice, I received desperate messages from friends around the country who had heard I was actively dying. After all, I must be actively dying if I was in hospice. This is one of the major misconceptions hospice workers encounter. Families usually consider hospice only in the last days or weeks of a person’s chronic or terminal illness, which, in my opinion, does a disservice to the patient and greatly limits the level of care available through the organization. The main purpose of hospice is to provide palliation to chronically, terminally, or seriously ill patients (not expected to live more than six months), which includes attending to their medical, psychological, and spiritual well-being and those of their families.

Living in a culture that is death-phobic, no one wants to mention the H word to a person who still has some life in them. What if hospice involved helping to reduce the suffering of persons deemed terminally ill, but still living for many months? The illness I have been living with is a slow, degenerative illness that has only affected me from the neck down. The effects have been devastating, but from the neck up I have been able to maintain a quality of life that is different, but regenerative in nature. Having been a psychotherapist for thirty years, my work has become more selective but much deeper, given my spiritual growth directly informed by what I consider my “spiritual curriculum.”

I had considered hospice for the last year, but since I was not actively dying, I did not consider it seriously. My most experienced caregiver who had worked ten years in a hospice told me that about 10% of her hospice clients lived an average of two years. Working through the necessary emotional stages, I engaged the closest hospice serving Crestone. To my surprise and tremendous relief, I have received care on every level I could imagine—physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual. They are an interdisciplinary team: MD, RN, CNAs, chaplain, and Family Support liaison. Whereas in home health, improvement needed to be noted, with hospice I could let go and receive care on all levels. This is supporting my dreamtime, depth of meditation, and, I believe, allowing me to begin a conscious death with open communication to my Guides on the other side. Intuitively, I have been able to let go and begin my journey through the Bardos.

I imagine that choosing to work in hospice naturally screens out individuals who are not comfortable “doing death.” My experience with each professional is that their level of skill, compassion, and care have surpassed my high expectations. I now know what my friend was saying; hospice has been about improving my quality of life, even though I can die within days. I can also live months and perhaps a year or so. That was never a possibility before I engaged hospice. I am a natural strategizer or I would never have been able to live alone while quadriplegic, but their expertise has taken this to a new level.

I will likely see 2017, but perhaps I might see 2018! With the help of my care team and now hospice, I can continue to lead my psychotherapy group on Skype, share my growing wisdom gained from living in stillness, and perhaps I’ll live to write another book!

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

balance

I have been practicing Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal work on nonviolent communication for over nine years. Recently, I have been remembering his statement that every communication is an expression of either “Please” or “Thank you.” No matter how skillfully or un-skillfully the communication is delivered, all communications are either requesting something one needs or expressing gratitude. We don’t always get what we want or need from people, but we can always choose a response that is more conscious. A more conscious response will move the conversation closer to love and forgiveness; forgiveness of other, and more importantly, forgiveness of self. A less conscious, more impulsive reaction would likely keep the expression of pain going. It requires much skill to interact consciously with other human beings; I believe that is why we are here, learning with and from each other.

It is essential that we understand the feelings we are experiencing during conflict and that we understand the unmet need triggering the feeling. Identifying our feelings can take much spiritual maturity, because allowing oneself to be vulnerable during conflict is like what Stephen Levine calls, “opening your heart in hell.” Once one is feeling and need literate, conflict is easily reconciled. Here are some common examples:

Wife – You are always working, it’s like I’m a single woman in a marriage!

This is an expression of please. This is where the real work begins. The wife might only feel anger, but sadness or grief is always under anger. She might not even realize she is sad and missing her connection with her partner. In our culture, acknowledging our vulnerabilities is grossly undervalued, perpetuating an illusion that we are self-sufficient islands. Allowing one’s vulnerability, in my opinion, is how we can achieve world peace, one person at a time. At the core of this existential shift is the ability to find empathy for the self. To me, this is the prerequisite and the gift that neutralizes conflict and increases love of self and others. Once empathy is achieved, there is more self-reflection, and her communication might be, “My need for connection with you is not being met and I’m really sad about it. Would you manage your time so you can spend more time with me and the children? With practice, one can move more swiftly to vulnerability and affirming one’s love for the other can render more love.

Husband – I cannot do enough for you. All you do is nag nag nag.

This is an expression of please. It is important to hear beyond the pain. What he may be unable to express if he is not feeling literate is, “I feel so much pressure to provide financially, emotionally, and physically. I feel like I’m dying on the vine. I need some help here.”

The most difficult work is identifying the feelings and needs. Cultivating empathy for one’s self, leads to empathy for the other and will ultimately lead to feeling less isolated. This is the power of duality, or interacting intimately with others; the power of community.

Once self-empathy becomes natural, one can respond to these please requests with gratitude, rather than the automatic reaction of withdrawal or acting out our pain. Whether the communication is skillful or not, we can feel gratitude, because the other person is willing to express their unmet needs. Moving out of one’s own pain through self-empathy allows one to hear the other’s pain. Here is where love and connection can be restored and please can become thank you.

Recently, I reached out to a significant person in my life who has been disconnected from me, disconnected from my heart. As I move toward the end of my life, I know this is not truth. I reached out asking if we could reconnect. (Please.) I was met with a very cold, defensive response. I knew that we were not both in the place of reconciliation and I needed to honor that. In the past, I might have pushed for my needs to get met and it would not have ended well. I recognized the opportunity to honor where the other person was and more importantly, not to sacrifice my own well-being, knowing how open and vulnerable I am in my life right now. My reply was merely, Thank you.

And I meant those words, completely. “Thank you” to her for letting me know where she was. And, “thank you” to me for letting go, for having the wisdom to know that because we are disconnected on the physical plane, in another vibration where love is the only truth, we are connected forever.

All statements express please or thank you. Vulnerability is the key to open communication and inevitably leads to empathy. Empathy is the balm that changes poison (pain) to medicine (intimacy). You cannot give to others with an empty internal reservoir of love. This reservoir needs to be attended to constantly and consistently. This is the basis of most spiritual practices and the hope of heart-centered psychotherapy.

Marshall’s books can be purchased on Amazon, found in many libraries and YouTube videos are available online at no charge.

World peace can be achieved, one person at a time.

StephanieStephanie–the Way of the Bodhisattva**

On Sunday, my dear friend Stephanie left her body after a lifetime of illness and activism. She developed a worldwide network to support people with PJS, or Peutz–jeghers syndrome, a genetic birth anomaly that often leads to cancer.

Stephanie was an AIDS and cancer activist, a natural death proponent, and an educator, encouraging living life to the fullest, no matter one’s circumstances or longevity.

Stephanie reached out to me more than a year ago after reading all the archives of my blog, no small feat. Stephanie heard deeply the themes in my essays. She recommended readings including academic papers to support my theories. Stephanie met me where I was and this is one of her many gifts to humanity.*

Three days before Stephanie left her body, she wrote to me, “I love this time of grace when I turn from this world toward a bigger world where I live now. I am giving up my computer to move toward God and moving closer toward the door called death.”

Stephanie said goodbye and encouraged me to shift my attention when I am ready to make this journey. Always the teacher, always the lover of life.

We connected in our love of life and of helping humanity in whatever way we could. We recognized kindred spirits and we were amazed at the depth of love we shared in this unconventional, cyber way.

Godspeed, Stephanie and I will see you in a flash.

* If you would like hear an audio interview of Stephanie, http://tns.commonweal.org/podcasts/stephanie-sugars/#.WDRk66PMyYU

**She has carried many and now she is being carried. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzPTHstpJ2I

Here is a video made by Stephanie’s friends: https://youtu.be/JaaNVKIsffQf

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.