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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.

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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.

“It’s the stuff God hits your ass with, when he doesn’t want to kill ya, he just wants to slow ya down.” -Richard Pryor on MS

Leanne_Spiritual_Heart.341200433_stdI believe that people take on catastrophic challenges for different reasons, because in our deepest Being, we want to wake up; we want to evolve and we want to effect the collective evolution of humanity. That is not small potatoes. Otherwise, the Universe would be seen as an uncompromising, sadistic force, which I do not, cannot and will not ever believe; that is too antithetical to what I feel in my heart. Without my cumulative felt-perceptions nurtured over many decades and perhaps many lifetimes, I might have the consciousness of a chickpea, not meaning to disparage a chickpea. Sorry Rumi.

My belief system has been nurtured by my evolving love for myself and humanity. How could this curriculum be for anything but my betterment? When I feel moved to look deeper into the etiology of the illness I feel like an investigator looking for clues. Either we volunteer for these rigorous curricula or they are arbitrary, the latter of which I don’t believe for a minute given the outcomes I have witnessed and experienced. I also believe that we set up reminders along the way when we might be deviating from our chosen course. At these points, like breadcrumbs along the path, we face crossroads where free choice can be exercised to alter the trajectory.

I can remember making choices during my life that, in retrospect, were not in my best interest. Rather than seeing these choices as failures or even tests that would imply right or wrong, I see these moments as opportunities for my Soul to catch my attention. Based on the curricula chosen by the Soul, these nudges are instructive and they become louder and louder when ignored.

Working on surrendering my egoic willfulness, I suspect that I created a failsafe plan to get my attention that would not allow for error. Early in the illness, I felt punished and ashamed. Now I understand that the opposite is really true. Because I am a courageous soul with fierce determination, I set out a curriculum where surrender was the only option.

I can remember example after example of times in my life when I deferred my own judgment to other people’s opinions. I can remember denying my own intuitions and desires to meet other people’s needs. The most representative example of this self injurious behavior was after a marital separation where I was left emotionally devastated. It took two days to get myself out of bed and back to work, after six weeks of singing Amazing Grace for an hour each day while driving over the causeway to New Orleans, I gradually brought my life back to a place of joyful homeostasis. I began to dream of finding a small house for myself and the children that was only mine.

When my husband sensed my joy he requested  a reconciliation, I pivoted away from my dream to reconcile. I began having anxiety attacks like I had never experienced. I remember being unable to leave the car, but still I ignored them. In retrospect, these felt like wake-up calls that I systematically ignored. What could my soul do, but make the alarms louder? That was when the symptoms were beginning. But it is never just one incident; there are often many unheeded calls. Remember, the illnesses or injuries are not punishments. They are sacred breadcrumbs to assist your return to your chosen path.

Around this time the symptoms had begun. Instead of abandoning my dream, I needed to turn toward my dream, to empower it, to empower myself. Only in retrospect do it realize the significance of ignoring the prompting from my soul. I gave my soul no choice but to intensify the constriction. This was a loving gesture, like a parent creating instructive containment to assure healthy development in their child. There is no judgment regarding the required curriculum on a Soul level. Challenges and resulting behaviors are met with neutrality. What is most important is the return to a deeper sense of self-love. “God does not want to kill ya, just slow ya down.”

People design specific karmic lessons during their pre-birth planning to focus on developing particular traits, i.e. self-esteem, generosity, compassion, becoming more self-referential during their mortal lifetimes. I believe that becoming self-referential was central to my learning and being willful was in the way of making better choices that would deepen self trust. Okay, enter progressive degenerative illness  to affirm to my ego that my soul is in charge. From the perspective of this singular life, it seems like a big deal, but from the scope of thousands of lifetimes it is a mere speck in the bigger picture.

The hope and promise of a life fully lived brings with it the perspective of seeing our lives from the bigger picture perspective. With this understanding, suffering can be greatly reduced and deep joy and satisfaction attained from the knowing that we have done our best. It is for this intended outcome that I continue to log my Journey.