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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.

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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.

We are one, after all, you and I; together we suffer, together exist, and forever will re-create each other. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Well, today’s the day for my second physician’s appointment to determine eligibility for the new Colorado Aid-in-Dying law. A major factor determining eligibility is to establish that I am of sound mind.

To determine if one is of sound mind, a mental status exam is performed. The patient needs to be “oriented times three”, as we say in the profession. That means the patient needs to know who they are, where they are, and when they are – person, place, and time. Often a common question that is asked is, “Do you know who the president is?” Please please please, don’t ask me that question!

Allison, my primary caregiver, friend, and partner in discussing philosophy, spirituality, and geopolitical ramifications of the present day circumstances, etc., has been with me every step of the way through this end-of-life learning curve. Allison and I do not shy away from any topic, no matter the depth nor the breadth, and we share a sense of gallows humor that would make other people shutter. It is the sort of humor I relied on in the mental health center while dealing with continual heartbreaking situations. One has to be initiated, in order to share this type of Mash humor, in order to meet each moment. Allison and I are talkers, and when we talk we become so entranced with the content and our brilliance that we become somewhat disoriented, that identifying the date during such discussions becomes momentarily unreachable. We have this joke that when the doctor asks me the date, my reply will be, “Can I call my lifeline?”* It’s not that we are mental status-deficient, actually, quite the opposite is true; we allow ourselves to be transported. I hope and know that Allison will go on to do fascinating, significant Work in the world, when this work together is complete. I know our time together will be a catalyst for both of us. That is the nature of our connection, not a small ask from either of us.

The most common question I get from people is, “How are you able to be so present with this curriculum and be so lighthearted and present with other people’s suffering? Well, my answer is in two parts: I have people like Allison in my life who can go there with me, to be in my pain or to be in my excitement of going on The Great Adventure, both equally as important. Secondly, I have come to understand that I AM much more than my physical body. Realize that I live one injury, one choking incident, one errant bacteria or virus away from death. All my caregivers and friends are well aware of this fact. They, too, have been initiated, by loving me, watching my body weaken over time, and watching my life force grow.

Since I am not quite ready to feel the weight and magnitude of my meeting today, I will offer some other topics Allison and I find hilarious. After I have a choking attack where my eyes bulge and the caregiver is listening intently for that crucial in-breath, my mind is thinking about other things. As soon as I catch my breath and resume the ability to speak, I will often comment on something totally unrelated and banal. Perhaps there is a dissociative process happening, but as long as the choking is not life-threatening, my mind entertains itself, which then entertains my caregiver. Often, this is a moment where comic relief is needed. (I learned humor as a coping skill in my family of origin.) Many people find this type of humor tasteless. I’ve certainly had that reaction from people. Either you get tastelessness or you don’t. Either you experience relief from it or shock. It is, perhaps, an acquired taste. Nevertheless, sometimes we laugh so hard we have tears dripping down our faces. I know what dying laughing means.

When I assess people, I look at physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Fortunately, for me the last three are functioning and developing well. Today, the doctor is assessing the first three qualities. Today, I hope he doesn’t ask me that question. Dissociating during a mental status exam would be counterproductive.

The shit is getting real. I am needing to accomplish a multitude of tasks in order to secure the medicine before I can even fully open to the grief for where these practical matters are leading. My grief is personal, but I also feel grief for the people who desire this right to lessen suffering at the end of their life, but don’t have a Masters degree, the capacity for humor, or a support system like I have. For them, the shit is very real and many likely don’t have the resources to complete this arduous task. My wish is for my words to reach them and they somehow feel comfort, that they can reach for the Love that is also reaching for them.

*This line is from the game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, aired in 2002?

For my patients who have used this law, I was honored that I could be with them every step of the way, ensuring that they were cared for, and that they had control of the final days of their lives. That’s what death with dignity really means. – Nicholas Gideonse, MD 

When I was a child, I grew up on a natural lake. I was probably in the water eight hours a day. My family called me a fish. As I got older I learned to waterski– two skis, then one, or slalomming. I was on the swim team in elementary school, delegated to the 500-yard freestyle, because I was the one with the physical endurance to swim 5 laps, straight. During the summer I rode my horse, daily. In high school, I was in the snow ski club. And, in graduate school in New Orleans, I rode horses and ran road races in the scalding heat of the Louisiana summers. Needless to say, I was always physically active and athletic.

Running was the first ability I lost. I was 47 years old, with two children, a horse farm, and a psychotherapy practice. Within three years, I could no longer ride my horse and I started tripping and dragging my right foot. While carrying my computer, I fell on the wood floor and broke my patella in half, which led me to a walker. Although I dreaded using a walking aid, I was glad for the safety it provided. That was, until I fell on my walker and cracked my sternum.

With a cracked sternum, standing, sitting, any movement was excruciating. I’d bruised ribs in the past, but nothing like a sternum crack which required assistance for any movement. I was losing my autonomy. Around this time, I began having “accidents,” incontinence particularly disturbed my husband. This affected my dignity.

After failing to engage the brakes in my car quickly enough and finally stopping in the middle of a busy street, I realized that I would never drive another car and risk endangering a life. I was losing my independence. I was still able to drive the golf cart on the farm, which gave me  some sense of autonomy, but all of the chores were left to my husband, which was not our agreement when we purchased a labor-intensive horse farm.

My husband was becoming more and more irritable and resentful. Burdening loved ones is another huge fear to an active person becoming disabled. Each of these losses could lead to major depression, but having been a therapist or in therapy much of my life, I have the internal resources to deal with these stressors. Fortunately, I was not financially dependent on my husband or the government. I cannot imagine the level of suffering people encounter, when terminally ill, who are less resourced than I, either internally or externally.

After cracking my sternum, I was almost relieved to sit in a chair where I was safe from excruciating injuries. “You don’t get the small stuff,” exclaimed the doctor who read my patella x-ray. So, sit in the wheelchair, I did.

Probably the two worst symptoms of progressive multiple sclerosis are heat intolerance and intractable fatigue. I used to call it “crying fatigue,” because all I could imagine doing was to lay on the floor and cry. It was not grief or sadness that led to crying, but intense exasperation, with no emotion attached. Only someone with chronic or terminal illness can understand this level of pain and suffering.

After Katrina, when we had no air-conditioning for a month, in the heat of the Louisiana summer. I remember stumbling to my car with my walker, turning the engine on, sitting in the air-conditioning and crying. I knew I could no longer live in this state of Louisiana that I loved, that the heat and the hurricanes were more than I could bear. I no longer had the endurance of the 500-yard freestyler or the independence to care for myself with a partner who was beginning to resent me more each day. We would move to Colorado. I thought that would solve many problems, but little did I know my life was about to, once again, change forever.

On the way to Colorado, a wheelchair accident resulted in my femur being shattered, the largest bone in the body. It was shattered so badly, that the surgeon had to scrape the pieces together, to screw the stainless steel plate to something. This is where my book Meet Me By the River – A Women’s Healing Journey begins and chronicles my life from devastation to deep gratitude and joy. (Shameless plug.) From the hospital, I was discharged to our new home in Colorado. Six months later, my husband/partner of 11 years left and I, reluctantly and not very gracefully, was to learn how to live alone with this degenerative, neurological illness. Fortunately, I had the financial resources to not be a burden on my family for at least a decade.

Many people facing terminal illness embrace a spiritual life for the first time. Even if they were religious, their beliefs take on greater meaning, much like a spiritual initiation.

I began to see these physical limitations as directed by a higher power. I no longer saw them as punishment or some failing on my part; I saw the Universe as loving and I saw how my ability to impact myself and others was much more effective in this condition. The healing in myself and others was profound. I began to love this illness and see it as a course correction that was leading me to my highest purpose in life. The joy I experienced was infectious. The help I could provide to others was more than I’d ever imagined, with an able body.

As the illness progressed, I began to assess the level of suffering I was experiencing. At some point I knew that my suffering would no longer be a positive catalyst; the suffering would be needless. This pivotal point is different for everyone, depending on their capacity to process the pain and suffering, their level of development, and the Mystery beyond our limited knowing.

In November, the Aid-in-Dying law became legal in Colorado. The most common reasons people choose Aid-in-Dying are loss of autonomy, becoming a burden on one’s family, loss of independence, financial concerns, loss of control of bodily function, fear of uncontrollable pain, loss of ability to participate in pleasurable activities, and loss of dignity. (I highlighted some of the issues that cause me the most suffering in red.) This law is well-crafted to protect the vulnerable from abuse: one must be in the process of dying, be of sound mind, be able to self-administer, and no other person can benefit from this choice.

Opponents of this law often use the word suicide to incite people, emotionally, in my opinion. I have assessed suicidality for 30 years as a psychotherapist. When suicidal, a person wants to die. I have talked many a person “off the ledge.” It is an insult and a misnomer to ascribe suicidality to a person in the sacred dying process, who is finally able to surrender and let go. What a harmful imprint this could leave for the family to carry. Words have power.

All of this being said, my first choice would be to die naturally. Unfortunately, people never die from MS, they die from “complications from multiple sclerosis.” The complications can be: sepsis from pressure sores, choking to death which has to involve a beloved caregiver trying so hard to keep me alive, drowning in my own fluids from pneumonia, or some other horror I don’t yet know about. The best option I could hope for would be failing to thrive, or starving to death, slowly. Keep this in mind when considering choice.

Societies that rule with a more parental, autocratic style usurp one’s sovereignty for making choices for themselves and their bodies, which includes how they might want to leave this beautiful world. These regimes characteristically manifest a disregard for women’s rights, or a disrespect of the Feminine. (I use “the Feminine” as a term applicable to either gender: having more of a tendency toward vulnerability, empathy, and sensitivity. These are values that have been punished for nearly 5000 years.) Hopefully, we are integrating more feminine values moving toward a kinder, less violent world.

In the meantime, if I begin to feel complete with this lifetime and ready to let go and serve my loved ones from Spirit, do not conflate this sacred decision with suicide. This is not suicide. I do not want to die. My life has always been about service and learning to connect more deeply in Love, I know myself and I know this intimacy and animation will continue, and, most likely, express itself in a much deeper Way.

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

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.

“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.

 

“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.