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Your body is the church where Nature asks to be reverenced. ~ Marquis de Sade

Dispelling the Cultural Phobia Around Death

When faced with the inevitable challenges life brings, I have tried to meet each trial head-on, once I was able to tap into the hard-earned resources I have acquired through the years. The diagnosis of progressive multiple sclerosis in 2003, presented me with the greatest ordeal I would have to face in life. Mysteriously, when the symptoms began in the late 80s, I instantly grasped the profound level of disability that would eventually evolve from this illness. This resulted in the greatest fear of my life, yet I slowly began to move forward with the willingness to simply not know.

I and my family are coming to terms with the shortening of my life that used to be an abstract concept, but has become very real recently as my organs are beginning to shut down. Little did I know when the symptoms began, there was no treatment for this neurological disease. Meeting my death at 64, has presented my greatest challenge as well as my greatest opportunity. There may be no treatment for many of the these devastating neurological illnesses, but we ARE developing options to meet an inevitable and sometimes premature death, with more compassion, awareness, and humility. As our culture begins to meet death with greater acceptance, we are better able to care for ourselves and for each other. In doing so, we will be better able to meet our final transition with Grace and awe, knowing we are coming face-to-face with the Sacred.

Meeting the Unknown

When I recently realized my organs were shutting down, it took a while for my mind to grasp the significance. My modus operandi for meeting each physical challenge has been to just keep moving forward. Most of the acute obstacles to moving forward were in the form of injuries that had to be addressed immediately. Concurrently, there was the constant background noise, the signs of a continual downward trajectory in functioning. Injuries were easier to manage, because they had: the initial injury, a recovery time, and then finding a new baseline. Functional decline was more difficult to deal with. I was continually strategizing: being vigilant to avoid further injury, listening deeply to my body to what was wanting to be heard, and attending to the changes required. Due to the efficacy of this strategizing, I, and my beloveds, had become lulled into a form of denial that somehow strategizing could actually keep my body going, ad infinitum.

At this sacred time of shutting down a vibrant, generous, and loving life, I have begun my life review, which is a common practice once the shock and grief abate. Looking back, I am aware that I have lived a good life, yet as with any life well lived, I have also made many questionable and downright poor choices along the way. However, with this broader perspective, I am realizing that there really are no mistakes. Each supposed mistake was a learning experience that provided an opportunity for acknowledgment, forgiveness and led to more educated choices in the future. For me personally, it is about discerning how to live my life with greater integrity, authenticity, and grace as I move toward the doorway we call death.

It was merely ten days ago when it became obvious that my digestive system could no longer process foods as it had. Concurrently, my appetite plummeted and it was clear where I was in the trajectory of my life – that I was facing my death. I began to grieve acutely, revealing an understandable level of denial. I am aware of the many times I told clients that some denial is necessary during times of great change. I recognize that I could not have lived such a regenerative life without this ability to compartmentalize. My body was no longer wanting the fuel that would sustain it, so I knew my days were being drastically shortened and that I needed to consider my options carefully.

The Many Options Open to Us Now

Since Colorado passed the end-of-life options act last November and I had gone through the arduous process of securing the prescription, I had the comfort of knowing I had the safety net it afforded, should I begin to suffer needlessly. Another option would be to do V-SED – voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, a process my body had already begun. Although not eating felt voluntary on a certain level, I knew in my heart of hearts that if I were to live in full integrity, it would mean following the direction my body was leading. MAID and V-SED are both viable options, but they just felt too abrupt for this body at this time, given my lack of pain and suffering, at least at this time.

I knew my soul was ready to go and I wondered what it would take for the rest of me to let go and follow. My body was already beginning the process of letting go, but my mind had been strategizing for many years in order to live alone with this condition that demanded continually being in survival mode. Rejecting food appeared voluntary on the surface, but what I knew internally and was afraid to admit, was that it actually was involuntary and I felt to force it would be out of integrity. I knew my soul was ready to let go, to move on to my next adventure of going Home, but I felt conflicted, because it would cause others so much pain. Was I betraying my beloveds? Was I betraying my body? How could I possibly share this with others and feel their grief along with mine, when each of ours was so raw?

As I am sitting with the predicament, a new option has appeared. I could eat and drink only when there was the desire and open to my body’s natural timing. I could find the courage to completely let go of control, and see how this new way of being could serve me (and also serve others). Taking this option meant suspending any sense of knowing and opening to my loved ones’ love and generosity when I am the most vulnerable! This meant that I had to fully embrace being the recipient of so much love that it would stretch my remaining feelings of unworthiness that I knew I still harbored. To me, receiving love and not feeling deserving represents the last frontier of my arduous and sacred Work.

It is essential to clarify that this slow moving illness that is accompanied by very little physical pain is extremely unusual. If I had unbearable pain, acute cancer, ALS, or if I had less support or fewer resources, I would choose MAID in a New York second, as we said in New Orleans.

Given my propensity to struggle with letting go, I decided to write a love letter to my body/mind in the hopes it can finally relax and let go. Although it is very personal, I graciously want to share this with you, my devoted readers. Thank you for your unyielding support over the past months and years.

Love Letter to My Body

My dear loving body/mind, my precious vehicle for this lifetime,

You have served me well. Thank you for being a body with so much endurance and so much forgiveness. I am humbled at your service.

You have taken so many insults, so much abuse, and you have met it all with so much grace. You have had your bones broken, twisted, forced to go beyond your capacity, but you have served us well.

You grew two of the most amazing children I can ever imagine. And from them came amazing grandchildren and perhaps there will be more. I, Aliyah’s soul, will be watching, listening, ever giving my two cents, but always loving.

You have weathered quite a curriculum to teach me how to better love and that I am worthy of being loved. The former, I came wired with the ability, but the latter was more hard earned. I guess that is why it’s called a “curriculum.”

You have fulfilled your Sacred commitment to me with generosity and grace – I release you with loving gratitude. You are free to do what bodies do. You have served me to the utmost and I can’t imagine any better body to carry me through this life.

I will not force you to eat when your system does not want to digest. I will not trick your body with medications, I will let you shut down with as little struggle possible. I will help you let go, if your mind pushes you beyond your limits due to the guilt from perfectionism that has plagued you, or an unrealistic belief that you are necessary to lessen others’ grief. I will not abandon you. I will help you let go of needless suffering with whatever resources I have available to me with the same generosity you have afforded me.

Your mind has served me well. It has helped me be the first person in my family to have an advanced degree and use that in service to others. What better joy in life can there be? You have helped me to strategize an impossible curriculum with impossible circumstances. Without you I could not have accomplished living alone unable to move from the neck down for as many years as I have, touching so many lives. I learned to receive love and the greater challenge was I learned to ask for help.

Without my body and mind, I would have left long ago. We did really really well!

It is almost time to completely let go, to scatter joy to the earth, the air, and water, especially the water. We can know that we did what we came here to do. We can let go and let Love!

Weekly, Crestone’s Threshold Choir comes to sing a cappella at my bedside. Here is an example of one of their songs:

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The task is not to live our life in which we never got our hearts broken. The task is to become larger with each heart break. – David Whyte

In a past essay titled Mountain Metaphor, I described Michael Brown’s brilliant metaphor about life choices. Click here for the original or below is a [paraphrased] excerpt:

Some people feel deeply drawn to the Himalayan Mountains, so much so that they might have a photograph of the mountain range on their refrigerator and they are happy with that level of appreciation. Fewer people might have a picture book of the Himalayas on their coffee table 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 have to hike all the way to the summit. Going to the summit is not for everyone. It is important to hear this with no judgment, no right or wrong, no hierarchy. People merely have different needs and capacities during their lives, different soul plans in each lifetime.

Recently, a dear being died after a prolonged struggle with multiple sclerosis after living a life of deep contribution, especially to young people. Since our first conversation in 1990, she has been in my heart and just a few steps ahead of me in this illness curriculum. While in my 30s, she was the first person to affirm my greatest fear, that my subtle neurological symptoms were likely early signs of MS. There are worse things to get than MS, I remember her telling me knowingly, because she had been diagnosed a few years before. Somehow, it was easier hearing this from her, someone who was, part of the club to which she would sadly welcome me when I was diagnosed at 50, than a doctor who was emotionally removed and outside of the club I now had the dubious distinction of being an intimate part of. As her illness progressed, I observed her Grace as the fear of my future grew, exponentially. For many years doctors told me my concerns were nothing, that I should just get on with my life. If I had known then, that this was the most progressive form of this neurological illness they call MS, and that there was absolutely no treatment, I don’t know how well I would have lived my life. I eventually stopped going to doctors who were, many inadvertently, peddling false hope in the form of pharmaceuticals with scary, permanent side effects. It would be many more years before I could find my own Grace and eventually Gratitude for this arduous curriculum. Today I am grateful to my friend and others I have come to know who have blazed the trail for me. This essay will explore how friends and their beloveds can help each other through the most perilous parts of our journeys if we can be open to the changing forms.

When my husband who had been with me prior to my diagnosis, during my diagnosis, and after my diagnosis, left our marriage after we moved to a new home in a new state, I was emotionally devastated. He had always been a fixer and when it became clear that this could not be fixed, he moved on. Although I came to understand this as a necessary parting of our paths many years later, at the time I was devastated. (Did I say that already?) At the time, the thought of living alone in a big house, in a new community, with a degenerative illness was more than I could bear.

I was reminded of a powerful and effective intervention in my psychotherapy practice when an individual was presenting with Major Depression (acute depression that leaves the person unable to eat or sleep), because they were brokenhearted after their long-term partner had left them, if they were able to feel the grief deeply and let in the necessary support from others, they might realize that they, in fact, had been the one who left the relationship first, emotionally. With this awareness, their partner had no other choice but to leave. If this can be acknowledged, there is often an existential shift and the grief may disappear completely. The story of having been left shifts into a whole new story of having ignored one’s own needs which unconsciously set up the leaving in order to avoid being the one who leaves. Byron Katie, founder of The Work, a powerful process for decreasing suffering in the world, describes this as the turnaround. If you are not familiar with Byron Katie’s worksheet, check it out. It could change your life.

When I heard my friend’s husband had moved on, it triggered my own feelings of having been left. [Caveat: This is MY projection. I know her husband and he did not in any way move on or away from her. His commitment to her I found exceptional and I have told him so many times.] All of my feelings from ten years ago resurfaced as if it had just happened. With that level of grief, I knew I needed to speak to my friend directly, to go into deep meditation, not too different from what I learned in Gestalt therapy in my late 20s and that is exactly what I did. Whether one believes it was she who came forward, a projection of mine, a symbolic story, or a Guide speaking on our behalf, it doesn’t really matter; I know that the information I received was not in my awareness before this auspicious meeting.

I was able to hear from my friend something very personal that only those in such a club could share. She told me that we had agreed before we took bodies to go all the way to the summit, no matter what the cost. And she continued that we had actually left them, because we had to in order to get to the summit! She told me that our partners had their own paths they needed to follow and that we are all still connected exactly as we should be, despite what our consensus reality indicates. In the past, I remembered seeing a photograph of my former husband’s new partner playing lovingly and joyfully with my former grandchildren. At first I felt heartbroken, betrayed, and unworthy. Then, it occurred to me like a revelation (the turnaround) that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing! With that realization, all of the grief disappeared and what was left was a sense of honor, dignity, and self-respect much greater than the grief I’d previously felt. I also experienced gratitude toward his partner for being able to be there for my loved ones I’d never gotten to know. My friend reminded me that she and I were, indeed, fulfilling our soul agreement and so were our partners.

During a time of self-doubt, Terri Daniel, an author, educator, and end-of-life advisor who became a dear friend once told me, Your life is an expression of the highest possible commitment to spiritual awakening. I am reminded of that quote by Donna Roberts ~A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words. Thank you Terri, you have been there when I most needed you.

In my heart of hearts, I know I had no other choice but to aim for the summit. She and I had gone to the summit and our partners supported us according to our respective soul agreements. Her husband had once told me that the three of us were in the same lifeboat together. He and I have had many soul-level conversations over the years for which I am deeply grateful. Perhaps she was telling me that we were in the same soul family and her husband used the lifeboat metaphor to express this. Friends – we just cannot do this in isolation, can we?

I am not special. Everybody has their own zenith they must reach at some point in their life or lifetimes. Perhaps our summit is indistinguishable from our eternal Home. Martin Luther King, Jr spoke of the promised land in his mountaintop speech. I want to end this essay with this speech that he tearfully, fearlessly, and prophetically delivered the day before he was assassinated fifty years ago:

I ain’t afraid to love a man. I ain’t afraid to shoot him either. – Annie Oakley

We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings. We craft love from heartbreak, compassion from shame, grace from disappointment, courage from failure. – Brene Brown, PhD

What a gift human life is with all its challenges and opportunities for liberation through adversity; as a snake needs a rock to rub against to remove the old skin, humans need ordeals to evolve. It is through adversity that humanity acquirers empathy, increasing its capacity for love. This is one of humanity’s deepest teachings. Love is. Anything in the way of that knowing is, I believe, what we are here to learn from and transform, to turn lead into gold, poison into medicine.

Living a human life is not for the faint of heart. If we dig deeply enough, most of us live with an insidious amount of unworthiness, or shame, imprinted during childhood whether this imprint is conscious or not to our adult selves. In my opinion, one of our greatest accomplishments during our lifetime is to chip away at this shame – the belief that in our core we do not matter or are in some way deeply flawed, that if someone gets close enough, this secret will be revealed. Often this imprint gets projected outwardly as a defense against feeling the unworthiness that dwells in our beliefs about ourselves, the unknown hitchhikers in our individual personas that wreak havoc in our personal lives. With such a belief operating in our core, intimacy, with ourselves and others, can become difficult to allow. It is through intimate relationships that healing takes an accelerated path and poison can become medicine.

Our most unlikely, yet beneficial, allies during our lifetimes are the ones who, often unknowingly, take us into that core, the faulty foundation where untruths mold our beliefs just waiting to be transformed. Of course, we don’t see these messengers as great teachers at first, but over time as we develop the capacity for self-reflection and often through grueling repetition we begin to experience a level of liberation. In my experience, it is only when I am able to feel the shame completely, without turning away, that self-love is restored. This ability may be unreachable for some people, but I believe this is the hope for humanity.

My husbands have been the Trojan horses that provided the grit necessary to take me into the deep, recurring, faulty beliefs that caused me tremendous suffering. They exposed these beliefs often unconsciously and sometimes with cruelty. Learning to not shoot the messenger was key to taking responsibility for my childhood imprints and finding liberation. Often we can become distracted by trying to derail the messenger, in an attempt to invalidate the message, propagating an illusion that we can somehow avoid feeling the shame. Developing the capacity to sit with the pain of “not enough,” is the only way to release its hold over us. To do so requires practice, increasing empathy toward the self, and not taking what seems to be criticism from others, personally.

To look at these messengers with equanimity, we realize they are doing us a great service. I believe the messengers can become more harsh if we resist the greater teachings. This is not to be confused with being victimized by another’s unskillful projections. Discernment is necessary to courageously unwrap the projections and determine what is the grain of truth that is useful for one’s liberation. Multiple marriages can be seen in this culture as a failure, but people are changing quickly and one cannot determine what others might require. Each of my three marriages has been like a different incarnation, one building upon the previous. What ever brings awareness is exactly what is needed by the determined soul. After all, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge. By my second marriage, seeing the repetitive patterns, I understood that I was the common denominator. Once aware of the pattern, I could choose – shame or self-love.

I have had communications in the last months with all three previous husbands to varying degrees of connectedness. My first husband I call my greatest teacher, because he was creative, intelligent, and brutal in his younger years. In my 30s and while in therapy, it had become apparent that I had embraced a level of victim mentality. With his help and my courage, determination, and a lot of therapy I was able to release myself from the grips of this insidious form of self-hatred. Not everyone needs this level of intervention, but I had been a willful child and not able to change, otherwise. An identity of victim is one of the most excruciating forms shame can take. When embraced with empathy, this pattern can be transformed to self-love. Recently, my daughter asked me to contact her father, my first husband. Over the years, I have forgiven his hurtful behavior and begun to see him as soul family, someone who had agreed to provide this ordeal out of love, to bring us forward in our evolution. I know, this is a generous shift in beliefs, but if one could choose our perceptions, why would anyone choose otherwise? Because of this shift in my perception, he was able to tell me that he loved me, he had always loved me, and he will always love me. Intuitively, I knew this, but the medicine this acknowledgment brought to myself and my daughter was immeasurable.

Shame is an insidious poison that can rob us of our birthright to feel loved and loving in a Universe where Love is the only Truth.

“One works on oneself as a gift to other people so one doesn’t create more suffering. I help people as I work on myself and I work on myself to help people.” -Ram Dass

1-brighworldI’ve written before about my intuition that this illness is an opportunity to heal a very specific developmental fracture in my life, one involving attachment. I also have cited four other cases where individuals with progressive multiple sclerosis incurred early trauma from provocative maternal relationships. This connection has always been of interest to me, but a superficial study of five individuals does not prove a hypothesis. Nevertheless, exploring this anomaly in my own life has been extremely compelling, especially since I spend so much time in my chair allowing such an inquiry to evolve, with little distraction.

I keep thinking that I am complete with this lifetime, that I am in the throes just prior to my transition. I have completed my will, had the talks with my family anyone would wish for, arranged for my celebration/cremation. I even selected a master of ceremony, family liaison, created a CD to leave for loved ones, distributed many of my material items, and much more. However, more emotional/spiritual material seems to be surfacing.

The other day while I was re-experiencing a level of grief that was so familiar and primal that it had to be primordial, I experienced a visual that maybe gave the grief some context. I realize that I may lose some people at this point in my reporting. Being a visual learner and having practiced a form of breathwork that traverses non-ordinary states of consciousness for over fifteen years, intuitions seem to come to me in visual form. I understand that others may not access the source of teachings in the same way. Please bear with me.

The vision was presented as if exploring a geographical location with Google Earth; it was like traveling through a wormhole from the macro to the micro of my physiology. It also traveled through my development, the point of destination being a tiny pinpoint spot on my neural tube. The understanding I received was that there had been a fracturing sustained, not only during my pre-verbal stage of development, but pre-birth, probably during the first month of pregnancy before my mother even knew she was pregnant.

I had been feeling for the last months that this condition of my body had reached a plateau of sorts. The goal-oriented part of me wanted to be done with it, done with this rigorous curriculum and the inability for any outward bodily movement to happen volitionally. Being completely dependent on others had become tiresome. This plateau was feeling like treading water. This vision completely left the illusion that healing was not happening in its tracks. I clearly saw this pinpoint place in my nervous system, this place where early fracturing did not allow for the necessary emotional attachment to occur. With this vision came the realization that though I feel nothing significant is happening, actually some of my deepest healing is, in fact, occurring in my nervous system.

Perhaps this illness provided the most expeditious way for this fracturing to heal so that wholeness could be attained. My mother had been both complicit and a central part of the healing. I was shown that this fracturing was an accumulation of unresolved traumas from previous lifetimes.

With this vision came much peace and gratitude, gratitude for the strength to see this illness through and to appreciate my helpers along the way, both embodied and disembodied. This vision further revealed that once this fracturing was healed, it transformed into a portal to the infinite, to other galaxies and to the multi-verse. Ironically, five weeks ago I asked my caregiver to draw a symbol that would be lovingly fabricated by a local artist onto a plaque for individuals cremated ceremonially in our beloved community. The symbol that came to me was of two ellipses intersecting. There was a small circle in the intersection that represented my present life. The horizontal ellipse represented my temporal life and the vertical ellipse represented my Spiritual life. I now understand much more about this circular pinpoint.

Two months ago my three-year-old grandson and his father constructed a spaceship out of recyclables. This is the text he dictated to his father to write on the spaceship:

August, 2015
Dear Gram, I love you so much, Gram. you are like a miracle. Model aircraft blasts off, it goes to fifteen galaxies. I’m giving this to you as a present. I love you so much, River

The greatest gift I could give in this lifetime has been to be of service to others. With the healing of each internal fracture comes more love and forgiveness for all sentient beings. Continuing this sacred healing journey for myself and others is my gift and my prayer.

“Never doubt the softness of this Love’s strength to pass through any obstacle…” -Kathryn Brady

8a660b37da8f23013bbaa08422973223Recently, I texted my brother, letting him know I had an injury. Being 2000 miles away, I believe it is important to keep in touch with my loved ones. This illness renders my physical existence precarious to say the least. One injury, one errant bug could easily take me out. I would rather they not be surprised.

When I told him about the injury, I added our predictable Jaffe humor, “you cannot keep a good woman down, especially a descendent of Beatrice.” My mother, Beatrice, was a complicated woman, born in the Bronx in 1924 to a family with immigrant parents and all male siblings. Her relationship with her mother was not very strong from what I have heard. My mother had been a tomboy. I remember seeing a photograph of her as a small child with a broken arm after she had fallen out of a window in the Bronx. I probably had more in common with this young girl than I ever realized and I am realizing it more and more as I am maturing and that it is not a detriment.

My relationship with my mother was extremely conflicted. Perhaps she was less comfortable with girls and women than boys and men. I remember overhearing her when I was young saying she cared for her daughter, but her sons, she adored. I remember not being devastated by hearing this, but feeling affirmed, because I already knew this. My mother was not subtle, you pretty much knew where you stood with her.

In all fairness, the package I represented to her was challenging to say the least. I was an emotional, overly-sensitive, dependent child with more demands than my mother could meet at thirty years old with three children and a marriage that overwhelmed her. My mother was the glue of the family, the liaison who brought all of the factions in her family together. My mother was loved in the family and the community.

The older I get, the closer I feel to my mother and I believe she feels the same way. The greatest gift I ever gave her was a daughter. When Casey was born by cesarean section, I was awake during surgery, but given a general anesthetic afterword. I’m sure I infected the anesthesiologist with my fears. That is the only way I can understand the circumstances. Being out of it, Casey was placed in an incubator for two days. When I found this out, I immediately sent for my mother. She was running errands when she got my message, packed her bag, left a note for my father and ran to the airport. This effort set the scene for a relationship with her granddaughter that brought deep redemption to her life. She was able to do for Casey, what she could never have done for me. I am tremendously grateful for this relationship, of which I was a mere bystander.

At a certain point in my emotional and spiritual development, I realized that on a soul level I must have chosen my mother. The thought was particularly difficult to grapple with, but being a believer in the process, I reflected on. Over the next few years, it started to occur to me that one of my mother’s greatest strengths was that she was incredibly strong in a forceful and effective sense. Recognizing that power is a central issue in my development, it made perfect sense that I chose her to model this. She was not a nurturing mother and I also recognize the curriculum of opposites. When a soul is wanting to learn self-love, they often choose parents who are incapable of providing this quality externally, so the person needs to find it internally.

After years of resenting my mother for not being who I wanted her to be, I can finally love her for who she is/was. In that way, she can be much more of who she truly is, for which I am tremendously grateful.

I find that as I become more me, she is becoming more her; after sixty years I can finally in my heart let her become Beatrice.


“We each have distinct karma and basic elemental natures that shape our unique journey in this one, single lifetime towards that loving intention. But I think this is what we are about–to embody as much love from Source as possible while here with the cards we’re dealt.” -Kathryn Brady

unknownDuring a concert at my home I casually mentioned anger at my former husband for leaving our relationship of eleven years. The male musicians exclaimed in unison and perfect harmony, “I’m angry at him, too!” It was obvious that they didn’t even know David and the room broke out into laughter. The spontaneity of the solidarity surprised and comforted me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. These musicians who had volunteered their time for a private concert on my behalf have known their share of heart breaks. The energy in the room was electric with empathy and love. The moment made me reflect upon that relationship, the relationship which would be my last partnership, with my last companion for this lifetime. It wasn’t that I was so sad to see him go, but more that I was so sad to let our life go.

It was in that relationship where I finally was able to realize some of the adventures I had always sought in previous relationships. David helped me to hold the container for a life full of adventures, like camping, horseback riding, long road trips and things I had never thought I would be able to experience. Now that I live alone in the wilderness, knowing many other powerful wilderness women, I wonder where that insecurity could possibly have come from. After all, I had ridden my own motorcycle to Key West, jumped off mountains in California on a zip line and learned to jump horses in my 50s.

Granted, David was a warrior in the outdoors. After all, he had been a geophysicist, a public school teacher and was able to operate any heavy machinery needed. He taught me how to hook up, load a horse and pull a horse trailer by myself. I had no reluctance to do so, in fact, I was excited to add this to my repertoire. In our life together, this skill was required.

David could fix anything. And when we connected, many of my things were broken and needed to be fixed; and fix them he did. David appreciated being helpful. What was strong and unbroken, however, was my heart and spirit having just spent three years recovering from a relationship so devastating that it forced me to reflect on the quality of all previous relationships. To do so, I had chosen to extricate myself from romantic relationships in order to focus on the most important relationship, the relationship to Self.

Right from the beginning of our relationship, I was upfront with David about the concerns around my physical body. Along with many of my material items needing to be fixed, I needed a breast biopsy and abdominal surgery for fibroid tumors. Ever since being a young child, I tended to somaticize emotional issues. This gave me much material to address psychologically and many physical issues to deal with medically.

David really tried to be helpful around my physical vulnerabilities, but he was much more capable around the mechanical items. His caring was never an issue, his ability to express that caring was considerably limited. In my opinion, and realize that I am not the most objective reporter, when partners in his life were physically and emotionally vulnerable, David left.

I’m not sure whether my children so vehemently disliked my former husband, because they perceived that he left me when I most needed him, or because he never really was able to connect with them on an emotional level. Perhaps both are true. In the spirit of not tossing the baby out with the bath water, I would like to honestly visit what this relationship was to me.

I met David at the Gurdgieff school during the early 90s when I was entering this work. We were with our respective spouses and I cannot say there was any connection between us beyond the surface level. Fast forward five or six years and two divorces, when he brought an at risk student to the mental health clinic where I was employed. Still, no connection beyond colleagues with the intention to save an adolescent from imploding. A few years later we connected at a play in our neighboring community. At this point he asked me to dinner and a movie. We were slow to connect, but there was something gentle and deep about him.

As I previously mentioned, I had just spent three years consciously turning inward for the first time in my life, forging a relationship with my deepest Self, something I had resisted until, as Anaïs Nin wrote, “…the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I wasn’t sure about this new person, but I was encouraged vehemently by others whom I trusted, so I continued to explore this connection.

I never really knew myself until I was nearly fifty, so how could I know what was deeply fulfilling in a significant relationship? I would suspect that most people know themselves better than I did. I was a slow learner, after all, my first husband was a Republican who told me the Holocaust never happened. How well could I really have known myself then? My second husband and I shared a deep love and grew a lot together, but he wasn’t wild about being outdoors. He would play racquetball, occasionally, serving with his left hand, which was accommodating, but his idea of camping was staying in the Holiday Inn. With both of these men I had my children for which I am tremendously grateful. And I had a beautiful stepdaughter who initiated me into the teenage years. They all enriched my life tremendously.

When I connected with him, David lived on a peninsula in a pristine Louisiana cypress swamp draped with Spanish moss in a house he built with no running water. Along with our outdoors activities we soon realized we both shared a deep love for horses. We began going on weekend field trips to visit different farms. We began riding and eventually purchased a horse for each of us. When the boarding expense became too great, we purchased a small horse farm in the neighboring village. When the commute became too difficult, for example, when a horse’s life was in danger and required instant attention from us and a veterinarian, we decided to move to a larger farm where we could live on the premises.

9We began boarding other people’s horses and developed a horse community. At this point in my life, surrounded by many animals and like minded people, riding and showing, practicing psychotherapy, driving weekly to sing in my interracial gospel choir in New Orleans, I was living my dream. Concurrently, I was being chased by an unknown specter, a progressive life-threatening degenerative illness. The weakness was progressing steadily as I tried to enjoy every minute I was afforded.

In all fairness, this was not a minor vulnerability. David had to retrieve me off the floor many times and fix many fences that I drove the tractor into when losing coordination. It was not a pretty sight and certainly not for the faint of heart. David was extremely strong, but this strength manifested on a physical level and what was being stretched was on the emotional level.

The majority of marriages with a degenerative, life-threatening illness end in divorce, especially if the husband is the caregiver. Regardless of why this is, it just is. In our situation, we waited too long to ask for help. We could not foresee the level of disability I would incur, not in our wildest dreams. And I was so focused on healing physically, that the alternative was not even an option for either of us. When we were married in 2004, I was already limping. My default feeling has always tended to be fear versus anger. I was terrified. I desperately wanted David to fix this situation and David thought that if he loved me enough, I would heal physically.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have realized that there was a greater healing possible. The wisdom I have accrued from finding the courage to face this challenge head-on can be summarized in this quote I wrote in my book:

“When we talk about healing, what does this mean in its greatest sense? Does it mean the body heals? Does it mean that we feel better? What I have learned in my journey, is that true healing means bringing oneself to wholeness, understanding the totality of our existence; finding love from the inside out.”

From this older and wiser vantage point, it is clear that I needed to do this curriculum on my own. I do not believe a curricula this demanding could at all be arbitrary. I have come to feel in my cells that this is for my highest evolution and for the evolution of those around me.

So, to set the record straight, we all have done the best we could. This invisible taskmaster has demanded it all from each one of us, including and especially my children who were unaware of my unspeakable demand during that accelerated time and forgiveness from that time is my prayer.

“You wait a lifetime to meet someone who understands you, accepts you as you are. At the end, you find that someone, all along, has been you.” -Richard Bach

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Siegfried Zademack

I recently shared with my dear friend Alice, who is on a similar Journey as me, that with this illness I believe we are being brought into greater balance. The personal journeying she has shared with me recently has affirmed this Knowing. I wanted to share some of my deep, personal balancing.

I have been particularly touched by a couple I have known for some time, who has been journeying through MS together. One has the illness, but they are together in their commitment of seeing this curriculum through. After David left, I communicated with Stephen to ask what enables him to stay. His response was so profound and personal that I will not share it on a blog; suffice it to say that he expressed reverence and deep love in his serving. Hearing his perspective gave me so much hope for humankind and appreciation for these friends whose lives are unexplainably interconnected with mine.

From time to time, we check in with each other to share strategies and mutual respect. As I near the end of my ten week commitment to The Presence Process* with this week’s theme being, I FORGIVE MYSELF, what keeps coming up is that I need to forgive myself for having this illness. Everything else has been forgiven, but this last piece seems intransigent.

During our most recent communication, I must have shared my pain and disappointment about traversing this journey alone in contrast to their shared path. There have been so many similarities and synchronicities along our respective paths, it is surely not a coincidence.

But for me, David left. Stephen expressed something remarkable to me. “… dearest Aliyah, I have fallen for you in a way I cannot explain. Somehow there is a sisterhood of like souls on similar voyages and somehow the two of you have me on the same liferaft. You make it easier for me to care for [my wife]. I feel that I could be with you in your situation with perfect ease…” That last line was the clincher. I could not stop sobbing. He had struck a nerve. Pun intended.

I was able to see the part of me that is so balled up and black that I cannot possibly be lovable. After all, David adored me and he could not leave fast enough. As I sat with the pain in my being, and allowed myself to soften and expand around this pain, I realized that it was myself that I could not forgive. Somehow, this invitation allowed me to see the deepest judgment I held was for myself: I had been so cruel to my mother when she was sick for ten years of my young life. My mother has long since forgiven me, but I had not forgiven me! My healing with this illness has involved revisiting the primary relationship with my mother, as I have described in much detail in previous blogs.

It has taken Stephen’s kindness and devotion for me to access that place that we can perhaps call the missing piece. I also understand why I could never maintain a primary relationship and simultaneously do my deepest healing. I would fetishize and romanticize the love from others to protect myself from touching into this blackness. I had to hear love from another person, but also someone from the same liferaft. It is a wondrous process to unlock the depths of where we cannot love ourselves.

It is by entering our deepest wounds where illness can sometimes be just the medicine we need for bringing us into greater balance.

*a book by Michael Brown

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. more...

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