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Hard times require serious dancing. – Alice Walker

No. I don’t have a pretty picture like a great ship sailing in stormy waters or an image of a physical body’s particles dissolving into eternal, ecstatic light. This is my latest injury. My right leg sustained yet another injury last Friday while transferring to the stationary bike. (I know it’s bad when the hospice nurse cries.) What will I do when my legs can no longer support any of my weight, when I cannot stand or ride my bike or even take care of the basic daily living skills? My body is known for healing quickly, but each injury is more debilitating and each recovery finds a new baseline with less ability.

The night before the injury, I slept ten hours which is nearly a record. My sleeping has been getting better and even my occasional naps are becoming longer. I’ve heard that as people move toward dying they sleep more. I believe we are given much preparation for our transition in our sleep, whether it is received consciously or unconsciously. The day after the injury I woke up from a dream that was partially autobiographical, but with dreamlike embellishments. I believe they – the Voice I’ve spoken of previously– wake me early some nights, because there is something I am needing to acknowledge and/or process that in waking hours I cannot access. In my dream, my former husband was becoming more distant from me with coldness and resentment. I tried to call him near, but he told me that he was closer to his new girlfriend’s family than my family. When he told me this, I cried desperately from the grief and fear of going forward alone with this illness. This was mostly biographically accurate, but I received it as a reminder to grieve. Being able to grieve is so important in our bittersweet, human lives and I believe it’s necessary to grieve well in order to truly feel joy. Since I began psychotherapy in my 20s and through fifteen years of Holotropic Breathwork practice and becoming a trainer, I have become more comfortable with grief knowing that joy is just on the other side. David was unable to process grief openly during the eleven years we were together. No one could navigate this curriculum without the capacity for grief/joy. I understand that this is an accelerated course in life and not for everybody. It is not a failing to be overwhelmed by my life. Believe me, I get it.

In her seminal book, The Hero Within, Carol Pearson, presents six heroic archetypes that exist in all of us. To access this best-selling classic with strong Jungian influence, click here. According to her teachings, we all have access to each archetype, or ally, and when made conscious they can elevate our self-awareness. The archetypes evolve developmentally as we evolve.

Suddenly in the dream, I slapped my face. Referring to Pearson’s archetypes, I realize that I have been avoiding the feelings of the Orphan archetype (vulnerability, innocence, fear of abandonment), wanting more the Warrior archetype (strength and physical persistence). This translates literally to my waking life. Authors like Carol Pearson and Michael Brown offer us so many tools to aid in our evolution.

By waking up 2 1/2 hours early, I had the time to explore the meaning within the dream. I remembered an earlier time when I sustained multiple injuries while I was avoiding the use of a wheelchair. If you know anyone with a progressive neurological illness, as the disease progresses and one’s equilibrium is affected, one may tend to wall-walk in order to stay upright. I became adept at wall-walking, that is, until I fell with my computer landing on my knee to avoid damage to my laptop. My kneecap cracked with the force. Still, I persevered and dragged myself onto the tractor. If will could have kept this illness at bay, I might have dragged myself up Mount Everest. Climbing off the tractor, I fell on my knee again and broke my patella in half! I have always minimized my injuries, that is until I couldn’t.

I required crutches and then a walker while the injury healed. Soon, I fell onto my computer desk and cracked my sternum! When I finally sat in the freaking wheelchair, I felt the relief of surrender. The dream last night and my time in contemplation allowed me to wonder if the series of injuries I’m experiencing now is an indication that I am needing to surrender once again.

The Orphan archetype, an ally that brings resilience and realism to situations through a willingness to feel vulnerable might be the exact medicine I most need now. Ironically, the illusion of abandonment is the pitfall of the Orphan when life is not met head-on. So it seems that these recurring injuries may be a message that I am needing to meet what is head-on.

Ultimately, letting go of my will means letting go of the illusion of control, an illusion we share as humans and seems to be a recurring theme in my life. Feeling the grief of what I am leaving behind is part of the work of moving from Orphan to Innocent to Warrior to Magician, to ultimately allow myself to be transformed, to be more of who I truly Am.

My dear friends tell me daily how courageous I am and what an inspiration I am for their lives. If you are reading this, you are one of them. I appreciate being received as inspiring, but I know everybody will be facing this level of surrender eventually in our lives. I am just doing it earlier than most, in slow motion, and reporting in real-time.

I am moving into the next level of this heartbreaking and joyfully sacred path we call life, which includes death. May I do it all with Grace and Gratitude. Namaste.

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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.

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

family-love

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

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

Aunt Gerri 2nd from right

Aunt Gerri 2nd from right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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