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There’s a feeling I get when I look to the West, and my spirit is crying for leaving… – Led Zeppelin

Beginning the conversation

Since the onset of subtle neurological symptoms in the late 80s, I have lived an increasingly more conscious, full life. I have valued my lifelong mission of service to a greater degree and lessened my fear of death, considerably. I am left with few regrets and incompletions. Having been given the opportunity to live a long life, to see my children grow up and have grandchildren, gratitude ekes out of my every pore. I have had the time for all the difficult conversations with my family and my beloveds. We have shared our grief which is, of course, never enough, but a good beginning.

Having lived what I feel is a “good” life, I have less fear of death. There may be minor regrets and incompletions, but I have the courage to be present with any unfinished business with the people most dear to me. I have come to terms with the limitations of my ability to control life, and death. Many people open to religion or spirituality when facing one’s mortality which may lead to questioning what happens after death when one’s physicality becomes less central and awareness on the soul level becomes more accessible.

At this point in life’s journey, completing The Five Wishes, a comprehensive guide for personalizing the circumstances surrounding one’s death presented HERE may become useful. Living with the kinesthetic understanding of impermanence, I have come to value each moment like it could be the last, because it could.

Until recently in my dreams I have been walking, running, or riding my motorcycle or horses and my dreams have been completely devoid of any disability. Others readily came to me with their own dreams of me being ambulatory. For the last year, my dreams have become more constrained with wheelchairs and disability. The “costume” for this curriculum is becoming too heavy to bear.

Death is trending

The topic of death is becoming less charged. Perhaps baby boomers, or the children of baby boomers, are beginning to experience physical decline, first-hand. Some are observing loved ones who experience prolonged, excruciating deaths due to the ability of modern medicine to prolong life by any means, regardless of the suffering incurred. Our culture’s phobic reaction to death is being revealed. Witnessing loved ones suffering a “bad” death has led many to consider offering more choice and autonomy during this sacred time in one’s life. For those who are less fearful, moving toward the understanding that life is eternal and the physical body temporal, can be truly liberating.

I received a communication from a woman from Australia who is known as the Deathwalker. She walks people through their transitions, including performing wedding ceremonies and death rituals. She came to Crestone to learn about our groundbreaking end-of-life program. Our open-air cremations and green burials are an attraction to those wanting to share this passage in a meaningful, ceremonial way with their community.

I have planned my cremation impeccably, down to every detail: my preferred music – Bruce, the Native American flute player/maker with his portable amplifier; clothing – my cobalt, silk dress and silk fabric from India; traditional prayer – Cindy will say Kaddish (the Aramaic prayer for mourners to sanctify the Divine); what I will hold – Mark’s and Basha’s ashes, sage from Wounded Knee, and my “lifeboat” fabricated with handmade paper by Allison to accompany me on my journey. My Beloveds will be able to speak if desired. I have no doubt that I will be there.

Self-determination as a Sacrament

I know that systems take time to change, but those who oppose the aid-in-dying law want to deny people the right to choose how they might die, when death is iminent. Don’t they know that people are suffering needlessly? For some people, suffering is intertwined with their religious beliefs. That is not a part of my belief system. I believe since people have the autonomy to choose how to live, they should also have the right to choose how they die. If their religious beliefs are in conflict with certain choices, they have the right to make the choice for themselves consistent with their own values. Of course, death brings its own circumstances, but life-prolonging medical interventions merely prolong suffering rather than extend quality of life in many end-of-life scenarios.

Historically, ancient Greeks and Romans practiced self-determination when facing the end of their lives before Christianity. Indigenous peoples knew when it was their time and they walked into the mountains to enter the spirit realm. Self-determination to me is a sacrament – a visible sign of divine Grace.

Crazy Horse, a holy man of the Lakota people, was immortalized by saying these words while going into the Battle of Big Horn, “Today is a good day to die.” This statement epitomized the philosophy of the indigenous peoples, to die an honorable, brave death:

Our lives are a circle just as the stars; the moon and the sun are circles. We are born, we live and we die. There were no greater prophets than Crazy Horse and the holy men and women of the many tribes of what is now America. – Tim Giago, founder of Lakota Times

My personal Journey

I am in a body that is like a prison cell. I have learned to love my cell: it keeps my organs together, it allows my heart to beat, and my lungs to breathe, diminished as it all is. I have learned so much in my prison cell. I am a Cancer, so I could call it my crab shell; it has supported my Sacred Retreat. I have studied life, learned to write, I have communicated wholeheartedly with loved ones and have repented my indiscretions. Through all of this I have been able to connect with the Beloved and learned that beyond ego all there is is love. I have faced my greatest fears and learned that what I have been seeking outside of myself all these years is inside.

My beloved body has been deteriorating at an accelerated rate since the diagnosis in 2003. It is progressively more fragile with each week. One injury, choking incident, or one errant virus can bring an end to my already limited quality of life. The resources it takes to maintain an ever-declining baseline is exhaustive. Nevertheless, I have much determination and life force.

To me, every day, every minute, is an opportunity to love: to express love, receive love, and to help others remove the blocks to love. I have been received on seven continents with the lessons of love, I have integrated and supported many through minor and catastrophic challenges. It is my Work. It is my joy.

I have worked hard to bring aid-in-dying into the conversation standing on many peoples’ shoulders, wheelchair and all. Why would anyone refuse to unlock the prison door if one has the power, the responsibility, and the law on one’s side?

I know I have the capacity to live longer in my cell and I will reap wonderful rewards in my confinement, but what about the people suffering needlessly without the financial resources to maintain a regenerative quality of life? What about the people suffering without the internal resources to turn poison into medicine, as my Buddhist friends say?

I trust that when my time has come, I will know it. I live a paradox with an ever-fading body, yet with much life force. If we can omit shame from the process of choosing how to die, are able to feel our grief of letting go fully (my greatest challenge), listening to a deeper Knowing is available to everyone. It is in the natural order and death can be a sacrament that completes the circle of life.

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We are all beads strung together on the thread of life. – Amma

I was a determined willful child, not easy for a parent to raise, but with these qualities I developed the necessary skills for living life well with extreme physical challenges. In my household growing up, I wielded a lot of power which does not make for a happy child or a happy family. Parents who are secure in their authority teach their children surrender, a necessary skill to avoid becoming an egocentric adult. We often learn to surrender to a higher power when we have a masculine influence who is in right relationship with his/her authority – not dominating to create powerlessness in the child, but confidently guiding the children toward empowerment and respect. As this quality is modeled, the child grows up with self-confidence and self-respect. Our culture is confused about authority and healthy balance rarely evolves naturally. When a parent is unclear of their own power, the child must learn with surrogates to learn their ego is not the center of the world. In a culture where egocentricity is the norm, many different forms of addictions develop. Fortunately, there are many paths and programs to help individuals surrender to a power greater than themselves. Life has a way of dancing us into the rhythm of a spiritual life, whether it happens consciously or not.

I grew up Jewish, but I received my first holy Communion in a Catholic church when I was a tween. My best friend, Cathy, came from a religious family where many of her aunts and uncles were nuns and priests. She and her brother were adopted from St. Michael’s Children’s Home very early in life. We were inseparable during the summers where we lived at a lake. Her family recited Stations of the Cross every night and I knew the Lord’s prayer and Hail Marys by heart. I often went to church with them on Sundays. We went everywhere together and it seemed natural to follow her when she went to the front of the service for communion. When I realized not everybody was following us, I looked back at her family who looked shocked, but motioned to me to keep going. I received the host that day. There was no fanfare, but looking back at the many different initiations in my life, that was surely one of them.

During my years of exploration, I also received a Gohonzon, a sacred scroll in Nichiren Buddhism tradition, I received 2nd° reiki, which is an attunement of the heart for activating a healing technique that transmits Universal life force energy through the body, and, in my teens, I was confirmed in the Jewish religion.

Although I received these different initiations through my 20s, I refused to believe in a God that was imposed on me, externally. Having read some of the Old Testament, I refused to believe that God was a man in the sky with a beard who doled out punishments to those “he” felt deserving. I would not suspend my innocence for such a harsh teaching. At this point, my will overrode anything I deemed irrational.

In my 30s, I participated in a progressive psychotherapy community which involved attending three groups per week and five-day intensives at the Gulf Coast beach. Through this concentrated experience, I was able to access my own authentic understanding of what God is to me. As I looked around the group and felt the love and acceptance I had always yearned for, I realizing that I no longer felt the depression that had been with me my whole life. I realized in that moment that all everybody in my circle wanted was to be seen and feel loved. In this circle of beloved souls and while learning to resolve any conflicts that separated us, I learned that love was the medicine that drew out the poison of what ever ills were in the way of our connection to ourselves and each other. In that way, I understand what Ram Dass means when he says, “All sickness is Homesickness.”

With this realization, an internal shift happened and I had the felt-experience in my heart that God is love. In this circle of my Beloveds, I witnessed one person after another transform fear that might have taken the form of anger, resentment, or hatred into love. My whole worldview shifted in that circle and I have not deviated from that belief since.

Knowing that love and fear cannot occupy the same space and having experienced much fear in my life, I have become adept at seeing the many forms fear takes by understanding all the forms of fear I experience. When I feel separate from others, either through anger outwardly expressed or inner self-loathing, I notice there is always a thought that triggers separating behavior. Identifying the thought that precedes the reaction can be transformative and restore the desired connection. Once this is mastered, compassion just happens. This is not an easy practice, but a necessary one to restore love and compassion for self and others.

My willfulness served me well to find my own experience of God, the Divine, Source. I was not one to follow others blindly. I believe everyone must arrive at their own experience of God and this perception will change as we change. It is not something that can be imposed on another person, in my opinion. Arriving at one’s own sacred sense of the Divine is one of life’s greatest teachings and surrendering one’s ego to a power greater than ourselves, no matter what one calls this power, is the only way to true liberation.

By finding peace inside of us, one person at a time, we can come together as a collective in peace. That is the medicine that is so needed at this time. Namaste. I bow to you.

You are a drop and God is the ocean. Just allow yourself to fall back into it. – Michael Brown

Healing means different things to different people. For some people, healing means that the body ceases to have physical symptoms that were causing discomfort. Once they heal physically, they may choose to inspire others who are suffering. Healing on this level can bring physical and emotional relief and inspiring others can be a valuable contribution. Many of us experience this level of healing, frequently.

Some people who heal physically also heal mentally (thoughts) and spiritually. They often have a broader story of healing to model and to teach others.

Some Self-selected individuals may have taken on challenging curricula in order to heal personally and to accelerate their soul family’s journey, called soul contracts. (Many are not aware of this consciously, but that doesn’t negate the likelihood.) Often these people heal mentally and spiritually, but not physically. Myself and, I suspect, many people I know with progressive, incurable illnesses have chosen these rigorous paths while in Spirit. Not for the faint of heart, these distinct teachings can reduce the emphasis on of the ego in the physical world, if embraced with awareness. Our personalities are egocentric and limiting our identification with the ego can open doors to the numinous. In my experience, the more catastrophic my curriculum has been, the more liberating. Living this curriculum with grace can spread these teachings through the collective, to the seen and unseen worlds.

Occasionally, I come across others who appear to have similar curricula for whom I feel an instant kinship on an intuitive level. Marc Stecker, AKA Wheelchair Kamikaze, a fellow blogger, profound in his scope, humor, and development over time, is one such individual. If interested, you would do well to follow his blog.

Some healers who have healed physically, mentally, and spiritually have developed their own processes to help bring the collective forward in our development toward finding peace in our lives. One such teacher is Michael Brown, who I have spoken of in previous blog essays, because I find his work profound. Fellow psychotherapists/colleagues have used The Presence Process with their clients to deepen their therapeutic work. He has many YouTube videos along with his book to guide people through his teachings.

Michael often uses different parables and sacred Stories in his teachings similar to the stories disseminated by indigenous cultures. Here is one of my favorites:

He teaches about the three stories we tell ourselves. The first story, is of the “bad” one—about our damage, our victimization and how this shaped us—even how it might have driven us to doing some good things in the world, but how we were driven by the ghosts of our childhood or loss of parent figure [literally or figuratively, perhaps searching for the nurturing (mother) or direction (father) we’d never had], at some juncture, to enter the world in search of the missing parent in the external world. That’s the first story.

The second story is the flip side of the “bad”–it’s the “good” story of what we found on our search for our missing mother or father figure and how when we got down to the bottom of it—the details of the story dropped away and we met this energy inside, not outside of ourselves—and we felt a foundation of self-love at last.

The third story includes his spin on the word “Legend”—-he says after living the “good” and “bad” stories in a lot of fullness, we are completely freed from the history of those—we don’t carry the wounds in the same way, we don’t organize our waking moments around the same obstacles or false longings—and everything is different and we aren’t questing in the same sense—instead we just enjoy being as we symbolically stand on the ledge of our life, on the very end of the ledge of our life. And then we step off—and we live our own ” ledge-end.” We are free to define ourselves, our work, our resources, our abundance, our relations—in any way we want that serves this open-endedness we have stepped into.

When we are in our “bad” or “good” stories, there is work to do that can be grueling, because we must feel the grief of each story fully.

We each have our curriculum that is sacred and perfect for our lifework. From healing the issues with our mothers, or those who may be a surrogate for mother, we learn to nurture ourselves. From healing the issues with our fathers, we understand our perspective on God, the Divine, the Source of Universal Love. To do this, we must pass through the illusion of separation Stephen Levine described it well when he called it, “learning to opening your heart in hell.”

Whether we access this Knowing now or later in our development, our Beloveds have entered an agreement with us, soul to soul, for the well-being of all. And it is through this level of awareness of the soul, beyond the ego, that opening our hearts in hell is possible and finding peace can be a true reality.

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.

Where are you? Here. What time is it? Now. How are you? I’m okay. – Questions Ram Dass suggests during a time of crisis.

Our bodies are finely tuned instruments, whether they behave the way we would like, or whether they are following instructions beyond our ego’s desires. Someone who healed from multiple sclerosis once told me, “Our bodies are desperately trying to heal.” At that time, I wondered why the hell mine wouldn’t. I just knew that if I could heal I would, but something greater must be at work. Nevertheless, I felt betrayed. The feeling that my body was not in sync with my desires and understanding the trajectory of where this could go were more than I could bear at that time.

During my early years, my body was merely a means to an end. I had little communication or relationship with this sacred vehicle that would carry me through life. I had little understanding of how to care for, appreciate, and love this apparatus on which I relied so dearly. Not until my body showed symptoms, did I truly begin to listen.

I was born with an interesting paradox, astrologically. On one hand, I was born under the sign of Cancer. People born in July are often deeply loving, nurturing people, and often with a fear of rejection and, therefore, can have a tendency to sidestep issues, like a crab that walks sideways. I also was born with a fierce determination to meet things head-on and with the inclination of a revolutionary (Mars and Uranus conjunct the Cancer Sun). Learning to harness the latter energies and lean into the former were many of my struggles during my early years. Becoming a competitive athlete was natural to me; harnessing my will and dealing with my fears and oversensitivity were more of a challenge. Some people believe they are limited by their astrology, but I believe we  consciously choose these constellations to help us go beyond the limitations with which we entered this incarnation. Contrary to some beliefs, we are not born as a blank slate, we have Work to do and astrology can be a roadmap for that work.

In the late 80s, when subtle neurological symptoms began to occur I felt immobilized. Fear had taken over and I was afraid to move forward. I remember awaking one morning, still groggy from sleep, and hearing the words, With the symptoms come the Renaissance. I looked in the mirror attempting to ground myself, “What does Renaissance mean? Rebirth. With the symptoms come the rebirth.” I don’t know where this message came from, I just knew I couldn’t forget it. Still immobilized with fear, but with this new possibility, my very intuitive and direct 10-year-old daughter, sensing my trepidation, said to me, “Mom, you need to get a life!” With guidance from unlikely sources, I decided to do just that.

I began singing lessons with a well-known soprano from the St. Louis Cathedral choir. The crab in me wanted to hide, but another part wanted revolution, liberation. I had the intuitive knowing that singing would open my throat center, the area where self-expression can be blocked. To this day, I have a fear of speaking out, a fear that what I have to say will, somehow, hurt another. Causing others pain would inevitably lead to my primal fear of rejection. During the early days, I learned to temper my authentic power and developed an artificially sweet voice to compensate for the overwhelming anxiety. The blockage was clearly centered in my throat.

With this awareness, I gradually learned, ordeal after ordeal, that rejection from others was impossible when I could rely on my own resources; I could trust myself and my internal guidance. No longer being tethered to others elicited a freedom I had never known before this body journey. In my case, I was to learn over many years that illness was a course correction. Many people feel betrayed when their bodies behave incongruently with their wants, but the body has an intelligence that is following instructions beyond the ego. If we befriend our bodies and listen deeply with extraordinary courage, we can open to guidance that heals our souls. Renaissance is possible, if we trust a power greater than ourselves, with faith and gratitude.

This path has not been easy, but I don’t think we come here for easy, especially during this time in history. Recently, I woke up at 3 AM gasping for breath. This episode went on for three hours! I wondered if this was just another symptom I would have to accept, as I cried in desperation. After a few hours, I realized I had some difficult issues to discuss with someone close to me, that my primal fears were triggered and I remembered my voice lessons. (It was during my voice lessons that the symptoms began.) Our bodies know.

What if, instead of accommodating the symptom of breathlessness, I leaned into it, listening to the blockage in my throat and what it had to tell me? Perhaps, if I could do this, there would be no need for the symptom. Once I finally faced this fear head-on, I knew I would not have trouble breathing, again. It was miraculous how free of fear I felt, because I listened to my body’s wisdom.

Sometimes, listening to the body doesn’t tell us what our ego wants to hear. I’ve heard loud and clear that my body is manifesting a teaching much greater than a fear of speaking out and that this rigorous curriculum is not for me to understand fully while I am embodied. This can be particularly true when the curriculum involves a catastrophic illness or injury. It is during these times that we enter the Mystery, where Grace becomes a real possibility.

By opening to our body’s wisdom, we can begin to open to a sense of well-being that is beyond this earthly realm; it is on the level of the soul.

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.

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.

If you identify with your soul while you’re alive, death is just another moment. – Ram Dass

heart

When my husband left our relationship of eleven years, I knew my life was about to change dramatically. I could not imagine what living alone with this progressive, degenerative illness would require of me. Kicking and screaming, however, I moved with the flow. I knew my physical life as I had known it was shutting down and I now would live the adage – When one door closes another door opens. It soon became clear that I had been resisting this passage: entering the doorway to my Heart, which would require complete openness and vulnerability. I was entering a life of asceticism and unbeknownst to me, through this portal many miracles of healing beyond the body would happen for myself and for those around me.

Upon David’s final departure, he told me, “I hope you have a lot of love in your life.” When he said that I knew he meant romantic love. After all, he had been partnered with me for more than a decade and he had seen how much love I had in my life. After all, this quality is what drew him to me, my ability to receive and generate a form of love that was broad in scope, not restricted to romantic love. I didn’t realize at the time that having to face this ordeal alone would force a level of spiritual maturity, catalyzing a higher expression of love that would explode exponentially. This evolution would involve more the upper energy centers of the body, including the heart, throat, and crown chakras rather than the lower chakras developed earlier in my life, involving physical survival, creativity, and the development of the I am.

Twenty-five years of inner work, two divorces and raising my children contributed to a strong foundation for my next passage. Everyone who raises children knows how gut-wrenching, ego-stripping and deeply heartening this process can be. In retrospect, I can see how this prepared me to blast open my upper energy centers, exponentially. Having led a very physical life, the thought of living life with a paralyzed body was way more than I could bear. As the trajectory of my life became clear, I knew I needed to find higher meaning in this rigorous curriculum I had in front of me. I was unwilling to leave a legacy of defeat; a life of tragedy was not my calling. That fact was clear when nothing else was.

Derived from the Greek word áskesis, meaning “exercise” or “training,” Wikipedia defines asceticism as a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures, often for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals. In retrospect, this was the trajectory of my life, and I don’t believe for one moment that it was arbitrary or any failure on my part. I have come to understand that I came to live a bigger inner life than I was accommodating, and this curriculum would offer this certain and sacred opportunity. When I fully embraced the greater meaning offered, a much purer form of love became abundantly available, my inner and outer work were more effective, and people around me either left or came with greater offerings and experienced accelerated growth.

As I integrated the effects of these changes, it became clear to me that I would lead a life stripped of ego. My deepest yearning had always been to be of service, but fear had been an interminable obstacle. Developing faith seemed to be a necessary prerequisite; faith, not centered around the belief in an unseen being, but of a spiritual system based on love, above all.

When I shifted my focus from loss to unconditional love, I knew my physical life and my lifelong yearnings had intersected. The pursuit of spiritual goals could be realized. Did my ego plan this? As we say in New Orleans, “Not for a New York second.” Do I grieve for what could have been? You bet. All in all, it has been my life, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

“In each of us there is another whom we do not know.” ~ Carl Gustav Jung

The Veil

Have you ever had an old aunt or parent who was in assisted living and they complained that you never came to visit? Maybe you were there the day before, but in their minds it was never and you knew there was no way you could convince them otherwise. Feeling exasperated, you thought, “What’s the point? I can never do enough.”

Well, from the perspective of someone who is alone eighteen hours a day, seven days a week and having felt this Great Aloneness my whole life, the kind of aloneness that being with other people does not touch, I am beginning to understand this dilemma in a completely different way. With this new understanding, beloved family members finding themselves in what feels like a bottomless pit of despair they could never climb out of, just a shift in perspective could significantly reduce suffering.

Many people, like myself, have lived much of our lives close to the veil that lies between this physical existence and our Soul selves. The veil is getting thinner as people are becoming more conscious, whether our egos accept this or not. After all, we, our souls, have chosen to enter human bodies for a courageous reason. When entering the lower vibrations of duality, the work of evolution of the soul is, paradoxically, accelerated. From duality, we move toward unitive consciousness. (Our culture is craving this shift and this is the hope for humanity.)

As people near their transitions, they become closer to their soul selves. It begins as an internal process that may not become outwardly visible until a critical mass has been reached within the consciousness of the individual. It can be subtle, where the person we’ve known all our lives becomes different. It may have a balancing effect where they appear belligerent where they were gentle or they become peaceful where they had previously been hostile. Sometimes, this process happens through acquiring dementia to fully experience their Shadow, the part of their personalities they were unable to live due to a lack of acceptance of these behaviors. (Maybe a significant person in their lives had been aggressive and they chose to live passively, refusing any angry impulses.) We take on human bodies to acquire experience, to grow and heal by balancing karma. The more determined the soul, the more likely one may choose illness, addiction or injury to assure we are following the soul’s plan rather than the ego’s plan.

My mother would have been a Renaissance woman if born during a different time. She was an independent, able woman who skipped grades in school, but married young and began having children at 19. She never completed college, which I imagine created much frustration due to limiting her options in life. Over time, her personality became aggressive and belligerent, which was not her true nature. She was frustrated and I felt terrorized by her behavior. I learned to not be my mother, so I denied any feelings of anger. On the surface, I appeared to be a sweet person who could have won a prize for “most congenial,” until one day a spiritual teacher gave me a Shadow gift of a plastic machine gun. I instantly felt shame, but a part of me felt liberated as I began to love the sound of the plastic machine gun, and, more importantly, I began to experience the buried aggression in my personality. Allowing myself to feel the repressed aggression and befriending it freed me to begin to allow vulnerability, a quality necessary for intimacy in relationships, and therefore freeing me to live a more authentic life.

When it became dangerous for my mother to live alone, we had to place her in a nursing home. She went through a period of confusion and outrage, until she surrendered and became a sweet old lady. My brothers and I commented on the irony, “A sweet old lady called me today, do you know who that might have been?” She was finally able to live her true self.

Understanding the changes in ourselves and our loved ones as we near death can significantly decrease suffering and allow us to truly come Home to our own true nature.

 

“Our holy grit… it’s the sandpaper in your psyche that rubs you raw until you make it conscious.”  – Jacqueline Small, on Shadow

Lake Winola

Lake Winola

Karen turned sixty this month.

I grew up on a glacial   lake at the end of the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania during the summer months. Karen lived with her parents and three brothers in the cottage next-door. My best friend, Cathy, rented the cottage behind them, at least her parents did. The circumference of the lake was approximately three miles, so children knew each other for long stretches that were walkable from their cottage. The lake was a friendly community where families looked out for each other and their children.

Being born in July, this lake was my first home. Sometime during the 60s my home became a state lake and everything changed. But prior to this, the lake was serene, the people familiar and it was a safe, aesthetically beautiful place in nature to grow up.

Our neighbors became extensions of our family. Karen lived next door and since we grew up together, I didn’t notice the developmental delays. Karen was mentally disabled, but we all thought she was odd. From a child’s perspective, there was just something different about her, damaged, maybe. Children were unkind to her, but not her brothers. Karen always liked me. One day, however, I joined the heartless descent as she walked in front of the trajectory of the swing I was on. I didn’t stop abruptly as I could have. I knocked her down. Fifty years later I remember that moment and I cry with so much shame. Perhaps I can understand the other children’s cruelty by understanding my own. Karen was an external manifestation of the damage I felt inside of me, the damage the other children must have felt, as well. Christians might call it Original Sin, Jungians call it Shadow, the unlikable parts of ourselves we hide until we have the inner resources to heal these parts and integrate them into a more forgiving personality.

Cathy’s family was very religious. Her mother, Lucy, told me children like Karen were sent here by God and reported back to him about how others treated her. Now, from my perspective, I can believe some of Lucy’s story/parable. Karen and her sacred curriculum was a mirror for people to look at themselves through. Not everybody liked what they saw.

Soon after that, Karen no longer lived next door. She came home on visits and loved to go for a boat ride with me. Karen never held a grudge. Her older brother became a minister and I worked with disabled children for a couple decades, as a teenager and an adult.

I wonder if Karen knows how much she affected the others around her or how much she taught people something about themselves, that they probably didn’t want to see.

Karen turned sixty this month. Happy birthday Karen. From my end-of-life perspective, I now understand the careful selection of the costume you chose for this lifetime and I know you are what some call an angel and I know, without equivocation, that you were my and many other children’s sacred teacher.

**One of my very favorite books on the subject is: Expecting Adam – A true story of birth, rebirth and every day magic by Martha Beck.