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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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When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. There can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are made for. – Clarissa Pinkola Estes

When I was a young girl, my father had a 1923 Ford Model T antique touring car that had a crank on the front that needed to be turned to start the engine. I’d heard you had to be careful it didn’t jerk your arm out of socket when you cranked it, it had quite a kick! The purpose was, in my seven-year-old understanding, to create a spark for the engine to start.

In looking back over the 40 years since completing my masters degree to practice psychotherapy, I recognize that I have played that same role with the people I served, to create a spark to get their psycho/spiritual engines going. This is neither a responsibility I take lightly, nor has competency come easily. It is a sacred task so deeply-rooted in my being that I believe I must have agreed to it prior to incarnating. My desire to serve has been just that pervasive throughout my personal and professional life and the joy I experience when their metaphoric engine gets running is profound!

Learning to hear the call of this sacred assignment began while I was still in single digits of age. In order to be effective, however, I had to reach a level of confidence that was not easy to come by. This journey toward self-love was wrought with many challenges, but I came into this world with a fierce desire to serve and I came to realize that in order to serve others, I first needed to heal myself. With this awareness, I started a life of seeking that led to many teachers and disciplines to help overcome my limitations. I’ve spoken before of my greatest teaching – to learn to trust my inner authority, which I believe is the only way to truly know one’s power. The experience of learning to drive a manual transmission in the late 60s served as a useful metaphor for understanding and developing this teaching.

Our parents and our older siblings serve as our first authority figures to help us practice vital lessons of personal power. When my brother was 21, he became my instructor and his 1968 GTO with a clutch that was about to fail became the instrument of my education. He knew the clutch could fail if handled recklessly and, believe me, he let me know it. What a set up for high tension. I knew if I didn’t learn fast, I’d be in serious trouble with my brother. What a perfect metaphor. My lack of confidence in life manifested as a fear of my own power (acceleration). Engaging the clutch unskillfully would immobilize the engine abruptly and infuriate my brother. Immobilization (shutting down) was my go-to strategy for warding off anxiety. My brother amplified the voice in my head creating reluctance, (fear). He taught me about the friction point, the point where the clutch and acceleration meet for forward motion. When met with accuracy, there was no damage to the clutch. To add to this tension, I was learning to drive a manual transmission in the hill section of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Engaging the clutch with your left foot on an incline could cause the car to roll requiring quick use of the brakes, also with your left foot. If there were a car behind me, catastrophe could ensue. The tension was great with the potential for collision with another car. You get the picture.

This mirrored a conflict that I refer to frequently in my life – immobilization versus empowerment, clutch versus accelerator. Applying the brakes offers more control, but I only have two feet! As I became more proficient at driving a stick shift, I felt less immobilized in life, less afraid of my power (acceleration). This has served as a good example of meeting my fears at the exact point where acceleration is required, to avoid stalling in the middle of traffic, to avoid a collision with fate, or my brother’s rage.

Another powerful metaphor was learning to waterski on one ski. Learning to ski on two skis was elementary growing up on a lake, but learning to slalom demonstrated the next level of proficiency. Learning to slalom, one needed to be able to shift one’s weight from two skis to one. This required shifting one’s whole equilibrium from two points of contact to one point of contact. Having the tendency to lose myself in relationships, the kinesthetic sense of balancing over my own center of gravity reminds me of learning to slalom. I often felt this shift after a divorce. After processing through the stages of grief, I always felt empowered when my center of gravity shifted over one ski, my ski!

And there is the snow ski metaphor when you have to lean forward as you ski downhill in order to navigate through the snow without losing your balance. Intuitively, we lean backwards to compensate for the downward slope. Leaning into issues sometimes means going against one’s intuition and one’s comfort zone. Thank you for indulging me in exploring these teachings.

Having spent most of my life in my body learning kinesthetically (in motion) to be still and listen deeply has been a huge gift that my ego would never freaking have chosen. Nevertheless, it has served me well. This carnal (physical) curriculum is not for the faint of heart. If my heart were anymore faint, I could never do terminal illness nearly as gracefully. As I live this end-stage form of neurological illness, I can see things in slow mo. My life force is growing exponentially as my body is weakening. My identification with this blessed vehicle is shifting to a greater me, the part of me that is more aware of other dimensions. There are times when my perceptions and my sense of love is so heightened that I know that transition to Spirit will be a minor step. Each time I experience this, fear of the unknown diminishes.

In their published work, James Lawley and Penny Thompkins assert that “metaphor is an active process which is at the very heart of understanding ourselves, others and the world about us.” I have much gratitude for the teachings that surround us when the intention is self-reflection that leads to empathy. After all, teachings that lead to having greater compassion for ourselves and others is the essential work of this time. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes so beautifully reassures us to not lose heart, because We were made for these times.

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.

Stephanie“Death is a wardrobe change.” -Pete Bernard

Dearest Stephanie,

I was so happy to hear from you from your hospice (!) after my last blog essay. I know you cannot interact with me the way you would like to. I miss that and I will grieve. What else can we do?

I don’t know how you found me, but I do know why. I will listen for you in the wind and hear you in my heart. You are so generous with your offerings. And I know you will be, forever.

Write if you can. I will be listening.

When you can no longer connect with me, I will see you on the other side . Thank you for all the articles and your loving support.

I will love you always, Aliyah

 

Stephanie Sugars is a beautiful, survivor of Life who has had metastatic cancer for nearly twenty-five years. She has been a lifelong activist, perennial teacher and has, in the last year, become my friend.

Stephanie reached out to me nearly a year ago with much support, identification and empathy for my challenges, with so much love. She is a proponent of natural death and she is presently, with the support of hospice, teaching by example.
http://www.pushinglimits.i941.net/?p=488

“Pain and happiness are simply conditions of the ego. Forget the ego.” -Lao Tsu

Late 80s

Late 80s

Jordan was born in 1985. His father and I were deeply in love and Jordan was born with much love and readiness on the part of his immediate family. His sister Casey, had been asking for a baby sister or brother for years. Being nearly seven years old when he was born, she was allowed to hold him and watch over him as much as a seven-year-old could.

There is an expression that true happiness is when you realize your children have grown up to be wonderful people. My son is a wonderful person. He is deep and sensitive, intelligent and he loves his mother very much, which is a quality I find admirable. Smile.

When his father and I separated, his heart was broken for the first time. No doubt this catastrophe in his life also fed his depth and sensitivity. Who knows why “things” happen to people. I never believe these things are arbitrary; not marriages, divorces, illnesses or addictions for that matter. (For an evocative read on this theory see Robert Schwartz’s books on soul plans. They changed my life.)

During my last essay, when discussing my difficulty breathing, Jordan offered a quote from the Smashing Pumpkins:

A pure soul and beautiful you, don’t understand
Don’t feel me now, [I will breathe, for the both of us]
Travel the world, traverse the skies
Your home is here, within my heart

This, and much more, is what my son offers the people he loves. I have come to terms with many of the losses from this terminal illness and have transformed those losses into gains. The hardest is losing physical proximity to my children. When Casey, my firstborn, left for college I had to prepare emotionally for years to deal with this grief. I talked about this grief, performed rituals surrounding my perceived loss and wrote about it. Probably, the deepest teachings on grief surrounding my children have been from five discarnate monks who imparted these profound words. Instead of paraphrasing, I will print their original, penetrating communication:

Loved one, you must rest assured that death and loss are an essential piece of life that is so often ignored in this time on earth. Not only will your family be ok, but they will be matured through this gift of sharing your experience. Death is a beautiful path home to a place of peace and joy and magic. We are bothered with the sanitization of death from life as though it were a disease or a plaque or scourge or evil. It is none of those things. The false sense of immortality that cripples the souls of so many will not cripple your family. Your family will always be more aware than others, more present, more able to love and forgive. Please understand that through what they have witnessed in you, they will be much more aware as human beings with a broader perspective on life. We suggest again, although we know it will take much will power (of which you have an abundance), that when walking through the valley of the shadows of fear, you tell yourself “this is not real”. Right now, your fears of death and for your family are fears of the unknown. That is truly what they are. Just like the primal need for survival, the fear of the unknown is powerful. And the lower self can chime in and say “what will they do without me?” The truth is that your power becomes a part of all of them. Your words and your presence and your attitude and experience filters through them even now, but in death, you are sealed into their souls. This is not what we say to sound “Pollyanna”, but this is truth. Real truth. Try to resist the “boogey men under the bed”. Your loved ones will miss you and they will grieve, as is healthy for the emotional body, but they will rebound with your power and take that into the remainder of their lives with them as a part of their constitution. Continue to show your grandchildren your hope and power over mind. They will not be lost in a quagmire of sorrow or loss or feel abandoned. They will always be strengthened by your courage and their lives changed by the acceptance and awareness of the transition of the body as a natural flow of life and love.

Whatever one thinks about how these teachings were imparted, one cannot discount the quality of the message. I have found tremendous comfort in these words and hope others, my beloved readers, will as well. I think it was Ram Dass who said that we are all just walking each other Home.

“Even when you think you have your life all mapped out, things happen that shape your destiny in ways you might never have imagined.” -Deepak Chopra

HeavenYesterday, an opinion commentary I submitted to the Denver Post was rejected. His words were, “Thank you for your submission. We’re going to pass on this one.” That’s it. No other comment. I suspect this is a reflection of the management’s view. I’m slightly exasperated that opposing views would not be presented for people to make their own informed decisions about laws that affect us.

This brings up a greater issue I tried to avoid addressing in my last blog essay, but I cannot avoid it any longer. For many in our culture, accepting death is taboo. Perhaps it is considered a failure in a culture where might is idealized and vulnerability considered weakness. In order to understand that the opposite is actually true, a paradigm shift needs to occur, culturally. As each person awakens to the truth that death is a natural part of life, ideologies will change. War and destruction of the planet will be incomprehensible. Everybody does not have to shift their consciousness, merely reaching a critical mass will be sufficient.

What is holding this revolution back is fear. Perhaps this fear is caused by wanting to avoid the grief of losing a loved one. Perhaps it is the fear of facing one’s own mortality, letting go of the personality into the numinous. Being in my situation, I can clearly see that this fear keeps people from understanding the continuity and interconnectedness of the soul. Courage is what nearly everyone will have to summon when they are in the dying process. Kathleen Singh wrote a brilliant book titled Grace In Dying where she described the stage of panic and despair being just prior to the stage of transcendence. What keeps people from understanding the continuity of the soul, I believe, is a lack of courage, or cowardice. Wikipedia’s definition:

Cowardice is a trait wherein fear and excess self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good and of help to others or oneself in a time of need—it is the opposite of courage. As a label, “cowardice” indicates a failure of character in the face of a challenge.

My commentary was a rebuttal of the now minority held belief that people should not have the right to choose when to end their pain and suffering when they are in the dying process. The anti-right to choose group Not Dead Yet’s perspective was presented in a previous commentary. I presented point by point a rebuttal. Obviously, the Denver Post is biased.

I recently interacted with some state representatives and state senators in a respectful and interactive way. Personally, I am not near the need to consider these choices mentally, emotionally or spiritually, but physically I am extremely vulnerable. If faced with this choice, I’m not sure what I would choose for myself. Everybody has different thresholds for what they can bear. If I got pneumonia again, that would be my threshold. I’m not interested in drowning to death in my own fluids. That would be my moment to call in hospice for palliative care and to hasten my final transition. Having the option to lessen needless suffering for myself and my family would give me great comfort.

What I truly believe is what Rabindranath Tagor succinctly said: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lantern because the dawn has come.”

When the majority of our culture accepts this, there will be much less violence and suffering in the world, much more peace and compassion. Making peace with our final passage can happen at any time in our living or dying process. After all, we are all merely returning Home.

“We never face death unless death unequivocally faces us.” -Christine Longacre

Freedom three

As many of my friends and readers know about me, power has been a significant, rigorous teacher in my life. I believe we are here to work on a particular life lesson or lessons during our lifetimes. For me, the struggle between trusting my own power and abdicating my power has been a recurring theme that shaped my sense of self and ultimately formed my emotional and spiritual well-being. Ignoring these teachings had catastrophic effects on my psyche which led to profound anxiety and depression. Much like playing the childhood game with my brother, “You’re getting warmer, you’re getting colder…” the symptoms shaped a more powerful me. Eventually, abdicating my power began to manifest very subtly in my physical body, where I could no longer ignore it.

Perhaps the source of this illness is arbitrary and abdication of power is not the pernicious cause I suspect, but, regardless, I am in the end-stage of a degenerative, neurological illness which has rendered me unable to move any muscle below my neck. Eating meals results in choking and aspirating which indicates the need for a feeding tube, or gastrostomy if one is to prolong life.

My first professional job was to set up a social service program in a children’s home for profoundly disabled children, facing the end of their lives. These children were given blended foods forced directly into their stomachs with a syringe. They could not taste the foods and also could not object. These were the choices of the medical establishment made in concert with the families in the 70s. I have chosen to not have a feeding tube. There is no right or wrong. In my opinion, the power to choose is not just a right, but necessary for the liberation of my soul. Autonomy has always been important to me; I found my power and my voice by exercising my own right to make my own choices.

Another potentially life-threatening symptom is weakness of my core muscles, resulting in shallow breathing and accelerated heart rate. I choose to live at 8000 feet altitude, despite the breathing difficulties. Again, my choice. It may not be the choice of others, but we live in a pluralistic society of diversity. It is important for me to honor other people’s choices as well as my own. Elimination is another bodily function I cannot perform on my own. Other people’s choices may include a colostomy. I choose to draw a line where others might make other choices for themselves. Isn’t that everybody is right?

My hometown is aesthetically beautiful and offers a caring, intimate community that will accommodate my specific needs, being housebound and bedridden. As a psychotherapist, my love of group dynamics can manifest in this caring, progressive community. I participate in or lead nine groups per month from my chair I call “command central.” Quality of life is more important to me than quantity. My family understands this about me and they are supportive. Ironically, when I was a competitive athlete with many blue ribbons, I never felt as powerful as I do now despite being unable to move a muscle.

A wave of options is moving through the country, state by state. In Colorado it is called the Colorado End-of-life Options Act which has been sensitively and thoughtfully crafted. Organizations that oppose this movement consider these options to be assisted suicide. In suicide, the person wants to die. Assisted suicide is illegal and will continue to be illegal. In my profession, I “talked people off the ledge,” which I was extremely successful doing; you just had to show them some hope. With a terminal illness, people want to live, but death is imminent. In order to qualify, the bill requires two different physicians to assess that the individual will likely die within six months. There is a fear that coercion could be a concern. If one physician suspects coercion or an inability for the person to make an informed decision for themselves, a referral is made to a licensed mental health professional for counseling. In my opinion, patients vulnerable to coercion by family members will unfortunately have that dynamic regardless of the increased options available. A hospice or care team, led by the physician should know the patient well enough to provide the necessary protocols to support the individual and family at this vulnerable time. The end-of-life option is for the purpose of lessening pain and suffering at the end of one’s life by prolonged, ineffective Herculean medical efforts.

I have seen families devastated and overwhelmed by the pressure to prolong their loved one’s life, but instead end up prolonging their pain and suffering which, in fact, diminishes their quality of life. These families have been devastated by the unnecessary medical treatments, literally torturing their loved ones while they take their last breaths in agony. I do not choose this for myself, my family or my loved ones.

From what I understand about the trajectory of my illness, my life will end with either suffocation from choking, sepsis from pressure sores or pneumonia. I have executed a DNR that precludes hospitalization for these circumstances, however each will involve tremendous suffering for myself or loved one. The Colorado End of life Options Act would provide comfort and empowerment during my final transition. No one is required to use this option, but everyone deserves the right. Support our politicians to vote yes on HB 16 – 024 and SB 16 – 1054 and let our last breath be  taken with love and peace.

 

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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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