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crestone-eagleMany years ago, a close friend who was a hospice social worker asked me to cover her hospice clients while she was out of town. I told her, “I don’t do death.” She then taught me something that was way beyond my 40 years. “Hospice is not about death, it is about life.” Because I had been experiencing subtle neurological symptoms for years and I feared a degenerative, life-threatening illness building in my body, this concept peaked my curiosity as it assaulted my logic. How could dying be about living? Almost like a Zen koan that evokes enlightenment by showing the inadequacy of the logical mind, I had the next two decades to contemplate this paradox, because two weeks ago I became a client of Hospice del Valle in Alamosa.

When I was considering entering hospice, I received desperate messages from friends around the country who had heard I was actively dying. After all, I must be actively dying if I was in hospice. This is one of the major misconceptions hospice workers encounter. Families usually consider hospice only in the last days or weeks of a person’s chronic or terminal illness, which, in my opinion, does a disservice to the patient and greatly limits the level of care available through the organization. The main purpose of hospice is to provide palliation to chronically, terminally, or seriously ill patients (not expected to live more than six months), which includes attending to their medical, psychological, and spiritual well-being and those of their families.

Living in a culture that is death-phobic, no one wants to mention the H word to a person who still has some life in them. What if hospice involved helping to reduce the suffering of persons deemed terminally ill, but still living for many months? The illness I have been living with is a slow, degenerative illness that has only affected me from the neck down. The effects have been devastating, but from the neck up I have been able to maintain a quality of life that is different, but regenerative in nature. Having been a psychotherapist for thirty years, my work has become more selective but much deeper, given my spiritual growth directly informed by what I consider my “spiritual curriculum.”

I had considered hospice for the last year, but since I was not actively dying, I did not consider it seriously. My most experienced caregiver who had worked ten years in a hospice told me that about 10% of her hospice clients lived an average of two years. Working through the necessary emotional stages, I engaged the closest hospice serving Crestone. To my surprise and tremendous relief, I have received care on every level I could imagine—physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual. They are an interdisciplinary team: MD, RN, CNAs, chaplain, and Family Support liaison. Whereas in home health, improvement needed to be noted, with hospice I could let go and receive care on all levels. This is supporting my dreamtime, depth of meditation, and, I believe, allowing me to begin a conscious death with open communication to my Guides on the other side. Intuitively, I have been able to let go and begin my journey through the Bardos.

I imagine that choosing to work in hospice naturally screens out individuals who are not comfortable “doing death.” My experience with each professional is that their level of skill, compassion, and care have surpassed my high expectations. I now know what my friend was saying; hospice has been about improving my quality of life, even though I can die within days. I can also live months and perhaps a year or so. That was never a possibility before I engaged hospice. I am a natural strategizer or I would never have been able to live alone while quadriplegic, but their expertise has taken this to a new level.

I will likely see 2017, but perhaps I might see 2018! With the help of my care team and now hospice, I can continue to lead my psychotherapy group on Skype, share my growing wisdom gained from living in stillness, and perhaps I’ll live to write another book!

Death is a fiction of the unaware. There is only life, life, and life alone, moving from one dimension to another. – Sadhguru

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When my symptoms first started thirty years ago, I made a conscious choice to explore healing on every level available to me: body, mind, and spirit. For three decades, I turned over every proverbial stone in an effort to heal, holisticly. What ever was in the way of perfect health was what I courageously explored. If I listed the healing modalities I pursued, it would take many pages, and maybe be a novella.

Along the way, I helped many others in their healing journeys. The wounded healer is a powerful archetype, intimating that all humans have frailties and limitations; we are works in progress. The wounded healer is a model based in shamanic teachings where a person struggling with physical, mental, or emotional dis-ease, or imbalance and once they heal the imbalance can show others the way of healing. I assumed that I needed to heal physically in order to be of help to others. In my case, healing physically proved to be unnecessary for helping others heal, though honestly, I would’ve preferred a completely healthy body. Ironically, the wound has rendered me more effective in helping others heal, even physically.

All of my efforts to heal physically brought much foundational and constitutional healing, but the disease process continued to progress. After much self-reflection and anger, I came to the conclusion that with all of my work, there was a higher purpose for this rigorous and sometimes heartbreaking curriculum. This understanding helped me to reach acceptance, psychologically and move into a state of transcendence, spiritually, but my nervous system continued to deteriorate.

I’ve recognized that the two trajectories, one of bodily healing and strengthening, and the other, of the disease progressing, were at cross purposes. I feel grateful that I can understand this consciously, as well as knowing there is a higher purpose. Nevertheless, I recognize a scenario where my body will continue to thrive while my brain and spinal cord continue to deteriorate. An infection, and injury, or choking can be lethal at any moment which would render a death with much more suffering for myself, my family, and my caregivers. Many other people facing death have much more acute diagnoses than my own.They deserve a choice on how they will die when death is imminent within six month.

I am not a proponent of prolonging life at all costs which I believe will prolong suffering. I do believe my body is a loving vehicle for this lifetime. However, I believe my soul will live on. Suffering has its value, but having the wisdom to know the difference between necessary and needless suffering is essential and can only be determined by the self in concert with the soul. Being pro-choice is across-the-board for me. I believe a tenant of love is that we have free choice. Becoming informed and in right relationship with our own truth is an inside and an outside job.

Proposition 106 is on the ballot in November. I believe everyone should have self-determination. I believe we learn from our choices, ultimately. I believe that God or a higher power also resides in all of our souls and we are constantly informed by the Source of all existence.This is not up for litigation, in my opinion.

There is a choice on the ballot that we must consider that will allow others self-determination and in situations where individuals are not clear, they will have support to reach a decision that is right for them. It is all about choice and letting Source inform our personal decisions. Honestly, I don’t know what my personal choice would be, but knowing I have the choice would make all the difference between feeling helpless and empowered.

Vote YES on proposition 106 in November 8 in Colorado or when it comes to your state, which it will, because having a CHOICE is an idea whose time has come.

“When you look long enough into the abyss, the abyss looks into you.” Nietzsche

SpeechlessRecently, a caregiver asked me with a slightly horrified tone, “What if you can no longer speak?” Actually, there are times now, during the day when I cannot speak, like when I am on the stationary bike, when I am on the stander and late afternoon when speaking in groups, of which I am in ten per month. This particular disability has been happening gradually for the last four years, especially since I returned to high-altitude and It has become much more pronounced in the last six months.

I have learned to accommodate yet another disability, dysarthria– motor speech disorder caused by muscle weakness with neurological illness. I have learned that if I pause or whisper for a few sentences, I can often get my breath back and project a little more to make myself heard. Summer and the heat it brings exacerbates this symptom.

The potential for having this disability has been obvious to others, but being unable to speak and the ramifications had never occurred to me. I tend to not project into the future imagining what abilities I might lose next. This has probably been an effective strategy for lessening what is called “anticipatory dread” and, therefore, decreasing unnecessary emotional suffering. This represents another way my personality has evolved. I used to be accused of seeing the cup as half empty, as opposed to half full. Ironic that with this terminal neurodegenerative disease I’ve become more optimistic.

Actually, my first thought upon hearing this question was of recently having seen The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a film about a man with “locked in syndrome” who, after sustaining a severe stroke, could not communicate after having been a robust communicator all his life. Somehow, I trust I would get my point across, even if I need to blink my eyes three times as he did. Sometimes I practice that while laughing about the irony with my caregivers. Fortunately, I don’t take this ordeal very serious much of the time. I don’t tend to marinate in fears of the future, at least not these types of fears.

What I have learned in accepting this “curriculum” is that if I become unable to speak, there is a greater teaching in the symptom. I have no doubt that my focus would need to go beyond the cortically-based area of the left brain where speech arises, exploring areas much deeper than the fears of becoming speechless. I bow to this anomaly and will accept it as my next teacher.

In my humble opinion, nothing is arbitrary when I have accepted such a rigorous path and it becomes more clear that I have, in fact, entered the Holy ground.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor FranklTragedy

At the age of thirty-five, I was raising two children, struggling in my marital relationship and at an impasse regarding my career. I wanted to practice as a psychotherapist, but was seemingly stuck in a Catch-22; in order to attain licensure I needed to secure professional supervision in a job I could not secure without my state license. I felt like I was in a vice and could not move forward. I remember walking out to my deck and desperately screaming to God, the Universe, to anyone who would listen, “Please let something change. I would do anything to get through this hopelessness.”

It was soon after that that the subtlest neurological symptoms began to appear in my body. I was able to stave off major anxiety until my husband returned home for the holidays, and then I lost it completely into a state of high anxiety. It was as if I could immediately imagine the outcome of the illness, with all of the devastating limitations. Either I remembered the pre-birth planning of this possible challenge, or the option that terrified me more, my greatest fear would be realized-catastrophic illness. After all, I had heard the new age theory that thoughts become reality. If the latter option would manifest, I would be riddled with shame and helplessness. I desperately sought any strategy or support that would render me innocent, innocent from ruining my mission in life to help change the world into a better place, innocent from abandoning my children when they most needed me, and innocent from disregarding the life I had been given. With this shame riddled process, debilitating anxiety was assured.

In retrospect, I can see how all of my self-hatred was being brought to the surface to be dealt with. I lost thirty pounds that I could not afford. However, I was also completely present to my process of plunging into the depths of my soul. My meditations were rich with instructive symbols and messages. I knew that if I didn’t move forward, I would die. I could now see that I didn’t incarnate to merely tread water. Despite constant anxiety attacks, I secured a job with a community mental health clinic as a psychotherapist. In addition to being a therapist by day, I would assess after-hour emergencies, many of which were people surviving suicide attempts or dramatic circumstances. In the midst of my own crisis, I remember telling my friend and colleague that I could not become suicidal, because I would have to call myself. My humor has been a tremendous gift throughout this ordeal. In the midst of facing my greatest fear in life, I was able to detach enough to also be a witness to the process.

Having been raised in an atheistic, though culturally Jewish family, there was no God in my house. However, I had always felt a deep, spiritual connection to nature and animals, recognizing these connections as greater than how they appeared on the surface. This Knowing of the interconnectedness expanded to include humans while I was in intensive group therapy in my thirties. At this critical time, this spiritual connection became internalized. Perhaps this ordeal was necessary to trust my inner Guidance above all else, in order to ascend spiritually for myself and others. It was becoming clear that the symptoms were a call for me to balance the love in my life that was too outer directed and needed to be redirected internally as self-love.

Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who encountered his transcendental ordeal when sent with his family to a concentration camp during the 40s. Dr. Frankl, being the only survivor in his family, became a leader in existential and humanistic psychology. He posited that it was essential to find greater meaning in all of life’s circumstances, especially those that were more brutal and catastrophic. It is only by attributing greater meaning to these horrific experiences that one could lead a meaningful life.

Today, there is much suffering in the world that is getting purified by souls who are willing to live a meaningful life with catastrophic injuries and illnesses. I would like to spend the rest of my life reminding myself and others of this higher, Sacred purpose for what we would otherwise believe to be unnecessary suffering.

“Transcendence can not be accessed through the mind, but through direct experience with the numinous.” -Ilene Aliyah Alexander

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The diminished physical ability I have been living with is becoming increasingly more limiting leaving primarily the autonomic nervous system. When I acknowledge the disease progression and how some functioning is becoming nearly impossible to do and my strategies are no longer effective, I feel grief and need take time to mourn for what was and will never be again in this glorious body that has taken me so far. Usually the grief lasts a few hours to a few days. This is very different, because it used the last for years. I have evolved emotionally and spiritually with the understanding, the profound revelation that I am not my body, nor am I my strategizing mind. My empathy and love for self and other is growing exponentially. This curriculum has given me the opportunity to live more from my Soul.

Some people call my journey courageous; some people call it miraculous. I just call it what is. I can either kick and scream (although I can literally do neither) or I can just choose to say yes to the new level of functioning, my new baseline. What I am finding with this accelerated curriculum is that with loss always comes a new awareness I had not been previously able to access prior to the limitations.

I am not a saint and I am not an exception. I am just no longer interested in suffering on a day-to-day minute-to-minute basis. If I am unable to control anything physically, I can control my reaction. And that is about all I can control.

Being alone nineteen hours a day, sitting overlooking the 14,000 foot mountain range called Sangre de Christos, I am realizing the importance of the spiritual teachings of Ram Dass and others. As a collective consciousness we are moving from the third dimension to the fourth dimensional reality. The latter involves unitive consciousness. The field of unity is already around us. People are gradually being able to access this field  to eventually reach a critical mass where the rigid boundaries of duality will be rendered unnecessary. We are moving into Love.

I am realizing the wisdom in choosing this curriculum as a default in order to assure the integration of this teaching. This is a very different response from feeling victimized by a random, mysterious disease constellation. As I let go of each ability on the physical level, I open to a new ability on the subtle level. From this perspective, I wonder what disability really means. The liberation possible from reconfiguring the evolutionary potential of suffering is immeasurable.

I am seeing that whatever the challenge that may seem catastrophic from our human/ego perspective, there is always a gift on the other side. Fully experiencing the grief is essential and once on the other side of the seemingly endless grief, there is the opportunity for transcendence. Transcendence is beyond the five levels of grief Elisabeth Kubler-Ross generously illuminated. For me, I now understand that this rigorous curriculum was perhaps the most expeditious way and perhaps the only way for me to access this state given the trajectory of my choices during this lifetime.

The surrender into transcendence is where the fourth dimension lies. I’m convinced that this is what my father who had been a lifelong atheist described on his deathbed, “heaven, a place of tranquility.” I am realizing that whatever the challenge that may seem catastrophic, there is always a gift on the other side. The opportunity is that we reach this place beyond acceptance into transcendence where suffering may no longer be necessary for growth. Many are being called to this expanded state of consciousness, the dimension where love and unity are the only reality.

“It’s the stuff God hits your ass with, when he doesn’t want to kill ya, he just wants to slow ya down.” -Richard Pryor on MS

Leanne_Spiritual_Heart.341200433_stdI believe that people take on catastrophic challenges for different reasons, because in our deepest Being, we want to wake up; we want to evolve and we want to effect the collective evolution of humanity. That is not small potatoes. Otherwise, the Universe would be seen as an uncompromising, sadistic force, which I do not, cannot and will not ever believe; that is too antithetical to what I feel in my heart. Without my cumulative felt-perceptions nurtured over many decades and perhaps many lifetimes, I might have the consciousness of a chickpea, not meaning to disparage a chickpea. Sorry Rumi.

My belief system has been nurtured by my evolving love for myself and humanity. How could this curriculum be for anything but my betterment? When I feel moved to look deeper into the etiology of the illness I feel like an investigator looking for clues. Either we volunteer for these rigorous curricula or they are arbitrary, the latter of which I don’t believe for a minute given the outcomes I have witnessed and experienced. I also believe that we set up reminders along the way when we might be deviating from our chosen course. At these points, like breadcrumbs along the path, we face crossroads where free choice can be exercised to alter the trajectory.

I can remember making choices during my life that, in retrospect, were not in my best interest. Rather than seeing these choices as failures or even tests that would imply right or wrong, I see these moments as opportunities for my Soul to catch my attention. Based on the curricula chosen by the Soul, these nudges are instructive and they become louder and louder when ignored.

Working on surrendering my egoic willfulness, I suspect that I created a failsafe plan to get my attention that would not allow for error. Early in the illness, I felt punished and ashamed. Now I understand that the opposite is really true. Because I am a courageous soul with fierce determination, I set out a curriculum where surrender was the only option.

I can remember example after example of times in my life when I deferred my own judgment to other people’s opinions. I can remember denying my own intuitions and desires to meet other people’s needs. The most representative example of this self injurious behavior was after a marital separation where I was left emotionally devastated. It took two days to get myself out of bed and back to work, after six weeks of singing Amazing Grace for an hour each day while driving over the causeway to New Orleans, I gradually brought my life back to a place of joyful homeostasis. I began to dream of finding a small house for myself and the children that was only mine.

When my husband sensed my joy he requested  a reconciliation, I pivoted away from my dream to reconcile. I began having anxiety attacks like I had never experienced. I remember being unable to leave the car, but still I ignored them. In retrospect, these felt like wake-up calls that I systematically ignored. What could my soul do, but make the alarms louder? That was when the symptoms were beginning. But it is never just one incident; there are often many unheeded calls. Remember, the illnesses or injuries are not punishments. They are sacred breadcrumbs to assist your return to your chosen path.

Around this time the symptoms had begun. Instead of abandoning my dream, I needed to turn toward my dream, to empower it, to empower myself. Only in retrospect do it realize the significance of ignoring the prompting from my soul. I gave my soul no choice but to intensify the constriction. This was a loving gesture, like a parent creating instructive containment to assure healthy development in their child. There is no judgment regarding the required curriculum on a Soul level. Challenges and resulting behaviors are met with neutrality. What is most important is the return to a deeper sense of self-love. “God does not want to kill ya, just slow ya down.”

People design specific karmic lessons during their pre-birth planning to focus on developing particular traits, i.e. self-esteem, generosity, compassion, becoming more self-referential during their mortal lifetimes. I believe that becoming self-referential was central to my learning and being willful was in the way of making better choices that would deepen self trust. Okay, enter progressive degenerative illness  to affirm to my ego that my soul is in charge. From the perspective of this singular life, it seems like a big deal, but from the scope of thousands of lifetimes it is a mere speck in the bigger picture.

The hope and promise of a life fully lived brings with it the perspective of seeing our lives from the bigger picture perspective. With this understanding, suffering can be greatly reduced and deep joy and satisfaction attained from the knowing that we have done our best. It is for this intended outcome that I continue to log my Journey.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there!” -Rumi

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I am calling hospice today to see if I qualify for their services. Living in the wilderness, there are few services available in our area. Even the home health organization cannot provide outreach for our area anymore. Although I am self-sufficient, occasionally there are issues that are beyond me medically. For example, a few weeks ago my heart rate went to 152 while I was standing, so I was exerting. I didn’t know who to consult.

Making the decision to call hospice came from me. Nobody referred me to them, not the home health organization that regretfully discharge me, not the doctor who agreed to be my primary care doctor, not my caregivers or friends, some of whom are nurses. I don’t think anybody wanted to connect me with THAT organization. So it really wasn’t a matter of neglect or oversight, but perhaps it was more a matter of denial, denial and grief.

We called and although I don’t qualify for their short-term program (hooray), I qualify for their long-term palliative care program. Palliative care is defined as multidisciplinary approach to providing medical care for those with serious illnesses, to relieve pain, symptoms and stress. The administrative person explained the program and said with a doctor’s order, I could sign the paperwork. I explained that I cannot use my hands and she suggested a power of attorney. A power of attorney to me suggests deferring power to another. Doesn’t she realize that is what I have done my whole life?! I refuse to do it now. My suggestion was duct tape, but she didn’t seem to appreciate that.

There is a part of me (by the way, who is in charge much of the time) that really does not take this seriously. When you have a life-threatening illness for as long as I have and have moved through the state of acceptance to a state of transcendence, it is hard to take these circumstances too seriously; I would be way too serious, way too often. I had to give that up.

I feel like someone who is about to go on a beautiful journey and is excited about the adventure. Thinking about my place of departure is not really the point, when you are going on a “pilgrimage.” There is much I will appreciate to not have to deal with, like my in floor radiant heat, the physical discomfort I deal with on a daily basis and the enormous energy it takes to stay proactive, just to stay alive. When I think of my greatest grief, it is in leaving my children and grandchildren. As I open more to the belief that I will not truly be leaving them, what’s the point? It’s not like I can go skiing, swimming or riding anymore. After all, once we all make our transitions, we will be together again.

So I have the dubious distinction of being a member of a group of which I didn’t really want membership, but I am a member of a broader group, a group formed and expressed through LOVE, and I embrace that membership.