When fear tightens its grip,
“What would someone do if
they loved themself?”
Now do that.
It is, on this rainy gray day, I meditate on gratitude. In this bleak opaqueness, it is easy to notice only that, especially after too many long seasons of unchanging gray. It is easy to feel drained of hope for anything better to come.
Yet in a simple meditative state, how wonder-filled the breadth and wholeness of life as it shows up in all its many colors…a gentle reminder back towards my own fierce life force.
Gratitude appearing as a sliver of light on the horizon–my senses tell me as I watch its arrival. It’s Love calling home, coming to find me. Not that I was ever for a second lost to it. Support arriving–beyond circumstance and suffering, of which there is plenty.
My senses inform me, tell me of it in creatively innate ways. In touch of hot and cold, skin and touch, a stroke of kindness or endearment.
I breathe in aromas of love cooking in the oven or the familiar aura of another, the smell or warning of danger, of jasmine in spring.
I witness love in the eyes of a friend, blossoming pink Dogwoods flowers or brilliant white, ship like clouds sailing upon a blue sea sky. I see where love is not felt. I say a prayer or extend a hand.
And on it goes.
Our natural senses are a gateway to the Universe when open.
And nothing good in being alive is so small as to not be noticed and full of wonder at.
We stand here at the apex of everything that has arrived in life before us so as to support us… from the Void or God or Source of all wonder to the Big Bang to stars and their trails through the universe(s) to Mother Gaia, earthquakes, fire, shifting lands. From one cell beings and the creative evolution of our bodies through eons or a single lifetime.
We are here to expand and breathe, feel pain and grow into Love, live and die and change into something else or more.
I hear, sense, touch, see, feel, and I’m alive; and in this moment or moments to come, all is well with my soul, and I’m alive past pain or suffering or complaint or whatever life throws my way.
I am not here to rejoice in the suffering of another, but to support because I have been supported.
Love is creative in its unfathomable myriad of expression, and often arrives in surprise or gift. It will show you how and the way.
Crack open the gate of resistence.. Raise your expectation just a smidge. Find life in the moment in the sidewalk flower growing from its fissures and breaks. Notice things for five minutes.
You and I are here to make a difference, to stand for kindness and the ferocity of Love in the darkest of time or place where love has not been felt or seen…
even within ourselves.
It’s been so nice having you here,
my little pink birthday girls.
Lots of photo shoots, just you and my camera
and the light
while you posed so sweetly for me
again and again every day you’ve been here.
You’re a little tired now—
I can see that.
And life is so brief for all of us and so awash with grace and grief both,
that I dont blame you for exhausting yourself
giving away all that grace.
Flowers in the window should have more function than a window seal,
but I lack a garden here up high…
except for the one you’ve planted in my heart.
I want to know if you have those days, weeks or months where you retreat in order to retrieve your energy or an answer?
When things or circumstances don’t seem fully manageable?
When renewal is only possible through rest of the mind, soul and body just to gain a bit of strength for the journey ahead?
Yes, I’d like to know.
Well, thank you for asking.
I like to talk to the tree people, listen to the flower folks—
they like to talk back.
I like to get real close to their mouths and be still—they talk in whispers, you know.
A camera, too, helps me to translate when the light is just right.
They get into my heart and do all their best work there.
I may not say much to you because I’m too busy listening.
Talk can be cheap on these days—
when all I can think about is how I’d rather open my heart,
fling my arms toward the sky and be ready for any bright word that might come my way.
Whomever you are,
wherever I might have lost you along the way,
Whether you know this or not, whether I’m lost
To your thoughts, or you think of me often
Or now and again,
Whatever we had in laughter, in bittersweet or hoped for dreams,
Our present lives written as they are because of that—
We are pages scribed in a book
Because I loved you or you loved me.
We are not lost because of our loss—and though
we may never speak—or maybe we do,
In my heart where love is found,
I will always love you.
You are a part of the larger story of who I am,
And I will always be grateful to you.
One day in the greater light, when the book is closed,
I know we will meet again,
I stumbled across this faded photo again tonight. A boyfriend and dear friend of so many years and I in front of the fireplace. I didn’t know then how time would pass so fast. There was so much life in front of me. I didn’t know how we would lose one another while we were busy making other plans. How years of illness or homelessness or death and marriages and so many other things would descend upon one or the other of us. I didn’t know how you can lose touch with someone you swore you could never lose.
These days, however, my intuition is stronger than ever. I’m learning the wisdom in living life with a heart that is willing to open to loss or joy or confusion. I’m learning that life with an open heart requires much wisdom. Wisdom–a bit of hardwon gain in exchange for oh so many losses. In that, I’m lucky. Wisdom is partly listening to intuition, that still small voice that says, go here, turn there, you’re okay. Wisdom is also partly resilience, learning how to bounce back from tragedy, how it’s okay to grieve or cry, how to let go of what fails to serve our life or the greater good any longer.
Too many people refuse the necessary changes that get you to wisdom. Wisdom requires boundaries in this world. Boundaries that are necessary for protection of your beautiful heart, for letting go of suffering, for not allowing the entire world, or even a smidgeon of it to take your heart hostage. Your heart is your own. You get to choose whom you share it with, whom and what you open it to. You must treat it well.
Change is inevitable. We are designed for it. We are not meant to hold on to anything too tightly, for in the tightness of our grip, we create suffering.
To be sure, life has a funny way of landing you in the most unexpected places. You never know where that might be or what will happen along the way. but I’m learning to live the questions, as poet Ranier Maria Rilke said to his young protégé. And as in all things, life is an inside job.
I believe it is ours to come into this life to learn how to lessen not only our own suffering but then the suffering of others, as well. Kindness helps, starting with you. But it can take many years to learn that. You are very fortunate, indeed, if you have discovered it and become infinitely and patiently kind with yourself while you learn the special kind of braille that is required to navigate your way through the darkness: Indeed, it is the first step towards living a few answers.
Before becoming a butterfly–you have to let life bury you inside its chrysalis.
You have to turn into mushy goo. You have to lose all resemblance to your former self.
You have to get uncomfortable. You have to let go of old ways. You have to learn a whole new way of being yourself.
Not everyone is willing.
Yet the secret is that the earth needs caterpillars as much as butterflies! And caterpillars aspiring towards butterflyhood…
…and all the things you might not think it needs for reasons you probably can’t begin to imagine.
The earth looks vastly different from the ground than the air. And we need the ground and air both the same.
So if you’ve made it to butterfly stage, keep talking anyway. You survived this far when you didn’t think you were going to make it.
Keep talking love to the world. Say how it is from up there, from the trees and bright blue of the day. Some will get it, some won’t. Either way, it’s okay.
You never know who might be listening.
Today we start the rest of our lives. It’s official.
On this day, January 20, 2017, President Obama has left the White House and a new President takes his place—for better or worse. I have my own ideas about what he might or might not do while seated in the Oval Office. I am sure you do, too. All eyes of the planet are watching to see what is going to happen. A man comfortable enough with his own authority is now taking his place in a seat that is powerful enough to make or break this barely visible blue planet–a planet that spins in the backwaters of an incomprehensibly vast pinwheel of stars. Think about that for a moment.
And it is a man who, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, has repeatedly, and with a very long stick, poked the tiger of our fears since announcing his candidacy for President of the United States. Poke, then stir and repeat. This has been the methodology for his brand of success over the years, it would seem.
However long the life span remaining for each of us here on a breathtakingly small speck of universal life, there has never been such a time as this between technology and the ability to create or destroy. I believe actions for better or worse are felt as a rippling waves throughout the fabric of all of life itself, wherever it is or whatever form. Everything is connected.
Though widely attributed to being a Chinese curse, the saying “may you live in interesting times” may be deduced from analysis of the late-19th century speeches of Englishman, Joseph Chamberlain and erroneously expounded upon by his son, Austen Chamberlain. However it came about, we are here right now, in the boiling cauldron of interesting times. [i] Interesting times are signals that something is about to change. In fact, it is pretty much a guarantee–and you play a part in it whether you choose to or not.
Interesting times are created for thinking people just like you and me. Now, what are you going to decide to do with your place in it? Remember, if you choose to distract yourself in habituation, hoping to maintain the status quo away from uncomfortable feelings or the work of change, you’ve decided.
Most critical is the decision to give up any complacency you may be in possession of about your own life, and over your place here as a citizen of the earth, and over the gifts and talents lying within you. And you do have certain gifts and talents even if they have become undervalued, dormant or gone underground.
Because as you may or may not know, our gifts and talents, no matter our personal idea of them, were given to us so that we could give them away. They are meant for service and for the betterment of yourself and the betterment of mankind. They are intended so that you will be able to better know exactly what and where the passion is in you to go out and serve–and with the proper tools innately and proportionately exact to you.
But sometimes you’ve got to start digging to uncover them before you can utilize them. I have some ideas about how you might begin the process and will write more about that very soon, because now is the time you are really going to need to rely on those beautiful parts of yourself. They are what will save you on more levels you can know in the present moment, and might even positively contribute to life on Planet Earth.
Collectively, we are powerful! This I know. Individually, you might not have not given yourself enough credit for surviving until now.
Desperately seeking change, whether realizing it or not on a conscious level, this is the time that the people of Planet Earth through their most heartfelt and fervent desire have collectively moved heaven and earth to effect change away from the prevailing system and towards a more healing one that WE get to create as we go. We have put people, point men or women, if you will, in place around the world who are sufficiently capable of taking a sledgehammer to our most cherished fears in order to exquisitely tear them down.
The time has arrived. We stand on the precipice of fear and change. What is our future going to look like? Right now it is a big question mark. Question marks in life are doorways to limiting probabilities or countless possibilities. What will we be? It is ours to choose for better or worse individually and collectively. We have an amazing opportunity. We get to make up the rules for continued life on this mother ship upon whose back we reside—much like the rules that were made up for us in preceding generations.
We live in times meant for the unseating of dominance of one over another, of our fears over love; and whether we’ll be pushed by our fears or pulled by love and courage.
This is the part where we now get to save ourselves! Ultimately, no governing body can do it for us. It’s going to take some true grit and a lot of courage.
Time to get busy! Dig where you are. Ask for help. Reach out. Network. Power lies in strength of community. Choose to be a force for good where can you do the most good for the most people.
Your uncovered and passionate heart bent on love in service over fear will show you the way through.
The beautiful wild calls to me more and more. Days and years pass, and I am moving closer to death now that I am in the last third of my life. Being here now, I feel done with so much focusing on the logical minutia of my days. It’s easier than when I was thirty or forty in a way. This minutia feels stale as I move towards lightening the agendas others have for me, the ones I have of myself, the tyranny of the urgent cracking its whip over me to move faster, work harder, accomplish more. I am ready to become a human being now rather than a human doing. My commodity is not valued in how much I can accomplish but in realizing my mystery, to be tenderly compassionate towards all that I have deemed as less than perfect within and around me.
This is what makes perfect sense to me now, the alchemical weaving and blending of logos and mythos together into a substance that becomes far more valuable than either alone. Gold, if you will. I have spent the better part of a lifetime mostly doing one or the other, furiously scurrying around to accomplish whatever long to-do list I had in order to be able to live in the mystery. As if I had to earn the right to lie on my back in the grass and gaze at shape shifting clouds or put my pen to the page when the first lines of a poem slipped in to my awareness or try my hand at putting some color on the canvass—or merely to take a much needed nap.
What makes sense now is living on purpose, living with awareness of all that I am doing in each moment, of acceptance wherever I might find myself. Washing dishes turns into an act of grace as I feel the warm water running over my hands, handle each fork and cup, happy there are dishes to wash, food to prepare, food at the end of my arm anytime I want it, blessing the earth and each hand that went into its growth and preparation; or paying bills, feeling the abundance of the universe, that I have been graced with a roof over my head, a place to lay my tired body at night.
I am grateful I have what I need when I need it even if it is not always exactly what I think I want.
Today I was counting the last of my former life, the years I have spent in caretaking. I believed it mine to shoulder the atlas as I cared for seriously ill friends and family, along with a serious illness of my own. Counting too many years in the business of living and dying, emergencies, and crisis and drama in the physical, mental and emotional arenas—I am just done.
Now I feel ready to count the stars in the midnight sky, to watch the sailing ships of clouds passing by. I am ready to take long walks, write books, and rise up and up into my one beautiful life before dissolving back down into the primordial soup from which I came.
Yet even in the sad and the bad, the worry, the hurry that has consumed my days, I am utterly grateful. These are gifts of pain I have been graced with. Deep within me lies a dark underworld from which arises a priceless seam of gold, a transmutation of the pain and fear into a precious metal. I couldn’t have fully understood this until more recently. I am multi-dimensional, of the stars and of the earth. In this suit of flesh and bone, lives a being descended from the stars, from the source of life itself. I am meant while I am here to dwell in both myth and logic, to learn equally about both, to learn to weave them into a beautiful tapestry. Everything is purposed in my life to propel me towards the realization of this wisdom…to be heavenly minded while tending to life, to mend that which is broken with my compassion, to seek forgiveness, to forgive, to be a place holder for love, to be in a possession of a heart that has been broken wide open, to become fertile ground where life can grow.
I have not entirely mastered these things yet. It’s okay. It is not mine to completely master. Better to accept my own humanity, my fragility, my missing the mark so many times. This is true wisdom to know there is perfection in failure and fragility. It is part of the dying process, the cycle of life. Everything has to eventually die so that something else can live. At every moment, ten thousand things are dissolving at the same time ten thousand things are arising, taking their turn at form, at life, deciding what they will be, just for the joy and the experience of being in any particular state. For are we not each and every one and everything nuances of the one life that runs through us all, here to learn about life, ourselves, each other?
Grace is continually born out of pain, life arising out of death. Our pain becomes another’s grace as we reach out to touch and comfort. We can do this because we’ve been there, walked through the same fire of suffering. Lives and hearts are made whole from shards of anguish and heartache. Love grows. We’re not alone.
To me, this is what makes perfect sense.
It’s enough, a place to begin
to wait for a single drop or bead of rain
to fall on the hole you’ve climbed in.
A single drop that waters the single word
that strikes the chord that plays just right,
that grows into a bud, a tiny shoot, a spark of hope.
If you can wait long enough.
A day will do, then becomes two and three,
a week, a month, a year of unexpected alteration,
offerings falling from ominous clouds
straight into your heart.
And what went down, now goes up—
it’s the natural law of things.
The blackness of pain, as you will learn,
drop by drop from day to day,
will serve to increase your capacity for joy,
stretch your boundaries,
which can often hurt as you know,
then break the cords that hold too tight
your beautiful and sacred life,
if you can wait
just a day or more.
If you give yourself permission to fall,
say it’s okay to be held while you go down,
go easy on yourself,
there will be stronger arms than yours right now
to catch you while you fall.
there will be that day,
though I can’t say exactly when,
you will rise and rise from your black loamy bed
born in sorrow and blood
and know you were glad you stayed
and waited for rain.
© 2016 Shoshana Wolfington
It takes courage to tell you this
at the risk you’ll think less, nevertheless, I will.
I’ll tell you what depression is—like this—
a barren land leaning into forever,
a dark annhilation; it’s a
void of hope or imagination
when hell comes to pay a call.
And here’s the secret: I was just there.
But most of you would never know.
(You might even be there now, too.)
Truth as I saw it then, this life had been enough,
I was done.
But you think like that when you’re in hell.
And so began to envision, with each glass of water
that passed my lips, what I could do
with that and a few or more pills.
I didn’t exactly plan that I would, only imagined it so,
how it could be.
There was no more room for anything–
not in the cruelness of men or the ghosts denied, or
the self-deprivations while acting strong for everyone
visiting all at once in my life.
Orphans each of emotions
looking for the smallest drink of love.
Not that I wasn’t loved.
Not that I didn’t love in return, not that I didn’t care.
No, it wasn’t that at all.
It was the driest white bone of exhaustion,
all the lifetimes lived in the space of one.
It was like a gift
as I see it now.
I’ll tell you what strength is—like this—
strength is taking one small move in mercy’s direction,
even a flinch or a step,
towards whom and wherever it might be found.
When all you can say to anyone with kindness in their eyes,
to whatever’s holy or sacred paying attention,
help me, please.
And I did, because my life was leaving me,
just like the sea rushing back from the shore.
A gift, indeed.
A profound breaking, a leaving, then
a sad resurrection towards the miraculous while those that could,
in compassion, seen and unseen, walk me back to myself,
back to a kind of confounding beauty,
an uncertainty of what was to come.
And it was enough.
(We’re never really alone.)
Were I to be honest, the pull towards leaving
still haunts me once in awhile
when I imagine drinking that cup while tired, I forget
that mercy waits just past the next corner, the next fork in the road.
And I remember nothing is for certain for any of us,
and life and death have a way of reminding us
there’s nothing to control.
It’s a coming home again to myself,
wherein between staying or leaving,
I need only extend myself a whit to say help
to ask for mercy, please,
when hope is lost.
© 2015 Shoshana Wolfington
rooted in green, when I said yes to everything—
it was easy to love.
sturdy as trunks, foliage thick as spring,
where has it gone, my dear?
We had our years in laughter, in plenty or little
back when we bent so easily in the wind.
We were foolish with love,
spent it down to our skin, ’till
there was nothing left to say, and
you sent me away.
Near a lifetime’s passed,
I don’t always think of it so much,
so much water and so many years come and gone,
but truth is,
I love you—yet winter’s here,
branches stripped, their leaves spent,
too much weather in limbs sweeping the ground.
Still it’s been a lifetime of loving you,
though not like when we were young.
Yet here it is—
alone or together, husband, brother, companion
and friend, in sweet and bitter,
in axe to the trunk—oh, I remember
all those springs and summers when once I loved you, when
we were young.
of your life
when you least expect it.
When you had your life precisely charted out,
your keys in hand, your perfect plans,
while walking out the front door,
when suddenly, BAM!
the back door slams against the wall,
like a hurricane coming in.
I was just leaving, you said.
You had to lay down your keys
and your map—because what just came in looked nothing
but what came in had its own plans for you.
While standing there, you’d never guess, looking at the mess,
it was only love come
to save you.
Resistance is futile, it said, surrender best.
But of course, it might take a while to learn that.
And when you finally get it
while it’s got you, this thing of your undoing,
this decimator of plans,
it becomes sweetness in your hands,
and the whole splendored universe moves
inside of you.
You wonder how it is you never saw such an endless
midnight sky blinking back at you.
Love is a shape-shifting trickster in ways you’d never conceive,
can take you to dizzying vistas you’ve never seen
on some crazy and crooked paths.
It’s not about what you think it is. It’s more than that.
Love comes to bust down your doors and walls,
shake possibility loose in your mind,
get you to move beyond your self-imposed boundaries
as a citizen of the stars
into your own feral nature.
Out beyond the dictates of decorum or certain civilities
waits your aching passion,
but first you must learn to surrender
you think you have, then leap
from the precipice of that life.
© 2014 Shoshana Wolfington
While having a soak in the tub this morning listening to a podcast with Desmond Tutu and Krista Tippet on her program, On Being, on NPR Radio–I listened in as Desmond Tutu wondered in sadness at the many angry, vocal Christians, who side-by-side with their fear mongering brothers-in-arms, seem presently possessed by a kind of mad ideology these days. He observed that having strayed so far from their original call to love “even the least of these”, they now appear to be singularly focused on the sexual orientation of others while at the same time painting “the least of these” with the brush of “not quite human”.
To be fair, however, I will add there is a silent majority of caring and compassionate individuals who do practice their faith in accordance with the original tenets of their faith. I am not talking about them.
The world is changing quickly. This we know. It is natural to resist change, to step outside the safety of our comfort zones. This is also known. Yet I cannot help but believe these same angry individuals act and believe as they do out of a deep fear of “the other”, those whom they perceive as different from themselves. Obviously, someone has to be at fault for the troubled world they see reflected back at them. Someone has to take the blame for the mess they think they are in. The fact is, the genie is out of the bottle, and they are working feverishly to stuff her back into that bottle. Their once secure landscape has changed, and they want it back.
Happily though, for many, the genie will never crawl back into her bottle. She has awoken from a long sleep and isn’t about to let anyone put her back in her place. She is finding her voice after being silenced for so long, and has she got a story to tell! The planet over, the genie is out. The time of secret holding and power mongering is being outed. Life everywhere is outing itself on streets and in homes in every nation, resisting the old ways of power gobbling systems that ultimately kill and keep people in shackles. People are talking to one another the world over, telling their stories, rising up, bringing in something new–a new way of showing up in the world, taking their power and dignity back along with their ability to think and decide for themselves what their lives should look like.
No one knows yet exactly what it will look like. We are making it up as we go. For sure, everything is made up in this life by someone or a committee of someones.
So while one system is being born, another is dying at the same time. It is most true that in order for something to live, something else has to die. This is the way of life, the natural order of how it is–but I’ll save that for another blog entry. Presently, chaos is at the helm while the adherents of fear in last stand attempt to stamp out anything they don’t yet understand.
Yet forces bigger than all of us–Life itself, is reworking itself into a higher order, and chaos is absolutely necessary at the same time while something else is arising, while the old system dies–and it will die. Here’s the thing–they might win some skirmishes, but eventually they will lose the war. A critical mass has been formed, and there is no stopping it now. And maybe, just maybe some of these same frightened individuals will discover love for the first time in the process with the realization you can’t authentically fix anything with hate, even if you believe God gave you license.
No matter how it looks, in the beginning, middle and end, love always has her way.
Slicing open a lemon this morning, squeezing out all its sour essence, like I do every other morning, I felt myself suddenly overcome with gratitude. This simple small act of slipping the sharpened knife past the dimpled yellow skin of this brightly colored, tart flavored little fruit—feeling the sun’s warmth streaming through the window on my back, I give thanks. I give thanks for the earth, the sun and the rain that nourished the tree that it grew upon—from small bud to flower to this lovely little fruit that sits on my counter now in front of me, that has shown up to support and sustain my health and wellbeing. Grateful, I offer up a blessing of thank you again as I down the juice in a glass of sparkling filtered water.
It came to me how I too often forget to say thank you for so many simple things and how, conversely, I find myself grumbling and grousing over my long lists of overwhelm, things I need to accomplish. Life is so simple when we allow it to be so. I am working on remembering in all things that life can be so beautifully and elegantly simple, that I don’t have to complicate it in every minute by stressing out over what I don’t have or what remains to be done. I want to be done with the complaining of it all. Instead I want to celebrate my life, this gift given to me every single day I wake up. These little acts of self-care and gratitude say I value my life, bring me unexpected joy in the most difficult of circumstances and keep me resilient and moving forward.
I am reminded of the term “Pura Vida”. When visiting Costa Rica, a country that I hope to travel to one day very soon, I have heard many remark upon their return how the custom is to say at every opportunity, “Pura Vida!” No matter what is happening, “Pura Vida!” When exiting a cab, when paying for groceries or when sipping coffee or chatting with friends, people will call out “Pura Vida!” Rain leaking through the roof? Pura Vida! Flat tire? Pura Vida! Not enough money or food? Pura Vida!
In Costa Rica, Pura vida is less a motto and more a way of life. It is an expression of happiness and moving on no matter the flat tire or the spilled milk. It is good to remember that monotonous complaining is a waste of time and there are many among us who are far less fortunate. If we are here and healthy, and there are many ways to be healthy, then we can also remember that life is good and that we are exactly where we need to be no matter what it looks like from the outside.
When it comes to what is going on with my mother’s slide into death, please do not overestimate what I have done or as the good and dutiful daughter my mind might want you to perceive me as in certain moments. Tonight I am feeling tired, and so because of this, I am stepping away from my mother’s bedside for a couple of days, knowing that sleep is the best meditation.
Having just said that, I also want to relate some intriguing and somewhat bizarre occurrences I’m experiencing recently, but I’ll get to that a little further down in the second part of the story.
What I write here for all the world to see can feel very private. So private in fact, that my own mother, were she aware of it, would probably be horrified by my disclosures. If I were twelve years old, more than likely, I wouldn’t be let out of my room for weeks. How do I know this? It happened when I was ten and twelve and fifteen—oh, the trouble I got in for my writing. It stopped me for a lot of years. Those were different times and that was before the internet.
I have taken all of this into consideration—a lifetime of consideration, because, inherently, I was born to write and this is what we do as collectors and chroniclers of stories. I had to make a decision to do what I what was born to do, and to hell with the consequences. I am totally alive when I write, when I let out all the secrets and mistaken truths of my life, when I am witness to the work and wisdom of both microcosm and macrocosm.
The reason I write this is to chronicle these precious days. I want to journal thoughts, emotions, insights and observations as they come up. If by doing so and making it public, only one person is encouraged or helped, even if it’s just me, then mission accomplished. This is my service in life, which is why we are gifted with talents and/or passionate interests, not to hoard for ourselves, but to give away.
We grieve and celebrate in community, the sorrows halved and the joys doubled by doing so. It is not my conscious wish to write in order to garner admiration or sympathy from you. Honestly, I cannot hold space for that because then I feel falsely obligated to somehow try to either live up to it or live it down. What I write is an intimate logging of experience with death and dying. Too often death and dying can be taboo subjects in a culture that has a difficult time facing its own mortality. We like to present ourselves as happy successful people all the time when inside we may feel quite different, while our emotions are begging for expression. Not an expert on this subject, it’s my desire to open the door to discussions about it.
There is a Buddhist meditation that calls for one to mediate on one’s own death, to envision oneself as already dead. Most assuredly, it is a reality check as we come to appreciate the brevity and impermanence of our life and material possessions and the true value of relationship. This practice has been helpful to me whenever I have practiced it over the years.
I have also discovered a Facebook page, well, several of them from different areas around the country called “Death Café”. I am considering starting one myself when I am a little more rested. In these death cafes around the country, people are gathering in homes and parks and restaurants to have intimate and heart felt discussions regarding death, and no, not in any morbid sense of the word, but an exploration towards wisdom and acceptance of letting go or surrendering that which needs surrendering or whose time has come to an end.
So this is why I write, and not to mention the fact that this is what I do: investigate my thoughts on the page, which is what good writing can be about in the hope of teasing out the curiosity of the reader, even as self, as to their own process of erroneous thoughts and belief system.
I have been spending hours at my mom’s bedside. Saturday, I shed a few tears, no, they were more like sobs right at her bedside. I don’t know if you are supposed to do that in a dying person’s presence, but I did. So did the caregivers. I also talked to her a lot as she slept.
It’s no secret I believe there is Big Love that surrounds us at every moment if we are open to it. Some of you are familiar with the story of my Near Death Experience. Having traveled to the other side where I personally witnessed them, I felt strongly there were angelic forces or beings of light in her room, and so I quietly said a prayer to be able to hear some word of encouragement from them for my own grieving process. A few minutes later, I happened to look through her little bookshelf and discovered the book, Into the Light—Real Life Stories About Angelic Visits, Visions of the Afterlife, and Other Pre-Death Experiences, by John Lerma, M.D.. I couldn’t have received a better word of encouragement and comfort as I began to read, tears running down my face as I did, filling the trash can with snotty tissues as I read.
Mom looked so peaceful hour after hour. However, I had a difficult time leaving her and didn’t get home until 1 am and asleep until 3 am due to a situation. Sunday feeling tired to the bone, I went in to see her in the afternoon.
Walking in her door, there was something different about my time there on Sunday. Because I was so tired, I could not be as present for her as I had the day before. Not that she was able to talk to me or acknowledge my presence at any point, still I felt the duty to be there on Sunday whereas I stayed out of love on Saturday. Sunday, she was agitated and fretful, attempting to lift her head off the pillow, crying and moving her legs around. I tried to comfort her and stroke her hair, but nothing worked despite the meds she was receiving to calm her.
It is said that your loved one can still hear you even if they don’t appear to be all there or are comatose. So I continued to talk to her, and even played a recording from some family members she hadn’t heard from in a while. I was hoping for closure, and I thought she might need to hear their voices expressing their love for her. That only upset her more it seemed. Of course, these were my ideas mostly in my attempts to soothe her.
By 8 pm, watching her, I sat and meditated, asking whatever unseen benevolent forces that were in her room to please show me why she was so agitated. These are the words that immediately formed in my mind:
“Go home! You are exhausted and on a deep level, she is worried for you. You are keeping her from her rest.”
I knew this was correct. If you knew my mom, you would know that no matter what state of mind she is in, the first thoughts for her are the well being and safety of her kids. I immediately got up from the chair, gathered my things, kissed her on the cheek and went home.
Today, Monday, I awoke feeling not much more rested and wondering if I should attempt to go see her again. I sat in my chair and meditated for a long while, asking again if I should stay home or go see her. I mean what if I miss something or she passes and I am not there? What if she says something in a moment of lucid clarity just before crossing over and I miss it? What if she dies alone? I want no regrets.
My cell phone rang. I considered not answering it until realizing it was my youngest sister calling. Right away, she wanted to know how I was feeling. Living a state apart, we keep up with our lives by phone. I told her how tired I felt. She relayed the word “faith” to me. It was something I must hear, she said. It pertained to all of us in letting mom go. There was an urgency to tell me—that we must trust mom will pass as she needs to and if I am meant to be there when she does, I will be. If not, not. It will be perfect however it turns out. The more important thing needed was taking care of myself right now.
How did she know? I had not told her the events of the day before regarding Mom’s agitation and my prayer for guidance. She relayed how she was letting Mom go, too, sending her spirit to the arms of Love Itself. She prayed, and as she did, I actually saw Mom fly up in a beautiful quilt of memories to a whole happy crowd of people waiting to welcome her. I saw the light. There was a party waiting for her! I saw mom suddenly looking young and radiant as she dropped the quilt to look back down at us and say “Thank you!”
A bit later while paying her bills (see how I wasn’t resting?!), the phone rang again. Hospice calling to tell me she was very peaceful today, sleeping soundly. I had left an anxious message during the middle of my visit the day before with news of my mom’s agitation and what we might do about it. The hospice nurse bluntly told me that she believed my mom had most likely been triggered by my presence. I then told her of my tiredness and agreed. “Stay home and rest for a couple of days”, she said. They would let me know if something came up.
What happened next was most strange: Doing some work on my computer, I felt a sudden and unexpected gentle touch, like someone had softly stroked my shoulder. I felt it through the pajamas and fleece robe I was still in. I whipped around to see what or who was there or if something had fallen from the ceiling on me. Nothing. Empty space and nothing on the floor or me. What was that, or better yet, whom?
So what is the takeaway from all of this? You might call me crazy or foolish, but if you have read anything else I’ve written, I believe there answers out there we don’t even have questions for yet. I am learning to surrender, to let go, admit my vulnerability, my lack of answers–and it is perfect. Some habits die hard as the one who in another life always felt the compulsion to rescue everyone from everything. I don’t have to adjust or fix my mother’s road to the other side. Her death does not need my intervention. Life does not require for its existence that I fix or adjust or straighten everything, only leave much as I find it in its perfect imperfection.
Having said all that, I’m climbing back into my perfect rumpled, unmade bed where all my pillows are just right.
1. I have been seeing a great deal of this handsome frog.
2. I’ve been having delirium tremens from using the wrong detergent.
3. I have been spending a great deal of time with my mom who is getting ready to make her final transition into the great beyond.
If you picked 1 or 2, sorry! Door number 3 it is, but, hopefully, you already knew that, although I have dated a few handsome frogs in my time.
My mother is getting ready to walk or sail or fly, or whatever it is we do, through that big door called death. We all have to go through it sooner or later. However, as her daughter, it is extremely challenging to watch. Hospice tells me she is experiencing terminal agitation, which is a stage where the body has run its course but is still fighting to survive. There can be intense anxiousness, twitching, jerking, and an inability to lay still, odd body contortions, combativeness and anger. This can start from hours up to a couple of weeks preceding death. She is already a week into it, but had been declining somewhat dramatically the last several weeks before.
There is a beautiful resident cat in the cottage of the memory care facility where my mother lives. His name is Jasper, and he is a silken black very Zen like cat. I am told that when a resident is getting ready to pass, he will climb on their beds and stay there. He starts at the feet, and as it gets closer, he moves to the middle of the bed and at the end he is on the pillow with them. In the past, my mother never appreciated him jumping on her bed, but last week she was found petting him as he lay next to her. Jasper has taken up residence at her feet.
It is difficult to watch someone you have loved your whole life shrink down to nothing and be in so much agony in their slide towards the inevitable. She has been in hell every minute and completely aware of being there even if the person who once lived in her body is no longer there.
I have had to make some painful decisions in these final days as to her care and comfort, and I have to tell you, it has been wrenchingly difficult and guilt producing. There is so much I don’t know here. She has a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in place, but what to do about getting water or a little bit of food into them if there is still the willingness or ability to swallow at all? She has been placed on heavy meds in order to keep her comfortable. Otherwise, she is attempting to get up and then repeatedly falling; shockingly, she’s even been found climbing on chairs and sitting on tables. No one would expect this from a very frail and skeletal 95 lb. woman who just two years ago, weighed in at 180 lbs. After several recent small strokes, her speech is unintelligible, but she is still amazingly strong and has a death grip when she decides to hold on to something. She has become a danger to herself at this point, and after getting as much water and a bit of food down her as she has been able to tolerate, she now sleeps, due to the influence of medication.
As her guardian, it has been up to me to tend to all the business of dying. I am either with her, or making phone calls and tying up a lot of loose ends every day. It is a tremendous amount of work, not to mention the emotional business. In the evening, I collapse and cry in my compulsion to try and make her dying as comfortable as possible. This is not always so possible, and there are daily emotional adjustments to her constant and many changes.
Still there have been some funny and/or meaningful things she has been able to say in the middle of it all:
You have to find reasons to laugh. Yesterday after we left my mother sleeping and after we met in conference with administration and hospice regarding mom’s care where I chose comfort over everything else they could do, my girlfriend and I went to lunch and had a glass of wine. Jokingly, I informed her that taking care of the dying requires lots of wine. She said she thought she would write that into her contract the next time she takes care of a terminally ill patient.
Family and friends have made last minute visits to see her, but it does not appear that she recognizes much of anyone anymore. Yesterday while sitting next to her bed, this same girlfriend who has been there every step of the way through this journey with me, suggested to my mother that she hug me. On cue, my mother who was determined to lean vertically in my direction, put her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and for over an hour we stayed that way—her ear against my beating heart, my fingers playing in her hair, gently caressing her back and arm…it was the last moment of heaven together before she closed her eyes—maybe forever.
With tears, went breath. Not for myself particularly did I cry. It was all I could do though, the only thing.
Quite recently, I have been entrusted with stories. Overcome by the grief of others, I felt myself full with their pain, their stories of death, loss, and unimaginable grief. Stories told of decisions made I would have argued against had I been asked beforehand–sincerely believing nothing good could come from them.
However, what’s done is done. I have no power over any of it—except as witness to it.
What do I do with all of this? Where do I go and whom do I ask?
Some would advise it not in my best interest to involve myself. Look at the bright side, the light only, the bigger picture. Be happy, some say, accept what is and move on.
Don’t stare too long into suffering’s great abyss—or the abyss might stare back.
Some might say correction is needed or guilt conferred as if I some kind of judge, jury and executioner over another.
I say not necessarily so.
So much pain, not enough me. It’s feels unbearable at times to hold for long without paying an unbearable price in depression, apathy or anger. The tendency is to pick and choose what we will see; or at the least, we are chosen, unwittingly, without notice–a kind of in-your-face thing.
As humans, it is understandably natural to shy away from what causes pain in us and instead turn our attention to that which brings pleasure—you already know this. Yet there is a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen you may be familiar with. This is not my solitary focus here, but to be brief, it involves breathing in the pain or the wish for peace and healing of another and then breathing out peace and healing to that same individual or group of individuals. One can also practice this for oneself in identifying with others who also might be feeling the same pain or suffering around the world. We allow the pain to pass through our hearts, transmuting it into healing. At the very least, it changes us. If you are interested, you can Google it for yourself if you choose to learn more.
I am not a seasoned practitioner of Tonglen. I have used it more than a few times over the course of years. Today was one of them. When the pain of self or others becomes unbearable, it is a good therapy to change the way you see things.
This morning I blogged a poem here that came to me first thing upon awakening called, “Tending the Roses of God”. I was speaking about my mother and her descent into the deeper stages of her illness–Alzheimer’s. I referenced the idea of her tending the roses of God while her body slumbered. It occurred to me later my mother is one of the roses of God; and I, along with others, are tending her as she is bathed or fed or loved.
Yet it also came to me that we are each and every one a rose in that same garden of life, that it is our given service to tend one another by learning to bear witness to the pain and suffering of our lives, by offering up our gifts or talents as acts of healing.
In this, my mother has taught me well. It’s been a long and difficult journey I have often resisted. Nevertheless, witness is the wisdom I’ve learned here, the most valuable lesson, the only viable choice I could make in order to survive and not go down in flames of exhaustion and guilt. I’ve heard it said that the grieving we do is merely the love we are feeling making itself known in visceral ways .
I view many kinds of grief as a kind of stripping down to what’s essential, what is real and true.
What disservice would I be doing in my knee jerk attempts to short circuit whatever important work is going on just so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable?
It is this bearing of witness I am speaking about in not only the practice of Tonglen, but in our choices to become present, to hold space for everything that crosses our paths. It is a conscious choice though expansion of the heart, the still presence of witness. I am making a choice to do this, to recognize that my heart has its great capacity to carry the world in it and not be diminished by it, but rather to transmute it. It is a great honor to be entrusted with this and to trust no matter what a thing looks like.
I am choosing more and more, not always necessarily with success, to hold space for another when I am called. It is a life’s practice not learned overnight, but through the course of years and all the things that happen in a life. These others–they are me, my brother and my sister, no matter the story. How could I do less?
This does not necessarily mean there is something for me to do or to change. There is often no instant comfort or practical advice I have to offer; nothing I can affect or change without creating damage in the long run to myself or them.
I can only sit and be present with the grief or the illness carried by another whose load it is to carry it. I can sit with my discomfort or lack of answers. I can sit and allow my heart to sift through it all, to breathe out peace and healing the best way I know how.
The more difficult task is to remain still, to cease fruitlessly wishing for the proverbial wand of righting wrongs.
I am learning to let go of the need to “do something”—the guilt I’ve been raised with that has so often compelled me into instant action. I know I may still feel the guilt of inaction or answers, but I am choosing to not always allow it to have its way with me, to take time to be reflective and wait on my heart. I trust implicitly in my heart to do the right thing—but first I must listen and be witness to all it has to tell me.
My mother, light as paper, stands,
folds, crumples to the floor.
Yellowed parchment skin inked in
purple orbs and reddened tears, evidence
of failed attempts to hold on.
Her feathery body sleeps heavy
against knocks at her door, barely knows
anymore the call of her name.
She does not stir as I press my lips to her cheek,
my love into her heart,
stroke her hair or feet, wondering where she goes
when she sleeps.
Is she walking somewhere in light-filled fields of gold?
Is she speaking in hushed tones with dear ones passed on?
Is she tending the roses of God?
Will someone tell me please?
I want to know if when she awakes,
something of her stays behind in that world
for her to come home.
© 2013 ~ S. Wolfington
It’s been a long fire.
This burning down the house,
this finding the Holy Grail,
this drinking from the cup—
an act of grace I am worthy of.
perfect equilibrium beginning to end
in each cord of kindling wood
until nothing remains but equanimity,
the face of God
in me the golden ratio—
the opening so vast
only bearable through love.
© 2013 ~ S. Wolfington
A number of years back, my daughter was an assistant teacher at an elite private school just outside of Los Angeles. Many of the children that attended there had parents in the movie industry and one of them was a student in my daughter’s classroom. His dad just happened to be Will Smith. Since I was personally dating the cousin of the owner of the school at the same time, I was invited to several social events, which also included being introduced to a few of the celebrity parents, including Will Smith and his beautiful wife, Jada. It was quickly apparent to me they were no different than the rest of us, and on top of that, they were warm, friendly and engaging. Since then I have seen interviews with them, and it is my feeling that they are old souls here on this planet, highly evolved individuals with ample amounts of integrity and wisdom. I realized there is a lot I could learn from them.
So tonight, when I happened along this Facebook post, Be Intoxicating, by Jada (https://www.facebook.com/jada), I was thrilled. It’s a perfect segue from my last blog post, “The Crack in the Mirror”. And I am excited, having written that piece over a year ago, to have transitioned to a place of being pretty okay with who I am and where I find myself at this stage of my life. I am loving just sending out love wherever I happen to find myself by noticing the people that end up in front of me—the teller at the bank, the stranger at the other end of the phone, the person waiting on me, calling them by their first name, engaging them, becoming genuinely interested in their humanity. It’s a selfish act really for all the satisfaction it personally brings to me as I find ways to let someone know they are seen and appreciated just for who they are right here and now, however they show up. I am far from perfect at this and I definitely have my moments of being self absorbed, yet this seems to be fast becoming a new avocation of mine as I learn to practice on one person at a time.
But I digress…I’ll just let you read Jada on Be Intoxicating…
I have never been nor will I ever be the prettiest girl in the room. This has a lot to do with my profession, but also with the fact that my grandmother raised me with the belief that there will always be someone prettier than me and that beauty does not guarantee anyone love. Therefore, she did not focus on beauty in her house. Instead, she raised me to focus on what she considered to be the most important component in life…how well we relate to the soul of another.
The other day I met a woman, who was 80, who spoke to the most unreachable spaces of my soul through her kindness, laughter and wisdom. We related in a way that was so intoxicating, it was difficult to leave her. My experience with this woman brought my grandmother’s vision of relating full circle for me. Jada, be a joy to others and may that joy nourish them. Surround yourself with those who are a joy to you and allow that joy to nourish you. Always make the effort to find a language for the untouched spaces of every soul you meet. This is the recipe for blissful intoxication that she has passed on to me.
Thank you Marion.
And where I sat, an assembly of lives
I wanted to stop them and ask,
“Excuse me, do you mind
if I take your picture?”
in countless configurations,
and being God they’d forgotten, worlds of their own creating
skewed on twisted shoulders—
stooped, unstrung, shuffling along; or others
all together sprinting past, the young and strong.
The far strangeness of eyes that
could not look in mine.
The sometimes garish garb of suits fit for space floating by,
as if they had just sailed in on their ship.
Those who looked as if they’d never been loved—
and so I sent them some—a smile, a nod, a silent benediction.
There were various hats, walkers and toddling gawkers
swaying side to side—I thought they might tip over.
Such an odd mixture of life in form and song and color—
all in the shape of God.
Funny, I went there to study,
instead I fell in love.
© 2013 – S. Wolfington
This week, having been a little unsettling, I accept myself in whatever state I am in–doubt, sadness, joy, pain, bliss, I’ve run the gamut. There is room for everything. I am perfectly imperfect. I’m going with that.
This week, I accept that words have eluded me as I have struggled with my imperfect attempts to be brilliant here. After much effort of starting, stopping, stilting, nothing until stop–I’ve felt like a too hard eraser that stubs across and rips at the page. I offer this instead, a poem in honor of this sacred life and being–
Let the soft animal that is your body,
rise up from the earth.
You who live on the edge of infinity and stars,
feet on the ground deeply rooting into black soil beneath you,
feel as emerald earth rises up through your bones.
This animal that you are, that houses you,
needs stroking, needs petting,
needs feeding and nurture.
Let it purr.
Your animal soft or sleek is perfect,
this suit of blood and bone and flesh—
born from Earth and stars
—that houses the light of ten suns.
This animal that is your home for such a brief time,
that gives you arms to surround and hold close with;
hands to comfort or create with;
legs to run, to climb mountains or merely to move towards
a crying child; and
eyes that mirror the heart beating inside your chest.
This being-ness so full of miracles
in every miniscule act,
in the little lion that roars when its hungry;
in the vast army of red corpuscles muscling their way
through your body,
its vast arterial highway—
down to atoms and quarks in joyous dance
and light that explodes in ecstasy
in the cosmos that lies between.
As the heart flows into the body in
muscle and skin and lungs that breathe;
in fits of laughter when your eyes water
and your beautiful cheeks can take it no more
and your body is doubled over with pleasure—
until the last day your animal serves,
until earth reclaims your house,
and your light is freed, what shall you do?
Till then, here’s a clue:
Love the animal you find yourself in.
Praise it often for giving everything you need and more.
Why give it less when it asks so little of you?
Just a little fresh air and sunshine, some good food,
laughter and friends to hold near,
some cleansing tears—
Choose to be an opening everyday
through which love lives.
© 2010 Susan Wolfington