When fear tightens its grip,
“What would someone do if
they loved themself?”
Now do that.
Last year my sister and I took a long anticipated trip to Cabo San Lucas. Landing at the airport in San Jose at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, we rented a car, anticipating a happy drive to our resort. I brought my trusted electronic GPS with me in order to navigate our way there.
Zigging when we should have zagged at a fork in the road, we became horribly lost along the way. The GPS wasn’t any help at all as we found ourselves out in the middle of the Baja desert staring at nothing but cactus, sand and sun. The red car icon on the screen showed us going round in circles in one spot while the female voice instructed us to “turn right at the next alleyway.” What? What alleyway? Where? (We’re still laughing over that one!)
We ran out of road at a half finished freeway end zone that dropped off into nowhere, wild eyed and asking directions in English from workmen who knew only Spanish, who then pointed us down a dirt embankment into a dusty, dry flood zone. We were incredulous. But then more incredulously, we drove down that embankment because we didn’t know what else to do, soft pillows of red dust kicking up everywhere as the back end of the rented sedan wildly fishtailed about, not misconstruing the overheard Spanish “loca” (crazy) as we drove off.
At a loss to know how, the flood zone got us there—eventually. Eventually, and as we later learned, the GPS had righted itself taking us on what we thought was a wild goose chase while we zigged and zagged between crumbling adobe houses, abandoned construction, and third world city boulevards, and children in the streets while we pretended we knew where the hell we were. Then suddenly, there we were—right in front of the resort, where after checking into our rooms with much too much luggage and exhaustion—sand, sea and salt rimmed Margaritas beckoned with relief.
It’s been a wild ride these last months that have left many of us attempting to turn right at the next alleyway in the middle of foreign deserts, our psyches and emotions left going round in circles. Personally, I’ve run the gamut of inhospitable feelings and disbelief. I’m exhausted. Isn’t there a Margarita somewhere on an island resort waiting around the next corner?
And frankly, the pile of unfolded laundry on my bed isn’t going to fold itself. The piles of paperwork aren’t going anywhere until I attend to what needs attending. There are impending deadlines to meet while I stare off into space or sleep late trying to insulate myself from pain, while my fear or guilt tell me to do something now—anything, no matter what it is.
This is often how trauma impacts us at first.
We are a traumatized nation at war with itself while the whole world watches in horror. And I often feel like the first world I knew is heading into some surreal third world landscape I don’t recognize anymore.
Then I realize that in order for something to live or be born, it is often true that something has to die. Death and birth is the natural order of life. And when what fails to work anymore, life will find another way. Chaos and order coexisting all at once. One way dying while another is being born. Yada, yada—I could write a whole chapter on that one subject. It’s painful. People suffer, even die. You know. Our egos and ideologies threatened, our existence, too. None of it is personal, but it sure feels like it.
Presently and at the same time everything is going on, I’m actively resisting the notion to intellectualize myself into a nihilistic state of stupor, or numb myself in other vice. I’m fighting to stay awake. I don’t want to miss my life or fail to connect to the suffering or joy of another.
Where true value lies is remembering to consciously breathe, meditate, pray and listen, take time out of each day in order to decipher or intuit what is yours to do, your personalized marching instructions, your “true north”, as they say.
I know that as humans we react to trauma in the most human of ways. We must grieve, allow ourselves to experience its stages in order to heal. Life must wait. It isn’t helpful to hear others tell us to calm down—which can feel for us like a manipulative tactic to alleviate the discomfort of another who is not yet grappling with their own pain.
After all we are humans, not machines.
Against a backdrop of black landscape out there, there is a still a wide vista of blue sky inside myself. In the spaces in between I choose to create, be it a minute or an hour or more, in between the crazy, the chaotic, the confusing, is where our internal guidance lives. Learning to lean in and listen is what saves us from the clamoring voices that demand we do this or go there or be quiet. Not always that we receive clarification in the exact moment of quiet breathing or prayerful listening, but that the stage is set for direction to come, often in the most unexpected ways. We learn resilience here, how to bend in hard winds. Directional leading tells us what is ours to do and what is not. Like the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot, it is in the hub of that wheel that shelters, knowing that all is okay no matter how harsh the storm, or who might be coming at you with fear in their eyes.
I know. Easier said than done. But it’s a conscious practice. I still fall out of practice though even after practice over many years. Why do I do that? It’s the human part of me.
I’m learning it’s okay to fall, even as a nation. Failure strips the veneer off. It’s the great revealer of what’s been hidden. Healing cannot come until you uncover the hidden that has been having its way with your life or your nation planet. It’s the beginning of the end to what hasn’t been working. This could take a while though while that which has been hidden fights hard for its existence or way of life.
My GPS always knows right where I’m at, at any given moment even when I am feeling wildly off course, flailing about or melting down into a puddle of emotion. I always trust I will, however, settle down. My own true north always knows where I’m at, always comes for me to lead me back. It is always talking to me even when I’m not listening. It could say, sit still, rest, prepare, learn, take care of yourself, eat right, move now—fast, go, stop, you will be okay, you are okay, talk to someone, talk to and help the person next to you, remember what and who blesses you, write that letter, make that phone call, here’s who to see or where to go, write that book or poem—here’s the first sentence, run fast, don’t worry, trust, sleep, be careful, watch out, see the doctor, don’t go out, stay in, it’s okay, love yourself, you’ll learn, find grace in your fall, you haven’t failed.
It is intimately connected with every moment of your life. Helps you to open your heart to the world, feel the magic of and get inside of your body, identify with the suffering of another, disengage with suffering that doesn’t belong to you without losing your compassion. It’s all there. Everything you need as a guide to your life is inside of you, guides you to the next step, the next thing to do. May not give you the second step until you have completed the first. It has kept you alive to this point even if you’ve failed to see it. You’ve survived until now for something else you’re supposed to do or be or flower into. It’s fierce. It brings clarity of vision you didn’t expect in ways you couldn’t have foreseen. It can save your life, bring you home when the time comes.
Last night, I was reminded in conversation with someone dear to me about making a commitment to myself to listen more to that still small voice that knows. I am making a commitment right now that every day for the next week, I will start my day by listening in, by being still, by breathing consciously in and out, by praying for direction, clear hearing and vision. Be it for a minute several times a day or an hour when I awaken, I will listen for my marching orders, for what is mine to do. At the end of the week, I will commit to another and then another. One day at a time.
Today I am not going to rush out into the world in attack mode without hearing what it has to say first. It might only be a quiet hint, a sign, an intonation, but I have learned to recognize that voice through years of practice. It always comes with peace, with expansion of being and not contraction. There is grace in it even if the work is difficult or the suffering around me heart rending.
What is important is to keep my heart open and my ear to the ground. This is how we work for the greater good. This is how we heal in time.
And I’m wondering—will you join me?
I wish the following excerpt were written by me, but it’s not. It comes from David James Duncan, “What Fundamentalists Need for Their Salvation”, Orion Magazine. He, like me, cut his teeth on fundamentalism, so we both know a bit about it. I want to share a brief excerpt with you as it strikes a deep chord within me that I, myself, aspire to, but don’t always live up to.
The article was written during the era of President G.W. Bush, however, the author makes numerous salient points that could be applied to any extremist belief system. There is a middle path between the far left or the far right points of view. A middle path that would unite rather than divide, that would find the commonality in us all rather than the differences. Extremism, hate driven zealotry whether coming from Christian, Muslim or Jew or any other religious or political ideology, seldom comes to any good end.
“True evangelism based on the example of Jesus (whether you believe in him or not–my words) does not suggest the ‘missionary zeal’ of self-righteous proselytizers. It implies, on the contrary, the kind of all-embracing universality evident in Mother Teresa’s prayer: May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” Not just fellow nuns, Catholics, Calcuttans, Indians. The whole world. It gives me pause to realize that, were such a prayer said by me and answered by God, I would afterward possess a heart so open that even hate-driven zealots would fall inside. There is a self-righteous knot in me that finds zealotry so repugnant, it wants to sit on the sidelines with the like-minded, plaster our cars with bumper stickers that say, ‘Mean People Suck’ and ‘No Billionaire Left Behind’ and ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb?’, and leave it at that. But my sense of the world as a gift, my sense of a grace operative in this world despite its terrors, propels me to allow the world to open my heart still wider, if the openness comes by breaking–for I have seen the whole world fall into a few hearts, and nothing has struck me as more beautiful.”
After your mother dies, there are some things that happen that you didn’t see coming.
Something happens. Life begins to reshape itself. The landscape takes on new form. And whatever cords between you in life in what was unhealthy, what bound you to her ways, her beliefs about how life should be or about how your life should be, begin to dissolve.
However, I should qualify that.
You must be committed to change for a more authentic life first, even if you might not know what that looks like.
Change is usually never what you thought it would be. It looks different, feels different than what you originally envisioned. Change can go on and on way past the expiration date you think it should; when you think you’ve had just about enough and can go no more with the direction it’s taking you, loudly announcing to the world you are ready to get off this ship that feels like it’s sinking or bobbing wildly about in every direction.
Still, the bottom line is commitment. Commitment to your own growth. Not everyone chooses this in life. In fact, most don’t. It’s work; and after all, when you think about it, it’s all work—everything, that is. It’s just that some kinds of work—the unhealthy habitual kind, the tranced out states of mind, the escape routes that we so often try to catapult ourselves through, produce far different and negative results than the one that is committed to seeing positive growth in a life riddled with fears.
So first, you have to say YES. Even if you say it with trepidation or hesitation or can only whisper it. Even if you’re scared to say it–if you want your future life to look different than your past, or want to die not as an impostor, but knowing you lived an authentic life, you have to first say yes, and then keep saying yes. Beyond that, you may know nothing, having no idea how to get to that authentic life. Nevertheless, you can be sure you’ve been heard. Life finds the way for you. It will meet you where you are and take you by the hand and lead you out.
And yes, this could take awhile. So you better settle in for the long haul. There will be rest stops along the way where you can sit a spell and catch your breath, trust me.
Both my parents are gone now. As the eldest child, the one that was groomed to take care of everyone else first while being admonished to forget about my own needs or self care, my earliest lessons were in the art of shame and guilt. The religion of my parents and the generations before was a hard taskmaster, and I was an A student.
Shame is a Pandora’s Box whereby one opens the lid and all kinds of awful things fly out. It shows itself in self and other loathing, dishonoring the body, incessant and unhealthy guilt and judgment over almost everything. It relegates the sacredness for all of life to the bottom of the garbage pile. We learn to fear or blame anything that doesn’t look, talk, walk or believe the way we do. We see the world as a mirror reflecting back our own fears about ourselves.
Recently, a dear friend of many years confided in me a conversation she had with her mother, now deceased, shortly before her death. Her mother had told her shortly before her passing, that she, my friend, would finally be free once her mother made her transition. My friend queried her mother as to what she meant, saying that she didn’t want to be free if it meant her mother’s leaving. My friend’s mother who had been very controlling over my friend throughout her life, thought that was what she was referring to. Her mother told her, “I can’t explain it, but you will find out.”
That conversation with my friend was a big aha moment for me. We both agreed there were changes we could never have foreseen in the death of our parents, unanticipated emancipation from previously held fears that were finally allowed to surface. Collective grief long withheld inside our bodies now acknowledged. We were grieving for far more than just our mother’s deaths. And it was huge!
Grief has a way of forcing you to the mat. You can’t hold it at bay forever. It will eventually catch up with you, taking on shape and form you never saw coming. Or maybe you did. The warning signs were there, but you might have ignored them or come up with all kinds of excuses for shutting it down or stuffing it into some hidden corner of your psyche.
Seventeen months after my own mother’s death, my mother’s voice is beginning to fade in my head. It’s not that I don’t intensely miss her and long for her physical presence in my life, it’s just that I no longer have to live up to her expectations of me. Her death opened a door in my life I don’t think I could have gone through before. I collapsed. There had been years of care giving, illness, and the loss of so many others in my life that I held near and dear. I laid in my bed with exhaustion. Slowly, I was for the first time able to listen to the larger world around me in nature, to the inner world inside me full of its own black holes, its own wisdom, its secrets that began to bubble up to the surface in realizations and long held emotions. Up and up, one after the other, I began to take full stock of my life. There was nothing to stop me from doing so.
Of course, this required a commitment on my part first. What else was I going to do if I ever wanted to get out of bed? Allowing all those hidden places to surface and then to face what felt surreal or scary without running away from it, without trying to numb myself out so I wouldn’t have to think or cry or grieve whatever monster was coming out of the closet.
I gave myself permission to grieve, not only for my mother, but for myself, to say that it was okay if I didn’t absolutely feel top of the world every minute; and to even forgive myself on certain days when I failed to love my life, to wish that there were a way to get out of my body. I gave myself permission to say I didn’t feel so okay, that I needed help.
There has been so much healing work that has gone on these last seventeen months, and it has been intense, painful, and full of unexpected grace and recognition marching right along with the desperation and depression and even wanting to, by default, leave my body. I have been through the gamut of emotion, pain and elation.
Now the light of day is beginning to seep through the cracks of my life. We all know the song by Leonard Cohen who sings, “Ring the bells that still can ring, there is a crack in everything—that’s how the lights gets in.” I am ringing the bells in spite of everything and through everything, knowing that something bigger than the humanness of myself holds me, sees me, and intimately knows and loves me as perfect underneath my sacred cracks. I am asking for some signs of blessing and acknowledgment. Am I doing it right? Am I listening for the whispering intuitive voice that lives inside of me? Am I making progress? The answer comes back with a big YES.
I realized that if my tomorrows were to be different, then I would have to be different, be willing to make changes in my life and allow for the changes that naturally find their way to me. I am finally beginning to reap some of the ripened fruit of my hard labor in the sowing I’ve done these past months.
Several weeks ago, I decided to test the waters. In my journey, I have recognized my issues surrounding money, and have asked to find healing for that, as well. I recognize that the Universe is full of abundance, that everything is there for us if we can only learn how to harvest and use it over anxiety of not enough and scarcity. And so with that in mind, I asked for a sample of abundance in my life in order to overcome some of that mentality of lack and fear, put a chisel in the crack so that a little more light can begin to spread itself into the darkness of my fears.
Three days later, I was gifted with a fairly recent edition of a Toyota Corolla, upgraded and in perfect condition, with a couple minor cosmetic flaws easily and quickly remedied. This in comparison to my present and paid off car, as reliable and low mileage as it is, felt unsafe for me as I traveled the slick, wet, icy or snowy roads up here in the Pacific Northwest part of the country.
Relating this experience to another very dear friend who is extremely tuned in, I was informed that a door previously closed in my life, had now been kicked wide open. Now a couple weeks into it, I continue to receive quite unexpected blessings—blessings I never could have anticipated, but come in logical form, falling into my hands. The abundance is flowing. Someone turned the faucet of grace on, and I am now standing knee deep in it.
I don’t think any of this could have come about if not for the death of my mother. Oh, yes, maybe it could have in another life or place, but maybe not in this one. I had to be made ready for it–it was always there waiting in the wings of my life until I was. There was so much re-wiring within me that needed to be done that, for me, could only happen through the everyday tragedies and blessings that muscled their way into my life when I wasn’t looking.
It’s been a long road, and I am far from done yet. Then again, who knows? Life is a big question mark, and you never know what will come around. The thing that insinuates itself into your life in misfortune or grace can ultimately be the very thing that brings your wildest dreams to you. Stay with it—it could be better and worse than you ever imagined.
WHAT I REMEMBER IS JAYNE. Jayne Mansfield, that is—the bursting at the seams, large bosomed, blonde bombshell and sexpot of the 60’s. The Hollywood star with the heart shaped pool in her backyard lived a large life in my mind. I wanted to be her. I was nine or ten playing house in my bedroom—as Jayne Mansfield, of course, stepping into the cool darkness of my closet to make out with an imaginary, muscle ripped Mickey Hargitay, while my girlfriends, all the while sighing and moaning, languished on my bed waiting for me to come to my senses and come out of the closet.
Then one day she was beheaded. I was devastated. Riding in the front seat of her car, slamming into and under the backside of a semi-truck, and…off went her head—I imagine right into the back seat! Just like that.
I imagine that she believed she still had a lot more making out with Mickey left to do, but as you know in all things, they end. Time runs out, and all you’ve ever done is all you’re ever going to do. And besides all that, I had already grown tired of making out with Mickey and was feeling the intensity of my puberty bearing down on me in the crush of feelings I had towards the boy down the street.
So much innocence left behind as the crush of life began to have its way with me. I almost succumbed to it more times than I care to say. Lucky for me, I made it this far into my sixties. Surprised to be here now, I was sure I would die before I was fifty. My entire adult life was white hot with extreme busyness and caretaking, and then total collapse—all of which I believed to be a badge of honor I wore proudly.
While at lunch the other day, my friend, Mystic Meena (whose odometer is getting ready to roll over to seventy), happened to remark on a sixty-seven year old actor that had passed away recently. Meena related how television pundits had observed after his passing that at least he had lived a long, full life—to which my friend exclaimed, “Bullshit!” When I was thirty, sixty-seven was definitely old—and death not so unexpected—that is, of course, unless you are sixty-seven. Unless you are ready for it, the pronouncement of death always comes as a surprise at any age. I don’t feel done yet.
Here I am, and the sun is beginning to dip in the sky. There isn’t a whole life left in front of me as I have a series of “holy shit” realizations that I’ve got to begin now if I want to find and use my real voice. My dreams are still the same. It’s just that I have a little less physical energy to realize them with. Maybe the point of the body sliding past the apex of youth is this: it compels you towards your realness. I don’t know for certain. It’s just a hunch I have.
Now that the leaves are beginning to turn into blazing yellows and crimson reds and oranges, into their most flagrant and final stand for beauty, I am wondering how I didn’t see there could be so much splendor in moving towards that inevitable final breath of falling from the tree. What a metaphor to our lives—the grace-filled allowing, the gentle welcoming of age, the coming home to ourselves, finally. Perhaps, the leaning into our wisdom years, of spreading our brightly colored canopy over the lives of those coming up after us as way-showers is what really matters. Personally, I don’t want to waste it, not a single drop, not a single brilliant colored leaf of it between now and the time whatever pronouncements over my impending demise are made.
I am heading towards my glory years; and it going to take some careful planning and execution as I begin to re imagine myself, playing smarter, not harder. There is still time enough whether it be one year or forty years. I cannot take my body for granted anymore. I cannot ignore and punish it. As long as I am able, there is a strict requirement for honor and listening, then supplying it with the necessary rest, nutrition and nurturance it requires. In this one moment I have been gifted. It almost didn’t happen.
Whatever has happened in my life has brought me full circle. I am lucky to get the chance to have a “do over” in the last act of my life, playing the part of me rather than someone else. My fear, in whatever time is left, is leaving this life realizing I never had the courage to live an authentic life.
Admittedly, I am scared. It’s a moment by moment thing requiring a firm commitment. Holes must be plugged in order to enter into right relationship with myself. Gone is the bent towards extremism in my thoughts and actions, doing everything at once or nothing at all. It is not mine to single-handedly save the world.
If I want to live out the richness and the depth of all that has brought me here, I must practice sacredness and gratitude in the gentle or not so gentle breath of each day, in allowing, in letting go, in lightening up, and in laughter, and last but not least, in the flow of words that find their way from my heart to my fingertips. I am rising up and up into this voice that has been given me, flowering quietly or noisily, vibrantly and brilliantly. I am practicing freedom, using the only voice I have to set this prisoner free.
“There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency.“
IT”S ALL OUT THERE. I am ten years old, flying out the door to play with my friend across the street. My chores are complete; the dinner dishes have been scrubbed clean and are neatly stacked in the drainer, a clean dish towel covering them while they dry.
School’s out, summer is in full bloom. Jasmine’s in the air, and I am intoxicated with it. My cherry red Schwinn bike waits at the door, my portal to the world. The heat of the long day is cooling with the advent of the evening’s breeze. I step up, one foot on one pedal at the same time I deftly swing my other leg over the bike’s other side, and without even sitting down, begin pumping down the drive and across the street, wind against my sweaty ten-year old face. Breathless, I arrive at Charlene’s door.
Charlene and I are making our big plans for the remains of the evening—should we play with our dolls or race down the street on our bikes? I am not there twenty minutes when there is a firm, heavy knock at the door. I hear my father’s voice calling for me. He is ordering me home. By his tone, I know I am in trouble, and I don’t know why. So does Charlene’s mother who stands awkwardly at the door. I feel embarrassed, my face flushes. My head begins to buzz a little bit. Feeling disappointed, I’m slightly sick to my stomach. There’s a storm coming.
My father grasps me firmly by the shoulder and marches me back across the street, my bike left propped at the neighbor’s porch. He leads me to the kitchen where I am horrified to see that he has removed every single dish, pot and pan, every knife and fork and everything in between from their appointed resting place in the cupboards. They are piled on the countertops, in the sink, and on the washing machine, and he is yelling at me how he found a spot on one of the “clean” dishes I had washed, and because of that, I must now wash every dish in the kitchen. I will not be playing until this is done.
Of course, it takes me to bedtime to complete. The tears run hot down my face as I work, steaming soapy water to my elbows—not daring to shirk my assigned task or there will be worse punishment meted out in the form of a hand-picked switch across the back of my legs and bare buttocks, or days spent confined to my room. I know my dad will be back to inspect my work for perfection. I am angry—it seems so unfair, but I’m just a kid.
A seminal moment. There were more than a few of these teaching watersheds in my house or my church. That beautiful, bright star racing to earth to be born into her amazing life just crashed to the ground. And stayed there.
I know how to play. In leaves or long walks, heady laughter, in beads and baubles, shaky bicycles at sixty, blackberries plucked from barbed vines on a sweltering August day and swallowed whole past purple stained lips and tongue. Arising in an instant from my seat and out the door because it is the time of Robins and Jays and Juncos and they are putting on a show just for me. In swirling yellow leaves, in piles of things, in midnight skies life is calling to me to come out and play.
But not until I’ve done the damn proverbial dishes! There is hell to pay inside my head for that. I have been torn apart with it for over fifty years.
You think you’d outgrow these things. There have been years of therapy and hundreds of healing modalities. You’ve yoga-ed to death, stood on your head, breathed, meditated years and hours on end, ad nauseum, and it yes, where has it has brought you but right here, right now, facing it down all over again. There are layers of this stuff. It’s those pesky monsters lurking in those darkened closets who stalk your days, insinuating themselves into your knee-jerk reactions and thoughts, like some kind of mad puppet-master pulling on your strings. Monsters of overwork, self-doubt and not good enough. Monsters of rape or stalking and bad men. Monsters of abuse and punishment for not being or doing what they expected. Monsters of horrible things. Some are unnamable, and some are just looking for names.
My parents are gone now. Finally, I am coming up for air. Contracting waves push me forward into the bright light.
Cords cut, blinking back the light, I see my monsters, crawling, too, out of their darkened wombs. Breathe.
Together we will learn a new language.
There is something indescribable shaping inside of my heart. I am falling in love–all those distorted faces inside the cosmos of me, softening. That ten year old, that girl of the many ages I’ve been with the broken parts just needs love. And I am surprised. Why did I wait so long—not knowing this would happen on those long days spent in the land of nothing where dishes wait for swirling blue skies and stars, where phones don’t ring and I can say anything without fear of reprisal or a backhand across the face.
With wrenching compassion and forgiveness, tears of sweetness run down my face. I understand, and I vow to keep her safe.
For all the children hiding in closets growing up to wound or be wounded, to become captors or victim, willing or not, imaginary or real, the shape of forgiveness morphs my heart, heals me bit by bit. So many wounded children in desperate need of love or a bit of wrenching compassion—the angry, haters, the wife-beaters, the earth destroyers, the less than lovely.
Here is the funny part: All those monsters? They are merely pointing to the places needing love or understanding a spot of kindness. I am listening. Still, there are moments when I fall through the cracks. There is nothing to forgive in that.
Furthermore, it is time now. The season is ripe for healing, and as a friend recently said to me, “What you got to do besides that?” She was right. No dishes, no mother, and no place I have to be—mostly. Nowhere else to go but here, loving me, without shame or self-recrimination, forgiving those that wounded me; forgiving me for wounding others, and finding infinite compassion in all of it. And…
I could go on.
But summer’s out there waiting for me, rising in full, fragrant bloom, and the jasmine is calling.
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
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.
It seems entirely ironic, yet appropriate that I should land on an old wooden bench flanked by a sign that’s written with the words: “End of Trail”. I am sitting in the middle of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon dwarfed by prehistoric cathedral like rock formations of crimson colored basalt, ashen gray tuff, and weathered copper green clay stone–six million years of history embedded in the stone walls around me. I feel like am being watched.
September here bakes the clay, burns your skin, but for the dry gusts of strong breeze that envelope you and stroke your face, play with your hair. It feels delicious and I am suddenly and overwhelmingly taken with the desire to meditate. I am being seduced and played with as each whoosh of wind pushes itself up against me; as I am sung to by leaping grasshoppers as they chirp happily away in the brush.. I close my eyes. I am near approaching heaven in this one magnificent moment.
Life and death and life again. Breathe and I find myself hurtling back in time from present moment of sixty years on this planet. Back, back through my 50’s and I am sitting with friends blowing out the candles on my 50th birthday cake. Yanked again quickly through years of my 40’s finding my way in a brief marriage, the beginning of long term chronic illness and near death that crossed into my 50’s. Now in my 30‘s asking life who I was, a single mother, life lived on foreign shores, losing my father. I‘m now returned to my 20‘s, a young wife and mother full of responsibility. My life had been neatly mapped out, or so I thought. Answers were easy then. Here I am in my teen years listening to Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, sneaking out the back door late at night, writing poetry full of first love, angst and anger and war. A girl now, I am living in my parents house, running out the door to play with my friends, building rocket ships to the moon in a cardboard box, peering into a juvenile microscope in wonder of the world beneath the glass or gazing into the night sky, able to name every star formation while dreaming of time travel and parallel universes. Going further back I am a little girl of two standing in the doorway of a big white house watching men in white coveralls as they brushed lemonade yellow coats of paint on the kitchen walls. And here I am an infant lying in my crib watching my parents and grandmother tiptoeing through my green walled room on their way to the kitchen. Pulled away, I am floating inside my mother’s womb. It is so silently peaceful here, and the whoosh whoosh of her beating heat reverberates throughout me.
All this imagined in the space of a moment or two, I don’t know, I lost track of time as I hurtled out my mother’s womb into the silence of life between lives. Floating again for a time, as if waiting before being yanked back and back past lives and lifetimes of great pain or torture, laughter, aloneness, families, starvation, drought, abundance, death, dying, war–all the million and one things that comprise a life. I am pulled past planets, racing through the Milky Way and galaxies and life ejected from unimaginably hot and violent nurseries of forming stars, sucked backwards in a colossal explosion of light and fire as it reels backwards upon itself into a singular pin point of light.
Silence. Nothing. A void where neither right nor wrong exist, without form.
There is a dream going on, many dreams like plays on multiple stages. Am I the dreamed or the dreamer? Lifetimes and galaxies, universes and all matters of form rolling out in thunderous sharp cracks and deep bellows of hearty laughter, bells in every kind of clang and ring were singing and lightening splintered and split through each dream, each splinter a different dream of form and being. Electric life force dancing, deciding here to become this thing or that, dancing in the wings of a bat, the beating heart, the wind’s roar, the cry of an infant in his mother’s arms. Again and again expanding and animating, contracting in life and death of everything that is.
Everything already exists in this void. Dreams upon dreams upon dreams, coming and going, passing in and out, rise up, fall down again from this primordial soup. It’s all there.
I still feel the wind. I feel the hill I sit upon undulate and roll beneath me, and I give myself to the possibility that ground beneath me might dissolve, that whatever molecules and atoms that hold this whole thing together might suddenly change the dream. And I am okay with this. Rivulets of sweat run down my backside then rapidly evaporate into salty stains. I am not aware of time but I feel the sun changing in front of me while I dream. Not a bug or a fly of distraction lands on my skin, or maybe I just didn’t notice.
Slowly I open my eyes. The furnace like heat of the day is settling and the sun casts long shadows across striated green hills. Arising from my position in front of the “End of Trail” sign, I begin a meditative descent on the trail towards the car, as I imagine how easily rooted we become in whatever imagining we each find ourselves. People, tribes and whole nations dream, divided one against the other, aiming weapons and hate at anothers dream. “My dream is better than yours,” we say, “your dream is wrong”. We are all sleeping.
I am taking a lesson this day from the whole of the natural world around me. One tree does not attack the dream of the other, but waits in accepting silence for the axe or the lightening strike or fire. One mountain does not fight over land with another. If there is coalescing of space or place, or life is to be snuffed out like the candle’s flame, it is done in the natural order of things…nature giving up its life when the appointed time of dreaming ends.
Sitting outside the dream for the briefest moment startles me out of my suffering. I do not make appointments with this inexplicable event but am chosen by some cosmic witch doctor who decides I need a good jolt of caffeinated double shot juju to come awake or heal from attachment to another’s dream. Who knows exactly why? Maybe I’ve just been doing a whole lot of going along to get along and need an icy cold cup of water thrown into my face. Maybe it might be my intense suffering or pain that calls it in. Whatever, it always arrives totally unexpected, unbidden, unsought. I am always left changed, shaken out of doldrums and/or a brain run amok. It alchemicalizes my existence from complaint to holy gratitude, it rewires my brain, exchanging the everyday profane for the mysterious sacred. Life suddenly is realized for the Holy Grail that it is, and I can see myself anew. I look into another’s eyes and come to see myself in a different way. It is as if I am arriving on the shores of life for the first time.
Stuff I need to know, I suppose, shows up, talks to me. It’s like I’m in school again sitting at my desk, taking notes, listening. White sheets of paper waft down from some other realm with questions on them. Is this a test? Am I imagining? I hear distinct words in my ear. I see things I wasn’t trying to see. And it takes me by surprise when I was just trying to get in a few more winks before stumbling out of my bed. In those moments, I suddenly get it—it’s an aha or eureka moment where truths become more tangible for me rather than just reading written words on a page.
Maybe these little visitations are showing up in the early hours because I am too thick or opaque in my waking hours while fifty other things muddle through my head; or where there is the risk of poor message recall in my dreams while I play telephone trying to decipher. These understandings, visions and voices are never predictable, but surprising when they do show up.
This morning I was in the classroom again. Today’s lesson presented itself before me as I understood the truth of real self, who and what it represents, and who I am in my most intrinsic being-ness. The ocean appeared, as it were, on the chalkboard, vast, watery and unfathomably deep, and I understood it as metaphor of that which I am where stillness is, where nothing is disturbed–I Am That, while above waves are crashing and black storms cracking. There were a tsunamis rolling across the horizon towards land and life as it was known would be no more. I was not this. I understood in this that the waves, the storm, the spaces in-between—the lulling calm intersecting the waves, and the tsunamis were my life—but they were not me even when I believed they were. I was the one underneath it all watching, observant, aware, quiet. Yet there was complete permission in the experience of the storms and waves. I saw it was okay, the emotional life of my life, its pain, its joys, its numbing, frozen places, the spaces in-between, the everything that was happening. It’s just my life, that I don’t have to fight it all, for whom I am beneath the storm remains undisturbed, holds space for it all. It doesn’t mean I’m less or more than based upon what is happening on topside of my days.
Then another thing arose on the horizon of my listening and seeing, the words, “Your thoughts activate the earth.” I realized deeper I am not my thoughts either, but they hold sway over my world as to what appears or shows up in it. My thoughts like waves that come and go, certain habituated thoughts that create patterns and grooves in my life, in the lives of those around me.
I suspect we are more powerful than we know. That our collective thought patterns when amassed over time and space hold sway as to planetary events, weather patterns, global and earth changes. Maybe the tsunamis that we create with our minds or the literal or metaphoric events that befall our lives are necessary in order to clear the deck for bigger changes to come as a kind of answer to our struggle with letting go of our outmoded, no longer useful patterns in thinking. Otherwise, our lives become stagnated and even stinking.
Our lives like waves that rise up, then fall, rise up again and the cycle goes on, all the happy and sad, the tragic, the comedy, the spaces between our birth and dying. Yet we are not the ten thousand things appearing. It’s just our life showing up.
Now the question is how to use this sacred and powerful life that’s been gifted us for the betterment of ourselves, our neighbors and the world? How do we activate our life on this earth and become a force for good by allowing the undisturbed self we really are to influence the life we are living?
Turns out that ruling the world from my bed has not been a total waste of time this last ten days. Sitting like queen, I have been holding court with boxes of Kleenex, cough drops and cups of tea. This was not a role I aspired to, however, and normally I would have resisted and complained at every turn about being ill. Normally, I might have muscled my way past body aches and fatigue out into the world believing I shouldn’t feel like this. However, you can’t believe everything you think. I should feel like this, because I do. It’s my body’s way of ensuring balance and rest—which I didn’t consciously know I needed—but I will defer to my body’s wisdom on this one.
It’s been interesting to watch myself lie here without complaint, to observe life racing madly around me and not feel compelled to enter into the skirmish of getting it all done. This week, I have declared a truce with myself. I’m going to just lie here and be okay with it even while dishes and dust and paperwork pile up.
In my long hours of solitary idleness, I can’t muster the energy to even disagree with anyone. I have decided that I have will have no opinion as to who is right or who is wrong. I have decided that this week there shall be a truce, a kind of peace inside of me. It’s none of my business what others are doing out there—whose fighting with whom, who is right or who is wrong. I have no talking points, nor do I want to listen to them from anyone else. I’m tired of argument and the scrapping of ideas and ideology. Can’t we all just get along, and could you pass me the box of tissue, please?
It’s not that I don’t care. I care passionately. But I think I care more about the state of my being, the state of your sacred being right now. When I am still long enough, the truth has a chance to present itself before me for what it is, and I have recognized some very inconvenient truths, and as much as I say I am for peace, I also recognize my own hypocrisy in always being an ambassador of peace in what I think and do. So okay, I admit it. Yes, I am a hypocrite. My outward actions don’t always align with my more zen like thoughts or vice-versa. Yet I am going to be okay with that. I am going to lie here and know how terribly blind-spotted I can be because I know I am really okay in the greater scheme of things. So no, I don’t want to run with the pack anymore of who is right or who is wrong. No more name calling, denigrating, demeaning, reducing the other into some concept or label so that I can further dehumanize or categorize them. That includes the dehumanization of my own self for perceived mistakes. I am ready to step outside of the “group speak” when it comes to another individual or group.
I am not a concept or a label and I don’t want to put anyone else into that category where they become my enemy. Our primitive minds have been conditioned for this. We haven’t been around all that long in the history of the planet. In fact, you could kind of say, we just got here. We’re still learning. So it is natural—we had a need to stay aware of what surrounded us at all time in order to stay alive, to consider who was friend and who was foe. Our lives depended upon it.
These last days have given me further opportunity to look at my unquestioned thoughts and ideologies. I could be anyone, born into any life on the planet that looks different than mine, raised with ideas I consider as inhumane or insane or ignorant. We paint the world with broad strokes of disapprobation, the lenses through which we see one another like fun house mirrors. We decide in an instant who is worthy of life and who isn’t just because that’s the way it is or has always been in our tribal consensus. Yet there is no idea or act too strange or evil or charitable at any point on the continuum that I also do not carry within myself. Given different circumstances or in another lifetime, I might have very well committed the same act, envisioned the same deed for good or for evil, and indeed, carry the very seeds of Hitler and Mother Theresa within me.
I want to notice when I censor myself in order to be seen as loyal to the group to which I belong. Where have I believed something because my tribe believes it so without first examining that belief and where it came from? To accept carte blanche what informs my life without first having an honest conversation with it is dishonest. There are many things I don’t know but have accepted at face value because it sounds good or feels good, and heaven knows I want you to approve of me. Yet it only takes a minority or handful of people to be a mighty force for good when they begin to set aside their own selfish interests for the greater good of all by questioning their thoughts. In Mark Matousek’s book, Ethical Wisdom—The Search for a Moral Life”, he writes the following:
The good news about us versus them is that stereotyping can be reversed. A recent study of prejudice revealed that mutual trust can catch on and spread between different racial groups just as quickly as suspicion. Through something known as the “extended-contact effect,” which travels like a benign virus through opposing groups, “conscious as well as unconscious bias between people of different races can change in a matter of hours,” according to psychology researchers at the University of Massachusetts. Peaceful exposure to “the other” seems to be key.
And I would add this would also apply to any other group of people with which we find ourselves at odds because of their race, political persuasion, ideology, religious belief or sexual orientation.
This benign virus of which they speak, I want to be a carrier of it.
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm any hostility.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow