Over the weekend, I led a workshop dedicated to the art of manifestation. Fourteen sacred souls joined me with intention, and I do believe that healing was found.
Nurturing a belief in everything falling into place perfectly – had the seventeen who had RSVPd in prior days kept their commitment, we would have been short on table space. As fate would have it, I set fourteen spaces and fourteen arrived to fill them.
Another belief was that the right combination of remarkable beings will gather to provide a sense of connectedness and wisdom through courage and vulnerability, sharing insights gained through similar circumstance. And… so it was.
Together, we were loving and exhausted caregivers who were seeking a sense of hope, balance and self-care, and we were sacred souls who had lost spouses – learning how to move forward through the confusion of loss and freedom, after decades of togetherness and compromise. We were hoping for a brighter future in career change, and we were adjusting to career changes we had not sought… or leaning-in to a new way of life in retirement – longing for direction and a meaningful new beginning. We were beings filled with gratitude for the relationships with which we are blessed, and we were also souls longing to be so blessed. Each of us entered sacred space hoping to connect more deeply with our own true selves.
When we started the day, we were feeling scattered and rushed, tangential and transitional, excited and hopeful. When we finished, we were feeling encouraged, segmental, determined, peaceful, prepared, plan-full, and… lighter.
Through meditation, we entered the garden of clutter and neglect, and with clarity we plucked every weed and withered vine and cleared away self-doubt, unwanted expectations of others, limiting choices, and harmful tolerance. We wrote it all down and then committed our burdens to the flames until all was naught but ash. When cooled, we sprinkled them upon hallowed ground in the church garden.
We walked the labyrinth to honor that which we released, for through every burden we have carried, we have grown stronger and more fully into ourselves.
Once free from that which no longer served us, we were ready for the work of defining the path forward. When our goals are too many and too broad, a sense of overwhelm can be the obstacle that keeps us from making progress. So we spent time reviewing every area of our lives for a sort of high or low rating of our contentment with our status or relationships with family, friends, significant other, career, finances, home, etc. – we soon had an idea of where we’d like to focus our intentions and plant our seeds. Where we found a lower rating, we found our desire for something more.
We meditated on the progress of our garden, ready to welcome the seeds of new beginnings. With courage and vulnerability, just as we had shared our burdens and regrets, we offered our truth to one another to be honored and validated, and to receive feedback and support for each commitment we chose to make to ourselves. We crafted a symbol of our devotion to ourselves and our dreams, and also selected a word for the year. I would share those with you… but alas, what happens in sacred space – remains in sacred space.
As for me, this gathering was already a dream-come-true… and there is evidence of new growth rising. Maybe that should be MY word for the year. RISE!
To be clear, there are things I missed and things I would do differently… but not much. For a very first event, I surprised myself with my fearlessness and organization. This shows me how much I have grown. It helped to have many of the faces at my table familiar ones, who love me without condition. What a blessing, to be surrounded with open hearts and open minds. I will surely learn and grow with each exercise of connectedness. I’m choosing to love myself for my courage and accomplishment, rather than to chastise myself for imperfection. For this is the healthy garden in which we may all blossom and bear fruit.
For now… I shall return to the garden of manifestation and nurture the soil that tenderly holds my dreams. Thank you for walking this path with me. Your presence is like a radiant blossom in my heart. You have no idea what you mean to me…
If 2018, for me, was about LETTING GO of my former self… the ‘me’ I had been for 25 years, in a career of supporting the wellness of two corporations, then 2019 will surely be about BECOMING the ‘me’ of my future self.
I have to say that being officially retired and thrust into daily care for my parents who are aging and facing struggles with body betrayal and memory loss, has offered the total immersion that has allowed my subconscious to sever the bonds that once tethered me to that former identity.
I no longer worry that I will have to return to that world or what it is that I should be doing with my time and energy. It seems that my time and energy, for this moment, is meant to serve my parents.
Full disclosure, as my 50th birthday approaches this weekend, there are times that I feel a little sad about where we are. I mean, I had once dreamed with childhood friends who also reach this milestone birthday in 2019, that we would make a celebratory trip to Greece or back to Ireland together. But retirement living offers a different budget and being that far away for a length of time feels impossible.
But then… I come back to gratitude. I asked the universe for prosperity that would allow freedom from the corporate world, and it provided in an unexpected blessing (in the form of the IRS 72T loophole). I thought I would still need to work a full time job (for less pay), but it turns out that I can live simply and have all I need on a quarter of my former income (for now).
I asked to be guided toward a meaningful purpose, and I thought I was led to becoming an end of life doula. Now, I’m not so sure that was for a path of prosperity as it was a path to peace. Spending a year studying death has brought me into a respectful relationship with what once was feared.
A doula is ultimately a transition / transformation guide – one who holds space for and supports those who are moving from one phase of life to another… a birth doula walks with the maiden as she becomes a mother, and the death doula walks with the mother who has become the crone as she makes her way back to the mystery of what comes next. (fill in the masculine phases as well, of course)
I recently made the mistake of looking up the meaning of doula online, and the Greek origin of the word means ‘female slave’. I am currently seeking a different word.
My family’s new year is not off to a particularly joyful beginning. On new year’s eve, I brought my 81 year old father back to the emergency room for an issue that has been ongoing since October. He was admitted, and then after a procedure, he went back to Rehab for strengthening his ability to stand and walk. Nine days later, my 77 year old mother was t-boned by a careless driver while on her way to the store. So, back to the emergency room we went. Gratefully, major bruising was the extent of her injuries. Well… and serious trauma, of course.
The fact that I am childless, single, and retired means that I have the freedom to be fully present for my parents. A lovely consequence is a deepening of our relationships with one another… A healing of old wounds, and a more patient and compassionate communication style. I feel that the three of us are learning and growing together in this period of transition. But to be clear… this is hard!
I am not really living for myself at the moment, but this is temporary. I have taken on multiple roles – sometimes nurse, sometimes accountant, manager, booking agent, driver, housekeeper, etc. I am working as hard or harder than I did in the corporate world, but without a paycheck… and yet, feeling valued and appreciated by my parents feels like a great reward.
Somehow, the universe will guide me to finding balance. I will learn about other resources to assist us on our journey, and I will learn how to surrender to the kindness of others. I will be available for the care of my parents, and I will not abandon myself and my own needs to a former belief that everyone else’s comfort is more important than my own. I will continue to open to the mystery of receiving, which was not available to me as long as I was always giving. I will meditate, take hot baths, and nap when I need to, because the energy that I give to others must be replenished. And somehow, I will create opportunities to do a little bit of living for me.
There is great sorrow in the obvious decline of our parents, and in the sense of loss of ourselves as we serve others. There is an overwhelming sense of alone-ness (not always loneliness) at the end of the day, lying in bed awake with the worries of what lies ahead, without a companion to remind [some of] us (me) that everything will be okay.
But there is also great joy in the way that we are reminded that we are not walking alone in darkness, as those who love us are standing by, ready to shine their beautiful inner light of wisdom and support to illuminate the path forward, and to give us a good squeeze when we feel that our guts might spill onto the earth below. There is incredible peace in realizing that everything we need is provided, falling into place with divine timing and often great surprise. And enormous gratitude that things should be turning out exactly as they are, because this moment… in all of its darkness and light, trauma and recovery, solitude and togetherness, is somehow terribly and wonderfully perfect.
Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. I can feel you surrounding me, and I hope that you can feel me in your circle, as well. I love you more.
So, I’m going to lead a workshop at the beginning of February, and the thought of it makes my spirit come alive. You see, this will be the first in a series, and it is also a statement to the universe of my mindful new beginning. It will be the very first seed that I plant in sacred ground for the coming harvest in the fall.
To be honest, I have a brown thumb when it comes to literal gardening. But the figurative kind? This is where my world comes into full blossom.
For example, at the full moon in December 1993, I nurtured fertile earth to plant a dream for building my own goddess group. It was a rainy day, but all twelve people invited climbed the steps to the place I called home at that time, and together, we began the work of building our sacred garden.
We decided that we would need a name, that we would make a commitment to meet weekly, and that we would not work within a hierarchy… we were a group of kindred souls who would bring to this plot of land, our own individual beauty to be shared and distributed freely.
Watching this garden grow has been, for me, the most joyful work of my lifetime. As Tribe Mother, I have been witness to the blooming of each gloriously unique spirit, as they chose career paths, life partners, and some bore the fruit of children who have become such remarkable young people, always choosing to come back to themselves, nurturing and celebrating the divine feminine and masculine within… moving through the phases of maiden/lover, mother/father and crone/sage.
Over the years, these sacred beings have moved away to nurture new land and grow in different plots of holy ground. I suppose I long for that kind of deep connectedness and mutual growth, once more. So, I am returning to Mother Earth to offer her my seeds of intention, trusting that whatever comes to blossom will provide a bountiful harvest of joy and happiness throughout the year ahead.
You may ask about all of this gardening metaphor, and I will gladly share how it has become meaningful to me… an otherwise uninterested landscaper.
I grew up Unitarian, which to me is a religion that is not about dogma, but about karma… and community (be kind to and care for all beings and the planet upon which we dwell). At 23, I was introduced to earth-based spirituality, which offered me an understanding of symbolism and archetypes as another way to relate to what was happening within me and around me.
In Tribe, we used the cycle of seasons (the Celtic wheel of the year) to guide our path forward. At Imbolc each year, which is February 2 in the northern hemisphere, those who lived off of the land would light fires in the field and drive their cattle through the coals to burn away the muck and dis-ease that gathered on hooves through the cold, damp months of winter, and they planted the seeds that would later become their harvest.
So, we would do the same, symbolically. We would declare it a day of rebirth, and we would recommit to our Tribe, that we would offer each other our intention for another year of learning and growing, of nurturing and becoming, of healing and thriving, and it would begin with letting go of what was no longer working for the group – that which no longer served us.
This annual practice allowed us to be mindful throughout the year, rather than just once, like those new-year resolutions that fall flat after the second week back at the gym. We would plant the seeds of our intentions, and then come back to the garden each week to water them with meditation, with deep reflection, healing conversation that reminded us we were not alone, and from one another we learned about how we might tend our lives differently, to develop more color and more blossoms of comfort and peace.
This practice brought us so close that even with individual gardens now planted around the globe, our roots have grown so deep that we remain ever connected in the core of the earth and in the ether, where every circle we ever cast still stands.
As for my little workshop next month, I have no idea how many will make a commitment to gather, but what I know from experience is that it will be the right people… be it 5 or 15. It will be a day that marks a moment of rebirth for each person present. We will burn away old ideas, former identities, labels that were placed upon us by others, and limitations that were once perceived, but are ready to fall into glowing embers and turned to dust. And into the fertile earth each will plant the seeds of their intentions, to be nurtured and supported, watered and nourished, loved and cherished… all the way to a bountiful harvest.
As this tiny tribe gathers to clear individual plots of land, they will lend a hand to those who might have a boulder that needs adjusting, and in return someone will shine a light to reveal the very best spot for new life to grow. This whole life thing… it really is a community effort. How lucky are we to have all we need to blossom into fullness?
Thank you for walking this path with me, dear ones. You are among the brightest, most colorful bounty this garden has to offer. I am grateful.
My sweet Pop is back in the hospital. Year 81 has been pretty rough for him, and he is not even half way through it. It’s hard to see beyond this day to day mire, when the truth is that it really won’t get much easier.
Friends ask me what I am doing for self-care, as my entire world revolves around assisting my parents and friends facing serious health issues these days. Since I am experimenting with early retirement and an income a quarter of what it once was, the truth is that self care, at the moment, looks like sitting at home… alone.
So yesterday, I came home from the hospital and crashed hard in the embrace of the couch I bought when Arthur died. A traumatic loss, the cat who looked at me with such adoration – like no human I’ve known – dead within two hours of sneaking past me at the mailbox check. If you are gone, never to claw my furniture again… I’ll show you. I’ll get a new couch. But, oh… to yell at you to stop, once more. Sigh…
I slept on the couch for at least an hour, certain that I had become a stone memorial in repose from a Gorgon’s glance. When I woke, I turned on the telly for background noise, and picked up my journal. More often than not, this is my journal, but my soul-daughter gave me new book for Yule, and it called to me.
Netflix was showing a season of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and she started each session with greeting the house, and asked the inhabitants of each home to reflect on gratitude – thanking the house for its shelter, and to consider how they see their home in the future. So… guess what I wrote about.
I wrote a love letter to my house. My conduit of self-care.
Dear, beloved, gracious home~ Thank you for the protective shelter you have been for me these many years, and for the many years ahead.
I love the way you hold sacred memories of my personal history. I see, as I glance toward the kitchen, Nanny placing a chair at the sink, so I could help her wash dishes. I see granddaddy serving me a bowl of crumbled gram crackers with milk at the dining room table, and the secretary desk opened for me to sit and draw, when my feet didn’t reach the floor from the chair they placed there for me.
In my mind’s eye, I can see the place in the hall where the wooden cabinet granddaddy built held the green rotary dial telephone with the long spiral cord (I can still hear it ring – delivering voices no longer heard upon the earth). In the library, I recall the mural on the wall that always reminded me of the hunting scene in Lucille Ball’s movie – Mame. And I remember Nanny, in the hospital bed… holding her hand as it hung in the air – my final memory of her in this lifetime. Her spirit remains in this space… and in the kitchen, as well.
I see the faces of family and friends who have gathered here for more than 20 years (or 50 years, if we count those before I made you my own). Every guest who has stayed, Tribe rituals that altered our lives and connection with the divine. Laurel dances from the hall into the living room, Rabbit prepares us a meal in the kitchen, StarJasmine pours us a glass of wine. So many sacred circles in this space has turned it into a vortex of tangible magick. People comment on this feeling as they enter, and I just smile with a nod to the ether.
This home has given me peace, comfort, happiness, and joy. Every departure leaves me longing for return… as I enter and walk into a hug. (An acknowledgment of your warmth from our friend, Joe.)
Oh, and the beloved pets who blessed my life, kept safe in your embrace… I love that they are all four still here, only one in corporeal form.
For our shared life to come, I thank you for sheltering and nurturing a loving caring, healthy, reciprocal relationship for myself and the responsible, committed man who enters my life and pursues my heart with laughter and grace, then stays. Nanny smiles upon us, witnessing the long awaited love that we have all dreamed of, but had not previously found.
This love, for both of us, has been truly worth the wait. It heals hearts and souls throughout our genetic line and for lifetimes to come. This partnership brings freedom and prosperity, and this home is nurtured and caressed in new and loving ways – making room and extending time for even more love to grow.
Thank you for all of this and for all that is yet to come, my beloved safe place and sanctuary. I love you so!
That last part is obviously just a dream of a possible future, but these things happen for others… why not for me? (Wouldn’t it be great if… ?) I’ve decided to be happy, regardless of outcome. Life is more fulfilling that way.
Thank you for walking this path with me. I can feel you here in my sacred space adding to the magick that resides here. Come by anytime, and sit for a spell.
This morning I woke to the awareness of closure. Several hours from now, we will close the door on the year 2018. I have friends who do an annual letter to summarize the year for themselves and their families each Christmas. For someone with swiss-cheese memory, where huge chunks of what happened yesterday tend to fall through the holes, the thought of reviewing the year seems like a herculean task.
So, I called to mind the metaphor with which my soul daughter gifted me in a reading this year. Each time I asked my psychic friend what I should be doing with my life, she assured me that I was already doing it. She said that my guides were showing her a long dark highway. She saw me in my car with a full tank of gas. My car was safe and my GPS was guiding me forward. On this safe but unknown journey I could only see what was illuminated in my headlights. My only need was to pay attention to what may be revealed in that glow without worry of what lies ahead. My instructions were to just keep driving.
When I consider this metaphor for the year that I leave behind, I see that road as a highway with big green signs overhead. In my mind’s eye, I am driving through 2018 from start to finish, as I drive beneath the signs of direction which I followed without hesitation, signs for rest areas where I received love and healing, signs for nourishment which came through more than food, but also through sharing art with others, and signs of arrival and departure as I made new friends and let go of people and clutter that littered my highway.
Every time I sit down to write, I start with a blank mind and blank page, and wait to see what my fingertips reveal to me. I can’t wait to see what I find at the end of this imagined ‘road trip’.
I finished 2017 having departed a beloved workplace of nearly 16 years, and then working briefly for a company that felt toxic enough to inspire me to take the rest of the year off. I entered 2018 having no real direction beyond overcoming fear and seeking a job that would bring more of the same. After all, what does one do with a 25 year resume in a single role?
So, the new year started with an updated resume and the encouragement and support of seven executives I had cared for, in one form or another, in years passed. I received daily notification of job postings, but none bore any appeal, and worse, the very review of tasks involved turned my stomach. After a few months, I was determined not to work somewhere that would feel like a betrayal to my soul, and cashed in my employee stock savings into which I had invested for a decade and a half.
While determining what I was NOT willing to do, I continued to be grateful for what I was now free and available to do… to rest, reflect, recover, revive, and to serve my beloved community. When a full-time job was in the way, it was difficult to find the time and energy to be of service to others. I was already giving nearly everything to a corporation, and for the last few years I was there, the stress consumed so much of my life source that my social life was malnourished.
In this new beginning, I was able to serve my parents with more presence, and assist friends who were dealing with serious health issues. I became an occasional driver, wheelchair maiden, medical witness and scribe, communications director, and healthcare advocate. While I wish that my parents and friends had no such need for support, I am grateful that I could be present… holding space for each challenge and celebration of overcoming.
Looking back, I wonder how I ever had time to work a full time job (kidding / not kidding). There was so much living to be done, and I was missing it. I ran into one of my retired executives earlier this month who said practically the same thing… “Melissa, I had no idea what I was missing while being so devoted to my career.”
Each day of this year, I have been thankful to the powers-that-be for expelling me from that job I thought I loved. The truth I have found is that it was always about the people, and once those people were gone, so was my reason for being there.
When I look in my rear-view mirror of 2018, I see the sign posts for things I have chosen to leave behind. I have driven beyond the need to be validated by a boss, a job, a title, or a salary. Living simply, I no longer feel the need to fill my home or my closet with objects that serve no purpose but filling an unacknowledged void.
The excursions I took as I followed the signs of synchronicity were far more important than I dreamed they might be. My friend Brian’s terminal diagnosis led me to the study of End of Life Doula, which has taught me a great deal about how to plan for the future that is certain, and to live more fully with uncertainty.
The invitations I received to travel with friends were accepted without hesitation, since I didn’t have to accrue vacation time, or ask permission to leave my desk. Each trip taken allowed me to connect deeply with friends who own real estate in my heart. The signs I followed took me to New York City on two occasions to see Broadway shows and experience the city from different perspectives… once from Astoria in Queens, and once from Harlem. We saw Kinky Boots in April, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in May. Back home, I was blessed to enjoy the theater with friends. This year we saw Lion King, Hello Dolly, and thoroughly enjoyed Aida, the Musical and Elf, the Musical at the high school where our friend runs the drama department. With each of these rest stops, I was reminded of the importance of making time for arts and culture in our lives. The energy and efforts of artists, of any medium, delivers a unique experience of joy… and they are doing it all for us! How could we possibly fail to receive the gift of such heart and soul from another?
Two trips to Georgia – first for a brief art-cation with my life-long friend, and second to visit the boss who raised me as she performed in a play with fellow retirees – were paths joyfully taken. Signs also led me to Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia in the summer, and back to North Carolina in the Fall. These journeys allowed me to connect with friends rarely seen beyond social media, and to nurture my relationship with nature, which had been too long neglected. With each of these blessings, I was reminded of the importance of connectedness. Breathing deeply and sending energetic roots into the earth to feel the comfort and love from Mother Nature and from those who love us without condition, is absolutely necessary for our survival.
There were dark roads illuminated by moonlight, as I planned and led sacred ceremonies for connecting with loved ones lost, for healing through friends’ worrisome diagnoses, and for deepening connections with the Universe as one grows closer to becoming one with all that is. For me, meditation and ritual provides a space for letting go of that which no longer serves us, for mindfully gathering intentions for moving forward, and a deep healing of mind, body, and spirit. The grand finale of these events this year was writing and officiating my goddess daughter’s handfasting ceremony. The handfasting bound the souls of two lovers, and the commitment of their community to support their marriage. What an honor to behold. This brought the arrival of extended family, and the departure of a young couple at the jumping off place of their new beginning.
The longest, darkest road this year has been the bumpy, unpaved path of my father’s declining health. He was in and out of the hospital, each time for over a week, and then in rehab for an entire month. Though he is now at home, it is obvious that he grows more weary and frustrated with the betrayal of his body and loss of strength, each day. I have learned that I can only care for him to the best of my ability and hold space for his suffering… I cannot bring him happiness that he could not find for himself. I have also learned that my empathy for him is very physical. I often feel his pain in my body, and realize this is a skill I will need to explore further in an effort to either use it to benefit others, or shield myself better with stronger boundaries.
Darkness was always sprinkled with light. Time with friends in summer alerted me to the awareness of a financial planner who would remove the road block of having to figure out what I would do for a living. He revealed to me the ability to collect a monthly income from my retirement fund, without penalty. In October, I collected my first check! Also, I am assisting three strong women with their private businesses, utilizing my intuitive wordsmith ability and administrative experience. I yearn to create healing retreats for women in the future. Beyond that, I continue to see only what falls within sight of my headlights, and know not where my GPS ultimately leads.
Throughout this year, the highway that has transported me without incident has been my writing. I wrote a book of seasonal guided visualizations (I even recorded one for sale on cdbaby.com). I wrote a book about my journey through self-loathing to wholeness alongside the archetypal feminine, and started working on a book about thoughts that rise in the study of end of life doula work. And of course… since writers need a following in order to be published… I started a blog. Aside from the healing and self-discovery I’ve witnessed in my headlights, I have loved seeing the tiny flags that represent readers from around the world who have offered their valuable time to sit in my passenger seat for a while. I’m so grateful for your company!
As for the road ahead, the year 2019… is surely paved with magick. When I turn 50 at the end of January, I will move into a ‘twelve’ year (in tarot numerology). In the graph of my life chart, wonderful, amazing, life altering things have occurred in these years. In my first twelve-year I found My People and planted the seeds that would become a Tribe. In my second twelve-year, I went to work for a man who needed my light and saw my value (this partnership ultimately enabled my early retirement). In my third twelve-year, I traveled back to Avalon on a healing retreat to Glastonbury and Cornwall, where I got to reconnect with the land of my ancestors and check ancient goddess sites off of my bucket list.
2019 will be my fourth twelve year. I have no idea where that road may lead or what signs will be posted along the way, but I have the faith and wisdom to know it will be extraordinary! My plan is to keep on driving, enjoy the grace that is illuminated in my headlights, and anticipate with patience the moment that my GPS informs me that I have arrived.
My passenger seat is open. Would you care to join me for a stretch?
Wishing you an abundance of joy and everything your heart and soul may require to thrive in the year ahead. HAPPY NEW YEAR, DEAR ONES! I love you more.
If anyone has noticed my limited connectedness since early October, it is because I gifted myself with an investment in learning. It happened at the behest of synchronicity, which I consider to be the voice of my internal guidance system. Within one week it was suggested by two unrelated friends that I should consider writing for Elephant Journal… the second recommendation came with a link for Elephant Academy. The Academy is a quarterly online school for writing, editing, and social media. I didn’t hesitate to apply when I received the link. It was as if I was on autopilot.
I confess that I argued with myself about the cost, being newly retired and exploring the possibility of living simply enough to avoid returning to work. Ultimately, I decided that personal development and spiritual enrichment is worthy of every penny spent. Also, I figured I might meet some lovely people of like-mind.
I definitely hit the jackpot on that last expectation. I love it when hope is rewarded! Don’t you?
The first several weeks included a writing assignment that could be published in Elephant Journal. The gift of this process was the opportunity to receive guidance and feedback from editors. Either they would accept your work and make it elephant-ready, or they would provide two rounds of support, to help you get it there.
What I hadn’t counted on was that my 81 year old father would end up hospitalized after a fall, and spend the next month in rehab. Talk about synchronicity. Every ‘voice’ I followed this year led me somewhere wonderful… including the guidance that led me to a financial planner who enlightened me on 72T (detailed in a previous post). This retirement income has enabled me to be fully present for my parents during difficult days. If I had to work a full time job as well, the stress would have been overwhelming. I do not take for granted this great blessing.
My first article was published, and my last (thesis) article was published, but with daily visits to rehab, I chose not to spend more time on the articles that required editing. Perhaps they weren’t meant to be seen. One of them was extremely vulnerable, and I might just be relieved that it didn’t fly. Ha!
I feel that I have learned a great deal during my weeks in Elephant Academy, but far more valuable to me has been the relationships birthed and nurtured. The nature of writing for a journal dedicated to mindfulness leads to a kind of vulnerability and openness that one does not often find in community.
When we have the courage to be authentic with one another, we have no choice but to fall in love, just a little. It’s like exposing your fears and flaws to a room full of people who are willing to look you in the eye and say, “We see you. We accept you. You are one of us, now.”
The courage to be vulnerable is a gift to everyone in your orbit. Don’t you know that we love to see you twirl? We are points of light surrounding the globe, and we shine more brightly for the illumination we bring to one another.
And so, for the third time in my life, I feel as if I have found my people… my Trunk Tribe.
It may not be a journey for everyone, but for those who choose to accept the challenge – be it to strengthen your writing, find your voice, or learn more about navigating the world of social media, I have a feeling that falling in love will be in the cards. The people one meets will be extraordinary. It will feel like money well-spent.
If you are interested in reading what my classmates and editors helped me bring to birth on Elephant Journal, I will post links below. And should you choose to look around while you are there, I guarantee you will be moved by the strength and courage of the other writers in this beloved community.
Thank you for walking this path with me. You are the light that guides my way on.
In a couple of hours, I will gather with friends to celebrate the life of a dear one, recently lost. He left this realm on a day when the veil between the worlds was thinnest – stepping peacefully into the mystery of what comes next. As I prepared a sacred ceremony for friends who had lost significant loved ones in the past year or two, I held those suffering this immediate loss close, as well. Too soon for them to venture into the underworld, I chose to carry them with me.
As we began, at water’s edge around firelight, we called the names of those we have loved and lost, and invited them to stand with us in a sacred circle. In our mind’s eyes we could see each beloved step in to take our hands, heart to heart… love flowing in a sphere of gratitude and protection.
Next, we called to the elements – acknowledging their gifts which surround us and flow through us. When we call to air, fire, water, and earth, we are connecting to the love that resides within.
Into the East we cast our gaze to be witness to the dawning of the light of remembrance. We breathe deeply the clarity of the element of Air, that our loved ones may appear in mind’s eye unhindered. With open hearts and with gratitude, we honor the Air.
Into the South we cast our gaze upon ancient embers. Burning from the beginning of time, the element of Fire inspires us to go within and to reach out to those who have gone before. Illuminated by the beacon that calls our loved ones home. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Fire.
Into the West we cast our gaze upon the watery mist. Through floating drops of love and memory we focus upon the veil to witness the arrival of those we love as they step toward us. All fear and regret is washed in the element of Water. All that remains is the purest love. With open hearts and gratitude, we honor the Water.
Into the North we cast our gaze upon the lush green lap of the Mother. Grateful for the strength she gave us to survive great loss, we eagerly await her generous return. Our loved ones have been nurtured in the embrace of the Earth, and we are grateful for Her care. With open hearts and feet firmly planted in gratitude, we honor the Earth.
Next, we invited divine energy in the feminine archetype of nurturer and guide, which also surrounds us and resides within each of us:
We call upon the maiden of flowers and the goddess of the Underworld. Persephone, whose sacrifice to the dead brings a mother’s grief and a blanket of cold upon the earth. Persephone, whose great heart and deep love offers the rich red seeds of welcome to all who seek entrance into the world beyond that which the living may see. With reverence we reach to you with hope and gratitude, for the honor of perhaps connecting with those we love once more. We ask to be anointed by your sacred oil of clarity, that our third eye may be fully opened to greet them with the ability to see them and hear them clearly.
Persephone of the Underworld, our hearts are open to receive your blessing. We bid thee hail and welcome.
As I wrote the words that would state the purpose of our gathering, I was once again astonished by the wisdom that flowed through me:
Tonight we gather as the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest. We stand ready to receive our loved ones who are lost to us in body, but ever present to us in their energetic form. We wish to remind them of our love and devotion, and to show them that we have chosen to carry them with us into the future with reverence, and without regret, With joy and without sorrow.
We know that they left us early to remind us of the importance of living fully now. We are here to make that contract with them, to affirm that their loss TO us was not lost ON us. We each have chosen to step to the edge of the Underworld tonight, to take their hands and look into their eyes, to hear their words and receive our commitment.
I next led my sweet friends through a meditation where they would each meet with those they longed to see. It is difficult to know when to proceed from a pause in such a journey. One hesitates to interrupt an important conversation when unable to see the progress of the connection. But when it felt like the right time, I brought them back for acknowledgment and closure:
We know that time moves differently in the Underworld, and that though we long to be with our loved ones, we know that now is not that time. Tonight is a moment when time stands still, and here we were blessed to connect between the worlds.
But time will move on and we shall go with it. Much like when we connect in the realm of the living, it feels as if no time has passed… so will be the day when they come to greet us and take us from the temporary realm to the eternal.
Until then… we honor them by choosing to live in joy and happiness. It would be an insult to their sacrifice not to.
Finally, we said farewell to the spirit of the Universe that took form so that our consciousness could find connection.
Beloved Persephone, goddess of flowers and bones. Thank you for granting us crossing to the edge of your shimmering veil. Thank you for bearing our beloveds through initiation and into the freedom of limitlessness. We will carry your light within us through the long winter, until your return in the spring brings the bursting of color and fragrance upon the earth.
And to the energy that surrounds us and becomes us:
Spirit of Earth, elements of the North, thank you for your gifts of strength and stability, for wisdom and prosperity. Thank you for holding us close through every stage of our becoming.
Spirit of Water, elements of the West, thank you for your gifts of cleansing and emotion, for healing and fluidity. Thank you for washing us clean of fear and regret, nurturing our path forward.
Spirit of Fire, elements of the south, thank you for your gifts of purification and illumination, for direction followed by action. Thank you for lighting the chamber of our connection to those we love, and for keeping the flame alive until we meet again.
Spirit of Air, elements of the East, thank you for your gifts of clarity and new beginnings, for awareness and ideation to guide our future footfalls. Thank you for the breath that fills our lungs for singing the songs of our loved ones’ memory.
And so, our sacred ceremony was complete and we were grateful to have had a few precious moments with those we can no longer see with the eyes, but only feel with the heart.
I know that the loved one we celebrate today will be felt in the same way. And if you are missing someone dear, I hope that in some small way, these words may bring them a bit closer to your awareness. May you honor them as they would have you do… by living fully and in joy. It would be rude not to.
Thank you for walking this path with me. May your every step be sprinkled with bliss.
I have found myself in such an interesting place in recent months. I had heard the term before, from friends whose parents were aging and required a bit more attention and care, and while I don’t want to say that I am becoming the parent to my parent… I have to admit, it feels like we are moving into a sort of role reversal.
My sweet Pop has lived 80 of his 81 years with epilepsy, and in the last ten years it has really taken a toll on his body. I call it body betrayal, the way that simple commands the body once executed with barely a thought suddenly (or gradually) become tasks which require serious concentration and a concerted physical effort to perform. In 2008, Pop spent a good part of the year traveling to and from Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Test after test failed to reveal what was causing symptoms which impaired his ability to walk, to feel his feet and fingertips, and eventually… his ability to find words while speaking. I will never forget the day he told me that he was deeply depressed, and that he didn’t think he would live out the year. I was heartbroken, but I was also still working in a high demand, stressful job in the corporate world, which didn’t leave me with much time or energy to be of service.
Finally, he saw a local neurologist who reviewed the same lab results that Mayo Clinic ordered and reviewed, and my beloved father was diagnosed with a serious B-12 deficiency. Apparently, his epilepsy medication, his age, and the fact he was living with a vegetarian had left him seriously depleted. I later learned from a friend whose pediatrician had the same diagnosis, that if it had not been discovered, he would have ended up in a coma. The end result of this oversight for such a length of time was permanent nerve damage and neuropathy in his feet and from a lifetime of small seizures, down his left side.
So, Poppy has been using a walker to get around for the last ten years, and he and Mom moved closer to me a few years ago. I’d never really imagined living seven houses away from my parents, but I have to tell you that I am really glad to have them so near. I worry less than when they were 45 minutes away with no neighbors around to check on them. I don’t necessarily stop in every day, but I can glance over on the way to my house to be sure all appears well, and can be there in two minutes if they call for assistance.
There are a few new things that we are experiencing this year. First of all, in my role as careholder, I am witnessing my father’s stubbornness when I ask if he has accomplished certain tasks for self-care, and he informs me that he has not. Twice in the last two months, we have been to the dermatologist, and both times he failed to mention wounds on hidden parts of his body until we were getting back into the car when the appointment was over. He’s been falling down a lot lately (scans show that a compression fracture in L4 and L5 may be to blame), because his left leg just drops out from under him, and a few times we’ve had the lovely men-on-duty at our local fire department stop by for a “lift assist” when he wasn’t able to get himself upright. This was the very best tip ever, that you can call ‘911’ and tell them it is a non-emergency and that you need a lift assist. When they hear you have an 80 year old man on the ground who needs a lift, they transfer you immediately to the nearest available fire department. Dad has offered on a couple of occasions to bake them cookies or invest in their children’s college funds. Seriously, we love these people!
Yesterday, he finally followed instructions and remembered to call me when he got out of the walk-in tub (I can’t say we loved the installation process, but we love that dad can get in and out of a hot-soak relatively well now). He said, “I’m out of the tub. You’d better hurry over before my toenails turn back to steel!” And within two minutes, I was serving at the feet of one of my heroes in his pajama bottoms, with reading glasses (for protection as much as for magnification) and a pair of industrial strength clippers. I made sure the talons were shortened enough, then applied lotion before putting on his socks. Next, I helped him put his shirt on and giggled as I exclaimed, “There he is!” as his head popped through the neck hole. (He’s a pretty good sport about it all.) I finished up my service by brushing his hair, and made him a bagel with cream cheese.
I am not sure what I thought this time in our lives would have entailed, but I’m sure I might have imagined it to be sad or tedious, but so far, it is not. For me, right now… it is joyful. I am one of the lucky ones, to have a father who is warm, kind and generous to all who are blessed to know him. He was a social worker who served the physically handicapped for over 30 years, after all. I don’t know if he imagined that some of the tools he made available to his clients, all those years ago, would be something my mom and I would be seeking for his comfort decades later.
Beyond any luxury that this year of freedom from the corporate world has given me, the freedom to care for my father, and be present for my parents is my favorite most sacred thing. I’m so grateful to have them in my life, to have them nearby, and to have this time to show them my love, my affection, and to be of service when the future feels shorter and less certain than they’ve previously known. I hope they know that every single day… they are loved.
On a normal day devoted to writing, I typically sit down at the keyboard, empty my mind and ask for inspiration to come. Words flow from my fingertips without a conscious direction… my writing is a mystery that is revealed to me as it comes. It reminds me of the metaphor my soul-daughter has used for my current path: She says that I am on a long, dark highway and I can only see what is illuminated by my headlights. The road is safe, and my GPS is leading me to where I need to be, and my car is safe with a full tank of gas. All that is required is to keep driving forward, pay attention to what is being revealed as I go, and know that I will be informed when it is time to stop driving.
On these days that I am focused on writing, I am often reaching into my past for a story to tell, through which some level of insight or self-healing may be revealed. Today is different. Today, I am writing about something from my future, and I’d like to engage your support. I promise that it will not cost you more than a moment of thought, and what I know for sure is that the light produced by your mindful awareness will add to the light of mine, and together… we may just permeate the darkness descending upon a sacred soul. Now, the soul of whom I write is specific, but together – our reach may be more broad. Each of us may be just a drop of quenching rain, but together we can be a monsoon of healing light, a tsunami of love. The holy one of whom I write is the beloved sister of a dear friend. In this year of transformation, she has selflessly offered her gifts to me, as she does to anyone in need, asking for nothing more than the pleasure of my company in return. She, herself, is a warrior of overcoming – and she has reached to me with a request to grab my bow, and lead this Tribe of loved ones through a circle of healing. The invading predator is fierce – ALS invades the body and robs it of its strength to move, and eventually… to breathe. You see… this is why I need you today, and your stunning, radiant inner light. My love is great and enveloping, but OUR love? It is all consuming… a cloak of comfort on a cold dark night. Please take my hand and share your light… I can see it growing brighter as you approach, and it is sweetness to behold – love made manifest. Further, I hope you would not consider it greedy to ask that you share this post with others. Imagine the power of our light when it is passed from one sacred soul to another! We are each torchbearers… passing our light from one to another, until the whole world is aglow with a radiance more powerful than the sun.
For the purposes of our focused connection, I am going to refer to our sacred vessel as Juno. For clarity, if you are reading this after the date of this gathering to which you are contributing… know that time is not linear, and your light will still make a difference. Also understand that if you are in need of healing light, you may pull it from this cosmic gathering, and when you offer your own healing energy, you are never depleted, for this is a divine force that moves through you… you cannot help but receive through the giving.
Great Spirit, Mother / Father God, Universal Force of Creation, Powers that Be, Elements that surround us and flow through us, All That Is: Allow this sacred circle of beautiful beings to become a combined vessel of your love, filling up and spilling forth with an abundance of healing light energy. Allow the light of love to flow freely, without obstacle, and let it drip down the healers’ hands, washing away our sorrows, our fears, our hunger and thirst, our aches and pains, self-doubt and false limitations. As we are made of celestial matter, we contain the healing power of a thousand suns, and the distant light of a billion stars is ever present in the combustive force that warms us from within. Let this divine energy rise up through Earth’s core and crust, through saline ocean, and forest floor, through the soles of our feet, rising up through the roots that are our legs, lighting up our energetic being as it is filled – (red) root, (orange) sacral, (yellow) solar, and into our (green) hearts contained by strong and resilient trunks, and let this molten, healing light flow through arms to hands that are our branches, through (blue) throat, (purple) mind’s eye that sees what is not visible, and (white) crown through which we connect easily with all that is… rising up and out to deliver exactly what is required, be it for the good of all. Amen, So Be It, Blessed Be.
If it is difficult to connect with the soul of someone you do not yet know, think of someone you do know who has made you feel completely loved. Hold that beloved being in your heart and radiate and reflect that love back to her or him. As you feel that radiance shared between the two of you, allow that light to expand to encapsulate others in your circle – family and friends for whom you feel a sense of affection. Now, expand that light even further, beyond those you know well and out to acquaintances, and then to people you don’t know in your community, in your city, in your state. Let your light of loving compassion grow and spread beyond the boundaries of country, continent, planet. Let your love reach and grow into the darkness of space, surrounding the galaxy, and then every galaxy – known and unknown. Know that your light is expansive and boundless. You are one with the universe and all that is.
Now, bring your focus back into your center. Visualize this place that is in a realm that is not limited by what we know in this world. In this place, there is plenty of room for all of us to gather. We are each standing in our own strength, prepared to share it freely with one another. If you once felt alone in this space, feel the arrival of other light beings, as the palms of your hands are filled with the palms of two others. As each of us arrive in this sacred circle, a pale blue light radiates from each being, and as hands are linked, the light begins to pulsate and grow stronger as it flows gently in a clockwise motion, from heart to heart and hand to hand. As the circle is made complete, you look before you and see Juno seated at the center, enveloped in the pale blue light of your loving presence. Let Juno be represented by that being who has made you feel most loved and cherished, and let that love be reflected back to her. She is surrounded by Universal light delivered through sacred souls from all over the planet. You may be holding hands with someone from America, from Canada or Ireland, from India or from Africa… your light is mingling with the light of people from countries whose names have never crossed your lips. We are all one, and there are no barriers here. We are all here for one purpose… to bring divine healing light to the soul of another, in whatever form is needed. When we offer our healing energy, Reiki, Theta, our thoughts and prayers, it must be unattached to outcome, for we cannot know the destined journey of one’s soul. We can only trust that exactly what is needed to bring healing to that sacred soul, in any form, will be delivered by our care.
As the light surrounding Juno grows and pulsates, it is like a magnet that is pulling from her body any residue of past harm, be it betrayal, fear-based thought, denial of success or personal worthiness, food-born or environmental distress or illness. As all remnants of negativity and dis-ease (mentioned and unnamed) are removed from her body, her energetic being, her DNA, and her beautiful soul, all areas of exit are filled and sealed with golden light. The pale blue light, which has grown in strength as each new soul enters the circle, becomes a beautiful emerald green. As Juno has been emptied of what no longer serves her, she has become an open vessel to receive the light that we offer, as well as the sparkly white light of creation that flows from above. We are grateful witness to the arrival of this light, and are awed by the beauty that illuminates Juno’s own beauty as she is filled with this light that is like the golden light from a holiday sparkler, or a downpour of luminous glitter. This light fills every cell of her body with divine healing energy, as it delivers strength and fortitude for the road ahead. Juno is receiving through her open heart, the wisdom of the universe, the strength of earthly ancient mountains, the air to fill her lungs and speak her truth, the fire to move her muscles and accomplish every task she seeks to fulfill, the water to wash her spirit clean of fear, anger, bitterness, and regret. Juno is filled with divine light and soothed by the love that surrounds her. Whatever is required for her peace, comfort, and transformation in the form that her soul has chosen will be provided with grace and ease. She is one with all of us and we are all one with the Universe. Together we transcend the limitations beholden to the confines of the human body, through the power of the mind, which is greater than our understanding. Once again, we place our trust within this truth… that assistance is given to those who reach. Together we reach beyond what we can see, feel, understand, and know that this mystery is received and freely given through the love that resides within each of us.
Finally, in this sacred place where we have gathered, we raise our hands toward Juno, and send golden light energy from heart to palm and into her being, so that she may carry the love of this circle within her through all of her days upon the earth and into the mystery of what comes next. And when you feel that you have given what she needs, place your hands upon your own heart, and receive that same energy that flows through you and each sacred being within this circle. Allow your own body and energetic being to be filled with this Universal Light Energy. Feel the light and love of this vast community surround you and enter your heart. Know that you carry this love within you, and that it seeps through every pore with a radiant light that brings healing to old wounds, and attracts an abundance of goodness to your life.
When you are ready to return to the place where you are sitting, reading these words that have somehow come through my fingertips and onto this page, I hope that you hold onto my gratitude and my love for the light that you have offered, and for the healing it has provided. You are loved and valued beyond your previous imagining. Hold onto that and let it grow in your awareness. Your light will illuminate your path, and beauty surrounds you, every step of the way.
Thank you! I love you! It is done!
PS: If you can please like and share this post, it will multiply the intensity of our combined healing light. As I was lying in bed this morning, thinking about ‘Juno’, I could feel a heaviness and shortness of breath that was overwhelming. I could feel the fear of those who suffer, and the sorrow of those who would give anything to be able to help. I was strengthened by the thought of touching your heart, that you might touch the heart of another, and so on. You can help. We can help. Somehow, in a place beyond our understanding… we shall rise… warriors – all!
One thing that has been a delightful surprise and enormous blessing about this journey of discovery through end of life studies, is the willingness and courage displayed by others who have been moved to share their own stories of loss.
Of course, the required reading provides stories from the perspective of hospice doctors, nurses, and palliative care providers… but the truth that is shared by a friend, of their own experience as a witness to a loved one’s departure is far more meaningful to me.
These sacred moments of vulnerability and raw emotion are so deeply personal that I consider it a great honor and privilege to be given the opportunity to hold space and bear witness, not to the dying in these cases, but to those who remain. I feel as if I am being offered a gift from a friend who shares their experience, as I am offered a reflection of grace that might just be a guide for me when my darkness comes.
At the end of our days upon the earth – the path onward splits, as the survivor has no choice but to step forward in a new direction, as they create their new normal. What a privilege to see how sorrow leads to strength and strength leads to becoming in the heart of a friend surviving the loss of a love.
The one who has died has given up all of their earthly belongings, and those who love them have lost the physical presence of someone dear. These moments are woven into the tapestry of our individual mythology, and they are important tales of our own evolution. I am honored to hold these sacred moments in the light of truth and with the warmth of love.
I just finished reading the fourth and final book of required reading for this course, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. If you are interested in reading it and enjoy audiobooks, I found it on youtube. I find that spoken words will allow pieces that feel important to me to rise up, and then I can find them in the book and deepen my focus where I have been drawn.
Within the six and a half hours of listening, I found my draw at the halfway point… just over three hours in. Interestingly, the first three hours were on the topic of living, while the last three hours were on dying, death and rebirth. These pages are filled with pathways to compassion. They offer instruction through meditation – which kind of speaks my language.
I remember the first time I tried to meditate. It was 1992, and I was taking a class on earth based spirituality. One of my teachers had a passion for meditation and offered a Saturday morning practice. I remember sitting on the floor of a darkened room, receiving soothing guidance with eyes closed. When we were instructed to open our eyes at the end, I was simply frustrated. We were going around the room, each person sharing what they had visualized on their journey within… and let me tell you these visions were magickal. As for myself, however, I felt that I had failed to go anywhere… and simply could not push the mundane out of my mind.
My teacher asked me what I had seen, and the truth was that I was balancing my checkbook in my mind. Ugh… nothing spiritual about that. He then asked me to close my eyes now, and prompted me to say aloud what I could see. I can’t actually remember the results of that exercise, but I could see that there was potential if I could just get out of my own way.
My teacher died in 1996, just ten days after his 32nd birthday. A couple of days before his passing I sat at his bedside, held his hand, and sang to him the healing chant that ultimately led me to his circle (I wrote about that in my blogpost: A Spiritual Path Less Taken.) His was the first memorial service that I planned and led, a gift to his grieving beloved. He was pagan and his surviving partner was Catholic, so it was a service that was beautiful, loving, and diverse. He loved to sing (though he was tone deaf), and had been a member of a pagan choir called Amulet, which had recorded an album of earth based / goddess centered chants (which you can find on cdbaby). This group was the healing salve between the words of sorrow and celebration throughout the service. He taught me early on that raising our voices in song is a powerful way to connect with the spirit of all that is. I never leave home without a song in my heart, thanks to him.
It was after he was gone that my Tribe dedicated a year to meditation. Each week we gathered and we rotated responsibility for sharing a meditation with the group. At this point in time, our lack of experience led us to share meditations written by others. It was a year well-spent, because at some point I did finally get out of my way and learned to travel. I offer gratitude for this accomplishment to my friend and teacher, who surely helped guide me there through his energetic form.
In April of this year, my soul-daughter wanted to practice her mediumship skills and engaged my support. Before she arrived, I wrote down the names of those I have loved and lost, without attachment. It was this friend who came through. I knew it almost immediately. Her first words were that this guy isn’t shy, but this is the first time he has communicated with a medium. He said he was not related, but a friend. His energy was smooth and calming, she said. She compared it to being on a date with him… he said, “You know, I’ve never done anything like this before…” His energy was smooth and calming, welcoming and kind, charming, strong and firm. He described to her how he saw the world in a positive way – like everything was beautiful. I told her that he literally wore rose colored glasses. Ha!
She uses metaphor when she reads, as her guides show her visuals that she can interpret. He showed her an obnoxious yellow VW bug to describe his personality… it would be quirky, bright, stand out and something you wouldn’t see every day. He showed her that his energy was quirky, gentle, delicate, calm, but with a big personality at the same time. He was not calm, but his energy was. He made a joke with her, by dusting off an old book and dusting off his shoulders, reflecting that it had been a long time since he and I had connected this way.
She said that he used symbolism to communicate with her, with a lot of imagery, in a very poetic way. This is how meditation flows, so this makes perfect sense to me. I could go on and on about what I learned from my friend on the other side of the veil, but that would take more time than you have interest.
She felt as if he was teaching her. He did so for exactly one hour and eleven minutes – 1:11. Perhaps I will transcribe his wit and wisdom to share one day. Until then, he informs me that we will continue to connect through nature… and meditation. As if affirming my acknowledgement, I just looked out the window to see a single feather floating downward from the oak that stands sentinel in my front yard.
The art of compassion and how to serve is the foundation of the Buddhist structure shared within the pages of this book… a temple of healing with the power of the mind. We are reminded to touch the suffering of another with love, rather than fear. Fear leads to pity, while love leads to compassion. In order to activate and mentally direct this compassion we may consider the following:
Close your eyes and take a deep cleansing breath. Visualize a green light coming through your breath and into your heart, where it brightens and expands with each rise and fall of your chest. As this light shines more brightly, it illuminates the wise ones who surround you. You may see them and name them as your own spiritual path allows… be they ascended masters, angels, guides, God, Universal Energy, Spirit, ancestors, etc. Ask for their guidance to allow your words, thoughts, and actions only to benefit and bring happiness to others… to support their transformation from suffering to peace. Direct the compassion you possess, by positive action and spiritual practice, to the dedication of the welfare and enlightenment of all beings. Know that your own attainment of these goals will be for the benefit of all. And with this breath of compassion and enlightenment – we breathe in the sorrow and suffering of others, and we breathe out kindness. We breathe in the panic and fear that surrounds us, and we breathe out happiness.
The black smoke of suffering is replaced with the green light of the enlightened heart. The art of Tonglen is to transmute pain and suffering by giving and receiving. I receive your suffering, and give you my happiness. I receive your grief, and I give you my peace of mind. All of this occurs through the breath. This is a simplified explanation of the practice that is detailed in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I feel that a daily practice will be developed from these pages, and I hope that my heart light may be a comfort to you when you are in need.
Like my teacher before me, I have gone on too long. Know that you are loved, and that I am grateful to have you walking beside me.
In the spirit of connectedness, I am sharing below a few links: to my first professionally recorded meditation to release your inner warrior by letting go of the false burdens we carry; to the recordings made by the choir to which I refer above; and the contact page for my soul-daughter, should you be interested in experiencing her divine gift, first hand.
My grandniece stayed with me last week, and though we ultimately had a ‘staycation’ (for me, anyway), I still consider it to have been a glorious escape. My brother and his family live a few hours away, so we shared the burden of driving and met half way. I fetched her on a Saturday and gave her back on the following Saturday. This was the longest period of time we have had alone since she was 18 months old.
13.5 years ago circumstances were such that I felt compelled to offer my support and provide her with a safe place to grow between Thanksgiving and Christmas, while her grandparents met work obligations out of state and dealt with some obstacles at home. I will never forget the sound of relief in the voice of my sister-in-law, when I somewhat jokingly commented on how cute she was and that she should just leave her with me… “Oh, Melissa… I would be so relieved.” With wide eyes I looked at my parents who said they would help, and I cried all the way to the airport in the rain to fetch my Tribe brother. I cried as I told him what I was considering, both of us single and childless at the time, he understood the importance of the task and the sense of overwhelm, too. Neither of us would have imagined then that he would be married with three children of his own now. That night I sent an email to friends about the crazy commitment I was considering, and by morning I had been offered all of the support required to make it possible.
That month was probably the most traumatic for all of us, as some navigated separation anxiety and heartbreak, while I spent each day in fear of getting something wrong. Above all other worries, I feared for her the abandonment issues she would surely have to face in therapy (waves flag of abandonment issues – yo!). I took my responsibility to her so seriously that I was determined to do anything I could to ensure she would not feel abandoned by me. I remember one weekend that my Mom came over to offer me a break and an escape, but even when I left the room she would begin to cry, and I simply could not bear to leave. I remember friends and co-workers saying to me… “Oh, Melissa… this is going to change your mind about having children.” Well, it didn’t. Not because she wasn’t precious, because she was. And not because the work of caring for a child is thankless, because I know without a doubt that that month of my life was quite possibly one of my most important and greatest accomplishments of this lifetime… after all, I managed to keep her alive for an entire month! She had never been around other children, so of course she immediately caught a cold from daycare, and she also cut a couple of molars during the time that I had her. Every day I would drop her off and she would cry, and every day I would cry all the way to the office. Did I mention that empathy is my number one strength? I would tuck her into bed each night, and collapse in a heap in the silence of the living room, hoping to have a moment to myself, but feeling too exhausted to do anything else, and not wanting to make any noise that might disturb my sleeping angel. I remember waking each morning and hoping that I could run to the bathroom before she woke up, so that I could tinkle without having to have her on my lap while doing so (because if she was awake, and I left the room… she would cry – and I could not allow her to feel abandoned by me). Good golly, people! How on earth can you possibly choose to be responsible for the entire life and well-being of another human? What a horribly overwhelming task. I remember how I would hear her cry and it would feel like my heart was beating on the outside of my chest. I recall the mornings when I would hear her stir in the makeshift crib that was next to my bed, and I would look over and smile to see her standing up and holding onto the edge, with her beautiful tuft of light brown curls, greeting me with a smile – that and when she tossed her head back to take the medicine for a cold or teething always reminded me of a baby bird. I would have done anything to keep her safe, healthy, and happy. Her happiness was my joy! One night, I pushed past fatigue and put up the Solstice Tree, and delighted in the look on her sweet face the next morning as I carried her into the darkened living room lit by those magickal lights.
I have to admit, having a 15 year old in my guest room was much easier than having an 18 month old beside my bed. I just caught myself wondering why we had never done this before… and remembered that this, too, is a gift of the year of time and reflection I’ve given myself. Not beholden to anyone to grant me time off, I had the freedom to ask… and to receive. It was pretty awesome. She cooked for her great grandparents and me, and we shopped for school clothes. She attended an event I co-hosted… a sort of female empowerment and expressive arts evening with friends. She WOWed me with her openness and authenticity. She spoke her truth and shared her vulnerability, knowing that she was in a safe place. Her courage to share encouraged the same in others. I introduced her to the art of acrylic pour, and she suggested that we do a project together, each creating a piece that would be symbolic of how we felt about each other or what we meant to one another. Into the colors I chose – each as vibrant and rich as her stunning brilliance and personality – I stirred my hopes and dreams for her… to see her own true value, to seek her own truth and follow her own north star, to be filled with utter joy, and fulfilled by purpose and passion. When it was dry, I wrote on the back of her canvas: “Beloved – This painting contains my love for you, and symbolizes the beauty that you are and that which is on the horizon for you. Love, M” In turn, what she created for me contained many shades of green, with an additional image that she brilliantly added into negative space, which started as a Stag (sacred to Artemis, you know) and became a tree. She told me that in meditation the forest is her safe place, and that I, too, am her safe place. On the back of my canvas she wrote: “To a GORGEOUS Goddess – You deserve the care you provide for everyone else. You will get all that you need and want because you’re a beautiful soul.” (I hope you’re listening, Universe!)
So, all of this was pure delight, and I loved every moment with my girly, but one of my favorite parts was meeting her request to enjoy a bit of nature together. A friend of mine had suggested taking her to one of our local springs, and that is what we did. We grabbed another friend of mine, and headed off for adventure. We packed some snacks, put on bathing suits, and traveled just 30 minutes from home to reach a piece of paradise, Wekiwa Springs. Knowing that the water would be shocking to our delicate systems (we Florida girls aren’t used to diving into 70 degree water), we chose to take a hike, so that the (literally) breathtaking plunge might feel even more welcome. We traveled along the path and boardwalks, and delighted in the flora and fauna, as well as several winged creatures that were surely faery folk in the guise of dragonflies. We saw them in many different colors, including green, silver and blue. The presence of dragonfly informs us that transformation is dawning on the horizon – and I do believe all three of us can feel it coming. As we completed the trail and began to hear the sound of others splashing in nearby water, we determined we were definitely ready for a swim. This was the first time my grandniece had ever been to a spring, but this adventure brought back memories for my friend and for me. My friend recalled many wonderful visits shared with her beloved, whom we lost to leukemia last fall… and having been away from this glory far too long, my own memories were of trips to the springs with my parents and brother when he and I were young, when we could dive for fossilized sharks teeth and swim until our lips turned blue. I even remember a time when I was maybe 4 or 5 and my parents swam next to me – atop a raft, and there were people up on a bank who were tossing marshmallows into the water to feed an alligator. I may have to check this memory with my folks to determine if that particular recall is based in fact or childhood fantasy. Anyway, we swam for a while, and I began to worry that my toe rings would fall off, because the usual swelling of heat and gravity was totally lacking in this element… and they started to feel rather loose. So, we each made our way up the hill to the shaded spot with our blanket and snacks. We reflected on the connectedness we experienced with nature (and with the boy my grandniece met at the edge of the spring – oh, to be fifteen again), and after a while, we determined our needs had been filled. We finished off the afternoon at my friend’s house with a few rounds of cards. It was a perfect day! Ever since, I’ve been asking myself why I had taken these gifts of nature for granted… feeling like I had to drive ten hours to find a piece of heaven, when it was right here… just a short drive from my front door. I feel as if I will need to make up for lost time, and spend the next several weeks escaping to a local spring to dance with the dragonflies and swim until my lips turn blue.
As I summarized this delightful week to my soul-daughter, sharing how I felt badly for having shirked my responsibility to the end of life doula study… she once again reminded me, with that wisdom-beyond-years way that she does, that though I may have spent fewer hours at the computer or reading a book on death or palliative care, I had most certainly been ‘doing the work’. You know what? She’s right! I am less sure today that my path is to become a doula, but more certain that there is purpose and meaning in doing this work. Every single day of this sabbatical has been filled with a certain kind of mindfulness and gratitude that comes with the absolute knowledge that our time here is limited. If the beauty of a natural spring doesn’t bring a sense of homecoming to your soul, you are denying the importance of the element of water in your very existence. I mean… you are made of mostly water! The Earth is bubbling with this cooling, soothing salve for your tired and aching spirit, and She invites you to enter her healing embrace. The cicadas are singing for the resonant pleasure of your eternal spirit – reminding you of the freedom of summertime on a hot afternoon, how could you fail to recognize their tune? And everywhere you turn, the dragonflies are bobbing and dancing, then gently perching upon branch and limb, hoping to get a closer look at your vibrant being, knowing that the symbolism of the human body is to be reminded that you are looking upon the Universe itself – in which all of the elements, air, fire, water, earth and spirit, are contained. The dragonflies know this about every human they pass, why must so many of us fail to recognize this truth, whether passing another on a trail, or seeing our own reflection in the living waters? There is so much tragedy in what we fail to see.
I am growing more certain with each passing day that this sacred journey upon which I embarked last fall is really about learning to truly see. I am learning to see what has always surrounded me… that beauty is before me, behind me, above me, below me, and within me. I am learning to sense what I cannot see with my eyes, allowing energy to be felt with my heart and words that are not heard through my ears to flow with grace and ease through my fingertips and onto this page. Through the study of death and dying, I am learning how to truly live. Every time I wish I could see the future and how my financial security will evolve from something I no longer care to do into something I was born to do, I am reminded that I don’t need to see it to know it is on the way. I don’t need to define it to be able to manifest it. I am already in the spring and it is carrying me forward, and I have no choice but to stay open to receive and appreciate all of the rich beauty that awaits, as I mindfully and joyfully go with the flow.
I drove home from Tennessee on Saturday. It was a nearly ten hour drive that was fueled by my desire to squish my kitty after two weeks of abandonment… hoping as each mile passed that she would welcome my arrival and not remind me of the betrayal with a cold shoulder attitude. Instead of the career focused reading on palliative care that got me to the mountains two weeks before, I chose to listen to one of my very favorite fiction novels on the journey home. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees never lets me down. If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve missed the most important feature of the story… the divine mother. She comes through in a thousand beautiful ways, if you know what to listen for.
With Lilly, Rosaleen, and the Calendar Sisters’ company, the long drive was made even more picturesque. Driving along highway 26 through the Blue Ridge Mountains is always my favorite part of the journey regardless of direction… coming or going. The saddest part of going is when you are about to enter South Carolina, and you see the last glimpse of those beautiful mountains in the rear view mirror. I don’t know how to explain how this particular mountain range affects me, but it is something akin to coming home to the lap of the most nurturing embrace. I have visited other mountain ranges that may be beautiful, but they’ve got nothing on these ancient and wise, healing mounds of rock and blue-green earth. It is always a bittersweet departure.
I’m sure I had a hundred thoughts on writing during my long day’s travel. I started out at 9am, and at 3:42pm I looked at the GPS to see that I had 342 miles left to drive. I did stop to buy lottery tickets in two of the states through which I traveled… because I have decided that if I didn’t have to worry about an income, I could simply be of service to those I love and those in need, without making a business out of it. That’s one of the questions in the end of life doula study… if you didn’t have to worry about an income, what services would you most like to provide? The truth is, it would look something like what I’ve been doing since I left the corporate world. I would walk through the world of uncertainty with those who are facing new challenges in health or in life, delivering comfort, listening with great care and without judgment, advocating for the patient’s best interest, hand holding, wheelchair pushing, driving, reminding, recording, and above all… holding sacred space throughout transition, transformation, and healing.
My soul-daughter and I had a video conference while I was away, and her epiphany was that I was her end of life doula, as she transitioned from her former life where she grew up, into her new life where she will continue to grow in a city where everything is new to her. For the two months prior to her move, I listened to and affirmed her plan – even when others couldn’t understand a young woman following her inner guidance which might have defied logic at times, I helped her pack up the old apartment, and was with her when she found her new apartment, being witness to the magick that kept showing her that she was on the right path. I made a trip over to see her when she was all settled in, and remain connected to learn about all of the wonderful things she is manifesting in her new life. What a gift she is to me! We are gifts to each other.
As I drove onto my street, somewhere around 7pm, I was excited to stop at my parents’ home, which is seven houses away from my own. I carried in mountain gifts of tomatoes, apples, and pickles (Dad’s one request), and visited briefly before heading home to squish my cat. Here’s the really good news… she wasn’t mad at me. She was at the door as I walked in, and when I pulled her into my arms, the love fest began. I didn’t want to leave her until she felt adequately adored. Eventually, I did feel I should bring in things from the trunk of my car. That’s when it happened… Not when you’d think it would happen, while lifting my 26 inch suitcase up and out… no. The snap in my lumbar occurred as I simply turned and lifted the lid of the trunk. It was that simple. One moment you are feeling fine… and the next… excruciating pain through lower back and hip. Oy! Hence, the radio silence since homecoming. I have found it really difficult to concentrate on anything resembling coherent thought since Sunday morning. I asked the Universe why I needed to be going through this right now, and the answer I received was… empathy. My reply was that I really feel like I’ve got this one down already. After all, empathy is at the top of my list of top 5 strengths from StrengthsFinder. I guess I need to listen harder to find another reason. This is what I decided… I shall move through this pain and suffering, reminding myself that there are many living with chronic pain on a daily basis. I am reaching out to the healers in my community, and remind myself that we are never alone and that there are people in our lives who hold wisdom and possibility in the palms of their hands. With each form of treatment, I find some relief and some agitation as healing moves through bone and muscle, fascia and flesh. Earlier today, pain came while walking and this evening it was walking that brought relief, as I headed over to see my folks – feeling badly about coming home and then disappearing again to nurture my wound. So I know that tomorrow will be twice better than yesterday… reminding myself that suffering is temporary and that this, too, shall pass.
As I walked home tonight, twilight was bathing my surroundings in that magickal light. The waxing moon was reflecting the radiant sun no longer in view. I thought about how I am already missing the fireflies that danced through my friends’ yard… here in Florida we spray for mosquitoes, so firefly sightings are extremely rare. But as I looked around me, I was thrilled to recognize that the magick and beauty of nature that I could see, hear, smell, and feel in the mountains can also be found right here at home. As I looked up at the radiant moon, I saw our beautiful bats in exuberant flight – dashing to and fro in a dance of joyful mosquito consumption, and I could hear the cicadas screaming their deafening chant of summer evening delight (our cicadas sing a different song than the one heard in Tennessee – and I love that sound, which reminds me of summertime in childhood when the streetlights came on and it was time to leave friends and head home). It had rained in the late afternoon, so the earth was moist and I could smell the color green that pours forth through lush trees, plants, and grass, and the air was delightfully cool as a result of that earlier precipitation. As I walked along the familiar path between the home where my parents live and the home where my grandparents once lived, I realized that though healing in my back is not complete, it is in progress – and though I am no longer in the mountains, I am still surrounded by overwhelming grace and beauty… and though I have not yet won the lottery or determined how a future income will present itself, I am not fearful of the future and I know that divine timing will allow all that is needed to fall into place exactly as it should, and for all of this… and I mean all of it… I am eternally grateful.
There are five things, according to Dr. Ira Byock who wrote Dying Well, that can bring comfort and closure at the end of life. In each of our relationships, as we near the end of our days, we may pass through the veil without regret if we are able to tell those we love the following: Forgive Me, I Forgive You, Thank You, I Love You, Goodbye. My study of end of life doula work has opened a portal for conversations with others about their own experiences with death, and I am grateful for these opportunities. There is obviously overwhelming heartbreak involved in each story, but there is also a call to mindfulness, and at times… grace.
But what about the relationships that never have such closure, because those who were departing did not exactly plan to leave their bodies behind quite so soon… or because they were too fearful to broach such topics with those they love? If life is filled with lessons, perhaps unexpected loss is a reminder to each of us that such endeavors need not wait for the clarity of a terminal diagnosis.
Though my parents and I hope to be in each others’ lives for years to come, we have taken time here and there to discuss our thoughts. With their recent update to their “Last Will and Testament” documents, which came with buying a new house up the street from me, Mom and Dad each completed the “Five Wishes” form, which provides a format to help us consider our end of life wishes. A few items for consideration are who can speak for your healthcare needs when you are not able to speak for yourself, in what situation would you deny life-saving efforts, who would you like at your bedside as your spirit returns to its original energetic form (that’s my wording, of course), and how you’d like the body you’ve left behind to be cared for at that time.
As my friend and I connected from opposite corners of the country to discuss her experiences, I shared with her the memory of the departure of a mutual friend of ours in the late 90’s. He was only 32, and though he had a serious diagnosis, a side-door illness swooped in and took him from us with unexpected haste. I can see his final days, dimly lit, in the back of my mind. He had refused to discuss his wishes with his partner, and as we set to the task of planning and arranging his memorial service, the grief seemed greater for the fear of getting something wrong. At the time, my (then) partner and I were only 28, but within weeks of our friend’s celebration of life, we celebrated our own with official documents that stated our wishes should one of us be lost to the other without warning. As for the stories my friend shared with me, she suffered a few tragic losses in her youth, but one that was expected was that of her grandmother. Now, her grandmother had been incredibly mindful of her wishes, and was mostly clear… mostly. She had planned and even executed her entire funerary arrangement… right down to purchasing the flowers for her casket and securing transport of her body from hospital to funeral home. Her loved ones would not need to do anything but grieve at her loss. However, her advance directive left for her doctors to follow was not so clear, and there was some confusion. In other words, if you are ready to go, but you’ve not declined life-sustaining treatment with your healthcare providers (and your health surrogate), they are honor bound to provide them.
I know that the end of life is a difficult subject for most of us to consider, but I wonder if it might be easier to think about it a little differently. You know how it seems to rain when you don’t have an umbrella, and how when you are mindful enough to carry one, no matter how dark it gets the rain never comes? Well, that’s how I see this form of preparation. Not that having these discussions with loved ones and securing official documentation of your preferences will keep the inevitable at bay… after all, it is the one guarantee in life that is presented on the day we are born. But I submit for your consideration that if you have done the work of mindfully caring and sharing your authentic wishes for a peaceful transition from this world to the mystery of what comes next, you will gift yourself and those you love great freedom to live each day fully present. I updated my own documents before my last trip abroad, in case I were to fall off of a cliff in Ireland, and I recently wrote a ritual of departure for such an occasion though I’m not sure of when I will next enjoy such adventure. It was a surprisingly cathartic exercise.
All of that said, I would like to take a moment to tell you that if I have ever wronged you or caused you harm in any way, I am deeply sorry and I hope that you will forgive me. If you ever wronged me or caused me harm in any way, I have come to understand from my own deep regret that such actions likely came through suffering of some kind, and I forgive you. For your presence in my life and for even the tiniest expressions of kindness and care, I offer you my gratitude. For the love that you have offered so freely, not only to me but to your family, your friends, your community, our planet and all of Her beloved creatures… I love you more. There’s one more thing… but I’m not quite ready to say goodbye (I hope). For now, I’ll bid thee hail and farewell until we meet again.