Mountain Music

I am sitting on the porch of my friends’ Tennessee home, and the breeze offers a slight chill as it plays with my hair while the lowering sun caresses my skin with warmth.  A variety of birds are singing their evening songs which speak of a beautiful day blessed by sunshine and the smell of sweet grass.  Several are dancing around the nearby feeder, reminding me that the term ‘eats like a bird’ doesn’t mean what most people assume.    My friend lost his sweet mother last year, and this space that we are blessed to enjoy was lovingly referred to by that kind and generous woman as Mockingbird Cottage.  Her gentle spirit still surrounds us in this heavenly place. and I can sense that she is near… laughing at the hungry birds at play, and recalling the way the wind once felt against her skin on a cool summer evening.  She and I close our eyes and breathe deeply of this moment of shared peace and solitude.  We anticipate the arrival of fireflies within the next hour.

I drove up on Friday, and the journey was pleasant as the companion I chose read to me his words of experience and wisdom with the voice of a philosopher.  I downloaded required reading for my end of life doula coursework through Audibles, and Stephen Jenkinson’s voice fed my mind throughout my ten hour journey with his thoughts on palliative care from his book called DIE WISE: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.   Eight hours of reading remains, and he has already given me so much to think about… mostly about the way that death, though it is the one guarantee that comes with birth, is something that most people fear and run from.  Many of his patients who chose palliative care when a diagnosis became a prognosis would later come to curse the effectiveness of their treatment, as it was keeping them alive long past their wish to continue.  In other words, it may have given them more time, but it did not necessarily give them more ‘life’… just more suffering.  That kind of took my breath away.  It made me think more clearly about the wording I would use in my advance directive, the official forms which will state my wishes for end of life care.

It also made me think about the act of dying, and the choices one makes for how to spend their final days once a deadline has been given.  And if one would choose to do things any differently, at that point, (assuming the body was able) why we would wait until we’ve been given a deadline to start living in a way that would finally feed our soul.  Should we not be spending all of our days that way?  I mean, the day we are born the one thing that is certain is that we will also die.  It seems to me that there is always a deadline, its just that the expiration date is hidden beneath the fold of awareness.

I wonder what that might look like for me… a well-fed soul, and I believe that it looks something like sitting outside on a summer evening to hear the cacophony of birds chirping, cicadas humming, and distant dogs barking.  It also looks like valuable time spent connecting with dear friends, and making new ones at a mountain art festival.  It looks like smiling at the tiny green bug that just landed on the keyboard, and resting until it is ready to take flight.  It looks like taking the time to dive into a topic that once felt overwhelming and frightening, so that I may one day be of service in a way that transcends and ascends my former level and ability of caring.  It looks like choosing to fill the rest of my days, be they long or few, with greater purpose and meaning.

Sitting here, in this sacred space outdoors, with the spirit of this sweet lady that I was blessed to know and shall always adore, I can list the messages that nature has delivered for my inability to hear her voice.  The symbolism of the mockingbird is overcoming fear.  The symbolism of the hummingbird, whose presence inspired the urge to write, is lightness of being and enjoyment of life, as well as the reminder to be more present.  The symbolism of the fireflies for whom we wait, is self-illumination, guidance and freedom.  As I glance over my shoulder to see if they have yet arrived, I see a cardinal at the feeder and smile to myself to realize that the symbolism of this particular bird is a reminder to realize the importance of your purpose in life… while for some, it informs them of the presence of a loved one lost.  She knows I’m thinking of her and that I know she is here… affirmed by a glance before me to see that cardinal making his way across the darkening yard, stopping to look back at me from a moment’s perch atop the umbrella in the yard.

I am grateful for this time that I have given myself… to explore the depths of my soul before stepping blindly into a new chapter that might be less than fulfilling, to breathe deeply with gratitude for the beauty of nature and for that which we cannot see or hear without the courage to open our hearts.  After all, love is not something visible to the eye… it can only be felt with the heart.  So, I dare you, dear ones to close your eyes and open your hearts.  There are messages flashing before you, like the fireflies who have just arrived.  I’d love for you to join me in this reverie of light and flight!  Tell me…  what do you see?

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Death and Rebirth

The act of becoming involves a sort of death.  When we realize that we can no longer return to a former life once responsible for our prosperity, identity, and validity, there is a process of grieving and release that must take place.  Reaching the one year anniversary of my departure from that former life surprised me.  As I looked back at that former life, I could find no regret for its loss.  It was interesting that the lunch date I had with my former work partner was postponed by two weeks, and on that rescheduled morning a facebook memory revealed the 2017 announcement of my departure.  It was poetic to be sharing that anniversary afternoon with the last meaningful work relationship I had in that past life.  Together, we share a sense of warmth and love that transcends traditional roles in the corporate world.  After lunch she texted a photo to the man who hired us both, and bragged that we were together.  Minutes later, her phone rang, and the three of us were instantly connected, as if no time had passed, and yet all of our lives are vastly different from when we last walked those halls at the same time.  It had been nine years since his retirement, which informed me that his second grandbaby, who arrived on the day he announced his pending retirement, was indeed the young girl in a photo he sent, playing golf with her brother.  We talked about that day, and he said that it was at the birth of her big brother that he decided he would retire.  As an executive, he was expected to make a presentation at a board meeting which was being held out of state on the same day his eldest daughter was giving birth to her first child.  His grandson, who was given his name, was born an hour before he hopped on the corporate jet.  The role he committed to in corporate America meant missing much of the growth of his own daughters, and he realized that being a grandfather was a sacred opportunity he was not willing to miss. I remember him saying to me on the day I helped load his car as he left the office for the last time, “Melissa – I feel like I’m getting a second chance!”  His sacrifice afforded his family great comfort, but I’m not sure if he would have chosen a different path if he’d known what he was to miss… so many hours of work and three college degrees, his wife feeling like a single mother of three, much of the time.  I think he was a little nervous about his decision to retire, at first.  What I know for sure, is that once he was on the outside looking in… he never looked back with regret for leaving.  He now has five grandchildren, and keeps very busy with travel to three different states to spend time with them.

As for my most recent partner, she too had given up her personal life for the commitment she had made to the corporation. I can recall a certain corporate crisis that had her calling in from her 30th anniversary cruise with her husband.  In the last couple of years of our partnership, she was experiencing almost daily migraines.  When we were finished with the lunch she had prepared for me, including fresh baked bread, she brought out a huge stack of professionally printed photo books, which documented at least a dozen trips she has taken with her husband and her adult children in the last four years.  She hasn’t had a migraine since she retired.  She acknowledged that her daughter, a doctor, has chosen not to pursue her own practice, which would require a greater commitment of time.  She has chosen to live her life for herself, rather than living for running a business.  She didn’t struggle with that choice her child had made, she honored it.  Like her predecessor, she recognized her personal sacrifice, and though she loved those years in a meaningful career, she is happy to be living such a full and active life with her family now.  She and her husband will continue to travel for as long as they are physically able… or until grandbabies come along to join the granddoggies.

So, at my one year anniversary of what I’ve dubbed ‘retirement rehearsal’… with one partner nine years retired and the other three years retired, I worried a little about what each might think of my choice not to return to the corporate world in a role that I have held for the last 25 years.  After all, it doesn’t seem like a rational choice.  And yet, I was met not with reproach, but with complete understanding and support.  It was even suggested (among other ideas) that I consider renting out a room in my house, and simply working part time, so that I can have the freedom to do what really makes me happy.  Of course… they get it!  They get me.

These two people were pivotal in my personal growth and development of an identity that helped me to feel valued, appreciated, and worthy when I could not find that for myself.  Having witnessed the extraordinary burden they carried at the end of their careers makes getting to see the beauty of their full and joyful lives in retirement that much sweeter.  I’m so grateful for those years and for these relationships.  I have no doubt that we will continue to celebrate all that flourishes in the lives of one another for many years to come.

Of course, I’m nowhere near actual retirement, but I am happy to follow their lead.  I don’t have children or grandchildren to follow, but I do have a plethora of passions.  My intention is to create a future from which I will never wish to retire.  In the tarot, there are two cards that would symbolize the last year of my life.  The first would be The Tower, when lightning struck and my whole world changed in an instant with the end of a sixteen year career from which I had once imagined retiring.  The next would be The Death Card, which is where I am today.  Before I understood that I would not be continuing on the path I had traveled for the last 25 years, I sat down to connect with my creativity guide, and drew a random card from the deck.  It was Death.  And this is what I wrote:

Transformation

In the tarot, the Death card symbolizes change or transformation. It reminds us that everything changes… one season passes into another, the mother becomes the crone… without the dying leaves, we would fail to witness the rich beauty of autumn, which briefly awes our senses with a multitude of colors and textures before each leaf falls to the ground, transforming into rich fertile ground that will feed the roots of the tree from which they’ve fallen.

Throughout our lives, we come to our own autumn season – when it is time to reflect on the beauty and the darkness of what has gone before… to honor those moments and lessons, to give thanks – even for the darkness (for it has shown us the light), to let them gently fall away, and to prepare for what is yet to come. Remember that once the leaves fall from the tree of life, there is a period of rest, followed by the surprising POP of new growth, so vibrant and stunning, stark contrast from the nakedness of dormancy, that we cannot help but celebrate the utter joy of new life being presented.

So here’s to the coming of autumn… to the beauty, to the sorrow, to the gratitude, to the slumber, to the waking, and to the rebirth. Gather it into a great big cushy pile and fall back into it. Bury yourself in the memories… and finally… emerge with a smile, brush yourself off, and move forward… into the light.

All three of us have experienced a form of death, if you think about it.  The souls that once existed in the corporate world have all been reborn into something different… Formerly serving the expectations of shareholders, and now serving the hearts of our beloved families and spiritual communities. There is not regret for what we may have missed, only gratitude for all that we gathered…  And great anticipation for all that is yet to come.  I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

(The Death Card from Colette Baron-Reid’s The GOOD Tarot)

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Thanks Universe!

There is this really cool thing that seems to happen with some level of consistency.  The Universe delivers exactly what I need or who I need at just the right moment, to ensure that I do not have to suffer a crisis of faith.  Doesn’t this happen to you?  Don’t you love it when it does?

For many years, for more than a couple of decades in fact, I was in a position of clarity.  I knew with a sense of certainty that I was in the right place doing the right thing.  I loved my work and I felt an overwhelming sense of being loved at work.  It sounds strange, I know, but if you believe that what goes around comes around, well… that was my truth.  I loved what I did for a living and I adored and respected the people with whom I served.  Over time, things changed and the joy and the love were not as clear… and the Universe delivered a message which I could no longer ignore.  It said to me, “Melissa, now that you’ve got this whole self-love thing in the bag… you don’t need to keep a job that no longer serves your spirit for the purpose of validating your self-worth.  It is time to seek and fulfill your life’s purpose.”  And then the Universe, which can sometimes be an asshole, left me hanging with no immediate clue as to what the purpose might be.  But I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about being patient, paying attention, and that purpose was slowly revealed to me… one miraculous clue at a time.

What I can tell you about this discovery is that even when it seems obvious that the correct path has been revealed, one can still have moments when clarity is lost and the struggle of insecurity and self-doubt creeps back in.  Self-doubt is an old nemesis from my days of self-loathing, and though it has been cast out it continues to lurk on the outskirts of my existence, threatening to return with all of its darkness to try once again to snuff out my light.  But alas, the Universe, not always an asshole, tends to step in just in the nick of time to deliver a booster shot of confidence to bolster the new paradigm that supersedes that former false belief of limited potential.

Today I received a text message from a dear friend I’ve not seen in several months.  “Hello.  You up for a couple visitors tonight?”  And so it was that our months of unintentional separation were ended, and the three of us were reunited with a warm embrace.  I hadn’t realized how much of my personal evolution was missing from my friends’ awareness.  I’m pretty much an open book in the world of facebook, so even my mother’s friends know what I’ve been up to, but I guess I can’t expect everyone to be checking in on my shared revelations through the world of social media.  Reflecting on more than 20 years of friendship, with most of that time seeing me in the same job with not much to report, I have probably been more of an inquirer and a listener for most of our acquaintance.  I love to know how friends have been faring and receive updates on the growth and progress of their children, and if they still love or hate their jobs, or how they are overcoming obstacles.  If I ever perceived myself having obstacles, it wasn’t very likely that I would want to ‘burden’ others with the details, and more than likely, I was in denial about having any obstacles in the first place.  Our friendship dove to new depths several years ago when he went through divorce.  Oddly, we both experienced a sense of betrayal and our friendship grew stronger through sharing the darkness through which we each struggled, and celebrating our individual journeys back into the light.  This experience, I believe, created a sense of kinship which invites deep connection, even when our time together is sparse.

When he and his girlfriend arrived, I was delighted to see them both, and we began discussing a topic about which I had inquired through text message about a week ago.  He is a branding genius, and I have found myself in the uncomfortable position of self promotion.  If you were to scroll down to my very first blog post, you would understand that I wrote a book earlier this year, and that a publisher had replied with intrigue, but required that I create a following and inquire again.  I’ve only been doing this writing thing since November, so the fact that I sat down and wrote a book from start to finish, with a complete table of contents that wrote itself and then allowed the systematic completion of each chapter within two months was pretty astonishing on its own… but now you want me to write a blog… and create a following?  Craziness!   And now, I’ve become a recording artist, having professionally produced my first guided meditation and published it through cdbaby, which released last week… and now that needs to be advertised through social media, too?  Until a few weeks ago, I had nothing more than a single page on facebook.  Now I have a whole host of sites that require titles, user ids and passwords… but now what do I do with them?!  Sigh…

So, that was how our conversation began.  What I found as I was explaining my needs and concerns was that somewhere in the fray of daily overwhelm, which comes with scrapping your entire former identity and seeking, developing, and solidifying a new one, I felt kind of unsure of where I was going.  The gift from the Universe arrived as our conversation continued.  He wanted to know what else I had been doing, you know… besides the blog… and I told him about the book I wrote about my journey from self-loathing to self-loving, and I told him about the meditation released last week, and how I had designed a series of meditations to correspond with the chakras, and oh, yeah… I’ve started writing another book based on my studies to become an end of life doula, and how it is a sister to the previous book.  Now, the recordings interested him, because he is also a musician – a collaboration, perhaps, and because he has ‘maximizer’ in his top five strengths, he was able to rattle off a list of ideas, each met with my already written plans for such endeavors.  Each time another piece of my story was ready to unfold, I would pull out something I had written which could explain where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten this far with great detail and eloquence.

All of these pieces coming together were affirming.  Perhaps I haven’t been wasting my time, after all.  Maybe I am on a path toward future success and happiness.  But it was in the conversation about end of life studies that we deeply connected, tonight.  His thoughts mirrored my own, about the way that the end of life is a natural part of living, and it seems a shame that it is feared rather than revered.  It was funny how he would make a statement about his wishes, and how mine were similar and already written down within the early pages of this new book.  All three of us want to be cremated rather than buried, and no open caskets.  He and I both, if we are given a deadline, wish to have a living wake before we go… because neither of us would want to miss a great party.  I talked about what I had learned from my studies about finding peace before departure.  The five things required for relationship completion, as listed in the book Dying Well by Ira Byock, M.D. are this:  I forgive you.  Forgive me.  Thank you.  I love you.  Good bye.

For my departure, if there is time to plan, I would want a gathering place with comfy seating and dim lighting, with the magick jukebox set for random play, to ensure a lovely mix of Fleetwood Mac, Loreena McKennitt, and KIVA (just to name a few of my favorites).  He and I would both want to have enough time to connect with each person in our lives… and I affirmed his request with a plan for each discussion.  Aside from the ‘five things’, we would each tell each other what we recall about our first meeting and about a moment in our shared history when we made a difference in each others’ lives.  It was not difficult for me to pull up these moments, and since we never really know how many days we have remaining, I leaned over and took his hand and told him, “When I first met you, your hair was down to your shoulders, and I thought you were absolutely amazing.”  And, “One of the times you made a real difference in my life was on that one terrible, horrible no good day, when the rug was yanked from beneath me, and I felt as if my world was tumbling down.”  As I cried on the phone to my Mom, her response was to have me hang up so she could call my Tribe.  The call she made was to his wife (at the time), and though she was tied up with a work commitment, she reported that HE was on his way, and would be there soon.  And he was… he arrived within the hour bearing cone cake from the local Chinese bakery.  I can’t recall exactly what he said to me, as we consumed our sponge cake made with rice flour, but whatever it was… it was exactly what I needed to hear.  Of everyone who had offered support that day, it was his presence and his words that brought me peace.  I could name a hundred other moments when his friendship and devotion really wowed me, but I think I’ll save that for couch time when one of us is preparing for departure, forty years from now.

I shared with my friends the alternative plan for my departure, which will be executed should I not have time to plan, and read to them the words that I plan to record to be played at my parting ritual.  And as they prepared to head home, we hugged a little bit tighter, a little bit longer, and once more for good measure.  And as I’m sitting here, committing this memory to the ether, I am taken aback by the realization that should I die tomorrow, I will have made manifest one of my dying wishes… to be able to share with someone who made a difference in my life the glorious reflection of his divine being.  If he didn’t recall that awful day on which he brought me such comfort, I hope that he will remember THIS day, and what a blessing we are to each other.  His enthusiasm for my writing and my work elevated my confidence level, and enabled me to sit down and share words that may inspire, or at least help someone fall asleep.

I’d love to hear about your end of life wishes, if you’d like to share.  And in case you’d like to travel with me through meditation, you can acquire a copy of “Release the Warrior Within” at cdbaby or iTunes (see links below).  I’ll figure out this self-promotion thing, eventually.  Love, love, love…

https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/MelissaBaker1
https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/1399828129

(a manifestation candle made with my friends’ wishes for my 49th year)

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