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How is it that one can feel such gratitude in a moment followed by immense sorrow? The whole slow leak of a body, and dare I say, perceived sense of human spirit, is almost interesting when you just observe it. And yet to be swallowed in a moment’s mood can be equally disorienting, confusing. 

Is the body’s slow disintegration a glorious opportunity to reflect, refine, recover from one’s earthly errors? Can it be that it’s golden in the very fact of mature preparation for one’s earthly departure? I simply cannot know at this juncture.

REFLECTION IS AS REFLECTION DOES

What I do know is that for me at least, reflection is unavoidable when backed into a proverbial corner. How others approach their own valuations of a life, I cannot know. But for me, it nags at times, insisting on some sort of owning and accountability. While I’d really rather not do it, somehow it seems unavoidable.

“Don’t look away” my spirit whispers. How horrible and wonderful I see I’ve behaved at times. How complex the “human” experience is. Or should I say how complex the soul’s expression is in having a human experience!

Are repeated lifetimes a mere opportunity for growth? Can earth school afford such incredible opportunities? A nun once told me the early Church used to “believe” in reincarnation, but then later scrapped it for the concept of Purgatory. 

While nearly disbelieving, I looked it up and low and behold, Platonic Christians early on incorporated a belief that included physical rebirth as part of spiritual rebirth. For me, a continuation of a soul in some “form” is wholly consistent with everlasting life. How could it not be?

AND YET

We humans are such literalists in so many ways, trapped in duality — a this OR a that — is a mental juggernaut. It seems we have been binary thinkers long before computers. And regardless, of what the rightness of one’s chosen belief system is, I’ll leave it to the great beyond to inform me later where the truth actually lies.

In the meantime, an accounting or reflection of a life is what is most valuable to me and dare I say, inescapable. How others live “on the inside” I do not know. What seems important is to take responsibility for and learn from one’s errors in life. But this process does not include condemnation, rather must include reflection, forgiveness and an “aha” opportunity to see more clearly— a pathway out of seeing “at first dimly but then face to face.”

AND SO I SIT

And so I sit in this discomfort, reflecting on a life where I have made errors, accounting for those I’m prepared to see, forgive and forgive again without condemnation but instead, transcend to a greater understanding. In the end of course, the process for me includes sorrow, an “I did not know any better” perception that resulted in pain inflicted on myself and others. As my old friend Bennet used to say, “I did the best I could.” Or put another way, I didn’t know any better at the time!

It seems a mature regret is what is warranted, nothing more. After all, if I “crucify myself,” savage myself for not knowing better, is that not incompatible with compassion and forgiveness so prevalent in the New Testament, Jewish and and other Eastern traditions?

Whether I live 20 more minutes or 20 more years (highly unlikely,) it seems inescapable that sorrow and gratitude can coexist as part of this reflection, this accounting. How else can meaningful recompense occur? Yet the sorrow must be transcended in the end. 

The body, this communication device, this temporary container for the soul, is a miraculous machine when working well, one we take for granted. But I have come to believe in the weirdly divine gift of its slow demise as well, one that facilitates reflection and accounting however messy it may be.

When I was a little girl, I remember playing under an evergreen tree with the lower canopy that allowed for a teepee-like experience. I even imagined (or remembered?) being a squaw in a previous life. Actually, it is not relevant whether it was imagined because the essence of the experience was that of serenity, solid and complete.

STATE OF BEING

There are moments in life when you know there’s something else going on, tangible but ineffable. It is not just in the most intimate recesses of what you believe yourself to be, it is outside of you as well. This awareness is pervasive and infinite, an atmospheric river. Most importantly, it is love-saturated, a palpable, crackling calm yet energetic field of seeming potential. 

I am inclined to know this state is the reality of our being. It is reliable yet all-too-often fleeting in its awareness. So much of our lives, at least my life, has been on the physical plane. But I have constantly been drawn back like a homing device to the other state, the real one, in various forms. I am both helpless yet helped in the process of the return.

Many people call it God or the Presence. It can go by a lot of different names but suffice it to say, the overarching definition is beyond one’s small self, limitless. It is the certitude that there is something greater than a small self, that one has no power over yet participates with as an individual cell contained therein.


WHAT’S IN A NAME

I remember when working with Bennet Mermel, my holocaust survivor friend—cantor, atheist, believer in a different way—and us arguing periodically, about the existence of God. I think it was the name that tripped him up, and all the baggage it implies. Why the Old Testament lets humans name things is beyond me but such is one of our traditional beliefs. With the naming of things comes an implied assigned meaning that is fixed. 

Naming invites us to think we have some sort of power (not to be confused with responsibility) over the thing itself which is absurd of course on the face of it. I laugh at myself that I ever had this argument with Bennet, he being one of the best examples I’ve ever met of a human contradiction—that tension between the physical and the etheric plane.

THE ZONE

In the end of our back and forth, Bennet did tell me that he believed there was something greater than himself. I think he called it nature if I remember correctly. Vividly, I recall watching and hearing him sing as was his nature. Not only was his voice stunning, but I was witness to what Jamie Wheal would call flow or zone. Bennet would be smack dab in the middle of that zone when he sang, hitting the center of the note like a laser drawn to a tractor beam.

Regardless of what we humans name it, it is a state where there is unadulterated awareness of the cessation of time, even physicality. The transcendence of form is in the background yet pervasive. I was aware in my imagination under the lower canopy of the fur tree of that zone, much like I witnessed Bennet when he sang. And while there have been other times I’ve inhabited the zone, they are not frequent. Rather, they come unbidden, as if by accident yet not.

LETTING GO

In the end, I gave up trying to convince Bennet of the existence of God. While that was my instinct to finally let it go, it wasn’t until after he died that I knew for a fact, a fact mind you as reliable as gravity, that it was the semantics that were the problem not the experience itself. He knew it by another name. He couldn’t help but operate in the field, the zone by another name.

Bizarrely, there are moments in time that are outside of it. Some people discover it through ritual or traditions. Some people stumble on it by being on holy ground, in nature, around art, or even something as mundane as waiting for a train. Others by hitting the center of a note while singing. Songbirds know! Still, others experience it while looking at a daisy. Or into the eyes of a cow.


STATE OF CHANGE

How much time I wasted trying to convince Bennet of a noun confused by our conflicting definitions. Ah, the arrogance of the ego! Yet, I remain grateful beyond measure for his voice, his arguing, his insistence on expressing it and in the only way he knew. The pristine quality through his singing was his witness, not all its man-made baggage and assumptions. It was the state he understood, the energy of something greater than himself that facilitated his very act.

The world is currently on a precipice, with so much strife everywhere. So many traditions and institutions are failing us, a critical mass buildup of disintegration witnessed in the current moment. Yet it is only a moment. While all that which has seemed reliable in the past is no longer so, there is an opportunity for reinvention that transcends the moment—not just by renaming things but by creating new paths through imagination, and discovery.

All this is true on an individual level as well as a communal level, from the micro to the macro and back again. It’s kind of funny that Bennet keeps teaching me things he professed to not believe in, even beyond the grave! It is a Grace, one of those mysteries of the living and the dead, in and out of time. Nameless and waiting.

SHIFTING

At some point as a species we will have to surrender our perceptions of supremacy and arrogance though not responsibility. So many old thought patterns and ideas have become extinct. It is time for us to put on our big boys and girls pants and grow up! Humility is the primary vehicle in that turning, just as much as a maturing, playful confidence in ourselves and our own creativity with internal and external exploration.

How all this turns out is anyone’s guess. Between Jaime Wheal’s stunning work in Recapture the Rapture, as well as others research that is pivotal, an emerging potential for devising new ways of living, reinventing rituals, institutions and relationships, there is a promise for unlimited discovery and definition. One thing is for sure: we will not be going backwards, any more than the dinosaurs could! 

Christmas 2021

(For Sam & Lauren, with Love)

My son and daughter-in-law love to go hiking, particularly in areas that have lots of trees. Redwoods are of great interest and grab Lauren’s heart in particular. While I think Sam’s draw to hiking is also about the trees, I sense it includes elevation, providing sweeping vistas to the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

When I was much younger—and fit—I used to love to hike and run in the woods. Living much of my adult life in Iowa before moving to California more than two decades ago, there were fewer trees and certainly no Redwoods. Growing up in Michigan, however, the land was peppered and clotted with firs and pines. To this day, the fragrance of evergreens restores me to something primal, pure, even spiritual.

As a child, some of my deepest experiences and memories restore instantly some fibrous ingredient to my soul, like wood pulp to tree trunk strength, a venous stalwart delivery system feeding my very core. There is a quality about nature, at once essential, restorative, binding to all life.

A memory from age five renders such an evocative energy and life force. Our family was renting a cottage on Indian Lake, a vacation spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was a short distance from Manistique where we would move in a few months once our home was purchased and readied for move-in. 

It was winter, cold and thick with snow but I was safe and warm inside, though still longing for the out-of-doors. As I gazed through a foggy window to the thick woods across the road, I thought I saw a bear making its way through the branches. I felt startled yet envious, close to fearfulness yet safely tucked inside, buttressed by a longing to be out among the trees as well.

Even now just relating this experience brings the longing back, wishing for an instant transport to the vapors that are at the core of the physical expression of pine, mammal, and the drive to some sort of movement to a nameless and unseen destination operating as a homing device.

Transfixed, I felt helpless to extricate my interior emotion from that visual field for a time. At some point the bear was no longer in view. I have no idea how long this observation happened in minutes, maybe even seconds. But there are experiences in nature that are timeless, that enrich our lives, refueling an unstoppable forward momentum when time seems to have slowed or halted altogether.

Hiking for me (and likely my son and daughter-in-law) is such a mechanism for all of it, whether internally described for themselves or not, where this nurturance on One Strange Rock aptly named Mother Earth resides. And while I still walk a lot these days, it’s rare I’m free to do much of it in the ruggedness of nature; rarer still to do it in my physical condition. So when Lauren and/or Sam “go a hiking” I am reverent at their very act while also envious I’m unable to participate with the mechanical breakdown of an aging body. 

Still, Lauren and Sam’s pictures take me back, even if just a little, to that all important whispered fragrance that fuels and propels us all magnetic-like to the divine, to our very source. And I feel resurrected if even for an instant. It is a kind of Grace, one I do not take for granted.

photo by Lauren Mendelsohn

What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

I sit here on a gloomy-stew Sunday, just me and the rain. It continues to feel like such a surreal existence, the social distancing, the subtle fear of others—could they have “it” or could I infect them, crossing my mind all too frequently. The odd wariness of people, be they strangers or even friends, it’s disconcerting, but a near curiosity nonetheless.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Through no fault of their own, everyone is suspect, including myself. The rain makes me think the earth is weeping for us. But maybe not out of sadness. Maybe just maybe, it’s a way to cleanse the world and metaphorically, us in it. How many mistakes we  humans make. If I wasn’t so personally involved and engaged in the whole pandemic, from a distance it presents as a puzzle, curiosity about the human race, however briefly. Oh, the folly of us.

It’s impossible not to judge although as quickly as I do, I try desperately to chastise myself for doing it. I watch people walk around without any protection, though not too many of them, and marvel at governors who still don’t have statewide orders to social distance. They are making an assumption because they only have four people in the state who are infected, that they are exempt from tragedy somehow. Oh, the folly of human thought. And the arrogance.

I LOVE ME WHO DO YOU LOVE

Arrogance is as arrogance does, or so they say. So too ignorance, and too many Americans, certainly suffer from it. Sadly, both conditions are part of the human experience, part of each of us in unequal measure. We either think we know best, think nothing bad will ever really seriously happen to us, or believe in wacky political ideas that are naive at best, nefarious at their worst. 

Then there’s the greed and selfishness of people hoarding, sometimes out of downright fear I realize, but all too often out of a belief system that “I’ve got to get mine so I won’t lose out” mindset, strutting their behavior like terrified peacocks. I, I, I! It is the bane of our existence.

COVID-19 RISING

They say the next couple of weeks could be very grim with the contagion spreading like wildfire, infecting many more people, with a rising death toll as a result. It will be an uneven contagion no doubt, much like it has been to date. Still, there’ll be some in disbelief, denial. Still there’ll be people who think it’s a conspiracy, some absurd plot. For what end? What global purpose? Remarkably we still live in an age of the superstitious. Still!

And so we soldier on, trying as we might, to protect ourselves as best we can from “the others” be it person or germ. What lesson is it that we must individually and as a collective learn? What spiritual, ethical and social nugget have we yet to break open and discern? Can it result in a “dear God please let us be better than our former selves, please let us think of our brothers, please let us have compassion and caring,” at least those of us who are capable of it. To expand that intent and cover, not just this nation in an atmosphere of love, but indeed the entire world, is our mandate besides the practical behaviors we all must exercise. 

If only…

COMFORT

At two and a half, without completely understanding it, I was already heavily identified with the body. Of course I didn’t really know what that might mean. I, Rosalie, was a little person. There were other bodies in my family: my mother, my father, an older sister and a baby sister a bit younger.

I really only have two significant memories or memory shards below the age of five. One was of myself playing in a little sand pile outside our backyard, with toy cars and trucks on an imaginary town or ranch I created. I loved to invent the storyline of me driving around on roads in a truck. Oh, the freedom of it. I’m not even sure where I got the idea of a ranch, maybe from a little story book? or maybe having an imprint from going with mother past farms? Regardless of where it came from, it existed and for some inexplicable reason, it brought structure, organization and inventiveness to my world.

And the sun. I was always aware of light—bright, bold, effervescent light!

Why this memory sticks in my mind at all is mysterious, other than to say the ?????? also included a sense of something else that existed: nameless, peaceful, reassuring, warm. It was more reassuring and peaceful even than my mother although I had a strong impression she contained a solid measure of those qualities. 

But this is from the rearview mirror. Regardless, naming it at the time was not relevant. All I knew was that I felt the scene’s quiet power. It was carried by the sun’s light and heat, existing in the space both within my being and outside of it, separated only by a thin but potent membrane. I was aware of this otherness through not only light and sunshine but also nature, other physical elements of the world. 

Light seemed to be a primary delivery, however, communicating in a wordless language. And as much as I knew anything, it was my first crude memory of a sense of being cared for, by protection that was massive even beyond my mother but included her too. I’d be tempted to call it love with a capital L, maybe Divine, but I knew of no such construct then.

CONFUSION

The other significant memory occurred at around two and a half. I had a lump on the side of my right eye, near the temple. I think my mother had been fretting about it for quite some time. As it happens, she took me to an eye doctor and it was confirmed to be a cyst, a reasonably benign protrusion, harmless in and of itself. While I didn’t understand that at the time, I had a sense of no real danger. If anything, I had an awareness it was of more concern to my mother, which stands in stark contrast to her otherwise unflappable demeanor. 

I was told this particular cyst was problematic because of its location. Internally, it was pressing on my optic nerve and had the potential to compromise vision in that eye. Okay. But events overtook any crude understanding I had of the situation. One morning my mother led me by the hand, purposefully, walking across a large lobby. Bizarrely, I remember her walking quickly. This is bizarre in that it was out of character for my mother to do anything quickly. It simply was not her style—for walking, working, or anything else. Normally her gait was slow, methodical, determined, anything but quick. I’m assuming she had some sense of urgency about this little trip to the doctor’s office. This perception was new information for me.

The next part of the memory is hazy. I remember being in a little room, my mother speaking with the doctor, and him talking to her, then me. But I didn’t understand what either of them were telling me, not really. The best I can cobble together is of her saying I was to have a little procedure. She may have used the word procedure, surgery, etc. I cannot say. What I best remember was that I had to come back to have the cyst taken out.

IT’S NOT NICE TO TRAUMATIZE SMALL CHILDREN

Whether the procedure was the next day or a week later I do not know. Regardless, at some point I found myself again being led by the hand across a lobby and into a small room. Mother tried to explain that I had to stay overnight in the hospital, though I don’t really recall. What I do recall is a gauzy image of her trying to comfort me, that “everything will be fine” once the cyst was gone. She also swears she had explained more about what was to happen, that my eyes would be patched after the surgery but it would be temporary. Did I know what Temporary was?

All description about this cyst and the resultant eye surgery has likely been reinforced over the years while my mother was alive and throughout my childhood when I would bring it up. Even in my young adult years, I would question her about the event, all in an effort to understand why this was so upsetting to me even years later. 

The only reason I questioned her was because I had a lingering fright and even greater confusion as to the event’s meaning, along with the actual events themselves. Memory is a funny thing, the perception of a very small child in particular. It gets filtered through limited language and even less comprehension, as to its meaning. Perception by definition is distorted and memory further distorts what was initially perceived.

THE TURNING

There are two aspects, scenes really, mother could never explain, memories that she was not physically present for. After leaving me in the hands of a nurse the day of the procedure, the nurse put a little nightgown on me. Then she took me to a large room that was very, very cold. There was a lot of light in that room but I swear, even the light was cold. This was NOT like the light experienced in the sand pile. It was its opposite! The nurse helped me onto a very cold table while trying to explain what was to happen.

I recall a man—the doctor?—coming over to the table and saying a word or two. None of what he said do I recall. Rather, the scene is fixed like a cartoon character’s “wha-wha” description from Charles Schultz’s Snoopy before he leaves, goes over to the other side of the room to what I think must have been a sink. The nurse at my side whispers something to me and all goes black.

BLINDSIDED

The next thing I remember is waking up in a bed and screaming. Desperately. Both of my eyes were covered, thick patches obliterating sight, even light! I continued screaming even after a nurse came in and tried to shush me. I thought the doctor had removed my eyes! How would I navigate the world? I was terrified and would not be consoled. 

Evidently, the nurse tried to explain my eyes were there, they were just covered to protect them after the operation. Regardless, I had no faith in what she said because all I knew was that I could not see, believing instead there were no eyes to see from. Distorted as it may have been, my fast conclusion was to rely on myself and not anything she was telling me.

The hospital must have called my mother because I was told later that I kept screaming until she came, that no one else could calm me. How mother convinced me my eyes were still there I couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember her words but I do remember her energy. My mother was never a very affectionate woman but she was calm, reliable, steadfast, to be counted on. I knew that even then as sure as I knew there was a sun and a moon. But there was a change, palpable and real, in how I perceived her and more importantly, myself. A kind of doubt crept in. It was about the world and me in it. 

WHAT YOU THINK YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT’S THERE

At some point I go home. The patches have been removed. I can see again but there is a difference in what it is I think I see. While everything looks the same, my perception has changed, my understanding of what I can count on is off kilter. I am told I have to go back in a week or two to have stitches removed which seems like such a small thing at this point. 

I suppose one could draw all kinds of conclusions from this traumatic event for a very small child. Without entirely realizing it, however, perceptions occurred in my little brain as a consequence of all that had come before. The first was that my mother was cemented in my mind, and I suppose my heart, in her reliability, her constancy. After the surgery, however, the gravitational pull of her felt weakened and, in a turn, the gravity of her love and protection changed, modified somehow. My impression now included some inexplicable need to look to my small self for verification of the world and all things in it.

The second was that I firmly believed—without knowing I believed —the brightness of the sun had dimmed, was remote in a way that turned me into a separate “me” and less connected to that brightness as if I had been cast off from it. A sense of separateness and on my own had replaced the previous feeling of connectedness. No notion of a greater Other existed as comprehensively as the impression I previously held from the sand pile days, and of mother! It was a kind of grief I didn’t understand. Though not completely gone, it would be some years before I felt that powerful presence, and 50-plus years before I recontextualized my life.

How hard it is to stay quiet. Sometimes, I’ve become aware of fearing the very thing I crave. This morning when I was doing my meditation ritual, a sliver of sunlight insisted on showing itself through the olive tree branches in front of my window. All was quiet. I was aware of it, it being a kind of willing participant in silence. Actually, the longer the light pierced the leaves, the more aware I became.

Power and Light

I became immersed in a natural, diffuse yet potent quality that was far more definition of me than all the other personality traits I insist on clinging to. My sense of self was part of the field, a member of the whole which revealed itself. I was essential. As my awareness expanded through the quiet, not only did it feel organic, I also began to associate a sense of home to it.

Home is a funny thing. As mammals, we have such a physical need for nesting, over-associating a sense of comfort and security with physical space in which we reside. But the sense of quietness as home, maybe even womb-like, is different.

The Pull

There is something unique, inexplicable and indistinct that draws me to quiet. The phrase “moth to a flame” comes to mind. Quiet is both a lure and a disorientation. It carries with it a subtle fear of extinction. Scientists believe moths are drawn to light when their navigational systems become disrupted, leaving them confused and disoriented. And yet, drawn in they must be, even at risk of death, of which they cannot really know. There is something inevitable suggested in eventual death and transformation. Yet who rushes to it.

For me, as time slowed and I entered the subtle perception of a difference of being, it struck me as I, too, had become disoriented, though for a time, I seemed powerless to resist. Continuing, I rode the wave to its peak.  Up to a point! For a time, it was certainly worth the risk. Of what? Of the fear of losing my previously assumed sense of self, of what I’ve defined myself to be in mortal earth terms? In a flash, I had awareness that quiet is sourced from a different dimension, the quality of the Divine. It is outside of time and even space once you really settle into it. And therein lies both the comfort and the fright.

To Be or Not To Be

Quiet suggests a fright that is both compelling and repelling. Sometimes I just cannot stand all the noise of the world and must escape. At times even, quiet contains a whisper of ultimate freedom yet one with an eventual loss of a sense of self as I have previously been defined. Quiet presents the ultimate conflict because I both want to lose that sense of self which is purely fiction and an architecture of my own ego’s creation, as well as maintain the very fiction I have made. What am I if not my sense of self definition? While I personally believe I reflect an expression of God, I have gone about my physical existence segregated from that belief all too often.

If God exists as the silence, as pure potentiality as some scientists and theologians believe, then there actually seems to be no definition whatsoever other than potential expression as defined by… What? Me? A conscious human being that has been blessed to be born a human like the Buddha suggests, being endowed with the raw ingredients from which to evolve into greater consciousness? If God has created all things as expressions of his potentiality, which is infinite, He is everywhere and nowhere. He is both alpha and omega, beginning and end, over and over again.

 Context is Everything

He/She/It spins out a potential within a context, be it inanimate or animate, be it a life form, a liquid or a solid. What a sense of creative joyful play He must have! He gives each thing parameters, a context in which to further develop and continue his initial creation, active participants, a sort of “God thinned down” within, to carry on what He begat! Each thing carries the torch of ongoingness. One of the problems with us humans—and of me— is that we think we have done it all. That pesky ego we have been endowed with, an outgrowth of animal evolution, presumes to think we are the creators of ALL of our own lives instead of realizing we are merely stewards of His raw ingredients. We are so very arrogant!

But back to quiet. Quiet is both a whisper and a thunder, a lure and a resistance. At times I crave it whether I’ve cultivated it or stumbled into it by Grace. Regardless, I cannot ultimately stay away. The noise of the world becomes a pressure cooker after a time, one that requires a release of steam. Plus, I know in the quiet resides a real “me” to be rediscovered!

So of course I continue on, alternating between quiet’s pull to its very fright. At the end of the day, it makes no matter whether I understand or try to define it. Ultimately, I acknowledge the reality of creation and the rules that guide it are not up to me. Rather, I am aware of being a kind of project manager, a steward of gifts given me by a Source greater than I can truly comprehend. At the end of the day, I must surrender to a power greater than myself to follow the light of Home, that flame that calls us all, whether inside or out of time. It is the ultimate peace.

 

I swear, I don’t know which is worse: to lose vital functioning body parts or to lose one’s memory and therefore mind. I’d say they both pretty much suck! And if that sounds indelicate, too bad. You’ll just have to get over your proper, persnickety selves. Yes, I’m in a kind of a funk today, and all too often, too many days. I can be an Eeyore like the best of them. Just keeping it real.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a sense of humor or to have a whole lotta Grace in the face of either intermittent, ongoing pain, or the inability to do simple functions I used to be able to do like go for a walk without the aid of hiking poles or a walker. I have come a long way and can even walk short distances on my own, but I cannot sustain it throughout the day without pain.

Pullease

 And I must say, it really frustrates me to hear someone complain about what seems to be, in relative terms, a little ache, a little pain, the equivalent of a hangnail or a papercut. Now, I know that when I am in this kind of a mood I not only do not want to stay in it long, even though I indulge myself. Just as importantly, I can guarantee I will end up laughing at myself. It never lasts (although I sure seem to circle back to it.)

But sometimes I get stuck. It is hard to have the body continually deteriorate bit by bit, body part by body part—this otherwise exquisite, yet prone to break down communication device. Quite frankly, I’m too friggin young for this! Besides the tumor that was removed a year ago, along with 2 1/2 GI portions, I also have had a series of vertebrae’s fracture and collapse. (Yes, yes, I know I’ve complained about this before.)

I really have made tremendous progress since, but it seems the deterioration and decay is not done.

Eye to Eye

Recently I was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in old people. But I’m not old! Am I? This really should be someone else’s problem, a much older person, not a 67-year-old’s. This latest diagnosis has been particularly sobering. How will I write?? Of course there’s a way. Braille. How will I drive? The flat out fact of that is, I won’t. While I haven’t been driving since my surgeries a year ago, I was viewing that as only a temporary condition. That could change.

And then of course—horror of horrors—how will I change my colostomy bag? Do they have bags in braille? Can I have little dots put on my belly right around the stoma so I can guide the bag opening exactly where it needs to be? This is important stuff for me. It’s certainly more important than teeth although they are going too. (Resorption!)

Eruption and Turning

I started this little series of paragraphs really pissed – – at people who are healthy (how dare they!), at young people, people who encourage me to keep on keeping on (oh sure, you try it,) at well-meaning folks who tell me this is a “growth opportunity”… a blessing in disguise for serious spiritual advancement!

And then of course, as night follows day, as I am writing this, I cry, feeling sorry for myself, pitifully, pitifully sorry for myself, and always, always, dammit, end up laughing at the absurdity of it all. For I know deep down where the One True Thing of me really lives, I survive. I am completely intact! The cursed package, the previously robust, svelte, athletic even, container is a facade. The cute clothes adorning curvy hips, the bobbles dangling from ears once nibbled on by seductive men, the ferocious energy I once displayed in jobs and select social occasions as a younger version of myself has all been part of a long one-act play.

My Body Not My Self—The Gameboard

Play, that’s it! A fraud perpetrated on myself, a kind of make believe  colluding along with everyone else in our society. The lies we tell ourselves about who we are are just that: lies. A deception so sophisticated we drink it up like Adam and Eve, until of course the body starts breaking down and we are naked. But the beauty about being naked, which is to say, exposed for not the Who but the What of us—of me—the essence that lays beneath the facade, is not just the truth insisting on being released. It is that kernel, the seed that carries the One True Thing of “me” effortlessly given by life’s originator itself, a Grace not of ourselves. I can pretend I make myself but at the end of the day I know I cannot. I can only grow, morph, transform even as I chafe against the constraints of Earth School.

And of course I understand, clearly, “ah yes, this is how it was always meant to be.” The thing we thought we were will always unfold, or emerge, or transform— whatever language you want to ascribe to it—into the state of being, of awareness, evolution one could say, it is meant to be. The beauty of each state has been intoxicating until of course, it wanes, followed by disappointment, anger, regret, sorrow, a husk of its former self waiting for the new perspective to gradually come into focus, with or without benefit of a literal, physical vision loss that forces not a narrowing of sight and understanding, but an expansion of it.

 

The fragrance of nature, particularly water and trees, has always brought something powerful to the surface of my mind, a kind of happy joy that is spontaneous and immediate. Nature conceals a deeper meaning, drawing me to its depths without knowing entirely why. Since I was a little girl I have always loved it. The natural world is an essential ingredient of what I am, just as much as the gristle and bone I walk around in. Sometimes I think it’s about identification. But that’s not it exactly. I am aware of being an animal, a mammal specifically. And yet it is the essence of spirit that I really identify with, coming from some ‘other’ that created all of this, that I am a part of.

Life For It’s Own Sake

On a recent family vacation in Lake Tahoe I was reminded ever more powerfully of this fact. Because it is a fact for me. A reality. I could be a tree. I could be a body of water. But it makes no matter because I have been blessedly created as a human, and how lucky is that? Even if one believes in no higher power or God, let’s say it’s fate or a roll of the dice that I was created thusly, I still value it immensely. While I happen to believe in God, I recognize not everyone does. Are these individuals no less grateful to be alive?

In any case, my nephew took this picture off the end of a boat touring around the lake and sent it to me. I was not onboard, instead stationed back at the resort like a sentry, resting inside but catching the faint whiff of pines and water regardless of my physical location. The picture is compelling, as compelling as the state of being. This was puzzling to me in the beginning, at least until I started to view it differently. The opaque quality in a milky, cataract kind of way disturbed me at first. I wanted to bring it into focus, to clarify the view. And then I thought, isn’t that what we are always trying to do?  To fix, to adjust what we think we see into one meaning that suits our purpose?

And the foreground of waterwheel, intrusive and initially dominating, became something to be managed, fixed, so that one could better get to the the dusting of pine-topped mountains beyond. When I ignore this fuzzy, filmy veneer, the restless idea of it, I can focus instead on the essence of sharing space with nature, conjoined, being an intimate and authentic part of it, even as it’s steward and, as such, as essential as the earth itself and sky above.

A Larger Lens

I am transported to a primordial soup from which we all come regardless of belief system. It is quite simply a knowing, with nothing arguable about it. It is rooted in depths of certitude, ineffable though it may be, a oneness that defies explanation even though I struggle to explain it in the here and now.

And so I leave it here, the unanswered and unanswerable mystery of being born not just a human but being born here, now, in this place and part of a whole that is an inexplicable existence. The mysterious gift of life, the nature of it all, a dust mote traversing the universe through space and time, me who has been afforded incredible Grace and peace as evocative as the whiff of the pines and water themselves.

You have pulled me back to you for some yet unknown reason and on this last day by your bedside, I’m getting ready to cycle back on my own elliptical trip to motherhood away from you. I cannot say, dear mommy, that I feel more sadness—at least not at this moment. In fact, in many ways, I feel far less. I don’t know exactly why. It may be because I keep my feelings at bay—a necessary adaptation to being in your presence. It may be because I have felt so many emotions, often in extreme or potent fashion, that there’s just less sad left to feel.

Or it may be because I accept the whole process of your dying—your timeline, your needs—surrendering in a far better way to the inevitable lack of control that I have rebelled against for so many months. I suppose, too, somehow my crying, my wailing and wallowing in my own muck and mire just seems less appropriate and out of place in the face of your ongoing dignity with which you approach your own death.

Death’s Dignity

Remarkably, it seems mystifying to me that you could be expressing dignity in the face of cancer and Alzheimer’s, with dirty wet diapers and bibs, your straight, white hair flying wildly behind you on the pillow as you continue to hold on fiercely to two teddy bears from your youngest and eldest daughters.

Yet somehow you preserve yourself with just that: a serene quality that comes from somewhere else—a not of this earth kind of thing. You release love and life entirely, attaching only temporary meaning to the props and decorations that identify you now as my mother. Actually, it almost seems as if you are trying to say to me through these scenes, “do not weep so…this ultimately is a much smaller thing than you think, dear daughter, the seemingly unattractive way I die.”

It’s as if you radiate questions like “what sort of compassion would you have exercised for someone not so personally attached to you had you not seen me drool, heard me jabber nonsense, seen me lie in my own waste.”

Loved Into Death

From where I sit it feels as if you offer yourself up yet one more time, sharing infinite lessons of love and light to all around you. At least that’s what I see when I get outside of just the ‘you’ I know was my mother. For I watch the delicate yet sturdy expressions of love and compassion as your nurses tenderly touch your face while giving you your medicine, stroking the sides of your throat, urging you to swallow your morphine to reduce your physical pain.

I watch your caretakers feed you cereal, adjust your head on the pillow, turn your body to prevent bedsores, all the while talking words of affection, encouragement, and humor. You are not their mother, yet you are comforted just the same through kindnesses springing from an impersonal source, being loved into death like I imagine you were once loved into life.

The Still, Small Voice

And ultimately I am struck not by the sadness of watching your earth life leak out of your very specific body I identify as my mother. Rather, I am struck by all the expressions of a still, small voice behind each act of caring extended, as each person responds to the soul dignity you miraculously emit like radar, invisible in its source yet manifested so visibly in each literal caress.

I am honored by the energy of it all driving each act I only later come to name as love. Ironically, I care less and less about the specific vehicle of what seems like a terminal condition—the Alzheimer’s and cancer eating away at your thin, frail body, with my previous interpretations of despair and tragedy all but gone, at least for the moment.

For in the end I gradually catch the faint but increasing whiff of your gift—that you keep your human heart beating for not just me, but for all your daughters as well, trying to communicate for as long as you can make it so, how much you really loved us. And while the details of our lives together continue to silently fall away, what remains of your final yet everlasting act of love—to crawl up onto your own personal cross, arms outstretched towards infinity as if to say “I love you this much”…

Redemption

… And months later, with tears streaming down my cheeks you have moved on, resurrected to another place of grace, with the Giver of the gift who moves us all to acts beyond our human capacity. And I am breathless and stalled momentarily in my human loss of your steady face, eyes that once beamed, missing your example and your effort.

Yet I continue on even though I’m at a different stage of pain, one which sometimes sends me reeling. I somehow manage because of what was given to me—that final act of love that you so graciously expressed. I manage because I know that you have been redeemed in parallel fashion much is you redeemed me. Without any doubt your effort to send one final message through the dignity and effort of your dying process thunders a love so loud it is unmistakable—a love given through great suffering only to sore and transform.

And I am grateful beyond words.