Softer and More Real

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“The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.

I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love. “

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow

 

Twenty-one years ago, today:

How can I walk away from his body, knowing I will never see him again? I stroke his hair, golden with light. He looks so old, and yet he looks young again, too, young like when I met him. He’s always been so alive, so full of everything. He didn’t do anything half way. He was intensely loving and intensely alive. A million memories flash before my eyes. When we married, and I said, “’til death do us part”, I wondered when that might be, even if only for a split second. And now I know. Death has parted us and I now know it is time to go.

It is hard to take this last look and give this last kiss. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I touch his face, trying to capture the memory of him into the layers of my skin. His golden hair is the last piece of his body I touch before I turn to walk away.

 

April 17th, today:

Looking back, it’s been a long, long time since I said goodbye, yet through these years of journeying to find myself, to wake up, to come to some realization of who and what I am, I’m discovering that I’m also coming to know in a deeper way who my late husband Gary was, to have ‘a more perfect understanding’ of who we both were and are.

Yes, his death was painful. It was a tearing apart of two souls. And, it was also a tearing apart of places where we held each other up in this life, where he was my ground and I his.

It was also beautiful in that it opened me to a larger view of what it means to be a human being. No longer protected from pain, I found myself, as Joanna Macy describes in her interview with Krista Tippett, “dipped in beauty”. I remember lying on my bed, racked with grief, and realizing that I was experiencing a profound beauty. It was puzzling at first because those two things didn’t seem to fit together – painful grief and beauty. But there it was – the distinct experience of the beautiful.

Sometimes we have to know the deepest pain and grief of death in order to feel the most glorious joy and aliveness of life.

Now, twenty-one years later, as I sit more fully in my humanity, I see what a powerful teacher death can be. To live many years with this significant loss is an opportunity to not deny death but to carry it with me as I live. When I turned 47, the age Gary was when he died, I felt grateful to be alive. When my daughters married, again I felt so fortunate to be there to witness those important rites. And, when each of my grandchildren came into this world, I relished the moments much more than I might have if Gary had been there with us, too. Because death is a part of life.

There’s a bittersweetness to life when you carry death with you. By ‘carry’ I don’t mean to hang onto because I’m not willing to see reality. Rather, I mean living with the knowing that I am alive and he is not, and that his death helps me to remember that totality of this existence.

Gary’s death woke me up to that deep longing inside to want to know who and what I am. His death brought me more into life. I don’t know how my life might have unfolded if he had lived, but I do know that I would not have seen the deep, deep beauty that is inherent in the heart breaking open. His death also brought me to come to appreciate him more. The deeper I come into myself, the more I realize how deep he was and how much of him I never got to know. And, through his death and the profound grief I encountered, I’ve been able to be with the parts of my life, and in the world today, that have been, and are, truly heartbreaking since that day I said good-bye.

I share this with you as a celebration of the whole of life, as a remembrance to hold the whole of life with great love. I feel death can make us softer and more real.

 

 

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May you hold your womb with just as much love, respect, and kindness as you hold your logical, rational mind.

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Life is a mystery –  a big, bold, beautiful, pregnant, gracious, infinite, and sacred mystery.

 

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Life isn’t a logical process. It’s not a machine that we can make run smooth and efficiently. It’s not controllable. It doesn’t bend to our wants. It doesn’t take commands.

Who decided it was a good idea to put the analytical, logical, reasonable thinking mind in charge of trying to navigate life?

Poor logical mind. No wonder it gets so stressed out, so burned out, so controlling and fearful. It’s trying to do a job it just cannot do. How can you possibly use logic and reason to live the mystery and stay sane? It’s learned ways to cope with this job (we all have our ingrained coping mechanisms that really aren’t so great at doing what they are intended to do!), but coping and hanging on just isn’t living, is it?!

No wonder we keep thinking up the same old ideas, creating the same old stuff, digging ourselves as a species deeper into our own worn-out, status-quo ruts. The thinking mind is very good at perpetuating its ruts and stories, dragging out its outdated ideas and beliefs. It’s not good an honoring the mystery because it just doesn’t ‘get it’. It’s not designed to ‘get it’. It’s designed to handle the places where rationality and logic are needed…and there are many places…but it’s not designed to birth what is completely and utterly new. The thinking, logical mind can help midwife the new, but it can’t get pregnant. Pregnancy is for womb’s, the source of the mystery, the source of Life itself.

If we want to birth the new, we must listen to Life and what is trying to be born. If we want to be loving midwifes to what can be, we must feel for new life stirring, feel for the first heartbeats, and be willing to support this new life into being.

Like deep rich soil, like a teeming ocean, the place of gestation shimmers with a wordless, graceful essence we will never fully know; yet, we can know what is emerging from this wordless, graceful ocean as it emerges…as it is born. To do so, we must learn to listen and open, to be ready to bring forth, to be used as vessels for this Love that is Life.

Our bodies know the way. Our hearts will guide. Our minds can rest and when they are needed they can be ready to serve. Every part has a sacred part to play in this mysterious dance, and when they play their natural parts, the really do play.

Find what feels like play – to your body, your heart, and your mind. Find what brings that quiet joy, that aliveness that causes a whole-body smile. Put your ear to the big womb and listen for the heartbeat of life and find the place in yourself where you long to midwife it into being.

This is where the new world, a new way, will emerge…from the dark that we all can once again learn to trust. It isn’t the enemy…it is Life teeming with Life.

And, this is where the old world, the old way, will die back into – the dark that we all can once again learn to trust. It isn’t the enemy…it is Life receiving into itself what has lived its course.

We really do love the New – it’s why we get so excited for these New things like New Years Day. The real beauty is that it is only an illusion that this New Year will lose its newness. Life never loses its newness, just as it never stops letting go into death. They are bedfellows – the New and the Dying. If you feel into this, you’ll feel the whole arc of Life, this shimmering graceful essence.

May this New Year – a construct of the logical mind that need dates, times, goals – be a turning point for us all to become lovers and midwives of the New, the fresh, the playful innocence of Life wanting to know itself anew – and lovers and midwives of the dying.

May you hold your womb with just as much love, respect, and kindness as you hold your logical, rational mind.

May we love all. May we love well.

***

Womb Update!

I’ll be co-leading a day-long retreat with my friend, Simone de Winter, this January 25th in West Marin County. It’s all about ‘A Woman’s Belly!’. It will be the perfect way to bring more health, strength, and creativity to your life by way of your Womb!

Take a look here. If you aren’t in the Bay Area, but know a woman who is, please pass this along.

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A Living Goodbye; A Living Hello

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Life is: Life relating to itself, Knowing itself through relating.

 

Eighteen years ago, today, my husband died suddenly before my eyes. It was quick and shocking.

The grief journey it took me on was anything but quick.

A friend on Facebook just now asked, “How does one say goodbye and go on?”

How do we live a goodbye and grief? How do we live hello and joy? They go together, goodbye and go on. They go together, hello and go on.

For me, I’ve found it’s a living goodbye, and a living hello. It’s all tangled together, in a beautiful, and sometimes not so easy, dance.

Gary’s death was a doorway into awakening to the depth and beauty, the light and dark, the sacred and mundane. It was a doorway into a true relationship with life, because we can’t be in relationship with life if we are not in relationship with death.

I am not romanticizing it. It’s not been easy, nor was it easy for my daughters and family members who grieved Gary’s death. It hasn’t easy for the hundreds of 9/11 family members I worked with, or the hundreds of clients and students I’ve taught and coached. And, I am certain, it’s not easy for you. We all know grief.

If we are looking for easy, we won’t find it in grief, and we won’t find it in life.

Yet, we can find ease. We can find softness and grace. Life is filled with grace if we open our arms to be held in love. Not romantic love, but the love that carries us through it all, even the very painful things we are now witnessing in our world. I write this two days after the Boston bombings. I write this as other  bombings are taking, and will take, place in our world.

Today, I celebrate Gary, our daughters, our four grandchildren, our life together, and the years since that have, I hope, made me a more real and loving woman.

Today, I celebrate you, your grief, your journey, and the way you grace this world.

Today, I celebrate our humanity. In light of all the tragedies we face, the love that we are is greater, by far, than any hateful and violent acts we do to each other.

This I know.

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Cycles. Seasons. Rhythms. Life.

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Pink Flowering Plums

“I can’t stop pointing to the beauty.” ~ Rumi

I went for a walk yesterday. As I turned a corner on my usual route, I was stopped by the beauty blazing before me: a flowering plum in full bloom. I didn’t expect to see a tree in full bloom. Winter is still here.

I looked closely at this tree: soft, tender flower flesh budding directly out of hard, seemingly rigid gray branches; clusters of blossoms blooming together, some barely nubs, others completely open and ready to fall; each moving to its own rhythm, even though they are all danced by the force that is the tree’s true nature.

I realized, once again, how much is happening, under the surface, away from our eyes and senses. This tree is always transforming, growing, shedding, dying, and being reborn.

Cycles. Seasons. Rhythms. Life.

And, I realized how, when I am focused on things, I can miss what is happening right in front of me.

Just like the flowering plum, so much is happening within me, away from eyes and senses. We are always moving in cycles, seasons and rhythms, shedding layers, buds opening, leaves falling.

I’m leaving today for a ten-day silent retreat. I’ve craved the silence. And, while in my head the retreat begins today and I’ve been busy getting things done so I can be away, under the surface part of me is already there, already moving within. Even as I’ve busied myself getting ready, part of me is already slowing down. This isn’t visible to anyone else, and surprisingly, just barely to me. In hindsight, I see how things are getting stirred up inside, telling me that on some level my psyche knows what’s coming.

Sitting in silence for many days brings much of your stuff up to the surface where it can be seen, and if you’re willing to sit with patience and compassion, liberated.

So much of what we believe is real and true is simply illusion. I’ve found that sitting in meditation, or dancing, which is my moving meditation, allows me to see through the imagined stories that have me believing the conditioning we swim in.

As Eckhart Tolle says, “‎~ If you can recognize illusion as illusion…it dissolves.

In seeing the flowering plum, I woke up out of the illusion that spring is far off, that life is static, that death is simply death. I remembered that life is erotic.

Life is a stream of change happening in both visible and invisible ways. We are each moving to our own rhythm, while we are danced by the force that is our true nature.

And, you?

What is happening within you that is just barely beginning to show itself, just beginning to bud?

What is dying during this winter within?

How is the erotic nature of life moving within you?

How is this nature whispering to you to move?

What is life asking of you?

::

While I am silent, this blog will be silent.

I’ll see you in ten days.

Pink Flowering Plums by Karl S JohnsonSome rights reserved

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Horror as the Foreground to Wonder

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Living, Dying, Grieving

This post isn’t full of the beautiful…at least not the surface beautiful. But stick with me…

This is my edge…

We’re all living, we’re all dying, we’re all grieving, we’re all transforming. It’s life’s nature, death’s nature.

Life as Mirror

Life is always dying and being reborn. To grasp this truth, to live in this truth is to be fully alive. To never take this life for granted. It’s beauty, it’s power, the fact that none of us know. Can we embrace this? Live it? Touch death as we live life? Touch life as we die? Be with each other in whatever stage we are in? Really be with each other…

I don’t know have any answers. None. No flowery words. No insights.

But what I want to do is share what some beautiful women are writing about grief, dying, illness, death and life… and how reading their words is impacting my heart.

Unconscious to the edge…

The fact is we are alive and we are dying. Some of us are closer to death. Some of us are dead while we live, unconscious to the edge we exist on. Who’s to say what it is to be fully alive?

Joseph Campbell wrote,

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s all finally about.”

In one of his segments with Bill Moyers, Campbell shared,

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.

There’s a wonderful formula that the Buddhists have for the Bodhisattva, the one whose being (sattva) is illumination (bodhi), who realizes his identity with eternity and at the same time his participation in time. And the attitude is not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.

…not to withdraw from the world when you realize how horrible it is, but to realize that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder and to come back and participate in it.”

I write this post as a somewhat ‘healthy’ person, so I am seeing and writing through the eyes of someone who unconsciously, and perhaps somewhat consciously, tells herself she still has a fairly ‘long’ time to live. In reality, this is BS. I do not know how long I have to live. Even writing these words and saying them aloud to myself doesn’t even begin to cut through the normal denial that is here about death.

I do experience the absence of time, the eternity of which Campbell writes.

Where I have difficulty is in being with the ‘horrible’ nature of life, what my mind wants to fix, eliminate and avoid.

Campbell’s words “that this horror is simply the foreground of a wonder” catch me.

Horror as a foreground of wonder.

My mind goes a little crazy wondering how you square this, square the horrors of this world with the mind’s concept of wonder. I notice that I write ‘wondering’ in the same sentence. To wonder…

In writing this, my mind fears it will sound as if I am romanticizing horror in some way, even wonders whether it is wise to include the word rapture and horror in the same post…

I recoil from the horrors of the world. I want to fix them. I want to save others. In reality, I don’t want to be with the horror itself. I don’t want to open to it.

As Campbell reminds me, the horror is the foreground to the real wonder of life, the awe-inducing wonder…

And yet, in those moments of life when the horrible knocked on my door, I did open the door. I opened to the horror, as much as I could. And in opening to it, I caught a glimpse of this wonder… the beauty in the darkness, the love in the horrible, the peace and silence that is always present all around this foreground of horror.

I do know Holy Is All There Is, yet my life, at least right now, is filled with days full of so much love and light. I can be content to sit in this ease, content to not open my heart to the horror…and it is here that I skim the shallow waters of life. Can I open to the rest of the wonder of life willingly, not just when it knocks, but now, of my own accord…

Krishnamurti said:

There must be no escape from it of any kind, no intellectual or explanatory justification – see the difficulty of this, for the mind is so cunning, so sharp to escape, because it does not know what to do with its violence. It is not capable of dealing with it – or it thinks it is not capable – therefore it escapes. Every form of escape, distraction, of movement away, sustains violence. If one realizes this, then the mind is confronted with the fact of `what is’ and nothing else.

The mind does not know what to do with its own violence…

This is my edge. This is the edge I recoil from…

I share words…

So I share others’ words, words that open me to this edge, words that help to open my eyes and heart…

In Pema‘s series, “Memory to Light“, she shares her experiences with grief, death, violence and life, leading up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Benita‘s new blog, The Useless Uterus or Chemo Brain Musings (she’s not yet sure what to call it) recounts her life as she moves through her days of chemo and healing.

Rhonda, a woman of 42 years who is dying from MS, is sharing her writing as she dies. Her writing is brilliant. Her words cut to the chase. And in responding, or attempting to respond by way of commenting, I found myself ‘trying’ to write to her, not quite sure how to share how her words have touched me. Perhaps it’s a mixture of things: partly that she is in the active stages of dying as I read her words, and perhaps because I don’t really know her. There’s an element of feeling like a watcher, reading her experience from this place of one who is ‘alive’ and not dying. My dear friend, Jeanne, is hosting these writings, offering a place for us to bear witness to Rhonda experiences and our own opening to how to be with…

And as we near this 10th anniversary of 9/11, Meg Worden shares her experience of 9/11, a day that was book-ended by her getting sober the day before, and conceiving her child two days after.

I do know…

What is true, what makes tears come, what causes my heart to open is the raw desire to serve life, to know the sacredness of life, to honor it…and I must admit, I don’t know how to do this… and I know there is no how.

I am this life, both the horror and the wonder. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the other. When I cut myself off from one, I can’t know the totality of what I am…I can’t feel this totality…

And, you?

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Letting Go and Letting In

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Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my Mother’s death.  It’s so hard to believe it’s been one year. I remember I couldn’t write for a while after she died. It was as if things needed to settle inside me. No, settle isn’t quite right. Things needed to move around, push their way out, burrow deep inside, get all mixed around, catywampus-sideways…everything just had to be left alone to be inside me. One thing I have become all-too-familiar with is the need for grief to be welcomed and befriended. It is an intelligent process, grief. I have experienced that when you open to it, don’t rush it, don’t fight it, even befriend it by giving in to it and entering the darkness of it with trust, it will move you, it will shake you, it will bring you somewhere out the other side of the darkness, somewhere new that you never expected.

Mom’s death was a lesson in letting go on so many levels. Letting go of my longing for her to be cured of her cancer, letting go of her being open to talking about her death, letting go of being able to say good-bye in the way I wanted to, letting go of wanting to be by her side at the moment she passed, letting go of all the things I thought I still needed from her as my mother. One big-time letting go.

And now it’s one year later. I find I am still letting go. I am letting go of our culture’s taboo on discussing death and sharing grief. I am letting go of the expectations that we are only supposed to grieve for a set period of time and then if we don’t move on we’re ‘not normal’. I’m letting go of the culture’s obsession with the objectification of a woman’s body, as if it existed solely for sexual gratification. And, I am letting go of the societal voices that ‘honor’ mothers on the surface, and treat mothers with disdain and women with second-class status.

As I wrote in a post last year, as my mother died, I felt a deep painful tearing in my body, right at the core. It felt as though my connection with my mother (the most primal connection I had) was being severed as she prepared to die. The pain seared in my core, down deep at the base of my body. It was as if I could feel her leaving by way of the pain in my own body.

Then, after she died, I sat with her body for a long time. I felt awe in the presence of her body, the body that nourished me and delivered me into this world. I felt gratitude for all she did in her life to provide for me, to keep me safe, to usher me into adulthood. I felt compassion for her foibles and humanness, a humanness that I had once expected to be perfection. Yet, there in the moments following her death, I was captivated by the ephemeral nature of this imperfect humanness for I knew, with her life force no longer there, her body was already beginning its way to non-existence.

Over this past year, I have come to know a strong connection between my mother and my own body. This connection lies at the heart of being human. We are fed by our mother, both inside her and once we are born. Her body is the vessel that holds us as we grow from being a few cells to a baby big enough to make our way into the world. She sustains us. During this time in the womb, she is all that we know.

This connection is primal. It is a connection to more than just mother. It’s a connection to the Universal Mother and to the Earth. This Earth is the vessel that sustains us as we move throughout our life. She provides for us. She nourishes us. While life can be harsh, without the Earth, we would not be.

We lose our connection because we are conditioned to believe we must let go of mother to be strong, independent individuals in our western culture. We also learn to blame mother for most everything that wasn’t right in our childhood. Mothers take the brunt of blame. Mothers are taken for granted. Mothers learn to internalize this blame.

It’s not about believing that mothers can do no wrong. Rather, despite the ways in which you don’t see eye-to-eye with mom, and regardless of whatever story you tell about your mother, can you find and feel your heart’s deepest gratitude to your mother for carrying you and birthing you? Because, that Mother, the mother that nourished and sustained you, is the same Mother that sustains all of life. The substance that fuels a mother’s capacity to nourish a baby into existence is the same substance that fuels all of existence.

What conscious grieving of my mother’s death has taught me is the profound, yet basic connection between awe and gratitude for my mother and the gift of life she gave me. It has strengthened my connection to my own body and to the Earth, and to all of life. And, it has brought me to the wisdom that comes from knowing this same substance is within me as a woman.

This substance allows for a beautiful and mysterious connection between women. We don’t have to be mothers to know this connection. It just is. This substance connects us with the Earth, with nature, and with the sacredness of life itself.

I don’t know what sharing this with you will bring, I only know that now knowing this has awakened reverence and awe for my mother, my daughters, my sisters, my nieces, and all women; my grandchildren and all children; my father, my partner Jeff, my sons-in-law, my nephews, and all men; and all of life. That’s been the gift for me that lies in knowing the fullness of my mother’s humanness, as well as the sacred nature of her female creativity.

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