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A Borrowed Blog: “It’s Time To Stop Avoiding Death: You can’t have the life you want without letting go of the life you have” by David Cates

I thank David Cates for permitting me to post this timely writing (original post March 30, 2020).

“It’s Time To Stop Avoiding Death: You can’t have the life you want without letting go of the life you have”

I’ve been stunned by how thoroughly a tiny virus, barely 0.0001″ across, has brought our human world screeching to a halt. In a few short months, on a global scale, it’s kicked over all the old bedrocks, nation by nation, and clearly revealed the dark, wriggly underworld hiding just out of sight.

That sense of unease we’ve had — about governments and politicians, scientists and institutions, economies built on hope and lies, nature gasping from our poisons, societies splintering into dry tinder — all that is laid bare. And in the deafening silence of shutdown, there’s nowhere else to look. The veil’s been lifted. The world’s turned upside down. The roots are rotten.

This is what we have become.

Some of us still sneak out to the streets; some pull the netflix covers over their eyes. But as the days wear on, in quarantine, we’re being forced to see our lives, our jobs, our relationships, and our selves without those layers of frantic busyness and protective gauze. Exposed. Naked, squinting at the sun, unsure who we are, uncertain what to do.

*

I’ve been meditating lately on the vast, hidden networks of nature: the mycelium, bacteria, microbiota and yes, the viruses. The original organisms from which complex lifeforms evolved, and likely, the ones who will take over again when humans disappear from this world, adapting to eat up our plastic pollution and radioactive waste, and more immediately, to compost our physical bodies as each of us dies.

Nature is a web, innumerable networks in constantly shifting yin/yang balance. Death is an essential element in that balance. Embracing death brings us back into harmony with the underlying game as it’s played in this world, at every scale, from insects to empires.

Resisting death puts us at odds with the whole natural order.

*

These past few years, I’ve been pulled down into an underworld initiation. I accompanied first my sister and then my mother through the final months of their lives, sitting with them as they took their last breaths. Death is ordinary, terrifying and beautiful all at once. It cracks our hearts open in a way that nothing else can.

So before this new virus appeared, I’d already made friends with the dark and wriggly worlds under those flipped-over rocks. My naked skin had goose-bumped in the cold shadows. I’d felt the grief pooling in my lungs, and seen the world strangely magnified through tears.

I may be a bit further along this path than some of you. But maybe not. For in the bright light of these revelation-times, many of us are showing our hidden battle scars and secret hurts, the ancestral wounds we carry, the loves we’ve lost — all the tiny deaths we’ve not yet mourned and celebrated.

Apocalypse: the uncovering. What happens when the Emperor has no clothes? What happens when I lose my job and social place? What happens when I’m locked in a house alone with my family? When we can’t get food or medicine? When one of us starts coughing? When my competent identity crumbles, and you see who I really am, underneath the facade?

*

I’ve been reluctant to speak these questions out loud.

Many people have reached out to me for soothing, for certainty, for reassurance that we’ll soon be back to normal. Uncharacteristically, I’ve been holding my tongue.

I don’t think we can go back to “normal”.

Forgetful as we human creatures are, I can’t unsee this revelation. On every level, from the meta and systemic to relational and personal, this is where we are now. In the midst of the sixth mass extinction, pounded by climate change, with 20,000 children dying of hunger every day.

Much of our generalized panic about this situation, I believe, is misplaced. We’re focused on personal human deaths, our own or our loved ones. But when I step back, relax my gaze and focus on the bigger pictures here, it’s clear what’s really dying.

Our old, “normal” world has been rotting on its deathbed for decades. That stench in my nostrils is not from a few thousand (or even, soon, a few million) human bodies.

The social order has already broken down, politics is lethal, and nature is drowning in poisons.

Underneath the rocks, below the foundations, the roots are rotten.

And everyone knows it.

Our avoidance of death hasn’t actually stopped our world from dying. It’s just left us delusional, little children with our eyes squeezed shut, fingers plugging our ears, tongues babbling nonononononono.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has burst that dam of denial. It’s an equal opportunity killer, impacting every nation, rich and poor alike. No more bullshit. No more hiding.

Death is everywhere.

*

As we quarantine in place, isolated in our homes, the truth couldn’t be any plainer.

We can’t survive alone.

We’ve got to come together.

We’re social creatures, relying on each other for food, healing, touch, kindness, understanding, information, and a thousand other services.

Without others, we’re doomed.

And, as this current situation makes abundantly clear — as the virus passes from person to person, from hand to mouth to lungs — we’re also doomed with others.

Doomed if we do, and doomed if we don’t.

That’s the basic fact of life we have forgotten in our modern, go-go-go, scrambling-for-survival world.

Life is short. Death is certain.

Here it comes.

*

I’ve been short and ruthless with my closest friends and students. “I’ve made my peace with Death. You won’t find peace with this virus until you do, too.”

Certainly, protect yourselves and others in the ways that you can. Don’t be foolish. No need to race toward death.

But also don’t be foolish, thinking you can beat death forever.

Let’s take this precious time-out-of-time (while the world is holding its shocked breath, the rocks are kicked over and the curtain’s pulled back on the Wizard of Oz ) — and look deeply into why we’re all so terribly frightened of dying.

So frightened of dying that we’re willing to hide in our houses, let doctors and nurses do our dirty work without protective gear, abandon our grandparents to die alone in nursing homes.

So frightened of dying that we hand our power over to despots, and sacrifice a world worth living in together.

*

This is a moment of truth.

This tiny “enemy” we’re trying to defeat is just another face of Death. (Not to worry, Death has millions more.)

The entire natural world, for billions of years, has been an intricate, ever-changing dance of life and death. That’s the game here on this planet. We’re all just borrowing material from other lifeforms to make our own bodies. They dance together for a number of years, and then decay and are recycled.

It’s a beautiful system, when I surrender to it.

So many cells and atoms and microbes come together to support my personal creation! So many beings give themselves to feed and nourish me each day!

When I stop and really feel that gift, I’m overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

But rather than live with humble gratitude, and die with grace, we humans get selfish. Personally, relationally, economically, politically. We want to grab and hoard and hold on forever.

And in doing so, we miss the point. We may gain a few years, but we lose our hearts and souls.

We can see that clearly in the selfish 0.1% who hoard more wealth than they can ever use. We see the results of our collective greed as it kills off entire species and trashes the living biosphere.

We see that greed and fear strangle our own lives and relationships. Mememememememememe…

We may have separate bodies, but we’re not designed to live (or die) alone.

For better or worse, we’re part of an intricate, unimaginable, mysterious whole.

And when we turn away from Death, we lose our connection to that whole.

*

When my mother died, and the muscles in her face let go, her individual “personality” vanished: the twinkle in her eyes was gone, the way she smiled, the tilt of her head. But in their place, the bones revealed themselves, and in that distinct marble sculpture (the slope of the forehead, the thrust of the jaw) I saw her mother, and her mother’s mother, and her mother’s mother’s mother.

She was clearly part of something bigger, a temporary form borrowed for a handful of years, one face of a lineage that stretches back for millennia.

The rest was compost and ash, returned to the earth, gifts now available for other creatures to create their own turn in this world.

I want to be that let-go, that surrendered to everything: life, death, love, fear, all the beauty in this unfathomable mystery.

I want to enjoy my time in the sun, and then enjoy my time in the dark dreaming night. I want to remember my place in the whole.

*

All the best things in my life were unpredictable surprises. They came when I surrendered and let life take me somewhere new. New love, new work, new place in the world, sometimes even a new sense of self.

The trick, I believe, is not holding on to what life has already given me.

When my time comes, early or late, ugly or beautiful, I want to surrender again, and let death take me somewhere unfathomably new.

I wish the same grace for you: to turn toward apocalypse, curious, open, not knowing who you are, loving all that you’ve been given, maybe scared, maybe not… ready to let go of the old familiar world, and begin to assemble, from the strange scraps and compost and imaginal cells all around and inside you, something humble and connected and new.

Reach out to others. Share your heart, your joys and fears. Give your gifts. Connect to something bigger than yourself, human and more-than-human too.

Embrace the unknown. Be willing to die. A new world can’t come until we finally let go of this one.

We can let a tiny virus do the heavy lifting for us. We can wait for the next virus, and the next.

Or we can push through this birth canal together.

*

A few days before my mother died, when she was getting frustrated and frightened and losing her anchors to reality, I told her, “You’re doing such a great job, Mom! You’ve never tried to die before, and this is all new to you. I think you’re doing this perfectly.”

She smiled the most glorious little-girl smile, and content with herself, finally stopped fussing with the blankets and let go.

And as she died, she showed me that death is not the enemy here.

Death is a doorway to love.

In the same way that birth blows hearts open and changes lives forever, so does death.

Don’t turn away.

Don’t turn away from all that’s dying.

Face it, feel it, mourn it, grieve it.

Let it blow your heart open.

This is the doorway to a new world.

Here, in your lost and scared and grieving heart.

This is the opening.

We’ve never done this before.

But now the lights are on, and we can see where to begin.

 

Follow David Cates https://medium.com/@kauaidavid

View at Medium.com

 

View at Medium.com

 

 

The Bodhisattva Response to Coronavirus by Jack Kornfield

“Dear Friends,

 

We have a choice.

Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, are part of the cycle of life on planet Earth.

How will we respond?

With greed, hatred, fear and ignorance? This only brings more suffering.

Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness and love?

This is the time for love.

 

Time for Bodhisattvas. In Buddhist teachings, the Bodhisattva is someone who vows to

alleviate suffering and brings blessings in every circumstance. A Bodhisattva chooses to

live with dignity and courage and radiates compassion for all, no matter where they find

themselves.

 

This is not a metaphor. As Bodhisattvas we are now asked to hold a certain measure of

the tragedy of the world and respond with love.

 

The Bodhisattva path is in front of us. The beautiful thing is, we can see Bodhisattvas all

around. We see them singing from their balconies to those shut inside. We see them in

young neighbors caring for the elders nearby, in our brave healthcare workers and the

unheralded ones who stock the shelves of our grocery stores.

 

As a father, if she called me, I would fly to the ends of the earth to help and protect my

daughter. Now she and her firefighter/paramedic husband and my toddler grandson

await the virus. His urban fire department, like many hospitals and first responders,

does not have masks. Eighty percent of their work is emergency medical calls and they

all expect to get the virus. They will not be tested, because the department can’t afford to

lose the help of too many of their firefighters.

 

What can I do? What can we do?

 

In this moment we can sit quietly, take a deep breath, and acknowledge our fear and

apprehension, our uncertainty and helplessness… and hold all these feelings with a

compassionate heart. We can say to our feelings and uncertainty, “Thank you for trying

to protect me,” and “I am OK for now.” We can put our fears in the lap of Buddha, Mother

Mary, Quan Yin, place them in the hearts of the generations of brave physicians and

scientists who tended the world in former epidemics.

 

When we do, we can feel ourselves part of something greater, of generations of survivors

in the vast web of history and life, “being carried” as the Ojibwa elders say, “by great

winds across the sky.”

 

This is a time of mystery and uncertainty. Take a breath. The veils of separation are

parting and the reality of interconnection is apparent to everyone on earth. We have

needed this pause, perhaps even needed our isolation to see how much we need one

another.

 

Now it is time to add our part.

The Bodhisattva deliberately turns toward suffering to serve and help those around in

whatever way they can.

This is the test we have been waiting for.

We know how to do this.

 

Time to renew your vow.

Sit quietly again and ask your heart: what is my best intention, my most noble aspiration

for this difficult time?

Your heart will answer.

Let this vow become your North Star. Whenever you feel lost, remember and it will

remind you what matters.

 

It is time to be the medicine, the uplifting music, the lamp in the darkness.

Burst out with love. Be a carrier of hope.

If there is a funeral, send them off with a song.

 

Trust your dignity and goodness.

Where others hoard…..help.

Where others deceive……stand up for truth.

Where others are overwhelmed or uncaring…..be kind and respectful.

 

When you worry about your parents, your children, your beloveds, let your heart open

to share in everyone’s care for their parents, their children and their loved ones. This is

the great heart of compassion. The Bodhisattva directs compassion toward everyone—

those who are suffering and vulnerable and those who are causing suffering. We are in

this together.

 

It is time to reimagine a new world, to envision sharing our common humanity, to

envision how we can live in the deepest most beautiful way possible. Coming through

this difficulty, what we intend and nurture, we can do.

 

In the end, remember who you are is timeless awareness, the consciousness that was

born into your body. You were born a child of the spirit, and even now you can turn

toward the awareness, and become the loving awareness that witnesses yourself reading

and feeling and reflecting.

 

When a baby is born our first response is love.

When a dear one dies, the hand we hold is a gesture of love.

Timeless love and awareness are who you are.

Trust it.

 

Dear Bodhisattva,

The world awaits your compassionate heart.

Let’s join in this great task together.

 

With metta,

Jack”

 

The Bodhisattva Response to Coronavirus

 

My Anxiety and the Unknown; COVID- 19

I am all over the place lately, leaping from fear to peace. I am reflecting what is happening all over the globe: Chaos and fear, yet a slowing down of activities. Sometimes I obsess about all kinds of things: Will I get this illness? Will I die a horrible death? Do I have enough tp? What if one of my caregivers gets sick and spreads the virus to others? What if I am left with no caregivers? How do I clean properly? Did I wipe down the doorknobs after someone left? What if I forgot? Anxiety loves this kind of stuff. It thrives on it.

And then, suddenly I am peaceful and feel wide open and content. Calm. And more connected to nature. The trees around my house seem more vibrant than ever. I watch the ducks in the pond happily waddling about, and I breathe more deeply. The red-winged blackbirds sing their delight at being alive and dive in and out of the cattails. Sometimes I go outside and sit on the earth and cry. I don’t know what I’m crying about, but tears run down my face. I sob. It feels good to do so. And I feel supported by the earth when I do.

Yesterday, while I was out there, Simon, our cat, came and sat with me and then curled up in my lap. We both surveyed the pond, the meadow, the hills. And I thought: If all humankind died, the earth  would heal and that thought gave me peace. I love my friends, family and community, and sometimes am able to love all humankind, but, as my mother used to say, “We are the most destructive species on the planet.” She was right and it’s a hard fact to sit with.

Sometimes, I open my heart to not knowing. Not knowing if certain people I know and love will survive. Not knowing if local businesses will survive. Not knowing how long the virus will survive. And these thoughts take me to the big “I Don’t Know” – the mysteries of The Universe. And this thought leads to Freedom.

 

 

Pain Entrusted to Us

Sufi Master Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan advised his students about the pain we all have and carry with us and share through life.

Not directly-quoted, as there are many versions from various sources:

Overcome any bitterness…                                                                             

because you were not up to the                                                     

magnitude of the pain                                                                       

entrusted to you.

Like the mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart,

you are sharing in the totality of this pain                         

and are called upon to meet it

in compassion and joy

instead of self-pity.

 

 

 

Hope – Excerpt from the Book I Never Finished

As people dealing with the ongoing struggle with our bodies, hope is a quality that is sure to enter our life at one point or another. When we wake up to the too-familiar pain in our joints or the weakness in our heart, or whatever is still waiting for us, it is easy to touch or give into fear, despair or bitterness. Hope is a wish that arises from the heart and offers us a chance at something better and keeps us going. Hope reminds us we often do not know the outcome of our illness, that science and technology are always expanding, that there are so many alternatives out there still to try. Hope whispers to us of all sorts of possibilities, and that whisper propels us forward and encourages us to not give up.

That being said, my own relationship with hope is not always an easy one. There have been times when I’ve lost hope, when I’ve given up hope, when I’ve clung to it. There’ve been times when it seems to me that to have any kind of hope that my health would ever change for the better was a dangerous tactic to take, as it could become a set-up for disappointment and then a plunge into dark emotions.

It is a good idea to look at our own relationship with hope and ask ourselves a few questions: What are we hoping for, exactly? A cure? A healing? An improved condition? A full recovery? Should our hope be “realistic” – whatever that is? Should we let go of hope altogether, because it creates a striving in the heart that just perpetuates more suffering? Perhaps if we’re to hope for anything, we should hope for an open heart to our on-going experience… but if that’s all we hope for, does it shut us down to any physical change?

At the onset of our illness, before we understand that it is a chronic condition, most of us hope for a full recovery or cure. Let’s be honest. We want our bodies to function as well as they did before we got sick. We miss how active our lives were and we yearn to “get back into the game”. But, as time goes by and we try various treatments and practitioners, we start to see that maybe a cure isn’t in the cards for us. We begin to see that yearning for such a thing takes us out of our life and away from the possibility of experiencing any happiness with things as they are right here and now. As we listen to our body’s needs and stories with compassionate awareness, we realize what we’ve been longing for all along is a healing and that healing is a wholeness that includes everything we experience as a human being: our bodies, our stories about our bodies, our fears, desires, our ups and downs, etc. This kind of healing doesn’t mean our bodies will suddenly be cured. “Healing” and “curing” in this case, mean two different things.

It can take us a while before we come to this conclusion. We begin by exploring beneath the surface of hope where there is often fear, loss and sometimes, desperation lurking. Having the courage to meet these powerful emotions from the soft places in our heart, encourages us to cultivate a kind of hope that buoys us, rather than feeds our fears of never getting well. Through the lens of this sort of exploration, we move into the spaciousness that allows the ultimate hope, the ultimate healing: We come into alignment with our innermost essence, from which all possible outcomes are born. This kind of open hope moves us away from a fear-based one that clutches at one particular outcome. Sharon Salzberg, Buddhist teacher and author, calls this “fixated hope”. She writes: “Fixated hope”…. like hope itself, resembles faith in that both sparkle with a sense of possibility. But, fixated hope is conditional, circumscribing happiness to getting what we want… when our hope for relief from suffering is based only on getting what we want, in the precise way we want it, we bind hope to fear, rather than to faith.”

“Buddhism regards fixated hope and fear as two sides to the same coin. When we hope for a particular outcome to arise or a desire to be met, we invariably fear it won’t happen. Thus, we move from hope to fear to hope from fear in an endless loop.”

I understand that loop intimately. And I understand another kind of hope; one that takes us out of that loop and inspires us to move forward. Some years ago, I had to detox from an antidepressant I had been taking for sleep, because it no longer worked for me. The process had left me anxious and fragile and my sleep worse than ever. On top of that, I had lost hope and became despairing that anything could help me as I had tried so many different remedies and medications – some of which worked for a while and then at some point, my body would habituate to it and no longer be of any help. This kind of process was a long and difficult one – one I’ve repeated again and again – first lifting my hopes, just to have them dashed again. The fragile physical state I was in at this point, deeply affected my emotional and mental states, and not only that, the specialist I had been seeing inferred that he had run out of things to try with me. What was I to do? Seek out yet another doctor? Find a new practitioner? I felt completely overwhelmed and was in a state of great anguish. As I often do when in dire straits and can’t see my way out, I called on people from my support system. One night a good friend came over to help out and when I told her all of my fears (what if there was nothing out there for me and I’d have to live this way for the rest of my life), she gently reminded me none of us knew what was around the corner, that the future held all kinds of possibilities beyond our knowing at this time. I listened to her intently and later stood out on my deck and looked up at the dark and clouded sky. Just then, like a schmaltzy movie, the clouds parted and revealed this glowing golden moon that I hadn’t noticed before, because I had been too caught up in my own despair. In that moment, my energy shifted, and that despair left my body. And in its place, hope moved in. Soon after that, I went back to my original doctor who determined that the combination of medications I had been on might have caused a reaction in me that made my sleeping more difficult than usual.

I want to be clear here. I am not suggesting that just because I was able to shift my energy, I was able to find better solutions — there are too many variables to know why any outcome comes to pass (see my January 3, 2020 blog post Creating Your Own Reality). I am suggesting that by moving into an open hope that has no set outcome in mind, aligns us with that which will work best for us in whatever condition we find ourselves. It allows us the ability to receive a new answer, whether it be acceptance or a step in a direction we may not have considered (or noticed) before. By letting go of fear (not always an easy feat for us) we bring about a greater potential for change.

Another element we would do well to cultivate here is equanimity. Living with the ups and downs of difficult symptoms, it is easy to emotionally feel on a roller coaster as well. We’re ecstatic when our blood work comes back negative after a long struggle with cancer, only to be devastated when, six months later, those same test results come back positive. Cultivating a kind of hope that is centered in equanimity, gives us an emotional balance with which to deal with the volatility of our lives. A good example of this, is the story of the old farmer. One day his horse ran off. When his neighbors heard, they dropped by. “How awful!”, they said, hoping to comfort him. “Maybe”, was all the farmer answered. The next day, the horse came back with three wild horses in tow. This time, when the neighbors came by, they said, “What great luck!”. “Maybe”, said the farmer. The next afternoon, his son attempted to break in one of the new horses but was thrown off and broke his leg. The neighbors showed up. “I’m so sorry, what a terrible loss!”. “Maybe”, replied the old man. The following morning, two military men came by looking to draft young, able-bodied men into the Army. When they saw his son, they moved on to the next farm. The neighbors congratulated him on his good fortune. “Maybe”, said the farmer.

Maintaining a hope with this kind of equilibrium while we deal with all our physical discomforts may feel like an impossibility, but I find it a good model to look toward. After years of struggle with getting good sleep, I’ve noticed that when I stumble upon a new remedy, etc., that helps me get a decent night’s sleep, there is always something inside that asks “Will this last?”. It so far never has. I have learned to develop a “maybe” attitude. Maybe it’ll be this way for the rest of my life, but maybe it’ll be better at times, and maybe worse. Meanwhile, whatever happens, my mental and spiritual goal is to maintain an even-keeled attitude, understanding like the farmer, that all mind states pass, eventually.

You can also practice the quality of equanimity to help you along. Just as with loving kindness meditation, you can construct phrases to meditate on (see my April and May 2019 blog posts Introduction to Loving Kindness and Loving Kindness, Part II). Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher and author, offers these phrases:

“May I be balanced and at peace”.                                                                                             “May I learn to see the arising and passing of all nature with equanimity and balance”.

Of course, you can create your own phrases that better reflect your circumstances.

“May I meet the arising and passing of phenomena in my body with ease and balance”.

Just like with loving kindness meditation, the more you practice, the more the phrases become a part of you instead of just wishful thinking.

In the end, I have found hope to be an essential ingredient on the spiritual path of chronic illness. Hope has come to mean for me a way of holding space for all possible positive outcomes. I make sure I leave space for miracles.

On the one end of my personal spectrum of hope, I Ieave space for the possibility of deep sleep and no seizure activity, to enough sleep to keep me functioning well enough and little seizure activity. Failing that, I hope to have an attitude and a relationship towards my health that is kind, compassionate and equanimous. Hope then, is an antidote to despair, bitterness, and a closed and fearful heart.

“When my house burned down, I gained an unobstructed view of the moonlit sky.”                                                                                                             ~ Zen Poet Mizuta Masahide

 

For more information:

Jack Kornfield (equanimity, loving kindness meditation) https://jackkornfield.com/meditation-equanimity/

Sharon Salzberg (fixated hope) Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience. Riverhead Books (2003)

 

burn burnt candle candlelight
Photo by Tucu0103 Bianca on Pexels.com

Poems: These two poems are from the lovely and talented Helen Falandes.

Do the Next Two Things

After the last friends depart

empty glasses and cups

are collected and washed,

the floor swept and that first night alone

the best I can do

is the next two things.

Feed the cat.

Make tea.

Shower.

Dress.

Braid my hair.

Discard the obvious junk mail.

This is how to get through

when the light and dark

are completely different

slants and hues,

when every moment’s routine

holds the unexpected news

of your absence.

Feed the cat.

Empty the dish rack.

Fold the blanket.

Clear the answering machine.

Pick up the empty can

tossed out by the mailbox.

Bless the dust which

can be wiped away,

dirty laundry that can be washed clean,

the path that can be shoveled clear of snow.

Bless the hungry cat.

~ Helen Falandes – 2/07

 

Start Again Now

Start again now

As often as needed

Choking on the dust of falling walls

Gather stones and bricks

Start again now

Glue the broken edges

Match up at least

The larger pieces

Start again now

Dislodge what blocks

The narrow airway

Hear ragged breath

As new music

Start again now

Gather the wooly tangles

Take two sticks

Re-knit any pattern

That forms itself to cloth

                                        ~ Helen Falandes

 

 

 

Another Excerpt from My Never-finished Book – “Creating Your Own Reality”

I am a man and I am with a few other men. We are all wearing coarse, long, brown tunics. We are in a desert-like place and there is very little vegetation. We are running away from somebody or something and are all very frightened. We want to find a place to hide, but there is nowhere to do so. I feel a strong sense of doom. Other men come upon us; they seem to come out of nowhere. There are many more of them than us. I know we are done-for. The next thing I remember is sharp, stabbing sensations through my wrists, like someone has driven something through them. The fear takes over and becomes pure, raw terror, then I feel myself spinning, spinning, spinning. I realize at some point that I am dead, which frightens me even more, if possible. I keep spinning in fear for what seems like forever. I then slowly think of how I can stop feeling so frightened. I remember love. I try to conjure up the feeling of love, which is hard to do in my state of mind, so what I do manage to summon is off the mark; a kind of caricature of love.

            Then some time elapsed, because the next thing I remember is that I am in a new body; once again, a man. I am young, probably in my twenties. I am what could be called “The Village Idiot”: I have little intelligence, but am overly affectionate in inappropriate ways, like going up to strangers and hugging them.

I wake up. I have been in a deep sleep, which is highly unusual for me. I don’t think I’ve moved all night. I understand that what I just went through is not really a dream but two past life experiences. I have no doubt about that. In fact, I can’t even call it a memory, because what happened is I somehow entered those two time periods when I was in other bodies. I am also very clear that I have a seizure disorder, in part, because of the fear and terror I experienced from when I was killed and I understand that in this life, I have the opportunity to work through that fear. I also understand that the “Village Idiot” lifetime was a result of having conjured up a cartoonish feeling of love. All these realizations enter my mind at a rapid rate, and I am completely overwhelmed.

Years Later

There was always a part of the first life that bothered me: How exactly did I die? What was that sensation in my wrists? What was going on? I have since learned that during the time of Jesus and other times throughout history, crucifixion was a common form of punishment and that stakes were put through the wrists, as well as the palms and feet. When I heard of this, I felt this is what happened to me. I was also quite sure that what had actually killed me wasn’t anything physical, but that I had died from sheer terror.

It is through this direct experience I had years ago, that I learned how it is that we can create our own reality. What is a “seizure disorder” and my tendency towards worry and anxiety during stressful situations in this lifetime can on one level be seen as the embodiment of terror that spun me out of my body so long ago. I also understand that instead of thinking that I am being punished for “bad karma” from a past life, I see it as an opportunity to work through that fear and come into the full power of my being. That experience was so powerful for me. I can never dismiss it as just a dream, but a way for me to directly experience different concepts: creating one’s own reality, karma and past lives. I am very grateful for these understandings.

However, the concept of creating our own reality is a very sensitive and complex subject; one that’s certainly worth exploring, but with care and compassion.

Recently, I’ve become aware of a resurgence of this belief; the premise of which is wherever we are in life, we’ve attracted  our set of circumstances with our thoughts, whether conscious or unconscious. From this point of view, it therefore follows that we create any illness we have. If we want perfect health, they say “All we have to do” is to uncover our negative beliefs and replace them with positive ones, focusing on good health.

While I can see the truth to this, based on my own experience, I also believe the verdict is out on just how much we can create our own reality to our liking. While it’s true that there are people who have had miraculous recoveries from their illness, due to focusing on positive awareness, there are many who have not, and I don’t think it’s due to their not trying hard enough, as sometimes is implied. It’s also true that we only use a small portion of our brain, and who knows what would be possible if we used more or all of it? Investigating our belief systems and affirming a positive outcome for our health is always worthwhile, yet I think it’s important to be unattached to the outcome of our efforts and just when they might be manifested. I have seen psychological harm occur in myself and others when, after much effort, we still remain ill. We then start to question our abilities to heal ourselves, and fear, judgement and doubt sneak in: Just what dark secrets are still lurking in our psyche? Have I tried hard enough? Am I good enough? Am I being punished for a past life? IT is difficult enough to deal with our health challenges without producing new emotional ones on top of it.

When the idea that we create our own reality first started spreading in the alternative community, it was quick to catch on and in many ways, was very beneficial. It took the focus off of the idea that all illness resulted from external forces and a new examination began. How did beliefs and emotional mind states create disharmony in the body? The mind-body connection was explored and there was a lot to uncover. One of my problems with this concept is that it became over-simplified and took over all the other ideas instead of being one of many of the influences of the body’s breakdown.

And there are many others: The environment, an accident, genetics, diet, to name a few. One could argue that there have been recoveries of the body’s health whatever the initial cause, by using techniques of the mind, but there are many people who have used the same techniques without success. We all know people who have done all the “right” things: eating healthy, exercising, meditating and examining oneself psychologically and spiritually, and still struggle with their health; just as we know people who do all the “wrong” things: smoke cigarettes, drink excessively, or have a poor diet, that have no health problems and live into their nineties. The truth of the matter is we don’t always know why some people get better and some people don’t. We are complex and multifaceted beings and what works for one person may not work for another. To declare that “disease cannot live in a body that’s in a healthy emotional state” or “you can think your way to the perfect state of health” is just not always true, and certainly not because someone is more advanced spiritually than another, as seems to be implied.

Often, the way the concept of creating your own reality is presented is that we have total and absolute control of it; in fact of anything in the universe. To me, that conjures up the image of an all-powerful God, ready to intervene in any situation and create whatever (S)He wants. From what I observe, I don’t see that we or God have that kind of power. I think a better way to explain this is that we are cocreators of reality. That is, we cocreate with that which is larger than ourselves (God or Spirit), along with being affected by our DNA, other people, societal beliefs, our environment, etc. Therefore, we can influence our reality, we can direct our energy, we can become channels, but there’s a mysterious element involved in the alchemic process of manifestation that’s beyond our complete understanding

I’d also like to state the obvious here, and that is that being in a body is a limited experience. Even if we have exemplary health all our lives, at some point, we die and shed these bodies. I believe we are spiritual beings adapting to physical form and part of what we are learning here is how to live within the confines of that form. Therefore, it also follows that what is possible to create in this physical realm is also limited.

Now, let’s investigate for a moment, those implied beliefs that our health challenges could be due to bad karma from a past life and if we just focus enough positive energy on ourselves, we could heal our bodies. Buddhist teachings state that some illnesses are due to our past lives, and how we handle these conditions will not show up until the next life. Now, this viewpoint might not always be true either, but it gives us a different perspective for a moment, doesn’t it? We don’t all heal in the body in one lifetime. In fact, my own spiritual teacher has suggested to me that the reason we have many lifetimes is that it takes us that long to integrate the many lessons we need to learn.

Another Buddhist perspective is that instead of seeing illness as bad karma from a past life, think of it as karma ripening, and therefore, something one can be grateful for, so that now we can be ready to explore the teachings that come with it and grow spiritually. This viewpoint allows us to see illness as an opportunity and a sign of evolvement, not a punishment. In this sense, we are spiritual warriors, not victims or spiritually deficient in some way. We can now shed any shame that we’ve taken on due to statements like : “Love and gratitude can dissolve any disease”, after we have diligently practiced those very attitudes and still remain ill.

I have heard it said that to maintain perfect health, one must “think perfect thoughts” —- but what does that mean, anyway, and how does one go about doing that? From my many years of meditating, I have come to see that our minds are full of all kinds of thoughts from “I wonder what I’ll eat for lunch today” to “I hope Uncle Irving doesn’t get drunk again this Thanksgiving”. Would either of those qualify as an “imperfect” thought? And, to be mindful of our thoughts and how they affect us is one thing, but to try to control them as this way of thinking suggests to me, is another thing altogether. Have you ever tried not to think certain thoughts? They just persist with a vengeance. I prefer a gentler technique, which is to watch one’s thoughts and simply allow them to be, understanding that who we are is beyond thought. We all have all kinds of voices in our minds; ones that praise, ones that criticize, ones that doubt, ones that warn, etc. My experience tells me that we are better off understanding that that’s how the mind works, instead of trying to manipulate, which only backfires on us anyway. When we allow all our voices simply to be, we develop an expansive mind; one with humor and delight: “Oh, here comes that thought about my father again!” and cultivate a sort of benevolent tolerance to whatever arises, creating a healthier approach to not only our minds, but to life itself.

The one-pointed view that we each create our own reality, besides being over-simplified, often feels cold-hearted to me – an attitude that we’re here on our own; you create your reality, I create mine, and if one of us ends up in difficult circumstances, we’ve brought it upon ourselves, and it’s up to us and only us, to bring ourselves back to some imagined state of perfection. I feel this misses the mark: It doesn’t speak to our interconnectedness, the fact that we need each other, or rely on one another. It bypasses our humanness. It doesn’t speak to the deeper questions we could be asking ourselves. Yes, it’s good to question if we have had a part in creating our illness (or any difficult situation), but let’s add other questions to the mix, like: How can I use my illness to become a better human being? How can this experience deepen my capacity to love? How can I learn to love unconditionally? How are we all interconnected? How can I tap into my innermost self?

I’ll end with a quote from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love.

“Our bodies are merely blank canvases onto which we project our thoughts. Disease is loveless thinking materialized. This doesn’t mean that people who have contacted a disease thought lovelessly, while the rest of us didn’t. Great saints have contacted terminal illnesses. The lovelessness that manufactures disease is systemic; it is laced throughout racial consciousness. Which soul manifests illness is based on many factors.                                                                                                                                       Let’s say an innocent child dies of environmentally-based cancer. How was lovelessness the problem here? The loveless thinking was not necessarily in the child, but in many of us who, over the years, lived without reverence for the environment, allowing it to be polluted by toxic chemicals. The child’s physical sickness resulted, indirectly, from the sickness in someone else’s mind. Our loving thoughts affect people and situations we never dream of, and so do our mistakes. Since our minds do not stop at our brain casings – since there is no place where one mind stops and another starts – then our love touches everyone, and so does our fear.”

Creativity

“The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”                                                                                                                                                ~ Pablo Picasso

 

The following is another excerpt from my unfinished book.

Creativity

Years ago, during a meditation session, I realized we are beings that are constantly creating, if only in our thoughts. I also realized that when we are in the act of creating something, we are connecting with Creation itself. A special relationship is forged as we link up with that essence, and we feel energized, plugged-in, an open channel. Any act of creation begins with that connection and ends with an outer expression of that connection. This process is healing as we feel those creative juices flow through us and we find yet another way to connect with our innermost self.

Finding a creative outlet can be very useful for those of us with chronic health challenges. Instead of vegging-out in front of the TV, getting lost in cyberspace for hours, or spiraling into depression or anxiety, we can focus our energy toward something that really nourishes our spirit.  When we are being creative, we can shift our mood and

Artist - Depression Mystical Animals
From Emma Taggart    “My Modern    Met”       Artist Dawid Planeta

redirect that energy, transforming the chaos of fear or despair into the exciting chaos of creativity and by doing so, free up any numb, stuck places. It gives us a constructive outlet for all that we experience.

Being creative doesn’t require a certain level of expertise. Anyone can pick up a pen or a paintbrush. What is required, is a desire to play, to experiment, to explore, and to listen to what wants to be expressed. It also doesn’t mean you have to end up with a polished finished product. The outcome is often beside the point. Being creative can be as simple as playing your favorite music while dancing in your kitchen, or doodling on a piece of paper while you wait in a doctor’s office. It doesn’t mean you have to write a novel or to be published to write, or paint a landscape and have an art show to dabble in watercolors, which is really good news for those of us with limited energy. What’s important is to be engaged in the process and to allow the creative force to move through you with as little constraint as possible.

Most of us, at one time or another, experience blocks in our creativity. I think a large percentage of the time the reason for this is the critical voices in our head: “I’m too old for this”, “I’ve never taken a class”, “this is stupid”, or “Debra is really good at this – I’ll never be as good as her”.

During meditation, when critical voices arise, I try to recognize their tones for what they are, and to the best of my ability, take note of them and continue meditating. They can be handled the same way in regard to creativity. When the critic starts in, we can just say hello and continue what we’re doing. If it persists, we can set aside what we’re doing and take out a journal and let the voices have their say. We can write it all out as if they were talking and write until we can’t write any more. We may uncover something useful: We may recognize the voice of our mother, or our second grade teacher. Then, when we’re through, we can go back to writing that poem, creating that dance, painting that picture.

Another way of freeing up blocks is to try a different outlet for a bit. If we’re blocked with the still-life we’re painting, we can try our hand at a clay sculpture, or pick up the kazoo. There is something about trying out a different venue that can free up stuckness in another. It may be just that by taking a break from your particular creative endeavor and putting your attention elsewhere that makes a difference, or just allowing space for the flow of creativity, but I’ve seen this happen many times within myself.

Image Maluma Drummer Girl

Tapping into the creative can be a powerful and intense process that can have the side effect of bringing about a healing catharsis. I have a friend who began to have memories of early childhood sexual abuse. She started to make abstract pictures – nonverbal expressions of what she went through so long ago. She had never tried her hand at art before, but suddenly felt a compelling need to do so. During the process, she became possessed – spending hours working on them, for weeks. Afterwards, she had a series of probably ten pictures, which she shared with friends. The pictures were haunting and disturbing, especially the first ones, and then they became lighter and more hopeful, reflecting her inner process.

Another friend of mine had a car accident and suffered head trauma. She ultimately had to leave her job, because of her incapacitating symptoms. The accident changed her life completely and she was obviously distraught. She, too, began to make abstract pictures with an urgent need to express herself. Making these pictures became her main focus, churning out several pictures daily.

Creating an expression of your particular health challenge may be something you want to do.

Also, finding an outlet that is non-verbal can reach into the deepest parts of ourselves          that are beyond words, and

         2019-11-05 (3)                                                                                                                                                                   can satisfy a profound need in us.           

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Credits: Playing for Change “Everyday People” video on YouTube

 

One particular hard time in my life, I was experiencing partial seizures regularly. Because of cognitive problems, describing in words how my body felt was too difficult for me, so I drew a picture instead that was

Drawing Whole Body Electrical Dance
Maluma – Inner-body Experience

much more expressive of my inner experience. Everyone I showed it to, had a visceral reaction to it that gave me a sense that they understood how it must feel to be me, leaving me feeling more connected with them and less isolated, altogether.

 

 

Image Frida Kahlo Without Hope1945
“Without Hope” Frida Kahlo, 1945

When I’m not feeling well, but want to dabble in something new and different, I can easily become overwhelmed and can’t think of what I’d like to do. When that’s the case, I choose from a list of things I made up when I was feeling better. You might want to do the same for yourself. The following is a list you might want to consider, made up of activities that range in energy level.

Try this: Take a small jar and fill it with some dried beans. Put on your favorite music and shake your new, instant percussion instrument.

Try this: Take out a pad of paper and pick a topic, any topic, and for the next ten minutes, write without stopping and no crossing out. Just let your mind take off. This technique was developed by Natalie Goldberg, who has written many books on writing as a spiritual practice (1986). To stimulate your creativity, I highly recommend Julia Cameron’s books.

Try this: Make a collage. Your library or your doctor’s office may have old magazines that they’ll let you have. Bring the magazines home and cut out images and/or phrases that appeal or inspire you. Have fun with it. You may want to have a theme in mind when you do it, or just want to create something of beauty you can look at later.

Try this: Buy a cardstock and envelopes at a craft store. Use some of the images you cut out for collages and in no time flat, you have pretty cards for various occasions.

Try this: Make a model from a store-bought kit.

Try this: Buy adult coloring books at your local bookstore. Instead of using crayons to color with, buy a small set of watercolors, instead.

Try this: Buy a set of colored pencils and a pad.                                                                                                                                Put on your favorite music and                                                                                           let yourself go.                           

 

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Credit: Playing for Change “Love Train” video on YouTube

Image Kids Dancing hiphop pluspng.com
Credit: Transparent PNG Images

  

Try this: Go to the library, to the arts and crafts section and peruse. If something catches your eye, check it out.

 

Try this: Make a list of all the creative hobbies you’ve always wanted to do. Remember how you’ve always wanted to knit a sweater? Now’s the time.

Try this: Go for a walk. Collect pine cones, sticks, shells, a feather.  Buy an embroidery hoop at a craft store. Make a mobile.

Image Chorale Angel City Africa from Sunnyskyz
Credit to Sunny Skyz: The Angel City Chorale performs Toto’s “Africa.”

 

Consider this: Creativity with others.

The other day, when feeling too ill to write, I took out my colored pencils and pad of pages, and my caregiver and I made some drawings. I decided my cats were the perfect inspiration.

Drawing Zoe the Beautiful        Drawing Queen Regina

Try this: Using watercolors, colored pencils, pastels or??? and a big pad of paper, create an abstract picture of your symptoms. Don’t overthink this … just grab colors that speak to you, and go. Because symptoms fluctuate, you may want to do a series of pictures. What was it like to do this? How do you feel afterwards?

“The idea is like a blueprint; it creates an image of the form, Drawing Day 9 I decide I like Valiumwhich then magnetizes and guides the physical energy to flow into that form and eventually manifests it on the physical plane”. ~ Shakti Gawain  

Drawing Jumping Out of My Skin  “In a general sense, all artists are shamans, insomuch as they are channeling images or concepts on behalf of the collective”.  ~ Vicki Noble 

Drawing When Someone Asks Me How I'm Doing\

DEAFinitely Dope: Handing rap music to the deaf

2019-11-16 (4) Matt Maxey was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at an early age but has made music his life’s passion.  DEAFinitely Dope: Handing rap music to the deaf Matt Maxey was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at an early age but has made music his life’s passion. 

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