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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

 

 

Mourning Dove

I am up and out at 8am on my deck again, listening and watching. I hear what must be a mourning dove cooing. A sound so gentle emitting from the trees, underneath the squawking of jays, the caw of crows, the joyous singing of the red-winged blackbirds. Two ducks come out of the cattails, dark in the shadows of the morning light, and head for the edge of the pond where I can longer see them. Are they nesting there? Is this their time to nest? So much is going on outside. So much to observe and contemplate. What are the wrens singing about? Are they telling each other something important, are they broadcasting sheer happiness? What happened to the wood duck that was there the other day? Do mallards and wood ducks get along?

Is there a way I can watch and listen to nature that will guide me during these uncertain times? Even though I live in the country, I can get caught in distraction and restlessness.

This coronavirus hovering about can lead me to feel anxious and fenced in, sometimes overwhelmed. Again and again, nature encourages me to live in the moment. It also awakens me to a childlike curiosity that feeds my spirit.

My meditation group, now no longer able to gather physically, is still sitting at the same time, once a week. This week, we are invited to envision a better future. What is coronavirus teaching us? How well are we listening? What needs to change, within and without? There’s no doubt that, by sequestering ourselves, we bring more peace to the planet. The air over large cities all over the world is clearing up. Animals are coming out of hiding, understanding we humans are pulling back, taking a break.

Coronavirus is forcing us to look within and ask questions. Are we living a life we can be proud of? Are we listening to Mother Nature and what she is telling us? Can we help others who are suffering more than us? Can we befriend our neighbors at this time, even the ones who differ greatly from us? Can we create a warmer, cooperative, more functional society? A society that is all-inclusive, or are our differences too fundamental? Is it too late to change?

After I ponder these questions, I come back to the sound of the mourning dove’s soft cooing, as other birds carry on, fluttering about and hopping from tree to tree. Her voice is consistent and calm beneath the chaos and activity, her feathers, I imagine, soft and unruffled.

 

After Reading Peterson’s Guide by Linda Pastan

I used to call them

Morning Doves, those birds

with breasts the rosy color

of dawn who coo us awake

as if to say love . . .

love . . . in the morning.

 

But when the book said

Mourning Doves instead

I noticed their ash-gray feathers,

like shadows

on the underside

of love.

 

When the Dark Angel comes

let him fold us in wings

as soft as these birds’,

though the speckled egg

hidden deep in his nest

is death.

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.”

Humor

“All of my teachers have had a great sense of humor and have valued humor as an important part of the spiritual path. It is a key part of being friendly to ourselves. Many of us go through our days haunted by imperfection. We think there is something fundamentally wrong with us… when we laugh at ourselves… all our terrible flaws become less solid and serious.” ~ Pema Chodron

The other day, I went to a book sale at my local library and picked up the newest David Sedaris’ Calypso. I bought it, figuring I would like it since I enjoyed his others. Plus, I had been depressed lately and thought this could be just the thing to lift my spirits, as I have found his books to be funny. And by funny I mean hilarious.

And by hilarious I mean hysterical!

This book was no exception. I laughed out loud often, then afterwards realized I couldn’t remember the last time I laughed like that. That got me thinking about humor and its role in our lives. Living with chronic illness can make us feel sad, lonely, and depressed, and oftentimes, humor gets kicked to the side of the road without our realizing it. It seems to me that humor is an important human trait, perhaps as necessary to our health as the remedies we may take to make us feel better.

Image Dalai Lama Smiles from STypes

Have you ever seen pictures or videos of the Dalai Lama or met a Tibetan lama? You’ll notice that often they are smiling, and their eyes are twinkling. They seem to have an inside joke that the rest of us don’t know about, which leads me to think that humor is a natural, intrinsic part of our very being. When we lose our sense of humor, we are losing  something essential; something we actually need in order to experience the wholeness of our being.  Image Nuns Laughing So, how do we bring back our sense of humor? How do we cultivate it? How do we encourage it? Can we even include humor and lightness into our spiritual practice? Fun, even?

Everyone has their own sense of humor and every culture has their own sense of humor. What I find funny may leave you dry and vice versa.

I once had a friend over who is from Scotland. She brought with her a Monty Python movie, which we popped into the DVD player. While watching it, she laughed uproariously, in a way I’d never seen before. And although I found the movie somewhat amusing, it was not my thing. I got more amusement out of watching her.

Another time, I went to an international deaf conference. At one point, I decided to go to a large gathering where people would get on stage and share jokes. Although I am not fluent in American Sign Language (ASL), I knew enough that I understood the jokes, but didn’t find them particularly funny, but all, and I mean all of the deaf folks there could barely keep it together.

One thing that always works for me is to watch comedies. As I said, I know we all have different senses of humor, but just in case our tastes are similar and you could use a laugh, here’s a list of movies and actors that might work for you:

– I love Robin Williams. Two of my favorites are The Birdcage and Nine Months.

– All Marx Brothers movies

Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers

– Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit

– Steve Martin

– Chris Rock – especially his stand-up

– Larry David (if you’re looking for politically incorrect humor)

– Lily Tomlin

– Hugh Grant (if you’re looking for dry humor)

– Margaret Cho, stand-up routines (if you’re looking for irreverent humor)

And I don’t particularly like her movies, but I love Ellen DeGeneres. She’s a goofball.

 

Of course, there’s always YouTube: Giggling babies

“Babies Laughing at Dogs” https://youtu.be/PuNLqr0oZeo

 

“Someone Should Start Laughing”

by Hafiz

I have a thousand brilliant lies

For the question:

How are you?

I have a thousand brilliant lies

For the question:

What is God?

If you think that the Truth can be known

From words,

If you think that the Sun and the Ocean

Can pass through that tiny opening

Called the mouth,

O someone should start laughing!

Someone should start wildly Laughing –

Now!

 

Spiritual Practice

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I have become too solemn in my spiritual practices. When meditating, for example, I have sometimes gotten too rigid in my approach, chastising myself when my mind wanders a lot during a session. Or, once, I took up a practice that required chanting a mantra for 103 times, and I found myself obsessing about whether I did it 108 times, or 107, or maybe even less. Maybe it’s just my Virgo personality, but I think there can be a tendency to get too strict and heavy about these things. Spiritual practices after all, are supposed to bring us to an open and warm-hearted place, not a demanding and austere one.

The following is a story my teacher told me that speaks to this:

There was once a very dedicated spiritual practitioner. However, try as she may, the enlightenment she sought seemed to escape her. She meditated diligently, and yet felt little or no reward. She decided she needed a new spiritual teacher and through word-of-mouth, set an appointment with one that came highly recommended.

“Oh venerated teacher”, she said, bowing before the master, “I follow the teachings religiously, and yet, I can’t seem to make any progress. Can you help me?”

The teacher looked at her for a while, pondering, then smiled. “I know just the practice”, he said.

“Yes?”, said the student, eagerly awaiting his wise counsel. “What is it?”

“For the next week, I want you to chant all day, using the mantra “Sensa”, then come back to me.”

After repeating the word several times to make sure she had it right, she said, “Thank you, thank you”, and made sure she bowed again. She rushed back to the meditation room and immediately began chanting.

The following week she returned, looking dejected. “Well”?, said the teacher, “What happened?”

The student hung her head. “I did as you instructed, venerated teacher, but nothing happened.”

“Hmmm…” thought the teacher. Then he smiled. “This week, I want you to say the mantra “huma”, then report back to me.”

The student was happy to receive new guidance, and felt sure that this time she would succeed.

But, one week later she returned feeling yet again dejected.

“Teacher”, she said, “I did what you instructed and yet I still didn’t make any progress. Isn’t there anything you can do to help me?”

The teacher’s eyes sparkled. “This week I want you to put the two together, saying the first mantra and then the second mantra right after it.”

The student nodded, happy there was still something she could do. She bowed deeply and left the room eager to start the next practice. She sat on her cushion, positioned herself correctly and began anew.

“Sen- sa hu-ma. Sen- sa hu-ma. Sense a huma. Sense a Humah.” Then, suddenly she got it. “Sense of humor!” The old teacher had been playing with her all along! Didn’t he know she was serious about her practice? All this time wasted! A fury rose up inside her. She picked up her few belongings and stormed out of the monastery.

For several weeks afterward she was still angry. Then, little by little, she went over the scenario in her mind and her perspective began to change. After a while she began to chuckle, thinking of what the teacher had done and then came to understand that he was a great teacher, after all, and had passed down some great wisdom, allowing a lightness in her practice she’d never been able to have before.

For those of you who want to add some fun to your spiritual practice, Dr.  Madan Kataria, from India, developed a type of yoga called “Laughter yoga.” By including breath exercises, chanting “ho, ho, ha, ha”, playing silly exercises, participants begin to laugh, releasing built-up tensions.

Besides feeling lighter afterwards, Kataria says that laughter boosts the immune system and fights depression. It can also reduce high blood pressure and is a good workout for the muscles, improves circulation, and increases the production of endorphins.

Finding out about this type of yoga reminded me of a children’s game I used to play. Although I haven’t played it since I was a kid, I’m sure I would get just as much pleasure from it now as I did then. Perhaps you’ve played it too. Gather some friends and lie in a circle, each person placing their head on the belly of the person next to them. One person starts out by saying “ha”. The next person says, “ha, ha”, and so on, each person adding an extra “ha” to the last one. Pretty soon, of course, everyone is laughing hysterically until your belly hurts and you think you might pee your pants.

 

“Being able to laugh at ourselves connects us with our humanness. This in turn helps us connect to and have empathy with other people. We realize how all of us are fundamentally equal.” ~ Pema Chodron

 

I must admit that because I have epilepsy, my favorite jokes are epileptic ones. Some might consider this type of joke politically incorrect and therefore off limits, but for me, it gives me a chance to make light of my condition that I can take all too seriously.

 

Jokes:

Did you hear about the guy that got trampled to death at Disneyland? He had an epileptic fit, and everyone jumped on him because they thought it was a new ride.

What do you call an epileptic on a bed of lettuce? A seizure salad.

What’s blue and doesn’t fit? A dead epileptic.

That last riddle is my favorite. Maybe my humor is a bit twisted at times, but I also think what this does for me is to exorcise my fear and release the power that fear can have over me at times.

Here’s another example of someone laughing at themselves, in particular, their disability. This guy cracks me up.

Ryan Niemiller, Comedian Niemiller Cripple Threat Logo https://www.cripplethreat.com/

 

Humor can be as simple and spontaneous as this:

The other day, I was hanging out with Cari (my partner who also lives with chronic illness). I don’t know what got into us, but we started singing “The Star Spangled Banner”, as loudly as we could and completely off-key. We sounded like donkeys who had a little too much to drink. And then we laughed so hard, tears ran down our cheeks. Her face, usually drawn from pain, brightened and she grinned from ear-to-ear. I realized I hadn’t seen her smile in ages.

Every once in a while, when our lives feel too difficult, I’ll grab this juggler hat I have and walk into her room.                                                                                                                                                          It never fails to get a chuckle from her.

                                   Image Maluma and Jester Hat

So, what makes you laugh? How can you lighten your day?

              Image Maluma and Happy Wool Cap

 

Sources

BBC. (1969-1974) Monty Python [television show]. Westminster, London, England: The British Broadcasting Corporation.

Barnathan, M. (Producer), & Columbus, C. (Director). (1995). Nine months [Motion Picture]. United States: Twentieth Century Fox.

Chodron, P. “All of my teachers have had a great sense of humor…” Quote.                  “Being able to laugh at ourselves connects us with our humanness…” Quote.

Hafiz (14th cent.). Landinsky, D. (2006). I heard God laughing: Poems of hope and joy: Renderings of Hafiz (Landinsky, D., Trans.). Walnut Creek, CA: Penguin.

Harris, B. “Two Nuns Laughing”. Photograph.

De Niro, R. (Producer), & Roach, J. (Director). (2004). Meet the Fockers [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.

De Niro, R. (Producer), & Roach, J. (Director). (2000). Meet the parents [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures

Gilmore, A. (Producer), & Ardolino, E. (Director). (1992). Sister act [Motion Picture]. United States: Touchstone Pictures.

Kataria, M., Dr. (2010, June 11). Dr. Kataria explains laughing yoga & steps [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oskT-EAkwl4

Nichols, M. (Producer, Director). (1996). The Birdcage [Motion Picture]. United States: United Artists.

Niemiller, R. (2019, December 1). The triple threat of comedy: Ryan Niemiller comedy reel. Retrieved from https://www.cripplethreat.com/

Reynolds, GailsAvon. (2012, October 10). Babies laughing at dogs [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuNLqr0oZeo

Rudin, S. (Producer), & Duke, B. (Director). (1993). Sister act 2: Back in the habit [Motion  Picture]. United States: Touchstone Pictures.

Sedaris, D. (2018). Calypso. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Smith, J. S. & Key, F. S. (1918) Star Spangled Banner. Oliver Ditson. [Notated Music] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010134/

Susan Types. Dalai Lama image from http://www.susantypes.com/well-hello-dalai/ “Well, Hello Dalai”.

 

 

 

 

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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