Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How Should I Live The Life That I Am?

"HOW SHOULD I LIVE THE LIFE that I am?" writes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I hear it as a cry. I see a man shaking his fist at the creator. Respectfully."

From Mary Rose O'Reilley's
~ The Love Of Impermanent Things ~

Mary Rose O'Reilley is one of my favorite modern non-fiction writers. She wrote a book that I've read and reread and had my students and friends reading and it is, without a doubt, one of the best books I've ever read. It is The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd. It is positively stunning. When I heard she had a new book out, some time back, I rushed to order it, but it sat here in the stacks of books around me and, things being what they've been, I haven't been able to concentrate well to read much of anything. I started, and didn't get very far because I knew that I wanted to give it my full attention when finally reading it. Well, I started reading it again last night, and, as I expected, I have been completely swept away by yet another book by this incredible author.

I sit with colored pencils in one hand loosely while I read because I am always underlining, highlighting, parenthesizing, (I am a horror to those people who cringe at the thought of so much as a faint pencil mark somewhere in a book.) because I don't want to forget a thing and there are so many quotes I want to remember. Not very far into the book I read a brief quote that I had underlined before. I felt it's import then, but it shook me to my core last night as I read it.

How should I live the life that I am?

How indeed? And I was tired and I had to keep rereading it before it would wholly sink in. "... the life that I am." I am a life. It felt like a Zen koan, a puzzle, a question to twist one's mind around and make them think. A koan is paradoxical, and something one can think about for days. This sentence is a koan for me.

How should I live... live... live...

... the life that I am... am... am...

And then it suddenly struck me. This is exactly what I've been writing about a lot lately. I am about to cross a threshold into a whole new life and I have been pondering, questioning, and meditating upon the first part of that question. "How should I live?"

I have always wanted to live a life of simplicity, a kind of Woman's Walden, but this is not so easy in present day society and, being rather hermetic, and more than a bit reclusive, I have created a whole world in which I live and work and rarely leave. Given those circumstances, and living with a dozen or so animals, books everywhere all over the cottage, and a truckload of fiber and spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet equipment, not to mention vintage fabrics, and thousands of antique and vintage buttons and beads, and the odd collections of vintage things like enamelware, teapots, jugs, and flower pots, to name a few things, along with the African violets that grow everywhere, I can't exactly say that I live a simple life in terms of things, but I live a very simple, quiet life mostly alone if you don't count my animal companions and the wild birds at the feeders, not to mention the insects, lizards, toads, the occasional snake, furry creatures and more that live outside my doors. These are all parts of the life that I am, and I am just now figuring out how I want to live it.

I have been looking at houses for a couple of months now. I looked at a number of seaside cottages about 1/2 hour from here, but they were either falling down (if I could afford one that I liked which were few and far between...) or they were so ungodly expensive there was no way I could touch them. Instead I decided that I wanted to stay here in this little town that I said I never wanted to live in or stay in, but it has grown comfortable like an old pair of shoes, and I think the older ones gets the more the familiar feels more comfortable. I have been looking for a house that was a little older, had a lived in feeling and a bit of history. (Again, I can't afford the dreamy historic homes. We have the most wonderful downtown historic area on the river but the houses are simply grand and so far out of my price range they might as well be on the moon, or they are falling down and located in what one calls "bad neighborhoods.") I want a place that is both roomy and a cozy feeling which is kind of a contradiction in terms, but I have all these various and sundry needs. I am a realtor's nightmare, but my realtor, Susan, is simply grand and puts up with me I know not how.

With my budget not to mention my somewhat peculiar tastes in things, finding houses to look at at all is a bit of an undertaking, and out of several that we have looked at, until this last week, there was only one in my price range that I liked. But then... oh heavens to Betsy! ... then, just last week, believe it or not, we found a house with pretty well everything I wanted, IN my price range, with -- brace yourself -- a SPACE SHIP in the back yard. I kid you not. It is big enough to get in and play about, at the back of the property and just HUGE. Adult sized. It was built for grown up kids, and kind of cartoonish, and just FABULOUS. I went all gaga which I was able to do because no one was there but my realtor and I, and there are still a number of questionable things about the place, but living in a house that has a space ship out back is just exactly the kind of person that I am and how I want to live.

At the outset I told Susan that I wanted something odd, you know, the houses that look like a big shoe or a teapot, or at the very least a lighthouse or -- and this is so fabulous I just can't stand it -- a couple of artists turned an old fire station into their home/studio, living upstairs and having the studio downstairs. I simply can't believe it and practically drive off the road gawking at it every time I pass. Alas there aren't any shoe or teapot houses in these parts, the lighthouses are actually working lighthouses along the coast, and old firehouses aren't exactly a dime a dozen in these parts. I did hear about a little old school house for sale and went just all to pieces over that, but it turned out it was falling down and way out yonder in nowheresville which sounds romantic but isn't very practical for me. But a great big space ship out in the back yard might do just fine.

I am also an ordained minister but a rather peculiar one at that. My regular parishioners are mostly parrots and pugs, plus people who don't even know that they are amongst my congregation at all, not to mention the people who will never meet me but whom I pray for and with, listen to, write back and forth with, counsel, and mostly I live the life of the anchorite, alone, in the quiet peaceful space I have created so as to pray and meditate and offer what I have through my writing and art.

The life that I am seems to be the life of a very peculiar, reclusive woman-minister-animal lover and rescuer-writer-artist-and woman who likes houses with space ships in the back yard. It's a bit of a stretch to try to figure out how to live the life that I am with that laundry list of things I seem to require, and yet I know I'll do it and I am as excited as a little kid going to Disneyland at the very thought (...especially with the space ship in the back yard. Did I mention that?).

The life that I am seems to be one that few people have ever understood, and that used to bother me. I am a little too tender-hearted and thin skinned, or rather I used to be. As life goes along you have two choices. You can decide to give up on everything you know that you are, that you want, that you dream of just to make other people happy, or more comfortable, but then you find that won't really please them either and you'll have given up on everything that matters to you. I have chosen to live the life that I am, and I warmly welcome those who can accept me as I am, space ships, pugs, parrots and all, and to the rest, well, I wish them well on their journey, but they will not be part of mine. I do not say this in anger or with resentment. I simply say it as a 55 year old woman who has finally come to the point where I will no longer apologize every other minute for who I am, and simply revel in it. I am going to live the life that I am as fully as possible, with love, compassion, and tenderness, artfully, and with a house full of animals, and if the space ship house doesn't work out, the house I buy will have something odd about it or I won't buy it. So there.

How should I live the life that I am? Well, I haven't quite figured it all out yet, but it becomes clearer each day, and I thank God for the blessing of coming to the acceptance of all of who I am, and for allowing me the ability, in sharing my journey, to help others, where I can. I believe that is my mission, my path in this life.

And so now it is after 2 a.m. and the pug half way on my person is snoring so loudly that I can hardly think, so I'll end here, nudge him a bit so perhaps he'll settle in a little so I can concentrate to read, and I will dream about the life just ahead, and who I might be in the middle of it all.

You should ask yourself this question. It's quite confusing at the outset, but very satisfying and even surprising as you go along. I am learning more about myself each and every day, and I am ever so grateful for the gift of the questions answered, and those still posed. It's a long and winding road, this figuring out the life that I am not to mention how I should live it, but it's very worthwhile after all, and I'll keep delving deeper, an archaeologist at the greatest dig of my life -- discovering the bones of my very being.

Here's a shovel for you. Let's get to it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Radiance ~ At The Edge Of The Body...

At th
e edge of the body there is said to be a flaming halo -- yellow, red, blue or pure white, taking its color from the state of the soul. Cynics scoff. Scientists make graphs to refute it. Editorial writers, journalists & even certain poets, claim it is only mirage, trumped up finery, illusory feathers, spiritual shenanigans, humbug. But in dreams we see it, & sometimes even waking. If the spirit is a bride about to be married to God, this is her veil.

From the poem,
"At the Edge of The Body"
by Erica Jong, 1979

The final moments are closing in. My mother has decided to go on Hospice on Monday, and after that the time will come quickly. The colors are changing. My world is shape-shifting. Hers, even more so. My mother is living at the edge of her body, and she is preparing to slip out of it into that place that is pure spirit. She will become ephemeral, transparent. Will I feel her leave this earth at the moment of her death? Will I know before I am told? Somehow I think I will, and at the same time I fear it. And yet how can one fear that radiant release of spirit from a body long ill and suffering, into the arms of the angels and into the heavens.

It is not my place, even as a minister, or, more to the point, the type of minister I want to be, to tell another living soul what happens before the veil lifts, or, after it closes, because I have been granted, as have we all, the
Veil of Forgetfulness, that time before spirit re-enters human form and is born as a baby, forgetting everything he knew before egg and sperm met and and he slipped through the veil and prepared to come into human form. Nor is it my place to advise anyone about what dying will be like, when the spirit slips out of it's body and moves back through the veil. Into the light, and out of sight. It is the Great Mystery, and we all have our beliefs, even those that say they have no faith have faith in something, even if it is nothing.

I am, at 3 a.m. on the morning of October 10th, 2009, preparing for my mother's passing, and nothing can prepare one, really, for that. I am, perhaps, preparing for the time ahead, most of all knowing that I know nothing, really, about the alchemy of spirit into form into spirit, but I believe, I feel in my heart, that on each end of life there is a great radiance. A moment when a rainbow explodes around the body and shimmers into tiny particles fanning out and out and further and further away. At the edge of the body a miracle occurss.

I have given birth and held my newborn child in my arms. For nine months I carried my babies inside of me and for each one I waited. That is one of those times that we think we can prepare for. We are given a due date and we read all the right books and take childbirth classes and think we are "prepared," and yet a baby is seldom born on his or her due date, and no amount of books, classes, or the endless stories you hear from the women around you who have given birth, none of them can tell you what your birth experience will be like, or exactly when your baby will arrive, or how your labor and delivery will go, and nothing will go as planned. But then... but then you hold your baby in your arms and another kind of veil drops down behind you and we forget the pain of childbirth, the heaviness and discomfort of those last months of pregnancy, the worries, the fears, or if there is anything we forgot to do, which seemed so important up to the minute we go into labor and are launched on a journey more mysterious than a space ship into space. We are the instrument of birth.

The closest thing that has helped me understand what birth and the role of parent and child is has been Kahlil Gibran, writing, in
The Prophet, "On Children."

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Reading those words once again, as I have so often when I needed to remember what my role as a mother should be, I am once again in awe of Gibran's understanding of the journey of the soul's entry into this life, his journey through life, and our place, as parents, is to shepherd them but not hold onto them, to love them, but let them go, to stand back and let them become who they will be, and to trust that
"...the archer will see the mark on the path of the infinite, and that His arrows may go swift and far."

No, our children are not our children, as Gibran writes, and there is a great teaching in his words. And so as my mother nears her time to step through the veil and leave her earthly body, I turn to Gibran again to see what he wrote "On Death."

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

I have lost count of how many times I have read
The Prophet, but each time I do I am stunned by the beauty of the passages that Gibran wrote, of his knowledge of timeless time, of birth and living, and of dying and dancing into the light. I have tears in my eyes. I will grieve, and be full of sorrow. But as my children are not my children, but Life's longing for itself, I must step aside and let them spring from the bow and let the arrow fly swift and far, so, too, must I let my mother stand naked in the wind and melt into the sun.

My mother is not afraid to die. She told me just yesterday that she is relieved that it is time. And she means it. My mother is a woman of great faith, and though, as a human being, she must have, in quiet moments, some fear of the unknown, she is not afraid of the journey. I hope that I can follow in her footsteps when my time comes.

Veil times are times of radiance, even if we, as human beings, cannot understand them until we travel that path into and once again out toward the light, but every one of us on this earth has done one, and will, some day unknown to us, do the other. In death, as well as in life, we cannot know our "due date," and I think it is best that we don't.

When my mother was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in mid February, 2005, she was told that she had a very short time to live, and that she should "go home and put her affairs in order." She has outlived that diagnosis by nearly five years. No one really knows. We can't know. Babies are born, sometimes, months prematurely, and death comes only when our work in this world is finished. My mother has not been finished until now.

The baby feels the squeezing of the womb on her body, and finally the time comes to travel through the tunnel into life. My mother, though she has suffered unimaginably, dying in slow motion it seemed to all of us, going through the pain and the suffering, was not ready until now. I think, I believe, that like birth, our spirit knows when the body can no longer contain it, and it travels through that dark tunnel back into the light. Knowing this comforts me somehow, although I know that I, still, only too human, will weep and struggle with her parting. My children came when they were ready, my mother will leave when she is ready as well, perhaps not consciously, but like the baby born, the dying person knows that the time will come, and that when it does come they will be transformed, they will experience another way of being. No matter what our beliefs, we cannot really know how it will be.

And so my mother is preparing for her death. She is standing at the edge of her body, and she is ready to shape-shift into the next dimension. I cannot stop it nor imagine it, no matter how many books I've read, nor how I think I have prepared to lose her. I am in awe of her dying process. I wish that I really understood, but I can only let go.

I am letting go Mom. I am trying. Go in peace.