Saturday, November 28, 2009

Suspended Between Heaven and Earth ~ When The Soul Is Trapped In The Body...

Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the north-wind's breath,
And stars to set; but all, Thou hast all seasons
for thine own, O Death!

~ John Milton, The Hour of Death ~

Dear Ones,

Dying is such a mysterious process. My mother has now been on Hospice for a month. Her doctor didn't even think that she would last 2 weeks once on Hospice, and she is more than ready to go, she wants to go, she can no longer sit up alone, is terribly weak and thin, and when you talk to her -- if she's able to talk for a minute at all -- she sounds as if she is drifting away. On Thanksgiving, just as we were all about to sit down to eat, mom wanted to tell us all goodbye. She said that "this was it," and I asked her how she knew, what made her think this was the time, and she said she just knew. She wants badly for it all to be over, and yet here she still is. A devout Catholic, my mother sees the Virgin Mary sitting on the bed next to her, holding her hand. She says that Mary is going to help her over to the other side. And yet the tiny delicate woman that she has become sleeps all day, becomes weaker and weaker, and no one can see how this can go on much longer.

It's almost harder than seeing her through the five years that this cancer has had it's grip on her, because then she was trying to fight it, doing all manner of treatments and experimental drugs. October 28 she went on Hospice and she is still here. We are all rather dumbstruck, and it is heart-breaking to see her want so badly to go when she has suffered so long. It's as if her spirit is on the edge of slipping out of her body, but for some reason cannot yet be set free. I think this time is more excruciating than anything that came before. She asked how long she's been on Hospice and when told a month she said, "That's too long." Where are the angels at this juncture? Why is her spirit still trapped in her body?

When I read Milton's quote, above, about the seasons of one's death, I wondered which season my mother is in. Surely it is winter, soon that last leaf will drop from the tree, but it is impossible to understand how one's body can hold out against all odds, even when the dying person wants badly to go. She keeps telling everyone "Goodbye" and I wonder if in saying it part of her believes she can will it to happen. Why is the last leaf that falls able to hold out until the others have fallen before them? My mother has changed colors in the autumn of her dying process and now, deep in winter, how can there still be this one leaf on the tree? Is there a purpose? Just now, we cannot see or understand.

But there is a reason, one that we are not meant to know. No one knows when the exact moment of death will come, and often it is not due to the illness that one has been battling for their very life. Finally, the body is tired, the defenses down, and it may be the heart that gives out, weakened by the struggle. Who can say?

What I do know is that when given a short time to live five years ago, if she had died when the doctors expected her to then, we would not have healed many, many painful issues from a lifetime of struggling. In the beginning they were still there, but finally, like the logs in the fireplace burning down to glowing embers, when everything else has been burned away, her fire will gently go out. She is not finished with her work here. She has been leading us by her example all along the way. What will we yet learn before the spirit spirals upward and out of this earthly plane? Surely, there is something that holds her here.

Thanksgiving night she kept repeating to each of us, "I just want you all to know how beautiful dying is. I am at peace, I am not afraid, I am ready to go." Like the legacy she has left us in her constant reminder, even through the worst the cancer had to offer, that "Everyday's a good day, it is what you make it," now she is teaching us the beauty and the grace of death itself. She will be my muse long after she is gone. She has shown us, through five years of her dying process, how one can be held up by strong faith and a positive attitude, she has never complained, has been more concerned about the people around her than she has been herself, and now, as the final hour approaches, she wants us all to know what a beautiful and peaceful transition death is, and I come almost, finally, to truly understand what people mean when they discuss the spirit finally being set free from the mortal coil. He body is disappearing, her soul is growing, her spirit is ready to take flight.

Now, I wake every hour or two all night long. When the phone rings my heart clutches... is this the call? And while I know I will be filled with sadness and will grieve her passing, there is something that happens when the dying process has been very long and slow, somehow, amidst the moment by moment, one breath to the next time, everyone can perhaps let go a little more, the part of us that doesn't want to let go and lose our loved one. Even when we have told them it's alright to let go, to not hold on for anyone or anything but to go when she is ready, there will still be those who cling in fear and this can hold the dying person back from their final exit.

Perhaps, in my mother's beginning a trail of goodbyes, fading and falling like the spent petals of a rose, those who have clung too hard for too long may, finally, with grace, let go. I think when the final person lets go, truly sets her free, her spirit will soar. Or so I imagine it to be.

My mother has taught me to make every day a good day, the best it can possibly be, and in the end, when it is time to go, to go in peace, without fear, and to let go, holding on to nothing, and simply to allow my spirit to rise up out of my body and be set free. My mother has taught me how to live, and now she has taught me how to die. What greater gifts can one be given?

And so now we are walking that final walk with her, and very shortly we will have to stop at the precipice, the place that we cannot yet go. But my mother's spirit will be set free and will fly gracefully into the heavens, and be, perhaps, a brilliant star against a velvet black night sky. I believe that. And I know that for the rest of my life my mother will be my guiding star.

What beauty, what blessings she has given us, and she is leaving us with her faith, with her peace, with her knowledge that death is not an ending but a beautiful beginning. Her legacy will live on and on...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hovering Around Something That Is About To Reveal Itself...

"Bill is a painter but so often we seem to be feeling the same things about our work; it's quite astonishing. His phrase, 'hovering around something that is about to reveal itself' -- that is exactly my state these days. And I have always known, as he does, that revelation rises up slowly if one can give it space, and if one keeps at the work, often with no apparent result."

~ May Sarton ~
The House By The Sea

Dear Ones,

I have been hovering here. I have known it but haven't been able to find the proper words to describe it, but when I opened my old weathered copy of my beloved writer and friend May Sarton's The House By The Sea, the book fell open right to the above passage that I had underlined and subsequently bracketed and highlighted on three different readings. I have read and reread all of May's work, especially the journals -- there is so much wisdom these books.

Hovering... something that is about to reveal itself. Yes, that is just it. I speak to my mother for a minute or two each day, if she is able, and I can feel her drifting away, almost ephemeral, but she, too, is hovering. She is ready to go, and it will be soon, but these times of hovering are not easy times. My mother hovers just before her own death, as if in suspended animation. A dear friend is about to become a grandmother for the first time, and her daughter's due date is very near. She, too, is hovering, waiting, wondering, when her baby will be born. I hover, just before the flower, like the humming bird, seeing a whole new life just beyond the portal, but it is not time to cross the threshold. And yet, while I seem to run through the gamut of emotions in a single day, I, too, know that revelation can only rise up if given space, and if we were able to just rush headlong into things, there would be no time, no fertile ground, in which new ideas, new experiences, might sprout. It is a time to till the garden and amend the soil. The planting of the seeds of a new life is just around the corner. You cannot rush a flower to grow, or a garden to become the glory that it will become. The preparation of the earth, before the planting, is a sacred time as well. We hover between seasons, between winter and spring, waiting to plant the garden. We wait, and waiting is good. It makes us appreciate the planting and the flowering all the more.

Oddly, I wondered, as I was writing the paragraph just above, if today's generation of young people will ever really know the experience of hovering? In a world where the current generation of children and young people are growing up with computers, cell phones, cable t.v., their whole lives going at such a fast pace it takes one's breath away, I wonder if they will ever learn to take time for contemplation, for solitude, for a lone walk in the woods, looking for wildflowers and mushrooms and creatures in their natural element? I hope so. I pray that the children of today can learn these things, for they are the ones who will shape the future, and you need silence, and solitude, to quiet the heart and the mind, to clear the path for what will come. I wonder about that as I write with a pug snoring beside me, and wonder what I will be planting in my new garden next spring. I can look at the seed catalogs, have fun choosing flowers in my mind, but it is not yet time to sow the seeds. I am hovering between here and there, and the painful lesson, just now, of being in a place of not knowing, is a very important one to learn.

An old woman is dying, a baby about to be born, and a middle-aged woman, on the cusp of Cronehood, is about to enter a time and place in life where she will fulfill her destiny, do the work that her whole life has been an apprenticeship for. Hovering times are sacred passages, wherein the soul waits and allows time to come to them rather than rushing toward the time to come. One waits, wonders, finally releases thought, and emotion, and, as if floating in place, comes to a peace about what lies ahead.

I have been thinking, just today, that until we can come to that peace, the thing will not happen, cannot begin. Does the soul have fingers? Is it holding on, just a little, gradually letting go, until it slips away over to the other side? Does the baby know when it is time to emerge from the womb, or does the womb know that it is time for the baby to slip out into the strange new land in which he or she will spend their life? Transitions. Metamorphosis. And the time just before, the preparation for the sacred journey, is the hovering place. I begin to see this time not as a hard and painful time full of grief and mourning, but a quiet, gentle time to sit in a meditative state and allow the waves to lap at my feet, facing out to a sea whose opposite edge I cannot see. It's okay not to see the other side of the ocean, we know it is there. That's enough.

My mother, just awhile ago, told me in her fragile little voice, as she has many times over this five year cancer journey, "Remember honey, every day's a good day. It is what you make it. It's all about choice. We all have choice..." and then her voice faded and drifted off. These precious last days with her I am as if a pupil sitting at her master's feet. In each conversation, be it only a couple of minutes on the days that she can talk at all, my mother leaves me with some pearl of wisdom, or a gift for me to take into the future. And though we have had a complex relationship as mother and daughter in this life, now there is only love, and a deeper love than has ever existed between us. Why is it that so often it is only in the face of loss that we hold precious and dear what we have before us in the moment right now? In the face of death nothing else matters. To love is all there is. I will never stop loving her.

And so now I hover. I will meditate on the picture of the hummingbird, and wonder if even this beautiful, delicate creature realizes, in some part of itself, just before it slips its long slender beak down deep into the flower to drink it's nectar, in the time of hovering, I wonder if just for a second there is a sublime moment, the anticipation of, the time that makes the time before just as sweet and the sipping of the nectar itself.

Death is not sweet, but it is a sacred time, and part of the Mystery. No living soul will ever understand the true experience of birth and death. We know the mechanics around the experiences, but when the soul enters and leaves the body we, who are witnesses, can only stand in silent reverie, in prayer, and bear witness to the processes that bring us into and out of life. The curtain opens and a life begins. The curtain closes after the final act, and the players disappear from view. The time of hovering is over. A baby is born, a woman dies, and her daughter, after the sharp cut of grieving, loss, and the aftermath subside, steps out of the darkness and into a new life. I imagine it as being like in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, when everything turns from black and white to technicolor. Will my mother shed her mortal coil and enter a place of color and beauty and light? Theologians and Philosophers alike speculate and argue the point, but I believe that it is a transformation beyond our imagining. I believe that the mysteries of birth and death are not for us to know, but in bearing witness we are reminded of a vast unseen world around us, and we, if we are open in the moment, can cherish now, today, this second, because it's all we have, and what lies behind us and what lies before us we cannot know.

Today, I am hovering. I have come to peace with this place. I am allowing my soul to prepare itself for the time ahead. Like the hummingbird, I am hovering in space, and I am content here, for now.

In the moment before The Mystery, I hover...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Following The Heart, The Spiral Journey ~ And Living Through Liminal Times...

"My topic is about transitions or the stuff out of which life is made, liminal and archetypal situations. The word liminal refers to being over the threshold but not through to the other side. It comes from the Latin word "limen" meaning that place in between. When you're in a transition zone, you're neither who you used to be before you got into this transition, nor have you crossed over that threshold to where you will be settled next...There is always an ending of one phase of your life in order to develop and grow into another phase."

~ Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen ~

There is no better way to explain what I am going through than Dr. Bolen's discussion on liminal times. On the threshold, where you are not who you were, and not yet who you will be. And as you sit on that threshold, metaphorically, there is much going on.

Surprising things will happen, perplexing things, you will make your mind up, firmly, about something that feels very important, and then turn so fast in the other direction your head will spin. It is a spiral journey, wherein your life to date has brought you to the center of the spiral, and now you must find your way out. It can be harrowing, certainly frightening, you feel tentative and confused, and often, like me, your Circadian Rhythms flip-flop all over the place leaving you exhausted and sleeping (or not) at odd hours, out of step with the rest of the world, and living through something there is no way to explain. Your actions may bring criticism, and there will never be a more important time for you to be steadfast in your belief in yourself, and to follow your heart, as you prepare to finally step over the threshold and into the new life and times ahead.

I have been afraid. I have been teary eyed a good bit of time, sometimes from fear and confusion and often from lack of sleep. My mother's dying process is part of this, but when she dies my life will change dramatically in so many ways that I have to both prepare for the changes, and yet I am will not be making the changes until after she passes. At one of the most emotional and heartbreaking times in my life I still have to soldier ahead and do what I have to do to take care of my own life.

So now I sit on the threshold, leaning against the door frame, hugging my knees to my chest and rocking back and forth, eyes closed, breathing, and meditating. All things will flow just as they are supposed to, and no one can help me. The most important thing that we can and need to do is to be steadfast in following our own heart's wisdom about what is right for us during this time, and not allowing others around us try to dissuade us, and they will. Some will be afraid for you, some will not like the choices you are making, some may even be jealous and try to undermine you, but you keep breathing, you stay in the present moment, keep moving forward and you keep your heart wide open so that you can hear what it is telling you. The wisdom of the heart is life's greatest gift, for it comes from spiritual sources beyond our understanding, and we are not meant to question, simply to follow. This is such a time for me.

I will give you an example and it is important enough that it woke me up in the middle of the night and a very important answer came to me. I had been feeling very off about something and I hadn't quite known what it was. At 2 a.m. I knew.

Sunday I started writing a novel with the NaNoWriMo program (
National Novel Writing Month). It is an incredible program and many writers have sold books and even ended up on the New York Times Bestseller list coming out of this intense month of writing. I wrote almost 2000 words on Sunday and I am very proud of the writing. I think it's a novel I can pick up at some time and finish. I love my character and her story, but the thing is it is a light-hearted and sometimes very funny story, (also a very deep tale of a woman's journey in the last 30 years of a very long life...) and I am just not at that place in my life. Not only is it hard to write humorous literary fiction when your mother is dying, but I realized, after one night of almost no sleep at all, and last night falling asleep at 7:30 p.m. simply exhausted, and then waking up at 2 and sitting here in a very contemplative place until 5 a.m. before going back to sleep for awhile, that it is not time to write this novel, and at 5 a.m. I pulled out of the program to pursue what I'm really supposed to write. It is the book I have been working on for some time, and it comes right out of this blog. It is called Maitri's Heart, and is about a woman at midlife and beyond going through these liminal changes.

I write non-fiction, poetic prose, it is my strong suit. I have written twelve novels that did not sell and though I love writing the kind of non-fiction you read on this blog, part of me has felt "less than" because none of my novels sold. In the end I realized that while I have always read and loved fiction, nearly swallowing some books whole and having, often, several books going at once, the novel that I want to write is something for a future time and needs to be something different than what I started. Writing
Maitri's Heart is part of what I need to do at this time in my life. It is part of what will help me cross the threshold.

After I made that decision it was as though the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. So often we get into something and, even when we know the timing is not right, we will keep at it, against our deepest knowing that we really should be doing something else, simply because we are embarrassed. I will be addressing that later today on my Unimaginable Dreams Made Manifest blog. Embarrassment is a useless and even egoistic emotion. Being true to ourselves is not always easy, but if we are to serve our life's journey to the best of our ability, and grow abundantly in the direction we were meant to grow, we need to continue to follow the path before us as we are led to and not afraid to say, "No, this is not right for me now, perhaps at another time, but I am going to do _______ instead." Be prepared to have those around you call you wishy-washy, tell you that you never finish anything, and even, perhaps, treat you with disdain, but remember that is coming from inside of them, not you. Only you know what's best for your own life, and it is up to you to make the choices that will take you where you need to go.

Too, there really are no mistakes. Though we may take a different direction than the one we thought we would take, we have not lost anything. Those brief times in our life when we do something that we decide is not right for us at this time in our lives are actually stepping stones along the path, leading us, if we will fully embrace them, to exactly where we need to go. We may choose to change our mind about a certain decision, but we will have taken something with us from the thing discarded for a different fork in the road. Those things will serve us very well.

The NaNoWriMo writing that I did on Sunday, which I really enjoyed, and now understanding the way that NaNoWriMo works, helped me to understand some of the problems I have had approaching the writing of Maitri's Heart. I can use some of the tools that I learned there, and move forward from here finally about to do what I need to do at this time. Without NaNoWriMo, and what I learned there, I would be not be picking up my non-fiction work today and committing to write every day until it is finished. I have been given a great gift, and its import is not lost on me.

So what I would leave you with is this. Do not be afraid to follow your heart. Do not let others dissuade you when you are going down roads that they don't understand. They have a journey of their own that is their destiny and they will not make it through if they are so tied up in yours. That's a great tactic, avoiding our own work spending time telling others how we think they should be living their lives. We can only live our own lives, and no one can tell us how to do it. And that expression, "Never explain, never complain," is very apt here. We often spend so much time apologizing for ourselves and our choices and actions because we are emotionally battered by others who would try to get us to change our course that we never move ahead. We need to make our own choices and stick to them firmly, and don't engage in discussions about the whys and the wherefores. Do what you need to do and keep on keeping on.

So I am on my way. I have reset my course and I will keep moving forward, in a similar, albeit slightly different, direction. I know this is right. And so I gather my belongings up in my carpet bag, throw it over my shoulder and prepare to step over to the other side. We can only do it when we grasp the lessons of liminality, and the importance of following our own heart. In the middle of the night I knew what I had to do and I am doing it. And nothing has ever felt better. I am on my way...