“Die Wise” Book Review

After reading the book Die Wise, by Stephen Jenkinson, I wrote a review for the professional journal for Hakomi therapists, called The Forum.  It’s an academic journal, so I am pleasantly surprised that they accepted my submission and published it.

Here it is.  If you wanted to read the book, maybe this will inspire you to do so, or give you enough that you can move on to whatever is next in your reading pile.

Book Review

 Jenkinson, Stephen. (2015). Die wise: A manifesto for sanity and soul.  Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. (382 pages).

Jenkinson, Stephen.  Griefwalker: a film about the redemptive power of deep love for life, when life glimpses its end. Produced by www.alivemind.net. DVD, 70 minutes.

Jenkinson, Stephen. How it all could be: A workbook for dying people and for those who love them. Published by www.orphanwisdom.com. 37 pages. (“Something that can be useful in the sorrowing heat of the moment, and in the time before and after”).

 

In early February of 2015, a doctor told me that I had Stage IV Kidney Cancer, and that I had about 2 months to 2 years to live. In my travels in this new-to-me realm of “imminent death,” I encountered Stephen Jenkinson and his book Die Wise. I devoured his eloquent language, his wisdom and experience that he shares so thoughtfully and carefully. His teachings fit seamlessly into the Hakomi Principles and deserve to be introduced in the Forum for others who may be approaching death, or those who have clients, family or friends who may be.

Jenkinson has a MA in theology from Harvard University and a MA in social work from the University of Toronto. He speaks around the world, is consultant to palliative care and hospice organizations, and is the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School in Canada.

For Jenkinson, high tech health care has become an undeclared war on dying itself. “If you can, you should” (p.23) is the mantra in our death phobic culture in North America especially, meaning you should do whatever you can to continue living, no matter what, no matter how much violence you do to the dying person, their body and their very soul. Dying wise goes against attempts to control and domesticate dying including palliative care. It is a way of redeeming our way of dying that is the right of everyone, a moral obligation, a political act, an act of Love, spiritual activism, and yes, immensely hard labor. Therein lies his manifesto.

Instead of a sedated, managed, defeated dying, (Cope, Hope, Dope) Jenkinson is talking about purposed, meaningful dying that roots us into our life in a way that nothing else can do. He doesn’t say not to use pain meds if they are needed, but to be mindful of each choice, each prayer, and what it accomplishes in a death phobic culture.

So, what would dying look like from a Hakomi perspective? We seek non-violence, organicity, a body-mind connection that is trustworthy, mindfulness in and of the process, and unity. That is precisely what Jenkinson is teaching once you read between the lines.  He also includes: village mindedness; caring for our ancestors and our dead, weaving them in our lives; breaking the trance of our death phobic culture; seeing dying as an angel, rather than an executioner, something you live, wrestle with, share and can teach to others.

Die Wise is not an easy book to read, especially for someone with a terminal diagnosis. He offers not even a thread of wiggle room. For example, people who are dying often ask for “more time.” He thoroughly demolishes that idea. If you get more time, you get more time to die, more death, “temporary citizenship in the Land of the Living.” (p. 133) He titles one chapter The Tyrant Hope. What he means is that if you are living focused on hope, you are living in the future, and are not present to your life that you actually still have. His alternative is to live hope free, which is a subversive move towards lucidity, a revolution of sorts.

He talks about Word Voodoo: if you say it, you can make it (death) happen, so no one talks to the dying person about their approaching death. No one will name it for fear they might make it happen. I’ve walked with some good friends during their dying time who carried this view. There was no way to be with them in any level of honesty and devotion. Jenkinson offers no place to hide.

Even the notion of “quality of life” as a deciding factor in dying is up for grabs with him. He believes that quality of life is a principle strategy in our culture’s project of dying–not dying. It enforces the addiction we have to competence, mastery and autonomy. It doesn’t serve the dying, who are anything but competent, and quite literally out of control. “If there were no palliative care, what would the arc of dying look like?” he asks. What if we respect the process itself, and listen deeply to what might be needed here? This is right up Hakomi alley.

Our culture says, according to this man who has worked in the “death trade” for decades, that we can die not dying. Dying, instead, in his view, must be allowed to change literally everything. As a person living this through right now, I have to say it really, really does change everything. Staying mindful to this cataclysmic shifting is challenging, and hard work. Jenkinson is a trustworthy guide.

The wisdom we seek can be found in suffering, from being broken-hearted, which for him is a skill. Wisdom comes from learning grief, and from practicing grief. Who asks us to be fulfilled in our dying, or to even thrive in our dying, or to be good at it? We need a faithful witness to our dying, not someone who will banish what is hard and demanding.

In Ron Kurtz’s language, we need someone with Loving Presence who can make being vulnerable and incompetent, safe; someone from whom we can receive comfort; someone who is not there to fix what cannot be fixed; someone who is aware that death goes beyond just humans, to trees, rivers, stones, even mountains. We need to proceed as if there is merit in knowing death well.

Jenkinson asks huge questions with a rare precision. He asks the question: When in human history did the death phobia begin? It’s not so in other cultures. How “natural” is it to be afraid of dying?

What if this insistence on dying being a trauma is the traumatizing thing about dying in our culture? High tech dying turns you into a victim. That’s not true for all cultures. In my opinion, high tech tends to do this to birth as well.

A large portion of Jenkinson’s book is about our dead: they are “a rumor, unclaimed and unknown.” Their bones are somewhere else. It is the orphan story of the Americas, which is a type of homelessness. The alchemy of belonging comes when we plant our dead and their bodies sustain that place. In our history we have slavery, people fleeing, flight as culture, no bone yard in common. People internalize “home” when they are homeless. That leads to a culture of autonomy, self-sufficiency, lonely multi-cultural cities. The outcome for the dead is, mostly, unknown. Even our Gods are homeless, not of a place. Even our foundational story, the Garden of Eden, speaks of the loss of home, the loss of eternity, of death. Indigenous cultures tend to have Gods who live on the same land that they do, embedded into the very earth.

When my mother was dying in our home, about two weeks out, she suddenly declared that she wanted to go home. No amount of saying that this was her home now, no amount of saying she was going home in her dying, appeased her. She had told me my entire life that she wanted to be cremated, and that’s what we had planned. But now she wanted to be buried, she wanted to go home, to Ohio I guess, where her family and her ancestors were buried.

Part of our fear of dying for Jenkinson is that the dying begin to understand that their very reality is pending. “They are on the Lost Nation highway, even as dying, not yet dead,” disappearing from the memory of those left behind. (p. 279) Amnesia is built into our care of our dead. They don’t need us anymore. They are mysteriously completed and self sufficient, above the fray. That is power, in a culture like ours. How will I be remembered, if at all, I wonder? Do I just disappear from life, from the human sphere into the realm of “the dead” that almost no one even thinks about?

Now that I am dying, I find myself turning to face those from whom I come, my ancestors, my own “dead,” trying to learn from them. We don’t treat our dead with any degree of hospitality, usually.

“Dying means to be wrecked on schedule.” (p. 300) Being sad is not being depressed, not something to fix. We need courage to stop trying not to die, and to relax into it. Dying can be achieved, not endured as we tend to see it. It can be learned. We can die wise. Dying is the time to untie the links of strength and competence that bind us to our bodies. Stopping eating is to “vote no” for keeping on. (p. 309) It turns the tide.

To die wise, we can “faithfully report on our ebbing days, the sway of it.” (p. 310) My husband will likely not have an escort when it’s his turn, a sorrow that brings me to my knees. Children need to know, too, to begin to get a feel for it.

“If you are attending a death, bring a soft focus, a slow gait in your thinking and your speech. Stay willing, be supple in your understanding, ask your eyes to stay open, wonder what is needed of you.” (p. 314) As Hakomi therapists, we have practice in working in the non-verbal realm, so this will help a great deal.

Dying people are busy trying to find their way out of their bodies and out of their lives, and there is scant language for this. (p. 315) I remember my Mom late one night describing being in a tunnel, about half way through. She had a new doctor “on the other side, who had done all the paperwork,” and now she wanted to know if she could turn around and come back. Exhausted, I told her that I didn’t know, but I would see her in the morning, or not, depending on her choice. We said good night and goodbye. And she was all sparkle in the morning; she did figure it out. She lived another few months after that. When my beloved companion David died, he was radiant and said that he could see the light all around.

“When dying is understood as justice, mercy, a sign of compassion that is stitched into the fabric of life itself, that can bring us into a world-loving, community-serving love of life.” (p.350) Then we can die wise.

“Grief isn’t an intrusion into the natural order of things. It is the natural order of things.” P. 367. It’s the ability of seeing the story of the thing, the whole story. We are grief impaired, grief illiterate. We learn instead how to manage it, resolve it, get over it. It’s not just the feeling of sorrow, or guilt. It is knowledge and understanding that each of us is obligated to live, for our life. “How you die grows kinship, a chance to practice unlikely gratitude, a way of loving,” and love is a way of grieving. (p.378) Jenkinson steps into the Unity principle easily and often. He is an unusual man, with language that delves deep into the heart of things, a poet, a storyteller, and a fearless angel of death.

 

The DVD Griefwalker is a lush, marvelous video of Jenkinson and his work, his language, his teaching. Again, there is no hiding place, no way to avoid death in this. He helps us take a long, deep drink into what it is and what it could be, how we got here, and what needs to change for it to be more organic.

His workbook, How It All Could Be brings a whole series of questions to the table. Here is his dedication:

This was made for all those who have come to me questioning, sorrowing, fighting and trying to lay low while their lives go as lives go, for the families and friends of those who didn’t live to see this done, for all those who asked for it. It was made with gratitude to the teachers and great rememberers out on the dangerous and darkening roads, where it all lives.

It’s a study guide to Die Wise, a shower of questions that incite deep reflections, conversations with shared ideas, delving deeper still into this concept, this manifesto of dying wise. He teaches that you wrestle the angel of death “by grief, by wonder, by courting uncertainty, by falling in love again with being alive, this time with the taste of its end strongly on your tongue.” It’s part study guide and part workbook, part meditation, and part kitchen table conversation. He wants us to work at this. It’s quite grand, and I recommend it to those who read his book.

As for me, I have only been using alternative medicine, and I am now, a little over a year later, a Stage III cancer patient. We don’t know what that means exactly, but I am learning to live hope free. I’m putting language to this journey in my blog www.SusanShawnAlive.wordpress.com. I keep my eyes open, and I’m learning how to die wise, as best I can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Life of Transfiguring Intensity

People often tell me  that I “look great”.  I think what they mean is “You don’t look like you are dying of cancer!”  I don’t.  That’s because I haven’t had surgery, chemo or radiation, I eat well, and am surrounded by loving care of every sort and on every dimension.  I live in the shimmering grace of gratitude and love.  And naps.  And my puppy, Tara.

People also tell me “we are all dying, you aren’t really all that different from any of us”, and what they mean, I assume,  is “What’s the big deal? None of us get out of here alive.”  Or, in the case of a few close neighbors, “We are all suffering from one thing or another, as we age. ”  A few might even add “Suck it up” but are too kind to say it out loud.

Now that I am living in the realm of “I will die someday”, rather than “I am going to die really soon!”, I can understand these comments better, those spoken or unspoken.  And let me try to tell you, these realms are in fact radically different.  Unless you have experienced the diagnosis of imminent death, I am not sure that there is a way for anyone to know this.  It’s not a concept, it’s a felt reality.

Eric and I have subscribed to a wonderful magazine named Parabola for decades.  Last summer, I picked up a copy of their Summer  2015 edition, about Angels and Demons.  There’s a wonderful quote on p. 93 that goes like this:

The denial of death is numbing.  But when I know for certain that I can disappear at any moment, it frees me from dullness.  Each instant becomes a possible starting point for something I have never done or said before.  The thought of dying opens a passage that, like the straight gate of the gospels, leads directly to a life of such transfiguring intensity, I feel as if I had risen from the dead.  

This is from a book by Carl Lehmann-Haupt, entitled The Crazy Thing.  Hope to read it soon.  He lived with a terminal diagnosis, then got better, but realized that he was becoming complacent again, and had lost something along the way.

The gift of a terminal diagnosis: a life of transfiguring intensity.  Yes.

At this moment in time, I have one foot in the “dying soon” camp and another foot in the “maybe I’ll live another 10 years” camp.  No way to know for sure.  I still feel like shit most of the time, so not much has changed there.  I’d like to keep the “transfiguring intensity”, however, from time to time anyway.  Instant clarity!

What I do notice is that I am beginning to get interested in life again, how I might be of service to others, seeing other people here in the village, taking care of business. (TCB for those of us who come out of the 60s!) Can’t do much about any of this yet, but I have my head up above the waters for the first time in about 5 years or more, taking a look around between naps.

Sending you all love.  Have patience with each other, because we never really know what someone’s journey is about, or where it may be going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tricky Place

On Tuesday I drove out to Maplewood, through the trees, to see my acupuncturist, Geri Ota, a healer.  When she felt my pulses, she said, “Hmmm…. well, the underlying kidney chi (or energy) is fragile and weak.  But the pulse above that is strong.  This is a very tricky place for you.”

Yup.  It is indeed.  Here’s why.

Both these energy streams exist in me at the same time.  It’s a little like having one foot in the realm of death, and another foot in the river of life.  It’s not that I live in one and then the other, shifting from foot to foot, but rather that it is I’m living in both realms at the same time, in very real ways.  This is not a theoretical situation, this is a physical reality.

My awareness does seem to shift from foot to foot, however.  Whole days go by, a week or two, when I feel myself edging towards death.  I don’t feel death itself, just a slippage in that direction, a lessening of the “give-a-shit” energy that Stephen Jenkinson talks about in his book Die Wise.  For example, I see that I’m eating more sugar than I should be, and inside I hear voices saying “Who cares?  You’re dying anyway – enjoy!”  That’s just a small example, but there are ramifications everywhere – feeling too sick to go to fitness class or yoga class, too sick to take a walk, too sick to go outside and look at flowers, too sick to remember how to find joy in life itself.  Too sick.  Just too sick.  That’s the realm of my death, and it’s very real.  I think that’s the weak kidney chi that Geri identified on Tuesday.

But running concurrently is the river of life, which recently is beginning to look more interesting to me.  After my diagnosis, moving to Rose Villa, reorienting myself to life in community and adjusting my life to living with cancer, I am just now pulling my head up above water and taking a look around.  What does life look like from here?  I have volunteered to be a “Comfort Companion” here at Rose Villa, agreeing to take an evening shift if needed to sit with a resident who may then be dying alone at the Health Center.  I volunteered to help support a local candidate running for Congress who identifies with Bernie Sanders and pledges to support Bernie if they get elected.  I am eyeing our back yard and find myself planning a garden there for the first time since we moved here, with fruit trees, berries, grapes and vegetables as well.  I can hardly wait to tackle that.  I want to attend to some papers and a book that I have written that needs to be published in some form.

So, which realm am I in?

I am in both at the same time.  And it’s tricky.  She really nailed that one.  I cannot survive if I am only in the realm of death, it’s an oxymoron.  But I am not well enough to step fully into the river of life that is brimming with ideas and options.  I can see the river now at least; I couldn’t even see it a month ago.  But I can’t quite reach it, either.

It’s tricky.  I can’t reach out too far, and fall.  Nor can I live too small, and not grow stronger.  Reminds me of a time, years ago, when I was learning how to run long distance.  I’d just keep running, daily, and very gradually I could run a little longer, until finally I could run 5 miles with power.

Maybe what I can do is just take one small step a day towards the river of life.  Maybe I’ll walk down, quite literally, to the river.  And say hello.  And see how strong I am now.

And therein lies the problem.  The energy above says “Wow, what a great idea!  Let’s do that!”, and the weak energy below says “Are you kidding?  What happens if you get down there and you collapse?  Or fall? ” And because both voices have complete integrity, reliable experience, and my well being in hand, I have no fucking idea what to do.

It’s tricky.  And another stop on this journey. I’m just taking a look around, reporting back to all of you who read this.  I want to say that all will be well, not to worry, but the truth is I have no idea.

I actually think that this is, in the long haul, a hopeful sign that I am getting better.  My job now is to be respectful of the process and to listen carefully every step of the way.  And to keep both of these energies communicating with each other, creating equanimity.

As Eric, my husband says, “It will be what it will be.  And we’ll face it together.”

 

 

The Medicine Buddha shows up

Well, I memorized the Medicine Buddha mantra, after a long effort.  I looked it up online, and figured out what I was actually saying, and then how to say it in Tibetan, using Dr. Tenzin’s song on my cell phone.  Thank God for my voice recording ap.

Even after all that, I’ve only been around my mala once with this mantra.  But here’s the thing: it works.  It really works.  By that I mean that at some point, about half way around the 108 beads of my mala, slogging through the memorization trip, all of a sudden I felt the mantra take on a life of its own.  It began to vibrate throughout my system, kind of like a plane about to take off, but of course very subtle, faint, just discernible to me.

The main word, Bekandze, means essentially healing energy.  It’s repeated three times, indicating the three levels of healing, from a person, to the spiritual realm, to the entire universe.  Buddhists tend to think big.  So, here comes the mantra round again, new bead, and boom!  I could actually feel the healing energy of the Medicine Buddha, coming in to me through my heart center or chakra.  Then flowing out from me into the spiritual realm, and then I pretty much disappeared or became transparent, and the healing energy flowed out into the entire universe.

Now we are talking about me, an often lazy person, a non-striver of sorts, a broken being on many, many levels, so I understand that this was a tiny thimble full of what’s actually possible by someone like the Dalai Lama, for example.  But I felt it, my inner eye could see it, and I trust it.  My experience.  And how is that healing?  Well, my whole being felt clear, because of this mantra.  No cancer cells anywhere.  No toxicity.  No fears.  Just  clear sky like nature of my mind, clearing my body.  For a split second.

The idea is to say an entire mala’s worth of this mantra every day.  I can do about 1/3 of a mala at night, laying in bed, saying it silently so as not to wake my beloveds. (I include our dog in that category.) So I am not there yet, not by a long shot.  But it’s a start.  Thought I’d report.

Christiana came to visit me today, for an interview that she wanted to do.  We talked for over three hours!  Such a patient, kind soul.  She brought me a gift of a rose quartz, which is a healing crystal for kidney disease.  I put it near my chair, and will soak it up over time. She knows a great deal about this type of medicine, and I listen and learn.

In one of my catalogs from Wisdom Publications I discovered a book entitled How to Enjoy Death: Preparing to Meet Life’s Final Challenge without Fear, by Lama Zopa Rinpoche.  What a concept, huh?  Christiana knew of the author, so I will order it at some point.  Curious, frankly, about how anyone could hold such a thought, never mind write an entire book on this subject!  Reminds me of how women in the early 70s were talking about birth as an orgasmic experience.  It seems counter intuitive, but we live in a death phobic culture.

Meanwhile, I am pondering hope.  In one book I’m reading, Die Wise, the author has an entire chapter called something like “The Tyranny of Hope”, and another book that shimmered into my awareness is “Mystical Hope” by an Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeauldt.  An amazing little gem.  So what is the role of hope while living with a terminal diagnosis?  An obstacle to dying wise, or a mystical dimension of Life itself?  Or both?

Stay tuned.

Tayata Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Radza Samudgate Soha.

 

 

Body Mind as one

Drove over the raggedy Sellwood Bridge last week to visit an old friend, Frank Coppieters, who is a Reiki master and a shaman from Belgium.  Such a warm welcome! Brought him up to date, then we decided to give Reiki to my cancerous kidneys so I could tune in deeply.

Having been a Hakomi therapist for decades, I’m very used to working the interface between mind and body, mindfulness and how the mind and body interact together.  Lately I’ve been studying again about mind and medicine, and how the mind affects the brain, which affects the nervous system, which in turn affects the whole body.  It matters what we think and what images we hold in our minds as we try to heal at this level. (See resources at the end of this blog, if you’re interested and want more detail.)

Frank put one hand under my left kidney and one hand over it, and then arced up the Reiki stream several notches.  I just lay there and watched internally, moving into the felt experience.  At first, I could only feel the underneath part of that kidney, the part that is healthy, shiny and happy.  Reiki coming from above through the tumor just wasn’t getting through.  The cancer felt dense, thick, not moving, and rough, kind of like a skinned knee that has a scab on it, only way more.  After about 20 minutes, I suddenly felt/saw a blaze of light slip through between Franks’s upper hand and his lower hand, going through my kidney with a very narrow needle of light, on the right, internal side.  The Reiki on the left and lower side of that kidney shifted slightly and I could feel waves of Reiki moving through, very slowly and very faint, creating a sense of spaciousness. The tumor “crust” broke into a type of dust and eventually disappeared.

Now I have an image of how that cancer will or could be removed by imagery.  I can simply see it becoming more porous, gradually filled with light and warmth, as it crumbles away, erodes, slowly.  That feels right to me.

The right kidney was very different.  The cancer there seemed to me to be more vertical in structure, and was very dense, rigid.  Frank introduced Reiki top and bottom, and eventually I said “I hear screaming in this kidney.”  “What kind of screaming?” Frank asked.   I said “Fear.  And some anger.”  A memory from a year ago surfaced when the surgeon was getting ready to put me under, to run a tiny tube up my urethra with a camera and a zapper thing, the idea being to zap the kidney stone that was lurking there and get rid of it.  He was talking about how I was going to die soon – to the four other men in the operating room.  I became furious, and told him not to bring that kind of negativity in there, and asked for a woman to be with me.  A woman quickly appeared, to hold my hand as I went under.  One of the men in the room said “She’s got that right, you know…” and I went under, knowing that the surgeon was pissed at me.  I will not work with him again.

That energy, his negativity and my fear and anger, was still stuck in my right kidney – not the cause of the cancer, but not moving.  We brushed it all away, and later on, at home in bed, I could feel the chi just pouring out of that kidney like a wave, on and on.  Great feeling.  More spacious now, at ease.  I slept, exhausted.

Now I have a healing image to use that is directly coming from my kidneys, that I can practice on a daily basis.  So who knows?  Worth a try.

Resources:

  1. The Healing Power of Mind: Simple Meditation Exercises for Health, Well-Being, and Enlightenment.  By Tulku Thondup.  Very simple, Buddhist oriented visualizations for healing and the role of devotion or belief in such healing.  
  2. Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine. By Jeanne Achterberg.  An older reference from 1985, technical reference on how the brain and nervous system work in tandem with our minds.  

 

 

 

Tibetan Medicine and devotion

Tibetan medicine is hard to come by here in Portland.  After asking around and searching for months while we dealt with my diagnosis and prognosis, gave away 14 pickup trucks full of belongings and moved to Rose Villa, I finally was given two names, and contacted one a month or so ago.

Christiana Polites is the owner of Yangchenma Healing Arts, and brought to me today a collection of Tibetan pills made to order.  They are like little herbal rum balls without the rum, no sugar, and no wheat.  I start tomorrow.  After decades of reading about Tibetan pills and medicine (I once took a class from Yoshi Donden, at that time the personal physician to the Dalai Lama, a one-day class in Washington DC )  I am finally getting to see and touch and will be tasting. Its like a little miracle to me.  It’s not like you can just go to a store and buy these things, or even go online.  For me, it was like asking the universe to provide me with something very rare and special, maybe life saving, and out of the mists of everyday life, here comes this true soul with just what I asked for and much more.  To my door, mind you.  Kindness, such kindness.

Tibetan medicine is old, and comes from the heart.  Much of how it works (but not all; they use herbs, acupuncture, and sound healing, for starters) depends on devotion, both on the part of the medical practitioner, and also the patient.  Buddhist devotion is not what we think of here in the West, when we use those words.  It’s not a giving away of one’s power. Devotion is a way of opening one’s heart and soul in order to receive teachings, wisdom, a transmission of any sort from a guru or teacher to your own being, and to receive medicine as well.  A way of trusting completely.

For example, Christiana embedded a thousand mantras into water for me, sealing her mantra recitation with a long retreat, and offering healing and protection in these liters of drinking water.  As a skeptical Westerner born into a medical family, I might simply push that gift aside, thank her for the water and deny Tibetan medicine in general. I think there might be some racism in such a stand, a false sense of superiority, an education solely grounded in Western thought.   But I am no longer skeptical, I was in the healing profession myself for decades, am a practicing Buddhist, and I know the profound value of devotion.  It isn’t magic, but it can feel like that.  You touch the very membrane of Pure Love, the thin places in human existence where Mystery is close at hand.  It is my belief that ultimately all healing comes from there.

Sometimes I imagine that people will think I am trying Tibetan medicine and IV turmeric and medical marijuana as a desperate person, seeking a way to keep on living.  A clutching at straws, I think the idiom goes.  I’ve investigated that in deep meditation, to see if it’s true or not.  It is not true.  I would and will continue to open my life to healing on every level, whether I live another month or another decade or more.  It’s quite a lovely way to live!  I’ll learn much and pass on as much as I can along the way.  I’m not feeling desperate. I am thrilled to be able to do this my own way, following a dark path without a whole lot of guideposts along the way. Following my heart, my curiosity, the shimmering that catches my attention.   Watching the tides of life begin to ebb back up into my being in their gentle, subtle way.

And tomorrow I get to taste my first Tibetan pill!  The people who make these pills also say mantras (or repetitive prayers) over and over while they are making them, so that not only are the herbal combinations potent and part of human healing for centuries, but they are also blessed actively.  Not like buying aspirin from the store, that’s for sure.

So I am sipping water that has a particular vibration embedded in it, a prayer of sorts from Christiana who has a big heart, and I know that it is part of this journey I am on.  And rejoice.

 

 

 

 

 

St. Benedict Chimes in

Chiming In from the 3rd century or so
Chiming In from the 3rd century or so

St. Benedict informs my life with Eric, my husband who lived in a Benedictine monastery for 18 years, starting in high school.  Benedictines are taught to “keep death daily before your eyes”; (Chapter 4, vs. 47) just one line in the whole of the Rule of St. Benedict. Some monasteries within this order will keep a human skull in their dining area, as a reminder.  Always, there is one shoveled and open grave. It’s a both/and teaching.

What’s not so clear to me, and depends on the translation and edition you might be reading, is why this is part of their teaching.  From what I can tell, on the surface it is a method to keep monks from Sin, a word that causes me to have a brain warp when I see or hear it, packed to the gills with judgment and fear and some sort of dark Catholic realm of desolation, my mother’s birthright as a French Canadian, and my father’s atheistic dismissal.  If you keep death daily before your eyes, the idea seems to go, then you will be less likely to step into the horrors of sin, because if you can die at any moment, you might die in sin, which is a big no-no in their world.  For me, I don’t tend to buy this for a minute.  God is way bigger than this notion.  Way bigger.  Because these folks tend to have a very hollow, narrow definition of sin itself.  Like too much laughter, for example.  Yup.

A friend of mine, a nun, described Sin to me once in a way that actually made sense.  She said that sin is anything that you do, internally or externally, that keeps you from your own inner core of goodness and spirit, that separates you from your experience of God, or the Buddha or whatever you want to call it.  From the shimmer, for example.  From joy and from love.  From Grace. So, I wouldn’t like to die separated from the shimmer.  I get that.  I just don’t buy all of the Rule, it’s oppressive.  Thank God Eric left.

So, I’m back to my tightrope of living/dying, holding both at the same time, my koan.  My belief is that St. Benedict intuited this fundamental wisdom and built it into his Rule for communities seeking God, leaving it to us to unpack.

Why does this matter?  I have had several dear friends who, approaching death, refused to acknowledge it, and believed that by denying their death, they would somehow be assisting or ensuring their longer life, that intention was everything. No one was allowed to harbor the idea that they might be dying, and still visit.   They each died with lies and falseness all around them, fierce to the end, giving it their all.

Some of the books I’ve been reading lately, here in cancer land, do suggest that one “decide to live” and not even allow the thought of dying to enter one’s mind; a single minded focus on living, only.  It’s the idea that the mind controls the body and one ought to be able to do this, to literally stop one’s dying based on the power of one’s intention.  It’s a powerful idea, and I understand why my friends took that route.

There is an element of aggression in this, however, for me.  To follow the principle of non-violence, it seems to me that I need to lean into the very unfolding itself, accepting not knowing from one moment to the next, both living and dying simultaneously.

By opening my heart to balance, to homeostasis, to equilibrium, to the slack tide, the Tao of dying (the yin/yang of it) together with St. Benedict’s blessing, this fits me the best.

For now, anyway.  Koans are tricky.