Seeing my Life Whole

from my journal for November 11

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Great War came to an end.  But the war in Afghanistan is still going on. and it’s just part of the unending war.

The most important thing yesterday was Meeting.  I was able to sink deeply into the Silence.  I felt held in love by the Good Being, and I was holding all I love at the same time.  I thought about my life, the life that was “smashed before I ever opened the package,” and I saw myself holding this incredibly rich woven together construction of all the pieces.  I am so grateful.  Wash after wash of gratitude.

I realize that holding my life in my arms and feeling so grateful does not change my wish to die sooner rather than later.  My life doesn’t feel like a chore — right now, I suppose that could come back — instead it feels like a huge work of art, or a pilgrimage, and it’s finished.

Journal for November 13

I know what it is — my life is complete — it’s not finished, it won’t be finished until I die — but all the pieces are there, and they are all incorporated.

This is all the fruit of my pilgrimage to Portland to be present at that strange event, which can’t really be named — which was a weaving together of lives and processes, an invocation of powers and a willingness to offer ourselves to their process.  I came out stronger, and in the last month — the last cycle of the moon — I’ve circled the field of my life, and seen it Whole.  It’s more than fitting the pieces back together, the way they were supposed to be.  “The fairest destiny [for any life would be that it should]  point the way to a larger and more comprehensive” [life].  I am so grateful, so grateful.  For the shattering that allowed me to have a larger life, for all the gifts of time and money and good education, and help along the way, and for my own persistence in keeping going, for my fierce, uncompromising, commitment to Truth, for my willingness to feel intense, intolerable pain.  The song in my head is “I say grace.”  “I say grace for the blue painted sky … when I look back on the road that I’ve travelled down, I say grace.”

That “strange event”— the Night of Grief and Mystery that I shared with Stephen, Gregory, the band, the people sitting around me, and everybody else that was there.

The Moon is a very important being in my life.  I look for it every day when there’s clear sky, I follow the phases and know when and where to look — if the moon is waning, look in the morning.  Sometimes I think I live in the solar system, not in some specific place on the Planet Earth.

“The field of my life” see Regrets.

The quote that I’ve modified is my favorite quote from Einstein:  “The fairest destiny that could be allotted to any physical theory would be that it should, of itself, point the way to a larger and more comprehensive theory, in which it lives on as a limiting case.”  I memorized it long ago, perhaps it changed a little, don’t remember where I read it.

The actual quote from Wikipedia:

  • No fairer destiny could be allotted to any physical theory, than that it should of itself point out the way to the introduction of a more comprehensive theory, in which it lives on as a limiting case.
  • Über die spezielle und die allgemeine Relativitätstheorie (1920) Tr. Robert W. Lawson, Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1920) pp. 90-91.

A “limiting case” means that it is still true, but only works in a limited arena, say only for objects bigger than grapes but smaller than planets.

The song in my head is “I say grace.”   I Say Grace is a song that Stefan Freedman choreographed a circle dance to, so I have it on a CD.

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Still Metabolizing a Profound Experience

I haven’t posted in a long time.  I’ve been continuing to process “Nights of Grief and Mystery,” and finding it very difficult to describe.  Both the event itself, and how it changed me.  I realize it’s going to take some time, because how I’ve been changed only shows up when I find myself reacting to an old situation in a new way.  I’ve just been typing up from the days just after going to Portland, and found lots of meaningful bits.

From my journal for Saturday, October 12

I realize that the most important thing Stephen & Gregory do is make you think differently about things.  I listened to the CD of the show in Australia in the car coming back.  Mostly SJ telling stories, only two songs, and the musical background was minimal, so I could hear the whole story.  I heard the full story of the palliative care nurse, I had understood it at the performance, despite the difficulty understanding certain words.  On the CD he says he’s there “to practice cognitive dissonance on the general public.”

What he’s done for me is give me a chance to climb that hill, look at the “back forty of your life,” and see it “visible and lucid.”  I feel so fortunate.

The piece about the “back forty” quoted in Regrets

3rd cup of tea.  I slept til 7:40 this morning.  A good long sleep.  I needed it.  My Portland adventure is still developing like a photograph.

The piece I left out was about being an orphan.  It was on the CD.  SJ telling a story of some man whose father was dying, talking to a friend who’d lost his father too.  The friend was an orphan, and said to the one with the dying father “Soon you’ll be an orphan too.”  I realized that I’ve been an orphan from birth, and didn’t know it.

Sunday, October 12

Yesterday I was thinking that I’ve been through too much pain in my life to experience “happiness.”  All my experiences contribute to a felt sense of pain, it’s like pain is my foundation for experiencing life.  I have lots of stories of realizations.  I wouldn’t call them “happy” stories.  I think of the possible responses to the Holocaust.  “After something as horrible as that, how can anyone be happy?” and “After something as horrible as that, how can anyone refuse to be happy?”

I envy Etty Hillesum who was able to experience joy in the midst of the Holocaust.  I wonder if some of my inability to experience joy, to enjoy, is from 55 years of severe clinical depression?  The possibility is there, but it’s unpracticed, the muscle has grown weak from lack of use.

Monday, October 14

I have been feeling very strange.  I’ve been reading more material by the Lost Nation folks, and watching videos of their work.  Finding it very hard to come up with words — words aren’t appropriate somehow.  I just had a flash of how we all created it together, audience and folks on stage, whatever that was that happened Thursday night.  I know that I have emerged from that adventure stronger.

SJ says he’s come to practice “cognitive dissonance” on the rest of us.  Yes, I think that is exactly right.  I have a sense of a definite intellectual construct being broken up into pieces.  Perhaps the construct by which I believe in the long ongoing political, social, economic, environmental planetary disaster.  Perhaps the construct by which the disaster was created.

I went to Hanover Meeting yesterday.  Someone talked about holding his infant daughter, her head in his hand, her feet in his elbow, and he thought that she fit right into her place in the universe — that’s the gist of it, I haven’t got the words right.  I didn’t think I’d forget them.  But it was the most important message for me.  There is a place in the universe for you, and you fill it perfectly.  Can I own that for myself?

A Muslim was going to give a talk about his Spiritual Journey after meeting.  I wish I had known.  I hadn’t planned for it, and I knew I had to keep isolating — sitting in the ashes — metabolizing the experience — allowing the film to develop.  I maybe should be working this out in gouache, not words.

“… if how we are with each other is how the Lords of Chance will be with us.  … bring on the Saints and the Ending of Days, or bring down the darkness.”

SJ says, when you meet the ending of days “You don’t have to hold anything back.”

Quotes from Stephen Jenkinson, from Lost Nation Road

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“World Order of Planet Savers”

Thursday, October 24

Talk with a friend who insists that we were better off now than in the past.  She talked about the great plagues, and serfs, and people being killed for sport.  I wanted to say that we were happier and healthier as hunter-gatherers, but I’m sure she assumes that that life was “nasty, brutish, and short.”  A frequently repeated quote from Thomas Hobbes, who believed that the “nature of man” was to be selfish and greedy.  So I didn’t see any sense in trying to argue.  But just now I was thinking — tribes were good in some ways, but they set up “us” and “them.”  There was no way to come to a global mind.  So we tried (collectively) by creating empires, thinking that if we made people conform to our ideal it would work, but it only worked for the top 1%.    Empires were unsustainable  and collapsed one after another.  But now, we have practically a global empire, which looks like it’s going to self-destruct, and perhaps, if we haven’t killed the planet, a truly global civilization will emerge/evolve out of the fragments.  Truly egalitarian, truly co-operative.  I see the empire stage as a “statistically necessary evil” on the way to higher level organization.  

That link actually goes to a post where I explain it more completely.  The quote comes from Teilhard de Chardin: “Evil is the statistical necessity of disorders within a multitude in the process of organization.”   I go on to say: “Maybe it’s that when a bunch of units are attempting to self-organize into a larger entity, some of those units will try to hold on to an old way of wholeness, which is wholeness by sameness, and a step backward. “Self-organization” is a process of combining differentiated units into a higher-order wholeness.”

3rd cup.  Today both Aviva Gold and Richard Rohr emailed about being “who God designed you to be,” being “true self,” living from the Source.  I think of painting the Red Woman, and my sense of being her servant, and now I’ve got it that my work on the human energy field is my contribution to healing the planet, and I couldn’t have done it without having been traumatized.  I couldn’t have done it without being born to wealth, and possibly without being treated as an unpaid servant. or maybe I saw, from looking at my parents’ lives, that I didn’t want to live a wealthy upperclass style of life.  Without Aunt Polly giving me “My Private Life” I might not have begun a journal. Aunt Polly was someone I didn’t like very much, and the book was a 5 year diary for teenagers, with sections about boyfriends, and other topics.  Some topics I completed, some I ignored, some I made fun of.  Certainly without the intense heartbreak when a boy I thought liked me fell in love with my best friend instead, I might not have started a journal.  I see how people I didn’t like, and situations I didn’t want contributed to my initiation into the World Order of Planet Servers.  Or was it Planet Savers?  That dream was from our “honeymoon” in Texas.  

I named the dream “Initiation into World Order of Planet Savers.”  Dana and I had gone to Texas and spent some time traveling around the landscape of southwest Texas, seeing the cliffs and canyons of a desert landscape.  The dream was on April 5, 1985.

In a big building, a club or institute for global studies.  There are many little models of a sacred city in Tibet.  Important meetings are taking place.  One of these gets out and a lot of people go into the part that has been closed off. It is a large room full of desks and typewriters, with dark green walls.  In the center is an octagonal chamber enclosed by glass and dark green marble walls. It is for a ritual cleansing.  I decide to take a shower. Ann Minor says she needs to take a shower at 11:00, can I do it in time.  I say yes but then realize I haven’t brought my towel.  Some complexity about how to get a towel.  Then  I think I might have a class at 11:00, but decide this is more important.

Some of us are returning from a meeting up at the top of the building.  We are climbing down over precarious book cases.  We discuss the rock of the Tibetan City, was it eroded or carved.  It could have been carved hundreds of years ago and then erosion made it look natural.  While climbing down I notice a small book that has my name on it as author.

Comment:  I’m in an environment where the worldwide sacred civilization is being taken seriously.  The part that has been closed off and the green walls suggest some integration of the unconscious.  I’m not sure about Ann Minor, she was one of the people I hated while in school, she may represent unconscious aspects of myself, ones I think of as “bad.”   The Tibetan City is a wonderful image of the working together of human and nature, and I have made a small contribution to this work.

Took a friend to the hospital.  Watching pictures of fires in California on TV in waiting room.  Made me so sad.  Though I told Elizabeth today that I was feeling like we might make it to an intelligent planet.  Right now is our initiation crisis.  Many many of us will die, mostly the ones dependent on wealth & power, but also many of the poorest living in places that are flooded, burnt, poisoned.  But the ones who are left will know that cooperation is essential to sustainability, that diversity is essential to regenerating the earth, and they will create paradise on this green & blue planet.

Elizabeth talked about watching Greta talk to the UN — how powerful she was — how did a young girl ever get to such a position.  I said the Universe had gently guided her there, the same way it guided me to Stonehenge.

This post is a combination of writings in my journal on Thursday, October 24.  A number of things happened that day that were significant to me.  Things that were messages from the outer world, like emails from Aviva Gold and Richard Rohr, and things that just “occurred to me,” like the dream I had in 1985.  I consider such things not thoughts from my rational intellect, but messages from my deeper self.  Another such message was about  the “Red Woman.”  I will have to address that in another blog post.  I put all these things together and found a new and greater understanding of who I am, and what I am called to do in the world.

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Looking at Jenny from Outside

I have been struggling with the question of whether I “love” life.  It’s something Stephen Jenkinson talks about, something that can become very strong when you realize that you are really going to die.  I hear people say they love life, and I can’t say it.  I guess I think I ought to, or I wish I could.

from Blog Post “Struggle with Self-Hate

written in September 2010

I’m comparing myself to Diane who’s “glad to be alive”, who faced life-threatening illness and lost both breasts.  That made me feel like I was just whining and complaining and feeling sorry for myself.  But I can’t “snap out of it,” I can’t consciously will myself to be any different.

So here I sit, hating myself for being such a wimp.  Somehow I’ve got to find a way to feel compassion for this poor woman who’s hating herself.  OK, take a big step back.  Here’s this woman who was traumatized in infancy, and taught as she grew up that every thing was her fault.  Especially if she was having a bad time, she was told “You just want to be miserable.” She was given no guidance and support for how to live a healthy life.  She struggled for years against debilitating bouts of depression and anxiety.  She got married, only to find that she was unable to be sexual, blaming herself until years after the divorce when she found out she was struggling with PTSD.  Now she’s getting older, and has less and less energy.  When she’s depressed, even the basics of buying and cooking food and walking the dog become difficult.  She just wants to die, and she hasn’t any energy to fight that either.

So I don’t know if I do “love life.”  In my experience it’s been tremendously hard work and having to go through an enormous amount of emotional pain.  I’ll be glad to lay the job down. 

Although I believe in re-incarnation, I know that when I die, “Jenny” will be gone.  The part of me that goes on to a new life is probably a part of me that I don’t even know.  It’s true that I’ve been working for a long time on developing a non-judgmental witness, and learning to look at myself from that viewpoint.  One of my practices has been, when I’m hating myself, to “take a big step back” and look at myself from a distance.

The more I separate from Jenny, and see her from the point of view of a non-judgmental witness, the more I love and admire her.  That’s so odd.  From so much self-hate, to see this person who has gone through so much, to see that she is brave and daring and very lovable.  There’s some quality I can’t name — maybe it’s what Jalaja means by “sweetness” — that Charlotte also talked about.  A childlike freshness, innocence, and curiosity.  I can see that, and I do love that person and feel honored to be her.  This is the gift of walking the dark road out of town.

In Jalaja Bonheim’s comment on my blog post for April 24, 2010, she says she sees “So much passion, devotion, creativity, and sweetness.”  When I first read that, I didn’t know what she was talking about.  But I so respect her as a teacher, and also my intuition knew that she had described me very exactly.  Her words got through my armor and I had to pay attention, even though I didn’t believe them.  Today, for the very first time, I see that quality in Jenny, and I am blown away by it.

The degree to which I have gotten clear of all the threads that tie me to Mother is shown by the fact that I haven’t, for a moment, while writing this, felt the fear that I was “thinking I’m so great.”

I owe this tremendous realization to Stephen and Gregory who pointed me the way to “the dark road that leads out of town.”

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Early Writings

Friday, September 27

Forgot to write that yesterday, in the middle of everything else — or maybe it was the day before — I got out some of my journal binders and started reading from the very first pieces.  I was mainly struck by the poems and also “The Journey.”  They are so bleak, stark empty landscapes, no color or softness.  Reading them now, I see the landscape of PTSD.  This is what my emotional life felt like.

Written some time during my freshman year (56-57) at the suggestion of a teacher that I try writing to music.  I was 14 years old.  The music I chose was the “Sacrificial Dance of the Chosen Virgin” from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  The Sacrificial Dance is the last piece.  Go to about 26 minutes.

The Journey

Gnarled and misshapen, the great tormented trees stand, their twisted limbs dripping with ancient moss.  Thick grey-green vines strangle the trees and lie seething in the underbrush.  The lurid rays of the dying sun drench the forest with their gory brilliance.

A man, lost and frightened by the greedy clutching vines, is trying to escape the trees which seem to be writhing horribly in the eerie glow.  A gush of low, blood-red laughter floats through the tortured branches.  A bat drops from the blasted vault of the sky, wheeling past his head, chilling him with a cold sliver of fear.  He plods on, terrified.  Another burst of evil laughter forces him to stumble down a bank of pebbles into a murky pool.  The slimy water stains his clothes as, horrified, he clambers out and staggers on.  The laughter becomes hysterical, convincing him that he will be imprisoned forever in this mad maze.

But then the din of a great swarm of insects tells him that there may yet be a way out.  Hope swelling inside, he runs toward the sound.  A bird shrieks a warning, the shuddering earth drops away before him.  At his feet is the edge of a precipitous cliff, a cascade of stones and rubble plummeting to the wide golden plain below.  He does not stop to wonder that now the sun is blazing hotly from the summit of the empty sky.  “Escape” is the only thought that flashes clear in his bewildered brain.  He begins the descent of the cliff, half-scrambling, half-running down a narrow ledge.  Suddenly the way is blocked.  Muscles cracking with effort, he begins the gigantic labor of scaling a mountain of huge rocks.

A moment ago a sunlit plain stretched level before him, now the ground ripples into primeval hills, the shattered arches of the sky close in on a strange, vague world.  Distorted shapes glide fiendishly in the unreal glow of bygone centuries; hideous, savage — their sinister forms whirl insanely about him.  Through these bizarre shadows a cave looms before him, stalactites gleaming like teeth.  His reeling mind cannot tell him whether he is running or floating, but at last he reaches the sanctuary.

A shaft of sunlight, quivering in the still air, and the exhilarating warble of a bird greet him.  His journey is ended.

Sometime in the spring of ’59

Whither?

From the utter darkness beyond eternity, past immense brimming spheres, and through the pulsing chasms between the stars, the tangled path was laid.  A solitary spark, adrift in the twilight depths, pursues its course.  Beyond the dark lanterns, across nebulous wastes it wanders under the vaulted cavern of absolute destiny.

A promontory awash with mists and liquid cloud, a tower with fettered casements, a stone webwork contracting — the shadow of the flame is flung into a windy hall.  The pillars melt, the marble floor, cold, polished, extends flat and dark eternally and beyond its endless end the sky is quiet with dawning shafts of light.

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Needing to make things safe for the baby

From my journal for September 23
Thinking about trying to tell my insistent friend why I can’t just switch to eating Vegan when I agree that it’s best for the planet, best for the animals.  I’ve been struggling to understand why I feel such extreme reluctance to change how I choose what to eat.  It’s the baby in me who needs to have food be safe, and I have no idea what represents “safe” to her.  I have been noticing my reluctance to try new things — this is recently.  I used to periodically walk further along the second floor before I went down to the first, or I’d go down the first elevator/stairs.  I’m not sure when it became important to go down by the card room every time.  I just noticed it, didn’t do anything about it.  When I was first here I was more willing to explore things.  But I think the baby is being more insistent on taking up more of my life.  It makes sense that, being here at Kendal, and finally feeling safe from being “sent back to Sears & Roebucks,” the baby said “now’s my chance to be heard” and started taking over more of my life.  I imagined, when I came here, that I would be able to have a “real life,” that I would be able to teach folk dance and astronomy, that I would go on hikes and snowshoe — and none of it happened.  My body behaved like Mocha, stubbornly sitting down and refusing to go where “I” wanted her to go.  A sprained ankle, a hurt back, extreme tiredness all slowed me way down.

3rd cup.  Yesterday morning, I was feeling shaky, there were even times at the Meetinghouse where I thought I would lose my balance and fall.  After crying with Bev & Dulany, I thought the best remedy for the blues is caffeine & chocolate.  So, feeling rebellious, I had a cup of coffee and a brownie.  I thought my tongue would hurt more, but it didn’t.

Bev & Dulany are two people I feel safe with.  When Bev asked how I was, I said OK, and she said “You’re not OK,” and I started to cry.  I thought I was being perverse to reach for coffee and chocolate, but I did feel better.  Of course it’s possible that having a good cry is what worked.

One result of eating sugar is that I get sores on my tongue.  I already had one, so eating a brownie was not a good idea.

I also saw, that when I wanted to finish my will and tax stuff, I just did the minimum.  Didn’t find  & add up the cost for medication, which I can deduct.  I did go over the will, but I didn’t mark things I wanted to have explained, and ask my lawyer to explain.  This is very “irresponsible” of me, but I think the baby’s welfare is more important.

Baby: “How can you think about death?  I never got a life!!”  I know, Sweetie.  I’m sorry.  I did my best and it wasn’t good enough.  You nearly died as a baby.

A quote from an interview of Bessel van der Kolk, posted on Daily Good:
Dr. van der Kolk: Trauma is something that overwhelms your coping capacities and confronts you with the thought: “Oh my God, it’s all over, and there’s nothing I can do. I’m done for. I may as well die.”

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Legacy

Because of Stephen Jenkinson, I’ve been thinking about my legacy.  I don’t care if people remember me.  If Neskaya’s still going, I expect they’ll have a memorial service like the one we did for Evie.  What I do know is that Neskaya and Circle Dance have changed many lives and started new dancing circles, and the ripples from that, the “wake” I’ve left behind, feels very good to me.  I think of Sues Dunlap telling me she was dancing with Mary & Floyd, because I had showed her some dances one summer.  I don’t remember where or why I taught them to her.  And I think of Carol & Tory telling me that my example of a woman who went to graduate school was important for them.  That really surprised me.  But I dropped out of Stanford, got hospitalized, lost a bike belonging to one of you…  you don’t remember anything of that?  And Jo telling me “Everything I know about Spirit I learned from you.”  There have been lots of times when people have told me “When you said such-and-such, it changed my life.”  I didn’t remember saying such-and-such, but recognized it as something that was so much a part of my thinking that I didn’t think of it as anything special.  Several people have told me that Circle Dance saved their lives.  I suppose that’s true of me too.  When you are depressed and can’t enjoy anything, what is still worth doing?  For me it was folk dance and then circle dance.  I remember a workshop at Kripalu, at the end of a guided meditation on dying, they started playing Neil Diamond’s song from Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and I sat up and began to improvise movement to the music.  A woman came up to me afterward where I sat writing in the dining room, and told me my dancing had changed her life.  All these things I did not believe at the time.  but I guess I recorded them on a virtual page headed “Evidence to disprove the hypothesis that Jenny is worthless.”  Now I can accept them as happening, but I’m still not quite sure that they mean I have been a source of good in the world.

What legacy did I receive?  I think of Jenny Murdoch and Gramps Clark and their death stories.  I realized recently, that my father gave me a lot.  He taught me to drive on my first car which had a stick shift, and how to “double clutch” and use the engine to slow the car down.  He taught me to balance my checkbook.  He read Deep Wood to me, and the poems of Robert Frost.  In fact I have, and treasure, a small paperback book of poetry, held together by a rubber band, that went with him through the war.  He described a scale model of the solar system — “Jupiter is a golf ball knocked out of the stadium” — and a scale time line for the earth collapsed into a day.  “All of recorded history is in the last second of the day.”  Mother’s sister Carolyn saw the attic room of our house in Maine as a “beatnik pad,” and gave me a record of Puccini’s La Boheme.  Following her instructions, I and two girl friends constructed “The Broken Bottle,” named for a champagne bottle broken in a ceremony.  It became a kind of play room for my siblings as they reached adolescence.  It was also the first appearance of the impulse to create special environments for creativity, play, and exploration.  That impulse reached its full flowering in Neskaya.  Aunt Betty, my father’s sister, kept a special eye on me as I was growing up.  She always gave me meaningful Christmas presents.  One Christmas she gave me a recording of two of Mozart’s late symphonies. I said “But Aunt Betty, I don’t like Mozart.”  (I preferred Stravinsky and Prokofiev.)  She said “Keep the records and learn to like him,” and I did.  In fact I bought a CD of them after wearing out two recordings on vinyl.  She also gave me the role model of going into therapy.  Aunt Mimi, a friend of our family who lived in Maine, offered me a mothering love, always glad to have me come for a meal.

My legacy from my mother?  A determination not to be like her.  And possibly also my sense of creating fun for people.  I remember a birthday party for me on the little beach at Biddeford Pool, I might have been five.  There were tiny clear plastic animals hidden around, and I saved some of them for a long time.  For her parties meant drinking, for me I tried to create events that were fun, but also fed the soul.

As well as my family legacy, I also was given a lot of valuable guidance and support by Miss Hill, my astronomy teacher at Wellesley, Deena Metzger and Jalaja Bonheim, and all of my therapists.

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The Suffering of God

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation

Sunday, September 22, 2019

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. —Etty Hillesum [1]

Just days before I began writing my book about the Universal Christ, I learned that I would have to put down my fifteen-year-old black Lab because she was suffering from inoperable cancer. Venus had been giving me a knowing and profoundly accepting look for weeks, but I did not know how to read it. Deep down, I did not want to know. After her diagnosis, every time I looked at her, she gazed up at me with those same soft and fully permissive eyes, as if to say, “It is okay. You can let me go. I know it is my time.” But she patiently waited until I, too, was ready.

In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness.

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Some mystics go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all and that there is only one suffering. It is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God. The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates that to the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us—much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think.

If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it:

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [2]

Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people?

from my 3rd cup of tea writing for September 22:

3rd cup.  Richard Rohr’s meditation for today was on the suffering of god.  He quotes Etty Hillesum.  What I read reminded me of that time when I was severely depressed and I went to Jan & Rick’s house in Warren.  I was sitting in the living room and there was a picture on the wall of the head of Jesus on the cross.  He’s wearing the crown of thorns and his head is bowed.  I looked at him and I thought “He knows just how I feel.  None of the other gods in the whole pantheon even cares how I feel.”  That completely changed my relationship with Jesus.  Slowly I came to the understanding that God suffers with every being that suffers unjustly: Christian, Muslim, Black, cow, honey bee…  Reconnecting with this truth, my whole body softened.  I feel sad, but I don’t feel armored and defensive as I have for a while.  Global warming — climate disruption — I’ve been feeling angry on behalf of the children and grandchildren, who will have to live with the consequences of the greed and deliberate ignorance fueling the acts of their elders, parents and grandparents.  

I’ve also been feeling angry and defensive because a friend sent me another long harangue on facebook about being vegan.  I keep getting caught in trying to explain to her.  I don’t think she will try to understand what my difficulties are.

 

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Death Stories

I’ve been collecting death stories for a long time.

The first is from my ancestor Jenny Murdoch. I’ve been told a story about her, I like to think of her as my mother’s mother’s mother, but it’s too late to find out now.  The story is that she was on the boat from Scotland, down in steerage, and there came a big storm.  She scrambled up to the deck, crying out “If I mus’ dee, let me not dee in darkness.”  That’s how I remember it.  That cry, in some ways, has been my guiding star:  I do not want to die in darkness. I have lived most of my life in severe depression.  I didn’t know, until I got on medication, that I had never had normal brain chemistry.  One of the things that kept me going through nearly 60 years was the determination that I would not die depressed.

I think of my grandfather, the summer of my sister’s wedding.  He was too frail to come to Maine, but my Aunt Carolyn, on her way home to San Francisco, stopped in Cincinnati to see him.  She took him a piece of wedding cake.  He asked several times if the wedding had happened, and Aunt Carolyn reassured him.  The day after she left, he called to the nurse to bring him his glasses.  So she did, and he said “Not those, I want my BEST glasses.”  She brought him his best glasses, he put them on, took a deep breath, and died.  It seemed to me that he knew at some level that the wedding was happening, and if he died before it happened, that would spoil it, so he was hanging on, until he was sure that his death would not disrupt anything.  That was just like Gramps, to leave courteously.  And I love that he wanted his best glasses.  He knew he was facing an extremely important experience, and he wanted to honor it.  I also want to meet death awake, with my best glasses on.

I do believe, to some extent, that we can choose our time to die. Someone who did some work for me, told me the story of his dad, who’d had lung cancer but been in remission.  When the cancer recurred, he said he didn’t want any surgery, chemo, etc.  In four days he was dead.  I think I can also choose to die instead of hanging around for one of those long slowly disintegrating illnesses. I don’t want to do what my parents did, both of them hung on and hung on.  They were both alcoholics who never got to step 1: surrender, admit that your life is unmanageable.  They were afraid of death, even though their quality of life had deteriorated.

By the time my father died, he had been unconscious for a number of days.  I had been home for the 4th of July (see monologue).  Before I left, he was taken to the hospital.  He was supposed to come home after the new treatment, so I had a plane ticket for July 23.  By that time it didn’t look as though he would be getting out of the hospital, but I went home anyway.  When I got home, mother told me I was the last to know.  He’d died while my plane was in the air.  It was pretty clear to me that, though unconscious, he somehow knew that help was on the way to my mom and it was OK for him to let go.

I also wrote, in March of that year:

My father’s health is worse.  The throat cancer has recurred and there isn’t anything they can do about it this time.  He will probably die by choking on his own blood.  What a horrible way to go.  I cried when I heard about it, thinking about that poor man facing such a death with no resources at all, no self-discipline, no spiritual faith, no courage and dignity strengthened by practice.  He’s spent his whole life avoiding discomfort, now he has to face this.  Unless the habit of denial allows him to avoid the knowledge of his death even at this point.

Another friend’s husband had ALS.  I believe the death from that is a horrible one, the person essentially stops breathing.  As John was getting closer to death, at what would be his last Thanksgiving, his five daughters all gathered for a farewell dinner with their dad and mom.  That afternoon, they all went off do do things, and when they were all gone, John died.  I’m sure he wanted to spare his loved ones the experience of his actual death.

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There is no Planet B

3rd cup.  I see that the killing of the planet is what’s making looking at my own life and death be more meaningful than struggling to get my taxes done.  It makes everything I have to do to keep going have no point.  Avaaz sent out a variety of statements & pictures, encouraging you to take a picture of yourself with a sign if you can’t get to a march and send it to them.  A lot of signs saying “THERE IS NO PLANET B.”  One said “There’s no point educating our kids for a future that doesn’t exist.”  It makes me more determined to be on that bus at 6:42.  I can’t say that turning inward and being occupied with death and grief is more important or more worthwhile than joining a group to do something real, physical, visible.  What I feel is a tremendous tug down and in, into the North, the darkness, wrestling with the demon in the dark dark wood.  Grieving that PTSD made it impossible to really enjoy the little moments of beauty or kindness.  Grieving that PTSD and aging killed the good life I had in Franconia — maybe it’s truer to say that PTSD wounded my ability to live a good life, and it got to the point where I couldn’t keep going by myself.  Why did I choose this for myself if that’s what I did?  I look forward to talking over Jenny’s life with my “family group” in the astral realm (or wherever they are).

Instructions from a dream I had long long ago: “Go down, under, and through.”

I badly need a lift of the heart.

The bus at 6:42 AM is the one that’s recommended to Kendal residents, because the gathering for the chain of people from the high school in Hanover to the one in Norwich starts at 7:30AM.  Getting up that early is very tricky for me.

Why did I choose this for myself…?  The idea is given in books by Michael Newton and Robert Schwartz who have done research through hypnosis and psychics.  John Newton had many clients who remember a similar process for the time between one life and the next one.  This process involves getting together with a number of souls who have been together for thousands of years and often incarnate in the same life where they interact.  I call them a “family group” because that’s what happens in the mornings at Kindred Spirits.  We all get together and each person speaks truly about their life, and they are listened to with love and without judgement.

One of the ways I image my death is that I stop breathing and wake up, sit up, and say “Wow, I was Jenny. What an intense lifetime!”  It will be like the final night of a performance of a play.  You will be sad not to play that part again, but you will have learned a lot.

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