the shift

Cooler temperatures, rain, and a hint of color on the trees remind me that a new season is at-hand. After months of spontaneous decisions, modified schedules, and road construction, I’m ready to return to the basics of harvesting, shorter days, and introspection. With this presence, I move into a time of reflection and gratitude.

This meditation is just what is needed to reel me in from my summer adventures and remind me of the value of refocus.  Additionally, it may be used during active dying or by the loved ones of someone who is actively dying.

Meditation IV

My mind states,  An energy greater than I am is within and around me. It is also in all matter and living things.

Yet I am dying, whether living in hospice or waking up to another day at home. I know this is part of the life cycle, yet sometimes I wonder if I have been forgotten. Bombarding thoughts hold me hostage.

Unseen, yet profound, they insist on my witness. Listening, even hearing their drone, is all-consuming. It is too much. I wish for silence.

Now thoughts are beginning to slip away; something else is taking their place. Something inside me shifts, and I suddenly feel different, comforted and at ease.

Clarity.

I feel my heart breaking…O P E N!

I love wildly!

I am not afraid to ask for forgiveness.

I liberally forgive.

I am intensely grateful.

Within, I am soothed; light appears and wholeness emerges.

My heart whispers, Kindness, presence, love without conditions. Finally mind and heart come together.

Hours of reflections follow yet remain unknown to others.

No matter: I am not forgotten.

From a higher vantage: During the interim between seasons, find space and time to consider the depth of things. Surface exploration is a quick look; there was a season for that. Now it’s time to refocus on the significance of the more profound stories. Nothing is forgotten.

© 2019 in the thick of things

are you sharing?

I am dying. Don’t think that I’ve been keeping a secret. No, without a doubt, this is simply the state of things—for me and for all energies. As soon as I think these words (not even say them), a quiet panic sets in. My stomach tightens. I get a headache. My pulse races, and I am extremely alert. I immediately begin a reality check.

The sunrise is still breathtaking. An unidentified bird’s nest, hosting two different kinds of eggs, is still nestled in the spring wreath near the back door. The half-empty seed packet of Swiss Chard is still bundled where I left it yesterday. These things confirm that I am still connected to the universe. In ways great and small, I identify with each of these visions. I want to keep them with me. To embrace them. To not let them slip away.

Thinking the words, I am dying, points to a duality that confronts me. On one hand, what I love, know, and don’t want to let go of—what I’m identifying with—people, animals, plants or material goods will eventually become memories. So, I cling even more intensely.  On the other hand, it is this constant clinging that causes more distress, regret, and disappointment—all forms of suffering—as I live and approach my death.

“We are dominated by everything with which we are identified, and we have dominion over everything from which we disidentify.”                                                      

~Roberto Assagioli, Italian psychiatrist and pioneer in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology

During the first half of life, I devoted love, purpose, and time in raising children, getting to know people, working my careers, volunteering, and trying to understand life.

Now, during the second half of life, I’m learning more about me. I appreciate that all my earlier interactions contributed to the truth of who I am. Yet, it goes deeper. Now I understand that I don’t need labels or other external measures to prove my truth. Loving relationships with family and friends matter most and not having to strive or protect anything softens my heart.

Practicing living simply; appreciating, accepting, and then letting go of circumstances; and connecting with others in love inspires living fully and dying well. When I identify with anything that I feel I MUST have, INSIST on, have PREFERENCES for, or DEPEND on, it means that I am tightening my heart which is a form of resistance. The antidote? Enjoy everything in life without controlling. No clinging. This approach offers independence and freedom, a way to live L A R G E L Y.

How do I stop clinging?  I begin with small and seemingly insignificant things. How about a Snickers Bar? I appreciate its flavor, texture, and how it makes me smile. There was a time when I thought I had to have a bar every day—and, for a while, I did—just the small size, of course! Not going to the vending machine for this treat gave me cause for an attitude adjustment. Now I live in a body that sickens at the addition of sugar. Excluding Snickers Bars makes me feel better, even if I do think about them from time to time.

Losing a favorite pair of earrings, however, is another level of intensity that would send me into a tail spin of clinging. If I received the earrings as a gift, it would be very difficult not to feel highly emotional or rant and rave in an attitude of lack for days. I would cling to their memory or to the memory of the person who gave them to me. Initially, I would not forgive myself for having lost them. Eventually, I noticed that this thought affected other parts of my life in a negative way. Over time, practice in letting go of experiences, not clinging, showed me that this was not a life or death matter. Rather, it was an extremely unfortunate one:  one attributed to humanness.

Consider the picture at the top of this narrative. Assuming the role of the mama bird, I would be faced with a much greater level of intensity regarding clinging:  the safety of my four, unhatched eggs.  Arriving at my nest, I would find the addition of a larger, whitish-brown egg with markings—probably from the neighborhood, brown-headed cowbird. She used my nest for brood parasitism. This is her mode of operation: She expected me to hatch and feed her egg.     

More than forgotten Snickers Bars and lost earrings, based on my species, I might cling to my eggs and eject the odd egg from the nest. I could abandon the nest but would lose my own brood. Or perhaps I would hatch all the eggs and feed all the babies—taking a chance that the loud cries of the baby cowbird might attract predators. Hatching and feeding new chicks is both a sacrifice and an inconvenience on many levels. Do I cling or let go? Nature can be cruel.

Human again, I have practiced letting go of somewhat insignificant things. This is helpful preparation as I realize that I am dying a little each day. I recognize that people, animals, plants, and material goods can slip away, and that’s all right. I have no need to forever embrace them or to keep them with me. They are meant to be shared with the universe.

From a higher vantage:  I pay attention to people and things in my environment, value them for their role in my life, am grateful for them, and yet understand that, at some point, I will not be taking them with me as I die. I feel safe, loved, and free because I do not hang on to, identify with, or cling to that which is around me. Love accompanies my essence.

© 2019 in the thick of things

masks

Pièce de résistance. Why would intuition bring forward that term when contemplating yet another question regarding death? What do we resist? That which we resist is what we most need to explore. Yet, pièce de résistance, borrowed from the French, suggests three different meanings in life: “1) Creative masterwork or masterpiece, 2) Best achievement of an author, artist, representing a major life effort, or 3) Finest part of something, especially a meal” https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pi%C3%A8ce_de_r%C3%A9sistance. Are any of these definitions applicable to the dying and death experiences? The initial answer came, No! It’s just part of the vocabulary gleaned from a French minor completed in college. Yet, thoughts found the perspective intriguing. Yes! This noun perfectly describes life, death and dying.

Death is our crowning masterpiece, a culmination of the experiences we came to earth to explore. Death brings together our major life efforts—what we have learned, what we have given back, and how we have lived our purpose, recalling that our shared primary purpose is to learn the truth of who we are. Like food, death and dying are surrounded by rituals. Whether sitting down to a glorious meal with traditional table service and generationally-inspired, succulent entrees or witnessing our final moments amid the gifts of others’ stories, singing, and private moments, our intention is the finest, sharing our journey with family, friends, and community. We are not separate or alone, rather loved, safe and at ease; Source is with us.

Until we accept this awareness, we continue to “dig in,” often in subtle ways. Resistance seems to be one of many built-in paths honed by Ego. Justified and well-protected, these paths become patterns to live by. We advocate according to our comfort level. Everything outside of that range is questioned or dismissed, a sign of resistance. Many of us attribute resistance to our strong values and convictions; culturally, we believe this to be a good thing. And, it may be, to a point. It is only when these beliefs become exclusive to any other ways of thinking or being that we experience separateness. On go the masks!

Disconnection queries without facts; births misunderstandings that lead to grudges; withholds forgiveness from ourselves and from others; starts or accepts rumors to abet our own agendas; demonstrates one-upmanship through status, wealth, or talents; creates self-sabotaging thoughts or comments; or assigns blame. This is resistance to “what is.” We believe that these behaviors are acceptable and the “norm” in society. In reality, not only do these behaviors separate us from each other, but they separate us from Source. They are NOT of truth nor of the present moment, which is all we are given.

“The ego believes that in your resistance lies your strength, whereas in truth resistance cuts you off from Being, the only place of true power. Resistance is weakness and fear masquerading as strength. What the ego sees as weakness is your Being in its purity, innocence, and power. What it sees as strength is weakness. So the ego exists in a continuous resistance-mode and plays counterfeit roles to cover up your ‘weakness,’ which in truth is your power.”

~Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, pp. 215-16

In working toward discovering the truth of who we are, our wholeness, we explore what we resist, that which we mask to the world; its roots; and resistance itself. In the sunset years of life, it is to our benefit to revisit ideas or behaviors that, years earlier, we challenged, opposed, or denied for any reason. A second look now could usher in a new perspective as we approach our inevitable death and those of our loved ones. Research shows that those who devote time today to inner contemplation of their death, experience less fear, fewer regrets, more ease, and more love at the actual time of death.

Last Saturday night I awoke to a queasy stomach, shortness of breath, and overall anxiety. I was resisting my sanity in offering a gathering to talk about all things death-related the next afternoon. Ego brazenly posed questions about the validity of my idea: Why is a perfectly normal woman like you bringing such a “morbid” (others’ words) gathering to Northfield? You can’t imagine that anyone would come (I had four positive and two “maybe” RSVP’s)?! This is a ridiculous idea! You’ll see—it will flop. No one willingly chooses to discuss the dying process and death (I considered those to be inciting words).

Half an hour had lapsed, and I noted little change in my physical ailments. I acknowledged Ego and openly accepted the possibilities she mentioned. So what? Me! Die? was not a life or death matter—even though we couldn’t talk about one without talking about the other! This gathering was an opportunity to bring Death out of the closet. By coming together in community to discuss views, fears, anxieties, and questions about death (and ultimately, life!), we would be living our finite lives more fully. Stories would join us too.

So what was going on in my mind about resistance in general, beyond the hosting of this specific gathering? Introducing an idea that is considered culturally “taboo” by most is swimming upstream—labeling and challenging. Yet my higher Self knew that I had been divinely led to pursue this path as a way to fulfill my purpose of healing and awakening others through words and healing energy—a respectful path of service. Over these thoughts I heard, You are not alone. I am with you. Only two other times in my life had I received words from Source. Grateful for this ultimate confidence, my over-stimulated nervous system was calmed. I relaxed and went back to sleep.

I had been questioning (resisting) the logic of my purpose and Source’s support; it was as if two personalities were arguing in my head. I was not leading with my heart. By yielding to my resistance (that my purpose was misaligned, not valuable), I understood, by contrast, the clarity of my higher Self. Miracles (my in-the-middle-of-the-night encouragement and a successful gathering) of Source followed. The right seven people participated in the Sunday afternoon Me! Die? dialogues. One commented, It was a very rich, meaningful experience. A good beginning.

Inwardly speaking: Recognizing and acknowledging our resistant actions and behaviors allows us to move beyond them and witness our truth.

© 2015 in the thick of things

Trust the Unknown

My 148-year-old rocker was waiting for me. I sat down and began to focus on my breath, feeling its familiar rising and falling to a count of six. Relaxed and comfortable, I continued in this way until time seemed non-existent. I began to recall impermanence and how it touches everything in the universe except Source. This means that all energy and matter follows a cycle of life evolving into death. Nothing is exempt. Strangers, acquaintances, neighbors, friends, and relatives came to mind. The last category hit a nerve, as one of my relatives is currently experiencing a health crisis. My breathing quickened and became shallow. Keeping the same inhale count, I lengthened my exhale to a count of eight, which usually relaxes my sympathetic system (fight or flight reflex). This small change seemed to help.

I remembered the cycle of life evolving into death demonstrated in the forming and crashing of waves, changing seasons, planting and harvesting the garden, letting go of beloved pets, and even regenerating my skin cells. I know life moves to death, and the cycle continues to repeat. These examples were substantiated by experience.

Suddenly, something in me became highly alert. The words, Nothing is exempt, resurfaced. Wait a minute—I’m personally involved. I am matter and energy. My death is certain. Actually, each day I get a bit closer to my unknown expiration date. My body, mind, emotions, and Ego will die. Quick breathing returned, accompanied by a racing heartbeat and sweaty palms. I felt sick. I heard an insistent voice.

Ego  What is going on?

Higher Self  I am thinking about my own life into death cycle, my death.

Ego Why are you doing that? It will only upset you.

Higher Self  What you really mean is that thinking about death and dying upsets you because it leads to your demise.

Ego  Well, I don’t know about that (I can’t admit to HS, that s/he is right!)

Higher Self Thinking about death and dying in the moment helps me to figure out what really matters for living and to make decisions that count. I can be myself.

Ego  Decisions are up for grabs. If you don’t like something, just change your thinking. Besides, don’t you already know what matters? Trips, wealth, electronic devices, cars, boats, houses, travel, clothes—that’s what I say. The more, the merrier!

Higher Self  By giving myself time and going inward, I discover what truly matters and let everything else simply “be.” The things you just named are “stuff” and they echo appearances, not who I truly am. Without attention, the “stuff” will have no meaning.

Ego  That’s a huge leap—no longer focusing on things that have anchored decades of your life.

Higher Self  Yes, but love, kindness, generosity and service hold a deeper meaning for me now. Becoming these characteristics defines my living.

Ego  And what about me? Am I not important any longer?

Higher Self  I appreciate your guidance regarding safety. Yet, as I age, I choose simplicity in all things and appreciate the clarity of “being” over “doing,” of fewer regrets, and of less fear in losing control. My direction is sure. I feel lighter and happier. I Am remerging with Source, knowing that my essence is well-cared for.

Ego  I won’t be around, yet I admire your conviction.

As the awareness of being in my rocker returned, I realized that I had equated death with me. I felt slightly better, relieved that I had moved in the direction of thinking about death, saying “death” aloud, and exploring its meaning. I know that this is just the beginning of my dialogues. More questions need exploration. More wisdom is forthcoming. More acceptances are in store.

I am slowly realizing that I am more than my body, my mind, and my emotions. I Am the observer and what is observed all at once. My “being” affects the “being” of every thing. The rocker grounds me with love and support; its silent stories evoke warm memories. We are a lot alike, my rocker and I. We offer service in this plane, yet our essences radiate heart and care.

Contemplating my dying process and death is not a one-time experience. To create more awareness of Self, I return daily to learn greater understanding of this culmination of life, knowing that successive dialogues will be easier. Source gives me insights as I am ready to receive and digest them—all in divine order. I welcome these knowings and feel them with a full heart. Collectively, they are the vast unknown that I trust, beginning with the mysteries of arrival in and departure from this plane. Had I been aware of what birth would be like, I may not have chosen to participate. Yet, here I am, no worse for the adventure. Without resistance, hope unfolds. As in birth, death is a solitary proposition. People may surround me with great love, tenderness, and anticipation of the Beyond, yet I, alone, will make the journey. Opening my heart to death, little by little, I will continue to explore questions, being grateful for insights.

 

Inwardly speaking: Can you find examples of impermanence? This is Source’s way of showing you that death is part of the life of every thing. Death is neither bad nor good. It just is, a natural part of life. Say “death” and know that you don’t need to fight it.

 

© 2015 Barbara L. Krause

No, Thank You!

My friend’s eyes grew three sizes bigger.

 

You’re going to do what? she asked in disbelief.

 

Paul and I are applying to become hospice volunteers, I answered.

 

Do you have any idea what you’re getting into? The work is draining and highly demanding, she continued. It’ll consume you.

 

Have you ever worked with hospice patients? I knew she hadn’t; yet, like many others who believed themselves to be excellent armchair coaches, she thought she should advise me. I feel it will be a special time of bonding and learning lessons for living.

 

Well, I can think of other industries in which I’d rather work. We’ll all die soon enough. Why would you want to be part of that time in a stranger’s life? It’s nothing but sadness, negativity, and drama. No, thank you! You would have to drag me to get me to even talk about death, let alone try to cheer up dying people.

 

When questioned about why I have chosen to volunteer with hospice patients, my heart and mind know that the dying have much to share. They are also highly authentic. Since I’m drawn to write and speak to end-of-life experiences, offering quiet presence to a dying person and family feels right. As a witness, I can take on another’s suffering so that space is made available for Source to do what is needed. It is a way for me to offer love, compassion, and service.

 

Yet, I did ponder this conversation for some time. As humans, we are constantly making assumptions, resulting in tightening our hearts. For example, when people make a statement that creates a question or intimidates us, we quickly think something is wrong with that person or that we don’t have the whole story. Judging is automatic. Egos must fill voids with something…anything, and that’s how misinterpretations become the norm. Anything outside of the morés of a culture creates fear, and choosing to be around dying people and their families is a choice involving an open heart.

 

Another assumption from this dialogue is that it is difficult enough to bear the suffering of a family member, but absolutely insane to take on the suffering of a stranger. What possible good could come of it? Self-centered, we can’t imagine opening our heart to a stranger who is suffering. Aren’t we pressed for time? Aren’t we thinking of too many things already? Aren’t we underqualified to take on such suffering?

 

There is a fear that talking about death will bring it closer to us. If we don’t talk about it, then it’s not happening. Believed not to be open for public or private discussion, death presumably lurks in the darkness of our lives. Yet it accompanies us in broad daylight. Take breathing, for example. Each breath that is birthed in us comes automatically without thought. We trust that it will be there, and it is. Each exhale of the breath is death to that stream of air. “Normal respiration rates for an adult person at rest range from 12-16 breaths per minute.” http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/ We experience the cycle of life and death of a breath at least twelve times in each minute—normality at its best. The predictable cycle of life and death is also demonstrated in deciduous trees. Leaves are birthed in stages from buds to flowers to leaves, only to change colors and fall to the ground months later. We can teach children about the ordinary life and death cycle when we care for a pet well into its declining years. Observing these cycles is a natural part of our growth. Death, itself, is instinctive and commonplace. It is with us from our birth.

 

Another assumption from the dialogue is that we go to the dying and their families to “cheer them up.”  We feel that we must do something and we’re uncomfortable when we’re not. Actually, we just need to “be,” as witnesses, holding space for the family and loved one to come together, to be transformed in gratitude, forgiveness, and love.

 

“I have been with a thousand dying people. The tragedy I’ve witnessed is not that life is impermanent or sometimes cut short, but that we often only see in hindsight what really matters. Sitting with others on the precipice of death offers us a view that is an extraordinary gift…It reveals both the precarious and precious nature of our life. It illuminates what is most important and reminds us that we don’t have time to waste.”

~Frank Ostaseski, “The Heart of the Matter” Workshop; Director of Metta Institute, Sausalito, CA.

 

Death is a legacy to our families, communities, and universe, and we vehemently reject it until we are cornered. Then, ranting and raving, we fear loss of control, the anonymity behind our labels, and expiration of time to pursue unfinished business.

 

Indeed, there is a huge, heavy elephant in the room, and all along we have denied it. Saying Yes, please! we turn toward death, talk about it, and feel that it is a natural part of our existence. In doing so, we accept this part of our life cycle. Overcoming strangled hearts and voices, we approach the elephant in the room, partner with it, and welcome the gift of transformation to our higher Self. We know who we are and arrive where we started. Home feels so good.

 

Inwardly speaking: Look for moments that the universe shares the life to death cycle. Breathe steadily and easily as you observe these moments, remembering that this cycle is a gift that helps prepare us to view death as a participant, rather than as a victim.

 

 

© 2015 Barbara L. Krause

One Cycle Fits All

It is a natural and normal function within the universe. It is natural and normal for all energies. It is natural and normal for humans, being. The full cycle of emergence, existence, and dissolution (commonly recognized as beginning, middle, and end) is part of our DNA. We cannot escape, completely deny, or make it go away. Why, then, are we so resistant to embracing the cycle, especially when it is labeled birth, life, and death?

 

Let’s consider this cycle as it applies to our bodies, starting with life-giving breath. We don’t even think about what is happening with our breath. Breathing naturally and normally is automatic; we do not need to do anything. As humans, being, we have the comfort of Source breathing us.

 

Biological rhythms are another part of our internal functioning that operates on cycles. Affected individually by physical, mental, and emotional rhythms we personally observe fluctuations inherent in emergence, existence, and dissolution. Sleep apnea, jet lag, night shift work, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are reactions to our unique biological rhythms. “People frequently talk about body clocks, a term that refers to the patterns of energy and exhaustion, functioning and resting, and wakefulness and sleep that characterize everyday life.” http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Biorhythms.aspx.

 

Many of our cells naturally regenerate at their prescribed rate. Stomach cells regenerate in two to nine days, while red blood cells regenerate every four months. Another example is a cut finger. Ten to thirty days covers the cycle of emerging damage, existing healing, and dissolution of the cut. On the other hand, the cells in the lens of our eyes never regenerate. We carry these cells (or deficiencies due to injury) with us for life. http://book.bionumbers.org/how-quickly-do-different-cells-in-the-body-replace-themselves/

 

A constant presence behind-the-scenes, this cycle doesn’t phase most of us until a major trauma occurs. Even then, we tend to dismiss the event, wondering why it had to happen in the first place. That is impermanence showing up, carrying with it another opportunity to be in the present moment, to accept circumstances. When we pay attention to the cycle at-hand and understand it to be a natural and normal part of daily living, we develop an attitude of ease. Resistance fades. Practicing acceptance when life does not go the way we expect will help us to live with less fear, anxiety, and insistence on control. In that space, we offer more love to ourselves and to others. Recognizing and understanding the cycle of emergence, existence, and dissolution is paramount to witnessing near-death, death, and after death experiences as a time of growth.

 

Time and time again, Source has provided internal examples of the natural and normal cycle of emergence, existence, and dissolution. Accepting this cycle in our living years will condition us to embrace our own nearing death experiences, the actual moment of death, and the after death experience with less resistance, denial, and fear. Let’s think of remerging with Source as passages of growth, love, and light.

 

We look forward to births and the “years of our becoming.” We express gratitude for safe passage, loving wishes for the unique unfolding of essence, fulfillment of passion and purpose, community support, and awareness of grace from Source. May we accept these aspects and align with them in death.

 

 

Inwardly speaking: May we be in life as we wish to be in death. Like the Phoenix from Greek mythology that finds its new beginning, leaving behind blazing flames (resistance) or simple decomposition (acceptance), we have a choice in spinning our legacy.

 

 

© 2015 Barbara L. Krause