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November 21, 2012

Moments of Grace: Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving week I am in Florida, sitting in a Hospice center with a dying friend. As many of you know, tending to the needs of a loved one who is nearing the end of life is a blessing and an honor.  But it can also change quickly into feeling like a curse, depending on the levels of fear, anger, denial, and pain being experienced by the person coming to terms with their dying.

The day before yesterday was a good day. From the moment I walked into the room where my friend lay, until I left several hours later, there was a feeling of lightness in the room that was not there the day before, nor the day after. As I entered, S raised her head and smiled angelically in greeting; the dark imprint of fear and anger that was there the evening before erased from her features.  We connected in ways that I’d hoped we would again before her passing: quiet talk of shared memories and pleasant camaraderie, even a few moments of honestly facing the facts of her demise as we discussed  the slowing of bodily functions, the body’s way of shutting down and bringing closure to life in the here and now. There was an air of peace that felt like sheer Grace as we explored this letting go as I gently rubbed her feet. Gone for the moment were the usual feelings of intense panic, anger, and sadness over her multiple losses of personal control, unfulfilled dreams (she had never written that book she had meant to write), and having to leave all that is dear to her in this life.  Not that I judge those feelings as bad.  Who wouldn’t be thrown into despair when facing a dread disease like cancer? But, thankfully, while it has ravaged her body and at times darkened the thoughts of my friend's mind, cancer has not destroyed her beautiful spirit.

Just hours before this day of blessing, I was wondering what I personally could do to brighten S's remaining days; to make her last hours memorable.  Intention sent. Problem solved!
That morning I walked in to my friend’s Hospice room to find her not only more lucid than she had been in a while, but infinitely more cheerful as she asked if I would read to her from the newspaper (it had been weeks since she had shown any interest in the outside world). Disregarding everything  except the editorials she loves, I read to her while she smiled and dozed happily on and off. Later, she shared her fear of being judged by her Hospice caregivers when she couldn’t perform simple functions like going to the toilet and holding her own glass of water. Being in Hospice care is an exceptionally vulnerable position for my fiercely independent friend to be in. She, who had chosen to never marry and who had earned her Ph.D. in psychology as a young woman with little help from her own dysfunctional family, had not relied on others for much physical or emotional support in her adult life. Once out in the open, her concerns about being weak, needy, and insignificant, as well as her fears about the Hospice staff, didn’t take long to resolve. This helped her to move on to her biggest challenge: moving through the process of physically dying. Blessed day! She really seemed to grasp that it was time to let go and let others lovingly care for her as she had done in her counseling practice for so many others.  

Ah well, that was then and this is now. Today is not such a light-filled day. But S is not back at ‘square one,’ not by a long shot. She has spiraled up to a higher plane as she circles back to confronting her fears, anger, sadness, and loss of control. As they say in the 12-Step Program: one day at a time. And as I say at times like these: one minute at a time. Each step forward reminds me as a caregiver to give thanks for those special moments of grace, the ones that connect my friend and me, heart to heart.  Two mortal beings, facing the same ultimate fear of dying.

Happy Thanksgiving!



November 2, 2012

Elections, Shift Happens, and Revised Thoughts About The Villages

In a few days we will have the results of the presidential, congressional, and local elections, ending a ridiculously polarized and contentious campaign season. Although the stakes are high in all our minds, I for one am ready to smooth down my ruffled feathers and have the election over with. A few weeks ago I voiced my concerns about the outcome of this election to a Wise Woman, author and healer I am graced to know in Berkeley where I live, Carolyn North. Carolyn put the whole fear-of-negative-outcomes thing in perspective for me. She told me that the way she deals with her own fears and desires to have things go a certain way is to look at the Big Picture and the deeper history of world events. That way she sees ‘above the fray’ to witness how systems blossom and decline in cycles, sometimes up and sometimes down, from an individual and cultural perspective. We must have confidence that the wheel will come around to healing of the earth and her systems again and again. As for those of us who are currently concerned about future generations and the kind of culture and ecosystem we are leaving for our children and their children, Carolyn believes that we have opted to ‘be here now’ at this pivotal point in time to help birth into the world a new paradigm of joy, unity, and partnership. Try as we may individually, this shift might not happen on a collective level in our lifetime. But, our intentions, beliefs, and actions will eventually shed light on the future—as sure as day follows night. Carolyn has presented this and other inspired ideas in her most recent book, World Shift Happens: Facing Down the Fear, and Waking Up the Mind. I highly recommend this and other books by Carolyn to all who are willing to“open [their] minds and hearts to new ways of thinking and being.”

And so, the pun “shift happens” brings me around to a synchronicity I experienced shortly after writing my last blog post titled “What Gives Life Meaning?” I wrote that rather unflattering post about a retirement community in Florida called The Villages while I was visiting family and friends in another part of Florida. On the first leg of the trip back home to California, from Tampa to Philadelphia, I ‘just happened’ to sit next to a woman from…you guessed it...The Villages! We struck up a conversation right away, even though I personally tend to be more quiet and solitary on airplanes. However, B’s sweet demeanor and openhearted conversational style was infectious, and I found myself talking with her for the full two and a half hours, or so, of the flight. We chatted about our families, aging, retirement, change, and just about everything under the sun, which (no pun intended) brought us around to her having just moved from the family home in Pennsylvania to Florida, at The Villages. Right then I thought, “Uh, oh, the universe is going to give me a lesson here. Better listen up!”

A lesson it was! B is the farthest thing from my stereotypical image of the kind of person who might move to The Villages…she is not a golfer, hasn’t joined any game clubs per se, and 100 percent welcomes diversity in her life. She shared with me the fact that she has a gay son and her relief that the people whom she told that information to in The Villages community in which she lives all seemed not only unconcerned, but also welcoming! This included the lesbian couple she met at the pool one day. B also told me of finding a sense of personal meaning in the peace and natural beauty of The Villages, and how uplifting it has been for her since she moved there. As I'm sure it is for others, no matter what their inclinations toward golf and other reasons were for moving there.

Yes, universe you can consider my meeting B a point well taken about not making snap judgments. It has opened my mind to another way of perceiving the world from a higher perspective (as Carolyn advised) than the one I find at the tip of my own nose. I have even accepted an invitation and am looking forward to visiting B and her husband at The Villages the next time I’m in Florida! That all being said, this meaningful coincidence doesn’t diminish my love of Berkeley and the lifestyle I feel so comfortable with here, it just adds to my understanding of others' choices, and for that I am grateful.



Information about Carolyn North: Carolyn North teaches movement and sound for healing, and writes about consciousness using the metaphors embedded in her own life. She is the author of 13 books on cutting edge subjects such as Synchronicity, the Chakras, Conscious Dying, Crop Circles etc. Her books include: - IN THE BEGINNING: Creation Myths from Around the World; - ECSTATIC RELATIONS: Love Stories From the Field; - SERIOUS FUN: Ingenious Improvisations on Money, Food, Waste, Water and Home (ISBN: 978-1844095407), and now WORLDSHIFT HAPPENS! the sequel to Serious Fun.

Carolyn’s website: http://www.CarolynNorthBooks.com/