Interdependence Day

Guthrie Center – 7/3/16

Here is a talk I gave at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington on July 3.  A few people have asked for copies of it, so here it is…

 

I would like to wish you all a very happy Independence Day this weekend.  Independence, freedom, autonomy, the Puritan work ethic with its belief that if you work hard, YOU will succeed are all the foundation this country was built on.  But today, we need more than that.  We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard, so I would like to invite you to move towards the notion of honoring Interdependence Day in your life and your community. 

 

Many consider the ability to tap into our oneness to be a significant part of our spiritual nature– to be able to see and experience the unity, and therefore the interdependence, that exists between us all.  This notion starts with tolerating each other’s beliefs, choices, traditions, and quirks so we can live in relative peace with each other in an overpopulated world – but it goes way beyond that.  Way beyond tolerance. 

 

First of all, it requires us to accept – even embrace - that as humans we all have every trait, every possibility within us.  This often takes us to an uncomfortable place because we don’t want to look at our shadow, that part of us that is capable of so much darkness, even killing.  I once heard a spiritual teacher talk about her long lineage of being a lightworker – that for the last 500,000 years she has consistently worked to bring peace and light to this world in all her incarnations.  I don’t know of anyone that has not experienced, even caused, darkness in their life or the lives of others. I know I have been gifted with some very dark, hard awareness of me in earlier lives choosing power over everything, sacrificing hundreds if not thousands of people in the building of that power.  I was jarred by this realization and it took me months to find some peace around it and be able to integrate it within me.  I innately knew, however, that this was crucial to me being able to see myself in others and others in me.  The Upanishads from the Hindu tradition offers this perspective in the teaching “He who sees all beings in his Self and his Self in all beings, he never suffers; because when he sees all creatures within his true Self, then jealousy, grief and hatred vanish.”

 

Peace activist and Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn also writes about this beautifully in the poem, Call Me By My True Names.  His words:

 

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

 

It is powerful – and important – to remember that we truly can never know what we’d do if we were walking in another’s shoes.  It helps me to come from empathy and compassion instead of judgement and separation.

 

Another beautiful practice in honoring our interdependence is the Native American tradition that their elders consider the impact of any of their decisions on 7 generations from today.  Consider how easily our Congress could pass reasonable gun control laws if they looked at the escalation in violence and mass shootings and saw how that would play out over the next 7 generations if allowed to continue unchecked.  Think about one GE executive having the courage to bring up the environmental impact of PCB’s in the land and water of this community for the next 150 years as opposed to the financial hit of cleaning it up the right way and what that will do to the next quarter’s stock performance.  And think about the little shortcuts you take in your life that add just a little bit to the pollution and the downfall of Mother Earth.  The can you throw in the garbage instead of the recycling because it would take too much to clean it out.  The times you choose to drive to the city instead of taking the train because it’s more convenient.  The purchase you make supporting the company you know has unethical principles because it’s cheaper or fits in with your décor best.  That’s where it gets uncomfortable – but it truly does need to start with each and every one of us…and each and every one of our actions.  And trust me, I am nowhere near perfect on this.  Where do you think those examples came from?

 

While we are in the mode of looking at ourselves, let’s delve a little deeper and look at the people we are most challenged to see our oneness and our interdependence with.  For me, a biggie is an ex-cop, ex-military Republican brother who I often describe as “racist, homophobic, somewhat misogynistic – but otherwise a pretty nice guy.”  It is hard for me to see that we share our humanity, let alone the same bloodline and DNA.  Another thing I need to do is look at the actions of others I may disagree with and see where my own actions may be parallel.  For instance, I was angered by the Kentucky state official, Kim Smith, who took it upon herself to go against the law and deny homosexual partners marriage licenses.  Then I need to remember to look at the times I don’t adhere to the rules when it’s against what I believe in or is just inconvenient.  This can range from speeding when I’m late to not filing some report I find silly even when my responsibility tells me I need to.  Different scenario, yes – but the same self-righteous making up the rules on my own.  Last but definitely not least, what do I have in common with Donald Trump, the xenophobic, narcissistic, boor that I find him to be.  Where do I shut out “the other” – someone different from me who I am not comfortable with?  Where am I self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and total self-centeredness?  Where am I loud and obnoxious?  It is SO not comfortable to look at these similarities with people who I truthfully hold in such low regard, but it is necessary.

 

As this world gets more and more crowded, we need to look at the impact we have on each other more closely.  How that snarky little throw-away comment can hurt someone and ruin their day – and the days of several people they interact with because of the bad mood it brought on.  Or how taking the time with a young person to understand what’s going on in their heart can make them feel love and valued and confident they matter.  It’s your choice.

 

I am going to close with a statement I heard earlier this year about this perspective.  It was:

 

“The truth is, at some level, when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt.  And when my kids hurt, you hurt.  And it’s very easy to turn our back on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping on the street, and we can develop a psyche that says, I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m going to worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.

 

But what I believe human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways we can’t even understand.  It’s beyond intellect.  It’s a spiritual, emotional thing. 

 

So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child….I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say, “Hey, this world, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.”  That’s my religion.  That’s what I believe in….That we are in it together as human beings.

 

And it becomes more and more practical.  If we destroy the planet because we don’t deal with climate change….Trust me, we are all in it together…That is my spirituality.” 

 

Thank you, Bernie Sanders, for those words and that sentiment.

 

May you all have a glorious Interdependence Day with your loved ones – and with all sentient beings on Earth.

 

 

What is my service?

I recently ran across a journal writing from my December trip to Italy.  I had just visited the Sistine Chapel and was in awe not only by its beauty – but with an overwhelming gratitude for Michelangelo that he followed through on his calling, that he knew this was a service he needed to offer to God and to his fellows.  I started to think of others who clearly followed that path, usually in situations where they were not necessarily going to be received well – and often had no clue what they were doing moment-to-moment.  These people include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob (founders of AA), and, today, Pope Francis. 

It of course also brought forth the question of what is my service to God and the world…and am I doing it?  I do know I have many guiding principles / thoughts.  One is my ministerial vow to see the Light of the Divine in all (including myself) and to live fully and mindfully.  Another is my personal life mission to bring healing and inspiration to individuals so they may more fully experience lives of consciousness, joy, and purpose.  Almost daily, as a 12-step member, I am reminded that my “primary purpose is to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety.”

As I review those expressions of my reason for being, I note that how I am doing with them varies a bit.  The ones that are easier (mostly because I know how to do them – or at least think I do), I do well and regularly.  The ones that require me to stretch a bit, not so much.  Most of that stretching these days comes in the form of inspiring others through creative expression and spiritual guidance.  There are a lot of ideas rattling around in this brain that are not manifesting in the world that may serve someone by inspiring them.  Time for me to follow in the footsteps of Michelangelo (in a very humble way) and more fully offer my creative gifts to the world.

I invite you to consider what your service to God and the world is.  If you don’t have any stated guiding principles, consider writing something down.  I found it a great starting point to answer this question. 

 

Before Renewal, Surrender

I was recently invited to write about renewal.  That's a hard theme to write about when you don't feel as though you are in a time of renewal!  I had said to a friend that I haven't yet gotten any traction in 2016.  She responded that she knew exactly what I was talking about - that so far, she felt this year as though she were slogging and slipping through slush.  I loved that metaphor - both the image and the alliteration.

I also find it hard to write about in the middle of a Berkshires winter, when it appears as though no renewal is going on anywhere.  And perhaps this is to be honored.  I took a class with a shaman last year on the "gates of winter," meaning what is the purpose of the season; what invitations and opportunities does it offer us?  We were reminded that this is a time to go within, to cocoon.  I guess I had started to become aware of that even the winter before when, in mid-February, with feet of snow on the ground, I wrote:

I need to remember -

Winter is supposed to be a time of hibernation, 
Of going within,
Of not interacting so much with the outside world.

The ground lies blanketed by snow,
Insulating the life that will emerge weeks from now -
Fresh and new.

Perhaps I too will emerge fresh and new.


That seems to be the only way renewal happens for me.  I have to first go really deep within the morass, getting tangled in the emotional cobwebs and the seaweed, infused by an occasional gasp of breath because I am not able to sustain calm, consistent, healthy breathing.  Or anything else that's calm and consistent and healthy.  I need to allow the darkness to take over; to have the courage to fling myself into the cavern that is an unknown abyss.  Only then will true renewal be possible on the other side.

Yet so often I shy away from doing just that.  Things in my life are "good enough.". True, my heart may not be as full as I would like.  Perhaps I  recognize that I would love to be opening my arms to a more passionate experience of life.  But at least I am not overtaken by tears, anger... or anything else for that matter.

Until I realize the point is to be overtaken, to plunge into everything.  To set myself up for renewal, for new possibility...for the fullness of a life way beyond what I knew, saw, or even imagined when I was growing up.  Then I wonder... Is it possible to be renewed beyond my original form?  I breathe in a "yes"...and realize that's what true transformation is.  

Believe in the Possibility of Healing From Grief

I recently overheard someone saying, "but some of us shall never heal," in response to a conversation about the grieving process.  What a sad perspective - yet I understand where that comes from.  On the positive side, it comes from loyalty.  It is also a recognition we will never be the same without our beloved, which is true.  Coming from a not-so-healthy perspective, it smacks a bit of martyrdom.  The notion of the long-suffering widow (or widower) is romantic to many.  Mostly the statement illustrates a misunderstanding as to what "healing" is in the context of grief.

Healing does not mean we never have an emotional response when we think of our lost beloved.  We do.  Tears may still come on special days and anniversaries, and sometimes out of nowhere at all.  Our heart, hopefully even many years after their departure, can feel as though it's going to burst with love when we remember the qualities we cherished.  None of this means we have not healed from the loss; it merely means we still love them - and nothing about that is inconsistent with healing.

In the One Light Healing Touch work I do, we define healing as "any activity that brings body, mind, and spirit more closely together as part of the journey towards wholeness."  That definition works for me, both overall and specifically in the context of grief.  If I am on a journey towards wholeness, it means I am not shutting down any aspect of me: sorrow, love, joy, anger... nothing.  I am embracing it all in each moment as it arises.  To quote Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart, "To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.  To live fully is to be always in no-man's-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh."  The paradox is that we can not do this fully unless we have healed from grief, and we need to practice this level of openness in the process of healing from grief.  We need to be willing to feel all the feelings that come up in the process of grieving - the deep sadness, the anger, the loneliness, the love...and anything else.

So healing from grief is a journey.  It is a journey of acceptance of  wherever we are in any given moment.  It is also a journey of learning to be gentle with ourselves - to not beat ourselves up when we are lacking focus, to not push through when we need to take some space.  It is a journey of trusting a new life is opening up in front of us.  Even if it's not a life we would have wanted to come forth, trusting it will have its own blessings, its own challenges, its own grace, its own richness, and, yes, its own love.  Most of all, healing from grief is a journey of love....and that always makes everything possible.

A Tribute to Jasper, and Reflections on Saying Goodbye

It was hard to be thankful this Thanksgiving.  I received a phone call in the morning that my pet sitter had found my beloved dog, Jasper, dead on the floor, apparently having ingested something poisonous- probably mouse/rat poison, according to the vet.  Once again, I was invited into the arms of grief, and the tears, confusion, and lethargy it brings.  While I will get around to grief in this post, first I want to pay tribute to Jasper.
 
Jasper was an incredibly sweet, sweet dog.  Having been abused and neglected the first few years of his life, he found a loving home with my friend, Jenna, who adored him and loved him completely.  Unfortunately her life circumstances a couple years into their lives together made it impossible for her to keep him. In March 2012 he moved in with me, the original intent being that it would only be until she was settled in a place of her own where Jasper could join her.  As a year and more ticked by and Jasper became a fixture in my home with his now-brother Yorkie Barney, Jenna and I decided Jasper should officially become a member of the O'Neil household.  As I placed his new dog tag with my phone number on his collar, I said the words "till death do us part." He had had enough change and uncertainty in his life.  He quickly responded to this shift, relaxing and adopting a new, more comfortable stance as he was no longer auditioning for a permanent place in my heart and my home.

Not to say Jasper ever got to the place where he was entirely secure.  The first few years of his life had made him "a black hole of need," as one of my friends, who was a huge fan of Jasper, lovingly described him.  Jasper's favorite place in this world was in my lap, whether I was driving, meditating, on a Skype call with a client....Didn't matter.  That was where he wanted to be.  He also was very adamant when he wanted to be picked up, bouncing up and down as if on a pogo stick until I succumbed and took him in my arms. This at the age of ten even!  Since he had not learned to play as a pup, I joked the only game he knew was "Momma's on the move," which meant he would scamper behind me as I went from one room to another.

Lest I make him sound obnoxious, I want to add some of Jasper's sweeter habits too.  My absolute favorite thing was that at bedtime he would run upstairs before I did so he could round the corner and give me kisses through the slats in the bannister as I rose to the top of the steps.  He then would wait by the side of the bed until I got settled in and invited him to join me.  Such a gentleman, completely counter to his brother Barney who had already taken over half the bed before I even got there.  Jasper also loved to lay on my clothes I had set out for the day, taking every chance to be close to his Mom, even if it was just my scent.  The other thing I will miss is his determined focus on our walks. Although he occasionally sniffed and meandered, his usual stance was eyes straight ahead, little legs scurrying forward.  He was on a mission.

I needed to write that tribute to Jasper not only to honor him, but to acknowledge the things I am going to miss in my daily life.  When we have lost someone close to us, human or animal, we need to get clear - and specific - about how our life has changed.  As I was on my way home to face my space without Jasper, I reminded myself I had been through this before on an even bigger scale.  I remembered returning to our Brooklyn apartment after my husband Brendan died.  Even though he had not been there for the 3 months he was in Calvary Hospital (where he died), his spirit was still so present, at least as big as the void left by his physical absence.  I am finding the same thing - for now at least - with my beloved pooch.

I am also trying to remind myself that healing does happen.  That it will get easier, except those days when it doesn't because healing from grief (like all healing really) is cyclical.  In the meantime, I am doing exactly what I remind my grief counseling clients to do.  To be gentle with myself.  To allow lots of spaciousness in my life.  To be accepting of lack of focus and inability to concentrate.  And to let myself cry...which I did uncontrollably this morning when I went to see my sweet Jasper's body and say goodbye.  He and I both needed that; well, at least I did.  It's part of the process.

The Spectrum of Surrender

I know most spiritual teachers talk a lot about the power of surrender – and there absolutely is a lot of truth to that.  The most compelling story I have ever heard of its power is documented in the book The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, also author of The Untethered Soul.  He shares about making the decision in his 20’s to surrender to whatever life brings his way and the amazingly rich, prosperous scenario that brought forth (albeit not without challenges).  On a more personal front, as a long-term member of 12-step recovery, I am of course counseled to daily, even minute-by-minute “turn by will and my life over to God as I understand Him.”  I do try to do that, supported either by the 3rd step prayer or a Sufi body prayer; some days both.  My favorite line in the 3rd step prayer is “relieve me of the bondage of self.”  It’s as though my body automatically lets out a deep exhale whenever I say those words.  

But I don’t want this to sound as though I have this process down, because I don’t.  The last couple months have been challenging, largely because, for any number of reasons,  I have been forcing my own will.  The biggest ones are fear, wanting to get my way instead of being focused on service, and trying to get my needs of being seen and valued met…although rather unskillfully.  Why have I been doing this?  Largely because I haven’t been connected to and trusting God, my Higher Self, or even Universal Flow.  Somehow I think I can change those currents all by myself.  

That’s all because I haven’t been taking the time to go within.  The good thing about these last couple months, especially the last couple weeks, is they have brought enough discomfort and pain that I have finally gotten back to a regular routine of spiritual practice that at least includes daily inspirational readings and 20 minutes of meditation.  I often supplement that with my grounding exercise, prayer, and journaling as well.  It takes all of that for me to keep my center regardless of what is going on within and/or around me, which is what I believe is the greatest calling each and every one of us has.

The other thing that allows me to center is to at least move into co-creation if I can’t get to absolute surrender.  Co-creation is also known as the power of intention or the law of attraction.  It is getting clear about my needs and desires without attachment as to what form they are met in, even whether or not they are met.  It is not absolute surrender, which often is considered to not even leave space for one’s preferences or desires.  Nor is it forcing one’s will, which often has us missing out on any synchronicity or higher guidance, therefore feeling as though we are pushing a boulder uphill, alone.  I may be using this to justify that I am still not in absolute surrender, but it feels to me as though this is what the Buddha called “the middle path.”  For now, it is the one I choose to follow.

The Full Face of Grief

I was reminded this week that grief comes in many, many forms.  As a Certified Grief Counselor, I work mostly with people around the death of loved ones – but grief encompasses so much more than that.  The definition of grief on dictionary.com is “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”  Reading that definition, I had a vision of a smug Buddhist piously pointing out that’s why we practice nonattachment…a classic case of spiritual bypass.  All the spiritual practice in the world does not negate human emotion, nor should it.

I have been meaning to write about the full face of grief for a long time, but today I am absolutely called to do so.  We need to honor that everyday living brings abundant opportunity for grief to come forth.  As I write this in my sunroom with windows all around, I am struck by how bare the trees are, much more so than when I traveled to the city three short days ago.  I am aware of the sadness of no longer seeing the rich, vibrant colors of fall as I also brace for what may be another long, brutal winter.  For me this sadness does not reach the level of grief, but I know many for whom it does.

The first time I became aware of how powerful non-death-related grief could be was a few years into sobriety when I faced head-on how I had lived my life for the 17 years of my active drinking.  I absolutely grieved the young woman I had been.  I grieved how little regard I held for myself and others.  I grieved the choices I had made and the priorities I held.  I grieved how long I had lived with no connection to my soul.  That grief went on for a couple years.  My emotions were so intense that many advised me I should get on an antidepressant.  For me, I knew I had to go through these feelings to heal them; there was no other way.

That has been true for me for grief in all its forms, big and not-so-big. I need to go through it – not around it.  I also need to rely on the support and love of others, as well as my faith in God, the Divine, Universal Love, whatever you care to call the Creative Source of All.  It has also been critical that I honor and commit to the process of healing, because it is a process.  One that fortunately has been forwarded simply by me writing this.  Thank you for witnessing.  

 

The Preciousness- and Tenuousness- of Life

I began writing this on Sept. 11, a day that will probably always remind us of the tenuousness of life.  I hope it will also remind us of the preciousness of it as well.

In the past couple weeks, two Facebook memes have really stuck with me.  The first  speaks to the preciousness of life in asking the question, "What if, when we die, God asks, 'So, how was heaven?". This thought reminds me of the Japanese spiritual practice, Johrei, which was my primary path for over a decade.  The mission of Johrei is for all to live in Paradise on Earth, a place of health, peace, and prosperity in this lifetime - no having to wait for an unknown afterlife.  It is the notion of this life as our heaven.  I find that even just sitting in this possibility helps me to look for the blessings of each and every day.

The other meme served as a wake-up call around the tenuousness of life.  It shared about asking a woman with a terminal illness, "What's it like to live each day knowing that you are dying?". This wise woman answered, "What's it like to live each day pretending as though you are not?". Again, another reminder to look for the blessings and the gift because none of us will be here forever.

How we connect to life varies for pretty much all of us on a day-to-day basis.  Sometimes we are in awe of getting to live a human life - to love, to eat, to dance, to get angry, to hurt, to deal with everything life brings us.  Other times the notion of dealing with everything that life brings us just feels like too much.  Those days sometimes the best we can do is ascribe to the notion of "do no harm" - to ourselves or others.

It is important to remember that however life is feeling to us at any given moment, it is still a gift.  It is always a gift.  Unwrap it.  Play with it. Love it.  Most of all, be grateful for it.

Interacting with the Light

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
— Edith Wharton

I have longed loved this quote.  I also have to admit, for most of that time, I have looked at being the candle as the preferable way.  I have seen it as more powerful.  I am just now coming to realize that each way has its time and place.

In my role as a grief counselor, I usually need to “be the candle” for my clients – just as I remember needing others to be the candle for me when I was in the depths of pain after losing a loved one.  Grief puts us in a space where we can not be the light ourselves.  Very often we even have difficulty seeing the light that is being held for us.   Everything feels so thick, so heavy, so dark.  All we can do is trust those who tell us the light is there…somewhere…and who remind us that we will once again be able to see it someday.

Conversely, with my spiritual counseling clients, whose focus is often to live from their Higher Self (aka their soul), my job is to be the mirror that reflects their own light.  The first step is to get them to see the light within them, day in and day out, whatever life circumstances they are facing.  It requires holding them as whole, complete, unbroken – whatever they are doing or whatever stories they are telling me (and themselves). Self-forgiveness, self-care, and self-love are frequent topics of conversation.  Most of all, we focus on accepting ourselves as we are, light and all.  It reminds me of the Marianne Williamson quote, “It is our light, not our darkness, that we are most afraid of.”

I invite you to watch how you interact with the light in your life.

Are there times when you are being the candle when it might be a higher calling to reflect the light in another?  What about those times when you are needing the light?  Can you let another help you to find your own – or do you automatically assign them the role of official light bearer?  Just as with every area of our life, the more conscious we can be of how we lift up ourselves and others, the more effective and compassionate as well.

Could it be that everything is more perfect than I can possibly imagine?

I had that notion introduced to me in a healing session a little over a year ago, shortly after my brother Dennis died.  I scheduled a session with a woman I knew who did shamanic work.  In our work together, I started envisioning how my brother and I may have known each other in past lives.  This notion was not new to me as it had captured my heart when I read of it in Brian Weiss’s book Only Love is Real.  Eventually the interaction of our lives started to appear as if on a Lite Brite board, the kid’s game that allows you to make different patterns based on the color of the pegs.  Next our mother’s lives overlaid onto the pattern so I could see where all of us may have interacted, where just she and I came together, and where just Dennis and she came together.  In the final version of the ever-changing board, I saw the lives of other people I have loved who have died appear momentarily before the board transformed into the next version.  This quick series included my late husband, my father, and other friends.  As these scenes were sequencing through, the exact statement, “Everything is more perfect than you can possibly imagine” was introduced to me.  It felt as though it was coming from a unified spiritual voice of all those souls.

As I contemplated this possibility, I initially ascribed it only to who comes into our life when, how long they stay, and how / when they leave.  I then realized that if perfection existed at that level, it must exist for everything that happens in our lives. Still a big if, but one that was definitely worth considering.  It also took me back to another statement on life and death, when teacher Ariel Sebastian postulated that “every death is perfect.”  Her statement was offered several months after my husband’s death, which had come after a long, harsh bout of cancer that had robbed him of his speech, his ability to eat, his gorgeous looks, and many of his favorite activities, such as golf and acting.  Yet I could still see how his death may have been perfect.  He had accepted his condition and its impact on his life months earlier.  The death itself was peaceful and very early in the morning, allowing the two of us to share a final moment of true connection.  His parents arrived just as he slipped into that no-man’s-space between the two worlds, not yet dead yet not really still present in this world either.

It was my mother’s death 15 years earlier that I couldn’t begin to see as perfect.  She had a living will that no extreme measures were to be taken to prolong her life, yet somehow that got overridden by my father and/or her doctor, leaving her intubated in the ICU for 7-1/2 weeks.  Conscious most of that time, she was frustrated and angry that she couldn’t talk or eat.  I could see in her eyes she just wanted to be gone.   I sat in the question of how that could possibly have been her perfect death.  It helped me to realize my human mind can not grasp what perfection is at the spiritual level.  Holding the belief the purpose of each and every incarnation we have is to grow spiritually, there are going to be times when what my eyes see and what my mind judges does not match what may be happening behind the scenes or at the larger level.

This realization is what opened me to the possibility the statement seemingly offered by my loved ones who have passed over just might be true.  It certainly offers more spaciousness and hope than going through life despairing over what is going “wrong” – whether personally in my life or collectively in our world.  If it speaks to you, I invite you to spend some time with the question, “What if everything is more perfect than I can possibly imagine?”

How Does a Grief Counselor Grieve?

Imperfectly. Very imperfectly. I find myself thinking, “I should be better at this. After all, I’ve been through it many times. I’ve read many books on the subject. I’ve taken classes. I’ve even taught classes on grief counseling. I’m an expert.” It’s as though I expect all the head knowledge I’ve accumulated to grow hands and arms: to give me a hug that makes it all better, to be able to gently stroke all the pain and ache in my heart away completely and let the light shine through. It’s not happening.

I do not like the way this year started. At 5 minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve I found myself sitting alone at the bedside of my brother in his hospice room. The rest of the family had left a few minutes earlier. His wife had just fallen asleep in the pull-out couch in the adjoining area; I had agreed to sit with him for the night so she could get some rest. My brother was out of it – asleep, medicated, preparing for the next world…I don’t know – but he certainly was not conscious. At 12:02, he stirred slightly and I gently said to him, “Happy New Year. It’s 2014; you made it. You can go any time.” He did, three days later when he was ready – with his wife, most of his kids, and 2 of his siblings at his side.

As I said, I’ve been through this a few times. I wrote in my book, If You Want the Rain, Welcome the Rainbow: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery, “I have buried my parents, my husband, my in-laws, young cousins, middle-aged friends and many elderly relatives.” This was the first sibling I’ve had to bury. He was the last I thought would leave this world, having been the only one of the five of us to not live many years with a major addiction – either alcohol or food. (OK, maybe the last few years of his life he was in the food camp, but he certainly had the mildest addiction in the clan.)

He was also the sibling I to which I was the closest. For the last ten years plus, I had spent time with he and his family at least once a year; many years there were several visits. In between there were phone calls that could last for an hour or more, often his latest rant on the political front, but it still connected us deeply. We shared those views. This season he had even been calling me during Michigan State football games, something he knows means far more to me than is probably healthy. Any healing that had to happen between us did a few years ago when he off-handedly said, “I would never let my kids treat each other the way we treated you.” It was the closest I was going to get to an apology – and all I needed. Any hurt that had existed between us instantly melted away.

So here I am grieving the loss of my brother, Dennis, in the midst of a brutal, cold Berkshires winter. I got to speak a little of what he meant to me at his service. I am getting to express a little more here – but I am nowhere near the point where the loss is not painful, where it feels the healing is complete. I am being reminded of how absolutely critical it is to be gentle with myself and to practice massive self-care. In the week I’ve been home, I have done a few groundings, gotten a massage, an adjustment, and some exercise. I have been reminded that it is OK – necessary even – to put the walls up when my heart is too tender, whether it’s directly related to sadness over my brother’s death or some other shit life is dealing me at a time when I’m just not ready for it. I have also reminded myself to be around people that “get it” – that don’t make it about them, that don’t try to fix it, that don’t brush it away with the statement, “He’s in a better place.” I believe that – but it’s not helpful.

This morning I came across the tips I had included in my book for getting through grief. Go figure, I had totally forgotten that any part of my book was a “how to.” It had not been my original intention but seemed to be important as I neared the end of my writing. Now that I am personally benefiting from it, I’m glad I wrote it. I think I’m glad I wrote this as well. It’s all part of the process.