Life’s Bookshelf

Four helpful books in understanding death and living life

Incomprehensible.  Sixteen deaths in 2019, with six of them very close to me — friends, co-workers, family, and my beloved border collie Bess vanished in a six-month tsunami of clearing relationships from my life.

In weathering this heavy-hearted summer, a healing practitioner recommended The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Ripoche. Filled with foreign concepts, it hasn’t been an easy read. Often, I’m in between two or even three books so I picked up an oldie by Alan Cohen — I Had it All the Time.  While insightful, the ACIM thread doesn’t completely resonate with me. Still, I get what I need like the passage explaining that when our life is clearing out it is simply preparing us for the new. That message eased some discomfort. Because in all honesty, I’ve felt stuck. For awhile. Well, maybe a year or two…or more.

While preparing for my Turks & Caicos bucket list trip, I thought the quiet solitude and healing waters would elicit the ruminations my HSP self sought…that this sojourn would make sense of 2019’s rapidly falling dominoes of change.

I packed two other recommended books with my journal:  The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and The Five Invitations – Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski. Much easier reads thus far, their varying perspectives underscore that “life changes in an instant,” and the importance of “forgiving,” “accepting life on life’s terms,” and “loving as is.”

I’m beginning to comprehend all of life — not just death — is a transformation. Like the ocean, there is no end. There is no beginning. It is simply a continuation from one moment to another. Change is not my enemy but a life giving force to move me along like a leaf in a stream, it burgeons my understanding of this journey called “life.”

Once again my island adventure transformed. The first day, the ocean and gale force winds kept everyone out of the water. Totally unexpected but accepted. Each day progressively calmed as the tide washed away the past and swept in fresh awareness. Shifting from fear and grief toward accepting life’s flow is freeing. Trusting that all is well and working out exactly as it’s meant to be releases the anxiety of not knowing. Having faith (and moving my feet) is all I can do. Then see where life takes me.

After a few days of reading, walking, swimming, exploring and resting, tinges of guilt crept in. Why are you avoiding dealing with this? Are you trying to elude those downcast feelings and well of tears? Why are you putting off what you thought you needed to more freely move on? Are your unwritten journal pages diminishing what loved ones meant to you? Why are you procrastinating?

My surprising response was that I was living in the moment. Observing and engaging in the present rather than rehashing the past elicited tiny but powerful connections to the here and now. I was in fact living in the flow…rather than returning to what was and is gone. By the last day of solitude I realized that my lost loved ones would rather see me happy than engulfed in sorrow. My journal entries were not about loss and death but messages teaching me to live and love fully in the now.

Smiley face balloon was a sign from deceased brother of his continued presence
When asking my recently deceased brother for a sign of his continued presence, this smiley face balloon appeared riding high in the sky over that magical turquoise water.

It Just so Happens…All Roads Lead to Home

Glass ball sitting on a rock in the ocean being splashed while reflecting sky and sea with mountain in the background

The Elements as Allies — hmm, I wondered what I was getting into this week when serendipitously participating in this formal discussion. Uncertain where this topic would lead, my curiosity surfed the wave of energy surging through my life lately. Opening commentary — how critical Mother Nature’s elements are to our life force. Earth, fire, water, air — are our life force. I was on board. ‘Sounds like a simple natural law but sadly forsaken. (To be continued…perhaps on Earth Day.)

We meditated on merging with water. I could see an all-encompassing bluest of blue sea, feel its massaging push and pull, and the color, that exquisitely pure turquoise that mesmerizes my eyes and pierces my soul. Quickly, I felt its far reaching capacity had no beginning or end, that each body of water — oceans, seas, bays, rivers, streams merge with each other until its vastness becomes   one. There is no end. It is no different in humanity (or life). Each may appear different or separate but whether warmed in daylight sun or glistening in dazzling moonlight, both are beautiful. Both are one.

Mother Nature and the Tao teach me “oneness” — as seasons merge from one into the other or taijitu depicts two opposing yet complementary halves not as two halves, but as one.

Learning the group’s discussion was based on Sandra Ingerman‘s work with  strong ties to hand drumming and reconnecting with nature, was no surprise her information found its way to me. There is no doubt in my mind that all paths I’ve traveled thus far led me here.

Likewise, the natural beauty of the Turks & Caicos has allured me for years.


When many people see photos of the beaches and lagoons of the Turks and Caicos, they believe that the water in the images must have been edited. In actuality the ocean is typically far more vivid when seen in person.

When finally making travel plans to this long-awaited destination, I hadn’t forecasted the trip would morph into a winter ebb, a spiritual retreat you could say. Since the bookend deaths of Bess and my brother I’ve longed for quiet solitude where I can more deeply process six months of profound change. Hopefully the magically soothing turquoise waters will fit the bill when I arrive today.

In the fascinating beauty of nature I feel the sacredness of oneness.  And as with the Tao, and as with the vast oceans and seas, there is no beginning and there is no end.

Globe sitting on the sand in front of the ocean reflecting the clouds and sand (upside down)
Original photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels

Feature photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels

Clearing the Way

Snow covered pathway toward sunshine

“You spend the first half of your life acquiring

and the second half discarding.”


Red pick-up truck loaded with cabinets, chairs, washing machine

Loading the pick-up truck with things too good to discard, I recalled traveling this multifarious path before. Most of my life actually. From Mom setting up our apartment after my parents divorce, to my returning home from college…to storing relics in my barn while building a dream home…to housing family memorabilia upon my father’s death, then brother’s divorce – one and two, and mother’s passing. Soon my life became crammed with mementos of everyone’s past. Things too good to discard. Things once thought they couldn’t be lived without…have become things forgotten about.


Reuse and recycle is anything but new.


Materialistic I am not. Scottish resourcefulness and being raised by parents of the Great Depression indoctrinated me with environmental concepts early on. That includes donating gifts I’ll never use (but also means holding on to some “just-in-case” items that might not get used).


If something comes in, something must go.


While crazed Black Friday shoppers raced toward the acquisition gate, my wish list focused on meaningful experiences — engaging time with dear ones, sensational restaurants, bucket-list travel, living theater, musical concerts of varied genres — non-materialistic things that proffer a pleasing energy without depleting space. Kind of like “green giving.”


Face unused possessions with, “Do I really need this?”


Tidbits of loyalty complicate clearing away. How could I discard my mother’s high school class graduation photo? It feels disrespectful to give it to the Salvation Army (Would they want it anyway?) and Heaven forbid, I could not throw it in the trash. I just couldn’t. Yet, what am I going to do with it, except store it in the basement…like the dusty china and crystal rarely used…or my dad’s wartime souvenirs, drawings, and bosun’s whistle that I’m still secretly hoping some organization would want to display.


Stuff carries personal and planetary responsibilities.


When I pass, will my remaining belongings wait for a stranger to unload...along with numerous other keepsakes and prized possessions of each person in my life? Is that the usual way out…leave heaps of stuff for someone else who holds no attachment? It would be easier emotionally for them to clear out but an unfair and monumental task. Besides, what about the planet?

Like the environmentally-conscious youth culture who rejects using existing quality made, real wood furniture, opting instead for put-it-together junk composed of compressed wood chips and plastic veneers that won’t last — it doesn’t make sense to me (or for our rapidly filling planet).


How we deal with stuff can mirror how we deal with life.


Boxes of hats, shoes, purses, furs, evening wear to get rid of

After decades of carrying boxes from place to place, and shuffling moments from one building to another, I’ve realized I often compartmentalize emotions in challenging times, putting them in boxes until I can appropriately deal with them. Same holds true for family stuff. My mom became a hoarder who couldn’t let go. My brother tossed things from his immediate sight. I’m the organized one…with the boxes.


Saying, “It’s served its purpose,” makes it easier to let go.


When it gets too much, and the clutter of memories swallows up my space, I need to let go. Now, that I have so many of my brother’s belongings I’ve begun clearing more of my mother’s past. The evening gowns, furs, and hats that she could never vacate from her apartment are leaving my home.


Mother Nature naturally knows how to clear the way.


After delivering 17 jam-packed carloads of my mom’s stuff and 15 of my brother’s to charities, and a lot of my dad’s history to the auctioneer, I’ve sworn I would never do this to my benefactors. Making arrangements for one’s personal belongings — no matter how small, is a loving but often forgotten piece of estate planning. Even Mother Nature, when overloaded with piles of leaves or debris, sends in sheets of rain or a gust of wind to clear the wreckage of the past.

Colorful autumn leaves blowing in the forefront of an evergreen forest

Do you consider what comes into your space? Have you cleared out family possessions? Are you in an acquiring or discarding mode? 

Opening the Door to Transformation

Photo of long hallway with door at the end

Synchronicity delivered timely and profound guidance to me before my mother’s passing. Surprisingly, it originated from a talented Spanish guitar musician (and yoga instructor) whose concert I attended just months earlier. Johannes Linstead’s message radically shifted my thoughts about death and erased any long-held fears. Since that time, it’s become my mainstay. I’ve included his epistle in sympathy cards and received numerous responses that his message also eased their grief and sorrow. In asking this guitar guru for permission to share his words of wisdom, he kindly replied:

Thank you for reaching out. I am so touched that my writings helped you through such a difficult time. To have experienced 15 deaths in such a short time is not easy, especially losing your brother. So sorry. I would be happy for you to share my writings as hopefully it can help others. By the way, my writings are being compiled into a book which I hope to release next year.

Thanks and blessings,

Johannes

Single chair in barren room with bright lights and windows above and bright and dark entrances and exits
Original photo by Alessandra Onisor on Unsplash

May this original message from Johannes help anyone else experiencing loss and processing grief:

“The End is Transformation”

All that is here and within you is sacred. All that is here and within you is divine. The earth, the animals, the waters, the trees, the rocks, and every human share the same sacredness and divinity. Even with this inherent sacredness and divinity each will come and go in accord to its own destiny and cycle. In life and in death, there is no difference and there is no separation, only transformation.

All in the phenomenal world is birthed into creation, has its lifespan, and its death. But this death is not a real death. The word “death” evokes a feeling within the mind that denotes finality and finality causes a fear. Many people are afraid of the cessation of life, whether it be their own or the life of a loved one and this fear subtly suppresses the ability to truly live. To truly live is to be fearless, to embrace each moment with a complete joy, and to rejoice with a sense of abandon. 

The fear of change and the fear of death are two things that if one can learn to accept will make life a benediction for they are the two things in life that cannot be changed. Resistance only causes anguish. To change your relationship to these two supposed enemies requires contemplation, and contemplation requires courage. The spiritual path is a path that requires great courage, which is why some people call it the Way of the Spiritual Warrior, for it is a fight, a daily battle to not get trapped into the trenches of the mundane but instead fight with every breath of your life to reclaim your true domain – the domain of the soul where love, light, truth, and kindness prevail.

If you can reach the breakthrough point of acceptance then your life will be forever changed, joy and peace will enter your heart and fill your being. Being filled with joy and peace no room will be left for delusion, anger, hatred, jealousy or greed. As you transform, the world around you will also transform. The only death you need concern yourself with is welcoming the death of the darkness within you. 

Sat Nam,

Johannes ~ Sevaji

As you can tell, Johannes Linstead is a deeply spiritual person. He is the founder of Divine Earth (divineearth.org), a humanitarian organization promoting meditation, yoga, holistic living, and the healing power of music. Johannes says, “I use music as a way to express what words cannot say. Every note contains a part of me and all the love, joy, hope and compassion in my heart. I believe that music has the power to uplift humanity — I see it all the time at every one of my concerts. To be able to bring happiness to so many people is a true blessing.” Here’s just one of his many expressive songs:

To learn more about Johannes Linstead ~ Guitar of Fire! please visit his websitewww.johanneslinstead.com

 

Open gate to illuminated pathway
Original photo by Pixaline from Pixabay

Messages from the Brightest Stars…

Golden beams of sunshine through an autumn forest

10-30-19 026cThe garden rests under November’s grey skies and already freezing temps while I practice morning Qigong inside. Looking up, I notice this solitary tree glowing amidst bare woods. It reminds me of my brother, Robert — my last living immediate family member and only sibling, who recently passed.

Years ago, when one of my dogs tragically passed, my brother consoled me by comparing that young dog to a bright star, explaining that the brightest stars have shorter lives. A contemporary Doctor Doolittle, Robert had an extraordinary talent for connecting with animals and particularly canines. He is the one who gave Bess to me.

Bess and Robert’s bookend deaths these last four months, along with too many other friends and co-workers, feels as insurmountable as piles of autumn leaves. So thick, I can barely see clearly on this course of 15 deaths that presumably is meant for deeper understanding. Striving to find meaning in all of this, I seek out any comfort I can find. Too late, I hear Do not let anger ruin a relationship. Time is shorter than we think…forgiveness is key. 
Broken branch
Original photo by Manfred Richter on Pixabay

 

As with the duality of the Tao, my brother and I had another side to our relationship. Several years ago we mutually agreed to sever contact out of opposing values and a need for self-care. After recent minimal communication we were to meet in person but he passed before it came to fruition. It’s come to me that “The soul knows when to go,” and “Everything happens exactly as it is meant to be.” I feel grateful my brother and I requited resolution and forgiveness in the month before he departed.

A caring guy with a zany sense of humor, it’s no surprise that Robert chose to pass three days before Halloween. But, finding Reese’s peanut butter cups on top of a chest containing my own dogs cremains that morning was surprising.
Reese's peanut butter cups

Seeing this orange/black package gave me an odd sort of comfort — my diabetic brother loved this candy…and he promised to give me a sign.  Later on Halloween night, I pulled in a radio station from afar. The guest spoke about Houdini’s wife, Bess, who made a pact with her husband to give a sign from the other side. These seemingly coincidental gifts gave my heart a lift.

Understanding it’s helpful for the deceased and those surviving to express gratitude for their presence in our lives, I offer some sentiments my brother once shared with me…too bad we forgot them in these last eight years:
  • The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.
  • Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of  battle.
  • Life is too short to wake up with regrets. Love the people who treat you right. Forget about the one’s who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason.If you get a second chance, grab it with both hands.If it changes your life, let it.Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.
  • A sharp tongue can cut your own throat.
Golden red leaf with a heart in the middle
Photo by Rebekka D from Pixabay
  • Friends are like balloons; once you let them go, you might not get them back. Sometimes we get so busy with our own lives and problems that we may not notice that we’ve let them fly away. Sometimes we are so caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong that we forget what’s right and wrong. Sometimes we don’t realize what real friendship means until it is too late. I don’t want to let that happen so I’m gonna tie you to my heart so I never lose you.
  • The heaviest thing you can carry is a grudge.
  • One thing you can’t recycle is wasted time.
If this post touches your heart, my brother and I encourage you to make amends with the person who broke it.

Halloween’s Other Side of Life

Intricate spider web in black and orange Halloween colors

Looking out my window during morning Qigong practice, I glanced up to see this intricate spider web. Amazing to view its work up close…a meditation in itself.

Intricate gossamer spider web hanging between branches with insect bitten burgundy leaves of a Ornamental Plum tree
Seeing beyond the spider web…

With Halloween approaching, I dug deeper into the curiosities of this scary holiday. I never understood Halloween‘s color combination of orange and black but now it makes more sense. Orange represents autumn, and black signifies death (of summer). I realize, as in how I choose to view life’s transition to death, that this holiday does not have to evoke fear as popularly promulgated. 

And those spiders serving as long time mascots for Halloween? There’s a pleasant tale indicating they are the spirit of a loved one watching over you. How befitting in my summer of bereavement, and a more pleasant thought than frightful ghosts and goblins.

Who knew a simple spider web would give new meaning to Halloween for me? It’s become a holiday for recognizing life’s natural transition rather than scaring me to death.

 

 

 

 

Constancy is Unnatural…

Tornado touching land from storm clouds above

…and will change. At some point.

Dark skies with objects hurling in the air and a collapsing house from a cyclone
Photo by Jonny Lindner on Pixabay

This summer of exhaustive change whirled like a tornado snatching dear ones from my path. In three months I’ve experienced rapid and complete loss from news of 14 deaths — nine of them close to me. Barely catching my breath, we’ve also just lost the healing space where we’ve hand drummed for over 15 years.

I admit, change often feels like a blustery, cold wind in my life rather than a soothing, summer breeze. Raised in a dysfunctional home, I became an ACOA and HSP — frazzled by chaos and discord, and craving stability and harmony.

If I continually resist change, though, the Universe sweeps in, eliminating any more chances or choices to get on board. Suddenly, (at least it feels that way, even if I’ve dilly-dallied for ages) I’m hurled with hurricane force into new situations — whether desired or not, whether I like it or not, and whether I feel courageous or not. So, instead of latching on tightly and refusing to let go, I’m more inclined now to accept and release. Note:  it’s not always immediate and it doesn’t mean I always like it.


Change is welcomed when we are the ones initiating it.

 But, when it’s thrown upon us, our response is often quite different.


The calendar indicates when I can reasonably expect to see leaves falling, snow flying, buds blooming. Even if it isn’t exactly on schedule, I feel comfortable knowing that the next season is around the corner, hence, what to expect next. It’s the unanticipated adversity —  like tornadoes, Nor’easters (and precipitous deaths) that jolt me.

Rocks Jutting through the Water
Photo by Frank Winkler on Pixabay

Still, I’m learning like everyone else on this journey called life. My headstrong adolescence pressed through storms, and my unguided young adulthood blindly maneuvered rocky, melodramatic situations. In mid-adulthood, the fog began lifting, offering clearer, smoother sailing — but only through a widened perspective and attitude of enhanced acceptance.

My Five Stages of Acceptance

By that I mean growing out of questioning, “Why me, or us or this?” to lamenting disappointment, to bemoaning perplexity, to the sighing resignation of “It is what it is,” to realizing the changing nature of the seasons is the flow of life. Change is the perfectly natural progression. For it to be anything otherwise equals stagnation and death.


As my perspective changes, so does my life.


ishant-mishra-K8hLK2M1ZBw-unsplash
Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

So now, when immense change occurs, I endeavor to exchange fear or disappointment with faith and acceptance that everything is working out exactly as it’s meant to be. While intellectually understanding death as transformation eases the loss, it doesn’t completely erase my feelings. For other changes, I remind myself that space is being created for something better…and that the gift may not always appear how I envision it — another reason for due diligence in living consciously and welcoming doors of opportunity.


Each of us processes life and change differently, and at different times in our life.


While still feeling an emptiness from losing Bess and other friends this summer, my heart slowly mends by shifting focus from loss to fulfillment. Having more leeway to be away from home now I’ve planned two bucket list journeys for 2020 — Turks & Caicos and Cotswolds, England.

A close friend processed her loss quite differently when her dog suddenly died this summer. (He was panting at 7PM and dead by 10PM.)  Feeling so distraught, she brought home brother and sister puppies a week later. While they are adorable, she forgot how much work they are and is now so tied to home, she cannot leave even for day trips. Change comes in all sizes, just like pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters…

How do you process change? Has it been the same throughout your life, or evolved one way or the other? Do you welcome change or close your eyes and shut the door on it, only to have it forced open later?

 

 

Anon

September tugs at August

October overshadows September.


Leaves falling in August

a premature ejaculation of autumn

leaves one unfulfilled

and looking to September

for more.

More warmth, more comfort,

a lingering embrace

to hold on

to the moments of bliss.

As an adult, I love September

and August too.

It’s just too soon

to feel this cool

like the afterglow

dissipating before daylight,

or a lover

tacitly

closing the door.

September, where are you

in October’s shadow?

The tomatoes are as green

as my naiveté

the scarce flowers

say goodbye…

It’s too soon to feel this cool.

Sadness hangs in the air

like unripened fruit,

July leaves gyrating brown,

their youth lost

before prime.

 Not ready

to

let

go.

Summer is over

before full bloom —

the whirlwind pursuit

with lackluster end.

Dramatic photo of imposing clouds at sunset over lonely landscape

The Ups and Downs of Life

raindrops on pink rose buds
Image by silviarita from Pixabay

 

Rain clouds

help flowers grow.

Why should life experiences be any different?

 

Learning through Grief
I began this post before the untimely loss of my best friend — Bess my beloved 14 1/3 year old border collie.  Acceptance soothes my broken heart when acknowledging this will happen to each and everyone of us and everyone we love, that this behest of time is a transformation of life. I continue learning through my loss of Bess…such as doing what I can then letting go, and the power of thought and perspective. I anticipate sharing more from time to time on insights gained through this experience…


“All of life’s experiences are to be either enjoyed or learned from.”

— Alan Cohen

Bess gave me both.


I am curious to know how you process grief. A sage shared this short (18 minute) video with me. Hopefully, you will benefit as well — not just in a time of need.


In Loving Memory of Bess-1

Spring Sets My Heart Afire

It’s been a relatively long winter.  Of course, I always feel that way after half a year of Northeast cold and grey.  And although Spring appeared on the calendar a month ago, it waits until about now to dazzle me with her show.  Each day the bleeding hearts rise taller and taller, and more garlic greens dart through the earth, the scintillation sets my soul ablaze.

.

Kindling the grey winter landscape aglow in green, Spring wondrously ignites death with life.  Saucer magnolias spark purple blooms, smoky lavender clouds flicker above eastern red buds, and delicate pink weeping cherry blossoms shimmer in the wind while the glowing white flowering pear explodes in the sky.  Like yellow-suited firefighters, showy forsythias arrive first on the scene.  Dwarf blue iris, orange-eyed daffodils and red tulips are next responders.  

Intoxicated with Spring’s opulent beauty of textures, shapes and hues, I am mesmerized by the magic appearing before my eyes.  And so grateful I have eyes to see.