Rob

Finally, I have finished a manuscript for publication, and I have a breather while my collaborators have their turn with it.  The story of shapeshifting shall return next time.  This is about a friend who has recently passed, and will forever remain unknown, but was no less in stature than Lincoln, sitting eternally in the National Mall in Washington DC.

Their family has owned the land since the 1920s. Or rather, the land owns them. They are so native to it as to have sprung out of the Michigan clay. Pasture and woodland, accompanied by a nearly feral sense of ancientness and renewal–the land still remembers the footsteps of the Ottawa and Potawatomi across it. The farm isn’t too far out of town, far north enough to have lots of whispering firs, but still a good smattering of leafy trees, glorious in autumn. Out a couple of miles on a dirt road, it’s frozen in time; it’s the same now as it was thirty years ago, and probably has been for longer than that.

I showed up when they needed a roommate. The older son, Kevin, had built a house next door to his parents’ farmhouse, and needed someone to help with the bills. My problem was that I had a dog. A big dog, who didn’t necessarily get along with other dogs that well. Kevin didn’t have a dog, but he did have a rabbit, whose name, pragmatically, was “Rabbit.” On walking in the door, Yiannis immediately poked his head in his pen, and slowly wagged his big flag of a tail. I took that as a good sign, as did Kevin. I moved in the following week. Kevin and I immediately slipped into an easy familiarity as roommates. We’d known each other for lifetimes, except we had just met.

Rob was Kevin’s Dad. Dark curly hair, wire-rimmed glasses, he had sort of a nerdy look before there really was such a thing.

 

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He and his wife, Jan, had lived on the farm their whole lives. Rob was born there, his father had been a dairy farmer. As well as the surrounding land, they owned a pasture that was just up the street; Rob walked the dairy cows up to graze up and back every day to be milked from the time he was in grade school until his Dad retired.

The land feels bigger than life, with a sense of the slow swing of the seasons that quietly pulls you into its rhythms. Surrounded by woodlands, ponds and creeks, the squirrels, skunk, deer, and fox are more common than people, even nowadays. You can still run into the occasional ramshackle one room schoolhouse overgrown by trees and brush. Even as late as the 60s, they were still in use. It can get fairly forbidding in the winter, as is usual for Michigan, and driving the mud slalom out to the main road in the spring means you have to put your foot down hard until you hit the tarmac, or you’re going to need a tow.

Rob didn’t follow in his Dad’s footsteps. This was the center of Ford country, with memories still remaining of the excitement and innovation of the early part of the 20th century, and the resourcefulness of those first generation immigrants. The sprawling old Ford plant downtown, and the science museum in Dearborn memorializing its industrial Golden Age, still has the feeling of the bustle of their former glory. His Dad worked for Ford intermittently, and would bring Rob to work with him–so he learned about gas reciprocating engines from the moment the first “combustion driven contraption” rolled off the line. This suited him better than cows, which Rob had a tendency to lose track of, as his eyesight was very poor. Cars were less unpredictable, and didn’t need milking.

It wasn’t long before Rob could strip and rebuild in an engine in a day or two. He had a engineering bent that defied logic–he had what most people would call a naturally scientific mind. To him, it just made sense. His two sons are the same way, all three of them could be considered mechanical engineering geniuses, they could build or create anything. And they were always helping Rob build something as they grew up out in the metal shop behind the house.

They had pole barns full of miniature steam engines, reciprocating motion machines, popcorn makers–the big ones you see at the Fair–every conceivable kind of gas-powered vehicle–and tractors. Rob like to rebuild antique tractors. These were from the times when these stalwarts of the farm were made to be beautiful as well as functional. Red and green with graceful curves and high seats; Ford, Farmall, Case, others no longer in business, usually nothing more than 10 horsepower. Marvelous creatures that reminded you of plow horses, each with its own personality, snorting and blowing to get to the day’s work. I used to go the engine shows with them, where you’d come home sunburnt, stuffed with cotton candy and home-made bologna sandwiches, hoarse from yelling over the perpetual grunt and bellow of the engines.

They also adopted strays; animals and people. They had tons of cats, dogs, chickens, geese, bunnies, you name it, they took them all in. They took stray people in, too. I had just moved out from a roommate situation where all three of us were crazy, to put it generously, and in the case of threes, one usually gets pushed out, which in this case was me. When I showed up on Rob’s farm, a peaceful bit of land and a family were exactly what I needed. It cast its spell, as it does to everyone who comes there, and I was hooked.

025_25The land is the reason they are the way they are, quiet, tough, hard-working and big-hearted.  Later when Kevin was a teenager, Rob would get up in the morning at five AM, take Kevin in early to school, then he went back to the dealership to sleep until it opened.  Kevin would attend school until noon, then go back to the dealership to work. They would then rebuild engines till quitting time.  Like most Americans, it was a busy life.

He met his wife Jan at a roller rink; she still has the white high-tops–wooden wheel contraptions, stowed away in one of the barns out back. Their wedding pictures are typical of the times, she looks happy and a little scared, he looks ecstatic, she in a white lace gown, Rob in an dapper tuxedo. It was the one time he would ever wear one; he was buried in his blue suit. Just to remind you of gender roles of that time, he bought her a new General Electric stove as a wedding gift, which she absolutely still loves, to this day.  Some sixty-odd years later, it still works.

Both were of Germanic stock, so the idea of arguing–or even expressing your feelings–was a foreign concept to both of them. Dinner at their house was always interesting. Nobody ever said a word. Until I became used to it, there were times I was tempted to slit my own throat with a blunt dinner knife, absolute utter silence was the ruling theme. But it also taught me something; silence is a not an enemy. Theirs was a peaceable silence, no drama, no strangled, venomous resentments so common to other families. Just together. Having grown up with the complete opposite, it was an odd feeling at first.

One day after I’d been there for a month or so, I dropped by the screened-in porch where Rob and Jan were sitting, enjoying the first burst of mild Spring weather. The daffodils in the barnyard poking their heads out were visible from the picnic table, which took up a large portion of the space. Not knowing my place yet, I felt a bit timid to drop in on them unannounced, but this was the country, they invited me in.

We were just sitting around the table and chatting, when Rob spoke up and said that he and Jan had been talking, and how glad they were that I had moved in. I came to realize later how unique this was in the midst of their usual taciturnity.  An early spring day, a vinyl tablecloth with a floral design, and new flowers blooming in the yard is what I remember. It was my first really good day in a long time.

Rob was a union man. Rather, he was one of those dauntless pioneers that brought the union to his dealership. The guys in the factory were already making a living wage, but the workers in the dealership were being forced to work long hours for very little pay and free overtime. He managed to get a vote of the guys that worked there in favor to join the local union, and faced considerable opposition from management doing so. He got his car vandalized, tires slashed, the works, more than once, with the bosses turning a blind eye. At the end, corrupt union officials killed the initiative on a technicality. But Rob was way more than they reckoned for.

He knew the dealership was double-dipping the plant downtown for engine rebuilds, so Rob hatched a plan. I don’t recall the details, but the manufacturing plant in Detroit was paying for full rebuilds on defective motors within warranty, and the dealership was only partially rebuilding them. The mistake they made is that they kept records of it. So what Rob did was a little “social engineering,” before there was such a thing. He used to work odd hours, and on the weekends, he had the run of the place. He made friends with the secretary, who filed all this paperwork. He took Kevin in with him one day, as he often did, to help with the engine work. As a teenager, Kevin liked to wear those tall cowboy boots. He often went out back to the parking lot for breaks, or to fetch tools for his dad. He often swung through the front office, so no one really paid attention to the fact that Kevin was stuffing reports of overcharges in his boots, supplied by the secretary.

Somehow or other, these reports ended up at the main office in Detroit. They were of special interest to the bosses, who then billed the dealership for all these overcharges. Rob eventually got his union representation in the shop. He wasn’t someone to be monkeyed with.

Political battles were his thing. He confronted the neighborhood, the city council, his union. They kept him going. Like most Americans, he didn’t put up with much. Smart, tough, a pragmatic thinker and talker, he rarely didn’t get his way in the political arena. He loved children, though, and was a patient teacher and storyteller.

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One of Rob’s contraptions

He was a solid Oak tree, tall and wide, who covered all with his tough, brilliant mind and compassionate heart. When I look at the issues we face as a society today, I remember where I came from, and those who came before me. Their footsteps are large to fill, and the stride they left behind is wide, but those of us gifted with such people have their strength forever knitted in their bones. Whatever we face, whatever the outcome, people like Rob were the prototype, and the example. We will do it together.

 

Janey

Janey was a bird, a Society Finch to be exact. They are very small, not weighing more than a few ounces. I bought her as a companion for one of our male finches. They are particularly social, and Society Finches get along with anyone. White, brown and black, they do not have gorgeous plumage, but are gregarious and live to be with other birds.

Not many people bother naming their finches, they are very small, not noisy like parakeets or larger parrots, and seem to have little personality. This is actually not true, they’re quite expressive, and all have very definite preferences and behaviors. They have cliquey friendships, birds they don’t like or are best buds with, and have favorite foods and toys.  Janey was exceptional from the start. She was a helper bird. If the others were upset, or not feeling well, Janey was always right there. She was very “touchy,” she would perch next to them very closely, with their whole bodies touching, like a hug. Finches are like that, but Janey always made sure that she was there when the others needed her.

Animals pick us for a reason to live their lives with us. They’re here to teach us, or to learn something themselves. She was my little “nurse bird.” She was always the sweetest bird of all of them, and calmer than the rest. There was Henry, the boss, a brown Spice Finch, a little standoffish, but clearly the leader. What he said was law, access to the best food, cage space, priority in the nest, who groomed who. When I took him out of the cage, he would growl and then bite me. Pretty funny when you consider how small he was, but he always left a mark. And a ferocious, growling finch is something you have to witness once in your life, it’s hilarious.

There was Henry’s son, Sam, who was a bigger jerk than his father, I always imagined him a bit like Johnny Bravo, so full of himself, sort of a smart aleck, with the ego of Mussolini. Then there was Grace, his mother. She was absolutely gorgeous, and really did remind us of Grace Kelly. She was pure white and a rich brown, but she really did remind you of a patrician blond. She and Janey were best buddies. I later acquired Audrey, a Zebra Finch, whose big brown eyes reminded us of Audrey Hepburn. She was a rabble-rouser, as most Zebras are. She’d get into fights and scream at the other birds, she was quite competitive and dominating. Oddly, when Henry died, she went into mourning, wouldn’t eat or drink, and followed him into the Light within a week. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen up to that point, and I have had pets all my life.

Janey was exceptionally intelligent. The others always responded with fear to anything, while after a minute of two, Janey would be over to investigate. She loved figuring things out. She figured out new food items first and played with the new toys before anyone else. She loved taking a bath under a dripping ice cube on hot days, while the others would be avoiding it like it was approaching death.

But mostly, she responded when you talked to her. She would come over to the side of the cage, tilt her head and look at you closely. She always listened intently, with so much knowing in her eyes.

Finches groom each other, as a sign of friendship, to show their level in the hierarchy, and out of boredom. You’d think that finches don’t think about much, their brains are probably no bigger than your fingernail, but they would get bored. I always tried to provide them with enough toys and games and treats, but being in a cage all the time is not a natural state for a bird. We have a large aviary, and forays into freedom usually ended in disaster, with them either hiding under beds, sitting up on a window perch at the top of our cathedral ceilings, or flying into the walls. Henry was responsible–he was an escape artist–for my broken wrist, trying to get him down from one of those window ledges. He was a very expensive bird, I have a metal plate in my wrist because of him. And finding a bird the size of one of your fingers can get interesting in a large house.

So when they got bored, they would groom excessively. Janey, being the helpful bird she was, would let the others strip her down to the skin. I’d get up and there would be Janey, sporting a new Mohawk or a naked stripe down her back. I would separate her periodically into a small “hospital” cage, and let her get some peace, and grow her feathers back. I’d put her back in with the others, and in a day, they’ve have her picked clean again. It was her sympathetic nature, she had a very big heart, and would let them do it. In contrast, Grace would lose her temper occasionally, and even Henry learned that an angry Grace was not someone you wanted to mess with–she’d attack him and pull all his tail feathers out so he couldn’t fly.

I even got Janey another mate, a younger male named Simon. But even Simon learned that you could easily pick on Janey, so sweet and complacent, and she’d be denuded again. This was not good for her mental health. Pretty soon, she had picked a hole in her back herself, in response to the abuse. Broken skin on a bird, particularly one so small, can be lethal very quickly, and is nearly impossible to come back from. Think about an itching healing spot on yourself, it’s hard not to scratch it. I immediately separated her into a smaller cage, but I knew the outlook wasn’t good.

Back to the point of this blog, I had wanted to improve my animal communication skills for a long time, I could hear what they were saying in my mind in general terms, but nothing specific. I could tell that Janey was interested, and was trying to tell me something. She was too interested when I tried to talk to her. I was also asking for Divine help with her, she was a favorite, and I couldn’t bear to part with her yet, but I knew this was quite serious. I found an herbal spray that I could prepare to spray on her to reduce the irritation, and to a degree, it worked. I asked her at one point to stay, I couldn’t lose her yet. I thought I felt an answer from her;

I will stay for you, Mama, a little while longer, I love you. But I want to be with the other birds.”

            I felt a mixture of emotions from her, wanting to stay, yet missing the other birds,  conflicted by love for me.  But I doubted the answer; I look back on it now, and realize that I was overthinking it, as usual. I could feel how much she missed her friends Henry and Grace.   Time went on, she got better, her feathers grew back, so I put her back in with Simon. They got along well, but Simon started getting a little too enthusiastic about grooming again. I asked again in meditation for help with Janey, and I got an answer.

“If you want her to survive, then put her in a cage by herself.” It was one of my guides well known as a healer, Princess Yellow Feather. She sounded a bit unimpressed, when I thought about it later. At the time, I didn’t care, I just didn’t want to lose Janey yet. So I did as recommended, I put her in a cage by herself. She did very well, over a month or so, her feathers grew back, and she looked beautiful. She was happy, for a time.

About a month later, though, I noticed that she had pulled all of her tail feathers out again. And she wasn’t eating any of her seed mix, just her favorite, millet seed. She grew quieter. She would still come over to the side of the cage to listen to me, but she seemed more withdrawn. One day I noticed that she was a bit puffed up, and sitting on top of her nest. I asked her to stay again, this time I got no answer, or rather, one I didn’t want to face.

The next day I was out doing errands, with my mind occupied with something else entirely, and I got a rush of emotion, and saw Janey on her perch, with all her friends in Spirit behind her. I could see Henry, Grace and several of the others, all chattering and flying about.

Mama, please let me go, please. I want to go home and be with the other birds.” I knew immediately that enough was enough.

“Of course, Janey, go on. Mama loves you.”

“Thank you, Mama, I love you…”

When I returned home, Janey had passed away. She was lying in her food dish, her eyes closed as if napping. She had such a loving, compassionate heart, human beings rarely leave such a legacy. She was a lesson unto herself, size does not dictate the size of the love a being can carry, and give away.

But there was also another lesson. I was expecting more “language,” for lack of a better term, when asking for better communication with my birds. What I got was emotion, with very complex meaning packed in it. That she was a master of love and caring, I have no doubt, Janey could have taught many people how to be better humans. But what I also got–again!–was that one must let go of the outcomes when doing healing work, or communicating with others–the answers may come in many forms. Letting go for me has always been difficult, even as long as I’ve done this work.

She knew I didn’t want her to go, but it came to the point where she needed to move on, she wanted to be with her friends again. What a huge lesson from a beautiful little soul.

So long, little one.  I’ll see you.

Janey

Janey, Sam, Henry and Grace

 

           

 

From Here to There

A few weeks ago, we were in New York City, the kaleidoscopic queen of all cities.  At last she seems to have recovered from that awful day, now close to 16 years ago.  This was not the first time I’d been back; but it was the first time that her lightening-paced ebullient energy was evident again.  In my past trips, her residents were still wounded, obsessing about the past.  Passing conversations, still traumatized, books about the falling towers read by subway riders, for them, the awful loop of those images had not passed.  The ghosts of that day still wandered the streets.

Not this time, her swagger is showing again.  One thing has changed, though, the Lady in the harbor still holds her lamp aloft not only for the living, but for also for those who passed through another golden door so many years ago.  The quiet pools near Battery Park whispering gently of those who have passed is a perfect memorial.  Nearly 3000 people died that day; yet it was also the largest rescue achieved up to that time, and beyond, 15,000 people were successfully evacuated from the buildings before they fell.  The robust new World Trade Center now speaks to the future–we have passed the test.  Americans are tough critters.

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Not long after 9/11/01, I was in a healing session with a client, both of us were grieving and obsessed with the events of the past weeks.  I had a vision while working on her, it involved her as well, as you will see.  I became aware of them again as I walked the WTC Memorial.  Their voices were not silent.

We face another test now, two families; A poet, well-versed in the human soul, once said:

“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”

It is an old tale, one that we as humans have not yet grown past its dark absurdity.  We now wield the power to create that ball of slag, and we have no place to go from here.  Each of us has our own to add to heal the rift, however unorthodox, and so we are being called.  So as I was in meditation this morning, again, they made themselves known to me, all 2997 of them.  I saw the multi-colored balloons and golden towers, and heard their collective voices again, but now with a sense of urgency.  “Speak,” they said.  And so I will.

Here is the story of that vision from so long ago.

Here to There

This story is about dying, to be sure, but perhaps from a longer perspective. We must face the possibility as a species as well as individually. In between birth, death and immortality, there is the washing and the ironing, isn’t there?

Three weeks after September 11th, 2001, I was about to begin a Reiki session on a client who is a first generation Japanese-American, Carol Yamasaki. All of us were still pretty much shell-shocked, Carol and I had talked about this before we began the session. The burning images of the collapsing towers kept looping in our collective mind, I could feel it. From my experience nothing happens in a vacuum, cause and effect is unavoidable, but there are times when you are definitely reminded you were not named supervisor of the Universe any time recently. That was the only answer I had for her, there weren’t any guarantees that we would ever find out why this had happened.

A healing session begins by the practitioner taking a few minutes to relax and focus and I was having a hard time doing this. I was going to have to find a way to let these images go, at least temporarily. As I asked to connect to that energy that allows me to do my work, I also asked for some way of putting in perspective what we had all just seen and heard, and seemingly lost.

Immediately I heard a voice say very compassionately but detached, resonant, clear,

‘This doesn’t matter, you know.’ Aside from feeling shock at being spoken to directly, my response was immediate.

‘What do you mean, this doesn’t matter, thousands of people died in that attack, are you crazy? Of course it matters!’ I heard the voice again.

‘Not to them, it doesn’t. Most of them didn’t even realize what happened. It only hurt for a second, they’re all fine now.’

‘Well, it matters to their relatives then!’ I had been haunted by the thought of how many people had no resolution, no visit from the police, no body, no nothing. Their loved ones just never came home.

‘More understand than you think.’

Ascending into another level, I again saw the images of the falling towers, but this time they were pure white rimmed in gold, they gleamed in the sun as they fell. The buildings were a chrysalis, a sacred place, a place of accelerated evolutionary motion. There were millions upon millions of souls watching as the buildings crumbled. The building occupants changed form and just simply stepped out and joined their companions in spirit. It was a joyous meeting, a celebration, multi-colored balloons and confetti flying into the starlit expanse and crowds cheering in welcome, they had come home a hard and fast road. The images were shifting so rapidly, I had no time to be amazed.

The scene flipped, I was now myself out in the enormity of space. The Sun and his mighty train of followers, the planets were all laid out before me on the black velvet of limitless space marked with the twinkling of the living stars. It brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful, I realized with a rush of joy, this is our home.

But something marred the view, I became aware of a horrible stench, it was choking me. I was reminded sharply of a smell that I used to chance upon when I was working as an EMT. When there is a very bad car accident, particularly if one or more of the cars have burned, there is an odor at the scene that is very distinctive. The smell is of burning oil, radiator coolant, rubber, plastic, blood, and one more thing, if there were occupants trapped in the burning vehicles, the smell of burning meat. It is a very penetrating odor, it stays with your clothes your hair, your mouth, you never forget as long as you live. It didn’t make any sense at first, but I could smell that now, out in the boundless expanse of space.

The Earth was outside of my field of vision, but as I slowly came around the sun and my perspective widened, a brown marble, streaked with black and pockmarked slag came into view. It was still slowly spinning, but the day and the night now fell on it without meaning. The bitterness of the burnt-out fire was in my mouth and I fought the realization that this was the source of the stench. I nearly vomited from despair when the realization hit me that this was the Earth. My heart and mind were slapped into complete silence. I heard the voice again.

‘This is what you can do to yourselves in 17 minutes. This is not a given, this is only one road. These people gave up their lives so that you could understand that you have another choice. You can do this, or you can choose to understand that you are all in this together. It is up to you.’

The scene flipped back to the two towers in white and gold and the souls who had just left it, whom I knew now, had done what they did knowingly on some level to change that line of possibilities. But this time, a rather short Japanese man, was standing next to the towers. He gesticulated to the buildings and then to me rather impatiently, and then he spoke.

‘This is what these were designed for, this was their purpose, to change our path,’ he said.

Now I was confused, who was this man? He looked sort of like my client, Carol. There the vision ended, and I came back to the room where she was lying on the table waiting for me. I told her what I had seen, described the little Japanese gentleman and asked her if she knew who he was. She bolted upright on the table, her eyes wide and her face pale.

‘That was my father, Minori Yamasaki. He designed the World Trade Center Towers.’

We were both stunned. All I know is that human nature being what it is, we rarely learn the lesson easily or remember it for long. It may get worse before it gets better, but perhaps a longer view may be in order. We have a Winter so Spring can come.

Namaste’

The Mirrored Candle

All laid before me in an instant and all time was now.   Suddenly I was everything, from the tiniest grain of sand to within the molecules of the birth of stars. I could see everything, the Earth and its flora and fauna, man and woman, as we developed on this planet, our history, the great wars, from spears and arrows to the boom of artillery and the mushroom of mass destruction, even the evolution of life in other systems. I was not only observing these things but I also was those events, and those animals and peoples. Cycle after cycle presented itself, souls coming in and going out of the dance. There was no emotion attached to any of it, except the hum of the Universe, the sound it makes, which is a song that goes on forever; a limitless place where everything, every time, is now.

A pure energy runs through all things. Death and life are an innate part of it; there is no thing outside of this energy. It is beyond love and hate. There is no fear; that is nowhere outside of ourselves, an illusion that we have constructed. Fear is based on the concept that we are limited and we have not, and that has no meaning, because we are made up of the very material that the stars are made of, all falls under the lens of our intention.

I watched planets as they spun off gargantuan suns, bits of molten metal, saw peoples and histories on foreign planets rise and fall, explosions of stars, watched as far away galaxies were born, danced in awe and joy as the pattern of all things revealed itself.  An endless Moebius strip, looping on itself, no beginning and no ending.

I thought of all the people I knew, those I loved and those I thought had opposed me, and in that instant I was seeing from their perspective. I saw their lives, past and present, like an overlay, faces and lives and timelines diverging and converging. It’s a strange thing to witness, all the things we are. But in that moment I developed real empathy, for I saw the fear and the isolation that we all labor under everyday. It is the idea that we walk this life separate and alone, and that we each knock on the final door of death by ourselves. That is the illusion; none of these things are real. The matrix that binds us is one fabric; there is no “other.” It’s all one thing, no one or thing is outside of this vast array of experiences known as life, it’s all there for the asking. Those who had opposed me had done so out of the mistaken idea that I had the power to take something away from them, or they wanted something they thought I had. In All That Is, that idea has no meaning.

I thought of other worlds, and as I’ve said before, in the world of thought and energy, the moment you think it, there you are. Instantly I was in another physical dimension on a planet very far away.   If there were laws of gravity, that’s not how I would have explained them. There was no “up” or “down,” it was only “here.” I became aware that I was in the presence of a creature half my height; the basis of their physical matrix, I think, was silicon rather than carbon, it resembled something vaguely out of Dr. Seuss. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was trying hard not to laugh. I thought he was very funny-looking, he was sort of a pastel-green and rather pudgy, but I knew I must have looked just as funny to this little creature.

We spoke wordlessly, or rather because we were of the same matrix and were each other, we knew instantly; pure communication, no ego, no masks, no dust thrown in the eyes, just authentic connection. We almost never get that here, but it’s as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. They know everything about you and you know everything about them, and it’s all fine, pure acceptance. I saw a soul like mine, the same lessons and the same path, just a different context.

You mustn’t get the idea that this was all drama and seriousness, I was as thrilled and happy as a kid on roller blades, zooming around, the Universe is pure music and laughter, you can’t help but join in. You don’t have to take lessons to learn how to fly, you are born knowing.

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Many years ago I had a vision of talking to Jesus. I had been raised Catholic but I had gone through a period when I started down this path of questioning my handed-down beliefs. I was starting over from the beginning at this point. I am truly a skeptic. Years before this vision, though, I had been at a retreat and I had considered the question, ‘Who was this Jesus, and why had he come here?’ Well, the Universe will always answer your questions; you just have to be open to the answer.

One of my first visions came in a meditation at a retreat. In it, I saw a man in white walking towards me. His energy was tremendous, radiating all around him, but very gentle, all in white-gold. Still, I had a hard time believing he was who I suspected he was. I look back on it now and think that it was screamingly obvious; I just couldn’t believe he had come through for me.

‘Uh…who…who are you???’ I asked. I was stuttering, I was so freaked out.

‘Who do you think I am?’ The man smiled.

‘Are you Jesus?’

He smiled again and said nothing, and then to use a terrible cliché, I got blinded by the Light. Emanating from this being was the most intense energy, light and love that I had ever experienced. When you are at that level of energy, physical boundaries become meaningless, and I felt myself merging with him and All That Is. There was no such thing as other, it was all One. I was not ready for such love and connection yet, so I panicked. I felt I was losing who I was in the onslaught.

‘Stop, I can’t handle it!’ He pulled his energy back immediately.

‘OK, he said, still smiling gently.

‘Thanks…thanks, I…thank you, I just can’t handle that level of energy yet.’ I felt ridiculous for refusing.

‘OK, you…you are…him…’ I couldn’t even say his name.

‘I am always here…

‘OK…thanks.’ I avoided looking at him, I wasn’t too sure I was comfortable with the idea of seeing Jesus, either. This vision had really scared me. He slowly faded out before me, but I thought about it for a long time afterwards.

So now we come forward again to this out-of-body experience. I was now eager to finish the interaction that had begun so long ago; there was something I had missed and I wanted to find out what it was.

The closest I can come to describing what I was feeling is the joy of experiencing music, only multiplied a million times over, with nothing between you and forever. Star formations, black holes, thousands upon thousands of galaxies, colors with no names, sounds, tones like the largest pipe organ you will ever hear, it went on with no limit. Everything is resonant and harmonized and seems to work perfectly together, although not in the way you would expect. It is the blending of creation born of chaos.

No sooner had I thought of finishing the meeting with ‘that person’, than immediately I again shifted perspective. I was now hanging above a planet in a solar system very far away. It looked like Jupiter, huge, red, gas-covered, rotating slowly and majestically around a fiery sun, hanging in space, although I knew somehow that it was a million galaxies away from Earth. The backdrop of stars on blue velvet hung behind it, but the constellations were completely different from the ones we know here.

Up to now, I had perceived myself as looking like I do now, a woman from Earth, small, but still human in form. Now, instead of this woman, I was pure energy, a huge ball of white light edged in gold, and I realized that it was my true nature. To be your true essence is like no other feeling, it’s like coming home. Another ball of white light hung near me. Again, this tremendous level of loving energy flooded me, merging us together. This time I recognized immediately who it was and didn’t fight it. We merged into two personalities with one consciousness.

Then immediately like lightning striking, I got it. I started laughing, and he laughed with me. All That Is sparkled and danced at the sound.

‘You get it now, don’t you? He said.

‘Yes. I get it now.

Years ago, back in the forties, there was a comic strip called Pogo, about a little fox-like creature who was environmentally conscious long before it was fashionable. In one strip, Pogo took a famous quote from a World War I general and turned it around for his own purposes. The general had said it after winning a battle, the name and the general now long forgotten. What he said was “We have seen the enemy, and we have won.” In an ironic twist of words, Pogo, referring to our misuse of the Earth and its resources, said, “ We have seen the enemy and it is us.” What came to me was the reason for our existence, why and where God is, all of this.   I was laughing now because it was so obvious; it’s right in front of our noses.

‘I have seen divinity, and it is us. I replied, I could hardly even think, I was laughing so hard. Tears of laughter flew off like sparks. There was no difference; him, us, everything, it was all the same, and all of this, this magnificent, real illusion, had been created solely for us.

His energy sobered down, and he became serious.

‘You have to go back, you know.

‘I don’t want to go. I have never said anything so heartfelt in my whole life. This was where my true nature lives, where we all live. I thought about what he was asking me to do.

‘You promised.

‘I know. Somehow I knew that I had made that promise. Later when I looked back on it, I realized that I had really been given a choice as to whether I wanted to come back, so the closest description to this vision would be of sort of a near-death experience.

My perspective never quite went back to the way it was before, although there’s always more work to do. I don’t think we’re ever done if we’re still here. But this is the question, this is it, the canvas we’ve been given, to create, to love, to be here now, to find out that the reflection in the mirror is really us. Are you there in your life? It’s for you.


 

American Rituals

My father-in-law passed away at 85 years old a week ago Thursday.  He had suffered a mild stroke about a year ago, which left him slightly without words and his balance severely affected.  This became worse as time went on, although his brain scans showed no real signs of deterioration.  It impacted him emotionally–he had always been one of those “can-do” people–and this left him having to ask everyone for help, with very few words to do it with.  His self-image was fatally wounded by this, and contributed to his failing functionality.   10 days before his passing, he had fallen again, and this time the fall was precipitated by a stroke.

My husband’s family is unique, they unanimously chose to let it run its course, rather than to surgically intervene.  I’d seen them do this before, rather than struggle with extreme medical decisions and hopeless, painful procedures in the face of little hope, they had surrendered to the end process.  We were sure that this is what John wanted in this case, he had been miserable for months, with little quality of life.

His entire family was present, my mother-in-law, her two children and their wives, and his seven from a previous marriage with their spouses.  This definitely led to a crowded hospital room at times.  But when he finally passed, he waited until almost everyone had left the room, the only ones present were two of his sons.  I have seen this before, the dying person, even though seemingly unaware, waits for the closest to them to leave the room.  It’s not an insult, if anything, it’s an attempt to shield their loved ones from the final blow.  I’ve seen it too often for this not to be the case.

I entered the room some minutes after his transition occurred, to give the immediate family some space.  Since I have trained to perceive these things, I noticed that John, after exiting his body, was in the corner of the room, standing next to his wife, a bit in shock.  I greeted him, let him know I could see and hear him, but also waited for the priest to administer the Catholic Prayer for the Dead.  This is common to every spiritual path and religion I have studied–there is always a prayer directing the separated spirit where to go next.  John then immediately exited, but came back later to be with his wife, and to watch his funerary rites.

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As experienced as I am with this process, I had never experienced a funeral like this Midwestern German Catholic ritual, threaded with family and friends who have known each other for their whole lives.  As a rule, we don’t do things this beautifully any more.  John had been greatly loved, he was a sweet man who cared for everyone.  He was also a veteran, and so they gave him a 21-gun salute, precisely executed in full regalia by the local American Legion.  But the entire process took 2 days, a wake of 4 hours, then another 3 hour viewing the next morning, a High Catholic Mass for the Dead, another service at the cemetery, followed by a reception at the family home.  I had helped prepare the body before leaving the hospital, that is my way of processing.  Most people are not aware that you can do any or most of the preparation yourself, other than the actual embalming.  For me, as odd as it sounds, it’s therapeutic.  All of us will walk this path on our last day.

Several hundred people attended his funeral, which was beautifully done.  I was struck by the decorum, the singing, the eulogies, the beauty of the priest’s vestments and the church, all in honor of this dear old man.  Oddly, all of the other funerals I had attended have been almost cursory in implementation, quickly over in an less than an hour, as if to get it over with quickly.  Surely these rituals are conducted in honor of the deceased, but more for addressing the terrors of the living.

I had to curb my impatience at several points, many of his relatives, particularly his sons were traumatized by this event, emotionally misunderstanding that this was the end of their relationship.  Since John was now fine, and spent much time conversing with me, (and shushing me when he wanted to listen!) I had to recall that to these people, this was ending, and even the promise of meeting him again was at that moment, no comfort to them.  Nor were they in any place to accept this information, and it would have been arrogant of me to try.  I mourned this for them, as that is my sincerest wish, that we become more relaxed and familiar with this process, understanding that the “end” is no such thing, and release from pain, and joy awaits.

I had to smile in several instances, John loved all the pomp and ceremony.  If we only knew that the “departed” is actually a sometimes amused participant at their own party.

“Mom is dying, what do I do?”

We will all face this process one day, and it is assured that we will probably be witness to it as well. It’s part of who we are. When it’s your own family member, the process can be very difficult, and a strong support system may be the best we can do to get through it, we are too close to the situation to be of any help, we need help ourselves. Some people do well by discussing it; others go to that door with little or no discussion at all. There are no hard and fast rules; everyone goes through this final act in their own way. But allow me to say one thing to you before going on. You are not being selfish by feeling anger at this process, nor am I going to tell you that it will get better with time. You are going to miss them physically, and if you are reading this, you’re probably at the stage of just wanting this not to happen, or if it has already, you just want them back. You just want them back. That’s OK, and perfectly normal. You are not being selfish. It’s called love and right now it hurts.

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But if you’re paying attention, there are signs that the process might be progressing in a more imperceptible manner that family members and even the medical professional might not be aware of.

Every effort, of course, should be made to maintain adequate and appropriate pain control, fortunately this has progressed to the level of fine art since my father passed away. No person should have to experience the kind of pain that robs us of our ability to die with respect.

But even when this can’t be achieved, any discussion the person is willing to participate in can help reduce their fears. Sometimes this cannot be accomplished by another family member; here is where the professional caregiver can work wonders. This process is made the more powerful by helping others through it; I would imagine that it helps each of us when we also face this process.

One of the most effective things you can do is ask the person how they think they are doing. Medical professionals are people too, and face the same fears the rest of us do, too often they are willing to tell the patient how they think the patient is doing to try and make it OK, which can overwhelm the patient into not saying anything. Patients know far more than we give them credit for and they have a need to be acknowledged and heard.

Never forget that the patient can hear you when you speak even when they are unconscious. I have witnessed more times than I can count, when the caregivers assume or at least forget that consciousness and awareness of their surroundings are not necessarily measured by the patient’s lack of response. I assume at all times that the patient can hear me, and even in extreme cases of brain damage, they are aware at some other level what is going on around them.

I am not going to get into other energetic processes observed in Buddhist texts, the majority of these are minute processes that only individuals practiced in identifying these techniques can actually see and feel, and don’t have much bearing on the average situation in the Western perspective. But they are certainly worth reading if you are interested, the references are in the back of my book. To a practitioner of energy work in the West, some of the processes are recognizable and can be observed.

But some of these energetic processes do seem to be associated with physiological and psychological changes that can be used as benchmarks for impending transition. What I found remarkable, that like the birth process, almost all of these stages with the exception of the last one, the actual exit of the person’s energy from their body, can be stopped and even reversed, and frequently are stopped unconsciously by the patient. As I have said, our intention drives us, and most often fear of dying, waiting for someone to come say goodbye, or even permission to leave are usually the reasons why these processes are temporarily reversed.

The most common sign that death is pending is when the temperature of the extremities drops to the point of feeling ice-cold to the touch. This is one of the preliminary signs and very easily can be turned back. But this always marks the beginning of the process. This correlates with the exiting of the “winds” in Buddhist literature, in a way, another word for physiological energy. It makes sense that as the body’s energy diminishes, so does the body temperature.

Just prior to transition, the heart and respiratory rate in all cases I have observed becomes irregular and spasmodic. At the very end, the respiratory rate drops down to two to four breaths per minute and the heart rate down to the 20s and 30s. This is a stronger, more immediate sign than losing body temperature, although I have seen patients pull back from this stage as well. Loss of body temperature can occur weeks ahead of transition, or just prior to it. The slowing of the heart rate and respiration usually means that transition is closer, just usually days away, perhaps a week at most, and again, sometimes just prior to passing.

A different process that many people find uncomfortable is the patient sometimes seeing or talking to people who have already passed over.   Persuasive argument could be made for both sides of the issue, that brain function is deteriorating, the patient is losing contact with reality and is hallucinating, or that this is the beginning of the next reality. My feeling is to let them be, unless it seems to be agitating them too much. The patient can very easily control this phenomenon, by telling them to go away, we have more control over our surroundings that we realize. Sometimes that is all that is necessary, just telling the patient to tell them to go away. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if they are peaceful visitations, most likely they are real, or they are real to the patient and are serving a psychological need that the living cannot serve at this time. If they are disturbing, then perhaps thought should be given to administering an anti-anxiety medication.

This touches on another issue, the use of psychotropic medications with the dying. They can be invaluable tools to assist in the comfort of the transitioning patient. But the fact that the relatives are uncomfortable that Dad wants to talk about dying is not sufficient reason to medicate!   Anti-depressants can be useful particularly when the patient is depressed and having trouble sleeping and eating and can make them much more comfortable. “Sundowner syndrome,” anxiety attacks that occur at the end of the day can be greatly relieved by the use of anti-anxiety medications. None of this should be taken as a mandate, every patient is different and I am not a licensed professional, it needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But sometimes the discerning and appropriate use of these medications can do wonders and the family is not always in the best emotional shape to remember about these very useful tools.

The last process is the hardest to pin down as to when it exactly occurs. It can vary, and family members are frequently very puzzled and hurt by it. It is an amorphous stage, although an energy healer can generally identify it very quickly, because the patient’s energy field begins to “loosen” around the patient’s body. It starts looking like an old pair of socks that one has worn too long, usually grey-white in color and varying in shape, but overall getting much larger and grainy in appearance. This is when the patient begins to detach emotionally from this plane and all who live in it. Sometimes it is misidentified as the patient being overmedicated and repeated attempts are made to “bring the patient back to reality.” Family members would frequently come to me in tears, hurt and offended, not understanding that this is part of the process. To go “there,” the patient must let go of “here.” It is not that they love you any less or don’t want to talk to you, but they have more pressing matters to focus on right now. I have seen women in labor get this inward stare as well. At this point it’s no longer about you.

It may not be about you, but always remember to include yourself in the equation when talking about how to deal with this issue and your transitioning loved one. Caring for the emotional needs of the transitioning patient can be emotionally harrowing, and adding caring for the patient at home only adds more on the burden. You cannot do this by yourself. Sometimes we need someone to tell us in this in bold print! Over time you will be the one who suffers the most, and sometimes the unresolved issues between the patient and us can literally drive us crazy, they still know how to press our buttons! One needs to have help and to take breaks, to keep one’s energy up over the long term.   There are many agencies out there and hospice care that can assist the family in this process.

Remember to grieve, you are not being selfish. You miss them, it’s a normal process. It also takes a lot of time, far more time to accept than our culture gives us time to for. I remember watching “Sleepless in Seattle,” where the character played by Tom Hanks was admonished by the telephone “therapist” after his wife had only been dead for a year, implying that he was “stuck” in his grief. It takes an average of two years to assimilate and accept a partner’s passing, and that is when the person left behind is processing their grief at an average rate! For many people it takes much longer! But again, our culture is uncomfortable with anything less than instant gratification and no pain. Life has pain. People who have gone through successfully have frequently told me that it’s not a thing you “understand,” it’s just recognized and assimilated into your lifeworld. It is what it is. Would the highs in your life be valued as much without the possibility of losing them? I doubt it.

One needs death to be able to harvest the fruit.

Without death, life would be meaningless,

Since the long-lasting arises again and denies its own meaning

To be, and to enjoy your own meaning,

You need death,

And limitation enables you to enjoy your own meaning.

Carl Jung, The Red Book

Copyright, excerpt from “The Anatomy of Death: Notes from a Healer’s Casebook”

Feel free to use it, but please give me author’s credit.

Good night, sweet Prince

We lost several stars this week, the firmament has been shaken for a moment.  The trickster rockstar, David Bowie, had an idea of his import; go watch Blackstar if you haven’t already.  His last video is a declaration of impending death, cognizant of the impact he has had over the decades, yet also clearly embedded in the briefness and anonymity of this life.  His was a persona that provided a newly christened bending of gender roles for a million kids who had no other place to understand their newly-felt identities.  I carried no such burden, to me, his music was amusing and well-executed, but I listened to it for no other reason than to shock my father.  I was too young to understand Bowie’s intelligence, message, or ground-breaking iconography.

Another passing occurred a mere three days ago, it seems forever now, I’ve given it so much thought.  Alan Rickman, Shakespearean actor, purveyor of the arch-villain with the dark-colored voice, passed quickly from pancreatic cancer on January 14th.

He is perhaps best-known for his portrayal over eight films of Severus Snape, the nemesis of Harry Potter, or so we thought, until the very last film.  Snape was the ultimate cypher of loyalty and unrequited love.  Few of us can imagine holding such an ideal in our minds and hearts for as long as Snape toiled for his long-lost love, Lily Potter, and then for her son, whom he detested.

9349261Make no mistake, despite his sacrifice, Snape was a bully, he had no qualms about emotionally torturing Harry for years on end.  He danced with the soul-defiled devil, Voldemort, and you were never completely sure where his allegiance lay.  He reviled his human heritage, identifying only with his mother’s magical blood, hence the name he called himself secretly, the Half-Blood Prince.  He remains one of the most complicated characters of recent literature, only revealing his true colors upon his imminent death.  On first glance, emotionally, he little resembles the man who depicted him.

Of course, a legion of young fans of the series burst out with an outpouring of grief on hearing of Rickman’s passing, as the last of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, was only released in 2011.  What also followed was a series of heartbroken eulogies from his fellow actors and colleagues, many writing essays of considerable length.  His goodness of heart, his friendship, his mentorship of young actors were all expounded upon.  You could easily read the pain and sorrow they held for the passing of their friend.  Oliver Wood, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, JK Rowling, many others, all spoke of his giving heart and his bottomless, lifelong loyalty to others.  Wood in particular, described the countless times Rickman promoted him, helpfully critiqued his work, selflessly cared for him.

I wonder if there weren’t more similarities between Snape and his wizard in this world, Alan Rickman, than is clear at first glance.  Both were defenders of those weaker than himself, the children, one with a scowl and in secret, the other with a smile and a giving heart.

Now cracks a noble heart.  Good night, sweet prince;

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Hamlet, William Shakespeare