As Pearl and I briskly strode our 4 miles early this morning, in the cool 60ish degree temps, the Muse feigned quietude, as I enjoyed the spectacular morning light; mother nature's melodious voice cheering us on as we climbed hills and sang and chanted and huffed and puffed along the way. I've been noticing this about Pearl, lately, and she seems to be noticing it about me, too - all this huffing and puffing!
Well, as is often the case, the Muse didn't remain quiet for long. As my mind considered the day ahead and I stepped out of comfortable, familiar worlds, into unknown yet noticeably irritating ones, the Muse spoke to me about letting go, and reminded me of that exercise I've sometimes used when doing group work around death and dying. It's one I learned during my hospice patient volunteer training back in 2009. It hit me like a ton of bricks when they used it during our training and I always find it to be a valuable tool in working with the dying, or even with those as yet undiagnosed ones willing to consider their death for the sake of learning to live joyfully until such time arises.
I won't share the exercise here, so as not to ruin it for those who might join me in a group workshop, but what it got me thinking about this morning, is worth noting. As is more often the case than not, as soon as I took a peek at my newsfeed, there were several posts from friends discussing this very uneasy art of letting go that we hear so much about, and that was on my mind this morning! Letting go of homes, loved ones, ancient histories and memories, cherished treasures etc.
What the Muse directed me to is the realization of how often we decide it's time to let go of things, and we set about choosing what we'll let go of. Well, that's a good start. But the tough brand of letting go is having things suddenly stripped us by the hand of life, when we least expect it, when we least can handle it, when we least can imagine we'll ever be able to wade through the muck and mire and come out on the other side.
This is the essence of letting go: releasing the notion that us choosing what to let go of and when, will ever grant us the serenity of accepting what we cannot control, while watching everything we know and love be swept away.
An old adage would have us believe that practice makes perfect - HA! At its very best, practice makes more practice. And we're fortunate to have it!
How dare I?
While walking this morning, I was characteristically visited by the Muse. Walking and bathing are the most common ways I am visited! Earth and water really seem to do it for me.
There are times when I am forthcoming with the Great Mystery's gifts and I allow the flow and the grace to move through me and out into the world. But more often than not, I withhold completely, keeping the buried treasure under lock and key. That's not a recipe for health and happiness, I can assure you. And then on other occasions, I do give up the goods but in a miserly, selfish way, where I put them out and then steal them back, like a pirate of my own good and bad fortune!
It occurred to me this morning, as the Muse cajoled my heart, how tiring this little game has become. "How dare you?!" I heard as I looked up and saw this tawny beauty boldly staring me down.
"Undoubtedly, you heard what I said, but it bears repeating: How dare you?! How dare you squander your gifts? How dare you withhold your love from the world? How dare you refuse the gifts, and worse yet, how dare you receive them and then stuff them in your pockets like so many worthless crumbs? Do you have any idea of how impossible it is that you are alive as you?? Would it matter if I told you that the probability of your existing is 1 in 10^2,685,000? You may be unfamiliar with scientific notation, so let me express to you that second number is a 10 followed by almost 2.7 million zeros! For scale, the number of atoms in the entire universe is only 10^80. Why is your existence so improbable? Well, it required the unbroken stretch of survival and reproduction of all your ancestors, reaching back 4 billion years to single-celled organisms. It required your parents meeting and reproducing to create your singular set of genes (the odds of that alone are 1 in 400 quadrillion).
"So let me be very very clear - YES, YOU ARE SPECIAL! You are virtually, impossibly unique, so let's stop asking these inane questions like 'why would anyone be interested in what I have to say', or 'why would anyone bother to read my words, or buy my book, or come to hear me speak, or appreciate my smile, or care about my joys and sorrows, or my triumphs and disappointments, why does it even matter what I leave behind?' Would you give it a rest, please? REALLY! HOW DARE YOU?!"
"Thank you" I said pretty meekly, then I said it louder, and then louder yet. "Thank you; I'll do better!"
I hope you'll join me in loving yourself and sharing yourself and giving the world your special gifts. I need what you have.
gratitude & regret
Speaking with a dear friend, over dinner recently, our conversation turned to her ongoing journey of “adjusting to my new reality”, as she calls it. This new reality refers to a big change in her physicality. In her early eighties, she is still that enigmatic, adventurous, caring spirit whose youthful energy and wise experience are still so alive to me in my heart and mind, I realize that I also need to readjust to my new reality of experiencing her, as she ages. Duh!
She is still able to ride her bike daily, physically and emotionally hone a new relationship with a lovely gentleman, care for her loving, and aging dog, keep her nature-preserve home running and well-kept, and make weekly pilgrimages to see her family, most especially her beloved, adolescent grandchild. This requires a two-hour round-trip and arduous drive on the interstate, which I find challenging when I do it, begrudgingly, once monthly at best. She stays active in her community, always interested and engaging, generous with her time, resources and talents, and ever-available for a smile, a word of encouragement, the latest book suggestion, a meal.
What she can no longer easily do, is balance the rocky terrain around her lovely pond for the daily walks with her dog, which for many years has kept them bonded, fit and energized. What she also cannot seem to easily do is deal with the ongoing and escalating painful nature of walking at all. The condition is chronic and deteriorating, a painful arthritic process for which she’s undergone a wide variety of rehabilitative efforts to slow the worsening, with no greater prognosis than that. I can feel the pain in my ankles, but most especially in my heart, as she describes how difficult it is to stay bolstered and continue the physical therapy sessions that offer only the hope that the worsening will not dramatically hasten. Without effectively noticing any real change or improvement, she is “operating on faith” that physiologically anything is happening at all. I can feel deeply that sense in her that she wakes up with each day, with a heart hungry for a sense of gratitude, all the while her body continues to betray her.
My dear friend has always relied on returning to gratitude as a way of finding her way back to presence, something she puts great value on. Finding gratitude in the flight of the blue herons that land on the pond; the red cardinals that glide and swoop and captivate. Her flower and vegetable gardens; the memory of the sound of so many children’s voices who have lovingly enjoyed this paradise over the decades. The conversations, the connections, the gathering of hearts. The books read and shared, the many retreats and workshops, the wounded and healed hearts who have been loved by this place. She is grateful for the trees planted over the dead bodies of those who once walked these fields, and now nurture life underground. They’re up on the hill, buried the green-way, loved ones lost to the tides of life, and she herself is grateful that she will find her way here to this new world, as life makes its final circle around her. And I will add selfishly, with gratitude and hope, that will be many years from now.
But right now, so much gratitude is a moment by moment stretch. So now, as we sit and talk, I consider which words might be of any use at all, which words might help her to feel both the gratitude and the sorrow, the gratitude and the deep sense of loss. How about gratitude and the irritated anger that rises with so much loss? How about gratitude AND the physically painful reminder that things are this way now, and not the way she wants them to be. And I re-member that this is the only way, always the only way, the middle way: holding the opposites together in one breath, and with great fortune, even in the next breath. Grateful and angry, grateful and sad, grateful and pitiful - one breath, one full experience of holding it all. And I find the way to allow her to come to this knowing is with her own resolve, her own wisdom, her own surrender. I do not do this by holding myself up to be some paragon of ever-flowing wisdom, coming down from the sky on a soft cloud, light and knowing, and oh so wise and endowed with the divine.
I do this by commiserating with how very dreadful this all is, how hard it is, how so very near impossible it is to embrace this all and come gradually and sweetly to gratitude. I recount how close I was, just days ago to a ghastly interior experience of such wretchedness, that I was ready to throw myself into the fire with the rest of the ashes in the heap of hopelessness. And in this moment, she is first able to feel connected and not-alone, and then whole, and then a comfort to a fellow-traveler who also suffers, who also has to climb out of the wreckage of the human condition and back to the sublime. And I understand in this moment, the nature of comfort, the nature of true love, the foundation of true support, the capacity for compassion-ability, and how we can come to it over and over again. How we can lose it in a moment. And how we can return.
We take a step, out of one world as it ends and into another as it begins. Each world ends, and another begins, with every inhale and every exhale, here and gone, the hellos and goodbyes, infinite, eternal and indistinguishable. Our thoughts make their discernments, add edges and zones and borders and boundaries. But our thoughts are the most illusory of all - dying before they are born; worlds ending and beginning. Always ending and beginning again.
The invitation is to leave it alone. To let life be. To know yourself as being lived. That is what is happening here. Life is alive as you, through your breath, through your being. Don't look for it elsewhere. It does you and undoes you, over and over again. You are not the doer. Stop claiming that you are, and your relentless despair of knowing you are not, will dissolve. The belief in the doer, in the future, in something rich and magical beyond this place, is what deadens you, and crushes your heart. The belief in something greater than this has held you captive, left you for dead. And yet you fear death. The only death you will ever know is this lifeless longing. Question these beliefs, awaken from them, and live it out loud. Then you will know yourself as boundless life, as freedom, and your body will age and die fully alive, without regret, endlessly beautiful.
Analisa Domenica is a naturalist minister and mentor, in private practice as a Doula for living and dying. She offers private mentoring sessions, end-of-life preparation & transition support, bereavement, home death, funeral, and natural burial guidance, and laying-on-of-hands for comfort care and pain release. Analisa joyfully celebrates weddings and memorials, according to your faith or secular tradition. She is available to private clients, small groups, and for public education. Find out more about her by clicking here.
'Li' lives and works in Mill Spring, NC, a stone or two's throw from Asheville, NC and Greenville/Spartanburg, SC. She also works globally via phone and zoom. You may reach her by phone at 828.429.0096 or write to her by clicking here.