Death/ An Act of Love

Hi All…

Again, not dead. I have been writing a lot, but just not posting here.  However, I thought it might be a good time to share a story with you that makes me feel, at once, free for telling it, and incredibly vulnerable.  So, here goes…

 

My mother did not technically commit suicide, but she did decide when it was time for her to die. In the span of ten years, she had lost both of her parents, her husband, and her son. And then she lost control of herself, as alcoholism and depression consumed her life. It became undeniably clear that it was the beginning of the end for my mother when she stopped eating and started taking on massive quantities of fluid in her mid-section. Ironically, my stomach was growing too at the time because I was about six months pregnant with my first child. Our synchronized, expanding bellies indicated that I was losing my mom on the brink of becoming one myself.

When her liver finally gave out, and her body started shutting down, the doctors pumped her full of medications to prolong her life. Due to the extreme cirrhosis, her mental clarity became punctuated by moments of confusion during which she would organize whatever items lay in front of her in varying, illogical patterns. She would also routinely mistake certain objects for others. Once we found her trying to light a cigarette with the remote control.

The last time I spoke to my mother I had just popped into the hospital for a short visit. This is when I learned that without consulting anyone in her family, my mother had instructed the doctor to cease all the medication that was keeping her body functioning. She wanted them to focus solely on comfort and pain management until she faded away.

For most of this visit she babbled incoherently. But as I was preparing to leave, she took my hand in hers, and placed her other hand on my growing stomach. She looked at me with an odd clarity in her eyes and she said, “I love you, and I love this little girl”.

I was almost nine months pregnant when my mother finally passed away. Why she chose to stop her medications and die that close to my due date is beyond me. Initially I believed it was because she was selfish. The same selfishness that allowed her to consume copious amounts of alcohol until her insides corroded inspired her to pass away at the moment I needed her most. Could she not have suffered through another few months of life to welcome her granddaughter into the world?

But with some time, and some perspective, I have chosen to believe that she actually did it for me, and for my daughter. I believe that she didn’t want to interrupt the timid and precious emerging bond of mother and newborn with her own tragic and fading existence.

And the truth is, I was relieved that I did not have to share the birth of my child with the impending death of my drug addled, physically dependent and mentally unsound mother. I think that somehow mom knew that stopping her medication, when I was nine months pregnant, was the best gift she could have given me. I believe that for my mother, dying was a final act of love.

I choose this perspective, not for her, but for my own sake. It is important to honor the dead by remembering the best about them, But it is equally, if not more important, to honor our continued existences on this planet by choosing to view our experiences with death, and life, as rich, meaningful and ultimately good.

And is this not true of most every circumstance we face in our lives? In The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, the protagonist is robbed of most all his belonging and finds himself in a foreign land, penniless and alone. Faced with the harsh reality of his circumstances, he decides that he has the power to determine his own truth. He realizes that, “he [has] to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure”.   In choosing the latter, the hero strengthens his will and dedicates himself to the continued pursuit of his lifelong dream.

My circumstances with regard to my mother’s death are not so different. I can choose to think of myself as a daughter who was brushed aside and abandoned in favor of addiction and release from suffering. But I can also decide to think of myself as a daughter for whom great sacrifices in love, life and death were made. I choose the latter.

I Am Still Alive!

I am taking a little break from blogging, obviously. It’s been about ten days since I last posted. If you’re following along with my work at all, then you know that I came to a significant, and terrifying, realization recently.  I have some nasty shit that I need to clear from my psyche before I can actually move forward spiritually. And so, I’ve just spent the last week and a half reflecting, meditating, and writing for myself.

I’ll share two ideas here that have come to me:

  1. First, as I was meditating I felt like I received an insight suggesting that pain and happiness are actually the same thing. They are both just energy. It is our interpretation of it as pain that makes it cause suffering.
  2. I know this sounds embarrassingly cliche, but a voice spoke to me, and very plainly instructed me that that love was everything. That loving would lead to enlightenment. That filling myself up with love and giving it freely would keep a steady flow of intense, positive energy coursing through my being. This is the path to happiness.

I did not expect this blog to take me where it has, but I am so grateful for it. I’ll be back to write more as i feel inspired to do so. Thanks for sticking with me!

The Spiritual Hangover

After finishing The Alchemist, I decided to continue the trend of using spiritual fiction as a self-help tool.  In an effort to find something inspiring, I took to the internet and searched for books similar in nature. I was repeatedly directed toward The Celestine Prophecy, the 1993, self-published novel by James Redfield.

I was already familiar with this book because I remember my enigmatic, larger-than-life great-uncle reading it when I was a kid. He was so moved by it that he traveled to Peru for a kind of spiritual pilgrimage that included bungee jumping and ingesting lots of hallucinogens. He also believed in a prophecy that claimed California was going to fall off the continent and sink into the Pacific Ocean. This terrified me to no end because my father and stepmother had recently moved to San Francisco, and were living in the direct path of inevitable destruction.

My great-uncle always served as a cautionary tale for me regarding veering too far off the path of “rationality”. He was hilarious, adventurous and incredibly full of life. He wore a Budweiser suit, complete with top hat and cane to my dad and stepmother’s wedding. He would drink a bit much and sing Christmas carols in a booming and unsteady pitch during our holiday gatherings. He would tell stories that consumed his audience, and generally resulted in fits of laughter around the dinner table.

And then one day he killed himself. Seemingly out of nowhere, and of his own volition, this incredible life-force was gone. Because I was still young when this happened, my memory of my uncle is spotty. It consists of a series of still images, sound-bites and small snippets of conversations overheard as I eavesdropped on my parents, strung together to form the impression of a life.

But what I always remembered clearly was his love for The Celestine Prophecy, and his seemingly nutty ideas about spirituality and the nature of reality. And without fully recognizing it, I had connected his beliefs, and that book, with his ultimate descent into madness. So I’d never read it, or even entertained the idea of reading it, until a couple of days ago.

The Celestine Prophecy is a poorly written, cheese-ball narrative, with one dimensional characters and un-engaging plotlines. But I fully understand its appeal to my great-uncle and to the millions of people it has reached. With that, it has lent an important insight to me: that I need to start really dealing with the pain and loss of my past if I am going to discover who I really am.

So much of the self-help journey that I’ve documented here has been cheeky, or superficial. It has also focused almost solely on positivity, and moving forward in love and light. But through reading this book I am beginning to acknowledge those nasty limiting beliefs and painful experiences that I must confront and release if I am to make any real progress.

Last night I meditated on the subject of loss in the context of my life, and today I am fully exhausted. My body aches, my stomach feels wonky and I have been on the verge of tears all day. In other words, I am spiritually hungover. But while the physical reaction is interesting, what is more astonishing is the sense of peace and calm that I feel, simultaneously. It is as if I am feeling more pain, but suffering less, because I understand that it is transitory.

I realize now that, for me at least, this is going to be a brutal, but essential part of doing this work. I have been avoiding it for so long, because I wanted to believe I could just move on from everything-that it didn’t really affect me. I wanted to believe that I was entering into a new phase of my life, where the past meant nothing. And maybe that is still true. Maybe the past is insignificant, or doesn’t even exist, or is only what we make of it. Whatever the case may be, it feels very real to me… And I have the hangover to prove it.

What Is Your Personal Legend?

I finished The Alchemist last night, and here is some of what I learned:

As I mentioned in my last post, one’s “Personal Legend” is something like her purpose in life, or her deepest desire. Maybe it was a dream she entertained tirelessly as a child, but then came to believe was impossible. Or, maybe it is something that she has discovered and is aspiring to right now.

Regardless, if we believe that a Personal Legend exists for each of us, then we also believe that our lives, and The Universe, act wholly in service to it. But how can The Universe conspire to make your Personal Legend come true when it seems that there are so many obstacles in the way? I suppose we might view these obstacles in a threefold manner.

For one, they test your will. How dedicated are you to pursuing your Personal Legend?

For another, each challenge might seem like a roadblock in the moment, but actually it is a stepping-stone. It is there to help you move forward; without it, you could not achieve your goal.

And finally, intimately tied with your Personal Legend are the lessons you learn about God and The Universe as you attempt to achieve it. In other words, acknowledging your true desires allows you to move closer to what Coelho calls “The hand that wrote it all”. With every step you take, and every challenge you overcome you get closer to God.

Seeking one’s Personal Legend is not just about achieving the desired end, but also about movement toward “The Soul of the World”. What this implies is that these desires are, necessarily, earthly in nature. But that is not something to worry about, because our sincerest desires are “pure”, if you will. They do not mean to harm others. In fact, often times they are in service to humanity in some way, even if that service is small. But what is more, getting closer to “The Soul of the World” means getting closer to “The Soul of God”.

What if we were actually capable of fully envisioning our passages through life like this? What would change? If you know that The Universe (or God, or The Hand) was truly working in your favor, then you will not give up easily. If you know that every obstacle is actually a necessary step in your progress toward your Personal Legend, then you will suffer less. If you understand that your challenges are getting you closer to God, then you might be more willing to let God in, and to resonate with the meaning of your immediate present. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

So what about you? Have you discovered your Personal Legend? If so, what is it and what challenges do you face as you attempt to achieve it?

(Note: The books seems to imply that each person has only one, true Personal Legend that is supported by a whole host of other very strong desires. Maybe a person can have several Personal Legends throughout her lifetime, but I think it is an interesting exercise to try to narrow it down to one.)

 

Revelation Through Fiction: Which Books Have Inspired You Most?

I picked up The Alchemist last night, and I cannot figure out how I have gone this long without reading it. What is more astonishing is that it came into my consciousness through a blogger I read here, just after I wrote my last post about the indeterminacy of desires.

For those of you who do not know, The Alchemist is a book by Paulo Coelho that narrates the life of a shepherd who discovers, and subsequently seeks his “Personal Legend”. A Personal Legend is something like one’s “purpose”, or deepest desire, that comes to him as a child but is often forgotten, or deemed impossible, once he reaches adulthood. If the individual is able to determine his Personal Legend then “all the universe conspires in helping [him] to achieve it” (The Alchemist). Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What is really striking to me is the power of fictional narrative as a self-help tool. Most of the literature filed under “personal growth” or whatnot appeals to our minds through easily digestible “techniques” or tidbits of advice. But fiction can elicit a more emotional or visceral learning. It infuses our psyches with a non-logic based understanding of the world, as if by magic.

I have not finished the book yet but it has already given me great fodder for well-being. It helps fill in some gaps in my spiritual education, because it addresses the heart in conjunction with the mind.

So, I would love to know, what fiction books have lent spiritual inspiration to you?

Flow Versus The Monkey Mind

So this “sleep your way to happiness” technique is working wonders for me. Combined with positive thinking, I have to say I might have actually found a bit of a silver bullet. Granted, I am not trying to solve a specific or pressing problem (i.e. health, finances, etc.) right now, so I cannot comment on how well it would do in a pinch. But what I am wrestling with is a general feeling of malaise and a vague indeterminacy of my own aspirations.

But isn’t that one of the biggest hurdles we face in our lives? Here I do not exactly mean the malaise, but the indeterminacy of our desires. How are we meant to work toward goals when we miss the absolutely crucial step of identifying them? And even then goals are often far too easy to pull apart. Once we start examining our aspirations, we sometimes find that what we thought we want doesn’t matter at all, or is just a stand in for something deeper.

With that being said, many of us also understand the power and beauty of working toward a desired end, with the confidence of knowing that we are capable of success. The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say that three times fast) referred to this highly focused state of complete immersion in a task “flow”. If you read his books, he gives some great, salient advice on how to achieve flow; and it worked for me for a time.

Yet I would always find myself retreating back into a state of apathy or anxiety after a period marked by deep engrossment in a task. Mostly, this has to do with my monkey mind’s inability to just go with it. I cannot stop myself from picking my goals and actions apart to the point where they are virtually unrecognizable.

This is where Joseph Murphy’s “autosuggestion” technique has worked well for me. Rather than just entering into flow with my writing, parenting, wife-ing or whatnot and hoping it will sustain, I now have the ability to proactively maintain this state through affirmations on the brink of sleep. I started out asking for simple (but actually not-so-simple) things like peace, happiness and energy. But what has grown out of all of it has been a more balanced state of mind, better sleep, and the ability to maintain flow, without the incessant concern that my goals are faulty or somehow unworthy of pursuit.

In other words, I have felt more comfortable letting my desires lead the way a bit more. I do not mean this in the hedonistic way, but in the sense that I accept my desires as legitimate. And in doing so, I think I am discovering a form of self-love yet unknown to me. Because trusting in those small voices that urge us in one direction or another ultimately means trusting ourselves.

I promise that next time I post I will try to give you a more “wow” inducing example of manifestation or something. I love those experiences as well. But I have to say that the last week has proven to me how little the “wow” moments mean compared to a more sustained sense of peace, energy and well-being.

Sleep Your Crappy Life Away

Ok, don’t really do that. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. (Or, i guess, do, if that’s what you love. But, generally, sleeping through life is not recommended.)

No, this advice does not endorse hiding under the covers instead of experiencing all that the waking world has to offer. What it does suggest is that you may be able to use your sleep more effectively to improve your well-being.

I adore sleep. It is my go-to remedy for basically everything. Bad day? Sleep it off. Feeling un-well? A good snooze will help! Project at work making you anxious and wreaking havoc on your confidence? Retreat to dreamland and escape.

I am no stranger to using sleep as a feel-good method. In fact, I would say I have a tendency to overuse it. Yet it was only recently that I realized why. When you sleep, your nattering, angsty conscious mind shuts the hell up for a minute, and you can live in peace. Dreams are fun and mostly out of your control, so you can just be, without the incessant plotting, planning and general anxiety of your fun/ happiness-sucking consciousness.

In The Power of Your Subconscious Mind Joseph Murphy capitalizes on this relaxed, go-with-the-flow sleepy state. He claims that the messages we tell ourselves as we are falling asleep begin to imprint themselves on our subconscious minds. If we consciously communicate to ourselves our affirmations, then as we fade into rest they will, in effect, take over. In the sleepy state there is less competition for brain space from the ugly, negative thoughts that our conscious minds attempt to impose, and so the positive thoughts contain more force. And then they extend into our subconscious minds for the duration of our sleep. This multiplies the amount of time that we are able to communicate our positive message, without much additional effort.

According to Murphy, this is a highly effective and expedient technique for persuading your subconscious mind that your happy thoughts are the true ones. And because your subconscious mind dictates what shows up in your reality, you have pretty good reasons to convince it of the utmost awesomeness.

My favorite thing about train rides across Europe is sleeping in the little bunks of the couchette cars. It’s just so cool to be productive, traversing long distances, while you sleep. So I am all for trying this technique. I’ll let you know how it goes!

(Disclaimer: I in no way mean to indicate that your life is actually crappy. I’m sure your life is fabulous!)