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grieving, join me for the launch of my new website and coaching program Transforming Loss from Surviving to Thriving. There
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our Launch Page.
A few weeks ago I was struggling with negative thoughts about my
website designer. I say struggling because a) they were making me feel
powerless and victimized and b) I was afraid these thoughts might be
contributing to the problem. I believe in the power of intention — that
thoughts have energy and can actually create reality. But you don’t have
to be a believer to appreciate the impact that negative thoughts can
have on your life.
Negative thoughts and the shadow stories that fuel them, create a
lens through which we filter our experience of the world. Take for
example, the story of the neglected child. It is one of my
childhood stories and very likely it was feeding my negative thoughts
about my website designer. The neglected child is about not getting
enough love, attention and support. I call it a shadow story, because it
blocks the light, and leads to dark thoughts. Many of us have this
particular story, as it is hard for parents to get child rearing right.
Either they are neglectful or too over-bearing. Since I grew up with
five other siblings, I fell on the neglect side of the continuum.
A shadow story like the neglected child becomes a problem
when it colors our perception of what is happening, when it infuses a
situation with more anguish or anger than is warranted by the situation
and robs us of objectivity and peace.
At my mom’s memorial service, my sister Susi put up poster sized
blow-ups of family photos taken by my mother –an exceptional portrait
photographer. I searched through the crowded rooms of the funeral home
before and after the service, but could find no photo of myself. Feeling
raw at the loss of my mother and somewhat estranged from my siblings
because of living on the opposite coast, my neglected child was
activated. Beside myself with grief and loss, I confronted my sister
about her oversight, the following day. “Why was there no photo of me?” I
asked in a voice both accusatory and wounded. “But there was one of
you,” she countered with justifiable indignation. “One of you and your
new partner (now my husband).” It was one of the last photos she took!
Because of my story, I had failed to see it. I had expected to be
neglected and this blinded my eyes.
Sad stories often cause us to take actions that maintain them, as was
the case with my friend Marianne, another neglected child. Marianne
often complained that because she was so competent, others failed to see
her need for support. One of the benefits and sometimes curses of being
a neglected child is that you develop many skills of self-sufficiency.
It’s a matter of survival. What Marianne did not recognize was how her
own attachment to self-sufficiency prevented her from receiving the
support she craved.
In her final months of life, as a pernicious cancer took over her
body, there were many emergency trips to the hospital. Never once did
she call on me, one of her best friends, to drive her. She had this
notion about not using anyone up. She carefully selected whom she would
call based on when she had last asked them for help. Sometimes she would
just call a cab. She could not believe that I (and many of her other
friends) would willingly drop everything to rush to her aid. I can
recall several times when my husband George persisted against her
protestations of being fine and drove all the way to Sausalito to make
her dinner. In the end, she came a long way in expanding her capacity to
receive and I was grateful to be a player in her journey. It taught me a
lot about giving and receiving — both of which can be challenges for
the neglected child.
Our sad stories can also cause us to select or attract people and
situations that confirm it. When my friend Sara had a mild bout of food
poisoning she telephoned the woman she was scheduled to meet for lunch
and asked if she could instead drive her to the hospital. The woman
declined her request saying she had something better to do. Did Sara
call anyone else? Of course not! Who would want to risk more rejection?
Certainly not the neglected child! When I queried her about this friend
who had callously declined her plea for aid, Sara admitted that the
woman was exactly the sort of self-centered person who would turn down a
sick friend. We often choose the very person who will fulfill our
expectations thus validating our story.
We become used to our shadow stories and could easily spend our whole
life nurturing and confirming the wounds of our past. Life, however,
has a way of pushing our story issues in our face and upping the ante
until we finally get the lesson or die trying to learn.
It is time to change your story if it is making you miserable or
interfering with getting what you want. You may truly believe it because
of the other guy, which to some extent it might be, but it’s also your
Clearly I needed to change my story about my website designer. It was almost six months and the site was still not finished.
How do you shift a shadow story? First you need to recognize the story for what it is–just a story.
That is harder than it sounds. Shadow stories come with an emotional
charge which can be difficult to shift–like a stubborn child holding on
to hurt feelings or anger.
Sometimes physical movement or exercise can dispel that emotional
grip. Meditation can also work. But when the negative thoughts persist,
it might be necessary to give the angry child some space to rant. My
Sufi teacher calls it, “Giving the dog a bone.” Writing it all down is a
very effective method. It gives the thoughts expression thereby
releases them from the mind. Eventually the child runs out of steam and
we can move into a more detached stance regarding the story.
I do not recommend sharing your inner child’s rants with others
(unless the other is your coach or counselor) because we tend to confirm
each other’s misery and this can add fuel to the flames of emotion
rather then dissipate them.
Once the emotions have been released, we are in a better position to
examine the situation dispassionately. We might ask ourselves if our
story is really true? Do we know for sure that it is true? (A question
from Byron Katie’s work.)
Did my website designer, for example, really take more time than was
reasonable? Is there another viewpoint? Can I look at the situation from
the other person’s perspective? For example: my designer might counter
that the site was complicated and her staff spent gobs more time on it
than she wanted or felt paid to do. Another question — how might I have
contributed to the problem? Could my hypercritical stance regarding my
designer’s work have soured our relationship and created communication
problems. Did my secret fears about the website being too esoteric and
self-disclosing of the wild and mystical me unintentionally delay the
process? Finally, do I recognize a familiar pattern here? Have I had
difficulties with other contracted professional? Might I, like my friend
Marianne, be too attached to my self-sufficiency?
This kind of self-investigation can be very rich and informing. It
may be that like Marianne, I need to change my behavior and attitudes
around receiving help. Or maybe I simply need to change my designer. Or
maybe there is no problem at all and the website has being launched in
perfect timing. Ultimately, I get to choose, not from an emotionally
charged disempowered place, but from a place of clarity and knowledge. I
get to decide what serves me best. The shadow story loses its grip
Does this mean that my childhood story of neglect is forever
vanquished? No . . . but I will be able to recognize it a lot sooner the
next time it shows up.
Meanwhile . . . my website is up at www.secretsoflifeanddeath.com and I am full of gratitude. It’s still being tweaked. Comments are appreciated.
After my dear friend Marianne died, my husband George and I spent a couple of months clearing out her apartment and storage lockers. It's an interesting process sorting through the accumulation of a lifetime, a little like an archeological excavation.
Marianne had been a private person and we discovered details of her life we had never known – some surprising, some even disturbing. Respecting her privacy, I destroyed many letters, photos and videotapes that I knew she would have wanted to keep hidden. I sifted through boxes of her photos, throwing out bags of images as I gradually created a photo album of her life. The album, of course, was my own version of her story, a public one with a hint of something deeper. The act of throwing out so many of her photos was powerful and also painful. It felt like I was letting pieces of her story slip away.
Marianne had been a great shopper. Her body and her space were her canvases and she was a consummate artist of color and taste. Being a Sufi student of Adnan Sarhan, she had veils, hip scarf, belly dance costumes, jewelry and boxes of Middle Eastern CDs and tapes -- in quantities that that astounded a frugal buyer like myself. We had two give-aways, one shortly after she passed -- an impromptus memorial service for those who accompanied her in her final days, and one a few months later to distribute her clothes to closest friends. Marianne fluctuate greatly in her weight over the years so there something for everyone, large and small. It was a time of wearing Marianne. We all wore Marianne and kept her close to our skin.
In the summer, George and I packed the remainder of her things in his van along with the photo album I had created of her life and drove to Sufi camp. Sufi camp was her second family, the family of her spirit. This family also needed to mourn. I put out the word that I was distributing some of her things and for her friends to stop by. In the process, I learned more of who she was. People I barely knew came to claim a piece of her legacy and share the special tale of their acquaintance.
As a final closing, we all gathered together in a sunflower field to cast away her ashes. It seemed fitting, a beautiful place where she would love to go. I shared the story of her death -- the final moment of her passing when she suddenly sat up and stared in wide eyed wonder at empty space, and her contented smile after we replaced the ugly hospital gown for an attractive dress, combed her hair and put lipstick on her lips. Other stories were shared by her friends--some bawdy, some witty, others loving and kind -- all quintessentially Marianne. Together we wove a greater picture of her life.
In that time of sharing, I realized that Marianne was not just my loss, a notion I had fallen into during the intimacy of her final days. No, she belonged to all of us. In accepting this, I let go a little more. We laughed, we cried and we said good-bye.
Tomas Pinkson, a psychologist and expert on sacred ritual and empowered aging, encourages the celebrating of a person's life before they die. Wouldn’t it have been lovely for Marianne to have heard the stories of the people she impacted, to know how important she had been to them? And yet, maybe not. I believe she would have resisted such exercise, as it would have too graphically heralded the coming of her death, an event she did not welcome at the age of fifty-three.
When I think of the many life passage that are celebrated in later life – the retirement party, the 50th wedding anniversary or the 80th birthday, I can see the dangers of prematurely wrapping up a person’s life. In summing up their achievements, we may inadvertently convince them that they are done and rob them of their purpose for continued being. Like the cells of the body that have no further use, such people may whither and die.
It was this sort of reasoning that motivated Marianne to refuse the offer of her brother to spend her final weeks of life in his home in New York. She could give up her work and be free of responsibility of earning a living. She said to me, “What would I do there, just hang around in bed and wait to die?” Instead, she chose to keep working at her craft as an esthetician until her cancer swept her from her feet and sent her to the hospital for the last time. Sometimes I think that’s sad -- that a person as sick as she, was forced to go on working. At other times, it seems perfect.
I do not mean to suggest, by the way, that life celebrations are bad, but only
that we must be mindful of the power of story and make sure that it is
only a portion of a person's life that we are celebrating and not the whole book.
Bob is another friend who, like Marianne, held on to living with both hands. He had a heart condition that could take him out at any time, yet he kept on making dates and planning for the future. First he just wanted to live until his first grandchild was born. Then it was organizing one more event for the math department at UC Berkeley. He kept on adding chapters to his book. Perhaps it was because he had no belief in an afterlife. He wasn't sad or bitter of even afraid of his impending death; he just wanted to make the best of what was left. He had a weekly social schedule that would have challenged a thirty year old and I was surprised each time I visited him and he was still alive. He told me that as a child, he survived a near brush with death from some deadly infection and his grandmother dubbed him a weed. With this moniker she acknowledged his ability to cling to life under the harshest of circumstances. "I'm a weed," he said. I believe that story kept him alive for a long time.
The griever's own story is also part of healing process. This is especially true, when the person or being who has died was deeply intertwined in the fabric of that person's daily life -- such as a partner, child, parent or even a pet. The overarching story suffers a serious shock. It's a bit like driving down a road and suddenly coming upon a place where the road breaks off and the land falls away into a huge and bottomless chasm. It is so easy to latch on to a victim story of desolation and ruin or to get caught in replaying the past because there seems no possible future on the horizon. In the journey of grief and healing, a new story must eventually develop that makes sense of this devastation so that the person can reengage in life. Ideally the chasm becomes the hero’s challenge. The loss is recast as a life test or lesson that leads to deeper self-discovery, power and fulfillment.
For me, the breakup of my first marriage became the impetus for my personal and spiritual transformation. The loss of my parents compelled me to produce three films about death and drew me into my work with grief. Many books, artwork, films and music have been created in response to loss. We do it with the intention of helping others; in the process we heal ourselves.
Not everyone is able to make the story shift, to invent the next chapter in their book of life. Many widows and widowers quickly follow their loved ones to the other side. My mother died only six month after my father died. In my film Caring for Dying, Christine’s mom followed her spouse a mere ten days later. This is not uncommon. However, it is not always a pining away or a broken heart that causes them to go. In the case of my mother, it was more likely that she stayed alive as long as she did in order to be there for my father as he died. Sometimes couples are so energetically intertwined that they age, get ill and die in tandem.
In the case of my friend Bob, he managed to do both -- to extract an important life lesson and to follow his wife, not too long after, to the other side. Because of his heart condition, Bob always assumed that he would be the first to go. His wife threw a wrench in this plan when she suddenly and swiftly became ill and died from cancer. She was an amazingly accomplished woman with many friends and associates. At the memorial service and in the weeks that followed, Bob was drenched in the outpouring of love and admiration people expressed for his wife. He wondered in the midst of this deluge, whether, with her passing, he would be abandoned. Whether, in fact, all their friends were really her friends who only tolerated him. Over the next year and a half after her death, out from under the shadow of her brilliance, he came to discover through his many social activities that he was lovable all by himself.
We live and die by our stories. They make sense of our world, our relationships and the flow of our lives. They give us purpose, hope, and perspective and provide closure for our endings. It is good to stay in touch with your story, to reflect from time to time on where you’ve been and where you’re headed. You are more likely to end up where you want to go.
As I began to write my blog this week, the story of the break-up of my first marriage, the subject of my last blog, came tumbling out. I knew I wanted to write about grief and this was certainly about grief so I just surrendered to the process. What came up were some interesting insights -- about myself and some of the life lessons that come with grief.
It was in the fall of 1984. My first husband had recently moved out of our Santa Fe apartment and I was coping as best I could. Still working, still breathing. Suddenly, I awoke one night with intense abdominal cramps. At first I thought it might be my period, but abandoned this notion when I began to vomit and the diarrhea hit. A violent purging ensued which continued into the wee hours of the morning. I remember being so disoriented at times I didn't know whether to be on the toilet or at the sink. When everything inside was out, I collapsed into my double bed, formerly OUR BED, and slept an empty sleep.
The next morning I could barely get up, let alone navigate the stairs to the kitchen --- or to the telephone, had it occurred to me to use it. I felt completely alone and helpless. I cried. Buckets. I had been holding it together, being strong, being brave. The sudden illness and helplessness cracked me open.
The bodily purging, ostensibly due to food poisoning, was, I understand now, part of my reaction to the loss. From a symbolic viewpoint, I was not able to digest the reality of my eleven-year marriage being over. At the same time, through the purging, I released it. Grief is a time when the body and emotions are so clearly intertwined. The emotions are so heightened, they cannot be ignored; but if you do ignore them, as I tend to do, the body will bring them to the forefront in a way that demands our attention.
When my wits returned, and my strength, I realized that there were friends I could call for help. I even called one to confirm it. This act required a major readjustment in my thinking and a subtle shift in the nature of my friendships. I had never had to reach out to a friend like that before. There had always been my husband and my family. But now my husband was gone and my family was on the other side of the county. Any person who has lost a life partner will, at some point, have to address this essential social need and reach out to create a new safety net. It is important to seek help from others and to not suffer alone. One's thinking during grief is not always reliable. Grief leads us to do strange and sometime dangerous things. Social connection is essential to one's health, even one's survival.
After the food poisoning, I began to lose weight. I was training for a marathon at the time, so that might have been part of it. But grief, I am sure, took it to another level. Some people react to grief with loss of energy and inability to do anything, becoming a recluse and sleeping; others get hyper-busy. That was my route. Both are ways of escaping from the incomprehensibility of the loss. You can either go off line, or become so active there is no time to think. Either gives the griever time to get some distance from the loss, to allow it to seep in.
I trained all fall and into early December, when I flew down to Phoenix to run in the Phoenix marathon. It is an easy race, if a marathon can ever be described as easy, because it is mostly down hill. I was in top physical shape at the time, better trained than for either of the two other marathons I had run. I made, however, a strategic mistake that greatly impacted what happened.
I had arranged for my husband, now living in Phoenix, to pick me up at the airport and drive me to the motel where I would spend the night before the race. On the ride we spoke of mundane things. Careful. It was so strange to know him so well and not at all. He stopped at a street-fair to pick up a present for his new sweetie. It was kitschy, not something to my taste, and I wondered at who this woman was and who he had become. Next we went to his new apartment. He showed me around then told me SHE was going to be moving in. "Huh?" When my husband had moved out of our home, we had talked about it as a "trial separation." Some trial! "He's no longer mine," I reminded myself, "I have no say." I said nothing.
I didn't eat that night, skipping the usual carbohydrate loading of the marathon runner. I couldn't face going out to a restaurant alone. Nor did I eat the next morning before the race. As arranged, my husband picked me up and drove me to the starting line. I could have taken the transport bus an hour earlier. It would have taken me to the start without having to see my husband again, without remembering the past -- all the times we gone to other races together. When he offered me the ride, it seemed logical, more convenient . . . more cared for. Oh how the newly singly miss that care, that convenience of the other.
Last Race - Sandia Peak, NM 1985
I started the race at a 7-minute-a-mile pace. It was downhill all the way-- unfortunately not in the way I had hoped. It was downhill in energy, in emotion, in self-belief, and in heart. Each mile, I ran slower and slower. Mile after mile -- a nightmare in slow motion, people passing me, the end farther and farther away. When I finally did straggle across the finish line, I was just happy to have it all over. My time was disappointing, slower than either of my previous marathons. But I didn't think about that until I was back on the plane flying home. Then I beat myself up for wasting three months of training. How could I have been so stupid? Grief made me stupid!
Actually, grief was making me a little smarter. It was showing me my habit of discounting my feelings and the costs of that disregard. Grief was teaching me to be selfish, in a good way. It was forcing me to be more respectful of my feelings. Otherwise they would get out of control.
That Christmas I went to my second Sufi Workshop, this time in New York City. I stayed at my sister's apartment, an easy walk to the workshop space at the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village. Although no longer training for a marathon, I now weighed in at 111 pounds. 111 pounds on a 5’8” frame. It felt quite wonderful, actually. I was light and ethereal -- perfect for spiritual work. Having grown up with a mother hyper-vigilant about weight, my new detachment from food felt gloriously empowering. And power was something I seriously lacked.
One evening, about halfway through the ten-day workshop, Adnan, our teacher, played a recording of one of his talks on fasting. We had been chanting for about forty-five minutes prior to this tape and were all very high. The idea of fasting ignited me. I could do this. Oh, I could so easily do this! I mentioned my plan to a more experienced Sufi student. He looked at me curiously and then suggested that I consult the teacher. Up I went to Adnan and said, somewhat shyly, "I'm thinking about fasting." He gave me a long hard stare and then said, "Don't fast." I interpreted this as: You are already there. YOU don't need to fast. That felt good. So I didn't fast. I was a good student, used to following directions. But I was tempted. Each time I ate something, I thought, "I could easily go without."
A small part of my mind was in observer mode, probably the result of the Sufi workshop. An insight arose inside. Suddenly, I understood the seductive and most dangerous aspect of anorexia. Low weight suppresses the natural appetite and also gives an amazing almost euphoric feeling of empowerment. Probably it's chemical. Certainly our cultural adoration of thinness plays into the mix. I felt a kinship to all those anorexic teenage girls who felt so out of control in their lives that not eating became their last line of resistance. It's a slippery slope, an internal feedback loop that, if left unchecked, will eventually kill you. That was not what I want. I started to eat again with the intention of gaining weight.
A few months later and a few pounds heavier, I did go on a fast. I was not trying to kill myself. But I was certainly drawn to the edges of experience. Perhaps it came from a desire to escape the grief through a more intense sensation. Have you ever noticed that you can't really feel two pains at the same time? If you have a toothache and you stub your toe, for a while the toothache goes away. I once read about a mountain climber who said he climbed in order to quiet the demons inside. The demands of the trek required such intense survival focus there was no room for negative thoughts.
The first thing I discovered about fasting is that it is not compatible with running. No fuel = no energy. I could not keep up with my runner buddies. The second thing I discovered is that it's really difficult to stay warm when you have no body fat.
The weekend of my fast I decided to go to a spiritual retreat at the Hanuman Temple in Taos. Steven and Andrea Levine -- famous experts on conscious dying, who were completely unknown to me at the time -- were giving the workshop. I was going because I had an important decision to make about a job I had been offered as a counselor at a mental hospital. It would involve moving to another town, away from my friends. The institutional feel of the hospital seemed ghastly. Also it would mean not going to Sufi camp in summer, something I had been looking forward to since the Christmas workshop. In the past I would discuss such big decisions with my husband. Now it was all up to me. I thought the weekend retreat would help me get clear. Logic dictated I take the job. It would advance my career and was good money. I had been out of a job for several months. But the Sufi work had begun to change me and I was starting to listen to my heart.
The first night in Taos I was ok, since I had just started my fast. By the second night I was having trouble staying warm. It was March and still pretty frosty at night with snow on the ground. I had learned from a previous experience that when I get to a certain chill level, no amount of blanketing would help. I needed to bring the body temperature back up artificially. So I got up from my sleeping bag and took a long hot shower. After about fifteen minutes, my core temperature had risen enough that I was able to sleep. At dawn, I was cold again. I got up quietly so as not disturb the other sleepers and went into the empty temple room. It was peaceful and serene in there with a huge statue of Hanuman, the monkey god, beaming down on me. I sat and breathed, in and out, listening to the delicate sounds of the waking morning. Soon I was clear that I would not take the hospital job -- a job I had struggled three months to land. I couldn't. I wouldn't. My body recoiled at the idea. No. I would stay in Santa Fe, get a temp job and go to summer camp. That was as far ahead as I could think. The weekend workshop, all about compassion, had fulfilled its promise.
Later that day, we were instructed in an eating meditation. Each of us was given a single raisin to slowly and mindfully eat. I can't begin to describe the impact of that raisin on my tongue -- a tongue that had not tasted food in three days. After exploring the wrinkled texture for a few moments, I slowly bit in. Sweetness engulfed my mouth in a cascade of flavor. As I slowly began to chew, a soft stickiness spread throughout my mouth, catching on the surface of my teeth, and giving my tongue delightful moments of renewed sensation as it dislodged the clinging fragments. Fasting had made eating new and rich.
Grief has some similarities with fasting. Everything seems more intense and at the same time less real. It is as though you are observing reality from a different dimension or plane. You feel more sensitive, more vulnerable; and you feel a need to protect yourself from overstimulation. If you can get past the judgment about how awful it feels, the discomforts and the desires for something else, if you can stop thinking about how great it was before and how empty it is now and may be in the future, if you can just allow and observe and experience everything, from moment to moment -- there can be amazing, mind-blowing revelations. You can discover a whole new landscape, new feeling, and new life inside and out.
Grief is a hero's journey. Like Orpheus, you go into the underworld, into the shadow and the dark, to retrieve what is lost. You think it is the person who has died or gone away, but in reality it is yourself.
Last week, I spent several days revising the follow-up emails to my complimentary grief guide, Essentials for Grieving Well. I had decided that people would be more likely to read the emails if they were shorter. So I broke up the original long emails into bite-sized bits. The email The Way of Breath spawned seven baby emails. That's a lot of emails about something we usually do without thinking. But the breath I wrote about is a very different kind of breath -- a breath with transformational potential.
Focused breathing is what saved me, 28 years ago, during the crash and burn of my first marriage. For two horrible months, while my husband vacillated about leaving, I tried everything to keep us together. Each morning, I would wake to the brilliant Santa Fe sun full of possibility. Then Wham! I would remember my marital situation. From heaven to hell in an instant! I didn't do much breathing in those difficult days. It was as if by holding my breath I could hold my damaged world together. Sometimes my breath-holding was punctuated by hysterical crying. Which got me some oxygen, I suppose, in a hyperventilated sort of way. Then I met Sufi Master, Adnan Sarhan.
Adnan came to Santa Fe from his summer camp in the Manzano Mountains east of Albuquerque, NM. My husband saw the workshop flyer and suggested we go. Adnan taught every evening for two weeks, and two full days on the weekend in between. There was little talking at these workshops, just hypnotic middle-eastern music, slow movement, and breath. My over-active left-brain full of panicked voices was silenced. I entered a magical present where neither past nor future exists. My worries and confusion were replaced by a profound and delicious peace and an all-encompassing love.
This love was very different from the human love I knew -- fraught with expectations, demands, and disappointments. This divine love was an expansive, chest-stretching, heart-filling feeling almost too big to contain. It was so huge; it brought tears to my eyes. This kind of love is what I think of when I read the heavenly descriptions of near-death experiences by writers like Anita Moorjani or Eban Alexander.
After two weeks of immersion in this glorious state, I was ready to let go of my marriage. I recall the exact moment. My husband and I had just returned to our car after seeing a movie about a marital breakup. Great choice, huh? He was in the driver's seat, describing his options to stay or move to Phoenix where his new lover lived. I sat huddled in the seat opposite him, hardly breathing, my body trembling, my hands clinging to the handle of the door. Suddenly, I saw myself from an observer's viewpoint. I saw with clarity the difference between the peace I had gained from the workshops and the misery I felt in that car. It cracked me wide open. No! I don't want to be this way! I breathed out and let it all go.
My husband moved to Phoenix a few weeks later. The following summer, I began a 25 year study with Sufi Master, Adnan Sarhan -- a study that continues to this day. Did it take away the grief I felt at the loss of my 10-year marriage? No. There are physical and energetic adjustments to loss that cannot be by-passed no matter what you do. But the workshops certainly made the process more bearable. What is more, they brought me into connection with my true self--lovable and full of possibility. The key is in the breath and the present moment. They connect you to spirit, your essence, and your heart. Everything is livable in that place of clarity and peace.
Do you need to learn how to breathe from a Sufi Master, like I did? Or from a coach who knows about these things? It couldn’t hurt. They can guide you to the place you want to be with their own energy and breath. However, breath is available to us all the time. It is our birthright. It just takes some practice and commitment to use it in this transformative way. I hope my follow-up emails with their tips on breathing help those who need it.
About twenty of us were squeezed into the living room of a small Brooklyn apartment awaiting the counsel of Laurie Lamb, a New York trance medium. It was 1986 and my life was in shambles. I had moved back home from New Mexico following a failed marriage, and was currently sleeping on a therma-rest pad in friend's apartment in Park Slope. I felt confused, disoriented and adrift. I'd try anything.
After a brief introduction, Laurie closed her eyes and went into a trance. She returned as a gruff authoritarian male admonishing us to get our acts together least we send the world to rack and ruin. This manifestation was followed by a kindly old lady who dispensed instruction like a daily advice columnist. Other entities also made an appearance -- a Native American shaman, a bawdy, flirtatious dame, an upper-crust matron -- seven or eight in all. They were so colorful and diverting, I found it difficult to attend to what was actually said. The diagnosis of a small lump on the back of my neck, never actually examined, later proved correct -- undigested milk fat. However, all in all, I left the event, skepticism intact.
Ten years later, I met with my second trance medium, Robert Johnson, at his apartment on the upper west side. I was interviewing him for a segment of On the Edge, a television show I produced, bi-weekly, for Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Robert was a hypnotherapist as well as a channeler for a group of otherworldly entities called "The Tutelage of Alpha Centauri." A plump, middle-aged man with a shock of white hair, a jacket and a necktie, Robert looked more like the car salesman he once was than any new age guide. However, I found his soft, confidential tone disarming and grew to like him as I learned the details of his unexpected spiritual journey, including a talking statute of Saint Jude and the discovery of a hidden talent for visions.
At my request, the Tutelage of Alpha Centauri was channeled for me and the cameras. Shirt loosened at the collar, tie gone, eyes lids lowered and speech somewhat clipped and archaic, the entity greeted me. What actor, I thought, could not have easily accomplished such transformation? I greeted the entity in return. He spoke with clarity and wisdom. I suspend judgement and listened.
The Tutelage told me about my own work, about how this show I was making that night would be aired more than once -- which it was, and that I would eventually have a production company -- which I did for my film series, Secrets of Life and Death. I was pointedly told not to seek perfection as there is no such thing -- an on-target bit of advise as perfectionism has long been a failing of mine.
To the general audience the Tutelage advised regular meditation. It was explained that there are three elements to a human being: the body, the soul (the autonomic nervous system) and the spirit. The body creates a wall that makes it difficult for the spirit to penetrate with its wisdom. Meditation lowers the wall and allows us to receive inspiration through our soul, the body's intermediary. This bit about the soul reminds me of PMH Atwater's research on the after effects of Near Death Experience on the mind -- in particular the limbic system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system. Apparently it gets a big boost from celestial encounters (See Chapter 20 of Near Death Experience: the rest of the story). A similar message about the important of meditation is currently being encouraged in a new YouTube video titled Awaken. Side note: I have some issues with the manipulative feel of this film, but not with its message.
Robert, not the tutelage, shared an interesting insight about channeling, which has stayed with me all these years: We All Channel! Channeling is not a special gift of the talented few. We receive wisdom from the divine all the time. We just fail to recognize it sometimes. For example, when I do a tarot reading or consult the iChing, I am channeling. In meditation, when I am flooded with ideas, I am also channeling. I no longer fight these thoughts in order to achieve an empty mind space; I accept them as a gift. When I am in my dream group or grief coaching, similarly, I receive insights and inspirations. Often they are stunningly on target. While my ego would like to take credit, I know I am simply a conduit for a deeper wisdom.
My biggest hesitation about channeling has been its susceptibility to fraud. See my early blog post on this. We all hate to be fooled, deceived or hoodwinked. So we are cautious when it comes to these arenas so difficult to verify. Are we not more inclined to believe the report, for example, of neurosurgeon and near death experiencer Eben Alexander regarding the after life because he was so steeped in medical science and such a disbeliever at the start? Disinterest and disbelief are the best credentials for credulity. However, when we relate to channeling as divine inspiration, it no longer matters whether Laurie Lamb or Robert Johnson are "really" being inhabited by spiritual entities. What matters is the quality of what is revealed. Do the words make sense? Are they life-enhancing and wise? Do they resonate with our hearts and souls?
I suspect that some channeling frauds may have begun as true transmitters of wisdom. However, fame and fortune can enlarge the ego, which invariably lead to folly.
Jeffery A. Marks, the next guest appearing on the teleconference series, The Mystery and Magic of Life, is not a trance medium, he is a psychic. That is, he is not inhabited by an otherworldly entity who takes control over his body and dispenses wisdom. Rather he receives visions and feelings that he has learned to heed and interpret and which turn out to be remarkably accurate. He obtains his information from the spirits of deceased human beings.
Robert Johnson explained in his interview that the entities he channels are of a higher order -- like angels. Other channeled entities such as Abraham, Seth, Ramtha, the Pleiadian Collective, God, etc, claim a similar higher authority. This is important to keep in mind as we begin to open to communications from the other dimensions. The view of heaven provided by people who have had near death experiences or by the newly departed souls in Jeffery's study will reflect some of the limitations of mortal beings -- augmented, of course, by their heavenly experience. Do not expect them to have all the answers.