In my decades of work as a healer, I’ve heard and held many people’s stories.
They’re confidential, so you won’t see them in this blog.
Here are some tales, poems and jottings from my own soul’s unfolding.
May they serve to spark yours.
Their themes often overlap in the arenas of Relationship, Sexuality, Tantra, Spiritual Practice, Gender Equality, Womanhood/Sisterhood/Motherhood, Creative Expression, and other juicy depths.
In my decades of work as a healer, I’ve heard and held many people’s stories.
There’s so much to be learned by including consciousness of the inner landscape in the ‘walk of life’.
I’d been under a wave, a blanket, an inner oppressor since I woke this morning. First was fatigue from having slept poorly. It didn’t lift when I got up and moved into my day.
Had to drag myself to do what needed to be done.
Irritable. Angry at being slowed down by my body. Not wanting to get sick. Feeling/fearing that I WAS getting sick.
Dull of mind.
Blue of spirit.
I know this place.
It’s been years since it was chronic, thanks to the learning and practicing of a variety of healing tools. Couldn’t seem to remember any of them as I trudged through my day.
Barely an appetite for dinner.
Fortunately, my home-made veggie soup from a few days ago was available.
After soup and some connection with my beloved, the pall
lifted and some insights came through.
(Oh, I should say that a couple of hours earlier, the physical portion of this malaise lifted after I did a couple of healing herb shots – some echinacea drops in a bit of water and some zinc-based throat spray.)
The pall that lifted over dinner was the deadened, depressed, hopelessness.
It occurred to me that this, back in my theatre-school days, was what we used to call the post-performance blues.
Yesterday, my partner and I performed some music with several other enthusiastic members of our ‘alternative’ synagogue.
It was fun, uplifting, and demanding in the arena of ‘being seen’, which is always a mixed blessing for me and my odd mix of introversion with occasional extroverted spurts – these days usually in the service of making music.
Here’s the NEW LEARNING about all of that.
In the ‘giving presence’ that singing and leading prayers/chants in a public forum requires, I’m ‘out there’. Not exactly out of touch with my inner self – I need lots of awareness of breathing; projecting; remembering Hebrew words; tuning in to the rabbi, fellow musicians, the congregation. What had been out of consciousness is that I must also make space to care for some of my extra needs as a high-empath healer while leading/performing. That is, in any community setting, whether I’m overtly offering leadership or not, I tend to be a sponge for people’s unexpressed feelings/issues’/needs. I see them, hear them, feel them even when they’re not spoken to me, and frequently they are. I’ve assumed a false separation from my ‘performer’ and my ‘healer’. I’m now thinking that the openness required to lead liturgical music opens everything further, including the empathic channel. Without awareness of that, and the tools I can use to take care of myself, I got swamped yesterday.
Finally, I had a big cry that released grief, stress, loneliness, and other pains I’d picked up from my fellow-travellers.
Back in my own place of balance, it was a sweet evening and promises to be a good sleep tonight.
Moving my body is often the easiest route to lifting my spirits, so it’s good when I remember to turn to my second longest-standing spiritual practice of Tai Chi. (For a wee bit of my history with this practice, you can skip to the second part of this blog post, titled My History with Tai Chi .)Today, it helped me clear and heal some pain that was lodged in my emotional body.
I was doing Tai Chi as sunset was approaching. With a slightly stiff left shoulder from some bursitis or something that set in about 8 years ago, I felt grateful for this gentle physical movement that can be done even with a measure of physical limitation. A mild twinge in my shoulder reminded me of when pain arrived in that joint. It was shortly after the sudden, early death of my brother when he was 61 and I was 58.
Not to oversimplify things to causation or anything, that shoulder pain was so intense during the weeks after my brother’s death that it frequently brought me to tears. Those tears in turn brought me several times to feeling and releasing my grief over the loss of him – my sweet, smart, funny bro. I had complacently assumed we’d have some twilight years with less busy-ness in our far apart daily lives, and more reunions.
Sometimes physical pain can connect us to the emotional variety, and therefore a chance to care for ourselves in more ways than one.
Sometimes it’s a spiritual practice that opens the floodgates. Like today.
I had a big cry while doing the part of the Tai Chi form called ‘white crane cooling it’s wings’. It was a release of pent up emotion, mostly grief, that had been sitting in my chest. I tend to have (and hold) strong empathic responses to an overload of the news about so much pain and fear in the world. Closer to home, a beloved friend is suffering unbearably from a degenerative illness.
A good cry is a good thing, for me and for many.
It’s rare for Tai Chi to open me to tears. Usually, it quietly returns me to the simple healing of deeper breathing. Today it was the catalyst for my cry that took the edge off my anxious, irritable demeanor that had been driving my day.
My History with Tai Chi
I have a passion for radical spirituality that welcomes the mixing and sharing of more than one tradition. Tai Chi is the second practice that became meaningful to me, back in my early twenties.
The form I know is from the ‘Huang’ school as my teacher, Al Huang, jokingly called it. He was trained from childhood in more than one classical Chinese school of Tai Chi Chuan. As a visiting teacher in dance and choreography in York University’s Fine Arts program in the early ‘70’s, he taught classes in Tai Chi for my cohort of performing art students, distilling the essence of the movements into beautiful dance. I loved it. Some of the form I learned those many decades ago has remained with me, flowing in and out of my life as meditation, dance, and exercise.
Years before the resolution of enough fear of, reluctance toward, and aversion for ‘religion’ had been achieved to allow me to directly turn toward the spiritual, especially in community, I could always do some Tai Chi on my own. It never failed to deepen my breathing and quickly reduce anxiety. I could practice non-religiously – the only way I would practice then. No institution demanding that I show up and do it on anyone else’s schedule. Just me in my body.
Sometimes years would pass with no practice. Every return was a joyful new beginning with a friendly old body-memory. Here in the 7th. decade of my life it is movement I can usually do with ease and with consciousness of where my body needs attention.
Thank you to Al Huang, to his protégé Jay Goldfarb, and to the centuries of Taoist teachers and practitioners who stand behind them!
One piece of good news in my life is that
I have a very loving home.
I share it with two men.
In various combinations, we have
shared time and space as well as
separate space and time.
One man is my first husband of 39 years.
He is also my second longest ‘bestie’,
next to the woman
who became my first best friend
when we were both 13.
The other man is my partner.
Twelve years ago we met and have been
a tantric partnership
that is a foundation of
love/trust/spiritual growth for both of us.
There is much beauty and light for me
in both of these relationships.
There are also many learning moments
that are triggered
by what’s not so pretty and enlightened
in us and between us.
I’m referring to Garden Variety (and uniquely individual)
Shadow Material that goes with being human.
I would say that many if not most
have to grapple with (or ignore) this stuff.
More on that later in this blog.
That is, more on the story of how
self-responsibility for Shadow Material
led to a swift
return to LOVE.
Also, probably more later on
how I came to live with my two guys.
When I fall even more deeply in love with him, I see so much of his light.
I love to see his light.
Then his shadow blindsides me. Again.
And the flame of my fiery response draws oxygen from my own nasty shadow.
I’ve been here before, in this intimate fear.
Fall for someone and eventually you won’t be able to get up.
Not only that, but your fall may set off dominoes of falls, fallings…….
I remember again that tortuous ancient lifetime of tragedies that befell my Sisters because I fell for a man.
I acted on my Seeing that told me there was a time coming when women and men could be equals and that I must help to lead the way.
I’m tired after another dance in the depths with my beloved, my closest spiritual companion, my tantric match.
Does that make him mine?
Yes, but not in that dreaded ownership.
That makes him mine to love, honour, and cherish when I am also loving, honouring, and cherishing myself.
Simultaneity would be ideal.
It’s a growing edge
The whirlwind of his hungry-for-life energy is compelling to me.
In the light, we play, make love, cook, eat, make music, meditate/sing/pray, create projects, engage with people, comfort each other, laugh……
In the dark I lose myself in the unconscious unspoken undercurrents of old marriages filled with bitter resentments and unborn dreams, in the triggered swamp of abandoned babies and children, in the powerful undertow of unseen subconscious expectations, power struggles, fear and mistrust that have bounced between men and women for millennia.
My biggest mistrust, the most dreaded, that sometimes gets projected out and onto my beloved is mistrust of myself.
Failure to know what I needed.
I did speak to myself with forgiveness for not knowing what I didn’t know.
Come to think of it, COULDN’T know because these particular waters have never been charted.
I offered and received blessed forgiveness for not knowing what was not yet known to either of us.
I had planned that my first blog post in this Tantra category
would NOT be about sex, Tantra being so much more than coital creativity.
However, the sacred sexuality dimension
is one of the most compelling.
So, here I start.
Some Sexual Healing
It’s a very jangly night here on planet E.
I hear it on the news,
and I can feel it through my edges
of anxiety, emptiness, aimlessness, restlessness……
followed by irritability that led me
to sexual arousal…..
followed by deep sexual connection
with my beloved tantric partner
who almost never fails
to meet my high libido with his.
Sometimes, in the winds of massive shifting and suffering
going on in our world,
the only thing that can ground, comfort, steady, and encourage me
is that deep elemental pleasure of the flesh.
I am grateful.
I longed to give some spiritual sustenance and support to my brother Phillip as he approached and went through his death. Not so much ‘give’ as if it were something I own, but be a conduit for and invite that which I believe is already available to him. Like the shaman that I am (see http://soulrecovery.net/). Never would I use the ‘S’ word with him. Like the words ‘belief’ or ‘faith’ , it might be anathema to his intellectual religious/spiritual neutrality, and to that of his beloved grieving wife, Frances. Yet, they both glow with what to my eyes is a divine-like loving kindness, unsentimental and liberally spiced with humour, for all beings in their sphere – sons, daughter-in-law, numerous pets (two horses, three dogs, four cows) and more. An only slightly stepped down version goes to the rest of the world, especially those in need of advocation, education, or shelter. Phillip in particular, the more outgoing of the two, spent his career life caring for those in need in many different capacities, at times spanning the whole of Britain. He did it humbly and without fanfare. I didn’t know many of the vast details until I heard them in Frances’ portion of our collective family eulogy.
The longing to hold him as he died came up as suddenly as did his fast-moving fatal illness. Complacency had been upon me. I’d long been able to rest in the confidence of our deep filial bond. It had already withstood decades without much substantial contact across the ocean that separated our adult homes. When we did meet for the occasional family reunion, the profound ease, love and respect that had been between us throughout our childhood was always immediately there. He was, in many ways, my first trusted companion in this life. He had never failed me, and I knew he never would.
I wasn’t prepared for him to die in his early sixties. Death. The biggest awakener this side of birth. In more than one of our daily phone calls in the week after we heard about the speed with which his terminal illness was progressing, Phil assured me and our brother Russell that he had no ‘unfinished business’ with us, that we could say good-bye on the phone, that we should only come if it was our need. There was no way on earth that I was going to leave him and Frances without some family support, and given other family health crises I was the only one who could go. And even if our entire extended family was able to show up, I needed to be there for him, for me, and for the call to give to my brother and his family the fruits of my life work, honed through years of practice in counselling and shamanic healing. Thankfully, I was able to get a flight to England and a train to their village in time for Phillip’s last day with some moments of ‘ordinary’ presence and communication, that is, before some unknown combination of cancer, pain, morphine and other meds took him to that place of indeterminate consciousness between this plane and some other.
Saturday June 12th., the day after he’d been moved to another hospital, he was exhausted with the strain of that move. I arrived at his bedside a short while before all 3 of his sons and his soon-to-be daughter-in-law were expected. Thin, weak, and struggling to summon enough energy to talk, he could meet my eyes, speak my name, tell me he loved me, and crack some joke that I can’t remember now. I was doing my best to refrain from spilling the next rush of tears and grief, knowing that he didn’t need to expend precious energy on dealing with that in me.
(This knowledge, as well as being intuitive, comes from both the psychology of death and dying, and from Buddhist teachings about how to support someone approaching death. Buddhism offers some deep, comprehensive, and relatively accessible wisdom on navigating this time of life, but of course much practice is required to become adept, and I’m far from that level of accomplishment. Oh well. Hoping that a heart-in-the-right-place can make up for lack of rigorous practice.)
One by one, his boys and Frances had some farewell time with him, and then we were all busy getting him moved, easily this time, out of the noisy ward and into the single room he’d been promised. It had also become clear that there were too few nurses to give him the care that was now needed, to help him with shifting positions as they became too painful and to give him sips of liquid for his constant, raging thirst. Together Frances and I helped him through the next hours, the younger generation paired up for shifts through the late afternoon and evening, and I returned to be with him through the night. Frances desperately needed a night’s rest, and I was newly arrived from a time zone that was 5 hours earlier. Through the quiet of that night, the practical support of drinks and arms to help shift a failing body were accepted gently by the man who still looked like my brother. Most of the time, he was in a restless trance-like state, but each hour or so he’d call out my name.
Sometimes my response was greeted by his simple smile of recognition and a faint squeeze of my hand, and sometimes by expressions of confusion, fear and questions about what he was supposed to do. In those times, I did my best to assure him that he was not alone, that guidance was there for him if he asked from the inside, that there was nothing to do but step aside from fear and accept what he heard and the strong light that approached as part of his own being.
I was praying to strike a balance that would not violate his own belief system, would be authentic to my own experience, would not reach beyond my levels of trust, and would shield him from any fear and doubt of my own. He seemed to take some comfort, if not from my words, from the love in them. At times that night, his agitation would increase and he’d answer with a faint ‘yes’ when I asked him if it was physical pain he was feeling. Fortunately, we hadn’t yet reached the limits of the nurses’ authority to raise the med levels, and so his pain could be managed.
Toward morning, he was sleeping more, albeit with laboured breathing, and requesting fewer drinks. I was doing my best to combine my own instincts with a meditation practice prescribed in a recent, fortuitous reconnection with an accomplished Buddhist teacher. He had suggested that in order to support Phil’s passage, I chant aloud the simple Tibetan mantra to invoke loving kindness. The mantra felt right, but the chanting was wrong for the environment, my fatigue, and Phillip’s countenance. For three hours I repeated the mantra in silence, the most sustained meditation practice I’ve ever been able to do. Phillip’s breathing lost its laboriousness whenever I was able to sustain strong concentration, and I lost my fatigue.
Close to the ceiling in this old country hospital, a spider walked clock-wise around and around the room, never once threatening to descend and irritate. A cocoon of protection. Mid-morning, just before Fan and one of the boys arrived, our spider’s life ended with a fall to her death in the corner of the room furthest from Phil’s bed.
As Sunday unfolded there was more agitation for Phil and so for his team of family care-givers. Confusion, disorientation, and physical distress were much greater than the previous day, the increase in meds offered by an on-call doctor was not enough to relieve his pain, and the system could offer nothing further until the head of palliative care was due to come in on Monday morning. Not only our grief had to be screened from the immediacy of Phil’s bedside, but also our anger at the system’s failings and our own feelings of helplessness. It was a hard day for all of us, and when I came back to do my overnight shift after an early evening nap, I was more anxious and less confident than I’d been the night before. Drinks were no longer wanted, and it wasn’t possible to bring him comfort with a soothing word or hand. His distress was heart-breaking. I climbed onto the bed with him and held him through the night. He was able to cuddle into my body, much like a very young child would do, and find a few moments of comfort, alternating with extreme agitation.
Searching for something that might soothe, I wondered about the Hebrew prayer that our nephew and I had sung to our father as he lay dying ten years ago, even though I knew that Phillip had long since disconnected from Jewish traditions. I asked him if there was anything I could sing for him, and he said ‘No’. On an impulse, I began to softly chant the Buddhist mantra aloud. In a lucid whisper, Phil asked me what I was saying. I told him it was a chant to invoke loving kindness and asked him if it was okay to continue. He whispered a ‘yes’, then within minutes said: ‘That’s enough’, with the last shadow of spontaneous humour, for which he was famed throughout his life. I asked if it was okay to do it silently. He said yes, and that he’d still be able to hear me.
Soon after, as the light began returning, Phil fell into a sleep that was deeper than anything he’d had through the night, and I was able to slip out and down the hall to the ‘quiet’ room and allow my tears to wash out another wave of loss, frustration, and fatigue.
When I returned, Fan and her future daughter-in-law were there, relieved to find Phillip resting somewhat peacefully. He didn’t, thankfully, have to endure another round of agitation, as the head of palliative care came in early and prescribed new and unlimited pain medication that worked. We continued to take turns being with him through that day and evening while he ‘slept’ with only occasional needs to move or be moved. His middle son was with him about 4 the next morning when he passed in seeming peace. We all gathered at his bedside in that wee hour for our final, private farewells.
I chose to stay with his body through much of that day – a fusion of intuition with an honouring of the Jewish way. It’s also what would have been prescribed by native, Buddhist, and Hindu communities. I continued with silent mantra practice, but can’t say that I was aware of his soul presence, and by mid-afternoon had to relinquish my solitary watch in order to care for my own body. The next days were filled with funeral planning, eulogy writing, and finally a ritual remembrance and memorial that shone with appreciation for the Phillip we loved, and also deepened our connections with each other.
The shock of having to fly back soon after was mediated by the unorthodox, mini-‘shivas’ that unfolded spontaneously with my loved ones at home. (‘Sitting shiva’ is the Jewish practice of friends and community supporting mourners for 7 days after a funeral by bringing food and sharing remembrances.) On day 3, I woke from a vivid dream in which I was in a darkened, basement room of a house I didn’t recognize. With me was a man who seemed to be a combination of Phillip and a former client of mine who has a demeanour similar to Phil’s. Through the open door I could see brilliant white light. As Phil turned and walked out the door, my original Buddhist teacher, Namgyal Rinpoche appeared in his lama’s regalia, sitting on a ritual throne-like chair. His voice was reassuring as he told me that all I need do f or my brother now is encourage him to walk without fear into the unknown.
Nic Bergeron died of cancer at the tender age of 24. He gave much to everyone who came close to him, throughout his life and in a heightened way as he approached his death. At his funeral many of his closest loved ones shared stories of their experiences with him, especially the loving wisdom he evoked and bestowed.
It seems important that as many people as possible have access to the intelligent compassion this young man expressed.
As a strong friend of Nic’s late mother in this life, and as his shaman, I was privileged to spend some time with him in his last days. Up in the bright front bedroom of his family’s home, the veil between this existence and the next was as thin as the skin stretched over his depleted shins. Nic, bald and beautiful with the sun pouring over his face, gave some profound reports of what that in-between place was like for him:
“Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between me and others. Yesterday, for several hours, the whole left side of me WAS my brother. I can’t really explain it, but I knew him from the inside. And for almost all of last night I was one of my mom’s friends, worrying about my kids. I had to say wait, I’m Nic! I don’t have kids.”
His broad grin and quick chuckle at that absurd yet real experience were followed swiftly by tears as he spoke again:
“Penn, I can face my own death. I actually feel quite fearless about it now. But my family’s been through so much. I can’t bear to bring them this grief. I know, I know, this crisis is also an amazing chance to clear a whole s_ _ _-load of old grief from the body, cause I kind of insisted that my dad let go of some. When he was with me yesterday I felt like there was a thick cloud all around my head. Then I became aware that it wasn’t all mine. It was his and it was grief. When I asked him to show me his tears, to stop protecting me from them, I held him while he had a huge wail and told me how much he was going to miss having me in his life, watching me go out into the world, being a grandfather to my children. His tears felt so good, I almost thought they could heal this f _ _ _ing cancer. We both felt a lot better after that. Now I have to find a way to help one of my brothers do the same thing. He needs it.”
That explains why his dad, Jacques, looked about 15 years younger than when I’d seen him a few days earlier. Jacques’ own moving account of these moments with his son tells of a profound and mutual gift they gave each other. In the arms of his father, Nic’s tears helped to release his own grief at a life cut short and to lighten the emotional pain of his passage.
His willingness to engage with his dad and others at this level shows Nic as a sage, an elder before his time. Despite waning energy, he continued to speak about the people he cared for, making specific wishes for their happiness – partnership for a friend who is longing for that, direction for one who is seeking his ‘feet’ in the world, healing for a relationship that had gone sour.
“Beat your drum, Penn. Not just to call in my guides. I’d appreciate that ’cause I’m doing my best to hear them, but I want that drum to help everyone I know to act on their dreams, here, in this life, NOW, before it’s OVER!” (playing on two of his favorite song titles by Cynthia Long, a spiritual advisor and ‘second mom’ to Nic)
We were both weeping and laughing there in the fervent love that had been drummed up, that was so reminiscent of his mother Ildiko’s passionate wisdom. It was then that a very powerful lesson was delivered to me. I was fumbling, trying to figure out how to quickly get my voice recorder set up so I could more accurately capture the jewels falling from Nic’s lips. It wasn’t happening smoothly, and I made a passing comment about being a ‘techno-idiot’. In more ordinary circumstances, it was the kind of thing that might have passed almost unnoticed, but in Nic’s extremely sensitive state he winced as if he’d been struck. With a sinking feeling in my gut, I really felt the toxicity of self-deprecating energy, even in a seemingly mild form, being no less harmful than cruelty directed at another. In Nic’s dying days, there was no way to deny such a spiritual truth, or the one that tells us how much and how deeply we are connected to each other.
“Ouch. Hurting ourselves hurts everyone. I’m ready to stop.”
I’ll remember, Nic. And may all the blessings you’ve left behind in this world follow you and nourish you for the coming journey.