I still weep at least once a day. That is okay. I’d rather the body process and release than trap sorrow.
Each day I open my inbox to see her smiling face framed in a halo of red curls. I click the link to read a memory of her life. It is a gift that I sometimes find heart-wrenching, but always soothing. Part of me dreads the day when these posts will disappear. I’m not ready to retrieve the words she wrote for me during our years of correspondence. I am trying not to need them. I am trying to let go of what once was and move into what is.
As my mentor through the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, she taught me about the mysteries of what we call “life.” All those illusions we hold onto that bind the larger truth called “union.” You’d think I’d know better. I stand before my own students and teach union. Together we practice yoga, which translates into “union.” On our individual mats, we move the energy of the body to release what binds, while focusing the breath on what unites. Together, and individually, we create union. Or should I say reunion. Sometimes it is more accessible as a concept than it is to practice.
Knowing that she is now in all things is not enough for me yet to bring a steady state of solace. I search out the essence of her that lingers in the words she wrote, reading each post that appears in my inbox. It matters little that I’ve read most of them before. Each one brings a fresh wave of her magic.
This is what I am missing most these days. The magic that felt uniquely hers. We may be sparks of the same light, but through the process of our individuality, this light morphs into personalities that cannot be replicated or mimicked. I have convinced myself she is irreplaceable, and of course she is. It is now that she might remind me that I should not look for a replacement. That this is both futile and unnecessary. She would tell me that she has not disappeared, but is now in all things.
It is true. When I walk outside she is the woodpecker, calling me home. At night, her love pours out of the curl of the cat nestled into my legs. In all moments of stillness she is the soft dance inside each cell. I am familiar with this transfer of love. I have felt it in other losses. But it is not yet enough.
I imagine anyone who knew Sue is having a tough week. I am no exception. Forgive me for processing my grief so openly. Writing is how I come to terms with struggle and heartache. It is how I come back to myself. I am trying to get there again. Back to the center where peace resides.
Each morning, when I open my inbox, Sue’s name appears. Another post penned in her hand flows her essence onto the screen. For a few moments, she has returned and I find myself wrapped into her landscape. It is with reluctance that I leave the past and move into the day’s reality. Which, basically, has not been great this week.
“I hope you are finding time for self care,” a friend of mine messaged me yesterday.
Grief is a tangle that only the self can unravel. It shuts out the world and one must walk into its darkness alone to explore each knot that binds the path back to light. No one can know these knots, but you. The individual’s own pain body creates them, and thus must set them free.
I am not a master of self-care. I’ve spent the majority of the week caring for others. Tending to my family’s needs, teaching yoga, and covering classrooms in my local middle school. By yesterday afternoon I felt entirely drained. I have only myself to blame. I am not good at asking for help or admitting I need support. I have carried on as usual, and my family has allowed me to. I live with needy beings and balance is upset when “mom” is not okay.
So mostly I pretend that I am okay. I cry when no one is looking. I sink into memories when the house is silent.
It is cold today, as it was yesterday. The sharp bite of the return of winter’s wind reminds me of the Aprils that brought me to Peak District of England. Outside, my frozen fingers pinching laundry onto the line, I remember standing on a hillside exposed to the elements to welcome in the new dawn. I see Sue’s face smiling into mine, her hand pressing the day’s gift into my palm.
Had I known we would only have a brief time together in this lifetime, perhaps I would have altered my role as a caregiver to create more. But, life has a way of creating circumstances that, in hindsight, are more right than they are wrong, even if we would have preferred them to be different. I felt Sue’s hand softly pushing me out of the nest three years ago when I completed my studies with her through the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.
Sue was, as those who knew her are aware, both ready to leave her earthly form, and reluctant to do so. Sometimes, during her illness, I would cope with this impending loss by imagining how Sue would return to me, and others. I’d see her form in the shifting clouds. Her spirit drifting into my dreams. I’d hear her voice guiding me through obstacles. Feel her hand, nudging to find the magic in the wild places.
Now that she has passed, I find mostly doubt and emptiness. I found myself wondering if my fantasies had any value but to deny this inevitable cycle of life and death. Each journey, as Sue taught, must ultimately be walked alone. Teachers can enter our lives for a period of time, but we have no control over how long. They are there to guide, but not take over the journey. When we become too attached to the hand, we become dependent upon it. In turn, we neglect the inner light that persists inside of us. And we doubt that it is all we need to connect to the light that surrounds us.
Maybe by tomorrow, or many not until several tomorrows, I will find my way back to that place. It is here, I know, that she will be. In that soft, quiet place that weaves into unity.
It is said, by some, that when we think of the beloved who have departed from their earthly forms, their energy rushes through dimensions to embrace us. I am not the only one who has noticed the soft cocoon of her light.
“All is light.”
I keep thinking of her words before and after, as I imagine what she would say to me each time the labored hand of grief seizes reality.
Sometimes we laugh at my absurdity.
While chopping vegetables for dinner, I tell her I am “not happy.”
“I know,” I imagine her saying, but she is also smiling. We both know better.
“Well,” I tell her, “It’s simply not very fair. We had lots more adventures to go on.”
“Who says they’ve stopped?”
We laugh before I cry, again.
And there she is sitting beside my left shoulder, wrapped in her feathers. She is not alone.
On the other side is Bratha, but she is less defined. A haze of energy to show me that Sue has returned to her, and the others. I think of the crow, kin to raven, who flew across my path after I learned of Sue’s passing.
“I know,” I tell them. “I know, and I am glad. Don’t get me wrong, but I am also a little envious. You left the rest of us behind.”
We’ve made some sort of deal, I think. I tell her I don’t want to be needy. That I don’t expect to take her away from other “places” and “people,” which simply means I am trying my best not be needy. On the other hand, I promise to be open. To whatever is offered.
Reluctantly I accept that it may not be what I want, but what I need.
She seems to have established the realm. For the second morning I wake to what I know are her words, even though the voice has already changed.
I begin to wonder when the form will too as I think of the photos that are disappearing from my computer. She wouldn’t want us to hold onto the temporary.
“All is bright [light].”
Still infused with clever mischief, asking for the mind to be stretched.
“Don’t expect to see me as me. Be open to seeing me in everything.”
When I went to the grocery store after dinner, the bill came to $77.77.
I knew it was coming, but there was still resistance. Isn’t there always? The pull to keep those we love here with us fights against the letting go.
The news of her passing was brought through the soft waves of a song weaving through the space between dreaming and waking.
All is calm
All is bright”
It took the repeat of this refrain, over and over again, and me growing irritated by its interruption, before the dawn of realization broke. She is gone. Her soul released back into the union of light.
“All is calm. All is bright.”
Somehow she knew I needed to hear it from her, first. The delivery, perfect, as only she could create.
“All is calm. All is bright.”
I am holding onto those words as the hours pass into this first day without Sue in physical form. I am holding onto the memories that filter through the minutes to remind me of her love. Around my neck I wear one of her gifts, a symbol of the “Feathered Seer,” knowing there is a comfort that she has found reunion with the magic on the other side, and that already she has threaded it back to us.
“All is calm. All is bright.”
I need to hold onto those words, and so I do, because I am still not ready to think about the days ahead. And I know all of you who were graced by her presence will understand. For a tiny, “hobbit-sized,” woman, Sue had the capacity to hold an infinite amount of love in her arms. She was, and I know she knew this, an embodiment of the mother archetype many of us long for. How lucky I was to experience her unconditional love and grace, if only for a few years. How lucky I was to feel the embrace of her hug, knowing I was beloved in her eyes.
I am already missing her and she is not wholly gone. When I search for her presence, I find the soft emptiness of the liminal place. Holding. Waiting. I don’t want to think about grief, again. A prolonged letting go that takes me on a journey to uncomfortable landscapes. We grasp at the tangible only to discover that we will eventually reach the cliff of letting go, not knowing when we will arrive there.
And sometimes there is no liminal place to linger.
It is a test to step into the space of soft uncertainty and feel the soul cocooned between the life and death of the temporary vessel. I do not want to think about pain and heartache. Those sitting beside her, holding the space. Holding her hand. I do not want to think of the labored breath before it breaks free. Pain seems incredibly unfair for a life filled with such grace.
I want to think of what came before and what comes after. That vibrant spirit that touched so many lives with magic, including my own, finding joy once again. Yes, I want to think of joy. The unbound soul flying free.
The liminal place, I’ve decided is not a place of easy comfort. It is a place of searching through what keeps us bound, and what must be released to let go. It reminds us of what we hold, even when it is wrapped by love. And it reminds us that we can doubt the eternal as a condition of being human.
For me it feels uncomfortably empty even though it is filled with all that binds. It feels like a void. It feels like sadness before the final wave of grief that will eventually bring the joy of release without knowing how large and fierce that wave will be before it breaks.
I don’t know why I am feeling it. There’s no rational explanation. Yet, there it is, the feeling of possibility stirring the cells into the flutter of excitement. Perhaps it is the quickening pulse of Spring that vibrates within my being. The Earth’s re-awakening becoming my own. It is, after all, the time of growth and movement. But not all moments are like this one.
Today has no set agenda for me. This morning, after I ensured that my daughter had a hearty breakfast and everything she needed before she headed off to take her SATs, I checked my phone and realized it was unlikely the call would arrive. Today, it seems, I am not needed outside of the home. I have started subbing at the middle school in town and usually the call for assistance arrives by 7am.
The day spreads before me a promise only I can fill. Some days this might bring the feeling of unease. The unknown agenda pressuring the need to be useful. Even though I am a Virgo, the mutable element of water flows strongly through me. I find grounding in routines when life feels uncomfortable, but there is the ever-present spark of magic waiting to be ignited.
There is something wondrous about a day unfolding without knowing what each minute will bring. Time is freed up to capture and weave together an infinite number of patterns of creation. It becomes the choice of the seeker to choose which path in this labyrinth to walk. We become poised, ready to receive what awaits. And how we navigate this spread of possibilities is also up to us.
When we open to the agenda-less, we allow that spark of magic to be ignited within. The outer world responds to our desire to be awakened into joy. We learn and discover in subtle ways that reveal to us their immeasurable value. It need not be, and often is not, a radical offering that awaits us. Most days we do not win the “lottery.” Most of us never will. How many people who do receive an over-load of abundance all at once know what to do with it to find true joy?
It is the offerings that may, at first glance appear tiny, that reveal the hidden gems that spark the life within us. Overload often brings overstimulation and chaos. The body and mind can only process so much at once. Conversely, one silken moment threading into a new one, nearly invisible in its form, can become something exquisite. One step into the unknown day leads us into a possibility offered without the force of our own creation. It becomes a gift, an offering to unfold.
As I sit here with one dog on either side of me, and no middle school classes to cover or yoga classes to teach, I hear the soft rhythm of breath mixing with the hum of the artificial life of my refrigerator. Choices unfold before me, but only a few have been revealed. The cat who fears the dog calls out to be visited, and I have decided that I will choose his offering first. But what is offered next, I am content with not knowing. It is the possibility that sparks the quickening, not the knowing.
It doesn’t matter who says it these days. As soon as the expression escapes someone’s lips, the dog comes running, filled with the promise of a dropped morsel. “Oops” is all it takes to make her feet race with joy as quickly as they can carry her into the kitchen. One person’s mistake is another [dog’s] victory.
When my husband dropped a few grains of cereal this evening, sending the dog running to the kitchen to clean up his mess, it got me thinking about this simple cause and effect conditioned response we have created. It did not take long for our Zelda to learn that an error for us meant a reward for her. She’s a smart dog, highly motivated by food.
Food pretty much rules Zelda’s life. She’s an opportunist, ever-ready for the chance to snatch up a meal, whether it be her own, or the remains of someone else’s. When my husband dropped some of his evening snack, I got to thinking about how subjective the meaning of “Oops” can be. Even, you might say, for the person who utters it upon impulse.
In this example of food lost from one mouth, only to be retrieved by another, the idea of a loss equalling another’s gain seems quite simple. But, most of the time what is dropped in our kitchen and retrieved by the dog is mere crumbs and is not really missed by us. The dog, in this case, is doing us a favor by sweeping the floor with her mouth.
At other times, though, the loss is greater. A quarter, or even a half of a meal might be lost with a careless swipe of a hand, resulting in the dog’s gain becoming more of a costly indulgence not just for us, but also for her health. Then, perhaps you could say the “Oops” is a genuine oops.
But I’m more interested in the subjective nature of the “Oops” and how the impulse to utter a word of mistake can, upon deeper reflection, become a gain for the person who might at first glance be thought of as a victim of circumstance.
When an event occurs that disrupts the status quo, it is in our nature to react. Our reactions determine our emotional response to the outcome, and sometimes it is unwavering. For example, if we return to the instance above, the dropped food may be perceived as a careless action that results in self-reprimand. No thought for gain may be considered, aside from the dog’s.
Yet, when we take the time to consider the cause behind the cause and the result beyond the initial result, we might arrive at a different conclusion. We might take a moment to realize that maybe our thoughts had influenced our carelessness, causing the food to be dropped because we had not been fully present and invested in the present moment, or task at hand. Therefore, the dropping of the food becomes an opportunity to reflect and pause. We can consider what has caused us to be distracted and why. We can make a choice to let it go and become more mindful as we carry out the rest of the meal preparation that is underway.
A mistake, then, becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow, even one as simple as an “Oops.” As we do this, the amount of “Oopses” by nature decreases, and the opportunity is seized not by someone else (or the dog), but by ourselves. The reward becomes our own to retrieve if we choose to. And, most likely, with enough exploration, we will find that the gain outweighs the perceived loss.
I chose the above photo as an image for this post because it reminded me of a big “Oops” I recently read about regarding the writer Ernest Hemingway. Early on in his literary career, his first wife, Hadley lost his entire collection of unpublished manuscripts. Deciding that she would gather all of his work to bring to him while they were vacationing, Hadley misplaced the briefcase containing the contents of his creative work on the train. The briefcase, assumed to be stolen, was never to be recovered. It took months, if not years, for Hemingway to realize, with the help of a writer friend or two, that perhaps Hadley’s “Oops” had actually been a gift. His writing, you see, had only benefitted from his loss, becoming stronger and more refined because the page, like our floor, had been whipped clean by a perceived mistake. He had no choice but to start over with nothing to lean upon. Hemingway’s creative hand took not only adapted to the loss, it grew from it.
Thursdays were days when Sue Vincent would post a photograph writing promptchallenge. In honor of this ritual, I have posted one of my favorite photographs of Sue, which I took two years ago during a shared trip to Wayland’s Smithy. It’s a photograph I hold dear. Filled with memory, magic and love.
I’m not sure if Sue knew I was taking this photo, but Ani sure did. The presence of these two beings made this afternoon extra special for me. Although I can count on my two hands the number of days I have spent with Sue, they rank among the very best of my life thus far. Sometimes you are lucky in life to encounter a teacher/mentor/friend who takes you under her wings and guides you in that gentle way to open your awareness to the magic that exists, but is not always acknowledged. I consider myself one of those lucky individuals.
I can’t tell you exactly when I first met Sue, or exactly how. But, I can tell you she entered my life just when I needed her presence. That is often the way these types of relationships occur. The teacher mysteriously finding the student, the student, the teacher, just when the moment is right…
If it were not for the internet, perhaps we would not have met, but I believe when there’s a will, there’s away. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would meet a woman named Sue who would lead me into the magical landscape of the soul and also the living lands of ancient Albion, I would probably not believe you. Yet somehow, one day, our paths intersected through our blogs, and the rest is our brief history in this lifetime together.
A lifetime that, I believe, stretches well beyond this one, to a far distant past when magic was not so extraordinary…
The photo featured in this post was taken just over two years ago. It almost didn’t happen, but somehow Sue managed to arrange an afternoon, packed full of magic, to take myself and a friend to Uffington. Here, Sue sits with her beloved dog Ani on the chamber of Wayland’s Smithy. It is, for me, a precious photo. The winged soul and her guardian canine in a place the bridges the realms of corporeal and spirit.
It is, most likely, our last day together in this lifetime. And somehow even though I’d like to have more days with Sue, it was fitting and perfect. As much as we may wish to, we cannot control the length of time we have with those we love and hold dear, yet when we review it, we often find that its length was perfect in its essence.
When I first learned of Sue’s illness, I cycled through the emotions of impending loss. There were moments when I decided it was wholly unfair, for Sue, for her family, for all those who love her, and for, selfishly, myself. Our adventures have only just begun.
But who am I to say how long a lifetime should be and when it should end? It is, instead, a choice to accept what one has been given and to realize the fullness of the gift wrapped in this temporary form. Knowing, at the same time, that infinity lies beyond the temporary form. For me there is peace in this knowing. When I look at this photograph, uncertainty disappears and faith takes its place. Although I may resist a plan that is beyond my control, with the surrender there is a doorway to the beauty of truth.
You can see it here. In the place of stillness, it opens. The winged soul bending down to touch the Earth, never truly leaves.
I had been dreaming about being at school. That is not unusual for me. Last night I was back at Bowdoin College, but it really wasn’t anything like the Bowdoin I attended nearly 25 yrs ago. Instead, it felt foreign and strange. I was enrolled in four classes, yet hardly even attended the lectures. I couldn’t seem to remember where my classrooms were, let alone the room number of my dorm room. The dream was filled with angst, reflecting the, well, let’s just call it a semi-existential crisis I’ve been battling these days: What the heck am I doing here and where the heck am I going with my life?
Yep, I know that sounds extreme and dramatic. And, quite frankly it’s something I circle back to from time-to-time. I’m now at the stage of life when my kids are nearly ready to head off to college. As they get ready to embark upon life outside of their childhood home, I can’t help but think about what that means for me.
Once again, I’ve found myself circling back to the idea of returning to school, myself. It doesn’t matter that I’ll be 50 in less than three years, I seem to have a passion for life-long learning. The only thing that tends to hold me back is the money. Which is an underlying block in my current semi-existential crisis.
School seems a foolish thing to think about for myself when my own two kids will be heading out the door in just a few short years. Even though our household income is higher than most, it’s not enough to pay for 4 yrs x 2 kids’ college tuition costs. When my husband recently announced our current rate of college savings and how he had hoped that I would have been able to contribute more through my meager income, I felt a wave of panic and guilt set in. Every dream and hope I had for my life, and our shared life as a family of four, began to dance in spectral forms around me.
I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but I wonder how many other stay-at-home-parents feel the same way and are haunted by similar ghosts of a future that could have been, but never was…
Even though I wouldn’t trade back my time at home with my kids, if I could do it over again I would have a plan in place for this time in my life. I would have thought long and hard about a career that could be picked up again after a long absence, or one that could be nurtured part-time as I nurtured my children full-time from home.
I don’t life in a society that makes it easy for mother (or fathers) to return to the workforce after long leaves of absence, at least not in careers that honor higher degrees of education beyond the high school level. Nor does it assign monetary value to the work that is done by a stay-at-home-caregiver. It is, for the most part, an unpaid and thankless job.
Yet, despite this, I would not trade in my time with my children. I also know they are grateful for my presence in their lives. As the saying goes, it’s nearly impossible to have it all. So we must instead as ask what is enough?
In my present state I have come to realize that I tend to define my own worth too much by monetary values without allowing myself to accept how much value there is to the unpaid work that I do. That’s where my friend the cardinal comes in.
After a night of struggling with my inner-demons, I woke to birdsong. Mind you, it’s the middle of February and temperatures are below freezing when I wake most mornings, including this morning. I am not used to hearing birdsong in the middle of winter outside my window.
At first I was a little annoyed. I rather liked the idea of a few more minutes of sleep on a day when an early rise was not needed. But there was no further sleep to be had. The bird was insistent, and soon after I pulled the plugs from my ears I had a good idea of what type of bird it was. I wasn’t, though, quite expecting it to be so bold.
The cardinal was the first thing I saw as I pulled aside the curtains. Its crimson coat, a bold contrast to the snow-brushed hemlocks as it peered back at me and sang. It was eye-level. The only bird in sight. The only bird singing. Fine, I told it, I’ll look you up in Ted’s book later.
I should not have been surprised by what I read, but somehow I had not recalled that particular bit about the cardinal as a messenger. In the last sentence of Ted Andrew’s description of cardinal in Animal Speak, you will find these words, “…remember that everything you do is of importance.”
I am sharing them here, because if I needed the reminder, perhaps you do too.
“1a: supreme power especially over a body politic b: freedom from external control : AUTONOMY c: controlling influence 2: one that is sovereign especially: an autonomous state 3 obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it”
Simply looking at the above definitions of sovereignty one can see that its definition is, at its essence, both complex and subjective. On one extreme, sovereignty defines power and dominance over others, whereas on the opposite side of its spectrum, it reveals the individual’s right to “freedom from external control.”
Hmm, it makes one pause and reflect, does it not?
Sovereignty has become a popular word these days, used to define individual and group rights, as well as the sovereignty of animals, plants, and other life forms. I have been thinking a lot about sovereignty since I responded to a meme on FB yesterday that claimed that pro-choice or “anti-life” groups do not care about life. In essence, the meme was defining sovereignty in terms of the first definition, “supreme power over a body,” while also defining the importance of the said body as such: the woman’s body is less important than a fetus’s. A domineering political/religious body has the sovereign right to delineate this said value.
As someone who defines herself as both pro”life” and pro”choice,” I found offense to this definition of sovereignty. When we try to define and impose restrictions on the sovereignty of another being, we impose the will of the ego’s striving for control and power. We also place limitations and restrictions on the very complex nature of life itself.
If one takes the view, which I strive to, that all life is sacred, one must dance with the complexity of how to define life and where to impose the individual’s will (or group’s will) over another life. The individual who posted the meme happens to define life at conception, when a sperm fertilizes the egg, yet she also limits herself in this definition, excluding, one can say, the rights of the sperm itself and the life-force potential of the eggs that will never get fertilized by the billions of sperm that will never exercise their rights to that fertilization. Then, there is the ego’s imposed definition of when that said “life” really begins. Science disagrees that it is at conception. And so do many branches of spirituality that say the soul does not enter the body until around 3 months after fertilization. Who has the right to define this life?
This individual’s belief (defined by her religion), in its inherent assumptions, is also limited to human life. She represents a section of humanity who abides by a specific religious indoctrination that defines sovereignty by one specific set of edicts. This sovereignty is also imposed on the populous that does not adhere to these edicts, sending their children out with their holy books in the attempts to sway others to their definitions of sovereignty. Which, again, limits humans to being holy beings and not other other life forms, ranking through a patriarchal hierarchy of the holiness of life that excludes animals, plants, the living planet, etc.
Again, this begs us to question, if we do value the sovereign rights of one “life” over another, why that is so? Who has endowed us this sovereign power and right?
The very definition of life, when reduced to the simplest of its complex form, reveals to us that life is cyclical and never ending. That life, in essence, is both the potential and the active. It cannot repeat and continue itself without sacrifice of other life. Therefore it becomes a question of how we define what is holy. Is the potential more holy than the active? Is the unformed more holy than the formed? And, is one life more valuable, holy, or sovereign than another?
In the meme that spurred this musing, there was an implication that the life of a fetus is more holy than that of an immigrant child.
It also implies that the mother carrying that developing life is less holy than the fetus her body may or may not be able to support. This post is not intended to dive into the complexity of carrying an unwanted or planned pregnancy, but it is worth spending a moment (or more) contemplating the complexity of what this means in terms of sovereignty. Considering, as one does, the will and sovereignty of the rapist, along with the sovereignty of those who strip away the sovereign rights of mothers while refusing to support them after their children are born into poverty, incest, abuse, etc.
If we are going to be emphatic about imposing limitations on sovereignty, should we not also explore the origins of our beliefs? Should we not question whether our definition is really about power, or whether it is about freedom? Should we not question whether we truly have the right to say that one life is more sovereign than another and what this sovereignty really means to Life with a big L?