Category Archives: spirituality

I Only Work in Inner Space, Part II

I jotted down the following one evening in Grants, NM, when I was staying over in order to go out to see a patient in a remote location the next day. I didn’t add the date, so I don’t know even what year it was, but it has been quite a while since I worked at that office. I’d estimate that I wrote it around 2010, while thinking about that matter of trying to explore inner space without becoming a “space case.” It came out more or less as advice to people who are starting out as intuitive healers in a world that may not even believe their work exists. I think it’s still worth sharing, so here it is, with some minor editing:

Be open to being wrong. Be open to being right.

Some new intuitives, realizing how often they turn out to be correct, might take off on a power trip of some kind. Especially when frightening or distressing material comes through, it should not be stated as an absolute fact that cannot be avoided. Don’t pretend to have all the answers to anything. And don’t impose your point of view or your system of beliefs on anyone as if it were the ultimate. Don’t judge or act self-righteous.

More often, though, the problem is that we constantly second-guess ourselves and fail to trust valid information when it comes to us. I try to maintain a healthy skepticism about ideas that come into my own head, the same as I would with ideas from any other source, constantly checking any way I can. However, the temptation to edit every thought can stop the flow and make it impossible to accomplish anything.

When I do intuitive healing with patients, I prefer to work in collaboration with the person on my table. So often, I see something that seems totally off the wall and vanishingly unlikely to me, but I screw up my courage and tell the patient about it, and it turns out to be dead on. This gives the patient an opportunity to add her own insights, and we find a path through the jungle together, tossing out ideas and testing them until we find the issues that are most fundamental and clear them. Sometimes the patient is sleeping or otherwise not amenable to joining in on this process, and in that case I can still get a lot done, but it’s all the more powerful when we work together.

My point is that I’m not in the business of proving I can divine all the answers; my job is to aid patients in their journey toward healing, not to impress them with my skills. Not that I never feel a need to prove that I can do what I do, especially with the pseudoskeptic types, but it’s crucial to let go of all such concerns if we want to get clear information.

I feel fortunate that I don’t have to identify myself as a professional psychic. If that were the case, I’d always be expected to come up with revelations of some kind, preferably earth-shattering ones. Sometimes neither I nor the patient can find profound meanings in their illnesses and injuries, and many times there’s no need to. We can just do some needles, bodywork, or herbs, and everything’s fine.

One of the things I admire about my mentor Mendy Lou Blackburn, who does identify herself as a professional psychic, is that she doesn’t tell her clients what they want to hear, unless that’s what they need to hear. It’s pretty easy to figure out what a person is hoping you’ll tell them, even without any great psychic ability. A person could probably make a lot of money just feeding comforting, flattering words to clients, but anyone who’s honest knows that would lead to no good. There is a middle way of using firmness to express hard truths without dictating to, insulting, or unnecessarily frightening the client.

I’ve been writing as if you are doing readings for other people, or planning to do so, but perhaps you intend only to gather intuitive impressions for your own development. We need to be all the more careful in reading or channeling for ourselves because we may be quite blind to our own beliefs and preconceived notions— they are so close we can’t see them clearly.

Be open to greatness.

Betsy Morgan Coffman told our beginning channeling class that we might find ourselves in contact with some very high-level being, Jesus for example, and that often people get upset and refuse to trust that this is happening. “But think about it,” she said. “Why wouldn’t Jesus want to talk to you?”

But what of the Wayne Bents of the world [Bent was an abusive cult leader who was jailed and was much in the news when I originally wrote this], the people who are sure that not only is God talking to them, He is telling them to gather followers who will treat them as His representatives on earth? Bent reported being told that he was the Messiah in so many words, if I remember correctly. I use him as an example because there is general agreement that he’s delusional. That is, he’s been less successful than some, and done more obvious harm, or at least been caught at it. But what’s the essential difference between Bent and, say, Joan of Arc? Perhaps “by their fruits” is still the best way that you will know them.

Some years ago I was part of a Noetic Sciences group that held meetings with inspirational speakers and uplifting activities. Once a young guy showed up and introduced himself, quite matter-of-factly, as the latest incarnation of some great line of spiritual teachers or world leaders, I don’t remember what exactly. This pronouncement was delivered in the same tone as if he’d told us he lived in Bernalillo or had just started college. Totally normal for him. When I looked toward him, I saw a black space in the room where he should have been. He scared the hell out of me, and I hoped he’d never come back. Nobody else had a bad feeling about him— I asked them later. I never saw him again, and I don’t know what fruits, if any, he or his message produced. Every so often I run into someone with claims along the same lines, and am not sure what to think. My own tales of my experiences with famous deceased humans and higher beings may strike someone in a similar way, so I can’t judge. I just know that that particular young man left me feeling extremely uneasy.

You probably will never receive a message that says you’re the Messiah or the incarnation of some other august figure. But never doubt that you are as deserving of enlightenment as anyone.

If, instead, a message you get tears you down, it’s probably coming from you and not Them. Source/Spirit/Higher Powers/the Divine might be applying tough love at times, not letting you get away with laziness or self-deception, but won’t belittle you or discourage your sincere efforts. They typically seem to think better of us than we do of ourselves; They see the reality of the infinite beings we truly are.

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No, I’m From New Mexico. I Only Work in Inner Space.

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve so often thought of this moment in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (yes, the one with the whales):

Dr. Gillian Taylor: Don’t tell me, you’re from outer space.
Admiral Kirk: No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space.

I’m not sure how to clearly describe the space in which I do so much of my own work. It isn’t exactly the “normal” Earth plane, but I don’t think it’s so very far removed, either. Likely it’s a place we all visit at least some of the time.

Staying grounded while working in some of the farther reaches of what one might call inner space can be a challenge. I’ve seen some healer colleagues leave the known galaxy and never return, going so far out that they couldn’t communicate anymore and became of little use to their patients or themselves.

And where do I live when I’m not working? It often feels like I don’t quite inhabit the material world the way I once did. Yet, I make every effort to keep solidly attached to my body and to bring my experience back to consensus reality in a way that’s comprehensible to everyone here. I think of myself as a journalist who goes to exotic lands and brings back the stories.

So from time to time I am criticized for being too intellectual, not letting go of thinking long enough to really fly. I decided some years ago that this is my natural place, to translate, to be a bridge between worlds and worldviews. So far that’s the best I can do. It may limit me as a mystic and psychic, but I won’t get too severely lost this way, and I may have a better chance of telling others where I’ve been.

I only work in inner space. I don’t want to become a space case.
********************************************************************

Back in the Star Trek universe, there have been some striking new developments. At the time of the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery, last fall, I was most displeased, and didn’t see much hope for the new series. There are still a number of aspects of it that don’t work, if you ask me (Spock has an adopted sister we never knew about?  Seriously?), plus a few moments that have been just plain idiotic (everyone has panned Landry’s suicide-by-tardigrade), and I still cannot approve of this latest iteration of the Klingons! But they’ve worked their brow-ridges off on this story, and now I’m behind them all the way. OK, most of the way. All the way when it concerns their willingness to take on Big Questions in the way that Star Trek always has. What are we? Who are we, and how do we know? How do we deal with those who are different from us, and are they really so different at all? And what happens if we fall in love with our worst enemy?

[!SPOILERS FOLLOW!]

It feels like after all these years that I’ve followed Star Trek, it has now caught up to me. In this case, I was there first. The Discovery story arc, thus far, depends on a concept that I think is a lovely metaphor for the way things really are: all life throughout the universe is connected by a web of mycelia generated by a spacefaring species of fungi, and one can access this network and use it to travel anywhere and anywhen instantly. Space fungi? Sounds like something Stanisław Lem would come up with (not so different from his killer space potatoes!). And the animal they imagined as having a natural ability to traverse the network was something utterly ridiculous— a gigantic version of an actual Earth creature, the microscopic tardigrade or water bear (which to be fair has some science-fiction-like properties in real life). But the image of the network is beautiful, compelling, and evocative of the way everything in the universe really is entangled and in communication with everything else.

Although for a while I was still suspicious of the new series, I soon found myself intensely pulled into this “magic mushroom” paradigm of space travel, and I began to identify with its inventor, Paul Stamets (named for the quirky present-day mycologist). It all seemed so familiar. Why was that happening? It took me a little while to remember this:

“So I held the intention of looking at Orion, and I began to have quite a vivid vision.  First, against an image of space with stars, there was a huge burst of white light coming through what looked like a wormhole in a science-fiction movie.  I could see a round tunnel behind it, and on the other side, an equally huge, bright mass of light.  This seemed to describe where Orion was coming from.”

Oh. Kind of like:

 

 

 

 

 

“Then I felt myself flying or being pulled through the hole, and found myself on the other side, in the other universe.  I had only had the intention of looking at all this, but suddenly it was like actually being there, though I was still quite aware of the usual room around me.  I could feel tingling, like little sparks, and warmth all over my body.  As I more or less adjusted to my surroundings, I began to see the sparks as small, twinkling points of light all around me.  Somehow the points of light seemed excited and happy, as if they were glad I was there.  It felt like the entire space was filled with love and joy—and fun, a sense of lightness, as if I had walked into some wonderful celebration.  Mendy was observing all this, and she could see the same little lights and feel the sensation of love.  There was absolutely no seriousness or gravity about any of this.”
https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/orions-net/

(Discovery and her crew do in fact end up in another universe in the middle of the season, but their experience is far darker than mine.)

The spores are depicted as, guess what, little points of light that sometimes act as if they are conscious beings. At the end of one sequence of using the drive, one of the sparks flies with apparent intention onto the shoulder of Cadet Tilly and disappears into her body, leaving us with a mystery to look forward to in the next season. Perhaps we are meant to understand that, rather than being made of physical protoplasm like fungi on Earth, the magic mycelia exist as purely energetic beings in the mold of some other space-native creatures that have cropped up on Star Trek from time to time. That would be a bit easier to swallow, since otherwise one must explain how physical fungi could get sustenance out in the void.

Whatever sort of biology it is supposed to have, the mycelial network contains fascinating possibilities. Within it, one can communicate with others who have entered, even those who exist in alternate universes, and reconnect with the dead. Linear time seems irrelevant. For a while Stamets becomes understandably confused and unstuck in time, unmoored from the usual limited consensus reality and not yet able to find his way through the infinitely complex patterns beyond it. I found myself identifying with that too.

It’s music that allows Stamets to get oriented again, and later to bring the ship home. “Follow the music,” his deceased partner tells him, from within the mycelia. Discovery and her crew are saved by a gay man’s love of opera. Perfectly plausible, right?

As with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sub Rosa,” which I wrote about a few months ago, I began to wonder whether someone had seen what I had seen, and had packaged it as science fiction to make it more acceptable. Or maybe these ideas have shown up because there are truths that we all know about subconsciously, and they find their way to the surface when we let ourselves wander freely in search of stories.

Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up its first season tonight, and afterward one of the showrunners, Aaron Harberts, said that something they are really interested in for the next year is “the collision between science and spirituality.” We’ll have a long wait to see what they do with that, but even the fact that they have it in mind feels like light-years of progress to me.

 

The idea that everything is conscious, or “panpsychism”:
https://qz.com/1184574/the-idea-that-everything-from-spoons-to-stones-are-conscious-is-gaining-academic-credibility/

Human hearts are connected to geomagnetic and solar activity:
https://www.chi.is/resource/geomagnetic/?utm_source=CHI+COMMUNITY&utm_campaign=3d22c57494-September-2017-Community&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a80f47d270-3d22c57494-122790253&mc_cid=3d22c57494&mc_eid=16c170fb9a

Related post: 
https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/vulcan-ancestry/

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Medicine Buddha

My patient and friend Dawn studied Buddhism in Nepal many years ago and has practiced diligently ever since. One of her teachers from there, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, does a great deal of traveling and was recently in Santa Fe, where she was able to see him. At her next appointment, she brought me a card depicting the Medicine Buddha, which he had blessed. She said that she knew it was supposed to be for me.

 Here is a similar depiction:

When Dawn put the card into my hands, it seemed to be vibrating, as if it were alive. Lama Zopa’s blessing and intentions seemed to be totally, intensely present still. I had been having an extremely hard time that day, and nearly burst into tears at the generosity and kindness of this gift, which came to me precisely when I needed it most.

But strangely, despite having heard of him many times, and despite the obvious connection to my line of work, I knew nothing of the Medicine Buddha. Those of you who are familiar with my business name or have been to my office know of my love for the image of Kuan Yin and my aspiration to bring some particle of her vast compassion to my work with my patients. I had been content with her, and perhaps it hadn’t yet been time for me to confront this colleague of hers in the cosmic healing arts. Yet it feels now as if he may have always been there in the background.

As soon as I got home, I began reading about this Buddha, Bhaisajya in Sanskrit. I learned that he is the original doctor, the archetype of doctors I would say, though Buddhism does not use that term. I saw that in his left hand he holds a bowl like those used to mix medicines since ancient times, containing the healing he offers to all those who need it.

The article that made the most connection for me was this, though it unfortunately contains a tangle of confused symbols where diacritical marks didn’t make it onto the website properly:
https://www.wildmind.org/mantras/figures/bhaishajyaguru-medicine-buddha-mantra
An essay included in this article touched me profoundly. The author, Srivandana, has struggled all her life with poor health, but she perseveres in her practice and her faith that she can transcend the ills of her body. “I have raged against the certain knowledge that there is no physical healing for me in this lifetime,” she wrote, bringing me again to tears.

Srivandana wrote about the myrobalan fruit that Medicine Buddha holds in his right hand. Used commonly in Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine, it is called He Zi in the Chinese pharmacopeia, where I learned it as a relatively minor herb. Bitter and sour, it can stop dysentery and cough and restore the voice. What Srivandana described was a terrible tasting medicine, so bitter that one recoils from swallowing it. Yet once one faces the need for it and gulps it down, it brings ease, joy and understanding.

This is the medicine, as Srivandana experiences it:
  “The law of impermanence is the most beautiful thing I can possibly imagine. I have made a practice of contemplating impermanence and recognizing that everything is insubstantial and therefore painful and unsatisfactory. Reflecting on impermanence, allowing it to permeate every pore, every particle of my consciousness, rocks me to the core of my being. I feel as though I have been turned inside-out. Yet the law of impermanence is full of potential and is permeated by the beauty of change. The knowledge that this change lies in my hands, and that I can take responsibility for its coming into being, is hugely empowering.

“The medicine of the Dharma has to be drunk by the gallon, bathed in, fully absorbed. The vast sea of Dharma stretches into the distance, but a single drop can go a long way. Bhaisajyaguru also points out the danger of finding oneself in a void of impermanence, without beauty and without sustenance. I need the beauty that I touch through making art and listening to music, through communicating with spiritual friends; as well as the sustenance gained from meditation, in particular meditation on the sublime abodes of positive emotion, or brahmaviharas.”

Soon I had my own experience of this medicine and the challenge of drinking it. It was the morning after I had a lengthy late-night counseling session with my mentor Mendy Lou Blackburn, the day after a day of unusual depression and anxiety. As I came to consciousness, still half-dreaming, I was contemplating a mental image of Bhaisajyaguru, thinking about what I had read and heard. The image seemed to come alive, and the kindly being held out the bowl toward me, asking me to drink. I took the bowl into my own hands and put it to my lips, but could not make myself take the liquid. After some struggle and some encouragement from him, at last I drank.

I felt a rush through my body and wondered if it was the transformation I was asking for. Something did feel different and better. I asked exactly what the medicine was, what it was meant to do, and I received an answer that was broad and deep. I was planning to write about it right away, as it seemed clear at the time, but I can’t remember what I was told. I know something got into my head that made perfect sense, but then it sank out of my conscious sight. I’ve been told that Medicine Buddha’s teaching is like that, that it acts at a deeper level than the objective mind and can be hard to describe. As far as I can recall it was along the lines of what Srivandana wrote, about change lying in my hands and taking responsibility for my reality coming into being, and the wondrous knowledge that this is possible.

Mendy Lou said that the illness is resistance and the cure is letting go, knowing that all is provided. Or something like that. Part of the little I recall had to do with acceptance of what is, at the same time that one realizes the power to create and transform.

And on so many levels I have been needing a medicine to restore my voice, so greatly needing that.  At the time I didn’t realize that this is a major function of the herb Bhaisajya carries.

I didn’t “believe in” the Medicine Buddha any more than before. I didn’t feel that I had been in contact with a “real” entity in real time, but rather that I was in a dream sort of state and my own mind entirely constructed the encounter with Bhaisajya. But a couple of weeks later I was treating another patient who keeps up her Buddhist practice, and I put on the recording of the Medicine Buddha mantra in Tibetan that I’ve linked below. Mendy Lou came in near the end of the treatment and was sitting in the waiting room, also listening to the chanting. When she and I are in the same space, it seems, it’s easy for all sorts of things to manifest, and I suspect her influence had something to do with what I saw. As I sat with my hands near my patient’s head, lapis blue arms appeared just outside mine, cradling me and adding their own nurturing energy. I felt Bhaisajya’s strength and gentleness, and he seemed at least as real as I.

As usual, I don’t know what this means, but I accept it gratefully.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUJucA-mrgE
Medicine Buddha Mantra:
 I came across this accidentally, but at just the right time, and I have drunk it in as if it were critically needed nourishment, listening over and over, singing and playing it. I don’t know why it has such a deep effect. When I’ve played it during treatments my patients have reported a profound experience.

Here is a rather technical article about Medicine Buddha and his relationship to other celestial beings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhaisajyaguru


Myrobalan/He Zi: http://www.chineseherbshealing.com/terminalia-chebula/

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“You know my heart.”

About a week ago I heard that the pastor of one of our local megachurches, Steve Smothermon, had referred to my city councilor as a “militant homosexual.” The exact quote was: “Pat Davis, I think that’s his name, City Councilor Davis on the city council, he come out and said it’s the greatest thing, ‘cause he’s a militant homosexual.”

It kept popping back up in my mind, especially since I have friends who go to that church, and they wouldn’t say such a thing. The issue, if I understand it, was that Councilor Davis was trying to defend LGBTQ kids against some school board members who were trying to remove protections that had previously been put in place.

I must be more sheltered than I think, because I didn’t realize that the term “militant homosexual” is used all the time by a faction of religious extremists who believe that gay people are trying to destroy Christianity, indoctrinate their children, and take over the whole country and perhaps the world. As I write this, the image that is running in my mind is that of my kind, gentle lesbian colleagues and their wives, doing their gardening and puttering around the house. It’s pretty hard to square with the fire-breathing monsters these folks are warning everyone against.

This same pastor has gotten notoriously entangled in politics a number of times. He spoke out against Gov. Susana Martinez a few years ago when she appointed an openly gay man to the PRC. ‘Smothermon told NMPolitics.net last month that Martinez “looked me in the eye personally and said she’s socially conservative… she wouldn’t espouse the homosexual agenda.” He said Howe’s appointment “goes against that.”’ http://nmpolitics.net/index/2012/02/pastors-comments-spark-protest-online-debate/

Ah, now we are on familiar ground— “the homosexual agenda.” Hiring the most qualified candidate, who happens to be gay, is “espousing the homosexual agenda.” Because apparently gay people shouldn’t be allowed to work and therefore have food and a place to live. Or maybe they just shouldn’t be paid with tax dollars? The pastor continued: ‘”These aren’t the people we voted for you to appoint. We voted for you to appoint people who think like we do,” he said, adding that he is “not against the human being, but the lifestyle and the political power that the homosexual agenda has today, as a lobbying agenda, that’s what I begin to come against.”’

“We voted for you to appoint people who think like we do.” Separation of church and state does not seem to mean much to such pastors (and indeed, I have heard a few voices on the right say that it should not exist).

If wanting to avoid being killed or beaten in the street, wanting to be able to work and survive economically, and expecting the fundamental respect accorded to any other member of society— just wanting to live— makes us “militant,” I will be happy to count myself as militant and stand up for that “agenda.” In fact, this crap is making me feel more militant by the day. I fly under my bisexual cloak of invisibility most of the time, for good or ill, so these guys don’t see me. If they did take notice of me, though, they would probably be just as happy to attack me as they would my gay friends. I am taking all this extremely personally.

I could go on with a lot more obvious points, such as the propensity of so many religious folk to harp on their favorite few lines taken out of context, and in translation, from the huge literary tradition that constitutes the Bible. But you know all that. I do want to add a word from someone who comments at liberal pastor John Pavlovitz’ blog, a religious person herself, who stated this at least as well as I could: “If we believe God doesn’t make mistakes and that God it is love and that God made humanity in God’s image, then it stands to reason that if God created someone to be homosexual, then it must have been because it delighted God to do so.”

I will not even engage with the contention that people “choose” to be gay. Everyone should know better by now.

And I should know better than to give all this garbage any space in my brain, but it’s amazing what can worm in there and take up residence. I’m going to tell you about an experience I had nearly three years ago and wrote about then but never dared to share with you because it seems an order of magnitude farther out than anything else I’ve posted. It isn’t, really— that’s probably just my inner insecurity talking. As intense spiritual experiences go, it may even be fairly mainstream. Anyway, it changed everything for me. Here goes:

 

*************************************************************************
Events of 9/30/14

A friend told me with great excitement about a channeler she had discovered, who was giving messages from Jesus, as many do. She felt that his work was what she had been trying to find for a very long time, and said that she had at last discovered real peace. The messages she described sounded very much like what I had heard from Hania Stromberg’s channeling [see my old post “An Appointment with Jesus”] and what I had picked up myself, a real antidote to the controlling, limiting, shaming version of Christianity my friend and so many of us had grown up with.

I went to the channeler’s website to find out more. There were a number of messages that seemed worthwhile and helpful. I was a little put off by the fact that the channeler had been associated with the I AM Movement, which has a number of problematic aspects and was founded by questionable and deceptive leaders. He still uses much of their terminology. But I don’t care about the channeler’s background so much as the content of the messages themselves.

I scanned the sidebar of the home page for subjects. One entry was “Teachings on Homosexuality.” My heart sank. “Oh, crap,” I thought. “Here it comes.” I had a pretty good idea what I was going to find— and what I found was even worse than I expected. Not only was it judgmental in the most insidious and damaging manner I had ever seen, it was couched in language that insisted the speaker wasn’t being judgmental at all. The effect was, “I would never judge anyone, but you’re horrible beyond redemption.” It also came off as “I’m only telling you this for your own good.” I will not repeat what I saw there, because it doesn’t need to be given any validation, and my readers don’t need the trauma. The sanctimoniousness was thick and sticky, and so very familiar.

If this had been written by any typical yahoo wingnut preacher, I would have shaken my head sadly, closed the page, and moved on. But my friend’s reaction to the channeler, and her typical level of depth and thoughtfulness, gave it far more impact in my mind. I felt deeply ill, sick to my stomach. The idea that people, especially young people, would read this and let it get into their systems was horrifying. I knew this wasn’t the Jesus I had met, not remotely, but I couldn’t just leave it alone.

This was one of my piano lesson/lunch and writing/walk on the ditchbank days, and as I strolled under the cottonwoods that afternoon, I quizzed myself very rigorously, just in case, on whether I might be rejecting an actual truth because it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. (That sounds silly now, that I could consider accepting anything so insane even for a nanosecond.) No. Every molecule of my being told me it was utterly, evilly wrong. I sent out distress calls. Normally I don’t have conversations with Him, and don’t have a clear “phone connection,” but I hoped to get a reply. After all, he had told me years earlier that I could always come to him for comfort if I needed to.

A little later, when I got home, I felt his presence. As soon as the contact began, I knew there was really nothing I needed to ask. The answers were in the presence itself. A fountain of love and acceptance rushed down through the top of my head and filled me everywhere. Being me, though, I had to ask for clarification in words.

He did not say that he had nothing to do with this man or that the messages were wrong; he said that the channeler was getting only the surface of what he was trying to say. He showed me a view of an ocean full of creatures, and explained that while there were a great many fish living in the water, this man saw only the few fish that swam toward him and presented themselves to his vision. This image formed clearly in my mind, one fish after another swimming forward, turning, and moving away into the darkness beyond. It was an odd metaphor, it seemed to me, but the meaning was easy to understand.

At the end of that sequence, I heard, “I am the ocean.”

I realized that the reason I had been so upset by the channeler’s presentations was that some part of me believed he might be right. “I need reassurance,” I went on, chattering nervously, along these lines: “I, and people I know, do feel in a way that we are broken or unbalanced or wrong. I don’t really think it’s true, but I feel it. You know that I feel something’s wrong with me because I fall in love too much. I guess you probably think that’s silly, and it is, but I feel it. Anyway, I need a hug!” I was getting seriously teary by this time.

I’d been getting a lovely cosmic hug the whole time already. He said something that surprised me: “You know my heart.” Yes, I did. “And I know yours,” he continued. I was both feeling much better about everything and dissolving further into weepy, overwhelmed jelly.

And then he said something even less expected, something so large that it doesn’t fit in these words: “My heart is yours.”

I felt the meaning, far beyond the words. He had told me Tat tvam asi, Thou art that. We are one. I already partake of Christ Consciousness and I am in my rightful place in the universe of humanity. I am not unacceptable, not wrong, not broken. I am loved, and I always will be. (You are too.)

 

In the weeks that followed this experience, my friend kept sending me more material from that website. None of it was particularly problematic or offensive. I wondered if she had even seen the part that had upset me so, and was afraid to ask. She wanted to know my reaction to what she sent, and I couldn’t figure out how to talk about any of it without bringing up what I saw as a central issue that invalidated the whole body of work. At last I couldn’t avoid it any longer, and I found a way to discuss it with her. She didn’t like that section any better than I did, but she wasn’t worried about the validity of the channeling overall. She reminded me that even the channeler himself had written about the difficulties of getting messages through without having them colored by our own biases and expectations. That was good enough for her. It wasn’t for me.

I was left feeling that I would rather listen to Source Itself than to what anyone else says. To whatever small extent my antennae can receive it, that is. All I can tell you, as usual, is, “This is what I heard. Make of it what you will.”

So what’s the difference between me and others, like the wingnut preachers or this channeler, who claim they know what Jesus is saying? Maybe not much. But I can truthfully state that I am not trying to get any power over others.
****************************************************************

Perhaps the people I am complaining about have tapped into a pervasive field of fear and judgment, just as I connected with a field of love and acceptance. I would suppose that it is absolutely real to them. I know where I would rather live, and I know which is more likely to generate a world that is better for all of us.

More recently, I found myself in a lengthy and eye-opening discussion with a Catholic priest who reminded me that a traditionally religious viewpoint does not necessarily require a narrow, judgmental attitude. I think I’ll save that story for another day.

 

While looking for background about Pastor Smothermon’s comments, I found a couple of other articles of interest:

http://www.paulholtministries.com/2012/02/10/homosexuality-steve-smotherman-and-the-torah-observant-jesus/
This is an argument against those who point out that Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality one way or another. Holt writes that Jesus didn’t need to say anything about matters that were already covered in the Torah because he was an observant Jew and so must have agreed with everything in it. Pastor Holt apparently believes that not only does he understand everything Jesus said, he understands everything Jesus did not say as well.


http://nmpolitics.net/index/2012/02/forgiving-smothermon-praying-for-those-his-words-affect/

“Pastor Smothermon does not need to apologize. I have already forgiven him. I pray for him, but more importantly I pray for those his words affect.
“The kids that are bullied on the playground because Pastor Smothermon says being gay is wrong. The individual that continues to seek God’s love but can’t find it because Pastor Smothermon says there is no love, and in essence gays should not hold any job.”

For some perspective on the centrality of the fight against “militant homosexuals” among members of the religious right, check this out:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gf4jN1xoSo
“True Origins of the Religious Right”
  The emphasis on homosexuality and abortion, issues not brought up in the gospels, turns out to be surprisingly recent. In contrast, although the gospels say that Jesus did speak against divorce, repeatedly, most evangelicals seem happy to let divorce go on. They would like to keep it available for themselves, so it’s perfectly fine. It’s those other people who are doing all the evil.

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Filed under channeling, human rights, spirituality

The Face in the Shroud

I intended to put this out on Easter, but as with so many things during this overwhelmed period of my life, I’m way behind. I did spend a good deal of Sunday reviewing research on this subject, finding that there was a lot more available than there had been the last time I looked.

Among the surprisingly many religious articles in my mother’s room, I found one that I’d given her myself. I bought it at the gift shop of the Santuario de Chimayó in northern New Mexico. It’s a small card with the kind of double picture that changes when you hold it at different angles. One view is the familiar face found in the negative shot of the Shroud of Turin:

And the other is a reconstruction of the living face as imagined by an artist, whose name is not given:

I was so struck by the beauty and power of the artist’s conception portrait that I wanted a copy to bring home.

There is not much I can say about the Shroud of Turin that hasn’t been said already. I’m writing about it here because it is a source of continual fascination for me, as for so many others. It is one of the anomalous objects in the world that reminds us that reality is not at all what we’ve been told it is, and that we have far less understanding of what is “really” going on than we might like. No matter how one interprets the phenomenon, there is an irreducible amount of mystery. Something beyond the ordinary happened here. What exactly was it?

Here is a summary of the facts and questions about the Shroud, as my small knowledge of them permits:

We don’t know, no one can say for sure, who the Man in the Shroud really was. We can be sure of the meaning of some aspects of his image, though. What we see is a gruesome record, in literally excruciating detail, of the torture and murder of a man by the Roman state, in a way that myriad others were also tortured and murdered. This is what holds my attention above all. The terrifying injuries— the thorns piercing the scalp, the hundreds of tears made by the lash, the abrasions and bruises, the slash of the lance, and all that beyond the horror of the nails themselves— bear witness to the cruelty of human beings to their fellows. It would be difficult to believe if we did not see it right in front of us, right down to the still-obvious blood and body fluid stains. When I was a child, the nuns told us that Jesus being nailed to the cross was unusual, that most of those who were crucified were only tied to the wood. That was not true. What happened to this one whose sufferings we see so clearly in the Shroud happened to thousands.

We do know that the blood is type AB. It turns out that the Sudarium of Oviedo, the cloth said to have been used to wrap the face of Jesus when he was prepared for burial, is saturated with the same type of blood. Records of the Sudarium’s whereabouts over time go back about seven centuries further than those of the Shroud, lending weight to the contention that the Shroud is at least that old as well. Similarities in the placement of the stains as well as the blood itself point to the same origin as the Shroud. The shapes and contents of the stains indicate that the person whose head it covered died in an upright position, consistent with crucifixion. It must be the most historically important dirty rag on the planet.

We don’t know the age of the Shroud through testing of the cloth itself. Carbon dating done decades ago placed it in the medieval period, meaning that it had to be a fake, but since the cloth was much handled over the centuries, in addition to surviving fire and water damage, there is now agreement that it was too contaminated for carbon dating to be accurate. There is also a question about the part of the cloth that was tested, which appears to be a repair added later.

We know that pollen grains found in the cloth of the Shroud place its origin in the area of Jerusalem, and are consistent with the species of plants that would be used with a burial.

We know that the color forming the image is not paint or dye. There are simply no molecules of such things present. If the image was faked during medieval or any other times, it is very challenging to give an explanation of how the faking could have been accomplished. The contention that the Shroud is simply a fake just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. The situation is more complex than that.

One theory is that a Maillard reaction, similar to the browning of bread in the oven, could have formed the brownish-yellowish image. This does not explain the holographic and X-ray like properties of the image, in which some structures that would have been behind others can be seen.

Similarly, the theory that the Shroud is an example of a medieval photograph is intriguing and more or less plausible, but it does not explain how details other than those on the surface of the body can be seen. (Although all the materials needed for photography were indeed available in the 14th century, there is no evidence that photographs were actually made anywhere at that time.) It also fails to explain the details of the wounds and patterns of bodily secretions. Neither a live body nor the corpse of a person who had died other than through this specific series of tortures would display these particular details when photographed.

So what do I think happened? I am agnostic. The most likely explanation, it appears to me, is one that raises still more questions. Some form of radiation emanated from this body and caused changes in the surface of the cloth, by a mechanism we don’t understand but may at some point be able to reproduce. I mentioned, when I described the events around my mother’s death, that a huge amount of heat was present around her body before she left it. Could a much more powerful burst of energy of some kind be released from a human body under certain circumstances? Could this perhaps have happened many times, but to bodies that were left peacefully in their graves so that we never saw the evidence? Have images like this one been imprinted upon many other burial cloths but crumbled away unnoticed in the earth?

And in this case, what happened to the body? Why was the Shroud not left in place with it? Was the body simply disinterred and moved— the obvious hypothesis— then wrapped in a fresh length of linen and buried elsewhere, with the original cloth kept as an object of veneration? Did it reanimate and walk away, as the stories say? Did it go poof and disappear in a burst of light, which formed the image?

It seems that there have been recorded cases of people who survived crucifixion, unlikely as that sounds. Could the Man in the Shroud have been one of these, and if he was Jesus, could that explain his apparent resurrection? The evidence in the cloth is against this, as the patterns of bleeding and fluid leakage look like what would be expected to occur postmortem. As far as anyone can tell, the man was dead when he was wound in the Shroud.

Is the Shroud a supernatural phenomenon, a miracle? To me, “supernatural” only means something that is natural but not yet understood. There has got to be a way of expanding our scientific understanding to encompass this phenomenon. Even if that might mean understanding how a physical body could suddenly transform into pure energy, which is one conceivable interpretation of the evidence. The physically-measurable electromagnetic signals in and around a human body, photons included, are fairly small. It’s hard to imagine how there could be enough light or other energy emitted to produce an image on a physical surface, but equally odd things have happened, and I don’t want to rule it out.

The one thing we know for sure, from studying the Shroud, is that we are creatures who have a gigantic ability to torment other members of our species. The only comfort I can find about this is that nowadays we at least give lip service to the idea that doing this is wrong, even as we keep doing it every day, all around the world.

But what I hope we’ve learned from this strange artifact is that we are also far less limited beings than we believe, and that possibilities exist that we’ve barely begun to grasp.

Article on the mysteries of the Shroud
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150417-shroud-turin-relics-jesus-catholic-church-religion-science/

A website giving an overview of what is known about the Shroud

https://www.shroud.com/menu.htm
The Sudarium

https://www.shroud.com/guscin.htm

A reply to Nicholas Allen’s “medieval photograph” theory
http://www.shroud.com/pdfs/orvieto.pdf

The evidence of plants wrapped with the shroud, through pollen samples and images
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990803073154.htm

Holographic studies of the image
http://shroud3d.com/home-page/introduction-holographic-observations-in-the-shroud-image-holographic-theory
‘While photography has the advantage of fixing an image in time and of concentrating it so that whichever angle you look at it from, it will remain the same, with the Shroud that is not the case. Moving around that table (lighting under an angle from one side only!), from a certain angle I saw this image so faded as if to practically disappear, while from others it seemed as if the figure WAS ALMOST OUTSIDE THE SHEET: it was, I repeat, an incredible emotion. At that moment I knew that this image was unique. I approached the face placing my camera at a distance of about 20-30 cm, aimed the camera at the face and saw…………………nothing in my viewfinder.” “And yet,” I said “I know it by heart.” I had to beg my friend to point to the position of the eye, because from a distance of 30 cm I could not see it. I could only see it as I moved away from it.’

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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, physics and cosmology, spirituality, the unexplained

Worthy to Sit at the Divine Table

Icon by Andrei Rublev, 15th century

I’m posting this on International Women’s Day, which is appropriate for reasons that will probably be clear to you.

Last time I told you about the powerful experience I had in the hospice while my mother was dying, where I felt that I was surrounded and embraced by uncountable beings who loved and supported me. This feeling of ineffable love continued as my mother stayed present with me over the next few days, and then the typical disjunctions and confusions of life took hold more again, in addition to the stresses of adjusting to her absence and dealing with the many responsibilities of her estate and planning her memorial.

We allowed nearly three weeks to prepare for the memorial service and the get-together for family and friends afterward. It was a massively busy period but also one in which I was able to contemplate important matters and to have deep discussions with friends and patients about life and death. A subject that came up was one that I’d been planning to write about anyway, the pervasive feeling of not being worthy and not deserving. It was on my mind the day of the memorial Mass, which took place on February 10, a few blocks from my house at Our Lady of the Assumption church.

I was apprehensive before the service, even felt like I was going into enemy territory. I had only met the pastor once and never heard the church’s singer before, and I had no control over the proceedings. But my family and I were welcomed warmly by the pastor and the deacon, the singer turned out to be one of the best I’d ever heard in our area, and friends gathered closely around us with great love and caring. My piano teacher played an organ piece right before the Mass, and as the last chords were sounding, the church bells began to ring with magically perfect timing.  I’m not sure if one is supposed to enjoy a funeral, but I did. It was everything it should have been, and we all felt sure it was just what my mother would like.

Some of us were feeling strongly that my mother was present and did in fact like the event. That sense of an atmosphere filled with myriad kindly beings visited me again. I had felt that in certain churches before, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting it at this one, which seemed cavernous and perhaps a little impersonal. The priest told us all, a little apologetically, that although people of different beliefs were present, we were going to hear about Jesus and get the standard Catholic experience. (Exactly as it was supposed to be.) When he said “Jesus,” I suddenly felt as if a cord flew upward from my head and connected with that loving presence.

Feeling that I was cradled in the love of my mother and the heavenly entities, I was busy communing ecstatically when I heard the words, “Lord, I am not worthy….” Wow. There it was again, stated flat out. “I am not worthy.” I am not good enough for God. I do not deserve to have the Divine be with me or within me.

And you know what? That idea rolled right past me and none of it stuck. I was completely immune to its destructive power. In every quark and photon of my being I knew that I was a child of God, a citizen of the universe, an integral and indispensable part of All That Is, however you want to put it. I was deserving of all the goodness that was pouring into me and I soaked it up joyfully and with profound gratitude and with absolutely no reservation. Not only was I worthy to receive the Divine, I was doing it right then and there and with no effort at all.

Later, as I am wont to do, I spent time rationally analyzing what had happened. I considered the fundamental contradictions embodied in “Lord, I am not worthy.” I read about the Gospel story* from which this line in the Mass was taken, and worked through a few different exegeses of it. (A nice scholarly-sounding word!) I could see where they were coming from, but I just wasn’t buying them. And this was new. Although I could still recognize my inadequacies perfectly clearly, a lifetime of existential guilt and subjugation to self-hatred had evaporated. What I knew intellectually had come to live in my heart. After years of struggle, I was at last ready for this radical acceptance.

Think about it. Even a moment of attention will show you how odd and backwards that “unworthiness” is, by doing no more than following along through basic Judaeo-Christian religious thought. God is supposed to be all-good and all-powerful, so surely God must have done a fine job at creating everything. We’re told that God looked at His creation and saw that it was good. Why, then, would human beings be total pieces of crap?

I am far from the only person to bring this up. When I was reading one of the articles on “Lord, I am not worthy,” which insisted on the truth of our not-deserving, I was pleased to see that a commenter asked, simply and directly, why we should disagree with the Creator’s opinion.

Now, suppose that God is a loving parent, as we are so often told. Imagine that you have a child, and you tell that child, “I love you, but you are really a mess, and you will never be worthy of my love no matter what you do and no matter how hard you try.” Only a twisted, psychopathic parent could say such a thing. How could an all-good God say it?

To an extent I’m oversimplifying, but this not-worthiness, this fundamental self-rejection that undermines us at a core level, is one of the most notable characteristics of mainstream religion, in our society at least.

There is another way.

The work of Fr. Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action and Contemplation here in Albuquerque, has been getting international attention. Fr. Rohr stays within the fold of Catholicism but at the same time is profoundly radical. His “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy” views our flawed humanity with great compassion, and constantly points us toward union with the divine, never into ashamed isolation.

Fr. Rohr’s recent writings have had to do with the concept of the Trinity. The idea of three-persons-in-one-God has never made sense to me, nor resonated emotionally, but he uses it to present a dynamic, moving, relational energy, a “divine dance,” rather than a static deity that doesn’t particularly interact with us or the universe. Referring to the painting shown at the top of this post, he wrote:

“In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). ‘The Lord’ appears to Abraham as ‘three men.’ Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them ‘my lord’ (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. ‘Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,’ the hosts presume.

“This story inspired a piece of devotional religious art by iconographer Andrei Rublev in the fifteenth century: The Hospitality of Abraham, or simply The Trinity. As icons do, this painting attempts to point beyond itself, inviting a sense of both the beyond and the communion that exists in our midst….

“The icon shows the Holy One in the form of Three, eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, ‘In the beginning was the Relationship.’ The gaze between the Three shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. Notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? I think so! And if so, for what, and for whom?
At the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth.
The observer.
You!
Yes, you—and all of creation—are invited to sit at the divine table. You are called ‘to consciously participate in the divine dance of loving and being loved,’ as Wm Paul Young, the best selling author of The Shack, writes.
The mirror seems to have been lost over the centuries, both in the icon and in our on-the-ground understanding of who God is—and, therefore, who we are too!”

In this view, we are not unworthy to receive the Divine— we are invited to sit right next to it, co-equal, at the same table. Imagine if all children were brought up this way instead of in the shadow of the Antichrist of guilt and unworthiness. The world would be transformed.

I would add one more thing: to me, the angelic figures in the painting look androgynous. The Trinity is not being shown as “three men,” but as three human beings— perhaps even three women.

Never let anyone tell you that you don’t belong at this table.

 

*The story is that of the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant, and trusts that he need “only say the word” and the man will be well. The centurion says that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter under his roof.

https://cac.org

http://catholicexchange.com/lord-i-am-not-worthy

http://www.fromwordstoprayers.com/2011/09/lord-i-am-not-worthy.html
‘What roof do we mean? We are temples of the Holy Spirit, and our flesh is like the “roof” of this temple. We know we are unworthy to be such temples, where God is present spiritually; we are even less worthy to receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.’

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Filed under history, spirituality

Being Dead Is Easy. Getting Dead Is Hard.

mystical-door-shutterstock_184672772-webonlyBeing dead is easy. Getting dead is hard.” — Gerrie Glover

Gerrie is a wise and formidable lady, and truer words were never spoken. I thought of this maxim of hers over and over while my mother, Molly, was going through the process that ended in her death on January 22, 2017.

All this time I’ve been writing about the “dead” and the spirit world from a position of being in touch with that reality, but for the most part I was not down in the trenches with death itself and its gritty and messy biological details. It all became immediate and concrete when my mother had a stroke on January 12. I’m going to write about what I observed in hopes that it is useful to someone.

First, on December 30, 2016, our 20-year-old cat passed. She had done astonishingly well for a long time with her failing kidneys, but her body reached the end of what it could handle. Sheena had been velcroed to my mother constantly for a few years, and her death was a hard thing for my mother to get through. We nursed the old lady through to the last, very hands-on because she would not allow herself to be left alone and cried if we weren’t right with her every moment. We were left with her tiny body between us on the sofa, like a perfect sculpture of a cat down to every hair but somehow no longer a cat. My mother wondered what we should do with the body overnight, since it was late and we weren’t going to bury her till morning. “Well,” I said, “no matter where we put her body, she will probably be in your lap.” And at that moment I felt Sheena crawling into my own lap, a small warm weight that stayed till it was necessary for me to get up.

For a few days it was as if we still had two cats, only one was invisible. After that, it seemed that we only had one cat.

Shepherding Sheena through her journey, being the person who listened to see if her heart had stopped, arranging her little limbs for burial, gave me a kind of dry run or rehearsal to help me deal with what would happen with my mother. In Sheena’s case, there were no wrenching medical decisions to make, no questions about whether she might get better. We had known the end was coming and that there was no treatment possible. Things are more complicated with humans and hospitals.

On January 12 my mother suffered a major stroke, affecting areas on both sides of her brain. I think the emergency room doctor had the right instinct. She told us very gently, based on what she saw, that it was time to think about making end-of-life decisions. But within a few hours my mother was able to move her left side again, and within a couple of days she was speaking somewhat intelligibly and swallowing a bit. It looked like she might recover enough to at least sit up in a chair, communicate and feed herself. We exhorted her to rest so that her brain could heal as much as possible, but for a while she was using a lot of energy to make it clear that she wanted to get the hell out of the hospital and get rid of the IV and the other medical annoyances. Which was certainly understandable.

Two and a half days after the stroke, late on January 14, she was able to explain to my daughter that she was ready to go and had nothing else she needed to do. She had great difficulty speaking but was able to get a whole paragraph out and be completely clear. “I’m ready for the sky,” she said, and Lenore confirmed with her that this was really what she meant to say. We’d pretty much known that she felt that way, as she had been weak and had felt rotten most days for a long time, due to problems with her heart, but it was a great gift to hear it in so many words and be sure of it.

The hours and days had a way of running together, and I’m having trouble remembering exactly when various events occurred. It was probably the 16th when she suddenly pointed straight ahead, no trembling in her arm, and clearly called out, “Ann!” That’s her eldest sister, with whom she had had some previous dreamlike contacts. “Is she here?” I asked. My mother nodded. Since the other contacts had been extremely helpful and positive, I was glad to hear it. I couldn’t detect my aunt myself, but I knew that communication with deceased relatives was common near the end of life, and I took this very seriously. My husband and daughter were familiar with this phenomenon as well, and I think that was when we all knew she was turning the corner toward death.

I will spare you the details of the indignities and unpleasantnesses that my mother had to suffer over the next few days. We were told that most people in this kind of situation “just slip away,” but unfortunately she had to take a harder road. We had assumed that the severe agitation she was displaying so much of the time was an effect of the stroke and would likely improve, but if anything it got worse. By the time the palliative care team came to see her on the 17th, she had been through at least a day of hardly any rest or respite and the nurses and I were getting frantic trying to help her. As soon as the palliative care doctor saw her, he recognized what was going on as “terminal delirium.” I had never heard that term before, but apparently it happens a substantial percentage of the time.

The doctor said that we should stop bothering her right away, pull the IV, the heart monitor, and the other devices that could not possibly do her any good. Thankfully, we were moved to a private room where there was relative quiet. We still had a terrible night because the low doses of medications being given weren’t enough to stop the seizure-like agitation. I couldn’t imagine any of us going on like that. The palliative care people agreed and very quickly and efficiently put through an order to move to the inpatient hospice. Their nurse held me and let me weep all over her.

The Kaseman Presbyterian inpatient hospice was a revelation. Instead of a cramped, chaotic hospital room, we found ourselves in a space big enough to walk around easily, with home-like seating and nearly perfect calm, and an atmosphere that felt like it was filled wall to wall with angels and helpful beings. Soon after my mother was brought in and my daughter and husband and I gathered around her, a priest came in to give her the blessing for the sick. The moment Fr. Charles opened his mouth to pray, it was as if the ceiling opened and a thousand more angels dropped into the room. My mother had been stressed further by the ambulance trip there, and this uplifting interlude was soothing to her as well as to the rest of us. I had only once before had an experience like this with being prayed over. Not everyone has that kind of connection to the heavens, it seems.

We more or less lived at the hospice during the next few days. They had a miraculously comfortable place for a family member to sleep, such a contrast with the hospital, and I took advantage of that. The first night, Wednesday, I felt that I was embraced hour after hour by myriad beings of light, wrapped securely in grace and benediction. In that state it was easy to make a strong heart connection with my mother and feel her embrace as well. I was up often to respond to the nurses and check on things, but when I slept it was a wondrous and restorative sleep, and I dozed off and on far into the day, with the staff encouraging me to rest.

Despite that, Thursday night I felt ill and crashed at home. I intended to go back to the hospice in the middle of the night, but never made it. We all continued to limp along through the process, my mother still sedated most of the time and moving slowly toward the end, not really responsive anymore.

Friday morning there was some drama. Her body became extremely hot, not just to the touch physically, but radiating incredible energy all around. The nurse could also feel the heat and energy— I think anyone would have noticed it— and she and I assumed my mother must have had a raging infection by that time, but since they don’t take temperatures in hospice, we didn’t determine whether she had an actual fever. It was far more than that, though. I had never seen so much energetic activity around a person, and I’ve seen a lot. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and wondered if it had anything to do with the nonphysical part of her moving away from the physical substrate. I haven’t found any information or opinions about this, but much later I did see a reference to a dying person’s skin becoming very hot at about the same stage.

I will describe my subjective perceptions of the next stages of the process. Friday night, as I was keeping watch from the sofa bed across the room, I saw what looked like a sudden opening in my mother’s chest, like a door or hatch being opened. Something that seemed whitish poured out. (This was a “mind’s-eye” vision— I was not looking directly at her.) This energy appeared to congeal into a mass near her body, with a sort of band still connected rather tenuously. It looked like a vague ribbon or stream to me, not the famous “silver cord,” though it must have been functioning in the same way as that.

Drifting through the hours in the middle-of-the night state of grace (not dreaming, mind you), I lost track of where that main concentration of energy was. Where is my mother? I kept asking myself. She didn’t seem to be close to her body anymore. Fryderyk was accessible, and I asked him what he could see and if there was anything he could explain to me about what was going on. I said something about wanting to be sure to be present when my mother actually passed and not wanting to miss the moment.

“If you wait to see it, you will already have missed it,” he told me in his usual aphoristic and slightly cryptic way. In images, he conveyed the idea that death is not a moment but a series of steps or distinct events.* I was already witnessing it, he said. And as usual, I realized that he was telling me something that should have been obvious to me already.

The next morning, Saturday, I found a distinct change. Her skin was still physically quite hot, but there was almost no feeling of energy near it at all. My mother’s body was still functioning, more or less the same as the night before, but she was somehow much less alive. She had already been mostly unresponsive, but now she seemed not to be “in there” in the same way anymore. I took this as a positive sign. It seemed much better for her not to have to experience too much of her body’s travails.

My understanding was that beneath the painkillers and sedatives, the body was still feeling some distress. I could detect a strong sense of disturbance in her heart, that is, the physical organ, and I felt pain in my palm when I held my hand near that part of her chest. I mentioned to the nurses that I was feeling pain in her chest, and no one seemed to think anything was strange about my statement. Hospice personnel hear and see all manner of things.

We began to feel like midwives, encouraging my mother to make the leap into the next birth. We talked to her and told her it was OK to go, which we figured she knew, but we thought we should say anyway. We started to wonder whether there was some unfinished business we didn’t know about. As I would with a regular patient, I poked around and looked for any emotions or issues that might show up, and worked to clear the minor things I found. (Mostly, she was concerned about leaving the mess of papers and paraphernalia in her bedroom for us to sort out.) We reassured her that we were fine and she didn’t need to worry about us.

I stayed over again Saturday night, afraid to leave, thinking that it would happen anytime. By mid-morning Sunday, I was wanting to get a change of clothes and clean up, and the nurses were gently pushing me to get out of there. (We know that often people wait to pass, not wanting to do it in front of their loved ones.) “Did your mother spend a lot of time alone?” they asked.  (She did.) “Maybe she’d like some alone time now.” So I went home, and Bob went to replace me a little while after. Hardly an hour later, they called for Lenore and me to come back right away.

It was almost comically anticlimactic to rush back to the hospice only to sit there again just as before. But things were beginning to change more noticeably. An elderly friend who hadn’t been able to come sooner arrived with her daughter, and they confirmed, based on their experience, that it wouldn’t be long. Their perspective and wealth of experience were helpful, but a little disturbing and imposing too. When they came to my mother’s bedside, I moved to the foot of the bed so that they had space, and they immediately told me not to stand there. Huh? They explained that in their belief system, the soul exits the body through the feet, and they didn’t want me to block its passage. I was completely nonplussed by this thought— I’d been brought up Catholic too and had never heard such a thing— and taken aback that anyone would try to dictate anything to me at my own mother’s deathbed when she was so near the end. I moved over, though, mumbling something about having seen my mother’s chest open and her soul pour out that way already, which didn’t seem to get through to them.

Every so often the nurses checked on the color of my mother’s extremities and the sound of her breathing. There was nothing to do but wait as the death rattle set in. I sat very close, and the sound was terrible even though I knew it was normal and expected. I was insulated from the distressing events, though. What I mainly experienced was the warm, reassuring sensation of my mother embracing me as if I were a tiny child. It was an incredible gift. I knew that whatever her body was going through, she was fine, and so was I. I wished that my husband and daughter, and the staff too, could feel what I was feeling and know the same peace.

I was the one who probed for a pulse and announced that it was gone. The nurse confirmed the time of death, then left us to say our goodbyes. We weren’t quite sure how to react. I remember blurting out, “I’m so excited for her!” and really meaning it, since so many new possibilities had suddenly opened for my mother. She was vibrantly present in the room, so I kept talking to her. Her mouth was hanging open awkwardly, and I wanted to close it for a more dignified appearance, thinking that she would not appreciate being seen that way. I kept trying to reposition her head to make that possible, and it just didn’t work no matter what I tried. I apologized for my failure, laughing helplessly. The absurdity somehow seemed natural. We found ourselves engaging in some gallows humor, and I wondered how the other families in the facility were dealing with this kind of thing. It was surreal and bizarre as much as it was sad, and at that moment I was feeling relief more than anything.

I wistfully noted that the individual cells of the body, most of which were probably perfectly healthy, were now condemned, along with the billions of commensal organisms that ride along with us and make our human life possible. But that is the way of things.

My mother was around and available a great deal for the next few days, and others besides me experienced and enjoyed her company. I couldn’t really feel grief-stricken, since she wasn’t gone. She didn’t continue to hang around so much of the time, and I expect that she’s been doing more worthwhile things than watching us, but there is contact now and then. I still haven’t found her current will; I’d thought I knew where to look, but her papers were not arranged the way I expected. When I begged her for help in locating it, she pointed me in a definite direction in her bedroom— but what we found there was her will from 1963… this would be a great time for me to be a much better medium than I am… still no current will to be seen, unfortunately.

But that situation can be easily dealt with. I have no major complaints. My mother is dead but not lost, and I’m at peace with her and with the process of her life and death. I’m intensely grateful to have been privileged to observe and perceive so much of what went on. My only discomforts have been a few small lingering questions about the medical decisions we made. I’m comfortable that we did the best we could with the information we had at each moment, though.

I understand far more about death than I did before, but there are myriad questions remaining. For one, I have been wondering, if a person dies suddenly in an accident, by gunshot, etc., do they go through the same stages, only much more quickly? Or is it a very different process? I’m sure there must be some after-death accounts of sudden deaths out there.

Friends and patients have been telling me about their experiences of the deaths of their own parents and others close to them. I would love to hear anything you would care to share, either as a public comment or privately.

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*Michael Tymn posted this on his blog at
http://whitecrowbooks.com/michaeltymn/entry/guarding_against_premature_cremation/:

‘In his 1998 book, Light & Death, Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, cites an article by Dr. Linda Emanuel, who comments that life and death are viewed as non-overlapping, dichotomous states, whereas in reality there is no threshold event that defines death. “Several scientific observations support Emanuel’s argument that loss of biologic life, including death of the brain, is a process and does not occur at a single, definite moment,” Sabom writes.’

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