Some memorial services are remarkable.
As a hospice chaplain, I attend and create many memorial services—this one was inspired. On Sunday, many fellow Interfaith ministers, UU ministers and CHI graduates gathered to honor a great man who has left us.
Jeremy Taylor was a pioneer in mining the wisdom of dreams and taught many to see them as The Divine continuing to speak to us. His work embodied the notion that God (insert whatever holy name you want here..Spirit, Goddess, Lord, Light, Love) is alive and talking to us. Revelation did not stop with holy books...It is continuous ... We are the one's who have a reticence to listening. Jeremy and other greats have urged us to listen better:
" Everyone is God talking. Let's be polite and listen to him." –Hafiz (as translated by Ladinsky)
Dreams are the continuous source of revelation...
I met him in a single class I took at CHI for my Interfaith training...but I claim him and his wisdom as kindred.
Here are some of the things that were said about this great and humble man:
Someone quoted him saying, "Curiosity was another name for compassion."
I think the mark of the truly great is that they leave so, so many gifts behind within us for being wiser, and more awake to what is ours to do, in the time we have left.
One of my professors read a poem by Jeremy Taylor, :
(with a tip of the hat to Coleman Barks)
Grant me Love!
Please, make it simply
Make it crack and melt the hard places
Where I am so sure of myself.
Make it stiffen and enliven the weak places
Where I am uncertain, ignorant,
and secretly afraid.
And please make it horribly "inappropriate"
So I must really know you in myself,
Myself in you,
To give up everything that is not love
(Because it is so hard to do it willingly. . .)
I pray this
Knowing it will ruin me.
Let me be ruined by love,
So that I may come back to you
Without pride, or stupidity,
- Or pretense, or opinions -
or any sense of separation -
Like a lover,
Hungry and ecstatically full
All at the same time!
-Jeremy Taylor, United States twentieth century Sacred Poems and Prayers of Love, 1998
His life was a gift to us. Thank you Jeremy Taylor for all you did ...and are still doing in your many books, and the many seeds which you have planted within us.
They said you died in your sleep...dreaming... and again in the arms of your beloved.
The Kaiser palliative RN symposium where I was speaking about resilience for pro caregivers...and my book...was easy (and went quite well) once I stopped reading my notes and spoke from my heart. I don't know how many times I need to learn this lesson—speaking with people, not at them.
It is so easy at bedside in hospice (or supporting my bereaved) to still my noisy mind, listen deeply and respond from that place...or let the space be empty. In good design, they call it "white space".
But... it feels so different when sixty-five palliative nurses are watching you, waiting for my amplified words to fill the gap between us—my words.
Oddly, it's not. As a chaplain and a woman of (growing all the time) faith, I agree with the radical French Jesuit theologian, paleontologist and geologist, Teilhard de Chardin, when he said:
"We are spiritual beings, having a human experience."
If that is true (and I have ample life, bedside and death bed evidence of this), then there is just one of us here, or at minimum we are nuclear family. My point about speaking up (and speeches) is that we are all among family—all the time.
Sweet, right? (And, it's a better tactic than imagining all of you/us naked...)
As I walked the Santa Rosa Coffee Park Neighborhood as a volunteer chaplain on Sunday, I saw this sturdy man sorting through the ash and debris in the ghosted shape of what used to be his home.
It turned out, he was a man who loved trees—and once he said it, I could see their still skeletons arching over and sheltering the cavity that used to be a house. Only rubble and ashes could be seen for several leveled blocks.
I walked up to him and waited to get his attention. People can be deep in thought... He looked up and we spoke through masks--
“My name is Rev. Eleesabeth, I am a volunteer with Salvation Army. We’re walking the neighborhood checking on everyone..."
He smiled (I could tell by the way the mask crinkled up…). He thanked me for being there. It is one of the best gifts of great loss—we see the blessing in people simply reaching out.
“Everyone got out…I woke them up.” People wanted to tell their stories to us. (We were witnessing their unreality… and sharing just a bit of it.) “I started banging on doors…and all my neighbors got out. But I wouldn’t have gotten up if it wasn’t for this tree here.” He pointed to the lean, upright bones of a street tree. There wasn’t a leaf, or twig or branch on it— just a naked trunk.” It was a Chinese elm…strong wood, pretty bark…a sturdy, hardy, don’t-mess-with-me street tree. “My wife was always on me to cut it down but we lived in the house for 35 years, and I never did. She was in Mexico when it happened… and that tree woke me up. It rained down little pellets on my window…I thought it was hail... That tree woke me up…and I woke up all my neighbors.”
“That tree…saved my life.”
This is the way of grief. We the bereaved need to tell our stories over and over—until it becomes real. Until then, we live in an unreal, twilight world of ethers…
There were so many stories from these strong Santa Rosa people. This is the first one…about a man who loved trees and the trees loved him back.
For more about the Tree Who Loved Him Back...go to the Garden blog.
My Sweetheart said I had issues with clerks... I said "Noooo..."
Of course, I denied it. He was only (gently) retaliating because I had just mentioned that he was a manic behind the wheel... (Okay, it might have been a better example of good couple communication to simply to say "Honey, please stop tailgating...I am in fear for my life...") It was our (generally) good-natured banter but...it bothered me.
Am I mean to clerks? OMG...that's terrible.
And it's ugly, especially for a chaplain. I mean, we have higher standards of compassion...right? But, (surprise...), human here, and my mother's daughter (yeah, it's all in the memoir... Now, she was rough on the help.)
As in most all denial...it doesn't work in the long run.
Here's a clarifying minute with Deepak Chopra about self acceptance of our positive and 'negative' traits. He says accepting them makes us attractive—like little kids but it also makes us complete.
Good Girls...don't do that... (Pretzels R' Us, Deepak)
So now, you say, to embrace who I am—all of me—is...attractive? Because it is authentic? (In what parallel universe do you live in Deepak?) I was raised to be a 'good girl'.
Self-acceptance is not my cultural operating system.
As a little middle-class, white girl, from the prairie, if I wasn't all nice, all the time, I would not be acceptable. It was either have friends or (self)accept that I would be alone.
(This teaching is one-size-fits-all but it looks like it only comes in pink.)
This is an interesting observation and a little funny...in a sad way. We need rules and laws to keep people civil and well-behaved but how much better to have these good-hearted, ethical behaviors arise from our core like green, growing things with all they need to prosper: water, nutrients...and soil.
Why did I get the muck and not that clarity? Answer: it's all about composting...
No Mud, No Lotus is the (tiny wisdom in a) title of a Thich Nhat Hanh book. I am fairly sure, at this point, it is the composting process of our attitude (i.e. the lotus) about what we receive (i.e. the mud), that is the key to authenticity. It is the only thing of which we are always in control. To stretch this earthly metaphor airborne, our attitude is our altitude. Zig takes it further:
"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." —Zig Ziglar
Let's add authenticity to the alliteration, which is also the first regret--at the end.
According to Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. People wish they had lived a life true to themselves—NOT what other's expected of them.
I love this full circle: getting to center; accepting who I am; listening to the longings of my own heart...and using it all to be kind...and in alignment with who-I-came-here-to-be.
Now that's a good girl...and a good life.
"Hey Rev., I am an atheist, so I don't need any spiritual care."
This patient is new to hospice, and these were his first words to me.
…so I agreed, " Okay. That sounds good to me."
"What you're not going to try and convert me?"
… and I countered, (I think, eloquently...), "Nope...Not my job."
"…because it is very likely, I don't believe in the same God, you don't believe in."
I paused allowing that to sink in…
A happy hundred?
Another book about centenarians is soon to come out by a Dr. John Day. He is studying the Japanese ‘Longevity Village’. He’s a doctor who is astounded that “a painful decline is not inevitable…” Death is, of course, but not a diseased decline of heart disease, cancer and dementia.
The secret is not happy pills. Certainly, it’s exercise and eating good food, but the secrets are basic gratitude practices.
Ready for the wisdom?
1. Smile more – (It gives your wrinkles something to do)
2. Rethink Stress (Can you endure the ease?)
3. Play (Play Daily – (BTW this is one of my rules – check out the new book website please)
4. Look forward to aging (Repeat after me, I love my life right now...)
From the centenarians that I have been blessed to have known—Alpha, Suzie, Madeline, Albertina— they were also shameless flirts…
Get to know one.
Their generosity, and willingness to help will astound you.They did me. It’s how they got to be a happy hundred.
BTW- I think it's about being happy at whatever age you are. Yes?
Resiliency makes our economy grow. It is what allows us to bounce in the inevitable booms and busts of our time on the planet. It is the main ingredient in a Silicon Valley pivot (i.e. what we’re doing now isn’t working, but we still have investment money to spend…Shall we pivot?).
How do we get resilience after finding ourselves (again) flat on our butts in the mud of a repeating episode of Groundhog Day …or Twilight Zone or, perhaps, the death of a loved one.
DIY Resilience—Not an OTC Rx
Resilience is the antidote to the poison of failure, grief, loss and other changes not of our making. But it’s not always available as an over-the-counter (OTC) Rx prescription. It takes time to grow it. It is DIY. It is rarely purchased or popped.
I am remembering this week, that all change has some associated grief. (Yes?) Even when choosing something we want, we are giving up something incompatible with that something. There are no short cuts here; no highways…not really (think bumper-to-bumper). Our culture recommends speed (especially around things that are painful…and loss is that). Denial, deferral and bootstrapping (and my fav bulldozing through) are all forms of avoidance.
(Or as we might say in chaplain lingo: a Spiritual Bypass).
The Modern Plague: Is there a Pill for it?
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50 says a 2016 preliminary analysis by the NYT. “We are in the midst of the worst opioid epidemic in American history..." it is an “epidemic of over prescribing… " says Dr Anna Lembke’s in her recent TEDx Stanford talk Drug Dealer, MD.
“The prescription drug epidemic is a symptom of a faltering health care system. The solution is rethinking how health care is delivered.”
"How did healers become dealers?”
Check her talk out for yourself. She mentions a lot: 1) The industrialization of medicine where patients are now customers that doctors must please for ratings 2) the medicalization of poverty – a system that tends to make all social problems biological i.e. at least they can help with a pill.
Her third point about Illness Narratives is most relevant to the idea of resiliency. As a culture, we have adopted the modern idea that pain is dangerous, in itself and should be avoided at all costs. She notes that painkillers can actually slow the healing process. Who want’s that?
The Stories We Tell Ourselves are Medicine
I don’t want pain, either, but like but any kid will demonstrate: life lived is worth some scraped knees. As a chaplain in hospice we are all about comfort care…at the end, in repose, and saying goodbye to life and that which we have loved. The Doctor’s point, (and I believe this...) is about the usefulness of old-school stories for a life well lived. Our culture, in our more resilient past, used to emphasize our own natural efficacy in healing i.e. balance and resiliency. She notes these perennial stories:
If I have a broken leg, hand me the pill bottle.
I’m not a masochist. My point here is that better stories are better medicine. If what you're doing isn’t working, know that you still have investment money and resources to spend...You can pivot.
Better stories are an investment. They are a renewing resource.
What are your stories about?
Is beauty an evolutionary cheat sheet? What is beauty's utility? (Or as my niece once posed on her Facebook, will it get you free drinks?) In a recent NYT Science article several interesting questions were posed (but like Vanna White...or Barbie) ...never really resolved.
“We’ve been explaining away desire rather than actually trying to understand or explain it.” Says Dr. Richard O. Prum, a Yale ornithologist and evolutionary biologist, about his new book, “The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us. Cont'd below...
I did say in my last celebratory Memorial Day post to thank a crusty veteran...
"Thank you for all that you did...(and do)."
It was half gratitude, that made me park the car with blinkers on
...walk over, and hand him a bill. The other half was proving to myself that I blog for my own clarity—not yours (...MY sign says 'no preaching here'... only communal gardening).
The old guy said: "Aw, thanks." I shook his hand. Cont'd ...