I am gestating yet more big life changes...Actually there are a few, which is the way my life seems to move. (It's less metamorphic than igneous...) Life has been working well, in a lovely and calm way, then the volcanic eruptions begin...and it is not usually of my choosing.
I have learned to adjust, but it is not comfortable. For me, it manifests physically as body aches, which are bone deep. My brain can more readily accept concepts and new ideas, but my body is slower to process, digest and clean out those old stories. It is yet another physical way grief/loss works it's ways with us–with me. As I tell my bereaved, loss and grief are real damage.
The stories to which I am referring are the very early ones, which got baked in bone deep, before we knew we were in an oven.
But if the story I am holding, is no longer working...it is good and necessary to let it go... The most obvious catalyst in my world now is my employment, which is wobbly and has been for a time. But the mental linkages to how I make money in the world root into to my very identity, who I trust, and how I contribute to the world. These are internal stories, too. Something in me has shifted around the idea of enoughness. Parts of me, which have been largely known but inaccessible, have aligned. I feel wiser, more ready and, perhaps, riper (Ahem...ripe in the sense of wine not compost).
What is 'enough'? It has to do with expectations & our stories.
The answers around enough-ness are both bone deep, and flowing like a thought river, constantly in motion while eroding and re-depositing all those earthly rocks I have come to think of as unchanging. Enoughness and gratitude is a present moment calculation, of sorts. David Brooks in a 2015, NYT column, The Structure of Gratitude, says
''Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectations..." - July 28, 2015
Appreciating 'What Is" in front of me or cling to old stories?
Like the grateful people described in his column, I have become more present-minded. My expectations of life are more about appreciating "What is" than expecting life to conform to my baked-in ideas of what I thought was true. "These people may have big ambitions, but they have preserved small anticipations (expectations)". He says these people are hyper-aware of our continual dependence on others - parents, friends, ancestors (and I add partners). They are connected in their stories of gratitude. They are interdependent...and stronger more resilient for it.
Gratitude creates a gift economy...and a better world.
Gratitude is a form of social glue. In a capitalist economy, debt is to be repaid to the lender. But a debt of gratitude is repaid forward, to another person who also doesn't deserve it. In this way each gift ripples outward and yokes circles of people in bonds of affection... Connections are nurtured not by self-interest but by loyalty and service.
As my fiance says (yes, I am, ahem...also getting married...) "We are all dented cans." There is empathy here. There is compassion here for ourselves and our others when we can reduce our expectations. Or release them... if we are ripe enough to do so...
Happy Inter-Dependence Day - We are all dented cans...
My expectations are gratefully burning up with those previously mentioned volcanic eruptions in wonderful ways. We are all dented cans...and I am following the path of kindness, loyalty and service. Life is very sweet today. I am connected in ways I could not have imagined in previous stories of how "Life should be..."
I am appreciating 'What is' enough...to see the blessings in front of me. 'What is' - expectations = blessings.
Why put those two things together?
Grief is bad; innovation is good.
What could grief possibly have to do
with innovation? (Isn't grief what some
lucky working stiffs get three days
leave to deal with?)
Grief does not work that way: it takes as long as it takes.
Anyone who is human and loves, will encounter grief and find this out for themselves. Reconciliation, (not recovery...as Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief expert instructs) is the path. It is a slow road of feeling what arises. Sound Zen? It's even more ancient than that.
In our speed culture, why lavish the time needed to grieve?
Because it affects our ability to discern, and perceive... (and wait for it) create the new. If we live our lives numbed-out and afraid to see in the dark, we cannot see the whole range of challenges, opportunities and possibilities before us. We limit ourselves; our lives become smaller.
Our garden is choked with weeds...(and right weeding is the answer).
Better to 'dose' yourself, rest, and repeat...until you thaw.
Humans avoid and deny what is painful for many self-protective reasons, but all these fearful strategies, are for the sprint. They don't keep you safe in the long run.
The good life is about the marathon–not a sprint (of denial).
The only authentic long term strategy for a good life, is to deal and cope in time and, as you are able with the spiritual compost of loss: jobs, relationships, marriages, identitys, aging, caregiving are just a few examples of the trenches of love we humans may experience. They are all little deaths and the only way beyond them is through.
Yep. It's messy to go through your loss, but you can then access your best life. (As Oprah correctly shouts from her magazine covers.) It's a sound bite, but it's true. Authenticity is about seeing better...so is innovation.
Necessity is a mother, alright.
So is grief, but we can do this...with the uber superpower of kindness, patience and persistence A.K.A. love.
I know a couple of things for certain... about grief
We must wait here...like a garden in winter.
When we wisely do the honest, inner work of grief...at root level, we can THEN mourn into the world that and those we have loved and lost. In this way, we can be ripe enough and ready enough to plant new seeds and new stories.
The Earth answers us... with spring.
To paraphrase ee Cummings the poet, in his early work, when we ask difficult questions, which are on our heart, of nature...the Earth answers as she has always done... The earth answers us with the season of Spring – with its promise of renewal.
When we ask our higher power, (the Holy One of Many Names, God...) these same mortal questions, our answers are not in denial, fear and anxiety...the answers for us are in Love.
Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star... –e.e. Cummings
My fellow chaplain and author will have the final word here:
Walk fearlessly into the house of mourning.
For grief is just Love squaring up against its oldest enemy.
And after all these mortal human years, Love is up the challenge
–Rev. Kate Braestrup, Beginners Grace
Taken in part from remarks prepared for an AseraCare's annual celebration of life, Stockton, California, Saturday, June 8, 2019.
Posthumously and humorously:
Notes from Spiritual Direction Session
Patient: Mr. Jesus Christ
Notes by Dr. A. Einstein for review
Location: Bethlehem Incarceration Facility
Dr Einstein: Good Morning Mr. Christ. I understand from Rev. Hager that you are undergoing a dark night of the soul as you sit here in jail. Rev. Hager is off for Easter celebration so I am standing in for her. As a Jew, I do not take this holiday off. She asked me if I might offer my services for the next 30 minutes. She will be back with you after Easter to further support you on your journey. I understand you had a run in with the authorities?
Jesus: Yes, I have tried to “turn the other cheek” and teach my simple message of love to the people but I have made some enemies. I am misunderstood and I am tired of it.
Dr. Einstein: “Yes, once we accept our limits, (only then can) we go beyond them.”
Jesus: If I may quote Upton Sinclair with whom I find a lot of common ground, “"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon ... I've tried “ It was a coincidence that I found this book in my cell.
Dr. Einstein: “Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.”
Jesus: Thank you, I like that. I can see you are a man of a spiritual bent but in the end only “those who have eyes to see, will see.”
Dr. Einstein: Let me put it this way, "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is a though everything is a miracle" -
Jesus: Yes, miracles...I have done a few of them but you are right – all life is a miracle.
Dr. Einstein: “The most important question, Jesus, that a person can ask is, "Is the Universe a friendly place?” What is your answer?
Jesus: It is not my work but my Father in heaven, my Abba’s, my Poppa. He has all the answers. I am just following orders...
Dr Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
Jesus: What are you implying? Are you saying I have to do more than just follow the rules? I have to think and feel with the gifts that my Father gave me?
Dr Einstein: “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts”.
Jesus: If I was to feel with my OWN heart I would listen to this girl that has been hanging around the camp. She is wonderful and wise; she says to allow our hearts to inform our heads.
Dr. Einstein: “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”
Jesus: What are you saying? Her answers are different…even her questions are different.
Dr Einstein: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a ladder, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Jesus: That can get sticky pretty fast. You see I am very attracted to her goodness, her wisdom and ... Ohy Veh, don’t get me started on her body It is very distracting. But, How can I serve two masters?
Dr. Einstein: Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
Jesus: My disciples back at camp are going to be jealous if I kiss Magdalene.
Dr. Einstein: “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
Jesus: Thank you Dr. Einstein…you have given me a lot to think about- kinda obscure but clearly thoughtful.
Dr. Einstein: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”
Jesus: Yeah, whatever. Guard, take me back to my cell; I still have 40 days to serve and I need some wilderness right now.
NOTE: Chaplains when training to be of clinical support do these reviews (called verbatims) of our patient visits for a CPE group to review and give feedback. When I was doing my residency in San Francisco St. Lukes Hospital, I created this a playful exercise as to how two famous people might encounter each other (posthumously and humorously...)
As a person who hails from a progressive liberal tradition from the prairie of Oklahoma, we cremated. Ceremony was focused on deeply personal memorial services and scatterings. The view in my faith tradition of my upbringing was that our mortal ‘ships' into which we are have been blessed to be embodied were not seen as particularly sacred.
As an interfaith chaplain in hospice now, I support people at the end of their tours, so to speak…at their last breath, I offer impromptu blessings and participatory offerings for those in attendance at the bedside of a patient who has just passed. I stay until the designated mortuary comes to pick up. An intimacy with the body at the end, is a “new radical’ (as in back to the root) idea of some EOL visionaries to counteract the dominant youth culture of devaluing elders. Unless the family asked me to “do” the service, I only follow up with the bereaved via my hospice bereavement responsibilities.
End of Life Ceremony better as a collaboration
I have recently taken a class by Dr. Alan Wolfelt called Creating Meaningful Funerals. The class was not what I expected. Here I will freely admit ignorance and lack of vision…to the opportunities of working together with mortuaries. I met many there that were interested & interesting funeral directors / staff who care quite deeply about ceremony, (do spiritual mischief…) and serve families. With regret and before this class, I thought of the service as my domain and my job (Hey, I'M THE chaplain...) I did not see funeral directors as partners in this.
The framework of Dr Wolfelt’s principles
about why we have had funerals ...since the beginning of human life (and ...ahem...death) is an effective way to have a conversation together - clergy and mortuary.
My views have expanded due to this class. Meeting so many who care deeply about ceremony and service. I see the mortuary now as potential partners, or would be partners in sending the ’ship’ off well-tended. I believe the general public might also have this same erroneous view.
I offer up my ignorance because I have an abundance of it, which I do not need… We are (always) stronger together. There were many stories in that class of antipathy with “bad” clergy (and some stories of beautiful collaborations, too).
Two things to counter the idea of disintermediation
of mortuaries (or ministers…) as they occur to me.
1. GREEN BURIAL
My interest in alternative ways to bury people (green) as growth opportunities for an industry in transition, It is happening to all of us - disintermediation. These new forms of burial could still have the performance criteria of this class - using ceremony’s elements & permanent memorialization but perhaps in a different way.
2. DEATH EDUCATION
Perhaps less disruptive to existing mortuary business models might be offerings in bereavement and death where any of my classmates might collaborate with their local communities and educate the locals, as I have been educated about the creativity of funeral directors etc. There is a new curiosity about death in my experience.
•Death Cafes (deathcafe.org) are popular in California…and are usually held in
mortuaries or libraries…or churches.
•Bereavement support for your families...
• Grief groups at your facilities etc.
NOTE: My next Death Cafe will be in San Francisco on March 27
Please see Events for more info. RSVP please.
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