“ When you have come to the end of all that you know, you will either be given ground beneath your feet, or wings to fly… author unknown.
But what if you were to come to the end of all that you knew and had neither ground nor wings? What if all that awaited you was a terrifying fear, a darkening abyss of loss and uncertainty?
There are times in all of our lives when we experience what I term, a ‘living death.’ This can be a period when our belief systems collapse, when our marriages end in divorce, when we lose our job or our ability to do the work we love, when we become seriously ill or when someone close to us dies. These events challenge our identities, how we live and who we are, and activate deep transformational change. This ‘living death’ can spiral us into crisis, because “our world”, no longer exists as it once did. The safety, familiarity and stability that we depended on for our sense of Self has evaporated. In fact it isn’t uncommon during these life ‘transitions’ to actually feel as if we’re dying, as if we can’t breathe, and our heart is literally breaking. There seems to be no ground beneath us, no roots to hold us safe and fast, nor wings to carry us from the helpless pain of our reality. It can be so powerful in its onslaught that the outer world holds no allure, provides no comfort or shelter. In these moments no distractions can take us from the stronghold of our grief, and we live in some seemingly timeless, and foreign wasteland. There is a sense of emptiness, of nothingness all consuming, one that seems cruelly indifferent to our suffering…
I have navigated this process many times both personally and with my clients. I have been continually asked ‘why’ must we go through this, how can such pain and suffering be of value. In truth it is valuable beyond measure if we actually perceive it as an opportunity to become more aware of, and intimate with our true Self. Loss is one of the greatest catalyst for awakening to a more profound level of connection. It is a hard teacher that can impart the most noble qualities, strength, vulnerability, humility, surrender, patience, compassion, and courage. It fosters awareness, self-knowledge, and in the end wisdom. Ultimately loss illuminates the truth; life is transient, all things are subject to natural law, transformation, and the process of evolution. We become keenly aware of what we actually have control over, namely how we perceive and respond to our experiences. The process of ‘dying’, of losing our lives, becomes just another state of being, and we no longer fear it. The great cycle reveals itself, as death begets new life. As we learn to accept our loss with equanimity we feel at peace. The pain of our attachments inspire us to let them go, and thus we feel a greater sense of relief and freedom. The greatest gift of all is in knowing that within us there lies a source of truth and wisdom that we can trust and access at any moment, under any circumstance.
There is an unshakable confidence in one who has navigated this terrain successfully, who has learned these lessons firsthand and applied them in their lives. I am grateful for all the deaths I have known, and for all the ways they have made me whole. I bow to all of you, who have allowed me to sit with you in your darkest and most illuminating hour, I honor your strength and your courage, your willingness to surrender to the power and truth within… You’re my hero’s!
Written: November 10, 2014
Hail to the mind that is naturally free, the self that is no self, as fine as ether. Bliss. It is the nothingness that is liberating, no thing. Being.
In one swift, unsuspecting breath of a moment, it can all be a tsunami of ‘thinking’, a death sentence to the NOW. Bondage.
Liberator, captor, who shall you be? Oh sweet genius of a mind how I long to lose your shadow, take you home and put you to bed. Lull you, seduce you into silence and space.
The sleepless one is ever wide awake, unblinking. Hello my love. I’ve missed the naked stillness of you. In you, there is no me, nothing to surrender or other to be.
I do not forget even in the darkest of night the eternal light. No suffering can severe me from the truth, nor make me believe of the false, as not. For I have been laid bare, deboned and bled dry of all the fear of fear itself. How divine.
Bold hearted one, I behold you in your fullness, as vast as my soul does see, and everywhere you are. Everywhere I AM. Oh the veil how it blows in the wind, here and not again. Bowing to the temptress of certainty, and bidding my farewell…
Written: April 13, 2014
Last month in the span of one week I experienced the intimacy of birth and death, of the inhale and exhale of life. I felt the joy and sorrow as one single concerto. To be in the presence of these powerful forces was humbling. The rawness of loss, the fear of letting go, the tenderness of real love and connection, I was in awe of the courage and strength it takes to give birth and to die. I have been present at these moments before, but never in tandem. During this numinous time all else in my world seemed to pale, to become less significant, less important. The seen and the unseen were in communion and I was being called to witness their eternal union, it was time to pause, to witness and to appreciate the full cycle of life.
I held space for the experience, being present to soothe, comfort, adjust pillows, apply a cold compress, and be still. I was there to lend support, to love, listen and laugh. There were moments ripe with vulnerability, for the opportunity to surrender to the pain and suffering of loss and to practice compassion. No resistance. The unknown was sitting bedside, and there was nothing to do but to BE in the not knowing ‘when’. The beauty of impending birth and death is that there is a stripping away of all that is extraneous, of what truly does not matter and all forms of pretense, denial, modesty, and vanity are shed. There is an authenticity, a realness that permeates the air, that seeps through the skin. Nothing but the truth can penetrate these experiences. The eyes open and they close, the heart beats and then it stops, the voice cries out and then it is silent, there is movement and stillness. I watched myself as these moments pierced my heart, brought tears, shook me and woke me to the preciousness of life. Breathing in, breathing out, I am alive, and I too am dying, dying to the moment, to the mystery, to the uncertainty, to the helplessness, to the joy, to the awakening…
In my knowing there is only the unborn and the undying, and that appearances are deceptive. In India there is the belief in a life only appearing and disappearing. In other words life is existent, only the form changes, we neither really come or go, and it is an illusion of the senses to believe so. But all the philosophy in the world will not stop the pain of seeing someone you love take their last breath, speak their last words, or look one final time into your eyes. No matter how long we have practiced non-attachment or walked our spiritual path we are not immune to the grief of loss. Nor will it prepare you for the overwhelming love and and absolute joy that fills the heart when a new life emerges.
In my own life I have always kept these processes intimately close, as a constant reminder of the eternal cycle of life, of the true Oneness of the inhale and exhale. Birth and death have taught me the beauty of letting go, of embracing uncertainty with some measure of humor and faith, of being fearless in the face of the unknown. More than anything they have made me more mindful and more awake. I am so grateful to the newly born Hayden who has so deeply touched my heart and who has brought such wonder, and to Laura who left this world with such a legacy of love and generosity. Thank you my beloved’s for letting me share in your light.
love, love, love,
Written: September 20, 2013
Who so ever rules the kingdom, determines the experience within the realm. The real question is who sits upon the throne? Is the mortal or immortal aspect of your Being sovereign? Is it fear or love that commands?
The drama of human life unfolds, the good and ill of the world takes place under indifferent skies. We guard against pain and suffering by planning and plotting to make our lot somehow better, more certain, less vulnerable then the next. As if security and permanence can be assured by futile attempts to out strategize nature. This is the height of arrogance, and ignorance. Pain and suffering are as inevitable in life as is joy and happiness. Some believe that these experiences occur randomly and can only be feared or hoped for. What a desperate bondage, a wasteful imprisonment. You were meant to be free, so free yourself.
Let there be no fear, nor hope in your heart, only courage. The courage to live in the here and now. To surrender what you think you know, to what you don’t. The unknown is ever present, ever waiting to reveal it’s ripe and tender fruit. How sweet to let go, to be exactly where you are, perfect and whole.
Do not plead, or desire things to be other then they are, there is no need to struggle against reality. The great irony is that accepting “what is”, is the key to transformation. Only in seeing things as they are, are we afforded the ability to create change, thus is the power of truth. Deception and denial, the amnesia of humankind are absent in the awakened being, as is a preference or attachment to one experience over another. Delight in what is happening, it’s all that is.
To be at peace with with what is arising is the great liberation. At the root of it all, is to know that death is an illusion, that it is no more the end, then the beginning the beginning. The greatest gift is to die ceaselessly in this life, to feel the scraping clean of the slate by a swift and timely fate. For all things do conspire to give us this grace, to know in truth that there is nothing to fear. Fear not…
Written: July 9, 2013
Life lives in the moment, all that is happening is happening NOW.
Breathing in… breathing out. This is the practice of mindfulness, of being present. This brings happiness. The monkey mind is the monkey mind. Don’t chase the monkey! Let it be what it is. In mediation the awareness should be focused on the breath, it is the breath that is LIFE. When we inhale we are taking life in, when we exhale we are releasing it. It is the practice of receiving and letting go, this creates peace.
Thoughts rise and fall like waves on the ocean. We watch them form, dissipate and form again. The nature of mind is to move, so let it. Relax the mind, and you relax the body. To relax the mind, let the breath be natural. As the breath becomes natural the mind becomes spacious, as the mind becomes spacious the body relaxes. Simple, but not easy. Practice.
In being mindful of the breath we can begin to listen. This listening allows us to hear, to understand more fully our experience. There is nothing to do but be aware of what is happening. In the moment that awareness is present, life becomes vital. This brings joy.
Meditation is more than an activity it is a state of interbeing. Not controlling or trying to manipulate our experience comes as a great relief. Freedom lies in surrendering. This is the paradoxical truth. When we STOP struggling and have compassion for our human selves, love arises.
For you Mr. EarthTree with love…
Written: May 2, 2013
Once a student of mine asked, “ Santidevi if you could only say one last word to the world, what would that word be?” I said, ‘RELAX!’ I think she was expecting something more profound. But the truth is it’s actually a necessity if we want to truly awaken, to expand our consciousness, and experience happiness.
Relax the mind, and you relax the body. A body free of tension is like the beginner’s mind, fresh. It is able to move fluidly, to adapt spontaneously, and naturally. When we are relaxed we are aware, connected, open and receptive; in essence PRESENT.
There is a direct relationship between deep states of relaxation and the initiation of a ‘present state of BEING.’ Why? Because when we are truly relaxed thinking recedes, resistance to our experience lessens and we become receptive to ‘what is.’ It’s difficult to be fearful, angry, or violent if you’re relaxed. Imagine if in addition to ‘mindfulness’ we all practiced deep relaxation, nothing would be more revolutionary.
In our modern world it seems an impossibility to ‘let go’, to surrender so fully that we would actually feel relaxed. But the truth is every moment affords us the opportunity to breathe, to soften, to let the space between our thoughts be a widening expanse. This gap is the still point to all of our “incessantness,” the freedom of emptiness, of this no mind, no body, no this, no that. I invite you to take a break from thinking, contracting, grasping, clinging, and controlling these are the habituations of mind that exhaust and overwhelm, that create stress and anxiety. So experiment, see what happens in your experience when you make ‘relaxation’ a practice.
January 21, 2013
Thick and thin. Having and having not against a back drop of the never changing. The uncertain breathes down the length of my spine and I sigh. To sit in the unknown with ease has become my practice. Not attaching to an outcome or grasping for a still, lifeless answer. Impermanence, every moment filled with life and death, inhaling, exhaling…
I return from one dark year, a pilgrimage I didn’t know I was taking. No matter how long we have practiced or how deeply we have gone into our own mire there is still mud at the bottom of the well. In the transiency of Seattle I became intimate with my attachments, with fear that rose from unseen quarters, with tidal anxiety as unpredictable as the Sound. I felt for the first time in my life adrift, far from all that I loved, from gravity itself. I was stripped of identification, human roles that had given my life meaning, form and function.
The sky in the PNW is an enigma erasing all sense of time and space. There is no orienting oneself by the presence or absence of light. The, fog land and water appear and disappear seemingly at will. It is an illusory place, surreal and mystical. It inspires one to question what is and isn’t real, what exists beyond the smoke and mirrors of existence.
In the perpetual dark, grey, horizon less phenomenon that is Seattle there were no distractions, no associations, nothing to inhibit my descent. In the silence of my little tree house surrounded by woods and water, mist and melancholy, the whole of my life came seeping in. It was as if I had died suddenly and was watching the Technicolor, frame by frame of my entire life. I saw myself at every stage, the inner workings of my mind, habits, patterns, and choices. I felt the rawness of my vulnerability, the shedding of one self for another. I could see how my decisions led to a whole host of consequences and outcomes, some desired, some not. I was shown the truth in all of its unerring, unbiased glory. Like a dot to dot it was all connected, one fine line to the next. The sheer complexity, pain, pleasure, self-sabotage, beauty, sadness, joy, entanglement, confusion, uncertainty, grief, ignorance, and grace, of my being; I was so irrefutably human, flawed and imperfect. My heart shattered into nothingness. Whatever stable ground I once stood on vanished. I questioned my entire life, it’s meaning and purpose. What value did I essentially have? What was left of my life to live? Why was I alone? I watched, as I judged, condemned, interrogated, and despaired. My mind, once the great liberator had become my oppressor. It was a merciless, inescapable fire that would devour every last self-deceiving thought I had. So I sat with my crazy mind, practiced courage, patience and faith. Throughout this process I felt the thin pulse of my own compassionate, beloved Self, tender, and AWAKE. Alchemy. I shed to the marrow erasing all the folly of self-importance and ignorance. I knew everything and nothing. The slate was once more wiped clean, and I was not as I once was.
It was time to go home, and so I did. I am grateful to a depth I never knew, appreciative of the simple in a way that I only thought that I was. My awareness has been refined by hour upon hour of solitary contemplation. Whatever darkness consumed me then now illuminates my waking moments. Thank you my beloved for never being done with me, for making me ever more humanly divine.
October 28, 2012
Soaking in hot water and rosemary, my mermaid self disappears beneath the water and I am once again my aquatic self. It is the sixth day of a seven day fast. As always it is though I am waking from sleep, aware of the cessation of time, lightness of Being. Listening to the hush move through the canopy of trees, a cool invisible breath, all of my senses are heightened.
Here I am. Stripped of all of my roles, anonymous and unclothed. It is a strange freedom that is both terrifying to the marrow and as seductive as new love. The canvas is stark and white and waiting. I hesitate. I listen. The noise of my mind rushes in to fill the gap, to ease the silence. But I am at home in not knowing, living with ambiguity has become a blessing. The doors are open and the dark beasts roam freely. We dine in open air splendor without a care. What was once hidden in the black of the abyss becomes seen in the light of day. How long I have waited for such a stripping of myself, of the holy layers of my human life? This intimacy is succulent and ripe. Surrender. What will be left after the splay? Oh so many deaths has this one life been.
The wheel is turning and I am still. All of the attachments, identifications, and inflation are fed to the flames of the eternal pyre. There is no knowing left, no fixed constellation of Self. I navigate by intuition, leaving behind all of the volumes of ‘ what to do now.’
My historical self as fictional as any notion of separation. The moment holds no then, or when, or even why. This is the terror that the sleeping face and deny. Swallowed by the embrace of mortality, of the fleeting truth of I. Even the solid is on closer look a dance of space and molecules.
I wash the dishes and sweep the floor, make the beds, and wash the toilets. Liberation has never been so sweet. I am taken in and out like a long breath, like Sat Nam on a Sunday morning. My current guru’s are new to the world and filled with wisdom and truth. The two year old told me yesterday that my job was to “love them.” She knows my work in the world, she knows why I came and why I stay. To her, I am simply her Santima someone who mysteriously appears and disappears, just like we do.
This contentment fills my body until the last twelve months of my life disappears into the archives. Without this faith that carries me across the water, I would have drowned before I ever spoke a thankful word. My beloved how deep the well of my love, of my gratitude…
Written: October 16, 2011
My feet are wide, high arched, and look like feet not prone to shoes. They have carried me up mountains, across slick rock, through Paris streets, and Indian temples. They have climbed trees, dug deep into sand, crossed rivers, and held squealing children dangling in the air. They like to feel the ground beneath them, toes spread wide, holding fast like roots to soil.
I have come to realize that my feet are mysteriously linked to my heart, for,whatever my heart desires my feet are sure to follow. I do believe they are equally responsible for my wanderlust and gypsy nature, for conjuring adventure against reason.
I leave Denver by way of a 17 ft. u-haul trailer, a wing and a prayer. My daughter Adrienne once gave me a card that read, ‘when you have come to the end of all you know, there will either be ground beneath your feet or you will be given wings to fly.’
I have come to the end of all I know.
I reduce my belongings by two thirds and now live quite simply in 500 sq. ft, my version of monk’s quarters. However being a bohemian means that it’s hardly austere. My abode is a 1920’s tree house with a wood burning stove and a deep soaking tub. I am a half a mile from Lake Washington in Seattle, with a commanding view of Mt. Rainier. The forest surrounding my house is thick and overgrown, the kind of place where small creatures and children like to hide. This place is reminiscent of my beloved Ireland and all the things I love most about it, the water, the smell of the air, the winding roads and emerald paths…
There is something inside of me that has always been drawn to the unknown and foreign. My senses and intuition are heightened in unfamiliar places. I am challenged to let go of my prescribed sense of self, of all the places and people that give structure and meaning to my world. It lends a perspective that is humbling, stripped of all personal identity save human. In a city where I know less than a handful of people I have an anonymity I have never experienced before, and it is both unsettling and liberating. Where I was once a chapter book, I am now a blank page.
Who is this woman who has left all she has ever known?
Who I have been feels remote, like a lover distanced by time and space. Yet I feel the faintest breath of my former self surface when I bathe, right before I awaken and sometimes when my mind gets still. She is a chrysalis hanging mid-air.
I knew my heart would ache for my children, that I would miss my family and friends beyond the bearable. I knew that I would be challenged to the marrow to create a new world void of streets as mapped in my mind as the lines on my hands. How was I to know that simply knowing whether to turn right or left was so critical to my sense of confidence and comfort, or that I would feel so skinless?
My saving grace is my ability to surrender to the moment, to allow every thought and feeling to evaporate, to relax into my own vulnerability and emotional pain. Sitting with uncertainty has become my practice. Beginner’s mind, I allow myself to be the newly born. I am the ‘observer’ in this new life, the perpetual witness. I have the grace of continual connection to the subtleties of my inner experience, to the richness of solitude. When I travel alone in foreign places I feel a quickening, a deeper level of expansion and a release from all the limitations of my conditioned mind. Strangely enough I feel most at home when I am not.
The winged part of my nature loves the freedom of spontaneous movement, of the discovery that comes with the unknown. It is not easy on my human psyche, on the part that needs to feel anchored. Anchored to what? My bold move has awakened the primordial fear of my mortal and impermanent existence, of the transiency of my life. This is what has been lying deep with my unconscious mind and causing such a tsunami on the surface. Nothing is permanent. This is the lesson I learn once more. But there is beauty in the brief, in the unrepeatable moments that come and go, that compose this delicate weave. I drink my coffee, watch the morning light caress the surface of the lake, and bow to the mysterious forces that flow through my veins…
Written: August 28, 2011
i bow deeply, breathe slowly into the quiet of my stilled mind.
the mantra forms in my belly, an embryo of it’s own making.
dissolving once again and the soil beneath me slips away.
tethered to this world only by the beat of my heart.
i am scraped clean, and splayed into the freedom of nothingness.
the gypsy north wind is blowing and my skirt rises to a cloudless sky.
my beloved keeps my pulse steady, and the mystic in my eyes.
no more checking my Self at the door, my elevator world comes to an end.
the smell of the earth, naked skin in the sun, a growing absence of I.
i fear not the losses, a string of
pearls plucked from the sea.
i have grown old into non Self and now there is no mortality that paralyzes my earthly bones.
i can endure the red, black and white, the fire of the eternal One, but not a moment
awakened in you i doth not sleep.
feed me your tender kisses my beloved, and lie inside my body this night.
there is no me with you.
Written: June 12, 2011