Thursday, April 14, 2016

How I do and don't want to die

After accompanying my grandfather in his passing I started reading Joan Halifax's Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death.  She offers several meditations.  In the first chapter, she recommends imagining how you do and don't want to die.  I share my reflections here:

Worst Scenario of how I die
I am kidnapped by an enemy and tortured physically and psychologically over a period of time that is dragged out.  Part of the torture is that I don’t get to see my loved ones but instead see videotape of them reacting to false evidence that I have betrayed them and let them down.  I am beaten daily, prevented from doing physical exercise and denied adequate food and water in a process that forces my body to slowly decay.  I am left for hours at a time alone with nothing but a mirror so I struggle to avoid dwelling on my fate.  This happens when I am young, before I’ve had a chance to build a family, before I’ve had a chance to really leave my mark on the world.

How this makes me feel: my gut clenches up and withdraws.  Looking at this scenario, I imagine a sadness so big I can’t even bear it.  It seems more like a comic book or action movie than reality.  I feel fear, anger and sadness.

Ideal Death
I have a year.  I have the physical strength and mental lucidity to engage in conversation, read and write.  I can continue going for walks in the woods and doing yoga.

There is time set aside for me to be alone and time for company.  Sometimes different groups will convene according to category (eg. family or Pioneer Valley friends) and sometimes people from different categories will be exposed to each other.  Most of my time is spent with my closest friends, family and colleagues, though there can be time for less close visitors.  I see my passing as an opportunity for opening that I offer to myself and others.        

We sit in silence, do ritual and sing songs, taking the opportunity of the mysterious transition to cultivate deep presence and heart-opening for both myself and others.  I hold a council circle with my friends and family in which we are all invited to begin the grieving and celebration process together.  We say what our hearts yearn to say to each other, sharing gratitude, requesting forgiveness and offering blessings on our next journeys.  This is a moment of connection with me, with each participant's true inner self and with each other.

I have the support of loved ones to review my past, including photos, videos and journal entries.   From my deathbed, I reflect on my life and my loved ones reflect as well.  We record our proceedings so we may offer them for the benefit of others.

How it makes me feel: I feel warm and happy with these images.  It gives me a sense of peace.  I’m reminded of the apparently ironic tenderness, intimacy and love that emerges with the Auschwitz retreat.

What I am can do to die how I want to die

  • Eating well and exercising can increase the likelihood and lucidity and strength later in life.  
  • To achieve this goal does seem to require some organization of old photos, videos, and journals.  If time were short, doing that on my deathbed could be beyond my capacity.  
  • Caring for my relationships while I’m alive helps ensure that I have meaningful connections by my side as I prepare to transition.
  • Sharing this vision with my loved ones could help prepare them for the possibility that it takes place.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Writing Our Story

I had a great anniversary weekend with my partner.  I cut and pasted excerpts from my journals over the year of our encounters together (a practice I've done with different people or institutions over the years).  I selected pieces that: 
  • celebrate wonderful moments
  • share insights and lessons I’ve learned about my personal growth through patters I want to transform
  • mark moments of having moved together through challenge
  • illustrate early fears for which there was clear evidence of evolution by the end of the year.  
I sometimes use my journal to make sense out of the hardest moments and I didn’t focus on that.  I focused much more celebration than problem exploration.  I wanted to promote a sense of comfort and confidence.  I see this not as sugar-coating or sticking our heads in the sand, but rather taking into account the malleability of memory in order to proactively choose, promote and actualize a realistic and ambitious vision of the life we are creating together.  This practice reinforced to me the way in which we are the authors of our lives.

Saturday morning, after I went outside to get something: 
Me “You have to go out and see the snow.” 
Her: “I can see it from the window.”

I convinced her and we had a pleasant walk.  We each grabbed a banana for the road.  After some time, she expressed her first moment of hunger and fatigue.  I wanted us to continue up a hill to the end, which was near.  She asked again and we turned around.  The woods were magical and beautiful with freshly fallen snow, which also slowed down our feet dragging along.  She was excited to find a vast array of horse tails. We both started to feel hungry, tired week. 

This was the perfect anniversary activity because when things turned out much more difficult than we expected, we maintained a sense of humor and did our bests to support each other and take care of ourselves – ultimately returning home, scarfing some food and dozing off spooning together for a nap – a rare accomplishment for both of our under-slept bodies. 

After that, I read excerpts from my journals.  It was touching to remember the points of growth, vulnerability, enjoyment and care.  

Finding Flow in Dance

Pollinate, Friday February 5
I participated in the yoga class (staying on the desired side of the fine line between bliss and anxiety) while my partner got dressed up.

Some great dancing.  I had a shift.  Instead of seeing my partner as the perfectly embodied expert and myself as the clumsy geek, I started to see that both of our expressions are ours and that each person’s style is fine just as it is.  Sometimes, either or both of us are in the flow individually.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes our flows jive with each other.  Sometimes not.  Sometimes, our habits and patterns synergize with the music, our moods, the food in our belly, the people around us... the constellation of the stars.  Sometimes not.  She can teach me belly dance techniques.  I can teach her yoga asana alignment.  Sometimes these practices connect us to the flow of a particular dance floor, or with particular people.  Sometimes not.

Dance Spirit, Sunday, February 7 
I attended another dance event with my partner and her 2.5 year-old son.  At first, he was reluctant to stop nursing.  I hid behind the sheet.  His mother asked "Where's Ariel?  Can you find him?"  No budging.  I walked away and said that he probably couldn't get me.  This eventually lured him away from her as he started to chase me around.  Over the course of several trips together, I've seen him grow more comfortable dancing with me and we've developed certain games together that we can re-deploy without starting from scratch.  As his dad describes, this event provides him with expansive play space.  

A fetish is a story masquerading as an object.
- Robert Stoller.

He needed to have his blocks.  “Can’t we just zap each other with our hands?” Mama asked.  “No.” Mama went to get from the car.  He chases us with the blocks and zaps us.  Sometimes, as I fall down from the zap, I lift him onto me and we do a bit of contact dance.  Occasionally, he relaxes into the dance and we spin, lift, release, twirl, together.  Sometimes, he wants to get down and return to the safer structure of the game.  While doing a bit of my own dance, I am fluid and responsive towards his.  I learn form him.  Engaging him in this way gives me a focus that eases some of my anxiety about being on the dance floor and helps me slip into joy and fluidity.