Don’t Take Myself Too Seriously
An ancient Egyptian story tells us that at the moment of Death, the gods of the ‘after-world’ take our heart and place it on a balance scale against a feather. Only those hearts that are as light as a feather may enter the heavenly realms.
The Lyme Disease
It started in March 2012 but I didn’t know what was bugging me until the end of July when it was definitively diagnosed. In retrospect, the first clue was that all my fingernails broke off in one day. But with unrelenting hip pain and tiredness, which I rationalized as needing to do more yoga and work stress, respectively, it wasn’t until June 17th when I got home from work and collapsed into bed with a 104 degree fever that I figured I might ‘have something’; and I’m a nurse! The MD I saw assured me that I had a virus, told me to take Ibuprofen and it would go away. For the next 5 weeks I continued to work and experienced a fascinating kaleidoscope of symptoms: shooting pains from my temples to the inner corners of my eyes, painful arms that I could barely lift to my shoulders, tingling numbness & spasms in other muscles, and a voice that sounded like I was talking through Helium, among others. AND it was a marvelous opportunity to practice ‘just watching’ and ‘breathing into’ the pain. I learned to not take it personally; it was The pain and not My pain. To my surprise, and delight, it became fascinating to observe it objectively. The pain and discomfort also lost it’s power to dominate.
It was during this time that I decided, that as long as my days were numbered, that I was going to finally do those things that I had been putting off until ‘a better time’. My first decision was to invite our daughter & family (who were living and working in Greece) to meet us in Italy for Christmas and New Year. And so we did. With support from my husband, I also retired from employment on November 1st. Between July and November was when I also made the decision to start my experiment of Living Each Day As Though I Had Only A Year To Live.
Perhaps you’ve heard the cliché ‘get over it’. I have a sister-in-law for whom this is a favorite expression. Every time I hear her say it my mind thinks “maybe she should get over with the ‘get over it’ already. Real Letting Go is more than just ignoring something. It is doing the work of self-examination; the work of looking in our hearts and seeing all the ‘angers’ we still hold toward those who have hurt us; looking at all the regrets we have about choices we’ve made, or didn’t make; seeing where we need to ask for forgiveness from others, etc. And then…to gently forgive ourselves, to make amends where possible, to begin to love ourselves again.
Several years ago I took a special ‘road trip’ with a dear, long-time friend. We know a lot about each other and share many experiences; afterall, for 40+ years we were best friends. This trip was different. I could see that something was bothering her; she just wasn’t in a very good place, and she wouldn’t talk about herself. Instead, she kept bringing up old family horrors: anger at parents, siblings, the ‘betrayals’ from friends, and on and on. Yes, there were years of verbal and physical abuse. Yes, our childhoods shared an environment of divorces, alcoholism, mental illness, and child abandonment. Yet, she was incredulous that I could even suggest that I felt no ill-will regarding any of this. And it seemed as though she was more angry about this than anything else. But I feel no ill-will because I did a major part of the Work of Letting Go while I was studying Theology in Graduate School.
The Life Review
The study of Theology was a great place to ask the The Big Questions, and I was invited to undertake a 40 week program called The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. The first 12 weeks was a commitment to 1 hr of meditation and journaling every day. The subject? A Life Review. This is, generally, the beginning of the Path in The Slow Lane. The Life Review is also an integral part of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is also what many people are experiencing as Death is zooming toward them. It was during this process that I began to learn that it is possible to not only forgive but to, also, feel compassion for those we’ve felt hurt by as well as ourselves. I remain grateful for how light my heart is without the heavy burden of a life’s accumulation of negative emotions.
The Saddest Experience
Some of the saddest experiences of dying, I’ve been privy to, are those where the individual finally acknowledges the impermanence of all things and, the inevitability of their own imminent death. But it is a resignation that “all of this stuff” will soon be over, rather than a peaceful anticipation of the The Last Great Experience of This Life. It is the sadness of the heavy, heavy hearts filled with past losses, regrets, angers, etc. that they’ve carried to their deaths unnecessarily.
The Good News
is that we really can do the work while we still have time, and let there be hearts as light as feathers.