Having a spiritual practice doesn’t protect us from all the bumps in the road that our lives offer. Those of us on a spiritual path still experience sudden and unexpected changes, illness, the loss of those who are closest to us and finally our own death. While the specific details of this list may differ from one of us to the next, the final one is certain. All of us will die. Surely, this must be the strongest impetus to live the length and breadth of life with a fierce aliveness, and yet, how many of us choose to do this?
My partner and I are blessed to have a friendship with a couple who at this time are wrestling with the changes his debilitating neuromuscular disease are having in their lives. Each day, they wake to find the disease has changed his body a little more. The tasks of daily living become more difficult–no longer able to do up his buttons, using the walker in the house, needing breathing assistance at night and having a harder time speaking. All of these little erosions are taking their toll on his abilities–save for one. Each day, we witness the strength of his love for her and hers for him. Their world is filled with loving touches, smiles into each other’s eyes and the thoughtfulness of each precious word.
There is no stable point in the progression of this kind of illness. Each day brings more adjustments to the physical routine, as if the ground beneath their feet was slowly slipping away. It is for this reason that the certainty of their love becomes the rock on which they steady themselves. It is the distillation of every experience they have shared. In the atmosphere of love, every moment of their shared past is breathed to life again with every moment they still have together. This is their practice of living–one breath, one task, one kiss at a time.
Every Day and Everywhere
Love, magnificent as she is,
Is almost always invisible
When still in life’s forest.
The core energy of creation
Perfectly camouflaged as all that is.
But the moment love stirs,
Leaves her serene lotus seat,
She steps from absolute abstract
Into the reality of the senses.
A quiet word. A comforting touch.
Shared laughter. Wiped tears.
One last effort
At the exhausted end of day.
This is love in motion
And when she looks up
From yet another common chore,
There, present in some familiar face,
Are the echoes of eternity.
These are her words, written between the many tasks of keeping both home and hearts together in the face of her husband’s terminal illness. It seems unfathomable to find beauty in the pain and despair of such a situation–but he, she, we–are all still very much alive. The real challenge is not the illness, or other struggle we may face. The challenge is to keep opening our eyes, minds and hearts to the glorious present. Each of us, no matter our condition or position in life is HERE, NOW! This minute, marked for me by keystrokes on my computer will never be again. We cannot rewind life–hoping for one of childhood’s “do over”. Once it has passed by, the present is gone into memory. With this present breath and heartbeat, we are experiencing such a precious commodity! How do we spend it well?
Albert Einstein once said that we have a choice, to live “as though nothing is a miracle” or “everything is a miracle”. Perhaps that is the gift of a spiritual life, to begin seeing the life you are living as filled with miracles–especially, as is my experience–if your spiritual path is one that is connected to Nature and practiced in an atmosphere of gratitude.
There is a Jonathan Edwards song we use in some of our training programs titled “This Island Earth”. The words remind us how miraculous our beautiful planet and indeed our lives–which are so inexorably tied to the Earth–genuinely are.
“Calling all dreamers and optimistic fools”. he exhorts us, “Don’t let go of your dream make it now make it all come true, If you believe in a brighter day, I know we can find our way.” Finding that brighter day means paying attention to the magnificent gift we have in being alive on this extraordinary place in the universe. The “brighter day” is today–NOW! Later in the song, Edwards says “If you’re lookin’ for a miracle open your eyes, There was one this morning just about sunrise. Dawn came breakin’ like a wave on the sea. And it’s there for you and me.” The simple fact we can experience another sunrise is something to be celebrated! Some people didn’t wake up this morning and their ability to make and create new choices in the physical realm have expired with their last breath. We, on the other hand, are still alive and able to drink in the magic of Life! We can do this–with our physical aches and emotional pains. We do not have to cast anything aside, or wait for “something to be different”. Whoever, however, and wherever we are is worth celebrating.There is a wonderfully sweet film titled “Strangers in Good Company” about a van of very elderly women who get stranded in the wilderness. They strayed off the beaten path, their van has broken down and now no one knows where they are. In a later scene in the film after they have done much to work together and survive, they are all together on a hilltop calling “We’re alive!” into the echoing hills. They call this phrase out each in turn and then each other’s names into the empty woods. It is a moment of exquisite poignancy–this declaration of refusing to succumb to despair. It’s flipping what could be seen as a dire situation on its ear –"I’m here, I’m not lost, I’m alive!"
We can practice this kind of radically fierce living even as we welcome the bittersweet return of autumn. In fact, for me this is certainly an extra special time to pay attention to the miraculous! In each green leaf, photosynthesis has been quietly creating sugars from the rain and sunlight. These sugars have nurtured the growth of the parent tree which in turn has nurtured the birds and animals that find food and shelter in it’s branches. Along with the chlorophyll that makes this feat of sugar creation possible there are also carotenoids and anthocyananins present in the leaf. It is these chemicals that make their presence known in the autumn. You see, the leaves don’t really “turn”, instead as chlorophyll stops its work at the end of the growing season, the green fades, revealing the underlying colors that were always present. The yellows, golds, oranges and reds that take our breath away on a sunny, late September afternoon are there, hidden in the leaves, in May! This simple fact reminds me every year that true, tangible miracles are afoot, even when you can’t always see them.
These miracles aren’t of a kind that will save neither our friend from his untimely death nor us from our own inevitable end. No, paying attention to these kinds of miracles will save us in very different ways.
Perhaps It’s Not Too Late
I was born into a sacred world,
Knew without the effort of instruction
That the old oak was a grandfather
And the night wind had a voice.
I knew dancing songs to celebrate the seasons
And that, if I stumbled, life would catch me.
It took much to wean me from my early ways,
Left me with blunted instincts clinging
To just pretend stories like an orphaned child.
But I have turned to return at last
Hoping against the lonely logic of long years
That life is there to catch me.
Life as it is expressed by Nature in each moment is there to catch us and hold us close. We only need to be aware, give Her our attention and feel gratitude to reap the harvest that these miracles offer. Comedian, George Carlin said, “Life is not measured by the number of breathes we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Allow yourself to be made breathless–to be struck dumb and weepy–by the beauty that is all around you–the very beauty of which you are a part!
Our indoor living separates us from Nature and her gifts. Inside we can feel isolated and depressed. To fully partake in the magic you have to go outside! Look around for a color that fills you, a natural sound that relaxes you, and a natural scent that warms your heart. Is the red of the sugar maple offering you a different kind of sweetness from the syrup she gave you for your pancakes? Does the surf rattling the pebbles back and forth begin to calm your pulse? Notice that tang of wood smoke in the air or the cedar aroma from your favorite sweater? Does it tickle a memory of warm times with friends or family? What do you notice?
There is a funny and thought provoking book by Rob Brezsny, titled “Pronoia: the Antidote for Paranoia.” The author created this word pronoia as a word of ower to express the feeling that the whole world is conspiring to shower us with blessings. Throughout the book are exercises to stimulate a shift in perspective to one of wonder and delight about one’s self and the world around us. It is a radical manifesto to living fiercely and in the moment with great gratitude. He says, “Act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle created for your... illumination....”
Reconnecting with the beauty of the natural world is one very powerful way to get in touch with the myriad of tiny facets that make up the “prodigious miracle.” The sky, the river, the falling leaves, the shapes of clouds, the last cricket songs–are all part of our collective treasure. Gather it all into your heart! Take it all in! Celebrate the minutes as they tumble into hours and days. This life is the only one that you, with this personality–in this incarnation–will experience. You are notable in your uniqueness as a beautiful part of All That Is. Surrender yourself in Nature’s loving embrace letting her endless mysteries and wonders carry you. You have permission, by your singular presence alone; to live this Life to it’s fullest! In recognizing it’s preciousness, an Exceptional Life is already yours.
Rolling Up the Rug To Dance On Nothing
Go out to find the world, go in to lose it.
Go the doubled distance until your footfalls
Free fall into a float.
Until, somewhere just inside beyond.
In a momentary never,
You meet yourself again.
All the mirrored glass will burst
In a fit of rainbow giggles
Then collapse into your light.
Sway gently in that long embrace
As the stars sing silence
Far, far into the night.
Special thanks to Trudy Sloan for her poetry and both she and Michael for their presence in our lives!
This Island Earth, from the album One Step Closer, Rising Records © Copyright 1994, Jonathan Edwards
© 2007 Evelyn C. Rysdyk
Evelyn C. Rysdyk, author of the book, Modern Shamanic Living, is a Teacher of Shamanism, healer & artist in joint practice with C. Allie Knowlton, LCSW, DCSW as Spirit Passages. Since 1991, they have offered workshops across the US and Canada. They also offer a private shamanic healing practice at True North in Falmouth, Maine.
Featured in the book, Traveling Between the Worlds, interviews with 24 of the world’s most influential writers and teachers of shamanism, they may be contacted at: www.spiritpassages.com