An Enlightened Life

“What would you like to learn about?”

“Tell us about your life,”  one woman called out.

“Well, yes, that,”  the tiny woman responded, “but there’s nothing to learn there.  What do you want to learn?”

After several protests, our teacher promised that she would fill us in on her ninety plus years at the end of the weekend.

I had anticipated this workshop for months, without really knowing what to expect.  Dora Kunz, co-founder of Therapeutic Touch, had published several books about her work, but I found them difficult to read, and hadn’t gained much from them.  Unlike her partner, Delores Krieger, Dora did not have a nursing background and so remained somewhat of an enigma to those of us who pursued understanding of this simple, but powerful technique.  I had taken several workshops with Delores, each of them long and gruelling, packed with information and experiences, Delores being a tireless lecturer.  Krieger’s workshops were always accompanied by an outline of curriculum expectations, and formally conducted.  Participants would have to ask for breaks, as Krieger’s passion for the subject matter precluded any need for a break in her presentation. It was immediately apparent that Dora Kunz’s approach was in stark contrast to that of her colleague.

My initial reaction to Kunz’s opening question was disappointment.  I had signed up for a workshop on meditation, did she not know that?   Was this woman too old and senile to be able to put a program together?

“Well we signed up for a workshop on meditation.”  Someone else must have been thinking the same as me.

“Yes, but what about meditation would you like to learn?”  I had to admit, the lady was charming.  She must have been all of 4’10”, with waves of white hair caressing her gentle face.  A warm smile, and twinkling eyes embraced her audience, and an obvious sense of humour set us at ease.  “At my age, I don’t plan for these things, you know.  I find it’s better to just go with the flow.”

So that’s what we did.  For three mesmerizing days, we listening hungrily to the words of this tiny guru, whose vast bank of experience and pragmatic approach to teaching guided us to the deeper understanding we sought.  For me, her greatest lesson was yet to come.

At the end of the weekend, as promised, Dora told us about her life.

“I was only five years old,”  she began, “when my parents, recognizing there was something different about me, built me a meditation room.”  As a young child, Dora had an awareness of energy and other realities that most parents would brush off as an active imagination.  Dora’s parents decided to nurture these gifts in their only child.  When Dora was eleven, she was invited to study with a man at an institute continents away, where the spoken language was different from her own.  Her parents told her to meditate on it, which she did, and decided to accept his offer.  “I looked like an eight-year-old boy,” Dora laughed, “when I arrived at this institution full of adults.”  Dora stayed and studied with this man for several years and then moved to another foreign country to further her studies.  Her work eventually led her to the United States, where I would have the privilege of meeting her.

When asked how she knew which offers to accept, Dora responded:  “No was not an option for me.  I trusted that this work was my calling, and so I always looked for a way to say yes when opportunity knocked.”  It was not always easy, she went on to explain.  At one point in her life, she was asked to speak about her spiritual beliefs to a group of convicts.  She was just a young woman, and felt incredibly vulnerable and intimidated by the gathering of murderers and hard-core criminals she encountered, but she said that was all soon forgotten when the men found something comforting in her words.

Dora continued her work, and I would encounter her again at another workshop, still teaching, just two weeks before she passed away.  She was 95.

Dora Kunz remains for me an icon of someone who has led a complete life.  She lived her life inspired by a passion for learning and helping others.   She was dedicated to a life of service.

(Image from nancybragin.com)

One Way Conversation with Dad

Happy Birthday, Dad.  You would have been 88 today.

I miss you today, Dad.  I miss your wisdom; I could use some right now.

I don’t know if you can read this, Dad, or hear me, but I’d like to pull up a chair anyway, so we can talk.  You see, I’m just not feeling that confident today, Dad.

I know, I know.  You’d say “Why not Squeegie?  Life’s what you make of it, and you’re doing a pretty darn good job, from what I can see.”  And I would smile, despite myself, and thank you for the vote of confidence.

Truth is, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in life, Dad, either from stubbornness, or just plain stupidity, and I’m beginning to think that that old saying is about me – you know, the one you used to say all the time:  Failure to plan is planning to fail.  Well, I failed to plan, Dad.

Before you say anything, I’m not bemoaning my life – it has been good.  I’m just recognizing, at my age, that if I had planned, life would be a lot different right now.  I’d be retiring with my friends, and looking forward to spending many days with my grandchildren.  Instead, I don’t even have a full-time job, so retirement is definitely not in the cards.

I know what you’re thinking: you weren’t a very good role model, because you failed to plan also. ( Oh, by the way, I was mad at you for that – for leaving Mom with so little, despite all the money that you made.)  Seems I’m doing the same to myself.

But it’s more than that, Dad.  I just don’t feel like I can trust myself, enough to make right choices, career-wise.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I have a hard time telling if I’m doing a good job, or am appreciated.  I always feel apologetic or inadequate.  Why is that?

No, don’t start, it’s not all your fault.  Okay, you didn’t help, but I’m an adult now, you’d think I’d be over that.  I’m just tired of doubting myself.

Remember when my marriage fell apart, and how the day I realized it, I drove directly to you?  You sat in your chair and listened, while I crumpled on the couch, spewing anger, and disappointment, and heartbreak.  I felt so defeated, and you cried with me, and shook your head, and raged on my behalf.  I don’t remember exactly what you said, but this is what I heard:

“Squeege (your pet name for me), I don’t know why this has happened to you, but I do know this:  you are a bright, loving woman, and you give your heart and soul to everything you do, and everyone you love, and you deserve better than this.  Goddamn it, you deserve better than this!”

You could be a bastard, a lot of the time, Dad, but you were also my rock.

I’m just sorry that today, you weren’t here for me to tell you so. As for my problems, guess I’ll have to figure this one out on my own.

I was too proud to tell you when you were alive, Dad (and too stubborn), but truth is, I needed you.  Still do.

Thanks for listening, and by the way, Happy Father’s Day.

Love you,

Squeege

The Diving Accident

The moment I felt my foot slip, I knew I was in trouble.  I attempted the flip anyway, wanting to impress my 10 year-old friend.

I didn’t pull out on time.

My head hit the bottom of the pool, and as my neck snapped back, I was intensely aware that this was the end.  Now paralyzed, my body sunk.  My eyes sought the surface of the water, searching for some hope, but all I could see was a blinding light.

Distracted, I momentarily forgot my predicament.  Why have I never noticed the sun from here before?  I wondered.  An avid swimmer, I loved swimming underwater with my eyes open, performing tricks and pretending I was a mermaid or a dolphin. This day, I decided to practice my ‘Olympic’ dives.  My friend, who was a year older, wasn’t quite as brave.  I might have been showing off a bit.

It’s not the sun, I realized.  The white light was encompassing me now, and with it I felt a deep sense of calm and peacefulness.  My moment had come.

Come home, the light beckoned.

But I just got started!  Do I have to?

No.  You can stay, but you have to know it won’t be easy.

It’s okay, my mind responded.  I am strong.

You will have to be strong, but you will never be alone.

A force of love lifted me from that water, and I watched myself climb the ladder and collapse on the ground.   Then I was me again, shaken and trembling, but alive.  My friend had disappeared.  I hoped she’d gone for help, but when none materialized, I knew I had to make myself move.

I escaped that day with a cracked vertebrae, and a summer of sleeping on a hard board while it healed: a hardship I would soon forget.  The memory of that white light, though, has never left me.  I was nine when I had my first taste of how sacred life is, and learned that it is not a destination, but a journey.

Attitude Check

Energy flows where attention goes, is a principle of Huna.  It means that whatever we focus on we create.

Every spring, facing the end of my current teaching contract, I feel the tug of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  I begin to doubt myself, and see only the impossibilities around me.  I wonder what will happen to me if they don’t hire me back, and I look at the colleagues who will be competing against me for jobs, and grow increasingly certain that I do not stand a chance.

“It doesn’t look good for next year,”  I recently expressed to a colleague.

“Hard to tell,”  she responded.  “Things turn around.”

I went on to explain to her why I didn’t think that would happen this year, and convinced her that I may have a point. We both parted in gloom.  Misery is contagious.

I began to read negatives into conversations, and convinced myself that I was neither valued nor wanted.  Then I decided to change my attitude and act as if I was appreciated and valued.

And guess what?

People started to tell me how appreciated I am, and many expressed hope that I will be able to continue in my job. I feel valued, and for the past two days, have felt a release in the tension.

Attitude is everything.  Gratitude is key.

Full Circle

The day was unusually warm and sunny, and like most young people my age, I was anxious to break out of school and enjoy it.   Instead of boarding the bus at my usual stop, I decided to attempt walking to the transfer point downtown.  Not a seasoned driver myself – I was only nine – I knew no other way to get downtown then to follow the bus route, so I set out nonchalantly, skipping and humming happily along.

After close to an hour of walking, with nothing familiar in sight, I grew weary.  Spotting an approaching bus, I made the decision to board.  Finding a seat near the back, I was relieved to finally be sitting down.  I glanced out the window to see if I could gauge how far I had come, and guessed I was probably close to where I would have to get off and transfer.

I glanced across the street, and was suddenly struck by a feeling of deja-vu.  The building across from me was not one that I had ever noted before, and when I read the name, I didn’t recognize it, yet, something about this place seemed known to me.  There was a bus stop in front of the building, but I knew I had never taken a bus from that point.  A woman was looking in my direction and as our eyes met, she had a sudden look of recognition.  I smiled back, but couldn’t place her either.  The bus moved on.

Years passed and the incident on the bus was forgotten, until the first night I decided to record my dreams.

I had enrolled in a course at the local university that examined the relationship between visions, dreams and God.  The first assignment was to record our dreams.  I had fourteen dreams that night.

In one, an unseen person has hold of my hand and is flying me through the city, leading me downtown to where we stop in front of a building.  It is not a building I am familiar with, although something is twigging in my mind.  As I stand there, contemplating its significance, I glance across the street to where a bus has stopped to take on passengers.  I lock eyes with a young girl seated on the bus, and in an instant I know where I am.  My twenty-eight-year old self has circumvented time and space, and come face to face with my nine-year old self.  I am the other side of my deja-vu.

A full circle.

(Image: funny-pictures.picphotos.net)

Innocence and Authenticity

I am five.  Chronologically, I am five.  Inside, I feel as old as I’ll ever be.

I am free of the burdens and distractions that surround me, and often, alone.

I have a sense of something I can’t quite articulate – purpose, mingled with wisdom; trust, and a connection larger than me.

I do not question whether I am wearing the right clothes for my figure, or if my hair suits my face.  I do not worry about where the money for the next bill is going to come from.  I seldom wonder if what I say might offend or is relevant at all.

At five, I live honestly; authentically.  I am all that I’ll ever be:  undefined, yet confident.  I am alive for a reason.  I feel it.

All I have to do is be patient and wait for life to unfold.

My true self.

Half a life time later, I still remember her:  that girl with such a full future ahead of her.   Such an innocent.

Like a treasure, she is buried within me, holding space.  I look for her in the mirror, but her light no longer shines in my eyes.  I search for her in the clutter that has become my mind, yet her clarity eludes me.  In the eyes of others, I am mother, friend, teacher, lover, and adviser, but not innocence; never my true self.

So, I seek to ignite that sense of self, through the inspiration that is my granddaughter.  Her smiles, her tears, her constant curiosity and unabashed response to life is a reminder:  somewhere in all of us there is a simplicity of being that defies any other reality.  Our true self.

 

Humility vs Ego

“How did you do on that calculus exam?”  A tall brunette pulled a chair up to the table, directly across from me.   The cafeteria was bustling with the usual suspects.

I shrugged. “Okay.”  I tried to keep my voice nonchalant.

“Man, that was brutal.  Who needs calculus anyways?” The blonde who joined us was slender, and preppy.  I noted that several boys watched as she approached and then mumbled approvingly amongst themselves.

“I need to study more,” another classmate complained, as she dumped a pile of texts on the table.  “I just don’t seem to be able to grasp the concepts.”

“Yeah, well someone in our class does.  I heard one person scored 100%.”  Our lunch group was growing in numbers.

“No way!  That’s not possible.”  A loud rumble of surprise and disapproval erupted around the table.

I kept quiet.

Then Izzy arrived.  Izzy was one of my closest friends, and also my seat mate in math class.  She knew the truth.

“Congratulations!” she oozed, before I could stop her.  “Another 100%!”

“What?”  The brunette across the table from me blurted.  “You’re the one who got perfect?!  How’s that possible?”

All eyes were on me.

“No offense, or anything, but you’re not all that bright.”  She had always proclaimed to be the smart one, and I can see that this revelation was making her truly uncomfortable.

“Izzy’s joking,”  the blonde proclaimed.  “If you didn’t ace it, then there’s no way she did.”

“Well, she did!” Izzy responded.  “She’s smarter than you think.”

“I don’t get it.”  the brunette questioned.  “If you’re so smart, why do you act so dumb?”

She had a point.  I’d learned to hide my intelligence after years of bullying and beatings.  But why act so dumb?

It was a question I would ponder for years to come.  Not bragging about my accomplishments felt right, but my motivation for doing so was not so admirable.

How do we balance our very human need for acknowledgment with a desire to be humble?

 

Three Sides To A Story

My first impression of Sherry was “Stepford Wife”.  A tall, thin, blonde, Sherry appeared to be the perfect wife and mother.  The stones in her garden coordinated with the ruffled awning above her front door, and accented her meticulously manicured lawn and flower bed.  Inside was no different:  her floors shone spotlessly, despite the presence of three children; and a smell of fresh baking wafted through the air.  Even though my visit was impromptu, Sherry was dressed stylishly in a crisp white blouse, and form-fitting skirt, complete with heels, and suitable accessories.  I was immediately intimidated.

My next visit to her home, this time invited, revealed much the same.

Sherry’s husband, Rob, was equally as impressive.  Also tall and thin, Rob was a quiet intellectual, who stayed fit by running marathons, and coaching his boys’ soccer teams.  He seemed to take his wife’s efficiencies into stride, and like her, was unruffled by his rambunctious young family.

Sherry and Rob soon became part of a social circle:  a group of ten couples that met once a month for dinners, cards, and sometimes, social outings.  They fit right in.  Once a year, we would all gather with our children for a large barbeque and fireworks.   Life was good.

Then, one day, I got a phone call from a mutual friend.  “Sherry is in a bad way,”  she said.  “Can you help?”

I knew something was wrong the minute I stepped in the door by the state of disarray in the house.  Sherry’s six-year-old daughter let me in.  She appeared frightened and withdrawn.

“Where’s your Mom, Sweetheart?”

She led me through the house to the kitchen, where Sherry sat crumpled in a chair, head down on the table, hair matted, and smudges of makeup streaking her face.

“Sherry?”

“He left me.”  She didn’t even look up.  Her voice, flat and lifeless, spoke volumes.

I spotted her two boys in the adjacent room, watching television.  I could see them glancing our way anxiously.  Please help!  their eyes pleaded.

I reached for the kettle.  “Have you eaten yet today?”  Telltale signs of kids preparing their own food and abandoning the dishes suggested she hadn’t.

Sherry was slow to respond.  “What?……um….I’m not hungry.”

I made her tea and toast and put it before her, and encouraged the children to go out and play.  Relieved, they complied.    “Tell me what’s going on.”

“He left me for another woman.”

I was stunned.  “Honey, try to eat something, and let me help you.”

She sat up, staring at the offering before her with complete disinterest.  She pushed the plate away, and cradling the cup, took one tiny sip, then pushed that away too.  Her normally thin frame appeared gaunt.

“Back up,”  I suggested.  “Tell me what happened.”

Rob had had an affair three years earlier with a woman from work.  When Sherry found out about it, Rob ended the affair and he and Sherry entered marriage counselling.  She had tried really hard to be the perfect wife and mother, so that he would love her again, and thought everything was going well, but out of the blue, he left.  He was now living with his mistress.

Sherry’s heartbreak was so intense, it threatened her life. Within weeks she was hospitalized because of severe malnutrition.

It was hard not to sympathize with her situation and write Rob off as a total jerk, but as always, there is another side to every story.

“I reached the end of my rope,”  Rob explained.  I love my wife, and I adore my children, but living in a constant state of perfection is exhausting.  Sherry has to be the best at everything, have the best house, wear the best clothes, everything is about impressing others.  There is nothing genuine about her, about us.  She is incapable of authenticity.  I tried to stay for the children’s sake, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I am dying inside.”

“So you left for another woman.”  I couldn’t keep the edge out of my voice.  I am, after all, a woman.

“If you met her, you would understand.  She’s so real! “

I wanted to understand.  I wanted to know what would drive one person to put his/ her family through so much pain.

“When two people divorce,”  a colleague told me, “there are always three truths:  his, hers, and a truth that lies beyond their stories.”

I tried to stay impartial, but supportive, and as I did, I began to realize the wisdom in my colleague’s words.  Once released from the hospital, Sherry became a woman obsessed.  She stalked her husband and his new lover, both at their home, and their places of work.  She was determined to get Rob back, and refused to see the folly of her actions.

On his part, Rob became more and more enraged, and retaliated with acts of violence against Sherry.

The scene was escalating out of control, until Rob’s therapist broke the pledge of confidentiality and advised Sherry her life was in danger if she didn’t back off.

Sherry did eventually let go of Rob, but only to rush head long into a tempestuous affair, with no regard for her children.  Rob withdrew from his former life, avoiding his friends, and maintaining minimal contact with his children.

Who was right, and who was wrong in this tale?  Like many conflicts, there are too many grey areas to tell for certain. Both his and her story made compelling arguments, but the real truth laid somewhere beyond all our comprehension.

One thing was certain, though:  the real victims here were the children.

 

Muskoka Meditation

Closing my eyes, I imagine a body of water.  In my mind’s eye I see a lake in Muskoka:  a thick morning mist hovering over the surface.  I breath and imagine the fog rolling back to reveal a shimmering gray surface, the sleight swells of the water reflecting shards of light.   A fish jumps and distracts me, and my mind scans the surface for more life.

I breathe again, this time more deeply, slowly, holding it awhile before slowly exhaling.   The waters of my lake calm…..then the dog growls, pulling me from my reverie, his insistent barking terrorizing a passerby.

Another deep breath.  Where was I?  I allow the heaviness of meditation to settle my body and focus again on the water’s surface.  I imagine the call of a loon, beckoning me further into the reverie.  I imagine I can smell the water, and the freshness of the Northern air.  The early morning rays catch the ripples and sparkle.    The morning mist is gone now, and the wind recedes, calming the surface of the water, and with it my mind. Ah, the beauty of stillness!

I surrender to the serenity of the moment.

(Image: flickriver.com)

Setbacks

Today is where your book begins; the rest is still unwritten.  These song lyrics have run through my mind all night, keeping me from sleeping.  A perfect lead in to today’s topic.

I am old enough to know that setbacks are not the end of life; they are usually just a transition point.  If you have been reading along, you know that it is the stuff of my writing.

When I experienced what we used to call a mental breakdown, at the age of thirty-one, I recognized that it was a wake up call to make some changes in my life.  Obviously, the way I had been living was not working for me, so I needed to learn a new way.

Losing my mind was like falling into a black hole.  I felt as if I was at the bottom of a deep abyss, with no visible means of escape.  Four things saved me:  my faith, my children, my writing, and my friends.

I knew that if I was to survive the experience, I would have to build my own stairway out.  I began with my beliefs.

Step one.  I believed that God never gave us anything we couldn’t handle, so therefore, I had it within me to heal.

Step two.  I believed that what happened, happened for a reason, so that there was a purpose for my suffering.

Step three.  I believed that God gives us what we need, so that help would be there for me.

Don’t get me wrong, losing one’s mind is a horrible thing.  In the beginning, I shook uncontrollably for most of the days, lying in a fetal position on my bed. But I knew if I was ever to get better, I had learn to “walk” again.

I set baby step goals for myself.  As my children were still considerably young, I made them a priority.  The first goal was to spend fifteen minutes a day of quality time with my children, without the trembling and tears.  I found I was able to control the anxiety for short periods of time, when I focused on them, instead of me.

The second goal was to get out of the house everyday, even if I was only able to walk to the end of the street (driving was out of the question). This was difficult, but I knew it was important not to give into the fear and become housebound.

In between times, I wrote and wrote, processing every thought, fear, and emotion, until I reached some aha moments.  I used my dreams as a guide.

When I grew a little bit stronger, I called upon trusted friends, who put together a healing circle that met once a week in support of my healing.

I learned many things from that time of darkness.  Mostly, I learned that if something is not life or death, then it is not worth worrying about.  I let go of my need for perfection.  I learned that nothing is as precious as the relationships that sustain us.  And I realized the depth of my own inner strength.

None of us would ever choose setbacks, but in retrospect, would we ever grow without them?