Welcome to the Space that always is…

I have been dealing with progressively debilitating symptoms in the last months. The need to move from sitting to lying down crops up often. I call it: Going Horizontal—it should be a new-age death musical.

“He’s going horizontal, He’s going horizontal, I really think so…” Ha.

I have been watching the dwindle. First it was a reduction from a brisk hiking pace to a slow meander. Then the hiking meander went to ‘walking’. Then standing. Finally sitting. This is a new place now. I utilize an innovative new static sitting yoga.

I call it: Beyond Yin Yoga and charge 1000 a week for training (an additional 100 for the manual).

Ever wonder what Skippy has up his sleeve next?! Skippy is a nickname for God Almighty, given by my 80-something friend. Like God is on a jar of peanut butter too and is chunky and smooth at the same time.

In Eastern spiritual teachings they use the term prarabdha karma—which is the karma storage due to express and be experienced by a particular form in this lifetime.  And there’s no way around it. No fudging, pleading, nor prayers Sunday, anger on Monday, tissy on Tuesday or wonderful Wednesday that is gonna change that destiny one iota.

God, we sure do try though, don’t we?

As the sages, saints and masters tell us, it matters not how incredibly awesome our little personal entity-identity has been in this life.  The dickhead down the street who drinks heavily, eats a ton of shit food, beats his girlfriend and watches TV all day…well he may still get Granny Gretchen’s trust fund for 3 million and live to be 100 in near-perfect health. (Okay he will be suffering like a mad dog inside even if you can’t see it) —-but you, me and the rest of the so-called do-gooders may well have to rot in a basement cellar with our only food coming once every 3 days, a TV dinner and a few stiff kicks to the side….the only sound we hear may well be that of a lonely dog howling. All of this is the surface appearance. When we attune to our Innermost Being and let God’s manifestation naturally unfold—we realize that Peace is already here no matter what.

All of

If you realize the Truth about destiny, you see that it is fruitless to try to negotiate with God. Prayer is fine but let God’s Will fall as it may.  Why pray for a particular outcome and then lose faith when it doesn’t happen?!

Surrender and let go, let God—as the saying goes. Witnessing the miraculous along with the miserable is all that’s left. Then the two, misery and miraculous become indistinct, for now you see that all is GOD.

All the actions of the so-called individual body are just part of the grand show, the dance of creation. Just like the tree that falls in a storm; body’s fall according to their destiny for this life. When they fall, what they experience and go through are all part of that destiny.

In the last weeks an internal bucket list has been forming–a vision of all the ‘that would be nice scenarios, events and happenings’. Yet no attachment to whether or if they happen, no expectation of outcome is there, no begging or prayer either. The bucket items aligned with destiny will come to pass—as Ramana would say ‘that much is certain’. Then add:

“The purpose of one’s birth will fulfill itself whether you will it or not. Let the purpose fulfill itself.”

Ramana’s truth pointer leaves no room for individuality, for all is only the manifestation of God, all forms and the formless are only That.

I am setting up my Will, POLST (physicians order for life sustaining treatment–though I don’t have a physician, ha) and advanced directive forms. I already have my body set up on Stanford’s willed body program, so no additional cost is thrust on my family for funeral or burial.

I’ve had a good life, a lucky life. I was born in the United States, home of the free, land of promise, with a good portion of the populace here in America having some pretty solid prarabdha: you know: shelter, water and ample food.

That cannot be said about those living in many other places on planet Earth. I’ve experienced vibrant health, been able to do extreme adventures, seen amazing nature areas, like: Thailand, India, Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite. Yep, lucky life. I have an incredibly heart-centered daughter, who at age 9, on her own, sent 5 dollars of her savings money to me while I was in India:

“Daddy, please give this to a person in need.” That deserves a blog all its own–for to find such a one in India is not hard at all—you have millions to choose from—but which one…?

My father was pure heart, mom is always helping others; and rest of my family has been supportive of the journey in many ways. Great friends. Yep, lucky.

The deepest grace of all has been the direct experience of reality, of Truth-which has blossomed in depth and is beyond expression. For until the path of Truth & Love took over the rest of my life was spent on useless things.

Once this life was focused on Truth & Love, the real life began; the rest a waste of time. A mystical aliveness, a soul-quality or what I call: presence have remained as part of direct experience of the Self- shining eternal.

That is salvation. For salvation is not for ‘me’, not for a person or individual-but the removal of the veil of the person, the erroneous idea of “I, me and mine”-then the Christ Consciousness blooms unmasked from delusion –the promise of all true religions and spiritual pursuits is fulfilled.

That insight never leaves, so when Michael-body drops from the field of play, I will remain as I have always been. Timeless, spaceless, formless pure consciousness, absolute awareness.

As the rest of the so-called world gets busier and more crazy, I just watch. As one saint said:

“I watch my body slough off like an unused garment.” For it is God’s garment anyway, always has been. The skin-cloth just on loan for a while.

Admitting that the body is preparing for the exit door, maybe even gracefully, is an intense journey. As my end of life client nears his final hours, any day, any moment–tis the same for this one, for Michael, for me.

I find myself contemplating the death of the Michael-form -an idea cultivated and conditioned into place since birth.

What is left: Watch the Almighty wind of God, wondering what is in store, like a tiny leaf skimming across the ground, barely touching the earth, yet knowing nothing can harm who and what I truly am.

 

 

I’ve known my friend Tina for 36 years. We first met at a small town delicatessen, in the summer of 1981. Tina, equal parts singer-songwriter and gardener is a mix between Bonnie Raitt and Beatrix Potter. One hand mimicking song, the other swirling soil. Our relationship has endured some long periods for integration and disentanglement- of subtle and not so subtle threads of conditioning and attachment. We’ve had one period during that stretch where we did not see each other for 9 years: had no communication via phone, text, email or other device. During those other 27 years, we have seen each other several times a year, sometimes more, sometimes less.

Tina, some 10 years ago had a drunk driving arrest. She was skidding along the alcohol gutter but had not yet hit rock bottom. Then after a couple more years, another DUI; this second one landed her in a Christian camp called Teen Challenge. Here Tina was sent, a 50-something women amidst a group of 30 some odd teen girls- all being ‘punished’ for alcohol or drug-related offenses. Apparently the judge was having a bad hair day, hearing too many horrific tales of alcohol-related catastrophes. Tina, he decided like some kind of psychic-law-dispenser, was trapped in the emotional body of a teen and thus needed to be treated as such.  The judge sentenced Tina to a 13-month incarceration at this ‘religious prison for teens’, as Tina called it. As much as this event brought her intense trauma, it also delivered gifts: sobriety, increased insight, healing and a teen friend soulmate (big sister-little sister relationship), among others benefits.

In the last months, I have sensed that Tina has begun to drink again. This started when I swung by her house; she was not home. I checked her backyard/garden area. She was not there either but her cat Sarge-a large, exquisite Main Coon, was. Sarge, luxuriated on a old pillow nestled in the shade under an outdoor umbrella.

“Your Majesty,” I smiled. Sarge looked up with calm, uninterested eyes. I began to massage him gently.

“Now you’re on it! What is it you need to know?” Sarge turned slightly as if to order my hands about like court jesters.

“You are the King, Sire.” I mused. He seemed please with my respect and allowed me to stay. The Main Coon’s have an interesting history, as they may well be the offspring of Persian and Angora cats mixed with a common shorthair variety.

As I sat in Tina’s creative masterpiece, the garden, I felt her energy through the cat, and the earth. I continued my communion with Mr. Sarge:

“So Tina is disappearing into the Sauce again, huh?!”

Sarge nodded, a nonchalant acknowledgement. I continued with my queries: “Sipping on the granny’s grain store, is she? Downing the grape nectar!” I continued.

Finally Sarge spoke:

“What’s a cat to do?”

For the alcoholic thinks they can get away with it—“as long as I don’t drive, as long as I don’t do this or that…just keep the drinking in moderation…” -and on the rationalization goes. All you have to do is read the story of Bill W., one of the founders of AA, to get an inkling of the damage that alcohol can cause.

I don’t know if my ‘intuition’ is on or not about Tina’s alcohol. I do know that she is in some kind of avoidance energy. Tina knows that the mask will come off if she sees me. I will know right away if she has been drinking. And when denial mechanisms have become entrenched again, truth must be avoided at all costs, so that one is able to continue their manipulative ways and self-deceit.

I’ve always been a diver. Jump first, review later. It’s served me well and been my nemesis at the same time.  When I began to share my intuitions with my Bestie, as we call each other, she shared her insights. (Bestie: This playful, childlike phrase was borrowed from her 8 year old nephew- as he describes his schoolmate/girlfriend and future wife using the term “Bestie’).

My Bestie said, after a lengthy discourse on mechanisms of lock and key conditioning, how the savior-enabler-healer pattern is the other side of the addiction pattern.

“Al-Anon,” my Bestie said, “can bring light and awareness to this codependent side, the enabler side, and help you see how it plays into Tina’s addiction pattern. My Bestie should know, she went to Al-Anon for years and extracted much wisdom. My Bestie’s own mother slipped into mental illness when she was 7 years old (she took over as the mom at age 7) while at the same time her father was an alcoholic who drank heavily at night after work.

Soon we were on to the benefits of Al-Anon which she claims is an authentic enlightenment tradition. “AA is a true awakener, the 12 steps mirror the spiritual path.” She continued–as the original founders of AA and many other have had legitimate spiritual awakenings that have transformed them from the inside out.

Alanon is one of the AA-Sister Organizations, for those with friends, close associates or family who are alcoholics or drug addicts.  “You’ll see the savior pattern operating in others and that will make it easier for you to see within yourself.” My Bestie finished.

I could not resist. And at first the comedic cover up jumped, originally seeing the Al-Anon thing  from the investigative reporter angle (for I am completely clear of all issues and will just write a nice piece about it from the safe space of the heavens)–so I belted forth my monologue:

“Hi, I’m Michael, an enabler and savior—not the Savior, a savior. I just want to say ‘I love you all and I am here for you. You’ll be seeing a lot of me in the next month. I’ll have a signup sheet for those needing any free unsolicited healings, spiritual guidance, help, enabling or saving’…”

My Bestie laughed a hearty chuckle.

It will be an interesting experience no doubt. I shall share in the coming weeks.

Spiritual Simplicity…

The Indian sage Nisargadatta was a true bhakti, a sanskrit word meaning: true devotional lover of God, Pure Consciousness, the Self. In his 30’s, Nisargadatta met a spiritual Master and began to intensify spiritual practices. He began to, as he said:

“…spend all of his spare time breaking down the walls his mind had built around him…”

Then Nisargadatta would add an admonishment to those that came to him:

“Believe me, you will not regret.”

Nisargadatta’s meditation technique, if you can call it that, was to: “Stay with”, what he called – The “I amness”–(the beingness, the presence, what Christians might call ‘the soul’). The rest of his life was a consecration to THAT, to SOUL.

Devotion poured out of him. In his later years, an ego-piercing wisdom challenged all those who brought spiritual posturing and intellectual protective mechanisms, beliefs, concepts and ideas. Many could not stay in his presence long because his truth grenades would strip one down to their most essential nature. Once asked by a devotee what would happen to those that just peaked in the door or stayed only a minute or two–“are they lost?!” Nisargadatta said and I paraphrase:

“No, it’s too late, the seed (of truth) has been planted. It will sprout in due course.”

His profound insights and what he called jnana or wisdom-knowledge – came through his satsangs (truth gatherings) with a fiery intensity. Often during short periods before or after his talks, the devotional side, the loving-motherly tenderness would invoke tears of gratitude, washing away years of pain and toil in a brief instant.

Nisargadatta always focused on the Source, using the most direct language. Mixing Jnana, that wisdom-knowledge, with bhakti, the devotional love, like two roaring rivers converging into the Sea.

For over 20 years I have read Nisargadatta words, sitting in silence, meditating, feeling and contemplating their Power. I have seen how these spiritual pointers, his expose’, are immensely practical, and down to earth. How simple. For a child could understand what he is saying about God. For God, it seems, through centuries and centuries has taken on a massive of conceptual framework and belief structure. As George Carlin joked during one of this comedy routines:

“…We’re taught that God is a spooky little man who lives upstairs (George points towards heaven) and he watches everything we do. And He has 10 things he does not want you to do. If you do any of these 10 things, there is a special place full of fire, death, torture, disease and hell, the he’ll send you til the end of time.” George take a legendary pause and looks at the audience before delivering the punch)–“But he loves you….”

Many people are conflicted about religion, spirituality and God. And the genius-wisdom-love of the saints was their ability to make the Soulic-energy of God, so seemingly complex and esoteric, easily understood. Nisargadatta said this:

“The physical body, the body-mind apparatus, is regarded highly. But can the body be as pure as the life force? Make friends with the lifeforce (Soulic-energy of God, Pure Consciousness that animates the body) then you will need no other help- for that lifeforce is the Source (God). This lifeforce sustains the body forms, all forms. In the absence of the lifeforce can anyone act at all? You do not need anything to pray to this lifeforce…”

The sages were grounded in Reality. They show us a way out of the mind; pointed to a new life, our only real life. These profound truths chip away at the conditioning patterns, slay the latent tendencies of mind, destroy belief systems and dislodge conceptual misunderstanding.

The spiritual path always ends where it began, as the Masters tell us:

There is nothing to search for, no thing to seek. Only look within and behold what is the very pulse beat of You.

Desire ends there, for you have what you need. Then all your doubts will be cleared. That’s rest. True Peace. You always are That.

Common Ground…

My brother-in-law, Dean, is a conservative fundamentalist Christian. I knew this before we met 13 years ago. A thought floated in prior to that first meeting:

“I wonder how this will go?!”

I can only imagine what he might have heard about me, something like:

“Well, ah, hmmm, a bit of a wild card. Perhaps immersed in one of those Eastern yoga cults…”

When we actually met, our minds were blown out of the equation, both of us struck by an instant heart connection, common sense of humor, love of nature and genuine chemistry. Each of us inexplicably helped deepen the faith of the other. These common elements buffered our diverse religious and spiritual viewpoints. Yep, we liked each other- a precursor to the love that later bloomed.

And while I am more drawn to Eastern Kirtan- with emphasis on the silent interludes, unbelievably, by Christmas I’d be singing songs with the extended family:

“He rules the world with love and grace…” and loving it!

When Dean and I talk about Jesus, we are able to see and feel the truth in each other’s words. We seem to say inwardly in unison:

“God is great…” Awe spreads through us; nothing else is needed. Grace-filled stories follow and direct experiences of divine fervor are shared, enriching and further humbling us both. Then we are not two men with distinctly different spiritual approaches and religious faith systems but one Brother tied together in Christ Consciousness.

I am diligent about modulating word choices and toning down mysticism to help foster the space between us; for it is in Expansiveness that all religions traditions and spiritual paths dissolve into the One.

Where Dean will quote a Biblical scripture and verse, like part of Psalm 27:4–

“May I dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…and seek him in his temple.”

I might bring in John Muir, who had a devout Christian side along with a nature-based mystical branch, making him an ideal bridge-maker for my advaita-vedanta non-dual spirituality and Dean’s conservative fundamentalist Christianity. So I shared with Dean a quote from Muir and tapped into our love of nature:

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

I would never have thought it possible that such disparate angles of faith, seemingly diametrically opposed, could lead to a shared understanding of the heart.

Yet, it’s true. Even if Dean read some of my past blogs, though his mind might rebel or move towards anger, casting me off as a blasphemous bastard non-believer spouting devilish Eastern rubbish and Hindu idol worship, still his heart knows differently. Love wins out over all beliefs, mind stories and emotional flare-ups.

The fuming resentment may linger, along with judgement, yet underneath this the fathomless well of love cannot be touched. And when Dean and I meet again, the heart connection will guide the restlessness back to the Source.

Mysticism is threatening to religious dogma, the deadening opinions inherent in most religions.  In a very subtle way, I  slide under his religious filters with a mystical aliveness and truth-piercing pragmatism. This helps Dean to see that the awakened life of Jesus is to be lived, that it is possible to have a direct, abiding experience of divinity.

Through Dean, on the other hand, I have learned much about life, faith, and perseverance. His Christian community has deeply touched me through their amazing compassion and sense of togetherness. When Dean’s son Harry was born, with only partial kidney function in one kidney, the second kidney non-functional, he was given less than a 5 percent chance of survival. Dean’s church community rallied  around his entire family with prayer, love, faith, food, comfort and practical support- in so many ways. And that support was ongoing. Harry is now 9 years old and a living miracle pointing to the power of communal prayer. Each day Harry reminds all those close to him of God’s grace and love.

 Dean’s wife Sandy is more skilled than many nurses and has raised 6 kids- all home-schooled while caring for a special needs child—but not without the outstretched arms of her faith community!

In the non-dual spiritual circles, the community element is lacking, practical support scarce. Instead of instantly helping one of their own community members who need practical necessities (food, money. housing), the non-dual group members often dismiss them with “It’s just part of the path” or “good luck with that” – offering little practical support.

With Easter around the corner, Dean and I may soon see each other after several months. We’ll meet at the Resurrection, where the sense of separation is crucified, the “I am the body” idea, banished. The true power of Christ will shine brightly, an immense love and ability to bring about the ‘peace that surpasseth all description.’

This Resurrection is captured well in the experience of an American Christian Missionary that visited Ramana in 1938:

He was alone with Ramana except for an interpreter. The missionary, Mr. MacIver, was struck by the silent outpouring grace experienced in Ramana’s presence. He asked:

“So long as I am here (at the feet of an Indian sage within a predominant Hindu culture) I cannot be regarded as a faithful Christian…”

Ramana interrupted him: “This (what is happening here) is the very essence of Christianity.”

The Christian missionary responded: “Yes, but not in the eyes of the present representatives of the Church. Accordingly, I can no longer look to the side of the Church for aid.  Have I your blessing to look elsewhere?”

Ramana responded: “That is left for you (to decide). People who come here are brought by some mysterious power which will look to their needs.” Ramana then gazed intently at the missionary.

The missionary felt the silent grace of Christ Consciousness come alive inside his heart, a huge fiery energy burning delusions of separation, a silent vacuum emptied him of individuality. It was like the Red Sea swallowed him whole, his body a salt figurine entering a vast Ocean.

 

Alice, my employer, left a check for me. I unsealed the envelope and began to cry her tears. Mine too.  The extra $65.00 dollars she added to my check came with a wave of pain, jumping into my energy field. The pain was riding on top of LOVE. Her heart-gratitude, the 65.00, an acknowledgement for the care I give to her brother Don, two years her junior.

“Please visit him as much as you can.” Her note said.

Don, nearly 57 years old, has been battling mental illness. A full blown war has been going on inside his mind and over-chemicalized brain.

Alice loves her brother Don yet she cannot tell him or show him directly, nor spend more than a few minutes a month in Don’s physical presence. Alice’s heart, so protected and armored, is breaking. Afraid to show emotion at all, Alice fears loss of her own sanity – through a waterfall of unending tears.

The caregiver, like any profession, has a particular expertise. What others find difficult to do, is simple for the true care-provider. Like Bikers and bicyclists when they spot a fellow rider, there’s a smiling recognition and inner kinship felt when one care-provider spots another amidst their work.

When I see those like Alice, who cannot show they care, it is easy to dismiss them with internal judgments, like:

“They don’t care” or “they don’t want their lives disrupted” – but the truth is much deeper than that. No matter what I tell myself or what story Alice believes, LOVE is why we care and also why we cannot show we care. For LOVE is all there is. LOVE spoken of in that phrase is not a cliche but a living truth, the eternal reality – all else arises and passes away. Even while absorbed in fleeting thoughts, stories and beliefs, LOVE remains, waiting- always waiting for us. We must realize this truth about LOVE for ourselves. All our greatest sorrows, pains and traumas – flickering wind gusts across the great ocean of LOVE.

People are afraid of physical illness for the same reason they fear death: the idea of loss of existence. With mental illness, another stigma is also added: shame.

“Billy just got cancer.” -but “Tony went nuts” – like somehow those with mental illness earned it or brought it about themselves. And Don was also diagnosed with skin cancer two years ago. A surgeon removed, what he later told Don was the second largest tumor-lesion of the year.

It’s been my secret sorrow, watching Don’s descent into the deeper depths of disconnect. For over 8 years, I’ve been a friend and caregiver for this most sensitive, beautiful man. No one really knows Don, has befriended him like I have. For Don does not see many people except the young lady, 20-something at the convenience store he walks to for a diet pepsi or the two women that share bits of kindness who work for his family business. When we take walks along the coastal shore, Don says a hearty ‘Hello’ to a good portion of the people who pass. He feels safe with me and reaches out to connect with others.

Most of those who Don greets, ignore him, make no gesture or other sign of acknowledgement. For they see Don and sense a deeply- conflicted soul.  Don’s inner conflict comes out in his gait, mannerisms and facial features. This disassociation energy pattern which Don embodies, we all carry.  Don, however, carries it overtly. This is a very threatening unmasking for a culture taught to avoid the inner life of feelings. They see in Don their own rejected self, their own demons. He triggers the covert aspect inside us and this hidden dimension of pain differs only in degrees of dysfunction. Even Don’s family members can barely muster the energy to be with him- except for his brother Kyle and cousin Richard–who see him a few times a month for about 30 minutes. Don’s sister Lucy sees him once a year on Christmas eve.

I have been the fortunate one, allowed to feel Don’s secret sorrow, to bare witness and befriend all the elements that manifest, from: wall punching to torturous displays of depression.

Don’s father took his own life, a violent form of suicide – a revolver bullet to the head, just one week before Thanksgiving. He had prostate cancer for years, a slow reduction in life quality, along with heart issues. Add to that- the loss of a 100 year old flower bulb business and a no longer manageable lifelong depression. This left Don’s father feeling out of control, thus the quick exit. Don has made 4 trips to 4 different Psych wards in the bay area since then.

Now my  beloved friend has entered a new stage. It’s like the anger and depression are gone. The Don I knew is gone, dropped into an abyss, fallen through to the bottom of a crevasse I do not recognize. Our playful camaraderie has lost its luster. Like a flat stone skimming off the ocean my jokes do not even touch Don. We still talk the latest sport’s news and Don always asks about my family only all of this conversation is coming from some robotic muscle memory.

This new San Jose Behavioral Health (Psyche Ward) Don has entered, has only two ratings, both one star:

“A relative was incarcerated here for over a week. Absolutely chaotic. Only one doctor for all the adolescents and some of the adults.”

“Scary, scary place. It’s like they try and get you inside and not let you out.”

Later I called and the phone rang 20 times. No answer. I called back and told the receptionist. She advised me to leave a message before transferring me again. I listened to music for a bit, the phone never rang. And in the last hours it has been discovered that the staff has not been giving Don his medication at all for 36 hours. And he is on a vast array of meds not meant to be instantly dropped.

This facility was the only one with a bed available. It requires a special code to get in; only three of us are allowed to see Don.

I trust it will not be like his last place, El Camino, a lockdown unit with a roving guard, maybe a padded cell with no windows, no chance to go outside and feel the sun, breathe fresh air or see a tree. No nature at all. No soul. Don will most likely be sedated, medicated to the hilt. For the psychiatric profession is about modulating symptoms and side effects, a sort of russian roulette for the mind.

I don’t know a thing really and perhaps this is the perfect place for Don right now. Since he is there per God’s will.

Yet I wonder: How in God’s earth can these type of environments be conducive to healing a man’s heart and soul? This heart yearns for Don to have a startling reversal, to come to the end of suffering. I feel somehow that I’ve failed him. But LOVE cannot fail. The manifestation and appearances matter little. LOVE pierces through as unseen magic, the formless yet Mighty Touch.

And maybe this overworked, singular doctor in charge of the entire adult ward, will not try to keep Don in a meditative stupor, instead working a miracle. Don has endured mega-extended lockups 30 plus years ago. A year at one place, 18 months at the prestigious Menninger’s Institute another time. These two week stays are nothing—so far. Back in those days, his 20’s he went through shock therapy (“it wasn’t that bad Mike”- he once told me), has had numerous experimental drug therapies yet these treatments could not touch his deepest pain and shame. (Amazingly, though the facility was quite spooky, the outpatient program was great for Don. They used felt pen art as a creative outlet and distraction mechanism and did ‘talk therapy’ which helped him return to a place of a bit more stability).

I’ve felt these places that Don journeys to–been dropped to my knees, praying for mercy, humbled to the core and burned at the stake with him. I didn’t back away. I stayed in the furnace and was cooked too; scalded alive, then thrown in the emotional freezer called hell and felt Don’s insanity directly. I found out that as the spiritual teacher Yogananda once said:

“We are all a little bit crazy but we don’t know it.”

Once we see this craziness, reveal it, a miracle happens. We step out of the craziness and watch the burning fire from the depths of soul. The holy presence of God plays out as crazy and enlightened, angry and ecstatic, depressed and joyful- all the diverse aspects of the ONE. We touch God Almighty in all that; for all of that is God.

The latest crisis came when Don did not sleep for 2 nights in a row. His mind went haywire and his liver and kidneys were most likely not metabolizing the medication properly. His live-in caregiver Manuel (yes a hispanic man from Mexico on another of the tough job assignments) has lived with Don for 15 years. Manuel is in emotional crisis himself, though he refuses to see it. He gives Don his meds twice a day and disappears into his room on most days, in a desperate attempt to retain his own sanity.

Don has been my charge, my brother, my friend. During the last 8 years of my physical illness, his mental illness has been there at my side. I see Don every week for 4 hours. Every time we get together, I show him the light-infused exit door from the penitentiary of his mind. He steps through and lets the light touch for brief respites – but then again the rushing onslaught of mind drags him back into perpetual thought realm we call hell.

I see our connection as a karmic payback of some sort- there’s really no other way to explain this journey. Sometimes it feels like a few sprinkles of pixie dust, a heel click and I can astral project back in time to meet a Renaissance detective to solve the case.

Don was Father Thomas back then, incarcerated in the cell next to me – and the detective will tell me, “…a mystic priest, no doubt about it.” The renaissance sleuth will go on:

“You were alone in some horrific dungeon, your mind absorbed in the repetitive madness of thought. No key, no clue- frantically trying to find a glimmer of truth, of light. But you stopped trying, stepped the wrong way off that fine precipice, cornices on both sides – one leading to the great unknown space of pure Consciousness and loss of personal identity called ego death. The other side a rocky, distorted fall into a incredibly loud city of sound, where voices appear real yet they are all in one’s own head. Listen to what Father Thomas told you back then…

“I was once like you are now, my dear brother. The thoughts are not real. Breathe into the open space. Find your true home there, where it has always been. Then those fugitive thoughts will give way to the enduring background free from thoughts.”

As the famous Jungian-oriented therapist John Weir Perry said:

“…the process that millions of schizophrenics go through in a way that is usually so very hazardous, isolated, and uncreative is nonetheless made up of the same stuff that seers, visionaries, cultural reformers and prophets go through.”

In the 1970’s Perry had many full recoveries (of schizophrenia) at his Diabasis House, an experimental residential facility in the San Francisco area. It was for those undergoing psychotic episodes, spiritual emergencies and other renewal processes. Unlike traditional Psychiatric Hospitals, Perry’s place was a true haven with no locked doors, no electroshock or medications. Instead patients were offered a safe space, creative arts like: painting and dance, along with massage, meditation and conversation. As Perry said:

“This helped those undergoing a profound shift go through their ego-death and emerge weller than well.”

Don has stopped trying now, a delicious place if you realize its the natural state. Total and complete hell if you don’t.

It’s one of those days where the simplest sound, reflection or sight brings tears. Yes, LOVE pours today. Thank God. Tis God. Always God. The spring winds are strong, the surf is alive. I stand overlooking the Capitola beach. I look left, then right. Surfers are in the lineup everywhere. Don is not visible but he’s here.

“Hey bro,” I say. “Capitola is breaking fine today. I wonder what Steamer’s is like? Must be big.” I interrupt Don’s silence. “Can you imagine Mavericks.” I wait for his reply, that wholly unique, heart-oozing wisdom and charm that comes through his words. And Don’s former surfer will sound:

“Well Mike, Capitola’s okay. Just wait though, at low tide it will be even better.” He’ll pause, casting a deep gaze to the distant northern shoreline. “Look at the Hook…”

The waves keep breaking, then a certain stillness remains between each crash. Love-filled tears fall. They are always here for Don.

The Conscious Transitions End of Life Retreat vision is still floating in the ether- coming to fruition on Divinity Time or not-either way is okay. During this lapse, I received a call to help a dying man.

I did not sleep but an hour or two, in broken bursts, the night before I was to start my new job. Tooth-related pain, jaw, neck, head along with the chronic issues – kept the body-organism called Michael wide awake.  I was suppose to begin with my client the following morning at 10 am. By 8 am, complete zombie mode was in full effect. Every iota of the mind/body energetics were demanding cancellation.

“Lie down. Go to sleep. Call them later and apologize.” All impotent mantras. I could do no such thing; providence would not allow it. The nausea was at a high level and the 2nd brain, the one in the stomach, joined the powerless-moaning chatter. “I can’t make it.”

I got in the car, on a empty stomach, a hot cup of digestive tea blend mixed with dragon well green and made the 30-minute drive to the westside of Santa Cruz. The incredibly tall and spindly palm tree marked the destination.

The bark of 18-month old Mac, a beautiful red standard poodle, announced my arrival. I pushed the front door open and there just to the left, was Terry, aged 84. Sound asleep on a hospital bed, his mouth wide open, face cocked upward. It was the pre-morgue snapshot, which causes most people to recoil, when it’s time to visit their dying granny. The faintest sound, a raspy breath, was heard; that of a man slowly dying from congestive heart failure. Once a robust 190 pounder with potent math skills, his wife Peggy soon informs me, Terry has withered down to 112 at last weigh in.

Hospice has been called, arriving last week, thus signaling the often dreaded  – 6 months or less to live – marker. In Terry’s case it may be only one week, the hospice nurse told Peggy. As I have learned, each ‘death’ journey is a unique and amazing final dance that is not decided by man (nor is any other element of life).

I entered the caregiving team via a call from a friend. I’ve never once looked for an end of life client (except when I initially joined hospice, for 2 years, in 2001).  The clients just come to me. I am here by some magic to watch a man die. Terry is dying well, so far; and kindness oozes from him as he lets go into the great unknown.

During one of Terry’s rare moment of lucid consciousness, his wife Peggy introduces us. I hold out a protein shake minutes later (the solid food days are over). Lightly pressing the plastic container against his upper chest to allow ease, gravity and straw access, I place the plastic suction device in his mouth. Terry looks at me with wide, bright eyes full of love; even as the life force dwindles he sees this new arrival as a welcome guest.

Unable to get up from bed- a permanent catheter has been installed. There’s no better word here; the body an engine with a large radiator leak gushing yellowish water all over. A labor intensive, huge mess for his already overworked mechanic wife, Peggy. Terry’s not a fan of the metallic needle up his urethra, no man in his right mind would be. Peggy, though, is ecstatic with the tech contraption, repeating more than once:

“A life saver!” Peggy, herself over 80 and the alpha-queen, is use to handling everything herself. We all have our limits, though, that’s why hospice is here and two new caregivers – my friend Sandra (saint in training) and myself included – have come to allow Peggy to do: errands, simple projects, nap, go to church or see a friend for lunch. She can rest at ease knowing her husband of 53 years is truly cared for.

In 16 years of end of life caregiving, Terry is one of the easiest.

There’s only one picture of my paternal grandfather Ray in our entire extended family archive. In that picture my grandfather looks much like Terry does now. My grandfather also died of congestive heart failure, doing so when my father was only 6 years old. This was about 1945 near the end of World War 2.

In truth, most people that cross our path in life, we will meet only once. Some will get a glance, look, or eye contact, a simple ‘hello’ or ‘excuse me’ – others a middle finger or a ‘fuck you jerk’; perhaps if we realize that this encounter will be the only time in our whole life that we might see this person, there would be more: ‘god bless’, ‘you are the best’ or ‘have a great day’.

When death approaches, this Western culture has been conditioned to run, deflect, escape, fight or defend. The best is acceptance. For the passing of the form is natural and ordinary, just like everything else in life. We need not push death away, get weird about the physical appearance or manifestation of symptoms, the inevitable decline. Nor does one need to fall into gloom and doom. As an end of life caregiver and one with a fair share of experience with chronic illness, I have done deep inquiry into ‘death”. I say:

“Take your best shot death and let’s see if you really are the bogie man everyone fears.” Death cannot touch our essential Self, dying is only part of a play, a happening, within God.

Terry took a few more sips and looked at me with the innocent and receptive eyes of an infant:

“Thank you so much.” Each word is enunciated with a slight pause allowing the bliss of gratitude to fully enter my heart. His words carry a genuine transmission. Each syllable, every single vowel, resonates – like a tibetan singing bowl.

“Is that enough?” I query softly.

“A little more. He sips some fresh pressed Tangerine juice this time.

“So good!” He looks at me like a puppy dog this time. “Do you want some?” This is the my lathery tongue to the face.

Mac, the flying red poodle, goes airborne and lands, nestling against Terry’s legs (he know not to go above waist level to avoid catheter disruption or pain). Terry smiles, then a few short gentle coughs are emitted. Within seconds Terry’s eyes close. He’s out cold; so is Mac. A Beethoven piano sonata continues. It’s been a beautiful backdrop for the simple yet profound unfolding of the last few minutes. Pandora switches to Mozart, soon Bach will play, as we head back to the place before clocks: the timeless dimension.

All of these distinctly different elements held together and sustained by that formless web of Pure Consciousness (God) – whichs eternally emits the essential oil of love. And in THAT, I’ve lost myself, in the SELF, in God, that brilliant presence dancing all creation. I’ve lost the nausea, the pain, my entire sense of self, too. Disappeared. Gone – until I think again.

Soledad, a 25-year hospice veteran Certified Nurse Assistant, has come for the first time. She’s a real business professional and true to her hispanic roots, brings an incredible work ethic and grace. She does the dirty work no one else wants to do: (like fieldworkers, landscape maintenance, dishwashers, maids and garbage men). Hispanics are the true native peoples of California. I am in awe of this culture of people that has been threatened, displaced, condemned and ridiculed since the outset of caucasian ‘civilization‘ — I use the word loosely. The White race, the caucasian peoples, have treated hispanic and latinos so poorly. Yet, these people retain their dignity despite all manner of hardship.

I say with utmost respect, the Hispanic and Latino people are the backbone and pulse beat of California. It’s as if all their children were given a mantra while in the womb: “Serve, work hard, give everything, expect nothing”. And no matter the job title (in hospice it is no different) they do the dirty work, in this case: Diaper change and sponge bath for Terry.

I ask if Soledad needs any help. She declines. Proud, prompt and straight to work she goes, effortlessly maneuvering Terry about- the true nurse that she is.  Soledad calls me at the end of her cleaning routine.

“Can you take one side of the towel…” It is draped under Terry so we can pull-slide him up a couple of feet towards the head side of the bed.

As she leaves, Soledad gushes towards Peggy:

“The lilies; how beautiful!”

“Why don’t you take some. Whatever you need. You know lilies, they always come back!” Peggy replies.

The next day a hospice nurse arrives. With several visits to the house already, Reanda is family.  She displays a palpable love for Terry, tenderly leaning over and touching his arm, folding over his bed for a hug. Mac, held close on leash, is let free. He greets her with a slathering smooch.

After Reanda leaves a growing stillness descends. Terry’s eyes open when I touch his arm lightly to check on him.

“Are you a doctor?” He asks curiously- as if speaking from an ethereal realm, eyes varnished with a celestial dew that cannot understand the concepts: present, past and future.

“Not really but I am an acupuncturist; kind of like a doctor of the East.” I lean close to him so we both can hear. Terry smiles and before drifting  into an angelic staging area, Peggy asks him if he would like some Jazz. He nods in the affirmative.

A few seconds later Pandora begins playing the Preservation Jazz Band tune: COME TO ME – and at that moment I notice a framed, matted print  of a magnificent Sycamore tree above Terry’s head. Under the tree at the bottom of the print it reads: The Holy Tree of Existence. And like the Holy Family of Jesus, this tree now shelters Terry, offering comfort for the coming Great Transition. 

Celebrating Friendship…

I don’t have many true friends; what I call ‘heart people’. These friends are beings that stand for compassion, truth, and have been at my energetic-side- no matter how it goes. This next blog is about one such friend.

Last spring marked the 20th anniversary of a friendship. It began when I set foot on India’s sacred soil. India is an ancient land that carries a potent undercurrent of spirituality. America, by contrast, is a young country mired in a rebellious adolescence. Across the sea from the United States, India sits silent and still (though she has been indoctrinated by enticing  Westernization in recent times) – She, India, is like a distant, great-great, grandmother whose most soulful whisper is heard only in quiet moments of deep contemplation.

On my trip there nearly 21 years ago, I met a young man who has become a lifelong friend. Shobhit G. was 19, myself 34, when we first crossed paths.

Just prior to our meeting, I had been on a 2nd class train for more than 40 hours, moving from the south to north: Bangalore to Delhi. I then took a donkey-carriage, at the suggestion of a Tibetan acquaintance I met on the train (the Tibetans are rugged people who have been filmed meditating in 10-15 degree temps for over an hour and not getting hypothermia). In this case, he was heat-testing me, I suppose.

We shared an open air journey from the train station to the bus station, easily more than 5 kilometers across Delhi mid day. It read 49 Celsius at the train station thermometer when I arrived. That is 120 F., up to the task of frying eggs on the pavement. Having had no shower in 3 days, the dirt, mixed with sweat-soaked sludge, then more dirt, sweat and god knows what else –all arranged on me like an exotic experiment for a cob-house building material. I was an extra for Frankenstein, the movie.

Then it began to rain; so I envisioned. Pure liquid delight. My eyes were closed and I turned upward to the sky, letting the heaven-sent drops fall over my face. I licked my lips in relish. Rapt grace. Then my eyes opened and I scanned the sky; not a cloud anywhere. The ‘rain’ still came, only now it was moving horizontal, floating in streaming droplets. I traced them to their origin, the underbelly of one of the donkeys.

God does have a sense of humor.

After the donkey-urinal baptism (an India trademark), I boarded a bus for what was to be an easy 5 hour bus ride to Rishikesh. The foothills of the Himalayas awaited, the bastion of yoga and cooler temps. Then about halfway to our destination the bus broke down. Years later I learned that this area was one of the most dangerous places for tourists in all of India. These ‘breakdowns’ were planned events with: theft, injury and death likely.

It was here at dusk, in some barren landscape near the outskirts of a tiny village, that I met Shobhit G. for the first time.

I got off the bus in disbelief, pure destitution with a backpack. Distraught, exhausted and without a clue. A 19-year old young man approached me with a friendly smile and solid english chops.

“Where are you going? He asked.

“Rishikesh.” I muttered.

“You will not get there tonight. The next bus to Rishikesh will not come until morning, maybe not at all. There is nowhere to stay here. Come with me back to my house. You can stay with my family.” I instantly acquiesced.

Three and a half hours after the bus breaks down, we get on another bus, standing in the aisle of this packed bus for a forty-minute ride to Roorkee, India. This is where Shobhit’s parent’s live. Our conversation was easy and heart-centered.

In this quiet, small village, I deboard the bus with him. We get a bicycle rickshaw to his house and I go in, covered in grunge to the point of extreme embarrassment, to meet his family

I would meet his parents, 2 younger sisters, a lower-middle class brahmin family that opened their heart and home to me. Shob’s sisters plied me with all kinds of questions about life in America. His parents just listened and smiled. I was home, an adopted son with his instant family. They had no running water but Shobhit got 2 buckets full daily, each containing about 3 gallons of water for use in the shower. He offered me one of his buckets. Never had I prized water so greatly.

In that shower  I felt each and every water molecule as it danced down my head, across my face and down. Vast accumulated debris washed away. Thus began a relationship, a true friendship that has defied any idea of what friendship is. For Shobhit and I have never seen each other face to face again.

Like penpals of the spirit, Shob and I began to exchange long letters the first two years after my return from India. About three years later, Shobhit noted that he would not be able to afford tuition for his last year of college. He needed some 60,000 rupees (India dollars). Shob did not ask for money, almost hiding this notation amongst some stories of life in India. I did not have much money at the time. Instead a vision came. I was to organize a benefit run, a fundraiser for him. It was a semi-cross country 5-mile run/walk starting in the small town of Scotts Valley and winding up through the northern hillside, ending at the top of Mount Roberta, at 1410 feet, with a great view of the Monterey Bay.

I gathered family, friends, and acquaintances. They loved the idea and invested their energy, enthusiasm and time. My partner at the time, Evelyn, donated an exquisite piece of original artwork as a grand prize for a raffle we had planned. Others followed with additional offerings: my parents avid supporters and amazing givers opened their home –(as they always considered it a hotel for all to enjoy) as a post-run celebration and festivity gathering point. My sister-in-law Amy and brother-in-law Paul were both integral components in the event coming together. Mom even made a bunch of food, as did my sister Cheri who recruited several friends as well. My brother, Jeff, blind early in life, power-walked the course with his guide dog–the magnificent long-haired, german shepherd, Hale. The event was a huge success.

After the event was over we counted the money together as a group. It came to almost  $1500.00-nearly the exact amount Shobhit needed for his tuition. As the currency exchange rate was about 40 rupees to the dollar, $1500.00 US dollars was about 60,000 rupees.

I sent the cash to Shobhit inside a spiritual book (for protection), with a letter telling him about the event.

A couple of weeks later a touching letter arrived from him. His whole family was grateful beyond words.

One day some 9 years later, after Shobhit had finished his advanced degree work, passed the Pharmacist-licensing exam and gotten his first job in the United States, a letter arrived. On that particular day I had been quite sick, delirious with fever, shaking, and deep, deep fatigue. Not known at the time, this was the early days of chronic lyme disease. The letter started with:

“Dear Mike,

With God’s grace I send you $1,500.00 dollars from my first check…” Tears just poured from my eyes. Again, even now, they trickle down.

Shobhit’s parents always ask about me; my parents about him. For 21 years we’ve shared our deep joy and moments of sorrow, remaining in attunement with each other. Shobhit now lives in Florida and has two daughters with his beautiful wife Gitanjala (I have seen pictures). Anika is 4 and Riya is 6. I am envisioning our reunion some time very soon–and getting to meet his whole family.

Shob has sent money to me a couple of other times and finally I told him that he must focus on his children’s college education–this has stopped him for now!

Today I intuited him ‘feeling down’ and sent him a message of love and gratitude- because that’s what friends do.

He responded, saying “I’ve been so stressed lately…and finished with ‘I love you Mike.’

Later I phoned him, Shob’s been working hard to start his own pharmacy, away from the mainstream soul-killing conglomerate chains. His vision is to have a personal relationship with his patients (as he calls them), to treat them with the utmost care, not another prescription-fill.  His primary stress-related episode involved a close friend/pharmacy Tech who worked for his business. He found out that she had been stealing money and drugs from his pharmacy for two years. The incident hit him very hard. Shob said to me:

“She cried on my shoulder nearly every day. It was all a lie. She could be a hollywood actress.”

I finished the phone call by telling him that Doc Mike’s prescription was a 3-day sabbatical in the mountain wilderness, to let good tidings wash over him and refresh his spirit. I noted that I ‘expected that he would be a compliant patient’ and we made a tentative plan to meet later in the year in the mountains of California.

A bumper sticker, I just read, captures this encouragement well:

“May the FOREST be with you”- my beloved friend.

 

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