Today I went to my friend’s father’s funeral. I felt so deeply sad for her loss, and also utterly inspired by her grace, strength, beauty, and big heart. Watching her, I was thinking, this is how you face the hardest times, full on and yet unarmored.
I didn’t know her father. But as I listened to the people who spoke about him, a picture began to form in my mind. Family members shared joyful stories, and from listening, it really landed on me that people have deeply private lives, the depths of which you have no idea. As someone who writes about my life (okay sometimes overshares), this something I forget. But as I listened to the stories, it seemed that different people held different parts of his heart. They all knew the same person, and yet they didn’t. It was such a beautiful reminder to remember that when you’re connecting with someone you’re seeing only a section of a very intricate, unique, exquisite tapestry that is the totality of their being.
Most of all, what I took from bearing witness to those stories was this:
Your legacy is the love you put into the world. The laughter you share. The intimate conversations and moments that happen between you and another. Your legacy is how you love. That’s what matters and that’s what lives on. That love is completely indestructible. That love can invite people who didn’t even know you into into its amazing goodness. Your legacy is your love. So love easily, love often, and love deeply. Be love.
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Joyful death. That sounds like an oxymoron, but not really. I experience joy as the absence of resistance. If something in me is dying and ready to be released, my experience is that when I go with it, feeling all the way through the initial emotions of fear and sadness, joy arises.
On Monday, I gave myself a funeral. I gave an aspect of my personality a joyful death.
The previous day I’d received an email from a funeral home (inner skeptic looked it up and it’s a real place). The text was “We would like to express our deepest sorrow for the untimely death of your beloved friend and inform you about the life service celebration that will take place at
(Funeral home name) on February 24, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.”
Huh? When I clicked on the link that provided, it said page not found. As far as I knew, none of my friends had died. Weird.
That night I couldn’t sleep. When I finally drifted off at 3 in the morning, I had a dream that my teacher had died. Everyone was freaking out, and I felt so sad. In the dream I fell asleep, and dreamt I saw him dancing and clapping in front of a fire while drum music throbbed in the background.
When I woke up that morning, as soon as my eyes opened I was crying. Waves and waves of grief rolled through me and I felt a palpable sense of loss. I wondered if it had to do with my divorce, but the grief felt really old, like I’d been carrying it around with me for decades. The waves just kept coming and I was glad I took the time to let them.
I consider everything that happens to be a nod from the universe, so between the funeral invitation and the dream, I felt clear that something in me was dying and needed to be mourned. And also, as written in the invitation, there was the call to celebrate life.
So I did. I thought, I can free write the memorial talk for whatever is dying. I don’t even have to know what it is, I can just start writing about it. I wrote, I honor the memory of…and all of these words came pouring out. What I was dying to was a way of being that no longer served me. I died to a way of moving through the world that I had adopted long ago in order to feel safe and to receive love. And she was a beloved friend, created in my teens and a part of my personality for 20 years. Now, that way of being was no longer functional and it was time to let it go. I felt these waves of deep grief because my identity was tied up in that way of being, so letting it go felt like death. It was so ingrained in me that I felt that’s how life was. When this way of being was unconscious, that felt true. But as I’ve become more and more conscious of it, I started to see that I have a choice.
Of course I felt fear. Who will I be if I release that context and stop relating to myself and others in that habitual way? How will I be in the world if I release this way of creating separation?
The answer that came was, you won’t know until the death is complete.
I kept writing. I appreciated how this way of being had once helped me to feel safe, the lessons I’d learned, the gifts I’d received, and how the energy of those gifts could live on in ways that served.
After I finished writing, I savored the stillness. I felt like the gauze over my eyes had been cut away. I shared the experience with my amazing community of loved ones with whom I knew I could be completely raw. I appreciate their presencing and bearing witness.
It was time to call in the Tantric practices that I’ve learned from my teacher. I did an asana and mudra practice to stoke the inner fire so I could offer the entire experience to the great fire within me. Swaha! Then I did a meditation practice that dissolves the impurities in the chakras.
It was 2 pm. Time for the celebration. An old construct had died, but I was alive. I felt so light in my body, breath, and mind. What freedom! What a gift to be able to choose to die to an old way of being, and to choose to live! We are always in the cycle of creating, sustaining, dying, and to participate with it actively–what joy. To be with the not knowing what comes next and to go willingly I to that unknown. Such a Beautiful aspect of being human.
Part of the celebration was sharing with my close friends. The next was to dance to the song Angel, (which I always thought would be played at my funeral, I just didn’t think I’d be there). I adorned my toes with Ruby Red for the occasion. A death dance is a beautiful thing. It has its own natural arc from mourning to celebration.
The final stage was to treat myself to bodywork. I met an amazing practitioner who facilitated an even deeper release. There was a sweet wink from the universe at the end of that experience, when we ended up in a conversations about Tantra and the Himalayan Institute. The day had come full circle.
What are you dying to in your life right now? What way of being, what context have you been operating in that is ready to be released? What can you turn toward with love so you can experience your wholeness? What keeps you feeling fragmented and apart, that, if you faced it and acknowledged it, would be a gateway to experiencing that you are *never really* separate and apart, you just have convinced yourself otherwise? What can you die to so that you can celebrate life? How can a friendship with death serve your aliveness?
Things can be broken, and you are still whole.
Marriages. Friendships. Structures that you thought would exist for ever. The scaffolding of your life. The foundation of your self-identity. All of these things can be broken, “irrevocably” as was written on my (latest round of) divorce papers.
Aside: Who was the sadist who came up with this process by which every few months, when you think you’re at peace with it, another round of papers need to be signed and a fresh flow of grief opens up and courses through? Why keep asking, are you’re sure? Who the hell says they’re ending a marriage and then goes, nah, just kidding?
Anyhoo. Broken and whole. A marriage is broken and it is an opportunity for both people to own their wholeness. It’s the hidden gift inside the split. The chance to love and heal the parts of you that were pushed into the darkness and started clamoring for your attention with more and more insistence. A chance to say these are aspects of me but they are not me. An opportunity to see these parts without identifying with them.
When the light shines on hidden places, Healthy ways of being with yourself mix with old ways of going unconscious. Another step toward experiencing wholeness occurs as those old ways show themselves to be useless and not of service. And you forgive yourself for doing what no longer works and open a space to choose differently when the next wave comes. This thing is so messy that your perfectionist has said fuck it and in that there is a sweet release.
Permission to be has been received! You cry when you want to, laugh when you want to, meditate, take walks, dance, and also watch Netflix for an insane amount of hours and develop a symbiotic relationship with your bed and an unholy love of Skittles, and not in the fun Beyoncé and Jay-Z getting it on kind of way.
And through it all self-acceptance! You learn you are still a child of God, here for love and connection with the Source that is within you and that is you, and that is and in others, whether you are married or divorced, a mother or childless, teaching yoga or binge watching TV. Some things are broken and you are still whole.
This new life you’re building looks different when you’re creating from an experience of your wholeness and everyone else’s. There is nothing to fix. You can build what you want. ‘Cause you know it isn’t about the building. It’s about knowing who is the one who is building. And resting in Her as she builds. And now you know that the one who is building shows up as a wife and friend and lover and teacher and daughter, but she is not these roles. And your one job here is to hold Her hand and remember Her as you perform these roles, never forgetting that these things may break, but you will always be complete.
I recently found a gift. I didn’t realize I had started a second journal for the last two days in India last year. Reading one of the entries was like reading a road map for what was to come in the aftermath of that pilgrimage. I feel grateful for my teachers and my practice, which introduced me to aspects of myself I’d long forgotten.
“In the same sky, the sun is rising and the moon is setting. The crescent moon’s sliver glows–the dark side of the moon allows itself to be seen only as a silhouette. As the sun rises, red gives way to blood orange, to a sherbet mixture of orange and yellow, touch of green and the most cloudless blue.
Paradox is all around us. Sun and moon in the same sky. The mid point of the journey home.
I feel completely solid in mySelf and also completely uncertain. The context is space. The content is fixed while constantly shifting.
My inner space vastly expanded as the result of my sadhana and the relationships I cultivated on this trip. How will this increase in space support me in more fully following my dharma?”
Last night I was dancing to this Alice Coltrane song, and the dance turned into yoga postures, and the postures turned into simply observing my breath and feeling waves of ecstasy.
And I thought, I want this for everyone, this inner joy and connection to a pool of love and energy that is all of our birthright. I love teaching people how to access this state of being.
Maybe dancing to Alice doesn’t turn everyone on, but my deepest wish is that we all find what does turn us on and that we DO IT. DAILY. AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE.
A deeply connected conversation can take you there. Full on magnificent presence during a wave of emotion can take you there. A moment of awareness of that pool of love in your heart can take you there. Gazing at your beloved. Make love with, to, and in every moment.
On Friday it was 25 degrees out, and as I was getting ready to go to work I felt the strong impulse to walk. I argued with myself for a bit, too cold, too windy, 35 minutes in this weather, blah blah, blah, but the one who wanted to walk won out.
As I was crossing the bridge, my younger brother kept coming into my consciousness. Some hidden pocket of grief was rising up to be released, and waves of sadness rolled over me. Thank goodness for Eskimo hoods and freezing temperatures keeping (sane) people off the streets, which allowed my tears to flow privately.
Uncoiling within me was years and years of guilt, that he was developmentally delayed and I wasn’t. Many years of shame were coming up, shame at the difference in genetic strands that had resulted in him receiving the label “developmentally delayed” and being in special education classes, and me receiving the label “gifted” and being in weird unstructured experimental classes. I saw myself as a child, seeing his label as meaning less than, and my label as greater than. From that equation stemmed the many ways I tried to shrink myself so that we would feel equal. I saw how although as a teenager I had pushed that whole dynamic out of my consciousness, I had actually taken it into my relationships as an adult, evaluating myself and the people close to me and dimming when necessary to avoid outshining.
Each time my foot hit the pavement, it dealt a blow to that giant monument of long-held shame that was built on a fallacy. The fallacy that my brother was not whole, and neither was I. The fallacy that all brains must be made the same in order for everyone to have a fulfilled life. The fallacy that we did not each have gifts that made us unique and perfect exactly as we were. The fallacy that the label a school or society or doctor places on someone defines them. The fallacy of light and love being so scarce that one person can take more than their share.
My whole body was hot as I felt myself deepen the process of releasing these long-held beliefs.
Cat Power’s song “Graveyard” came on and I had a little giggle…perhaps this was the final death, the last gasp of those ways of thinking that hold me back.
I slowed down for last three blocks. Having left a ton of baggage behind me on Market street, I wanted to savor the lightness in my steps. I took a deep breath and forgave myself for ever seeing him as anything less than whole.
Without the haze of that shame I could feel wholeness–my brother’s and my own. It was from him that I’d learned how to give my whole being over to dancing. He is the best dancer I know, and expresses himself so completely with the way that he moves. His life is full and he is happy, with himself and with the relationships that he has created.
Without the haze of shame I could feel that inherent state of fullness that pulses through the universe and all of us. Since our natural state is full and whole, no one’s brightness can ever take away from someone else’s. There is infinite light to go around, and in fact that innate individual spark serves the universal whole.
We are all That.
In my experience, after I learn something, the universe gives me a mini test to make sure I got it. So last night I was at a party, and one person complimented my outfit and a second later my hair and I felt myself stop breathing and get that deer in headlights look I get when I’ve been noticed. At that moment, my friend said in her best high school teenager voice, Wow Nicole, you’re so pretty and popular. I said, great, now everyone hates me, and we all started cracking up and then everyone was complimenting each other and talking about how all you have to do is just say thank you. There was no greater or less than, and it turned into a great conversation, and I saw how that old story had moved from heavy to light.
Maybe you have your own story that is the giant hand holding your suspenders as you try to run forward. What’s the belief that has you jogging in place even though you are ready to move?
Take a walk on a deserted street so you can get quiet enough to look at it, feel what you feel about it, and take a step toward letting it go.
Last night I was thinking about my friend and so I called her, and said she’d been thinking about me too. Good to know the energetic Bat signal is still working.
We shared the soul level this-is-where-I-ams, which were juicy and full. I was telling her about some aspect of me that I used to view as a curse but that I was now experiencing as one of my gifts. And after listening deeply, she asked if she could read something applicable from Gibran’s “The Prophet.” It was beautiful and I felt known, not only by her, but by the force that Gibran was channeling when he wrote that epic poetry. I shared my gratitude for her with her, and had a brief prayer that everyone has someone in their lives who will read them The Prophet, or whatever is their equivalent.
I’m celebrating friendship. I hope you have a friend who will really be with you on your journey back to the cave of your heart. Actually, I hope you have a whole tribe of people who are deeply for you and you for them.
Last weekend I was with my tribe, and our friend and mentor Katie Hendricks said something like, notice the people you feel good around and spend your time with them. Yes! We can make it that easy! Who do you feel that sense of “ahhhhhh” around, that full body recognition of a kindred spirit? What are the many flavors of that deep sense of recognition? For me, sometimes that feeling is enlivening, other times it’s centering, and still other times you may feel like you’re in a warm embrace.
Minding the company you keep is not a new idea. Jay-Z spoke to it in 1997 in the epic rap, “Who You Wit.” True story. We can look a bit further back, say to ancient Indian times, when the text Tripura Rahasya says that the way to stop stealing your own joy and ignoring the call of your heart is to spend time in the company of the wise.
And yet, when I think of all the time I’ve spent in the past trying to change relationships and people and myself into something that they/we were not, perhaps it isn’t so obvious after all. The past is over. What’s real now is connecting more and more with those brothers from another mother, sisters from another mister-level friends in whose presence you experience the true fullness of yourself and of life.
When I got home from 10 days in Ojai with my tribe, I resumed my daily Hafiz reading, and this was the first poem on the page.
“A Hunting Party
Sometimes has a greater chance
Of flushing love and God
Out into the open
Than a warrior
Yes! Here’s to hunting parties of love!
Tonight I feel sad about Philip Seymour Hoffman being dead. It is weird to mourn the loss of a person you never met. And yet, when you watch films you’ve invited the actors into your experience of life so maybe it isn’t that weird.
I used to watch his films and think, wow, he holds all of our pain. What made him such a fine actor, in my eyes, was his ability to portray the many flavors of sadness and doubt and longing that a human being feels over the course of a lifetime. I would watch his movies and think, there it is, that dark and unnameable feeling in me that only sees the light of day through the conduit of this man.
I wonder what it was like to be in his shoes. What dark place in himself did he turn to over and over again to make art for all of us?
Drugs are assholes, whispering false promises of a relief from suffering that you can actually only attain by cleaning your mind and turning toward yourSelf and choosing life over and over again.
At least he is no longer in pain. Maybe some people read about his death and decide to sober up. Death is only terrible for the living, so my heart goes out to his family. I hope he did what he came here to do.
Last night two beautiful souls created a space for their friends to share blessings with their son, who will be born this spring. I appreciated their willingness to invite us into their lives and hearts so deeply. I loved watching everyone speak to the baby and his mothers and my inner lovebug wanted to get closer. What was everyone saying? I could hear the murmuring and laughter, and the energy in the room was so sweet and I thought, you don’t need to hear the words. Because the love behind the words is already filling the room.
As I watched everyone share their highest wishes for him I thought, as we bless him and his parents, we are also blessing ourselves. And when it came time for me to share, what I said came from a place beyond thought. And the part of me that watches whispered, yes, and how can you give that to yourself?
When I see babies I see souls, untouched, pure, receiving the gift of life to see what it feels like to be divine in a body. Babies remind me of innocence, unfiltered expression, and boundless possibility.
We are all that. That energy is still in all of us. It’s at our core, underneath all the different ways we learned to protect ourselves. How can we access that place, and bless all parts of us? Whether you intend to be a parent or not, your highest loving intention is still available to you.
Try it out.
Picture yourself or someone that you love. See yourself/them in their inherent fullness. Drink in your/their innocence. Let your love flow from your heart to your/their entire being. When you feel the connection deeply, and ask the part of you that knows, what is my highest loving intention for me/them? If the world was mine to give, how would I shape it for myself/this person? What would my blessing be?
And then speak it. Write your blessing down for yourself. Email it to a friend. Let yourself/someone else know how much you are *for* them. Whisper it in your beloved’s ear.
Share your blessing.