"Some great confusion has fallen like a shadow across the world, a mass forgetting in which the sense of meaning waiting to be discovered right under the surface of events has been obscured in favor of compiling information and a recitation of facts that only become forgotten. This is a time of great forgetting; especially forgetting that life is full of mysteries trying to be revealed."
- Micheal Meade
Personal Spirituality and the Larger Creation
Because we live in a world of evidence and facts, most people are very cautious about sharing stories about their personal relationship with the Divine that is ever trying to reveal itself in our daily lives. Genuine accounts of personal pivotal spiritual experiences often remain unspoken during our normal conversations with each other.
Through our trials and traumas in life, we tend to become more defended as we age and our sense of Spirit becomes an idea instead of a lived reality. With each new challenge we can progressively separate away from our connection to ourselves, other people, and the free, embodied relationship with Creation that we had when we were young.
As we mature into adulthood we may think that we have a connection to the Divine, to our God, or our spirituality, but it is most often a controlled relationship dictated only from what we have known before. Most of us prefer to independently guide our own lives, separate from the larger more unknown patterns of Creation, especially when it threatens to disturb our comfort zone and requires that we grow in unfamiliar ways.
We prefer to control our spirituality and use it to try to create what we want instead of surrendering to our part in the larger Creation. Our hurts, losses or traumas can bring us to our knees with emotional pain, but instead of wrapping up our pain in our typical wary defensiveness, we can ask for help from a benevolence that is larger than our own capacity to love and integrate what has happened in our lives. We find our deeper belonging - beyond all of the hurt, loss and trauma we have accumulated - when we sense into the rhythms of the larger Creation.
A Personal Spiritual Experience
I had a profound perspective changing spiritual experience of unconditional love when I was a young college student that still reverberates within me today. It helped me to understand that we are much more than our personal ideas of spirituality. We are joined in ways that can often seem unfathomable in our daily lives.
When I was a young distracted college student, burning the candle at both ends, often staying up all night finishing my design projects, I remember waking up in the middle of the night with a strong verbal directive that said. "Go sit on the couch." Too sleepy to second guess myself, I walked over to the next room and sat on the cross-legged on the couch.
As soon as I settled myself, my mind went profoundly quiet. What happened next defies verbal explanation, but I can only describe it as a powerful, spontaneous heart opening. Never before in my life had I been stilled by an energy that was so much larger than myelf. My heart then began to pulsate with the Universal tempo that seemed much vaster than my own heartbeat. There was nothing to do but surrender to it. It was impossible to think any thoughts during this pulsation. My mind went completely still in a way that I had never experienced.
I felt no fear - only love. And I had only one marker of my internal experience in my literal experience. When my mind went still and the powerful heart pulsations began, my tabby cat went utterly still with me at the very same moment. She stopped purring and sat in utter stillness with me as the heart opening experience continued. When the heart pulsations ended, perhaps an hour or so later, and my ordinary thinking mind came back, my cat started purring again at exactly the same moment.
In that silent hour, I was gifted with a healing grace that was beyond my understanding or personal effort. And while with many people in my life, I have had to intensely work mentally and emotionally to forgive, what I was left after my spiritual experience with was the indelible impression in my mind and heart: "I love and forgive my dad." By grace, and with no need for inner psychological work, my misunderstandings about my dad's emotional unavailability in my life vanished. From that point forward, I found a natural and easy compassion for him.
I understood from my spiritual heart opening that relationship difficulties can be healed in an instant. My father and I had an effortlessly deep relationship after that night, and never did I speak a word of my spiritual experience to him. Nothing needed to be talked out or reconciled through words. The next time I went back home to visit my parents, he had created a fatherly "shrine" to me in his garage. He had dug up all of my old sports awards from grade school and had hung them up on the wall.
An Easy Friendship
About 5 years later, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. During the five years after my spiritual experience we enjoyed an easy friendship. We hung out together, often without words, within a shared energy infused with love. He built me things - lovingly crafting a wooden cradle for my baby and constructing large canvas stretchers for my paintings in his wood shop. He attended all of my art exhibitions and I still have the pictures that he proudly took of me, holding my baby girl in front of my paintings at the gallery.
My father even accompanied me to a week long painting retreat to help take care of my baby daughter. I remember laughing at how wonderful, alternative and weird it all was to him. He was not used to the vegetarian menu or the open esoteric conversations.
Accustomed to the constant noise of always having a television or radio on at home, even when he slept, my father was suddenly immersed in silence at the retreat. While my baby slept, and I was painting, to my surprise my dad spent his day reading my spiritual books from cover to cover. He took long walks in the woods carrying my daughter in his arms. He tried very sweetly to understand me. And he was already very sick.
The Journey Towards Death
"The essence of love and compassion is understanding the ability to recognize the physical, material and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other. We "go inside" their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another's suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, "to suffer with."
—Thich Nhat Hanh
My dad became violently ill four days into my painting retreat and had to leave early. When the cancer made it impossible for him to be home, I realized that most people, including my father feared death intensely. His doctor had offered him treatment early and he ignored his advice and told no one. Most people in our modern culture do not want to see or speak of death, and my father both feared and was drawn towards it.
Six months after that painting retreat my father was nearing his final days. A week before my dad died his brother and my father both had the exact same dream - on the same night. They both dreamed that my father had fallen overboard from a boat and that his brother could not save him. I considered that the deeper life was preparing us all for his ending, and I was grateful.
Life is strangely supportive and if we pay attention, it provides the information and the solace we need during difficult times. I considered that the grace of my heart opening years before had prepared me to love and care in a way that could see beyond the appearances of this world. I found a strength within that was able to move closer to my father during his final difficult days even after he lost his hair, his capacity to think, and the physical dignity that he was so accustomed to.
I sat with my dad in the hospice the day he died. We had a quiet afternoon together with no other visitors. My daughter, almost two years old at the time, sat on his bed and shared his tray of lunch with him. He laughed at her in the midst of his delusions. After days of speaking anxious morphine induced gibberish about planes taking off and leaving, he grew quiet. For the last hour, we shared silence together, no words.
He smiled at my daughter grabbing food with both fists off of his plate. I knew he was going to die that day, and without speaking I let him know it was okay for him to go. When I left the hospice I knew I would never see him again. When I arrived home I got the call that he had passed away as soon as I walked into the house. I turned around and drove back to see him. His spirit had vacated his body and only the shell of him lay on his bed.
The Urge to Live Well
When I went to the hospice to pick up my father's personal effects the next day, the nearby church bells started to melodiously ring. It was an unexpected sound in the middle of the week. Struck to my core, I felt like the bells were ringing specifically for me. I spontaneously spoke to the deepest part of myself and everyone I could see. Carrying only a small box with my father's glasses, comb and toothbrush, I looked at everyone on the busy street and silently implored to them. "Wake up! Don't waste your life! Live from your deepest self!"
After my father's death I began to listen to the unseen and to trust my intuitions much more. I better understood the workings of co-creation and I felt less alone. I began to let my personal life unfold as an essential part of something larger than myself. I started to trust the creative mystery to speak to me and invite me to partake in larger life patterns instead of trying to control everything so much from my fears and emotional wounds. I understood that the larger life created me and impressed upon me, just as I created and made choices in my own life to align my personal preferences with the wholeness of life.
Connecting After Death
My father's spirit left his body but our connection actively continued for several years after his death. He came to me in my dreaming life and in my daily waking life as well. I vividly remember two such waking instances that distinctly felt like contact with my dad's spirit.
My first experience of my father's spirit visiting my daily life was at his own funeral. I was in the next room nursing my daughter. It was dark and quiet and I could hear the humming of our friends and family in the next room. In a sudden and powerful way, the distinct feeling that I knew to be my father when he was alive entered the room - all at once. Unmistakably he was permeating the space.
Whoosh! The change in the room was palpable, sudden and distinctly different. My father and I shared a joyful moment together before he was gone. I felt his love and gratitude. There was a new lightness to the particularity of his soul essence that felt different to me. My dad's energy was often heavy with sadness and anger when he was alive. At his own funeral he felt free.
The next episode of connection to my dad occurred on my birthday a year after he died. Because I was a single mom with no vehicle, before my dad died he had gifted me with his car. When I moved to my new mountain home after he passed away I sold his burgundy sedan to a young woman and had not seen it since.
On my birthday I was sitting alone at my kitchen table feeling sad and missing my dad when suddenly I got the directive, "Drive to the grocery store." It felt like a powerful order so I obeyed, even though there was nothing I needed to buy. When I arrived at the store I saw my father's burgundy car parked out front and I started to laugh! I thanked him for the birthday visit!
A Larger View of Grief and Loss
My father was the fourth in my family to die that year. Previously my aunt and cousin where killed in a head on collision by a man who was trying to commit suicide. He lived and they both died. My grandfather's death soon followed. After my father died of cancer, my younger brother took his own life. For years I was gripped with "soul sobs" of grief in the middle of the night, and for periods could not stop crying at work.
Yet, I have felt grateful that I have a larger frame of understanding of life and death to grieve within. I have dedicated my large life changes to the ones I had loved - and perhaps only seem to have lost. Grief and loss impelled me to recreate my own life from one of passively following the status quo to a much more authentic, intuitive and creative life. When we follow our deeper inclinations and our powerful yet seemingly irrational directives we are welcomed into our embedded place in the Creative Whole of Life.
I leave you with the wise words of Michael Meade:
"Each has the surprising gift of life and each life has to come to the end of life's road one day. It's not simply that "death must have it's due" but also that death has a place in life. Death and loss must have a place in life in order that the creation of the world might continue. If we treat death as simply an absence of life, something essential to creation gets lost to our awareness. When seen in the context of ongoing creation, death can be found to have a place in the midst of life and a hand in both renewal and re-creation."
Art Therapy Support for Grief and Loss