The View from Above

I don’t know if it’s because I have lived through breast cancer or through multiple decades on Earth, but I see the world differently now. When you face a serious diagnosis, identification with the smaller concerns of the individual self begins to slip away. And what seemed so important at 20 falls to the wayside later in life. I have written previously about living as soul more than identity now. Open heart space instead of crowded mental highways. That’s as close as I can come to expressing the change. Different experiences engage me. I rise at dawn, meditate, do yoga, and write. I listen to the music of morning birdsong and nighttime crickets. I take long walks in Nature and find that my awareness deepens as I walk wordlessly in the stillness there. (“Be still and know you are God.”)

Don’t get me wrong—I love my friends and family and all the varied parts of my life, past and present. It’s just different now. Often I feel immersed in a kind of expansive consciousness, and anything less powerful and compelling seems only a passing distraction. I know that every moment on Earth is precious, and I appreciate that with all my heart. Yet, part of me is sitting out among the stars seeing the entire cosmos beyond time and space. From that place, there is a letting go of doing into just being. Witnessing life and allowing it to flow with and through me, without attachment or judgment.

Is this the course our lives take, from birth to death? A continuous gradual awakening to a loving awareness that spans all dimensions? Perhaps we are each experiencing this in our own unique way. Some of us speak of it, some don’t. Some of us move forward excitedly; others hold back. It doesn’t matter. We will all reach the same “place” eventually, perfectly, and no clock is measuring our progress. It is the soul’s journey, beyond time and space.

I used to be frightened of flying, terrified that the plane would crash, and I would die. Now I feel more like I am being transported on angel wings when I fly, given a secret glimpse into a world of clouds and light that some think of as heaven. Maybe it is. Actually, maybe everything we experience, however we label it, is heaven because there is nothing else. Infinite consciousness experiencing itself, on Earth and in the skies. When we die, we realize that everything is one magical dream, ours and God’s.

Too far out or intangible? Well, that’s the view from above—everything blends seamlessly into everything else. We humans like to separate and delineate, but it’s only a mind game to entertain us while we’re here. As we depart this dimension, we see every boundary dissolve into oneness, and we realize that we came to Earth for exactly that experience.

Peaceful Spaciousness

How do you describe emptiness? How do I wrap words around the peaceful space I have been opening to since being diagnosed with breast cancer last August? Language seems inadequate to translate something so vast and limitless. My experience has been one of emptying out, sometimes called “dying unto yourself” in spiritual traditions. The dissolving of past identities, opinions, questions, expectations, fears, hopes, disappointments. All the parts of our selves that we accumulate over a lifetime and don’t even realize we carry around with us. Gradually, day by day, week by week, pieces fell away. No grief was involved; it was a lifting off, a lightening. Space opened up within me. I felt increasingly empty, but with no sense of loss or regret. In many ways, it was like opening the door to my soul, which was a room without walls filled with nothing but light. I observed all this without any particular emotional response. It was just happening, peacefully.

And it continued to happen, weeks past the end of my treatments. The emptiness endures, neither greater nor smaller, just present. I find I have stepped away from busyness—doing, thinking, trying. Being is my home now. I remain quietly in Presence much of the time, often alone in Nature, which is the part of my life that is most essential to me, perhaps because that is where Presence is strongest. The silence in the natural world aligns perfectly with the silence within me, that vast empty spaciousness that human language names God, or Spirit. But emptiness has no words; it just is.

There is an invisibility to this experience. No one sees this empty space within me; no one knows I am there unless I tell them. And resting silently, invisibly, in emptiness is a spiritual practice that brings me home effortlessly to my soul. In my breath, in the wind in the trees, in the song of a sparrow, I connect to consciousness itself, which holds everything and nothing at the same time. My soul embodies that consciousness, and when I live my life aligned with it, I am one with peaceful spaciousness. I am in a form but also beyond it.

This has been our human destiny, throughout the ages. We are born to a physical form but eventually return to formless being as we journey through our lives. Infinite consciousness, Presence, is the seed of all life. It incarnates to have the experience of becoming aware within physical form—and then returns to formlessness. There is an expansion and evolution of Spirit within all of this. We can’t know the meaning or the depth of it because it is unknowable by the human mind. This is the Great Mystery, the soul’s journey through bodily form and its return to a Oneness that encompasses all. You may come to this “empty” awareness through cancer (as I did), or through any life crisis or challenge. Or it may come to you at the last split-second of your life (“life review”). However or whenever, it is meant to fill you and empty you at the same time. It is the essence of all life, death, and eternity.

Why do I write about this if it is indescribable, unknowable? I don’t know (of course). The words arise within my soul. It seems that part of my life’s journey is to share through language what I am experiencing, even when it can’t be completely expressed. Each of us is here to express our unique beingness in the world—through words, through silence, through art, through music, through connection with others or Nature. However we live our lives is exactly what we’re meant to bring to the experience of life on Earth. We came here to embody both humanity and divinity in a vast array of colors and light. Our differences are perfect; our lives are perfect. Within the peaceful spaciousness at the core of All That Is exists a love that we each express in our own way. As you come to awareness of this, you recognize that soulful space in others, in yourself, and in the world.

Simplify

I grew up hearing my father repeatedly quoting Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” A life without possessions and attachments. Of course, he was counseling himself because he never threw anything away. Like many of his generation who lived through the Depression era, he acquired a lifelong habit of saving things because “they might come in handy someday.” A philosophy born out of necessity, yet hard to shake decades later when it wasn’t as necessary, and accumulation could become burdensome. Thus, periodically he would announce his intention of moving to a one-room cabin in the woods, as Thoreau had done at Walden Pond. Simplify…

My mother just smiled and continued living her own simplified life. Although also living through the Depression, she had acquired a “clear the clutter” approach to daily living. She threw things away, or donated them, if they were no longer needed. She would get rid of any old, damaged, or extraneous objects lying around the house. My dad would retrieve them from the trash. She had her secret ways of working around his saving reflex. My favorite story about their dynamic took place when she wanted to discard an old braided rug on the back porch which was showing signs of mildew. Every few weeks she removed a braided circle from the outside edge of the rug and surreptitiously threw it away. The rug grew gradually smaller and smaller until she was able to dispose of it completely. When my dad eventually noticed, it then became a family joke. Because even with their differences, they did appreciate and love each other. As did I.

I learned to love both Thoreau and “clearing the clutter” because of my father and mother. In essence, they did live a perfectly simple life together. Neither believed in consumerism or buying unnecessary things. We had all that was needed for a happy life: food, shelter, each other, and gratitude for the small wonders of life, like Nature right outside the door. I grew up in my own version of Walden: five acres in the Illinois countryside. Toys were never as important to me as the trees I climbed (and picked fruit from), the creek I waded in, and the fields I ran across with my dog. When I think of a “simple life,” this is what I see. And, even though I have resided in or near cities for most of my adult life, it is how I live: trees nearby, yards and parks, rivers or ocean.

The natural world, and the simple life, can be found in an urban environment as well as anywhere else. You just have to look for it, and then choose it, consistently. We don’t all have the opportunity to move to a cabin in the woods as Thoreau did, but we can always simplify. To me, that means focusing on Nature’s ever-present miracles and not the passing distractions of the overcomplicated material world. We can build a peaceful, inspirited life based in simplicity. The entire universe lives in those wondrously simple details. That is what Thoreau (and my parents) believed. And the more years I live, the more this essential wisdom guides my life. “Simplify” says it all.

Phoenix Rising

On the day of my first radiation treatment for breast cancer, I had a sudden thought during my morning meditation: “This is the fire that will burn away the imprints of all that came before.” Meaning, what we each carry around with us from our past, whether pain, suffering, loss, or uncried tears. Every human being faces challenges in life that because of their intensity imprint us deep inside and thus affect how we live day to day, with hesitancy or fear perhaps. When the imprints come to the surface and are released, freedom and peace arise. Mostly my life has been filled with love and happiness, but I have also had difficult experiences, including breast cancer and a lifelong fear of death/eternity. Ironically, this current cancer path has opened up a deeply soothing and expansive soul connection. Now I am at the last fiery gate. The phoenix stands before me.

The legend of the phoenix, also associated with the sun, is one of rebirth and renewal, of letting go of the past and rising anew in the present. In various cultures, including Greek and Egyptian, the bird was said to live several hundred years and then die in flames, its successor arising from the ashes. The idea of resurrection and immortality is often connected with it. It is a universal human theme—life beyond death, reincarnation, and “fresh starts.” How we live these possibilities in our own lives is part of our individual design as a human soul. Personally, I have always found the phoenix legend fascinating. I read a children’s book about it when I was 9 or 10, and it has always stayed with me. Is this my time to personally live it, symbolically, so many decades later?

At the end of my first week of radiation, beloved Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh died at the age of 95. His teachings had had a profound impact on my spiritual growth. I knew there was some significance for me in the timing of his transition because the day before, I had prayed for further help in fully accepting infinity/death. Over the years, I had come to a deeper peace about it, primarily because of my work with Panache Desai, but I could feel a kernel of fear remaining.  That morning, a friend posted a link to one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s talks, “Overcoming the Fear of Death,” and in his daily online meditation, Panache spoke of releasing the past and living completely as your soul. On my morning walk, a vividly colorful rainbow stretched across the sky during a sudden shower. I felt my prayer being answered.

Insight and deepened awareness come to us in many ways—through wise teachers, through magical moments in Nature, and through inner epiphany. All of these touched my heart that day. In his talk, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of “no-birth” and “no-death”—the continuity of all being in the cosmos, or “interbeing” as he called it. “It is possible for a wave to live its life as a wave, and to live its life as water at the same time.” We are waves that have arisen into form from infinite consciousness at birth, and we will return to formless “water” at death. Nothing is born or dies, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s view; there is only eternal Presence always. Panache too continually speaks of the infinite divine Presence beyond form.

This is the wisdom I have been repeatedly guided to on this breast cancer path. As I gradually released attachment to my body’s appearance and my past identity with it (form), I found myself becoming more and more fluid (formless) in my day-to-day life. Surrendering to that fluidity brought deeper trust and acceptance of all of life/death/eternity. I was experiencing the flow of interbeing in which there is no birth or death, just awareness. Loving awareness. It is something that can’t be explained through the mind but only experienced through the heart and soul. This is our life’s journey, every one of us. Each path unique, yet all connected in infinite consciousness. The waves and the water as One.

So in the ashes of what appears to be a life or an experience ending is only the phoenix rising continuously. And fear falls away in that rising and that continuity. Peace. Radiation begins and ends, and the grace of a rainbow appears suddenly in a gray sky. That multicolored light is always present. Our true nature is timeless, formless, eternal. We are the multiverse expressing magnificence in the world.
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Note: My last radiation treatment (surgery and chemo also complete) was on 1 Tijax in the Maya calendar. Tijax stands for healing and miracles. Who could ask for a more perfectly aligned synchronicity?

Dawn, Dusk, and Midday

Vacillations in how we feel are part of life, particularly now as the planet lives through a pandemic. We have unexpectedly come face to face with potential illness and mortality, as well as the relative shortness of one lifetime. It can shake our emotional foundations. Yet, wherever we are on the timeline of life, most of us gradually reach some kind of resolution. We come to terms with life and death. The wisdom of the ages reaches into our souls and awakens awareness. We realize time is an illusion and if we don’t fully immerse ourselves in “now,” we miss both the mundane and spiritual impacts of life. This is the soul’s journey, right now being played out on a world canvas, as we pass from dawn to dusk and finally see the full illumination of midday (or the “present moment”).

We may not entirely recognize what is happening yet, but the trajectory of the years ahead is the soul’s emergence in the world as full awareness. Within the mystery that is earthly life, each human being comes to that moment of awakening to, acceptance of, and engagement with life “as is.” This particular time in history is showcasing the personal journey on a global scale. In a pandemic, no one escapes or gets out untransformed; same with human life. It may seem dire and perhaps depressing on one level, but from the soul’s viewpoint, there is no real difference between life and death. It is all universal consciousness experiencing itself, beyond time and space. It may take a lifetime to realize this, but it arises within us eventually.

As someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, I have felt a multitude of reactions, from initial panic to inner peace. Peace being the most prevalent and sustaining. Primarily because it arises from my soul. The identity can get caught up in future fears or “what ifs.” The soul is embodied spirit vision; it knows that at the center of all life is a loving peace that transmutes all transitory fear. On the cancer path, through the ups and downs of treatment, I have at times felt weighed down or lost. Yet when another day dawns, my spirits rise again; I am re-centered in the peace at my core, the sun lighting up my solar plexus.

Nature has proven to be my greatest ally as I navigate life day to day. Nature is all-inclusive: dawn, dusk, and midday. When we embrace Nature in its entirety, we recognize that all three experiences are really one, and we are One with Nature. In every moment, beginnings and endings exist—a full spectrum of possibility. A perfect design is unfolding, of which we are part. As I open my eyes each morning, I can see this clearly; my sustaining inner peace makes this possible.

So I learn as I go, as I live the diverse experiences of my life. We all learn this way. And we all end up in the same place, because we all came from the same place: infinite consciousness or beingness. Whatever name you give it, it guides us every step of the way in our lives. It is who we are, and our life experiences teach us this. At the end of each day/night, we feel the full circle within us, the golden light of peace that is always bringing us Home.