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.

Say It Loud—Now!

With the passage of legislation in Florida restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, the “Don’t Say Gay” movement is gaining national momentum. Similar legislation is in progress in multiple states. Those of us in the LGBTQ community who marched for our rights in the 1970s­–1990s can hear echoing in our ears the rallying cry we chanted then: “Say It Loud: I’m Gay and I’m Proud!” The right to be who we are without fear or shame; the end of hatred and violence directed at us.

In 1975, a group of teenagers sprayed mace in my eyes for holding hands with my girlfriend in public in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2014, almost 40 years later—also in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in public—my partner Anne and I were married after 31 years together. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. Huge changes in those years; huge shifts in the collective consciousness. Even rainbow lights on the White House when same-sex marriage became legal in all 50 states in 2015. And now this frightening backlash. But we cannot allow ourselves to be silenced again.

Human rights are in jeopardy world-wide. In the United States, immigrants and Asians have also become targets for hatred and attack, along with Jews, Muslims, and people of color from diverse cultures. Hard-won women’s rights are threatened as well. ”Make America great again” translates as the desire to erase from existence anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant patriarchal paradigm (white, Christian, heterosexual). This is the face of fear of difference, growing stronger and more widespread. I am reminded of the oft-repeated quote by Martin Niemoller regarding the systematic purging of groups in Nazi Germany: “First they came for the socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.” He continues naming group after group and finally ends with: “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” Chilling history lesson. It’s on each of us now, at this time, to speak—to “say it loud.” Don’t wait until you are left standing alone.

So here we are, witnessing threats to the growing universal acceptance of all peoples. What we thought we had moved beyond is once again at our front doors. Anita Bryant was not the last antigay vigilante. The Klan still exists. But giving up and living in denial is not an option. We were born for these times, like it or not. And we came here to do it differently. Not with fighting and aggression but with peace and kindness. The individuals who act from hatred are filled with pain themselves. In our hearts we have to hold empathy for all.

So I urge you to “Say Gay,” to say “Black Lives Matter,” to say “Stop Asian Hate.” Say it with conviction but not hostility. I encourage you to speak with truth, love, and compassion to everyone you encounter in your life, whatever they may believe. And to live that truth every day. We must continue to remind ourselves that love is stronger than hate, and fear is an illusion that can dissolve in the presence of a courageously peaceful open heart.

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.

Body and Soul

The body sometimes assists the soul’s journey with quite dramatic insistence. After I completed a third chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, my body let my doctors know very clearly that it had reached its limit. I had allergic reactions in the form of an inflamed rash/bumps all over my body, edema (fluid retention), and breakthrough bleeding beneath the skin (to name just a few). Treatment 4 was cancelled. This particular segment of my spiritual “firewalk” was complete.  My body is now being given time to reestablish equilibrium and prepare for radiation in a few weeks.

Sometimes life’s “medicine” (in the sacred sense) takes an unusual course, and I am called to align with it. In doing so, I open myself to further spiritual growth and expansion. These chemo treatments have been an integral part of a process of completely dropping any identification with my physical form. Losing the hair on my head was one dramatic marker. Next came severe allergies. When you look down, and your own body is unrecognizable, something shifts in your awareness. You realize that what you are seeing is a temporary vessel, and what is seeing this vessel is not. You recognize the presence of a greater consciousness beyond the physical: your own spirit or soul, which is eternal.

As I have moved forward with the cancer treatments, I’ve shed various life identities. The more that fell away, the freer I felt at the soul level. Now, the power of these latest reactions has further amplified the dropping away. At this point, there is little left. I can feel that when I meditate. Almost immediately, as I close my eyes and open to inner stillness, “I” begin to dissolve. A spaciousness opens up within which I disappear from my own perception. What remains is pure beingness. No I or not I. I am empty while at the same time filled with spirit. This seeming dichotomy is the gateway to infinite consciousness. When the body fades to emptiness, the soul takes over completely. Spirit flows without interruption. The mind, emotions, and physical reactions are in neutral, and the soul fully lives its perfect design, unimpeded.

On another level, I have begun to experience a different response to the exterior world. At times, I feel as if I am watching a distant newsreel of this reality from another dimension entirely. I am untethered from the polarities and separations, the clashing opinions. My heart aches at the terrible suffering I see, but I trust there is a cosmic design within which the Earth is evolving. My role, as part of that design, is to give all those who cross my path love and empathy. I am not here to convince or convert people. I am here to live love, period. That’s is why we are all here, ultimately.

From my soul’s view, my responsibility as a human being passing through this planet is to live a life based in loving-kindness, not dissension or argument. To meet others on the common ground of caring, compassion. So much of the world is wrapped up in prickly debates over one thing or another, down to the smallest details. To hold peace in my heart and in my daily interactions seems to me the best way to live in this world, body and soul. Within that, the rigidity of individual identities fades, and the spaciousness of collective spirit flowers.