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?

A Camino: Firewalk and Life Streaming

When I first heard the diagnosis “breast cancer,” I was lost in shock and fear. How could this happen in my life? To me?! After a few days, I gradually was able to re-center in the peace within me, to remember that everything that happens in my life is part of a soul plan that I was part of designing before my birth. Nothing is a coincidence, and everything is connected to everything else. I am one soul in one lifetime on one planet. Yet I am also part of the entire fabric of being in the universe. Sometimes it takes loss or crisis in our lives to fully realize this. When things fall away or apart, the long view becomes more visible.

Illness or disease can stop you short in your tracks and remind you of your own mortality. Even if you think you are unattached to outcome or completely surrendered to however events unfold. Even if you feel connected to a greater consciousness beyond life and death. There is always more surrender available, deeper all the time. And there is always more letting go of attachment—until there’s nothing left but soul. The physical body holds within it the last attachment. You definitively let go of that attachment at death. But you can also let go of it as part of life. This is what is meant by “dying unto yourself.” You release attachment not only to your identity but to your physical form. You live your life as your soul, immersed in peaceful Presence. The same immersion in Presence that occurs at death. Only you are radiantly alive and aware.

I have experienced times of surrender and Presence on my spiritual journey, but when breast cancer came into my life, I stepped onto an accelerated path: my own Camino.* The more I trusted that I was being divinely guided on this path, the more everything flowed. During and after surgery, I felt surrounded by angelic healers, floating in profound Oneness. My physical form seemed almost nonexistent. I returned home to heal and rest quietly. A week later, the pathology report showed wide clear margins—excellent! Then my surgeon told me that new test results indicated I should probably include chemotherapy in my treatment plan along with radiation. I had already accepted the latter, but the combo frightened me. Attachment to my body as it currently looked and felt was front and center. I was being asked to dive even deeper into acceptance and surrender.

My breast-cancer-survivor friends helped me with this acceptance (as did my very knowledgeable and kind doctors), but then my own inner genie handed me a vision that changed the way I saw everything. During a powerful meditation one morning, I suddenly understood what breast cancer represented in my life. In my mind’s eye, I saw an image of burning coals, like those used in the traditional firewalk, practiced by many cultures for thousands of years as a rite of faith, healing, or initiation. Immediately, I knew that for me radiation and chemo were the “burning coals,” and that I would safely “walk” through them as I surrendered attachment to my body and trusted my soul’s journey. My Camino walk is a fire of initiation, transmutation, and expansion beyond the physical. I envisioned myself afterward as pure soul light. No attachments, just life streaming through eternity in timeless splendor.

This is our collective destiny: to walk through humanity’s fires and emerge as light, each in our own way. Every person’s journey is unique. Each soul path divinely orchestrated. On the other side of our firewalks is a Presence that permeates the universe in life and in death. In truth, they are one: infinite beingness. When we realize that, all fear falls away, and we can live our lives with peaceful, open hearts and souls.
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*The Camino is a well-known path of spiritual pilgrimage across northern Spain.

You Are Here

Do you recall the maps in public places that help you find your way? There is usually a circle or an X with the notation: “You are here.” X marks the spot where you are in the “real world.” From there, you navigate the path to your destination. In life, without maps to guide us from birth to death, our course is less certain. We tend to wander at first, gradually gaining momentum and direction, then perhaps pausing at some point to contemplate the big picture. Our minds often wish we had something as simple as a map to direct us on the perfect life journey. We sometimes question where we are going and if we have made a wrong turn, a fatal error in judgment. What we don’t realize is that there are no errors.

You are always being moved by life force energy, a physical conduit for soul presence in the world. And that soul presence knows exactly where you are going and what your life purpose is. In the realm of spirit, before you were born, you chose the path for this lifetime, and your soul is the inner reminder of that choice. Whenever you feel as if something inside is moving you toward a certain decision or destination, that is your soul. The map you have been looking for outside yourself is within. And your soul’s guiding voice speaks to you through your intuition and through synchronicities. Sometimes in the words of a friend or even a stranger at just the right moment. If you listen and look, the clues are everywhere.

And the good part is that you can’t make a mistake. Wherever you are meant to be is where you are right now. Isn’t that a surprise? Even if you don’t really like where you are, it’s where you are supposed to be for the purposes of your soul’s journey. So, instead of complaining or resisting, try accepting and surrendering to what is actually a divinely orchestrated life course. Look around. What wisdom is hiding within the shadows of your own perception? Imagine that this very moment holds the secrets of the universe—switch on the light of your awareness and receive them. Take a deep breath and see the world with the eyes of your soul. If nothing is a mistake, then what am I being given now, here?

In each breath is all of life. Each moment holds the infinite Now. You are not in this lifetime to be forever lost and confused. You are here to awaken and fully live with spirit. That is the collective purpose of all our lives on this planet. The truth is that there is no path. There is only here. Your consciousness contains the universe within it, and that is what you are experiencing. Beyond time and space. When you fall fully into that realization, you align with your soul and with God in completely synchronized loving awareness. Some call this God realization or enlightenment. Something that has always existed within you, within all of us.

So you can stop wondering why you happen to be in this particular place with these particular people at this particular time. You are all here to shine your lights and to see more clearly because of it. You are each a catalyst for one another’s unfolding and evolution. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, it is perfect. Inside the simplicity of “You are here” is the recognition of eternal Presence and divine design.

Shadows and Light

On August 9, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.* For two days I moved, stunned, beneath the dark shadow of those words, which I never had imagined would apply to me. I felt as if all joy and flow in my life had vanished. I couldn’t access the inner peace that had become so much a part of my daily experience. I couldn’t hear my soul’s voice. I was lost within the dramatic scenarios my mind was playing out, all of them shadowed and sad. I grieved the loss of my connection to spirit, to trust (and perhaps to life). Then a wise friend reminded me that I didn’t have to immediately be at peace, that it was okay to feel whatever I needed to, day by day. The light of peace would eventually return, as long as I remembered not to get caught in the mind drama, and just trust the divine process of it all. He was right.

Shadows and light come and go in our lives. They are the yin and yang of the Earth plane. One can’t exist without the other. We wouldn’t know happiness without sorrow, pleasure without pain. On a planet of polarities, we cannot expect the external world to be only one thing. We might be bored if it were. What we can do is find a place of calm acceptance within us to experience (or observe) all those seeming opposites that fill our lives. From that perspective, all is well, and there is purpose beneath the play of consciousness before us and within us at all times. Eventually, we learn that the opposites flow together into one. The diverse forms that make up our planetary experience arise from formlessness and eventually return to that oneness. This is the nature of the multiverse that we inhabit and that is also within us.

That is wisdom I carry in my soul. At times of crisis in my own life (cancer) or in the world (pandemic), it is easy to forget. Feelings of fear and sadness almost overwhelm me. At the last minute, something or someone appears to remind me. The light shines, and the shadows recede. If I can accept the existence of both shadows and light, I can move forward even in the face of fear, even with sadness in my heart. The human experience is complex and unpredictable. Only in deep inner surrender and trust can we find peace. I signed up for all these life experiences before birth; to resist them is to lose the greater wisdom and purpose of my unique life. I am expanding and evolving through each and every one of them. Our entire planet, our entire multiverse, is evolving through our individual and collective experiences.

I am still on this journey, still facing the unknowns of living with a cancer diagnosis (follow-up MRI yesterday; awaiting results; surgery next week). All this is perhaps a further emptying out within my life, which began in Florida. I know now, with everything in me, that that emptiness occurs so God awareness can fill it. I remind myself repeatedly to remain open to everything that appears to be a loss. More space for God, for divine connection, and for my own soul’s full flowering. There are no mistakes, no terrible errors or punishments. Every single thing, as Rumi wrote, “has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

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*NOTE: I found the lump in my breast myself, only two weeks after a “normal” mammogram. It couldn’t be seen because my breasts are very dense. A subsequent ultrasound picked it up, and I was sent for a biopsy. I am grateful for whatever divine impulse moved me to examine my breasts (which I rarely do) that day because the cancer was found at what appears to be an early stage. So please remember to do breast self-examination–it could save your life!

The Birds!

“This kind of spring day, with the beautiful myriads of colorful sprites just arrived from tropical shores, has to be one of the greatest gifts on Earth.”—Kenn Kaufman

Inevitably, people ask me why I moved from Florida back to Massachusetts after only two and a half years. I answer a little differently each time, usually something about missing friends/family and the change of seasons. However, as spring begins to flower in New England, there is one answer that rises to the top: the birds! Meaning the spring bird migration that brings thousands of birds from Central and South America northward through Massachusetts. And right down the street from me to Mt. Auburn Cemetery, which is heaven on Earth for birdwatchers from April to June, especially the first three weeks in May. With the exception of the last two years, this is where I could be found early in the morning to mid-afternoon on most spring days over the past 30 years.

More than anything else, I missed this exciting yearly event.  Even though Florida has incredible birds of its own (herons, egrets, ibises, gallinules, pelicans, parrots, woodpeckers), it was the excitement of seeing warblers, tanagers, orioles, grosbeaks, and thrushes passing through Massachusetts (some nesting here) annually that tugged at my heartstrings and called me home. The thrill of encountering these beautiful songbirds each spring is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Through long snowy winters, northern birders anticipate their arrival.

When the male cardinal begins to rehearse his spring song in late January or early February, even with snow on the ground and freezing temperatures, it is the first hint that indeed spring is not far away. Soon I hear house finches, song sparrows, and mourning doves singing, as the days lengthen and the changing light cues the birds for their seasonal roles. For me, robins turn the tide. Some of them overwinter in Massachusetts, but it is the arrival of flocks of migrating robins in March that lift my heart: I know that spring is right on our doorstep now. The trees and lawns fill up with robins, and they can be heard calling and singing in the mornings and often throughout the day. This is what I missed most in Florida: robins, with their red breasts, bright eyes, and cheery songs. They sing spring into being, and soon all the other amazing migrating birds follow.

Mt. Auburn is a green gem of woodsy wildness in the midst of the busy streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. When I walk through its gates, I step out of the city and into the country, or the closest thing to it in a metropolitan area. Tree elders of all kinds, as well as native plantings, flowers, ponds, hills, and dells, are a striking visual invitation to birds who have flown all night on their thousands-of-miles marathon journey from Central and South America. They drop down out of the sky at dawn into this oasis and begin to replenish their life force by eating the insects that come to the flowering spring trees. And we bird-lovers are there to welcome them.

In April, the first warblers appear: yellow-rumped, palm, pine. Then as May begins, the rest begin to fly in: black-throated blue, black-throated green, black-and-white, yellow, northern parula, magnolia, chestnut-sided, bay-breasted, common yellowthroat, ovenbird, American redstart, and so many others. I especially anticipate seeing the Blackburnian with its fiery orange iridescent throat and the Canada with its delicate black necklace. Each warbler has distinctive markings and color patterns that can evoke audible gasps among birders when the sun lights their feathers and their varied songs fill the air.

Around the same time, Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, flycatchers, vireos, and rose-breasted grosbeaks arrive, and the rainbow of bird colors expands. There is nothing to compare to the sight of flashy orange-and-black orioles swirling through the trees chattering at one another and whistling melodically. The scarlet tanager is another showstopper, brilliant red and black among the green leaves, singing its hoarsely sweet song. Then there are the thrushes, whose songs are ethereal flute-like trills in the quiet woods. The veery and wood thrush, in particular, always fill my heart with joy and my eyes with tears as I listen in silence, motionless. Listening as much as watching is the delight of being with birds.

In its simplicity, birdwatching teaches silent presence as well as immersion in the moment. Within that is also surrender to a powerful invisible life force that flows through the universe and carries humans and birds alike. Great spiritual wisdom is embodied in the lives of these tiny feathered beings and awakened in our own hearts. As Kenn Kaufman writes, “They live the briefest of lives, but they are bound to eternal things.” So many birds, so many wonders that play out each spring in a passing parade of color and sound like no other. We are incredibly blessed to share the Earth with birds, who fly so far to light up our souls with their songs and presence. Living miracles each one of them. Who would want to miss this once-a-year magic show? Not me. And that’s why I moved back to Massachusetts.