Dancing with Death

(From an email sent on 7/27/01)

Dear Coaching Buds,

     Hope the past couple months have been good to you.  I'm doing pretty well these days, although the past few months have been quite a ride (insert tales of death, near death, paralysis, and debilitating physical pain...yes, seriously).

     I have some sort of new lease on life, feeling like I'm now "cleansed by the fires of Hell," renewed from a brush with death, or something like that.

     Check this out: Out of nowhere I get this excruciating and debilitating back pain (couldn't even sleep for ~2 weeks), which turned into facial paralysis (aka Bell's palsy) and affected my vision, speech, hearing, ability to eat/drink, energy level, etc.  Dr's didn't know what it was, but gave me a bunch of blood tests along with a list of pretty possibilities including Lyme, Lupus, MS, a number of bizarre viruses that produce neuro-toxins, mini-stroke, AIDS, cancerous tumor on the brain or spinal cord, etc.  Meanwhile, my only aunt is dying of cancer.  Conclusion: After an extrememly long, difficult week of "not-knowing my fate limbo," my blood tests finally come back, it's Lyme disease, the antibiotics work well...and I'm just about back to normal when my aunt finally passes away.

     Needless to say, I spent a fair amount of time close to death, which I highly recommend to anyone.  It really readjusts those perspectives, and there's a lot of deep learning and growth...especially if you manage to stay present through the experience.  I think I did a good job of this.  One night in the height of the pain and uncertainty ("Am I dying?  Am I to be disabled for life?  Will the expanding paralysis stop or consume me?"), alone, unable to sleep, and overwhelmed with intense fear and anxiety, I finally just got completely fed up.  I got out of bed around 2:30am, went into the living room, and did this combination of meditation, yoga, and emotional release (screaming, sobbing, raging/pounding, wailing, etc) to "put things right" in my head.  Completely enraged, I just decided that I had had enough suffering and I was going to make whatever internal (mental, emotional, energetic) changes necessary to be at peace with everything that was going down...including accepting the fact that I could well be dying, crippled for life, etc.

     It took 3-4 hours of "very hard work," but I got there.  I think that my anger was the force that carried me from horrendous suffering to...well, I guess I'd have to call it "freedom." After that I was ok ("at peace") with everything...and after that, I've felt able to open up and fully feel and experience it all from that point on.  This included letting go of resisting the physical pain and, instead, "really feeling fully into" the the deepest depths of the excruciating back pain (some of the most intense pain I've ever experienced, and that's counting kidney stones, surgery on my throat, and many non-trivial sports injuries).  This included "really letting in and seeing fully with fascination instead of fear" my own body going through these bizarre and drastic changes as my face and head became increasingly paralyzed each day....  This included letting go of denial and shame, of fighting/hiding it, and of trying to be and act as I've been all my life (physically)....  This included letting go of all the self-pity and "woe is me victimhood"....  It included mourning and accepting the loss that was occuring for me on so many levels...and "really experiencing fully" actually losing motor control....  And, this included breaking through to the other side of the anger and grief and "really feeling fully" and accepting the realization of how truly alone I was in my experience of this, in how alone we each are when dancing our inevitable duet with death itself, etc, etc).  I'm not saying it wasn't an extremely difficult couple of months, but I'm actually grateful for the experience now: I feel somehow larger and more whole than before it all started.

What I think I've learned:
     In the end, there's only one thing that's real and permanent and that's your soul/spirit.  Sooner or later, you will lose EVERYone and EVERYthing else (including health, and life itself).  This is the truth we spend most of our lives running from.  Rather than fear death, we should embrace it, allowing it into our consciousness every day of our lives.  Only your "you essence" will be with you for the entire ride, and any attempts to hold on to any of the rest of it will only cause suffering (and will ultimately fail anyway).  You will have to let it all go eventually.  If you let it all go now, you'll save yourself all the suffering between here and there.
     Ultimately, you don't get to pick what/who is in your life, when your life or health will end, or when that treasured possession, state of being, or person will exit.  Any or all of it could be gone tomorrow.  Once you learn to live and fully enjoy everything you have NOW given this truth, as if it or s/he will be gone tomorrow, rather than expending your time/energy/attention/happiness on getting something or someone new, you will truly be living in harmony with Life and Truth.

     So, what I'm saying is, "Enjoy yourself, it may be later than you think!"

      Anyway, that's the update on me.  Obviously, it calls into question coaching people to acquire/achieve new things.  It seems that rather than plans and accountability and overcoming obstacles to get/achieve what they don't have, maybe I should be coaching clients to fully accept and appreciate what they do....

Some new "highest priority" mental rules that I'd like to be reminded of--by you!

Another take on this with more depth (excerpts from a more personal email written to a different friend)...

Somebody should make a movie:

By late April I'm finally starting to feel like myself again after that horrible breakup with Michelle (most painful of my life), and then all the classes I'm scheduled to teach in May and June cancel (basically my entire income)...and the 6 month training contract that normally renews in July, doesn't.  So, no income, except for my 2 paying coaching clients.  In May, my back "goes out", ostensibly for no apparent reason (this has never happened before), and I find myself in excruciating pain, 24/7.  (I mean, I couldn't even sleep, since I couldn't find a position in which the pain wasn't overwhelming, and nothing I tried nor took would reduce it to a "sleepable level" for more than 45 min or so--for 2 weeks!!)  Before the pain has subsided fully in my back, I get a barrage of bizarre symptoms, including debilitating fatigue, annoying non-stop muscle twitches, "urinary urgency" (just love that term!), hypersensitive skin (even my clothes rubbing against my skin when I move is painful), fainting, unusual headaches, and paralysis of my face (vision/speech impaired, can't blink or fully focus my eyes, and can barely move cheeks/lips...can't even smile, and eating and drinking is slow, difficult, and messy.  I'm embarrassed to eat/drink in public, since I can't keep either liquids or food from drooling out of my mouth.)

But, the physical stuff isn't the worst of it...while I'm waiting for tests to come back to see if it's really MS, cancer, syphilis, lupus, AIDS, or a mini-stroke (some of the pretty possibilities that the doctors thought it might be :), my concept of who my closest friends are is being shattered.  Although aware of my situation, almost none of them even called to see if I had something terminal, if I was going to be paralyzed for life, if I'd even be here at the end of the month, etc.  To be fair, a couple of them were unavailable due to simultaneous crises or large transitions of their own.  Still, the primary result was that I was facing one of the most challenging, scary, and traumatic experiences of my life while, for one reason or another, everyone in my inner circle that I thought might be helpful (certain people, for all their caring and good intentions, just make crises worse for me) was unavailable to me(*)...and the secondary result was that I felt that I had just "lost" several of my closest friends (even if just in the way I now think of them or our relationships).  So, on top of all these losses (girlfriend, work, health, muscle control, vision, mobility, friends), I really went through this "near death-like" experience very much alone. (And, many of these "closest friends" who "disappeared" when I thought I needed them most, are people whom I've coached and nursed through such things as rape, death in family, menopause, marriage, serious health issues and depression, breakups/separations/divorce, and more...some of whom I've known for 15+ years.)  Anyway, large, painful shifts in my social/friendship circles.

(*) By-product learning/realization: I can never count on someone to be there for me at any given critical time.  Some people go into fear or denial and just flee, others aren't willing to set aside their own priorities, other don't have the time/energy/space due to their own crises, still others just don't know how to be there supportively (and/or they actually make things worse), etc, etc, etc.  The bottom line is that if I accept that *I* am the only one that I can truly count on to be there for me at any given moment in my life, I save myself all the suffering, disappointment and false security of believing that, "...since I've been there for so many people through so much that someone will be there for me if/when I really need them."  This releases me from my internal urge to take responsibility for being there and pleasing "anyone who I perceive's in need or wants something from me" out of the somewhat subconscious fear that, "...if I don't, they won't like me and, thus, won't be there for me."  Well, guess what, Rich?  They may well not be there for you anyway!  In addition, this realization and experience forced me to go deep within myself to find the strength, courage and resources I thought I required from others.  This was fantastically empowering...so much so that this "gift" alone made all the pain and agony of this experience worthwhile for me.  With the acceptance that I really am the only one that I can count on to be there at any given time, and that I really am strong and capable to face disability or even death itself alone, I now completely own and take responsibility for my own survival and well-being...and any support that I do happen to receive from anyone else is a welcome bonus, rather than an expectation which could go unmet (causing even more suffering for me).

So, although going through all this so completely alone was by far the worst part of this, ultimately, it turned out to be the most valuable.  Surprisingly, some relative strangers were amazingly supportive and compassionate.  Still, my own personal difficulties with asking/receiving support from these people whom I didn't feel like I had yet "earned it from" (I had never done anything for them), and my own aversion to allowing them to see me (and my home) in such a wretched, messy, vulnerable and almost helpless state, frustrated me further...like I was starving, could see and smell the food, but some crap in my mind wouldn't allow me to reach out and accept the life-giving nourishment right there within arm's reach...like I was ashamed of my own hunger and the whithered state of my starving body.  I got down on myself for this, and felt even more miserable and pathetic because of my internal blocks and because I blamed myself for my inability to access what support was available to me.  And, in the end, I was, for all practical purposes, struggling and suffering completely alone through one of the most scary, painful and challenging experiences of my life...possibly even facing death itself--alone (one of my worst fears)....

Finally, the tests come back.  Turns out I have Lyme Disease.  Whew!! (mostly)  So, I finally get that diagnosed/treated...and I'm almost fully recovered now...and, then, last weekend, my aunt dies.  Can you believe it?  It's been so "I almost can't believe it horrible," that after a certain point you just can't get upset about it anymore and it becomes, ironically, almost comical...like a my life has become a cartoon or slapstick movie.

So, surprisingly, I'm doing pretty well emotionally now (all things considered).  I'm not really sure just why.  I do sense that I've gone through some important changes (probably more than I even realize yet), lots of spiritual trials/lessons, and lots of time alone and going deep within.  My awareness of "the energies of the universe" has deepened, and I think that I experience the world differently now (if only in subtle ways).  Unless I've just gone off the deep end or am imagining it, I can distinctly sense the energetic tide shifting for me...ie, I'm pretty sure that things are heading in the positive direction for me...which might just mean that I'm arriving at a place where all the "things" of life don't really drive my well-being anymore.  Sort of like whatever I've had to do (internally) to survive (on all levels) all this stuff has torn away several layers of "reality illusion" for me..."growing" or "evolving" me in some intangible way.  "What's really real" just seems much clearer now...and I've found a peace within amongst all this external chaos.  With life tearing away at everything I held as sacred, I've found "a knowing" that all that's really real, all that I really have, is my own soul/spirit.  And, then, right about when I'm thinking, "Why have I been wasting my life concerned with and pursuing all this meaningless bullshit that I've been programmed to desire or deem important?" and feel like I'm just about to evolve beyond this material plane, I get an email reminding me to pay my mortgage...and, I go, "Shit, I gotta make some money!"

Or, I dunno, maybe I'm just so grateful to not be in pain and to be able to eat, drink, sleep, make facial expressions, and see and blink properly again that everything else really seems minor...extremely grateful and "newly satisfied" for everything that I've always had, but had just taken for granted for so long--while I was worrying about all these other "ostensibly important" things...and while looking at the world through a completely different perspective.... I guess I needed the reminder.

How about you...?!?

I tell ya, in the future, I'm going to do my best to make sure that I never need that reminder again!  Please help me!!

Still, I'm in awe of the power of perspective, and how we can create Heaven from Hell (or Hell from Heaven) in our own minds, just by the perspective through which we're viewing/perceiving reality....  So, again, I learn how powerful my own mind is to create my reality and life experience.  I mean, if I can find peace while facing death, paralysis, and horrible physical and emotional pain just by a shift in mindset, then I really should never have to suffer again--ever!

We'll see how that goes.... :-)  Further, if I can make it through all that--alone(!)--then I doubt that there's anything that I can't make it through....  But, the challenge and tragedy of being human is that we forget.  I'm asking you to remind me of this when the memories start to fade--to "watch my back" so to speak, in the upcoming months and years....

Here's how...

Some new "highest priority" mental rules that I'd like to be reminded of--by you! :
(These are a work in progress, by the way...and your input/feedback is welome.  :-)

1) No More Worrying! - Whenever I'm worrying, ask myself: "Can I do anything about this?  If yes, go do it! If no, let it go!  Anything else is just me punishing myself with needless suffering and I AM DONE WITH THAT!"
  (Implement "No More Worrying" and 80-100% of my suffering disappears.  Remember: While I was waiting to find out if I had cancer, AIDS, MS, or whatever, there was nothing I could do about it...so, worrying, agonizing, and catastrophizing was serving no purpose other than to cause me needless suffering.  Once I realized this and managed to get myself to stop worrying and accept whatever might come, my suffering ended.  Similarly, when I cut the tip of my finger off, trimming my grandparents hedges with the electric hedge cutter when I was 10, I barely felt it--in fact, I felt *no* pain until a couple minutes later when I looked down and saw all the blood and the flap of skin hanging there [what did your mind do with that just now?]...only THEN did my pain and suffering begin...all caused by the worrying, agonizing, and catastrophizing of my mind.  Of course, I was fine...but I was crying and screaming like the world was about to end.  In fact, I now believe, we're always fine, and there is nothing to fear, ever--no, not even death.)

2) "Everything is Always Perfect--ALWAYS!  There is a greater intelligence at work than I can even comprehend.  This perfection includes my mind's inability to comprehend why or how the entirety of this situation is exactly what the universe requires, which results in my body's inability to feel good about it, and my mind's inability to understand how this could possibly be for the greater good."  Said another way, this perfection includes how I'm thinking and feeling about what's happening, even if the thoughts/feelings are painful or otherwise difficult to be with:  Ie, "Everything is always perfect" includes me and everything inside me in every moment: even "not understanding," "judging this person or situation," "wanting things to be different," "feeling sure everything's wrong and not perfect," "feeling miserable," "feeling bad about myself," "being completely confused," "feeling enraged," "feeling physical or emotional pain," "being absolutely convinced that everything I've written here is complete bullshit," etc.
  Thus, if I'm struggling with this right now, then I'm meant to be struggling with this right now--for the sake of a greater perfection than I may be able to see or conceive of in that moment, but one which will surely reveal itself to me in time.  The pathways to true liberation from this struggle/suffering are about acceptance of all aspects of my present experience:
* Remembering, trusting and allowing that my present thoughts/feelings/struggle are just what I'm meant to be experiencing
* Allowing/accepting even the negative thoughts/emotions/physical sensations rather than resisting them, and
* Considering/exploring the possible Good/Loving Reason, the possible Higher Perfection/Wisdom, for why "I'm supposed to be struggling in this way right now"
  When I can perfect the "thought habit" of wanting things to be exactly as they are regardless of whatever's actually happening, and the "heart habit" of trusting that there's a greater intelligence at work, I will have created Heaven on Earth.  In fact, my greatest (only?) power lies in my ability to control how I relate to the people and circumstances around me.  Attaching my emotional well-being to things I can't control (other people, outcomes of my best intentions, circumstances the universe creates, my health, etc.) is merely giving my power away and (when things aren't as I'd choose) creating suffering.  I now choose as my highest priority: Learning how to want/choose things to be exactly as they are in every moment.

3) Adding My Suffering to That of Another Serves No One - When someone else is suffering: "Adding my suffering to theirs serves no one.  In fact, it is the most selfish and non-loving response--since it makes me less available for that person, for the world, and for myself.  Further, it is myself punishing an innocent person (me!) as if the suffering of another was somehow my fault.  I HAVE SUFFERED ENOUGH FOR THIS LIFETIME!"

4) This Is Not About Me! - When my interactions with someone else (especially someone who doesn't really know me) leave me (and/or them) feeling bad/upset/etc: "9 times out of 10, This is NOT about me!  Check out my intention and be *truly* honest with myself: Were my intentions pure?  Did I do the best I could at the time with what was available to me?
  The answer is almost always 'yes'.  Had I been capable or cognizant of something better, I would have done it.  Is there something for me to learn here?  Now that I have a greater awareness, I can do things better next time.  Either way, there is *never* any good reason to get down on myself.  It serves no one.  Further, adding my own suffering to the world accomplishes nothing but to add more suffering to the world. Whatever negativity that's coming my way from someone else (someone being mean, insulting or nasty to me, pissed at me, hurt by me, etc.) it is most likely about them and their wounds, not me and my perceived 'badness', inadequacy, shortcomings, etc.  It's ok for someone else to be upset, disappointed, angry, etc. with me without me taking that on and becoming upset.  (In fact, if I don't take it personally, I will be more likely to have access to compassion and understanding for whomever is upset or suffering.)  I will not give anyone else's wounds the power to make me suffer--no matter what.  I HAVE SUFFERED ENOUGH--LET IT GO!!"

5) Got Love? - If I'm still *feeling* bad, then sit down and ask myself, "What does Rich need?"  The answer is always the same: "love".  Next ask, what form does this love need to take right now?  What are the most loving things I can do for Rich right now?  Let go of all resistance (and ostensible priorities) and do those things.  NOW.
  Whatever it is that stands between me and Rich getting the love he needs to stop his suffering is the enemy (usually, these are negative thoughts or perceptions that must be ruthlessly banished from my consciousness with the *highest* discipline).  My state of mind is my most precious asset.  Ending my own suffering is now my HIGHEST priority...spending my time doing ANYthing else while I'm suffering is inviting life to teach me this lesson again....  I've learned it:  I create all my own suffering, and, thus, I can "uncreate" it as well if I *really* decide to.  I'm deciding now: I'VE SUFFERED ENOUGH FOR THIS LIFETIME...MUCH MORE THAN I EVER DESERVED!  I AM DONE SUFFERING AND I PLEDGE TO PUT THE ENERGY THAT I USED TO EXPEND SUFFERING TOWARDS GOOD!!

BTW: These rules are for me, my psyche, my demons, my unhealthy thought patterns, and my relationship with myself and life...at age 36.  They are not necessarily universal and may not apply to you or anyone else.  For example, my unhealthy pattern is to blame myself for much more than I deserve, and to take on responsibility for healing everyone and the world.  Some people have the opposite pattern and they are always blaming others when it might be more prudent to look at themselves, always turning the other cheek, when they would do better to take responsibility for their part in creating suffering for another.  Obviously, someone with this issue should *not* be deluding herself by applying mental rule #4...similarly for anyone who consciously intends to hurt another being (even an ant, plant, or mosquito) with his or her actions.

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