Who would we be without our thoughts about death?

It’s been the most days in between Grace Notes writing I’ve had since I began them five years ago.

I was working on what felt like one of the most important speeches of my life–so all writing focused on that, every day.

I spoke this past weekend at the memorial services for my first husband and father of my children.

I’m so glad I spent the contemplative time coming back to what I wanted to say at his service, almost daily, for over a week.

It came out good.

It really was the best speech (not that I’ve given a whole lot of them) I’ve ever done in my entire life.

And now, today, it’s been a month since this man died.

Death is an amazing contemplation and inquiry. We don’t know really what happens to consciousness or awareness of a person when they move through death. Often, we’ve been curious our entire lives about it.

We’ve known other people who move into this thing called death, but we’ll only experience it once ourselves, fully, in this lifetime. (And yes, there are a gazillion little deaths along the way in the form of change).

One of the first more profound self-inquiries I ever did using The Work was on my father’s death from cancer, which happened many years earlier in my life.

To sit and write down the concepts about his passing brought up all kinds of emotions and feelings, heartbreaking images, longing, wondering “what if” all over again.

Sometimes just writing the first step, our agonizing thoughts about this very painful situation involving death, feels too much to bear.

It’s worth it. 

Death is the ultimate separation, it seems. Something in my mind defined it as permanent, loss, cut off, absence of love and connection, forever, dread, empty silence, gone-ness.

But can I absolutely know that’s true?

Am I sure about what death is?

No.

Who would I be without my story, my thoughts, my ideas, my fears, my worries, my definitions of death?

If you’ve suffered from the death or loss of someone in your life, doing The Work never means you don’t cry or feel the most massive heart breaking open, or forget about them, or stop missing them….

….but it can mean you stop feeling like a victim of this process called death.

It can mean, like it has unexpectedly for me, that you’re OK with not knowing what death really is, and that you notice all is well and this person who has died has brought you a most immense gift in both their living and their dying.

It can mean the feeling of true, deep love. Even joy.

Who would we be without the thought “they died”?

Full of the most beautiful appreciation for them imaginable, for their image in my mind, for the peace of this moment.

Much love,

Grace

P.S. I’m preparing behind the scenes for a wonderful new Year of Inquiry starting in September. An entire year of practicing The Work in a small group. This year, for those who are interested, there will be even more in-depth practice, sharing and training in facilitation for all those wanting to coach others in The Work. Enrollment begins August 21st: Learn more here.

Can this be love? (+ summer camp opening day recording link for you)

Summer Camp for The Mind starts on Monday, July 9th. Anyone who joins and decides at the end of the summer to continue on into Year of Inquiry will receive a credit of their Summer Camp contribution towards YOI. Pay what you can for Summer Camp. Nothing is required. CLICK the image to join us.

I’m so touched by the online mini-retreat just shared by many this morning. It was magical and heart-breaking.

To get the link of the recording and listen-in, visit this Summer Camp information page HERE. Scroll down to the Opening Day recording link.

I was so moved by the beautiful, genuine inquiry and sharing people brought–from the people who spoke, but also from those who commented in the chat and shared their thoughts and questions.

Those who listen are also a significant part of this inquiry. The energy is alive and somehow palpable, like when a whole hall of people sit in meditative silence together.

Words are not required.

The inquiries brought to the call today were such beautiful examples of human awareness of change, loss, agony, feeling left or criticized….and working with these hurt feelings, opening up to understanding our pain and suffering.

Oddly, we’re not trying to get to any special place, or find that one missing answer, or figure out exactly what to do about this predicament….we’re bringing clear awareness to the story we’re telling ourselves. We’re not looking for advice.

We’re looking at the pain through the mind, the one that “thinks”, that sees pictures and images of loss or fear or anger or disappointment and never-ending unhappiness.

Strange, but it’s as if the inquiries brought to the Opening Day First Friday mini-retreat were perfectly placed, in just the right order, for opening up the story of separation.

I could relate to each and every story. I’ve done The Work on all three. All so painful. All incredibly powerful moments to question.

First, someone shared about a moment with someone close where the relationship was uncertainly defined. Are we friends or more than friends? Where is this going? I wanted something more. This is disappointing. I feel so hurt.

Next, a longer-term partnership (marriage) potentially moving into divorce. One person is moving out into another place to live. We feel crushed. He’s constantly criticizing me. He focuses on my flaws. I need him to say loving, kind things to me and notice what’s wonderful about me.

Finally, a family member has died tragically from cancer. So many people suffering, missing him. I want him to live. He shouldn’t die.

What is this suffering we’re experiencing in these situations? Does it mean, if I don’t suffer, that I won’t care about this person, or recall them? I won’t be close, or love? I won’t cry?

For me, this never turned out to be true.

In fact, as I’ve done The Work and even do The Work today with all these beautiful inquirers on the call, I find that without my thought that I should be with this person, or they should be alive….

….I stop resisting my thoughts of them. I talk to them, even out loud.

I might even listen to them when I ask “Why are you leaving? Why did you go? Do you know how much I love you?” 

I hear their answers, with inquiry, even in my own head. I feel it all. I’m not holding back anymore.

NOT suffering does not mean my heart isn’t breaking and swelling into a million pieces. NOT suffering doesn’t mean being numb, or disconnected, or never thinking of them. NOT suffering doesn’t mean pretending things are OK when they actually aren’t, or trying to be a different person with a different reaction.

For me, what I find NOT Suffering actually looks like is being more connected with these people I adore than ever. At least that’s what I keep finding with The Work.

Instead of repeating the exact same painful thoughts about what’s happening with that person over and over again, I’m sitting with the difficult thought and looking at it from every possible angle.

I’m realizing, by doing this Q and A with my story, that I actually can’t confirm or deny that love is not present in this relationship, in this situation.

Most recently, in fact, when my former husband died, I felt the most strong, big, wide love for him I’ve felt in a long time.

I’ve reflected (and still am reflecting) on some of the unfinished wonderings not taken to the deepest inquiry yet about our parting, and separation, and divorce, and continued connection and friendship and co-parenting and deep support for one another through all these 31 years since we met.

These moments of having the heart pierced with grief and love (they are both there) can only happen with people who are significant and important to us.

“Your story is your identity, and you’d do almost anything to prove that it’s true. Inquiry into self is the only thing that has the power to penetrate such ancient concepts….When I learned to meet my thinking as a friend, I noticed that I could meet every human as a friend. The end of the war with myself and my thinking is the end of the war with you.” ~ Byron Katie in Loving What Is pg. 294

Someone asked today on the call how long registration is open for Summer Camp and I responded…Oh wow, I don’t know. LOL.

You can really join any time, and my thought is, you’ll probably enjoy more time, attention, practice and care for yourself and your thinking if you come on board sooner than later. Plus you’ll get to participate in our Pop-Up private summer camp forum for a greater amount of time. I’d suggest joining this weekend sometime.

But does longer mean better? Do you really have to attend all seven weeks to get the best results? Does more minutes in inquiry add up to more clarity in the mind? Is it better to spend more time in a marriage? Is it better to be partnered than not? Is more life better than less life? Is it better to live until age 95 than 35?

I can’t absolutely know that it’s true.

Maybe one profoundly powerful inquiry can open us to unknown worlds we never thought possible. Maybe asking ourselves “is that really true?” just once about a thought that something shouldn’t happen….can end our suffering and angst about life.

What I notice is that life is passionately, profoundly on the move in the form of people coming, and then going. When there is this experience called loss, or disappointment, or sadness, or rage about people coming or going, perhaps it is not as terrible as I am thinking and believing is it.

I notice I am filled with a startling sense of feeling when these incidents happen. I’m brought to my knees in the present moment. Tears flow. Heart breaks open. Is it not the ordinary. It brings me to The Work.

Could this be true love?

Much love,

Grace

Opening Day Free First Friday July 6th 7:45-9:45 am PT….and Unexpected Death

Summer Camp for The Mind starts in a week.

But actually, there’s Opening Day this coming Friday July 6th for everyone and anyone. You don’t have to sign up for Summer Camp until the weekend, if you like.

By attending only on Opening Day, you can get a taste of an online inquiry group, or use it as a stand-alone experience of The Work.

In other words, you can attend Friday’s Opening Day from 7:45-9:45 am Pacific Time, and then decide over the weekend if you want to jump on board for all summer through August 17th.

For Opening Day of Summer Camp, head to the Summer Camp webpage and find the direct link right there. Opening Day will be recorded. You can listen later if that works better for you.

Read more details about Summer Camp, or go ahead and sign up, right HERE.

ITW folks: If you’re getting credits in Institute for The Work of Byron Katie, you’ll need to commit to attending 7 sessions live during the summer to make sure you get 10 hours credit. I’ll take attendance.

Speaking of Summer Camp, it’s actually kind of odd and supportive and wonderful and strange for me to get ready for this Summer Camp program.

Because a huge and major transition has just occurred in my life and the lives of my children and extended family: the passing of my first husband, loving father of our two young-adults children (ages 21 and 24). He died early Saturday morning, June 30th.

He had not been considered well for 8 years, tackling cancer, treatments, stem cell transplant, chemo rounds and finally….death.

Sitting with someone I love and know for so long as they navigate through illness and dying, gazing at a familiar face in permanent sleep, feeling the body grow cold, is not new for me.

But this time there was a deep melancholy within and heart-breaking tears, watching the children we had together sob their eyes out. My father also died at the very same age, almost exactly to the day.

My former husband’s sweet and supportive companion of five years, (and they just got married in the hospital), was incredible through the last several years of his journey with cancer. She’s been there for him in a most remarkable way.

Not long ago, when my current husband and I visited her and my former husband bringing pizza, she shook her head “no” when Tom suggested the hardship she’s been through in taking care of him.

“It’s a privilege” she said.

I’m so grateful for being so included in any part of this journey of relating to the man who just died, and all the chapters of being in relationship with him. Any and every heart-breaking part.

If I had been able to see 15 years ago, before divorce, a picture of June 30, 2018….I would have been shocked beyond belief. Stunned.

How do you react when you believe a story of the way it should be….and it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped or planned or expected?

I agonize. I feel sad. I have images of regret, missed conversations, confusion. I have anxiety within. I can’t sleep. I feel ungrounded, shaky. I might feel like I don’t belong. Discouraged.

Who would you be without this very stressful thought that the way it’s gone is horrible, worse than expected? Without the thought that it should be different than it is?

Without the belief, I notice I’m lying here on my soft bed, typing, and I’ve done this 1000 times without worrying about the way the future should go, will go, must go.

Without the thought it should have gone differently….

….I’m able to notice the precious space of this moment here, and that I have no idea of the entire picture or story.

I notice how well I’m doing here now, and how well I’ve done so, so, so often in life without someone being around or without something going as I expected or dreamed.

Without the thought “it shouldn’t be like this” there is no regret. There are tears flowing, and they feel like immense love and gratitude.

Turning the thought around: It should have gone this way. 

As Byron Katie asks: How is it good for you that it went the way it did? How is it good for the other person, or the community? How is it good for the world?

Wow. I know this doesn’t mean I have to love it, or wish for it, or say thumbs-up to it, or vote for it.

I notice, I didn’t get a vote.

Reality went the way it did. Can I find something supportive about that? Can I find the love, the care? Can I be willing to see with more expansive eyes and heart?

It’s not to make something fake sweet and easy, that isn’t.

It’s an invitation to give weight to this other side of duality, the one I often miss when I’m upset or troubled. The side that says “maybe you’ve missed something” rather than assuming what’s happened absolutely shouldn’t have.

I begin to find turnaround examples for it being OK, interesting, beautiful or supportive that it went way it did:

  • I found an internal power of willing-to-do-what-it-takes, after the divorce from this man who has now died, that I never thought was possible when it comes to career, earning, ability to pay my monthly mortgage and not foreclose on my house
  • I learned I can love, even if I rarely see someone, and appreciate sharing their life with me
  • my children and I were laughing and joking as we took a little road trip together yesterday, the day after their dad died. I was amazed and touched by seeing what life looks like when it’s not filled with constant desperate suffering. It looks like people playing the road-trip games we’ve always played. “Those are my cows!”
  • we’ve spent the last three winter holiday seasons doing blended family things which were super fun, loving, joyful and abundant
  • I’m getting to spend many hours with my kids, hear from friends I haven’t heard from in many years, share deep conversations with others who loved my former husband, replay amazing memories
  • A sense of openness to Reality comes alive in this work on death. Isn’t that what I always dreamed of? Feeling friendly about the world, life, reality?
The list goes on. And will keep going on.
Who would I be without my story of endings?

Someone able to write this Grace Note today, and feel very excited about sharing inquiry with other people in the world as we dial in together Friday, and into Summer Camp next week.

Someone who can still imagine summer within, even through tears and a swelling heart.

“Until we know that death is as good as life, and that it always comes at just the right time, we’re going to take on the role of God without the awareness of it, and it’s always going to hurt. Whenever you mentally oppose what is, when you think that you know what should and shouldn’t happen, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation. There’s no sadness without an unquestioned story. What is is, because it is. You are it.” ~ Byron Katie

Much love,

Grace

P.S. To find out more about Summer Camp, click the photo here.

Join Summer Camp for The Mind

It’s not as if you have a choice….and there’s never too much or too little

There’s nothing so difficult as missing a person, or longing for them (especially if they’ve died or are no longer speaking to you).

The mind will think about all the ways it used to be, when it was “good” or “fun” or “loving”.

This absence is NOT loving, we think.

I’ve written about a friend who enacted a great betrayal once, according to me of course. She never spoke to me again.

This can happen with family members, parents, siblings, children, lovers.

They’re gone, and we’re hurt.

It’s fascinating, however, to study why we feel “hurt” and what exactly IS hurt, and why it occurs to us to feel upset and troubled when the body and presence of that person apparently is not in our vicinity.

Are we feeling useless? Unwanted? Betrayed? Rejected? Guilty? All of the above?

Ahhhh….what a good time for inquiry.

Who would we be without our story of their departure filled with the meaning “I am hurt” (because they’re gone)?

I talked about it in the most recent Peace Talk Episode 143, so join me there to question “they hurt me”.

I’ll also be heading to Facebook Live today to ponder with you the experience of questioning this sometimes profoundly painful story called They Left Me and I’m Hurting.

If you’d like to join me on Facebook live, come on over here at 10:15 am Pacific Time today (May 23) or watch the replay later.

Much love,

Grace

June 3rd East West Books on healing eating issues with self-inquiry 1-4 pm. Also June 10th last half-day retreat of the year Living Inquiries Group 2-6 pm (last one of the year).

Again and again returning to the space between thoughts

Next Living Turnarounds Half-Day is April 22nd 2-6 pm in Seattle at Goldilocks Cottage. Sign up ahead of time to hold your spot–we were totally full last time.

Three spaces open for commuters to Spring Cleaning Retreat in Seattle at a private gorgeous retreat house. AirBnb’s close by if you travel from out of town.

Sometimes, people say they’d like to do The Work but they’re not sure where to begin.

What should I pick?

Here’s one of the best and most simple ways: a relationship that feels troubling from any time in your life. You might love and adore the person, they might not be in your life anymore, they may even have died, or you might see them every single day.

Son, daughter, mother, father, grandpa, grandma, aunt, uncle, sister, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend, whomever you’ve dated, boss, employee, co-worker, best friend.

Life has shown you moments of turmoil or discord with others.

That’s where you can go to begin The Work–seeing someone, anyone, at any time, who in their presence you felt disturbed.

Uncomfortable relating is a huge percentage of our stress.

Compulsive off-balance behavior often comes out of some kind of disruption with a person. My own tendency was always to eat compulsively out of anger, nervousness, sadness or excitement OFTEN resulting from my thoughts and beliefs about other people and what I thought they thought of me.

Even if you’ve done The Work before on someone in your life, maybe many times….

….there’s nothing wrong with repetition, practice, and doing it again.

Each time I sit down for The Work, it’s a new potential discovery. No expectations. Just starting now, with the feeling of Not Liking something that’s been said, done, offered, communicated.

Tomorrow I’m heading for a 3 day retreat with Roxann, Byron Katie’s daughter who’s had the great privilege of doing The Work for 25 years or so.

For an entire month, I’ve been thinking about who I want to do The Work on again in a new way, from the life I’m in now….and I see several familiar faces cross the field inside my mind.

That one bipolar alcoholic boyfriend, the best friend who did the crazy inexplicable betrayal that had to involve a lawyer, the good friend who snapped at me, the sister who cut me off, my former husband divorcing me.

The ones I believe caused trouble.

Even if I know it’s in the past, that it’s over, that it’s now an image or replaying movie….I found incredible turnarounds to “live” because of what went down between me and that person. Benefits. Change. Transformation.

But I kept seeing one person’s face in my mind.

Dad.

If I still tap into the voice of the little girl within (even though I was in fact an adult when he died–barely) I feel the tragedy. I respected him so much. I was so, so sad he died of cancer “too soon”.

Maybe one of the reasons I’ve thought about my dad lately so much, or considered him for my upcoming 3-day inquiry, is that one of my best friends died of cancer last September. He knew my dad. My dad, his dad, my mom and his mom all went to the same church throughout childhood.

My friend’s death was like a replay in many ways of my father’s death. Strangely coincidental. They both had similar personalities of true kindness and a deep abiding love for intellectual learning.

Last summer, when my friend was so ill, I hugged him in a long goodbye and we said “I love you” the way that had become wonderfully comfortable. I wasn’t sure I’d be seeing him again or not. I had a week-long program way in Northern Ontario I was attending (including the topic of death and dying, incidentally).

“I won’t die until you get back” he said to me as I left. We both chuckled with the heartbreak of it. We had many long conversations about death, his death, dying, how he felt about it, about our lives growing up in the same neighborhood and everything we’d ever gone through.

In Canada, I thought about him all the time. He was getting too weak to text, or talk. I went out and walked when my program wasn’t in session.

Along a quiet highway road running near a gorgeous smooth late-summer lake, I suddenly realized I had been on this road before.

When my dad was dying.

The exact same road in a remote place in Ontario, here I was almost 30 years later.

I hadn’t recognized the location at first, where I had taken a writer’s workshop on my honeymoon road trip. I knew that workshop was near this lake, but couldn’t remember exactly where.

Then walking on the very same road, I was there. With the flooding memories of what was happening in my life back then.

Someone I loved and respected and admired was dying.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

So today, I’m writing a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet on my father’s death, including my thoughts about cancer, abandonment, temporariness, suffering….not editing or moving into what I think I “know” about this worksheet and these false thoughts already.

I can look again.

I can walk in the same place again, thirty years later, without even having planned to walk there.

Don’t we look again anyway?

Isn’t it a wonder to notice the repetitive mind and give it care and attention like a little child who repeats the same things over and over, in innocence?

I lost my dad, I lost my friend….is it true?

“You can’t have anything. You can’t have any truth. Inquiry takes all that away. The only thing that exists for me is the thought that just arose….So again and again, we return to the space between thoughts.” ~ Byron Katie

Much love,

Grace

P.S. Facebook LIVE today 10 am Pacific Time. Let’s do The Work starting with how to find and hold that one moment, that situation, and begin our work.

It’s too much. I quit.

Wow. Unexpected incoming communication.

Two people can’t make the fall retreat.

A dear friend passed away of cancer.

Surprise news that what I thought I was offering in Year of Inquiry for “credit” was not the case inside Institute for The Work.

I hear a story about a very close friend from his family member that’s sort of shocking and weird.

Violence in Las Vegas.

More hurricanes.

Someone sends a really direct, cold email asking “Why did you do that? Don’t ever do that again!”

Weird, abrupt commentary and communication. A lot of it.

I notice I feel a little taken aback. Something’s shaky. The world seems a bit wobbly, or my feelings about the future. I sense things moving away from me. I feel like sadness is behind things, surprise and hurt, and grief.

I’m now anticipating something else could be incoming. I’m bracing myself. Storms.

I have an image of someone getting beaten up or kicked and they just go into a protective ball and wait until the one doing the kicking stops. (And I suppose the one kicking is the world, reality).

Kind of dramatic. Definitely Not Friendly.

I note that none of the incoming pieces of information are unmanageable all by themselves. I even laughed when one of two of them first arrived. Chuckle…that story about my dear friend can’t be true, can it? Haw…that’s bizarre with the whole credit-offering process for my year long immersion program getting withdrawn.

Yikes…that person’s email is so over-the-top. Ouch, in-breath gasp, more shootings. Ack, so many people without shelter.

It’s just they started adding up.

The reason I could tell I was getting a little over-filled with some dramatic or sudden incoming information or cold human behavior?

I had the thought “I’m shutting everything down.”

When I have this thought, it means I’m believing something’s too much, too heavy, too chaotic, too difficult….and one of my Go-To thoughts is STOP IT ALL!

In one hour I imagined selling my little cottage, breaking up with my husband, leaving the city I live in, canceling my plans to build a cottage for my mom in my back yard, quitting my business, and ditching town for another continent.

I know I need to do The Work, when this happens. Even if I’m not believing everything I think.

This is too much. I can’t take it anymore.

Have you ever had this thought? You’re getting pushed to the limit. Not one more thing.

An inquirer the other day in our Year of Inquiry group was just feeling liberated after doing a month of The Work around his separation from his wife. Then they skyped, she told him some different news, and he had the thought “Not more of this! I can’t take it!”

Another inquirer I once worked with had done several years of The Work around her suicidal teenaged daughter. The threats were in the past, she felt alive and free again. And then her daughter said she was pregnant. “Noooo! I can’t take this! I’m pushed past my limit!”

One of my relatives had a fender bender, and hours later had her purse stolen, and a few hours after that her toilets overflowed in her house. “This is too much! Why me?!”

It’s funny how sometimes the stress piles up. It’s one thing, then another, then another. Piling up to feel like the water’s getting too deep and we’re going to drown.

Let’s do The Work.

Is it true?

Waaaah. Yeeeesssss. It’s too much at once. Nooooo moooore!

Can you absolutely know it’s true?

Sniff.

How do you react when you believe it’s too much and you can’t take it!?

I feel smaller, closed in. I have images of the collapse of life as I know it. Doom. Gloom. Scary pictures. Separation. I don’t feel helpful to other people. I pull in and do Sea Anemone Pose. (That’s the yoga pose of those little sea creatures when they squeeze into a tiny ball because something threatening is swimming overhead).

Who would you be without this thought that it’s just too much?

Noticing how life has gone on, quite fully.

Someone else sent a beautiful, friendly, kind email. Someone called and left a lovely message. Someone pinged facebook messenger with a sweet question about a mutual friend. One of my favorite broadway guys raised a ton of money for Puerto Rico.

I hear the dryer full of laundry rolling around, comfortingly. The quiet sun coming through the blinds. The soft eyes of an inquirer who came to spend 3 hours of time (a mini-retreat) with me yesterday afternoon who shared so honestly.

I consider the profound sorrow and courage of the Year of Inquiry group this week going deep, deep, deep as we entered our Family of Origin topic and people did The Work on their childhood despair, violence, fear, suicide, uncomfortable sexual moments, feeling shame.

Hmmm. Holding all this is a lot.

But not too much. I’m breathing. I’m writing. I’m here.

Turning the thought around: It’s not too much. My thinking is too much. “It” is too little. 

Could these be just as true, or truer?

I see that “it” (reality, the world, all these communications, what I’m going through) is not too much. I’m alive. I’m still upright.

My thinking is the thing filled with images, threats, future fears. It repeats the same concerns over and over again. Someone wrote me one cold email, and I consider it 12 times more. A friend gets sick and dies, and I feel the whole world is sad. I see images of terrible weather patterns increasing.

What about the turnaround that “it” (reality, all the incoming experiences) are too little?

Too little to change the inner sense of being here, feeling alive. Too little compared to the vastness of all I can be aware of, which is much more than all these things.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses 

your understanding. 

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its 

heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. 

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the 
daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem 

less wondrous than your joy; 

And you would accept the seasons of your heart, 
even as you have always accepted the seasons that 

pass over your fields. 

And you would watch with serenity through the 

winters of your grief. 

Much of your pain is self-chosen. 

It is the bitter potion by which the physician 

within you heals your sick self. 

Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy 
in silence and tranquillity: 

For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by 
the tender hand of the Unseen, 

And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has 
been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has 
moistened with His own sacred tears.

Kahlil Gibran

Who would I be without my story? Doing what I can to help. Connecting with other people. Feeling peace, silence, being.

Watching how things come, and go, like waves or the tide.
Much love,
Grace

You don’t ever let go of the thread….

The early morning is dark with misty rain pattering on the quiet pavement. I roll my little red well-worn carry-on suitcase to the car my husband has already started. The lights glow in the dark, the white clouds rising from the exhaust pipe.
My heart is very full, my mind seeing images of the Ottawa airport where I’ll eventually land, and the goodbye I said yesterday to one of my oldest, dearest friends.
Yesterday, I felt quite anxious about this trip.
Not because of the destination. I’m flying to gather with a beautiful group of people I’ve gotten to know over these past 18 months who all form the Orphan Wisdom School. We are scholars, gathering to hear the wonderings of Stephen Jenkinson, author of “Die Wise” and master storyteller, historian, question-asker. We talk about death, culture, sorrow, loss, humanity, religion, love.
No, my anxiety wasn’t because I’m about to attend our final session together, although I’m aware it’s our last. The week is yet to come, and new conversations still to happen.
My anxiety came from the goodbye I just said.
My sweet friend is literally in his final days of life, and he may be gone from this world while I travel.
As I sat by his bedside yesterday, we both knew it might be our last meeting, our last goodbye.
What a strange experience to know you will likely never see someone again. I think of immigrants long ago leaving for another country. All the human death from disease (in other words not a sudden or surprise death that’s unanticipated). Moving far away in the physical world because of slavery or war. Jobs taking people half way around the world to seek their fortune. Children growing up and leaving home.
Saying goodbye and knowing you’ll never meet again.
Not physically, not in this world.
Goodbyes are sad, tragic, frightening.
Let’s question this. Because The Work is about looking at everything, anything. Including goodbyes of such magnitude.
Especially goodbyes of such magnitude.
Is it true that goodbyes are sad, or tragic, or frightening?
Yes. So very sad. I’ll never see him again. We’ll never have our deep conversations again.
I thought this about my father during his leukemia illness so many years ago. Tragic.
I thought it frightening when my daughter left for Europe and bombs were exploding there. I thought it sad when my son moved away to college. I thought it terrifying when my former husband wanted a divorce.
Missing them. Gone. Goodbye.
But can you absolutely know it’s true that saying Goodbye is wrong, or that feeling all this is too horrible to stand, or that these experiences called sadness, fear or devastation are too great to bear?
Can you know you can’t go on, despite such a deep, formidable goodbye? Can you be sure you’ll never see them again, really (even if they’ve died)?
No.
I’ve seen my dad regularly for over 25 years, and he hasn’t been on earth in a body since 1991. I see him in my mind. I see him behind the wheel of a car as I stare at a man who looks just like my dad with his salt and pepper beard in the lane next to me.
I see my dying friend’s smiling face and hear the way he says “I’m serious!” with a smile, which means in our language “I so agree with you 100% on that point!” I see him saying how much he loved me, and everyone he loved and felt close to, when he learned he had a terminal illness five years ago. He became more expressive. He said what he thought more often.
I can’t know for sure, in absolute terms, that goodbyes are sad, tragic or frightening in and of themselves. I can see it might be my thoughts about goodbyes that produce suffering.
Goodbye seems to be a part of life. Fully and completely. We don’t only have Hello. We have Goodbye. That’s the way of it.
How do I react when I believe Goodbye is so sad, or tragic, or something to be feared?
I start to feel anxious. Pictures race through my mind of holding my friend’s thin hand, rubbing his swollen feet. Pictures of laughing so hard with him at a party a few years ago, caught on film. Pictures of our childhood neighborhood, the walk from his house to mine when the world was closer together and simpler.
When I believe Goodbye shouldn’t be happening, I feel a movement inside like drinking too much coffee. Can’t sleep. Need to get “work” done. Laundry, tasks, post office. Wondering if there’s anything else I can “do”. Hard to hold still. Wondering what it would feel like to know this might be your last day.
But who would I be without this terrible story of Goodbye?
This doesn’t mean it isn’t heart-breaking into a million pieces. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry.
I do.
I cry as I get into my car after leaving the building where my friend lies, rain still misting on the city street.
Without the thoughts it shouldn’t be so, and life shouldn’t include goodbyes and endings….
….I stop feeling frantic, conflicted.
Something very deep within stops fighting the moment. Something remembers I am not in charge, but something far greater–the movement of life and death–knows more than I do. I am not too small for this. I am a human being, I have the astonishing privilege of awareness of All This.
Turning the thought around: Goodbye’s are filled with love.Goodbyes are the awareness of love. Goodbyes are bitter and sweet and profound and life-changing. They are life-shaking, beautiful, fearless.
Believing my thoughts about goodbyes was what brought anxiety and sleeplessness, and suffering.
And it isn’t really a total and absolute “end”.
You are in my heart forever, even if you are no longer in this room, no longer in this town, no longer in this country, no longer on this planet in your human form.
The Way It Is
~by William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
 
The thing is, we don’t even have to hold on to the thread. It’s with us no matter what, even if we forget it’s attached.
The word goodbye in English comes from Godby, Godby’e, Godbwye, God b’w’y, God bwy yee, God buy you, God be wi’ you, God be with you.
Infinity, vastness, mystery, and love be with you, carrying you always (it is).
God be with you. God is with you.
God be with you, dear sweet dying friend.
God be with you, father. God be with you, all the people of the world coming and going and living and dying.
God be with you, dear reader.
Thank you for being awhile here with me.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Much love,
Grace

Sickness: When there’s no hope, you’re free

Those of you who wanted to join the Masterclass: Ten Barriers To Deepening Your Work today at 8 am Pacific Time, you can sign up HERE. Then I’ll send the replay out only to those who want it. Bring your pen and paper.

And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking “Is this going to be OK for tomorrow?”

Because I have a rather severe cold, fever, pounding ears, sore throat. I can’t remember being this sick in ages.

Crazy!

I should NOT be sick.

This is an amazing thought to question. No matter what kind of illness, it often appears.

I shouldn’t have cancer, I shouldn’t experience this ailment. I shouldn’t feel so lousy. I should be able to go outside, eat dinner, run the masterclass webinar.

Sometimes, we can become absolutely terrified with the belief that we shouldn’t be feeling physically sick. Like a huge screaming NO!

Is it true I shouldn’t be sick right now?

Yes. I hate it. This is terrible. I’m trying to work, here, to keep my schedule! (Shake fist at sky).

What kind of images come to mind?

Staying in bed for days and days. Unable to go on. Sometimes, I confess, when I’ve had this thought I imagine being on my death bed. I think about how this body is declining ultimately, and will fade away and die.

I think about my daughter being sick when she was here for 24 hours this past weekend. She brought it into the house!

The mind tries to figure out how to prevent this from ever happening again in the future. I clench up against the physical pain, stare into space as I lie on the bed. Sleep during the day.

But who would I be without this thought I shouldn’t be sick, when I am?

Relaxing into what is, it seems. Letting it be here, like this. Achy, listening to the rain, noticing how more sleep will be good, watching that incredibly…I seem to be writing this Grace Note and I don’t see why not.

Turning this thought around: I should be sick.

This isn’t a slap, or a way to point out what’s wrong with me, or that I deserved it. Never those things.

But why should I be sick, when I am?

I have a human body, that’s why. This body is a host to other organisms, and it’s doing its thing to get rid of something that landed here, apparently. I don’t mind resting. I like it.

I feel very grateful and appreciative for my general good health. I can’t remember the last time I was this sick, it’s been a very long time (years).

Why else should I be sick, when I am?

I listened to music this afternoon sent to me by a friend last week while I was still traveling. It was a meditation, relaxation thing on youtube, very slow and quiet. I got to contemplate the mind, silence, while lying flat in the bed today.

I felt OK this morning, so this has come on very quickly and intensely, and a client I had scheduled for all afternoon cancelled because HE was sick….so far everything’s rolling along as expected, just with sickness accompanying the ride.

I still facilitated the Thursday evening Year of Inquiry call, and could listen, enjoy the inquiry, love everyone there. My work, like the call, is done from home so it doesn’t really matter if I’m sick or not. Until it does.

I’m not sure why else I should be sick, except when I consider this turnaround….I feel a sense of laughter, what-do-I-know, mystery, and readiness to climb into bed again. No choice. I’m not in charge or running this here. It’s a happening.

Turning it around again: My thinking should not be sick. Especially when it comes to sickness. So true. I can work myself into a tizzy about an ailment, or let go.

Another turnaround I notice is that “I” am not actually sick. Not the part of me that’s always here, the steady consciousness that’s been around from before I even knew about it.

People who know there’s no hope are free; decisions are out of their hands. It has always been that way, but some people have to die bodily to find out. No wonder they smile on their deathbeds. Dying is everything they were looking for in life: they’ve given up the delusion of being in charge. When there’s no choice, there’s no fear. They begin to realize that nothing was ever born but a dream and nothing ever dies but a dream.” ~ Byron Katie

Much love,

Grace

Terror, ugliness, unacceptable, unbearable….doing The Work on the worst that could happen

When you spend 4 days doing The Work with a group, something happens to everyone’s perspective. Instead of the daily routine of life, our view shifts into a broader awareness.

It’s like the feeling you get when watching a magnificent sunrise.

Or receiving and giving a hug. Holding someone’s hand when they’re ill or dying. Being at the birth of a baby. Suddenly being startled at a gorgeous lush tree full of blossoms.

Everyone has these kinds of moments, where you’re startled by the beauty or insight that’s just inserted itself into your present moment.

In this retreat, we looked and sat with one important question, pens in our hands, blank paper on our laps.

The question: what’s the worst thing that could ever happen in your life?

Whew.

What a question, right?

Holy smokes.

I watched as all the participants closed their eyes, wrote in their journals and notebooks.

Now….what do you think it would mean, if this terrible thing happened?

What would it mean about you, about them, about life?

For me, I’ve thought about a dreadful image when I’ve answered this question. The worst thing ever happening? My children dying. Oh jeez. Not that terrible image again. Ugh.

It’s almost weird to write about. Why go there? Why event mention this dreadful, horrible, ridiculous, not-true scenario? Is there something wrong with me? Why would I give this possibility the time of day? I must be some kind of masochistic weirdo to want to sit with this terrifying disturbance of losing my kids.

But it’s there, nevertheless. A fear. I think I couldn’t go on if this happened. I notice sometimes in the world, peoples’ kids die.

So I’m willing to take a look, since the thought scares me.

Which is what I love about The Work.

The invitation is to open up to the underworld, the terrifying, the thoughts already present, the worries, the fears, the dread.

Let’s get them HANDLED…says The Work. Even if you think four questions couldn’t possibly “handle” your greatest fears.

I invite you to see.

Write down what you think is the worst thing ever that could happen in your life. It’s often about some kind of deeply troubling loss. A relationship, an inability to function, rejection, abandonment, betrayal.

Let’s inquire.

It would be (or, lets face it…it already happened and it WAS) the WORST thing ever.

Is it true?

(First question of The Work).

We’re inquiring. In the grand scheme oft things, we’re opening up to the choice that we’re believers, or we question what we believe….there’s no other possibility.

So let’s question, since it’s an option.

Is it true this would be the worst thing ever?

Yes.

Hands down, yes.

I couldn’t live life ever again in the same way if my kids died.

But can you absolutely know it’s true that it’s the worst thing? Can you absolutely know you couldn’t go on living? Can you absolutely know you’d lose your mind in grief, or freak out, or NOT be able to handle it? Can you know you’d be engulfed in sorrow and wither away into nothing?

How do you react when you believe in this possibility? When you think this is the worst? When you scream at yourself not to think this thought, ever EVER (because it’s so scary)?

I gasp. I try to stop thinking it. I bat it away. I tell myself positive things. And I feel underlying fear. I see images of my kids dying. I think I’m the kind of person who might go through this horrible event, so I brace myself. I don’t know how to prevent it, so I feel frightened. I feel like the future is dim, not bright.

I start imagining that if I think this thought…I’ll invite it. Which just exacerbates and threatens even more, and brings on self-criticism in addition to the original fear. (What’s wrong with you? Stop thinking this!)

But who would I be without the thought my kids will die?

It’s a worthy question. To consider what it would be like to NOT THINK that dreadful thought?

This is not about pretending or denying they’ll die. It’s wondering who I’d be without the thought pounding in my brain that they will.

I’d be relaxed. I’d see what else is going on. I’d open up to other ideas. I’d notice what’s working, even though this could (or has) happened.

And what about if this terrible thing that COULD happen or already did happen…what if it’s OK that it happened? Or the best thing that could happen, instead of the worst?

I know it’s a little abrupt. I know the word “best” is a little weird. But in this world of duality, we’re interested in worst/best, good/bad, terrible/wonderful.

And we’re interested in shaking things up. Considering what good could come out of the “worst case scenario”. Is there anything you can think of that might be GOOD about that horrible thing happening?

Several years ago, I got cancer.

I had surgery, and was lying in bed at home one day later with 50 stitches in my thigh, doing The Work. I looked at my leg, and was amazed the place where the tumor was removed looked like a piece of pale cream-colored leather with a huge gash in it, stitched with a gray colored thread evenly spaced.

How could I think of this situation as the best thing that ever happened? Really? What? I couldn’t find it. There is NO turnaround for this. It’s awful, there’s no reason. Cancer truly sucks. Nothing good can come of this. All awful, all the time, 24 hours a day. It shouldn’t happen. I’ll probably die of cancer, even if it’s not THIS cancer.

Who would I be, without this story though, that it’s the worst thing ever?

Oh. You really want me to do The Work on THIS situation too? Seriously?

Yes. Because you can question anything. The Work is here to open your mind, no matter what’s going on. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care what situation you’re looking at.

Who would I be without my story, in that moment I was lying in bed with stitches in my leg from my cancer operation?

I’d notice when my estranged husband knocked on the door, with our two very young children, holding two-dozen pink roses.

We hadn’t been talking closely. He had left the marriage and we were on the way to divorce. And here he was, showing up while caring for our kids because of my surgery, bringing this gift of flowers. Caring.

Ah ha. I just found my turnaround inquiry.

Since this happened, the BEST thing that happened came next. Sweetness. A show of caring, when I thought he didn’t. (And we still got divorced, and that turned out to be a good thing too).

And so can I find a turnaround example for it being OK that my kids die?

Well….I wouldn’t have to worry about them going through global warming and suffering immensely because the earth is dying. I wouldn’t have to worry about them at all, in fact. They’d miss old age, which appears to be difficult at times (unless you do The Work of course). I’d be off the hook for leaving any inheritance. They’d enter the Great Beyond before I even did, wow. They’d get there without all this wondering and incessant seeking for Enlightenment and Truth.

This work is a little strange. I admit. Noticing your most resistant fears and thoughts about life.

But oh so worth it.

Because in the end, what I discovered I’m really worried most about it ME dying, if THEY died.

Me dying, however, may not be the troubling event I anticipate. Even if my body lived….my heart might mend in such a powerful way, I would recognize that what died was my ego, not love.

And just like my father who died so many years ago of leukemia, I’d notice he may not be here in physical form, but I think of him often, I consult with him, I feel his presence, he’s part of my DNA. So did he even die?

Who would I be without my story of WORST or BEST?

Unafraid. Free. Curious. Open.

“The Tao Te Ching says that the source of everything is called ‘darkness’. What a beautiful name (if we must have a name). Darkness is our source. In the end, it embraces everything. Its nature is love, and in our confusion we name it terror and ugliness, the unacceptable, the unbearable. All our stress results from what we imagine is in that darkness. We imagine darkness as separate from ourselves, and we project something terrible onto it. But in reality, the darkness is always benevolent.” ~ Byron Katie in 1000 Names For Joy

Spring Mental Cleaning Retreat Seattle 2017 (Next retreat is Breitenbush in Oregon June 21-25, 2017 and Fall Retreat in Seattle is Oct 19-22, 2017)

Much love,

Grace

Do endings, loss and death mean…..it’s true?

Work With Grace
Who would you be without this sad, scary story?

Have you ever known someone close to you to become ill, get injured, or find out something devastating?

Yes, everyone’s had this kind of moment in life.

“Dad’s got cancer.”

I remember hearing these words from my mom.

A panic began to rise inside, instantly.

What does this mean? Wait…what? What kind? What happened? Why? What’s going to happen?

The mind is filled with pictures, imagination, possibilities, trying to grab information desperately.

A huge NO fills the body. No, I can’t take this. No, this can’t be happening. No.

When the “worst” thing happens, it’s shocking.

When my dad was receiving treatment for leukemia, which lasted about two years, he was sometimes very sick, sometimes better. He lived just about exactly the length of time they anticipated. The doctors knew so much about the disease, and trying all kinds of ways to make it go away. To fight it.

That was a long, long time ago in my life experience. I was in my twenties, living pretty close by to the big house I grew up in.

I didn’t have inquiry, but my mind had so many questions. Constant questions. Disturbed questions. Questions I had no answer for, couldn’t answer.

Many years later, when I discovered self-inquiry and The Work by reading Loving What Is, I thought….

….well, it’s good for feeling angry and upset with your neighbor (judge your neighbor, right?)….

….but I didn’t even imagine using The Work for situations of life and death.

But then, I was in a weekend workshop with Byron Katie, never having successfully “done” The Work after reading her book, and I recognized one of my greatest, deepest, terrifying, sad, frustrations in life was…..death.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a very weird and troubled relationship with loss, change, things being temporary, endings.

The biggest ending of all being “death”. The biggest “neighbor” I wanted to judge was loss, death.

I had something, and now it’s gone. I have something, and I will lose it.

My health, my boyfriend, my wife, my kid, love, my life, my daughter, my house, my necklace, my guitar, my friend, my dad.

It was mine. I had it.

Now it’s lost. It’s gone. Or will be.

Forever.

This is hard for some people to think about. Well, I speak for myself.

It’s hard to look at these places that have been so painful. But oh so powerful for The Work.

Stay with me here, and let’s do it today.

As you see those things, places, times or people you lost….

Is it true you lost them?

Yes. All gone.

Are you absolutely sure? Do you know this in the most deep, absolute way?

Are you positive the energy, love, kindness is lost? Are you sure it’s gone, just because you can’t see it or touch it? Are you sure everything about it is completely 100% gone?

Do you need it to be present physically, in order to be happy?

Wow. No. Not really.

I should still have that person, that thing, that other situation.

Is this true?

Who would I be without these thoughts?

Who would I be without BELIEVING these thoughts?

I notice no thoughts hang around 24/7 without one single other thought coming in for a visit. There are seconds, moments, of other thoughts.

The day my father died, I am quite sure I drank water. I went to the bathroom.

Probably several times. I was capable of having that thought to get up and go. It appeared. I went. People brought food. I ate a little. I breathed. I spoke to my sisters and my mom. I stayed. I was there, holding my dad’s hand as he died.

Who would you be without the belief you lost her? You lost him? You lost it?

I’m not saying something profound didn’t happen. But I love how I like to write about my dad’s death, as I feel the tears sometimes still arise, “it was unbelievable.”

That’s what we say about profound moments, eyes-wide-open moments, present moments, astonishing moments.

Unbelievable.

Turning the thought around: I did not lose my father. I will never lose him.

I lost myself. I lost awareness.

I believed I couldn’t survive loss. I believed there was nothing here, remaining, with myself. I believed I had something, it was mine, and now it’s gone.

Who would you be without your story of losing?

“It’s your body–can you absolutely know that that’s true? That’s a very old concept. ‘This is mine. I say so’….It’s not yours. Just because you believe it doesn’t make it true. When you know that you’re not that, you can sit back and watch.” ~ Byron Katie in Who Would You Be Without Your Story 

Could this be also the case for my father? My house? My childhood? My earrings?

Not mine in the first place.

And not required for living, or loving, or happiness, I notice.

Today, can I find evidence for how I gained, how I received, how I lived….instead of the opposite customary sadness?

It doesn’t mean “trying” to be positive and fakey or plastic or thrilled about death or loss.

But I have discovered, with The Work, it’s miraculous to wonder who I would be without my stories of death and loss, and to find examples of joy, acceptance, receiving, kindness, even benefits for what has happened….

….and maybe even though I apparently lost….I also found.

Maybe all my thoughts about death and loss are….

….unbelievable.

Much love,

Grace