Heard a stunningly simplistic bit of wisdom on Sunday morning, offered by Rev. Kenneth White who was speaking at Circle of Miracles. An interfaith minister, AIDS Activist/ Educator and playwrite (I will be interviewing Kenny shortly and you will learn more about this multi-talented Renaissance Man). His style is to the point and laced with humor, so as to bring any audience to rolls of laughter and tears as he did for us on this crisp, cold Southeastern Pennsylvania day. We were warmed by his tales about the generations of his family, from his grandmother Aggie, to his wise mother who shared her beliefs in spirituality, to his grandkids who amaze him and drive him wonderfully crazy, by his admission.
So, the wisdom…he expressed that we always have the choice in any situation to:
Dress it up– embellishing the story so it is exaggerated beyond its actual boundaries. Some people feel as if they are not enough as is, so they make themselves appear to be something that they are not, out of a sense of insecurity. By dressing it up, we become inauthentic and out of integrity.
Mess it up-making the story worse than it needs to be, catastrophizing and awfulizing, with the intention of garnering sympathy, blaming, finger pointing and refraining from taking responsibility for our choices.
Bless it up-turn it over to a Higher Power, whatever that is for you. It doesn’t mean accepting abuse in any way. It is about reframing challenges into exercise equipment that strengthen us and make us more flexible.
Throughout my life, I have been in all three places. As a consummate Type A -overachiever-recovering-co-dependent whose inner critic has a field day at times and whose ‘savior behavior’ kicks in when I sense someone in need, I have come to recognize when I am about to tumble into the first two realms. When I am temped to dress things up, I notice that ‘imposter sydrome’ has kicked in and what it takes to remedy it is to list my accomplishments that day, week, month, year and sometimes lifetime. The pull can be that strong requiring heavy duty remedy. When messing it up rears its snarly head, I throw a brief pity party, whining in my head “how come, it’s not fair, they get to, I don’t…” When I realize that I am the only guest there, I leave, although recently my dear zen-friend Peggy has joined what she called my “poutin’ self” and gave me space to complain for a bit. Blessing it up is my true delight and I have been able to reframe even the most painful and challenging situations, turning lemons into the best lemon merengue pie, I have ever had. Yum~
As I am writing this entry, I am surrounded by sonic sweetness, offered up by a group of musicians singing in a language that is not native to them or their country of origin, but is clearly one that they have adopted and spread world wide. The CD entitled To Be Home, created by David and Mira Newman, whom I consider rock stars of the sacred chant world, followed me home from a kirtan (call and response honoring of the One in its many forms) I attended last night. The Sanskrit word ‘kirtan’ means ‘to repeat’. This devotional musical form came easily to me 6 years ago when I was introduced to it in as I began my yoga practice, because it reminded me of the chanting and prayers in synagogue. I would pop a CD by other various international kirtan artists, including Deva Premal and Miten, Krishna Das and Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, Wah! and Donna DeLory on in the car and sing myself into nirvana while on even the most tedious of drives. At turns slow and meditative and rollicking and handclapping lively, the music has universal appeal, regardless of religious tradition. David and Mira were indeed home last night, since they hail from the Philadelphia area. The yoga community came out to support their own, big time. I had the bliss of seeing friends with whom I hadn’t crossed paths in years who have been part of my kula (community or family) and Theresa, whom I had just seen that morning at another yoga studio. One was Amy Cronise-Mead who was one of my first yoga teachers in the beginning of this joyous journey. Another was Mirabai Galashan, a sister interfaith minister with whom I got to share the divine dance, actually ‘being danced by the music’, so contagious it was.
The kirtan that David, Mira, and friends Marianne Sutin, Corey Sokoloff and Terry Bortman offered (I hesitate to limit it by calling it a performance, although that it was as well, since they are each talented performers who have honed their craft; David thinks of it as ‘prayerformance’) their best to the gathering and God(dess) at the beautiful Dig Yoga studio in the riverside (The Delaware) town of Lambertville, NJ owned by Sue Elkind and Naime Jezzeny. The high ceilinged, hard wood floored room couldn’t contain all of the energy that swirled around as the music began. A hundred or so people of all ages, from infant (Mira and David’s beautiful baby Tulsi Magdalena, about whom I joked with her grandma Rhoni and aunt Jade that she was the center of attention during the kirtan with her gleeful laughter and chanting, feet kicking and hands clapping in time to her parents’ music) to elders. I was delighted to watch as older boys and girls (in the 8 -10 year old range) created their own back up singing and dancing troupe, hands in the air, swaying, making up their own dance moves that would have impressed hip hop artists. When I was growing up, only parents who were considered counter culture hippies would have brought their flower- child -in -the- making kids to an event like this. Now it seems ‘normal’…in my world at least (:
The temperature in the room (although I can’t be certain) would have supported a Bikram hot yoga class, but no one seemed to care as they amped up the energy along with the band, hands stretching and reaching to the heavens, feet grounding to the earth. At one point, David was explaining, in his easy going humorous manner, that bhakti (an intensive love of God) is ‘divine lunacy’ and I heard myself giving knowing affirmation in my own mind, since when I am in that state, I lose track of time, and all that matters is the essence of devotion in the moment. Drippingly drenched afterward, I was infused with shakti, the energy of creation. Feeling blessed that I have the words to describe the nearly indescribable. Sometimes there are none. Sometimes the sound alone is enough. Om Shanti.
My friend Kayla Finlay is a walking, talking miracle. Having healed from cancer and lost children to miscarriage and watching another of her five children face challenges with a condition called Gardner Syndrome, which is a form of cancer, it truly amazes me that she is able to remain ‘sane and vertical’. In addition, she has a healing practice in which she serves both two legged and four legged clients. Not only that, but she had written a book called Twelve Bowls: A Teaching In Consciousness which encourages readers to nourish their souls as well as their bodies. A more recent accomplishment is that two of her stories appears in Bernie Siegel’s newest release A Book of Miracles. The way that unfolded is a miracle unto itself and Kayla shared it this past Sunday at a service at Circle of Miracles.
She offered the words of Walt Whitman as a prelude to her presentation.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim–the rocks–the motion of the waves–the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
When Bernie’s first book called Love, Medicine and Miracles was relased in the 1980’s Kayla was drawn to it because of her own cancer diagnosis. She felt that Bernie was speaking directly to her with the words he had penned. She contacted him and they maintained a from a distance friendship over the years. When she was writing her book, she emailed Bernie to ask if he would write the cover endorsement. His initial response was that his schedule would likely not allow for him to meet her request. Persistence won out as Kayla assured him that it would likely only take two hours to read, he agreed. Two and a half hours later, she received the emailed quote from Bernie that graces the cover of her book. Then within short order, he contacts her and tells her he is completing a book with miracle stories submitted by others and he asks her to contribute. She inquires about deadline and he responds that now is the time. Kayla rises to the occasion and that night sends in two stories that are now part of this wondrous book that takes readers on a miracle ride. A miracle indeed.
Although this is not one of the stories in the book, Kayla shared a true to life tale about an experience she had in which earth angels appeared at the perfect time.
the Angels among us
In late December my son, who has a rare disease called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis/Gardner Syndrome, needed to get to a local hospital for a blood transfusion due to internal bleeding caused by complicationsof his “quality of life altering” disease.
He has been blessed with numerous miracles within the contextof a very serious disease for which presently there is no cure. We are no strangers to hospital settings since his diagnosis 13 years ago, but we have learned to make sure we have the most knowledgeable and experienced doctors in the field of Gastroenterology in our corner.
We usually go to Fox Chase Cancer Center, and now more recently Temple University Hospital where we have followed his doctor during his relocation. However, when it became apparent my son required an immediate transfusion, it made more sense to take him to a local hospital where he had received his last transfusion only months earlier.
Upon his arriving at the Emergency Room, the attending Gastroenterologist encouraged my son to agree to have some invasive scopes, something he would normally do with his specialist in endoscopic surgery in Philadelphia. When you have a rare disease, you are always a curiosity to local doctors, so it’s not unusual for them to solicit your case. As they persisted, my son’s logic won out and he felt it made sense to have the scopes tended to while he was already admitted.
One of the main reasons for my son’s medical stability in what is usually an unstable diagnosis, is the wisdom we have learned about making sure he gets his care at a Medical Center of Excellence and is tended to by doctors who are the best in their field and who have experience with this rare disease, which is a form of hereditary colon cancer.
However, my son is now an adult, and I respect his choices regarding his health care and surveillance, so I deferred to his inner voice, even though my own was telling me to discharge him from this local hospital and take him to Temple University Hospital to his specialist.
To share the cliff notes version, he informed the local hospital doctors that he has special needs when it comes to anesthesia. He has the reverse reaction to many sedatives and through trial and error, has learned there is a specific combination of sedation that is the only one that works well enough to permit a safe, invasive scoping procedure. However, on this particular morning in December, when he was down in the procedure room, the doctors joked and laughed about his “special” sedative needs, stating, they would use what they always do for other patients and that he would be fine. No matter how my son insisted, they dismissed his concerns and information, and finally just did it their way. True to form, the sedatives didn’t work, and they had to abort the procedure mid-stream, which was not beneficial to my son in any way.
When they finally brought him up to his room from recovery, he was “out of it” for hours. It was during
this time that I decided to find the cafeteria in order to get some tea and some lunch. Seeing my son in this state
due to a botched procedure was taking its toll, and I thought a walk and some nourishment would help to ground and balance me a bit.
Being unfamiliar with this particular hospital, I asked directions to the cafeteria, which turned out to be in the basement in rather an out of the way location. I know I was feeling tired and stressed, mostly from feeling like I had failed my son by not convincing him or insisting that he leave this hospital and have his procedures done with his specialist in Philadelphia.
As I was in the elevator heading down to the cafeteria, I suddenly felt very much alone. When the elevator door opened, at first glance it felt like I must have been on the wrong floor. As I paused for a second
before walking off the elevator, I noticed a petite African woman who seemed to be dressed in housekeeping garb. She
looked at me, stopped what she was doing and immediately walked over to me,asking me (with a foreign accent I couldn’t identify) if she could help me
I told her I was looking for the cafeteria, and she took me by the arm, and said, “I’ll walk you there myself.” There was such kindness and love radiating from her that seemed out of place in this hospital after our negligent procedure of the morning.
As we turned down a long hallway, she called out to another woman who was dressed in professional business clothing and who was walking across the end of the hallway. She said, “Would you mind showing this lovely lady to the cafeteria for me?” I thanked her and she told me to “have a blessed day.”
When I reached the intersecting hallway, I was greeted by a radiant African American woman who immediately reached out and hugged me! She exclaimed, “I know you!” I searched her face for some clue as to who she might
be, wondering why I wasn’t recognizing someone who very clearly thought she knew me. I suggested perhaps we crossed paths the last time my son was admitted for a blood transfusion, but she insisted that she “knew” me in some other way. Then she looked at me and said quietly in a very gentle voice, “I know you. You know God.”
In my increasing awareness that something very unusual was happening here, I agreed with her that I did indeed “know” God. Then she turns to me as we are walking towards the cafeteria, and says, “I met a woman the other day here, and she gave me a coin which had a picture of a holy woman on it. It is your face! That is how I know you!”
At this point, all I could do was mutter that we all have a likeness of ourselves somewhere in the world, and then I thanked her for walking me to the cafeteria. She turned to me and hugged me again, and as she pulled away, looked me directly in the eyes and said, “I love you. I hope your son gets well soon.”
As I entered the cafeteria, I felt as if I was transported to some world other than the hospital I was in. I barely recall what I ordered, orhow long I remained there.
I recall wanting to get back up to my son’s room in the hopes he had come out of the fog of incorrect sedatives and we could talk about getting him out of this hospital. The entire walk back to his room, all I could think about was the surreal greeting, care and love shown to me by these two women, at a time when I was feeling so alone.
In fact, I typed an email on my cell phone to my dearest friend telling her all about this very unusual experience. By the time I had arrived back to my son’s room, he was beginning to awaken although being very groggy still. It was then that he began to recall and tell me the story of his traumatic intersection with the doctors and the botched
procedure. I told him that in the morning, we would get him out of there and I would take him to his specialist.
The next morning I arrived bright and early to begin the discharge process. We had filed a complaint with the director of Pastoral Care, who when he heard the story, expressed his concern about how unconscionable it was for doctors not to listen to the patient. The attending nurse was being rude, because she knew we had filed a complaint. We knew we needed to gather up all of the pertinent medical records from the moment he was admitted to when we were leaving the hospital, and we were told the records would be waiting for us down in the medical records office.
When I offered to go to retrieve them, I was told that someone would bring them up to my son’s room. By
this time, my friend had arrived to give us a ride home. He was standing at the foot of my son’s bed talking with him, while I was packing up my laptop. Suddenly, I hear a woman’s voice say, “It’s YOU! And this must be your son?” I turn around and find myself face to face with the woman who walked me to the cafeteria and who declared that “she knew me.”
She sets the papers down and walks up to me, throwing her arms around me with a hug that rivaled most others, while telling me she loves me, and offering blessings of health for my son. Anyone observing would have thought we were long, lost sisters who had just found each other!
In this huge hospital, with hundreds of employees, this “angel” found and touched me twice in two days. There are no words to describe the love, caring and compassion that flowed from both of these women who reached out to me. Truthfully, I have never felt such radiant love from total strangers before. Even as I type this, I am reminded that there are no such things as “strangers.” Once you meet someone, they are no longer a stranger.
I never got these women’s names. I asked the nurses at the desk who they were, and none of the nurses knew. I was relieved to have my son and dear friend witness at least the second greeting, for there was a part of me that almost felt as if my experience down in the basement of the hospital while seeking the cafeteria, might have been a vision of sorts.
During what was a traumatic and negligent hospital stay, I was touched by angels and reminded of the healing power of a smile, an outreached hand, and a kind word.
http://youtu.be/bDST8obBfjQ Ordinary Miracles by Barbra Streisand
http://youtu.be/m4j_wrmpMnU Ordinary Miracle by Sarah McLachlan
Although I have never seen the musical Wicked (it’s on my bucket list), one song in particular echoes so clearly with the ways that I feel about the people who have touched my life in the past half century. I remind folks that everyone they now know and love was once a stranger and that there are new people every day waiting to meet them and vice versa. I consider the thousands of folks with whom I cross paths each year, some in cyberspace and some face to face and my mind reels at the idea of overlapping soul circles. On facebook, it becomes an exponential process, since not only am I connected to 5000 people, but anytime I post something on someone else’s page, their friends see it and if they pass it on, their friends see it….. and it becomes like the Herbal Essences commercial…”She told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on.” I treasure these relationships and welcome kindred spirits.
I am also fascinated with the six degrees of separation concept, that each person on the planet can track their connection to someone else with no more than six people between them. In my case, it sometimes one degree of separation, since I often know someone, with no one between us. Such was the case tonight at a cozy gathering spot in Doylestown, PA called The Zen Den. There I met Marcia and as we spoke, she shared that she had been taking yoga classes with Maria Starr, a treasured friend whom I have known since the late 1980’s. I met Maria when my then husband Michael introduced me to her as he was friends with her then husband Bruce. As it turns out, Maria was also a wonderful vegetarian cook for someone with whom I was to become close friends later; Sandy Levenson. Sandy connected me with Kathy Tooley who in turn opened the door to her studio and heart where I met a group of women who now call themselves ‘Yoga chicks’. Glad to be flapping my wings as one of them.
Around the same time that I met Maria, I became friends with a delightful 14 year old who I met at the home of the woman who had introduced Michael and me. Our friend Ute Arnold hosted open house events and Ruth Anne Dilley (now Wood) was there accompanying her mother Catherine Werth. “Ruth the Poet” (since she wrote such profound poetry) is what we called this precocious teenager who is now a mature 30 something year old coach, writer and interviewer. When Ruth and her husband Jason decided to marry, I officiated at their wedding.
In September of 1979, I set foot in a single story building along a busy highway in the college town of Glassboro, NJ. Little did I know that nearly 33 years later, I would maintain friendships that have existed for more than half my life. Although we are all over the country, our hearts remain connected and although three of our circle of friends are now on the Other Side, we are still family of choice who revel in each others’ joys and support each other in times of challenge. Together, Inc. was the name of the counseling center and it is a perfect reflection of the impact we have had and continue to have on each others’ hearts and souls. As I am writing this, my friend Gina Foster is about to become a a grandma for the second time since her daughter Amy Foster Riggs is soon to give birth to her new little one. I remember when SHE was the new bambino.
As a result of writing my Bliss Book, I have connected with my wondrous editor Pam Maliniak and my soul sistah Joan Schaublin, who invited me to publish it with Balboa Press. Because I know them…..the book is dancing its way out into the world.
I could go on marveling at these overlapping soul circles, but it really could take all night to enumerate them all. Suffice it to say, that they have all left handprints on my heart and changed my life for good.
http://youtu.be/XScNGy5y5TE For Good from Wicked-Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel