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It is Valentine’s Day and my heart is full, full of the joy that living brings. I look out on a tree, white with plum flowers. The buds are swelling on the Maple trees. It is Spring. I attended a conference on Aging on Sunday, a gathering of people interested in exploring, augmenting, and expanding, the next stage of life, one in my case, which may be another thirty years. It was a gathering at the Rosen Center, and I felt Marion Rosen, even in her passing, was there, watching what she brought to life and light, expand and spread.

The Heart is about Courage. It requires courage to love, because love risks loss, and loss can hurt. Those we love may die, and certainly they, and we, will change. We are constantly letting go. We too, die to an old self, and come to meet ourselves new. We do this over and over again. We live the seasons, the phases of the moon. We, too, have tides.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote: “Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions… For the god wants to know himself in you.”

Whatever your image may be of “god”, know the heart is huge, as it stretches to know the contradictions, loves, and joys that bloom, fruit and flourish in you!

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Marion Rosen passed away last Wednesday night. She was a mentor for me, a teacher, a leader, a friend. She will be missed, is missed, and yet, I feel her opening windows for me, windows as in an Advent Calendar.

See this, and this: I’m free.

This poem by Jane Hirshfield guides me to feel her “largeness pass through me”.

The Supple Deer

The quiet opening
between fence strands
perhaps eighteen inches.

Antlers to hind hooves,
four feet off the ground,
the deer poured through.

No tuft of the coarse white belly hair left behind.

I don’t know how a stag turns
into a stream, an arc of water.
I have never felt such accurate envy.

Not of the deer:

To be that porous, to have such largeness pass through me.

– Jane Hirshfield

This is the month we make New Year’s Resolutions for mental, spiritual, and physical health. It is also the month, in the Northern Hemisphere, that invites hibernation. Perhaps the two are one. Each morning, give yourself a little extra time to rise slowly. Imagine yourself as a bear waking up from a long sleep, stretch your arms and legs, curl and uncurl, reflect on what is most important to you, just for today.

Use a kind voice as you speak to yourself, just for today, kindness to you!

There is no greater jewel than kindness to you, each moment, each day.

Today I came across the book “embrace your inner wild”. It is 52 Reflections from an Eco-Centric World and is by Mary Reynolds Thompson with photographs by Don Moseman.

I will give it to a friend, to many friends, and yet, I sit now with the wisdom within this book of precious photographs of Marin and words strung together like songs of friends.

Perhaps what touches me most is this:

A friend asks an indigenous elder from the rain forests of South America, “Are you ever lonely?”

Silence.

“There is no word for loneliness in his language,” the translator explains.

If you are looking for something to fill you so well there is no word for loneliness, this is the book.

Next to a photo of an orb weaver spider in a web at Muir Woods are these words:

“The deeper we go into our individual nature, the more we discover that we are part of the whole.”

Last night my Toastmasters group met after our meeting to celebrate the birthday of one of our members. We gathered at Woody’s Yogurt Place, and connected even more deeply than we do in the meetings. Sometimes I feel a need to cocoon and other times I’m happy to be drawn out into a group. Right now I’m appreciating that birds are singing and leaves are unfolding and stretching. I can almost see the plants growing.

I am grateful for connection, connection within, and connection with the movement of air in and out, with the movement of the air we share. Sometimes I feel so grateful, I think I might burst, and then I wonder, “Would that be a bad thing?”

I give thanks for this world we share and the support that is there when we break open, like flowers, to receive.

I just heard from a friend who apologized because she had no “cheery” news. She is grieving.

We are programmed to believe we are meant to be “happy” all the time, but anyone who watched and enjoyed the lunar eclipse last night would know the shadow of the earth on the moon led to an orange glow. We are meant to be open to all.

I keep wanting to bring back the idea of the black armband to show we are grieving, to make it okay to wear black for a year if that is what we need. This idea of cheeriness and measurement of how “happy” we can be is harmful. What is true now? Pause and feel your breath? Is it shallow? Deep? Could you allow it more entry, more spread through the length of your spine? Take off your shoes. Caress the earth as though you were at the beach playing in warm sand.

I was in one of my favorite book stores this week, the Point Reyes Bookstore, and I came across a most unusual book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.

If you are bed-ridden or moving slowly or even moving quickly, this is the book for you.  Elisabeth is given a snail to keep her company.  Perhaps given isn’t the right word.  A friend places a snail in the violet plant next to her bed and she bonds with the snail.  I had no idea there was so much going on in the life of a snail.  Imagine being comforted by a snail munching.  Snails have around 2, 640 teeth, so, yes, there is a crunch in that exhilarating need to ingest.

And now it is dark.  My lemon candle flickers and flames, a companion equal to a snail, an invitation to close my eyes and dream.

 

closing the door

he drops off to sleep

snail

– Kobayanshi Issa (1763-1828)

“It takes two to speak truth – One to speak, and another to hear.”

– Henry David Thoreau

When Jane and I spoke Wednesday night at Books Inc. I was struck by the quality of attention, the leaning in and inward to listen.  I think that is why I felt we created spiritual space.  One woman shared her experience with cancer.  I came home and wrote what I felt about the quality of attention, the witnessing we shared.

Witnessing


my need

pollen held

My friend Joan said her book arrived from UPS today and when she held it, she cried.  I receive that and again my heart swells.  Yesterday I walked through a book store and looked at all the books and thought of how each author was held in an embrace of love and enthusiasm as their book came out.  I love book stores because I feel that physicality, that touch.  Someone placed each book in a box, displayed each book on a table or shelf.  An e-book, though environmentally viable is not the same.

I have said it is hard for me sometimes to let myself feel what I owe so many who have been so fully there for me.  I think it is about vulnerability, being vulnerable with another.

I asked my friend Ning to deliver three Breast Strokes books for me today, one to Diane Brandon, who heads the Resource Center at Marin Cancer Institute, and one to Jen Lucas, who was my chemo oncologist,  and one to Francine Halberg who was my radiation oncologist.  I can’t tell them in words what they have done for me, what they mean to me, or how they are a part of me, but I hope the book gives back something to them, something of the love I received.

I was speaking to someone yesterday about how everyone at the Marin Cancer Institute cares.  It is a holy place, a sacred place.  I don’t know how they create that atmosphere or perhaps it is that each person who works there embodies it, but I want to honor and thank all those who cared for me at the Marin Cancer Institute.  I was literally in a fog during treatment, and it is only now, almost four years later, that I can begin to let in the gift of these people and the treatment, only now that I melt a little more and feel it a little more deeply.  I am my own personal global warming.  I am given the gift of a sweetened, swelling heart.   I bow to receive.

Peace, Love, and Gratitude to All, especially all those who care at the Marin Cancer Institute!

Some of us may need treatment for cancer or another illness.  Each of us will, at some time, many times, be called upon to support another.

I spoke with a friend who was going through a great deal of heart-break about the illness of her good friend.  She was so passionate in her desire to help and her frustration at the limitations in what she could do that I asked her to write down what she was feeling.

This is what she wrote.

I am a breast cancer patient who has completed treatment.  Presently, I have some friends with various forms of cancer who lean on me for support because I have a medical background, and was first to be diagnosed and treated.  However, friendship can quickly turn into care giving and inevitably frustration and sadness creep in.  My genuine desire is to “be there” for my friends, and support them during their journey.  The reality is that care giving must be non-judgmental.  It should be empowering and loving, but  your friends need to experience their own individual journey’s.

We all come to our cancer experiences with various life events and abilities to cope.  We soon learn that extending ourselves to dear friends can be exhausting and challenging.  But with these problems, comes a sense of peace knowing you might have made a difference for just one person.

My favorite quote (a dear friend sent me during treatment) is by Eleanor Roosevelt.  It reads “you gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…do the thing you think you cannot do”.  This helps me focus when I feel overwhelmed with worry for my friends.

About this blog:

Cathy and Jane started writing together during Cathy's illness, and that writing became a blog, which then became a book!

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