Aliveness

December 6, 2018

“The amazing feeling of being alive beautifully conquers the fear of death” ― Munia Khan

“Do you want to live?” was the first question I asked my friend Walt. It was 20 years ago that he came to me for spiritual guidance when he was on the transplant list. His health had been rapidly declining, and a new liver is what would save him, medically speaking. We both knew that a spiritual conversation needed to happen first. What that conversation was, neither of us had a clue. As an anam cara, a soul friend, I was prepared to listen deeply, and mirror back to him what I perceived as the greater truth.

After a centering prayer, we both opened our eyes and just stared at one another. Neither of us knew how to begin. After a period of silence, I heard myself ask, “Do you want to live?” Walt’s candid reply, “I don’t know.” Thus began a profound dialogue that would last for several months, and even years. A man of faith and compassion, Walt felt uncomfortable knowing that his chance of survival rested on the fate of another. Someone would have to die in order for Walt to live. Was he worthy of this?

During one particular session, I offered a meditation to help Walt connect with the present moment. After several minutes, Walt interrupted with a provocative question, “What does it mean to be present?”

I realized that I often used words like “in the present moment,” or “let us all be present.” What did I mean by that? So began a lesson for both of us.

To be present, to me, means to have awareness of all that is around and within. If someone took a photograph of this very moment, what would it show? As I write this, I am aware of the waning daylight. I see that the walls of my office are green. I notice that my hands are cold, and that my neck is warm. Artificial light makes the room bright on this dark December day. I sit up straighter, I smile. I am fully present.

What percentage of you is present in this moment?

When I am not present, which is a challenge all humans face, I am disconnected from myself, from others, and from life itself. How could Walt know what he really wanted if he was cursing the past (because of liver failure) or projecting out into the future (when am I going to die)? We can easily get paralyzed between past and future. What lies between is the present moment, a notion saints and sages have preached since the beginning of time: Be Here Now!

For months Walt and I would meet and explore his inner thoughts and feelings about the nature of life and death, and the many moments in between. I marveled at his stories of experiencing exquisite present moments, most often in nature. He discovered that trees are alive, squirrels are lively, and the laughter this brings him makes him feel totally alive.

Walt’s health continued a rocky path, as he held his breath in anticipation of receiving a new liver. When a year passed, and another, we both marveled that a donor liver had not presented itself, nor had his health declined in a life-threatening way. He was holding steady. Surprisingly, a third year passed. Walt had a few more health complications that called for surgery and hospital stays. Through it all, he remained present and engaged, embracing his aliveness.

At one point, ten years later, Walt was then too healthy to be on the transplant list. He cherished his aliveness for ten more years. His doctors were stunned, noting how many close calls he had. Walt and I knew the best medicine of all—being true to one’s self by claiming our aliveness. He stepped into the river of his life. He embraced living in the soul. He gave thanks for being alive.

I last saw Walt on November 8th to go over his wishes for an eventual celebration of life ceremony. Last weekend, on December 2nd, early in the morning, Walt finally made his transition. Because I was away over the weekend, the day before his partner held the phone up to Walt’s ear so I could say farewell. I’m told it was a peaceful passing, yet when I heard the news I burst into tears. Even through my tears, I chuckled, because, with Walt as my guide on the other side of the veils, I felt very alive in that moment. Thank you, Walt, for showing me what life is really about. Being alive and knowing it. Every day. With every thought and every breath, as best we can.
RIP my anam cara.

Take a moment and treat yourself to this viral video of a Baby’s Reaction to seeing holiday lights. Now that’s being present!!!!
https://www.romper.com/p/this-viral-video-of-a-babys-reaction-to-seeing-holiday-lights-will-even-warm-a-grinchs-heart-3902780

Assurance

May 11, 2017

It’s more fun to experience things when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Louis C. K.

If Life came with a spiritual assurance policy, which plan would you choose?  The Fun Plan or the No Fun Plan? We all know people who are living life on the No Fun Plan. Always frowning. Constantly complaining. Finding fault with everything and everyone. A genuine Debbie Downer. Remember her? Check out one of the all-time best Saturday Night Live skits from 2004. I hope you find it as fun and funny as I do!

SNL Debbie Downer: Birthday Party (Dress Rehearsal)
https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/debbie-downer/n11842?snl=1

Imagine how low Ms. Downer would be living in 2017? It doesn’t take much effort to spot the gloom and doom swirling around us. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to stay on the bright side. For me, it’s all about choice. If I am not vigilant, No Fun slips backwards into my pre-paid assurance plan. I start to see the world through grey colored glasses. Stop!  It doesn’t have to be that way. For example, take this fun moment.

My Ireland tour had concluded and I was now resting and recovering in my favorite place in Ireland: Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. It’s a tiny village perched on Galway Bay in the west of Ireland. Some there think of me as the US Ambassador to Ballyvaughan. How fun is that?

After breakfast one morning, I took myself on a walk along the water front. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My arthritic feet hurt from days of walking on all sorts of uneven surfaces. Again, pain in my left hip kept me awake in the night. Emotionally I was recovering from the news of the death of a man I had gotten to know during my yearly travels to Ireland, plus news from home of the death of one of my husband’s longest friends. Shall I add that I also learned my beloved Ishka cat got out and went missing? Feeling “out of sorts” barely described how I was feeling.

This was a walk I’ve taken dozens of times but, this time something was different. A gigantic grey stone house, likely 200 years old, had been purchased. This after being derelict for over twenty years. It was an eye sore right smack in the center of the village. This particular morning I noticed scaffolding on one side and the front door wide open. Curiosity got the best of me so I crossed the street for a better look. That’s when two workmen, each in bright yellow vests and hardhats, stepped out of the front door.

Launching the conversation, I said, “I come here once a year and have always been intrigued by this building. Will it be a private home or a business of some sort? The first fellow responded, “Seems it’s a family with 5 kids or so. Might be their home, or a vacation home. Hard to tell.”  What was hard for me to tell was what exactly he said. When you get out into the hinterlands of Ireland, accents can be very thick. I asked if I could look inside the door, something I’ve wanted to do for years. The inside was nearly gutted for the remodel, but I still got a sense history there.

“We should call one of those ghost hunter shows and have them bring a crew here,” I joked.

“Oh, aye, ‘tis haunted this place, some folk say,” he said through thick accent and missing teeth. “Some say they’ve heard voices in there.”

“Male or female?” I asked.

“Hard to say,” he replied. “Some have even heard a wee baby crying.”

I gasped, “Really?” We both stood frozen in silence when suddenly, from the back of the house, came a faint sound. “Waa, Whaa…” It was a baby’s cry!  The man and I suddenly turned towards each other in complete shock. That’s when I saw the glint in his eye.

“Hey, you. Where’s your fellow workman?” That’s when the second guy emerged from the back of the house. They had totally set me up. I was glad they did because it completely changed my attitude towards the day. We three stood together as we laughed, and laughed, and laughed. It still makes me laugh just remembering the encounter. It is one of the most fun moments of all my journeys to Ireland.

I’m not advocating that we put on masks and play Pollyanna. But I will say–enough the Debbie Downer-isms. Choose to see the best in others. Choose to be open to unplanned encounters that remind us to lighten up. Choose. It’s really that simple.

I Get It

May 1, 2015

“I don’t get it.” ~ Homer Simpson

 

STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin

I Get It

Recently I noticed how often I mutter, “I don’t get it.” It was my first response when I learned about the unnecessary death in Baltimore of Freddie Gray. Then I whispered it when I heard of the violence that erupted that night in the “city that works.” I said it again when a friend shared with me an odd behavior of someone we both know. “I don’t get it,” I said aloud, while shaking my head. I recall frustration while negotiating a congested concourse at Newark airport. A man on a cell phone stopped dead in his tracks, leaving myself and others stumbling in his wake. “I don’t get why people do that,” I whispered to my husband. What is it I’m really saying with those four words?

I…don’t…get…it…

What I get, upon reflection, is the awareness that I’m making a judgment. “I wouldn’t do that, or do it that way.” It’s a thought of separation versus unity. I cringe thinking about a world where everyone lives up to my expectations. How boring would that be? What would I have to complain about? I am reminded that unity doesn’t mean identical. It means that We Are One while honoring our diversity. That’s the world I strive to live in.

I also get that I can mutter “I don’t get it” as a way to step back from a situation. To give myself pause as I re-frame the thought. Maybe that fellow on the phone just got devastating news. My judgmental thought might have contributed to his shock. Instead, I could become a neutral witness, say a silent prayer, or simply wish him well.

I get, too, that we are mirrors to one another. I cannot see in you what doesn’t live in me. So when I mutter “I don’t get it” in response to a situation, it’s an invitation to reflect on what I do get. An opportunity to step out of duality and back into Oneness.

The next time I catch myself thinking or saying “I don’t get it,” I’m going to immediately remove the negative and turn it into a positive, “I get it.” That I’m human. That I’m not perfect, nor is anyone else. And, that we’re all in this together.

Do you get what I’m saying?

Enjoy this short clip from “The Simpsons”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjfkynJ4hbI