Past is Passed …

… but the Future is Now

Three years ago I read Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. The following is my attempt to ‘flesh out’ where I stand currently on what it means to live in the present moment.

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Anyone who knows me very well is aware of the serious condition from which I suffer. I affectionately call it  made up a name for it: Youtubeitis. It’s more of an addiction than an illness. That’s right, my name is Cindy, and I am a YouTube addict. Whether driving to and from the pickleball court, preparing a meal, or sitting on the couch in my room, you will most often find me listening to back to back talks given by my favorite teachers, all offering their wisdom for free on the Interwebs. My AT&T data plan cannot begin to keep up. The good news is, I think it is finally starting to pay off.

When I turned the last page of The Power of Now, I was fairly convinced that whatever Tolle was talking about, it was both impractical and unreachable – at least for me. Nothing about sitting on a park bench for two years, while becoming enamored with the life force of the leaves on the trees has ever remotely appealed to me. I watched the online class that he and Oprah Winfrey put out to help us ‘get it’, but I still didn’t, and I knew it.

Right around the time that I encountered The Power of Now, a cousin of mine introduced me to Dr. Joe Dispenza. Quickly I found that the science of spirituality made much more sense to me than the esoteric, ethereal notions presented in Tolle’s book. I have since read two books by Dr. Joe, listened to almost everything he has out on YouTube multiple times (this is a great place to start), purchased (and use) several of his meditation CD’s, and in December of 2017, I attended a Progressive conference in Austin, TX. Here is a meditation you can try for free. Let me know what you think in the comments.

About 6 months ago, I stumbled upon Abraham Hicks, and suddenly everything I had learned from Dr. Joe was amplified ten-fold! I moved from directing thought and emotion during meditation to becoming aware of my moment-by-moment feelings throughout the day in light of all that I have become. I am now learning how to elevate my thoughts and emotions in real-time, and the skill is transforming my life in ways I never imagined.

When I first read Tolle’s book, probably my most memorable take-away was that the moment you realize you are in the ‘now’, that moment is gone, and you are actually looking back at the past! Clearly I did not understand how to live in the present moment if every now moment is really a past one by the time it registers in my mind as present. (Try repeating that sentence five times fast.)

This week I have been re-immersing myself in Dr. Dispenza’s interviews on YouTube. Here is one of them. So far, he has not said anything that I have not already heard him say. In fact, the books and conference materials explain the same concepts in much more detail than he provides in the interviews, but somehow I am receiving a greater understanding in terms of application. Maybe something that Abraham said is bringing new meaning to Joe’s words, or perhaps some life experience has built a proper framework for me. After all,

words don’t teach, life experience teaches.

Whatever the cause, I am making new connections that I was unable to make before.

The concept is simple enough. We use our memory of who we were yesterday to remind us of who we are when we wake up today. That means that the majority of us depend on our memories of past experiences to tell us who we are in the present moment. Likewise, the beliefs we have about life and others, come from the thoughts of the past that we have practiced over a long period of time. Added to that, the subconscious mind guides and directs 95% of a person’s actions and emotions on a daily basis, yet the majority of the beliefs governing the subconscious were established before we turned five years old. On a subconscious level, we live completely out of our past experiences. This is why lasting change is so difficult to come by.

So the problem becomes that even though the past is gone, we do not actually live like it is. Every morning when I wake up, I formulate a view of myself and the world based on it. If that past was painful, then pain becomes the defining hallmark of my life. I define others based on the past as well, determined to hold a person hostage to the day I became the target of their bad behavior. But because we define our present reality based on the past, we are unable to imagine a different future. And when we do try to imagine our future (thanks to the subconscious programming in our brains) we envision the worst case scenario based on things that happened to us in the past. We know these fears are rooted in events that are now gone, yet we allow those same events to color our picture of tomorrow in dire shades we dare not entertain thoughts about.

What if a person was able to wake up and only see themselves through the framework of who they wanted to be, rather than who they were yesterday? What if people approached everyone they encountered on any given day as if it were the first time they met? No history of wrongs, no preconceived notions of what that person was like, only a soul, just like them, living out the greatest expression of themselves that they could be in that moment in time. What if people learned to ignore everything from their past (since the past literally does not exist in any form as a reality) and began to focus their attention on the present moment, in the context of becoming the greatest expression of themselves that they could be? Maybe that is what John Lennon really meant.

Would you be willing to imagine such a world? Do you think that you could imagine it? A world where people everywhere viewed themselves and others in light of what we are becoming, rather than dragging forward what we/they have been. The fact is, the only way to truly live in the present moment is to utterly leave the past behind. Tolle probably said that, but clearly I did not get it.

The key to it all is the human brain’s incredible ability to use thought. Did you know that when you entertain a memory (a thought) of something that occurred in the past, your brain produces the exact same cocktail of chemicals that were released during the event itself – no matter how far removed you are from it in time? Human beings are the only species on the planet who have the ability to make a thought as real as an actual event. It follows then, that our brains are capable of producing chemicals equal to future possibilities through thought alone as well. In this way, our thoughts are able to bring the future we desire into the present moment, but instead we continue to practice the habit of dragging the pain of the past into our now. We could be dreaming about a future filled with joy, appreciation, love, health, peace, and happiness – all along releasing the necessary chemicals that can change the hard-wired programming in our brain. This skill would enable you and me to live with intention going forward, and it is the true meaning of the power of now.

Backward is impossible. Forward is inevitable. And if you can imagine it, you can create it – good, bad, or indifferent. We have the choice to stare fixedly at the past, or to dare to imagine a better future. Whatever we give our attention to is what we will create in our present now reality.

Perception really is everything.

First, a Leaving

On July 22, 2015, I drove thirty minutes to a nearby beach to watch the sunrise.

Darkness shrouded my walk from the car. For all that I wanted to live near the beach, this would be my last day. I would not leave without seeing another sunrise. My phone! I thought. I stopped, turned back toward my car, then thought better of it. No pictures today. No interruptions. This is your chance to take it in, to live in the moment, to somehow find the strength to leave.

The concrete eventually transitioned to sand and I took off my flip flops. A cool dampness greeted my calloused soles. Now to keep the callouses off of my soul, I thought, half smiling to myself. I took my time. This was not a moment to rush. I reached the little bridge that stretched over the inter-coastal stream and stopped again. On my left, the sand grass tilted gently in the morning breeze. Their billowy tops formed feathery silhouettes against the faint light to the east. It was quiet. Even the sand gnats were still. A mercy considering how they had harrowed us the night before.

I crested a little knoll and the path gave way to a wide expanse of sand. Looking around, my first thought was how empty the beach was compared to the last time I had come here to witness the dawn breaking. Had it been only ten days? I approached the water’s edge and felt a sudden rush of sadness. I will not pass this way again, I thought. The magnitude of that truth pounded through me like the waves crashing onto the sand. It was a familiar feeling accumulated over the past twenty-eight years. Had I really moved twenty-seven times? Was I seriously volunteering to make number twenty-eight a mere six or so weeks after the last one? And this time alone?

IMG_2095

I set my toes into the warm water knowing I would have to wade out knee deep to discover even a hint of coolness. Despite days of rain and milder nights, the water still felt more like a bath than an ocean. I was used to Virginia waters, so cold that only the Northerners braved it before the pounding mid-July heat had settled in. Even in August, a dip in the water off the Virginia coast was refreshing. But not here. Not in June, July, August, or maybe even September. I wouldn’t be here to confirm my assumption.

I walked then. Following the shoreline, I stepped slowly in the direction of the lightening sky. My purpose was nothing more than just to enjoy – one more time – a stroll through shallow surf at sunrise.

The sky grew almost imperceptibly lighter. I glanced out over the water searching for the birds I had seen hunting just a few days ago. I stopped walking to scan the horizon as well as I could in the near darkness, but my eyes found only empty crests in the choppy, predawn sea. Where are they? I wondered, futilely. I didn’t even know what species of bird they were, Tern, Osprey, or Frigate. It was fascinating to watch their gray forms skim over the water in pairs, threesomes, and more, one straight line of outstretched wings that occasionally beat in no discernible rhythm. Then one or two would break from the flock, rise higher, and plunge headlong into the surf. I was too far away to see the prize held in its beak. I could only watch it rise from beneath the crest to float on the surface of the water. I was struck by the bird’s willingness to abandon itself to the sea in order to survive. In more ways than I could count, I had abandoned myself again and again to the whims of a capricious ocean. Like those mysterious birds, I had no roots, but had flown endlessly over a barren sea looking for life below the surface. Mercifully, I had found it in the most unexpected swells. Now exhaustion dragged at my wings. I could no longer maintain flight. It was finally time to land, but first I would have to leave.

Deep in my soul, I think I had known for a long time that there would never be a landing without first a leaving.

I turned my attention to the water splashing over my feet. As I watched tiny waves form to crash onto the sand in uneven bursts, I noticed how they all began as individual crests, only to merge into one shallow wash of water that moved in an almost circular motion. Pushing forward, the water strained against an inexorable pull back into the unplumbed depths from which it came, only to begin the cycle all over again. The constancy of the syncopated rhythm of the ocean continues to mesmerize me. The simplicity of wave after wave merging into the complex ebb and flow of tides in and out, day after day, year after year, millennia after millennia only makes me and my decisions feel small. That one section of beach and my narrow vision of those few waves represented less than a drop in the bucket of uncounted miles of shoreline around the globe. My mind can barely grasp the enormity of so many coasts, much less the vastness or depth of the sea itself. But even as I feel smaller, as I watch myself shrink in the face of the sheer magnitude before me, I understand that like my tunnel vision of this small stretch of beach, my everyday decisions – small in themselves – when put together, made up an entire life. And there is more to a person than their decisions, their actions, or even their thoughts. As I pondered all of this, I caught a glimpse of the vastness within myself I still had yet to explore.

The sky slowly began to change color. Deep blue gave way to paler shades overlaid with oranges, purples, and hints of pink. There would be no blazing ball today, at least, not for me; only colorful clouds whose outlines continually transformed in the early morning breeze. Every blink revealed a subtle shift of color in the jagged edges of cloud cover overhead.

Around me camera lenses began opening and snapping shut. That had been me a few days back – working hard to capture a memory on the canvas of a photo lens. Somehow I knew that today needed no lens; the memory of this sunrise would live on in me for as long as I could remember. Forgetting would be harder. My failure to stay the course, my inability to love in the end, the hurtful words that had left implacable scars on the soft places left in my heart – these would be much more difficult to forget than the skies’ colors, even my camera, I knew, could not faithfully capture. But forget I must. What bird would ever dare to dive back into the deep dark if it did not forget the promise of a waiting predator below the silent surface? The bird’s only chance is hope – hope that the shadow spied below is nothing more or less than its morning meal.

The sunrise complete, I returned the way I had come. With the light of day behind me, I chose hope and gratitude. The past twenty-eight years had by no means been wasted – rather, they had shaped me into who I was that day, just as that day would shape who I was the next, and the next, and the next. This was not the end of a story, but the definitive close of a very long chapter (that now felt strangely short). In any story, from chapter to chapter, the characters may change, the scenes may shift, the plot may take an unexpected turn, but the storyline continues, and so would I.

Taking one final look over my shoulder, I glanced sidelong at the sun, still hidden in brilliant cloud, and said farewell to broken dreams, hopes unfulfilled, and the shadow of a bleak future. As I crossed back over the inter-coastal, I knew that I was doing the only thing I could do in leaving these shores; and, with my back to the rising sun, I walked straight into the arms of a bright, new day.

Because, blindsided.

I did what I promised her I wouldn’t.

But, please, let me explain…

On December 1st every year, one of our local radio stations begins playing Christmas tunes. The same 10 songs over and over again for 25 straight days (at least, that’s how it seems to me)! Every once-in-awhile I push the button to see what comes out … if I hear Jingle Bells or Let it Snow one more time, I think I’ll go home and stuff myself with fruitcake until I push my body into a diabetic coma. To save myself from Christmas Song Burnout (this is a real and documented condition, trust me), I wait until Christmas week to begin listening to Christmas songs in earnest. There are a couple of songs I downloaded for free from NoiseTrade last year that I hadn’t really listened to yet, so I was looking forward to some fresh tunes. On December 22, in my car on my way to work, I plugged in the i-pod, selected Christmas genre, and hit shuffle. “Could’ve Been Summer” was the second song to come out of my speakers.

Car Radio (1)

Friday, December 19 was the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I had talked to my parents the day before. They planned to take my other siblings plus my sister’s husband out for dinner to all be together. I lived a few states away at the time, so was unable to join them. Friday evening I saw on FB some comments begun by my Mom’s post about the difficulty of the day. It occurred to me then that, for me, Friday had not been a more difficult day than the previous 364 days had been.

Despite the dull, continuous ache, I was doing pretty well. Yes, I felt sad whenever I thought about calling you (every day, half a dozen times), but on December 22, that song opened my grief like a fresh floodgate that had been screaming to break. The entire last week we spent together came flooding back in, totally uninvited. The memory of you saying my name felt like a tender punch in the gut. Through the tears I kept thinking, “I’m sorry. I told you I wouldn’t remember you that way, but I can’t help it.” So I let myself remember – all of it.

Then I made myself remember other things. Christmas things. How you adored Christmas. You didn’t always make the gifts you gave, but you always made the packages look so inviting. Your gifts were the ones everyone wanted (and did not want) to open. The wrapping was always too lovely to tear through. The decorations in your home were tasteful and stylish and different every year. You understood the beauty of nature over the glare of commercial glitter and always managed to incorporate the beauty of the outdoors into your boxes and bows, wreaths and mantlepieces. Everything you ever did was a work of art, with you the most beautiful one of them all.

It occurred to me on Sunday to remind Mom that she may have missed the funeral, but she had been there when you went home. She was able to whisper encouragement and hold your hand and say goodbye in that agonizing moment. I’m so glad for that. Though I could not be there to say the final goodbye, I am thankful for the week I was given the month before – every painful, horrible, gut-wrenching, sweet, precious, lovely moment of that unforgettable week. I am thankful for the many years we had together – the phone calls, the holidays, the Birthdays, the anniversaries, moushie jokes, Mah-Nuh, Mah-Nuh, all the love and sweat and tears and joy. I remember it all. I remember you. And even though it “Could Have Been Summer” when you left, I doubt that would have made this Christmas any easier.

Kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!

LOVE you, Ditty-Boo – bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

– Your Little Sis

Season for Remembering

It is the first week of November and I am finally getting around to pulling out my winter clothes and putting all that is summer away. It seems kind of late in the year for that, but then, I am always thankful when the warmer weather hangs around a bit longer. No complaints here.

One of the items in my winter clothes box was the down vest I took from my sister’s closet last Christmas. I debated keeping it since it wouldn’t zip up at the time. Well, technically it zipped, but it was quite tight. A couple of months ago, I lost 10 pounds. Lo and behold, the vest fits me now! 

Today I laid the vest on the couch as I was getting ready to go to work. Within five minutes Ian found his way onto it. Only two days since it came out of the box and already my cat has reclaimed it. The suitcase it covered last winter has long been emptied and put away, but Ian managed to find his way back to the warmth of it. A bit surprising, actually, since he rarely climbs onto the couch to begin with. For him that vest is probably just a warm spot to cozy-up on, but I cannot help but wonder if my connection to her – my grief – is somehow being communicated to him through this piece of clothing. 

Ian kneaded the vest before settling into its folds, and I spent a few moments trying to imagine what my sister would say if she saw it. Of my three felines, Ian is both the most fearful and the most affectionate. My sister dealt with fear and anxiety a lot, and I would have to say that of all my family – including me – she loved the deepest. No, my sister wasn’t perfect, but she always strove to embrace others fully – flaws and all. A whole lot like my cat.

I hated removing Ian from the vest, but truth be told, I need it. Three weeks from yesterday marks the anniversary of the last week I spent with my sister. I am not sure that I will ever believe that time heals all wounds. Somehow time does have the power to diminish the pain. The empty space left in my heart by my sister’s absence is certainly still there. It always will be. I step into it often now. I talk to her there, like I used to. I may not be able to hear her respond, but I always feel her smile.

This month marks the beginning of a season to remember, yet the whole of the end of 2013 was a nightmare I would like to forget. On the cusp of the anniversary of those dark days, I am reminded to go further back in my memories to ponder the good and the bad, to the plethora of shared experiences with my sister. Maybe instead of a season of grief, this winter will turn into one of thanksgiving for the blessing of 50 years with her in my life. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember to appreciate the loved ones who remain, while they’re still with me. Maybe that’s what memories of the ones we lose are really for.

The windy fall has brought the neighborhood hawks out in droves. I see one almost every day now. And whether it’s her visiting me or not is irrelevant. They remind me of her, just like the vest. So, Ian, while I won’t give it over to you completely, I am willing to share. You can enjoy its warmth and the interesting fabric against your kneading paws. I will remember the one who wore it for a time, because in the end, I don’t need the vest, just the comfort it brings. A whole lot like my cat.

Words Fail

Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop series.  I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

– William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.

Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our  “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase).  What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims.  What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.

Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.

May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.

~  ~  ~

November 25, 2013, Day 1

I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.

If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.

Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.

November 26, 2013, Day 2

Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.

How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?

As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.

November 27, 2013, Day 3

Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.

November 28, 2013, Day 4

On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.

November 29, 2013, Day 5

Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.

For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.

My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.

Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.

On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.

My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.

But Friday was our last day.

I miss you more than I can tell. Soon over – we will be together again!

Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.

I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.

X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)

I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

Your Little Sister,

C

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10