Excerpt from Exhilarated Life: Discovering Inner Happiness
Surrendering to What Is
How to experience life as an endless act of love.
Taking the hand of “What Is” is to engage in the dance of life. Sometimes
we join in gladness and sometimes we join in sadness, but when we lean
into the arms of surrender we experience life as an endless act of love.
This morning—four years ago—I looked into my husband’s eyes for
the last time. It was a magical moment of grace, free of fear or sadness. It
began with the absolute knowing. In that clarity, there became nothing
to do but to follow the lead of the moment. The handful of moments
from first waking to last breath became a ritual of sorts. I had slept in a
chair by the bed where he could easily see me when he opened his eyes.
George had awoken fitful and perspiring.
I fetched the nurse to hurry up his meds and grabbed a fresh gown from
the rack in the hall. To calm him, I filled a basin with warm water scented
with lavender oil, and began to bathe him; his face, his hands, legs, feet.
The nurse helped me put on a fresh gown. Waiting for the clock to strike
7:00AM and the pain relief to arrive, I performed Therapeutic Touch
to offer whatever relief or comfort I could. I knew he was slipping away
quickly, and by the time I had finished the treatment, he was gone. I
climbed into the bed and fit my body into the familiar contour of his
back, and held him. He was without pain and I was at peace.
I recount this not to be maudlin or dramatic, but because it was that
peace—beyond understanding—that would define my life from that
moment on. In succumbing to my own powerlessness I gained the
greatest power of all. The power to transcend my own mind.
There were many life-altering lessons through the years leading to the
morning of February 2, 2007. Each had the central pivot of death.
On one occasion, I was reading a piece to my son and he listened
closely before finally commenting, “Mom, people read your blog to be
uplifted, not to read about death. Can’t you write anything that doesn’t
include your pain and suffering?”
I didn’t see it as pain and suffering. That would be whining. I explained
that the whole context of my learning was pivotal from that experience
and to write without hinging all to the experiential depth, I couldn’t
adequately give weight to the points I was attempting to make. While
his comment wasn’t the advice I sought, I took it to heart. I realized he
was right about one thing and I was wrong about another. This I didn’t
realize until this morning.
My son was right about people not really wanting to hear about death.
And while I wasn’t writing from the vantage of pain and suffering, it
must have seemed that way. What I was wrong about didn’t occur to
me until just now. It wasn’t George’s death that was pivotal, but instead
my surrender to the inevitable. In that surrender, or humility, to accept
the forces of nature as they played out, I was able to act in concert with
the flow—and ebb—of Life itself.
The notion of “surrender” is a little misleading and this is where ego-mind
comes in. We think we choose. We think we drive the course of the
world. We think we can visualize and make it so. We imagine ourselves
co-creators in a world that has been rolling itself out in evolution
from the beginning of time. We think if we rail against the painful or
difficult moments in our lives, we might somehow manipulate them or
avoid them altogether. When we stop thinking and start surrendering
or accepting what is, we will stop shaking our fist at the thunderstorm
and go get an umbrella.
When the conditions are lined up for a thunderstorm, a thunderstorm
there will be. We live in a physical universe with underlying laws or
forces that manage the fulfillment of every speck of dust and galaxy.
When conditions of dander, dirt, and breeze align, there will be dust
under the bed. When conditions of stress, virus, and a sneeze collide, a
cold is imminent. When conditions are right an egg will be fertilized, a
cyclone will form, someone will become wealthy…or lose everything.
Birth, death, winter, summer, gain or loss are points on a timeless cycle
of evolution. How we experience these points is of our choosing. That
we will experience them is not.
If we were to put our shoulder to a steamroller and push back, we
will suffer a sore shoulder. Pushing against a steamroller is bad for
our health and seriously impedes our capacity for happy pursuits. Yet
we do it all the time! We push against the unfolding events of our
lives—personal and universal—and think our push alone will alter the
outcome when all conditions are aligned for something other than our
intention. We know we are pushing when we act in fear or anger. This
is the ego acting out.
The ego isn’t bad. It is just living in medieval times and believes it is the
center of the universe and that all events orbit accordingly. In truth,
the ego is merely the sum total of all the memories, perceptions and
experiences—conscious and unconscious—peculiar to the individual.
If the ego is the iPod that we download all experience into, then the
mind is the speaker—the headphone—literally. And anyone waking at
three in the morning knows there is quite a jumble in there: Should I
set up online banking? Did Aunt Myrtle live at number thirty-two or
number thirty-six? Should I wear a suit tomorrow?
Our minds are so busy making sense out of nonsense that we are often
distracted from conditions unfolding around us and step out into a
busy street. If a particular series of conditions align—then whammo!
No wonder we are afraid. We jump at the sound of the horn, are
shocked that we lost our job, angry that we gained weight, and fearful
that we might get sick and die. We miss our opportunities to influence
the set of conditions. But it is possible to look both ways, care for our
bodies, and prepare for eventualities.
Sometimes we can participate in the conditions and sometimes we
cannot. When we cannot change the course of events and accept that we
cannot, we finally begin to live in grace. Grace isn’t a divine sprinkling
that allows us to stay dry in the rain. It is an act of the will to be aware
that there are forces seen and unseen that affect our life experience. We
are at once the microcosm and the macrocosm. The raindrop as it falls
into the ocean.
George had two doctors. One told him he was going to die and one told
him he was going to live. We lived clinging to the pendulum swinging
between hope and despair. There was no time for what was really
going on: The end days to our life together. In complete exhaustion
in the middle of one night, with my mind carrying on its own crazy
chase, I surrendered. I gave up and just asked to feel the peace that I
might be okay with whatever happened. In that moment I realized that
neither doctor actually knew. I realized that what was happening was
between God and George
Conditions that started at his conception,the conception of all his
ancestors—his very DNA alignment—were
manifesting in a complexity beyond any understanding. Add to that
the chemical environmental damage that killed both his brothers with
mesothelioma caused by asbestos, to which George was also exposed in his
young years. All would result in his eventual and inevitable release
from the physical body.
I could accept it or reject it. I could be fearful. I could be angry. I could
medicate myself. I could bathe in sorrow and self-pity. I could pinion
myself on guilt or remorse. I could beg God for a reprieve. I could
weep on my sons’ shoulders. But I could not change it. I could only surrender
to it. I could be present but only peripherally. I could ease
the process for us both but not alter it. I could interact with love and
It is in the surrendering that we know peace. Peace does not supersede
grief. If anything, it allows the grief its fullness and release. In surrender,
I can see the blessing of George’s life entwined in mine and I can see
the gift of his death. Life is huge and unutterably beautiful. It includes
death, adversity, poetry, roses, stars, and the smile of a child.
Without the conditions that included George’s death I could not have
chosen surrender. I would not have experienced grace. I would not have
found peace. I would not have learned that in accepting the awesome
totality of Life I have a greater capacity for love and compassion than
I could ever have believed. I would not have known the lightness of
being that I know today.
What died with George that morning four years ago was my belief in
my ego-mind as authority. My ego didn’t die. It is the sum total of all
my life experience; the seams that hold me together as Marilyn. It is the
content of my life, not the context. The context for my life is the same
as yours. All Life. We rise up on the surface of the ocean, catch the
sunlight on the crest of our wave, and then recede again into all that is
and ever will be. In the beginning and in the end—Love is all there is.
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