Stories About Death

One of the greatest challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth is facing the mystery of death.

We know what happens to the body. We can see it, smell it, deal with it, though we may grieve. But the spirit? What happens to that? What lies on the other side of the dark door of death?

We don’t know.

So we create stories.

One story says it is all over when the body dies. The elusive essence we call spirit dies, too. It is the end. There is nothing more. Some respond to this idea by grabbing to get theirs while they can, since they believe there will be no consequences. Others say that, if indeed all ends with the death of the body, they must live a life of service and integrity, do their very best in the time that they have.

But most stories say that even after the body dies, the spirit does live on. Perhaps we become part of nature. In my novel Never Again, as Lenny is dying he says to Clara, “Maybe I’ll sink into the earth, like your Elirians, and become part of all that is, the trees, the grass, maybe a rabbit that nibbles the grass, then maybe a coyote.”

Some religions say there is a heaven and a hell, and only if we meet certain conditions can we go to heaven. Otherwise we are doomed to suffer for eternity. Hindus and Buddhists, say we will be born again—and again and again— on the wheel of reincarnation until we have learned all life’s lessons and  become so purified that we can return to God.

Throughout history and in all cultures there are stories about death. But what happens when the stories from one culture conflict with those of another? There can be terrible results.

Clara explains to the Elirians. “Many become frightened when they hear a story different from their own, because if that story is true, then maybe theirs isn’t. They may become so afraid they kill the ones whose story is different from theirs.”

“You kill over a story?” one of the Elirians asked, her dark eyes wide with shock.

“Yes,” Clara answered,because we are afraid. Because it is unknown. Much of the violence on Earth is because we fear death. We fight over things that we hope will protect us from death, but in the end nothing does. We walk on the brink of the unknown and try to hide from it, deny it. But inside we all know we will die, and most of us are afraid.”

How then do we face death in a sacred manner? Certainly not by going to war over our stories as we have for millennia. The grief and destruction of such wars create right here on Earth the hell that many fear in the afterlife.

I could blog every week for a year and still not touch all that can be explored about relating to death in a sacred manner. And I will write more in the weeks to come.

For now let me simply say I believe we must live in love. Whatever story we hold closest to our hearts, we must also allow and respect the stories of others.

The truth is we don’t know.

So let us face the wonder of the mystery with trust, awe, and curiosity.

The Path Toward Death

Aging is happening all our lives from the time we are twenty-something, but there comes a time when it accelerates, a point— only we ourselves can say at what chronological age— when we realize we are in the last stage of our lives and we are really going to die.

Such a time came to me about a year ago. I was troubled by free-floating anxiety. When I went to my therapist and we sorted together, I realized that most of my anxiety was about my body. She said, “It’s okay. You’re seventy-nine. You’re in transition toward death.”

A shocking statement, but it was a relief. Of course my body would have to break down, else, short of sudden violence, how could I die?

For the last year I have been living into the understanding that I am in that transition, although it may take ten or even fifteen years. It is a shift in focus. I walk my path in a new way, open to what is unfolding, rather than being fixed on how I think it should be. Because at any moment—

Of course it is true that at any time of life that moment may come. Death always walks beside us. When we are young we really don’t believe that, but as we grow older death comes closer.

My doctor said to me once when I was complaining about fatigue, “Give thanks for what you can do and rest when you’re tired.” Wise words.

Flower Petals On The Path Toward Death

One of the gifts of aging, though it may not seem so, is that we do need to rest, slow down, and these quiet times give us an opportunity to go inward.

Clara writes, after she is old again, “The frequent rests I needed during the day, stretched out on my bed under the silver blanket, gave me time to return to those ineffable processes that had been interrupted for a year—dreaming, musing, sorting the experiences of my life as the old do, laying flower petals on the path toward death.”

For me, there is a sense of urgency now, not about what I must do, but about what I want to become before I die. Time is running out, and, although I’ve lived a rich, full life, I am only now getting down under all my busyness to grasp what is important. Not much time left to learn to love as I have always wanted to love. Not much longer to court the light and clear away the debris that keeps it from shining though me.

It’s true, there are a few things I would like to complete. I’d like to see the novels I’ve started finished and published. It would be good to clear out all those possessions I no longer need that still clutter my closets, basement, and garage. But those things are not important really. If they don’t get done, it doesn’t really matter.

The love and the light are what matters.

Aging In A Sacred Manner

Aging is tough. There is so much loss. Little by little our bodies betray us. In varying degrees and combinations we lose our teeth, our hair, our hearing, our vision, our memory, our continence, the flexibility of our joints, our very strength. It’s embarrassing, humbling, frustrating. We also lose the ability to enjoy many of activities we loved. And far worse than these physical losses, is the loss of friends and family who die before us.

Clara muses as she struggles with her aches and fragility: “It’s only aging. Aging is never easy. It’s the toughest challenge on top of all the challenges of incarnate existence, and comes at the end when, hopefully, we have accumulated enough strength of spirit to handle it.”

How then do we age in sacred manner? How find transcendence out of such myriad difficulties?

My mother, Katharine Day Barnes, wrote a poem in her old age, from which I derived the title for my novel.

“There are warnings enough—that first cold night in August

When Andromeda swings up in the East and crickets are silent!

The early dusk of September, heavy dew in the garden,

And blurring eyes, and aches, and names forgotten.

Never again, never again the summer of strength and beauty.

Friends waver and vanish—O chill north wind of warning!

Look long, love deep while you may.

Too soon December.”

Perhaps the first step in bringing transcendence to aging is accepting it, and the death that looms, as part of the natural rhythm of life.

Clara explains to the immortal Elirians who seek to understand aging and death, “It’s like the seasons of our Earth—the newness of spring, the fullness of summer, the withering of fall, the death of winter.”



Gratitude and presence are also key to aging in a sacred manner. Gratitude for all that is past—all the gifts, the adventures, the people we have loved, the lessons learned. Gratitude even for the bitter lessons, holding them in gentleness and forgiveness.

Gratitude for the present. With age, let us find at the last the wisdom to savor the gifts of each moment—the opening of a flower, the mutable colors of the sky, the shining eyes of a child, the smile of a beloved, the taste of food, the comfort of a warm bed. Most of all, may we drink in and give back love.

When Lenny and Clara learn that Lenny is dying, Clara asks in grief, “What will we do?” and Lenny answers,  “We will live every single moment we have left together so deeply each one will be an eternity.”

As we age we become like an old rock wall that shifts, settles, and crumbles. Being grateful, being present are like growing flowers into our crumbling spaces.

Look long, love deep.

Transcending Pain

On the planet of Eliria there is no pain. The Elirians are troubled by what they find here on Earth. Tirini says of the humans they have brought to their ship to heal, “They speak of pain. We feel their pain, but we of Eliria do not have pain of our own. We did not know of pain until we came here.”

And Clara, the human, exclaims, “What a blessed life you have!”


I believe that pain is probably the most difficult of the challenges of being incarnate on planet Earth.

Acute short-term pain can be intense, but it passes, we heal, and go on. Long- term pain is another matter.

It isolates. When we are in pain, we don’t have the energy and it hurts too much to go out and connect. Our pain can become so central in our consciousness that we find it difficult to speak of anything else, but complaining is a serious turn-off to those around us.

We find ourselves in survival mode. How can I get through this day? this night? Nights can be the hardest of all when pain denies us even the rest we so sorely need. We wonder, is it worth it to keep struggling?

I recently went through two years of acute sciatic pain. I am now gratefully functional again, but it was the toughest thing I’ve been through in my long life. During those two difficult years, I gradually crafted a survival code:

  1. Don’t complain. Ask for help only if I truly need it, and then be specific about exactly what help I need. Never dump the whole misery on anyone.
  2. Don’t freak out. Fear makes the pain worse, much worse.
  3. Show up. Keep all appointments and social engagements unless I truly can’t. Stay connected.

But that was only a survival code, and I am seeking to discover how we can transcend the challenges of Earthly incarnation. How can we live with pain in a sacred manner? How bring light out of such misery?

I confess I don’t know. I made it out the end of the tunnel, and I do believe I am wiser for the experience, but I’m not sure exactly how. I have only a few clues.

One is to keep hope alive. Change is the only constant. Miracles do happen. A year and a half ago, in the depths of my pain, I never dreamed I would walk in the high country or dance the tango again. And now I can.

Another is to live in gratitude. I learned to give thanks for the most basic gifts of my life—a comfortable chair, a hot bath, a warm bed, a roof over my head, food—and most of all for the friends who stood by me even before I learned not to complain. Every time we stop and give thanks, there is less space in our consciousness for pain.

Perhaps most important is the discipline of staying present. The Buddhists make a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation. Simply that. Suffering happens when we fall into fear, exacerbating the physical pain with emotional freakout and mental anguish, projecting whole mess onto an infinite future.

When we stay with the present moment, there is only the sensation of pain. Then perhaps we can expand our awareness to include our breath. Then our surroundings. The softness of our bed, or if we can go outside—which always helped me—the color of the sky, the earth underfoot, the smell of the air, the feel of the wind. The more we include in our present moment awareness, the less space there is for pain.

What clues have you found that help you transcend pain? I would welcome your sharing.

To Love In A Sacred Manner

On Eliria, since there is neither male nor female, Elirians are not troubled with sexuality. They are beings of perfect love and go peacefully about their tasks of creating harmony without being distracted.

On Earth, human sexuality is a tremendous force affecting every aspect of our lives: religion, politics, culture, family, gender roles, self-identity.

The spectrum of how we use that power is wide, touching at it’s worst the deepest depravity of humankind: rape, mutilation, murder, abuse of all kinds. I will not write more of that. It is in the paper most days.

At the other end of the spectrum, sex can be truly making love, bonding, comfort, delight, the creation of a desired child, the inspiration of great art in many forms, ecstasy, connection with the divine. As Lyra discovered, “dancing into the Light.”

How can we turn the force of sexuality to the highest end of the spectrum? How can we love in a sacred manner?

I think of two words: respect and kindness. They are not dramatic words, maybe not even especially romantic ones; but if all human sexuality were channeled through respect and kindness, it would be a different world indeed. 

In his book The Presence Process, Michael Brown writes that unconditional love is what everyone wants most and that all of our dramas amount to ways that we seek to get it. “Unfortunately unconditional love is not an experience we can force others to channel our direction through the manifestation of drama. . . .Unconditional love must be given to be experienced, for it is only through the act of giving that it is experienced.”

As I read those words, I was deeply touched. There was a sense that I had always known that somewhere in my soul, but only then did I realize it. The only way to know unconditional love is to give it.

What is unconditional love? This is a huge, infinite question, because such love is infinite, beyond human comprehension. Perhaps we begin with respect and kindness, and move on to love that is without judgement, attachment, or expectation, love that is committed to the highest good of the beloved.

(I am no authority on this. I speak only from the experiences and yearnings of my  heart.)

It seems that though such love is the essence of God, always within and around us, pouring through us, we are like kinked and leaky hoses that cut the flow to a trickle or send it off in divergent directions.

Clara muses after returning from her time with the Elirians, “I have been in the presence of perfect love. How can my imperfect self bear such love? How can I go again among humans where love is twisted, tainted? How can I not?”

Is is possible for us faulty humans love unconditionally?

I want to think it is at least worth a try. The great teachers call us to transformation. Sharon Salzberg in her book Lovingkindness, quotes the Buddha as saying, “Abandon what is unskillful. One can abandon the unskillful. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.  . . . Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.”

My beloved teacher, Ida Rolf, said, “Perfection is not an appropriate goal for three-dimensional reality— but working toward it is.”

If we seek to embody this love, it is like stepping off a cliff like the Fool in the Tarot, or standing at the edge of the ocean intending to swim to the horizon.

Dare we jump? Dare we plunge in?

The Insanity of Falling In Love

Falling in love is insanity.

“I can’t go on without you.”

“I’m wild again, beguiled again, a simpering, whimpering child again. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I.”

“Taunt me, and hurt me, deceive me, desert me, I’m yours till I die, so in love, so in love, so in love with you my love, am I.”

Lines from love songs.

On the planet of Eliria, there is neither male nor female. Peace and harmony prevail. On Earth, we are hard-wired to mate—and men are from Mars, women from Venus. Insanity prevails. Lured by the intensity and drama of the call to mate and all the hormones that stirs up, we lose sleep, break out in zits, agonize over what to wear, are captive to the throes of jealousy, exaltation, despondence, hope, despair.

Seriously bi-polar.

As I explore how to love in a sacred manner (see my post on Earth and Eliria), I don’t think all this turmoil is how you do it. Like a thunderstorm with no rain, it doesn’t nourish, and sometimes burns and destroys. Looking under the turmoil, I find that it is fear based, arising from loneliness, desperation, and clinging. And fear is the opposite of love.

Not everyone seeks love out of loneliness and desperation, but judging by the songs, it is not uncommon.

When we seek love in desperation, it is bound to go awry. Desperation tells us that we are not okay without a partner to protect us, to comfort us, to be there always to fill the terrible abyss of loneliness. Then should we find someone, we are apt to cling, and so ultimately chase our love away. There are many variations on this theme, but desperation rarely wins.

How do we transcend the desperation so that we can seek, find, and endure with our loved one in a sacred manner? Ah, that is hard. Fear and desperation are ravening beasts. I have spent a lifetime seeking the ways to tame them.

Here are few threads I have found to lead me out of their caves:

Meditation. Where would I be without that gentle process of watching the thoughts, feeling the feelings, calling them by name, and letting them go? Letting them go until at last the deep peace beneath surfaces and comforts.DSCN0235

Nature. Sitting against a tree absorbing the slow dance of its growth; rocking in the ocean; working in the garden, nurturing life, earth in my hands; walking high in the mountains and seeing my own small issue come into perspective with the vastness above and around me.

Movement. For me it has been walking, dancing, yoga. For others, exercise in many forms, sometimes extreme. When we move and feel our movement we are rescued from the terrors of past and future. Sensation is always now.

To love in a sacred manner we must first be at home with ourselves.

What threads have you found to lead you out of the caves of fear? What resources bring you home to yourself?

To Kill To Eat In A Sacred Manner


A month ago I posted a piece comparing Earth with the planet Eliria (the planet in my novel Never Again).  I wrote of the challenges of being incarnate on Earth, and how we might meet them in a sacred manner. Today I am writing about meeting the challenge of killing to eat.

Several decades ago I became a vegan because I didn’t want animals to be killed to feed me. But I was a gardener. I sang as I planted my seeds, prayed to the devas for guidance, blessed my little plants as I watered them, watched over them and nurtured them. Then one day I cut some leaves of Swiss chard, brought them into the house, chopped them up and steamed them over boiling water.

I had done that for years, harvested my vegetables and cooked them. Killed them.

That day I realized what I was doing, and grieved for my chopped up plant. It doesn’t matter whether it is animal or vegetable. We must kill to eat.

I was explaining to my seven-year-old grandson who has dinner with me once a week, why we say blessing before we eat. Because, I told him, other life forms have died so we can be fed.

He considered this for a while. “No, Grandma, not apples. The apple tree doesn’t die.” More consideration. “Not milk . . . or cheese . . . or yogurt. The cow doesn’t die.” He was silent a while frowning, then summed it up with a wave of his fork. “Fruit and dairy. We could just eat fruit and dairy.”

No, Grandma, apples

No, Grandma,  not apples

True. But in fact most of us need to eat more than that. And other life forms must die to feed us. Unlike the Elirians, we cannot live on light.

How then can we nurture the life that we eat, and kill in a sacred manner?

In some traditional cultures hunting was a ritual, with dances and prayers to honor the animal to be killed. There was awareness not to take more than was needed, to use every part of the animal sacrificed.

Not wasting is part of honoring what we kill to eat.

In earlier times in our country, and still on organic farms, animals are cared for well and killed cleanly. The soil is renewed with organic matter.

But most of the food in our stores comes from factory farms where no care is given to the quality of the life of the beings that feed us.

Caging animals so tightly that they cannot move and must live in their excrement is travesty.

Spraying vegetables with chemicals that then sink into the ground and poison our waterways is travesty.

Altering plants so they can withstand ever more toxic herbicides is travesty.

How much, I wonder, does this disregard for the lives that feed us lead to disregard of other lives—  other humans that are different from us, our wildlife, all living beings? And further lead us to destruction, war. If we could all honor the lives that are closest to us, those we eat, perhaps we could begin to turn around the culture of violence that so mars our planet.

There are ways to create our food in a sacred manner.  May we all be aware and make choices that can heal the travesties.

My shaman teacher, Elizabeth Cogburn, taught us this blessing for our food:

“We give thanks for all life given to nourish our life. May we so honor this life given that we use it to grow the cells of that which we seek to become. And may we offer ourselves again in service to life.”

Earth and Eliria

When I started to write Never Again, I knew that there had to be extraterrestrial beings, but I didn’t know who they would be or why they came to Earth, or what their home planet was like.

They wrote themselves onto my page. I love it when that happens. It is the most fun part of writing.

The planet of Eliria is a place of peace, beauty, harmony. There is no violence. No need to kill to eat, as the Elirians receive all their nourishment from light through their eyes and from the atmosphere of their planet through their fur.

No male or female.

No death. They are immortal, part of their planet. They arise out of it to take their unique shapes when they are called by a purpose, what they call an “ulada.” When their ulada is complete, they sink back into their planet until they are called again. The five Elirians who rescued Clara have been called to a huge ulada—to come to Earth and learn what is creating such discord that it is felt throughout the universe.

They are beings of unconditional love, whose gifts are healing song and the ability to see into the essence of things.Borowitz-Earth-Endangered-by-Fact-Resistant-Humans-690

Here they find violence, duality, grief, fear, pain, death—as well as much they come to admire about humans. As they prepare to leave Earth, Lillilia sings, “The song of Eliria will be forever changed because of what we have known here.”

When I read the morning paper and grieve, I think about the challenge of being incarnate on planet Earth.

Perhaps Earth is a testing ground for humanity. (I know this is not a new idea.)

Perhaps our coming here over the ages is like the test given boys at puberty in some traditional cultures. The boy is sent out into the wilderness alone, to survive or to die. If he survives, he comes back a man.

Built into life on Earth are the need to kill to eat, the need to mate, the inevitability of death. These challenges can lead us into violence, destruction, abuse, despair—as we see all around us. But these same challenges can be transcendent.

What if we truly honor each being that gives its life to feed us? What if we approach all relationships between the sexes with respect and concern for the good of the other? What if we open to death as a doorway to rebirth? What if we truly care for our Earth and all her creatures, and change our ways to heal and renew her?

Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, speaks of those he calls “frequency holders.” He says of them, “They do everything in a sacred manner.”

Like the boy in the wilderness, we must find the way to survive. If we do not change our ways, and soon, we and much of the life and beauty on Earth will die. If we can meet our challenges in a sacred manner, then perhaps we may return from the wilderness we’ve created, adults.