The Dome of Time and Space

One of the most primary experiences of Earthly incarnation is that we are bound in time and space. But are we?

I recently reread the novel Siddhartha  by Herman Hesse, a novel that has intrigued me since I first discovered it long ago as a young student at the university.

Set in the time of the Buddha, it is the story of Siddhartha, a young Brahmin, and his search for enlightenment. After following many divergent paths, Siddhartha finally finds peace in his old age as a ferryman living by a river, listening to its voice.

In this reading, it was Siddhartha’s image of the river that stood out for me.Unknown He came to understand that the river was always now, its source, its passage through many landscapes, its return to the ocean, all one, all present at the same time. Then he realized that his life was like the river, always now from birth to death.

I have been thinking about this in relation to my own life. The concept bends my mind. As I age, memories long forgotten thrust forward unexpectedly from time to time, so real and clear they shake my sense of presence. Can it be that my long life is all now? The joys and griefs of my childhood, all the ways I’ve danced, all the spiritual paths I’ve followed, all the dance and yoga and Rolfing students I have taught, my marriages, my lovers, my children and grandchildren at all their ages and stages?

The not-yet-remembered unknown years that lie ahead? My death? All now? All present in this moment?

I can barely hold this realization for the length of a breath. But in that breath, I am free of time.

Then there is space.

Last week my husband and I spent the day in the high country.DSCN0309 We lingered long among the peaks, and, even as we descended, kept looking back to the snow-dappled mountains, the huge sky. We drove down through the canyon, ears popping with the change in altitude, and came into town. It always feels sudden, jarring, after a day in the mountains to emerge from the canyon onto the city streets of Boulder.

But this last time, I had the strange experience that all the streets and buildings were very small, tiny, like doll houses, like the streets and buildings of the elaborate model train layout my brother created when we were children. That it was only by some weird Alice-in-Wonderland trick that I could fit into them at all. That strange perception stayed with me all the way home, driving through the impossibly narrow streets between the teeny tiny buildings. It was as if the vastness of the high country had filled me and was the only true dimension.

stars on the dark

There is also the immensity of the starry sky.

If there is no time, if all the bliss and the anguish are now, how can there be suffering?

If the world we think is so important is actually rather insignificant in comparison with the dimensions of the cosmos, of even our own mountains, then perhaps we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously.

It is only a glimpse, a crack in the dome of three-dimensional reality, a whiff of possibility, hope. Yet in that glimpse is freedom.

‘Til Death Do Us Part

I haven’t posted on my blog for a long time, because I have been absorbed in the process of getting married.

Such a process. And we started out saying we wanted a simple wedding. But even with a simple wedding, there were so many details to attend to: creating a guest list, designing an invitation, finding a venue, researching a caterer, choosing a menu, manifesting table decorations—and on and on.

But we did it all, and now we are wed. Clay Elliott is my beloved husband. It is very good.DSC_7932

The most important part of the preparation was creating the ceremony, which we did with our dear friend Cedar, who was also our minister.

What promises do we make, we asked each other,  when we marry at the age of eighty? And we found that they were the same promises we had made long ago when we married in our youth. The language of love and commitment is archetypal, timeless.

But now, some sixty years later, these words—to love, honor, comfort and cherish, ’til death do us part—have deeper, richer meaning, seasoned by the experiences of our previous marriages and by the tempering of some sixty more years of living. All the hopes and disappointments, the unrealistic expectations, the gifts, the fears, the mistakes, and the many good times, have shaped us, carved us out, so we can hold more. This love has never been the crazy love of desperation that I wrote about in an earlier post, “The Insanity of Falling In Love.” From the beginning it has been gentle, fun, growing gradually, sweet.

When I was married the first time, at age eighteen, I was full of dreams, but I didn’t understand unconditional love as I am learning to understand it now. I don’t think I understood commitment at all. How could I? I was barely more than a child, though I would soon become a mother and begin to learn about commitment as only a beloved baby can teach you.

Getting married is huge. The commitment is huge. I have promised to love and care for this one dear man, no matter what, for the rest of my life. At this age the no-matter-what contains the sureness that we will face aging and infirmity together and one of us will have to deal with the death of the other. That is, of course, true whenever you marry, but when you marry at the age of eighty, it looms closer. We hope for ten good years together.

We gave been showered with so much love and blessing from our friends, our spiritual communities, our families.DSC_7904 Some who have been too long alone and lonely told us that seeing us find each other so late in life gave them hope. It is never too late.

And that is true. It is never too late to find love. Perhaps it is not romantic love, but Love is always there.

Opening Into The Light

Writing “Stories About Death” recently got me thinking about my own personal story. What do I think, have faith in, about what will happen to me when I die?

“Think” is of the mind, “have faith in” is of the heart. I do not believe that the mind can help us much with such a question. It is a poor tool for relating to the infinite.

What does my heart tell me?

I do not fear dying, although I have some trepidation about what might lead up to it.

I feel quite sure my spirit will not die with my body, that I will go on in some way.

I cannot credit the concept of hell, an eternal inferno torturing the lost forever. In all my years of searching, praying, meditation, what I have learned with certainty—if anything can be certain—it is that God is Love.

Being burned is excruciating pain. If we are burned in our human bodies, we either recover or we die. One way or the other, it is over. That the Love I know as God could inflict that level of pain on any of Its creatures for eternity is unthinkable to me. Such a concept can only be the projection onto God of the worst of human perversity, a tool used by earthly authorities to control through fear.

There is hell enough on Earth. Daniel, the minister in my novel The Purest Gold, realizes at last, after almost destroying his family over his concerns about salvation, that hell is being cut off from God and that it is not God but we ourselves that create such separation. The minister in the novel Gillead, says, “If you want to inform yourself as to the nature of hell, don’t hold your hand in the candle flame. Just ponder the meanest, most desolate place in your soul.”

In spite of my regrets about the many failings in my life, I do not fear going to hell when I die. I’ve already been there, and Love has lifted me out.

Some years ago, I had a recurring image in meditation of a ocean of Light, ecstasy that made me weep, color, flow, music of the spheres, a limitless sea, and I a bubble within it. What greater heaven could there be than bursting and becoming One with such beauty?

But perhaps I am not ready. Reincarnation seems a likely hypothesis for me. I have had what seemed to be memories of other lifetimes, strong and clear, echoing within me in a way that felt that they must be true. My almost-finished novel, The Purest Gold, is based on such a memory. And off and on throughout my life I have met strangers that I felt I knew, knew really well, though I had never encountered them before in this lifetime.

Who knows? I have a vivid imagination. After all, I’m a novelist. I could have made it  up. But it doesn’t feel that way.

I like the idea of reincarnation because now that I’m old, I’m finally figuring out so much that I wish I had known earlier when I was a young wife, a young mother, and later, when I was an impatient, busy, middle-aged woman caring for my mother. I have hope all this learning might bear fruit, that I might have another chance, that in some way I can carry the hard-won wisdom of this lifetime forward, that little by little I may become a clearer channel.

The only sad part of the reincarnation story is that it may take me many lifetimes.   Perhaps it will take a long time before the walls of my bubble become thin enough to burst and free me into the ocean of light.

But I trust. I have faith that the Love, the Light, that continuously creates, enfolds, and enlivens me and all creation, will hold me still when my body dies.

As I washed the dishes this evening, I found myself humming a chant we used to sing in the sweat lodge—

“We all come from One,

And unto One we shall return,

Like a ray of light

Returning to the sun,

Like a stream flowing back,

To the ocean.”

All Hallows

All Hallows marks the beginning of the darkest three months of the year. In the Gaelic tradition it is the time of the final harvest, the time when the beasts are brought in from the fields to the shelter of byre and fold, the completion of the inward gathering, the beginning of winter.

In many traditions, it is believed that at this cusp of the dark time, the veil between this world and the next grows thin, and we can connect with those who have gone before us into death. 

As I contemplate the idea of the thinning of the veil, it seems to me that we look not outward into another world, but inward. The souls who have gone before us, some that we loved, some that we feared, some we never forgave, leave their mark within us, become part of us, characters in our inner council that we still love, fear, or cannot forgive.

In our current American culture, All Hallows is primarily about costumes, masks. Often, consciously or unconsciously, we burst forth with a character that has hidden dormant within us. We turn ourselves inside out in a way—and for a night allow what we could not otherwise acknowledge. And it is safe, because we are masked, even if it is a different or opposite mask from the one we present to the world in our everyday life.

Long ago when my children were young and my marriage was challenging, I cut loose on Hallowe’en from my carefully controlled image of good Christian wife and mother, and dressed up as a witch. All in black. Evil cackle and claw hands. Unfortunately, such was the power of that inner witch that I terrified the neighbor children and some of them never quite trusted me again.

My favorite character was a licentious pig, dressed in pink sweat pants and shirt with a curly tail on her bottom, a snout and perky ears. She danced in many a long dance, clowning outrageously and creating waves of laughter all around her.  Her most recent episode was at a tango dance when she emerged replete with eight baby-bottle nipples sticking through her shirt, causing her partners to blush when she went into close embrace with them. A relief from my proper old-lady mask.

Looking through the veil is also looking into the face of Death, intimate partner of incarnation, both friend and foe. Hence the skeletons, the ghosts, reminding us of our inevitable fate. At one of our All Hallows long dances, we created a crypt. When we crawled in, we found at the far end a candle illuminating a mirror in which we saw our own faces.

As we come into the dark time, how do we meet the hidden parts of ourselves, how dance our demons into allies, how embrace the skeleton under the flesh, how befriend the dark?

We can begin with acceptance of all that is within us. We can choose what characters of our inner council we manifest in the world. Some are only appropriate to bring forth on Hallowe’en, but we can embrace them all. We are human, multifaceted. Therein lies our beauty and our power.

And we can open to all that lies ahead of us, trust that the veil parts to reveal Light and the love of God, embracing all that we are through this life and beyond.

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.

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.