What the Threat of Death can Teach us.

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Yesterday I thought a lot about death.

It began with with the news that Brittany Maynard had chosen two days before as her own death. I’d only just learned (and edited and shared this piece) about her plight for the right to a dignified death on the same evening I’d published and shared.

The post was popular, the conversations vibrant.

The opportunity to dig deep into that piece (on behalf of the writer, Molly Ruby) really shook me awake. It made me remember how a close friend had told me about her experience with death, once, and how I have vowed since to do everything in my power to make sure that people have an opportunity to just be comfortable when the time comes.

To just be at peace.

I don’t think that peace should be too much to ask for in life or in death, but somehow it is for so many.

Later that morning I found myself with windstung cheeks and open, wondering eyes, walking through a maze of leaf-littered paths in what could be one of the most morbid of places: a cemetery.

Moving through that restful and sad place somehow woke me up; while I was respectful and solemn of the context of the place, it’s beauty fairly stunned me.

There was a certain gentleness about breathing it all in, of the grace and oldness of the beautiful statues that stand as gravestones.

Sadly the bigger the statues, the more money the deceased (families) probably had (have), which means their graves will rule over the rest for a longer period of time.

But the statues give life to the place, a community of sorts. I imagined all of the ghosts (not just the rich ones) dancing together in this peaceful park on the side of the mountain, some maybe escaping to haunt earthly places that they love or could not let go of.

I’m not even a superstitious person; many close friends have experienced ghosts (and I believe their experiences) and I have not. But I’d like to believe that death is not the end. Just the choice that we have to use our imaginations in that way is a thing that can keep us light.

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So I was transfixed by the way the stillness of the statues was highlighted by patches of sunlight and contrasted by whirlwinds of leaves and distant city sounds.

I wrote recently about breathing out to balance all of the inwardness. And this is part of finding a reflection in the dark goddess 

The reflecting made me think about the little deaths, the way that we die to each moment, that we have to leave the past behind every day.

It made me think of the reasons we are so scared to morph out of the things we are defined by: I am (we are) not that ‘person’ anymore.

I want to leave a lot of it behind but I loved it, for real. And don’t quite know what is filling the space anymore.

Change happens anyway—we can’t stop it. Big changes, loss that seems out of our control is the biggest. So I want to change now and move into a new way of being but the patterns that I’ve held onto for so long define me, too.

My skin feels cool and papery, now, suddenly waxy and wan. I don’t feel young anymore. This feeling has been sneaking up on me for a while, I guess but it’s finally hitting me: I’m aging. I no longer feel the warm fullness of youth in my face-skin but a fallen, cooler feel, like a blue-grey filtered photograph that not so long ago was warmly tinted, immune to gravity and time.

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Or maybe I just thought that.

And that’s not really important.

What is important is that we see beauty in death, in the fight for a meaningful legacy.

But we can also surrender to forces beyond our control.

Maybe the beauty in Brittany’s fight was about surrender, how she was not fighting death per se, but resigning to it (as we all have to, really) in the way that was most peaceful for her.

In this, she will stand the test of time gracefully, like the statue-gravestones that I so love. They seem to say Surrender. Peace. We are still here, still valid, still marking the space and place and lives of us and our loved ones…but maybe, just maybe, the acceptance of loss means it’s not an ending.

Maybe marking the reality of (the threat of) an earthly death is exactly what keeps us going.

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Two Months in…Aaaaaand Exhale.

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Today, I’m relieved.

I’m not really sure what I’m relieved about all together. Maybe it was that I felt physically sick yesterday but woke up and felt well enough to take a little walk/jog in the crisp morning air. Maybe it was that I felt like I *should* be into Halloween somehow but just wasn’t.

This morning, it was lovely going at my own pace, exploring curving (flat!) sidestreets and letting the orange-yellow leaf-littered sidewalks just call me towards them, in any direction I wanted.

Then treating myself to a coffee at my favourite little spot as I walked home.

As I was running (okay, jogging really slowly for only a minute or two at a time), I thought about the exhale and how warming it is, how we can use it to power us.

It is a sigh of relief, a moment of relaxation at the end of a day, season, year.

I was so happy to be able to move my body and not hurt. I was happy to finally feel something other than a weird fullness/pain in my chest and stomach for the first time in a few days.

Somehow I feel relieved that October is over…I’m not quite sure why, because November is always tough.

But I made a pact to myself, this morning of November 1:

1) I will not let my body get the better of me 

2) I will not let this month bring me down like it tends to do 

Now, back to the significance of the exhale:

It’s symbolic of keeping an even breath, of balancing how we are taking in the world and what we are putting out there. It’s about staying attentive to how we are perceiving things with all of our senses, of how we are communicating.

It’s symbolic of what we are giving out. I am so internal sometimes I forget to extend and give. I honestly forget what is inside to give out.

When in water—say, diving—we exhale to sink down. It’s kind of scary but comforting as well. So I’m thinking of it as sinking into the wintertime, kind of settling in and exploring underwater. Obviously there is a need to come up for air at times, but I’ll wait for warmer weather to really hang out on the surface, maybe the sand. There is lots of really cool stuff underwater, even though it may seem dark and scary at first.

It’s about dropping. I’m still dropping things that are coming up, dropping negative thoughts / thought patterns from the past. It’s okay that they are still coming up, but I’m slowly working my way out.

That metaphorical weight and this physical weight will not hold me down. I will spend the winter finding ways to exhale. And it may be challenging on some of the snow-filled days but I have to.

It’s necessary.

I’m digging into a couple of boxes and finding books and scraps of paper that remind me of the sweetest friends, of the people who matter the most, and re-discovering all the books I have yet to read.

There’s more space here, now, and instead of being scared or feeling stagnant or bored, I’m breathing into it.

The next goals: more invitation, imagination, play.

But breathing (out) is priority.

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Morning thoughts: Multisensory Musicality

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Stables by Franz Marc.

*New fun writing exercise: morning pages go public! So this post may not be much of anything interesting for the reader; it might be more for me. It’s going to be a little rambly (but not entirely unedited) and I’m going to let it be. 

My head is foggy, freshly woken from strange dreams. I was at a concert, Shayne was there. Lots of people and I was kind of having fun, but kind of lost. I was supposed to be on stage (maybe, for a second) but was sort of roaming around in this gigantic and crowded forum.

I was supposed to be playing music. I AM!

There is no guitar here and I miss the feel of the strings under my fingertips. I never thought I’d crave that.

Playing music is a tactile thing too. On my way back from the kitchen this morning, I stopped and played the out of tune piano, smooth white keys. It feels good, but not familiar. Not that feeling that comes with 25 years of (casual) playing, as is the case with my acoustic guitar.

But it’s more than just about touch. The tactile feeling is accompanied by a knowing, a muscle memory, the way the mind and body just connects flows into this way that is unique to you only.  Then, listening.

So then when we play a song we get sight, sound, hearing, touch, mind-and-body-memory. Something so familiar, but still entirely unique.

When I play guitar (for myself), I’m in flow. Something about being so completely immersed and the way my fingers know…it reminds me of something, but makes me forget.

In my yoga class (connecting to yoga through creativity) we have been focussing on the way we interact through the senses. I never realized how much sight really is key for me right now, until I realized how the brightness of colour in the paintings in the art museum the other day changed something inside of me. The photo above is of a painting of my new favourite painter: Franz Marc.

A german expressionist whose primary subject was animals, he was drafted to WWI front lines and then was included on a list of artists that Germany deemed too important to lose in war. But he was killed before they got to him with this information.

Back to music: I never thought about how many of the senses are combined while playing music. One can be (or maybe, must be) completely immersed. So we forget about everything else because our brains need us to.

I’ve heard that musicians tend to have less age-related brain deterioration, likely because of the ways that the brain is used when playing music. I wonder if this has anything to do with the ways that the senses combine in new ways?

Speaking of multisensory, I heard this really interesting story which is a part of this Radiolab podcast-–it’s about a blind woman named Emily who (through a special device) learned to see with her tongue. Supposedly this is representative of the brain’s capacity to build new sensory pathways.

So the senses combine in unexpected ways all the time, especially (maybe) when one of them dies, and especially when we create. It’s important to ‘see’ the art, to listen to music (eg: as ‘input’), but what is really happening when we create, especially at a high level as a skilled musician or artist would?

And what about learning to feel sounds, or taste visions, like Emily? Is it really possible to see with your tongue, or hear with the sense of touch? Does someone lacking one of the senses also continually carve new neural pathways?

We have the observer, but what of the creator? Does that person’s brain use different pathways than another?

Are these two things related, in some way, in terms of showing the capacity that our brains have to interpret and process new senses? Is our brain’s action of carving new pathways an intrinsic part of the entire creative (input and output) process?

And is this why, while listening to music and seeing art is deeply satisfying, it’s not entirely it—at least, not in the way that making it is?

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