Sunday, September 6, 2009

Soul Matters:

Creating a Bucket List for Now and Later

Wayne's House Retreat Center
I hadn’t ever really considered creating a “bucket list” for now or later, yet I found myself inspired to attend a 3-day retreat this summer in Flagstaff, AZ that was going to delve into the realms of death that many people find uncomfortable and often avoid at all costs. That is, until they are faced with a terminal illness - and sometimes not even then.

So why would I, someone who to the best of my knowledge is not facing a terminal illness, choose to attend this type of retreat? Well, for one, I have a pretty healthy relationship to death. It doesn’t frighten me. Perhaps being raised on a farm helped. I was around birth, life, and death all the time. I understood it to be part of the natural course of things. And I have experienced the death of very close loved ones - including my first-born daughter when I was 19, and my mother just this last year - without them being devastating or horribly traumatic. Not to say I haven’t had my share of grieving around these deaths, which I have, just that for me death is a natural process that I’m not afraid to face.

View of volcanic plateau from Wayne's House
What has arisen for me since my mother’s transition is that I find I am interested in participating in a more celebrated and honored death process, for others and eventually for myself. To be a midwife to death. To welcome and guide the transition of death just as we more readily welcome and guide the transition of birth. And that is why I chose to participate in this retreat, which cleared the way for my potential journey into death midwifery. I say “cleared the way” because it is my understanding that one must fully embrace the dying process on a personal level to be effective in working with the dying. And one must also be willing to participate in depth journeys, to go inside the cave of death mysteries.

The retreat had many layers and elements, including a creative process that happens to be one of my favorites - mandala making (based on Dr. Judith Cornell’s work). We engaged in the mandala making after being guided through four levels of “death” and a final “rebirth.” All of these processes were facilitated in a very gentle, loving and nurturing way by our phenomenal retreat leader, Aleia O’Reilly, director of Further Shore, Inc. She created a very safe and supportive space for our depth journeys.

The intention for my Death #1, Mandala #1 is:
To emerge from the soul fire renewed and transformed.
It began with our first death in the east - the “physical act of dying.” We engaged our bodies in movement, we wrote a letter of goodbye to a loved one, and we had a last meal of our favorite food and drink. From here we laid down in a comfortable nest of pillows and were guided in meditation through the actual process of physically dying from a terminal illness. Arising from this meditation we went to the art table, set an intention, and began the creation of a mandala that represented what came to us from this first death experience.

The second death in the south was an “emotional death of letting go.” We were given index card prompts and instructed to write down ten of our favorite things (person, food, activity, etc.), which we then put in order of their importance to us.

The intention for my Death #2, Mandala #2 is:
It’s an inside job.
Laying down again in a nest of comfortable pillows, we laid our cards out next to us and were guided in meditation through the actual process of a terminal illness and having to let go of our favorite things as we got sicker and sicker. Given very precise circumstances, we had to choose which of our favorite things we would give up at that time, until we had only one card left. And then we had to let go of that final favorite thing as we reached our ultimate death. Wow, was this an interesting process! That last favorite thing was the hardest for me to let go of - it was my favorite person, who happens to be my husband.

Having just experienced my own mother going through a similar process of having to let go of her favorite things before she transitioned, I could really understand and grasp this exercise. Arising from this meditation we again went to the art table, set an intention, and began the creation of a mandala that represented what came to us from this second death experience.

The intention for my Death #3, Mandala #3 is:
Forgiveness of self.
The third death in the west was an “egoic death and life review healing.” This time we sat upright as we were guided in meditation through a life review process of specific areas such as unfinished business, greatest challenge, greatest joy, etc. Following the meditation we wrote down on index card prompts what came up for us during the meditation for each of the areas in the life review. We then picked one of the life review cards to create a mandala. I was first tempted to pick one of the “easy” cards such as greatest joy, but then realized my ego was making this choice, so instead I randomly picked a card, leaving it to spirit to move me to what was wanting to express in the mandala. I picked my “needs healing” card, and used the answer as my intention.

The intention for my Death #4, Mandala #4 is:
All the ways to my soul are open.
The fourth and final death in the north was a “spiritual death and fulfilling purpose in earth.” Using a couple of different processes we did investigative work around what traumas in our lives were still needing to be healed (Levels of Consciousness per David R. Hawkins in Power vs. Force), then worked to release and clear these traumas, and the levels of consciousness they kept us trapped in, using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Following these processes we went to the art table to create yet another mandala.

The intention for my Rebirth into Light, Mandala #5 is:
Be you... Soul wishes full expression
through this body at this time.
Your freedom is everyone’s freedom.
Now that we had experienced these four very profound deaths, it was time for rebirth in the east, the gateway to new beginnings and illumination of our earthly journey, and to be shown how we are “fulling purpose out of earth.” Sitting upright, we were guided in meditation - a very deep one for me - of being shown the blueprint of our lives, and for me personally, my life purpose now that I’ve cleared the way of much that was hindering my progress. What came to me very clearly in the meditation was my intention for the final mandala, including how it was going to look.

Complete with our deaths and rebirth, we celebrated our depth journeys with a closing circle, literally, using all our mandalas placed on the floor as the defining edge of the circle. It was really lovely to view the mandalas put together in this fashion, to see and honor the unique expressions of each participant, yet notice also how they all fit together smoothly and fluidly.

This was an incredibly healing and enlightening retreat for me and an experience that will remain in my heart for a long time to come, with more messages and realizations to unfold with each passing day. I really am no longer the person I was when I arrived at Wayne’s House.

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