For many years the Living/Dying Project offered all of our client services free of charge and covered its basic operating expenses through individual donations and a few grants. Basically we were not a business. Almost all staffing, including my work as Executive Director, was done without salary on a volunteer basis. Due to financial pressures from the weak economy and particularly to my own personal financial situation, the Project has had to develop a new business model in order to survive. The heartfelt and generous outpouring of donations we received earlier this year enabled us to weather the immediate crisis and thus have the time to begin the transition into an organization that can continue to offer its basic client services without charge, while at the same time generating enough income to support me and the activities of the Project. We are now a stronger, more vital organization that is serving many more people than before.
I have begun to facilitate ongoing small groups in Berkeley on Monday evening, in Sebastopol on Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday evening, and soon in Marin. These groups, called Healing at the Edge, are supportive communities in which we explore the interface between our human and divine dimensions and how the tension between them determines the fruits of our search for freedom. Also I have begun to see individual clients who are exploring end-of-life issues or are wanting to deepen their spiritual practice. These individual sessions are available either in person or via telephone or Skype/internet for those who do not live nearby. Both the groups and the individual work are for fee, on a sliding scale at moderate rates.
Our website has been redesigned and I encourage you to take a look at it. The site is much more graphically pleasing and user accessible. We plan soon to add more content, user forums, and webinars, to create online an authentic community, The site now reflects the evolution of the Project from an organization that offers spiritual support to those with life-threatening illness and to those who care for them, to an organization that also facilitates healing, healing that arises from a more open and honest relationship with our mortality. If we truly accept that we all will die but we don’t know when, that life is truly precious, that what we do has a real effect in the world, then how are we motivated to act? How much passion and aliveness can we bring to this moment? Can we feel compassion rather than judgement for the supposed imperfections that we see in ourselves and those around us?
The more I work with groups and individuals, the clearer it becomes that many people who have a deep commitment to inner growth and to healing are still blocked in their growth by subconscious patterns. Recent brain studies have shown that about 98% of brain activity is subconscious and 2% is conscious. Again and again our best conscious intentions are overwhelmed by our subconscious patterns, patterns formed early in our lives when we were emotional beings. These patterns interrupt, limit and derail our devotion, our worship, our meditation, our very aliveness. Typically these patterns are not examined in traditional contemplative practices that have their roots in the East because it is assumed that people like themselves and know how to care for themselves, an assumption that does not hold for many of us in the West. To avoid detours and blind spots along the way, a foundation that includes an embodied, centered stance in life is crucial before we begin the work of dis-identification with ego structure.
Working with an integrative spiritual approach to the transformation of suffering that includes passionate devotion, working with patterns of energy in the body and with patterns of conditioning in the mind, we find healing by experiencing the non-dual, that which is deathless, the One in the All, the All in the One.
To the depth that we have encountered our own suffering, to that depth can we feel compassion and to that depth can we also taste joy. This depth can be experienced through loss, through illness, or through spiritual practice. The most profound loss for most is the approach of death. The most beautiful Americans I have ever met were soon to die. Yet even though I supported each of my parents as they died of cancer and guided many other loved ones and clients as they died, intimacy with death did not force me to confront and accept my fear and my mortality as honestly as did the sudden loss on almost all of my resources. The movement in my life from great fear to genuine gratitude has been the result of more and more deeply realizing that I am not the doer and that my role is to surrender the fruits of my actions to God, to my Beloved. What relief! The Dark Mother has been a fulfilling yet very demanding companion. Sometimes called Kali or the Black Madonna, She is the feminine aspect of the divinity that devours and destroys until She is unconditionally loved.
True healing happens when our suffering comes in direct contact with the Sacred, with that which is Changeless. Our conditioning often prevents this contact and instead we identify with the part of ourselves that is suffering, becoming fixated on “external” causes of suffering, rather than courageously relating to the part of ourselves that creates the suffering. Hence we feel stuck and never fully encounter our pain.
The openness and vulnerability of my individual clients and the members of the groups I facilitate has brought me to tears and has nurtured me. Gratitude for my new life of busyness/business grows and surprises. Working with people at the end of their lives has always been a privilege. This new work of bringing the wisdom and the intensity that an intimate relationship with death cultivates to spiritual support for those on a path of exploration and contemplation has been a blessing for me.
We are enthused that the Project is moving forward in new and vital directions. You are invited to participate in our ongoing small groups here in the Bay Area or have individual sessions with me.
If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.
~Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic