Breakfast with The Grim Reaper

In April of this year, I left my profession of more than thirty years in higher education to embark on a journey of exploring personal desires and stepping more into shamanic healing and helping people connect…with themselves, with others, and with Spirit among other things like the resources that would help them make those connections. My first major venture into this personal journey was to spend a couple months in Peru. I have had a desire for about seven years to experience and explore Amazonian shamanism and the culture of the country. That experience alone will be a post of its own at some point.
My time in Peru was a wonderful adventure. However, in the very last week, I started to feel ill and come down with flu-like symptoms which turned out to be a bacterial infection. Although during that last week I hiked to Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu (not realizing at the time how sick I was), I did spend my last night in Peru at a clinic receiving antibiotics and other medicine by IV. When I returned home, my symptoms only worsened and for more than a month I had experienced a significant loss of energy and had lost weight. Although scheduled to see a physician experienced in travel diseases, my symptoms became so pronounced I ended up in a hospital ER and then admitted to the hospital for a week. My diagnosis involved not only the bacterial infection, but the possibility of a mass in my intestine and in my gall bladder with the strong concern of the presence of cancer. Yeah…I embarked on this wonderful new time in my life to face the possibility that I may have cancer. That took my journey in an unexpected direction.
My children and my closest friends know me well. They know for years I have always talked freely about death…my death, other people’s deaths, the concept of death. It’s always been something I felt comfortable contemplating and in instances helped some individuals deal with in their own journeys or those of ones close to them. I have always seen death as part of the cycle of life, part of our natural rhythm. I have always seen the reflections of that cycle in the normal experiences of our daily lives. Many times we deal with death without realizing it when we have to make changes in our lives, accept the end of things like seasons and phases of our lives. We actually deal with life and death in the most simplistic of ways when we wake to a new day and fall asleep to its end. It is a part of our natural rhythm. So…it should have followed that I took the potential news I received with that understanding.
In the hospital, I was very frank with all the participants of the various healthcare teams with which I met. I told them not to beat around the bush and to tell me whatever news I needed to know. I could take it. I went through that experience with my own mother and watched her deal with the same. Now I had to deal with the possibility and watch my own children deal with that news in their lives. And I did get that information, and it was delivered clearly. And if I thought a part was not clear, I pressed for more specific details. And on the day of my discharge, I had a plan laid out for the next few weeks ahead of me to deal with each area of concern.
What I experienced when I came home to my new apartment in my new city of Chicago, that I really hadn’t even experienced as a “home” yet, was very different from my previously mentioned comfort with the thought of death. I found myself quiet, anxious, angry, short with people, sensitive to comments that had nothing to do with the issue. I went through almost a week of feeling out of sorts in a way I hadn’t experienced before in my life. And this was all during a time I was coming to a deeper understanding of my faith, my connection to Spirit, my practice of learning mindfulness and the power of the moment of now. So here I was in my current moment of now…how was I going to practice mindfulness? Here I was re-thinking my past, wondering about my future, and losing track of what was supposed to be happening now. My days were starting off sitting at breakfast with the Grim Reaper at my table and wondering what the conversation was supposed to be.
After a long week of being out of sorts, I began to go back to my source…my daily connection to Spirit in meditation and journey. I began to ask the typical questions of why was this happening, what was I supposed to be doing and learning, and did I need to be preparing for something that I hadn’t intended to, like my death. I think that’s what many people go through from my experience. It’s normal to do that. It’s normal to recognize yourself going through the typical stages of dealing with the thought of death, and I’ve learned we all go through that differently in our own ways. Now I was going through it, and I was trying to understand it in the context of my own spiritual practice and flow in life. And what I began to understand had to do with the flow of life.
I was questioning why, from the moment I made my decision to leave my job and embark on this journey, everything had been an experience of flowing seamlessly, until this issue arose. As I reflected on this, I began to see that this issue was also part of that flow of my life. My decision was about letting go of what used to be and learning to embrace what was becoming. It was happening spiritually, which was part of my intention. Now it was happening physically in my body. If there was something in my body that shouldn’t be there, it had to go. So I began to understand that just as I believed I needed to be in a different place spiritually to begin this new journey, for whatever reason my body was going through a similar transition. If I had cancer or any other illness, it had to be taken out or dealt with so I could get to the place I needed to be. I began to understand that my body was going through a transition that was in sync with my mind and my spirit. So I surrendered to that understanding as a means to bring that about as it should happen.
As it turned out fortunately, there was no presence of cancer in the intestine or the gall bladder. I had my gall bladder removed because it was diseased, but nothing more than that. And yes, that was wonderful news. I realized if I hadn’t even developed the bacterial infection, I wouldn’t have even known about the other problems so that they could be treated. Not doing so may have resulted in other issues. And even with this good news, there’s still a couple minor things that have to be dealt with later this Fall, but I move through this trusting in the understanding I have learned – my physical body is also in transition and getting ready with my mind and spirit for this new time and journey.
What I can pass on from this experience goes back to what I am currently learning about mindfulness. Finding grace in the moment now. Finding solace in the moment now. Realizing the past cannot be changed. We can learn from it, but we can’t change anything about it that may have lead us to this current moment. That itself is a reflection of death and letting go. Realizing that the future is unknown. We can’t know what it’s going to hold and many times our anxiety about it revolves around what we think it may be, even though that itself isn’t guaranteed. And that too is a death and a letting go. It is only the moment now that should be the focus of our lives. What should we be focusing on in this moment? What should we be doing in this moment? This moment is in fact a doorway, a gateway to the next. If we focus on what is now and learn the lesson, we move on to the next moment equipped to learn the lesson there. I continue to make this part of the daily practice of my life!
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