Wednesday, April 30, 2014


There is so much we do not know- particularly about the journey of the soul during those big transitions of birth and death.

For the last year, visits to my father have been heart-breaking. Confined now to a wheelchair with advanced Alzheimer's he responded to my presence by sobbing and begging me to "Help!" over and over. He was clearly suffering, and I took his call for help to be an expression of his desire to leave this life. And who could blame him

Recently my father had an infection and I was called upon to determine what level of medical care should be offered. I asked that he be given palliative care- care that would keep him comfortable but not keep him alive if his body was dying. The next week he rallied, seeming to shake off the immediate infection, but remained in palliative care. He was weaned off all medications.

And then something new happened: he became very calm. Last week when my eldest son and I went to see him he was not agitated or crying at all. He also did not seem very present. When I spoke to him there was the briefest flicker in his eyes, and then he receded back to whatever was happening for him elsewhere. He'd just woken up from a nap and was lying in bed, deeply relaxed, . . .fading. . . shrinking. . . sinking into the bed, and (I imagined) physically returning to the earth. There was a new and different kind of ache in my chest to see him leaving, to not be able to connect with him, but I could not help but be relieved and grateful that he did not seem to be suffering as he had for so long.

Trained in shamanic medicine I've been honoured to be companion in the dying process for some, have left my body and journeyed with an individual who was on the edge of death. I know that there is often a process of going out and coming back, a time of wandering in the inbetween.

It reminds me of birthing- probably in part because today is my youngest son's birthday. Thirty-one years ago, he was born at home as planned, all twelve pounds and ten ounces of him. I was guided by a midwife who allowed that process to unfold and supported me in being present with my body wisdom to ensure safe delivery of this small (okay, not so small) new life.

Each person's needs, abilities, resources and preferences are unique. But it occurs to me, watching my father and remembering my son's birth, that the processes of birthing and dying may be more similar than they appear, may involve things on a soul level that we cannot perceive.

Acknowledging there is much we cannot know, it would seem wise to err on the side of patience and loving care, to allow the process to unfold with maximum support and minimum interference. I am filled with appreciation for the men and women who are caring for my father daily at the long term care facility where he lives. They do so with good humour and great tenderness. They are truly the midwives to his dying, and I am deeply grateful.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who Doesn't "Get It?"

"They just don't get it!"

Ever thought or felt this? I have, and I've heard it many times from retreat participants and clients. Who are we talking about? Sometimes we're running commentary on the general populace but more often, if our level of frustration is high, we're talking about people in our lives- family, friends, co-workers. . . people whose choices impact our lives.

And what's the "it" that "they" are not getting?

Well, if the complaint is made with a wail of incredulity, it's often something about us- something we feel is important, something we feel we've been communicating consistently.

I work with a lot of people who have chronic illness, and I often hear, "They just don't get it!" in reference to the failure of other people to comprehend current physical limitations. At other times though, I've heard this same complaint about treasured values and ways of perceiving the world or living our lives.

Why don't "they" get it? Because it's not always easy to understand fully the experience of another. Because we say one thing ("I'm really am not able to attend a day-long event;" or "Doing art is central to my well-being;") and then do something else (show up at a day-long event; fill our time with everything but the art we say is critical.) Because people are more likely to believe our actions than our words.

Because we don't get it.

I'm not saying that if we really get and live by the conditions and values we recognize as our own that everyone else will. But most of the time, the reason the people who matter to us do not get what we say is true in our lives is because our behaviour does not match our words, because we are still internally quibbling or in denial about the thing we want others to grasp.

The good news is that every time I feel frustration about someone expecting or wanting me to do something that is just not a fit for me (after I think I have made that clear,) every time I think "S/he just doesn't get it!" I pause and consider: Is there something that I am resisting, some form of inner denial that renders my words hard to believe?

Maybe I don't really want to attend an event but think I "should" and so am using my physical limitations where they don't really apply. Maybe I keep doing what I say I can't and paying the cost later when I am alone. Can I give myself permission to live in alignment with what I know is true for me right now (re: preferences, values, choices, conditions, probable consequences etc.) without agreement from others (who are bound to have their own preferences, values, choices. . . .) ?

Most of the time, what I desperately want someone else to get about me and my life, is something I am just not getting, something I need to be with, facing whatever feelings the realities I don't want to get stirs in me.

So I offer a little prayer of gratitude for the other who didn't "get" what I thought I wanted them to "get." They point me to the places where I need to pay attention, need to be with what I just don't want to "get," hopefully with tenderness and mercy.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When Good People Do Bad Things, And. . . .

I admit it: at moments, I can be a little bit of a contrarian. Even when I agree with something, part of me often silently mutters, "Yeah. . . but what about. . . . " Some of this is just what mind does- it wonders, questions, and puzzles over things for fun. And some of it is that I am fascinated by how a truth that helped me in one moment is sometimes not so helpful in another.

You've probably seen a piece floating around the internet titled "Anyway." Apparently it is based on eight of the ten "Paradoxical Commandments" written by Kent M Keith in 1968.( version I've shared below is the shorter one that Mother Teresa had up on the wall of her children's home in Calcutta. 

When I'm in a snarly mood (usually because I'm over-tired) and feeling like an imaginary deal whereby I was promised some kind of reward for doing the right thing has been thwarted, this piece is very helpful. It reminds me that behaving well is something I would really like to do for my own sake.

But, at other times- times when by grace I am more centred and less confused- I long for something a little more affirming of the human potential for goodness and sanity. 

So I wrote a piece in response to the "Anyway" version of "The Paradoxical Commandments," not as a criticism or a rebuttal, but perhaps as a companion piece. Grateful for the creative stirring the original offered, I don't think one replaces the other. People are at times unreasonable, self-centred, unkind, dishonest etc. And. . . people can also be reasonable, generous, kind, honest etc. 

Some of the time we need to be reminded that what matters most needs to be done without promise of reward for its own sake. And, at times, we are able to truly see the best in ourselves and others.

"Anyway" (as presented by Mother Teresa, based on "The Paradoxical Commandments" by Kent M. Keith)

People are often unreasonable and self-centred.
Forgive them anyway. 
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway. 
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. 
Be happy anyway. 
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. 
Do good anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway. 

"And. . . ." by Oriah

People are reasonable and generous.
May we give them every opportunity to show us this.
If we are kind, people will most likely trust us.
May we hold that trust as sacred.
If we are honest, people will do their best to treat us fairly.
May we support their efforts to do so with appreciation and presence.
When we find happiness, others will be drawn to us.
May we share our happiness when it arises, 
and lean into each other's happiness when ours is hard to find.
The good we do ripples out in unseen ways.
May we trust this without knowing precisely how this shapes the world.
May we give the world our best.
It is enough.
In the beginning, the end and all points in between, it is always about us and the Mystery.
May we know ourselves and every other as a manifestation of the Light of the Divine.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Faithful To The Beauty You Are

What would it look like if we simply decided to stop whatever we are doing and wait until the impulse to move came from a deep awareness of sacred presence within and around us and then followed wherever it led? 

When I think of this happening in the world I imagine a work-weary woman in a busy office suddenly pausing at her desk, doing nothing for a moment, and then getting up and quietly walking out the door, leaving her computer running and her co-workers baffled. 

I imagine a man sitting in his living room dozing in front the TV as he does every night after dinner, suddenly turning his head as if to catch the echo of some sound coming to him from a great distance and after listening for a minute, getting up and without bothering to turn off the TV, walking outside and continuing in the direction of the setting sun.          
Oh I know what you’re thinking: How will the woman pay her bills without her job? What about that man’s responsibilities to his family? But you’re leaping to conclusions about what will happen next. 

Maybe the woman finds another way to provide for herself and her family that does not rob her soul of the joy she longs for everyday. Maybe she finds she does not need as much, or maybe she returns tomorrow and finds a different way to be in that office.

Maybe the man, waking up from his habitual patterns and walking toward that which calls him, really sees his family for the first time and can offer them something more than the tired absence of daily routines divorced from the meaning at the center of his life.
I am not suggesting that listening to the call will necessarily require that you leave your job, or turn off your TV, although I admit I think I could launch a pretty good argument for the latter. One person may be able to be faithful to the beauty of their awareness of their essential nature, to the ecstasy of touching the Beloved daily and still work in an office, while another may need to leave. 

The hard part is that we cannot predict what the call will require, how that sacred stillness at the center of all that is might inspire us to move if we have the courage to simply sit with it and follow the impulse to move when it comes.

Excerpt from The Call by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2003 Published by HarperONE, San Francisco. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Setting Our Lives On Fire

Last week I rediscovered a whole bunch of poems that I'd once memorized. I have not forgotten a word of this one, and have been reciting it quietly all week. I suppose it says a great deal about me, that this poem is one of my favourites. (Read it out loud if you can.)

The Message by Rabindranath Tagore

I see a light but no fire.
Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.

A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the
message is that the woman you love is in her house
alone, and wants you to come while it is still night.

Clouds unbroken, rain all night, all night.
I don't understand these wild impulses-
what is happening to me?

A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy.
I stumble around inside looking for the path the night
wants me to take.

Light, where is the light?
Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness.
Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.

Evidently the only way to find the path is to
set fire to my own life!

A great poem raises as many questions as it answers. Who is the grief-courier who comes to tell us that what we love still waits for us? Perhaps the heart that knows we have abandoned dreams central to our soul. What does it mean to set fire to our own lives? Surely Tagore is not calling for callous self-destruction, but the disintegration of what we thought we had to do, so we might embrace the life the soul came here to live.

Oriah House (c) 2014 (Pic is "Soul Mates from