“Heaven on Earth is a choice you must make, not a place you must find.
— Wayne Dyer
In a visualization meditation years ago and after the death of my second parent, I jumped off a cliff into the Mediterranean sea. The sky a deep blue, the water clear as crystal, the rocky edges of the cliffs stark white from the bright Spanish sun. With no one surrounding me, I jumped into the unknown big blue.
Today was that day my mind created so many years ago. I’d spoken of it only briefly and just once to a close friend of mine. Planning for my trip to Spain, La Madre Patria, I’d labeled it the beginning of my process towards happiness. After reading Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open, I’d labeled it the beginning of what she calls a Phoenix Process.
Coming to this point in my journey, I thought back to my life within this past decade. One could label it chaotic, unfortunate, tragic, unlucky, et. al. Truth be told it’s been a tough go. At 19, I’d lost my mother to a years-long battle with breast cancer. A short 8 years later, my father would drown himself in our family’s backyard pond. Legal troubles with my father’s estate and a brother in serious mental disarray only served to layer on difficulty to an already overbearing grief process.
So, today, standing there on the edge of that cliff, I’d had a flash of the moments that brought me to this point–my mother’s incised body after surgery, my father’s lonely voice claiming he was doomed to death in a short time, my attorney rambling for hours, my brother living from his car. And then there was me, consistently thinking of the worst outcomes for 10 years–of what more could go wrong, of my own impending doom, and of me, in moments, begging for the light.
I jumped that day begging for the light, begging for the wings of a Phoenix, not knowing what laid beneath that clear as crystal water.
I landed myself in the ER of a Spanish hospital in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. What had been my final jump turned into a shot of pain up my spine and immediate loss of breath upon impact with the clear as crystal water. And staring up from my metal stretcher, I’d gotten the light I’d been looking for. The fluorescence of it covered my body as I began to ponder what this all meant. This, to me, was no Phoenix rising from the ashes, but more the part where the Phoenix turns to ashes, and, if you can imagine it, is placed on rewind and does the whole thing over again, never to see the rebirth from the ashes with a nice beautiful fly away, never to look back again at his former self. But looking into that light, I had to dig deeper.
I thought back to the rules Elizabeth Lesser had written of and that I had read about a short time before and tried to bring meaning to this experience within the frame of those rules. I’d found that within the rules, I needed to readily–and honestly–audit myself and my experiences of the past decade to really get at what Lesser meant by these rules and the overall process to which she referred. I’d be damned if I wasn’t getting wings after this.
1. Change is the nature of life, and nothing changes without loss, which is a form of death
To me, this first rule implied a deep awareness of change and the recognition of my new normal–which I think in a way attaches to the next rule.
The implied deep awareness thing though was something real and something I haven’t really reflected on in my life much, or deliberately much. Sure, I noted before that I couldn’t get all the loss out of my head. But a key component I’d been missing the whole time was how that loss/ death had manifested into change in my life–even if it had manifested into change at all. What had changed about my life from the loss of my mother? What had changed about my life from the loss of my father? Was/ am I accepting of that loss enough to then accept that my life would change? This deep awareness was something I hadn’t pondered but something that struck me to the core in reflecting on this past decade.
2. It’s not easy to participate consciously with change, loss, or death.
To this second rule, I literally responded with a ‘no shit’ once I’d remembered it. And if someone were to draw a picture that represented the narrative of my past decade, it’d probably include far too many beer cans and wine bottles to make anyone think I was actually able to function much less be conscious to the entire experience. But this consciousness that Lesser implied, I felt, had more to do with the deep awareness I’d mentioned earlier and less to do with the effects of my ‘coping choices.’ Had I really sat down to reflect on the loss I’d experienced up until this point? Had I sought outside counseling consistently? Was I able to recognize the things that were direct results of loss and death in my life? How conscious was/ am I to the entire process as a whole and each step within the process specifically?
3. We can transform loss into growth, change into insight, suffering into joy if we turn and face that which frightens us most about ourselves and our changing circumstances.
And this last one is just what happens when we get rules 1 and 2 right, right? Wrong. By understanding rule 1 as given and by employing rule 2 as written, I’m then able to stare at those things which frighten me most, my vulnerabilities and, thereby, my shame.
I looked into that light that night turned morning and something had become resonantly clear. All of this–all of these rules, thoughts, understandings, ponderings, etc.–were a result of one thing and one thing only–choice. Reflecting on the past decade, how often had I chosen and how I often did I just stay on for the ride without directing where I was headed? How much of my life up until that point was a result of something everyone else wanted for me and how much of it was what I chose?
As I looked into that light, I made a promise to choose the opposite of what I’d passively opted for the past decade: to choose to be understanding and aware, to choose to be conscious, and to choose to be brave. With all of these things, I also knew I was choosing something I’d been in pursuit of all along. Something that’s everyone’s choice if we just open ourselves up to it. That night, as I laid with a fractured vertebra, on a metal bed supporting my spine, in a foreign country, looking into the bright light and an imagined and real big blue, I chose to be happy.