The Contemplative Conversation Continues ~

by faithgibson on June 17, 2013

I aspire to be a Class A, sure-enough ‘contemplative’ — i.e. play with the big boys. But the more accurate description of my zig-zag spiritual life put me in the category the “Occasional Contemplative”. Like an occasional tourist, I briefly visit that exotic distant land within my own soul, then I fall off the wagon for days, weeks, even months.

The ‘One True Thing‘ I’ve learned (alas, something I have to relearn with great regularity!) is to fully appreciate the advise of ‘experts’ in the field of contemplation. They tell us again and again, as one tells children, that no matter how brilliant, or diligent we are, no human, not even those of us who aspire to the peaceful life of a  contemplative, ever gets to live in a perpetual state of perfection in this earth life. Bottom line — never confuse Planet Earth with the Kingdom of Heaven!

As humans (i.e., a Divine ‘work-n-progress’), our ability to experience a balanced spiritual life is never a ‘once and for all times’ insight. Its also not a bit of data that sets everything straight, not a new idea that suddenly made me invincible to the slings and arrows of modern life or impervious to the upsets and heartaches of reel life — emotional storms and discouragement within, the burden of my own resentments, and  the many daily shocks of disturbing news and the harassment of disagreeable personalities in the outer world.

‘Enlightenment’ — something I experience as a calm inner peace, a contentment with the moment, and a sense that ‘G*D is in His heaven and all is right with the world ” is something we all have to co-create with the Divine each and every day, hour by hour, often minute by minute!

Some days (most of them!), this starts when I make a conscious decision to turn away from the eternal busy-ness that is my overstuffed, overly busy life. Then for 1 or 2 minutes, or 5 or 10 or 20 minutes, I turn my back on the many demands on my time and the distractions of my environment, and I focus on my inner self. That’s the part of me that has ‘no social redeeming value’ as judged by my family or the world of business. For these brief few minutes I become willing to use my attention and my mind to be conscious of and connected to The Big Picture. Somedays (bad days!) I have to set a timer and repeat, repeat, repeat each and every hour.

So far this year there have been a LOT of those days.

On January 3rd, 2013, my husband of 52 years was diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness.

I foolishly thought I would just naturally, even gracefully cope with this devastating news and all the other personal, family and financial issues that go along with a life-threatening disease — grappling with the reality of the news, making decisions about medical treatments, telling our three adult children and my husband’s nearly 90 year-old mother.

In addition to the grim nature of the diagnosis, the chemo therapy made my husband unwilling to eat nutritious food.  He soon became physically weak, and his cognitive function was seriously impaired. I became his sole care provider. Although I have a nursing background and have been a midwife for the last 30 years, I quickly realized that I was in over my head, and that I was oddly (surprising to me!) unsuited to this new role and its altered relationship with my spouse.

In the blink of an eye,  I was sucked down into a whirlwind of frenetic activity. Suddenly my spiritual life became a dim memory, rarely thought of except for the two hours a week that I spent attending religious services.  I did occasionally pretend to read a passage from one of my favorite contemplative  authors, but actually I was lost at sea for weeks at a time.

Then one month ago today (May 17th) my husband died suddenly from a fall on our 52nd wedding anniversary. This was not his first or even second serious fall, so our intergenerational household (my brother, and our adult son and youngest daughter)  were all keeping an eye on. As much as possible, we helped him up and down the stairs, and in and out of chairs, in the bathroom and getting in and out of bed.

But during the earliest hour of May 17th he feel in his bedroom and none of us realized what had happen until it was too late. I discovered him on the floor, unresponsive, without a pulse or respirations and screamed for help. My brother and son soon appeared and the commotion woke my daughter who immediately dialed 911.

The following minutes and hours were filled with images and events I don’t want to remembers — waiting for the paramedics, the sound of the sirens in the still night, the flashing red lights against the midnight sky, 25-minutes of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and when that failed, calling our eldest daughter in the dead of the night to tell her that her dad had died, being interviewed by two very young, very kind, very nervous police officers, arranging for the funeral home to come for my husband’s body at 4 in the morning, and finally falling into an exhausted sleep just as the first whisper of dawn crept over the horizon.

Thankfully those first hours are all a blur, but the following 2 wks weeks found me overwhelmed and bereft of any connection to my spiritual ‘center’. I felt as if someone had kidnapped my inner self while i was sleeping and I didn’t know who to report the crime to, or any idea for how to find myself.

While in this morass of despair and confusion,  I argued with each and every member of my family — more than once —  and generally gave the impression (not too far from the truth) that I was off my rocker. Countless people asked if there was anything they could do to help, but I didn’t know what to ask for.

By the 13th day, things continued to be bad and still getting worse. In desperation I excused myself for the day, making up a story about having to do something work-related from 10 in the morning until after 4 in the afternoon. Then I drove myself to our small town public library, parking in the lot under a canopy of shade trees, and just sat there all day, thinking, napping, occasionally praying, and reading my most favorite contemplative authors — Letters from the Scattered Brotherhood, The Course in Miracles, The Book of Hours (Trappist monk Thomas Merton) The Soul of Rumi (Coleman Barks), Jewish Spirituality and Peace of Mind.

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