Now surrender is no longer like riding a regular bike. It is not as simple as “just pedal.” It is more like the bike keeps changing – someone keeps raising the bar and suddenly I am on skinny tires, and then on to a unicycle, and then on to a unicycle atop a high-wire, and then add some flaming knives to twirl around at the same time.
I remember well when I learned to ride my two-wheel bike without training wheels for the first time. It was in the long lane in front of our house that stretched down to where it ended at the foot of the Lantoga Farms dairy barn. I must have been about eight years old, and I had a red, two-wheel bike with white stripes that said “Flyer” on it. Up until that morning, my bike also had two little training wheels attached to the back wheel which prevented me from ever falling over.
The day came when someone had decided “it was time.” I remember my friend Glenn and his sister Ruthie on either side of me. They ran alongside my bike and then — my protests in vain — let go. I was both excited and terrified. My terror escalated along with the speed and they yelled “pedal Artie!” At first I could not get beyond my astonishment, and did nothing, and the “wobble-factor” began to set in and mount. Again, “Pedal!” they yelled, and finally I heard them and wildly started pedaling. It was amazing to discover the connection between the pedaling, the tires gripping the driveway, and my momentum forward. Oh my God – I was doing it!
What they say about learning to ride a bike is largely true: once you learn, it is something you never forget. If my body were able, I could climb on a bike, and within seconds I would be doing just fine. It is one of those abilities that more or less stays with you in your storehouse for your whole life.
But now the rubber truly has hit the road…
Not so with surrender. I feel as though I have been wrestling with learning to let go over and over again, all of my life. But now the rubber truly has hit the road…
I am now in Hospice care in my home. Hospice can mean different things, but generally, however you look at it, it signifies that you have entered the final phase of your life, during which you need another level of care; one that leads you in a kind and compassionate way toward the end-point of death.
So, now surrender is no longer like riding a regular bike. It is not as simple as “just pedal.” It is more like the bike keeps changing – someone keeps raising the bar and suddenly I am on skinny tires, and then on to a unicycle, and then on to a unicycle atop a high-wire, and then add some flaming knives to twirl around at the same time.
The release from the “wobbling” and whatever we are clinging to for safety – our training wheels – is more raw now, more fragile, and more tender at the same time.
My husband John and I have been finding that, unlike learning to ride a bike, it may be that with each progression of my “terminal” disease, a new kind of surrender is needed that calls forth something deeper from us; a deeper level of trust in some ineffable force that we don’t understand. The release from the “wobbling” and whatever we are clinging to for safety – our training wheels – is more raw now, more fragile, and more tender at the same time. Wobbling amidst all of the changes, I know that there must be a new way, and new lessons, for me to learn now, and so I ponder…
What is the attachment that I am letting go of?
I am fiercely independent. I am a sole survivor. I enjoy having the sense that I control the direction in which my life is heading or the life that I am proactively creating for myself. Put me into adverse circumstances and I will survive, without your help, thank you very much. For decades I have created an identity of being a man who is independent, self-sufficient, capable, able to take care of his own needs.
And so, I am letting go of the idea that I am separate from you, that my value or worth is wrapped up in how able I am to “do it on my own” – or ultimately in any of the ego, skills or abilities I thought were mine and that defined me – these, I am learning, are not the things that define who I am.
And in the letting go, what is it that I am accepting or embracing or allowing?
Well, maybe I cannot stand up, but maybe we can stand me up. Maybe I cannot walk through the woods and breathe, but we can walk through the woods and you can carry my oxygen and I can breathe. Maybe I cannot get into and out of the car very well, but perhaps we can get me into and out of the car.
When I see you coming toward me, and I know that you are going to offer help, or do something for me, if I am attached and clinging, I brace myself and prepare to say “No, I can do this myself.” I hang on to my pride and I push you away. If I surrender, I look in your eyes and feel your kindness and I melt a bit and say to myself, “let yourself be loved.” I say to you, “thank you.” And once I get over any lingering shame, I feel grateful. The surrendering is hard, but I am discovering that vulnerability is like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice.
So, what is the surrendering to? It is to us; to knowing that we are not separate – that I am you and you are me. It is surrendering to the ever-present force of love and grace that surrounds us all the time like the currents of a river to which we spend most of our time blind and oblivious. We are surrounded by love and kindness and by the Great Spirit, always – this I am discovering. All that is required is to open and say Yes.
And when I have lost my way, how to find my way back?
I am discovering three ways to find my way back to the path, all of which depend on the surrender part having already happened. From that state of raw receptivity and awareness:
Find a direct source of love and access it
Search and find even a glimpse of your real self
Let yourself be transcended and awestruck by miracles.
I have discovered that I am at my most vulnerable at night after making it into bed. I’m not sure why this is the toughest moment of the day, but getting ready for and then settling into bed is like climbing Mt. Everest for me. When I am finally settled, I reach for John’s hand; I find it and I clasp it so that we are palm-to-palm, so I can feel his skin against mine, and I let myself go. I often cry, but after a time, when I can really feel the palm of John’s hand, I sense it as a direct intra-venous feed of love. With every labored breath I soak it in and imagine love filling me to my fingers and toes. Then, my breath slows, and I remember who we are and how much we love each other. I feel home.
At some point, I can suddenly see a glimmer of light in some corner and I move toward it. I discover something that is NOT suffering, but is another part of me. I breathe into it and shine my light there.
Other times I find myself alone and lost, and caught by suffering: physical pain, emotional despair, or mental anguish. When I have enough awareness to notice this state, my big question is: If I am not just this physical, emotional, or mental stuff, then who am I? What is the part of me that is NOT that? The part that knows joy and transcendence, that knows love? Where is that part?
I close my eyes, and enter what seems like a very dark basement with only a flashlight and I begin to search around. Mostly, I encounter the elements of my suffering; my physical discomfort, emotional pain, and my mental maze. So, I keep searching. At some point, I can suddenly see a glimmer of light in some corner and I move toward it. I discover something that is NOT suffering, but is another part of me. I breathe into it and shine my light there. I try to open the crack more. As I do, I find that the light gets brighter and the space gets larger, and if I persist it becomes bright enough to remind me that I am also Spirit and Life and Light. I let that awareness grow until it seems to have the upper hand. The suffering is still present, but no longer “has me.” Instead I am guided by a more essential love-based me that also brings along some suffering – a very different proposition.
Finally, I notice more and more that we are, right now, living in paradise. I have always been searching for it in some way, and now I discover that it has been right in front of me all this time. Everywhere I look; every tree, every cloud, every human face, every dog, most cats , every body of water, every reflection of light, each sway in the breeze of a limb or frond these days seems to me to be a miracle. If we open our eyes and senses and witness the world around us it is easy to know that we are a part of an awe-inspiring miracle – no matter how long we have to live.
And so, I look up to the sky and it makes me realize how magnificent is the human spirit. I wobble and let my own spirit soar with gladness anyway, like I felt on my bike without the training wheels. The paradise that we seek is all around us all of the time…we have somehow just forgotten. And so my practice is to assume that what I have written here is true, and to let my soul be moved by the miracles of life around me, and inside me, every day. When I do this, I often weep and always want to. I let the awe remind me that I, too, have an essential nature that is a miracle and divine, and that I am a unified and inseparable part of all the glory.
And so, my friend, are you…
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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NOTE: Rest In Peace, beloved friend Art Shirk, 1/10/16. From the Boston Globe obituary: “In lieu of flowers, Art wants each person to do something you have been afraid of, without worrying about success or failure.” Art – may your life, lived so fully with love and great gifts and grace, continue to be a source of inspiration to many. You will always be an inspiration to us. The Gratefulness Team.
Thank you for sharing your wonderful insight of letting go .I agree it’s beautifully written ! Yes, in the second of life its all about falling upward and letting go .
You and John , will be in my prayers. Peace -be-with-you .
Thank you so much for your kind words!
Thank you for your beautiful writing. I am inspired to organize my yoga class around your profound insights. Sending you huge “metta” (lovingkindness). Katherine
Thank you for your kind words, Katherine.
I smiled when I read about your strong sense of independence. I share that too! And also when you recognised the need to transcend that ego driven ‘mind chatter’. I am always in awe that when our bodies are ‘attacked’ how deeply we centre ourselves in community. And how we transcend the ego because we are so well loved by that community — whether it be a community of one or more.
I send you love and grace. And I am grateful that you are still here, sharing. Despite the difficulties.
From my heart to yours x
Thank you so much for your heartfelt words.
I am heartsick and frightened of the future for a loved one with a scary diagnosis. Your words helped me cry, surrender a little, begin my day more present to the whole of life. Thank you.
Blessings to you – thank you deeply for your words.
Art, I’m so moved by your writing and your wise perspective. I facilitate a support group for people with advanced cancer, and you touched on the same themes we regularly discuss, and offered such a beautiful and graceful perspective. I have already directed the members to the Network for Grateful Living, but I will specifically share the link to this article and know that it will resonate deeply. Thank you!
I am so glad that this serves in this way – thanks so much for your comment.
Your fellow Arrow here Art – sharing all my love. And JOY germies. You changed my life – in a million magnificent wild and crazy ways. Mostly how to live, laugh and LOVE. You have inspired me/many to be our true selves…with no limits. You have always had my back more than I can express. Luckily I don’t need to – you can, as always, feel my heart. My heart is filled with sadness, and celebration too – for the privilege I have to be your friend. Your life – still so bright and teaching us about surrender. Thanks – I still don’t have much of a clue myself. You continue to inspire me to my own spirit – and I will always ALWAYS, in all ways be flying right next to you. Fall on. Much love – Joanie. P. S. And for the craziness of understanding why I love dogs better than people I salute you
Dearest Joanie, Well, I have no words for you, just boundless love. Art
Art – your eloquence is amazing and breathes a wonderful life into your message. Thanks for the visions and thoughts – as a fellow IPF’r I share many of your sensations and situations. I’ll be sharing your piece with other IPF’rs as I know they’ll glean comfort from it as well. Keep writing will you please? The more wisdom we can ingest while on this thrill ride the better. As my lovely wife always says – reality as it is not as we wish it to be. Best of luck to you and yours on your adventure.
Dear EZ, It is especially meaningful when I know that fellow “IPF Warriors” have read something that I have written. Thanks so much for leaving your comments – much appreciated. Best to you — Art
Art, Our mutual friend Peggy just sent me a link to your beautiful reflection about training wheels, surrender, realizing our connectedness, and being true to the love that we are. I am moved to tears. The grace, courage, beauty, and presence with which you are opening and allowing the love, patience, compassion, and gratitude that you are to be in relationship with what arises in each breath of your dance with IPF inspires me in my own awakening. The moment I met you in Utah I sensed the loving, connected presence that you speak of in your beautiful reflection. Your heartfelt words spoken from the truth of your beautiful being have found there way to my heart at a time when the non-existence of my ego is becoming conscious. In it’s absence, I am left grateful beyond words for you. The words you have shared here invite me to acknowledge, notice, trust, open to, and fully allow truth to it to have its way with me. Know that I am with you in this connectedness you speak of…the love that I am is one with the love that you are Art. Your presence and courageous example is making it safer for me to shed the training wheels of the polarized, separate aspects of my ego (overinflated self and worthless self) and surrender more fully into the truth of the beauty that is. Thank you from the depths of my being. I am with you always! Love, Jim
Dear Jim, You wise and heartfelt words means so much – thank you. Blessings.. Art
Dearest Art: I just discovered this piece on FB as Roma responded to John’s post. I hadn’t known of your illness until now. And I am not surprised by the level of compassionate attention you are bringing to this profound passage. Your words, and even more, the energy behind your words… so fluid and real and open and attuned. Deeply moving. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and your discoveries as the petals of the lotus unfold to reveal more and more of What has always been here for you, as you. Not in a cerebral way, but real. And it would seem…each day becoming more and more real. Everything in service to this Love. I hope you can find a way to share these experiences and observations with a wider audience. Your words will help many people.
My Mom, who had been a hospice volunteer for 30+ years, just passed away a few months ago, and I was so fortunate to be with her when she decided to enter Hospice, and through her passing. It was her greatest gift to me and everyone around her as she moved through it as consciously as anyone I had known. She and I breathed together those last days, mostly in Silence… as we both began experiencing “being breathed” by what felt like the “Ocean of Is.” And as she entered the final liberation, she brought me into some of the experience of it with her, and nothing in this life has been the same since.
Thank you for your willingness to share this journey. My heart and prayers are with you. And I look forward to hearing more.
Two hands together in Namaste… Padma (Peg)
Dear Peg, Thank you so much for your kind and loving words. All my best – Art
Art, I really love to be reminded that there is a part of each of us that is not the suffering. I think of it as my Self, the essence of who I truly am. I recall what i learned from LA Reding that what we most need is to come into deep personal congruence. Maybe that is finding that beautiful essence of ourself that you are speaking of here, and metaphorically lying ourselves down there, point to point to point.. Oh the relief of finding that place within and become congruent with Him/Her! Hallelujah!
Dear Sue, You are a gem and inspiration. The image you, hand-in-hand with your tribe singing Hallelujah is an image I will never forget ; ). Blessings to you.
(Sufi voiced sound for expressing the presence behind the word “Truth”)
Why is it that of all the simple truths and deep emotions you so
beautifully spoke ,these two words echo in my consciousness.
“MOST CATS-In the myriad of things you are experiencing,to be
able to enunciate these words demonstrates such clarity and taste..
Art you are an exemplary leader and teacher and the lessons you
are imparting now are most valuable That only the present is
real and for that we must be grateful.You are an honest, humble teacher.
I bow to you
These two words stuck out for me too Al and Art! What it represented to me was the tenacity and importance of being able to laugh at ourselves and our idiosyncrasies, no matter our circumstances. This was a beautiful bit of this piece – sandwiched in between so much deep meaning, this little moment when the corners of the mouth cannot help but turn upwards…Thank you Art. XO