Monday, October 31, 2016

The living hallows

It’s All Hallow’s Eve and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day.  For many people around the world, it’s not only a time to wear costumes, go trick-or-treating, and enjoy a plethora of candy, but also a time to honor those who have passed away.  Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) celebrations are held in remembrance of friends and family members to help support them on their spiritual journey.  In many ways, celebrating the dead joyfully acknowledges the cycles of life that we all must encounter, the last one on this earth being our inevitable death.  
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling’s last installment of the series, Harry was faced with the truth about the purpose of his life...and death.  Having inherited the Invisibility Cloak from his father, then the Resurrection Stone from Dumbledore, and winning the Elder Wand from Draco Malfoy, Harry was finally prepared to walk alone into the Forbidden Forest, knowing he would ultimately sacrifice his own life to save his friends.  Harry pulled the snitch from his pocket and read the words, I open at the close.  Then, when Harry’s parents and loved ones surrounded him, he asked if they could be with him.
“Until the very end,” his father answered.
“Stay close to me,” Harry said to his mother.
“Always,” she whispered.  
And so Harry bravely met his destiny…as we all must do one day.
I wondered if I had met mine in the fall of 2010 when I thought I was dying of a heart attack.  Alone on Thanksgiving, I didn’t know who to call or what to do.  In the end, I knew I had to make a crucial decision:  either try to drive myself to the hospital where I would spend an incredible amount of money that I didn’t have or allow myself to die.
I chose death and prayed to be taken quickly.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  In the six years since that desolate night, I’ve resurrected a new perspective of how I spend my precious time here on this planet, for in finally surrendering my fear of death, I have also shed my fear of being truly alive.  

Recently, a friend told me about a workshop she had attended.  “The leader asked each one of us to think about what we might want people to say about us after we die…what qualities we would like to be remembered for."  Christy smiled.  “What a deep question! It was profound to listen as everyone wanted to leave the world a better place because they had been here, because they contributed something meaningful.”
I nodded. 
“At the end of the workshop, three of us wanted to hear from the oldest person in the room, a wise man we all deeply respect…the person who is closest to death.   He talked about how his children are his legacy and how he wants to be remembered for being a good father, being a good role model for his kids.
"You know, fifty years from now when we’re gone, no one’s going to remember my husband and me for how we mowed our lawn every week or how much money we made or that I stamped cards or that he was an athletic director."  Christy paused for a moment.  "What we're leaving are our kids and we need to invest everything…not just our money…but ourselves into making them the best they can be.”
“Not to take away anything from what you just said,” I gently replied.  “But what about someone like me who doesn’t have any children?  What’s my legacy?  I’m hoping it’s the peace I bring to the world…the heart that I lead with when I’m writing or I’m teaching or whatever I’m doing.”
“Right,” Christy nodded.  “Your books and your writing are what you leave behind...and the feelings and emotions you stir in people that change the way they think about things.  I have the genetic connection with my own children,” Christy smiled.  “But you can have connection to any child, to anyone, everywhere.  That's your destiny.”

Last August, on my flight home from Sedona, I thought that if the Invisibility Cloak, the Resurrection Stone, and the Elder Wand could make Harry the Master over death, what would make me the Master over my own life?  What elements do I possess that allow me to live more fully and fulfill my own destiny?   In doing so, I discovered that my living hallows were no further away than my fingertips.
Twenty years ago, I purchased a gorgeous batik wrap that I often use when practicing yoga, wrapping myself in its light, lovely warmth.  It often protects me when I feel sad, angry, or lonely, shrouding me with the energy of thousands of hours of silent meditation.  When I travel, the cloak is always in my backpack, ready to veil me from the over-stimulation of airport mayhem and keeps me warm and cozy during long, cross-country flights.  On a particularly long layover in Atlanta, I found a quiet corner and lay down for a nap, the batik a security blanket of comfort.  While I wasn’t completely invisible, for that precious half an hour, I was completely at peace.  
On my flight home from Sedona, I snuggled beneath the Cloak of Comfort while flying over Lake Erie.  In the past, whenever I returned from Big Sur, seeing the lake brought tears of sorrow to my eyes, for I didn’t want to return to the place of my birth.  I wanted to stay out west and create a new home.  Now, shrouded in the same cloth that had been with me during all of those flights, I felt my heart filling with peace, felt tears of joy filling my eyes, for I knew that home is wherever I am, not a destination outside of myself, but an undefinable place deep within.
As the plane landed on the runway, I held a gift from a gentleman Sandy and I had met on our way down from the Boynton vortex in western Sedona.  He was on his way to the summit to play his flute, but before climbing higher, placed a heart-shaped red rock in each of our palms saying, “May you find love wherever you go.”  Later when we heard his melodic flute playing high above us, Sandy and I found a quiet place in the shade and listened to the haunting sounds, the rocks in our hands a visceral connection to not only the earth, but a steward of peace who crossed our paths and was now serenading us with a musical meditation. 
I have rocks from all over the world in my yoga studio, in my bedroom, and in my office.  Stones from Paris and Kabul and New Zealand.  From Hawaii and Alberta and London.  To touch even the smallest portion of the earth is to touch the infinite antiquity of our planet, a reminder that long after I am gone, the rocks will remain, harbingers of history, talismen of the passage of time.
I realized how my shawl and red rock are very much like Harry’s Invisibility Cloak and Resurrection Stone, the former protecting me while I retreat from the world for a while, and the latter more fully grounding me when I return to it.   But what would be the equivalent to the Elder Wand?  What allows me to create magic?  To transmute thought into form?  To shine a light in the midst of darkness?   Moments later, it dawned on me…my pen has the infinite power to channel messages from deep inside and tangibly put them on paper.  The power to write novels and blogs and letters to friends.  To bring me more fully into life again and again and again.

It’s a magical thing that on this All Hallow’s Eve, I can fully celebrate the season of darkness with gratitude for that which has passed away.  To honor the life-cycle in all its various incarnations.  To respect both the light and shadow within us all.  Someday, when my own death is near, I pray that my living hallows will be with me…my cloak, my rock and pen…to remind me of a life well-lived and the peace I hope to leave behind.  
Then I will open my heart at the close of my life and joyfully embrace a mysterious, new beginning.