The Silver gate requires us to surrender our egos and began to accept the process of the aging of the body and mind. As we choose acceptance, this gate reveals the once hidden gifts that are now available to us, and allows us to experience new-found freedoms. This gate reveals to us where we are indifferent and inflexible and where we are energized by faith, hope and vitality. The challenge of this gate is to reconnect with our regenerative forces and stay connected to them.
If you were told you could die any minute, or the probability is that you would die within 4 or 5 years, what would you do?
As I’ve traveled across the country living with friends and family thinking about shared housing I also explored ideas about “small houses.” Robert Fritz teaches that we must name our current reality and then hold our vision; the creative tension will propel us toward reaching that vision. I’ve envisioned a small house of my own where I can create my quilts, and artwork and gardens. When Ross, my kids’ dad, offered me a small house to rent I responded with tears and then thought about how I’ve often said When the Big Hook in the Sky comes down we can grab it or like a little fish swim for the weeds and hide. I took the hook.
My current reality: Almost 2 weeks ago, after spending a couple nights waking up around 3:00 AM unable to breathe, I went into dramatic Atria fibrillation, something I’ve experienced a few other times in the past 20 years. Priscilla took me to ER. After the doctor reviewed a chest x-ray he matter of factly informed me that I had pneumonia and heart failure and was to be admitted for treatment and more tests. I easily processed the pneumonia as I’d been experiencing terrible coughing that I thought related to spring allergies. But, heart failure? That’s for old people!
My family was concerned when I told them I was hospitalized. We laughed together when I said if the doctors come into the room saying “this is serious, we need to talk about hospice” then I’ll let you know you can worry if you want to.
The hospital doctors and then my cardiologist each walked into the room and began by saying “this is serious…” I laughed and told them what I’d said to family. The echocardiogram showed that my heart was barely pumping blood into the rest of my body. This is serious but we are not talking hospice. I’ve bragged to friends my age who take lots of pills “I don’t take any medications except a daily aspirin.” I take 4 meds now, a couple 2 times a day. More annoying is the “life vest” I’m wearing 24 hours a day with the exception of when I’m showering. It is a portable defibrillator. If my heart rate rises to a dangerous rate a siren sounds and I head for the hills – no, I mean the hospital. If I become unconscious the device will perform life saving shocks. Take that!
Being a researcher at heart I am reading everything I can find about heart failure.* The statistics do not indicate a long life after diagnoses of heart failure. However my mathematical modeling/risk assessment specialist son reminds me that statistically I am lumped in the pool with obese smokers and drinkers. Other than a wonky hip I’m healthy. And more important I have loving family and friends who are caring and supportive and laugh with me.
My doctor thinks positively. I’m following his treatment protocol and thinking positive. I’m clear about the role genetics are playing and the physiology of persistent afib – which is where our focus is now – regulating my heart beat. I remind myself my that my father lived over 20 years with a pacemaker and my mother for 15 with afib.
In much of her lecturing, Angeles Arrien outlines her idea of the four-chambered heart; relating that in some traditions it is important to ask each day: Am I full-hearted, open-hearted, clear-hearted and strong-hearted?” For instance when not full-hearted we often do something we don’t want to do, or when we know we are in the wrong place it is a time to withdraw. When we are confused we are not clear-hearted. Losing the strong-heart is losing courage – the French coeur – the ability to stand by one’s heart or core – strength. When we lack open-heartedness we are resistant and defensive – protecting ourselves from the possibility of hurt. I’m paying attention.
It is ironic that my doctoral dissertation title is One Hears Only With the Heart; A Path to Living Open Heartedly. In the introduction I wrote Collage journals help me intuitively process my inner and outer experiences. I remind myself to yield to the process, go inward, and stay on the path. I look to Hecate, the fierce three-headed crone, guardian of the cross roads, in hopes she’ll guide the way. Recently I told myself I’m busy so I haven’t been keeping a journal. One name came up over and over in my dissertation research about creating. Robert J. Sternberg, an educator and researcher writes extensively about the role of the creative process in intelligence and wisdom. He finds creativity is a choice. Yesterday I fished a blank journal and colored pencils out of a box and began writing.
Robert Fritz, author of Creating would agree:
Unfortunately, the words creative, creativity, and creating have been used by many approaches that have nothing to do with the real creative process. …Creativity and creative usually refer to the unusual and inventive. …When we are talking about creating, we are taking about causality – causing something to exist that did not previously exist. The definition does not speak of how the creation was made – was it unusual – nor does it speak of ability or capacity. Rather, it speaks of bringing a result into existence .
This morning I sat on the deck in the early morning sun thinking about making a lemon cake then finishing painting the second bedroom and making a list of everything I’d like to accomplish in the back yard. I stopped and asked, “Marian, if you only have a few years to live, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” Stay tuned…
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
Copyright 1992 by Mary Oliver.
What would you do with your one wild and precious life?
* I do not have congestive heart failure, although I am closely watching sodium and fluid intake. If you are curious about heart failure begin with