|Dear friends of the Living/Dying Project,
Here is the first of our mailings to our newly expanded digital mailing list. Each December we will continue to send out our annual newsletter both to our physical mailing list and to our digital mailing list. During the rest of the year we will be sending frequent emailings letting you know what’s happening with the Project. Included at the end of this email is an article written by our volunteer Lyn Davis Genelli shortly after the death of her client Bea Gianelli, a lovely quote by Sogyal Rinpoche who is a member of our Board of Advisors and also a new poem by Stephen Levine who is also on our Board of Advisors.
Here then are some of the things happening with the Living/Dying Project:
• Our Open Circle program continues to offer spiritual support to clients with life-threatening illnesses in Marin and Sonoma counties. After our training program at the end of January, we accepted 10 new volunteers and are now ready to begin serving clients in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Client referrals are always deeply appreciated.
• Our website livingdying.org is being completely restructured and made much more user-friendly. The new site should be up soon. There is a lot of rich material here. Please check it out.
• A video of the workshop I facilitated with Ram Dass and Bodhi Be in Maui last month along with videos of workshops that Ram Dass, Joan Halifax and Bodhi lead a few years ago in Maui will be released later this month. In all there'll be 18 hours of video. For information contact smallwondervideoservices.com.
• I will be facilitating 2 workshops called a Practical Guide to Healing in the Los Angeles area in October. October 21 and 22 in West Los Angeles and October 27 and 28 in Pasadena. CEUs for psychotherapists, social workers, and nurses will be available information will be posted on our website as these events draw nearer.
• My next project will be to write the book that has been percolating inside of me for more years than I care to admit.
• The Healing at the Edge groups that I facilitate in Sebastopol, Berkeley, and Fairfax are being well received. There is more information about these groups on our website under the Ongoing Groups link if you are interested. Lately in these groups we have been exploring the different levels of spiritual healing, healing of oneself or healing as it applies to working with another. First we ask what is it that we really want. Are we truly willing to meet and even embrace that which is most difficult in our minds and bodies? We begin by becoming aware of the imbalances in the body/mind without judgment or criticism, seeing clearly thoughts and particularly repetitive patterns of thoughts. As we become aware of the mind and the body, we begin to disidentify with them and realize that since we are aware of our body and our thoughts, that what we are fundamentally cannot be what we are thinking or feeling. As we become less reactive to our experience, the spacious heart of compassion is revealed. The mind becomes stable and non-reactive. Rather than just watching the thinker and the body we can now rest our attention in this compassionate spaciousness. Suffering is gradually refined away when met with compassion. Eventually the selflessness that is the nature of the heart allows the flowing power of the Divine to manifest through us, transmuting suffering in an instant into that which we know to be whole. Finally as the ability to transmute suffering deepens, the realization that who we are is intrinsically whole and pure. Since truly there is no separation from Self, from the Divine, we can simply rest in the oneness with no impediment to God’s healing.
Thank you for your support in the so many ways that it has been offered. I am truly blessed to be able to dedicate my life to this work. In this this unsettled and often distracting time, the path of devotion expressed through service is more available to most of us than leaving the world to find that which is True. My teacher Maharaji said it is better to see God in everything rather than trying to figure it out. Thank goodness!
With all love,
Article by our volunteer Lyn Davis Genelli
Bea was the first person with whom I worked as a LivingDying Project volunteer. She came to us by way of her twin sister Barbara who lives n Chicago. Barbara found our website when looking online for resources for Bea, who had recently been diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.
When we first met at Bea’s apartment, I was struck by her delicacy and beauty. We marveled that we had the same last name, though spelled slightly differently. Bea was a Science of Mind practitioner and she began to tell me about her church and its teachings. She was obviously a person of both deep faith and strong beliefs (not always the same thing, in my experience). Despite a terminal prognosis, Bea was determined to fight for her life, secure in her conviction that illness, indeed “wrongness” of any sort, is simply illusion, and that healing is always possible in God.
I saw Bea’s faith sustain her through challenging days of major surgery, wound healing problems, and two long courses of intensive chemotherapy. Some of the best times we shared were sitting together in the Kaiser infusion center while she received chemotherapy, reading mystical poetry together, sharing our love of Rumi, Hafiz and St. John of the Cross. Bea’s small, even frail-appearing body, tolerated two long bouts of intensive chemotherapy, each of which bought her a remission lasting several months, during which she led a full and active life, with yoga classes, chi gung, and service as a prayer practitioner with her church’s healing ministry.
These periods of remission allowed Bea and I to enjoy lunches at the pool by my home. We shared a love of fashion, and of movies. Sometimes we had sharp differences of opinion, even moments of conflict. For example, Bea once told me I should never say things like “bald head, cancer, chemo brain” , even though all these were manifestly part of her experience. This seemed to be in accord with her church’s teachings about avoiding negativity, yet as a person steeped in tantra, I found her request really hard to honor. We talked about the subject over and over. Finally, I was able to see the light go on inside her as she said, “Oh! When I avoid saying those words, I deny cancer power over me that it doesn’t have!” At last, we were back in harmonious understanding.
Bea’s emphasis on language taught me lessons right to the end of her life. When I returned from a trip to LA, during which I’d felt concern about her, I called and asked questions about her health and treatment status. I could feel her getting upset. She finally said, “Please don’t ask me questions.” I realized my questions were self-serving, coming from my own anxiety. I said to her, “Regardless of all that, your spirit seems to be strong.” Bea replied, “Oh Lyn, that helps me so much more than any question!” Bea reminded me again and again through our journey together, that you have to always see and speak to the part of the person that is eternally well and whole, no matter how they appear at that moment.
The greatest gifts Bea gave me came at the end of her life. I finally learned to pray in her tradition, and in the last days of her life, when she was semi-conscious, I held her hand and prayed for/with her in the prayer language of her life. I came to her house shortly after the moment of her death and was able to whisper the name of God into her ear and to remind her that she is One with the Light. I was privileged to wash and dress her dead body, which is a very sacred thing.
Bea thought a great deal about her memorial service, and I promised her that with her church friends, we would create a service she could be proud of. My last act of service to Bea was buying her favorite cake for her memorial, and arranging the altar table at Fernwood Mortuary for her service. It was all beautiful and perfect, fitting for my lovely friend.
Bea delighted in and loved Dale Borglum, founder and director of the Project. He was one of her favorite people. It is typical of her appreciation and generosity that she remembered the Living Dying Project with a bequest in her will.
Until we meet again, dear Bea, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
Beatrice Olympia Gianelli, 1945-2012
The body is hard to shed.
Resists with pain, disintegrating
one nerve at a time,
breaking free of the
peripheries to settle
at last in the heart.
Yet I grieve its perfection.
–Stephen Levine ©2012
So many veils and illusions separate us from the stark knowledge that we are dying. When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.
Sir Thomas More, I heard, wrote these words just before his beheading: “We are all in the same cart, going to execution; how can I hate anyone or wish anyone harm?” To feel the full force of your mortality, and to open your heart entirely to it, is to allow to grow in you that all-encompassing, fearless compassion that fuels the lives of all those who wish truly to be of help to others.