Choices: To be Engaged or Not to be Engaged
Mary H. Reaman, D. Min.
Star Trek…Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of starship Enterprise whose continuing mission is to explore strange worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has ever gone before.
Great metaphor for the spiritual journey. Life is our voyage and our continuing mission is to explore the unknown (internally & externally), to seek out new life and new ways of being, and to boldly go – emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, imaginatively – where we’ve never gone before.
As of late life has taken me into a place where I’ve never been before….
A love for Life that doesn’t quit…
Struggle with depression….being disengaged…resisting life…believing I was not enough…
Easy to love and be present to the “good life” But does our love for life remain with the “not so good life?” Are we present to it? Do we show up even for the parts of life that are difficult, boring, or painful? Or do we close our eyes and our hearts to it, so we can put it behind us, push it out of our minds, ignore it or suppress it?
When I contemplate the heart of that change I can pinpoint it to my mom’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, which coincided with my 40th birthday. I know it seems strange, but somehow because of that death “notice I really began to live.
It wasn’t just the recognition that her time was short and our relationship, at least for this lifetime, was coming to a quick end that kicked me into gear and woke me up to life’s preciousness.
It was the connection I felt with her, with my dad, my siblings and those surrounding and supporting me as we journeyed into the Unknown together. It was the realization that beauty, life-changing beauty, could be experienced even in the sharpest crevice of pain. It was the gift of witnessing relentless courage by one who had to let go of every comfort before being relieved by death’s arrival.
And then, after mom died, feeling as if there was no recovery period, no time for a breath, no time to return to the old ways of disengaging, before having to begin the process of letting go again with my sister, Jeanne, and witnessing in her the same relentless courage lived out by mom, as Jeanne too, had to let go of even more in the way of ability than mom, on her way to death. And yet, being privileged enough to be on the inside with John, Jeanne’s beloved, and the kids as they braved their way through the searing and painful journey into the Unknown, which has yet to realign as normal for them, has born gifts of its own.
The heroism shown by them and especially Ian, the youngest, who became one of Jeanne’s primary caregivers at only 13 years old, slapped me awake into seeing just how much of a choice I/we have in determining the nature of our experience. He changed her diapers, wiped her bottom, emptied her catheter, fed her, hugged her, kissed her, stroked her face, and sat on her lap even while she was confined to a wheel chair and her physical appearance so drastically changed as a result of the extremely high dosage of steroids she was on.
Certainly being so close to death and facing the fact that we never know how much time we have in this body played into my awakening, but more than that, it was the experience of being engaged – really engaged – feeling the joy and the pain, allowing the grief and the goodness, riding the waves of love and the loss – that has me living alive again!
I remember saying to my spiritual director, when mom was diagnosed, “I want to remain awake through this. And I don’t want to bemoan or get bitchy about what it is going to ask of me.” (I knew that would be a signal of me “sleepwalking” through it) I knew I was going to be tired, exhausted and pulled, but I wanted to be able to bear it in away that not only honored the way my mom bore with me through life’s pain and sorrow, and I wanted to be truly engaged, authentically present to her and myself and what was happening, and not avoiding or resisting it, but rising up to the occasion.
And in so doing, with a lot of help and support from Amanda, and friends and colleagues, a Strength I had never known before surfaced and quite literally carried me through these two very significant deaths, into a Life I’ve never known until now. The truth is I could have just as easily gone through those experiences numbing myself, avoiding the pain and the grief, or harboring resentment, guilt, shame or any other of a number of “negative” thoughts, feelings and emotions.
And had I done so, I may have never come to understand in my heart the truth of the lines I wrote in my journal on February 15, 2008, less than one month before mom died, “There is some light we can only see in complete darkness…Some things are only illuminated under the cover of night.”
I’m not sharing this so as to project the idea that I never disengage. We all do! And I have done more than my fair share of trying to avoid life and disengage from it. Boredom, resistance, apathy, denial, over-exaggerated anger – these are all signs of being disengaged from the present moment.
But being able to feel and express gratitude in the midst of life’s difficulties and dis-ease is evidence of being awake, alive, and fully engaged in the Process of Life. It doesn’t mean that we don’t suffer too, that we don’t crumble under the weight of watching someone we love suffer.
It simply means that we understand that nothing lasts forever. Not joy. Not suffering. Not life. Not death. This moment is precious. This moment will never be again.
I have been astounded at the gifts that have come from the winter times of life. Simply astounded. Not the least of which is a love for Life that doesn’t quit! I’ve never been so fully awake, so fully alive, so fully free! And it didn’t come from abdicating my responsibility or disengaging so as to have no constraints on my heart or on my time.
It came from fully engaging, being present in the moment, giving my time, my Self, and finding, to my great surprise, that there is no pain that presence can’t handle.
But we always have a choice…to be engaged or not. To just get by or give it our all. To wholeheartedly or half-heartedly live through the moment. The choice is yours. Mine. Ours. So as Jean Luc Picard would say, “Engage.”