On the other hand, maybe your favorite transcendent experience requires less exertion, a sound meditation which activates your higher energy centers. Maybe you slide into a cool lake on a warm evening and find nirvana. Sit on your front porch with your early morning coffee to listen to the birds. Get wheeled outside into a canopy of green trees and soft sunshine from your hospital room. Watch a lightning storm on your front porch. Lose yourself in love.
What’s the point of having a transcendent experience?
To experience unity with everyone and everything.
In one study from 2014, students gazed up at a towering grove of 200 foot tall eucalyptus trees for one full minute. After directly experiencing nature’s grandeur, they felt less self-centered and behaved more generously.
Positive side-effects of transcendence also include feeling more satisfied with life and rating life as more meaningful. Oxytocin levels in our blood rise, which promotes bonding and makes us feel more connected to others.
According to David Yaden, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania:
“The magic of transcendence lies in its “annihilational” aspect, or the way it induces a feeling of self-loss. Neuroscience research shows that during transcendent states, there is decreased activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, the area of the brain that locates the self in space and distinguishes it from everything else. When the neuronal inputs to this part of the brain decrease, the brain can no longer separate the self from the surrounding environment — which is why people feel their sense of self diminish, while also feeling connected to everyone and everything around them.”
My regularly scheduled transcendent experiences often involve flowers, music, toning, sound, and food.
The other day I picked the very first Russian Heirloom Black Cherry tomato from my garden and ate it right off the vine. Upon tasting it, I swear I entered another dimension, the tomato was that good. I didn’t (couldn’t) move. I stood still on my sidewalk, letting the taste of the tomato tell me everything it wanted to tell me.
If travel is required in order to to create transcendent experiences for yourself, it’s worth it. Spending time on a mountain with a wide open view, for instance, does something for the soul, and lingers long after.
Besides the accidentals, the unplanned bliss experiences, what about deliberately scheduling activities that will most likely lift you up above the daily hum-drum into another realm or reality?
WE RANG THE NIGHTBELL
This past Saturday evening, a girlfriend and I had the great pleasure of eating at Nightbell in Asheville.This restaurant is described as a “vintage-chic destination offering innovative American small plates, craft cocktails & local brews.” Chef Katie Button also owns Curate, another successful Asheville restaurant. Nightbell derives its name from days gone by when a guest rang the nightbell for entrance after 5 pm. The long and the short of it is that this restaurant is clearly dedicated to food that feeds the body, nourishes the soul, and delights the senses.
We entered, walked upstairs and were seated near a lovely window, looking down on the street below. Our first server was a dark haired young woman wearing thick eyeliner, an up-do, and a simple, perfect, floral shift, revealing elaborate tattoos — flowers on her right arm and more art across her back.
She was calm, kind and present as she introduced us to the Nightbell dining experience and poured our tall glasses of cool, pure, delicious, water with no ice. That’s how they do it. (It made me wonder how they create something as simple as blissful water.)
As she spoke to us, at one point her gaze wandered out the window, to a young man passing by on the street below, who had looked up to see her as he strolled by. She waved (ever so gently) and he nodded back. Their sweet-as-can-be practically secret public moment only added to the softness of her communication with us.
Since my friend is a wine expert, we thought it logical to order wine. But we opted for a craft cocktail instead, which Nightbell is famous for, one involving Altos Reposado Tequila, Benedictine, fresh peaches, lemon and salt.
Benedictine, the French liqueur, was created in 1510, by the Benedictine monk Don Bernardo Vincelli. The recipe calls for 27 plants and spices, mainly Angelica, Hyssop and Lemon Balm. It is said that there are only three people on earth who know the complete recipe for making Benedictine.
The drink was beyond divine, perfectly balanced in every way. The very first sip caused a “rising up” of my view on life. In fact, it was transcendent.
Along came cold cucumber, fennel, and buttermilk soup. It was bright green with a center aisle sprinkled with corn relish and sour gherkins. It was also divine.
(I rose a little higher.)
Then came summer squash, roasted lemon, pickled coriander, goat milk ricotta, and puffed farro. It was interesting, with very contrasting tastes, not a wild favorite of mine. However, I loved the presentation — tiny rolls of shaved summer squash filled with lemon and coriander, with tastes of ricotta dropped invitingly here and there.
Then there were gaining ground fingerling potatoes, sour pickles, celery, dill, crème fraîche. Perfect.
(Up I went, a little higher.)
Then red drum fish, ham hock broth, peanuts, pea tendrils, farro. Again, a wildly masterful combination of taste and texture.
(My heart, mind and soul, everything rose up, up, up.)
We wondered if we could handle the bliss of dessert. Waiter Dan said his favorite was the roasted berry tart, watermelon ice cream, basil, oats, and watermelon rind jam. We ordered it, along with the best espresso I’ve ever tasted, in Bodum double-walled thermal tumblers. Smooth as can be.
(Without question, I levitated.)
At the conclusion of the meal, it’s possible we stepped out of the 2nd floor window into a vehicle designed by magic-man Elon Musk, which teleported us safely and happily home.
Either that, or we walked around Asheville, enjoying the sights and sounds on a Saturday evening.
p.s. What will you do this week that connects you to All-That-Is?
Everywhere I can, I’m simplifying in preparation for what will come.
Sometimes, I wonder what’s ahead. I think about Mary Oliver’s question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I muse about it. I let it go.
A little later, I remember her words, “Listen. Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
I notice I’m breathing just a little. I pause and breathe deeper.
A hummingbird comes to my window. My heart lifts. (How can a thing with wings cause so much happiness?) Thank god for birds.
There are also many butterfly visits to these same flowers. Thank god for butterflies, too.
I do especially love things that fly. I also love anything with roots that’s blooming.
Another line from one of Mary Oliver’s poems crosses my mind: “I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.”
She said, “I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”
I sing a little. (Singing helps everything. Immediately.)
Returning to the kitchen, I place dishes, vanilla, and spices back into newly painted cupboards and sort as I go. Do I love this cup? This sauce pan, this plate, this cinnamon tea…
The simpler I get, the more clear I become.
I might love clarity more than anything I own. Clarity is valuable anytime, but especially in the coming days.
Simplicity is Freedom
by Mary Oliver
When I moved from one house to another there were many things I had no room for. What does one do? I rented a storage space. And filled it. Years passed. Occasionally I went there and looked in, but nothing happened, not a single twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared about grew fewer, but were more important. So one day I undid the lock and called the trash man. He took everything.
I felt like the little donkey when his burden is finally lifted. Things! Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing – the reason they can fly.
In an intimate relationship, partners do certain things for each other. There’s an exchange, a flow unique to that relationship.
In business, team members have roles. When those roles are are well-suited, the business works better and the partnerships within the business grow stronger.
In families, mom does this, dad does that, grandma and pa do these things, and the children do what the children do. There is a pattern of interaction, again, unique to that group.
We have partnerships with pets, too. We feed, walk and play with our dog. He adores us and is devoted to us, makes us laugh, lifts our hearts. It works. Cats? We are honored to enjoy the privilege of their royal company.
Roles in intimate relationships can be astonishingly specific.
Eric was my hair wrangler. Wet or dry. In drains. Vacuums. Wherever.
Some people don’t do rodents. Others don’t do snakes. Or the dark. Or peanut butter. Or morning.
I don’t do hair. Especially wet hair.
SILENT AND SMART
Eric was also my machine wrangler. If something didn’t work, I’d simply hand it to him. If it was large, I’d point, and he seemed to know exactly what to do. He knew about electricity, garbage disposals, broken furniture, audio gear, appliances, cars and a little about computers. He knew how to make things run again.
(And the irony of that doesn’t escape me. I dearly wish he could have made his own body work again. Sigh.)
I loved the feeling of Eric evaluating a situation, the feeling of his intelligence going to work in a silent, focused way. If it was a teeny tiny thing, like a necklace in a tangle (I was in a hurry to get dressed and get out the door to an appointment) he’d put on his glasses to get a better look. I loved how it felt when he put on his glasses. There was a calming feeling in the room, an “all things are possible” feeling.
He could often fix a thing while I stood there, but sometimes he’d tell me it would be a while and I should go do something else. In practically no time at all, the thing would be all better. He’d hand it back to me, looking very cool and nonchalant, and sometimes he’d say, “smarter than your average bear…” which made me smile.
AND HE DID THIS, TOO…
He also made life feel safer for me. It’s a simple thing, this idea of safety, but it’s important, and “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
Yes, I’m the person in charge of my own feelings of safety. Nobody can do that for me. However, I must say it was easier to put safety on slow simmer when Eric was around. I never cared a whit about locking doors. Now I do.
I spent 17 years with Eric and I can tell you for sure that living with him allowed me to relax more deeply. No need to be on high alert about serious weather galloping our way ’cause I had a knight in my house. Eric’s presence made potential danger feel like no big deal.
He could also lift anything, anything, anything. He never went to the gym. He was naturally well-built, top to bottom, with a strong back, and thighs of steel. (And yes, I liked those very much.)
He made short work of physical projects that overwhelmed me. If I was carrying one box at a time, he’d pile them all on top of each other, pick up the whole darn batch, carry them to the car and that would be that. Done.
He also provided emotional safety. If something stressful was going on with me, he noticed. I didn’t have to announce it and ask for help, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing…
He’d come over and put one arm around me and say, “do you want to sit a minute?” (that was his phrase). His presence calmed me, and I breathed better in a (real or imagined) crisis. His support helped me feel like everything was going to turn out hunky dory even when things were surely going to hell in a hand basket.
When sunshine poured from his soul all over mine, my inner pilot light re-lit. Simple as that. Mysterious creatures hovering in dark and scary corners scurried away.
YOU HAVE MANY PARTNERS AND THEY ARE EVERYWHERE
But now he’s not here — my safety guy, my hair wrangler, my fixer, my strong man. He has moved on to other things…
I doesn’t matter if you’ve been with a partner for 50 years, 17 years or a few months. Or if you don’t have an intimate partner — still — we don’t have one partner, we have many.
Knowing my intimate partner is one in my sea of partners helps me when thoughts come up:
o where o where has my Eric gone?
I need him now, how do I get through this?
Eric would know just what to do, I wish I could ask him a question…
…it’s clear things have changed in my life.
But if I know he’s not my only partner, then I don’t feel as if I’m drifting on the empty sea without my captain, o captain.
Here’s what I mean.
Being in partnership is an orientation, not a state. Partnership is a much larger idea than having a relationship with one person. Partnership is a container with ever-moving contents. Each of us has many kinds of partners, for different needs or reasons.
Partnership bowls hold all changes, great or small. Many kinds of partners come and go — it’s part of life.
If I lose my intimate partner, but truly feel in partnership with my big earth family, that puts loneliness — which might otherwise take up residence in the house of my heart — out of a full-time job for sure. Holding hands with many people (both virtually and truly) makes me feel connected to the world, even when my love partner dies or meets another person and goes down the road into another relationship.
Think about it.
Life partners are everywhere.
My favorite grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and even my very own garden — all of these are food partners. I have family partners. I have friend partners in the organizations to which I belong. My tax adviser, doctors and health practitioners, and home improvement helpers are all partners, too.
This variety of partners ebbs and flows. One door closes, another opens. Gardens come and gardens go. People and pets come and go.
You get the idea. Partners abound. Partners change over time.
YOU LEAD, PARTNERSHIPS FOLLOW
Women sometimes tell me they can’t practice partnership principals because they don’t have an intimate partner. No boyfriend or partner in the house, no dates, no possibilities on the horizon.
This is a sign of believing that partnership is a state, not an orientation. So we start there, with developing a deeper understanding of partnership seen through a bigger window.
Imagine this visual (which I adore because it’s fuzzy). You’re the mama duck, and all your partnerships waddle happily behind you, following your every lead. Relationships follow you everywhere you go. If you believe you don’t have many little ducks following you across the road to the pond, look again. And notice the traffic guy with the blue coat and whistle. He’s your partner, too.
There are also relationships that don’t follow us around, but are nevertheless there. I’m in a relationship with my desk. My computer. My kitchen. The trees around me. My garden. The stargazers outside my front door busy building blooms.
(But OK, you’re right. They don’t “talk” and you can’t invite them for a cup of tea. Fair enough.)
THE WALKING TALKING TYPE
What about these partners?
When I go food shopping, I’m in a relationship with a beautiful older woman passing me in the soup aisle who seems wistful. She looks directly at me. I look directly back. We say nothing, yet it’s a profound exchange. It’s a heart to heart relationship for a few seconds, and lasts into my day. I think about her as I walk through the store to finish my shopping. I wonder about her. I’m gently curious about her.
At Lowe’s I’m in a relationship with the paint guy who is a little impatient that I don’t know the difference between satin and semi-gloss. But I smile at him and tell him I’m a novice and I thank him for taking time for such basic paint questions. He softens. He slows down. He becomes more helpful and present and kind. Communication and appreciation improves our paint partnership.
As I head to the checkout counter with my paint, I encounter a woman struggling to get five large, flat moving boxes into her cart. I help her. She smiles and says, “That’s better, thank you so much.” That’s a partnership.
Partners, partners everywhere I go.
DO IT NOW
Notice what your partners do for you. Reach out and thank them. They may not know how valuable they are to you. Also, receive thanks for what you do for others. When someone says, “thank you, that’s better” take a moment to let it into your heart.
If you’re in an intimate relationship, it’s a sweet exercise for the two of you to put occasional words around this ongoing exchange you have. What your partner says about you may surprise you. Take it in. Appreciate it.
Eric and I talked about this sort of thing off and on throughout our time together. There is one discussion a number of years ago that made such an impression on me. I think it began with me apologizing to him for looking like the Wreck of the Hesperus.
He told me never to apologize to him again for my appearance, no matter what the conditions. He said it was entirely unnecessary because to him, I always looked beautiful no matter what I was doing or how I was dressed. He told me I had his favorite face. He said I was equally beautiful whether I was spreading horse manure on my garden or wearing an evening gown. He made sure I got the point. This changed me and changed us.
That’s how it works.
He helped me remember a truth about myself, and I thanked him for that. When you tell each other these things, it settles something in the heart of the relationship.
You have many love partners. They are everywhere. You live in love. You swim in love, breathe love. You plant seeds of love and they grow and nurture you and others around you. You speak love and it flows through your heart and mind to the entire Universe.
Your partnerships offer bouquets of “this and that” love. A sprinkle of this. A dollop of that. A bucket of this. A cascade of that.
You have three easy assignments.
First, notice your partnerships. They are everywhere.
Then, open your arms and receive them. Take in the generous spirit of the Fed Ex person who just now handed you a package.
And then tell your partners why they are wonderful. Don’t keep secrets. Let your love and appreciation tumble out of you. This makes you and the world truly more beautiful.
After three months, I admit I wanted to cross grief off my to-do list. I thought about how nice it would be to get through grief faster, wash my hands of it and move on.
But apparently, it doesn’t work that way.
Grief lasts a while or as long as it does. It’s a process and it’s different for each person. I feel the most sad when I think against what happened.
Grief is also unwieldy. It’s inconvenient. It washes over us, ready or not.
After three months, I desperately wanted a break. A little time off. A grief vacation.
And I got that.
The most amazing relief came over me, and not just for a second or two, it lasted for a while. I felt a clear breath of fresh air. I remembered how I used to feel when I was happy without trying.
I felt like myself again.
(When a pain goes away that you’ve had for a while, at first you may not notice it’s gone. But then it dawns on you… oh, I don’t hurt! I feel better!)
I enjoyed the relief. The sun came out. My heart opened for business as usual.
After that, my happiness waxed and waned, but seemed more present more often, and I deeply appreciated that.
OPEN AT YOUR OWN RISK
In one of those moments when I was feeling stronger and more confident, I took advantage of my bravery, and walked into Eric’s closet to retrieve a mystery box of his belongings, as well as an old briefcase with a tattered handle.
Both should have (in all fairness) been labeled “Do not open. Will cause immediate and dangerous flooding.”
(And being what they were – a mystery box and a briefcase – I should have known. But like I said, I was feeling brave.)
In this mystery box, I found his contractor’s license (expired in 1985). Near that, his reading glasses, his passport, and a pair of cuff links in a velvet lined box, which I had seen him wear only a couple times in all our time together. In another corner of the box laid his lariat and name tag from a LifeVantage trip to Cancun in 2013, heavy with milestone buttons.
I put it on. It felt nice. The weight of it, the medal memories, and that it fell over my heart.
There were many photos. I sorted them and kept a few.
There was a single business card for “Russtique Antiques,” his mother’s livelihood for many years.
In the same box was his fathers 1962 championship medal for high powered rifle sharp shooting. Eric had told me about his father’s ability to shoot long range using iron sights. Taking the medal out of the clear case and holding it for a minute, I wondered what it took for his father to earn that medal, the hours of practice, the innate skill, the keen vision.
Next was a handwritten copy of Eric’s family tree, listing 102 members and their birthdays. Under that, seven 10 cent copies of “The Chateaugay Record and Franklin County Democrat” (1967 to 1970) with various high school shots of Eric, the kind that local papers love to print, ending with his (shy and sweet) Valedictorian graduation photo.
There was an envelope with past driver’s licenses. One photo was funny (really terrible!), one was Eric attempting to appear awake (made me laugh) and one from 1984 was downright hot. He was in his early 30’s, looking into the camera, doing nothing at all. Good haircut. A hint of sweat on his brow.
You know, like I said, casually hot.
DIP-ER-DO. YOU, TOO?
And finally, there were two envelopes, 4 X 6-1/2 inch manila, yellowed with age, with red and blue print. They were labeled Mike Stone’s Original dip-er-do Stunt Plane. 3 for $2.00.
According to the envelope’s claims, this little paper plane was designed to do flips, come back to you and land in your hand.
I thought about my elusive happiness of late, and how it has done more than a few flips. I thought about how I’d like my happiness to come back to me and land neatly in my hand.
I followed directions for preparing the dip-er-do for flight and gave it a whirl.
Clearly I needed flying lessons.
Even though it was fun to fly, that “come back to you” thing wasn’t happening. My little dip-er-do did do dips, however — one particularly spectacular dip required a ladder for retrieval.
Unfortunately, I never got flying lessons from the expert himself.
I wish I had.
Long ago, Eric told me how he and his first wife Penny traveled to malls on weekends to sell paper airplanes. If they were able to get passers-by engaged — “Come on over and have a flying lesson!” — the new flyers almost always bought a pack (or two or ten).
He said they often made six to eight hundred dollars on a weekend, flying paper airplanes hour after hour.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
After sorting Eric’s box and briefcase, my emotions rose up and had a little talk with me.
More accurately they reared up, rivaling the heavy gully-washer rain we had that same evening. I hadn’t seen that much water coming off my roof, maybe ever.
And the egg-beater wind — that was new. It swirled forcefully, changing directions, causing heavy rain to be thrown at my windows and deck plants from every possible angle. It was intense and gusty and a bit alarming.
(Just like my emotions earlier that day.)
This crazy wind, combined with the massive amount of water coming from the sky made the three of us standing in my living room pause in utter awe and amazement.
My awe didn’t last long.
I realized I should head downstairs and check the garage and basement. Yes, water was coming in, and despite my creative measures, which included a well-positioned wheelbarrow to lure water away from one vulnerable corner of the house, things still got wet. (But thankfully not my downstairs bathroom or laundry area.)
There I was, vacuuming incoming water. Deja vu!
Hadn’t I just sopped up water pouring from my eyes that very morning after playing with the airplane, holding his cuff links and wearing his LifeVantage lariat?
Yes, life is reflective. I get it. Again. For the hundredth or thousandth time.
But since sopping with Kleenex is easier than heavy rain, a shop vac and high winds, hopefully I can stick with the Kleenex and keep on keepin’ on through this emotional journey. Grief is a process, it takes whatever time it does and (apparently for this girl) has watery layers.
I can do this.
To quote my favorite childhood story (The Little Engine That Could) “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…”
p.s. Eric, could you tell me how to make the plane flip a couple times and come back to my hand?
Or will the dip-er-do naturally come back to me when my happiness does — when I don’t miss you so much, so often? How does that work exactly?
Every day I get rid of things. I give away, recycle, donate, sell. The energy in the house is moving again, and that feels good.
It’s amazing how much there is to do when someone dies. Everything a person owned, wore, used, collected, emailed, read or filed has to be dealt with in some way.
While I knew that (how could I not?) I didn’t really know that. Not really.
Unfortunately or fortunately, my house has great closets, a giant walk-in pantry, and other roomy storage spaces. All the better to stash things, all the better to say “I’ll deal with that later.”
Which is exactly what we did.
So now, every day I’m lightening. Sorting. Giving away. Going through. Discarding.
And then I fall into bed and get up the next morning and do it all over again.
THE JAPANESE WAY
A few months before Eric passed, I knew there was going to be big work ahead. To prepare myself I read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.
My emotional and attitudinal state while reading her book ranged from fairly OK to complete horror.
Fairly OK: “Alright, alright, I’ll sort. I have too much stuff.”
Appreciation: She says tidying doesn’t mean you are choosing what to get rid of, you’re choosing what to keep. That’s a nice focus.
Total agreement: She believes that discarding is always a first step. Then store. That made perfect sense.
Silent awe: She proposes that those of us who can’t keep a tidy home don’t have an organizing problem, we have an excess problem. She says we simply have too many things.
Complete horror: She advises sorting belongings by category, not location. This means, according to the tidy Ms. Kondo, that you bring ALL the clothes in your home to one location for sorting. (Oh, Gawd, no… me and whose army is going to do this? Shall we break out the tequila? How does one get through this project in any sort of timely manner?!?)
She’s got a legitimate point, though. It’s the only way to see the enormity of what we own. With or without the tequila, a sobering exercise, I’m sure.
All in all, she’s got a great book full of helpful hints, including mystifying categories such as photos, sentimental items, lecture materials, credit card statements, and yes, even spare buttons. She is thorough.
TWO GUYS WHO TEACH “LESS IS MORE”
For inspiration to party on (keep cleaning and sorting) I’ve listened to the gentlemen who call themselves The Minimalists.
One of their experiments, however, involved an awareness exercise — don’t buy any new gadgets, clothes… (I don’t remember the extensive list) for a year. Obviously, they bought food. While I get their point, the challenge sounds unnecessarily stressful to me.
After that, they began a practice of waiting before buying. If they saw a cool new toy in the store, they waited a certain period of time to see if it still rang their chimes. If it was a must-buy after this waiting period, they bought it. Otherwise, they let it go.
The minimalist approach to living touts that clarity increases when you’ve sorted your possessions and keep only what sparks joy. Life is simpler. More manageable. There’s time for more important things when our stuff is in order.
I get it.
Having less is a good thing. Keeping only things that bring me joy is a very good thing.