My friend died last week….

by Cathy Rowan

Jose died last week. He died due to the Coronavirus. He lived over 4,500miles away from me and yet he was one of my very closest friends.

Inside me is a great big hole of missing him. A sense of both my personal and the world in general being a poorer place with his departing. I know he will have died in peace and his health had become increasingly poor over the last couple of years.

My body now feels him in the wind, sees him in the clouds scudding by, and dancing amongst the stars – probably swinging on the moon because he is now free. He is no longer locked in a prison: he spent in total just 6 months short of 30 years in prison in Texas. And for this I feel a visceral joy for him that he is no longer suffering.

But my heart is so angry with the prison system that did not even give the inmates bars of soap to wash their hands. Alongside this is this huge sadness: what is within me and most striking is just plain old “missing him” being here on the planet with me albeit thousands of miles away.

Yesterday I just sat with myself, just being with all of this and there was also a sense of more wanting to come. Suddenly an unexpectedly profound awareness came: that Donald Trump, for all his wealth, power and “freedom”, was so impoverished compared to Jose. Jose had an inner peace and freedom despite him being locked in a prison for life without parole.

Contact with Jose had a richness, an extraordinary arms-flinging-wide open in joy  feel: he had a deep abiding faith in Love that he called God. He had embodied and lived his life whilst I knew him from this deep faith that flowed through him. He had what I believe all our hearts long for – including President Trump. What came Jose was the one who was and is free, Trump is locked into a unseen cage of his past pain.

Jose wrote to many people over the 30 years including me for 15 of them. I started writing in 2005 – my life then being subsumed in micromanaging my severe chronic pain and vertigo that came from a car accident in 1999. I knew I was writing to a man on Death Row in Texas who was nearing the end of his appeal process and that the expectation by all there was he would be executed.

I wrote because I was lonely and because I missed from my work not getting to know people from very different backgrounds to my own. I even in my arrogance wrote because maybe I saw him as the one needing help. I was all wrong: it was Jose who helped me. Jose who had already in 2002 been just a few hours short of being executed was at peace with death. \jose who recognised what love truly is through his many pen friends and his amazing attorneys Dick and Mandy. And through this he found an acceptance of death and in so doing he embraced life and living.

And so it was Jose who taught me how one might actually more fully live with what cannot be changed. He taught me how one might accept with a glad heart whatever comes as, whatever this is, it is meant to be for now. Our choice is to see the gift within what comes and open to it.

He taught me that prison (and chronic pain) is a mind-set and that within us we can be free whatever our external life situations. He believed if we open our heart to the life-process we are in God will be with us and show us the way. He was a natural Focuser without ever knowing anything at all about Focusing. He knew about Presence, he radiated Presence. I found that in every letter I received from him it was just written from his felt sense supported by a place of Presence. He was so fully human, so alive, and at times got into such messes – death row definitely being the pinnacle of his “messes” list!

Jose gave me the unconditional love my parents could never give. And in July 2008 I realised I had to meet him to thank him, for what he had given me in terms of teaching me how to live positively with my pain, before he was executed. So I carefully booked my flights around treatment I was then having and in accordance with Texan prison visit requirements. And it was all set for me to go in late January 2009: then in October Jose got an execution date of mid-January.

What unfolded next is a long story, too long for a blog post: but suffice to say I so needed to meet this man I lobbied the “great and the powerful” with letters asking for his execution date to be deferred until after my visit.  Then by what Jose termed one of God’s miracles, just a couple of days before his execution date my request was granted. His date was deferred for 90 days in order that I could make my visit. My husband and I went and met him. Afterwards we also met his attorneys, Dick and Mandy, people of immense compassion and dedication.

Out of this meeting, a change in the Federal law and a huge online lobby, of which I was a part, Jose’s sentence, again just days before the execution date in April, was finally quashed. A sentencing retrial was ordered. This was almost unheard of in Texas. I had not realised in my lobbying that no-one else had thought I stood a snowball in hell chance of success. A friend said to me the other day about this – sometimes naivety is an asset!

Finally in 2013 he got a sentence of life without parole. I  had visited him twice prior to the final re-sentencing decision and then was able to visit Jose in 2014 in his new prison. At this meeting there were no bars between us and we actually got to have a hug.

And today my heart needs me, the whole of my body needs me to share with you about this extraordinary human being who has so profoundly changed my life, just as inadvertently I changed and “saved” his. Jose, following his sentencing commutation, spent his life sharing this experience of his life having been saved through love.

My heart feels I owe it to him to do the same now he is no longer here to share his story.

When his letters came I never used to open them immediately: the love emanating out of the writing on the paper was sometimes too intense for me. Often when I read them I skim-read – again too much love for my defended broken heart. And now he is gone: no more letters. Just tears, so many tears, and so much love. I have kept all his letters and when I am ready I will read them again and let them soak in even deeper. Right now my heart is not ready yet for their intensity.

Last Sunday I attended a Zoom meeting in memory of Jose with a whole group of people who also corresponded with him. People were there from around the world: eastern Australia to the Pacific Coast of the USA, from Europe. Not all his friends could make it but what was clear in this wonderful, but so painful-for-me, meeting was how Jose, transformed by love. How through letter-writing and letter receiving in a solitary confinement cage on Death Row, this love was literally spread around the globe.

Jose was not an intellectual, his IQ was 70:  yet he lived what Gene Gendlin taught and wrote about, what the mystics including Rumi writes about. I know he had a dreadful childhood and so I suspect did Donald Trump. However Trump’s was one of white privilege and money whereas Jose’s was from a poverty-stricken Hispanic family. Neither man got the love they needed: and yet somehow Jose found a way to an all-encompassing sense of love within and the richness and peace that comes with it.

Maybe Jose found Love despite his circumstances or perhaps it was because of them? I feel Jose has much to teach us all about how our chase after money and power can so damage us  and get in the way of what is truly important, what life is really all about.

I am finishing this post with a slightly paraphrased form of how Jose started all his letters to me and to all the people he wrote to:

Dear Reader, hello my precious friend, how are you and your loved ones doing? May this post find you all only in GODS hands as it leaves me. Thanks to our LORD  and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST!

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Tiny Problem, No Big Deal

What happens when we let our egos decide how significant a problem is? Here is the story of my toe.

I was born with an oddly shaped toe—the middle toe on both feet is the longest toe. The right foot has been more problematic. That foot is also a bit longer, and there is even less space in a shoe for it. If you look at the photo of the “perfect” foot, you will see perfectly conforming toes with the big toe being the largest and the subsequent toes gradually getting smaller. What happens when one of your toes do not fit such perfection?

When Someone Finds a Flaw in You

My teenage boyfriend was the first to point out the middle toe. He said I had square feet in a mocking tone. Bye-bye, first boyfriend. But now that I knew about this “problem,” I wondered how many other people might mock me for having an oddly shaped toe. “Square feet,” however, became a background feeling to describe my relationship with my toes.

As I aged, however, I understood that I could not wear “stylish” shoes because shoe sellers predicate their designs on everyone having a “perfectly shaped” toes and two same size feet. We all know from watching many police shows that shoes give away who you are. If you can’t wear stylish shoes, then forget stylish clothes. This tiny problem also impacted how I dressed, mostly in slacks with shoes that had square “toe boxes.”

I began spending exorbitant amounts of money, not on designer shoes, but orthopedic shoes that never really were comfortable. My middle toe would never have enough space to be itself, and the nail would send painful shock waves up my leg. I decide to get professional help from a podiatrist who happily cut away the nail. Two years of nerve pain later, the nail just grew back. So what’s a gal to do with a non-compliant toe?

I wear Crocs as much as possible because Crocs designed their shoes to give one’s foot support and space. Three months of lock down made me forget my toe. I only wore Crocs. But now, because I can leave the house occasionally, I began wearing shoes again, and the pain came back.

How Merchandise Controls Our Perceptions

I decided to hold space for my toe with love and compassion. The first thing I noticed was how central this toe is to my well-being. There is nothing in being longer than average that makes it a defective toe—it performs all the tasks one expects a toe to do. Because it is different from what our society acknowledges as a middle toe, few produce shoes to accommodate it. The basis of shoe design is the supply and demand economic model. This model impacted how attractive I felt, the people I dated, and the shoes and the clothes that I wore. Somehow even though the boyfriend is long gone, his harsh words hang in the air as an acknowledgment of the limitations of not having a “classic” foot form.

Getting to Know my Toe

When I hold space for the toe, what comes is how it has been my reliable bellwether. If Diana Foot.jpgthe boyfriend didn’t like my toe, he needed to go. He was a nascent domestic abuser. When I felt pressure to dress in the hyper-sexualized clothing that society promotes, I thought, “what’s the use, I can’t wear the shoes to make the style work.” If I do not regularly care for my toe when I have to wear outdoor shoes, the unbearable pain makes me stop everything else and care for it. I’ve learned to be proactive in caring for my toe so that I can move, walk, dance, and play without pain. Maybe when I stop my ritual care for my toe, it is the same time that I am not taking care of other parts of me. So my question is, what does my toe need now?

The first word that comes is “constant.” When I have outdoor shoes on, there is never enough space for this toe. My toe develops more hard callus right at the point where the regrown nail is as a way to protect itself. The coming together of the callus with the nail’s edge is what alerts me something is wrong. My toe wants me to know that it constantly suffers from this constriction and works hard to protect my toe by reinforcing the callus already there. Then, I work carefully to remove the callus because that is what relieves my perceived pain.

I have more compassion for my toe and its lifelong journey to live under conditions that do not support it. I also hold an appreciation for the role it has played in my life to give me a reason to leave unhealthy people and activities behind. I hold space for the “not knowing” how to support my toe so that it is not under constant pressure to protect itself only to have me undo that protection. How many other ways do I undo my body’s natural activity to heal because it doesn’t fit my perception of what is right? By holding space for my toe, I trust my body to inform me of what it needs.

Perfect Toes: Photo by Lisandra Medonça
Diana’s Toes: Diana Scalera

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The Lock Down and The Flowers

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Photos by Deni Tessarolo within 200 meters of her home

On May 18, 2020, the Veneto Region of Italy will open to a new phase of their response to the COVID-19 virus. Here is Deni Tessarolo’s energetic experience of the Lock down.

The Energy of the Lock Down

All of a sudden, you find yourself having to stay inside a space defined by law. We were IMG_0010_1even restricted to two blocks outside our home to walk our dogs or get exercise.

We began to live a way we never lived before with people locked in the house, wrapped in an ambivalent silence, a silence that heals your mind and, at the same time, opens a path for worries.

People became glued to the TV, clinging to the experts’ opinions to quell their anxieties. According to the government, if you wanted to go out, you must have a valid reason—food or drugs. You can only go to nearby businesses. Written self-certification is required. There were many new rules imposed on us and new things we had to learn.

We were discovering how difficult it was to keep a social distance—forcing oneself to stay far from others. We were hiding our faces under the protective masks, rendering facial expressions useless. There was no need for makeup, and we could relax our facial muscles with a neutral stance.

When waiting in the long lines outside the supermarkets, we learn to behave like a phobic person. All of a sudden, you have to move thinking that all the people you met have the corona virus infection.

A Collective Hallucination

IMG_0036

It is like being the protagonist of a collective hallucination. Everyone became small and furtive as if we wanted to avoid being seen by the corona virus, present everywhere, invisible like an omnipotent, cruel God.

The official motto was: ‘Stay at Home.’  Staying outside becomes threatening while staying at home becomes salvation. Despite all this, not all had been negative. Many positive things arose with the new situation.

We discovered how it was to be free from many commitments. Now, virtual relationships, so underestimated and considered a fallback in comparison to physical contact, acquired vital importance. Emotional exchanges, affections, aperitifs, meetings with friends, outbursts, and hugs became virtually experienced.

How Flowers Helped Me

IMG_0013_1 copiaWe stayed at home, stayed within 200 meters of our home, with a lot of time on our hands. This time helped me to discover the expansive effects on my body that contemplating the beauty of flowers initiated and how the act of looking at them filled me with wonder by opening a space of time where I could rest.

This open space encouraged my love of taking pictures and capturing the best moment of the flowers to document their eternal beauty. I looked at every photo taken day after day for a long time. These are flowers that have always been present, but I never noticed them. It was my daily therapy that helped me to cling to the beauty of nature so as not to sink, or enclose myself in the darkness of black waters.

I had never considered that something so beautiful and fragile could become a lifesaver. By looking at a flower and I was letting in the visual effect–the feeling of wonder. This act turned into new life-giving energy.

I feel lucky to have allowed the flowers into my consciousness at that moment that was full of restrictions. The flowers had always existed. Now, they were appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed, bringing fragments of light that, together with the others, illuminated the house.

Fiori e Lock Down (Italiano)

In un giorno qualsiasi, all’improvviso, ti trovi a non poter uscire, a dover rimanere dentro uno spazio delimitato per legge. Lo spazio di movimento permesso non può superare i 200 metri da casa.

In questo modo inizia il lockdown, un periodo di tempo mai vissuto prima. La gente chiusa in casa, avvolta da un silenzio ambivalente, che oscillava da curativo per la mente a silenzio che favoriva preoccupazioni. C’erano persone incollate alla tv, aggrappate ai pareri degli esperti per sedare ansie e preoccupazioni.

Nel frattempo il governo decide che se vuoi uscire devi avere un valido motivo: comprare del cibo, comprare farmaci o altre necessità mediche e solo nelle vicinanze di casa con l’autocertificazione scritta che specifica la necessità.

Poi scopri quanto è difficile mantenere la distanza sociale. Scopri anche che la mascherina ti concede l’assoluta libertà espressiva del viso e il trucco che mimetizzava i segni del tempo non serve più.

Allucinazione Collettiva

IMG_0015_1Scopri le lunghe file fuori dai supermercati e devi imparare a comportati come le persone fobiche. Tutto ad un tratto devi muoverti pensando che il contagio del coronavirus può essere in tutte le persone che si incontrano, è come essere protagonisti di una allucinazione collettiva.

Tutti si fanno piccoli, furtivi, come volessero evitare di essere visti dal coronavirus, presente ovunque, invisibile e onnipotente come Dio. Stare fuori diventa minaccioso, mentre lo stare a casa diventa la salvezza. Il motto ufficiale è: ‘Stare a casa!’

Lo stare a casa ci allena alla rinuncia, insegna come è essere liberi dagli innumerevoli impegni, ci fa scoprire la vitale importanza delle relazioni virtuali, tanto sottovalutate e considerate un ripiego rispetto al contatto fisico. Tante cose vengono trasferite nelle connessioni online come gli scambi emotivi, affetti, aperitivi, incontri tra amici, sfoghi, abbracci, intrattenimenti ecc..

Come i Fiori Mi Hanno Aiutato

Stare a casa! … Stare nei 200 metri attorno a casa, con molto tempo a disposizione, con la primavera alle porte, mi fa accorgere dell’effetto quasi estatico nel corpo nel contemplare la bellezza insita dei fiori.

Mi diverto, giorno dopo giorno, a IMG_0004guardarli fiorire e con mia sorpresa scopro che l’atto del guardare sfumature, forme e colori mi riempiva di meraviglia, a volte toglieva il fiato, apriva uno spazio, sia fisico che temporale, dove si poteva sostare, staccare la spina.

Ecco che scattare foto soddisfa il bisogno avido di trattenere la meraviglia del fiore e il piacere nell’osservarlo. Volevo catturare l’apice della bellezza, renderla eterna.

Ho guardato a lungo ogni foto fatta giorno dopo giorno, molteplici fiori che si rinnovano ogni anno e mai notati prima, era la mia terapia quotidiana, era come aggrapparsi alla bellezza della natura per non sprofondare, per non chiudersi nel buio, per non perdersi nelle acque nere.

Non avevo mai considerato che qualcosa di così bello e fragile potesse diventare un salvagente. Guardare un fiore e lasciare che l’effetto visivo riempia qualcosa di non so cosa, ma qualcosa in cui il sentimento di meraviglia si trasforma in una energia nuova vivificante.

Mi sento fortunata per aver permesso, in quel momento pieno di restrizioni, di essere aiutata dalla natura floreale riscoperta e pienamente goduta, e come se frammenti di luce abbiano contribuito ad illuminare casa.

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The Sun Flowed Out

Photo by Diana Scalera

The morning of New Year’s Day, I happened to wake up early before the sunrise, which is rarely the case for me. Out of pure curiosity I rolled up the curtains fully to see the sky and the far mountains across my town, and realized that the atmosphere out there was so clean and quiet, even including the neighborhood parking lot and streets. I noticed everything there was so still in the veil of darkness and felt as if everyone held their breath, waiting for the particular moment—-the sun’s appearance. So I, too, kept still and quiet, standing by the window and just watching how the sky and the landscape would be changing.

The darkness gradually faded, and bits of red began to tint the clouds here and there. It was a bird’s cry which disrupted the silence, and it was the first sign for the rise of the sun. Other birds also joined with their calls as if they could not help but cry out of joy. When the bright light of the sun flowed out of the mountain ridge and penetrated through the landscape and me, I experienced “joy” myself, with my eyes closed, filled with overwhelming white light from head to toe.

Through this small drama, I felt as if I experienced Nature’s direct and powerful language, her pure feelings of joy and happiness, which I wanted to share with you at the beginning of this New Year.

Hiromi

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When Joy Becomes More than a Crumb

Photo by Gabrielle Clark

Today my body bought me a long forgotten memory.
A joyful one!

As I was out walking early in the morning, a little yellow flower caught my eye.

“Do you like butter?”

Instantly, I could hear the sound of little girls giggling with delight as we played this childhood game. It was a simple game we played where you hold a flower under your friend’s chin and if it turns yellow – then you like butter!

It made me smile – and still does – to feel this body memory from long ago.

A forgotten joy.

The joy that is the precious jewel of childhood that no one can take from me. Even a difficult childhood doesn’t stop the timeless innocence, wonder, and magic that each child has available in his or her inner world. A wellspring of wonder.

Rilke says even if you found yourself in the worst prison you would still have it. The magic, wonder, and joy that is inherent in every child.

To savour an ice-cream slowly, trying to catch the drips with my tongue, without an ounce of guilt, enjoying the flavors and taste sensations of fresh passion fruit or feijoa straight off the vine. The total immersion of my whole being when listening to a favourite fairy tale, a song or a story over and over again. The joy and delight of jumping waves at the ocean and running screaming from the water with pure free abandonment. The magic of a mirror and wondering how to get into the world on the other side where the little girl is……

Somewhere along the way, I had let my joy become a crumb.
It is so nice to taste it again.

To feel once again the wonderment and joy the world offers to me when I can pause and listen to my body wisdom.

To nurture the seeds of wonder and joy that live inside me – this is my practice.

My inspiration from Rainer Maria Rilke…

“And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories?”

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Dear Body

Dear body please help me to remember….

My felt sense
My true nature
My inner knowing…..
Like the stars, is sometimes hidden, sometimes covered over by the darkness, concealed by the distractions of life, blocked out by conditionings imposed on me from the outside. Dimmed by the crushing thoughts that pelt down on me.

But sometimes, sometimes…..
When I’m quiet, when my mind is still, when I’m with someone who can listen well, someone who doesn’t want to change or fix me, someone who points me back home to myself, I find,

clarity
wisdom
truth and beauty
Always available

It never leaves me
I leave it….often
It never leaves me

Dear body please hear my prayer,

help me to come home to you…..
again
and again
and again.

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Breaking the Spell of Suffering

I am hard on myself and I need to break the spell of that.

When the overwhelm sets in, it takes over my body.

Before I know it I have lost myself, I am not solid.

I am like a leaf being blown around in a storm.

I am lost. I have no home base.

When I can break the spell of the panic, the overwhelm, the negative thoughts – I feel wider, softer.  I have freedom to move.

The reward from doing that is that I can hear the birdsong and the wind in the trees.

I am available to experiencing life in the here and now.

How I break it is to pause, to slow down, to remember to come back to myself, my surroundings, my breath, the beauty that is there for me as a solid support – 24 hours a day 7 days a week 52 weeks of every year.

Not as a technique that I have learned and must get right, must do a certain way. If I do that, I am going against the unique way my body knows and desires to be.

If I do that, then the trying hard sets in, the sense of failure, I don’t get it, can’t do it.

The words come in and beat me up.

I must pause and find some sense of solidity that is outside me.

I simply pause and wait for the right way for me that is coming from my own unique bodily knowing of how to be in this world.

Finally – I can trust me.

I can break the spell like that and then the magic of the birdsong will appear for me, and I can breathe out.

Because I can trust me and my body knowing of what it needs,

I can trust you and your body knowing.

I know you will find your own unique way that is just right for you.

Thank you Kevin.

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