Love Thy Neighbor


And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

   What happens when you trust in humanity enough to send an open invitation to 17 different neighborhoods in Oakland?
You make 20 new friends.
   I don’t mean 20 “friends”. Not theoretical “friends”, as in ones on facebook that I never see or actually spend time with. I mean friends I will now spend holidays with. Go over to their homes and do puzzles with. Friends I will see in temple and sit next to. These are the plans that we have crafted after spending only one night together. This is what can happen when you open your heart and love thy neighbor.
   With the terrorism that has occurred in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and here in America with the black church burnings & shootings and the substantial uprising of anti-islamic, racist and anti-refugee sentiments in America, I decided to lead by example by inviting all of my neighbors to my home for Shabbat dinner. My goal was simply this – that we don’t need to fear one another. I wanted to show people that we have more in common than different. That I could trust my neighbors enough to allow perfect strangers into my home and it would all be ok.
And you know what? It was more than ok. It was amazing.
   Last night, my small one bedroom apartment in Oakland was filled with life. The joyful screams of children rang out as they played with toys on the ground. Small dogs chased one another in between begging for table scraps. Neighbors coming and going from my apartment knowing they didn’t need to knock. That my home was their home and they could just let themselves in. Perfect strangers brought foods from their cultures and countries and drank wine and hugged like old friends. At the end, these 20 people who crammed into my 1 bedroom apartment were sending each other friend requests on facebook and helping me do dishes. Ordinarily my home is monastery quiet. All too often I am either working or doing school work and I do it in complete silence. The loving energy was wonderful to have.
   I am Jewish. I converted to Judaism at 18 and was religious up until around age 25. I am not religious anymore as I found too much hatred and warfare done in the name of God, but I wanted to utilize religious practice for good. In the Jewish Sabbath, it is a time meant for rest, family and community. Since our western way of living in America is so isolating I wanted to open my home up to an interfaith gathering to celebrate Shabbos. I had people from all over the world gather in my home. But it was not just me that made this event happen. It could not have occurred without the help of every single person. I had neighbors bring chairs over. People brought food and wine. I have now received emails asking if they can donate children’s books for future Shabbat’s. People see me in elevators and when they hear my name they know who I am from the flyers I placed under their doors.
Now I’ve been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating
Why can’t we live in bliss
Everyone jump upon the peace train
Come on, come on, come on
Yes, come on the peace train
Yes, it’s a peace train
Oh, I’ve been smiling lately
Dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Some day it’s going to come
Now I’ve been smiling lately
Thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be
Something good has begun
– Cat Stevens, Peace Train
   I truly believe that peace is a choice. Trust is a choice. So many people warned me against doing this. Of the dangers of inviting complete strangers into my home. While I appreciate their concern for my well being, I am glad that my heart was right. That these other human beings were just friends I was waiting to meet. Not once did it feel strange or weird. Every single person who came to my door I hugged first and then asked their name. I did this on purpose to show that I don’t need to know your name to consider you a friend.
   One of my friends who lives in the building surprised me by bringing me a cake with a peace symbol on it. I’ve been promoting this dinner as a Peace Shabbat and when I opened the cake box and saw the peace cake, I literally squealed with joy. It made my heart so happy to see all these strangers from so many faiths, races, sexualities, generations, and countries come together and eat a peace cake together.
   This CAN happen where you live. You (yes, YOU) can do this too. If this can be successful with a single woman in a “dangerous” city like Oakland, CA with only a one bedroom apartment and limited resources…..what do you think you could do?
I say, lets all dare to dream a little. And then turn those dreams into action.
How will you contribute to peace in this world?

Hello, Human Kindness


The slogan for Dignity Health Care is “Hello Human Kindness”. In their advertising campaign they reference real studies showing how simple acts of human kindness can help reduce pain and ease suffering of physical maladies. Today, I got to see first hand how true that really is.

In the Parkinson’s clinic where I work we have one very sweet man who has dementia and refractory PD symptoms. He has exhausted most of the staff over the last 6 years he’s been seen. Today, he walked in when we had no physicians and only one very overworked nurse.

He was shaking violently and sweating profusely as he begged to be seen by a physician. He had just been seen two days prior. He had plenty of medication with a Nurses Aid at his facility to help administer it. I was more concerned that he had somehow been able to get all the way here from his home in the Peninsula without his wallet or ID with such severe symptoms.

Our nurse explained to me the sweating and tremors were from not having enough medication also known as ‘off’ symptoms. I asked her if I could give him a dose of meds and she approved it. After dosing him and letting him rest for half an hour I checked to see how he was feeling. At first he said he was ready to leave. But it became readily apparent he couldn’t. After getting the ok for a second dose I took him down to the ER. I sat with him at the ER for about an hour and then I had to leave.

But one thing he said to me stuck with me.

After I dosed him I picked him up and laid him down on an exam table. He asked me if I would give him a hug. That simple question touched my heart and simultaneously made me weary knowing that patients with PD can become hyper-sexual. In dealing with PD patient’s I’ve been asked out on dates, had patient’s expose themselves to me, and say very explicit things to me. All the while I rationalize it that this is not them speaking, it’s their disease. But the voice of this patient was full of pain and sounded more like a child, so I hugged him. His tremors were so bad that once his arms were around me he kept violently jerking me tighter and tighter, unable to loosen his grip. I gently loosened his dystonic arms and wrested myself free.

He said that during that hug all his pain went away. That he was completely serious when he said that. Immediately my mind filled with Dignity Health’s “Hello Human Kindness” campaign. In particular, the signs in the BART stations referencing a pain study indicating that human touch can reduce the perception of the severity of pain. In plain speak – human touch can lessen physical pain. I may not be a doctor or a nurse, but I am a human being and it is within all of us to extend simple human kindness to others in pain. By the end of my time with this patient I was covered in the sweat of a stranger, had missed my lunch break, and was dealing with what looked like very scary symptoms. Others might not have reacted how I chose to or might have been grossed out. But for me it is moments like this that make my life worth living and give me purpose.

So my question to you dear reader is this – how has kindness helped you today? What kindness have you extended to others?

Looking Back


Today, I watched the movie The Skeleton Twins. If you have not seen it, it is about twins Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig who have been estranged for 10 years in the wake of one of them being molested and their fathers suicide. Bill’s character Milo tries to kill himself and Kristin Wiig’s character Maggie comes to take him back to their hometown to convalesce. Some of the theme’s of the movie are regret, unrequited love and death. This got me thinking back on my own life…

There is a box I keep in one corner of my apartment that has a menagerie of items from my past lives. My life as a married woman, as a new 27 year old divorcee living in New York and my time living in Los Angeles as an actress. There were old love letters, younger photos of me in headshots and postcards from old friends. I found an old Bhagavad Gita from my Hari Krishna days along with some meditation beads. As I picked up each one of these items, it ripped my heart out just a little. One was a birthday card from Britni. I still use the decorative small  bowls she gave me and the jewelry box they came in. I usually reserve them for dessert so I can always remember the sweetness of our friendship.

Reading the old love letters and cards from my ex-husband was the most painful. I remembered how in love we were. There were bad times yes, but reading these letters reminded me that I was once loved. I’ve been perpetually single since that divorce with partners not ever lasting more than a year. He is now in a relationship and I honestly hope that he is happy and in love. Even though there is nothing more that I want than just to see him once more, I know that will never happen. I admire him from afar during the occasional google search. Sometimes, I think about him dying and finally being able to see him by visiting his grave. But I’m happy he’s still alive – The world is a much happier place for me knowing he is on it too. Knowing that we both breathe the same air and look up at the same moon.

I’ve come to a place where I believe I will spend the rest of my life single – but not alone. I do love my life and have many wonderful people in it, but when I look back on the pattern of my love life I seem to be unsuccessful at creating meaningful romantic relationships.  Even though I was the one that left, I’ve never really completely let him go. There is a place in my heart that he’ll always be. A place where he and I will always be young and in love.

I also found some of my old photographs I took when I first took up the hobby in New York. I was extremely depressed then and I used to wander through Manhattan taking pictures with a plastic Diana camera to get myself out of the house. I see how my technique has changed and improved since those early days with better equipment and practice. Tonight, I’m being paid to shoot another well known photographer’s birthday party. Back then it was my goal to become a professional photographer.

There was the post card from New York that my friend sent me saying that both he and New York missed me. He said that I was brave for starting a new life so far away and he admired me for it. I put that up on my refrigerator.

I also found out today that one girl I knew from my New York days died this past June at 34 from Uterine Cancer. I read a beautiful eulogy from one of her friends that moved me to tears. It reminded me how so very lucky I am and I am still wondering why I did not die. It seems impossible. It feels both unfair that I still live and extremely lucky.

When I opened the Gita, I turned to a random page:

As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such change.

– The Bhagavad Gita

A sober person is not bewildered by such change. Even though I am not bewildered by the change, right now my heart hurts a little. I accept this pain as the nature of life is to suffer knowing that it is only temporary and impermanent. Overall, I’m grateful for the life I’ve led and know that there are even more adventures in store as I look ahead. But for now, I’m remembering the past.

Final Passages


   Last Thursday I found myself on a ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo, CA. I was on that ferry to meet Britni’s mom Nancy. We both were enrolled in Final Passage’s death doula certification in Sebastopol, CA. Earlier in the year I heard about this program from Nancy. She had found it and shared it with me. She didn’t know about home funerals and wished she had so she could have taken back control of Britni’s death, body and funeral. Coincidentally (or not! Depending on your worldview) my grandfather died on July 19th of this year…the same day that Britni died in 2012. I’ve only known two people who have died and they both died on the same day. I’m still trying to figure out what this means, but I do know I do not believe in coincidence.

   The program was held in the middle of some of California’s most beautiful northern woods. During the day, we picked blackberries and sat in the sun as we learned the philosophical and practical issues around home deaths and funerals. At night, we sat in hot tubs looking at the stars; decompressing with foxes scampering not too distantly in the woods. Jerrigrace Lyons and her husband Mark teach this program. Jerrigrace came into this profession by way of her friend Carolyn who died in the 90’s and left her last wishes for her friends to care for her body and memorialize her utilizing the home funeral model. Jerrigrace is now one of the foremost authorities on the subject.

   The training was filled with beautiful people coming from all over the United States. Some were chaplains, some were nurses. Some were past clients of Jerrigrace’s now wanting to help others. All of us were there to work out past issues and learn to be better human beings. I personally loved the fact that this was a space I could walk into and have both spiritual and clinical personnel involved. Often at work I feel like I must choose between these two worlds. That to believe in a spiritual world is somehow in opposition to medical science. Here, I got to have my cake and eat it too and felt completely supported in these notions.

   Pema Chodron says (and I am paraphrasing here) that where we find discomfort, we must lean into it. That discomfort is the most clear of teachers because it shows us immediately and with extraordinary clarity where our issues lie. I can’t say that I did much work around death personally there. That work I’ve been doing since my cancer diagnosis. But I did work out many issues that pertain to how I live. I cried many times at this training, but not because of death. I cried at the couple who had been together for 34 years sharing their story of how they met. I cried when it hit me that I hate living in my modern, urban, solitary lifestyle. I realized that even though I am loved by a few, I feel a lack of love in my life – especially from myself lately. This week I leaned into that discomfort.

   Following the training was leaving for Sacramento to attend my grandfather’s funeral. There was more discomfort around this not because I am mourning his death, but because I feel anger and pain at our last interaction. The last time I saw my grandfather was in June when I came up specifically to say good bye to him. He was in the hospital and nobody knew if he would make it out considering his diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer with several brain and throat metastases. When I got to his hospital bed he ordered me out. He said some really cruel things, including telling me he was going to call security on me if I didn’t leave. At first, I didn’t leave. I sat there calmly as he wiped tears discreetly from his eyes. He also never came to visit me, call me or expressed any concern when I was diagnosed with my own cancer. For the majority of his suffering these past months I have only heard about it through my mother. It’s been difficult hearing how close he got to everyone while on me he called threatened security. Everyone likes to tell me it’s the brain tumors affecting his judgment. But honestly, he was incredibly anti-social and he had been for a long time. My family especially likes to remind me of this when I express feeling unloved. Perhaps he did love me when I was a child, but I cannot say that he did at the end of his life and I feel anger at this.

   At the funeral, my family wanted me to get up and share some meaningful memories of when I was a child. I could have shared him whitewashing one of his paintings to teach me to paint, or how he built me a swing or got me a puppy. But the anger and hurt prevented me from doing so. Instead, I leaned on the common experience of cancer and sharing that I was there in supportive service to others from my death doula training. That was my comfort zone.

   In order to attain full certification next May one of the things I have to do is write two letters of forgiveness: one letter I write to forgive someone else, one letter I write to ask for forgiveness. I can ask for forgiveness. But I have a VERY hard time forgiving when the other person is not asking for forgiveness. I’ve been trying to lean into this feeling. To understand why I cannot forgive. I think part of the answer is I haven’t really had to in my life. In my experience, people rarely ask for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness or apologizing is detrimental to the ego and personally very few people in my life that have caused me harm or pain have ever asked for forgiveness from me. How I deal with it is shutting people out of my life and moving on. I don’t think about them. I just don’t want them in my life. I’ve ostracized several people in my life for this. A part of me is wondering how I will ever move past this to write this letter. How can I forgive when I truly don’t feel it? I am so sick of hearing from others that we don’t forgive for the offenders sake, that we forgive for our own. I know this logically, but I can’t force myself to feel something when I truly don’t.

   In conclusion, I came away from this week with a deeper understanding of who I am, what my needs are and what work I still have to do. Now, I need to challenge myself. I need to live my ideals and make the necessary changes to grow myself spiritually.

Here’s to making the change.

What makes a Minister?

Earlier this year I was offered an incredible opportunity. The attending physician of the Parkinson’s clinic I work at saw how intimately I connected to our palliative care patients and thought I would be great as a spiritual counselor for a UCSF study on the role of spirituality in palliative care.

Considering I’ve done hospice work since I was 25 (I’m now 36), started a peer based therapy group two weeks after having been diagnosed with stage III cancer, and dealt actively with my own death while comforting my family members….to say I was excited would be a vast understatement. This is what I feel I’ve been put here on this planet to do – comfort the dying.

That opportunity has now been rescinded.

I reached out to a chaplain today because they wanted me to have a mentor. I could see on her face she didn’t think I would be a good fit for this study because I don’t have a Masters of Divinity degree and effectively talked the physician out of hiring me.

I am devastated.

This has made me question how we choose our spiritual leaders and what we look for in them. For me personally, I don’t trust clergy. I’m not religious nor have I ever had a positive experience with clerics (Today included). One thing this chaplain said that sticks out as I was crying at work was “I’m making things worse aren’t I?”. If you have gone to school and earned the piece of paper that says you’re a minister, shouldn’t you be able to soothe the souls of others? If you work as a chaplain in a hospital, shouldn’t you know what to say? What about people like me who don’t hold degrees in theology but who seem to know how to soothe and counsel? Does this inherent gift not matter because I have no paper?

In the eyes of the world I am useless.

It’s completely ok to counsel people for free with no diploma. I’ve been doing it for free for a very long time. I’ve given so much of myself over the years and I’m so tired of getting nothing in return. I’m so tired of my worth being measured in education or looks or a number on a scale. I’m so tired of being told by people that what I do matters yet never being able to benefit myself. I’m so tired of feeling like my life doesn’t matter and seeing proof of that fact in my every day dealings.

I feel like nobody values what I do. The fact is if I was really making a difference women would come to my cancer babes meetings. People would value my work. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep on giving and receive nothing in return. I’m too tired of hearing that it’s too far or it’s not what they want to do. If it was important to people they would come. I’m most likely going to dismantle Cancer Babes. I’ve worked really hard for 3 years to build it and I just can’t do it anymore by myself. I can’t keep investing money, time, energy and my heart only to have nobody appreciate these sacrifices.

I’m done.

Sarena and The Search For Happiness

A few nights ago, I watched the movie Hector and The Search For Happiness. If you haven’t yet seen it I suggest you do. The basic premise is we are introduced to a young psychiatrist named Hector who travels the world to find out what makes people happy. This has me thinking about my own happiness. What makes me happy?

Happiness seemed fleeting pre-cancer. As I have chronicled here previously I had terrible depression. Post-cancer my view on life and my heart are totally different. I have noticed I connect with people so easily now. In a way I never did before. I see now we are all connected and I feel this agape type love for people. I no longer lament being single because I feel so fulfilled by this love.

I think my own happiness list would look a little something like this…

1. Compare yourself to no one.

I turned 36 this year. In the months leading up to my birthday I felt a panic at getting closer to 40. I would look around and see 36 year old’s with careers further along than mine, who have more money than I do, people who have PhD’s, mortgages, marriages and children. I felt anxious thinking that I wasn’t enough. That my value was tied to these status markers. Luckily I got over that. You cannot take money with you to the grave and studies actually show that once you make over $75,000 your happiness doesn’t improve any more. I am rich in meaningful life experiences. I don’t know what my future holds, but today I can be satisfied with who I am and the being I am becoming.

2. Happiness lies in surprises – and the timing is no accident.

A few months ago I made a new friend at work. During that time I was grappling with worsening depression. One day, when I was feeling particularly down I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito and into a cafe. On a day I was feeling alone and lonely,  I looked up and who do I see? My new friend. She saw me too and we ended up spending the day together and it was truly a wonderful day. I believe there is a method to the madness of the universe. We may not always get what we want, but we get what we need.

3. Live mindfully in the present.

Ever since I have healed from cancer, I truly live in the moment. I don’t really care to plan my future because the future is not promised to any of us. My cancer diagnosis taught me that with amazing clarity. I do live fully in the moment however and I am determined not to miss all the beauty around me because I am lamenting past mistakes or fantasizing about future possibilities.

4. Connecting with other living beings.

I usually feel most at peace and the most happy when I am engaged and listening to people’s stories I find. I truly love learning about people’s lives and what has brought them to their present state. My heart breaks for them at times, and at others it soars. Feeling included and a part of the rest of the world is utterly important.

5. Happiness is answering your souls calling.

For a long time I did work that paid the bills, but did not satisfy me. I have always enjoyed counseling people. In my younger years I decided against pursuing a psychology degree because I had always heard you need a PhD to counsel people. I have almost no formal education and I am quite good at it. This isn’t to say we ever stop learning. In fact…

6. Always keep learning. Always challenge yourself.

As someone who loves to learn, I enjoy school. Not all subjects of course, but I am constantly amazed at how much knowledge there is in this universe and awed that I will never know it all. But I can focus on the things I enjoy and learn them. I can push myself to be a better therapist by working on myself and observing others.

7. Selflessness is everything.

When you give of yourself you will never want for anything. I get a sublime feeling of happiness upon performing a good deed. I often joke that I am addicted to public service. What you receive in return is priceless.

8. Happiness is knowing how to celebrate.

One of the qualities I love about New Orleans is their ability to celebrate. To dance in the streets and call strangers new friends. To listen to great music, eat delicious food and see beautiful images before you. Life is about celebration. Every moment we are alive and here is reason enough.

9. Happiness is being loved for exactly who you are.

In my life, I have often felt nobody would ever truly love all of me completely. I have this persistent nagging feeling that surrounds romantic love and there is a part of me that cannot imagine someone loving me just as I am – imperfections and all. There are billions of people on this earth though and I trust enough in the universe that my bashert will come into my life when it is time and we will accept one another just as we are.

10. Happiness is feeling useful.

No one wants to be a burden on others. We all have qualities that make us special and unique. We all have talents. Try to see the talents in others and encourage them, no matter how small.

What would your happiness list look like?

Million Dollar Views of Death

goodbyeI have a confession to make – I have depression. Like a lot of people with depression, I tend to hide it a little too well. Mostly people know me by my upbeat albeit loud, big personality. They see the helpful nature. The smiling visage. My service to hospice and to our military veterans.

What they don’t see is when I come home on some days and just can’t deal with the world around me. When I’m crying in the bathtub with a straight razor on the side and contemplating slicing my wrists. They don’t see I’m afraid to reach out for fear of being labeled “attention seeking” or even worse…mentally unsound which could lead to losing my job.

I’ve been in and out of therapy most of my life. The worst of it was in my 20’s. It got significantly better after cancer and for a long time I thought something magical happened because I didn’t feel the overwhelming sadness or preoccupation with death. Having come so close to losing my life for a long time gave me a renewed sense of wanting to live. I do still mostly feel that.

I’m also incredibly introspective and know myself and my habits very well. I know that I am not suicidal and my therapist agrees with me on that. A month ago I had to switch to evening appts with my therapist and I am still waiting on a night slot. She was the one person I felt I could tell my challenges to and knew how to handle it. I haven’t gotten a lot of positive experiences with sharing this side of me with people before so now I feel I cannot reach out to people who are not trained mental health professionals. In my experience people mostly want to tell you to “just stop it” in one form or another (“Stop being so negative.” “You have so many things to be thankful for” etc.) or they want to talk more than listen. For anyone with depression and especially suicidal ideation, you always want to get them talking and listen. So often have I thought while I was trying to reach out to well meaning friends and acquaintances “I am not having a positive experience” and would just wrap up the conversation, smile and go on pretending nothing’s wrong.

The suicide of Robin Williams affected me deeply last year. He was never someone I thought of on a daily basis, but I have always enjoyed his work. Especially his drama’s like the Fisher King and Awakenings. I understood immediately how he could fool the entire world with his bombastic personality and yet feel so alone. The world is not a safe place for these kinds of feelings to be aired. When you’re already so sensitive and already feel like nobody really cares.

I went walking across the bridge to Sausalito this weekend to give myself the gift of a beautiful day. I would like to state I did NOT go walking across the Golden Gate Bridge because I was suicidal. I was not. But everyone knows this bridge has a tendency to draw people who are suicidal from all over the world. As I walked across it I thought to myself about this. How in the very affluent bay area these views are “million dollar views”. How depressed persons can be in such a beautiful place and kill themselves. IMG_1122

On the bridge there are many signs and even phones for people to call for help. Suicide and death are things we don’t discuss in our culture. I needed an outlet to express what I was feeling internally. I have a hard time verbalizing these feelings so my photos from this day are really my attempt at expressing some of the things I feel inside. This is my art. This is my perspective. I hope it sparks a conversation. I hope it moves people. I want the viewpoint of the patient to be expressed. So often we either demonize the dead or lament what we could have done when the cause of death is suicide. We empathize with the family who survives them but not really the people who killed themselves. We label them as “selfish”. I want to empathize. To let everyone out there who feels like I do sometimes that it’s ok to feel that way. That you’re not “crazy”. That it is ok to trust a mental health worker. That it is ok to seek help. These are things I wish I heard.

Overall in analyzing my photography I’ve learned some things about myself. You can see how disconnected from others I feel in my lack of photographing actual humans. When I take self-portraits, I typically avoid intimacy with the viewer by looking away. I photograph objects in a loving way because I can connect with them. I find people incredibly difficult to photograph so I typically photograph the remnants of them. Things they’ve scrawled on the side of a bridge. Things they’ve made (the bridge itself).

This day actually turned out to be a really wonderful day. I ran into a friend and spent the rest of the day with her and the her friends having fun. The invitation to join them was exactly what I needed.

BelieveIf you’re feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Their website is They have people taking calls 24/7.

Religion of the Rocks


Now that I’ve regained use of my hands (for some reason my forearms were pretty much paralyzed last night after climbing. Trying to ride a bike home was….interesting.) I’d like to share all my thoughts about climbing last night…

So, I joined a climbing gym.

Since I went to Moab, UT in September to climb with first descents I haven’t climbed. When I got back from my VERY emotional week, I told my parents I probably wouldn’t climb again. At the time it felt too emotional and I was pretty much a wreck and I couldn’t understand why. You can read about it here.

Last night, I was afraid.

Afraid because I didn’t have the insular, protective unit that was First Descents and their expert guides. Afraid I might have another breakdown or do something embarrassing in front of a gym full of strangers (Which I did, but whatevs). Afraid I wouldn’t know anyone and wouldnt have anyone to climb with.

One thing I learned is it’s never as bad as we think it’s going to be.

Last night as I climbed again, I dealt with a multitude of insecurities all of which I quieted. My therapist has been trying to get me to be more social and do more meditative, spiritual practices and I thought that rock climbing would be perfect for my goals.

Rock Climbing as a spiritual practice?

Yes! To me it makes perfect sense. What is the main tenent of religion? Faith. I have to have faith that my belay partner will catch me when I fall, faith that I can reach the top, faith that I won’t fall and die, faith that my equipment won’t break. It’s a practice in trust and working with a partner. It also forces me to make new friends and push my own boundaries with socializing (In environments I’m not comfortable I get a little quiet and stay to myself. I also feel less comfortable in mostly male dominated spaces like climbing gyms). It forces me to believe in myself and to push myself to accomplish my goals. To endure. To figure out HOW to accomplish this goal.

After taking a beginning instruction from a teacher there, they put out the call for a partner for me over the loudspeaker. Within seconds, I had a partner. One of the things that prevented me from joining touchstone since Moab was my insecurity finding a partner. When it comes to socializing and meeting new people, It’s challenging for me. My life has been built around me being independent and not needing anyone. I also did not think they would help me find one. That was a really cool perk.

My partner didn’t care that I was new, inexperienced, attractive, cool, thin etc – all things I typically feel self conscious of at gyms. At the gym I felt older than everyone else, heavier, not as hip or cool and inexperienced. I also didn’t have the emotional support that I got at FD – people from down below cheering you on and high fiving when you get down. There was a point I screamed at the top of my lungs when I slipped and fell halfway up a 5.11 climb. As I swung back and forth over the crowd clinging to the rope I saw everyone looking up at me and my face flushed red. I got lowered down and almost cried. I took a few deep breaths and tried again.

“Is this your first time?” My partner asked me after my almost melt down. I told him yes and he showed me where some easier climbs were and told me everyone starts there. I climbed a 5.2 and it built up my confidence more.

I’ve decided that this gym is going to be my play time. As a kid we get recess. I’m treating the gym as my recess. I’ve decided I’m going to ask myself each day “What fun thing do you want to do today?”. Since I have rock climbing, TRX, Yoga and Cross fit to choose from I have options for how I’m feeling.

I think I’ve been converted to the religion of the rocks :)

The Angel of Death


Anyone who reads my blog will probably recognize I have sort of a preoccupation with death. In our western, American society death is considered taboo to discuss and for most, to even comprehend. Because I’ve lain on my death bed, I have what feels like a very intimate connection with death.

As a teenager, my one place of refuge was an old cemetery that nobody ever visited anymore in the small town I grew up in. It was always quiet and I was always the only living human being there, yet I never was alone. I sometimes would read or draw, but mostly I found solace in reading the headstones and imaging the lives of the people. Death was my friend in some form.

As an adult I’ve done hospice work. At 25 I was trained to be a patient counselor and I sat with the dying. I’m currently rereading a lot of material on death and grieving for the volunteer hospice work I’ll be embarking on again. One thing I agree with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross with is that it’s harder for us to comprehend death and therefore to deal with it because we deny it.

Death is never possible in regard to ourselves. It is inconceivable for our unconscious to imagine an actual ending of our own life. -Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

I’ve done a lot of work around my own personal fears of death and recognition that it will come to me. When I was diagnosed with cancer I made a vow to go into death with no fear. I wanted death to be just like the angel of death from American Horror Story – a benevolent figure who brings peace and ends suffering to those who are in pain. I am more skilled on coping directly with death and with those who are dying than dealing with the aftermath of death. It is one reason I wish to die before those I love. So I don’t have to deal with grief. Perhaps my work with death is done. Perhaps now I start the task of dealing with the grieving and how best to serve those in mourning to grow myself.

In knowing a lot of people with cancer one thing I’ve found is a general fear of death. We talk of it rarely because we are scared of it. Some of us don’t talk about it and for those people I usually worry. The people who feel a need to deny death I want to comfort the most usually. One of my goals in working with hospice patients is to bring peace and help end suffering. I think if they have someone who they can discuss death with who isn’t afraid and who can do so joyously, that has to be worth something, right? I tend to think of myself as the angel of death sometimes – one who brings peace and comfort to the pained. I think back to a story Kubler-Ross shares about dying of a farmer in the local village in which she grew up…

The story exemplified how at the end of his life this farmer was allowed to stay home and die. He was allowed to have sips of his favorite wine in lieu of pain medications and smell his wife cooking savory food that motivated him to eat a little instead of a saline drip. How he was able to call his friends over and say goodbye. He was able to speak with his children and divide his properties up. To sort out his affairs. To be buried on his own property by his own loved ones. Not being made up like some doll and preserved with embalming fluid.

It saddens me that how we deal with death in our modern society is basically to be removed from it. About 1.5 years ago there was a small movement to have dinner parties with ones friends to specifically discuss death and how we viewed it. I always wanted to have one of those dinner parties. I feel if we discuss it, deal with it and make it a normal part of life, we can reduce it’s power over us. We can remove fear. We can have honest interactions with our loved ones when the time comes and with ourselves.

I’m still reflecting on these feelings and they are indeed dynamic. But I would welcome any discourse on this topic.