Contemplative Photography & Reflections

A Journey of Music and Literature

I’ve been sharing some really personal stuff lately on this blog, and I want to be clear about my intentions – not because anyone has inquired but because I feel the need to do so. Sharing my experience with my mom’s illness is not something I do out of narcissism. I’m not trying to set myself apart from anyone else who has made this journey. Nor do I seek attention or praise, although I do hope that writing fearlessly from my heart may be comforting or helpful to others – perhaps even my own family members. In the words of author, Elizabeth Gilbert, it seems to be what “Love is calling forth” from me now. Some insist it takes courage to share such a personal journey, but you know what? Some people are fearful of revealing details of their personal lives or innermost thoughts. Others fear change or speaking in public. There are countless, diverse fears that plague humanity, and I think when we take risks in the direction of authenticity, we help others to push past their own boundaries and barriers. It is a way to build bridges, heal, connect. Several times in the past week or so, a voice has arisen and commanded: “Write!!” Each time, my eyes widened in surprise, and I nodded and responded, “Okay!” I almost felt pushed in the direction of my laptop. So I write, not knowing why – only that I must and that it feels right to share the parts that don’t violate the privacy of others. I thank you for coming along for the ride.

It feels as if I’m in a sacred and tender place, and I still wish I could retreat to a cabin in the woods for a while and distance myself from many of my responsibilities. People often say it’s good to keep busy during times like this, to keep your mind occupied. They say having a routine to escape into is a blessing, for it makes everything else go away for a little while. But that is not true for me. I have a need to dive in and experience it fully, much like when I refused to take pain meds during childbirth. I wanted to be fully present to the miracle of a new universe (two, actually) being born through me and to experience it as intimately and completely as possible. I did not want to medicate the experience in order to dull the pain! I wanted to experience my own power and learn to surrender to the intense, raging contractions. And I’m not saying my way is ultimately any better than “taking the drugs.” It’s just my way; it’s what I needed to do. And I think it was good training.

Each person in my orbit seems to be dealing with my mom’s illness differently, in his or her own manner and rhythm. It feels strange and frustrating to brush up against the edges of another person’s fears, preconceptions, and limits. When I was kayaking on the calm river yesterday evening, I was completely alone except for some geese beating their wings against the surface of the river (a sound I love) and the first beavers I have seen this year. Although the beavers seemed less territorial than usual as I glided past, I was impressed by the power of the two tail slaps I witnessed. They spoke to me of clear boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. I have to keep centering myself in love and compassion so I can honor and respect each person’s unique journey – and to remember that, even if we have different opinions about how to proceed, we are all united by our love for my mom. 

Maybe all my responsibilities keep me grounded, but I don’t want gravity to keep my feet on the ground! I feel so supported by extraordinary energy that I sense most clearly when I am in nature, in the place between sleep and wakefulness, when I feel sad, and when I am alone and quiet. I have been craving solitude so I can perceive this energy more strongly and put this earthly experience into a larger context. I want to float.

Some people close to me have trouble knowing what to do or say. I especially appreciate the music people send my way. In general, music, art, and nature have more of an impression on me than logic and rational thought, or even words in general. But that’s just me. I honor the truths that sustain the lives of others. Some people need religion like plants need sunlight. Some need spirituality. Some need neither. It’s all fine to me. It’s hard – and would seem foolish – to argue with a painting or a symphony. Words are trickier, more jagged. But when someone offers me a scripture, for example, I accept it as a gift, even if it’s from a source from which I don’t tend to seek guidance, inspiration, or comfort. It does not matter how the religious context of the words relates to my beliefs (which are constantly expanding). When words are offered in the spirit of love, they become vessels of love.

Our fears, religious/spiritual beliefs, the way we grieve and give birth – along with myriad other aspects of the human condition – are so personal and diverse and deserve to be honored. That being said, in addition to listening to music, I have been doing more reading than usual, almost exclusively from what I call the “near-death” genre. In chronological order, I have read:

Each of these books has been a most illuminating companion on this journey, and I recommend each one enthusiastically if you are receptive to ideas and experiences beyond the ordinary. (Interested skeptics might want to begin with Proof of Heaven.) Each book resonates strongly with my own impressions and experiences, fills me with hope, and has brought tears of joy to my eyes by placing the human experience within a much larger perspective. Each of the books emphasizes that unconditional love is at the heart of the universe, which is something I find easy to believe perhaps because I was raised by such gentle, loving parents.

I have been strongly in touch with music since my mom’s diagnosis and would like to share some of the music that I have found particularly significant and uplifting in recent weeks. The first two classical pieces feel celestial and divinely inspired and were mentioned specifically in The Afterlife of Billy Fingers as hints of sound experiences in other realms.

The first one is the finale of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 in E flat (Chorus Mysticus) depicting the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust epic, when Faust is welcomed into heaven. (I find the visuals of the “conductor” highly distracting and suggest closing your eyes once that part begins and letting the music fill you.)


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The following tone poem, The Swan of Tuonela, composed by Jean Sibelius provides another hint of “cosmic sound,” as described by Billy Fingers.


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And then there are some more contemporary songs friends have sent my way that contribute to the soundtrack of this leg of the journey:


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Blogger is not allowing me to post more than four YouTube videos, but HERE is a link to another song that really grabbed me: “Let Her Go” by Passenger.

I’m sure there will be much more music as the path ahead unfolds. And art. And nature. And floating, I hope.

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