Caring for a parent, Death & Dying, Retrospective, Self-care

Deep Water Diving

I’m of two minds about sharing my intentions for the New Year: does sharing hold me accountable? or suck out the big magic? I’m a Gemini, which pretty much means I’m always confused. (By the way, I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. It’s an amazing book, even if you hated Eat, Pray, Love.)

I will say that my list involves a lot of Ws. Write more Words, Walk in the Woods, stop Waiting, dive into the Water. Waste less time.

The last is the kicker. What am I doing that keeps me from doing what I most want to do? And what has stopped me from diving into the water? What messages have I been sending myself about my abilities, or lack of? Maybe it’s just easier to say “no,” and to let the days slide by, than to say “yes.” There is no risk in “no.” Except to die without living. And that’s a pretty big risk, when you think about it.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

                                                                                         —Anaïs Nin

My tarot spread for the new year, using my friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s beautiful Gaian deck, was amazingly close to what I was already thinking I was ready for this year: moving forward, taking risks. Interestingly there were several water cards. I’m still working out what that might mean, but I do want to devise a rain-catching system to water my garden!

Although I did the tarot spread in 2015, I was not very specific in my intentions. And it wasn’t a very good year, in retrospect. Doubts about this life I have chosen; and whether or not I can sustain it; and what I am doing with my life; and if the best of life is gone, long gone. But it taught me something: If I go into a year with no intentions about how I would like it to look, the year will probably end with nothing much I feel good about. This year I’m not leaving my life to chance.

Atul Gawande (Being Mortal) writes of learning, finally, as a doctor to ask terminally ill patients their goals for whatever time they have left, and letting that guide him in helping them decide on treatment, rather than just throwing information about options at them and saying, “pick one.” He shares research that studied the amount of pain people are willing to endure that led to a phenomenon known as the Peak-End rule. It seems to me it holds insight for everyone.

Participants reported their level of pain, over the duration of a procedure, as an average of just two moments—the single worst moment and the very end. People seem to have two different selves—an experiencing self who endures every moment equally, and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgment afterward to these two single points in time. The remembering self seems to stick to the Peak-End rule even when the ending is an anomaly.

It’s true when the experience is mostly pleasurable until a disappointment at the end (think brilliant basketball game, lost in the last minute), and when it’s mostly excruciating except for the last moment (think childbirth). We say, “the game was horrible,” and childbirth was “not so bad.” The experiencing self had hours of pleasure, or pain; but the remembering self recalls no pleasure, or pain, at all. Gawande says,

A memory that neglects duration will not serve our preference for long pleasure and short pains. When our time is limited and we are uncertain about how best to serve our priorities, we are forced to deal with the fact that both the experiencing self and the remembering self matter. We do not want to endure long pain and short pleasure. Yet certain pleasures can make enduring suffering worthwhile. Doctors must learn to ask patients what their goals are and what cost they are willing to endure to reach them.

Over dinner, I sometimes ask my mother what she was grateful for over the course of the day. She has a difficult time answering, always rushing to what disappointed her, which frustrates me. Reading Gawande, I wonder if, when we ask ourselves what we are grateful for, we must also name that which is hard. The peak-end rule will not allow us to ignore it—and can we really live into gratitude (last week’s post) if we don’t acknowledge both the remembering self and the experiencing self? They both live within us.

We are, of course, all going to die, and we know not the moment. Should we wait until we are terminally ill, or old-old, before we ask ourselves what our goals for our life are? what brings us joy? what we are willing to risk to achieve the life we want? At the beginning of this new year, those are the questions I am asking myself. And I will ask Mama what she would most like for her remaining days, and figure out a way to help her achieve it. I hope it isn’t to clean out her closet.

Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you will be joining us, as you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do any thing interesting—and may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for both of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way…and above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.

                                                                  —Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Post image for Seven of Earth
My card for the year. It takes time to do a new thing. Plant it, nurture it, give it room; the fruit of your labor will come in its time.

16 thoughts on “Deep Water Diving”

  1. Cheers to “Big Magic”

    And not leaving your life to chance.

    I am falling just crazy in love with your words and your authenticity and your vulnerabilities.

    And your honesty.
    Mostly that.


  2. What delicious writing, all! Hugs! I saw this on the Gratitude sight and do not let go of it…it says it for me, says being, less doing. There is also the Invictus poem loved by Morgan Freeman..’captain of my soul’…which I also love. But this…

    ‘…I want the richly patterned life. I want to be gorgeous-spirited. I want the ceremonial beauty and fragrance of the spirit. I want the freedom of its force. I want the quiet whispering of its wisdom. I want the simplicity of its love. Oh give me, help me to the fullness of life. Oh keep me from starving myself. Give me liberty to be a quickener of others. Do not let me sink in inertia. I pray now for the fullness of life with an undivided heart, so that I may rest absorbed in strength, not emptying myself of life!’
    …Invisible, 1947 ‘With Folded Wings’


  3. Yes Gretchen and thank you. I am reminded of a book called ” I Will Not Die an Unlived Life” by Dawna Markova. toward the end she writes, ” Each of us is a miracle of uniqueness. Each of us, therefore, is responsible for the discovery of our sustaining passions and rhythms, the cultivation of the green fields in which we can discover what keeps us connected to the full fertility of our soul and all it has to give to the world.” Flow on beautiful soul


  4. Loved this piece. Several thoughts. First, in my opinion, this piece took your reflections and writing up to a whole new level above what was already stellar. Something that I can’t put my finger on without more parsing about it being more than just well-written reflection but coming out of a place of sophistication and wisdom. Two, the discovery of something I didn’t know we had in common, the Tarot. Three, from our Reservoir rendezvous you know how much we are exploring, struggling with the same themes around manifesting. I found myself this morning on the airplane home from New Orleans wondering what the future might be if I just got out of my own way and did what I aspire to do and be. Four, I love the way you are thinking about this year. I’m not usually one for trite affirmations but I’m now displaying one where I can see it constantly that says, “Be the best vision of yourself”. Five, not a Gilbert fan but LOVE the quote and may carry it around with me for a while. May need to read Big Magic. Six, have you read The War of Art? Wonderful work. Seven, love you, friend.


    1. Well, first, thank you. Second: I had never considered the tarot as a thing, until I met Joanna at Christina’s workshop, and met her Gaian tarot. Even now when I see images of other decks I say, “huh?” But hers, that look like me and look like where I live and look like what is important and familiar to me, has smitten me. I find them quite helpful, not as predictors by gypsies at the carnival, but as affirmation and healing and diving deep into what I already know, but don’t know that I know. I’m looking forward to spending some days next week with her on Lummi Island. Three: Manifesting, so hard for me. Big ideas, little follow through. Four: yes. Five: Big Magic will make you laugh, then nod your head, then say, “Well, hell yeah.” Six: No, I will look for it. Seven through one hundred: love you, too.


      1. II see Tarot exactly as you do. Started way back in my adventurous days in the 70’s. Don’t use it so often now but still like it. Because of other adventures the symbology and art of many decks, even with minimal art, speak well to me. I also like using Runes for the same purpose, mostly because I like the tactile nature of them. I have an smooth Obsidian bag of Runes that I love. I mis wrote the affirmation (and it’s an interesting mistake). It actually says “Be the best VERSION (not vision) of yourself. War of Art is marvelous but does not hold back on challenging our lack of manifestation. I am becoming fascinated by the living the fuilfilled life, unlived life, follow your passion ,etc memes and admonishments as they may apply to those of us North of 60 Degrees.


  5. Having creativity as a companion guarantees one thing–when fear pushed and prods, we might respond differently. Thanks for sharing your insights, hopes, and wisdom.


  6. I have so many of the same questions. Is that just because we’re watching/acting in the same play? I am holding out hope that our up close and personal experiences with the dying are going to make us much better at doing it ourselves…and at living the best lives until that happens. Right now I also struggle with the perceived wasting of time, but I also want to hope that the quiet, interior work we’re doing is still water that runs deep and that it will eventually power days that are very full and far reaching. As a close observer of you, I do not see ANY wasting of time, but huge growth in depth and experience since the lucky day we met. xo


    1. You make me teary. It was a lucky day. I will be forever grateful for a set of rocking chairs on an antebellum porch that we both said yes to at precisely the same time. I think it is that we are watching the same play, and we know the ending. And it’s hard to remember we are only in mid-life when we are forced to look at the finiteness of life zooming into focus. And reading old letters, at how much life is in the past compared to what it still to come. I, too, hope it will help us do the end better–think David Bowie. I do waste a lot of time. If I spent it in meditation or quiet reflection or walking in the woods, I would not consider it wasted. Time spent does not need a product at its end. But scrolling endlessly through FB… Overall, though, big picture, I see that you are right. Thank you. I see the same in you, my friend.


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