Everything is Mulch

(Dec. 19, 2015)     Last night I went to a large, joyful Winter Solstice Celebration. 260 people sitting circular in the dark, with a shimmering winter centerpiece of lights in the middle. Tiny white Christmas lights inside fluff of gauze and silk made the illusion of light sparkling on snow. A large wooden wreathe surrounded this, holding candles to the four directions. Much pine around it all, of course.  Small plastic candles under many of our chairs were the only lights for most of the evening. We experienced meditative sharings with simple chants we could easily join in on, contemplating themes brought up by this darkest night of the year:  the turning of all things in circular movements (seasons, life), the value of darkness bringing us quietly inward, the fears we have about darkness, darkness as a time for sending our roots down deeper to where we’re all united together, on and on, lovely quiet reflections with some simple beautiful singing accompanied by cello and/or drum.
    The last third of the evening we began to call for the light to come back.  We celebrated light in many ways, got very enthused singing This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine” over and over; we lit our little candles one by one and the room became light and happy. 
   Across the room I saw a tall young man standing against the wall, singing boisterously with us all:  he looked like my dear dead son.  About six feet tall, shaggy hair behind his ears, dressed in jeans and jacket, I could imagine Tom’s beautiful bass voice singing out enthusiastically with this joyful celebration.  I couldn’t take my eyes off him.  He had just that look both gentle and masculine, open heart, idealistic, ready to step forward in leadership if needed but glad to just participate.  My heart beat harder and harder as I stared at him.   I hoped he wasn’t sensing me watching him from far away.  Fortunately the gathering was winding down and then came to an end.  I hurried out of the building, not wanting to talk with anyone or stop to eat of the shared meal.  I hurried to my car, clambered in, shut the door and in the dark I fell apart and bawled.  I felt my heart broken all over again.  Tom returned to spirit six years ago and now I feel somewhat back to functioning without thinking of him.  But here the wound was opened again: I remembered my beautiful son and how much I miss him in my life.   Crying all the way home, I was aware that I needed to pay attention to my driving.
   As soon as I walked in my house, I looked for the book I’d seen recently lying around, Rudolf Steiner on How To Know Higher Worlds.  I couldn’t remember how this book had come to me but I’d read a book by Steiner a year before on some similar topic so I began franticly searching for the one I’d already read, something about how to have contact with the dead.
   Rudolf Steiner lived 1861-1925; he was a Theosophist for ten years when Madame Blavatsky was just beginning that spiritual movement, itself influenced by Spiritualism important at that time. Then Steiner began to develop his own slightly different philosophy of life with ideas reaching far across many aspects of human living, including children’s education (Waldorf schools), agriculture, community, the arts, medicine, philosophy, and psychology.  He was gifted in contacting the dead and insists that we don’t need mediums to do this; anyone can stay in touch with their departed loved ones but there is skill required that we must develop. He also adds that we usually have too much emotion clouding our efforts to hear objectively what someone in spirit is trying to share.  I certainly know this is true and so understand why mediums are needed.
    But now, full of desperate energy, I reorganized many of my books, searching until I found what I was ardently looking for:  Steiner’s book called Staying Connected, How to Continue Your Relationship with Those Who Have Died.  I skimmed through the Table of Contents and my own highlights and saw that these two books are not the same.  So I sat down, got myself comfortable, and began to review the important book I’d already read, full of underlines, earmarked pages, starred passages, question marks. 
    I easily came to the summary:  there are two basic qualities we must foster in ourselves in order to hear communications from those in spirit:  Gratitude and Community With All Things.  These sound simple but, of course, if these were easy many people would automatically be doing this. 
    Steiner’s explanation of Gratitude I grasped, but I wasn’t sure what he meant by “Community with all things.”  He assures us he’s not meaning some warm fuzzy general feeling; he says this is a very specific state and experience.  I reread this section line by line, trying to grasp it. One could not miss a line and hurry on because, yes, this was something unique.
    There is some way in which we must experience consciously what happens automatically in every moment – everything in our world that touches us in any way leaves a mark in us and likewise, every single thing we touch remembers the mark we’ve left upon it.  (I know, one can’t help thinking of dogs running around…)
   I guess this is similar to what is called “mindfulness” in meditation, paying complete attention to what we’re experiencing in the present moment, but combined with Gratitude. 
   Steiner disagrees with all schools of psychology about the function of the subconscious.  Generally it’s thought that the subconscious part of our minds takes in all that we can’t process, especially negative experiences, and brings them up to consciousness now and then,  trying to make sense of them.  Steiner sees the subconscious in this way:  it’s the place of memory where everything that’s touched us, “good” or “bad”, gets remembered, held on to, like a treasury.  Ourconscious mind definitely likes and doesn’t like this and that; we make judgements, we reject some things as bad and welcome other things as good.  The subconscious mind, says Steiner, takes in all experience as good!  All experience ultimately enriches us! 
     I pause. This is the trick; this is where gratitude is different for Steiner and Community with All Things is not easy but rather some skill to be worked at.
      But this is not the first time I’ve encountered this strange idea – that all experiences are ultimately enrichning, not good or bad.  I remember in Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, the idea is presented that The Soul of the World is indifferent to suffering, is enriched by everything, is fed by all experience.  I remember feeling how unsatisfactory this feels:  that I/we want to think that Ultimate Powers care about our suffering and are trying to right the grievous wrongs done in this world.
   I sit with this strange and different point of view.  I think about events in my own life that still haunt me as painful, hurtful to me, memories I’ve never been able to let go of, and including sufferings of my departed son in his childhood and adulthood that I so wish I could have taken out of his life.  “You mean, when X happened to me, it doesn’t really matter, it was just an experience?”  I think.  It has no more importance than that?!” 
    Suddenly Experience X seemed so small!  I couldn’t believe how the power had been taken out of X! 
   I went a step further, as required by Steiner, and tried to feel “enriched” by X.   Hmmm. HMMM.  It could be possible.  If one just walked on, didn’t dwell on it as in “what a victim I was” or blame all the consequences I’ve thought came to me because of X.  It could be possible to just think of it as “an experience.”  It doesn’t need to have meaning, nor to have power. Now my body was reacting positively to this view!   
   I did this exercise on another regretful life experience and felt the same amazing lifting of energy, that everything was circulating in my body more freely. 
   Then I tried thinking of a suffering I knew my son had experienced as a child – to think of this as “just an experience”, even though it took him on a path.  Suddenly I felt him with me in spirit – I felt my son saying an enthusiastic “YES!”  This is how he’s experiencing that NOW.  Back in this world, it hurt and stayed with him into his future; perhaps as an adult it gave him sensitivity towards others but it continued to cause him pain.  But now in spirit, it matters not at all to him except as a memory of experience, of a whole life rich in learnings.  I knew I was connecting with him!  I was hearing him because my emotions were calm and not in the way.
    Steiner’s view is supported by what I’ve heard from people who’ve had Near Death Experiences – been proclaimed dead by doctors after an accident or failed surgery, then after a bit they had to return to their bodies.  They all speak, among other things, of having a “life review” though it doesn’t feel to them like judgement – they see consequences and  ”how things went,” but they don’t feel they or anyone has been bad. If they caused suffering, when they (reluctantly) return to their bodies they decide not to do these kinds of things anymore. 
   I continued going quickly through memories I’ve classified as “painful” and feeling them downgraded to the same size as all memories, lacking any hurt or power today.  My body was feeling suddenly lightened.  Then I saw myself sitting back at the Winter Solstice exactly where I’d been sitting earlier; a powerful wind was blowing through me, as if a turbine was sending wind right through my body from back to front.  The windows seemed open and all kinds of things were leaving me.
     Steiner’s idea about Community with All Life seems to me to require that emotion be allowed to flow out from “bad” experiences (crying is GREAT) until we can just be with the experience, OK in some way with it even if our conscious minds can’t agree.  We must welcome life in whatever costume it appears to us and be present in each moment with awareness that all is gift, all is enrichning us somehow.
     Buddhists say desire is the root of all suffering, wanting things to be different than they are.  I myself feel that the conscious mind is right in making its judgements because this is how we create our world here – by rejecting some things, deciding we want more of others.  Desire is creative.  But in the world beyond this, where we return when we leave our bodies, there is rest and this view of enrichment.  Perhaps “evaluation” is the only stance of the dead when looking at details of experience.  It would be hard to hear the dead if this is their view, unless we could first bring ourselves also to this position.  Thus this kind of Gratitude and Community with All Life are bridges for communication with our loved ones now in spirit.