Arriving in Ashland some time ago, I was completely relying on Grace. I was in the dreaded midlife transition, a long purview of the past inundating me with questions about meaning. I was completely spent, and the security my former roles had provided was gone.
My last “job” required herculean leadership as a real estate manager and I met the challenge in ways that, upon reflection, surprised even myself. I was tapped in to a vision that would not let me go — building community amongst harsh forces with many broken people. I was the operative agent in coaxing possibility back into their eyes. People there were reckless and angry, often enacting their pain with violence or numbing it with drugs. It looked nice on the outside, but it was really a collective of folks whose circumstances and conditioning had set them up for failure. It was place where healthy coping skills were never taught. I was appointed somehow to try and teach them, while often feeling challenged to utilize the skills for myself.
Several years of living in vigilance had taken their toll. I was beyond burnt out. All I knew to do was pray to find sanctuary in order to give my body and mind some healing time. I made a decision to take retreat from the world, something which sounded so appealing — and that landed me first in Applegate Valley, and then in spectacular Ashland. However, what I had really signed up for on behalf of my soul’s yearning would prove to be an entrance into entering internal territory that paled in comparison to the difficult external environment I had navigated for many years.
It’s not an unusual story. But it’s an initiation that I knew many had failed to accomplish and the stories of those aborted attempts and losses of life loomed large in my mind. The journey has been messy, though sometimes joyful for me, and I know I am not at the end of it. The empowering discoveries have come from allowing myself to enter the caverns of sorrow — a kind of entering into the throes of inner deaths as well as the sorrow for the external ones — that I had previously avoided.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always at thresholds. Some are bigger than others. However, the simple act of acknowledging this death threshold has had a liberating effect on me. It is one that has given me more facility and creativity in facing the challenge I face. We are all living in such a threshold during these intense times.
I began to recover my vitality by pausing at this threshold of death. Participating with ceremonies such as last autumn’s "Tree of Living and Dying: Honoring the Ancestors" was a part of the heart-opening potential of grace that gradually reawakened in me a new capacity for life again. By paying attention to death's call, I have been enlivened by the power of love that death offers if we stop to see it, feel it and hear it. I have come to rely on this poignant paradox as a resource I now have inside myself — something I will never forget.
Though it is true we live in a natural beauty that is Ashland, the real beauty for me has been the opportunity to rebuild my life through exploring the theme of death. There have been many transformations, both subtle and profound, that I have been given by apprenticing to this most powerful teacher. And gathering with people to explore it here has been the grace I prayed for, though I could not know that at the outset. To hear and witness another's story, and in turn to be heard as well, fills me with gratitude. It's the spark of recognition we all need and can find solace in.
One of my deepest joys is sharing with others what I have learned, experiencing that I know I am not alone in that way. I love to be invited to be with others, sharing people to experience the inherent healing that is awakened when we speak through communicating with our hearts.
I am proud to be part of offering such a space in which we open our hearts through sharing story and ceremony. It is a gift we will all open together.
Please accept an invitation to do so with me at the second annual "Tree of Living & Dying Gathering for Sacred Story to Honor the Ancestors." It will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m Wednesday, Nov. 1, at The Hidden Springs Wellness Center, 1651 Siskiyou Blvd. The cost is $10 in advance, or $15 at the door. To register, go to www.reshfoundation.org.
—Christine Healey has raised six daughters and is now authoring new chapters in her life in Ashland. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at email@example.com.