LOVE – what else?

The following is a letter to my sweet soul sister Theresa, from a couple of weeks ago, around Valentine’s day.  We call each other cougars because we both continue to courageously turn into our own healing journey with cancer, and cougar has become somewhat of a code name for us to speak to the medicine power, the fierceness, the strength and the grace that is called out from us in the process.  So here is goes:


Dear Cougar Sister,

Yes, I know Valentines’ day is super cheesy and I can’t believe I’m writing you a Valentine’s letter.  Hearts and all!   But these days, and in this new life, things are more fluid, and sometimes things emerges that are as surprising to me as to anyone around me….

I’d already noticed last Christmas that I was less than average cynical about the whole holiday. Not a traditional Christian at heart I used to struggle to find my true place within the cultural anxiety grit of this holiday. For years I simply did it for my children, making their holidays bright, and trying to generate good memories for them, keeping things as sane and heart centered as possible.

But this last year, my growing children, my youngest 15 going on 25, were more leaned back about the whole thing than ever. With my lover feeling some of my usual pre-holiday angst, I was surprised to instead discover this genuine excitement about the upcoming feast inside me, even including all the parts that are always complicated, like dinner at my ex-husband’s house. I found myself humming and truly enjoying our Christmas tree, that for the first time was decorated with all white lights, as my young man finally seem to have outgrown the colored light preference of his childhood. There was a feeling of preciousness that made me feel soft, open, grateful and blessed. Who knows how many holidays I would still have with my kids, before my son was off to college abroad or elsewhere involved in his own life?

As our dying practice continues to teach us, it is in our letting go that we come ever more fully alive and I feel the truth of this running strongly through all major tangents of my life these days. There is simply no place left in this life that is not sacred, beautiful, and blessed – even the culturally loaded holidays or, and yes, maybe even the far fetched wanna-be occasions like Valentine’s day beckon our appreciation.

In this life, partnered by the firm hand of cancer, there is no space left for cynicism, too precious is each moment and each blade of grass under our feet. To us, the simple witnessing of clouds shape shifting is a blessing, even when they occasionally obscure the sun. In this presence, all is well – even that which isn’t so well. There is no longer room for ’no’ but only an ever evolving ‘yes’ to life, to love, to risk ourselves, to laugh, to make mistakes, to surrender any remaining resistance to the beauty and blessedness of all things, even death, to be honest, outrageous and irrational. To trust, to leap and to embrace, to forgive, to let go and to continue to open into the unknown, with every fiber of our heart.

And so it is with this long intro that I send you sweetest Valentine’s Day wishes.   Because there is no reason too small (or too cheesy!) for an invitation to celebrate. Ultimately, is it not what we are here for in the first place, to turn our bodies and minds over and have love have her way with us?

With gratitude for all the ways that we continue to turn into the blessedness of our living and dying.

Petra, your cougar sister


The Prayer Beads

By Julia Gunnels
A new and dear friend of mine gave me some prayer beads. There are ten large, dark amethyst beads with one light amethyst bead, making eleven in all. The string of beads just fits around my hand. I had never really used prayer beads, but I took them with me to my three day retreat right after I received the diagnosis.
I stayed in our community meditation room which is open, spacious with many windows and lots of light. Shortly into the first day I was sitting in a comfortable chair watching the tops of the bamboos trees moving in the warm breeze through the open windows. Tears streamed down my face in celebration of the sun light reflecting off the shimmering leaves.
Later in the day as the sun faded I walked back and forth across the room aware of feelings of unworthiness that were invading my precious space. My mind got engaged in trying to deal with these very old beliefs that, “I am not good enough. There is something fundamentally wrong with me. God couldn’t love me as I am.” As I was trying to out walk these lies the next invasion came in the form of, “It is my fault that I have cancer. There is something so wrong with me that I now have cancer.” It came very strong and fast.
I never really understood what the furies were that the ancient Greek playwrights referred to in our classical literature. Remember the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore? When the bad guy is swept away at the end by dark screaming shapes? That is what these furies were like. In a sweat I remembered the prayer beads.
Clutching the beads, I crawled into my bed and pulled the covers over my head and started to pray. Counting the beads, feeling their shapes, my fingers moved over the smooth roundness of each. I was out of my mind and into my fingers. I counted the ten beads and when I reached the eleventh bead I begged for mercy. I have never really prayed for mercy but it was the only invocation that had any power right then. I prayed to the Beloved with each dark bead and asked for mercy on the eleventh.
For each person there is a particular name that opens the doorway to the Divine. Jesus, Mother Mary, Buddha, Amma, Babaji, Wakan Tankan. For me that night is was Gourasana. I have listened to and read his words of Truth many times.
I called his name with each dark bead, pressing very hard with my fingers. Over and over, around and around. The harder I pressed the more the furies receded into the background. Each bead and each pressing into the bead became very immediate. It was all I had. Each bead, each invocation, each prayer in the immediate present. Gourasana, Gourasana, Gourasana…. On the eleventh bead I prayed for mercy.
I experienced the truth that all I have is the present moment. It was either be terrorized by the howling self-doubt or press on the bead and pray. The past or future had no impact on the situation I was in. It was only a choice of right now. I chose the beads over and over asking for His help, calling for God’s mercy at intervals.
The Lord’s warmth began to fill my being as the night moved . With His comfort I began to pray for other people on the eleventh bead. I asked mercy for family, friends, some who were alive and some who were dead. As I thought of them my love for each person emerged, our history was played out and any unresolved issues or communications that I needed to make or let go were revealed. I spent the next two days of my retreat with the beads around my hand or very close to.
I used them every day in my quiet time upon my return home. In fact, I used them with such intensity that the threads binding them separated and I had beads rolling all over my bed one night. My friend just visited me and took the special beads home with her to mend. I look forward to them being back in my hands. In the meantime, I have a particular pearl necklace that I am carefully using for my prayer beads.
I learned the lesson of staying in the moment. That this moment is all I have. But I have to remind myself of this truth all over again each day, each night. Now. Now. Now. Lord God, Mother, Father it is You right now. Last night I sat in bed and heard the geese calling on the lake, their voices invoking longing as the sounds echoed across the water. I was in another moment of mind in motion. Then I tuned into the geese and was flooded with the reminder that it is very simple. It is as simple as listening to the geese fully, hearing them calling, and dropping into my heart with gratitude for God’s love and mercy.