In the past couple of weeks, three people I love dearly died. Two were quite young and died tragically.
Scott was a beloved friend whose hand I held as he skyrocketed to very quick, meteoric fame. Scott, who founded Live Your Legend and gave this wonderful TEDx talk, died while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Scott and his wife Chelsea, who he has been with for more than a decade, had been traveling the world for the past eight months, checking one thing after another off their bucket lists. Every email I got from Scott while he was on the road was filled with exclamation points, laden with the exuberant enthusiasm that made everyone who met him fall in love with him instantly. After a day we spent together in the meditation garden at Green Gulch Zen Center, Scott wrote this fiercely brave blog post to reveal vulnerable details about himself as a way to inspire others to live authentically. He was so passionate about helping other people live authentic, vital lives that aligned with their callings that you could feel the fire in his soul burning through him and radiating out into the world. Some souls are just too big for their bodies. I can barely imagine a world without Scott in it. The day after Scott died, I was almost paralyzed with shock. But in spite of my inclination to stay in bed all day, I attended a sound healing conference, where this random woman came up to me and said, “You just lost someone you love. They want you to know that he was just called to a very important Divine assignment and has just been promoted to Lead Angel.” Then she turned around and walked away. Later that day, a dear friend texted me to tell me Scott had just become Lead Angel. I can only imagine it must be true.
Rafael, or “Rafa” as he was known to those of us who knew him well, is a shaman, sound healer, musician and spiritual counselor who, after an intense spiritual awakening when he was a teenager in the back of a school bus on a field trip, traveled from indigenous village to indigenous village studying with shamans and sound healers across the world. I’ve known Rafa for many years, but in January 2014, when I experienced a profound spiritual experience of my own, Rafa flew up from Orange County to spend a weekend helping me digest, integrate and embody my experience, through counseling and sound healing. Three months before this happened, Rafa had taken me into a private room at an Association of Transformational Leadership meeting to share with me a prophecy. He must have intuited what would happen three months later because he told me I was about to embark upon an accelerated quickening on my spiritual journey, and he wanted me to know he was here to help me through it. When I experienced that intense experience, which I wrote about here, I knew Rafa was the one who could guide me through it. That weekend with Rafa was one of the most intense and beautiful experiences of my life. We have been deeply connected heart to heart ever since. This week, Rafa and his mother were teaching a meditation workshop in Egypt, and they were on a peaceful picnic when an Egyptian military helicopter gunned them down. Twelve people, including Rafa, died, and many more, including his mother, were wounded. The heartbreak of such a violent end to such a radiant life leaves me feeling pummeled.
Wayne needs no introduction to most of you. Wayne and I have been speaking at Hay House conference together for years, but we grew closer when we were both filming PBS specials with the same producer. Wayne and I shared deep, intense conversations, not just about our work, but about the spiritual snares that accompany life in the limelight. Wayne never wanted to get trapped into becoming some ego-driven spiritual talking head, writing books, getting up on stage, and filming television specials. He had a deep yearning for direct experience with the imminent and transcendent God who called him to his service in life. He wanted nothing more than a personal relationship with a loving God who guided him and used him as an instrument of service. His impassioned quest to be the most authentic, aligned, and awake servant of the message that came through him was tender and raw, a delicate thing that few people saw when he was in the spotlight, but which I felt blessed to bear witness to as a fellow spiritual seeker on a journey from the head to the heart. Wayne never once suggested that he was enlightened though enlightenment was something that always called him forth and magnetized him into orbit around it. Although he had survived a heart attack and cancer, Wayne died peacefully and unexpectedly, going softly into the night like the yogi masters did, as if his dutiful mission here was complete, and it was time to rest in the unseen realms, at least for now.
Harbin Hot Springs
On top of these three painful losses, Harbin Hot Springs, the spiritual retreat center where some of the most profound moments of my spiritual journey have happened, burned to the ground in a California wildfire. Along with Esalen, Harbin has been the home of my heart, a sanctuary where I have written many of my books, healed from painful losses, sought refuge when life got rough, sought guidance when I felt confused, celebrated marriages, births, and triumphs of the soul, and spent intimate time with lovers. Harbin was so alive to me that losing Harbin hurts almost as much as losing my beloved friends. If it were still there, I would go there now and bathe in the healing waters. But instead, I went to Santa Fe to be wrapped in the arms of my spiritual mentors and friends Joan Borysenko, Joanie’s husband Gordon Dveirin, and Larry and Barbie Dossey.
Soften into the Pain
Wayne and Scott had already died when I arrived at Joanie and Gordie’s casa in the hills of Georgia O’Keefe country. I fell into their arms, wrecked with grief, and they cradled me through my pain. The morning after I arrived, my best friend Dennis called me from Peru to break the news to me about Rafa. Joanie was right beside me when I found out, and I felt pummeled. I could barely breathe.
Joanie wrapped her arms around me from behind and put her hands on my heart and said, “Soften into the pain.” When I did, something melted, and my heart felt so tender and raw that I thought it might actually start bleeding. I put my own hands over my chest, as if my heart would fall out if I didn’t hold it inside.
The Open Heart
When life hurts this much, it’s tempting to armor up, to shield ourselves from the intense vulnerability of how much we have to lose, how many loved ones could die next, how many beloved places could be destroyed, how many cherished objects we could lose, how many dreams could be dashed. When things fall apart, you become acutely aware of the instability of life. It’s right there—the truth of how uncertain life is. It’s tempting to try to protect it all, to grasp it tightly and keep it safe, to control it, so it doesn’t wreck you when you lose what you love. Usually we can shield ourselves from this universal truth of the uncertainty of life, but when things fall apart, you come face to face with it, and the only way to avoid feeling terrified is to soften into the pain, to let it melt the ice around your heart. As I wrote about in my book The Fear Cure, the only way to avoid living in constant fear of how much you could lose, the invitation from Life is to come into right relationship with uncertainty, to embrace the possibility within uncertainty, to remain humble and curious about what Life has to teach us, to soften into Life, to open the heart, to let ourselves be broken open by the pain that is inevitable in human life.
Last week, I took a workshop about pilgrimages and the sacred journey with Rupert Sheldrake, his wife Jill Purce, and Marc Andrus, the Episcopalian bishop of California at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. So yesterday, I made a pilgrimage to the Sanctuario de Chimayo, where I lit three candles for the three men who have transitioned this month. And my heart burst open even more when I saw all the other candles lit in front of a wall of photos of beloved ones who have been lost. It’s easy to get lost in my own pain right now because the intensity of the stacked losses hurts so much. But seeing all those other candles thrust me into a state of unity consciousness, where I suddenly felt the pain of all the fellow pilgrims who have sought out healing and refuge in the walls of this sanctuary over the years. Not just that—I could feel the Oneness with every single human who has ever lost someone or something they love, the tenderness of the shared human experience. I felt infused with a love so pure and tender, so unconditionally loving and gentle, as if the arms of God were reaching around me and drawing me to the chest of the Great Mother, where I was held and comforted like a little child. Tears poured out of me, and I thought they might never stop, but they were not so much the tears of loss. They were tears of relief and gratitude for how much we are loved.
I realize now that softening into the pain is the quickest way to heal it because armoring up just puts an iron Band-aid over the heart. But the heart doesn’t need to be protected with armor because the heart is the strongest thing in the world.
Nothing is more powerful than an open heart spilling forth love. Nothing. @Lissarankin
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If you’re going through something painful right now, please know that you are not alone. I understand and am here, holding your hand, alongside everyone else who is reading this and every human who has ever lost what they love. We are One, all interconnected as a single organism, learning resilience and getting our hearts cracked open.
Goodbye, Dear Souls
Scott, Rafa, and Wayne, I love you and will miss you more than words could ever say. I know you are with us still, but I will miss holding your hands and melting into your loving embraces. I can only imagine that an army of angels must be needed in the unseen realms, and you three have just been recruited. Take good care of us on the other side, beloved ones.
Lissa Rankin, M.D., New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine and The Fear Cure, is a physician, author, speaker, and founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, a training program for physicians and other health care providers. She is on a mission to merge science and spirituality in a way that not only facilitates the health of the individual; it also heals the collective. Lissa also co-teaches teleclass programs about spirituality, such as Medicine For The Soul with Rachel Naomi Remen, MD and Coming Home To Your Spirit with Martha Beck, PhD. Read her blog and learn more at LissaRankin.com.
If you’re a health care provider interested in enrolling in the 2015 Class of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, we’re accepting new students until the program begins with a live event in the San Francisco Bay area on June 5. You can register here. Along with me, guest teachers include mind body medicine pioneers like Rachel Naomi Remen, Larry Dossey, Bernie Siegel, Bruce Lipton, Kelly Turner, and more.