“It is not the length of life, but depth of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I grew up with rocks. I had bags and bags of my treasured rocks in our garage and each had it’s own unique story. Every paperweight was a rock; gifts I gave were rocks; even refrigerator magnets were rocks – shiny pieces of polished quartz that I loved to rub with my thumb, or tiny bits of black lava that had been expelled from an ancient volcano.
I thought I wanted to be a geologist: someone who looks beneath the surface, someone who tries to make the invisible visible. I grew up not only with rocks but also with time, measured not in days or weeks but in millions of years.
There is something about the earth that invites you to dig. I really used to think that if I could dig hard enough and long enough, I would eventually get to China. When I got older I realized that wasn’t real, and that my imagination wasn’t satisfied with geological truth and that the digging I wanted to do couldn’t be done with a shovel.
My fascination with geology came from the feeling that not only was there more to the earth than could be seen on the surface, there was more to me. What I really wanted to be was a geologist of the soul.
Depth. That which is below – deep below the surface. Surface is the sand along the beach that blows in the wind. Depth is the rock underneath. Surface is easy – not much effort needed to find it and not very rewarding when you do. Depth is more difficult. Sometimes it emerges on it’s own, but you normally have to look for it. You have to dig.
Surface is static. Sterile. Frozen. Plant a seed in it, and it never grows. Depth evolves. Depth is turning towards something, looking for something. Depth is a process – a voyage from the outside to the inside. Depth doesn’t just happen. We have to make mistakes. We have to go on a journey. That creates depth.
I became a writer because I thought it was the only way to find the truth about myself – to dig, deep down below the surface, searching for my own interior, for ancient layers inside of me. Searching for depth, searching for my spirit, longing for a connection with my soul.
Spirit in mythology and traditional cosmology is connected to the elements of fire and air, and it rises, reaching up and out. Soul is connected to the elements of water and earth, and it descends, inward and downward. When we rise with spirit, we get peak experiences and those overviews of life that include moments of freedom. Soul goes the opposite way. Water runs down. The earth has gravity and pulls us to it. The soul wants us to grow down and become deep like a river. The real connections are not surface connections. You can have many friends on Facebook, but your real friends are those who know and support your deep self and will remind you when you’re losing touch with your own soul.
What is often missing in modern mass culture is this depth of connection. When you see a culture dividing into simplistic polarities — which is all of our politics nowadays — what’s going on is a loss of soul. People who are in touch with their soul know what they’re supposed to be doing in the world. They know what their way of contributing to life is in the same way that people know what music they love and what food they enjoy — not just life-sustaining food, but food that has flavor, that makes you feel nourished, even inspired.
As I continue my voyage below the surface I have discovered ways that help me cultivate depth: having a personal experience with the holy; being more contemplative; having a relationship to the mysterious things in life; slowing way down; finding an artist outlet; connecting to the wisdom of the past; and then I go outside. And I dig up rocks.
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain,” Charlie Chaplin
Laying on the gurney, hooked up to my IV, I waited for my doctor to call with my pathology report telling me my cancer is gone and clearing me for facial reconstruction surgery. Three surgeries in three days to remove the spreading melanoma on my right cheek had left a huge hole in my in my face which would require a complicated five hour flap surgery to close it up. My son August, with me through surgeries was making me howl with laughter. When I finally got the call, I turned to August and said, “My cancer is gone! Some of my friends may call or text you during my surgery to see how I am doing.” August dryly responded, “Can I tell them you’re dead?” It was just what I needed to send me into surgery laughing. August asked me for any parting words as the anesthesiologist wheeled me down the hall, and I responded, “Can I get you anything while I’m out?”
Cancer isn’t funny. The scar that takes up about 25% of my face, changing the way I look forever isn’t funny. Waiting to hear staging and if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes wasn’t funny. But I’m funny. And I knew if I was going to make through this journey I had to connect to my core, to show up and just be me, and find the humor surrounding this horrific situation. And I did.
When I witnessed the shock that my friends had when they saw the aftermath of how cancer affected my looks they were speechless. My humor eased the tension, allowing my friends and family to be more encouraging and supportive.
Everywhere I went I took my humor with me. At one point I thought I might have to have a skin graft to cover the gaping hole on my face and I asked the doctor where the skin for the skin graft comes from. He said it might come from the back of my neck or from my hips. When I asked him if I could pay a young nurse to donate skin he looked at me in shock and I busted out laughing.
When I came home with forty stitches on my face I made the decision not to hide out in my home, but to carry on with life especially since my doctors said I could. One morning I got my car washed and when I walked up to tip the young man drying my car he took one look at me and said, “Oh my goodness! Were you in a knife fight? What happened to the other guy?” I handed him his tip and as I got in my car I said, “I don’t know, I just got out of jail.”
Genuine humor works completely from the inside out. It’s a nebulous entity, changing every time you use it. Humor isn’t a noun that you keep in your pocket and take out at parties. It exists in everything we do and it requires us to pay attention in order to spot the opportunity to illuminate it for others.
In whatever form you find it, humor is contagious. A smile begets a smile. A laugh begets a laugh. So, if you know someone with cancer and you want to lift their spirits just start with a smile and laughter won’t be far off. A smile – genuine humor – is such an important gateway to help someone feel better. Laughter can provide a sense of perspective when you are facing challenging circumstances and help release pent –up emotions. Laughter may also help reduce depression and anxiety and increase self-esteem, energy, resilience and hope.
My cancer journey is reminding me that I don’t need to live strong, I just need to live on my own terms and that means discovering the humor in all situations. There may be no proof that laughter can improve your health, but I have no doubt that it can improve your life.
I met a tree in Costa Rica that changed me life. I had spent days working and my friend Simon suggested we take a much needed break and go for a hike. Simon is British but lives in Costa Rica. He woke up one day and decided to exchange the corporate jungle for the real ones in Costa Rica.
Simon is in his mid 50’s but looks a great deal younger. His hair is the color of whisky and his eyes are blue. Not the ordinary sky blue. They are blue like the sea, crystal clear blue, shimmering and crashing and churning. Looking into his eyes you can hear the waves falling against the shore, see the foam flying into the air. His eyes are blue like that warm wool sweater that you put on when the air gets that chill: comfortable, warm, familiar. His eyes are that kind of blue.
After driving on a winding mountain road we arrive in a forest in the Lake Arenal region. As we begin our hike I notice that in the forest the sky vanishes almost completely, only a few fragments of blue remain – like scattered pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The air is rich with fragrance of damp leaves. Outside of the forest is the noon daylight, the powerful rays of summer. But in here everything is cool and the colors have the softness of that time right before twilight. I take all the air my lungs will hold and expel it slowly. These hikes in the forest are like a trip out of my life, a visit to a place where the measuring of time is done only by the rising and setting of the sun.Read More»
“Important encounters are planned by the soul long before the bodies see each other.” Paulo Coelho
The moment I saw him, I knew I loved him. In fact, I knew that I had loved him for lifetimes. It was that feeling—the one that hits us hard in that spot between the second and sixth rib and slightly to the left of the sternum.
This is our heart telling us a truth—the recollection that we have been with this person many times before.
I call this a soul relationship, and if we have experienced it, we know. If we haven’t yet, understand that there is a certain spark that comes with it and a subtle peace. An immediate bond of reassurance and stability will wash over us, one that could only be attributed to having been with this particular soul intimately, for centuries before this one.
It took me a long time to jump on the reincarnation bandwagon, a doctrine that has ancient roots and contemporary relevance, since one in four Americans believes in it. But due to personal experiences, now I do too. In fact, I believe we have each lived dozens of times before this one and will live dozens more after. I also hold fast to the faith that on each occasion we incarnate, we do so with similar souls. We choose to be surrounded by people we will recognize, so that this lifetime, we do not feel so alone.
Most of our relationships are not that deep, even if they may appear to be. We can share a lot of history with other human beings and still not be connected at the deepest level. We can have lovers with whom we’ve shared passion and profound intimacy and the sense of a connection that at least felt as if nothing could be deeper—and then, for one reason or another, drift apart. Then, if we meet our former lover years later, we may have the strange and sometimes disturbing sensation of there being literally no connection any more.
Soul relationships are eternal. A significant sign that we are experiencing a soul relationship is that these are the people we can’t resist—even though we want to. The bonfire attraction we have for each other might make us believe we should be together now, but often there is a tragic flaw to this reasoning—the practicalities in this life might not be in our favor.
The truth is, the result of coupling with these irresistible souls can be confusing and painful. Possibly with a temptation so electric, we use the motivation of “should,” a little too strongly. We believe meeting someone with whom it feels we have known forever “should” work.
But, timing is everything. Just because we were together in a previous life does not mean we can be together in this one.
This reminds me that soul relationships are more complex than I can intellectually understand.
Each soul evolves at different speed, and this time, we might be on a different trajectory. This does not make the relationship or connection untrue. It just means that the other is bound in their perception by limitations on the personality level and cannot register or be aware of the deeper significance. The discrepancy between our own perception of things and that of someone else can lead to disappointment and even to sorrow if we do not understand that what exists at the soul level has to find its way into physical expression in its own way and time. In some instances, this may not happen nor serve the highest good within a particular lifetime.
Life unfolds in mysterious ways and in the end, the connections with others on the level of the soul enrich life immeasurably, and add to the dimension of the physical, the dimension of the spiritual. These relationships will one day become quite natural and commonplace, for they represent the progressive unfolding of the beauty and promise of our capacity as spiritual beings to live a sacred life.
“Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes a spiritual calling.”
Vincent Van Gogh
“I’m sorry I’m running a little late, I just made a nose out of a rib bone,” Dr. David Hecht casually said as he entered my exam room, his lithe movement reminding me of a warrior. He has on green scrubs and his tousled short hair is rich like mahogany. His light brown eyes look like sunlight shining through whiskey. The colors mingle together cascading an array of different shades throughout his gaze.
Everything about him is symmetrical, most obviously his cheekbones, but the symmetry extends to the way he smiles and holds his body. His rugged good looks are unexpected and even in his late 40’s he still possesses traces of what must have been loads of boyhood charm. This is my facial reconstructive surgeon: the man, and artistic genius that ended up putting my face back together after skin cancer had been cut out of my forehead and cheek.
Artists and doctors share many of the same approaches. They are visual people who study the intricacies of human anatomy. And they share highly developed observational skills and a fundamental love for humankind.
Each face is completely unique. Deciding how to shape it so that each feature appears in harmony with the others requires not only skill, but also an artistic vision and imagination. Plastic surgeons need a sense of aesthetics to design an appropriate surgical approach to the individual. An understanding of proportion—much like that expressed in the work of old masters such as Michelangelo and Da Vinci—combined with superior technical skills is imperative. With this combination, a surgeon links art and science, resulting in a more fully realized, beautifully proportioned outcome. The result is a walking piece of art.
But what makes Dr. Hecht a true artistic genius is his ability to access his inner world to bring out something not only meaningful and beautiful, but also necessary and incredible. Inner artistic genius is the inherent and indelible connection to the other world of great imagination, original thought and endless renewal. He sees the world for how it is supposed to be seen; with an open heart, mind, body and soul. He judges none and nothing. They are all the same to him; parts of life that are each equal and necessary, the art of the world.
Each artist is unique. And uniqueness has boldness in it and a core of imagination intended to transcend the common attitudes and collective patterns. Being unique is the spirit that is already there in each person, the inner intention, primary style and way of being that makes a true individual regardless of the pressure to conform to temporary social patterns and contemporary cultural fashions. At the individual level, each of us is an artist, here to give something that is not just unusual, not only exceptional, but that is distinctive and valuable by its very nature.
The inner uniqueness for life aspires to meaningful work and genuine purpose. It would have us undertake the seemingly impossible tasks of transforming culture and helping to heal the world. Not because the world can be saved or redeemed in a hurry, but because it is the impossibility of the great problems and projects of life that awakens the sleeping uniqueness within and changes work from a simple job to a life-long, life-enhancing project. And that serves the dignity and nobility of one’s soul as well as the well being of one’s community.
More than raw talent or potential ability, genius gives a person their unique way of being in and contributing to the world. So the question becomes not whether or not you are an artistic genius, but in what way does artistic genius appear in you and how might it contribute to your own well being and benefit the world around you.
A common idea found in many ancient traditions holds that each person comes to this world at a time when they have something meaningful to offer. I will forever be grateful that Dr. Hecht and his artistic genius are in mine.