“Grief is our refusal to live small”

When a parent is given a life-limiting diagnosis for a child, when the child is 6, you begin to grieve that day. We hope. We pray. We fight. We live. But death is always ‘there’, as it is for every single one of us.

Grief is a uniquely creative process. While it is certainly experienced in the mind, it is not confined to the mind. Relative to how it looks, it may be helpful for people to know that it does not always look like we think it should.

My daughter Serena was 1 of 410 people who died from cystic fibrosis in 2018. That year, the median age of death was 30.8 years. At the time of her diagnosis in 2006, Serena’s predicted survival was early 20’s. Nearly 20% of the deaths in 2018 occurred before age 20. Serena was 19.

In the aftermath of my daughter’s death, it was the writings of Francis Weller that informed and illuminated for me not only the acute and profound grief I was experiencing, but the grief I had been actively living since 2006.

“Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul. Contrary to our fears, grief is suffused with life-force…. It is not a state of deadness or emotional flatness. Grief is alive, wild, untamed and cannot be domesticated. It resists the demands to remain passive and still. We move in jangled, unsettled, and riotous ways when grief takes hold of us. It is truly an emotion that rises from the soul.”

Francis Weller

Like a twelve-year, low-grade fever, the force of grief would simply not allow me, or us, to wallow in self-pity, deadness, or darkness. And yes, my daughter Serena was grieving this entire time, too; grieving her mortality; grieving her father; grieving her sister and me; grieving a life interrupted; grieving for everyone she knew and loved. My daughter Serena refused to live small.

How could I confine her and her spirit? I could not. Life has its own agenda and it was showing us how to live it. Despite the judgements and ridicule of some, we followed each and every internal nudging– we moved in “jangled, unsettled, and riotous ways” because that is what grief does to a person who knows they are dying — and to a mother who refused to let go, until letting go was the only sane and responsible thing to do.

If you allow this life force to direct you, this is what grief actually looks like: leaving a job, starting a small business, severing relationships, changing households, moving to another part of the country, learning mindfulness, going back to school, overcoming life-long anxiety, practicing gratitude, writing books and poems your friends think are stupid, learning new hobbies, following your curiosity, turning over stones, learning new skills, pushing your own boundaries because you know, deep, deep down, you better get ready and have the endurance for what’s coming our way. My daughter Serena refused to live small. Literally. She and we, lived ‘as if’ we were not really dying. And of course we were, and of course we were not. Death is not the end of life, but it’s continuation.

In truth, grief is not something to explain, or analyze, but to live and witness without judgement. This is entirely your choice, and you can certainly bail out at any time, but if you’re lucky enough to grieve with a friend or family member, your only function is to respectfully stand-by, quietly observe, and hold a living-vigil for this broken-open human being. That’s it. They don’t need to be restored, rescued, or glued back together– they are literally regenerating, right before our very eyes.

Next time you see someone on social media, or in your social circle doing something that rubs you in a manner that causes you to wonder “who the f**k does he/she think they are”, the answer very well may be “someone who is grieving out loud.” Even if that is not the real reason, it may begin to replace out knee-jerk reaction to mock and ridicule that which we do not understand.

From the outside, it may appear as if they’ve somehow lost touch with reality, are seeking attention, or are desperately ‘searching’ for something — but nothing could be further from the truth. Grief is unconcerned with consensus reality. A person who understands that they are actively grieving (actively living) is more perceptive, aware, and sensitive than they can ever express.

Accordingly, they don’t need judgements or insensitive inquiries. They don’t need your shaming. They don’t need you to rewrite their stories. Unless they initiate it, they don’t need you to problem-solve. They just need your kindness and non-judgmental presence. Grief is a process of the heart; one that if allowed, deeply informs the mind, and transforms every single person brave enough to receive it, from the inside-out.

Excerpted from Within These Words, Selected Essays & Poems,
Mayra Porrata, ©2021, SEE, LLC.

How will you spend your time?

I read a neat quote on Twitter the other day: “Knowledge isn’t free, you have to pay attention.”

Knowledge and information are abundant and everywhere! Yes, in books (one of my favorite places to look!), but also in your backyard, in the sky, at work, even on your Facebook or Twitter feed.

When I went to the hospital to deliver my second daughter Camille, there was a painted mural on the wall with the following words:

“Everyone and everything around you is your teacher.”

For some reason, that quote hit me right in the heart and from that day on, I began to notice everyone and everything this way…..the way I used to during my childhood when I lived in Puerto Rico and spent my days on the beach, gazing at the tides, playing with anything and everything that came my way.

In many respects, planet Earth is like a school; a living classroom, if you will. If you’re aware enough to know that ‘you are here’, and that you are here for some reason, you’re more likely to “pay attention” to what comes your way.

Just like ‘regular school’, however, there are those who do not enjoy this school. They are angry. They may be afraid, and so, they attack what they view as threats: they undermine teachers; they shame fellow students; and they ridicule what they don’t understand. They would rather blow up the damn school!

In fact, they don’t see it as a school at all, but as a place to conquer and overpower– which means that whoever is in their way must be ‘set-straight’, shamed, or destroyed.

This is one key observation that Gary Zukav and many others see as a difference between the human beings who are ‘multi-sensory’, and those who are not (yet). To note, most human beings have five ‘factory installed’ physical senses (sight, touch, sound, smell, taste). But there are millions of individuals who perceive beyond these five.

These are not things that can be proven or explained with mere words– they are known, by the individual, because they are directly accessed. And, this access is open and available to anyone who is willing to do the inner-work to locate this inner-access for themselves.

Millions of human beings are evolving on Earth right now. Our own planet is evolving too. To be mindful that change is hard, painful, and messy, is essential right now.

When people become frightened they either retreat or become angry and may lash out in the ‘playground’ of life, just like the bully at school. All human beings experience fear by the way — that is ‘factory installed’, too. However, we don’t have to act from that emotion.

Given this, the question for each of us, because all human beings are undergoing this journey/transformation/transition, is this: knowing this, how will YOU spend your time?

Arguing with bullies? Shaming ‘teachers’? Kicking the school secretary in the shin?

OR

Following your curiosity? Learning from everyone and everything? Thanking everything on your path?

On planet Earth, YOU are in a body, in time. YOU are what time is doing with itself, right now. How do you wish to spend your time?

Focusing your mind on this simple question will direct, uncover, and yield a wealth of information — the same knowledge that so many sages, philosophers, poets, and teachers throughout human history have already pointed us towards– all we have to do is pay attention.

Bring your soul to work day

Back in my corporate days, we had a day each year when we would “bring our daughter” to work. In recent years this was extended to bring “our daughters and sons to work day.” As the essay title implies, I offer that the time has come to do something of substance– something that actually matters.

For many years, I struggled to put words together to describe the sad and incomprehensible things I witnessed during those years. Despite the economic and emotional scraping and bruising I sustained, and that is an inevitable part of being in environments that are not aligned with our highest-selves, I also see that I was meant to be there and to witness what I witnessed first-hand. Because that is the only way to truly know– first-hand. Not from a book, or hearsay, or speculation. But to have lived and suffered it all the way to your bones.

While on the one-hand, my career in the financial services sector was productive and generally stellar, on the other, it became increasingly clear that the higher I went, the more terrible I felt about myself and my work. Today, I sense that part of the reason was this: rising up the corporate ladder required me to progressively leave my soul behind.

You either “get with this program”, or you don’t. For those of us who are sensitive enough to have walked away from those settings, we did so because we sensed that if we didn’t, it would have literally eaten us alive from the inside-out. Like a cancer. It will kill you. It doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about anyone or anything but itself.

While it is only one of the unique aspects of that which makes you, “you”, your soul is your highest intelligence. If you’re not bringing your soul to work (or to your home office, the coffee shop, the grocery store, or anywhere you go to on a regular basis), you’re not doing your best work. Period. Overtime, when you don’t do your best work, your heart will show you the symptoms; stress, anxiety, heart disease, extra weight, and the list of inflammatory conditions of “unspecified origin” go on. Health insurance will not save you. Your employer will not save you. Only you can correct this ailment.

Collectively, as a society, we have created institutions and corporations that are literally ‘gutting people and communities out’ from the inside-out. And we, collectively, are seeing the collapse of these same entities and the frantic attempts to bolster them– with AI (artificial intelligence), with bail-outs, with shame, with more predatory industries, with policy and laws that withhold basic liberties and human necessities….and all for what? We all know the answer.

I was telling a colleague recently that the internal pull to go “off-grid” is a calling from our souls. It doesn’t matter if you lean conservative or liberal— anyone who has a longing for the “basics”; to protect their families, to grow their own food, and to consciously elect to disconnect from the numerous ways that corporations and corrupt institutions have infiltrated our lives, that is to go “off-grid.” Alaska or Idaho may feel safer, I get it. But what if we just brought our souls to work instead– would we have to even move?

Spiritual Solidarity; a real-life story, book, and invitation

While in the midst of a number of writing and publishing projects, this title, Spiritual Solidarity, and the chapters and pages that will follow, simply brought themselves together. I sense the reason for this is because I’ve consistently placed other work ahead of it and my spirit finally said “enough– it’s time!” It is.

My general strategy will be to publish a chapter or section every week (or so)- both in print (here and at The Flourishing Way) and in audio (via Sound Cloud). Eventually, after editing and refining, I will publish it as both a print and audio book.

I hope my words and voice inspire you to reflect on your own life and work, and awaken in you the recognition of how ‘perfect’ (even through the very hard parts) each of our journeys is for each of us!

Thank you for reading and listening along!
Mayra

SPIRITUAL SOLIDARITY - Mayra Porrata - 5/5/2021

Introduction

When I was 7 years old, my paternal grandmother read me a story from the bible-- the one about the Tower of Babel. As she read the passage, one that she and I would re-read many more times, I recall feeling a sense of sadness and quiet desperation at the notion that these human beings were incapable of understanding one another. As a young child, I couldn’t fathom how that was even possible. I couldn’t fathom not understanding if someone was in pain or confused. I also couldn’t understand why people were at war-- why they were miserable and poor. Life, as told through that simple story, made absolutely no sense to me. 
  
Four years later, I would find myself in a foreign land speaking a language that was not my own. I would also find myself experiencing the excruciating struggle to express myself and to be understood. It was a frustration unlike any other I ever felt, but one that I often related to that bible story-- where everyone is talking, but no one can tell that you’re in pain or confused, because they too were stunned and mesmerized by their own pain.     

By age 12, the only safe or sane place to express myself was through journaling and writing. In my own form of Spanglish, a fusion of Puerto Rican Spanish and English, I wrote letters and poems, stories and accounts of my life as a young woman. It was in the pages of these journals, that I could easily discern the human being who had to play a role in society, from the one that was the witness to this vulnerable and misunderstood human. I called her the ‘real me.’

Still, knowing that there was a ‘soul’ there, did not shield me from feeling immense anger and utter frustration. Despite my beautiful and almost idyllic upbringing, I was angry at life for taking me away from ‘there’ and for being forced to contend with such harsh and inhospitable conditions as our move from the north shores of Puerto Rico to Stow, Ohio presented. This anger, my anger, was something I didn’t understand and would take many decades to fully decipher.

Many of us, especially women are not supposed to be ‘angry’. Nice girls are certainly not supposed to express anger. In the mid 70’s we were generally socialized to be accepting and go with the flow and the leadership of men-- our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, bosses, the President, the priest, etc. Lucky for me, I had early child-hood influences from a number of loving and powerful women including my mother, grandmothers, my incredible God-mother, my aunts, my older cousins, and a number of nuns and teachers who modeled what I now call spiritual solidarity; the deep, abiding awareness that life on Earth entailed more than what was visible to the naked eye, and that there was indeed a secret language; one that had no words,  but was visibly expressed through tender acts and loving kindness. 
Spiritual Solidarity, Mayra Porrata, Introduction
Copyright 2021 SEE, LLC & Mayra Porrata, LLC
All rights reserved.

READ CHAPTER 1 – The language that has no words

Emergency Inquiry

Chaos, rage, confusion, and fear are important and what we do with these energies, even more so.

While our default-setting is generally to ignore or attack that which is bringing us pain or discomfort, the evolved response or ‘advanced-setting’, if you will, requires our curiosity.

When we replace our habitual responses with curious inner-work we find that many times, our anger or fear is stemming from an unmet need– something which we are often unaware of.

Here are 8 helpful questions to explore when we’re ‘hit’ with sudden instability of any kind:

o What is this person, event, or situation requiring of me?

o What is attempting to emerge from this?

o Can I see the bigger grace in this seeming crisis?

o Can I envision the “other side”, or resolution of this crisis?

o How can I serve this situation or crisis without judging, criticizing, over-helping, or manipulating an outcome?

o How can I lend my unique gifts in order to help alleviate this crisis?

o How must I adapt or think differently in order to stop the perpetuation of this “crisis”?

o What would LOVE do?

For further study, a brief 1-HR-Course on anger is available here. (Note: from personal and professional experience my sense is that anger is rooted in unprocessed grief, and often times, we don’t realize that grief ‘energy’ is even there.)

The burden of grief

Today, I had the sweet pleasure of interviewing my mom for a little family archive project. (An excellent use of Zoom, by the way).

This photo of her parents and 6 of her siblings pre-dates her own birth— she was the 9th and last child from a union that has both haunted and guided her because she never got to know her father. Sadly, he passed away when my Grandmother was 4 months pregnant with mom.

Being born amidst unimaginable grief is not an ‘uncommon condition’, of course. Throughout the interview mom shared snippets of love letters her parents exchanged through the years; letters and postcards that underscored both their playfulness and passion. Recalling the words of her own father today, a man she only knew through her own mother’s narrative, was both sad and soothing.

For most of my life, I wrongly perceived this grief my mom lived with as something flawed or a weakness of character. Boy did life come to school me on this!

As I’ve come to learn and personally experience, what one does with grief is pretty much identical to what someone does with love. They are two ends of the same frequency. To live an entire life with this “burden” is a powerful testament to the love my precious mother was born into, her own immeasurable strength, and therefore, the legacy of loving energy my sister and I were born into….and on and on it goes.

As I stand here today, I realize that it is grief that shows us (to ourselves) the true measure of our love for someone or something. Conversely, it can also show us the things and people we did not love along the way– because although we remain grateful for the experience, we don’t grieve their loss at all. Therefore, the grief we carry with us is a direct measure of our own capacity to love. If we dare look at it and touch it, it will transmute and molds us into life itself– and remind us, what it is to be truly human.

The sound of your breath

Shortly after my daughter Serena passed away, and while in the profound depths of acute grief, I noticed how loud the world had become. 

Not only people’s voices, media, and all that once used to engage my attention, but even books seemed “loud” to me. To take-in people’s ideas and thoughts became so painfully undesirable and indigestible. To “listen” to anyone or anything actually hurt me. Physically. 

During this anguished period, and in my attempt to capture and share this experience with others, I wrote a simple poem:   

 Anguished
 There’s nothing you can say
 that I want to hear.
 Nothing.
 Don’t try.
 Save your energy for yourself.
 Thank you.
 
 Broken-open.
 Heart-seared.
 Brain-rewired.
 
 No, there is nothing wrong with me,
 But I can’t explain it to you.
 Because I need to hear
 and my talking to you is distracting me 
 from hearing my daughter’s sweet voice.

Anguished, Until it Happens to You, 
©Mayra Porrata, 2019 

Fundamentally, I sensed that, piece by piece, my entire life and world were being deconstructed. The only sounds I could “take in” were my daughter’s voices; Camille’s voice, which was “real”, and surprisingly, the sound of Serena’s voice, who although was no longer “there”, physically, I could clearly hear as if she were sitting right next to me.

As I progressed through my grief, and was driven to continue to seek solace through sound, the other practice I engaged in daily was listening to ocean waves. I found a number of beautiful recordings on YouTube (free YouTube), which I had on loop. 

Feeling as if my life depended on it, I listened to the ocean all day and night. The ocean, “God-as-water”, my first “best friend”, became my constant companion and the one force I credit with lifting me from the bowels of bereavement and delivering me to the new shore of my life. 

It was there, that all the hard lessons, the near-drownings, and sweet rescues from my entire life came flooding in. As if by osmosis, I immediately understood that the most important sound for ‘recovering ourselves’ is literally right under our noses; it is the sound of our breath.

‘Sound as medicine’ is not a new or unique experience, but a rather ancient one. While there are a number of methodologies and thousands of products to support the integration of sound and sound healing into our health practices, the “best free sound” I can wholeheartedly and professionally recommend is the practice of listening to your own breath.

While mindfulness and meditation practices promote our awareness of breath as a focal point for transcending our habitual mind, “listening to it” is like turning on a free, built-in-sound-track! 

Next time you find yourself feeling frightened and alone, which can be unsettling to our rational mind, and feel terribly uncomfortable to our nervous system, remember to “listen to the sound of your breath.” Tuning-in is one way to hear the wisdom and information that await for you in its silence.

Breathe. Listen. Repeat. 

Return to the Main Site: TheFlourishingWay.com

Applying Due Diligence

How do we get past our own anger? How can we forgive the “wrongness” of others? When will justice be realized? As a mother, these were the questions that kept me up at night. Knowing that I didn’t have a clear nor definitive answer, I allowed life to show and guide me– and it did.

My 1-HR-COURSE™ titled “The Anger in You” provides emotional health information and highlights the process I personally undertook, and have consistently taken when faced with a real or perceived injustice, and the anger these events bring up in us.

Anger is a very real and human emotion. Without our awareness, our anger can literally destroy. With our awareness and understanding, however, our anger can be transformed into the wise fuel that is love.

Anger is often related to a fear, real or perceived, that we may actually be unaware of! Case in point, one day, when my youngest daughter was 9 years-old, I found myself in a total tizzy– barking out orders and processing “out-loud” more than I typically do (lol). I was acting “angry” for sure. I felt angry. My words were angry. Then, the most amazing thing occurred; my daughter Camille grabbed my hand and asked me: “what are you so afraid of mama?”

At the time, I had a chart on our fridge from work I was doing on emotional intelligence that listed the main emotions, their symptoms (emotional clusters typically experienced alongside those visible emotions), and their “opposites”; the shadow of the emotion and “most likely” something we are unwilling to feel or express, because it’s occluded from our own awareness.

My daughter, who undoubtedly is one of my greatest teachers, looked past my tantrum and pointed to the chart on our fridge and repeated: “what are you so afraid of mama?”

In that moment, I fell to my knees — humbled by the heart and grace of my sweet Camille. Stunned by her question, looking into her precious face and innocent eyes, I choked back tears as I actually verbalized something I didn’t even “know” I was feeling, but was the precise root and source of my anger.

Remember, the fundamental reason you (or anyone!) is or feels anger, is because a “need” is not being met. Whether the need is real or perceived (because of a “should”), the energy* of anger, (*our thoughts, our emotions, our body sensations, the chemical changes in our body, etc.) must be addressed in order to return ourselves and our bodies to a state of stasis and equanimity.

The slides below unpack the mental (analytical) process of due dilligence or “wise action” and the personal responsibility that is required of each of us when facing something, anything, that brings up anger in us.

The entire slide deck, as well as other 1-HR-COURSES™ are freely available via my main website The Flourishing Way in the 1-HR-COURSE™ page.

Return to the Main Site: TheFlourishingWay.com

The Long Now

There’s something profound that happens to anyone, whether by choice or fate, who endures mental confinement. To confine the mind is to silence it to some degree, as well as to observe its true nature.

Despite my many years of meditation practice and teaching mindfulness professionally, I did not come to achieve this awareness through meditation alone. Accordingly, I’ve come to view meditation and mindfulness as the “mind’s ways of knowing the mind” by creating an object of focus (whether itself or another subject).

Fundamentally, mindfulness and meditation are methods of practicing self-awareness and self-regulation (e.g. can you sit for 10-20 minutes in silence? can you pay attention to your breath? can you gently dismiss the mind’s incessant chatter?) and these are all good and noble things, of course, but they don’t necessarily lead to the “awareness/knowing”, that exists just outside our own thinking mind.

Throughout my life, there have been numerous moments and experiences when I was so incredibly delighted and overjoyed, so much so, that I could actually feel myself “stretching” or extending time– to literally dive and weave myself into each and every molecule of breath and body and feel eternity in what was probably seconds or minutes….or even a single breath.

However, the most profound experience, the one that permanently shifted my perception and therefore my living reality occurred in 1999.

No, I didn’t endure an NDE (near-death experience), or take drugs, or did anything “wild and crazy” to arrive at this awareness. It was simply holding my first-born daughter, Serena.

Becoming a mother was, by far, the single-most sacred act I’ve ever undertaken in this lifetime. To have this precious child live inside my body for 42 weeks (lol), and then to be able to hold her and see her grow was nothing short of a miracle to me– literally the miracle of life!

Many nights, long after her middle-of-the night feedings, I would simply hold her while she slept. It was during those moments that I would simply breathe deeply and say to myself “I want to feel this moment forever!” and I did….and in a strange way that defies conventional logic, I still do.

Many years later, when we endured long hospital stays and home confinement due to her illness, I would enter this “space” and remind myself that it too was sacred ground somehow.

The “long now” was something I came to intimately know and understand; something I actually welcomed as the vigilant protector of my own sanity and mental health. Having this awareness equipped me with a new and profound perspective, one that would enable me to withstand the excruciating devastation of her death– of losing my precious first-born daughter.

No special training is required to “see and feel” what you most love– but it does need your undivided attention. It also requires you to temporarily suspend the mind’s chatter and feel what is literally in your own hands– right here, right now. Over time, this practice will retrain your rational mind– think of it as a “living meditation” of sorts.

To me, “a living hell” is experiencing life from the back-and-forth and incessant chatter of the mind. Thanks to my precious daughter, who taught me how to “live heaven” in every moment, I can experience my life in a real, profound, and wise manner….and that is a gift I wish for everyone– to know, deeply and truly, that while physical death is indeed real, love is inseparable from real life.

(If you’ve experienced a similar awareness, whether through loss or a spontaneous realization, I welcome your messages and sharing via TheFlourishingWay@gmail.com — these stories are important and helpful for others to know) –Mayra

Return to the Main Site: TheFlourishingWay.com

Reprise: re-reading, writing, and ruminating

This brief essay, originally published in December of 2019, still resonates and speaks even louder to me today. May it comfort all who read it with the knowledge and awareness that our present challenges are merely a preparation for better times ahead. Mayra

Much like millions of others, my 2019 was hallmarked by a number of dramatic shifts leaving abundant space for contemplating the deeper meaning of it all. Something is different this year, though, and I think it’s definitely me.

Before I was fully aware, my life was rather mechanistic and duty-bound. I was operating from a fear-based mentality; our default human software. Not all, but many of the decisions I made up until now were based on “the fear I wanted to avoid” versus “what lit me up like a Christmas tree”.

In this last decade in particular, because so many of my/our greatest fears have actually come true (e.g. mass economic instability, job losses, chronic illnesses, suffering) there’s millions of people world-wide who have been forced to operate from their higher faculties (e.g. heart-intelligence/wisdom, intuition, perception, will, reason, and imagination), and this is actually a good thing. Although it is excruciatingly painful to be broken-open by life, it is actually a gift, too. It’s like getting a software upgrade, just when you thought you were about to die.

The greatest riddle and paradox of our shared humanity is the ability to transcend the binary (“right-and-wrong”) and fault-finding stance to embrace the fact that it is merely a step, or stage in our evolving consciousness. However, to be able to see this does require a quantum leap in our understanding, and thankfully, it is one that is attainable for each and every one of us!

The changes afoot may seem weird, “crazy”, or radical, but fundamentally they are not; they are about the essence of what it means to be a human being and about the world we wish to co-create, inhabit, and love.