Not that long ago, I was on a call with Martha Beck (and oh, about a hundred other coaches) when one member of the group spoke up.
Her son had just been diagnosed with Autism.
Now he was telling her that he could see souls.
The whole thing had thrown her off balance and she was starting to see disturbing things herself.
“I saw a magpie tearing apart a mouse right in front of me,” she told Martha while the rest of us listened. “And I could feel the mouse’s pain and fear. Then it happened again—a dog killing a mouse. Why is this happening? What does it mean?”
Martha was gentle with her.
“It’s just a wake-up call, sweetie. We’re being called to wake up from our illusions of suffering.”
Martha should know. Decades earlier, her safe and secure world of academia was blown apart when her (then) unborn child was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.
In that moment, she was required to question everything Harvard had taught her about what makes a human life valuable and worthwhile.
And oh, how she suffered!
So, she was gentle with the caller—understanding, in a very personal way, the intense confusion and fear that can swallow us up when life delivers the opposite of what we think we want.
“We’re all being called to wake up from the dream of this life,” she said, quietly. “And the illusion that must fall away is the illusion of death.”
I sat and listened, a lump swelling in my throat.
I understood what she was talking about.
I have survived many deaths—the death of a 30 year friendship, the death of my marriage, the death of a love affair, the death of my novel, the death of my design career . . .
And every death I died gave way to something richer, something much more beautiful and alive.
It’s actually true what they say: The opposite of death is not life. It’s birth.
Life has no opposite.
It’s just constantly changing form.
All my “deaths” were actually necessary endings that gave birth to a brand new me, and I have come to believe that even my own physical death—the end of my flesh and blood body—will give way to another experience that is beyond death.
But the woman on the line wasn’t so sure.
Martha asked her to go back to the moment when the mouse was caught.
“Allow yourself to feel it. Breathe slowly and deeply while you feel all its terror and pain.”
The caller took some full breaths as Martha coached her how to comfort the mouse as it died.
“I am here with you. I’m not going to stop your suffering and I‘m not going to stop your death. I'll hold you through this experience. Don’t be afraid, little one. This is just a dream.”
The caller was crying, suddenly remembering her own experience in childbirth.
And how she went through the pain to create a miracle.
“I suspect that you keep seeing the mouse dying because in this situation with your son, YOU are the mouse,” Martha said, carefully. “Your ego is dying. Your expectations for him. Your stories about him and his future . . .”
The woman cried harder, admitting that she was the one having a hard time with the diagnosis—that her son was doing just fine.
“Yes,” Martha said. “And if you can find a way to hold the mouse and let it die—if you will go all the way through the experience of radical suffering into something that outlives the suffering, you will be free."
I left that call moved beyond any other experience.
It wasn't an accident that I'd been on the line for such a powerful conversation.
For the past few years, I've been in the clutches of the magpie myself.
A sly, shiny-eyed bird called OLD AGE.
And that's hard to admit.
Because wasn't I the girl who was going to knock this age thing right out of the park?
In my teens and into my twenties, I used to boast how I wasn’t afraid of getting older. I intended to celebrate the process, to dance with it, to model to the rest of the world how it could be done.
“I’m going to be sexy at forty,” I said.
And I was.
But after that?
Well . . . let’s just say aging didn’t show up with roses and champagne the way I had imagined.
It felt more like an assassination than a love affair.
I was caught off guard by the storm. Acne from peri-menopause. Thinning hair (on my head) Hormonal hair growth (on my face) Disappearing eye-brows. Sagging skin. Frown lines. Back fat.
My face and body were shape-shifting in subtle but alarming ways.
I had always sworn that my identity had nothing to do with smooth skin, thick glossy hair or a firm body.
Until those things started to slip away . . .
That’s when the wings of fear began to beat against my ribcage.
If I lose my looks I'll be nothing.
I won’t be valued or loved.
I’ll lose my power.
I won’t have anything to barter with.
This, my dear girlfriend, is the death that I need to die.
My mistaken belief—(beauty is the ticket to love)—has caused enough suffering.
It's time to let go of what was and allow my fearful story (and ego) to draw its last breath.
Only then can a new thought form be born in its place.
Self-love is the ticket to beauty.
Love is not an exclusive nightclub and I know it.
I don't need a membership to get in.
I don't even need to be young and beautiful.
I just need to wake up to my own strength and magnificence.
Illusion is HELL, my sweet.
That's why life-alarms are so necessary.
So if you're being torn apart by a Magpie of your own, you may find it helpful to ask yourself one little question . . .
What death do I need to die?
Surrendering to THAT is the fast-track to heaven.
Sending you so much love,