Posts Tagged ‘shamanism’

Turning Away from Jake and Towards Myself

January 31, 2017

Change was in the air. Like a hot, muggy July night in the Midwest, it had enough weight and substance for me to taste it.

I knew I needed to let go of Jake. I could tick off more than a half dozen reasons for it, but as Lady Gaga had so pointedly said in her song, “Million Reasons,” even when we have plenty of reasons to go, sometimes it only takes one good one to keep us sticking around, whether or not sticking around is a good idea. I had more than one reason to not turn away from Jake: I genuinely liked him; we had fun when we were together and even when we just texted; there was juicy chemistry between us; and we had shared a particular kind of intimacy with a level of abandon and depth that was not easily replicated. I dragged my feet.

When Jake texted me on New Year’s Eve, I thought it a good opportunity to end things. It didn’t take long for the texting to spiral into sexting. I pointed out that the possibility of ever getting together again was slim since I was unwilling to be a last-minute backup plan when what he really wanted to do fell through, and he was unwilling to schedule me in. I expected his reply to admit that it was an untenable situation. Instead, he agreed that scheduling time together was a respectful thing to do.

But it didn’t happen. Texts between us came and went.

Strangely, one night as I was thinking about Jake and reaching for something in my nightstand, a recording my late husband had made many years earlier started to play, spontaneously. The recording accompanied a photo of Howard and me. He had made it before going to Iraq in late 2004 to train cops as an independent contractor. It was his voice reciting a bit of lyrics from the song “You Do Something to Me” in a Transylvanian accent. He knew it made me laugh every time he sounded like Bella Lugosi saying that I had the power to hypnotize him. All these years later, it was tinny but still audible. I kept it in a small cedar box in my nightstand, buried under other things. It was implausible that it could play by itself because it had to be opened and a button had to be pushed for it to play. But play itself it had. I knew that he was sending me a message, but I wasn’t sure what that message was in the moment. It later became clear.

Finally, four months to the day after our first meeting, I sent a text essentially ending the relationship with Jake. In true Jake style, he responded to the message with understanding instead of just blowing me off. That willingness to engage in communication was a part of what I found so endearing about him.

But it was over, and I found myself pensive about it. At the bottom of it, Jake had been unavailable, and that made me think about the many men in my life before him who had been unavailable, beginning with my father.

Does it always come back to a woman’s father? Maybe so. My father’s unavailability was the result of his introverted nature coupled with the psychological and physical detritus from his World War II experiences that nudged him towards alcoholism. I’d been twenty-seven when he died, and I regretted not having his company and his counsel during more of my adult years.

The other unavailable men in my life, from my first husband to those with whom I’d been in relationship before my second marriage, had been unavailable for a handful of reasons. None of them were unavailable by virtue of marriage to someone else. I didn’t like messing with another woman’s man. They had been unavailable because a man cannot be available to you if he is in serious relationship with his own demons, whether psychological or chemical. After breaking up with a man I deeply loved but whose relationship with drugs–primarily marijuana–took precedence over his relationship with me, I had joked that the half-life of my bad relationships was improving because it had been whittled down from more than a decade to a matter of months.

Even my second husband, the man I’d loved for the twenty-five years preceding his death, was seen by his best friend as something of a lone wolf. He had not been the easiest man to live with, but he had opened to me and been available to me more than he had to any other woman in his life, and the marriage worked.

Now, six years after my husband’s death, I was again contemplating my tendency to be with unavailable men. Derek had surely been unavailable. So had Jake. They were examples of something I had discussed many times with apprentices and others with whom I had done shamanic work. As we face, heal, and clear away the remnants of our internal shadow and everything in us that we’ve put in place for purposes of defense (usually subconsciously), we experience something that is not so much like the peeling of an onion as the peeling of an artichoke’s layers. There is nothing left when the onion is fully peeled. In purely esoteric terms, I could argue the validity of that. But in more human terms, what is left when the spikey outer petals of an artichoke are peeled, then the more tender inner petals, and then the hairy choke, which is bitter and inedible? Beneath that is the artichoke heart, which is perfection.

Invariably, before we reach the perfection of the authentic self (which I argued can be approximated but maybe not completely achieved in this life), we undergo many initiations. And usually, when we rather arrogantly think we have it mastered, we reach the mother lode of what must be faced, the internal equivalent of the hairy choke.

But even when we have made it through that initiation, enough energetic remnants of that bitter obstacle remain that we find ourselves cycling around to it again and again, usually at more profound levels each time, and sometimes, if we’re lucky and have done the work, it is just a challenge and test to our mastery.

The issue of unavailable men was up for review one more time.

But this time, I saw it for what it was in Jake–an external representation of something within me that needed facing and working through. And I knew that clearing those energetic remnants was something I was ready to do. Just the acknowledgment of it transformed most of it.

But was I available? My travels with an open heart across the past ten months had tested and refined my availability. I believed I was available.

I was finally ready for a man who not only suited me in many ways, but one who was available. And I was available to meet him and travel openheartedly with him. It had taken my entire life to accomplish, and whether or not that man showed up in this life, I was ready for it.

Note: The names Jake and Derek are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the men involved.

Copyright 2017 by Melanie Mulhall

Ned Unglued

September 23, 2016

Some of us are wired to expect the best from people and experiences. Others expect the worst. We tend to get what we expect, either from the people and the experiences or our perception of them. I tend to expect the best from people and experiences, and I usually have that experience. I am something of a paradox, though. On the one hand, I have a built-in BS detector; on the other, I have been accused of being gullible. I can be fooled, but generally not for long.

Based on my limited experience with Ned, I wondered if he expected the worst from people, or perhaps he was also a paradox, though a different kind than me. My face-to-face experience with him had been delightful, upbeat, and positive, but the phone conversations and texts were mixed. He seemed to question our interactions after having them, as if teasing them apart, looking for something a little unclean or wrong in them.

Five days after the dinner at my house, Ned had business in the metro area and visited me once he was done with it. We retired to the gazebo, herbal tea in hand, and picked up a thread of conversation as if we had just seen one another hours earlier. We talked about his writing, my writing, shamanism, business, backpacking, our mutual attraction, and whatever else came to mind, spending more time on some subjects than others. It was not all easy and comfortable, though.

Ned had done peyote–a lot of peyote. My shamanic work is free of drugs for several reasons. Apart from the obvious illegality of most drugs, they are simply not needed to enter a shamanic state of consciousness. Not only are they unneeded, I had witnessed the deleterious effects of drugs enough to know that they are usually ill-advised. I had energetically seen/felt cracks in the psyches of those who had done drugs when they were psychologically and spiritually unprepared for them.

I was not convinced that Ned’s peyote use had been necessary to take him to where he had wanted to go, nor was I convinced that he was a good candidate for it. I owned up to the former and kept the latter opinion to myself for the time being because I didn’t yet know him well enough to have a good sense of that, though his rather erratic behavior seemed to support the opinion that he might not have been a good candidate for peyote. That I do not employ drugs in my work seemed to mystify Ned a bit, perhaps because it was not consistent with his limited experience with shamanism and shamans.

My use of the word shaman was troubling to Ned. In his model of the world, the word was simply not spoken by one who actually was a shaman. It was a point of view I had heard before. He seemed to have some intrinsic doubts about my shamanic work because of that mindset. And having been on the receiving end of belligerence about this issue in the past, I was a bit defensive.

But for the most part, our interaction was intimate and playful. Ned wanted to sleep with me under the stars but was clear that he was willing to keep sex out of it because he didn’t think either of us was ready for that. I wasn’t so sure about him, but I knew I wasn’t ready for it. I pointed out that sleeping with a person is, in many ways, a more intimate act than having sex with them. He agreed, but he still wanted to share that experience with me. I found his desire to take me backpacking and sleep under the stars with me to be completely charming and even enticing, but it was too soon for me to consider it.

It was that sense of intimacy and playfulness that led me to do something that felt innocent enough but was definitely misguided. The consumption of herbal tea had prompted the need for a break, so we went indoors to separate bathrooms. When I came out of the master bath, I saw that my neighbors across the street, Kathy and Glen, were about to leave for a getaway trip. I had agreed to water some pots and collect their mail for them, and I knew that they were curious about this new man at my house. Kathy was reading my blog, and we had chatted about my dating experience. Glen was always aware of what was going on in the neighborhood. I thought they would want to catch a glimpse of the new guy.

When we were both ready to go back outside, I took Ned’s hand and asked him to come with me. I wanted to touch base with Kathy and Glen before they left and this was an opportunity to introduce them to Ned, which seemed preferable to surreptitious peeks as Ned came and left. Ned seemed a bit reluctant, but not overly so. I made the introduction. Kathy and Glen were their usual gracious, friendly selves. Ned appeared a bit uncomfortable.

In the annals of dating, it is said that introducing a man to your friends prematurely is a quick way to throw cold water on a budding relationship. I should have considered that. But Ned and I had been intimate and playful that afternoon. He was moving forward in the nascent relationship quicker than me. As a result, I had a moment of lapsed common sense. The introduction seemed harmless and almost insignificant.

And it appeared to have been exactly those things judging from Ned’s behavior once we were settled back in the gazebo and right up to the time he left. That evening, we texted one another lightheartedly and chatted on the phone.

Except that it wasn’t, at least not by the next day. Just as he had done previously, Ned seemed to have replayed our time together and found problems with it. When I texted him that my neighbor found him gorgeous, what he texted back was a long, angry text that ended by suggesting that I had trotted him out like a toy pony. My text of surprise and confusion back to him elicited more anger. He had come unglued. Much later, I received a text from him stating that he did not want to pursue anything further with me and was sorry he had texted from a place of reaction instead of picking up the phone.

I felt an immediate sense of relief and realized that Ned’s second-guessing and mood swings constituted way more drama than I wanted to experience with a man. And even though my act of taking his hand and walking across the street to the neighbor’s house without explaining what I was doing could definitely be seen as bad form, it really had been innocent and therefore ignorant on my part. But when a person is looking for people and experiences to be a problem, they will not only see them that way, they just might come unglued.

It wasn’t the first time I had done something that brought out the true nature of things quickly, and I thanked my guidance for prompting me to rapidly put things into perspective so I wasn’t wasting my time in a liaison that would never work. But I felt a bit like a child who had been slapped for doing something she really hadn’t realized was wrong. Ned seemed to think I was looking for a boy toy. If I had been looking for a boy toy, I would have picked someone younger than Ned. There had been numerous men between nineteen and forty-six who had made themselves available for such encounters. I wasn’t looking for a boy toy. But I was inspired to ask myself what exactly I did want to get out of this dating adventure.

What were my travels with an open heart about? What was I looking for? I needed to do a bit of soul-searching.


Note: The name Ned is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved. The names Kathy and Glen are real, and I am forever thankful to have them as neighbors and friends.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall



September 16, 2016

The message came as something of a surprise. It was short, and it simply stated that I’d had him by the middle of the first sentence with the word shamanism and that he wanted to meet me. It was surprising on two grounds: first, because most of the men contacting me seemed unaware of what the word meant or had only a vague understanding of it, and second, because it was unusual for a man to jump straight to the suggestion that we meet.

Ned was good looking and apparently active, judging from his photos, and his profile looked promising, despite the fact that he lived in the foothills, just far enough away from my home on the Front Range to make seeing one another something to be planned, not necessarily arising spontaneously. We traded messages and quickly switched to texting one another as we attempted to figure out how and when we might meet. Then I received a text from him that made me utter a soft, “Oh, shit!”

In it, he stated that he had found my blog by googling my first name, my occupation, and the city in which I lived. He had seen the posts about Derek and found his desire to meet diminished because of them. He wished me all the best with that relationship and with all else. The misconception he had formed from my blog was that there was a current relationship with Derek. In other words, he thought I was blogging in real time.

When Ned didn’t answer his phone, I left a message explaining that the relationship with Derek had been over for some time and that if he had concerns regarding being written about, he shouldn’t, on a number of grounds. Then I backed up the phone message with a text. Within ten minutes, he called. “Is this my date who is dating someone else?” he asked in a barely suppressed laugh.

We talked it out. I had liked the fact that he had done more than simply cease contact with me when he thought I was in the midst of an affair with Derek. He had bothered to make contact. I also liked how straightforward he was. And I liked that he could joke about the situation. In fact, there was a lightheartedness to our phone repartee that pleased me a good deal. He was planning on backpacking the next morning and suggested dinner that night. In a moment of unbridled optimism, coupled by the fact that in reading his energy over the phone, I had assessed him to be harmless, I said, “If you’re willing to come as far as Broomfield, we can have dinner at my house. I’ll put a couple of steaks on the grill.”

Ned was silent for a moment, then questioned the wisdom of my having someone I’d never met to my home. He was looking out for me, which I found charming. I assured him that I had already read his energy and knew that he was safe to invite to the house. He accepted that, and we made a plan for later in the day. He asked if he could bring his dogs and I assented. Strange how I was agreeing to have dogs at my house for the second time in a month when, until recently, I had never had anything but a service dog at my home.

Later, he told me that he had nearly called within a half hour of having made dinner plans to tell me, once again, and as a friend, that it was highly unwise of me to invite someone I’d never met to my home. He apparently had not taken seriously my proclamation that I could read energy and had deemed him safe. And I didn’t bother to point out that I’d often had new and potential clients I’d never met to my home office. I also didn’t admit that even I had been surprised by my quick invitation to dinner at my house.

The playfulness that had marked our telephone conversation continued that evening. In fact, it had been years since I had laughed so much with a man. And it was a relief to be able to talk about metaphysical things without having to explain what I meant. He understood without a lot of explanation. Conversation flowed back and forth between us effortlessly, as if we had known one another for many years, or perhaps many lifetimes. We could have easily finished one another’s sentences. In fact, we did a couple of times.

There was also an easy physicality between us that was as much a relief as the ease with which we interacted verbally. Chemistry was not only alive and well, but as effortless as flowing water. It was just a matter of leaning into it, ever so slightly. The next day, he admitted that though he had planned to give me nothing more than a friendly hug upon meeting, he had struggled to avoid kissing me because he had the urge to kiss me immediately. That kiss, followed by many others, had not taken long to materialize.

And I surprised myself by playfully sitting on the edge of his knee to look him in they eye when I wanted to make a point during our pre-dinner discussion as I prepped food. It was unlike me to be quite so brazen. But the easy familiarity that marked our meeting seemed to have duped me into feeling that we were old friends.

Having  read some of my blog posts, Ned was eager to see the infamous step on which Derek and I had shared our first kisses. And in my kitchen, he pointed to the chopping block and asked if it was the piece I had written about that had been built specifically for my diminutive size. He even joked about the fictitious name I would assign him when I wrote about him. He suggested Fernando.

Clearly, there were consequences I had not considered to my having written about myself and my experiences in such detail. At the very least, it had made Ned curious. Were there other consequences I had not anticipated?


Note: The names Derek and Ned are fictitious and have been used out of respect for the men involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall

Playing Nice and Playing Small

July 13, 2016

I knew it would be risky to share my shamanic journey with Derek, but I was committed to be open in this budding relationship, so I offered to read it to him if he was interested. He was. Further, he wanted to have it read to him in my journey room, which amused me. He knew very little about shamanism, but he was open to and interested in knowing more. I texted him that I was feeling vulnerable about sharing the journey with him, and he texted back that he had a little vulnerability of his own, which he proposed sharing with me after I read him my journey. I wondered what that vulnerability was about and sensed that it was important, but the fact that he was willing to share personal vulnerability with me was significant in and of itself.

I had spent enough time with Derek to know that we were good one-on-one. Now I wanted to see how he was with other people. I had felt him out about having dinner with a couple of my friends, and he was open to the idea, so I scheduled it for the weekend following his trip out of town to see his stepdaughter and grandchildren. I invited a longtime friend, Patty Wheeler, and her boyfriend, Bob Stone. That Bob had once been a kayaker would be a point of connection between the two men.

The dinner was animated and fun. If I’d had any concerns about Derek’s ability to interact with my friends, they were jettisoned as I watched him converse with Patty and Bob. Derek held his own well.

Once Patty and Bob left, Derek and I retreated to the journey room for my reading of the journey and his confession about his vulnerability. He closed his eyes, appearing to be listening intently, as I read the journey. For him it was like the reading of a good story. He had not quite sorted out what he thought about my shamanic work, but when I had first told him I was going to journey and that it had to do with him, at least in part, his unfiltered from-brain-to-mouth reply had been that if he did a journey, his question would be about why he felt like such a teenager when he was around me. I had even offered to facilitate a journey for him so he could understand what it was all about, and he had not only been open, he had conjectured that he might need do have me do that to understand what it meant to journey.

But this was my journey, and he had played a part in it. He had nothing specific to say about it once I finished reading the journey to him, and I suspected he was trying to wrap his brain around it. He liked to figure things out, but shamanic journeys often defy left-brained attempts at figuring them out, even one like this, which was fairly straightforward.

As we snuggled on the journey room couch, I asked about the vulnerability he had referred to. What he told me spoke to whether or not he was through enough of the grieving process related to his wife’s death to actually be in a relationship with a woman. He had already told me about one woman he had dated since his wife’s death, and now he talked about another. They had date a couple of months During that time, he felt great about her and the relationship when he was with her, but when he was alone, he found himself struggling with the idea of dating at all. He had felt he should not be in relationship, that he should be alone, and agonized over it. He finally ended it with a note to her, presumably an e-mail, though I didn’t ask.

He still felt vulnerable to the possibility that this would happen again, but he was quick to say that he did not feel that way with me.

I muttered something about the lameness of his having sent her a note instead of talking to her, and he did not disagree, but it seemed he had only been able to do it at arm’s length at that time.

When I had first learned that he was only a year and a half past his wife’s death, I had been concerned that it was too soon for him to be in a serious relationship again, even though his stated desire on the dating site had been for a serious relationship. I knew that a person’s readiness for relationship after the death of a spouse was a highly individual thing, but I also knew that when a man had loved his wife as much as Derek seemed to have loved his, it might take quite a while before he was ready to move on. He had been a bit vague about the timing of the relationship he had ended by note, but it had been some months before he and I met.

I was happy that we were close enough for him to open up about this, but I also wondered if he was really ready for a relationship with any woman . . . let alone me.


Note: The name Derek is fictitious and has been used out of respect for the man involved.


Copyright 2016 by Melanie Mulhall

Staying on the Old Road, Part 1

April 28, 2013

If you should not leave the old road for a new one, does that mean you need to spend years in therapy rehashing your past? And do we really spend the first half of our lives becoming dysfunctional? What do I mean when I use the word “dysfunctional” anyway?

The three blog posts on not leaving the old road for a new one elicited comments and questions, some on the blog, others on my Facebook page (to which I copy my blogs), and still others in e-mails and conversations. One reader asked if “dysfunctional” was the correct word to use. She suggested that you live your life and realize at some point that it isn’t working quite the way you planned. You may even feel as if your life is falling apart. You build a road with the wrong materials, keep adding to it with the wrong materials, and even go back and repair potholes with the wrong materials.

Are “the wrong materials” the equivalent of “dysfunctional”? Well, I believe we build the road with the materials we have on hand. And those materials on hand include everything that has gone into making us who we are. We develop strategies to help us navigate our way through life. And some of those strategies become barriers between the persona we create for ourselves and our authentic selves. And that, in my vernacular, is dysfunctional.

If our future becomes our past unless we do something other than keep repeating it, why aren’t a few years in therapy a good idea? They may be for you. My attitude is this: whatever works. But my preferences are clear, based on how I’ve lived my own life. I’m educated in the field of psychology. I have respect for it. I even worked as a therapist for a while during and after graduate school. But I found my way to shamanism and stayed there because I found it a more useful approach . . . for me.

The work of becoming a shaman is very much about working your way back to your authentic self by staying on the road you arrived at to “here” rather than simply leaving the old road for a new one. It is the work of courageously facing yourself as you are, accepting it, healing whatever needs to be healed within you, and making a choice to live a life of integrity—and by “integrity” I mean the kind of completeness you achieve with harmony of mind, body, spirit, and emotions. As it happens, that kind of harmony seems to support “integrity” as most people think of it—a fundamental incorruptibleness.

We so effectively keep ourselves wrapped in the comfortable cloak of our persona that it takes serious excavation to face ourselves as we are. And if you go looking for something buried somewhere other than where you buried it, what do you suppose your chances of finding it are? Exactly. So you stay on the old road.

I’m not going to delve into shamanic practices like recapitulation here. At least, not yet. It’s helpful, I think, to take a look at how we construct a road that takes us away from our authentic selves in the first place. And to do that, I’m going to borrow a concept from Buddhism as I, a non-Buddhist, have come to understand it: the cocoon.

To be continued.

Copyright 2013 by Melanie Mulhall

How Others Responded, Part 2

July 22, 2012

“Counseling wisdom is that it takes five years for life to start feeling normal again after the loss of a spouse,” a woman I knew said.

How do you respond to a statement like that? My husband had been gone for more than fourteen months at the time. Her statement was not unlike a curse. It came hurtling across the internet and into my email inbox as a prison sentence she seemed bent on imposing: three years and ten months more before you will be okay.

But I already felt okay. I’d experienced an energetic shift at the anniversary of Howard’s death. There were still moments of sadness (as there always are in life), but I was back. The concept of “normal” seemed ridiculous to me, not simply because I’d never aligned with statistics for the “normal” person, but because what normal is changes with major life events. Including the death of a spouse.

Actually, there was something more to her pronouncement than a sentence. It felt like a judgment, a way of saying, “Don’t try to fool yourself. You’re in denial and you’re suppressing grief if you think you’re okay. I’m a member of the psychology community. I know better than you.”

Of course, I’m overeducated in the field of psychology, with two degrees in it. Psychological generalizations and labels had been among the things that had disenchanted me with psychology. Too much of the field seemed divorced from the “psyche” in psychology—the soul of it. When I became a shaman, I realized that while I couldn’t deny the impact of psychology on my thinking and life, it was shamanism that spoke to the soul-based way I lived.

That woman’s reaction was a bit more blatant that others after my husband’s death, but it was one of the classic reactions I got: Know that you will be devastated for a long time. In fact, you may never get over it. There were four other reactions: Discomfort over the death; heartfelt sympathy for my loss; surprise that I wasn’t over it yet; and, genuine acceptance of however I was dealing with it. It was a relief to be with people who were grounded in that last response and could radiate it. These four basic reactions remained the fundamental reactions I got from people throughout the first eighteen months after my husband’s death.

Many people expressed heartfelt sympathy when they first heard of Howard’s death, and they expressed it again when they were face-to-face with me. A few people avoided me. A few rallied to support me. But over time, it seemed to me that the fundamental mindset that a person had about life and death came oozing out when I responded to their question, “How are you doing?” Some people seemed permanently fixated on the pain of loss. The woman who pronounced that it would be five years before I felt normal again appeared to me to be one of those. Others projected a kind of fearlessness about life, an understanding that tragedy happens, but life wins out for the survivors of death—if they let it. Maybe because I fall into that latter category, I appreciated that reaction from others most.

It wasn’t that this latter group pushed me to be perfectly fine when I wasn’t. On the contrary, as a whole, they were better at assessing exactly how I was feeling and accepting it more than others. More than anything, they didn’t lay a judgment on me about how I “should” be responding to the death. Their response to my response allowed me to relax into exactly who I was when I was with them.

If there is something to be learned from all of this, for me, it is that we cannot really make assumptions about how anyone will handle the death of a spouse. And the person who has experienced the death cannot make assumptions about how others will respond to them, as survivor, or to the fact of the death.

So what can any of us do for another when they lose a loved one? We can bother to pay attention to how they are and what they need—reading it in what they say, what they don’t say, and what they project—instead of making assumptions. And we can send them waves of love, from our heart to theirs. Does anything else really matter, anyway?

Copyright 2012 by Melanie Mulhall

Cheating Death One More Time

November 18, 2011

If Howard wanted to be the inconspicuous recipient of a blood transfusion, collapsing at the hospital entrance was not the way to do it. The medical staff crowded around him like a pack of vampires on a warm body. I could do little to help. He was already annoyed with himself and with them. I did not want to say or do anything to make matters worse. I stood back while they attended to him, wondering what the split in their attention was between fulfilling the Hippocratic Oath versus mitigating hospital liability.

He was taken to the emergency room, as opposed to the ambulatory care unit where he was to receive his transfusion. We were in for a long day. There is irony in coupling the word “emergency” with that particular unit in a hospital because there seems to be little urgency to the treatment received there. But on this day, the emergency room was bustling. On our way to the hospital, we had passed a serious looking accident, not half a mile from the medical center. If you’re going to have an accident, being close to a hospital is genius. By the time Howard was ensconced in a treatment room, the human wreckage had arrived at the hospital.

Still, they were living up to my expectations, at least as far as my husband was concerned. He was not a priority and we were mostly left alone for long periods of time. Ultimately, the medical staff wanted to admit him and keep him tucked away in a room at least overnight, thereby providing me with an opportunity to demonstrate that I could be trusted on the “no ambulances, no hospitals” pledge. He and I were a united front: no admission.

Hours—and endless frustration—later, he was placed in a private room in the ambulatory care unit and they were beginning preparations for his transfusion. Even as an outpatient, he was going to be there all night. The transfusion would take that long, not only because they were going to give him four units of blood, but because he had to be given saline infusions after each unit of blood. This would, of course, put a demand on his already overworked urinary track. Fortunately, there was a bathroom right outside his room. Unfortunately, he was hooked up to a monitor because of the earlier incident. In theory, that meant he would need to buzz an attendant every time he needed to go to the bathroom. In practice, I knew he would simply rip the sensors off, thereby setting off alarms, and struggle unassisted to the bathroom.

It didn’t take him long to prove me right. It was not only going to be a long night for Howard, but also for the ambulatory care unit staff. After helping him order some food, I made my escape. My presence all night would be of no help, and I was not keen to be an observer to the paces he was going to put the staff through. It had been morning when we made our way to the cancer clinic and it was now past sundown.

In a moment of stress induced practicality, it occurred to me that I should make a stop at Gretchen Minney’s house on the way home. She had some of my canning jars and I needed to collect them. I called to see if she was home. She was. I told her I would swing by to get the jars on my way home from the hospital. Hospital—the magic word. That was all I needed to say. By the time I reached her house, she had a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a bottle of champagne waiting for me, along with an open heart and a willing ear.

Every once in a while, a friend not only proves herself, but demonstrates her keen understanding of your precise needs. Even the best of friends do not often manage that, but this was one of those moments. It had taken me ten minutes or so to get from the hospital to her house, yet all was waiting for me when I arrived.

Awards are given for all manner of heroic acts, but never for an act like this. How would it be submitted? How could it be described? I couldn’t say that she had saved my life. Technically, she did not save my life that night. But I would argue that a glass of champagne, some nibbles, and the simple act of bearing witness to a story of crisis are highly underrated as life saving measures.

I was gravely worried and with good reason. When I brought my husband home the next morning, he went to bed immediately and slept most of the day. The following day, which happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, he was no better. In the past, transfusions had perked him up and brought color back to him. This transfusion had done neither.

That night, he was uncomfortable to the point of admitting it. His entire body was rebelling and in pain. Breathing was especially painful. He had been prescribed Ambien to help him sleep and oxycodone for pain, but had taken little of either. Now he asked me to bring him both. My husband, the stoic, was moaning and I found it unsettling. I couldn’t imagine how bad it had to be for him to be moaning. This was the man whose pain measurement was based on the level of pain provided by a gunshot wound. I gave him the requested medications, climbed into bed with him, and held him. After an hour, he felt no better and he looked scared.

I knew I needed to act and I knew whatever actions I took would be further demonstration—or the lack of it—that I could be trusted to follow his wishes. I asked if he wanted an ambulance. He was adamant that he did not. I had to honor that, but I also had to do something. I told him I was going to call Antonio. He fought against it, wanting no one to come, but it was either an ambulance or Antonio.

Antonio, the shaman to whom I had been apprenticed, was not only a shaman, but a nurse. He had urged me, over the last few months, to call him—night or day—if I needed his help with Howard. It was after 11:00 p.m. and I was ready to take him up on his offer. I called to find that he was still awake. I explained the situation and I think he must have been getting his clothes on, preparing to leave, before he hung up. I knew, from years of driving between my house and his, that it was a thirty-five minute drive. He arrived a good ten minutes earlier than it should have taken him. He had clearly ignored the posted speed limits all along the way.

I crept into Howard’s room to tell him that Antonio was with me. Howard was delirious and nearly incoherent. He muttered, “No, no. I’m asleep. I’m asleep,” thinking, in his confusion, that I had called an ambulance. I explained that it was Antonio, no one else, and that he had come to see if he could help.

I had never witnessed Antonio’s work as a nurse and was stunned by his ability to gain Howard’s compliance and trust with little more than a few well chosen, calm words. Well . . . that and summoning up the kind of energetic power few but those of us who practice shamanism can muster. He took Howard’s vitals. Blood pressure: 60/40. Pulse: forty beets per minute. Respirations: almost undetectable.

Antonio met me outside the room and told me it was unlikely Howard would make it through the night. In fact, he thought Howard would pass very soon. We sat, side by side, on the cedar chest at the foot of my bed in the master bedroom. And we waited. I had some Jameson’s I’d bought to make hot toddies with and I got each of us a slug of it. He might not have needed it, but I did. Years of treatment and months of declining health had skidded, abruptly, to a stop early Thanksgiving morning.

But after an hour, Howard was still among the living. Weak vitals, but still alive. Antonio went home, expecting that the next call from me would be the call to say that Howard had passed. He had no sooner left than the moaning began again. I called his cell and asked what to do. He suggested I give Howard another small bit of medication.

Sunrise found me exhausted and anxious . . . and my husband still alive. Thanksgiving Day. It was not clear to me if I should be grateful that Howard was still alive—my immediate instinct—or sorry he hadn’t passed during the night. And there was no way to know if he would make it through Thanksgiving Day.

What I did was so predictably Melanie-in-survival-mode that I saw it for what it was, even then. While Howard remained semi-conscious, at most, I made stuffing, baked the twenty-two pound turkey, and otherwise carried on as if there would be someone other than me to eat Thanksgiving dinner. And I gave thanks for everything good and true in the world.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall


May 30, 2011

My husband’s faith in allopathic medicine was approximately as robust as my disdain of it. I’d had a handful of horrific experiences with doctors and I’d had good experiences with alternative practices. Coupled with my shamanic worldview, that made a holistic way of looking at well-being natural for me.

I had long been passionate about wellness, favoring it over going to seed, becoming ill, and needing remedial measures. Maintaining wellness was, in my mind, necessary for the full contact living I preferred. That meant getting enough sleep, eating well, meditating, working out regularly, and otherwise doing whatever it took to give me abundant energy, vigor, and a strong immune system so I could take on everything life had to offer.

Wellness practices were, at best, an afterthought for Howard. He ate well to the extent that he was eating what I cooked for him and, fortunately, he loved my cooking. But left to his own devices . . . well, if good nutrition was in the mix, it was only there by accident.

We had very different ways of looking at wellness. I was proactive and enthusiastic about it. He was reactive and laid-back. A brilliant thinker, he just brought his body along for the ride. And I was willing to go along for the ride because I loved him.

He stayed in his head and out of his body and it never seemed to occur to him that the prostate cancer might return and metastasize. When he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992, he had placed his faith in the urologist. It was his body and his choice. When the prostate cancer returned and metastasized, he again put his faith in what doctors had to say. Again, it was his choice. My job was to support his choices.

More than once during his illness, friends and acquaintances asked whether I was employing energy medicine techniques with him. The assumption always seemed to be that I would pull some tools out of my bag and work on him—with or without his knowledge. It was a poor assumption. I had been impeccable about receiving permission before doing any kind of energy work on anyone and was not about to change my approach with him. But I never actually sought permission because I was told by guidance during meditation to stay out it. And it was given to me as bluntly as that. Stay out of it. I could give him my support and I could direct the energy of love towards him. That was it. No energy healing techniques. No pressing him to try alternative healing modalities. Support and love. Period. I chose to accept that guidance.

It must be said that I can be opinionated and downright pushy on important matters. Most of my controlling behavior had always been directed at myself, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be forceful in fiddling with the lives of those I loved. In this instance, though, I was strangely at peace with the admonition to stay out of it. I sensed that this was an unfolding of events agreed to before we’d ever met, before we’d even entered our human bodies. I didn’t like the diagnosis but I somehow knew that this was Howard’s heroic journey, and while I was lucky enough to be his companion along the way, he was the one choosing the path and he was the one choosing whenever there was a fork in the road.

So Howard began treatment. His doctors threw hormone therapy and chemotherapy at the cancer. They checked his PSA on a regular basis and periodically did bone scans, CT scans, and other tests to see what was happening with the disease. For years, bone scans had shown nothing, despite troubling PSA seven or eight years following his prostatectomy. He’d been put on hormone therapy to address those concerns.

When cancer did show up in the bones, it was in his spine, ribs, arms, legs, and skull—typical for metastasized prostate cancer, as I eventually came to understand from my research, but alarming when nothing has shown up in scans until cancer shows up everywhere in the bones.

That bone scan was the only one that ever definitively showed cancer in the bones. The doctors had trouble finding anything in scans from that point on. But when prostate cancer metastasizes to the bones, it forms osteoblasts, which essentially harden the bone. That seemed to make it more difficult to see in a scan. The PSA was, for a long time, the one test that gave some indication of whether the treatment de jour was working. And when one treatment failed to lower the PSA from bouncing-off-the-wall-alarming to just alarming or stopped impacting it much at all, another chemical cocktail was introduced.

Between early 2007 and late 2010, Howard burned through every kind of treatment his doctors at the urology center could throw at the cancer. And then he was referred to an oncologist at a cancer treatment center. They threw more drugs at the cancer, ultimately gaining Howard’s agreement to try experimental drugs.

Through all of this, he maintained good humor. Through most of it, he seemed to believe that allopathic medicine would hold the cancer at bay. I wasn’t so sure. I did a fair amount of research online. Nothing suggested that any treatment was curative. At best, the cancer could be held at bay a little longer. But the word palliative was used over and over. The treatment of metastatic prostate cancer was, essentially, palliative in nature and nothing from Lupron to Casodex to docetaxel to Zometa was going to save him. He chose to believe—until the last weeks of his life—that he was going to beat the cancer and eventually die of something else.

I chose not to tell him what I’d learned in my research.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall

Death Ceremony

March 28, 2011

He wasn’t leaving. Always a man who lived by his own rules and always a warrior, he had been thumbing his nose at death for almost four years. It seemed that he was not about to change his modus operandi now, even though he was nearing the end of the dying process.

But he was more shell than human at this point and all I could do was attend to his needs . . . and love him. I had promised no ambulances and no hospitals, and I had, thus far, fulfilled that promise. He was at home, where he wanted to be, and I was happy for both of us that he was. And now it was a death watch.

I’d called my sister in Illinois two days earlier saying, “I give up. Come on out.” She had offered to come to help and was able to do so because the month of December was a slow time for her business as a lobbyist. Until then, I’d managed to carry on with a little help from hospice and a little help from Antonio, the shaman I had once been apprenticed to, who also happened to be a nurse. But after calling hospice for help on Christmas night and after finally surrendering to having a hospital bed—something Howard had refused but which could not be avoided now that he was barely conscious—I surrendered a bit further and asked my sister for help. I was pretty sure she had no idea what she was in for, even though I’d warned her. She was on her way and would arrive within hours.

Antonio had awakened that morning thinking, I have to go to Melanie’s house. There was a sense of urgency to it. He packed up his shamanic tools of the trade, called me to make sure it was okay for him to come, and drove over. His wife Helena was with him and it was a relief to see both of them.

During the long days and nights of what I knew would be Howard’s final moments on Earth, I’d just kept doing what needed to be done, seldom thinking about the fact that I was managing alone. Hospice had been coming every few days for the past month and I was extremely thankful for that, but apart from those visits, I’d been managing on my own. Except for the emergencies. I’d called Antonio more than once when Howard had gotten himself into a fix he couldn’t get himself out of because he kept insisting on doing things he could no longer do, like walk from one room to another.

Now, just having their calm strength with me, I realized that I was more than just a little frayed around the edges. I was beginning to unravel a bit. It hadn’t occurred to me to do shamanic ceremony because Howard shared neither my beliefs nor practices when it came to shamanism. But Antonio had come to do ceremony and not only did it feel fitting and respectful of Howard in that moment, I slowly grasped the fact that my spirit was calling out to me to do ceremony.

Because of Antonio’s support during emergencies, Howard had become comfortable with his presence. In fact, he had come to trust Antonio’s professional assistance more than anyone else’s. But he wasn’t used to having Helena see him so vulnerable and even though he was only marginally conscious, I wanted to honor that, so I asked Helena to wait in the living room while Antonio went in to see Howard. Antonio set up a small altar on the guest room bed that had been abandoned for the past couple of days because Howard had been moved to a hospital bed. I asked him not to use smudge—something that would ordinarily be a part of any ceremony either of us did—because Howard had never been fond of it. So Antonio moved the energy around my husband using only his intent and his feather fan.

Standing at the doorway, I watched as Antonio went to Howard, bent over him, and spoke words that only another man—and only another warrior—could say with any authority. He told Howard that there was a time for fighting and a time to put down one’s arms. He said that Howard could stop fighting now and come to rest. There would be new causes to take up on the other side. I came closer, but Antonio asked for some time alone with Howard and I deferred to him.

I joined Helena in the living room, saw Howard’s Native American flute on the bookshelf, and decided, rather spontaneously, to give it to Helena. Helena played the Native American flute and was, in fact, the only person close to me who did. She was the appropriate person to have it and I knew that Howard would approve. For some reason, it seemed important for her to have it now, not after Howard was gone, so I presented it to her.

And then I realized that Helena was meant to take part in the ceremony. When I returned to the bedroom, I discovered that Antonio had come to the same conclusion at the same time. We called Helena to join us. No ceremony had been planned and there was no real discussion now about what we would do—apart from my new staff playing a role.

I had given Antonio the staff almost two years earlier because I had been told, in meditation, that this was to be the staff I would use in my sixties and that I should give it to Antonio to paint or carve. Time had passed and I had feared I would never see the staff again. Unbeknownst to me, Antonio had, of late, felt compelled to finish the work on it. Only now did he understand why. He’d brought it with him and handed it to me saying that I was to use it for the first time in this ceremony for Howard. I’d had little time to even examine it, but could see that he had painted three small dragons on it, had embedded some stones in the wood, and had decorated it with feathers. It was a beautiful and suitable tool.

I brought the staff with me into the room and felt called to stand at Howard’s head. I set the staff against the wall behind me and could feel it grounding my energy. Antonio stood at Howard’s feet and Helena was to his left. She began to play the flute softly as I bent over my husband, placing one hand on his third eye and the other on his crown chakra. I closed my eyes and . . .

I was immediately in an altered state of consciousness. I found myself on a path, walking with Howard. “You have to go into the light,” I said to him, “and I can’t go with you.” He said nothing as we continued down the path. Then, in front of us, I saw it. Light. A wall of light. A portal comprised of pure, bright light. I pointed to it and told him, “There. There’s the light. That is where you must go.” We came to a stop in front of the light portal and he turned to me. I looked up at him and encouraged him to step into the light, and as I did, he transformed into the man I had known twenty-five years earlier. He was vital and full of life. He swept me up, embraced me, kissed me soundly, and put me back down. “I’m sorry, I can’t go with you,” I said and turned to walk away.

He kept his eyes on me, instead of on the wall of light, and I didn’t get far before stopping because I realized that we still had many, many cords between us, connecting us. They all collapsed in my arms the moment I touched one. An armful of energy, no longer linking us. I tossed them to the side of the path on my left, lifted a hand over them, and watched them burst into flames. Howard looked from me to the burning cords and back again.

With love for him spilling from me—but purer and clearer than it had ever been, now that the cords were gone—I returned his gaze and said, “Don’t they make a beautiful fire?” And with those words came a rush of compassion. For him. For me. For everyone who had ever lived. For everyone who had ever loved.

I turned from him, not wanting to, but knowing that we now had separate paths. I walked back down the path and found myself back in my body. I opened my eyes, looked up at Antonio and Helena, and looked back down at my husband. The self that had walked that path with Howard had known what the self back in the room had not: Howard wasn’t going to leave until I personally walked him to the light . . . and left him there. It had never occurred to me that this would the case. My husband was strong and independent. He didn’t need me to help him leave this life . . . or, perhaps, he did.

Later, after I told Antonio and Helena what I had experienced, Helena gave her own accounting of events.

“After so many years, I’ve come to realize that when you guys [shamans] are doing ceremony, I need to pay careful attention. There’s no telling what might happen. So I watched Antonio, I watched you, and I watched Howard. At one point, when you were bent over him with your eyes closed, his feet began to move. Not just restless moving. They were moving . . . as if he were walking.”

Of course. He’d been with me, walking down that path.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall

The Sun Shines On

February 28, 2011

“How do you feel?” Jorge Luis Delgado asked me as we sat together on the bus that would take us back to the hotel.

It had been a long day. The Solar Disc Activation ceremonies were over. We had made our good-byes to our host families, boarded our boats, spent the next three or four hours in happy chatter as we sailed back to shore, and made a memorable stop at one of the floating islands. Now we were headed back to the hotel for dinner and celebration.

“You know,” I replied, “I guess I must be tired, but mostly what I feel is . . . just . . . good.”

It was all I could say, really. There weren’t words for how I felt, which seemed almost ridiculous for a woman who is a professional writer and editor. But there it was. No words. Only delicious peace and internal glow.

“Do you know why that is?” he asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“When we work with our hearts open, we do not get so fatigued,” he replied.

I knew he was right. His words washed over me and settled into my bones as truth. I thought about the shamanic work I did with clients. I often did journey work with clients on Friday evenings, after having gotten up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. We wouldn’t finish until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. sometimes, yet I would come away from the work high as a kite. I’d always found it curious, but I’d never tried to explain it to myself, other than assuming it was the result of doing the work and seeing its impact on the client. But he was right. I was not only fully present with my client during the work on such nights, my heart was always wide open.

The same was true for the shamanic clearing work on houses and the spiritual coaching. As I reflected on his words, I saw that it was also true with the writing coaching, editing, and other work I did. When my heart was open, the work didn’t deplete me. Yes, body and mind needed some rest at the end of a long day, but it was more like adding juice to a battery that still had plenty of charge to it than trying to recharge a dead battery.

I recalled my days in corporate America. I’d held management positions that required ten to twelve hour days, demanded broad expertise, and provided endless helpings of stress. I was good at what I did and I always strived to serve the greater good. But it depleted me and I was never at my best when overwhelmed by stress. I’ve no doubt that more than one person who reported to me in those days would be able to attest to my being a pretty demanding boss.

When I left the corporate world, I realized—not immediately, but after a time—that no amount of money and no promotion would have provided what I sought and staying in that world would likely have eventually killed me. It had never been an environment in which I could work with an open heart, at least not for long. In fact, the more open my heart had become in that world, the more problematic that world was for me and the more problematic I was for whomever I reported to.

One of the most telling experiences I had in the corporate world happened months before I left the last company I would work at for any length of time. It was 7:00 p.m. or so. Everyone had left but the President, the Vice-President of Client Services, and me. The V-P of Client Services and I were sitting in the lobby, talking through some issue. The President came out and joined in the discussion. At some point, one of them presented a scenario and asked me what I would think about it if it was offered up. My heart bypassing my brain, I told the truth, instead of what was politically correct.

“I guess I’d ask what love would have me do next,” I replied.

The V-P of Client Services, a good friend as well trusted colleague, looked at me quizzically for a moment and then said, “Oh, I get it. It’s like, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

The President? He looked from one to the other of us and said nothing. But the look on his face said it all. We were nuts as far as he was concerned. I might as well have suggested that we consult the tarot or pull in an astrologer or even call up Warren Buffet for advice. My spontaneous comment was way too heart-centered. I couldn’t be trusted.

Of course, he already suspected that of me. I was gone after a time and my colleague was gone a while later. We weren’t calculating enough and we couldn’t be trusted to sacrifice people—including ourselves—for the sake of his agenda. We were toast.

Sitting next to Jorge Luis Delgado on a bus driving from Puno, Peru to our hotel in Chucuito, I realized that I wouldn’t have changed anything in my life. Everything had led me to a life and a body of work that allowed and even required an open heart. In that moment, sitting next to Jorge Luis, I was in a state of grace and no words were needed between us. We sat in peaceful silence. The sun had set . . . but it was still shining within.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall