Becoming Our Best Selves

Whatever you decide to be – be a good one.

It seems that everywhere we look right now, mortality is staring back at us. Two rock legends gone in the same week. When the literal  ‘rock stars’  among us succumb to the fates it is a potent reminder to us non-rock star mortals that our day, too, will come.

Unbeknownst to most, another  ‘rock star’ died this week. You have probably never heard his name and I am fairly certain he never recorded any music. He was a ‘rockstar’ in another genre- a pre-eminent teacher, healer, and author in the death and dying field.

His name was Stephen Levine. His books and his teachings are part of the foundation upon which I have built my practice in end of life counseling. Shortly after his death, the final installment of a four year video project called ‘The Couch Talks’  was released. I watched this final  video  and was just awed by the true ‘rock star’ quality of this man who clearly lived his message to the end. It was an absolute thrill to listen to his words, knowing full well that the dying he was speaking of was his own, and being able to clearly see he was not just talking the talk, but was walking the walk.

In my many years of work with those at the end of life, more often than not I have seen people experience regret at the end of their life. The myopic lens that this world straps upon all of  us had won out in their world, and they had realized too late that they did not become who they were meant to be.  Few of us come here to be ‘rock stars’ in the proper sense… but we all come here to be great in our own individual way.  Whether it is as a mother, a teacher, a bartender, or a  hippie – whoever we are and whatever we do, there IS a way to do it greatly… and there is only one thing required of us in order to grasp this gold ring. Don’t let life change who you really are. Hold on to the authentic self that sits quietly within you. There are two things that create the greatest risk to  our authenticity.  The first is having everything- having everything one could ever want and becoming complacent and entitled and uninterested in anything beyond the traps of this world; ego, money, fame, power, pride, etc. And the second, is the feeling that you have nothing and no reason at all to reach, or grow, or give. Being lethargic spiritually because we have it all materially- or being bitter emotionally because life has cheated us of what we wanted- these two things are our greatest risk.

When I watched Stephen Levine and his beautiful wife and fellow teacher Ondrea in this final video, I knew that they had experienced both sides of the fence in their lives…. Being world renown teachers in their hey-day, and then facing the hard realities that age and illness bring. ( I was aware that a few years back there had been a fundraising drive done for them. They were both facing serious illnesses and could no longer work- they had served the dying selflessly for decades and as is the norm in this sort of work, had seen very little income for their efforts.) So watching and listening to these two joyful creatures in this last ‘Couch Talk’ – transparent, wise, eloquent, shaggy, and even a bit fumbly, bumbly – I was moved beyond words.

These are my rock stars- and watching these two souls whose teachings have been a guiding light in my work and in my life, reach their final mile together intact and walking the walk -is just the greatest motivation I could ever have. It makes me want to fight that much harder to not let life strip away who I really am. No matter how good life may get, no matter how bad life may get- I want to hold onto my authentic self. Getting to see Stephen and Ondrea Levine do it is just grist for the mill.

I hope all three rock stars that have recently taken leave, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, and Stephen Levine hook up at one of the  ‘Orientation Sessions’ that get held for the newbies in the great beyond.  And I hope they all know how glad we are that they, and their authenticity, stuck it out in this world- and that we took notice that despite all the good things, and all the pain, and all of the other things that transpired in their lives that we know nothing at all about- that they each managed to be who they came here to be.

How do I know this for sure? Because the world is a better place because they lived….. and that is what it’s all about.