In my Agricultural Systems Thinking class we were talking about the concept of holarchy. This idea suggests that a farm, a business or a person is a “holon”, that is a unique system in itself.
At the same time, a holon (farm, business or human being) is also part of a larger system (holon) and is composed of smaller systems (holons).
A holarchy is a nested hierarchy of holons, where a holon is both a part and a whole. The key relationship in a holarchy is that “we look out for purpose and in for function.” That is the holon represented by a “word” in the diagram below looks “within” (letter) for its function. And the holon “word” finds its purpose in serving the next holon (the sentence).
This also works for biological and social systems. So, the individual human might find purpose at the next larger level (family, community etc.) and function within (heart, liver, lungs etc.).
To help us understand this in another way, Michael Dowd claims that we are all “stories within stories.”
On Saturday, October 4, 2020, my family and I passed the urn holding Phyl’s ashes around and then placed it in the ground. We dropped flowers around the urn and said goodbye to her physical form but we hold her spirit in our minds and hearts.
Phyl and I had decided upon Wildwood Cemetery many years earlier as it is a beautiful location and right across the street from the school where Phyl worked for 10 years.
We invited 50 of our closest friends and family members who lived in New England or New York to join us. The state COVID regulations restricted outdoor events to no more than 50 and anyone from outside of our region had to quarantine for two weeks, so were prevented from joining us. While we were sad that we had to put limits on participation, we wanted to try to provide an environment where people were safe.
It’s September in Western Massachusetts, the time of asters and goldenrod. Have you noticed that the purple flowering aster and the yellow flowering goldenrod seem to find each other in the meadow? Do they choose to grow together or it is just that we notice them when they are close because they look so beautiful together?
Robin Wall Kimmerer asked this question in a chapter from her best selling book, Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants.
As it happens, I was listening to this chapter as I rode my bike to the Buddhist Peace Pagoda in Leverett, MA (up a serious hill). Having arrived at the pagoda grounds, I sat for a while to rest before heading back downhill. I took the following picture to send to my family to prove to them I had made it up the hill (which they all knew well).
While listening to Dr. Kimmerer explain why the purple asters and yellow flowering goldenrod grew side by side, I noticed that all of the purple flags on the string of Buddhist prayer flags blowing in the wind were placed next to yellow flags. All of them!
Chapter 14 in: Toward a Meaningful Life – The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Schneerson by Simon Jacobson
And the living shall take to heart.
The soul never dies.
WHAT DOES DEATH REALLY MEAN?
Death: The very word strikes fear in people’s hearts. They consider death as unfathomable as it is inevitable. They are barely able to talk about it, to peer beyond the word itself and allow themselves to contemplate its true implications. This is an understandable reaction, given the fact that so many people think of life as nothing more than a state in which the human body is biologically active. But we must ask ourselves: What happens after death, if anything? What does death really mean? How should the surviving loved ones react?
The mystery of death is part of the enigma of the soul and of life itself; understanding death really means understanding life. During life as we know it, the body is vitalized by the soul; upon death, there is a separation between body and soul. But the soul continues to live on as it always has, now unfettered by the physical constraints of the body. And since a person’s true character—his goodness, virtue, and selflessness—lies in the soul, he will ascend to a higher state after fulfilling his responsibilities on earth.
Perhaps you have heard about the Governor of Massachusetts’ new COVID rules, but if not…. well, they seriously buggered up our plans for the ALS Walk-a-Thon scheduled for Saturday, October 3. The new rule is a limit of no more than 50 people for an outdoor event. We had more like 100 people hoping to attend this fundraiser, celebration, and walk for Phyl’s ALS team, Phyl-in-Tropics in October. Frankly, I was getting nervous about this event and the new rules made our decision for us.
I’ve decided to record my thinking from time to time as a way to both clarify my own thoughts and create a record of where I’m at now that Phyl is gone. I recorded some thoughts “after two weeks” and this new one is “after two months.” I know that you all are grieving Phyl’s absence too, so I hope this isn’t just an unwanted reminder of something you’d prefer not to think about. If so, stop reading…
August 15, 2020 – two months after Phyl’s death – how am I doing?
I know that I’m one of the lucky ones. I had someone who loved me for more than 50 years. It seems like a lifetime and it was (almost)… for Phyl. We met when she was 15 years old and she died when she was 66. She wasn’t ready to leave me. She told me so. The day we were driving home from our second neurology appointment, the one that confirmed she did indeed have ALS, she asked me to pull off the road. She cried…. “I don’t want to leave you John. I’m not ready. We were supposed to get old together.” We both cried for a while and then I drove home.
John Philip Newell, the author of Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, is one of the most prominent Christian teachers of spirituality in the Western world.
Formerly Warden of Iona Abbey in the Western Isles of Scotland, he now divides his time between Edinburgh, where he does most of his writing, and teaching on both sides of the Atlantic as well as leading international pilgrimage weeks on Iona. He is the co-founder of Heartbeat: A Journey Towards Earth’s Wellbeing (www.heartbeatjourney.org), established to expand sacred vision, deepen spiritual practice, nurture reflective community, and enable action for change.
The following is a talk he gave in Hartford, CT last year that I hoped to attend but could not while I was caring for Phyl. Fortunately, it became available on You Tube. I’ve linked a slightly edited (shorter) version here (click on the picture) as well as an audio-only file (since it is simply a “talking head” in video form).
Phyl transitioned to the spiritual realm on June 15, 2020, after dealing with the symptoms of ALS for about 5 years. After two years of trying to figure out what was causing the symptoms of weakened muscles, she was diagnosed on March 15, 2017. For the past three years, Phyl asked me to keep her friends and family informed about the progress of her disease and our efforts to “live well with ALS” as she called it. The following is a record of my email messages and blog posts which were password protected up until now (Phyl didn’t want to read these posts). I’ve added some photographs. The links below provide a record of her courage and her resilience in dealing with what is always Continue reading Our Journey with ALS→
Everything looks the same – and nothing feels the same. My wife has died. The center of our family has been ripped out leaving the rest of us to hold onto each other, still alive – but without our heart. Nothing makes much sense in my world without Phyl. The searing pain appears unexpected from time to time, and then fades back into a dull ache. And the worst part is that the world seems to look sort of normal. But nothing feels normal. Nothing feels right. Everything has changed…
I read somewhere that the first two weeks after the loss of a spouse was the “easy part” since there are so many things to do, visitors, cards, practical arrangements, and just plain “busyness.” I’m not sure it was “easy” but I can attest to the “busy” part. Family and friends have been keeping me company while I try to navigate the early days of grieving. Here is a brief update….