I recently attended the memorial service of a friend who was loved and respected by many. Ron was a conscious husband and father who contributed a great deal of his skill, time and money to community service. Ron was also highly dedicated to his spiritual path, and he strove to live with clarity and joy. He moved through the process of his passing with extraordinary consciousness and remembrance of the presence of God.
Ron’s memorial service reflected his positive nature. Before a large crowd, friends and co-workers spoke with deep appreciation for the gifts Ron had brought to them personally and to the world. While tears flowed and we all expressed our sense of loss at Ron’s transition, the service was truly a celebration of Ron’s life. As speaker after speaker recounted fond memories of Ron, the audience rose in love, gratitude filled the room, and moments of laughter lightened our hearts.
The service concluded with a song of Ron’s choice, "Joy to the World" (the Three Dog Night version: "Jeremiah was a bullfrog…"). As we exited the hall afterward, I felt warm and inspired, as if I had been to a spiritual workshop. Along the way I encountered a friend who had just gone through surgery. She told me, "I haven’t been feeling well and I wasn’t going to come. But I loved Ron and I wanted to honor him." She thought for a moment and noted, "Strange as this sounds, I feel a lot better now than when I walked in. The love in the room and all the stories of Ron’s life have inspired me to be happy and get back into community service."
As I considered my friend’s words and observed the serene demeanor of the other participants, I realized that the general effect of the memorial service was one of healing. While we all felt a certain grief over our friend’s departure, the experience of the event was the one that Ron would have wanted us to have – soul-nurturing and, in an unexpected way, joyful. So even a funeral can be healing if we approach it with that intention.
There are two dimensions of life that we all live simultaneously: the material and the spiritual dimensions, or, in other languaging, the horizontal and the vertical. The horizontal dimension plays out in time and space – our journey from birth to death and all the stories and experiences we gather along the way. The vertical or spiritual dimension lives not in the outer story, but what is going on in our heart or soul. We all know people who appear to be doing well horizontally – good-looking, well-paying job, perfect marriage – but are dying inside. We also know people who do not have a lot of the stuff that the horizontal dimension tells us is valuable, but they are soaring spiritually. (Certainly, we can be doing well simultaneously, horizontally and vertically.) Yet the foundation of the spiritual path is clear: The only true measure of success is joy.
A Course in Miracles tells us, "Some of your greatest advances you have judged as failures, and some of your deepest retreats you have evaluated as success." You can generate achievements that feed your ego, but starve your soul. You can also make errors or perceive losses, but when you reconsider them in the light of love, you pivot on them and turn them into spiritual successes. As a philosopher noted, "Disappointments are the hooks upon which God hangs His victories."
Consider a challenge you may now perceive – a financial struggle, relationship issue or health problem. If you regard these matters as troubles or you feel smaller than them, that is what they will become. Yet with but a slight shift in perspective, they become opportunities to shine.
While doing research for my book, Happily Even After: Can You be Friends after Lovers? I interviewed a number of couples who had found ways to harmonize and support each other after a breakup or divorce. One of the most illuminating stories came from a now-married couple who reported that at their wedding they named and thanked their former marriage and relationship partners. Rather than cursing or forgetting them, they honored those partners and relationships for the contribution they made to the joy and growth of the two people who were now standing at the altar.
"Those relationships helped us develop the love and strength that we now have to offer each other," they reported.
Behold a masterful reframe on past relationships. While many people speak of their "wasbands" or "past-wife experiences" with regret or criticism, how refreshing to hear a couple celebrate their past relationships as important steppingstones to relationship success!
In a way, the ending of a relationship, marriage, friendship, job, or any change of direction in life, is like a death – something has ended and something new is beginning. We can lament what is gone, or celebrate the gifts it brought, with faith that new gifts are in store. Then, like my friend Ron, when you go to heaven, you can take all of your friends with you.