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Life is a gift. Live every day as a thank you note!

Fifteen years ago last week, I nearly died due to a medical accident at the age of 35. The incident left me with a whole new appreciation of the preciousness – and fragility – of life, along with complex feelings of resentment and anger towards the doctor responsible for the mistake (who I felt had robbed me of my wellbeing and energy for my two-year-old daughter and 7-week-old son) and a deep gratitude to the out-of-town surgeon who stepped in hours later to save my life.

The outpatient intervention turned into a 9-day hospital stay, and on the day I came home I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and finding it difficult to climb the many stairs in our Brussels townhouse. The babies went upstairs with their father for the evening bath (usually my ritual), and I sat on the couch staring into space – until the phone rang.

At that time, I was a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor and women would phone for support (no social media in those days!) when they faced challenges in feeding their babies. We had been trained not to answer the phone when we weren’t in a good place to speak, but I picked it up on impulse anyway, as part of the surreal moment I was experiencing.

At the other end of the line was an anonymous young mother who told me about her desire to continue breastfeeding her baby as much as possible, as she had advanced Multiple Sclerosis and was not expected to live very long. The pregnancy had accelerated her already bad condition, and she was prescribed Beta blockers to manage her MS. The medication would certainly find its way into her breast milk, and she was told to give up breastfeeding altogether.

As life would have it, I had also been told to stop breastfeeding my infant son as a result of the previous week’s emergency operations, which had badly affected my uterus. The logic was that it might prevent any future pregnancies due to the effects of breastfeeding on the body, a logic I found impossible to follow as I already had a baby in my arms who needed – deserved – to be breastfed as long as that were possible for me. I was determined to make the best of it.

So, without telling her about my situation, we spoke at length about how to breastfeed and extract milk according to the half-life of her medication, so she could continue to be the mother she had always dreamed of being for as long as possible. As a mother, she felt vindicated and empowered, and we ended the call with both of us feeling stronger for having spoken to each other.

I continued to sit alone for a while, feeling new energy and hope for my sorry state. I had been saved from death and knew I would survive this ordeal, and here this much younger woman was preparing for a near-certain early separation from her darling baby. I marvelled at the timing – I had never had a call like that before, nor did I ever again in five years as a counsellor. To this day, I feel she was an angel who reached out to me, to teach me something, so we could both be uplifted.

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is.
In the very here and now, the practitioner dwells in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who knows how to dwell in mindfulness night and day
โ€œOne who knows the better way to live aloneโ€.
~The Buddha, Bhaddekaratta Sutta

Almost three years of near-constant illness followed, and my health and mood vacillated according to whatever attitude I could cultivate. I slowly learned that the more I expected my life to look a certain way, the more I felt awful and resentful because my expectations rarely measured up to where I wanted to be.ย  My mothering role, marriage, social life, yoga practice – everything I cared about – felt like hard work until I was able to make peace with what was happening day to day.

As time passed, I got better and stronger, and quite unexpectedly, I became pregnant again. Yet another lesson in letting go of plans and notions of having any control of my life events!

Later that year, just over four years after my near-death experience, I found myself sitting on the same couch once again, the children upstairs with their father as before, having the evening bath. In a new powerfully surreal moment, I was trying to understand what had just happened – our little baby Victor had died of a brain haemorrhage that morning, only two days after he was born, and I was now home from the hospital feeling a part of me was missing.

The day’s International Herald Tribune was on the coffee table in front of me, and I picked it up as automatically as I had answered the phone from a similar place four years earlier. On the cover was a tragic story of Somali refugees being brutally evicted from an urban park in Cairo, where they had been trying to live until finding permanent shelter. Egyptian police using batons beat them indiscriminately, and one man’s 4-month old nephew was killed in his arms, with six other babies and young children also dying from the violence.

Once again, I was struck by a profound awareness of the suffering all around me. I had lost a child, but I still had a comfortable home to live in with my family, and I knew in that moment that I would be alright. I had joined the ranks of mothers who had lost children – hundreds of millions of them throughout the ages – and my pain was nothing compared to what so many had experienced. I was being spoken to by some invisible force that wanted me to realise that something bigger was happening to me.

These were real turning points in my life, the most powerful among many others, which brought me to an acute awareness of the eternal nature of life in the present moment that I had only touched upon in previous times. I became aware of the power of invisible forces at play, rarely speaking about them, but certain they are with me – with us – at all times.

This time of year is when these energies can be sensed most strongly if we can become still enough to listen and notice them. There is nothing inherently spooky about this period – that really depends on one’s focus of attention. This can be a wonderful time of connecting to the forces of life – and death – and honouring our own ancestors and all those who have lived before us, as well as those who have passed on before us in this life.

This Sunday’s Scorpio new moon (at 18:38 CET) coincides unusually with the traditional festivals of Samhain and Halloween (October 31st), followed on November 1st by All Saint’s Day, also called The Day of the Dead, when – it is said – the veils are thinnest between ours and the spirit worlds. It’s a good time to dig deep and allow inner turmoil to surface – there is a lot of conflict and intensity of emotion in the astrology of the past couple of weeks, and it continues well into this new moon phase.

Being spiritual is not about being nice, or being happy all the time. As long as you can make peace with and acknowledge anger, grief, frustration, or any other discordant energy you might be feeling, you will be able to lighten your load and be more authentically yourself, warts and all! Look deeply at what bothers you, inside and out. What ignites your passions? Are you able to channel that energy to constructive use without diffusing it into random outbursts? Look where you know you need to, and embrace what scares you!

This New Moon also marks the Indian Festival of Lights known as Diwali, which celebrates the removal of the veils of darkness – meaning ignorance – to allow the light of knowledge and abundance to shine in.

Om | Asatoma sadgamaya | Tamasoma jyotirgamaya | Mrityor mamritamgamaya

Lead us from ignorance to truth, from darkness to light, and from a fear of death, to the knowledge of our immortality.

I wish you much love and light in this season and always,

Susan