Conversations on “Deathing Life” with Susan.6

Here is another installment on my conversations with Susan as she goes through her “deathing life” with brain cancer. Susan suggested that I share these conversations with the world and it is an honour to be able to have these conversations with her as she lives this new stage in her life, sharing her insight and wisdom.

Sometimes the dates are the same on the posts as we were responding to multiple email threads, sometimes replying to different threads on the same day.

I wonder if living a life focussed on spiritual issues makes the transition to death easier in anyway – maybe it is another spiritual life transition? Here are some more of Susan’s words:


March 7, 2016 (Susan)

Dear David,

Love the photos of Corbin & Sofia. Sending them a BIG energy hug.


Yes, agreed it is challenging for staff to manage all the differing needs of palliative care, dementia care, psychiatric care, & the needs of the frail elderly.

In this facility we are all mixed in together. I believe it would be easier were the facility to have a separate palliative care section with staff given specialist training in that area. In having discussions with management they are of the same opinion.

I am slowly reading through your attachment on stewardship, & have nothing yet to add.  It is written beautifully, from the heart using knowledge & personal experience. I still have more of it to read.  I haven’t read a lot of Joseph’s part of the book that you are co-writing so will go onto that in the future.

What comes to mind right now in thinking about Stewardship is my lesson about energy & responsibility…when giving clairvoyant readings I used to put a lot of effort/energy into helping the client,  including trying to “enlighten” them. In doing this I often found myself exhausted. Ultimately my lesson was simple…it was not my work to enlighten my clients, only to deliver the messages I was instructed to give them. It was the clients own work to seek enlightenment. It was not my exhaustable energy that was needed to deliver guidance & support…all I needed to do was to be a willing conduit actively engaging with the person with right intention, a compassionate heart, & openess to the inexhaustible energy of Source. Having done this I used to find that rather than feeling depleted, I was greatly energised …on all levels.

Rising Consciousness

Rising Consciousness, Susan MacGregor

I have read about the man you mentioned who can move his eyes & lids only [Jean-Dominique Bauby, author of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly]. Remarkable person. Much more fortitude, tolerance of pain, acceptance of incapacity than myself.  Things I can’t do now are; drive, dance,  play piano, crochet, cook/bake without help, dance, walk barefoot through woods, swim, soak in the sea, stroll through parks or gardens, kayak, walk barefoot in the sand,  take full care of a pet, dress myself, shower myself, make my bed, fold or hang my clothes…. etc., etc.  Many tasks are full of difficulty. I have, as you said, needed to turn away from the physical, external plus give up much of my independence.  It’s been hard to ask for help & relinquish my high standards/preferred ways of doing things. It’s been a major loss to no longer be able to freely move when or where I wish. My fragile energy is drained every day doing basic things e.g. pulling up my pants after toileting. I find myself angry with this new body I’m in, its constant pain & limitations. I look forward to the freedom of relinquishing this tired used up lump of flesh that entraps my spirit.



On another note we recently returned from a road trip up north to my birthplace of Whangarei, first property at Hihi Beach Mangonui & childhood haunts around Kerikeri, Puketi Forest etc. Travel is very uncomfortable & excursions limited to wheelchair friendly areas. However this physical journey felt very important to me, in that I was connecting with key parts of my life then actively letting them go by saying goodbye to that area. Some people believe we leave energy imprints in places, so this was, in a sense, an opportunity to pick up pieces of myself. I had been doing some of this previously by going through photos & memories with Mahmoud, my brother, foster sister & niece. However the physical journey has made this process feel more complete.

Lastly today…I don’t find death morbid. Viewing it that way would seem to convey it is somehow dirty, repugnant, & to be avoided at all costs. The labour of death may not be pretty nor comfortable, but neither is the labour of birthing into this life.  It is merely a transition, transformative in its process.

colour my world

Colour My World, Susan MacGregor

Choosing my own coffin … it was like choosing a new car, exciting & full of anticipation.  I have nothing to lose …. I either go to oblivion, being oblivious to all further suffering or go to the home from whence I came.

Love & Bless,


March 7, 2016 (Susan)

Dear David,

I have absolutely no issues at all in your use of content from our email discussions. In fact I consider it an honour & privilege. If any of it can resonate in a helpful way for others that’s good. However my poems are different, in that I have copyright on them. Mahmoud will be their owner when I pass away.

I find I can’t cope with a lot of mental “stuff” now, so often you will find I’m slow to respond.

To answer one of your questions, I have always had one foot in this world & one in the next, being clairvoyant, clairsentient & clairaudient all my life, plus experiencing lucid dreaming, premonitions, recall of some past lives, etc. Things are no different for me now.

In regards Joseph Rael’s statement “we don’t exist” I can’t agree with that totally.  Rather I take the perspective that…Energy never dies…in our true form we are light beings/having energy…we do exist but confuse our physical beingness & ego identity with our true self. Our true self, originating from the source of energy & light, doesn’t belong to us in fact, but rather to the “I am” presence, i.e. God.  Our purpose then is to return love/ light to our source. We do this by being manifestations of love & light in the world…living ethical, moral lives, & loving our source as much as we love creation plus ourselves. If we confuse only what can be seen, heard or experienced by our baser bodies, for truth, we lose sight of all of the magic & mystery in our existence & become unconscious automatons. Also I believe our soul is a combined vibratory record of all our actions, thoughts, non actions, throughout various lifetimes. Thus our soul survives each lifetime in the form of a collective memory, alongside the myriad other souls, or perhaps merged with all other souls.

When applying principles of vibration to healing, remember each word we utter has a vibratory pattern, plus a positive or negative connection in an individual’s memory. NLP teaches a lot about linguistic principles which can then be included into therapeutic groups & 1:1 therapy.

Talking more along the topic of vibration, I recall one event in which participants were called to list all items hidden beneath a cloth…several participants got many correct & one got all. How is this possible? We are sensing the energy pattern of different objects. Divine principles govern energy & light & I Believe that the divine Being I call God orchestrates these principles to various ends.  If we trespass upon these principles we suffer negative consequences.

Turning To The Light

Turning to the Light, Susan MacGregor

During one meditation I…meaning my spiritual self…passed through a tunnel toward a door. On opening the door a brilliant light was present & loud sound similar to the rushing of a strong wind. “I” immediately felt myself flying through space & time, hieroglyphs & symbols shooting past at a tremendous speed.  I have come to believe that these symbols unlock certain energies & memories. Can I remember the symbols now…no, not consciously, but I later learnt Reiki which uses various symbols in its healing, seeming to reinforce this perspective. The higher our rate of vibration, the more “light” we are. Perhaps the more light we are, the more removed we are from “ego” consciousness & the consequences of a denser reality…I consider that this was how the Buddhist healing techniques freed me from 6yrs of constant pain i.e. by raising my vibratory level.  Also Vibration from trumpets, chanting & tempered walking flattened the walls of Jericho, as recorded in the bible. So it is a two edged sword, having power to raise up & to destroy.

When I was 18yrs old the I Am informed me that there are 7x worlds above & 7x worlds below; referring to vibratory realms. Planet earth is in the middle, like the heart of the entire organism.  Earth is Jesus’s footstool, he being the divine being supplanted in earthly soil.  It is here, due to our own free will that we can increase our light quotient, or decrease it.  We influence this by our deeds, words, thoughts, plus not taking action when it is needed.

Well enough from me, I am tired, & perhaps tiring you with these thoughts too.

The very best.

From Susan

ps, Sorry didn’t mention the trumpets also when referring to Jericho.


March 11, 2016 (Susan)

Hi to all my beautiful friends & family.

I trust & hope you are all ok.

Sorry to say you may not hear much from me from now on.

Following a few lovely days away up north, upon returning to the P.Hospital I had a significant seizure.  I am now very weak & will not be able to maintain the Skype chats or emails as previous. We are trying to get to Tauranga for a few days.  To assist I am taking dexamethasone.  However that will stop on returning. I expect thereafter the seizures & strokes we were told about will take hold.

Please don’t be sad for me, I am happy to leave this disabled body & go to a place beyond the suffering & struggles of this world.  I have led a blessed life with the love of good parents, friends, family, & of course Mahmoud, a good career & lots of fun along the way.  Thank you all for the memories & support.

When I leave I will be caught in the embrace of angels with a heart full of joy.

Love you always,

Susan xx


Love, XX, Susan MacGregor

[Susan had sent this email, but then some days later began emailing again]


March 18, 2016 (David)

Hi Susan, your thoughts are never tiring to me, always fresh and vibrant. Thanks for sending these details about your spiritual and mystical experiences in life.

I haven’t posted anything yet.

Do you have photo I could include on the blog? Or a suggestion for an image and I’ll find something on the internet.

In the second book Joseph Rael and I are working on, we will focus on how to develop a vibrational or visionary sense, another way of perceiving ourselves and the world. I am looking forward to delving deeper into that. I am also planning a book on Carl Jung and Philip K. Dick’s visions that keeps getting put off. Thank you for sharing your experience of the tunnel of hieroglyphics.

So much of what you say about vibration makes so much sense. Joseph speaks a lot about vibration and called his classic book, Being & Vibration. Physics, too, seems to be moving toward a view of matter as energy and vibration, rather than the solid objects that we perceive as a “table” a “chair.”

Finger Paintings Joseph

Joseph Rael, by Susan MacGregor

I better get working on the talks I am going to be doing in Grand Junction, Colorado in a couple weeks.




March 18, 2016 (David)

Hi Susan,

Your journey to your roots sounds very important. My last month in New Zealand I took a road trip by myself and went up to Cape Reinga and stopped through Mangonui and Hihi Beach, a beautiful area.


Cape Reinga


Thank you for your thoughts on Stewardship and for sharing how beautiful your journey is even with all the loss and disability. In your writing I only sense the liveliness of your spirit and not any of the limitations of your body. I like how you describe being a conduit or channel to Source. That is such a sweet feeling to have that flow through.

With the book, I have been contacting people for possible endorsement blurbs on the book. So far I have had a lot of excitement from people.

We had a guest at our Whole Health Class that we run for veterans, this week. Mike Lee, who is from the plains tribes and is an elder of the American Lake VA Sweat Lodge, spoke with us. He did a ceremony in which we turned off the lights and sat facing outward in a circle, with our backs to each other, and then he sang a couple songs and kept time on his drum. It was very moving. He said that our bodies are made of the body of Mother Earth and they are not our own, our spirit moves through them for a while. We breathe in at the start of life and we breathe out at the end of life. It is all just one big breath, moving through some earth, and there really is no such thing as death as the breath and spirit never die. It was very beautiful.

Here are some pictures from my trip to Northland, New Zealand…


Cape Reinga Light House



Meeting of Tasman Sea (left) and Pacific Ocean (right) off of northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga

Beautiful day here, today, clear, we can see the Olympic mountain range, covered with snow, to the West, and the Cascade Range to the East, not as tall, but also with snow, and to the south the massive bulk of Mt Rainer, a vast snow-covered peak.

My heart and thoughts and prayers are with you,




March 18 2016 (Susan)

Hi David,

Thank you for the photos. You looked very relaxed in the caravan, with hot drink in hand…that’s the life eh?


Having only now read your email the things that come to mind as a picture for the blog could be based on what has been shared…perhaps something with swirling patterns of coloured light, transposed with transparent images of symbols, angels or such.

Kopacz 02

Untitled, David Kopacz, 2013

Speaking more of vibration, I have wondered if we ourselves actively influence vibratory patterns when having visions so that the vision suits a frame of reference that we are familiar with being merely representational, rather than actual, in its appearance. As typically we would not visually perceive vibration itself, & the mind has a tendency to want to organise sensory stimulus into orderly patterns that are familiar. This could be at work in psychosis as well, with the visual hallucinations matching an internal vibratory state & using images that represent that state for the person.

When seeing angels ascending staircases this occurred to me.

Flying High

Flying High, Susan MacGregor

In Whangarei one of the Senior Psychiatrists was Sufi, we talked about Sufism & my interest became piqued.  Knowing me somewhat he would refer clients to my caseload, as a Mental Health Rehabilitation Therapist, who were reluctant to be treated medically due to the belief they were psychic, not unwell.

My approach here was based on having a foot in each camp i.e. I informed the client that I do believe in illness including illnesses of the neurological functions of the brain, but I also believed in Psychics & knew some personally.  In CBT fashion I then invited the client to “scientifically” approach the questions of … am I Psychic or am I unwell, or am I a bit of both? Using DSM we would list on one side of a whiteboard diagnostic criteria, on the other side the phenomenon experiences of what we collectively knew about psychics, drawing from our personal experiences as well as what we had read or found out from others. We then ticked or crossed off items from each list to see what was left. In the few cases I worked with in this manner we typically ended up with some items from each list. The client was then asked to return to the three choices at the start to hypothesize where they might sit along a continuum. End result being the client usually concluded they had a little illness & accepted orthodox treatment knowing that if they wished to do a “planned” withdrawal from meds I would support them in that. With this input they were typically offered much less in the way of medications as they were able to express more clearly to their Psychiatrist only the DSM symptoms they were having & had lost their fears re other phenomenon, having talked these through & being given some “alternative” strategies to manage these if they wished….I hope this illustrates one way mental health workers could include a more wholistic paradigm into mental health diagnosis.

In personal experience with visions, voices, sensations one thing has remained clearly differentiated compared to DSM, i.e. I have never lost awareness of who I am, what is me, what is other, what is  “real” what is vision or other experience…. in other words my ego boundaries have remained intact, no psychotic break has occurred. Only once have I been in a situation where I felt controlled by something not me. This happened when I was learning about “channeling”. However I established control again via focusing my mind on a particular piece of music. I never liked “channeling, & never did it again.

Well seems each time you send me something it brings to mind something else. You are definitely a positive catalyst in my life. Thank you.

With best wishes for your continued development of new ways for “being” in healthcare.

Love from,

Susan MacGregor

The Chalice & The Rose 9f33d6b1-48d2-4b30-88ce-dd048adfe60f (1)

The Chalice and the Rose, Susan MacGregor


Conversations with Susan.5

Susan MacGregor and I have been continuing our email correspondence and she has been updating me on her process of “deathing life” as she lives with her brain cancer and copes with the changes that brings.

Susan has encouraged me to share her thoughts and words and paintings with others as she continues to grow and change in this “deathing life” process.

These are some of our conversations from February and March and I will include some of Susan’s recent artwork.

Rising Consciousness

Rising Consciousness, Susan MacGregor


2/26/16 (David)

Hi Susan, thank you for such beautiful, heart-felt writing. I will draw upon it as I put together these 11 hours of talks to patients, family members and staff around end-of-life decisions and hospice. What can we call it instead of “end-of-life?” I like your term “deathing life.” I have a working title of “Holistic Decision-making Across the Lifespan,” but I am writing about holistic decision-making and death or deathing life. I don’t like the phrase “end of life” so much, as it doesn’t sound active enough.

Can you open a PowerPoint on your computer? I will send you a drafts of the lectures if you are interested….

I am interested in developing something around “death stewardship,” or the dying process as a form of initiation in which the role of family and staff is to support the active, transformative initiation of person in the deathing life phase.

What you have written is so beautiful and full of wisdom. If you would like a public speaking space, I think your words would be an honor to my blog, Being Fully Human, if you would care to have me post them. I don’t want to exploit your deathing life, but I wouldn’t mind mining your wisdom and sharing with others what you would like to share.

Thank you for the gift of yourself!

2/26/16 (Susan)

Dear David,

Thank you again for your appreciation & support.

I am not sure about power point as am using a tablet. Computer is at home but don’t go home much.

I would feel honoured for you to use any of what I send in whatever way you think appropriate. Perhaps if you will bear with me I will write more….

I feel the term “deathing” life conveys a more active involvement in the tasks & processes of leaving this world than other more commonly used terms. And it is also meant to convey that I am still very much living.

Strong Loving Arms Enfold Me Each Day

Strong, Loving Arms Enfold Me Each Day, Susan MacGregor

I have found the love & support of others key to my being able to move onto the life inventory work mentioned previously, i.e.  the non critical, non judgemental acceptance of my life as a whole. I haven’t experienced all of the classical stages of dying as described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, whether that’s due to my spiritual beliefs or other factors I’m not sure. There has been no anger, no “why me”, no bargaining…so I think it would be false to believe everyone follows that path exactly. There has been sadness, letting go, cherishing, & communing, in a very rich meaningful way. I am approaching my death willing to accept it as a transitional stage of life, & as a part of my life that I can still be actively involved in.  The ability to self reflect has been a great bonus, & I believe would be a useful skill for anyone to have. Mindfulness has been a useful tool & having alone time has been essential. I’ve found I have no interest in establishing new bonds, although this still happens naturally. Rather, existing bonds have been my focus & there has been a “turning inward” away from the world. Sometimes this has been hard for Rest Home staff to accept, as their focus is more on maintaining an active, engaged life as people age. Their desire has been to fill my hours up with activities, which I have resisted. Other helpful tasks have involved completing an Advanced Directive, detailing how I would like to be cared for & where I wish to die, plus meeting with a Funeral Director to discuss my wishes (plus inform Mahmoud of what to expect, as there is no embalming of the body etc. in his culture). I have engaged Hospice Services into a “shared care” relationship with the Rest Home Facility as they are the experts in care of the dying. I have chosen my last piece of furniture, i.e. my coffin, where I wish to be buried, & Mahmoud & I have chosen a headstone/a double one. All these things done I am now enjoying the time I have seeing friends, family, having outings & doing short trips in NZ. So that is my life until I am “returned to sender”.

All the very best to you & family.

God Bless,


3/1/16 (Susan)

Dear David,

I have been reading through the attachments you sent when energy allows. I am finding your writing enjoyable, cohesive & easy to read. I am still reading through Joseph’s writings.

So good to hear mention of Joseph Campbell, one of my “heroes” in developing my thinking about spiritual matters.  And Martin Buber still rings clearly in my mind from Psychotherapist training. Some of what you speak of reminds me of the concept of the Adam Kadmon within the Kabbalah & gnostic or Pauline Christianity. I certainly relate to the perspective that all is vibration. In fact this reality made it possible for me to be healed via a Buddhist sound technique taught to me at a healing retreat by Chris .This technique enabled me to move beyond 6yrs of constant pain, which I was experiencing due to a ruptured c5 disc. On day 2 of this week long retreat all pain dissappeared, & though subsequent x rays show the old injury still exists with narrowing between the discs, I have never returned to that daily, debilitating pain. Also as a result of the work we did on this retreat I entered such a heightened sensitivity that I experienced the “oneness” you talk about, including hearing the sound that “everything” makes. This retreat spoke directly to my heart, enabling me to release the feelings of longing & sadness I had internalised, engendered by my belief that I was “separated” from God.

Breath travels through matter, creating movement which creates sound. Sound alters vibration & structural patterning. Years ago I experimented with the music of Geoff Clarkson, a Kiwi musician who composes music to aid meditation, relaxation etc. I was Matron of a Rest Home at the time, & found my residents were often fractious, having petty squabbles & altercations. Playing Geoff’s original soundtrack of “Butterfly” via the paged music system had such a profound effect on staff & residents that I later incorporated his CDs & live music sessions with him into my work in Psychosocial & Inpatient rehabilitation.

In looking at memory & PTSD I am reminded of my training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which was a 1yr elective at Psychotherapy school. I found a combination of CBT & NLP more effective than CBT alone in getting results with anxiety sufferers.

It gives me joy to read how you are incorporating a peaceful approach towards talking about war & the development of war consciousness. Through Kriya Yoga I was benefited by learning that the way to protest for change is by creating more balance of peaceful, proactive, or positive energy. This is to counterbalance the energy of anger, hate, violence, already in the world.  Some of the early “circle dancing” I did, missed this point, with facilitators propagating, “express you anger into the dance”, with no modifying expression to follow.

With discussion of the four directions I am reminded of four Archangels; Michael, Raphael, Uriel, & Gabriel.  These vibratory emanations speak to the Mastery of the colour/sound/movement components you mention.   I am currently wondering how I can use knowledge about suffering for myself, regarding my physical disability. Though the cancer hasn’t thrown me, the disability has. I am certainly not at peace with that. The only thing I can be grateful to it for, is that it is making it easier to let go of this existence.

Flying High

Flying High, Susan MacGregor

As you can see, your writings have moved me to recall these moments within my own life, & some of the rich teachings I have been privileged to discover. Thank you for that.

All the very best, may your work be blessed to produce the results you want.

Kind regards, Susan MacGregor

Conversations with Susan.4

Angel Face Rose

Angel Face Rose

26 May, 2016 (Susan):


The rose is such a pretty colour & full of new buds, looks like it will be covered in blooms soon.

My function is deteriorating, some difficulty talking, tripping over words, some stuttering. Getting some laughs out of that currently.

Mild nausea, blurred vision, breathlessness, dizziness, fatigue, tremors. Had lots of lovely visitors, 16x peeps over past 6 days. Stopping visitors except family & extended family now as most others have had opportunity to come whilst I could still talk to them.

Poems were sent last Sat. Mail is lot slower than it used to be so probably arrived to destination midway through this week. Hoping there is some merit to them. If not I will ask someone to bind them into a soft cover for family & friends.

In light & love,

Susan x x

An Angel Without Wings

An Angel Without Wings, Susan Mac Gregor, May 2016

28 May, 2016 (Dave):

Hi Susan, thank you for sharing with me how you are doing. I was thinking about the roses, how each one is so beautiful and bursts into the world, bringing sweet fragrance and beauty (these Angel Face roses have a nice scent). And then the flower gradually fades, loses a few petals and then passes away, yet in each individual flower’s passing, new space is created for the other buds that are overflowing with desire to burst forth into the world, giving of themselves and becoming themselves.

Even once the flower blossom is gone, though, then the not so beautiful work begins of transforming dead flower into seed – for the rose, it turns into a bright red rose hip berry and becomes beautiful again, until once again, at its ripest, falls from the plant and begins to decay, which allows the seeds of new life to sprout and take root. It seems so beautiful with plants, with people it is a bit harder to stretch the metaphor…

When you say you sent the poems, whom did you send them too? Was it to XLIBRIS?

I have a batch that you sent me some time ago electronically. At first you said you didn’t want them posted as they were copyrighted and you were looking to publish, later, you said that I should post some of them on the blog. I haven’t put any up yet. I’ll do a blog now and put maybe a poem, an update from you and a picture.

Here are some pictures of my little shrine on my desk where I write. I probably have a solid day or two left of editing the manuscript.

Here are the plans for my future books:

Becoming Your Own Medicine, with Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

Art Medicine, with Joseph Rael

Healing Circles of the World, with Joseph Rael

Return: The Hero’s Journey Home after War and Other Life Events

Re-spiritualizing Medicine

Every Thought Leads to Infinity: The Role of Visions in the Life & Work of Carl G. Jung and Philip K. Dick

That should keep me busy for a while…


May God’s Blessings sustain and surround You,

Dave xoxo


Earlier email with update for Susan’s bio…


15 May, 2016 (Susan)

Dear David,


This is a more accurate reflection of my early life.

As a young girl I was identified as being brighter than my peers. My teachers wished to advance me 1yr but my parents, sensibly, declined. However this advantage stood me in good stead later in life, achieving honours passes in all fields of my post school study, both theory & practice. My weak area was maths. My good fortune led to job offers in some instances & to offers of sponsorship into further study. None of which I pursued, instead prioritizing my desire to have a freehold property. As I was single until my late 20’s that meant putting in overtime shifts. When I did marry I made a poor choice, which delayed things somewhat. I then put myself into high debt to buy a house in Auckland that could accommodate taking in my sick parents. I was glad to do that, those years with them being very special, though stressfull. After they passed away I began to experience a series of illnesses requiring surgeries then was diagnosed with the cancer. Prior to my parent’s deaths I met Mahmoud. We have known each other 13yrs. Throughout that time he has helped me & my parents. The home in Papamoa Beach Tauranga is slowly being paid off as it is rented out.

Motuotau Island, Tauranga, 2013 Jan.March

Motuotau Island, Tauranga, New Zealand


Though my childhood home was full of love, music, laughter & creativity, my parents were poor. We could stay at Tauranga Bay Motor Camp free of charge because mum had divined their water supply. Access to bush, beaches, nature was close by. But sometimes my parents had no money for food except bread & milk. There were no WINZ benefits then & though Social Welfare paid a clothing allowance for my 4x fostered siblings, they didn’t pay any other expenses relating to their care. My clothes & shoes were hand me downs from other families. We did what we could collecting windfall fruit to eat from orchardists who knew the situation. We also collected shellfish from the beaches, & dad built one of N.Z.s first Kontikis to fish with which was a success. However there were days when our tummies were only filled with bread & milk. This occurred between my years of 11yrs to 13yrs, spiralling into my mother’s ill health & lengthy hospitalisation when I was 11yrs. She had uncontrolled hypertension & was having blackouts. Being the eldest daughter I took on her duties, caring for my siblings, doing household washing, ironing, helping Dad with food preparation, bathing younger siblings, & organizing the housework rota. When mum was back home I stayed off school often, as she was anxious to be left on her own. Eventually my father secured work as a Carpenter at Kingseat Hospital, Sth Auckland, which job came with a small house. Due to the size of the house & mums ongoing poor health they decided to move only with their two natural children, my brother & I. Amongst others, I was heartbroken by that decision. Mum soon found work too at the Hospital, as a Domestic Supervisor. The move did mean my parents were able to get out of debt.  Plus they were able to feed & clothe my brother & me. Thus life improved despite the continued sadness re my fostered brothers & sisters.

The rest of the previous bio still applies, only I had glossed over the financial situation, & omitted a key aspect of my fortunate genetic inheritance.

2013 Jan.March, Kopacz 132

Mt Maunganui, Tauranga, New Zealand

Good cheer to you,

Susan xx

Tauranga, 2013 Jan.March

Tauranga, New Zealand


Conversations with Susan.3

Susan’s health has been deteriorating lately. We have been emailing back and forth, but I have not been getting these up as posts very quickly. I’ll be putting up posts more regularly now, starting with our earliest emails in this post and I think I’ll also put up a separate post with more recent updates. While we human beings usually have a bias for a linear narrative, my work with Joseph Rael has been opening me up to non-linear narratives, which is what this series of blog posts is ending up being…I will include some of Susan’s artwork and some of my photos in the mix.

My picture b16eea51-9c6f-475e-b009-856c8c3f730c (1)

Susan Mac Gregor, May 8, 2016

Susan to David: February 7, 2016


How are you & Mary-Pat?

Seem to have got so tied up on Facebook that other communications have lagged. Mahmoud & I have had a great Xmas & summer with lotsa socialising amongst friends & family, a trip away to Tauranga, & some lovely local outings. Though the cancer did return, following further radiotherapy, I am again in remission. Looking at things overall I’ve well exceeded the norm for this thing, the cancer having started in Oct 2012. I am not “fighting” it, just accepting it & taking one day at a time.

On other matters finally I’ve contacted a publishing company re a selection of my poems. They distribute through AU, UK, NZ & USA. Not having great expectations, but it will complete a goal I’ve had for some time. The company is ‘XLIBRIS’.

We are off to the exquisite beaches, hot pools & restaurants of Tauranga again in early March. I expect this will be my last visit there, as prognosis now months, not years. Frankly I am ready to “go home” & shall welcome that journey when it comes. My brother is tasked to inform everyone on Facebook so that no one is left wondering. His name is Rob MacGregor, so please don’t be surprised when you get an email from him.

Look forward to your news.

Kind regards,

Susan MacGregor

David to Susan February 16, 2016:

Hi Susan, thank you for writing. Your trip to Tauranga sounds great and I hope you enjoy it thoroughly.

I am sorry to hear about the recurrence and that the doctors are giving you months now rather than years. Just remember, time and life is not really a doctors to give in the first place…

Good luck with your publishing. If you ever want to put a poem “out there” I’d be happy to put one up on my blog with some info about you.

I’ve been working on a book with Native American visionary, Joseph Rael, it has turned into two books. Working with his publisher is great as they are a small press and are really moving things along. July publication date for Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing PTSD [this has since been pushed back to September, 2016]. I’ll send you a draft and also a draft of Becoming Your Own Medicine, which will be the second book, but hasn’t been edited yet.

I just started reading The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche and also read the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I am preparing to give a series of talks to patients, family and caregivers at a hospice programme out in Colorado on end of life decisions. Do you have any advice for me for the talk? I’ll send you the PowerPoint when there is a PowerPoint to send…maybe in a month…I am thinking about some topics like Death Stewardship, using the Red Road of the Medicine Wheel which orients one to the emotional and spiritual to balance our culture’s over-focus on the mental and physical, and then something on holistic decision-making, using the 9 dimensional model from my book.

The Tibetans sure know how to die, I am learning from these books. The view it as a very important and sacred time in transitioning from this realm to the next. As they believe in reincarnation, the emotional and spiritual state at the time of death is very important in determining the next birth.

Please keep in touch as your time and energy allows.

Here are very rough draft copies of the writing I am doing. [attachment to email] Please don’t feel any need to read them, but if they are of interest, enjoy!

Blessings upon Your Beautiful Soul,


Oh, have you ever heard of Nevit O. Ergin? I just read The Sufi Path of Annihilation by him and found it quite interesting.

Conversations With Susan.2: Susan’s Biography

I have been emailing back and forth with my friend, Susan Mac Gregor in New Zealand as she has been going through what she calls her “deathing life” with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme. We are having some great talks and Susan would like me to share these through this blog. Here is her biography and we’ll be posting some of our discussions in future posts. Susan has also started making digital art and we’ll include some of her artwork in these posts.


The Centered Heart

The Centered Heart (Susan Mac Gregor)


My name is Susan Diane Mac Gregor. I was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, on 25th August 1958. I grew up in Northland enjoying its beautiful beaches, native forests, waterways, & small town lifestyle. When not reading much of my time was spent exploring nature, riding friends horses, rescuing damaged birds or small animals & swimming. There were cats, pidgeons, chooks [chickens], sheep, dogs, canaries as pets, plus my blood brother & four fostered siblings to share time with. Having a musically talented mother & poetically inclined father, who enjoyed limerick & rhyme, meant our household was filled with music, rhyme & laughter. Despite some financial crises for my parents, it was an idyllic childhood.


Cert Industrial Cookery; R.P.N; PG Dip Gerontological Nursing; PG Cert CBT; Cert N.L.P. & Eriksonian Hypnotherapy; PG Cert.Relationship Guidance; PG Cert Sexual Abuse Counseling; Cert Solution Focussed Therapy; Cert Grief Counseling;  Cert Group Facilitation; Cert Stanford University Facilitator Self Management Of Chronic Conditions Groups. Successfully completed one year from Diploma of Psychotherapy, plus stage one National Certificate in Adult Education.

Alternative Therapy Qualifications:

Diploma Therapeutic Massage; Reiki Level 3; Cert. Therapeutic Drumming; Colour Psychology … being a methodology of using colour & drawing to analyze & address psychological issues; Chaldean & Pythagorean Numerology; American Indian Aura Cleansing;  Hands On & Crystal Energy Healing; Buddhist Sound Healing via Chris James; Home Study of Aromatherapy.


I was born with the gifts of Clairvoyance, Clairaudience, Clairsentience,  Pre-cognisance & Telepathy. These gifts began expressing themselves firstly amongst my direct family, surprising my parents on more than one occasion. As an adult I have practiced for 25yrs as a Clairvoyant, offering guidance to100’s of people throughout the North Island. This service included dream interpretation, energy clearing, & numerology if desired. As an adjunctive I have developed a method whereby it is possible to map a person’s phases & time frames toward achieving changes & goals in their lives. The phases allow the person to consciously make the most of the vibrational energies in each phase. Feedback has confirmed this is a reliable tool for its purpose.

Harley The Rainbow Lorikeet

Harley the Rainbow Lorikeet (Susan Mac Gregor)

More About My Roots:

Family have significantly influenced my character & interests. Mums father Reverend Norman Hyde established an Orphanage during the N.Z. Influenza Epidemic of the early 1900s, & along with mums mother Lillian, brought up thirty three Orphans, plus eight of their own children. Prior to that Norman lived & worked closely with the Tainui Iwi, an indigenous Maori tribe from the Waikato region. Grand-dad spoke fluent Maori, & was fully conversant with Maori protocols & customs. When he died in his 50’s he was given the rare honours of having Maori “wailers” at his funeral, plus a Chiefs cloak was presented to the family from that Iwi. As is customary, the family has since offered the cloak back, the Iwi have not accepted it, thus it & its significance remain in the family.

Respect for New Zealand’s indigenous peoples & customs was passed onto me through my mother. Mums mother was a gifted pianist, being asked in her early teens to go to Germany to further a musical career. Grandma’s parents didn’t permit this however. Prior to marriage Lillian established her own music school, teaching piano & singing. Her talent passed to my mum, who could play any instrument she was handed, & sang on radio in her early adulthood. Our household was always filled with music, with many nights sat around the piano singing Redemption Hymns, or listening to mum play from the great classics, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn etc. Though never having her ability I took lessons in piano, & continued to play into adulthood.

My father, born to the son of a Scottish Immigrant from Loch Carron, bought another form of creativity into our household. Dad had a love of words, particularly in rhyme & limerick. In early adulthood he published his poems in the local News Paper. His work as a carpenter also a creative occupation. His father was a lay preacher in Churches throughout the Tauranga District. Thus we have the foundations for my love of music, rhyme, respect & interest in different cultures, nature, the humanities, & Christian faith.


Despite our Christian underpinnings, Christianity was never forced upon us as children. My parents wished us to choose rather than be forced to accept Christ, leaving the door open for enquiry & spiritual exploration. Not withstanding that, prayer was a given in our household & my parents lives were distinctly lived from Christian principles.

In addition, my mother had the unusual gift of being a “diviner” i.e. someone who could find underground water merely by walking around with her hands held out to sense it. She would sometimes demonstrate this gift for others using a forked willow stick, which would violently twist in her hands when over water. She became well known in Northland for this gift, having divined the first steam bore at the Ngapha Steam Plant near Kaikohe, plus the water supply at a privately owned Camp Ground on the East Coast of Hohoura Harbour, called Tauranga Bay. Not to mention many farmers water supplies, etc. She was capable of identifying how deep in the earth they needed to bore, which way the water flowed, if it was salt, brackish or fresh & could, by the same means, divine  for minerals such as gold. This left the way open for enquiry as to things unseen, though felt or known.

My picture 89d72c16-50ba-43fc-b225-2c6126597c93

Susan Mac Gregor

As a young adult I entered training in Psychiatric Nursing, having chosen to diverge from my training at the Auckland Institute of Technology, where I qualified as an Industrial Cook. This led into my Career in Mental Health, & interest in Psychological methodologies. Upon qualifying I further developed my interest in caring for the Elderly, plus Special Interest in working with people with Dementia. Post Graduate study included a Diploma in Gerontology. Next I began developing qualifications & skills in Psychological Therapies. Gradually I moved from working within Private & Public Elder Care into Mental Health Psycho-Social Rehabilitation, including providing CBT counseling. I was working full time as a Therapist in a Psychology Division of a Primary Healthcare Organisation when I was diagnosed with Grade Four Glioblastoma Multiforme, this being my final job.

Spiritual explorations have included initiation into Western Sufism, initiation to The Rosocrucian Order AMORC, a home study course provided by my friend Patricia Sarne Paul in Kabbahlah, exploration of Western Spiritualism, Meditational Dancing in the form of Circle Dancing, Dances Of Universal Peace, & Sufi Zikr, practice of Hatha Yoga in my late teens, then training & practice in Raja Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Mudra Yoga &  Kriya Yoga, the latter following Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings. There was a short foray into Tibetan Buddhism, via Dhargyey Rinpoche at the Buddhist Centre in Whangarei. Training in Mindfulness Meditation. At times I would “drop” in on Hindu services to join in with the singing of Bhajans, which I always found an uplifting practice. Or through Jewish friends I’d join in Sabbath services at the open Auckland Synagogue, or join in at Anglican or Catholic Services & discussion groups. I gathered books to read surrounding these topics borrowing some & buying others.

Influential writers were M. Scott Peck, Martin Buber, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Richard Bach, Carlos Castaneda, Erich von Daniken, works from the Western Mystery Hermetic School,  Sophist Philosophy, The Paulene Gospel, Celestine Prophecy, amongst others.  Having cast the net wide I can say with conviction I decidely favour Christianity, finding truth & mystery in the life of Jesus & his gospel based on love, forgiveness, & grace. Following baptism by the Spirit as an 11yr old I have consolidated my Christian declaration with Baptism by water as an Adult.

Some Favourite Poems:

“Gunga Dinn” (Rudyard Kipling)

“Kubla Khan” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

“Jabberwocky” (Lewis Carroll)

“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud” (William Wordsworth)

“The Walrus & The Carpenter” (Lewis Carroll)

“You Are Old Father William” (Lewis Carroll)

“Ode To A Mouse” (Robert Burns)

All the best to both of you, and wishing you success in your endeavours.

Love from Susan xx

Sky Painter

Sky Painter (Susan Mac Gregor)

Guest Post: Sandy Carter on Bonsai, Simplicity, and Joy

Marie Kondo writes of love, joy and the beauty of simplicity in a manner that inspired me to utilize her principles in a recent downsizing experience, which changed my life. For years, I have intuitively created space I felt appreciative of, but our recent move presented challenges we hadn’t faced before as we reduced our living space by seventy-five percent.

Bonsai Tree

Our house was filled with possessions we had collected over many years from travels; heirlooms passed onto us by family members and childhood mementos from our children’s growing up years. We felt attached to most everything, and knew what displayed beautifully in our present home would clutter our new space and over stimulate us and we had to make a huge change.


Using Ms. Kondo’s book as a reference, we let go of our things in layers over time and succeeded in choosing what we needed to accompany us as we opened a new life chapter. With her philosophy guiding us, we now live in beautiful and joyous space. The process was not easy, but well worth the effort.


My life has personally changed because I’m been more mindful of the choices I’m making. Surrounded only by things I love has helped me embody wellbeing in more depth. Another gift related to experiencing joy is co-writing a blog with Dave on the topic. Because of this, I’ve trained myself to be aware of joy’s presence again and again. As I’ve focused my attention, I’ve engaged with more subtle experiences of joy in others and myself.


One such joyous occasion occurred with a recent experience between my father and me. Dad told me he was going to buy himself a birthday present. I listened half amused and half curious, wondering what my 88-year-old father had in mind. My father is an example of graceful aging. He is continually appreciative of life’s blessings and surprises my siblings and me all the time, as he lives his life with zeal, seeking new opportunities to learn and grow. Unpredictable as ever, when Dad declared he was going to purchase a Bonsai Tree I was stunned, and asked him if I could go along. I had no idea Dad was interested in this ancient Chinese art form and thought sharing this experience with him would be worthwhile. An idea I am grateful I had, as there are times when I’m too caught up in my world to take advantage of such gifts.


Although the word Bonsai is Japanese, the practice originated in China. In 600 AD the Chinese started using special techniques to grow dwarf trees and they eventually became very valuable and were offered as luxurious gifts throughout China. Later, Japan adopted the Chinese tradition basing the art on Zen Buddhism influence and referred to the practice as Bonsai. Not long ago, the idea spread beyond Asian culture and into other countries. My Dad researched possibilities for a Bonsai Tree purchase in his area, and we headed to a retail establishment called the Bonsai House.


The Bonsai House is a small house transformed into a retail shop for the sale of Bonsai trees. The space is filled with hundreds of Bonsai trees of various shapes, sizes and varieties. A Chinese couple owns the business and the woman not only has a passion for Bonsai trees, but a vast knowledge regarding them. While Dad and I looked at the Bonsai’s, she educated us on the history, types and care of these ancient and beautiful trees. What we discovered is that Bonsai trees can live for several generations, and caring for them can be a deeply satisfying personal experience. Dad insisted we choose a tree together. Although, we did not speak of it in so many words, we knew the tree’s care could be passed onto me and possibly outlive both of us. We had no idea Bonsai shopping would bring us face to face with our mortality. This could have been a depressing thought, but instead it had the opposite effect as we decided on the tree that needed to go home with us.


After our purchase, we left to drive back to the retirement community. As my Dad and I sat side by side in the car we shared a joyous silence reveling in our good fortune of being together and sharing this experience. Later, we put into words what we’d both been feeling. We agreed, no matter what hardships have passed or what may come, having these precious times together brings us much joy and happiness!

Choose Joy

Conversations With Susan

I have been having email conversations with my friend from New Zealand, Susan Mac Gregor. We were in a writer’s group together when I was in Auckland. We periodically have been emailing, but recently we’ve been having more frequent conversations around the topic of what she calls “deathing life,” Susan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme, a serious brain cancer, and she has been sharing her insights and experiences with me. Part of what initiated our increased emails is the fact that I have been preparing to give a series of lectures in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Health Care Decisions Day. These talks will be on end-of-life decision-making, holistic decision-making, and also staff wellness for hospice workers. I had asked Susan to give some feedback on a draft for my talk and this really sparked off our conversations. As I have been wanting to expand the focus of this blog, Being Fully Human, it seemed like a good idea to post these conversations as Susan shares her honest insight and experience about the process of “deathing life,” living life right up to the point of death.

Susan has written a fairly long biography, and we’ll publish that at some point, but for this post, I’ll excerpt it and then also start with a summary that she has written about her “deathing life” process. I asked Susan about an image to include in the blog post and she said,

“Having only now read your email the things that come to mind as a picture for the blog could be based on what has been shared…perhaps something with swirling patterns of coloured light, transposed with transparent images of symbols, angels or such.” So I will put a few of my paintings in the blog that fit that description.

Kopacz 02

My name is Susan Diane Mac Gregor. I was born in Whangarei, New Zealand, on 25th August 1958. I grew up in Northland enjoying its beautiful beaches, native forests, waterways, & small town lifestyle. When not reading much of my time was spent exploring nature, swimming, rescuing damaged birds or small animals & swimming. There were cats, pidgeons, chooks [chickens], sheep, dogs, canaries as pets, plus my blood brother & four fostered siblings to share time with. Despite some financial crises for my parents, it was an idyllic childhood. 

As a young adult I entered training in Psychiatric Nursing, having chosen to diverge from my training at the Auckland Institute of Technology, where I qualified as an Industrial Cook. This led into my Career in Mental Health, & interest in Psychological methodologies. Upon qualifying I further developed my interest in caring for the Elderly, plus Special Interest in working with people with Dementia. Post Graduate study included a Diploma in Gerontology. Next I began developing qualifications & skills in Psychological Therapies, successfully completing the first year of study in a Diploma of Psychotherapy with Auckland University of Technology.

In addition to Susan’s health profession credentials, she is also a poet and spiritual seeker and we will hear more about that in further posts.

For today, we’ll include the email that Susan sent me that gave me the idea of posting her insights to share with others. I think she gives such a great, heartfelt, and wise words and experience.

25/2/16 (Susan)

Dear David,

It was with interest that I read about the latest books you’ve been reading. I have read many of the books you have cited in references, etc., including The Tibetan Book of the Dead, however not the recent Sufi book you mentioned.

I can’t give advice for your talk at the Hospice, as everyone’s experience differs, however I can write about my experience.

Initially I experienced shock & grief at receiving such a finite diagnosis. I remember looking around the rooms in my house at the things I had built up & worked hard for, & thinking what did all of that mean, was what I had invested to get those things worth it?  The answer that came back in response to that question was a feeling of emptiness. Then my heart filled with sadness thinking about my 3x beautiful cats & Mahmoud being left behind & I was glad at least that Mahmoud’s life would be more comfortable, as a result of my previous efforts.

Within 2wks I was trundled off for brain surgery, after which my life completely changed. The surgery caused damage within my brain, leaving me with left sided paresthesia.

Mahmoud was devastated. His welfare was always on my mind, as was mine on his. I had a large amount of time left lying in my hospital bed with nothing to do but think.

Years prior I had experienced a “healing” at a Buddhist retreat, in which my “difficult to control” hypertension completely dissappeared, leaving my GP astounded. During that retreat I learnt that even illness has a beneficial purpose, i.e. to teach us something, to deepen us in some way spiritually, to raise our awareness or break through unhelpful patterning.  Thus I started to look for the lessons in this experience.

For me cancer has done all of the above plus brought me to an awareness of how much love surrounds me. It has deepened my relationship with Mahmoud, with God, & given me fresh hope for humanity. I have been shown so much love & kindness, even from complete strangers.  Often those with little in the way of possessions have given me the most. I have been able to see the busy, tense person who “didn’t have time “ that I used to be, reflected in people around me, & their counter balancers in the people who will let me que jump, or help me out in getting something in a supermarket, etc., because they see I’m disabled.

As a consequence of my health & disability mine & Mahmoud’s lifestyle has dramatically changed. We have needed to offload a lot of possessions & have moved to a two bedroom rental unit. The money from my salary no longer flows in & the goal of being mortgage free in 3yrs has disintegrated. However I have found that I am surrounded with so much love & kindnesss that my soul & heart are completely full.

From this point of realisation forward I have been able to take inventory of my life, looking at past regrets & losses, & freeing myself of built up emotions through self forgiveness & forgiveness of others. This has been aided by gratitude & compassion, both of which have deepened within me exponentially.  I have become free again, letting go of pursuing goals, things, dreams…. most of which are erroneous now. Being present in each moment, with each breath, is how my days unfold. The natural world around me is exquisitely defined, colours, shapes, contrasts, each being impressed into my being through every sensory system I possess.

I still give … a smile, a kind word, my knowledge or time. My “deathing” life continues to have purpose & meaning, people ask me “what is this like”, “how do you stay so optimistic”, “are you afraid”, etc, etc. I do experience moments of fear, but at the end of the day my answer to all of these questions is, “this is life, I am blessed to have lived it, I believe in an after life, & it is my faith in God & Jesus Christ that sustains me when all else fails.

May your love-light continue to shine.

Love & Blessings, Susan xx

Kopacz 03


A Work of Joy.5 Spark Joy: What Sparks Joy for You?


This is the fifth of a series of blog posts examining Joy in Work. We have been calling it: A Work of Joy! It is part of an ongoing discussion between Dave Kopacz and Sandy Carter on this topic and will include each of our thoughts individually as well as our dialogue on Joy in Work. This fifth blog looks at the work of Marie Kondo (who has been called the Beyoncé of Organizing), The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her new book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. Sandy had consulted Kondo’s first book when she was recently down-sizing. We turn to her second book, Spark Joy, not so much for tidying up, but rather for her method of determining whether or not something brings you joy. Kondo writes, “I am convinced that the perspective we gain through this process represents the driving force that can make not only our lifestyle, but our very lives, shine,” (xii).


Kondo’s method is surprisingly simple, yet helps to get you out of your logical mind and in touch with your heart.  Here is what she says to determine if something sparks joy for you.


“When deciding, it’s important to touch it, and by that, I mean holding it firmly in both hands as if communicating with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds when you do this. When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells of your body are slowly rising. When you hold something that doesn’t bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier,” (8).


In regards to organizing, she writes that you should focus on what things bring you joy and that you want to keep, not on trying to get rid of things just for the sake of getting rid of things. Even with the things you discard, however, Kondo invites you to connect with and communicate with.


“Keep only those things that bring you joy. And when you discard anything that doesn’t, don’t forget to thank it before saying good-bye. By letting go of things that have been in your life with a feeling of gratitude, you foster appreciation for, and a desire to take better care of, the things in your life,” (8).


What Kondo is doing is inviting us to get in touch with the soul of things, to see how your heart resonates with the soul of the object, and if you are going to discard it, to honor the soul of the objects that are exiting your life. This reminds me, in some ways, of the world view of many Native American people, that all things are alive and are our brothers and sisters. Maybe this part of mainstream American culture’s emphasis on the accumulation of things, we do not connect to the soul of things and thus we never feel joy in our hearts and keep on accumulating objects.


When starting to practice determining what sparks joy in your life, Kondo recommends starting with the clothing that you wear closest to your heart, “Because that’s where you feel joy―in your heart, not in your head,” (18). This reinforces that joy, whether in tidying or in work, comes from the heart, not the head. It shows why an intellectual solution to a lack of joy will not be successful unless it partners with the heart.


After going through your belongings, object by object, you can get to where everything you have sparks some joy. “When you wear and surround yourself with things you love, your house becomes your own personal paradise,” (26). Kondo also sees objects as being capable of being transformed by love and that this can be felt as well as the physical elements of the object. So the act of loving something is part of how that object brings joy.


“I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum,” (47).


In looking at Marie Kondo’s book, Spark Joy, and her method of tidying, we can use this in several ways in regard to our larger focus of Joy in Work. The first level is the level of our surroundings and our physical workspace. We could use this method of looking at the objects around us and asking if they bring joy. Many things in a medical environment are necessary and utilitarian, we may not be able to say, “This blood pressure cuff does not bring me joy, so I am going to let it go!” We can declutter both our own personal workspace as well as shared work spaces. Shared workspaces tend to accumulate things that apparently belong to no one and we just work around them. The next aspect of this level is adding some seasoning to our work space, bringing in something that sparks joy for us. Again we may have restrictions on certain items in a medical setting, but a plant, a small vase, a little animal figurine, a favorite book, a nice pen, a colorful note pad, even an inspirational saying written on a notecard can bring joy to a personal work space. Some people in medical settings do not have a personal work space, in that case, you have to put the joy on your person (a pin, jewelry, a pen you like) or you could take on the task of bringing some joy to your collective workspace – see if you can put up a picture, bring in a plant, or even something temporary like a small vase of flowers.


Kondo teaches us that there are three common elements that determine joy, “the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value),” (45). Thus, it is important to realize that joy is not a static trait of an object, it is also increased by the love and enjoyment that we have with an object. For instance, I have a pair of non-descript gardening gloves. I didn’t feel joy necessarily when I bought them, but they are very comfortable and now, after using them for a couple years, they bring me joy. Also, the factor of time, I have been using them now for a while and they hold many happy memories of digging in the dirt. I like using my bare hands too, and getting dirt under my fingernails, but some jobs, like pruning a rose bush are better done with gardening gloves. These gloves now feel like a second skin to me. It is important to realize that even something plain and utilitarian can be infused with joy from years of love and use. Joy is not a one-way street. We are not separate and isolated from the physical world, but can be in a love relationship with the earth and the physical world of matter.


Our surroundings are an important part of our health, although medical settings often do not create joyful or healing environments. At the VA, we are implementing work coming out of the national VA Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation. In particular, we are using the Circle of Health and have developed a Whole Health Class that rotates through 8 different health domains over 8 weeks. One of those domains is “Surroundings: Physical & Emotional,” and we work with Veterans to generate ideas around little ways that they can make their surroundings more health promoting. In my book, Re-humanizing Medicine, I also have a dimension of “context” which looks at our physical and situational environment.


VA Circle of Health

The main reason I wanted to blog about Marie Kondo’s book was not simply for the physical work space issues, but for the method she uses of helping us sensitize and train our hearts to be open and attuned to joy in our lives. Joy is not something you can mandate and joy will be different for each person. To spark joy, we need to make room for our hearts in our work. Administration can do many things to either diminish joy or enhance joy, but ultimately, it is up to us to show up for the joy revolution, by attending to our hearts and bringing them to work each day, and by discerning what it is that we need around us in order to nurture our joy.



There Are Those Few Who Go Off to War

A Review of The Theater of War

Performance by Bryan Doerries, David Strathairn and Heather Goldenhersh


Beacon Hill Church of Nazarene – Seattle

Theater of War: Soldiers & Citizens Tour

Friday, August 28, 2015

(We were a bit slow in getting this finalized, but still wanted to put this review out)


There are those few who go off to war.

There are their partners, parents, families and other loved ones who wait their return.

And then there are the rest of us, the multitudes who observe and comment from the edges. (Less than 1% of the population of the United States serves in the military).

This drama of observation from the edges has been playing out, day in and day out, over the past decade as we, health care workers, have sat with Veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: over two and a half million Veterans, more than half of whom have been seen in our VA clinics.

Intermingled with stories of celebration and reunion we have heard stories filled with pain, loss, emptiness, rage, fear, sorrow, loneliness, yearning, hopelessness …stories told by both those who have been off to war as well as those to whom they returned.

Then one day as we sat with a diverse group of community members in a small church on Beacon Hill in Seattle, it slowly dawned on us that the language of war has not changed in any significant way even as the words of those in battle have churned through every language ever spoken. And even beyond the fact that there is a transcendent language of war, the structure of the story of war is similarly immutable: there are those who are thrust into battle, there are those who love them and await their return and there are the rest of us, who at best approach with an earnest desire to play our part in the drama, if only as part of the chorus, or part of the audience.

These realizations occurred as we watched, fully engaged but helpless, the Outside the Wire production of Bryan Doerries translation of Sophocles’ Ajax. David Strathairn and Heather Goldenhersh were jarring in their roles as Ajax and Tecmessa. His relentless march toward suicidal doom, her desperate attempts to avert the inevitable as she shifted her gaze and grasp from him to the chorus, while the rest of us struggled to let go and hold on simultaneously. Tecmessa calls to the chorus, Ajax’s soldiers, and through them to us in the audience when she pleads for help where help is not easy to give, “for our hero sits shell-shocked in his tent, glazed over, gazing into oblivion.”


The Belvedere Torso, a marble sculpture carved in the First Century BC depicting Ajax.

And again she speaks to all of us as citizens of the United States as well as to the chorus, “Tell me. Given the choice, which would you prefer: happiness while your friends are in pain or to share in the suffering?”

The chorus, as many Americans, initially prefers not to get caught up in this ugliness and pain, prefers not to peer into the open and un-healing wound. Yet, eventually, they commit and say, “We will stay and share the pain.”

Perhaps that is all that we can do, and yet doing that may be enough, just simply not to turn away but rather to stay and feel the pain of another who is also part of us, part of our nation.

Watching the drama felt a bit like an ambush inside the wire, leaving us feeling stripped of the professional armor and weapons and sense of hope and healing that we generally carry with us into our work. The performance is a window into the past, 2500 years ago, yet feels as raw and powerful as listening to today’s painful stories of a Veteran who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. We could do nothing but watch. We could do nothing but be there. The one thing we could do was commit ourselves to do what those in the chorus committed themselves to do, “We will stay and share in the pain.”

We witness the suffering of Ajax, who has been away at war for 9 years without leave, who has seen the horrors of the battlefield, who served honorably until losing Achilles, his closest brother-in-arms. When Ajax was disgraced by the Greek military command, who played politics and denied him the honor of receiving Achilles’ armor, Ajax goes berserk and slaughters innocent animals while in a delusional blood rage. In the aftermath, Ajax is consumed with unbearable shame – “What a joke my life has become” – and despite the desperate pleas of his wife, Tecmessa, and before his bewildered infant son, and despite the presence of his brothers-at-arms, he ends his life by suicide, the violent end of so many still who have gone to war.


These themes of suffering, betrayal, rage, moral injury, shame, and self-sacrifice feel as potent in the invisible, but lethal wounds of Ajax as they do in our current Veterans. After the performance, a panel discussion included two health care workers and two Veterans who had served in Vietnam and the other in Iraq.

It further squeezed the audiences’ hearts as one Veteran, overcome by raw emotion, said, “I have lived the life of Ajax.” And the next day, other Veterans who had seen the performance said the same thing.

Bryan Doerries spoke of a performance for active duty personnel where he asked, “Why do you think Sophocles, a Greek general, would write such a play?”

“To boost morale,” a soldier in the audience said. When Bryan asked how that could be, the soldier replied, “Because it is the truth.”

Sitting in the audience of Theater of War makes one feel helpless but also hopeful, because we can catch a glimpse of “the truth” of the aftermath of war that has remained unchanged throughout time. It is a sacred moment to share with our nation’s warriors; and it is a loving act, because listening is an act of love.

As Bryan said to conclude the discussion, “I used to think our role as civilians was about empathy, but I have come to see that it is about a shared sense of discomfort.”

Perhaps by being there we learn. Perhaps by learning we grow. Perhaps by growing we change, both in who we are and what we do, as individuals and as Nations.

The idea of drama, trauma and healing is ancient. VA psychiatrist Jonathan Shay has written about the role of the Greek tragedies and the healing function they served for the actors (many of whom were Veterans) and for the audience and culture, itself.

“We must create our own new models of healing which emphasize communalization of the trauma. Combat veterans and American citizenry should meet together face to face in daylight and listen, and watch, and weep, just as citizen-soldiers of ancient Athens did in the theater at the foot of the Acropolis.We need a modern equivalent of Athenian tragedy. Tragedy brings us to cherish our mortality, to savor and embrace it,” (Shay, Achilles in Vietnam, 194).

This is exactly what Bryan Doerries has done through his productions for active duty military, Veteran, and civilian audiences, bringing together all to participate in a shared sense of discomfort and to participate in witnessing, dialogue and discussion after the performance.

Theater of War Book

In his new book, Theater of War: What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today, Bryan writes that his book “is about the power of tragedies to transcend time, to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. At its core, it is about how stories can help us heal and possibly even change, before it’s too late.” (8). Bryan also has a book of his translations, All That You’ve Seen Here is God, that are used for different performances by Outside The Wire.

all that you have seen here is god

Outside the Wire has presented the Theater of War over 300 times across the United States. You can visit the website for information on performances .


Feb 26, 2016 Theater of War, THEATER OF WAR: Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Conference
Baltimore, MD


Review, which express our own views, written by:

Stephen Hunt, MD, National Director, VA Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative (PDICI), Associate Professor, University of Washington

Craig Santerre, PhD, Clinical Lead Primary Care Mental Health Integration, VA Puget Sound Health Care System

David Kopacz, MD, Staff Psychiatrist, Primary Care Mental Health Integration, VA Puget Sound Health Care System; Acting Assistant Professor, University of Washington