First, Last…Now

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger
There are moments in our lives when we are completely immersed in what we are doing. So much so that the past and future do not exist. Everything is fresh, new, and fascinating. We are seeing with what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind,” as if for the first time. Babies and small children see this way. People at the end of their lives often see this way too, as if for the last time. At either end of the first-last spectrum, it’s the immediacy of the experience that is so powerful. We are not lost in thought or distracted by irrelevant details. Life presents itself front and center, and it has our full attention. The question then becomes “how do we live like that all the time?” Is it even possible? I believe it is, but it is definitely a practice, not a casual, passing wish. You have to align yourself with it, make a promise within your own heart not to get lost in forgetfulness.

When I visited South Africa last fall, I lived each moment intensely throughout the trip. No past, no future, just one continuous stream of present-moment awareness. Traveling is often like that. Because everything is unknown, never-before-seen, your mind focuses intently on what is happening now; nothing else exists. In the African bush, I was alert and super-aware all the time. As I learned to carefully look around for the eyes of predators when leaving my hut or tent at night, I found that my senses were sharply focused on every detail of my environment.

Photograph © 2016 Peggy Kornegger

Riding in a safari jeep, in close proximity to elephants, giraffes, and zebras, was an experience I had only imagined having, yet there I was living a reality vastly more vivid that my imagination. From a riverboat at sunset, I saw buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile, and saddle-billed storks along the river’s edge, and then as the sky darkened, thousands of fireflies lighting up the African night. During those two weeks, there was no need to think about living in the moment—there just was nothing else.

Upon returning to the U.S., I used my meditation practice to bridge the immediacy and novelty of adventurous travel with the habits of daily life. I focused on my breath and opened up to that timeless space within that is pure awareness. Every day when I went for a walk, I reminded myself to look for something different and to choose new routes. In my garden each morning, I noticed every newly opened flower—orange lilies, purple spiderwort, yellow coreopsis. The key was to keep “seeing with fresh eyes” in order to step out of routine. To reinvent the ordinary in whatever way I could so that I was constantly stepping into the unknown, the unexpected, in every moment.

It’s not really difficult to live focused in the present. Your physical senses automatically show you how to do it when extraordinary beauty or sudden danger crosses your path. You are immediately aware and intensely alive in those moments. At other times, you can expand your awareness by giving yourself memory mantras, as Thich Nhat Hanh does when he repeats “present moment, wonderful moment” in his mindfulness practice. The breath too is a built-in tool for re-centering in the now. The more I embrace the idea that there really is nothing but the present moment, the more aware I become of how precious it is. So then, whether I’m in the African bush or in my own backyard, everything around me is new and exciting—a first-last, once-in-a-lifetime experience.

A Love Story

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger
Mt. Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been my spiritual and nature sanctuary for more than twenty years. Filled with towering trees, flowering bushes, and wildflowers, as well as ponds, hills, and dells, it is the closest I come to being in the country while living not far from Boston’s urban landscape. I walk there in silent meditation at all times of the year, and every spring I spend countless hours observing the annual migration of songbirds from Central and South America. Hundreds of birds come through Mt. Auburn, and some nest there, because of its abundance of trees and other natural features.

The history of the cemetery itself as well as those buried there, known and unknown, is quite interesting too, but I usually pay only fleeting attention to the angel sculptures and carved gravestones, as my eyes are focused upward, looking through my binoculars at orioles, tanagers, and warblers. I always take note of Longfellow’s and Margaret Fuller’s graves as I pass, but other than that, the birds and nature are my primary reasons for being there. All that changed one Saturday last month, however, when, as I rounded a turn on a familiar hillside path, I suddenly noticed a gravestone I had not noticed previously.

My eyes were first drawn to a quote by the Dalai Lama etched in the stone: “Be kind whenever possible. (It is always possible.).” Wondering who had chosen it (one of my own favorites), I glanced at the names above it. Immediately, I saw that they were both women and were both born in 1949. One was still alive, and the other had died in 2013. Just below these dates was the single line: “Married on June 15, 2004.” The story this simple gravestone told may have been invisible to some, but to me, another lesbian, it was crystal clear. These two women had married immediately after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in May of 2004, and one had died nine years later. As the emotional impact of that hit me, I glanced down further at the bottom of the stone, where I read the following sentence: “Together we could do anything.”

This completely undid me, and I began to sob openly. Fortunately, no one was nearby. I just stood there and let my heart completely break open with love and sorrow for these women who had shared their lives, at long-last legally recognized, and then been separated by death. I could not help but feel close to them because my partner Anne and I had also married when same-sex marriage became legal (after 31 years together). Our ceremony was held on June 22, 2014 (three years ago today) at Mt. Auburn Cemetery’s Auburn Lake, not far from where I was standing at that moment. The parallels sent chills up and down my spine.

Part of Anne’s and my decision to marry was that we didn’t want to regret not having had a special ceremony to share our love with friends and family, even though our relationship was not a new one. I could only imagine how these two women felt—about how important their marriage and those nine years were to them. A delicate etching at the top of the stone shows a path leading to distant mountains and a table in the foreground with an open book on it, cat below. I imagined them hiking, reading, and loving their cat together, just as Anne and I have done. I also pictured the surviving partner choosing the images as a way of cherishing those memories.

Our lives are so intertwined, we human souls. We think we are living distinctly individual destinies, but at moments like this, we see the larger picture, filled with synchronistic commonality. Really, there is only one destiny, and that is love. When we meet—beautiful gender-free spirits in human form—and allow love to fill us, yes, we can do anything, together. We can touch hearts beyond our own lifetimes with the sheer power of the love we embody and share.

• Dedicated to Julie Felty and Susan Donaldson

Illumination on Vancouver Island

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger
There comes a time when you realize that your life doesn’t really belong to you, like a bicycle or car that you can control by shifting gears or braking. Your life is actually part of something much greater, an expansive beingness that includes you in its infinite Presence but over which you have absolutely no control. When you reach this level of awareness, this overview, you find there is nothing left to do but let go completely and turn everything over to that Presence, or God. Within this surrender is liberation. Your soul becomes the acknowledged divine force in your life, and your human personality begins to flow with that newly accelerated energy. In releasing your grip on your own life, you are free to live it the way it was designed to be lived, the way you planned it before you were even born. God and your soul have known this all along, and you recognize who you really are at exactly the right moment in the greater scheme of things. It’s called destiny.

When we come face to face with our destiny, it is often a moment of illumination, when everything shines with clarity and coherence. We see a timeless expanse within which we are playing a small part in the unfolding of the universe. My own moments of illumination have occurred over time in increasing power and resonance. With each radiant surge, my consciousness has expanded further. Most recently, I experienced a major life-changing illumination during a six-day immersion with Panache Desai on Vancouver Island in Canada. This particular immersion, “Dynamic Enlightenment,” was dedicated to intensive traditional sacred ceremonies and activations, such as shaktipat, to bring each of us in our group to oneness and illumination, or enlightenment.

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger

During the week, I began to experience an electric vibration throughout my body, expansive pressure in my head, and tingling in my crown chakra. I felt as if my entire physical system was being recalibrated to accommodate the power and magnitude of the divine energy that Panache was transmitting. Then one evening after dinner, I took a walk as the sun was descending slowly in the west and a strong wind was rising off the water. As I looked up at the towering evergreens silhouetted against the sky, the wind began to sweep through them with a powerful force that caused them to sway back and forth dramatically. The wind was literally dancing with the trees, and the air itself was alive with life-force energy. In fact, everything I looked at was alive with this energy (prana). The very basis of all life was being revealed to me wherever I looked. The trees, bushes, birds, wind, and sky were filled with a shimmering luminosity and vibrating aliveness: God’s living spirit. I stood transfixed in absolute awe.

As I remained motionless, in an altered state of expanded awareness, my attention was drawn to the sun itself. I closed my eyes to take in the full radiance of this beautiful shining star. A golden glow shone through my eyelids, filling my senses with warmth and light. Then, after about ten seconds, the glow increased significantly, as if someone had turned the switch on “high.” The amplified light seemed to come not only from the sun itself but from within me as well. In fact, everything was light—golden divine light, in which I was immersed. God presence everywhere—in the trees, in the sun, in my human body. The soul of the universe clearly visible in that golden light. It was extraordinary, and I’ll never forget the feeling. I carry it within me now, a light that illuminates everything each time I take a deep breath and look with God’s eyes on the world around me.

We all live our own versions of illumination, sometimes dramatic, sometimes as simple as opening a door to a new way of seeing everything. En-LIGHT-enment is nothing more than stepping into the ever-present light of our own being and seeing ourselves for the divine souls we truly are. Our collective destiny is to know ourselves as God and to live as that all-encompassing harmonious love within our human forms. On the other side of all the extreme polarities now occurring on this planet, we will finally come back into balance and align with the sacred soul light and oneness at our core.


Gifts from God

Photograph © 2017 Peggy Kornegger
The people in our lives are gifts from God, not there by happenstance but by design. And not to be taken for granted or overlooked but instead continuously recognized and treasured. In my day-to-day life, my spiritual path repeatedly draws me inward to a profound divine connection. Within that experience, I feel as one with everything in the cosmos. I love those experiences. They teach me again and again why I am here on this planet. Yet, what I forget sometimes is that I am also here to connect with my fellow human beings, to be a part of their lives and have them be a part of mine. Meditation and inner journeys are extraordinary, but this Earth experience when shared at the deepest level with others is equally extraordinary. Without it, your heart can never crack open wide enough to let the divine in—or out.

A few Saturdays ago, I spent the day with two friends, a married couple whom I’ve known for over thirty years. In the morning, my partner Anne and I helped her mulch their garden with several other neighbors and friends, and in the afternoon we visited her husband at a rehab center in Boston, where he was recovering from chemo treatments for cancer. We hadn’t seen him for several months, and our visit was a surprise. The expression of welcoming joy on his face when we walked in was enough to bring tears to all of our eyes. After we hugged and then chatted a bit, we went to nearby Waterfront Park for an impromptu picnic. As we watched the boats and people come and go and basked in the spring sunshine, we told stories and shared experiences, past and present, that brought us all even closer together. Moments of laughter and tears that mean so much when old friends reunite, especially in the midst of life challenges like they have been facing.

And it was precisely that old friendship and those challenges that allowed us to drop everything nonessential from our conversations (and for them, from their lives). At times like these, we remember what is really important: to look in another human being’s eyes and say “I love you.” And we did. Nothing else matters. Nothing. So many times, we get caught up in our own lives and forget that essential truth, that key to all human relationships and to all of life: Love. Openly expressed and shared. We are here for such a relatively short time on this planet. Why waste a single moment in distraction or separation of any kind? We all feel joy, we all feel pain, our hearts encompass every possible human emotion. We are alike, we human souls in physical form—let’s not lose sight of our essential oneness.

When Anne and I came home, we felt we had been blessed with such a sacred experience in that unplanned day with our friends. The laundry undone, the emails unanswered—what did it matter? To-do lists are meant to be tossed aside in favor of spontaneous life moments that God presents us with every day. The people in your life are gifts from God. Their lives are precious, as is yours—don’t chose routine, or even meditation, when a human/divine soul stands before you ready to share their heart with you. That is why you were born, why I was born. Let us remember together the love that links our lives.

Flower Child

Photograph © Peggy Kornegger
“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.”
—Scott McKenzie

I went to San Francisco. And yes, I wore flowers in my hair. I was one of those young beaded, bell-bottomed kids who moved to California in the late 1960s, drawn by the irresistible call for “Love, Peace, and Flower Power.” 2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the famous San Francisco “Summer of Love.” Hard to believe that that much time has passed. In some ways, I still feel the same inside as I did when I left the Midwest for California, suitcase packed with utopian dreams. I still have those dreams. And I’m still a flower child at heart.

During 1967’s Summer of Love, it didn’t really matter where you were—that powerful energetic vibration affected you. In Michigan, I was preparing to leave for six months studying in France, but San Francisco was where I longed to be. All summer, I stayed up late into the night painting psychedelic posters and listening to Dylan, Donovan, and the Beatles. My longing continued right through the fall and spring at school in Europe (a French version of Scott McKenzie’s song seemed to be playing everywhere). Finally I reached the promised land in 1968. Was it all I hoped it would be? Yes, and more. It wasn’t exactly utopia, but it was a beginning. It brought me new adventures, new friends, and inner transformation, and that was just what I wanted.

Photograph © Peggy Kornegger

The key component was the Dream. All of us who headed west in those years were dreamers, free spirits awakening to a global movement for universal love, peace, freedom, and radical change that is still streaming live through this world today. California was/is a state of mind, the psychic birthplace of possibility, of expansion outward beyond limitation. I was one of so many who undertook that journey. Some lost their way, but others, like me, are still journeying, still choosing love over fear every day of our lives.

California has felt like “home” to me for most of my adult life. Even though I grew up in Illinois, it is on my return trips to California that I begin to cry when I look down from the plane and see the landscape and ocean beneath me. I loved my years there. It was a time of transition, from small-town girl to flower child/activist in the larger world. I was a beginner, innocent in many ways, learning about life, love, poetry, politics—and figuring out who I was within all those frameworks. Of course, like others of my generation, I never wanted to be just one thing, live just one place, so after a few years on the West Coast in the late 1960s and earlier 1970s, I moved to the East Coast for graduate school. San Francisco called me back once again for several years after that, but then I returned to Boston. Since then, I visit California; I don’t live there physically.

Still, my soul is somehow timelessly connected to California. Perhaps I lived there in a past life, in addition to those key years in the 60s and 70s. Now, when I return, I stand looking out at the Pacific Ocean, and my mind quiets, my spirit rests. My heart recognizes “home.” The home that transcends time and place and links up with something intangible in the universe, in myself. The home that I found among those sweet youthful souls with visions of a better world—the “gentle people with flowers in their hair.” I will always be one of them.

“If You’re Going to San Francisco”: