Only Time to Love

Panic and terror in the face of what is unfolding now on our Earth is more than understandable. Who among us has not experienced something that could be understood as “extinction illness”? The stories Deena tells of her friends, family and community are heartbreaking, especially coming so many, so fast—but certainly not unique. As I write this, I am pausing … to breathe, to sit open-heartedly with her, to let the truth of her experience (and all of ours, really) rest here between us.

And after a bit, I want to take her hands, look her in the eyes and recite for her a poem she wrote:

There are those who try to set
Fire to the world
We are in danger
There is only time to move slowly
There is no time not to love.

I want to tell her that I don’t know if we are in danger, even in the face of what is unfolding all around us. Or that the danger may be something other than what we think it is. And I want to tell her that it is the last two lines of her poem that resonate in my heart as pure wisdom: that we need to move slowly; to refuse to be exiled from our own hearts; to strengthen our capacity to love ourselves and the whole world. In these words, I hear Deena pointing us toward a love that can be a force greater than terror, a love that can hold the truth of our suffering.


As I read Deena’s essay and think about both extinction as an illness and her exhortation that we must eradicate extinction to heal ourselves, I hear a question: how do we heal the collective? We know quite a bit about how an individual heals. Are there clues in what we know about individual healing that can help us know how to heal a species? I think so.

Like Deena, I had a serious, in fact, “terminal” cancer diagnosis when I was (from my current perspective) quite young, forty-two. I still vividly remember waking in the hospital bed to see my partner, Phyllis, beside me and the surgeon at the foot of the bed. Both looked grim. Phyllis was sad. They told me the colon cancer had metastasized. It was in my liver. Phyllis asked, “how long?” The answer: six months.

I was oddly happy, almost elated. I was going to get the opportunity to see if I could heal. I believed healing was possible beyond what medicine knew. I didn’t know how to access this potential, but now I would have a real chance to try.

I did many things in my years of healing. I’ll highlight three insights in particular that may shed light on the question of collective healing, what we might also think of as collective transformation.

I had the good fortune to be given a cassette tape of a lecture Deena gave about her own healing. I was driving to the New Life Health Center for treatment by Master Bo-In Lee, a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, as I listened to her say that the process of preparing to die is the same as the process of healing. “Yes,” I said to myself. She’s right. And that’s what I’m doing.

I was told that it was certain that I’d die. One afternoon my partner and I sat in my primary care doctor’s office and listened as, in a misguided attempt to support my choice not to do chemo, Dr. Brenda turned to Phyllis and said emphatically, “Anne’s going to die of this disease.” She was sure of it. She knew the science. While she could still be proven correct, since I may indeed die of metastatic colon cancer (though I doubt it), in essence, my living into my late 60’s has already proven her wrong.

In my language of the time, I was looking for a “crack in the prognosis” as I drove to Jamaica Plain that day. Today, I might ask if there is a crack to be found in the current collective prognosis. And the obvious follow-up question: how will we access this crack/passage into a different reality/future, if indeed one exists? In other words, … and may I be careful here … while the science is clear that we are indeed in danger of, even in the midst of, a sixth massive species extinction, might there be a crack in this prognosis, too? Might we bring forth a global transformation of consciousness?

Let’s back up. How is it possible that I am still alive? There is mystery in this world, and even science has both measured and named it: more than ninety-six percent of the universe is unavailable to our senses. It’s called dark energy and dark matter. More of it is energy than matter. In other words, biology describes only four percent of what we consider our body. Think about it: over ninety-six percent of what you are is not form, not available to be analyzed by the methods of science. (Describing how scientists arrived at the figures four percent and ninety-six percent is beyond the scope of this essay, but Einstein came up with the numbers—the universe only makes sense this way.)

When the Harvard-trained neuroscientist, Jill Bolte Taylor, had her left-brain stroke, her skin disappeared from her view and instead she saw waves of energy flowing out from her body.1TED Talk In her book, she describes that during the stroke she actually experienced that her body “functioned like a portal through which the energy of who I am can be beamed into three-dimensional space.”2My Stroke of Insight, p. 45.

So, the energy of the cosmos isn’t just out there in outer space, it’s in us. And this energy is the energy of creation, not as a one-time, complete process, but creation as something ongoing in which we, intricately woven into the universe as we are, participate.

The love that wise poet Deena tells us to cultivate moment by moment is intimately related to this energy of Creation. I would go so far as to say they are identical, that the love we have for the world creates the world. This isn’t sentimental love; it’s the love Rumi is talking about when he says

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
They’re in each other all along.3Broadside poster, trans., Coleman Barks

This is the love that mystics describe, a love which opens into limitless possibility, a love which is none other than the power of creation within us, lying dormant in many of us.

Now, to be specific about this: preparing to die is a profound process of acceptance and surrender that transforms anxiety and fear into a peaceful relaxation, even bliss. We often see this on the faces of those who are nearing death. It’s a radiance that bespeaks the unfolding within of a deep joy.

The process of preparing to die allows us to relax enough that the body can change, transform. I’m reminded of a kayaker-friend of mine, Carol, who spent hours caught in what is essentially a washing machine on its side in the middle of a river, called a hole. This one was what is also called a keeper. She couldn’t get out of it, and all her paddling buddies couldn’t get her out either. She spent hours going ‘round and ‘round in the hole before exhaustion led her to accepting, she would die in this hole. The minute she let go and surrendered, she was washed out the bottom. Surrender opens us to possibilities beyond what we can accomplish ourselves. Surrender/letting go of ourselves, of what we think we are, of our determination to make life fit our idea of what it’s supposed to be … this is key.

We know from studies in early childhood education, and from our own experience, that we learn best when we’re relaxed, when we’re enjoying ourselves, that learning when we’re stressed is very difficult if not impossible. In other words, relaxation allows the brain to rewire and the body to recalibrate and we can learn to be something different than we currently are, something that is well within the realm of possibility, even if it’s considered “impossible”. Relaxation and surrender are the first steps in making the impossible possible.

The hours I spent in sitting meditation and walking outside observing dying all around me in the Maine autumn, weeping with Phyllis, knowing deep within that my death would not be a tragedy and that no matter what I am safe—all this translated into not resisting, not fighting. I was not in a battle with cancer. I was focused instead on creating the internal conditions for health and longevity.

I have a genetic “disorder” that predisposed me to this cancer. Yet, for many years that gene did not activate. So, my intention was to bring about a condition in my body whereby the gene would again go quiet. And part of this was, as I’m suggesting, that I accept and prepare to die, that is, let go of fighting to live or fighting for control, just like Carol.

Instead of struggling to manage the illness, I engaged in a process that was at different times, playful, unexpected, inspiring, joyful and yes, also deeply challenging (as when I did six months of scarring moxibustion) and sad.

I offer this example of a “protocol”: Just days after I was diagnosed my friend, Lynette, offered to teach me overtone chanting. I welcomed her suggestion and still practice. Overtone chanting vibrates the cells, especially, the pituitary gland that sits right on top of the upper palate. So, it vibrates with overtone chanting.4The pituitary gland is the master gland of the endocrine system, and is intimately connected to the immune system, which Candace Pert said is only a separate system by circumstance of scientific discovery and research. At dawn every morning (a time I later learned when the pituitary is active, perhaps explaining why monastics chant at dawn every day) I walked down to Black Rock where I could sit and watch the sunrise as I chanted. I made up chants as well as practicing overtones. Based on what Lynette had taught me, I figured out how to do Tibetan one-tone deep chanting so I could vibrate my liver. Information is carried in vibration. All vibration is intelligence.

My three summary sentences on healing:

  • The process of preparing to die and the process of healing are the same process. [at least to a significant extent—more is required than just surrender] (Deena Metzger)
  • Changing all your daily habits makes the host unrecognizable to the disease. (Jane Katra5)
  • Healing happens outside of time and space. (Me)

I’ve described the first in some detail already—that it is central to the process of healing/transformation that we let go of stress, including fear, terror, anxiety, including anger and judgement, including jealousy and despair. There are no exceptions to this. They all create blockages to the energy of love, the energy of creation. And only when that energy is flowing are we open to an intelligence greater than our own. And clearly, we are in need of exactly that greater intelligence.

Deena writes that we need to change. I’m in full agreement. The changes start with letting go of all those forms of stress mentioned above, and all the ones I left out. You know what they are when you feel them in your body.

My first response upon reading Deena’s conclusion that “the only healing for Extinction Illness is changing our lives to stop Extinction” was confusion. In the face of the science and the failure of all our efforts thus far to bring any meaningful change in our collective life, how…?!

I want to suggest that one of the most powerful changes we can make is to stop giving energy to extinction. I know this is heresy in many circles. What if focusing on climate disturbance and species extinction is giving power/energy/life force to dying? Might it be that by focusing instead on love in the face of all the “trouble” gives us a chi-thread to the “crack” if we will follow it?

We’re talking about energy here, about the energy of creation, about what makes destruction impossible. In her Buchner Prize Speech, German writer Christa Wolf asked whether loving a city might save that city in war. I wonder if making a habit of loving our lives, loving the planet, loving even our enemies (or at least blessing them) might make our planet unrecognizable to the degradation of energy/love that manifests as extinction.

My Qigong teacher, Master Mingtong Gu, refuses to let any of his students talk about problems. He says that when we talk about problems, we’re limiting ourselves to the world of form. And change/creation/healing originates in the formless, the ninety-six percent. This brings me to the final summary statement above: healing takes place outside of time and space. The ninety-six percent is described as a quantum field and it exists beyond time and space. It is why “miracles” happen. In the formless world the “laws” of material reality do not apply. Different laws apply, like the law of energy: where attention goes, energy flows.

So, we can train ourselves to spend time every day in the quantum field. This is scientific language for cultivating a mystical experience.

My assignment to anyone who would take it is inspired by the belugas of the St. Lawrence in Quebec who are fully aware that they are very close to extinction and still spend their days in joy—playing, loving, fully alive. So, what might happen if each of us who loves this planet and all Her myriad forms of expression were to spend an hour or more (at least as much time as we spend in stress/worry/anger, etc.) each day in deep relaxation, moving into the dimension beyond time and space and seeing and feeling a fully healed human species?

Many years ago now, back in the 70’s and 80’s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of TM, conducted numerous well-recorded experiments to determine the effectiveness of meditation to influence a large geographical field away from violence. His conclusion, in sum (and maybe too briefly), was that if zero point one percent of the population did effective meditation, the environment would change sufficiently that violence would become impossible to enact, perhaps even unthinkable.

At the risk of belaboring what may already be clear: We live in mystery. The quantum scientists are telling us this. For longer than memory, mystics have assured us that the world as we usually think of it is far from the truth. Neuroscientists now affirm, and we can experience this directly, that the left-brain, linear, analyzing mind is secondary to the direct truth of the body’s experience. In other words, the left brain is not going to solve this “problem.” In Audre Lorde’s words: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Or Einstein: “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” Or Master Mingtong: Problems exist in the level of form and transformation/healing/creation originates in the formless.

So, if trying to solve the problem just keeps it going, what is the work of this moment? I want to suggest that it is two-fold. Firstly, we are called to the mystical, to engage in a conscious way with the unknown, the invisible, the formless, the limitless, the infinite, the ninety-six percent. This is a call to a daily practice, one which nourishes us deeply and perhaps then prepares us for the second task: tending to the dying.

“There is no time not to love.” My heart swells with these words and my gratitude to Deena for them is immense. Can we meet the great dying (if that’s what it is to be) with equally great love? And can we stay open to and energetically call in the possibility of the impossible unfolding here in the four percent?

What I know about this process of entering into the dimension beyond time and space where miracles can happen is that we have to let go of our own agendas. This means that Deena’s “process of preparing to die” that opens the process of healing has to be real. We can’t pretend to prepare to die, so that we can find the crack in this conundrum. We have to do it for real. And that may mean letting go of trying to figure out the science of how to survive, letting go of analyzing the problem and trying to find a solution, and instead giving ourselves over fully to life, to creation, to the mystery and yes to the grief and unimaginable sorrow. Perhaps we address extinction illness most powerfully when we engage with the infinite realm of the formless, when we become the expression of pure love embracing everything, including terror.

About the Author

Anne Dellenbaugh is a meditation and yoga instructor and a wilderness guide. A former Zen priest, Anne has trained extensively in Zen, Vipassana and Vajrayana Buddhism. She is currently studying Pure Consciousness with Qigong Master Mingtong Gu (The Chi Center). She is also a senior student of Reginald A. Ray, PhD (Dharma Ocean). Through her company, HER WILD SONG: Wilderness Journeys for Women, founded in 1990, Anne has guided hundreds of women down rivers, up mountains and across the desert. To learn more about her work:

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