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Listening Between the Lines

After my friend Yvonne died, her husband, Johnny let me know that he had something special

that he wanted me to do at her celebration of life, but he didn’t tell me what it was.

On Monday, December 16 I received the following email from Johnny:

Dear Friends,

As most of you already know, my beloved wife and companion of 59 years, Yvonne, passed away

on Saturday, November 30, 2019. Her life was long, rich, variegated, and full of creativity and

joy. She touched many, many people along the way.

It is time to celebrate Yvonne. You are invited!

Date: Saturday, December 28, 2019

Time: 10:30 am. A lunch will follow.

Place: Maple Grove Lutheran Church. 9251 Elm Creek Blvd. N, Maple Grove, MN

55369; 763-420-7930.

Our Celebration will include songs that were important to Yvonne and to our family starting

with “Morning Has Broken” and closing with “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”; shares from family

members; and practices that were important to Yvonne in her spiritual journey.

What this email does not expand upon was the many layers of Yvonne’s spiritual seeking. Her

parents were non-religious, but Yvonne joined a church youth group at a local church and was

baptized. In high school she discovered Quakerism and spent about 20 years within that

tradition. For the last forty years of her life, she followed the path of Siddha Yoga. Since moving

to Maple Grove, she and Johnny would sometimes join Tanya and Chad for activities at their

Lutheran church where the Celebration of Life service would be held.

The email from Johnny continued.

My original thought was that I would introduce chanting and meditation, we would chant Om

Namah Shivaya for 10 minutes, and then we would meditate quietly for 5 minutes.

However, when we talked with Pastor Chris it turned out that she had some concerns about this

arrangement. She thought that chanting for 10 minutes would feel too strange to most of the

participants, and that a simple meditation would be too hard. The solution we came up with is

that we will use the introduction as is, but we will chant for only 3, max 4 minutes and we will

have a guided meditation. You will be the guide, and we will do our best to replicate the first Qi

Gung meditation we did together. I HOPE THIS IS OK WITH YOU!!!!! If I have been neglectful

and this is the first you are hearing of this plan, by deepest apologies!

What do you think? It feels good to me, but as the leader of the guided meditation it needs to feel

OK to you as well. And by the way, if you also want to share about Yvonne, you are more than

welcome to do that during the lunch when there will be an open mike for sharing.

The problem for me was that I had not been in the ICU room in Minneapolis when the Qi Gong

master lead them through the meditation. One afternoon, I had led the family in meditation by

Yvonne’s bedside, but it was not a Qi Gong based meditation, at least not as I had learned Qi

Gong meditation. We simply gathered around Yvonne’s bed and put our hands on her while

breathing together, calming and strengthening ourselves with our steady, even breaths, holding

Yvonne in our circle of love and healing.

I did know the form of meditation that Yvonne and I had shared, Realization Process. In fact, I

was a fully certified teacher of this work. Yvonne particularly liked the Core Breath exercise. I

worked to adapt the meditation we had done together from its original 20-minute length to the 5-

minute length that Johnny needed. It took me three tries. I sent the meditation along with a note.

Dec 18, 2019

3:21 PM

Johnny, is this the sort of thing you are looking for? This core meditation was Yvonne’s favorite

among the Realization Process ones we did with Judith Blackstone. Since it is activating the

central channel it is congruent with some Taoist meditations. Since I have not done Spring

Forest Qigong I don’t have a meditation from that lineage. I hope this works. If not let me

know. (I have not included the attachment with this version since we did not use it.)

Johnny’s response.

Dec 18, 2019

5:51 PM

I read through your meditation instructions, and I can really see why this process would have

been powerful for you and Yvonne. However, I suspect that the instructions would seem very

esoteric to people who have not experienced any sort of meditation before and who have had no

real exposure to anything mystical. So here’s what makes more sense to me.

The visualization that Master Jaci led us into, especially on the first day, was very simple, and

every component of it was one that everyone would have experienced: a group of people, warm

sun, and smiles. Nothing is dependent on previous exposure to Qi Gung, Green Forest or any

other school. We simply create an inner vision according to the instructions and focus on

holding it as vividly as possible. I think this is a task that is very approachable, non-esoteric, and

at this level not dependent on any interpretation of what it is actually doing within us. In my

experience, it is simply bringing in lightness and a smile!

I have been imagining slightly modifying my introduction so that it will set the stage for this

visualization a bit more explicitly than it does at present. I will still talk about Om Namah

Shivaya because we will be chanting it, and we are planning to have it play very softly in the background. But the meaning of this mantra is that I honor the Universal Divine. I can say

something like the Divine is associated with love and joy, and the guided meditation will lead us

in this direction.

So, would you be up for leading such a visualization? I have been hoping that you would,

because you were part of the guided meditation with Yvonne. If it doesn't feel right to you, then

let’s look for another way that would be equally approachable to the uninitiated!

Later after much thought, I sent my return email.

Dec 18,2019

8:38 PM


I was not there either of the times that Master Jaci did a meditation/visualization session for

Yvonne. They happened before I came.   I did do a short RP attunement with some of you early in

my visit while we were gathered around Yvonne and then we all sent healing energy in our own

way.  I know that Master Jaci's first session was powerful for you. You mentioned it several times

while I was with you, particularly. the aspects of warm sun and smiles.  Thus I included the

aspects of warm light and inner smiles (which are part of some Taoist meditations but totally

foreign to the meditations that Dr Sun has taught through YiRen Qigong.)   I think you have a

very strong memory of the session with Master Jaci and that if you want that gestalt to be part of

Yvonne's celebration, you should ask Master Jaci to do the meditation.  It would not hurt my

feelings at all.  I want the service to be just as you envision.  If I am to do this I have to

understand what your vision for it is.

But aha!  I have just had one idea that would work for me if it works for you..  I would make

Yvonne's Autumn Joy the entryway into the meditation.  First I would ask everyone to close their

eyes and focus on their breathing.  Then I would ask them to open their eyes and put their

attention on Autumn Joy.  They would then visualize (eyes open or closed) walking into the forest

of golden trees where they can shuffle the dry leaves, smell the sweet smell of the soil, feel the

rough bark of the trees, look at the sunshine through the golden leaves above, etc.  Although they

walk alone, they soon find others who have been drawn to the autumn woods on this sunny day. 

They find a circle of old logs to sit on. They share stories of autumns past and friends past and

make new friends as they do so. They discover that all of them had been friends with Yvonne and

had come here to remember her., her creativity, her brilliance, her curiosity, her spiritual

seeking, her playfulness, her joy, her love.   Someone bursts into song and all join in. There are

tears and smiles, communion with each other and with nature.  Eventually it is time to go, but

now they leave arm in arm, with friends old and new, carrying Yvonne's spirit renewed in their


Hope this resonates with you,

Johnny responded.

Dec 18, 2019

9:03 PM

Oh Jan, how could I have misremembered the guided meditation so completely: How many

shades of red could my ears possibly turn?

But now back to today’s reality. I don't think it would be realistic, or appropriate, to call in

Master Jaci. However, I like the basics of your idea, working with Autumn Joy. Let me try a

variation on what you wrote down.

Focusing on breathing will be unfamiliar to most of the group, so I would not start there. Rather,

I would start by asking people to look at the painting and then close their eyes and call it up in

their imagination. From there I would use your existing instructions but simplify them: They

would visualize walking into the forest of golden trees where they can shuffle the dry leaves,

smell the sweet smell of the soil, feel the rough bark of the alone, they soon find others who have

been drawn to the autumn woods because of Yvonne.  They find a circle of old logs to sit on.

 There are smiles (I would skip mentioning tears), communion with each other and with nature. 

Eventually it is time to go, but now they leave arm in arm, reveling in the glories of nature and in

their loving memories of Yvonne.

This could be paced so that it takes not more than 5 minutes, perhaps only 4. It would be very,

very close to what Master Jaci had us visualize and would probably have the same uplifting

effect. And, Autumn Joy is fast becoming the icon for the whole event. It is the cover of the

program booklet. It’s the front of a card that we will give everybody, in as many copies as they

want. We’ll have it on the table at the front. So, working with it in this way would be, as they say

nowadays, perfect!

My Response.

Dec 18, 2019

10:10 PM

YES! We can make this work.  So glad.  Now to bed.

Heather, who had been on the whole thread chimed in at this point,

Dec 18, 2019

10:43 PM

I've caught up on this great collaboration and I think the end plan sounds really lovely and

accessible to all. So looking forward to being together to share our love of Yvonne. 

With this go ahead I immersed myself in what it would be like to walk in the Minnesota woods

in the fall because those were the woods that the congregation would know and that Yvonne was

painting in Autumn Joy. I asked Chad to share what he knew since he was a hunter and

outdoorsman. Johnny sent me photographs that he had taken. I looked at the scan that Johnny

had sent me of the picture. I entered those glowing woods and finally I wrote and revised the


Fri, Dec 27

9:34 PM

Here’s the latest version. I ran it by Heather and Tanya. They loved it.

Put your feet flat on the floor. Take a few full breaths. With each exhalation let go, relax. Let

the pews support your body.

Look at Autumn Joy.

Just be with the painting, the glorious golds and yellows, the muted greens, the sharp dark

green of the evergreen.

Now close your eyes and continue to see Autumn Joy in your mind's eye as we take a walk into

those golden woods.

It is a beautiful sunny fall day, the air is crisp with a touch of warmth whenever the sun hits you.

Beside the big evergreen there is a path leading into the golden woods.

You follow the path. It is wide and leads ever so gently up the hill. It is covered with leaves,

some brown, some still gold.

As you look around you notice how the trunks of the trees form dark vertical silhouettes leading

your eyes from the glowing golds and yellows surrounding you to the forest floor beneath your


You bend over and pick up a golden maple leaf. You twirl its stem between your fingers as you

look at both sides of it. You are struck by its beauty.

You walk on shuffling your feet through the leaves, breathing in the sweetness of forest soil

with each breath.

You hear the honking of a flock of geese overhead. You stop, looking up toward the sound but

only see the sun shining through the golden leaves above.

A gentle breeze causes the leaves to flutter. Some break loose and come spiralling down

around you.

You meet others who have been drawn to these autumn woods.

There are smiles, communion with one another and with nature. Together you walk in silence,

listening to the woods, feeling their living presence around you. You are at peace, filled with joy.

Eventually it is time to go. You share some warm hugs. Then you go your own ways, reveling in

the glory of nature.

Slowly open your eyes. Look around the room. Focus on “Autumn Joy” Remember our walk in

the woods.

Turn and share a smile with your neighbor. Feel the divine spirit that fills this room and all of us.

John M Palka Fri, Dec 27, 2019

To: Jan Westwater

I love it!

Just two points:

-There are no pews, only chairs.

-Autumn Joy will be projected on the screen during the meditation, as well as being

printed on the program. Maybe you might say “look up at Autumn Joy.”

As I read the meditation from the lectern at the front of the church, Autumn Joy was projected

on a big screen behind me to my left. In front of me on the left were the family and the group

of Siddha Yoga friends, seated toward the front near the family so that everyone who knew the

chant would be together and help fill the large room with sound.

As I look out to my right, I saw fewer faces that I knew, but there were some that I had come to

know as I sat vigil at the hospital. Straight ahead of me at the back of the sanctuary was beauty.

Picture boards of Yvonne and Johnny, saris that Yvonne had brought back from India, beautiful

flower arrangements, some in traditional white, but more in vibrant colors. This was a true

celebration of a beautiful life.

Afterwards as we ate lunch in the Fellowship Hall, I had many people come up to me and say

thank you for the meditation and that they had never experienced what it was like to meditate.

I felt gratitude to Johnny and to Pastor Chris for guiding me in the right direction.

I realized that much of what I had done over the last six weeks was what an end-of-life doula

would do. It had been two years since my husband died and during that time, I had given myself

permission not to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life. In preparing the

meditation, Yvonne had beckoned me into the golden woods. Now it felt that she was leading

me out of the woods, guiding me in the direction I was to go. My calling was to work with the

dying and their grieving families. Thanks, my friend for pointing the way.

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