Thursday, January 26, 2012

An S&D workshop story (day 36)

As many of you know, Nancy (and I) coached and facilitated dozens of workshops over the last 18 years.  In August 2010, she became the west coast manager the Pathways Institute, running the core programs. &One of our friends, Heather Hafer (whom some of you know) sent me this story a few weeks ago, and gave me permission to share it. Nancy was direct and earthy, something I've always loved about her.


This is my absolute favorite memory of Nancy:

We were at the ropes course - it was the start of the "Stand & Deliver Round That Shall Not Be Named". We were in southern San Francisco; and it was a very brisk day. It was a new group so we were all still getting to know one another. It was a day full of thick observation and introspection as we mentored our participants towards self revelation, discovery and teamwork. And...I had to pee. As I mentioned, it was a brisk day, Nancy and I were standing so close to each other that we were actually overlapping. We were huddled together as the following conversation occurred.

Heather: Man, I have to pee!

Nancy looks all the way around their surroundings and opens her hand as if to showcase that nearly the entire universe is readily available, and proceeds in a matter of fact, yet simultaneously slightly befuddled, tone.

Nancy: Well go. There are a thousand trees to choose from.

Heather looks around skeptically, and gives a slight grimace of doubt.

Heather: I don't know...

Nancy rifles through her jacket pockets and hands over a tissue that looks as though it had already been used four...possibly five...times already.

Nancy: Here (hands over the tissue).

Heather (takes it politely, still looks around): I don't know, there's people around. Maybe I can hold it.

Nancy (at this point somewhat angrily): Heather, what are you afraid they're going to see?!

Heather: Um, my big fat white ass!

Even re-reading it I'm not sure if it was actually that funny, all I can say is that Nancy and I laughed hysterically for at least a half an hour. We were both in tears, and then we still continued to laugh occasionally throughout the rest of the day. We had to stop looking at each other because every time we did the laughing would continue. It still cracks me up every time I think of it. I'll always have that memory and it will always cheer me up. I am grateful. 

I'm also grateful that with Nancy as my mentor, I did eventually pee, in public, with questionable tissue - laughing the entire time - and not caring at that point who saw what.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some of the learning (day 35)

Hello, friends.

Five weeks now, and I'm starting to see where I've been changed and developed by Nancy's loss. She seems to be doing well also.

My sense of her is that she is detaching from us, returning to more essential form, and doing what she needs to do. Contact is only once every four or five days now, and when I do feel her, she is more ethereal, less personal.  When she dropped completely out of contact a week ago, I was plunged into the fullness of my loss, and had a long, painful night alone. God, my tears are endless.  Little things crack the dam every day...I heard "Hollywood Swinging" by Kool & The Gang on the radio last week, thought about Nancy discoing in LA listening to that song thirty years ago, and had to pull over in my car to cry it out.  My home is empty, my heart has a hole in it, and it takes all my discipline to avoid pouring too much wine on my sadness, or seeking endless distraction.

I also realize that I've lost nearly all my lingering fear of death. I've had such a solid sense of Nancy's spirit at times, I cannot deny it, and however little I know about experience after dying, I am completely reassured that it exists. I've also felt Nancy in safe, secure, blissful places, and Palden-la told me last week that she believed Nancy was in the Land of the Taras. I don't know much about what that would be, but resting in a place that full of compassion and resource must be wonderful.

I have more information about our memorial service on February 8th.

- the correct name of the church is Sei Ko Kai Christ Church

One of my friends tells me that this is a gathering place for Japanese who spent time in our internment camps during World War II, and that they have a wonderful community.

- Please plan to arrive at 6:45pm. The service will begin promptly at 7:00pm.

- Please let me know by Friday if you plan to attend. We are trying to get an idea of how many to expect.

- The service should not last more than an hour.

I would still love to hear more Nancy stories! One of our friends confirmed Tina Pfeil's sailboat story, and also mentioned how Nancy used to power-nap under his desk at Walker in the early '80's, perfect hair, elegant clothes and all.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Memorial service info (day 28)

Hi, everyone.

My friend Val Syzmanski has confirmed the location for Nancy's memorial service. It will be held on February 8th, at 7pm, at Skeikokai Christ Church, 2140 Pierce Street, San Francisco. Her organization,, uses this location for their zen buddhist meditation and meeting space, and it sounds like it will be spacious and delightful. I look forward to seeing you there. You can see a map at

Today is our 28th day of mourning for Nancy, the fourth of seven weeks, more than halfway through. The shock of her death is wearing off, finally, and I'm now getting hit by the full force of her loss. I have depressed days, and know that I just need to open and let my feelings flow through me. When I do, the depression fades...and my feelings of sadness and tragedy can be overwhelming. I found her hair last weekend, the hair we removed last February when she was getting chemotherapy for leukemia...and I just lost it completely for a while. Sometimes, it's really hard to get anything done. But most of the time, I'm able to focus.

I'm getting stuff handled, cleaning out drawers, throwing away things, consolidating shoes and clothes, starting to tackle paperwork. One thing at a time, so I don't get overwhelmed. I have a roommate possibility, and I'll have to get to work on clearing the second floor of the house, one garage, and getting some finish details in the house taken care of. My list seems endless, but I'm just doing one thing at a time, and there is steady progress.

I've been learning more about the 49 days of mourning, and the theology from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There is a remarkable Viking/Penguin edition of this book, with an introduction by HH The Dalai Lama, that is frankly blowing my mind. The introduction alone is a dense and very informative introduction to buddhist practice.

A friend suggested that I keep open to my intuitions about Nancy's passage, and indeed I am experiencing some strange feelings when I reach out to her that don't seem to be mine. Yesterday morning I felt very agitated, and had to go off for a few minutes at work to practice a tonglen meditation to transform fear into the heart-wisdom and love of Tara. It seemed to help. And I also have a strong sense that others are helping as well. She does feel more ethereal to me, the last time we connected. Perhaps I'm feeling more of my loss because indeed she is farther and farther away.

More stories! Send me your stories, and let me know if I can share them on this list!


Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Remembrance, by Tina Pfeil (day 22)

A Remembrance of Nancy A. Jones
January 2, 1952 – December 22, 2011

I first met Nancy sometime in 1980, when she joined Walker Associates Inc in Los Angeles as an interior designer. I had been employed there as a graphic designer for six months or less when she arrived. She became my "girl crush" before she became my friend. (As defined by various internet sources, this is an attraction to qualities one envies or admires in another woman…)

Nancy was physically petite like me, and only one year older. Yet, she carried about her an authority and maturity beyond her years. She expected her opinions and performance to be valued, and clearly didn't appreciate it when she felt she was being slighted or ignored. Even when she was riled up, her righteous indignation was somehow endearing.

Whereas I would spend my first minutes at the office each day putting on my makeup, filing down my bitten nails, and trying to make my hair conform to any kind of shape, it seemed to me that Nancy always arrived perfectly put together. Her hair was coiffed in a neat poodle cut, and her polished nails and shoes often coordinated with her clothing. She dressed in a manner both professional and boldly feminine. Lots of color. Nancy wasn't the only woman at WAI to raise the appearance bar for me. I learned, and stepped up my game, but never quite achieved making it look effortless, like Nancy did. There was a palpable amount of shoe envy going on at WAI amongst those of us with the XX chromosomes. In one of the two photos I recently posted, it is possible that Nancy is casting her eyes downward in a moment of reflection. Equally plausible to me, is that she is eyeing and complimenting (coveting) Clara Igonda's shoes.

One Thanksgiving weekend in New York City, I survived a killer cold, bundled up in Nancy's fuzzy, 3/4 length coat, which she had loaned me when my own (favorite) coat was stolen from my car at work. 

As opinionated as Nancy was about her work life, she extended her own personal brand of unconditional warmth and acceptance towards me as a friend. Throughout the years, as we'd lose track of one another, then reconnect, I recall receiving a bit of loving advice from Nancy here and there, but never one ounce of comparison or judgment. A favor I returned, I like to think. It was the quality of the time we spent together, rather than the quantity. She had such a capacity, that I feel certain many of Nancy's friends have felt similarly nurtured by her. The thing I enjoy recalling the most about Nancy in our days of yore, was her voice and laughter—and this unique talent she had. She could chuckle and speak whole sentences at the same time.

My favorite story about Nancy:

The project managers at Walker Associates were encouraged to recognize and reward their teams (which typically consisted of the manager, one designer and two draftsmen) for their work. One Monday, this story circulated: Nancy's project manager had taken his team out for a meal and a late afternoon sail in a rented sailboat/dinghy from Marina Del Rey. After too much fine drink and food, the manager became incapacitated, unable to pilot the boat. Nancy took command of the tiller and sail and sailed the boat, the ailing manager, and two extremely nervous draftsmen safely back into the harbor just as dusk closed in. When pressed, Nancy graciously soft-pedaled her manager's impairment but confirmed the other facts. It intrigued me to learn yet another facet of Nancy. Underneath her toy poodle-miniature pinscher exterior, was a less domestic sort of animal altogether. She, of the fire engine-red fingernails and stiletto heels, had grown up rowing summer provisions across a lake to the family cabin, and had sailed a sailboat or two. I now had an expanded picture of her, growing up a sometimes-outdoorsy girl, and daughter of a career military man, who could perform under pressure as required. 

Two years ago, I felt inspired to google Nancy and pick up the phone. A somewhat courageous act when a half-dozen or more years had elapsed. That impulse allowed me the opportunity to fill in more color between the lines… e.g., when Nancy spontaneously shared her high school yearbooks and memories with me. I was so not surprised to learn she had excelled at just about everything one can excel at in high school, including popularity and leadership. But didn't peak there. I also got to experience the peaceful elegance of the home which Nancy and Tom built together, which reflects so much of Nancy's taste and style. As she said, after years of creating beautiful spaces for others, she was at last able to create one for herself.

Nancy and I had lunch together at the end of September 2011, the week before my high school reunion in Los Angeles. We spoke of our shared days at Walker Associates so long ago, and tossed around Nancy's idea for a little pilgrimage we could make to LA, together. Nancy was very thin, and her graft-host reaction presented itself as a first degree burn all over her skin. Yet, her personality and spirit seemed so undaunted by what she'd already undergone this past year, 'twas as though it was ordained that she would survive. I couldn't imagine otherwise.

I will always be grateful that we each took time out for a two-hour lunch. My sole regret: that my daughter Kit never got to re-meet Nancy, as a young adult. Nancy's parting words to me were, I want to hear all about your reunion—and tell your daughter I want to see her when she's home at Christmas. I know they would've hit it off famously and found much to talk about.
At the end, I came to know that Nancy had the heart of a tigress. In my minds eye, she is still/ever rowing (deftly) across the lake to her family cabin, laughing her inimitable Nancy laugh, wearing a red windbreaker, with the wind ruffling her wavy hair. Although it was a tough ride, I thank her husband, Tom, for allowing her friends and family to participate in her final days on this earth through his email updates. To paraphrase an old proverb/adage: friendship doubles our joy, and divides our grief in half.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who's releasing who? (day 21)

Good morning, on this 21st day since her passing. Hard to believe.

The Tara prayer has been having a remarkable impact. It took me a couple of weeks to realize that it's about me as much as about Nancy, and that the intention created by the prayer is for us to release each other.

Here is the prayer again. Notice how it is all about transformation into a form that must be released. It's hard for me to cling to brilliant spheres of light!

From Tara's heart, rainbow light shines forth throughout the six realms and the bardo,
Enveloping the deceased one, Nancy Jones, wherever she is,
Purifying her karma, and infusing her with Tara's radiant blessing.
Her form becomes brilliant spheres of light, and dissolve into Tara's heart-mind,
A realm beyond the cycles of suffering, a realm of absolute purity and bliss.

Of course, it could all be experience of feeling Nancy transform could just be all about me, and there is no spirit out there moving through the realms and the bardo. But I and others have had powerful dream experiences upon the death of loved ones, without knowing they're gone until after the dream happens. I choose to believe that Nancy's spirit is out there somewhere, moving and transforming, loving and feeling loved, releasing us all in her own time.

My actual sense of her is becoming more ethereal. Where she would drop into my meditations like a solid presence two weeks ago, now my connection to her is more tenuous. She seems farther away, more detached, less personal. Perhaps that is exactly what should be happening, I don't know. It just is. My restless mind wonders if it's important for her reincarnation for me to release her? Does it matter? Ah, so, it just is.

Tonight is the end of the third week, and I will be adding the sukhavati practices I mentioned in my last note to my 7pm prayer tonight.

On a more personal level, I'm still swept by big waves of grief several times a day. There is no shortage of tears, in fact, they are here now. Again.  But I can function, and it's felt good to return to work and be productive in that way. I've augmented my prayer practice by starting to attend buddhist teachings at Sukhasiddhi and Spirit Rock, including a ritual this morning of taking the three refuges and the five precepts.

Lastly, I have a request. I would like to find a roommate.  I don't think I can keep our home without the financial help of someone sharing the space with me. I'm offering the entire second floor of our house, two large bedrooms with 12' ceilings, a beautiful private bathroom, shared use of the great room, decks, kitchen and dining area, plus a garage if needed, for $2000 to $2500 per month.  The price will depend on details like garage requirements, pets, etc. I already have three cats :-)

Many of you know how lovely our house is, on open space on the west side of Fairfax, very quiet and peaceful. If you or anyone you know might be interested, please get in touch with me soon.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Deepening practices (day 14)

Hello, everyone!

Thank you all who could come to our home on Monday.  There must have been at least sixty people, and there was a steady flow of you all from 2pm until about 10pm.  During that time, I heard great stories, some amazing dreams about Nancy since her passing, and met many of you from her life that I did not know well (or at all) before. If you were not there at 7pm, I shared my prayer ritual as it has been, and we had a few minutes of silence.  Then the stories started coming out, and we had a gathering much like the Jewish practice of "sitting shiva", where I spoke of my grief, and some of my regrets about our relationship, and others spoke of Nancy's impact and way of being in the world. It was absolutely wonderful, and we wrapped it up by singing Happy Birthday to her, and lighting candles. Some of the best rituals are the unplanned ones.

Lily, Tina and Karla, let me thank you again publicly for the insight and contribution you offered on this day.

I'm very grateful for all the spontaneous support that has shown up, bringing prayer and ritual to this 49-day mourning period. Now, in addition to my Soto Zen friend, Meiren Valerie Szymanski, and Lama Palden and so many of you praying for Nancy, Pearl Ubungen of the Shambhala Center in Boulder, Colorado is holding a sukhavati ceremony according to their Tibetan buddhist tradition.  This ceremony is generally held every seven days during the 49-day mourning, and we will have one tonight during the 7pm prayer period. She mentioned to me,

the practice of Sukhavati is connected to Amitabha Buddha and goes well, i think, with your daily Tara practice...there is a short (ten minutes) tonglen practice (sending and taking) where i will practice focusing on taking in whatever  nancy might be experiencing in terms of attachment to this life, fear, or any sense of not being able to let go and transition....then sending her a sense of openness, letting go, and confidence to move forward. then i will extend this tonglen practice to include all of nancy's family, friends, communities with the intention of supporting their letting go of nancy.

I've needed a bit of hand-holding to connect my practices to my mourning, and this is a real gift. A tonglen is a meditation where one inhales something they wish to transform, and exhales the transformation. For example, I can meditate to bring in the agony of the victims of a natural disaster, and exhale compassion and resource.  The special gift here is the reminder that my Tara prayer is about transformation, that I can pray for Nancy's spirit to let go of any remaining attachment to this life of hers, any fear she may have of moving forward.

Lastly, I'd like to share an image and comments I received from one of Nancy's mystery school friends.

The image on the right I took on Thanksgiving day and as I looked though the lens to take the picture my thoughts and feelings were of Nancy.  The image on the left is the image I had selected for Nancy as part of my Mystery School gift.  I have placed it adjacent to the recent photo image as I sense the recent photo on the right as a continuum of the earlier  image.  I have not tried to analyze or place context to the photo, other than to say while at the surface a stillness seems to appear on both sides of the log, below the surface, there is a very powerful flow that continues.

I completely agree that there is flow beneath the surface, both in the images, and in the movement of Nancy's spirit through our hearts, the realms and the bardo. My practice continues.

With love and gratitude,