Between birth and death, 3 in 10 are followers of life;
3 and 10 are followers of death.
And men just passing from birth to death also number 3 and 10.
Why is this so?
Because they clutched to life and cling to this passing world.
But there is 1/10, they say, so sure of life that tigers and wild balls keep clear.
Weapons turned from him on the battlefield,
rhinoceroses have no place to horn him,
Tigers find a place for clause,
and soldiers have no place to thrust their blades.
Why is this so?
Because he dwells in that place where death cannot enter.
Realize your essence and you will witness the end without ending.

Tao Te Ching, verse 50


Realize your essence.
But what is essence?
What is real?

Think about this in the context of exfoliation. I know this may seem like a stretch for transforming of grief the purpose, but work with me. Let’s begin with a look at the word exfoliate as defined by the Oxford English dictionary:


  • Be shed from a surface in scales or layers.
    ‘the bark exfoliates in papery flakes’
  • Cause (a surface) to shed material in scales or layers.
    ‘salt solutions exfoliate rocks on evaporating’
  • Wash or rub (a part of the body) with a granular substance to remove dead skin cells.
    ‘exfoliate your legs to get rid of dead skin’

On my most recent trip to Northern Virginia, I decided to take time to work on healing myself by paying attention to my derma. I realized it had been so long since I gave myself permission to take care of me. So I set aside a day to go to a Korean spa (there are none near my home in Eastern North Carolina), not to be pampered, but to be cared for and healed.

I went with the intention of soaking in the bade pools, sweating in the poultice rooms, doing some yoga stretches, napping, and relaxing. But I got a most unexpected lesson.

I decide to sign up for a 90-minute body scrub and massage, which begins, as the spa brochure explains, with a traditional Korean-style “vigorous rub down of the skin resulting in a remarkable new fresh skin all over again.” There’s no way to capture in words what it’s like to be rubbed and scrubbed for the better part of thirty minutes. But trust me, no dead cell was left by the time my caregiver had finished this part of my session!

Before she cleaned the table to prepare for the exquisite massage yet to come, I opened my eyes just a peek at what this remarkable Korean woman had accomplished. And there it was, my dead skin in small detritus piles, looking a bit like seaweed washed ashore. For a fleeting moment, it occurred to me to wonder if this, like coffee grounds, would make good compost.

Well, by the time I left the spa, I was indeed glowing, and my skin felt soft and fresh and new.

Now fast-forward… I decided to drive and walk around Arlington and Falls Church, VA, going to places where we’d lived, where Angus had been walking and running and laughing and enjoying life with Carson and Eric and Ethan and Camille. Where we’d had Christmas and Thanksgiving and fun times in the yard jumping on the trampoline. Where we’d worked together and played together and enjoyed the moment.

I do this every time I’m in the area, mindfully knowing that I’m going to swoon and feel that kick in my gut when I focus on the fact that Angus is not with me now in his physical form.

As usual, I drove by the Local Market in Falls Church, where Angus had worked while he was studying to be a masseuse; where he met Camille; where he first started putting marketing principles into practice. But the Local Market was closed and a children’s clothing shop was in its place. Oh, no. No!

But on the brink of a meltdown, I realized something that changed my perspective completely.

Even if Angus were still with me physically, the body that would be walking with me, the arms that would be hugging me, and facial muscles making that ear-to-ear smile would not be the same body that was with me in Northern Virginia five or six years ago. And my body today is not the same body that it was…

The trips to the Local Market (after Angus had passed) were important to me because when I would visit, I could still imagine him coming around a corner to smile and give me a hug and to see if he could help me find the perfect apple or pepper. But he has transitioned and the store has changed…

And the only thing constant in nature is change.
We recreate our bodies as cells die and are recreated.
We can walk around with that layer of dead skin and still be OK, but we won’t glow until we shed it.

Sometimes the layer of detritus, the dead skin that’s heavy on our hearts, is the symbolic of the way we layer and try to protect and to hold onto things of the past so as not to lose connection with the one who passed away. Sometimes we need to make a mindful decision to exfoliate so that we can glow again.

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