Straw into Gold

Illness, Loss, and Hardship as a Path to Inner Peace

Diane LaRae Bodach

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-223-7, 340 pp., 6 x 9, paperback, $19.95

This book is a journey about being human, about opening to life in whatever form it takes and extending loving kindness to oneself and others no matter what. It tells the story of many who have endured great physical and emotional losses in the form of chronic illness, pain and disability as well as through relationships and identities that, once held dear, are stripped away.

Diane LaRae Bodach is brutally honest, yet wholly compassionate, in her self-examination, and in the telling of her spiritual and physical journey through life, including chronic illness, cancer, and impending death. Her experiences and wisdom, her willingness to be with life and self exactly as they are, and to open to all that comes her way -- no matter how difficult -- can benefit us all.

Although this book journeys through intense pain and loss, the ultimate teaching is that whoever you are, and no matter what life presents, love, compassion and joy are always possible; suffering is optional.


“A beautifully written, searingly honest, and profoundly moving account of one woman’s journey through chronic illness and suffering, and the life lessons she learned.” Jim Dreaver, author of End Your Story, Begin Your Life

"I had the unique privilege of working closely with Diane during the last year of her life as part of her integrative health care team. Diane was a gifted writer and poet, an out-of-the-box spirit who would come in for her vitamin infusion dressed in a long blue wig with wild sunglasses. She never lost her sense of humor throughout the ravages of dealing with chronic illness and then cancer. In her last month of life, she presided over her 'living' wake, a wild and wonderful dress-up party outdoors, with Diane in her bed on the throne under the spreading oak tree. Her unique talents make her story not only touching, but exquisitely and subtly expressed. During her last days, we took turns reading to her aloud to put the final touches on her editing, with many tears of sadness and joy being shed. This book is a treasure." Elaine Weil, Nurse Practitioner, Amitabha Medical Clinic and Healing Center, Sebastopol, CA

“Many years of illness and pain prepared Diane for her last adventure with friends to the Sonoma Coast. Propped up on many pillows and blankets she ate dark chocolate and ripe raspberries while singing 'Give yourself to Love' and experienced the total joy we shared with her so often throughout her dying process.” Tom Meyskens, lover of spoken poetry, fellow Love Choir member and friend

"Diane fully engaged in her life and her death. She didn’t want to miss anything. Though debilitated, weak, and living with chronic pain, she traveled with us to Mexico and went on by herself to another retreat, sending us home with a suitcase of homeopathic drugs and other heavy items. She camped, canoed, and attended musical festivals during her last throws with cancer with a 'little' help from her friends. At her request, we have spread her ashes in beautiful places where the people she loves go and can be with her. She was a great teacher. She shared her joy and her tears, her life and her death with grace, honesty, and openness. Straw into Gold shares Diane’s amazing journey and imparts the wisdom of a woman who inspired many with the way she moved beyond illness, hardship, and dying to embrace love and life." Linda Mollenhauer-Meyskens, Life coach and close friend

Table of Contents


1. Attention Means Attention

2. Opening to Grief
The Princess and the Pea
The Soul Knows What to Do
All Dreams Come in the Service of Healing
Our Bodies Carry the Crisis State with Us
Despair Can Be a Gateway
All Losses Must Be Grieved
We Must Give up Our Demand to Be Happy
It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now
The Dark Night of the Soul

3. Alien
Fifteen Words for Snow
Planet Scleroderma
The Wish to Be Understood
The Language of Disability
The Push–Pull of Shame
The Difficulty of Partnering
Though Our Bodies Have Changed, Our Souls Have Not
Hidden Prejudice
A Small Gesture Goes a Long Way
The Loneliness of Living with a Chronic Illness
The Paradox of Living with Illness
We Are All Aliens
The Reed Flute’s Song
Forgiveness Begins at Home
What Helps and What Doesn’t
The Hard and Icy Couch
The Eye with Which I See God

4. Opportunity
Our Obsession with Freedom
The Hindrance Will Become the Lens
The Usefulness of Restriction
Illness and Restriction as Agents of Change
Being Lucky
The Gift of Choicelessness
Our Main Job: To Be

5. Sickness As Path—Getting to Yes
Loss of Identity
The Picture Does Not Match
The Shadow
Phantom Feelings
“The Bus Hit”
Breaking Through Attachment
The List Dragon
Spiritual Poverty
Death as Teacher
Getting to Yes
Being Present in the Now

6. Practicing with Loss, Illness and Dying
Practicing with Loss
Practicing with Illness and Death

7. The Function of Emotions
A Bum Rap
A New Paradigm of Healing
The Ecology of the Soul
We Are Programmed for Joy
Brother Donkey

8. Working with Negative Emotions

9. Loving Kindness
The Alpha and the Omega
The Shadow
This Is No Accident and No Dirty Trick
The “Catch–22” of Spiritual Practice
A Saving Nightmare
Having an Intention Is the First Step
Somewhere in Us We Know Love
The Truth Is, We Are Love
I Met Myself Face to Face and Didn’t Like What I Saw

10. Practicing with Negative Emotions
How We Avoid Experiencing
The Shadow “I” and the Impartial Observer
No More Important Task
The Past Is Where We Live
We Need to Unwrap Our Pain Slowly
Deep Inquiry
The Longing Itself IS the Connection We Seek
Pre-verbal Experience

11. Dialoging with the Inner Child
Re-parenting the Inner Child
Meeting Your Inner Sorrow with Mercy and Kindness
Telling the Child the Truth
Lack of Feelings Can Signal Trouble
Having Our Buttons Pushed

12. Getting to Yes and No—Taking a Stand Against False Beliefs
Sometimes Getting to Yes Means Accepting That You’re Saying No
God Save Me from God
My “Yes” Religion
Beliefs Are Not Feelings
We Usually Have It Backwards
Illness Can Begin to Eat Away at Our Self-Esteem
You Have Not Sinned
False Beliefs and Fears
Labeling Thoughts
Special Circumstances in Relationship
Turning It Around
Working with the “No” in Small Ways
The Myth of Consistency

13. The Peace That Surpasseth Understanding

14. The Warrior Path

15. On Not Being Able to Do
Life in the Slow Lane
New Look at Priorities
Writing the Book
Lightening the Load
Hard Truths
What Is the Essence of Being Human?
The Longing for Purpose
Learning to Receive—Being Love
Doing Versus Being—The Practice of Being a Tree

16. The Practice of Being Without

17. The Way to Be Happy

18. The Inner Healer
The Divine Child
Practices for Connecting with the Inner Child or Creative Self
Challenges of Tuning into the Inner Healer
The Dangers of a “Teaching”
Trust Yourself
Actualizing a Teaching
The Wise One
The Devil and God Are in the Details
Small Efforts
The Relationship Between Play and Practice
Healing Exercises

19. New Order
A New Way of Looking
Create Your Own Myth
A Different Set of Laws
Putting Your Life on Hold
Hitting the Wall
Changing from a Goal-Oriented to a Feeling-Oriented Life
Yearning for a “Normal Life”
The Paradox of Illness: Nourishment of the Soul vs. Taking Care of the Body
Inventing Your Life
Tectonic Plates Are Moving
Finding New Resources
The Smile

20. Moving On
The Usefulness of a New Identity (and Giving It up)
Letting Go of the Messenger
Life as Teacher

A Simple Loving Kindness Meditation
The Forgiveness Meditation



The alchemists used lead; Rumplestiltskin’s heroine used straw; Parsival found the sacred cup hidden amidst a wasteland. These stories of turning what is base or ordinary into gold and finding the prized cup of salvation in a place of desolation are metaphors for the journey of the soul, our path to the heart, to the final prize—Love. We are all given, at some time in our lives, the raw materials necessary for our journey. They come in the forms of illness, loss, deprivation, hardship, insufferable people or situations. These base materials or experiences, the dregs of our lives, the things we despise and strive desperately to avoid or be rid of, are the very things that have the potential, if we let them, to lead us finally to the Promised Land.

On August 15, 1980, the day before my oldest daughter’s seventh birthday, I was an active mother of two, overseeing a small homestead with my husband. I co-tended a half-acre garden, canned and froze produce for the winter, milked goats, cared for chickens we had raised from baby chicks, cooked everything from scratch, baked bread, made cheese, yogurt, sprouts, pickles, and crafted soft leather shoes to gently enclose my daughters’ feet, in addition to all the normal chores required to maintain a household with two small children. I played guitar, painted, sewed and organized crafts for the children; I took long bike rides, and for vacation, loved nothing more than camping at a beautiful wild spot and taking long adventurous hikes.

On August 16, I awoke feeling ill, and from that day forward I was a person debilitated by chronic illness, incapable for many years of anything but the most rudimentary tasks required for a subsistence level of life. Of course at the time, I, like the teen who thinks herself invincible, assumed my body would heal itself as it always had. But as the months wore on, doubt crept in, then fear. The unthinkable seeped into my consciousness like a heavy fog gradually soaks the clothes of the unprepared hiker. “Suppose I never get well? Suppose I’m like this for the rest of my life?”

My doctor told me I was depressed. I came home in a rage and screamed at him in my head, “You’d be depressed, too, if you were sick for three months and saw no signs of getting better!” I thought I might as well be dead. I thought August 16, 1980, marked the end of my life. But in truth, that was the day I really began to learn how to live.

When I was well, what thought I gave to those who were sick or disabled was often superficial and fleeting. I felt sorry for them, but they just weren’t part of my life or consciousness—so I thought. But underneath, there was something more going on, something that I wasn’t willing to or didn’t want to acknowledge. In retrospect, I see that these people represented to me pain and suffering. By marginalizing them, I was marginalizing my own pain and suffering, and the pain and suffering of the whole world. Hovering in the background, just out of consciousness or perhaps just barely in, was the thought, “I’m so glad that is not me.”

It was as though by not giving too much attention, too much juice, to those suffering in the world, I could keep suffering out of my life. It was like going through life with blinders on, the kind they use with horses to keep them from being distracted or frightened by things happening on the sides. The problem with this approach is that it gave me a very narrow view of life. And contrary to the belief that suffering could be kept at bay in this way, I discovered the opposite to be true: by blocking out the pain, the suffering in myself and others, I was actually cutting myself off from connection with my own deepest self, fragmenting myself and thus making true joy impossible. Before we begin to truly open to life as it is, and to our innermost self, we are living in a make-believe world. We think that somehow we are going to avoid the calamity we see all around us.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2011

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