My heart is both heavy and full as I share that my long-time mentor and dear friend Ray Castellino passed away December 13th. Ray was a fire that burned bright, ignited by the knowledge of human goodness and potential and the keys visible in the first events of life: conception, womb time and birth and the time after birth. Ray knew that our first experiences of becoming human and coming into this world laid down a template of experience and expectation. He devoted his professional life to helping people of all ages to recognize and explore this period, uncover the hidden strengths and beliefs in their stories and in turn them into gifts of insights, choices and capacities. Ray was a pioneer in the pre and perinatal psychology field. His work with babies and families and adults was transformational. Knowing him was life-changing for me and my life will certainly be different with him gone.
Ray’s revolution was a non-violent and profoundly successful one. Feeling, caring and curiosity were so natural to Ray that he freely showered them on everyone he connected with. His love for life and for all those in his life was genuine, deep, and contagious. A master of perception, Ray taught his students how to see and sequence the unique and intricate patterns of a life story. For decades he generously bestowed the tools to harvest accuracy, set boundaries with false beliefs and stay present with truth. He leaves behind hundreds of capable practitioners and thousands of grateful families.
Ray was a master teacher, able to turn his own learning process into a route for others to follow. Ray taught us how much support it actually takes to do something well; how essential a support network is and how to build one. Ray believed that the lack of support is a multi-generational epidemic in our families and western culture. He showed us how to bring support into a challenge while simultaneously honoring how well the people who needed more support had learned to live without it. Ray called this principle of support mutual support and connection. In the months of his illness many of us experienced the inclusion and profound depth of mutual support and connection around Ray and how it supported him and all of us to stay connected through his journey of exploring the edge between life and death.
Ray named the place where you are both challenged and supported the leading edge. It is from this edge that we grow, find our courage, speak our truth, or take that action we’ve been avoiding. Ray knew this edge, professionally and personally, and by teaching us how to recognize it and get the support we needed to stand on our leading edges, he enriched our field and our lives immensely.
Most leading edges have a life-or-death imprint on them, carved by the memories of a time when the possibility of not surviving was present. Since the nervous system needs resolution before it can recognize past tense, these imprints remain palpable in present time. They emerge when something happens that terrifies us or when we are terrified to do something. Ray taught people how to recognize the origin of our life-or -death response and differentiate it from whatever was occurring in the moment. When the body understands that it is not in a life-threatening circumstance now, life-or-death imprints can transform and give us access to our capacity to respond our present challenges.
In October, Ray discovered life and death were touching in present time. He saw a profound opportunity for differentiation and healing. As thoroughly as Ray knew leading edges before October, his short and powerful journey on the life-or-death edge with late-stage cancer was for me and many others one of his biggest teachings.
Ray embraced and openly shared the experience of his journey. His physical pain was intense, his emotional honesty, curiosity and acceptance profound. Ray wanted to go and even more wanted to do what was asked of him by the Lord. Thoroughly supported and loved by so many near and far, he seemed to me to embody surrender and choice simultaneously. He taught us all that there was love in life and love in death, love on both sides and love on the edge in between. In his last letter to his vast global community of students and loved ones he said: “I actually love being on the edge. And the truth of it, when I close my eyes at night, I ask, “Is this the night?” And smile. And feel glad that it might be. This edge is so close to the other side, that while you think it is death coming, it is actually life giving”.
Death coming, life giving. These four words have been ringing in my heart like a temple bell since his passing. These words and my experience of watching Ray navigate and map this edge, have tempered my memories of this edge and healed layers of the wounds that occurred when life and death touched each other in my birth. One last time, Ray showed all of us how to be present and curious and true to our intention on this edge.
For those who knew his teachings, Ray and intention were synonymous. Ray lived his intention for healing and knew the truth of the power of intention with every cell of his being. One of my favorite stories of how I learned this power from Ray was about fifteen years ago when I was assisting him in a workshop. Back then, Ray’s workshops were epic affairs, and days for Ray and the assistant team could easily clock sixteen hours. After two such days, I was thoroughly exhausted when I arrived for the third day. In the check in I said as much, and how I realized that some of my exhaustion was from years of pushing myself. I talked about how much I loved assisting and being part of the workshop and how much I also wanted to be home asleep.
“Well, just have the intention to be rested by the end of the day,“ said Ray with confidence.
I shot back: “If I didn’t know you so well, I’d think you were full of shit! How is that even possible?”
“Just do it.”
I could hear the love in his voice and knew to trust him, even though I really thought this time he might be wrong. The only thing I remember “doing” differently, was passing on the opportunity to support the workshop participants when I saw an opening three times. Lo and behold, the participants all got more than enough support, and I was rested at the end of the day! Not once since have I doubted the power of intention!
Ray wasn’t into bullshit. He shot straight to the heart. He was all about uncovering the truth, especially when it was hidden under what he called mistaken beliefs. The tools he mastered and taught were about perception, attention and discernment, about accurate reflection in the most clear-eyed way possible, helping people to know themselves better and live their lives more fully now.
I know my life is better and fuller because of Ray’s presence in it. I am undoubtedly a better more confident person because of his love and belief in me.
If I could speak to you one more time Ray, I would say:
Thank you for everything. Thank you for being a reliable pillar of my support in my hardest moments for the last twenty years. Thank you for being a living example of how to love. Through your illness, I saw how thoroughly you embodied love. You have left us with a powerful and deep legacy of love. You have inspired an intention in me to live my life in a way that I too may create such a legacy. I don’t know how to do that, but you taught me that I don’t need to know, I just need to hold and believe in my intention.
Many years ago, I told you I was waiting to get comfortable enough to take on a leadership role, and you startled me by saying “Then don’t do it because it’s not comfortable”! Through those words you supported me to change and grow in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I have so appreciated your wise words especially in the years since I have taken on such roles. You were right, it’s not comfortable. But I’m sure it would have been a lot harder if you hadn’t told me that comfort is not part of the package.
It’s not comfortable to have you gone Ray. There are days it hurts like hell. There are days when I wonder where I will turn the next time I am the fog of pain or turmoil. But for all the grief-filled days I have lived through these last two months, there have been more days when I have been filled with gratitude for your presence on this earth.
I love you Ray. May you journey well. Thank you for blazing trails in life and in death. I hope the other side of the edge is phenomenal. I know you are having fun and learning a ton, as always.
I will see you in the stars, hear you in the wind, feel you in my courage, and my capacity to be both angry and effective. My intention is to know your love is with me whenever I stand on the edge of my comfort zone and lean forward.
And one more thing:
I will carry my love for you for the rest of my days and beyond.
All the way over the edge.
Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash
Also published on Medium.