A Love Letter to Death (and Life)


This post about death and living is a tribute to my friend Terry Patten, who passed on October 30, 2021. I’ll miss his human form, though his spirit remains with me and a world that loved him.

Grief is a most potent activator.

For the second time in a decade, I’ve lost someone dear to me that has caused immense grief yet also triggered a profound activation.

What is the utility of witnessing death if not to catalyze the living to do so in a more grateful, or intensified, or at least in an enlivened way?

My sister’s suicide nearly a decade ago was the first sudden death that pulled me out of an impenetrable decades-long funk into a cathartic and catalytic phase of endings and beginnings.

We become who we are because of who we choose not to be, as much as the seeds we nourish into the future.

On behalf of my sister, I chose living fully over dying slightly.

To turn each day into a field of possibilities, so that her life would not have been wasted.

It was a short time after my sister’s death that I met Terry Patten.

Shortly after my middle-of-the-night calling to Petaluma CA, I tried to figure out why I’d awakened to move to CA.

Why was I being called to cross the threshold into an unknown future attached to a small town named Petaluma that was famous for a Butter and Eggs Festival and a Charles Schultz museum?

I dipped into the networks in northern California and found Bay Area Integral, an integrally-inspired community founded by Terry Patten. BAI looked like my kind of people, and I joined.


A Torchlight


I frequently told Terry that he was my torchlight for embracing the uncertainty of my own path toward CA.

In Terry’s own words, he convened “integral conversations” (having been a scholar and colleague of Ken Wilber’s who co-wrote Integral Life Practice) and “evolutionary communities of practice” (now evidenced by his legacy of the social benefit organization New Republic of the Heart and book of the same title), among many other accomplishments and gifts Terry left to us all.

I credit Terry for being an important part of the “web” of my own evolution and unfolding future.

Our first personal encounter was at a consortium of Bay Area Master Integral Coaches at a colleague’s home. Terry introduced himself as a “practitioner.” This would define Terry in every sense of his life; his “practice” of how to be a better human in every way imaginable was forefront in every conversation and experience.

We had an enduring friendship based in work, play, practice, a short and meaningful romance that inspired each of us to evolve, and as co-conspirators in understanding human evolution.

I remember a sweet summertime backyard conversation about love- how it was showing up, what was limiting it and how to embrace the vulnerabilities. As usual, Terry embraced the nuances of seeing with more clarity so that we could each become a better version of ourselves.

In the spirit of a (r)evolutionary activist, integralist and philosopher, Terry was not short on words (or deeds) that expressed his deep humility, his abiding faith (originally as a devotee of Adi Da Samraj) and his compassion for all our efforts to make the best of our frail journeys.


Purposefully Facing Fear


Little did I know when I met Terry that his own modus operandi for creating communities of practice was perfectly designed to help him address his own deep fears about being human by aligning with others in deep practice. As an Enneatype 6, Terry never faltered in moving toward his fears as a means of moving through them.

As Terry faced his own mortality, near the end he spoke to the desire for either a) a beautiful embrace of death, or b) a “miraculous healing” in which he could continue his work. The grace with which he surrendered to whichever of those would manifest was itself a miracle to witness.

His last enduring contribution to us all was his 4-session teaching, while dying, about how to live more fully. His series “Brightening Every Darkness,” took us along on his journey toward his own physical demise.

In the last session of this series, Terry spoke about his guru Adi Da. Terry’s young devotion to Adi Da profoundly affected his orientation to the world.

In my personal experiences with Terry, he’d shared the books that recounted his experiences as a young man with his guru, his personal practices derived from that devotional time, and also his growthful journey with the infamous Adi Da.

Terry was able to see through the fallibility of a divine creature living in human form, and love the mere mortal as well as his teacher.

As Terry spoke about Adi Da in the last session of his “Brightening” series, he was truly projecting his own way in the world. In death, as in life, he had “learned love at a whole new octave.”

Perhaps Terry’s greatest expression of purpose occurs posthumously, as I (we) learn to love who we truly are, and not get sidetracked by the story of whether we’ll make it or not through some miraculous healing into the future.

The certainty of our individual mortality allows us to release the fear about our collective mortality, and simultaneously gives us hope that we can do so with grace, dignity and the aspiration of becoming ever more enlivened.

Terry Patten, my friend, colleague, mentor, teacher, partner in play and love, passed on October 30, 2021.

After a week of intense grieving the loss of this mere mortal, teacher and friend, I realized that Terry’s sojourn to the other side was made easier (than most) because he’d lived and loved so fully. So magnificently. So purposefully.

He lived to the Nth Degree.

May we all be so blessed to have the vitality, the courage and the commitment to create Nth Degree lives.

With love, to Terry.

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About The Author

Dr. Holly Woods is the Author of the #1 Bestseller, The Golden Thread: Where to Find Purpose in the Stages of Your Life. Read it, you’ll never again think your life doesn’t matter. Holly is a purpose activator. She believes that touching the spark of your soul lights you up so much that you alter the world just by being in it. Holly earned a PhD in Human & Organizational Development, is certified as an Integral Master Coach®, Purpose Guide®, Professional Mediator and Facilitator, Master Energy Practitioner, and is a Stages of Consciousness developmental practitioner. Learn about Holly’s work at Emergence Institute. You can schedule a 30 minute Strategy session with Holly.

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