My dear friend Shannon has a blog called Infertility Awakening about her experience with infertility. It is a truly inspirational account of her pathway to healing and wholeness in the very midst of the infertility struggle. Today, for example, she was writing about the importance of listening to one’s intuition. What makes her blog so unique is that much of what she writes about applies to all women, not just those with infertility. Reading it today, I was struck that so much of what she has learned about how to cope and even to live well in the midst of infertility has been from the emotional healing she has experienced by viewing her infertility as a spiritual journey.
In the spiritual practices of yoga and meditation you hear about the concept of attachment a lot. It hasn’t always been terribly clear to me exactly what that meant, but the experience of infertility is a powerful illustration of this concept. To put it simply, when life doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, the degree to which you suffer is in direct correlation to how attached you were to your idea of how it ought to have been. With infertility, not only is the picture of how things should be so deeply ingrained into the very fabric of society but there is a biological, hormonal dimension; our physical bodies are holding the imprint of how things should be. No wonder it feels so painfully wrong when life does not follow the long-anticipated prescribed route. A dream is dying. We could say that infertility is the experience of grieving for life un-lived.
I see a parallel with traditional bereavement, in the way that some people experience what in hospice we refer to as complicated grief. Difficulty accepting the discrepancy between hopes and reality can become toxic. I feel deeply saddened when I see the pain of the empty cradle inside a woman’s heart grow bigger and bigger, taking up so much room that it obliterates the possibility to experience other joys in her life. This experience is not unique to women suffering with infertility. Depression, anxiety, and stress are all frequently attributable by the way in which we cope or don’t cope with life not turning out the way we hoped it would.
In different ways, we are all susceptible to the malignant growth of an unmet need to the point that it destroys our ability to feel present joy and contentment. A daily contemplative practice such as yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling, or prayer is a powerful antidote to medicine to such spiritual sickness and I have also found The Work of Byron Katie to be an incredibly useful tool in this regard. Much suffering can be alleviated if we are able to deal with what we need to each day without the additional emotional toll of resisting the reality we face. Freeing up our energy from dwelling in how things should be different, gives us much more energy to heal and make the best of how things are.
Today, I had the honor of leading a memorial service beside the healing waters of a magical lake at the Summer Solstice Festival at Happy Tree Farm, hosted by my dear friend, Stephen Redding, who has survived multiple near death experiences and has an incredible and uplifting message to share as a result.
In this exquisite setting, a veritable cathedral of nature, we celebrated Love. In the giving and receiving of love, in the finding and losing of love, in coming together and in separation, in these experiences are the most profound moments of our lives. Love brings the deepest joy in life and also the greatest pain. Today we created a space where strangers could come together in community to heal together. There was comfort and consolation but also gratitude and celebration. An opportunity to name the gifts received and to release that which no longer serves. After the ceremony several people asked me for a copy of one of the poems I read, and so, I thought I would share it with you tonight.
To My Dearest Family
Some things I’d like to say, but first of all to let you know that I arrived okay
I’m writing this from Heaven where I dwell with God above where there’s no more tears or sadness there is just eternal love
Please do not be unhappy just because I’m out of sight remember that I’m with you every morning, noon and night
That day I had to leave you when my life on Earth was through
God picked me up and hugged me and He said I welcome you
It’s good to have you back again you were missed while you were gone as for your dearest family they’ll be here later on
I need you here so badly as part of My big plan there’s so much that we have to do to help our mortal man
Then God gave me a list of things He wished for me to do and foremost on that list of mine is to watch and care for you
And I will be beside you every day and week and year and when you’re sad I’m standing there to wipe away the tear
And when you lie in bed at night the days chores put to flight God and I are closest to you in the middle of the night
When you think of my life on Earth and all those loving years because you’re only human they are bound to bring you tears
But do not be afraid to cry it does relieve the pain remember there would be no flowers unless there was some rain
I wish that I could tell you of all that God has planned but if I were to tell you you wouldn’t understand
But one thing is for certain though my life on Earth is o’er
I am closer to you now than I ever was before
And to my very many friends trust God knows what is best
I’m still not far away from you I’m just beyond the crest
There are rocky roads ahead of you and many hills to climb but together we can do it taking one day at a time
It was always my philosophy and I’d like it for you too that as you give unto the World so the World will give to you
If you can help somebody who is in sorrow or in pain then you can say to God at night my day was not in vain
And now I am contented that my life it was worthwhile knowing as I passed along the way I made somebody smile
So if you meet somebody who is down and feeling low just lend a hand to pick him up as on your way you go
When you are walking down the street and you’ve got me on your mind I’m walking in your footsteps only half a step behind
And when you feel the gentle breeze or the wind upon your face that’s me giving you a great big hug or just a soft embrace
And when it’s time for you to go from that body to be free remember you’re not going you are coming here to me
And I will always love you from that land way up above
Will be in touch again soon
P.S. God sends His Love
Announcing the Practical Enlightenment series: for which I invite you to get your big girl (or boy) panties on and grab a flashlight as we dive under the bed of your subconscious to confront and conquer the monsters lurking there.
Over the years, I have discovered that trying not to feel certain feelings consumes an enormous amount of energy. My personal theory is that it also contributes to depression, stress and even ill health (a.k.a. dis-ease): In the pursuit of avoidance, it is easy to fall victim to unhealthy coping techniques such as over-eating to “stuff down” feelings, overindulging in the consumption of alcohol or – fill in the blank with the compulsive escapist activity of your choice.
What I’d like to suggest is that you join me in exploring a whole new approach to the feelings you’d most like to avoid. Instead of denying our undesirable thoughts and feelings, we will summon up some courage and turn towards them armed with an invincible mixture of Compassion and Curiosity.
Self-compassion is very helpful in this kind of personal healing work – beating yourself up is such a futile exercise. Self-criticism is a form of stagnation, continually bemoaning the problem and stating that it shouldn’t exist does nothing to alleviate the situation. Your time and energy is far better spent in getting past your opinions about whether things ought to be different, accepting the reality you are facing and moving on into solution-seeking. When you replace critical self-condemnation with an attitude of slight detachment and curiosity, you may be very surprised at how much progress you can make in a very short amount of time to heal patterns that have dogged you for years.
Guilt is very subjective matter; in a given situation, two people might make exactly the same decisions and carry out the very same actions, yet one of them wouldn’t give matters a second thought, whilst the other will be racked with guilt about identical choices and circumstances. It all comes down to how you measure up to your own expectations of yourself. The higher and the more unrealistic those expectations are, the greater the risk that you will fail to meet them and set yourself up for a massive burden of guilt.
Guilt is profoundly destructive and rather futile emotion, it has the power to become a black hole inside the soul, sucking all the joy and life out of a person. I would go so far as to say that it is a morbid form of self-absorption that offers no benefit to anyone. Feeling guilty doesn’t feed a hungry mouth or hold a lonely hand.
Here is a handy 4 part system I teach to my coaching clients: To work this process you can either use a journal or talk each stage through with a coach, therapist or friend.
1) Reality Check
The first step is to get some perspective by recalling the events in an objective a manner as possible – without the benefit of hindsight. Describe the circumstances and you may also find it helpful to think about what information, knowledge and resources – both practical and personal, were available to you at the time.
Now describe how you would have handled the situation ideally. What are the specific expectations of yourself that you failed to meet?
Next, you are going to evaluate those expectations – weed out any that weren’t fair, realistic or attainable. (To help with this step, imagine someone you love very much and see if you would hold the same expectations of them in this situation.) Looking at the list of unmet expectations you have left, allow yourself to fully feel regret – but don’t get stuck there. An optional extra step at this stage would be to come up with some amends you might want to make if that is possible. If you can’t “make it up” to the person in question, you can also consider an act of kindness or charity that you would do in their honor for someone or something else.
Here is where we come to the most important step. Reviewing everything you have come up with so far, make a list of intentions for the future. First on the list might be to set the intention of forgiving yourself. Next, write down a list of new and/or revised expectations you have for yourself and set some intentions for a different behavior in the future.
In conclusion, my loving suggestion is that rather than being paralyzed by guilt, you take action to transform it into something else which can actually benefit yourself and others. Regret what needs to be regretted and forgive what you can, this is the alchemy of healing, by which you can extract the gold from guilt, which is to learn from our experiences.
Please share if you found this helpful and click on the title to leave a comment.