Sweetheart, I’m so glad you reached out to me. I hear that you are hurting.
I’m so sorry that life is really hard right now.
I have time for you. How can I support you right now?
Where are you? Can you find somewhere quiet and safe that you can lie down on the ground?
Take a breath.
All the way in and all the way out.
When you feel ready, become aware of the floor underneath you. Mother earth, holding you in the palm of her hand.
Let go, let her take your weight.
Relax. Feel everything soften as you sink in to the support of the earth beneath you.
Feel peace spreading inside you, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.
When you feel ready, can you open your eyes and say hello to your toes?
Notice your feet, your legs and send them some appreciation for carrying you this far on your journey.
Take another breath.
Put one hand on your tummy and the other on your heart.
Can you feel your heart beating?
Let yourself notice the beat of your heart, the one constant thing that remains.
Be an empty beach at the end of the day,
The echoes of the childrens voices have faded away
and all that remains is the whisper of the surf,
As the waves go in and out, like the breath,
In and then out.
Bring your awareness to your face now.
Pay close attention
Can you feel the breath here? Going in and out.
Can you feel the warmth of your skin, radiating out in to the air?
Wait, listen, can you feel something else?
It’s the softness of a hundred butterfly kisses,
Tiny kisses of love and light.
From all the invisible loves that surround you.
And love from before,
Love from ahead,
And love from beyond.
Feel it now. Open to this love and see it surround you,
Let it fill every cell and dry every tear.
Hear the celebration for every moment of your being,
Your strength and your courage, your big, beautiful heart.
You are safe, You are loved
You are safe, You are loved
Inspired by my best friend Lauren, who is always there when I get lost, with her timeless, patient, peaceful wisdom to guide me safely back to shore.
Holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year but they can also be the most difficult. There is something about the message that this particular time should be full of joy that can create a lot more pressure for people who aren’t feeling particularly joyful for various reasons. One of the keys to getting through it is to remember that, in fact, you are not alone in feeling this way. Many people are suffering from sickness or depression, are dealing with being separated from loved ones, or coping with personal challenges or financial issues that are overwhelming.
Even if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones, ironically, this season of cheer and goodwill to all men is the time of year that families and couples fight the most. There is nothing quite like an extended period of time in an enclosed space with your nearest and dearest to push your biggest buttons and, when you add alcohol to the mix, things predictably go downhill.
Being single during the holidays is arguably worse than being part of a fighting couple: For some reason, being unwillingly single for the holidays sucks even more than on Valentine’s day, presumably because you at least have a fighting chance at ignoring the existence of the latter.
All this pales in comparison to how hard it is to get through the holidays when you are mourning a loved one. It is particularly painful, not just because it is a time full of memories, but because everywhere you turn, the message is that this is the time to be together with loved ones. The joy that the rest of the world seems to be experiencing can make those burdened by grief feel particularly isolated.
The most important survival skill at this time of year is to give yourself permission to have the feelings you are having. Stop telling yourself that you ought to be feeling differently just because the calendar is on this particular page. It is hard enough to deal with difficult feelings without heaping guilt and shame on top of them. Quit Should-ing yourself. Expectations are 99% of the cause of all suffering. Give up the expectation that you should be feeling or reacting any differently to the way that you are. At a minimum, accept that the reality is this is how you are feeling. Even better, show yourself a little compassion and respect the fact that if you had a choice, you wouldn’t choose to be feeling like this.
Step 2 is to imagine yourself as someone else that you care about and think about how you would treat them if they were feeling this way. Perhaps you would be a little more patient? Give them a break? Give them permission to curl up under the covers until they felt stronger? Everyone is unique and we all have different things that make us feel better – and crucially for some people, the most important thing is simply having permission not to feel better until we do. Sometimes it takes a heck of a lot more time and energy to try to stop yourself having a feeling than to let it run it’s course. Sometimes, little things can help a lot. Be brave and ask for help. If that’s too much or there doesn’t seem to be anyone available, come up with a short list of things you can do for yourself that might help. Maybe it’s going to the movies and escaping reality for a while, finding someone to talk to, getting some exercise, making yourself some nourishing food.
Step 3 is to remember that practicing gratitude can be a very helpful aid. Sometimes, even coming up with a list of things to be grateful for is a major challenge (click for a link to a post on some suggestions to get started). If that’s the case, try an appreciation list instead. When all seems lost, sometimes it helps to focus on appreciation for the things we have experienced, the ability to feel, the breath that still carries hope that there will be a better moment ahead. If these holidays are hard for you, I truly hope something here will be helpful. Please remember that you are not alone and that everything changes. This too shall pass, I promise. I wish you peace in your heart.
Before I moved last time, I made a determined effort to go through my possessions and get rid of anything and everything that didn’t fall into the category of useful, beautiful or sentimentally valuable.
I tried hard to be ruthless and sold and gave away a lot of stuff. But, in spite of my efforts, I still ended up with a sizeable amount that moved to my new basement, where it has taken up residence on my to-do list ever since.
With the second anniversary of my move into this house approaching, my conscience finally got the better of my procrastination and I started to tackle this seemingly simple task that I find so daunting.
Going through the basement is not just about the furniture that hasn’t found a home or the boxes of random chargers, cords and clutter. It’s a bittersweet trip down memory lane when I open the boxes that reveal remnants of once precious moments.
In reviewing these familiar things, I am also noticing my feelings and noticing how they have changed since the last time I brought these souvenirs into my present consciousness.
Looking once again at love letters from a past relationship, I can see how much healing has taken place because this time I experience tenderness and appreciation, instead of the anger and resentment I remember feeling the he last time I held them in my hands. Finding a picture of my dog who died, I am grateful to sense that my grief for that loss is beginning to soften.
The hardest thing this time has been looking at photographs and artwork from my children, which used to bring pure joy. Touching and holding these treasures today has brought me face to face with the pain in my heart from missing my children which challenges me to the depth of my being.
Yet as painful as it may be, I am also aware that this is a fundamentally healing process. I have been looking at these hours in the basement as a voyage of self-discovery, to help me to become conscious of what I have been holding on to.
The objects I have chosen to keep speak about what has been important to me. The relationships I have had, the roles that I have played, the feelings that I once experienced.
As I evaluate each item and whether it’s time to release it or whether I still want to keep it, I can ask myself the same question about each thing that is symbolized.
Of course, I don’t want to let go of my most precious memories of my children’s childhood, but I need to face that my role in their lives has changed in order to be able to move forwards and step through and out of the grief that has paralyzed me for a while now.
What’s in your basement?
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
More and more, I find that I am receiving such inspiration about living from the people in my life who are dying. Many of the hospice patients I care for have end-stage Alzheimers and can no longer communicate directly, yet somehow, I am still blessed to receive the gift of their wisdom. Often, it is through talking to their loved ones. This week for example, I was met the husband of one of my patients on a visit to her at the nursing home. He was expressing how difficult it is, how much he misses his wife of over 50 years. The tragedy is how sad he is when he doesn’t see her and yet how hard it is to see her in her current condition, no longer able to recognize him.
It is hard for me to understand what it is like to slowly lose the partner with whom you have shared half a century of living. He tells me how happy they were, about how much fun they always had together throughout the years. He tells me how she would look for a chance to celebrate at every opportunity, even something small and is strikes me as such a powerfully inspiring message. This tiny bird like woman, with her beautifully braided hair, hands neatly folded into one another and eyes that see other worlds, is speaking to me today, showing me how to live in a better way.
You know what her saying was? Her husband tells me. She always used to say “Let’s go out and have a helluva good time!” Amen, sister.
This week, I’m mourning the death of one of my hospice patients. When I lose someone, I always try to reflect on what I have learned from knowing and loving that person and resolve to honor their memory by seeking to incorporate the qualities or values I admired in them into my own life. M’s greatest gifts that I observed in the short time I knew her, were the sweet grace of her open heart which seemed to bring out the best in everybody and her dazzlingly sunny disposition. I was talking to a family member about these qualities which were such a gift to everyone who met her and he pointed out to me that with M, it wasn’t even a case of finding the glass half-full rather than half-empty. For M, it was always full, anything else simply means you just have the wrong-sized glass. May you always find the right sized glass.
I am driving away from a Woman Within weekend of staffing feeling so deeply fulfilled and connected to the women I worked alongside, the women who participated on the course and to all women everywhere. I think about the women around the world who do this work and the courage it takes to step into the fire and find the parts of yourself that you lost or buried years, months, or weeks ago. The parts that had to be shut away when the loss, hurt, betrayal, anger and grief of life lived on life’s terms became too much for your soul to bear. I think about the women who never get the chance to step within themselves, either because they’re too afraid or because their lives are such a struggle for survival that there are no resources to spare on finding one’s personal meaning for existence. I think too, of the many women who live in cultures and countries where women dare not have any voice at all.
Watching the four facilitators from the United States and the UK work with women this weekend, was like seeing miracles take place in front of my eyes. These women are so powerful yet so in touch with their vulnerability. I have been shown a new form of leadership. In fact, a new way of being in the world. These women have spent decades on their own journeys and in facilitating other women’s processes. Their complete presence when helping a woman process an issue is awe-inspiring. At the same time, their humility is astounding. Witnessing divine compassion radiate from a woman’s face while deep in facilitation, I knew I was watching God’s work.
I drive across the mountains towards my home, knowing that this weekend I stopped all the busyness of everyday living and made space to touch my own soul. My soul is grateful. I sing the songs we sang on the weekend just so I can hear once more the joyous sounds of women supporting each other. When I reach my house, I turn off the car and feel the waves of grief rush up and pour down my face. I don’t know if I am crying for all my own old wounds or for the individual women who laid forth their grief in all its rawness this weekend. They did this so that together we could nurture them back to the joy that I believe is our birthright. I cry with abandon for all the women who cannot cry. The women who dare not express their grief in case it consumes them. Until they are able to, I will cry for them. I sit in my car and I cry for lost love. I cry for the agony of betrayal. I cry for the shockingly numerous stories of sexual and emotional abuse often at the hands of people supposed to protect us.
As I cry, my tears change to tears of gratitude that I am able to witness this type of transformation. I let it all out, knowing that this is just a release. I am OK. When I am done, I get out my suitcase and start singing softly as I make my way inside,
“We are women on a journey,
Shining like the sun.
Shining through the darkest night,
The healing has begun, begun, the healing has begun.”