Adrift: Floating in a Sea of Loss

26 Jul

As I took in the news that my grandmother has been placed on hospice care, I kept seeing the image of a boat tied at dock that is due to set sail. Whether the craft leaves momentarily or weeks or months out, a voyage lies ahead. The rope will be loosed so that the boat can push off to sea.

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My grandmother has always been there for me. In a sea of chaos and change, she has been one of the few constants. Like a boat permanently docked, she has been the sight I have turned to when I needed to get my bearings. She has been my reference point, my visits with her marking the various decades of my childhood and adulthood. She has represented all that was good, safe, and intact within my family. Despite age, her personality, wits, and positive attitude have endured. Once she is gone, I’m not sure what family will mean anymore. She is my last living grandparent and has survived both my parents.

Nearing 96, that my grandma is on hospice should not surprise. Yet it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d just seen her in December. My boyfriend at the time traveled with me to see her. This was quite significant, as I longed to introduce two people I deeply cared about to each other.  We had dinner with her in the dining room of her assisted living home while she told us stories and engaged in conversation for well over an hour. She only moved out of her house and gave up driving two years ago. Although she used a walker, she was still relatively nimble and ambulatory.

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I’ve made a point to see her every year, knowing that when you have an elderly relative, you never know when a visit winds up being the final one. I wondered if that visit was my last, but then shrugged it off, given that I’d received no calls about falls or decline. Instead, the relationship with my boyfriend was what had changed, so my focus was more on that ending and all that it signified in terms of losses.

Our culture in general doesn’t understand loss. I’ve already been told that my grandmother has had a good, long life, so I should concentrate on that as a form of celebration. And indeed, I celebrate everything about my grandmother that has enriched my life, as well as the lives of others. She is the one of the most extraordinary people I have known, so there is no tragedy. I know that. Unlike my parents’ premature and dramatic deaths, my grandmother’s life continues to be well lived. It will be until her last breath.

What people don’t understand is that she has been my rock of gibraltar. She is one of the few humans I’ve known, for the course of my entire life, who has been a beacon of unconditional love and devotion to me. That is something to celebrate, but it is also a loss. She has been more than a grandparent. She has been the parent my parents couldn’t be. She has been the confidant through the years of hurts and disappointments and life not unfolding as I imagined. To the outside, the loss seems natural and a part of life. Another thing to move on from and absorb. To the person experiencing the pending loss, it’s another huge marker of one’s own mortality. It’s a chapter of family history really coming to a close when so many chapters have already closed as well.

What’s next? Who or what am I without these contexts?

In his beautiful book, “A Grace Disguised,” Jerry Sittser speaks of grief and loss from experience. He lost his mother and wife in a car crash and was left a widow with small children to raise.  He writes, “But the self I once was cannot find its old place to land. It is homeless now.” He continues, “Loss forces us to see the dominant role our environment plays in determining our happiness. Loss strips us of the props we rely on for our well-being. It knocks us off our feet and puts us on our backs. In the experience of loss, we come to the end of ourselves.” He then talks about how time stands still in the presence of a host of losses. “Loss puts a sudden halt to business as usual. Life as we experienced it and expected it to be suddenly ends. We find ourselves bewildered that there is no relationship anymore, no job, no health, no marriage, or no family. The process as we knew it ends, the continuum is disrupted, and the growth stops. The motion picture becomes a snapshot.”

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What then brings the images moving forward again? How does life resume? How is loss integrated so that one is not stuck in it, yet the reality of what is no longer is not denied?

People often have misconceptions about what it means to move on. They think that everyone can automatically recreate the joys and happiness from the past by just swapping out people, places, and things with new ones. Sometimes that works, but not always. You only get two sets of grandparents and one family. You don’t go to Wal-Mart and pick out another. It may take time to find people who start to take the place of family, yet it will never be exactly the same. Likewise, new romantic love may eventually enter one’s life, but that too can’t be created on demand.

Moving on might be internal vs. external. It might be simply putting one foot in front of the other. Simply putting food in one’s mouth and showing up at work with a smile. It might be boring and tedious and frightening. But that too is moving on. When the boat pushes off from the dock, it bobs and floats and drifts, until the wind finally sets it in the right direction and the vessel hits its course. We then look to new horizons, as the land slips from our view, but never from our hearts. When we push off to uncharted territory, we often don’t have a clue where we’re headed or where we’ll end up. We can be adrift at sea for awhile, unmoored from just about everything except God and our own faith.

Expressions of Our Love

23 Jul

Years ago at a funeral, when someone wiped away a tear in embarrassment, the Rabbi facilitating remarked, “Tears are expressions of our love. It is the most natural thing in the world to cry. It reflects how much we cared.” 6’4″ and built like a giant, he had a soft European accent and the kindest demeanor. To witness such a physical representation of masculinity endorse tears was touching.

Too often, we judge our tears thinking them a sign of weakness or indulgence.

My grandmother has never been one to cry much. Raised on a farm with only brothers, my grandmother’s life wasn’t necessarily easy. She talks about how she wasn’t allowed to hang around where the male farm hands were working because she would hear them cussing, yet she cooked for them. When a baby horse was separated from its mother, my grandmother observed the pony’s sadness and heard the animal whine. She was told that horses don’t have feelings. She knew differently, yet nonetheless, adopted the stoicism of farm living. Although tender, she has always expressed more thanks than tears and has maintained her sense of humor. At 95 she still thanks the Lord for another day of good health, although she was just placed on hospice care.

Yesterday, as I looked out the window of my hotel, which overlooks a baseball field, I noticed a golden lab running around as someone mowed the greens. The dog exuded pure joy. Despite my tears at the news of my grandmother’s change in condition, I had to smile despite myself. Dogs will run and play and suns will rise and set no matter what is happening. Life is always in a state of perpetual moving on. Yet I think of my grandmother’s observation and knowledge that the pony missed his mother. “I knew from then on that animals have feelings,” she once told me. Loss impacts our hearts whether we are humans, horses or dogs.

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“Tears are expressions of our love,” the Rabbi told us. “You should never be ashamed.”

 

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough

14 Jul

I have never been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. Sorry. If insight was enough to change, most of us would have quit smoking, lost weight, and kept any other New Year’s resolutions by now. Most of us would know we are worthy despite maybe having been mistreated as a child and most of us would make choices for ourselves that are healthy.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think influences our emotions and behaviors and without a doubt there is some truth here. If I wake up and see that it is raining, a thought such as “Oh, crap! It’s raining. Now the day is going to suck,” will definitely get the day off on the wrong foot. Yet if I wake up and think, “Oh, wonderful! I love the sound of rain on the roof and we need the rain,” then I’m going to be in a much better disposition. But what if you implement the positive thought and yet your mood doesn’t follow suit?

Herein lies the problem. Our thoughts aren’t enough. Here in Western society, we make cognition the King, the Supreme Being. Thinking (pun intended) reins over all systems. We negate the intelligence of our emotions, the secret knowledge of the heart, and the ridiculous accuracy of our guts.

In reality, behind every thought form is energy and energy vibrates at certain frequencies. Not only that, the energy that accompanies subconscious thought patterns often trumps any conscious work on “catch it, change it, change it” strategies.

How then do we break down old narratives?

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I’m a firm believer that some of the deconstruction has to start on the physical, cellular level. We do this using our breath, by having corrective, positive interpersonal interactions, and by creating new neural pathways vis-a-vis kinesthetic movement. In the process we begin to rearrange dimensions of our nervous system, which in turn influences mood, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We embody new narratives when we create a new reality of presence.

Yet we also have to purge ourselves of the energy associated with the traumas that created the thought forms in the first place. What subconscious contracts did we make with our parents? What energy did we pick up in the household (or in the society at large)? What belief systems do we carry that aren’t even ours? Have we taken on one parent’s issues and energy in order to stay loyal to him or her? Are we subconsciously holding ourselves back because to live a different life would be to betray mom or emasculate dad? Do we dare to be happy if our ancestors weren’t?

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How come the third generation of Holocaust survivors sometimes relate to the terror of the Nazi occupation on a visceral level, when the family history was never discussed or even acknowledged? Why might a child in utero sense the mother’s fears and resentments about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? Why do various ethnicities carry historical trauma even when healing has occurred and why can you burst out in tears during a massage when a certain knot in a muscle is expunged? And why can the touch of one’s beloved make you cry out in relief and ecstasy?

Sometimes my clients look at me weird when I suggest a method of treatment that entails flushing out traumatic memories and patterns vis-a-vis the energy centers of the body, or chakras. Yet even skeptics can’t help but acknowledge that when they place their hands on their hearts or throats while declaring a specific statement or pattern unique to their experience, they sometimes experience intense images, feelings, insights, and sensations. The body doesn’t lie; the body keeps the score; the body is a wealth of knowledge. The subconscious, now made conscious loosens, as does the energy and resulting belief systems associated with traumas. Catharsis, as painful as it can be, clears and removes long held defense structures held within the body and cognitive schemas.

We can’t always think our way out of the the energetic ramifications of trauma. In fact, we never can. We feel, intuit, move, and then think our way out of intra-psychic prisons. Prayer too helps because it changes the energetic frequency when you invite in the presence of the Divine. Catharsis of repressed emotion and giving voice to long held anger can also liberate and energize.

Healing is a far more complex process than keeping thought records and dissecting behavior like diagramming sentences in grammar class. This can become mental masturbation and a Woody Allen monologue. Transformation comes when we dive into the energy of our traumas and into the joy of movement, breath, and sensate experience.

 

The Eyes of Your Heart

13 Jul

Ephesians 1:18 isn’t one of those bible verses you see on coffee mugs and bumper stickers. It’s not one of those Jeremiah moments proclaiming that the Lord has plans for you to prosper, or an Ecclesiastes musing on the ups and downs of life’s seasons. It’s not commonly quoted. In fact, you may have never heard it: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious.”

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This was the first scripture I ever laid eyes on that appeared as Living Word. I have always considered words as living, powerful entities that shaped our souls. Forget the Bible. I believed the words of Shakespeare, Rilke and Whitman were Holy. The Bible was either a great work of literature, or all literature was God.

I didn’t know if Ephesians was in the Old or New Testament. I didn’t know the Ephesians were a group of individuals living in Ephesus and that “Ephesians” was an epistle addressed to them. All I knew was that a few weeks after my mother died by suicide, a pastor I knew only as the guy who surfed and wore flip flops, responded to an email from me saying, “I will pray for you. Check out this verse: “Eph. 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” I don’t know what induced that pastor to send me the verse. I didn’t identify as Christian, and I had never read the Bible. I just know that when I read the verse out loud, I felt something quicken within me. I felt a sense of hope at a moment of profound grief over my mother’s death. Sure, I might have felt better because someone reached out to me in a moment of isolation via an email but this was more than a warm fuzzy from a stranger. These words spoke directly to me from God.

What was the hope to which I was being called? What eyes of my heart needed to be enlightened?

This verse ushered in a profound calling to learn more about God. I’d always believed in a higher entity but I had never believed in Jesus. On the contrary, I found much of Christianity a major turn off. I had studied and honored every religion but Christianity (and I still honor those faith traditions).

Life doesn’t get any easier just because you have a spiritual awakening and suddenly sense the presence of God. In fact, life can get harder. You still have the same trials and tribulations and just when you think you’re good with God or that God is Santa Claus, life can pull you back into that existential pit of hell that is part of being human.

It is the anniversary of my mother’s suicide on Saturday. She wrote me a suicide note on July 11th and the police called me on July 18th. Although I have healed much since her death, and her passing ushered in a period of respite from constant worry, fear and crisis, this year has been the hardest of my life. This year, for the first time, revealed to me the despair that made my mom finally say, “I can’t do it anymore. I’m throwing the towel in on life.”

Why would anyone want to throw the precious gift of life away? Why would anyone abort the breath, love, talent, and vitality we have to offer, particularly when living in America in relative safety with food, clothing and shelter? To do so threatens to negate the impact of genocide, rape, poverty, violence, human trafficking, racism, famine and disease. Yet many Americans are starving from isolation, lack of belonging, lack of purpose, and lack of authentic connection. Many young Americans are also starving from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. These too can kill you. Broken dreams, too many years of talking to the walls at night instead of pillow talk next to a living breathing human, too many years of fractured relationships, deaths, betrayals, violations, and loss, can kill. But what is this hope to which we are called?

Last night at that same church, seven years later, during the anniversary period of my mom’s death, a different pastor ended worship with that same verse. It’s not like pastors go around quoting Ephesians 1:18. It’s not a common occurrence. It’s not biblical slang/jargon. But I heard those words and thought, WOW. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order to know that hope to which you are called.”

God’s vision for our lives is so much bigger than we ourselves can see. He wants so much more for us. The hope is life in Him. It’s not in fame, fortune, or glamour. It’s not in a house, marriage, kids, and a white picket fence. It’s not in how many likes you get on FB or how well you do in the stock market. The latter are fine and wonderful things but the only true hope – the only hope that makes sense – is this much grander element. The only real salvation comes when we reach out to our neighbor and lay our lives down in one way, shape, or another. I’m not talking about being a doormat, co-dependent, or a martyr. I’m talking about making an active choice to love one’s neighbor more than oneself. There is a difference between the two. One is active and conscious; the other passive, unconscious and perhaps stupid and/or manipulative.

God has saved my life many times. Not because I’m some ignorant fool who has to make up a God in order to get by in life. I’m plenty strong and resilient, thank you very much. I am indebted to God because in the darkest times of my life, when I have been on the floor in a hot mess of despair and anguish, my eyes were enlightened to a hope beyond my reckoning. Beyond my vision. Beyond my time table. But nonetheless to a hope far greater than I. It was the same hope that hours after the police called me, informing me of my mom’s death, I knew that she was finally okay. The nightmare had passed. For, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4.

If you have to bow your head to the ground every hour of the day to feel this hope, do it. While life can be profoundly beautiful, joyous and ecstatic, even those thrills can pale in the face of God, and those earthly delights can certainly change in the blink of an eye. But this hope to which we are called, puts light in the dark, puts joy in the midst of tears. It does not wave a magic wand and solve human created situations, but it is so much bigger and so much more loving than we could ever fathom.

It is redemptive. It is salvation. It is every story that has ever been written. It is creation itself.

What is Freedom; What is Independence.

4 Jul

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For years I gauged independence and freedom on a continuum of relationship – how close was I in connection with others and what was the quality of those connections? The same question could be asked of humanity at large. Did relationships bring freedom or enslavement, liberty or injustice?

As a child, connections were solid in my world. That resulted in great inner freedom to develop and thrive. My world was safe and pleasurable. Reflecting that larger reality, I remember riding in a red wagon in an Independence parade in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, waving a flag at the crowds. I was five years old and away from home for the first time. My parents had put me on a plane, flying me all the way from California to Wisconsin to spend time with my relatives. My hair was in pig tails and I wore some form of red, white, and blue. I recall swatting at mosquitos during fireworks, eating hot dogs and hamburgers, and washing my hands that were sticky from orange, red, and purple popsicles. I was very young but I already had a sense of the right kind of autonomy.

As a teen though, nothing filled me deeper than the longing for freedom from what did not feel ideal: I wanted away from my father’s destructive authority, the entrapment of my mother’s drinking, and the tyranny and banality of high school social cliques. I also wanted freedom and abundance for the world. It sickened me that my classmates laughed when they saw pictures of children from the third world with distended bellies from hunger. Those same peers had driven to school in their BMWs and Porsches, yet had no real appreciation for their not-hard-won privilege and entitlement.

The world is not fair and the world is not free. We celebrate our independence from the British yet we enslaved African Americans and decimated the Native American Indians. We think we’ve moved way beyond those times yet human and sex trafficking turns a huge profit, as does racism and discrimination.

I often think of individuals who found freedom while being enslaved in some way, shape or form. I think of Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank, and Malala Yousafzai. They were/are individuals who found spiritual independence and connection with the world at large while in prison, hidden, or suffering violence.

We have little control really over the big factors of our external lives. We can’t pick what family we’re born into or our ethnic affiliation, or whether we come into the world rich or poor. We can’t control who will love and accept us and who won’t and whether we fit in or whether we don’t. We also can’t always choose if we’re single or married, or if we can bear children. The only real freedom lies in our relationship with God, as we best understand that entity. Freedom and independence come when we realize that in God we are whole, liberated, and eternally connected and accepted. Anything else is illusory, temporary, and ever changing. Likewise, the things we think will free us often do the opposite, if we are not right with ourselves and God. Freedom rings when we walk each step of life’s battlefields and glories hand and hand with the Maker.

Nature’s Wisdom

2 Jul

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I sometimes work with people who provide health care in rural environments. They often mention that individuals in their regions struggle with substance dependence and depression because they are so removed from the stimulation and opportunities of a big city. While part of me understands this phenomenon, part of me is always a little bewildered and saddened by it, for I always feel a profound sense of peace in nature.

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What are we missing in our lives that causes us to feel despair or emptiness? What creates a void in our hearts and souls? And how can we fill it? I find that if I but listen to the wind in the trees and feel the sun or rain on my face, I am not alone. I am in fact very much a part of things. How do we stay connected to the now and the mystery? This is after all, all we have and within it is magic. Deep, profound magic.

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I am no more sage than anyone else. I stumble and fall; suffer and cause others to suffer. Yet I know that when I stop trying to interfere with life and instead simply start embracing it, life is much more generous and gracious.

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There is deep beauty in the moment and the moment is all there is. In this moment is life and it contains all that came before and all that is to evolve. My deepest life lesson is to be here now. To not play God. And instead to enjoy what God has placed before me. I must take nothing for granted for it is all a gift.

At the end of the day, no man or woman is an island. We are all part of this beautiful world. Even in life’s most trying or tragic moments, there is healing and there is grace.

 

 

Litany of Lies

24 Jun

“Could it be SATAN?” Dana Carvey used to ask as Church Lady on “Church Chat”, the hilarious SNL skit that ran in the late 80’s. Satan was attributed to every evil conceivable and Carvey played the kind of Christian that pointed fingers at anyone and everyone committing sins.

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Yet when it comes to the litany of lies we tell about ourselves, others, and the world at large, evil really does have its day. When we distort the truth and buy into negativity, the havoc wrecked is far from Godly.

“I’m not good enough.” “I’ll never find love.” “There will never be enough.” “I fucked up. I always fuck things up.” “I’m fat.” “I’m stupid.” “Why try? It never works out anyway.” “There are no jobs.” The economy is terrible.” “This field is dead.” “The world isn’t safe.” “There will never be peace.” “There will never be change.” “Why bother?” And the chorus goes on and on. I’ve heard these phrases from people all around me, and I recognize some of the statements coming from my own mouth. We all have different scripts but whatever ones are ours, they are hard to re-write.

Many of us have a litany of lies as firmly ensconced as the weekly liturgy. Indeed, many of us recite these untruths with the zombie like quality of someone doing religion by rote.

This doctrine, if not rooted in Satan, stems from thought distortions, which are in essence evil. These usually arise from traumas, causing us to formulate specific beliefs about ourselves and the world based on what has happened to us and what we’ve observed in life. Sadly, distorted thoughts often cause history to repeat itself over and over again.

Thought forms carry energy, which makes them even more complicated and powerful.

Yes, many of us were initially victims in our lives, but if we buy into the lies formed at the time of horrific events, we victimize ourselves. We keep ourselves stuck. We buy into the same damn stories and contribute to them over and over again.

One of the hardest things in the world is to look in the mirror and see how we’re involved in our own narratives. While we don’t have control over people, places, or things, we certainly have control over what we do, what we believe, and our attitudes. This can be extremely sobering.

How then do we change these limiting belief systems?

Very carefully.

It’s hard to create something new because we often can’t envision a different outcome. If we’ve only known disappointment in a given area, why expect anything different? It’s simply easier to cling to the old beliefs because to hope for new outcomes is just too scary, right? Yes, it might work out differently, but if it doesn’t, it will hurt like hell. AGAIN. So why be an idiot and hope for anything more? It’s easier just to give up on having any dreams for a more positive future and life. And if we do cling to any sort of hope, we’ll have to feel the loneliness and pain of desires that might not ever be fulfilled. So wouldn’t it be easier to just eat a bag of potato chips, turn on a video, and shut out the world? And wouldn’t it be easier to just surrender in the face of injustice and never speak up, never vote, never defend others, never write editorials, or lay down our lives for others?

Could this be SATAN? YES! That is Satan.

It’s so easy to recognize the litany of lies when we hear it coming from the mouths of others. It’s harder to recognize it when heresy comes from our own mouths. Yet when we start to recognize crap thinking for what it is, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to “catch it, check it, change it.” Sometimes change feels impossible.

Here are a few things I think are valuable when trying to change distorted belief systems:

Be patient with yourself; Beliefs that have been ensconced for years may take some time to change

Grieve – Feel the pain behind the narrative for there is always a wound beneath it

Pray – Ask God to remove the blocks and to help co-create the new narrative

Seek support from others. People can hold hope as a ray of light when you don’t have a candle or a match while in the dark.

Forgive – yourself and others. We are all a work in process. Progress not perfection.

Imagine – this is a huge element in creating change. Then act. Imagination + action = new creation.

Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. Start saying, “might”, “may”, and “could” instead.

Try new experiences. They help eradicate and/or integrate the previous ones.

Read stories of people who have overcome similar obstacles.

Seek expertise in the area in which you feel challenged. Educate yourself about that subject matter whether it be in love, relationships, health, finance, fashion, etc. Take a class on it, read books about it, join groups on it.

Realize no dreams are realized overnight. Luck doesn’t just happen. It occurs after much groundwork has been laid.

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