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Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist, author, lecturer, and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation.  I’ve listened to several of her teachings via her youtube channel which blend western psychology with eastern spiritual practices, and I’ve gained a great deal of insight from reading her book, “Radical Acceptance.”

In an interview with Deb Kory on Pschotherapy.net, Tara shared, ” I remember being very struck by William James, who wrote that “all religions start with the cry, ‘help.’” Somehow deep in our psyches there is always some part of us that’s going, “Okay, how am I going to deal with this life? How am I going to deal with what’s around the corner?” What happens for most people—and this is kind of the way I organized True Refuge—is that we develop strategies to try to navigate life that often don’t work. I call these false refuges. This is in all the wisdom traditions. We know that the grasping and the resisting and the overeating and the over-consuming and the distracting ourselves and the proving ourselves and the overachieving… just don’t create that sanctuary of safety and peace and well-being. It just doesn’t work.”

Her newest book, “True Refuge” explores the pathways through which we find what her title suggests, our true refuge – one that exists within each and every one of us.  Her following talk, “Awakening Through Change and Loss”  addresses these issues as well.

If you’re currently struggling,  you may want to read about RAIN, a very helpful four step process for dealing with painful emotion described by Tara on her website.  You can read more about RAIN here.   

The very same holiday rituals that were filled with Joy during other years can become acutely painful when we’re grieving .  So much that warmed our spirits  during happier times now leave us cold, adding still more weight to hearts so heavy  that we may be exhausted from carrying them around.

I lovingly reach out to those of you who are hurting during these holidays to reassure you that as painful as they can be,  you can not only get through them, you can experience brief and beautiful moments of love,  awe, gratitude and perhaps even joy. In addition to the video above,  you may also find the following articles helpful.

How to Help Ourselves Through the Holidays

Meaningful Remembrance Ideas for Holiday Grief

During this difficult time of year when the absence of someone you love can feel so much more profound  than their presence did the year before,  and you have no choice but to grieve while the celebration goes on around you, I urge you to make every modest and healing decision that you possibly can. Decide to take in the love that still surrounds you even if only for a moment. Decide to touch someone else’s holiday in a modest but meaningful way. Decide to acknowledge the multitude of gifts that still grace your life – a beautiful sunset, a perfect snowflake,  the rich aroma of a scrumptious pie in the oven, the presence of light at the push of a button, a warm home, loving hearts,  unanticipated gifts of grace that are already on their way, and so much more….

I bless you.  I bless your magnificent, wounded, heavy, and yet still bravely beating heart……

It will get easier, I promise…….

Tammie

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Photographer: TeJae Byram

By Linda Campanella

Today I brought two yellow roses to my father. Two days from now, my late mother would be turning 80. Yellow roses were “their” roses ever since their romance began in 1956. Mom lived just long enough to celebrate their 52nd anniversary before succumbing to cancer in the fall of 2009, one year and a day from her terminal diagnosis.

The flower shop is less than a mile away from my dad’s house. While driving the short distance, en route to one of my more or less weekly “lunch and laundry” dates with him, I realized I had started to cry. It still surprises me that the tears can come so quickly when I indulge memories of my mother and find myself yearning for her to not be gone.

I don’t often ask my father how much he yearns for her to be with him again. I’m reticent largely because I don’t want him to be sad. My mother’s dying wish – her instructions to him, I suppose – were “Don’t be sad.”

When I handed him the roses, he didn’t say “thank you”; instead he said, “I know.”

“What do you know?” I asked, without needing to. “I know,” he said again. “It’s coming up.”

He has bought yellow flowers himself in the past. I remember being deeply moved when I discovered a big bouquet of yellow roses on his kitchen counter while visiting a few days after February 14, 2010. They were roses for Mom on her first Valentine’s Day without him.

My parents’ love for each other was never more in evidence than during their love story’s final chapter.  I’m often asked how my dad is doing, especially by people who’ve read my memoir of Mom’s final year and therefore experienced vicariously Dad’s wrenching heartache and anticipatory grief. When asked, my response is – and the truth is – that he is doing really great. I desperately hope that wherever and in whatever form she is now, my mother bears witness to her sweetie pie’s strength and resilience.

He’s become a much more social creature, which would surprise her. Soon after her death, eight or so of their cul-de-sac neighbors started a monthly get-together, with hosting duties rotating among them month to month. To my surprise, he accepted the invitation to attend the inaugural gathering. Maybe he said yes because he knew how much my mother would have loved this kind of thing. (And it’s quite possible he would have sent her off without him if they’d been invited as a couple!) I went to visit him that afternoon and prepared an appetizer for him to bring. As he was leaving, he told me I might as well stay put in his house, because he’d only stay a half hour or so at the party and we could play another round of rummy upon his return. An hour and a half later, he called to tell me I might as well go home; he was having a good time – though his actual and understated report had been “It’s not bad.” Five years later he’s still going – and hosts when it’s his turn. My offers of assistance were declined ages ago.

Though long past retirement age, he’s still working on average three days a week as a radiologist. In April, I took care of his dog for five days so he could take a course at Harvard and earn continuing ed credits. Last month, he renewed his medical license for another two years. He is much in demand by the radiology department he chaired in his younger days, highly esteemed by his physician colleagues and the young residents whom he teaches, and genuinely loved by the technicians who work with and occasionally flirt with him. He’s always been a real charmer.

He arrives well before 6AM to get a jump on reading films left from the prior day. Two weeks ago, he turned 83 on what happened to be a scheduled work day for him. Since I thought it was a big deal to be turning 83, I called the radiology department mid-morning, just to give folks a heads-up in the hope they might wish Dad a happy birthday. I hated to imagine no one would acknowledge his special day.

“Honey, we are way ahead of you!” was the surprising response. Apparently he was welcomed that morning with balloons, posters, pastry, and a string of requests from female colleagues wanting to be photographed with him. The tech on the phone told me that each time he accommodated a request to pose for a photo, he said to the woman next to him, “Be careful; Nan is watching!”

“Nan is so happy you have all of us to love you!” was the rejoinder. How perfect – and perfectly true! My siblings and I also are so happy about this. We believe work has given our dad a reason – and the courage – to keep living. And we know the sense of being needed and also loved has been balm for a heart broken when the person who needed and loved him most left him alone.

I marvel at many things about him, including his stamina and legendary work ethic, but most of all I marvel at my father’s mind. While my own gives hints of growing dimmer as I grow older, his mind seems sharper than ever. English is his second language, yet I venture to guess that his vocabulary is exponentially larger and his grammar far better than 99.5% of Americans’.  Don’t challenge him to Scrabble, Boggle, or any other word game and expect to win! With a steel trap for a memory, he has an especially uncanny ability to remember details of history, and he can correctly identify just about any piece of classical music after hearing only the first few measures played; then he’ll recite the life story of the composer and provide a brief lesson in the history of the period or place in which he lived.

Last month I took a three-hour trip with Dad to visit my sister in New Jersey, and because he has never been a conversationalist, I decided to break the silence and pass some time by playing an old car game; “Let’s pick a letter and name all the places that start with it,” I suggested.  He jumped at the challenge, of course expecting to destroy me. We started with “A.” As we progressed through the alphabet, I managed to keep up with him pretty well, but I failed miserably when he digressed occasionally to ask me a question related to a place one of us had just named.

We spent a lot of time on the letter “D,” I recall. “What do you mean you don’t know what happened in the Dardanelles?” he asked in disbelief. (I had already confessed to not even knowing where the hell the Dardanelles are located on a map!) An urgent geography lesson evolved quickly into a riveting history lesson about the Ottoman Empire, the Gallipoli campaign and World War I. And although I earned a point for naming Dunkirk while we were thinking of places beginning with “D,” I didn’t remember enough as I should have about the famous battle there, and another lesson replete with astounding detail ensued. By the time we got to “G” I was feeling both much smarter and totally humiliated by my relative ignorance.  He, always a great teacher, was in his element.

I felt like one of the luckiest girls alive on that father-daughter trip to the Jersey Shore.

How lucky I am that my dad is still in my life and that his life is still so full. What a relief that his broken heart has mended, that his mind is still so brilliant, and that his body remains so sound. He is a little more stooped over, his hair is a little thinner, and he eats too many frozen meals and not enough fruit; but other than that, he is doing just fine. Five years a widower, he is healthy and he is happy; he is needed and he is loved.

What better present could we possibly give my mother for her 80th birthday than that?

Linda Campanella is the author of a Nautilus Award-winning and life-affirming memoir about her joy-filled last year with her terminally ill mother. WHEN ALL THAT’S LEFT OF ME IS LOVE: A DAUGHTER’S STORY OF LETTING GO is about love and loss, family and faith, hope and hospice, grief and gratitude.  Since her experience and her book’s publication, Campanella has become a passionate advocate for compassionate end-of-life care. More information about the author and her book can be found at www.lindacampanella.tateauthor.com.

“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.”

Gail Sheehy

    From time to time I will be using this blog to introduce some of you and to remind others of  women who offer us significant insight, courage and wisdom.  The first woman that I’m featuring here is Gail Sheehy.

When my daughter, Kristen, was growing up she and I frequently visited used book stores.  One afternoon while I was completely absorbed in the stacks she tapped me on the shoulder and when I looked up, she handed me a book.  It was a copy of Gail Sheehy’s, Passages.  “Don’t you wish that you’d written this mom?” she asked.  “Why honey?”  “Because I see this book in every store we go to,  she must have sold a million of them!” she replied enthusiastically.

My little girl was right on both counts, the book had been a best seller (making Tom Butler Bowden’s list of 50 top psychology classics) and yes, actually, now that she’d mentioned it, I did wish that I’d written it.

Sheehy reassures us that once we reach our mid forties, it truly isn’t  “all downhill from there.”  In  fact, as we enter what Sheehy describes in her follow up book, “New Passages,”  as our second adulthood, we’re presented with a multitude of opportunities for self discovery, reinvention,  and “new and more meaningful ways to live.  involuntary losses can become the catalyst for voluntary changes in the practice of our lives, altering the efforts that we make to connect with others, the values we choose to make congruent with our actions, the habits we change to support better health, the responsibilities we accept for mentoring the next generation and civilizing our communities, country, and planet… The massive shift in the passage to second adulthood involves a transition from survival to mastery.”

During our second adulthood the world cries out for our wisdom as never before.

Following is an interview with Gail Shehy speaking with Diane Rehm about the life passages that we each face.

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Photographer: Allison Fowles

Benefit Your Body and Emotions with Mindful Practices

There is growing evidence for the benefits of mindfulness on our health and well-being, but what does it actually mean to be mindful and how can it help us achieve greater wellness? Put simply, mindfulness is where we focus on our thoughts, feelings and environment. We do not pass any judgment on these and concentrate on just the moment so that our thoughts do not drift to the past or future. This Buddhist concept allows us to have greater awareness of ourselves, take responsibility for our actions and bring about welcome changes.

Mechanisms for mindfulness

There are four main components of mindfulness. Firstly, attention regulation, where we concentrate on a given entity, allows us to maintain our focus on the present. Secondly, body awareness puts us more in tune with our body when we concentrate on aspects such as our breathing or other sensations. Then emotion regulation, where we avoid examining our feelings, lets us accept our reactions to situations. Finally, by changing our self-perspective we acknowledge that change is possible, facilitating us to take positive steps that enhance our well-being.

Promoting better health through mindfulness

When we are mindful we can achieve better physical health. It is certainly the case that when we are more mindful of what we eat this helps us to select healthier foods and exert portion control, aiding weight maintenance and weight loss. There is also evidence that mindful practices can help us manage pain better and create a stronger immune system. However, your mental wellness can improve as well. For instance, practicing mindfulness is a valuable therapy to manage stress, anxiety, low mood and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is also possible to boost memory, concentration and learning when we are more mindful. The benefits of mindfulness don’t end there though. Mindful practices can also promote stronger relationships and greater community spirit, as it makes us better at empathizing with others.

Appropriate use of mindful practices

All therapies have potential limitations and mindfulness is no exception. For example, when you are overly mindful this can make you hypersensitive to situations, such as your perception of pain. Equally, mindfulness may stifle creativity and stand in the way of learning new habits unconnected to conscious awareness. However, when you receive suitable instruction on this practice and understand when it is appropriate to use mindfulness, the benefits of this form of meditation far outweigh its potential drawbacks.

By Juliette Foster

Read Juliette’s Mindfulness guide here!

Here’s an important message for those of us who are hard on ourselves.

WHEN YOU FEEL YOU CAN’T GO ON
tj byram 6

I’m sorry that you’re hurting so desperately right now. I know how painful the seconds, and minutes, and days can be, how long the nights are. I understand how very hard hanging on is, and how much courage it takes.

I ask though that you hold onto one day at a time. Just one day, and slowly this despair will pass. The feelings you fear you’re trapped in will serve their purpose, and then fade away. Difficult to imagine isn’t it? Almost impossible to believe when every cell in your body it seems cries out in agony, desperately in need of comfort. When it feels like the only thing in the whole world that can touch your pain and banish it is beyond your grasp. And after all this time, the assurance that you will heal has become an empty, broken promise.

Just let one tiny cell in your body continue to believe in the promise of healing. Just one. You can surrender every other cell to your despair. Just that one little cell of faith that you can heal and be whole again is enough to keep you going, is enough to lead you through the darkness. Although it can’t banish your suffering, it can sustain you until the time comes for you to let your pain go. And the letting go can only occur in its own time, as much as we would like to push the pain away forever.

Hold on. Hold on to appreciate the beauty of the earth, to feel the songs of the birds in your heart, to learn and to teach, to laugh a genuine laugh, to dance on the beach, to rest peacefully, to experience contentment, to want to be no other place but in the here and now, to trust in yourself, and to trust your life.

Hold on because it’s worth the terrible waiting. Hold on because you are worthy. Hold on because the wisdom that will follow you out of this darkness will be a tremendous gift. Hold on because you have so much love and joy waiting to be experienced. Hold on because life is precious, even though it can bring terrible losses. Hold on because there is so much that you can’t now imagine waiting ahead on your journey – a destiny that only you can fulfill. Hold on although your exhausted and your grasp is shaky, and you want more than anything to let go sometimes, hold on even though. Please hold on.

So much in life can be difficult, even impossible to understand. I know, I know… So many of us have cried in despair, “why?” “why?” “why?,” and still the answers and the comfort failed to show. Survival can be a long and lonely road, in spite of all those who’ve stumbled down the path before you. And it can be a treacherous, torturous journey – so easy to get lost, and yet impossible to avoid even one painful step.

And the light, the light at the end of the dark tunnel for so long cannot be seen, although eventually you’ll begin to feel its’ warmth as you move forward. And forward you must move in order to get through the hell of remembering, of despair, of rage, of grief. Keep looking forward please. Rest if you must, doubt your ability to survive the journey if you have to, but never let go of the guide ropes, although when you close your fingers around them, your hands feel empty, they are there. Please trust me, they are there…

When you’re exhausted, when all you have to count on is a weakened, weary faith, hold on. When you think you want to die, hold on until you recognize that it’s not death you seek, but for the pain to go away. Hold on, because this darkness will surely fade away.

Hold on…Please hold on.

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