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Posted in awe and wonder, good life, happiness, healing, hope, Inspiration, meaning, positive psychology, resiliance, Uncategorized, tagged cognitive therapy, happiness, holy, Hope, inspiraion, jean houston, living consciously, living well, michael beckwith, The good life on February 17, 2013 | Leave a Comment »
I listened to a talk by Jean Houston on Gaiam TV today and was moved tremendously by one observation she made in particular. She noted that each of us gets wounded during our life times, and that if we live long enough, we become so full of holes that we ultimately become holy.
My own life has taught me that my wounds will ultimately diminish or enrich me, depending largely upon whether I meet them with a closed fist or an open heart. I’ve also come to understand to my amazement that an ordinary day can be transformed from the mundane to the holy not so much by what happens during the course of it, but by what questions I choose to ask of myself when I first encounter it.
Michael Beckwith urges us to ask the following three questions each and every day.
How can I grow?
How can I give?
What can I celebrate?
I’ve found that every morning that I ask myself these three questions and then commit to living the answers by the end of the day, my life is so much more likely to be experienced as the profound gift that it is.
This is a dark and dismal season of grief for me. Three months ago I lost my mother, and within this last week I have lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara – my soul sister…
I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and pixie face, my eight year old self imagined that here standing before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!
At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend. I’m not sure when she became my sister and an essential part of me, but she did.
Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic. As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the sudden death of his twin. Next, soon after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he died from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone.
Yesterday, as the great storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mother’s life. She had gone into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.
The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages is completely incomprehensible to me. The temptation to scream up at the heavens, “why!!!!!!!! why!!!!!!!!!! Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” sits wound tightly in my chest, threatening to explode, scattering pieces of my shattered self everywhere.
Her maiden name was Joy. And even as she struggled on a daily basis with the fallout of a heart broken way too young and far too often, she embraced her life and held it and those within its orbit close and tenderly. She created countless special memories for her husband and children, faced her fears, followed her heart, and sweetly coaxed me to join her from time to time. For the past three springs I told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and apologized each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.
She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she knew that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didn’t) and that she would simply be waiting patiently when I was ready to talk. She emailed me at Christmas time and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that I’d get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her and promised that I’d call her soon. That was our final contact. Now there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, no more summers…
Shortly after losing her husband, she lamented that in working so long and hard in preparation for retirement, he had missed so many tiny inconsequential and yet precious moments. She had made a promise to herself at his funeral that she wouldn’t postpone pleasure in the interest of a tomorrow that might never come. She kept that promise.
Stephanie Ericsson wrote:
“Grief is a tidal wave that over takes you
smashes down upon you with unimaginable force,
sweeps you up into its darkness,
where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces,
only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped…
Grief will make a new person out of you,
if it doesn’t kill you in the making.”
It’s not my grief that threatens to mortally wound me, it’s my love. And it’s not my love that has proven to be my greatest teacher, it’s my grief.
Thirty five years ago four teenagers sat late into the night talking about life and death and making predictions about how their lives would turn out. Before separating in the wee hours of the morning, they made a pact that when they were fifty they would come back together and see whose predictions came true. They never kept that oath. Not because they got too busy, or forgot their promise along the way, but because the only one who lived to see her fiftieth birthday was me.
I grieved deeply each time I lost one of them, and yet failed repeatedly to fully grasp the profound lesson contained within each death. It’s a lesson that we learn over and over again without fully comprehending, one that we pay lip service to but seldom turn our lives around to meet. Those we love will die. WE WILL DIE. And so, we must make of our love a sacred practice, allowing it to flow through our lives like a mighty river. We must invite ourselves to fall in love with life over and over again, allowing life and love to become inseparable.
Both my mother and Missie, my golden girl, are gone now, and this is more loss than I can face today. But there’s something that I’ve learned through the terrible pain of earlier losses which sustains me. The intensity of this grief will fade even as its lesson comes more clearly into focus. Life is a gift of unknown duration – the only certainty is that it ends, and so we must learn to hold it lovingly and closely, like Missie did.
Her maiden name was Joy….
The sky is grey today. My boots crunch and my body tenses when I first step out into this frigid January morning. I move slowly, huddled against the cold, still baring the gravity of grief and the weariness of long nights with too few exits and too many echoes.
Getting out of bed took little effort yesterday, my mind was alert, my movements fluid, and the sun was shining. I breathed a sigh of relief, finally able to recognize the promise of a morning without my mother in it. I didn’t have to force myself to leave my house, and I jogged and jumped and danced during my water aerobics class. My body felt light and graceful. It was going to be a good day.
Someone began to sing, “these boots are made for walking” and I cheerfully joined her in song, hands on my hips and legs lifting high. And then my eyes met those of a woman who is older than my mother and the pain slammed into my chest without warning. I was breathless as a memory consumed all of my oxygen. My young and sexy mother is singing that song while I prance around her in my imaginary boots. We are pointing at each other, warning that “one of these days these boots are going to walk all over you.” In that moment, all was perfect. The depression had not found her, she was cancer free - healthy, happy, and ALIVE. I was safe.
My eyes filled with tears and to my horror, it occurred to me that I could start crying in a public pool surrounded by perfectly nice and normal women. I took a deep breath, clenched my jaw, called upon my well practiced will, and pulled myself together.
Rumi wrote that our lives are like guest houses. If my life truly is like a guest house, then grief, an unwelcome guest, has settled in for the time being. I cannot move out, and there will be no eviction. And so, If I’m to avoid structural and collateral damage, then I’ll need to make accommodations. Grief, I will make a place at my table for you, but I will not feed you. Instead, I will infuse my cooking with love and gratitude and nurture my family with them. And I will stop wasting energy trying to lock you out, instead, I’ll open all of my windows and invite beauty in.
My walk is complete. I return to the home that I now share with grief, close the door, absorb the heat, and resolve to not long for spring, but to listen to winter…
The Winter of Listening
“No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.
All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
round every living thing.
What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
What we strive for
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
and then nourishes
What we hate
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.
Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.
All those years
listening to those
nothing to say.
All those years
has its own voice
All those years
you can belong
simply by listening.
And the slow
is born from
Silence and winter
has led me to that
So let this winter
for the new life
I must call my own.”
Posted in cancer, creativity, crisis, grief, resiliance, Uncategorized, wisdom, tagged dancing, death of mother, depression, gabrielle roth, lung cancer, resilience, wisdom on January 6, 2013 | 5 Comments »
As a therapist who walks beside others who struggle with depression, and as a woman who has endured its devastating blows myself, I’m all too aware of what overcoming it demands of us. We are required to hold on even as our grasp weakens, overwhelmed by dread and hopelessness. The pull of life insists that we get up and face the day when all we really want to do is cover up our heads and refuse to come out. And we are called during our long dark nights to recognize that those voices (all too often the loudest and the most convincing) that repeatedly remind us of all the ways that we have been wounded and taunts us with our failures, disappointments, and of the vast array of dangers that surround us, can not and must not be trusted. And when almost every fiber of our being seems to be shutting down, we are challenged to acknowledge that the gaping wound inside of us is also an opening – one that is capable of ushering in as much possibility as it does pain.
Dancer and wisdom keeper, Gabrielle Roth, who died from lung cancer this past October, just one month before my mother lost her own battle with lung cancer, wrote that in many shamanic cultures when someone sought a medicine person because he or she was disheartened or depressed, it was common for the sufferer to be asked one of the following four questions:
“When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop being enchanted by stories?
When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”
As I sat yesterday in the gloaming, mellowed by the sweet territory of silence, I asked myself those questions. And as I waited for answers, memories of my mother floated in and out of my consciousness. As a child she created entire universes within the magic and mystery of her own imagination, enchanted her husband as a young woman by belting out country songs about cheating hearts and lovin eyes, and captivated her eldest daughter with tales of an abused and abandoned little girl and her faithful dog, buddy. My mother taught me so much with her stories, and it was both the bitter and the sweet of her own life that offered up multiple lessons regarding how to live, what’s important, what needs to be let go of, and what’s essential to remember.
And at this moment I am remembering one of my favorite stories of my mother as a child. She was five years old and it was her first day of kindergarten. My grandmother was helping her get ready for school and she was both excited and terribly anxious. As her mother combed her fine brown hair, she peppered her with the following questions.
“Can I come home if I miss you too much?” she asked.
“No. You need to stay until the school day is over,” her mom replied.
“Can you come and visit me?” she bargained.
“No. School is for children, not for mothers,” answered her mother.
“Can I sing in school?” my 5 year old mother asked hopefully.
“No Brenda. You have to be quiet and listen to your teacher.”
“Can I play?” she asked tremulously.
“Only at recess. You go to school to learn,” my grandmother explained.
“Well, can I dance?”
“No Brenda. You have to sit in your seat,” her mother responded firmly.
“Well,” the tiny child sighed, holding her skinny little arms over her head as she started to twirl round and around, “then, I’d better dance now.”
And I see her in my minds eye still, almost fifty years from the time that I first heard this story, and feel my soul reaching out to the child that I came to cherish almost as dearly as I loved the mother that she would grow up to be, and I am smiling and I am weeping now as I imagine her yet again, swirling around the kitchen, pig tails flying, dancing.
Both Gabrielle Roth and Brenda Byram are with us no longer but their legacy lives on – dance. Dance even as your heart breaks, dance even as your body bends from the terrible gravity of grief, dance even though your stomach aches and your heart trembles. Dance. Dance while you can….
Posted in cancer, depression, healing, healing recovery, Inspiration, Poetry, resiliance, Uncategorized, tagged cancer, healing, letting go, safire rose, spirituality on November 13, 2012 | Leave a Comment »
I have been in Florida for the past month and plan to remain here with my mother until she dies. I find very little time for writing these days, for little else actually other than caring for her and my father. I am firmly planted here by my mother’s side although my thoughts and heart wander quite regularly back to Maine where my husband, daughter, grandchildren, friends, and clients go about their lives. I send them love and hold them closely in my heart. There is a great deal of both holding on and letting go happening in my life right now.
The following is a poem by Reverend Safire Rose sent to me by a wise and wonderful woman whom I feel blessed to know. I hope it touches you as it has touched me.
She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
She let go of the fear. She let go of the judgments.
She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.
She let go of the committee of indecision within her.
She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.
Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.
She didn’t ask anyone for advice.
She didn’t read a book on how to let go.
She didn’t search the scriptures.
She just let go.
She let go of all of the memories that held her back.
She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.
She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.
She didn’t promise to let go.
She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.
She just let go.
She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.
She didn’t utter one word.
She just let go.
No one was around when it happened.
There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her.
No one noticed a thing.
Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort. There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.
In the space of letting go, she let it all be.
A small smile came over her face.
A light breeze blew through her.
And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.
On October 12th I am honored to be joining author and theologian, Marjorie Zoet Bankson, at the Center for Wisdom’s Women in Lewiston to share stories about our lives and how we came to discover and follow our callings. The event is called Wise and Strong Women Speak
Normally I don’t publicly announce when I do such events however I would so love for women who live in the Lewiston Auburn area to come and visit this wonderful center, a sacred and safe place which nurtures, empowers, teaches, and supports women.
The center is located at 97 Blake Street between Pine and Ash Street and just one block from the city post office,and Kennedy Park, and a two block walk from the city bus station stop.
Within the past year I’ve reduced my carbon footprint and my work hours while increasing the number of hours I volunteer and engage in mindfulness meditation. I take a water aerobics class and have resumed my journal practice. Still, I consume too much fat and sugar, worry too much, and don’t eat enough fruits and vegtables or exercise enough. Sufficient self care is time consuming and requires a level of commitment and motivation that I don’t always muster.
And so yesterday I decided to conduct an experiment. I signed up for the 10 day free trial with Gaiam TV. I like the idea of having hundreds of videos on exercise, yoga, and meditation at my finger tips and documentaries, films, and interviews that promote emotional, spiritual, and psychological growth and well-being just a click away. Yesterday (day one of my 10 day trial) I took a tai chi class in the comfort of my living room and watched a thought provoking documentary on life and death. Today, I did twenty minutes worth of dancercize before heading off to visit a friend. For the next 8 mornings I’m planning on doing yoga, qigong, aerobics, pilates and strenght training. I’m also looking forward to relaxing at the end of the day with films on compassion, personal development, health and wellness, spirituality, and more. As always, looking for more ways to follow the door mouse’s advice (remember the old song, “go ask Alice?”) to “feed your head.”
Here’s a video that celebrates all of those wonderful square pegs making their way in a round world, each and every one of us…..