Monday, November 28, 2016

Rings of Wisdom Week One


 

“Nothing is holier; nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous inscribed disk of its trunk; in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy, knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.” Hermann Hesse

When I reflect on the path of the Elder Warrior, the metaphor of rings in a tree comes to mind. A tree goes through various kinds of growth. Each year, a tree adds new layers of wood to its trunk. If you count the rings of a tree, it will tell you how long the tree has been living. The shape and the width of the rings can differ from year to year. Wide rings indicate a time of intense growth. A tree that is happy getting lots of sunshine and rain will show rings that are broad and evenly spaced. Narrow rings indicate less favorable conditions for growth, unusually cold weather, insect damage, lack of nutrients, drought.

The narrow rings produce much stronger wood than the broader rings and are essential to a tree’s overall strength. When a tree puts down a narrow ring, because it was a year of drought, it also deepens its roots. By reading the rings of a tree, you can see the scars from a forest fire, hurricane, and other severe weather conditions. When a tree is injured, it weeps and bleeds sap to begin the healing process. In the years that follow, the tree focuses on growth in the wounded area to repair the damages. An old tree will have hidden scars under the layers. Anyone who splits wood will tell you it is these wounded areas of the tree that are the strongest and most difficult to split and will burn better than the unscarred areas.

Adult warriors are like a beautiful, strong tree. We all have had some years of sunshine and growth and some years of challenges and suffering. We have scars deep within our mind and body.  We reflect on the lessons of our life and in silence we find wisdom. Erik Erikson says, “Wisdom comes from life experience, well digested. It’s not what comes from reading great books. When it comes to understanding life, experiential learning is the only worthwhile kind: everything else is hearsay.” At the end of each chapter I will share in Rings of Wisdom how the lessons have worked in my life.

I will begin this week by telling you I have many rings; some are narrow and strong and some a broad and balanced. I have had years of sunshine and growth, and times of struggles and challenges. Today I can see the wounds from childhood gifting me with more compassion. The wounds from adulthood have lead me to Mindfulness training where I gain insight and awareness setting me free to let go and move beyond judgment and fear. These are scars I have transformed as I see myself as a wounded healer

My wish for each of you is to find the wounded areas of your life as your strength. It is through self-awareness we light up the scars dissolving the blind spots; we grow empathy for self and others and allow the fire within to burn long and strong. Together lets become warriors difficult to split or break as we find new ways to think about ageing and we become busy making the world a better place for every living creature. We begin this journey learning practices and tools for growing self-awareness and a deeper understanding of who we are, what we believe, and how we wish to live in a way that is guided by the awakening Spirit.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Introduction


After the first few weeks of not going to the office, I started feeling restless and very alone. At the time I believed I was ready for these big changes; no more dealings with health insurance companies, no more “treatment plans” and no more biting my tongue about pharmaceuticals and diagnoses. After many hours alone with only my dogs and cats, I noticed a bubbling up coming from within. “Am I growing old? Did I just retire?” When I looked in the mirror at unguarded moments, I realized there were some changes in my face and in my body. “Is this the way I am going to look when I am an old person and does it matter?  Is it really all downhill from here?” Facing these realities seemed more like an uphill steep climb.

Our culture tells us how we are supposed to act at a certain age. “You are not a spring chicken anymore, dress appropriately.”  “You are going to march on Washington when you could be enjoying retirement? Are you nuts?” “You can’t make any big changes in your life; it is time for you to settle.” I hear things like this all around me and sometimes I even see people my age posting on Facebook quotes and discriminating pictures fulfilling ageist myths. They not only buy into these beliefs, but they are also promoting them and repeating them. As a therapist, I know the power of the mind to create what it believes. This kind of thinking is harmful to your health and longevity. These cultural biases are especially influential when they are out of our awareness. They sneak into the subconscious mind unchallenged and we know the subconscious mind doesn’t think about what is true; it does what it is told. So goes the belief that aging includes arthritis, knee and hip replacements, failing memory, no passion, and no joy. If this thinking is not challenged that is exactly what you get as the number on your driver’s license goes up another year. Unchallenged your life will reflect the beliefs of the culture. And suddenly you are getting a knee replacement, your memory is failing and you lost your passion for living.

Yes, I was once one of those idealistic very alive college students marching for peace in the world. But like the rest of my generation, I sold out. I too became a typical productive, compliant member of society. As Paulo Coelho describes, I was domesticated.  I married a banker, had four children, and went to graduate school to be a psychotherapist. I was a stay home Mom and then for many years worked for a large medical center doing out-patient psychotherapy. I was on the Church Parish Council and taught Confirmation class. I trusted that my priest and physician knew what was best for my mind, body and spirit. I didn’t question them nor did I find my own truth. We were not encouraged by our culture to know and understand what’s best for our mind, body or spirit. We are encouraged to just do as they say. And sadly most of what they say is driven by profit, greed and/or the need to keep us in control.

I don’t remember exactly when I realized the games institutions play. I think it was a gradual process of increasing awareness and working for a large medical center that required jumping through corporate hoops replacing concern for what is best for clients. I also started what was called a centering prayer which is much like mindfulness meditation. I believe it is through silence we grow in awareness and begin to remember our true nature. It is in silence we can hear our own wisdom and truth.

Ending my career as a psychotherapist created a new silence giving me the space to figure out what is true for me and how I wanted to live the rest of my life or at least the next ten years. Since I no longer buy into being domesticated I started a journey into a confrontation of cultural beliefs about ageing. As I did research on ageing I found several researchers supporting a new way of thinking about ageing. There is fascinating research on Centenarians and how they live their lives. Dr. Mario Martinez describes Centenarians in his book, Lessons from Healthy Centenarians: “They’re all rebels! They don’t go to doctors because their doctors are dead; they’re future-oriented (‘My garden is beautiful right now but wait till you see it in three years!’); They have healthy boundaries (‘No, I can’t meet you on Saturday morning; that’s when I have my sailing lesson’); they have a positive outlook on life and focus on what’s great. If you have to have a marker, take this one: Middle age starts at 90".

So if Middle age starts at 90, I have a lot of years left to make a difference. Make a difference doing what? It turns out there are many Baby Boomers asking the same question. In the process of answering questions for myself I have become inspired to share my findings. I have a dream to teach a new way of ageing and together with others challenge the beliefs and institutions trying to keep us settled, tamed and compliant.

Let’s be rebels and warriors. Let’s make getting older, getting freer and more powerful. We can make going over the hill the push that helps us go faster down the hill to a life of passion and activism. Let’s harvest our experience and knowledge for the welfare of our planet and her animals, plants and people. All are in great need for our compassion, love and wisdom. Join me as elder warriors making a difference and finding our way to more Love, Joy, and Passion.

©2016 Judith A. Rogers, L.C.S.W.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Signing up for Life

Father Gregory Boyle embodies what it means to create a world that works for everyone. As a Jesuit priest, his ministry had led him to the creation of Homeboy Industries which is rated the most successful gang intervention in the world. In a TED talk, he shares the secret of his success, “creating a culture of compassion and kinship.” He says, “It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s own dream come true for us-that we be one—just happens to be our own deepest longing for ourselves.” As Elder Warriors joining in Oneness to shine a light on the world, we can make a difference while sustaining our needs for purpose, to belong, and to know we matter. We too can be a star following our own fearless path into the darkness of a world needing much help. I have listed below what I believe an Elder warrior does to remain strong.


Spends time in Silence

Many wisdom traditions teach the importance of silence. Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation is the one I prefer; but there are many others, centering prayer, contemplation and shaman practices of silencing the mind in healing ceremonies. Focusing on our body sensations and emotions rather than our chattering mind is basic to all healing. In silence we can move from the analytical thinking of our head into the whole embodied experience, creating a state of awareness. Through awareness you can tap into the knowledge and wisdom, you carry in your body and soul.  The gift of a silent mind helps us find our way through life with purpose. The rational mind often lies because of its distorted perceptions; the body never lies. When you know how to listen in silence, you bring more awareness to situations. You can see your way as the star shines on what matters. You reclaim your true nature, freedom, peace and joy.


Grows in Compassion

As Elder Warrior’s compassion may be the greatest gift coming from times of silence and the wisdom accumulated. We find ways to support and defend the suffering of others. We practice self-compassion honoring our wish to be happy. We care deeply about the plight of others. We suffer with them but are not depleted when we come from our resilient heart. When we have a sensitive heart, we know what is needed to make changes in the world to end suffering. We replace fear with courage to stand up and protest against the darkness, and we make the personal choices to support a kinder gentler world.


Replaces Dogma with a flexible, curious mind:

The Elder warriors know there are no “right” answers. Zen masters used koan to teach their students’ how to leave thinking with their analytical mind. Here is an example from the tradition called the Gateless Gate:

A man is hanging by his teeth from a tree on a cliff. Someone asks him a question. If he doesn’t answer, he falls and dies. If he does answer, he falls and dies. What should he do?

By seeing how things we believe to true may also be false, we force the thinking brain to give up control and we no longer obsessively hold on to the “right way” or “how things have always been done.” A state of open-mindedness gives us the ability to listen and actually hear others. 

 
Continues to play and learn

There is an ancient Sioux story about Creator giving all the animals unique survival gifts—size, fur, extraordinary abilities to smell, hear, or see far away strong teeth. Creator gave humans the capacity to play all of their life. It is our unusually prolonged neoteny, a Greek word meaning to stretch. Neoteny is the playful behavior of young mammals to learn basic survival skills. Non-human mammals discontinue play once they are adults as they have learned the necessary survival skills. Play is an important elder tool. Scientists believe fast learning takes place with play. Week one in a Short Lesson in Neuroscience we covered Panksepp’s seven primary emotional circuits and the Play Circuit’s powerful potential to heal past emotional pain. Play gives our brain the capacity to absorb new information and form new ideas no matter how long we live. Stretching to learn new ways to play will enhance our warrior skills.

The brain state of play usually involves intense focus with a mind-body activity. Tibetan monks create sand mandalas sometimes taking days to complete with exquisite detail and beauty. When the mandala is completed, it is erased as a lesson in impermanence. In the tradition of the Pueblo tribe, the medicine man created sand paintings as part of healing ceremonies. Creating a focused non-rational brain state and holding it for a length of time is the intention of sand paintings. Playing golf, swimming, bowling, tennis or enjoying a live music performance can create the same mind-body healing.  Laughter is playfulness. Having a sense of humor lightens the load in stressful situations. Until I can find the bright sight of something, I may find humor helpful. ''I can't imagine a wise old person who can't laugh,'' said  Eric Erikson. ''The world is full of ridiculous dichotomies.'' So many times I find laughing at some of the physical changes brought on by age beats complaining about them. Ladies, you know what can happen when laughing sneezing or coughing too hard.


Guided by Evolving Passion and Purpose

Spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen asks his audiences the following question: “How would you live your life if you learned that the future evolution of the human race rested on your shoulders alone?” If you knew all of your future actions were creating an example for future elders to follow as a guide, would your behavior change? For me, his question was an eye-opening wake-up call. Contemplating this idea of future humanity depending on me and my tribe fills me with passion and purpose. I always think of Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


It takes courage to stand up to cultural expectations and perceived personal limitations. When we can stand up and release all attachments to what others think, let go of competition, we remember we are here on Earth to live the highest and greatest life possible. We are Elder warriors in service to the growth and evolution of everyone and the planet. There are many possibilities for the world today has many needs. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Strategies for Conscious Ageing



“In just the same way, the Warrior of the Light knows that everything around him— his victories, his defeats, his enthusiasm, and his despondency— form part of his Good Fight. And he will know which strategy to use when he needs it. A Warrior does not try to be coherent; he has learned to live with his contradictions.”--Coelho, Paulo

Ageing brings loss and there are strategies to use to help us as we travel and live with our contradictions. The culture has its idea of ageing and we have a different one. When we become vulnerable to the anti-ageing stereotypes in our culture, we can lose self-confidence, and fear death. We may give away our warrior power to guilt and body shame. We can lose our curiosity and creativity causing procrastination and isolation. In this session, we are going to explore strategies that will empower and give you coping tools to defy the cultural expectations on ageing. We will learn the warrior skill of embracing life changes as challenges and possibilities. One of the most powerful strategies is the practice of Self-compassion. It reduces stress, depression, perfectionism, body shame and fear of failure. Another power practice is developing a gratitude habit. As you will see the research shows how gratitude changes our brain chemistry and brings more goodness into our lives.

We face death in this session. Death used to take place in a cold and sterile hospital with few choices. Our boomer generation is a generation that wants choices about how and where we wish to die. We will explore issues of death and dying. By facing our own death, we learn how to help somebody we love face death. This is a time in life when we experience loss, learning how to grieve is an important strategy. Knowing how to help others grieve will be something you will want to learn.  Today dying is more than a medical event. It can be a time for unfinished mind-body and spiritual healing. They say the way we die is similar to how we have lived and how we have responded to suffering, our primary relationships, and our relationship to self. As a member of a Hospice team, I have witnessed several very loving, and magical deaths. When we are helping a loved one to die, we face our death. When we listen to their fears, we face our own. When we have learned to let go of life losses, we learn how to let go at the hour of death.  When we can talk about death in a new way, we view our morality with greater consciousness and thus live each day more awake.

There are several exercises in this week’s lesson, be sure to try as many as you can. My intention is to create experiences that help you embody this information.

Discussion question:

1.     Share your daily practice as it stands today. Did you add anything new this week to your practice?

2.     What losses of ageing are you facing right now?

3.     Did you learn anything new about yourself this week?

4.     Discuss what it was like to face death and write your obituary.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Studies on Healthy Centenarians



This is the data from Dr. Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and is based on longitudinal study of 500 healthy elders.

At age 70 his centenarian data:

    37 percent were overweight

    8 percent were obese

    37 percent were smokers (for an average of 31 years)

    44 percent reported only moderate exercise

    20 percent never exercised at all

Despite this at the age of 100 the people in this study had 60 percent lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Depression and other psychiatric illnesses are almost nonexistent.

There are many studies done on Centenarians that involve asking them to try to explain why they have lived so long. When reviewing these interviews, there are patterns and themes that come up in every study.

It is interesting when doing a review of the literature on Centenarians; I found it doesn’t seem to matter where they live or what their particular culture, when it comes to their beliefs and the behaviors they seem to have intuitively established the same beliefs and behaviors that foster longevity.

    Staying mentally active and always learning something new.

    Keeping a positive attitude.

    Friends and family important part of their daily life.

    Being social with a strong social network.

    Faith/spirituality is important.

    Healthy oppositional to the tribal rules that don’t fit their beliefs. (Breaking unnecessary rules)

    Don’t like to be around old people whose conversations revolve around aches and pain, or doctor visits.

    Don’t like to go to the doctor and most have not gone in years. They say their doctors died a long time ago.

    Live in moderation.

    Keep moving naturally, remaining active doing things they enjoy.

    Have a strong sense of purpose.

    Have routines that shed their stress like kicking back with something they savor, taking a nap, prayer or mediation.

    Eat less meat.

    The Mediterranean diet was most popular among centenarians of various locations and cultures.

    Drink alcohol in moderation.

A few more interesting statistics:

    Eight of every nine Centenarians are women.

    19 percent use cell phones.

    12 percent use the Internet.

    3 percent have participated in online dating.

Some findings from Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer’s book, Counterclockwise:

    Women who think they look younger after having their hair colored show a decrease in blood pressure and are rated more youthful in photos even when the pictures do not show their hair.

    Being married to someone younger tends to lengthen your life

    Being married to someone older tends to shorten your life.

    Prematurely bald men see themselves as older and, therefore, age faster.

Mario Martinez in his book Body Codes has interesting findings from his Centenarian Study

·       “Without expanded consciousness to match our lifespan, we are dying longer instead of living longer.”

·       Most Centenarians view themselves to be much younger than their age.

·       Most Centenarians enjoy and seek out novelty and wisdom when facing challenges.

·       They defied cultural norms that do not make sense to them their entire life.

·       When you meet healthy centenarians, you realize they don’t fit the stereotype of their age.

·       “Resilience, perseverance, creativity, and flexibility are all attributes I have found in every healthy centenarian I have studied, in cultures spanning five continents.”

·       They continue to plan for the future. When asked about his garden a man who was 106 told the interviewer “wait until you see next year’s garden. It is going to be bigger and much better.”

·       They do not hold grudges. They have an outlook that enabled them to forgive easily and often used an attitude of gratitude replacing anger. “I am so grateful that my guardian angels were with me that day or things could have been a lot worse.”

·       Martinez found that Centenarians made “joyful choices” rather than forced abstinence.

·       Centenarians followed the middle way having no compulsive behaviors; but knew how to savory pleasure. One man reported that he never smoked during the day, but he did have “a good cigar every night before bedtime.”

·       They experience the depth of emotional and physical pain with acceptance.

·       They continue to be curious and interested in learning new things.

·       They have the belief that it is never too late to engage in passion. Many singles are dating and seeking a new partner. Some marry again in their 100’s.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Power of Savoring



“We see God face to face every hour, and know the savor of Nature.”-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

The sky was warmly lit by the setting sun with colors of pomegranate pink and soft orange. I watched how the pink, orange haze cast over the waters of Clearwater Beach creating a paradise of beauty as I waited for the sun to set.  My skin felt a chill by a slight breeze as the air became cooler with the setting sun.  I was sitting at the Tiki bar and grill sipping an exotic drink called Shipwreck. Reggae music played creating an atmosphere of play.

Suddenly I found myself looking at the Triple Fudge Delight dessert being delivered to the table next to me. It looked luscious, and my fondness for chocolate kicked in immediately. I could smell the coffee being poured into her cup. It was my last night in Florida, and so there was something to celebrate; a guilt-free indulgence. The waiter dressed in casual garb and moving to the music smiled as I order the Triple Fudge Delight with a cup of coffee and cream. He beamed with even more enthusiasm when he brought it to my table. I decided to savor every moment of this experience by using Mindful eating for a perfect sense trip.

First, I observed the chef’s presentation of creamy chocolate drizzled on the plate. The chocolate torte covered in hot fudge and whipped cream was a beautiful sight indeed. There is something about hot fudge and the way it glistens when it is melted. Next, I noticed the incredible smell of a perfect cup of coffee. I cut into the decadent layers of chocolate and watched as it crumbled with each fork cut. Placing it in my mouth, the silky-smooth texture that came forth brought sensations of pure pleasure. The taste as it turned to liquid brought pure bliss. I savored each bite observing my feeling of anticipation for the next bite. I was in love with chocolate more than I have ever been before. The whipped cream was the perfect complement as together with the chocolate; they melted in my mouth leaving an irresistible taste and desires to eat more. Once the plate was empty, my heart was open and full of joy. I enjoyed something sweet and luxurious in the midst of a picture postcard beautiful environment, savoring every moment. This is what feeds my soul, a perfect sense trip.

Savoring is a concept that is used in the field of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology focuses on positive experiences and emotions and their effects on people’s lives.  Fred Bryant is considered to be the father of savoring research. He is a social psychologist at Loyola University, Chicago. He introduced the concept of savoring as” being mindfully engaged and aware of one’s feelings during positive events. By being engaged, one can increase happiness in both the short and long run. It is a deliberate effort to make a positive experience last.” When we think of savoring, we often think of food and taste. Fred Bryant’s research shows that any positive experience can be savored. Even the memory of a positive event can be savored. As I was writing the above narrative, I still can remember my sense trip of a few months ago and continue to draw pleasure from it. It is like eating your cake and having it too because there are no calories.

In his book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, Bryant says, “Savoring is like swishing the experience around in your mind.” He has identified several benefits of savoring; improved mental and physical health, stronger relationships and having the ability to find more creative solutions to problems. Here are some suggestions from the savoring researchers as ways to develop savoring as a skill. I believe these ideas can also help you develop a savoring habit just as Mindfulness practices rewire our brain for awareness, equanimity, and emotional freedom.

    “People who savor together stay together.” (Bryant) Studies about the way people react to positive events have shown that those who share positive feelings with others are happier overall than those who do not. Is this another benefit of Facebook to observe?

    Bryant says that we should congratulate ourselves whenever possible. Research shows that people who savor their successes are more likely to enjoy the outcome and be more successful in the future.

    Researchers tell us that by sharpening our sensory perceptions we are flexing our savoring muscles. By taking the time to get in touch with our senses, we are becoming more consciously aware.

    Get absorbed in a special moment by deliberately turning off thoughts and absorb positive feelings. Studies of positive experiences indicate that people most enjoy themselves when they are totally absorbed in a task or in play. Losing sense of time and place is a state psychologist call, “flow.”

    Expressing gratitude can make us happier. Bryant’s research suggests that saying “thank you” out loud can make us happier because we are affirming our positive feelings.  He states that thinking of a new blessing for which you have never given thanks before each night before going to bed, would be a good practice. Recalling the experience through being grateful will help us savor it.

    Positive experiences can help us to soothe and balance negative ones. When two things are held in the mind at the same time, they connect to each other. “What fires together wires together.” Painful feelings and memories can be attached to a positive feeling of comfort or closeness you feel when somebody is supporting you through a difficult time.

    Good feelings today increase the likelihood of good feelings tomorrow. Savoring can be used as a way to increase positive emotions. Positive becomes the norm rather than the brain’s bias for negativity.  Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions don’t just feel good at the moment; they have other benefits. Positive emotions increase resilience, optimism, and can counter the effect of trauma. They promote a stronger immune system and a cardiovascular system that is less reactive to stress.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Attend and Befriend Grief




Those we love from the first can’t be put aside or forgotten; after they die they still must be cried out of existence….Galway Kinnell

Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent with your pain. Lament! And let the milk of loving flow into you. Rumi

The tears of grief are a gift as they melt away barriers to our heart. As we open our hearts to the love we shared and now miss we become closer to the spirit within. It is the moisture of our tears that can bring new life. The Lakota Sioux considered grief a great gift because they believed the gods are closest to us when we suffer. When a Lakota Sioux is grieving their prayers are believed to be especially powerful and others will often ask one who grieves to pray for them.

Allowing ourselves to feel the depth of emotions is a critical foundation for awareness and awakening. As Jack Kornfield says in his book, A Lamp in the Darkness; Illuminating the Path through Difficult Times,"much of the insanity in the world comes from people not knowing what to do with their feelings. We are nuclear giants and emotional infants.”

In the past, I buried grief and went on as if nothing happened. I rationalized that pain away with intellectual B.S. like “oh she had a wonderful life and I was lucky to share part of it with her.” Or “she is in a better place.” Sure my heart would break  and I would cry and feel the sadness of missing a presence that brought me joy, but I never dropped the barriers consciously in order to feel the depth of emotion pain. Was it fear? Was it conditioning? Was it the need to be strong?  I am not sure, maybe it is all of the above. Without the awareness that comes with a Mindfulness practice; I didn’t know how to grieve and I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

This time, it is different. Mindful grieving allowed me to listen to my body and mind and heart. I meditated to Stephan Levine’s Soft Belly as I laid surrounded in warmth on my bio-mat. I allowed the warm tears to flow down my face. There was no fear and no need to be strong. I surrendered to my heart’s desire to grieve. This sweet meditation allowed me to awake to my body and the sensations of grief. For me, it was a feeling of coldness that chilled me to my bones. Through my mindfulness practice grief became a new experience for me.

Mindfulness teaches us to “attend and befriend” difficult emotions. It is about awareness without judgment; experiencing the feelings and body sensations fully without judging and trying to change what you are experiencing. And when you do catch yourself trying to change or judge what you are experiencing you label it, “judging” and go back to attending (experiencing it fully). Do not judge that you are judging or trying to change what you are experiencing. Be open to whatever you are experiencing as a witness. By opening your heart, you find a softness and heart wisdom. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s research tells us that we can actually rewire our brain for more  emotional resilience through Mindfulness.

When we listen to our body sensations we will find that all of our emotions are felt in our body.  Our body sensations are great messengers. When we listen to our bodies we gain a feeling of empowerment that comes from knowing. Befriending our grief gives us the feeling of security and allows us to merge into a more resilient faith in ourselves and our ability to survive the pain and deep sorrow. Maybe it prepares us for death itself.

Tim Desmond, LMFT has a Self-inquiry Practice that is a good summary and helps us “attend and befriend” grief.

SELF INQUIRY PRACTICE

 Modified from Tim Desmond, LMFT: http://www.timdesmond.net/

You can use this practice when you have a strong feeling.

·       Allow it to be just as it is. Do not try to change it, deny it, or judge it.

·       What do you notice in your body when you feel this emotion?

Try to ask the feeling:

·       How are you trying to help?

·       What do you need me to hear?

·       What do you need?

·       What is your job?

Can you show compassion and empathy for the emotion?
 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Death the Catalyst for Living Life Abundantly


Over the last few months, it seems that quite a few famous people and people I knew personally have died.  I remember reading someplace that the death rate for the planet averages about a quarter of million a day. So there are quite a few people dying every day. I don't remember a time when so many people I knew left the planet. Maybe this means I am old. As we live longer, we face losing many companions on our way to our death.


What is it about the death of a beloved that inspires us to look differently at life? I remember after Willow died driving home and wondering how the world could just go on as usual. Suddenly the world was a different place. I remember this same feeling after the death of my best friend and the death of my father. Their deaths inspired me to stop and look at life differently. Things that mattered changed and I wasn't taking life for granted and little problems I realized aren't all that important. There is a bittersweet feeling of love that connects. I was more focused and more attentive and while my heart was breaking it also felt so much love for the people around me as they comforted me and shared in my grief.

In the past, each time the effects of this "death" inspiration gradually faded and I went back to falling asleep into my life without even realizing that is what I did. Why do we lose the inspiration and awareness that comes from profound loss? I believe it is complicated. It has something to do with Western Culture's views on grief and its death phobia. It also comes from a human response to avoid pain. We armor our hearts instead of allowing our pain to progress naturally. With armored hearts, we return to a life of little awareness sometimes referred to as falling asleep or living on auto-pilot.
This time, I want to do things differently. Thoreau's famous quote comes to mind, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them." With the remainder of my life, I want to use this gift of inspiration to live more fully. I want to sing my song before it's too late. So I turned to some of my favorite authors; Stephen Levine because he recently died, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, Ernest Holmes, Tara Brach, and Jack Kornfield with the question how can I live the rest of my life abundantly. As I shuffled through these cherished books I found, POLISHING THE MIRROR; HOW TO LIVE LIFE FROM YOUR SPIRITUAL HEART by Ram Dass. I read this book about two years ago. As I sat down to reread parts of it; I realized that it was talking about aging in a way that fits with my desire to sing my song loudly before it is too late. 

The way I learn things best is to teach what I need to learn. I believe this is my song; writing curriculum and teaching the lessons I am learning about myself. Today my journey is learning how to live an inspired, abundant life to share. I have been writing curriculum for a six-week group on creative aging using Mindfulness and New Thought principles. The gift of Willow's passing is knowing there is the seventh week When We Face Death We Face Life; Death is a Reminder to Live Life Fully. So as I write this curriculum I will share it in this blog hoping that it can inspire you as well.

Row, row, row your boat,

gently down the stream,

merrily, merrily, merrily merrily,

life is but a dream……