A Short Reflection on Death & Life

From Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself:

“She may die before morning. But I have been with her for four years. There’s no way I could be cheated if I didn’t have her for another day. I didn’t deserve her for one minute, God knows.

And I may die before morning.

What I must do now is accept the justice of death and the injustice of more “life.” I have had a good life – longer than many, better than most. I have had thirty-two years. I couldn’t justify another day. I did not create myself, it is a gift. I am me, that is the miracle. I had no right to remain a single hour. Some remain a single minute. And yet I have had thirty-two years.

But it’s morning. Within my hands is another day. Another day to listen and love and walk and glory. I am here for another day.

I think of those who aren’t.”

This passage in Notes to Myself leaves a profound effect on me. How often do I believe my loved ones and myself are entitled to a set number of years? That each of us should live to 100 and die in our sleep? Those are often my assumptions; yet, life has a way of being vastly unpredictable and failing to meet my expectations.  My father got far fewer years that I expected, than I hoped for for him. The past year I have processed the emotions of shock, anger, pain, and jealousy. This is what it means to be human and experience loss.  The depth of love matches the depth of grief.  Until he was sick, I took for granted his health and the health of all my loved ones and myself.  Before my world was so changed, I am sure my unconscious thinking was, “well, this is the way it’s supposed to be…” Loss and grief have a way of turning these thoughts on their head.

The truth is life and death are inextricably linked.  On this Earth, our bodies are temporary.  It’s a reality we quite understandably prefer not to consider. Yet, when death and loss meet us, there’s an opportunity to delve deeper into life. This is the feeling I get from Prather’s words.  The finality of life provides an avenue to profound humility as well as an opportunity… an opportunity to think more carefully about how we spend our time. Death allows us to reflect on the sacredness of the time we’ve been given, to pause and see the beauty of trees, flowers, rain, and blue skies. And, if we are willing, an opportunity to hold one another more gently and lovingly as well.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

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Three Keys to Listening Well

Listening is loving. It is food for the soul and nourishment for relationships. Being heard and understood deeply has a powerful effect, enabling us to feel safe, cared for, loved, and empowered. However, listening well can be difficult.  This is becoming even more of a challenge in today’s society where a million distractions lay at our fingertips. Below are three keys to listening well and improving the way we connect with others.

  1. Presence

“When people have been with me in the moment of my pain, I have little remembered what they have said. It is their presence I recall. The gift of presence is not that it takes away the pain, but that it enables one to bear it.” – Stephen Howard, The Heart and Soul of the Therapist

To be present with another human means to offer my full attention. By setting aside other distractions, I can offer you the gift of thoughtful focus on you, your words and your emotions.  There is a remarkable difference between true presence and distracted listening. For instance, most of us have been guilty of trying to squeeze in a text while listening to a friend. Perhaps you’ve been on the opposite end of this as well and have felt the sting of rejection when you realize your words are falling on deaf ears.  Being human means we make mistakes.  A part of improving how we listen means to take note of what often distracts us and to set aside specific time to intentionally be present with loved ones.

2. Empathy

“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

To listen well involves empathy, or the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another.  Practicing empathy via listening means that rather than offer solutions or try and “fix”, silence and patience is instead offered.  In the precious space of silence, my friend is allowed to give name to her pain, confusion, or sadness. She has a chance to be heard and to tell her story. Now, rather than burden of hidden shame or pain, she feels joined and a bit less alone in her experience.

3. Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Boundaries are critical towards listening well because they enable individuals to offer presence & empathy. Practicing presence and empathy demands emotional energy.  Being human means we have limits to our capacity to give these resources.  Setting boundaries means we are in tune with how much we have to give and say yes when we feel capable and no when we do not.  The same people who often thrive in the areas of listening and compassion struggle to set boundaries because they want to give too much.  As Brené Brown mentions above, it is important that we care for and love ourselves enough by resisting the urge to merely please others and instead give when we feel truly able.

Presence, Empathy, and Boundaries set the tone for meaningful interactions.  By practicing these tenants, our relationships are given depth and life.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Loving Your Resilient Mind: On Suffering & Endurance

Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” – Virginia Satir

Resilience: the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress —the American Psychological Association’s definition

After the loss of my dear father, a close friend who knows grief deeply said to me, “You will be amazed at how the brain finds a way to cope with the most unimaginable things.” In a state of shock, I couldn’t yet digest his words. I was floating above the surface of reality. Looking back, my mind was already at work just like he said. Periods of floating above the surface or “feeling numb” were helping me to survive the first few days of a tragic loss. Since that time, I have come to appreciate how truly resilient the mind is.

The human brain is brilliant. It knows what it is doing. You could compare the mind to the electrical system in a house. There may be times when the circuit breaker “trips”. This circuit is overloaded with too much electricity flowing though the system. The breaker shuts down all outlets to protect the home and avoid a fire. The brain can do a similar thing. When reality is “too much” and the body or heart is facing immense pain, the mind will shut off emotions so you can survive. The feelings do not disappear but are kept at bay. The emotions will return in doses or “waves.” These waves of sadness, grief, anger, and pain can be powerful but they do not last indefinitely. The water subsides and you can catch your breath. Over time, you begin learning the waters, able to better anticipate oncoming waves. You learn it’s possible to endure these waves, riding them back to shore. As time passes, the currents continue but you may find that the waves grow farther apart.

This process is a part of beginning to live a new reality. Change is difficult. Change caused by tragic circumstances is uniquely hard. The resilient brain you are gifted with knows this intrinsically. It recognizes a need to float above the emotion as well as a need to dive back in and feel. Memories are the brain’s way of keeping you connected to precious and significant people and experiences in life. Memories and grief are interconnected. Grieving, while painful, is in essence loving and honoring the truth. Those we love are stamped upon our hearts, and through the release of tears we visit with them.  The mixture of feelings, of joy as well as pain, suffering as well as love, combine to form the tapestry of the human soul.

Numb the dark and you numb the light.”- Brene Brown

So, what does it mean to be resilient? The APA definition above says to “adapt well”. I believe that adapting well requires greater self-kindness and a deeper respect than we often give to our beautiful minds and hearts. We can do hard things. Yet, many people possess an inner critic who is harsh. This internal critic judges, compares, and doubts one’s ability to move forward. Adapting well means offering ourselves greater love and patience in the midst of the storms as well as the calm. It also means taking each day a day at a time while being open to what we can do and what we need in order to do it.

To all those in the midst of suffering, wishing you strength and love through the difficult journey.

Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.

Making Space for Grief

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Everyone will know seasons of loss and grief. Some of these endings we can see approaching months or years ahead of time. A person we love receives a frightening diagnosis. A beloved family member or friend ages into their late years. With time we try to brace ourselves for such a death, riding the roller coaster of emotions as we attempt to gradually accept. Yet, nothing can completely prepare us for the hole this person will leave.

Other times, death is a shock. Unexpected and devastating, we could never imagine having to say goodbye so soon to someone we hold dear. Desperately, we try to keep our heads above the waters as confusion, anger, and sadness take hold.

Grieving the loss of someone we love is a process with no clear map. Just as each relationship is unique, each loss is unique. Our hearts, minds, and bodies need space to grieve. Often, individuals fear getting close to these deep places in oneself. Many people come from families where tears were uncommon and emotions were rarely shared. Death is not a topic openly discussed in our current culture either. For instance, most work places offer a mere three bereavement days for employees. This is quite different from previous times in history when mourning traditions involved weeks of grieving as a community together in and around the deceased’s family’s home. In reality, grieving continues long past the time when the calls, texts, casseroles, and cards stop coming. It is therefore common to feel alone in your experience.

Honoring the multitude of feelings we may experience often means resisting the message to “pull myself together”. Making space for tears means listening to our hearts and bodies carefully and giving ourselves what we need. Needing coffee and a hug with a friend, tears in the shower, walks with your dog, time in nature, journaling, music, time alone, time with others, a funny movie, and even diving into work or something creative are all examples of needs you may have. You may also need to reach out for support from a grief group or therapist to process the pain. The needs change from day to day and moment to moment. Rather than compare your grief experience to that of others, it is important to be compassionate to yourself and hold respect for your own journey. It will not look exactly like anyone else’s.

As Irving says in the quote above, tears are sacred. Your grief is sacred as well. It is a reflection of the deep meaning this person had in your life and you in theirs. If you believe that counseling is a route you would like to consider in your own process, please feel free to contact any of the therapists here at Foundation Counseling. We wish those in the midst of such a loss, strength and courage along the way.

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Thank you for reading. Lydia dedicates this post to her dear father. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.

Gratitude: A Poem

camp graceWaking up from a dream, I discover myself laying beneath a tree.

It is lovely, tall, green.

It asks for nothing besides this plot of land: a place to grow and be.

The wind disturbs the branches, limbs dance above my head.

I ponder, wondering what sight I’d see here if thunder storms rolled in.

There is no where to hide, no way to run when skies change from blue to gray.

The tree does not think on these things. It exists today.

All things impermanent. Always changing. Nothing guaranteed.

No crystal balls or time machines. Simply you and me.

Grass between my toes, sun in my hair.  Tears forming in my eyes.

Struck by Gratitude for such a moment, humbled by the love I feel inside.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

A Short Reflection on Money

Lately I have really enjoyed reading Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself. His reflections are simple yet profound and refreshing. He talks on many subjects, relatable to young and old alike. Perhaps one of my favorite writings of his is on the topic of money. Below I share his thoughts…

ntms“The number of things just outside of the perimeter of my financial reach remains constant no matter how much my financial condition improves. With each increase in my income a new perimeter forms and I experience the same relative sense of lack. I believe that I know the specific amount needed that would allow me to have or do these few things I can’t quite afford, and if my income would increase by that much I would then be happy. Yet, when the increase comes, I find that I am still discontent because from my new financial position I can now see a whole new set of things I don’t have. The problem will be solved when I accept that happiness is a present attitude, not a future condition.” (Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself).

I read this several times wanting to let it sink in…perhaps it resonates with you as well. What stands out most to me here is the “sense of lack” Prather refers to.  In a country and society of plenty, we are bombarded with messages of the opposite…messages about the next, new thing we must have. I believe that Prather is on to something when he presents an alternative. To be open and grateful for what we have in the present provides a welcome relief from the unrelenting, anxiety-provoking game that is the “hustle for more”.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

Courage: A Poem

Courage

imageStanding on the sidelines,

a spectator peering in.

Distant, safe, hidden and tame,

Yet inside an untapped flame.

An option lands before me.

Timid, I look down.

Sensing my heartbeat racing,

the question floats here now.

imageTo remain still, the pull is strong,

tempted to stay warm here in my hole.

Yet, Courage, you nudge me, winking,

whispering desires within my soul.

 

Two steps forward,  I am moving,

fear, uncertainty by my side.

 imageShaky legs and sweaty fingers,

nervous, in the scope of others’ sight.

Discovering purpose, I reach closer,

making room they let me in.

Blood pumping, I feel bolder.

Richly alive, I am seen.

Retreating – once an option,

imagenow seems further from my mind.

Curiosity and excitement leading,

pushing me past the shy divide.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.