[GUEST POST]: Call Them While You Can (Grief and The Stuff We Need to Say)

I am not sure why this touched me so deeply. This concept is not new to me. I make every effort to live in this way … and yet … for some reason I have crocodile size tears streaming down my face in unstoppable torrents. Thank you John for your gift of speaking straight to our souls … about things that are richly needed to be acknowledged. With deepest appreciation, Karen

john pavlovitz

GuyOnPhone

Yesterday my daughter did something really funny during dinner—like spit take funny. (This is rather commonplace in our home these days).

Not long after finishing the dishes I grabbed for the phone to tell my dad about it. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that he died two and a half years ago. Suddenly as I started to dial, my brain kind of snapped to its senses and I put the phone down, feeling like I’d just been kicked in the gut.

Grief is a strange animal in this way, as anyone who has lost someone they love can testify. Whether it was ten days or ten years ago, you never quite fully adjust enough that you always remember that they’re dead. Yes, you understand on a cerebral level that they’re gone. Intellectually you know the finality of what’s happened, but somehow your heart’s muscle memory…

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“Come have your tears with me …”

come have your tears with me

We all have those times when a cascade of tears is seriously threatening to burst through.  We try, very valiantly, to hide them.  And, we profusely apologize when we just can’t do it and the flood gates fly wide open.  We feel embarrassed by our excessive emotional exhibition.  We beat ourselves up for not being more effective at keeping our feelings at bay … out of clear view.  And, we often deem ourselves “weak” when we can’t soldier on and just muscle through the ache … when we fail to adequately ‘man up’ through the pain.  And, for some crazy reason, we have been taught to admire and glamorize those who have lost their tears … reverently applauding them for being “so strong.”

And, forgive my language, but it’s all such bulls#*t.  From where I am looking (both professionally and personally) this stoic, stalwart stance is just not optimal for humanity.  There are some circumstantial exceptions (which I won’t discuss now), but it’s typically not beneficial for any one of us to harden our hearts in order to hide our pain … whether we are babies or children or teenagers or adults.

Tears are a natural and normal and necessary part of healing.  They activate our parasympathetic nervous system … which helps to process our pain and dampen our internal alarm system.  That is why we often ‘feel’ like a weight has been lifted after a good, long cry.  Dr. Gordon Neufeld (a renowned attachment theorist) asserts that the tears of pain release toxins from the body … that the chemical composition of tears we cry when we express our emotions is different that the tears that leak out when we are cutting an onion. That is why our eyes burn and swell … and … our cheeks get uncomfortably chaffed after we have spilled our tears without trying to stop them.

I wish we could collectively and universally get comfortable with tears.  We are not. As a counselor, though, I always know we are edging close to a heartfelt ‘truth’ when someone’s eyes begin welling up. Tears are an honest and authentic expression of our wounding.  They are a wise reminder that our tender, tattered hearts need to be nurtured.  Tears are an important invitation for someone to lean in and provide comfort.  And … at the most primal level, isn’t compassion what we most need when we are hurting … emotionally, physically or otherwise?

Imagine a wee little child, helmet on, riding their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust.  And then what happens?  They cry.  And then what?  They seek out someone for comfort.  And then what?  They find you and climb up onto your lap and sob freely while they explain what happened.  And then what? You get the ‘boo boo’ cleaned up, and get them a band-aid and give them a kiss to make it all better.  And then what? You compassionately hold them until there are no more tears. And then what?  They jump off your knee, put on their helmet and gleefully get back on the bike.  And then, at the end of the day when you ask them how their day was … they say “Great! I love bike riding!” Probably no mention of the fall … unless, of course, you inquire about how their knee feels.  They will likely assure you, “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” Their pain has been processed, their hurting has been invited to heal and ‘the crash’ is reduced to a faint recollection of a past event.

On the other hand, imagine the same wee little child, helmet on, riding on their two wheeler and totally enjoying the thrill of it.  And then, for some reason, they get caught up in some loose gravel and they bite the dust … but they have learned through teasing, shaming or scolding that they are not supposed to cry.  They have determined that there is no safe place to have their tears.  Then what?  Perhaps a bit embarrassed, they look around in the hopes that no one saw them. And then what?  They fight back the tears and pretend it didn’t hurt.  And then what?  They act mad instead of sad and look for something or someone to blame.  And then what? They kick up the gravel and throw some at their bike. And then what? They might think if they had a better bike … maybe a blue one …  they would not have crashed.  And then what? They angrily protest their upset with the ‘stupid green bike’ by pushing it home instead of riding it again.  And then what?  They kick the cat on their way in the door.  And then what?  You sternly remind them that cats are not for kicking. And they sneer something under their breath.  And when you ask them how their day was … they say,  “Stupid. My bike is so stupid.”  And then you tell them to stop being so silly because you know how much they love riding their bike. And then what? They snarl back at you with seemingly unwarranted and irrational rage, “No I don’t. I HATE it!  And I’m never going to ride that stupid bike again! And you cant make me!” And then what?  You firmly remind them, “don’t you use that tone with me” and may even send them to their room with an invitation to “stay there” until they can “be nice.”

And they are isolated and alone. And their pain gets hidden. It is repressed rather than released. And their tears are lost. And the unprocessed pain of their past persists angrily into the present … and then … may be triggered again and again in the future.  And no one else is any the wiser about what has transpired at the deepest level.

And, in all honesty, which experience would you rather have? Unless or until we have transformed into ‘the strong one’ who resists all measure of tearful displays … we instinctively crave comfort when we are wounded.  That is why, on occasion when we have hurt ourselves haphazardly and publicly … all it takes is for someone to say “Are you okay?”and the tears escape involuntarily.  And that is why, when we see a toddler trip and fall, we say “He’ll be okay as long as you don’t look at him.”  We are instinctively wired to cry when we are hurting.

And, it’s almost humanly impossible to hold back our tears in the space of heartfelt compassion.  However, if/when loving comfort is not a safe or viable option to mediate our wounding, we might subconsciously seek to numb our discomfort or distract ourselves with the next best thing … food, drugs (legal or illicit), alcohol, gambling, video gaming, social media, sex, pornography etc.  As Dr. Gabor Maté contends, addictions are not the problem in and of themselves … they are more likely to be a symptom of unexpressed wounding and/or unhealed pain. 

And honestly … don’t each and every one of us deserve to be lovingly supported through our pain? As Dr. Neufeld suggests, at the very deepest level of our being, don’t we all just want someone safe to tenderly and gently and compassionately offer, “Come have your tears with me.”

May we all find our way to that sacred healing space … and also … hold that sacred healing space for someone else, Karen

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Words I Can’t Take Back …

sometimes the healing is in the aching

Once the words are uttered, you can’t take them back.  And honestly, I hope I never want to take them back.  I am typically quite cautious/deliberate about tasting my words before I spit them out … but nonetheless, sometimes the most caring and loving thing any one of us can do is be authentically straight up with another human being.  Tactfully. Thoughtfully. Compassionately. Not with the intention to harm, but rather … with the intention to help.

There are times when people inadvertently get in their own way.  I see it so often with my clients. I’ve done it myself.  I still do, on occasion.  But honestly, we can’t see it while we are doing it.  So, we tend to blame others for the tattered and tender condition of our heart.  And then … we get frustrated, because things don’t change.  We can’t see, however, in those fragile moments that our finger might be pointed in the wrong direction.

It is during those tenderly tentative times that we need someone to be loving enough, courageous enough and supportive enough to actually inform us about our blurry blunders. It is never kind, however, to completely blind-side people with these uninvited ‘truths.’   We need someone to gently open our eyes … as kindly, caringly and purposefully as possible, because it can really sting to discover that, unbeknownst to us, we are somehow complicit in generating our own unfavorable circumstances/situation/relationships.

And so, we all deserve a chance to muster the courage it takes to welcome the ‘ache’ that this awareness might invoke.  Usually, I will say to my clients: “I have a suggestion for you, if you’d like it?” or “If there was another way to see this, would you be open to looking at it?”  or “I’m having a thought … but it might pinch a bit.  Would you like to hear it or should I just keep it to myself for now?”

Questions like this give folks a chance to say “no, not interested” … or at the very least … time to emotionally brace themselves.  And, it’s important that I both respect their preference and honor their response.  I will rarely share potentially prickly perceptions unless I am invited to do so by the recipient. And even though there are times when the invitation is clearly implied (e.g. with blogs, Facebook posts, editorials etc), I know I can’t take the words back once they are uttered. I also know that it’s not usually helpful, supportive or therapeutic for me to persistently press these perspectives onto others (even with the best of intentions).

Not even with my loved ones.  Maybe especially with my loved ones.  One of my clients once said, “Your kids are so lucky to have a counselor as a mother.” But, that is not the way it plays out. I am not their counselor.  I am their mom. And, it is critical for me to honor that distinction.  I try to be careful not to push my ‘professionally’ oriented perceptions onto my family members without permission to do so. My ‘wisdom’ might not be welcome.

It’s a disquieting paradox though, because as Martin Luther King points out: “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.”  And, I have learned that our spiritual growth is typically tucked into those unflattering ‘truths’ that often seem too risky for our friends, colleagues and/or loved ones to dare speak aloud.  To our faces. Nonetheless, the most salient shifts I have ever experienced were because people were brave enough to risk my wrath and acknowledge something I couldn’t see for myself.

My education with The Ford Institute For Transformational Training was filled moments like this.  Achingly hard, but critical moments like this. As integrative coaches, we were trained by the incomparable Debbie Ford, to be ‘ruthlessly compassionate’ when invited to support others. Debbie was an absolute master at candidly shining a light upon the self-sabotaging thoughts, words and deeds that were compromising our best efforts to grow, stretch and transform beyond our perceived ‘stuckness’.  And although it really stings to let an unflattering awareness land in our hearts rather than promptly rejecting it, I owe the lion’s share of my personal growth to my coaching family for being such clear mirrors for me.

And I would venture to say that many of us are holding onto ‘undelivered communications’ that we think might benefit someone we know and love … but we are too scared it would hurt our relationship to share them. And it might. Some relationships may not be strong enough to bear the weight of such an honest exchange.  But, it may also be true … or even truer … that some of our relationships won’t survive without that level of transparency.  Unspoken resentments can be terribly toxic … even lethal. The strongest connections hold precious space for us to be caring catalysts for each other … to help us lovingly lead each other out of our own covert culpability.

But the most important caveat here is this: Our intention in sharing must always be to help not harm … and typically most effective when invited by the recipient. Because … these are words we can’t take back.

Trusting that “sometimes, the healing is in the aching” … Karen

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The Magic of the Moment is in the Stories We Tell …

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated!

The magic in our lives is manifest by the stories we tell about the memories we have experienced, the people we have met, and the places that have stolen a piece of our hearts.  One of the best ways I know to create lasting memories is to savor the specifics with enthusiasm and curiosity … and … to dedicate some special space to honor the stories tucked into our souls.

And so, when our youngest daughter returned home after spending a few months in Australia, I created a list of questions to ask her on the long car ride home from the airport.  I hoped we might get a deeper felt sense of the magic tucked into all her experiences.  Her responses inspired lots of smiles and some rich conversation!

And now, where ever our journeys take us … I like to use a liberal smattering of these questions to help us enrich our experience by sparking the marvelous stories in our recollections!  It’s really interesting to notice where our reflections and perceptions are similar and/or different!

What was …

1. Your most inspiring moment?
2. Your most hours awake in a row?
3. Your best buy?
4. Your most overpriced purchase?
5. Your best accommodation?
6. Your worst accommodation?
7. Your favorite entertainment?
8. Your most breathtaking view?
9.  Your scariest moment?
10.  Your best taste experience?
11.  Your worst taste experience?
12.  Your best moment in general?
13. Your worst moment in general?
14. Something that exceeded expectations?
15. Your biggest laugh?
16. Your worst sleep?
17. Something you would do again in a heartbeat?
18. Something that was most over-rated?
19. Your favorite time of day?
20. The nicest person you met?
21. The nastiest person you encountered?
22. Your laziest moment?
23. Your biggest regret for doing?
24. Your biggest regret for not doing?
25. Your best choice?
26. Your worst choice?
27. Your greatest hardship?
28. Your favorite place?
29. Your most relaxing moment?
30. Your most stressful memory?
31. Your biggest disappointment?
32. Your grumpiest day?
33. Your best weather?
34. Your worst weather?
35. The most beautiful wildlife?
36. The best sunset?
37. The best sunrise?
38. The most tear worthy moment?
39. The most heart stretching moment?
40. The place you most hated to leave?
41. The place that is worth another trip?
42. Your biggest aggravation?
43. Your biggest “duh” moment?
44. Your biggest “aha” moment?
45. Your greatest Lesson?
46. Your bravest moment?
47. Your best surprise?
48. The moment/experience that will stay in your heart forever?
49. The moment/experience that you wish you could have shared?
50. Something that really nourished your internal flame?

May your journeys take you to miraculous places … in both your life and your heart!!

With deepest reverence for all the stories stirring within us, Karen

I Put Up a Wall …

two people

Source Unknown

I put up a wall to keep you out … because I am wounded and fragile and afraid you will hurt me.

You see my wall and feel rejected.

You perceive my wall as a judgment or criticism of you.

The space between us becomes large and ominous … and … keeps us from truly seeing each other.

It keeps us from truly loving each other and meeting each others needs … which we could do and would do … if we weren’t looking at exactly the same thing and seeing something totally different.

If only we could see through the wall.

If only we could feel each others vulnerability.

But we don’t.

And so we both suffer … needlessly.

Source Unknown

There are times when we need to wall up,  but … not all the time, Karen

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[GUEST POST]: Maybe I’m Actually Not a Christian After All

I MUST re-blog this powerful piece penned by John Pavlovitz. These are words that our world must hear … over and over and over. Words that our world must let land in our heart …over and over and over. Lest we forget … over and over and over.

john pavlovitz

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I’ve always thought that I was a Christian.

I’ve simply assumed that since I believed myself to be and strived to be, that this was enough. Though I’ve devoted my days to emulating Jesus and to reflecting his character in the world, this seems to have been a woefully errant path leading me far afield of righteousness.

Over recent years I’ve spent countless hours debating with those who contest my claims of faith; self-professed believers who debate my authenticity, my theology, my conduct, my motivations. They make dire assessments of both my moral worth and my eternal destination, chastising and condemning with great conviction.

It’s difficult to quantify just how much time and energy and mental bandwidth I’ve expended attempting to justify inclusion in their heavily fortified faith fraternity and to prove my personal spirituality valid and genuine in their eyes.

But these days I’m looking at what alleges to be Christianity in my country and I’m now almost certain…

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How to Love … Unconditionally.

Unconditional Love - Mark Nepo - web size

My first thought … whenever I hear the concept of ‘unconditional love’ being bantered about, is that we must somehow ‘turn the other cheek’ and tolerate/endure people’s chronic ways of being with us  … even if it hurts … because we love them.  It disturbs me, however, that a wholehearted commitment to this interpretation of ‘unconditional’ might encourage the most caring and compassionate souls to step over neglectful/abusive energy … instead of stepping up to address it … or … stepping out of it entirely.

No … from where I am looking, that does not serve the greater good.  In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo sagely suggests:

In truth, unconditional love does not require a passive acceptance of whatever happens in the name of love.  Rather, in the real spaces of our daily relationships, it means maintaining a commitment that no condition will keep us from bringing all of who we are to each other honestly.

For example, on any given day, I might be preoccupied with my own needs, and might overlook or bruise what you need and hurt you. But then you tell me and show me your hurt, and I feel bad, and you accept that sometimes I go blind to those around me.  But we look deeply on each other, and you accept my flaws, but not my behavior, and I am grateful for the chance to work on myself.  Somehow, it all brings us closer.

Unconditional love is not the hole in us that receives the dirt, but the sun within that never stops shining” (p. 309).

I much prefer to embrace the notion that the unconditional’ nature of love is really best reflected in our willingness to keep working through the accidental harms that are an inevitable part of our humanity … consciously fostering opportunities to afford restitution for the collateral heartaches that result due to the colliding of our competing needs, wants and desires.

Perhaps, we might love each other most unconditionally by graciously making space for such an honest, sincere and transparent exchange  … rather than dismissing, excusing  and/or failing to tenderly express/address the wounding within our relationships.

In fact, when we take a really honest look at our lives, we will see that many of our deepest resentments have arisen out of our undelivered communications. Yes, it is often the unspoken violations  … the unexpressed injuries that covertly forsake the love and security in our relationships.  And maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can create a safe space within our relationships to honor each others wounds instead of righteously defending ourselves.

hurt

Thank you again, Mark Nepo, for obviating the ‘unconditional’ love that is inherent in “bringing forth from within, rather than the enduring of what comes from without” (p. 310).

May we feel such love and be such love … unconditionally, Karen

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“A Blessing for Your Future” by Debbie Ford

A blessing for your future - 2

My mentor, Debbie Ford, created some of the most beautiful prayers!  I would like to share this exquisite and exceptional blessing with you, as we prepare to embark upon a whole New Year.

In 2016, may we become more consciously present to the gifts that we can offer to those around us …  as well as  … being open and receptive to all the gifts that are available to us!

With a warm welcome to the blessings of 2016, Karen

And sadly, the SPIRIT of WAR shows up COVERTLY everywhere …

When are we going to get it??  I was scrolling through my Facebook page … and … low and behold, I come across this COVERT but entirely sanctimonious attack on those whose beliefs are different than our own.

Merry Christmas ...

My heart stops.  Frozen in the deepest despair.  We all SAY we are committed to PEACE.  We self-righteously point fingers at those we believe are guilty of ATTACKING others and raging war.  We are absolutely outraged by such unprovoked global aggression.  We must  STOP them.

And then, in the next breath, we obliviously and unwittingly perpetuate the ENERGY of war and divisiveness with this kind of seemingly benign attack.  ‘ShutUpImStillTalking’ appears to delight in their deliberate intent to BOTHER those whose beliefs are different.

THIS is an unflattering microcosm of the macrocosm … covertly promoting religious INTOLERANCE … even though we are vehemently criticizing that very thing across the planet.  How come it’s only wrong when THEY do it?  By endorsing and embracing this kind of belittling energy (also hidden behind religious sanctimony), we are very unwittingly adding to the darkness.  Argh.  And yet, for some reason, we cannot see it.  And it all leaves me saddened to the core.

Happy Holidays

Source Unknown but deeply appreciated.

Can we not find it in our hearts to make room to live peacefully with those whose beliefs are different than ours?  Offering neutral good wishes (Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings) CANNOT possibly corrupt or diminish any of my own beliefs.  I would argue that uttering these sentiments cannot take the omnipotent love of God out of any Christian’s heart … but rather, it simply MAGNIFIES and REFLECTS it.

From where I am looking, when all people can offer a loving acknowledgement to all others without requiring them to fit into their own belief system …  THAT is to live in peace. And, when we can extend warm, meaningful and loving wishes to those we know hold different beliefs … THAT is to cultivate peace on earth.

Isn’t that the TRUEST essence of tolerance and love … isn’t that the core teaching of Jesus and so many of our other religious teachings?  If we can’t offer it in our neighborhoods or on Facebook, we will certainly never see it globally.  And it saddens me to the core.

Gandhi sagely professed: “We must BE the change we wish to see in the world”. Gandhi so clearly got it … when, oh when, will we?

Rant over … but … my heart still aches, Karen

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The Moments Between …

Mornings are my favorite part of the day. It’s just after 6:30am on a dark, chilly Sunday morning … November 22, 2015 … to be precise. I don’t have to be up yet. I just want to be. I think it’s the stillness. Or maybe it’s the coffee. I do love them both … with unequivocally crazed adoration.

My second favorite part of the day is punctuating the end of all the ‘doings’ over those 8 – 12 hours with a lovely glass of red wine … before the grilled cheese or roasted chicken that is dinner (depending upon the day). Sipping, savoring and reflecting upon how I invested those precious minutes of my life … scanning the moments for the brightest points of light … and, of course … the dimmest and dismal of them are doggedly determined to color the space (no matter how much I try to ignore them). Letting both blessings and lessons land in my awareness … holding them both with curious introspection.

And yes, on this particular day, the Malbec is in the rack, patiently awaiting my arrival. And although I eagerly anticipate that delicious and delectable moment, there is something so profoundly nourishing about just sitting here … in this solitude, before the buzzing of the world begins … sipping my java out of this gigantic 20 ounce mug.

My mug speaks the truth. I’d like to think that the mornings do too … but …  I am acutely aware that my morning knows nothing for certain about my afternoon nor my evening. Except for the nudging from ‘the list’ that I have put in my smart phone … itemizing and prioritizing the particulars this day might hold in store for me.

But who really knows. I think I am in control of my life … I feel like I am in charge of what I decide to cross off my list. But … as my thoughts wander through this blessed stillness of this morning, I realize that that sense of agency is just an illusion. Albeit an illusion a delusion that I really quite enjoy …

DonBut, I am reminded that we woke up 36 years ago today … November 22, 1979. It seemed like an ordinary Thursday. I’m sure I had a list. My hubby remembers that he slept in. I just remember the phone call. My husband’s younger brother, Don, was on his way to work. And, he didn’t make it. No, he didn’t make it. There was an accident. I still feel the agonizing ache in that reprehensible reality. He was just 20 years old. Even coffee couldn’t make that morning better mourning less bitter.

And, isn’t that the way it is with life … if we get quiet and clear enough to really examine it. We can’t possibly know what life will bring us … in those moments between the coffee and the wine. We can never know for sure … even with the most intelligently crafted list. It’s all uncharted ground … ripe with possibilities (divinely guided moments) and probabilities (stick to my list moments) … all with unequivocally uncertain propensity.

And, really, the best I can do is to remain open to all of it … and … simply choose the energetic frequency by which I will greet it. Because, while savoring my wine this evening, I will be reflecting upon the blessings and challenges that were tucked into today – the moments defining this particular November 22nd. Likely, I will be more grateful for some than others … but … the one thing I know for sure is that I’ll be weighing the energy I brought to those moments between my two favorite beverages:

Was I KIND?

Was I AUTHENTIC?

Was I an energetic expression of LOVE as I moved through the day?

I hope I will like my answers … Karen

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My Tributes: Better Because of You ...

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[GUEST POST]: Township Environment

Originally posted on Iizidima:
Knysna township There are few days when we are not reminded that there is plenty to be thankful for in life. Given what we do in South Africa, we would need to be blind, in a physical and emotional sense, to not experience this sentiment. The living conditions and depth of poverty…

A Precious Penny …

You know the old saying … ‘a penny for your thoughts’?  Well, I’d like to switch it up  and offer my ‘thoughts about a penny’.  A very precious Penny.  I’m not even sure how many years we’ve been doing it, but it’s become a very important tradition for us to sit and sip a little coffee together before the hustle and bustle of our […]

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