Archive for December 21st, 2011

Just received an email from Mercy Corps today.  They are another organization that allows you to purchase much needed things for people around the world, much like heifer.org.  Take a look.  Want to honor a loved one, send something in their name.


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According to Wikipedia (the source of all sources, ha ha ha) a guru (Sanskrit: गुरु) is one who is regarded as having great knowledge, wisdom, and authority in a certain area, and who uses it to guide others (teacher). Other forms of manifestation of this principle can include parents, school teachers, non-human objects (books) and even one’s own intellectual discipline, if the aforementioned are in a guidance role.

I’ve had so many dying and grieving gurus in my life and each one has taught me something different.  But today, I am thinking about two in particular. . .

Parents:  As I stated on my about page, my parents were such incredible role models for me while I was growing up.  They took care of a woman who was not related to us but who was a surrogate grandmother to my brother and me.  I have fond memories of walking upstairs and smelling coffee on the stove and going into grandma’s room while mom fed her farina.  Her own kids didn’t come and care for her as she lay dying of cancer but she was “family” to us and well, that’s what you do for family.  Both of my parents gave her great care and it was awesome that they did not shield us from illness, old age, and dying.

We weren’t allowed at funerals. . . we were expected to be at funerals because we loved the person who died.  As a little girl, I got to help mom cook meals that would be served after a funeral or when my grandfather died, I got to help decide about flowers.  As a matter of fact, for a few years, we lived in an apt over a funeral home where I had family waked.  It wasn’t bizarre or unnatural, unless my dad teased my friends about the coffin show room.  I was given the opportunity, because of living over the funeral home to drive to La Guardia and help my dad pick up a body.  He wasn’t an undertaker, it was just a favor to help out.

I get a bit frustrated when I hear families talking about protecting their kids from dying and I am often reminded of the story of the Buddha and how his dad tried to shelter from him.  Those of us that know the story know that didn’t really work out for them too well.

If you have the delusion that after you are 18 yrs old, your parents have nothing else to teach you, you are mistaken.  My parents did all of my brother’s caregiving while he was living with AIDS.  Dad got up at 4 am to take my brother’s nourishment out of the refrigerator.  It was pumped through his veins via a central port so it had to be warmed up over several hours.  Dad also read up on all the research out there, all the organizations, and even became a trainer for the Red Cross on HIV prevention.

Mom got a job close to home so if my brother needed her she could get to him quickly.  Washing bedding, taking him for trips to the store at a whim, helping him find his urn, staying up late into the night talking to him, and being a loving mom even when he was afraid of dying and lashing out at her.

It’s been 17 yrs since my brother was alive.  My parents are older, we live in different places, but my parents continue to be teachers to me and great role models for being there for others.

I constantly joke that my dad is 73 and I am proud of him because he can get around on the computer and carries a Blackberry.  Not bad at emailing, texting, and keeping a calendar for him and mom.  He surprised me last week and reminded me how blessed I have been to be so close to him and mom all these years.

He called a hospice and signed up to volunteer.  Yes, at 73 yrs old, he is still giving back and wanting to give comfort to others.  I loved watching him on Skype the other night (yes, they Skype too) and him telling tales about this hospice and the care they give.  He was excited to tell me about the rooms, the staff, the fact that a patient can wake up at 3am and someone will make them a milkshake or they will cook a special meal that family brings in.  He loved the quilt panels hanging around their office.

I took great joy in knowing that he was going to be out there listening to others.  It felt like things were coming full circle, from when I was growing up, to my own career in end-of-life work, to my dad starting as a volunteer.  We tend to think we need to go to far off places to find teachings, wisdom, or learn about compassion and often overlook the very wise teachers that we have in our every day lives.

Tonight, take some time meditating on the people who have shared lessons with you and send them some light and compassion.  If you have lost someone, take time to honor the things that person taught you while they were alive.  If you are living with someone’s dying, ask yourself, what are they teaching me about living their dying.  Ask yourself if that’s the way you want to live through your dying process.  What things would you change for yourself and what things might you do in a similar way.

Celebrate even the strangers who teach you something like smiling for no reason or saying thank you when you hold the door for them.  And if it is appropriate, let that person know how they have changed your life by teaching you invaluable lessons.


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I Imagine all the People Living Life in Peace.

I love that so many people are sharing their very existential feelings, thoughts, and are searching for some sort of connection.  It’s a very lonely time of the year for so many and even though many make it through the holidays, they don’t always make it through into the new year and spring.

So happy that more and more people are realizing that we are all in this together!


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I will listen…

I will listen….

Beautiful entry tonight!

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Image via Wikipedia

On 12/13, I published the first part of this post.  If you did not get to read it then, here is part I:


What I want to write about tonight is, how does healing on the grief journey,(healing the layers of primary and secondary losses), relate to mindfulness meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful way of learning to be with what is.  What does that mean?

It means that when we practice mindfulness meditation, we simply sit (or stand, walk, lay down, etc.) and allow our attention to be aware of what happens from moment to moment.  It’s an act of self -kindness and anytime we can allow ourselves to be more compassionate, we not only help ourselves but we help the whole universe with which we are connected.

By practicing mindfulness meditation, we learn to not go for a ride with our thoughts; we learn to just observe them.  We don’t let them carry us into dark places or ecstatic states.  Moment to moment, we label that we are thinking, feeling, having a sensation, etc.   We learn to not hold on to our judgments, criticisms, or attachment to these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  We label them and allow them to pass by.

You might be thinking that mediation might be a good way to relax or “zone out” but you might not see how mindfulness meditation is an appropriate way of living with our loss.  But think about what happens when we start to review the deathbed scene with the person we love.

We may think to ourselves that we didn’t do enough for the person who died.  “Why didn’t I make him take his pills?  Why didn’t I insist she stop smoking?  How was it that I did not see him declining?  If only I had. . .”  We do so much damage to ourselves when we think these things, casting so many judgments and showing ourselves no forgiveness while our hearts our broken.

But imagine if you had a tool to help teach you to find that mercy for yourself and as you practiced, with time, you could extend that mercy out to the whole universe?  Guess what?  Such tools really exists, tonglen and metta (lovingkindness).  Tonglen which means sending and taking or exchanging self and other, but what does that mean?

When I was a counselor for hospice and facilitating groups all the time, I would often suggest tonglen as a way out of our self-hatred and condemnation, a way out of our isolation, and a way to feel empowered, having the ability to affect all beings.  I especially liked to use metta in my parents’ groups because of the different level of isolation that accompanied the loss of a child.

Tonglen allows you to slowly learn to have compassion for yourself.  By being mindful of the breath, we breathe in all of the fear, hatred, doubt, grief, anger that we have and breathe out compassion, care, empathy, kindness, companionship, or love for ourselves.  We start with the inner most layer of our universe – ourselves.

Then we focus our attention out to someone we love.  We breathe in the negative aspects that they may be going through and breathe out the same positive intentions for them.  And then, a further layer out. . . to someone who is an acquaintance or someone we have neutral feelings towards.

One year when I had a lot of dental work done and was practicing mindfulness in the chair and I came to this point, I focused on the collective group of our hospice census.  I could imagine any of them feeling things that I was feeling – fear, pain, anxiety, dread, dis-ease, etc.  And I breathed that in and breathed out for them a sense of being supported and loved, ease from pain and suffering, and something pleasant for them, such as the sound of their grandchild or favorite song.

By practicing metta and tonglen, we extend beyond our own confines, beyond our viewpoint, beyond those we love or those we have little feeling for, and connect with all beings everywhere that are going through what we are and having compassion for them and for ourselves.  We allow our hearts to expand through those layers.

So in going back to all the things we may face about the deathbed scene, we can even do a simple form of tonglen meditation and breathe in all of the doubt, second guessing, confusion, and pain of not doing enough for the person who died.  We may breathe out light and grace for those people in the world who are feeling those things at that exact moment.  Too often we believe that our pain is so big because we are the only ones who have ever gone through it or ever will.  Tonglen allows us to clean off that lens and see that we are not the only ones who have or are experiencing these things. . . we are one with all those who have travelled this path throughout time.

I believe that mindfulness can be practiced in a myriad of ways.  For instance, there is a link at the end of this post to a gentleman reading a metta meditation.  Listen to him and allow him to guide you until you are ready to try on your own.  If you have unsettled or unresolved issues with your loved one, try practicing metta with them, starting with yourself and your feelings, moving on to the aspects of the person that you most love, that you are indifferent to, and lastly those with which you still struggle.

As you practice metta with the recording, please stop back and share your experience with us.

May you be free of all suffering.

May you find comfort and sustenance.

May you feel deeply connected to all that is.

Namaste, Jennifer


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