Archive for February, 2012

Bertram's Blog

And so begins the countdown to the two-year anniversary of my life mate’s death.

I don’t know why the second anniversary of his death has me so spooked. I can’t imagine there are many surprises left for me when it comes to grief, though everything about grief up to this point has shocked me. I was shocked that I even felt grief — he’d been sick for so long, and I’d been looking forward to an ending for his pain that it never occurred to me that I would feel more than relief at his death. I was shocked by the severity of my grief and its global nature, affecting as it does, body, mind, emotions, equilibrium. I was shocked by the recurring violent upsurges of grief that made it seem as if he’d left the earth that very moment instead of months previously. I was shocked by how long grief…

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English: A zafu, the pouffe-shaped traditional...

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From Tonglen:  The Path of Transformation  By Pema Chodron

“When you practice by yourself, be sure to do some sitting meditation both before and after tonglen.  If you only have a short time to practice, it would probably be better just to sit.  Here is a possible schedule for a one-hour practice session:

To begin, you could chant the Four Limitless Ones, Bodhisattva Vow, and/or Friendliness.

Sit for at least 15 minutes.

Practice tonglen for 10-15 minutes.

Sit for at least 10 minutes.

To end, you could chant the Dedication of  Merit.”  

Maybe you don’t have an hour a day.  I know I often don’t with everything I have going on in my life.  So, maybe use this as a guideline for a weekly 1-hour schedule, a mini-mini retreat for yourself.

Studies in neuroscience show that even 1-2 minutes a day makes a difference so don’t ever feel like if you don’t have time you should just pack it in for the day.  Take your 1-2 minutes.

As you become familiar with the practices, you will start to do some on-the-spot practicing in the moment it’s needed.

Also, remember this is from her book on Tonglen.  (More about the actual practice later this week).  You can do 5 minutes of metta meditation or 3 minutes breath counting.. a few minutes of deep breathing, etc.  The opportunities for practice are endless.

You can also check out Meditations in a New York Minute:  Super Calm for the Super Busy by Mark Thornton at http://www.soundstrue.com.  He was a bit fast-paced for me and my life isn’t anything like that of a former investment banker.  But if time is not your ally, check it out.

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Mindful Lifestyle - Devoted to Healing & Being

“…with practice we gain the ability to choose how to respond to pain.  Our instinctual tendency is to meet pain with aversion, try to push it away.  Reflect for a moment:  What is your first reaction to stubbing your toe?  Most of us tend to react either with aversion (trying to push the pain way) or denial (trying to pretend it isn’t there).  The experience of freedom comes when, through the radical approach of the Buddha, we begin to have the appropriate response to pain, which is not aversion, but compassion.”

~~ Noah Levine, Against the Stream

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Standing on One Foot

The point is to be mindful… sitting, standing, perching, walking, eating, washing dishes, etc…. mindful, mindful, mindful.
Great Post at Inviting the Bell!

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Bertram's Blog

Twenty-three months ago my life mate/soul mate died. There are times when his goneness from my life is as fresh as the day he died, and other times, like today, I can take it in stride. Of course, I’m dealing with a bad cold right now, and I need to keep my focus firmly on myself since grief depresses the immune system, so I’m not allowing myself to think of his being dead, and I’m not allowing myself to think of all the lonely years ahead.

Whether I take my new life in stride, or whether I dissolve into tears, it still comes down to the same thing — that he is dead. The world seemed to dim the day he died, and in all these months, the brightness never returned. I don’t know if it ever will.

People keep telling me not to live in the past, yet at…

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“Hello Jennifer.

With the recent tragic death of Whitney Houston, I was reminded of the concept of “disenfranchised grief” when it was reported (erroneously) that her ex-husband, Bobby Brown had been asked to stay away from her visitation and funeral.  Could you explain the concept and perhaps discuss some examples of disenfranchised grief?  

Thanks, Mike Mc Carthy”

Hi Mike,

Great question!!!  Disenfranchised grief isn’t talked about a lot in mainstream media and doesn’t that just fit the point that the concept is trying to make!

Ken Doka has been the expert on disenfranchised grief, in the field of thanatology.  He states that it is a concept that integrates psychological, biological, and sociological perspectives on grief.

Ken writes, “the  grief experienced has been disenfranchised — that is, the survivors are not accorded a “right to grieve”.  Disenfranchised Grief:  New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice.

Bobby, as you suggested in your question, is a great public example of disenfranchised grief.  People blame him for introducing her to drugs… so we think, how dare he act like he cares or that he is grieving.  

One can look at it this way… suppose a couple has gotten a divorce and the wife has remarried.  Her first husband dies  but she’s happily married to someone new. . . we don’t tend to think of this former wife as a “grieving widow”.  And yet, she may still have very strong feelings of love and affection for her husband.  Or maybe she has unresolved feelings. 

Maybe the only tie between them still are the four children they had together.  But he is still the father of her children.  And we, as a society, don’t expect her to grieve for him.  Check out Hallmark… I bet there isn’t a “sorry that your former husband has died” card.  Even think about what we call the deceased. . . “your loved one”… we grieve for people we don’t love, we just don’t often think about it unless it’s happening to us.  

When I think of Disenfranchised Grief, I think about the AIDS Epidemic.  I think about the partner that had spent time loving and caregiving for someone who was dying and yet no one knew that they were in a relationship.  There was no one there to support the surviving partner.  Or because of the shame and unjust stigma of a death like AIDS, parents were afraid to be honest about how their child died.   

I felt very lucky to be working for a small community-based hospice when my colleague and mentor died.  Everyone I worked with knew that I did the work that I loved because of people like Lois.  But how many times has a co-worker told you that a friend has died and you awkwardly say, “I’m sorry to hear that” and hope the topic changes? 

Sometimes it’s that society doesn’t honor the relationship as important… why would I be filled with so much grief for a friend I had worked with?  What I loved about Lois was that she was a smart woman, especially around dying.  She married her long-term boyfriend the year before she died because she wanted him to be able to grieve as a “husband”.  

What about bereavement leave from work, if you even get it?  Usually it’s for immediate family only so what happens when it was your uncle that raised you like he was your father and you tell work that your uncle died?

She knew it would be different for him if they were “only dating” than if they had been married.  We all knew they were soul mates, partners, whatever you would want to label them, but in order to make sure he was allowed a “proper” grief period, she knew that they had to change things.

There can also be stigma or shame about how the person died, as I mentioned above, such as a death to AIDS.  I remember when people would see my red ribbon pin and ask me about it.  When I told them honestly that my brother had died of AIDS, they recoiled like snakes.  I never saw anyone jump like that when they saw a pink ribbon for breast cancer.  

Other losses that can be disenfranchised include — loss in a residential situation like a nursing home, school friends, people with disabilities, clients, clergy persons, loss of an animal, loss connected to adoption, and probably the grief that is most disenfranchised is a child or adolescents loss for anyone in their lives (with the possible exception of a parent or grandparent).

We don’t think about someone grieving for an abusive parent or spouse and yet, we do.   Again, Bobby and Whitney are a good example of this.  Despite their ups and downs, they had a connection. . . 

It is hard enough to lose someone we love a lot.  I wonder if it isn’t harder, in some ways, to lose someone we have ambivalent feelings towards.  This will be a topic that we will talk about more when we talk about forgiveness practices.

I hope this helps.  And thanks for the question Mike!

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I Promise…

It’s been there but been neglected. . . I hope that my own trials and errors can help you or someone you know live with pain. Let nothing in our life not build character, make us who we are, and lead us to compassionate service of others. . .

Mindful Lifestyle - Devoted to Healing & Being

I’m going to spend more time here, really. . . I’ve been spending my time getting a blog up and going about my first love… Buddhist meditation and end-of-life care.

But that it’s my whole world.

For about 6 years, I suffered from daily, debilitating migraines.  It was only a half joke when I begged my friend to run me over with her Mommy-van.  I didn’t want my life to end, just the pain and the accompanying suffering.

I learned a lot about healing along the way.  Some from friends.  Some from specialists.  Some at school.  A lot from trial and error.

Spending much less time in pain gives me the ability to do things that bring great joy into my life.

I’d like to pass on some of the things I learned.

Now some of the things I will share are about migraines. . . that was a big…

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Portrait of Atisha

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I find myself at an interesting point in life… This week, is my birthday and I am farther and farther from my 30s (and the age that my brother was when he died). . . and dreams I have had in the past are gone. . .

I’m finishing my PhD and several years of hard work will be coming to an end… I find that overall, life is okay right now, being on the other side of many years of pain issues…

I also find myself getting really in touch with a few things. . . my health struggles over the past year (and hopefully being on the other side of them), my parents’ age and health,   where I am in my life and where I want to go… and I find myself facing impermanence and the desire to be more here and now.

Part of what I wanted to do with my research for school was to understand how using some meditation from the Buddhist tradition would help one in their grief process.  There are several contemplative practices that one can do.

I thought I was going to find people who do them and interview them.  As I have sought out participants, I have been told over and over again that very few people do these meditations.  But. . . wait. . .  the little voice in me says. . .  here is a wonderful practice and we aren’t using it?

I want to learn to be more present.  I want to be a more compassionate companion to those who are grieving and dying. . . the meditations seem to make sense as a path, a practice. . .

In addition, I’m going to spend 5 days in April at a retreat on Buddhism and Dying.

I decided today that every week, I will focus some of my meditation practice to contemplating death.

For the next nine weeks, (which will take me to a week after the retreat), I will be meditating on and blogging about the Nine Contemplations of Atisha.

To read more about the Nine Contemplations of Atisha, click here.  If you want to delve deeper for yourself, you can check out Larry Rosenberg’s work or Joan Halifax’s work.

I’m excited to have some direction.  I practice metta meditation, tonglen, basic mindfulness, and some visualizations.  And at the end of April, I will do the 8 weeks of Mindfulness with Mark Williams’ program.  But for right now, I am going to spend time with Atisha’s contemplative insights about the natural of reality.  I have no idea what to expect but, I’m ready for it.

If you have experience working with the Nine Contemplations or if you do any of the other dying practices, please share over the weeks to come.

I wish you well.  I wish you happiness.  I wish you safety.  I wish you peace on your journey.


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Thought I would pass this post on. I really appreciate it. I am not a morning person at all so anything that will help me get going, be productive, and face the new day with a smile is important!

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pond in winter

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“Just sitting means just that. That ‘just’ endlessly goes against the grain of our need to fix, transform, and improve ourselves. The paradox of our practice is that the most effective way of transformation is to leave ourselves alone. The more we let everything be just what it is, the more we relax into an open, attentive awareness of one moment after another.”

~~ Barry Magid, Leave Yourself Alone

I remember listening to an audiobook… I can’t remember if it was Pema Chodron or not as it was years ago, but I remember it was a female dharma teacher.  Anyway, I remember her saying that all this self-help that we do, the exercise programs, the 10 ways to be a better…, etc it all has at its root the seeds of aggression.

What???  you might ask.  What are you talking about?  Isn’t it self-love or lovingkindness that I want to better my life?  Don’t I get credit for wanting to fix things?

That inherent aggression comes from us wanting to take apart what is, in us, in our lives. . . our plans at self-help keep us from seeing that what is here, now, and softening to it with our presence.

And I believe it is when we soften to who we are in the moment, what our life circumstances are here and now, that we really do the best thing we can for ourselves.

I think this is one reason why so much grief theory frustrates me.  Go through these stages (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross).  Perform these tasks (Bill Worden, Teresa Rando).  Reconcile these needs (Alan Wolfelt).  Buy my recovery workbook. . . this one I can’t even remember because I really dislike the idea that anyone would even frame grief as something we have to recover from.

And this is also why the work of people like Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Ram Dass, and Joan Halifax has been so appealing.  They start with the basic premise that we will have pain in our lives and that isn’t wrong or bad.  We aren’t incomplete or needing fixing when our hearts are broken open with grief and mourning.

If you know someone who is grieving, the kindness thing you can do for them is to be present to them. . . listen. . . be with them. . . allow them to be exactly how they are. . .

And that might be angry, uptight, frightened, relieved, numb, sad. . . we do them the greatest gift when we can just allow what is going on and baring witness to their experience.

Maybe you can’t be the one to do that.  That’s okay.  It’s good to know that about yourself.  So help them find someone who can.

Maybe you can help run some errands for them so they can find a support group or a meditation group.

Maybe you could find a podcast on mindfulness for them and tape it.

Or you could share a resource with them like Grieving Mindfully by Sameet Kumar or The Grief Process by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.

Let them know that you don’t want to change them and that you do want to support them.

Remember that grief is an outward expression of love for the person who has died.

Why on earth would we want to take that from them?

Why on earth would we want them to recover from that?  Model love for them by accepting them just where they are, here and now.

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