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Posts Tagged ‘family’

The Buddha encouraged us to think of the good things done for us by our parents, by our teachers, friends, whomever; and to do this intentionally, to cultivate it, rather than just letting it happen accidentally.

~~Ajahn Sumedho, “The Gift of Gratitude”

I am truly thankful for all those who are in my life. . . my loving and devoted parents, my dear supportive friends, and wise teachers.

Life is nothing without love, compassion, and faithful companions.

Deep gratitude and prostrations to you all.

Namaste, Jennifer

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The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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I love hearing stories of caregiving.  Maybe because I grew up with a family of caregivers and it feels like home to me.

Maybe it’s because I am so interested in how we interact with each other, especially at times that give us great opportunity for growth.  And there is no other time like dying and caring for the aging and dying that can give us the gift of growth.

David Brazier, Buddhist teacher, says, “Life comes to life at its limit.”  Everything becomes intensified — our love, our strength, our anger, our fear.  I sometimes think that we need to have the edge of living with dying to bring out the best in us.

I had a recent scare with the idea of losing someone very close to me and life became intense.  Thinking of last-minute travel plans, trying to get ahold of people who could tell me what was going on, fearing that I might not make it in time. . .

I thought the limits of our relationship were drawing in on us quickly and it seemed to bring the very best in me out — the loving, care, concern, and compassion that I have placed on a shelf, at the back of a dark closet.

I wish all of the stories I hear could turn out as good as this one did for me.  The person recovered, I did not have to travel to be close, though I wanted to, and recuperation is slow but steady.

All and all, a much better picture than the one that I painted in my mind’s eye as all of the chaotic thoughts of loss swirled around and around.

The most painful stories for me are the ones where the dying person is stripped of dignity while they die.  And I really don’t mean the actual dying but rather the living their dying. . . knowing that it is coming and having everyone else think they know how it needs to be done.  When the people around the dying think they now what it means to die well.

Our need to control can be insidious at times, so subtle that we don’t have any idea of what we are doing.  We tell someone who is dying that they have to take their medicine or they have to stop smoking.

We tell them that they can’t eat something that they have always loved.  We tell the person who has the bottle of scotch close to the bedside that there will be no more of that.  And who are we?

Who are we to think that’s how someone needs to be loved at the end of this life?  Who are we to try to change the fundamental aspects of this person?

We say things like, “Mother, you shouldn’t use that kind of language” when they swear at the visiting nurse.  We correct them when they tell us things like, “Your uncle, he’s sitting over in that chair waiting for me” and we see no one in that chair.

Maybe we do and say these things out of love or out of misguided actions.  I’m not sure there is just one reason or if reason is part of this primordial need to fix things or have everyone socialized into our consensual reality.

Even when someone is living with dementia or slowly dying, we have a need to pull in the reins and have people conform to our notions.

Aging and dying can be times where we practice giving unconditional love.  We do this when a baby is born.  We don’t yell at them for soiling their diaper or throwing carrots during  a meal.  We laugh when they do things that don’t make sense.  And yet, we don’t do this for those aging and dying.

Can you imagine having something that gives you comfort when you are anxious — a cigarette, a drink, an emotion, a great curse word — and someone wants to take that from you?

Can you imagine how unloving that might feel, how being corrected and chastised could be mortifying?  You are trying to cope with what’s going on, trying to make your way through the situation and you are being stripped of it.  How lonely it might feel!

How judged and unloved I might feel if I am this person.

I think aging and dying are times in life that the human being should be celebrated, like we celebrate the miracle of birth.  What would it be like to celebrate the complexity that is the person who we care for?  What if that meant temporarily putting on hold our need to control or to do what is right and proper?

One way a caregiver can allow themselves to love more freely is to meditate on their own death.

What might it be like?

What would I want and need?

What are things/ideas/values that I would be unwilling to compromise?

What are things that might give me some comfort?

Can you settle in and let your breath relax?

Become more mindful of the flow of air that arises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation.

As you do, can you imagine what it will be like to be frail, confused, fragile, or anxious?

What kind of powerlessness might you feel as someone you once took care of has to take over caring for you?  Imagine what it might be like to be naked in front of your adult child as they bathe you or change your clothes. . .

Picture yourself being asked to take several pills when even drinking water is laborious.  Can you have mercy on yourself in that situation — wanting to live until your last breath?  Can you have compassion for what your caregiver might be going through?

We spend years sitting on a cushion, chanting, touching malas, and doing loving kindness as a practice for these moments, these last breaths.

Envision the ultimate loving kindness practice of holding space in your heart, to love an aging or dying person as if they were the baby Buddha in your hands.

Gentle, soft hands that will cradle the baby Buddha and keep him or her safe from harm.

Can you relax into just being present and loving?

And sharing the greatest gift of all, your presence?

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“Don’t grieve.
Anything you lose comes
round in another form.”
Rumi
 

 I would SO love to tell you, “Yeah, don’t grieve.  It’s not spiritually necessary or enlightened.  We are transcendent beings. . . ”

Whatever!

Most of us are not there and many give lip service to those kinds of messages if we are honest with ourselves.

We hurt when we lose something.

We really hurt when we lose someone.

We have deep connections with the person we loved who died.

They co-create our world with us.

Sometimes they gave life to us (or we to them) and then we created a history, a storyline, a relationship, a family, a network of friends, etc.

We derive meaning and pleasure from our connection.

We sometimes sustain wounds and hardships in those relationships as well.

But they (the person and our experiences with them) are as much a part of us as our arm or leg and there is pain when someone dies as there is when we sustain a physical injury.

What I have come to learn, through my experience and the experience of those around me, is when we acknowledge the presence of the pain, (the upheaval, and the sense of being distraught) and can hold it in our awareness, even if for moments, healing occurs.

We do more harm, expend more energy, and suffer longer when we disavow the pain.

I think we can get to a place of understanding that others really “never leave us” because we get in touch with our interconnectedness with them.  But when we don’t touch the pain and allow it to be, it is harder to connect with more transcendent concepts.

This is one of the reasons why practices like mindfulness are beneficial to our “grief work.”  The practice teaches us to be present, moment to moment, and to accept rather than to fight off.

We then have the energy to live with what “is” and to have compassion for the situation as it presents itself.

So, I don’t think we need to throw ideas like Rumi’s out altogether.  I think we just need to practice a lot of compassion on the way to having a lived-bodily experience of what it truly means.

And without that experience, those words can be hurtful and harmful to someone who is still defending from their pain.

~~As a side note, today is my dad’s birthday!  I can’t be with him today but I am NEVER far away from my thoughts and heart.  Happy Birthday Daddy!  Thank you for all of these decades of love, support, and lessons.

 

~~~~~~~

For more information about learning to allow pain and sorrow, check out Stephen Levine‘s work Unattended Sorrow or The Grief Process CD/Audio.

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Fundamental group of the circle

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My first real experience with this shape was in high school.

I was in a program that combined peer counseling, leadership training, and learning how to provide a day camp experience for children.

It was the dreaded circle.  I could not come to pull my chair into the circle.  I didn’t feel like I belonged.

In college, I was part of a year-long intensive, studying Rogerian therapy in a program that was didactic and experiential.

I would not trade this for the world, but we were in circles again.  And as this was the second great experience that taught me about group process, it also taught me that groups can have a shadow side too.  There were times that business didn’t get finished.  People walked back to their dorms hurt, hand in heart, not knowing how to cope with what came up and how to live with it for the following week.

As a project for a meditation class I took in my second philosophy class, I visited my first Zendo. . . in New Paltz, NY.  And I was greeted into a strange circle where people sat facing the wall, in a dark room, with incense billowing.

After school was done, I went to work in social services. . . circles for staff meetings and staff retreats, circle for support groups . . . I couldn’t get away from them.  I was part of a women’s group — all of us were therapists, educators, etc and we came together to process.

As I became a group facilitator, I learned to love the group process and felt comfortable in the dreaded circle.  I was welcomed into a wonderful sangha in Madison, WI — Snowflower Sangha, in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition and I got to see deep listening and compassionate speech.  I got to see a Starting Anew ceremony.  And I saw a wonderful community — like I got to experience at Upaya Zen Center in April.

Along the way, I came across a book, The Way of Council.  I yearned for this kind of group experience.

The lessons, guidelines, and spirit that is conveyed in The Way of Council works for a family, for close friends, for team members, for intimate relationships, etc.

Calling council gives one the guidelines and means for sustaining deep connections in community, to invite ritual into one’s life, and shares ideas for holding council in all of the relationships just mentioned above in the previous paragraph.

I will be writing more about holding council, about nonviolent communication, deep listening, compassionate speech.  I hold these practices in high esteem.  I have seen the light and shadow sides of groups (and families that I have worked with in therapy and in home visits through hospice, staffs that had a lot of undercurrents and lack of health).

I cannot think of a greater gift that I could give to the readers of this blog — to the therapists, to those who might want to start a peer-led grief group, to those who want to create intentional communities and have deep and meaningful relationships.

Creating the intimacy of council, of truly being present, is scary, doesn’t come easy, sometimes hurts, always heals, and is worth the time, energy, attention, and intention.

I hope you enjoy the blogs that will follow.

In the next post on this topic, I will discuss the Four Intentions of Council.

Stayed Tune.

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A stack of the iPods I now own... included are...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know I have at least one friend who is reading this title and laughing!

I have a specific reason for the title though, I promise…

So, those who know me know that I’ve been called Gadget Girl … I have several iPods, an iPad, two laptops, and a desk top. . . a scanner, a printer, a mobile printer, and well, an all-in-one…   I have several digital recorders, timers, biofeedback equipment, etc.

I’m not bragging. . . . please let me say that right off…

But there is a point to this inventory. . . my point, there are certain things I like to use for certain specific tasks AND I’ve never found an all-in-one that I really loved because it truly cannot do everything I need it to do.

I like to write my blogs on my macbook air but put them “together” on my HP laptop.  I like to take photos with my iPhone but listen to music and audiobooks on my iPod classic.

It’s easy to justify having all of them, but I would rather spend time appreciating their place in my life. . .  and sending gratitude to the universe for being able to have things on which I have come to depend.

And for some reason, while cooking dinner tonight, I kept hearing, almost as a mantra, “No one can be all things to you”  and I figured if it was that important to be sitting right there in my awareness while I was futzing in the kitchen, it was important enough to write about.

So here we go. . .

No one can be all things to you. . .

I think back over my life and there are “constants” that seem to always be there, in one shape or form. . .

lessons of the heart, mind, body, spirit, sangha, community, etc….

Some constants come up as recurrent themes like Roshi Joan Halifax‘s chant at the end of her dharma talks “Do not squander your life” and how that is sitting so profoundly with me right now.

Other times it’s been Thich Nhat Hanh‘s “I have arrived, I am home” or “Be here now” or “Loving is saying goodbye”, etc etc etc.

And I think that “No one can be all things to you” is a constant.

I’ve lived in many different states from the time I was in college until 2000 years, mostly so that I could remain near family.  I’ve learned time and time again that no one is everything or everyone…

My main mentor was in no way, shape, or form the only wise woman in my life.  She was one of many and we had a heart connection because of our shamanic call to be present with dying.  But there were others that came before her. . . my mom being the first of the long line of graceful, loving, intelligent, no-nonsense women. . .

No one can be all things to you. . .

There was a beloved philosophy professor from school in NY who introduced me to the Dharma and probably doesn’t even realize that she saved my life… well, my existential life.

There have been crusty old hospice nurses told it like it was, gentle and kind therapists/colleagues, and a wonderful mentor in gratitude school who has an all-encompassing sense of grace about her.

No, woman were  not the only one’s who influenced my life.

My dad and his father certainly did . . . while I was growing up, the sun rose and set around me in their eyes.

As it also did for a family friend who was like a second dad to me.

And my brother… well, I’ll tell you a secret… (Mike was terrified that he’d be forgotten. . . and yet, he gave me the gift of companioning him through his dying and in doing so has touched the lives of thousands through me and my work).

So if you have a similar fear, love someone and you will never be forgotten!

No one can be all things to you. . .

There was the French teacher in high school that scared me half to death but pushed me harder than anyone else in my life and I learned what I could achieve because of it.

There were wise professors whose feet I sat at and a few friends whose shoulders are probably still stained with tears during years of deep connections, retreats, and stories about  love affairs.

And I realize that no one friend, no one mentor, not even one parent can be or has been everything to me.

There have been times in my life that my dad and I were inseparable and others times, it was my mom and I.

I’ve thought this lover or this partner — well, of course he was going to be “the one”.

People have moved in and out of my life, and I, physically, out of their lives.

Each connection bringing with it a kind of grace, depth, and compassion that has a different flavor than all of the others.

No one can be all things to you . . .

A young couple who look very much in love by t...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we think that we will find “the ONE” who will be there through it all, no matter what, forever, our relationships are filled with delusion and attachment (not the healthy kind of attachment).

We can practice mindful awareness of the time that a person is in our lives, the gifts that we share, and the nuances that they bring to the totality of our lives.  And bless them when they are no longer here with us.

There was a poem that we read at hospice often that always moved me to tears of gratitude, forgiveness, gentleness, and great compassion.  Here it is linked to a song by Enya. . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HaI7V6eB9M&feature=fvwrel

No one can be all things to you . . .

Let us be grateful for what we have had,

what we were,

what we are.

Let us savor the moments,

the kiss, the touch, the lesson, the love and may we always part gracefully ~~

whether by dying or by conscious choice. . .

Let us know in an embodied way that we are One and that

we do not need to wait for “the ONE”.

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Have you started at the beginning?

Have you read my first two posts on the 5 precepts of being a compassionate companion?

If you haven’t seen the my introduction or the First precept, please click these links before you read about Frank Ostaseski’s Second Precept.

. . .

Now that you are up to speed, let’s take a look at the Second Precept:  Bring your whole self to the experience.

I don’t want to sound redundant, especially if you just read my introduction and what I wrote about the first precept, but suffice it to say, that I will.  .  . There is nothing simple about this precept and yet, if healing is to occur, bringing our whole self is vital.

My training is in humanistic/existential therapy and I have had some amazing teachers along the way.  I had a teacher my first year in college in NY tell us a story about a client that used to come to therapy every week, dressed to the 9s.  It was as if her clothing was her protective mask, the image she wanted to portray and to use as camouflage from letting her true self come to the relationship.

He told us that every week he wore jeans and a sweatshirt on the day he saw her.  It wasn’t like it was a mission but he just “came as he was”.  He said over time she experienced him as genuine and heartfelt and well, real.  She connected with him and as she did, that protective mask started to chip away.  When she could come into the consultation room, “just as she was”, with mascara running down her face, or scuffed sneakers, or cheeks inflamed from anger, her healing could begin.

Bringing your whole self to the experience means not relying on technique, distance, or feeling like you have some magic that the other person doesn’t.  It’s not about you fixing your family, the person whose home you are volunteering in, your elderly grandmother who is living with dementia.  It’s about being present and being genuine and congruent.  It’s about understanding that in any relationship there are two people who create the space.

There is no time when faced with dying to stand on ceremony.  There’s no time for platitudes like, “I know just how you feel.”  When we use nothing but techniques and hide behind our title (whatever it might be — daughter, therapist, best friend, lover, etc) we stay in the realm of false pity rather than being able to be truly open to one’s pain with genuine empathy.

Our head nurse at hospice used to say leave your baggage at the door (before going in to be with a family) and while that was true, you didn’t want to let your frustration about traffic distract you from your encounter, we can’t leave the important parts of ourselves by the welcome mat.

Bringing your whole self to the experience.  Frank suggests, in his training, that it is in our exploring our own suffering that helps us to create an empathetic bridge with the other.  I love that idea and believe it is because of this very thing that healing takes place.  And I think we have to be honest and face facts. . . whether you are a therapist or a companion to the dying, when you are together you are both touched, both changed forever, both healed.

Not too long ago, someone complimented me on my “skills” when talking to someone who was in the midst of grieving.  Although I knew the compliment was being truly offered in a sincere way, I chuckled to myself.  There was no pretense on my part, no thinking in my head, “what would Roshi Joan say” or “what task would Teresa Rando say this person is on in their grief process.”

It was about opening the heart, extending one’s self to a person whose heart might be hurting.  It’s about every so lightly, touching the memory of my own grief experiences and allowing that to be close to me.  It was about a genuine care and concern for another individual, even though it was someone I do not know very well.

And with that came curiosity, not rubbernecking, morbid curiosity but wanting someone to know that I wouldn’t side step her grief just because we were at work.  I wanted that person to know that I was open to listening if she wanted to tell her story.

To me, bringing your whole self to the experience is about not sitting with a desk between you and your client.  It’s not about wearing a white jacket.  It’s none of that professional coldness that gets drilled into us.  It’s not about never touching a patient who is struggling to talk and having difficulty breathing from the intensity of their anxiety about death approaching.

It is about being vulnerable and at the same time not letting the situation be all about me.  It’s about meeting a situation and being okay to see where it takes you, or more appropriately, allowing yourself to be led instead of trying to fix the other person.

Can you have enough compassion for yourself and the person you are with so that you can be open to the reciprocal gifts of the moment?

Bring your whole self to the experience.

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