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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Levine’

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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“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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Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Ma...

Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

I had a client that had major complications after a surgery that was supposed to be “routine”.  Multiple systems shutting down and getting restored which shut down other systems, etc.  It was like a negative feedback loop for a while.

We were sure that she was going to die.  I was totally convinced.  I was the hospice expert, I knew these things.

Well, not really.

I just am more okay with dying taken place when it may be the ultimate healing experience for that person.

But with today’s medical technology, we can sometimes sustain someone well beyond what nature may have had in mind and give them a chance they would have never had before now.

That, however, is not my experience, but it does happen.

My “for sure” was no match for crazy (or what I thought was crazy) medical and scientific intervention.  And she lived on.

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Yet, I remember someone I knew telling me that his mother had gone into the hospital for something acute and the family was told that she was riddled with cancer.

There was an emergency that sent her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed.

The family was trying to make sense out of what was happening that night; trying to wrap their minds around it.

She died the next morning… not from the cancer and not from the acute crisis.

As one of the other Contemplations states, we do not have control over when and how our death will ultimately come.

How many times have you heard, “She was the picture of health”?  That was the case with my mentor who died.  Running 5 miles every morning, yoga, healthy eating, great relationships, ideal jobs for her, etc.

Or how many times have you heard, “He smoked cigars since the age of 12 and his mom fed him lard” and he died when he was 97?

We have no fixed time or fixed amount of breaths that we will take.

We do not know if it will be right now, tonight, tomorrow, or in ten years.

And yet, we live like it we have been granted this fragile life forever.

Everyone we have ever known to die, whether a beloved grandfather or a teen idol, has not lived forever and has had that unexpected time come.

Why do we think that we are exempt and will be the one person to make it out of life alive?

And how many of us take so much for granted because deep down inside, we really believe that we’ll be that one?

How long will you suffer with what is before you create the life you want before it’s too late?

How many times will you walk away angry and not say I love you before you are left with the guilt of having not done that very thing?

I ask these questions, not just of you, but of myself?

Will I learn this time?

Will I be more present, more proactive, more loving, more compassionate, etc?

Your life span, (and my life span) like that of all living beings, is not fixed.

With that knowledge, can we learn to embrace it, in a lived, total way, and create the life that we want because we became active agents during the moments we do have here on earth?

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By Doug Smith, MDiv.

“When we label some deaths right,

and other deaths become wrong.

When we label some deaths good,

and other deaths become bad.

Living and dying create each other.

The easy way and the difficult way are

interdependent.

The long life and the short life are relative.

The first days and the last days accompany each other.

Therefore, the true caregiver of the dying does all

that needs to be done without asserting herself,

and saying all that needs to be said without

saying anything.

Things happen, and she allows them to happen.

Things fail to happen, and she allows them to fail

to happen.

She is always there, but it is as though she is not there.

She realizes that she does nothing,

yet all that needs to be done is done.

In letting go,

there is gain.

In giving up,

there is advancement.

Don’t practice controlling.

Practice allowing.

Such is the mystery of happiness.

Such is the mystery of wealth.

Such is the mystery of power.

Such is the mystery of living and dying.

Excerpt from:  Caregiving:  Hospice-proven Techniques for Healing Body and Soul.

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Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness techniques can help alleviate anxiety , stress , and depression (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a simple to read article by Rick Hanson.

http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/give-your-head-a-rest-from-thinking

Here is a small excerpt:

When your thought processes are tired, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not relaxed, and probably stressed, which will gradually wear down your body and mood. You’re more likely to make a mistake or a bad decision: studies show that experts have less brain activity than novices when performing tasks; their thoughts are not darting about in unproductive directions. When the mind is ruminating away like the proverbial hamster on a treadmill, the emotional content is usually negative – hassles, threats, issues, problems, and conflicts – and that’s not good for you. Nor is it good for others for you to be preoccupied, tense, or simply fried.”

I really liked this article and would totally use it with caregivers, professional or otherwise.  It’s a skill we can all benefit from in one or or another, in our career and private lives, whether we are young or old.

I sometimes don’t like certain “techniques” because they feel so artificial.  They can seem a bit contrived but what Rick shares here, like much of the mindfulness practice work that is out there from Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Goleman, Tara Brach, Chade-Meng Tan, Susan Bauer-Wu, Daniel Seigel, Jeffrey Brantley, Ronald D. Seigel, and so many more.

Take a second right now and do what Hanson suggests in this article from windmind.org. . . look up from your computer screen and breathe in and as you are breathing out, allow your exhale to be deep and long-lasting, really use the abdominal muscles and allow your whole body to benefit.

I did it as I was reading the article and I noticed a definite shift.  As I exhaled, I realized that my shoulders were sliding down and moving to the place that they were designed to be in, not clear up to my ears.

I noticed a bit of an electrical current and any fleeting bit of anxiety dissipated effortlessly.  And I had a shift in thinking.

Now, it’s easy to do this on a good day — little in the way of demands, pain, stress, etc. . . but the whole point is to do it on this kind of day so that when everything gets fired up — when the anxiety, discomfort, and frustration kick into high gear, that exhale just comes. . .

When we start a “practice”, things feel like a technique.

But they probably felt that way when we were learning to sit with a client or use proper body mechanics by the bedside but as we used the technique, to the point of it being burned into our muscle memory, it shifts from being a technique to a way of being.

And mindfulness is no different.

We practice on good and bad days, despite the weather or what else happens so that no matter what is going on, we can bring about calming the mind/body with the breath and with our mindful attention.

Check out some of the resources that I have linked with the author’s names above in this blog.  They are some extraordinary people bringing mindfulness to different populations and in slightly different ways.

Embrace mindfulness and give your brain (and the rest of your system and being) a much-needed break in this worrisome world.

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Death will come whether you are prepared or not.

Take heed.

Death waits for no one.

There is no time to say, wait, I need to add more lipstick and fix my hair.

There is not usually time for you to call that long-lost family member or that 7th grade Math teacher, or the one that got away, .,.

We don’t know when death will come for us.

All we know is that death will come.

Right now, I know a family that is going to through a painful death process.  Family feuds were not dealt with, people’s needs to control not put aside, estranged relationships strained even more.

Everyone is so isolated, from each other, from friends, from the person who is dying.

And I actually think that the person who is dying may be the person who is blessed because of not having an awareness of this consensual reality anymore.  That person may or may not be spared some of the pain.  My guess, is that some of it is being processed during those last breaths.

In my years working with hospice, I’ve seen amazing things happen — some truly healing and magic occurred and usually it was in those moments when we got out of our own way, let go of the ego we are so bound to, and just allowed ourselves to be free and to be love.

What extraordinary pain we put ourselves through.  Living can be hard enough.  And the process of dying can be painful.  Why would we want to add more to it?

Death comes whether you are prepared or not.

So I ask myself, as I sit on the cushion. . .

what’s left?

What’s still undone?

What do I still need to accomplish?

Have a touched lives?

Does my work matter?

Have I made sure that my parents know how much I love them?

Have I taken enough time to laugh with friends?

What regrets are there, if any, and do I know how to rectify them?

Am I wasting time in a life I don’t feel like I have control over?  Don’t want to live?

Are there relationships that don’t contribute to my greatest good?

Are there relationships where I don’t feel like I can continue to be loving and compassionate?

Death will come whether I am prepared or not.

I have no control over the where, the how, the why, the when. . .

It’s so easy to be taken off guard by the little things like going out to a car that won’t start. . .

Imagine what it must be like to “wake up” and realize that life is over. . . that whatever you have believed or not believed is where you find yourself.

We can sometimes live too cautiously, spending time planning, living in a bubble, not taking chances, etc.

Does a life of safety make up for a life unloved because of fear or control we have given away?

If I am tired and have things to do, I will often ask myself, “If I don’t talk to my parents (or someone else) tonight, and I woke up to a call in the middle of the night, would I be okay with that?”

Sometimes the answer is that I need to care for myself so I can be compassionately present when I am interacting with the other.

Other times, I know deep down inside that yes, I am tired but it is more important to reach out and to hold the other person close to my heart, because of the fragility of our existence.

Death will come whether I am prepared or not.

So if I don’t know the when, where, how, why, etc and death won’t wait, don’t I want to live so that when it does come, I can breathe in and relax into the uncoiling of my self or spirit from this physical world?

Don’t I want to know that I lived to recognize that which I gave birth for and that lovingkindness and compassion, or at least holding the intention of those essential ways of being, is what guided my life?

This body will no longer serve me one day.  Nor will my wealth, acquired knowledge, or possessions.

But the manner in which I rest my head, and follow my breath, and focus single-pointedly on the present will be all that I have.

Can I strive daily to make that my practice?

Death will come whether you or I are prepared or not.

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Are you knew to meditation?  Have you always wanted to practice but weren’t sure how to or where to start?

Check out the category of New to Meditation? series of posts that will be sprinkled, with love, throughout this blog.

Unlike other series that I’ve written, these will not be a week long or a trio of articles but a post that will show up to remind you and of course, a category for you to go back to time and time again as you need a refresher, a boost, etc.

I hope that these important teachings will bring you peace, safety, joy, and deep compassion.  May they be a bell of mindfulness that reminds you to come home to your practice and to attend to the greater sangha.

Metta, Jennifer

Lovingkindness meditation allows us to use our own pain and the pain of others as a vehicle for connection

rather than isolation.  Maybe when people are acting unskillfully we can look beyond

their actions and recognize that they’re suffering, and that they,

too want to be happy.”

“May I be safe (or May I be free from danger)

May I be happy

May I be healthy

May I live with ease

May daily life not be a struggle

“The ‘May I’ is not meant to be begging or beseeching but is said in the spirit of generously blessing

ourselves and others: May I be happy.  May you be happy.”

~~  Sharon Salzberg, Happiness

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