Listening Another Person Into Healing

Recently, I agreed to be interviewed for an academic research project about an intense period / experience of my life. A period that is years behind me, that I can now speak about in a much more detached way than when I was in it or immediately past it. The interviewer knows some of my story. In the role of interviewer, her job was to listen, not to interact with my story.

Listen into beingAfter she left, I found myself at times weeping for no explicable reason. The tears just flowed. Beautiful, gracious, glorious release.

I am reminded of the power of just listening, not interpreting, not trying to put words in someone’s mouth. It is a witnessing that can bring another person into being. Can surface what needs to be surfaced for healing.

I don’t know what was there that was surfaced. I don’t need to know specifics. I am aware that something I did not know was still there was released. I am shifting shape yet again as I lean even more fully into this journey to openheartedness. As I answer the call of what is before me.

And I am grateful.

When was the last time you listened to someone else’s story? Just listened. With curiositySlide1 and compassion, no judgment. When you waited to see if they were finished their thoughts – because more thoughts, more aspect of story arises in the silence – before you asked your next question? When the questions you ask are for the benefit of the story teller and not for your own?

When you listen well enough, you can listen another person into being. When you listen well enough, you can listen another person into healing. Try it. See what happens.

Your Truth Wants to Be Known

The times we are most challenged are when we are out of alignment with the truth of who we are, the truth of our own journeys. Because we are all a bit broken, it can be easy to lose our way. To forget who we are and what is at our core. To be blind to what is right in front of our eyes. To refuse to see what seems obvious later.

Our view of the world is shaped by the people around us, by events, by choices we make. In wanting and needing to fit in, we shape some of who we are for acceptance. This may mean we hide parts of who we are or we act differently than we think we are.

At times we find our selves acting “out of character”, making choices that seem contrary to our values. Sometimes we explain that away – I am not normally like this, but… And we may, at times, feel trapped. Trapped in relationship that does not and will not work. Trapped in a job we don’t like, that sucks us dry and makes us yearn for weekends and holidays. Trapped inside a shell of who we are wondering where we went, where we disappeared to and how to find our way back.

Like the truths of journey we do not know – separated families, adoption, family secrets – our own internal truths want to be known. This internal separation – of you from you – seeks wholeness and integration. Your truth will find ways to make itself known, offer to you opportunities to accept it, act on it, live it. If you do not accept at the first invitation, another invitation will come along. And another. And another. The longer you wait, the more insistent the invitation. Instead of a tap on the shoulder, or a sense of knowing or an intuitive hunch, the force of the invitation ramps up, becomes a hammer, explodes or implodes, accidents or illness come along. You run away until exhausted and still the truth haunts your very being.

You cannot hide from it, you cannot hide from you. You must turn and face that which you fear to see. It takes courage. For some it takes reaching the end of the rope, no longer willing to traverse a path of illusion and disillusion, ready to clear the smoke and mirrors to illuminate the core – the core of your being where love, compassion, curiosity, joy and light reside. Yes. In every single one of us. We just need to embrace all that is there and learn that the journey to openheartedness makes us stronger.

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Spirit Guides. We All Have Them.

Spirit Guides. We all have them. Each and everyone of us.

I used to believe it was only “special” people who had guides and, when I became aware that I had guides – because other people told me about them, I believed only “special” people could access them. When I was told, by different people in different situations, that I was intuitively powerful, I didn’t believe it. When I was asked to access my intuition, all I drew were blanks and guesses.

Until the veil began to lift – just a little bit.

I first became aware of my guides because other people – psychics, mediums, intuitively gifted individuals – told me about them. I always believed in spirit so to have someone tell me about a guide was a gift. The first one I was told was watching over me was a priest from my father’s family. I asked my father if there had been a priest in our family and he told me about Bishop who died when I was young. I used to sit on his lap and play with his cross.

I was told about a master guide wizard who grew ominously large and fierce when protecting me from harm.

Kathy Sacred Tattoo Design

Sacred Art – my lion and a medicine woman – channeled for me by artist Tania Marie

Then I took part in my first drumming ceremony. The guidance we were given beforehand was to pay attention to animals that were coming to us. It was clear that my spirit animal was a lion, so many images of lions came to me in the days before the drumming. And it was / is my journey animal. In the drumming ceremony, I tried hard to have a vision and nothing came. Until I stopped trying so hard, surrendering to what was there – a sense of things that became vivid images – a meadow, then trees, then flying with the lion (yes, lions can fly in spirit world if they want to – and you can fly with them), then a bonfire with people chanting, laughing and dancing around the fire. The lion and I landed, shape shifting into one, dancing around the fire with the greatest sense of joy.

For a long time after that, nothing. Plus, I didn’t know what to do with what I already knew. Then, one day driving in rain pouring so hard it felt dangerous, I called on the support of everyone’s guides who were in the car and another appeared – a native American brave, young, strong with sharp features. And there are others and more.

The feeling of love and support when you know there are guides and entities in the unseen world who are always, always there is incredible. They are there, even when we don’t know they are. They love to be seen and acknowledged and all it takes is a simple turning of attention to them, just a thought and they come into awareness.

Many of us don’t go searching for them because we are afraid maybe they aren’t there, or we are not worthy, or we won’t know how to be in conscious relationship. But it is such a gift. To them. To us.

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My own first rendition of my medicine woman guide – she urged me to draw her during an experience in Brazil in 2011

When I became aware that not only did I have guides, but I could help other people become aware of and connect with their guides – discovered almost my accident that I could do this, I did that work for awhile – helping people develop relationships with their guides. Like so many things, it fell by the wayside for a while. Now, people who have been reading Embracing the Stranger in Me are asking me to coach them in meeting their guides. And I remember, that this is also work I am called to do, a gift I have to share and I am gifted with seeing other people’s guides, the delight they have in being acknowledged. So, I have been stepping back in and happy to talk to anyone about what coaching support looks like for you to connect with your guides. You do have them and they want you to know them.

Are you holding your sadness as a treasured possession?

 

5-of-cups-legacy-of-the-divine2Every now and then a question shows up that captures attention as if it was lit up in flashing lights. This happened to me the other morning as I pulled my usual three tarot cards from the Legacy of the Divine deck (my favourite) to help me imagine what the story of my day could be like. One of the cards I pulled was the 5 of cups. Not necessarily a favourite, I decided to open the interpretation book to see what jumped out at me.

Why do you sometimes cradle your sadness like treasured possessions? Are you afraid that the power of your heart will shatter it and force you to leave the safety of the shadowy misery you cling to?

Sadness as a treasured possession? Shadowy misery? Crap! And wham! Both at the same time.

A while ago I wrote about what is real and what is illusion. And I’ve written about my passive aggressive relationship with the law of attraction. And about limiting beliefs.

The journey of life has a way of dishing up illusion so we imagine we are in a different place than we are. It also has a way of waking us up to reality. Like these questions.

I feel the tremulousness of these moments in my life. Partner I love deeply who lives in another country. Re-imagining our work and our businesses. Feeling the pull of life, co-parenting, scheduling. Desiring ease and not always experiencing it. Am I cradling sadness as a treasured possession? Is it part of how I define my story? It is not what I want to hear, to believe is true in this moment but there it is right in front of me.

Am I clinging to shadowy misery? Am I allowing this to define and shape the story of my life in this present moment?

What to do about it?

  1. Allow the recognition of the response evoked by the questions. Yes, there is truth there. Still. After many years of journey.
  2. Invoke compassion for myself. It is a journey. It is not right or wrong or too long. No self-recrimination, just awareness.
  3. Journal to surface and release the patterns so deeply entrenched in my being that sometimes I fear they will never be fully released and most times now I can recognize as part of the unfolding journey – the journey to openheartedness.
  4. Meditate on the vibration I am aspiring to, to let it permeate my physical and soul essence to continue to attract my dreams.
  5. Take concrete steps, even if small, to show – myself, creator, the universe – that the dream I hold is the direction in which I am moving.

I share this because I know I am not the only one cradling sadness and clinging to shadowy misery. If this resonates, know you are not alone and follow the steps.

You Are Worthy

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You are worthy and you are worthy of your gifts and talents. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise – including, especially, you.

It does not matter that you are not, thankfully, perfect. It does not matter that you have made “bad” choices in your life or choices you regret? It does not matter that you may have, at times, acted inauthentically, out of integrity or even immorally. It does not matter that it has taken you your whole lifetime until now – or later even – to step into your gifts. Have you been keeping track of how often you have paid the price – over and over again – for one of those “mistakes”? Your debt, if there was one, is paid. With an abundance of interest.

You are worthy. You are worthy of your gifts and talents. They are inherently yours to accept or deny. Although you may find they will not be denied.

When the time is right, when you are ready, in the moment of epiphany that brings on that quiet knowing, you will find the courage to step in, to step in fully, to claim the gifts that are your own.

Are you willing to put them on, embody them, own them, instead of wondering when someone is either going to take them away from you or give you permission to do what is only yours to do? Give yourself permission. Only you can do it. You are worthy of your gifts and talents.

You are worthy, even if you are afraid. The purpose of fear is to keep you safe? From what, you wonder? From abusing your gifts? You cannot abuse your gifts. You can only step in and allow things to flow through you. And they will. Because, you are worthy.

Let go of the self questioning, the self recrimination, the self judgment. It only gets in the way of the beauty and grace of who you are. You are worthy. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise. Especially you.

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Bargain Making Creates Unnecessary Dependencies – Break It Before You Set It

Kitten prayingHave you ever found yourself making bargains – with yourself, with God, with the devil? I would bet most of us have at some time or other. And, for many of us, often. And, we don’t need to.

Making bargains is a form of a limiting belief. It sets up a dependency relationship that does not need to exist and it may even set us up for failure.

“Make my loved one well and I will pray every day.” If my loved one does not become well, will I not pray? Is it a threat – I will only do this if you deliver? It sets up an unnecessary and unhelpful dependency. This could just as easily be two separate statements – a prayer of gratitude “Thank you for making my loved one well.” Or, perhaps, “Thank you for taking care of my loved well.” This latter statement might include making your loved one well, or might have other soul journey implications. And an intention, “I pray/meditate every day.”

“Help me pay my bills and I will work harder every day.” Again, two separate statements. Various versions of the first include: “I am so happy and grateful that my needs are taken care of.” “I am so happy and grateful that the money is coming in now.” “Infinite wisdom, open the way for all that is mine by divine right to reach me now in great avalanches of abundance, under grace and in perfect ways.” This last is a favourite from “The Game of Life and How to Play It”, a classic by Florence Scovell Shinn that is well worth the read. The second statement could be, “Every day I take action in the direction of my intention (vision, dream) for my life and work.”

“Give me what I need and I will share with someone else in need.” Again, a statement of gratitude, “Everything I need comes to me.” And a statement of intention, “I will offer an act of kindness to someone in need.” This creates lots of opportunities. It could be a smile to someone who needs it, a “pay-it-forward” deed, a gift of money or an offer of support.

“Please, please remove this person/situation from my life and I promise I will be a better person.” You can’t be a better person even with this situation at hand? Maybe being a “better person”, whatever that means to you, is what is needed for the situation to change. “Thank you for the lessons this person/situation is bringing my way.” “I am grateful this person/situation is illuminating where I am in my journey now, showing me what is healed and where my work lies.” “I am so happy and grateful I am the best version of me I know how to be.” “I do the best I can with what I know. As I know better, I will continue to do better.”

It is often through desperation that we make bargains and we are often not aware we are doing so. It is an unconscious thought pattern. It is through trust and faith that we set intention and offer gratitude even when we do not yet see the results. And it is a journey of becoming – becoming aware of our thoughts, behaviours and patterns and learning to shift them so we gain a greater sense of peace, joy and love.

What bargains are you making? What happens if you make them separate statements, intentions or prayers? They each become more powerful in themselves. Is it just semantics or words? Is it all about positivity? The question is, what makes you feel better? When you feel better you do better. You live better. You are more resourced. Choose the better feeling options.

Try it. See what happens. Share your experience with us.

Facts, Stories, Courage, Justice, The Court System

I went to court once. It was a simple matter. I was contesting a $275 ticket I was given for illegally walking across the railroad tracks in Bedford, NS. Yup. Turns out that’s illegal. Who knew? The policeman, who reluctantly issued the ticket (which is different story), did tell me that I could contest it in court. So, I went to court. I watched all the cases called before mine. Citizens, representing themselves, showing up to contest tickets of various sorts – not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while cycling, other ones that I don’t recall. What I do recall is that systematically every case was “won” by the court – which had a lawyer present, a process, witnesses (usually policemen) with notes. The contestants had none of these. I knew, that had my case gone forth, there was no way I was walking out of there a winner. Except, thankfully, the policeman who issued the ticket did not show up. My case was dismissed. I walked away with a glimpse into a system of law that is not necessarily a system of justice but a system of process.

Scales of JusticeI am reminded of this little incident by a very high profile celebrity sexual offence case taking place before a judge in Canada at this moment. A case which is not only re-traumatizing the accused’s victims but a host of other people – primarily women – who have experienced something similar in their lives. It makes me think of the system of law, which may or may not be the same as justice. A court system that wants to protect an accused as innocent until proven guilty, so much so that the victims are on trial as much as or more than the accused and seem to have to prove their innocence, and even purity, rather than have it assumed.

I am thinking about the women who have had the courage to pursue this case, or similar ones, in the courts, who are taking the stand, whose stories are being cross examined in the search to cast doubt on the facts of the testimony. Re-victimizing victims, as if it wasn’t hard enough the first time, or difficult enough to step forward. It is a system that does not encourage women, perhaps any victim, to step forward, because it treats them harshly.

It is supported by a societal wide phenomenon that immediately casts doubt on any woman’s story of sexual assault – casting doubt on the woman herself. Even when many women step forward about the same man, as is the case in this situation,  there is more doubt about their character than his, as if there is a conspiracy against him. “Why didn’t you go to the police?” they are asked. “Why didn’t you speak up sooner?” Over and over again the answer is that they did not think they would be believed. Which is exactly what happens.

The women in this case say that the accused was, in one moment, the epitome of charming and, in the next moment, he was hitting them in the head or choking them in a rage. There is consistency across the stories, the ones in the courtroom, the ones reported in the media, the general knowledge that existed in the milieus of social settings the accused and the victims found themselves in. Part of the challenge to the credibility of the women is that, in this case, they often describe an initial encounter and then a subsequent encounter. Why did they engage the subsequent encounter if the first went so badly, is the obvious question? Surely it couldn’t have been that bad? Surely now you are only seeking revenge?

In reflecting on this and some of my own experiences (not nearly so extreme) in life, it occurs to me there is a gap created by cognitive dissonance – a gap in stimulus and response. A public figure. Charming to the extreme. Seeking some of these women out. Surely the rage is a momentary lapse, not the essence of this person? The mind is resorting to logic to try to make sense of what just happened. The beating, the rage, is “out of character” with what is known or presumed known about this individual and these women found themselves back in his vicinity, imagining a better situation, imagining a respectful encounter. Surely you have encountered such a cognitive dissonance – where it takes your brain awhile to catch up to what your experience is telling you to be true? I know I have been.

And then there is the role of facts. The court system is interested in the facts and in evidence. Part of the issue in testifying is that we relay our experiences through stories, stories that are a mix of facts, emotions and values. And there is research that disputes the idea that factual memory is accurate. If you have ever told a story and had someone contradict the “facts” you relayed with their own, you know how difficult it is to agree on the “facts”, because people remember different things. Was it this or was it that? Who knows for sure?

It is easy to get stories confused for several additional reasons. Stories are how we make meaning of our experiences. And we rarely ever tell the same story twice in exactly the same way. As time goes by, how we relate to the story and the experience may shift and change, as we try to imagine it never happened, or as we heal, as we move on, as we learn from our experiences, as we gain distance from the event. The story you tell now about something you experience today may be very different a month from now, a year from now, a decade from now. Yet in a trial, the person on the stand is expected to tell the exact same story, without variance, from the time they gave their statement to the time of the trial and, at a minimum, months, if not years have gone by. Any contradictions become “proof” of their inconsistency and unreliability as a witness.

When I was writing Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness, a memoire spanning several decades, I came across my own writing from a decade before – writing done very close to the experiences I was describing. How I remembered those situations and the rawness of the writing immediately following the experiences was very different than how I recalled them a decade later.

courtroomI find my heart breaking for these women on the stand and for the many more who refused to go there because there is too much trauma, too much shame, too much self doubt and self recrimination. I am torn by believing people do have a right to a fair trial and wondering if that should not also apply to the courageous people who step forward to testify. And I continue to wonder if our justice system delivers justice while understanding the need and increasing demand for processes like restorative justice.

And mostly my heart aches for a society that will dismiss the voice of a woman to such a degree that even in numbers there is doubt. My heart aches for a society where people are ostracized for pointing out what is common knowledge in a community, an organization or a social system. I wonder how we have come to be such great protectors of the shadow side, the underbelly, and so afraid of the light. I yearn for places and opportunities for people to be supported and celebrated for doing the right thing, for stepping forward, for making us all safer. And, I hold space from my little corner of the world, for each person who speaks a truth known to many openly and courageously. May we be these people.

We Are All A Bit “Broken”

Not a single one of us makes it through childhood without being “broken” ~ at least a little bit and maybe a lot. It begins without our conscious awareness but with our complicity. Why do I say this? Because our very survival depends on it.

We might not survive childhood if we did not find ways to fit in, to be good, to make others (usually our parents or other caregivers) happy. For some children this is literally about survival; for many, it is more figurative but still impactful. We shape our lives and ourselves to do just this ~ to fit in, to survive. It is the conditioning of the experiences, the worldviews, we are born into and that we adapt to and adopt. Our behaviour and attitude adjust to the conditions we find ourselves in.

An unintended consequence of this, for many of us, is that adapting to conditions disconnects us from ourselves, from aspects of who we are at the core, our soul essence. I write about this extensively in Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness. Elements of this stranger are the soul qualities and gifts we come into the world with, that we are intimately connected to when we are born, before we learn concepts of right and wrong, good and evil.

cropped-official-book-photo.jpgAs we move from infancy to toddlerhood, we learn it is not always, maybe usually, safe to expose our inner being. When it shows up in innocent ways, the openness, genuineness and authenticity of it, it can be perceived as a threat to others who have carefully cordoned off their own soul essence ~ also to survive and without knowing  or discovering any better ways. Our own soul essence begins to feel fragile rather than strong. Beyond words, our protective instincts kick in and we create protective patterns (excerpted from Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness; pp 12 and 13).

These protective patterns are perpetuated throughout much of our life’s journey. They influence our relationships and our communication, again, usually in unintended ways ~ because why would we intentionally live out many of the patterns we do, patterns that are hurtful and harmful to ourselves and to others? Along the way, bit by bit, we become more broken – to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the circumstances of our life, the people in it and the patterns of brokenness amplified, projected, mirrored in relationship.

broken - a little bitAnd yet, broken crayons still colour. And so do we. We may choose stark colours to sketch the lines of our lives or we may choose the vibrancy of the full array of colours. Depending on where we are in our journey at any given time, we may choose different crayons, different contrasts. We begin to reclaim our light and our wholeness when we remember we have choice, that our own brokenness can invite us into compassion – for our own journey and for others. It can invite us into the fullness of our humanity. So beautifully expressed in the lyrics of Anthem by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
~ Leonard Cohen ~

Gold repaired bowlIt is like the Japanese art of Kintsugi ~ repairing broken pottery with gold, to not hide our brokenness but celebrate it because it is how the light not only gets in, but also shines out. Because of our brokenness we can enjoy a depth of experience not otherwise available to us. We can gain a deep appreciation of love and what it means to love despite everything. Embracing our brokenness enables us to embrace our wholeness. They are not mutually exclusive and this is the journey to openheartedness.

Dementia and Alzheimers: A Fate Worse Than Death?

 

Despite the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the population and the increasing odds we will, at a minimum, come into contact, if not already in relationship, with someone who has this condition, many people are at a loss as to how to deal with, communicate or connect with someone who is losing their memories and, in the eyes of many, their very identity. It pains us to be in the same space when that person does not remember us. And this is exactly the problem – if you make it about your pain and not about the person who is still there, who still needs and yearns for friends, connection and companionship even if they no longer no how to express it, who still yearn for acceptance and love even if they do not have the words.

Why is it so difficult? How often do you hear, or even use, the phrase “I came face to face with my own mortality”? When someone close passes? When a certain age is reached? When you’ve had a close encounter with death – real or perceived? That’s hard enough, but what if you perceive dementia to be a fate worse than death? You see yourself in that person’s shoes and don’t like what you see or can imagine, don’t want to live that way, don’t think it is a life. And you become dumbfounded and wordless because you are no longer interacting with the person in front of you, you have closed in on yourself and are dealing with your own life journey and life fears.

My mother’s journey with dementia and in long-term care illuminated and tested some of my own fears and spiritual beliefs. Did I really believe the things I said I did? Did I really believe consciousness is not fixed but that it expands and travels? Did I really believe we are souls living a human existence? Did I really believe there is a fine line, just a veil really, between the physical and the non-physical? Or did I believe, as I often did, that the hallways I walked to visit my mother were the corridors of death and the dying? In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I have included stories of the impact of my mother’s journey on me, as well as in many blog posts over the years.

My mother, in a time of her life when she could no longer string coherent sentences together – in fact, could no longer even find her words – showed me the way into depth of understanding. It is because of her that I began to think of two ways of experiencing stories – through the human tragedy lens or the soul journey lens. The human tragedy lens is one through which the physical journey here on earth does not make sense – because of things like dementia or other illnesses or any other range of possible things that pain us or cause us grief. The soul journey lens is the one through which peace can be found. It is expansive and offers a myriad of possibilities. It is the one that says I cannot measure my mother’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) experience by the lens of my own story.

What to do or say to the person who is living with dementia? It is simple really.

  1. Set aside your expectation. Do not expect them to be the spouse, parent, sibling, friend that you remember and maybe even romanticize. They are not that person now. But they are sill a person. Meet them in their humanity – the humanity you see when you look in their eyes (yes, look into their eyes!)and  see into the soul.
  2. Don’t let your own discomfort get in the way – or, in other words, get out of your own way..
  3. Set aside your own fear and your story of their situation.
  4. Greet them warmly – the way you used to – like the friend or loved one that they are. Because that is the essence of who they still are. They will be relieved.
  5. Don’t let it matter that they don’t remember who you are and don’t ask them if they do. In fact, don’t ask them any question they won’t be able to answer.
  6. Answer the same question 100 times in 10 minutes as if it was the first time it was asked, without exasperation, frustration or sadness.
  7. Tell them what’s up in your life without feeling guilty that you still have one when you perceive that either they don’t or you understand how much narrower their life is now than it used to be.
  8. Remember humour. We all like a good laugh. And it is okay to laugh with them.
  9. Stay tuned to where they are – it can change from day to day and it can change rapidly in the progression of the disease. Meet them where they are.
  10. Bring love. Lots and lots of love.

I am deeply touched by this video by Mary Beth Beamer of husband Alan and their appeal for friends to keep visiting. I appreciate the #Stillhere campaign by the Alzheimer’s Society. One of the things I deeply appreciated about the staff at Harbourview Haven where my mother stayed was that up to the very end they treated her with tenderness and care and like the whole person she still was even if her cognitive ability was pretty much gone because she was #StillHere.

Who do you know that has dementia or Alzheimer’s? When was the last time you visited with them? Go now. Or soon and remember the advice in this little gem too.

Alzheimers-Dementia-Communication Advice

Tis the Season of Joy — and Sorrow

The holiday season is an amplifier.  It is often a time of great celebration and joy as family members and friends gather together in gift giving and meal sharing.  It is also a time of great sorrow for many as reconstituted families find new patterns of gathering and as many of us feel the absence of loved ones who are elsewhere, may have departed, are sick or dying or in long term care facilities or simply no longer a part of our lives.  And it can be overwhelming and stressful as we strive for perfection in a season that often already demands a lot of us and where expectations run high – the ones we have of ourselves and of others.

It is impossible to live life and not have our fair share of  joy, sadness and stress.  Simple little delights often bring the joy.  A particular Christmas song.  Lights.  Tree trimming. Christmas celebrations.  Buying someone that perfect little something – or creating it.  Traditions that are meaningful.  Conversations that are as delicious as the traditional holiday fixings.  Lovely memories.

joy at Christmas

The things that make the heart sing are a beautiful thing.  The things that make the spirit sad are harder to acknowledge.  Absences seem to be one of the most significant contributors to sadness at this particular time of year.  The absence of loved ones.  It is an experience I know.  We all do.

unhappy puppy in Christmas Hat

One example in my life: my mother is in long term care with dementia.  She’s been there now for three and a half years. Since May, seven months ago, we have been told she could leave us any day.  Some small part of her still inhabits her physical body while most of her is having a different kind of experience that is beyond my knowing at the moment.

She has been absent from our family Christmas celebrations the last two years physically and to varying degrees cognitively for longer than that.  A week or so ago, I was in a shopping mall.  Something in a store caught my eye. I was hit with a wave of missing my mother – really for the first time.  This woman loved Christmas and loved opening presents so much it happened so fast it was over almost before it began – until we found ways to slow the process down.  My mom was always like a kid at Christmas when it came to presents – until she forgot what to do with a present, forgot what it was or even how to open it.

We all have these kinds of stories.

Some of us have stories of being in relationships that are not fulfilling, meaningful or relevant anymore.  Some of us are no longer in relationships and carry sadness or regret as a result. Some of us are in relationships with loved ones who live far away from us.  This is a season that brings nostalgia about better times and brings heightened awareness of what is not working.  It shines a light on the imperfections of our lives and relationships.  It brings loneliness even as we are surrounded by people and festivities.

In a season that is “supposed” to be joyful, we don’t always know how to handle the emotions and times that are not.  When we try to suppress them, we just drive them underground for awhile.  They will resurface when an opening shows.  There is nothing wrong with surrendering into our sadness long enough to acknowledge it.  If it continues to overwhelm us deeply maybe we will need help to come out of it, but for most of us, surrendering into and acknowledging our own emotional turmoil, allows release.

There is nothing wrong with tears.  Truly, there isn’t.  Although many of us believe there is.  We apologize for our tears.  Like we are somehow weak and maybe imperfect because we cry – especially when we cry in front of other people.  But tears are releasing and healing and an indicator of our experience.  How much more beautiful it could be if we stopped apologizing for tears and let ourselves be in our experience and even have it witnessed by other people.  In the event it makes others uncomfortable, other people’s uncomfortablenss with our tears is not our responsibility.  And for most people who witness, it is also freeing for them.

As we allow ourselves to move through our own experience, we create more space for joy and delight to show up faster in our experience.  Staying in our sadness will not fill the absences, will not bring back people no longer here or bring people to us who are far away.  And most of those absent, would not want us to be lost in our sadness but would want us to celebrate the joy and vibrancy of life.  Even if they wouldn’t, our soul is inviting us to celebrate the vibrancy of life.

Another thing that detracts from the vibrancy of life is the stress of trying to make the perfect holiday – on top of so many other things that need tending – children, parents, work, life and death.  Very little of this stops just because it also happens to be Christmas and we now also need to shop, bake, decorate, wrap gifts, go to Christmas concerts and Christmas parties.

Some things could be left undone or done a little short of perfection.  How many cookies do you really need to bake?  How many presents do you really need to buy?  What if you boiled it down to the one or two essential elements that seem the most dear to you?  For me, it is gingerbread houses.  I make the house parts.  I thought about buying them one Christmas but realized how much a part of me is in this tradition – because I love to bake and love the delight of the gingerbread house process from start to finish.  Most of the rest of it I can let go – especially in my experience of reconstituted families.  When and how things happen is a matter for conversation and joint decision making that usually extends beyond my immediate family.

Tis the season of amplification.  What is joyful is more so, what is sad is more so, what is stressful is more so.  Tis also the season of reflection and remembering.  And maybe most important of all, let it be the season of self-care – because, in that, we shift and grow our capacity to embrace the joy, delight and imperfections of being human that are completely available to us in the season of amplification.

(Originally published in 2011 at Shape Shift Strategies.)