Grief and Love

I have been thinking a lot about grief lately. How we each carry grief. How we experience it differently. How it is sparked in different ways. It could be the loss of a loved one who has died. This is the way we often think of grief. Yet, there are so many other sources of grief.

Grief for one’s own journey. Grief for the journey that someone you love must experience although it is heart wrenching and heart breaking to observe.

Reminded over and over again that you cannot save another person from their own journey and you cannot rescue them. Patience in the waiting and the observing is a practice to be recalled over and over again.

Will they find their way? You cannot know for sure until they do. Or do not.

But you can hold the faith, in whatever way and practice that shows up for you, that they will.

The grief you feel personally may be amplified by any grief you feel for the state of the world these days. For Mother Earth and a climate crisis you might feel helpless to prevent. Grief amplified by the toxic state of public discourse that has created so much fragmentation and polarization in our communities and in our families.

It can be hard to look. It can be hard to look away.

Overwhelmed by grief, it can be hard to remember to tend to self, to your own internal condition. Yet, without this, survival feels remote and joy feels impossible.

You can grieve and also allow joy. States of the human condition do not need to be mutually exclusive. You can feel both and even more at the same time.

It starts with allowing yourself to feel. This can feel risky, even dangerous. There may be fear that allowing yourself to feel will result in becoming more deeply lost, though it is in the feeling you can move through the faces and phases of grief and any other emotional state you may be experiencing.

Sometimes it is head down, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other – literally or figuratively. Remembering to breathe. Breathe deeply. Breathe into the pain. Breathe into the love. Breathe into the heart and the soul.

Other times it is head up, looking around at the wonders of the world that still exist despite the desperation of the times.

The rising and setting of the sun. The phases of the moon. The rising and ebbing of the tides. The stars. The light drizzle. The pounding rain. Snowflakes and snowstorms. The fresh morning air, the high heat of a noon sun on a summer day, the cooling temperatures at dusk.

Look within. Look to nature. Look to love. For what is underneath the grief but the sense of loss. For people. For relationships. For other things held dear.

And if there is grief, there is also love. Love that lives on that, when you touch it, you can touch beyond your grief and find your way into another day.

Sunset on the St. Lawrence SeawayJPG

Grief.

It washes over the soul

Like waves wash over the pebbles

On the beach.

Sweet agony

Captured in the constant

Roar of crashing waves.

Grief.

The soothing motion

Of gentle waves

Lapping the shore.

Tears well up,

Dropping into the endlessness

Of the ocean,

Becoming one

Both with the tumultuousness

Of raging storms

Close to the surface

And with the quiet depths

So far below.

Grief.

Not just one face.

Not just one expression.

Not just one cause.

Feel it.

Let it wash over you.

Go deeper

Beneath the storm

To the calm.

Find the love

Beneath the grief.

~ August 2019

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Holding Yourself Responsible for Someone Else’s Anger is a Fool’s Errand

Holding yourself responsible for someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. While this is true of many emotional experiences, it is particularly true of anger. Has anyone tried to hold you responsible for their anger? “Your actions made me mad,” is a prime example of projecting responsibility for their emotional state and lack of control onto someone else.

Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion, although there are good reasons why we assign negative attributes to it. Everyone experiences anger at some point – even people who say they don’t. I used to believe I never got angry as I wrote about in this post on Emotions Are Your Guidance System. I grew up in a household where a lot of anger was expressed in unhealthy ways. Avoidance – internally and externally – was my strategy. It took me years to discover my own experiences of anger and to learn how to work with it in healthy ways.

However, there are many unhealthy and even dangerous ways that anger is expressed. If you have ever found yourself modifying your regular day-to-day actions or behaviours, self censoring, being guarded or strategizing how to bring up an unavoidable topic no matter how simple it would be under ordinary circumstances, to try to not make someone else angry – or to try to reduce their anger – you are likely bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.

Bearing the burden of someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. It does not work. You are not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s anger – or their enduring emotional experience. Yet people who are perpetually angry are remarkably good at having the people around them bear that burden. And the people around them are remarkably good at assuming that burden, without even realizing that is what is happening.

emotional_burden__by_athalai_haust_d8ymuyg-preEven when you know logically that you are not responsible for someone else’s anger, the fear that ensues as someone repeatedly projects their anger at you is palpable and sometimes breathtaking. The desire to mitigate the fear to stop being a target of the anger, generates a protective response that, surprisingly for most of us, doesn’t often or soon enough include removing ourselves from the situation.

Someone who is unpredictable about where, when or what will trigger their anger causes uncertainty in the people around them. This uncertainty inevitably turns to fear. It is this fear that directs and influences your own desire to mitigate the situation, for yourself or for people around you, like children. And it is through fear of the other person’s anger that you take on the burden of responsibility for their emotional experience. They will have you jumping in hoops over and over again but there is nothing you can do that will make that experience any better or more satisfactory for them.

People who use anger regularly also use disgust and contempt. They express how they are offended, hurt or dismayed by your actions. They tell you that you are being so unfair to them. A person who lives with anger or rage feels powerful in the outburst of the moment. But that feeling of power also doesn’t last so more fuel is needed. That fuel comes from the next spark of anger, rage or outrage.

You are held hostage to the unpredictability of this person’s rage until you find a way to release that burden.

I carried such a burden for almost two decades. I tried to mediate the anger. I tried to protect other people from the anger. I failed. Over and over and over again. And yet, still I tried. I took on the responsibility, the other person tried to make me responsible and others around us also tried to make me or other people responsible. The only place responsibility and accountability did not fall was on the person who was generating all of the chaos and dysfunction to begin with.

If you have tried to bear this emotional burden for someone else, you may have noticed a few things about yourself, the situation or the angry antagonist.

  • What sets them off is unpredictable. It can even be a perfectly innocent comment or observation that gets picked up and spun out of context and out of control. The effect is that you start to watch everything you say even though it is impossible to predict what will set them off. You second guess yourself and your confidence suffers. And perpetually angry people can take one incident or wrong word and spin it for days, increasing the intensity of their anger even to the point of rage.
  • The angry person does not take responsibility for their anger or their own circumstances – it is someone else’s actions or behaviours that are at fault, that caused the anger. In this way, in their logic and rationale, it is someone else’s responsibility.
  • They use scorn, condemnation and disgust regularly. It is hard not to take that on when you are the recipient of it. They cannot believe that you did or said whatever you did or said –as if you are the person acting inappropriately. But it stops mattering when their opinion of you stops mattering.
  • Everyone around the angry person tries in one way or another to appease them – modifying behaviour, apologizing or finding a way to get out of the way. There may be short-term improvement, but until the person who exhibits this anger takes responsibility for their own emotional experience, there will be no long term solution. And addressing this requires insight, courage and the willingness to truly engage healing that they often are not ready or able to embrace.
  • Anger is projected not just in words but in the entire non-verbal, kinaesthetic and energetic field of the person – even when they say they are not angry, even when they truly think they aren’t, everything else about them says they are. And you get blasted with an invisible wave that knocks you off your own center.
  • People around the angry person get upset or angry with each other because no one has successfully deflected the anger or scorn. In this way, not only do they disrupt the field between them and you, the wreak havoc on the entire relational field. And the angry person takes up a disproportionate amount of time, thought, discussion and preparedness – individually and collectively – as we try to strategize how to deal with them.
  • If you are a target of the angry person, it is emotional and/or psychological abuse and it is traumatizing. Over time, you will be aware that your anxiety is increasing, you may have panic attacks, you are constantly on edge and you are a different version of yourself, which can be saddening and depressing. You may experience a physical “hit” with a rush of adrenaline or amygdala hijack even in the anticipation of that person’s anger or actions. It is destabilizing and demoralizing and feels like ever present danger.

There is an interesting discernment between running away and standing up for yourself by developing strong, healthy boundaries for your own health and wellbeing. The angry person will accuse you of running away as they seek confrontation as fuel. You will know you have done everything within your power to evoke a change in that person that was never yours to make and, when you are ready, you will release that burden by refusing to engage. When you truly make the shift, everything changes. You heal something inside of you and have new insight, strength and wisdom as you disengage from that energetic vortex and fuel your boundaries, deepening your own authentic journey. In my experience, this can seem to happen overnight, but that overnight shift is likely the result of years of journey to make it possible. It is possible. And you can do it. Be patient and gentle with yourself in the midst of the journey.

 

Does Your Family Have a Collective Trauma Worth Healing?

Doesn’t every family have some degree of trauma in it; that perhaps ranges from somewhat mild to severe? This is a question I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks for a variety of reasons, including wondering how a family experiences trauma individually and collectively and how, when it makes sense, a family can engage healing in its system?

When a family experiences the same trauma circumstances – an event or a long-standing relationship where trauma has been inflicted – each member of that family experiences the trauma differently. When removed from the trauma, the trauma lives on in each of us, in our cellular memory, in our minds and imaginations, continuing to affect each of us, each in our own way and collectively too. There is some shared aspect of the trauma, but the way we each remember our experience will have its own flavour, its own story, its own influence. What this looks and feels like can depend on your role in the family, in and with the trauma, your age and other factors too.

The family system that is interested in healing can explore the impact of trauma as they collectively experienced some element of it. That part can feel easy because it seems like everyone is in agreement. However, it becomes more challenging for family members to completely coalesce around the impact on any one individual because the experiences differ. Each family member needs healing for the full family system to heal; but the validation, acknowledgement or healing they each need is likely different.

We each have different assumptions and expectations of what we need to heal and what we think others need to heal. We may think we need certain things – acknowledgements, validations – from other members of the family. And whether or not they arrive – or when – might not be according to our own sense of timing.

Individually, it can be hard to identify and hard to express our hopes, expectations and experiences. What, in your own mind, feels like a straightforward ask, can seem less so when it is said out loud. The support and validation you are looking for might not arrive if your own experience contradicts someone else’s interpretation because of their own experience, their own story or their own trauma or if they remember your role differently.

What can we do when this happens? Notice your responses or your impulses. For me, when I encounter this, it makes me want to retreat – which is a reflex to “safety”, which is not necessarily safe or helpful for healing. In the noticing, I can make an intentional decision about what I want to do next and I can choose to communicate this with my family members.

Relationships are hard. And, to be clear, not all family relationships need to be or should be maintained. Sometimes the best healing opportunity is to cut off some family ties, as there is no hope for real healing in them. Having said that, for family relationships that are worth maintaining, even they have moments when they are harder than we expect, harder than we want them to be, harder than we hope. They are not all just sunshine, connection and laughs around the dinner table. They are also hard truths we may not want to hear.

Many, if not most, families are not skilled enough to know how to navigate family healing well. Most of us didn’t learn it growing up. There were no role models to look to. There are always some families who seem to know how to love and support each other no matter what. And there are some families so full of challenges and damage that no one seems to know how to navigate the individual and collective hurts. These families are more likely to fall apart, to stop talking to each other, to embody the pain and perhaps pass it on through intergenerational trauma.

intergenerational picture

What holds a family together in its healing? A few key things we have been learning:

  • Valuing self and valuing others too, so one is not meant to always be subservient to the other.
  • Valuing the family relationships enough to do the work required. Being willing to prioritize the relationships but not to the point of not addressing the trauma or other family challenges that show up. Avoidance only drives the emotions underground and, when they surface in their own ways, they tend to be even more destructive.
  • Give precedence to listening even as you want to be heard. Listen for understanding with compassion and curiosity, not for how to debate someone else’s experience or even your own. Be willing to listen, really listen, even when it’s hard.
  • Discern when to lean in and when to lean back. Learn to discern what needs to happen, be explored or discussed in the presence of others and what can be done on your own.
  • Be willing to drop a point of discussion with someone once you have heard it so you can digest it later if need be or take it to your own healing space.
  • Be willing to step back from being right, from insisting on being heard if that will not help in the moment. Be able to give space without backing away.
  • Find the language to stay focused on what is most important without lashing out in attack when you don’t like what you hear or can’t figure out how to make sense of it or are simply frustrated. Let it go rather than rehash it over and over again when it no longer serves. Come to terms and to peace with it.
  • Then, learn how to stay in relationship when the conversation is over. Learn how to apologize when it is deserved and even occasionally when you don’t think it is deserved. It might be the very thing that breaks an impasse and allows you all to get to a new level of healing with each other.
  • Hold space with and for each other, when you are together and apart.
  • Learn you can hang together through the tough stuff because it all matters.

These conversations hurt my heart. They also heal my heart. Without them, we would lose some of the core soul in our family constellation and it helps us love each other and be together better, if we focus on the love and healing, if we allow it.

And, bonus, if we pause to dig into the healing now, we heal back and forth along the lineages and that is worth it too. It’s powerful work. What are the family relationships and what family trauma is worth healing enough for you to stay in, stick with it and work it through?


Note: I am not a therapist. This is written from my heart, my experiences and my observations and reflections in my own families and in conversations with many others about this topic.

The difference between acting on impulse and acting on intuition?

Have you ever had an intuitive hit and acted on impulse as a result, only to find yourself shortly afterwards questioning your judgment? This happened to me this week, which caused me to wonder what is the difference between acting on impulse and acting on intuition? I put the question out there on FB (on January 3/18) and it evoked a beautiful exchange of thoughts and ideas and gave some insight into our collective consciousness about words, how we use them and how we interpret them. It reminded me that language matters and we don’t all mean the same thing by the same words.

Generally, among my group of friends – admittedly a more “new-agey” (can I say that?), spiritually focused reference group – intuition was more positively perceived, impulse less positively perceived. Intuition seen as action, impulse seen as reaction, acting for immediate gratification, by-passing mindfulness and intuitive knowing.

A definition of intuition is having knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired. Impulse was much more laden with negative assumptions or interpretations from the word being included in the name of psychiatric disorders to inclusion of words like failure to resist temptation or making unplanned decisions.

My favourite response is that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive (something we talk about often in our Worldview Intelligence work) and I could act on impulse arising out of my intuitive knowing. Trusting my intuitive knowing and discerning it from other things (desperation, a need for action over reflection or the need for immediate gratification as three “for instances”) is a practice developed and honed over time. And I loved the question, “I wonder if there is any such thing as impulse that grows quietly over time?”

My impulse that generated the question was to respond immediately to a FB post by virtual friend Chris Zydel, remarking that in addition to all the other delicious things she does (mostly by her posts helping people express themselves through art), she does astrological readings. I had never had mine done before, partly because it is only in the last year that I discovered my time of birth. I immediately responded, found out the cost, commitment proceeded quickly and then I wondered about the impulsivity of the decision.

However, 2018 feels like a portentous year for me and for the Worldview Intelligence work I do with my partner. It has had this energy as 2017 closed and the new year opened. The question of what more could I do to ground the energy and help bring possibilities to fruition was in my awareness so when this invitation showed up it evoked an immediate response. And, as it turns out, it was exactly right, exactly what I needed now. The reading was amazing, explained a lot and pointed me in the direction of healing that will be helpful to grounding more of my energy in 2018.

There are many times I have acted on intuition – sometimes quick and impulsive like this decision and sometimes the slow burn described above – where the result has been powerful. Some examples are the decision to embark on my Art of Hosting journey, to go to Bowen Island in 2005 for my first training. It was a bit of slow burn but decisive when it came time to make the decision. The decision the following year to go to Hollyhock for my first Circle Practicum was impulsive – a decision made in the moment of meeting Christina Baldwin without the awareness of what it was going to take to get me there (planes, ferries and automobiles). The decision to go to Gold Lake Colorado in 2009 was a slow burn but the knowing I needed to go was present from the very first moment I opened an invitation to go there – and it deepened my spiritual journey in the most beautiful and unexpected ways. The decision to attend the first Shamanic Convergence near Halifax in 2009 despite financial challenges was more of a slow burn. The decision for my second divorce I knew years before I could find it within me to act on but those years were used for personal and spiritual growth and development, finding support along the way. In the moments of decision – and there were a few along the way – so much fell into place it was a good lesson in trusting the timing of events.

The decision to bring into form – the Worldview Intelligence work that Jerry and I now do was a long series of steps and decisions based on following the energy and hosting the space for it to come into form – intuitive for sure but not impulsive – steady.

In today’s world, we often give too much credence to logic and rationality when, in fact, decision making is always emotional as proved by neuro-scientist Antonio Damasio in his research on people whose emotional brains have been damaged. We use the facts to support what we want to do or know we need to do but we cannot make decisions without the use of our emotional brains.

intuitive knowingIn the thread on my FB post some suggested that we know in retrospect whether we acted on impulse or intuition based on the outcome. The more I reflect on that thought the more I wonder if we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we know – for both our intuitive and impulsive decisions or our intuitively impulsive decisions. When we can remove self doubt, self criticism, shame, the “voices of others” we carry in our heads (sometimes affectionately referred to as the itty-bitty-shitty committee), all the “should” and “should nots” and when we practice clearing and keeping open our channels to our own inner core and to whatever form of greater power, wisdom or knowledge we believe in, we are far more intuitive and powerful than we might like to acknowledge.

In retrospect, I don’t regret any of the intuitive decisions I’ve made in my journey to greater openheartedness – whether seemingly impulsive or slow burn. What about you? What do you discover when you reflect on the role of intuition and impulse in your journey?

With thanks to each friend who graciously contributed to the thread.

Deep Gifts and Reminders Show Up In a Myriad of Ways

Our deep human/spiritual gifts and reminders show up in a myriad of ways but be warned – or reassured – they will show up.

Twice this week I was reminded that I have the gift of sight – of being able to see beyond the physical into the deeper patterns, the intricate weave of soul stories at work. Once was a beautiful invitation to dance with the spirit guides of a friend who read my memoir – Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness – and asked about his guides. Not many people ask. He was momentarily concerned he had stepped over a line. But in the invitation the guides show up, delighted to be “seen”. Once I see them they dance with me for awhile and it is a joy. They will dance with their human partner too, but not all humans are ready, even when they ask.

Red flowers in Ian's gardenThe second time I was reminded of my gifts it was jarring – where I did not fully realize how deeply I sensed the disconnect between the surface and what is underneath. But my whole body was on heightened alert. In our work, we teach people that their bodies send them messages, their emotions are their guidance system.

This jarring experience reminded me to stop, to listen, to not deny my experience even if others might wish to dim or discredit the voice. I allowed my voice to be discredited for far too long – some years ago now – and a piece of me wandered in the wilderness til I found the motivation and the courage to reclaim it. It was not an easy journey. It was not welcome on some levels – by me or some around me. It was the best gift on other levels as I returned to myself many aspects of myself that I had become a stranger to. This kind of reminder can be intense and it often temporarily throws me off my center but it invites reflection and deeper inquiry, new openings. I struggle less as awareness comes quicker. I regain my ground and look for better, less explosive ways than blowing shit (or my life or my relationships) up as I remember the power, beauty and grace that is also me.

I am grateful for both forms of reminders when they show up. Honestly, more grateful for the first in the immediacy of it and for the second later after time for inquiry and reflection.

When this happens to you, it is helpful to remember you are worthy, you are powerful although we are all a bit broken, the truth does want to be known, no one can take your gifts away from you, you may be doing the work even when you are looking away, offer love and compassion to yourself.

It is a journey. It continually unfolds. It is meaningful and purposeful. And we can invite and embrace both.

tears-of-the-heart

Bearing Witness

Sometimes your task is just to bear witness. And it can bring all of your humanity to the surface. Bearing witness is not necessarily a neutral task. It can be a deeply emotional, heart wrenching but necessary role. It can be absolutely vital to the person(s) or situation you are called to witness. And the question becomes – are you up to it? Are you up to all it asks of you?

candle in people circleIn our Worldview Intelligence Personal Leadership program one of the models we use is the drama triangle. We use it to help participants understand the patterns and roles in drama – our own or others – through how we tell our stories.

It is easy to get caught up in drama – our own or someone else’s. There is some pleasure in the telling of the story, in trading power for sympathy. It is especially easy to get caught up in someone else’s drama with the often mistaken belief that we can rescue them from their own stories, rescue them from themselves. There is something insidious about drama that has people wanting to engage the story, the gossip, the inside scoop of it, to offer advice and solve problems rather than to sit patiently for what wants and needs to unfold. It can be hard to remember that their story is not ours to tell.

I sometimes notice I have to stop myself from embroiling myself in another’s drama, stop the words “how can I help?” from spilling out of my mouth. It is very appealing to imagine ourselves as a “prince” riding in on a white stallion to save the day.

However, you cannot rescue people from themselves and you cannot save them from their own journeys. No matter how hard you try. It is not yours to do. If this is not yours to do, then what is – aside from your own healing journey?

Sometimes it is to hold the space, to bear witness. If the journey you hold space for is intense and heartbreaking, it can be heart wrenching to be a witness. It requires all of who you are to be present. This can seem like no action to someone who desperately wants you to intervene and yet it is sometimes the only action that is possible.

To witness another person into being. To hold the space for that healing journey. These are gifts beyond measure that would be lost if you are not up to the task of bearing witness, not up to the task of listening, or holding space, not up to the task of keeping yourself out of a story that is not yours to live or to tell.

Don’t go looking for it, but when it arrives, notice and appreciate the deep gift of bearing witness. Allow yourself to be heart broken too. Bring compassion to your listening. And, notice the person you bear witness to is not the only recipient of the gift of bearing witness.

When the Shift Happens, You Will Make the Decision

When I was in high school one of my very good friends had an on-again-off-again boyfriend. You know the kind of relationship – together for awhile, break up for awhile and back together before too long. And then there came a time, when she broke it off and it was clear it was for good; there was no turning back. Something happened. Something shifted. A clear decision was made. I later found out that a boundary had been crossed from which there was no turning back. Even though I didn’t know that in the moment, I did know she was never going back to him.

Recently, I was visiting with a friend who has been in an extremely challenging work environment where she is not respected despite the incredible value she brings to that company. She has struggled for a few years trying various things to change the nature of the relationships she must work with. And then an insight showed up resulting in connecting the dots between this situation and others in her soul journey, a shift happened and a decision has been made with clarity that will change the nature of the relationships – likely her departure from the company.

In my own soul journey, it took several subsequent insights and awarenesses added together to create a more seismic shift in order for me to make a decision – finally – to end my second marriage. I tracked a three year journey to get to that point and another nine months before the final decisions were made. Sometimes it is hard to track the more subtle shifts that happen over time that lead to the ability to make different choices but that does not mean they are not present.

When we attempt to run away, we often run back. If not to the same situation or relationship, to another one that resembles it – the same pattern. For a long time I was frustrated with my journey and life choices. I felt stuck. In Embracing the Stranger in Me: A Journey to Openheartedness I describe this journey. Several times I felt like I was at the edge of the abyss, on my tiptoes, leaning over, ready to leap … but then … stepped back. It felt so anti-climatic, almost cowardly. It was hard to hold myself in compassion and grace in those moments.

highway to heart

Over and over again, I asked the question, why have I attracted these circumstances of my life to me. Many times new answers were revealed. “Because, at some level, I feel I deserve to be treated this way.” Boom. Unable to hold some previous decisions in life I had made with compassion, I felt I deserved to be punished. “Because, if I am really as powerful as many people tell me I am, and I keep shying away from that power or cloaking it, it has taken powerful circumstances in my life to force (invite) me to step into my power.” Boom. “Because I have been repeating patterns of my mother’s life – patterns I swore not to be circumscribed by and yet here I am.” And a subsequent revelation that I was repeating patterns of my birth mother’s life long before I ever knew she existed.

What I know, what I experience, what I witness in others so often, is that the decision is made when the shift happens. And we know it when it happens because it feels different. While we may be able to accelerate the journey, it is clear that the decision does not happen until the shift occurs – subtly or dramatically.

So, if you, like I have done, are being hard on yourself because you continue to stay in circumstances you know are not good for you, yearning for a different situation, stay with the journey, stay with the questions, hold the outcomes you are seeking steadily in your awareness.

One day you will feel the shift that marks the point of no return. You will wake up on that day and declare, like I did in one moment, “I am no longer afraid!” The next steps will be appear and you will walk that path with a clarity you did not previously possess. Until that moment – and after it – hold yourself and your journey with compassion and grace – because you deserve it, because it is needed, because you are worthy.