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.

Extend Love From a Tender, Openhearted Space

slide1In this time of growing fear and anxiety about the future, about the unknown, about strangers, tap into that tender openhearted space within and extend love. First to yourself – a warm loving embrace to acknowledge the fear and then tap into gentleness, kindness and generosity.

Then to the people you know and love. Because we need to hold our loved ones close and turn to each other in times of chaos and uncertainty.

And then, the most generous act of all – extend kindness and love to people you do not yet know, remembering our common core of humanity, that the shortest distance between two people is a story and that most of us in our hearts want peace, a safe place to live and a future to live into.

Learn the story of a neighbour, a co-worker or someone you bump into in the coffee shop, someone you have met and are curious about but have not yet chatted with. Go to places you would not ordinarily go – to a place of worship of a different religion, to community centers, to peace gatherings. Become educated and aware of different people’s experiences that are different from your own.

Doing this we grow our circles of support, our trust and our faith in humanity.

Give Yourself Permission to Feel

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Emotions are your guidance system. They tell you when your boundaries have been violated. This could involve a violation of your values, your way of life, your sense of integrity or your sense of what is appropriate. Even things that are happening on local, national and international scales can result in a sense of personal violation.

Right now many people are expressing many conflicting emotions and, even still, it may be hard to acknowledge and speak the depth of them. Sometimes we want to diminish our emotions so we will speak of anger but not rage, of disappointment but not betrayal. We might need to expand our emotional vocabulary.

In these days and the times leading up to these days, many people have felt, do feel, betrayed – by people, by systems, by government, by institutions, more – and have lacked the language and the means to express it. If we do not know how to language it, it can be hard to discover how to move past it. Sometimes it is not through language that we find the place of healing, it is in other forms of expression – tears, wailing, howling at the moon.

Sense into your emotions. Let them rage if that is what is needed now. Find language or other means to express it and look for healthy outlets – exercise, activism, hugging loved ones, joining a circle or support group, or whatever it is that allows you to channel your emotional experience in ways where you can stay in your own integrity.

Give yourself permission to feel, even if that feels scary. The only way to is through.

Connect to You This Week

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We each have access to infinite wisdom. We have channels to the greater universe. One way access it is to take a few minutes to connect to yourself, your inner knowing and wisdom. To do this, take a moment to turn off or tune out distractions.

Close your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

And another.

Breathe in until your whole body expands.

Breathe out until your whole body relaxes. This will slow you down and for some, that is all it will take.

Additional suggestions for those who need gentle nudges:

  • Light a candle and be fully present as you do so
  • Reflect
  • Invite images to come into your awareness and trust in what arrives
  • Journal
  • Drum, sing, dance
  • Pull tarot cards
  • Drink tea
  • Go outside, put your feet on the ground (even with shoes on), take a walk
  • Notice the beauty around you (yes, it is there too)
  • Tune into positive messages
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Turn off social media
  • Reach out to a friend

It does not need to take a long time. A moment can make a big difference. However you choose to connect with yourself will be lovely.

How will you connect with yourself this week?

Today, Finally, I Cried

This is the first morning in weeks I woke up alone in my house. As I sat with my coffee, taking in more of the stories, today, finally, I cried.

tears-of-the-heart

It is just over 3 weeks since the US election. The world has fundamentally changed. Yet, for me, much is the same in my life and work. No on the ground ripple – not yet. I have watched my news feed spiral almost out of control with stories of anxiety, grief, fear. I have read so many stories of people who have felt the fall out, have experienced first hand the overtness of anger and violence that once simmered under the surface and now is being expressed in checkouts at grocery stores, shouted slurs on the street, hateful words painted on people’s houses and cars. Divides that are tearing families apart.

I have read the stories of people whose wounds have been opened wider, being re-wounded by the level of public discourse that has misogyny, sexism, racism running more visibly and publicly than it has in some time. More of the undercurrents we do not always see.

I witness the spillover of fragmentation, polarization and fear across international boundaries from Brexit, the US election, France, Turkey and even here in Canada where it felt like we escaped from the brink of this in our own election to new disruptions surfacing with various provincial or party elections.

I am heartsick that women do not support the emancipation of women and do not support women’s rights. I am aghast at levels of misogyny so deeply entrenched in society that some women will subjugate themselves to it without conscious awareness. That people see others of a different colour, nationality or background as somehow less than. That there are white men who believe that they are somehow entitled because of the colour of their skin and their gender.

I am heartsick for the stand off at Standing Rock, the difference between how that situation and white resistance is handled. I am heartsick for an earth that is bleeding and hurting and for people who do not want to see what is right in front of their eyes.

I am heartsick for those who pine for a way of life that no longer exists, that is remembered in an idealized memory, who want the world to go back to a way that it was or a way that they wished it had been but maybe never really existed.

Not being able to predict the future – ever, but certainly not now in some of the most unpredictable times I have witnessed in my life time, I do experience fear and anxiety about the world stage, about what will happen next. I hold the grief of my own experience and of all of the stories I read.

teardrops-flowerI have also read the stories of so much courage. People standing up, holding the space for others who are under attack, coming to the support of people through words and deeds, rising to their openhearted humanity.

I noticed for awhile that the positive focus, the positive, aspirational things I usually post got lost in advocating for and against politicians and political stances. I need to continue to be aware and definitely stay woke and gradually I have noticed a resumption for me of more inspiring stories, a focus on the future I want to move towards.

I do not know that I can influence the course of world events. But I can do what is within my power to do. Last week, my partner, son and I took part in a community dinner in Halifax, sharing Thanksgiving with newcomer families who have been refugees. We met a lovely Syrian family who live near us and it was a heartwarming experience. Four hundred people in all showed up for the dinner hosted by Engage Nova Scotia.

The Worldview Intelligence work my partner and I do is focused on creating exploratory space between people with differing worldviews – from slight differences to vast differences. And even though sometimes we wonder how to bridge the vastest differences, we just keep putting one foot in front of the other and bringing this work where it wants to go. And it is important work in the world right now.

I hold my family close and focus on the issues and joys that we need to deal with – report cards, weddings, careers, Christmas.

I hope if I am called to courage in a public space to support someone I may or may not know that I will find it within me to rise to that challenge. I hope nations find it within themselves to rise to the courage that is needed now. I hope that the seeds of disturbance have answering seeds of courage and renewal with more of us determined to find more ways forward that embrace the diversity of the fullness of humanity.

And in holding all my own conflicting feelings, in holding so much of the grief that is spilling over in the world right now, in a quiet moment all by myself this morning, with my coffee, today, finally, I cried.

tears_in_heaven_dev_by_kuschelirmel-d6hzeuy