In her book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt defines wonder as “an attitude of mind and heart, a graced completion of a circle between observer and observed. Wonder is not a given; it is contingent on the habit of being that allows it to arise”. I have written about wonder ever since attending a Landmark workshop in Quebec last summer. I have attempted to create a practice of wonder for the past several months. Ms. Haupt’s definition brings me to a new level of awareness of a “wonder practice”.
There is something about looking out at the ocean from my terrace that encourages a practice of wonder and a way of being is cultivated that is open to wonder. The experience of being with the ocean lends itself to wondrous inquiry. Gazing at the horizon, I am often freed from the mundane thoughts that shape my day in the form of to do lists. Instead I drift and float with the movement of the waves. My listening is narrowed to the sounds of the rhythm of the waves as they move in and out from the shore. My senses are engaged and I am present to my breath and to the breathing of the universe. My mind is quieted and my imagination is freed from the cage of rational thinking. There are no enemies in this wondrous realm – I am just being with the cumulative forces of life.
These moments of wonder allow me respite from the daily wear and tear of my life: burdensome thoughts that create fearful internal states. The thoughts sound like: will I get cancer, will I have enough money to live on until I die, will I meet another wonderful man with whom I can co-create a lasting loving relationship, will we as a species find a way to honor diversity and do no harm to others, who will win the elections in November, and what will happen to our environment. In a practice of wonder, there is a freeing up, a liberation within intrapsychic spaces which brings forth creativity, energy, and possibilities. No longer are the questions fear driven, instead they are cast in lightness and generativity: the quality of the wondering shifts to themes such as what contribution will I make in my remaining days, who can I share my wisdom with today, what if I just surrender to a sense of faith that I will form a lasting relationship with a wonderful man and that he will arrive when he arrives, in what ways am I here on this planet to be of service, how can I help in the ways that I can, I wonder what can I do today to bring beauty and grace to those I meet.
I hope to leave you with a sense of wonder in your own lives. Is it possible that we can cultivate a habit of wonder at the drop of a hat – not only when alone with the ocean, but also when in the middle of a crowded grocery store when pandemonium engulfs us. This is I think at the heart of Haupt’s query into wonder as an attitude of mind and heart working together. My motto for this week is “think less, wonder more!”
Facts, nothing but the facts ma’am. This is what has happened: I was suddenly widowed 4 years ago after 23 years in a wonderful marriage. I went through a very severe depression for 2 years. I gained 40 lbs. I began to come out of the fog about 2 years ago. I started working out and lost 25 of those pounds. I started online dating a year and a half ago at the age of 61. I have been dating a nice man for the past six months. I met him through a friend. It has been a lovely, fun, and overall delightful experience. I fell in love with him. The relationship began to unravel several weeks ago. We were dialoguing about the relationship. About 3 weeks ago, I detected he was pulling away subtlety. This felt painful to me and I suggested that we begin the process of saying goodbye. I have not heard one word from him since, despite my numerous attempts to reach out to him. I have felt hurt, angry, frustrated, confused, incredulous, and just plain disgusted. Like, “Really? At this stage of life people act like teenagers?” Duh … They do! Fortunately the NY Times recently published an article “Ghosting: the ultimate silent treatment” that speaks to this strange silence. Bottom line: when a relationship turns, silence says everything.
So now what? First of all, I realize that it is not my responsibility to try to figure out what he is thinking. That is his job. Instead, I need to look within and get clear about what I truly need at this stage of life. The ideas and questions I am beginning to explore are:
1. What am I learning about me from the different types of men I have met?
2. What do I need to do to make myself happy?
3. What do I want in future relationships?
4. My destination point is ultimately to arrive at the belief that I am full and complete without a man in my life.
5. I am waiting to arrive at this place and will only find it within myself. Life is an inside job.
6. Once I know what I need and who I am NOW, then I can be clear in my expectations of myself AND others.
7. I believe the right person will show up rather unexpectedly when I am feeling whole and complete and standing on my own two feet.
So I ask you, dear readers, to consider: What is the inside job you are currently exploring in your life?
Meanwhile, let’s enjoy our freedoms. Happy 4th of July!
We’ve each experienced those times when our plans just fall flat. Maybe you wanted to lose 5 lbs within a month and gained 2 instead. Or perhaps you envisioned finishing a work project and then got hit with the flu and you missed your deadline. It may be a situation where you have been disappointed by a partner or spouse and ended up feeling rejected and hurt. These breakdowns in life are common and often debilitating because we lose our perspective and often find ourselves spinning our wheels in response. I have learned two major lessons about breakdowns: 1) they usually get resolved so we don’t always need to sweat the small stuff and 2) we can reach out for help as required, because two heads are better than one. I have discovered in my four years as a widow that moving from breakdown to breakthrough is an inside job. What do I mean by this? Let me give you a personal example. I dread spending Sunday’s alone. There is a personal history involved with this – Both my husband and father died suddenly on a Sunday. When dread overwhelms me I feel vulnerable, scared, and incapable of comforting myself. The ways I repress the dread revolve around food and money. I mask it by overspending, overeating, and yes drinking too much at times. So I am learning now, 4 years into the journey as a single woman, to reach into a tool box of inner resources. A few days before Easter, I did not have definitive plans. I dreaded the thought of being alone and not included and yet I did not take action to create plans. I recognized that I was playing a familiar game of waiting for a particular kind of invitation, predicting that I wouldn’t receive it, and then I would end up being alone and not included. No big surprise: being alone is a large part of being single. One of the inner resources I pulled from my tool box was recognizing the familiar pattern, reaching out to my good friends, and making plans that ended up being fun. I did not overspend or overeat, bit I did indulge in too much champagne. Hey I am not shooting for perfection but for those whispers of wisdom that are there for me if I listen closely, feel deeply, and think clearly about what is happening in my inner world.
Part of the journey of life requires developing a strong mental muscle that allows us to step back from a situation, talking to ourselves in a strong and loving way about what is happening, and to ultimately not react from a young and impulsive state of mind. We have seen little kids screaming, crying, and just a bundle of emotions – they have not developed the mental muscle I am referring to in this post. Here’s the not so good news: we adults still react from a very young part of our minds when confronted by challenging situations. Hence the high rates of impulsive drinking, eating, and buying behaviors we observe In ourselves and our friends.
My prescription for developing mental muscle in order to have a breakthrough: Stop, take a deep breath, calm down, evaluate what is occurring, identify the not so positive, yet familiar inner story we are telling ourselves, think things over before responding, and then file this information for future reference. In my case, I will plan to have people over to my place when the next holiday arrives. People love my place on the ocean! Cheers!
I have looked life in the face with open eyes. I have learned that it takes courage to keep both feet in the game of life. I have learned since being on my own that I need to say NO to so many urges and impulses. Saying NO to the impulse is putting off short term gratification. This NO in facts transforms into a YES for long term satisfaction.
I recently interviewed for a full time teaching position. I learned yesterday that I was not chosen for the job. How do I feel? Sad, disappointed, relieved, and angry. What do I want to do in the wake of being told NO? I want to indulge myself with anything and everything: clothes, food, alcohol, a massage, a trip, perfume, etc. Buy, eat, indulge – a very different message than EAT, PRAY, LOVE! My financial reality tells me NO. My commitment to losing 20 lbs this year says NO. I cannot say yes to these impulses in order to mask my feelings for the short term relief. Instead, I am swallowing the multi-layers of reality: I was told no about the job. I am telling myself no to the impulses in order to stay aligned with my goals. Paradoxically, IN THE LONG RUN, I am saying YES to financial integrity, physical health, mental wellness, and prosperity. The meaning of the word prosperity is frequently intertwined with wealth and money. In fact, the word prosperity is actually rooted in a sense of well being NOT how much wealth and money one has, but more so how well one is doing in life.
In her book The Energy of Money, Author Maria Nemeth states that money can be the source of great joy and creativity or it can bring frustration and misery. “Everything we do and dream of is affected by our relationship with this powerful form of ENERGY”. I am creating a new relationship with money – treating it as a friend rather than an unwanted guest who takes up residence in my life. When I go for short term gratification, I disempower myself and don’t acquire the wisdom that comes with waiting for the feelings to be embraced and digested and for the impulse to pass. I sabotage the opportunity to acquire the power I need to live a meaningful and successful life. Because money is energy, the impulses we experience to spend it are actually an effect of an energetic movement, like when the wind moves through our hair.
Maria Nemeth shares a great equation: Knowledge (like establishing goals) plus Wisdom (for example riding out the need to respond to the impulse) Equals POWER (being accountable, staying on track, reaching the goal). So rather than hiding out under my covers today, I went for a 4 mile walk along the ocean. Just say NO to the easy fix and say YES to the possibility of being accountable. Just say YES … you betch’em Red Rider!
I had a meltdown yesterday and it is only December 2! After an intense session with my analyst, I returned home, ate lunch, and felt exhausted. I took a 2 1/2 hour nap with my cats and woke up feeling tired. Then I spotted the familiar red wrapped boxes in my kitchen. The day before I bought several boxes of See’s candy to give to various people. I didn’t think twice – I ripped open one of the boxes and proceeded to eat 7 pieces of candy. I then made coffee and was able to work for a few hours from the mixture of sugar and caffeine. I felt no guilt. So what was the emotional trigger? I confronted yet again the reality that I miss Roy and our holiday traditions and I am not in a serious love relationship yet (by my own choice). I feel alone.
Last week I decorated my place with our decorations, as well as those of my mother’s that I have. Now she and Roy are both dead – just writing that four letter word “dead” feels sad and heavy. I started playing holiday music on Thanksgiving eve – an annual tradition I started with Roy several years ago. The tradition was a fun and humorous point of contention between us because Roy didn’t really like listening to holiday music all day, every day, for 30 days. So now when I hear the music I reflect on how much I miss his sarcasm about the music and yet, I still love listening to it. I am grateful that I can listen to it again and that I decorated for the holidays.
Three years after Roy’s death, the holidays still warrant critical focus on physical, emotional and spiritual self care. So what am I doing? I have my five day per week exercise routine that I stick to, I eat sensibly and allow for holiday cheer in moderation (the other boxes of See’s candy will be delivered tomorrow and I put the one I attacked in the garbage this morning), I see my analyst, I journal, I work on my projects, I pray as I look at the ocean each morning, I help others by giving my time to charities I support, and I am making plans with friends and family for fun outings between now and January 1, 2015. I am creating balance in my days. I have carved out time for quiet reflection, as well as dates to be with people I love and feel at home with. This is critical for those of us who have endured the loss of loved ones. I don’t believe it is healthy to spend a great deal of time alone or to be so overextended with activities that we are tired and disconnected from our core self. Balance is the name of the game.
As a mental health practitioner and a widow of 3+ years, I know that holidays are particularly hard for those who are grieving. If grief is new to you, then your capacity to plan activities might be hindered – let someone help you plan what you will do or have someone stay with you. The late French author Romain Rolland says: “Be reverent, before the dawning day. Do not think of what will be in a year, or in ten years. Just think of today.” So whether grief is new or familiar, take good care of you right now. Cry, sob, rest, pray, eat, and love – that is enough for this holiday season.
The poet of the sixties, Rod McKuen wrote this short poem: “where do they go the friends who come into our lives like green leaves and leave like melting snow?” I think of this poem today as I remember the sunrise that I saw this morning. I was up early enough to see it because a good friend who lives 80 miles north and had a meeting close to me spent the night and needed to be on the road for her early morning meeting. Because we are participating in an an empowering program about life and relationships, she and I sat this morning with freshly brewed coffee and looked out at the ocean together and discussed men, life, and dating. And there like a magnificent expression of love from nature came this incredible majestic pink sunrise – a gift for both of us. We were in awe as we fell into silence and were at one with the sunrise. Because I was up early with my friend, I was given this gift to start my day. How wonderful is that? Pretty darn wonderful I would say. It has helped me think of this season of Thanksgiving and recall my friends and family. It is through friends that I have healed and that I can take such pleasure again in the richness of a sunrise. This is the season to not only count our blessings but also the time of year to prepare for the darkness of winter. The ancient cultures experienced the darkening of winter as a time for retreat and contemplation. In the darkness they prepared for the eventual return of light. In our modern world we follow similar rhythms in our busy lives: gathering for holidays with friends and family or retreating into nature or homes for quiet self reflection. Our modern psyches require an acknowledgement of the changing seasons and the shortening of days just as our ancestors did.
When I think back to the first Thanksgiving after Roy¹s death, I recognize that grief can be experienced like a season – a winter of the soul. Now that I have emerged from the season of grief, I notice the sunrises, the sadness of friends, the complexities of the world, the joy of my cats, and the awakening sensuality of my life. I am alive, aware and resilient. I often remind myself how is incredible it is to have more and more moments of feeling alive and engaged with the world after such a long season of withdrawal. I find my unfolding relationship to life to be like the new friend McKuen describes.. With luster and the green of new possibility. The grief has melted away … Leaving me moist and fertile for what life has to offer, always aware of the tenuousness of life. I am blessed … And for that I am grateful.
Happy Thanksgiving. Count your blessings … They are there – even in the winter season of grief.
Recently I was asked why I share such personal information on my blog. The questioner stated that he could not imagine “revealing” this kind of material in a public forum. I have been thinking about this query for the past couple of weeks. The verb to reveal comes from the 14th century old French reveler which means to uncover, to disclose, to “unveil”. The mission of my blog is to share my personal story, inform, educate, and ultimately contribute to the well-being of others who have lost a significant other and are attempting to find their footing in the new world in which they are living. In order to do this, I must “remove the veil” that could keep a distance between me and you my reader about the real experiences I encountered along my journey. I am compelled to tackle the deeper/harder issues that one encounters during grief because I believe the spirit of my experience will come through and reach people more authentically than if I stayed hidden behind a veil of discretion or academic writing. I can talk about my descent to the underworld of grief, as well as my ascent back to the world of the living. I am a straight shooter and believe that declarative writing serves me best because it allows me to make my experiences known thus allowing me to offer reflections and hopefully a life line to others. The late Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung talks about the value of going into the depths of one’s experience in order to open oneself beyond the personal ego. He believed that individuals grow continually in psychic awareness by paying attention to dreams, exploring the worlds of religion and spirituality, and questioning the assumptions of the operant societal world views.
I had a very important dream roughly two weeks after Roy’s death. In the dream, I am in Israel and dressed in the clothes that I wore to Roy’s funeral – an ankle length black skirt, a black blouse and vest and black sandals. I am walking on an old cobblestone road and I notice the architecture of buildings from ancient Israel. I am leading the funeral procession of friends and family to the cemetery. Roy’s casket is behind me in a horse drawn cart and following the casket is a very large group of family members and friends. At one point I look back at the group and tell them to settle down as they were too boisterous and not showing the decorum I felt was fitting to the occasion. As I turn back to look ahead, I see another funeral procession approaching us. The group draws closer and I see a Moslem woman veiled and dressed in black. She is accompanied by two family members on either side of her. I recognize she is also a widow. I take note that I walk alone and in front of the others and she is supported by two loving family members. I tell my family and friends to move to the side and let the Moslem procession pass by. As the black draped widow passes me, she and I turn toward each other and bow. We then stand up and look each other in the eyes – her black eyes are strained and filled with despair. My blue eyes are filled with tears. In the moment that our eyes connect, I know that we are acknowledging the universal pain that women have carried for centuries. Women are typically the ones who meet the caskets of husbands, sons, and daughters killed in war.
This dream told me that my pain was not only personal but one being shared by thousands of women at the same time all around the world. Women from very different cultures were experiencing pain like mine and in an odd and comforting way, I was not entirely alone in my pain. The dream spoke of my response and the other widow’s response to death, grief, and widowhood. Through our eye to eye contact, we recognized a part of our self in the other.
I hope that up to this point my posts have revealed to you that my journey of grief was gnarly. I needed a great deal of psychological, spiritual, and loving support from a diverse team of professionals, clergy, family, and close friends. Many of my family members and friends worried about me and were concerned whether I would make it back in tact to the land of the living. I think it is evident from my posts that I have returned with a depth of perspective and a wealth of experience. Life has never felt so sweet to me as it does now. For this sweetness, I am eternally grateful.
The moral of my story: Never give up on yourself or life.
Project 1-15-15 is mired in celebration, joy, passion, and well-being. I am blogging, being of service, releasing weight, being social, participating in Landmark Education, and I am healthy. Mazel tov to the possibility of life, l’chaim to life. My personal suffering has lifted and I am completely available to the possibilities that life presents daily. I am experiencing a growing trust in the process of living, loving, and laughing.
The late psychologist Erik Erickson states that trust is the first skill we learn as an infant – trust in mother to come to us when we cry, trust that we are protected from harm’s way, and trust that we will thrive in life. These are the building blocks that lead us to develop a sense of trust in ourselves. I am learning to trust me in this new phase of life. I am fully celebrating the re-emerging passion I feel growing within me each day.
In his poem “Everything is Going to Be All Right”, Irish poet Derek Mahon states “there will be dying, there will be dying, but there is no need to go into that … The sun rises inspite of everything and the far cities are beautiful and bright … Everything is going to be all right.”
I know more intimately than ever before that everything IS going to be all right. I have recognized that there is both sorrow and joy and this is the essence of life. People will die, I will die, wars will break out, disease will kill, and the beauty of a sunrise will make my heart quicken. Everything is going to be all right.
This post reflects the beginning of a new chapter in my life. One of the primary side effects of grief has a somatic nature and can be experienced as weight gain or loss. In my case, I gained a significant amount of weight as a result of the medications I took for severe depression, anxiety, deep emotional churning and distress. I used eating as a way of coping with the abject sadness that weighed on me.
On January 1 of this year I commenced Project 7-11-14 which was focused on weight loss and health, and a commitment to my professional development and goals. I also put my toe into the dating pool. So on July 11, I was in San Francisco with a good woman friend and officially toasted the successful completion of this project. I have released 12 pounds, all my health tests came back superb, my website and blog were launched, and I taught a course at a local university. Moreover, I have had approximately 2 dozen dates. I have been on fire!
So now I am beginning a new phase which I have entitled Project 1-15-15. This project continues my weight loss efforts, as well as my ongoing inner work. I am connecting with new parts of myself – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When I became a widow, I was no longer a wife. I find myself re-imagining who I am now that my primary identity as Roy’s wife is gone. The late feminist psychoanalyst Karen Horney describes the importance of unlocking a woman’s inner life – one that is not defined by what the external patriarchal world provides her. Horney encouraged women to work from the inside out, not from the outside in. What I know about my inner world is that it has been shaped by the demands of patriarchal standards – questioning whether I am thin enough, pretty enough, and smart enough to live successfully in a man’s world. What I am driven to design for myself at this stage of my life is an inner framework that challenges the patriarchal domination of my psyche. I am moving towards becoming a woman with a life of her own and with questions of her own.
The greatest joy in my life is when I am sitting at my small, round, wood-top table looking out at the ocean – my feet propped up on the chair and my body calm. These moments, minutes and oftentimes hours of being right here is a slice of heaven on earth. Often my cats join me for the quiet solitude that is brought to us through the sounds of the crushing waves, the passing by of a school of dolphins, and the swarms of pelicans that swoop by the plate glass window.
I see bright colors of red, purple and pink bougainvillea falling from the trellises, sharp pointed green cacti, and the deep blue ocean framed by the largess of a unending sky.
I begin each day in this way, make my coffee, sprinkle cat treats on the floor for my three feline friends, and open the small kitchen windows, from which I also sneak a view of the ocean.
When I sit in my chair with my freshly brewed coffee, prop my feet up and gaze at the magnificent Pacific Ocean, I am in the presence of the Divine. Since Roy’s death, I have come to depend on this ritual of welcoming the vast ocean into my day. Thank you, Gaia, for being here to support me and to remind me that Roy’s spirit is right here with me.
In these moments I am united with Roy. His spirit is now part of the Big Spirit, the Spirit that fills the ocean, embodies my feline companions, and encourages me to keep living in the physical realm. I am grateful to have this special bird’s-eye view of Mother Earth from my little corner of the world. The breeze floats in with the fresh ocean air. I smell life and I am alive.
In a week, the third anniversary of Roy’s death arrives. I am grateful for the small daily blessings that inspire me to live my life fully – honoring Roy’s memory and embracing my life. Those of us who grieve recognize these markers on our journeys knowing that life continues to unfold in wondrous ways.