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Archive for the ‘crisis’ Category

WHEN YOU FEEL YOU CAN’T GO ON
I’m sorry that you’re hurting so desperately right now. I know how painful the seconds, and minutes, and days can be, how long the nights are. I understand how very hard hanging on is, and how much courage it takes.

I ask though that you hold onto one day at a time. Just one day, and slowly this despair will pass. The feelings you fear you’re trapped in will serve their purpose, and then fade away. Difficult to imagine isn’t it? Almost impossible to believe when every cell in your body it seems cries out in agony, desperately in need of comfort. When it feels like the only thing in the whole world that can touch your pain and banish it is beyond your grasp. And after all this time, the assurance that you will heal has become an empty, broken promise.

Just let one tiny cell in your body continue to believe in the promise of healing. Just one. You can surrender every other cell to your despair. Just that one little cell of faith that you can heal and be whole again is enough to keep you going, is enough to lead you through the darkness. Although it can’t banish your suffering, it can sustain you until the time comes for you to let your pain go. And the letting go can only occur in its own time, as much as we would like to push the pain away forever.

Hold on. Hold on to appreciate the beauty of the earth, to feel the songs of the birds in your heart, to learn and to teach, to laugh a genuine laugh, to dance on the beach, to rest peacefully, to experience contentment, to want to be no other place but in the here and now, to trust in yourself, and to trust your life.

Hold on because it’s worth the terrible waiting. Hold on because you are worthy. Hold on because the wisdom that will follow you out of this darkness will be a tremendous gift. Hold on because you have so much love and joy waiting to be experienced. Hold on because life is precious, even though it can bring terrible losses. Hold on because there is so much that you can’t now imagine waiting ahead on your journey – a destiny that only you can fulfill. Hold on although your exhausted and your grasp is shaky, and you want more than anything to let go sometimes, hold on even though. Please hold on.

So much in life can be difficult, even impossible to understand. I know, I know… So many of us have cried in despair, “why?” “why?” “why?,” and still the answers and the comfort failed to show. Survival can be a long and lonely road, in spite of all those who’ve stumbled down the path before you. And it can be a treacherous, torturous journey – so easy to get lost, and yet impossible to avoid even one painful step.

And the light, the light at the end of the dark tunnel for so long cannot be seen, although eventually you’ll begin to feel its’ warmth as you move forward. And forward you must move in order to get through the hell of remembering, of despair, of rage, of grief. Keep looking forward please. Rest if you must, doubt your ability to survive the journey if you have to, but never let go of the guide ropes, although when you close your fingers around them, your hands feel empty, they are there. Please trust me, they are there…

When you’re exhausted, when all you have to count on is a weakened, weary faith, hold on. When you think you want to die, hold on until you recognize that it’s not death you seek, but for the pain to go away. Hold on, because this darkness will surely fade away.

Hold on…Please hold on.

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From my perspective, one of the wisest and most beautiful observations made about change and transformation was that of Rita Ghatourey who wrote, “The most sacred place dwells within our heart, where dreams are born and secrets sleep, a mystical refuge of darkness and light, fear and conquest, adventure and discovery, challenge and transformation. Our heart speaks for our soul every moment while we are alive. Listen… as the whispering beat repeats: be…gin, be…gin, be…gin. It’s really that simple. Just begin… again.”

And for those of us whose lives are quaking, and those whose hearts are being urged to begin again, here’s an interesting, informative, and even comforting talk.

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view from my bedroom window by Kristen Fowles
Please forgive me for not writing in some time, this has been a period of deep reflection, soul searching, and exploration for me.

In his book, “The House of Belonging,” Poet David Whyte wrote the following:

“Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.”

I have been daring the dark and as I’ve travelled further into the deep, into and beyond the confinement of my own aloneness, the dark has truly served me. And out of its depths I have emerged stronger, wiser, and more alive than ever before.

And I am here right now to lovingly and gently reassure that when you find yourself in darkness, don’t be afraid . The dark promises a new beginning — allow it to nurture and to stretch you. Say “yes” to it’s invitation for you to grow beyond the safety of your current boundaries. Say “yes” as you step courageously over the threshold.

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Then my world exploded.  Kristen shared a terrible secret that she’d been baring the weight of alone for far too long.  When she was a child, a family member had sexually and emotionally abused her repeatedly over a period of years.

As a therapist who had witnessed the unfathomable devastation of child abuse far too many times, I’d been determined to keep my child safe.  I’d carefully screened the few people who had access to her when she wasn’t in my presence, we had completed the coloring book that described red light/green light touches when she was four, and had read and discussed a children’s book developed to provide children with tools that would serve to protect them from sexual abuse.  We rehearsed what she should do if someone touched her inappropriately or frightened her, and had talked about the importance of never keeping secrets that made her feel “yucky.”

And now I knew throughout my body and soul what I had only known intellectually – no child is ever truly safe.  I had failed to protect my innocent little girl.  In fact, we had welcomed the devil into our family.  And now I was careening into a terrible darkness, on fire with rage, repeatedly tortured by images of my precious child’s abuse, and brutalized by the utterly overwhelming twins of grief and guilt.

In November of 2012 my mother died at 4:20 on a Sunday morning.  The two days preceding her death had been excruciating, and I am thankful that I was stroking her face and singing her a love song when she finally sighed deeply and slipped away.

My heart was far too full of grief, love and regret to make room for my brain to fully absorb her death at first.  In fact, I’m still in the process of coming to terms with the painful truth that she is never, ever coming back to me.  And although I was no stranger to the heaviness of loss and grief, for days following her death I was struck almost mute by the weight of a heart that was so swollen and bruised, I was absolutely exhausted from carrying it around.

In Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places, James Hollis points out that the word for grief originates from the latin term, “gravis,” which translates as “to bear,” and observes, “To experience grief is not only to bear the heaviness of the condition but, again, to testify to its depth as well.”  The gravity of my grief lead me down into the depths of both my longing and my love.  One moment I was strong.  I was the comforter and the matriarch.  And the next, I was weeping without warning — a motherless child, a guilt stricken mother, a woman underwater clamoring for breath.

Three months after losing my mother, I unexpectedly lost my oldest childhood friend, my anam cara – my soul sister…

I still remember the first moment that I saw her. She was a tiny little waif, leaning lightly against my grandmother and laughing at something that had just been said. I was a lover of fairy tales and with her blonde hair, dancing blue eyes, and sweet pixie face, my eight year old self quickly concluded that here standing right before me, in my very own kitchen, was Goldilocks!

At eight she enchanted me, by ten she was fully integrated into my family, and by twelve she was my confidant and best friend.  I’m not sure when she became my sister and a vital part of me, but she did.

Her maiden name was Joy, which was both fitting and ironic.  As a young child she and her younger brothers had been removed from her parents and placed into foster care. As a very young woman, one of her brothers was diagnosed with schizophrenia, followed by the death of his twin. Her only consolation was that she had been with him when he heaved his last breath.  Next, not long after she and her estranged father began building a relationship, he perished from lung cancer. And then, eight years ago, her husband of nineteen years (and my first love) went to work one morning and never came home. He died instantly, leaving her to finish raising three of their four children alone while battling the fierceness of anxiety and depression.

This past February as the abominable storm Nemo surged towards them, those same beautiful children bravely and graciously greeted friends and family who had come to honor their mother’s life. She had been admitted into the hospital with pneumonia and died there.

The amount of pain and suffering she and her children have faced at such tender ages was and is completely incomprehensible to me, and the urge to bellow up at the heavens, “why!! why!!!!  Why!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” sat wound tightly in my chest for weeks, threatening to explode and scatter shards of my shattered self everywhere. In fact, the urge rises up even now from the center of my chest as I write these words and something terrible and dense comes to occupy the space around my lungs and heart.

For the last three springs of her life I had  told her that I thought I could manage a visit during the summer, and yet had found myself apologizing each autumn when my plans to visit fell through.  I believed that we’d have many more summers, plenty of time.

She called me right after my mother died and left a message explaining that she understood that I might not have the energy to call back right away, (I didn’t) and that she would simply be waiting and available to me when I was ready to talk. She emailed me before Christmas and warned me that the holidays would be brutal, but that I’d get through them. I emailed her back and thanked her, promising that I’d call her soon. That was our final contact.  I ache still with the knowledge that there will be no more phone calls, no more heart to heart talks, no more promises, and no more summer adventures to plan.  I have lost my soul sister, and along with her I have lost a piece of myself.  I love and long for her fiercely now.

I’m unspeakably grateful for my years as a therapist, and for the fifteen years that I spent researching trauma and transformation in earnest before my own life spiraled so out of control.  I can’t imagine how I would have possibly moved through the pain, fear, and chaos that has occupied so much of my life during these past few years without having witnessed time and time again the tremendous strength and resilience of my clients, and the stubborn albeit shaky faith that I would be able to emerge deepened and refined by the excruciating yoga of despair that I’d gotten lost in.

And now at 12:01 on Wednesday, January the first, 2014, I am thinking about two questions Dawna Markova posed in her book, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life and that I have asked myself repeatedly during these past three years, “what if the moments of the greatest wounding in your life were also places where the divine crossed your path, and the unquenchable dream of your life was born?…what do you love that is bigger than this wound?”   While my answer to the second question has remained steadfast, it is only recently that I have been able to fully recognize where the divine had indeed penetrated my  darkness.  I know now beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are surrounded by new life even in the midst of death, and that poet, Mark Neppo spoke the truth when he pointed out that “each cocoon must break so the next butterfly can be.  And it is our curse and blessing to die and be born so many times.  So many sheddings.  So many wings.”

When sunlight greets this first day of the New Year, I will welcome it with a heart that now holds as much gratitude as it does pain, and with a life that contains a love that is far greater than its wounds.

 

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Each Day is a Gift

Photographer: Kristen Fowles

The following is the first of three related blog posts.

On this, the last day of  2013,  I am reflecting on the past three years — years that have  proven to be the most painful and challenging of my adult life — my very own dark ages.  These have been years that have both tested and shattered me.  Years that I have needed every bit of wisdom and skill accumulated over a life time to pick up the pieces of my broken self.  Years that broke my heart and beat me down.  Years that I would never ever want to face again, years that had I been forewarned about, I would have run from screaming.

Why am I about to share such a huge part of my personal life here in this blog?  Because of an email that a young woman sent me.  An email that contained so much despair that it kept me tossing and turning last night until the wee hours of this morning.  She ended her email by writing that while she appreciated my wisdom and compassion, she knew that I couldn’t possibly understand, and though I had worked hard and deserved all of the wonderful gifts that my life contained, I had not had to face anything like what she was confronting now.   She concluded that some things that happen to us simply demolish us, leaving us without hope and in total darkness.

I wrote back to her explaining that I know all too well about fumbling hopelessly in the dark along an uncharted path which offered inadequate shelter and no exits.  During these past three years I’ve  endured pain so heavy and dense that even now it can literally take my breath away, have suffered so intensely that my body has still not recovered, and have fought to control a rage so consuming that I sometimes fear it will  burn me alive if I fail to break completely free of it.  Living has hurt, hurt desperately.  And much of what I have lost can never, ever be recovered.

I will share some of what these past three years have contained in my next two blog posts, as I am only now beginning to truly fathom how they have shattered, tested, taught and transformed me.  I am sharing this painful part of my life in order to connect with, reassure, and honor all of those who have lived through or are suffering through their own period of pain and darkness.  They are my sisters and brothers and I am holding them close in my heart as I write…

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I’ve been neglecting this blog as I continue to work on my book, “Dancing in the Dark: Lessons from our Darkest Nights.” And because I still can’t seem to manage to create a new entry today, I want to share a piece that I wrote several years ago.  Although it isn’t new, I feel it flowing after all of these years still straight through my heart.

You sit before me now, head down, while your face seeks shelter in your hands. “I failed,” you confess, sounding hollow and broken. I attempt to comfort and reassure you. When you finally look up at me, I’m not seen, and not heard. You’re so lost inside of your pain and disappointment that my words can’t find you. I can’t find you. And so we sit silently beside one another for a time, both feeling inadequate. You’re hurting so much right now, feeling lost and more than a little sick inside. In my silence, I try to communicate to you that you’re not alone. I’m here. Right beside you. And I still believe in you.

Later, I decide to write you a letter – one you can carry in your pocket to remind you of my caring. A note to read when you’re more open to my message. I know it won’t take your pain away or magically transform your beliefs, but maybe it can hold a seed, one that might eventually emerge from the rich and fertile ground in which I so lovingly planted it.

And so you failed. And this failure wounds you so profoundly that its penetrated deep into your psyche.  It may have even become an integral part of who you believe yourself to be today.

Today, you look into your mirror and see a failure. I look into your eyes and see the wisdom born of pain. And it hurts, this learning. I know. I know. I’ve felt its sting before. I’ve been thoroughly haunted by my own mistakes, miscalculations, and self-judgement. I’ve fallen too. Again and yet again.

Just like you, I forget during those moments when my folly is first discovered – what I know. What we both know. Defeat isn’t the theme of our unique stories, it isn’t what defines who we are, where we’ll go or who we’ll become. It only reminds us that we’re not alone. That we share the legacy of all human-kind, that we all will fail from time to time. Each of us stumbles and gets wounded in the fall. Failure, my dear, dear, friend, is a natural offshoot of growth. We churn in it, learn from it, and we become stronger as we struggle to recover from it.

In a commencement address delivered at Moorpark College in 1989, James D. Griffen remembered John Kennedy O’Toole, a young writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Imagine what it would have felt like to him to achieve this coveted award. How successful, how triumphant, how wonderful he would have felt. I say “would of” because we’ll never know how he might have felt. He’ll never know. We can only imagine on his behalf, because he never lived to claim his prize. After being rejected by seventeen publishers, he committed suicide. What a strange term, “to commit” suicide, when the act is above all else, a lack of commitment.

We must all hold fast in the darkness, for regardless of the blackness which may surround us – light always eventually illuminates our path. Always…

Experience fully the pain of your failure. You must, bless you. I know you must. But when your body and soul grows weary of the sadness, the recriminations, the “what ifs” (and they will), accept the compensations, (however modest) that accompany your misfortune. Learn the lessons that follow behind them. They’ll serve you well. You’ll be wiser, stronger, and more prepared for the rest of your journey if you take them with you. Rest now if you need to. Grieve if you must. And when you’re ready to collect them, let me know. I’ll gladly help you gather them up.

So what’s the moral of this story? Your story? It’s not a story about loss, deficiency, and flaws. It’s a story about lessons learned, overcoming, moving forward and onward, and most importantly – it is a story about hope.

Some of my most cherished tales have touched my heart and at the same time they have made me weep. And though I’m sad for you right now, I want you to know my weary friend, that I love your story still…

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I’d like to warmly and humbly share a gift with you today in honor of Father’s day. For the rest of this month you can listen to the audiobook, “Discovering Meaning,” for free! “Discovering Meaning: Living and Loving the Good Life” is the second of four audiobooks in the “BirthQuake: Journey to Wholeness” series.

“The Birthquake: Journey to Wholeness series is one of those rare finds written by a psychotherapist that not only enlightens, inspires, and comforts – it befriends and embraces the listener. It’s the culmination of the author’s many years of research, clinical experience and perhaps most importantly, her own life lessons. The BirthQuake series is an invaluable tool for anyone who has ever struggled or stands anxiously at a crossroad.”

Listen to Part One
Listen to Part Two

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As a therapist who walks beside others who struggle with depression, and as a woman who has endured its devastating blows myself,  I’m all too aware of what overcoming it demands of us.  We are required to hold on even as our grasp weakens,  overwhelmed by dread and hopelessness.  The pull of life  insists that we get up and face the day when all we really want to do is cover up our heads and refuse to come out.  And we are called during our long dark nights to recognize that those voices (all too often the loudest and the most convincing) that repeatedly remind us of all the ways that we have been wounded and taunts us with our failures, disappointments, and of the vast array of dangers that surround us, can not and  must  not be trusted.  And when almost every fiber of our being seems to be shutting down, we are challenged to acknowledge that the gaping wound inside of us is also an opening – one that is capable of ushering in as much possibility as it does pain.

Dancer and wisdom keeper, Gabrielle Roth,  who died from lung cancer this past October, just one month before my mother lost her own battle with lung cancer, wrote that in many shamanic cultures when someone sought a medicine person because he or she was disheartened or depressed, it was common for the sufferer  to be asked one of the following four questions:

“When did you stop dancing?

When did you stop singing?

When did you stop being enchanted by stories?

When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

As I sat yesterday in the gloaming, mellowed by the sweet territory of silence, I asked myself those questions.  And as I waited for answers, memories of my mother floated in and out of my consciousness.   As a child she  created entire universes within the magic and mystery of her own imagination, enchanted her husband as a young woman by belting out country songs about cheating hearts and lovin eyes, and captivated her eldest daughter with tales of  an abused and abandoned little girl and her faithful dog, buddy.   My mother taught me so much with her stories, and it was both the bitter and the sweet of her own life that offered up multiple lessons regarding how to live, what’s important, what needs to be let go of,  and what’s essential to remember.

And at this moment I am remembering one of my favorite stories of my mother as a child.  She was five years old and it was her first  day of kindergarten.  My grandmother was helping her get ready for school and she was both excited and terribly anxious.  As her mother combed her fine brown hair, she peppered her with the following questions.

“Can I come home if I miss you too much?” she asked.

“No.  You need to stay until the school day is over,” her mom replied.

“Can you come and visit me?” she bargained.

“No.  School is for children, not for mothers,” answered her mother.

“Can I sing in school?” my 5 year old mother asked hopefully.

“No Brenda.  You have to be quiet and listen to your teacher.”

“Can I play?”  she asked tremulously.

“Only at recess.  You go to school to learn,” my grandmother explained.

“Well, can I dance?”

“No Brenda.  You have to sit in your seat,”  her mother responded firmly.

“Well,” the tiny child sighed,  holding her skinny little arms over her head as she started to twirl round and around, “then, I’d better dance now.”

And I see her in my minds eye still, almost fifty years from the time that  I first heard this story, and feel my soul reaching out to the child that I came to cherish almost as dearly as I loved the mother that she would grow up to be,  and I am smiling and I am weeping now as I imagine her yet again, swirling around the kitchen, pig tails flying, dancing.

Both Gabrielle Roth and Brenda Byram are with us no longer but their legacy lives on – dance.  Dance even as your heart breaks, dance even as your body bends from the terrible gravity of grief, dance even though your stomach aches and your heart trembles.  Dance.  Dance while you can….

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I  just finished reading Rocky Braat’s blog, a young man who is devoting  his life to serving poor orphaned and abandoned children stricken with aids in India    I read  his blog surrounded by creature comforts in a land of plenty while our collective national preoccupation appears to be our faltering economy.  I read two days following a holiday still deemed by many to be sacred in spite of the sad fact that its primary message appears to have become “buy this.”   I read in my warm and cozy room, shaken once again by the profound suffering and deprivation  that exists in other parts of the world, and by the spiritual poverty that threatens  my own country.

Braat observes, “very few people in the West recognize how often the white knights of citizenship, medicine, and raw, brutal wealth sweep us up in their powerful arms and bear us from the battleground of suffering. Our bank accounts, our families, our insurance policies and hospitals, our consulates and ambassadors have so often rescued us from folly and misfortune that our psyches cannot squarely contemplate the torment that is the lot of the truly poor. ”

In the midst of our pain and our shame and our debt, there are alternative stories to the “Buy Me”  story so prevalent in the United States.  Following is one of those alternative stories, told by  activist and philanthropist, Lynn Twist.

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Today was a perfect autumn day, the kind that calls me out of my head and into my senses. The kind that finds me with my car windows rolled down and the music loud. The kind that makes me feel giddy and free. The kind that’s drenched in vibrant color and sunshine during the day, and graced with the scent of baking apples and cinnamon at dinner time. The kind that says to me, “hey, just maybe you can spend each and every day living in ‘radical amazement’ – each and every day – even the hard ones.”

There’s such sweet celebration and melancholy in autumn – temperatures drifting down, mists rising, the ancient choreography of birds embarking on their long migration, the harvest moon – an enchanting paradise so soon to be lost as nature once again begins her inevitable journey into the frigid arms of winter.

While the autumn advances and the leaves deepen and dazzle before relinquishing their hold on the bodies that have sustained them, my mother’s own grasp weakens as her cancer progresses and her spirit quickens. My love of nature has never been more acute than in autumn and I have never loved my mother more fiercely than right now.

I walk along the shore of Wolfe’s Neck woods, hear crows cawing in the distance, tilt my face up towards a gentler sun that caresses now instead of scorches. I’m both awed and saddened at the same time. I wonder how much of life is at its most beautiful just before dying. Is this the truest bitter gift of death, that life becomes oh so much sweeter?

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

Ammidst the loss, the longing, the life, and the love, I am amazed……

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