Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Public Education for the Terminally Tactless

Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice
Hanlon's Razor

Tonight will be a bit of a fun perspective piece. As you are by now no doubt aware, people can say some remarkably stupid things to you in your bereavement. Even though my personality is such that people generally don't presume to give me unsolicited advice, I have still been on the receiving end of some interesting comments. One I received the day after Deb died was, "You will be strong." I figured that was code for, "Please don't burst into tears in front of me." ;-)

So, in an effort to show you that you are not alone, I've reproduced the Top Ten Dumb Remarks and Stupid Questions from WidowNet. There are actually 71 Dumb Remarks listed in the full article, and Widownet has lots of other great resources as well. A really important Grief Recovery Tool is a change of perspective, so hopefully the following can help you see your loss in a new light, and hopefully bring a smile to your lips as well:

  1. "Death happens. Get over it."

    Thank you for the deep insight from the school of T-shirt philosophy.

  2. My wife just died three weeks ago day after tomorrow (Oct. 17, 1997) after the birth of our only son. After the memorial sevice at the cemetary the family returned to the chuch where my deceased wife's grandmother commented, "At least with that precious little boy, you now qualify for FREE CHEESE!"

  3. A few say "I am so sorry. You just don't hear of anyone dying after having a baby anymore."
    Like this is suppose to comfort me?

  4. The baby's doctor said, "In the 35 years I have been a baby Dr, this has happened only 4 other times." I don't give a rat's butt how many times in the past, today it happened to me and I didn't even know I was in this lottery. Like it was a contest. I know he was just trying to relate and didn't think that it would be information I wouldn't "mind" having but guess what -- I don't care.

  5. In the limousine, on the way to my husband's memorial service, my mother-in-law blurted out: "Did anyone think to call [so-and-so]?" So-and-so was my husband's girlfriend when I met him. (He dumped her for me, but she wouldn't stop calling him trying to reconcile.) After a pregnant pause in the limo, I responded, "Well, *I* didn't call her." My mother-in-law laughed, hugged me, and said, "She always sends ME a Christmas card!"

  6. Why do you spend so much time on the computer? I'd rather talk to REAL people.
    - What does she think we are - FAKE people?

  7. I was talking to my next-door neighbor about having to put my fiance's house up for sale, mainly because it is too big for me by myself, and I can't afford the house payments. His answer was, "Well, you need to get you a MAN!"
    I just got tears in my eyes, and said "I HAD one!".

  8. I was a caregiver for a long time so a friend said to me - "In a way it's a good thing - now you will be able to do a lot of the things you wanted that you weren't able to do before."
    (I'd take the caregiving any time just to have him back!)

  9. "Oh, it's too bad you're not pregnant.."
    (2 days after my fiance died...we didn't plan on having kids).....

  10. The day started out so good ... and then came "the phone call." ARGGGHH!!! It was a lady I had met just once before at our Parents Without Partners meeting. She was calling to see when the next meeting will be, and asked me how long I had been divorced. When I told her that my husband had died, she laughed and said "If it's any consolation, I wish my ex was dead."

If you found any of these amusing, you should check out the full article:
Top Ten Dumb Remarks and Stupid Questions.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Memories III

In parts one and two of this series, I explained a different approach to looking at the memories of our departed loved one. In our culture of acquiring things, it can be difficult to accept that letting go of memories could be at all beneficial. I am coming more and more to think that this letting go of memories is essential to experiencing real peace, and it is a Grief Recovery Tool no bereaved person should be without.

I'm reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. It gives some good insight into how we should view our thoughts and memories [pg 74]:

We often wonder what to do about negativity or certain troubling emotions. In the spaciousness of meditation, you can view your thoughts and emotions with a totally unbiased attitude. When your attitude changes, then the whole atmosphere of your mind changes, even the very nature of your thoughts and emotions. When you become more agreeable, then they do; if you have no difficulty with them, they will have no difficulty with you either.

So whatever thoughts and emotions arise, allow them to rise and settle, like the waves in the ocean. Whatever you find yourself thinking, let that thought rise and settle, without any constraint. Don't grasp at it, feed it, or indulge it; don't cling to it and don't try to solidify it. Neither follow thoughts nor invite them; be like the ocean looking at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass through it.

You will soon find that thoughts are like the wind; they come and go. The secret is not to "think" about thoughts, but to allow them to flow through the mind, while keeping your mind free of afterthoughts.

In my case, I experienced this firsthand over the span of 10 days on my Vipassana meditation course. Meditation really helped me to recognize the impermanence of my thoughts and memories. And, knowing of their impermanence, it became easier to let them go.

So, what do Vipassana and Ho'oponopono have in common? They both break the last link in the thought -> feeling -> reaction chain. Once we can arrive at the place where thoughts and memories are accepted as being the ephemeral entities that they are, it then becomes an almost foregone-conclusion to let them go. Once we have let them go, we can begin to experience the deep lasting peace that lies just behind our thoughts and memories.

How can we apply this to our everyday life as widow/ers? A big part of grief, especially that first year, is bringing up all our memories about our dead spouse and re-examining them, thereby changing those memories. However, this can be an exhausting process. We often feel compelled to passively experience these memories over and over, such as the circumstances surrounding a violent or traumatic death. Just as reframing our memories as they play out in the Theater of our mind can greatly reduce our stress, so too can learning how to break the cycle of thought -> feel -> react. Whether you use meditation or ho'oponopono or some other method, I strongly feel that learning how to actively manage our thoughts and memories is the real secret to riding the grief recovery road to its conclusion.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Memories II

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
— William Shakespeare, As You Like It

In my last post about memories, I wrote about why cleaning or "erasing" our memories about our departed spouse might be a good thing. One method you can use to clean your memories comes from Hawaii and is called Ho'oponopono (pronounced ho-o-pono-pono). Here's a better explanation from their website:

Ho'oponopono is really very simple. For the ancient Hawaiians, all problems begin as thought. But having a thought is not the problem. So what's the problem? The problem is that all our thoughts are imbued with painful memories, memories of persons, places, or things.

The intellect working alone can't solve these problems, because the intellect only manages. Managing things is no way to solve problems. You want to let them go! When you do Ho'oponopono, what happens is that the Divinity takes the painful thought and neutralizes or purifies it. You don't purify the person, place, or thing. You neutralize the energy you associate with that person, place or thing. So the first stage of Ho'oponopono is the purification of that energy.

Now something wonderful happens. Not only does that energy get neutralized; it also gets released, so there's a brand new slate. Buddhists call it the Void. The final step is that you allow the Divinity to come in and fill the void with light.

To do Ho'oponopono, you don't have to know what the problem or error is. All you have to do is notice any problem you are experiencing physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever. Once you notice, your responsibility is to immediately begin to clean, to say, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

The whole article is a very interesting read and well worth your time if any of this sounds the slightest bit interesting.

In the first part of this Memories article, I promised I would explain a bit more about how, due to my Vipassana meditation course, I could immediately see the wisdom behind Ho'oponopono, even if I did think it was a little weird. OK, a lot weird ;-) I've taken an extra day to really give this memories concept a lot of thought, and I think I've come up with a good analogy to help explain things a bit better.

As I explained in detail last month, my Vipassana training made me aware of the tight interactions between my thoughts and my bodily sensations. And more than that — it made me aware of the previously-unconscious pattern of events that had been driving me my entire life:

Thought -> Feeling -> Reaction

As I became more adept at meditating, it became easier and easier to break the last step in the chain. I learned how to replace reacting with observing. I became aware of my mind postulating a thought and immediately feeling a sensation somewhere in my body. For example, if the thought pertained to how I was going to achieve a financial goal, I could right away feel not only my brow furrowing, but I could feel every single brow-furrowing muscle tense as the beginnings of worry and anxiety set in. The difference now was that instead of reacting by probing my mind for even more thoughts and possible solutions and setting off an entire chain of thoughts -> feelings -> reactions, I simply recognized the impermanent nature of both the thought and the feeling. I wasn't thinking or feeling anxious moments before. Why then should I become a slave to my thoughts and start to worry just because I had a thought?

By understanding the pattern of thought, feeling, reaction, I could mentally utter "anicca," and right away I could feel my facial muscles relax, my worry evaporated, and I found myself smiling. I was now observing my life objectively instead of reacting subjectively. It was like suddenly being aware that the huge drama I had been watching for years was just a big puppet show. Only now I recognized myself as the marionette and my thoughts as the puppeteer. And now I knew how to cut the strings :-)

For the last month, it has been absolutely amazing to literally snip the strings before any new dramas can even begin. I no longer feel like I'm being driven against my will to think negatively or blindly react to people or events. Instead, I just smile, say "anicca," and laugh as the problem vaporizes. There was no problem before I thought about it, and after I break the thought -> feeling -> reaction cycle, the problem returns to the void from whence it came. I can just be, I don't have to do anything! It has changed my life.

In my next post, I'll close off this short series by pointing out the similarities between Vipassana and Ho'oponopono, and I'll give some concrete examples of how these methods can help in dealing with bereavement.

Oh yeah: anicca is my new cussword ;-)

Monday, February 18, 2008


The existence of forgetting has never been proved: We only know that some things don't come to mind when we want them.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

Memories. Now that our spouse is gone, memories are all we have of them. Never again will they laugh with us, cry with us, or comfort us. No new memories will be created with them. A big part of our grief is learning just how to come to terms with this awful reality. How does one come to terms with this? "How" questions are excellent Grief Recovery Tools and will guide you where you need to go.

As I mentioned in my last post about unbelievable healing, I'm reading Joe Vitale's Zero Limits. Before I share some of the startling insights in the book, be warned that they will likely go against everything you have ever learned about life and relationships here in the West. To say they are controversial, especially in the context of grieving, is an understatement.

It is important to recognize that life in Western civilization is one of acquisition. More money, a bigger house, faster car, prettier wife, smarter kids. A deep undercurrent of grasping greed pervades the newspapers, radio, and television. Your friends and neighbors likely chat about the newest thing they have bought or acquired.

And then one day, your spouse dies. You have lost your spouse, which makes you, by definition, a loser. People don't like to be around losers. If it could happen to you, it could happen to them. And life is just about what you can get, right? He who dies with the most toys wins?

You no longer have your spouse, but you do have your memories of your past life together with him or her. And no one can take those away from you! Whole industries have sprung up to help you memorialize your departed mate. Everything from the traditional tombstone to photo memory books, memorial websites, and charitable donations in their name. You can name buildings, awards, and children after him or her. Make a shrine in your house, hang pictures of them on your walls. Listen to the music they used to listen to. Keep their clothing so you can catch a bit of their smell to trigger the memories.

And then, as the years go by, you notice the memories beginning to fade. How can this be? So much has already been stolen from you! The life you should have had, together with your loved one, snatched away. And now the precious memories are beginning to recede. Their impermanent nature can no longer be ignored. Where is the fairness in all this?

I realize this is going to be a bit too much of a stretch at this point, but try to take the perspective, just for a moment, of looking directly opposite the view that receding memories is a bad thing. Dare to accept, just for a moment, that the day could come where this might not be a bad thing. It might even be a good thing.

Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, the therapist who cured the ward of criminally insane patients in Hawaii, says that every problem in our life, every one, is because of our memories. The majority of our thoughts are tied up thinking about our memories. The solution? Let them go [pg 31]:

"When you erase something from your computer, where does it go?" he asked the room.
"To the recycle bin," someone shouted out.
"Exactly," Dr. Hew Len said. "It's still on your computer, but it's out of sight. Your memories are like that. They are still in you, just out of sight. What you want to do is erase them completely and permanently."
I found this fascinating, but I had no idea what it meant or where it was going. Why would I want memories permanently deleted?
"You have two ways to live your life," Dr. Hew Len explained. "From memory or from inspiration. Memories are old programs replaying. Inspiration is the Divine giving you a message.You want to come from inspiration. The only way to hear the Divine and receive inspiration is to clean all memories. The only thing you have to do is clean."
Dr. Hew Len spent a lot of time explaining how the Divine is our zero state — it's where we have zero limits. No memories. No identity. Nothing but the Divine.

You were warned ;-) Before I go on, let me be clear: the essence of your dead spouse has been infused into every cell in your body. They are now a part of you. I talked about this in my early post about some photos I found of Deb in my basement. If the above passage has made you angry, anxious, or afraid, realize that you have literally hundreds of thousands to millions of memories of your loved one. All those memories are recorded in your body somewhere. If you aren't interested in this kind of healing, rest assured that it will take a very long time for all those memories to fade, and there's lots you can do to hang on to those memories if you choose to do so.

If the idea of all your problems stemming from your memories has resonated with you, though, I'll close here with the simple method Dr. Hew Len uses to "clean" his memories. He simply repeats four simple phrases:

"I love you."
"I'm sorry."
"Please forgive me."
"Thank you."

As an experiment, try repeating the four phrases every time a memory of your departed loved one surfaces and causes you pain. In my next post, I'll explain how, due to my Vipassana meditation training, I could immediately see the wisdom of this point of view, and I'll go into a bit more depth as to how I spent 10 days cleaning my memories without ever being aware that I was doing so. All I know is that I am more at peace now than I have ever been in my entire life.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Unbelievable Healing

I'm reading a phenomenal book by Joe Vitale called Zero Limits. In my quest for better and better Grief Recovery Tools, I'm always on the lookout for unusual healing techniques. When the following description came into my inbox, I was more than a little intrigued:

Two years ago, I heard about a therapist in Hawaii who cured a complete ward of criminally insane patients--without ever seeing any of them. The psychologist would study an inmate's chart and then look within himself to see how he created that person's illness. As he improved himself, the patient improved.

When I first heard this story, I thought it was an urban legend. How could anyone heal anyone else by healing himself? How could even the best self-improvement master cure the criminally insane?

It didn't make any sense. It wasn't logical, so I dismissed the story.

However, I heard it again a year later. I heard that the therapist had used a Hawaiian healing process called ho 'oponopono. I had never heard of it, yet I couldn't let it leave my mind. If the story was at all true, I had to know more.

I had always understood "total responsibility" to mean that I am responsible for what I think and do. Beyond that, it's out of my hands. I think that most people think of total responsibility that way. We're responsible for what we do, not what anyone else does. The Hawaiian therapist who healed those mentally ill people would teach me an advanced new perspective about total responsibility.

His name is Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len. We probably spent an hour talking on our first phone call. I asked him to tell me the complete story of his work as a therapist. He explained that he worked at Hawaii State Hospital for four years. That ward where they kept the criminally insane was dangerous. Psychologists quit on a monthly basis. The staff called in sick a lot or simply quit. People would walk through that ward with their backs against the wall, afraid of being attacked by patients. It was not a pleasant place to live, work, or visit.

Dr. Len told me that he never saw patients. He agreed to have an office and to review their files. While he looked at those files, he would work on himself. As he worked on himself, patients began to heal.

"After a few months, patients that had to be shackled were being allowed to walk freely," he told me. "Others who had to be heavily medicated were getting off their medications. And those who had no chance of ever being released were being freed."

I was in awe.

"Not only that," he went on, "but the staff began to enjoy coming to work. Absenteeism and turnover disappeared. We ended up with more staff than we needed because patients were being released, and all the staff was showing up to work. Today, that ward is closed."

This is where I had to ask the million dollar question: "What were you doing within yourself that caused those people to change?"

"I was simply healing the part of me that created them," he said.

I didn't understand.

Dr. Len explained that total responsibility for your life means that everything in your life — simply because it is in your life — is your responsibility. In a literal sense the entire world is your creation.

Whew. This is tough to swallow. Being responsible for what I say or do is one thing. Being responsible for what everyone in my life says or does is quite another. Yet, the truth is this: if you take complete responsibility for your life, then everything you see, hear, taste, touch, or in any way experience is your responsibility because it is in your life.

This means that terrorist activity, the president, the economy — anything you experience and don't like — is up for you to heal. They don't exist, in a manner of speaking, except as projections from inside you. The problem isn't with them, it's with you, and to change them, you have to change you.

I know this is tough to grasp, let alone accept or actually live. Blame is far easier than total responsibility, but as I spoke with Dr. Len, I began to realize that healing for him and in ho 'oponopono means loving yourself. If you want to improve your life, you have to heal your life. If you want to cure anyone — even a mentally ill criminal — you do it by healing you.

I asked Dr. Len how he went about healing himself. What was he doing, exactly, when he looked at those patients' files?

"I just kept saying, 'I'm sorry' and 'I love you' over and over again," he explained.

That's it?

That's it.

Turns out that loving yourself is the greatest way to improve yourself, and as you improve yourself, your improve your world. Let me give you a quick example of how this works: one day, someone sent me an email that upset me. In the past I would have handled it by working on my emotional hot buttons or by trying to reason with the person who sent the nasty message. This time, I decided to try Dr. Len's method. I kept silently saying, "I'm sorry" and "I love you," I didn't say it to anyone in particular. I was simply evoking the spirit of love to heal within me what was creating the outer circumstance.

Within an hour I got an e-mail from the same person. He apologized for his previous message. Keep in mind that I didn't take any outward action to get that apology. I didn't even write him back. Yet, by saying "I love you," I somehow healed within me what was creating him.

I later attended a ho 'oponopono workshop run by Dr. Len. He's now 70 years old, considered a grandfatherly shaman, and is somewhat reclusive. He praised my book, The Attractor Factor. He told me that as I improve myself, my book's vibration will raise, and everyone will feel it when they read it. In short, as I improve, my readers will improve.

"What about the books that are already sold and out there?" I asked.

"They aren't out there," he explained, once again blowing my mind with his mystic wisdom. "They are still in you."

In short, there is no out there.

It would take a whole book to explain this advanced technique with the depth it deserves. Suffice it to say that whenever you want to improve anything in your life, there's only one place to look: inside you.

"When you look, do it with love."

When I had finished reading that, I just knew I had to read the whole book. The insights I'm getting are incredibly helpful. You can get a bit more info from the Zero Limits website More to follow...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Your Own Time

We must travel in the direction of our fear.

— John Berryman, "A Point Of Age"

I never did like the expression "Time heals all wounds." Was I just supposed to sit back and wait for the hourglass of my life to pour out too? That seemed grossly unfair, especially as I had just seen the hourglass of Deb's life run out way too early. And besides, I have never been one to just sit back and let life happen (or run me over, as the case may be). I wanted Grief Recovery Tools, and I wanted them now!

Being an active griever is much different than being a passive one. The following Widownet article may be helpful in explaining some of the mindset you may want to adopt, especially if your grief is new, fresh, and horribly raw:


Let us change the supposedly cheering words, "Time heals all wounds," which often frighten the griever, to "In your own time." Thus we lift ourselves away from a passive waiting to an active doing. Any situation in which you participate and have some control, is always more promising and stimulating than the prospect of waiting.

Participating in your own grief is not a complicated process -

It takes courage to face facts and your real feelings.

It takes patience to accept and live through shock and suffering.

It takes a clear head to sift good advice from bad, to make decisions based on your very personal needs, instead of what friends and relatives believe you should do.

It takes self-analysis to look at yourself in the glare of truth and change what you know needs changing.

It takes self-discipline to work out of shock and suffering, to rejoin the human race with dignity and a sense of your own personal worth as an individual.

It takes a little common sense to plan your day so it will lead you closer to the goals you have set for your future.

It takes fortitude to reach beyond your environment for new friends and still remain on easy terms with old friends.

It takes imagination and willpower to present an optimistic personality to the world when your inner life is in shambles.

And yet, if you have given yourself time to accept the shock, time to suffer, you will be free – not of sorrow, but of suppressed emotions, and ready to take one step at a time toward your unknown, adventurous and promising future.

— Taken from "Up from Grief"

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Don't Understand, and I Don't Need To

The truest view of life has always seemed to me to be that which shows that we are here not to enjoy, but to learn.
— Frederick William Robertson

I can't say enough good things about Guy Finley's book, The Secret of Letting Go. I just finished reading it tonight, and it contains a ton of deep insights into why we hurt and how to let go of that pain. As far as Grief Recovery Tools go, this is one tool you'll want in your toolbox.

Not that this book is an easy read, mind you — far from it. This is a book you'll want to read, highlight, digest, and contemplate. And then read it again. He ends the book with a short exercise written by his mentor, Vernon Howard. I think it will likely be the most helpful for those of you who are feeling the pangs of grief most acutely. It may help to take some of the pressure off. And I think it will really help widowers. We tend to intellectualize our grief.

[From pages 271-273]:

When you begin to see that you have created your world in your own image, it will shock you. Here is a special exercise for you for when you are pained. I can't tell you what a marvelous change this exercise will make in your life.

From this point on, every time you feel some hurt or inner agony, instead of thinking about the pain, which you now do, you will do something else. Instead of directing your attention toward that sadness or disappointment, you are going to think about something else.

You are going to think, "I don't understand the pain."

Just think, "There is a darkness there. Something is lashing at me, and it hurts." But you are not going to get a false pleasure from the pain. You are going to go to the right department and say, "I don't understand the pain." THAT'S IT!

Then you never ever have to think another thought about the misery you are experiencing. You are through. You have done your part. THIS IS THE WAY OUT.

God Himself has just come to your rescue. This is what is authentically religious. Truth says, "Don't think about and swim around in the suffering." Simply sit back in your chair, relax, and say, "I don't understand the anguish that is terrorizing my system."

If you don't understand it, there is nothing YOU can do, is there? Then do nothing.

When we complain and cry and moan and groan and think, "How did I get into this mess?" etc., nothing will change. With this exercise, you are putting yourself in an entirely different department, and you will receive the products that that department has ready for you.

Do you want the product of not having to make worried decisions all day long? Just say, "I don't understand this crisis or that heartache that just came up." AND STOP. GO THROUGH YOUR WHOLE DAY NOT UNDERSTANDING IT.

It is our spurious understanding that gets us into the sorry inner mess in the first place. Don't be afraid to have no intelligence of your own. God is willing to make the grand, magnificent substitute for you. God gives you his life in exchange for your life.

The majority of men and women sell their souls all day long in exchange for false, fleeting feelings of self-control. When you have true self-command, you never have to look for it or ever explain its absence to yourself.

If you are willing to say, "I don't understand anything at all about my life," your false self along with its false understanding will fall away; in its place will be the insight from Heaven itself. That insight from a very High Place is all you need for this world and the next world. Go ahead and dare to let go.


Sunday, February 10, 2008


When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.
— Sufi Proverb

As a widow/er, to say that you're familiar with stress is something of an understatement. More likely, you feel it before you've even opened your eyes, and, like a strong wind on a bitterly cold February morning, it cuts through you like a knife all day long until you can finally doze off for those few fitful hours of troubled sleep. But have you ever thought about stress? Why it exists? And wouldn't it be nice if there was a Grief Recovery Tool that would evaporate all that stress forever?

A poignant example from my own life: about 5 ½ months after Deb died, I was in the last days of what many call the Denial stage of grief. Not denial that she was dead, but denial that my old way of life was finished as well. I had thought that the majority of my grieving had occurred throughout Deb's long illness, and I was determined to get on with my life and do all the things I still wanted to do. I still wanted a family, and I wanted to live internationally. So in the first few weeks of September, I was trying to begin a new relationship while simultaneously putting my house up on the market so that I could move with my son to Central America. And right about this time, all those lovely brain opiates the mind excretes during the shock phase were finally starting to dissipate.

Life started getting real ugly, real fast. I knew, just knew, that the relationship I was trying to start was totally the wrong thing to be doing right now. And I knew that moving to Central America right now was also a boneheaded thing to do. Because of my stubbornness, though, I plowed recklessly forward. And my body fought back. Me, a person with normally low blood pressure, could feel my blood pressure rising. Still I persisted. And the next day, I thought I was soon going to have a heart attack. So, I made the very difficult decision to drop all my plans. I broke off my fledgling relationship, and I called my realtor and told her to forget listing my house. And I dropped all my other plans as well. I did not want to wind up in the hospital. I didn't know what was going to replace my plans, but life was right there with the solution. The last of the shock drugs wore off, and I was plunged headlong into the despair phase of grief which was to last for many months. I needed to heal. What I didn't understand, going into acute grief, was that I would heal so much else in me that was broken.

So it was with some humour that I recently read what Guy Finley has to say about stress in his book The Secret of Letting Go [pg 114]:
Stress exists because we insist! It's really that simple. It is our mistaken belief that we must push life in the direction we choose that keeps us in a strained and unhappy relationship with it. Our wish to have power over life comes from this wrong relationship with life. Reality has its own effortless course, and we can either embrace its way or struggle endlessly with our own. We do not need power to flow. In other words, why push when we can learn to ride?

Looking back on my early days of grief, I can of course now see clearly the folly of my persistence. And I also recognize that the moment I simply let go of wanting to continue with my old life, that stress immediately evaporated. I never had to go to the doctor to have my blood pressure evaluated. It returned to normal that day. And something deep within me knew that would happen as soon as I let go. I just had to decide that what life had to offer was more important than what I wanted to happen.

So, I share this intimate part of my history with you in the hope that it will save you much pain and suffering. It took me many, many months before I could start applying this same principle to other areas of my grieving, probably because I wasn't consciously aware that this was a powerful tool that I could use at any time. Since I've started applying this multiple times a day, I have never been so happy and at peace. I wish the same for you also.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Who's Driving?

A pretty important Grief Recovery Tool is getting a handle on our sometimes-runaway thoughts. As I mentioned in my Wider Perspective post, I've been reading Guy Finley's The Secret of Letting Go. This is an incredible book — so many good insights crammed in here. When I read, I like to dog-ear the bottom corner of any page I want to revisit. I must have forty or fifty folded corners so far!

I don't know about you, but when I was acutely grieving, I often found my mind steering me in directions and ways I really didn't want to go. Yet I found myself going along with whatever thoughts popped into my head and then riding them out to the end. Did I do the right thing those last 24 hours that Deb was alive? Cue tape, hit "Play," re-watch last few hours, re-watch last breath. Could things have been different? Should they have been? You get the idea.

Guy shares a poignant truth tale relating to all this. We don't have to be led idly along by whatever thought happens to want our attention right now [pp 75-77]:

Put Yourself In The Driver's Seat

As she boarded the luxurious tour bus, Jessica couldn't believe that she was actually taking a day off for herself. It was hard to imagine that a full six months had flown by since she accepted her new position and had moved to this small coastal city. She knew she was going to enjoy what the travel brochure had promised would be a pampered and casual day of scenic wonders. The tour was expensive, but she had earned her pleasure and she was going to have it. She sat on the edge of her seat as the bus pulled out of the depot.

Twenty minutes later, over the "oohs" and "aahs" of the other twenty-five passengers, the driver was describing the natural wonders of the breathtaking blue and green seascape that spread endlessly beneath them. The promise of a beautiful day sent a wave of pleasure through her, and she relaxed in her tufted seat. Just then, one of the passengers in front of her jumped out of his seat, walked up to the driver, and said he wanted to drive for a while. The driver stood up, the passenger sat down, and the bus jerked forward. To Jessica's amazement, no one around her, including the driver, seemed to mind this odd exchange.

In less than a heartbeat, the beautiful ocean vista vanished, and now all she was looking at were old, abandoned buildings and trash-littered streets. The new driver was taking the bus through the slums. No one else aboard looked at all surprised, and so she tried her best to relax. The thought came that maybe this was part of the tour, but she didn't remember reading about it. Her thoughts were interrupted when yet another passenger scrambled up to the driver's seat and took over the wheel. Now the bus was racing up and down steep, bumpy streets and over dangerously narrow bridges. Something was definitely wrong. Too numb to speak out and too frightened to move, she sank deeper into her chair as one by one, each of the passengers took over the wheel and drove the bus wherever they wanted. Her pleasure cruise had turned into a tunnel of horrors.

She had almost resigned herself to a desperate kind of helpless rage when all of a sudden, from deep within her growing confusion, a thought came that shocked her awake and into a new sense of herself she had never before experienced.

Terrified but determined, she got up, walked over to the driver's seat, and said in a shaky but firm voice, "Now it's my turn to drive."

To her surprise, the passenger-driver got up and gave her his seat. She sat down, took the wheel, and drove herself home.

This story contains many higher lessons that we are going to need to understand if we wish to make it all the way to the ever-pleasant life. When we don't know where we are going or who is driving, a pleasant present is impossible. The only pleasure we can have on this kind of ride through life comes from dreaming about where we are going. We must be dreaming while others drive, because if our eyes were open, we would never tolerate where we were being taken.

Even when we do run into a nice rest stop or a pleasant event, there is no lasting pleasure in it for us because we know that we have no real say in how long we get to remain there. These temporary pleasures are usually a strange blend of anticipation and cynicism that we learn to swallow only because we don't as yet know the taste of real pleasure.

This short story illustrates the need for us to be aware of our thoughts, and to take control of them when they lead us in fruitless directions. We're not going to get any benefit from revisiting those questions that can't be answered. Better to steer our thoughts toward better ends, like "what can I do right now to be at peace?"

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hurt People, Hurt People

Tonight I have another guest post for your reading and healing pleasure. I have already shared this Grief Recovery Tool with a few people, and the response has been very favorable. If you have ever found yourself in a situation where someone close to you is saying really hurtful things, perhaps this article will be helpful to you:

Hurt People, Hurt People
By John Alston
Dec 13, 2005, 10:36

"Hurt people, hurt people." In other words, people who hurt others with their actions and words are people who are hurting inside themselves! When someone lashes out at another person, they are expressing their hurt in a destructive and irresponsible manner. Feelings of hurt and pain are normal parts of everyday life. Therefore, it is important to find solutions to our problems that are constructive and responsible in order to enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer, as well.

Feelings never tell us what to do. They only tell us that something requires our attention. So negative feelings can play a positive role in our lives. We must put ourselves in control of the painful emotions rather than be controlled by them. The first step in taking control is to ask the question, "What is causing these feelings?"

Sometimes the cause of the feelings is from recent events-job loss or health decline. Other times, the cause is a manifestation of negative emotion from long ago-unresolved issues of adolescence. Take the time to ask the question, think, and seek answers. This is important whether you are the one who is angry or the one who is on the receiving end of an angry person's wrath.

If you are angry and find yourself hurting others, here are some things that should help you deal with your feelings in a more constructive way:

1. Be mindful that you are entitled to the full range of feelings that life has to offer, one of which is pain. Make up your mind that you are not entitled to hurt others with those feelings. It is normal to feel pain. It is unacceptable to inflict it.

2. Take note of what makes you want to act ugly, sullen, and resentful. Is there a pattern? Do your assumptions about people and life need adjustments so that you're not so upset by (often unrelated or minor) irritants?

3. Remain current with your feelings and needs. Don't put off taking care of yourself. Feel pain, acknowledge it, and search for solutions. Reactions that are solution-oriented help you find good ways to deal with hurt.

4. Change you attitude about hurt. This allows you to avoid hurt in the first place. By this, I don't mean you should avoid things that make you feel bad. Adopt a personal policy not to let negative emotion control you. When you decide to take control, pain can't fester into an uncontrollable monster.

5. Don't choose the pain. I hate to say this, but some people hurt, because they choose to hurt. They decide that something is worth suffering over and believe that they need to "dwell here now." That's not to say that you should no longer discriminate between right and wrong. However, be more discriminating about that on which you're willing to expend mental energy.

6. Approach people and situations with patience and understanding. This causes you to slow down and act less impulsively. Imagine that a child spills milk at the table and an adult goes bonkers. The adult hasn't stopped to think about the fact that when children are growing up, the latter are clumsy at different developmental stages by nature, and that the spilt milk was not intentional or the result of laziness.

7. Look for non-destructive ways to express your anger. Being current, as previously mentioned, is one way. Others include, but are not limited to, taking slow deep breaths, biting your tongue, holding in your stomach, counting to ten, meditating, contemplating and praying. All of us do better when we control our impulses when expressing anger.

If you're someone who finds yourself in a hurt person's line of fire, you need some tools to manage their feelings as well as your own. Some options include:

1. Let them vent. Listen to their frustrations before you speak or act. Never interrupt, because until you hear their story, you know nothing. Find out as much as you can about the source of their pain and you'll know why they're angry.

2. Assess your level of responsibility in causing their pain. If you are directly involved, take responsibility and make things right. However, often you will find that you are not the target or cause of the pain. If you were just in the right place at the right time, don't take it personally.

3. Adopt an attitude of forgiveness. Try to understand that when people are hurt, they don't always think clearly and they say things that they don't really mean. It's easy to be consumed with reciprocal anger, so avoid the urge by forgiving them.

4. Be mindful of how you respond to them. The goal is to make things better, not worse. Sometimes they just want someone to acknowledge their pain. You can do so by saying something like, "I don't know just what to do to help you right now, but I want you to know how sorry I am about this."

5. Take control of your own feelings. Don't give up your power to them by allowing their words to control the way you respond. Their pain, even when directed at you, does not define you.

Hurt people can only hurt others if allowed to do so. With adults, know that you can judge the size of a person by the size of the things that they allow to make them angry. Yes, we've all had initial feelings of hurt as the result of others' actions and words. But, when we take a moment to really look at the situation, all of us have the power to draw the line and refuse to accept another's hurt.

Remember that people say and do boneheaded things from time to time without thinking. People forget, lose their tempers, underachieve by our standards, break promises, cheat, lie and do other things that disappoint us. Make allowances for people's differences. Human beings make errors. Values amongst us are varied. If you keep your standards very high, you are subject to be more sensitive around people with low standards. If you have low standards, you will feel offended and slighted by those who have high standards. That said, the bottom line is this: when someone is hurting someone else, they are acting from a place of pain and hurt. Diminish the hurt to make room for enrichment. Instead of hurt people hurting people, you then have enriched people enriching people.

* * *

John Alston, CSP, CPAE is an internationally known Performance Strategist whose programs have lifted the spirits of millions of people worldwide. He works with people who want to improve their lives, and with organizations who encourage personal achievement and character development. Even off the platform, John's insights captivate audiences through four books he's authored: Life is a Gift, Don't Trash It; Talking with Teens in Turbulent Times; Goodness Must Be Taught; and his latest, Stuff Happens (Then You Fix It!). For more information about John Alston, visit his website at

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Respecting Endings

I've just finished a great self-publishing workshop in Tampa and will be making several small changes over the coming days and weeks to make this site easier to find and the articles more accessible to fellow widows and widowers. What's the point in writing about Grief Recovery Tools if the people who need them most cannot find them? ;-)

The leader of the workshop, Gary Scott, has spent a great deal of time with shamans in Ecuador. He shared yesterday that, at one point, he asked a shaman what the biggest problem is that westerners have. The shaman thought for a moment and then said, "Westerners don't respect endings." Gary then went on to point out the prevalence in the West for products like hair colouring to hide grayness, and deeper body modifications like Botox. And then he said something which for me was very profound:

Ends are really beginnings

Such a different way to look at grief! Even though it has only been a day and a half since Gary said that, I can already feel a deep change in not only the way I look at my own situation, but at all the past endings in my life. It is like I can see clearly now, for the first time, all the new beginnings where before I could only see the endings. I'm still trying to get a handle on the ramifications of such a perspective. I suspect they are only for the better.