Deprivation Can Engender Gratitude

We take so much for granted – that we can breathe, walk, talk, see, and hear.  Deprivation makes us aware how privileged we are to have these functions and other functions such as choosing what we want to eat, achieving basic elimination functions with ease or being able to write or key (not encumbered by arthritic pain and distortion).  The recent Reversing Mast Cell Activation and Histamine Intolerance Summit 2.0 brought home the stark realities of how Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) and/or histamine intolerance can impact the quality of our life.

As I listened to various expert speakers who themselves had experienced these conditions, I became more aware of what I do have in terms of quality of life and daily functions.   Some of the speakers had periods when they were super-sensitive to smells (such as the perfume of their daughter), unable to eat a wide range of foods because of allergies) or were sensitive to mold in their homes. Others spoke of the symptoms of histamine intolerance and the impact this had on their daily life and their capacity to choose what they would like to eat. 

Hope and social support

Parental and social support build hope and agency and enable people with chronic illness or disability to rise above their health challenges and achieve a successful recovery, often beyond peoples’ wildest dreams.  

Alexa Leary’s story – from tragedy to triumph

The recovery story of Alexa Leary, Australian Paralympic Swimmer destined for Paris 2024 Olympic Games, is a hugely inspiring account of how parental support and social support have helped her to achieve her goals.   Three years ago Alexa had a very serious accident on her bike as a world-class triathlete – causing traumatic brain injury and multiple other significant injuries.  She was not expected to live, and, even if she did survive, she was not expected to be able to talk or walk.  Alexa’s parents set aside their own lives and spent six months by her bedside in hospital to support her recovery. 

Alexa’s rehabilitation efforts are starkly illustrated in the video story, Triumph Over Tragedy.   Her incredible sporting accomplishments since the accident reinforces the value of the social support she received from organisations such as the global Pho3nix Foundation, dedicated to helping young people through sport and activity to develop a “sense of purpose, focus and possibility”.   Alexa was a participant in their Athlete Program designed to enable underfunded, aspiring Paralympics and Olympic athletes to compete in the Olympic Games.  When sharing her story of recovery through radio, television and social media, Alexa emphasised the critical role music played in her life and recovery.

Specialised Support through ADDA

Duane Gordon, President of Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), elaborates on the benefits of social support and shares multiple stories of how ADDA’s many support groups have facilitated the recovery of its members.   Tom, an accomplished engineer, experienced overwhelm in everyday tasks such as shopping but was able to gain support and ADHD-friendly strategies through ADDA’s Healthy Habits and ADHD Brain Group.  People with ADHD typically experience relationship difficulties but ADDA’s support group Loving and Living with ADHD: Partners Connecting helped Mark and his partner to rise above the challenges of this condition and strengthen their relationship.  ADDA’s support group, ADHD @ Work> Survive and Thrive Support Group,  helped James recover from the  loss of his job caused by ADHD challenges such as confusion, meeting deadlines and remembering tasks.   

Reflection

I was recently diagnosed with early stage, normal tension Glaucoma which has reduced my peripheral vision.  I am undertaking a series of tests to determine what the cause is and what kind of treatment is required.  The diagnosis has forced me to face the prospect of increased loss of sight, retraction of my driver’s licence and loss of the associated independence.  The social support provided by the Creative Meetups, sponsored by the Health Story Collaborative, is particularly critical at this point in time.

I wrote the following poem as a way of reflecting on my present circumstances with the possibility of increased loss of vision:

Losing Sight

Sight lighting my way,
expanding my horizons,
disclosing people and cultures,
revealing nature’s beauty,
enabling enjoyable activity.

Playing a game of tennis,
writing a book,
driving a car,
watching a video,
reading a book,
creating a poem,
developing a blog.

Encroaching blackness,
moving in from the edges.
Losing sight a real prospect.
Rescinding of independence.
Storing recollections for future reference.

A long-playing internal videotape,
of my best tennis shots,
played over the years.
Now categorised by tennis stroke –
forehand, backhand, volley, serve and smash.

A rich palette of memories of nature’s beauty –
blue and white, purple and brown,
red and orange, yellow and green,
grey and black.

Moving from sight to sound,
from reading to listening,
from writing to recording,
from driving to walking.

Feeling my way.
Testing to understand.
Exploring my options.
Appreciating what I do have – while I have it.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, meditation and time spent in nature, we can increase our appreciation and gratitude, fortify our hope and strengthen our resilience.

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Image by Shan from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Managing Adult ADHD

Recently BrainWorx launched a virtual interview series that they called the ADHD Toolbox Live with more than 20 speakers involving both live and prerecorded interviews.  Some of these highly informative interviews are available on the BrainWorx blog.  The Mayo Clinic explains that Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a chronic condition in some children and adults that cannot be cured but can be managed through behavioural interventions and medication.

Mel Robbins in her podcast, Six Surprising Signs of Adult ADHD, draws on her extensive research and interviews with leading ADHD experts to explain that ADHD is “a chronic neurobiological disorder” that has an impact on the brain both structurally and chemically and can affect how the brain communicates amongst its various parts.  

Duane Gordon, President of the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA), explained in his BrainWorx Toolbox presentation that ADHD results in “differences in brain development” that can negatively impact capacity to pay attention, to exercise self-control and to remain inactive (“being hyperactive” – a description often given to “naughty children” at school).

Misconceptions about ADHD

Duane was at pains to explain that there are many misconceptions/myths surrounding ADHD.  These misconceptions include:

  • The belief that ADHD is only a children’s disorder – increasingly adults are diagnosed with it when an adult (however, research shows that ADHD is formed before 12 years of age)
  • The assumption that people with ADHD “lack intelligence” (the opposite is often true)
  • The exhortation that people with ADHD should just “try harder” (which Duane explains is the most damaging of all misconceptions because it attacks a person’s self-esteem as they are already doing everything in their power to “keep afloat” with everyday demands).
  • The perception that ADHD is a “little inconvenient” (Duane explains , however, that ADHD can deeply affect every facet of your life – such as financial health, career and relationships).  Duane, who himself has ADHD, comments that it “digs into every aspect of your life”.

Symptoms of Adult ADHD

In her podcast of the six surprising signs of adult ADHD, Mel Robbins identifies the following key characteristics:

  1. Hyperfocus – ability to focus intensively in particular settings (e.g. when working on a creative project or writing) despite an inability to focus in other settings (e.g. with children, hyper-focus on computer games but inability to pay attention in class at school)
  2. Difficulty controlling emotions – can be impulsive, easily frustrated and reactive
  3. A tendency to shop impulsively and over-spend – Mel cites Dr. Amen who explains that the compulsive shopping or drug and alcohol abuse can be an attempt to “stimulate the brain with a dopamine rush” (a chemical that has a role in learning, attention & mood)
  4. Time management problems reflected in lateness, being the last person to arrive
  5. Capacity to function at a high level – workaholism (including “all-nighters”) and entrepreneurial success
  6. Highly self-critical – constantly “beating up” on oneself for “disappointing everyone”.

Mel, however, drawing on the work of Dr. Ellen Littman and others who co-authored the book, Understanding Girls with ADHD, points out that the ADHD symptoms of girls are often different to those of boys.  She explains that this contributes to the fact that adult women are often diagnosed with ADHD later than men.  Mel herself was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 47 (by accident when her son was formally diagnosed with the same condition).  She explains that the major difference between women (girls) and men (boys) with ADHD is that the symptoms are typically internal rather than external. 

Boys, for example (like her son), express their symptoms physically such as impulsive physical behaviour, fidgeting, inability to keep still, inability to pay attention and concentrate, easily distracted, continuous leg movement and a tendency to interrupt proceedings (such as classes).  Girls/women (like herself) tend to daydream and are disorganised and forgetful, and are hard on themselves, seeing their ADHD as a “character flaw”. 

Mel notes, again drawing on the work of Dr. Littman and colleagues, that the outcomes for girls tend to be worse than those for boys – resulting in low-self-esteem, self-loathing, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation.  In common with boys, girls can experience “overwhelm” but Ellen Littman contends that outcomes for girls (and women) can be “horrendous”.

Managing Adult ADHD

Duane argues that a starting point is to “embrace” your ADHD.   By this, he means to “look for aspects that make you special” such as storytelling, leadership capability, capacity for public speaking and creativity.  He points out that some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs have been diagnosed with ADHD as adults.  He explains that when people are first diagnosed as adults they tend to experience shock, feel shame, resist the diagnosis and tend to become absorbed in regret.  He notes, however, that many of the forward-looking organisations are seeking out people who are neuro-divergent because they “think outside the box”.

Duane was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult in similar circumstances to those of Mel – his own diagnosis was accidental when his daughter was diagnosed with ADHD.  He explained that when he was first diagnosed with ADHD he did not have a phone number on his business card because he could not talk to people – now as President of ADDA he talks to people all over the world about the condition and its personal and social impacts. 

Duane strongly advocates for self-compassion, which involves not only self-acceptance but also self-forgiveness.  He explains that there is often a stigma attached to ADHD because “neuro-typical” people tend to attach negative meanings to the ADHD condition, they are blind to the unique talents of those people who are “neuro-divergent”.  Kevin Bailey, a Certified ADHD Coach, argues in his ADHD Toolbox interview, that we should acknowledge that “we’re all perfectly imperfect” and suggests that adults with ADHD could employ his strategy of acting “as fast as I can, as slow as I need”.  His interview with the Wired for Winning video podcast relates his experience of “otherness” as a neuro-diverse, black person with ADHD and Autism.

Duane counsels us that everyone’s ADHD is different – he comments that his daughter’s ADHD “is different to mine”.  Accordingly, it is not possible to offer a precise solution for an individual adult for managing their condition, there is, in his words, a “group of solutions” that others have found helpful and can be used as personal experiments to see what works for you.

Duane strongly recommends the social support offered by a community of people with adult ADHD such as that offered by ADDA, the largest such organisation in the world.  Not only does ADDA provide resources but it also facilitates exchange between members so that people can share their stories, the manifestations of ADHD in their lives and the solutions that have worked for them.  This is similar to the healing power of storytelling embraced by the Creative Meetups hosted by the Health Story Collaborative (HSC).  Duane suggests that organisations such as ADDA help adults to “take your ADHD and discover it for yourself” – facilitating the process of learning, experimentation, making adjustments and continuously applying new learning.

ADDA provides a free monograph which offers what it calls, 5 Pillars to Manage Your ADHD:

  1. Learn self-acceptance
  2. Take control of your life
  3. Get enough sleep
  4. Avoid over-committing
  5. Engage a support system

Duane’s interview for the ADHD Toolkit, Why Entrepreneurship is a Great Match for ADHD, can be found here.

The metabolic approach to managing adult ADHD

Mel in another podcast interview with Dr. Chris Palmer, Harvard psychologist and author of Brain Energy, explored the metabolic approach to managing adult ADHD.  In the podcast, The Truth About ADHD in Adults, she delved into metabolic health issues as the root cause of mental health disorders.  This led her to a discussion with Chris about key elements impacting metabolic health such as nutrition, sleep , exercise and other lifestyle elements – all of which can negatively impact brain functioning when they are lacking or inadequate.

Chris argues that an elimination diet over two weeks could help to identify what foods you are sensitive to, e.g. dairy and gluten (which could lead to brain inflammation).  He contends that metabolic health (and associated brain functioning) can be improved by increasing protein intake, lowering carbohydrates, eliminating alcohol and smoking (vaping) and undertaking daily exercise (even Cardio 2 level exercise – e.g.,  light jog, hiking, swimming).  

Chris maintains that children with ADHD internalise the messages they receive at school and elsewhere, e.g., “you are a “problem child”, and this negatively impacts their self-esteem, both in childhood and adulthood.  From his research, he contends that 50% of people with ADHD have “more than one diagnostic label”, e.g., Autism, Bipolar Disorder, and 10% will develop Schizophrenia.

Reflection

Gaining knowledge about ADHD helps us to understand better the challenges faced by adults with this condition.  It can help us to develop greater tolerance of their hyperactivity, messiness, disorganisation, inability to concentrate, poor time management and incapacity to “remain on task”.

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Image by Chen from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Surrender: A Pathway to Gratitude

In the May Creative Meetup, sponsored by the Health Story Collaborative, we focused on the theme of “surrender”.   The discussion proved to be both inspiring and insightful with participants freely sharing their wisdom born of their lived experience of dealing with chronic illness or disability.  One area we looked at was the act of “letting go” of what is holding us back – our old beliefs, self-doubts, negative self-stories, fears, and expectations of ourselves and others.  Associated with surrender, too, is the possibility of shedding an identity that no longer works for us.

Another sub-theme was that of “giving up” as Lily Tomlin comments, “to give up all hope of a better past”.  It also means accepting ourselves “as we are” with all our foibles, mistakes, deficiencies, hurts, disappointments, losses and limitations.  It involves accepting that we are not perfect and, in the process, opening ourselves to life’s challenges and vicissitudes.   It is about achieving equanimity through acknowledging the fragility of the human condition.  Our facilitator for the Meetup, Jennifer Harris, shared a passage from Jeff Brown in which he encourages us “to celebrate how far we have come”, noting that the “river doesn’t ask itself why it is not an ocean”.

Negative self-talk – an impediment to creativity

In their book, What Happened to You?, Dr. Bruce Perry and Winfrey Oprah point out that personal trauma can lead to a distorted worldview, sensitivity to cues (triggers) and negative self-messages.   In reflecting as part of the Creative Meetup process, I realised that my adverse childhood experiences contributed to my sense that I was “not good enough” and, at times, that I was actually an “impostor”.  

Seth Godin, best-selling author of 21 books, maintains that this kind of negative self-talk is an impediment to creativity and the realisation of our potential.  There were times in my life when I was full of self-doubt and beset with “fear of failure’ or inability to achieve my desired outcomes.  I also felt discouraged by resistance to organisational changes or innovations I was trying to create.

Seth Godin contends that uncertainty about outcomes is integral to the concept of creativity – we “go out on a limb” or “leap into the unknown” when we attempt to develop something new or introduce a change to the way things are done.  For Seth, the chance of failure is always present when you are being creative.  He argues that focusing on process rather than outcomes can free us from fear and enable us to explore new opportunities unimpeded by uncertainty.  

Seth reinterprets the concept of “impostor” to acknowledge that whenever we are being creative the outcomes are uncertain.  In that sense, we will feel that we are “fake” or not the “real thing” because we cannot guarantee the outcome – a natural sensation in the face of uncertainty.   The ”impostor syndrome” can occur whether we are engaged in writing, facilitating, managing people or undertaking some other creative activity.

Gratitude for social support

Social support can take many forms and may involve groups or individuals.   Sometimes it is being  supported by a group, such as the Creative Meetups, where you share your stories, challenges and insights.  At other times it may involve emotional and intellectual support from someone who helps you overcome fear of failure.  When I reflected on the theme of surrender, I became acutely aware of the many people who have helped me during my life to achieve significant outcomes despite my ingrained self-doubts – to help me “let go” of the fear and embrace the creative challenge.  This reflection, in turn, engendered a strong sense of gratitude towards all of these individuals who have had a positive influence in my life by believing in me and my capabilities. Some outstanding examples include:

  • My Mother, a devout Catholic, who supported my education at a private school and believed that I was destined to be a priest and was capable of successfully undertaking the relevant study and training.  To that end, I joined a Contemplative Order and completed five of the six years required for ordination as a priest.  However, I left before my final year owing to illness and external factors.  During my training, I excelled in my studies, was exposed to the emerging fields of Existentialism and Phenomenology, enjoyed the practice of silence and learnt to meditate and sing Gregorian Chant.  It was a life of incredible richness and balance – with strong group social support, challenging learning, daily prayer and meditation, sport and recreation and work on the farm owned by the Order.
  • Charlie Venning, my boss and mentor in the Brisbane Taxation Office, who believed in me to the point of promoting me to be Chief Internal Auditor, Manager of 90 staff engaged in collecting AUD700 Million of taxpayer revenue and, eventually, an Executive Director.
  • Peter Sullivan, a visionary Executive who worked in the Canberra Head Office of the Australian Taxation Office.  Peter had such a strong belief in my capabilities that he engaged me over a number of years to work on three significant national projects involving the organisation-wide development of the Taxation Office.  Peter always believed that I was capable of achieving more than I ever dreamed was possible.
  • Emeritus Professor Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, author/co-author of 50 books, who first engaged me in 1989 to be the Government representative on the First International Symposium on Action Research in Higher Education, Government and Industry held in Brisbane.  In 1991, Ortrun and I were founding executive members of the Action Learning and Action Research Association which continues today and has had a significant role in promoting action learning and action research on a global basis through World Congresses, international conferences, publications and speaking engagements.  I was President of the Association for five years from 1992. Ortrun proved to be my mentor, PhD supervisor and friend of more than 30 years.  When I doubted my capacity to do a PhD, she encouraged me strongly and provided me with ongoing support.  I have become one of her international “critical friends” for her book writing and provided concept editing for some of her books as well as book reviews. I have also contributed chapters to four of her books and a chapter, The Practical Visionary, to the book produced to honour her lifelong contribution to action learning and action research.   Ortrun is a visionary who has enviable tenacity, resilience and resourcefulness – part of her German inheritance.
  • Reg Revans, Father of Action Learning, I met Reg Revans in 1990 when he was a Keynote Speaker at the First World Congress on Action Learning and Action Research.  Ortrun was Convenor of the Congress and had invited Reg.  I picked up Reg from the airport when he arrived in Brisbane from the UK and took him to his motel opposite Griffith University.  Reg asked if I could show him the QE11 Stadium, the site for the 1982 Commonwealth Games which was adjacent to the University.  In 1930, Reg had represented Britain at the Commonwealth Games and won a silver medal in the triple jump and long jump. After taking him on a car tour of the site, I joined Reg for dinner at his motel and his charisma was evident to all in the restaurant – he was a great storyteller.  Reg inspired everyone at the Congress and his work continues to inspire me today.  I completed my action learning PhD in 1996 drawing heavily on Reg’s work and his book, The Origins and Growth of Action Learning.  My colleague, Julie Cork, and I have conducted over 70 longitudinal, action learning programs for managers over the last 16 years (involving more than 2,000 managers). We are currently co-authoring an action learning book for managers based on our experience in our manager development programs.  Julie, too, has been a very positive influence on me through her belief in my facilitations skills, my understanding of action learning, and my knowledge of manager and organisation development, as well as her willingness to explore the unknown and to collaborate on creating innovative programs.
  • Dr. Bob Dick taught me about organisation development and facilitation skills at the University of Queensland in the 1980’s when I undertook my MBA majoring in training and development.  Bob had an acknowledged, unique, participative style of teaching.  I have modelled my facilitation/co-facilitation of more than 1,000 workshops on his style.   Bob also provided mentorship for me when I was engaged in organisation development activities in the Taxation Office over a number of years.  We have also worked together to promote action learning and action research and to co-author a book on this topic.  I highly value our 40 years of friendship and collaboration.
  • Selva and Param Abraham who had an unshakeable belief in my action learning expertise and sound knowledge of the Tertiary Education Sector.  They are founding owners and now co-owners of the Australian Institute of Business (AIB) – accredited to doctoral level and the largest provider of MBA’s in Australia.  During my 32 years working in an adjunct capacity at AIB (1985-2017), I designed postgraduate courses, was a member of the Academic Board and eventually, Chair of the Research Committee. I also contributed substantially to the organisation’s ongoing accreditation within the Australian Higher Education System.   In my final year when I retired as a Professor of Management, I was honoured with the award of Emeritus Professor.
  • My State Director in the Federal Government Department of Social Security who appointed me as HRM Director as an external applicant (against the trend of internal promotions) and, subsequently, Director, Corporate Services, with responsibility for training and development, human resource management, staffing levels and pay for 3,000 staff in 30 locations across Queensland.  He eventually recommended me for secondment to Griffith University where I spent 11 years as an academic.
  • Emeritus Professor Fals Borda of the Bogota University who believed in my capacity to co-convene a World Congress on Action Learning and Action Research, held in Cartagena, Colombia (South America) in 1997.  The Congress was attended by 1,800 people from 61 countries.  I arranged seeding money for the Invitations to Present; participated as a member of the International Planning Committee as well as an Expert Panel Member; acted as Coordinator of the Organisational Development Stream; and officially opened the Congress with Orlando.  The occasion led me to conduct an impromptu workshop on action learning and organisational change with a group of postgraduate students who were Spanish-speaking.  One of their number acted as interpreter as I progressively explained a major action learning, organisational development project that was the subject of my PhD.
  • Seth Godin, among other things, was the creator of the social media platform, Squidoo (2005).  The platform enabled people to create Squidoo Lenes (effectively individual, modular websites) on any topic – a very strong encouragement to write and share knowledge and understanding.  Revenue from the site, generated through affiliate links/modules, was shared with authors and charities.  Squidoo was also an active community of writers from across the world and became the source of two of my long-standing friendships with my German counterparts, Anne Corcino and Achim Thiemermann, who were resident in America.  Together we collaborated in 2011 with two resident German programmers, Hans Braxmeier and Simon Steinberger, to build the Wizzley social media site – an online community of writers still operating today.   Seth and Squidoo proved to be a great inspiration for my writing and I became a “leader’ in the platform with more than 100 Squidoo lens.  I then went on to create a 6-month social media training program and developed a blog and e-book on Squidoo Marketing Strategies.  Seth provided personal encouragement when he featured my biographical Squidoo lens in his monograph, For the Love of Squidoo, commenting positively on my interesting career and humourous article, An Ethnographical Study of Cartagena Taxi Drivers.   Unfortunately, Squidoo became one of the dead websites after a very successful run and was sold to HubPages – which proved to be a sad day for Squidoo advocates.  Seth, a globally acknowledged marketing guru, has a blog on which he writes daily posts.  Seth’s blog has been a long-standing inspiration for my own blog on mindfulness.  I started writing posts daily too but this became too much when I had to conduct workshops in multiple locations across the State.   However, since 2016, I have created in excess of 750 posts on this Grow Mindfulness blog.

I am conscious that, owing to time and space, I have not done justice to the level of influence that these people have had on my career and life.  I am also conscious that I have omitted other people who strongly influenced me in a positive way such as Emeritus Professors David Limerick and Richard Bawden

Reflection

It is clear to me that social support is critical for personal development and the realisation of a person’s potential.  It also has a significant healing power.  The social support, both individual and group support, that I have enjoyed over many years has enabled me to overcome some of the residual effects of adverse childhood experiences.   Social support enables us to surrender – to let go of negative self-stories, to build self-efficacy, open new horizons and go beyond where we have travelled before.  I can relate strongly to the metaphor, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – an allusion to achieving intellectual and emotional progress by building on the ground-breaking understanding of those who have gone before.  

In reflecting on the social support provided by the individuals who helped me to let go of my self-doubts and fear, I am filled with gratitude for their positive contributions to my career and life.  Surrendering by “letting go” thus provides a pathway to gratitude.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection on our life journey and appreciation of all who have helped us on our way, we can gain renewed strength to move forward and contribute to a better society.  The Creative Meetups sponsored by the Health Story Collaborative have a key role in this endeavour by enabling writing, reflection and storytelling for health and personal development.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

On Being Deaf

Jessica Kirkness in her memoir, The House With All the Lights On, lets us see and hear what it is like to live with grandparents who are Deaf.   Her story covers her experience of living under the one roof with her parents and grandparents and coming to understand the “language of light”.  In the process, Jessica enlightens us about what it means to be deaf and how to interact with adults who are deaf.

Jessica’s grandfather spent a lot of time in and out of hospital.  She highlighted the problem of a lack of understanding on the part of hospital staff despite being told of her grandfather’s deafness. She maintained that his hospital care was often compromised because “staff had no clue how to interact with him”.   This was despite explicit instructions to get his attention before speaking to him, use pen and pad to enable him to understand their message and respond and ensure they actually looked at him when talking.

Jessica herself had studied Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to communicate with her grandparents, particularly with her Grandfather who refused to learn how to speak.  She even had to use sign language to communicate to him in hospital that he was dying after a cardiac arrest.  Jessica provides an enlightening  insight into sign language and its accompanying “visual and spatial tactics” generated by the hands and body movement.  She explains that movement serves to direct the viewer’s attention.

Being deaf

Jessica makes the point that, contrary to the general opinion in the community, her grandparents viewed their deafness as a “way of being in the world”, not a deficit (the focus on something missing).  They were able to recognise nuances in facial expressions and insisted that everyone faced them directly when they talked to them.  This enabled them to expertly read faces and attempt to lip read.

Jessica points out at one stage in her book about the lipreading  traps inherent in the English language.  She explains that this is the result of what is called “homophemes” – “words that sound different but involve identical movements of the speaker’s lips”.   The words themselves have different meanings, leading to confusion and stress for the lip reader.

Discrimination

Jessica quotes Rachel Kolb’s TED Talk, Navigating Deafness in a Hearing World, when she discusses the “primacy of voice” in our hearing world and the fact that “mouths are not a prerequisite for speech”.   Rachel makes the salient point that if you can’t hear, how can you learn to speak?  She was born profoundly deaf and has become a Rhodes Scholar, writer and disability advocate.

Rachel knew that her speech was defective and had to come to terms with her difference.  She spent 18 years in speech therapy to be able to talk, spending a lot of time learning speech through feeling the vibrations in the throat of her speech therapist.  Still people thought that her difference in speech was due to a foreign accent.

Jessica highlights the discrimination experienced by her grandparents in what is a “hearing world”.  People expect to be understood when they speak (“being heard”, “being listened to”).  The distortions in the speech of many deaf people lead to misunderstandings and assumptions about “lack of intelligence” or dumbness.  Jessica states that “deafness is the thing that we cannot look away from but cannot bear to face”.

The disruption and disorientation of deafness in a hearing world is not understood and sometimes feared.  People lack an appreciation that a deaf person can have a heightened sense of sight and an enhanced peripheral vision (so that actions “behind their back” can sometimes be detected and seen as derogatory).  People who are deaf often have a strong sense of touch and vibration.  As Jessica remarks, “sound is received in the body in all sorts of ways” and people who are deaf can “hear” music through vibrations in the floor.  I had personal experience of this in Melbourne when a group of us visited a school for deaf children and watched them dancing enthusiastically to music by sensing floor vibrations.

The language of light

Jessica’s Grandmother insisted that ‘the entire self is required for conversation”.  She could not tolerate people turning away from her when listening to what she had to say.  Jessica does point out, however, that the exception to this “whole-self rule” was when she was driving.  She notes too that “touch and sight were always interwoven” for her grandparents.  The world for them was “experienced through the interplay of the eyes and body”.

Consciousness of light was important because being in front of windows when communicating could create shadows that distort the images of hands and faces.  The world of deaf people is “driven by sight” where looking is equivalent to knowing.  Gerald Shea titled his book The Language of Light to express the role of light in sign language and the centrality of the visual for the deaf.  When the lights go out there is no dialogue.

Reflection

Jesscia’s book helped me to understand how easy it is to unconsciously exclude a person who is fully or partially deaf.  It reminded me that I have a friend in her eighties who is hard of hearing and I often overlook the need to face her when I talk.  She points out that being able to speak multiple languages, she has developed a propensity for lipreading – something I deprive her of when I am not facing her.  She often notes too that I “mumble”, failing to properly articulate my words which increases her sense of isolation.

By gaining an understanding of what it is like being deaf, we can learn to better include deaf people by more conscious speech and actions.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can increase our awareness of people’s differences, our own limitations and biases and be more compassionate in our interactions with others.  

Having been considerably moved by Jessica’s book, I wrote the following poem from the perspective of someone who is deaf:

Being Deaf

Being deaf is not a deficit
It’s a way of being in the world.
With refined senses of sight and touch
A reliance on light for meaning.

Face me so I can read your lips
Be in the light so I see the nuances in your facial expressions.
I am not dumb, I am deaf
I sense sound through vibrations.

While I can’t hear
I can see and feel things that you don’t notice.
My vision is not narrow
I can see my periphery clearly.

Don’t avoid me out of fear
Approach me out of curiosity.
Don’t judge me for my voice distortions
Listen intently for my message.

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Image by Ivana Tomášková from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Shedding an Identity

In a previous post, I discussed surrendering to the process of shedding old beliefs.  There are also times when we need to shed an identity or an aspect of one of our identities.  In this context, identity relates to the way we conceive of ourselves as being different to others – it can encompass a set of specific skills or trade (e.g. an architect); a level of achievement in sport, art or literature (e.g. a writer); and/or represent identification with a particular group such as a cultural or ethnic group.  There are times, however, when assuming an identity ceases to work for us owing to outside influences, often beyond our control.

Elite sportspeople, for example, who suffer a career-ending injury are confronted with the need to reframe their identity.  Others may find that chronic illness or a disability makes it impossible to pursue the activities that they once saw as part of their identity.  It may mean that they can no longer teach, write or act in the theatre, so they need to rethink how they define themselves or suffer ongoing frustration and, potentially, depression.   People who suffer from the debilitating effects of Long Covid often find that they can no longer entertain an identity that has been a large part of their life – brain fog, fatigue, inability to concentrate and endless pain can preclude activities that they once saw as part and parcel of how they viewed themselves and their capability.

Shedding an identity is a long but rewarding process

 Shedding an identity takes time and self-care.  It involves acknowledging a declining competence, recognising a loss of self-efficacy and a need to address self-esteem issues.  While there can be residual elements of an identity retained in the event of major life changes, there needs to be acceptance that you are no longer like you used to be in relation to the identity being shed.  The challenge is to handle the change not only at an intellectual level but also on an emotional and physical level, particularly where a life time of competence building has been involved.

However, the rewards of shedding an obsolete identity are a sense of freedom, the opportunity to pursue other creative outlets, and build a new sense of identity.  One participant in a recent Creative Meetup noted that leaving her corporate job (and related corporate identity and trappings) provided space for her to pursue her artistic talents – she indicated that it had felt very constraining to be “an artist in a corporate suit”.

A personal example of the process of shedding an identity       

I prided myself as an “A” Grade tennis player, having won a number of team competitions at that level.   I enjoyed the feeling of competence and control that I could gain from playing great tennis shots and winning games (including my own serve).  Associated with this identity was a sense of agility, speed and endurance over many games and sets of tennis.  I would pride myself for being able to chase down a drop-shot and play a winning shot from this position (I was a school champion sprinter in secondary school).

However, more recently I have been diagnosed with multi-level spinal degeneration, exercise asthma and arthritis in my “trigger finger” (used to hold the racquet firmly).  The combination of these disabilities means that I can no longer use my “first serve” without causing injury to my back (because of the need to bend sideways), no longer play singles tennis (as a result of the exercise asthma) or hit the ball hard for a sustained period (because of the pain from the arthritic finger).  I have also had to avoid net play to reduce the risk of falling or being hit in the face (where I have had multiple surgeries for skin cancers, including a melanoma – a vestige of playing summer competition in the Queensland heat).  The challenge for my self-esteem is that I have gone from being a tennis player that people want to partner because of my proven competence to an aged player that some people resent playing with.

Over many years I have built up my sense of self-efficacy in playing tennis by recalling good shots that I have played during a match.  I would go to sleep at night replaying different shots in my head.  The net result is that I have virtually a video-tape library stored in my head that I can sort by tennis shot (e.g., backhand, volley, lob) covering shots that I have played over many years in both competitive and social contexts.  The challenge to my self-esteem now is that while I can envision these shots, I can rarely execute them.  As an opponent said on one occasion when I missed while playing a top-spin forehand shot down the sideline, “You must be playing from memory”.  He was right, but little did he know that I had spent many hours by myself just practising that shot when I was younger.

So I have had to make adaptions including shedding the image of being a very competent “A” Grade tennis player.  My adaption has involved making changes at three levels:

1. Mental
  • Giving up the goal of winning each shot/game (I no longer have the “weapons”)
  • Focusing on achieving shots that surprise my opposition as well as my partner (because of residual skills associated with my original tennis identity, e.g., being able to play different spin shots, able to “read the play”, sound positioning on the court, and an array of shots that I have learned and practised over more than 60 years).  The ingrained skills acquired through conscious effort have enabled me to retain the capacity to play instinctive shots in some situations (shots that I have never practised but just do intuitively in a rally, e.g., backhand, half-volley lob).
2. Physical
  • No net play or running down drop shots
  • No smashes or first serves
  • No lengthy rallies involving a lot of running
  • No singles play
  • No playing in daylight (because of UV radiation and the risk of more skin cancers/melanomas)
3. Emotional
  • Overcoming the worry about what people ‘think” in terms of my tennis prowess (or lack of it)
  • Being able to rise above my mistakes when playing tennis
  • Dealing with my tennis partner’s expectations and/or disappointment
  • Coping with the frustration of not being able to play a shot that I used to play with ease.

Reflection

    Shedding an identity is a multi-layered affair that takes time – sometimes it is two steps forward and one backward, particularly on the emotional level.  At least I am only dealing with an identity in a recreational/sporting arena.  A lot of people are dealing with shedding an identity (or multiple identities) that are core to who they perceive themselves to be, and by how they are recognised by others.

    Progressively shedding the identity of a competent “A” Grade tennis player has made room for me to develop a new creative outlet in the form of poetry.   Over the past few months, I have written at least eight poems of reasonable length that have caused one observer to comment, “You are a talented poet” – so something lost, something gained.   This provides a new arena for me to build a new sense of competence and self-efficacy – by writing poetry and researching this writing genre as I have done through books such as Kim Rosen’s book, Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words.

    As we grow in mindfulness through reflection, writing, and sharing in community, we can develop new creative outlets, build stronger emotional regulation and develop resilience to manage life’s challenges and setbacks that lead to the need to shed an identity.

    ______________________________

    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Surrendering to the Process of Shedding Old Beliefs

    There are times when we have to shed something of ourself that we hold dear – our beliefs, our self-stories, or an aspect of our identity.   Sharon Salzberg, in her new book Real Life, describes this shedding process as “the movement from constraint, narrowness and limitation to openness, connection, and freedom”.   Shedding was the topic introduced by Jennifer Harris, the facilitator of our recent Creative Meetup.

    Jennifer introduced the theme of shedding by sharing Harryette Mullen’s poem, Shedding Skin.  Harryette likens the process of shedding to stripping off “old scarred skin” and “sloughing off deadscales”.  In her view, it involves being open to vulnerability by “shedding toughness, peeling layers down”.   Jennifer also introduced the words of a song by Florence and the Machine in which she sings, “And in the Spring I shed my skin”.  These words from Rabbit heart (Raise Me Up) are interpreted to mean “shed timidity and become courageous”.

    Shedding old beliefs

    Neale Donald Walsch, in an interview with Kute Blackson for the Soul Talk Podcast, spoke at length about the challenge of giving up old beliefs.  He had been told by his father not to talk to black people because “they were trash”.  He sustained this belief for some time because he thought it would be disrespectful to challenge the authority of his parent.  However, his own life experience as a radio host caused considerable cognitive dissonance for him to the point where he had to shed his old belief about black people.  Neale found that when interviewing for his radio show the audience was predominantly black and he found that they were, in fact, “brilliant and incredible…nice human beings” and ended up having lunch with them and seeking a close friendship with one black person in particular.  He had to shed his old, wrong beliefs about black people to overcome his cognitive dissonance and sustain his relationships with members of his audience.

    Neale also had to shed his beliefs about women (again taught by his father) – “women should take care of the house and kids and not being paid equally, not being as bright as men”.  This belief undermined his relationships with women and resulted in multiple failed marriages.  His beliefs about women were constraining, limiting and narrow.  It took regular relationship crises for him to challenge his beliefs and to learn to behave differently in his relationships with women.  So, disconfirming evidence and/or life crises can lead to shedding wrong or outdated beliefs.

    However, some people continue to maintain firmly held beliefs despite disconfirming or conflicting evidence and will defend them with overt or covert aggression.  I learnt this at my own expense when I was a young manager in the 1980’s.  I participated in a national conference for State Managers of Training held by the Australian Taxation Office in Canberra.  At one stage in the process, an Assistant Commissioner of Taxation (2IC) joined us to provide moral support for the Central Office Training Team (who were “under fire” from the State representatives for trying to centralise all training).  During the Assistant Commissioner’s presentation, I politely challenged his statement that “The Taxation Office is at the forefront of technology in Australia.”  I explained that at a State level the opposite was true – in fact we were years behind the private sector at the time.  I was publicly abused for my challenge to his firmly held belief (which, while no longer true, was true in the 1960s and early 1970s).  His abuse was so memorable that I was stopped in the street 10 years later by a participant from another State who recalled the “abuse”.

    I also learnt again painfully that people in authority can protect their beliefs by covert aggression as well as overt aggression   When I was an academic, I was introducing action learning into my university and using it as a basis for my PhD research.  My Dean opposed my endeavours by trying to prevent my appointment as a tenured academic as well as my overseas travel for a World Congress on action learning in Colombia (I was a member of the international organising committee).  He eventually prevented my promotion to a Senior Lecturer – in the feedback afterwards, telling me that “you had the best application [because of my experience and rating as a teacher], but you are using a non-mainstream approach in your PhD research”.  Action learning promotes the view that we are all “personal scientists” building expertise through life experiences and reflection on our experiences – a position that conflicted with my Dean’s belief in the expert role of academics and the role of Universities as being the “repositories of all learning”.  In consequence, he used covert aggression to try to prevent my academic advancement.

    Shedding self-stories

    Negative self-stories can develop through the influence of our parents, teachers, peers or colleagues.  These self-stories can shape our beliefs about ourself and our worth and influence our behaviours in the face of difficulties and life’s challenges.  Negative self-stories can arise through traumatic experiences and are often at a sub-conscious level.  Self-beliefs such as “I’m not good enough” can arise from behavioural messages of parents (e.g. through neglect, constant criticism, or extended absences).  The “need to please disease” as a hidden motivator can also arise from a belief that “I’m not lovable” and “I have to be nice to be liked and not rejected”.

    It is difficult to overcome adverse childhood experiences that are often behind negative self-beliefs.  Tara Brach suggests that mindfulness practices (such as mantra meditation, writing and reflective conversations) can help us to loosen false beliefs about ourselves.  She offers a process for investigating and challenging false beliefs about ourself.   She argues that as we grow in mindfulness we can develop the self-awareness necessary to enable us to identify our habituated behaviour and to name and challenge our false beliefs.  In the process, we can loosen the hold of our false self-beliefs, restore our energy and engage more positively and creatively in everyday life.

    Surrendering to the process of shedding

    Participants in our recent Creative Meetup discussed the difficulty of letting go of old beliefs.  They suggested that the process takes time, patience and self-compassion.  They discussed the movement from the pain of shedding to the realisation of potential.  They suggested that the process of taking on new beliefs is uncomfortable, moving from the known to the unknown. 

    The rewards of surrendering to the process of shedding beliefs were valued and highlighted.  They talked about “a new way of seeing”, removal of blinkers, experiencing release and empowerment, and accessing a “deeper self” and a “a new way of being”.  The challenge of surrender is real, but the rewards are great.

    Tara Brach, with Jack Kornfield and colleagues, offers an online course, Power of Awareness, that is designed to help us “break free from negative thoughts” to realise balance, peace and joy.  They offer a mindful approach to achieving a quiet mind by bringing awareness and self-compassion to our “inner dialogue”.   I have undertaken this course and found it highly beneficial.

    Reflection

    Lulu & Mischka in their mantra meditation, Metamorphosis, capture the essence of surrendering to the process of shedding.  They encourage us to “keep letting go”, “trust in the process”, relax into the present and “stop resisting”.  If we can do this through mindfulness practices such as reflection and mantra meditations we can achieve healing and a metamorphosis that will enable us to spread our wings and fly higher.  This exhortation resonates with Sharon Salzberg’s encouragement to move from constraint to freedom, from narrowness to connection. from limitation to openness.  I have expressed these insights in the following poem:

    Surrender to Shedding

    There comes a time in our life when we have to shed old beliefs.
    Slough off our limiting self-beliefs,
    Remove constraints on our thinking,
    Break down the barriers of our defence mechanisms,
    Let go and stop resisting,
    Surrender to the process of casting aside what no longer works for us.

    The shedding process is painful.
    Discomfort with the new,
    Feeling lost,
    Leaving behind the known,
    Moving to uncertainty,
    Open to anxiety.

    The rewards of shedding are great.
    Releasing from constraints and limitations,
    Achieving a new sense of freedom,
    Moving from pain to possibility,
    Discovering a new creative self,
    Flowing like a river, rediscovering “Flow”.

    _____________________________

    Image by Jonathan from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

    Finding Strength in Vulnerability

    Kylie Orr in her novel, The Eleventh Floor, has her lead character, Gracie, comment after experiencing the impact of deceit in a relationship, “I was committed to loving up close, to being open, vulnerable”.  While Gracie acknowledged that “there is danger in that”, she was willing to take the risk inherent in vulnerability because “a life held together by lies fell apart so easily”.   Being vulnerable exposes us to the possibility of being harmed by someone else emotionally, intellectually or physically – it   involves showing our true self with our emotional weaknesses, character faults and physical defects.

    Vulnerability, however, is a source of strength.  It underpins perseverance and resilience, facilitates sustainable relationships, enriches our contribution to community, and enables the writing of an entertaining and enlightening memoir.  To access the strength in vulnerability we have to face up to being vulnerable – we need to name our feelings (e.g., fear of rejection) so that we can tame them.

    Perseverance and resilience

    Contrary to the Alpha Male depiction of power, dominance and the trappings of success, Lance Alfred (legally deaf NBA player) contends that perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity require a totally different orientation.  He maintains that there is real strength in vulnerability – owning up to our feelings, being authentic, having self-awareness and self-intimacy (acknowledging our own thoughts, actions and consequences), forgiving others, moving beyond other people’s expectations to be our true self, accepting our inadequacies and mistakes and overcoming the fear of failure.  

    When we fear failure we can be trapped by inertia – unable to move forward beyond the current challenge.  In her novel The Brightest Star, Gail Tsukiyama describes a time when Chinese-American actress, Anna May Wong, was making her stage debut In The Circle of Chalk and was terrified that her speaking voice and singing were not up to the expected standard (after spending so much time acting in silent movies).  The critics were having a field day about her voice but she acknowledged this weakness and “went on the offensive”, hiring a voice coach.  Despite the criticisms of the critics, the show had a “successful run”.  

    Sustainable intimate relationships

    We can hide our fear of being vulnerable in a relationship in multiple ways including excessive criticism of the other person, aggression (anger), withdrawal (silent treatment), overcontrolling or projecting our own weaknesses or fears onto the other person.  These defence mechanisms only serve to push the other person away, to wound them and disable them.  While they provide protection for our ego and self-concept, they create a barrier to a sustainable intimate relationship.

    Tara Brach provides a meditation which enables us to explore the ways that we create separation or distance in a relationship by resorting to defence mechanisms to ward off vulnerability.  In the meditation, we are asked how we are impacting our relationships(s) by avoiding vulnerability.  The challenging questions relate to self-protection, projection, judging, withholding, distrusting or engaging in “superior conceit”.  Tara points out the power of being vulnerable (overcoming our natural defence mechanisms) in terms of building closeness and sustainable relationships. 

    Enriching our contribution to community

    Tara tells a number of stories where being vulnerable led to someone else finding strength to manage a disturbing or embarrassing circumstance.  One of the features of the Creative Meetups hosted by The Health Story Collaborative is the vulnerability shared by participants in the monthly, online meetings.  Participants are people experiencing chronic illness or disability or are in a caring role.  They willingly share their pain, difficulties in coping, inability to think clearly, physical weaknesses, anxiety or depression or lack of energy. 

    The level of openness and trust enables individuals to express their vulnerability without fear of being taken advantage of, or being consciously harmed by anyone else present.  Vulnerability, enhanced by the culture of sharing and collaboration, builds closeness and healing.  There is the implicit recognition that being vulnerable is integral to the human condition.

    Developing a memorable memoir

    In the Art of Memoir, Mary Karr, stresses the need for authenticity – revealing our real self, not the projected self or the deemed “virtuous self”.  She highlights the importance of being vulnerable rather than self-protective.  She sees the memoir as a personal unfolding that is sometimes painful – an honest exploration of our “inner landscape”, not just a recording of external events.  Mary suggests that as we are developing our draft memoir with recalled stories “what burbles up onto the page is what is exclusively yours, both as a writer and a human being”.  She maintains that we have to trust the power of truth enough to “keep unveiling yourself”, despite the shame in the revelations, and, in the process, the memoir will structure itself and you will show up ”warts and all” – leaving a memorable impression that highlights your contribution to relationships and community.

    Reflection

    Being vulnerable is difficult as self-protection is our natural fall-back position.  As we grow in mindfulness through writing, reflection and meditation, we can begin to draw back the veil that hides our imperfections and inadequacies.  With the inherent growth in self-awareness and self-intimacy, we can become more real and more invested in telling the truth about ourselves. This is a progressive inner journey – a slow unveiling of our true inner self.   By letting go of shame and expectations (our own and that of others), we can develop authentic connections, friendships and intimate relationships.

    I wrote the following poem as a reflection on the negative impact of defensiveness on relationships and the power of vulnerability to create intimacy by removing our constructed barriers.

    Sustaining a Relationship

    Deceit destroys a relationship.
    Closeness is beyond us, as we retreat behind the wall.
    Facing up to who we are can be painful.

    Without vulnerability, our relationships are shallow.
    We hide behind our self-projected mask.
    We engage our defence mechanisms.
    We fence off our inner landscape.

    Sustainability lies in vulnerability.
    Openness to ourselves and others.
    No longer the frightened child.
    Now exposed to risk and reward.
    Intimacy is in our hands, if we reveal who we truly are.

    ___________________________________________

    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

    The Healing Power of Social Support

    Social support can take the form of having friends, family or other people who can be a source of support in difficult times, such as chronic illness, death of a loved one or ongoing disability.  They can provide emotional, companionship or resource support and enhance our self-image while offering different perspectives on what we are encountering.

    Social support can be provided through a formal social network where people with common interests come together to achieve specific outcomes such as fitness, charitable work or a hobby (as with the Australian Men’s Shed).  Alternatively, they can be informal where a number of people come together on a regular basis to share a coffee and have a chat.

    The benefits of social support

    Julia Baird, author of Bright Shining: How Grace Changes Everything, highlights the mental health benefits of social support and points to the research that shows the “poor mental health” that results from isolation and loneliness.  She refers to a homeless support group organised by St. Vincent de Paul Society that she joined and noted that there was “no pretence”, people “just being who they are”.  The healing power of this transparency and normality was evident in the homeless participants developing a positive self-image and contributing from their perspective and reality.

    Social support is one of the three components for sustainable recovery from trauma, along with appreciating the complex nature of trauma and its impacts and adopting a holistic approach.  Research and clinical practice have demonstrated that social support builds resilience in trauma sufferers – they realise they are not alone, are encouraged to pursue their healing process, are reinforced in their healing efforts and learn vicariously from others who are experiencing difficult emotions and challenging situations.   The resultant sense of connectedness contributes to positive mental health.

    The GROW organisation over many years has demonstrated that mutual social support has contributed to recovery from many forms of mental illness for hundreds of people (as documented in testimonial stories by participants).  The peer-to-peer support process facilitated by a nominated leader within the “lived experience” group, promotes personal development and ongoing recovery – a process that may take a number of years.

    Reflection

    Social support helps participants to develop a sense of being cared for as well as feeling that they can seek assistance from others in understanding and managing their challenging situation.  People gain a strong sense of belonging and connectedness through sharing their personal challenges, their success strategies and their progress towards healing.  They grow in mindfulness as they share their stories and write about their insights, gaining increased self-awareness and heightened self-esteem.

    Creative Meetups, provided by the Health Story Collaborative, is a powerful social support system in that it combines the healing power of social support with the healing power of storytelling.  Participants feel fully supported by others engaged in compassionate listening or sharing their stories of challenging situations resulting from chronic illness, disability or their carer role.  The following poem expresses the sense of social support that can be gained through the Creative Meetups:

    Social Support

    When we share our stories of personal challenges, we realise that we are not alone.
    We draw strength from others experiencing and managing more difficult circumstances.
    We sense that we belong and feel connected to something outside of ourselves and our pain.
    We can be ourselves, free of pretence, unencumbered by the need to be “better than”.
    We build trust, savour our relationships and look forward to the next encounter.
    There is something magical and disarming about the process that leads to changing perspectives and healing.

    ____________________________________________

    Image by John Hain from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

    Paternal Forgiveness – A Reflective Poem

    Since I started participating in the Creative Meetups organised by the Health Story Collaborative I have been writing poems. It’s as if there are feelings inside me that need to get out.  It reminds me of my PhD supervisor who told me at one stage of my extended procrastination, “You have a doctorate inside you, unless you let it out, it will undermine whatever you are doing.”  Once I wrote the PhD, it released a whole new world of opportunity.

    Over time, our disposition to forgive and our capacity to offer forgiveness to others and ourself will develop almost invisibly if we grow in mindfulness through appropriate practices, such as forgiveness meditations.  The following poem grew out of my mindfulness practices and Meetup reflections:

    Paternal Forgiveness

    I didn’t forgive you while you were alive.
    I didn’t even forgive myself.
    Now I don’t know how to say sorry to someone who has passed.

    You served in the army during World War 2 before I was born.
    You spent four years in Changi and worked on the Burma Railway.
    Shortly after your army discharge, you reenlisted.

    When I was four, you left to work in Sydney and Woomera.
    And served 18 months with the Occupation Forces in Japan.
    There you were an “enemy stranger” in a foreign land.

    In your absence, Mum was seriously ill following the birth of Michael.
    You returned for two weeks to take Mum and my two brothers to Brisbane.
    While baby Michael spent time with your sister before getting ill himself.

    My younger sister and I were separated and left with different relatives in Melbourne.
    Three month old Michael was eventually placed in a Founding Home.
    When Mum returned a month later to collect the three of us, you told her that Michael had died while she was in transit.

    I spent 18 months in an orphanage at the age of four while you were away.
    Those were the months of my imprisonment and harsh treatment, shared by my younger sister.
    Though we were separated from each other by the Institution.

    Mum was only allowed by the Institution to visit us monthly.
    It was only then that I saw my brothers and my sister, despite her being in the same Orphanage.
    I felt isolated and alone.

    When you returned from Japan, you became an aggressive alcoholic.
    As a young child, I would freeze and dissociate when your rage flared.
    As I got older, I would take flight by riding my push bike into the night as fast as I could.

    I didn’t understand PTSD – no one did at that time.
    I had not been where you had been or seen what you saw.
    I didn’t see the triggered images that tormented you.

    The war, the explosion, hospitalisation, capture and prison life.
    You suffered the loss of mates killed in action or dying from cruelty or malnutrition while you were in Changi or working on the Burma railway.
    You experienced unimaginable horrors.

    I understand now that alcohol was your way to drown your pain and sorrows.
    To block out the horrific images.
    I forgive you and forgive myself for my harsh judgments – I didn’t understand.

    It was easy to take sides when you were drunk and wasting our income.
    While Mum slaved away at the local Woolies to keep us afloat.
    And vented her anger and frustration at night.

    As an adult, I had to take Mum away from your violence for her survival.
    I was fearful at the time that you would try to find us.
    As we took shelter in the small rooms at the back of a General Store.

    The separation proved to be a godsend.
    You both improved your lives.
    With new partners eventually and a healthier way of life.

    You even gave up alcohol and walked an hour every day.
    On Sundays you took Mum to Church.
    But we were not able to reconnect.

    You had been a professional boxer, winning 20 of 22 fights.
    You won trophies for tennis and athletics.
    You became Player Coach of a Reserve Grade AFL team in Brisbane.

    I am truly grateful that I inherited your genes.
    The fighting spirit, resilience, determination and fast reflexes.
    All of which have helped me in my tennis and my work and life.

    I am sorry that I did not know what you were going through.
    That I saw myself, instead of you, as the victim.
    That I did not acknowledge your unbearable pain and unbelievable courage and tenacity.

    ____________________________________________

    Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

    Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site and the resources to support the blog.

    Forgiveness: Forgiving Others and Ourselves

    Forgiveness is hard to do, whether we are trying to forgive others or ourself.  It’s not a one-off event but is an evolving process which is why experts in the area suggest that we start off small – with a minor incident or hurt.  Forgiveness engages our feelings as well as our mind and body.  It is something that we have to work at consciously if we are to achieve our goal of “letting go”.

    Forgiving others

    Frank Ostaseski, author of The Five Invitations: Discover What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, suggests that one of the lessons from the dying is, “Don’t Wait to Forgive”.  In his extensive hospice experience he found that too many people were consumed by anger and rage on their death bed because they were unable to forgive others.  He argues that we should not wait until we are dying to forgive others and ourself.  Frank maintains that there is a natural resistance to forgiveness because we have a need to maintain our self-image (of goodness/perfection) and find it difficult to acknowledge that we are carrying challenging emotions such as anger, resentment and regret.   However, there is a real cost to ourselves and our relationships when we hold onto these emotions.

    Danette May in her memoir, The Rise: An Unforgettable Journey of Self-Love, Forgiveness and Transformation, argues that we need to “cut the rope”, or as Frank puts it, “letting go”.  These difficult emotions can hold us back, causing self-absorption and “emotional stunting”.  There is a real challenge involved in acknowledging our part in an interaction (or multiple interactions) that was hurtful.  We need to be able to see things from the other person’s perspective and understand what was driving their behaviour.   Frank suggests that in the final analysis, we need to be able to honestly face up to “what we don’t like in ourselves”.

    Fred Luskin contends that there are three elements of a grievance that contribute to our “maintaining the rage” and sustaining the hurt:

    1. Preoccupation with the ”offence” and exaggerating its negative impact on us
    2. Insisting that others are to blame for our negative/difficult feelings
    3. Developing and perpetuating a “grievance story”.

    Fred argues that the real costs of not letting go are extensive.  Not only do we lose our personal power because we are “controlled by emotions”, but also we lose the ability to focus and achieve peace and wellness.  If we are consumed by anger, hatred, resentment or envy we can’t see past our hurt and we use all our energy in sharing our story and maintaining our sense of hurt.

    Forgiving ourselves

    The starting point for self-forgiveness is acknowledging our part in the hurtful interaction. It is incredibly difficult to forgive ourselves for the hurt we cause to others – it can be a lifelong process.   Part of the challenge is dealing with strong feelings of guilt and shame – feelings that go against the grain and undermine our sense of who we are.  We can blind ourselves to our negative impact on others because it is too hurtful to ourselves to own up to our part in hurtful interactions.

    Jack Kornfield in the Power of Awareness Course argues that there are three myths that underpin our reluctance to engage in self-forgiveness:

    1. Self-forgiveness is a sign of weakness – the reality is that it takes a lot of strength and courage to face up to our hurtful words and actions
    2. We can forgive ourselves through a “quick fix”, e.g., a short meditation or exercise
    3. Forgiving ourselves is condoning our hurtful behaviour.

    Elisha Goldstein cites Lily Tomlin when discussing forgiveness of others, Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.  This insight can as readily apply to self-forgiveness as to forgiving others.  In self-forgiveness, we have to give up our “grievance story”, let go of wishing that we had behaved better and dismantle our defenses that prevent us from acknowledging our part in a hurtful interaction.

    Mindfulness – a path to forgiveness

    When we develop a mindful disposition by observing our inner landscape – our thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations – we can reduce our negative thoughts and increase our ability to forgive.  Mindfulness can develop our “disposition to forgive” – it can unearth grievance stories, clarify our part in any interaction, help us to take the other person’s perspective, increase our awareness of negative emotions and related bodily sensations and cultivate compassion.  Ultimately mindfulness can help us to develop self-awareness and emotional regulation so that we are not captive to our strong, challenging emotions and can live in the present rather than the hurtful past.

    Forgiveness meditation

    There are multiple forms of forgiveness meditation.  Loving kindness meditation, for example, has been shown to cultivate compassion towards others as well as self-compassion.   Sharon Salzberg, experienced mindfulness trainer, offers a three-part forgiveness meditation encompassing:

    1. Seeking forgiveness from someone you have hurt or harmed
    2. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt or harmed you
    3. Self-forgiveness for the times you have harmed yourself through being judgmental.

    Sharon includes an affirmation related to the last point, For all the ways I have hurt or harmed myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I offer forgiveness.  Other meditation trainers, such as Mitra Manesh, focus the self-forgiveness on the harm that we have caused to others, rather than to ourself.  Mitra, in her forgiveness meditation podcast, places a lot of emphasis on becoming aware of our bodily sensations as we deal with the “heavy energies” involved in holding onto grudges, anger or rage.  She also suggests a mantra for seeking forgiveness from others, For all the ways that I have caused you pain and suffering, I ask your forgiveness.

    In reflecting on a number of forgiveness meditations, I identified four common principles underpinning the meditation process:

    1. Stay grounded, relaxed and focused
    2. Manage distractions through an anchor such as your breath or sounds
    3. Start small with something that is manageable and recent (limited history or replaying)
    4. Adopt a healing perspective – show loving kindness to others and yourself.

    We can develop a mindful disposition in multiple ways , not just through meditation.  As we grow in mindfulness we can more readily adopt the perspective of others and understand their hurt.  We can own up to and name our own feelings, however negative or challenging. Over time, our disposition to forgive and our capacity to offer forgiveness to others and ourself will grow almost invisibly.

    Reflection

    Forgiving ourself can be a lifetime pursuit as I have found in trying to forgive myself for my part in my marriage breakup which occurred more than 40 years ago.  This is something I am working towards.  I find that forgiving others and forgiving ourself are interwoven activities – not discrete, independent steps.

    I have also been reflecting on my long-standing anger towards my Father for his alcoholism and its major impact on my childhood and my family.  I recently started crafting a poem called Paternal Forgiveness which I will publish soon in this blog.  In the poem, I offer forgiveness to my father, seek to forgive myself for my harsh judgments and express my sorrow for the hurt that I had caused him when he was alive.  In writing the poem, I have drawn inspiration from Kim Rosen’s book, Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words.  In the book, Kim describes how poetry has helped people to deal with challenging situations, including the need to forgive others and themselves, and provides insight into the transformative elements of a poem.

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    Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

    By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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