Coping with Grief During the Pandemic

Jenée Johnson, mindfulness trainer and visionary leader in the public health space, gave an enlivening and inspiring presentation during the current Healing Healthcare: A Global Mindfulness Summit.  In her talk, Honoring Grief with Your Whole Heart, she highlighted the collective grief resulting from the pandemic and offered processes and tools to cope with grief, whether pandemic-driven or the result of life’s normal circumstances.  She mentioned that she had been well equipped for the pandemic – having the solidity of a house, finances, nutrition, supportive partner, work and a relevant skillset – but she too found the pandemic “unmooring”. 

Jenée experienced the added personal grief of the death of her brother – an experience I can relate to with the recent death of my brother Pat.  However, her brother died not only from the isolation associated with the pandemic but also from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from 9/11.  Jenée spoke of grief, whether personal or collective grief, as depleting and “an energy expenditure”.  She maintained that the pandemic created a “tsunami of emotions” which Dr. Lise Van Susteren describes as “emotional inflammation”.  

Ways to cope with grief

While Jenée acknowledged that the pandemic and associated events impacted individuals differentially, grief was a common outcome – a sense of loss of people, a way of life and/or positive memories.   She contended, however, that there are ways to replenish ourselves, rebuild our energy and achieve emotional regulation.  Some of the ways to cope with grief that Jenée suggested are:

  • Firstly, acknowledge that the reactions of fear, anger and grief are natural human responses.  The challenge is how we manage or regulate these difficult emotions in a time that is constantly unmooring us from our established way of doing things and our regular supports.  The pandemic and personal grief impact our whole human system – our minds, hearts, body and emotions. 
  • Cultivate awareness of everything that has happened to you over the period of the pandemic and subsequently.  Jenée suggested that we need to attend to, rather than hide from, our emotional state.  There is a tendency to shut down and block out painful feelings and recollections but unless we face them, they can overwhelm us when we least expect.  She mentioned that there were times when she cried and wailed after her brother’s death, releasing pent-up emotions.
  • Central to Jenée’s approach is heart-focused breathing.  She stated that when we breathe deeply and release our out-breath we can let go of what is constraining us.  The HeartMath Institute that has pioneered research on the intelligence of the heart has promoted heart-focused breathing and developed a suite of tools, programs and videos to promote health and wellbeing.  They contend that heart-focused breathing contributes to heart coherence which helps to balance mental and emotional energy and activate creativity.  Jenée argued that this form of breathing creates space for energy, enables the pain of grief to move through us and opens us up to flourish and experience joy and pleasure once again.
  • Change our expectations about our capacity to focus and achieve productivity.  Jenee suggested that is not reasonable to expect that we can be as productive during the pandemic as we were before and the same applies to personal grief.  The pandemic and personal grief contribute to a depletion of energy and reserves.  Rather than overload our system with unrealistic expectations, it is important to modify our expectations in the light of our reduced energy levels.  For example, I have to reduce my expects about how many posts I can write per week given my recent grief and the accumulated effects of the pandemic.  Some people have gone so far as to change their expectations about he nature of their work and sought more fulfilling and rewarding work that is less depleting in terms of time and energy.
  • Pamper ourselves with things that relax us – spending more time reading novels or the paper, sleeping in when appropriate, enjoying a massage, purchasing aromatherapy oils or indulging in treats (Jenée admitted that coffee and almond croissants are one of her treats – something else I have in common!).  One of the dangers is to resort to alcohol to dampen our pain (alcohol sales have exploded during the pandemic) and we need to be cognisant of the impact of increased alcohol consumption on our sobriety goals and this may entail a reassessment of the “reward value” of consuming more alcohol in times of grief. 
  • Rebuilding social connections through our recreation and work activities. Resuming social activities such as social tennis or dancing (where permitted) along with walking generates movement which in turn builds up dopamine which makes us feel good.  Sometimes grief brings extended family members together and creates the opportunity to develop new connections or re-establish old ones.  In the workplace, we could begin our meetings with a grounding exercise followed by an emotional “check-in” to see how everyone is coping – putting people ahead of task in these challenging times.
  • Practicing gratitude can generate appreciation and joy even amidst grief and pain. Jenée suggested buying a beautiful gratitude journal and an exquisite pen to cultivate the habit of journal writing and expressing gratitude.  She recommended Robert Emmons’ book, Gratitude Works, for its insights on the benefits of gratitude and its tips on ways to foster gratitude. 

Reflection

Jenée quoted Jon Kabat-Zin when he said that “the challenge of mindfulness is to be present for your experience as it is”, not as you wish it to be or try to make it different by denying the reality of the experience and your related thoughts and emotions.  Mindfulness can build resilience in challenging times as has been proven by extensive research.   As we grow in mindfulness and enhance our self-awareness, we are better able to gain insights into the way forward, develop the courage to face our fears and increase our window of tolerance.  We can experience gratitude, joy, renewed energy, and heightened creativity.

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Image by SEBASTIEN MARTY 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 the Frontline During COVID – Self Caring for the Carers

Professor Cynda Hylton Rushton and Rheanna Hoffmann recently engaged in a moving video podcast conversation that highlighted the scars and distress of what it means to be a frontline nurse during the COVID pandemic.  They covered not only the impact on nurses physical and mental health but also explored strategies that could be adopted by nurses to manage their distress.  Cynda will be a key presenter at the free, online Healing Healthcare Summit in early February 2022. 

Cynda is incredibly well-informed about nurses experiences during the pandemic, being a nurse herself and working with nurses to develop what she calls “moral resilience” – the ability of an individual to “restore or sustain” integrity in the face of the onslaught of challenges to their inner harmony and capacity to align their words and actions with their values and deep commitments.

Cynda, whose focus includes clinical ethics and contemplative practice, brings to the conversation penetrating insight and deep caring and compassion – characteristics that are manifested in her faculty work with the clinicians training program, Being with Dying.  Cynda is the author of Moral Resilience: Transforming Moral Suffering in Healthcare.

Rheanna is an emergency nurse who is also a meditation practitioner and teacher with extensive experience in mindfulness and its benefits.  During the worst of the pandemic in the US, she volunteered to work in New York City.  Her personal recollections of this experience can be found in an interview where she shares an intimate insight into what happened for herself and others during the overwhelming crisis.  Her presentation is part of the Mindful Healthcare Speaker Series which is readily available as a “resource for challenging times”. 

In her discussion with Cynda, Rheanna provided an expose of her emergency nursing experience during COVID that is raw and vulnerable but manifests her openness and courage.  I have previously reported on Rheanna’s interview about death and the dying process with Frank Ostaseski, Founder of the Zen Hospice Project.  Rheanna herself is the Founder of The Whole Practitioner designed to help nurses “to rediscover health, balance and their core values” after experiencing burnout, exhaustion and deeply personal frustration.

The distress of frontline COVID nurses

Rheanna recounted in telling detail the nature and extent of distress experienced by COVID nurses, especially those who were engaged in emergency wards.   She spoke emotively about the following experiences and sensations:

  • Reaching the limit of effectiveness of personal resources – whether that be yoga, friends or colleagues
  • Experiencing isolation and loneliness – tendency to withdraw physically and mentally to deal with the overwhelm
  • Feeling incredibly bare and vulnerable – the challenge of people dying and grief (that of relatives/friends and your own grief)
  • Physical exhaustion – tired beyond belief and suffering from lack of sleep, resulting from replaying adverse incidences
  • Feeling chronic hopelessness and helplessness – the challenges were beyond the capacity of individuals and the health system itself; exposure to personal limitations in the face of so much death and suffering.  Associated with this sense of helplessness are nightmares, flashbacks, randomly crying and insomnia.
  • Separation from self – the natural consequence of traumatic experiences.
  • Loss of a sense of balance –  impacting how time, health and relationships are valued or devalued (because of lack of time allocated to them)
  • Burnout – on physical, psychological and moral levels.  Rheanna described this as “acute burnout” reducing the energy for self-care and potentially leading to thoughts of suicide.

Rheanna pointed out that nurses, including herself, were normally able to “compartmentalise” their  adverse experiences and do so in a way that was healthy,  However, the adverse experiences from the pandemic were “unrelenting”, leading to chronic distress.  Part of the frustration was the inability of frontline nurses to help others at times when they were feeling so “fragile”.

Self-caring strategies for frontline COVID nurses

Cynda offered several self-care strategies for COVID nurses during her conversation with Rheanna.  Some covered ways of addressing negative self-talk while others focused on adopting a changed perspective and mindset or instituting a mindfulness practice: 

  • Mindfulness practice: Cynda offered a mindfulness practice that could be used by COVID nurses experiencing distress and burnout.  This focused initially on the breath with the out-breath being viewed as a release of stress.  In the exercise, the exhale stage was lengthened to accentuate and support release.  Participants were encouraged to rest in the gap between the in-breath and out-breath and, where possible, extend this gap between breaths.  A slow body scan was the next step with emphasis on identifying and releasing points of tension.  Participants were encouraged to focus on an anchor of choice to stop their minds addressing their extended to-do list or diverting into worrying.   Cynda suggested that nurse participants become conscious of how many miles their feet have travelled in pursuit of their daily caring and the level of support that their feet  have provided.  Lastly, she encouraged the nurses to employ statements such as:
    • May I trust the wisdom of this moment consciously and fully.
    • May I have the courage, honesty and openness to see things clearly and without judgment.
    • May I be willing to let go of what impedes me rather than helps me.
    • May I encounter a wise mentor to assist me to deal with these challenges.
  • Confronting your own limitations: Rheanna pointed out the sense of guilt and shame that she experienced that were driven , in part, by her self-talk – “you could have done more”, “if only you had acted faster”, “if you had paid attention more fully you could have saved more people”, “if only you had been able to convince people to make different decisions”, etc.  Our minds are very creative when it comes to self-denigration and negative self-evaluations.  It is important to acknowledge that no one could have handled the challenges for nursing presented by the pandemic and not experience their debilitating effects.  Cynda suggests that nurses need to “turn towards their limitations” and do so “with as much compassion “ as they extend to others.  There is scope here for loving-kindness meditation for oneself.
  • Changing your perspective: Cynda stated that the tendency in these crisis situations is to think that you are carrying the load by yourself because there is a natural tendency to turn inwards to cope with what is happening.   She argues that what is required is a change in perspective.  For example, she asked Rheanna to think about “Who else is carrying the load of the pandemic? “Who has your back? (e.g. friends, family, colleagues local and abroad & mentors).
  • Separate effort from outcomes: Cynda maintained that a form of self-care is to acknowledge that  the health outcomes are often beyond the control of a nurse.  She stated that In her own work she does the best she can in the circumstances to meet an identified need but recognises that the specific outcomes are not in her control – there are too many intervening aspects impacting the final outcome.  Cynda maintains that freeing yourself from expectations and outcomes is crucial for a nurses’ welfare.  In the pandemic, COVID nurses such as Rheanna attempted to “fix unsolvable problems”.  Nurses’ health outcomes were not the result of lack of effort or smarts but because the pandemic situation exceeded the capacity of individuals and the health system itself.  
  • Savour achievements – Cynda reinforces the view that the brain has a natural negative bias and is more likely to “mull over” what did not go well rather than “honour what we are able to do in the moment”, given the circumstances thrust upon us.  She stated that nurses need to focus on how they made a difference in people’s lives, e.g., holding someone’s hands as they were dying, gasping for breath or having a tube inserted to enable them to breathe.  This thought expressed kindly by Cynda precipitated a chain reaction from Rheanna who began to identify numerous moments when she “deeply showed up with people” and , in the process,  rediscovered “what it means to be a nurse” and gained insight into the very core of her being and who she was.  The other aspect that Rheanna savoured was her deep connection with people who were suffering – in spite of what was happening around her independently of her best efforts.

Reflection

Much of what Cynda proposed as strategies to help nurses deal with the extraordinary level of stress of frontline work during the pandemic can be incredibly useful for all of us to manage stress and resultant distress in our daily lives.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection and other mindfulness practices we can reshape our perspective and expectations, savour the positive in our lives (including being alive), confront our grief and limitations and achieve the freedom of separating outcomes from effort in our chosen endeavours.

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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, the associated Meetup group, and the resources to support the blog.

Understanding the Pain Beneath Trauma and Addiction

Dr. Gabor Maté encourages us to look beyond trauma and addiction to the unfulfilled needs and pain that lie beneath.   He maintains that the traumatic events and adverse childhood experiences are not the trauma but the catalyst for the trauma that is created within an individual.  This traumatised inner landscape reflects the pain of unfulfilled needs experienced by the individual and manifested in addictive behaviours, that are often self-destructive.  The internal trauma involves disassociation from one’s true self and distortion of internal and external perception.

Gabor offers compassionate inquiry as a way to help a client access their inner pain and distorted self-beliefs.  His approach is confronting but compassionate, penetrating but respectful, persistent but with a healing intent.  He is intent on helping an individual come to his own truth and to understand the connection between their trauma experiences and their addictive behaviour.   He makes the point that addiction is not just about drugs but people can be addicted to anything – to work, sex, “the need to please”, money, food, shopping, or anything else that holds them captive in compulsive behaviour that is injurious to the individual physically, mentally or intellectually.

One way we can understand the pain that lies beneath other people’s addiction and our own is to hear Gabor talk about examples and/or see him work with someone in his compassionate way.  By observing him unravel the threads that link a traumatic event or developmental experience to the self-talk that underlies addictive behaviour is enlightening and a motivation for compassion for others and self-compassion.

The negative self-stories that lie beneath addictive behaviour

We are very impressionable in early childhood and are forever trying to make meaning out of events in our life and experiences that flow from these.  Gabor states that children are basically “narcissists in the developmental sense” – everything is personal to them.   When parents, for example, are unhappy, fearful or sad because bad things are happening, then the child thinks “it must be about me” and develops low self-belief and negative self-talk accordingly.

Gabor talks about his own addiction to his work as a family medical practitioner as a way of fulfilling an unmet need.  His adverse childhood experiences during the Holocaust led him to believe that he “was not wanted in the world”.  His workaholic behaviour, negatively impacting his family and his clients, was designed to enable him to feel as though he was wanted and needed.  However, the continuous positive reinforcement of his role led to entrenchment of his addiction to work.  Beneath the workaholic behavior was an attempt to address the self-talk that reflected the pain of an unfulfilled need – the need to be wanted and protected (a basic attachment need).

In his interview podcast with Joe Polish, Gabor explored what Joe described as his sex addiction earlier on his life.  He had been molested in childhood over two years and his parents, who themselves were traumatised at the time, did not protect him.  His negative self-talk then was  around “I am only valued for my body” – thus leading to addiction to sex to fulfill his unmet need to be wanted and needed.  Gabor stated that acknowledging and confronting this unmet need is painful but essential for healing.  Addiction is often an escape to avoid facing up to a deep pain that seems bottomless.

Developmental trauma and worldview

In the interview with Joe Polish, Gabor maintained that there is another form of trauma that is not derived from a specific traumatic event.  He described developmental trauma as a disconnection from self that arises through a defective developmental childhood, resulting in a distorted worldview.  He instanced the different developmental traumas that can arise with parents who fail (for whatever reason) to provide a balanced environment for a developing child.  If, for example, the father was highly competitive, aggressive, domineering and “raging” at times, the child learned that the world “is a horrible place” and the way to survive is to be aggressive, grandiose and defensive. 

If, on the other hand, a child experienced an early childhood environment where she was bullied by her peers and informed by her mother that she should get out there and face them for “there is no room for cowardice”.  In Gabor’s interpretation, the message would be “to suck it up” – put up with whatever is happening, even if it is abusive and bullying.  Gabor commented that this worldview would lead to passive behaviour, even where someone is abusive and aggressively invading your personal space.

So our early developmental experiences can lead to aggressivity or passivity, depending on the nature of these experiences.  In both the early childhood experiences described above, there was an unmet need for protection and warmth.  The pain of this deficit was hidden beneath the individual’s distorted worldviews and consequent “habituated behavioural patterns”.

Reflection

Gabor maintains that “recovery” from trauma and addiction involves “reconnection with yourself” – being in touch with your feelings, intuition and insight.  It also involves replacing distorted perceptions of the world and self with compassionate understanding of the fragility and complexity of the human condition.

When I think of my early childhood, I recall the 18 months I spent in an orphanage separated from my younger sister and parents when I was four years old, as well as the 12 months boarding 100 kilometres from home when I was seven years old.  My negative self-talk, in line with Gabor’s experience, would have been “I am not wanted by my mother” (even though she was suffering serious illness at the time and could not take care of me while my father was on army duty overseas).  These early adverse childhood experiences may have translated, after completing secondary school, to my pursuit of study for the priesthood  – a very strong desire of my mother.  Thus I could have been trying to fulfill that unmet need to be valued by my mother – and during the five years of my religious life I certainly gained reinforcement of how much my mother valued me in that role.  I left the religious life more than 50 years ago because I decided “it was not for me”.

On reflection, I can see that my distorted perspective of what I perceived as a lack of care and concern for me by my mother was derived from my narcissistic orientation as a child (in reality, my mother was incredibly thoughtful, kind, generous and courageous – at the time of my separation she was not only very seriously ill, but grieving for the death of my four month old brother that occurred just before I was sent to the orphanage).

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can gain insight into the antecedents for our behaviours and come to understand the source of our negative self-talk.  We can also renew our sense of wonder and awe, not only about nature but human life as well.

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Image by Carina 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.

Life After Grief

In a previous post, I discussed how Rosie Ayliffe converted her grief and anger after the murder of her daughter to the reform of the Australian visa system that was contributing to manipulation and abuse of overseas backpackers.  Evonne Madden, in her book Life After: A Testament to Human Resilience, recounts the stories of 60 Australians who have experienced grief after the loss of a loved one.  Their stories illustrate that grief is very individual and plays out in distinctive ways over time.  It also confirms the view that in most cases grief is not a straight-line experience – there are ebbs and flows often occasioned by trigger experiences, words or actions that lead to flashbacks and emotional pain.  

The stories in Evonne’s book reaffirm the resilience of the human spirit and confirm how many people who experience grief find healing by going outside themselves – their anger and pain – to help others in need through compassionate action.   Their grief becomes the driver of their energy to ensure that others do not experience their level of pain.   As Katherine Woodward notes, trauma can be a trigger for self-awareness and self-realisation.

Exemplars of compassionate action through grief

Evonne details the heart-breaking loss experienced by the people in her stories.  Their sadness and grief is palpable but relieved by their strength of character and resilience and by how they have managed their grief by turning to the needs of others.  There are too many stories to recount here, but the following exemplars give you some sense of the resilience and courage of the people involved and serves as a teaser to encourage you to explore Evonne’s book yourself.

  • Lushani Hewage (age 26) lost her parents and one of her sisters in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.  Her account of the day the tsunami dramatically changed her life, when the wall of water hit the bus they were travelling in, is very traumatic and heart-wrenching.  Lushani and her two surviving sisters were initially cared for by relatives in her local area in Sri Lanka.  However, she was subsequently sent with one of her sisters to live with an aunt in Melbourne.  So there was not only the loss of her parents and a sister whom she had a special relationship with, but also the subsequent separation from another sister and having to adapt to life in a totally different part of the world.  Lushani now lives in Melbourne with her partner Sankini and they are both social workers.  She makes the point that “getting over” the trauma is not really an option but life does get easier, although people become impatient with your grief and ongoing sadness.  Lushani was determined to do something good after her experience and is very committed to the idea of doing social work in the child protection area.
  • Ajak Kwai (age 51) experienced the loss of her ill mother when she was a child and as a young adult experienced the loss of many relatives who were murdered in Southern Sudan by militia.  The civil war also took her father, siblings and fiancé.  She finally moved to Australia as a refugee and is now a singer and musician and her soulful music is available on Spotify and YouTube.  She stresses the need for modern society to learn from the practice in Africa where everyone drops everything and visits the bereaved family to provide emotional support…and they don’t stop visiting.  She maintains that what the world needs today is for us to “go back to the basics of caring for one another”.  She argues that forgiveness is important because hatred and revenge not only harms other people but also yourself so that you pay a “double price”.  Ajak believes “life is incredible” and “life is a mystery” and she gives expression to these beliefs in her songs.  She is a supporter of many organisations catering for women’s rights and refugees. 
  • Gavin Blue (age 52) and his wife Kel experienced the pain and grief of losing a child to stillbirth at 33 weeks.   While the hospital staff were very caring and concerned, the photographer seemed to be going through the motions and produced photographs of the Gavin, Kel and their stillborn baby that were “very graphic and forensic” and added to the trauma of the loss of the baby, Alexandra.  Kel was not coping at all afterwards so Gavin threw himself into protecting her and getting everything done, including a video of Alexandra’s life.  Despite people unwittingly making hurtful comments, Gavin and Kel decided that they had to look beyond the words and “listen to people’s intentions” which were designed to be helpful.  Gavin found that the photos he took himself of Alexandra helped him and Kel and made people comfortable talking about the situation “which helps immensely in grief”.  This experience inspired him to start Heartfelt which involves volunteer photographers providing free photos for people who have lost a child through stillbirth or have children with very serious or life-threatening illness.

Reflection

I listened to Ajak’s soulful music while I wrote this blog.  It reminded me of the healing power of music.  So many people have expressed their pain and grief through song and instrumental music, including the great composers and modern day songwriters like Lindsey Stirling.  Gratitude journalling too plays a major role in the healing process and is a pathway to resilience and happiness as demonstrated by Lindsey’s daily journalling process.

Grief is a complex mix of emotions fluctuating constantly and expressed in very individual ways.  The depth of pain and sorrow described by Evonne can at times feel numbing but the resilience and hope demonstrated by her generous interviewees shines brightly and is overwhelmingly inspiring. 

Ajak’s song Love Not Bitterness illustrates the depth of character of these people and their commitment to life and peace.  Olivia Gilewski, who lost her mother in a train accident when she was 12 years old, advises us to choose our words and actions wisely because they will be always with us especially after a loved one dies.  Her advice is that “You’ve just got to make the best of every day.”  As we grow in mindfulness though music, meditation and reflection, we can experience healing, health and happiness and learn to appreciate the beauty of life and nature

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Image by riyan hidayat 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.

Compassionate Action through Grief

Rosie Ayliffe in her book, Far from Home, tells the story of how her grief after the murder of her 21 year old daughter, Mia, in a hostel in Queensland in 2016 energised her to fight for legislative reform for Australian backpackers.  She tracks the early life of her vivacious daughter who loved people and travel, shares the rawness of her grief and exposes the exploitation of backpackers who engage in the 88 days farm work requirement to qualify for a visa to stay in Australia for a second year.  Rosie describes her work to uncover the extent of the injustice towards backpackers and her campaign to redress the lack of registration and controls over the farm work scheme.

Rosie’s research fuelled by her grief and her fury over the widespread exploitation of backpackers from overseas came at considerable personal cost, not the least being reliving the nightmare of her daughter’s savage murder and that of Tom Jackson who tried to come to her aid.  In her quest to right the unspeakable wrongs, she left no stone unturned to seek justice for her daughter, Tom and the countless backpackers who had suffered as a participant in the scheme.  She met opposition from farmers, union officials, politicians and others with a vested interest in maintain the status quo.

Rosie, an experienced journalist who had travelled the world, was not put off by this opposition but was inspired by the love she had for Mia and the endless expressions of love and grief from Mia’s friends around the world.  Rosie built a network of support in Australia including the parents of Tom Jackson and organisations like the Salvation Army who had been working to support backpackers and redress the wrongs they experienced.  She also built alliances with people in England, her home country, where many people had agitated for, and achieved, a modern slavery act. 

Rosie Ayliffe on Australia Story

Rosie’s grief permeates her story and is never far from the surface.  She recounts the arduous task of creating Part 1 and Part 2 of Long Way from Home for the TV show Australia Story.  There were not only the exertions involved in filming and retakes but also the energy and effort for the additional research required and the unsettling visit to the hostel in North Queensland where Mia died.  Rosie was able to create the expose through the support of her friends, colleagues and the creators and film crew of Australis Story.   The TV show gave increased exposure to the issues for backpackers including the psychological, financial and sexual exploitation.  This, in turn, led Rosie to make a contribution to an inquiry underpinning moves for a modern slavery act in Australia.

Reform and Compassionate Action

Rosie’s efforts and determination contributed substantially to the development and promulgation of the Queensland State legislation known as the Labour Hire Licensing Act 2017 and the Federal Legislation, The Modern Slavery Act 2018.   Rosie’s story is one of love, loss and unrelenting courage written with the exemplary writing skill of a journalist, compassion of a mother, and resilience to unearth the adverse circumstances contributing to her daughter’s death.  Mia herself is never far from the surface nor is the rawness of Rosie’s grief.  As Rosie points out, grief and its expression are different for everyone and cannot be quantified or compared.  She maintains that grief for the loss of a  child is especially traumatic and enduring for a parent because there are “so many painful reminders, so many missed moments, so much wasted potential”.

Despite her grief and her anger, Rosie was able to rise above the debilitating effects of her loss, learn again to be grateful for life and show compassionate action towards the parents of the mentally ill person who murdered her daughter through her expressions of forgiveness and understanding and desire to build a relationship with them.  Therein lies the true character of Rosie, her love of others and deep, abiding compassion.

Reflection

Rosie’s story is moving, challenging and inspiring. It moves us to share the grief and sense of loss, it challenges us to take compassionate action towards others who may have hurt us and inspires us to appreciate life and the present moment, because the human condition is fragile and life is transitory.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, expressions of gratitude and reflection on our life and friendships, we can develop a deep sense of appreciation and the courage for compassionate action.

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Image by fotografierende 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 the Natural Ripples of Life

Michael Singer provided a podcast discussion on the topic, Ceasing to be Caught in the Waters of the Mind. He uses the analogy of a bird floating on the waters of a lake, enjoying the smoothness and serenity of its existence.  When the wind whips up waves, the bird needs to ride them out, not fighting them nor imagining that they can control all the forces that create the waves.  So it is with us, Michael suggests that we need to relax in the face of the ripples of life when confronted with disappointments, setbacks, hurts over personal slights and grief over the loss of a loved one.  He argues that if we try to fight these ripples by suppressing the natural reactions of our mind and heart, we will temporarily suppress them and their effects, only to have them resurface in a more damaging way later on.   

Primary versus secondary ripples

Primary ripples are a natural part of the order of things and a natural consequence of our human condition.  We do experience disturbing thoughts in the face of the natural ripples of life but the major problem arises when we create secondary ripples by being caught up in anger, resentment, denial or any other emotion that takes us away from experiencing the primary ripple that set our response, of mind and heart, in motion.  Michael asserts that the real damage to our peace and tranquility is not caused by the primary ripples but by the secondary ripples that we create.  We can even become angry about our anger, resentful about our resentment or indulge in any other consequential emotion that denies the impact of the primary ripple and enables us to avoid our discomfiture.  Michael provides a guided journal for writing practices to enable us to experience the freedom of journeying beyond ourselves and our tendency to create secondary ripples.

Seeking comfort

When we are disturbed by the natural ripples of life, rather than resting quietly and relaxing so that the ripples pass by, we often seek out comforts that are designed to avoid the pain of our disturbance.  We can turn to food or drink, seek to have people say nice things about us, pursue our thirst for acquisitions, seek a better job or leave a relationship because the other party does not conform to our expectations.  We try to control our world, avoid the pain and hurt and seek relief in what makes us feel comfortable – all the while denying the reality of the primary ripples and their effects on our mind and heart.  We try to stop the ripples rather than riding them out and acknowledging that they will eventually pass.  Even grief or boredom too will pass if we accept the reality of loss or the momentary absence of stimulation.

Trying to manipulate the outside world to avoid discomfort

We can indulge in complaining; self-protective stories like, “Why me…what have I done to deserve this!’; wanting other people to change to conform to our expectations; or taking inappropriate action that aggravates the situation (e.g. road rage, harbouring hurt and resentment).   A recent example of trying to manipulate the outside world to restore comfort in the face of an uncomfortable situation was highlighted by Dr. Grant, an emergency department doctor in Victoria, Australia.

Dr. Grant wrote about the sense of entitlement driving construction workers to obstruct traffic in Victoria because they were now prevented from using their “tea rooms” because of concerns about potential transmission of COVID-19 infection.  She pointed out with a graphic photo of herself at the end of a day’s work, the physical toll and emotional drain of working with COVID-19 patents – causing personal deprivations for more than two years, including having no formal place to eat lunch.  The construction workers are trying to manipulate the outside world so that they do not have to experience the discomfort of losing their tea rooms. 

Reflection

Michaels’s core message is the “world is unfolding in front of us” and there is a lot of things and forces that we have no control over.  Instead of suppressing our discomfort, he suggests that we “become comfortable” with the different states we experience, both in our mind and heart, when we encounter the ripples of life.  This accords with the exhortation by Karla McLaren to understand and experience the wisdom of difficult emotions.

Michael encourages us not to be caught up in the waters of our mind – not to be caught up in turbulence of our own making, the secondary ripples that we can create through our own efforts to replace disturbance in our mind and heart with feelings of comfort that we create artificially.  He offers an online course, Living from a Place of Surrender: The Untethered Soul in Action, that incorporates journalling for self-reflection and training videos.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and mindfulness practices such as journalling, we will be better able to rest and relax in the face of disturbance caused by primary ripples, gain insight into how we personally create secondary ripples and become comfortable with the different natural states of our mind and heart.

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Image by silviarita 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.

What Does Success Mean for You?

When we read about success we often encounter only the materialistic dimension of personal wealth – manifested in flashy cars, large homes, fame and substantial assets.  However, as Debra Poneman points out, many of these things feel hollow without the development of an inner life.  You can have all the external trappings of success and still not find happiness or a sense of fulfillment.  Debra, creator of Yes To Success, maintains that success has two key dimensions, (1) a deep inner life and true self-love and (2) contribution to a better world based on your life purpose.  Recently, Debra encapsulated these principles in a series of online seminars, Living a New Paradigm of Success, which incorporated interviews with leading experts in the field of success.

In one of the interviews, she spoke to Katherine Woodward, relationship expert and author of Conscious Uncoupling, who maintained that trauma we experience in life acts as a catalyst for self-awareness and self-realisation.  It is through challenging us and forcing us outside our comfort zone that trauma enables us to tap into our inner resources and gain clarity about our contribution to the world.  Evonne Madden, author of Life After,  has documented the lives of people who have come to terms with grief resulting from the death of a loved one.   She describes how many of them have “rebounded to fuller lives than they once thought possible”.  Her stories not only portray real-life resilience in the face of horrific events but also the ability of some people in their “life after” to make a contribution to a better world through selfless service motivated and informed by their personal experience.

Begin with the inside and the outside will follow

In her free e-book, The 5 Secrets to a Life of True Success (available on her website), Debra asserts that “true success” derives from “inner stillness” and contentment that provide the foundation for “effortlessly manifesting” outer success whether that be in relationships, material possessions, business success or publishing.   Without thorough development of our “inner landscape”, we are so easily impacted by external events.  Once we have developed our inner freedom and inner success, the loss of external success is only a minor detour – our sense of self-worth is not dependent on external realities.

Debra’s first “success secret” is about creating silence and stillness through what she describes as “spiritual practices” which incorporate mindfulness.  Inner silence enables us to surf the waves and vicissitudes of life and to tap into our life purpose – we are not daunted or side-tracked by setbacks, “failures” or critics.  Debra suggests that practices such as meditation, yoga, prayer or breath-work help us to create the requisite inner silence and also serve as a way to enhance our physical and mental capacities.  If we are at peace with ourselves we manifest this to others and impact those around us, including those in a close relationship with us.  Regular practice enables us to sustain our inner silence and this can be further enhanced by courses, retreats or periods of extended silence.

Reflection

So much of life is spent striving for outer success, that it is so easy to overlook our inner development.  Debra and her transformational colleagues stress that the real foundation of lasting success and happiness is inner silence.  As we grow in mindfulness through our regular practice of meditation or other mindfulness practices, we can develop our inner landscape and achieve inner peace, stillness and tranquility – which will serve to enable us to not only face the challenges that confront us but also to create outer success that incorporates a conscious, positive contribution to a better world.

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Image by Big_Heart 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 Chronic Pain with Mindfulness

Christiane Wolf , MD, PhD, provided an encouraging meditation podcast on the topic of employing mindfulness to manage chronic pain and the mind’s activity that exacerbates our feelings of pain.  In her guided meditation, The Past and the Future Pain Story: Working with Pain in the Present Moment, shespoke of the role that rehashing the past and/or rehearsing the future plays in our experience of pain and offered ways to reduce the mind’s influence over our pain experience.   Christiane is the author of Outsmart Your Pain – Mindfulness and Self-Compassion to Help You Leave Chronic Pain Behind, and is a meditation teacher who offers audio meditations and mindfulness videos on her website. 

Guided meditation on mindfulness for managing chronic pain

Christiane begins her guided meditation with ensuring your posture is comfortable and well-grounded (whether in a chair, couch or on the ground).  To help with grounding, she suggests that you focus on the solid sensation of your feet on whatever surface you are on.  Closing your eyes for the sake of strengthening your focus on your meditation is offered as an optional extra.  Christiane recommends some bodily movement, such as turning your neck or rolling your shoulders, as a way to improve your comfort level when undertaking the meditation.

The next phase of the guided meditation entails focusing on your breath.  Here, Christiane encourages you to really feel your breath by both deepening and lengthening your breathing. An alternative to using the breath as an anchor is to focus on sounds around you or the sensation in your feet or your hands.  She maintains that a meditation anchor is based in the body and its senses to enable a focus other than being “lost in thought”.  It’s a place to return to whenever thinking distracts you from the primary focus of your meditation.

How the brain exacerbates our feelings of pain

Christiane points out that our brain has a major role in how we experience pain whether the pain derives from chronic physical pain or enduring uncomfortable feelings, emotions, or thoughts.  To build your awareness of the mind’s influence she suggests that firstly you explore the “past pain story” – what you are telling yourself about the origins of the pain (e.g., “outside my control”), how it was experienced in the past, or mistakes/poor decisions that led to your pain.  She argues that the mind through recalling the past pain is trying to protect you from its recurrence or to prevent the same mistakes/poor decisions that may have occurred in your past.  Sometimes the recollection of the previous intensity of the pain serves to strengthen your resolve to avoid the pain and/or the factors that contributed to it.

Once you have explored the past pain story, Christiane encourages you to explore the “future pain story” – what is it that you are anticipating will happen in the future as a result of your pain? (typically, we envisage the worst); how does your future story make you feel? (e.g., anxious, uncertain, fearful, resentful, or sad).   

Christiane argues that the past and future pain stories are like baggage that you carry around that increases the load of your pain and exacerbates your feelings of pain.  She uses imagery to help you reduce your pain – she suggests you view the past and future pain stories as a heavy suitcase, weighing you down.  Her recommendation is that you view yourself putting the suitcase (of stories) down on the ground so you are relieved of its added weight and can gain clarity about the nature of your pain and role of your brain in rehashing past pain or anticipating future pain.  It is important to reflect, at this stage, on what is left of your pain after the stories are removed or have been put away.

Widening the focus

Christiane recommends “widening the lens of your focus” at the end of the guided meditation.  This entails initially focusing on people you know who are experiencing suffering or pain and wishing them strength and healing.  She encourages  you to then expand your focus to include people anywhere in the world who are experiencing pain or grief as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, a natural disaster, or the collapse of a building as in Miami recently.   Her desire is that you extend loving kindness to these people.  

Reflection

Christiane’s approach enables us to “unpack” the thoughts and feelings that accompany chronic pain – she puts the spotlight on the role of the brain in creating past and future pain stories to enable us to lighten the load.  In the guided meditation, she suggests ways to lighten the load using mindfulness.  In her book she provides additional exercises, meditations, and reflections to enable us to effectively manage chronic pain and suffering.

She encourages us to explore our pain with openness and curiosity to better understand and manage it.  She suggests that we should not begin her mindfulness approach with a really difficult pain but ease into it gradually starting with some form of suffering that is not so complex or challenging.

When I followed the guided meditation, I decided to focus on the challenge I have with dermatitis and associated food intolerances.  I had suffered dermatitis over the whole of my body in 2017.  In recalling this event during the meditation,  I realised that my “past pain story” focused on the extreme discomfort of the condition and the disappointment of having to limit severely what I ate and drank during a visit to Northern Italy – no wine, coffees, pasta, desserts, etc.  However, my current experience of dermatitis is very limited compared to then but I do have a “future pain story” that anticipates what would happen if the inflammation blew out again.  I found the guided meditation lightened the load of the past feelings of disappointment and the anticipatory feelings of anxiety and fear. 

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can understand our pain better and learn ways to manage our chronic condition.  We can also develop the strength to deal with the difficult emotions associated with chronic pain and suffering, including resentment.

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Image by JUNO KWON 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.

Valuing the Present Moment

Allyson Pimentel provides a meditation podcast on the topic, The Beauty of the Present Moment.   People from around the world participated in the live, online event which was conducted and recorded via Zoom.  During the podcast, Allyson stated that mindfulness involves “paying attention with intention” to the present moment in a way that involves openness, curiosity and acceptance of what is, whether pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, understanding or confusion.  She suggested that as we develop the capacity to attend to each moment with heightened awareness, we can develop a deeper appreciation of beauty, compassion (towards ourselves and others) and a “love for the moment”.   If we are always consumed by thoughts of the past or the future, we will miss the richness and power of now.  As Alan Watts comments, “Life exists at this moment”.

Awareness of beauty

Allyson introduces a brief process to raise our awareness of the beauty that surrounds us in the present moment.  She asks that we pay attention to something we consider beautiful, however momentarily.  If we are inside a dwelling, we could look at a pleasing painting, observe the clear sky through our window, listen to the early morning songs of birds or touch something that is smooth or rough as we appreciate its texture. 

If we are outside, we could listen to the wind rustling in the trees, smell the aroma from freshly opening flowers, feel the softness of the grass beneath our feet or admire the shape and stature of the trees in the mist.  Beauty as they say is in the “eye [and other senses] of the beholder”.

Allyson reminds us that beauty is around us all the time and by tapping into the present moment, we can learn to be aware of beauty and to increase our capacity to cope with life challenges, whether they be illness, grief, loss, confusion, or the slow decline of a parent through Alzheimer’s Disease who is becoming disconnected from the present..

A present moment meditation using body scan

One way into appreciating the present moment in all its import is to undertake a body scan meditation.  Allyson provides a guided meditation in her podcast as a way to do this.  She begins by having us take a deep breath and exhale deeply to clear any bodily tensions and to bring us more fully into the present moment.

She then provides a progressive body scan beginning with your feet and moving through all parts of your body, noting any points of tension.  As we become grounded in bodily sensations, we become more attuned to our thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously.  Allyson encourages us to accept whatever is our human condition at this point in time and to show ourselves compassion.  From this base of self-compassion, we can extend empathy to others and offer them loving-kindness.  Attunement to, and acceptance of, our current reality strengthens our connection to the world and to others.

Allyson Pimentel holds up Tina Turner as a model of present moment awareness, acceptance of her condition and the capacity to take compassionate action towards others.  In her documentary, for example, Tina reveals that in a period of five years she experienced cancer, a stroke and kidney failure.  Despite having daily dialysis for four hours, she was not depressed but appreciative of the fact that she had more time to live.   Tina encapsulated her philosophy on life in her book, Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good.

In Allyson’s view, Tina epitomises what Rumi describes as The Guest House – “being human is a guest house” for pain, meanness, joy, happiness, sorrow, and every other manifestation of the human condition.  Rumi encourages us to appreciate whatever comes our way because each experience is a “guide”.

Reflection

The challenge of the present moment is also its power.  If we can truly be with what is and accept what we cannot change, we can develop an appreciation of being alive, strength and resilience to meet life’s challenges and a deep-seated sense of ease and equanimity.  As we grow in mindfulness though meditation and awareness of the present moment, we can tap into the power of now and the richness of a life fully lived.

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Image by Luca Finardi 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.

Activating Gratitude through Micro-Gestures

LaRayia Gaston, author of Love Without Reason, spoke to Tami Simon of Sounds True in an interview podcast that covered her book as well as her life and work amongst the homeless in Los Angeles.  LaRayia is the founder of Lunch on Me, a charity offering fresh vegan and organic food to the homeless by accessing left-over food from cafes and restaurants that otherwise would be wasted.  She did extensive research to develop a supply chain and distribution process to ensure that people on the street received quality, fresh food.

LaRayia spoke about her difficult life with her own mother who was full of anger and resentment and engaged in destructive behaviours.   In contrast, her Grandmother was a constant source of inspiration through her unconditional love and her ability to spread love to whoever she met, wherever she went.  In her own words, LaRayia maintained that her Grandmother taught her to “love without reason”.  LaRayia decided that she did not want to “sit in the pain of anger and resentment” and the negative energy involved but wanted to share her positive energy and love.

Activating gratitude

LaRayia maintained that it is not enough to write our gratitude journals in the comfort of our homes – we have to translate that gratitude into compassionate action for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. We have to activate our gratitude.  She suggests that anyone can achieve this by adopting “micro-gestures” of kindness, thoughtfulness, and love.  For example, you could buy someone a bottle of water or a coffee, especially someone who has been seeking donations at the front of a store. 

LaRayia made a habit of carrying bottles of water and granola bars in her car that she could distribute to whoever might need one. Taking time to talk to someone on the street, who may look dishevelled, can be another micro-gesture expressing kindness and love – ignoring the appearance of a torn shirt, old jacket, and untidy beard to see the person beyond.  LaRayia contends that she is not asking people to “change the whole world” but to act on “what’s in front of us”.  She also stated that it is one thing to give when asked, it’s another level of awareness and action to notice a need and respond without being asked.

Barriers to activating gratitude and love for others

One of the barriers identified by LaRayia is our “scarcity mindset” – no matter what we have, it is never enough.  Another is what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as always rushing to “be someplace else”, rather than being in the present moment.  LaRayia argues that it takes discipline to be present and to take compassionate action towards those in need.  She practices meditation and develops her deep awareness of her connectedness to everybody, no matter where they live or how poor they are.

Another key barrier to activating gratitude and spreading kindness is the rationalisations that we use to avoid taking compassionate action, e.g., when we consider giving money to homeless people – “They will only spend it on drugs or alcohol”, “If only these people would work hard like us, they would not need assistance – helping them only makes them lazier”.  As LaRayia points out, these assumptions and preconceptions blind us and disable us from taking action – the fact is, we do not know what these people have experienced, the hurt they have felt or the way they have been treated in the past.  We know, however, for example, that young people who are homeless have often been the victim of domestic violence or sexual harassment or sexual assault.

LaRayia addressed the issue of “fear of rejection” in her interview podcast – a very common barrier to extending kindness to others.  We often think, “What if they turn down my offer of help, would I cope with the embarrassment of rejection”? She stated quite clearly that taking compassionate action is exposing ourselves to vulnerability, but it is a cost we have to pay to be kind.  A wonderful example of compassionate action while being vulnerable is that of Coach Mo Cheeks’ action to help a young singer complete the National Anthem at the start of a major basketball playoff – the singer had forgotten the lyrics and Mo helped her out by singing with her despite not being a great singer himself.  LaRayia suggests that the way forward is not to focus on “outcomes” but to concentrate on the process of spreading kindness, thoughtfulness, and love.  A focus on outcomes can entrap us and lead to disappointment and discouragement.  On the other hand, focusing on the person in front of us can lead to mutual benefit and healing.

A two-way street

Neuroscience research confirms the benefits that accrue to people who show kindness and gratitude to others.  LaRayia stated that this exchange is “not a one-way street”.  This was especially brought home to her when she was experiencing disabling grief on the death of her beloved Grandmother.  She decided to spend time with the homeless as a way to find herself again and heal from her grief. Her experience is recorded in her documentary, 43 Days on Skid Row.  LaRayia found that homeless people were the most generous people she had ever met – they gave despite their need while we often give from our surplus.  She argues that in giving both people learn and heal.

Reflection

One of the tenets of Lunch on Me is “radical self-love is the foundation for permanent healing”.  When we show kindness and love to others in need, we are showing respect and building their self-esteem.  If we show avoidance, disdain, or look down on the homeless, we are reinforcing any sense they may have that they are “not worthy” of respect or love.  

LaRayia encourages us to engage with others from our rich store of innate love rather from a perspective of emptiness.  She notes our obsessive need to accumulate wealth and possessions which do not bring lasting happiness.  The reality is that when we die or if we suffer Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, we can take none of this with us – people set about disposing of our possessions and dismantling our life’s accumulation.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can develop a deeper sense of connection with everyone, no matter what their status, wealth or appearance is.  We can also develop the courage and creativity to overcome the barriers to activating our gratitude and adopt a daily practice of micro-gestures of empathy and compassion.  LaRayia offers many suggestions for micro-gestures and relevant meditations/reflections in her book.

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Image by Hieu Van 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.