Accessing the Power of Gratitude

Many writers and researchers today report on the power of gratitude while drawing on neuroscience research and reports of individuals who have changed their life for the better by developing a gratitude mindset.  Kute Blackson, in a video podcast on the topic, maintains that gratitude has an expansive characteristic – the more you are grateful and express thanks for, the more you will experience things to be grateful for.  He also contends that being grateful creates true personal freedom – you will no longer be held hostage by the need for more material goods.  If you develop a gratitude mindset, there are so many things to be grateful for in your life, both large and small.  Genuine gratitude allows no room for envy of what others have or obsession with “wants”.

Developing a gratitude mindset involves focusing on what we have and/or have access to – so it is an abundance mentality.  It contrasts sharply with the anxiety and resentment that flow from a deficit mentality where the focus is on what you do not have or have access to.  Gratitude, then, is at the root of happiness, displacing dissatisfaction about the absence of something – it entails present moment awareness and thankfulness.  Wong & Brown argue that “gratitude reverses our priorities” and contributes to positive mental health and the alleviation of mental ill-health resulting from “toxic emotions”.

The power of gratitude

The benefits from gratitude are multifaceted.  Kurt, drawing on neuroscience research, contends that gratitude positively impacts our “physiology, biochemistry, brain waves, and nervous system”.   As you delve into the articles and research on gratitude, you can gain an appreciation of the awesome power of gratitude.   Gratitude has the power to enrich your life because it:

  • Develops resilience
  • Opens up possibilities and abundance
  • Creates true freedom from the “wants” and the “need to have”
  • Makes you more fully in the present moment – what do I have now?
  • Generates positive energy for yourself and those around you
  • Diffuses toxic emotions such as envy, resentment and greed
  • Strengthens relationships through appreciation and trust
  • Makes you more open and receptive to change in your life (including what appears to be adverse changes)
  • Enables you to access your inner resources and creativity (because you are not blinded by challenging emotions or distorted perceptions)
  • Helps overcome boredom, difficulties, complaining & feeling overwhelmed
  • Develops feelings of joy and happiness (link to TED talk with over 8.8 millions views)
  • Strengthens our sense of connection to everybody and everything (including our planet).

Accessing the power of gratitude

There are many pathways to gratitude and the associated feelings of happiness and joy.  We have only to set the intention to develop a gratitude mindset and then sustain one or two practices over a period of about three months.  The practices can be quite simple such as a few minutes spent daily in the morning to think about what we are grateful for or an end-of-the day review that reflects on what was good in our life.   Leo Babauta, creator of Zen Habits, suggests that the holiday season is a “time for gratitude” and offers multiple ways to express appreciation.

Journalling is a key activity for developing a gratitude mindset.  This can be done daily, weekly or at irregular intervals.  Like all habits, frequency builds competence.  There are many readily accessible resources and guides for gratitude journalling online.  Rick Hansen, for example, suggests the daily habit of journalling a response to three questions, “someone I’m grateful for?”, “something I’m grateful for?” and “an event I’m grateful for?”.   Mindful.org provides an illustrated Mindful Gratitude Journal including illustrations, 15 gratitude meditations, the science of gratitude, stimulus stories and ideas and ample space for recording your own thoughts.  Mindful also offers a 12-minute meditation podcast on cultivating gratitude for small things.

For many people, nature and music provide the stimulus for gratitude as they can inspire wonder and awe.  Louie Schwartzberg, time-lapse photographer and cinematographer, has developed a stunning video, Gratitude Revealed, which brings together nature imagery, music composition by Lisbeth Scott and commentary by some of the world’s leaders in gratitude and mindfulness, including Brother David Steindl-Rast.  Brother David is the author of Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fulness.

Reflection

The current period of Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday, reminds us that gratitude and generosity go hand-in-hand.  These celebratory days encourage us to express our gratitude by sharing our good fortune with others. 

As we grow in mindfulness, we gain increasing awareness of what we could be grateful for – nature, the people in our lives (past and present), the opportunities we are afforded, the things we possess and the access we have been given to a multitude of things that bring joy (such as music, sport, art and technology).  We are also motivated to express our gratitude and appreciation in all areas of our life.  Gratitude journalling in its many forms is a mindfulness practice that can help us develop a gratitude mindset – a sure path to happiness, positive mental health and creative endeavor.

_________________________________

Image by Manfred Richter 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.

Pathways to Gratitude and Joy

Neuroscience research has demonstrated that gratitude is a source of wellness and joy if we choose to practise it on a regular basis.  Louie Schwartzberg in his latest film, Gratitude Revealed, identifies a number of pathways that can develop gratitude and appreciation in our lives and lead to health, happiness and lasting joy.  Louie – time-lapse photographer, director and producer – takes us on a journey through nature, the eyes of children and lives of insightful people.  He comments in a subsequent panel Q & A video that the Gratitude Revealed film contains many wise “one-liners” from inspiring people as well as some stunning cinematography.  The music for the film is provided by Lisbeth Scott – singer, songwriter and composer – who Louie interviewed as part of his podcast series.

Pathways to gratitude

Throughout Gratitude Revealed Louie explores different pathways to gratitude with his guests and provides illuminating comments about each pathway, some of which I explore in the following:

  • Curiosity – is a basic human attribute that leads us to explore the world around us, the people in our lives and the concepts we encounter in our reading, discussions and games.  How often have we seen a toddler pick up a leaf or a stone and examine it, look underneath some branches to see what lies beneath, gaze into pools of water at the seaside to see if there are any living creatures there, or feel the texture of the grass or the ground to judge its softness or hardness?   Unfortunately, as we grow older we can lose the art of being inquisitive and curious about things.  However, if we can cultivate curiosity, we open ourselves to marvel at the intricacies of things in our environment, the power of our subconscious, the expansiveness of knowledge and the inexhaustible complexity of the human body (including the emerging understanding of the “brain-gut connection” and the heart’s intelligence).   Curiosity leads us to explore the ineffable, to seek to understand the mystery of life and to explore relationships with people we encounter.  Ultimately, curiosity leads us to appreciate what is and to be grateful for our discoveries as well as our capacity for exploration.  Albert Einstein was a strong advocate for curiosity and acknowledged that it lay at the root of his knowledge and wisdom – “The important thing is to never stop questioning. Never lose a holy curiosity”.
  • Nature – is a source of wonder and awe which leads us to be grateful that we can perceive its beauty, complexity and interconnectedness through our five senses – what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes in his book, Coming to Our Senses, as our sightscape, soundscape, touchscape, smellscape, and tastescape.   Louie encourages us to develop an intimate relationship with nature because nature, and nature imagery, can be incredibly healing and can develop a deep appreciation and gratitude for our interconnectedness and interdependence.  Louie’s Wonder and Awe Podcastexplores the intersection of science and art (the “why” of art and the ”how” of science).  There are multiple ways to engage with nature including gardening, walking in a rainforest or on a beach and mindful photography – we just have to form the intention to make the most of our natural environment that surrounds us daily.
  • Music – cultivates wonder and awe, healing and creativity. Louie highlighted the power of music to transport us beyond the present moment concerns and anxieties and to still the mind.  Music taps into our positive emotions and stimulates gratitude for the beauty, variety and nuances of sound.  Sound therapy can heal us from trauma and depression and help us to appreciate what we have that is positive in our lives.  Mantra meditations can promote calm, peace and stillness of mind and, in the process, open our hearts and minds to the power and energy of the present moment.  Music deepens our spirit and helps us to value our lives while expressing gratitude for all that we have.
  • Mindfulness – by definition, it involves being fully in the present moment and paying attention to something or someone with openness, curiosity and acceptance of what is.  Michael Beckwith reminds us in the movie that we should be “grateful for the challenges in our life” because they help us to realise our potential and develop resilience.  Louie suggests that mindfulness “is being present like the film itself” – open to wonder and able to “relish the mysteries of life” that are revealed by paying focused attention in the “now”.

Reflection

None of the pathways I discussed above are discrete – they are overlapping, reinforcing and compounding in nature.  Together, these pathways engender appreciation and gratitude and stimulate happiness and joy.  Louie and his presenters on Gratitude Revealed  highlight the fact that “busyness” in our lives can create a block to gratitude and blind us to what is happening within and around us.  In contrast, gratitude blocks out envy and self-absorption.  As Louie comments, “Focusing on what we do have, leaves little in your heart for what we don’t have”.

In the film, Brother David Steindl-Rast, developer of gratefulness.org, distinguishes between appreciation and gratitude.   He states that appreciation is an in-the-moment experience while gratitude is “what we remember that opens our hearts”.   Interestingly,  when I am playing tennis, I often internally express appreciation for being able to participate and play a good shot or two.  However, after watching Gratitude Revealed, I experienced a real sense of gratitude based on my memory of all the events and experiences that enable me to play social tennis at the age of 76. 

In particular, I am grateful for:

  • the opportunity to be coached in my teens by a tennis player who had been selected for the Australian Davis Cup Team
  • having practised tennis drills and played games of tennis with my brothers and my niece
  • having played competitive tennis over 5 years with a team drawn from members of my extended family
  • being trained as a sprinter in a GPS school (improved my capacity to move around the tennis court)
  • the opportunity to play tennis for my school, for Brisbane ((against Gympie) and for the Queensland Tax Office (in the annual Taxation Intestate Tennis Carnivals)
  • being able to play social tennis with a closed group of six quality players over a period in excess of 10 years
  • the opportunity to play tennis on different surfaces including bitumen, ant-bed, grass, clay and flexipave
  • being able to play socially in Port Moresby, Auckland, Lake Annecy (France) and Boroughbridge (Yorkshire, UK)
  • developing a wide range of shots through tennis coaching, practice and competitions, e.g., slice, topspin, back spin, under spin, side spin (out-swinger & in-swinger), volley, one-handed and two-handed backhand, half volley, drive volley, drop shot, lob, smash and, recently, half-volley drop shot
  • being able to play social tennis with an open group in my 50’s, 60’s and 70’s (now)
  • discovering the benefits of Tai Chi and how it improves my tennis game.

As we grow in mindfulness and gratitude, we enrich our lives, deepen our happiness and joy and build our resilience and capacity for creative endeavour.  Music and nature can inspire us if we are fully present to experiencing them and our natural curiosity can open our hearts to appreciating whatever we experience.

__________________________________

Image by allPhoto Bangkok 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.

The Final Stages of the Hero’s Journey for the Frontline Midwife

In a previous post, I discussed the story of Anna Kent as a midwife volunteering in South Sudan in terms of the first 8 stages of the Hero’s Journey.  What I will discuss now is her Sudan story expressed in terms of the final stages of the hero’s journey (Stage 9-12).  I’ll be drawing again on her book, Frontline Midwife: My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe, in which she tells her story in graphic detail.

The final four stages of the hero’s journey – stages 9 to 12

The final four stages of her hero’s journey in South Sudan were deeply formative and life-changing and enabled Anna to develop a new perspective, skills and determination to help others in need wherever they were in the world:

9. Reward – there is no doubt that Anna emerged a stronger person as a result of overcoming personal challenges, including self-doubts and questioning of her obsession with volunteering.  The reward, too, that she experienced involved saving the lives of mothers, children and babies.  However, she had to deal with the sense of guilt she felt for the death of baby Mariam.  James tried to reassure her that she was not responsible for the death of the baby – in his words, “it was everyone in the world’s fault”.  She accepted intellectually that “every aid worker has a patient they carry in their conscience”.   Emotionally, though it was a continuous challenge to overcome the sense of guilt which pervaded her nightmares as she relived the traumatic event.  Unfortunately, our brains carry a negative bias – we see the negative much more strongly than the positive.  For a time, Anna found that her negative thoughts overwhelmed her rewarding thoughts – her personal satisfaction that she had saved many lives who otherwise would have died without her skilled and brave intervention.

10. The Road Back – this is both a physical journey and a metaphorical one.  On the physical level, it involves returning to her “ordinary world” – life with her boyfriend Jack in their comfy home in Nottingham.  The metaphorical aspect relates to being comfortable with her new self in an environment that is starkly different on every dimension to the one she was leaving in South Sudan.  It also meant dealing with the grief of leaving her mentor, James, her colleagues and the Sudanese people who she grew to love and admire for their courage, gentleness and stoicism.  Her short recreation spells during her volunteering in South Sudan forewarned her of the pending difficulty of the “road back”.  She found on her brief recreation trips that she could not share with Jack the horrors and traumas she had experienced and realised that she was totally lacking in libido.  Friends would ask about the exciting bits of her story but all she could share were her stories about snakes, not the reality of the poverty, harshness, and deprivation of the basic rights of women in South Sudan.  She found that she and Jack had so little to talk about, and their time together involved lots of silence as Anna tried to come to grips with crossing the threshold back into her former life. 

11. Resurrection – on her return home Anna broke off her relationship with Jack and moved to her parent’s home.  This created significant stress for her as she was unable to talk to her parents about her Sudan experiences or her reasons for breaking up with Jack – both these topics were too raw and traumatic.  In speaking with James her mentor, she shared her angst and he informed her that he had experienced similar dislocation and disorientation on his return from volunteering abroad.  James suggested that he made the mistake of “trying to be the person I once was when that person has gone”.  Anna recognised that everything changes with overseas service in a different culture and land where deprivation is rife – your values and perspectives change and you see “luxuries” and waste with new, intolerant eyes.  The way home for her involved a dying to the old person she once was and becoming a new, stronger, values-driven person. 

12. Return with the Elixir – another phase in Anna’s transition to her new persona began with entering a share house with two other nurses.  What she found was the ability to party together and share their experiences in a way that was cathartic.  Out of this period came a very strong resolution by Anna to build on her newly acquired midwife capabilities.  She enrolled in a midwifery degree at Nottingham University and had a very rewarding and enlightening work experience in Ethiopia as a student midwife.  She felt stronger and better prepared for subsequent volunteering missions involving Haiti following the earthquake in 2010 and Bangladesh working with Rohingya refugees – and these experiences entailed different journeys with new challenges and companions (as discussed in her book). 

Reflection

Throughout her hero’s journey in Sudan and beyond, Anna had to face her traumas which had “many heads” and in the process develop her resilience.  An experienced volunteer nurse, Anita, had told her “you’re gonna have to work out how to sit with these painful feelings without reacting to them”.  Like James, Anita suggested that meditation would be helpful as well as focusing on what has been achieved, not what her inner critic perceived as a “failure”.  James even suggested that Anna meditate for “an hour every day” and often encouraged her to be in the moment and experience what was before her – e.g., children playing with kites made from sticks, and the earth glowing from the setting sun. 

Anna demonstrated that as we grow in mindfulness through meditation (no matter how difficult we find it) and other mindfulness practices such as being in the moment, we can learn to regulate our emotions, deepen our self-awareness and develop resilience.

__________________________________

Image by Steve Buissinne 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.

From Inward to Outward: Creating and Realizing a New Order

In a number of forums, Ginny Whitelaw, author of Resonate: Zen and the Way of Making a Difference, expressed concern about society today and the global (dis)order.  She attributes much of what is happening to an “extractive mindset” – extracting earth’s resources, taking for oneself at others’ expense, wasting needlessly, endangering the planet with pollution and failing to restore the endless damage that is occurring through relentless consumption.  She suggests that underpinning this extraction mindset is acquisitiveness – greed driving the need to have more (money, food, status, power, influence, and/or land).  Businesses extract resources from developing countries and do not replenish them while, at the same time, exploiting cheap local labour.  There is an increasing desire for larger houses (with more in-built facilities) and cars with more room and power.  People have lost the art of “knowing what enough is”.   Facebook and other social media feed off and reinforce these acquisitive desires by rewarding the number of followers/likes you have and making you feel bad if you are not an “influencer’. 

In her presentation as part of the Masters Series of EVO Sports Collective, Ginny addressed these issues and spoke of them as the “crucial work of our time”.  She argued that these destructive trends have arisen because we have “dual consciousness” – separating mind from body and ourselves from others.  Associated with this is the disconnection from nature and the failure to understand and appreciate our connectedness to everything and everyone.   

Seeing ourselves as separate from nature and others, and viewing our mind as separate from our body (contrary to the experience of trauma), leads to a dualistic mindset that contributes to the disassociation and destruction of the current social order.  Ginny argues that we need to “feel the earth and sense the waves” to restore our balance through renewing our relationship with nature.  This sense of oneness with nature is cogently and emotively expressed by Lulu & Mischka in the video of their mantra meditation, Stillness in Motion.

A way forward to creating and realising a new social order

In her EVO presentation, Ginny argued that the adoption of non-dual consciousness and Perma-leadership represent the way forward to a sustainable social order.   Connection with nature and its healing power can be one way to develop a non-dual consciousness and contribute to self-care in these uncertain and challenging times.  Mindfulness practices such as loving-kindness meditation and reflection on our emotions (e.g. resentment) can build the sense of connectedness with others and heighten our empathy and compassion.

Ginny reinforces the view that effective leadership and change works from the inside out – from changing our energetic pattern to impact the world around us from a different “place of connection”.   She refers to Kevin Cashman’s book, Leadership from the Inside Out, as a point of reference.  Kevin, drawing on neuroscience research and the characteristics of high performing teams,  points to the need for leaders to strengthen their awareness, be authentic, enhance their courage, build character, develop agility and make a contribution through service of others in pursuit of a life purpose that demonstrates their authenticity.

Ginny suggests that we need to “re-think, re-look and re-invent” to create the future we want – one that optimises outcomes for everyone, rather than maximises wealth for a few.  To do this we have to become re-connected to nature, to our bodies and to others so that we can operate from a stable place, being grounded, and sure of who we are.  People of like minds can create a “tipping point” – the Pandemic of Love, initiated by Shelly Tygielski, is an example of this.  Ginny encourages us to “insert ourselves in what is going on” – just as Shelly Tygielski did from a rich lode of inner work and exploration of her inner landscape.  As we develop new energetic levels through inner integration and alignment, we are able to act on the world in an authentic way and make a contribution that aligns with our life purpose.  Ginny is a great believer in resonance as demonstrated in her Resonate book and the exercises she provides within it to help us centre our energy.

Perma-leadership as a way to engage

Ginny explains that the concept of Perma-leadership is based on the principles of permaculture –   caring for people, the planet and the future.  It develops from a deep mind-body connection and profound connection to others where, in line with indigenous wisdom, we recognise ourself in the other and the other in ourself (no separateness or duality).  Perma-leadership is an iterative process  involving both feed-forward and feedback – where an earlier step is repeated in the light of new insight.  Ginny illustrates the stages in the cycle (from both individual and collective viewpoints) in a Forbes article titled, What Globalization Taught Leaders and What They Need to Learn Now.

The four steps in the iterative Perma-leadership cycle are:

  1. Connect and Remember – initially it may involve remembering something in nature that one loves and reconnecting with it, e.g. by becoming lost in its beauty, sounds or touch.  This oneness with nature can build into oneness with others – feeling connected to others, not separate from them.  Mind-body connection and connection to others deepen over time and provides the impetus for turning practice into action.  Practices such as hara (lower abdomen) breathing and the music of chakras breathing can help to achieve this immersion and sense of connectedness.  The latter process involving the chakras can be enhanced by employing three levels of activity for each chakra – (1) as you tone the sound for the chakra envisage the sound and breath reaching into the chakra, (2) expand the sound and breath out to the whole world and (3) tap into the depth of emotion experienced within the chakra (as illustrated in Ginny’s EVO Masters Series presentation at 1.20 – note access to this series and other resources are free for people who register with the EVO Sports Collective).
  2. Shift and Reimagine – here the focus is on a challenge, project or purpose that one wants to act on in a different way from what has been happening to date.  It involves shifting our perspective on the endeavour and re-imagining it in the light of the permaculture principles mentioned above – caring for people, the planet and the future.  It means working from a deep sense of connectedness and shifting our perspective and action to align with a desired future rather a depleted past.  It may involve exploring “the ripple effect of your life” and choosing to change the effect you have.
  3. Energize and Inspire – this may involve developing a self-care plan incorporating wellness strategies to enhance our energy and using the resultant energy to show up for community care.  We can seek inspiration from people like Shelly and energize ourselves by completing her online course, The Power of Showing Up (which I am pursuing at the moment).  Part of this process is overcoming the self-messages such as “I am not good enough, know enough or skilled enough”.  If we pursue our purpose with energy and authenticity we will create resonance in others and inspire them to participate and contribute from their own centredness (just as Shelly did with the Pandemic of Love).
  4. Create and Realize – this involves converting intention into action and manifests “attuned human beings, listening, adapting” to realize the future in the present.  This requires having the insight to perceive present opportunities for personal contribution and building personal resilience and concerted action one step at a time in line with Permaculture Principles.   The cyclic action involved in Perma-leadership also resonates with the principles of action learning

Reflection

Ginny throws out a challenge to us to create and realize a new order, one intervention at a time – within our resources and in line with present opportunities.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindful breathing and other mindfulness practices, we can gain the necessary insight, courage and resilience to make a contribution to realizing a better world within our local community and/or on a broader scale (through inspiring others and creating a “tipping point”).

__________________________________

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.

Developing Resilience through Trauma Recovery

Dr. Arielle Schwartz as the first presenter of the Rise Summit: Transforming Trauma demonstrated her wealth of experience as a clinical psychologist and deep insight into trauma recovery.  She openly shared her own early experience of traumatic events that left her dissociated and disconnected.  At the same time, Arielle provided hope for recovery as she addressed her chosen topic, Trauma and Resilience.  She drew on her clinical and consulting experiences through the Center for Resilience Informed Therapy where she provides an “integrated mind-body approach to trauma recovery”, informed by research on resilience.  Arielle’s presentation was so rich that you felt the need to listen to it again to glean more of the insights she offers from her personal and professional experience. 

Developing resilience: an integrated approach to trauma recovery

In an interview for New Snow Enterprises, Arielle explains that resilience is “the process of adapting well in the face of trauma” or any adverse life events.  She also highlighted the fact that her strengths-based approach to therapy draws on, and reinforces, the research on post-traumatic growth which demonstrates that people who recover from trauma can become more of themselves, growing in confidence and capability – the opposite of the immediate effects of experiencing trauma. 

In her eclectic approach, Arielle draws on neuropsychotherapy which combines the concepts and practices of psychotherapy with the insights from neuroscience.  Not only does it acknowledge the mind-body connection but the relationship of this connection to environment, well-being and social interaction.  In a very real sense, it adopts a holistic approach to therapy.

This holistic approach is encapsulated in Arielle’s multi-faceted process of facilitating trauma recovery which includes:

  • Exploring family history: this involves identifying adverse childhood experiences, the passing on of intergenerational trauma and the resources and strengths gained through family interactions.  Arielle contends that identifying these elements of the “family legacy” underpins resilience.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – Arielle is a qualified practitioner in the use of this therapy and provides a case study on her website to illustrate successful use of this approach in the case of a person traumatised by date rape. The approach involves lateral eye movement that engages both sides of the brain in reprocessing a traumatic event and identifying the links to present-day reactions to triggering events.  The process requires skilful manipulation of re-exposure to traumatic events in short bursts that enable the traumatised person to manage their emotions. It also builds associations with positive adaptive techniques that the individual uses to manage stressors in daily life.  The net result is to reduce the impact of triggers, widen the window of tolerance, and build emotional resilience.
  • Somatic psychology – exploring the mind, body and behaviour through body awareness (in contrast to thinking-focused “talk therapies”).  Arielle provides a detailed description of somatic therapy that she employs in helping her clients recover from trauma.  She explains among other things how somatic therapy enables grounding, builds awareness of bodily sensations, helps to establish boundaries and to engage the innate calming and healing capacities of the body, especially through breath control.  She explains that the process of oscillating between feeling distress in the body and feeling calmness and safety is in line with somatic experiencing developed by Peter Levine.
  • Mind-body therapies – these include mindfulness practices and therapeutic yoga.  Arielle details a process she describes as Mind-Body Therapies for Vagal Nerves Disorders and explains how the vagal nerve impacts our sleep, digestion and level of calmness in our body.  She contends that these mind-body therapies can reduce inflammation and other physical illnesses and help with a range of disorders including depression and anxiety.  Arielle explains too that these therapies can involve a range of mindfulness practices incorporating movement (such as yoga and Tai Chi) as well as those involving stillness (such as relaxation and seated meditation).  In her website explanation of mind-body therapies, she offers a 4-part mindfulness practice designed to “recover from vagus nerve disorders”.  Arielle also provides a free e-book, Embodiment Strategies for Trauma Recovery, Emotional Health, and Physical Vitality, to anyone who subscribes to her email newsletters. This yogic approach to enhancing wellness is also available as a bonus gift for people participating in the Rise Summit: Transforming Traumathrough the upgrade option.

The six Rs of neuropsychotherapy

During her presentation, Arielle described the 6 Rs of neuropsychotherapy embodied in her integrated approach to trauma recovery:

  • Relationship – drawing on the concept of our being “wired for connection”, she reinforces the power of relationships in healing, including different forms of social support such as a therapist.
  • Resourcing – revisiting positive states (such as calmness and sense of safety) and savouring moments of positivity, satisfaction and happiness.
  • Repatterning – this involves establishing new patterns of movement so that established patterns (such as freezing in the face of perceived threat, e.g. someone touching you) are replaced by constructive responses, rather than triggered debilitating responses.
  • Reprocessing – especially through the EMDR process described above. Arielle reinforces the power of this gentle, managed reprocessing of trauma as a way to train memory and build resilience in the face of triggers.
  • Reflection – enables meaning making in relation to past events and habituated reactions to sights, sounds, smells, touch, taste or catalysing events. Mindfulness practices often involve reflection designed to facilitate this meaning making and emotional regulation.
  • Resilience – developing a sense of freedom, understanding personal stimuli and behavioural response patterns, becoming more integrated and coherent and broadening adaptive capacities.

The six pillars of resilience

On her website, Arielle lists the six pillars of resilience that she has drawn from research:

  • Growth Mindset
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Community Connections
  • Self-Expression
  • Embodiment
  • Choice and Control

 She suggests that we can develop these by undertaking practices that “support you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually.” In the discussion with the Rise Summit creator and host, Nunaisi Ma, they identified practices to achieve this goal of self-support such as Tai Chi, yoga, singing (a favourite activity of Arielle), walking, meditation, mantra meditation, tapping, breathing exercises, body scan, touching (including self-touch), massage, dance and sighing.  Nunaisi elaborates on embodied healing practices in her book, Rise: Transform Trauma into Sovereign Power, Soulful Purpose, and Sacred Purpose.

Reflection

Arielle contends that one of the main barriers to post-trauma growth is fear of the discomfort of dealing with the reality of the pain and suffering resulting from the experience of trauma. Often people attempt to numb the pain through emotional eating or addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Forced solutions do not work because they take away agency (sense of control) from the individual involved.  Arielle’s approach is consistent with the core tenet expressed by the GROW podcast series that “You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone”.

Her multi-model approach also aligns with the approach adopted by trauma recovery expert, Bessel van der Kolk, who is the author of The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma.   Bessel too encourages the use of controlled breathing, movement modalities, mindfulness practices, singing and chanting.

Arielle offers numerous resources through her blog and through her book, The Post-Traumatic Growth Guidebook : Practical Mind-Body Tools to Heal Trauma, Foster Resilience and Awaken Your Potential.  

As we grow in mindfulness through somatic meditation, mantra meditations, Tai Chi or Yoga, we can gain the courage and energy to seek the necessary support for post-trauma recovery.  Sometimes, this may only involve building social relationships with people who provide “unconditional positive regard”; at other times, therapy may be needed to supplement these relationships.   

____________________________

Image by Stephanie Ghesquier 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.

Letting Go: Breaking Free of the Ties That Bind Us

In his earlier book, The Resilience Project, Hugh Van Cuylenburg discussed his search for the way to develop resilience to meet the demands of these challenging times.  In a previous post, I explained  Hugh’s  GEM pathway to resilience – gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.  This book proved to be a bestseller and Hugh has gone on to present talks to 1,500 schools, elite Australian sports teams and clubs (covering cricket, soccer, AFL and Rugby League) as well as presentations to numerous businesses and organisations.  

When reading The Resilience Project and/or hearing Hugh speak, you could be forgiven for thinking that he was one person who “had it all together”, that he was “on top of things” in his life.  However, in his follow-up book, Let Go, he exposes his own vulnerabilities and weaknesses and argues that “it’s time to let go of shame, expectations and our addiction to social media”.   Let Go could be subtitled, “The 101 Ways I have Stuffed Up in My life” or alternatively, “How My Human Foibles Have Undermined My Resilience”.   This is a disarmingly honest account of his personal vulnerabilities and how they have played out in his life.

Hugh covers a range of topics that highlight his vulnerabilities and offers suggestions on how we can address our own vulnerabilities and learn to “let go”.   Throughout the book, he generously shares what he has learnt from his therapy with Anita and discussions with Ben Crowe (famous mindset coach of people like Ash Barty).  Hugh covers  topics that are natural human reactions to the fragility and uncertainty of the human condition.   His key topics include the following that most people can relate to:

  • Shame: feelings of shame can arise from things we have done or failed to do, from negative self-talk (generated in childhood or later in adulthood) or from perceptions of what other people think or feel about us.  Hugh illustrates this by his own inaction in relation to his sister, Georgia, who suffered from mental health issues and the “shame stories” he told himself.  He reminds us that shame and associated guilt have been clinically linked to all kinds of psychological problems.  Hugh argues that we need to understand the nature of the shame that we feel and learn new, healthy ways to respond to it.  He offers a three-step process to address our shame, including sharing our shame with someone (as the hiding of shame, rather than the shame itself, causes us psychological problems).
  • Expectations:  Hugh shares stories of how his own “unreasonable expectations” caused him stress and worry in his life.  The expectations that we place on ourselves can cover any or all aspects of our life – our physical fitness, weight, academic achievements, professional life, home roles, house care or contributions to society.  We can create a living hell through these expectations that are self-fabricated and their effects can impact on others.  Hugh speaks with honesty and openness about instances in his professional speaking life where his unreasonable expectations almost derailed him.  One of the ways he was able to manage the situations was to share his vulnerability at the time and encouraged others to do likewise.  He drew strength from Frou Frou’s rendition of the song, “Let Go” and particularly the lyric, “There’s beauty in the breakdown”.  Hugh also discusses how we can become captive to the expectations of others and the freedom we can enjoy when we break free of what others have called “the tyranny of expectations”.  He offers a series of questions to address the expectations of others and the suggestion to write down the answers and then challenge the truth or otherwise of these recorded expectations. 
  • Perfectionism:  while Hugh provides a serious discussion of perfectionism and the “inner dialogue” that can plague us in every area of our life, he illustrates the hold of perfectionism by sharing a hilarious anecdote about “one (not so) perfect day”.   The story relates to  an invitation to Missy Higgins and family to join his family for a meal.  He had established a friendship with Missy Higgins who wrote the forward to his earlier book, The Resilience Project.  He was so anxious to make everything right for the day that he ended up creating a “disaster” where everything went wrong, Including his artificial grass catching fire.  He encourages us to overcome perfectionism through self-compassion and the honest exploration of all the areas of our life where our “perfectionism rules” and to challenge ourselves about “what would happen if these things weren’t perfect”.
  • Fear of Failure – Hugh illustrates this “phobia” with a humorous description of an embarrassing encounter with Hamish Blake at a café.  Hugh admired Hamish immensely and had been a long-term fan and so wanted the encounter to go well.  However, his “fear of failure” left him tongue-tied resulting in an embarrassing interaction (for both Hugh and Hamish).  Hugh goes on to discuss “atychiphobia” which he describes as “the abnormal, unwarranted and persistent fear of failure” which can result in all kinds of emotional and physical symptoms, including panic attacks.  He makes the point that some level of fear of failure can be healthy because it inspires sound preparation and conscious performance. However, an unhealthy level of fear of failure can lead us to procrastinate, avoid making an effort or miss the opportunity to pursue our life goals and make a contribution to the wellness of others.  Hugh offers an exercise on “how to let go of fear of failure”.

Reflection

One of the most profound things that Hugh asserts is that our vulnerabilities can build authentic connections.  We begin to realise that we all share the same fragility even though it may have different manifestations in each of us.  Throughout his Let Go book, Hugh explains his developing relationship with Hamish and Ryan Shelton.  It was the realisation that each of them experienced the struggle with “shame, expectation and the fear of failure” that led to the development of the podcast, The Imperfects in 2019.  Hugh and his colleagues (brother Josh and Ryan Shelton) also developed a sub-group of The Imperfect podcasts that they titled The Vulnerabilitea House which was designed to enable people to share, over a cup of tea, “something honest and a little vulnerable”.   Vulnerabilitea House interviewees included Peter Helliar, Martin Heppell and Missy Higgins, as well as Hugh, Josh and Ryan.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become aware of what is holding us back in terms of shame, expectations, perfectionism and fear of failure. This self-awareness, along with self-compassion, provides the motivation to face our frailties and the courage and persistence “to do the inside work” necessary to “let go” and break free from the ties that bind us.

_____________________________

Image by Сергей Корчанов 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.

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.

_____________________________________

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.

My Brother Pat: Compassion-in-Action

My brother Pat Passfield died at Sinnamon Village Aged Care on the 27January 2022 aged 81.  Pat joined the Jacob’s Court community in June 2012, having arrived in a wheelchair after brain surgery.  However, “Positive Pat” as he was often called, was determined to be up and about and walking again.  So, in January 2013, he began a virtual walk around Australia to improve his health and fitness and to raise funds for charities, including the Wesley Mission who ran Sinnamon Village.

Throughout his early and mid-life, Pat had been a very accomplished athlete – excelling in golf, tennis and squash.  Having played A1 Squash, he went on to represent Queensland at Masters level for 5 years and was immensely proud to tell anyone that the Queensland team won the Australian Championship in each of those five years that he played for them.  Pat learned early in life to savour his achievements and this contributed in no small measure to his positive attitude, resilience and capacity to bounce back from setbacks.

Pat brought the same determination and discipline to his virtual walking for charity as he did to his sporting endeavours.  He was incredibly determined that his kilometres covered were accurately recorded and he knew where he was on any virtual walk.  He would even study the towns that he would go through virtually so that he had a clear sense of travelling to a destination.  This was borne out beautifully in a video that shows Spencer Howson (612 ABC Breakfast Radio Show) on Pat’s virtual arrival in Cairns – with pictures of Pat crossing the finishing line at Sinnamon Village.   He used this particular virtual tour to raise sponsorship funds for Diabetes Australia and frequently mentioned how his walking endeavours resulted in his overcoming his own type 2 diabetes. 

Pat started off his virtual walking trips with a mobility walker and eventually a walking stick, and in the early stages was doing 4 kilometres a week, which he gradually extended to 10 kilometres a week and then to 12 to 14 kilometres per day.  Pat would start his day with early morning walks (5.30 am) along the corridors of Sinnamon Village and then progress to collecting and distributing the mail to residents, taking shopping trips for himself and other residents to Coles (a few hundred metres away) and walking the village dog.  He would also take trips by bus to other nearby shopping centres to meet the needs of residents.

Pat constantly expressed gratitude for those who had helped him recover his health and achieve what he had achieved in terms of raising funds for charity.  He was a living/walking example of the positive power of gratitude.  He was especially grateful to the medical professionals at Sinnamon Village – doctors, nurses, hydro therapists, physiotherapists and staff who provided day care and therapy – and often referred to how they had provided guidance and support.  He was grateful, too, to his many sponsors including Coles, Athlete’s Foot and the Jindalee Hotel (where he built up a strong relationship through his frequent visits for seafood lunches and the very welcome steak).  Pat frequently expressed gratitude for the little things through micro-gestures – e.g. when I visited him in hospital two weeks before his death, he thanked me a least three times over the course of an hour for “coming all this way” to see him (a 30 minute journey by car).

Pat was not reticent to approach politicians for support of his charitable works. Jess Pugh, MP for Mount Ommaney, recalls that Pat “beat a path to her door” to seek funding for a special project – a MOTOMED Exercise Machine for wheelchair-bound residents of Youngcare Sinnamon Village.  Jess was able to report that with assistance Pat was successful in gaining a grant from the Gambling Community Benefit Fund to purchase the machine. My sister recalls that shortly after the election of Milton Dick as Federal Member for Oxley, Pat was on his doorstep encouraging him to visit a “very special place”, Sinnamon Village.  When Milton did turn up at the Village, Pat gave him a guided tour of the complex, pointing out its special features.  Milton subsequently gave a speech in Federal Parliament about Pat’s “outstanding contribution” to community life and mentioned that the Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health had given Pat a Certificate of Appreciation in recognition for his services to the community.  Milton subsequently became a friend of Pat and was very saddened by his death, reaching out to my sister to express his condolences.  Pat will be acknowledged further in the future for his contribution of thousands of dollars to the charities he supported.  His virtual walking and related fund-raising activities gave increased visibility to the plight of the aged and people with disabilities, especially youth.

Reflection

Pat was forever grateful to Sinnamon Village, CEO and staff, for their support of his charitable activities and his virtual walking. Their efforts reinforce the value of providing agency to people in aged care (that research has shown to be extremely positive in terms of mental and physical health outcomes).   Through his developed and supported sense of agency Pat went on to become a Resident Representative, to improve the health quality of meals in the Village, to engage residents in his gardening activities (by having them care for seedlings) and to successfully agitate for a level crossing outside the Village to enable residents to cross a multi-lane, busy road on their way to shopping or eating out.  In his last days, Pat’s doctor urged him to return to hospital.  Pat’s response was, “If I am going to die, I am not going to die in hospital, I want to die here [Sinnamon Village]”.

Pat demonstrated that focusing on a life purpose can build resilience in the face of setbacks and ill-health, stimulate happiness and joy, facilitate the realisation of personal capacity and creativity and enable the development of compassionate action.  He showed by his life in aged care that each of us, despite our physical and mental limitations, can make a contribution to others and the broader community – we each have a unique set of skills, experiences and knowledge that we can use in the service of others.  Pat drew on his salesman’s skills (he had sold forklifts very successfully in his earlier life) and his sport’s determination and resilience to engage others in his charity projects – people with power, influence, visibility and resources. 

Pat’s influence extended throughout and beyond Sinnamon Village, partly influenced by his extroverted character.   Because of his love of gardening and his “green fingers” he had been given responsibility for an acre of vegetable and herb gardens which he tended with considerable loving care.  He was very proud of the fact that staff would frequently visit “his” garden to gather tomatoes, herbs and leafy vegetables for their lunches.  He also built a relationship with the nearby Creative Garden Early Learning Centre at Sinnamon Park.  The relationship had reciprocal benefits – Pat established a children’s garden which the children from the Early Learning Centre would tend weekly and make their own and they, in turn, provided concerts for the residents of the Village.

As we reflect on our life and the lives of others and grow in mindfulness – awareness of the present moment and its potentiality – we come to appreciate all we have in life, develop an increased sense of our life purpose and capacity to contribute to the welfare of others and build resilience in the face of challenging times.

________________________

Image by Larisa Koshkina 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.

Meditation on the Power of the Present Moment

Allyson Pimentel, UCLA meditation trainer, provided a guided meditation podcast focused on the power of the present moment.  Her meditation, titled Mindfulness and Lineage explores the present moment as the encapsulation of all that has happened in our past along with the potentiality to shape our future.  The present moment provides us with the opportunity to reflect on our words and actions, to engage in reflection-in action and to envisage our future.  It enables us to begin to appreciate our ancestors and all that has gone before us while looking forward to what we ourselves can contribute to future generations.

When we think of the people who have gone before us, our ancestors, and realise that we are today the inheritors of their efforts, sacrifices, challenges and perspectives, we can begin to feel gratitude for all the positive things that we have inherited.  The SBS TV documentary, Who Do You Think You Are?, explores the ancestry of well-known Australians from sport, politics, music, film, stage and television. Invariably, the exploration highlights incredible courage and resilience of forbears and their vision to create a better future for those who were to come after them.  They often endured unbelievably harsh living conditions, undertook dangerous and arduous journeys and lived with uncertainty as the reality of daily life.

When we reflect on the past and the people who have preceded us we have  a lot to be grateful for – our freedom, innovations, insights, discoveries, technologies (including medical processes and medications).  We acquired knowledge through our predecessors trial and error endeavours and risk-taking.  We have come to better understand our bodies, minds and spirit through their explorations, including neuroscience research.  The inheritance from our forbears is endless, enduring and engaging.  If we reflect on our lineage and explore our family history, we come to appreciate even more our connectedness to people, places and history.   We can be grateful for the mindfulness tradition which had its origins in Buddhism but has broadened from a religious base and, in Western countries, morphed into a secular tradition informed by neuroscience.   

Guided meditation

Allyson focuses initially on our bodies, encouraging us to be really grounded our body in the way it takes up space, its textures, height and width, weight, lightness and heaviness and interactions with its external world through the senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.  She reminds us that mindfulness involves being fully in the present moment and apprehending the present with its potency and potentiality through curiosity, openness and willingness to be with what is – accepting our here-and-now experience, including our limitations (physical and mental), our lived experience shaping our perceptions and habituated behaviour, and our emergent self-awareness.  

Allyson encourages us firstly to explore the back of our body – our spine running down the length of our back as well as the back of our head, neck, buttocks, legs, arms, and heels.  She suggests that this process can activate our conscious link with the past, with what has come before us but is now behind us.  As we breath in and out gently, we can express appreciation for our lineage – what we have inherited in our world that contributes to our health, happiness and overall wellbeing. We can value our inherited natural environment and the connectedness to nature that we enjoy.  

The next stage of the guided meditation involves focusing on the front of our body – our eyes, face, jaw, chest, stomach, thighs, calves, feet and toes.  This process helps us to focus on the future – on the fact that our present moment is shaping our future.  This is not only as a result of the immediate benefits of meditation but also the way we begin to develop our world view, heighten our perception, enhance our self-awareness and clarify our life purpose. 

Reflection

We take so much for granted in our lives.  This guided meditation on our lineage opens our minds to the people who have gone before us and what they have made possible for us.  It builds our sense of appreciation and gratitude and enables us to deepen our self-awareness through understanding our origins and its influence on our daily lives.  The meditation also develops an openness to the potentiality of our future.  As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we gain increasing insight into our inner landscape and our outer environment and the forces that have shaped us and continue to influence our life and our individual paths.

______________________________

Image Source

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

___________________________________________

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.