5 December 2017      

We're well into our final month of the year, so here's our preantepenultimate issue!
Thanks much for being here and for having shared so much of the year with us--we
hope that your holiday season (for those of you who celebrate the holiday!) is a
great one, and that you're able to make it one of your best ever.

Who Will I Become?
Nancy Colier

The Power of Presence
Debbie Hall

Not a Way to Heal
tom walsh

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People of the noblest dispositions think themselves happiest when others share their happiness with them.

Jeremy Taylor

If growing up is the process of creating ideas and dreams about what life should be, then maturity is letting go again.

Mary Beth Danielson

The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action
by stealth and to have it found out by accident.

Charles Lamb

  

Who Will I Become? (an excerpt)
Selfish
Nancy Colier

Self-compassion is something that most of us would claim we possess.  We say we care about ourselves.  But in fact, when it comes to actually treating ourselves as someone we care about, now that is considered selfish.  How selfish of me to spend all that time thinking about me when so many people are suffering!  The fear of being judged (by oneself or others) as selfish is what keeps most people out of counseling, even when they desperately need it.  As one woman who was decidedly not blessed with self-compassion complained, "It's always about me me me!  Helping others is what makes us feel better!"  Indeed, helping others does make us feel better but not if we are not helping ourselves as well.

We are afraid that if we care for ourselves, there won't be any caring left for others, as if caring were a finite commodity.  If we take the time to pay attention to our own experience, we will become so self-involved that we will end up only interested in ourselves, so egotistical that we will stop wanting to ever be kind to anyone else.  In this belief system, our caring for others is a façade of sorts, something we do to seem like a good person.  Underneath it, we are only interested in ourselves and that truth must be kept rigorously in check.

We are desperately afraid of who we would become were we to treat ourselves with sweetness.  And yet, it is only when we feel well taken care of, when our feelings have been properly heard and addressed that we have adequate resources to offer others.  When our own well is full, we can experience our genuine desire to help others.  Relating to ourselves with kindness actually increases our compassion and makes us less selfish.

Furthermore, when we are able to empathize with our own suffering, we can genuinely empathize with the pain of others.  Conversely, when we reject our own feelings, we cannot be truly compassionate with others, certainly not to our full capacity, as a large part of our heart is closed off and inaccessible.  This is not to say that we cannot be kind human beings without being kind to ourselves, but, without the ability to relate lovingly with our own experience, we are severed from the real depth of our loving potential.  It is as if we are living in a puddle when we could have access to the ocean.

Those of us who are so-called givers can fall into this trap with ease.  We take care of everyone in our life and we like this role.  But somehow we don't make it onto our own list of the deserving.  It is important for us to realize that we are also human beings, to consider our experience as we would any other person's, to know that we too are deserving of basic kindness, the same kindness that we so readily offer to others.  With this small but profound shift in awareness, our ability to love cracks open.  Once our own suffering and longings matter, we are able to love with the true fullness of our being, ourselves included.  While we may have thought we were already being loving with others, we now realize that we may not ever have been fully openhearted with them either.  A fellow helping professional once confessed that she helped others because she liked the way she felt about herself when she was helping, but that she was not sure how to actually care about others (and certainly not about herself).

When we know what loving attention actually feels like, when we can receive it from our own self, it is then that we can genuinely offer it to and for another creature.  What we bring to others then arises out of our own compassionate heart, which includes compassion for ourselves--as just another living creature.  What is remarkable too is that, in offering this kind of authentic loving attention, it is as if we are receiving it at the same time.  As one friend expressed, "There is no separation between the two, the giver and the receiver.  We are simply sharing one heart!"  When our heart cracks open to our own experience, we benefit from helping others, but in an entirely fresh and generous way.

The rapidly exploding field of neuroscience provides further evidence for the link between self-kindness and kindness for others.  There are now scientific studies coming from brain researchers like Richard Davidson, which show that meditation (which includes practicing compassion for oneself) actually develops the part of the brain that feels and expresses empathy.  Using magnetic resonance imaging, we can now concretely determine that empathy for our own experience builds our neurological capacity for caring.  Being kind to our own feelings does not make us more selfish--it makes us kinder.
  
 

   

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The Power of Presence
Debbie Hall

I believe in the power of presence.

I was recently reminded of this belief when I and several other Red Cross volunteers met a group of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.  We were there, as mental health professionals, to offer "psychological first aid."  Despite all the training in how to "debrief," to educate about stress reactions, and to screen for those needing therapy, I was struck again by the simple healing power of presence.  Even as we walked in the gate to the shelter, we were greeted with a burst of gratitude from the first person we encountered.  I felt appreciated, but somewhat guilty, because I hadn't really done anything yet.

Presence is a noun, not a verb; it is a state of being, not doing.  States of being are not highly valued in a culture that places a high priority on doing.  Yet, true presence or "being with" another person carries with it a silent power--to bear witness to a passage, to help carry an emotional burden, or to begin a healing process.  In it, there is an immediate connection with another that is perhaps too seldom felt in a society that strives for ever-faster "connectivity."

I was first hurled into an ambivalent presence many years ago when a friend's mother died unexpectedly.  Part of me wanted to rush down to the hospital, but another part of me didn't want to intrude on this acute and very personal phase of grief.  I was torn about what to do.  Another friend with me at the time said, "Just go.  Just be there."  I did, and I will never regret it.

Since then I have not hesitated to be in the presence of others for whom I could "do" nothing.  I sat at the bedside of a young man in a morphine coma to blunt the pain of his AIDS-related dying.  We spoke to him about his inevitable journey out of this life.  He later told his parents--in a brief moment of lucidity--that he had felt us with him.

Another time I visited a former colleague dying of cancer in a local hospice.  She, too, was not awake and presumably unaware of others' presence with her.  The atmosphere was by no means solemn.  Her family had come to terms with her passing and were playing guitars and singing.  They allowed her to be present with them as though she were still fully alive.

With therapy clients, I am still pulled by the need to do more than be, yet repeatedly struck by the healing power of connection created by being fully there in the quiet understanding of another.  I believe in the power of presence, and it is not only something we give to others.  It always changes me--and always for the better.

  
 

   

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There are those of us who are prisoners of the future.  We don't
know what will happen but we worry so much that the future
becomes a kind of prison.  The real future is made only of one
substance, and that is the present.  What else can the future be
made of?  If we know how to take care of the present moment
the best we can, that's all we can do to assure ourselves of a
good future.  We build the future by taking care of the present moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Walk

   

 

Not a Way to Heal

I've been re-learning a valuable lesson the last ten days or so.  I've been in a significant amount of pain due to, of all things, an extracted tooth.  Unfortunately, the extraction led to a couple of other complications involving my sinuses, and as a result I've been extremely limited in what I can do lately.  I haven't run for almost two weeks, for example, which is something that almost never happens to me.  But I want to heal properly because of the long-term benefits of healing properly, and I don't want to sabotage that process by doing something I shouldn't do.

The problem is, though, that I've been focusing far too much on the pain.  I've been focusing far too much on how things are instead of how things will and should be--I need to be focusing my thoughts on healing rather than on pain, in order to allow the healing to actually happen.  If I keep focused on pain, then I'm pretty much perpetuating that pain--it's my reality, and I've accepted it as my reality and thus I'm doomed to continue to feel it.

If, on the other hand, I shift my thinking to healing, to what I want to feel like, then I'm giving my body something to strive for, and I'm keeping my mind from getting bogged down in the negative aspects of the pain.  Our bodies and our thoughts are intricately and necessarily interrelated, so it's important that we keep them in sync, and that we keep our thoughts about our bodies as positive as we can make them.

   

If a person can turn from predicting illness to anticipating
recovery, the foundation for cure is laid.

Bernie Siegel

   
I don't believe, as some people claim, that our thoughts can heal all wounds and problems that our bodies face.  This may be a shortfall of mine, or it may be the practical side of me that makes complete sense.  There are those who claim that we can beat cancer with just our thoughts, that we can recover from pneumonia by thinking positive, healthy thoughts, but I don't buy that.  There are some things that happen in our bodies that are simply far too complex, far too drastic, for us to be able to change them just by thinking about them.  Can we kill bacteria and viruses just by thinking them to death?  Can we cause a bone to fuse just by willing it to do so?

Personally, I don't know enough about the mind to answer those last two questions.  What I do know is that a person would have to be very much advanced in the art of using the mind to do either of those things--if they're even possible--and almost none of us are.

What I do know is that our bodies do react to our thoughts.  We see this on the very basic level when someone is feeling down and the body reflects those feelings--the face is sad, the shoulders drooping, the step slow.

On a deeper level, we're all well aware of psychosomatic illnesses, those illnesses that we're able to cause with our own minds.  Stress and trauma can cause tension in the body, stomach disorders, nervous tics, digestive problems, sleep disorders, and many other problems in our bodies.

It would be rather silly to think that my mind can cause a stomach disorder because of stress (and it has done so), but not help me to heal when something is wrong.
    

It's supposed to be a professional secret, but I'll tell you anyway.
We doctors do nothing.  We only help and encourage the doctor
within.  We are at best when we give the doctor who resides
within each patient a chance to go to work.

Albert Schweitzer

    
And that's where I want to be--in the healing side of my thoughts, not with the thoughts that are going to perpetuate the pain and discomfort.  I don't believe for a second that my thoughts have the power to instantly heal a significant wound, but I do know that positive thoughts of healing can get my body working in much more productive ways than negative thoughts of pain and suffering.

One of the problems with persistent pain is the fear that it will never heal.  I've had that fear rather often during the last ten days.  I've read too many cases in which a doctor made an error that caused someone to have unforeseen reactions that have caused them significant pain, sometimes for the rest of their lives.  I'm not naive enough to think that something like that could never happen to me just because I'm me.

But there's also no reason to worry about something like that because millions of people have gone through the same procedure that I just went through, and they've come out fine.  Some have had more pain than others, and some have taken longer to heal than others.  That's life.  When I research the topic and find that 1-2 weeks is the normal time for healing, it tells me that ten days is still within the "normal" range--so why am I thinking about permanent damage and pain if I'm still within the normal time frame?  That's just my mind making things worse, and I really don't need to do that to myself.

Of course, thinking positively doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to take care of myself physically in order to let the body heal.  I've spent the last ten days mostly indoors, resting--which is okay because much of my work is preparing for classes, grading papers and tests, and writing--without doing any running at all, which has been very difficult for me.  If it were just pain, I'd be fine with running through that, but because the sinuses are involved, it doesn't seem like a good idea to force myself to breathe more heavily than normal.  The bottom line is, though, that I'm willing to sacrifice a couple of weeks of activity to allow my body to heal itself properly.
   

Your body has natural healing capacities that nobody
in the field of medicine can pretend ultimately to
understand.  If you break a bone it will heal itself.
All the doctor does is make sure the pieces of the
bone are properly set back together.

Wayne Dyer

   
I will heal.  I'm sure of that.  It may take a bit longer than I want it to, but in the end, things will be fine.  The question is, how will my time be until that time comes.  Am I going to let a little pain make me miserable and afraid, or am I going to be confident that my body knows what it's supposed to do, and will do so in the way that it knows?  Am I going to let the fear gnaw at me and keep me in its grasp, or am I going to feel the confidence that I know I should have, accept the pain for what it is, and keep on keeping on with my life?

I don't want to be that person who does nothing but complain about my pain.  I don't want to be someone whom other people avoid because all I talk about are my ailments.  I want to be the person who says, "Okay, something's wrong, so let's do what we can to help the body to make it right!"  Healing depends on our thoughts just as much as it depends on blood cells and natural body processes, and our thoughts are really the only thing that we can control in a healing situation.  So from here on in, whenever I find myself starting to worry that this pain isn't ever going to go away, I'm going to shift my focus to how I'll feel when the pain passes--by comparing the feelings of the left side of my mouth to the feelings of the right side--and looking forward to that pain-free existence.

And in the meantime, I'll feel much better because I'll know I'm doing something important to contribute to my healing, and I'm not giving up and letting the pain and fear determine the hue of my days.

   
More on healing.

   

One of the most important elements
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All my life I used to wonder
what I would become when I
grew up.  Then, about seven
years ago, I realized that
I was never going to
grow up--that growing is
an ever-ongoing process.

M. Scott Peck

  
Some people don't seem able to accept the things that come to them; they always want to go back and dwell on how it was before and what mistakes were made by them and others.  Sometimes they want to prove, by this recital of past errors, that they were right, sometimes they seem to want to dwell on their own fallibility.

We can't make much progress toward serenity of the spirit without reconciling the past.  If old wounds or conflicts rankle, we need to accept them, forgive them, and let them go.  Above all, let's forgive ourselves.  Those past errors turned into valuable lessons, didn't they?  Life is too short to hold grudges, and they take up energy and time that we could use for spiritual growth.

Each day is new, and this new day is all of time for us, right now.  This day can flow pure and clear or we can choke it with old grudges, regrets, or fears--the choice is ours.

Karen Casey, Martha Vanceburg
   

  

Happiness does not come quickly. It is not conferred by any single
event, however exciting or comforting or satisfying the event may be.
It cannot be purchased, whatever the allure of the next, the newest,
the brightest, the best. Happiness, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, “comes
on little cat feet,” often silently, often without our knowing it, too
often without our noticing.

Joan Chittister

    

  

   

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