Monthly Archives: April 2015

Triangles and Whale Music

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As I reluctantly submitted to the ministrations of the Chiropractor the other day, I pondered the link between mind, body and spirit that I think of as a triangle, or three dimensional pyramid, each side being inter-related and impacting on one another. I feel that at this point I should ask  readers to please note that the theories that I am sharing in this post are not prescriptive or laid down in any way; they are simply the product of my musings.

I like my Chiropractor’s holistic approach. He does not treat a ‘bad back’ in isolation, rather with his knowledge and expertise he views it a part of the whole and his initial consultation and ongoing questioning during treatments reflects this. He does not see spine and joint problems separately from the client’s emotional state and/or past physical/mental problems, and this resonates with my own beliefs.

“Be nice!” I admonished him, after he prodded a particularly tender spot alongside my lumbar spine.

“Well, if you like”, he said, “I can tickle your head and play you some whale music, but that won’t make your spine better. Someone else can do that bit for you”.

His words made me laugh, but in fact he had no way of knowing that my ‘dealing-with-grief toolbox’ contains head-tickling (in the form of massage when I get the opportunity) and whale music – well, I don’t really like whale music – but I do enjoy some of the seamless healing music that is a marvellous aid to losing and transporting oneself in meditation.

The healing triangle that best represents (to me) how each element inter-relates with the other has ‘mind’ at its apex, body and spirit at the other two angles, and to illustrate with random examples, I considered how I am consciously feeling at any given time:

active, practical, emotional, anxious, creative, stressed, content.

Each of these reflects in my body as being:

energetic, healthy, upset, restless, content, unwell, nourished.

And each of the former two states is additionally, unconsciously mirrored in my spirit:

lively, balanced, heavy, unsettled, happy, low, settled.

I hope this trilogy is clear to picture from the diagram below. The words should be read in their colours, ie active relates to energetic relates to lively etc.

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Of course these are simply examples, and you will have your own variants to consider. But perhaps this model is a good starting point for looking at the delicate balance that exists between our physical selves and our psyche, soul, spirit … however you wish to view it.

In the same way as your mind-set can affect your physical state, so physical movement elevates your emotional state.

We are all entitled to the occasional duvet day, but I find that harnessing and utilising energy where I can, always works better therapeutically for me.

Whilst I would never dream of suggesting or implying that we bring physical ailments upon ourselves because of our actions, mind-set or beliefs, I do believe that the elements which bond together the mental, spiritual and physical contribute to our health.

It is hardly surprising that the level of grief and trauma associated with loss can manifest itself physically.

I was prey to a number of dental abscesses and infections following the loss of my parents and of James, and I firmly believe that the state that I was in at the time contributed – not least because I was so stressed that I was clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth at night.

I like the example of a tube of toothpaste with the lid on. Squeeze it hard enough and the contents will break out somewhere – at the bottom, on the side … and so it can be with grief that is held in and locked away – it will come out somewhere eventually, perhaps years down the line. Ultimately, it is not helpful to try to soldier on regardless – accepting help where it is needed is a hard lesson to learn. I have to confess that it is only recently that I have really taken on board that I should practise what I preach and do this for myself!

I pride myself on getting my grief ‘out’ through writing, spiritual practice, exercise – all the tools I have amassed in the past ten years. BUT despite this I have to address various minor health issues that appear to come out of the blue, although when I analyse them, they make a certain amount of sense.

My arthritic hip is likely to be hereditary and there is not much I can do to alter that. However, the sore back that has recently started to trouble me could be attributed to the body’s protective armour trying to stabilise the hip joints – or could it be that my back is finally reacting to the heavy load of sadness that it is carrying?

The jury is out on that one!

In the meantime, I must trust in my Chiropractor’s mantra, “short term pain for long term gain”. I do hope he is right.

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Colouring in with Intent

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Last Sunday, I co-presented a workshop for bereaved parents at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary in Shere; it was the second time that my friend Linda Sewell and I had put together such a day.      Of course, we could not have done it without the help of our creative co-presenter Lucy and the healers and helpers who supported us throughout the planning and eventually the day; and also, our attendees.

Some of our attendees had lost children very recently; others were mourning less recent loss as are Linda, Lucy and I. Over the course of the morning’s programme  we brought each of our children into the room with words, tears, anecdotes, photographs and even some laughter as we shared our stories.

We talked of individual tools for managing our grief, such as creativity, sport, spiritual learning, reading, writing …. Whatever works for each of us.

We shared our feelings around our children’s peers and siblings and the wider family, and how we can manage all the differing emotions and reactions that we encounter.

We discussed the need to find things that rest our mind from the pain that is always there.

We emphasised the importance of finding our way out of the grey fog of early, monochrome grief, back into the colourful world again, to ultimately sustain us and lift our spirits.

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We spoke of the use of social media to keep the memories of our children alive.

We managed to laugh at how our children would view their ‘ancient’ parents keeping abreast of Facebook and Twitter, but we agreed that these provide a platform for communication, in particular with our children’s friends, who most definitely do not forget them.

Those of us who lost a child to an accident spoke of our immense and traumatic shock at having a child ‘here one minute and gone the next’.

It was very interesting to hear the viewpoint of one of our attendees who recently lost her son to cancer, who said,

“The devastating shock of my loss is no different to yours. Even though it was clinically spelled out to me that he would die, I still expected, prayed for and anticipated the miracle that would keep my son alive. My shock was as great as it is for those parents faced with the sudden arrival of the policeman at the door – and what that signifies”.

I have long believed that every parent who suffers the loss of a child has a degree of post-traumatic stress disorder. After all, what can possibly be more traumatic than the loss of a child, however it happens?

But this attendee’s words certainly brought (to me at any rate) a new realisation of the impact of grief regardless of the circumstances.

We enjoyed a guided meditation that encompassed all the colours of the rainbow before we broke for lunch.

Our afternoon commenced with a brainstorming session to enable us to be mindfully creative in colouring in a mandala (a symmetrical design bounded by a circle). Our wonderful, creative artistic director Lucy led us through the presentation. Lucy based the mandala tutorial on information in a book that she has used herself and recommends: Return to Wholeness: Embracing Body, Mind, and Spirit in the Face of Cancer’ by David Simon MD.

The blank mandala template is divided into four areas, which for the workshop purposes represented:

  • The Core of our being,
  • grief emotions,
  • physical messages
  • survival tools

The results of our discussions quickly took up a whole page, with words ranging from spirit, faith and hope, to devastation, pain, confusion through depression and exhaustion to support, love, empowerment and guidance.

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We very much enjoyed sitting in harmony working on the colouring and painting of our mandalas. After the allotted time, they were pinned up on a screen for all to see.

Linda said, “I was working so close up to my mandala and then when Lucy took them and displayed them on the screen I realised how different it looked from a distance…. just a totally different perspective, and it made me think that we can never see the complete picture.

We see a small part of it and sometimes with the benefit of time and space we see how certain things have fitted into a bigger pattern …


And our grief journey is no different, we keep on taking small steps and sometimes when we turn and look back we realise we have come such a long way”.

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The striking thing about the mandalas was their individuality; each of us had the same template and the same information, but we all reflected a different interpretation, which mirrors the experience of many life events and in particular the individuality of each person’s grieving process.

After a relaxing walk in the grounds we assembled in the sanctuary chapel. We were led in an uplifting and beautiful meditation which allowed for peaceful reflection. We spoke our children’s names into the rooms once again and all received a few minutes of healing to leave us restored and calm at the end of a very special day.

We all hope that by providing workshops for the bereaved, we can show that it is possible to move forward in living with loss. We aim to demonstrate ways in which using a holistic approach of tool gathering, through amassing mental, physical and spiritual aids can be immensely helpful to everyone.

It is hoped that we will hold further workshops and we are considering expanding the programme to suit anyone who has experienced bereavement, not just those who have lost children.

If anyone is interested in taking this further forward, please contact me directly.

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http://www.harryedwardshealingsanctuary.org.uk

http://www.tcf.org.uk

Being a Borrower

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The writing of others is often a trigger for my own written expression of thoughts.

As a breed, writers tend to gather and collect words that have been penned by others before them. How else do we learn to write? … Often, I read with a rueful “Wish I had thought of that …” At other times, just a particular formation of words is enough to spark a whole cascade of ideas and musings. Such is the wonder of the creative platform, and I love it!

Today I am inspired by the words of American author Anne Lamott and as I am short on my own inspiration, I am borrowing hers.

I hope she does not mind…. Happy Birthday, Anne…..

“I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can’t help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

  1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.
  2. Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
  3. There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of last way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date it. This is the most horrible truth.
  4. Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides. Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them, or get any of them sober. But radical self-care is quantum, and radiates out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air. It is a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” smile obliquely, like Mona Lisa, and make both of you a nice cup of tea.
  5. Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. It’s best use is as bait in snake traps.
  6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born
  7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who’d had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won’t, it can’t. But writing can. So can singing.
  8. Families; hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal, remember that in half of all cases, it’s a miracle that this annoying person even lived. Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants. When Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But that you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderellie. You will be amazed.
  9. Food; try to do a little better.
  10. Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, “Help!” And then buckle up. Grace won’t look like Casper the Friendly Ghost; but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness, even if you are sick of me saying it.
  11. God; Goodness, Love energy, the Divine, a loving animating intelligence, the Cosmic Muffin. You will worship and serve something, so like St. Bob said, you gotta choose. You can play on our side, or Bill Maher’s and Franklin Graham’s. Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up. My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.
  12. Faith: Paul Tillich said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. If I could say one thing to our little Tea Party friends, it would be this. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, is 90% of the reason the world is so terrifying. 3% is the existence of snakes. The love of our incredible dogs and cats is the closest most of us will come, on this side of eternity, to knowing the direct love of God; although cats can be so bitter, which is not the god part: the crazy Love is. Also, “Figure it out” is not a good slogan.
  13. Jesus; Jesus would have even loved horrible, mealy-mouth self-obsessed you, as if you were the only person on earth. But He would hope that you would perhaps pull yourself together just the tiniest, tiniest bit–maybe have a little something to eat, and a nap.
  14. Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don’t go by what I say.
  15. Death; wow. So f-ing hard to bear, when the few people you cannot live without die. You will never get over these losses, and are not supposed to. We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. All truth is a paradox. Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk. The first thing God says to Moses is, “Take off your shoes.” We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know.

I think that’s it, everything I know. I wish I had shoe-horned in what E.L. Doctorow said about writing: “It’s like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.” I love that, because it’s true about everything we try. I wish I had slipped in what Ram Das said, that when all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home. Oh, well, another time. God bless you all good.

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Easter musing

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When I am thanked for providing food for thought in my writing, I am delighted!

Today’s blog may initially appear negative, but in it I am sharing a story of love, faith and devotion that ultimately brought great reward.

The lead up to Easter and the festival itself has always struck me as a time for introspective reflection which is eventually uplifted by the joyful theme of resurrection and the symbolism of rebirth. There is no other time in the calendar when the coming together of life and death is so vividly illustrated.

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 When we lose a child, in an instant we lose the self that we were, before that loss.

We are reborn as different people who have no choice but to live the remainder of our lives breathing our loss with every breath.

But …there are parallels to resurrection in the means by which we rise phoenix-like from the ashes of our despair.

My mother was Welsh – which in faith terms when she was growing up meant ‘church’ or ‘chapel’. She was chapel raised and in her early twenties she was introduced to my father by his sister. It was love at first sight; my father always told anyone who would listen that he knew he would marry mum the moment he met her. But they had the obstacle of faith standing in their way. I do not know today’s rules, but as a Jewish man at the time my father was warned against marrying a gentile as it would mean he could no longer practise Orthodox Judaism. However, he did not have to relinquish his faith altogether; he could follow the less restrictive form, known as Reform Judaism.

My parents were so keen to be Mr and Mrs that they went ahead anyway with a secret Register Office ceremony, but despite being married they continued to live apart, dad still with his family and mum close to her work in a rented flat. In order for their union to be officially sanctioned by the synagogue, it was necessary for my mother to study Judaism under the tutelage of a rabbi, with examinations at the end, both written and oral. She also had to learn some of the Hebrew language and be prepared to observe Kosher rules in the home.

Eventually, after a year or so’s intensive study, mum was deemed to have passed muster to join the Jewish faith and she and dad’s second, official wedding took place in a London synagogue, I imagine to the joy of both their families.

I am daily impressed by the love, faith, commitment and devotion that my mother showed in what she did. How amazing! – to love someone so much that you are prepared to convert your belief system and learn how to live according to the tenets of a different faith.

 The parallel that I draw from my mother’s example to my grieving process is this:

I have the love and faith of my family and friends that sustains me through my grief and gives me the strength and ability to face learning how to forge ahead in my ‘new normal’ in a positive fashion.

Nearly ten years on from losing James, I feel loved and supported by something greater ‘out there’. I am only just beginning to explore what this something may be; spirituality, healing, an emergence of new faith perhaps… I am still searching and I feel as though this is a time of grace and exploration for me.

As things turned out, my childhood upbringing was not very religious overall so I am not confined to bias in any particular faith or belief system.

Somewhere along the line though, I have acquired an unshakeable conviction that the privations of loss and grief are pointing me towards a stronger, soul nourishing and rewarding place; I am just not sure where it is yet!

I am my mother’s daughter in terms of sheer tenacity and I apply that tenacity to the best of my ability, in this as in other areas of my life.

Happy Easter to all, when it comes….!

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