Thursday, March 23, 2017

On Becoming Wise ...

This is a book for people who want to take up the great questions of our time with imagination and courage, to nurture new realities in the spaces we inhabit, and to do so expectantly and with joy.

Krista Tippett

Hello Everyone!

Happy Spring! I'm beginning this wondrous season of new life by reading Krista Tippett's intelligent, reflective, small "s"spiritual book, Becoming Wise

Krista is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, New York Times best-selling author and the recipient of the US National Humanities Medal for "thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence". She is the host of the US National Public Radio program and blog, On Being(one of my favourite places to go on a rainy Saturday afternoon with a hot cup of tea), and a wise woman in her own right.

I love this book. I'm reading it with two friends and we're discussing it chapter-by-chapter using the equally thoughtful study guideI commend both to you.

Here are some quotes from the Introduction to the book:

Change has always happened in the margins, across human history, and it's happening there now.  Seismic shifts in common life, as in geophysical reality, begin in spaces and cracks.
The interesting and challenging thing about this moment is that we know the old forms aren't working. But we can't yet see what the new forms will be.
History always repeats itself until we honestly and searchingly know ourselves. 
Our spiritual lives are where we reckon head-on with the mystery of ourselves, and the mystery of each other.
We create transformative, resilient new realities by becoming transformed, resilient people. 
Our spiritual traditions have carried virtues across time. They are not the stuff of saints and heroes, but tools for the art of living. They are pieces of intelligence about human behaviour that neuroscience is now exploring with new words and images: what we practice, we become. 
Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet ... 
The world right now needs the most vivid, transformative universe of words that you and I can muster. And we can begin immediately to start having the conversations we want to be hearing, and telling the story of our time anew.
I hear the word love surfacing as a longing for our public life everywhere I turn.
I have yet to meet a wise person who doesn't know how to find some joy even in the midst of what is hard, and to smile and laugh easily, including at oneself... (Humour) is one of those virtues that soften us for all the others. 
I define hope as distinct from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth ... Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a habit that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It's a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.
What has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world. This is the beginning of wisdom.

If this is the Introduction to Becoming Wise, you can imagine what the rest of the book offers to an open, reflective and hopeful mind. Enjoy!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Holding Space ...

In such a holding environment the (person) is consistently there as an attuned, solid, reliable, trustworthy presence.

Linda Finlay
Relational Integrative Psychotherapy

Hello Everyone,

During the seven years I spent care-partnering my husband as his heart failure progressed, I noticed some significant differences in the ways that people tried to support me. Some stayed with Derrick so I could do errands or get a break, some sent funny or encouraging notes and letters, some went grocery shopping for me, some accompanied me to waiting rooms while Derrick underwent procedures, some brought meals, some visited and gave me hugs, some helped financially, some gave me advice, some tried to make me happy with their sometimes relentless cheerfulness and some just sat beside me and listened. It's the support of these latter dear people I'd like to explore more deeply today.

One of the most skilled companions to sit with me and listen during those illness years, and during the early years of my bereavement, was my spiritual director, Wendy. Perhaps because her core training and the central mission of her work was to "be" with others as they walked their life journeys, she rarely, if ever, slipped into "doing" or "advising" mode. I never felt pressured to be other than who I was. She had no expectations of changed behaviour or mood (or if she did, she hid them admirably!) She just created a small space of silence, safety and restfulness in the midst of the chaos of my life where I could take the time to breathe and be.

There is enormous healing power in this sort of "relationship of presence" and, judging by the number of blog posts featuring the notion of "holding space" to be found on the internet right now, the idea of creating a safe holding environment for our own and others' developing wholeness is hitting a new tipping point. The notion of holding space is not a new one. It has been a core feature of good psychotherapy, spiritual companioning, bodywork, healthcare, communications, teaching and family caregiving for many years. What is changing, now, I think, is our recognition that we can all learn to "hold space" for ourselves and each other as we go through difficult events, transitions and healing processes.

To hold space is to compassionately companion ourselves or someone else as we walk through a difficult experience - to walk alongside with respect and support but without judgement. It means having clear boundaries between where our experience ends and the other's begins. For active people it can feel uncomfortable, like "doing nothing", but in fact it's doing something very important. It's intentionally creating a safe space within which we or another person can explore and express experience and, through that process, find comfort, healing, learning and growth. 

One of the best descriptions of holding space that I know is that of grief specialist, Alan Wolfelt, in his work on companioning:

Companioning is about:
~ honouring the spirit, not focusing on the intellect.
~ curiosity, not expertise.
~ learning from others, not teaching them.
~ walking alongside, not leading.
~ being still, not frantically moving forward.
~ discovering the gifts of sacred silence, not filling every painful moment with words.
~ listening with the heart, not analyzing with the head.
~ bearing witness to the struggles of others, not directing those struggles.
~ being present to another person's pain; not taking away the pain.
~ respecting disorder and confusion, not imposing order and logic.
~ going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being, not thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.

Wouldn't you just love to sit with someone who practiced and honoured these ways of being? In a similar vein, Narrative coach, Heather Plett, offers 8 lessons she has learned about holding space for others:

1.  Give people permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
2.  Give people only as much information as they can handle.
3.  Don't take away their power.
4.  Keep your own ego out of it.
5.  Make them feel safe enough to fail.
6.  Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
7. Create a container for complex emotions, fear, trauma etc.
8.  Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would. 

Whatever language we use, the process is about being deeply present, still, quiet and supportive in the face of our own and others' pain so the voice of that pain can be heard, acknowledged and accepted and healing and growth can happen. Is there someone in your life who could use some place holding or companioning today?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Compassion Fatigue Bibliography ...

Knowledge will bring you
the opportunity to make a difference.

Claire Fagin

Hi Everyone,

I have just been updating the bibliography for the Caring On Empty workshop in preparation for workshops in Calgary and Vancouver Island next month and I thought you might like to have a look at some of the additions. Here they are:

1.  Articles:

*  Anderson, L (2016) The impact of a knitting intervention on compassion fatigue in oncology nurses Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing Feb 2016, Vol 20(1), 102-104

*  Claxton-Oldfield, S (2015) Hospice palliative care volunteers: Stressors, how they cope with them and implications for volunteer training/management  American Journal of Hospice and Palliative medicine Feb 10, 2015

*  Gilman, L et al (2015) Strategies to promote coping and resilience in oncology and palliative care nurses caring for adult patients with malignancy: A comprehensive systematic review JBI Database System Rev Implement Rep 2015 June 12;13(5):131-204

*  Labib, MYT (2015) Compassion Fatigue, the Wellness of Care Providers and the Quality of Patient Care BSc Honors Thesis Portland State University Paper 205

*  Jack, Kirsten (2017) The meaning of compassion fatigue to student nurses: An interpretive phenomenological study J of Compassionate Health Care (2017)4:2 doi 10.1186/s40639-017-0031-5

*  Miller, B and Sprang, G (2016) A components-based practice and supervision model for reducing compassion fatigue by affecting clinician experience Traumatology January 28, 2016

*  Thieleman, K and Cacciatore, J (2014) Witness to suffering: Mindfulness and compassion fatigue among traumatic bereavement volunteers and professionals  Social Work January 1, 2014

*  Zehr, KL (2015) The Effect of Education on Compassion Fatigue as Experienced by Staff Nurses Doctorate of Nursing Practice Thesis, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana Evidence Based Practice Reports. Paper 65

2.  Books:

*  Levine, Peter (2015) Trauma and Memory: Brain & Body in a Search for the Living Past North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA

*  Richardson, Jan (2016) The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief Wanton Gospeller Press, Orlando, Florida

*  Esfahani-Smith, Emily (2017) The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters Viking Press


The Wild Edge of Sorrow ...

There is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable
and what is most exquisitely alive. Through this,
I have come to have a lasting faith in grief.

Francis Weller
The Wild Edge of Sorrow

Hello, Everyone,

I began the post below earlier last month but was interrupted and forgot to hit the "publish" button so here it is now, sans the snow! .....

Here in Vancouver, we are trapped in the wilds of winter with more snow on the ground, in the trees, on the roads and in the air in this past week than we usually see in a year! The whole world seems to be held in muted abeyance, hibernating as it waits for its natural rhythms to return. It's a time to bury yourself in a cozy blanket with a good book and that's just what I've been doing all weekend.

Having lost four dear ones since mid-December (five, if we count my sister's Maggie-dog, a lovely Bernese Mountain Dog who captured all our hearts), witnessed the devastation of so many  lovely trees at the lake during this year's unusual snowfalls, been stunned by the deaths of six innocent Muslims at prayer in Quebec City and experienced profound sorrow at the hateful rhetoric arising from so many parts of our world, I have been reading a new-to-me book on grief. I'd like to share some of its goodness with you this morning.

Francis Weller's book, entitled The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief, is one of the better volumes on grief I've had the pleasure to read. Beautifully written, it covers five categories of loss which Weller says form five gateways to grief

1.  The gateway of illness and death
2.  The gateway of the parts of our selves that didn't receive love -  parts that were then lost  through being wrapped in shame, banished and marked unworthy
3.  The gateway of the world's sorrows -  the loss of care for the earth and the devastated state of the earth and its creatures 
4.  The gateway of what we expected and did not receive -  the loss of the welcome, engagement, touch and reflection we are all hardwired to expect at birth and throughout our lives but may not have received because we weren't raised by a village that could meet multiple needs or because
5.  The gateway of ancestral grief - the losses of our ancestors, often unknown or unacknowledged, and the secondary losses arising from the ways in which they coped with their pain (violence, alcoholism, eating disorders, emotional abuse and neglect, rejection of culture etc), all still carried within our bodies

Weller spends a good deal of time talking about the importance of ritual, a form of support readily available to the bereaved but often missing for people with disenfranchised grief such as chronic sorrow. Because this grief response is not mentioned specifically in the book, the volume also lacks the needed cautions reminding family caregivers to avoid doing deep grief work around more than one loss at one time so as not to become overwhelmed.

I found this book a poetic read with exquisitely evocative language. It provides a needed reminder for all of us to acknowledge and work with our losses so they don't have a continuing negative impact on our selves and our world and so that our personal aliveness can be kindled through the transformation of our grief. Weller's writing is empathic and resonates with the grief of the reader and, although its  recommended group work for healing grief is not a process that appeals to my introverted soul, it obviously appeals to and helps many others. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about ritual and the healing of grief.

A second book I've found supportive and soothing in these days of sadness is Jan Richardson's new book, The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. While written from the specific perspective of a United Methodist minister and new widow in the US, this book touches on universal themes of loss, grief and transformation and invites us to "know the tenacity of hope and to recognize the presence of love which ... is 'sorrow's most lasting cure'". Here is one of Jan's new blessings, one which I think applies to caregivers as much as to the bereaved:

The Blessing You Should Not Tell Me

Do not tell me
there will be a blessing
in the breaking,
that it will ever
be a grace
to wake into this life
so altered,
this world
so without.

Do not tell me
of the blessing
that will come
in absence.

Do not tell me
that what does not
kill me
will make me strong
or that God will not
send me more than I
can bear.

Do not tell me
this will make me
more compassionate,
more loving,
more holy.

Do not tell me
this will make me
more grateful for what
I had.

Do not tell me
I was lucky.

Do not even tell me
there will be a blessing.

Give me instead
the blessing
of breathing with me.

Give me instead
the blessing of sitting with me
when you cannot think
of what to say.

Give me instead
the blessing
of asking about him -
how we met
or what I loved most about the life
we have shared;
ask for a story
or tell me one
because a story is, finally,
the only place on earth
he lives now.

If you could know
what grace lives
in such a blessing,
you would never cease
to offer it.

If you could glimpse
the solace and sweetness
that abide there,
you would never wonder
if there was a blessing
you could give
that would be better
than this -
the blessing of your own heart
opened and beating
with mine.

Blessings to all of you who grieve today.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Quickening ...

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time.  This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. 

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself and your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware of the urges that 
motivate you.  Keep the channel open.

Martha Graham

Happy 2017, Everyone!

I hope you've had a peaceful and refreshing holiday season. 

The rather old fashioned word, quickening, has been playing at the front of my mind this week as I've prepared to spend the next two months writing. Quickening has several meanings -  to make more rapid, to enliven or return to life, to excite or stimulate and to reach the stage of pregnancy when a baby's movement is felt. It is the middle ones that we're interested in here.

Quickening is an experience of hope and possibility and potential. It is the restless energy that initiates growth and creativity whether we are moving into a new stage of development, painting a masterpiece, building a fence or coming up with a more comfortable way to tape a catheter to a loved one's leg. We can see examples of quickening in nature each Spring as seemingly lifeless seeds and branches respond to an inner urging that coaxes them to life. 

We are all familiar with these excited stirrings that can enliven and motivate us. I can recognize quickening in my own life when I spend time in contemplative silence; when grief lightens after a loss; when the first snowdrops push through in the spring; when I return from a fibre fair with a bag of beautiful yarns for a new project and when I feel the urge to take my camera to the lake, open to receiving whatever images may appear. I also feel a spark of this vital energy when I've struggled through a dry spell in my writing and then, suddenly, disparate thoughts fall into place and I rush to the computer to capture them before they disappear.

What about you? Where might you be feeling quickening or new aliveness emerging this New Year? Is something within trying to catch your attention, to help you solve a problem, to enliven a new part of you, to take you in a new direction? It doesn't have to be anything monumental. In fact, quickening often speaks in quiet excitement about seemingly small possibilities. We just have to learn to notice and pay attention to this voice of excitement and then respond.

Here, once again, is one of Jan Richardson's poems which I think well describes the experience of quickening:

This restless hope
is what drives me
beyond the weariness
beyond the discomfort
beyond every thought
that what I carry within me
will never come to birth.

This restless hope
beyond all reason
flutters beneath my heart
and grows within my soul.

It is beyond me,
and it is of me,
and it is delivering me

I hope 2017 will be a year of possibility and promise for each of you. May you find ways within whatever constraints are present to "keep the channel open", to feel the quickening and to respond in the most life-giving ways you can.

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Task of This Darkness ...

In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

Theodore Roethke

Hello Everyone,

It's been a long time! My broken left arm and injured right one continue to heal - in the case of the left one, a little too well! It seems that my left radial nerve is trapped by the adhesions of healing causing considerable pain when I forget and twist my arm to the side and backwards, stretching the caught nerve. Fortunately, it's my left arm and I've learned pretty quickly not to twist it unthinkingly as I put on my coat, throw a scarf around my neck or reach to turn off the bedside lamp. This intense intermittent pain is a small darkness in my life this winter. (I tend to be pretty impatient with any restriction of my activity!) 

Soon, it will be Winter Solstice, the time when we reach both the shortest day and the longest night of the year. A time when we tend to hope for and celebrate the coming of light to end our particular darknesses. (We all experience darknesses, large and small, as we move across our lifetimes.) But what if our darkness is not going to end any time soon? What if you are a family caregiver experiencing chronic sorrow, someone who is freshly bereaved or a helping professional in the grip of compassion fatigue? It is at times like these, when the darkness seems most profound and overwhelming, that it is good to contemplate not just the coming of light to rescue us but the lessons contained in the darkness, itself.

Last Saturday, I attended a silent retreat where we focused on one of Jan Richardson's poems, Travelling in the Dark. In the poem, I found this line:

Then again
it is true
different darks
have different tasks ...

I began to wonder, "What, then, is the task of this darkness, the task of the darkness of my aching arm?" In the deep silence of the day, I found some answers to my question. For me, the task of my aching arm is to slow me down enough that I have time to finish the book on chronic sorrow that has been waiting so many years for completion. It also allows me to reconnect with the grief of that time so I can remember and write from my heart rather than my head. Important tasks indeed.

And what about you? Do you have a darkness in your life this Solstice? What might be the task of this darkness at this time? Perhaps give yourself some time and inner stillness - a quiet hour before bed or early in the morning or a walk alone in the woods - to consider the task that might be waiting to be discovered. Allow it to speak to you and trust its wisdom. As Jan Richardson says later in her poem :

That in the darkness
there is a blessing.
That in the shadows
there be welcome.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In Gratitude ...

Thanksgiving creates gratitude 
which generates contentment
that causes peace.

Todd Stocker

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

I'm writing this post early because I'm winging off to Prince George in BC's Interior in an hour or so, for the first of several Caring On Empty workshops and then returning, briefly, before going to Vancouver Island to spend the holidays with dear ones.

Most of you know of my love for poetry and, especially for blessings. So, here is my gift to you who care for so many at this holiday season. It's one of Jan Richardson's blessings and it goes like this:

You Who Bless

who are
a blessing

who know
that to feed
the hungering
is to bless

and to give drink
to those who thirst
is to bless

who know
the blessing
in welcoming
the stranger

and giving clothes
to those
who have none

who know
to care
for the sick
is blessing

and blessing
to visit
the prisoner:

may the blessing
you have offered
now turn itself
toward you

to welcome
and to embrace you
at the feast
of the blessed

However you will spend the holiday weekend, may you be blessed in the way of ordinary things - by what you do (or don't do), whom you see and the natural beauty all around you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, Jan