Friday, January 25, 2013

Chronic Sorrow Article ...

I'm too productive to claim to be seriously depressed, and I can feel happy or amused at times, but life just seems wrong. 
Susan Roos, PhD
Chronic Sorrow: A Living Loss 

Hi everyone! I'm pleased to say that the Winter issue of BC's Insights into Clinical Counselling held my first full-length article on Chronic Sorrow, Unending Loss: An Introduction to Chronic Sorrow in Family Caregivers. The emails and phone calls I've received in response to this article have underlined the potency of the information and and the need of family caregivers everywhere to have their unique experience acknowledged and understood.

The article begins:

I wish I had known in 1997 the things I know today about chronic sorrow (CS), a distinct, common, but little known grief response affecting people with chronic conditions and those who love them.
Late in the fall of 1997, following a hike in the North Shore mountains, my previously healthy husband developed a life-threatening heart rhythm, the first sign of what would become a seven year journey with heart failure. During those seven years, I coped with many stressors including feedback from family and friends regarding my "depression". Wasn't I over his diagnosis yet? Hadn't it been several years? Why was I still crying? Perhaps I should see the doctor for antidepressants?
Part of me pondered the same questions but another part insisted that I was not depressed. I was too focused and functional to be depressed and my periods of intense sadness, while many, were interspersed with times of genuine happiness, pleasure and gratitude. So, if not depression, what was I experiencing?
It was not until the year after my husband's death that a workshop comment by grief expert, Robert Neimeyer, PhD, led me to the writings of American psychologist Susan Roos, PhD, and through her work, to the Nursing Consortium for Research on Chronic Sorrow (NCRCS). There, I discovered ... 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Time for Everything ...

A time for everything: A time to relax and a time to be busy, a time to frolic and a time to labour, a time to receive and a time to give, a time to begin and a time to finish.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Recently, I received these New Year's musings from Alie, a young friend who is a student in a Masters program far from home and for whom 2012 was a year of episodic ill health, the deaths of loved ones and the ending of a love. I wish I'd been as wise as she at the age of twenty-eight:

I've never really been one for New Year's resolutions at all. And after the bust that was 2012  (for which I kinda made a a resolution for the first time ever) my aversion to this tradition is especially strong this year.
For me, right now, it's not about goals. It's not about striving to achieve a certain thing. It's about working towards something. It's not about the present and the future and some differential between the two.
It's about putting one foot in front of the other. It's about the process. It's about balance. Good and bad. Easy and hard. Happy and sad. Tired and awake. Work and play. Exercise and relaxation. Alone and social. Loud and quiet. Up and down. It's about having a bit of both, enough of each, and some of the in between.
It's not a goal to be achieved at some point in the future, but an abstract equilibrium that is acted out in every decision made.
Good and bad.
Happy and sad.

'Nuff said.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Six Spiritual Practices for the New Year ...

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spirutual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.

Carl Sagan, American astronomer and astrophysicist

As trauma and compassion fatigue research continues, we are learning that developing our spiritual lives can actually enhance our compassion fatigue resilience and recovery.

The New Year offers us an opportunity to reassess our spiritual lives and to consider practices that can deepen our spiritual connections with ourselves, those around us, nature, and that which transcends the self - an opportunity to recognize more fully the sacredness of life and to embrace its mystery. 

Here are six spiritual practices to help you deepen these connections in 2013:

1. Breathe. The word spirituality is derived from the Latin word spirale  which means to blow or to breathe. Our breath connects us intimately with the life force that sustains us in each moment. Sit quietly for 3 minutes and allow your attention to follow each inspiration, each expiration - moment by moment, breath by breath. Savour the feeling of being alive and in-spired. Choose a cue - opening a particular cupboard, hearing a phone ring - to remind you to b-r-e-a-t-h-e  in this way several times a day. 
2.  Be silent. Create stillpoints of quiet in your life. Wake early and spend that time in deliberate stillness and silence. End the day with 20 minutes silence to bring you back to yourself and the Source of your being. Eat a meal alone, without a book or TV for company. Make a silent retreat of an hour, a day or a week. Make waiting times intentional times of silence - grocery store lineups, sitting in waiting rooms, waiting to pick up the kids at school. 
3.  Spend time in wild places. Thoreau says that the wilderness is near as well as dear. You don't have to travel to distant shores to leave your busyness behind and return to the restoring rhythms of nature. The wild places are right on your doorstep - the greenbelt, the lakeshore, the parkland beside the reservoir, the pathways in the woods, even the quiet of your garden just before sunrise and sunset. Allow the rhythms you discover there - rise and fall, summer and winter, abundance and scarcity - to teach you to embrace both life's fullness and its emptiness, knowing that there is much to be learned from each.  
4.  Release what is no longer necessary, be they possessions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, habits or expectations. Reflect upon what is essential to your life then consider letting go of anything that may be keeping you trapped or blocked.
5.  Trust in what you love.  Rather than imposing a rigid plan upon your life, try following the thread of your own unique unfolding story, step by step, attending to the synchronicities and the still small voice that can guide your path. Cultivate a deep trust in what you love. What are the things that make your heart sing, no matter how at odds they feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so?). Make some room, this year, to honour what brings you to life.
6.  Open yourself to a new word for the year.  Last year, guided by the writings of spiritual director, Christine Painter, PhD, I wrote about choosing a word (or, more correctly, allowing a word to choose you) to guide you through the year. As Christine put it,  In quiet moments, what are the desires you hear being whispered from your heart? Is there a word or phrase that shimmers forth, inviting you to dwell with it in the months ahead? Something you can grow into and don't fully understand?
I don't know if any of you chose a word last year. I did and it made such a significant impact on my life in 2012 that I encourage you to join me in giving it a try this very new year.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy Women's Christmas! ...

Hello, everyone.  Happy New Year and Happy Women's Christmas for tomorrow!

Women's Christmas is a tradition celebrated originally in Ireland where it is known as Nollaig na mBan. It began as a day when the women, responsible for domestic duties throughout the year, took the Feast of Epiphany (marking the visit of the Wise Men and the last day of Christmas ) as a time to take a break and, together, celebrate the end of the busy holiday season.

On the morning of January 6th, while the men cared for hearth and home, excited shawled women hurried to the local public house (a men's domain the rest of the year) to pool their few shillings, saved for the day, and drink stout and eat corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. They would chat briefly about the troubles of the old year then make a pact to leave them outside the door. They would enjoy each other's company, songs and support well into the evening and then return home, restored, if slightly the worse for wear.

Though not well known, the tradition continues in various parts of the world, celebrated in different ways in different places. In Ireland, many still gather with female family and friends, with a glass of wine and a good lunch out replacing the stout and corned beef sandwiches. In Canada, some groups of women get together for tea or coffee and goodies to chat and enjoy each other's company. In the US, others take the day as a time to pause and reflect upon the experiences and direction of their lives, perhaps to gather for a retreat that offers time and quiet to rest and relax. No matter how it is celebrated, Women's Christmas is a lovely way to savour the last gifts of the holiday season and to pause to catch your breath before plunging into the New Year.

Many of you have heard me say that  Jan Richardson is one of my favourite writers of blessings. In her latest blog post she offers a free online Women's Christmas Retreat. It is couched in the language of the Christian wisdom tradition but seems accessible to all. Whether or not you decide to make the retreat yourself, please accept Jan's Blessing for Women's Christmas as a gift to help you lay the holiday season to bed and begin your own very New Year:

The Map You Make Yourself
A Blessing for Women's Christmas

You have looked
at so many doors
with longing,
wondering if your life
lay on the other side.

For today, 
choose the door
that opens
to the inside.

Travel the most ancient way
of all:
the path that leads you
to the center
of your life.

No map
but the one
you make yourself.

No provision
but what you already carry
and the grace that comes
to those who walk
the pilgrim's way.

Speak this blessing
as you set out
and watch how your rhythm slows,
the cadence of the road
drawing you into the pace
that is your own.

Eat when hungry.
Rest when tired.
Listen to your dreaming.
Welcome detours
as doors deeper in.

Pray for protection.
Ask for the guidance you need.
Offer gladness
for the gifts that come 
and then
let them go.

Do not expect
to return
by the same road.
Home is always 
by another way
and you will know it
not by the light 
that waits for you

but by the star
that blazes inside you
telling you where you are
is holy
and you are welcome

Jan Richardson