Thursday, December 26, 2013

Three Great Practices to Welcome 2014 ...

Hello, everyone! After enjoying a wonderful Christmas at home for the first time in 10 years, I'm getting ready to leave for the Island to celebrate the New Year with dear family and friends. Getting ready, of course, includes writing an early New Year's blog post for those of you who are carepartners to patients, clients, students, family members, neighbours or friends.

While at this time of year the internet, TV and print media will be full of ways to make our bodies healthier in 2014, I would rather focus more inwardly upon ways of making our psyches and relationships more whole and well in the New Year. Three ways I know of doing this are to let a word choose you as a guide for 2014, to celebrate Women's Christmas and, if you're into resolutions, to choose a spiritually literate New Year's resolution for 2014. Each of these practices will help you to create the spaciousness and intention to welcome the new year.

This is my third year of allowing a word to "choose me" and it's been a experience of fun and continuing growth. Not only does my word act as guide during the year I choose it, but because of the focused attention it receives throughout that year, it continues to light my path in the years beyond. The first year my word was act, the second year it was veriditas and this year, embrace (as in embrace life) seems to be shimmering at the edge of my consciousness. I'll spend a little more time with this possibility over the next few days and see if it continues to resonate.

Celebrating Women's Christmas is a great way to reflect on the direction of our lives while in the company of women we trust. We can meet on January 6th in any number of settings - homes, nature walks, retreat houses, restaurants, pubs - and there, speak briefly about the year past and then resolve to spend the rest of the day sharing our dreams for the year to come and enjoying each others' company and support.

Finally, although I'm not usually one for resolutions, I have found on the Spirituality and Practice website, a list of ten spiritually literate resolutions that seem worth looking at. While I think one would need at least a year to work with any one of them, do check the list and see if there's one you or your family or workplace might like to use during 2014.

I hope that at least one of these practices catches your imagination and I wish each of you an expectant New Year filled with promise, possibility and peace.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How the Light Comes ...

Hello, everyone! We have just passed Diwali, Hanukkah, St Nicholas Day, Bohdi Day, St Lucia's Day, the Winter Solstice and several other lesser known midwinter festivals. Soon, we will celebrate Christmas Day.

What is it that all these holidays have in common? The recognition of darkness and the coming of light. The hope for better times ahead when the days lengthen and ever more light will fill our lives.

For some, it is hard to imagine that the light will ever come again. Others are already dancing in anticipation. Others, still, see glimpses of light already here in the midst of the darkness. Whatever your situation this wintertide, whether you are healthy and happily gathering with loved ones, caring for family members struggling with illness or injury, grieving the death of a loved one, working long shifts to keep us all safe and well or withdrawing into the pain of your own burn out and compassion fatigue, may this holiday season, in some way, bring you the gift of light in the darkness.

How will that light come? Let me leave you with the gift of a blessing by Jan Richardson that responds to that very question, a blessing made more poignant this year as she grieves the sudden death of her husband, musician Garrison Doles:

How the Light Comes:
A Blessing for Christmas

I cannot tell you
how the light comes.

What I know
is that it is more ancient
than imagining.

That it travels
across an astounding expanse
to reach us.

That it loves
searching out
what is hidden
what is lost
what is forgotten
what is in peril
or in pain.

That it has a fondness
for the body
for finding its way
toward flesh
for tracing the edges
of form
for shining forth
through the eye,
the hand,
the heart.

I cannot tell you
how the light comes,
but that it does.
That it will.
That it works its way
into the deepest dark
that enfolds you,
though it may seem
long ages in coming
or arrive in a shape
you did not foresee.

And so
may we this day
turn ourselves toward it.
May we lift our faces
to let it find us.
May we bend our bodies
to follow the arc it makes.
May we open
and open more
and open still

to the blessed light
that comes.

And for those of us fortunate enough to be living healthy, happy and well-lit lives this holiday season, may there be opportunities to share our light with those who are still caught up in a season of darkness.

From my heart to yours, a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas!

Love, Jan

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Gift of Being Seen ...

Hi everyone! My apologies for an unannounced absence over the past few weeks.

As a few of you may know, I have a chronic pain condition from a birth injury, one that has been relatively stable for many years. This fall, however, one of my pain prevention medications was discontinued because it was implicated in signs of early glaucoma. Tapering off that medication has caused significant pain for a couple of months. After seeing a new-to-me neurologist at Queen's University, though, I now have several replacement options to try and expect to be comfortable again in the New Year.

The experience of meeting this new neurologist was helpful, hopeful, and reassuring. What made it so?  First, that he took the time to hear my story and carefully question any areas where I was unclear. Second, that his questions encompassed all three aspects of chronic pain - the physical, the emotional and the traumatic. Third, that his physical exam was thorough enough to pinpoint protective compensations of gait and posture that now complicate the treatment picture. And finally, that he lives with a similar condition, himself, and believes a solution is available. (His credibility went up 10 points when I heard that!)

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because in this physician, I found a helping professional who was neither burnt out nor compassion fatigued - one who retained the capacity to SEE his patients as individuals and as partners in healing. This being seen allowed me to relax into the helping relationship and to move toward the relief of my pain.

The gift of being seen is a powerful one. From our earliest days, the gaze of infant and mother establishes a secure emotional base of human attachment. The watchful eyes of parents, families and teachers keep us safe and empower our growth through childhood, teenage years and early adulthood. The recognition of being seen in a positive light builds our self confidence and self esteem. Being seen allows each of us to continue the journey toward being the whole person we were meant to be.

In Africa, there is a Zulu greeting that goes like this:

I see you.

If you want to let someone know that you recognize them, that you have taken the time to notice them, that you honour how unique they are in all the world, that their presence is a cause for celebration, this is what you say.

I see you.

In this season of additional busyness, hurry and, in some cases, grief, Jan Richardson, one of my favourite writers-of-blessings asks:

How is your seeing? Who might need you to say, I see you? Where might you offer this gift of recognition, this blessing that will free someone to speak the word that only they can speak?

Why not take a moment to consider who might need to be seen in your life this holiday season? Then, whether at work or at home, intentionally offer them the gift of your presence, recognition and esteem.

Monday, December 9, 2013

When Christmas Hurts ...

Hello, everyone. It's good to be back in Vancouver again after a very successful month's writing in Ontario.

However, all is not as I left it a month ago. Several of my friends are hurting and will have a difficult holiday season this year - two have lost husbands unexpectedly, one has had surgery and another, a life changing diagnosis.

In addition, two other friends, the sister and brother-in-law of The Rev Dave Dingwall, the Episcopal priest who died in the bizarre church rectory fire in Ocean City, MD, are attending funerals rather than planning their baby's first Christmas. And even Jan Richardson, the wonderful writer whose blessings have graced several of my blog posts, is grieving the sudden death of her husband, musician Garrison Doles, following surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. So much grief in what we anticipate as a joyous time of year.

Many of you will be experiencing bereavement grief or chronic sorrow this holiday season, as well, and will be wondering how on earth you are going to get through the festivities and make it to the end of the year. There's no easy answer to that question. In fact, there are as many answers as there are situations. How you choose to cope with the holidays needs to be tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.

That said, here are a few options to consider that might help:

1.  Talk about your grief if you can. Don't be afraid to express your feelings if you want to. Ignoring them won't make you feel any better and talking about them with someone you trust to hear you without judging can help to relieve some of the pressure. If there's no one you feel comfortable talking with, consider writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal instead.

2.  Recognize your limits.  Be at least as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend. Don't insist on a perfect holiday. Keep things simple. Recognize that grieving takes a lot of energy and allow yourself to scale back, to rest frequently and to ask others for help. (Most of us have some friends who would give anything to be a practical help to a grieving friend. Your request for help is a gift to them as well as to yourself.)

3. Be with people who feel safe and comfortable. Make a list of people you can be yourself with, happy or sad, warts and all, and choose to spend your time with these people. Their love and support is the most important gift you can give yourself at this time of year.

4. If someone has died, talk about them.  Include them in your day-to-day conversation. Consider a ritual to remember them during the holidays - light a candle at their place at the table, sing their favourite carols or holiday songs, say a prayer of thanksgiving for them before your holiday meal.

5. Use distraction consciously. Everyone will tell you that it's important to feel, feel, feel while you're grieving but sometimes feeling can become overwhelming. In cases like these, make a conscious choice to distract yourself in a healthy way - go for a walk, change the subject, turn on the TV, talk to a funny friend, clean the house. Chosen consciously, these activities will help you to pace painful emotions.

6.  Give yourself an out. Give yourself permission to plan what you need for the holidays rather than what others think you should do. Make plans to spend time with loved ones but explain ahead of time that you might not be able to follow through when the time comes. Or apologize in advance in case you have to leave a celebration early.

7. Practice your faith.  The holidays may spark in you a deepening of faith or a desire to seek out new belief systems. If your faith is important to you, make time for the practices that matter - attend a religious service or take a walk in nature or attend a retreat or meditate or pray. Spend time with people who understand and accept your spiritual beliefs.

These are just a few ideas for those of you facing a painful holiday season. If you have some others that have worked for you, please do share them for the benefit of us all.