Friday, December 14, 2018

John Was a Failure...

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure
without losing your enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Today I'd like to share a story with you, one I heard many years ago at a midnight service on a snowy Christmas Eve. I still remember the warmth of the small church, overfull with extra bodies and glowing with candlelight reflected from our faces as we listened intently to this lovely story by Robert Fulghum (from his book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It):

 John Pierpont died a failure. In 1886, he came to the end of his days as a government clerk in Washington, DC with a long string of personal defeats abrading his spirit.
Things began well enough. He graduated from Yale, which his grandfather had helped to found, and chose education as his profession with some enthusiasm.
He was a failure at school teaching. He was too easy on his students. 
And so, he turned to the legal world for training.  He was a failure as a lawyer. He was too generous to his clients and too concerned about justice to take the cases that brought good fees.
The next career he took up was that of dry good merchant. He was a failure as a business man.  He could not charge enough for his goods to make a profit, and was too liberal with credit. 
In the meantime, he had been writing poetry and, though it was published, he didn't collect enough royalties to make a living. He was a a failure as a poet. 
Politics seemed a place where he could make some difference and he was nominated as the Abolition Party candidate for governor of Massachusetts.  He lost. Undaunted, he ran for Congress under the banner of the Free Soil Party. He lost. He was a failure as a politician. 
The Civil War came along and he volunteered as a chaplain of the 22nd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers. Two weeks later he quit, having found the task too much of a strain on his health. He was 76 years old. He couldn't even make it as a Chaplain. 
Someone found him an obscure job in the back offices of the Treasury Department in Washington, and he finished out the last five years of his life as a menial file clerk. He wasn't very good at that either.  His heart was not in it.
John Pierpont died a failure. He had accomplished nothing he set out to do or be. There's a small memorial stone marking his grave in Mt Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The words in the granite read,  POET PREACHER PHILOSOPHER PHILANTHROPIST.
From this distance in time, one might insist that he was not in fact a failure. His commitments to social justice, his desire to be a loving human being, his active engagement in the great issues of his times, and his faith in the power of the human mind, these are not failures. And much of what he thought of as defeat became success. Education was reformed, legal processes were improved, credit laws were changed, and above all, slavery was abolished once and for all.
Why am I telling you this? It is not an uncommon story. Many 19th century reformers had similar lives, similar failures and successes. In one very important sense, John Pierpont was not a failure. Every year, come December, we celebrate his success. We carry in our hearts and minds a life long memorial to him. It's a song, not about Jesus or angels or even Santa Claus. It's a terribly simple song about the simple joy of whizzing through the cold white dark of winter's gloom in a sleigh pulled by one horse, and with the company of friends, laughing and singing all the way. No more, no less, than Jingle Bells. John Pierpont wrote Jingle Bells!
To write a song that stands for the simplest joys, to write a song that three or four hundred million people around the world know, a song about something they've never done, but can imagine, a song that every one of us large and small can hoot out the moment the cord is struck on the piano, and the cord is struck in our spirit, well, that's not failure! 
One snowy afternoon in deep winter John Pierpont  penned the work as a small gift to his family and friends and congregation, and in doing so, he left a permanent gift for Christmas, the best kind, not the one under the tree, but the invisible, invincible one of Joy!

So, if you're feeling a failure for any reason this beautiful and demanding Holiday Season, take care to separate failing at a task from being a failure. Then remember the story of John Pierpont, recognize your capacity to change and grow through experience, forgive yourself and begin again. There are always ways to redeem our failures especially through learning from them and doing things differently another time.

A very Happy Christmas to you all!


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Autumn Learning ...

Life starts all over again
when it gets crisp in the fall.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Hello, Everyone! Happy Fall!

I love the fall, a time of gradual letting-go of the old to make space for the new. (Or, as today's topic suggests, a time of letting go of old learning to make way for some new.) I'm reading two new-to-me books I'd like to share with you and have just registered for, Alive, a new e-course from

Let's start with the books:

1.  Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David A Treleaven
As most of you will know, I have a strong concern for  emotional safety in psycho-educational settings and have always prefaced information about contemplative practices like meditation with detailed caveats. (Some meditative practices are not as benign as they might seem at first glance and, in fact, can be the source of re-traumatization if not taught and practiced in a way that is trauma-informed.)
So, you can imagine my delight when I came across educator and psychotherapist, David Treleaven's new book which, while explaining it's benefits, acknowledges and explains mindfulness meditation's ability to stimulate or worsen traumatic stress symptoms and offers practical principles for establishing trauma-sensitive (emotionally safer) mindfulness practice - stay within the window of tolerance, shift attention to support stability, keep the body in mind, practice in relationship, and understand social context.
David's clear, compelling writing style, heart-felt passion for protecting trauma survivors and thorough knowledge of both mindfulness and trauma make this book an easy read packed with good scholarship and useful wisdom. I highly recommend it.

2.  Together: Our Community Cookbook by The Hubb Community Kitchen and The Duchess of Sussex
After the trauma of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, England in June 2017, a group of women gathered together to care for themselves, their families and their community through cooking fresh meals. This community cooking process became as, if not more, important than the meals themselves. The women cared for each other emotionally as they cooked, providing a warm and loving community space in which to recover from loss and trauma, restore hope and normalacy and create a sense of home. (A fine example of care-giver wellness.)
This cookbook tells their story and shares 50 of their favourite international recipes, many handed down from generation-to-generation in their home countries. A portion of the proceeds from the book will be used to expand their Hubb Community Kitchen program from two days to seven days a week. I've already ordered four copies for people on my Christmas list. Why not join me and learn about the food culture and the resiliency of those from other nations? 

And, now, Alive: the e-course:

I'm surprised to hear so many words ending in fullness - gratefulness, mindfulness, joyfulness - it's an indication to me that what we are missing is a full life. We are only half-alive ...             Bro David Steindl-Rast

This, the most recent of the e-courses, will begin October 25th and run for 4 weeks. It features a conversation between Bro David Steindl-Rast (Benedictine monk, award-winning author serving the Network of Grateful Living, and the lovely voice narrating the A Good Day video I've used in my workshops) and Christian Plebst (Argentinian Child and Adolescent psychiatrist and Director of the Academy of Conscious Teaching). It promises to address the following questions and more:
-  Why is this moment in history so significant and what is required of those of us who recognize it?
-  What does it mean to live with aliveness?
-  What is the role of trust in individual and collective transformation?
-  How does inner wellbeing support the wellbeing of the world outside us?
-  What happens when we fully attune to and accept our emotional selves?
-  What opportunities arise when we move from individualistic and competitive perspectives to cooperative and compassionate ones? 
If this looks interesting to you, you can register by going to the link above and clicking Explore for the e-courses.

And, of course, it's not too late to register for the next Caring on Empty Compassion Fatigue Resiliency Workshop  on November 2nd at the Granville Island Hotel, Vancouver, BC. (See the top of the column to the left.)

Whatever your circumstances, I hope each of you will find something that sparks your imagination and provides a new opportunity to learn, both on this holiday weekend and in the weeks to come. A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Forest Bathing ...

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim
upon (our) hearts, as for that subtle something,
that quality of air, that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews
a weary spirit.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Hello, Everyone!

I hope your summer's going well and that you're able to carve out time to rest and re-create.

A recent move to the head of Burrard Inlet has gifted me in many ways, but most especially with a new proximity to nature. I wake every day with an embarrassment of options for early morning walks and, armed with my camera and walking stick, I make my way into new-to-me local woods and forests.

I have loved being in the woods since early childhood. Something magical happens as soon as I walk beneath a canopy of leaves into the cool air and dimmer, dappled light. My pace slows, my eyes notice details I could have passed without a glance, my breathing deepens and slows and I'm held in the veriditas of nature. It is this quiet vital hum of green energy that has sustained me through many years of nursing, life as a grief and trauma therapist and seven years of caregiving for my husband. Walks in the woods literally saved my sanity during any number of in-sane days.

So, what is this mysterious power that forests hold over us and our well-being and why should we access it intentionally?

Recently, researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK reviewed 140 studies worldwide and determined that proximity to green space not only makes us feel better psychologically, but offers significant physical health benefits including reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and preterm birth. It also reduces diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, pain perception and cortisol levels and increases immune function. Several Japanese studies suggest that phytoncides, chemicals released by trees, could explain some of this health-promotion. (Others suggest that the beautiful scenery, soothing sounds of running water, natural aromas of plants and even the experience of solitude may also make a difference.)

Since at least 1982, the Japanese have been practicing Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing, spending intentional time taking in a forest atmosphere for the purpose of relaxation, re-creation and healing. People sit, lie down or walk slowly through forests in silence, paying mindful attention to their surroundings and inner responses. It is a slow, contemplative immersion rather than a brisk, purposeful activity. Physical prowess is not necessary.

Today, all around the world, people are following the lead of the Japanese in establishing forest bathing programs. In Greater Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, where the surroundings are perfect for forest bathing, certified Forest Therapy guides offer 2-5 hour immersive forest experiences to the stressed and those yearning for reconnection with nature. They don't spend time teaching participants about flora and fauna, rather they act as guides to forest experience, holding space for whatever arises. As the website for Forest Guide Training in BC says, the forest is the therapist, the guides open the doors.

For many, the peace and quiet of the forest opens opportunities to grieve losses and release stressors  that have been buried in the busyness of everyday life. Just creating space and time in nature allows grief and relaxation to begin their healing work. More broadly, I believe that forest bathing could actually help us save our planet. We don't protect what we don't value and we don't value what we don't know. So immersion in the forest could lead not only to our personal health and wholeness but to that of our planet as well.

So, if you remember with weary longing early experiences of peace and rejuvenation in in the woods, why not try to spend a little time forest bathing this summer. Your body and spirit will likely thank you!

If you're interested in learning more about forest bathing, Japanese expert, Dr Qing Li has just written, Shinrin-Yoku: The Art and Science of Forest Bathing and M Amos Clifford has published Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature. Both should be available in local bookstores.

Let me close with one of Mary Oliver's lovely poems, appropriately titled, When I Am Among the Trees.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."

The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple,"
they say, "and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine."

(From Thirst - 2006)

Enjoy your summer in the woods or under your local tree!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Summer Reading 2018 ...

We read to know we are not alone.

William Nicholson

Hello, Everyone!

Happy Summer!  After a very busy spring of workshops and writing (to say nothing of moving both home and office thirteen miles east to a mountaintop at the head of Burrard Inlet), I'm ready to put my feet up in my lovely new garden and begin reading the books that have been accumulating on my bedside table since the New Year.

Here are a few of the titles I'm hoping to read over the summer and fall (interspersed with a few novels and murder mysteries), just in case you might be interested in any of them yourselves:

1.  Indigenous Healing: Exploring Traditional Paths by Rupert Ross (2014)
Rupert Ross, retired assistant Crown Attorney for the District of Kenora, Ontario, writes about how the Indigenous people from whom he has learned about healing see healthy healing processes and a healthy future. He shares what he has learned about healing activities and about anchoring Indigenous life in traditional cultural visions once again.  He describes twelve striking differences between Indigenous and non- indigenous healing practices.

2.  The Courage Way: Leading and Living With Integrity by the Centre for Courage and Renewal and Shelly L Francis  (2018)
Based on the work of Parker J. Palmer, Shelly Francis identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage, the most fundamental being trust - in ourselves and in each other. She describes how to build trust through the Centre for Courage & Renewal's Circle of Trust approach, centred around eleven "touchstones" or guidelines for trust building. Each chapter features true stories of how leaders have overcome challenges and strengthened their organizations.

3.  Everyday Gratitude by A Network for Grateful Living (Foreword by Bro David Steindl-Rast)  (2018)
A collection of quotations on gratefulness, each followed by a question for reflection.

4.  On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old by Parker J Palmer. (2018)
Best-selling author, educator and activist, Parker J Palmer, explores aging as a passage of discovery and engagement.  He writes about cultivating a vital inner and outer life, finding meaning in suffering and joy, and forming friendships across the generations that bring new life to young and old.

5.  Climate Change by HRH The Prince of Wales, Tony Juniper and Emily Shuckburgh. (2017)
A small book from the Penguin Ladybird Expert Series explaining climate change in brief and simple terms written after Prince Charles addressed the Paris Climate Change Summit in December 2015. In conversation with a friend, Pr Charles was told that most people really don't understand what climate change is all about. The friend went on to suggest that Pr Charles produce a "plain English guide" to the subject. This book is the result.

6.  Chronic Sorrow: A Living Loss  2nd Edition by Susan Roos  (2017)
This is a new edition of the only book written on Chronic Sorrow to date. Written in a more accessible, though still somewhat dense style, it is a pared-down version of the original psychotherapy text giving an excellent explanation of the concept of CS and useful practices for coping with the continuing grief of chronic illness/injury and family caregiving.

7.  Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems Edited by Phyllis Cole-Dai & Ruby R Wilson (2017)
This book begins with the words, Some poems are good medicine. It goes on to offer a definition of mindfulness that guides the choice of poems for this collection - Mindfulness is keeping our heads and hearts where our bodies are.  Each poet illustrates mindfulness in a distinct way, many employing natural settings or imagery.

8.  Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande  (2014) 
I've been meaning to read this New York Times bestseller for a couple of years. It explores, though research and stories, the conflict that occurs when what medicine can do runs counter to what it should do. It looks at the suffering produced by medicine's neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival, the quality of life questions we all should consider much earlier than we do.
And, for those of you who are wondering, the next community-based Caring On Empty Compassion Fatigue Workshop for Helping Professionals will be held on Friday November 2nd at the Granville Island Hotel in Vancouver, BC from 9-4. Brochures and registration forms will be available in early September at

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Compassion Fatigue and Chronic Sorrow as Soul Injuries

All it takes is a beautiful fake smile 
to hide an injured soul;
they will never notice
how broken you really are.

Robin Williams

Hello, Everyone,

Lately I've been noticing that some of the people in the CF and CS workshops nod in immediate recognition when I describe full-blown compassion fatigue and chronic sorrow as soul injuries. They know, intuitively, that the suffering they experience is deeper and more pervasive than the emotional pain described and addressed in some self-care workshops. It is a relief for these folks to have someone acknowledge the severity of their pain. This acknowledgement is often a first step toward releasing shame and opening the pathway to healing.

Soul injuries are wounds of our souls or essence, the loss of our sense of inner goodness, beauty and vitality stemming from trauma, unattended loss, burnout and the guilt and shame of our own actions or omissions.

Soul injury symptoms are described by Opus Peace as the familiar signs of postraumatic stress plus a defense-penetrating breach in the integrity our deepest selves. They often include:
1.  A haunting sense of being defective or tainted,
2.  A sense of betrayal by one's self, others, an organization, religion or God/Higher Power, and/or
3.  A sense of emptiness arising from disconnection from the part of ourselves carrying the pain.
Some of us have carried these injuries from childhood and others have experienced them later in life or through longterm exposure to the trauma and suffering of those we serve.

While our souls or essence will never be killed by our work, we can become separated from our original strength, truth, wisdom and compassion. We separate ourselves from our souls each time we cover up, numb out or run away from our truth and that separation eventually generates it's own symptoms. On the other hand, when we own our truth (including its pain) in gentle respectful ways, our souls can expand to hold and heal our wounds.

The healing of a soul injury entails addressing soul issues. Not only must we grieve unattended losses and re-regulate traumatized nervous systems, we must also forgive and make a home for the parts of ourselves we have denied and split off due to guilt and shame.  Then, we need to develop and nurture a life of the spirit - deeply personal and meaningful beliefs, teachings, ceremonies and rituals that will provide a strong foundation for building resilience.

As Opus Peace says, we all need a class on: to open our hearts to our losing and failing, paradoxically becoming whole in the process. Re-owning and then re-homing pieces of self (often hidden behind facades or exiled into unconsciousness)  can precipitate healing. Telling stories of our lostness (without the distorting illusion of how we wish our lives to be) is the first step toward freedom. Hearing other peoples stories en-courages us to liberate our own.

So as we become deeply honest with ourselves, at least one other person and Whom or Whatever Benevolence we believe in, trauma can be healed, losses grieved, guilt atoned, forgiveness accepted, shame dispelled and a future, strengthened and brightened by hope and small "s" spirituality, explored.

*** For those who've been asking, the next Caring On Empty Workshop for Helping Professionals will be held at The Granville Island Hotel on Monday May 7th from 9-4.  Brochures with registration forms are available at   Please tell your friends and colleagues!

Photo from the Opus Peace website.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hope for 2018 ...

Hope is the belief that tomorrow
could be better.


Happy New Year, Everyone!

Here we stand on the threshold of a new year, in the in-between space of expectation and possibility between old and new.

My focus today (and perhaps my new word for 2018) is hope. Thoughts about hope have arisen organically through the rhythms of my life over the holidays. I am taking Jan Richardson's free online retreat for Women's Christmas 2017 - Walking the Way of Hope, I'm reading a Christmas gift book about hope and, in a very real way, I'm actively practicing hope each day as I look for a new place to live. The notion of hope is all around me.

For me, hope is not a Pollyanna-ish, frothy, pie-in-the-sky type of experience but a rooted, ever-available, undergirding strength that promises that even in painful times, even when hope itself flickers, there are unexpected gifts, new directions and fresh possibilities in each moment, if we have the eyes to see them.

There are those who decry hope as being future vs present-oriented and, therefore, not a useful concept. To these people I can only say that there have been times in my life when focusing continually in the present would have been overwhelming and traumatizing and, without the forward pull of hope, I might not have survived let alone thrived.

Jan Richardson, whose blessings I use so often in my workshops, calls us to hope in this way:

Rough Translations

Hope nonetheless.
Hope despite.
Hope regardless.
Hope still.

Hope where we had ceased to hope.
Hope amid what threatens hope.
Hope with those who feed our hope.
Hope beyond what we had hoped.

Hope that draws us past our limits.
Hope that defies expectations.
Hope that questions what we have known.
Hope that makes a way where there is none.

Hope that takes us past our fear.
Hope that calls us into life.
Hope that holds us beyond death.
Hope that blesses those to come.

Whatever your circumstances this New Year, may hope accompany, enfold and strengthen you and may you look ahead with eyes primed to find the best this year has to offer.