Tag Archives: loss

Ten Things You Can Do To Create The Life You Want After Any Loss

sunrise

Loss of any type, rather it be a divorce, a job termination, the end of a friendship that you held dear, or the death of a love one can send you reeling into unchartered territory. For some it means the loss of an identity. You may have found pride in calling yourself a CEO, a partner, a wife and now that this title is removed you don’t know what to do. For others, loss leaves you emotionally gutted with no sense of direction.

I was 33 in 2007 my husband died from advanced adrenal cancer. I spent over three years interviewing widows about their circumstances for my book A Widow’s Guide to Healing, and often the conversation would shift to a widow telling me that she wants to start a new life for herself and her family but isn’t sure where to start.

This widow isn’t alone in not knowing how to begin a new life post-loss. A few months ago, I was at a dinner party and someone asked about my book, and as she began to tell me about her move, new job and starting over, I thought she was a widow. Actually, she had divorced her husband of 20-plus years and felt the loss was similar to a death.

Loss is very painful, and even thinking about it can cause a knot in your stomach, and you immediately feel a lump in your throat. And yet you do desire to shift your energy, mind and heart toward a different direction. In other words, what can you do to begin to create life that you want after your devastating loss?

Here are 10 things you can do, and these items are no particular order of importance. What is key is that you begin somewhere, and these items are here to help you create a new path for yourself. Some of these things may not work for you, while other items you may find to be a better fit. Continue reading

Finding ‘True Refuge’ in the Face of Loss and Ego

true refugeKim, Seoku Jong, the reporter for the Kyungyang Shinmun, one of Korea’s major daily newspapers, recently interviewed me about my book True Refuge, which is now available in Korean. Since most of my readers won’t be able to read the article in Korean, I wanted to share the interview with you hear.

KSJ: How are you doing? Please tell us what interests you most these days.

TB: My mother, who lives with us, recently went into home hospice care. What interests me is that when we face the truth of mortality—that these lives can pass like a dream, that we will each lose those who are dear—what most matters is love. At the end of our lives, the question that will be central is, “Did I love well?” It’s clear that the more we remember to live this moment, here and now, in a loving, awake way, the more our lives will be truly aligned with our values and our heart.

I’m deeply saddened to be losing my mom – she is a wonderful being, filled with generosity, humor, and kindness. She meditates, as do my siblings, and by being together in the present moment, by loving without holding back, this time of sorrow is also a time of great beauty. This experience is, to me, possible throughout our lives. If we can remember what most matters to us, our lives will be vibrant, creative, loving, and beautiful.

KSJ: The world is full of suffering and it doesn’t seem to end. No one is free from suffering. Your book introduces to readers the moving stories of people who managed to heal themselves despite their wounds, and to a number of meditation methods that can be applied for the liberation from suffering. If you can briefly summarize the essence of True Refuge, what it would be?

TB:While the pain and loss that is part of life will continue, we each have the capacity to free ourselves from the suffering of feeling threatened, separate, or deficient. This becomes possible when we can see past our story of egoic self and contact the deeper truth and fullness of who we really are. The essence of each of us is loving presence – an awareness that is pure, wakeful, and boundless. This is our True Refuge. Those who have healed themselves with meditation have learned to pay attention in a way that has carried them home to loving presence, our true nature.

A key part of finding this True Refuge of loving presence is bringing a kind and mindful attention to all the expressions of our egoic self. We don’t find True Refuge by eliminating the ego; we come home when, like the ocean, we embrace all the waves that arise from our Being. In a very real way, this means embracing the aggression and defensiveness, the insecurities and hurts. What we don’t love controls us. Yet, as we enfold more and more of our experience in acceptance and love, we realize the freedom and vastness of our awakened heart.

KSJ: What is false refuge, and how is it different from True Refuge? And why is it so important to have True Refuge?

Being human is challenging. We’re aware of the dangers we face—rejection, failure, disease, loss, death—and our habit is to try to control whatever we can. A false refuge is a control strategy that might give temporary relief, but in the long run does not serve us. For example, we might overeat to soothe our anxiety or to feel some gratification, but we then feel ashamed or gain unhealthy weight. We might work very hard to prove ourselves worthy, but become overly busy and neglect our loved ones. We might brag or exaggerate to get others approval, but inwardly feel like a fake. All these false refuges actually take us farther from the experience of being at home with ourselves, secure in the essential goodness of who we are.

To be continued…

 

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A Moment With Nelson Mandela, Rest in Peace

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 8.04.33 AMIn 1999, I had the honor to meet Nelson Mandela.  He was attending a state banquet (in South Africa) and a friend scuttled me in for a quick meet and greet.  I was completely in awe, of course, and don’t think I said anything other than put my hands together in respect when we met.

When I heard the news of his passing yesterday, I relived that moment once again.  And while meeting someone as historical and mythical as he was is undoubtedly a moment in my life I will never forget, so was a poignant  visit to Robben Island, the remote prison that held Nelson Mandela for twenty-six years.

I was in South Africa with my classmates from Kellogg Business School – our intent was to learn more about the country, its people, traditions, and, of course, current and future business opportunities.  We were fortunate to be taken to Robben Island by Ahmed Kathrada, a freedom fighter who was sentenced for treason on the same day as President Mandela.  Mr. Kathrada, who at that time of our visit was a gentleman in his late seventies, was 36 years old when he went to prison, the youngest member convicted in the famous Rivonia trial, and the only person of South Asian descent from the group.

Our tour of the prison was somewhat surreal as Kathrada told us firsthand stories about almost three decades in prison, and the shaping of a revolution.  We had all read A Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s prison memoir, which to this day is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.  It was truly remarkable to stroll the grounds of the prison as Mr. Kathrada showed us how they would use scraps of rice paper to write notes for the book in tiny handwriting, and bury the paper in marked holes in rocks, before sneaking them out with release prisoners.  He showed us the cells they shared, and laughed at the habits each of them came to know of their fellow prisoners.

On that sunny day, it was difficult for me to feel the scope of the sacrifice these men made at Robben Island, until Mr. Kathrada talked emotionally about how they missed being around children while in prison.  Can you imagine a world without the cries or playful laughter of children?  He described the wonderful sensation of holding a child after 23 years of being deprived of seeing or hearing them.

The most dramatic moments in our time together came as Mr. Kathrada spoke with conviction and passion about the cause for which he had fought. I got chills down my spine as he talked about the camaraderie between strangers who had united for a cause for which they were willing to sacrifice their entire lives or even to die.  Mr. Kathrada described the evening when his guards announced that they had been released.

“They came and said, “We have received a fax that you are to be released tomorrow.”  Our first question was, “What is a fax? We had only seen a television for the first time in 1986.”

What followed their release was historic and bold and hard.  In one of the quotes being shared today, Mandela says:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Some of the most powerful words and scenes in the book, A Long Walk To Freedom, were the ones where Mandela talks about forgiveness.  The NY Times has a beautiful piece written by John Dramani Mahama, the President of Ghana, about how Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness shaped Africa.

As I read quotes and recaps of Nelson Mandela, I decided to see if Ahmed Kathrada had written something today and was moved to find his emotional words posted on  a South African portal.  Mr. Kathrada writes:

Your smile, which lingers still, was always from the heart, never forced, and the great joy you took in the world around you, especially in children, was unmistakeable…

I had the enviable privilege of being alive and walking the earth with you through the bad times and the good. It has been a long walk, with many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable. And yet we never faltered, and the strength of leaders like you and Walter always shone a light on the path and kept our destination and our people’s future in view.

I feel bereft and lonely. To whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?

Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader.

You can read the full text here.

Yesterday the world lost a hero and a true leader. While we mourn the loss of such a great man, we will strive to keep his memory and spirit alive in all the days to come. Thank you Nelson Mandela, may you rest in peace.

(Photos: NelsonMandela.org)

Envy as a Catalyst for Change (Part 2)

139378542_825107ffa3Click here to read Part 1!

Once you recognize envy for what it is, use it as a catalyst for change. Figure out exactly what it is you envy your friend for that you lack. Maybe it’s as simple as needing a little excitement in your life or maybe it’s the beginning of acknowledging the need for a real, substantive change that makes the day into night. It’s up to you to process, fertilize and transform your envy into the fuel that propels positive change or the blissful acceptance and appreciation that demonstrate that you are truly becoming the person you admire most.

Jealousy is a bit harder to use for your own enlightenment but perhaps that much more important for you to understand and take control of turning the tables. It’s not always going to work: Your bestie’s engagement ring is going to be hard to stomach if the love of your life just broke up with you any way you look at it. But it can be a useful exercise in figuring out exactly why you are so soured. Start by asking yourself some tough questions.

If you are feeling jealous it’s because you lost something. But what exactly did you lose? Each instance of jealousy is merely a stimulus for you to examine your life, and while Plato’s words suggested the unexamined life is not worth living, the over-examined life may not be the way you want to live either. Assuming your friend isn’t marrying your ex, you’re not really losing anything tangible.

The truth is what you have lost is an idea – about yourself, be it about your own desirability or your (perhaps totally unrealistic) previous vision of your future. Whatever it is, go ahead and figure out how you can regain what you actually lost…not the man but the love you felt. Chances are if you and Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful broke up before you could go the distance down the aisle it’s because those things weren’t really on offer in the first place. So maybe you didn’t actually lose anything, and the jealousy and envy provided an opportunity for a productive new future… one in which you actually know what you need and want.

Jealousy is often a reaction to what cognitive behavioral therapists refer to as projecting the future. You see your friend happy and you predict –irrationally, that you will never be that happy. Remind yourself that you are not, in fact, clairvoyant, and your friend’s happiness can actually add to your own, and that your thought pattern can use a readjustment to see potential, not pain.

Of course, not all envy can be turned on its head but the truth is, not all envy is painful or even negative. In some cases, you can not only use your envy but also enjoy it. Think about it. Is there anyone you hate more than Gwyneth Paltrow, with her Vegenaise and her handmade this and that and her smug and perfect skinny, blond, rich everything?

Still, the majority of what you hate is not hate at all. It’s envy but the fun kind, the kind you and your friends can giggle about and yet still, in the back of your subconscious mind, recognize that there’s a decent quinoa recipe on her Web site you could probably pull off, and you could go to the gym or prioritize what the jealousy and envy brought so clearly to your mind. So thank you, Gwyneth. We may hate you – or really, just envy you – but you are making us better despite yourself.

Often, of course, it’s not that easy. Envy can eat at you. Jealousy can indeed become a monstrous force, a dark green cloud that throws a pall over moments that should by all rights add to your happiness, not slice a blade through it. The feeling that the grass is forever greener over the hill you can’t climb needs to be replaced with climbing lessons or gardening lessons so that you get what you want instead of nagging dissatisfaction.

But the truth is, the monster is not that ferocious. Just by recognizing it you have sapped its strength, turned it docile, made it into your pet, to be taught and tamed and ultimately to make yourself stronger by serving your needs and wants…now that you know what they are. The grass you fertilize may become the envy of the neighborhood. Then walk magnanimously over to the other side of the street …. and teach your neighbor how to do the same thing.

Suicide Prevention Week: Depression – Shedding Light on the Darkness (Part 2)

98831359_49ede3af3bClick here to read Part 1!

Rebalancing yourself in the face of depression can take several forms:

  • Be aware that you are depressed and seek help.
  • Treat your body well, including exercise.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Get enough sleep, meaning a minimum of 8 hours a night.
  • Address situations that would make anyone sad, such as the wrong job, a bad relationship, normal grief, and serious loss. Don’t passively wait for time to heal your wounds.
  • Regain a sense of control.
  • Claim your sense of self – depressed women in particular may show a pattern of giving away too much of themselves in a relationship, leading to a sense of weakness and low self-esteem.
  • Examine your reactions to difficult situations. You will often find that reacting with helplessness, passivity, retreating inside, and turning passive lie at the root of your depressed state.
  • Spend time with people who give you a reason to feel alive and vibrant. Avoid people who share your negative responses and attitudes. Depression in some sense is contagious.
  • Rely to a minimum on antidepressants and apply your main efforts to other therapies. Pills should be as short-term as possible. They work best in removing the top layer of sadness so that you have a clear space to address the real underlying issues.
  • Talk about your problems and share your feelings with those who can listen with empathy and offer positive steps.
  • Make friends with someone who has recovered from depression or is handling the condition well.
  • Find a wise person who can help you to undo your most negative beliefs by showing you that life has other, better possibilities.

Because everything on this list requires a choice, bringing yourself back into balance means that you are aware enough to make decisions and have the ability to put them into practice. Quite often depressed people feel too helpless and hopeless to face the right choices, in which case outside help is needed, meaning a therapist or counselor who specializes in depression.

Here’s a general picture of how to make a plan for your own healing.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, works as well as medication for many people. It may be used alone or in combination with other forms of treatment. Studies have shown that psychotherapy can cause changes in brain function similar to those produced by medications. Focused, goal-oriented forms of therapy such as cognitive-behavior therapy appear to be the most effective in treating depression.

Diet may play a part in protecting against depression. Mediterranean countries have low rates of depression compared to countries farther to the north—and it isn’t just because they get more sunlight or have a more relaxed way of life. One large-scale study tracked almost 3,500 people living in London for 5 years and found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet were 30% less likely to develop depression. Researchers speculate that the foods in the Mediterranean diet may act synergistically together. Olive oil, nuts, and fatty fish are rich in omega-3 and other unsaturated fatty acids, and fresh fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids and phytochemicals that are full of antioxidants and folates (B vitamins).

Aerobic exercise is a very effective for depression. It’s been shown that moderate aerobic exercise done just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, can reduce or eliminate symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression and can help with severe depression.

It’s well known that exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals (which function as neurotransmitters). Less well known is the startling effect of exercise on the structure of your brain. Exercise stimulates the creation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, your brain’s center of learning and memory, so that it actually increases in size. This is especially relevant because depression, unless countered with effective therapy, causes the hippocampus to shrink in size. Exercise has also been shown to raise levels of serotonin and norepinephrine and to multiply the number of dendrite connections in neurons.

Yoga has been shown to lessen stress and anxiety and promote feelings of well-being. Communication between your body and your mind is a two-way street. Certain yogic practices can signal the brain that it’s all right to relax and prompt the parasympathetic nervous system to initiate the relaxation response. For instance, slow, deep, conscious breathing is also a vital element of yogic practice. This form of breathing is very effective in prompting the relaxation response to counter elevated levels of stress hormones. Someone with depression might be advised to practice “heart-opening” postures that elongate their thoracic spine. They may be told to stand with their shoulder blades drawn together so that their lungs are lifted and they are able to breathe more freely. An important component of yoga is paying close attention to what’s going on in the body at all times and locating and releasing any areas of tension. Yoga should ideally be practiced with the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Meditation can be a useful treatment for both stress and mild-to-moderate depression. Numerous studies have examined the effects of mindfulness meditation, designed to focus the meditator’s attention on the present moment. One study measured electrical activity in the brain found increased activity in the left frontal lobe during mindfulness meditation. Activity in this area of the brain is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state. Subsequently, the researchers tested both a group that hadn’t meditated as well as the meditators for immune function. They did this by measuring the level of antibodies they produced in response to a flu vaccine. The meditators had a significantly greater reaction, which indicates they had better immune function.

I know that the easiest solution is to pop a pill, and in this country powerful forces back up the promise that drugs are the answer. Keep in mind that antidepressants only alleviate symptoms, and that in the long run couch therapy has proven just as effective in changing the brain responses associated with depression. The real goal should be to rebalance your life, gain control over the disorder, understand who you are, and elevate your vision of possibilities for yourself. All of that is harder than opening a pill bottle, but every positive choice leads to real healing and a much better life in the future.

 

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr  / madamepsychosis

Originally published October 2011

Suicide Prevention Week: Depression – Shedding Light on the Darkness

It’s not news that depression has become a kind of invisible epidemic, afflicting millions of people. We live at a time when depression is approached as a disease. That has a good side. Depressed people are not judged as weak or self-indulgent, as if they only need to try harder to lift themselves out of their sadness. Yet depression, for all the publicity surrounding it, remains mysterious, and those who suffer from it tend to hide their condition – the medical model hasn’t removed a sense of shame. When you’re in the throes of depression, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you are a failure and that the future is hopeless.

Before considering how to handle depression, let’s ask the most basic question: Are you depressed? The bad side of the medical model arises when people rush to be medicated because they don’t like how they feel. Doctors barely bother to get a correct diagnosis, because the easiest thing to do –and the thing that patients demand – is to write a prescription.

Let’s see if we can get beyond this knee-jerk reaction.

Becoming sad or blue isn’t a sure sign of depression. Life brings difficulties that we respond to with a wide range of normal emotions: sadness, anxiety, resignation, grief, defeated acceptance, helplessness. Moods are cyclical, and if these feelings are your response to a tough event, they will subside on their own in time. If they linger, however, and there seems to be no definite cause or trigger, such as losing your job or the death of a loved one, depression is accepted as the conventional diagnosis.

Depression isn’t one disorder, and even though an array of antidepressants have been thrown at the problem, the basic cause for depression remains unknown. For a diagnosis of major depression, which is more serious than mild to moderate depression, at least five of the following symptoms must be present during the same 2-week period..

  • Depressed mood (feeling sad or empty; being tearful)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting, or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too little or too much)
  • Slowing of thoughts and physical movements
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide

If you can count five or more of these as being present, know that your list must contain “depressed mood” or “diminished interest or pleasure” before you’d be considered medically depressed. We’ve come to recognize different kinds of depression that fit certain circumstances:

  • Dysthymia is mild, chronic depression. It must present for at least 2 years for a diagnosis of dysthymia.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that generally arises as the days grow shorter in the autumn and winter.
  • Postpartum depression begins after a woman has given birth and may get worse as time goes on.

Even though no one knows exactly what causes depression, it is clearly a state of internal imbalance. Balance is essential for the healthy functioning of both your body and your mind. The upsetting factors that make it more likely you will get depression form a long list: genetic predisposition, being female, death or loss of loved one, major life events (even happy ones, like a graduation), other mental illnesses, substance abuse, childhood trauma, certain medications, serious illness, and personal problems such as financial troubles. What these things have in common is that they disrupt the normal balancing mechanisms of mind and body. A treatment that aims at restoring balance therefore makes the most sense, and in tomorrow’s post I will outline measures for rebalancing.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

 

For more information go to deepakchopra.com

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr  / madamepsychosis

Originally published October 2011

The Survivors of Suicide

NaseknanThis week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It is heartbreaking to think that suicide is that pervasive of a problem in our society to warrant such a week. And yet it is. Suicide takes the lives of over 30,000 Americans every year. There are twice as many deaths from suicide as there are from HIV/AIDS. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans. And there are more than 800,000 attempted suicides every year.

Those are the statistics.

And then there are the stories.

Perhaps the worst thing about suicide is the pain it causes to those left behind. These people are known as the survivors. And telling our stories can help us to heal from the trauma of this experience.

When Gia Allemand, the reality television star, took her own life last month, the topic of suicide became a part of a national discussion. Gia’s distraught mother spoke with Dr. Phil about her feelings, which echo those of many survivors.

Sometimes there are warning signs. And then sometimes the incident seems to come from out of nowhere. That’s how it was when I found out that my friend Ophir had died. I remember getting a phone call from our mutual friend Curt. He was in a state of disbelief as he had just gotten the news. It took a few phone calls to figure out exactly what had happened. Ophir had committed suicide.

I knew Ophir as an extremely talented and creative composer. We worked together on several music projects. We had a close friendship and a great respect for each other. Ophir helped me bring my songs to life. When Ophir had a hernia operation, I had him stay at my home while he recovered.

I was aware that Ophir used drugs. I spoke with him about it many times, offering him alternatives, and suggestions for a more healthy way of life. But he did not want to hear it. He did not want to talk about it. He always functioned perfectly well when we were working, and he assured me that he did not have a problem. When I heard that Ophir had died, I assumed it was an accidental overdose. But there was no accident about Ophir’s death. He planned it. He put a rifle in his mouth and shot himself.

Like most people do in this situation, I started asking myself all kinds of questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this was coming? What was so terrible that he had to do this? I felt awful, not only for myself, but for his family, everyone who loved him. Suicide is such a violent act. It is terribly hurtful to everyone left behind with so many unanswerable questions. I don’t know what brought Ophir to his decision. I do know and recognize that although our relationship has changed, he is still very much a part of my life. I have the songs we wrote together on my websites. He taught me so much about music and the creative process. When certain songs come on the radio I am reminded of him, and his amazing energy, sweet smile, and sly sense of humor. His words still influence me. His music still moves me.

I know the agreement Ophir and I had was complete even before his death. There was no unfinished business between us. We learned from each other, both creatively and personally. At his funeral I met many others who felt the same way.

This was the second time that I had been affected by suicide. When I was around eleven years old, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my mother’s brother took his own life. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he became hooked on drugs while he was in the war. When he got home, he couldn’t handle normal life after seeing everything he saw in combat. His drug problem got worse, he would have hallucinations, and he overdosed to escape the pain.

I saw how this shattered my mother and grandmother. He also left behind a wife and baby daughter. It was tragic. As a child I could sense how awful this was for everyone. And now as an adult I can see how my uncle’s life mattered. Even in the short time he was with us, he brought joy to his mother and love to his family. He struggled with life, and he chose to die. But while he was here he lived, and he had the opportunities and experiences that allowed him to learn and grow. He may not have made the best choices, but they were his choices. In situations like this you have to get past the blame, and the guilt, and know that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. For whatever reason, this person took his own life. It is not rational, or logical, or right. But it is irreversible. And we learned by going through all of this together as a family.

Chaim Nissel, PsyD is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center in New York City, and an expert with the American Association of Suicidology. He has this to say about coping with the loss of a loved one from suicide:

The death of a loved one by suicide has all the trappings of conventional grief plus a host of other intense, difficult, and confusing emotions. These include feelings of guilt and responsibility, anger and blame and often a disconnect with the individual who killed himself. When we lose a loved one to cancer or AIDS, we accept the reality, feel the loss, grieve, yet we don’t blame ourselves. Following a suicide, it is hard to accept the reality that the individual chose death. We feel responsible and wonder “if I had only…..” he’d be alive today. We would rather blame ourselves because it is difficult to place the responsibility where it belongs, on the individual who killed himself.

One who experiences the death of a loved one to suicide is fittingly called a “survivor.” They must now learn to cope and survive their loss. Most survivors experience anger, guilt and emotional turmoil. There is often anger at the deceased for taking their own life, it is seen as selfish, because their pain ends, but the survivor’s pain begins. Guilt over what they could have and should have done to prevent it (although if the loved one wanted to die, they would have despite your interventions). We like to think that we can control events, but when another person is in such emotional pain that they want to die, the choice to kill themselves remains their choice, despite everything that you can and did offer them.

There is still tremendous stigma and shame associated with suicide and when the fact that one died by suicide is hidden or denied, it becomes so much more difficult to come to terms with it. When we try to “cover” or pretend the death was accidental, it takes its toll on the survivors and will impact them the rest of their lives.

To help us find closure, Dr. Nissel has this advice:

  • Talk about it! Find supportive people in your life who you can share your feelings with.
  • Focus on the person’s life, and the good memories you have of the person. Know that you will never truly know why he killed himself.
  • Recognize that the person’s pain is over, now it’s time to start healing your own pain.
  • Have answers prepared for when people ask questions. This will help reduce your anxiety and emotional reactions. You can say “He took his own life” or “died by suicide” or even “he suffered a long illness.” If someone is persistent, blaming or insensitive, you can say “it is too difficult to talk about right now” and end the conversation.
  • Know that you are not responsible for your loved one’s death, in any way. Only the individual who killed himself is responsible.
  • Know that the likelihood is that the person was in such pain, for so long and now the suffering is over. 90% of those who die by suicide suffered from some form of mental illness, most commonly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Seek resources such as professional counseling, support groups, and books.
  • Being exposed to a suicide makes you somewhat more susceptible to suicidal thinking. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, get help immediately by contacting a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel you may act on these suicidal impulses, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) helps survivors of suicide. Actress Michelle Ray Smith, who played “Ava” on the daytime drama “Guiding Light,” talked about her father’s suicide in an interview with Soap Opera Digest magazine a few years back. She said that participating in AFSP’s “Out of the Darkness” event, an overnight 20 mile walk, helped her connect with people who had been through the same thing. “For the first time since he died – it’s been three years in September – I feel at peace.”

Talking with people, sharing our stories, is one way that we can help each other to heal.

For more information about how to find closure go to http://www.closurebook.com

7 Ways To Find Your Inner (and Real) Happiness

fly highHappiness is one of the most misunderstood words in our vocabulary yet we search for this intangible state our whole lives: if I only had this or that, if I met the right partner, had a big house, a new car, the job I’ve always wanted, then I would be happy. The ancient yoga and spiritual teachings stress that happiness is real only when we let go of seeking material and transient things and discover the lasting joy that is within.

Every time we see a giggling baby or young child we’re reminded that we are all born with a natural and innate sense of happiness, that it is our birthright. We learn about suffering or unhappiness as we grow older, more externalized, and as circumstances change.

We taught a workshop where a number of the participants had lost loved ones in the past years: one had lost her son to AIDS, another had lost her husband, son, and mother all within twelve months, another’s partner had drowned. Others were dealing with specific illnesses, or difficult issues in their lives. What really emerged for everyone was the awareness that their real happiness lies within themselves, that it’s not dependent on someone or something outside of them. They had lost what they had thought of as their source of happiness—a loved one or their health—and now had to look more deeply within themselves. It was a weekend of many ‘aha’ moments!

Here are some of the ways our workshop participants discovered how to feel happy again:

1. Not take yourself too seriously. At times of hardship, such as loss or illness, it’s easy to lose your humor, and even easier to get involved with the negative aspects of what is happening. Remembering not to take yourself too seriously brings a lightness and acceptance to the weight of circumstance around you. Don’t forget—angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!

2. Not identify with suffering, loss, or illness, as being who you are. Many of our participants realized how they’d been identifying themselves as a cancer survivor / widow / recovering addict, or whatever it may be, but had not asked who they were without that label or identity. When you don’t identify with the negative issues, then who you really are has a chance to shine.

3. It’s OK to be you, just as you are, warts and all. You may think you’re imperfect, a mess, falling apart, hopeless, or unable to cope. But true perfection is really accepting your imperfections. It is accepting yourself, complete with all the things you like as well as the things you don’t like. In this way you’re not struggling with or rejecting yourself. Each one of is unique, a one-time offer, but we can’t know this if we are facing away from ourselves.

4. Make friends with yourself. Your relationship with yourself is the only one you have that lasts for the whole of your life, and you can be the greatest friend or the worst enemy to yourself. So it’s very important not to emotionally put down or beat yourself up. Just be kind.

5. Feel everything, whatever it may be. When you are suffering, it’s easy to want to deny or repress your feelings, as they get huge and overwhelming. But if you can really honor whatever you are feeling then it’ll bring you closer to the inner happiness beneath the suffering or grief. Acknowledging and making friends with your real feelings is the greatest gift.

6. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Treasure yourself. These are big steps, but each one liberates the heart and sets you free. You need to forgive yourself for feeling angry, for getting upset, for all things you think you’ve done wrong. They are in the past and who you are now is not who you were then. You can take any guilt or shame by the hand, invite it in for tea, and open yourself to self-forgiveness.

7. Meditate. There is an overwhelming amount of research showing how meditation changes the circuits in the part of the brain associated with contentment and happiness and stimulates the ‘feel-good’ factor. Meditating on love and kindness makes you much, much happier! And the only way to know this is to try it, so don’t hesitate.

* * *

Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, with forewords by the Dalai Lama and Prof. Robert Thurman, contributions from many known meditation teachers, winner of the 2010 Nautilus Gold Book Award; and Your Body Speaks Your Mind,  winner of the Visionary Book Award. They are featured contributors on Oprah.com, HuffingtonPost.com, and Vividlife.me, where they host the acclaimed weekly LIVE radio show, Going Out Of Your Mind.

For more information go to: www.edanddebshapiro.com

5 Ways to Transform Regret into Healing

Love Shines Through The Darkness free creative commonsRegret is like clutter. It can mess up your mind with tiny cumulative details creating cobwebs in the brain which darken your thoughts. Similar to managing physical clutter, periodically you take inventory of regrets to let go of what weighs you down, obscures your space and makes you feel stuck. Moreover, as soon as you throw out the first element of clutter, you feel better. This immediate gratification spurs you to continue.

However, don’t regret that you feel regret. Your regrets serve a vital purpose: They bear witness to your personal evolution, how you have grown from your past mistakes. You are now a better person with more experience to overcome and succeed. Note that every stressor which you conquer makes you stronger. The goal is to go stronger, longer.

5 typical patterns of regret which can power up your personality:

1. You regret breaking up or losing touch with a previous love because of bad timing or an error in judgment. The good thing about love – whether lost or won – is that you can always hold it in your heart. And your heart is big enough to love many people, expanding your spirit with their best attributes. You are sure to encounter another love with whom you will inevitably connect. Your regret will make you ready!

2. You regret not telling a loved one who has passed away how much you loved him or her. You feel guilty not having done enough for this person, particularly a parent. Challenge these irrational thoughts. Your regret is actually grief. No one teaches people how to lose, only to amass and possess. Consequently, loss is hard. Give yourself permission to grieve without a time limit. When I feel regret about my parents’ death, I dedicate a good thought, recall a funny conversation or anecdote from my parents to recall their memory in a positive frame.

3. You regret a career road not taken. Perhaps, you did not pursue a higher education, or make a bold career change. Most people put too much emphasis on being extraordinary and often have unreasonable expectations about success. If it is feasible to pursue a passion or longing, do so now. My friend Delia left a career in computer science and took out student loans to become an ER physician. If you cannot take a new career path at this point in time, reinvent and revitalize your job to see it in a larger context. For example, my friend Antonio loves his job as a postal clerk because he gets to greet and say something nice to the people tired of waiting on line. He feels like a spiritual transformer.

4. You regret not having your say. You feel that you should have said “___.” Most likely you were trying to please others. What a relief to remove your mask, and speak your natural truth! Unleash your natural energy to get back in balance between doing for others and yourself.

5. You regret cheating someone. Often people who cheat, lie, or fool someone feel happy that they got away with it. However, when your cheating causes hurt, then you will most likely feel regret. Confessing and making amends are the ultimate spiritual cleanse. The next best thing is learning from your mistake and changing for the better.  Undoubtedly, you will be vigilant about acting with integrity and will find a way to give back to your community.

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