Holding Hands With the Dying

 

1354 Relax and Succeed - Holding Hands with the DyingWhen I do it, it’s usually for a client. But not that long ago I helped a dear friend die. The way it happened we didn’t have a lot of time, but enough to have a couple really beautiful heart to hearts.

Like many sick people, he liked that I didn’t have a hyper cautious or maudlin way about me. Unlike many, he loved the world the way it was. He wasn’t interested in overextended expressions of sympathy. He was in a state of acceptance and he wanted connection.

Dying is new for each new ego. Having someone there to hold our hands in a particularly profound (even if not physical) sense can make that journey less daunting and more wondrous. Due to preparation, we didn’t have much ‘daunting’ stuff to deal with then, but we did talk about awe, which can feel similar.

I’d met this friend as a student of these classes, so our flow of language was very helpful. We had some terminology for some pretty nebulous things and at that time that really helped. He had always been eager and diligent and he made the most of everything I shared with him. Anyone who knew him considered him a lightning rod for energy and enthusiasm.

He was very kind and generous with his words and he was extremely forgiving as well. By the time he’d died he had the ability to extend all of those qualities to himself too. That too is a beautiful thing. With no history to slay or lost future to hope for, we stayed present and talked about the journey he was on.

Part of that included discussions about potentially embarrassing physical issues and hospital life, but almost all of it was about the wonder of a lifetime and the wonder of death as well.

1354 Relax and Succeed - Even through death

 

We discussed the fact that he didn’t have to worry about dying itself. Death had plenty of experience and it was in charge. Mostly we talked about how marvellous his life –ugliest warts and all– had been. And how exciting the next mysterious step was.

The joy he felt in looking at his life in that non-judgmental way was so incredibly beautiful to behold that it still stirs me deeply. Even his anxious excitement about death felt more like someone breathing deeply before stepping onto a stage for the first time.

It was difficult knowing that so many people in that building were facing a similar fate, and yet so many are often scared and alone –if not in the physical sense, at least in the spiritual sense.

Several times I’ve overheard the loving visitors of other patients struggle so hard with gigantic emotions that they would end up unwittingly saying things that felt as wrong to the speaker as they did to the listener. Presence must be practiced. It’s a form of psychological balance.

If it wasn’t such a personal moment between them I almost wish I could have comforted the dying person afterwards. There were ways to do that and help contextualize the visitor’s innocent mistake.

1354 Relax and Succeed - Everybody wants to go to heaven

Hearing those people struggle makes me look forward to the day when –instead of someone calling me for help with a family member’s death– every family will know how to handle it with grace. That will be a victory for the dying as well.

My friend had a great life and a great death. Although I will say, I think he made one mistake in his clarity. He forgot that the people he left behind don’t live with his enlightened perspective, so his lack of a funeral gave everyone no way to close this chapter of our lives with an event.

I presume he didn’t do that because he was concerned it might be a maudlin gathering he would be asking people to participate in, but in that case he underestimated himself. Because through his influence, I feel quite confident that everyone who knew him would have learned enough from him to forgo grieving his loss in favour of celebrating his existence.

Learn from my friend. Don’t be afraid to die. Live fully instead. And work towards profound and non-judgmental self-love. Because in every moment we achieve it, we are winning at life.

RIP Orest. I love you.

peace, s

When Others Let Us Down

 

1333 Relax and Succeed - Human beings are gods hidden from themselves

For some of us it was a cheating spouse. For others, an addicted friend, or a neglectful parent. For some it was a crime, or it may even be abuse by an authority, or an institution. There are many ways to feel the extremely tormented pain of neglect or betrayal. But there are also ways to be free.

It is a deeply poignant thing to move through the rush of feelings we experience when we sense that those around us have let us down. Part of our reality shatters. The whole experience makes more of the universe feel forever less certain and that makes us angry. We don’t feel safe. It makes sense that we resent whoever is associated with our feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.

But our resentment, anger, or need for moral justice rarely pay off. Like the Buddha says, we are not punished for our anger, but by it. Even if we exact revenge, the best that can happen is someone else suffering and any pleasure we get from that is short-lived even if we remain satisfied that justice has been done.

There simply is no going back in time. No matter how important something was, no one can unscramble scrambled eggs. People can’t undo one hour of sex, two years at a bad job, or 18 years of absent parenting. Each of those things and everything else like them are water under the bridge, and the desire for a different history will generate a great deal of anger and regret.

Fortunately, those feelings won’t last, and for fairly logical reasons because the reasons for the feelings make sense. But because they do, it is possible for us to speed up our ‘recovery’ to a potentially positive view of a situation, or even another person– if we’re prepared to.

Firstly, we must accept that our brain has these people or institutions weaved into massive amounts of our lives, and anger is like a jolt of electricity through our system. This means that when we are angry we are likely to grab information from all over life and history to express our outrage. But that’s fine. We can even be totally unreasonable.

The process of fully feeling our emotions isn’t about the perpetrator(s) of the betrayal, it’s about us bleeding off some of our own totally understandable brain chemistry steam in a non-destructive way. We have many compelling and painful thoughts under a lot of pressure.

This is why our pain from these experiences should be fully felt. Rather than pretend we’re okay and then convert four angry days into 20 resentful years, we are better to fully feel the feelings we have. We need not be scared of them. They are there to be felt. And after we’ve felt them, we can get on to empathy.

1333 Relax and Succeed - Empathy when you plant lettuce
We should nurture our understanding of those who we feel have done us wrong.

If we feel badly expressing ourselves honestly we have to remember that it’s society that told us to hold those feelings in, and we’re still recovering from the Victorians and they were scandalized by the word ‘leg’ (you had to use ‘limb.’). We don’t have to go insane or commit crimes or hurt others to let pain out. We just have to find constructive forms of letting off that emotional pressure.

Run, lift weights, listen to thrash metal, go to one of those places where you can pay to smash things. Or maybe just find someone who loves you that will let you rant, or abuse them for a while, on the understanding that you’re going to get proxy angry at them because you can’t yell at the person or institution that hurt you.

People that love us can survive that experience because they are the ones that accept us with our imperfections, just as we do theirs. That’s why we love them. But it’s a very healthy thing to ensure the person understands that we know full well that it is misplaced anger, and that we are grateful to them for helping us.

By doing that we make it much easier for the other person to hear us being unreasonable without taking it personally. If our point is to inflict pain, of course we’ll choose painful things to say. That doesn’t mean the things we say are somehow true. We’re blowing off steam, not doing journalism.

Once the anger has dissipated we can then begin a meditation that will untie the Gordian Knot of anger and blame in our imagination. In reviewing any situation from a less emotional distance, and by meditating on the other person’s context and history, we can often find that what happened makes more sense than what we had hoped would happen.

When we go from being an ego having a personal struggle to a limitless self having a psychological experience, we move from having feelings about a knot of things, to simply cutting through those feelings with understanding

Eventually our meditations on others lives lead us to realize more profoundly that others do not see their role in life as fulfilling all of our expectations. Nor should they. Otherwise we would be doomed to have to do likewise.

This means that, essentially, we feel let down when people fail to meet our expectations by merely being the only people they could be, given their experiences and their awareness. None of us can be someone we aren’t no matter how much we love those around us.

The people that let us down are merely people who are not who we had imagined they were. We can’t blame them for our imagination. Instead, by taking responsibility for our own speculation, we achieve understanding and forgiveness in return. And resentment and anger for understanding and forgiveness is a trade worth making.

peace. s

Intentional Courage

1248 Relax and Succeed - Bethany Hamilton professional surferThis is Bethany Hamilton. You might recognise her. She was thirteen years old when a fourteen foot tiger shark took her left arm while she was surfing with her best friend in Kauai. Beautiful place, best friend, a favourite activity…it was all a dream come true. Even after the shark attack, Bethany used her sense of intention to adjust her dreams and then she made those true.

Bethany was an active young woman who loved surfing and spending time in nature. Today Bethany is an active young championship surfer who loves to spend time in nature with her husband and two children. Note that losing her arm did not change who Bethany is. She was always determined to live deeply and fully and the shark only intensified that drive.

Within two months of losing her arm she was back in the water and not long after that she was competing. The arm didn’t stop her from meeting a man, the fact that it was missing attracted a particularly strong and loving man. She’s written a book, had a film made about her, she’s started a charity, works with many others, and she’s been on countless television programs for her charity work promoting positive mental attitudes, faith and a general outlook of abundance.

1248 Relax and Succeed - Just because today is a terrible dayMany people fall asleep within their own lives and they sleep most of the way through living them. Generally only illness or divorce or the loss of a job or some other tragedy will temporarily wake the person up, but they’ll rarely account for the fact that they feel more alive when they’re struggling to survive than when they are stultified into not even noticing their life is ticking by.

Bethany loses an important limb to a shark and shortly thereafter she’s back in the water, competing on a surfboard, married and pregnant. That’s a lot of belief in a bright future and note it kicked in almost immediately after the injury. In fact, she faced the injury with the same positive attitude she faced the rest of life with.

You can argue for your weariness. We all do it for periods and you can bet she did too. But it’s how much time we spend in which mental states that decide how much control we can maintain throughout our lives. If we see the world as fatalistic and ourselves as unlucky then we have doomed ourselves with a literal intention to have a bad life. But we can use that same force of intention to create a full life like Bethany’s.

1248 Relax and Succeed - ForwardBetween toiling in oblivion and struggling for equality, most people focus on sadness over who they were rather than seizing the opportunities that emerge from who they now are. Bethany’s positivity route is actually the easier and more enjoyable to live, but to get it you must be positive even when the indications urge you to feed a darker aspect of yourself. This is where Bethany takes control and makes her life happen, rather than idly watching it happen and then commenting to herself in her ego, after the fact. A good life is created by action. A bad one by inaction.

Don’t use Bethany’s example to beat yourself up for perceived shortcomings because that is not what Bethany would do. She would not account for what is missing, she would account for what is there. She could have been just another anonymous woman with a missing arm who lead a sad life because of a tragic accident. Or, she could become who she’s been; a rare person who’s both been attacked by a shark and who has survived. Add her positivity on top of that and now she’s so rare that you can see why she can make a living on TV and by doing public speaking on the value of faith and a belief that the universe is working with you and not against you.

Every day you choose a path. Sometimes the choice is conscious, sometimes not. But for our lives to improve, those choices must not only be made more conscious, they must be made with the sort of courage that allows us to step outside of a common narrative so that we can instead continue to be ourselves even in the wake of whatever tragedies we face. None of us are the results of what has happens to us. All of us are the result of how we chose to face what happens to us. Get active. Live consciously. It’s the only way to find your actual life.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.