Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

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.

Other Perspectives #90

811 OP Relax and Succeed - Mom what is marriageThis is funny. In my experience thus far, the vast majority of men get left for the same reason every time. Same with the ladies. The guys tend to be emotionally inattentive and they keep calling their decisions the couple’s decisions. The ladies get it wrong when they do what this quote suggests: when they assume that their way of doing things is the correct way and that their spouse’s way is stupid, as opposed to just being another way of approaching something. Both the inattentiveness of the men and the certainty of the women lead to them usually being completely blindsided when their spouses leave them. Speak respectfully of those you love. Because you could flip this quote around to read, Dad, what is marriage? It’s a fancy word for having to put up with a bossy arrogant person who will constantly try to treat you like a child. Doesn’t sound nice, does it? Respect. If you’re going to be in a relationship with someone then make sure your commitment to love them is a verb that you practice daily and not just something you claim out of obligation or habit. Because whether they’re talking to other people or talking to their spouse, healthy people in healthy marriages talk about their partner’s qualities a lot more than the challenges they present.

peace, s

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

Rejection

Let’s make one thing clear for (especially for people in their teens and twenties): it obviously hurts really badly when we feel someone has rejected us after we’ve opened up to them and loved them. That is the most meaningful connection in the world and every version of it is valuable. Simultaneously, it’s important to remember that when you’re young you only have one or maybe two experiences to judge by, so remember your views of any experience will always change over time. It won’t always hurt that much I promise.

747 Relax and Succeed - You can be the ripest juiciest peachIn fact in the best cases we make good use of those painful experiences. The pain will be what makes you more compassionate and successful when you’re trying to help someone else who is suffering. Because whether our connections are through love or compassion, what’s most valuable is the connection itself. So over time you’ll come to value even painful experiences because you’ll realize that is what connects you so strongly to other people, whether it’s the ones who were there for you when you were in pain, or the connection you feel to the people who are currently experiencing a pain you know personally.

Love is a huge feeling. Huge. The first time you feel it it makes sense that it feels like the entire world has ended when it’s over. You can see why love’s such a big deal in art and life. Whether through romance or compassion the feeling is like no other connection. So when we establish one super-strong connection it’s agony to yank it out. But over time you’ll even get used to that. I know it seems incredible but it’s true. Sometimes you’ll even volunteer for it. Sometimes that horrible feeling is better than being in the relationship.

The important thing is this: if you’re feeling rejected you don’t want to be concluding that you are being rejected. People can reject situations and choices and beliefs but they can’t reject a person. What would that even mean? All they can do is think about the other person differently and/or maybe physically place themselves elsewhere.

747 Relax and Succeed - Pain is inevitableThinking you’ve been rejected because your relationship ended is like saying that if someone leaves Paris for Rome that they’re saying Paris is worthless. But the assessment of Paris’s worth happens inside each individual’s head, and everyone thinks their own thoughts. So if there are seven billion points of view on the planet then it’s a guarantee that a huge number of them will love Paris just as a huge number—given a real chance—will love you.

Heartbreaks will hurt. But someone rejecting you does not diminish your overall value in this universe. You’ll think that it does for a while but then it’s up to you to return to the awareness that your value is inherent and that it is only your agonized thoughts that are creating your agonized suffering. There is nothing wrong with you.

You naturally glow like the sun and the only thing that can interfere with that light is some temporary clouds in your thinking. Just remember that being lost or in pain or feeling rejected is all a part of this wonderful experience called life. Both Paris and Rome will experience both sun and cloud. But by experiencing the agonizing parts of life we are primed to properly value the intense and beautiful connection that comes with the compassion and love we do receive.

Now go take this amazing world and make a beautiful day out of it. Love you. 😉

peace. s

Scott’s Top Other Perspectives 2014 #1

721 OPY Relax and Succeed - Be happy now

Because of the number of weeks involved I only have two top picks for favourite Other Perspectives or Friday Dose’s, and that was tricky because I really felt that last week’s winner (#41), and this week’s (#37) were no more deserving than #40, so I’ll include that link to it here in case you’d like to check it out too. In the end I chose #37 simply because it reflects one of the most common things I’m contacted about by 30 and 40 year old people—loneliness.

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Winner: Scott’s Top
Other Perspectives of 2014 #1

peace. s

Other Perspectives #67

681 OP Relax and Succeed - I don't understand

There’s a lot of hormones raging in any teenager so it’s not surprising the boys are prone to cheating and the girls are prone to drama. But there is no direct relationship between your care for someone else and their care for you. It’s not like a bank machine where you put your care in and then later you withdraw it. You each come with your own upbringings and your own tendencies in terms of how you were taught to deliver love (gifts, time, touch, talking, assistance etc.). It would be incredibly unlikely if both parties gave equally or in the same ways. For instance, if a guy had a distant, non-demonstrative father who never gave gifts then the guy is likely to be the sort of person who never buys a birthday card or gives a massage or barely says I love you. She can think he doesn’t love her but then the same guy can be solid and enduring during chemotherapy or with a very sick child. Likewise a woman who doesn’t show much affection or offer much attention to her partner can still be a remarkable partner to have during the death of a family member or for the most trusted of duties. You should be with people because of how they are in the world, not because they tick off a bunch of boxes in some magazine or off some list created by your friends. Your partner is not in a movie performing a romantic role for you. Your partner is a person with their own drives, interests and values and personality. The differences between you can coincide and be very compatible and helpful to both people. But you’ll still both routinely fail to meet each others expectations. But that’s not them failing. That’s you expecting. That’s not their problem, that’s yours. Lose the expectations and you’ll lose the pain too. Let people be who they are, don’t tell them what to do, but be fully yourself and that will make you an enjoyable person to be with. After that the rest will take care of itself.

peace. s