Learning through Grief
I began this post before the untimely loss of my best friend — Bess my beloved 14 1/3 year old border collie. Acceptance soothes my broken heart when acknowledging this will happen to each and everyone of us and everyone we love, that this behest of time is a transformation of life. I continue learning through my loss of Bess…such as doing what I can then letting go, and the power of thought and perspective. I anticipate sharing more from time to time on insights gained through this experience…
“All of life’s experiences are to be either enjoyed or learned from.”
— Alan Cohen
Bess gave me both.
I am curious to know how you process grief. A sage shared this short (18 minute) video with me. Hopefully, you will benefit as well — not just in a time of need.
It’s been a relatively long winter. Of course, I always feel that way after half a year of Northeast cold and grey. And although Spring appeared on the calendar a month ago, it waits until about now to dazzle me with her show. Each day the bleeding hearts rise taller and taller, and more garlic greens dart through the earth, the scintillation sets my soul ablaze.
Kindling the grey winter landscape aglow in green, Spring wondrously ignites death with life. Saucer magnoliasspark purple blooms, smoky lavender clouds flicker above eastern red buds, and delicate pink weeping cherry blossoms shimmer in the wind while the glowing white flowering pearexplodes in the sky. Like yellow-suited firefighters, showy forsythias arrive first on the scene. Dwarf blue iris, orange-eyed daffodils and red tulips are next responders.
Intoxicated with Spring’s opulent beauty of textures, shapes and hues, I am mesmerized by the magic appearing before my eyes. And so grateful I have eyes to see.
Mixed Nuts What do you think about when you think about squirrels? Ravaged bird feeders? Acrobatic acts? Rabies? The park? Nuts? Well, yes, nuts. That also comes to mind when I think about the December holidays.
Not just the type of nuts we eat — like roasted chestnuts, walnuts on that sumptuous apple pie, or honey coated peanuts in the snack dish, but nuts as in gathering frantically like a squirrel, and nuts as in foolishly excessive holiday behaviors. It’s a bountiful season for sure, but will it fill us up or leave us feeling exhausted, robbed and empty?
Filling Up More than Stockings Each of us can choose to step back and celebrate in simpler, more meaningful ways. You can create a holiday celebration of choice and one that enriches, rather than depletes, you or loved ones — physically, emotionally, and financially. Take time to think about what Christmas really means to you.
Is it that important to try and create the perfect Christmas of yesterday, or a happier one now? If so, dig deeper and ask yourself why.
Will taking on additional activities amidst an already crammed schedule affect your ability to give others your undivided, in-the-moment attention…or leave you feeling distracted, tired and resentful?
Is it worth it to over-spend, searching for an ideal gift when expectations and disappointments often cancel out efforts of holiday goodwill?
Are your actions obligatory or from the heart? Compulsory sentiments and gifts noticeably lack holiday cheer for both the giver and receiver.
Will you honor your self-care with adequate rest, nutritious foods, exercise, asking for help, and being financially responsible? Or will you set yourself up to sour your holiday mood?
Do your actions make sense? Do they seem a little nuts to you? Be honest.
Enlist Creativity If you own a bird feeder, you’ve witnessed a squirrel’s analytical creativity accessing it — including those supposedly “squirrel proof” feeders. Be as innovative.
If others are involved, ask each person to select the one thing about the holidays that makes their heart sing. Avoid the inner critic’s beleaguering to add just one more thing then another because you’ll be right back to the overload you tried to lighten. Determine what is absolutely necessary then sew those pieces together to broaden smiling faces around a more joyful holiday. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover it’s not a holiday of lack but one of overflowing abundance from the spirit within.
Apply Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh‘s sentiment to the holidays… “Once you identify your deepest intention, you have a chance to be true to yourself, to celebrate the kind of holiday you’d like to have, and to be the kind of person you’d like to be.”
Trudging through Tradition Several years ago I happily exchanged some traditional activities for what means most to me. Quieter gatherings, tuning in to nature and the gifts she generously offers day in and out, gladden my spirit. (This is not to say I don’t host or attend holiday parties. But I keep them manageable, not falling prey to Madison Avenue’s message that I must decorate my house with a thousand lights, bake cookies, and overextend my bank account purchasing lavish gifts.)
A friend, looking frazzled and slumped in her chair, told me yesterday how overwhelmed she felt filling out 300 Christmas cards! Three hundred cards? Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed? But, was it really necessary? It’s important to connect with others and tell them how much they mean to us but if it adds a layer of stress it doesn’t make sense to me — it’s nuts.
All in a Nutshell Make the holidays what you want them to be and create cherished memories. Don’t worry or fret. Otherwise you may become like the red squirrel whose coat turned grey from stress. 🙂
By now, you know my feelings about the overuse and addictive characteristics of social media, particularly as it hampers one’s interest in human to human communication and experiencing the natural environment. I offer Christina Farr’s article in the hopes it will help those of you trying to detox and return to a more serene, content and manageable life. As a society, we do have the ability to take back our lives. Have you noticed a recent wave of people saying, “Enough is enough” and unplugging to stop the progression of anxiety, depression, chaos and confusion that social media has introduced into their lives?
While Christina offers her personal experience of attending a formal camp to unplug, you can reduce stress and create a more rich and satisfying life by asking yourself a few introspective questions like:
What is truly important to me? Personal time with friends and loved ones, or how many likes I’ve received?
If I had one day left on this planet, what would I do — would I post on social media or respond to that inner nudge to do something I always wanted to do like mountain climb or learn to play a musical instrument? What have I always wanted to do but spent my hours on social media instead?
How do I feel inside when taking a walk in nature, looking at someone in the eye and seeing their smile versus hearing constant pings on my device?
Is my time better spent helping someone through volunteer work or trying to impress and compete with the virtual lives of others?
What makes me feel content? What makes me feel anxious or depressed?
Make a list if you need to. Let it look you squarely in the eye and you’ll know what you need to do to truly live a meaningful life. Here’s how Christina handled her social media addiction:
Social media detox: Christina Farr quits Instagram, Facebook
Christina Farr used to spend 5 hours a week posting and interacting with friends on Instagram. She quit cold this summer, and her life changed dramatically for the better.
Seeing these rounded hay bales in expansive green fields began to stir something deep within a few years ago that felt strangely comforting.
I hadn’t observed this prior to practicing Qigong where I first felt a gentle, circular energy flowing between my hands. The movements soon enriched my gardening activities and evolved my thinking about continued life which led me to the Tao and a spiraled understanding of nature and our connectivity to the universe.
Yin-yang‘s circular energy symbolizes life’s continuum and oneness; that nothing is 100% black or white, right or wrong; we need one to have the other. Hours accelerate around the clock transforming day to night through the calendar of winter to spring, summer to autumn, season to season, year to year, era after era, wrinkled newborn to withered senior. This energy of oneness incorporates ourselves, others and the universe.
It is said that with Qigong (or Tai Chi) practice, you begin to view all of life as part of this circle. I have and am grateful for it. I see the circular trees, the ever lasting round sun and moon, the flowers that know to return year after year, the rounded hay bales at harvest. I use to fear death as a finality of life. But Qigong, gardening, and being in nature have taught me otherwise. This freedom from despair over my eventual death or that of loved ones is healing. Perhaps that is why the hay bales are like Mother Nature’s hugs, offering a soothing kinship with nature and all that is around me.
Can you see the number 11 as an upwards arrow pointing to ascension and light, as perhaps global leaders have throughout the years? Any idea why the major hostilities of World War I were first ended in 1918 at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, or why Israel and Egypt signed the first Israel and Arab agreement for peace in 24 years — on 11–11 in 1973? What is the significance of the number 11? Just coincidence you say? Numerology begs to differ.
In numerology, the esteemed master number 11 symbolizes immense physical and mental power. According to Numerology.com, 11 has the potential of “pushing the limitations of the human experience into the stratosphere of the highest spiritual perception; it is the link between darkness and light, ignorance and enlightenment.”
Eleven is associated with calmly handling complex situations, steadiness, adaptability, a sense of order, mature thinking, understanding others and their problems, and doing everything possible to create a feeling of goodness. Other qualities associated with the number 11 are:
Higher spiritual insight
Loving and seeking freedom
Immense ability to see others more deeply
Can you envision the number 11 as two candles — the first one showing the brighter side of life and helping others, the second candle as the receiver of light?
There’s no familiar summer, winter, spring or fall anymore
except for dates on a calendar.
Can we explain it away,
simply say the weather is as diverse as people, places, life —
that to live, to be alive, is to change?
Reduce.Recycle. Reuse they say.
But the seasons?
I am a child of four seasons
picking springtime bouquets
chasing summer fireflies
rolling in leaves
and sledding til numb.
As I matured, adult responsibilities pushed childhood activities to the recesses of my mind. But, I never dreamed the four seasons of my youth would become a distant memory, something to read about in history books of a time that once was.
As a child, leaves fell in September.
A few years ago they began in August.
This year, my yard was covered in July.
Thunderstorms previously endured in June and humidity that marked August are now daily occurrences commandeering the summer I use to know. Look forward to. Love.
The seasons have faded like leaves…
Is it a natural progression of time
the human disregard for the natural order of things
or Mother Nature’s retribution?
Spring and Autumn have silently been waving good-bye
but we were too busy, too greedy, too self-centered to notice.
Every now and then my passion for gardening and appreciating nature is punctuated by technology’s increasing thirst to control our lives. To me, these cold and calculating ways are the antithesis to nature’s infinite beauty and serenity. That is why this topic pops up on my blog now and then (no pun intended).
I bumped into an old friend recently who said her eldest child is retired (at age 35). After making and investing his millions as a technological entrepreneur, he and his wife now live in an Airstream, traveling cross-country to hike and explore nature’s magnificence. “He meditates quite a bit,” she added.
This gave me hope that those so addicted to devices will realize the hours they’ve wasted not living real life, or freedoms they’ve willingly discarded by allowing technology to think for them.
My concerns about the ethical crises in technology were confirmed by best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari, and executive director of the Center for Humane Technology, Tristan Harris who explained how people, corporations and governments are using technology to hack human beings. (Harris previously studied the ethics of human persuasion at Google.)
In their When Tech Knows You Better than You Know Yourself interview, these philosophers raised the question: “Whose best interests should technology be serving — individuals or corporations? Should apps be as successful (and profitable) as possible which equates to addiction, loneliness, alienation, social comparison…”
“There’s a reason why solitary confinement is the worst punishment we give human beings. And we have technology that’s basically maximizing isolation because it needs to maximize the time we stay on the screen,”Harris said.
Think about that. Really let it sink in. So many have imprisoned themselves with technology. Remember, a prior post on my friend whose brother is addicted to gaming and barely leaves his room anymore?
Instead, I discuss the Tao and hand drum with friends, attend Tai Chi classes, concerts, live theatre and art exhibits. At home I’m nurturing flower and veggie gardens while playing with my beloved border collie or practicing Qigong. Experimenting in the kitchen and reading a great library book enhance my time. Yes, I love those page turners (literally and otherwise)!
I was thrilled to find Blogtasticfood.com where Nick’s mission is to “post super awesome recipes and get peoples butts in the kitchen.” I love it. Real cooking feels (and tastes) wholesome and nourishing to me. I’d much prefer devoting my time to creating a delicious meal than being consumed by social media, texting or the internet (while eating packaged preservative-laden processed foods). Tactile, personal connections mean more to me than an addictive device.
Frankly, I don’t want Amazon to know right before my light bulbs burn out (so they can sell me more). And I don’t want them to deliver groceries to my door so that I can isolate, and not get any fresh air, exercise, or interaction with my external environment. “Don’t use it, you lose it,” still rings true.
However, as much as it sounds like I detest technology, I don’t. It’s the addictive aspects and loss of privacy and relationships that concern me. I agree with Harari that, “The system in itself can do amazing things for us. We just need to turn it around, that it serves our interests, whatever that is and not the interests of the corporation or the government.” In that regard I can understand Amazon delivering food to an immobile person who lives alone.
To reduce the risks of your personality being hacked, Harari suggests first getting to know yourself better and exploring your choices more deeply. Of course, someone who meditates two hours a day and doesn’t use a smartphone is less likely to be hacked than someone addicted to their device he says. Then join an organization of activists for a more powerful voice in making society more resilient and less able to be hacked.
Harari and Harris emphasize, “They’re (corporation or government) about to get to you—This is the critical moment…So run away, run a little faster.And there are many ways you can run faster, meaning getting to know yourself a bit better. Meditation is one way. And there are hundreds of techniques of meditation, different ways work with different people.
Photo by Dave Clubb on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Scargill on Unsplash
Photo by Ian Scargill on Unsplash
Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash
Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash
“You can go to therapy, you can use art, you can use sports, whatever. Whatever works for you. But it’s now becoming much more important than ever before. Protect yourself by getting to know your self.” This sounds perfectly natural to me.