Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘life’

Happy, Sad, Sane or Mad

31NGjf3JUDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Clearer by Mark Shackleton
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

I don’t pick up too many poetry collections, but am glad I did this time. Clearer is formatted to throw you off the usual reading pattern, with sentences split, separated, and spaced all over the page. It jars you into paying attention.

This short work by Mr. Schakleton supplies a cornucopia of opportunities to look at the dramas, roles, illusions, and so-called existence, we all share, with a different view. There is no denying the darkness, the “hellish” aspects of living, the depressing events that take place, but there is also something within which it is all contained.

Here is the one that touched me the most and helped me remember to not get caught in my own play. To pay attention to the script I’m writing, and realize it is all coming and going, and holding onto anything is impossible. Better to give it away moment to moment.

Don’t Buy It

Don’t buy into your own publicity,
everything is passing.
This thing you’ve found is not yours to keep,
it was given to be given away.

GET UP!

You may not be here tomorrow but tomorrow is another day.
You will never get away until you give it away.
You will never know the stars if you’re afraid to lose your way.

WAKE UP!

Don’t believe your own publicity.
Whether good or bad,
happy or sad,
sane or mad,
from start to finish it was someone else’s idea.

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Breathe Through the Story

51Zxe5MHNvL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnxiety & Panic Workbook: Stop Stressing, Start Living by Jodi Aman. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

It’s one thing for friends, books, family, TV, counselors, or others, to tell us what we should do or not do about a problem, and something entirely different when they show us “how” to do it. Changing our habits, conditioning and fears, isn’t easy. If it was, we would have done so on our own a long time ago. Enter Jodi Aman and her Anxiety & Panic Workbook, which not only clearly defines anxiety, but shows us how to overcome it.

Ms. Aman has lived with anxiety herself for many decades, thus she is speaking from experience, and not some theoretical therapeutic idea about what it is like, or how to live with it. The National Institute of Mental Health has shown anxiety to be the number one mental health problem in the U.S. Thus, there is a large audience of people who can readily relate to how difficult anxiety/fear can be and how often it stops us from living a complete fulfilling life.

There is lots of space in the workbook for readers to answer the thoughtful, and important questions that are asked, and help clarify and identify how anxiety effects us personally, and to what extent. Ms. Aman talks about the importance of motivation, and having a vision of what life can be, as opposed to simply wishing to be free of what is. She says, “‘Want’ and ‘can’t’ are ideas, not truths.'” The book helps us get to know anxiety, as opposed to trying to avoid it or get away from it.

The Anxiety & Panic Workbook is laid out in an easily accessible manner, is clearly well thought out, and can help many. Her five rules for a happy life are: 1) Make people important. 2) Step back. 3) Have fun. 4) Be Creative. 5) Practice doing hard things. It is, of course, easy to come up with five “rules”, and another to learn how to practice them. That is the gift of this book – it shows us how, and not just why. The following was especially poignant, in referring to anxiety, and what we tell ourselves about it. “It is all just stories. The story is not over. It continues to change. Breathe through the story.

Breathing Saved My Life

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the art of breathing
The secret to living mindfully.
Just don’t breathe a word of it..
by Dr. Danny Penman
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

I haven’t seen any book quite like this since the classic Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, back in 1971. Those pages about consciousness, meditation and oneness, opened my eyes to seeing life in new ways, and discovering that I was not a victim of circumstances, or destined to live with pre-conceived conditions. In many ways that book saved my life. The art of breathing can save yours. 

Though half the size of Be Here Nowthe art of breathing is also similar in the way it is designed, using different fonts, layouts, and illustrations, throughout. Dr. Penman includes sections on breathing, happiness, curiosity and awareness, that are straight (or circular) to the point(s), easy to understand, and even easier to practice. There is also a link included to an online site that has all of the meditations available.

Here is a brief excerpt.

“You are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts. It’s a subtle distinction that’s only perceived with practice.

Your thoughts are a running commentary on the world; a ‘best guess’ of what’s truly happening. Often, your thoughts will reflect the powerful emotional currents swirling through your mind, body and breath. Sometimes they are true, sometimes they are a frantic work in progress, sometimes they are wrong.

Mindfulness teaches you to take the long view, to put your thoughts, feelings and emotions into a broader context. And when you do so, your most frantic and distressing thoughts simply melt away of their own accord, leaving behind a calm, clear, insightful mind.”

There you have it. The means to not get caught in drama after drama, but learn to pause, take a breath, and observe the dance. Our experiences are shaped by stimulus and response. It is the space in between, the breath, that provides the opportunity to see what is there and make conscious choices. The art of breathing is an international best-seller, and when you get your copy you will see why. Become conscious – one breath at a time.

 

She Changed American Culture

An excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

On May 3rd, 1980, Candace Lightner’s thirteen-year-old daughter Cari was hit and killed by a drunk driver as she walked to a school carnival. The man who committed the crime had two previous arrests for driving under the influence. When Ms. Lightner was told about her daughter’s death she remembers collapsing, being carried into the house and “screaming all the way”. Her screams were soon to be heard across the nation.

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After Cari’s death Ms. Lightner’s reactions where not that of passive suffering or resignation, she was outraged! Her anger became the spark that ignited Mothers’ Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and literally changed the climate of American culture by making driving under the influence intolerable. Since leaving MADD Candace has worked with victims of violent crime and, as a woman of Lebanese heritage, with organizations that are trying to stop stereotyping of Arab-Americans.

“It’s funny, because people will say to me in chatting about death, “Oh you are so lucky because your daughter went instantly.” I don’t think there is any lucky or unlucky situation. I mean, you are sort of dealt the hand you’re dealt and do whatever you do with it. I wish I had had the opportunity to have seen her, been with her and had some time together before she died, but that is not what happened. I can’t tell you that one loss is less painful than another. I haven’t had two children die, one slowly and the other suddenly. So, I am always amazed at how people can make judgments, you know, about how fortunate you are.

I remember being on TV once doing a call-in show. Of course you could see my face and expressions. I’m used to doing a lot on radio but not on TV. Someone called in and said, “I just know that God meant for your child to die so you could do this.” I was floored. I didn’t cuss, which I normally did, because I was on TV, but I think I was so stunned that in looking at the tape you can see my eyes get real big. I said, “I don’t think anyone planned for my child to die.” I used to get letters like that too. Like God chose you. Well, why didn’t he choose somebody else? I wouldn’t mind.

If I wouldn’t have gotten mad after Cari’s death I don’t know if I would have made sense of it or not. I think it was the fact that it didn’t make sense, there was no rhyme or reason, no excuse; there was no illness. In this particular case it was a crime that was the most often committed crime in the country and it had been completely and totally ignored. So it kind of doubled my anger, because it was treated so lightly. It wasn’t as if she were murdered, where everyone would have gone, “That’s horrible!” I even had friends of mine who said that. I wasn’t angry with them because I knew that was true. It makes me realize that it was so acceptable that people weren’t shocked and horrified by the fact that she was killed by a drunk driver.

It was like, “How dare they feel that way about my child!” She was very, very special. Everybody should be horrified by it and they weren’t. So I think part of what I did was to make everybody horrified by it. I also think I had far more anger then most people I know. I am a very passionate person and I was literally enraged. I had never been so angry in my life and I hope never to be that angry again.

I don’t know what I would have been like if I hadn’t started MADD. It’s so hard to say because I don’t have anything to compare it too. This is not something I had a choice about, I had to do it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.

Anger is very focusing, very directing and progressive. It is much easier to focus on anger then it is on grief. That is probably one of the reasons I did it. I was in such horrible pain. I tend to do whatever I can to avoid pain, avoid feeling things. Getting angry was a good way to avoid dealing with the pain and the hurt and it was much easier to focus on the cause or blame. In some ways I was fortunate because I did have someone to blame. I had an individual to blame and I could do something about it. I could hope to have him incarcerated, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t started MADD. I have always tried to get something positive out of anything negative, either through humor, life lessons or whatever.

The full impact of Cari’s loss finally hit me after I left MADD. There were several things I began to notice. The last year I was at MADD I found myself getting very weepy. I was very burned out and wanted to leave. I no longer had the anger, the passion; the things I thought someone needed to do a good job. It just wasn’t there. Then Clarence Busch (the man who killed her daughter) was re-arrested. The similarities were so numerous. He hit a girl the same age my daughter would have been if she had lived. The girl had the same name. Luckily, she didn’t die. When the press showed up in mass I did not want to deal with it. I found myself crying and going through the turmoil again. It forced me to make a decision.

After I left MADD I really started grieving, for leaving MADD and for Cari. Some said, “Five and a half years after she died? You should be over your grief by now. There is something wrong.” So I went to see a psychologist. told her I needed to grieve for my daughter. I said, “I want you to know I tend to postpone and hide from pain and I need you to help me face this.” I spent six months grieving and crying and grieving and crying and couldn’t stop. I felt like I was going to grieve for the rest of my life.

I don’t deal with the fact that Cari was killed by a drunk driver anymore. When I grieve I grieve for who she was, the loss and love I still feel for her, the missing her, wondering what her life would be like. I look at Serena (Cari’s identical twin) a lot. On Serena’s birthday I always get a little weepy thinking it should be Cari’s too. Serena and I talk every once in a while about what we think Cari would be doing if she was still alive, what our lives would be like. I don’t think, “Oh, she was killed by a drunk driver.”

I was fortunate to be able to see her after she died. I think that the biggest thing the parent goes through with a child is wanting to know that they’re OK. I know that she is. In the first week there were a lot of occurrences that happened, we all sort of felt her. I know she’s fine . . . probably better then the rest of us.

My pain or grieving is more about missing her presence. There is an inside ache. It’s hard to explain . . . just the loving and holding, the touching, the physical. I’ll dream about her. I’ll dream I’m holding her, loving her or something physical, even sleeping in bed with her and holding her. I don’t dream about her often but when I do that is the kind of dreams I’ll have. I will wake up momentarily thinking or feeling that she is alive. That comes from the joy. It’s a good experience. If there is a need in me to hold her and hug her and love her again, I’m assuming that there is, the dream will satisfy that for a period of time.

I didn’t look at it as a life lesson when I started MADD; it was just how I was feeling. People think I’m very altruistic, I’m not. Starting MADD helped assuage my anger and deal with my pain by avoiding it. There was also a fear that it would happen again to my other children, because it had happened once before. It wasn’t because I wanted to save the world. When they interviewed me for the movie about Cari and MADD, the producer said, “Why do you do this?” I said, “You don’t understand. I don’t have a choice.” It was my nature. I never believed you had to accept things as they were.”

Candace Lightner is now the president of We Save Lives.

More profiles and interviews at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

I’m Supposed To Die First

“Stop the train! I want to get off!” Jean shouted. 

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

imagesJean’s son of forty-three years had died in a restaurant. He choked to death. He had survived a life of infinite struggle as he lived with Down’s Syndrome and the isolation, stigma and cultural alienation he and his family had experienced daily.

“He was such a good soul,” Jean continued, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Of all the things to happen, why did it have to happen to him?”

Her son Daniel had become increasingly independent as he aged and was living in a group home in the Bay Area. He was working as a street cleaner during the day and enjoying a variety of social events with his living companions on his off-hours. Jean had visited him two days prior to his death, as she has done twice a week for the last fifteen years. She said she felt blessed, burdened and bonded with Daniel in a way only mothers of developmentally delayed children can know.

“Daniel was so in the moment,” she said. “His smile was infectious.” She looked down at her hands. “I know this may sound crazy, because people think folks like him aren’t as aware of others, as they are of themselves, but Daniel,” she grinned, “was always thinking about others. He could tell when someone was down. He’d give them a big bear hug and say, ‘There, there.’”

She cried bittersweet tears. “He always said, ‘I love love.’ and would wait for you to say it. He wouldn’t do anything else until you would say, ‘I love love too.’ back to him. He would just stand there waiting, no matter how long it took.”

Jean had taken care of Daniel single handedly for most of his life. Not long after Daniel was born, his father moved away saying he couldn’t live with an “abnormal” kid. In his home country, people made fun of kids like Daniel and would say they were cursed and had the evil eye. He blamed Jean and her background for the child’s difference, telling her that her family must have done something very bad in the past.

So Jean, at age twenty-four, took on the already difficult and exhausting life of single-parenthood, combined with the complication of a child that would stay a child for much of his life.

No matter how much she loved him, the reality was that caring for Daniel was overwhelming and all-consuming. She seldom had any time to herself and finding support and child-care as he aged became increasingly difficult. Yet, she loved him like a mother loves an only child. Her identity, reason for living and self-image of who she was became increasingly ingrained with her son’s life.

When she realized that his independence and happiness would be greatly enhanced if he learned to live on his own and separate from her, she was heartbroken.

Having him move to a group home for independent living, which was a forty-five minute drive away, felt like having your ten-year-old go away for a weekend sleep-over and never coming home. She was petrified, anxious and relieved when he actually moved. She said she grieved a thousand deaths day after day and rarely allowed herself to enjoy the “freedom” of her drastically changed less-encumbered life.

“It took me years to grieve the loss of him as a boy, acknowledge him as a man, and let go of my primary identify in the world as ‘Daniel’s Mom,’” Jean said, shifting her legs in the chair. “The last four years were wonderful. I had let go of so much, was doing things I’d always wanted to try, and trusting that he was safe and happy. Then,” she closed her eyes, as her held fell back, “then I get this call and he’s gone. Just like that . . . no warning . . . no good-byes . . . no more ‘I love love.’” She put her head in her hands and sobbed.

Later, after blowing her nose and wiping her eyes, she said, “Now I have to start all over again and I don’t want to. It isn’t supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to die first, not him.” Her eyes met mine. “I want to get off. I want to just disappear.”

She took a few moments of silence, then started telling me about her and Daniel — about all the funny, crazy, confusing, exciting, scary and unbelievable things he and they had done together. She told me about his temper, his sweetness and his frustrations with the world. She brought him to life again and again with her stories.

After another half-hour of hearing about Daniel, Jean placed her hand over her heart, closed her eyes and said, “He’s not gone. I can feel him right here. I can hear him telling me to ‘love love’.”

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Death Like the Old Movies

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

I wish death happened like it used to in the old movies. You know, those deathbed scenes were everyone gathers around, makes amends, say their good-byes, and drift off with visions of God and the angels dancing in their eyes. But it rarely does. Deathbed conversions are few and far between.

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When death approaches, or has taken place, most people live their faith, their beliefs (or their disbelief) in a God, or the hereafter, the same as they have the rest of their lives. If they believe in some creative force that is more than what we can see, they continue to do so through sickness and loss. If they believe God has a plan for everything that happens, and that Jesus is their savior, they continue to do so until their dying breath. If someone feels that there is no God, supreme being or spiritual meaning for anything on earth, they hold on to that belief after their loved one’s body is buried deep in the ground.

A friend once told me, as their mother was dying, that no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make herself believe the same as her mother had all her life. She desperately wished she could. She wanted to understand and connect with her mother before she passed on in a way she had never been able to. She said that for awhile she pretended to believe as her mother had, but she knew she was pretending. She even went to her mother’s church and read the same readings and scriptures, without any change of heart.

A client I met with for several months repeatedly expressed her frustration that her husband had never believed in God. She couldn’t understand how he had gone to his death without accepting God into his life. For over forty years she had tried to convert him and get him to go to church, always believing that someday he would see the spiritual light.

A member of my family had an understandably difficult time when my uncle killed himself, and sincerely worried about his soul, wondering if he was suffering as much after death as he had during life. They prayed that God would forgive my uncle and provide the serenity that had always seemed to be just beyond his reach. The only way they could make sense out of the tragedy was to believe that he was “in a better place”. They had always believed that God provides happiness and peace, and used that faith to provide personal comfort, safety and meaning.

Belief in God, a Great Spirit, Nature, Jesus, or some other religion or spiritual path, doesn’t mean that people don’t question, argue, bargain or get angry with that in which they believe.

A colleague of mine was enraged when her daughter was killed in a car accident. She felt like her religious tradition had lied to her. “How could a loving God let such a bad thing happen to such an innocent child?! How could He take her at such a young age?!” She still believed in God, but couldn’t make sense out of what had happened. “Somebody was responsible for this!” she said. “There has to be a reason!” She prayed to God for an answer. “But all I could hear was myself talking to the empty air,” she explained. “It took me years of asking ‘why’, begging for an answer, before God gave me the strength and understanding to live with not knowing.”

Another client blamed God for allowing her abusive ex-husband to survive and live with his alcoholism, while her hard-working, kind friend died from liver cancer. She overflowed with unanswerable questions. “Why didn’t that son-of-a-you-know-what get this awful disease instead? Why does my friend have to deal with this? What did she ever do? Why? Why? Why?” Her friend continued to work as long as possible, and remained true to her sweet loving self until her death a year and a half later.

As in most sweeping statements of finality there are exceptions. Occasionally someone reacts to death and loss differently than they have lived the rest of their lives.

A woman I interviewed a few years ago said she made a bargain with God and it changed her life. As the car she was driving hit a side rail on the freeway, and begin rolling over and over she said, “God, if you let me live to raise my young son I’ll dedicate my life to you.” She had never believed in God and didn’t know where that had come from, but she said she heard a voice answer her that said, “Yes”. She survived the accident, continued raising her son as a single parent, and never forgot her promise. Though she had always seen herself as a selfish person, she started thinking of others and became involved in a number of charities. When her son was killed ten years later she never wavered from her promise and used her son’s death to inspire her to do even more of “God’s work”.

Death and grief can crack open our hearts. They can change our perceptions of how we see the world. They can wake us up to the reality of pain and suffering in ways that we never thought possible. Within the midst of such grief and pain we can reach out for comfort, look within for guidance, and find compassion and forgiveness from our religion, community or sense of personal responsibility.

Mourning can be a catalyst for clarifying our values and deepening our understanding, but it doesn’t mean we will throw our beliefs out the window or change our spiritual faith. We need not despair over our usual conditioned human response to loss. There’s always an old movie with a good deathbed scene we can find at the video store, take home and imagine ourselves saying our good-byes, making last minute amends and being carried off to the heavens!

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Trust Me

A shaky excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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Master Tova was traveling with Sister Sun and Sister Moon to visit one of the community centers. They came upon a narrow rope bridge which crossed a deep gorge and raging river below.

“I’ll wait here until you return,” Sister Sun said, shaking in her boots every time she looked towards the walkway.

“Nonsense,” Master Tova replied. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I’ll stay with Sister Sun,” Sister Moon added, holding on to her companion for dear life.

“We must cross,” Master Tova replied. “They are waiting for us and Sister Star needs our assistance. You know she is very ill and may not have much time left.”

“We feel deeply for Sister Star,” Sister Sun trembled, “but it will do her no good if we parish before we see her.”

“This bridge has been here for centuries,” Master Tova explained.

“Exactly,” Sister Moon exclaimed.

“Thousands upon thousands have safely made their way upon its planks and rope handrails,” Master Tova reassured. Both sisters stood frozen, shaking their heads. “Look,” Master Tova said, as she walked onto the bridge and turned around. “See, it’s as strong as a rock.” She jumped up and down several times. The bridge bobbed and swayed side to side. Master Tova returned to her reluctant students and said, “You must trust in life or you will never get anywhere.”

The Master took hold of Sister Sun and Sister Moon’s hands and led them toward the structure. Just as Master Tova was about to step on the bridge, Sister Sun coughed. Her cough caused a loud crack. They watched in horror as the ropes snapped, the wooden planks broke, and the walkway plummeted into the gorge below with a deathly crash.

Sister Sun and Sister Moon’s eyes were as large as saucers, as they pulled Master Tova back from the edge and fell to the ground.

As they got up and dusted themselves off, Master Tova turned and spoke. “Like I said, it’s always good to consider alternatives, and cough before proceeding. We’ll have to walk upstream and wade across the shallow portion of the river. It will take longer, but we’ll get their safe and sound.”

Many honest and trusted stories at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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