Why? Why Not?

darkest night bridge

In a week like this one, with the deaths and massive injuries in Las Vegas, I hear “why” even more than usual.  But I often hear “why” with those I have the privilege to serve who have and are suffering the impact of severe accidents, those who are so bright and have such positive futures ahead of them and now have head injuries and the recovery is stalled.  I speak with those who have cancer, or whose loved ones have it and are dying.  I speak with people who simply wonder why they haven’t been able to change something they have wanted to so badly.  And truth be told, I also ask myself this at times.

And yet, the truth is, why not me?  What do I think is so special about me, that bad life experiences should not happen?  I remember hearing someone share this very sentiment a few years ago, and wish I could find the source for it.  But I do remember as a younger woman voicing a question of why and someone saying why not you, and I was angered.  It felt like an attack.  I do not mean it in that way at all, and likely that person did not either.  But I do think we need to ask it in the way Eric Church did this week in his sharing and new song “Why Not Me”.  Take the time to listen to him, please, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqCYKFXfRb0 .

As individuals we each need to struggle with this internally and in conversation when the most difficult life events occur around us.  The times we are called upon to rally all of our support and face that most difficult experience in life that we are uncertain we can handle, i.e.:  loss of a loved one, rejection by a spouse or significant other, life threatening illness, end of life, traumatic head injury, life changing event that requires we reconstruct our lives thoroughly, or even an internal life-time struggle that seems impossible to change, each call for specific actions and resources.

Therapeutically we would suggest a person sit with the feelings, see what is really in front and within, and breathe through the feelings.  Journal, draw what is within, in some way allow oneself to face it.  In doing so, we increase awareness rather than run; allow movement of the pain or shame or fear rather that avoid it; and, in the end we are in a new place and not pushed to addiction – money, food, alcohol, work, or drugs; but rather, we regain center.  The same concept is suggested by Pema Chodron in the “no more struggle” meditation.  However, she sticks with breathing and returning, breathing and returning, until the strong feelings are reduced and one is able to face what is going on outside oneself or within and allow it without judgment.  Only then, she says, can the issue or feeling be resolved.  From a Christian perspective, Fr. Thomas Keating would say it is called prayer or centering or contemplative prayer, all with a focus of resting in God.

After we have done this, only after, can we move forward and know how to pick up our feet and keep moving.  Taking the next step ahead in life, but taking it as we move into life, not retreat from it.  A young man mentioned to me something I had hear others say – that a friend instead wanted to retreat and not go out and keep living after the Las Vegas shootings.  After this week his friend had decided to go to no more concerts, events, etc.  His friend, and others I’ve heard say similar things, are not moving through to keep living.  They are stuck in the fear and anger; and have no way to move through into life.  Action is important – freezing and being stuck is not healthy and builds walls, not bridges.

Bridges are very important in life and in moving forward when a huge life event hits us and makes us ask why, or why not, me.  I had never read the poem “The Bridge” by Robert Wadsworth Longfellow until pondering this topic.  I came across it and it is so very rich with metaphor and meaning, but I’m going to take a few stanzas out to focus on in this article.  He says after many years of nights when he went to the bridge when life seemed so difficult and he watched the tide go in and out:

How often, O, how often,

In the days that had gone by,

I had stood on that bridge at midnight

And gazed on that wave and sky!

For my heart was hot and restless,

And my life was full of care,

And the burden laid upon me

Seemed greater than I could bear.

But now it has fallen from me,

It is buried in the sea.

As I read this I thought how often we do have experiences in life that give us pause to think.  We may walk our neighborhoods, much like Mr. Longfellow did when he went to ponder near a bridged waterway.  And if we walk, meditate, ponder, pray, stay with our feelings and thoughts we cross a bridge as we put down our cares.  We no longer carry the feelings of pain, terror, shame, or anxiety.  And so we can move forward into life.  We can move forward despite the fact bad things still happen to good people, life does fall apart at times, cancer ravages bodies, brain injuries can significantly change one’s life direction.  And yet, as author and speaker Jonathan Lockwood Huie says, “The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow”.  Don’t miss your bridge – go seek it out as Mr. Longfellow did, as the young man in my office did, as Eric Church, Pema Chodron, and Fr. Keating have all done.  Calm, serenity, release, God, hope for a new tomorrow are all there once you do.

 

 

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Embracing Ourselves

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It’s been a busy few months and I got distracted from this blog; however, it’s been on my mind, and my visit to the Frida and Diego art exhibit yesterday has given me the inspiration needed to pick it up. It was a wonderful visit with some friends, and as I wandered through it I became aware of Frida’s growth over the years. Some of her paintings and dresses were on exhibit as well as photographs by others of her. And while I’m focusing on her, Diego’s work and pictures were exhibited as well.
Frida and Diego were known for their art, relationship, and their politics in Mexico. While I do not believe her lifestyle was necessarily healthy, i.e.: affairs, I do believe her art matured and grew as she did. There are many ways to approach this, but as I considered Frida, her movement from one mastered by Diego and using his art as teacher and model shifted to her own technique and self as more independent of him, while still showing and experiencing love for and from him. One view that struck me at the exhibit, and that shows her dependency was captured by my friend, Dr. Mark Arcuri and was posted above. Here the focus of her quote is on Diego, and all he meant to her. Where is her sense of self, one might ask? While she certainly captures her mother’s background in her clothing, and wears it brilliantly,
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she does still rely on Diego and mother and cultural background to define her. How many of us do that? Truly there is nothing wrong with this…as long as it is defining part, not all of who we are. I am Irish in my mind first culturally, second Polish, and lastly Scottish. I celebrate some holidays in ways that capture these parts of my genetic and cultural background my parents shared with me. I enjoy the many friends that I have, and what time with each means to me, to the fullness of my life, and to what they do in encouraging my growth as a person. And I take hope from my faith and live it through my spiritual walk. So my life and identity follow Frida’s life pattern as most, if not all of us, do.
And yet, I was most struck by a picture of hers from 1949, The Love Embrace of the Universe. The exhibitors describe it as her assimilation of her spiritual beliefs and the embrace similar to that of Mary embracing Christ and simultaneously showing Frida’s minimization of Diego and his influence over her life. This was only 5-6 years before her death, and many years into her relationship. Further, it was during her recovery from a major surgery and is followed by a few years when her art was accepted some on its own merit, not secondarily from Diego’s.
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What this made me reflect on again, was how when we are not relying on others for definition, then we become our own person, and are capable of interdependent relationships. We are able to be held and hold others, as she was in this final picture I shared. And we are experienced and accepted on our merit and being, not as someone’s spouse, sibling, parent, or child. Not that those roles aren’t important, but again, they are but part of the whole package of who we are.
So as I end today, I urge you to consider who you define yourself as, whose life you are following, and what your faith and spirituality do to influence this? Ask yourself, where do I need further definition? Where are my shadows that need light and color to be made a part of the whole of me? And let the last days of spring encourage your growth as sunflowers popping up, being and embracing their being-ness boldly, fully, completely.
Blessings on your journey.
(PS: Interested in the Frida and Diego exhibit? It is at the Heard Museum in Phoenix through August 20, 2017, see http://heard.org/exhibits/frida-kahlo-diego-rivera/ or for other locations see http://www.fridakahlo.it/en/eventi.php)

Adversity

Adversity happens to every one of us. We have our difficult moments in life, don’t we? And yet, how often do we believe that we shouldn’t have to go through adversity or difficulty? Years ago M. Scott Peck wrote: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths” in his book “The Road Less Traveled”. And, he says, when we recognize this, when we “get it”, we stop fighting it, we accept it, then the fact it’s difficult no longer matters.

I have a very good friend going through a months long period of adversity. She began with a surgery in July and 3 months and 4 surgeries later she is just beginning a recovery from the final surgery a week ago. It’s been interesting watching and listening to her. I’ve been astounded by her courage at times, and concerned about her fear and whether she had the fortitude for the next step at times. A few weeks ago I saw a real change in her. In talking that day, I asked her about it, and she smiled. She shared that as she was facing this time in her life she decided there must be things she was to learn. There must be a greater reason that she hadn’t yet found in what was happening. And so she began looking for those reasons. As she was beginning to ask these questions she began to see life in a new way.

Peck says that only as we face problems, such as my friend did, that our courage is called forth, that we grow spiritually – or intellectually, that we learn we have more capacity than we had thought we had to solve problems and learn and grow. We learn that we don’t have to give up to get through something, which really doesn’t work; but instead learn something new about ourselves, life, or intellectually learn a new skill to actually implement.

As my friend accepted that her situation was not okay, i.e.: her leg was injured, she began to move forward. It’s not easy to recognize one’s vulnerabilities. Even something as simple as the canoers in this picture. dont-give-upIf they were in the middle of a thunderstorm and being tossed around by waves it definitely would NOT be feeling ok. And the situation would not be okay – it would be difficult and even potentially dangerous. To stop and give up means essentially death to the canoer in that situation. But to use all one has learned about canoeing, to call on the courage within one might not have been aware was even there, to reach up in prayer or out to spirit will allow one to get through the situation in a new way. The philosopher Seneca said many, many years ago, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage”. But courage doesn’t mean we have to do it alone. On the contrary, courage can mean asking for help.

My friend also realized this. As she accepted the difficulty and began looking for the lesson, she also began asking for help. She still has much of the burden of getting through this journey in her life just as we all must own in our own lives. But, she began asking for help for things she didn’t know about or couldn’t do. From asking for emotional support to asking for someone to pick up something for her at her home, to asking for prayers and thanking each person who helps her at the physical rehab facility; she stopped trying to do everything alone and control everything. And I think control is a big issue in this whole concept of life being difficult. Byron Katie said something interesting about our desire or attempt to control our lives: “If you want real control, drop the illusion of control. Let life live you. It does anyway.” So, in my friend’s situation she needed to look at the control she did have – how to choose her attitude and reach out and up. But release the control over what happened in her life, the illusion of control she went in with the day she had her first surgery. This is a tough one for me as well. I want to think if I do x, y, and z nothing bad will happen, or I’ll get a specific outcome. But I’ve learned more and more all I can do is the next right thing to do. I have to then wait and see where life takes me. And then work with what it is.

So this fall, as you’re looking at holidays and how they might not be what you want, or children who don’t bring home the grades you want, or the boss who is demanding something from you that is hard to reach, or the illness suddenly thrust on you that you are overwhelmed by, think about my friend. Think about her road from blaming life or others for a difficult situation to realizing she had something to learn and needed to look at it differently, to reaching out and up for help, to letting go of some specific outcome, and think about what you might learn from her lesson. May you accept adversity in the spirit of Napoleon Hill who said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”.