What Guber Taught Me About Suffering

He stood in the middle of the kennel, shaking from head to toe, looking totally despondent. The chart on the door said that he was a two year old Jack Russell, and he had been surrendered that very day. And he’d also been to see the vet that day, and lost his manhood… No wonder he was hanging his head, and being unresponsive! I kept talking to him, and he finally inched forward enough so that I could scratch him lightly on his left cheek.

The next day I went back and took him for a walk. He had a funny, little gait, his left rear leg kicking out to the side, and his left butt cheek was smaller than the right one. I asked the shelter staff about that, and was told that the leg had been broken. The vet later confirmed that the leg had been shattered, and had not healed right, and it was now too late to do anything about it. He’d probably been hit by a car, and not tended to, so that left rear paw was now turned outward.

My husband was traveling at the time, but I talked to him over the phone about the Jack Russell at the shelter, and about his supposed weaknesses – marking in the house… We read up on it a bit, and talked to Jack’s son, who was familiar with Jack Russells, and when Jack got back from his trip, we decided to give the Jack Russell a second chance at family life. Jack picked him up while I was at work, and he’d also purchased a dog bed, dog food, and all the necessary accessories. We named him Guber.

People kept saying that Guber had won the doggie lottery when he ended up with us, but it was actually the other way around – we were the lucky ones! Guber was an affectionate, energetic, very loving and obedient dog. He could jump higher than any dog I’d seen, and he loved to run and play ball. He also loved to just cuddle on your lap or next to you on the sofa. A year later when little six week old rescue Pia joined our family, Guber wasn’t overjoyed, but he was still fiercely protective of his little sister. Pia was a heeler mix, and soon outgrew Guber in size, but Guber was always the alfa dog. He must’ve thought he was a big dog, because if he perceived a threat, he didn’t hesitate to go in between me and dogs several times his size, and he got tumbled more than once trying to protect Pia from the consequences of her curiosity.

Although Jack was the one who had brought Guber home from the shelter, and Guber spent most of his time with Jack, he was still very much my dog. Maybe it was the bonding that took place those first couple of days after he had been left at the shelter? When I was at home Guber used to follow me around the house, and as soon as I sat down he jumped up on my lap. He had his own bed and his kennel, but the rules were soon broken, and he slept with us. No, I wasn’t the one who broke the rules! Jack did! He was also the one who once smuggled Guber into a motel! He simply took Guber with him everywhere he went. I don’t know how he managed it, but Guber even sat next to him on a bar stool when he had lunch in a pub once!

Eight months after the adoption we started noticing that something might not be quite right with our precious Guber. He would come happily running, just to take odd tumbles, and he would at times run into things. The local veterinarian shared his diagnosis with us, and the specialist confirmed it: Guber had lens luxation. Lens luxation is a hereditary decease, and it is a serious condition where the lenses come loose in the eyes, and causes the dog great pain, and unless something is done, the dog goes blind. We only had two options: Surgery to remove the lenses, or surgery to remove the eyes. The surgery to remove the lenses only had a 50% success rate, but that’s what we opted for, hoping that Guber would be left with at least guide vision.

The surgery went well, but Guber’s recovery was slow. He was allergic to one of the medications he’d received, he had diarrhea and his stool was ruby red with blood. We almost lost him. A transfusion at the local veterinary clinic pulled him through, and life looked up for Guber and for us. But then he had an accident… Despite wearing the Elizabethan collar, he hit his right eye and went blind on that eye… He then had to have a second surgery to remove the eye… I was devastated! On the way home from the surgery in Denver I was in the back seat with Guber, and Jack was driving. Guber was still drowsy from the anesthesia, and snuggled down next to me. I was thinking of this little dog, his courage and indomitable spirit, his protectiveness and loving nature, and my heart ached. He had been through so much, and it didn’t seem fair that he would now continue his life mostly blind. Tears were running down my face, and I could all of a sudden feel Guber licking my hand. He’d felt my sadness and he was trying to console me! Blood still trickling out of his nose, and hardly able to stand, and he was trying to comfort me!

I learned something that day. Guber may have been in pain, but he wasn’t suffering. He didn’t have thoughts like the ones coursing through my brain: “why did this have to happen?” and “this isn’t fair!” He may not have been feeling too great, but he was content being with the people that loved him. He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself nor did he have regrets the way people do;  he was simply present in the moment, and in the moment things were well, because he was safe with his little pack. I understood in that moment that suffering really comes from resistance, from wanting things to be different. By not accepting what is, we create our own suffering. I would have ample opportunity to practice that insight when Jack died a year later…

Guber was my consoler, and constantly by my side in the months that followed Jack’s death. He even came with me to work, till it became clear that wouldn’t work anymore. Probably a good thing for Guber, since it must have been exhausting for him to be my constant comforter! My daughter stayed with me for the first six months, but after that it was just me and the dogs. Life was pretty amazing though, considering that I had the dogs to help me through. I had never had a dog before we adopted Guber! He turned out to be the best thing that happened to me, and even with his handicaps we had many adventures together before he got ill in 2015, and I had to let him go. In the last weeks he was alive, I tried to repay him for his loyalty. He again got to go with me to work, and I walked him and Pia separately. When he was too tired to walk, I carried him. When it rained, I put him under my jacket, but we walked around the block anyway, so he could sniff some air. The last day he was alive I carried him the whole way, and I knew it was time. Yet we made the long trip up to the Veterinary Internal Medicine Clinic in Colorado Springs in the hopes that they might be able to give Guber another lease on life. That didn’t happen, but he got to leave with dignity, outdoors on a beautiful piece of lawn, in the shade of a big tree, and with the wind in his face. And while he slipped away, I was caressing that spot on his left cheek, the way I had the first day we met…

Other dogs have come into my life since then, but I’ll never forget Guber. He really was something else! And because of him I know that my suffering is optional. I can choose to accept what is, and when I do, peace descends. Like Guber I then am present in the moment, and suffering falls away. Do I master this? No! Not yet! But I’ve seen enough to know that when I allow it, the bliss is there. That is a huge gift from a dog that lived so much of his life mostly blind, limping, and in his last year even deaf, yet spread love and healing wherever he went. ❤

 

Featured Image of “Guber in the Snow” by Monica

Information about lens luxation in Jack Russell Terriers:
http://www.antagene.com/en/no/lens-luxation-jack-russell-terrier

 

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The Happiest People in the World

Summer came early to Helsinki this year. Already in early May the temperatures soared to unexpected heights, and people dug out their shorts and bicycles and smiles, and set out to enjoy the abundant sunshine. I was in Helsinki at the time, and I observed the smiles on people’s faces, and I saw how young and old alike quickly populated the outdoor cafeterias and other watering holes, and how they truly enjoyed the early start of the season.

Finns were in a 2018 international study by the UN determined to be the happiest people in the world, and a friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads – we were surprised by the honor that had been bestowed upon our country. However, when looking at all the people I saw just on the way to the mall one morning, they all looked very happy! Even the people walking or biking alone, had smiles on their faces, and I could see that they’d found enjoyment in dressing nicely for their outing. Maybe Paavo and I were wrong for doubting the results of this study? Finns do, after all, have a lot of things going for them, things like quality education, universal health care, and a mostly stable environment. Maybe what we have deemed as our “heavy heritage” is not so heavy after all? At least the 2018 UN World Happiness Report suggests that, and maybe if we just choose to label our country and cultural heritage differently, we can tap into a new and improved understanding of what constitutes happiness!

Paavo and I both recently took part in a Mastering Alchemy conference in Switzerland, where a majority of the participants either came from Europe or had European connections. I myself grew up in Finland, but have spent the last 22 years in the US. In comparing the two countries, the US has often come up short in my mind, but I am also well aware of the heaviness that oftentimes weighs my Finnish brothers and sisters down. That seems to be something we have in common with the people of other European countries, where the ravages of war and strife seem to imbue the very soil, and where the effects of these conflicts are still very present in people’s minds and memories.

Not all the grief and emotional heaviness we carry inside originate from personal experience though, but a lot of it is hand-me-downs from our parents and earlier generations. We are seldom fully aware of the impact of this heritage, yet it has far reaching and many times detrimental consequences for us. We don’t inherit just some negative self-talk, but also a physical and emotional makeup that is sometimes very challenging to shake.  There is a PBS documentary available online called “The Ghost in Your Genes”. It effectively shows that we in our genetics carry not only the predisposition for certain traits and developments in our lives, but also the experiences of our parents, our grandparents and generations before them. For instance the effects of starvation experienced by the grandparents may show up in their grandchildren! That may seem a heavy conviction indeed, if we look to all the hardships of previous generations and their experiences with famine, war and debilitating diseases.  However, in my mind it also offers an explanation to the burdens and heaviness we so often find in our lives, burdens that cannot be accounted for in our own life experiences. I don’t see us endlessly living out the challenges of previous generations, but knowing of this link we have to the past, we can better free ourselves from the bondage of it, and we can make different and happier choices for ourselves. Recent research has shown that we are not doomed by our genetics to live out all the things encoded in our genes, but other circumstances influence which inherited inclinations turn on, and which remain dormant.

As a country the US has its own violent history, and although wars haven’t been fought as often on North American soil as in Europe, Americans aren’t by any means free of the heritage of war and violence. America is a melting pot of people from many different cultures, and all who came here, brought their own heritage with them. Judging from our current output of film and entertainment media in the US, we carry a lot of violence within, and there is, of course, also quite a bit of violence in our more recent history. It might behoove us all to start taking more responsibility for what we bring to the table, before we set out to “change the world” and force our interpretation of life and freedom on others. We are all to a certain extent blind to our own heritage – I know I am – but with some humility and honest self-reflection we can change things for the better for ourselves, and for future generations. Having the UN declare Finland the happiest country in the world may have surprised me, but it also made me realize how the labels we use to define our life and experiences hamper us, and keep us stuck in old ways of perceiving and interpreting the world. It is time to choose again! New choices, new growth, and new experiences await!

My blogs up till now have mostly been about bereavement, a theme I have personal experience of, and therefore have felt I can write about with some conviction. However, I have gradually come to see that grief and how we deal with it, most often finds its expression and springs from the bigger context we’ve grown in. Although grief has common stages and common elements that we all share in, the way we are able to cope with bereavement,  and how we go on in our lives after loss and other challenges, is much dictated by other circumstances in our lives. I therefore feel called to widen my reach, and to write more also about life in general, and how we can find ways to better understand our personal challenges and inherited experiences. Knowing that not all the sadness and heaviness we carry inside is really ours, but something we were handed by previous generations, does in my mind make a huge difference. It also means that we can choose to leave these burdens behind, we can let them float on by without making them part of our story. And it also means that we can take responsibility for our own lives, and make different and better choices for ourselves, decisions that will allow us to live with more ease, beauty, and joy. Taking responsibility for our own happiness means that we are response-able, and not forever caught in the reactionary patterns we have inherited. It means we can let go of the storyline that no longer serves us, and we can define our lives anew. Whatever is imprinted in our genes can be changed; science has shown us that as well!

So, here is to living our lives in the greater setting of ease, joy, and happiness! Here is to allowing beauty, compassion and kindness to flourish! And here is to letting go of the past, and letting light and love define us – now!

 

Featured image by Monica

References:

Finland is the Happiest Country in the World, says UN report:
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/finland-happiest-country-world-un-report

The Ghost in Your Genes:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/genes/
https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-ghost-in-our-genes/
http://ihavenotv.com/the-ghost-in-your-genes

Epigenetics : How You can Change Your Genes and Change Your Life:
http://reset.me/story/epigenetics-how-you-can-change-your-genes-and-change-your-life/

If you want to find out about Mastering Alchemy, this is a good place to start:
http://www.masteringalchemy.com

The Power of Happy Memories

I have a special affinity for tulips! More than 30 years ago my brother Mikael brought me tulip bulbs from Holland, and for many years the beautiful flowers brightened my garden in Finland. Their heads speared the way out of the barely thawed ground, delighting me with their brave appearance. Tulips are part of spring in the Nordic countries, and as a child I remember Mom sending me to the flower shop to buy a bunch to take along on a visit to grandma’s. She’d given me the exact change, but in the store I was enchanted by a two colored variety that cost more, and I ended up owing them money!
Yesterday I traveled to my native Finland by way of Amsterdam, and there at the Schiphol airport bunches and bunches of tulips greeted me with their colorful presence. It just made me happy to take them all in! It is now toward the end of tulip season in Holland, but there were still some yellow and red fields to be seen from the air, and at the airport you could buy tulips to take along as a gift for yourself or a loved one.  They wrap the bouquets well and put them in a zipped, yellow bag that you can easily slide under the airplane seat in front of you. When I visit I usually buy Mom tulips if they are in season, and it gave me great pleasure to be able to present her with tulips directly from Holland!  Mikael had met me at the airport, and after the visit with Mom and Dad,  I went to spend the night with him and his family. His significant other, Tina, also received tulips and got to hear the story of Mikael bringing me the tulip bulbs years ago. I think they were particularly precious to me, because he was a young man at the time, and I was very touched by his thoughtfulness. It also made me realize the power of our memories and their ability to emotionally sway us. Just imagine if we could harness the power of our happy memories and use it to lift us up when we are down!  The memories I have of tulips bring me a deep feeling of joy that simply bubbles up in me, and it got me thinking: What if we consciously went about changing our “negative” memories into ones with positive associations? It would most certainly change our lives! More gratitude, more joy, more feelings of contentment and happiness, and, voila, we have the recipe for an ABUNDANT life!
Since we are on the subject of flowers, let me share an example of how I changed my memories of calla lilies. From my childhood I have a memory of calla lilies often being used as funeral flowers, so it is a flower I would not consider buying as a gift for anyone, since it for many people automatically brings sadness in its wake. One spring my husband and I were camping by the coast in Oregon, and on a hike I found wild calla lilies growing above the dunes. Their majestic heads were swaying in the sea breeze, and I felt compelled to pick one. I used an empty bottle as a vase and placed it on the table in the trailer, where I used to sit and read and write. It was Easter time, and Good Friday nonetheless, so I was contemplating death, and listening to Peter Gabriel’s album “Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ”. The music gave me chills, and the whole theme was dramatic and filled with pain. But also hope! I kept looking at the calla lily, its white beauty and innocence, and it was kind of clear that the flower itself was neutral and carried no emotional charges with it; it was the memories  I carried within that were colored with sadness and grief. And so I sat with the calla lily, consciously observing its proud, straight stalk, the beautiful white of its flower petals, and the green of its leaves, and gradually it became part of this new and happy setting by the Oregon coast, and the association to it changed. No longer did I see it draped over coffins or in tall vases at a wake, but I saw it proudly swaying free in a field, contributing its beauty to this amazing world we live in, and a feeling of wonder and gratitude replaced the original emotions I had associated with this majestic flower. It took a few days, but by the end of Easter my associations to the calla lily had totally changed, and although I might still not buy white calla lilies as gifts for other people, I now gladly buy them for myself, and I also enjoy the many delicious pastel colors calla lilies can be found in.
I realize it may not be as easy to change the associations we have to some of our more challenging memories, but in essence the principle is the same. The pictures we carry within are on their own neither positive nor negative, but it is the emotional charge we connect with them that make them appear one way or the other. The way we have perceived events in our lives, the way we have interpreted them, is what decides whether we see a memory as “positive” or “negative”. But what if we could change that charge? It takes awareness and an effort on our part to change our “negative” memories into ones with more positive associations, but just imagine the lift it could give us, if we consciously went about changing the emotional associations we have to our more challenging memories!
Smells are one of the most potent memory triggers, as are sounds, so it can be helpful to use music and pleasant scents when playing with “reprogramming” our memories, and that’s in essence what I did when changing how I feel about calla lilies, although I at the time wasn’t aware of that. There is a famous song about tulips from Amsterdam that dates back to the late 50’s, a song I haven’t remembered in years, but there at the Schiphol airport it flooded back into my consciousness, lyrics and all, and even in my travel weariness I was happy, just happy, for no apparent reason at all!
Featured image from pixabay.com, Alexa’s_Fotos
Peter Gabriel’s “The Feeling Begins” from the album “Passion”
“Tulips from Amsterdam”, written by Ralf Arnie and made famous by Max Bygraves

Seeing in the Dark

“Secure in the darkness,
I climbed the secret ladder in disguise –
O exquisite risk! –
Concealed by the darkness.
My house, at last, grown still. ”

John of the Cross, From Songs of the Soul

My friend was sitting opposite me at the other end of the table, and there was a lit candle between us. I looked away, and when I turned my gaze back to my friend, the light of the candle disappeared and everything went black! I woke with a start, my heart beating wildly; was this a sign that I was going blind?

Back when I was studying Psychology I had a teacher who talked about our four quadrants: The one we are aware of and others can also see, the one we are aware of but others cannot see, the one we are blind to but others see, and then the one neither we ourselves nor others see. The last one she called The Potato Cellar of the Soul. I always found that an appropriate term for this fascinating part of our being! This is the part of ourselves that we may not be aware of, but one that nontheless exerts enormous influence over our lives. Descending the stairs to  that basement is not something we may volunteer to do, but sooner or later most of us are sent on an exploratory trip down there.

The dream I was referring to above is one I had years ago, and although I’ve had some eye issues, I have not gone blind. I’m thinking my friend might be right in her interpretation of the dream, when she said: “Maybe it just means that you don’t need your physical eyes? Maybe you are meant to develop you inner sight instead?” Even so there was a haunting feel to the dream that I have never quite managed to shake. I have been hesitant to explore those darkest corners of my being, yet that’s where I have ended up several times, and it has indeed called for me to learn to see in the dark. These periods could be called dark nights of the soul, and for me they were the times when it felt like I had been chewed up, spit out and abandoned by people and God alike, and I was forced to take stock of my life and my actions. They were physically and emotionally painful days and nights, gut wrenching periods that served up the biggest challenges of my life. But they also gave the biggest rewards!

There is a grief that is not much talked about, because nobody has actually died. Yet everybody feels as if they have been banged up, they are hurting, and grief walks with them for a long time. I’m referring to the grief that follows divorce. In our western societies, about every second marriage ends in divorce, so this is a challenge and a pain that touches a lot of people. I don’t know if the divorce rate is so high because people aren’t willing to do the emotional boot camp that marriage sometimes is, or if the times we live in have made us more prone to reach for instant gratification? Maybe we are inclined to really believe the illusion that the grass is greener somewhere else? For me what led to the breakup of my family, was the emotional charge I was carrying within, but wasn’t aware of, the content of that root cellar in me that caused me to act in reckless ways in order to avoid the pain.  As a woman and a mother I was after the divorce always haunted by and ashamed over the fact that my children stayed with their father. We shared custody, but they lived with their dad. It is a pain that has never quite gone away, and one that I have seen also in divorced men, fathers struggling in much the same way over the breakup of their families. They, too, hurt, and they, too, are grieving.  Once I remarried, I also ended up moving very far from my family, which added to the separation anxiety and grief I was already feeling, and grief would be my constant companion also in those the happiest of my years. I can only imagine what all this has meant for my children, and the abandonment and separation issues it has created for them. The potato cellars of their souls likely have a content that they, too, aren’t quite aware of…

Over the years the darkness has, however, become more of a friend for me. The year my husband died was indescribably painful, but I gradually came to rest in the darkness of that challenging period in my life, knowing that all new life is born out of death and transformation; some part of us has to give way so that other parts can emerge. Seeds germinate in the dark soil, babies gestate in the pulsating darkness of their mother’s womb, and new understanding is born out of the darkness of uncertainty and despair. New life emerges from periods of darkness, and new light out of the shadows of shattered dreams. I have wondered – are seeds aware of the death and rebirth that awaits them? Is the caterpillar afraid of the metamorphosis it is slated to go through? And what about the dragonfly nymph that has to leave the only water environment it has known, to transform into a creature of the air? I don’t think so; they live naturally in the flow, not resisting it, and so there is no suffering. These are serious transformations, and all require a period of “being in the dark”, in the womb of the unknown, but the end result is beauty, joy, and happiness. After hours of labor, is there anything more rewarding for the mother than to hold her newborn baby? And in the same way, once the dark night of the soul gives way to renewed life, is there anything more gratifying than love again blossoming in our hearts and joy filling our being?

There is a reward that comes after we live through these dark nights. The challenges may not all be dark nights of the soul, but the big challenges do serve the purpose of teaching us to lean on our faith, and to grow in our trust. That potato cellar of our being does not contain only dark shadows and pain; it also contains shadows of light, disavowed talents, and surprising strength! Accepting the pain of loss and grief, staying with the lessons life serves up, will eventually lead to a breakthrough. The unwelcome challenges that have filled our days with fear, and our nights with anxiety,  hollow us out, burn away the dross in our being, and prepare us for the bridge to bliss. There is no knowing bliss without having been broken, there is no loving without paying the price of pain when a loved one is gone, and joy, this most elusive of feelings, follows on the heels of grief and pain, as if they were conjoined twins. And at the end of it all peace finally finds us and stillness embraces us.

O night, that guided me!
O night, sweeter than sunrise!
O night, that joined lover with Beloved!
Lover transformed in Beloved!

From Songs of the Soul, Dark Night of the Soul
St. John of the Cross

Featured image courtesy of pexels.com, Mariano Ruffa

References:

Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
2002 edition with new translation and introduction by Mirabai Starr

Being True – Sitting with Job

“To live is so startling, it leaves little room for other occupations.”
– Emily Dickinson

Staying with what is can be a serious challenge, whether it is staying with our own heartache, seeing a loved one struggle with hardship, or witnessing a friend go through grief and pain. Our heart’s inclination is to want to aid people in distress, to help them find a safe space, to guide them through to calmer waters,  and yet that is not always possible. Sometimes the only thing we can do for someone facing their challenges, is to stay with them, bear witness to their loss, staying true to them while they live their pain. Witnessing somebody else’s pain can at times be more difficult than living our own, but both present a challenge that we in our fast paced society are not well equipped to deal with.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15

Rejoicing with someone or weeping with them may seem like a self-evident and easy axiom, but it is everything but. Being true to someone means allowing them to live their challenges without interfering, being a witness to their pain without trying to wipe it away.  Big loss, in whatever form it comes, demands that we change, that we acknowledge our pain, and grow through it, and if we manage to stay with what is, we will be transformed. Like the incredible metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, we can grow through our challenges, and although we may never be the same again, we will be.  And we will be something more.

“Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.” – Job 2:13

A friend recently pointed out that Job’s friends came to sit with him in his afflictions, and they sat with him for seven days without saying or doing anything. Although I was familiar with the Bible story of Job, I was not familiar with the friends just being with him, but I rather remembered their admonishment of him. I cannot even imagine the impact of seven days of quiet, loving support! What a blessing that would be for anyone in the throws of grief and pain!

It is a well-known fact that after the intensity and flurry of activity of the first couple of weeks, it gets very quiet for the people who have lost loved ones. I don’t think it is because friends don’t care, but it may be because they do not know how to just be in a situation where no help can really be rendered. There is no fixing the situation, no making the pain go away, or making the grieving person feel better, and just being a witness to the pain someone is going through, is difficult indeed. Time also stretches out in the weirdest fashion for those who grieve, while the life of people outside the circle of grief will continue in its regular, fast paced rhythm. So, let us not judge our friends too harshly for their absence in our grief, and let’s give ourselves time to live the true transformation that grief in essence is.

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

As much as we may wish to get away from the pain of severe loss, it is actually in our lives to serve us. That may seem an odd statement, but life really is about flow, about growth, about transformation. In observing nature, we can see that nothing remains the same. Seasons come and seasons go, seeds germinate, sprout, grow, the plant blooms, produces fruit and seed, and eventually dies, contributing to the cycle of life. Is the seed worth more than the plant? Is the plant more important than the seed? How are we to determine the true value of each stage of life, and its challenges? How are we to understand the cycles of life and death that we on some level face every day? Because we do; every moment of every day something in us dies. But – every moment of every day something is also born! Depending on where our focus is, whether we focus on life or on death, we will feel differently, but in saying that I am acutely aware that it doesn’t always seem like we have a choice. All we can really do is stay with what is, be true to ourselves, and true to the moment. Life is precious, even when it doesn’t feel that way, and if we can allow what is, the pain will eventually give way for gratitude, for joy.

May you be greatly blessed today and always!

 

The Storm
by
Emily Dickinson

There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the windows and the doors
As from an emerald ghost;
The doom’s electric moccason
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day.
The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the world!

 

Featured image from Pixabay.com, barskefranck

References:

More quotes at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/elisabeth_kublerross_387073
http://www.yourdailypoem.com/

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1993 Barnes & Noble Publishing (Originally published in 1924 as The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1830, and few of her poems were published in her lifetime. After her death in 1886, her sister Lavinia discovered hundreds of poems in manuscript, and begun publishing single volumes of Emily’s verse. These single volumes were later combined into The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

 

“Try Not to be so Perfect…!”

Just when you think things are going so well, you’re right on track, and life seems peachy, something happens that knocks you off kilter! And before you know it you are off on some abandoned sidetrack in your mind, wondering how you got there! At least that’s where I ended up recently… A simple communication got me sidetracked, and I found myself in the morass of old thought patterns, an emotional downdraft, and self doubt! You may know the place I’m talking about? The thing this incident and others of the same kind have in common is: If they have the power to knock us out of balance, there is something that we can learn from them.

Deviating from my usual overarching theme of bereavement, I want to share some thoughts on vulnerability.  What happened was that a written communication I had with my daughter went off the tracks, and it forced me to stop and think of how I relate to her and to others in my immediate surroundings. Words have always been my way of understanding the world, of trying to make sense of it, but I have also come to see that I at times use words to mask my sensitivity, and there are  times when I hide in my intellect, and words become my armor against the challenges of life. And words are also my boundary toward the guilt and shame I feel over areas in my life where I see myself as having come up short. It’s natural to want to put our best foot forward, to be seen as “successful, powerful, handsome and happy” (borrowing a line here from the movie Evan Almighty!), while hiding our “less desirable bits” from the rest of the world. However, that doesn’t work in the long run.  Sooner or later life finds a way to remind us of the fact that we are out of integrity!

If most of the time people welcome my advice, that is not what my daughter was looking for from me… At the time of our correspondence she had been hit with a serious physical challenge, she was scared, and she mostly just needed for me to listen to her; she wasn’t looking for me to fix anything, yet that was what I was trying to do. In offering what seemed like just a small suggestion, I thought I was being helpful, but I ended up being hurtful instead… This may not seem like much of a situation, but it was actually huge for me, and it had me questioning everything I’ve done in the last few years to “reinvent” my life after my husband’s death. Don’t misunderstand me – my daughter did nothing wrong. She may have said some things that I made myself feel bad about, her words may have made me dust off the guilt I have never quite managed to shake over some of the choices and decisions in my life, but in essence she was just mirroring back to me my own self-doubt and self-incrimination. It kept me busy for a few days, had me down in the dumps, so to speak, and even off blogging, because it hit a real nerve. But she also gave me a clue to the solution – “Try not to be so perfect!” “Try to be a normal mom!” Hehe! Whatever that is! 😉

As life would have it, her sentiments were soon echoed from another source. In one of his recent coaching webinars Derek Rydall, award winning author of the book “Emergence” and the new book “The Abundance Project”, talked about the importance of vulnerability, of embracing the fact that we are not perfect, and when people in our lives mirror our imperfections back to us, we should graciously receive their message, and welcome the chance at seeing the parts of ourselves that we aren’t too keen on acknowledging. What our perceived “offenders” are doing is reminding us that we are out of integrity with ourselves, and that it is time to make a course adjustment. It doesn’t mean that we should accept that people treat us poorly, and there may be times when we have to remove ourselves from certain situations and to distance ourselves from people, who make us feel bad about ourselves, but in the end it is not about them, but about us. One of Derek’s famous lines is: “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens through you”, and however challenging it may be to accept, we are ultimately responsible for everything that is in our lives. Therein lies the challenge, but also the key to our freedom!

Being knocked out of balance may seem like a negative thing, but being off our game can actually be a good thing. It makes us stop and reevaluate our lives. It makes us take stock of where we are not being true to ourselves and our emotions. And it shows us where there is room for improvement. It may also help us see the areas where we, out of fear, aren’t living our full potential, where we have talents and gifts that we aren’t sharing, because we’ve played it small, we’ve played it safe. My daughter did me a real favor by calling me on my habit of hiding in words, of being a “fixer” rather than just staying with a challenging situation that calls for listening rather than talking, for being rather than acting. I hope in the future I can do better by her, and just be a “normal mom”! 😉 I say this in all sincerity, although ‘normal’ is a word that should be banned from any and all personal communications!

One of the good things that comes from  getting older is the knowing that there is no playing it safe! There is only playing! Either we allow life to flow, and we welcome what it brings us, what we create, or we try to safeguard against life’s challenges. However, when we try to play it safe, when we try to avoid the hurts, the challenges, the messiness of life, we stagnate, and life and love gradually become less vibrant, less colorful, less happy. I don’t want to come to the end of my life and be full of regrets, so I’m grateful for my daughter pointing out that I am still at times hiding, and that I can do better.

I was thinking of it, and realized it might be easier to accept the challenges life presents us with, if we can see them as opportunities, our chances to become all that we can be, all that we already are deep down inside!  By accepting that we as individuals are flawed, and that we from time to time even fly a freak flag, we at the same time open up for all the wonders of life that are just waiting for us to discover them and  give them expression.  If we can accept that vulnerability does not make us weak, but strong, and if we can graciously receive feedback from others, and accept responsibility for everything in our lives, we can also find the courage to go for it, and to be happy!

 

Featured image courtesy of pixabay.com, mjw13

References:

Derek Rydall
The Abundance Project (2018)
http://www.theabundanceprojectbook.com
Emergence. Seven Steps for Radical Life Change (2015)
http://www.derekrydall.com

The Rumi Card and Book Pack created by Eryk Hanut and Michele Wetherbee (2000; Revised Version 2006)

Evan Almighty (2007 movie with Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman and Lauren Graham)

Extreme Vulnerability

As we sit today in this time of Passover, let us breathe and let us pray for the release of our own transgressions, and let us let go of any perceived offenses by others.

This day in history is marked as the day Yeshua was crucified, and I cannot not remember that. In the English language this day is called Good Friday, while in Swedish it is called långfredag, which means long Friday. I don’t know how it came to be called ‘good’ Friday, while I would imagine this day for Yeshua was a really ‘long’ one. And I do wonder about the choices Yeshua had to make and whether he had any choice? It would seem his fate was sealed from before he was born, and the path led to an inevitable end? Could he have said ‘no’ to his fate? Can any of us say ‘no’ to our fates? It’s difficult for me to embrace the idea of predestination, yet it seems that certain things in life happen as if they were running on railroad tracks, and there is no way of avoiding them, while with other things there seems to be more of a choice, and we to some extent get to exercise our “free will”.

Yeshua on the cross is a picture that is burnt into the human psyche. It’s a picture of a man utterly accused, humiliated, stripped of all dignity, a man in excruciating pain, nailed to his destiny. What must he have been thinking, hanging there, looking out on this cruel world, surrounded by jeering humans, his family and friends numb with chock and pain, unable to do anything for him? To the very last he was faithful, and even in those horrible hours of excruciating pain, surrounded by ignorant, arrogant, fearful humans, he found it within his heart to feel compassion for them:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
– KJV, Luke 23:34

Those words to me are haunting. In utter vulnerability Yeshua showed enormous strength, dignity and grace, and to the hope of those words millions now cling. Many have interpreted those words to mean that Yeshua died, so they will not have to, while to me it has always meant that we all have to die to our human nature in order to give way for the perfection that our Creator did endow us with. He created us in His own image, after all, and can that image be anything but perfect?

“So God created man in his own Image, in the Image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” – KJV, Genesis 1:27

I don’t claim to know the truth about anything, but I am sharing what is in my heart, and on this longest of days, I wish to share some highlights from the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic. Aramaic was the language Yeshua spoke, and it is a language with many more nuances and meanings than English, Greek or Latin. Most of our modern Bible translations are taken from the Greek, and without going into the historical reasons for that being the case, and without saying that our translations are lacking, it seems clear that part of the richness of the Aramaic heritage and the multilayered meanings Yeshua endowed his sayings with, over time did get dulled-down in the translations.  There are many different translations online, where people are attempting to capture the words of Yeshua’s original Aramaic and convey the meaning of them in English, and I will leave it for everyone to do their own exploration of the Lord’s Prayer in this way if they so wish. The works and words that have most spoken to me are by independent scholar of religious studies, spirituality and psychology Neil Douglas-Klotz, and in the segment below I am referring to his audio learning course “Original Prayer”. His particular approach has deeply affected me, and brought the well known prayer to life in a way that I will spend the rest of my life exploring.  The version below is a transliteration of the Syriac-Aramaic :

Abwoon d’bwashmaya
Nethqadash shmakh

Teytey malkuthakh
Nehwey sebyanach aykanna d’bwashmaya aph b’arah
Hawvlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana
Washboqlan khaubayn (wakhtahayn) aykana daph khnan
shbwoqan l’khayyabayn
Wela tahlan l’nesyuna
Ela patzan min bisha
Metol dilakhie malkutha, wahayla, wateshbukhta, l’ahlam, almin.
Ameyn.

The line that I particularly want to highlight is the one about forgiveness. In the King James Bible, translated from the Greek and published in 1611, the line reads as follows:

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12
“And forgive us our sins: for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4

When we look to the Aramaic a slightly bigger picture emerges, and it involves both the transgressions of trespassing and taking what is not ours, and the tangled threads that result from relationships getting knotted. Forgiveness is then seen as both the returning of things to their rightful owners, and the slower process of untying tangled threads. Forgiveness and release happens as we breathe and pray, and soften inside, releasing rigidities in our being, be they of physical, mental or emotional origin. The words themselves carry vibrations that help us in this process, and forgiveness and letting go happens both inwardly toward ourselves, and outwardly toward others. When one happens, the other seems to automatically follow, as if in resonance. This to me is a beautiful picture of forgiveness! And the picture of Yeshua on the cross, in his utter vulnerability and compassion, praying for the forgiveness of his persecutors, is striking to me, and it is the picture I particularly wish to highlight today. It makes me want to join him in letting go of old hurts and grudges, allowing my breath and prayers to release me from the prison I am building for myself, when I am unwilling to untie those tangled threads.

As we sit today in this time of Passover, let us breathe and let us pray for the release of our own transgressions, and let us let go of any perceived offenses by others that we are still holding onto. If He could do it in the extreme challenges He was facing, surely we can let go of our petty grievances, and join Him in letting go? Let us rest in our own vulnerability and let us have compassion both for ourselves and for others, and for the brokenness of the world. And then maybe, just maybe, we can experience the Grace of breathing Life again.

 

Featured Image courtesy of pixabay.com, The Digital Artist

The title, Extreme Vulnerability, I owe to Derek Rydall. His loving kindness, his coaching, his own vulnerable heart has taught me the necessity of extreme vulnerability, and the necessity of taking full responsibility for everything in our lives. Thank you Derek!
What I share in this blog post is my own take on the concept.
http://www.derekrydall.com

 

References:

King James Bible (KJV), first published in 1611

Original Prayer, Audio Learning Course by Neil Douglas-Klotz, Sounds True, 2000