I think about my 99 year old grandmother who passed away a year and a half ago. She and I had a deep love for each other and would always joke that we were kindred spirits. I could see the spirit that was beyond her eyes- ageless and genderless. (If anything, inside she was an 11 boy considering the practical jokes she played!) I imagined the grief would overcome me and be endless and that was not the case. When she passed away, I kept reading Rumi’s poem The Guesthouse visualizing grief as a visitor knocking at the door. This guest would knock randomly and unexpectedly too, as grief often comes in waves. I could choose to avoid my guest but he would just knock louder until I would let him in. So I welcomed him and surrendered fully to the experience of grief. Through that experience, I awakened to the truth that pure love exists beyond time and space and that my grandmother now actually lived within me. Little things that I noticed that she would do, I caught myself doing, like making up songs to sing and bringing humor more fully into life…the best parts of her were within me. When I really grasped that not only in my head but in my heart, the grief disappeared. She’s as close to me as my own beating heart. So if this is a time of grief for you on any level, how can you allow yourself to let go into the grief and trust the process of healing? Perhaps its giving yourself 30 minutes or an hour per day to really be present to the grief. What qualities of your loved one can you now see in yourself? How can you channel that grief energy into a way to honor their life?
How can we live in this world and not of it? Various spiritual traditions discuss this idea of attachment in different ways. I ask myself what is my biggest worldly attachment? The answer: my husband Harold plain and simple (sorry kids, I love you but you’re not first in regards to attachments). We’ve been soulmates together since I was 16 so its hard to remember not sharing my life with him. What causes us such suffering in life is not people, but our attachment to people or things. Detachment is an inward letting go- not of the person necessarily, but of the attachment to that person. I often say to myself, I could lose my house or be bankrupt, but I’m ok as long as I have Harold. Yet with attachment, there is no freedom or ability to love even that person… or anyone else for that matter freely and purely. With detachment some things may fall away that are meant to, otherwise our relationship to them becomes transformed more authentically in the process. I had a realization two weeks ago that I’ve been attached to my business-feeling that that is where I’m meant to be because I LOVE it and I never feel like I work in a single day. Working with my clients is a pure joy for me. Yet through my attachment, what I couldn’t see was the larger picture… my loving husband and life partner’s business was suffering and I was ignoring that when I knew I had tools to help him. When I really saw this, I realized that I was attached to how supporting and giving service to others had to look. I chose to make a shift in my business to allow for me to be able to support my husband in a new way in his company. In just a short time what a difference that shift has made for him professionally and for both of us in our marriage. Do you have the courage today to identify your biggest worldly attachment? Just becoming aware of this can loosen the clenching grip we have on others and in the world.
I pose that radical question to you. Meditators often see the spiritual awakening that is, in essence, the inevitable outcome of a long-term practice of meditation as the “death of the self” or the “death of the ego.” Like a caterpillar that must die before becoming a butterfly, the “ego self” of human beings must die in order to become “awakened” or “enlightened.” This process is often experienced as an unraveling of the self or a total surrender into the vast unknown.
I worked with a client deep in the throws of grief weeks after the death of her spouse; she had two small children and was working full-time to put food on the table. She wanted to learn how to meditate in the midst of her crisis. I introduced her to an exercise entailing observing her thoughts. She stated that her perpetual thought at the time was, “I want to kill myself.” For purposes of the exercise in observing her mind, I enabled her to see that the thought “I want to kill myself” (although capable of triggering the emotions of despair) was a thought just as much as “what will I have for dinner.” (It is important to note that every therapist must always take appropriate measures to keep clients safe in situations where there is a threat of harm to one’s physical self or others and to take necessary actions to ensure safety, as I did with this client).
Yet, “I want to kill myself,” is felt and often said by individuals who feel at the end of their rope, desperate, alone, cannot go a step further on this path or in this life or with the experience of certain emotions. Further, there is an experience of being “done” with the self or this life following a willingness to surrender to the vast unknown. Looking still deeper, we remember the words of various meditation gurus/teachers who have embarked on the journey of regular meditation as a result of feeling that they could not continue on the path they were on and were willing to seek an answer to the age old question, “Is there more to life than just this?” Many of the well-known enlightened gurus/teachers we read about share a similar story of hitting a wall of despair — becoming so disenchanted with their shallow existence, not knowing which door to open or knock on (or even knowing that there was a door on which to knock). Then, on the other side of that despair, a rebirth or spiritual awakening arises.
So, as it is in nature, death gives birth to something new. Perhaps it’s awakening to — or awareness of — the preciousness or true value of life in the midst of a loved one’s death. Maybe it’s the desire to kill off old patterns or ways of one’s self that are no longer working to then provide for the awakening to our most authentic selves. Perhaps it’s the shedding of relationships or friendships that no longer serve us in order to make way for new, vibrant and healthier connections with others. So, is there a part of yourself or your life that you want or need to “kill off” in order to reach your full potential as a human being? Perhaps we can invite this concept of “death of ego self” (as opposed to physical death) into our lives as a pathway to creating new beginnings in our life and doorways to a richer and more fulfilling life.
(Disclosure: The information and thoughts provided in the above article are not, in any way, to be construed as either encouragement or permission to do bodily harm of any kind to one’s self or to others. If anyone reading this article has such an urge or intent, it is imperative that he or she call 911 Emergency or 211 Mobile Crisis Hotline without delay. Short or long term psychotherapy sessions can also be a resource for individuals experiencing disturbing thought or emotions).
Psychotherapists can help people of all different ages and lifestyles live happier, healthier and more productive lives.
1) Better Communication. We need to learn how to communicate better. Period. Regardless of whether or not you grew up in a healthy family with excellent communication skills or not, we can all benefit from learning better communication skills.
2) Stress/Anxiety/Depression Relief. Psychotherapy sessions provide an opportunity for individuals to be able to discuss the causes of the stress, anxiety and/or depression in their life as well as gain valuable tools from a professional.
3) Objectivity. Psychotherapy provides a supportive environment that enables one to discuss his/her issues openly with someone who is objective, neutral and nonjudgmental.
4) Chronic Pain Relief. According to the study of bioenergetics, we humans hold emotions, trauma and stress in our bodies. Through the use of psychotherapy to relieve stress and anxiety, clients can experience a reduction or complete eradication of their pain symptoms.
5) Self Care. Through the work of psychotherapy, clients can begin to see ways to take better care of themselves emotionally, mentally, and physically that will result in more balance in their lives.
6) Combat Self-Defeating Thought Patterns. Psychotherapists help clients peel back the layers of the client’s inner self, while helping him or her identify and replace negative thought patterns that stand in the way of their living happier, more satisfying lives.
7) Healthier Marriages/Relationships. Even the most united couples sometimes need assistance to maintain healthy communication with each other. Psychotherapists can work to help couples identify and move beyond roadblocks through various methods to enable them to love and respect each other more fully and find more fulfillment in their relationship/marriage.
8) Happier Families. We all just want to get along! But sometimes family dynamics can be challenging and too difficult to overcome “in house”. Psychotherapists are trained to help family members identify and learn how to meet and respect their own needs and the needs of family members in order to create a more loving family environment.
9) Parenting/Discipline Issues. Psychotherapists can work with parents to help them to create healthy boundaries with their children and work through other challenges of parenting, offering tools to help foster better parenting skills and hence healthier and more satisfying parent/child relationships.
10) Joy! Once a client begins to believe and trust in the therapeutic relationship, he/she can have confidence that they will work toward successful issue resolution that will also serve as a model for other healthy relationships. Once clients can truly engage in this process, they begin to recover the child-like joy for life within themselves that was always part of them. Often this joy is buried under stress, trauma, worry and the inability to provide a release through beneficial communication with another person.