Tag Archives: presence

AFOG — Another F*&%ing Opportunity for Growth

One day, a little over ten years ago when I was feeling suicidal, I was explaining to my sister and her husband my rationalization for it being perfectly okay for me to commit suicide. I was sharing how I had realized that if I killed myself, everyone would move on and be fine. People die every day, I said. People move past these things all the time, I explained. I was so deep in my own misery that I then went on to say one of the most cruel and hurtful things I ever remember speaking out loud. You see, my brother-in-law’s little brother had recently died in a car accident. He was a teenager or at the most in his early 20s when he died. In my utter narcissistic despair and obliviousness, I proceeded to point out to my brother-in-law that obviously he had moved on from the death of his brother, and that that was the proof of my undeniable logic. A deafening silence followed. My sister glanced at her husband. Then she locked her eyes on mine, and I’ll never forgot what she said to me: “Yes, people move on. But nothing is ever the same again. Their lives are changed forever.”

Those words and the energy behind them pierced through the veil of my despair to shake me awake. Needless to say, I didn’t commit suicide. But more than that, never again did I trivialize the depth and breadth of what we experience as human beings in this life, including the deepest grief, despair, and pain. The experience of loss, for instance, is not trivial simply because all of us must endure and move through it at some point in our lives. In fact, the experience can be utterly transformational in the most horrendous and most beautiful ways. Indeed, we will never be the same again.

Recently I ran across an article written by Mark Sandlin called, 10 Clichés Christians Should Stop Saying. Some of these clichés are said by more than just Christians and are generally used in an attempt to comfort ourselves or others going through a challenging experience:

Everything happens for a reason.

God (the Universe) never gives us any more than we can handle.

We could debate (endlessly) whether or not these statements are even true. But more important is how these statements are often used as a subtle way of trivializing our own or another’s experience. I cannot tell you how often people start to share with me the depth of their pain only to stop themselves with a “but” followed by a version of one of these statements. Another common sentence to follow the “but” is, “I’m seeing this as an opportunity for growth.”

It is fantastic to see that everything happens for a reason, or that we can handle whatever is in front of us, or that every situation is an opportunity for growth and evolution. But when we start to use these ideas as subtle ways of avoiding and trivializing our own pain, then we are bypassing the very path we must travel to grow, transform, and heal in the most profound ways.

What is needed for true transformation and healing is the capacity to hold and feel fully both sides of this coin — both the horrendousness and beauty, the pain and the transformative power, the grief and the love. A friend of mine once shared that she calls these situations AFOGs — another f*%&ing opportunity for growth. I love this because the f-bomb acknowledges the pain of the situation, and “opportunity for growth” speaks to the transformative potential. I find that all too often, we want to leave out the f-bomb. We want to avoid the pain at all costs. But when we do this, we are denying an aspect of life itself. As Vera de Chalambert says:

“We must not send suffering into exile — the fear, the heartbreak, the anger, the helplessness all are appropriate, all are welcome. We can’t dismember ourselves to feel better. Difficult feelings need to be given space so they can come to rest. They need contact. We can’t cut off the stream of life and expect to heal.” ~From Kali Takes America: I’m with Her

The capacity to be fully present with both the pain and the inherent transformative power in these situations is often not easy. It takes an ability to differentiate and dis-identify from powerful energies which can be so overwhelming and all-consuming that we literally think they are us. For me, this is a journey. It is a continual discovery that pain and transformative power are often inseparable. It is a journey I embrace because, in that moment when my sister looked me in the eyes, I decided to live.
Signature-with-transparent-background

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
Signature-with-transparent-background

Live Like It’s Your Last Day: Permission to Eat Pizza & Ice Cream?

A few years ago, I decided to take the plunge into the world of personal growth seminars.  During my very first seminar and after several emotion-filled days of mind-blowing transformation and realizations, they figured it was time to hit us with the real whopper. Our facilitator told us to imagine these were the last few minutes of our lives. We could write a letter to whomever we wanted in those few minutes. The facilitator gave us a specific time limit (not very long, if I recall correctly). I began furiously writing to my loved ones, attempting to express all my love and gratitude in those few, brief moments. Then, before our time limit was up, somebody suddenly shut off all the lights. We were plunged into darkness. Gasps filled the air.  I’m pretty sure my mouth hung open in dismay and righteous anger. I hadn’t finished writing!  It wasn’t fair! After a dramatic pause, the facilitator whispered into the darkness: “You never know when your last minute will be up.” He then suggested to all of us that perhaps it’s time to start living like this could be our last day.

The experience was actually rather dramatic given the state I was in at the time, being raw with emotion and feeling quite vulnerable. It was a powerful way to drive home the point. Still, once I took a step back and pondered this age-old advice, I started to wonder exactly how to live every day as if it’s my last. The catch with this whole concept is, of course, that we generally don’t know for certain this will be the day we meet the Grim Reaper. But when we start to think about what we might do (or not do) if this were our last day, we have already inserted the assumption that we know today will be our “expiration date” (as my dad would put it). For me, I inevitably start to fantasize about eating pizza and ice cream all day long while being surrounded by close friends and family, all of whom also know I will die when the day is done. Because of this awareness, it is easy for all of us to express our undying love and gratitude for one another freely and without restraint. It’s a beautiful fantasy. Unfortunately, it also has no bearing on reality. This is because, in reality, I don’t know ahead of time that this will be my last day. So, of course, I generally choose to refrain from stuffing myself with pizza and ice cream all day long in an attempt to maintain my health, and I don’t call all my close friends and family daily to express my undying love for them, as it would become fairly tedious to both me and them after only a few days.

Of course, whoever came up with this sage advice probably wasn’t implying that I eat pizza and profess my undying love for everybody on a daily basis. So I figured I probably needed to dig a little deeper. But some of the so-called deeper meanings that are often given also left me unsatisfied. One example is that by pondering the thought that we might die today, we can begin to sort out what is most important to us. For instance, since most of us would choose to spend our last minutes with friends and family instead of cleaning our house or doing laundry, that must mean friends and family are more important than cleaning and laundry. But for me, and I suspect a lot of people, that isn’t exactly a big revelation. Plus, I still feel like I need to clean the house and do laundry, regardless of how important my friends and family are to me.

So what I’ve finally come to realize is that I needed to look at this advice as just another pointer. What do I mean by that? I mean that this advice helps to point me toward a way of being — an experience — of what it means to live like it’s my last day. There are many other pointers out there that guide us to a similar experience or state of being, such as “live in the present moment” or “appreciate the preciousness of every second of your life.” When I started to inquire what it really means to live like it’s my last day, I simply couldn’t figure out with my logical mind how to practically implement this concept into my life. But when I eventually had an experience of what it’s like to live this way, I finally understood what it means. My point is that I don’t think this advice is meant as a some sort of directive to suddenly go out right now and live life as if this could be the day you meet your maker. Most of us would have no clue how to do that. I think, instead, it is meant as a launching pad of self-inquiry, which eventually leads us to an experience of what it really means to live every day with appreciation, knowing it could indeed be your last.

Aloha,
Penny