A Gentler Way to Heal

Sometimes a disease may find its way into our life. When it does, the intended cure or treatment may be more painful that the disease itself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a gentler way to heal?

I am not naive enough to think that all of our experiences with a disease can be easily cured, if at all. I know they can’t.

And even though there may be several treatment options, they might all fail.

What is our resort then?

Its asking a lot, but might it be worth it to try to shift our perspective. Perhaps we could take a deeper look.

Several years ago I wrote the first book in the Little Buddha series. Its the story of a young girl (Claire) who becomes a mentor to a man (Sam) who has been searching his whole life for illusive answers to his questions. He struggles with the idea that she could possibly be wise enough to share the wisdom he seeks, yet something within him opens and allows her in.

She offers him insights, not only to the mysteries of the world, but to his own inner life. Most of them come as a result of the assignments she gives him to complete. In the second chapter of the first book, Sam has been been searching for her without any success, until one day when he sees her lying in a chair in her front yard. He immediately knows she is not well. His worry propels him forward and a conversation follows.

Sam wants to know if there is anything he can do for her. Claire attempts to reassure Sam that although her body is not in harmony, her spirit is alive and well and that Michael is helping her. Sam does not understand her statement and wants to know who Micheal is. Claire explains that he is many things. He is her cousin, but also a ‘lightgiver’, who is one who knows a lot about the ‘light’, or what others would call ‘life’. She goes on to explain that Michael came to show her another way to understand wellness, a better, a gentler way.

Sam asks what Claire means by a better way.

Claire responds, “Well, my doctor says that I must fight and never give up and never give in. But Michael says there is another way. He says that everything we think, feel and say is either from love or from fear. He says that fear is not real. It is there for us to push against and to point the way toward love. It is our choice. So, if we choose to fight our condition, like my sickness, we are feeding it fear and this always creates conflict. And when your energy is already low, any kind of fighting works against you. Michael says that when you are sick and you are forced to slow down, if you can look, you can see things as they are. This can be an enormous gift, because when you look closely at things it can change your perspective and allow you to see the ‘dots’ so they become meaningful to you. Michael says that love is the key, not always easy, but always right. Love creates harmony in the body and in life. He says, the ‘light’ is filled with love. He works with me so that I see how my life is about ‘connecting the dots’ with love.”

Sam is perplexed and requests more of an explanation from Claire. As she often does, she asks Sam to share a meaningful and challenging event from his life. As he does, it becomes clear to him that each decision he made was connected to the one before and the one after. He also learns that labeling each outcome as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ made it harder for him to understand what was happening. Through the process, he discovered that fear, rather than being something to avoid, was actually a beautiful messenger, meant to lead him toward the light, toward love.

Sam gains valuable insight and starts to rearrange his view of the world. He comes to understand that Claire sees her disease not as a punishment, or a trial to be endured or a battle to be won. She places herself in the middle of it all and allows fear to have a voice and to help guide her toward ‘the light’. She acknowledges that her body is not in harmony, but allows her spirit to soar. She steps aside and looks at each moment seeing their connection and embraces the love she finds, using it to return to wellness.

You could see all of this as a gross oversimplification or a scenario unlikely to produce real results. That’s certainly one choice.

And perhaps I would agree with you, had I not had numerous occasions to see how this actually worked in my life. Being able to connect the dots, releasing any strength I’d assigned to good and bad labels, allowing fear to be a trustworthy guide and knowing that everything points toward love has changed my life.

And if you wish to see the connection between dots, I hope that it brings clarity into your life and a gentle wellness into your being.

Broken Hearts

A broken heart can seem like the end of the world. But, if you give yourself a chance, it can also be the beginning of a new world.

Sometimes we don’t feel we have the ability to defend ourselves from a broken heart. Things just happen to us. They come and overwhelm us, sometimes making it hard to breathe. And it can seem too challenging to believe there is any way to reassemble our lives and reclaim our heart.

I have a story to tell you about this.

My sister, Alison, and I like to try out various art classes. We decided it would be fun to do some stained-glass work, so signed up and when the time came, showed up at the studio. As is often the case, I was the only man present. I’ve grown accustomed to this and the mothering I usually receive from the women taking the class.

There were seven or eight of us present. The instructor was very pleasant and helpful and guided us through the process and various techniques we would be using. When she was done with her introductory comments, she asked us to wander around and choose the glass pieces that appealed to us.

It was a lot of fun seeing all the various sizes, colors, and textures of the glass pieces. I gathered what I thought would be enough to complete my project and sat down next to my sister.

At first, I began randomly placing pieces in my frame. I really didn’t have any preconceived idea how my project would turn out. I was just ‘winging it’. At some point I realized I didn’t like how it looked, so I tipped out all the pieces onto the table.

There were a host of shrieks and everyone in the class turned toward me. They simply could not believe I’d done that and were upset on my behalf. Some thought it must have been an accident. Others were convinced I was upset or crazy. Once they knew it was an intentional act on my part, they all wanted to know WHY?

I told them I’d changed my mind. I looked at the assembled stained-glass pieces and I didn’t like what I saw. I told them I needed to start over and that it would be okay. They didn’t seem at all reassured and went back to their own projects, shaking their heads.

I began again. This time though the pieces fell easily into place. I noticed a surprising calmness inside of me. I’d followed my own inner guidance and as I looked down, an incredible thing happened. A beautiful image appeared. It was Mary, the mother of Jesus, dressed in a blue swirling shroud. I looked more carefully and noticed she was holding a broken heart in her hands. I knew she was mending it. I sat there in complete awe.

Of all the artwork I have created, it is by far my most favorite.

It speaks to me. I hear gently words she shared about how to mend a broken heart.

She told me that it is only when we choose to feel what we are feeling that we can begin. We know it’s going to be painful and yet, I feel there is a promise in this for us, that once we allow the pain in and recognize its presence, it becomes ready to leave us. We can let it go, making space for something new to take its place. And we can start over. We can be patient and watchful, looking for a new life to emerge. We can open our hearts, so we can experience new dreams. And, although it seems impossible to us, we can be grateful. Grateful that life does not end with a broken heart. If we allow it, our life can begin again. Our hearts can be mended.

I think about this every time I look at my beautiful stained-glass artwork hanging in my office window. Sometimes first thing in the morning the rising sun lights it up and I sense the truth that no heart is ever beyond mending.

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In Pain, Consider Gratitude

You may think I am crazy, and perhaps in some ways I am.

The thought of offering gratitude when you are in pain runs contrary to how we’ve grown up in the world and I was tempted to shy away from this post topic. But, I couldn’t, mostly because that’s where I have been for the last several days.

It’s one of those inexplicable cases where I felt fine one moment and not the next. No obvious precipitating event seemed to lead to my misery.

I simply had progressively worsening pain in my right groin area that made it extremely difficult to move, bend or raise and lower my right leg. As a consequence, I relied almost exclusively on my left side and upper body to carry my weight, causing additional problems.

I’ve had something similar to this happen to me before, but never with as much pain.

I tried to understand why this was happening to me. I recognize this is one of my default settings- needing to know the reason(s) for things in my life. But, I also recognize now how useless pursuing this line of thought is. It doesn’t resolve the problem, takes me away from helpful courses of action and even if I knew exactly how the problem occurred, what benefit would that serve at the moment?

So, I tried to take a step back and accept that something had happened and it was now up to me to choose how to react.

My first thought was to feel a little sorry for myself because I anticipated that the pain was going to be with me for several days, given how sharp and intense it was.

I’ve learned to try to follow my natural reactions, but not get caught up and stuck in them. So, I pushed a little further.

Yes, there was pain, but what else. Was there something hidden that could be revealed? Could I discover any reason(s) to be grateful for this experience?

Now that is a challenging question and one I don’t feel I was completely ready for. And yet, I knew it was important to consider it. So, I asked myself, what gratitude exists here for me?

The first thought that came to me was that there are folks who are available to me to help; my wife, chiropractor, doctor, family, friends, the pharmacy. I wasn’t alone in this.

I got into the spirit of this exercise.

Instead of being angry that I didn’t get my usual 7-8 hours of sleep, I was grateful for the four hours of sleep I did get. I was grateful that I would be able to seek medical help. I was grateful that my back was okay, despite the extra load placed on it, which is a huge thing for me.

I thought about the timing of this event and expressed gratitude that it had happened when it did, rather than during my recent vacations. It would have severely limited my ability to enjoy them fully. But it happened after them and long enough before our next vacation, so I have time to recover.

I continued listing reasons to be grateful and allowed my physical suffering to exist, but not to overwhelm me. I admit this takes a certain amount of commitment and concentration, but the value to me has been extraordinary, not only for this episode, but to carry with me into the future.

This idea may seem too challenging and not one you can easily accept, but had I not opened to the idea, I would not have discovered gratitude’s great power and beauty. I ask only that you consider seeing if it might offer you the same.

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Somehow Everything Serves Me

Does this seem like a radical statement and unlikely to be true? Is it enough to shy away from even reading this post or is there a chance that you hope that it is true and want to know more?

For the majority of my life I would have said ‘yes’, it is a radical statement and ‘yes’, it’s unlikely to be true. I would have followed that up with answering that ‘yes’, it is enough to make me move on and ‘no’, I don’t want to know any more. I know enough already.

I felt it would take a major shift to change my outlook, one I did not believe was possible.

I’d suffered numerous outcomes in my life that I could broadly describe as ‘bad or negative’. Things had happened that hurt me and distanced me from others. I’d fallen and failed and frozen in place and thought to myself, what good can ever come from ‘this’, whatever ‘this’ was.

Perhaps you’ve experienced your own challenges, pain, frustration and resentments in your life. Many are probably the ‘fault’ of others or fall loosely into the category, ‘it is what it is’. Some problems may be the result of actions you’ve taken or not taken. Others are because of words exchanged, sometimes in the heat of the moment.

When I first considered the statement that, ‘somehow everything serves me’, I wondered, how could this be true? How could something so painful or which felt so wrong, ever offer me any benefit or value?

I discovered that asking this question out loud or thinking it inside of me was a part of the wall that separated me from an answer. Asking this implies, at least to some extent, that I don’t believe that everything could possibly serve me. And, if I already held that opinion, there was no room for any benefit or value to show itself.

There was another hurdle to jump over.

What did the statement mean to me when it said, ‘serves me?’ Did that mean that there should be some obvious connection I could see that linked a ‘negative’ experience with an eventual ‘positive’ result? And, how exactly would I be ‘served’? Would I even notice?

I find I learn best when I have an example to follow. I promised myself to remain open to the idea that it could be possible that somehow everything serves me. I promised to be observant, during the search and afterward, in watching for the benefit or value as it was brought my way.

I felt it would be a good idea to choose something big as my example. Something with a little meat on it. It turns out that wasn’t all that difficult.

I lost my job. By lost, I mean that it was taken away from me. One day I had it and the next day I didn’t. I’ve read that this rates as the #5 most stressful experience in life and I can see why. It changes everything; financial, emotional, social, intellectual, physical, you name it.

I confess my initial reaction was one of being totally overwhelmed, and I believe that tears were involved. There was only the very smallest part of me that held out any hope that this might ‘serve me’.

I came to realize that it’s possible to stand too close to a situation and that you have to take a few steps backward to be able to see clearly.

As the days went by, I kept my promise to remain open. I allowed myself to grieve and release the heavy weight of my emotions then move on with a watchful eye. I found that I could stand far enough away and make decisions that would help move me forward. I took a critical look at our finances and made sweeping changes. I opened to receive an offer for a new job, even though it wasn’t a part of my original plan. I made concessions and tried to rewrite my story.

Months passed and there they were, sitting right in front of me. A whole host of benefits. I had a new job which offered me the chance for achievable results. I had dramatically reduced my work stress level and responsibilities. I had the chance to revise our finances, which set us up for a better future forecast. And best of all, I found a way to retire years before I would have, had I stayed at my old job. This allowed me to spend more time with Maureen and to share in the radiance of babysitting our granddaughter, and then our grandson.

I’ve discovered that, no matter what example I choose, the outcome is the same. I am served by everything that happens to me in my life. This doesn’t mean that everything is rosy and bright. It’s work, most of the time. But, it is work with a huge payoff, far greater than I’d ever thought possible.

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How Deep Does Pain Go

How deep does pain go?

The answer that comes to me is, as deep as we allow.

Please don’t stop reading yet.

Bear with me for a few minutes and hear me out.

I know there is a kind of pain that has an intensity far beyond anything we thought was imaginable. Whether it is physical, where the body is racked with enormous pain and limitations or emotional, where our heart is so broken it feels beyond repair. It could be mental or intellectual, where we can’t find answers to any of our dilemmas or spiritual, where we feel completely alone, distanced from any sense of love or caring.

There have been times when I’ve felt some of these brutal realities, not knowing whether things would ever get better. Certainly, for a while I could not see how it would be possible. There seemed to be no sunshine left. Maybe everyone has felt this way.

I don’t think you have to have lived into old age to know suffering. It seems to me to be sort of an ageless condition.

I’ve had many conversations with others about this. Every one of them ends in the same place, with one simple question…why?

Why is there so much pain and suffering?

No one I’ve spoken to feels they have the answer to this question. Sure, there are platitudes, but are they helpful? No one I know, including those who say them, seem to believe it.

So, the search for meaning goes on.

Once in a while someone tells me that pain and suffering is a punishment for the wrongs we’ve done. They often insert the word, ‘sin’ into the conversation. They tell me that (god) is so upset with our behavior that (he) has no choice but to condemn us and therefore, there we feel pain and endure suffering.

I don’t believe this. I never did, even as a child. You can not speak to me of a (god) who is everlasting love and always watches over me and cares for me and then add the ingredient of a (god) who sends me pain and suffering for being human.

Others I’ve talked with take a very direct approach to answering this question. They say, it is just a part of living on this earth and that it is a natural result of being here. This is also known as…’$#*% happens’.

Perhaps I’m unrealistic, but I think there’s more to it than that.

I want to go back to the statement I made at the beginning of this post. The answer that comes to me is, as deep as we allow. That’s how deep pain and suffering goes.

What I mean is this.

Imagine that you have a shovel in your hands. You aim it at the ground, step on the back and push your way into the earth. Once your shovel blade is full, you lift it up and set the dirt to the side. You now have a small hole in the ground. The hole is now how much pain there is in your life. It’s what you feel. The pain is relatively small, because the hole is small. You tell yourself you can deal with this.

But sometimes, the hole gets bigger and deeper and the amount of pain may exceed your ability to handle it. And sometimes the hole gets bigger still. You can’t imagine why, and you find it hard to see the bottom of the hole. The pain and suffering seem so deep.

I’ve lived through some deep holes. I think everyone has.

At some point I opened up inside and asked for help. I wanted to know what was at the bottom of the hole. I needed to know how deep it really was. So, I peered in and saw (god) at the bottom. And as I reached down, (god) reached up, until our hands met.

I realized that part of the pain and suffering was up to me. That I had something to do with how much I experienced. I was part of the equation. And I could ask for help and the pain and suffering would ease, if I allowed it to.

I know this is a hard answer to grasp. Do with it whatever feels right to you. I felt compelled to pass this along and I hope it helps someone.

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