Lullaby for Grief

Float down like auleaves20tumn leaves

And hush now

Close your eyes before the sleep

And you’re miles away

And yesterday you were here with me

Another tear, another cry,

another place for us to die

It’s not complicated.

Autumn Leaves by Ed Sheeran

Death is never easy. Comfort is required, not only for the dying, but for loved ones left behind. This incredible song is a lullaby for the dying and a salve for those who live. Listen with love, then linger awhile in your grief. It’s necessary. It’s not complicated.

A dear friend is co-leading a Sacred Grief Retreat November 11-13 in Dahlonega, Georgia.  If you or someone you love seeks solace in a supportive community, learn more at http://www.joycedillon.com/griefandlossretreat.html

Connecting Serendipity

Ahmed, the owner of Désert sans frontière, had agreed to guide me through the Southern Oasis route of Morocco. I was delighted to hand over the reigns to him after three days of traveling alone. The maze, the mayhem, and the men in Marrakech put me on guard, but now it seemed I could relax. After all, the owner of my guesthouse, Riad Attajmil, recommended Ahmed, a certified guide and excellent driver who grew up in a Berber village. We agreed to travel together for two-and-a-half-days before he’d drop me at a desert camp on the edge of the Sahara.dades

That was the plan, but by end of the second day, Ahmed suggested that the plan change. I don’t need to leave tonight. I want to make sure you’re safe, he proclaimed, as we pulled away from Chez Mimi in Dadès Gorge, the most romantic place I’ve ever been.

camelman2Hmmm! I felt my walls go up. Maybe I should stick to the plan? After all, Ahmed was smitten with me. I didn’t know if I could trust him, but on the other hand, I was anxious about fending for myself in the Sahara. (You know, there are snakes and tarantulas in the desert.) And, after all, he wasn’t going to charge me for the extra night, but instead, offer his services to the camp in exchange for room and board.

Go it alone in the desert or risk uncharted terrain with a man? I had fought this battle my entire life, fearing that if I’d let down my guard with another, especially a man, I’d end up hurt or disappointed. But something was very different with Ahmed. A deep connection was emerging between us despite our many differences. It didn’t matter that we were born and raised in vastly different cultures. Our connection was based on authenticity, mutual respect, and value for each others world.

It made no sense to turn him away, and thankfully I didn’t. Something special was about to occur.

(Fast-forward a few hours.) We’re milling around outside Riad Madu, waiting to hit the dunes. I turned to Ahmed who looked perplexed. See that man over there in the Moroccan djellaba, he remarked, the one standing with a woman and child. I know him, but from where? Before I had the chance to help him solve this puzzle, he had stepped away from me and veered in this man’s direction. They spoke softly. I watched intently. They embraced warmly. I smiled from ear-to-ear. Something magical was happening, but what? I couldn’t wait to find out.

After several minutes of chatter between the two of them, Ahmed returned to my side wearing a smile broader than mine. My friend, Saïd and I attended Agadir University at the same time. We both majored in French Literature and attended many classes together. It’s been 17 years since I’ve seen him. Can you believe it? 17 years! After his studies, he left Morocco and took a job teaching in France. He now lives in Amsterdam with his Dutch wife and their daughter, but returns to Morocco for a week vacation every year.

Unbelievable! I thought. If I had stuck to my plan and told Ahmed to leave, Saïd and he wouldn’t have met. They wouldn’t have had the chance to spend hours that night rekindling their friendship, and I wouldn’t have played a part in their reunion.

It was good that they were together that night. It took Ahmed’s attention off of me. That said, it was hard to say goodbye to him the next morning, for I must admit, I was smitten too. But I had a sojourn to continue in Fez and he had a family to return to in Marrakech. But serendipity–it wasn’t ready to leave.

I was sitting at a breakfast table at my guesthouse three days later, enjoying the company of a young woman from Japan. What are your plans today, Mayuko? I asked politely. I’m heading to Chefchaouen, that beautiful blue village in the Rif Mountains, she replied. Me too! I exclaimed. Come to find out, we were both leaving Fez on the 11 am bus with assigned seats next to each other. And, we both had reservations at Casa Perleta, a guesthouse with only 8 guest rooms. Serendipity! I shouted after exchanging itineraries.chaouenmtn

What is serendipity? Mayuko asked.

Serendipity is when life hands you an unplanned surprise, an unexpected happy or beneficial event.

We agreed to meet in the courtyard in 30 minutes, hail a cab together, and spend the day tooling around the “Blue Pearl.” It was a wonderful day, a joyful serendipity!

ahmed+No one knows why and how serendipity happens, but I’m certain that letting go of control is an absolute must. After these two serendipitous events, I felt like something inside me had shifted. I felt freer and less fearful, more trusting and secure.

The dunes of Morocco had opened my mind and a man from the desert had unlocked my heart.

Life Giving Love

bimba“What if everything you know about love is wrong?” asks Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and author of Love 2.0, Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection, doesn’t want to rain on your Valentine’s Day parade. Nor do I. But like Fredrickson, I’d like to upgrade your definition of love, especially if you’re feeling heartbroken or lonely, discouraged or in despair.

To begin with, let’s consider the rapture of “romantic love”. Most people I know (or see as a therapist) want to experience this exquisite kind of love. It’s understandable. Romantic love feels insanely delicious. Pleasure hormones surge when we fall head-over-heals. Dopamine pulses through our bodies, producing ecstatic feelings. Norepinephrine, like adrenaline, revs up our heart rate and makes our palms sweat.

This chemical process convinces us that we must have romance in our life to feel alive. The highs are just too good to think otherwise; at least that’s what our body says. And according to science, this makes perfect sense, given that the chemical high of love is the exact same chemical process that takes place with addiction.

But what if romantic love is just a daydream for you right now? Or what if you’re feeling brokenhearted after a break-up or in an age-old marriage that doesn’t cause your heart to melt like it did long ago? Should you turn to drugs and alcohol to get a quick fix, have an elicit affair to spice things up, or hook up on Tinder for a meaningless tryst? Hell no! You know you’re better than that. So what can you do that is emotionally healthy?

Connect with a caring person who wants to truly connect with you. Infuse your interaction with warmth and openness. Look at each other; really see each other. Feel each others’ presence and then notice the positive feelings that begin to arise.

PBcover_tiltedThis experience, what Barbara Fredrickson defines as Love 2.0, is a connection characterized by a flood of positive emotions that you share with another person – any person – friend or lover, sibling or spouse, child or parent who cares for you and you for them. Dr. Fredrickson’s research has shown that we experience “micro-moments of positivity” that ooze life-giving love hormones when we invest in each others’ well being and extend mutual care. But here’s the catch: we have to connect in person. Phone calls or Skype won’t do it; nor will Tinder or text messages. Feelings don’t compute in technology. The magic only happens when we meet face-to-face.

Grant it, Love 2.0 is less potent or alluring than rapturous kind of love, yet the chemicals that our bodies produce are exactly the same as what you get when you “fall”. So what do you have to lose by upgrading to 2.0? The whoa-is-me attitude. A burden of grief. Complaints and compromises that keep you stuck in misery. And think what you’ll gain. Happiness. Health. Vitality. And a really cool vibe that just might get you noticed by an extra-special someone who might one day be your Valentine 🙂 So give it a try, why don’t you? To learn more, check out Chapter I from Love 2.0.

 

 

 

 

Dogged Humor

During a recent therapy session, I asked a client what made him laugh. “My kitty!” he beamed. “Ah yes,” I a97dd50e3b659423d0a7a5d04bbab79dchuckled, remembering a video he once showed me of his adorable cat. It was great to see my client light up; truly satisfying to watch his stress melt away.

Cats (and dogs) are masters at striking our funny bones, but more than that, they actually help us reduce stress, fight depression, curb anxiety, and lessen the risk of heart disease. Studies prove it. Now I don’t want the cats to feel slighted in any way, but I have to tell you, the dogs even have a special health report published by Harvard Medical School — Get Healthy, Get a Dog. (Did I just hear a cat hiss? Yikes!)

Now even if the cats don’t like it, you’ve got to watch this YouTube. The dogs are such a motley crew, determined to make us laugh. They’re definitely not dignified like the cat at the head of the table. (Have I redeemed myself, kitties?) I hope this video brings a smile to your face and maybe a chuckle or two. Happy Holidays!

P.S. I’m not endorsing the pet food, just the video and maybe a trip to the pound 🙂

Mindful Awareness

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.11540542764659807lzC75Ir8c

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all,

even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house,

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He (she) may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.

Be grateful for whomever comes, because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

Entertain depression? Welcome in a dark thought or shameful feeling? You might be thinking, “Hell no! I’m not spending time with a ‘crowd of sorrows.’” But tell me, what good does it do to push them away or shame them into hiding? The odds are, they’re coming back, and next time, they might loom ever larger.

Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, foretold a great truth that today’s neuropsychiatrists are proving empirically: accepting our thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment can increase psychological well-being. Now I’m not equating “acceptance” with resignation. That would be called hopelessness. Instead, I’m referring to what scientists and sages describe as “mindful awareness”.

Mindful awareness, according to the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), is defined as paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. When we practice mindful awareness, we simply notice whatever arises in our bodies and minds, pleasant or unpleasant, without getting carried away or controlled by the experience. We have a thought; we don’t become our thoughts. We feel our feelings, but we’re not swept away by them. We learn to be with whatever shows up in the here and now instead of worrying about tomorrow or dwelling on yesterday.

I could go on with my thoughts on the subject, but I’d rather you spend 10-minutes learning more from a master, a former monk who puts an entertaining spin on the subject. And when you’re done watching this terrific TedTalk, considering downloading the app, Headspace, to help you deal with that crowd of sorrows or embrace unexpected joy.

Possessed by a Plan

Everyone h670px-Knock-out-Someone-in-One-Punch-Step-3-Version-3as a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson

A part of me is embarrassed to write this post, but if Mike Tyson can concede defeat, so can I. Here goes.

Last March, I came down with a terrible flu. Sick for weeks, I spent most of my time laid up on my 20-year-old sofa staring at 4 walls of dull paint, a pet-stained carpet, and a 60-year-old end table I inherited from my folks. Not only did my body ache, my heart and soul ached too. I had way too much time to wallow in self-pity, alone at home, thinking about losses I’d endured over the past few years. I felt lonely and deeply sad.

I needed something to take my mind off my misery, something to breathe new life back into my ailing room. Aha! I squeaked out of my phlegm-filled lungs. I know what I’ll do once I’m well. I’ll buy a new sofa. Yes! Freshen things up a bit. Right? You don’t know me very well, do you? Keep reading. The plot thickens.

My mind went to work planning and plodding, and before I knew it, I wasn’t just shopping for a sofa. I was redecorating my entire condo. Yep! A major do-over was underway. I imagined transitioning from traditional to contemporary and from cream and tan to gold and grey. Pinterest became my new best friend. I surfed online ad nauseam, not only for the perfect sofa, but for the perfect rug, tables, lamps, and artwork too. As soon as I was up and at ‘em, I got busy scouring every furniture store in town.

I felt possessed by a trio of interior design demons: Pearl Perfectionist, Pedro Planner, and the most controlling of all, Theodore Thrifty (who was dead set on staying within budget). They insidiously snuck into my consciousness, quietly taking over without me even realizing it, that is, until exhaustion set in. They wore me down with their obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I know they were only trying to help, but geez-Louise! After awhile, the search got old. Still, I couldn’t stop them.

I desperately needed help (from real people who lived outside my head;-) Enter Mr. Friendly-Furniture-Guy and Mrs. Upright-Upholstery-Maven. When I entered their family owned furniture store, it felt like I’d entered a time warp, like the small town where I was born and raised. The Mr. and Mrs. were extremely kind and caring. I felt so well-tended to, unlike when I was sorrowfully sick months before. In a flash, my demons vanished. Instead I heard, “They’re so attentive to my needs. I think I’ll buy a sofa from them.” So I did.

After waiting 6 weeks for a custom sofa, delivery day arrived. The delivery men carried in my new grey sofa (paid-in-full/no return). They put it in its place. BAM! Something was terribly wrong. It didn’t fit the room. I sat down. BAM! It didn’t fit me. I felt uncomfortable, not at all like I remembered. A one-two punch hit me hard. I was flattened.

Despite their good intentions, my interior design demons failed me, and now, to add insult to injury, they berated me. Once again, I needed help to make them go away. I picked up the phone and dialed my sister (my ‘one and only’ rock who lives far away). Only then did the floodgates let loose. Only then, with the support of someone I deeply trusted, did I realize that instead of buying a comfortable sofa, I bought comfort. I bought caring. I bought community.

Often, without even realizing it, we distract ourselves from feeling sad by over-planning or consuming. We get busy doing to escape our loneliness. Our inner-demons take over without our awareness. They don’t mean us harm. They want to keep us from hurting. But instead of freeing us from our emotional pain, they perpetuate age-old patterns that keep us from getting the help we truly need.

I’m not discounting these voices completely. At times they serve us well (Pearl Perfectionist is at work right now editing this post.) But when we’re sick, or scared, or lonely, or sad, they’re not the ones to turn to. That’s when we need comfort and caring from people we trust. That’s when I need more than my one and only who lives far away. I need community.

Speaking of community, I’ve turned an expensive life lesson into a meaningful gift. I’ve donated my new grey sofa to The Furniture Bank, a non-profit that collects gently used furniture from the community, giving it to individuals and families moving out of homelessness or fleeing domestic violence. A “perfect plan”, now wouldn’t you say?

P.S. I just bought a comfortable cream sofa that goes with everything I already have (minus the pet stained carpet). I’m quite pleased with my choice and so is Theodore Thrifty. 😉