Christmas and Helpful Communication In Times of Loss

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

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December is upon us and during this month, many will spend time with loved ones for whom Christmas does not bring joy but instead exaggerates their grief responses. While we tend to associate grief with the death of a loved one, there are actually four major types of losses that those in our workplaces and personal lives may be grieving. These are: the loss of meaningful relationships and include losses resulting from death, separation, divorce, abortion, or of children taken into foster care. Losses of meaningful objects are the second major category and include the losses of a home or treasured objects; and can result from a house fire or relocation such as what happens when someone enters a long-term care facility and can take only one box and one suitcase of possessions. A loss of context is the third major type of losses and includes losses of routine and the familiar; these losses can also include losses of goals and dreams and a loss of a sense of one’s past, such as happens when a parent dies, or a loss of a sense of one’s future, as what happens when a child dies. The fourth major category is losses of parts of the self. These losses include sensory losses, loss of a body part, a loss of identity, or a loss of a sense of self, self-worth, or dignity. These major categories of losses are not mutually exclusive, for many who experience a significant loss in one category will subsequently experience losses in another or even in all the other categories.

Many who desire to be helpful, struggle with the best ways to communicate with a griever, especially with those who are in the early stages of grief, or with those who are experiencing a renewed rawness of their grief and of all the memories of what they no longer have and will never again have. A renewed rawness of grief is often triggered by an anniversary reaction, such as what happens at Christmas time. The following points on helpful ways to communicate and not-communicate with a griever can allow a caring person to become one who is capable of knowledgeable caring:

  • Create opportunities that allow the griever to speak about the losses or about the person who has died, since a great fear for grievers is that their loved one will too soon be forgotten. Relating any positive life events and memories of your experiences with the griever or of their loved one who has died can boost the griever’s self-worth and help them to know that their loved one or their contributions are not forgotten.
  • Be comfortable with tears for they are a normal part of grief and can help grieving persons release deeply felt emotional and soul pain. It is also okay to shed a tear as you listen to the griever’s tear-filled stories. Remember however, that crying and weeping are not the same things. When we have a tear in our eye, grievers can sense our empathy. When we weep however, we have altered the relationship for we are no longer able to support the griever for something about what they have said or done has triggered unresolved feelings within us and the griever may end up comforting the one who should be providing the comfort, but is no longer capable of doing so.
  • Remain focused on the griever and on the griever’s experiences. Many people have a difficult time remaining “other-focused.” The moment a griever attempts to describe a portion of their grief experience, a listener that is unable to be other-focused for more than a few moments, will piggy-back on the griever’s story and interject into the conversation, a life narrative of their own grief. To do so may make the griever feel that the listener does not hear the significance of, nor really care about, the griever or about what the griever is attempting to communicate.
  • Allow the griever to describe their beliefs about their life circumstances rather than offering “false reassurance.” False reassurance is delivered in expressions such as: “It was for the best.” “It was God’s will.” “Something good will come from this.” While these phrases may seem comforting, they are considered by grievers as the least helpful words spoken to them. Expressions such as these come from the speaker’s belief system and may not match the beliefs of the griever. False reassurance has been shown to increase anger at God as well as at the conveyor of such expressions, and thus interferes with the therapeutic relationship.
  • Offer the griever undivided attention. A griever’s life and sense of self have been destroyed. Grievers deserve the full attention of their listeners. To give full attention that conveys care, support and empathy, turn your entire body toward the person, make direct eye contact and drop everything else you are doing as the grieving person is speaking. My youngest daughter taught me the power of facing the speaker and making eye contact while listening. One afternoon, while I was busy at the stove and she was excitedly relating her kindergarten day’s events, she stopped mid-sentence to retort. ”Mom you are not listening!“  “Oh yes I am,” I replied, and repeated some of the things she had said. “But,” she cried! “You’re not listening with your eyes.” My child’s honest expression made me remember that the eyes truly are the windows of the soul and to make eye contact when someone is attempting to share deeply with me communicates that I am emotionally and soulfully present to them.
  • Keeping our eyes connected also keeps our eyes and hands off technology devices, such as phones or iPads. Focusing on devices when another is relating their feelings indicates in numerous nonverbal ways that we are more interested in what we are doing on the devices than we are with the person who at this moment needs our undivided attention.
  • Encourage the griever to create a nonverbal signal that communicates when they are becoming overwhelmed in a situation where they may not be able to tell you this in words. The nonverbal message can be anything from pulling on their left ear lobe to rubbing their right knee. Once the nonverbal communication strategy is established, it will then be an indication for you to find a way to excuse the griever from a situation in which they are becoming physically and/or emotionally exhausted.

Christmas is for many, a time of family gatherings. Contained within such gatherings are often reflections of the joys and family gatherings of past Christmases. These reflections, the season itself and all it contains, including the expectations of what it should contain, can add to the emotional emptiness felt by grievers. Many of us will, over the holidays, spend time with one or more persons who are experiencing grief. While we may not be able to make their lives joyful, we each can communicate in ways that convey care and support, knowing that feeling cared about is a first step in regaining a sense of hope that may one day lead to inner peace, the true gift of a joyous Christmas.

From Inner Peace to World Peace

© Jane A. Simington PhD.

 

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The month of November calls us to gratefully reflect on the freedoms we are privileged to experience as a result of sacrifices made by the family members who, as veterans, served our countries in the maintenance of peace and liberty. Yet despite their sacrifices, the search for peace continues among nations, within families, between individuals, and within the emotions and spirits of the individuals who fought for our freedoms.

My recent involvement with a colleague’s family member, who had completed his course of duties in a war zone and received honors for his services, amplified my knowing that there are really no winners in war! As we dialogued, I heard the intense pain this man was experiencing. He spoke of the guilt he felt about being a part of what he had been personally involved in, as well as from what he had witnessed and heard about from his colleagues. He described feeling judged and shunned, especially by those who had seen him as a hero, for not being able to “just get over it,” and how their inattentiveness to his need to voice his remorse added to his sense of shame.

His dialogue revealed an incremental soul searching examination of every event, every word he had spoken, every command he had received or given, and every action he had taken or not taken. He wept when I asked if this intense search was a search for answers, or was it a search for the parts of him that had remained at the scenes of the traumatic events he had experienced and witnessed.

 

Indigenous peoples from around the world hold a common belief that the soul pain experienced at the time of a traumatic event can cause soul parts to fracture off and remain within the energy of that time and place. As I listened to his soul pain and heard his soul-longing for wholeness, I felt extreme gratefulness to have the knowledge and skills to help him. And while it was not without intense emotion that he reclaimed those parts of himself that had remained as if frozen at those numerous soul fracturing events, it was with incredible joy that I witnessed his look of anguish dissolve into one of deep peace and stillness as he reintegrated his fractured soul parts.

 

As we move into November and ponder ways to thank and honor our veterans let us be mindful of the value in acknowledging their personhood. Let us recognize that perhaps the best way to honor, especially those veterans who are family members, is to listen to them with open minds and hearts, and remaining ever aware of how the horrors of war can damage a human psyche. Even though listening to their narratives may be difficult for it can stir our own unresolved pain, their need to reexamine, in order to heal the horrors they experienced, may be great. When we are able to listen and respond at the depth they require, we do our part in helping them find inner peace and thus one person at a time, we add to a collective movement toward world peace.

Being Grateful for Post-Traumatic Growth

©Jane A. Simington PhD.

During the month of October, many of us who live in countries of the Northern Hemisphere will gather in celebrations of gratefulness. For those who are newly bereaved, these days can add to their sense of loss and feelings of injustice. I clearly recall the first Thanksgiving celebrations after my son’s death. The closer the holiday came, the louder my inner voice chided, “What do I possibly have to be grateful for?” Now years later and only after much sorrow and having left few stones unturned in search of healing, I am aware that there are two aspects to grief: the destructive aspect, and the transformative aspect. While those who are now still in the early stages of grief, do not want to hear that their suffering will change and transform them; many who remain committed to achieving healing; and while it may take a long time, will at some point be able to acknowledge the personal and soulful transformation that resulted from their tragedy.

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Empirical research demonstrates that many people experience personal and spiritual growth following extreme trauma and bereavement circumstances.1  My own experiences and those of many I have helped through their grief and trauma, parallel the research findings. For most of us, the struggles to cope with the tragic events changed our priorities. What was once important became unimportant and what was once of no importance had become paramount. This shifting of importance seems especially true related to an increased appreciation of meaningful relationships.

For some of us, the shattering of specific religious beliefs was replaced with the acceptance of a broader and more flexible spirituality. For many, the need to rebuild shattered assumptions created an enhanced sense of the meaning of life and of the need to fulfill our life’s purpose. This ever-growing existential awareness led, in turn, to an enriched relationship with the Divine in self and in others; and after an initial period of being angry at God and feeling a deep sense of injustice, many developed a deeper and more personal relationship with the “God of now.” For many, this resulted only after there was a major reshaping of long-held ideas of God, of the Universe and of the Universal Order. In my particular case, the shifting and reshaping of these views deepened my sense of belonging within the greater plan of life.

After a time most who stay committed to their healing, recognize that the journey has changed them in many positive ways. Many report that they would never again want to go back to being what they were, personally and soulfully, prior to their tragedy; and while most of us wish we could have achieved the same personal and soulful growth in any other way, we are extremely grateful for all the experiences our suffering and healing has brought.

During October celebrations, many altars and table-centers will be decorated with fruits of the season. Prayers will be recited in gratitude for the abundance of the harvest. This Thanksgiving, let us also raise our voices for the greatest gifts we have received. Let there be songs and hymns of gratefulness for the post-traumatic growth and healing that we and each of our loved ones have received.

  1. Shaw A, Joseph S, Linley PA (2005).Religion, Spirituality and Posttraumatic Growth: A Systemic Review of the Literature, Journal of Mental Health, Religion and Culture, March, 8(1):1-11.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Summer has ended and during this week we are in the energy of the Autumnal Equinox. Since ancient times, the Earth’s Peoples have re-enacted rituals to draw in the energies of these days believing that during the equinoxes, the universes are more directly in line; and thus celebrations of gratitude as well as rituals for supplication were more likely to be received and responded to by the heavens. According to NASA, there is indeed a change in geometric activity that takes place during the September Equinox. These changes actually increase the chances, for those of us who live in the higher regions of the Northern Hemisphere, to view the Northern Lights.


No matter how far removed we are from the soil and the smells and colors of this beautiful season, each of us is affected by the movements of the planets; and thus each of us can purposefully harness the energies of these days for our own life shifts. Here are some ways to draw into your own as well as into your groups, the power available to each of us during the Autumnal Equinox. Remember that rituals and ceremony do not have to be observed following any particular tradition or religious ceremony. In my experience, the best outcomes of any ceremony are achieved when they result from actions based on pure intentions that flow from my own Spirit to serve my personal needs and those of my groups.

 

  1. Examine the Balance in Life

This year the official day of the Autumnal Equinox is September 22. On that day the hours of daytime and nighttime are relatively the same. This has long been interpreted to mean that during this short period of time the world is in balance. Metaphorically, we can use this time to determine and re-establish the balance in our own lives.
 

  • Purchase two candles for each person who attends your equinox ceremony. Select one candle for each in a bright autumn color and the other in a dark color. During the celebration each person in turn, lights first the brightly colored candle and speaks of how and in what ways, since the Spring Equinox, they have been able to balance their soulful and personal needs and desires with their commitments to the outside world. The colored candle is then placed on the centre altar and the dark candle is lit. As the dark candle burns the person speaks about what actions are needed during the upcoming dark days and nights, so that the balance that is already achieved can be maintained; and so that there can be, by the Spring Equinox, a celebration of having achieved an even greater balance, between soulful and personal needs and desires, and their commitments to the outside world. The dark candle is then placed on the central altar. When all members have spoken and all the brightly glowing candles are on the centre altar, lead a group prayer in which you honor the balance in the universe; express gratitude for the balance each member has found, and request that each receive whatever they require to achieve the further balance they seek.

 

  1. Make a Wreath
     Invite each person to pick a piece from the bowl that you have previously filled with items representative of nature in autumn. After each person has picked their item, ask each in turn to speak of the significance of that particular piece to them and what drew them to select it; and to then place the item on the empty wreath (which you have earlier either purchased or created from willow, grape vines or birch bows). You will want to have a good quality glue gun available for the purpose of gluing the items to the wreath. Once all of the items are secured to the wreath, place it on the centre altar. Invite members to join hands and form a circle around the altar and then lead a closing prayer of gratefulness for the gifts of the Earth; acknowledging that as we celebrate the gifts of the Earth, we also accept that Her growing time is dying. Pray that each member of your group is able to embrace the dark times ahead as opportunities to be more inner-focused and from that, to place their newly gained strength and renewed purpose in readiness to meet the light of the Spring Equinox.

The Earth grows cold.
The soil lays barren. Six months of dark
Without dark we do not know light.
 Without barrenness we do not know growth.
Without death we do not embrace life
Without sorrow we do not appreciate joy
Great Mother, in your dark time, support me in mine.

Autumn Harvest Stimulates Life Review

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. September, 2016

In many cultures of the northern hemisphere, the September equinox is the official announcement of autumn. In Greek mythology, autumn is associated with when the goddess Persephone returns to the underworld to be with her husband Hades. It was supposedly a good time to enact rituals to invoke protection and security as well as to reflect on successes or failures from the previous months.

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As I gather the last produce from my summer garden I reflect on how each September, when I ponder the successes and failures of what I have planted in the spring, I am drawn inward, there to consider the fruitfulness of my personal and professional efforts in moving me toward the fulfillment of my life’s purpose. As I mull over how the seasonal changes in my garden metaphorically prompt my own seasonal life review, I recall that Erickson1 described the two parts of a life review: as a soulful attempt to examine and bless those aspects of life that we feel satisfied with, and as a soulful urging to alter any circumstances that need changing so that soul growth can continue into our next season.

While my annual life review is stimulated by the final harvest from my garden, reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, can be activated by many things including music, photographs or visits. These things naturally stir memories and because of that, each can be used in a therapeutic way.

For a time I was a nursing director in a long term care facility. I like to sing, and I often sang for the residents. Their selection of songs would almost always bring a number of them to tears. Because I was intentionally using song as a therapeutic way to stimulate memories, I would later spend time with each teary-eyed resident, exploring the memories that had surfaced for them as I sang. Together we re-enjoyed happy memories and in most cases, all that was needed to release the emotional load attached to a difficult memory, was for the resident to know they were being compassionately cared about and supported in their attempts to come to terms with their feelings.2

This experience guided my response to my husband’s questions about how to best help his dying mother. As he left to be with her, I encouraged him to help his mother recall the good times that he and she had shared throughout his lifetime. He later reported that even though she was only semi-conscious, as he spoke and caressed her, a tear would roll down her cheek, or she would frequently smile and nod as he related each, “Remember When Mom” detail. He described that as he spoke to his mother he could hear soft sobbing in the background. When he turned to investigate, he recognized that the three other women in his mother’s ward were also listening to what he was relating. Were they perhaps vicariously receiving and delighting in the love he was conveying? Or, were they perhaps wishing that their own sons would be by their bedsides helping them with their own “Remember When Mom” narratives?

As we enter the autumn season, is it time for you to also turn inward, there to examine how the seeds you have planted have ripened? Is it time for you to ponder how the harvest you reap will support you on your next great movement forward? Or is it time to offer “Remember When” details to a loved one, and thus assist them to bring a peaceful closure to their life in anticipation of their next great movement forward? Whatever this autumn equinox stirs within you, may it aid you in harvesting bushels of ripe fruit from the good seeds you have planted in the spring of this year and in the springs and early summers of your entire lifetime.

Erickson, E. H. 1963. Childhood and Society, 2nd edition. New York: WW Norton & Co.
Simington, J. A. 2013. Through Soul’s Eyes: Reinventing a Life of Joy and Promise. Taking Flight Books, Edmonton, AB.

When Suicide Becomes An Option

When Suicide Becomes an Option
©Jane A. Simington PhD

Worldwide, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death for adolescents and young adults.Nearly 90% of all suicides are associated with a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder.2 The unbearable feelings of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness resulting from their mental illness, trauma, significant grief or abandonment can, despite the best efforts of loved ones and professionals, cause nearly one million people globally, to attempt suicide each year.3 The feelings of loss experienced by professionals and loved ones are magnified when the death they grieve is by suicide. Those whose grief results from a suicidal death are at high-risk for developing a major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal behaviours and prolonged and complicated grief.4

photo of someone depressed perhaps suicidal

The above information and my experience of working professionally with clients who are threatening suicide and with those who are attempting to heal from the effects of complicated grief and the associated feelings, including the stigma and shame which keeps them from seeking the help and resources they need, has led me to develop a training program to assist professionals in offering effective help to those who threaten suicide and to support the bereaved when suicide results.

This forty-hour Suicide Intervention Certification training is accredited by The Canadian Counsel of Professional Certification Global (CCPC Global.) Graduates of this training from Taking Flight International may apply to CCPC Global for designation as a Certified Suicide Intervention Specialist (CSIS.) Certified graduates of this training also receive 27 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) toward certification or re-certification as a drug and alcohol counsellor from the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation (CACCF;) as well as from the International Association (ICADC).

1. Young I T., Iglewicz, A., Glorioso, D., Lanouette, N., et.al. (2012). Suicide, Bereavement and Complicated Grief. Clinical Research, LLS SAS. www.dialogues-cns.org

2. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Surviving a Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide. Available at http://www.afsp.org Assessed, 2016-08-01.

3. Ibid Young, et al.

4. Hawton, K., van Heeringen, K. (2009). Suicide. Lancet, 18,373:1372-1381.

PreRequisite: Trauma Recovery Certification

Click Here to see training dates and download application form.

Summer Winds Bring Change and Abundance

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

 

Strong summer winds bathed me this morning in aromas of rose petals, honeysuckle, sage and wild prairie grasses. These sensations caused me to be aware of the direction from which the winds were blowing. While most of the Great Medicine Wheels place the element air in the East, the winds blow from each of the four directions. Years ago I learned a guided visualization that taught me to pay attention to the directions from which the winds blew; for each of the directions has its own gifts; and when the winds blow from any one of the directions, they blow to us the gifts from that particular direction. In that way, the winds can validate our own inner knowing and call for us to be open to receive in gratefulness the gifts being blown our way.

Here is a version of that meditation. I trust it will increase your awareness of the gifts to be found in each of the directions and, thus add to your abilities to receive the blessings of the winds that blow those gifts towards you.

 

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Begin by paying close attention to your breathing…in and out…in and out…in and out.

Exhale deeply and allow your eyes to gently fall closed. Now inhale deeply and as you do so, find yourself standing on the top of a very high hill. Take a moment to be aware of your surroundings. As you do so, become aware of being completely wrapped in a warm gentle wind. Know that this wind is blowing from the East for it brings with it the fragrances of spring. Breathe deeply of the spring winds and welcome the newness being ushered into your life by the Winds of the East.

You sense that the winds have now shifted and they are becoming warmer. The smells have also changed from the smells of spring to those of the ripening fruits of summer. Hints of melons, cherries and crabapples drift your way, carried on by these winds, the winds of summer, the winds from the South. Acknowledge that these winds are validating your fruitfulness, your productivity. They have come to remind you that with fruitfulness comes abundance. Breathe deeply and welcome into your entire being the abundances the South Winds are blowing your way.

Pay attention to a further shift in the winds and to the dimming light. Dusk is now upon you. Cooler winds wrap you in the brilliance of autumn colors. You capture whiffs of harvested grains, fresh wines and pumpkin pies being carried on by the winds from the West. On the Great Medicine Wheels, the West is honored as the place of healing and the place of the healer. What healing are the West Winds blowing your way? Are the West Winds asking you to accept your healing gifts and to accept your role as healer? The West is also the place of abundant harvest. Are the West Winds reminding you that this is your time to successfully harvest the good seeds you have planted?

One more time you feel a shift in the direction from which the winds blow. As you face these cold winds you wrap yourself in a blanket of white. The Great Medicine Wheels teach that the North holds gifts of ancient wisdom and makes the teachings of the ancestors available to spiritual teachers and leaders. As the North winds blow these gifts your way, are you being reminded that it is time to pay attention to these teachings and to acknowledge and accept your roles as a spiritual teacher, leader?

As you become aware of having completed the full circle, gently and easily open your eyes. Spend a few moments pondering from which direction the winds blew strongest on you. Then acknowledge the gifts you already have or that are now being blown to you from that direction and give thanks that it is so.

Each time I stand in the wind, I recalled this meditation and am also reminded of how in the Old Testament Yahweh was referred to as the wind. I love that symbol and because of it, I am filled with reverence of the wind from whatever direction it blows. I hope this meditation has helped in similar ways to increase your appreciation of the wind and may we each be more aware and grateful for the breath of Spirit blowing within and around us.

The Not-So-Happy Father’s Day

©Jane A. Simington, PhD.

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On June 19,th many will extend a “Happy Fathers’ Day” greeting that is received with feelings of joy; yet the day and its associated traditions will be for others, a further reminder of what was once paramount and is now of little significance. This holiday, because it vibrates with expectations of personal and family happiness, and satisfaction with traditional roles and responsibilities, can conjure up feelings of deep grief over what once was, and is no longer. These same expectations can also trigger painful reminders of the disenfranchised grief resulting from goals and dreams that have never been and, because of circumstances, will never be achieved. For those Fathers whose life experiences do not match the social and traditional expectations, the Father’s Day holiday and all the expectations regarding what and how a Father should be, can be a source of increased emotional pain and mental anguish. It is my hope that the following suggestions will assist family members whose circumstances require them to find supportive ways to honor a Father who is mired in grief that can result from any one of the major types of losses.

The first major type of loss is a loss of meaningful personal relationships such as what happens following a death, relocation, retirement, or job loss. The second major type of loss is a loss of valued objects and includes the losses resulting from a theft or a house fire. The third major category is a loss of parts of the self. Such losses include the loss of a body part, a sensory loss, or the loss of mobility or strength. Also included in this categorization are psychological losses, such as the loss of identity, self-respect, and self-worth. Included also in this category can be a loss of Spirit resulting from soul brokenness. The fourth major category is a loss of context. Context describes one’s way of being and one’s set of circumstances. These losses can result from an inability to achieve aspirations or fulfill a role, and can include the loss of a sense of a bright and fruitful future. This categorization helps identify that, while losses result from many sources, each loss is grieved, even when the losses are disenfranchised. Disenfranchised losses are those that are not acknowledged for what they are; thus leaving the griever unsupported in the pain.

While the categorization advances understanding of losses, it is important to recognize that a loss in one area tends to be accompanied by losses in one or more of the other categories. This overlapping of losses also tends to be disenfranchised and therefore unsupported. Following the death of our son, my husband had a subsequent need to leave his long-time and much-loved career; this second major loss then also overlapped with his loss of identity and self- worth.  

Some experts believe that males grieve differently than do females, with women tending to have a greater need to be supported while they express feelings; while men tend to work through their feelings in more industrious ways. Others believe that this is not so much a process of nature but rather one of nurture, meaning this behaviour results from how men are socialized regarding their need for touch and the expression of their feelings. While it is important to recognize that human beings, regardless of gender, do grieve in their own unique ways, because we tend to socialize our boys to believe that the needs to be held, cry, and verbalize feelings are signs of weakness, during times of grief both men and women may need help in overcoming these beliefs. As I walked beside my grieving husband, I was aware of the need to reframe my own beliefs and help him reframe his ideas of what was “okay” behaviour for a grieving man. While I too, was struggling with grief, our crisis forced me to acknowledge and permit his need to grieve, even though witnessing grieving behaviors in the man whom I had always thought of as strong and capable of supporting and protecting me, threatened my sense of safety and security.

During that time I was taking a counseling course. The required practice exercises made me recognize that certain ways of communicating convey acceptance and enhanced self-worth. The exercise that I believe made the biggest immediate and long-term difference in helping heal my husband’s grief and in perhaps helping our relationship thrive is the one I will share with you to hopefully encourage you to also use to support the grieving man you wish to honor on this Father’s Day and on future days.

In this exercise, I was guided to give my husband my full attention each time he spoke. This meant stopping anything else I was doing, look him directly in his eyes, and listen earnestly, conveying in nonverbal ways an interest in what he was saying. I recall being truly amazed at how this seemed to almost immediately change how he began to share with me how vulnerable he felt and how he ached with pain. This in turn increased the depth and intimacy of our conversations and of our interactions, thus our relationship, and I believe in time helped him and I to make the steady progress required to heal from our own grief.

During my time of healing and in helping my husband heal from grief, I learned the power of the Nairobi proverb, “Hold the one you love with both eyes and with both hands.” My wish is that on this Father’s Day, every father be honored in this way. I wish this to be especially so for all the not-so-happy fathers.

 

The Golden Altar Metaphor for Healing From Grief

©Jane A. Simington, PHD

A few weeks ago I visited the Church of the Golden Altar in Panama City. Legend has it that when the Welsh pirate Morgan was burning and looting the original settlement, a resourceful priest had this huge altar of gold, painted in black tar, so that its value was disguised. As I viewed the priceless treasure, I was reminded of a parallel experience in Bangkok. On that morning whilst in a small temple in Thailand, I gazed in awe at a Golden Buddha, which at one time, to mask its value from invaders, had been cast in clay. The similarities in those two accounts, one Christian and one Buddhist, caused me to reflect. Regardless of belief systems, universal truths do exist and continually reappear inviting us to ponder the symbolic messages and their applications to our lives.

Golden Altar

In both instances, I recognized that deeply buried beneath layers of our own construction, lays a “Golden Buddha” and a “Golden Altar.” Our task is to clear away those outside layers so that we can be similar to the symbolism of the Golden Buddha and the Golden Altar, and become beacons to automatically reflect our True Essence, giving others permission to witness it, and perhaps do likewise.

I have created a series of complimentary teaching videos. In these videos I describe ways to help others heal from their intense grief, which without healing, can leave them buried beneath heavy coverings of fear and hurt.

Click here to view the free videos.

 

Depression Resulting From Spiritual Distress

Depression Resulting From Spiritual Distress
©Jane A. Simington, PHD

 

Depression short

Some time ago I supported a young man seeking help for depression. His response to my initial questions inquiring about the origin of his depression was, “When I started that meaningless job.” His reply caused me to ponder if, since finding meaning in our lives and in what we do, is a major spiritual need; and since finding meaning is closely associated with the spiritual need of feeling that our life’s purpose is being fulfilled, I suspected that the cause of his depression was rooted in these unfulfilled spiritual needs. As a way to determine how to help him begin to live a more meaningful and purposeful life, I asked, “What would you like to be doing?” He replied, “I am a musician, and a very good one, but there is no money to be made as a musician, so I work as a mechanic.” His answer moved us away from an exploration of how to manage his emotional responses. It led us into considerable dialogue around spirituality, the spiritual needs and how when our spiritual needs are unmet, the feelings of spiritual distress surface. These intense discussions allowed him to describe the soul pain he experienced each day while doing a job that was unfulfilling; and therefore opened the doorway for a treatment plan for his depression that included helping him meet his unmet spiritual needs. This meant enabling him to identify numerous ways in which he could use his musical gifts and talents in volunteer efforts as well as in monetary ways. Within a year, he was receiving income from playing in one orchestra and two bands, and he was regularly volunteering and sharing his musical gifts at a rehabilitation hospital. His love for his work at the rehabilitation centre led him to a university program in music therapy. His mood lifted and other treatment approaches were gradually decreased and soon were no longer required.

While it is necessary to acknowledge that depression can cause serious difficulties in people’s lives resulting from a neurochemical imbalance that may require medication, it is also valuable to recognize that thoughts and attitudes affect the neurochemical balance. The troubling thoughts of those who are experiencing the soul pain that results from their intense inner search for the spiritual meaning in their experiences and the constant mental and soulful struggles of attempting to find and fulfill the purpose for their lives can also alter the neurochemical balance. This knowledge should direct helpers to inquire as to the origin of the depression; to listen for indications of the spiritual distress that results when someone is attempting to live with unmet spiritual needs; and, to gain knowledge of spirituality and the skills to apply strategies to meet, not only the emotional needs, but to also address the spiritual concerns of people seeking help from depression.