I Held You for Three Days

©Jane A. Simington PhD.


“It is not a matter of brain damage; it is a matter of life or death.” I was unconscious. My husband, Bill signed the consent form. The backward fall that fractured my skull had thrust my brain forward, crashing it against the frontal portion of my cranium, causing swelling and bleeding which required life-saving neurosurgery. While I have few memories of those days, I have long since ceased to be troubled by my lack of recall. The five-year anniversary a few days ago, did however, trigger a need for more details.

One of the events for which I sought clarity was around my post-surgical inability to see. I recall having a fleeting awareness of this; and of begging the three Beings of Light, who were always present and seemingly supporting me from another level of consciousness, to open my eyes. As we revisited those days, Bill told me that my failed attempts to force my swollen eyes open had caused me to become increasingly agitated, even to the point of pulling out my life supporting chest tubes. Convincing the nurses that tying my hands down would only increase the agitation; he promised to keep me from touching the tubes. His response to my questioning of how he managed to control my anxiety, is I believe the most loving phrase I have ever, or will ever hear, “I held you for three days.”

While it took months to regain balance and heal the many post-trauma symptoms, today I am grateful for a body and brain that function well. I am thankful for my sight and hearing; especially since because of the location of the injuries, the retaining of these senses is an incredible gift. Most especially, I am grateful for a husband who for three days and nights calmed my restlessness with his caring and loving touch.

Following Bill’s and my discussion, I pondered the power of touch. I know from a previous literature review that during emotionally difficult times, when someone cannot or will not hear words of love, they can still feel love that is conveyed through touch. I also recall that in the early nineteen hundred’s, almost one hundred percent of children who were placed in orphanages died before the age of one year. Later research concluded that these children, while well cared for physically, died from a lack of caring and loving touches. Reflecting on these studies I pondered: Did my living and complete recovery, described as miraculous by the neurosurgeons, result from the love that was conveyed to me as I was being held for three days?

Gratitude for Grandfathering of Grandsons

©Jane A. Simington, PhD. 

I never knew my grandfathers; they both died before I was born, so I have no personal experiences of being grandfathered. After I married, my husband and I lived far from our families of origin so I saw few examples of my own children being grandfathered. Perhaps it is because of these voids I feel a deep sense of appreciation for the opportunities to learn about grandfathering as I witness my husband embrace this role. Through these observations, my heart floods with joy knowing our grandsons are receiving a love that is special, a bond weaving them into the threads of our intergenerational fabric.

Granddad and grandson sitting by lake

I recognize that as a grandfather he hardly notices the mistakes our grandsons make because he is so enchanted with the amazing and delightful things they do. Their little off-the cuff comments and sense of humor seems to quicken his desire to be even more available to them. In the abundance of the energetic force of their growing they apply a kind of salve to old wounds.

The lessons our grandsons learn from their grandfather are endless – sportsmanship, positive attitude, but perhaps the most important thing being passed down from him, aside from love, is generosity of time. Thank you, grandsons, for the sparkles in your eyes and the way you wave in excitement when your grandfather arrives to take over for your mom or dad. Thank you for the many times you allowed your grandfather to deliver you to, and pick you up from, play school, pre-school, kindergarten, or after-school programs. Thank you, grandsons, for the joy of watching you accept your grandfather’s sports experience, enthusiasm and wisdom as you play baseball, la cross and hockey. The way you lift your helmeted-heads so as to be able to give a look of appreciation for his attendance at your games, and the way you listen attentively to his encouragement and receive his validation of your efforts, lets him know you find his opinion worthy of paying attention to.

Through his story-telling gifts, your grandfather connects you to your heritage. In relating the history of his life and of our families, he helps you learn family lore. Through anecdotes about your grandparents, and your mother, aunt and uncle as children, he helps you to be a link in our ongoing family story. Thank you for listening attentively each time you hear these episodes; know they are reinforcing a part of his life that he wants to ensure also becomes a small piece of yours.

Thank you grandsons for sitting with your granddad as together you watch the Canada Geese come into our lake. Thank you for dragging him from his chair when he is all done-in and forcing him to play checkers, soccer or street hockey by your rules. Thank you for the wrestling matches and the games of claw, and for the many giggles that accompany them. Thank you for emptying the candy disk before your granddad can.

As I watch our grandsons go about their activities with their grandfather, I am in awe of how everyday experiences are not just ordinary experiences, but extraordinary ones, and are often experiences that will be enjoyed by both grandfather and grandsons for the very first time, and are also often experiences that can never be repeated. I am grateful to live close enough to our grandsons to learn about grandfathering, as I witness it first-hand.

As children, and as young men, while you know a lot more than you understand, I suspect you can’t completely comprehend the full meaning of your granddad’s love; how wise he is, how much patience he has, how much guidance he gives you by his example, by his helpful and caring ways and by the depth of his concern and the love in his protectiveness. I suppose you will only know these things when you are grown men and look back and see through older eyes and wiser hearts. I hope that when that time comes you will remember and fully recognize your granddad’s unconditional love, devotion, and family loyalty. I hope as well that you will then know these and many other things about your grandfather that will make you realize how lucky you are to have known what it is to be grandfathered. While being grandfathered is something I, your grandmother, have never known personally, I now have the privilege of being able to witness the extraordinary relationship you enjoy in allowing your granddad to grandfather you.

Canada Geese: Symbolic Messages of Watchfulness and Love

 

©Jane A. Simington, PHD.

June, 2015

 

My early morning spring adventures beside the lake have given me numerous wonderful opportunities to witness Canada Geese nesting and introducing their goslings to the world. Each morning my observations cause me to ponder how their behaviors mirror for us, their teachings of great loyalty and devotion to their mates, children and extended families.

 

Geese family 1

Through research into their life-patterns, I learned that Canada Goose family groups remain together until mating season. Mating begins at age 3-4 years of age. Once mated, the pair stays together for life, demonstrating strong emotional bonds for one other and their off-spring. Mated pairs or family members who have been separated for even a short time greet each other with elaborate displays that include loud honking, head rolling and neck stretching. If one of a mated pair or family member is injured, a goose will stay beside the injured goose until it recovers or dies. If a mate is lost, the surviving goose will mourn for a long period of time, even up to three years, before a new mate is selected.

In early April I witnessed a goose standing over a lifeless mate.

She lay beside him, nudging softly, waiting… but nothing came.

For many mornings she stood her ground, honking…honking a mourning sound.

She and I found it hard to comprehend how this pair joined by nature to be as one

Would no longer travel together through storm and sun.

 

The emotional ties between mates, strengthened during mating and nesting, extend to the goslings early in the hatching cycle, and appear similar to the process of emotional bonding that takes place for human beings. Goose parents communicate with their not-yet hatched goslings and the goslings communicate back. The calls from the not-yet hatched goslings are limited to greeting “peeps,” distress calls, and soft trills signaling contentment. Once hatched, their parents are highly nurturing of them. The female will often lift her wing slightly and let them gather underneath it for warmth, protection and security during their rest times, both day and night. A gentle sound from their mother indicates the goslings are being called to safety and they quickly scurry beneath her wings while the gander stands guard protecting his little ones and his mate. While both parents, especially the male, vigorously defend their young, I often observed the drake standing proudly over the brood, his strong neck raised high as he looks about in all directions, demonstrating his strength and ability to guard and protect them all. The protective behaviors of both parents diminish once the young geese are able to fly.

Flying practice begins even before the goslings have flight feathers. Lined up along the shore the goose parents use a variety of honking sounds and body movements to encourage wing-strengthening exercises. The first flight of any gosling is a family affair. When each gosling in the brood is ready for their first flight from the lake, the female makes the first honk, her mate and their young pick up the sound and in unison honk as if to encourage each other into the new behavior of being airborne.

Once airborne, Canada Geese fly in V-formation. The V-formation flying pattern allows them to fly farther and sustain flight longer than does flying alone, for the V-formation allows them to take advantage of the lifting power of the birds in front. Flight in the V-formation also allows for a rotation of positions. When the lead goose tires, that bird moves back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.

My morning encounters with Canada Geese families offers numerous hours of enjoyment as I witness the beauty and rapid growth of the goslings. Each morning I am also gifted with observations of behaviors causing me to marvel at the poetic and symbolic images of family life and values being revealed. In 10, 000 Dreams Interpreted Pamela Wall notes that symbolically, “The goose represents watchfulness and love.”

Geese family 2

Love Saved a Life

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

For quite some time following the death of our son, my husband’s thoughts were punctuated with self-loathing, resulting in occasions of suicide contemplation. While I, too, was struggling with grief and remorse, I knew my husband needed my help to reclaim his sense of worth and his desire to remain among the living. Up to that point in life, I had for the most part, taken for granted the giving and receiving of love between us. This crisis forced me to recognize that the giving of unconditional love could not be taken for granted, but instead required a concentrated effort. Now, years later, in retrospective contemplation, I reflect on the verbal and nonverbal techniques that were the most effective in helping my husband survive those turbulent days and nights; I most especially think about the efforts, which over the years, seem to have contributed significantly to the sustenance and growth of our longtime relationship. Below I note what I believe were the most effective ways I communicated unconditional love. I share with you what I feel is at the top of my list for creating a loving partnership following a relationship crisis.

Love Saved a Life
1) I learned to listen totally and completely

I recognized that to help my husband again see himself as worthy of living a good life, I needed to let him know how much I valued and appreciated him. My first counseling class taught me that one of the best ways to show I value someone is to listen attentively when that person speaks. It was also during this class I realized what a poor listener I actually was, for when I really began to listen to my husband, I discovered that he knew a lot about some very interesting topics and had some delightful stories to tell. As time went by, and even though I had previously heard many of his stories, each time I stopped what I was doing, made direct eye contact with him, and concentrated fully, not only on what he was saying, but also on him. As a result, I felt an increased sense of admiration for the man I married. In turn, he picked up not only my attentiveness but also my renewed admiration. This simple act seemed to slowly, but surely, return the gleam of light to the windows of his soul.

2) I learned the value of setting aside precious time just for the two of us

I gain a lot of pleasure from accomplishing tasks that I set my mind to completing, and because of that I can be quite task-orientated. Not long after I became aware of my need to help my husband emotionally and physically survive our crisis, I recognized that showing someone he or she is valued and appreciated requires allotting time to be totally available. To meet this goal we began a routine of being together, just the two of us, each Friday evening. We would pick a secluded table and take turns listening to each other express our grief and sorrow and share any forward movement we believed we had made along our healing journey. These times of intimate conversation positively and significantly impacted both of us and in many ways strengthened our relationship.

3) I learned the power of using therapeutic touch

During studies for my Master’s degree I explored the benefits of touch as a therapeutic modality. I learned that caring, loving touch is necessary for the survival of infants and for the maintenance of emotional and mental health at all ages. Nurturing, caring touch can increase endorphins; the body’s own pain relief. Similar to the effects of opiates, nurturing touch has the potential to create a euphoric response. Although previously I had not considered the value of touch as a means to convey care and acceptance, I began to put into practice what I learned about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of stroking an arm and rubbing a back. I also learned that when my husband’s grief was raw and he could not hear my words of love, he could still feel my touch and absorb the acceptance it conveyed.

I love the Nairobi proverb, “Hold a true friend with both eyes and with both hands.” February is considered the month to convey love since in many countries the feast day of St. Valentine is celebrated on February 14th. Perhaps this year on February 14th it may be appropriate to begin a practice of increasing the power of your love by applying the Nairobi proverb teachings. Gazing deeply into the eyes of the person you love, hold both this person’s hands in yours as you convey the words; “I value and appreciate all you are and all you do for me. I love you for all you do and for all you are.”

From Inner Peace to World Peace

Jane A. Simington, PhD., 2014

The signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 was a declaration to end all wars. As I ponder the reasons for the lack of peaceful outcomes that many believed would follow the signing of the Armistice, I recall the words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who throughout Living Buddha, Living Christ, reminded us that Until there is peace between religions, there can be no peace in the world. People kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies. When we believe that ours is the only faith that contains the truth, violence and suffering will surely be the result.

We each view the world through a framework carpentered from the religious, cultural, political, and educational systems into which we have been indoctrinated. We all have powerful priests, teachers, elders, parents, and friends who continually reinforce our initial teachings. And yet regardless of our indoctrination, our unique take on the world is a process of filtering our experiences. We examine every word we hear, every action we view, and we attach judgment in the form of a thought. In turn, those thoughts become our reality. We decide whether the event is good or bad, right or wrong. Shakespeare reminded us that our reality is a product of our thinking. Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

flying birdIn Ageless Body, Timeless Mind Deepak Chopra emphasized that our cells are constantly eves dropping on our thoughts. The neurochemicals produced by our thoughts move through the synapses and biochemical exchanges of our nervous systems and thus, because each muscle cell has an axon, the tail of a neuron attached to it, our thoughts affect our bodies. Our lives, are therefore today, a product of the thinking we have done. Because of the processes of electrochemical exchange, when we change our thoughts, we change our lives. By changing thoughts of, “this is bad,” “this is wrong,” to affirmations of “I love…,” “I value…,” we alter the neurochemicals moving throughout our bodies. While overnight, we will not make complete changes in these exchanges, when we practice daily to change any negative thought to more positive ones, in a short time we will notice alterations in our attitudes. Because thoughts create attitudes which result in behaviors, and behaviors become who we are, any changes in behaviors must always begin with changes in thinking.

Thoughts are energy, and because of that they are free-floating and radiate from us affecting others. This process is similar to what takes place when we throw a rock into the water. The impact made by the rock moves from the point of insertion, rippling eventually throughout the pond. Relative to the Critical Mass Theory, if enough of us increase our thoughts of peace, love and goodness, so as to out-weight the energy of the thoughts of war and hatred, the critical mass of peace will be reached and in turn that will be the outcome. When we truly recognize the connections between our thoughts and their outcomes we comprehend more clearly why it is often said that world peace being within.

 

Marcus Aurelius noted that, “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”As November 11th approaches and as we near the end of 2014, there is a great need to hear and respond to that wisdom and to heed the Great Cry to find harmony within, and to live in harmony with others. We must once again acknowledge as Chief Seattle did: All things are connected – like the blood that unites one family. What befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. We did not weave the web of life. We are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

 

To transform in the direction of inner peace is to acknowledge that healing ourselves and working toward world peace is the same work. It is to affirm that the “Earth is Christos, is Buddha, is Allah, is Gaia.”

Threads of Gratefulness Woven within the Fabric of Life

©Jane A. Simington, PHD., October, 2014

“It is not a matter of brain damage; it is a matter of life or death.” Bill signed the consent; I was unconscious. The fall had fractured my skull and thrust my brain forward crashing it against the frontal portion of my cranium.

Post surgery, during moments of semi-consciousness, I became increasingly aware of my inability to see. Each time I slipped back into unconsciousness I begged three large Beings of Light to open my eyes. Weeks later, Bill told me that my failed attempts to force my swollen eyes open had caused me to become more and more agitated, to the point of where I was pulling out life supporting chest tubes.

jane gratitude centre 1

Those events occurred three years ago. While it took months to heal the many symptoms caused by a brain injury and the psychological effects of the trauma, today I am grateful for life and for a body and brain that function well. Every time I run along the lakeside, I recall the days when I had to be aware of the exact placement of each of my feet so as to ensure I would not fall. I am grateful to have regained balance. Each time I answer a student’s question, I breathe a silent “thank you,” knowing that both my long and short term memory are once again intact. I am thankful for my sight and hearing, especially because the location of the damage to my skull and brain makes the retaining of those senses a miraculous gift. I am grateful for my husband Bill who held and stroked me for three days and nights, assuring me he was there, and knowing his touch and reassurance were the only things that would calm my anxiety enough to keep me from pulling out tubes, and keep me from causing permanent damage to my eyes from my attempts to force them open.

As a nurse, when I worked with an unconscious patient I always believed that an unconscious person could hear what was being said to them. While I have little recall of most of my unconscious days, I do have some memory of Bill’s supporting words and because of my experience I will continue to encourage people to speak in loving and caring ways to those who are unconscious and to those who are dying.

I am grateful for what my time in the realm of the unconscious taught me about the Spirit World. For much of my life I had a belief in Spiritual Helpers. That belief has been substantiated and has become a knowing for I witnessed and was cared for by Spiritual Helpers when in a state of unconsciousness and I witnessed them once again after I gained consciousness. I now know, not just believe, that I have help and support from a spiritual realm.

October is the month when we pause to take stock of our abundance, and in turn give thanks for all we have received. I share my experiences and the gifts I garnered from those experiences trusting they will inspire you to reexamine your own difficult life events. When you do so, I encourage you to recognize and share with others all the golden threads of gratefulness that because of those events, are now beautiful parts of the wonderful fabric of your life story.

 

Wind and the Seasonal Changes of Life

 ©Jane A. Simington PHD, September, 2014

As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

– Psalms ciii:15-16

Early this day, as I stood to welcome the sun, I was acutely aware that the whispering breezes were announcing “change.” I lingered to identify from which direction it came. I believe that Spirit rides on the wind and the message Spirit brings depends upon the direction from which the winds blow. This morning, the winds of the West announced that one season was ending and a new was about to begin. I pondered how, during my career as a nurse, I was so aware that when the Wind of Spirit ceased to blow, one way of being had ended and a new way was about to begin.

Autumn trees by Jane's lake

The following information and strategies has assisted many caregivers who choose to help the dying free up their Spirits, so when they cease to breathe, their breath is freed from its restless tides to rise and seek God unencumbered.

1) Recognize the three stages of dying.

Outward focused: The person continues to be interested in the outside world, especially in anything related to their family. Visits and conversations about present events are still desired.

Inward focused: The dying person is reviewing every aspect of life to determine what yet needs to be said and done. During this stage it is helpful to share “remember when” stories. Describing shared experiences can help the person feel a sense of satisfaction with the aspects of their life being reviewed. During this stage, the dying person finds the radio and television annoying for these “noises” distract from, and interfere with, the important task of reviewing life with the goal of bringing a peaceful closure to relationships.

Future focus: The person who is close to death is focused almost solely on the afterlife. During this stage many have dreams of a spiritual nature, and visitations from loved ones who have already crossed-over. Listening respectfully, with an open mind and heart, to anything the dying person chooses to share about such experiences is of great value to the dying person as well as to the listener. Being gifted with sacred stories can alter life in many positive ways.

2) Recognize the difference between pain and suffering.

Both from a clinical and research base, it is recognized that suffering is more than physical pain. When the dying person’s spiritual, emotional and relational concerns have been addressed they can relax and focus on what is of immediate importance, which is to bring peaceful closure to this life and move toward the next. When there is pain that is uncontrollable, even with medication, often the source of the suffering is a need to forgive or be forgiven. A question that can be helpful during such times is: “What do you want/need and from whom do you want/need it?

3) Use the Hand- Heart Energetic Connection –

A loved one can give a lot of energetic support to the Spirit of a dying person by using this Therapeutic Touch technique. To do so, hold the dying person’s right hand with your left hand and place your right hand in the middle of his or her chest. Then using your breath to draw on the light and love energy from above, bring this energy into your own heart’s energy centre and send as much love and light down your right hand and into the dying person as possible. Sending positive energy in this ways helps the dying person feel connected to the energy of the light source. Many energy practitioners who are also nurses testify to the value in using this technique during times of suffering and during times when the Spirit of the dying person is getting ready to transition.

In Conclusion

Because of my varied life experiences, I have been gifted to witness many infants take their first breath and have been with many of all ages as they took their last. I am grateful for these opportunities to witness the Wind of Spirit and its association with these times of great change. This morning as I pondered the wind and reflected on these associations, I recognized that as the West wind whispered change, it was not only announcing a change of the seasons in the natural world, it was reminding me that the Spirit of the Wind blows through each of the seasonal changes in life.

Summer Fire Ceremonies Heal and Transform

 Jane A. Simington PHD (2014)

     What is it about the camp fire that mesmerizes? What is stirred within? What dormant memories are awakened?
     Fire on most of the great Medicine Wheels of the world is the element associated with the South. Sacred teachings connected with the South are about summer; about growth and productivity. These reflections from nature, the sun-filled days and the long evenings of summer sunlight, are metaphoric reminders that the energies of summer also provide us with opportunities for growth in productive and fruitful ways.
TRC fire ceremony 013     The Hawaiian Goddess Pele is a summertime Goddess. As the Volcano Goddess, Pele prompts us to recall the power of the fire within us and how it can sometimes take a major eruption before our fire can burst forth in all its fullness. As a Fire Goddess, Pele reminds us that the ashes from fire eruptions create new soil, fertile for new growth.

     Ancient teachings such as those of the Medicine Wheel and of Goddess lore remind us that the fire energy that penetrates all living things, even the burning core deep within the earth, also burns within us . We are a part of the Life Force of the Creator and of all that has been created.
     And yet, as William James noted, “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.”1
     The long evenings of summertime offer many opportunities for gatherings around a fire. Campfires can, with a few minor adjustments, be used as ceremonial fires for healing and transformational purposes. During Fire ceremonies the Spirit of the Fire is called upon to burn away that which is no longer providing the rich fuel needed to turn our glowing embers into full blown flames.
     When I conduct a Fire Ceremony, I begin by having each participant write a letter to the Fire Spirit naming the things they are requesting to be burned away. As the fire is lit, an offering of tobacco or other medicine considered sacred by the group members is offered. Members of the group are then invited to hang a colored ribbon in a nearby tree in each of the directions. A red ribbon is hung in the South to represent fire. As this ribbon is hung we pray that the fire burns away what is no longer of growth potential. Next, a blue ribbon is hung in the West. As the blue ribbon is hung we pray for healing, since the West on most Medicine Wheels represents the place of healing. A white ribbon is then placed in the North and as it is hung we pray for strength and endurance. A yellow ribbon is used to represents the East. As the yellow ribbon is hung we pray that the element of air, which correlates with the East, blows newness into our lives.
     Following the hanging of the colored ribbons, to the beat of the drum and the rhythm of rattles, one by one we approach the fire, offering our letters. As the papers burn and the smoke ascends, we pray that our Creator take from us what is no longer working and in exchange provide us with what we need to support our new growth in the most successful and abundant ways
     Each time I conclude a fire ceremony I am reminded of the words of De Chardin. “Someday when we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. 2

References
1). James, W. (1958). Varieties of Religious Experiences. NY: New American Library.

2). De Chardin, P. T. (1984) On Love and Happiness. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Hope Helps Dreams Take Flight

 

Jane A. Simington, PHD., March, 2014

hopeAs we grow and develop, our life becomes structured around our ability to trust. We normally rely on trust during the course of any day. We trust that we are safe in our homes, that the health care system will meet our needs; that the person will stop at the red light; that our children will come home safely from school each day. But what happens to us and our sense of trust when our lived experience does not match what we have always taken for granted? No longer able to trust the universal order we feel a lack of control, continually threatened, anxious and fearful that other misfortunes might befall us. Our fears can impair our movement forward for we feel powerless to control our future. Feelings of powerlessness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and even helplessness.   

Since hope is a critical dimension of spirituality, eliminating feelings of hopelessness and despair, requires the reestablishment of trust and hope in a Divine Force, in one self and in others.  And since hopefulness is associated with spiritual wellbeing, hope-fostering activities can include religious beliefs and activities but extend to broader conceptualizations of spirituality that encompass finding new meaning and purpose in life by redefining our self and our relationships. For me, and for many I have helped beyond their despair, redefining the self and relationships with others and with God required breaking the idols of youth.

While the challenge to break those idols forces many into a spiritual crisis, it can also be an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth, for during those times we shut out the views of the world. This time of sorting though the beliefs and ideas given to us by others, allows for a discarding of what had been burned away by the fires of our own experiences. When we are finally able to view the sunrise on those first mornings after our souls’ dark nights, we know we are armed with a deeper truth, a deeper trust, and a sense of hope that despite all we have endured, life is good and filled with promise and opportunity.   

Hope is also a mental state characterized by a desire to accomplish, but with some expectation that the desired goal is attainable. Hope is therefore a sense of the possible. Even though risking after a challenging life event can take great courage, a hopeful person wants a change and is willing to risk to make that happen. During a time when I felt powerless to control my future, I learned the value of risk- taking behaviors. I recognized that taking one risk each day, and moving from the goal that was easy to achieve and be successful at, to the more difficult yet rewarding when achieved goal, seemed to automatically help me reestablish trust in my own abilities, regain a sense of personal power and mastery over my reality, and began, even without my conscious awareness, to sprout feelings of a new found purpose in life. This in turn provided me with a sense that I could again contribute something of value to the world and thereby help others find hope after their tragic life events.

The relationships between risk-taking behaviors and hope were recognized by the ancient Greeks and described in the myth of Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus angered Zeus who retaliated by offering her a box that contained evil in all its forms. Even though warned not to, Prometheus, risking more anger and disapproval, opened the box. Upon doing so, Pandora released all the evils. Only hope, lying on the bottom, remained. This myth is a great reminder that hope can reside at the base of all that we view as wrong in the world and in our lives.

Mythology and folklore for other cultures have also been used for centuries as models for life. As a therapeutic helper I often ask people what folklore or fairy tale hero is most like them. Together we explore the theme of that folk story. Then I ask the person to ponder, “How does that story end?” This question and their reflections on the parallel of the hero’s journey to their own life, can offer a glimpse of how they too can respond similarly.

While hope is an essential factor for well-being, many experience times when life seems to hold little promise. During such times, since hope is intangible, I often find it valuable to encourage strategies that make hope more tangible, even visible and touchable. One of my first opportunities to do so was when I worked with a community group, offering mental health services to depressed older persons. After assessing the relationship between their depression and feelings of hopeless, I handed each a disposable camera and asked them to go out into their homes and community and take a photo of anything that looked hopeful. Their developed pictures then became the focus of our group discussions and of my one-to-one sessions with each of them. The theme of those sessions was based on the notion that if they could see those hopeful things outside themselves, what did that reflect from within?

Therapeutic art activities also prove effective in helping both the old and young resonate with aspects of hope. In the very beginning when depression looms large, it can be hard to draw hope, so I invite the individual to pick a colored marker as a response to my question “If you could imagine hope what color would it be?” Then I encourage the person to draw hope, following my question “If you could imagine what hope looked like what shape would it be?” After any color or amount of color is placed on the paper, I encourage the expansion of the expression with the invitation “If hope were to grow, how big could it get, and what other colors would it need?”

A further therapeutic art activity I have found to help despairing persons recognize elements of hope in their lives, is the creation of a collage. For this activity I invite them to create a collage that would show all the things a hopeful person might want to have. This creation allows them to externalize in a depersonalized and therefore safe way, ideas and feelings they are not yet consciously aware of. The collage can then become a mirror reflecting a pathway to hope. As we process together their completed collage I often find symbols of hope. These include the anchor; the dove, the swallow. In Aesop fables, the swallow symbolizes hope, because it is among the first birds to appear at the end of winter. Other symbols of hope include a rainbow, a sunrise and other images of morning. There are often moments of awe and increased feelings of empowerment when people recognize that these symbols have appeared on their work. This gives me a great opportunity to remind them, that creativity is the voice of the soul.

Since trust and hope are hand-holding sisters, when there is a sense of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness, there is also a need to heal the circumstances that fractured trust. After years of searching for ways to reestablish trust and to help another reestablish trust, I have discovered that it can be valuable to work somewhat backwards. I have recognized that when we take calculated risks and have successes, we begin to trust that things can get better and we begin to lay hopeful plans for the future. I have seen this backward approach work so effectively and so often that I now place efforts to reestablish hope at the base of my pyramid of healing and work upward from there. I find great value in helping people rekindle hope for hope helps dreams take flight.



Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise

 

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

 
A number of years ago, a school therapist who worked with grieving and traumatized children told me her goal was to ensure that at the end of the school year each child in her programs would know that God loved them. I questioned whether it might be a better goal for each child to come to know self love, since it is difficult to see outside of ourselves what we do not see within.
 
Any major loss brings with it multiple subsequent losses, and most people, after experiencing a difficult circumstance, are surprised at how the tragedy has ripped away at their self worth. There is often a sense of having been taken apart and put together wrong, which in turn creates a need to redefine one’s identity and then come again to love and cherish this new self.
 
Learning to love and cherish a self that we are just beginning to know does not happen automatically, but with desire and focused effort we can reclaim a life that is rich with satisfying experiences. Here are some tried and true suggestions for ways to relearn how to love your new identity, cherish your new self and embrace a life that is filled with joy and promise.
 
Allow more pleasures.  The Talmud, The Jewish Book of Wisdom, states that “We will be called to account in the hereafter for all the God-given pleasures we have failed to enjoy.” Yet after the death of a loved one, we may need to come to terms with feelings of guilt when we allow ourselves to have fun, dress elegantly, wear jewelry, or buy something we admire. We may feel that to enjoy the pleasures of life is somehow dishonoring our grief and dishonoring the one who has died. It is, however, important to recognize that part of embracing a new life is to learn to celebrate as much as we mourn.
When describing his prison of war experiences, Victor Frankl noted that, for him, what often made the difference between life and death was to find one thing of beauty to focus on each day. Sometimes that would mean something as simple as focusing on the sun shining on a brass button of a soldiers’ uniform. 
 
Allow laughter back into your life. Laughter increases Endorphins, the body’s own pain relieving medicine, and likely also increases Interleukin 2. Interleukin 2 is a neuron-enzyme associated with cancer prevention. High levels of stress decrease Endorphins and Interleukin2 levels, and grief and trauma both place a tremendous amount of stress on every system of the body.
 
Some years after my son’s death, on hearing the laughter of my sisters, I realized that I had not laughed in a long time. Yes, I smiled, although barely, but by then, it had been years since I had enjoyed a good out-loud belly laugh, the kind recommended for health and healing. So beginning the very next morning, out in the prairie field, far away from the eyes and ears of anyone who might surmise that I was on the verge of insanity, I forced myself to laugh. I did it again and again and again, day after day after day, until once again laughter was able to find its way out of my body of its own accord.
 
Downplay the small stuff. Life can be lumpy but a lump in the breast is not the same as a lump in the gravy. Finding joy and inner peace means crossing the threshold from being a bundle of grievances, into being a force of honoring the goodness in life and in all. This little poem attributed to an unknown Tibetan Monk reminds me of the value in re-framing thoughts and shifting perspective.
 
“Once little cares annoyed me, when little cares were few;
And one fly in the ointment would make me fret and stew.
Now my life has taught me each little joy to prize;
And I am happy to find some ointment, in my little jar of flies.”
 
Spend time in nature. Being out in nature each day allows us to be a part of the rhythmic pattern of life and to recognize that the seasonal changes that are occurring around us also occur within us. The metaphoric teachings of nature remind us that even the worst and coldest winter is followed by spring. Spring turns to a time of productivity and eventually to a time of ripening and harvest.
 
Tragic events can knock us off course, making us feel anxious and ungrounded.  Spending time amidst the trees and flowers can help us regain our footing and allow us to again feel like we are walking among the living.
 
Live a life of gratitude. While in the beginning following a tragedy, it may be almost impossible to feel a sense of gratefulness, a large part of embracing a new identity and reclaiming a life of joy and promise, means to acknowledge all the goodness that is present all around us.
 embrace
Some years ago I began a practice described by Abe Arkhoff in The Illuminated Life which is to frequently call to mind at least one thing I was grateful for equal to the number of years I had lived. I found the practice helped shift my consciousness from concentrating on, because of my son’s death, what I no longer had, to focusing on the benefits and good things that were in my life. This practice helped me recognize that what I was grateful for then seemed to come to me in greater abundance.
 
If it is time for you to embrace life more fully and completely, I highly recommend applying the above techniques to your life. As you do so, I trust you will recognize that you have within you the power to reclaim a new identity and to live a life more filled with joy and promise.