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.



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7 Responses to Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise

  1. Larissa Whiting says:

    Jane, your new article is so beautiful. You are a light in this world. I felt compelled to tell you that.

  2. Joe Dierker says:

    I read your Embracing Life article several times. Very Helpful.

  3. A Gaboury says:

    Jane, as always I enjoyed your words of inspiration. My thoughts and prayers are with you!

  4. Dear dr. Jane,
    Thank you for your importants positive words now. With gratitude Willeke Oskam

    Do you know the method of attitudinal healing? I have work with the principals for more than 10 years. I think this is also helpfull.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for your feedback on my article ” Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise.” I am unfamiliar with the methods of Attitudinal healing. Please inform me.

  5. Mark says:

    I want to THANK YOU for emphasizing the importance of LAUGHTER, both as a healthful refreshment in everyday life, a critical healing aspect of grief and in easing physical and soul pain in the dying process of losing one’s self.

    As a 70-y.o. gay man, I specialize in working with disenfranchised and marginalized persons… the bereaved as well as those deep in Anticipatory Mourning of self, an SO or others.

    Particularly for those LGBTs of Generation Silent (born 1925-1947,) a lifetime of internalized fear, bias, stigma, hate and bigotry projected upon one makes for some very specific dynamics in Trauma, Grief and Soul Pain, including Complicated Grief.

    I am always amazed at the physical/soul pain relief upon my unanticipated use of humor that results in a client’s all-out BELLY LAUGH. OH! how many times humor as caused the clouds to part and warming smiles act as rays of sunshine which kisses the wildflowers of the soul to burst forth in a chorus of color! With skillful use of HUMOR, I have been privileged to be holding the hand of many who were then able to cross the bridge peacefully with a smile.

    In a play on the familiar colloquial phrase “I laughed ’til I could have died,” I have an outline, stories, research and ideas for a book: “I Laughed ‘Til I (‘could have’ crossed out) Died.” As a rather busy septuagenarian, I am hopeful I actually WRITE the book (GRIN!)

    Thanks again for recognizing how HUMOR brightens the pathway.

    Respectfully,
    Mark “Bear” Hartness

  6. Laura Anne W says:

    I wondered, at first, if you, Jane, were going to write this article from personal experience. Though I’m sorry you had to lose your son, I can relate to you because you had a major loss, and I had a major loss, as well, followed by other losses, though not of the same intensity.

    I experienced many of the things you described in Embracing a Life of Joy and Promise. Coincidentally, I read Victor Frankl’s book when I was searching for meaning–That book helped me find purpose again.

    Ready or not, just as I was not ready for the grief after the death, I was in group therapy from the start–It seemed ridiculous, at first, but it soon made perfect sense because I threw myself into it, used the techniques, applied and incorporated them–They are a part of me now.

    I did have to relearn to love myself–I even took a course in that. It was hard learning to laugh again–At times, it still is.

    To me, a lump, whether in the breast, or in the gravy, is the same. We are not here forever! I have been blessed to see those before me who have “died well,” something that Mr. Rogers referred to in the TV Guide article he was in many years ago.

    I have had the fortune of having a major illness all of my life that was “supposed” to have ended my life about 15 years ago. No day is promised to me. I’m okay with that! I’m trying to let go of things that really don’t matter–There’s so little that really matters! So much is immaterial; so much is just an illusion.

    I don’t have to create a life of success–I am successful because I am. (This is not to say that I do not have things that I am passionate about, do well, and enjoy, because I do.)

    I appreciate your article and your sharing.

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