Author Archive

What do you value?

My work as a counsellor in end of life care means I get to meet some truly remarkable people.  Recently I was introduced to a man I will call F.  He is about forty-five years old and is living with, and dying from, a neurological disease.  We spoke about a range of things in our short times together.  There is one thing, however, that stands out in my thoughts.  At one point I mentioned to him about his wisdom, and he brushed this aside, of course, as do many people.  I saw the wisdom shining out of his man.


I speak to people about values – what is worthy or important to you, what guides your life, what do you wish to stand for, and when you've gone, what do you want people to most remember you for.


For F it was all about contribution.  We got around to this notion in our first conversation.  Contribution is the ability to contribute, help, assist, or make a positive difference to ourselves or to others.  But for F this value had been damaged somewhat by his lack of physical ability.  "How can I contribute now?", he asked with a painful expression in his face. 


For so many of us our sense of worth, our belief in ourselves as good human beings, rests on this ability to positively influence other people.  I help others and so I am good, would be the standard line.  For so many people in our society, however, because of a range of reasons they are unable to contribute in the sense that we would normally understand.  For sick people, or those who are dying, or those isolated and frail, this sense of contribution, and therefore worthiness, is compromised and so often these people then sit in a pool of unworthiness, drowning, and even dying with these thoughts still occupying their minds.  Add to this the sense that 'dying is failing' means that people might take their last breath thinking that they are nothing, or worthless – basically judging themselves as a 'waste of space'.


So back to F … well he and I came to a new insight which we decided to call Subtle Contribution.  What this entails is the stationary, sedentary, silent, and small ways that we can continue to contribute, whilst physically unable.  Can you imagine what this might entail?  For F he was learning to be a person who remained in the present moment as much as he could, tried not to get caught up in unhelpful thoughts, held a sense of gratitude for each day, and developed a kind and compassionate relationship with himself.  By learning to live this way he was showing a way of being which added up to a peaceful and kind human being.  He had worked on his tendencies to get frustrated and taking it out on others – in other words, being responsible for his reactions and miseries.  And this was a man that certainly had good reason to be grumpy and miserable – he experienced frailty and fatigue, changed cognition and high levels of pain.  In living this way he was a role model to his kids – "I want them to see that this is possible" – this was his subtle contribution.


Maybe our human contribution can be simply about not pouring out our misery and complaints onto others around us.    Maybe it might be more about learning how to reign in our reactions towards others.  Maybe a better concept for evaluating ourselves is 'how much am I refraining from harming others today?"  At the same time we can add to this "how can I cultivate attitudes and actions that stem from a place of trust, love, compassion and gratitude?" – just in each moment – and then quietly and subtly share that around you.


Our contributions to the world of others, whilst we live this precious life, don't need to be so grand.  And it certainly doesn't have to be about any lofty status or how much you earn. 


How might you offer subtle contributions today and if you are not what is preventing you?


Love and light to you all.

Managing your emotions

Everywhere you look today there are ideas, strategies and lots of workshops about 'managing your emotions'.  I'm a bit perplexed by this.  What does this mean – managing your emotions?  What is at the heart of it?  What are we trying to do?


I am concerned a little by the notion of managing.  I looked 'manage' up in the dictionary to see what it means.  It said: to bring about or succeed in accomplishing something; to take charge or care of; to handle, govern, direct or control something.  Is this what we want to do with our precious emotions?  Are we trying to accomplish something with them?  Do we need to take charge of them? I suspect there's a lot about the value of controlling them in this phrase.  So is this what is most helpful to us as human beings?


So often as a counsellor I get called in to see people who are labelled as 'quite emotional', as if this is the problem and a counsellor needs to solve it.  Oh dear, there's someone who is emotional – quick do something!  Yesterday, I found myself sitting with a married couple, with the wife dying of cancer.  She was very pragmatic about it all and was clearly employing the whole 'management' strategy.  So what was being set up was the managing/controlling strategy was being valued, and the husband who dared to be crying was being undervalued.  He said it all when he looked up at me and said, with tears in his eyes, "I'm just being foolish for crying". 


How is it that we have come to a place and time in our society where it is thought to be foolish, not valuable and problematic to cry because your wife of 40 years is about to die.  As I type this I feel a sense of disbelief and outrage creep up inside my heart and mind.  I feel like screaming out – "no, this can't be".  How have we come to see emotions in such a negative way, to judge them to harshly, and to work our hardest in avoiding, squashing, controlling, and managing them.


Rather than manage emotions, we need to notice them, name them, feel them, accept them, allow them, not judge them as weak, irrational, or foolish.  Our emotions are just as valuable as our thoughts.  They make us human.  For me, emotions are the foundation of who we are.  We wouldn't experience love if we didn't have emotions.  And there are not good ones or bad ones – they are all just emotions.  Our evaluation of them often makes things worse for us.  Of course, we don't wish for our emotions to become 'chronic or habitual' and we don't want them to direct our actions so that we harm ourselves and others as a consequence.  But we need to change our relationship with our emotional self – not to be so fearful of this vital part of who we are.


Researcher now understand that the effort we put into managing or controlling our emotions is often more problematic and draining than the emotion itself.  It will come and go if you allow it and not get mentally caught up in it.


So today take the opportunity to experience an emotion in all of its richness – all of them – not just the one's we understand to be 'pleasant'.  Feel the nature of your sadness – where do you feel it, what type of sensation comes along with it, what space does it put you in, how does it influence you, how long does it stick around for, and how can you make friends with it.


Love and light to you all.



The Complex Facets of Our Losses

I have been blessed to have so many opportunities in my life to examine and reflect upon loss.  I read about it, I hear about it from my clients and then I experience it myself.  Last year my mother was run over and died instantly, so I got to closely examine loss.


It's such a little word though – 'loss' – but with so many layers and complexities and clearly with such huge impacts.  What I notice happening for people is that an interpretation of loss, or a meaning given of loss, is married together with an event – that moment when I found out my mother died, that moment when your boss says to you 'I'm sorry, but we need to let you go', that moment when your partner packs their things and leaves, or that precise moment when your loved one takes his/her last breath.  So we, in our minds, say that this is the moment of loss.  Then this becomes the pivotal moment that everything is related to.  So let me give you an example: a lady (daughter) rang up and asked me to see her mother who was grieving the loss of her husband.  They had been married for 56 years.  Her daughter understandably was concerned for her mother.  She says to me "it was last year that he died and still mum is grieving".  So firstly, of course, there is the issue of a time line for grief (this is something we can address in another blog).  But, secondly, there are these assessments, interpretations and judgments all hanging on this date when the husband died.  This is the loss date. 


For all of you out there who have grieved however, you know that this loss date is only one of many points of reference.  So each morning after that day you wake up and you remember again 'oh, that's right, he died' and so you re-experience loss again.  Loss is not just one event, it's a series of thoughts (words and pictures) too.  You might forget for a moment that he's gone and then you remember in your mind that he has and you feel that loss.  Little things come along each day and you re-experience the loss.  Maybe that loss experience might feel more real three months down the track, rather than on the day/date that the loss event happened.


So loss is an event, and loss is a series of thoughts too.  This has many implications for grief in that your reactions to the loss (grief) might get stronger or more noticeable at different points.  Anniversaries or special dates of course often prompt new waves of grief.  So try not to forget, especially when you are considering someone else's loss and grief experiences, that the event itself is just one date and not to measure or assess someone's grief from that point necessarily.


Now back to the mother I visited and the next complexity of loss.  So, yes, she did lose her husband – he died.  And she was grieving this loss … but then as we talked and I listened it was clear that so many other losses were occurring, as both thoughts/concepts and events.  For example, she lost her home, her community, her friends, her lifestyle, her independence, her sense of hope about life, her sense of identity as a wife, her sense of confidence and so on and so forth.  So the second very important point about loss is that one loss never stands alone.


When you experience a loss, like a death of a loved one, it never stands alone – there will always be other subtle losses that go hand in hand with it.  What we need to do is learn to be aware of these other layers of losses – recognise them, acknowledge them, and notice their impact too (grief).  It may be down the track, after some time has passed, after the death of a loved one, that you might experience a loss of another kind – like the loss of your sense of self as a wife, daughter or friend.  You might experience a type of loss in your sense of trust in the world.


So if you are sitting there reading this blog and wondering why I am not feeling so good – maybe someone close to you died, but you really thought you'd be 'over it' by now (what ever that means?) – have a look and examine yourself.  More than likely there will be some other facets of loss within you that are not being recognised.


Love and light to you all. 






Making friends with your emotional self



As I sat with a client yesterday I could see that her relationship, her way of talking, interacting with her emotional self, was so awful.  If it was a picture, it would two women sitting on the couch – one is crying and curled up, and then this mirror person sitting next to her, chastising her for feeling this way, saying that there is no good reason for it, that if you kept going this way you will loose your life, and generally not accepting this essential part of herself.  It’s almost like the intellectual self is being abusive to the emotional self.


So I came away from that session feeling very odd and displaced.  This woman was experiencing lots of sadness and anger, and frustration too.  Her thinking mind was telling her off, expecting too much of herself, and beating herself up for being this way … still … like somehow she should be ‘over it’ (the pain she was experiencing in her life at that time).


I got to thinking that our relationship with our emotional self is often quite harsh.  We don’t include it as a valuable and special part of who we are.  Or maybe we do if its about pleasant emotions like joy and happiness and love, but when it comes to the so called unpleasant ones it’s like we are saying no way – go away. 


Let’s imagine our emotional self sitting next to us, she looks the same as us, but is a little uncomfortable by the range of emotions occurring, and she’s a bit of a stranger to us, and what we might be doing is relating to her in some of these ways:


go away, I don’t like you


you are not supposed to be here


I am going to push you away and ignore you


there is no reason for you to be here


I am afraid of you


if I bring you into my life, I’m afraid of what it might mean


I can’t find any good reason for you to be here


I am only going to like you if you bring me pleasant emotions


If I embrace you then that must mean that I am not coping, or that I’m weak, or that there is something wrong with me


Because I can’t understand you, I need to control you – this is preferable


Or maybe you might use a voice like a parent or spouse does – You are hopeless, overly emotional, too sensitive (critical voice)



So I want to help people change their relationship with their emotional self – to befriend it, to not fear it, to embrace and allow it, to not get caught up in the interpretive judgments of it, to not try to control it or manage it; and to nurture it.


Of course, I am not saying that all emotions need to be expressed and made room for all of our waking moments, as we do need to function in life, but if we were to take one step closer to befriending our emotional self, what would that step be?


Love and light to you all.





What will you be wearing to your funeral?


I know it sounds like a strange question, but so often I sit with people who, when asked about funeral arrangements and what would their loved one want, have no ideas at all. Then they have the extra hassle, in the midst of a challenging time, of so many decisions to make about these issues.  Such as buried or cremated, what type of coffin, music, type of service, songs?  Why can't we plan for such a significant event? It will be the final expression of who you are and what you stood for in your life, so maybe that warrants putting in some time and thought about what you want.  Everyone says to me, "well I don't care, I won't be there … its really about the people who are left behind". 


Well, if it is about them, then make it easier on them and let them know what you would prefer. 


For example, you might be the one person who is left with the decision about whether your friend, sibling, or mother/father would prefer to be cremated or buried?  Do they want a religious service or not? What songs would best suit them or the one they would most like? We are so often left with these questions, at a time when we are vulnerable and grieving, to make in a rather quick fashion, during a rather busy time.  Those of you who have been through this know what I mean, I suspect.

What would you like to be wearing when you go to your rest? I think I would like to be wearing the clothes that best typify who I am.  I think this is important. If someone put me in a black dress in my coffin I wouldn't be very happy.  A funeral service, and other related matters, require a considered congruency with who that person is/was.  I get told that the reason people want to access my services as a funeral celebrant is because I had met and gotten to know the person who had died.  I knew them and this is what is often so important.  Rather than some impersonal service that doesn't match or honour the person who has died.

So make it easy on your friends and family.  Go to my web page under funerals and down load the funeral planning sheet and fill it out, either alone or with a loved one. 


Have fun with it.  People often don't realise what can be included these days.  You have many options and possibilities for creativity.  Lots of people now are doing much of it themselves, and this is possible.  Your friend or family member can be cremated straight away, and then you could have a personalised, quiet, or fun, and creative ceremony of your choice (with the ashes present).  These ceremonies are so important to us and can hold much symbolism and meaning, and potential for healing our grief and finding new meaning in life.

And if you would like an informal, out in nature perhaps, type of ceremony or something a bit different, or a ceremony that really fits who you are, then give me a call/email.

As sure as we are living and breathing, so too we will die and stop breathing.  There is nothing more surer than that.

Love and light to you all.

Rosary Beads Are Fashionable


A few years back I was trying to find some rosary beads for my mother in law who had lost her's and was upset about this.  I thought if I could buy some for her this might cheer her up.  I searched quite a bit and only ever found one place, a Christian shop in the city where you could buy them. 


Fast forward to January 2012 and I was sitting in a Japanese restaurant, by myself, listening in on conversations, as I tend to do.  One particular man's voice caught my attention, mainly because it was rather abrasive.  He had been making some derogatory comments about a person he knew.  I managed to discreetly turn towards him, just to check him out further.  We are so curious about each other, aren't we? What first struck me was that he was wearing some rosary beads, with the crucifix on it.  Okay, then I had to stop and think about this a little bit more.  I was certainly raised as a Catholic and the beads and crucifix were familiar items to me, but on this day I had to stop and think:  what does wearing this religious symbol mean to this person? 


So I pondered on this question a little bit further, but then to my great surprise, I started seeing rosary beads everywhere; on young people and old, in shops, even in a hairdresser – yes, a certain hairdresser which shall remain unnamed had hanging out the front of the shop along with the hairbrushes and clips, fluro-coloured rosary beads.  Shock, horror.  What is happening? Well the obvious answer is: rosary beads are currently what's fashionable. 


We could call this, rather cynically mind you, the marketing of spirituality.  I still wonder what meaning people have in their minds when they wear them now.  I am curious about this.  What does it mean to you to wear rosary beads?  My dear reader, please don't think that in any way I am negatively judging people who do wear them.  I have some lovely quartz crystal rosary beads myself.  Really, what I am asking is that we look into, reflect a bit more perhaps, on what the symbolism of the crucifix means to us now in 2012.


I would like to suggest an idea that Ian Gawler speaks of when considering the crucifix.  The sign of the cross, the horizontal and vertical lines, which meet together, can represent both the material and the spiritual realms. Ian says that the life of Jesus embodied the integration of these two directions.  The horizontal direction takes our attention out into the world, scanning the horizon.  It is the direction of the outer, or engaging with others and the environment.  It involves activity, decision making, goal setting, and busyness.  This is the direction of materialism, says Ian.  On the other hand, the vertical direction takes us into our inner world.  It gives us depth and subtlety to life.  When we become still, reflective and meditate the vertical direction reveals itself.  It is about an inner focus, of getting in touch with ourselves and deepening this relationship with who we are.  It connects us with this precious present moment.  It is the realm of the spiritual.  These two directions can complement each other. However, I would suggest that our current time and culture values the outer focus, especially notions of progress, movement, and action.  We do not, I believe, as yet equally value stillness, standing still, stopping, presence, not progressing or moving.  So many of us live in the horizontal direction, and do not prioritise the vertical – our inner world. 


When we integrate the two directions in our lives they become that potent symbol – the sign of the cross.  The vertical direction provides a deep source of nourishment which is not available from the horizontal direction.  Stuck on the horizontal, we run on adrenalin until we are "spiritually empty".  


So when we wear our crucifix around our neck in whatever form, remember what they mean to us.  Some say it reminds them of what Jesus sacrificed. So then how does that translate into a way of living for us no?.  For me, I find it helpful to remind myself that the cross symbolises the vertical and horizontal aspects to my life that BOTH need nourishment.  I try to catch myself up when I get caught up in the progress thoughts and stories that whirl in my mind.  Stopping and attending to our spirituality is just as important as eating the right food, or exercising, or growing our business, or in any other way we stop to nourish ourselves.


If you would like to learn more about how to cultivate your vertical direction in your self and your life, book a spiritual counselling session with me.  We can work out a map for spiritual practices (of a practical and simple nature), look at what spiritual qualities you would like to develop further, and generally enhance your spiritual health.  

Love and light to you all.

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