The Loss in Love

It’s all too easy. We can get so swept up in the daily rigmarole. Working, keeping house, raising families, trying to maintain relationships, our bodies, our minds. We spend countless years worrying about what could happen, if the right things will happen, and turning away from anything resembling pain or loss.

We get caught up in wishing for today’s suffering to ease. Or we have a good moment in our life, and we shiver for fear of losing it. All of these experiences, either trying to escape suffering or fearing the loss of something good, blind us from our reality.

We cannot be fully in our present moment life and pulled into the past or future at the same time. We cannot enjoy and fully appreciate what we have if we are not in the present moment. We end up missing our lives. Such a circular conundrum we find ourselves in, then. The only way to fully appreciate what is before us is to see it, but to see it we must also allow in the pain of the moment and the potential to lose it.

The truth is all the things in our life are temporary. This might create anxiety, or it could create peace. If we understand that everything is temporary – this job, this relationship, this hard day, this amazing day, this part of our life, this body – then we have an opportunity. We have the freedom to choose whether to live it, fully. Enjoy it, fully.

When we mistakenly believe that something is forever, even subconsciously, we run the risk of taking it for granted. That can be a difficult task, to seek out the dark places we are assuming something will last forever, and bring in the light of awareness. This, too, is temporary.

But Danielle, I don’t want to feel the pain of knowing something I love so much is temporary.

I feel you, there. The pain can be frightening. It can make us live in denial (of impermanence, aka everything is temporary). And, impermanence is life. We can not simply avoid it. To love is to lose. They are one. We cannot avoid the pain of acknowledging the temporary nature of a love we hold. It cannot be undone or avoided.

It can be traded.

Sometimes we choose to trade the pain of today for the pain of tomorrow. I’ll avoid the pain today by tucking, ignoring, or denying it. But since it cannot go away forever, it gets postponed. At some point, likely after the loss of the love occurs, all the pain we’ve been blocking floods in. Only now, there is nothing that can be done about it.

If I feel the loss of love, while I have love, I have opportunities to do something about it. I can love well, relish in that love, and feel gratitude in my bones for it. If I wait to feel the loss of love until I no longer have the object of my love, my options are limited. There is nothing left of them for me to dote on, love well, or relish. I’m left holding all my feelings and having to do something with them. It’s unnatural, and thus suffering arises. We are meant to love what we have while we have it.

If we love well while love exists, then when (not if) the love ends, we are left with the simple grief of loss. To be sure, this is hard all on its own. Simple might feel like the wrong word. But its simplicity comes from the ability to find ease, peace. We think we can avoid grief if we deny and ignore it. But when we haven’t fully shown up when love was still here, we are left, afterward, not only with the grief but also with a heavy cloud of regret. What is regret? A sadness, a disappointment over what we did, or did not do. A missed opportunity. And in this case, one that cannot be remedied.

Grief is tolerable. Regret feels intolerable.

What are we to do when we still have our love here?

  • Relish it. Look at it directly, and choose to enjoy it.
  • Slow down. Time slows down when we become present. We won’t remember the TV show, the video game, the social media scrolling. But we will remember the laughter, the joy, the connection.
  • Strive for moments, not perfection. We are human. We cannot be fully present all of the time. What we can do is grow our awareness and practice stepping into the present moment, into our lives, a few minutes (or seconds) at a time.
  • Remind ourselves often of the reality of impermanence, and be willing to feel the loss of love hand in hand with the love itself.

What are we to do when we have already lost?

  • Keep yourself in behavior, not personhood. When the thoughts come up, the regret, start with keeping it focused on what you did that you would change given the opportunity, and don’t let it turn against who you are. If you behaved regrettably, like not enjoying something while you had it, it’s okay to feel the regret. It is not helpful to then tell yourself you’re a bad person for it.
  • Focus on the physical sensations of regret, and try to come out of your mind when you can.
  • Look for ways to feel compassion for yourself. Understand what led you to behave (or not) the way you did, and offer compassion to that past self for what led them there. They were doing the best they could with what they had and what they knew.
  • Work toward acceptance. This is not being “okay” with something. It is an acknowledgment of what is. It’s pulling yourself out of wishing you could have something you can’t, or not wanting what you have. In the loss I’ve been going through this week, those might sound like “I wish I would have been more loving, more patient.” (not wanting what I have, which was not being loving and patient). Or “I just want to tell her, I just want her to know…” (wanting something I can’t have). Instead, we lean into acceptance. I had a love. Sometimes I did right by that love. There were times I didn’t appreciate, enjoy, and sink into the love the way I would if I could go back and re-do those times, with the knowledge I have now. And now, that love is gone. Acknowledging the what is.

This life and love and loss work is not easy. If you need support, feel free to reach out. We might not know your loss, but we know our own.

D

Are you doing these three things to improve your mind?

 

We all know what it sounds like. We wake up, feel a little tickle in our throat and begin to think, “I’m sick. I’m getting sick. Is that…? Yep. I’m sick.” Or we have a rough night of sleep: “Ugh, I’m so tired. Ugh… how am I going to make it through today? There’s no way. Need. Coffee. Do they realize how tired I am? I can barely open my eyes. So tired.”

Each time we circle around with those thoughts a peculiar thing happens: we intensify our physical experience. Rarely do we repeat in our minds how tired we are, and end up feeling more jazzed. Our body becomes heavier, more sore, more weak with each repetition.

If we’re able to think ourselves more tired or sick, what happens when we think things like, “I am an angry person,” “I’m not attractive enough,” or “I’m so anxious.” So why do we do this to ourselves? Well, because we don’t always realize how much power we have over our minds.

That’s right, our minds.  They belong to us, and not the other way around. You are fully capable of turning your mind from unpleasant ruminations to more positive musings. But how? Here are three (not so easy) ways to improve your thinking:

  1. Vent less. When we feel burdened with thought, we often have the urge to vent (i.e. verbally vomit our frustrations). Under the guise that it’ll make us feel better, we seek out a friend or confidant to hear us out. Unfortunately, venting isn’t what helps us feel better. If we are venting just to vent, we’re actually ruminating out loud. We’ll most likely end up more worked up at the end than we did to start with. What helps us feel better is connection. If we seek out a confidant to hear us out, challenge us to take responsibility, and face our feelings without judgement, we can feel more connected and thus less overwhelmed.
  2. Don’t believe your boogers. We walk around all day assuming the thoughts that pulse through our minds are facts. “This sucks, that is awesome.” We believe what we think, and are even sometimes willing to fight to prove it is true. When we believe our thoughts, we end up with more thoughts, which we believe, which lead to more thoughts. I once heard a monk explain that our mind churns out thoughts like our nose churns out boogers. Thoughts are the mind’s job, but we don’t go through life believing our boogers hold the truth. So why do we believe our thoughts do? Don’t believe everything you think. Here are some tips how:
    1. Start by listening to the things you’re telling yourself all day. Awareness comes first.
    2. Work to label them. Whether they’re judgement, wishing, planning, or reminiscing. You can also just label them “thought.” Or better yet, “booger.”
    3. Start questioning whether they’re helpful or unhelpful. Do they make you feel more positive or more negative? If they don’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, look for a thought that counteracts them. Instead of “I can’t do anything right!” Try, “It’s been a rough day – and, I do a lot of things well. For example…” (hint: there are things you do well!)
  3. Step into your life. To get out of your mind, you have to get into your life. There’s even a workbook with a similar title, I recommend it. What does it mean to step into your life? To me, it comes with a few calls to action.
  • First up is accountability. Stop waiting for the motivation fairy to flit in and give you the desire to do things you don’t want to do. Be accountable to yourself, to your actions, and to your impact.
  • Secondly, to pull from Marie Kondo, do more of what sparks joy in your life. Get yourself organized. Love what you have. Do things that connect you to the earth, to yourself, and to your community.
  • Lastly, give it a rest. You don’t have anything to prove or any worth make up. Hold yourself with warm regard and give yourself a rest. Stop trying to berate yourself into improvement. Stop trying to outperform. Just step into the moment and try to enjoy it. It’s all you really have.

This life is hard. And confusing. And overwhelming. And that’s on the outsides of our bodies. Sometimes life is confusing and hard and overwhelming inside our bodies, outside of our control. Our mind, though, doesn’t have to be. That is the one suffering that we can control. Why not release it? Find rest. Enjoy it.

See you soon,

D

Honoring our power

It’s been going on a lot lately. I feel it coursing through my system. I want women (all women) to feel their power.

Let’s start by saying this has little to do with cis-men and their power. Yes, patriarchy. But we’re not here to talk about taking power from anyone. We all have power within us, and it is our job to keep and harness our own power for good.

There are so many ways we give away our power. Some of them are inherent in relationships, other ways are insidious, some even damaging.

Giving up our power often looks like abandoning ourselves. We give more credence to what others expect of us, what we think society expects of us, what we think relationship requires of us than to what our intuition knows is right.

I’ve been seeing it a lot in my work lately, women reclaiming their power. Women being brave enough to listen to their own instincts and then advocate for what they find there.

Too often we do the opposite. Women who have sacrificed their careers to raise their children, who sacrifice themselves to make sure the house and everyone in it is cared for in every way. Women who allow poor behavior from partners and do what they can to sweep away any consequences their partner might experience. It’s just easier that way. Women who forget or lose touch with who they are, because they’re trying to “have it all.” Women who believe they ought to look a certain way in order to have worth.

Where did we learn this?

Who says this is the way it has to be?

How might our lives change if we choose ourselves, in addition to all the other things we love? What if we thought of ourselves as -same as- not more important, not less important. Equal.

Yes, I will care for you when you’re in COVID isolation for a week, and then I’d like some time to myself this weekend.

Yes, I will pause my career because it’s important to raise these babies we’ve chosen, but I will listen to my inner wisdom and trust when it is time to go back.

I will own and share my feelings without fear of being labeled “sensitive.” I am sensitive. That is part of my power. My feelings belong to me, and I can experience them without reacting from them.

There is no morality in cleanliness, so I will not feel bad if my house feels like it is in shambles. I will not clean up after those who can clean up after themselves, outside of an occasional offering of kindness (infrequent enough that it doesn’t turn into an expectation by the other person).

Yes, I will wear clothes that feel good on my body, and give less care to what I’m supposed to look like these days. I will love this body because it is the body I have.

I am a valuable part of this conversation, and I will not feel shame for using my voice and sharing my ideas. I will not fear retribution and will set my boundaries and hold them with firm kindness.

Who is it that you want to be? What are you doing when you feel the most like yourself? Can you do more of what sends you down the path of authenticity, and less of what leads you astray?

You take that real estate test. It’s what you’ve always wanted. You take a step back from work and care for yourself, you’ve been trying too hard for too long. You speak up in that meeting, you have important things to say. Go to that rally, fight for your rights. You acknowledge those parts of you that you’ve kept hidden for too long, they’re beautiful.

We’ve been taught and it has been reinforced for too long that we should be self-sacrificing. That is not a balanced stance. We can be generous, selfless, and caring. But if we go to a place of giving where we lose ourselves, then we lose our ability to really show up in our lives, let alone for others.

This is where depression creeps in. The cognitive dissonance (or, the discomfort we feel when we live outside of our values) is immobilizing. Overwhelmed by the expectations, burdens, and dissonance, we numb out. We check out. We work harder to show up for others, and wonder why we feel empty at the end of the day.

Perhaps it starts with a willingness to get to know ourselves, truly, without shame. Only through understanding can we properly love. Only through true understanding and love, can we fully show up.

Show up for yourself the way you needed someone to show up for you when you were little. Show up for you the way you show up for others. Believe in your value, and live in a place where you honor it.

I see you working your tail off. You are not alone. You are a powerhouse, and I wish you rest and compassion.

You deserve it.

D

I don’t need any help

Unlike many traditional graduate programs, my program required a 14-day backpacking trip into Utah’s
most grueling terrain. My peers and I spent two weeks hiking along the bottom of White Canyon, a deep
canyon marked by labyrinth-like side canyons, thick underbrush, arches, and pictographs. Throughout
these weeks, my peers and I took turns facilitating therapeutic group activities designed to provoke self-
reflection. What I discovered about myself during one activity changed the way I saw myself forever.
As the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall to the West, I shifted my heavy pack off my back and sat
in the sand to listen to the activity instructions my peer was giving. Here is what she said:


“I will be setting up a maze with rope. With one of your hands on the rope, your job is to find the way out
of the maze. You will be blindfolded, so this task will be difficult. You can raise your hand as many times
as you want to ask questions or to ask for help.”


“Okay, pretty straightforward,” I thought as I tied a bandana around my eyes and placed my hand on the
rope.


I slowly worked my way around the maze, making a mental map in my head. I could hear my peers
laughing and huffing in frustration as we quickly discovered the exit wasn’t going to be easy to find.
After a while, a few peers excitedly proclaimed their success and exited the maze. As fewer and fewer
people circled the maze with me, I grew frustrated and determined to find the exit.


“Do you need help, Jess?”
“No, I can do it! I don’t need any help.”
“Okay, let me know if you need help, I’m right here.”


Slowly but surely, I was the last one in the maze, circling around in the sand and swearing at my inability
to figure out the game. Finally, in a fit of frustration and anger, I pulled off my blindfold and begged my
peer to tell me the secret for getting out of the maze.


“All you needed to do was ask for help.”

If you relate to this story, it’s possible that at some point in your life, you learned that other people
couldn’t be trusted or relied on. To compensate for this lack of trust in others, you developed a
rebellious streak of independence to cope. Now, don’t get me wrong, independence can be a wonderful
strength, but at what point does it isolate you and leave you feeling alone and helpless?
As we’ve seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult for humans to thrive in isolation. As difficult as
it may be, learning to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it will improve your relationships
and your mental wellbeing. I’ll save you the hassle of backpacking into the Utah wilderness and blindly
following a rope in circles in order to unlearn hyper-independence. Here are a few skills to try to begin
learning how to trust others:

  • Check your ego: Use a beginner’s mindset to view tasks with “fresh” eyes instead of assuming
    you know all the answers.
  • Delegate tasks: Ask your co-workers or family members to help you with something small or
    inconsequential to build your trust in their ability to help you in the future.
  • Allow for imperfection: If you’ve delegated a task, and it’s not done exactly how you would have
    done it, ask yourself if that’s okay?
  • Trust: Think of someone you trust completely. Make a list of qualities which make it easy for you
    to trust them. Work to extend trust to others who hold those qualities

Next time you find yourself saying “I don’t need any help,” challenge yourself by adding: “Actually, I could use a hand.” Remember, this doesn’t make you weak or needy, this makes you brave.

Reach out if you need me,

Jess

Willingness for Vulnerability

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I’m sitting in a chair, barefoot and holding a warm glass of tea meant to bring some calm into my life. It’s my first time in this place, a mindful community, and the three others there have been kind and welcoming. I’ve needed this, a sangha. It’s been hard to find one that fits. The task before me is a check-in, much like a therapy group, but without feedback or conversation. Just brief attuned listening. Real space to exist for a moment.

I thought perhaps I’d share something mid-level. In grad school, we used to call it a 4 or a 5 on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is the trauma you’d share with a therapist and 1 something you’d share with a stranger. After all, I don’t know these people. I haven’t even decided whether this is my place or my community. Why let them know me?

Ready to share something mostly meaningless, it struck me. A question I ask myself perhaps to often: “What would I tell a client do to?”

I’d probably say, “what would happen if you actually shared how you felt? What might you gain? What is there to lose?”

My turn came. I made the brave choice.

I’m feeling grateful to be here tonight. I’ve been spending so much time trying to take care of others that I’ve forgotten myself. I used to rely on my meditation practice to help me be my true self, and when my daughter was born that nearly disappeared. I let it. And now I don’t always recognize myself. I get frustrated for such mundane reasons and then spiral into shame for not being the woman I know how to be. It hurts. I’m ready to find what makes me radiate again. My daughter deserves to grow up with that version of me.

It came easily. And it reminded me of something I so frequently encourage in others. Shame only holds power when you keep it secret. Letting the air and light in sends the shadows scampering.

Not every place or person is safe. And, if you are standing firmly in an open, willing vulnerability, nothing anyone says can hurt you. You are open and willing, so you examine it, integrate what helps you heal and grow, and allow the rest to fall away.

Naming what shames us is freeing. It takes back the power that shame steals from us. The power we sometimes hand over willingly. It says, no I won’t disappear inside. I won’t hide or fight it. I’ll open the door laughing and invite it in. Only then do I have any chance to let it go.

Is there some shame you might be able to bring into the light? Where might you be able or willing to be vulnerable?

Reach out if you need help.

D

Love During The Holidays

The fireplace crackling, laughter and warmth surrounding you, you notice a sense of calm as you look around at your loved ones. You’re excited to see the glow of excitement upon their faces as they first gaze at the presents you’ve thoughtfully purchased for them. They’ll love them, like they love you. You enjoy the food made with tender care, the peaceful company you’ve chosen to partake in.

Does this sound like your holiday experiences? If so, you know how nurturing the holidays can be for you and your family. If not, you’re like a lot of people around the world who dread the holidays. Continue reading

Falling In Love

I’ve been faced with the question of ‘who am I’ with my clients lately. Often the suffering that enters my office is in the form of feeling at odds with self, how self fits into others and community, and questioning the value of self. Sometimes this is in the form of constantly rescuing others, other times in the go-getter American attitude of non-stop distraction. Don’t be fooled, I see this in 7 year olds as much as I do in adults.

Self. It’s not a topic we talk genuinely about often, but simply one we refer to. “I’m hungry.” “I’m bored.” Yet rarely, “I’m feeling vulnerable.” We put so much energy into our outside worlds. We even kid ourselves into thinking that we’re taking care of ourselves by watching TV, shopping, or playing video games. Yet when we do this, is our attention, compassion, and energy focused inward? Or are we temporarily escaping reality by putting our energy into something else? Continue reading

Joy and Sadness

 

Being a therapist, and someone who has a strong affinity for children’s movies, it was in perfect order that my little girl and I went to watch Disney Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out. It was a film that brought laughter, tears, and a much needed emotion-focused movie to the market. I’ll try not to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing it yet.

I was impressed with the accuracy, as I see it, in the portrayal of our relationship with emotions. Continue reading

Meeting Grief

 

It is on the one year anniversary of a lost loved one that I write this. As a therapist, I get the supreme pleasure and the difficult task of not only moving through my own life, triumphs, loves, and losses, but bearing witness to those around me as well. Life has a funny way of bringing into my office those who are struggling with whatever I might be facing that week. I believe this is a gift, both to me as the therapist, and to those who seek my help. The gift to me is that I am challenged to grow and remain genuine and congruent: practicing what I preach. The gift to the client is the keen empathy I feel for their difficulties, and if I use my experience in an appropriate way, they don’t have to feel alone. Continue reading