This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Ralph Waldo Emerson
© Mary Jaksch 2008 Read Mary Jaksch’s blog www.GoodlifeZen.com for weekly inspiration
Photos Cover Page 34 Page 10 All others photos Cover design
Scott Proudfoot Stephen Ingraham Audrey Michael Manuel Alfonso Arpa Ahmadullah Emad
Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 e Crisis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Step 1: Acceptance . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Step 2: Presence. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Step 3: Action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Step 4: Forgiveness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31 Step 5: Integration . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Sometimes life falls apart. Maybe a loved one dies or leaves, we are diagnosed with cancer, we lose our job, or we experience other kinds of traumatic events. At ﬁrst, it might seem impossible for the broken bits of life to knit together. You may feel that you will never emerge and ﬁnd peace again. But you will. Take one step and then the next. From Tragedy to Triumph will guide you through a process of healing. e ﬁve steps of healing are: acceptance, presence, action, forgiveness, and integration. ey can be completed even long after a traumatic event has occurred. e ﬁve steps of healing ensure that we integrate our traumatic experience. If we do, we not only overcome our personal disaster, but grow from it, and ﬁnally ﬁnd stillness and peace.
A shock can leave you stunned, absorbed, and unable to focus on anything else. When shock is profound, it can be hard to return to life as you once knew it. e case of Duncan S. illustrates this point. It was a late Friday evening and Duncan was relaxing after a hard day at work. e doorbell rang, and when he opened it, two police oﬃcers waited to talk to him. ey sat him down and told him that his wife and two year old son had been killed in a car crash. Later he said: “I couldn’t say anything. It was as if I was falling down a black hole. I couldn’t breathe properly. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine ever ﬁnding a meaningful life again.” After this terrible moment, Duncan went through a dark patch. He emerged numb and bitter. It was only later, after he asked for help and www.goodlifezen.com 5
completed the ﬁve steps of healing, that he found new meaning in his life. I saw him again, some years after he had initially come to me for help. His hair was prematurely grey, but he seemed to be at peace. He told me that he had left his job at the stock market and now works with disadvantaged children. “My life has changed so much,” he said. “I married again last year and we’re expecting a baby.” He adjusted his designer glasses. “I will never forget Lana and little Stephen. I am still overcome with pangs of grief now and then—they just come out of nowhere. But my life has got a new meaning now and I’m at peace. I feel I’m making a diﬀerence in the lives of others. Maybe I’ve learned to be less selﬁsh and a bit kinder.”
Crises are usually about loss. It can be the loss of health, loss of a loved one, ﬁnancial loss, or losing a job. With loss, life changes forever. Imagine life as a map. e most important areas of our life take up space in the centre, whereas aspects that are less important are at the periphery. With loss, a major part of our life-map is ripped out. Grieving means coming to terms with the empty areas of one’s life. is coming to terms is a process of integration and we gradually change our life-map so that other aspects begin to ﬁll in the empty space.
e Latin word for injury is trauma. It applies to injuries of body and soul. An injury to the body can be seen, but wounds and scars of the soul are hidden. Unfortunately many people remain stuck in trauma without 6 www.goodlifezen.com
integrating it. Symptoms of being stuck include anxiety, weight gain, sleep disorder, lack of motivation, and alcohol or drug abuse. Remaining stuck in a traumatic experience can even result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People who have suﬀered ordeals, such as violent assaults, disasters, accidents or military combat often suﬀer from PTSD. ey face ongoing frightening thoughts, invasive images and emotional numbness. e body and mind are self-healing organisms. Just as a wound has a tendency to knit together, the soul also heals in time. As Peter A. Levine points out in his book Walking the Tiger, healing from trauma is a natural process. We can access healing through gentle awareness of the way the body reacts to shock, grief, stress, anger, and the many other responses to trauma.
A crisis triggers stress. e body readies for ﬁght or ﬂight. e signals sent out by the brain through the central nervous system start a chain reaction in the body. e adrenal glands begin producing hormones that cause the heart to beat faster. Muscles in the body tense and the pupils dilate. Digestion is slowed and blood is shunted to the major muscle groups. is gives the body a burst of energy to enable it to either stand and ﬁght, or ﬂee from danger. After the threat has abated, the body systems return to normal via the relaxation response. However, it is possible to get stuck in a condition of chronic stress. Symptoms of chronic stress are numerous, ranging
from memory impairment to depression. It can cause and aggravate inﬂammation and weaken the immune system, as well as make us vulnerable to heart disease. Sleep and eating disorders, alcohol and drug dependency and anxiety disorders can also be part of the overall picture of chronic stress. As the following story of Danny L. illustrates, it’s sometimes diﬃcult to spot chronic stress as the cause of ill health. Danny was in his late forties. Good living and a love of Chardonnay had put some extra rings around his waist and high colour on his cheeks.He worked as an electrical engineer. When he got a new boss, he started having trouble at work. He missed out on a promotion and felt increasingly unhappy and alienated. One Saturday afternoon, he was mowing the lawn when he experienced a sharp pain in his chest and collapsed. Next thing he knew, a medic was pressing an oxygen mask to his face and he was being rushed to hospital. ere, they performed a whole battery of tests upon him. But all were inconclusive. Back home again, Danny began to experience other health problems. He couldn’t sleep at night and had recurring ﬂu-like symptoms. A nagging pain in his abdomen worried him. After a year of ill health, Danny went to a naturopath to get some advice. She pointed out that Danny might be suﬀering from chronic stress. A year later he said to me: My life has changed so much in the last year. I hardly recognise myself! I was beginning to feel like an invalid, but now I feel great. I look forward to each day!” “What changes did you make?” I asked. “I changed my job. e work I’m doing now isn’t as well paid, but it’s much less stressful. I spend more time with the wife. We’re getting on better now. “He bit his lower lip. “You see, when I was stressed I wasn’t performing that well in bed and she was getting frustrated.”
He took a sip of water. “And I’ve stopped drinking. “He shook his head. “I tell you that was bloody hard! And I’m a lot ﬁtter. I go swimming and do some jogging.” I looked him over. He’d lost weight and his eyes were clear. “What turned your life around, Danny?” “You asked me to go to counselling. At ﬁrst, I hated it because I’m not used to spitting things out. But then, I got more relaxed. Finally, it was as if a huge weight had lifted oﬀ my shoulders.”
step 1: Acceptance
e ﬁrst response to disaster is usually denial—which is the opposite of acceptance. It took a long time for Linda D. to emerge from denial. One day she asked to see me. She was in her mid-thirties and looked ﬁt and beautiful. Glossy chestnut curls framed her face but her smile was strained. Some months ago, she had felt a persistent ache in her belly but had put it down to indigestion. A while later she went to the doctor. He ordered a scan, then exploratory surgery. “Imagine my shock, “she said, “when I woke after the operation and the surgeon told me that they had sewed me up again because there was nothing, absolutely nothing they could do for me. ey found cancer all over my liver. My ﬁrst thought was: ‘No! Ben’s only four. I can’t leave him on his own. I just can’t be dying!’” 10 www.goodlifezen.com
It took Linda some months to accept that she was going to die. In that time of denial, her emotions were in turmoil. It was late spring when Linda came to see me one last time. She was frail and her skin was like parchment. I settled her into a chair on the veranda. e wisteria blooms were a sea of purple. We were silent for a while. en I asked: “How do you feel about dying?” “I feel at peace now,” she said. en she raised her face to the sun and shut her eyes. “Everything is so precious. Now I know how precious each moment is!” She died some weeks later. Because she was ready, she was able to let go of life gracefully. Her healing journey had led her from denial, rage and dread to a place of acceptance and peace.
e path to acceptance
A new beginning can only happen when the old form disintegrates. Look at what happens when a caterpillar becomes a butterﬂy: When the time for transformation has come, a larva wraps itself in a cocoon and becomes a chrysalis. Just imagine how that might feel! Suddenly the larva is constricted, can’t move anymore and darkness closes in. en disintegration begins. Some cells die, others revert to an undiﬀerentiated state, some cluster together as discs that carry a genetic blueprint for new structures. If you compare a caterpillar to a butterﬂy, they seem worlds apart and yet one transforms into the other. In some sense, you could say that the caterpillar dies. From this death, a new, beautiful form arises. www.goodlifezen.com 11
Before something radically new can appear, the old form has to die. Acceptance is the ﬁrst step of healing. It grows slowly over time. ere are some simple exercises that help the process of acceptance. One of the most powerful techniques is Expressive Writing therapy as the story of Marion P. shows. Marian’s husband died suddenly of a heart attack in the ﬁrst year of their marriage. It happened just weeks before she gave birth to her son, Josh. Years later, she said: “I just couldn’t accept that I was now a widow with a baby. I so wanted to be part of a little family! I spent four years railing against my fate. en I realised that I had to look to the future. I started Expressive Writing therapy. After a few times, I began to realise that Josh and I were now the ‘little family’. Acceptance marked the beginning of my healing process.”
Expressive Writing is a self-help therapy in which one writes about a traumatic event. Research shows that Expressive Writing improves the immune system, liver function, and mood. It reduces blood pressure, pain, and post-traumatic symptoms. Expert opinion diﬀers on why Expressive Writing works. Some say that the emotional release is the healing factor. Most agree that writing turns the experience into a meaningful story. e American psychologist James W. Pennebaker researched Expressive Writing and conducted a fascinating study in the nineties. One day in 1994, Jonas T., who had been employed
for thirty years in a Dallas computer company, was called into the oﬃce. He was thanked for his service and handed a dismissal slip. A security oﬃcer escorted him back to his oﬃce to clean out his desk and then led him to the exit. One hundred other employees of the ﬁrm lost their jobs that day. You can imagine their rage and frustration! Several months later, James Pennebaker contacted more than half of the group and invited them to take part in an experiment. A third of the participants were asked to write about their feelings surrounding the loss of their job. e others either wrote about neutral or pleasant experiences or did no writing. It soon became apparent that those who poured out their bitterness, rage, and fear onto the page had a dramatic advantage over their colleagues. More than a quarter found work within three months. A much smaller percentage of the others found a new job, although all of them spent the same time hunting for jobs. Since then, there have been numerous studies that show that Expressive Writing can heal body and soul. You might like to try Expressive Writing. Here is how to do it: write for at least ﬁfteen minutes without stopping. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation. Answer the following questions: What happened? How did I feel about this? Why did I feel that way?
step 2: Presence
To be present is our natural state of mind. What I mean by ‘being present’ is an awareness of the moment we are actually living right now. If you observe your mind, you will notice that you spend a lot of time lost in thoughts and dreams, whilst functioning on autopilot. But look at babies and see how present they are: they don’t spend time remembering the past or wondering about the future. Babies show that to be present is to return to the natural state of mind we were born with. It’s diﬃcult to be present during a crisis because the mind is in the grip of four mind states: distraction, obsession, intrusive images, and catastrophising. ese states are fueled by emotions, especially by anger, jealousy, and fear, as well as by guilt and shame.
An obsession is a thought or story that plays over and over in the mind, rather like a loop. When we are in crisis, we often get caught in such thought-loops, and that can be debilitating. ere are certain emotions that trigger thought-loops. For example, emotions such as anger or shame can make us return to a particular memory over and over again. Fear, on the other hand, can create gripping visions of the future, fuelled by questions of ‘what if?’. Maybe you are wondering how to recognise when you are at the mercy of obsessive thoughts? ey are the times when you just can’t get a thought out of your head. Let’s say, for example, that you are enraged with your partner or your boss. You will most likely have thoughts running repeatedly through your mind, such as “How could he/she do this to me?”, or “He/she always does this!”, or “Next time I see him/her, I’ll…” at’s a thought-loop. When you notice that you are in the grip of a thought-loop, say to yourself: “I let go.” en shake oﬀ your obsessive thoughts with a change in your posture. If you are sitting, stand up. If you are standing, walk across the room. If you ﬁnd that you keep getting caught in obsessive thoughts, immerse yourself in simple physical tasks. Wash the dishes, tidy your desk, wash the car, or weed the garden. Focused activity dispels thought-loops. Obsessive thoughts are fuelled by strong emotions. It helps to identify and honour the emotions that underlie a particular thoughtloop. You might want to check within to see which main emotion is in play. Is it rage? Or jealousy? Or fear? Or grief? Once we kindly acknowledge the underlying emotion, the obsessive thoughts diminish.
In a crisis, the mind is fractured. It tends to jump around without being able to settle on a single clear thought. Heightened emotions drive and reinforce the turmoil. Anger and shame turn the mind towards the past, whereas fear evokes scary visions of the future. As I explain further down, mindful action is an antidote to a scattered mind.
e mind tends to dwell on the worst possible scenarios in a crisis. For example, if we are unwell and are waiting for test results, we may well imagine a catastrophic outcome. In our mind, we may even already see ourself lying in a grave surrounded by tearful family and friends. When you get caught in such negative visions, it helps to identify your state of mind. Remind yourself: “Oh, I’m catastrophising.”
If we have had a traumatic experience, we may suﬀer from intrusive images. is was the experience of Paul S., a forestry worker. Paul was the ﬁrst person at the scene of a crash. He rushed over and found two young men dying in the front seats and a girl dead in the back. He came to see me.
“I can’t sleep,” he said. “I keep on hearing the sound of tearing metal. And then I see the dead girl in the back seat. I just can’t get the images out of my head.” “Is there something that you haven’t been able to share with anyone?” Paul looked away and was silent. “Yes,” he ﬁnally said. “Would you like to tell me about it?” Paul got up and paced back and forth. en he nodded. “I ran up to the car and looked inside,” he said. “ ere was blood everywhere. e two boys in front were still alive. But the girl on the back seat was crumpled and her eyes were wide open. I knew at once that she was dead. Her eyes disturbed me. And then—” Paul sat down and put his head in his hands. “ en I reached in and closed her eyes. I’ve not been able to say that to anyone before.” After Paul got the secret oﬀ his chest, he started sleeping again and the images faded and stopped in time. He had begun his healing journey. If you ﬁnd that telling a trusted person about your experience doesn’t alleviate your suﬀering, then it might be good to commit to more extensive therapy.
Numbness is an absence of feeling. If someone were to ask after a shocking experience, “How do you feel?” You may not know what to say because you feel numb. e role of numbness is to shield ourselves from the impact of the disaster. Numbness tends to shut down all emotions. As a result we feel remote—even from our own body. It may be tempting to
use alcohol or drugs to numb emotions. Sometimes it might even feel as if it using alcohol or drugs helps you to cope or heal. But in reality, this will only postpone the healing process. e numb soul craves diversion. You may ﬁnd yourself glued to the TV, or surﬁng the web, or playing computer games. Although such activities seem restful, they are unhelpful. Diversions keep you numb. And you need to climb out of numbness in order to heal. Of course there can be fear around letting go of numbness and getting in touch with your feelings. e numbness is a natural protection from the force of emotions at a time of crisis. So, it’s important to honour your numbness and let it fade away in its own time. My point here is that it’s important not to drive yourself deeper into numbness through using drugs, alcohol or mind-numbing games. I have found that it’s better to clean the bathroom, go for a walk, or immerse myself in other simple activities. Whilst numbness is a natural response to crisis, it is also possible to get stuck in this no-man’s-land. is happened to Frieda S. She was a young countrywoman who arrived at my doorstep in the grip of a deep depression. “I feel dead inside,” she said. She sat hunched over and her voice was ﬂat. en she told me that she didn’t feel any love for her partner, wasn’t interested in her job and could ﬁnd no spark of passion for anything or anyone. Some time later, when she had learned to trust me, she began to speak of what had happened to her as a child. 18 www.goodlifezen.com
“When I had just turned eleven, I took my bike out for a spin,” she said. “I rode through the nearby forest.” Her hands began to shake and she clasped them in her lap. “ ere was a man walking towards me…” Her voice trailed oﬀ and she was unable to continue for a while. It took a long time to tell her story. But she ﬁnally revealed the secret she had kept to herself ever since that time. e man stopped her to ask for the time. He then grabbed her and dragged her oﬀ into the bushes. She endured a horriﬁc sexual assault and torture that lasted for hours. Finally, the man tried to strangle her and she lost consciousness. “When I came to,” she said, “I was covered with branches. I was too terriﬁed to move because I thought the man was still there. After a while, I wriggled out from under the heap. He must have thought I was dead.” I could see that she was shaking. “What do you feel as you talk about this?” “Nothing,” Frieda said.“ I don’t feel anything.” She pressed her hands between her knees. “What happened then?” “My clothes were all torn and bloody. He had taken my bike so I had to walk home, although everything hurt so much. When I got home, I found that my parents were out, so I cleaned myself up, hid my clothes, and went to bed. Later, I told them I’d fallen oﬀ my bike.” “Didn’t you tell anyone about this?” “How could I? I felt so ashamed. I thought it was my fault.” She was dry-eyed as she shared her harrowing story with me. suddenly stopped speaking and peered at me. “Why are you crying?” She said. I wiped away my tears. “Well—” I said, “someone has to cry to about this.” www.goodlifezen.com 19 en she
She looked at me in surprise. at was a moment when things began to change for Frieda. It was as if my tears had penetrated her numbness. After that, it still took a long time to come to terms with what had happened. But as she took the ﬁve steps of healing, she slowly emerged from her numbness.
A crisis catapults us out of our comfort zone and this creates fear. A natural antidote to fear is action. I remember a day in the mountains with my friend Hans M. We were climbing a tricky rock face. Hans had gone ahead and was belaying me on the rope. I was struggling. Just as I was halfway up the climb, I came to a ledge where I could rest for a moment. I looked up and thought, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it.” Suddenly my knees went soggy and my whole body began to shake. I clung to the rock face, unable to move. en I looked down. It was a vertical drop of thirty metres. I felt dizzy and nauseous. Hans realised that I had stopped, and he shouted down, “What’s up?” “I can’t do it!” I sobbed. “ ere’s only one way. And that’s up!” “I can’t!” “Grab the next handhold, then step up!” I could hardly hear him above the hammering of my heart. But, I started climbing again: one grip, one step, and then the next. My fear decreased the moment I started to move. When I got to the top, I was shaking, but I had learned an important lesson: action conquers fear. 20 www.goodlifezen.com
When we are in crisis, we usually feel angry at some stage. When we are engulfed by rage, we instantly lose any sense of equanimity. e strength of our anger can trigger actions that we later regret. e words we speak in anger can damage or even break the delicate strands of trust and love that connect us to those we love. To find our way back to peacefulness, it is important to ﬁnd ways to work skillfully with our anger. is doesn’t mean trying to put a lid on strong emotions. After all, emotions are what make us human. Working with our anger has an unexpected outcome: we ﬁnd that our capacity for loving-kindness and compassion increases. is is rather like using the compost bin in the garden: we ﬁll it with all sorts of garden refuse and unappetizing food scraps. And then it heats up and microbes get busy. When the work is done, we ﬁnd that all of this mess has turned into beautiful compost that helps the plants grow and ﬂourish. So this is what we need to do with anger, we need to turn it into medicine that heals and nourishes ourselves, as well as others. Let’s now take a closer look at anger. ere are three main aspects of anger: Firstly, it is a compelling body experience. I am sure you, too, have experienced the roiling ﬁre in the belly that spells anger. Secondly, this body feeling is accompanied by a gripping storyline in the shape of a thought-loop. We tend to go over and over the same story without any respite or resolve. Of course, it is this process that keeps anger at the boil!
irdly, anger is usually a cover-up for other unpleasant emotions, such as hurt or fear. In the following ﬁve steps, I outline an approach to working with anger:
Get your bearings
e turmoil and confusion that anger creates is quite debilitating. So, the ﬁrst step when you are embroiled in turmoil is to get your bearings. Investigate your anger with tender care. Find out which emotion is tucked away behind your anger. Do you feel jealous? Or hurt? Or inadequate? Or fearful? Find what that emotional ﬁeld is and then name it. Make sure that the naming is free of judgement and full of compassion. When the naming and acknowledging of emotions is charged with utmost compassion and love, the wounded heart begins to heal.
Listen to the body
e second step of healing is to listen to the body. Each emotional ﬁeld has a voice in the body, if we listen carefully. Notice which sensations in your body correspond to your emotional ﬁeld; notice which parts of your body are clenched, or where there is a trembling or an empty feeling and so on.
Let go of story
e third step of healing is to let go of story. You will ﬁnd that the feelings in your body are accompanied by a compelling story. is is the realm of rumination. Our mind seems to circle endlessly around a painful issue. We rerun past battles endlessly and invent future conversations. If you have ever gone white-water rafting or kayaking you will know about the terrifying vortex that can appear just after you have crested a hidden boulder. If you fall out of the raft at that point, there is a danger of being caught in such a hole and being sucked down again and again, just as you soon as you surface for a moment. is is how it is with thought loops. We seem to be sucked into stories and there seems to be no rescue. When you are in this situation, you will ﬁnd that there are short moments of awareness in which you realise that you are trapped in a thought loop. In such moments, when you ‘come up for air’, say to you self with kindness, “I let go of story”. When you become aware of your story, you may ﬁnd that there are three diﬀerent layers. A surface layer may be directly connected with the experience that set oﬀ your anger. A second layer may consist of memories that ﬁt the occasion. oughts from that second layer often start with, “She always…” or “He always…” A third layer is touched when one of our core stories is triggered. ese core stories deﬁne how we see ourselves and the world. ey pose as truths, not as judgements. Such stories may appear as sweeping statements, such as: ‘Nobody ever…’, ‘Nobody loves me!’, ‘I am useless!’ And so on.
Whatever the story is—let it go. Sometimes, our deep stories are hard to articulate, but they express themselves in posture. Notice any habitual posture your body takes up at such a time. Letting go of stories is a miraculous antidote to anger. Try it out next time you are angry, remove yourself from the interchange and stay in a quiet environment. For a quarter of an hour, sweep each angry thought from your mind as it arrives. Don’t let up! If you can do this without interruption for ﬁfteen minutes, you will notice that your anger has abated. is may seem impossible at ﬁrst but you will improve with practice.
Meet suﬀering with love
It’s important that we meet our suﬀering with love. Here is a simple way to do that. When you notice emotions swirling in your body and mind, place your hand gently on your heart region. It’s as if you are comforting yourself, and saying gently, “It’s all right.”
Reconciliation and peace begins with us. Sometimes, we don’t want to be the ﬁrst to reach out to the one we are in conﬂict with. Especially if we are locked into the idea that a conﬂict is about scoring points. To make the ﬁrst move towards reconciliation may look like a weaker position. But really, the one who initiates peace is the wise one. Peace is not an individual matter. If you wish to experience peace yourself, you have to make peace with others.
You may wonder, what is the ﬁrst step towards reconciliation? To come back into communication is the most important step. It may be diﬃcult and painful for us to express where we are at, and to listen to the other’s pain. But, communication is always a move towards more peacefulness.
If your relationship has broken up, jealousy may be a dominant emotion. To feel jealous is to be in a hell realm of rage, pain and despair. Jealousy can be all consuming. One September morning, Sandra K. came home a day early from her trip away and found her partner in bed with her best friend. In a rage, she turned him out of her ﬂat and threw his belongings on to the street. Sandra spent the next three weeks alternating between rage and despair. She was consumed by jealous thoughts and memories that played repeatedly. Her studies at university suﬀered and she felt unable to complete assignments. “I was tormented,” she said. “I kept seeing the image of them lying naked in my bed. I felt so angry and humiliated! My self-esteem plummeted. Finally, I started to work through the steps of healing. Soon, I was able to refocus my life and my grades came back up.”
No matter what crisis you are experiencing, there is bound to be a feeling of guilt. Whether you have lost someone you love, or you have broken up with your partner, lost your job, or experienced a ﬁnancial collapse, there will always be something to feel guilty about. However, it is important to give yourself permission to be human. Failure is a necessary part of life. An old adage says: ‘Learn to fail, or fail to learn’.
A crisis impacts upon self-esteem. Jim H., a successful share-trader said after his divorce: “I feel that it was my fault that Helen left me. I keep thinking that there is something about me that is unlovable. I seem to have lost a lot of conﬁdence, even at work. It’s as if self-doubt has infected all areas of my life.” Even an accident or the death of a loved one occasions a dip in conﬁdence. We lose the sense of who we are. Although this feels uncomfortable, it can be a blessing. e idea of who we are is artiﬁcial. To ﬁnd new conﬁdence, you have to let go of who and what we think we are.
When adversity strikes it is natural to feel low. It is like sustaining a severe physical injury. If you are gravely injured in a car crash, you don’t jump up the next day feeling full of energy. Here are seven simple feel-better strategies: • Make a list of necessary tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Plan the week so that you do one major task per day. If the task feels too big, break it down into smaller steps. • Stay well-groomed. Take a daily shower, shave or apply make-up. If you can, pay a visit to a barber, a hairdresser, a massage therapist, a manicurist or a beauty parlour. 26 www.goodlifezen.com
• Set your pulse racing at least once a day with a brisk walk or other exercise. Researchers have found that exercise stimulates feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins, and that it can be as eﬀective as antidepressant medication. • Get out and about each day. Go to work if you can, or visit friends, go for a walk, or do the grocery shopping. • Play music that lifts your spirits. • Spend time with children. Interact with them and join in their games. • Spend time with friends. If you don’t have friends nearby, keep in contact by phone or internet. If your low mood persists and you notice ongoing changes in your sleeping or eating pattern, or have thoughts of self-harm, you may be slipping into a clinical depression. In that case, you need to go and see a physician. Depression is a dangerous illness and you may need to be on medication for a while—as well as using the seven feel-better strategies.
e path to presence
To be present is to be fully alive. Caught in a fog of memories, hopes and fears, we miss the moment. e present moment is a space without past or future. On our healing journey, moments of presence are points of rest and renewal. As we move towards healing, the moments of presence will become more frequent, especially if we practise meditation.
Mindfulness can help us to integrate diﬃcult experiences. It is an anchor that holds us in the present moment. Whenever we wake up to the www.goodlifezen.com 27
present moment, we emerge from grief, rage or fear. A good way towards more mindfulness is the practice of tender regard. Notice what happens when you treat each thing with tender regard, whether it’s the doorhandle, or the coﬀee cup, or the neighbour.
To heal it is important for us to overcome apathy. Apathy, the unwillingness to engage in action comes in many guises. It can range from ‘too exhausted’ to ‘can’t be bothered’. It’s the physical expression of emotional numbness. Action is the way out of apathy because movement triggers energy.
Exercise is one of the most important ways of breaking out of paralysis and apathy. It has many diﬀerent functions. Not only does exercise help the body to deal with stress, it also helps the soul to heal. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise; even gentle movement is helpful.
Facing the future
We can overcome paralysis by actively facing the future. For example, if we have been diagnosed with a grave illness, it’s helpful to search out some information about it. If we have experienced a crushing ﬁnancial blow, it’s important to weigh one’s options. If your relationship has ended, you may need to seek a lawyer’s advice and look at all the implications. If you ﬁnd this too overwhelming, ask your friends or professionals to help you. In any case, just focus just on the next step, and don’t look beyond it. When you are in crisis, there can be a tendency to hide away from people. But, it is important to keep contact with others and to ask for their help. One way of overcoming isolation is to set simple goals: to ring or meet up with one person each day and to say ‘yes’ to the activities our friends propose, even if you don’t feel like it.
Forgiveness puts grievance to rest. To be able to forgive, we must ﬁrst overcome hate, resentment, and bitterness, and develop loving-kindness and compassion.
Hate and resentment
Hate and resentment are destructive emotions. Hate implies a sharp sense of separation between ourselves and who we see as the ‘enemy’. Forgiveness allows hate to transform into compassion. Resentment is an emotion that dwells on grievances. It shows up in a righteous attitude in which we blame others, and not ourselves.
Righteousness paints a black and white picture in which we are right and the other person is wrong. It is helpful to reﬂect on the part that we play or played in a particular interaction that aroused resentment.
Ingrained resentment leads to bitterness. It’s a negative attitude that can become habitual. Bitterness kills joy and contentment and is a symptom of being stuck in trauma. Forgiveness can help us to emerge from bitterness.
To forgive is diﬃcult. Many people indulge in grudges for years or even decades. It seems even more diﬃcult to forgive ourselves. Forgiveness is not an act of will. It’s not a psychological, but a spiritual process. Forgiveness means that we have to let go of resentment, righteous indignation, and anger. We can’t will ourselves to forgive. But, if we cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, forgiveness can grow.
e path to forgiveness
Loving-kindness is a heartfelt aspiration for the happiness and wellbeing of ourselves and others. It helps our heart to be open to patience, gentleness, humour and generosity. Loving-kindness is an antidote to resentment, hatred, fear, and bitterness. To extend kindness to others feels good. But, what about kindness towards one’s self? I think you will agree with me that in our Western culture, kindness to one’s self is equated with selﬁshness. However, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves before we can be truly kind to others.
In times of crisis, we need to treat ourselves with tender regard. It’s important not to feel pressured by the expectation of others. Our individual healing journey is unique and will take the shape and time that it needs.
e way to forgiveness is through compassion. Compassion is the highest level of spiritual maturity. It isn’t a personality trait that we either have or lack; we can practise and develop it. On a psychological level, compassion is a feeling of sorrow and concern in the face of our own or another’s suﬀering. is emotion can be short-lived. Just observe your reaction to suﬀering described in the news. You may feel compassion as you watch the images or listen to the story, but an hour later you have forgotten all about it. On a spiritual level, compassion is a fulﬁlment of human potential. It means opening our heart and mind and recognising a kinship with all beings. Compassion for our fellow human beings is a cornerstone of many of the world’s spiritual traditions. It is one of the great transformative human emotions because in showing compassion we transcend the constraints of our “self ” and embrace a broader, more open-minded view of life that emphasises human connectedness rather than individuality. is sense of kinship brings insight and healing both to ourselves and to the people whom we show compassion towards.
At the core of compassion lies empathy. With empathy, we can step into the shoes of another person and feel our way into their life, so that we can ﬁnd understanding and acceptance of their actions. One of the most extraordinary stories of grief and hate turning to compassion and forgiveness is the following story of Linda and Peter Biehl. In 1993 their daughter, Amy Biehl, an 26-year old Fulbright Scholar, went to South Africa to work in underprivileged communities. Shortly before the end of the apartheid era, Amy Biehl was stoned and knifed to death by a crowd of young blacks. As you can imagine, Linda and Peter were devastated. After a while, they decided to visit South Africa to understand what Amy’s life had been like. ey visited Guguletu, the back township where Amy’s killers grew up. As they drove slowly along the potholed streets and saw the hostile glances, they locked their car doors and hunched down in their seats. Afterwards, during an interview with CBS Linda said, “I can understand how, if you were a youth living in these conditions, you could be stirred up, and you could become violent.” Peter and Linda then decided to establish the Amy Biehl Foundation that oﬀers after-school and vocational training to young people of Guguletu and other black townships. Meanwhile, the four young men who killed Amy were pardoned and released from prison in 1998 after serving four years. Soon after that, two of them, Easy Nofemela and Ntobeko Peni, made contact with Amy’s parents. You can imagine how hard it was for Linda and Peter to meet face to face with their daughter killers. But when they saw how bleak their prospects were, they decided to oﬀer help and support to Easy and Ntobeko. Easy and Ntobeko started training in one of the Biehls’ programmes and now work for the Amy Biehl Foundation. Ntobeko is Programme Manager and Easy is Sport Facilitator.
“It’s terriﬁc to be able to do that,” Peter Biehl said. “It just absolutely sets me free.” is story shows how powerful and healing the journey of compassion can be. Whenever I balk at forgiving someone, I remind myself of the Biehls and their journey of healing. en I open to compassion and take the ﬁrst step of forgiveness—which is stepping in the shoes of those who have hurt me.
ink of your life as a map. At the centre of this map are the areas that stand for people, activities or things that you hold dear. When a life crisis happens, a central piece gets erased from that map. Integration means redrawing our map of life and ﬁlling the empty place with new meaning. For this process you need to rebuild conﬁdence, and develop acceptance and resilience.
Finding fresh conﬁdence
Fresh conﬁdence comes through embracing the new shape of your life. Here is the experience of Brendan P., a marketing executive in an international ﬁrm:
Brendan was dismissed from employment at age 57. His work had been the focus of his life. When Brendan found himself out of work, his ﬁrst reaction was panic. en he fell into a deep depression. Finally, his wife begged him to come and see me. He started moving through the ﬁve steps of healing and began to feel better. One day I asked him: “What’s your sense of life now?” “I realise how much I’ve missed out on in the last years through being so focussed on my job.” Brendan looked at the ground, deep in thought. en he continued: “My relationship with my wife has suﬀered because I’ve either been too busy or too exhausted to spend time with her. And my son—I can’t remember the last time I had a proper conversation with him. And there’s something else…” Brendan opened his briefcase and rustled around in it. “I feel a bit shy about this,” he said. “But I want to show you something. He handed me a sketchbook. “I’ve sketched some pictures.” “ is is great!” I said. “I’ve always wanted to draw and paint,” he said. “It’s only now, after losing my job that I’ve found the courage to put brush to paper.” Some months later, Brendan found a new job. It wasn’t as well paid or as fast paced. But, it allowed him to have time and energy for his relationship with his wife and his son. He started painting in earnest and had his ﬁrst exhibition two years later. He now paints full-time. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me!” Brendan said later. “I found my real passion in life and the courage to pursue it. at has given me a new sense of conﬁdence.”
Resilience is the ability to bounce back. is doesn’t mean that our life will regain the exact shape it had before the crisis. After all, when we throw a rubber ball it does not bounce back on exactly the same trajectory. e secret of resilience is the ability to see a crisis as an opportunity for a new beginning. Remember, a new beginning can only happen when the old form disintegrates.
A crisis can open new doors in life. It can be a time when we realise what is most important in our life. Some dreams may seem impossible, but with persistence they can be realised. is is what happened to Janice T.: Janice had just celebrated her seventyﬁfth birthday when catastrophe struck: her husband of ﬁfty years had a heart attack and died. She went into shock and grief. For a year all she wanted was to die too, because life seemed too hard. en she took up meditation and gardening. When spring came she began to feel small moments of satisfaction and peacefulness. One day I visited her and she showed me her seedlings. “Look!” She said.” ey are so eager for life. See how they are unfolding their ﬁrst leaves!” She turned to face me. For the ﬁrst time since her loss I could see a measure of peacefulness in her face. We settled in the garden and drank a cup of tea. 38 www.goodlifezen.com
“What do you really want to do with your life now?” I asked. “My son wants me to go into a retirement home.” “You haven’t answered my question.” “I’m too old to start something new.” “If you weren’t too old, what would you like to start?” I asked. Janice put down her cup. “I know it sounds silly, but I would like to design clothes. I’d like to design clothes that women my age would enjoy wearing.” en she clapped her hand to her mouth. “But my children would think I’m crazy if I started something like that at my age.” Six months later, Janice started her new business. Now, some years later, her designs have taken oﬀ and she is enjoying a new lease of life. “Following my impossible dream has changed my life. I thought the death of my husband was the end of the road, but it was the beginning of a new pathway.”
Rising from the ashes
ere is an ancient myth about the phoenix. It was said to be a bird that sets itself on ﬁre when it becomes old and is then reborn out of the ashes. Like the image of the chrysalis, this story intimates that a death of sorts is necessary for something new to happen. Look at nature: plants die in winter and new sprouts appear in spring. e eggshell breaks when the chick emerges. We need to remind ourselves that every crisis is an invitation to a new beginning. Even events that we dread, such as a terminal illness or the death of a loved one, can hold a promise for an unfolding. A while ago, Marion V., a woman in her forties, came to see me. Her eyes were sorrowful, but she was composed and upright.
“I have come through an unimaginable nightmare,” she said. “One morning—just a year ago—I went into my daughter’s room to wake her up for school. Jessica was seventeen at the time. I found her hanging from a rafter. She had killed herself during the night.” Her eyes ﬁlled with tears. She went to the window and rested her forehead against the glass. After a while she whispered, “I had to cut her down.” A long silence fell. for you?” en I asked her, “What was that moment like
Marion sat down and ruﬄed her hair. “I couldn’t feel anything at all. I rang the police and then sat down on the ﬂoor, holding Jessica. I felt that I, too, had died.” Marion then talked about the past year. “I was numb for a long time. After a while, I began to feel terrible waves of grief and guilt. I couldn’t leave the house and feared that I was losing my mind. In all of this, I began to wonder about the mystery of life and death. And these questions ﬁnally led me to meditation. I started to explore spirituality and have a journey that I would never have dreamed of. I have spent the last month on retreat.” Marion was still for a while, staring at her hands. en she looked up. “One day, when I was sitting outside in the last light of the day during the retreat, I suddenly knew what I want to do with my life. I want to work with parents of children who have committed suicide, and help them through their experience. If I do that, Jessica’s death wasn’t in vain.” After a while I asked, “What is your experience of life now, a year after her death?” “ e pain is still here,” she said, placing her hand on her heart. “But I feel a great tenderness now and I am at peace. I have come to life again, but my life has a new meaning. at is Jessica’s gift to me.” 40 www.goodlifezen.com
Marion is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. She allowed her experience of Jessica’s death to mould her life into a new shape. Her spiritual quest opened her heart to compassion and she is now ready to give support to others who suﬀer.
When we have completed the ﬁve steps of healing, we are ready to re-emerge into life. Trapped in the middle of a life crisis, it’s hard for us to ﬁnd joy because crisis creates numbness. However, when we move through the ﬁve steps of healing, we can experience the warm zestful energy in the heart that is joy. And with this comes shy reverence: we ﬁnd that even in the darkest hours of life—if we are truly present—joy shines in the depths.
Learn more secrets of daily happy healthy living from my blog.
I love helping people, and every week I write about new ways that people can change their lives for the better. Reading my blog will also help you recover from loss or trauma by providing you with new insight and instruction for dealing with issues like loss, stress, anger, and depression. On those especially hard days you can turn to my page for help and relief. Since my blog is also read by thousands of people just like you, who have just been through really diﬃcult times, it is a great place to go for support. Read along with others that have experienced similar events and learn from their reactions and comments to my articles. You can also go to my site and share your own feelings about the recovery process. Maybe you came up with something that really helped you while reading my book and want to share it with others, so that they can beneﬁt as well. My site is free and oﬀers great advice for anyone looking to live a happier life. Please come visit for advice, insight, or just to share in the happiness community.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.