Thursday, 29 January 2015

Feel the pain, heal and find love for the lost one

I wanted to write this particular blog for two reasons. One is as a memory of my loving mum who died almost 6 years ago. And the second is to share my process of grieving, what I've learned from it and how it's helped my inner growth with hope that my story may also help others who are going through a similar process.

Like most of you out there I have had a fair share of loss in my life, such as, for example, my home town being destroyed in a civil war, my best male friend being executed in the very same war and more. I tried to cope with it, go through it in the best way I knew how. In the past, more often then not, I tried to avoid the pain. I tried to rationalise it and I would get busy with life which, of course, is never too short of opportunities to keep you busy.

From all those previous experiences I have learned that we can never avoid pain, it always catches up with you in the end, and sometimes, in the meantime it affect your health as well. I've also learned that the only way to heal is through pain. Still, until my mum's death I had somehow always tried to postpone the process of grieving and of course experiencing pain, sadness and mourning that go with it, hoping that it would go away or heal with time. It never does. I've learned that the only way to heal pain to actively engage with it. This grieving process that I am about to share with you was the first time that I really allowed myself to fully feel whatever I felt in the moment I experienced it. I even consciously made sure I created the space in me and time for the process, for my grieving to unravel in the way it needed to.

On the 11th of February this year it will be exactly 6 years since that early morning when I received a call from my dad telling me that my mum died. Her death was sudden, unexpected and a shock, mum was only 66 years old. Only the day before my mum and I had spoken on the phone, laughed, joked and finished the conversation with ‘I love you’ and I sent her blow kisses through the receiver in the same way I had always done with her before ending a call. One may label blow kisses as childish, yet for me it represented the level of playfulness, warmth, intimacy, and love I was able to share with her. Would I have changed anything, if I had known that this was to be our last conversation? No, not a thing.

Still, just like that from one day to the next my loving Mama was not here any more. In those first weeks the thought of 'never again' was the hardest to bear for me. I understood it, but I still could not fully comprehended that I would never again be able to hug her, see her, or call her on the phone. There would be no more long Sunday morning telephone chats I so loved. I knew that this would be a process, of acceptance, of getting used to what is, of grieving. I also knew or rather felt that my mum was still with me. Somehow my mum’s presence and love was coming back to me albeit indirectly through the care and love of close friends and colleagues who were all there for me in the first month of my grieving process.

I also remember that in the first weeks I was questioning the fact that I had experienced only a few moments of real deep sadness since mum died. It was as if I was expecting something else, and indeed I was. On one side I thought that I was expected by others to feel differently, more sad, more depressed, and on the other side I was expecting that I should have been experiencing greater pain or greater sadness. In other words I was worried that I was not really grieving, as if it was not quite right or enough to feel enormous love in my heart, and to feel peaceful and OK. Even though I knew that grieving was a process (after all I was a trained counsellor), still I had an idea of what grieving should have looked like. Well, I am happy to say that through my own process I have learned that there is no prescribed rule. Grieving is different for every individual, because we are all different, and because each person we grieve for is different from all others we grieved for before, and because with each of these individuals we created a very unique relationship. Hence, every time we grieve for someone we grieve in a unique way. 
One thing that was different for me this time in my grieving process for my Mama was the awareness of my thoughts, feelings and needs in the present moment. I was consciously practising regularly ‘tuning-in’ with myself to check what went on inside me and what feelings were lurking under the surface needing to come out.

At the same time a big part of the grieving process was the understanding that the acceptance of my mum's death, was also a process which was unfolding in stages at its own pace. First came the shock of hearing that mum died, and the funeral, then the idea that she was not alive any more, yet I was still holding on her spirit and I was even feeling her presence, especially when I was still in my home town after the funeral. Then in the second month after her death it really truly dawned on me that Mama was no longer with us. To start with I understood the mental concept, but I did not truly accept it until several weeks after she died, and even then I was not able to completely accept it. It is like the awareness of it was happening in stages. The part of acceptance that I experienced in the first few weeks was a very reasoned, cognitive understanding of my Mum's death. This is a necessary part of the process yet it really is only the first step towards the full acceptance. And then the time came when the realization of loss was starting to hit my whole being and the whole being was just finding it hard to believe and accept. This realization was hurting not only emotionally, but physically as well.

I did not need to worry any longer about not experiencing the deep sadness. The time came when I was ready to cry and it was painful, leaving me without breath. I cried while cycling to work, I cried under the shower and I experienced feeling helpless, like a small child and alone. Even though there were many good friends ready to support me in my process, only I, alone, could meet and experience the depth of my pain. When this pain started coming out it felt excruciating. However, I was not trying to avoid it I just let it come up, I let it all out. Only a few times I screamed from pain, but mostly I just felt deep, deep sadness and a deep need to let tears roll.

The one of my biggest growth point from this grieving process has been the realization that because I did not fear the pain and I trusted my ability to deal with the amount of pain I did let my self ‘wallow’ in it and I was able to slowly go deeper. The deeper I went the greater the need became to go even deeper in and through the pain until I touched the point where I felt a shift, the pain started feeling warm. I dared to meet my pain and go through it without any guarantee of how long this journey would be and what I would find at the other end. Well, without even knowing whether there was the other end. Indeed, there was the other end, and what I found there was a deep all encompassing love. I felt peaceful.

This happened sometime at the end of the summer, approximately six months after my mum died.
It was an amazing experience and it had an enormous impact on my growth. Through my own experience I learned that the only way to deal with whatever feelings we have is to live them to the full. Irrespective of how hard and painful at times it may be, just live them moment by moment, just let them be, without resistance without putting any time limit, or a judgment/label (good or bad, positive or negative) or an expectation on it. Felling your pain and mourning your loss is not only necessary, if you wish to live a full healthy life, but it is definitely worth it. At the end you will come to peace with the death of the loved one and you will also rediscover the love that connect you with that person which will, therefore, stay with you forever.

Trust in your nature and let yourself feel whatever is alive in you in this moment...

Thank you for reading and please forward it to those who you think can benefit from it.
Please leave a comment, if this article has touched you in any way.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Daring to be vulnerable

Last week I posted a blog under the title Protection vs. Connection. In this blog I also wrote that 'our readiness to experience, show and share our own vulnerability' is a pre-requisite for creating and experiencing a true, deep and genuine connection with others.

Yes, the theory, is fine but am I practising what I've been preaching? Am I really daring to show my vulnerability where it matters? Am I sharing something important to me with people that are important to me and by doing so exposing a part of myself? Am I daring to stretch my comfort zone beyond what feels emotionally safe?

Before answering above questions let me first give you a bit of context. Writing has not always been easy for me. You could ask me to speak on any subject, at any time, and I could talk the hind legs off a donkey. However, if you were to ask me to write down what I had just spoken about with relative ease, I could end up sitting behind a PC for a long time before anything comprehensible would come up on the screen. Why that was, you might ask. Well, in the past, writing posed such a challenge for me because I used to believe that I was not good at it. I actually believed that there was such a thing as perfection. Of course, when measuring myself against imaginary perfect yard stick I ended up feeling that whatever I wrote was never good enough and therefore not worth sharing.

Luckily some years ago when I learned not only to accept but more importantly to love myself as I was/am. I realised that our perfection lies actually in our imperfections. Our imperfections make us so uniquely who we are. They also teach us to be truly humble and from that point we are much more able to get in touch with our own humanity and that of other people. We learn to give ourselves and others a break!

So yes, I gave myself one of those breaks a few moths ago when I decided to start writing and more importantly posting a blog. I knew that potentially, via my blog, I could reach many people who would benefit from what I was writing about. At the same time I was also aware that through my blog I would be opening the door for critical comments from some readers, which in turn could trigger feelings of insecurity and hurt in me. That was a risk I was willing to take. I made a step in daring to be vulnerable by starting to write a blog on subjects that are dear to my heart and I know something about from my personal and professional experience, subjects relating to inner growth, personal development, compassionate or nonviolent communication, life coaching and similar.

Yes, with writing and publishing a blog I've been practsing what I've preached. I've dared to share publicly what is important to me and therefore to expose myself vulnerably. However there is a but here. Until the last week people reading my blog were mostly unknown to me, strangers around the world. And as majority of us know a disapproving comment from a stranger can never stimulate as much hurt as a comment from a friend or a close colleague. Even though I was daring greatly by writing and sharing my blog with the public there was still some room for more daring and for stretching my comfort zone. The next challenge was to share my blog with people who matter to me, the known public of friends and colleagues.

Hence, last week after publishing my blog Protection vs. Connection, I decided to make another step in daring to be vulnerable and to share the blog via facebook with a group of friends and colleagues from various walks of my life. In my message to them I acknowledged that sharing my writing with them was a daring act for me. I am very happy to say that my daring to share my vulnerability about writing with my friends has opened doors for a deeper connection with several of them.

Apart from experiencing this deeper connection I have also benefited from receiving valuable feedback. One friend pointed towards my tendency to write ''sentences of three line average!'' I am grateful for his comment because I have been aware of this tendency of mine. I've already tried to work on cutting my long sentences into shorter more manageable chunks and his comment is encouraging me to stay even more focused. Next to the feedback, this and several other friends have sent words of support both for my writing, as well as the blog. These messages not only have warmed my heart but have also given me encouragement to keep on writing and to keep daring to be vulnerable and show it. Last but not least, the whole process of writing and sharing it with others, and in so doing challenging my own emotional security boundaries, is contributing to my own inner growth and personal development.

I hope that this post will give you some encouragement and inspiration to dare to be vulnerable and make a move to expose yourself in whichever area of your life your vulnerability might be. I do understand that potentially there is a risk of getting hurt when you open up. However, from my experience the benefits of sharing and deeper connection with others, contribution you are able to give to others and inner growth that come from it are far greater then the risks.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Protection vs. Connection

We human beings are social creatures who are high wired for connection with other human beings. Connection with what is alive, in other words what is real, true and genuine in others with that what is real, true and genuine in us is one of our deepest basic needs and it is universal which means we all have it. What differs for all of us is not the need, but how we choose to meet that need. So what differs is a strategy that we apply to meet our need for connection (or any other need for that matter) and there are many strategies to meet that shared need for connection we all have. The strategies we choose will also differ from person to person, and will be influenced by the person we want to connect with, type of relationship we have with that person, as well as different points in life we find ourselves at in that particular moment.

Additionally, we are often not even in touch with our need for connection and, more often than not, we choose our strategies to meet this (and other needs) unconsciously. This means that our chances for a true genuine connection with others are greatly increased or reduced by the level of our own connection with our own feelings and needs. Think of it, if you are not in touch with what is going on within you in this moment, who is then connecting with others? And how can you connect with others genuinely and truthfully if you are not connected with what is real, genuine and true inside of you in this moment?

Nevertheless, you still have that need for connection with other human beings and in absence of true connection with yourself, that is to say your feelings and needs, you may try to relate to others through your opinions and beliefs, which are mostly, set, unexamined and static, hence, by definition they are not a true, genuine and real representation of your aliveness in this very moment. And if the other person is also not connected to their feelings and needs chances of two of you experiencing fulfilling connection are almost certain to be next to none. The more in touch we are with ourselves the more likely we are to connect with what is truly alive in others, with their feelings and needs, without projecting, criticising them for having those feelings, blaming ourselves, or taking responsibility for their feelings and for fulfilment of their needs. I am the only person that can fulfil my needs, you can only help me in my process but you are neither responsible, nor can you fulfil them for me.
It follows then that the self-connection with our own feelings and more importantly needs is a prerequisite for the quality of connection with any other human being.

The second prerequisite for creating true, genuine connection is our readiness to experience, show and share our own vulnerability. Feeling of vulnerability leads us to another basic universal human need - emotional safety. Emotional safety is at the core of our very being and the more we are in touch with our feelings and needs the more we are embedded in our need for emotional safety. The more we know how to fulfil this need for ourselves the more we are ready to open up to others emotionally, that is to say show them our vulnerability.

When we are in touch with our need for emotional safety we open up, we try to connect by showing our vulnerability openly hoping that others can also receive our feelings and needs openly, as a gift rather than a burden. However, even if they cannot or do not want to receive us openly we have the trust that in such situations we can be emotionally safe. We contribute to our need for emotional safety by giving ourselves loving kindness in those moments when others cannot receive our vulnerable expression of our feelings and needs. By acknowledging our vulnerability and loving ourselves through it we create emotional safety for ourselves.

However, from early childhood onwards most of us have learned not to show openly our feelings let alone needs. For many vulnerability is being equated with being weak. Rather than teaching our children that being vulnerable takes courage and it is a daring thing to show your vulnerability, we teach them, mostly by our own example, to suppress their feelings, keep their feelings to themselves and to show ''brave face'', in other words not to show what they feel. How many adult men are unable to express their sadness because as children they were given a belief that ''big boys do not cry?'' And, how many women suppress their own needs on behalf of others because they were told when thy were young that ''good, polite girls always listen to and help other people first?'' Hence, from early childhood on majority of us learned to equate emotional safety with protecting ourselves from emotional hurt, which we try to ensure by not openly revealing our feelings and needs (neither those that are commonly referred to as negative e.g. anger, sadness, disappointment nor the positive ones e.g. happiness, joy, excitement). Most of us believe that we can protect our emotional safety by either not opening ourselves emotionally to others or by not openly receiving their emotions. However, what we actually achieve with protection is shutting ourselves off and by that we make ourselves even more susceptible to feeling hurt and isolated. Instead of increasing our level of emotional safety protection actually decreases our ability to meet that very need. While we are too busy trying to protect ourselves from vulnerability we are unable to realise that our emotional safety rests in our ability to be vulnerable.

Protection does not only decreases our chances of developing true emotional safety it also decreases our chances of true, genuine connection. How? Well, protection and connection work in diametrically opposite directions that is to say the more we protect emotionally the less able we are to experience true, genuine and deep connections. First and foremost when we try to protect ourselves we tend to suppress, numb and avoid any uncomfortable feelings (accidentally, when we try to numb the experience of pain in our life we also end up numbing the experience joy) and by doing so we are closing the door to self-connection. As we saw above if we are not connected with ourselves our chances of connecting with anyone else are hugely decreased and on top of that when we are protecting ourselves we are also highly unlikely to to be receptive to other people's feelings or to openly reveal what goes on within us. Therefore, protection is not only ineffective as a strategy for emotional safety it also disconnect us from ourselves as well as other people.

So the next time you are engaging with someone dear to you try to observe your behaviour. If that person says or does something that is not in line with your values notice what you feel. Is it irritation, frustration, hurt? And try to watch what you are doing. Are you trying to ignore or push those feelings aside? Are you trying to protect yourself by defending your position and opinion or by attacking? I believe that if you manage to pause for long enough to notice your behaviour, feelings and needs you might ask yourself: what am I doing here? Protecting myself. OK. And what do I actually want from this situation? If your answer is connection with my wife, child, etc. Then at least, I hope, you could remind yourself that you do not have to automatically react from your habitual protection mode, but that you have a choice to open yourself up vulnerably and in doing so open the door to connection with the other person.
Of course, like everything else this is the process of fine tuning between the level of vulnerability that still keeps you emotionally safe and the level of connection that is starting to go deeper than the surface. You rock the boat to the point that it can still safely sail, rather than to the point where you end up desperately trying to stabilise it and keep afloat which prevents it from sailing any further.