The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Pandemic Retreat Tip 4 – Allowing time for Daily Grief Work

avoiding-5-stages-grief-visibility-program

Our culture has difficulty sitting still with feelings.  There is too often an attempt to keep busy and ignore the discomfort of our negative feelings. It has been my experience that many otherwise healthy people want to bypass their phases of grief and jump into positive thinking, avoiding those dark and mysterious pathways of  emotion.

Now we are faced with micro and macro levels of Ambiguous Loss and Grief.   Ambiguous Loss is when you lose someone but not all the way.  For example, you could lose a loved one to illness, such as Alzheimers Disease, Alcoholism, Cancer, Food Addiction/Anorexia. Your loved one might be lost at sea or on a mountain.

Ambiguous Loss is most painful when you live with someone who is “here but not here.”  If your loved one watches multiple hours of Netflix, or video games, and you miss them, you are experiencing Ambiguous Loss.  If your loved one is slowly deteriorating from any illness or addiction, and you are watching them slowly disappear, you are experiencing Ambiguous Loss. When you break up a relationship, divorce, move away, you experience Ambiguous Loss, “here but not here.”

Today we have the Ambiguous Loss of our culture and daily routines. By not seeing the people, places and things that make up our life, we develop anticipatory anxiety of what will come next.  The anxiety then quickly morphs into Anticipatory Grief.

What is Anticipatory Grief?

I defer to Scott Berinato who unpacks our micro and macro Anticipatory Grief so usefully in his recent article in the Harvard Business Review (23 March 2020).  Berinato interviews David Kessler, who is one of our leading grief experts, and explores Kessler’s overview of our current pandemic existence. Learn more here: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.  

You may  think you are lonely, or exhausted, or anxious. That may be true. But I would agree with Berinato and Kessler in that you probably have unexpressed grief (and rage), which is clogging up your inner world.

It’s exhausting to repress grief and “act as if” you are perfectly fine. Yet we are called upon to buckle up and deal with life on life’s terms, so there is no binary solution here. We are asked to grieve our current losses and future losses PLUS carry on and live our lives.  So how is this possible?   By scheduling some Grief Work time into your calendar. Allowing time to release and let go will enhance your life as you release the inner pressure. Give yourself permission to unravel a bit.

Tears are the language of grief. Something I frequently suggest to my clients is  “Make some time to do your Grief Work.  Let it flow out of you.”  Most people resist this process and just hope by keeping super busy (or medicated or numbed with screen time) they can bypass the Grief Work.  Nay, nay, it must be done.  Cry now or cry later, but crying will help release those grief-balls that are jamming you up.

CS Lewis grief (2)

When we begin to honestly defrost our grief with each other and then seek solutions for our dilemmas, we start to feel a little better.  I am a fan of the stoic philosophy, but just focusing on solutions and keeping a stiff upper lip all the time is not helpful — something within shuts down and can go numb inside from repressing all that emotion.

Perhaps one of the silver linings from the Corona virus is that now, in this time of profound herd vulnerability, we will be more authentic with ourselves and each other?  Simple, but not easy. This is a practice that takes as long as it takes, perhaps lifetimes.

I have come to believe that your vulnerability is your superpower.  When you are brave enough to be vulnerable, you release, let go and successfully move on.  This is part of the multidimensional journey to wholeness and deep fulfillment💙

References:

Berinato, S. (23 March 2020). Harvard Business Review. That discomfort you are feeling is grief. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief

Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao Te Ching. New York: Harper Collins.

Wessan, L. (05 JAN 2019). On the “Myth of Closure,” Ambiguous Loss and Complicated Grief.  Retrieved from https://mirthmaven.blog/2019/01/05/on-the-myth-of-closure-ambiguous-loss-and-complicated-grief/

Helpful Scriptures for increased bravery and courage for your Grief Work:
Psalms 23, 31, 46, 126
Deuteronomy 31:6
Ecclesiastes 1:18
Proverbs 14:13

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2020. All rights reserved.

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Pandemic Retreat Tip 3 – Shifting from Victim to Victor with the 2-2-2 Method of Transformation

Instead of feeling trapped inside your home or apartment, what if you started to see this as a temporary retreat? Can you turn this victim consciousness into a victorious consciousness?  What if you are being called to live, move and have your being refined in an enclosed space for a few months to evolve to a new level of consciousness? 

This appears to be a global retreat.  We are all being called to stay home and go within, on many levels.  The only real choice we have on this Earth is HOW WE RESPOND OR REACT to stress and crises. Moment by moment…victim or victor?  With ease or anxiety? We choose, again and again.

Go inside

I’m not going to list or catalog all the ways you can go inside…because you are smart, and have been aware of mindfulness techniques, prayer, contemplation, meditation, relaxation techniques, Reiki, yoga and much more.  There are many paths up that mountain to deepen your awareness, increase your insight and have more inner peace.  I’m just here to remind you of what you already know.

“Lisa, I know nothing about going inside myself.  Where should I begin?”  When I hear this,  I often invite my DBT Skills Students to use my 2-2-2 Method of Transformation.

What is the 2-2-2 Method?  The broad brush here is you spend two minutes connecting within, two minutes reading something inspirational and two minutes writing.  You can do these in any order. To feel successful and build momentum,  set a timer for six minutes each day for your practice.  If you stay in the process for six minutes, you’re good, even if you don’t tap each category perfectly.  The idea is to set your intention and do the best you can. 

Meditation:  Spend approximately 2 minutes sitting quietly, doing some kind of paced breathing.  During this time, consciously  seek to access your inner Wise Mind, Higher Power, Ha Shem, Christ Consciousness, Allah, Great Spirit, Buddha Nature, any label will work that is meaningful to you.

Reading: Spend approximately  two minutes reading from a personal growth book, inspirational  literature, Scripture, angel cards, your DBT book or whatever devotional or uplifting material you have handy.  If you have no inspirational literature, this will be a fun shopping trip for you.  Ask around, especially if you know someone who you admire for their mental and spiritual wellness.  See what they are reading. Take a risk and read it too.

Writing:  Finally, do two minutes of writing (in your journal or DBT worksheet).  You can just write what you are observing in your mood.  My favorite format for basic brief journaling is to write a fear list, do a quick brain dump and just get it out of your head onto the page.  Then make a gratitude list (6-10 items or so). Then make a to do list. Then if there’s still time, freestyle and just let it rip. See what comes out of you.

The 2-2-2 Method gives you a structure – but it is flexible – again, you can do these tasks in any order.  If you do this daily practice, this will help you advance and make a big difference over time.

If the timer goes off and you want to do more, that’s fine. But the six minutes a day minimum will be great for building momentum here.

Gentle Note: If you’re too busy to invest six minutes/day on your personal evolution, you are too busy. Dial down your Netflix, YouTube, Videogame and other streaming activities.  You are worth it!  Just six minutes/day will compound over time and create amazing changes in you and give you a life worth living.

Also, do NOT try to do this perfectly!  Allow some wiggle room on the 2-2-2 precision. It’s not exact, although sometimes it can be.

The 2-2-2 Method will give you a satisfying structure to add to your day.  Truly, this is such a good time to start a 2-2-2 practice and build from it.  Over time, you will see this move to longer sessions, and will feel deeply nurtured and empowered by it.

In closing, I appreciate Lynn Ungar’s approach to this pandemic…

Lynn Unger poem PANDEMIC

Stay safe and well,

Onward and Upward, 

Lisa Wessan

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Coronavirus Retreat Tip 2 on Distress Tolerance Skills

Stay Home Stay OM

We are all struggling to feel safe, stable, useful and effective during this pandemic challenge. I know for sure that when I feel peaceful and useful, everything else falls into place.

Feeling peaceful and useful is the foundation for a great life…trying to be “happy” or “ecstatic” all the time is worthless to me.  Happiness is fleeting, and as much as I love ecstasy, it also does not last long enough. Being peaceful and useful, however, offers long term gains, which often bloom into happiness and sometimes the ecstatic joy of living.

HOW DO WE BECOME MORE PEACEFUL DURING THE PANDEMIC? 

There are many different paths of coping as you trudge up this pandemic mountain, the question is which path works for you.  I suggest you keep trying these methods — and others — to see what works.  Over time you will have a colorful tool kit with many different coping methods that you can use as needed.

Today’s tip has some useful skills for increasing your tolerance to distress and anxiety.  There are two key principles at work with the TIPP skills.

⭐First, every thought becomes a chemical reaction in your body.  Change your thoughts, change your experience of your life. Mind/Body medicine works both ways.
⭐Second, “the issues are in your tissues.”  When you release the stress and toxins in your flesh, bones, muscles, skin, you feel a tremendous mental release and relief.
Let’s start with the empirically verified TIPP Skills  for quickly changing your body chemistry:tipp
Source:  Adapted from Linehan, M. (2015).Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. New York: Guildford Press. P. 329.

Let me unpack these TIPP skills and add in my suggestions:

Temperature – you can create what’s call the “The Dive Response” in a few ways.  The Dive Response will lower your blood pressure and relax your nervous system.  Ways to shift temperature include:

  • Set up a bowl of cold water and dunk your face into it for as long as you can hold your breath. Do this a few times, until you feel relief.
  • Take an ice pack, wrap in a towel and place on your cheeks, brow, neck.
  • Hold ice cubes in your hands.
  • Freeze a lemon or orange, and squeeze the frozen citrus.  Provides cooling effect plus aromatherapy.
  • Take a washcloth and moisten with cold water, but it on your brow (better effect laying down.)

Intense Exercise – in addition to the jumping jacks, push ups, running, walking fast, fast dancing, Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga etc, I recommend the “Cross Crawl.”  You can do this standing up or on the floor.  This is a movement that gets your heart rate up super fast, can be done in place, and in five minutes you will feel the shift and release. It also provides excellent mental stimulation and has been shown to improve memory, creativity and focus as the cross-lateral activity heightens the exchange between the left and right hemispheres of our brains.

“Therapeutically, cross crawl refers to any intentional cross-lateral activity in which you cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching opposite hand and knee or foot.  Performing this movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two, which is essential for physical coordination as well as cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, and hand-to-eye coordination.” (Source: https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2019/06/16/cross-crawl/)

Paced Breathing – Whether you do the “Take 5” method, which is inhaling to count of five, holding for 5 and then exhaling to 5, or any variation of slowed down breathwork, it will work.   The only way to do this wrong is to not do it at all!  When we do this in my DBT Skills Groups, I add on the physical hand movement of placing the dominant hand on the heart area and the other hand on the naval area.  Touching these two power centers (Solar Plexus and Heart chakra) has an additional calming effect.   The body feels more centered and cared for, a sense of compassion flows, and we feel we are doing useful self-parenting in this position.  This is also considered the Reiki I position, which begins a deeply relaxing sequence of psycho-spiritual  events in the body.

Paired Muscle Relaxation – This is when we begin to scan our bodies head to toe or toe to head, and start to tighten and release muscle groups.  This can be done sitting or lying down. It is most effective to inhale, tighten, hold for a few seconds, and then release.   I sometimes like to pair the muscle contractions with cognitive suggestions, e.g. Breathe in harmony, breathe out chaos. Breath in unconditional love, breathe out fear. Breathe in acceptance, breathe out anger.

You can find many free versions of Paced Breathing and Paired Muscle Relaxation at Insight Timer, and all over the internet.   Insight Timer has versions as short as 2 minutes, and as long as 90 minutes for each of these processes. (I also have a few videos on YouTube concerning Body Scans and Paced Breathing as well.)

May these TIPP Skills enhance your Coronavirus Retreat today!

Onward and Upward in good health,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2020. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Coronavirus Retreat Tip #1

Dog in mask

Over the years I have been trained up to always see the pros and cons of each challenge. Not to be in denial of the pain, trauma and suffering — but to see the possibility of hidden value in the challenges.  “What if everything that is happening to you is happening for you?” asked  Colin Tipping years ago in a lecture in New York.   That thought percolated through me for years before I could finally understand what it truly meant, and the freedom and peace of mind that comes from living with this deep level of acceptance. 

What are the pros and cons of this Covid-19 challenge we now face? Here are some resources which have helped me sort this out and remain more peaceful and relaxed during this difficult time. 

To be transparent as ever,  I am feeling the full dialectical nature of this moment: sometimes I feel a deep peace and stillness within, and at the same time I feel the edge of a panic attack creeping up on me.  The difference between now and 30 years ago, however,  is that I have learned to observe my inner world so much better…so when I sense that edge, I use some breathwork, distress tolerance skills and physical release to shift out of it.  (More on those skills in the next Coronavirus post).

Over the next few days, I’m going to unpack some useful tips for coping with this extra level of anxiety we all share from the pandemic.  As always,  I have been sorting and cycling through my personal tool kit, plus I have found some new and impactful ideas that I will share here too.  The best of the best for you, my dear reader…as we trudge this road through the forced Retreat to wellness and bliss.

First, listening to Jack Kornfield  and Tim Ferriss discuss ways to re-frame and re-focus during this difficult time gave me more insight and some good practical advice. Kornfield’s  75 years on this Earth have been well spent.  As a brief overview, he was a Buddhist Monk in Thailand, then served as co-founder of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA,  then became a psychologist. Now he is involved in many educational and activist programs to help bring mindfulness and other useful transformative skills to the public. 

Tim Ferriss is one of my favorite teachers. First, I love Ferriss’  passion for extreme wellness.  I love his awesome lifestyle hacks and his never ending curiosity about world class performers  and the minutia of their morning routines, what they eat for breakfast,  favorite books, how they sleep and more. He also has an impressive history of  brilliant investing, living with bipolar illness and managing well.  Yes, I’m a fan of Ferriss! 

You can access this podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts:  Listen to #414: Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts.

For your consideration, here is my brief summary of this  podcast. During this two hour, wide ranging conversation, you will learn: 

  1. During the first hour, “It’s not about perfecting yourself, it’s about perfecting your Love.”  Learning to live in this world with more love, embracing the inner and outer imperfections with radical acceptance is one path to more inner peace and joy here.  Kornfield delves into some wonderful coping and practice skills to help move through the anxiety and depression of these pandemic days.
  2. From 1:07 there is a discussion of psychedelic research aka Sacred Medicines, for the treatment of drug resistant depression and anxiety.   Kornfield discusses the mysteries of our multi-dimensional selves.  “We are learning to use sacred medicines to know who we are.”  Apparently, this paradigm shifting research helps us form more positive and useful world views. Ferriss cites exciting and impressive research coming out of Johns Hopkins Medical School which has gotten robust results.   After listening to this  segment, I made a note to read The Cosmic Game, by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, which describes the wisdom and understanding that hundreds of trials of Sacred Medicines have offered seekers in laboratory conditions, to help better understand the nature of consciousness Itself. (As it happens, Harvard Medical School is hosting a large conference here in Boston  May 1-2, 2020, on Meditation and Psychotherapy: Learning from Non-Ordinary States).
  3.  From 1:23 Kornfield deconstructs suicide and suicidal patterns and how to reduce treatment resistant depression.  I was intrigued with this curious idea,  how we long for “sleep,” and how for some suicide is the big sleep that they think will solve their painful life for good. Suicidal people have  worthy intentions, not the best solutions…Kornfield’s approach to suicide is practical and soothing.  
  4.  From 1:32  Kornfield explains his trauma work, and how to be in the field of compassion which allows us to process the trauma successfully. “To witness with a loving gaze, it’s not who you are, it’s something that you went through.”   This reminds me of the teaching that “We make mistakes, but we are not a mistake.”   Again, learning to pause, observe, step back and see the pain as something that we passed through is very different then feeling a permanent imprint from it, rendering us emotionally compromised,  with anxiety, depression, PTSD and other conditions.  

I hope you enjoy listening to this podcast as much as I did.  It really gave me a booster during these troubled times. There is hope! There is a solution…

Stay tuned for my next Coronavirus Retreat Tip…may these tips serve you well! 

Onwards and Upwards in good health, 

Lisa Wessan

 

Related reading: 

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy: My Turn: Mass panic may be worse than virus itself

 

 

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