The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Learning to Live in AMBIGUITY with peace, even joy

Voting super early in October…
Here’s gratitude galore to artist Sam Durant (b. 1961 – ), for this powerful piece, Like, man, I’m tired of waiting, 2002. It’s currently on display at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum in Hartford MA. (The Wadsworth is definitely worth a trip!)

So here is my Cultural Appropriation du jour…I hope Mr. Durant does not mind me borrowing his racial justice motif for these politically toxic times…Mea culpa, mea culpa, I just can’t resist.

I know that learning to live in ambiguity with any measure of peace — even joy — is a clear marker for how healthy I am inside.

To improve your mental state, I ask you to find ways to feel more useful. To that end, I think it’s ALWAYS more effective to replace the WHY questions with the HOW questions. Let me unpack this a bit…

When you ask WHY IS THIS HAPPENING, you never get a satisfying or truly acceptable answer. Plus, no one really knows exactly WHY harsh things happen. Oh yes, there are tons of theories, but ultimately, it’s never quite known for sure. There are too many complicated, multi-dimensional issues to pinpoint “The Reason Why” something – or someone – is in such a negative state.

That’s why I think that asking the HOW questions is going to give you a big payoff. For example, asking “How can I be helpful? How can I be useful? How can I make this better?” in your micro world, at home, work, school, will shift you into taking positive actions. Then you will start to feel as if you are part of the solution, as elusive as it may seem to be at times.

Plus asking “How can I help?” takes the focus off of you…dare I say it? So much mental anguish comes from the Pity Party we have for ourselves. Moreover, too much self absorption leads to the impulse issues being activated, such as drinking, drugging, food binges, shopping, gambling, porn and so on. As I’ve heard it said, “Poor me, poor me, POUR ME A DRINK!”

In sum, compared to sitting and watching the news on your digitals, having a depressing Pity Party, marinating in fear and anxiety, asking the HOW questions is surely a better path.

Here is the beautiful and amazing 5D Flow…Peace in your heart can bring peace to the world. Yes, as you feel more peaceful and useful, you radiate that energy out and it definitely has a ripple effect.

As it is written:

Peace in my heart brings peace to the family.
Peace in the family brings peace to the community.
Peace in the community brings peace to the nation.
Peace in the nation brings peace to the world.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
~ Author Unknown ~

Best of all, when you ask HOW questions, you are no longer feeling like a victim! When you ask “Why is this happening [to me]? ” “Why don’t they just blah blah blah?” You feel powerless, impotent, ineffective and probably a tad depressed or anxious.

Ideally, with good inner work. you could become bulletproof to the news. At your best, you want to feel all the feelings in the grief-rage-sadness spectrum, and then move on quickly to what you love. Why? Because as I have learned from many teachers, what you focus on INCREASES…where your attention goes, your energy flows. If you focus on hate and all the haters, you will feel more hateful and angry. Simple, but not easy.

Finally, you’re probably tired of people reminding you to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, but truly, that is a big part of the solution here. Learning to ask How can I be useful, coupled with a daily — even HOURLY – gratitude list, could carry you a long way during these challenging cockalocka poo poo slinging times.

❤Here’s to learning to live in the WAITING ROOMS of life with more peace and joy❤

Related Reading:

On the myth of closure, ambiguous loss and complicated grief by Lisa Wessan

The Art of Living is the Art of Waiting by Lisa Wessan

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2020. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

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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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9/11 Memorial in NYC: 10 Tips for the visit

 

This visit to the 9/11 Memorial required some serious planning, you cannot just walk in and expect to get in.  Since a few of you expressed interest in my visit last year, I’m sharing my notes for all to see, so my good research is not wasted!

1. Definitely book tix ahead online – then you will have no wait to get in.

2. We loved the 9/11 Memorial app, very useful inside the museum. Robert DeNiro narrates it! He was excellent. It’s free, and big MB, so download it before you go(took about 15 Minutes to download on my phone). Don’t waste time downloading it at the museum. 

3. We did the tour for outdoors, the Memorial aka The Void (their term). Our guide was terrific, learned a lot about those pools and the surrounding area. Lots of secret codes, roses, things happening that are curious. The guide breaks it down nicely. Suggestion: take the outdoor tour early in day before you enter museum. Once you go in, you cannot exit and return. (Too bad about that, we would like to have taken a break and returned later. )

4. Films: they show THE FIRST PITCH film only once a day at noon. Make sure you arrive in time to get in there, it was fascinating…we watched all three special films in main auditorium from 12-1:15. 

5. Don’t miss the REBIRTHING film, it plays all day in a different theater.

6. The museum café was pricey and not up to par IMHO, sorry I didn’t pack lunch. So definitely bring lunch, snacks, whatever you need for a 4-6 hour day.

7. And finally, it was NOT as emotional as I thought it would be – the upliftment comes from seeing ALL THE GOOD that people did to help each other…that made me ferklempt. The exquisite levels of giving and sacrifice were ASTOUNDING!   I learned so much, even though I was living and working in NYC when this happened.

8. Easy access from the 4/5 Express train to Fulton St, grateful for the NYC SUBWAYS! They are awesome!

9. After another marathon of walking, we went up to Chinatown for soothing foot massage. I have a great place at 107 Mott Street, clean, great value and they are awesome. You can just walk in, no reservation needed.

10. Lunch or Dinner suggestion: Right near the foot massage place, we had a delicious dinner at Little Shanghai, 144 Mulberry St. Yum. No reservations. 

The trauma of 9/11 still cannot be grasped – I realized after the 5 hours that it is just impossible to imagine what it’s like to run from an exploding building while chunks of furniture, restaurant trays, other debris and parts of airplane are falling out of the sky on your way… this horror was just off the charts. 

Yet there was SO MUCH BEAUTY in the recovery and “rebirth” process…which adds to the mystery of the need for contrast, paradox and tension in this Universe.  

 Triple OY! Loved it, lots of contrast, deeply moving, ultimately inspiring. Highly recommend! 

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

Source: Notes from my journal 10/01/18.

 

 

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On the “Myth of Closure,” Ambiguous Loss and Complicated Grief

“Everyone experiences ambiguous loss if only from breaking up with someone, or having aging parents or kids leaving home. As we learn from the people who must cope with the more catastrophic situations of ambiguous loss, we learn how to tolerate the ambiguity in our more common losses in everyday life.” 

– Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

In my immediate family, several of my nearest and dearest have battled with cancer over the years…both of my paternal grandparents, may they rest in peace,  my dear first cousin Stephanie (may she live to be a super centenarian) and my delightful and fierce Aunt Yvette (known as “Auntie”), who is currently receiving hospice care.  It has been a long and grueling journey with cancer for all my loved ones.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling powerless, and living so far away from my family in Sarasota, FL. When they lived in New York, it was so much easier to visit. Sadly,  I can’t make frequent visits to Sarasota. The only “power” I do have is to send intentional healing and loving energy to my Auntie and family…and to practice radical acceptance so that I will function with some measure of inner peace here in my world.

For a while, my Auntie was in and out of the nursing home while she battled her cancer and other complications from treatment. Her life was severely compromised by her illness.  As harsh as this has been is for her, since April 2015,  I have also been witnessing how Auntie’s dying process is affecting everyone around her.

My cousins are fraught with anxiety and grief. Others are a hot mess, watching Auntie dying so slowly, not being able to process their feelings and find some relief.  Some people get trapped in the “Blame Game,” and are always looking to find ways to defocus their pain by pointing at others (that’s a separate article, on the Blame Game, worth exploring soon).

We are all coping with the ambiguity of Auntie being here, yet not here.  She is no longer resembling her true self as we knew her.  Sometimes she is delirious, sometimes she is too weak to talk. As her body deteriorates, she is no longer living the full and robust life she once enjoyed.

ambiguous loss1

This pain we are all experiencing has a name…it is called Ambiguous Loss.  “Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.” (Wikipedia)

There are a variety of types of ambiguous loss.  One type is when people go missing and the body is never found.  For example, a person does not return from a sailing trip, or from a hiking excursion, or war, or they are kidnapped.  Their loved ones still feel a lack of closure because the body was not found.   “Maybe they will return…” lingers in the mind.

After 9/11,  all of us in NYC were processing personal and professional ambiguous loss for all of our New Yorkers who were lost in the pile of bodies that were never recovered.

Another kind of ambiguous loss is when people experience a new emotional boundary that hurts.  This happens when people get divorced, or when someone ignores you, stops talking to you, shuts you out of their life.  Any kind of break-up creates ambiguous loss, because the person is still here, yet not here. They are alive, but dead to you.   This is considered more painful loss than when someone actually dies.

ambiguous loss3

Medical illness and addictions cause ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss also occurs when a loved one has Altzheimers or dementia, and they no longer recognize social connections. Similarly, when someone is very ill, such as my Auntie, we have ambiguous loss because the illness is transforming our loved one into someone other than the person we always knew. We are mourning the living remnants of our loved one…so excruciating and bitter.

When someone is living with an addiction, this too causes their personal relations to deteriorate and they are not fully present for their loved ones. Again, they are here but not here.

I have a friend who had a beautiful daughter in Cambridge, MA,  who chose to be homeless.  Her daughter was an alcoholic.  My friend tried all methods of intervention and help. Nothing worked. My friend suffered with ambiguous loss for so many years. Her daughter was a pianist, absolutely lovely.   She died a few years ago,  at 35, and it was one of the most heart wrenching tragedies I experienced.  My friend is still recovering from this painful loss.

Learning to live a good life with ambiguous loss

I recently listened to a wonderful and insightful podcast interview with ambiguous loss pioneer Pauline Boss, Ph.D., who originally coined the term “ambiguous loss.”   Krista Tippett hosts Dr. Boss on her podcast, On Being.  You can listen here:

The Myth of Closure [UNEDITED VERSION, 1.5 hours]

The Myth of Closure [EDITED VERSION, 1 hour]

I prefer the unedited versions of Tippett’s interviews, because there are sometimes fascinating nuances that are deleted to make the long form interview fit into an hour. But I’m sure whichever one you listen to will be rewarding!

One of the ideas I took away from Dr. Boss’ talk was that we will never have complete closure from our ambiguous losses, or from our complicated grief.  What we can do is become  more adept at processing our negative feelings and difficult thoughts. Dr. Boss has some wonderful suggestions on the process.

Cognitive restructuring, which can be learned, is a big part of the solution.  Dr. Boss’ stories and explanations are very helpful in deconstructing the different kinds of ambiguous loss that we all have in our lives.

Even though I learned about ambiguous loss and complicated grief in graduate school, it seems I keep deepening my learning about it more every year, from clients who are struggling with painful divorce, adult children with addictions, my Auntie’s battle with cancer, and for all the ongoing loss of freedoms in the world that never seems to subside.

Fun fact: Ambiguous loss is clearly part of our psychospiritual journey — for it forces us to grow and move to new levels of compassion and acceptance of things we cannot control.  “Lack of power, that is our dilemma,” says Alcoholics Anonymous  (Bill W., 1976).  Yes, in our culture, we seek to control, cure, fix and manage everyone and everything as much as possible. We don’t like messy endings.

Yet what I have come to know, is that true mastery of life is being able to live in ambiguity with peace, even joy.  My life is far from perfect…yet I am more often feeling positive, grateful,  uplifted, inspired and anticipating good interventions that will transform it.

If we can learn to live in that “not knowing” place and be peaceful — that is a vast improvement on “hating ambiguity” and perhaps yelling at G-d or the Universe, or twisting into knots over why bad things do happen to good people…again, very messy, so annoying.

The truth is, when it comes to matters of love, there is no closure. As they say at the Grief Toolbox,  “Closure is not part of the grieving process, nor is it necessary for healing. A connection formed in love can’t be closed.”  Dr. Boss confirmed this with her years of research on ambiguous loss, leading to her forthcoming book on “The Myth of Closure.”

ambigousloss5

As Dr. Boss discussed in the interview, our Western culture wants neatly packaged endings and for everyone to move on as quickly as possible.   There is plenty of shaming that goes on, as in “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Sadly, our culture does not tolerate ambiguous loss very well at all.  It requires more Eastern, dialectical thinking.  To be able to say non-binary statements such as “She is alive, but also dead,”  “He is not here, but he is possibly still alive,”  or “She looks like Auntie, but this is not Auntie anymore,” requires a leap from dualistic thinking to a more dialectical thinking which allows us to embrace opposite beliefs without sinking into a deep depression or disruptive anxiety vortex.

Solution Focused Suggestions

For today, I invite you to learn more about ambiguous loss, and start to apply these non-dualistic, non-binary, dialectical thinking ideas to your situation.

  • Listen to the podcast above, and learn some skills to help process your ambiguous grief.
  • Perhaps find a good therapist who can help you learn to cope better with your struggles.  Good news: coping skills can be learned!
  • Learn to laugh at the absurdities, paradoxes and incongruities of life (Gavin, 2010; Wessan, 2013).
  • Practice your Distress Tolerance skills …join a Dialectical Behavior Therapy group.  You may then find it easier to work through the painful moments, and allow yourself to live in ambiguity with, dare I say it, some joy!

 

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

References

Gavin, J. (03 Sept 2010). Laughing with the Joys and Troubles of Life Leads to Growth. The Chelmsford Patch. Found at https://mirthmaven.blog/2010/09/16/lisa-wessan-interviewed-in-the-chelmsfor/

Pauline Ross, Ph.D. https://www.ambiguousloss.com/

W., Bill. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous : the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. New York:Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Fourth edition, Chapter 4, We Agnostics. P. 45. 

Wessan, L. (2013).  Using Humor and Laughter in Therapy. Focus Journal. National Association of Social Workers.  Vol. 40, No. 4. 3,11.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

 

 

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