It’s nothing like anything ever before

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When I learned we had to stay home and distance ourselves, the news wasn’t alarming. I’m an artist and writer, and I’m used to being alone.

That was then. I knew I could meet friends for lunch, go to the gym, go shopping, and anything else I wanted to do after working. Now, there’s nothing to do besides work, cleaning, cooking or finding something to entertain me after work.

That would have been fine for a little while, but hard when we don’t know how long this isolation will last. Nothing is certain now. There’s nothing to look forward to.

My two granddaughters were to graduate in May, one from high school, the other from college. I’d been flippant when I heard they wouldn’t get to celebrate with their friends. When I wrote that I’d watched them get their diplomas in my imagination and told them how proud I was, I thought it was a cute way to approach their loss.

Today, I read two articles about grief. The first was about all the students who won’t be able to have a graduation ceremony. It described how hard it was for these students to lose all they’ve been looking forward to these last four years.

These youngsters had been looking forward to all the festivities and honors for over four years. Now that was being taken away from them, my initial response to my grandchildren in my estimation turned out to have been disrespectful.

I’d become one of those women who has lost touch with compassion. I know women like that. Their entire world revolves around themselves.

That’s not who I want to be.

The second article about grief was about all of us. A group who met shared their feelings about living with the pandemic. One woman said she felt grief. They asked an expert, David Kessler, to find out how to manage their feelings.

Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

Kessler says, “Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. Losing normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

What can individuals do to manage all this grief?

Kessler advises us to start with work on the different stages of grief. The stages aren’t going to be linear. He says, “There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.”

And he states “Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.”

There’s anticipatory grief, which is really anxiety. Anxiety is fear and conjures up worst-case scenarios. That’s when you must make yourself think about the best-case scenarios.

“We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored, but neither should dominate either.”

Kessler suggests:

  1. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. You can name five things in the room. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay.
  2. You can also think about letting go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands.
  3. It’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Be patient. If someone is usually adaptable but is now contrary, think about who they usually are and not who they seem to be in this moment.
  4. This is a temporary state. It helps to say it.

Finally, Kessler adds; “I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people realize they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They realize they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.”

It’s helped me to find meaning to this pandemic. One way I’ve found meaning is that when  distancing myself from others, instead of being stoic in my aloneness, I am finding balance in my life between being sequestered and in touch with my humanness. I feel better about myself and find that I’m more accepting.

This pandemic might hold some significant meanings for you, too. Challenges are the beginnings of change and growth.

You can read the entire article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” at: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?

Self-Compassion: Why bother?

 

Why has the subject of self-compassion become so trendy over the last few years? Why are psychotherapists, mindfulness teachers and life coaches touting its benefits today?

Self-compassion, a Buddhist belief, became a mainstream and popular idea when psychologist Kristen D. Neff of the University of Texas became interested in the subject. After reading Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness in 2003, Neff wrote a paper on the subject and it was that paper instigated a snowball of interest,

Neff tells us that self-compassion is based on the premise that showing kindness to oneself is essential for showing love towards others.

Three indispensable elements of self-compassion she found from her reading were:

  • Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment
  • Common humanity vs. Isolation
  • Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

Since Ness’ paper, research has found that self-compassion has many positive rewards. You are less prone to anxiety and depression. Self-compassion bolsters confidence. Being kind to yourself can make it safe to fail, which encourages you to try again. You are more than likely to sustain stronger relationships with others. And psychologists have found that there are links between self-compassion and health-promoting behaviors related to eating, exercise, sleep and stress management.

My first encounter with the concept of self-compassion took place around 1980, way before all the hoop-la. I was driving back home from shopping with my daughter, who had just graduated college. Upset with myself over a mistake I’d made at a store with the money in my wallet, I was overcome with shame and guilt,

“I’m so stupid!” I told my daughter. “I can’t believe I did that! It was so careless. If I had just paid attention instead of talking so much, I wouldn’t have been so negligent with my money. I can’t imagine how I managed to pull a hundred-dollar bill out and lose it.”

“Mom, why are you being so hard on yourself,” my daughter asked? “You never speak to other people like that.”

That moment was an Aha! moment. Where had that negative self-talk come from? What my daughter told me was true. I had never scolded my children or criticized others like I just had done to myself.

A simple conversation, my daughter’s response ended up changing my life. I became aware I didn’t know my mind. There had to be a great deal more going on inside my head if I had been ignorant of what triggered my scolding myself.

Unfortunately, at that time, in the 80’s, no one was sharing advice with how to deal with self-judgment, much less self-compassion. It took a long time, and experiencing many clues, to finally learn how to deal with my negativity. But I never gave up wanting to know more.

All the self-help books I read didn’t approach the subject. It seemed like almost everyone around me was also judging themselves in one way or another. Most everyone believed our thoughts of judging and negative beliefs were true, part of being human.

Finally the first clue came from a book about forgiveness around 2009. Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping was written to help overcome anger and blame, however forgiving others also helped me to perceive gifts that I would never have received without those difficult encounters. Forgiveness served to give me a sense of peace.

Besides opening myself to a sense of compassion for the person I was angry with, I found myself able to forgive myself for my part in those broken relationships.

I also realized, through forgiving others, a stronger sense of commonality with all those I had judged and felt anger toward. But even though I felt compassion for others the voices in my mind persisted. They became more annoying now that I had felt that sense of peace.

Then I picked up Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul. I finally had a way to put an end to frustrating, habitual thoughts plaguing me. Singer suggests that, instead of fighting with them, by allowing them, not judging them, and by backing away from any connection with them, seeing them as the lies they were, they didn’t bother me anymore. I could even laugh at them.

I really thought that I had become enlightened, but that cocky attitude crumbled as anxiety and stress crept in again. I quit procrastinating, and began to meditate again. This time, instead of feeling more anxiety while I meditated, I enjoyed a deep peace.

Now I know what self-compassion is and what it’s done for me:

By doing all I could do to stop judging myself, I learned how important being kind to myself was.  I laughed more, felt lighter, and loved myself more.

With forgiveness, I healed relationships. My anger had caused me to feel isolated from that person, and now a sense of our common humanity existed in its place.

With meditation, I became more mindful. Writing and painting are easier now that I can focus.

So, why bother doing all you need to do to become self-compassionate?

You’ll be kinder to yourself, you’ll enjoy being with yourself more, and you’ll feel more peace, love, and compassion.

You’ll be surprised with how much easier and better you have become at what you do. You’ll have more fun and work will feel like play. And a whole lot more!

It took me a long time to finally feel compassion for myself, but now with support all over the internet, such as Kristen Neff’s website, with everything you need to know about self-compassion, you can get the help to  feel so much better about yourself.