6 Types of Grief Travel – Which is Right For You?

I’ve shared how travel has helped my own grief process in an earlier post and included some tips for planning your first travel experience. But grief travel can have different purposes and take on different forms. If you are going to plan an extended travel experience for yourself you’ll want to know your goals for the trip so you can choose the best type of travel for your needs.

Here are six categories of grief travel for you to consider:

  • Restorative
  • Contemplative
  • Physically active
  • Commemorative
  • Informative
  • Intuitive

Read more about each of them below to see which type might be best for you during your own experience of grief:

Restorative

A restorative grief vacation may be the best thing if you are grieving acutely and not yet ready to return to the mainstream of daily life. Consider visiting friends or family who will help care for you by providing food and shelter, offering companionship or solitude as needed, and permitting you to gradually reenter the world on your own terms. This type of visit is likely to be time-limited since most people cannot drop their own schedules for too much time in order to be of service. But during the early days of grief it can help you immensely to have a safe and nurturing place to just “be” yourself for a short time.

After my father’s death I traveled back to my hometown with my husband and two small children to help make funeral arrangements and be with family. My cousin took us in and housed us in her home for an entire week so we wouldn’t have to stay in an impersonal hotel. She cooked nourishing meals for us, watched my children when I needed time alone, and sat up listening to my stories late at night when I couldn’t sleep. Her lovingkindness made all the difference for me in my own grief process and I left her home feeling much stronger than when I had arrived.

Contemplative

If you are further along in the grief journey you may be ready to spend some time alone so you can dive deeply into the pain you have encountered and explore all of your emotions. For this contemplative type of travel you might want to visit a meditation retreat center, spa or healing resort that will allow you space for your own private experience. Many retreat centers also offer meals and a variety of classes like meditation and yoga that you can join if you want.

This travel experience is perfect if you need to process some deep feelings and are comfortable being alone for a few days. Bring a journal, music, candles, instruments, inspirational books, and anything that helps you connect with your higher self to get the most out of your travel.

Several years after my father’s death I spent a long weekend alone at a hot springs resort in the mountains so that I could do some thinking and writing about the impact of his suicide on my life. I had a profound experience there as I confronted old fears and anger and found a new level of forgiveness for him. But it was only possible because I was there alone and had time to go deep into my own dark emotions.

Physically active

Some of us process our emotions more easily when we have a physical outlet to help dissipate stress. If this is true for you, grief travel that involves physical activity might be most appropriate. You could consider going on a long backpacking trip like Cheryl Strayed who wrote her book Wild about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a way of coping with grief after her mother’s death.

Biking, camping, climbing, sailing, surfing, and kayaking are among many forms of active travel that could be beneficial when you are dealing with grief. A company that provides guided adventure vacations might be helpful to handle some of the extensive planning that is necessary for this type of travel.

I once participated in a 60-mile walk to raise funds for breast cancer research, motivated by the deaths of two friends from the disease and the recent diagnosis of my young niece with breast cancer, as well. I trained for several months before the walk, which allowed me ample time to contemplate the nature of serious illness and death and to dedicate my walk to a higher purpose. During the walk itself I had many inspirational encounters that helped me see the connections between all of us—those who walked and those who were struggling with cancer. Through that walk  I reached a new level of spiritual understanding about death and loss that helped me immensely over the years that followed.

Read the full story of that grief travel experience here.

Commemorative

Travel to remember a special experience from the past with a loved one can be a powerful way to connect with and process grief. Consider visiting the site of a memorable celebration or a place where you felt connected to your loved one in a meaningful way. Returning to a place of positive memories can help you recall your love for another person and also strengthen your sense of an ongoing connection that can transcend the physical realm.

On many occasions after my father’s death I returned to the cabin he had built in the mountains in a place he dearly loved. Spending time there helped me recall happy moments from the past and also provided me with a tangible sense that Dad lived on through the cabin and through the trees, streams and wildflowers that surrounded this very special place. I could sit next to his favorite fishing hole and still hear his laughter and see him casting his fly line above the water: Dad was with me again in those moments and I felt that our connection was stronger than ever before. Though I also experienced pain through these memories, I came to terms with my grief a little at a time with each and every visit.

Informative

Travel that includes historical research can be very therapeutic for grief. If you have questions about the past you might find that an excursion to a particular place to discover new information can be a productive way to work through your emotions. Consider doing background research on the place you plan to visit before you go so you can maximize your time once you get there. Take careful notes, ask lots of questions and search out people who may have stories that can help you fill in some missing pieces.

As I sought answers for my father’s suicide I began to suspect that his experiences during World War II played a key role in the depression and anxiety that had plagued him for years.  I researched the history of his army division to the best of my ability and learned that he had been part of the invasion at Normandy as well as the Battle of the Bulge. On a subsequent trip to France I visited Omaha Beach and many other historic sites in Normandy with the help of a knowledgeable guide.  Walking the beach where so many died during the invasion deepened my awareness of the trauma Dad and other soldiers experienced during the war and I felt that I finally understood him thoroughly for the first time in my life.

Intuitive

This final type of grief travel requires an adventuresome spirit and a willingness to take a bit of risk. To travel intuitively means to arrive at a place without a firm agenda or plan and allow yourself to “wander” and see what experiences arise for you. You might come across a museum or park that seems interesting or be inspired to walk along a beach or enter a certain church. When you follow your intuition you might discover a connection to a certain place that helps you process your grief–a connection that you couldn’t have planned or discovered by reading a guidebook in advance. To enjoy intuitive travel you’ll need an open mind and curiosity about the “mysteries” of both life and death.

Once on a trip to France I felt inspired to take a bus to a small village nearby, without knowing  what I would find there. I wandered the little streets and came upon a church that attracted my attention. When I stepped inside I heard angelic music that filled the entire space. A soloist was practicing her songs for Sunday mass and I was treated to a spontaneous and inspirational  concert as I sat within that comforting space. I could not have planned or scheduled this special experience on my own, but it transformed my entire trip.

As you can see from the examples I have shared, my own grief travel has made it possible for me to heal in ways I could not have anticipated. For this reason I am eager to share my inspiration and travel suggestions with you so that you might also experience the benefits of grief travel. If you decide to travel while you are grieving, first identify your goals for travel and assess what type of travel might work best for you at this time. I’m sending you wishes for meaningful journeys that bring insights and healing to you over time!

 

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Tips for Planning Your First Grief Travel Experience

In previous posts and podcasts I’ve shared some thoughts about the benefits of travel for those who are grieving and told the story of  one of my own experiences with “grief travel.”

Other authors have also written about journeys that were undertaken as a way of coping with grief, like  Cheryl Strayed, who wrote her bestselling book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail about  an epic backpacking trip she took while grieving her mother’s death.

If you think you might benefit from some “grief travel” of your own, it’s important to be prepared. Here are some tips for planning your first journey:

Start local and go small

The first time you venture out into a new place while you are grieving it can help to stay fairly close to home and limit your time commitment. For example, after my mother’s death I planned a special trip to a botanical garden that was just 90 miles from my house. I set aside a half-day for the trip, which didn’t disrupt my schedule much and let me see how I felt when I was outside my usual comfort zone.

Plan ahead

Before I went to the botanical garden I did some research to see what it had to offer. I found that there were lots of walking paths and benches in private areas that would lend themselves to quiet moments and meditation, which was exactly what I needed at that time.

You might feel more comfortable in a busy area with less solitude so it’s important that you know yourself and have a sense of what will work for you. However, during a time of grief you might not know what’s best for you or how you will react and it’s okay to experiment with different locations and settings. If you start local you’ll be able to change the plan quickly if it’s not right for you.

Choose a destination that has meaning

I decided on the botanical garden for my first journey because I knew my Mom would have enjoyed  going there with me. She loved flowers and the beautiful displays at the botanical gardens would have thrilled her.

On other grief journeys I have hiked to places my Dad would have loved and visited places we had all once experienced together as a family. Such special locations helped create positive ties to the past for me and brought back pleasant memories.

Keep your loved one in your thoughts

The day I visited the garden I “invited” Mom to join me on the trip and as I walked along the paths there I imagined what she would say and how she would react. I felt comforted by her presence and was reminded that I could still share special moments with her even though she could no longer be physically present with me.

Remember that grief travel isn’t meant to be a distraction from grief or a way of forgetting the pain of loss.

Grief travel is an opportunity to embrace grief as part of your ongoing life and discover how to live the “new normal” that loss has created for you.

Bring a journal and a camera

Recording your experiences in words and photos will give you a tangible reminder of your journey and help you focus in on the experience so that you don’t just “go through the motions” while you are there.

Take time for contemplation

While I was in the botanical garden I stopped a few times to meditate in the lovely surroundings. It helped me  slow down my pace and notice everything around me, like the beautiful colors and the sounds of flowing water.

The value you derive from your grief travel experience will be determined by the quality of the intention you put into it. So take your time, breathe deeply and utilize all your senses as you engage with your surroundings.

Accept your emotions as they are

On your grief travel experience you might feel overwhelmed with sadness but you might also find surprising joy during the journey, as I did in the botanical garden. Allow your feelings to arise naturally without judgement and observe them as they flow through you. Then take time to reflect on any memories or emotions that come up by writing about them in your journal.

Notice the “small things”

Another way to deepen the meaning of your grief travel experience is to pay attention to the small signs and symbols around you that might otherwise go unnoticed. On my journey through the botanical garden I had several experiences that reminded me of my mother: a chickadee singing in a grove of trees, a tiny waterfall in a nearby stream, and a “scripture garden” that would have filled her with joy. These little moments enriched my visit that day and helped me feel connected to Mom and to all living things.

Find your own unique path

Wherever you choose to go on your grief travel adventure, the path will be uniquely yours as you explore your loss and pain. Go slow, listen to your heart and be gentle with yourself. Stay flexible so you can make changes when needed and accept any obstacles that arise.

Grief comes into our lives to change us and help us grow–but that doesn’t happen easily. Wishing you meaningful travels and inspirational trails in the days ahead as you plan your own journeys!

 

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How to Find Comfort for Grief Through Travel

During a trip to Italy a few years ago, my husband and I received the shocking news that our dear brother-in-law had died suddenly back at home. Unable to change our flight reservations to return home immediately we had to finish our planned travel, even though we desperately wanted to be with family.

But we found a certain comfort during those days as we wandered around in unfamiliar surroundings and we soon discovered that travel can bring solace in the midst of grief. You can listen to my recent podcast about this story here.

You might wonder how travel could be a positive experience for someone who is already devastated by the death of a loved one. Though it seems counter-intuitive, here are some of the  benefits I have received from my explorations in “grief travel:”

Get out of the “comfort zone”

The death of a loved one is an event that has the potential to change everything in our lives. In fact, after a death we gradually discover that things will never be the same again, even though we desperately long to go back to what used to be “normal” in our lives.

We can resist this “new normal” that has been ushered in by grief for some time as we struggle to accept what has happened. But travel to an unfamiliar place actually helps us accelerate the process of change and get comfortable navigating through new territory, which is exactly what grief is trying to teach us. When we leave behind our “comfort zone” we open up to the possibility of inspiration and growth, even in the midst of our sorrow.

Find a new perspective

When you travel you have opportunities to meet  new people from cultures and religions far different from your own. You can see the monuments they build, the ways they express love for one another, the activities they value, and how they cope with day-to-day life.

You soon discover that everyone, no matter where you go, must deal with death, loss and grief as a normal occurrence of life. Your own broken heart is one of an infinite number of heartaches that have been happening since the dawn of humankind. You begin to recognize that you are not alone in your pain, even though the way you process loss is uniquely yours.

While standing in the middle of Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, I came to understand that all human beings have a need to memorialize the dead as a way of coping with the pain of loss and the fear of the unknown. I felt comforted by seeing the many thousands of graves there that had been washed by tears of love, just like the tears that were flowing from me.

“I am human in every way,” I realized, “and this grief is what it means to be human. I have come to this life to learn to love and to learn to grieve for those I have loved.”

This was a profound shift of perspective for me and it demonstrated that travel makes possible a new way of seeing our existence.

Discover small moments of joy

One of the most difficult parts of grieving my father’s death when I was in my 30’s is the fact that I remained in a state of numbness and shock for nearly three years. I simply could not pull myself out of the darkness that surrounded me.

But my travel experiences have introduced me to a wealth of new sights, sounds, smells and tastes which have helped me awaken from the cocoon of numbness to discover joy in the tiny moments of day-to-day life.

Hearing a bird’s song in the mountains of Switzerland, feeling the mist from a waterfall in Iceland, smelling fresh croissants in a French boulangerie, listening to a spontaneous operatic solo by a street singer in an Italian piazza, and tasting a cool draught of German beer were all experiences of the senses that awakened me from numbness and brought unmistakable joy in the moment.

Get in touch with what really matters

On my travels I have met and observed people of every race, culture and ethnicity and have seen how they connect and care for another.  I have been reminded that love is the most powerful force on the planet–in fact love is what really matters in all of existence. Grief is a form of love that I have learned to cherish, even though it is painful and heartbreaking.

The greatest tribute I can pay to those who have died is to carry my grief with grace, feel the pain of grief to my core, and continue to live fully in every moment.

Travel for me provides a pure and spontaneous opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest and love even the pain that comes from this human existence. Rather than stay tightly wrapped in a cocoon of  sadness after the death of a loved one I have learned to  wander in strange places and to find my comfort there. Travel has helped me love life, no matter what life has brought to me.

May your own grief inspire you to take new journeys to unfamiliar surroundings and may you learn unexpected lessons on your travels. How has travel brought comfort to you in the past? Please share your stories in the comments below.

 

 

 

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Flowers for Mom

Finding an unlikely way to remember my mother on her birthday…

The email arrived today, just as it always does, 5 days before my mother’s birthday: “It’s time to order flowers for Margaret!” The florist that sends this reminder has been in business in my hometown for over 100 years and has provided flowers for every birthday, wedding and funeral in my family for as long as I can remember.

I search through the available bouquets featured in the email: Sunny Siesta, Fields of Autumn, Country Sunrise, Butterfly Effect. I think Fields of Autumn is perfect, with orange lilies, green hydrangeas and yellow dahlias. Mom will love the colors and the wild, just-picked look of the arrangement.

But this year marks the fifth year that I won’t be sending mail order flowers to Mom; the fifth birthday when I won’t be calling her and hearing about her special celebrations with friends; the fifth year since her death, when I mark her special day by lighting an orange candle in a private celebration of my own.

Each year when the email reminder arrives I feel a familiar twinge of pain and loneliness as I imagine Mom’s face lighting up when she opens the front door to receive the flowers I’ve chosen for her. I see her placing the bouquet on her kitchen table, near the window where she always looked out to watch me play in the park across the street.

I wonder why the florist doesn’t know that Mom has died? They provided all of the flowers for her funeral, including the casket spray she had ordered and paid for several years earlier. I’m sure some people would be upset about the emails they send every September, but somehow I’ve grown to cherish them.

Choosing a special birthday bouquet for Mom is a long-held ritual for me and one of the last connections I have to our relationship. There’s an indescribable emptiness that occurs with the death of the only person who loves every school photo of you, including the ones with missing teeth, pigtails, and geeky glasses; when the only person who would save your report cards and crayon drawings in the bottom of her lingerie drawer is gone; when you can never again feel the relief that comes from the sound of her voice calling you “honey” over the telephone.

Mom’s belongings, the special treasures that she had gathered over her lifetime, were sorted and scattered within a few months of her death. And her house, where I spent my childhood, has been remodeled by its new owners. The kitchen window no longer exists and the bedroom where she died is now unrecognizable. The cabin in the mountains where we used to camp and fish is now the playground of some other family.

But in my memory Mom still opens the front door for the deliveryman and claps her hands with joy over the Fields of Autumn bouquet he holds out to her. She still clears a special spot on the table where the sunlight will show off the orange and yellow blossoms and arranges the attached card so that everyone can see who sent her birthday flowers. She still sits patiently in her reclining chair with the telephone in her lap, waiting for my birthday call. And I still whisper “I love you Mom,” as I celebrate the fact that she was born to one day be my mother and raise me to be a mother myself.

So this year as I study the floral arrangements available to order and choose the perfect flowers for Mom, I have one lingering hope: that the florist keeps sending my reminder email every September. To them I say: thank you for still remembering my Mom’s special day, for helping me maintain my last remaining tribute to her and for the way my face lights up with joy when I see the orange and yellow colors of the Fields of Autumn bouquet.

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A Simple Ritual to Ease My Grief

The Aramaic word for grief can also mean “to wander.” When I was left wandering and bewildered after the death of my niece a small ritual helped me find my way again.

A few months ago my niece died of breast cancer at the young age of 47. I was somewhat prepared for her death because of her 14-year journey with cancer and the inevitable decline she had been experiencing for several months. Yet in reality death always arrives like a lightning bolt that pierces to the core.

There is no way to prepare for death’s appearance or to be unmoved by the jolt: your loved one is next to you in one moment and then gone after a single breath. You don’t know you are at the end until the end has already passed.

So the news of Tracey’s death hit me hard with a mixture of emotions—disbelief that she could really be dead at such a young age, pain for her son and her parents as they coped with this loss, guilt that I hadn’t done more to help, and a trace of relief that finally there was no more uncertainty and no more agonizing over what suffering the next hour or the next day would bring to her. Her journey here was finished.

As life would have it, with its curious synchronicities and juxtapositions, I was scheduled to do an interview with two women who had written a guidebook to end-of-life rituals just a few hours after news of Tracey’s death reached me. I didn’t even consider postponing our conversation because I knew that this timing, though difficult, was perfect.

My guests, Donna Belk and Kateyanne Unillisi, talked about the importance of rituals for making sense of life’s tragedies and painful events and they shared their suggestions for creating our own simple rituals. I understood deeply the importance of this subject and that I needed to somehow find a way to mark this day with some special ceremony, though I had no idea where to begin.

The next morning I took a long walk on a path next to the Blue River and thought about Tracey. I was filled with regrets – Why hadn’t I visited her one last time? Why hadn’t I called her for that talk about forgiveness that I knew she wanted to have? Why hadn’t I been there more for my brother?

As I walked more and more slowly, weighed down with all of the guilt I was heaping on myself I suddenly heard laughter—and it was unmistakably Tracey’s laugh. I felt as if she were standing right next to me and I heard her say “I understand everything now! It’s all okay.”

In that moment I was surrounded by joy, peace and love. I looked down and saw beautiful flowers I hadn’t noticed before at the side of the path: fragrant wild roses in bright pink, Tracey’s favorite color. I instantly knew what to do next and asked Tracey to join me.

I began to gather wildflowers from the banks of the river and was surprised by the variety I found growing there when I really stopped to look: mountain lupine, bluebells, yellow daisies, poppies, chicory, cinquefoil, wild geranium, blue flax, columbine and more.

By the time I reached a small stream that flowed gently into the rushing river I had a handful of blossoms of many colors. I spread them out on a tree stump to create a mandala of sorts—an array of beauty and a reminder that life changes constantly but ultimately continues on.

I said a prayer for Tracey and for all of our broken hearts that were missing her so dearly on that day. Then I dropped each blossom—one at a time—into the stream and watched it drift gently away. With each flower that tumbled into the stream I felt a lessening of the burden of grief and a gradual influx of peace. And all the while I heard the faintest hint of laughter floating on the breeze.

 

 

 

 

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10 Things To Do for Pain Instead of Taking Drugs

In the past we only heard about deaths from prescription-related drug overdose when high-profile celebrities like Whitney Houston or Heath Ledger died unexpectedly. But the startling fact we must grapple with today is that drug-related deaths in the US now outnumber traffic fatalities and gun deaths. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the death toll due to drugs has nearly quadrupled since 1999 and emergency room visits tied to the abuse of prescription painkillers have jumped 111 percent over a five-year period.

Some experts believe that the use and abuse of pain medications has now reached epidemic proportions, having been fueled by a change in physician prescribing practices over the past decade, resulting in more liberal use of highly addictive narcotics for moderate pain. The US consumes approximately 80% of the world’s opioid supplyPharmaceutical companies, always seeking profitable new markets to tap into, are in the process of developing even more new forms of the addictive opioids.

Clearly, many patients with legitimate pain are becoming unintentionally addicted to the medications they have been prescribed because the drugs are so potent and can cause tolerance and dependence in a relatively short time. But what if you are experiencing chronic or acute pain and don’t want to risk becoming a victim of the drugs that have been prescribed for you? One piece of advice is to use pain medications very sparingly rather than on a regular schedule. Whenever possible try other techniques for coping with pain rather than reaching for a pill:

1. Laugh.  

Laughter causes the release of natural endorphins in the brain, which help increase your ability to tolerate pain. So watch a funny movie, humorous videos on YouTube, or enjoy a laugh with friends.

2. Listen to music.

Music has been shown to be effective at reducing the experience of pain for a variety of reasons including increasing relaxation, causing distraction from negative feelings, and also creating neurochemical changes in the brain. Try various types of music that you enjoy to see which is the most effective for you.

3. Exercise.

Moving the body has been shown to reduce pain by releasing endorphins and improving function. Go for a walk, dance, do yoga or just move any part of your body that you can use without further injury. Check with your doctor or physical therapist first if you have a condition that makes exercise difficult.

4. Get a massage.

Studies have shown that massage can be as effective as pain medications for alleviating discomfort and can also help with inflammation, swelling and stiffness. In addition, massage also causes the release of endorphins, which have already been discussed.

5. Use guided imagery.

 

This form of relaxation/hypnosis has been shown in multiple studies to provide effective pain relief as well as improve sleep, elevate mood and increase motivation. You can listen to audio tapes or CD’s that talk you through the process of guided imagery to get the most benefit.

6. Color.

While it hasn’t been studied scientifically yet, many chronic pain sufferers use coloring to distract them from their pain. These colorists say that creating beautiful designs on paper reduces stress and provides a means for self-expression that makes it easier to live with pain.

7. Practice deep breathing.

Deep breathing helps increase relaxation, reduce stress and improve energy levels. Try it multiple times throughout the day and combine it with other techniques for the most benefit.

8. Love.

Experiencing loving feelings and sexual intimacy can help alleviate pain by releasing endorphins, generating positive emotions and decreasing anxiety. Ask your partner for a massage for added benefits.

9. Pray or meditate.

Prayer and meditation have both been shown to be effective at reducing pain by increasing relaxation, providing distraction and alleviating anxiety.

10. Practice EFT.

Emotional Freedom Techniques, also known as tapping, has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing pain symptoms and studies are now showing that the practice can help reduce cortisol levels and stress. It is a simple technique that can be learned quickly and requires no special tools.

If you have been given narcotic medications for chronic or acute pain, view your prescription as potentially dangerous and use it with caution. By utilizing some of these techniques you should be able to reduce your reliance on drugs and feel calmer, more alert and in better control of your symptoms. Be sure to keep your medication away from children, dispose of any unused medication safely (such as through a pharmacy take-back program) and never share any prescription with another person.

 

About the Author: 

Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/KarenWyattMD and on Twitter @spiritualmd 

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How to Make Peace With Negative Thoughts and Emotions

There has been a great deal of emphasis in the New Age movement over the past few years on the power of positive thinking, with strong recommendations to eliminate all negative thoughts and emotions in order to enhance the benefits of being positive. In fact, some teachers have urged their students to break ties with any negative people in their lives to avoid being contaminated by their less-than-ideal energy.

But what happens when you feel negative emotions such as fear, doubt or anger arising within you? What do you do when your thoughts turn to the dark side? Again many teachers recommend shutting out these thoughts and feelings by ignoring them and replacing them with a positive outlook.

However, from the study of human psychology we know that you cannot actually rid yourself of negative emotions – you can only repress them, which causes those feelings to retreat into the Shadow. Once your negative emotions find a hiding place within your subconscious Shadow, they are free to create all sorts of chaos in your life, as has been discussed in other posts.

But is there a better way to manage your own negativity so that it doesn’t poison your efforts to create a positive attitude or sabotage your attempts to grow as a person? The answer can be found within a poem written by Rumi, the Sufi philosopher who was born in the year 1207.

Rumi says to think of your psyche as a guest house that has a new arrival or unexpected visitor every morning, such as “a joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness.” He recommends that you welcome all of your thoughts and feelings “even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,” for they “may be clearing you out for some new delight.” In the last lines of the poem Rumi concludes:

            The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

What a novel way of looking at these troublesome thoughts and feelings of ours – as guests who have arrived for some purpose even though we don’t really understand what that might be. And we should not only allow them to have a presence in our lives, but we must tolerate the effects they have upon us because those negative parts of ourselves play an important role in our growth process.

When we reject our own negative feelings it is as if we lock our “house guests” in the basement where they remain hidden from us and we lose sight of their influence on our behavior. But when we openly welcome our negativity, we keep it within our vision where we can monitor it until we become powerful enough to gain control. By acknowledging and owning our negative thoughts we gain the ability to analyze and work with them and can then understand ourselves better and eventually grow in consciousness.

So remember to keep the doors of your “guest house” unlocked and ready for any visitors that choose to show up. Be prepared for some difficult times when you won’t be able to find many positive “guests” at all. But also be aware that there is a purpose for everything you think and feel. Enjoy exploring the mysteries that arrive in your life. Let them clear you out and make room for the next “visitor” to appear – because it might just be the joy you have been waiting for all along!

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5 Questions to Ask Before Naming A Healthcare Proxy

You may already know what kind of healthcare you would like to receive when you reach the later years of your life. But, to ensure that your future healthcare wishes are followed, one of the most important steps you can take is to name someone you know as your “healthcare proxy.” This person will speak for you if you are unable to communicate and will make sure your medical providers know your preferences.

This crucial role shouldn’t be entrusted to just anyone, so it’s wise to make a careful decision. After all, your oldest child or nearest relative may not be the best person for the task, even if that person seems like a logical choice. Write down the names of several people you are considering for your healthcare proxy and then ask these 5 questions about each of them:

1. Does she understand my healthcare wishes?

A recent study at Yale University showed that only about 20% of the healthcare surrogates they interviewed accurately understood the wishes of the patient they represented. To speak on your behalf your proxy must have a very clear grasp of your preferences. Pick someone who not only comprehends what you have chosen, but who also recognizes why you have made your choices.

2. Does he agree with my wishes?

Ideally your proxy should be in agreement with your decisions and have no concerns about them in order to advocate for you. Some people may be able to support your wishes even if they don’t agree with them, but you need to be certain that your feelings will take priority in any situation that may arise.

3. Will this person be available to speak for me in an emergency?

Your healthcare proxy may need to travel to the hospital on short notice at inconvenient times to speak on your behalf. The person you choose for this role should be someone who is flexible and cares enough to go out of the way for you.

4. Is he or she emotionally strong enough to make a decision in a crisis situation?

The person you choose may have to make difficult decisions for you on the spur of the moment. Make sure your proxy will not allow their own grief feelings to interfere with acting on your behalf. They may also have to stand up for you if family members and medical professionals disagree with your choices so choose someone who can handle those challenging situations.

5. Do you trust this person?

Your own “gut feeling” is important to assess when you consider your choice for healthcare proxy. Make sure you trust this person completely since you may be putting your own future in his or her hands. If something doesn’t “feel” right to you about this person, spend some time thinking of someone else who is a better fit.

No matter who you end up choosing to be your healthcare proxy, that person needs to understand the requirements of this important role. Schedule time for a long conversation and bring along your wishes in writing. Be prepared to answer any questions that arise and suggest a follow-up discussion if needed. You might want to download and print this helpful handout: Guidelines for a Healthcare Proxy.

Your next steps are to put your wishes and the name of your healthcare proxy into writing by completing the appropriate advance directive (or living will) forms for your state of residence. Then share them with your family, friends, clergy and healthcare providers. Congratulations on taking the time now to protect your future wellbeing and increase your peace of mind.

 

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/KarenWyattMD and on Twitter @spiritualmd

 

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Why I Think About Death Every Day

I was 16-years old when I first began to think about my own death. A classmate of mine died from a fall while hiking, which caused me to recognize that it is possible for a young person (including me) to die at any time. For the first time, death became real to me and since that event I have thought about death every day. In fact I might say that I have kept “death on my shoulder” like the character Billy Jack from the movies of the same name that were popular in the 1970’s.

But I am not alone in my tendency to dwell on thoughts of death. In fact, contemplation of death is a spiritual practice in Tibetan cultures. Moreover when I recently interviewed a priest about the Catholic perspective on death he quoted St. Benedict as saying, “Remember to keep death before your eyes daily.”

While this might sound like a morbid practice, I can assure you that it is not. Recognizing my own mortality on a daily basis has actually changed my life in profound ways and provided many benefits:

Gratitude for every moment of life

Knowing that life is fleeting helps me appreciate each experience and every moment to a deeper degree than ever before. I no longer take life for granted and value the time I have been given.

Restructured priorities

With the briefness of life in mind I am able to focus on those things that really matter to me (like love and relationships) and let go of the superficial and trivial details that compete for my attention. I don’t “sweat the small stuff” now because I know it’s not really important.

Taking responsibility for my life

I now see that life is precious and the meaning it contains is up to me. No matter what has happened in my life, I am responsible to make the best of it and create as much love as I can. I no longer waste time blaming other people or circumstances for the problems I encounter.

Looking within myself for answers

I also have learned to seek my own answers from within rather than looking outside of myself for guidance. No one else can understand my life or my purpose better than me so I need to find my own path and follow it.

Finding joy in being alive

The French value the concept of joie de vivre, which literally means “the joy of being alive.” Recognizing that death could arrive at any time helps me cherish the gift of life. I wake up joyful each day because I am still here with another opportunity to experience life on this planet, even if I am sick or if life’s circumstances aren’t exactly what I would have chosen. Simply being alive is enough to create deep joy.

Being prepared for anything

Since I have spent a considerable amount of time contemplating my own death, it won’t really be a surprise to me if or when I hear the words “You are going to die” from a doctor some day. I have already known that fact for most of my life and I have made sure I am ready every day. While I may not be happy to hear those words I won’t be shocked or angry or depressed. Death is an important part of life and I am prepared to face that truth.

So for me, thinking about death is a simple spiritual practice that has changed and exhilarated my life. I wish I could teach everyone that but our society remains entrenched in fear and avoidance of death.

But now is the time when we need more than ever to find joy in every moment, to be grateful for all of life, to be prepared for the future, and to shift our priorities to what really matters. Now is the time to learn to truly love life by embracing the reality of death.

(Learn how you can start a simple practice of contemplation of death here.)

About the Author: 

Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/KarenWyattMD and on Twitter @spiritualmd 

 

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6 Mystical Teachings the Whole World Needs Right Now

If it seems like the entire planet has gone slightly mad over the past few months, you are not alone in that perception. In fact, a Pew Research study has shown that intolerance has been increasing around the world for the past decade, including “crimes, malicious acts and violence motivated by religious hatred or bias.”

What’s going on here? Shouldn’t our religions be teaching us to behave in a more positive and “godlike” manner rather than fostering hatred? The problem seems to lie less in religion itself and more with the level of consciousness of individuals who practice various religions. Rigid and narrow ways of thinking are more likely to lead to intolerant practices than inclusive and flexible states of mind.

However, throughout history every religion has yielded mystical teachers who have brought messages to mankind that transcend the consciousness of the masses, such as Abraham, Christ, Buddha, Rumi, Mohammed, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Krishna, among others. These teachers who represent different religions have each taught some common principles that transcend every religion and show us how to live in peace in a diverse world.

1. There is One God

There is One Creative Force in the Universe, from which everything, both seen and unseen, derives. That same One God is viewed differently by each of us through our own individual lens, which may have been shaped by religion, family, society, education, life experiences, or other factors. A small and narrow lens leads to a limited and partial view of God, including blindness to the fact that every other person has been created by that same God; and every other religion worships the same God. A limited view of God through a tiny lens leads to judgment and bias toward others who seem to be different from and inferior to us.

You can expand your own “lens” by learning about people who differ from you, studying mystical teachings, and using your own life experiences to guide you to a new way of seeing. Think of someone you feel judgmental toward and then list all of the things that you actually have in common with that person.

2. God is Love

The Creative Force of God is actually love made visible. Everything in existence derives from love and thrives on love. But a narrow lens may make it difficult to perceive love as a creative force and to manifest love in your own life. Therefore your actions will be driven by the greed and fear of lower consciousness if you cannot take the higher path and be guided by love.

Spend time each day bringing love into your life and sharing it with others. Meditate or pray with the thought that love constantly pours into your heart from the Creator, only to overflow to the people around you.

3. All is One

We are One with every other aspect of creation, including every other human being. While our narrow lens may reveal to us only the differences that separate us from others, we share with every creature the truth that we have been spun into existence from the breath of God and also that our physical form will one day dissolve back into the Divine Source of creativity. In other words, each of us has been born into physical existence and each of us will also die one day. That fact is responsible for the greatest common bond between all living things and means that our primary struggle in this life is shared with every other being.

Death is the great “unifier” of the masses—the one Truth with which we all must wrestle. Think about your relationship with mortality and recognize that all life is precious because it is fleeting.

4. What is in One is in the Whole

Because we are connected with every other living thing in existence, what we do to one aspect of creation we do to all of creation, including ourselves. If you harm another person, you harm yourself and the entire planet. If you heal another with love, you bring healing to all of life. Every word, every thought, every action is significant and should come from positive intention, that is, from love. Only love sustains and nourishes life for the good of the Whole.

Do one thing “for the good of the Whole” every day. Think of a simple positive act that can make a difference for someone else.

5. Change comes from within

To change what is outside of us we must first change what is inside of us. In fact, you are powerless to change the world around you to fit your mind’s concept of “how things should be.” You can only change yourself, which requires spending your lifetime looking within and understanding the wounds you carry. If you want to rid the world of darkness, you must look into your own darkness first. Shine the light of love on the pain you hold: the fear, anger, shame and greed that have been hidden within. Use your light to expose your own shortcomings rather than looking for what’s wrong with others. What you heal within you will be healed in all of creation.

Journal about the wounds that hide in your Shadow. How can you love the parts of yourself that are in pain?

6. Nothing lasts, everything changes … except love

If you think you can keep life the way it is right now or go back to “the way things used to be,” you are in error. Everything in this universe changes from moment to moment and that is a fact you must embrace. If you resist change within yourself you will waste your vital Life Force on a task that leads nowhere. Learn to ride the waves of change and focus on the process rather than the outcome, for you cannot control the future.

Since love, as the Divine Creator of all, is the only constant that does not change, bring love always to every moment. Let love guide you as you work on changing your own inner landscape. Love is the light you need to illuminate your painful wounds and also to heal them. Allow love into your awareness and let it be your tool for change as you work to change yourself and thereby change the world.

Contemplate where and how you are resisting change in your life. Write about what might help you let go and allow change to unfold in its own way.

The current dire state of human relationships on this planet might be a great opportunity for evolution and growth to higher consciousness to occur. If you want to make a difference in the world, work on your own consciousness—grow and evolve within—in order to change things for the better. This is the where our hope for the planet resides!

 

About the Author:

 Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the host of End-of-Life University Interview Series and author of “The Tao of Death” and the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/WhatReallyMattersWithKarenWyatt and on Twitter @spiritualmd.

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