5 Simple Rituals to Enhance a Grief Travel Experience

If you are thinking of traveling to help process your grief, you might want to consider adding a ritual to your experience to increase the benefits you receive. Rituals have the power to open our hearts, even in the midst of pain, to opportunities for healing and release. This is why we hold funerals and memorial services for our departed loved ones, to help us express our pain and find solace in sharing it with others.

The idea behind a ritual is to create a safe space where we can explore our grief and let go of what no longer serves us. We do not let go of our loved one or our memories through a grief ritual–those remain intact as a pure expression of our love. But the ritual ceremony allows us to release the negative emotions that have become attached to our grief, like anger, blame, resentment, shame, and guilt. Letting go of these destructive feelings allows more room for love and peace to expand.

Creating a meaningful ritual while you are traveling requires some resourcefulness, since you won’t be able to bring along a lot of ceremonial tools and supplies. But you can design your own simple activity for acknowledging grief by utilizing the special places and natural objects that already exist wherever you are traveling.

For a nature-based ritual for grief, spend time outdoors wherever your travel takes you. Even in a city you should be able to find a park or garden where you can wander and connect with nature. Also look for sacred spaces in the area, like chapels, cathedrals or churches. Many are open during the day with free entry to anyone and they can provide a quiet and inspirational place for your little ceremony.

Here are some ideas for simple rituals you can observe during your journey:

Filling the stone

Walk slowly and mindfully somewhere outdoors, like a garden, beach, hiking trail, or park. As you walk, pay attention to everything around you and search for special objects that capture your attention such as stones, shells or pinecones.

Hold the stone or shell in your hands and meditate on the emotion you would like to release during your ritual. Envision pouring your anger or guilt into the object which has infinite capacity to carry everything you need to release. Carry the stone or shell with you for as long as you like until it  feels right to let it go. Then put it in a special place and say a prayer for your  peace and healing as you leave it behind.

I collect heart-shaped stones when I hike or travel and have found them in many places. Some stones I carry with me as reminders of my journey and place in my forgiveness garden at home; others I leave behind on my travels, perhaps at the base of a tree or on a large branch.

Gone with the wind

While you are out in nature on your grief journey you can gather dandelions, small flowers, leaves or tufts of grass to use in your ritual. Contemplate how they represent the impermanence of life, the fleeting nature of everything that lives. You might want to assemble them into a design or shape or just hold them in your hands. Whisper a prayer or a wish for your loved one or yourself into the items you have gathered, then scatter them one-by-one in the breeze or blow on the seeds of a dandelion so they are carried far away by the wind.

This ritual symbolizes the fleeting nature of life–here one minute and gone in the next–and reminds us to make the most of each moment we are given.

 Light in the darkness

Lighting a candle or a small fire is one of the most potent rituals you can perform in a spiritual setting. Candles are part of special ceremonies in every religion and signify hope in the midst of despair and the ever-present light that shines for us in times of darkness.

I love to light large sanctuary candles that burn constantly for 7-10 days during special rituals in my home, but they are not practical for travel. You can easily travel with a few small tea lights in your bag to use for a lighting ceremony or fire ritual, where you burn small pieces of paper with what you want to release written on them.

Since some hotels and establishments don’t allow open flames you can also bring along flameless, battery-operated tea lights to achieve the effect of lighting a candle while you meditate or pray.

At many churches and cathedrals you can donate a few coins and light a special prayer candle. This has been a powerful ritual for me during many of my travels through Europe, which often include visits to religious shrines.

Letting go and receiving

If you are near a river or stream find a bridge that spans the flow of water for a simple but powerful ritual. First stand at the middle of the bridge facing downstream. As you watch the water flow from under the bridge and away from you, imagine pouring everything that no longer serves you into the water and see it be carried off down the stream.

When you have finished letting go of what you need to leave behind, turn around to face the water flowing toward you. Imagine love and light rushing to you, filling all of the new space you have created within. Feel the power of the water as it roars toward you and washes away all that you have released. Receive all of the goodness and peace that is now coming your way.

I often gather flower petals, leaves and sticks and “fill” them with whatever I need to release. Then I toss them into the water flowing downstream so I can watch as they are physically carried away from me.

Mindful tea ceremony

The Japanese have long perfected the art of preparing and serving tea in a  tradition that dates back 1,000 years. They pay special attention to every aspect of the ritual including decorating the table with flowers, making special food, choosing the tea, and using the right utensils and dishes.

You can create your own tea-drinking ritual as an act of releasing grief by being mindful about each step of the process. The Japanese emphasize four qualities during their ceremonies: harmony (ensuring that even the utensils coordinate with the surroundings), respect (approaching the ceremony with humility and care), purity (leaving behind all thoughts and worries), and tranquility, which occurs as the result of completing the ceremony.

For you own personal ritual use great care and mindful intention as you prepare your tea, serve it in a special cup or glass if available, and sip it slowly throughout a quiet session of meditation or prayer.

I once sought refuge in a tea shop during a torrential rainstorm while traveling in Florence, Italy. The ritual I had planned for the day had to be abandoned because of the weather, but the little tearoom in the back of the shop gave me an opportunity to have a special tea ceremony instead. I dedicated it to my Mom who would have loved sharing tea with me that day!

These are just a few suggestions for simple rituals you can perform during your grief travel experience. You can easily create your own ceremonies by paying attention to what is available to you wherever you go and staying open to your intuition.

Whatever you choose to do, your travels will be far more meaningful and transformational because of the special time and attention you give to creating simple rituals for your grief. May you experience tranquility and peace at the end of your journey.








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 




What Really Matters

What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying

What Really Matters chronicles the life transformation experienced by Dr. Karen Wyatt as she cared for dying patients and their families in hospice. Not only is this a book of beautiful and uplifting stories, but it is also a guidebook for those who are feeling hopelessly lost and stuck In this contemporary world. What Really Matters points the way through the confusing maze of suffering and pain to the ultimate destination of meaning, purpose, growth and healing.

Read this book – it has the power to change the way you see … everything!


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Waiting on the world to change


I took the title for this post from a song of the same name by John Mayer, one of my favorite contemporary songwriters. In the lyrics to the song, Mayer explains that he and his generation want to make a difference but they don’t have the means or the strength to change anything. So, they are waiting on the world to change before they can step up.

As I listened to the song, it struck me that this is really one of the major problems facing our society today. Most of us feel pretty helpless and powerless in the face of all the difficulties that consume our planet. We, as individuals, cannot stop war, feed the hungry, save the forests, protect human rights, preserve endangered species, transform the global financial system, heal disease, reform politics, improve education or reverse poverty.

From the individual perspective we have very little to offer this suffering planet – so we simply have to wait on the world to change itself and hope that this will happen.

I once worked with a woman who was considering divorcing her husband after 20 years of marriage. She said, “I’ve been trying to change him for 20 years and it hasn’t worked so maybe I should give up.”

And I knew a man who had been an upper executive in a company for several years, but was now resigning in disgust, saying: “I’ve tried to change the culture of this organization for 7 years but nothing has happened. I have no choice but to move on.”

Both of these individuals had a disappointing experience when they tried to change the person or the system that they were connected to. They learned the hard way that change is very difficult and most people and systems resist change with all their might.

These two people moved on to new relationships and new employment, but kept their same positive intentions to change things around them for the better. And they were each disappointed once again with their own inability to make a difference in the world. It was as if they were being taught to wait – to allow time for people and systems and the world to change.

The problem is that change doesn’t actually happen the way we want it to. Change doesn’t come about because we make up our minds that some situation outside of us should be different than it is and then use our force to “make it so.”

Change is really an internal process – something that happens inside of you and me; something that we can’t really plan or control. Change is much more about what we let go of than it is about what we grab onto.

When we focus our energy and efforts on becoming the best people we can possibly be, then we actually spark the possibility of change. When we seek to live with integrity, to create congruence between our values and our behavior, and to let go of our old wounds and bitterness, then we open the door to transformation.

We cannot change anything outside of ourselves, like people or organizations, through our own actions. But if we heal ourselves and allow our own growth toward wholeness to occur, then we actually set in motion the healing energy that can potentially inspire change around us.

And meanwhile, when we become more whole, we also become more content with everything around us, just as it is. We lose our desire to make things different and instead become consumed with love and compassion for all that exists. This atmosphere of loving acceptance is precisely the energetic condition within which transformation can spontaneously arise.

The change we are seeking in the world is actually the change we need to spark within ourselves. We must go deep inside ourselves, search out our wounds and tangled memories, and heal them once and for all, for good.

And so it turns out that waiting on the world to change isn’t a bad strategy after all, as long as we stay diligent in our own task of becoming our best selves. Then the people and systems around us along with the world, with all its difficulties and tragedies, are free to evolve in their own perfect pattern, to become what they have always been meant to be.


To learn more about the process of self-healing, watch for my free conference call “The 3 Keys of Creative Healing: Change Your Life … Change the World … By Unlocking the Hidden Wounds of Childhood”


Heal yourself and heal the world!


You may have heard of The Butterfly Effect, which is both the title of a movie and the name given to one of the concepts in chaos theory. According to this theory, in complex situations, such as the formation of a tornado, changing one tiny circumstance in one location can result in a totally different outcome for the entire situation. Edward Lorenz who was studying weather patterns, coined the term “Butterfly Effect” in 1972 when he used the example that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could potentially set off a tornado in Texas.

This is an intriguing idea that is worth some consideration at this time and place in history. Our planet Earth is currently being challenged with numerous environmental difficulties that also threaten the survival of mankind. There is no time left for arguing about the cause of climate change – it doesn’t really matter at this point. The only question worth considering is how we can best make an impact that might alter the course of events and salvage life on this planet.

As individuals we can certainly follow environmentally sound practices, like recycling and reducing waste and consumption. But I believe we could have a more significant effect on this world of ours if we would focus our efforts on healing ourselves, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

When we heal our old wounds and bitterness, we begin to behave with more clarity and integrity. We are free to take greater responsibility for our actions because we are no longer hiding from the truth.

When we stop feeling sorry for ourselves for the events of our past, we can become more authentic in our relationships and share love with those around us. We can help them begin to heal their own wounds and change their behavior as well.

When we clear away the tangles of resentment and anger within our hearts, we make space for more positive energy to radiate from us. We become like the flapping butterfly wings that can set in motion an amazing and unpredictable series of events. The possibility exists that we can change the planet around us simply by changing our own inner world.

But the difficulty then lies in how we go about making these interior changes. How do we actually heal ourselves? What does it take to let go of bitterness and move toward wholeness?

In my work over the years I have seen some phenomenal examples of emotional and spiritual healing that have led me to believe that anything is possible. I have recorded many of these stories in the book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” And I plan to share even more stories in the books I am currently writing.

Through these stories I have learned that there are three conditions necessary in order for such healing to take place:

  1. Courage. Those who eventually heal must have the strength to face their suffering and pain without running away.
  2. Honesty. Healing requires telling the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be.
  3. Acceptance. Ultimately, those who heal are willing to let go of the need to blame someone else for their suffering.

Courage, honesty and acceptance are three character traits that seem underdeveloped in our present society. So it is no wonder that we find ourselves in desperate circumstances, wondering if we can save our planet.

But there is hope if each of us will look within and focus on the steps needed to heal our own wounds. In the coming weeks I will share information and ideas about how to begin this process and heal the past, once and for all. Meanwhile find your courage, commit to telling the truth, and stop looking for ways to blame someone else for your life and the state of the world.

You are the butterfly whose flapping wings could change everything. Let’s set you free!


Find out how to heal the hidden wounds of childhood and get over the past for good by listening to this FREE teleconference: The 3 Keys of Creative Healing.


How to get over it and change anyway!

We have to learn to take risks.

If you haven’t already done so you may want to read part 1 of this series for a discussion on “why we fear change.” This entry will continue the theme by delving into some practical ways to cope with change and overcome our fear. Since we cannot stop change, which is the first fact we must accept, then we’d better figure how we are going to live with it or we are likely to do ourselves harm by resisting the inevitable.

If you are in a life situation or a group that is being confronted right now with the prospect of a painful change, take heart: you are not alone. As pointed out in the previous article the rate of change is accelerating for all of us and will continue to do so. Gone are the days when things seemed to stay the same for years on end. Now we will be lucky to have a few weeks of stability at any one time, so get used to the reality of change.

Before we look further into some ideas for overcoming our fears, here is one very important caveat to remember:

It is easier to hate someone else than it is to face your own fears and shortcomings. 

Never forget this fact because in the middle of your struggles with change the opportunity and the temptation will surely arise to blame someone else for the situation you are in. Do not get thrown off course and begin pointing fingers at someone else or projecting out hatred toward them just because you don’t know what to do with your own problems. You will spin out of control if you fall to that temptation and you might not recover. Hating others is a tremendous waste of time and energy that serves no purpose and obscures the real work you are supposed to be doing so do not go there!

Now for some suggestions about how to transcend fear and gracefully manage change in order to bring about new growth:

  • Reach out to others. Remember, as mentioned already, you are not alone in this crazy accelerating world of change. Other people and groups are also facing their own challenges and changes. Network with them and spend some time sharing ideas: How are they coping? What’s working for them? How you can you help one another?
  • Learn something new. Sometimes we resist change simply because we don’t want to admit that we don’t know enough about the new process that is going to take place. Read a book, take a workshop, listen to a podcast and update your knowledge on the area of your life that is facing change. Knowing more about the options for the future will help you feel more confident and able to handle anything that comes along.
  • Take small risks in the beginning. In order to adapt gradually to the idea of change, figure out if you can break the process down into small steps. For example, if you find out you must change your diet because of a health problem, give yourself a few weeks to complete the total change and begin with a few small changes, like cutting down on desserts, that you can accomplish now and then build upon over time.
  • Invite your “enemies” to the table. Once again, recall from the previous post that the reason you believe you have enemies is because you are frightened of change and see others as threatening you. But it can be exhilarating to actually sit down in civil conversation with those you fear and discover that they are afraid too! All of our conflicts with others are actually driven by our fears and their fears, and if you are able to come together face-to-face and acknowledge how afraid you are, then tremendous progress can be made. However, remember the caveat:

It is easier to hate someone else than it is to face your own fears and shortcomings.

If you are not ready to let go of your own tendency to hate as a cover-up for your fear, then you are not ready for this step. Likewise, the “enemies” you have acquired might not be ready to meet you openly and with civility. If you are being targeted with hatred from another group, even though it is horrible and painful, just hold on, refuse to retaliate with anger and hatred, and find compassion for them. Such attacks are rooted deeply in primitive fear and a lack of higher wisdom. Though it may not seem like it, those poor hateful suckers are probably feeling far worse that you right now. Blaming others for problems is a little like drinking a strong pilsner beer – it seems enjoyable enough at first and then starts to leave a bitter taste in your mouth; and if you indulge in it too much you will eventually become impaired and suffer a hideous hangover.

So you see it is possible to transcend fear of change and move through life with less drama and trauma, but it is very difficult. You are going to have to work on this process for years and years and maybe all the rest of your life. Yes, that’s the catch – you can never really finish adjusting to change.

But ultimately, when you are no longer ruled by fear, you will laugh a little when the next change comes along and you will be able to dance to the rhythm of change with only a few missteps here and there. And, when all is said and done, that is really what life is about—to live with such freedom from fear that you can dance anywhere to any sort of music.


Why we fear change

The unknown can be frightening.

According to futurist Ray Kurzweil we have enteried an age of acceleration during which the rate of change we will encounter is increasing exponentially. In fact, Kurzweil estimates that the changes that take place in the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate. Wow! If Kurzweil is correct, that’s a lot change for us to endure and it is likely to occur simultaneously in all aspects of society.

But most of us are actually suspicious and fearful of change, preferring the presumed safety of status quo. In fact, much of the “anti-progress” movement seen in the US in the past few years is just a backlash from the changes that have already taken place—a fear-based desperate attempt to slow down the inevitable progression of life. And even those who label themselves as liberal or progressive are not immune to reactive behavior if one of their own favorite causes or projects faces the threat of change.

In order to find a way to cope with the prospect of rapid change in the coming century, we must first understand why we human beings are so afraid of change in the first place. Where does this resistance come from? Here are some of the contributing factors:

  • Degree of comfort with our current situation. When things are going well there is no question that we will see no reason for change and resist any attempts at change. And if change is forced upon us we will push to return to the “old days,” which we remember as being ideal. Comfort leads to complacency, which sees no need for progress or growth.
  • Functioning at our most primitive emotional level. For the cave man, mere survival was all that mattered and any change was perceived as a threat to existence. If we are unable to live at a higher level of consciousness then we will cling to our survival mentality and destroy everything around us that represents change.
  • Forgetting that change is the natural order of the Universe. It’s true – if you look at the natural world you will see changes constantly taking place. In fact, no one moment is the same as another: the stream flows continuously, the clouds float by without stopping, the flowers bloom and die in a perpetual cycle. Change is necessary for growth and life to occur and we are part of this ever-changing cycle of life, no matter how much we may dislike that fact.
  • Believing that security lies in sameness and predictability. In reality, we are most secure when we remain flexible and adaptable, for then we can cope with anything that arises. Resisting change causes stiffness and rigidity, which increase the likelihood of being injured or broken down during stressful times.
  • Seeing external forces as threats to our security. We are actually our own worst enemies because we harbor suspicions and animosity toward others and believe we must protect ourselves from them. But the most serious threats to our existence come from within us – from our own unhealed Shadow wounds that cause us to live in fear. When we can relax and live in trust our external “enemies” will largely disappear and we can face change with equanimity.
  • Failing to recognize that we are All One. When we see that our lives are intertwined with all other life on the planet we can enter into the natural flow of existence and become much more comfortable with the idea of change. But our perception of being “special” or separate from all other life causes us to hold tenaciously to our current situation and lash out in anger toward everything that represents change.

There is no doubt that change is on the horizon for each and every one of us and that it will not be an easy challenge to face. But if we learn to overcome our fear of change we can be prepared for and open to whatever comes our way, able to ride the waves of change and possibly even enjoy the process. Tomorrow’s post will explore this topic further with ways to overcome our fear of change.