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Contemplating Death, Dying, and All the Living in Between July 8, 2020

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“If we could raise one generation with unconditional love, there would be no Hitlers. We need to teach the next generation of children from Day One that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D.

“I cannot leave out the problem of life and death. Many young people and others have come out to serve others and to labor for peace, through their love for all who are suffering. They are always mindful of the fact that the most important question is the question of life and death, but often not realizing that life and death are but two faces of one reality. Once we realize that we will have the courage to encounter both of them….

Now I see that if one doesn’t know how to die, one can hardly know how to live—because death is a part of life.”

 

– quoted from The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Today’s post and class will be tricky for some. Today’s theme is always tricky for some. Although, I would assert that it shouldn’t be. After all, death is part of life. That can come off glib and easy to say – specifically because it is a little glib, or shallow, because it denies belies the fact that loss is hard and that most of us haven’t/don’t really face the concept of death until someone we (or someone we love) is dying. The statement “death is part of life” is also shallow because it belies the fact that even if we meditate on and prepare for death, loss is still hard. Yes, death and dying are something that we all have to deal with, but to just leave it at that is what makes the subject tricky. We have to, as Thích Nhất Hạnh instructs in The Miracle of Mindfulness, go deeper.

“The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one[s] we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or goes in a prescribed order.”

– quoted from On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Grief by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

 

Born in Zürich, Switzerland today in 1926, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the oldest triplet in a family of Protestant Christians. Despite her father’s wishes, she would grow up to be a psychiatrist known for her work on death and dying, life and death, and the five stages of grief. Her ultimate work was in part inspired by her work in refugees in Zürich during World War II. After the war, she participated in relief efforts in Poland and, at some point, visited the Maidanek concentration camp in Poland. As a young woman, standing in a place of destruction, she was struck by the compassion and human resilience that would inspire someone to carve hundreds of butterflies into the walls of the death camp.

Dr. Kübler-Ross originally planned on being a pediatrician; however, she married a fellow medical student (in New York in 1958) and became pregnant. The pregnancy resulted in the loss of her pediatrics residency so she switched to psychiatry. Unfortunately, she would also suffer two miscarriages before giving birth to two children. The miscarriages were not her first (or last) experiences with loss. Her marriage would end in divorce and, when she attempted to build a Virginia hospice for infants and children with HIV/AIDS, someone set fire to her home (in 1994). The house and all of the belongings inside were lost to arson.

One of the things that stuck Dr. Kübler-Ross when she started her psychiatry residency was the hospitals treatment of patients who were dying in the United States. She began to host lectures where medical students were forced to meet and listen to dying people outside of a clinical setting. Her intention was to get medical students to “[react] like human beings instead of scientists…and be able to treat [terminal patients] with compassion the same compassion that you would want for yourself.” As she moved through her career, she continued hosting the series of seminars which used interviews with terminally ill patients. Her work was met with both praise and criticism – most of the latter because she was so obviously questioning the traditional practices of psychiatry. In 1969, she released her seminal book On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families, which provided a grief model for people who were dying as well as for those they were leaving behind.

“Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body.”

– quoted from On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Dr. Kübler-Ross explained from the beginning that her outline was not intended to be linear and yet, people wanted to be able to step through the stages with grace and ease. The problem with that mindset is…life is messy and so is grieving. A perfect example of the messiness of life and death can be found in Dr. Kübler-Ross’s own life… and death. In 1995, after a series of strokes which left her partially paralyzed on her left side, she found herself confronted with the reality of her own death. Added to her grief was the closing of Shanti Nilaya (“Final Home of Peace”), a healing and growth center which she had established in the later 1970’s (shortly before her divorce) after convincing her husband to buy 40-acres of land in Escondido, California. Despite a 2002 interview with The Arizona Republic, where she stated that she was ready to die, Dr, Kübler-Ross struggled with the fact that she could not choose her own time of death. He son Ken, Founder and President of the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation, served as her caregiver for the last decade of her life. In a 2019 interview with the hosts of ABC Radio’s Life Matters, Ken said, “A few weeks before she passed she said to me, ‘Kenneth, I don’t want to die’”

“It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

Ken Ross admits he was taken aback by his mother’s statement that she did not want to die. It turned out, Dr. Kübler-Ross was not only physically paralyzed; she was also stuck in the anger stage of her own grief model. She caught flak in the media – as if she were somehow above being human simply because she had studied, taught, and spoken so openly and so frequently on the subject of death and dying. She did not stay there (in the anger stage), however, as her family and friends encouraged her to keep living and to keep processing the experience of dying. Her son even admits that he literally pushed her out of her comfort zone by assisting her in wheelchair marathons and in visiting her sisters in Europe.

“[She] let herself be loved and taken care of, then that was her final lesson — and then she was allowed to graduate. For years I thought about this and what I realized was that’s exactly what she teaches. [When] you learn your lessons you’re allowed to graduate.”

– Ken Ross in a 2019 “Life Matters” interview on ABC Radio National

 

“In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work, work, work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.”

– Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in an interview

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 8th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where there will be work, dance, and play. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

 

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

“Strange though it may seem to you, one of the most productive avenues for growth is found through the study and experience of death. Perhaps death reminds us that our time is limited and that we’d better accomplish our purpose here on earth before our time runs out. Whatever the reason….Those who have been immersed in the tragedy of massive death during wartime, and who have faced it squarely, never allowing their senses and feelings to become numbed and indifferent, have emerged from their experiences with growth and humanness greater than that achieved through almost any other means.”

– quoted from Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

### “People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” EKR ###

Here Be The Wild Things June 10, 2020

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“And so we have…this critical problem as human beings of seeing to it that the mythology—the constellation of sign signals, affect images, energy-releasing and -directing signs—that we are communicating to our young will deliver directive messages qualified to relate them richly and vitally to the environment that is to be theirs for life, and not to some period of man already past, some piously desiderated future, or—what is worst of all—some querulous, freakish sect or momentary fad. And I call this problem critical because, when it is badly resolved, the result for the miseducated individual is what is known, in mythological terms, as a Waste Land situation. The world does not talk to him; he does not talk to the world. When that is the case, there is a cut-off, the individual is thrown back on himself, and he is in prime shape for that psychotic break-away that will turn him into either an essential schizophrenic in a padded cell, or a paranoid screaming slogans at large, in a bughouse without walls.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

How do we keep from becoming, to paraphrase Joseph Campbell, a screaming paranoid person? How do we face trauma, loss, and disability with a smile on our face, as Wayman Tisdale did? Maybe we have to go all the way back to the womb to figure out why some people survive the challenging circumstances they face in life. Maybe we have to go back even farther than that to see why some people just inherently know how to stay connected to their “inside stuff” even when life throws them one curve ball after another fast ball. Whatever the reason some people rebound and some people don’t (or don’t as easily as others), trying to figure out that reason has fascinated people since the beginning of time.

Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, born today in 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, once said, “I only have one subject. The question I am obsessed with is: How do children survive?” Like the poets mentioned during Sunday’s class (06/07/2020), Sendak wrote about what he saw – and what he saw was a family decimated by the Holocaust and trying to acclimate to a new country and a new culture. He saw kids being kids, being alive and full of so much life despite the overwhelming and pervasive feeling of perpetual mourning. The adults called the unruly children “vilde chaya,” which is Yiddish for “wild animal.” Sendak turned it into “wild things” and wrote a children’s book that become the center of a trilogy about (you guessed it) how children survive and thrive.

“I grew up in a house that was in a constant state of mourning.”

 

– Maurice Sendak in a 2002 interview with children’s book historian Leonard Marcus

 

 

“’And now,’ cried Max, ‘let the wild rumpus start!’”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

Where The Wild Things Are, published in 1963, tells the story of preschool-age Max who, as adults would have said during my childhood, gets a little too big for his britches. He is sent to his room without his dinner because he can’t behave and, as children do, he lets his imagination take over. His bedroom becomes a magical land full of wild animals, beasts, monsters….

My amazing friend Julie K just sent me a recent essay in The New Yorker about metaphorical monsters. I found it problematic because the identity of the monsters is too vague. Sendak, however, was always very clear; the monsters in his first book were the perpetually mourning and stern adults in his family. He just exaggerated them into something endearingly grotesque. As Max manages his emotions, becoming “king of all wild things” (a. k. a. the “most wild thing of all”), he finds his way back to the regular world. Managing one’s emotions, it turns out, is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again. You really don’t have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that’s not a wasteland, some field of action where there is a spring of ambrosia—a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you—a place that lets you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, in small, the Kingdom is there. I think everybody, whether they know it or not, is in need of such a place.”

 

– from A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living by Joseph Campbell

 

“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”

 

– from Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

 

As I mentioned before, Where The Wild Things Are was the first of a three-part series to be published, but it is actually the centerpiece to the trilogy. In The Night Kitchen (published in 1970) follows toddler-age Mickey as he falls, naked, into the Night Kitchen, where he has to avoid getting baked into the cake batter and eaten up. Max, again, is preschool-age. Outside Over There (published in 1981) features pre-adolescent Ida, who shirks her responsibility and then has to face the consequences of making things right. It is interesting to note that while there is always a symbol of a mother and evidence of a mother’s love in all three books, Ida is the only real-live human girl featured prominently in the books and she is given (in the book) the mother’s role of caregiver – a role she initially fails to take seriously.

“When Papa was away at sea and Mama in the arbor, Ida played her wonder horn to rock the baby still – but never watched.”

 

– from Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak’s trilogy is recognized as a series which traces the psychological development of children. Each protagonist has age appropriate responsibilities, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Each protagonist also has to navigate and find balance between the (age appropriate) expectations of the simultaneously present yet absent parent(s) and their feelings, thoughts, and emotions. One of the emotions that figures prominently, especially in Where The Wild Things Are, is rage and one of the themes that figures prominently in the books is how to manage emotions like rage. Because, as I sated before, managing one’s emotions is the secret to making one’s way back to the regular world. It is the boon, as it were, of this particular hero’s journey/cycle.

“But it is more than mere survival that Sendak aspires to, for his children and for himself. He asks the question of resilience: How do children surmount and transform in order to prosper and create? It is tempting to imagine that Sendak conceives of the trajectory of his own life and art as a model for the way he has handled these questions in his works.”

 

– from a 2009 The Psychologist article by psychoanalyst Richard Gottlieb

 

When Where The Wild Things Are was turned into a movie, therapists like Richard Gottlieb offered their clinical take on the book and the movie. Psychoanalyst and attorney Stanton Peele noted in a 2009 article for Psychology Today that Dr. G. Alan Marlatt, a psychologist who focused on addiction, “specifically developed mindfulness as a relapse prevention technique, one that assists addicted people to combat cravings. In brief, a user may imagine the urge to use again as a physical challenge – like a wave – that he or she rides out.” Then, Peele called Sendak’s work “a model of mindfulness.” For his part, Gottlieb did not think it was an accident that Sendaks’ work was so psychologically applicable. In fact, he specifically highlights various “psychological proddings and teachings” which influenced Sendak’s life – including the fact that his partner (for over 50 years) was psychoanalyst Eugene Glenn – and shares bits of conversations with colleagues who also see the value in the book.

“I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me. I’m Mickey!”

 

– Mickey in In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

Call it a coincidence, a coinkydink, God winking, or serendipity, but it is interesting to note that Maurice Sendak, whose seminal book has been hailed and praised by addiction experts, was born on the anniversary of Dr. Bob Smith’s last drink, which is also the anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous. Today in 1935, Bill Wilson and Smith’s wife Anne gave a severely hung-over Smith (a. k. a. “Dr. Bob”) a beer so that he would be “steady enough” to go into surgery. Hours beyond when the surgery should have ended, Smith announced that yes, the surgery was successful and that he had spent the remaining time reaching out to creditors and others he had hurt when he was drinking. Founded by Smith and Wilson, with support from Smith’s wife Anne, Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step rehabilitation program that has helped some people cope with alcoholism. It is also the model for other 12-step programs. While I have not counted the steps as they apply to Maurice Sendak’s work, there are very definite parallels in the way the main characters acknowledge their problems, turn inward, and offer restitution and express remorse. There are also, in the books and in recovery, humongous amounts of love and forgiveness (in particular, self-love and self-forgiveness).

“Quiet down there!”

 

– Mickey In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

 

“If Ida backwards in the rain would only turn around again and catch those goblins with a tune, she’d spoil their kidnap honeymoon!”

 

– Papa’s song in Outside Over There

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 10th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a practice inspired by the inner workings of a child’s heart and mind. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Since music soothes the wild beasts, the goblins, and the cooks, Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (NOTE: YouTube is the original playlist and includes the video below.)

 

My all time favorite rendition!

 

### “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”• “I LOVE YOU!” ###

What Dreams May Come (on May 6th) May 6, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

 

“The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.”

– possibly Sigmund Freud, as quoted in his New York Times obituary (09/24/1939)

 

“The conscious mind may be compared to a fountain playing in the sun and falling back into the great subterranean pool of subconscious from which it rises.”

 

– Sigmund Freud, as quoted in his New York Times obituary (09/24/1939)

 

“The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”

 

– from The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

 

Let’s talk about our dreams. During this pandemic, some people have mentioned having particularly wild dreams – even when they weren’t sick. People have also talked about either remembering or not remembering their dreams, but in the opposite way than what is normal for them. I recently dreamed there was a brown rabbit sitting at the foot of my bed. It wasn’t doing anything; just hopped up and sat there for a bit. Not touching me, or biting me – not even really looking at me or wiggling its nose – just sitting there.

Prior to seeing the movie US, a dream like that would have had me running to search for Freud’s take on the symbolism of rabbits. Rather than going down that particular (and surprising) rabbit hole, let’s just stick with the work and the history.

Born today (May 6th) in 1856, Dr. Sigmund Freud was a neurologist who studied researched cerebral paralysis or cerebral palsy, as it is known today. In an attempt to better understand the workings of the brain, Freud collaborated with Dr. Josef Breuer, a physician who utilized a type of hypnosis very different from what Freud had previously studied. Breuer’s work, especially with a patient referred to as “Anna O,” laid the foundation for psychoanalysis – the development of which would lead to Freud’s legacy as the “Father of Psychoanalysis” and dream interpretation.

“…here we have another limitation to the effectiveness of analysis; after all, analysis does not set out to make pathological reaction impossible, but to give the patient’s ego freedom to decide one way or the other.”

 

– from The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud

 

“Psychoanalysis in the hands of the physician is what confession is in the hands of the Catholic priest. It depends on its user and its use, whether it becomes a beneficial tool or a two-edged sword.”

 

– Bertha Pappenheim (also known as “Anna O”)

Bertha Pappenheim (a.k.a. “Anna O” and “Only A Girl”) was a Jewish Austrian feminist, education organizer, and writer who was born into a wealthy and prestigious family. She was highly educated, cultured, and spoke multiple languages. She was immersed in a variety of cultures throughout her childhood. In her twenties, around the same time that her father became ill, she started experiencing a variety of physical and mental ailments. The ailments became worse after her father’s death. Breuer initially diagnosed her with hysteria (a pretty common diagnosis for women at that time, regardless of how they presented) and started her on a new type of hypnosis therapy. Rather than trying to cure or “correct” her, however, Breuer placed “Anna O” under hypnosis and encouraged her to talk in order to reveal the underlying causes of her symptoms. Breuer believed that the underlying causes were childhood traumas, suppressed memories, and suppressed thoughts. “Anna O’ referred to this therapy as her “talking cure” and it did in fact alleviate some of her symptoms and reduce the intensity of others. (NOTE: She discontinued her therapy with Breuer after accusing him of getting her pregnant; an accusation that is either not mentioned in either of their biographies or dismissed as a symptom of her illness. Later in life, as an educator, Pappenheim would not allow girls in her care to utilize the therapy that had become commonplace.)

By the time Freud (who never met Bertha Pappenheim) started collaborating with Breuer, he had pretty much given up on the possibility of hypnosis being a consistently viable treatment for his patients. Breuer’s method, however, was different and so Freud began to encourage his patients to speak freely about whatever came up in whatever manner it came up. He referred to this stream of consciousness as “free association” and eventually concluded that dreams were the key to the subconscious and repressed memories. His clinical experience evolved into the development of psychoanalysis.

“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.”

 

– Sigmund Freud

 

Keep in mind that during the bulk of this work on a new form of treatment, Freud himself was experiencing symptoms that, had he been a woman, would have led to a diagnosis of hysteria. Naturally, he started using his new treatment on himself and ultimately codified a system of symbols and dream interpretation that supported his theories about sexual development and its correlation to maturity; an  understanding of “wish fulfillment” and the desires of the ego and super ego; his seduction theory, which explained certain neurosis as the result of repressed sexual trauma and abuse; and postulation of the Oedipus Complex, which he said manifested as “castration anxiety” in men and “penis envy” in women. (NOTE: Freud firmly dismissed Dr. Carl Jung’s discussions of an “Electra complex,” positing that there was one issue experienced by different genders in different ways, as opposed to multiple issues which could be experienced by any gender.)

As I started reading Freud at a tender age, I could go on like this all night… especially since the history is just as interesting as the clinical concepts. But, at some point I need to go to sleep – perchance to dream. And if you ask me if you’re in my dreams, the answer may surprise you. (Or not: after all, a little over half of small business professionals dream about work and the vast majority who dream of work, put those dreams into action when the wake. Keep that in mind next time you think I dreamed up a sequence.)

“Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.”

 

– from The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud

If you’re curious about what I might “dream up” next, feel free to join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Wednesday, May 6th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

 

– from a letter written by Sigmund Freud to Dr. Wilhelm Fleiss, otolaryngologist (dated 10/15/1897)

 

 

### SOMETIMES THE APPLE STAYS CLOSE TO THE TREE ###