I heard tonight that a long-time and very dear friend of my sister, Alvina, took his own life today. Chris was a funny and talented man, compassionate, sensitive, and in recent years, deeply troubled and depressed. How is it that Life gets to look so dark, so hopeless, so irredeemable, that a man in his forties would choose to end his life so abruptly? I don’t know.
In the case of my father, who also took his own life, the situation was very different. Dad was 84, had had a pretty full and well-rounded life – though absolutely not without its dark periods. But his decision to end his life, given the circumstances of a return of his cancer after 7 years with a permanent colostomy that was producing major problems, is more understandable to me.
I don’t mean to say that I don’t accept Chris’s reasons as valid or authentic – for I do. But that doesn’t make it any less tragic. The fact that he reached that state and didn’t feel there was any way back from the brink is one that I know my sister is struggling with – as may be the case for many who knew Chris. In response to that feeling I want to say this: If feelings of shame and self-judgement arise (“I should have seen this coming; I should have helped him find his way back”) please remember that it’s not the feeling that is the problem, it’s the latching on to such feelings in preference to feeling our vulnerability that is in the way. It’s in the way of some manner of peace, healing, even gratitude. Yes, there is gratitude for knowing Chris, and for being reminded of the frailty of the human mind and body. And yet that frailty, and even the tragic end to Chris’s life, does not diminish the essence of Chris, nor the majesty of Life itself. For in fact, they are the same thing.
Now I want to append a blog post I wrote back in November, 2014 but never posted. It seems apt to what I have written above: for me, my sister, Alvina, and perhaps others too. It will make this a long post. May it be helpful to those who need solace just now.
This draft blog post was entitled
On Vulnerability and Shame
The first of the Ted Talks by Brene Brown appearing below, was done in 2010, and I wrote about it and another TedTalk on Vulnerability, almost two years ago now. That previous blog entry can be read here: https://howarddieno.com/2012/12/23/two-very-important-tedtalks/
The second talk, called Listening to Shame, was done by Dr. Brown more recently and is referred to for the first time in this blog.
Recent events in my life have had me pondering (yet again) how to be vulnerable, and WITH (or Listening To) my shame, in the face of some pretty difficult challenges.
Some time ago I had several sessions of Brain Wave Optimization (BWO) – a particular type of neurofeedback protocol. From that work I learned more about, and got some perspective on, some very early trauma in my life. As so often happens, later traumas, leading up to and especially including the death of both my parents six days apart last spring, worked to unhinge my best compensations to deal with my early trauma. What I am describing here is, of course, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).The unhinging in me has meant a significant change (decrease) in my ability to rest, relax and recharge – in short, to quiet my mind. Fortunately for my practice work with patients, I have still been able (mostly) to remain present and available to their process – ironically, sometimes more than ever before.
Now I have always experienced some vulnerability when regarding my challenges in quieting my mind. Evidence of this is seen in a poem/song, called “Truth”, which I wrote over 15 years ago. Here are the first three lines of that song:
Try as I might, I can not stop this busy mind,
But what delight, as Truth comes to light,
And I See the Beloved, in all Humankind.
The deeper feelings of shame associated with my challenges in quieting my busy mind, and difficulty in being with my feelings of anger and inadequacy, have only really amped up again since the death of my parents. I had always felt blessed in my abilities to sleep in a peaceful, restorative manner, to meditate, and to use HRV biofeedback to demonstrate “Presence”. (You can search for previous posts on this blog relating to Presence, and The Presence Project.) But recently, it is often as if all the traumas experienced in my life sum up in the moment, and derail my most fervent attempts to let them go. (Yes, I absolutely see the malapropism of “fervent attempts to let go.”) The fact that a big part of my practice relates to helping others let go into the void of not-knowing anything in particular has been of little help in my own case. In fact, there is a great deal of shame associated with feeling hypocritical and fraudulent in connection with my life’s work as an osteopath (working in support of personal and spiritual growth, and not just helping people move toward optimized bio-mechanical relationships in the body) while I am simultaneously feeling more disconnected from my own life as Presence.
Three things culminated in my understanding both the scale and pervasiveness of my own PTSD. Firstly I saw the graphing of my brain activity, and heard the feedback from the clinic staff who administered the BWO. The evidence there was of more hyper-vigilance and distractability than even I was aware of. The second thing was discussing the findings with my friend, Rod Punnett – a very close friend and an expert on neurofeedback, HRV and other modality-based biofeedback and fellow journeyman on the Path to living in, and as, Presence. With the help of the first two points, the third thing was simple observation – seeing and feeling the extent to which my sleep has been interrupted and the level of busyness of mind that is my (almost) continual fellow traveler.
Just to finish this off, tonight, February 2nd, 2015, I am gradually integrating more. That means I am getting more able to be with my own shame and vulnerability; and that helps. As that occurs I am getting more restful sleep. That is also hugely helpful.
Chris, I am thinking of you on this next difficult journey of your soul. Some may think it naive, but I truly believe that with the support of those who love you, you will eventually heal from this traumatic end to this round of embodied life. For those who love you, and are shocked, saddened, even traumatized by hearing of your abrupt end, know that Love given is always received, by all parties, whether it seems to be so, or not.
Nice words Howard…
Its funny how life plays its cards and how things unfold. We like to think that we know people and a bit about what makes the world tick but its only with age and a bit of accumulated wisdom that you realise how naive we are about so many things…
Take care now,
Sent from my iPad
Thanks for your comment, Marcus. Yes, it’s true that we don’t know what is coming – nor what others are really thinking or experiencing. That is part of the mystery of Life, I guess.
All the Best to you and yours,
As I sit thousands of miles away, in Galápagos Islands, my heart reaches out to you, Chris, Alvina, the many people who will miss Chris’s gentle kind way. Rare indeed is the individual who doesn’t struggle with demons of one sort or another. I am grateful for your sharing of your own vulnerabilities, as it opens all of us to face ourselves as well. Our best cure is through our hearts; radiant with compassion for self and others. I will sit tonight in radiant Love for and with us all.
In Light and Love,
Thanks for your kind words, Karen. Yes, it’s true that one of the only useful things we can do at times of distress is to open to vulnerability, compassion and gratitude – even if what is unfolding at the time is seen to be the very last thing we would want for ourselves, or another. Love and Light indeed,
Thank you for this very honest and beautiful post. It seems that the last two years have been so full of grief and loss for you and for so many, including myself… your insights on grief, and shame, and how these feelings and experiences impact us are deeply appreciated, and very relevant to me. And your thoughts on the continuing possibility of love’s restorative powers give me more comfort than almost anything has as I face the issues in my life. As so often, I am thankful for your gentle wisdom. I wish you the comfort and sustenance of deep and peaceful sleep, tonight and in the nights to come.
I am glad to hear that my sharing was helpful and supportive to you, and your process, Lili. You can always use assistance of that nature, I’m sure. Thanks also for your kind wishes. I am grateful and touched by that…
PS I see that I’ve posted from my blog rather than my personal account. Apologies for any that.