Days 4-8: No Bat Belt

There’s a scene in Dark Knight Rises where Batman is trying to climb out of a prison. The climb could mean death if he falls- so he has a safety rope tied around his waist. He works out, gets stronger, makes the leap, and falls. The only person to make this leap and survive was a child, with nothing but desperation and fear to spur him.

Bat man’s prison mate says:

“make the climb as the child did. Without the rope.”

He doesn’t need more strength; he needs to let go of his last tether to safety. He needs to know that there is nothing to break his fall, and he’s truly risking everything when he leaps.

This weekend was a time of removing my bat belt, my safety, my rope. Strand by strand, I unraveled and dissolved it, thanking it deeply for all the times it had saved me, but also recognizing that I hadn’t yet been ready for it. I wasn’t yet worthy of a bat-belt, a lightsaber, or a spear; I needed to learn to be strong on my own, first. Leaning on the assistance had me not trust my own strength or worth, to the point where I felt helpless, scared, certain I couldn’t make it on my own.

Dark Knight Rises: Prison Escape Scene

And so, I took off the rope. It was a painful, days’-long process.

I’m preparing for the climb again now.

These days had some victories: I discovered again how good exercise has me feel. On days I couldn’t go to the gym, I went on hour-long walks, bringing my focus to breath, and the feel of my feet on the ground as they rolled from heel to toe. I canceled some friend dates (thank you for being so understanding, friends ❤️) and I also reached out and called people, and wrote to one friend, when the despair got too heavy to carry alone. (Thank you for lending your steady strength and compassion in my dark pit, friends ❤️)

I’ve leaned on trainers, a counselor, and friends – but I haven’t leaned too much. There’s a balance. There’s a time when no one can prep us for the climb but ourselves.

I realized I had been hanging onto someone as he made the climb for us both, and we both fell.

But accepting help from community with deep gratitude is an important step for me. Hitting rock bottom and not being able to show a “perfect” face to the world has had me discover that many people are understanding, kind, and empathetic. They didn’t judge me. They didn’t even seem to think twice, just held me or let me cancel…

yes, there were those who surprised me with a lack of empathy, but having no resources to deal with that also made turning away from those few, and dropping those communications very easy.

There’s nothing like having absolutely nothing left, to teach a person how to say no, and how to say thank you.

And so here we are at Day 8 of the training. I’ve bribed myself with inspiring shirts to get me in the mood to go work out 😉

Day 8: Padawan

I’ve stuck with the challenge of dietary change (I’ll put a sample day’s meals here, one of these blog posts…maybe tomorrow …), of drinking half my body weight in ounces of water daily, (not as hard as it sounds, especially if you get some exercise in,) and of exercise.

I have discovered that I am most unhappy when I don’t allow myself to be as expansive as my nature demands: so when I was living in the “shoulds” of: closed off, reproachful blame, and victimhood; when I wanted above all things to understand why, I felt sick. I don’t need to know someone’s reason – all I need to know is that they chose.

As soon as I allowed myself to do what people told me I “shouldn’t,” which is: love, forgive, understand, be okay about things, let go, be actually happy about things just as they are, AND continue to wear my rings because they mean that I belong to myself now, and are inscribed a with these words: Present and Wonder, that I must live in now,

I felt better. I feel – good.

Ready to make the climb and leap with no rope, no bat belt.

What if I fall? Oh,but my darling,what if you fly? -Erin Hanson

Anger: Four Steps to Release and Heal

Anger. What is it, why does it happen, and what is the healthiest way to deal with it?

These questions have been coming up as I have carried anger for the past three days. That doesn’t feel good in my body or heart, so I decided to really examine what was happening.

I came up with these key things: four ways to diffuse and heal the anger.

 

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1) Name it.

What am I REALLY feeling? Anger is a secondary emotion – there will be something underneath it.  So go through, list the things you feel out loud. “I feel angry because ________.”  Keep going until you run out of reasons. Then, dig deeper.
“I feel minimized because _________.”
“I feel used because _________.”
“I feel threatened because _________.”
“I feel betrayed because _________”
“I feel afraid because _______”  whatever comes up, name it.  For each one, list reasons until you run out of things to say. Let yourself cry if you need to. purge it.

When you have done this, sit silently with your heart and give yourself love. Give yourself approval. Remind yourself that you are safe. No one can harm you or detract from you without your permission.

 

2) Reach Out.

Connect with other people who remind you how loved and how incredible you are – not necessarily with words, but simply with the way they are happy to be around you.

When we interact with others, the way we relate to them is a reflection of ourselves. We are creatures who project — and that’s why if we find ourselves continually saying negative things about others, if certain words/phrases keep repeating/patterns keep repeating with every relationship, it’s time to examine ourselves. For example, if people say their ex is “crazy,” (they’re likely to say that about all of them), it’s time to take a hard look at their own issues. Or If we are continually suspicious of others, it’s time to do some counseling to heal whatever it is in us that is living in a lack / fear of loss mentality.

So : go interact with the people you have good things to say about. The people you love. The people who make your heart smile. The people who know, love, and bring out the best you.

3) Take Personal Responsibility.

After a time, if the anger cycles and re-cycles, it’s time to examine what it’s trying to tell you. Anger is a signal. I was told once by an incredibly brilliant person that “Anger is a sign that we need more self-care.”
It can also be a signal that our boundaries have been crossed in some way. It can be a signal that we aren’t being true to ourselves.

In my case, I betrayed myself in a huge way. I kept silent. I fell into old people-pleasing behavior and did not speak what I wanted or what I didn’t want; I didn’t speak what I was feeling — I did something that was NOT o.k. with me in that moment.
It was a very horrible, difficult experience, and the rage aftermath was nearly crippling.   Apparently I have healed so much that my subconscious is telling me in no uncertain terms, it is NOT ok with self-betrayal anymore.

This anger is mine, I own it, it belongs to me.  When you say that, you stop putting it on others. You stop saying “He did ….x,y,z” and listing the actions and circumstances that triggered you into reaction, that were a catalyst for the anger response. We can waste years of life if we continually justify our anger with someone else’s actions — because the focus will always be on something we cannot control. We will be in reaction, telling the harmful actions and choices over like rosary beads, re-opening the wound and reacting again as though it just happened. The stress hormones will flood the body anew. I can feel them come up even now, if I play over in my head the circumstances that led to my anger.  This is not healthy for the body or soul,  and it keeps us stuck. Stuck in old circumstances that no longer exist (the past does not exist except in our own head, since everyone’s experience of a moment is different!) stuck in reaction, basically — it keeps us a victim.

So. Owning the anger is an empowering thing.  I KNOW people can do absolutely horrible things, and depending on the degree of the harm, there may need to be years of processing anger. This is a healing step.  But once the healing has occurred and enough time has passed, there is a time to own it all, take responsibility for our emotions, and know that we can make choices.  We can’t choose what others do. Sometimes we are truly helpless and someone else’s behavior is deeply violating. What we can choose is how we heal, how we walk forward, how we honor ourselves – how we talk to ourselves from that moment on. We don’t have to take any responsibility for what someone else chooses to do – if they treat us badly, we don’t have to choose to say “They treated me badly because something in me is not worthy of respect,” or “I invited that,” or any other variation of taking blame for someone else’s shitty behavior. No…what we can instead choose is “I love myself/I am incredible/ if they can’t see it, their problem,” and so on. This is owning our anger, owning our response, and knowing that we deserve better and can walk away faster next time.

I uncovered that the person I was truly angry with was myself. I was livid with myself for staying silent, for freezing and complying, falling into a very long-ago established abused-victim behavior. I was furious with myself for being afraid to speak up. Underneath that, I was deadly afraid. If I had betrayed myself again, when would it stop? When would I finally learn my own worth, stop caring so much what others think, and SPEAK UP when something wasn’t ok with me, or when a boundary had been crossed?

This was a harmless, innocent situation, (albeit thoughtless and rude-) and yet the old harms came up due to a chance dynamic.  What, I wondered, would teach me to believe in myself and know that I was valuable and speak UP?

The answer is : the anger. The anger is teaching me. The anger is there TO teach me. I just had to stop ratcheting around the room like a burning ping-pong ball, and create stillness. I had to stop running from the anger, I had to stop reaching out to try to communicate with the person I had been angry with, I had to look within and tell it, “Ok, anger, I am listening.”

Every human being is going to experience anger. If we could stop putting shame and fear around it and start listening to what it’s trying to tell us, we might all be healthier with it.  Anger in itself is not a bad thing. It’s natural and it’s vital to our survival. What is important is how we use it – if we can create some stillness and listen to it, if our subconscious feels heard and honored, it won’t try so VERY hard to get our attention.

 

 

4) Self Care.

Now it’s time to remind ourselves that we are loved — and that we are accepted and whole just as we are, anger and all. When something happens that triggers anger, there is a great vulnerability afterward, and the self-esteem will take a big dip.
We  need to feel some solidarity and safety, and the awesome thing is, we don’t need anyone else to give that. We always have that available, because we can give it to ourselves!
A good start to rebuilding self-esteem and feelings of security & being loved is to do some self-care practices.  Cook a healthy, delicious meal, or take yourself out on a date! Take a bubble bath, or do some self-massage with oils or scents that soothe you. Take a walk in beautiful surroundings. Write a gratitude list, and really ask your heart to feel the goodness of these things in your life. Exercise – do something that isn’t a punishing chore, but fun and playful! Something you enjoy. Write yourself notes about why you are awesome. Write affirmations (short and sweet!) and say them to yourself while meditating, or while taking a walk.

Do the things that empower you, do the things that make you feel most YOU.

If we feel empowered and safe, we will experience less anger. If we feel loved, we will experience less anger. The constant work is to give these things to ourselves.

I wish everyone healing in this continual process… I know I feel a lot better 🙂

Into the Heart of Mourner’s Kaddish

In 2001, someone I loved very deeply died really suddenly. I won’t tell you his age, as he was always mortified about it, but he was very young, in his early 30’s.  I wish you had been able to grow older, mortified or not, dear heart…

I crawled into a cave, and I didn’t accept his death. I kept on with my work, and did not accept his death. I tried having other relationships but was oddly disconnected (to this day, I do not remember those relationships very much at all) and I did not accept his death. JeffreyS

Then followed ten years during which I waited for him to come home. Knowing that when he had had an impulse to talk to me, he had driven by and if the light was not on, he didn’t come in, I left the light on for years.
There were shards of broken glass in my chest for ten long years; I could not breathe too deeply without tears.
And I did not accept his death.

I had a ten-years-delayed “rebound” relationship with the man who had begun grief counseling with me, who saw the raw ugliness of my grief that I had allowed no one else in the world to see, who told me he was in love with me and jealous of a man ten years gone from this world – that relationship taught me a lot and began a process toward acceptance, and very painfully woke my heart up from its long disconnected state,

but I still felt as though I was behind sharp glass panes, utterly separate from people, in a cage of frozen grief.

Last November on the anniversary of Jeff’s death, I decided to say Mourner’s Kaddish for a year. To do something for him, when I could do nothing. To spend time with him in the only way I could. To teach myself to accept and let go.

In the beginning, I felt sheepish about breaking the “rules” — I was not saying Kaddish at the traditionally accepted time — but I knew that on a deep level I needed this if I was ever to move on and heal, and perhaps one day have a healthy relationship. At the same time I also felt a bit of resistance, as always happens when I am faced with “structured religion.”  I felt like I was fulfilling an obligation, following a rule, and that chafed somewhat.

Still, I stood up to say Mourner’s Kaddish for my friend.  Painfully, I said his name aloud for the first time into the still air of that synagogue and something inside cracked open, just a little bit.

Then, there was a lot of grief. A LOT. I said Kaddish in a whisper, unable to speak around the enormous lump in my throat; I said Kaddish with tears flowing in a bitter flood down my cheeks, dripping off my chin and spotting the prayerbook. I said Kaddish and sometimes the grief felt like it was tearing its way out of my body, and I would wrap my head in my prayer shawl in mortification to feel so out of control in the synagogue, in “public.”

But, as a wise friend (a wonderful, supportive fellow Maggid student) said to me once: “if you can’t cry in the synagogue, where CAN you cry?”

I said Kaddish with anger that I was saying Kaddish for a man who had died far too young; I said Kaddish wishing I could go back to that week and help, somehow – living through the “bargaining” stage of grief  (“If I had gone with him, he wouldn’t have tried that drug. If I had not distanced from my best friend in all the world, he would not have felt so alone…”)

I said Kaddish remembering him, with a smile on my lips; I said Kaddish thinking of his family and wondering where they were; I said Kaddish remembering the first time I saw him, in a temper, with a scowl on his face, his skin glowing darkly across the room; I said Kaddish with a small giggle inside, remembering calling my Mother to tell her, “I have met a scenic designer. He is going to be trouble for me, somehow.”
I said Kaddish, and I walked through all our too-brief days together, our lifetime together and apart. I said Kaddish with the taste of our first kiss on my lips, and with the bond in my chest that we had formed, two twenty-somethings who played together like kids, and who always assured each other they’d be married, as soon as they figured things out…as soon as he no longer turned to drugs when he was sad…as soon as….as soon as…

I said Kaddish with compassion for us both, remembering our “dates” to Costco when we were both too poor to go out, and how we laughed until we had tears rolling down our faces, hunched over helplessly giggling and making the most delicious lunch out of free samples…the plastic ring he had gotten from a bubble-gum machine and how he had put it on my finger, and how it was more precious than any jewelry I owned…

I am nine months into the process of saying Kaddish for my best friend and love, and now I realize why the tradition is to say Kaddish for a year after someone has died.

Because at some point, time has done its work; you wake up one morning and realize, saying those same words you’ve said week after week, that a changed heart is saying the same words. The words become a steadfast marker against which you can see your own growth and healing, and as you say yet again the words of Kaddish, the meaning seeps into your bones.

AT first, it’s just the rhythm that is soothing: “…Yit-barach v’yish-tabach, v’yit-pa-ar v’yit-romam v’yit-nasay, v’yit-hadar v’yit-aleh v’yit-halal sh’may d’koo-d’shah…”

It is like a mantra – a heartbeat. The sound of it on my tongue reminds me of the time when I was in Greece for the summer, living on about $15 a week, taking the afternoons to simply float in the sea.  I had met a Polish girl there, and was teaching her how to swim. We lay back in the salty water, floating high in the stillness as the salt held us up, just our ears under the water, faces to the sky…and all I could hear was the musical chime of the rocks and pebbles beneath me as the gentle rocking of the tiny waves stirred them, and faintly, underneath, my own slow, steady heartbeat and the whoosh of the flow and ebb of my own breath in my ears. The water was warm; it was the safest I have ever felt, in the womb-waters of mother earth herself.

That is the rhythm of Kaddish.  It wraps you in its timeless serene acceptance of what is – it rocks you gently, and over the months, its assurance that nothing – no one- is ever truly lost seeps into your bones.

Then, the meaning of the words began to be clear.   (A few translations will be at the end of this post.)

Mourner’s Kaddish is a song of joy –a giving of thanks —  an affirmation of life!

IMG_7067The day that new layer of meaning struck me, as I was saying Kaddish for the thirtieth, fortieth time, I gasped. I knew then that this ancient prayer was not only for Jeff’s soul, it was also for mine. I knew then that this beautiful prayer was telling me that I was not alone (how many people have said Kaddish throughout the ages?) and that I was still alive, and that I must learn

how to live again.

During this 12-month journey, I happened to experience an interpretation of Mourner’s Kaddish that is one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received. I was in the time when I was beginning to feel a beauty and expansion in saying Kaddish; comforted by the rhythm of Kaddish – my grief had worked its splinter-sharp edges to the surface and had been worn into sea-glass by months of tears –

I was serene, aching still, but open; tender new growth had begun to soften the wounded places.  I was at a Rabbi Zalman Shabbaton in Ashland, Oregon, and the Mourner’s Kaddish that weekend was done by Rabbi Andrew Hahn, (“the Kirtan Rabbi”) – it was a kirtan Kaddish.  It was utterly beautiful. (*Is* utterly beautiful, actually: you can find and hear it online, if you don’t have the opportunity to hear it live.)

Also during a Rabbi Zalman shabbaton in the previous year, I randomly met an author, Hyla Shifra Bolsta, who had written a beautiful book: the Illuminated Kaddish.

Through Hyla’s artwork and through Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s kirtan, Kaddish opened before me; I experienced new depths in the magnificent heart of the prayer.

Kaddish is a road through the grieving process: it is a guide. It lets you listen to your own heart and know when it is time to let joy back in; it holds you up like the ocean in Greece held me, telling you, it’s okay, it’s okay, feel your grief, feel it all, you will not shatter.

And then, later: it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re alive and that is wonderful – your beloved is still alive in you.

Throughout the year, I have unravelled every stitch of what he was to me in my life: every bright glance, the funny way he blew his nose, his maddening stubbornness and his sweet, sweet voice; his breathing next to me and the sweet smell of him, that spot behind his ear that always smelled like woodsmoke and sweet meadow; his practical jokes, his quick, stormy temper, and his loyal, gentle heart…his beautiful eyes that noticed everything, and his long, sensitive fingers that sketched the things he noticed with such clarity and whimsy…

All of it has been unravelled, tiny stitch by excruciating stitch, and has been knit back up into myself, over the course of nine months saying Mourner’s Kaddish. All the moments of who we were together knit back into who I am — and suddenly, he was a part of me, not shut out by my grief. The memory of him lived and breathed in me, and I began to feel like he was with me; in my mind I would see his smile when something wonderful happened, and I would feel, suddenly, the warmth of him near. I felt as though I was living with all of my heart, as I never had before.

Surrounded by my community who let me be – who did not judge, who did not need to talk to me about my grief, who just stood with me and once in awhile squeezed my hand or put a comforting arm around me— held in this warm sea of mother earth’s lifeblood, held in the heartbeat of my community, I said Kaddish, and I finally healed.

Ariwildernessillustedited

I finally let him go.

I finally realized that while I loved him with all my heart, that was a gift that made my heart and soul grow larger- there was infinite room in my heart to love again.

I have three months left to say Mourner’s Kaddish for my best friend and love.

I have three months in which my heart might still sting with grief, but it also – so suddenly! even in the next breath! – might be quick and bright with joy….

because during this journey of saying Kaddish for my dear friend, I learned that it is okay to stand there saying Kaddish for him and also feeling the sun on my face. That it is okay to be laughing inside at a funny thing that someone had said just moments before, or to be still feeling elevated, serene and blissful from the prayer service that had come before.  I learned that it is all okay. That I did not need to die when he died. That grief is the deal we make when we draw our first breath here: we are going to love, and we are going to lose people – and we are all going to die sometime.  We will also learn things along the way — and in a way, saying Mourner’s Kaddish for a year cycle is a distillation, a metaphor of the whole journey of a life.

It is a beautiful gift to have this tradition that allows healing and understanding to come.

One of the messages Mourner’s Kaddish held for me was a vision of my future self, who said, “Don’t use up your life refusing to mourn, refusing to let go of those who are gone. Do not carry the dead—we will all end at some point — let their deaths teach you how to live.  Mourn, so you can fully expand into the length and breadth of your days here.”

At the last comes acceptance.  It cannot come at the beginning: there is a necessary process to go through first, and Mourner’s Kaddish is a beautiful guide through that process.

Mourner’s Kaddish interpretation by Rabbi Avram Davis:

(taken from the Illuminated Kaddish by Hyla Bolsta)

Exalted and Sanctified is the name of Loving Kindness in this world.
Created according to the Intention
And may it be established in your lifetime
and the lifetime of the Community
Speedily. Soon. (Amen)

May this name of the Infinite be blessed Forever;
Blessed and Praised, Glorified and Uplifted, Honored and
Elevated.
The power of Chesed {Loving Kindness} is Greater than all
the Hymns, Prayers or Consolations
we can utter in this life.  (Amen)

May there be abundant Peace and a good life for all the community;
for ourselves and all Creation (Amen)

Mercy and Peace sustain us the far heavens,
so may it Be for us, for all the community, for all of Creation

(Amen.)

kadheb

Mourner’s Kaddish (Transliteration)

Yitgadal v’yit-kadash sh’mei rabba (Congregation – Amen)

B’allma dee v’ra chir’utei v’yamlich malchutei,

B’chayeichon, uv’yomeichon, uv’chayei d’chol beit yisrael,

Ba’agala u’vizman kariv, v’imru: Amen

(Congregation – Amen. Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’allam u’lallmei allmaya)

Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’allam u’lallmei allmaya.

Yit’barach, v’yishtabach, v’yitpa’ar,

v’yitromam, v’yit’nasei,

v’yit’hadar, v’yitaleh, v’yit’halal,

sh’mei d’kudsha b’rich hu (Congregation – b’rich hu)

L’ayla min kol b’irchata v’shirata,

tush’b’chata v’nechemata,

da’ami’ran b’all’ma, v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)

Y’hei shlama rabba min sh’maya,

v’chayim aleinu v’al kol yisrael v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)

Oseh shalom bim’ro’mav,

hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu,

v’al kol yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teyvel. v’imru: Amen (Congregation – Amen)