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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The power of compassion in the meeting with pain


“As a child, if you had nobody to share your pain with, that’s your trauma.”
— Dr. Gabor Maté

People connect us with ourselves.  Trustworthy people.  People who value you.  People who treat you as you need to be treated.  And our job is to be that person to each and every one we meet.

We usually find, however, that we cannot be that person to each and every person we meet for the simple reason that either people shut us out, or we’re not capable of embodying compassion for others because we have so little compassion for ourselves.

In each of us, and in each and every other person, is the wounded child who literally had nobody when they most needed comfort—that’s our trauma.

“Children don’t get traumatised because they get hurt, children get traumatised because they’re alone in their hurt.”
— Dr. Gabor Maté

It isn’t the pain itself that crushes our hopes.  It’s finding that there’s no way to appease the pain.  We grow up somehow knowing that there’s no way to appease pain, but the biggest, most cosmic lie is that there IS a way of appeasing pain, and that’s through meeting the pain with compassion.

When someone meets you and holds you in that most lonely of places, there, right there, you’re given both the strength and the reason to look deep enough within to face your pain.  And the most monumental power exists in experiencing this victory—even once!

“Your depression was a major success... [respondent] you mean to say that having that pain showed me deeper inside of myself how I was abandoning myself...”
— Dr. Gabor Maté

Imagine flipping the reality of the shame you had/have for or in your depression, anxiety, and every other mental health malady, and began to see that in these most painful of places was the true source of healing.

In these sad and fearful states, we’re closer to our truer selves than ever, because at least we’re being honest about how we feel.

Most of the rest of our lives we’re busy putting on a brave front that serves no end or purpose other than to delay the inevitable.

Dissociating from ourselves will only end up sending us into more harm.

We cannot get better until we face how we feel, and deal with the feelings of discomfort, regret, vulnerability, abandonment, and loss.  Facing our pain is not the end, it’s the beginning.  But the pain itself can feel worse than death.  If only we can go there with a safe friend who can hold us.

“When people are suffering, they want to escape their suffering—that’s normal.”
— Dr. Gabor Maté

Most people escape their suffering by entering into addiction—anything, whether it’s openly common and socially accepted addiction or a quiet and secret and shameful one.

The addiction is such an understandable response to the pain, because as human beings we need to escape it.

We always lack something—someone with whom to share and to process our pain.  

So, we ‘process’ our pain in our escapism, and we never truly escape.

In other words, the more we escape and don’t deal with our pain, the more our pain keeps us captive to the point we cannot escape.

~

We all enter meetings with our pain.  What we need to take with us there is compassion.  When we hold hands with compassion in our pain, our pain is bearable and processable.

When we see all our maladies are sourced in trauma, we begin to contemplate that we’ve been too heavy on ourselves all along. This realisation opens the door to healing, at least enough that we’re curious to peak through about what might be there for us on the other side.

Acknowledgement to The Wisdom of Trauma film by Dr. Gabor Maté.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

5 ways of resilience to improve mental health coping


I’ve suffered my share of grief, depression, anxiety-laden periods, panic attacks, trauma triggering, yet I’ve also discovered some things that work for me.  As I share, I hope they might help you.

1.             Functional Denial – I’d never advocate people do what many people do, and that is to deny the mental health struggle they have, preferring anger over facing sadness and fear, among other denials.  And, of course, denial is a natural though maladaptive phase of the grief process.  But functional denial is one way to show resilience in the depths of pain and despair.  It’s simply choosing to function by denying the effect of pain and suffering, even though you know they’re there.  This is really a fully-fledged faith.  In choosing to function, it’s not as if the denial denies the suffering reality—it can’t, because it’s right there in front of us.  In choosing to function despite the pain, we grin with a wince while showing we can do the thing through gritted teeth.  The more we do this, the more we prove to ourselves we can.  It’s important to note that functional denial is more correctly a denial of the paralysing impact of pain even while it’s still bleedingly obvious it’s there.

2.             Seek Revelation – another faith construct here.  Revelation can only come from without us INTO us, as if we had an idea come to us.  Particularly in terms of anxiety, for me, I seek the answer as to WHY I’m feeling so anxious.  It can take hours, days, or weeks to suddenly understand why, but with every concerted exploration, there’s a good chance the answer will be revealed to you.  When we break the moment down and discover the list of attributes or reasons for our pain, having identified them, you can decide to let go of those factors for which you cannot control.  In terms of depression, the amount of times it’s dawned on me what the problem is—“Oh, I’m depressed!”—it’s amazing what that knowledge proves to be in terms of being a corner to turn in turning out of despair and toward recovery.

3.             Share the Burden – sounds so simple, and yet what is so powerful is also something most people who are struggling avoid.  They’d rather suffer alone.  I’ve found that the more I’m suffering, is truly the more I need calm, affirming people in my life.  There’s something very powerful and cogently reassuring in sharing the burden with someone who cares enough to listen, who will also reflect back to us true living perspective.  Once you’ve experienced this, you want to give it back it’s that powerful.  For me, it was one sponsor who so often said, “Steve, how important is it?”  And every time without fail, my anxieties always loomed larger than their realities.

4.             Self Talk – this can be seen as a faith perspective, i.e., hearing the voice of God through scripture, but it can also be about affirming the true, the good, the right things that we would say to others and that others would say about us—to ourselves.  We second-guess ourselves and doubt ourselves so easily, yet we look at others and think they must be so confident.  Most people ‘fake it until they make it’ more often that we would realise.  Speaking to ourselves in tones of good narratives (or stories) about ourselves is incredibly powerful, especially when we consider that we’ve nullified the opposite reality—when we speak judging and condemning words to ourselves.  Judge or condemn yourself to your peril and yours alone.

5.             Look Forward – this is not about avoiding the past, but it’s very much about having 3 or 4 things in the immediate week ahead that you look forward to.  The reality of having these activities to look forward is powerful as it speaks to the hope we all thrive on, when despair kills the spirit.  You know that feeling of knowing something really cool is only a day or two away.  It fills us with peace and joy.  Therefore, you’re more able to face the tough day ahead, or do the hard thing, because something positive is just around the corner.

Many people will find that some or all of these strategies don’t work for them.  It’s really important to remember that this is MY experience.  And they’re just five I thought of as I got the inspiration to write on the topic.  Your experience of grief, depression, anxiety, pain will be different to mine.  If none of these work for you, it does not mean anything negative about you.  I validate your experience as being real, true, and hard.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Those everyday battles on a bridge


1981 was different to both 1980 and 1982 in my life.  1981 I was captivated by a new game—golf.  I loved the game so much as a 13–14-year-old that I towed my golf buggy behind my bike most days after school to the golf course to play 9 holes before evening mealtime.  But I had one anxious challenge in doing that most days.

It was the bullies on the bridge—and I can’t even remember who they were.  Just three or four older boys who teased me for playing golf.  Most of the time they verbally jousted with me, laughed at me, and occasionally they’d push me around.  Apparently, it wasn’t very macho for a teenager to play golf.

So brave were they that it was always at least two against one.

One day as I recall they were particularly mean.  They started getting the golf clubs out of the bag, threw some of the balls back and forth between them, and began uncoupling the bag and buggy from the bike.  I fought back and then started riding off and leaving the area they just dropped the stuff they’d taken and walked off.  I went back and retrieved it.

It was always on the way to the clubhouse that they did it, never on the way home.

One thing that struck me about early life and adulthood is we seem to become civilised when we become adults.  Well, at least that was my experience.  Though sadly, the conflicts tend to be deeper and more entrenched in betrayal when things do go wrong when we’re adults.

Those everyday battles on the bridge were something that inspired dread in me as I approached, yet it wasn’t until I contemplated the scene that I even remembered how it used to make me feel.  How many of those experiences when we were children do we forget until they’re prompted by some related stimulus?

Those moments of seeing those smiling boys, licking their lips as their prey approached.  And yet, after a few minutes on each occasion I passed on unscathed, able to go on and play my golf.  Those moments of being ridiculed and not knowing where to look or what to expect as they sought to take advantage of their vulnerable target.

I guess this routine must have gone on until the month that year that we moved into the next neighbourhood and suddenly I no longer needed to traverse that bridge.

Those everyday battles on the bridge, however hard they were at the time, are part of the experience of my youth years, and I survived to tell the story, as all of us do that face similar situations.  There are no ill feelings toward those boys, but then again, I’d never consider their taunts and occasional pushes and shoves as anything other than mild bullying.

But until I went back to that cherished bridge, I’d forgotten about these events.

I’m thankful for the pleasant reminisces.  Probably what I’m most thankful for, however, is that I was only ever a target of the behaviour of being ganged up on, and never initiated it.

One more thing I’m thankful for, but also saddens me for youth today; at least bullying in my day was limited to face-to-face interactions—these days in an electronic age it can be impossible to escape the taunts.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The orientation of resilience in loss and grief

 

I guess the thought here is simple—we experience loss, we grieve, we grow.  Yes, sometimes that takes years, even decades, where the rate and result of growth is tenuous at best.  But the orientation of resilience in loss and grief is nonetheless true.

I know that cliches aren’t appreciated in many circles today—like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  It’s sad that it’s true that what doesn’t kill you ultimately certainly feels like it’s killing you for a very long time.

The nuance of loss and grief is this—it has to go deep to the point of feeling like it’s going to break you before any real growth occurs.

This is the sad reality for all spiritual zealots—their growth is entirely contingent on being pressed in and challenged beyond capacity.  Think of any elite military or para-military training program.  It takes recruits completely out of their comfort zone.  They experience pain, confusion, overwhelm on every level—they sink or swim.

It’s the same with our challenges that leave us bereft of response.  It’s all for learning and growth, and in faith we’re being tested and tried for eventual triumph.

You may be flying in life without a care in the world, and if you’ve never suffered you won’t get this.  But chances are you HAVE suffered at some point.  The testing experience took you to despair for one of two outcomes—you gave up and entered denial and a drug ‘fixed it’ or you gave your will to fighting for survival.  And so very often, the struggle for resilience has involved many wrong turns and poor decisions, but you’re still pursuing resilience.

Those who fight for survival, despite sometimes feeling floored, enter a training program, whether they comprehend it or not.

Gene Edwards in The Tale of Three Kings puts it this way in terms of King David’s life:

“God has a university, 
and it’s a small school.
Few enroll.  
Even fewer graduate.  
Very, very few indeed.”

This is not a message for the masses, but it could be one for you, when you’re about to throw in the towel.

Stick at it.  When life has thrown you one curve ball, a fast straight one you could only miss, and you feel life is the pitcher and they’re laughing at your pathetic attempt to lay bat on ball, remember there’s no ‘three strikes and you’re out’ in life as there is in baseball.

You’ll have your day.  Your hour is coming.  Wait for it patiently while doing your best, even at those times when you know your best isn’t really good enough—it’s okay to be weak, to lose heart, to give in to the torrent of wave after fierce wave.

Resilience is not learned in victory.  It’s learned in defeat, in having the humility to try again.  Resilience is the ability to bounce back and have another go, even when the previous one was reason itself to give it all away.  Resilience isn’t compelled by discouragement, but it knows that in the presence of discouragement is the need for hope.  Resilience causes us to reach out for anything that would help—see, humility, pivotal, front and centre.

Where there is humility in loss and grief, resilience is the sure eventual result.

Image by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Empath, the unsympathetic world will never understand you


It’s such a basic lesson the caring person is destined to be reminded of over and again throughout life: there are those who will exercise great delight of schadenfreude (that is, joy at your suffering) when it bothers you that they don’t care.

They know who they are, and you imagine them sneering right now as they read this with some target in mind.

The irony is these people are often the most offended when people don’t care about stuff they care about, they just cloak it in anger, which is just fear underpinning pride gone haywire.

Now you... you were made with a heart of flesh, and you care, and you can’t stop caring.

You feel where people are at even as they brush past you.

You develop deep and trusting relationships with the like-minded.

And you’re always there for the person in their crisis.

But the point of this article is you WILL be misunderstood, and because being understood is important to you, you’ll go one of two ways with that reality.

It’s either dive down the sinkhole of despair as you protest about the world not understanding you, or you can do what Francis of Assisi did when he lamented the neediness in his own heart—

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.

The only way of responding to a constantly hurt and bruised heart is by overcoming that hurt with a purpose beyond it—there’s so much pain in this world, so we redirect our compassionate energies onto others who are in need.

And we connect in truth with our own need.  It’s okay to be needy.  We need to be honest about it.  That’s how we go on past it—by validating what’s true first, then going on past it.

The enemy of love is not always hate or fear; just as much it can be ambivalence or indifference—that dryness of spirit that seems alien to humanity.  The reason ambivalence drives us crazy is we care and can’t stand people not caring, especially when it comes to the things that break our hearts.

There’s a great deal of blessing in the heart of a caring person, but when we’re not at our best that care can morph into unhealthy attachments with ourselves and others.

Empath, you’re going to rub up against a lot of uncaring and even cruel types in your journey of life. Don’t give them the satisfaction to know that your care is a commodity they can burn.

Instead, realise that it’s a powerful force for good when you commit that depth of understanding and insight toward understanding and helping others.

Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The secret to a happy life hidden in plain view


It isn’t just me saying it; so many religions in the world have the same code and core value based on the golden rule—do for others as you would have them do for you.

You may be irreligious, but nobody is a fool who gives up what they cannot keep to gain what they cannot lose.  Look at what you can take from this life—you take nothing.  But look what you can give in this life—the more we give the fuller the life we live.

This is the secret to the happy life:

“Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” 
—1 Corinthians 14:1 (The Message)

Another way of looking at it:

“Happiness depends, as nature shows, less on exterior things than most suppose.”
—William Cowper

Most of humanity don’t have a clue about the real source of peace, hope, joy... happiness.  Because we all—yep, every single one of us—without exception, is tempted to secure for ourselves happiness in the things outside us—money, fame, possessions, achievements, honours, pride.

We must lose it all to understand what trumps it all.  There’s something that cannot be taken away from you when everything is gone.  And I’m not going to tell you what that thing is.  It’s up to each of us to find it for ourselves—but be convinced, you cannot get it without losing everything or giving everything up first.

Having given up the trappings of this life—all those seductive temptations that tease us into temporary bliss but that which does not last—there is one further transition.

First give up what you cannot keep.  Next gain what you cannot lose—give your life away.

Doesn’t sound attractive, does it?  Get beyond the unattractiveness of the concept and you quickly find the source of life itself.

When we resolve to give to the people and situations of our lives, something happens that can’t be taken away and continues to blossom and grow from within us.  But we must keep giving, resolving not to look back, especially when it hurts.

When life is given away for the purposes of love, a force within us grows and overflows.  It won’t matter then WHAT people do to us; you see right through it.

They offend you because they’re threatened by the deep peace reservoirs within you fathoms below their understanding.  Your poise scares them.  The last thing they need—if they’re going to get any of this peace you freely offer—is for you to react, like for like.

No, you see their attack for what it is; every aggression is out of fear and sadness coated in anger.  You’ve seen that that is hell, and you won’t have a bar of it.  You’re a light on a hill, a beacon to all those around you, and for what you feel you want everyone to feel this enormous sense of wellbeing.

This is why it’s the secret to the happy life—you don’t want this deep reservoir of peace to yourself, you want EVERYONE to grab shares in it.  Think of this in the world on panoramic scale!  Everyone wanting the best for everyone—it starts from me and you.

Go after a life of love because your life depends on it.  Have faith over the journey and don’t give up in despair because this is a long game and it’s not about winning or losing.

There’s far more at stake than the pettiness of competition.  Get rid of power and conquests and you see for the first time what is hidden from view otherwise.

 

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Saturday, July 3, 2021

The impact of your behaviour on someone else’s mental health


One of my worst nightmares, especially as a minister, is that someone might have cause to give up hope because of something I say or do.

In reality, it happens to all of us.  We do and say things, especially at times to those who are closest to us, that can wreak destructive consequences.

None of us really knows how close people are to giving up hope.  As they say, it’s often the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  It might be something we think is small that we say or do that can end up being the thing that takes another person to the end of their tether—or simply contributes to the burden they’re quietly carrying.

We know this in ourselves, through those things that were said and done to us, where we for a moment gave up hope, or became so disenchanted as to go the wrong way.  

Oftentimes people don’t even realise their negative impact.  But how bad is it when people don’t seem to care?

There are so many opportunities in life to set records straight in terms of loving others, to right wronged relationships, to do kindness and to act mercifully.

Think of the power given to us when we act in good faith to do a kindness that isn’t expected or required.

Try a little kindness and see what it does within you.

It’s such a force for good that it does something within us that can only be described as a spiritual gift.

Anger and disdain and contempt for others, on the other hand, further hardens our heart, because it comes from a hardened heart.

Judgemental attitudes and punishing behaviours don’t come from a calm, serene core—it comes from a place within us that is deeply insecure.

When it comes to others, we have so little control over what they might do, especially as it pertains to actions that emanate from their mental health.

If we’re in conflict with someone, estranged for any reason, holding out on them as to exclude them, or do anything that hurts them, we ought to bear a burden, not to be part of the reason they go a wrong way.

Despair doesn’t just take us to the obvious worst outcome, but it includes a thousand other actions that affect not only the person in question, but others that love and care for them too.

Kindness is such an easy thing to do, but at times it’s the hardest thing to do, because it means we must overcome our pride, to be humble of heart, to give the other person what we might strongly feel they don’t even deserve.  This we call grace.

When we are in situations of conflict, or we might feel frustrated within, it might feel impossible to overcome the anger you might feel justified in feeling, but if that anger is going to hurt people, think of the consequences.

Think of the gift of peace, and as you give it, you too receive.

Listen to the still, small voice within you saying, “Stop this now... don’t push them into a corner... be kind... discharge peace.”

We may not want to admit this, but we do have an impact on other people’s mental health, just as other people have an impact on our mental health.

This I find is the goal of life: we owe a duty of care to others and to ourselves.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash


Friday, July 2, 2021

You can do anything, at least much different than you think


There have been times in my life when I felt utterly justified in my insistence that others change.  It was so simple in retrospect to become free of it.  Depart from it.  Just like that.

But, when you’re in it, it’s not that simple.  It never is.  Except that some things happen in your life that you couldn’t have done—divine intervention I’m talking about.

Here’s the thing.  You can do anything, at least much more than you think, especially as it pertains to that estranged relationship you’re trying to fix, rekindle, reconcile, or have justice in any way about.

You can’t change them.  They’ve got no idea what knots you’re in, the twists and turns and tumbles it’s caused in you, the turmoil you’ve been through.  If they had, they’d think much ado about nothing.  It would incense you.

It’s torturous.

And it’s unsustainable.

There are these circumstances that contort us, that make us angry in every single way, because we’re ashamed we cannot control this ‘little’ aspect of our lives.  It’s as if this little thing becomes all-consuming, much to the degree that it feels larger than it is, ought to be, even larger than life itself.

It’s at this point you think you’re going mad.  You know you should have more control to let it go.  But you don’t.  It infuriates you, which only makes the private crisis worse, threatening to make it more public than you’d like it to be.

It’s far easier than it needs to be.

It doesn’t need to be a one-person rampage and conquest for change.  A wearing yourself out for next to nothing.  When you know things are not going to change.

It’s easy to up and walk the other way, to depart from one insane way of being, for the insistence that certain things ought to be another way entirely.

You’re free.  You’re bonded to nothing but that which your mind says you are.

Time to walk into the light and stay in the light to be in the light, free from the burden of a struggle that is not yours.

Even if a struggle is yours, it’s yours to take it up in such a way as to open space for possibilities for change.  Faith is the bridge that must be crossed, for it’s only by faith that the impossible is realised.

When our aim is to do good, instead of doing what we think is right, we may have what it takes to end up doing what’s right, because we have a good motive.  Pushing our way around is not the way to get things done.

If you’ve been trying to move on... you can.

Life has a way of working out when we let it be as it is.

Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Unsplash