A Garden Metaphor: Resolving Guilt and Regret

©Jane A. Simington, August 2014

 

For years now, my garden has been a great teacher. I treasure the soulful prompting I receive daily in witnessing the seasonal changes of growth and decline. Today I ruminate on how fruitful some early spring decisions and planting choices have been, and on how underproductive others were. Why did some not turn out as planned? Was the planting time wrong; the location wrong? What can I do now to altar those early choices? What will I do differently next time?

Jane's Garden

Looking back at the choices and decision we have made at an earlier point in life can sometimes lead to feelings of guilt and regret. Guilt and regret are the emotional expressions of the spiritual need for self-forgiveness. Guilt is an expression of things done we wish we had not done. Regret is an expression of things not done we know we should have. These emotions are often articulated in phrases such as “If only…” and “I wish I had…”

 If you are holding guilt or regret over a past event here is a four-part process I find to be both helpful and healing.

1)    Place yourself right back in the event over which you are experiencing guilt or regret. See yourself and your circumstances exactly as they were then. Now ponder; “If I were right back there under those same circumstances and in that same time and place, would I make the same decision?” We often judge yesterday based on the knowledge and experience of where we are at today. When you place yourself right back in the circumstances of the time when you made the choices over which you now hold guilt or regret, you will be more capable of seeing and experiencing that situation as you saw it then.

2)    Following the examination of those past circumstances and the conclusions about the choices you made, take a few more moments and ponder how that event and the action you took, changed the course of your life. To do this, I encourage you to use a circular form of questioning. A circular form of questioning is to simply repeat the same question over and over after each answer. In your case, now that you have examined the details of the event and the actions you took, please ponder…“and then what happened?” When you find the answer, ask again…“and then what happened?” When you find that answer, ask the same question. Repeat this question and answer process until you are able to see how the choices you made at that time changed the course of your life. Then spend some moments pondering this question: “Did my actions at the time of that event result in some positive outcomes?

3)    List at least three things you learned from making those particular choices. Now conclude what is the greatest lesson you learned from taking the action you took. Reflect on these and then journal in detail your responses. There is great value in taking the time to externalize in written form the thoughts and ideas that are free-floating in your mind. Writing them down rather that just thinking about them will make the process more concrete and real, thus adding to the healing benefits of this exercise.

4)    To conclude this therapeutic activity, memorize and use frequently this affirmation. “I have grown and changed since those days. I made the choices then that were right for me. If I am ever again in a similar circumstance, I will make different decisions because I can now make choices that are right for me at this time in my life.”

Has the above therapeutic exercise to release guilt and regret made you more compassionate with yourself? Self-forgiveness is an exercise in compassion. Self-forgiveness is an exercise in freedom. As the past is released, space becomes available for the planting of seeds in groundrich and ready to support new life and growth.

 

Summer Fire Ceremonies Heal and Transform

Jane A. Simington PHD (2014)

      What is it about the camp fire that mesmerizes? What is stirred within? What dormant memories are awakened?
      Fire on most of the great Medicine Wheels of the world is the element associated with the South. Sacred teachings connected with the South are about summer; about growth and productivity. These reflections from nature, the sun-filled days and the long evenings of summer sunlight, are metaphoric reminders that the energies of summer also provide us wih opportunities for growth in productive and fruitful ways.
     TRC fire ceremony 013

 

The Hawaiian Goddess Pele is a summertime Goddess. As the Volcano Goddess, Pele prompts us to recall the power of the fire within us and how it can sometimes take a major eruption before our fire can burst forth in all its fullness. As a Fire Goddess, Pele reminds us that the ashes from fire eruptions create new soil, fertile for new growth.
      Ancient teachings such as those of the Medicine Wheel and of Goddess lore remind us that the fire energy that penetrates all living things, even the burning core deep within the earth, also burns within us . We are a part of the Life Force of the Creator and of all that has been created.
     And yet, as William James noted, “Compared to what we ought to be, we are only half awake. Our fires are damped, our drafts are checked.”1
     The long evenings of summertime offer many opportunities for gatherings around a fire. Campfires can, with a few minor adjustments, be used as ceremonial fires for healing and transformational purposes. During Fire ceremonies the Spirit of the Fire is called upon to burn away that which is no longer providing the rich fuel needed to turn our glowing embers into full blown flames.
     When I conduct a Fire Ceremony, I begin by having each participant write a letter to the Fire Spirit naming the things they are requesting to be burned away. As the fire is lit, an offering of tobacco or other medicine considered sacred by the group members is offered. Members of the group are then invited to hang a colored ribbon in a nearby tree in each of the directions. A red ribbon is hung in the South to represent fire. As this ribbon is hung we pray that the fire burns away what is no longer of growth potential. Next, a blue ribbon is hung in the West. As the blue ribbon is hung we pray for healing, since the West on most Medicine Wheels represents the place of healing. A white ribbon is then placed in the North and as it is hung we pray for strength and endurance. A yellow ribbon is used to represents the East. As the yellow ribbon is hung we pray that the element of air, which correlates with the East, blows newness into our lives.
     Following the hanging of the colored ribbons, to the beat of the drum and the rhythm of rattles, one by one we approach the fire, offering our letters. As the papers burn and the smoke ascends, we pray that our Creator take from us what is no longer working and in exchange provide us with what we need to support our new growth in the most successful and abundant ways
     Each time I conclude a fire ceremony I am reminded of the words of De Chardin. “Someday when we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire. 2

References
1). James, W. (1958). Varieties of Religious Experiences. NY: New American Library.

2). De Chardin, P. T. (1984) On Love and Happiness. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Fathering Continues Beyond the Grave

©Jane A. Simington, PHD, 2014

My last visit with my Father began three days before his passing. I had known him as a man of few words, so the intensity and depth of the conversation we shared about the life we spent together marked me indelibly. He emphasized that he wished he “had been able to do more [for me],” “to give [me] more.”

My simple response, “Daddy, you gave me life; you gave me my education. I could ask for nothing more,” affirmed the roles that he played in my life. I left my father’s room that evening believing I would never again converse with him, or receive his help or guidance. My first realization that this assumption was not true occurred just days after his death.

Because of the time spent with him during his dying, and the time I spent with my mother following his funeral, I had limited opportunity to fulfill my role as a choir director. I spoke to my Father about this dilemma and asked that somehow he offer assistance. To my relief and delight, the choir’s performance that Easter Sunday morning was outstanding, and during most of it, I could distinctly sense his presence.

Awareness that my Father’s assistance continued beyond his grave became increasingly real during my Mother’s final illness. My instinctive response to the news of my Mother’s passing was to seek solace at the water’s edge. Upon arrival there my attention was immediately drawn to the magnificence unfolding before me. Mesmerized, I gazed as a large white bird elegantly lifted from the water, to be followed by another of its kind. In a splendorous display of graceful ease the pair ascended upward and eastward until they were gently immersed in the golden radiance of the morning sunrise. Stillness followed, and in its glow, awareness. The powerful symbolism revealed in those extraordinary moments imprinted upon my soul a knowing that a sacred union was unfolding in front of me. My Father had come to accompany my Mother and guide her journey homeward.

The night my Mother died I was privileged in a dream to witness my Father walking toward her. Both were dressed for travel. My parents entered a large, gothic-style building and moved forward to the far end of it where together they entered a tunnel-like opening. Although I did not witness any vehicle of travel, I knew they were leaving via some mode of transportation that would take them on to the next phase of their journey together.

In the years since my Mother’s death, my Father has, on numerous occasions, especially during times of distress, shown me that his presence and support continues. Just recently, during a time when I was unconscious and near death, my Father again arrived. This time he carried me across a bridge and placed me back into a bed in the intensive care unit where I was being treated.

As I recall these visitations from my Father since his death, I am reminded of the words inscribed on one of the stones that make up a small stone circle in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church, in Rydal, England – a little stone structure William Wordsworth had been instrumental in building.

What is it to cease to breathing

But to free the breath from its restless tides

That it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered.

 Standing stone

A Mother’s Voice: Indestructible Relationships to Survive a Child’s Death

A Mother’s Voice: Indestructible Relationships to Survive a Child’s Death

© Jane A. Simington, PHD

photo (2)

For more than thirty years, I have been a professional, helping people as they move through difficult life experiences. I am also a bereaved mother whose son was killed when he was 13 years of age. My therapeutic practice and my comments in this article, blend my personal and professional experiences of loss and grief. As a therapist, when I work with an individual or a couple who have lost a child to death I help them prepare for the rocks in the waters they will have to navigate. I explore with them the solutions that they think will work for them and I give them suggestions of what worked for me and for the many other couples I have helped through crises.
Losing a child to is an extremely difficult experience. It can challenge even the strongest among us, ripping us apart at the very core of our being. When we feel torn open, raw and vulnerable, it is easy to strike out at others, to blame, to criticize, to be angry at them if they appear to be grieving too much or too little, or even if they do not grieve in the same ways as we do.
When I work with grieving individuals, who are in an intimate relationship, I spend considerable time discussing the importance of paying attention to how their relationship is being affected by grief I help them find strategies to keep their relationship alive, and as they heal from their grief I encourage the use of techniques that can make their relationship thrive. Here are a few points.
1) At the initial visit I ask every bereaved person what they want their relationship with their partner to look like in five years. I believe this is an important question, for a clearly defined goal increases the chances that the desired outcomes will be achieved.

2) I discuss a model of grief I have developed based on my own research and clinical experience, as well as on the research of others. This model is designed in a Figure of 8. In the top portion of the 8, I place the word Head. In the bottom portion of the Figure of 8, I place the work Gut. I describe the need to recognize that people grieve in their own ways and that these ways of grieving can change over time, especially when we find that the ways we have been using do not work, or are no longer working. Some people begin their grief journey in their head, as depicted by the Head portion on the Figure of 8 Journey through Grief model. They try to logically figure out the grief process. They may read every book that has been written on grief and attend every workshop on the topic. Others however, begin their grief journey in their guts, as depicted by the Gut portion on the Figure of 8 Journey through Grief model. Here they experience intensely all the gut wrenching emotions of grief.

The important point of this model is that regardless of where the grieving parent starts on their journey through grief, it will soon be recognized that they cannot resolve all their pain in that particular way and will move into the opposite portion on the Figure of 8. As they do so, the partner may be frustrated with the ineffectiveness of his or her efforts and also change positions on the Figure of 8.

Explaining this model to grieving parents can help them recognize that at any given time, each partner may be responding to grief in ways that are very different from each other. One partner may be attempting to work through his or her grief by gaining information and using reason, while the other person in this relationship may be exploding with emotion. The model makes it easier to envision how the back and forth movement from the Head to the Gut can wear on a relationship. Drawing the model and explaining the process can be valuable in helping partners understand how their individual movements back and forth around this Figure of 8 can result in confusion and relationship struggles. Recognizing that at any given time each may be experiencing grief in a very different way can help partners refrain from judging and scolding each other for not grieving correctly.

3) Support, love and intimacy are essential when the relationship is threatened by grief. This is a time when both partners need to care for themselves and for each other and care deeply for their relationship. It is important that they recognize that in five years, only the two of them will know how much they have hurt through each step of the process. There is a deep, strange kind of intimacy in knowing that each has been so badly hurt and that together they have survived and their relationship has thrived. I believe, that even in the very beginning, when grief is raw, it is necessary to help partners recognize that in five years it will be only the two of them who will be able to look back and know how much love it took to help each other through the pain and the chaos, and in doing so will love each other all the more for having done so.

Portions of this article were first published on the blog The Indestructible Relationship.

 

A Time of Renewal and Transformation

A Time for Renewal and Transformation

 

This morning at dawn,

prodded by a magical stirring in the air,

I wandered a wooded area

to capture signs of spring I knew would be there.

The Geese are back, the Robins too;

Pussy willows? I saw a few.

Wild things need no temple; they need no bells to ring.

The breezes coming from the South

have told them it is spring.

In this outdoor cathedral, standing on holy ground

I marveled at the lessons of rebirth that I found.

The unborn beauty beneath the earth

again reminded me,

That life renews with joy, and peace, and immortality.

©Jane A. Simington PHD, 2014

 

 

Beginning To Be

It is I who must begin. . .

Only I can make that choice.
Right here and now, right where
I am.
Not excluding that I have
wounds and deep hurt,
and not by saying that things
do not concern me.

Yet, despite all of that I know that
until I make the conscious choice
to move forward, no one else
can be of much assistance.

I also know that when I do make
the choice to heal all that I need
will be placed in my path

Today, I make that choice.
Today I begin to be Me.
-Jane Simington, 2004

Copyright Dr. Jane A. Simington Ph. D. Taking Flight International

Stitched Together By Memories

 

Stitched Together By Memories

 



By Dr. Jane A Simington, Ph.D.

Mother’s quilt provides a warmth
Beyond its fiber down
Each night I’m wrapped in love,
Our family history, and my wedding gown

Mother cut with care her patterns
Each scrap to trim and save.
Just as she did with the numerous fabric remnants
That to her others gave.

Each patterned square reveals a story
Of our family’s growth and change.
It is far better than an album, for this memento speaks to me
Of many precious moments the camera did not see.

Part of each marriage ceremony was mother’s quilt-gift to the bride.
It makes me smile just to recall the sparkles in their eyes.
Lambs and teddy bears announced each baby’s birth,
And pink and green pajama scraps retell of Christmas mirth

When winter days were turning cold and all the canning done
Daddy would set the frame up firm, for quilting time had begun.
I’m so glad I still can hear them today, as I am wrapped
Inside this priceless heirloom that warms me as I nap.

There you are mom, I see you…among the colors bright,
In your kitchen dresses gingham aprons and your gowns for night.
They all remind of you and of the things that you’ve been through,
The smiles and tears, the strife, mostly of your teaching of the wrong and of the right.

My quilt would not have been the same without your understanding care,
My sorrow and joy are sewn in, and hemmed by time and prayer.
Our lives were joined by chance they say. I believe by choice, and this is my great pleasure,
For a quilter of love and story like you, is indeed a priceless treasure.

It matters not that my coverlet is frayed and has tiny little tears,
Years of life and warmth and time, have helped to put them there.
So I wrap myself inside your quilt and feel your love and care,
And dream of how I will impart, to those I leave behind, the strength and courage you have shared with so many of humankind.

©Dr Jane A Simington, Ph.D.