Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reclaiming Life After Being Estranged - A Healing Story Part 1

One of the problems with being estranged is that you no longer live in the present.

You live in the past; reviewing the events of the past, trying to figure out what went wrong, what you could have done better, what you would change if you had a change and endlessly in a loop you go over and over again the events in your life that lead up to being estranged.

Or when not living in the past, you live in the future imagining happy reunions, or wondering about how you will react when and should and if the estranging adult child choses to return. What would you say, how might you feel, what would you think, what would you ask of the estranger?

So our present moments often become filled with memories, regrets about the past, sorrow created by the past, emptiness because of what has been taken from us in the past, and worry about what could or might be in the future.  

We look back or we look forward instead of seeing the present moment.  

It took me a long time to understand this.  I would say, "but I feel sad in the present moment."  Right!?  Have you been in this place, where you are sad right now and you think you are in the present?  I have been studying mindfulness for a year now and finally it dawned on me what has evaded my understanding for so long.

I am not sad in the present moment…I am sad because I am looking back at what I have missed out on and what has happened to me to get to this present moment.  The present moment is not making me feel sad. 

In the present moment I may be sitting in a comfortable chair drinking a cup of coffee looking out the window at the scenery. 
Does noticing the comfortable chair make me feel sad?
Does drinking the good cup of coffee make me feel sad? 
Does looking at the scenery make me feel sad?
NO!   It is my memories of the past that make me feel sad.   It is my thoughts about what might have been or could have been that make me sad.  It is where I am in relationship to my thoughts that is making me sad.

This past summer I was on an adventure with my sister exploring the Grand River in Ontario.     We stopped for picture opportunities along the length of the river and I had an amazing revelation.  It came about in the form of a simple conversation we were having about taking pictures.  It was an innocent conversation about why we take pictures and what captures our interest.  How the conversation went I no longer remember but the statement that has stuck with me ever since was this “when I have my camera in my hand I am more mindful of this moment in time; of what I am seeing and experiencing, and I look with an eye of expecting to find something wonderful to capture with my photograph, my mind does not stray to think about other things, my mind is in the moment”

It is interesting how powerful that statement has been for me. It opened up for me the opportunity to reflect that when I have a camera in my hand I see more!   When I am looking at a scene with my artistic photographer’s eye I focus differently on the image, what I see becomes central to moment. 

Without the camera I just see the scene and the input is a vague “that’s nice”.  With the camera ready to be focused on an image I take longer to look and see details.  I experience the contrasts, what is behind the object and how will that look as a back drop to the image.

For example; without a camera I see a pretty flower, I may even recognize what it is.  I notice the colour and the shape.  The image enters my mind “that is pretty” and I smile and I move on.  With a camera I still see a pretty flower, but now I wonder how can I take a good picture of the flower?  Will those leaves make a good back drop or do I need to get down on the ground and shoot upwards to capture the sky in the back ground?   Will that concrete wall make a good back drop if I change the focal point so the flower is crisp and clear but the background becomes hazy?  Do I want to change lenses and get an extreme close up so that the stamen and pistols are the central attraction of the picture or do I want a longer lens to bring the whole flower into the picture?  Deliberating about taking a picture causes me to notice more, to be more completely in the moment.  In concentrating on capturing that image I experience more of that moment. 

Another example, when I am on a hike without a camera in hand I often find my mind wandering thinking about other “stuff”, those ruminating thoughts that wander here and there and all too often lead back to the past.  I then get to the end of the hike and realize that I hardly noticed the beauty of the changing scenery around me.  Yes I walked but I was not participating in the moment of the walk.

With my camera in hand I look at each tree and stump and clump of foliage for the hidden magic.  I see the small mushrooms growing in crevasses in the wood.  I notice the tiny wildflower, almost hidden by last year’s mulching leaves.  I see the twisted trunks that look like embracing couples or those roots that bend around a rock in precarious support.  I see more with a camera in my hand because I look for more.

I look back and I realize that “camera in my hand” has been a saving grace for me in the years after being estranged.  With camera in hand I focused on the present moment.  I look at my collection of photos and I remember where I was and what I was doing because through the lens of my camera I was present in that moment.  The days for which I have no "photographic memory" I know were days filled with looking at the past with regrets or worrying about the future.

This past year I have been focusing a lot of my research reading on the nature of healing from emotional wounds.  Something I came across over and over again was the notion of “mindfulness”.   Mindfulness has become something that I do for myself.  I started to start each day by reading a message that I had written to myself:

“My intention is to pay attention to each and every moment of my life, non-judgmentally.
To be mindfully involved in purposeful action, focused attention, and grounded in the current experience.
To be filled with a boundless sense of curiosity.”

This became one of the first healing tools that I incorporated into my healing journey.  I found simple strategies that worked for me to bring my mind to focus on the NOW, on the PRESENT MOMENT.  I started to live my life as if I had a camera in my hand!

I have been working hard at “RE” learning how to live mindfully.  This lesson has been challenging for me.  I have been working diligently on this for just over a year now.  I am getting better!  I am faster at ending the ruminations when they start.  I still start every day with a reminder to remain in the moment.  I still read my “start the day with Mindfulness pages”.   I still rely on my mindfulness exercises to bring me back to the moment.  But the successes are starting to show.  

I enjoy each day “as it is” more, because I spend less time in the imaginary time frame of “what might have been”.  Oh yes I still have my “moments” when I flash back.  Yes I still have moments when the past haunts me, but I am getting better at closing the door on the past and returning to the present.  

When you, my dear reader, are ready to follow in your own healing journey I wish you the joy of those small successes that bring you back to living your own life fully once again.

Renate Dundys Marrello 
2015 – 01  01  

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  1. They were your kids, you raised them and now they're jerks. That's them. Don't make it you. Move on. Forget them. Pray for them. But move on in your life without them. You cannot force people to love you. They aren't thinking of you at all. They're selfish jerks. That is the hard cold reality.

  2. You wrote this so perfectly; it could have been me! My husband is a photographer and you have helped me to understand why he has such a more peaceful and tranquil life, grounded in the "present." He has described this sensation to me many times: the shade of the leaves as a pattern on the wall, sunlight crossing a walkway and shining on the water, a duck in flight, and many many more things like this. He lives "in the present." And I am still stuck in the past. If I forget about my son and live "in the present" then he will really be gone and dead to me. That belief might be a large part of my problem. I have to change, me myself and I.

    Love him from a distance and learn to let him go.