Our lives come into clearer focus as we compare them to our expectations of the holidays.
I have been reflecting on love and loss this holiday. So many people I know are experiencing one kind of loss or another. So many people are held strong by love.
Moving from ability to disability is almost inevitably perceived as loss initially. Whether, in balance, that is true or not depends on many things.
In response to the sense of loss there is always grief. Most of the time in addition to the grief what dominates is fear and its cousin, anger. What is lost is demanded back – status quo - life unchanged. The response is: “I don’t want to be different! I want things to be just as they were (whether I truly liked them that way or not). I want to hold on tight, clamp down on everything, and cling to what I have and my sense of separate self.
But sometimes when I work with people in the midst of loss what I witness is a profound and unexpected shift. Sometimes instead of finding fear and anger, I find a transcendent open-heartedness. The experience of loss is still there, loss of function, loss of ability, loss of a sense of place. The grief is still there. The holding tight is not.
What makes the difference? Each person’s response to life and loss is unique. Each circumstance can and should be witnessed and understood in its own particular way. But if there is a commonality in what I have seen, it is the realization of the interconnectedness of life. Instead of feeling isolated, alone and defenseless, through experiencing a loss a person may wake up to the fact that we are all part of a larger whole, inextricably interconnected.
For much of our lives we may assume we are alone. We may assume that what we do for and to ourselves has little or no impact on the rest of life. And that other than getting in our way, like a difficult boss, what other people do has little affect on us either. But this is simply inaccurate. Waking up to this awareness of interconnection can be an extraordinary gift. All of us are interconnected. And not just in an abstract metaphysical or religious sense or even in an economic one.
The way you treat me, the way you literally think about me, has a direct and measurable affect on my biology. My nervous system puts out various substances in response to your impact on me. If you are kind to me, my body relaxes, my blood pressure lowers, my stress hormones decrease. If you are unkind or judgmental, the opposite happens. If you smile in happiness, I smile in response. I share your happiness. Since my brain shapes itself based on my activities and my internal chemistry, both my brain and body change in response to what you and others do.
It’s a loop. What I do also directly affects your biology in exactly the same way, whether I am conscious of it or not. The truth is that I thrive when you thrive and you thrive when I thrive. If I suffer you suffer. If you suffer I suffer. Our brains come equipped with mirror neurons. Our mirror neurons function as they are named, as mirrors reflecting others’ experiences in us, changing our chemistry so that we feel the emotions and sensations that others are feeling.
And sometimes something happens that helps us know this. Sometimes that something is loss. The loss shocks us into awareness. We feel the connections and our hearts melt open. We know ourselves to be a part of everything and everyone we encounter.
In the midst of grave injury I have seen radiant peacefulness and even joy, a deep ease. The ease does not remove the grief or make light of it. It does not eradicate the injury. But the ease is palpable and with it comes the joy of knowing ourselves not to be alone, of knowing perhaps for the first time how deeply we are woven into life.
When someone who has been injured or suffered a loss opens into this awareness of connection, another curious thing happens. In our open heartedness our bodies respond to the people in the environment in which we are healing differently than our bodies would if they were closed and tight. And the people in that environment reciprocate. So many times I have seen health professionals, as well trained, professional and well meaning as they are, respond differently to a patient who greets them with an open heart, as opposed to one who meets them with anger.
If you want to explore interconnectedness, think about the effect on an interaction between a patient and his physical therapist as the patient is learning to walk. The therapist always will use his highest level of skill to teach and encourage the movements necessary and be as thoughtful and dispassionate as is humanly possible. But when the patient’s heart is opened the mirror neurons firing between the therapist and the patient operate differently. There is more harmony and ease for both the patient and the therapist. Harmony and ease support healing and learning. It’s inevitable. It’s neurochemistry.
Remember: When you thrive I thrive. When I thrive you thrive. May we all keep this in mind and reach out to one another with open hearts and a wish for the happiness and well-being of all.
Article Source: psychologytoday.com