Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating.

The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather and says emphatically and slowly, “Follow me. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth.” 

And then, in an exaggerated fashion, the medical professional demonstrates, raising her shoulders with the inhalation and looking all better and grounded on each exhalation, as she tries to get the person in crisis in her office or at a crash scene, school, or hospital to mirror her.

Somehow, within three of these breaths, the person is miraculously back to normal.

Is that all there is?

Breath can do a lot more for you besides anxiety management. 

Breath control is the secret sauce of changing your emotional state. You can raise your basic energy level, focus your attention, or even feel more attuned with those around you by the breath pattern you adopt. 

Joining in with, or matching, another’s breath rhythm is so powerful that (for better or worse) it’s taught as a sales technique in methods like the controversial Neuro-Linguistic Programming of the 1970s. 

When invited during our Conductor training with coming up with a ritual for introducing THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience and drawing it to a distinct close, Pam Lewis suggested something she’s used quite a bit in her organizational consulting work in South Africa. Pam invites participants to breathe themselves “into” the circle of participation and then, to demarcate the return to everyday life, to breathe themselves “out” of the circle again. She demonstrated the circular gesture she used to reinforce the direction of breathing, emphasizing breath as our mode of exchange (as it is!) between ourselves and the world around us.

I have enjoyed teaching workshops to teachers and professionals who work with young people with special needs about how to use breath and yoga sequences that specifically either raise energy, focus attention, calm the spirit, or allow us to join with others more smoothly. In their struggle to do what a less-than-adaptive world asks of them, students with special needs, like all of us, can be out of sync with the demands of them. 

Think focus, energize, unify as well as calm. 

I have enjoyed teaching workshops to teachers and professionals who work with young people with special needs about how to use breath and yoga sequences that specifically either raise energy, focus attention, calm the spirit, or allow us to join with others more smoothly. In their struggle to do what a less-than-adaptive world asks of them, students with special needs, like all of us, can be out of sync with the demands of them.

Experiment, and you'll see.

If you start “playing” your breath, you quickly discover that it works a lot like an instrument! Your breath has:

  • different possibilities for proportions (duration) between inhalations and exhalations
  • sound and silence (how sounded or noiseless it is–you’ll know what I mean if you sleep next to someone who snores!)
  • placement in the body (from high in the throat, to middle of the chest, to low in the belly, and even toward the back of the body)
  • ease and resistance
  • regularity and erraticness
  • continuity and stoppage (moments in which you’re neither inhaling nor exhaling)

and 

  • channel, that old “in through the nose and out through the mouth.”

There are other dimensions to breath, of course, as well!

Though I don’t recommend it necessarily, you can give yourself something that mimics aspects of a panic attack by playing with a few of these variables. But you can also go beyond in through the nose, out through the mouth to relax. 

Simply by experimenting for yourself with just one of these dimensions of breath, you can bring calm to yourself or to someone else by lengthening the exhalations (even if through the nose), regularizing breathing (offering counted inhales and exhales), or focusing on breathing low into the belly.

The breath is a magnificent instrument for altering our state of being and for connecting us with others, as Pam showed by making breath the centerpiece of her ritual for joining a family prior to taking part in THE HUMAN JOURNEY.

The challenge of using breathing to help others is not what to do with it, but helping people feel comfortable enough socially to deal with its intimate power.

Invite gently.

An intimate experience, THE HUMAN JOURNEY is invitational, never pushing people in difficult circumstances to go beyond their comfort levels (including being as vulnerable as others are evidently willing to be). Rather, it is about creating a space to work with a family or group of people who, possibly stressed, guarded, and isolated from each other, can breathe across the space and find each other again–or perhaps for the first time.

Certification training to conduct THE HUMAN JOURNEY Experience will enable you to bring families and groups facing grief, serious illness, addiction, and other life transitions together. This tool sets them up to carry what they gained from the experience forward, into listening consistently to each other for values, supporting each other through loss and change from whatever each person’s spiritual perspectives may be, and finding meaning through hard times.

We are doing a limited number of public Conductor Trainings during the year.

In just over a month, training will begin.

The 
time to register is actually now, as we limit spaces to allow for personal attention and mentoring. 

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died.

Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her family) for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations this summer. The punchline of the widely seen videotaped sketch was the Queen drawing a marmalade sandwich from out her handbag, the fearsome symbol, perhaps, of a woman’s greatest privacy. So that’s what’s inside the Queen! 

Of course, the public memorials also included other perishables, the mountains of flowers one might expect for a figure that a huge percentage of the country deeply loved as a mother or grandmother figure as well as, for some, a divine personage.

Royal Parks staff certainly knew they could not stop the placing of flowers, notes, stuffed animals (and especially Paddingtons) at this site of public grieving. Yet, within a few days after the Queen’s death, the Royal Parks organization requested people not leave marmalade sandwiches anymore at the Palace or Park, as they were not healthy for the wildlife who resided there (or who were attracted by smell or rumor to come) to consume.

It was a funny thing to do in the first place, to place marmalade sandwiches at the gates of the Palace. Yet it was also a beautiful gesture, a recognition of the Queen’s sense of humor and the sign of a commitment to remember it in connection with her.

I don’t have any way of knowing this for sure, but I have the feeling a good number of the sandwiches were left by adults on their own behalf rather than by parents. Whatever it was, it was a way of cementing in memory the playfulness of the Queen, of “construct[ing] a sense of enduring personhood,” in the words of Elizabeth Hallam and Jenny Hockey. 

The Handbag That Goes Along

I believe it was the recently deceased humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan who said that, far from being materialistic, loving things is a necessary condition for loving other people. Our attachments to objects cannot help but be about love. 

I thought about this when my beloved cousin Mickey, an irrepressible spirit even at 96 years old, died this month as well. No one knew whether it was just 100 or more of us who received every year birthday cards with greetings in Mickey’s telltale handwriting, adorned in exuberant musical notes. One of the cousins calculated that Mickey’s birthday cards, placed end to end, would cover four miles. A singer and lover of musical theatre, Mickey was willing to do whatever it took to bring joy to others. 

At her funeral service, we remembered her with another “perishable,” one of her favorite songs. Mickey’s children buried her with the handbag she could never be without, even in her hospital bed. 

Our love goes with her, even as the British may have placed their love at the gates of the Palace.

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes.

That’s part of the joy of being around children, watching new understandings transform their faces when they’ve discovered not everyone believes the same things about God, or their parents had embarrassing habits when they were kids, or their friends’ parents let them color on the walls. 

My teaching has mostly been of adults and I find it especially precious — perhaps because it’s rarer — to watch a big shift in perception happen with adults.

The kinds of shifts adults get seem to be of the fleeting, though recursive, kind. In my own experience, even when I suddenly see things in a wholly fresh way, the recognition might be gone again in an instant, and I’m back (despite my best intentions) in my habitual way of thinking.

And then I get to have the same “revelation” again some years later, in a kind of pleasant Groundhog Day reenactment.

In THE HUMAN JOURNEY (THJ) Conductor Trainings, there’s been one concept around which I’ve been particularly enjoying watching it take place.

Seeing the Big Shift During Conductor Training

That’s when we talk about framing our language and refer to the harder experiences of life not as “bad” nor as a “problem,” but rather as “hard to bear” or “painful.”

The need to start doing this comes up almost immediately in giving participants a THJ Experience, since the first activity for participants involves identifying the conditions into which each was born. Some of the Conditions might at first be universally regarded as tougher to bear – such as having a parent with a mental illness. Some seem on their face universally more pleasant, such as having dinner as a family every night. (Depends, of course.) And some seem more evidently to depend on the meaning the individual ascribes to the condition, being the oldest sibling, for example.

Perhaps “bad” and “painful” sound the same at first, but the distinction matters. When we label an event objectively bad, we resist and harden against it. That of course doesn’t change the event and it may contribute to making it even harder to bear!

But when we label it in terms of its effect on us (“hard to bear,” etc.), we acknowledge our difficulty without resisting what is happening, whether we want it to or not. Doing this may alter our black and white thinking about events, and our point of view at THJ is that it can make harder events actually easier to bear. If we can refrain from ascribing what seem like objective judgments to them, the hardest events of our lives — like watching a loved one die or reckoning with grief — can come with an acknowledgment of the pain involved but without the sense that “this shouldn’t be happening.” It is happening.

Our thinking, as revealed in our language, is so deeply embedded in us, though! THJ Conductor trainees tend to be sensitive souls, seekers of soul and peace and imbued with the desire to share their growth with others. And yet, and yet — it takes them a while before they stop returning to speaking of the hard things of life as “bad” and experience the conceptual leap that makes hard events just hard events, even though they’re painful.

It’s that understanding that we hope will widen participants’ eyes when they go through the toughest life experiences. It’s not that these things don’t happen. They’re not necessarily a “tragedy” and they break our hearts. That distinction may just be the thing that enables us to get through them.

They’re hard. We’ve gotten through hard times before. We just need to remember how.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Becoming the Witness

 

I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nadja Drost shared on Twitter — moving in part because of what it says about the power of witnessing another’s struggle.

A Bangladeshi man named Ripon appeared at Drost’s front stoop in New York City. While she did not recognize him, he clearly recognized her and called her by her first name. Now delivering food by bike in New York, Ripon had made the arduous journey across the Darién Gap, regarded as one of the most hazardous possible journeys in the world for migrants.

The Darién Gap stretches from Colombia to Panama, connecting South America to Central America. Migrants from Asia, Africa and other parts of the world cross the 66-mile jungle and subject themselves to robbery, starvation, and death in order to flee conditions in their home countries. Drost’s Pulitzer Prize was for a feature she had written about Cameroonian and Pakistani refugees and migrants whose best choice was to brave it in their quest to reach America.

Ripon, a political refugee who had received death threats in Bangladesh, had recognized Drost on the basis of a PBS series that followed up on the initial story. Here, she embedded with a group of migrants crossing the Darién, undergoing the same immediate conditions they did. The work she and her videographer, Bruno Federico, did allowed Ripon to convey to his relatives back home what he had undergone in the jungle, including having been robbed of everything by bandits and seeing the skeletons of prior migrants who did not make it.

Here are Drost and Federico on her stoop with Ripon pointing to his photo in the original story. (It’s the same photo, shown closer up, at the top of this email.)

What If?

As far as I know, Drost’s story produced neither asylum nor work for Ripon. It simply gave witness to what he underwent. 

Having someone take in your experience, really take it in, is a gift. 

So here’s an invitation to a perception experiment: What if this day your job was to bear witness to another’s experience, no matter what it may be? What array of consciousnesses are offering themselves to your witness over the course of this day?  

 

“ They all loved the experience, and commented after how they feel more connected with each other and how they understand each other a lot more.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways. 
 
I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and their “B” lists of friends. (The “B’s,” I guess, are the people they’d call if no one on the A list was available to come to the party or go out. There’s something vaguely disturbing about someone being on either list.)
 
Dating apps, of course, present candidates’ appearances as either a “swipe left” or a “swipe right.” Facebook itself came from Facemash, Mark Zuckerberg’s attempt, during his time as a student at Harvard, to develop an attractiveness rating system.
 
NPR broadcasted a long-form feature on a market researcher who decided to interview his wife about her “customer” satisfaction with him as a spouse and the areas in which he could be getting higher ratings. After all, he reasoned, why not use his well-honed professional tools to improve the “product” of which he was most proud, his relationship with his wife? 

Recently, I saw a different way of quantifying our relationships that I thought had more potential for a social good.

The Time You Spend is a Real Number

In these perhaps waning days of Twitter, Sahil Bloom plumbed a U.S. study of “American Time Use” to pull insights from some numbers themselves— the average amount of time Americans spend with those closest to them.
 
After the age of 20, just how much time do we who are Americans typically spend with our parents and siblings?
With our friends?
Our life partner?
Our children?
Co-workers?

It’s pretty stark when you look at a graph that plots, by age, to whom the hours go. 

After they’ve done the backbreaking work of raising us, we may only spend an average of an hour a day with parents and siblings. (I hear my mother’s voice: “It just isn’t fair, Sara.”)
 
After the age of 18, we spend significantly less time with friends. By the time we’re in our 30s, according to the survey, it’s less than an hour a day. 
 
It appears that, after our 30s, the time we would have spent with friends — and more — seems to go straight to time we spend with our partner, with whom we spend between 3 and 4 waking hours each day—that is, until our retirement years. If we’re still with our partner in our later 60s that amount of time rises precipitously.
 
Time with children? The time goes fast and then it’s really, really gone.
 
That leaves co-workers, whom we see about as much as (and sometimes more than) our life partners.
 
All of which begs the question — and circles us back to those darned “A” and “B” lists — to the degree you have some choice, is the time you’re spending in line with the various people in your life in line with consonant with just how important they are to you?
 
And, more to the point, are you making decisions about your time with the awareness that time flies, and eventually stops, for all of us?
 
Bloom’s very qualitative insights that he draws looking at the quantitative data remind us of this. They read less like truisms to ignore once you’ve seen the chart with your own eyes:

“Family time is limited—cherish it.

Friend time is limited—Embrace friendship breadth, but focus on depth.

Partner time is significant—never settle.

Children time is precious—be present.

Coworker time is significant—find [ones who energize you].

Alone time is highest—love yourself.”
 
Bloom’s analysis of the American Time Use study telescopes time so that we see it from birth to our 80s. This is how we, as a society, live; this is likely how we ourselves live.

Becoming conscious that we will never have more, or even as much, time with the people we care most about, how are we making decisions today?

Helped me remember what is important in life.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my life to know? (Granted, that would have to be a really, really important question.)

I now know things about people who have been important to me that I didn’t know while they were alive — about a mental illness, for example, or a key relationship they had had. Had I sat with them and asked meaningful questions, I would have opened up a really important part of their lives and we would have had that intimacy between us.

Your knowing the pang of that eternal wondering can be a spur to your thinking ahead about the mystery inhabiting the people you love who are still here. It’s probably a good thing that that mystery is never going to be entirely penetrable — would you really want it to be? — but there are things you know you wonder now, and now is the time for you to find your moment, and the right way, to pop your question. 

 

What keeps us from asking real questions of those we love?

If you haven’t already popped your question, you may have a “good” reason.

Maybe …

You’re afraid of the answer you might get. (It can’t be worse than the answer that’s lurking around in your head.) 

You feel as though you don’t know how or when, or whether it’s even okay, to pose the question. (You can warm up to it; you don’t have to ask in one perfectly worded way.) 

You’re afraid of saying the wrong thing as you ask. (If it’s that awkward to ask, your family member will see you floundering and will become unusually patient. 😉 )

The intimacy of the question feels a bit much. (So take it in stages.)

You feel as though you’re in too much pain yourself. (Focusing outside yourself is actually going to help.) 

 

The question is a gift to the person you love.

Your mother-in-law longs to be known. Your irascible cousin is actually just as tender inside as you are. Your buddy has no one else to tell. 

The question you form in your heart, the one that will help you understand how they experience or have experienced the world, is the one they long to hear. And it’s the one you’ll be glad you asked while you’re both still around.

Truly, just about everyone loves to talk about themselves. And once you let them know it’s okay for them to take up space, you’ll learn a lot more than you thought you would. 

I’ll tell you a story.

When my mother’s breast cancer returned, already advanced by the time it was detected, she, my father, and I went shoe-shopping (yes, that’s what we did — let me tell you about a good pair of shoes). At one moment, my father strayed up ahead, perhaps seeing something in another shop window. 

As my mother and I walked more slowly behind, I thought of something I knew I’d wonder about her, a woman about whom people first would remember how well she was always “put together.”

Early in feminism’s second wave, my mother invented a job for herself, one that had started on a volunteer basis but eventually led her to earn more than my father did as a faculty member. She wore snazzy tailored outfits to work. 

I wanted to know how she related to her own appearance – not from a position of vanity, but for the advantages it may have given her in life or how it had shaped her worldview. She had banked so much on that. 

So I popped the question, “Mom, how do you think your life might have been different if you hadn’t been born pretty?”

She stopped in her tracks, turned her gaze on me, and spoke uncharacteristically sharply. “Who says I’m pretty?” We had never discussed this directly before, I’d just assumed it. 

After she died a few months later, thinking of her as having overcome a sense of not being pretty, rather than simply banking directly on her confidence in it, has given me an entirely different way of understanding my mother’s drive.

I’m so glad I asked. 

 

A good question can make a complex answer easy. 

It can be asked at such a time, and in such a way, that there’s room for the person to think through their answer. (You’re leaving about 10 times more space for them to answer than you’re ordinarily comfortable with.)

The answer is something that, with just a little bit of stretch, they would want to tell you.

You’re framing the question that you’ve already done some a bit of the thinking for them but are leaving room for their own self-definition and self-discovery. 

It all comes, I believe, down to a single über-question

 

What is it like to be you? 

Make your question about their experience

About how they have perceived a hard decision or moment in their lives —not just what happened, but how and why it happened. 

And remember, above all, to ask your question in such a way that “yes” or “no” cannot be the answer to it. 

 

What does it take to be a good popper of questions? 

Imagination, Empathy, and Humility — not necessarily in that order. 

The best journalists and interviewers know how to pose questions that reveal the soul, the story underneath the story that is first told. 

They start with imagination. They believe there’s something there to be discovered and they believe that because they’ve imagined the possibilities. 

Interviewers on long-form programs or for feature stories in print pose their questions in a fundamental spirit of appreciating the other’s humanness. They ask their questions in such a way that, whatever the answer might be, it will be understood. They ask questions in ways that avoid objectifying. Rather than “How could you have made such a decision?” they ask, “What was going on inside you as you made your decision to …?” That’s empathy

And they appreciate that they do not know the answer, that that answer is the other person’s own to share (or not to), and that, indeed, if they can only pay quiet attention, the other person may teach them the very question they should have asked. That’s humility.

 

The most important part of daring to pop: your self-preparation

Formulating your question.

Trying to see and hear your question from the other person’s perspective.

And, above all, quieting yourself. Emptying yourself of your preference for one answer or another, or for putting too quickly their answer into a box of your own crafting. 

And then seizing the moment. 

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

The Paradox of Anticipatory Grief

How do you both love someone and grieve them while they’re still here, either physically or mentally (or both)?

This is the paradox of anticipatory grief, what you feel when:

  • You know your child is going to die at some point of the illness with which she was born, but somehow she manages to hang on. You don’t know why you can’t protect her from what the treatments, as well as the disease, are doing to her or how you’ll manage when she’s gone.
  • Your stepfather who adopted and loved you is losing the mental sharpness he always drew on to put you in the wrong during arguments. You’d rather have the him you remember than the softened personality that early dementia has given him.
  • You miss your career in financial services but you couldn’t hand the woman who raised you to a stranger’s care, especially when the cancer has advanced and weakened her. Yet you can’t help missing the variety and social contact of the life you were living before and wonder if you’ll be able to pick up where you left off. At night sometimes, even though you want your old life back, you know it will be entirely different without your mother to check in with at the end of a long day.
  • You live far away from your best buddy, who now has a life-limiting disease. Though you fly out as often as pandemic conditions make seem reasonable, you recognize, accurately, that every time you fly out again after these meaningful weekends together could be your last opportunity to see him. And that it’s unlikely you’ll make that trip together to Alaska now.

If Anticipatory Grief is Real, Why Haven't I Heard About It Before?

Even most hospices haven’t come to terms with what it means to serve family members experiencing anticipatory grief.

  • For one, this kind of grief is messy! It deals with living relationships (ack!)
  • It’s not a great fit with the way hospice psychosocial staffs are organized in before-death and after-death teams. Dealing with it effectively requires additional staff resources and allocations to an already-stretched budget.
  • And it can take hold in all kinds of situations besides the relatively immediate end of life—from dementia care to cancer treatments to borrowed time with a child who was predicted to die two years ago.

Yet public awareness of anticipatory grief is growing, and it appears to me to be coming from the growing national focus on family caregivers and the need to address the overwhelm they experience.

I predict you’ll only hear more about it, as our population ages, with generations of fewer caregivers adopting a greater share of the burden of care for their elders, and as we live longer with diseases that in the past might have killed us.

The Sweetness of Now

It wasn’t long ago that I was thinking about my own aging and mortality and felt a rush of anxiety.

“Not enough time left! Too much still to get done.”

And then it came to me with the surprising power of one of those realizations that may even have come before: No amount of time you’ve been granted on Earth is enough, if you’re not using each day you have to live. In effect, you will have already lost — now —the life you were so afraid of losing at some point in the future.

It is the same in loving someone you are already losing. (As beings who die, we are always already losing each other and yet are called to love anyway.) Though you are losing them now, you must love them now.

And the best thing to do, perhaps, is to live the relationship, both as it is, and with the sweetness of its long depth, now, as fully as possible.

The Celebration of Relationship: 100 Years with Tata

As a portrayal of a beautiful celebration of love in the midst of grief, I want to recommend to you the film 100 Days with Tata, a beautiful treatment of the relationship between actor-singer Miguel Ángel Muñoz and Luisa Cantero, the 95-year-old great-great-aunt who helped raised him. During the pandemic, Muñoz moves in to take care of her and becomes more aware of her declining mental as well as physical function, as well as of the debilitating effects of caregiving in general, much less during a pandemic in a tiny apartment. It’s in Spanish (with English subtitles) on Netflix.

The film has been called a love letter to the woman he called Tata and to the shared zaniness, expressiveness, and affection of their lifelong relationship. Muñoz celebrates Tata as the most important person in his life, even making a daily Instagram show with her to give encouragement to others during the pandemic while keeping her as mentally bright and playful as possible. Privately for the camera, he shares his grief, restlessness, frustration, and fear that are not in conflict with — but simply beside — everything he has with his Tata.

Where the Conversation is Going

Though it has been used in many other contexts since then, THE HUMAN JOURNEY was developed as a response to families’ needs when they know loss is on its way.
 
It’s not unusual in these situations for each member to dissolve into their own grief and pain, making care, medical decision-making, and mutual support more difficult.
 
Very gently, THJ opens each person to expressing what is important to them, flexibly adopting each other’s perspectives, and finding meaning in their challenging circumstances.

We are changing the conversation around anticipatory grief. Join us for one of our upcoming trainings to do a world of good.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Searching for the Right Words: You, Too, Can Write a Sympathy Card

The number of those jumping a plane for a far-off continent, rather than just write the sympathy card, is anyone’s guess. Tasks that come readily to those who enjoy tooling around with the written word may be terrifying and paralyzing to those who … don’t.

Lots of people suffer quietly from “sympathy anxiety.” They freeze in place as they think, “I might say something that, God forbid, worsens their pain! I’d best say nothing.”

And, likely, even more people suffer from writing anxiety — about writing just about anything. They tell themselves, “Maybe she’ll understand I’m just not a writer, or not the kind of person who knows what to say, even on happy occasions. Maybe it’ll be okay if I just re-emerge once she doesn’t need me to say something wise or comforting.”

By the time you multiple your sympathy and writing anxieties against each other, you’re up a tree, crouched in a nook with your pant hems higher than the tops of your socks.

Me, I like to write. I don’t do it quickly, perhaps because I get hamstrung by some weird concept of perfectionism. Maybe it’s that same perfectionism that, for you, keeps you from writing at all.

So, I’ll tell you what I tell myself.

Get over it.

The person in mourning really isn’t looking at you. And they’re not depending on your note to get them over the entire hump of their grief, just to acknowledge the weight of this loss with some sacrifice of time and heart of your own.

So I thought I’d offer, for anyone who struggles for any reason with this, some ideas that might help when you need and want to bring comfort on paper to those you care about at an impossibly hard time in their lives.

Because the momentousness of their loss is worth your sitting with it, too.

Why the actual note

When people are in the early phase of grief, the big thing they’re missing is so obvious we can overlook it.  It is the physical presence of the one they love. Grievers are suddenly landed in a new reality, one in which they can’t:

  • hear in real time the voice that somehow always implied a smile;
  • hold the arthritic hand whose miraculous smoothness they always marveled at underneath their caress; or
  • rest their head in the doughy lap of a grandparent munching microwave popcorn over them without regard for what gets into their hair.

They miss the physicality, the embodiedness of the one they love.

How about I start with a text? ...

A text or email are way better than nothing, and are useful to get word quickly to someone once you hear of a death.

But please don’t leave it at that! Again, you’ll miss an important opportunity to “re-presence” the person who died in a way that only something put to paper seems to do. If you want to bring as much comfort as you can to others who are ripped open by grief, write by hand.

Like the loved one herself had been, a card or personal letter is physical. It has heft, sound, tactility.

When you recall how their mother’s heel always hit the step up as she came in from the garage, and you listened for it, even as you were rehearsing in the makeshift band studio their house had back in high school, your letter rustles.

When, grinning, you bring to mind their stories of how their best work friend’s shirt always popped the same button without his knowing, your letter has weight in the hand, fragility, texture.

Like the hundreds or thousands of times they saw the one they cared about, they can return to your card over and over again during the early days, weeks, and months of loss for fresh portions of comfort. Your note has presence.

Many people don’t like sharing their handwriting, just like they don’t like taking their socks off in a workshop. It’s just a little personal. But the person who grieves is in that raw state — where the mythical perfection of your vanity just doesn’t matter. And when you share your cryptic or embarrassingly childlike handwriting, you’re entering into the intimate experience of grief.

Finally, some tips

One of the things that, I would guess, make writers good sympathy card authors is something that’s available to everyone. They notice things and they’re not afraid to write about what they notice. All of this takes place before ever putting ink to paper.

How did the man’s wife always slip away from the table when the conversation turned to something that interested her less?

What adjectives did the young girl seem so often to use when she described her grandfather to you?

How did the man and his dad spend their time together, even if you know about it solely from stories over drinks?

Just by noting the habitual, you’re re-summoning the life of the person who died, bringing to mind memories that re-conjure and comfort.

  • The person who died had qualities that appeared over and over again, that were part of their character.
  • They did certain things over and over again, that became habits or gestures.
  • They enjoyed certain things repeatedly, becoming part of the trail of love with which they honored the world.

Giving words to the habitual is a deep way of re-presencing the one who left.

Consider including:

  • Words that give a feeling for the legacy of the person – a memory that will stay with you, or, if you didn’t know the person, a sense of their legacy as it lives on in the person grieving.
  • A sense of the enduring or eternal qualities the person represents for you (e.g., thinking of others first, doing the honorable thing, making the most of any situation, ensuring that everyone felt welcome).
  • Your wishes for comfort, peace, the resolution of difficult feelings in time (if you were close to the person experiencing the loss), while recognizing that all of these things will take real time.
  • Subsequent cards or notes, sent awhile after the initial one. Grief carries on. It will be something very special for the griever if you observe the anniversary of their loved one’s death. But you don’t have to wait that long either. Most of the attention mourners get is in the first month after a loss. Grief resolves way after that. Stay with the person as grief continues to be the big thing in their lives. Let them know they continue to be in your thoughts.

And remember, you don’t have to wait until their person dies! When you know the person is seriously ill, you can send notes of strength and reminders to take care. Anticipatory grief is a “thing.”

The best sympathy cards reflect:

  • Your having sprung into action: not waiting to write once you hear the news.
  • Your having, at the same time, slowed down once you began to write so that you have sat with the person who died, the griever, and yourself. Bring all of them into your heart. DWELL with them. See what comes up. Keep the writing, though, off yourself, and your own experiences with grief.
  • Sensory descriptions of the qualities you associate with the person who died that truly distinguish them from others. Sometimes a subset of the quality works better than the big category. Kindness? (Readiness to take others under their wing without lording it over them.) Sense of humor? (Punning.) Love for animals? (That time he gently squeezed the bunny to the other side of the chain-link fence when an enthusiastic Labrador Retriever frightened him into it.)
  • Your sticking with it.

I didn’t make it easy for you, did I? It’s not supposed to be easy. Just know your note will always be remembered as a true gift of your heart at a time of real need in someone else’s.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

The Strong, Silent Types Who Go on THE HUMAN JOURNEY®

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® seems like less of a lift at first for women than for men.

It’s a truism that, among our participants, the women of the family, typically the matriarchs, are the ones who get the process of gathering the family to take part in motion: in practice, they tend to be the Conductor’s partner in making it all happen.
 
So you would think that the women are the ones whom the process really serves.
 
But is THE HUMAN JOURNEY® really a “woman thing”? Or for people who like talking about feelings in general?

The Guinea Pig Who Wouldn’t Play

Back in the days when the concept for THJ was new, I began testing parts of the design with friends over dinner. Virtually everyone I knew was game to take part, except one good friend, whom I’ll call Ansel.
 
“You want me to do that feelings game?” he said (I thought somewhat accusingly). “Absolutely not.”
 
Naturally, I was intrigued. Asking Ansel why not would have been too direct.
 
So I asked what would be the conditions under which he might agree to take part. I thought about his mother in Philadelphia, who had recently started showing signs of mental changes. Ansel had been making more frequent trips back to check on her.
 
He hesitated.
 
So I let it be more specific, “What if your mother were seriously ill and wanted you and your brothers to do this with her? Would you agree then?”
 
In an instant, the answer was yes.

Matriarchs Rule. AND There are Surprises.

When THJ was ready to play-test with full families, I recruited in houses of worship.

The first volunteer was this birdlike powerhouse of a woman, a stalwart in the Catholic church, who gathered everyone in her family and invited me to Sunday dinner, too.

Seated at the table, it looked as though it was clearly the women’s job to talk to me, as a visitor.

In this southwestern suburb of Chicago, the oldest man of the family, close to 80, and his broad-shouldered stepson-in-law did most of the talking, to each other, through dinner, largely about matters of sports and engineering. This stepfather had fixed an elegant salmon, while his wife — the kind of mother you don’t refuse when she tells you this Sunday dinner a visitor is coming over and you had better do what she says — had prepared the wholesome side dishes, including a crunchy raw broccoli salad. All good brain food. The women made small talk with me.

They hadn’t needed to ask me to dinner in addition to having me over to test THE HUMAN JOURNEY® with them those years ago.

But they were a religious family and hospitality, I guessed, was part of how they did things. We would have dinner and then we would settle into the living room to dig in, to see how the structure of THJ would take a family of a second husband and wife close to 80, her three middle-yeared daughters, two single, one married, and their son-in-law, on a journey of discovery of the ingredients that had formed them prior to birth, the choices they had made in adulthood that had carved out their characters, and the will they had to scythe out a new path into a shared future.

Why were the four women slack-jawed by the time the evening was over?

Did it have anything to do with what the laconic octagenerian — perhaps not one for therapy, long intimate talks with his wife or stepdaughters, or extended out-loud reflections — was sharing?

How, when he was grieving his first wife, still having to go to work each day in the greeting-card shop he owned, he was able to heal by helping others select the right card and, at the register, to be a patient listener to the tales of love, relationship, and, occasionally, loss they wanted to share with him?

Or was it the how he was sharing it, seemingly without concern for the time he was taking, the personal discoveries he was making, or the rapt engagement of his family?

The structure of THJ, the ground rules of the experience, and the presence of an outside “Conductor” — a stranger to him — of the Journey opened out the way for him, I was guessing — and for his family. I suspected there would be further questions posed to him as he and his wife got ready for bed that night or as he and his stepdaughters cleared the table together the following Sunday evening.

That Sunday night was the beginning of a new way for the family to see him and each other, the start of new questions and fresh answers, and a different way of walking together on THE HUMAN JOURNEY®.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

What Can Still Happen After 45 Years of Marriage (Keep Listening!)

It’s stunning, what creating a special time, place, and occasion can do to help people focus.

In the held space of a THJ Experience, participants seem primed to pay particular attention. A single line can shine a prism on the whole world of a relationship — and, for that very reason, it can also contain new light for that relationship. In THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience, a few words can just pop out. In an instant, everyone recognizes that’s “it,” the roadmap ahead for the relationship, even in a present that feels completely in flux.
 
I once read we have a likelihood only  slightly better than chance of predicting correctly what our family members might say in a new situation. The Newlywed Game, that popular television game show that ran on and off for more than 50 years, made much of this. It turns out married couples are not intimate enough to know just about everything about their spouse! On the show, sometimes they did, and — very often — they didn’t.
 
And that may not improve much over time. It’s a shock to discover that the person you thought you knew — that very common phrase among spouses who are contemplating or have been asked for a divorce — makes decisions on a very different basis than you thought possible, after one year together, 10, or 50.
 
Or that the child who came out of your very body, who seemed outwardly to reject every religious value you’d tried so hard to teach him, actually has an inner life that, to your surprise, sounds rather like your own.
 
But with THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, a profound understanding of what makes a family member tick comes out — the inner life that they never realized you didn’t know, or had perhaps thought you’d never accept.
 
And the benefit that understanding confers for the family as whole is a lasting one. You hear them afresh – and can re-commit to them to sustain hard times.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® with a Family in the Pandemic’s Flux

Mary and Edward had been married 45 years when they, along with Nick and Patty, their older son and daughter-in-law, and their daughter Andrea, who was returning in her 30s to college, sat down with our Conductor to participate in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, perhaps skeptical that they might gain anything that might help them grow as a family in 2020.
 
Pandemic conditions made it not an easy time for anyone. Mary had lost her job as an administrator at a local law firm; Edward was unused to the impingement on his privacy as his rather-older-than-traditional-college-aged daughter returned home to pursue her coursework via Zoom. Finally, Edward felt, the kids had flown the nest and he was able to spread out his computer- and gadget-assembly hobbies in her former bedroom; with Andrea’s return, he felt he had one more woman in the house judging how he spent his downtime.
 
And all were worried about Mary’s mother, in her late 80s, living a thousand miles away. Though Natalie was a feisty, spirited woman, they weren’t going to be able to check in on her till a vaccine would come out if they wanted to keep her safe, much less themselves.
 
On some level, Mary and Edward’s marriage was traditional. If they disagreed, he would do something that put her down, more or less subtly. Rather than suffer further humiliation, Mary would back away and withdraw into herself. Edward would lord his triumph over her. The pattern made both kids, Nick and Andrea, sick.

“I Thought I Knew What You Meant, and Then I Stopped Listening”

In THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, participants share, in a variety of ways, how their lives have taken shape. At a critical moment in the THJ Experience, each person hears another participant’s reflection about the meaning of one of those sharings for her.
 
It was Edward’s turn to reflect for Mary. It won’t surprise you that Edward was unable to reflect on Mary’s experience on her own terms. Instead, he had “phoned in” his listening. But THE HUMAN JOURNEY’s structure allowed Mary to define her own experience.
 
Our Conductor told us what happened: “Mary let Edward know, as politely as she could, that, while his sense of her feeling was correct, his idea about its meaning was not. She was standing up for herself.  He had listened selectively, highlighting familiar parts of her family history without picking up on a very painful insight that working with the prompt had elicited for her.”

The “kids” were astonished hearing their mother stand up for herself … and by what their father said next. 

The One-Liner That Told the Whole Story

The line told the whole story. How easy it is to treat one’s longtime spouse as finished goods. To go to sleep on the relationship itself, especially in a marriage 45 years in the making. To imagine the future as simply an extension of the past.
 
In THE  HUMAN JOURNEY®, the joyful, connected future we move groups toward is not necessarily a predictable extension of the past. Rather, it is a future of their highest intentions. It acknowledges where they have been while structuring their growing commitments for the future.

How beneficial for families who somehow have been unable to hold a vision of the future in which:

They can still be strong as a unit, even without their beloved parent.

They can support their family member in recovery with actions that help on his terms rather than enable him; or

They reckon with a life-altering change in their mobility or memory to design a future that can hold it all, both the more and the less pleasant.

 

 

Join us to provide this transformational experience for families undergoing transition and loss. You’ll bring them a deeper sense of commitment and increased ability to weather the life’s changes.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Leave It at the Door

You likely care about someone who is, or will be, grieving. I’d like you to give you some thoughts about how to help.

Please have a look at this note a school librarian found outside her front door or slipped underneath. Whose day wouldn’t a letter like that make?

Reginae’s letter got me to thinking about the skills people need in order to be with those who are grieving.

In the grief workshops I do for organizations, part of what I teach is how to be a presence who is not trying to mitigate, fix, or remove others’ grief, but rather a container that helps them bear it.

This is essentially practicing a way to be there usefully rather than harmfully.

Having thought about Reginae’s gesture, I’m going to add a new practice.

In a way, it’s how also to not be there, at least in terms of creating social obligation for someone who, grieving, has very little energy to give back.

Reginae—the girl who wrote this love letter to her school librarian—sealed it in an envelope, tucked it under the welcome mat or slipped it under the office door, then ran like the dickens!

Reginae’s got a basic skill going we all could learn from.

Leaving It at the Door

Normally, when we give, we do so as part of a larger social contract that involves reciprocity. Someone gives us a compliment, we say something pleasing in return.

But when someone’s energy is siphoned into grieving, ordinary social reciprocity is simply not possible for a very long time. As you may have experienced yourself, when you’re grieving, you may not have the energy or the perspective even to ask how your friend or colleague is in return.

So another key skill for us to get better at when we’re trying to support someone who’s grieving is suspending any expectations of reciprocity in friendships for whatever time it takes for someone to come back and do the “work” of friendship again — including reaching out, offering invitations, listening, offering support, being available for shared fun.

We need to learn to leave it at the door ... and run.

In Indian, Indonesian, and Puerto Rican cultures, gifts are customarily opened away from guests — in part to save face for the receiver. With the common practice in the United States of expecting a reaction from a gift or gesture at the time it is given, it’s worth our taking a second look at the benefits of simply … leaving it at the door.

Let's Make It Practical.

You make an offer in a firm, non-asking way. (The most they should have to say back is “no.”)

I’ll be dropping off a complete supper for you and the family Friday night at 5:30; all you’ll need to do is warm it up in the microwave.

I’m going to bring fresh flowers every week this month unless you tell me to stop.

I’m going to come pick you up for lunch on Thursday. It’s my treat.

I’m picking you up for a weekend at my house. Pack a book.

I’ve got an appointment for you for a massage at my favorite massage therapist’s. Does Saturday at 1:00 work or do you need a different time?

I’ve been wanting to try this gentle yoga class. How about I pick you up at 6:00 and we can do it together?

Why It Can Be Better Not to Ask

Some people helping the grieving tend to ask for a lot of affirmation: Am I giving you what you need? Am I doing it right?

Or worse, they proffer the ever-present, “Let me know how I can help” or “I’m here if you need anything.”

They put the burden on the griever to recognize what they need when they are already numb, depleted, or beyond the ability to put feelings into words.

If a griever is even able to name what they need, they then have to determine how to ask for it and face the risk of naming a need, only to have the person say no. That’s a lot of work when you can’t think.

Refrain from putting them in that position.

Instead, just drop off:

A baker’s dozen of bagels.
A selection of candles.
Regular notes of love and support with the assurance that no reply is expected.  
A basket of healthy snacks.
A scented eye pillow or fleece throw blanket.
A beautiful journal.
A photo frame.
Food. Food. Food.
A phone call every other day, without fail, at 7:00 p.m. A voicemail message that expresses caring and “no need to call back.”
Notice of a tree planted or a star named.
A basket of extra-special foods or foods traditional to the griever’s culture.
A plant that needs very little maintenance with super-simple instructions.
A beautiful set of thank-you notes, consistent with the person’s taste, for them to use in writing thank-you’s.

Bath salts or a diffuser and essential oils in a scents you know the person likes.

Do not forget chocolate!

What do all these things have in common? They take time and consideration — all of which is done in your own time, without asking any of the energy or time of the griever. 

In other words, just don't make them come to the door.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

When the Child Gets the Grown-Ups’ Act Together

Painting by Alice Pike Barney, n.d.

The Child Gets the Adults Into Shape

Eleven-year-old Oliver had seen it all: the terse words exchanged by his mother and his adult stepbrother Lucas, who seemed to haplessly back himself into one fix after another. 

There were the experiments with drugs, though thankfully nothing too serious at this point.

The fathering of a baby with a young woman who didn’t seem to know all she was getting into.

A series of challenges in launching into a career that held any promise.

Oliver had caught way more than the adults thought he was capable of.
 
He’d also watched his mother’s teenage natural son, James, the one she’d brought with her into the marriage to Oliver’s father. 

James never bothered to conceal his irritation with his stepbrother’s shenanigans. James had sometimes told Oliver that, had Lucas been his mother’s full child, she would have prevented this kind of behavior from ever having had a chance to develop.
 
Oliver had had it better than either of his half-siblings had. At least he was living with both his parents and, though they may have issues with other members of their blended family, everyone was crazy for him.

Can I Play, Too?

When our Conductor invited the adult members of this family to participate in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, Oliver asked whether he could participate, too. She considered the question: the THJ Experience was designed with adults and mature adolescents more in mind. Oliver was only 11.

On the other hand, he was clearly an “old soul,” observant, wise, and engaged. So she agreed, curious how an 11-year-old would take on the THJ Experience. And, she reasoned, he’d always have the freedom to duck out if he got bored or sleepy or would rather read in his room.
 
But Oliver didn’t duck out, he stayed. And, though she offered her help, he didn’t need any more guidance than the adults. Indeed, Oliver participated fully in THE HUMAN JOURNEY® almost to the end, when sleepiness overtook him.

But, just as you may have done when your parents were involved in something juicy, he stayed awake in his bedroom and craned his ears to listen in to the voices of his parents and half-siblings. He heard the sharing, the relieved laughter, and the descending tones that come into adults’ voices when they’re starting to wrap up an encounter.
 
So he knew exactly when the closing of the THJ Experience was rolling into motion, and he padded back into the middle of it to be able to wrap up with the rest of his family.

A Promise That Goes on the Fridge

Although he was the only one in bare feet, he engaged as seriously as the rest in forming the commitments to others in his family that would take them into a clearer and closer future together. And he was elated, as the family envisioned a richer, more positive future together, when his half-brother, Lucas, who had been struggling to show up for others in the family, committed to spending regular time each week with his “little guy.”
 
We’ve been learning some things recently from Oliver and from some other very young people taking part in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®—and that is, first, that many of them can handle it! 

And that their presence has a positive effect on the adults. Adults as well as children experience challenges paying attention; they too can start suddenly itching for a snack. The children who can stay with it inspire the adults, too. 

Children With Wrinkles

I sometimes call adults “children with wrinkles.” The THJ Conductor saw that Oliver’s presence changed everything for the older members of his family. Children need us to be responsible, thoughtful, and open-hearted. They expect us to keep our promises. Oliver’s presence pressed Lucas into behaving as a full adult perhaps because he knew what his little half-brother needed of him.

It’s one thing to say something to another person in private, one on one. It’s quite another to make a vow to another in the presence of others. (That’s one reason that wedding ceremonies and certain legal documents have witnesses.) Lucas’s promise to Oliver is held by the entire family in THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience. 

You don’t have to have a wise child around to have a successful THJ Experience! The THJ Conductor, though a “child with wrinkles,” performs similar function as the child in helping everyone toward their highest selves. At a moment of family stress, such as when anticipating a loss or making sense of sudden change, the Conductor holds the space that brings everyone in the party both the wisdom and the high expectations of a child.

Join us to provide this transformational experience for families undergoing transition and loss. You’ll bring them a deeper sense of commitment and increased ability to weather the life’s changes. 

 

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Alan M. Schneider, 1925 – 2022

When my father died two weeks ago, on February 23rd, in addition to his human grandchildren and a couple of “grand-dogs,” he also left a “grand-invention,” THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, his daughter’s progeny.
 
I’ve never thought to give him credit for it in public. Instead, in podcast interviews and other settings, I’ve pointed to the exposure I received as a child to figures such as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross through my mother’s work as well as to the importance of my time with my mother before her 2005 death in hospice.
 
Today, two weeks after Alan’s death, his influence suddenly seems as readily apparent as hers.
 
On the face of it, THJ couldn’t be farther from my father’s field of endeavor; he was a rocket scientist who taught at the University of California, San Diego.

By contrast, THJ is an invention in the realm of human dynamics and development, a process for human groups in life crisis that draws on my own background in the arts and social sciences. It certainly doesn’t stem directly from physics, mathematics, or even everyday spatial reasoning.
 
Yet THJ has everything to do with Alan’s influence. Two weeks into remembering him after he became, in his own former words, “no longer on this planet,” it all feels a direct path from him to THE HUMAN JOURNEY®. Yesterday, I was stunned to come across an article of his called “Navigation for Rendezvous in Space,” published the year before I was born.
 
What a metaphor for the facilitation, or navigation, THJ Conductors do of groups whose members are trying to find each other in space and time and under duress. Granted, in aerospace, “rendezvous” is actually a technical term that can refer to the meeting of a vehicle launched from Earth and a satellite. Yet our struggle to find each other, as well as the Conductor’s challenge of turning us toward each other under stress, feels strikingly the same.

As the sometimes prototypical engineer, replete with 1950s heavy-rimmed glasses and a breast-pocket full of pens, Alan was a tinkerer in systems. He upheld always finding “the right tool for the job” as he sought out the ideal in every object, process, and habit. (Yes, it could be exhausting living with him.)  One pen was clearly more precisely attuned than another to the task of creating a certain kind of diagram. There was such a thing as a perfect cup of tea, and you could lose your desire for it by the time he stopped fussing over its preparation. When high-performance clothing first came out, he was all over it (though he failed to see the inefficiencies in having a travel vest with so many pockets that he needed a diagram to know where he’d put all his essentials).
 
Like Alan, I was interested in systems and in the interactions among elements — or in my case, people. Only I did that in a subfield of cultural anthropology. As I strove to create a tool that would address the problems not of orbital systems but of family systems that needed a process for for bringing people together, I too tinkered endlessly during playtesting with process.

There was the overarching narrative.

There was the interaction among “bodies,” not in space but here on the ground.

There was the mode of “navigation” and rightsizing the role of the Conductor.

There was backstopping for the things that could go off course so that the “rendezvous” could be successful no matter what participants did with it.
 
One “vest pocket” after another until I was satisfied.
 
As my father grew older, he moved from thinking about launching rockets to exploring the human applications of what he knew, focusing on bioengineering projects to help stroke patients with limb movement and patients undergoing cardiac surgery with blood pressure regulation. He had a profound and boundless empathy for anyone who suffered. THJ teaches empathy and the ability to shift perspective when other members of your group are also enduring their own suffering.
 
A week ago, it was hard to know how to move from personal grief into work designed to support those undergoing grief and loss. This week it seems less remote. While, in addition to leading the THJ trainings, I have been teaching workshops on how frontline staff can help those who are grieving while they themselves may be grieving, I am now discovering another layer — grieving myself while teaching the grieving to support the grieving.

Circles within circles within circles — like the orbits within my father’s gyroscope, which I now possess and stare at.
 
I don’t know if Alan could have seen these direct lines of succession. I now do. Finding “Navigation for Rendezvous in Space” helps me see this gift from him to where it’s headed next.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Hospice Volunteers Are Back! The Rush to Hire, the Rush to Take Part

It’s a truism that the pandemic has had people dealing with loss, bereavement, and fear of loss in a mass—and massive—way.

What may be surprising is how many young people are now thinking about their own and others’ mortality, sometimes outstripping their elders’ focus on the subject. In one U.K. study during COVID, members of Gen Z became four times readier than their parents to make a bucket list or to generate conversations about death and dying with members of their families. 

As hospice volunteer programs begin to welcome volunteers for in-person visits again, many prospective, including younger, volunteers are thinking about where to apply their talents. You may be one of them, wondering what you’ll get to do, after you complete hospice volunteer training.

You’ll find your efforts as a volunteer are appreciated in hospice perhaps more than in any other field, as volunteers have always had a privileged position in hospice culture. Medicare even requires that 5% of care hours be provided by volunteers as an integral member of the care team.

Are hospice volunteer trainings back on?

During the pandemic, hospice staff members were able to have much more limited contact with patients. Only the medical teams had direct contact, while chaplains and social workers had to do their work at a distance (a painful reality for groups who so deeply care about their patients). Hospices didn’t send out volunteers to patients’ homes and may have suspended new volunteer recruitment and training. Even so, some hospice volunteers remained quite active as they made masks and gift baskets and supported families and the goals of the hospice from a distance.

Prior to the pandemic, there were more than 400,000 trained hospice volunteers in the United States. As hospices open to new volunteers again, they face a more pressing need for them than ever before. In these last two years, some staff members quit hospice work entirely, concerned about preserving their family members’ health during the pandemic. Those who remain are more tightly strapped for time than ever.

Unique among hospice care providers, volunteers can spend real time with the patient, rather than having to rush off to the next one. Because of this, they are the only ones, sometimes, who learn the patients’ and the family members’ stories or sit vigil with the patient and family.

What do hospice volunteers get to do?

Many hospices are open to bringing in volunteers’ unique talents, whether that be singing or playing music, bringing in their therapy dogs, or helping with community education efforts.

The range of activities volunteers perform depends on the hospice. For volunteers who have direct contact with the patient and family, they may offer an ear or a quiet presence, or may read aloud to the patient. They may give much-needed respite to a family member who has not been able to leave the house to do grocery shopping or to have a doctor’s or beauty shop appointment. Or they may do the things that the family most needs, from walking the dog to helping with shopping or household chores.

They may also further the goals of the hospice by helping in community education efforts, such as the Mobile Education Unit that Minnesota-based Moments Hospice used to bring hospice education out to the community. Amplifying staff efforts with volunteer staffing has helped further hospice education and the goal of bringing understanding of the hospice approach out into the community. As community members become more comfortable with the notion of hospice, they will also choose hospice earlier. Why does this matter? Because the earlier in their disease process that patients elect hospice, the better the quality of care, and thus quality of life, they are able to have.

They may help staff a hospice gift shop whose proceeds help fund the hospice’s services, or offer administrative support in the office. They may create memorial teddy bears, using fabric from a loved one’s favorite garment, while enjoying the camaraderie they gain from other compassionate craftspeople. Some volunteers are permitted to assist in bereavement support groups.

Volunteers can offer support for the annual events that hospices typically offer to honor those who have died over the past year. Many hospices offer a Tree of Lights ceremony during the holidays to honor those who have died. Valley Hospice of Wheeling, West Virginia has its own Butterfly Garden and holds a Memorial Butterfly Release as a form of remembrance and comfort for family members.

Some volunteers continue to work on the bereavement side, making bereavement phone calls, checking in on family members who have suffered a recent loss and seeing what resources they might need.

In recent years there’s been great interest in the hospice world in supporting veterans with the unique needs they have at end of life. Volunteers who are themselves veterans may have the opportunity to make a special connection working with a fellow veteran, including pinning their patient in a special recognition ceremony to honor their service and sacrifice.

Even young people can participate through the Hospice Dreamcatchers Foundation, an organization currently operating in 15 states that pairs high school students with people in hospice care and helps them fulfill an end-of-life wish. The Dreamcatchers Foundation has fulfilled wishes to take a final turn on the dance floor, to have a birthday party for the first time, to attend a car show, or to ride in a helicopter.

What does hospice volunteer training involve?

To get to participate in any of these activities – or to suggest activities of your own to the hospice’s volunteer coordinator – you must first complete hospice volunteer training, which is commonly about 16 hours long, and includes the ethical, psychological, physical, and practical dimensions of working with those with terminal illness and their family members. Individual hospices have a lot of freedom to handle these expectations in their own style. Remember, as hospices are considering you as a volunteer, you are also interviewing and considering them as an organization whose model of care you want to support with your time, compassion, and good judgment.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® trains both professionals and compassionate citizens to guide families through our transformational signature experience of belonging, meaning-making, and deep listening. Our training schedule is here. We also welcome you to share your needs for your hospice or professional practice with us in a conversation.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

The Accidental Grief Coach

Life coaches tend to focus on the positive and on the future, on where their clients want to go from here. Coaches may want to see a client through a career change, a nutritional goal, or a commitment to becoming a better girl- or boyfriend. For a variety of reasons, some therapists even re-train because they, too, want to be present- and future-directed in their work and to have shorter-term or more practical engagements with their clients. 

Yet it’s hard right now only to be practical and future-oriented. Over the past two years in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of deaths have occurred that can either be attributed to COVID directly or as a secondary effect, i.e., because of strain on the healthcare system or people’s reluctance to get customary treatment during a surge. As a result, a huge portion of the population is grieving one or more losses of family members or close friends. And many, if not all, of coaches’ clients are grieving the loss of a job or a business, the ability to engage in unfettered social relations, the postponement of a lifecycle celebration, or their perception of life as it once was. As a coach, you can’t pretend these losses away.

As the their industry rebounds in 2022 from the pandemic, coaches now need to be prepared to be dealing with clients who are grieving. That is simply where clients are.

In this newsletter, we focus on two questions: 

  1. Does the fact of so many people dealing with grief mean that the traditional forward-focus of the coach and client’s work together is delayed or held back until the grief can be “dealt with”?
  2. What does a life coach need to incorporate in order to work effectively with a client who is grieving?

Grief Actually Can Help the Goal- and Future-Focus of Coaching

Helping clients drop down into their childhood selves—the ones who played without inhibition, dreamt of a future without thinking of reasons why not, and were confident in their gifts—can hold the key to a future next step. Working with a client’s stories and memories can bring you the nugget of an image, a glimmer of a vision that can take you both forward.

Try relaxing some of your training or inclination toward forward movement and goal orientation to allow grieving to take place on its own schedule. You may have just the opportunity you need to find that kernel that gives the client that sense of propulsion and specificity for what comes next. Coming to a plan doesn’t necessarily erase the grief; rather, it allows their best life, in Lois Tonkin’s phrase, to “grow bigger around it.”

So elicit, with patience, the stories of the person’s relationship with the person who died, of the long-dreamt-of restaurant business that didn’t survive the pandemic, of the long-distance relationship that really had promise. Listen for and draw out the joys, the dreams, the visions, and the gifts. Stories about grief are stories about love—and love is your material for helping them set goals.

When the Life Coach Becomes a Grief Coach

The tools that will be most useful to you are those that involve LESS active doing! Keep in mind the things you already know:

That grief takes time to heal and does so on its own schedule and in its own way. If you can give up some of your goal orientation, you will be free of a battle that grief would win anyway!

That people have a hard time concentrating and remembering things when they’re grieving. Set goals appropriate for someone whose mind is not operating at its best and celebrate the small wins.

That social support helps! (Just drop us a note if you’d like to receive our “Creature Comforts Checklist” to help your client build social support among those closest to them.) You may not be accustomed to incorporating or getting to know the family and friends of your direct client. However, if they’re dealing with grief, possibly the best resource they have are the people who care about them, even if they are grieving, too.

In short, you don’t have to retrain entirely in order to support a life coaching client who’s grieving. Just begin by incorporating sensible tools while recognizing the gifts of grief, even for charting a client’s positive future. 

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® provides professionals of many disciplines with skills to bring social support to life transitions. Consider hopping aboard the next “train”!

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Death Doula Training Isn’t the “End” of It

Once you complete any death doula training you need, and you hang out your shingle to offer your services to the public, you begin to realize that what you call yourself matters.

You may have noticed the array of names for how providers in your field refer to themselves. They may be “death doulas,” “end of life doulas,” “death midwives,” or “end of life coaches.” If they focus on the journey of the family after the death of the patient, they may go by “bereavement midwives” or “grief doulas” (or any of the possible variations thereof!).

Consider the feeling, or connotation, each of these terms conveys. Each of the professional terms emerges from a different history. The term “doula” actually comes from a Greek root, meaning a woman who serves. Naturally, doulas are now both female and male, and we generally associate the term with those who help expectant mothers through labor and childbirth. Some male doulas are wittily called “dude-las.”

It matters what you call yourself, not only for how you think about your profession, but for bringing the right people your way, the people who want what you offer.

"Death Doula" vs. "Death Midwife"

In the world of labor and birth, midwives are the ones who provide medical care, while doulas offer the expectant mother emotional, spiritual, and physical care. The role of professional birth doula was born when most births moved out of the home environment and into the world of hospitals, and as family members thus became both less involved and less knowledgeable about helping with births.

Similarly, as the act of dying moved out of the home, having someone who knew how to accompany and to provide comfort and support to them and their families became central to the dying experience.

The choice between the terms “death doula” and “death midwife” conveys the subtlety of the difference between offering support and offering complete expertise across the transition. Some people who have a terminal condition may conceptualize what they need as support during a challenging time, while others consider their need to be having someone there who will accompany them on the complete journey of transition to whatever the other side holds. The term you choose should communicate well how you conceive of the services you offer.

By the same token, as you present your services to the public, you must decide whether it is “death” or “end of life” that your services center on. One advantage of a term such as “death doula,” as compared with “end of life doula,” is that it offers a clear mirror with the term “birth doula,” and, in a relatively young profession, helps educate those who may never have met—much less engaged the services of—a doula for their final period of life as to what you offer.

On the other hand, a variety of reasons may cause someone to prefer the term “end of life” to “death.” Perhaps it seems more positive, or more focused, like hospice philosophy in general, to enhancing the quality of someone’s final months, weeks, or days. Or perhaps using “end of life” enables the potential client to come to terms with the finality of their condition in a gentler fashion.   

Use the language your audience uses (not necessarily the term your death doula training used!)

We live in a culture that can be cagey about talking about death. Clearly, you’ve overcome enough of your own hesitation in order to enter this meaningful field. Of course, those you serve are facing their first death! Unlike you, they may not have given this stage of life much thought up to now, and are almost certainly approaching it with a complex mix of emotions, especially given that death feels pretty personal.
 
A reputable survey found that more people are electing to die at home than at any time since the early 1900s. And, by 2016, the number of those making the choice to die at home exceeded those dying in hospitals. The aging of our population is outstripping the younger people available to care for them, making becoming a death doula (or offering death doula training) a ripe field.
 
Pay attention to the words that your first clients are comfortable with and be willing to change your terminology to fit what your existing clients are telling you. You can adapt to a way of describing what you do that is informed by what you learn from your clients, even as their terminology changes with the times.

Incorporate your specialty as a tagline

If you offer special services such as massage or art therapy if there is an aspect of your work that you’d like to be expanding, you can emphasize that as a tagline on your website and business card, distinguishing yourself among the expanding field of those who work with the dying and their families.

Our own specialty at THE HUMAN JOURNEY® is training end-of-life doulas (or whatever name you end up choosing for yourself!) and others who work with families at points of transition to guide them in our structured process that promotes long-lasting belonging, the meaning-making that can ease anticipatory grief and bereavement, and communication about the values that matter. We’d love to share it with you.

 

Pastoral Care and Counseling in the Realm of Grief

Christians might call those who visit families going through grief or life challenges their pastoral care team or visitation ministry. Jewish congregations might call their congregational practice of visiting the sick or in need Bikur Cholim. Compassionate members of congregations and spiritual groups across Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, as well as other groups, also visit those who are anticipating or grieving a loss. Across all religions, illness, death, and grieving are central to the practice. Pastoral care and counseling should address grief and loss, as many turn to faith to answer these issues.

Whatever you call those members of your congregation who offer compassion and pastoral care to the those who are wrestling with difficult news or life situations, they are are a godsend to clergy who use them well.

Do you recognize yourself in the stereotype of the minister or rabbi, or imam who feels as though he or she must answer every call for pastoral care rather than to delegate?

Keep in mind that, just because a congregational member asks for you, that doesn’t mean you need to be the one to provide the care they need. The actual solution that answers what they need may be different from what they’re able to identify as the solution they want.

Do you have the resources to implement pastoral care and counseling on your own?

For a moment, compare the solution you’ve come up with—that it has to be you who makes every visit—with a saying in the consulting world. There, it’s a maxim that what the client identifies as their need is very often not the actual need, when you consider what actually works. We are notoriously bad at identifying our own solutions.

It’s natural for most congregation members to believe that pastoral care and counseling need to come from “the top,” from the person who is their spiritual leader. However, a good part of spiritual care—much as clergy may hate to admit it—actually comes from  being there with a quiet and supportive presence, something that some members of your congregation may already be providing through a bereavement ministry or care ministry. Perhaps that care could be provided more systematically by such a group that already exists by investing time in its professional development. Or if, as many rabbis and pastors say, your congregation’s care ministry has gone unnurtured for some time, maybe it is time to go ahead and ask the people you keep meaning to ask to be part of that care ministry.

It takes discipline to examine your own belief about whether you think that pastoral care can only come from you. Have you not, after all, devoted your life to religious care, leadership, and education in part because you want to foster a caring community within your midst? Consider that it may be your job to cultivate the spiritual gifts of your community by multiplying your efforts at least as much as to provide pastoral counseling directly.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

What Pastoral Training Doesn’t Teach About Grief and Loss

As a pastor, assisting the bereaved offers an important means to touch the lives of those experiencing the loss of a loved one. Indeed, regardless of denomination, this can often be one of the most essential roles that religious institutions can play in the lives of their congregants. In times of mourning, people experience grief in different ways, and grievers require particular sensitivity. The suffering deserve connection and comfort. However, what pastoral training doesn’t teach about grief and loss is essential for understanding how to best serve those in mourning.

Comforting and offering direction to those who grieve is of utmost importance. It is also some of the most challenging work a pastor can take on, and can be exhausting and disheartening. It can also leave pastors feeling underprepared.

In this post, we tackle what pastoral training doesn’t teach about grief and loss, and ways in which people can confront loss through the establishment of purpose and meaning.

Pastoral Training's Approach to Grief and Loss Today

After many months of a pandemic, many if not most of your congregants are experiencing grief in different and unexpected ways. Whether that is the loss of a job or home, a feeling of disconnection from friends, family, and communities, and especially the loss or altered lives of loved ones, grief has taken on myriad forms.

When many people haven’t even been able to be present with those they love who are sick or dying, the process of mourning has become even more fractured. What words can you offer someone who was unable to properly process the death of a loved one?

Pastoral training for grief and loss centers around the moments adjacent to death: the deathbed, the initial loss, the funeral. Yet the timeline of grief does not neatly fall into the same chain of events. Grief can often begin with a diagnosis, and reconciling a loss can ultimately take a lifetime. Anticipatory grief, as a loved one’s health shifts and worsens, or follows an unpredictable path, is critical to reckon with.

Because pastoral training around grief and loss centers on the moments around death, it neglects points during the cycle of grief that can offer opportunities for reconciling that loss. Unfortunately, once losses have been experienced without the proper attention at the right time, the event becomes more difficult to manage and process.

To effectively manage pastoral care for the dying, not just individuals, but the family system needs to be able to derive meaning from impending or past loss. While religion and spirituality may differ from one family member to the next, they are collectively experiencing many of their losses. If they can find meaning together, how much more effectively can they grow closer to each other in their spiritual lives? This is what pastoral training often doesn’t teach about grief and loss.

Yet, to find meaning, the right conversations need to be held at the right times, and with the right people there. Finding the right times to have family conversations is critical for establishing closure.

Helping Those Who Grieve Bring Meaning Forth From Loss

How you touch the lives of those who experience loss can define the ways in which people cope and ultimately provide much-needed, life-affirming care. Deriving meaning out of loss starts before death, and concludes long after. Mourning is a lifelong endeavor that requires a sensitive and perceptive approach.

Rather than focusing exclusively around the moments of death, pastoral care for the sick and dying can begin before death is even a certainty. During the final stages of life, it is often too late to have the important conversations around what one person means to another. The best conversations happen in the period before health takes a turn for the worse, while there is still time to express the things that people mean to each other. These moments are precious and often go neglected.

Starting Hard Conversations

It is important to have difficult conversations about death before it is too late. These often revolve around topics that are hard to bring up or talk about. What do you mean to me? What will you do when I am gone? Will you be able to make it without me?

These questions are hard to bring up, yet they’re at the top of everyone’s minds during the final stages of life. Answering these can provide closure and purpose – leaving them open-ended leads to longing, questioning, and uncertainty.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® is a grief and loss training and certification program designed to start these discussions. The THJ method is used by a variety of professions centered around loss – social workers, therapists, end-of-life workers, and counselors have all trained to use it with great effect. Because it specifically promotes discussion around spiritual matters, it serves as a method to share in meaning-making, allowing people to comfortably discuss grief, release the past, and perceive a positive future for themselves that can aid in recovery from grief.

Pastoral training around grief and loss focuses on the moments directly around death. While these moments may be the most painful and memorable, failing to have the right conversations beforehand can make the process of mourning much more prolonged and difficult to bear. Learning when to help the suffering, and whom to include, are as important as the act of care itself.

We welcome you to consider joining us for one of our upcoming THE HUMAN JOURNEY® trainings. Feel free to schedule a live demo with Founder Dr. Sara K. Schneider.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »
A woman in her 80s in bed with a woman a generation younger bending caringly over her. The implication is that the older woman hasn't been well and the younger woman is taking care of her.

What’s In Your Death Doula Bag? 3 Tools for End-of-Life Care

Tools of Comfort

An end-of-life doula is more than just a giver of care, but a provider of comfort. A death doula should carry things that help ease the dying person’s transition and keep the dying person and the family grounded.

Tools of comfort such as a candy bar, a portable speaker, or even a favorite movie may provide short-term pleasure or joy. A hair brush or lipstick can offer dignity to the frail. Religious texts or books of poems can provide a sense of purpose. Flowers can provide the elevation of beauty and remind the dying person of the love in which they are held.

Tools of Care

A death doula’s bag should contain practical items. such as first-aid supplies, pillows, lotions and creams, towels, and washcloths, provide supplementary care to the dying. Epsom salts, a footbath, and topical pain relief can ease minor aches and swelling. Tools of care are most critical during the transition phase, especially if the dying person is uncomfortable or in pain. You can’t take on the pain of another person, but you can help them bear it.

Tools of Legacy

One of the most important things you can offer the dying and the bereaved is a sense of closure. Our lives are not just a series of random occurrences without meaning – we develop important relationships that are worth sharing and preserving. Tools of legacy offer touchpoints for both the dying and the bereaved as they process this difficult life transition.

Many death doulas work with their clients to develop legacy items for family members using crafts like quilting, scrapbooking, or painting. Some will even write letters expressing their love and memories to the people they care for. These can provide powerful tethers, particularly when quality of life is at its highest.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® was designed as a means to spark conversation amidst despair, even among those reluctant to share their feelings. It takes the form of a board game, encouraging play as a means to discuss grief, letting go, and shared decision-making. While it isn’t required to fulfill your duties as a death doula, it offers a structured methodology for providing meaning in a person’s final days.

As an end-of-life doula, you understand how transformational death can be for families, friends, and loved ones. Your death doula bag should contain objects that help you transform mourning into meaning.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Where can you walk and walk and yet not get anywhere?

Labyrinths give insight and perspective.

You follow a path that may have lots of crooks along the way but which has no tricks, only the trek

Labyrinths render concrete that experience of surrendering yourself to the possibility of re-seeing. They are willingness embodied in earth architecture.
You start, at the mouth of the labyrinth, recognizing there’s something unfinished in you.
Eventually you get to the center. You wait. And then, armed with something, you return, re-tracing the way you came. There is no other way out.

Unlike a maze, the labyrinth isn’t designed to fool or frustrate you, only to keep you moving and to show you when to be still.
 
And retracing your steps, eventually you’re out.

Same path, different you. 

It’s what an old teacher of mine used to call “repetition with a difference.”
 
In THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, our game board is a stylized tabletop labyrinth that integrates with the card pattern and our proprietary group facilitation method. (We call it “Conducting.”)
 
The THJ® Labyrinth Board gives participants another way of seeing the map of their life experience and the way it criss-crosses that of those with whom they take THE HUMAN JOURNEY®.
 
It even works with remote Zoom participants, who may be in different parts of the city, country, or world. And people find, just as if they were walking it, that it gives them insight, perspective – and a way to find those things … together.

Come walk with us when you train to conduct THJ® for families and support groups.

There is Nothing so Wise as a Circle

There is nothing so wise as a circle.

What is the power of sitting in a circle, of breaking our very Western demand that one person be the focus of all the others?

From insisting that all the kids face the teacher, kindergarten classrooms have Circle Time, when community is emphasized and any issues that affect the group can be brought up.

From our face-front world, retreat center events conduct their events frequently in circles, and people jet or speed home, feeling they’ve communed with kindred spirits.

From the antagonistic, one against one (or many against many) world of street crime, young people may avoid incarceration in part by entering restorative justice circles, where they learn the power of speaking and being heard.

Even much leadership training breaks executives’ reticence down by placing them, too, in a circle formation. Despite their white-hot grip on their cell phones (which they may think invisible in a speaker-forward, kid-at-the-back-of-the-class formation) they must bare their hearts to the group … not through anything they say, but through their very positions, literally exposing the heart area to the whole group at once.

There is nowhere to hide in a circle.

There is also no way to dominate.

The circle demands that you show up, remembering that, as the saying goes, “You are not better than anyone, and no one is better than you.” The circle demands both radical courage and radical humility, the enactment of the noble belief that the singular human being is simultaneously everything and nothing.

In THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, whether our participants are facing the computer to participate with family or support group members from afar, or they are at bedside around a patient, in a traditional support-group circle, or around a dining or coffee table, the trained THJ® Conductor ensures their even participation, softening and equalizing the inevitable power plays, accreted baggage, and habitual ways of relating. With their skill (and yours with just eight hours of small group training), the power of the circle can bring its wisdom as they chart the future they want to have together.

In another post, we’ll share how the eternal form of the labyrinth — a very special kind of circle — found its way into THE HUMAN JOURNEY® … and how participants get themselves into … and out of it.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

What’s with The Hero’s Journey?

You may, as I have, noticed lately lots and lots of people connecting what they do with the “Hero’s Journey,” that famous archetypal story structure made famous by Joseph Campbell. In the past week alone, I’ve seen people hooking the Hero’s Journey up with everything from leadership training to how to network to strategies for getting through the pandemic. 

The Hero’s Journey has become the foundation of Hollywood films.

But that’s only because it already replicates what’s been happening in the human experience — way before films were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
 
The Hero’s Journey gives a name to an eternal structure for how our folk stories become satisfying to listen to as well as to live.
 
But today let’s get small.

Why is that word used so da– much?

There’s the the grief journey, the customer journey, the band named Journey, the Journey shoe brand, the Dodge Journey, the mental health journey, the parenting journey, even the Girl Scouts Journey.

The word is plum everywhere. And why?

Here’s my stab at it: It’s one of our root metaphors for what it is to “go” through life. To experience something in time. To be in one “place” at one point and at a different “place” at another.
 
The image of the journey gives spatial reference points to the fact that we feel we’re different after something momentous has happened or after we’ve “gone” through a key process or after our consciousness has “shifted” in some way.
 
“I’m in a different place now.”
“He’s in a better place.” (whether mentally or when some people respond to news of someone’s death)
 
Calling something a journey is a way of giving placefulness to time-based events that seem linked.
It’s a way of making real.
 
When I use the word “journey,” I’m always reminded of high-school French, where I learned we inherited the word in English from “journée,” that distance one could travel in a day’s time.
 
That linking of time and space. A way to see and regard the invisible that one feels. A way to make the living one does a thing.
 
Pretty good for one word.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Don’t Speak!

Hearken back to the 1994 Woody Allen film Bullets Over Broadway, set in the glamorous world of 1920s films (cigarette holder and all).

Late-career leading lady Helen (played by Dianne Wiest, who won an Oscar for this role) seduces the main character, a young playwright played by John Cusack.
 
Yet every time he tries to declare himself to her, Helen puts a halting finger to his lips and low-vibrates out the words, “Don’t … speak!” Here’s the scene. (Now, come back after, y’hear? There’s a reason I’m bringing it up.)
 
Helen’s proscription suggests words could only break the spell of the moment, even as needful as Cusack’s character, David, is of speaking.

Certain special words—“performative utterances”—actually have the power to accomplish something. If you’re in the right place, at the right time, with the right people, with the right intention, you can swear an oath. Or christen a ship. Or arrest someone.

 

 

Not speaking can be more powerful yet.

Think of the fierce gaze between expectant mother and father in the delivery room when the birth pangs are at their sharpest.
 
Or the glance of recognition across the aisle when you see the only other convulsed person movie theater who got the joke.
 
Or the silent holding of gaze and hands in the last moments of life.
 
It’s because not speaking is such a profound form of communicating and of knowing someone that in THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Conductor training, we teach you how to take support groups and families facing life challenges beyond words. Into the most powerful and memorable experiences of connection, support, and belonging.
 
We’d love for you to join us and make THE HUMAN JOURNEY® a regular tool you can offer those in your care. It’s not for every single group you work with. It’s for those families who don’t know what to say or how to start. For those for whom meaningful communication comes in many forms. For those who don’t yet know that they’re a family.
 
Join the growing group of THJ Authorized Conductors. We’ll be proud of the work you do.

The Embers of Love

Late in her life, my mother suddenly developed an interest in baseball. Yes, she rooted for the San Diego Padres, but what started to emerge was a substantial interest in the baseball players themselves.

“Isn’t he cute?” She gestured toward the TV screen. I hadn’t seen this coming.

“Cute as in you’d like to have him over for dinner, or cute as in you like l0oking at his backside?”

She merely smiled at me enigmatically, then turned her eyes back toward the TV.

When Marjorie died in 2005, I asked the funeral home to bury with her a pair of baseball earrings I had made for her — a baseball on one side, a bat on the other — so my love and hers (whatever her baseball obsession was really about) could travel with her.
 
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about how we hold others’ values, desires, and wishes for them, how they become residues of their life in us and travel with us back into life.
 
On New Year’s Eve, a brilliant U.S. representative lost his son to suicide.
 
At first, there was only the announcement that the 25-year-old had died. Then, a few days later, Tommy Raskin’s parents put out a beautiful tribute, with photos that helped tell the story, to the person who was their son. It is an example of how to hold in gratitude even our most terrible losses. You will find it a meditation on love in action.
 
The Raskins acknowledged their son had suffered from depression but did not make that, nor a sensational mention of suicide, the main thing about him.
 
The tribute to the remarkable soul they clearly felt privileged to parent for 25 years does not attempt to own Tommy, simply to be grateful for him. It sidesteps any dominant cultural taboo and prurient interest in, or shame about, suicide while acknowledging that depression sometimes kills.

Less than a week later, Rep. Raskin was under siege in the U.S. Capitol, trauma upon grief, with his daughter and a son-in-law, who had wanted to hang close with him, separated from him by insurrectionists. He has said in interviews, while placing his hand over his heart, that he felt his son with him the entire time, and it’s easy to see he meant that in a most visceral way. Tommy was in Jamie’s heart.
 
Tommy was his father’s pride and joy, a young man who shared many qualities and interests with his father. For a lesser couple than Tommy’s parents, his values and loves would have been easier to carry forward in their actions had, perhaps, they coincided with their own. From observing, however, the beauty of their actions in the three weeks since Tommy’s death, I have little doubt that this couple would have brought Tommy with them back into life, however much his values might have differed from theirs.
 
For us mortals, it’s harder to hear – and, under duress, to respect — our loved ones’ values when they are opposed to our own.  It is a great act of love to hear and to respect them anyway.
 
One of the outcomes of THE HUMAN JOURNEY® experience Conductors readily observe is how the experience supports family members to hear their loved one’s experience, wishes, and values in their own voice, whether or not they coincide with their own.

In a situation in which what patients want at end of life is different from what family members wished they wanted, THJ® can help them enact their loved ones’ wishes, granting them the great blessing of carrying forward the felt sense of their loved ones with them, into life.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Your Breath is a Testimony

“Your breath is a testimony,” tweeted Joél Leon, a Brooklyn-based poet a few days ago.
 
It’s one of those lines that hits, and hits deep. Especially when a lot is happening.
 
Just by living, by having a beating heart and a lifting breath, we are sacred witness at the same time to what goes on around us and to what happens within.
 
Our breath calls us to pay attention, to experience our aliveness. To not tune out because it’s too overwhelming or too painful or too confusing.

So what can we do, those of us who want to help others attend to their breath, to attend to the realities of their lives, if we hope to make paying attention more rewarding than tuning out?
 
For one, we can help them drop down and experience, rather than merely parrot, what is so much more than a truism — that what we tell ourselves about what is happening is an entirely different thing from what is actually happening.

  • What our five-year-old says happened between him and the other kids today at school may be the way he sees it, but we know it’s not what took place.
  • The causes of the life-threatening conditions so many have been facing in Texas may not be, right now, what they appear to be or than we can facilely say they are.
  • The automobile accident that takes two lives and causes untold pain to friends and family — likely for generations – feels “tragic.” Yet our calling it so may actually get in the way of our acting to improve the conditions that may have contributed to the accident. The very “story” may get in the way.

As we breathe, we offer witness to our being in time and we acknowledge our footing on a planet that also exists in time. We get clear of obfuscating tales about what is happening and move more directly into what is happening. We make contact with reality as fully as we can.
 
In THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience, our trained THJ Conductors help family members move into, and then beyond, their “stories” to hold them just a little more lightly. You can watch their beings lighten as this starts to happen—and you can see them free up to be more present to the others in their families. They move from isolation and private pain to a shared exhale, and the crisis they face becomes something they can handle – together. Join us to learn to conduct THJ®You’ll help families dealing with end of life, addiction, health or care transition, isolation, alienation, or crises of meaning.

Turning Listening on its Ear

With THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience, we try to make listening easier.

To things that one family member saw one way, and another … well, another way. To beliefs and values that are different … but worthy of respect. To unspeakables.

Our process teaches that kinda through the back door. And, indeed, we were inspired to work on this as a design problem largely because of having been in “the “good listener” (which can sometimes be code for “frustrated listener”) position … for years.
 
But, short of learning to conduct the THJ® process for others, there’s a lot you can do, one on one, in your own life, especially as you’re listening in challenging circumstances.
 
You know when you’re stuck. They’re telling a story they’ve told before, a thousand times. It’s painful, and they’ve got how they tell it down. Now you’re the one who’s listening to it. It’s like the story got stuck in Times Roman, with an occasional drop shadow.
 
The thing is, they’re stuck, too. Most of us haven’t realized there’s more than one font to set a story in — more than one genre in which that story can fit. We’ve only learned to tell it one way.
 
And then the gifts in that story get clogged up in there, too.
 
You can help them shift the story, bring in Optima or Constantia or Futura. Or at least get them started with Century Schoolbook.

You’d do it gently, with the same simple strategy we share when teaching “story-catching” (a fancy name for interviewing). You ask a question.

One that asks them to re-see the world as it was at that moment, not as they see it now. You find a place to ask to take a pause so you can reflect on what they’ve said, and then you offer a question—something that you sincerely, and out of love, want to know — and you may break them out of crusty narrator mode, and re-settle them in a fresh view.

  • “Can I ask you to give me a second? I want to just sit with what you’ve just shared.” You wait and you genuinely dig down for the question that’s about what it was like for them at the time of the original story. Ideally (but it takes practice), the question will invite not a yes or no answer, but one that evokes the sights, smells, and perceptions of that time.

 

  • “Do you think he was aware that you were in the room, singing to him?” (Not bad — it’s yes/no, and it asks about someone else, not the storyteller, but it’s going to lead to a descriptive answer anyway about what his face looked like, what the signs were, how they were positioned in the room, and other things you can follow up on.)
  • “What do you think you were successful in communicating to her?” (Depending on the context, could be good — it asks for a descriptive answer, and also draws the person toward an owning of their inner life at the key moment.)
  • “For you, what’s the most memorable word or sound or thing you saw that seems to encapsulate the whole thing, or that’s strongest for you?” (Again, depending on the context, could be good: it drops the person down into the world of the original story and moves a bit beyond extraneous language to the power of the moment.)

The sincere desire to make listening an act of gently offering a re-formatting of a story — as long as it is presented as a desire to understand, not to judge, control, or change — can unlock what’s in there, once it’s freed from genre. Or font.

That’s one way to make of listening a gift.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Which part of the groove you want them in

If you haven’t seen this video making the rounds already, I think you’d be glad you did. It’s of ballerina Marta C. González, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

(Rather than stay suspended in blissful reverie afterward, though, please come on back.)

 

 

 

(Ok, thanks.) Shot in 2019, this video has been getting wide airplay this week, and Alistair Macaulay, renowned former dance critic of the New York Times, has been digging into it. 

So I’m going to de-romanticize, but I promise a payoff. The video is actually a bit different from what it appears to be.

The young ballerina in it turns out to be a different dancer, Yuliana Lopatkina. 

On top of that, the ballet Lopatkina dances is not Swan Lake, but rather The Dying Swan. 

Even so, so much is clear to see from from watching Sra. González respond to Tchaikovsky as she does in the video.

If you are a therapist or a specialist in aging, you might see the known power of music to draw people with Alzheimer’s into expressiveness, to reduce agitation, to strengthen memories and language abilities, and to improve physiology. 

If you are an artist, you see an affirmation of the ennobling might of music and dance. You see the curvature of Sra. González’s refined hands, the exaltation in her chest, her clear sense of the proper way this movement had to be executed to be done right. The woman’s high standards are evident. 

As human beings, we see someone (whom otherwise we might have thought of as having lost what made her most essentially her) as a woman who has a thing to accomplish and a very specific way of doing it. It is that way, rather than the what, that captivates me. 

The music suggests to her something that must be done with a particular turn of the shoulder, inflection of the torso, and direction of attention — each of those things and no other. Her way is what we learn from her.

Indian teaching has a concept of something called samskaras, mental habits or “grooves” that we are more likely to fall into because we have been there before. We keep taking the wrong way home from a place we don’t go to often because we took that wrong left the last time, too. We reach for the chocolate at 3:00 p.m. because that’s what’s given us a jolt out of the funk (even if momentarily) before. 

And we see ourselves and our stories in fixed ways because we learn the genres, the choreography, early on.

Yet the happenings of our lives can be framed in infinite ways. 

Our job in life, if you’re interested in samskaras, is to soften our tendency to become slavish to these tendencies, to give ourselves choice rather than automaticity.

One of the things I always say now when training new Conductors of THE HUMAN JOURNEY® in helping families through life challenges is that this game-based process is designed to help people “hold their own stories a little more lightly, and others’ stories a little more tenderly.” In other words, to soften the grooves that may prevent one humanity’s touching another. 

How are people, in the midst of grief or sorrow or alienation, supposed to do that? By keeping the grooves that matter and softening the ones that don’t.

Much as we desperately want to romanticize the historical footage actually being of her, dancing the same choreography she’s showing us now, and of that choreography actually being Swan Lake, she’s not actually dancing the “real” Swan Lake. Indeed, despite the beautiful score, either one of them is doing actual Swan Lake choreography in this case. 

Yet, as an older woman, with the soundtrack in her ears, she is transcendently beautiful in what she’s doing.

Sra. González dances from her heart and with the exquisite technique she’s learned from years of training and love invested in her art form. She’s able applied what she knows in her bones to create a new dance, a new construction of the pieces of her experience, keeping the grooves that matter and softening the ones that don’t.

Join us to learn to conduct THE HUMAN JOURNEY®. 

How to be hospitable without guests

That’s what’s been on my mind since we’ve been quarantining.

The front door isn’t exactly open. But recently I’ve noticed something different in the public sphere, and it’s made me think about a broader form of hospitality.
 
Many more public figures I follow on social media are offering well wishes as the sacred holidays of others come up – in the terms that those groups would use for themselves, rather than as awkward outsiders.
 
A state governor, with almost 200,000 Twitter followers, wished “Eid Mubarak!” in late July in honor of the Muslims he serves. He is Jewish.
 
Another public official, who is Christian, included his millions of followers in offering “blessings of light, goodness, and prosperity” on the dawn of the Hindu holiday Diwali, which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness. (You may note the similarity in the celebration of light with holidays in other traditions.)
 
A former public official, now a popular pundit, made light play of Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, in a way that expressed affection for its traditions. His parents are Sikh and Hindu.

Even as more and more of us claim multiple cultures as our own, many of us too were raised in families that celebrated specific holidays, not some sort of generic or multiple “happy holidays.” And all it takes to call members of a culture by the names they would give themselves, and the general shape their religious or cultural lives take, is a few minutes on Google.
 
Indeed, even though we may sometimes get it wrong, we stand to learn some of the most important things about the other person we possibly could. 
 
With culturally appropriate wishes that refrain from otherizing those you encounter, and in much less time than it takes to clean the house and prepare a spread for 20 of your closest friends—you’ve laid out the red carpet for others and made the world a safer and more welcoming place to be human – in the so-particular way in which each of us is.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Who wants to be self-righteous?

One of the (gulp) many books I’ve wished I’d written myself is a little book of thought experiments called Astonish Yourself! by Roger-Pol Droit, whose playful activities expand our perception beyond the habitual.
 
In a period in which many of us are all too familiar with the four walls around us and maybe could use a little jostling of our perceptions, I thought you might enjoy playing, too, with a new thought experiment I sprang on the participants during a half-day PD workshop I just conducted for the National Association of Social Workers in Wisconsin. 

For this activity, you’ll need a pen and an index card or a stiff piece of paper.

First, put into a sentence the single spiritual belief you hold that for you is the most unshakeable.

Take an index card or stiff piece of paper, and fold it in half to make a table tent. write that belief above the fold, and then set up the table tent right in front of you. That belief you wrote should then appear upside down.

Next, you’ll read out loud, one at a time, a few of the beliefs listed below, each of which may be held by someone. You’ll read one, glance at your table tent, close your eyes, and just notice:

  • Does entertaining that belief cause your throat to tighten?
  • Does the ticker tape of your mind flash with, “Well, that’s just absurd!”?
  • Or do you have a moment of curiosity, something like, “I wonder whether you can believe that and also what I believe at the same time”?
  • Or perhaps of dizzying confusion?

Do this process with as many of the beliefs on the list below as you like.

The List

  1. It doesn’t matter whether you talk about one supreme God or multiple personal gods or goddesses; they’re the same thing.
  2. Suffering is there to teach us something.
  3. God has a physical form.
  4. My religion’s practices are preferred over conventional medicine.
  5. Men’s and women’s roles are divinely ordained to be different.
  6. We do good things just because they make us feel good. Nobody’s going to reward us for them.
  7. The chief thing wrong with us, and that leads to the wrong we do to each other, is ignorance.
  8. God takes deep interest in human affairs.
  9. Only natural forces, like evolution, are responsible for life on earth as we know it.
  10. There are no, and never have been any, incarnations of God.
  11. God ordains that women be modest.
  12. There is no true spirituality outside of a religious or spiritual community.
  13. Illness is caused by witchcraft.
  14. We owe a Supreme Power our worship.
  15. War is never spiritually or religiously justifiable.
  16. I revere nature as a central aspect of my belief system.
  17. All people pray to the same God, whether or not they use the same name for that God.
  18. As long as the men in my family are praying, the whole family is good.
  19. There is nothing after life on earth.
  20. Human beings have sinfulness in their nature.
  21. If the government leaves them alone, most businesses will do what is right.
  22. My social class is divinely ordained.
  23. Being sick is a particular opportunity for me to repent.
  24. Humankind will be saved by our own efforts, not by the intercession of a Supreme Being or by religious practices.
  25. The only thing I can improve is myself.
  26. My ancestors give me strength.
  27. If I didn’t read the Bible, it wouldn’t matter.
  28. The purpose of life is to earn as much as possible, so you can make the most of life.
  29. If a belief is proven by science, then it’s true.
  30. The world is purposely flawed, and it’s our job to help repair it.
  31. I pray for miracles.
  32. Mission work is an essential part of being a good member of my faith.
  33. We suffer because the cosmos is out of balance.
  34. You get what you deserve: if you do good, you get good; if you do bad, that’s what you get
  35. My belief system requires that I be engaged in the betterment of others’ conditions.
  36. What is right or wrong depends on what you believe.
  37. When people do evil things, they are punished in the afterlife.
  38. There is no such thing as a personal God, only an impersonal reality that does not care about what happens to us.
  39. You can be a member of your religious or spiritual tradition without doing any practices or rituals whatsoever.
  40. If I suffer, there must be a reason.
  41. I’ll be reincarnated because I clearly haven’t learned everything I need to yet.
  42. God loves us, whether or not we believe in God.

Debrief

Finally, notice any patterns in the reactions you had. Did you discover types of beliefs that are particularly threatening or, alternatively, affirming, or even exciting?

In the NASW workshop, we took a fourth, and, for the time being, final, step. We spent a few minutes looking at the beliefs we hold about our beliefs. This is where the real “action” may lie in terms of how we may discriminate against others’ world views (spiritually, politically, or otherwise). We may believe, for example

  • What I believe is the true way.  
  • My way of believing is the best way.  
  • Other people would sure be happier or better off if they believed the way I do.  
  • People who believe other than the way I do are underdeveloped or sadly deluded.  
  • People who have not adopted the vows I have taken are less likely to be happy or successful than I am. 
  • People who are part of my group have “got it” or are chosen.  
  • Religion has been responsible for so many deaths in history that I choose not to believe.

 How many of us had burning cheeks by the end? Possibly only those who in the moment recognized themselves. Thankfully, many of the people in the NASW workshop saw themselves in this reflection.

And two of those burning cheeks were mine.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

At the Reflecting Pool

Grief is intimate. But it is not private.
 
Tuesday, I was profoundly stirred by the memorial ceremony at the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which occurred as the official count of those who have died from the coronavirus topped an astronomical 400,000.

The ceremony took place at dusk, that haunting, liminal time of day, when day itself dies.

Its elements were as basic as can be.

A procession to the edge of the Reflecting Pool, transformed into a memorial site with light sculptures, each representing 1,000 lives lost to COVID.

An opening prayer.

A brief speech by an official.

From a singer, words and the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Another speech by an official. 

An invitation to silent prayer, accompanied by the Cohen “Hallelujah.”

A pause, featuring two still couples, public figures, continuing to gaze at the Reflecting Pool.

A recession. 

And then it was over, after maybe 15 minutes. Hardly an earth-shattering program.

But that’s all it took, in its elegance and holiness, to consecrate the deaths of the many who have died since last March and to hold us all as collective mourners. Deaths, many of which have occurred under conditions that no one would ever want for someone they love, separated from anyone they know, family members’ only hope of contact the hand of a stranger, a nurse, engulfed in protective gear.
 
It mattered to have a national ceremony to acknowledge our collective loss.

Of the 400,000 who have died of coronavirus alone in the past year, they have left perhaps 4 million primary mourners.

And then perhaps 40 million people touched by their grief.
 
The astronomical societal impact of that loss will mark us for generations. And that number does not take into account those who have died of non-COVID causes yet who still may have had no family member or friend at their bedside or those who had funerals disfigured by the realities posed by COVID.
 
That brief and thoughtfully devised ceremony, on Inauguration Eve, allowed us all to enter the space of recognized mourners, those who will need care around us, spiritual healing, and community.

As the incoming First and Second Couples turned their backs from the camera to face the Reflecting Pool, they stood in for us as mourners and allowed us to feel all we have lost and all we would have wanted for our dead.
 
And, as heart-stirring as her singing was, the words Detroit-area nurse Lorri Marie Key shared before singing “Amazing Grace” may have offered as much comfort.

Key reflected on the heartbreak that she and her fellow medical staff have felt as their patients died. She gave grieving families and friends the “key” piece of information, that someone who cared deeply was there at the crucial time and that their loved one’s death was marked in the heart of someone who was there.
 
And, in addressing us as “fellow citizens,” Cardinal Gregory called us to the collectiveness of mourning, that the lives that have been lost belong to us all.

The popular phrase “Together, Apart” has seemed a little disingenuous, a little too easy, for the time we are living in. 

On the eve of the inauguration, I felt it to be true.


Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

How Will You Know That Tool is Actually On Your Belt?

There's a way a tool feels when it shapes to your intention.

I’m in a hurry.
 
On the rare occasions I actually cook something, I want to know there will be a meal at some point. (This is especially true since my cooking motions are unpracticed and it takes me twice as long as the recipe predicts!)
 
When I’m training helping professionals, I want to know they’ll come away with something that can fundamentally change how they serve others, something that will multiply the impact of what I bring them. 
 
The people who sign up to become Conductors of THE HUMAN JOURNEY® are like this, too.

They tend also to be busy professional people — with credentials in social work, counseling, divinity, nursing, care management, and other fields focused on the service of others. Like us, they’re concerned about the amount of loss, grief, confusion, and alienation they’re seeing in their work, which has been growing exponentially in this past year.
 
They’re motivated by making a difference.

They’re not going to learn to do that by only sitting and staring at a series of slides. They don’t have time to “learn” another tool that’s going to sit on a shelf or in a drawer.

 

The pandemic changed how we teach — for the better.

Occasioned by the pandemic, our movement not only to an online training modality but also to a three-session training format — one that gets Conductors up and running right away and then keeps refining their skills — has been game-changing. 

With the Conductor’s Kits shipped and the Conductor’s Guidebooks made available in advance, and a scaffolded process by which our trainees actually get to conduct THE HUMAN JOURNEY® twice during the two interstitial weeks of our training, our new training format has turned out to be exactly the right way to get people up and running in their settings — whether they be senior living, recovery centers, hospices, congregational settings, therapists’ offices, or social service settings.
 
They get specific coaching on what they actually did during those two Journeys. 

And we’re improving our model even more for 2021.

We’ve added a one-month-out, private session with me — THJ’s inventor and founder — that allows you, once you’ve started implementing THJ on a regular basis, to identify where your own questions, triumphs, and growth edges are. It’s like having a custom toolbelt sized for you and your practice context.  

We’d love to suit you up and ensure you grow your capacity to help groups and families. Consider joining a growing body of those using THE HUMAN JOURNEY® to support those at points of crisis or inflection in their lives.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

THJ Spills the Beans

It’s time to answer a question we get a lot about THE HUMAN JOURNEY®, especially when we tell people they can think of it as a work of “applied theatre.”

Oh! (People say.)
Do people play characters then?
Is it like role-play?

In a word (five, really, but I’ve got the British on my mind), it’s actually just the opposite.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® carefully invites people to remove their masks — especially the ones they had forgotten they were wearing and the ones others have placed on their faces for them.

For a couple of hours that have lasting impact, it frees fathers of the father role, enabling sons to see their fathers as fallible, flawed men, freed of the burden of responsibility for them, and equally desiring of love and happiness as they navigate the challenges unique to their time and path.
 
For a couple of hours, it frees siblings of their stolid roles within the family structure, cleaning the windows through which they are viewed.
 
The masks drop – not because anyone explicitly asks for them to (you really think they would if they did?), but because of its facilitation methodology and THJ’s® play structure—and the Conductor role itself, the only real role in THE HUMAN JOURNEY®.  
 
Left to their own devices, the participants’ roles — their masks — might further congeal and ossify.
 
So over our eight hours together, we train Conductors to do specific things that hold safe space for groups, to soften the family dynamic—treating

  • patient and family members as on an equal footing, equally deserving of attention;
  • everyone as people with histories that are equally fresh, histories they can re-see and represent for themselves in the presence of an outsider; and
  • generations and conditions of life as givens, not as calls for praise or blame.

 

In laying the function of holding down the role to our THJ® Conductors, we allow family members’ masks to melt – and for each one to see him or herself in something truer than a mirror: each other’s naked eyes.

That’s Some Bad Gr(Attitude)!

  • “I didn’t ask for a year like this has been. Why would I have?”

  • “You know what? I’d trade a boring life for this kind of grief anytime.”

  • “You’re telling me to be grateful at a time like this?”

I gotta tell you, I hate that exercise at the Thanksgiving when they go around and everyone has to say what they’re grateful for. Ugh! It’s like a gray-scale version of being suddenly locked in a squeeze with a too-desperate stranger at a conference get-to-know-you exercise and having them demand, “Say you love me. Say it like you mean it.” (Can you tell I’ve been there?)
 
And in a year in which so many families have experienced hardship and loss, it can be particularly wrenching to reach for any sense of gratitude, much less gratitude that has to be expressed, potentially in front of friends of friends, and over Zoom.

But THE HUMAN JOURNEY® gives me a tool for this, especially since it’s designed to help families joined by biology, choice, or mutual support to start to see the current “challenge of their lives” as ones they can not only get through, but rely on each other during. The THJ Experience does that by literally giving participants an experience of everything in their lives up to this point being something that has been given them — not just the “good” things, but everything. Maybe some things are easier to bear than others, but those things are no more gifts than the things that are a bear … to bear. Everything is a gift.
 
This is not a view specific to any one religion by any means. Rather, in the THJ Experience, you’re free to bring whatever belief you have. Maybe you believe that there is a Giver who has your ultimate best interests at heart. Maybe you believe that an impersonal universe provides. Or maybe you just believe that you’re standing at the door with a package in your hands; the UPS, or Fed Ex, or postal representative is nowhere to be seen; and there’s no return address (and certainly no returns).
 
And now the package is yours.
 
It’s still a gift.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

You got this.

After my dear schoolfriend Shellie’s father, my “Uncle Stan,” died, my gentle and deeply empathetic father — both men engineers — hesitated to go over to their house. “What will I say?” he stammered. He believed he would have to furnish to the family all of us loved the wisdom that would make it all disappear. I know his capacity for feeling the pain of others, and I suspect he likely also feared that he would have trouble containing their grief without breaking under its weight.

We perdure as at least 150,000 of our countrywomen and men have been lost to COVID-19, leaving behind perhaps 1.5 million Americans in profound grief, a rending of the soul made more violent by the public health limitations that make ordinary human comfort — gathering, hugging, weeping in each other’s arms — impossible. The fabric is not only torn, but gaping pieces that would take a master weaver to bring together have been wholly nipped out.

The healing we bring is so much simpler than my father saw as a looming apparition that kept his wrist taut as he gripped the doorknob. All it is, is the being with — not as the man or woman with answers, not even as the person who has anything at all to say, but as the person who can witness, hear, contain another’s suffering, and abide with it.

It looks like doing nothing. It’s anything but nothing. It’s the something of silently unfolding the landscape of our humanness as we are present with those who are suffering, especially in isolation right now, by stopping resisting that it’s awful, by managing our own presence so that those we care for can hear themselves, can not only get their story out, but, in a sense, tell themselves who they are and what is calling to them in this moment. Our ability to steady ourselves in quiet allows them to pick up that sound.

You are the presence within which they can know who they are right now. Yours is a vital role to play. You may not do it “right.” That’s because there are a thousand “rights.” (Sorry, Dad.) But by paying attention you will be refining your humanness as you, possibly silently, allow them to have profound contact with their own. You can close the door, get in the car, and be there quietly, socially distanced. You can phone and be there with disciplined attention, even if you can’t quite make out what they’re saying through their tears. Just be, and do that being, there. The deepest part of you, too, is the part beyond words. It really is going to take all of you — and all of us.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

We can hold each other’s stories more tightly—and our own, less

We get caught up in the stories of who we think we are, what we’ve achieved (or not), and what qualities we think we possess.
During my grad-school years in New York City, I enjoyed overhearing over lunch what would become familiar patterns of one-on-one lunch conversations all
around me.

“Look, I’m not the kind of person who is quick to
anger, but …” began one woman as she launched, post-pastrami, into a tale of how her daughter’s religious-school director had provoked her beyond recognition.

“Who does that?” eked out another through gritted teeth, throwing her hands up in the air and into the arms of a scurrying waitperson, defining herself by the kind of
behavior she would never, but never, perform herself. Her companion rolled his eyes as the two of them in ready coordination scooted their curry dishes around
each other on the table to help the other sample them.

In both of these cases, the speaker conveyed a sense
that, in order to construct a self, she or he has to position before a friend a fairly rigid version of themselves, like the sculptural costumes of the modern dance company Pilobolus, a kind of personality into which to step and stand,
get sewn in, and only then be recognized.

Our work, in becoming more human and more mature, is to hold our own stories—including such stories of our “selves”—more lightly, allowing for more flexibility in our responsiveness. Our stories and experiences still exist but, paradoxically, we both have and transcend them in
order to become less bound to a single concept of who we are.

Spiritual teachers such as Byron Katie (and many
others) advocate questioning the truth of the stories we tell ourselves. Katie even instructs students of her method to turn a story into its opposite and to gauge its truth, which may be as great as, or even greater than, the original story.

What helps with the process of lightening up is
listening to another’s deep story. Just as helping others can lift our own moods, listening well to others can be an experience of releasing our hold on our senses of self. If we can hold the reality that someone else is living with
and lighten up on the tightness of the grip we place on our own, we stand the chance of developing compassion. Our heart is truly light enough to be able to “go out to” them. And, when we are being truly empathetic, the sense of ourselves and others belonging to each other in quiet equivalence grows.

Maybe try an aspect of this idea out for yourself. You could determine not how you want to “be” next time the occasion calls on you to listen well to help a family member or friend, but what you want to provide or do. Do you want to provide a “safe space” for them to share whatever they need to? Do you want to listen for what they are feeling but haven’t said yet and ask gentle and appropriate questions? Do you want to reflect back to them what you think you’ve heard?

None of these strategies has anything to do with
putting forward “the kind of person you are,” like my pastrami-saturated eavesdroppee. Yet you will likely find that you feel more centered, more solid outside the bounds of personality and story. And your bond with the other will feel that much deeper.

Our work with the two-hour, facilitated experience
called THE HUMAN JOURNEY® situates members of a group or family right within their history and their stories, and then, with a graduated method of listening, interaction, and the cultivation of a sense of the group as being larger than any individual, brings participants to that point of lightness with themselves and substance with each other. It’s proven useful for families deepening their sense of belonging in hard times and is now in practice in the healthcare
setting.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

The Non-Black Story of THE HUMAN JOURNEY®

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® is owned by a white woman.

Before releasing the THJ® game experience and Conductor training to the public, we tested and went back to the drawing board to refine the experience — painstakingly — over and over again.

But we did not test with families with Black members. We invited them but were not successful in signing them on. We did go forward with the families outside of a white Judeo-Christian cultural paradigm we could get—Latino, Muslim. (They were by no means as heavily represented as those within that paradigm.)

You could say, well, you tried. You tried to recruit Black families. You did your due diligence.

But we did not then examine why Black families were hard to reach or hard to get to agree to test.

Since then, African-Americans have participated in training to conduct the THJ® experience. One suggested we apply what we know about the design of group experiences to the hard issues of creating long-term Restorative Justice in our communities. Since that suggestion last fall—which seemed entirely right—we began investigating both the field of RJ and how communities and police build relationships. We have a lot yet to learn as we build and test THE HUMAN JOURNEY® edition with communities.

This is not about white guilt. It is about white responsibility. THJ® is examining the networks it has, the organizations it seeks to do business with, and the services it provides so that they better address the needs of a wider swath of the public seeking ways to build peace and belonging both small-scale within families and support communities, and on a bigger scale between groups.

We want to hear from those who are interested in helping us do that.

We also want to encourage the majority of businesses in healthcare, home care, and other fields serving the public that are white-owned, but Black- and immigrant-staffed, to listen, to take the risk of looking foolish by asking genuine questions, and, with us, to seek out one thing on this helpful list that they can begin to do to address the power differential that allows them to own such a business. It is no accident that so many of us are white.

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »

Learning From Families — In Cases in Which It’s “Too Late”

One spring, we met in person with the head of a hospice organization, anticipating we would be talking about instituting THE HUMAN JOURNEY® as a thorough-going program of her hospice.

Our conversation, based on a rich rapport, took us someplace else.

We were impressed with Candida’s (a pseudonym) conscientiousness. She had been haunted by the searing experience of a family member whose mother had died in her hospice under much-less-than-ideal circumstances, particularly from a psychosocial perspective.

To Candida’s great credit, she wanted to know the truth: Where had the hospice fallen short? What could they have done, and what might they do in future, to alleviate the suffering of families during this hardest of all possible times?

To improve hospice service, we proposed interviewing the small percentage of family members whom the hospice may not have served as well as it would have wished. The hospice knew who these families were. They had heard from them. Some of them loudly.

Those conversations were profound. And they were long. Families need to tell the detailed story of how their loved one’s condition had worsened.

Family members remember the dates and the days of the week. They often remember what staff members told them at the time and when, and how they felt about it then. Sometimes, in the telling, they think differently about what they heard.

In the strongest situations, when family members weren’t sure what to do, hospice staff told them, “There are two choices: you can’t make a wrong one.” They would use their experience to guide families along, holding the family’s point of view. As one family member phrased it, “They were ahead of my curve.”

Yet still, a few situations were revealing. From the interviews, now with staff as well as family members, where staff had fallen short seemed to me to have two causes, one an occupational hazard of caregiving work and the other something they could hardly have been expected to provide, given they were never trained to do it.

First, the natural accretion of years in a hospice job may have made the emotional labor required for staff to do the job well seemingly impossible. And, without the institutional and personal supports to be able to access self-care, staff members would be almost certain to armor increasingly against the work they had originally chosen.

Second, nursing and medical schools have historically failed to prepare future professionals for the essential teaching roles that they have with patients and families. Consequently, when they are called upon to teach—daily—they do just as they have been taught. They convey information—and call that teaching. In their understandable states of distress and confusion, family members may misunderstand that information. They may be overwhelmed by it. They may forget it. They may deny it. They may not hear it at all.

Yet, without learning, there is no teaching.

As developer of professional staff ranging from medical to clergy to law enforcement to working educators, we could see that the hospice staff needed first to experience the difference between what they thought of as teaching and communicating — and how different a patient-centered approach felt like from a patient or family member’s point of view.

It would be quite a turnaround.

THE HUMAN JOURNEY® creates and provides programs for hospice, healthcare, and mission-driven institutions to address the socio-emotional, cultural, and capacity needs of staff that impact their longevity in their work, their effectiveness and humanity with those they serve, and the culture of their organizations. 

Let us hear the story of your organization—your story of staff and patient/client experience.

 

Related Posts

Distressed young woman in bed, with her eyes closed, her hand high on her chest, near her throat, and a pillow on her lap.
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”

You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather

Read More »
Grief & Loss
Sara K Schneider

Marmalade Sandwiches

The marmalade sandwiches started piling up at Buckingham Palace, and at neighboring Green Park, during the first few days after Queen Elizabeth II died. Likely, they were a reference to the Queen’s charming comedy sketch with beloved British storybook character Paddington Bear, a surprise (even for her

Read More »
How THE HUMAN JOURNEY® works
Sara K Schneider

Neither Good Nor Bad

It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy

Read More »
Healing
Sara K Schneider

Becoming the Witness

  I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning

Read More »
Culture
Sara K Schneider

Your Relationships (By the Numbers)

Even though our relationships might seem like the least quantifiable things we have in our lives, that doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking of them as sums. I’ve seen that play out a few ways.  I’ve met people who talked about their “A” list and

Read More »
Activities & Tools
Sara K Schneider

Pop the Question!

Losing someone you love brings with it a kind of wistful mystery: who was my loved one … really? What do I wish I knew about them that I didn’t even think to ask them while I could? What would I give up chocolate for the rest of my

Read More »