By Arielle Ford
James Costello was one of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year. He was seriously injured and he now claims that while this was the worst moment of his life, he wouldn’t trade it for anything because it became the best thing that ever happened to him.
Because it led to him meeting his future bride, Krista D’Agostino, a nurse at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital where he was transferred after undergoing multiple surgeries over two weeks at Massachusetts General Hospital. The two began a relationship that culminated in a wedding proposal in France during a recent 10-day trip.
I love this story because it so clearly demonstrates that while we are quick to judge something as bad or wrong, awful or terrible, the reality is this:
sometimes the best comes out of the worst.
After all, where do you think all these maxims come from?
– There is always a silver lining.
– Make lemonade out of lemons.
– There’s a pony in here somewhere (when the room you are in is full of manure).
– Cross over to the sunny side of the street.
–Have an attitude of gratitude.
–When one door closes, another opens.
– This is a blessing in disguise.
I wasn’t born an optimist.
In fact… quite the opposite.
I was a moody, sullen, often seriously depressed child and young adult.
One night, at age 26, I decided that I was going to find the secret of happiness.
I was at a party in Coconut Grove, Florida, at the waterfront home of a millionaire, surrounded by people seemingly having a great time. I felt like such an outsider amidst the laughing, smiling party-goers. I had never felt so alone.
I wanted to have a great time, I just didn’t know how.
I thought it was something that just “happened” to lucky people.
In that moment, as I stood on the dock overlooking beautiful Biscayne Bay, I promised myself that I would do whatever it took to discover the secret to happiness.
During next several years I went to therapy, read a lot of books, attended workshops and discovered that most of the time happiness is a choice. Even when really bad stuff is happening!
I found out that I am an HSP – a highly sensitive person and essentially very shy. I had to break through my fear of people and really make an effort to learn how to connect, make small talk, and allow myself to “be seen.”
It wasn’t easy but on a deep intuitive level I knew that in order to live, I had to be willing to do what the amazing Dr. Susan Jeffers advised “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
And eventually I radically evolved into a happy, outgoing, optimist.
On a soul level I discovered that I could source my own happiness, in spite of the circumstances.
I now believe that I live in a friendly Universe.
This past year I really had to dig deep to recoup my core happiness.
After the loss of my sister, Debbie Ford, I wasn’t sure I would ever find joy again. Yes, I had been in the grieving process before having lost grandparents, my Dad, my step-Dad, a beloved Aunt….but this was bigger, deeper, and massively unacceptable.
Part of my recovery was allowing myself all the time I needed to be sad, depressed and miserable. I didn’t restrict myself to mine, or anyone else’s, timetable of how the grieving process should go.
I gave myself permission to say no to everyone and everything that I didn’t have the energy for. (which was nearly everyone and everything).
Even though I had been brought up to believe that it’s selfish to think of yourself first, it became clear to me that my survival depended on my ability to give myself a new and deep level of love and self care.
And then, slowly, I began to notice, moments of joy popping up.
– I found the ability to smile and laugh again.
– I discovered I was having more moments of ok’ness than not.
– And, I made major changes in the way I “do” life.
I stated working much less and resting much more and this how now become my new lifestyle. Not only am I happy again, I am physically restored, and the Universe sends me near-daily signs that I am on the right track. My creative projects are flowing, money comes from unexpected sources, ideas appear like gifts from the heavens.
The day I heard James Costello’s story I had just been thinking about the paradox of how this past year had gone. While I could say this was the worst year of my life, in many unexpected ways it has also been the best year of my life.
How is this possible?
Because the positive lifestyle changes that I’ve made, which I feel were completely guided by my sister from the other side, will impact the rest of my life and most likely wouldn’t have happened without the loss of losing her.
The ancient Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi honors all things imperfect and impermanent and seeks to uncover perfection in imperfection. That is what 2013 has been for me…a process of filling in the deep wounds in my life with 24k gold…not to forget what has happened but as a way to find beauty in the midst of tragedy.
My sister created an amazing body of work known as The Shadow Process where she led people to find “the gold in their own darkness.”
This year she helped me find “gold” during my dark night of the soul.
Where have you found “gold” in a bad situation? How has a “negative” experience helped you discover a part of you that you now wouldn’t give up?
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I remember this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, followed by the thought, “oh no, what have I done?”
With the passing of my sister, Debbie, in February, we had both been through several brutal months… trying our best to survive as she slipped away from us. Neither one of us were getting much sleep, both of us deep in our grief, and I was finally back at work trying to tackle not one, but three gigantic projects.
In the sweetest, most gentle voice, Brian began to share with me his massive concern for my health and wellbeing. With tears in his eyes, he told me he really felt that if I didn’t stop the long, intense hours and stressing out so much, he was afraid I would get very sick and possibly even “work myself to death.”
As someone who has always been able to accomplish major things, juggle lots of simultaneous projects and withstand huge amounts of pressure, I normally would have just assured him that I could “power” through this period and deal with it all.
But there was something in the way he was approaching the conversation that made me stop and listen. With his sincere, open-hearted vulnerability I really, really heard him.
And, I got that he was right.
I was no longer the person who could do it all. My nervous system was shredded. I was out of “reserves” and running on fumes.
As I sat there, trying to take it all in, trying to figure out what to “do” about my situation, I remembered something Debbie whispered to me in the middle of the night:
“Take more vacations.”
I spent the next several days looking the calendar, trying to see when I could take a vacation and for how long.
And then it dawned on me: I didn’t just need a week or two on a tropical island. I need a big, long, extended break. I needed to rest, rejuvenate, re-boot and re-think the rest of my life.
On August 1st I stopped working. Completely!
I turned off my cell phone and put it in a drawer.
I turned on the auto-responder to my email and the recorded a new voicemail on my phones to announce that for the next six weeks I would be completely, totally unavailable and I began my sabbatical.
One of my ongoing thoughts was, what if I get bored? How would I fill my days? Could I really do this? Completely unplug?
I am happy to report, yes!
For the past 83 days I have been sleeping in, taking naps (for the first time ever), reading lots of books (some of my favorites have been The Dalai Lama’s Cat and Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, The Signature of All Things plus several James Patterson mysteries!). Brian and I are playing tennis and taking tons of beach walks, we’ve traveled to Bora Bora, Italy and Romania, I’m cooking more and resting a lot.
Every time I’d get an idea for a new project, I’d sit down and close my eyes, breathe deep and wait for it to pass. If the idea persisted, I wrote it down and then forgot about it (for now). I’ve worked with my doctors to restore my energy levels had many visits with the acupuncturist, chiropractor and my amazing partners at Evolving Wisdom gave me a huge gift of many massages.
During this healing time I decided to reinvent how I “do” life.
One of my biggest aha moments is that “I am now experiencing a new kind of aliveness that is not fueled by adrenalin.”
Without the tyranny of a “To-Do” list eating up every minute of my day, I have made time to have some deep, meaningful conversations with several girlfriends who I’ve discovered are also “hitting the wall” and ready to make major changes. We have all admitted to being “busyness addicts” and we may even start a support group!
In the past I often defined myself by my work and I hate to admit this, but my ego took a lot of pride in “just how much I can accomplish” in an hour or a day or a week.
Years ago, when I worked as Deepak Chopra’s publicist he used to call me “speedy” and I thought that was a good thing! Too bad I wasn’t listening more closely when Deepak was telling me how stressing out causes jittery platelets which is not good for your health.
Today I am done working for a living.
I am eliminating the word “work” from my vocabulary and…. I plan to spend half my time diving into projects that provide me creativity, fun, freedom and offer some level of contribution and prosperity.
My biggest fear is that as I begin to return to the real world, and begin some projects, my old habits will emerge. I expect that there will be days when I slip. Days when I begin to spin out of control, or get caught up in the delusion that anything that I am doing is more important than taking care of myself.
These will be the days when I need to remember my commitment to being a Wabi Sabi Love artisan, someone who finds beauty and perfection in her own imperfection. Just as I am now re-writing and shifting the story of how I “do life,” so must I find compassion for the part of me who still thinks she can do it all.
It’s now been nearly four months since my sister Debbie made her transition….and the reality that she isn’t “here” is beginning to sink in. Although my intellect understands that she is still here in spirit and that we never really die, it doesn’t make a difference to the fact that I miss her like crazy.
I have been doing everything I can think of to heal my body, mind, soul and heart….and in that process I haven’t had any energy or bandwidth to support anyone else.
Between my insanely busy work schedule, coupled with limited energy, I find myself powering through my days and heading for the couch at 6pm where I stay for the rest of the night.
But, the other day I started thinking about Debbie’s friends…she had a lot of very close friends. A ton.
And most of them don’t really know each other.
I realized that they are all going through their own grieving process and may not have anyone to share it with.
With that in mind, I had this idea……why not create a gathering (via the web) as a way to share the process and the healing?
I asked my friend and world-renowned grief expert (and therapist), Dr. Ken Druck, if he would participate and he was a big YES!
So, last week I hosted “Missing Debbie: A Healing Call.” Ken shared his years of experience and amazing wisdom with us on the grieving process. This call was so deeply healing that I couldn’t resist sharing it with all of you.
You can listen to the call here:
Also, Ken led us through some group work that was not recorded. If you want to do what we did on the call, here are the questions to ask yourself:
- Reflect on how you knew the person you are grieving, the impact they had on your life, and what you miss most about them.
- Let yourself see one thing that you could do that in some way that might lighten your heart. What is a way you support yourself? What kindness could you show yourself? What could you say no to or yes to? It could be anything. What do you believe would help you on your grief journey?
- From what you came up with, identify the action step you’re willing to take in the spirit of taking better care of yourself. What concrete action are willing to take to affirm your commitment to your own sense of well-being?
If you are touched by Ken’s wisdom and his contribution to your grief journey, if you feel so moved, we encourage you to make a donation to his non-profit which is currently raising funds to support grieving families. To support this important work, visit http://www.jennadruckcenter.org
What isn’t “normal” is witnessing the dialogue of another couple in the throes of working through their issues….which is the essence of the compelling new film by Richard Linklater, Before Midnight.
In part 3 of this trilogy, we meet up with Celine and Jesse, nine years since the last film. They now have twin daughters and live in Paris – he is a writer, she an activist. The film takes place while they are on a family vacation in Greece, most of the time in a dialogue that dives deep into a conversation of “what’s next” for them. She vents, he cajoles, ego’s explode, tensions rise, tears fall, and emotions rollercoaster throughout. And, if I weren’t sitting in a movie theatre with a bucket of popcorn in my lap I would swear I was eavesdropping on a real conversation.
What I loved most about this movie, besides for how very real and authentic the characters were in the midst of their relationship struggles, is how Jesse showed up in the film to love Celine in spite of the things she said (even though at one point he does call her the “Mayor of Crazytown”).
Ultimately, his love and commitment to and for her, his willingness to put his sword in the ground and truly love her unconditionally, could be a training video for any man who wants to know how a woman wants to be loved.
The New York Times review described it this way:
“Before Midnight” is a wonderful paradox: a movie passionately committed to the ideal of imperfection that is itself very close to perfect.
I highly recommend this movie for anyone who wants to be, or is, in a long-term relationship. Before Midnight allows us to witness the transformative power of courageously staying in the fire of tumult and the weather of all of our emotions in a way that leads to the magic of healing and re-discovering the flames of romance and passion.
If you’ve seen the film, tell me what you thought of it by posting a comment below!
In the past sixty seconds, as I sit at my desk, I have heard the crashing of the ocean waves, birds chirping, the dog across the street barking, a car passing by and a multitude of electronic rings, dings and pings that alert me to incoming phone calls (both landline and cell phone), skype chats, text messages, emails, and Facebook IM’s.
Each of these sounds, from my myriad electronic gear, has its own unique tone and elicits a different physiological response.
I smile when I hear the ding of the text.
I cringe when my cell phone rings (I have a blinged-out Blackberry and it hurts my ear to talk on the phone but it makes it easier to find my phone when it’s deep in my handbag…go figure.)
I sigh when my landline rings because these days it’s generally a computer- generated robo call or a telemarketer…
And, depending on my stress level, I can be happy or annoyed when the emails land…..
I’m no scientist but I do know that this just can’t be good for my nervous system. Like Pavlov’s dog, I am now trained to respond to all of these sounds.
The simple solution is to turn them all off (which I do by 8pm most nights when they get placed on the kitchen counter to be re-charged) but sometimes, when I get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water, I just can’t resist taking a peek to see what might have come in. Will it be good news or bad?
I am in serious need of a tech detox….. I think I will start with a 24 hour one. This Sunday. One full day. No phone. No Email. No Internet. No rings, dings or pings.
I’ll let you know what happens.
If you have any ideas or solutions, please post them below.
I have been thinking about writing to you for weeks now, yet I held back because I was feeling that my last few communications were too sad– and all about my grief process over the loss of my sister, Debbie.
To be honest, I worried that I may bore you or, worse, depress you. I’ve been concerned that being in this vulnerable state is not the best aspect of myself to share with all of you. And then I realized that the Wabi Sabi’ness of the situation may actually be helpful, in some way, to those of you who are grieving in your own way– facing a loss, disappointment, or difficult times.
I have been truly humbled by my experience of my sisters dying and the feelings related to her loss. And through the painful parts I have been inspired to continuously look for the beauty and imperfection of the grieving process. It is a process, and it is quite imperfect, yet I have learned that it is also rich with new discoveries and opportunities to grow.
I am forever altered by Debbie’s passing, yet I am beginning to see that the changes in me will benefit me in profound ways. I wanted to share some of the jewels that have begun to reveal themselves in my life through this experience:
- True gratitude of what I have. I have developed a deeper, more profound gratitude for every aspect of my life. Life is precious to me in a way that I could have never imagined. Loss of someone or something dear makes what you do have so much more valuable and appreciated.
- Setting aside time to let go of stress. Another gift has been awakening to the realities of ways I have been endangering my emotional and physical health. I thought I was leading a healthy lifestyle, and never really took into account the tremendous amount of stress I have. Most importantly, I was not aware that I have an automatic response to stressors that is not at all healthy. I realized that I have to give myself a vacation from stress; that it is essential for healing. Recognizing this has prompted me to make some HUGE changes. For the first time ever, I am going to take a sabbatical six week sabbatical, beginning on August 1st. No work, no email, no decision making, no creating–just six weeks devoted to love, healing, resting, restoration. At this time in my life, I can’t even imagine what it will be like to wake up in the morning and not have a “to-do” list. To just lie in bed and ask my soul: “How would you like to feel today?” “Where do you want to go?” “What would you like to do and with whom?”
- Permission to say no. Perhaps the most surprising gift, and the one I am most reluctant to even share with you, is that being in this delicate state has given me a freedom I never knew I needed or wanted: The freedom to just say no. In my “normal” world I get requests all day long–requests for my time, my connections, for endorsements and introductions. The list is endless. I like to say “YES” –it’s fun to assist people and be connected—so I rarely say “no.” Saying “YES” always came easily and because I work at such a fast pace, none of these things seem to take a lot of my time or energy. But now, with having so little energy to spare, I have found that saying no is essential. I literally have no extra bandwidth—as I like to call it– to deal with the demands I once juggled everyday. At the moment, I am able to power through my work day (which is super busy right now) and by the end of the day, I plop onto the couch for the rest of the night. Allowing myself to say “no” has not only helped me find a new freedom; it also helped me discovered that I have been in denial about being a people pleaser! (Believe me, this is shocking to me.)
So, my friends, this is where I am right now. Grateful, mildly optimistic, and in a process that everyday gets a little easier, a little better. And, I am so looking forward to taking a big chunk of time to commune with my soul later this summer.
I would love to know if you have had a similar experience and/or how Wabi Sabi is influencing your life. You can leave me a comment below.
Wishing you love,
By Arielle Ford
I feel distressed when people ask me the simple question, “How are you?”
What was once the easiest question in the world for me to answer has now become the hardest.
In the past, my answer was always some enthusiastic version of “life’s great.”
And it was.
The way my life has turned out has exceeded every hope, wish, or dream I’ve ever had and then some.
However, since my sister Debbie’s death, it is a nightmare to hear the question, “how are you?”
That is because I have two kinds of days these days:
On some days I am sad, depressed and weepy. On the other days I feel almost normal….I can think straight finally and although I am not “happy” I am certain that my core happiness is still in me and eventually I will be happy again. Read the rest of this entry »
Finding joy was never a challenge until my sister Debbie Ford got cancer.
Several weeks ago I was recording an interview for my Art of Love Series on the topic of Serenity Now. I asked one of the experts, Michael Neill, what he does to add more pleasure to his daily life.
His answer surprised me. He said: “I find pleasure in everything.”
I decided I would do the same. Most days this was not a challenge.
I have a pretty amazing life: A wonderful husband. Work that I love. A home with great cats and an ocean view. Excellent health.
Finding pleasure in everything didn’t require much effort. Until, one day, it did.
For the past five years my sister, Debbie, has had an incurable form of cancer. We were always hopeful that somehow, someway, she would live to a ripe old age in spite of her condition. We hoped, and prayed, she would find a miracle.
Her doctors, in fact, called her a miracle because she was already outliving their predictions by nearly three years. She had gone through many scary episodes over time, only to rally. We thought it would go that way again.
Then very recently it became clear that her time on earth was coming to a close. I was heartbroken.
She was hospitalized for more than a week, getting weaker every day. Then she was sent home for hospice care. And each day I would ask myself, how can I, how should I, find pleasure in this? Is it right? Is this even possible?
While there were many moments of soul-wrenching grief, sadness, and tears, there were equal moments of lightness and laughter. I discovered that while a part of me ached to see my sister fading, another part of me rejoiced in being able to spend this precious time with her–to love her, and hold her, and be there during this extraordinary moment in her life. And I knew, so, well, that she would want us to be find moments of joy and laughter, for her sake.
The mere conscious act of seeking pleasure in the moment often revealed moments of grace.
There were so many tender moments in which our sisterly bond was celebrated in such a profound way that it brought us both joy.
*She would be in pain–pain that was almost unbearable. And, then, finally the pain meds would kick in and a smile would return to her face. Ah…the pleasure of relief.
*She would awaken from a nightmare, and together we would rewrite the story of her dream and turn it into something funny or profound.
*She would be happy to discuss her journey to the other side and five minutes later insist that a miracle was about to happen and she was going to live.
The pleasure there was all about watching Debbie be “oh-so-Debbie”… always changing her mind, always wanting to take command of her universe.
Or while she slept, I would become aware of the sweet stillness in her room with the humming of the oxygen machine as a bass line and I would find gratitude for this piece of machinery which helped her breathe. And I would feel grateful for all the extra breathes she seized, living way beyond the time so many doctors expected her to.
While we will all miss Debbie being oh-so-Debbie, what a gift it is to be able find moments of joy and peace at the end of her time here. What a gift it was to share those moments with her. I know that she felt this joy, too, despite all she was going through.
I discovered that seeking pleasure is so very Wabi Sabi….and that finding the beauty and perfection during this time provided me so much comfort in her final days.
P.S. Debbie was a giver. Her generosity is legendary and one of her proudest accomplishments was assisting Beau with his Bar Mitzvah project to build a school in rural Uganda via Just Like My Child. Through her Collective Heart Foundation several important programs to help women and children are now thriving including a Girl Power project. You can support this by visiting www.thecollectiveheart.org
If you would like to post your memories, stories and prayers about Debbie, please visit RememberingDebbieFord.com