Saturday, August 8, 2015

Helping Your Children Grieve

The death of a family member is often a confusing, even frightening time for children. For some it is their first experience of the death of a loved one. A child's first exposure to death is often accompanied by a period of moodiness and instability while the child struggles to integrate the awareness that loved ones do in fact die. It is important for the parent/child relationship to serve as a sanctuary for the child, where he or she can explore and integrate this new awareness.

Suggestions for Parents

         Communicate with your child about death and grief, being as honest and straightforward as your child can understand. Take the time to answer your child’s questions, acknowledging what you don’t know. Also, remember that children tend to interpret things literally. For example, if you tell him that his grandmother is “sleeping forever” or is “taking a long trip”, he might assume that if he goes to sleep he too might sleep forever or that grandmother will return from her trip.
         Take your child’s developmental stage into account; you child will not grieve as an adult does. Children do not have the same capacity as adults to tolerate intense pain over a period of time; they will grieve in spurts, and may even postpone deep grieving until a later stage of development.
         Share with your child what to expect if she visits a dying family member. If your child doesn’t want to go, honor her decision. Explore other ways your child can communicate with that family member—for example, talking through her heart, guided imagery, drawing a picture or writing a letter.
         Give your child encouragement to grieve and prepare him for what he might experience while grieving—that he might feel sad or unhappy for awhile. Invite him to share his feelings and questions with you and help him to express his feelings in ways that are natural and safe for him, utilizing play and the imagination.
         Include your child in funerals and memorials; it is her right to be included. Attempts to protect your child from death and grief can have long lasting negative effects. However, don’t force a child to go to a funeral if they don’t want to. And honor her refusal to participate in any part of the ceremony—she may not, for example, want to look inside the casket or kiss the dead person.
         Attend to your own grieving. Your modeling of healthy grieving is more important than you realize. Show your child how you are taking care of yourself in your grief. Your child might want to help you create an altar for the sanctuary and, if she sees you using it regularly, might choose to use that herself from time to time.

Excerpted from The Infinite Thread: Healing Relationships Beyond Loss (Beyond Words) 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Healing a Broken Heart

Healing a Broken Heart

EVERY ONE OF US WILL go through many losses in the course of our lives.
Some of these losses will break our hearts — the loss of a partner, a child, a close friend, a parent or sibling or grandparent, a lover, a cherished pet.
The pain of a broken heart is excruciating, both emotionally and physically. Our hearts literally hurt. In response, most people try to avoid that pain by keeping busy or burying the pain in alcohol. The culture offers a lot of distractions for avoiding pain.
As a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many clients who came to therapy after months or years of trying to avoid the pain of their broken hearts. At a certain point the powerful force of grief caught up with them. They ran out of energy; some collapsed physically and emotionally.
The key to healing a broken heart is to learn how to grieve fully without feeling overwhelmed. I suggest to my clients that they create a sanctuary, a sacred place of healing where they can turn toward the grief in a safe contained space for a limited time each day — 10-20 minutes. This might be a corner of your bedroom or a room in the house where you will not be disturbed.
Set up a small altar dedicated to the loved one you are grieving with a picture or objects that remind you of them. As you sit in the sanctuary and turn toward your grief, see this as an invitation to gently and slowly open your heart again, to allow the feelings to move through you without interfering. Let your heart speak. There is a powerful wisdom in grief. It knows what you need to heal. What healing is generated when life can flow through us without resistance! The sanctuary is the place you dedicate to showing up for your grief just as it is, feeling the full impact of that loss.
At the end of that brief time in the sanctuary, you get up and return to your daily life. You shift your attention away from your grief, reminding yourself you will be in the sanctuary again the next day. This turning toward your grief for short contained times each day and then shifting the focus back to your daily life builds confidence in the grieving process. This confidence allows you to go deep enough to heal. You can read more about creating and using the sanctuary in my book “Honoring Grief.”

You have an ongoing relationship with your lost loved one.
In the sanctuary you can access the ongoing inner relationship with your deceased loved one. That relationship continues to unfold after death. You can talk to your loved one, write a letter, close your eyes and meet them in a special place in your imagination. This is an opportunity to heal regrets and old wounds, explore unresolved issues, express your love, nurture your connection within. All of this can help heal your broken heart. Once you have explored this relationship, you know that your loved one lives on within you, right here in your heart. Be kind, gentle, patient and compassionate with yourself. It takes time for a broken heart to heal.
As your heart opens in that safe container of the sanctuary, you’ll feel more vulnerable but also more alive. Protect yourself in your daily life. Try not to put yourself in situations or relationships where you close down again. Pay attention to what your heart is communicating to you .
With each visit to the sanctuary, we deepen into our grief, nurture our ongoing inner relationship with our lost loved one, and let the feelings flow. Our hearts respond by feeling lighter and more spacious in our chests. There is space to love again; this is a sure sign that our broken hearts are healing. We know we will undergo more losses, but now we have the confidence that we can grieve without feeling overwhelmed and that we can heal.
Alexandra Kennedy MA MFT is an author and a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Cruz. For more info, visit

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Grief and the Holidays: Six Ways to Care for Yourself During This Difficult Time

 The holidays are a stressful time for families, with more gatherings and high expectations for harmonious interaction. When a family member has died, the reality of the loss is painfully accentuated as the absence felt. The holidays, abounding in family memories and traditions, can activate and intensify grief, even years later.
It is difficult to grieve when other people are celebrating. However, winter is a natural time for grieving. As the life force retreats within and darkness predominates, nature seems to support and encourage us in our grieving. Healing can take place when we tend to our grief , acknowledge the changes that accompany loss, take care of ourselves (emotionally and physically), and integrate the loss of a loved one into our livesincluding the holidays.

Here are six ways to care for yourself during this difficult time.

1.                Acknowledge that this is a difficult time. Intense feelings may surface, so be gentle and patient with yourself. Accept whatever comes up; you might feel depressed, angry, sad, and lonely but you also might feel joy or relief. The first holidays after a loved one's death are often the hardest.
2.                Protect yourself when you are feeling raw and vulnerable. Avoid situations that upset or overwhelm you (crowds, malls, big parties might all feel like too much stimulation.). Give yourself permission to scale back on sending our cards, decorating, shopping, etc. Learn to check in within with yourself before automatically accepting invitations; be willing to say no if that is what feels right. When you want to, seek out the company of supportive friends and family. Also, respect your need to be alone. Be kind to yourself.
3.                 Listen carefully to your body's needs for rest, good food and exercise. Your immune system is compromised when you are grieving so you are much more at risk for colds, flu, even pneumonia. The lungs are often especially susceptible when you are grieving.
4.                Acknowledge your deceased loved ones in some way. One of my clients lit candles at midnight mass for her deceased father. Another offered a toast to his wife as the family sat down to their meal together. Another picked out and wrapped a gift she felt her mother would have given her. You can also honor the deceased by sharing stories, lighting candles, planting a tree, making a donation in their name, and putting their pictures out amidst the holiday decorations.
5.                Take ten to twenty minutes each day to retreat to a special place in your home and reflect on your loss. Give yourself over to your grief during this brief time. Allow memories and feelings to surface. You may want to explore unresolved feelings, perhaps disappointments from past holidays, or you might want to savor special moments that you shared in past years. Use this time to check in with yourself; clarify how you can best take care of yourself that day. Once your short reflection time is over, turn your attention to your daily life; take a walk, call a friend, have a cup of tea. You can further explore the powerful strategy of using the daily sanctuary in my book Honoring Grief.
 6.        Explore new ways to celebrate the holidays, planning activities and creating new family rituals that are enjoyable and meaningful. It is important to recognize that the holidays will not be the same after the loss. The first year especially you might want to do something new.  In the next holidays you can integrate these fresh possibilities into some familiar, comforting traditions. If you feel the holidays will be too overwhelming for you, give yourself permission to skip them this year. Plan other activities that feel nurturing. Even though you may resist doing so, it often helps to plan ahead so you have something in place rather than spending your time dreading or ignoring the approaching holidays. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate what is important for you during this season.

Above all, as you move through the holidays this year, be compassionate, kind and loving toward yourself.  Hold yourself tenderly in your heartaccepting the emotional ups and downs.

If we allow it to, grief takes us deep into our hearts where we are reminded that we are grieving because we have lovedand the holidays, challenging as they can be, hold many opportunities for expressing and feeling that love.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gift of Embracing Our Daily Losses

The Way is gained by daily loss.  Chuang Tzu

Fall is shifting into winter, a time of letting go and loss. We are losing the light as the days shorten; as the sap returns to roots in the dark earth, trees are losing their leaves; plants are dying back. This is a natural time every year to feel our losses.

Over a lifetime we will experience many losses. In every stage of life, losing, leaving and letting go are essential parts of our ever-changing world.  We cannot save ourselves, nor those we love, from the sorrow that is part of life. Family members die, friends drop away, cherished possessions are lost.  Our children grow up and leave home. We lose spouses and partners to divorce or death; sometimes we lose them emotionally long before. As we age, we will be faced with the grief of unfulfilled dreams. Daily we experience disappointments, rejections, failures, mistakes, setbacks, mishaps all the little losses that are a part of our every day living.

We are tempted to think we can avoid the pain of loss if we keep busy, that we can close our hearts a little to protect ourselves.  However, it is the ungrieved losses that take their toll on our hearts and deaden us. We forget that even these, as difficult as they may be, are connected to our vitality and growth.

Every year nature in her cycle of seasons shows us the vital connection between the contraction of fall and the expansion of spring. In the fall, the life force withdraws into the roots; the growth in the deep, dark underground is what supports the new growth in the spring. Likewise, loss invites us into our depths so that in time new possibilities can break forth.

When we open to the daily losses, we make room in our hearts for the greater losses. We gain strength to grieve when a major loss shakes our world. If we pay attention to small losses, we may find that they tap into that well of grief we hold inside. Periodically take time to review your daily losses and then grieve them. Pay attention when a current loss brings up one from the past that is unresolved. Grieve that loss. Dont talk yourself out of feeling your grief. Then explore the new perspectives and choices that these losses have brought into our lives. Embracing this grief will keep your heart spacious and open to life.

In opening to grief over our daily losses, big and small, we experience both the exquisite beauty and sorrow of being fully alive. We savor the ordinary, simple moments. What a joy to simply watch the trees explode into brazen reds and coppery oranges just before their leaves drop away——what a brilliant testimony nature offers us to the beauty and power of loss!

Some suggestions for grieving the daily losses:
  Make a list of the losses (big and small) you have experienced in the past year.
  Review this list and circle the losses that you never took the time to grieve. Notice if any of these current losses have brought up unresolved grief from previous losses that need your attention now.
  Create a sanctuary for your grieving and each day focus for 10-20 minutes on your grief, taking the time to turn toward each loss (only one at a time) and embrace whatever feelings may surface suggestions for creating and using the sanctuary in my new book Honoring Grief: Creating a Space to Let Yourself Heal.

  Explore whatever new perspectives or changes these losses have brought into your life. To help with this, ask yourself questions, such as: What brings me joy? What is calling to me now in my life?, What changes do I need to make in order for my life to truly sustain me?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Compassionate Listening

Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing.
I recently came across these wise words of the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Compassionate listening is at the heart of good therapy, good communication, and a healthy self esteem. There is truly a time to just listen, to hold the space for another person to share and to empty his/her heart of all that encumbers it. We all need this—to be accepted in this moment just as we are. This kind of listening heals in and of itself.

When clients and friends ask how they can support someone who is grieving, this is one of the first things I recommend—to simply hold the space for their grief, to listen without any attempt to fix or change anything, to listen compassionately. Thich Nhat Hanh is right—just listening in this way can relieve the suffering of another person.

Likewise when I am working with couples, this kind of listening can transform the way they are with one another. As they work on issues between them, most couples get caught in a tense exchange as both partners try to make a point, to prove themselves right. So as one partner is speaking, the other is busy internally reacting and making a mental case for their side rather than listening to what is being said. Once compassionate listening occurs, the atmosphere in the room changes appreciably. Relationships change when each person feels heard. Instead of partners bristling with each other, they relax and become softer with one another. Voices become quieter.  Suddenly there is vulnerability and a willingness to share much more openly with one another.

Let’s take this to another level. Can we take this compassionate listening into our quiet time with ourselves? We turn our attention within and invite the life force to flow through us. We stop running and arguing with the way life is; we stop trying to change ourselves. We listen deeply to our bodies, to our feelings, to whatever is showing up in this moment. It’s as though we tell ourselves, “I’ll be here for you however you are in this moment. I’m listening.” To meet ourselves fully in this way is an act of love.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Houses: Enriching & Deepening Our Relationship to the Houses We Live In and the Houses that Live in Us

      Houses live in us as we live in them. Your house nurtures, protects and regenerates your body and spirit. In your house you are free to dream, let your imagination wander and cultivate inner life. In your dreams the house is a potent image that both reflects and transforms the psyche. Changes in your life are often connected to changes in these inner houses, just as any changes in the house you live in can create inner shifts that lead to outer change. When a client tells me that he/she is buying a new house or remodeling, we explore the changes that are likely to take place in their lives in response to the changes in the houses they live in. In this article we’ll be exploring how to enrich and deepen our relationship with houses through imagination—both the ones we live in and the ones that live in us.

After the death of my father, I had a series of dreams extending over nine months in which my house (not the one I lived in then in everyday reality) was being remodeled. The dreams first focused on rebuilding the foundation, then progressed to the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. In the final dream of this series, the garden was being tilled and new seeds planted. At this point I discovered a new extension to the dream house, containing rooms that I had not known were there before.

            These dreams spoke vividly to the reorganization and transformation of my psyche that was activated by my father’s death. I noticed a remarkable connection with the room that was being remodeled in the dream and the corresponding part of my life. For example, the rebuilding of the foundation corresponded with the early weeks after my father’s death when I felt that the ground had given way. Nothing felt secure anymore, a common experience with the death of a parent. When the dreams shifted to the kitchen, I was going through a period of reassessing how I nurture and feed myself—on both a physical and soul level. The dream of the renovation of the living room reflected the painful tearing apart of old structures to make room for an expanded sense of self. And the dream of the garden being seeded along with the discovery of a new wing of the house were soon followed by some exciting developments that forced me to tap new resources and talents. I felt the same excitement in response to these new challenges as I felt exploring the new rooms in my dream.

            You can gain valuable information about what is stirring in your psyche through the inner houses you access through dreams and active imagination. Sometimes the same inner house will appear over and over for weeks or months, as it did for me after my father’s death. This can be a house from your childhood or from some other period of your life. You may have experienced some fear or conflict at this time that is relevant to the current situation. This can also be a house you currently live in or a house that you have never seen in outer reality. Even a house that you know may have different rooms.

            Many people have had significant house dreams at some point of their lives—some so powerful that they are still remembered years later. But you can also use active imagination techniques to access your inner house.

The house is more than a box we live in; it is a soul activity to be retrieved from the numbness of the world of modern objects. Each place of the house, each room, each hallway, closet, stair and alcove is a distinct structure that animates different aspects of soul. . . Each room contains a mythic universe.
Robert Sardello


Close your eyes and shift your attention to the inner landscape of your psyche. Imagine some setting for your  inner house. This can be in nature or in a city or town. Awaken all your senses as you explore this environment. Smell, touch, taste, look and listen. When you feel satisfied that you are fully present in your body in this imaginal place, then look for your house. When you find it, approach it, noticing details as you move closer. Is it small? Large? Rustic? Modern? Once you have reached this house, circle around it, looking carefully at all sides. Find the front door. What does it look like? Step into the house. Look all around you: what kind of room is this? Is the room light or dark? How is it furnished? What is the color of the walls, floors and furniture?
            Move on to explore the rest of the house—the halls, any stairs, all the other rooms. Is there a basement or an attic? Start by observing these rooms in as much detail as you can. Then go back to the room (or rooms) that feels most compelling or intriguing to you. It may be that this room relates to a part of your psyche that is activated at this time. Spend some time in this room, looking around and exploring. You can rearrange, redecorate, or renovate this room. Bring in new furniture, paint the walls, put in a new floor, take down or put up walls, open up or close off windows. Another more dramatic possibility is to tear down this house and rebuild a new one.

            After you do this exercise, you may want to understand more fully what the different rooms of your inner house may mean symbolically to you. Take some time to explore your associations with a living room, a bedroom, etc as though you were trying to explain what these are to a person from another planet. You can also reflect on the purpose of each room and how each part of the house relates to the whole. Remember that “each room contains a mythic universe.”

            A client in crisis consulted me. As we discussed his difficult situation, he realized how much he lived from crisis to crisis rather that from any sense of larger vision. I asked him to create a five-year plan, a task he struggled with: all he could identify was that he wanted to live in Hawaii. I encouraged him to describe his dream house, first to me and then on paper. With eyes closed, he described the house as he saw it in his mind’s eye. He was shocked and excited by how vividly and clearly it appeared to him. After our session, he continued to write pages about the house, describing each room, the furnishings, and the surrounding landscape. As this dream house came to life in his imagination, he was surprised with how easily the rest of this five-year plan fell into place.

            If you choose to renovate or rebuild your inner house you may activate forces in the psyche that instigate change in your outer life. I’ve observed that even working on the house you live in has the same effect. Our houses in everyday life work on us as we work on them!

Our house was not unsentient matter—it had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see with; and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benedictions. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out in eloquent welcome—and we could not enter it unmoved.
Samuel Clemens

            In her first session, a client expressed her frustration with the stagnation in her life. She wanted change but felt at a loss in how to go about creating it. In exploring this concern together, we discussed the house she had bought years before which was in need of renovation. She had been putting this off but when I suggested that working on her house might just activate change in her outer life, she decided to go ahead. She started with the foundation. In working with the metaphor of the house, she recognized that working with the foundation might well stir up forces deep in her psyche.

            She soon discovered that the foundation couldn’t be repaired without extensive excavation of the earth under the house. She realized at this point that the work within would be deeper than she had originally anticipated. Since the space beneath the house was so small, it was necessary to cut a hole in her floor in the middle of the kitchen for the workers to get to the crawlspace under the house. This hole remained open for the months that the soil was dug out and the foundation rebuilt. During this time, my client had a vivid dream in which amorphous things from under the house were gushing through the hole, as though what had been buried in the unconscious was now free to move into consciousness.

            Occasionally my client would venture down this hole, crawling under the house to see for herself how the work was progressing. She felt that this was a journey to the underworld, as she crawled on hands and knees in the dirt, coming across old bones and carcasses of animals that had accumulated over the years. The powerful and disturbing dreams she had during these months reflected the close contact with the unconscious that she had established by working on the underside of the house. She unearthed memories of her childhood that had been dormant. As long as the hole remained open, the unconscious forces flooded her psyche. She realized that she could close off the hole if she felt too overwhelmed. But she saw this open hole as an unparalleled opportunity for healing in the depths of her psyche.

Our house in everyday life work on us as we work on them.

            Once you’ve made this connection between changes in the house you live in and changes in your life, you can undertake building, remodeling, redecorating or moving with more awareness of what you may be stirring up in your life. You can choose to work on a part of your house with the intention of catalyzing energy and change in a related part of your life. For example, redecorating or remodeling your bedroom may well create changes in your most intimate relationships.

            Even a seemingly minor project such as building or repairing a fence can have an impact. A client recently undertook the tedious work of repainting her fence. She realized that in spending so many hours focused on painting the fence (which created a boundary around the house), she was also feeling inspired to set clear boundaries in her work relationships.

            As you can imagine, buying or building a house can initiate radical changes in your life. Before you move or build, create a house in your imagination that reflects your dreams. Experience this house fully with your senses A friend who is in real estate asks her clients to make a wish list of the qualities they most want in their house, then to clarify the top two priorities from this list. Her clients often find houses that embody the qualities that they have defined.

            It took thirty-two years for psychologist Carl Jung to build his dream house out of stones on the shores of the lake at Bollingen. There was no working plan; the house was inspired entirely by his imagination. He described it as a “kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts. . .It might be said that I built it in a kind of dream.”

            Houses foster a dance between our inner and outer worlds. As we become more attuned to the nature of this dance, we realize how profoundly the houses we live in enrich our inner lives and how the houses in our dreams can revivify our outer lives. Through the imagination our houses come alive for us; we learn to live more fully in them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

For A Prisoner

Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk like someone suddenly born into color.
Do it now.   Rumi

            September 25 2008 I received a letter from Pelican Bay Penitentiary, the first of many letters in a correspondence that would reveal what life is like inside a solitary prison cell but more importantly how a deep healing is possible in that barren, hostile environment. An inmate named Paulo had found and read one of my books on grief, The Infinite Thread, in the prison library. He was desperately reaching out for some support after hearing of his 19-year-old nephew’s accidental death. This death was devastating to his large Samoan family (Paulo could trace his family back 9 generations); he felt overwhelmed with his own grief but also was at a loss in supporting his family. He worried about his sister and her young son. His only means of communication were handwritten letters—with an occasional phone call. No counseling was offered; he had no one to talk to. He was left alone with his grief and became lethargic, depressed and anxious. By the time we had exchanged a couple of rounds of letters, he received news that his wife had died—a guard delivered the news; he was not allowed even a phone call to his daughter.
            I learned that Paulo had been incarcerated at that time for 15 years, with the past 3 years in solitary. Since I wanted to relate to him first of all as a human being who was grieving, I did not ask what his offense had been, even though he offered to answer any questions I might have. He was housed in the SHU Security Housing Unit, a prison within a prison where inmates live 23 hours a day in concrete soundproof 8X12 ft cells with no windows, metal doors (with dime sized holes) that opened and closed electronically, fluorescent lights often left on day and night. Once a day (though not every day) prisoners leave their cells to exercise alone for one hour in a “recreation” yard that has high concrete walls. Paulo has not felt the sun on his body or seen a tree in years. He is not allowed phone calls, correspondence courses, music, human touch, more than one care package a year.
            Intent on healing his grief, he asked for my guidance. Even though it seemed at first unimaginable that someone living in these conditions could effectively grieve, I suggested he create a sanctuary in his cell, a place where he could focus for 10-20 minutes each day on each deceased family member, one at a time. He would begin his sanctuary time by just sitting with whatever was surfacing in his body, feelings, thoughts—not trying to change anything, simply opening to what is in that moment. After ten to twenty minutes had passed, he was to get up, shift his attention away from the grief. What was important was to create a contained, special place for his grieving, drop deeply into it for a specified time, then let it go. This way the psyche would not get overwhelmed and begin to shut down. Once this foundation was established, I offered other exercises to work with and heal whatever was unresolved.
            Setting up an altar, with pictures of his nephew and wife, Paulo dove into his grief with a dedication and intensity that amazed me. As my clients know, this takes tremendous courage. He embraced the pain, regrets, sadness, and anger. He talked to his deceased loved ones, wrote them letters, did guided imagery exercises for nurturing the ongoing inner relationship with his nephew and wife. By now, he had also uncovered his deep grief over the death of his grandparents who had raised him and who had died a few years before he went into prison. Paulo realized that his unresolved grief over this huge loss had been instrumental in his getting into trouble with the law and being sent to prison. As he peeled away layers of the pain that had encrusted his heart, he realized where he needed to forgive himself—that is always deep, challenging work but he did not shirk from it.
            His letters to me grew longer, more thoughtful, probing and insightful. He was recovering the self he had lost along the way, accessing the caring, compassion and curiosity that had always been there, hidden underneath all the pain. Whatever he learned for himself, he was eager to share with his mother, daughter and sister. Genuinely concerned for their well-being, he asked me how he could best support them. He read voraciously the poems and articles about grief I sent. One of these was John O’Donohue’s poem “For A Prisoner”. This poem so deeply resonated with him that he shared it with the other prisoners in his pod, shouting it out line by line to the inmate in the cell next to him, who wrote it down and then read it to the next inmate and so on through the entire pod.

For a Prisoner

Caged in a cold, functional cell,
Far from the comfort of home
With none of your own things,
In a place that is gray and grim,
Where sounds are seldom gentle,
Amidst the shuffle of dumbed feet,
The crossword of lost voices,
The one constant note
Is the dead, trap-shut sound
Of unrelenting doors that
Make walls absolute.

Though you have lost the outside world,
May your discover the untold journey
That await you in the inner world.

May you come to recognize
That though your body is imprisoned,
No one can imprison your mind.
May all the time you have on your hands
Bring you into new friendship with your mind
So that you learn to understand and integrate
The darkness that brought you here.

Within this limited space,
May you learn to harness
The stretch of time.
May your compassion awaken.
May you learn to recover the self
You were before you lost your way
And draw from its depths
Some balm to heal your wounds.

Behind the harsh rhythms of prison life,
May you find a friend you can talk to
And nurture the natural kindness
To become more free in your heart
And lighten the outer constraints.

May your eyes look up and find
The bright line of an inner horizon
That will ground and encourage you
For that distant day when your new feet
Will step out onto the pastures of freedom.
                        John O’Donohue

            Over the past few years he has embodied much of the spirit of this poem. He has discovered a rich inner world where he could heal his wounds, where his compassion could awaken, where he could recover his lost self. He knows that no one can imprison his mind; he is now studying transpersonal psychology (as well as many other subjects) and wants to write a book on grief for prisoners. He embraces the simple moments of his day with a new appreciation: “I came in off the yard not long ago. I was the last one so I got extra time outside. I walked, taking in the fresh air, read some, also was deep in thought reflecting on life and different lessons that change us, making us stronger and wiser.” When I reflect on the transformation this man has accomplished, I am struck that he is free in a way that many people in the world are not. He is at peace with himself.
May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be free from suffering.