Saturday, September 7, 2019

Living Gracefully in Times of Upheaval

We are living in a time of great uncertainty, upheaval and change. Indeed everything seems to be speeding up—and will continue to accelerate. Time feels more compressed—a day can feel like a month in terms of the amount of experience compressed into that period of time. Energy is moving at a faster and faster rate through our bodies—in order for that to happen, stashes of unresolved emotional issues that we habitually carry in our bodies have to be healed and cleared. This is a precious time of transformation, unprecedented in scope. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, anxious, and fearful of all the changes both in our personal lives and in the collective. It’s easy to get lost in the outer drama and lose touch with our own source.

How can we live gracefully in these times of upheaval? How can we maximize the transformative potential?

1) Think of a hurricane—a hurricane generates some of the most powerful forces of wind, rain and waves on the planet. However the destructive fury of the hurricane revolves around a center that is absolutely still. That still center is the source of all the hurricane’s power. Every day go into the eye of the hurricane. Close your eyes and return to that source at the center of your being-- sink into that stillness. The words of T.S. Eliot come to mind: “At the still point of the turning world. . . Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

2) During that still time, turn within and pay attention to what is going on physically and emotionally. What sensations are you feeling in your body? What feelings are surfacing? As consciousness goes about clearing and emptying whatever blocks its expansion, we will be shown whatever needs to be healed. But you have to take the time to pay attention to what is showing up. You may not understand what is going on within you—your job is to observe and feel what’s there without judgment, without a story. Trust that what shows up is what needs your attention. We’re being guided by the universe—so that each one of us can be a part of that greater transformation.

3) As you go about your day, open to the joy of ordinary moments in your home, garden, neighborhood. Be present to whatever is showing up in this moment. Nature is constantly calling out to us, as though to say, "Look here and here! Wake up to the beauty all around you--that flash of a hummingbird, this tree ablaze with red gold leaves, the cool wind brushing your face, the raucous chatter of jays. Open all your senses to the wonder that surrounds you in this moment!"  When you cultivate joy and gratitude, you benefit the collective—your joy lightens and brightens the world. It may seem like a small contribution but it is felt!

4) When you go to bed, empty out from the day so your sleep is restorative and restful. Take some time to watch the events of the day pass by, noticing where your attention catches, where you get caught up in some emotion. Every day we are inundated by information. Emptying ourselves out allows for something greater to move through us while we sleep. When we aren’t processing the events of the day, our dreams can connect us to the depths of our being. Those dreams are gifts—they are messengers from the deep. When you wake up in the morning, write them down and savor them—let the images work on you throughout the day.

Sink into the silence that is here now—
Inside you,
In this moment,
In this sound,
This tree, these eyes.

Let this silence bring you home,
And the sweet smile of Buddhas
Spring to your lips.
That wind is your breath,
Those waves are your pulse.
This silence is who you are.
     --  From How Did I Miss All This Before? Waking Up to the Magic of Our Ordinary Lives 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Sheer Joy of Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go, No One to Be

I’m sitting at a small table at Peet’s Coffee, sipping jasmine tea. Just sitting, doing nothing, I open my attention to the sounds, smells, and sights all around me—the whir of the coffee grinder, snippets of conversations wafting by, a burst of laughter from one of the baristas, the musky smell of freshly ground coffee beans, newspapers rustling. Such a rich cacophony of life! The joy of doing nothing—and in this, I revel in the opening to life just as it is right now. Whether standing in line at the post office, sitting in my garden or in my office between clients, I savor these moments of my day; they’ve become increasingly important to my sense of well-being.

Ah, the sheer joy of nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be! Just to read these words, many people sigh—yearning for the spaciousness of that state of being while feeling the press/stress of daily commitments, constant activity, and over stimulation. Learning how to integrate these moments of doing nothing into one’s daily life has become one of the strategies that I explore with clients who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed in these times of collective upheaval and financial insecurity.

Learning to do nothing is truly an art, one which few of us in our fast-paced society have mastered. The benefits are many. When we slow down and rest in being, we begin to flow with the current of life. We come home to our bodies; stress melts away. In those precious moments of doing nothing, we have the opportunity to reconnect with our Source—and when we are rooted in this Source the world reveals her magic.

Many are surprised that we deepen our spiritual practice not by doing more, but by doing less and less. Doing nothing we become more receptive to the Truth, more open to life as its is. When we relax back into nothing, we start to realize that nothing is not dead space at all—it’s alive, vital, vast. Energy rushes through the body and animates the senses. Vipassana teacher Jack Engler writes: “My practice now for the most part is doing nothing. I just sit there. I know it sounds dopey. . . Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just open the field of attention. If I had to put it into words, it’s learning the art of doing absolutely nothing. So you’re sitting there, attentive; and enjoying the show. Whatever comes up. A thought. A sound. A sensation. You don’t reach for anything. You just let life bring stuff to you.”

Here are some suggestions for learning the art of doing nothing:

1) Find a safe place in your home and take 10-20 minutes a day to just sit, doing nothing—a place where you will not be disturbed. You might need to experiment with a few places until you find one that feels really comfortable. Turn off all distractions: phones, TV, computers, Blackberries. Allow your body to relax, take some big breaths, and stretch if you need to. Settle into simple being, sitting very still—remembering that right now there is nowhere to go, no one to be, nothing to do.

2) Open your awareness to your breathing, paying attention to the flow of the breath in and out of the nostrils or the rise and fall of the belly. Be aware of sensations in your body—heat, cold, tinglings, vibrations, throbbing, pulsing, aching, lightness, density. Don’t try to manipulate or change your experience—let this all be as it is. Listen to your body—what is your body telling you in this moment?

Keep relaxing, letting go. Gradually open your awareness wider-- to the sounds around you. Allow listening to happen with your whole body, not just your ears. Keep listening. Allow your body’s boundaries to dissolve. Is there a point that you can’t tell what is coming from within or without, that there is no more separation between inner and outer? Everything is happening inside you; you are the body of the world!

3) Experiment with small nothings in your daily life—in the check out line, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, waiting for the light to turn green. Being alert, relaxed and present, gently open your awareness to whatever is going on around you—conversations, activities, sounds.

Practice driving without talking on your cell phone, without listening to the radio. Enjoy the scenery; focus on your breathing and the sensations of holding the steering wheel.

4) Spend some time in nature, whether in your back yard, a park or the woods—inviting the trees, stones, plants to teach you the art of just being, of doing nothing. If your thoughts start to take you out of the present, just notice them and gently bring your attention back to your breath, your body and the natural world around you.

Drink in the stillness that emanates effortlessly from each tree, each stone, each plant. Such a sense of peace!

If you feel overwhelmed by the daily onslaught of emails, phone calls, news, financial concerns, work & household demands, if you’ve lost a sense of inner peace, take time each day (just 10 to 20 minutes!) to practice the art of doing nothing. In the spaciousness of that nothing, you just might discover the vitality, peace, energy, and inspiration that you’ve been yearning for!

I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck down there in the depths,
Against a great thing,
And nothing
Happens! Nothing. . . Silence. . .Waves. . .
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
And are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?  
      --- Juan Ramon Jimenez

You will find more suggestions for integrating the sacred into your daily life in my book How Did I Miss All This Before? Waking Up to the Magic of Our Ordinary Lives. If you are curious how a retreat might incorporate this art of doing nothing, check out the last chapter: Waking Up In Paradise Retreat. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being Astonished

This morning the piercing sweetness of the finches songs and the pearly white luminescence of the calla lilies took my breath away. My own back yard is sacred ground—if I can empty myself of distracting thoughts and let the world flood in and ravish me. Nature is always calling out to us to wake up and pay attention to what’s right here in this moment. Poet Mary Oliver reminds herself (as I also do) to “Keep my mind on what matters, which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.”

In the midst of our grief over what is happening in our world, these moments of full presence in our everyday lives, of standing still and being astonished, is what is needed to heal our hearts—and ultimately our world. The Earth has so much to teach us right now—but we need to take the time to open to these ordinary moments that call out for our attention—when a bird is singing, when sunlight is streaming through branches, when a stone in our path catches our eye. How did I miss all this before? 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Gift of the Chilean Miners

Last night I joined millions of people all over the world as we watched the first Chilean miners emerge from their two-month ordeal deep in the earth into the arms of loved ones. Mario Sepulveda the second miner danced, hugged family and officials, and offered gifts of rocks from the mine. “I’ve been near God,” he said through a translator, “but I’ve also been near the devil. God won.”  

I’m always curious about what captures the collective imagination—and this clearly has been one of those riveting events. I am intrigued by the archetypal themes that are being played out in this drama. In Greek mythology the Greek god Hades was lord of the underworld, of death (and rebirth). It was believed that he takes us deep into the territory of the soul—it is in his realm that soul work is done. He was also the god of hidden wealth—within the Earth, within ourselves. 

For seventy days, these 33 miners lived in the dark underworld of Hades, on the edge of death, not knowing if they would ever be rescued. Separated from their communities, their families, their homes, they had to dive deep within their own psyches to find the strength to survive.

As a therapist and author specializing in grief, I’ve been struck with similarities between what these miners went through physically and what those who are grieving experience emotionally. Grieving clients often share that they feel trapped in a darkened underworld. They feel isolated from normal society. They agonize over their loss without any sense of an end in sight. Indeed those who are grieving go through a long descent stage, that I often liken to wandering in tunnels deep in the Earth—it is my job as a guide to encourage them to reach deep inside themselves to find the resources that will enable them to go on through the loneliness and depression, to face not only the chaos and uncertainty, but also their mortality. Then one day the dark passage opens, revealing a new landscape. We emerge into a new life, seeing with new eyes. We emerge from the dark passage of grief into the stream of events and the music of life, eager to live more fully, embracing all the seasons of our lives.

Last night these miners began their journey back into the world. With so many of us riveted to our computers and television sets, we watched as each miner left the womb of the mine deep in the earth and traveled in a capsule appropriately called the Phoenix through a birth canal made of rock—emerging like a newborn into the Camp of Hope. There were long shots of the hole from which the miners would emerge one at a time—so much like a birth! Even the President of Chile was heard telling one of the just emerged miners that a new life was about to start.

These men are changed, even transformed, from their underworld journey. They can never go back to who they were. I will be fascinated with what they have to share with us. Soon the world will be offering these national heroes opportunities, money, movie and book offers beyond their wildest dreams. Hades is also the god of riches. If you are willing to meet Hades in his underworld, he can bestow riches upon you.

In their return, these 33 miners bring messages to us all from Earth’s depths—at a time of deep despair in the collective, they have emerged from dark depths to cheers, hugs and celebrations all over the world. Perhaps over their long stay, the Earth has seeded in them some new vision that will help us in our collective transformation. They bring hope, a renewed appreciation of what it is to live, of life’s simple moments. Think of what it is to come to the surface of this Earth after being trapped for months in darkness. How wondrous it must be to see a blade of grass, to feel the sun on your skin, to hear the song of a bird, to hold a loved one in your arms. The 12th miner said shortly after emerging from the capsule: “Thank God we’re alive. I know now why we’re alive.” Each one of us needs to be reminded how precious this life is, how precious this Earth is—this is the gift that the Chilean miners give us in their ordeal and return.