The Gift of Resilience: A Parent’s Great Legacy

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The holidays are complete for another year, yet I continue to reflect on the gifts received and one of my favorites is one that I have opened daily the last 55+ years. The gift given to me by my Dad has been one of the two best, for I use it personally and professionally every day. From the time I was three or four, my Dad taught me the heroic journey framework of resilience through story-telling.

Children do not learn resilience by osmosis, or having a roof over their head and food on the table. Love alone does not teach resilience. All those things are certainly important, but children can actually be resilient without those things. A child surviving without love, consistency and safety is not necessarily going to be an empowered child – and neither is one who is given everything they request with truckloads of affection on the side. Teaching your child resilience is an additional and conscious process. Role modeling resilience is helpful, but intentionally teaching a child the framework gives them an added aspect of assessing, learning, perceiving, giving hope, changing perception and taking action.

My father began by sharing stories– some fictional, some real, and some embellished – and those stories continue to teach me significant things about life through them. For instance, I was taught how there are times people will experience doubt and confusion or that fear was a normal part of life, particularly when we try something new. He taught the difference between imagined fear and the type of fear that is essential in intuition. As he normalized those emotions through the different stories, he would then teach how to get through those feelings. He gave me many gifts in the framework and how to transform a challenge. As he did mentored, I began to learn the very pattern of challenge…the separation (or the call), the initiation and the return. I learned that life was a transformational journey.

He taught me about the “antagonists” or antagonist energy that threatens to stop, delay or sabotage the journey and that how some antagonists are actually mentors in antagonist persona. He didn’t portray the antagonists as inherently bad or evil for we all end up playing that role sometime whether we intend to or not. If you have ever been the parent of a teenager, you probably relate to being perceived as your teen’s “antagonist” and that teen doesn’t see the mentor persona underneath at those times when you are trying to teach boundaries or allowing them their logical consequences from unwise choices.

By teaching me the heroic journey framework I became an initiate on a journey – not a victim to life. Teaching me the framework did not keep me from experiencing trauma, but it gave me the tools of resilience and the ability to come through trauma and eventually learn positive things from it.

My father also taught me wisdom that comes from the hardest journeys. Dad role modeled how a person could survive and thrive after horrific childhood trauma which also include losing a beloved parent at age nine and live through the Great Depression. He was a positive and wise man who was always teaching inspiring me daily. I was shown about getting through without being jaded by life.
Many decades have passed since his death yet I learn daily from his teachings. I had to use his powerful lessons to get through one of the greatest losses in my life – losing my father who was my very own Obie Wan Kenobi. It was so terribly painful and terrifying, but I had the tools – his legacy – to make it through.

Having never birthed any children in which to pass the torch, I teach my clients – as a psychotherapist & resilience coach the framework and wisdom of the journey. When they come to me in their grief, trauma and loss, I hold the sacred space of that loss and eventually begin to weave in the elements for them to see their own heroic journey…for that is how trauma and loss can eventually be transformed.

Movies and books are the great story tellers now and mentors like Obie Wan Kenobi are not the norm. Children and adults are inundated by heroic framework stories, with no one to connect the dots – “how is that like your life?” We need to return to the great story-tellers who don’t stop at the story, but teach great wisdom with the story being the framework of resilience.

Would you like to join me? Learn how to take the great stories around us and utilizing them to teach how we live our own version of the journey…the mentors, the allies, the antagonists, sometimes the dark night of the soul or belly of the whale moments. All the elements teach us something essential in our journey. Every time we go through a journey consciously, we develop a bit more trust in self and trust in our life journey.

Some initial questions to identify a journey in your life:

• When you think back over your life, identify a time of great personal challenge that no longer holds great emotional intensity.

• When you were in that time of challenge, what was your personal self-talk (i.e. “I can’t do this” or “This isn’t fair” or “This is going to kill me.” Maybe it was something more positive like, “You can do this” or “You will learn from this”)?

• What was the most difficult part of that personal challenge?

• What internal qualities do you possess that helped you to get through that time? Things like beliefs, past experience, character like tenacity…

• What external factors assisted you to get through that time? Maybe people, groups, activities, books, classes, medication and other things helped you through. What are yours?

• What POSITIVE things did you discover about yourself and life in general from coming through that time in your life?

• How has at least one other person been positively impacted because you made it through that time?

• If we could take that scene in your life and plop it into a movie, what would be the soundtrack running in the background? What type of music, specific song or even noise would be playing?

• The Scouts get a badge when they learn a new skill. If you were to design a badge or have an object you could place on a necklace or a keychain that would symbolize the wisdom that came from that time in your life, what would it be?

• As you reflect on the answers to the above questions, what do these answers indicate about your ability to make it through future challenges?

• Is there anything you would wish to do differently?

You have just found some important elements about your own heroic journey….a small gift from my father to you.

2015

Additional resources:
The film: Finding Joe
Heroic Journey webinars, discuss groups, clinical continuing education seminars and more at www.theomnibuscenter.org

What Finding Nemo Has To Teach Us

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The full-length animated movie Finding Nemo is on a powerful story about life’s heroic journey and begins with a series of traumatic events in the lives of Marlin and Coral, expectant parents of 400 children (clown fish) about to be born.  As the movie begins, Coral and 399 of their children-about-to-be-born are lost to a barracuda attack, leaving only one “child” to survive – Nemo. Marlin must deal with the profound losses, his guilt that he could not stop the attack and having a “special needs” child, Nemo, who was born with a defective fin.

The loving and traumatized widower/father would probably be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in our Western Medical model.

Nemo, an adventurous and vibrant little fish, wishes to break out of his father’s hypervigilence by getting outside the “perimeter wire” of the reef and see what life holds.  Through a series of events, goes off on an accidental journey, leaving his father with the dilemma of choices: What will rule his life?  Will it be love or will it be fear?

As actor Albert Brooks does so brilliantly, Marlin is anxious, pessimistic, terrified of what will happen because he knows that very bad things in life can happen, worries constantly, but becomes willing to change and heal. He chooses to face his fears for the love of his beloved son Nemo, and sets out on the journey to find and return him to the safety of their home.

Early in the journey, Marlin meets up with the seemly dingy blue fish – Dory – who is played beautifully by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory appears ditsy, forgetful, goofy and seemingly not very smart, but this wonderful mentor/ally/trickster is going to play a pivotal role as the initiation guide and mentor during Marlin’s transformation and help him find exactly what he needs to thrive in life…to truly live his life fully.

They begin to traverse the challenges of the initiation time (The Jellyfish Jungle), they come in contact with some challenges which are very dangerous. They meet a group of sharks – 12 Step-style – which are struggling to give up fish (Marlin and Dory are fish). Marlin reluctance and doubt to continue is met with Dory’s persistence  to keep him going.  As Winston Churchill once said, “If you find yourself in hell, keep going.” Dory’s version of Churchill’s statement is a catchy little ditty she repeatedly sings, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

As they travel deeper and deeper into the dark and scary sea, into the metaphorical basement of Marlin’s soul, he becomes more frightened that he will never see his son again and his life – as he knows it – will be over forever. In this journey, however, a part of Marlin is going to die and another part will be revealed…The Hero Within. The feeling of hopelessness washes over him. It is during this time of complete and utter emotional and physical exhaustion – which is not uncommon at this point in the journey that Marlin and Dory encounter with a whale when they are in the deepest part of the sea. Although it appears to be quite similar to a profound Major Depressive Episode, it is clinically and energetically different and is an extremely transformative part of the journey.

When they find themselves in the mouth of the whale, Dory has the discernment and wisdom to quit singing “just keep swimming” – for she knows better. With her companion and initiate exhausted, he is in the perfect state of being for the next step of the journey. This complete lack of energy, ego and stamina is actually Marlin’s greatest gift. When we no longer have any emotional or physical energy left, we are much more likely to surrender to the very thing which transforms us. Surrendering is, ironically, the only thing which allows us to continue this journey because our ego or false self has been shattered. This is also the dangerous opportunity for transformation and why Joseph Campbell once stated,

“Madmen and saints, swim in the same waters, what drowns one, will transform another.”

For people who their sheer will and intestinal fortitude have gotten them through, the belly of the whale time may feel like they have completely been broken in two, having failed completely. Yet, it is the greatest sign of wisdom about to spring forth. When we have reached a bottom of our understanding and we resign – to God, a Higher Power, a universal force or what is to be or to who we really are – we can be transformed. Illusions are shattered, the false self is gone, the authentic self and authentic life can be revealed.

Mentor Dory speaks very important words to Marlin. “Just keep swimming” is no longer appropriate at this place in the journey. She instead says, “Just let go.” Since Marlin doesn’t have the energy to argue with her, he seemingly has no other choice. Instead of clinging tenaciously to the tongue of the whale, Marlin and Dory let go for the ride of their life…first into the belly of the whale and then, and only then, do they get blown out the blow hole so they may continue their life journey (to find Nemo and other marvelous things). When we reach the end of our rope, life is usually calling us to let go and allow life to carry us for a while as we release control. In essence, transformation comes in the form of becoming a whale loogie.

I won’t spoil anymore of the movie for you, for this is only the first half!  Many more adventures and transformative moments occur as Dory and Marlin are free to continue their journey, all while Nemo is having his own transformative journey. With the most difficult aspect of the journey over, they have the strength and hope to continue after they realize the importance of letting go so a new part can be reborn.

The belly of the whale time or dark night of the soul is an extraordinarily frightening and exhausting time. We tend to have tunnel vision, a sense that we are losing everything in our life which we hold dear, yet it is not until we surrender our will, that we find we are transformed. Theologians and philosophers – for centuries – have written about this very topic. One of my favorite authors, was Henri Nouwen, who wrote 40+ books before he died. Nouwen said of this time,

“I was forced into the basement of my soul, to look directly at what was hidden there, to choose

 in the face of it all, not death, but life.”

The heroic framework is a Universal Monomyth, found in every culture around the world, in every spiritual tradition.  During the deepest and most transformative life journey’s such as trauma and loss, perhaps with a trusted “initiation guide” such as a therapist or clergy we can transform the pain into beautiful and transformative life gifts.

Journaling or discussion questions:

 

  • Have you had a “jellyfish jungle time”? If so, what did you fear most? How did you come through that time?
  • What or who helped you through it? How?
  • What were your feelings and thoughts about yourself and life as you traveled that time in your life?
  • Have you find yourself in the mouth of the whale, where you were completely physically and emotionally exhausted?
  • What illusions were you being asked to let go of?
  • What did you have to grieve?
  • What positive realities began to come to you?
  • What happened? How did move beyond that belly of the whale time?
  • How were you transformed by the event?
  • How did that transformation help others later?
  • What would you tell others about that time in your life?
  • How has the wisdom and lessons from those deep journey times been helpful to others?

The Intro of the Heroic Journey

As human beings, we have an innate desire to make sense of life. Some people are more philosophical about it than others, but the desire is there. One of the main reasons we seem to connect to certain movies, books, real-life stories, religious/spiritual texts and even video games, is because the hero’s journey is intertwined in them. We are inspired when people have made it through difficult times and have thrived.

In this blog, I am going to take people through the process of a hero’s journey and the structure of that. I encourage you to consider how the journey impacts your personal life (your health, your relationships with others, money, your body, a Higher Power – if applicable to you) or your professional life (your company, your passions, your purpose).

Joseph Campbell, one of the most well-known people to bring the Hero’s Journey to the mainstream (The Power of Myth – A PBS Special with Bill Moyers; and author of many books, focuses on the myths we live by.

Some definitions for the word MYTH are:

“Myths are not legends or falsehoods. They are the models by which human beings code and organize their perceptions, feelings, thoughts and actions.” (David Feinstein & Stanley Krippner)

“Myths are metaphors which help describe the indescribable. “

“Mythology is an expression of the collective unconscious.” (Joseph Campbell)

“Myths are templates that help carry us through the stages.”

So, when I talk about MYTH in this blog, I will not being using it in the way we often think (myth vs truth).