I have been writing and reading about spiritual teachings for several years and I always love to share what I am reading. There are several books I’m reading now, one is Brene Brown’s new book “Daring Greatly” which is wonderful and the other one is “Dark Nights of the Soul.” I love this quote from the beginning of that book and I find that it so relates to my own life and also Pema Chodron’s work about happiness and acceptance:

Many people think that the point of life is to solve their problems and be happy.  But happiness is usually a fleeting sensation and you never get rid of your problems.  Your purpose in life may be to become more who you are and more engaged with the people and the life around you, to really live your life.  That may sound obivous, yet many people spend their time avoiding life. They are afraid to let it flow through them, and so their vitality gets channeled into ambitions, addictions, and preoccupations that don’t give them anything worth having.  A dark night may appear, paradoxically, as a way to return to living.  It pares life down to its essentials and helps you get a new start.  

Here I want to explore positive contributions of your dark nights, painful thought they may be.  I don’t want to romanticize them or deny their dangers.  I don’t even want to suggest that you can always get through them.  But I do see opportunities to be transformed from within, in ways you could never imagine.  A dark night is like Dante getting sleepy, wandering from his path, mindlessly slipping into a cave.  It is like Odysseus being tossed by stormy waves and Tristan adrift without an oar.  You don’t choose a dark night for yourself. It is given to you. Your job is to get close to it and sift it for its gold.”

Thomas Moore

I didn’t choose my “dark night” three years ago when everything I believed were the most important parts of my life left me, my family, my home, my job.  Those things defined me for many years and suddenly I had to “re-define” myself – during my dark nights.  It was the greatest gift, the time I spent and continue to spend, sifting for the gold. 

It seems like every day I speak to a friend who is either racing off to the hospital to see a parent who’s ill, or a spouse, a friend, or dealing with their own illness, or divorce, or job loss. It’s not that I don’t know people whose lives are great – but the reality is that millions of us are dealing with difficult challenges. 
As Pema Chodron, the Buddhist writer says in When Things Fall Apart:
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
In 2009, I had my own personal “tsunami.” My 23 year marriage ended, I had no job, my mother died, my daughter moved 3,000 miles away, and I had to move, with two dogs. Life dealt me a hand that left me broken.  I felt like I was under water and couldn’t breathe.
A dear friend pointed me in the direction of Eckhart Tolle’s book, The New Earth and I read this:
“Whenever tragic loss occurs you either resist, or you yield.  Some people become bitter or deeply resentful; others become compassionate, wise and loving. Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. Resistance is an inner contraction, a hardening of the shell of the ego.  You are closed.  Whatever action you take in a state of resistance (which we could also call negativity) will create outer resistance and the universe will not be on your side: life will not be helpful. If the shutters are closed, the sunlight cannot come in.  When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up. If action is possible or necessary your action will be aligned with the whole and supported by creative intelligence, the unconditioned consciousness, which in a state of inner openness you become one with. Circumstances and people then become helpful, cooperative. Coincidences happen.  If no action is possible, you rest in the inner piece that comes with surrender.  You rest in God.”
This became like a mantra to me. (A long one, I know.)  I typed it up and carried it with me.  And honestly, circumstances and people didbecome helpful. 
One night at Friends In Deed in New York City, a “pragmatic, spiritual crisis center,” I attended a workshop on grief. I told myself I was willing to go anywhere for help, but it didn’t hurt that Friends In Deed was just up the block.
Here is what I learned:

Grief is the natural response to loss. Loss is a perceived change in circumstances plus a perceived change in personal identity. Grief now becomes a lifelong companion, never leaving you in the beginning, softened over time, but never leaving completely. If the person meant anything to you, the loss of them will visit you, sometimes when you least expect it.
The five stages of grief Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance—are helpful, but perhaps the stages are not linear and maybe there are better models.  And what about relief?  What about guilt?  
Another model for grief is shock, disorganization, reorganization.  
There are three levels to grief – the first level is the loss of the person, the life.  The second level is the practical issues, the loss of income, a home, structure.  The third level, the constant reminders: you pick up the phone to call the person, you cook for two instead of one, you look at the chair he or she sat in.
First comes disintegration, then eventually reintegration…”the new normal.”  The spaciousness and the possibilities begin to return.  Grief is natural, like breathing.  Try to let it happen, let it run its own course.  One day you’re on the floor and then surprising yourself, you find you’re going out on a date, something unimaginable just a short time before. 
Here are some myths:  you’ll get over it.  You’ll transcend it.  There is a right way to grieve.
Truth:  Your loss will transform you.  This is the experience, and it is what it is.  Tell your friends what you need.  Let them know you can use their help.  If they ask, and you don’t know what you need, thank them for asking and ask them to maybe ask again.  Soon.
The transformation is often for the better.  Not always, but usually—especially if we find ways to get out of our own way. I gave myself to the process, and it is a process, and now I’ll avoid the word journey, but it was and continues to be.
The tried and true methods of dealing with grief and anger, though they can be effective in the short term:  drugs, drinking, eating too much, are distractions from the process. 
The good news: human beings are resilient.  We are amazingly strong.
What helps with grief?

Talking helps
Not talking helps
Being silent
Writing (in your own handwriting)

Hitting a punching bag
Sad movies
Maybe you were grieved last week when NBC cut into Olympic coverage to give a sneak peak of the new show starring Matthew Perry called “Go On.” In it, they find the humor and pathos inherent in a grief counseling group. I was lucky enough to find Friends In Deed, but there are many kinds of groups out there, one that will suit you. You may even feel most comfortable in an online community. The main thing is to take your grief seriously, as loss is a necessary part of living. It needs to be respected and not ignored (as Perry’s character finds out in the first episode) – and you need to feel that you are not alone.
The tsunami that hit me ultimately has been the greatest gift of my life.  It added depth and understanding to my life and what else would I have to share?  Tips on how to deal with curly hair?  (Not that that isn’t very important information.) 
But I am now a far more empathetic person than I was when frizzy hair was my biggest problem. 
Friends In Deed is located at 594 Broadway, Suite 706, New York City, friendsindeed.org

Friedrich Nietzshe’s quote: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” used to annoy me.  I have to admit that I do find Kelly Clarkson’s song “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” quite catchy.

Yesterday, I saw a TED talk by a woman named Jane McGonigal, a game designer who suffered a serious brain injury, which caused her to go through an extremely traumatic year of pain and constant suicidal thoughts.

She came out of it with a game – and research which supports the notion of “what doesn’t kill you, etc.”  It is exactly the conclusion I, too, have reached after my own difficult journey of divorce, death, and quite a bit of loss, all at once, and all of it traumatic. 

This theory is called “Post Traumatic Growth” – and though it sounds crazy, I believe it’s true.

Here is what she discovered and it completely matches my own experience:

My priorities have changed, I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy.
I feel closer to friends and family.
I understand myself better.
I have a new sense of meaning and purpose.
I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

In addition, the idea of resilience in the following areas increases and gives you the chance to live a life of fewer regrets:

Physical resilience
Mental resilience
Emotional resilience
Social resilience

This is not to say that we don’t have bad days…we do.  But somehow they feel more manageable then they used to.  I know it sounds crazy and I hope you don’t spend the day with the song “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger” stuck in your head.  You should watch her talk on TED, it’s really good.

And if you find yourself singing the song, get up and dance!

I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning, which hasn’t happened to me in a long time.  Today’s a great day, too, I’m going to Unity and then we’re going to march in the Gay Pride Parade, which couldn’t have been planned for a better day.  Aside from the passage of marriage rights in New York State, it’s also a beautiful day.  And Carlos Anderson will be speaking at Unity, which always makes me happy.  He speaks extemporaneously and it’s thrilling to see him.  

As I was walking Lucy on this glorious morning, I started thinking about all the people I miss.  I thought about Zoe last night and how we always had so many great adventures together.  It’s hard to even express how much I miss my daughter.  I miss old friends. In some cases they left me, in other cases, I left them.  The ones I left are really the ones I miss. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss them.  I miss Lola and I always will.  I think about her every day and I feel grateful for those wonderful nine years we had together.  I miss Mike Eigen, my old therapist, who I see on occasion, but no longer regularly.  And I miss our marriage and family therapist, Mildred Moskowitz, who we also saw regularly.  I’ve spoken to her on the phone a few times and I went to see her last summer.  She is a lovely person and quite a role model, well into her 80’s and still working.en

I miss my mother and my father.  This summer is the second anniversary of my mother’s death and my dad’s been gone for 21 years.  I miss my family, my sister and her son’s family, my cousins.  I haven’t seen them in a long time.  

I miss having a partner.  I miss the man I married, not the one I’m divorcing.  

But most of all, I am grateful for being able to feel this sadness and to be in touch with the feelings.  For so many years I was shut down and out of touch. 

I read an article about Harrison Ford the other day and when asked what he felt was the most important things in life he said, “People. Work. And…learning.”  I like that. 

My beloved dog, Lola, (the beagle on the right) isn’t doing too well these days.  We’re getting close to the end.  I haven’t been writing much because I’ve been dealing with so many ups and downs, but Lola is, by far, the hardest part of these cold winter days.  The lump on the side of her head, which started out like a small golf ball, is now like an orange.  She isn’t eating her food, but will eat chicken, ham and liverwurst.  She can hardly walk, but she still wags her tail and she is still there.  Inside.  Lola is still Lola.  But with a brain tumor, it’s only a matter of time before she’s not and I have to make this decision before she is suffering.

One of my best friends, Julie, has made that decision about her beloved Arlo.  Today is the day.  We spoke on the phone yesterday and had a good cry. Arlo is truly one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever known, a big hound/mutt. 

These creatures have been there for us through every life event for the past 13 (Arlo) and 9 (Lola) years.  They have given us unconditional love.  We have been their mommies and they have been our “kids.”  

I can feel the grief beginning to come to the surface, but one of the greatest blessings in all of this sadness, is how much support and love we have around us.  Once again, my deepest gratitude is to my friends and neighbors, especially Abigail.  Lola has had a very good life and so has Arlo.  I’m lucky I still have my older dog, Lucy, but her time will have to come soon, too.  

I’m reminded of the phrase from Friends In Deed, the Sally Fisher quote: “The quality of our lives is not determined by the circumstances.” The divorce goes on, my little dog is dying, my friend Julie is losing her beloved dog, it’s one of the coldest Januaries I can recall, I’m filled with sadness, and yet, I appreciate so much in life, too.  The sun is shining.  We had friends over last night for delicious homemade Mexican food.  I’m living in my city, the one I love and I live in my wonderful neighborhood, surrounded by people I’ve known for over twenty years.  I work for an incredibly lovely person, in an office filled with great people.  My play is having a reading this spring.  And for today, Lola is curled up on the rug nearby and I can go over and rub her neck and her belly.  And tell her how much I love her.  

I just heard from Julie that Arlo is gone.  She said it was painless and swift. They raised a glass to Arlo afterward and I do too.  Rest in peace, Arlo.  

The reality of winter and cold, really cold weather.  And two dogs that need to be walked, separately now, because Lola can hardly walk, so I have to carry her out and Lucy, who needs a good, long walk.  Six times a day we walk, in the early morning, in the late afternoon, and then at night.  So between working and walking and going to the gym and trying to stay warm myself, my life is full.  And amazingly, happy.  Today would have been our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I celebrated by going to lunch with the people I’m working with and we had a fantastic lunch at Balthazar.  I love working again, I finally feel like the last year and a half of grief and loss are mostly behind me and though there’s still plenty to be sad about, and worry about, and angry about — it all basically feels pretty much like life.

I’m happy to wake up each morning, do my meditation, have my coffee, sit quietly and then walk the dogs and go to the gym, if I have time.  Simple things that feel just perfect.  These simple things I am so grateful for.  

They always say it’s through the most adversity that we grow – I believe it’s true.  I’m so grateful for the past year and a half.  I probably wouldn’t appreciate these simple things now, if I hadn’t lost so much and found myself in the process.

I’m not talking about hot, as in sexy, although I like to think I’m hot.  It’s very warm here in NYC this summer and I am so ready to leave.  But, unfortunately, this summer isn’t turning out to be a summer of travel, not with two dogs to care for.  

And last night my beloved Trek bicycle, which I’ve had for at least twelve years (in NYC that may be a record) was stolen.  It was parked in front of a church on 5th Avenue and 12th Street, with plenty of people walking nearby.  Someone must have driven up in a van, cut the lock and grabbed it.  I had that same sinking feeling a few years ago when my car was towed, but at least I knew I’d get the car back.  

I actually had the thought the night before when I was riding with a friend (who warned me that my tires could be easily stolen because they had quick releases on them) that the bike was going to be stolen soon.  I never had that thought with such certainty, but I just knew it.  I can’t stand living in NYC without a bike and I know I cannot replace that one (it had just had a complete “tune-up,” new tires, brakes checked, etc.)  The bike was a part of my old life and I guess it was time to move on.  

I’m on the hunt for an inexpensive, but fantastic used bike.  It’s a priority, like having a car is for some people in the rest of the country, my bike is absolutely essential!  I love riding, especially in the summer.  I’ll keep you posted!

For the first time in many many years I will not be having Thanksgiving with any member of my family.  We used to go to my mother’s … and I have to admit after a few hours, I couldn’t wait to get back on the Long Island Railroad and go home.  But I also looked forward to the gathering every year and the conversations and even the arguing.  

This is the first Thanksgiving that my mother is gone and I miss her and I really miss my daughter, Zoe, but I am so proud that she found a job in San Francisco.  
I am so grateful that I can cry now, after so many years of keeping a lid on all my feelings,  because there was too much to deal with.

Right now though, there is so much to be grateful for, so I’m going to list my top ten:

1. My daughter
2. My health
3. Our newly re-decorated home (which looks amazing)
4. Abigail (my wonderful loft mate)
5. All my wonderful friends and family
6. Michael Eigen
7. Friends in Deed
8. Pema Chodron and meditation

9. My spiritual practice

10. My writing

Here’s a quote from “The Wisdom of No Escape” by Pema Chodron:

“The first noble truth says that if you are alive, if you have a heart, if you can love, if you can be compassionate, if you can realize the life energy that makes everything change, and move and grow and die, then you won’t have any resentment or resistance.  The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort.”

Thanksgiving can be a very discomforting day.  It’s rarely the perfect family photo op we all imagine it will be.  But I think if we focus on the gratitude for what we have, it usually works out pretty well.  At Friends in Deed I love the idea they talk about that the glass is neither half full or half empty, it is both.  And that the quality of our lives is not determined by the circumstances. 

So I hope you have a good Thanksgiving, wherever you go or whatever you do.  And I do suggest pants that stretch.

Every day I try to pack for at least an hour to prepare for this move out of a loft I lived I’ve lived in for two years with my husband, my daughter and our two dogs.   I should be pretty good at this by now, we moved three times in the past six years.  We moved out of a loft we owned in Soho that we had to sell because we needed the money.  We moved to a lovely rental, an upper duplex in a beautiful brownstone in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and then again, after a year, to the lower duplex in the same house.  You would think that just moving downstairs would be easy, but it required about the same amount of work – boxes, movers, disruption.  And the only thing different about this move is that I am not keeping much, and rather than just throwing everything into boxes (as one of my friends suggested and dealing with it another time, when I’m not so emotionally raw) –  I am trying to discard many of the things I’ve carried with me over the years, that I no longer need. 

And that is not an easy task.  I find that I am dealing with more emotions in the last six months than I probably have in most of my life.  And as painful as that is, it’s also healthy, to feel so much and to let it just move through me. 

Yesterday, my little dog Lola was sick and she could hardly move, she was vomiting most of the day.  Also it was Yom Kippur, so I fasted from sundown to sundown and lit candles for both my parents.  By the end of the day I was so worried about Lola (I did call the vet and listened to their advice – watch her, give her Pepcid – she vomited that – no more food.)  This morning she seems a little better, at least so far.  I missed talking to Steve about her, since he adores Lola, but I know calling him wouldn’t have helped anything.  So I called a few friends and got through a difficult day that was filled with anxiety and hunger. 

And I continue packing and grieving.  Occasionally, I do have good memories of the past and I’m proud of all the work I’ve done to get ready for the move.  I’m also excited about my new life.  But change is always difficult and it’s the first time in my life that I haven’t had a mom to talk about it with.  And also the first time in twenty-five years that I haven’t had a partner to help. 

But I’m pretty strong and the phrase “this too shall pass” reminds me to just keep packing and doing the work, and the rest of it will all sort itself out. 

And I do have to say that I’ve had two wonderful gifts this week.  I got to see “Wishful Drinking” with Carrie Fisher on Sunday, which I enjoyed.  My friend had to go out of town and she gave me her ticket. And tomorrow night, I have a free ticket to “God of Carnage” with James Gandolfini, Hope Davis, Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gay Harden.  Thank you Karen and Barbara.  I love you both.  And Barbara, I hope you feel better soon.