Two Sides of Gratitude

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Two Sides of Gratitude: Mourning and Celebration

In one of my evening classes on Embodying NVC we explored self-empathy within the Spiral Blend practice. (page …..) I spoke about the healing that comes through mourning and celebration. I explained that we celebrate when there is someone or something present in our lives that we love. It is a sweet feeling. Mourning is when we express the sadness and pain that we feel when we love something or someone that we miss. As we resumed the practice, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was quietly weeping. I asked her what was going on for her. She replied that she was feeling sad about a dear friend of hers that had died. She explained how reframing grief as gratitude had freed her from notion that she should be suppressing her emotions. She said that until now she did not know what to do with her pain. Realizing that her tears were just a deep gratitude for the beautiful friendship that she was now missing, she said, “my tears are no longer something I need to hide away, instead they are here to fully honor and appreciate my friend who is no longer with me.”

I asked her how she was feeling now. She wept for a moment more and then with a gentle smile said, “I feel good. This feels right.” She also said that she felt a little embarrassed to be crying in front of the others in the room. So with care, I asked if she would be ok with looking around the circle of participants for a moment. She noticed 16 sets of caring eyes. I asked the group this question,” If you feel more connected with Diane. and experience her tears as a gift in this moment then please raise your hands?” Everyone raised their hands. And then I asked, “Who feels themselves move away as Diane expresses her emotion?” No hands were raised.” This gave Diane a chance to check her internal stories about crying against the visible feed back of the people around her.


When I ask these types of questions in a circle I leave room for participants to express their discomfort as well. When I do encounter people who feel they want to move away from someone who is crying it’s always been because of the stories and the “shoulds” that they tell themselves in regards to crying such as, “she shouldn’t cry because it will make every one uncomfortable”. Following those threads leads to insights and healing as well. I asked D. how that reflection was for her. Thoughtfully, she replied that it was a bit “altering” in a good way.


I know that feeling too. Once an instructor of mine, Mark Mooney at the Strozzi Institute brought to my attention that I seemed to contract and then hide my face when my tears came up during a moment when some emotional pain of my childhood was re-stimulated.


I was born in 1956 and was a child of the ‘60s.   When I turned 13, to my father’s consternation, I chose to grow my hair long. This clearly did not fit his view of the world or what he thought was best for me. Dad worked long hours and many nights. He stayed in the city and did not come home. The nights he did come home, after hard days at work and several drinks, more often than not, he would corner me about my long hair. This was the first place I took a stand as a young adult. Our fights escalated about my hair and over time branched out into everything else he thought I should be doing, about what is right and who’s wrong. This kind of “interrogation” went on for years until I left home for college.

I remember the shift inside me when I first learned to stifle my tears, seeking respect and falling into the story that men shouldn’t cry. Before those fights, I cried freely when I felt hurt or sad. For decades after those painful arguments I have stifled my tears.


When I cry I also hunched my shoulders to protect my heart, looked away to avert my my shame, tightened my throat to stay quiet and unseen. These core contractive strategies were accompanied by stores I told myself such as; “I should not cry” and “I am burdening others with my tears” and that “I should just be able to take it like a man”. Many years later I began to appreciate and reconnect with what was under the pain. As I began to reunite with a younger part of myself, it was like meeting with an old friend that I had not seen for a long time. There was the sweetness, the celebration of the meeting and the sadness, the mourning of all the time I had missed this beautiful part of myself. Mark shared that I looked more present to him now. He asked how I was feeling at this moment and although I still had some tears coming, I said that I felt good, a sweet sadness. He observed that my body was still a bit collapsed and that my face looked sad. He suggested that since I now felt good, that I see how it felt to smile and maybe sit up a bit. I noticed that the smile felt right and that when I sat up, it also made some sense.



Being a father motivated me to work triple time to face my early conditioning and model what might be better. My personal goal for raising children has always been to give my children a smaller pile of shit than I received. I’m happy to say that I met that do-able goal. We get caught in stories and it takes effort to change them. Stifling tears and emotions did not something I cared to model for my children. Crying is healthy release, as natural as burping and farting. Crying feels good. Crying opens us to our interior. In my trainings I’ve noticed that when one of the participants tear up, it loosens the tears and emotions all around the room. In fact, in many cultures around the world, there are places where those who can cry readily are hired for weddings, funerals and special occasions as tear looseners because they are seen as being close to spirit and their tears bring everyone closer to spirit.


What I practice now is this: when the tears come, I appreciate them and cry with dignity. Instead of hiding my face in my hands, I often sit up, explore how I feel and look at who I am openly and with dignity. I notice that there are many moments when I cry that I actually feel like smiling through the experience and so at times, I do. What I tell myself now is that “Crying feels good. Crying is as natural a release as burping or farting.” That when I do cry it means I am close to spirit and that it is actually a gift to those around me”.


The Tiger’s Eyelash

Their lived a young woman who was at her wit’s end. Her husband had always been a tender and loving soul mate before he had left for the wars, but ever since he returned home he was cross, angry, and unpredictable. She was almost afraid to live with her own husband. Only in glancing moments did she catch a shadow of the husband she used to know and love.
This went on week after week, and he was so bad-tempered she was really frightened of him and she went to the healer in the village and she said, “My husband is just, he’s just impossible. Can you give him a potion, can you give me something that will make him gentle and loving once more?” And the healer said, ” Well yes I can but you know I, I need an ingredient I am all out of,… one tiger’s eyelash. So I would need you to go climb the mountain and to go find the tiger and bring me back an eyelash, and then I can make the potion for you and everything will be alright.” And the young woman went, “Thank goodness for that, that there is something to be done.” So she went out to the mountain and she had told her family that she was going to do this.

She went out to the mountain and she went out under the trees that had leaves that looked like stars. And she went into the foothills where there were boulders that looked like great big loaves of bread. And she started climbing the mountain, and the mountain had flowers that had thorns that tore at her clothes. And the mountain had rocks that scraped her beautiful pink hands. And the mountain had strange birds that flew out at her in dusk and that scared her and made her heart beat very, very fast. And still she climbed higher and higher, and a snowstorm began. And it began snowing sideways, so that the snow was coming straight into her eyes and her mouth and her ears. But still she climbed higher, and she found a little cave. And she put herself in there, and in coldness and in hunger and exhaustion she fell asleep. And when she awoke in the morning, the snowstorm had stopped. And things were peaceable, and even little green plants were coming out of the ground, out of the snow. Well, she thought, I’m here at last, and I am going to go and have to find this tiger.

Well she didn’t have far to look because as she looked out of her cave there went this majestic, beautiful, black tiger; striding across the mountain leaving great big footprints in the snow. Well, she reached into her bundle because she had brought food and she set it out on a little plate, and she watched where the tiger went into his lair. And then she set the plate right outside the lair and then she ran back to her cave and she hid there. The tiger smelled the food and he came out of his lair, and he looked around, and he ate it right up. Well the next day she did the same thing, she put some food on a plate and she set it right outside of his lair, but this time, instead of going back to her cave, she stayed just about half as far away. And the tiger came out, he smelled the food, gobbled it up. And he went back into his lair. And this went on for many days, until she decided she was brave enough to come even closer, so she put the food on the plate, put the plate outside the lair and she stood practically right beside the plate so when the tiger came out he not only looked at the food, he saw her feet as well. “Please dear tiger, I’ve come all this way because I need a cure for my husband. I have been feeding you all these past days, could I please have one of your eyelashes?” And the tiger looked up at her snarled and looked at her for a while and then slowly walked towards her and said, “Make it quick” And so she reached out, and she took hold of one of those long, glossy hairs, and quick as a wink- pulled it, “ooh!” she said. And tiger said nothing because he was brave. She said, “Oh thank you tiger, so much.” And the tiger just turned around, went back into his lair, paid her no mind.

She rushed down the mountain. She rushed down the mountain so far and so fast that by the time she got to the bottom, she was all bruised and she was all bloody, but she could hardly wait. She stumbled over the boulders that looked like great big loaves of bread and she ran under the trees that had leaves shaped like stars on them, and then she ran all the way into the center of the village and down into the hut where the healer was, and she said, ” Look! Look! Look! I have it! I found it! I got it! The tiger’s eyelash!” And the healer took it from her, and held it up to the light, and twisted it between his two fingers, and said “hmm…” and threw it into the fire where it was consumed. “Why did you do that!” she said, ” Well,.. you…. I went through all that to …” and the healer said “Calm down, it’ll be alright… what you have

done with the tiger all these past days, go home and do with your husband.

The End



This story is about how to approach our Core Strategies. Spend time near your core strategy, that younger part of yourself and for a while as if it were the tiger, just listen. Like the husband coming back from war, he or she might not want to be near you. Be patient, invite and only listen for a while. If you had a sitting practice you might invite that three-year-old to come be near you. If you like to walk regularly invite that 10-year-old out for a walk. Take that pimply faced 12-year-old out for an ice cream and if he or she does not want to go that’s okay. Just make your intention clear that you would love to listen whenever he or she is ready. You might add that you are a little sad that for all these years you have spent time not listening when the younger one in you was trying to help. In time when those triggering moments do come up you can touch that younger part of yourself and say, “I am listening”. “Tell me what you want me to hear” and then just listen. In time, enough trust will be built-up so that you can come up with a mutual strategy that will effectively address those triggering moments when they come up.


I once had a student who really took this practice far. Mark was a very intelligent, sensitive man who found it very uncomfortable to express himself and feel confident in himself. In our workshop he came in contact with a core contractive strategy he developed at a younger age that was very much hindering him now. In earnest he began to journal each day. The journal was a thick blank book when he started. With his left hand he began writing from the beginning of the book in the voice of what he called big Mark. From the back of the book with his right hand he started writing from the voice of what he called little Mark. Being left-handed Little Marks writing was practically illegible at first. For a full year he kept this journal and by the time big Mark and little Mark met in the middle of the journal, not only had little Mark’s handwriting become beautiful, both Mark’s were now fully integrated and that younger part of himself had now became a powerful resource.



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