Your Senses Will Return

I wake up early, pull my running shoes on and walk out into the dim light, just before sunrise. The air is moist from a rain the night before and the scents on the cool air seem to lift my spirits as my head rises and I stretch. It feels good to inhale and breath in life. The sun is starting to illuminate everything around me, though it hasn’t peeked out from behind the mountains. But, the air is clear and I can see for miles. I can hardly keep a smile off my face as I listen to the birds in the trees all around, singing songs of welcome as they seem to celebrate a brilliant new day. They’ve been up longer then I and are now busy about their business. Life goes on regardless of my participation.

Not long ago I could hardly drag my heavily burdened body out of bed, everything hurt, especially my soul and I didn’t know how I was going to enjoy the day. Everything was heavy and I felt so stiff with fear and doubts. I didn’t want to die. I just didn’t want to breath. Breathing hurt and it felt as if the breath was actually being sucked from my chest. How could I feel so wonderful now and yet so miserable not long ago? How could I enjoy so much with all of my senses and yet not long ago felt so numb and foggy. When did the shift happen and how did I ever survive?

I consciously knew that if I wanted to be happy again, that it was about what I chose to focus on. If I want to be happy it’s all about making a conscious decision to be happy and focusing on the things that make me happy. It was about recognizing the little things like how the air lifts my nostrils and makes me feel alive. It’s easy to say now, but I really don’t know when the shift happened because it was difficult and seemed to last forever. I’m just grateful that it finally shifted.

Some have ask me how I survived the tragedy of loosing my son. Actually, this question has been asked many times by well meaning people and friends. Their interest is either to inquire that they genuinely may know for their own benefit or to acknowledge me for what I’ve accomplished and help me feel better about myself and how I survived. They are usually impressed that I have, and yet curious how. I’ve heard comments like, “I don’t know how you’ve done it. I could never survive something like that.” I suppose people do choose not to survive tragedy. I suppose they even give up at times and I certainly understand how this happens. When your life is torn and wounded so badly and you are left with no answers, it’s easy to get discouraged and wonder how you’re going to survive.

From my perspective, I’m really not sure I ever had a choice as to whether or not I would survive. I have a family that depends on me. I’ve been granted the gift of life and I’m grateful for it at such a core level. I guess I say I’m not sure I had a choice, because I’ve never acknowledged another choice. I did however have a choice as to how I would survive and how that would look and maybe that’s worth discussing.

Remember walking outside on a beautiful spring morning when the air was crisp and fresh almost as if it lifted your nostrils as you walk along and inhale through your nose and take in fragrant smells that drift through and rest on your awareness. One pleasant scent after another usually of flowers or even churned soil from fresh planting all signifying new life and eager anticipation of that life. This to me is symbolic of the gift of life that I refer to. I believe that all life seeks expression of itself and does this by creating new life. Spring seems to be the easiest time to recognize this. Life is what I cannot deny when I ask myself how I’ve survived. It’s for the grace of another day, for the opportunity to smell again, to see again, to feel again, to hear again, to taste again. It was because of the hope that I could, that the numbness of my senses from the grief of tragedy will be soon lifted and I’ll once again taste sweetness and smell fragrance dancing and caressing it’s way through my life. Hearing songs that make me alive with expression, so that once again I can see clearly. Lifting the thick fog that had lowered around me from the numbness of my loss.

The vibrant life of my son that was snatched away from my family and I, left us not only breathless but numb. Nothing seemed to stimulate the senses and the dull ache would drown everything out, so that the only thing I seemed to be aware of was the pain. I completely understand when I hear that people who have suffered loss loose themselves in more numbing substances that help them hide from these feelings. Self medicating from this condition is an easy way out. The experience of loss is valuable, we can’t escape it, not in this life at least. However, I can promise that because of the opportunity to experience so deeply we can also appreciate the beauty of life more fully, in time. We can enjoy our senses again and experience more fully all the things that adorn our life and help us enjoy life again.

So. . . just a little tip from St. Francis of Assisi “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Grieve fully. Get the help you need. Start to heal by breathing even though it hurts. Smell what you can even though it’s dull and notice what you taste even though it may be bland. Hear what you hear even though it’s muted. Do it because you must. Do it because you hope things will be enjoyable again. Do it because you need the hurt to go away. Sometime soon, you will notice that things just change along the way. The fog will lift and somehow you will have survived and done the impossible.

The Story of My Why

If you’ve read my book you know that I use the question Why in a much different context then I’m about to here. Why? It’s a fantastic word. It helps us get to so much of the good stuff. The stuff down deep that really matters, in most cases at least. So, why did I write Lost Canyon? I must admit that though I felt very compelled to write it, I also fought it. I fought it so much in fact that at times several months would go by without doing anything to make any forward progress. At times I doubted if I really had anything meaningful to say. I doubted that I had the skill to do it in a way that would work well. I generally doubted that people even cared at times. The most dangerous was the doubt that sounded like “what will people think of you if you tell your story? They might think less of you.” The draw to do it wouldn’t go away however. It just kept coming up and in order for me to be complete, I knew I had to finish. Yet, knowing that I must and doing are sometimes canyons apart.

In order to get across the finish line I had to get very clear on WHY I was writing it. As is the case in many things in life, my why changed over time, as I progressed along the journey. First, it was really just for me, and if someone else happened to benefit from it, then I’d feel like it was really worth it. Writing can be very cathartic, in many ways it was very helpful for me to process my thoughts this way. Most of the time it was gunk and I felt very inadequate for the task. Then, there were other times that were profound, even inspired, at least for me, and things went quite smoothly. These times were fewer than I would have liked and as a result it was easy to get frustrated and discouraged. It was work, plain and simple. I kept feeling compelled however and this feeling wouldn’t go away. At times it was actually the only thing I was sure of and this soon became my second why. My second why was much more internal, more cellular in nature, it was more a part of me and as a result I became more willing to endure people’s critical comments. Though it was still in my nature to doubt, it became much more difficult to deny. Because it had become so internal at this point, my doubting actually became a form of self betrayal. The more I tried to bury the project the more I knew I was out of integrity with my why and my higher self. So, I continued to trudge on.

Because doubting was so easy, I soon started seeking approval, which was easy to find in the circles of those that love and cared about me, but somewhat meaningless if I wanted to get a true picture of the value of what I was writing. The worst thing I could have done was to listen to those close to me that didn’t want to see me get hurt. They all told me it was great! Well, it wasn’t, and I instinctively knew it. I had to be willing to get hurt, I had to get the critique of someone who had no agenda and could be brutal and tell me what they really thought. I discovered seeking validation is a dangerous process for an artist. A writer must be willing to put the work on the line. As in all art, the artist must be willing to create it the way they want and not be influenced by others. They must be willing to have haters. It must be from them and none else.

As I found critical people with no agenda willing to read my work, an interesting thing started to happen. I gained more confidence and started to care less about what people thought and started to respond to my heart and the few who where impacted. Those that couldn’t fake communicating what they got from my writing. When their communication came from their energy and was completely congruent with their words. This fueled the feeling of being compelled because I started to see the reality that Lost Canyon could, in fact, touch someone profoundly. This gave me confidence and helped dispel the doubt, at least a little.

Doubt is a nasty bugger. It’s entire goal is to destroy Why’s resolve. As I received additional confirmations, Doubt needed to shift and take on a new strategy because Why was getting stronger.

My why was getting stronger because I now had a first hand knowledge that Lost Canyon could be helpful because I saw it and I felt it. Doubt was going to have to work like an insane adversary to stop me now. Doubt now desperate tried to mess up things at the last minute to thwart my progress. Most of them were fantastic distractions disguised as friendly allies usually having to do with the opportunity to make money. Of course I need to make a living like anyone else, and because everyone said “authors don’t make money.” I questioned why I was writing. Oh my, would It really be ok to make money from writing a book about the tragedy of loosing my son? I got so frustrated.

Why was I doing this again? Was I writing Lost Canyon to make money? Was I writing Lost Canyon to help people? Who? Now all of a sudden my why, which had grown and adapted, even become stronger, was begging for me to be more specific. It needed justification for some reason.

At this point I was pretty much done, finished, forget about it! Unless I got past this need inside me to justify myself. Justification is an interesting thing. To justify means to make right or to straighten, to make true as in level. What wasn’t right about what I was doing? Why did money all of a sudden make crooked the why that had been so straight? Did it need to? Money had to be removed from the equation. For the work to be genuine it had to be something I was willing to do regardless of the outcome. Getting clear on this was incredibly powerful. Things flowed and I knew what I needed to do. Commitment increased and I felt completely on purpose. I actually finally “fell in love” with my own work at this point.

Then I got the letter. A letter from a friend who had just finished reading Lost Canyon. His two and a half pages caused me to weep like a baby. What my friend shared with me had nothing to do with me. It was his story. It was a tragic story of loss, far greater than my own. He eloquently articulated what that loss had done to his personality and how it had impacted his life in negative ways and made it difficult for him to be close to people. At the end of the letter he said this; “Thank you, for having the courage to share your story, because it has given me the courage to share mine. This is the first time I have written my story and I know that somehow I am supposed to use my story to help other people. I’ve known it for a long time, but I’ve been afraid of it, until now.”

If Lost Canyon does nothing else, then that one letter was worth all of the frustration, the time, the hard work. Helping someone else have courage to face fear is a pretty noble cause in my opinion. Well worth the work.

There was also the mother who really struggled reading it because she said it brought up so many emotions. She said she never would have sought out a book like Lost Canyon but when she was done she felt complete peace. A couple months later she and her husband were able to have the awareness to save the life of their teenage son who was struggling with depression.

Lost Canyon is not just my story of how I survived the grief of losing my son to suicide. It’s a story of how to live with loss. It’s about what we choose to focus on in life and how what we choose to focus on creates our experience. It’s intended to help, where necessary, start a difficult discussion about suicide, a topic that is so easy to avoid and gloss over. It’s intended to help those that have experienced any kind of loss recognize that life goes on with out them and they need to choose how they want to participate in their new future. It’s done this already and I’m proud I had the courage to stay committed to my why even though it wasn’t always the same.

It’s interesting what happens when we are on purpose and don’t allow doubt to take us out of our game. When we’re committed, all sorts of things happen that we never would have dreamed could and we get a chance to remember that there are more than just us at work. Providence will move on our behalf when our why is big enough that it anchors our commitment and won’t allow us to ever quit. The right Why has the ability to shrink all doubt and anchor commitment. It’s not the stuff dreams are made of, it’s what makes dreams become reality.