The Inn by the Healing Path
Published by David Spero RN at Shakespir
Copyright 2016 David Spero RN
Shakespir Edition License Notes
Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends, but if they buy one for themselves, it will help me to keep writing. Please visit my author page to find other books you might like. Read Book 1 at
Look for future books in the Healing Path series beginning in April, 2016.
Welcome to the Inn by the Healing Path. People stay here sometimes on their way to wholeness. Come in if you need a rest or if you want to meet some inspiring people. They’ll be happy to tell you their stories.
The stories are all true. I am featured in a few and have bit parts in others, but mostly they’re about people I have known, worked with, and learned from as a health coach, a journalist, a social activist, a parent and a seeker.
Why take this path?
Many people are searching for wellness, happiness and peace in their lives. I am living that search, and you may be living it too. And while love and peace are actually all around us, it can take a journey to find them and take them in.
At their core, all our journeys are similar. We become wounded in various ways. The world seems dangerous, even overwhelming, and we don’t know where we fit in. Or we think we do know, but we don’t like it much. Life is full of beauty, but we experience too much pain and fear. We have moments of pleasure, surrounded by stretches of anxiety and sadness. There must be something better, but we don’t know what it is.
Sometimes people volunteer for their journey, looking for something they know not what. Other people are forced onto the path. Home disappears or becomes unlivable. Illness or trauma rips away security and sets us on a voyage we never wanted.
These paths can be long, difficult and twisted, but they have surprising rewards. Healing isn’t about returning to some imagined previous untroubled state. It’s about moving forward to something different and in many ways better. The healing path frees you from the false limits society has put on you, your false sense of who you are. Then you can come home to the peace and joy that are always within you. You can be a force for good in the world.
World permitting, the Inn will be a reliable support for your journey in coming years. Books will be released every 3 – 4 months. Each book includes four – seven stories. Many of them first appeared on The Inn by the Healing Path blog, and when readers’ comments deepened the story, I have included them here under the heading Going Deeper. For those who may want to meditate on or learn more from the stories, I have included some questions under the heading On Your Path after each story. If you want, you can print them out and use them as a workbook.
Of course feel free to choose what to read, what questions to answer, and what to ignore. The Inn is your place to heal. Enjoy it.
San Francisco 2016
Why a book of reasons to live? Living is a good thing for most people, most of the time. Why would you need a reason to do it?
Good questions. When our health and social situation are positive, we rarely think about why we’re living. But then something happens. We lose something important: a home, a love, security, or health, physical or mental. Then it becomes harder to get out of bed, if you have a bed. Then we need reasons to live.
When I started telling stories, I was working with chronically ill people to promote self-care. I was also living with chronic illness myself. Questions of motivation seemed important, because without them people wouldn’t take care of themselves. When The Inn by the Healing Path blog started, it was called Reasons to Live, because that’s the part of the healing path I was on. The beginning.
I’m not there now, and the current blogs have a different focus. They’re more about peace and joy than reasons to live, because life is back to seeming a good thing.
The older stories still have valuable lessons, though. They still inspire; they still bring tears and hope when we need them. The stories in Book 2 include four of the older ones and three more recent. Most tell of people making their lives and the world better by finding and committing to their reasons things they love doing. These reasons range from planting trees to cooking, from taking care of seniors to doing manicures, and more.
Other reasons to live related here include seeing the blessings in what seem to be hardships, and recognizing the love that is already in our lives. By the end of this short book, a reader will hopefully be clearer on what they are doing on planet Earth. Enjoy.
The people in the stories that follow freed themselves from the restrictions that hold most of us back. They didn’t worry about compensation, which allowed them to do what they wanted to do. They didn’t worry about achieving results, so they could take all the time they needed. They weren’t deterred by other people’s opinions, which gave them freedom to create. They worked with the world, with nature, not against it, which multiplied their power tremendously.
Such liberated people make the world better. They often find themselves richly rewarded in ways they couldn’t have expected or even imagined. They plant seeds and their life grows around them.
Elzéard Bouffier was a shepherd who brought a whole blighted district in Provence, in the foothills of the Alps back to life with 40 years of faithful tree planting. Where life had been a cold, grim struggle, the trees made the weather more pleasant, brought rain, and raised groundwater levels. Streams returned; people returned to a now-beautiful place that had been a wasteland. The residents never knew about the old man who had made it all possible for them.
They’ll never find out now. Elzéard Bouffier is a fictional character. He features in a short book by Jean Giono called The Man Who Planted Trees, published in 1953 and translated into dozens of languages. It is Giono’s best known work worldwide and was made into an award-winning animated movie.
Giono made the book widely available by giving it away. He took no royalties. Anyone who wanted to translate, publish, or make a movie of it could do it for free. He said his goal was to “make trees likeable, or more specifically, make planting trees likeable…It is one of my texts of which I am the proudest. It does not bring me one cent and that is why it is doing the very thing for which it was written.”
The Man Who Planted Trees was fiction, but it’s not anymore. Local governments undertook tree planting in Provence and restored the actual land and climate much as Bouffier did in the book. Meanwhile, people have embodied Bouffier all over the world.
In India, when Jadav Payeng was sixteen years old, he was walking on a 1,300 acre sandbar in the Brahmaputra River, near his home in the Assam District. A flood had washed dozens of snakes onto the island, where they died.
“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover,” he told the Times of India in 2012. “I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested.”
Payeng stopped going to school and moved on to the island. He watered and tended the bamboo, read about and did everything he could to improve the soil, including bringing ants in a bag from his home village. Then he started planting trees. He has kept it up for 30 years.
The island is now a beautiful forest. Animals have returned, including rhinos, birds, deer and Bengal tigers. Payeng raises a few cows there and supports his family and his forestry by selling their milk in the city.
Has this been a worthwhile way to spend his life? Payeng apparently thinks so, because at age 47, he has found another 1,300 acre sand island and plans to do it again. That will take him up to age 77, but he says, “I am optimistic about it.”
The more I think about this story, the more awed I become. It all started with compassion for a bunch of dead snakes. How many people would have been so motivated by the plight of reptiles? Yet that motivation has created life.
There must have been times he wondered “what am I doing here?” Trees failed. Life on the island could be lonely. But he did what he felt called to do. He has changed his corner of the world in a beautiful way, and in the interviews I read, he sounds happy and at peace. He is poor, but he is not a hermit. He has family and friends. He looks healthy. He seems to blend his giving with his life seamlessly.
Not for Hermits Only
In Kerala State, India, Abdul Karim brought water and fertility back to several villages by re-growing a forest on 32 acres of barren hills. He started in 1997, putting down his life savings to buy 5 acres of desert. Landowners thought he was a fool for envisioning a forest on land they considered useless.
But it was his dream to bring back the “Kaavu,” the sacred groves that all Indian villages had long ago. Karim had never seen one, but says he had been told of them as a child. “I think I had subconsciously yearned for one,” he says. Eventually, he bought 32 acres.
According to the magazine Good News India, Karim started planting saplings in whatever cracks he could find between rocks. People in the forestry department said he was mad. His own extended family members called the plan “stupid.”
For the first three or four years, he had to bring in water by motorbike, before and after his work as a travel agent. Trees kept dying in the dry heat, and he kept trying again. After three years, he had little to show for it but a few small saplings. He was close to giving up.
Then God sent him a message. There was an abandoned well on his property that gave about 5 liters of water, then needed long hours to recharge to even that pitiful level.
“One day, after three or four years, I noticed the water level in the well starting to rise,” he says. “I took that as a sign and started planting everywhere I could find.” There was still nothing a passerby could see for all Karim’s efforts, but he knew he was on the right track.
Now the trees he planted have turned his hill into a forest sponge that provides water for surrounding farms in a 10 kilometer radius. All manner of animals and plants have returned, including some valuable medicinal herbs. Nearby villages have come back to life.
It has taken 25 years. Most of the profits of his travel business have gone into his forest, but he told Friday Magazine of the United Arab Emirates that he believes it has all been worth it. Scientists come to study his forest; eco-tourists to enjoy it. He gets to speak at ecology conferences around the world. The government is looking at ways to replicate his forest on other barren hillsides, of which India has many.
He lives in a small house in his forest with his wife and two of his children and can’t imagine relocating. “I wanted to leave behind something that I had created for the next generation,” he says. “For sanity and generosity of spirit, we should be able to witness nature at its unceasing, rejuvenating work.”
What These Stories Tell Us
Are people like Karim and Payeng superhuman? Or do their examples apply to us too? We aren’t all called to plant forests or write inspiring books, but we can all do something.
I like thinking of our lives as planting a forest. You plant seeds and they grow up around you, though you often can’t see them. So there are things we can learn from these forestry stories.
● Good things take time. If Jadav Payeng had spent a year on his sandbar and then gone home, it might have done some good. But as he stayed on, the results grew exponentially.
Like trees, children take years to grow. You won’t see the results of your mentoring, feeding, coaching, raising or whatever you do with children for years. When you do, they may bring you joy (and challenges) for the rest of your life.
Social changes may take even longer. Nelson Mandela spent 50 years trying to overthrow the apartheid regime in South Africa, including 27 years in prison. He didn’t feel positive about his path all the time. There were doubts, and there was anger. But he helped bring democracy to his country, and without a violent revolution. He became its first elected president and inspired the world.
● Appreciate small successes, like Abdul Karim did when water came back into his well.
● Don’t attach to results – In Camden, New Jersey, a man named Mike Devlin has spent 40 years planting seeds, in the form of groups where impoverished people learn to grow their own food. He came to Camden in the 70s. According to Yes! Magazine, organizations he started include the Camden Children’s Garden, Camden Grows, a program that trains new gardeners; a Food Security Council, which was adopted by the city; a truck that sells fresh produce in the neighborhoods, a youth employment and training program; and Grow Labs, a school program to teach kids about healthy food.
Not everything he started worked. As Camden kept sinking further into poverty and crime, as industrial jobs went overseas, life got harder, but Devlin kept going. He did the best he could and let go, and his results are feeding, employing, and inspiring thousands of people, including many who never heard of him.
● There may be a learning curve. You just can’t throw seeds out the window or plant a seedling and come back 20 years later to find a tree. There are right and wrong ways to plant.
Whatever we do, we can’t expect to be great at it from the start. We learn, we grow, we get better, and our results improve over time.
● Enjoy the process. I’m pretty sure Karim and Payeng didn’t wake up in the morning dreading going to the forest to work for a miserable boss. They didn’t have a boss. They enjoyed the planting and the learning and being out with Nature. If it’s a chore, you won’t keep it up.
● Small things count. If you can’t plant a forest, can you plant one tree? If you can’t end world hunger, can you help some others eat? If you can’t write an inspiring book, can you write one poem? Even if only a few people ever see what you do, it can make a difference for them.
● To give, you must take care of yourself. Payeng and Karim both live in their forests and are comfortable. They didn’t wear themselves out; they worked at a steady pace they could manage.
● Don’t let others dictate to you – Payeng and Karim both had families and friends telling them they were wasting their time. A more famous forester, Wangari Maathai of Kenya, actually went to jail several times for planting trees in opposition to government development projects. She became the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
No vow of poverty
Lao-Tzu wrote, as others have written since, that the more you give, the more you will have. I can’t understand this statement in rational terms. I can’t explain it, but it’s a mystical truth. Things do come to you when you are on a good path.
Matt Mullenweg founded WordPress, the blogging software used by millions of people, including The Inn by the Healing Path. It’s free to users, which is what makes it so powerful, allowing millions to express themselves. Mullenweg makes money from his work on the Web. His company Automattic runs Akismet, Gravatar, IntenseDebate, and other sites you have may have used, and he invests in other startups, but he says, “[Wordpress] touches a lot of people. I consider myself very lucky to be able to work on something I love so much.”
Tim Berners-Lee is known as the “inventor of the World Wide Web.” He created software and computer programs like hyptertext transfer protocol (or HTTP.) He gave them away. His company decided that “its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they could easily be adopted by anyone,” which helped the Web get started much faster.
He could have made more money had he, say, patented the Web, but then the Web wouldn’t have grown as it has. As it is, he has been knighted and has had a series of exciting positions that pay pretty well. Giving away and receiving are not mutually exclusive.
What have you contributed?
What seeds have you planted? Most people have contributed far more than they realize. A valuable exercise is to write a list of ways you have contributed to the world. Little things and big things, things you did on your own and contributions to a larger effort. Things that are over, things you’re still doing, things you would like to do.
I call this naming my reasons to live and find it helps me to make sense of my life and find my place in the world. Take your time; think it over; ask others for help.
As Jadav Payeng and Abdul Karim have shown, the more you keep planting, and caring for the shoots you’ve planted, the more beautiful your forest / life becomes. I hope we all value the seeds we are planting and that we keep on planting and caring.
First posted August 4, 2014
I realized in preparing this chapter that the stories all seem to be about loners. People clearly do wonderful things on their own, but another equally valuable way is to create with others.
A doctor and teacher named Donna commented on the value of planting seeds with other people, “At a point in one’s life – or in some niche in one’s life – it stops being about yourself and starts being about other people. I used to think this had to do with maturity, or with career stage, but I don’t think that any more. It works for everyone. When I speak with students about leadership, I ask them to reflect on some time they helped another person succeed, for example, as a tutor or study partner; then to take that as a touchstone for their own growth as a mentor.”
Looking a what we do as planting seeds might be especially rewarding in working with children. As with trees, you might not live to see the full flowering of your work, but it will come.
But it takes time, and we don’t like to wait. One young man commented, “For me, the patience is the hard part.” I can second that, especially when things seem to be getting worse instead of better.When I think this way, I try to remember the words of Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day. She said of the labor movement, “Every strike is considered a failure, a loss of wages and hours, and the understanding between employer and worker does not seem any clearer, and no gains have been made on either side. Yet women no longer go down into the mines, little children are not fed into the mills. In the long run the efforts of the workers have achieved much.”
1. What would you like to accomplish, but it seems too big for you?
2. Could you start the project and have others take over later? Could you start it and get some help? Could you do some of it and scale down the size? Or could you do it if you just didn’t care how far you got with it? Could you get training or learn the skills you need? How might you do any of these things?
3. What seeds have you already planted? Write a list of small and big things you have contributed to the world. Maybe ask for help in remembering. Are there any you want to revisit or develop or replicate? Think about how some of those seeds have grown since you planted them.
4. Are there things you could let go of to make space for the creative forest you really want to plant?
5.How do you feel about creating something marvelous and giving it away?
Mental illness can feel like serving a life sentence in solitary confinement without possibility of parole. There’s no way out. But even in the most apparently hopeless cases, having just one positive thing to do, one activity to focus on, can change everything.
The first story was reported by Bill O’Hanlon, the founder of solution-focused therapy, in his book “Do One Thing Different.” It’s about a woman in Milwaukee named Millie who had become quite seriously depressed. When the great psychiatrist Milton Erickson gave a lecture there, Millie’s nephew asked him to visit her and see if he could help her.
Millie lived alone, was now in her 60s and had lost most of her close relatives. She had medical problems that put her in a wheelchair and severely curtailed her social activities. She had begun to hint to her nephew that she was thinking of suicide.
When Erickson arrived, she gave him a tour of the house. Everything was dark, curtains drawn, furniture musty. Then she showed him her best thing, a solarium with beautiful plants including African violets, which she cut and replanted until she had filled the space with glorious blues and purples.
After the tour, Erickson didn’t talk to her about her obvious depression. As was his style, he focused on her abilities instead.
Along with the violets, her strength was her faith. “She had previously been quite active in her local church, but since her confinement to a wheelchair she attended church only on Sundays,” O’Hanlon reports. “Because there was no wheelchair access to the church, she hired her handyman to give her a ride to church and lift her into the building after services had started, so she wouldn’t disrupt the flow of foot traffic into the church. She also left before services had ended, again so she wouldn’t block traffic.”
Erickson could see that religion was the most important thing to her, that she cared about people and was great with flowers. So he told her that her problem was that she “was not being a good Christian.” Millie objected, saying, “I go to church every Sunday. Do you know how hard that is for me?”
“That’s true,” Erickson replied, “but you’ve got money, you’ve got this greenhouse and a wonderful green thumb, and you’re keeping it all to yourself.”
He advised her to work from the church newsletter, and she agreed. Every time there was a birth, wedding, graduation, or other happy or sad event, she hired her handyman to drive her and give African violets, condolences or congratulations to the people there.
One positive thing. When she died ten years later, the local paper carried a large headline that read “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Dies, Mourned by Thousands.” She had become famous for her trademark flowers and her charitable work with people in the community for the ten years preceding her death.
Now, this elderly, depressed woman had a lot of resources. She was rich and intelligent. Could this method work with a poor, chronic schizophrenic woman living in a hospital? Apparently so. In the Netherlands, a young woman had been hospitalized for ten years with hallucinations and disordered thoughts. Then her psychiatrist started doing the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) among the patients.
ESM is a system of finding what people are doing, thinking, and feeling. Participants are given some kind of alarm, which goes off at irregular intervals. Whenever the alarm sounds, they write down where they are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, and what they’re feeling. It’s a way of seeing connections between activities, people and moods.
Like many chronic mental patients, this woman was usually miserable. She spoke softly and often unintelligibly. She rarely smiled. But she was able to participate in the ESM monitoring. At the end of a week, she turned in her report. Out of all the times the alarm had beeped, she recorded positive feelings only twice. Both times, her good mood occurred while manicuring her fingernails, not usually a peak experience.
Noticing this, the medical team did something wonderful. They arranged for her to be trained as a manicurist. She began to offer manicures to other patients and soon became well enough to be discharged to a half-way house. She started manicuring people in the neighborhood. She continued to improve and a year later was leading a self-sufficient life as a manicurist. Apparently, she still is.
ESM was invented by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, PhD, an American psychologist and author of Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life. He believes people are at their best when doing something that completely absorbs them. He calls this “Flow.”
Flow experiences can frequently be reasons to live. They’re usually things you are good at and/or things you love, so each person’s will be different. Whatever your positive things are, whatever gives you flow, I hope you are able to devote some time to them.
These stories resonated with mental health workers. Amy wrote from Canada, “One of the best things to happen to mental health in the province of Ontario has been the use of a new standardized tool to help both clinician and client work toward the client’s expressed goals. The clients tell us what elements in their life they are interested in improving: relationships, housing, vocational skills, activities of daily living, and the clinician works as a team-member with the client rather than trying to “enforce compliance” from him/her.”
Will, a therapist in upstate New York wrote, “It’s important to share stories of people recovering from mental illness by finding ways to live more satisfying lives. This gives hope and a creative perspective to many who might otherwise buy into the pharmaceutical/medical inadequate band-aid approach to ‘treatment’.”
You don’t have to have a mental illness to benefit from focusing on what brings you joy, though. Or even a physical illness. Why wait?
On Your Path
1. Millie had something good that she didn’t realize was a gift. What gifts do you have that you’re not sharing much? How could you start giving them in small ways?
2. The Dutch woman had one thing that brought her joy. What things bring you joy that you’re not doing much? How could you do more of them? Think about what element of these thing you love brings the most joy. Imagine a person who loves to dance but can no longer stand. What elements of dance could she still do? Is there something like that you could do in your life?
Thanks to Catherine Freemire, LCSW for alerting me to these stories. Her web site is [+ A Balanced Life+].
When painful things come to you, look deeper. They may be blessings in disguise.
When my friend Nora was 24, she married Fredrik, her tall, good-looking high school sweetheart. She supported him through medical school and residency in San Francisco, working as a counselor. When they returned to Wisconsin, she gave up her job to raise their son Arne; then aged two, now 12.
Nora and Fredrik were together 20 years, and she had terrible migraine headaches the whole time. She could tough out a day with the help of medication, but her head rarely stopped throbbing. She often felt nearly overwhelmed with pain, anxiety, and depression.
Fredrik and Nora loved each other, but there were other problems in the relationship. Last year, she convinced him to go to counseling, where she talked about the ways his total devotion to work was impacting her and their son. She told him his long work hours and focus on social standing was a bad match for her socially conscious, family-time orientation. She noted how his unexpressed anxiety was making her more anxious and asked him to be more open about feelings.
He responded by leaving her. In just a few weeks’ time, he filed for a divorce, which went through, forcing Nora to leave their upscale home and neighborhood, change Arne’s school, and return to work.
And her migraines stopped. They’re still lurking on the fringes, but they’re much milder and less frequent. She has cut her medication way back. Though Fredrik is still doing things that trigger her, her depression has lifted along with her headache. She still has ups and downs, but overall she feels better than she has in 20 years.
Those kinds of healings happen frequently. Here’s why I’m writing about it now. For months after the split, Nora would complain about Fredrik’s abrupt departure and unwillingness to work things out. She criticized his rush into remarrying a woman he barely knew. She was upset when he would call with some issue about Arne or their divorce settlements. She rarely mentioned what a blessing the experience has been, liberating her from days of terrible pain and into a new life.
Nora’s getting over it now, but how about you? Do you notice the disguised blessings you are given? I often don’t. It might surprise you, but the benefits of my disability have been substantial. People give me all kinds of slack. The government pays me disability insurance to do good things. It’s not enough to live on, but it beats full-time work and gives me space to write and to volunteer. I learn wonderful lessons every day. The parking’s great.
Would I give all that up for a healthier body? I probably would. But if I only look at the negatives and ignore the benefits, I would be dishonest, as well as feeling unnecessarily miserable.
It’s not always easy to see the blessings, but I try. Recently my bladder function has become so bad that I have had to start catheterizing myself four times a day to empty it. At first, I focused on the difficulty, discomfort, embarrassment, expense, and risk of infection. I thought of it as another step down the road to total disability and helplessness, all of which could turn out to be true.
What I didn’t notice was how much more comfortable I felt. I didn’t appreciate the ability to go out for hours without making sure a bathroom was close at all times. I ignored how good it feels being able to sleep through the night. I feel a connection with Nora; we were both ignoring our blessings.
Not seeing the positive is a common trait, isn’t it? In fact, noticing the blessing is rare enough that it catches our attention when somebody does it. The British TV show “Call the Midwife,” based on Jennifer Worth’s books about midwifing in London’s poverty-stricken East End in the 1950s, has powerful scenes of poor people seeing blessings that were invisible to the nurses and to most viewers.
In one subplot, a nurse is doing regular wound care on a disabled war veteran living in a filthy studio in a housing project, or Council flats, as they are called in England. On one visit, he tells her “I’m so grateful. I never thought I would live in such luxury.”
She’s looking around at the bugs and the crumbling walls and thinking ‘What luxury? This place is a dump. The country is failing you.’ Then he explains, “I have food every day. I have a warm bed at night. As a child, I never dreamed of having comfort like this.”
The nurse and the audience are taken aback. I was in awe of this character, because he was seeing a blessing that most people couldn’t see. What a powerful attitude to have!
I have friends who would question his attitude, because if you’re grateful for a pittance, you’ll be lucky if the rich give you even that, and you certainly won’t get more. To me, though, happiness counts as much as material well-being. This war vet wasn’t deluded; he knew he had no power to change things. He was only noticing that his conditions could be and had been a lot worse, and he appreciated the improvement.
16th Century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila was once called to spend some weeks with a noble family who wanted her spiritual guidance. She wrote that she had envied the rich and powerful, but no longer. “These women have the same hurts and fears we all do,” she wrote, “but they are not allowed to show them. I don’t envy them at all.” These noblewomen weren’t good at seeing their blessings, although they had so much in material terms.
Why is seeing the world’s gifts important? For one thing, a time will likely come when the benefits of life are not so obvious. When we’re young and healthy and not in poverty, we don’t need to pay special attention to the good sides of life. We can’t miss them. We can all act like the noblewomen of Avila and take our blessings for granted.
It won’t last forever, though. I can guarantee that. We all lose things that are dear to us. We all lose pieces of our good health; our bodies start to decline. That can’t be helped. What can be changed is how we respond to our losses. If we can see the blessings, it takes the edge off our loss. In fact, those difficult times may be experienced as the best times of our lives. It’s working that way for me.
How is seeing the blessing different from looking on the bright side? They’re pretty similar, but a blessing is something you can use, something that can guide you on your path. Looking for the blessing or benefit or lesson can enable us to appreciate things that seem a burden otherwise. We can turn negatives into positives.
This summer I’ve been helping out with three neighbor girls, age 9, 6 and 4. Leona, Lisa and Joy are lovely, good-hearted children, but they are needy. Being raised by a disabled grandmother in poverty doesn’t get you much positive attention, trips to nice places, non-TV time or good food to eat. They have a lot of nervous energy; they can be exhausting.
I started taking them to the playground, reading with them and giving them snacks, but not because I wanted to. I just thought they needed the help. After a week, I asked myself, ‘This is hard. What am I getting out of this? What is the world teaching me here?’
They are fun to watch, but still I was putting out a lot of energy providing a very low level of help. Then I realized, ‘I’m learning to say no. I’m learning to set limits.’ Embarrassing that I’m still a beginner at limit-setting, but it’s been quite helpful to have children to practice on. If I can’t set limits on a six year old, how will I deal with an aggressive adult?
I didn’t realize until this week that it’s working. On a bus ride, a woman was berating the bus driver for making her use the back door. After a minute of her non-stop insults, I asked her “Do you really think this is doing any good?” She stopped yelling at the driver and started criticizing me instead. But her voice was a lot lower and it was easy to ignore her.
Sometimes a blessing takes the form of a lesson worth knowing. A few nights ago, during a discussion at a meditation class, a homeless man continually interrupted a woman when she tried to speak. The fourth time, I said firmly, “You’re interrupting.” He stopped, but two minutes later he got up and grabbed his stuff to leave, angrily saying he was never coming back. He said he was only trying to participate and I had been out of line.
What was the blessing in that? I didn’t pick up on it right away. I responded, “Well, your behavior was rude.” He loudly said, “I wasn’t trying to be” and walked out slamming the door. After a minute, the emotional content of the event sunk in. I realized he was only angry because he was hurt. He probably has a lot of hurt, and calling him out triggered something painful. That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, but it was a powerful lesson for me to realize that when people act angry, they are probably in pain. I think that lesson will help me in life. I thank him for it and hope I have a chance to pay him back.
First published July 2015
Several readers identified with Nora’s healing story. A professor named Paul wrote: “After moving out from my narcissistic ex-wife, I had immediate relief from high blood pressure and I have not had a high reading since. After 15 years of having loose stool 6 times a day, I overnight became normal and no longer needed daily lomotil. Because of draconian levels of alimony to my ex (who is a social worker,) I must live in a high crime area of the inner city. Yet I have never been happier.”
Linda wrote, “I had become almost completely disabled from a nerve condition that all the doctors seemed unable to do anything with. My husband left me, I lost my job and had to move back in with my parents. I thought my life was over. Then I started taking long walks on my parents’ farm, trying to relax and spending a lot of time talking to God. My physical, mental and spiritual life took a complete 180 degree turn over the next six months. I would say looking back after 40 years that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve been able to complete college, work and am now looking forward to retirement.”
Healing through loss is not always physical. Jon wrote: “I was just thinking about my first wife. Our relationship was a constant power struggle. We were mutually abusive and it seemed as though she was determined to cut me off from everything I loved in life. The thing is that during my years with her I had a series of profound mystical experiences. They caused a complete transformation. I have not had similar experiences since I left her.”
“I know I could never have had those experiences if I was contented. My unhappy marriage forced me to go far beyond the limits of ego and conscious mind. If I’d said, ‘I hate this marriage’ and left, without confronting myself I would have ended up behaving exactly the same in another miserable relationship. In some ways I’m grateful for that awful marriage.”
Even tragedy can have an element of blessing. Marjorie wrote: “My most spiritual time was after my husband died in a car accident. Dealing with everything put me in a rare and special space. I knew I couldn’t live there all the time and was sad when I knew I had to return to life as we live it now. It was amazing though.”
On Your Path
1. What is hurting you now? What losses have you recently suffered or what difficulties do you currently face? Can you think of ways those problems might help you heal or grow?
2. What has happened in your life that seemed negative but turned out to have rewards? What benefits are you deriving from them now?
3. Does looking for unwanted blessings or silver linings to the storms of life seem forced or pathetic to you? Write a bit about those feelings.
Reasons to live do us no good if we don’t act on them. If we don’t focus on things that motivate us, it’s hard to get anything else done, no matter how important. When we do focus, we can change our lives in unforeseen ways.
I used to lead a six-week self-management program for people with chronic conditions at a Kaiser Permanente hospital. Iris was 60 years old when she came to one of these classes. She was a short woman with straight black hair and glasses, who walked slowly with a cane in her left hand. Iris had high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, and two and a half years before, she had had a stroke. Since then, she had mostly been moping around, not doing much of anything.
Iris never would have come to class, except her family dragged her. She didn’t seem to want to be there, but she did participate, speaking in a soft voice with a Cantonese accent. Each week a different relative would bring her, so over the course of the six weeks, we got to meet the whole family.
In the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, as it’s called, everyone is supposed to make an action plan for one thing they are going to do for themselves in the coming week. Every week, Iris’s action plan was the same:
“I’m going to get on my exercise machine,” she would say. She had this LifeCycle at home, and she would say, “I’m going to use it three times, for 20 minutes at a time,” or something like that. And she never did.
I mean, not one single time did she get on that LifeCycle. One week she said her knees hurt. Another week she didn’t have anyone to help her on or off. For whatever reason, she never did it.
The fourth week, she gave us the same plan —”I’m going to get on my exercise machine,” and I just said, “No.” Which you’re not supposed to do. The patient is supposed to be in charge, but I was frustrated enough to say, “Don’t tell us this same plan that we know you aren’t going to do. Pick something that you WANT to do.”
“Not something your doctor told you to do,” I continued, “or something you think you should do, or something that would make your husband happy. Something you want to do. Because wanting to do something means it’s important to you. It puts some energy behind it. That way, you might actually do it.”
Iris looked annoyed, but after a minute’s thought, she said, “OK. If that’s the way you’re going to be about it, my plan is, I’m going to cook a meal.” Not necessarily a health behavior at all. But it was a striking thing to say, because in an earlier exercise, she had told us that what caused her the most pain and the most grief was not being able to cook. Cooking had been her main role in life; she had cooked for her whole extended family. And she hadn’t cooked for two and half years since her stroke.
So we were all pretty excited about this. She came back the following Saturday and I asked, “How did it go?”
“Well, I don’t know if I did it or not,” Iris replied, in a voice about 10 decibels louder than her usual murmur. She said she had started to cook a couple of dishes. Then she got tired on her affected side. So she called her husband in, and he acted as her sous-chef. She told him what to do, and together they prepared a dinner. They had such a good time doing it that they did it again later in the week!
Iris was just beaming as she told this story. As it happened, her son was with her that day. And he said, “You know, she exercised every day this week.”
She exercised because she had a reason to. At the end of class and at two month follow up, she was still cooking, and still exercising. Studies of nursing home residents show that those who have something to do — even if it’s just taking care of a plant — live longer and are healthier than those who don’t. For Iris it was cooking. What is it for you?
First posted December 2011
Comments were mostly about how Iris’s story brought tears to the commenter’s eyes. People related to Iris. It seems people often get caught up in doing what’s “good for them,” instead of what they want, with poor results.
Arlene commented, “This is a perfect example of how other people do not always know what is best for us. Great of you to recognize that she shouldn’t continue trying to do something that didn’t fit her real needs.”
On Your Path
1. What things do you do because you “should” or because they’re “good for you?” Do those things motivate you or help you be well? Do you enjoy them? Do you really have to do them?
2. If not, what could you do instead that might bring you joy or other benefits? Things you really want to do? Try making an action plan to do one of those things.
3. If you are in a situation of coaching or advising someone in your life, does Iris’ story ring any bells?
Julie walked slowly in to a San Francisco multiple sclerosis support group I led, leaning on her walker. Her first line of introduction was, “I don’t know why I’m here. It’s not like you can help me or anything.”
Julie was 45 and had been diagnosed with MS for about ten years. Her speech was a bit slurred from weakness in her facial muscles, but she was smart when you got to know her. She was short and had Italian good looks, though her dark brown hair looked as if it could use some brushing. She wore a baggy brown sweater and sat with her shoulders drawn up as if she were uncomfortable or cold.
There were 14 people in the group, and most of us thought Julie was depressed. She had reasons to be. She had relocated from Chicago at the urging of her SF-based children, but they rarely visited. She had left her friends behind and hadn’t made new ones. And she had a chronic disabling disease.
Still, it was hard not to be annoyed with her sometimes. Anything group members suggested, she rejected, answering most ideas with, “That wouldn’t work for me,” “I already tried that,” “I couldn’t do that,” or some similar dismissal.
I thought Julie was a sweetheart. She usually brought snacks, like fruits or cookies to the meetings and paid attention when others were speaking. But as months went by, and she couldn’t shake her depression, we unconsciously started to tune her out, protecting ourselves from her hopelessness.
She started missing meetings, and nobody cared much. As leader, though, I had to call her once in a while to see how she was doing. (It’s an MS support group guideline to prevent suicides.) I have to admit I saw calling Julie as a chore, a responsibility, not something I looked forward to.
These calls tended to be short.
– So how’s it going, Julie?
– OK, I guess. You don’t really want to know.
– You getting out at all? You know it’s not good to stay inside all the time. Maybe you’d like to come to another meeting. We could probably get you a ride.
-- Well, maybe. I’ll let you know. I have to go now. Bye.
I would usually hang up feeling frustrated and a little sad. I knew not to take her rejection personally, but I wished I had some better way to help her.
After a couple of months, we had a call where Julie seemed a little perkier.
-- I’m glad you called. I have a question for you.
-- OK. I’m listening.
-- My neighbor Miriam wants me to take care of her cat while she goes back East. Should I do it?
I didn’t know what she should do, but she sounded hopeful, for the first time in our acquaintance. So I tried to answer.
-- Well, what do you think? Do you want to do it?
-- Kind of. I like cats. I’m just afraid it will be too much for me.
We explored what she would have to do and how she could do it with her limitations. She voiced concerns for about ten minutes, the most talking I had ever heard her do without complaining, while I listened. Finally, she decided. She could do the feeding and litter box cleaning while sitting down. She would buy an electric can opener to help with that chore. She asked me what I thought and I said, “Why not?”
I had read that science suggests Julia’s taking in animals would be highly likely to help her. Studies show pets help by giving unconditional love, providing entertainment and touch, and getting us on a schedule (theirs!) All these traits relieve depression and soothe anxiety.
So Julie took the cat in, and it turned out a great match. She found cats easier to get along with than people. “They don’t ask so many questions,” she told me.
Three months later, Julie came back to a support meeting, and she was smiling! Miriam had been quite pleased with her cat-sitting. She had told all her friends and had helped Julie put ads on Craig’s list and in local pet stores. Julie now had one or more cats living with her most of the time.
The felines seemed to like her, and their owners did, too. They found that Julie was good at listening to people, if they didn’t expect too much talking from her. She was actually making money, making people happy, and she felt good about it.
Everyone could see a change in her. She was sitting straighter and speaking more clearly. “It’s great to have you back,” said a man named Frank, who had often complained to the group before about Julie’s negativity. “I’ve never seen you smile like that.”
I wanted to see what this was all about, so I went over to her apartment on a day she was taking in a new visitor. I spoke with Michael and Janet, a couple in their 20’s who were dropping off their cat, Keiko. “Julie’s amazing,” Michael said. “She gives Keiko undivided attention, and gives it to us too when we come.”
Julie thinks the money is nice, but pet-sitting means more to her than that. “It lets me know I’m still here,” she says. “I still have something to contribute.”
Pets are good medicine, as some readers reported. Gabriel wrote: “All my friends tell me that I became a different (better) person when I got my dog. I don’t think I will get another one when this one dies, but I will almost certainly offer to walk dogs — one at a time.”
And Sharon posted, “Pets give us unconditional love, and as Julie said they don’t ask too many questions, but they do provide non-judgmental advice – just pet me or walk me and everything will be fine.”
I’ve written about the health benefits of animals several times. Here’s a link to a on that from my diabetes blog and also about dogs, not cats.
Nobody commented on the finding a place of usefulness part of Julie’s story. We all need something to do; we all want to be useful. Finding ways to serve can be challenging. I wrote about that in my book . The next story gives another way.
On Your Path
1. Would animals make a contribution to your life? How could you get more time with them? They’re all around, for example at the SPCA.
2. What could you do to be of service to others, to remind yourself, as Julie said, you “still have something to contribute?” Some of these things, for example, calling elders or writing prisoners, don’t even require getting out of bed. Others might make you leave your comfort zone and try new, potentially rewarding activities or situations. What activity like that calls to you?
Many of us fear forming close relationships with new people, because they inevitably wind up putting demands on our time. They change you. New people who are old people can bring up other concerns. As my friend Mark Haven showed me, the rewards are worth it.
Mark takes care of old ladies. Not by nursing them or cooking for them, as much as befriending them. He helps them cope with increasing loneliness and deal with bills, appointments, repairs, and service agencies. He enters into their lives and finds great rewards there.
After 25 years of AIDS, Mark still looks like an athlete. He is 6’ 3”, Midwestern, with long flaxen hair and blue eyes, and he moves with grace and strength. But looks can deceive. “I wear out fast,” he says. “I’m only good for about two hours at a time. I haven’t been able to work a regular job for 15 years.”
Those work experiences were in the past when he befriended Bertha, his 82 year old landlady. At the time, his AIDS was very bad, and there were no effective treatments. His CD4 (T-cells, the white blood cells that HIV attacks) count was extremely low. On one test, the count was 1. Normal is 500 – 1500. “We joked that it was a very tough little cell,” he remembers.
His friends had helped him move into the apartment because it was a comfortable place to die. With their help, he got the place fixed up as nice as it could be, with a little garden and sun coming in whenever the fog permitted.
Then he started to notice his landlady. Bertha was Mark’s physical opposite. Five feet tall in shoes, she spoke with a Russian accent, walked slowly, and forgot things. She lived downstairs in Mark’s two-unit building and owned the property, but she still thought she lived in poverty. Her house was usually cold. “She never turned on her heater,” says Mark. “Most times, it wouldn’t have mattered if she had, because she usually forgot to pay the bills.”
“I wasn’t feeling strong at the time,” he remembers, “but she needed help. Nobody else was going to do it. And I liked her. I started going down there to see what she needed and give her someone to talk to.”
“Her house was dark. It was full of little figurines, angels, and carved animals, laid out on doilies, lit by only a few lamps and windows with drawn curtains. Being in her place was like stepping into another world, or another century. I was completely in her universe, on her time. I could forget my problems, forget my pain, and just focus on her while she told me stories about her life in Russia.”
Mark stayed active in other community work, too. He liked to organize garage sales for nonprofits. “Once my friend Jill and I had a sale in front of the building for the local Greens,” he remembers. “I looked in on Bertha, and she was shivering in the cold, with the heat turned off. I brought her a beige jacket someone had donated and wrapped it around her.”
“Two weeks later, she called me over and gave me this big package. ‘I think your friend might like it,’ she said. It was a full-length mink coat. I told her, ‘I can’t take this.’ ‘Well, it’s too heavy for me,’ she said. “The one you gave me is better. Your friend can wear this one.” Jill was thrilled. When she wore the mink, her face lit up. She had never had anything so luxurious in her life.
Bertha died a few years later. Mark has had two other such friends since then. Leona was an AIDS volunteer writing a book about the men she served. “They’re almost all dead now,” Mark says. “I think I’m one of the three people in the book who are still here.” Leona’s down-to-Earth sweetness comforted Mark. “One time, a guy we knew had just died, and his family was coming to see his apartment. We found this massive stash of gay porn and we were racing out to the car with it so they wouldn’t see it. Leona was coming over and asked why we were in such a hurry. We told her the situation, and she just smiled and said, ‘It happens all the time.’”
The following year, Leona developed brain cancer. Mark started helping her because, “She had done so much for people. She didn’t have anyone else, and she was soothing to be around.” He was able to help her get her book published, while she was still well enough to enjoy it. “We organized a big party for her, and the room was full of cool people, creative types. That was really a great evening.”
He met his current friend June at an AIDS support group her son Jim attended. They were all living in a small town north of San Francisco at the time, and Jim was doing poorly. June took care of him and helped keep the group going. She brought in snacks and cheered people up.
After Jim died, June started to slow down. She had come west for him and had few friends in the area. She couldn’t drive, and in California, outside of San Francisco, that is a big handicap.
When she developed congestive heart failure and some memory problems, Mark stepped in to help. He sees her a couple of times a week, which involves driving across the Golden Gate Bridge to take her shopping or to appointments.
“It’s good for me to get out of the City,” he says. “It works for both of us. Like, she needs blood work every week, and a nurse could come to her apartment to do it. But she loves to get out to the clinic and socialize with people, so I take her when I can.”
About his older friends, he says, “I’m pretty sure Bertha would have died two years sooner without help, and June would have been gone by now, too. But it’s not charity. You have to remember, when I started with Bertha, I thought I was dying. Helping good people made me feel I was still useful. It still does. I’m glad to have known them. They keep things interesting and show me sides of life I wouldn’t see otherwise.”
I posted this in March, 2011. In April, 2014, Mark died of cancer, brought on by side effects of the AIDS meds he had taken for 20 years. He touched so many people, including me. I still think of him nearly every day.
Readers found Mark’s example a lesson for them. DJ wrote, “Many times on the bus I end up in conversations with elders, particularly women, who are fascinating. Spending time in conversation with them usually seems more desirable than whatever I’m on my way to do. There are so many elders alone who still have much to offer, but are ignored and forgotten. So much wisdom and experience (not to mention quality companionship) going to waste. Bravo Mark!”
A neighbor of mine named Daniel Phillips posted, “There, but for the grace of God, go you or I. Do help. Most real rewards don’t have a monetary value.” Daniel used to spend hours outside our building in his wheelchair, talking with neighbors who wanted to share. He has also since died, but I think of him every time I open the front door of our building. He pressured management to put in an automatic door opener for wheelchair users, which helps me and many other neighbors.
This poem illustrates some of the reasons for getting involved with older folks.
I am not old…she said
I am rare.
I am the standing ovation
At the end of the play.
I am the retrospective
Of my life as art
I am the hours
Connected like dots
Into good sense
I am the fullness
You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found
I am a treasure.
I am a map.
And these wrinkles are
Imprints of my journey
Ask me anything.
- Samantha Reynolds
On Your Path
1. Are there old people around whom you might consider visiting?
2. What would you like to ask them or talk to them about? What might you learn from them, and how else might you grow? What could you bring to them? What might you get from them?
3. What keeps old people out of your life?
4. Do you fear becoming alone as you age? What might you do to prevent this?
Remember that in most human cultures throughout time, old people remained a central part of family and community life until they died. Of course, if you choose this path, your interaction won’t go totally as planned. Be ready for surprises and revelations.
START HERE NEXT Bus driver Jon Nelson wrote me about the death of his friend Steve. “He killed himself 24 years ago. He left a note saying he had no friends and no love in his life. 400 people came to his funeral. I walked off my job and flew to Indiana to be there. The local newspaper ran an article about him and his many contributions to the town on the front page.”
Steve’s tragedy was that he couldn’t feel others’ love. Although his response was extreme, there’s nothing unusual about his experience. If you’re like most people, you have no idea how much you are loved. But you are, and I can prove it.
I have experience in not feeling love. Intellectually I know I must be loved, but in my heart, I’m always looking for more. One day recently, my partner Aisha drove our 4 year old granddaughter Anaya home from preschool. All the way home, Anaya talked about the picture she would make for her Grandfather, because she loved me so much and doesn’t get to see me. Aisha brought me the poster she made with hearts pasted on and strawberry stickers on the hearts. “It’s really nice,” I thought. “I shouldn’t be so hard on her.”
What didn’t occur to me until hours later was, “Anaya loves me.” She had said it repeatedly, but I didn’t believe it. Yeah, she’s only 4, but it still counts, doesn’t it? I started to think about the other love people give me all the time: neighbors, family, friends, associates. They give gifts; they give kind words; they do things for me. Those are forms of love, but I have ignored or discounted them.
Why do I do miss love that’s right in front of me? Why do most of us? Sometimes it’s because we don’t recognize love when we see it. Christian marriage counselor Gary Chapman had a wonderful insight which he wrote in his book The Five Love Languages. Each person has learned different ways to express and feel love. If love is given in a different “language” from theirs, they won’t get it. People go through their lives feeling unloved, while people in their lives try their best to love them.
Chapman lists the five love languages as: gifts, affirming words, touch, acts of service, and quality time. Within these languages are “dialects.” Touch might mean sex for one person and a pat on the back for another. If you don’t speak another person’s language, you will miss their love.
One of Chapman’s clients knew her husband didn’t love her. He bought her gifts; he kept the house fixed up, but he wouldn’t listen to her. He was tired after work and wanted to watch TV. Listening (quality time) was love to her, and for him, love was giving service and gifts.
After talking about each others’ way of expressing love, they worked out a schedule for some regular listening time when the husband wasn’t tired or hurried. He cut back on his house fixing, which she didn’t care about anyway. She started giving him more physical attention and cooking his favorite foods more often.
Chapman’s book focuses on marriages, but the five languages are used by everyone. Aisha and I had a young friend named Kristie who has since moved away. For years, she brought us little gifts or sent us stuff that she thought would help us. I thought her giving was nice, but I didn’t realize that it was her way of showing love. It was a warm feeling – “Hey, I am loved” – when the light dawned.
Can you think of anyone in your life who gives you things, or does things, or listens, or says nice things to you? Have you realized that they love you? The more love languages you speak, the more love you will experience.
What Does Love Mean?
Speaking of languages, English has only one word for love. This leads to confusion. What do we mean by love anyway? The Greeks have six words for love, and you might be receiving any or all of them. Here are the main four:
Storge is love of family. (Forgive me for oversimplifying, Greek experts.) The web site Totes Cute says, “Storge love is unconditional, accepts flaws or faults and ultimately drives you to forgive. It’s committed, sacrificial and makes you feel secure, comfortable and safe.” It’s motherly love, Fred Rogers kind of love. (“I love you just the way you are.”) If you have parents, children, or siblings, you probably have some storge.
If you don’t have sources of storge, you can still have phileo or affection, the feeling you have for a friend. Platonic love is an intense version of phileo that I’ve been lucky to experience with a couple of women. Admiration is a form of phileo you might feel for a leader or coworker who makes your life better in some way. You may have phileo with anyone you hang out with. When someone in the office cafeteria sits with you or invites you to a game, do you recognize your those friendly feelings as love? In Greek, they are.
Eros is sexual attraction. It’s passionate and intense, emotional and physical. It’s what most people mean by “love” in this culture. It’s what the Urban Dictionary calls “Nature’s way of tricking you into reproducing.” Eros is wonderful, but it’s almost always temporary. It becomes a problem when we want Eros to last forever, or when it is the only kind of love we recognize.
Agape is universal love. It’s spiritual, unselfish and unconditional. It motivates some people to charity and others to activism. It’s the kind of love God has for us, or would have if there were a God. (Take your pick.) It takes time to develop agape, but anyone who has it probably loves you as you are. If you develop agape, you will have more love for others, and, importantly, also for yourself.
Why is love so hard to feel?
Love starts within. On her site, , blogger Lori Deschene writes, “People can only love us if we believe we’re lovable.” If we don’t have that belief, it doesn’t matter how people love us. We can’t accept their love, because it doesn’t make sense. ‘Why would they love me? It must be something else.’
We only know what we have learned, and if we have learned we aren’t lovable, it’s hard to change that knowledge, as it’s hard to change our minds about anything. Psychologist Randi Gunther PhD wrote in Psychology Today listing some ways we can learn unloveability. Childhood trauma, parental loss or drug impairment, social influences from peers and media can set up barriers around our hearts that love can’t get past.
Any time we’re stressed, we’re unlikely to notice love, because we’re focused on safety. Once traumatized, always stressed. If you’re stressed or traumatized, you will have trouble feeling love, because you’re too busy defending yourself. It’s an ongoing cycle, one you may be caught in without realizing it. It’s often passed down from parents to children for generations.
Just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean the love isn’t there. It’s always there. People with really hard lives may lack access to storge, phileo, or eros, but there is still agape, universal love. It’s not a personal love, but it is unconditional.
The world loves you in several of Gary Chapman’s love languages. It gives gifts of warmth and food and the beauty of nature. It performs acts of service to bring you water and shelter. It keeps your heart beating. It might even give you affirming words through other people or touch through people or pets.
Life might also bring you a lot of pain. 39 year old Ron wrote about his pain and loneliness on my diabetes blog, “I really can’t offer anyone anything in any relationship — not that I have any chance to meet someone since I’m tired all the time.”
Ron described his life history. His mother was mentally ill and he grew up homeless through his teenage years. He’s been sick with diabetes since his 20s and has terrible fatigue. “I wish I could remember a better time, but honestly, I can’t,” he wrote.
He manages to work a job, but he is suffering with depression. No storge, no phileo, no eros. He is now considering suicide. “I can’t see living my 40s like this,” he wrote. If anyone could make a case for not being loved, it would be Ron.
Except that on the blog, people wrote in to say they cared about him and were praying for him. Others wrote with advice for his blood sugar and his fatigue, how to feel better and less depressed. Some just sent verbal strokes. We were trying to love him with the tools we had.
I plan to keep in touch with Ron, but judging from the comments, he is loved, as we all are. Whether that distant love will help his depression or his diabetes I don’t know. Which brings up the last love lesson I’m trying to teach myself. Love isn’t everything. I don’t need to pursue love the way a hedge fund manager pursues money. I can put some of that energy into other things, such as health, creativity, meaning, fun or the other possibilities that make life worth living.
I don’t need infinite amounts of love. If someone doesn’t love me, that’s OK. There’s plenty to go around. Remember, though, you have to love yourself to feel loved. Meditate on that and see what happens.
Tim wrote to encourage us to give love more freely. “Without love, we would all perish,” he said. “My wife and I live out in the woods and are surrounded by a National Forest, so people from all over come to camp out and to enjoy nature. For about a week we drove by a campsite with a car and a tent put up next to it. We never saw the owner. I thought about checking to make sure he was OK, but I kept driving to do other things.
Last week, I was riding along with a buddy who’s the chief of the local EMS. By then, the car was gone. As we drove by, I commented, “hey, remember that car that was parked there for a while, anything come of it?”, I said, more curious than anything. ‘Yeah, it was some young guy, about 20 or so, who decided to end his life’ he said. My heart sank. Could I have helped him?
There is no more meaningful purpose in this life than loving another. In our daily hectic, distracted lives, could these opportunities be right in front of us?”
And my good long-distance friend Donna wrote, “Reminding us that there are multiple ways of being loved is of great value. Especially since our society seems to insist there is only eros. The bonus is reminding us that our actions to help others, even over a distance or in a group, are ways we are showing love. We don’t usually think of volunteering or altruism as “love,” and seeing it that way enriches the giver as well as the beneficiary.”
1. What’s your preferred love language? What’s your second favorite? Of the five love languages, how many do you “speak?”
2. Thinking about the people closest to you, what love languages do you think they understand? Might there be a mismatch between their love language and yours that is leaving a lot of love unrecognized?
3. Do you think you have love from family and friends that you don’t call “love” because it’s not eros and it’s not verbal? Could you try calling those interactions “love” for a while and see if it changes your view of yourself?
Thank you for reading my book. If you liked it, won’t you please take a moment to leave a review at your favorite retailer or review site? I hope you’ll tell your friends, share on your social media and send me feedback that will make future books on the Healing Path better. I look forward to sharing more stories with you in Book 3, The Book of Nonjudgment, out in Spring 2016, and Book 4, The Book of Miracles, in the Fall.
Must always start by thanking the whole universe (which some people call “God”) of which I am lucky to be a part. Gratitude to the plants and animals, the Sun, Earth, and Moon, all the generations of people and other living things that got us here and keep us going.
More personally, I thank my editor/healer Eileen Lighthawk, my life partnerAisha Kassahoun, my sons Sekani Spero and Mathias Spero, my mother June Spero, my men’s group Albert, Josh, Jamal and Neal, my MS friends Hose, Alf, and Shirley, and all my friends and colleagues too numerous to name here.
For inspiration and education, I also have too many to thank but will mention Kate Lorig, Martin Rossman, Marc Tankeh, Eileen again, Ursula LeGuin, Jesus, Buddha, Lao-Tzu and the rest of those folks.
And thanks to you for reading this book and/or the blog. You are one of the people who retroactively caused me to write it. We did it together. If you don’t believe me, go back and read the book again.
For 30 years I had a fantasy of running a small motel in the foothills, on a road leading to adventurous places that I might never go myself. I liked the idea of meeting people on the way somewhere or returning from somewhere, people whose lives had changed or were changing.
I didn’t have the money to buy a motel or the skill set to run one, so the idea stayed a fantasy. Now I have a virtual Inn on the infinite road of the Internet. My new career as innkeeper and storyteller allows the world to come by my door, without all the fixing broken pipes and paying heating bills. The Inn seems a healing place for a lot of people. I like living here.
It took a long time to find this place. A nursing career, parenting, social activism, journalism, and multiple sclerosis are some of the places I’ve looked. The MS started 35 years ago and focused me on finding my healing path. The path has taken me to amazing places and put me in touch with wonderful people. I started The Inn by the Healing Path blog to record the journey and help other people following a similar winding road.
Story telling is my healing modality and my teaching method. I have written books on self-care and others on the social causes and cures of chronic illness. I blog regularly about diabetes, MS, and spiritual growth.
I will keep telling these stories as long as I am able. Books in the series should come out every four months or so. I hope you visit The Inn by the Healing Path often and tell others about it. I look forward to your visits.
Come to The Inn by the Healing Path at
Follow Me on https://www.facebook.com/TheInnbytheHealingPath/
and Twitter @DavidSperoRN
Email me at [email protected]
Learn about my , and .
Author of (Hunter House 2003) and
(New Society 2007)
Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy Publications 2015)
The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the Road to Wellness
Contributor to [+ Foundations for Community Health Workers+] 2nd Edition (Wiley 2015.) Contributor to (Hesperian 2016)
Read my diabetes blogs at
See articles on living with chronic illness at
Multiple sclerosis articles at
If you liked Book 2, check out Book 1 at all e-book retailers.
Also at Kobo, iBooks and most others
The Inn by the Healing Path Book 3 – The Book of Letting Go will be out in May 2016. It tells stories of people surviving, thriving and healing by letting go of judgment, expectation, and self-centeredness. You’ll be surprised how often that happens. Sign up to be notified at TheInnbytheHealingpath.com
Seven true stories of healing through committing to our reasons to live: the things that excite us, motivate us, get us out of bed in the morning. Some reasons in the book are helping others, planting trees, creating beauty, connecting with animals, cooking, even doing manicures. The characters include people with physical and mental illness, loneliness, and/or a desire to make a difference. Two stories focus on learning to see and accept blessings and love that languish unnoticed in dark closets of our lives. Each story is followed by questions for self-help if wanted. Readers will gain a better understanding of what they're doing on planet Earth from reading this book.