Dealing with disaster

Life today is a disaster at every level from the homeless person on the corner to the vicious conflicts the United States has with much of the world.

It seems appropriate to me to acknowledge this and to make a study of how to work with disasters. We have ample resources for this kind of work. Consider these two books:

  • Healing The Shame That Binds You, by John Bradshaw
  • Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
My little brother.

My little brother, like most children, was born an optimist. The television offered three channels, all in beautiful black and white.


I have felt bound all my life. Bradshaw explains in detail how shame-based people behave. Most members of my family felt deep shame, and such people reinforce each other’s worst fears.

He writes, “It is obvious that a major source of toxic shame is in the family system and its multigenerational patterns of unresolved secrets.” There is also healthy shame that reminds us to be modest and appreciative.

Unresolved secrets are key to understanding how we are bound by our circumstances. We don’t confess to how awful our circumstances really are. We try to cover up our pain.

Notice the delight obvious in my brother’s expression. He committed suicide at the age of 36. He carried an abundance of shame that was never discussed in our family. It was off-limits for conversation. He worked in uniform for the sheriff’s department. His natural temperament was for him to be an artist.

My message in this post is to encourage an open posture toward pain and distress, especially as it relates to shame. Let’s affirm everyone’s value, and let’s make it normal to confess and reveal our thoughts, attitudes, and fears.

So the first step in becoming more assertive is to practice knowing how you are actually feeling.—Jon Kabat-Zinn, page 377

The teachers emphasize the importance of paying attention. We start by paying attention to our own breath. From there we pay attention to our inner monologue, the voice that drones on about our fears and failures. We become aware of our own state of being without placing blame for it. Then we work on noticing the world around us. Just paying attention, that is the whole body of work. We need not “fix” anything. Paying attention summons healing energy.

preacherWe must abandon secrecy as a survival strategy. It clearly does not work.

Bradshaw writes about granting ourselves and others permission to be human. He writes about accepting other people whole, as they are.

He emphasizes that sound relationships always involve some element of mystery. We really do not understand this work of being human. It is a path of continuous discovery. We must allow people space for their mystery, and we must honor our own.

We recently lost David Bowie. The tributes to him that I have seen emphasize his delight in exploring his own mysteries. There might be a Ziggy Stardust in each of us. My hope is that we will give our mystery the benefit of the doubt, and bring our whole selves to the game of life.

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