Healing, Loss, and Reconnection – a Brief Review of 3 Books That Have Led Me to Greater Equanimity

As I try to close the chapter on the months of immediate recovery from back surgery, I’ve been mixing reading and listening to podcasts, cooking and eating well, creating connections with others and exercise. I intentionally create a healthy balance in my days as much as possible.  In the co-working group I now belong to in Herndon (Rowan Tree), I meet weekly to connect with women entrepreneurs and walk with them as we talk. On my daily walks alone, I often listen to great podcasts, often binging one whole series in a week or two.  In an online book club meetup that occurs online once per month, I combine connecting with others and my love for books on facilitation, coaching and healing.  As we are meeting tomorrow to discuss what we’ve each been reading, I decided to create a blog post on 3 books I’ve recently read.

I don’t doubt that you may find one or more of the books I write about below useful to read or share with a loved one or friend.  While I picked each one because it had resonance for my personal situation, I have found that the more I talk about the vulnerabilities I have faced, the more I find people open up about theirs.  I have found I am (we are) not at all alone.

How To Be Sick – A Buddhist Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers, by Toni Bernhard.

This book is a fascinating story recounting the more than 20 year journey the author took while attempting to recover from a chronic illness. While still at the time a successful law professor, she had acquired an unnamed immune dysfunction from a virus while traveling to Paris with her husband. The effects of that bout of illness never went away making social interaction, daily living, and even phone calls very difficult if not impossible to muster energy for. So what did she do? She bravely set about doubling down on her Buddhist practices that she had been already studying for many years – so that she could learn to accept profoundly her life as it had changed and find joy through the experiences of others. She gently introduces these into each chapter as her story unfolds. She shares both the difficulties and successes she encounters and how the specific practices she developed aided her through her long confinement. I found this very inspiring for my own recovery.

One of my favorite practices from this book is called Tonglen.  This practice is described in Chapter 11, Tonglen: Spinning Straw Into Gold. What a beautiful metaphor! When you practice Tonglen, as you breathe in and out to calm yourself or manage your pain, you’ll breathe in the suffering of all those who share the same symptoms you are experiencing, and breathe out with whatever compassion, sincerity, kindness  you have to give.  How lovely to think of your body as the cleanser or all the communal suffering. In the past I have thought only about breathing in the good air, and getting rid of all the stress through the out breath. This practice of Tonglen gives me the sense of having additional agency for healing not just myself but others as well.

Ambiguous Loss – Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss.

When I picked this book off of the New Books shelf of the public library, I discovered a name for the types of losses I have been experiencing this year. These are the losses one feels when something or someone, or part of someone goes missing either physically or psychologically. There is much uncertainty surrounding the loss – as it is in some ways a loss without a certain demarcation or without a known future.   There are often no accepted rituals to accept, acknowledge or mark the change. Ambiguous loss is what happens when there is uncertainty about how to act, what to do because all the norms have changed.  This can be through divorce, adoption, addiction, mental illness, immigration, Alzheimer’s or in the case of war or kidnappings, people who simply disappear. These liminal spaces are where the rules of the relationship get re-written by each person experiencing it silently, alone. These states can last for years or decades.  The more one connects and talks about the shift, the better off one will be.

This gem of a book is a primer and an exploration of the emotional fluctuations between hope and hopelessness, uncertainty and changing relationships.  It  provides some practices and rituals that people such as therapists and coaches have used to help people talk about such loss and change.  You may have thought that I read this to deal with my own illness – after all, I have permanently lost the ability to flex in 3 lumbar joints as a result of surgery.  My situation is invisible, the outcome is still unknown – it feels very much like I’ve lost part of my physical abilities despite the hope it gives me for better nerve health down the road.  I also read this book because I wanted to understand the emotions and the situation I’ve had with my daughter during the past year – one in which I had not had a name such as ‘ambiguous loss’ to help me process the rollercoaster I was on. This is a perfect segue into the last book on my list for this post, which is ‘Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child’…

Reconnecting with your Estranged Adult Child – Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship – by Tina Gilbertson

I’ve experienced an estrangement of sorts with my daughter who has held me at arms length for almost 8 months, – and even asked me to not text her or contact her for any reason.  While I had the new ‘Ambiguous Loss’ model to absorb from the prior book, I didn’t know there was a name for this specific estrangement phenomenon called ‘no contact’. I had come to learn as much after joining a support group for parents estranged from their adult children.

I occasionally try my luck by searching for Facebook support groups when I need to understand perspectives I know nothing about. Through a Facebook support group I found, I learned the term ‘No Contact’ – which is all the rage now to help people ‘create boundaries’ and to get rid of ‘toxic relationships’. While I was shocked to learn about the ubiquity of this practice, which separates rather than heals relationships, I was glad to find that a link to this very helpful book.  I soon left that Facebook group because I found that the sentiments and drama expressed by the parents was often very polarizing and full of contempt for the adult child. I didn’t want to be around that sort of negative energy on my learning journey. 

The chapters include topics on unmet needs, independence, parenting (and re-parenting) and ‘filling your bucket’ – which means to me becoming really grounded in your life without your child, and honoring the child’s wishes.  The latter chapters have specific tips for when and how to communicate in the many special circumstances which may (or may not) pertain to your situation.  I marked this book up in orange in many places as there was so much to learn.  I came to shift my perspective that I had thought was absolutely an undeniably truth: that I had provided my child with a grounded, secure childhood with everything that she needed to thrive, meaning that in my mind her insecurities have had nothing to do with me.  Because of this book,  I now can see that I may have unknowingly contributed to her insecurities and that she needs space to grow outside of a connection with me for now. I can now see that my own growth and development will have a direct bearing on how she chooses to be part of my life.  While this whole period of estrangement and distance was a complete shock to me, I am now able to feel whole again, having understood that I am not alone, that many family rifts happen all the time, and that with patience and resolve, I can do my part to heal the relationship when she returns.

What I’ve Learned Through My Multi-Layered Healing Journey and From These Books

The theme running throughout all of these books (and me!) is a combination self-compassion, a general acceptance of courageous suffering through change, finding one’s strengths, practicing as much as possible, and creating a circle of support. 

The strength I acknowledge to myself now as vital and offer to you to explore is that of accepting the paradoxes and ambiguities that exist in the world. This means I can hold seemingly polar opposites at the same time.  For example, I can hold uncertainty about the future with my longing for certainty. I can accept less than perfect health and suffering at the same time as I practice healing and finding joy. I can invite the estrangement with a loved one from a place of sadness and curiosity while acknowledging my need for connection as part of the same reality.  These books gave me a new-found sense of equanimity – a way to stop the struggling.

What do you do to gain support for your growth and healing journeys? 

Explore posts in the same categories: Book Review, Personal Growth, psychology

One Comment on “Healing, Loss, and Reconnection – a Brief Review of 3 Books That Have Led Me to Greater Equanimity”

  1. Thank you for telling your story and educating us on what you found to help you through your process. I think some of my clients deal with Ambiguous Loss when we are decluttering. They attach an emotion to items, so it’s harder to let go of things. These clients feel a sense of loss, even though they decided to let go of these items.

    Liked by 1 person

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