I made a grief resources page.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

— from Dream Work by Mary Oliver, also available in the book Collected Poems, Volume One. Hear her read the poem: Wild Geese

Grief Resources

Here are some resources that helped me in working with grief. I wanted to find a page like this when I started out on that journey. I hope it will be helpful to someone.

  • Grief 101 – Some Common Facts and Characteristics of Grief – really good article that has a lot of information about grief and what to expect.
  • Stages of Grief (or on Wikipedia)
    You might go through some of these stages, maybe in different order, or in cycles – it’s not a linear progression.

    1. Denial – clinging to a false, preferable reality
    2. Anger – frustration, especially toward proximate individuals
    3. Bargaining – trying to avoid the cause of grief
    4. Depression – despair, being mournful
    5. Acceptance – embracing the inevitable, stable emotions

Our society doesn’t make much space for grief. Grief is a natural part of life and takes time to heal from. You can take the time even if people around you may not relate. It’s ok to take care of yourself.

“Wanting things to be otherwise is the very essence of suffering.” – Stephen Levine

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Antonio Machado – translated by Robert Bly, available in the book The Soul Is Here For Its Own Joy.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jellaludin Rumi,
translated by Coleman Barks, available in the book Essential Rumi

The Importance of Psychological Safety on Teams

Great article today on the importance of psychological safety on teams: Engineering a Culture of Psychological Safety, via Martin Fowler:

Teams without psychological safety underperform. Here are the danger signs and routes to improve.

From the article:

When discussing failures, people need to feel safe to share all relevant information, with the understanding that they will be judged not on how they fail, but how their handling of failures improved the team, their product and the organization as a whole. Teams with operational responsibilities need to come together and discuss outages and process failures. It’s essential to approach these as fun learning opportunities, not root-cause obsessed witch-hunts.

My ex-boss Casey used to say, “It’s my policy that you made the right decision. It’s more important to make decisions than be perfect. We may make another decision based on new information, but you will never be blamed for making a decision.” That really helped me feel safe. And it’s become my policy now too.

Optimism as a Learned Skill

sunriseI was talking with a colleague about optimism lately – he commented that he tends to see the worst case scenarios for each new situation. I said I thought optimism is a learned skill.

We were working on a piece of software together and got stuck – we could not see a way to make it work, to accomplish our goals. Right now this is a key piece of software for our company, since the way it is made currently made limits our growth. Our job was to undo this limitation. But we got stuck and couldn’t see a way out.

We were both dissatisfied by this – unhappy with the current mess we were in and unhappy with our limited ability to untangle it. My friend was sad about this and pessimistic about the outcome. But he was also mad, and his anger had dignity – he wanted things to be better, which is a great strength. The fact he was expressing his anger let me feel my frustration and anger too.

I was frustrated, but I was also excited. I thought we were about to learn something new and cool. That often happens when we get stuck, especially in software. One of the essential characteristics of software development is that we are always at a growth edge, working on unknown problems that stretch us. Once we solve a problem, if we encounter a similar one, we can just copy the solution. Hence we’re always working on new things.

So frustration often feels like dignity energy to me – being mad can give us the energy to overcome our ignorance and create something new.

And indeed that was what happened – we went home for the night letting our subconscious minds work on the problem, and in the morning came in and asked for help. The clues came from several people – one person taught us a lot about the design of the software, so we could have a larger vision, and two others helped us narrow our problem down and understand precisely what our company needed from us. And then we were able to find an elegant solution.

The mess and frustration did lead to a breakthrough.

hope written on a hand

So what exactly is optimism? I looked it up in Seligman and Peterson’s Handbook of Character Strengths and Virtues, my main reference for Positive-Psychology-based personal growth. Optimism is a virtue of Transcendence, closely allied with hope. It seems to have several components:

  • goals – approaching life in a goal-oriented way
  • pathways – goal planning, being able to imagine routes to reach the goals
  • agency – goal motivation, being motivated to achieve goals

In other words, hope was defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways…

[I]ndividuals who are able to realize these three components and develop a belief in their ability are hopeful people who can establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways toward those goals, and persevere, even when obstacles get in their way. (Hope on Wikipedia)

Unfortunately Seligman and Peterson say science doesn’t know how to teach or grow optimism. (Update: Actually Seligman has done a lot of scientific study on teaching optimism.) But I think we can. So how do we do it? Here are some things that work for me:

The first two are things you can practice. Practice is a way to invite things into your life, to give them space. My friend and mentor Jim McCarthy says about inviting, “A want is a baby have.”

The third one is about getting to know yourself better, getting to know other people better, developing intimacy, and letting their qualities and strengths rub off on you. And the last two, meditating and seeing a therapist, are both practices and ways of being intimate with yourself. They let your own inner strengths shine out, which I find helps me be more resilient and hopeful about life. Optionally if you like reading, learning about positive psychology (the science of psychological wellness) can give you a bigger picture. I’ll write more about positive psychology here soon.

But how do those things work? That’s a topic for another blog post. Or maybe the how doesn’t matter. If you want more optimism, I invite you to try some of these out. And if you have other things that work for you, I’d like to hear about them.

Love Dogs

One night a man was crying,
“Allah, Allah!”

His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”

The man had no answer for that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage,
“Why did you stop praising?”
“Because I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.

Jellaludin Rumi,
translated by Coleman Barks, available in the book Essential Rumi

Running As Spiritual Practice

Lately I’ve been interested in running as spiritual practice. I didn’t used to think about myself as a spiritual person – that came to me later in life, after I started meditating. And I only recently started running. But now somehow running is caring for my body, mind and spirit. When I run I can just be with me. No music or headphones. I treat it more like a moving meditation.

After writing the last blog post, I remembered there was an On Being episode on Running As Spiritual Practice that I wanted to listen to. So I did today. Wow.

Here’s a couple of excerpts:

Sometimes, as runners, we’re not all feeling great about ourselves. And I woke up one morning — you know, you just have those mornings, and you look in the mirror, you’re like, “I hate this.” It’s so irrational. You know that nothing has changed in the past seven hours since you went to bed. Nothing is different. But you wake up, and it’s almost like my body isn’t mine, which makes me sad because all of my body is mine. Like, if anything, it’s the only thing that is truly mine.

So for me, though, once I started running it was really hard to be angry at my body in the same way. I would get out on the road and, all of a sudden, step by step, it was like running myself back to myself in a lot of ways.

Christina Torres

When I was training for my second marathon — I was running Chicago, and I went to go get some new shoes. And the guy at the running store — I was telling him, “Yeah, I’m not super excited about this. I just want to get through. I’m kind of nervous about my time and everything.” And he was like, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

And so that was something for me to really kind of think about. And it was something that I would actually meditate on, literally just saying over and over and over in my head as I continued my training. And it’s something that I do now. Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that the blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with, you’ll never experience something new and incredible.

Ashley Hicks

On Being – Running As Spiritual Practice

Strava for Apple Watch

I have been running a fair bit lately – both for exercise and to care for my spirit. I’ve had an Apple Watch Series 2 for some time and in general been quite happy with it. It’s not really a watch, like the iPhone is not really a phone, but more on that some other time. I had the idea the watch might help me track my running better. I was using the Nike Running Club app for iPhone. But the Nike Running Club Apple Watch app was incredibly frustrating. It actually crashed the watch. Not once. Not occasionally. But often.

A friend pointed me at the Strava app for iPhone, which also has an Apple Watch app. Some say the Strava app is not very accurate. It’s accurate enough for me. It uploads data to Strava’s website where you can track your runs over time. And it has one key feature that I haven’t seen mentioned online: it never crashes. It’s rock solid.

Maybe people take that aspect for granted. It does seem like not crashing and certainly not crashing my device is a minimum bar for a key app that I’m going to spend time with. So coming from Nike Running Club, I was happy to find something more reliable.

Strava’s app is very basic. It tracks time, distance, pace, and heart rate. That’s all I need. Recommended.

Update: I switched to the Apple Workout app, since it’s improved a lot and in my opinion is now better than Strava.