Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Power of the Day

What a difference a day makes... I knew it was coming, December 4th, my wedding anniversary. The day before, I was peaceful and quiet, contemplating that as long as I'm alive, joy is always possible. Then the actual day came, advancing each hour like a team of horses in a funeral procession, steadily treading against my heart until there was no holding back the grief and it poured out all over again.

In the tradition of my Jewish heritage, days have a power of their own. From my earliest recollections, the holy days of Sabbath and the festivals were charged with a palpable quality of sanctity and significance. About Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for example, there was even an argument among the ancient Rabbis. Some held that the day itself had the power to atone for one's sins, while others maintained that people must initiate their own repentance to tap into that power.

Of course, it's not just the Jewish tradition that transforms particular days into extraordinary ones. Festive days and annual celebrations are hallmarks of every culture. Just as the seasons cycle around from solstice to equinox to solstice and around again, so do we move around the calendar of days, collectively as cultures with shared history and individually as people with our own personal stories.

Christmas, Passover, Veteran's Day, the Fourth of July...each day holds the weight of tradition for the group that identifies with it. Birthdays, anniversaries and other noteworthy events... each person has those special days that are laden with personal significance. Every time one of those days cycles around,  the memory of previous times is touched upon again and yet another layer of memory is laid down, imprinting layer upon layer of memory into the richly textured fabric of one's life. . 

So my anniversary came and with it, the floodgates of grief. Holidays came and will come and then his birthday and the new year, all firsts that touch upon memories of times that were so different. Despite ample awareness of how difficult these "firsts" are reported to be, I was taken by surprise with the power of the day. Knowledge of the process doesn't compare or even prepare for the actual experience. Grief has its own way and the power of the day helps it do what it must do.

Monday, October 31, 2011


This week my seven-year old granddaughters came to my house for a sleepover.  The two cousins had a lot to twitter about (in the old style of twittering) since they both have a "crush" on the same boy.  Wow, I wondered, isn't seven kind of young to be so focused on one person?!  When I mentioned their precociousness to one of their Mom's, she said she had already been asked when and how she "knew" that Daddy was the one she wanted to marry.

Questions like that comes up in therapy from time to time:  how do I know he or she is "the one?"   New relationships often prompt that kind of inquiry.  Sometimes it happens once the relationship is more progressed:  did I make the right choice?  Is he or she really the soul mate I was destined for or am I supposed to be with someone else?

The curiosity of my little granddaughters is light and innocent, like their giggles and secrets.  But the questions raised in therapy about "the one" can be agonizing.  How indeed do we know whether we're on track or not?  Disconnected from intuition and inner guidance, we can flounder and lose our way.

I've lived both with intuition and with floundering.  We probably all have.  When people used to ask my husband and me how we first met, we each would tell the same story differently.  My story was more factual.  His went straight to the heart.

It was late in August, 1967.  I had just gotten on a bus heading west on Armitage Avenue, on my way back from a conference on "new politics" in downtown Chicago.  While paying my fare, I looked around and saw the usual neighborhood types, mostly Hispanic women with kids and a few assorted men.  A college student type was seated towards the back by a window, reading a book.  That was an unusual sight in this ghetto.

I sat down by the driver, close to the door, absorbed in my own thoughts.  When I began to feel what the controversial researcher Rupert Sheldrake calls "the staring effect,"  I looked up to see two penetrating eyes take cover behind the book. The book was Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse.

And this is the way my husband Tom used to tell the story:  He was sitting on a bus alone when a young woman (that would be me) got on.  Aside from the driver, they were the only two people on the bus.  She was the only one he could see.  (He only had eyes for me).

As it happened, we got off the bus at the same stop:  Sheffield and Armitage. We both waited for the light to change.  We were both heading in the same direction.

Could it be as simple as Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking?  In the first two seconds of looking - in a single glance - he knew!  Me, it took longer.  We crossed the street together.  I spoke first.  I asked if he lived in the neighborhood (he did).  He told me he was in graduate school at the Art Institute of Chicago.  I told him my sister was a student there too.  We talked.  We talked some more.  He asked my name.  I asked his.  He said Tom Seghi.  In my mind I heard the words, "Laya Seghi."  It sounded right to me.

The rest of our story evolved.  I floundered and I knew or I knew and I floundered.  It took me three decades before I told him about hearing that inner voice on our very first encounter. (The "why" for that is a whole different story.)  I preferred hearing him tell about meeting the "love of his life."   Looking back now, this chapter of our story concluded, I marvel at his vision and my inner voice and at the power of first impressions. We both knew!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


For the last couple of months, I've been thinking about connections.  The person I've been closest to - my main connection - died, so I'm paying attention.  Death might seem to be the big disconnect, but I'm sensing that's not necessarily so.  Besides my connection to my now dead husband Tom, I've been noticing connections in general:  people I thought I was connected to that seem to have fallen away and others with whom the connection wasn't obvious suddenly showing up, as if to confirm that yes, there is indeed a connection.  The web of interconnections seems at once fragile and resilient.

The world-wide web is a technical reflection of the interconnectedness I'm talking about.  I can sit down to share my thoughts and feelings in a blog like this and within minutes, people with whom I'm connected can receive that message in their inbox.   As I've been processing my grief and new circumstances, I've used the internet and my writing as a way to stay connected and to reach out for even further connection.

But it doesn't always work that way.  My effort to connect can sometimes produce a reverse effect.  For example, I got the equivalent of a slap in the face when someone I'd known for decades and thought of as a friend responded with a "Fu*k Your Blog!" subject heading.  She took offense that I had communicated about Tom's death in a public format rather than directly to her. Her extreme response was the ultimate fulfillment of my long-held fear of negative judgment for putting myself 'out there' in writing.  Ironically, she presented me with a gift I couldn't have received otherwise.  Not only did her response clue me in to the quality of our friendship, but it helped me clarify that I write because I feel called to do so, whether others like it or not.   

Nevertheless, the disconnect there and the surprisingly strong connections that emerged elsewhere since Tom died suggest to me that his death created an almost electrical disturbance in the field, as if lightning had struck.

As often happens, my inner thoughts were mirrored in my outer world.  My personal experiences of connections/disconnections were being played out in a series of electrical problems that required my attention.  While preparing to sell the RV that Tom and I traveled in together, I was faced with a generator that wouldn't start, fuses that blew, and an electrical short circuit in the garage.  Disconnections.

Once all that was sorted out (believe me, I am unskilled and ill prepared to deal with any of it!), my electrical stove started acting up.  Stove top burners that I turned to the off position wouldn't turn off while the oven that I didn't turn on turned on by itself.  The problem climaxed with smoke and sparking from the control panel.  Finally a technician came to diagnose the problem and declared the stove beyond repair, in other words, kaput.  

Dealing with these recent events, I consider that the basic facts of electricity and human connection may be similar:  Particles with electric charge interact with each other through the electromagnetic force, creating electric fields and when they are in motion, magnetic fields. The electric fields tend to result in a repulsive force between particles with charges of the same sign, and an attractive force between charges of opposite sign.  (The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)
    As a metaphor, it works for me.  The enormous charge surrounding Tom's death and my ensuing grief may have created some kind of force field that repelled some - causing short circuits and even burn out - while attracting others, generating one awesome connection after another. What could account for the variability of the disharmony or harmony, the connection or disconnection?

    To answer that question, I look to the physical and spiritual heart. The heart is the physical organ that transmits the strongest electromagnetic frequency in the body and also the organ that has long been considered the source of compassion and wisdom.  When the mind is attuned to the heart, there is a measurable state of coherence that reduces stress and amplifies joy.  It's the resonance of the heart that allows for personal connection.  See:

    Because I'm familiar with the book The HeartMath Solution:  The Institute of HeartMath's Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart's Intelligence by Doc Lew Childre, Howard Martin and Donna Beech (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1999), I believe that the parallel of electricity and human connections is actually more than a metaphor.  For almost two decades, Heart Math research has contributed to our knowledge of stress, health and the emotional information encoded in the magnetic field radiated by the heart.

    As described in a Heart Math clip on YouTube:

    "The human heart emits the strongest electromagnetic field in our body. This electromagnetic field envelops the entire body extending out in all directions, and it can be measured up to several feet outside of the body. Research from the Institute of HeartMath shows that this emotional information is encoded in this energetic field. HeartMath researchers have also seen that as we consciously focus on feeling a positive emotion - such as care, appreciation, compassion or love - it has a beneficial effect on our own health and well-being, and can have a positive affect on those around us."

    [To download an e-book with their research findings, see:]

    Is it any surprise that tuning in to the positive emotions of gratitude. compassion and love can establish that heart connection?  When we tune in deeply, we can experience our interconnectedness, not only with humans but with the planet - humans as well as animals, plants and minerals.  The Beatles boiled it down to the ultimate:  Sing it Beatles...

    All you need is love. All you need is love.
    All you need is love, love. Love is all you need.
    All you need is love (All together, now!) All you need is love. (Everybody!)
    All you need is love, love. Love is all you need (love is all you need).

    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    No Heart Attack Here!

    Clients that frequented my psychotherapy office on Rivo Alto Drive in Miami Beach may remember this drawing that hung on my wall for years.  It was such a big, juicy and happy heart that Tom drew - full of life and color.  I loved it and thought it conveyed the kind of practice I wanted to offer: vibrant, unique and totally present.

    We sold our house (with office & studio) on Miami Beach in May 2010, ready to hit the road as "modern day nomads."  Along with most of Tom's other drawings and paintings, that happy heart was packed away in storage.  When we finally returned to Florida toward the end of the year, we moved into a house in Hollywood and relocated our storage to a nearby office for me with a studio for Tom, side by side, just the way we liked it.

    Since Tom's death on July 10th, exactly two months now, a seemingly endless stream of decisions have had to be made.  Moving out of that office/studio by the end of August was a recent one.  The paintings,  drawings, memorabilia...where would it all go?!  Physically and emotionally arduous, this was the first major move I experienced without Tom there to master-mind it.  

    Yet somehow Tom's "can do" confidence for undertaking apparently overwhelming tasks must have been transmitted to my children and the two Daniels that showed up to help get the job done.  The sorting, cataloging and photographing of Tom's work is still not complete, but ... I found the heart I was looking  for again!

    Take a closer look.  I did.  There on the drawing, to my amazement, I see scribbled in Tom's large script:  "No heart attack here!"  WOW...that makes my heart beat faster.  What a message!

    The physical, temporal heart of his that suffered a massive heart attack two months ago is in direct contrast with that ideal heart in the drawing, the primal heart that he embodied while he was here and that he left us as a guide.

    Once again, I draw strength from the poignant words of Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue (see in an excerpt from his beautiful poem "On the Death of the Beloved":

    May this dark grief flower with hope
    In every heart that loves you.

    May you continue to inspire us:

    To enter each day with a generous heart.
    To serve the call of courage and love...

    Saturday, August 27, 2011

    The Work of Grief

    Because poetry and music somehow allow more room for feelings to move, listening to a song or reading a poem gives me the desired space to abide with the sorrow that happens to be with me now.  In an effort to bridge the vast expanse between what was and what now is, a thoughtful friend sent me this poem by the Irish poet John O'Donohue.  It rang true for me and perhaps may resonate for you too:

    When you lose someone you love,
    Your life becomes strange,
    The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
    Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
    And some dead echo drags your voice down
    Where words have no confidence
    Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
    And though this loss has wounded others too,
    No one knows what has been taken from you
    When the silence of absence deepens.
    Flickers of guilt kindle regret
    For all that was left unsaid or undone.
    There are days when you wake up happy;
    Again inside the fullness of life,
    Until the moment breaks
    And you are thrown back
    Onto the black tide of loss.
    Days when you have your heart back,
    You are able to function well
    Until in the middle of work or encounter,
    Suddenly with no warning,
    You are ambushed by grief.
    It becomes hard to trust yourself.
    All you can depend on now is that
    Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
    More than you, it knows its way
    And will find the right time
    To pull and pull the rope of grief
    Until that coiled hill of tears
    Has reduced to its last drop.
    Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
    With the invisible form of your departed;
    And when the work of grief is done,
    The wound of loss will heal
    And you will have learned
    To wean your eyes
    From that gap in the air
    And be able to enter the hearth
    In your soul where your loved one
    Has awaited your return
    All the time.

    My work of grief is not yet done.  As Donohue's words say so astutely:  "All you [I] can depend on now is that sorrow will remain faithful to itself." 

    Meanwhile, because short of poetry, music or ritual, words can be so inadequate, many have difficulty coming close to comfort the one who grieves.  Awkwardness may yield to avoidance,  discomfort to defensiveness, insecurity to invisibility.  The goal for some - perhaps unconscious - is to distance from the pain, as if waiting for the bleeding heart to be bandaged by emergency personnel or to be scabbed over before taking the risk of stepping forward.

    I've come to think of these responses as Avoiding the Void.  As I stand on the brink of the canyon that has opened before me, I notice that some can tread the ground with a sure foot while others hold back in silence, perhaps even in a kind of paralyzed panic.  Unresolved grief from the past or unimagined grief from the future can stand in the way of being fully present.  Mourning the recently departed is one step away from the void that all of us inevitably have to face...that of our own mortality and sooner or later, that of those we love.
    John Donne speaks precisely to the matter of our interconnectedness and our mortality in his 1624 Meditation XVII (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions) "Nunc lento sonito dicunt, morieris Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die." 
    Or, as the  frequently quoted poem based on that meditation ends:

    Each man's death diminishes me,
    For I am involved in mankind.
    Therefore, send not to know
    For whom the bell tolls,
    It tolls for thee.