For three years we have been conducting free Loving Spirit workshops in Colorado, Hawai’i, California, and Arizona. The workshops are intentionally small, limited to no more than thirty participants and only one per family. (Multiple family members can attend different workshop, just not the same one.) During that time we have come to know very well the stories of our participants because they tell us about the nature of their loss when they register, we interview each one in advance of their workshop and we get to know them personally in the intimate workshop environment.
We don’t limit our participants to those who are grieving the death of a loved one, rather we allow any adult who is grieving a major loss in life whether from a divorce, a career change, a medical diagnosis, or other setback to attend. Our experience has shown that the workshops are very beneficial across a spectrum of losses.
It may help to talk about a case and one participant’s comments about how the workshop benefitted her to illustrate the value of attending a Loving Spirit workshop. The name and identity of the participant has been changed to protect her privacy.
Christina was a talented California athlete, a triathlon competitor in her early forties. She was smart, hardworking and in incredible physical shape. Then one day while riding her bike, a car hit her from behind. It broke her back and gave her a concussion. But because she was wearing her helmet, she survived.
Her survival was marked with pain, more pain than she had ever experienced before in her life. But perhaps because she had the heart of a competitor, she fought back. She worked hard to regain her strength, her balance, and her belief in her own physical safety and wellbeing. She recovered almost completely after three years and was competing again although not at the same levels of accomplishment as she had before.
Then one day, while driving home from work she was involved in a car accident, which broke her femur, reinjured her back, and damaged her neck as well. Not only was the pain back in full force, now she was despondent, thinking that her days of being in top physical shape were over. And she had been unable to work since the second injury so her finances were a large source of stress for her.
Had the workshop not been completely free she would not have been able to attend.
During her workshop she sometimes had to lie down on the floor to alleviate her pain and suffering. Other times she would pace in the back of the room as her muscles would cramp or spasm if she sat for too long. While sitting she would rock slowly back and forth and practice conscious breathing to alleviate the pain.
In spite of it all Christina was a wonderful participant. She was smart. Quick. And determined to learn as much as she could in the two-day period we had together.
It’s a custom in Loving Spirit that we close each workshop by giving the participants the opportunity to have the last word in a closing circle where they share from their heart space anything they want to say to the others. We use a traditional Native American medicine wheel for these closing comments and the ritual of a talking stick to mark their significance.
When the talking stick was passed to Christina, she started to cry. And she revealed to all of us something that she had not said in her registration or her pre-workshop interview.
On the day that the ad for the workshop appeared in her local paper she had intended to take her own life. Worn down by years of chronic pain, broke, both physically and financially, she saw no upside to continuing to live and felt that she had become a burden to her parents. She had already called home for what she thought would be the last time and just as she hung up the phone her eyes happened to fall on the Loving Spirit ad.
She said that instead of ending her life, she decided to register. She couldn’t believe it was really free.
And, she said, through her tears that Loving Spirit had not only literally saved her life, it had changed it forever. She now had a way of looking at her situation with renewed hope and coping mechanisms that she could use when times were hard. Her words moved everyone in the circle to heartfelt tears of compassion.
Some of the tools and techniques we teach at Loving Spirit include ways to soothe ourselves when we are upset, how to breathe through pain, new mindsets that help us realize we are not our bodies, and deeper insight into how we uniquely respond to grief and loss. Because she was so smart Christina was able to quickly begin to incorporate these and other workshop lessons into her life going forward.
She was and will remain one of my very favorite workshop participants. I admire her strength and her courage.