Friday, September 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The experience of living

The experience of living

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I received a letter from a woman I'll call Jane who was an avid sky diver prior to a disabling illness. She said she sometimes cannot stand how much she misses it.

Jane,

I think part of the reason people engage in sports like skydiving, skiing or speed racing is because all of the exhilaration combined with the risk forces your mind to only experience what it is experiencing moment by moment. I doubt that when you were flying through the air you were thinking about what you were going to wear tomorrow or regrets about past lovers! These activities stimulate all those parts of the brain that not only give us excitement and pleasure, but gives us the ability to experience our lives fully. The prefrontal cortex where all of that thinking takes place is probably pretty quiet.

So what can we learn from that experience? There are vast parts of our brain that call for us to simply experience our lives without categorizing them as good or bad or frightening or hopeful. So here is this writer understandably grieving is the past and thinking about the future that may look sad or worrisome. At the same time there is a part of your brain/mind saying "can't we forget about all this worrying stuff and just go sky diving?"

Well, you can't stop grieving and even if you could, that would be unhealthy. And you can't stop worrying, that's not realistic. So if your brain wants to experience your life fully, let's respect your brain. So that when you feel grief, feel it fully. Try not to let that thinking brain come in and start telling you that you should have done something different or that you shouldn't be in this position. Because that thinking brain takes you away from experiencing your life. So feel your sadness, your loss and your helplessness. And when you feel scared about your future, let yourself feel that also. And eventually you will know that if you can fully experience these emotions, they pass pretty quickly. That is, when you are paying attention. So when you grieve, taste your sadness, feel your grasp for what it is no longer there and cry as long as you need to. Grief doesn't need to be cured. Grief is part of the cure.

And when you feel anxiety about the future, let yourself feel that anxiety. And when you feel curious and even creative about your future, let yourself feel that also. My guess is you will feel all of those things several times every day. And by the way, you will probably feel lots of other things in between.

I am treating a couple, and the husband had an emergency and arrived after the session was half over. So in that time we were together, the wife and I had a very powerful meeting as she and I learned things about her that had been unknown. Our time together was quite meaningful for both of us. And then the doorbell rang. When her husband came in, I could see that his mind was racing so we just took a couple of minutes to be quiet so that he could find his way into the room. It was then that I realized that my whole life had changed the minute he walked into the room. And it changed again the minute they left

Dan Gottlieb
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About this blog
Dan Gottlieb is a psychologist and marital therapist and has been in practice nearly 40 years. His career started in community mental health and substance abuse until his accident in 1979 made him a quadriplegic.

Since that time, he has been in private practice. Since 1985, he has been hosting a radio show called "Voices in the Family" on WHYY FM, Philadelphia's NPR affiliate. He was a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1994 until 2008. He is also the author of four books.

www.drdangottlieb.com

Voices In The Family on WHYY

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