Posture and Mood

Posture and mood are connected.  People experiencing sadness are unlikely to be seen with arms reaching for the sky, leaping upward, with a smile beaming across their face. The very idea of someone in a sad state leaping high, eyes sparkling etc. is silly, is it not? This is Because there are rules for sadness and these rules must be obeyed! In this very short piece we explore body-mind-mood relationship…

“Doing” sad

I say “doing” because “sadness” is a name for an activity. We cannot put sadness in the back of a truck. We cannot take that truck to the top of a mountainous ravine, release the brake and watch it roll down at ever increasing speed to smash into the rocks and burst into flames… no more sadness. No ! Sadness is the label for something we do. And, when we do it well it shows in our posture, the way we carry ourselves.

To “do” sadness ‘properly’ we must adopt a very particular posture. You can easily guess all the components of a sad/miserable mood reflected in posture. Downward gaze, slumped shoulders, low energy. Definitely not much leaping here! 

“Doing” happy

The happy posture is completely different.  When people have succeeded in competition or simply connected to their personal power and resourcefulness, they feel confident, happy, reasonably assertive. This is reflected in their posture. Posture and mood go together like peaches and cream. But, does mood determine posture or can posture determine mood? If I am “doing” sadness and change my posture, will this have an impact on my mood? Will I suddenly become more happy?

Power Posture, Power Mood

Amy Cuddy, American social psychologist, has produced some research in this area. In one of her TED Talks, she argues that levels of the stress hormone cortisol diminish and confidence hormone testosterone increase within the space of just 2 minutes of adopting a “power pose” posture (think ‘wonder woman’).

As an extension of this simple sad/happy posture and mood relationships there is the role the body plays in communicating with the brain. Seeing a dangerous animal, our heart rate elevates. Because our heart rate goes up we feel fear. Not the other way round! It is the feedback from the body to the brain that determines feelings. When seeing clients for clinical hypnosis, it is usual encourage the client to orient themselves to a relaxing experience by taking some nice deep breaths. Why is this? our bodies, when relaxed breathe deeply and slowly. Dr Tal Shafir, in a TED talk shares similar information to Cuddy’s and elaborates further on the body-mind relationship, in particular, the consequences of posture for mood.

I hope you will find something of interest here as understanding the body-mind connection can prove helpful for changing the way we do both happiness and sadness and much more besides.

Thanks for stopping by,


FOMO can seriously damage your health!

“FOMO”;  Fear Of Missing Out,  can have deadly consequences.  Feeling that need to reach for your mobile device while driving may make great sense. But doing 110 k down a motorway and responding to a loved one’s tweet means you have to split your attention.  Life can be rearranged in an instant, in a tweet in fact!  Back in 2017,  The Sydney Swans supported a campaign to help.
[continue reading…]

‘Doing’ Sleep Well

Sleep debt

If you feel short-changed in the sleep deal, you’re not alone. Many people feel deprived of restful sleep.  Sleep debt is a big problem.  Deaths from driver fatigue are running at more than one a day in Australia (1), and 40 per cent of Australians are sleep deprived.  Sleep debt is a big problem indeed! (2). 

It’s clear a good night’s sleep is important to our state of mind.  Just ask any parent of a baby who is unwell or experiencing teething troubles!  The consequent exhaustion seriously diminishes personal effectiveness as well as mood.

Insomnia as process

If we think of poor sleep patterns  –  getting less than 7.5 to 8.5 hours per 24 hours on average (3)  –   as being the result of a poor sleep process we can unpack the elements of this process and make changes. 

If my process for Friday night is to drink to excess, party hard over the weekend on ecstasy or cocaine, I will deliver a perfect state of exhaustion by Monday morning.

If I choose a different process on Friday night, say, taking in a movie and getting to sleep before midnight I will most likely enjoy solid recovery sleep and wake refreshed enough to enjoy the rest of my weekend.  

Different process, different results!  Simple enough, but simple does not always mean easy.

Structure of sleep

Let’s look at the structure of sleep, the stages we go through as we sleep.  Initially when we fall asleep, there is still some conscious awareness and alertness.  The brain produces ‘beta’ waves which operate relatively quickly.  As we relax further, much slower ‘alpha’ waves are evident.  This is the time when we are not yet fully out, just deeper than in the beta state.  It here curious experiences can sometimes take place.  For example, you may imagine yourself to be falling, or even hear your name being called.  This can make you jerk back into total wakefulness.  While such experiences may feel odd or even shocking they’re not uncommon.  Here are the stages of typical sleep cycles lasting about 90 minutes. 

Sleep Stages:

Stage 1:  This is the beginning of the sleep cycle, and is a relatively light stage of sleep. This may be regarded as a sort of bridging time between alertness and unconsciousness.  This stage lasts usually just about 5-10 minutes.  People waking from stage 1, sometimes believe they were never actually sleeping at all.

Stage 2:  This stage lasts for about 20 minutes.  Here, the brain produces more rapid activity and the body’s temperature begins to lower as does pulse and blood pressure.

Stage 3:  This is the brief transition from light to deep sleep. This stage lasts about 10 minutes.

Stage 4:  At this stage (lasting about 30 minutes), sleep is deep. People have been known to sleepwalk in stage four. People who’ve been awakened from stage 4 are very drowsy, even confused.

Stage 5:  In this stage, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep takes place. This lasts about 10 minutes.   Here is where the awesome activity of dreaming takes place.  Not surprisingly, there is increased brain activity and most physical relaxation takes place.  The physical body restores while mental activity increases.  This may seem contradictory; with high dream activity, rapid eye movement, there is optimum relaxation!

Sleep does not follow a smooth, linear transition through the stages from one to five.  While sleep proceeds through stages one to four and then back to 3 and 2, prior to REM, and back to 2, afterwards.

‘Doing’ sleep better

Sleep can be done better in many contexts.  Strategies are sequences of steps we progress through to produce outcomes.  Sometimes these are aware strategies such as our exercise routine.  Ten minutes warm-up, 20 push-ups, 10 squat jumps etc. We operate our strategies and produce outcomes. 

Some strategies are unaware, unconscious.  Unaware strategies, with steps such as, unthinkingly opening a cigarette packet, taking a cigarette,   placing the cigarette in the mouth, lighting it, inhaling the smoke without full mindful awareness, form very unhealthy habits. 

Likewise for poor sleep strategies.  Routinely, taking the tablet or phone into the bedroom for late emails or to catch up on viewing before sleep is an unhelpful strategy.  Dr Charles A. Czeisler from Harvard Medical School makes compelling claims for the effect of artificial light on our sleep patterns.  He claims artificial light wreaks havoc on our natural capacity to sleep to the required 7.5 to 8.5 hours (4).

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene refers to those rituals around sleep time that are important.  For example, one part of putting sound sleep hygiene in place involves making a new ‘pondering’ environment (unusual or non-normal seating or lying arrangement where you process your day or ‘do your worrying’.  Limit worrying time to 20 minutes or so. 

Spacing the last coffee at least 3 hours before sleep time can prove helpful.

Having water instead of a stimulant is usually much better at this time.

The sleeping environment itself must be free of excessive stimulation (cut TV or device viewing).

Additional considerations in an improved sleep strategy can include levels of physical fitness or physical exercise which can assist with inducing healthy fatigue and encourage longer periods of sleep. 

It is clear we are highly stimulated and sleep deprived and, like all debt, unless we rectify we might just default into poor health, or worse, terminal foreclosure!

Some links…

  3. Harvard Medical School:
  4. Charles A. Czeisler;

Magic of Structure

In the mid 1970s, John Grinder and Richard Bandler, produced a two volume text called; ‘The Structure of Magic’, dealing with; ‘communication and change’. It came to be the foundation of a new discipline called; ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ (NLP). In this short piece we look at the magic of structure. Very simply, NLP suggests personal experience has structure and, unpacking this structure,  adjusting it, can reveal the ‘magic’ of lasting change. 

A lot happens within any given personal experience.  The ‘magic’ referred to in the original two volumes was the magic, the seemingly intuitive skills of the most talented, the most revered therapists such as Virginia Satir, and Milton H Erickson.

The structure of experience

The ‘magic’ referred to in this short piece, relies on the potential good to be achieved through the effective exploration of the structure of subjective experience.  In fact one definition of NLP runs like; ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience‘.

When someone has an experience they find difficult or disagreeable, something interesting is happening. There is a structured sequence of responses to some stimulus taking place.  Just as when someone has an enjoyable, pleasurable experience. A sequence is unfolded.

When a person experience anxiety attack, for example, they must set in place a series of activities or thought procedures. Decisions get made. The person experiencing anxiety could not have such an experience if they were relaxing poolside considering the joys of life in general or the specifics of some particularly agreeable experience.  Anxiety is sometimes described as befalling the person, as if the person is somehow walloped in the face with anxiety by some alien force, all while they were just minding their own business, going about their usual day’s activities.

Anxiety usually has some trail of development, some build-up, however brief, or instantaneous it may appear. Such development to an experience of what can be labelled anxiety needs structure and, as is suggested here, structure has magic! Structure has components that can be adjusted, manipulated, orchestrated into something else.

The Structure of Anxiety

The structure of anxiety may look something like this:

  • Thoughts –   of escape and thoughts of lack of personal resourcefulness to meet perceived dangers ahead. Thoughts of losing control. Thoughts, our internal dialogue, give meaning to experience which may not be accurate.
  • Feelings –  of terror, including fear of dying, for example, feelings of dissociation, leaving one’s body, detachment. Feelings of fear of having even more fear – anticipatory anxiety!
  • Sensations –  Pulse increase, fastere breath rate, potential dizziness, chest pain (possibly leading to assumption that one is having a heart attack). Other physical sensations include e.g. perspiration, trembling, and even choking.
  • Protective actions   avoidant behaviours, such as avoiding places where there were previous experiences of fear and panic as well as vigilance to symptoms (strong sensitivity to any signs or symptoms of rising fear, to the point of panic).  These protective strategies may provide initial relief but can diminish quality of life as one withdraws from potentially satisfying and meaningful experiences.

Such an array of elements of structure may be seen to contain some of the ingredients of therapeutic support for the person. The problem, in its structure, in its component parts, it’s sequence, contains the solution!


Some approaches, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), use the structure of the problem as the path to effective support. That is what is meant in our title; The Magic of Structure’.   In therapy, the person may be encouraged to understand the structure of the problem, its elements.  From here, armed with basic psycho-education, the catastrophic thinking can be unpacked to uncover an absence of much real supporting evidence.

For example, if the person is thinking something like; “If I fall down here it will be both embarrassing as well as dangerous”, there is scope for therapy to support exploration of the underpinning thoughts that lead them to anxiety-based assessments of the situation. 

Unpacking and evaluating the structure of the unwanted experience can be very helpful as is allowing the person to access an imagined encounter with the unwanted experience.  When we think, it is usual to make images in our mind.  When someone is sharing a story for example we usually ‘see’ what they’re decribing. At least we see our version of what the describe.

For the person experiencing anxiety who, say, avoids public transport because they find it too fearful, they may in a safe space, be encouraged to imagine being on public transport.  Further, they may be encouraged to imagine not just being on public transport but having an anxiety experience in the usual, or familiar sequence.  This could mean, having frightening ideas, experiencing say, shortness of breath, dizziness, and fearing losing consciousness or even dying.

‘Walking with’ the client through their own sequence of frightening experience, supporting some consideration of possible alternatives to the feared familiar painful structure can help.   The person can, in time, come to realise the validity of alternative assessments to the usual fearful ones.  This can provide a powerful support for a person who is used to regular rehearsal of the same negative expectations in their life. 

The use of clinical hypnosis in providing support for someone whose life is impacted by painful assessments of future experience can be very useful here.    The person can access a measure of relaxation and possibly come to reach refreshing realisations about their prevailing version of reality.   The agreeable present-time absorption and focus can support the suspension of belief that expectation equals reality.

Of course, the discipline of NLP provides numerous techniques aimed at replacing unwanted, limiting thoughts and behaviours.

A very recent addition to the literature from Dr Michael Yapko emphasises ‘process’ over content.  Where we may be very interested in what the person is concerned about or why their anxiety is the way it is, a more important consideration is ‘how’ they go about ‘doing’ their problem.  The person’s insight and awareness around their processes can be powerful keys to their wellness.   


Some links you may find interesting:

  1. John Grinder & Richard Bandler: ‘The Structure of Magic’. Science of Behavior Books Inc. 1976.

Psychology and Psychotherapy – what’s the difference?

People often confuse psychology with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy involves the application of evidence based processes, techniques, and modalities which are informed by psychological research. What accredited clinical psychologists, counsellors, social workers, etc. do is psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is talk therapy, as distinct from say, prescription of medication, to assist with mental wellness challenges. The medical model works something like this; The patient presents with signs or symptoms. signs are what can be readily observed. The open wound is a clear sign. The patient reporting a headache is reporting a symptom. Often, the signs and symptoms, in combination, point to the nature of treatment. Dress the wound and provide pain relief, simple!

In psychotherapy, there are usually only symptoms. The patient, or client, describes their felt experiences and the clinical psychologist or psychotherapist , or counsellor, or social worker, or teacher, assesses the story provided by the client at intake and beyond. Such assessment identifies the client’s strategies, their perceptual errors, prejudices, cognitive distortions and possibly their pathologies..

From this point there is questioning, positing possible alternative perceptions to explain something called ‘reality’. Over a series of sessions, sometimes interspersed with ‘homework’ where the client is encouraged to read some useful information, watch some relevant video content, execute some manageable tasks such as making a phone call that has been avoided because of fear.

So, clinical psychologists “do” psychotherapy. Research psychologists provided evidence-based tools for the rest of us to use as we do psychotherapy with clients. The psychotherapist/client relationship is ideally a partnership, a collaboration. I say ‘ideally’ because there are times when the expectations of the client are one-way. The client expects the psychotherapist to ‘fix me’.

Types of psychotherapy

sad demeanour on woman face

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) seeks to support individuals (children, youth, adults) couples, and families. The goal of psychotherapy is help people address and manage challenges such as; anxiety, stress, unresourceful habits (e.g. exessive alcohol consumption), relationship struggles etc. There are many strands or points of emphasis in psychotherapy. Below is a very brief list of only some modalities devoted to helping people return to purposeful and resourceful functioning.


pieces fitting
  • Psychoanalytic therapy: This form of therapy involves exploration of early childhood experiences as impacting current functioning (1)
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT): CBT enjoys significant popularity among psychotherapists and is easily understood by clients (2). It operates through the questioning of unhelpful thought processes. CBT starts from the premise that thoughts influence feelings and feelings influence behaviour. The CBT model often refers to ABC, where, A is the activating agent or triggering event. B refers to the beliefs about this event, and C, consequential feelings or behaviours. A causes B, which causes C. There are several variations on this general foundation.
  • Human Givens therapy: (3) A relatively recent addition to the psychotherapeutic community. Human Givens is based on their ‘APET‘ model. In APET, A refers to the activating agent, P, refers to pattern matching – the instinctive unaware seeking of similarities to the activating agent (reflecting the discovery that emotion precedes reason). E, refers to emotion generated by P, which influence thinking. Unhelpful pattern matching gives rise to mental wellness challenges according to the original proponents of Human Givens.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: (4) involves a more holistic focus than behavioural symptom-addressing therapies. There is an exploration of the person’s narrative over their life’s journey to identify patterns to assist with more global than specific change in the client. There is a focus on unconscious influences on client behaviour.
  • Clinical Hypnosis and psychotherapy: (5) The application of clinical hypnosis to support change work in psychotherapy is fairly common. Psychotherapeutic interventions are supported because hypnosis can help amplify experience, manage symptoms, build resourcefulness, enhance flexibility. In talk therapy where clinical hypnosis is employed there is the cultivation of focused absorption, deep relaxation, and curiosity around shifting the client’s perspective, changing unhelpful habits, such as smoking, pain management, anxiety etc.
  • Family constellation therapy: (6) Seen as an alternative, experiential modality, where the client’s inherited inhibiting forces are accessed and addressed. Family Constellation permits the client to not only to see and feel the dynamics at play in their narrative and helps access newer perspectives which support better solutions. This therapeutic modality involves a group of people who may represent family members of relevance to the issue being addressed by the client, with the therapist as guide in the process.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) : (7) ACT involves refraining from resisting or avoiding unresourceful thoughts or denying uncomfortable feelings. It is more about establishing curiosity and acceptance or ‘expansion’ of the undesired feelings. The client is invited to scan their body, observing the location of particular experience related to the distressing experience. The curiosity explores the detail of the physical experience. There is no contest with the undesired emotion or feeling. staying fully present is another feature of ACT. The ‘observing self’ serves to provide a certain distance from any immediate connection to feelings of victimhood.
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): (8) This psychotherapy was devised in the 1980s by someone with lived experience of borderline prsonality disorder (BPD). Since then, it has achieved much wider application. Fundamentally, DBT involves considerable psycho-education and supports rigorous self-management. That said, DBT involves regular support for clients with individual sessions as well as group work. Strengths are identified and unresourceful thinking styles (cognitive distortions) are replaced with more appropriate behaviours where possible. From the original challenges with emotional regulation (stereotypically in BPD), coping is fostered and day by day personal management supports new directions.
  • Art and Play therapies: (9)
positive uplifting experience

Frequently considered more in the realm of ‘child psychology’, art and play therapies include an array of expressive and experimental modalities. Not exclusively to support children, Art and play uses a variety media from movement (e.g. dance, to sand pit play, and music (e.g. drumming). There is a constellation of possibilities when it comes to art and play therapy. Art, movement, dance, sand play, painting, music etc. all support often indirect communication of feeling states in a safe context where outright confrontation might be unhelpful.

  • Humanistic and integrative psychotherapies (HIT): (10) Humanistic and integrative psychotherapy supports an attitude of curiosity and exploration as the psychotherapist supports the client with choosing their path in life. Making resourceful and self-respectful choices within an understanding that pull of negative forces in life is key to HIT. HIT seeks to support connection to personal value, abilities and resourcefulness. As a methodology, it is flexible and adaptive to the needs of the individual client.
  • Mirroring Hands: (11) Mirroring Hands is a very recent addition to the psychotherapeutic landscape. Emerging mainly in 2017 but informed by a considerable body of research from Ernest Rossi. Richard Hill and Ernest Rossi collaborated on this client-responsive approach to personal problem-solving and mind-body healing. The therapist is encouraged to “do less” and foster the internal excursion of the client as they permit their own personal understanding and solutions to emerge.

Of course there are a myriad of psychotherapy schools and modalities and what has been presented here is just a very brief glimpse into just a few of them. Talk therapy, psychotherapy, clinical psychology, counselling are all very similar in many ways and what distinguishes some is their level of regulation and standardisation. By standardardisation, I mean the level of professional standards expected of practitioners. Some are university qualified and post-graduate qualified with supervised clinical experience. Others may simply decide they are a counsellor and proceed to practice with little or no regulation beyond the common law of the land. Caution is advisable when availing of help and the quality of the relationship between psychotherapist and client has proven to be a very strong influence on therapeutic outcomes.

  1. According to one survey, 77 percent of clients reported significant improvement after completing psychoanalytic therapy. At a one-year follow-up, 80 percent reportedly experienced improvements(see link)
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  7. . There are several aspects to ACT (as with all psychotherapeutic modalities) and ultimately, the fit between client, the therapist, and modality employed will determine therapeutic outcomes.
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  11. I’ve written about Mirroring Hands in a just little more detail here: .

Mirroring Hands

Richard Hill and Ernest Rossi have made a fairly recent (2017) contribution in the therapeutic space, “Mirroring Hands”.  Like many new things, it was a long time in the making.  Informed by Rossi’s extensive earlier works, Mirroring Hands uses more recent developments in neuro-science technology, awareness of natural rhythms, and developments in psychotherapy, I believe Hill and Rossi offer something very special with this process.

picture of cover of Mirroring Hands book

Complex simplicity

At its heart, Mirroring Hands can be seen as a very simple technique.  The therapist is effectively demoted from expert to ally, providing minimal direction as they invite the client to embrace curiosity and observe their own experience.  The client might experience their own changing awareness, or any meaning that might attach to experience. There is minimal discourse or conversation in favour of “inner work”. 


In the beginning, there is rapport.  A critical element in any variant of psychotherapy, rapport facilitates a sense of safety to proceed.  The quality of the relationship between therapist and client is a most important determinant of effectiveness in therapy.

Therapeutic consciousness

Hill and Rossi refer to inner self-healing capacities as logical functions of therapeutic consciousness.  This is the mindset of openness to the essential processes of beneficial change.  It might seem self-evident that the very fact of the client’s attendance for therapy means there is a therapeutic consciousness or predisposition to access inner resources to support healing.  Not necessarily so.  The process of Mirroring Hands offers a prospect for changes to be integrated, for the best self to be retrieved from painful disruptive consciousness.

Curious about curiosity

Wonder, fascination, sensitivity to novelty, to possibilities in therapy are powerful, if often overlooked, features of resourceful therapy.  Hill and Rossi unpack three elements of curiosity:  Curiosity for information, curiosity for play, and curiosity for possibility/meaning.  Supporting a curiosity mindset is a powerful alternative to the misuse of imagination through anxiety for example.

Systems of life

The client comes for psychotherapy because they believe they are not ok. They usually come to be “fixed” over the course of a number of sessions. In the Mirroring Hands process, Hill and Rossi refer to natural capacities within the client which can activate a willingness to become ok, to recover their normal functioning.  This is just obvious.  The process of Mirroring Hands respects the natural capacities of the client, placing the client in the therapeutic driving seat. Exploration of the “problem” inhibiting the client’s functioning is supported by inviting the client to simply examine their hands as if, for the first time.  Attending, focusing, and observing their hands.  Noticing whatever differences might apply to either.  One may seem heavier, lighter, warmer etc., than the other.  It would be overly simplistic to regard Mirroring Hands as a variation of “Parts Integration” from the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming. 

Problem-solving with Mirroring Hands

The Mirroring Hands therapist invites the client to permit their problem issue to inhabit one hand.  Permitting the problem issue to sit in one space implies that “non-problem” may be understood to sit in an opposite space, the other hand.  With focused, absorbed attention, this is quite a reasonable proposition.  The very act of choosing to project the problem issues into one hand, available for observation, affords some distance from pain.

The other hand then, holds the difference that makes the difference.  A certain comfort may be contained within this distance.  From here there is greater opportunity for the client to engage their natural processes of self-organisation toward regained resourcefulness and healing.

So Mirroring Hands supports the client’s connection to their innate mind-body healing. 

The therapist is extremely client-responsive and certainly non-directive.  The therapist supports curiosity, wonder even, as to any relationship between physical sensation and problem resolution.   In other words the therapist supports the client’s exploration of possibilities and meanings.

The therapist even invites healing or resolution to proceed after the session has ended.  Sustaining the shift from disruption toward integration and healing is encouraged. 

Focused attention which supports deep curiosity and positive expectation or “nascent confidence” sets the scene for good work in therapy.  Mirroring Hands is a very useful version of solution oriented therapy.  The course workbook itself houses an abundance of research evidence from neuroscience (even a neuroscience of curiosity!). 

Personal experiences…

I myself have used Mirroring Hands with clients in clinic. The initial discipline required to ‘get out of my own way’ and let the client engage with their own experience, to learn what they are learning without a need to share or discuss, was interesting. Clients achieve realisations, make connections, and reconnect with personal power when it works. when the client is predisposed to do this important work.

woman staring

Mirroring Hands is a relatively recent addition to the therapist’s tool-kit (2017) and its simplicity is deceptively complex.  The therapist will benefit from restraint in favour of encouraging their client to take their rightful place at the heart of the process … in charge of their own recovery.  Mirroring Hands is a most welcome resource for any professional in the therapeutic space. As Hill and Rossi say; Mirroring Hands is not for every client in all situations, but then no process is. Best therapy fits both client and context. For a little more information …

Thinking about thinking: cognitive distortions

Thinking about thinking: Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are those parts of our thinking that can get us into trouble.  “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so…” Shakespeare was pretty close in his thinking about thinking strategies.  Some examples include making assessments of reality on the basis of skewed perception.  Knowing a small amount and filling in the blanks with emotional loading.  [continue reading…]

Bronnie and Rosemary and dying

Rosemary, was a woman who left an abusive marriage and worked her way to the corporate top in a time when society’s expectations of women were domestic in character.  Bronnie came to care for Rosemary in her dying days.  Toughened by life’s circumstances, Rosemary remained tough, even harsh in the way she treated her carers.  Bronnie’s finance career background and experience afforded a slight softening of Rosemary’s attitude.  In her book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, Bronnie Ware describes some dying, end of life regrets, perhaps, so we might learn a thing or two before its too late.

Rosemary’s mornings were underscored by bitterness and discontent.  She was most abusive to her carer in the mornings.  In an exceptionally bitter tirade, Bronnie called a halt and issued an ultimatum.  Rosemary must be kinder or else she would leave.  The response was a loud directive to get out of the house immediately.  Bronnie remained and stayed silent, just looking at Rosemary.

Silence in this tense conflict between employer and employee, between the soon to die and her carer, passed for a few moments. Seated close enough together Bronnie asked if Rosemary was finished?  “For now” came the reluctant reply.  Later Bronnie recalls Rosemary looking very lost, like a little child.  Its interesting that Bronnie had a disposition to see past the presenting hostility and find a little lost child.

Stop being happy!

After that little crisis, the relationship with Bronnie became a little friendlier.  Rosemary was dedicated to organising her finances, making plans that, with ever failing health, would never be realised.  Her controlling personality persisted to some extent.  She complained about Bronnie’s humming and her being “happy all the time”.

In the increasing softening of their relationship Bronnie was inclined to subtly share some wisdom.  suggesting happiness is a choice to be made every day… or not, proved important for Rosemary.  Finding blessings and meaning in daily life even in the face of particular challenges are distinct possibilities, open to us all.

While caring for Rosemary, Bronnie  received a diagnosis of her own which her specialist insisted required urgent major surgery.   There is no space for fear in a journey of healing and Rosemary’s residual barking bitterness was not much more than fear being vented.  Bronnie’s speculating on her own future, the prospect of her passing from her own disease without surviving to old age, meant experiencing emotional pain and old memories of past hurts.

Realising that her life already lived was filled with wonderful people and experiences provided a sense of peace for Bronnie like never before.    Attending to her diet, meditating and visualisation processes all helped her.  Routinely checking in with her body, she interpreted even minor ailments as indicators of unhelpful prior thoughts.   Even in times of few opportunities for happiness, there can be peace within acceptance of the current difficult experience.  Just has happiness passes, so too with misery or fear.

The debate with Rosemary over Bronnie’s excessive ‘happiness’ continued.  Bronnie suggested that Rosemary ‘pretend’ to be happy, to fake a smile for about 30 minutes, just to see what might happen.  Rosemary reported that she believed she never deserved to be happy.  The scandal of her marriage breakup from the distant past contaminated Rosemary’s present  because she had allowed it to.

It is good to wonder sometimes how our own past experiences are permitted to influence our present state of mind and behaviour.  Resentments are said to be like taking poison and expecting another person to die.

With tenderness deepening between the two, Rosemary came to the realisation that she was, in fact, fully entitled to be happy and regretted that she hadn’t let herself be so.  In her 80s and very close to death Rosemary was able to declare; “I am starting to like who I am these days.”

So much time had passed for Rosemary.  Are there lessons here for us? I’d like to learn what happened for you in reading this.

This little piece was informed by Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying.’  Published by Hay House 2015.

Please drop by soon for more posts.   You never know, you might just find something helpful.

All the best,

George Owen

May 2018.




Regrets of the dying

In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top five regrets of the dying’ (2015), she writes of her own experiences as a palliative carer in old dogAustralia.  With little training and a big heart Bronnie shares her exposure to people at end of life and describes the pain of missed opportunity.  Her work contains many lessons.  Lessons which could help us all address our own potential  for regrets on dying.

Earlier, I have offered a few short pieces based on top 5 regrets and now I want to continue and share a little about Bronnie’s regret number 4.

‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’

While mainly working in people’s own residences, Bronnie occasionally took some shifts in private nursing homes.  Her experiences there were far from pleasant with treatments of patients far from respectful in some cases.  An absence of compassion on the part of some staff made the experience particularly harsh.

Bronnie recalls the experience with a patient called Doris.  Doris burst into tears simply on received a cheerful greeting from Bronnie.  On becoming a little acquainted, Doris shared about her loneliness and the absence of friendliness in the place.  She shared how her daughter was living overseas.  Her daughter was busy and remote, living her own life.

Because of Bronnie’s genuine interest, Doris opened up more and more.  Doris was missing her friends most of all.  She asked Doris’s permission to do a little detective work and locate her friends.  Her interest in helping Doris was not entirely selfless.  In her own story, Bronnie has lost contact with others on the basis of withdrawing in order to avoid pain.  A familiar cognitive distortion I encounter from time to time in therapy.

Bronnie forthrightly refers to her own pain as she describes her relationships with people in the palliative care setting.  Fortunately, and I guess as a result of some great change-work, Bronnie’s compassion won out and she was able to share herself with those in her care.

Over time, Bronnie made contact with a few of Doris’s friends, two of whom had died.  Doris actually spoke to her remaining friend on the phone.  Her elevated mood sustained Doris for some time after that piece of detective work by Bronnie.  Soon after that, a happy Doris passed away.

In regret number 4; ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends’, Bronnie shares, not just detached stories of others, but her own journey into deeper authentic connection within herself.  Practicing self-compassion is a key to happiness and being open to empathy with others.

Please stop by again from another brief piece on Bronnie Ware’s Top 5 regrets of the dying’.

Many thanks

George Owen May. 2018







Regrets of the dying

In Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’, she tells of her experiences as a palliative careaged stone wall structure worker, people she encountered in her work and their main regrets.  In this very brief post, I share how she describes some people who wished they had the courage to express their feelings more (regret 3).

The gentle, smiling 94 year old holocaust survivor, Jozsef, had a most agreeable demeanor.  While his family preferred to spare him the information that he was dying,  his deteriorating condition, meant reality would intrude into awareness.  His increasing reliance on Bronnie, more and more prescriptions for medicine to address pain, and still more medications to address side effects of medications all pointed to the fact that Jozsef was dying.

One of his sons lived close enough and visited daily, another was interstate, and Jozsef’s daughter lived overseas.  The daily visits from the nearby son involved chats about business matters and Jozsef shared his belief with Bronnie that his son was more interested in an inheritance than his father’s welfare.

Family attempts at convincing Jozsef that his condition was improving, in spite of evidence to the contrary, could not be sustained.  Subsisting on a small amount of yoghurt a day meant he was very weak indeed.  Eventually, Jozsef stated to Bronnie, his carer, that he believed he was dying.  When Bronnie confirmed this, he was grateful for the confirmation.  He understood his wife and family were struggling with that reality.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

Jozsef had loved his work in Australia, his new country, after release from the camps. He could provide for his family’s needs.  His regrets now were that his family had seen very little of him.  He had not afforded his family the chance to really know him.  Jozsef had used his preoccupation with work because he greatly feared letting his feelings show.  He kept the family at arms length.

graphic of antique representation of a constellationBelieving he had missed the chance to build loving, warm relationships with his children, instead choosing to lead by the example of valuing and making money.  Now,  realising he was dying, Jozsef saw this as pointless.  Even leaving his family with some wealth was no compensation for them not really knowing him.

As frailty deepened for Jozsef his frustration with not having the skill to design a feelings-based conversation with his family.  He believed it was too late.  His son, mindful of the expense of care, fired Bronnie, hired an illegal worker at significantly reduced cost to the care budget.   Jozsef did not get a chance to make his preferences or feelings known.  About a week later he was dead.

We will all die but we have choice as to how we live before that event.  Sharing feelings means embracing  a certain vulnerability.  Deciding upon how really meaningful our life will be and what purposes we choose to be worthy of are important considerations.  Avoiding the pain and discomfort of honesty can itself be painful.  Can it not?

Express feelings before its too late

Another person cared for by Bronnie was Jude.  Unusually, in Bronnie’s palliative care work, Jude was a younger patient.  Just 44 years old and living with motor neuron disease, she lived with her husband and young daughter.   Disenchanted with inconsistent care from agencies as well as increased challenges with Jude’s deteriorating speech.  Jude required hoist support for transfers from bed to chair.

Although from a wealthy family, Jude entered a relationship with an artist which was rejected by her family who had very different expectations of their daughter.  Forced to choose between her partner, Edward, and her family, she chose Edward.  Jude was excluded from her birth family.  After years and on the birth of her own daughter there was something of a reconciliation with her father.

As Jude’s condition worsened her capacity to communicate her needs diminished.  On rare occasions of capacity Jude repeated her message to her main carer Bronnie.  The message, while simple is not always easy; “We need to be brave enough to express our feelings”.  Expression of feelings in the moment before it becomes too late was most important for Jude.

As Bronnie reports Jude’s sentiments were like this; “None of us ever knows when it will be too late.  Tell people you love them.  Tell them you appreciate them.  If they can’t accept your honesty… what matters is you’ve told them”.

Far too frequently are matters left unaddressed, possible resolutions missed, wounds unhealed.  Please stop by again for more on Bronnie Ware’s book; ‘The top 5 regrets of the dying’ published by Hay House.