The following story is as old as the hills…
Yesterday a friend (professional colleague) called me to talk about about a letter he had received from a client with whom he had been trying to build trust and friendship, only to have a door of rejection closed in his face in a hurtful fashion. He felt betrayed and unfairly handled despite his good intentions and efforts. He gave me a quick blow by blow of the drama, which I shall paraphrase along the way.
His description of events had the feel of a Pyrrhic victory for the one who rejected him. A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost to the “victor” that it carries the implication that another such “victory” will ultimately cause the victor’s demise.
The phrase is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and at Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War. In both of Pyrrhus’ victories, the Romans suffered greater casualties than Pyrrhus did. However, the Romans had a much larger supply of men from which to draw soldiers, so their casualties did less damage to their war effort than Pyrrhus’s casualties did to his.
I listened to his story of his client’s story with requisite amounts of absorption and detached dispassion. He asked me what I was thinking, and I explained, “Well, it sounds as if your client has built a very rigid, if not obstinate, self righteous and self important story, and now this individual will have to live with that story and keep defending that story, and keep building upon what sounds like the story of an inability to unconditionally trust good people, and develop the lasting value of friendship and trust with the very person who could help move his/her life forward in the easiest way possible.”
I held forth, “It sounds like the client has significant fear and trust issues to work on, knowing you as I do. This story does not need to become your story.”
My friend has some extraordinary qualities which one rarely enjoys from the common lot of humanity and health advisors, and so I was naturally curious about what his inner understanding is about what he may have done to produce such a schism. His reply was that he must have threatened his client with an unabashed and forthright manner of trying to help with the understanding of emotional terrain and memoried trauma dynamics.
After all, this is the very area of body-mind-emotion-spirit dynamics where most seekers of health offer the most resistance. They may start off with all of the obvious physical and biochemical concerns, but never realize that the emotional concerns are usually more important, especially when they are so entangled that it becomes easier to just deny them.
Knowing him as I do, I asked a question. “So,” I said, “you pushed some boundary, something you knew he/she was not very flexible with, something you knew that they were trying to evade and keep you from learning about, something that they are confused and uncomfortable trying to understand and heal because it might threaten their lifestyle?”
Replying in the affirmative, he went on to explain some details about his true intentions which were to offer something of value and assistance, but went about it in a way which created an awkward enough perception on the receiving end, one that could be easily manipulated, that all it did was provide an all-too-easy excuse for the client to duck out of further engagement.
I said, “It seems that the client’s original intentions may have been disingenuous in really wanting to work with you and experience all that you have to offer. Perhaps they just wanted to experience just enough of the quick-fix that you are so good at, but not go deeper into the more challenging work that you are even more gifted at.”
This process is more than just a relationship tempest in a teapot. It is offers a good look into the dynamics of why people in our society eschew and refrain from the deeper and more fulfilling spiritual work which must embrace some cleansing of the mental and emotional entanglements which inhibit their journey of Spirit in a human form.
I explained that I understood how this must feel to him, and as deeply hurtful as he is in his heart in the moment for how his client handled their end of the relationship, I offered the steady adage, “This too shall pass. This person has their story to live with.” And my friend also has his lesson in which he will find his gift and opportunity, and just move on, having expended enough effort on this project.
He asked me if he should respond to them and if so, what would I say if I were in his place. My response was non committal. I answered his question with a question of my own, and added some color commentary.
“Why would you offer any response? They have made their own story and it has evolved into one that sounds pretty defended and inflexible at this point. You made a sincere offer and gesture of friendship over time, and you did it based on the information which you were provided with. The client should have trusted your good intentions by now, as well as your well-practiced clinical experience. Just leave it be for now and leave the door of good will open. Perhaps your client will truly open to the necessary life growth and drop out of what sounds like addictive self centered denial perspectives. It is very possible, and perhaps likely, that he/she will return when they are ready to come out of the shadows of their life and explore what the light has to offer.”
Synchronistic to my friend’s call yesterday, I had received an email on the day before from my college roommate who lives over in South Carolina. The email describes the work of an Australian woman who cares for the sick and dying. She writes about what she learns from the life wisdom books of those who are willing and able to share a few valuable lessons about their lives as they are about to depart this earthly realm and pass on to Glory and Light over in the Spirit side of life after life.
I told my friend that I had just received this email information, and that I would like to pass this panacea of perspective on to him. And so I did that.
Here is what the text of what the healing email spelled out:
“A palliative nurse has recorded the top five regrets of the dying. There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counseled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.”
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The book is available from Amazon here.
Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”
Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
The email text ends with the question:
“What’s your greatest regret so far and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?”
Crestone and Beyond
It seems that the client who shunned my friend felt the need to define their boundaries in a rather shallow and self centered manner. I have the feeling from hearing my friend’s story that regrets may come to visit this individual over what the story represents in their future relationship journey.
In a few correspondences yesterday, I shared with my friend some words of midlife advice, as he is over age 50.
For most people, midlife is usually one of the best last chances to make any real change of significant value. If a person has not taken any great risks to move out of their comfort zone (discomfort zone) by the time they are 50, chances are that they may be too entrenched in their day to day life and identity crisis and confusion to make any deeply meaningful changes.
Most people who are struggling in mid life identity problems, do not trust how easy it is to make a few simple tweaks and changes in their lives which usually have enormous benefits. I am referring to simple shifts of consciousness which open new doors and allow for greater vision.
The Divine always comes to us disguised as our life. We are led forth through family, failure, success, trauma, visitors passing through our life, betrayal, sexuality, nature, profession, shadow, vision, and all that life brings. If the 4 stages of adult growth are not tended to because the 4 stages of the child were not tended to, then some kind of mid-life crisis usually supervenes.
I suggested to my friend that he also have a read of a Journal entry which I posted on February 3, 2011. This Journal entry describes the 4 stages of adult life, and is entitled “Parenting, Part III.” This Journal can be seen here.
The preceding entry, “Parenting, Part II” covers the all important 4 stages of the inner child. Both of these entries are based on the work of the great psychologist of the past century, Erik Erikson. His analysis of the important life stages is the best that I know of.
And so my hurt friend had a read of these Journal entries overnight and he called me this morning to express his feeling of clarity and relief that was offered in the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” when viewed via Erickson’s 8 life stages. He felt that he had reset his perspectives on just about everything. This is the kind of simple consciousness shift which I was referring to in statements made above.
I inquired of my friend, “And so, what do you want to do about this little drama inside of yourself now?”
“Well, I am at neutrality, or surrender at this point. I just let go after feeling it all through. What I perceived as this person’s relationship issues has just dissolved for me, and I have no regrets in not being allowed to help. I can just move on. It all feels oddly liberating, even though it seems like a kind of betrayal, and I feel like trust with this person has been negatively affected. I think I can just let it be,” he replied with an assured calmness. “My dismissal may be their loss.”
In his mid life years, my friend draws from a deep well of knowing. He realized that he had put too much energy into the relationship, only to be clipped. He has passed through the portal of being tested by some of life’s lessons, such as, “Will you stop being who you think you’re supposed to be and finally be who you really are?”
In other words we come to a conscious understanding of our real spiritual Identity…or not. If we come to this understanding, then whatever we offer comes from a place of authenticity, and we should carry no regrets.
Forgiveness becomes the order of the day. Forgiveness is the only way we really heal. Embracing forgiveness allows for a life of self love and therefore love that can be authentically owned and therefore given and extended outward.
Pyrrhic victories in relationship dynamics happen every day. These kinds of relationship dynamics can become rather draining to the so-called “victors” who feel that they must fight on using the same life tactics (of denial), in spite of the hand writing that is so clearly written on the wall.
Signing off from Crestone and Beyond.
Wishing you the best that Life and Love have to offer.
- What You Can Learn From Other Peoples’ Regrets…this is a nice rendition of nurse Bronnie Ware’s teachings. Make sure to take a few minutes to watch the video of the 3 elders who have lived past 100.