Psychiatry

Joyce & Barry Vissell: The Gift of Helplessness

Joyce and Barry 7-17 (2)I love being outside and physical activity to balance the counseling, workshops and writing, which I also love. I enjoy walking the dogs with Joyce, mowing the lawn, fixing things, gardening, doing anything to be outside.

Some folks like to sit around when they are on vacation. Not me. Multiday river trips are my favorite vacations, as well as backpacking in the wilderness. Of course I value stillness. Each morning, Joyce and I sit for 10-20 minutes, trying to meditate, sometimes successfully. We know it’s important work, even when our minds seem too active.

Last week, I did too much physical work. I ignored my almost 72 year old body. Now I’m paying the price. For this past week, the pain in my lower back is so severe that I need help getting dressed. To complicate matters, we had our final six month’s mentorship retreat in our home and center these last five days. Co-leading the retreat half the time lying on the floor made for some extra challenge.

This past week, I have felt helpless, almost like a little baby needing Joyce, retreat participants, and even total strangers to take care of me. It has been extremely humbling and vulnerable. And valuable!

In September, 2016, I wrote an article called “The Courage to Ask for Help,” about a miracle on a Lake Tahoe sailing trip. (It’s on our website: SharedHeart.org.) Asking for help is a vital skill to learn. I’ve had to do that constantly this past week. I can even do it graciously and without complaining, thanking each person who helps me. And I see how much of a gift I give to each person I ask. And the most important asking for help is from God, our Higher Power, and the angels.

But there’s more than asking for help. The final step in this process is the hardest for me, as well as for many people. It is recognizing the truth about our helplessness, and then fully embracing that truth and reality. It is an illusion that we, as human beings, are self-sufficient. Many of us pay lip service to our dependence upon God, our Divine Source. But to feel our complete helplessness is a scary thing. Not many people want to dwell on that truth. It’s often too vulnerable to admit our weakness and lack of control in our lives. But I must say, embracing our ultimate helplessness and dependence upon Spirit is the highest stage of spiritual development. For only when we know our helplessness can we sincerely ask for help.

Joyce and I are passionate about Golden Retrievers. So much so that we are committed to breeding genetically sound Goldens as loving family pets. We probably average having one litter every two years. As it happened, our current litter was born yesterday, Sunday, on the last day of our mentorship retreat! If I could have planned the worst possible time for our Gracie to give birth, it would have been that day! We were expecting her litter starting in the next few days.

Rami, our daughter and an exceptional puppy midwife, was out of town till Sunday night. I, also with lots of puppy birthing experience, was out of commission with extreme low back pain. Our other daughter, Mira, a nurse but without puppy midwife experience, was able to come with her toddler son, who slept in the car for about an hour while she helped with a few births. I, laying on my back in the living room, helping co-lead the retreat ending, would hear Mira calling for help. Painstakingly, at the speed of a banana slug, I’d get up off the floor and limp into the other room to perform CPR on a puppy having difficulty breathing due to fluid in its lungs. All in all, it was not the most focused retreat ending.

But the mentorship participants were ecstatic! They were all tremendously uplifted by the atmosphere of birthing energy in our house. They felt it was the best ever ending for six months of mentorship. They felt they were also being born into the next phase of their lives. It hardly mattered that Joyce and I were distracted, and that I was in pain most of the time.

Twelve newborn puppies are right now nursing almost continuously on Gracie. She is perhaps the mellowest mother we have ever had, peaceful and content to lay with her pups, occasionally bathing each one with her tongue. When the puppies are not nursing or sleeping, they are squealing in need of nourishment. Occasionally the squeal becomes urgent, when a pup gets disoriented and separated from its siblings. Last night, a pup squeezed its way under Gracie’s collar and got stuck. Its desperate cries brought Joyce running to remove the collar.

The puppies are completely helpless. Without Gracie’s warmth and milk, they would all quickly die. Truth is, we humans are not really different. Without our heavenly energy source, we simply would have no life. We are fooled into thinking that food and water alone keep us alive, and therefore life and death are in our hands and control. So we ignore our divine energy source, our Mother-Father God, the source of all our life energy. Then we wonder why we’re not happy and at peace.

I am receiving a true gift from this time of deep physical helplessness. It is reminding me of my spiritual helplessness. Every time I remember to call upon my Heavenly Parents, the divine energy of the universe, I am filled up with life.

It is now very quiet in the whelping box. Some of the puppies are asleep and the rest are quietly nursing. Their helplessness is of no concern to any of them. We too can accept the gift of our own helplessness.

*** 

~Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man.
www.SharedHeart.org

Excellence Reporter 2018 ©Joyce & Barry Vissell

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Categories: Psychiatry

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