The healing power of simplicity

By Gabrielle Duebendorfer, ND
Reader Columnist

Invariably, some time before Christmas it hits me – the feeling of being enfolded in woe. Nothing seems to go right. My brain goes into a million directions at the same time. I have lots of ideas to make everyone happy, to re-establish connections, to nourish old ones while grieving lost ones. I fell a deep longing for belonging, then melancholy. Then something more like despair, sometimes turning into anger — mostly at myself, sometimes at others.

This time something different happened. Rather than continuing to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, I sat down next to my husband, who has been establishing the habit of simply lying down on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, doing nothing. A quite novel concept from where I am coming from. Instead of asking what was going on and trying to make me feel better, he simply took my hand and said: “You are home already.” It was like magic, this simple sitting together and feeling myself into what was really happening on an experiential level, within the holding comfort of the closeness of my beloved. I felt the grief, the longing and the underlying emptiness, the pain of confusion, and then grace entered. It invariably does when one stays long enough. I was able to engage in joyful pre-Christmas activity, as it seemed appropriate in the moment.

Recently, one of my iRest (Integrative Restoration) class students said after class: “The impact of staying with difficult emotions, rather than suppressing them to maintain a self image of spiritual immunity, has been profound. The recognition of the validity of a wide range of emotions has allowed me to socially function without denying my own truth despite the grief I have been experiencing.”

This being with what is difficult can be quite liberating and has a delightful simplicity to it. However, it is not easy!  That’s where the holding power of relationship, of community, comes in. It is quite helpful to have somebody holding the container as the mind’s tendency to escape and barrel down familiar roads of denial, distraction, transference or over-analysis is quite strong.

I just had a call with my sister in reviewing our experience with my mom’s process of dying of cancer. Being a palliative oncologist herself, she said, to my surprise, the most powerful lesson for her was recognizing the importance of the simple presence of a person. Ultimately, having somebody be willing to sit with all the suffering that comes with chronic disease and dying, to lovingly touch and massage the disfigured body part, to convey the capacity to even stay with pain or vomiting or confusion and depression: All that has very strong healing power on a deep level. Physical healing might happen or not, but a deeper healing of belonging is facilitated for sure.

At my last talk at Winterridge about depression, anxiety and addiction, a young lady finally spoke up in exasperation about the apparent affluent, educated, yuppie perspective that was being conveyed by the attendees – and presenter. Hailing from a less fortunate background and doing her shopping at regular stores, all this talk about healthy diet and supplements made all the offerings quite unachievable. Living well can very easily add up to high expenses – both on finances and time. I do like putting together comprehensive treatment protocols for my patients as they tend to be more effective with complex chronic illnesses, and I assure dialogue about feasibility. However, often the simplest adjustments have the most profound impact.

This young lady accepted my invitation to see me privately to reassure her that healthy living could be achieved in a very simple way. To both of our delight she came back with considerably more energy, no digestive symptoms whatsoever and improved sleep and mood. All I did was to encourage her to keep an open mind and start cooking in bulk for herself with a few vegetarian recipes and freezing the leftovers, switching from sodas to sparkling water and taking magnesium and B vitamins. She even had her roommate participate, as he started eating her food.

Mostly, I think the healing change happened because someone listened to her and provided a holding container for transformation. May you find someone in the New Year to be the holding healing container for in a simple way.

Dr. Gabrielle Duebendorfer has practiced as a licensed naturopathic physician and certified iRest Yoga Nidra instructor in Sandpoint for 20 years. Besides individual ND and iRest dialogue consults she offers classes and talks teaching tools to rise above stress, anxiety, pain, and disease. Call 208-290-5991 for the upcoming New Years Retreat Jan. 13 and iRest Class starting Jan. 18.

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