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Poignancy – When Life Is Bittersweet 

Poignancy – When Life Is Bittersweet 

Poignancy – heartfelt, touching, deepgoing according to my Roget’s Thesaurus, with a touch of bittersweet. Jane Baraz and I would pass out bits of bittersweet chocolate on our mindful self-compassion retreats to remind folks that life has 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows, all mixed together, all at the same time.

Certainly, the transitioning into retirement – “letting go” and honoring the profound and hard-won healing my clients have experienced over the years – is deeply poignant. Loss and love and triumph and tears, all together, all at once.

Most everyone is experiencing poignancy these days, whether we use that word or not – the contradictory exuberance and exhaustion of embracing relatives and friends after the long-distancing and isolation from the pandemic, heartache for the missed birthdays weddings, anniversaries, graduation in the last two years, or the funerals of people we never got o see or touch in person in farewell.

Poignancy: summer vacations beginning and travel resuming for many, while hunger, fear of being bombed or shot, and rising sea levels are front page news and the angst for the human species moves deeper into the heart.

Poignancy. Like learning I didn’t quite fully understand what re-calibration meant. [See Retirement as Re-Calibration, as Metamorphosis], diving deeper into the origins and layers of meaning for the word poignancy –

(I confess. If I were in one of those “imagine your were alone on a deserted island and could have only one book…” I would want the latest edition of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary that included the etymology of words – all the evolution of human thinking right there.)

I discovered poignancy has some sharp edges around it. From the French poignant-poindre – to prick or sting. To painfully affecting the feelings, piercing. Synonyms include shades of keen, sharp, acute, distressing, grievous, woeful, discomforting, deplorable. Those variations lean into the bitterness that is the irony of poignancy – deep feeling because there has been deep loss of something heartfelt. (Homefelt in the old English.)

And so to hold the depth and bigness of poignancy, I rely more and more on what I teach more and more as the ABC model of working with anything difficult.

A is to be aware, to attune, to allow and to accept this is what’s happening, this is my experience, especially these are my reactions to my experience, not to like or condone but to make room for so that I can be with whatever is happening without pushing it away or pretending this isn’t happening right here, right now, even befriending the experience for whatever message or lesson it might be bringing me, then the compassion or the caring to make it safe enough in the brain, in the being, to bring a little curiosity and open-minded receptivity to the experience.

ABC doesn’t make everything better; it just makes everything more workable.  Here’s the guided meditation as I taught it last week at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health…

Guided Meditation Practicing A, B, C

We’ll apply ABC to several different emotional experiences, some easier, some harder, some easier again. This is a basic neural sandwich of positive, safe experience, negative, possibly unsafe experience, positive experience again. The positive-negative-positive sandwich helps create the safety that primes the neuroplasticity of the brain for learning.

Settle into a comfortable sitting posture.  If you notice any discomfort in your body, you can adjust to come into a sense of presence and ease. If you feel comfortable, let yourself settle into that sense of presence and ease that allows the mind to relax and the heart to open.  

Breathe slowly and gently, noticing the nourishing of your body as you breathe in; noticing the soothing of your body as you breathe out. Sense your breath moving throughout your entire body.  Know that you don’t have to remember to breathe, your body remembers for you. Letting your body breathe you.

When you’re ready, let yourself remember a recent moment, just one moment, when you felt safe in your body, safe in your being.  Either a moment in solitude, when you were by yourself, or a moment when you were companioned by another person.

And we can begin to practice A, B, C.  Be aware of your sensations in your body as you remember this moment.  Allow any thoughts that arise to be there; accept any emotions that arise with this memory.

Be with your experience exactly as it is in this moment of remembering.  Befriend anything that seems difficult or vulnerable.

Bring compassion to yourself or any part of yourself that needs some kindness, some gentle acceptance in this moment.  

Let that go and return your awareness to your breathing and being in your body.

Let yourself remember another moment, a single moment of a simple joy or delight; a moment that uplifted you. Again either a moment you experienced on your own or a moment you shared with another. 

And again practicing with A, B, C.

Being aware of, allowing, accepting the moment as you remember it. Being aware of, allowing, accepting any reactions you have in the moment now as you remember it.

Be with and befriend your experience, whatever inner thoughts or self-talk accompany this memory.  And bring compassion to your experience if any of those thoughts are problematic or difficult in some way.

Let that go and return your awareness to your breathing and being in your body.

Now let yourself remember a moment that was difficult. That was worrisome or challenging in some way. Whether you were by yourself or with another person in that moment.

And practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

Let that go and return your awareness to your breathing and being in your body.

Now let yourself remember a moment, a small moment, of shame or self-blame or guilt. Not the worst moment that ever happened, but a small genuine moment, either when you were alone or when you were triggered by another person. 

And practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

Let that go and return your awareness to your breathing and being in your body.

Now let yourself remember a moment, a small moment of courage or strength, again either a moment you faced an anxious or difficult moment on your own, or safely companioned with another person. 

And practice the A, B, C.

Be aware of all the elements of your experience, then or as you remember it now.  Body sensations, feelings, multiple feelings, thoughts, ideas, judgement, beliefs. Allowing them all to be there; accepting them all just as they are happening.

Being with the experience and being with yourself in having the experience.  Befriending yourself and your reactions to your experience.  Bringing compassion to any part of you that needs compassion, kindness, acceptance for having this experience.

Let that go and return your awareness to your breathing and being in your body.

Take a moment now to reflect on your experience of the entire meditation, noticing any insights you have about yourself, your practice, your resilience. You might take a moment to write down any notes that you want to remember from this exercise.

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