Am I Contributing to My Living or My Dying?


In 1996, I was on an airplane that “fell” 25,000 feet in about a minute’s time. For the next two hours we did not know if we were going to live or die. Since then I have had a sense that I am living on borrowed time. I think I was supposed to die that day, but Grace prevailed. Now, I see every moment I live as a gift and remember that tomorrow is not promised. I have a strong desire to live in a way that allows me to die without regrets.

When I was a new psychotherapist, I assisted in a therapy group led by Delphine Bowers.  She used to ask clients if the actions they were thinking about doing would “contribute to their living or their dying.”  That question has stuck with me for almost 30 years.


I believe I am contributing to my dying, instead of my living, when I am:


I am great at getting things done. There was a time in my life when I was working three jobs, going to school, and raising two children. Throughout my adult life, I have generally been unwilling to stop “doing” unless I get so sick that I can’t do otherwise.

In the last few years, I have made great strides in stopping that behavior. Still, it is not lost on me that I have back problems which have impacted my level of activity since mid-February. While 97% of the time I am resting and doing what I know I should do,  I still find myself saying, “Oh it’s okay if I plant a few seedlings.” Or I do other minor garden work when I know I should be avoiding all leaning over and bending down. What will it take for me to learn this lesson?  I shudder to think of the answer.


I used to obsess about anything I wanted to say for so long that I often lost the opportunity to say it. I also obsessed about things I did say, analyzing my words looking for errors or wondering if I had said something that made me look stupid. While I stopped those behaviors decades ago, I believe that overthinking is still the most common way I make myself miserable. And it is certainly the source of most of my stress. If I am offended by something, I may fixate on it. Worrying about the future also leads me to overthinking. The fact that I avoid mind-slowing spiritual practices, such as meditation, perpetuates the problem.


I have long been aware of my tendency to overdo and overthink. In fact I have written about those behaviors before. (Recovering from Overdoing, Stay in the Present and Stop Thinking!) In the last month, awareness of another way I contribute to my dying has resurfaced.

Emotions such as anger, sadness and fear are meant to show us that there are problems we need to deal with. If we feel the feelings and address the issues, the emotions are likely to flow through us. If we repress them, we probably won’t solve the problems and we may become depressed, anxious or sick.

I have been conscious of the fear in my body for a long time, but I used to bury my anger so deep that I didn’t even realize it was there. Now I feel the anger at the time it is triggered. My new awareness is that I am repressing my grief.


Stuffing Grief

When I was growing up, a frequent message from my father was, “If you are going to cry, I will give you something to cry about.”  If I didn’t stop crying, I was usually spanked or sent to my bedroom.  I learned it was not okay for me to express my sadness.

When I met Amma in 1989, grief began to erupt from inside of me. Generally that grief was not associated with any conscious memory. Even though I didn’t know what it was related to, I often had a sense that I was releasing the energy from traumas that had occurred earlier in my life. Sometimes I wondered if some of it was coming from other lifetimes, or if it was some form of “universal grief.” That spontaneous release of tears, which usually occurred during Amma’s programs, went on for several years.  Letting them pour out felt very healing.

Then one day someone teased me about my tears. My childhood programming took over and I shut them down so fast it was mind-boggling. From time to time, something will still bring up that deep well of grief inside of me, but for the most part it is nowhere to be found.

A week or so ago, there was a moment when I felt sadness about my back pain and the resulting physical limitations. I shed a tear, or maybe two, before a firm inner voice said, “It’s good that you felt your sadness, but that is ENOUGH.” I saw that my father’s message was still operating within me. Certainly no healing can come from releasing one or two tears.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I started crying, and I cried on and off throughout the week.  The grief I felt was so deep, very similar to the level of emotion I experienced during my early years with Amma. While Prince’s “Purple Rain” album and movie, and especially the song “When Doves Cry,” was important to me in the 80’s, I hadn’t followed his career after that, other than taking my children to his 1988 Seattle concert.  Even though I didn’t understand my level of emotion, I was aware that the tears I shed felt cleansing and therapeutic.


I believe that overdoing, overthinking and stuffing my grief are the three biggest ways that I am currently contributing to my dying.  I know it is important for me to continue working on these issues and to keep the “Will this action contribute to your living or your dying?” question in mind as I make day-to-day decisions as well as when I consider long term decisions, such as when to retire.

I have no way of knowing whether I will live one more day or one year, five years, ten years or more.  I am committed to making the most of every moment I have left in this lifetime.


Originally Published on May 6, 2016 as part of  The Seeker’s Dungeon’s On Living and Dying event.

If you’d like to be one of the guest authors, you can learn more about the event here: 365 Days On Living and Dying.


The Circle of Life

Sreejit at The Seeker’s Dungeon has been hosting an event called On Living and Dying.  I participated early in the challenge (Am I Contributing to My Living or My Dying?) but I find myself continuing to ponder the subject.  I realized that I have lots of photos of birthing and living and some that could probably be considered rebirth, but I had none of dying. Yesterday I remedied that situation.










As I was writing this post, it occurred to me that I might be able to find evidence of rebirth already, and I did! Rebirth is occurring amidst the dying. What a good example of the circle of life.



Practicing Retirement

Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Not long ago, I was talking with someone who commented that being retired would be so boring.  I was startled because I think the opposite.  There are so many things I’d like to do.  It seems to me that when I’m retired, I will have time to do more of them.  I decided to practice being retired!

Ideally, I would be able to devote three or four days a week to that experiment, but that won’t happen often.  Yesterday, unexpectedly, ended up being a free day so I decided to make it a “Practicing Retirement” day!”

I planned to do some canning that day, so on Wednesday I purchased blueberries and peaches at the farmers’ market.  I was ready for the big day.

The first thing in the morning I checked my email and blog and then reblogged a post from  Next I ate breakfast, showered and dressed.

The first project on my list was to gather tomatoes from the garden and make some roasted tomatoes.

Then I baked a sweet potato that I will use later in the week for making Immune Booster Orange Smoothies!

On to making crock-pot soup for tonight. The garden isn’t producing much now, and the vegetables tend to be small, but there is still enough to make soup.

Next, time to make blueberry freezer jam.  I needed to get some supplies at the store to be able to do that.  I started feeling strange when I was there and realized I had been so eager to start my “Practice Retirement” day that I had forgotten to take my blood pressure medicine in the morning.  Not good.  I carry extra pills in my wallet for occasions like that though, so took one right away.  I will need to make sure I don’t get too engrossed in activities when I’m retired.

The medication wasn’t working yet so I decided to use the regular checkout line rather than the self checkout.  That seemed reasonable for a retiree to do!  When the bagger asked if I wanted him to put my bag in a cart I said “No, I can carry it.”  I soon realized that it was heavy and that my blood pressure was up, and besides I’m retired, so I changed my mind.  I could have even asked him to take it to the car for me, but I didn’t go that far.

Back home, it was time to make the freezer jam!

Time to rest and have some lunch.  I shouldn’t be busy all of the time!

From time to time throughout the day, I worked with the graphic artist on September’s Pacific Northwest GreenFriends newsletter.  By late afternoon, it was finished and I started sending it out to Amma groups in the region.  I plan to continue working on the newsletter when I’m retired so it definitely fit into my practice day.


Time to can four quarts of peaches.

I have at least 6 more quarts of peaches to process, but that was enough canning for one day.  I was tired.

After some rest, I was ready for dinner and my “Practice Retirement” day’s big finale.

This was the last of the preseason games and we won.  If the Seahawks are playing this well without our starters, I wonder what the regular season is going to be like.  I look forward to finding out!  I also look forward to discovering which rookies make it onto the team.  (I can’t believe I’m talking like this!  I NEVER thought football would become an important part of my life.)

I loved my “Practicing Retirement” day.  I know I won’t be able to do this much in one day when I actually retire; in fact I couldn’t keep up this pace even at the age I am now.  When I retire, I will make sure I spend time being quiet and still, perhaps even having picnics with friends and looking at beautiful scenery like in the picture at the top of this post.  Even when my body isn’t able to do the things I want to do, with my family and friends support, I believe I will live a fulfilling life. I do not think I will be bored when I retire.

Loosening Your Grip (Acrostic)



Living and learning that is our task

Each encounter, removing the masks

There are no shortcuts, no easy way

To live life’s journey, day after day

Instruction manual? That would be nice

Not possible? Then here’s some advice

Gripping your plans with hands of steel

Gives pain, misery, endless ordeals

Open your hand, the path to reveal


As I wrote the acrostic, I remembered a poem that I have loved for decades.  The author is unknown.

I asked God for strength that I might achieve.
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy.
I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life.
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.


Written for this week’s Dungeon Prompt.


Recovering from Over-Doing


In this week’s Dungeon Prompt, Sreejit asks us to fill in the blank in this sentence:  “I am a Recovering _________.” There was no doubt in my mind what the behavior would be for me. Using the Alcoholics Anonymous introduction, I will say: “Hi!  I am Karuna, and I am a recovering over-doer.”

As I thought about how I would present this topic, I decided to create a new disorder. My fictitious disorder is called “Being versus Doing Disorder.”

The Being vs Doing disorder is on a continuum where the center, a balance between being and doing, is the healthy portion of the continuum. The more someone moves to either end of the continuum, the more likely it is they will have dysfunction in their lives.

When I think of the over-being end of the continuum I think of non-productivity, passivity, and lack of motivation. I don’t know as much about that part of the spectrum since I have almost no personal experience there. I have seen it at work in clients and friends though.

Over-doing has many facets. It commonly begins in childhood when the only or main way to get positive attention from parents is to do impressive things. It also develops when parents criticize their children anytime they are relaxing or are doing things the parents consider nonproductive.

As a result, adults with an over-doing disorder may be seeking validation and praise for what they accomplish. An over-doer is also likely to be a rescuer. As such, they do things they aren’t asked to do and are likely to do things they don’t want to do. In addition, they do more than their share of the work that needs to be done and do things for other people that they could do for themselves. Those with this “disorder’ are likely to over-commit and seem incapable of being still.

Over-doing has been a major characteristic of my adult life. At one point, I was raising two children, working three jobs, doing my personal therapy and in school studying for a PhD.   During my therapy, I realized I didn’t want a PhD, I was just seeking attention from the father, who had disowned me.  I stopped my schooling but was still overdoing. Before long, I began to experience extreme exhaustion and was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

With CFS, I was in survival mode and it was impossible for me to do as much as I had been doing, although I still tried to.  When it began dissipating after five years, I went back to over doing. There is no doubt that a part of me believed it was only acceptable for me to stop if I was sick.  Eventually I developed high blood pressure and other physical problems.

I reached a point where I had to cut back on all of my commitments. Nowadays, I am putting my emphasis on doing the things I want to do, and am saying no to many requests.  I still have trouble with “simply being” but I no longer am into major over-doing.   I hope some day I will be much closer to the center of the being-doing continuum.

I have realized a behavior that really fueled my over-doing disorder was the desire to be “in the know.” That puts me in the place of being asked for information that I don’t want to share, which then creates stress, whether I share it or not. As I continue to slow down, I am finding myself holder of less information. I am loving responding to requests with “I’m not in that loop anymore. You will have to ask someone else.”

I learned many skills during my over-doing years.  Last week friends of mine were in a life and death crisis and I stepped in to help immediately.  There is a time and place for those skills, but it takes discrimination to use them correctly.  In that instance, I have no doubt that my choices were appropriate.

I am very committed to my recovery from over-doing. While I may find myself immersed in the old behaviors from time to time, I don’t think I will ever be drawn so deep into them again. I see what I am doing  much sooner and and change course when needed.

In evaluating myself on the scale found in Portia Nelson’s Autobiography in 5 Short Chapters, I find I am in generally in Chapter 4 or 5.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.


Every time I walk around an invitation to over-do or avoid putting myself in the situation where I know I am going to be tempted, I consider my choice worthy of celebration!  I am truly movig towards a life of balance.


Do you have a “Being vs Doing” disorder? Where do you fall on the continuum? How does it disrupt your life? Do you consider yourself in recovery?



2014 in review

When WordPress sent me an annual report for my blog on December 30, I decided I wasn’t going to post it.  Since I’ve come home from India, though, I find I have enjoyed looking at other bloggers’ annual reports.  So I changed my mind and decided to post mine too!


The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Feeding a Fledging

I saw this video at Amma’s Toronto programs last month.  It touched my heart so much then.  When I received a copy of it a few minutes ago, I knew I wanted to share it with all of you.

The video came with this introduction:

Recently, a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest was brought to Amma during darshan. After feeding the bird, Amma said that its pathetic condition and heartfelt cries reminded her of all the suffering being experienced throughout the world and how the only way to rid the world of such suffering is through the awakening of compassion: “Children, the tears of those suffering from extreme poverty and other misfortunes, as well as of those who have more than enough materially but are still crying out deep within, can only be dried by pure love and compassion. May that compassion awaken in everyone, everywhere.

Amma feeding a fledgling


Your Worth

Many of my clients struggle so much with self doubt and feeling unworthy. This blog post by Owl McCloud addresses that issue using a metaphor that I think is very powerful. I hope you find it valuable too.

The House of Wolves


We all know how much we are worth in this world. We been told our whole lives about our place on this planet. Told that we’re too old, too slow, too skinny, too fat, too boring, not fun enough, not sexy enough or stupid and worthless all together. When we hear this all thorough out our lives we sadly sometimes start to believe it. Lets play a quick game for some money, a man made valued item. How many of you reading this would love a free Twenty dollar bill$? I’m sure a few of you would but with if I balled it up, now who still wants ? Now what if I took that same balled up twenty and throw it on the floor and stepped on it, who still wants it? I’m betting the number of you that said you would take it in the beginning would still…

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Inspiration Comes in Many Forms

Sometimes, because of the chronic health problems and aches and pains that so often accompany growing older, plus the fact that my mother died at 74, I have felt like my life is winding down, even though most of me doesn’t think that is true. The dilemma about what I want to do when and if I retire adds to that unsettled feeling.

I met someone in India this past December who was such an inspiration. It is a memory I can hold in front of me during the times I am feeling down. Continue reading “Inspiration Comes in Many Forms”