Creative Healing

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How to Make 2016 the Year of Bold Forgiveness

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on January 11, 2016 at 8:30 PM

Another New Year has arrived and though this is traditionally a time to assess our goals and aspirations for the future, I prefer to focus my attention and intentions on the present moment. In reality, we can only make changes right here, right now in this instant in time. So as I look at what is most needed in my life and on the planet at this moment, I have chosen forgiveness as the act I believe will create the most impact.


Each time I practice forgiveness, I release energy that has been stuck in the past, harboring old resentments and anger. When that energy is freed up it becomes available in the present moment and can set in motion a wave of positive emotion and wellbeing for me and for others around me. Right now on this planet there is a desperate need for positive change and hopefulness everywhere, and it seems to me that forgiveness is one powerful act that could bring this much-needed positivity to the world.


But forgiveness is not easy to undertake and requires deep commitment to carry out. In fact, forgiveness is a BOLD act because it takes courage and fearlessness to accomplish. And most of us have not had a lot of practice with this challenging process so we may not know where to begin. Here are some tips for why, when and how to practice forgiveness:


1. Practice forgiveness for your own health.


Studies have shown that people who forgive have lower blood pressure, less stress-related illness, greater emotional wellbeing, and overall better health. You owe it to yourself to reduce the negative effects of chronic anger on your health.


2. Practice forgiveness to improve your relationships.


When you release others in your life from blame and bitterness you will open the door to renewed connectedness, enhanced communication and greater joy. Deeper and more fulfilling relationships play a role in better physical and mental health and increased longevity too.


3. Practice forgiveness on a daily basis.


In order to make progress toward freeing up your old resentments you are going to need a strong commitment to the idea of forgiveness. By working on it a little each day you will gradually find it easier and easier to let go of your anger. And while you are working on forgiving the past, you should also be determined to forgive in the present moment, by refusing to hold on to anger when things don’t go your way. In this way you will reduce the burden of unforgiveness you’ll need to process in the future, by minimizing the addition of any new resentments.


4. Use journaling to help you forgive.


One technique to get started with forgiveness is to journal on a daily basis about the people and events in your past for which you are harboring bitterness. Make lists of who and what you need to forgive so that you can realistically look at the load of pain you are carrying. Pick out a few of those people or events to begin with—perhaps start with something easier to forgive in the beginning so that you can build up your “forgiveness muscles.”


5. Try the “4-View” Process for forgiveness.


In this journaling exercise you will write about the event you are trying to forgive from 4 different views (this might take a few days to accomplish):

1) Third person: write the story of what happened using only facts and no emotion. Tell it as if you are a news reporter writing an article about the event

2) Second person: write about the same event from the perspective of the other person involved. How did he or she see what happened and what emotions were experienced?

3) First person: now write the story from your own point of view, but include your history in the story. When have you experienced something similar in the past? How has this episode triggered old emotion for you?

4) Galaxy view: in this final exercise you will write about the event from the perspective of a wise elder from another planet perhaps, who sees this event as part of a much bigger picture. How has this experience helped you grow? What have you learned? In what ways could this event have actually been the perfect thing for your life?


6. Create a ritual to symbolize letting go of old anger.


Rituals can be very powerful symbolic acts to help you resolve or complete the process of forgiveness. Choose a ritual that has meaning for you and plan ahead to carry it out whenever you feel your preliminary work with forgiveness is finished. Consider planting a special forgiveness garden or even purchasing a forgiveness houseplant you can tend and care for indoors; release helium balloons that contain written messages of forgiveness; scatter flower petals in moving water and watch them be carried away; light candles and recite a poem or prayer that signifies forgiveness for you; or write your list of former resentments on pieces of paper and burn them in a fire. Any sort of ritual that is symbolic for you can be helpful as you acknowledge and reinforce your new attitude of forgiveness.


If you decide you’d like to join me on this journey of bold forgiveness in 2016, the best time to get started is now. Don’t wait another moment—stop right now and recognize that you have been carrying around your old anger and bitterness for long enough. It’s time to let go of those negative tangles of emotion and time to release others from your blame.


You will feel a weight lift from your shoulders and a new burst of energy the moment you begin this process. Let’s get started and help lift the weight of anger and resentment from humanity as a whole—we might just be able to save the world, one act of bold forgiveness at a time.


To learn more about how to forgive, sign up here to receive the Forgiveness Toolkit.


About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at




Lessons from End of Life University: The Many Paths of Grief

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on December 14, 2015 at 9:30 PM

As the host of End-of-Life University, an online interview series, I have had the privilege over the past two years of speaking with a number of experts on grief and loss. These individuals have all traveled their own journeys through the perilous territory of loss and trauma and now help others who are dealing with death and grief.


This is an important subject at this time of year since symptoms of grief tend to increase significantly during the holiday season. Past memories of happy times with loved ones who are no longer physically here can be a source of stress and pain for those on the path of grief, who may find it difficult to celebrate their usual holiday traditions.


However in my conversations with grief survivors I have found that all of them feel they have grown emotionally and spiritually because of the challenges they have experienced; and their current life’s work has been shaped and inspired by their grief, as well. While the grief process is unique to each person who experiences it, here are some of the tips these experts have shared with me:


1. Find connection with others.


After the death of her 2-year old daughter to a congenital disease, Blyth Lord found comfort in her relationship with her brother and sister-in-law who also lost a child to the same disorder. She stated that sharing her grief with others who understood her pain made it more bearable. Blyth went on to found the Courageous Parents Network to offer support to other parents coping with a child with life-limiting illness.


You might consider joining a bereavement support group, volunteering for a local charitable organization, attending church or service club events, seeking out a Death Cafe or Meet-Up that deals with grief in your community, or even starting your own Meet-Up.


2. Use grief to fuel creativity.


When fine-art photographer Sarah Treanor experienced the death of her fiancé, after also losing both of her parents earlier in life, she felt as though she had fallen into a deep black hole. But she decided to use her photography and writing skills to document her pain by creating a year-long project called “Still, Life.” By taking self-photographs and writing weekly blogs about her process of grief, she gradually found her way out of the hole. And the beautiful and profound work she created has become a source of inspiration for others on the same journey.


Utilize your own creativity by keeping a journal, drawing pictures, writing poetry or stories, creating collages, making a scrapbook, doing crafts, or taking an art or writing class at your local community college or senior center.


3. Create rituals.


In her workshop on Conscious Grieving, Rev. Terri Daniel utilizes rituals to help participants “move through” their grief and emotional stuckness. She herself has used several rituals since the death of her son, including baking his favorite cake on his birthday and scattering a few of his ashes in special places that have deep meaning for her. She says that even simple acts like lighting a candle or wearing clothing in a loved one’s favorite color can be healing rituals.


Start by setting aside some time once a week to focus on your grief. You might have a small table or shelf where you can collect special items that have meaning for you—candles, shells, rocks, photos, or other mementos. Use this time to acknowledge your love for the person who has died and to recognize that he or she is always with you in memory and spirit.


4. Tell stories.


Sarah Kerr, a death midwife who accompanies families as they care for their dying loved ones, emphasizes the importance of storytelling in mobilizing and healing grief. She helps families tell the stories of their loved ones as they create memorials and rituals to mark the passage of death.


Spend time with people who are also grieving and take turns telling favorite stories about the person who has died. Often these sessions end-up being filled with laughter and lightheartedness, which is a wonderful way to honor your loved one.


5. Take a “hands-on” approach.


Cassandra Yonder, a grief counselor and death midwife who lives on a homestead in rural Canada has found that being personally involved in after-death care and funeral preparations can be very helpful with grief. She described the death of a friend and how preparing the body, building the coffin, and digging the grave were all therapeutic for loved ones who participated in the natural burial process.


If there is a gravesite you can visit you might want to bring flowers or a wreath as a decoration or spend a little time clearing away leaves and debris or pulling weeds. In addition you can volunteer for some sort of physical work like wrapping gifts for homeless children, serving meals at a shelter, or visiting patients at a nursing home.


6. Let go of the past.


On her path of grief, writer, editor and musician, Heidi Connolly found that she had to let go of her attachment to memories of how her relationship with her husband had been before his death. When she was finally able to let go of longing for the past, she was able to move forward into what she describes as a “new relationship” with her husband in the afterlife.


You might want to create a ritual that symbolizes letting go such as releasing a helium-filled balloon, scattering flower petals on a body of moving water or releasing a basket of dried leaves to the wind.


7. Give to others.


When Cheryl Parker’s 8-year old daughter announced she wanted to be an organ donor shortly before her unexpected death, she provided her mother with the perfect path through her grief. Cheryl says the knowledge that Rachel’s organs provided life for other children was extremely important in her gradual acceptance of Rachel’s sudden death. Cheryl went on to become a spokesperson for organ donation and a grief counselor for others facing loss, as she had learned that generosity was the secret to her healing.


To focus on giving to others you might become a volunteer for a hospice, nursing home or hospital. Or join a cause that matters to you like organ donation, providing end-of-life care for the homeless, or starting a natural burial ground in your community.


8. View grief as an act of sacred service.


While caring for her husband through his terminal illness and in the months following his death, Carol Jones used her faith and spiritual beliefs to cope with her grief. She understood that the pain she was experiencing and the sacrifices she was making were part of a higher purpose for her life. She eventually wrote a book about the experience, incorporating wisdom that her husband Kenny shared with her both before and after his death.


Dedicate your grief to all others who are suffering with you by using meditation or prayer on a regular basis to contemplate the fact that we are all connected in our mortality and suffering.



The overall message from these wise journeyers is that grief does not have to be a crippling or destructive force in our lives. When we can embrace loss as a necessary fact of life we can begin to utilize the pain as a powerful tool for growth and healing for ourselves and others.


This holiday season may we acknowledge our own broken-heartedness and cherish the past while we also agree to move forward with the way things are now. Love and joy can truly flourish when we remain open, generous, creative, and connected to all others even while we are on our own path of grief.


To hear similar conversations about death, dying and grief be sure to sign up for the free online interview series, End-of-Life University. Click here to register.


About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at



How an Angel Named Safyre is Saving the World

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on December 12, 2015 at 2:15 AM

This week I have been following the story of an 8-year old girl named Sa’fyre Terry from Schenectady NY who was seriously burned in a house fire three years ago. That fire took the lives of her father and three siblings, but Sa’fyre miraculously survived because her father shielded her tiny body with his own.


Sa’fyre now lives with her aunt who helped her post a photo on Facebook, stating that this year for Christmas she would like to receive cards from around the world. The post went viral and Sa’fyre has now been inundated with cards, letters and gifts from all over the globe.


In a world fraught with brutal terrorism, economic inequality, hate-filled political rhetoric, disastrous climate change, centuries-old religious wars, and paranoid racial and ethnic bigotry, little Sa’fyre has been able to unite the planet with her simple, innocent request. She has ignited compassion in hearts everywhere and reminded us that mankind is basically good and kind.


While we are exposed every day by the media to the differences between “us and them” and the reasons we should hate and distrust one another, Sa’fyre has managed to find a common thread of lovingkindness that we all share and in which we can rejoice this holiday season. She has succeeded in bringing the citizens of the world together when all other attempts have failed.


Even as many of us have stepped forward to be of assistance to this little girl, the truth is that she has helped us, by restoring generosity, love, and humanity to an inhumane world, during a time when those qualities are most needed.


During my meditation this morning I was given a vision: I saw Sa’fyre reaching out and clasping hands with women who have been disfigured by acid attacks in India and Pakistan, who in turn took the hands of victims of tribal war atrocities in Africa, who reached out to the survivors of natural disaster all over the world, who held hands with those who are suicidal and in despair, who reached for the homeless and displaced of the world, who clasped hands with those sick and in pain, who connected with those who have done harm to others, and on and on…


From my Galaxy view I saw the 7.3 billion people of this planet all joined as one, hand to hand; and 7.3 billion hearts beating with the same rhythm; and 7.3 billion souls shining forth with One Light and One Love. We are One Being. We are not separate. We will only save the planet and our own lives when we finally grasp this fact. We must work together by finding our common ground, our basic humanity. This is a concept so simple that only a little child can lead us there … a child named Sa’fyre who has come to save the world.


6 Ways to Rekindle JOY This Holiday Season

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on December 10, 2015 at 8:35 PM

Another holiday season has arrived in the shadows of recent tragedy. Once again we put up strings of lights and hang decorations, we display Advent wreaths and Winter solstice greenery, we light menorahs and kinaras, and deliver gifts to our loved ones. But this year many of us are engaging in our traditional festivities with heavy hearts, laden with fear and uncertainty. Indeed it seems difficult to find joy in a world filled with visible suffering and hatred.


However this is the time when we need holiday joy and celebration more than ever. Now is when we must find the deepest possible meaning in our traditions and we must use that meaning to lift us up from our despair. This year we need to seek out and spread joy and love everywhere, to everyone.


In order to maximize our joy and love during this holiday season it is important to be intentional about our celebrations; to act with purpose and wholeheartedness rather than mindlessly going through the motions of our festivities. Here are some changes to help us find the joy we need during these special days:


1. Fewer cards, more conversations


Instead of spending a day addressing holiday cards and mailing out family photos, why not spend time on the phone, calling some of your out-of-town friends and family members to share your good wishes. Or pay a visit to your older relatives and let them see you face-to-face. You may not connect with as many people this way but the sentiments you share in a conversation will last much longer than those in a form letter.


2. Fewer decorations, more meaning


Take stock of your holiday decorations and be selective this year by putting out just half of the items you have stored. Add one more item each day so that your holiday displays change and grow throughout the month. By doing this you will spend more time appreciating each one of your mementoes and contemplating the memories and meaning attached to them.

3. Fewer gifts, more fun


Talk to your friends and extended family members about forgoing your usual gift exchange this year. Instead of spending time shopping, wrapping and mailing packages you’ll have more free time for fun activities like dancing, playing games, singing carols, reading stories, assembling puzzles, or watching old movies.

4. Less shopping, more walking


If you give fewer gifts this year you won’t need to do as much shopping, so the next time you visit the mall you can leave your wallet behind and just walk, enjoying the sights and sounds of the holidays, watching the people hustling and bustling, and looking for signs of joy and love. Better yet, try to walk outdoors and appreciate the stillness of winter as nature patiently awaits the return of the light.

5. Fewer parties, more “get-togethers”


This year have the courage to decline some of the usual holiday parties. Instead plan more dates with friends for coffee, lunch or a casual supper where you can talk and reconnect in a relaxed atmosphere, without over-indulging in food and drink. You can always make up for the skipped parties next year.


6. Less obligation, more kindness


If you are able to decrease some of your usual holiday obligations by cutting down on decorating, gift-giving, shopping, and parties you will free up more time to consider what you really value at this time of year. You may decide you want to use your time for acts of kindness like participating in a toy drive for needy children, or collecting food and clothing for a local shelter, or visiting lonely patients at a nursing home. These activities of giving to others in need, when performed with love, will bring you a sense of joy and gratification.


In the midst of this dark time, remember that each festival of the winter season, whether religious or secular, emphasizes the importance of light. In moving through the darkest days of the year we find our hope and inspiration in the twinkling lights all around us, in the sparkling eyes of our loved ones, and in the radiance of our own hearts as we spread love and joy everywhere.

May you find deep meaning in all of the days of this sacred season and be inspired to enter the New Year with an open heart and mind, ready for whatever life brings next.

About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at







Holiday Gift Guide for Those Coping With Death

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on December 8, 2015 at 11:25 AM

Admittedly, seeing the words “death” and “holiday” in the same title can be a bit jarring. But the reality is that during this season of joy and love many people are dealing with either the approaching death of a loved one or grief over a loss that has already occurred. For these individuals there is little “jolliness” or merriment to be found in the month of December.

If you are close to someone in this painful situation this year, you may be wondering what sort of gift you can give that will be appropriate and also offer some support to him or her. While your friend or loved one may seem uninterested in exchanging gifts, it is still important to offer small gestures that show your concern and connection; and the gift you choose may actually turn out to be exactly what that person needs right now.


Those of us who work with dying patients and bereaved families believe it is important to deal with death openly and frankly, rather than trying to hide or deny the reality that we are all going to die some day. By choosing a gift that acknowledges death you can help foster a healthier approach to the end-of-life in our society and provide an opening for your friend to seek you out for support and conversation.


Here are some “death-aware” gifts that you might consider for various individuals grappling with death and loss this holiday season:


1. Books


As a reader, books are always one of my favorite gifts to give and receive and there are many that can fit the criteria of “death-aware”. Here are just a few of those books:

a. The Legacy Letters by Carew Papritz consists of a series of letters from a dying father to his unborn children. This small book is profound and impactful but not too confronting about death and dying. Since it has a masculine perspective on life and death this would be a great gift for a man who may not resonate with some of the other books listed here.

b. A Call from Spooner Street by Carol Ascher is a good read for an adult child dealing with the death of an elderly parent.

c. Connecting the Dots and Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers by Judith London are wonderful books for caregivers of dementia patients.

d. The Last Adventure of Life by Rev. Maria Hoaglund is full of helpful tips for families dealing with the dying of a loved one at home.

e. Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley is another wonderful book for families with a loved one nearing death that deals with unique deathbed experiences and communications.

f. Safe Passage by Molly Fumia is an inspirational little book of daily devotions for one who is grieving.

g. Turning the Corner on Grief Street by Rev. Terri Daniel is appropriate for someone in the later stages of grief who is ready for a spiritually transformative look at grief.

h. Home Funeral Ceremonies by Donna Belk and Kateyanne Unullisi is a beautiful book of rituals and ceremonies for a family comfortable with having their loved one die and receive after-death care at home.

i. What Really Matters by Karen Wyatt MD is a book of stories about hospice patients, their families and the process of discovering what really matters in death as well as life.


2. Music


Music is a matter of personal preference but here are some lovely choices for those near the end-of-life:

a. Walking Each Other Home by The Threshold Choir consists of songs appropriate for the bedside of a dying patient.

b. Rosa Mystica and The Geography of the Soul by Therese Schroeder-Sheker contain beautiful harp and vocal music for the dying produced by her Chalice of Repose Project.

c. Graceful Passages by Gary Malkin is a combination CD and Gift book with music and the spoken word for anyone exploring the issues of life and death.


3. My Gift of Grace Game


This game is a fun and inspirational tool for creating conversations about death and dying. It would be a great gift for a family facing future loss (which actually describes all of our families) who need some help talking about the end-of-life. The questions contained in the game provide a gentle introduction to a difficult subject.


4. Memory Quilt or Pillow


Favorite clothing items like T-shirts, ties, skirts or dresses can be used to make beautiful memorial quilts or pillows. This might be a thoughtful gift for someone close to you who is grieving a loved one if you have access to those clothing items.


5. Ceremonial Supplies


You might package together one of the suggested books or CD’s along with some of these supplies to help families create rituals for the dying process and for grief:

a. Incense or sage

b. Essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, lemon, sandalwood, tea tree. Read about aromatherapy for the dying here.

c. Candles

d. Handmade paper for writing notes

e. Journal


6. Gifts for Caregivers


If you know someone caring for a loved one during this holiday season be sure to offer a little extra TLC or support. Stress levels can increase greatly for caregivers at this time of year with an influx of visitors and extra tasks to perform. Here are some thoughtful ideas:

a. Gift certificate for a massage or “spa day”

b. Homemade “coupon” book with redeemable certificates for help with errands, housecleaning, laundry, cooking, or respite care

c. Gift cards for local restaurants that provide home delivery

d. Punch card for a local yoga studio or gym along with offers of respite care so the caregiver can get away at least once a week

e. Provide an outing for the patient including transportation and companionship to give the caregiver a break

f. “Fidget Blanket” for a dementia patient to keep hands occupied

g. DVD for the patient of a favorite movie or sporting event (especially old musicals, comedies and TV shows from the 1960’s)

h. CD for the patient of music from the 1940’s and 50’s

i. Invitation for a “lunch date” for the caregiver along with respite care for the patient

j. Create a “Memory Book” for the patient of old photos, newspaper clippings and special documents from the past


These suggestions are just a beginning to help you start thinking creatively about how to give a meaningful and fitting gift to a loved one facing death, dying or grief this holiday season. Spend some time searching for the perfect present that honors death and supports the one experiencing this difficult path.


But remember, there is no substitute for your presence, which is far more important than any other gift you can give. Be willing to spend time with your friend or loved one, even when you don’t know what to say and can do nothing more than sit in silence. Offering your calm and loving attention in the midst of a busy holiday season can be a gift for you, as well.


The reality is that death exists always within every joyful occasion, as the dance partner of life; so take a deep breath, open your arms and move with the music. The world will be a better place when we can acknowledge death as a worthy participant in this human existence and this holiday season is the perfect time to begin.


About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her End-of-LIfe University interview series here:




Welcoming Our Refugees With Open Arms

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on November 7, 2015 at 12:55 PM

There is no doubt that the world is changing rapidly right before our eyes. Humanity is being stretched at both extremes of existence: propelled into the future by the exponential growth of new technologies in every sector and anchored to a bitter past by the proliferation of tribal wars and barbaric terrorism. And here we sit in the middle, torn between hope and despair, trying to survive in the present moment.

This tension between unstoppable growth and unrelenting destruction was evident on our recent trip to Germany and Switzerland, which happened to take place during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis. As we rode our bikes from one quaint town to another and feasted on fondue and chocolate, we spent our days marveling at various feats of German engineering, like an escalator that moved either up or down depending on the flow of foot traffic, stairs that collapsed into a mini elevator platform for wheelchairs, and the use of remarkably efficient solar energy throughout the country.

But in the evenings in our hotel room when we stopped to listen to the world news, we learned of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the US Congress along with the details of the war in Syria and the ongoing mass emigration of Syrian citizens as it was unfolding in real time. On the television screen we were horrified to see overloaded rafts being paddled across the Mediterranean Sea, photos of the heartbreaking discovery of a three-year old child’s body on the seashore in Turkey, and crowds of people struggling to pass through border crossings.

In Pope Francis’ address before Congress he directed us to remember the humanity of the refugees—to look into their faces and see them as people, not as an “immigration problem.” In Germany we heard on the news that many citizens were doing just that: reaching out to help the Syrians and welcome them into their country with food, water and shelter.

We encountered a group of refugees at the train station and, looking into their eyes, saw husbands, wives, parents, children—all exhausted and frightened, all searching and hoping just to survive. They clutched their loved ones close to them, along with their plastic bags filled with a few belongings, as they journeyed on, wondering where they would find a home. They were no different than you or me.

In Switzerland a lovely couple told us that a local monastery would be used to house refugee families and they would be welcomed with open arms into their little community. There are plenty of jobs available there that the aging population there can no longer perform so they are grateful to have an influx of eager workers. “This is how we will change the world,” they said with compassionate smiles.

Those words have resonated with me as I have thought about them for the past few weeks. “This is how we will change the world.” To provide refuge means to shelter from danger—and isn’t that something we all need in our lives?

The world is full of danger, yes, but we are all refugees from our own personal brand of danger—our own self-loathing and self-negligence that threatens to destroy our health and safety, our torturous shame and memories of rejection that undermine our ability to love ourselves, our history of failures and negative behaviors that cause us to doubt our own goodness.

We are no different than the Syrians fleeing the devastation of war in their country—we are just fleeing the devastation we have created in our own lives by being at war with ourselves. We too just want to survive and just want to be at home, in peace and filled with love. To achieve that we must welcome with open arms our own flaws and weaknesses—our fugitive parts that we have rejected and scorned in the past.

“This is how we will change the world”: by loving ourselves fully and unconditionally, by accepting our imperfections and recognizing that they are part of the uniqueness we bring to the planet. When we can create a safe shelter for ourselves we will be able to create more safety … and peace … for all of the planet.

Sign Up Now to receive Dr. Wyatt’s free Mindshift Blueprint and start changing the world now!

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at

The Butterfly Principle: Transformation and Growth Through Failure

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on August 10, 2015 at 1:10 PM

Failure is an outcome that most of us dread but it has actually become a “hot” topic in business recently. While some start-up entrepreneurs are writing about concepts such as “fail fast, fail often” and “fail forward,” I find that I still have a fairly negative relationship with failure in my own life and career.


Considering my recent struggles to create an online career as an author and speaker, I’ve been wondering what I can learn from my failures and if I can figure out how to “fail better” in the future so that I can experience less disappointment and despair in the aftermath. In the midst of this exploration I awoke in the middle of the night a few weeks ago with this inspiration: study the butterfly.


This guidance resonated with me because the butterfly has one of the most fascinating life cycles of all creatures. When I thought about the distinct stages of butterfly development, I began to recognize how they resembled the stages of my own projects, work life and even my spiritual growth. Let’s look more closely at 3 of these stages and see what we can learn when we study the butterfly:


The Caterpillar Stage


In this stage of the butterfly’s life (which follows right after hatching from an egg) the main task is consumption. The caterpillar’s purpose is simply to eat as much as possible in order to fuel the growth that will take place in the future. During this stage the caterpillar will outgrow and shed its skin as many as 4 or 5 times.


This represents the learning stage of growth for me, where I am consuming as much knowledge and training as I can about something new I want to understand and master. As part of this process I usually read, attend workshops, listen to webinars and consult with teachers to take in information so that I will be prepared for what comes next. There is also some “shedding” of ideas during this phase as I sort through what fits or doesn’t fit my current life. This is often a stage of great excitement and energy for me as I enjoy the flow of creativity and inspiration it brings.


The Chrysalis Stage


This is the most intriguing stage of butterfly development, which appears catastrophic from the perspective of the caterpillar. When the little crawler is fully grown and can eat no more, it simply dangles from a branch and spins a protective cocoon around itself so it can safely rest and digest all the food that has been consumed in the previous stage. Though the chrysalis appears unchanged from the outside during this stage, there is dramatic transformation taking place inside: the body of the caterpillar is slowly dissolving while the previously dormant precursor cells of the emerging butterfly (“imaginal cells” ) gradually develop, migrate together and create a brand new being.


In my own process of development, this stage is the one I most often misunderstand. I usually don’t recognize the need for rest, retreat and recovery when I am trying to grow or create something new and therefore, I miss out on the emergence of inspiration that comes during these times of relaxation and “cocooning.” Instead I take the caterpillar perspective and view this stage as a crisis or downturn, while I frantically try to push my growth forward at all costs.


The Butterfly Stage


At last in this final stage, the fully developed butterfly is ready to emerge from the chrysalis. After breaking free, the butterfly’s wings are still folded and wet and more rest time is necessary to allow blood to flow into the wings. Finally when the unfurled wings are fully dry, the butterfly is ready to take flight and share its beauty with the world.


During this stage there is an intentional “breaking free” that has to occur with proper timing before “flight” is undertaken. When I have gone through the other stages and am finally ready to display my new project or growth to the world, I have to leave behind the old way of doing things and move forward with courage and some risk-taking, while recognizing the fragility of my new “wings.”




After investigating these stages of butterfly development what can we learn about our own growth processes? Here are some of my take-away lessons from this study:


1. Don’t rush through the Caterpillar Stage.


I recognize that most of us would much rather see ourselves as a beautiful butterfly than a creepy caterpillar. We tend to reject this stage of our development because it is hard work and not glamorous, and we try to get through it as quickly as possible. But we know from stage development theory that steps cannot be skipped or hurried. When we rush through the essential learning process of the Caterpillar Stage we fail to strengthen and nourish the infrastructure that will be necessary to sustain us through future growth.


2. Don’t try to take flight too soon.


In our hurry to become butterflies we may try to leap forward before we have wings to carry us. These attempts will nearly always result in a fall, which will require us to start all over again. Most of my “failures” have resulted from exactly this problem: I’ve pushed my project to the launch phase before it’s ready and subsequently have fallen many times. We must learn to be patient and go through all the necessary stages before we can take flight with our new ideas.


3. Don’t give up during the Chrysalis Stage.


This is one of the most important aspects of the Butterfly Principle: there must be time allowed for rest and retreat during the process of growth. If we don’t slow down and take the time needed for recovery we may be forced to retreat by some sort of crisis or difficulty that arises. In the past I have viewed the loss of excitement and the onset of weariness that occurs during the Chrysalis Stage as a sign that I am on the “wrong track” and many times have just given up altogether.


Now I recognize that I should be planning for and even scheduling in time for “cocooning” before I try to launch a new project. This stage is crucial for shaping and “crystallizing” the mission of the project while allowing everything superfluous to dissolve away—and I have interpreted this stage as a crisis because I didn’t understand the purpose of taking this time for rest.


4. Let go of expectations.


Whenever I bring a new project to the world I am hoping it will become a beautiful Monarch Butterfly, but many of my endeavors turn out to be tiny moths instead. I recognize that I need to let go of my attachment to creating something world-changing and be content with whatever emerges from the Chrysalis; for Nature has a need for moths, as well as butterflies.


5. Be content with where you are.


Most importantly we need to recognize that it’s okay to be a Caterpillar or to be resting in a Chrysalis state. We must stop judging our own progress and valuing only the fully-formed Butterfly. When we embrace and engage completely in our current stage of development, we will grow more efficiently, give up less often and find more satisfaction in the entire process.


With this new Butterfly Principle in mind I plan to slow down the pace of my next project and enjoy each stage of growth and development. I will appreciate being exactly where I am rather than pushing so hard to get ahead. I will be sure to gather all the knowledge I need before I move forward, I will allow time for a bit of rest during the process, and I will stop berating myself when a simple little moth emerges after my months of hard work.


In fact I will change my definition of failure altogether, knowing that any setback might be a Chrysalis Stage of some larger, grander creation that I cannot yet perceive, just as the caterpillar cannot imagine the butterfly that it will one day become. Perhaps our entire planet is in such a Chrysalis Stage right now—dissolving away what is no longer needed, awaiting the growth of the “imaginal cells” that will finally burst forth in beauty some day in the future.


You can find out your own current “Butterfly Quotient!”

Click here to take a short quiz and learn if you are a Caterpillar, Chrysalis or Butterfly.

Rising Above Failure

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on July 23, 2015 at 4:00 PM

Have you ever experienced a failure that left you feeling humiliated and worthless? I'm sure you have since failure is just part of our normal lives as human beings. But the mistakes we make out of carelessness or neglect can be the most painful, because we know in our hearts that they could have been avoided if we had just made a different choice. In these cases we must bear up under our guilt and accept the consequences, no matter how difficult the task.

I recently had a fabulous opportunity to be a guest on a very popular radio show, which represented a big breakthrough for me as an author and speaker. I prepared for days and proudly promoted the interview to all of my followers and friends. But when the big moment arrived, my phone system didn't work properly and I was unable to complete the interview. Not only did I fail to achieve my own dream, but I let the host down too, who had a time slot to fill on live radio with no guest to interview.

My guilt over that blown opportunity was heightened by the fact that I had been warned to check out my phone in advance, but I ignored the advice because I had used that phone for interviews before with no problem. My own self-assuredness tripped me up and left me and the radio host both feeling disappointed and unfulfilled. I punished myself mentally for several days--replaying what could have or should have happened if only I had been more careful. I couldn't seem to get over my own self-recrimination until one morning I recalled a very special dream that pointed out to me how I often look in the wrong places for fulfillment and how I create my own misery. I will retell this dream for you in hopes that you will find it helpful too:

I was in the process of visiting a traveling display from a Buddhist temple that had come to my community. There were 18 shrines in the display, each with a different purpose and meaning. I was approaching the final shrine, which was supposed to bring enlightenment to anyone who stepped inside. I was hurrying because this shrine would only be open for 15 more minutes and I didn’t want to miss my chance for enlightenment.

I could see into the shrine through a side door as I approached—there was a wall of light inside, with shelves holding hundreds of crystal bowls with candles and lotus blossoms floating in water. I kept my eyes on that wall of light as I rushed to get inside the door, but because I wasn’t watching where I was going, I ran into a barrel full of water that stood in an outer room. I clumsily knocked the barrel over, spilling gallons and gallons of water all across the floor.

I recognized that this outer room was the staging area where the Buddhist monks filled the crystal bowls from the shrine with water and then placed inside the floating candles and blossoms. There were about 20 monks in that room and when I spilled the barrel of water they all gathered around me and began chastising me. “What’s wrong with you? Foolish woman—how can you be so careless? Look what you’ve done! You’ve ruined everything!”

I felt totally humiliated as they gathered around me and kept chiding me. I didn’t know what to do except to try to clean up the mess I had made. So I took the sweater that had been tied around my waist and used it to begin soaking up the water and wringing it back into the barrel. Meanwhile the monks continued to express their displeasure while they watched me without offering to help.

Knowing that the shrine would be closing soon and I would miss my chance for enlightenment, I felt stressed and was hurrying as fast as I could. Eventually however I recognized that too much time had passed and I would not be able to enter the shrine—there was still a great deal of spilled water to clean up. The monks continued to mock me but there were fewer of them now.

As I kept working on cleaning up the water, I let go of my desire to see the shrine and just focused on getting the job done. I decided that I would have to find another opportunity to become enlightened. I developed a smooth rhythm of soaking up and wringing out the water that gradually put me into a meditative state. Eventually I had no other thoughts—I was just in the moment, soaking up the water and wringing it out. I didn’t even realize that the monks that remained in the room had stopped criticizing me and were now watching me in silence.

Finally the job was finished. I looked around the room and saw that every drop of water was back in the barrel—the floor was totally dry. As I glanced up from my kneeling position on the floor I saw that all of the monks, but one, had disappeared. And the other room with the wall of light had disappeared too. In front of me sat one very old monk with a beautiful, gentle smile on his face. As he gazed at me with compassion, I realized that I had actually been inside the last shrine all along—and the work I had been doing to clean up the spilled water had actually been my work toward enlightenment. When the monk saw the dawning of that realization on my face, he bowed his head toward me and I woke up from my dream.

This dream held powerful lessons for me as I was plunged initially into deep shame and humiliation for making a “stupid” mistake. The chastising monks, of course, represented the many voices in my own head that berate and demean me every time I fail to be perfect. But as I simply focused my energy on the work at hand, the negative voices diminished and then stopped completely.

And as for enlightenment, the message in the dream is clear: it arrives not when we are inside the awe-inspiring shrine, raising our hands in prayer, but when we are on our hands and knees, doing the humble work that is before us with diligence and care.


I was reminded by the dream to stay in the present moment as much as I can, to focus only on what is right here, right now, and to stay open to any and all possible outcomes, without judgment or disappointment. This message is particularly true during times of difficulty or disappointment.


The little “failures” of our lives create the growing edge for us spiritually, the place from which we can blossom and flourish whenever the timing is right. We must learn to quiet those shaming voices that distract us from the task at hand and simply keep doing the simple work—the “soaking up and wringing out”—that is required by the current situation.


May you too find value in this special dream and learn to transcend your own shame and disappointment!


6 Ways to Get More LOVE in Your Life

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on June 16, 2015 at 1:10 PM

The Beatles said it best: “Love is all you need.” But do you feel you have enough love in your personal life? According to a 2010 survey by the Fetzer Institute, 68% of Americans say they need more meaningful love in their lives and 95% believe that we need more love in the world.


Since love is one of the most basic human emotions, how can it be that so many of us find it lacking in our lives? We see the word “love” used everywhere these days in advertising for material goods like hamburgers, cars, shoes, eyeglasses and cosmetics. But the genuine love that so many of us long for in our lives involves so much more than the excitement we feel over our favorite footwear.


True love is a powerful, creative force that can inspire humans to write symphonies, trek for months on foot, build a massive mausoleum, and make superhuman sacrifices. But love also leaves us feeling vulnerable and opens us up to possible rejection. Love requires courage, patience and effort, which are difficult to maintain in our fast-paced, superficial society.


While many of us are searching for romantic love, remember that true love comes in many different forms and circumstances. Getting more love in your life requires more than dating tips; you’ll have to work at it and make some inner changes to find love that has deeper meaning. Here are some steps you can take to help you cultivate true love:


# 1. Love Yourself First


Before you can share love with others you have to feel it within yourself. That means you need to find practices and routines that help you genuinely love who you are, just as you are right now.


Try taking yourself on a “date” once a week and spend time alone, doing something you thoroughly enjoy. For example:


  • Linger with a latte and a good book at your favorite coffee shop
  • Take a walk in nature
  • Visit an art gallery or museum that inspires you
  • Attend a concert
  • Watch a video about love


As you spend this time with yourself, focus your intention on truly loving YOU and filling yourself up with positive feelings and energy. The more you concentrate on loving yourself the more you will radiate positive feelings of love toward others and attract their love in return.


#2. Recognize Your Barriers to Love


The Sufi poet and philosopher Rumi wrote: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”


Whether you realize it or not, you may have barriers hidden within you that prevent you from giving and receiving love. Perhaps you have been hurt or betrayed by a past relationship or you fear being vulnerable to other people.


Spend some time in contemplation and write in your journal about your past experiences with love and how you feel about giving yourself over to love. Once you identify your own internal barriers to love you will be able to heal your wounds from the past and rise above them. This is an important step if you want to deepen your ability to genuinely love others.


#3 Practice the Lovingkindness Blessing


This Buddhist blessing (also called Metta) can be a powerful reminder to love yourself and others if you use it as a daily practice. Here are the 5 phrases of the blessing:


  • May I be at peace.
  • May my heart remain open.
  • May I realize the beauty of my own true nature.
  • May I be healed.
  • May I be a source of healing for this world.


Repeat this blessing every day as part of your daily practice and you will begin to feel your heart expanding with compassion for yourself and others. Next change the “I” in each phrase to “you” and use the blessing to send love to someone else.


#4. Give For the Sake of Giving


One of the best ways to bring more love into your life is to give your time and energy to others who need your help. Volunteer at an animal shelter, Head Start program, homeless shelter, or nursing home and you will find ample opportunities to share your love with others who need to be loved.


When you give of yourself with no expectation of return, you will find that you are blessed in many ways and love will begin flowing through you freely. You will begin to attract others into your life who can appreciate your loving and generous behavior.


#5. Open Your Heart


The HeartMath Institute teaches a simple method for opening your heart to love called the Inner Ease Technique. Use this practice as part of your daily routine (along with the Lovingkindness Blessing) and you will soon be able to overcome the barriers to love you have identified. Here are the steps:


  • Place your hand on your heart area and imagine you are 
breathing in and out through your heart
  • Breathe slowly and gently until your breathing feels 
smooth and balanced, not forced
  • With each breath draw in a feeling of inner-ease, 
balance and self-love into your heart 

You can do this practice in any place at any time to reduce anxiety and open yourself up to others.


#6. Find Love In Every Situation


As you open your heart to love and expand your capacity to express love for yourself and others, you will begin to see love everywhere you go. Then love can become your “default mechanism” so that you will choose love whenever you are in a situation of doubt or uncertainty.


For example, if a conflict arises with co-workers or a friend, choose the solution that contains the most love. If you face a crisis and must decide on your next steps, let love be your guide. When you need to give feedback to another person, be motivated by love rather than anger.


As you practice embodying love in your life in various ways, you will discover that you have always had all the love you need—you just couldn’t see it before. When you become a walking, talking vision of love you will become irresistible to other people who will be drawn to you by your beautiful presence.


The entire world will benefit from the love you put into practice, as you radiate love out to others and create more happiness and joy wherever you go. The love the world needs is right there inside you—now, go find it!

About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at






9 Tips for Making a Spiritual Pilgrimage in Your Own Community

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on March 22, 2015 at 9:00 PM

Have you ever felt inspired to go on a pilgrimage – to travel to a faraway sacred place to find inspiration or healing? Throughout human history various cultural and religious groups have conducted pilgrimages: journeys of faith to sacred places for the purpose of healing, penance, thanksgiving, worship or enlightenment.


All major religions and many indigenous cultures have maintained holy sites of special significance throughout the centuries so that pilgrims could journey and seek inspiration and illumination there. For example, Lourdes, France is a famous pilgrimage site for those of the Catholic faith and India and Indonesia are both home to many sacred places for followers of Hinduism and Buddhism.


If you feel a need to make a sacred pilgrimage but can’t afford to travel to Europe or Indonesia, you can actually reap the spiritual benefits of such a journey by taking a mini-pilgrimage right in your own community. With a little research you will most likely find sites of breathtaking beauty and rich history near your home that can be spiritually uplifting and inspiring to visit.


Anthropologist Martin Gray has studied sacred pilgrimages and found that the most important characteristics of such a trek are the beauty or uniqueness of the site, the journey that is required to get to the site and the mindset of the spiritual seeker who undertakes the pilgrimage.


So keep those factors in mind as you read these tips for creating your own mini-pilgrimage and maximizing the benefits of this unique spiritual practice:


1. Decide when to go.

A journey to a sacred site can be beneficial to you during troubled times, when you need space for contemplation away from the distractions of daily life. You might be seeking guidance, comfort, healing or a breakthrough while you are on your trek. However, a pilgrimage can also be conducted during a time of great joy, to offer gratitude and devotion for the beauty of life and creation.


No matter when you choose to go on a mini-pilgrimage be sure to treat it as a special event in your life and take care to make plans and prepare in advance.


2. Choose a sacred site.

For your mini-pilgrimage it is most important that you choose a place that has spiritual significance for you. Consider whether or not you prefer to be in an isolated area or one frequented by other people. If you feel an affinity for mountains, water, forests, flowers or animals, those factors should influence your choice. You might also choose a place where you or a loved one had a special experience in the past.


For example, I have done pilgrimages to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain peak, to a local religious shrine, and to a nearby botanical garden. Each site had its own special significance for me and each pilgrimage accomplished different goals.


3. Set an intention before you go.

What would you like to accomplish on this spiritual trek? Being specific about the purpose of your mini-pilgrimage is important. (For example are you seeking guidance for a decision you must make, healing for a physical condition, resolution of a relationship problem, etc.)


Journal and/or meditate about the purpose of your journey for a few days before you go. Contemplate the issues surrounding your intention for the journey. What past wounds and resentments are you carrying? What work must you do in order to clear those away before you set out on your trek?


4. Be prepared.

Gather maps and be sure you know your route before you go. Make a list of items to bring with you such as cash in case you need it for an entrance fee, snacks, water, camera, journal and pen. Depending on where you are going, there might be other items you will need such as hiking boots, sunscreen, hat or raincoat.


5. Take your time.

During your journey walk slowly and thoughtfully toward your pilgrimage site, notice the details of the space around you and appreciate each sight, sound, smell or touch that you encounter. Breathe deeply and slowly and keep returning your thoughts to the intention you set for the journey. Stay open-minded and be willing for the unexpected to occur. Don’t try to force inspiration to come. Just relax and allow it to emerge within you.


Force yourself to sit quietly in one place for more time than feels comfortable to you. The purpose of the pilgrimage is to remove you from the frantic pace and fragmented thoughts of your daily life. It takes time to let go of the stress and fully relax into the present moment, so don’t rush this process.


6. Create your own ritual.

You may want to enhance your experience by listening to special music or you may prefer to just focus on the sounds of nature around you. If it is helpful to you, read some verses from a text that is sacred or meaningful to you and use them for meditation purposes. You might light a small votive candle as well to symbolize your quest for enlightenment, but only if it is appropriate to the space you have chosen and does not create a fire hazard.


7. Write in your journal.

Reflect on all that you are experiencing in the moment: senses, emotions, memories, questions, or concerns. Also record negative thoughts that arise or those things that bring you discomfort. However, don’t force yourself to write. Allow things to flow and accept the outcome if no inspiration arises for you in the moment.

8. Conclude your journey thoughtfully.

When you feel the time is right to bring your experience to an end, spend a little time expressing gratitude for the opportunity to connect with this sacred space. Be grateful for every aspect of the journey, even those things that didn’t work out as you had planned. Carefully pack away the items you brought with you for the journey and slowly make your way back to your daily life.


Again, walk slowly on your return journey. Notice how different things look from the perspective of leaving a place rather than arriving. Keep breathing deeply and slowly to remain in a relaxed state as long as possible.


9. Reflect on your experience.

Within a few days after you return from your pilgrimage review any entries you made in your journal during the experience. Continue to reflect on the intention you set for your journey: Do you feel you were transformed in any way by the trek? Did you receive an answer or more clarity for your life? Are there things in your life you will do differently in the future? What has been left undone that requires more work on your part?


Now that you have experienced one sacred pilgrimage you may want to begin planning another for the future. You will now have a clearer picture in mind of the type of site you prefer and which sacred elements you want to include in your next journey.


One of the biggest advantages a local mini-pilgrimage has over a long trek to a famous sacred site in a foreign country is that you can go on multiple adventures in one year. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to get to visit a holy place in another part of the world, remember that it is your intention that will make the experience meaningful and transformative for your life.


About the Author:

(Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at





Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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