1. Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable with my first name, because it feels like a name for a child rather than a grown-up, but I also like it a lot. I've always loved my middle name, which came from the Fleetwood Mac song, because it was about a mysterious magic woman. It took me a while to decide wether to change my last name when I got married, and I am so glad I did because I love being a little tribe together. And when I put all three together, it's the best name I could imagine. I am Whitney Rhiannon Till.
2. I grew up in a small farm community in Nebraska, and now I live in a funny little village in Ohio.
3. I moved here for a magical forest, and ended up finding my whole life.
4. I met my husband on the street one afternoon seven years ago when he jumped out of his chair to open a door for me. That is the best thing that has ever happened to me. We are really compatible and have a lot of fun together. I’m learning that partnership is not about being everything to one another, which is nice, because it means I can take care of my own stuff, and get to know him for who he truly his. I really, really love him.
5. I spend my mornings working on this blog and my upcoming creations. I hope to gradually create a way to make a living by doing this kind of thing. We’ll see;)
6. I spend my afternoons taking care of our son, Malcolm. He is amazing. He is so good at playing and smiling and I’m so grateful I get to take care of him each day. I craved a baby for years, and I'm so glad he's finally here.
7. I’ve spent about ten years deconstructing my childhood hurts, some of which I talk about here, some I don't. It’s been really helpful to my well-being and mental balance to identify and heal these early wounds.
8. I love lattés and chocolate croissants together.
9. Sometimes, I really struggle with the fact that I have thoughts and feelings. More and more, I am able to find a really peaceful flow with them, but some days, I just wish they would all go away.
10. I always dress as a witch for Halloween. When I was a child, my stepsister and I had two witches’ hats: a nice one and a tattered one. Each year, we would alternate between who got to wear the nice one. We had a lot of fun together.
11. I have visited eight different counselors through the years. Of these, three were really helpful, three were not so much, and two were extremely skilled and helped me heal and learn in huge ways.
12. I love my mom. I am rooted deeply in her love for me.
13. When it comes to religion and politics, I like to hear the different sides of the spectrum, but I usually end up right in the middle, or a little bit to one side or the other.
14. My goal when I write is to help your life become easier and make more sense.
15. I love fall. It’s when I was born, and with total death, the whole world becomes one big comfy bed.
May you find what you need most,
Whitney Rhiannon Till
It was the Ides of March.
I had thought it was a normal day.
I was sitting in Panera, reflecting on my life, when the woman next to me began eating her sandwich, chewing with her mouth open.
This was bad news for my tranquil personal time, because when I hear that sound, I often recall this unhappy memory from when I was a precious four years old:
My parents, brothers, and I are sitting at our dinning room table, having dinner. My father, Scott, screams across the table “DON’T CHEW WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN!!!!” I freeze. I don’t even know who he’s screaming at, but terror fills my entire body. I stare at my plate as intensely as I can, not thinking, not moving, just waiting for this moment to end. Every muscle in my body memorizes how it feels in this moment. These moments seem to be happening more and more often.
So on another day, twenty-four years later, when I heard the sound I was so conditioned against, I quickly recognized that I would not be able to sit there in my own serenity any longer. I felt agitated as I packed up my things and left, wondering why this mood of disturbance was becoming so intense so quickly.
By the time I got home, there was a torment coming up from somewhere deep within my soul. I was so worked up and confused that I knew I would be no good for conversation. Instead, I went straight to the bathtub to surround myself with heat and water and darkness.
I asked myself “Where is this deep unsettling coming from?”
I waited and listened for the answer.
Gradually, I realized that I did not feel alone. There was someone else in the room with me. I had experienced this before, and I can only describe it as some kind of unresolved spirit, the story of someone who has passed on, without being able to let go. The whole thing felt very weird, and I kind of wondered if I was going crazy. But I also sensed that ignoring it would only make it weirder, so I just stayed there and paid attention.
The other person in the room started to show me things. I felt their terror and their fear. I saw an image of a sterile, frightening, white tiled room. They were lying on a hard table, completely paralyzed. Doctors were doing very strange things to their body, and they were scared shitless.
They were so afraid that they left their body in order to get away from it. But then…their body died, and they were suddenly stuck in the in-between. They were not spirit, not body, not alive, not dead.
This person asked for my help: “How do I die?” they begged to know.
I told them to go into something physical, a tree or the ground, and then fade away gradually, naturally.
I left the bath, not knowing what to make of the experience. Perhaps it was just my imagination, as it can be very vivid sometimes. I went to bed early to try to break the weird mood.
The next morning I turned my phone on for the first time in three days. I had messages from both of my brothers, and immediately felt that something awful had happened. I called my brother, holding my breath, praying to God that our mother was okay. When he told me that our father had died, I felt relief.
That I could handle. That made sense even.
He said that Scott had gone in for surgery the afternoon before. His diabetes had gotten so bad they had amputated his feet. There had been problems, and he had died on the table.
I understood everything now.
I understood his terror in those last moments. I felt true grief for him.
I felt true grief for a man I barely knew.
Grief is somehow different than other emotions.
I think because grief is not really an emotion. It’s barely a feeling.
It’s a state, a process.
It’s something you DO. Something you have to be active about.
Grief is not something that just happens and then you’re done and you move on.
You have to make grief happen, or else it just sits there and buries you.
When you experience a loss, you have to facilitate your own grief.
If it doesn't happen on it’s own, it can get locked up, and you can start to get weird.
Grief is very quiet. It is extremely subtle.
If we do not pay attention to it, it just kind of sits around the edges...lingering...waiting for us.
And it is very patient.
We must pay attention, because there is both grief and there is the fear of grief.
The fear of grief will have us thinking that there is something very dangerous, very scary about being sad, in recognizing loss.
But grief doesn’t care about this.
That is the advantage of grief.
Once you give into it, once you let yourself just pass away into the essence of loss, you are freed from caring somehow.
You are free to just let the loss be everything.
Nothing else matters. Nothing else is there.
All that is there is that which is no longer there.
That which will never be there again.
This is all you have to feel, this is all you have to know while you grieve.
In some ways, greif never ends, but it also won’t last forever.
Let yourself feel it. Let it run it’s course, and it will eventually lighten.
It will eventually become a little less intense, or come around a little less often, or stay around for shorter stints.
And when it does come back, it often surprises us. It comes at the oddest moments, from the oddest reminders.
Let this happen. Let it arise.
Tell it that it is welcome here, it is welcome to come in and set up camp for as long as it needs, because you know you cannot get away from it, you cannot live without it.
And that is just it. Life cannot be separated from death. They are the same thing. You cannot live without grief.
Every part of life contains its own loss.
When I think of my husband, and notice how overwhelming my gratitude for his presence in my life is, I cannot help but know how horrible it would be if I ever have to live without him. What pain, what daily shock I would experience.
Every time I look at my son and swell with uncontainable love, I also swell with that pure knowledge that the extent to which I want him near me is the same as the extent to which he is not mine. I cannot have him. I will never have him. I get to be with him for this moment, but his life is his own. I cannot own him, and oh, how that kills me. I want him here in my chest for all eternity.
I wonder if I’m being unnecessarily morbid for having these thoughts, but I don’t think so. I’m being honest with myself.
I must acknowledge the inherent capacity for loss there is in all things I love.
Because love and loss are the same thing.
And it is okay to grieve.
It is okay if it hurts like hell sometimes.
It is okay if it empties you out.
Because then, when it's finished, you have this special gift: you are empty.
You are so empty.
Whole new things can enter your body and your heart now.
When we love someone dearly, intensely, and they die, they are both gone, and they are not gone.
They are gone from us, and yet, we can get to know them in a new way.
We can explore our memories and ask some questions and find some resolutions we weren’t able to when they were here with us.
My Grandmothers love surrounds my heart every day, and when I start to take the small things way too seriously, I hear her laughing at me, and I relax a little bit.
My relationship to my Grandfather has opened up wide in order to help set some things right in the last year. He has been dead for thirteen years.
My relationship with my father has found new resolution now that he is gone. And I am really grateful for this.
In the weeks following Scott’s death, my husband and I took a lot of adventures. We drove all around the county finding any little corner of the countryside we hadn’t yet seen before. This was such a wonderful way to pace the process. It allowed me the space and quietness I needed to feel the huge hole in my chest, while at the same time providing some distractions, some alternate attention grabbers to break up the feelings a bit. It kept things moving, even though I was feeling the same thing over and over and over again, it kept it going in cycles, reaching a bit more resolution each time we went around. It mixed pain with pleasure.
My father was dead. Finally. His mental illness began escalating before I was born, so my entire life has been spent grieving the loss of a father I never even really had. I spent twenty-eight years trying to figure out how to do this, so by the time he passed away, I had gotten good at it. His death finally gave me the opportunity to say what I’d been needing to say for decades: “I have no father.”
A month before he died, I had a dream about him. We were sitting together on a bench across the street from my Jr. High School. I was grown, but he was about thirteen. I could see that he wanted to reach out, he really wanted to be able to connect with me, but he was genuinely incapable of it. He truly had no way of reaching outside of himself enough to get to another person. I felt such sympathy for him. Such compassion and sadness for the traps he experienced in his own mind and heart. I felt so badly for him. But I was also aware that there was nothing I could do either. There was nothing I could do to reach him. All there was room for was frustration…and grief.
Now, as I sit crying in the coffee shop typing this, I realize how true that was. All there was ever room for in our relationship was frustration…and grief.
Perhaps others would describe him differently. I hope so. I hope other people knew more sides of him than I saw, because from where I was standing, a little girl who could never become good enough for him, he was extremely limited.
I spent years being angry at him, hating him even, and I’m glad I did that. I needed that. I needed a way to realize that it wasn’t me. That I hadn’t done anything wrong. That I was whole and complete and well, regardless of how my father had treated me.
Then, once I had spent all my anger, all that was left was grief, grief that I had never had a father who just loved me for exactly what I was. I may spend my entire life grieving this, but now that I’ve been doing it for quite a while, it doesn’t come up as often, and when it does, it doesn’t elicit the same heart pangs that it used to. It is an awareness. I sometimes pray for some form of the father love to come and fill it, but I’m also okay knowing that there’s a hole in my chest, a hole that may never be filled.
This is grief. Allowing yourself to feel that hole, that physical absence of something or someone you want near to you and can not have.
This is the pain, the relief of grief.
Allow this, and it will show you what you need to do.
Know also that grief is exhausting.
It is like early pregnancy, you just need to sleep so much more than normal.
Because all of your energy is pouring out of this new hole in you.
Make room for that in your life.
Let yourself sleep.
Allow grief to do its work in you, and you keep the pathways to your heart open.
This way, the ones who are still here may find you, and love you as you are.
Autumn is the season for grief.
Fall is for everything dying away.
There is serious comfort in being surrounded by this expression of death.
If you don’t know how to grieve what you must grieve, go and make a great pile of the leaves. Lie down in them, cover your whole body with them, and just stay there for a while...
See what happens when you let death surround you.
There is utter pain, but hidden within that pain, there is comfort, there is true release.
How do we deal with the simple fact that we are alive?
Because sometimes being alive is really hard.
But then again, sometimes life is fucking amazing.
So much of my life has been about figuring out how to be with all of it: the good, the bad, the joy, the pain, the glorious, the horrific. I have learned a lot, and now I need to release some of these hard-learned lessons out into the world. This is what I want to talk about here:
How to BE YOUR OWN POWER.
How to MAKE YOUR OWN WAY.
How to LOVE PEOPLE FULLY.
How to LOVE YOURSELF DEEPLY.
How to BE THE AUTHORITY YOU NEED IN YOUR LIFE.
How to OWN YOUR OWN LIFE.
How to HEAL YOUR HEART.
How to BE FREE.
How to LIVE THE LIFE YOU TRULY YEARN FOR.
How to DISCOVER YOUR LIFE-FORCE.
How to BREAK OPEN YOUR CREATIVITY.
How to BE PRESENT TO ALL OF IT.
How to UNTIE THE BONDAGES AROUND YOUR HEART.
How to LIVE YOUR WHOLE LIFE CREATIVELY.
How to ACCEPT EVERY PART OF YOURSELF.
How to GRIEVE OUR LOSSES.
How to UNLOCK THE INNER SECRETS OF YOUR HEART.
How to LIVE WITH YOUR HEART WIDE OPEN.
How to LOVE ALL OF IT.
How to BE OKAY WITH EVERYTHING INSIDE YOURSELF.
How to LIVE FROM FROM DEEP WITHIN YOUR OWN BEING.
How to FIND THAT PLACE INSIDE OF YOU THAT NEVER GAVE UP.
These may be the simplest truths of life, but for some of us, they are extraordinarily hard to come by. If you need some more of this in your life, welcome, I am so glad you're here.
So, so much love,
Whitney Rhiannon Till
P.S. - Would you like regular thoughts on HOW TO BE ALIVE sent right to you? You can sign up for my FREE ENCOURAGEMENTS on the upper right side of this page:)
I'd really love to hear your thoughts: how are you learning HOW TO BE ALIVE?
One of the most important things we can do is try to discover healthy way to be ourselves and to relate to others; a way that replaces harshness with compassion, avoidance with directness, and fear with faith.
Here are 4 ways you can achieve that today:
Allow life to be a game.
Life has this way of playing tricks on us, not to be cruel or derisive, but to bring energy and curiosity to our time here.
To allow us to seek meaning and purpose in our days.
If we already knew everything that life has to offer, what would we be doing here?
It is very fortunate for us that life is a trickster, because some of the most precious things in life go quite against logic: falling in love, having children, quitting jobs, starting businesses, and turning our biggest fears into our greatest opportunities.
The game is what life does to get us involved.
It’s how we learn, how we gain appreciation for it, how we stay entertained and on our toes.
Play along, because it’s not the kind of game that has a winner or a loser. It is the kind of game that is meant to be played for it’s own sake.
Let things not always make sense, because a bit of confusion is often what happens when you are the cusp of something very interesting.
Let yourself not know what is going to happen.
Let yourself fall into something just because it is calling to you.
Let yourself love tenderly even though you know you could lose it all.
Open your heart to the mysteries out there.
If you could see me on this day, exactly ten years ago, you would see a scared, beautiful young woman, standing on the edge of an abyss so dark, so hollow, and so vast, you would think it had no end. My heart was shattered, and for the first time I could see that the sorrow coming up in me was not just about an ex-boyfriend. Suddenly, all my "issues" were staring me right in the face, demanding my full attention. I had some shit to work out. I had not caused these problems, nor did I deserve them, but it was clear that I was the only person who would be able to heal them. I had a choice to make: I could either jump in with my whole heart and fight for my own life, or I could stay on solid ground, and slowly waste away, losing more and more of myself with every passing year.
I chose to dive in, head first, with no idea if I would ever make it out in alive.
If I could write a letter to that confused, terrified, perfect person, this is what it would say:
To You, You Dearest of Souls:
I know that you’re having a really hard time right now, and it just seems to be getting worse everyday. I am so sorry. The sucky thing is, it's might be awful for a while longer yet. So here are some essential things to remember while you try to feel better:
1) Who you are is okay. I know you usually don’t feel that way (and that’s okay too;) but you are a good and beautiful person, exactly as you are right now.
2) Your inner torment will gradually loosen. It may take a long time, and a lot of effort, and some help from a few key people, but it will get a little bit better with every passing year. You may not always notice it because this kind of change is really slow, but one day, you will look at your life and be able to say “Things are still hard sometimes, but at least it’s better now than it was then.”
3) You are on the right path. Just keep going. Just keep looking for those things that help you, that give you a sense of hope and possibility. The more you look, the more they will magically show up around you.
4) There are some very real and important reasons for why you feel the way you feel. You may never understand perfectly what those reasons are, but your pain and confusion have actual roots, and they will gradually lift.
5) You will find love and joy. I know this for a fact ;)
6) Travel. As much as you can. As soon as you can. Physically, Spiritually, Mentally. Expose yourself to as much of the world as you are able to. It will help you understand your particular place in it.
7) You are completely capable of doing what you need to do in order to get to where you need to go. The keys are already inside of you.
8) You are not crazy. (But it’s also okay if you feel like you are from time to time;)
9) Have fun. Do your work. Sleep at night. Eat your food. That’s really all you ever have to do. The secrets you’re looking for will appear as they appear.
10) There is an Indescribable Force of the DIVINE reaching out from deep within you, adamantly pulling you toward the places you need to go. Let it do the work it needs to do, because it will NEVER stop loving you.
You are in a key place in your life. Offer yourself all the love and compassion you can muster, and come back to these words whenever you lose your sense of hope that things will, indeed, get better. You are a treasure to this world.
More and more, I see that wholeness is not found by spending all our energy trying to prevent bad things from happening to us.
Wholeness is created by learning how to heal yourself.
Whether it's from heartbreak, trauma, harsh conditioning, prejudice, or any other arrangement of hardship that life is guaranteed to provide each one of us at one point or another.
There could be any ten billion ways to create your inner healing.
Try them all.
Just do them, and see what comes of it. When you find something that works, share it with your friends! If something your friend swears by does nothing for you, SO WHAT?!
We are free to spend our lives healing our own hearts.
(And it is okay if you need an entire lifetime to do it in.)
If you want to know how to do it, there is only one simple equation I have found to date:
---GIVE LOVE TO YOURSELF---
Every......single........day. In every way imaginable.
Offer compassion, understanding, forgiveness and grace, every single moment you are able to. There will be moments when you challenge yourself, yes, but they will come from your own authentic drive for change.
Acceptance (of the radical kind) can change everything.
Do for yourself what you would do for a very dear friend. If you are sore, massage. If you are hungry, feed. If you are hurt, comfort. If you are awake, REJOICE!
The love you most crave is only possible when you first allow if from yourself.
Give yourself the acceptance you've always wanted and needed.
Then your heart will be full to the brim and you will be able to give it back out again, in gladness.
Because whether we work to please and obey, or we dare to begin untangling the shackles we've been wrapped up in, the world will still go on. So we may as well choose the way that will free at least one soul.
Take the unimaginable risk of believing that giving tender, loving care to yourself really is the best thing you can do for anyone in this world.