Deborah Grassman, Author of ” The Hero Within and “Peace at Last” in the wake of the Orlando Massacre

The tragedy in Orlando fuels fear and anger on personal, social, and global levels – and understandably so. It causes public anguish that pierces the very soul of the world. The senseless murders of 49 people shatters our illusions of safety and unleashes an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It triggers old wounds and stimulates a deep unconscious yearning for the world go back to “the way it used to be.” Numbing the pain of these feelings often becomes the mechanism by which a sense of normalcy can be maintained. Numbing, however, is a temporary remedy hiding a deeper wound – a wound that people don’t often talk about because it doesn’t have an identified name. Opus Peace calls this wound “soul injury.” Using this term often gives people a sense of relief. “Just hearing the term ‘soul injury’ gave me hope,” one combat veteran said to me. “Soul Injury validates that something happened to me…something deeper than just the PTSD that I have.” Bringing “soul injury” out of the dark into the light is important because if something is so fearful that we can’t even talk about it, then that “something” has great power over us. It is time to give that “something” a name.

Soul injuries penetrate into the deepest part of ourselves separating us from our own personhood. This separation can have a subtly profound impact because the separation shrinks our own inner sense of goodness/beauty or even creates a haunting feeling of being inadequate or defective. For example, a bully taunts a classmate. If the classmate believes the names the bully is calling him, the classmate will start questioning his/her own self-worth, thinking “What’s wrong with me? I don’t want to be me.” A gradual eroding of self ensues – an erosion caused by losing contact with the personal vitality that makes a person glad to be alive and curious about the world. Left untended, shame frequently nails the lid on the coffin and its soulful contents are deadened until liberated. The liberation often doesn’t happen until years later when personal growth is courageously explored. Meanwhile, damage is done.

Terrorism is an act of community bullying. As dangerous as terrorism is, however, there lurks a deeper danger that subtly threatens more long-term harm – the danger of believing the bully and losing our own sense of humanity.

Finding our way back to humanity and hope means acknowledging, respecting, and accessing dimensions of soulful consciousness– a uniquely human capacity. Paradoxically, the emotional pain we are running away from may be the very thing that can free us up. Our emotional pain can be used as a passport into our larger, soulful self where we have the opportunity to discover the hero within.

We are all witnesses to the trauma in Orlando and its heartbreaking aftereffects. We have also witnessed remarkable stories of resiliency – stories of hope and healing which almost always includes a liberating journey into the wilderness of the soul. Our soul speaks a different language – a uniquely human language. The soul speaks through many facets: poetry, dance, music, dreams, mythological stories, and in the silence between breaths. But in a society that worships rationality, the soul is often de-valued, the arts removed from educational systems, and soulful processes labeled “unscientific.”

We need to not be afraid of our personal and collective “soul.” We have to stop being afraid of our personal and collective emotional pain. Rather than searching for exterior heroes to save us or our society, we can befriend soul, letting it come to our aid so it can become our ally.

The Call to Action
During this time of overwhelming pain, fear, and helplessness, resist the urge to disconnect from the part of self that carries your emotional pain by numbing or denying its presence. This includes resisting the urge to use “positive thinking” to numb painful feelings, which only causes those emotions to become stored in the body. Authentic “positive thinking” affirms hope in the human spirit and acknowledges the pain. As difficult as it may be, it’s also important to resist the urge to blame and berate those who are causing the pain. Revenge only contributes hostile energy, inflaming and enraging yourself and others.

Emotional pain is the normal, natural emotion that accompanies loss. Unmourned loss fuels soul injuries, disconnecting us from our personhood. The part of self carrying the emotional pain is banished into unconsciousness where it drains our vitality and causes a sense of meaninglessness.

We can learn how to trust the soul’s resilience; it is vast and strong – strong enough to carry our emotional pain – even in the wake of tragedies like Orlando.

The first step is to learn how to create an interior soul sanctuary. In the process, paradoxically, you will become re-vitalized with soulful energy. Here are a few examples of how to express the soul injury you may be experiencing:
• Draw your pain
• Scream your pain
• Cry your pain
• Sing your pain
• Dance your pain
• Write your pain a letter
• Have your pain write YOU a letter

Secondly, find safe sanctuaries for your pain. People who minimize or deny your pain are not safe sanctuaries because they are afraid of emotional pain. They will reinforce and reward numbing behaviors that distract you from the losses you are feeling. They will encourage you to: go shopping, see a movie, have a drink, chill out, get over it, work harder, have some fun, etc., etc., etc.

Thirdly, be a safe sanctuary for other peoples’ pain. Help them re-connect with the part of self carrying their pain. Validate their experience. Help them “lick their wounds” before they move on; otherwise, their “moving on” will be shallow and short-lived. Trust the resiliency of the human spirit with the loss that is part of the reality of the human condition.

Ultimately, we have to summon the courage to ask ourselves two important questions: How would the world be different if we were not afraid of emotional pain? How would my world be different if I was not afraid of my emotional pain? If we are honest, the multi-faceted answers would include three crucial components:
• We would have no need for numbing behaviors
• There would be safe sanctuaries where emotional pain could find rest and sustenance
• We would know how to access our soul, using its resiliency to strengthen us

Do we have the courage to release our fear of who we are and who we are not so we can re-own, re-home, and re-vitalize scattered pieces of ourselves that we’ve exiled into unconsciousness so we can live our true purpose? It’s a question each of us have to answer if we are to find peace. If we fail to live the lesson,then our suffering has, indeed, been in vain.

Deborah Grassman is the chief executive of Opus Peace, a non-profit organization with a mission of responding to “soul injury.” She is the author of “The Hero Within” and “Peace at Last.


Soldiers & Suicide

AUSTIN — A soldier living in Lockhart is using his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder to give other service members hope through a documentary called Frozen in War.

Andrew O’Brien tried to kill himself when he returned home from Iraq by overdosing in 2010.

The reason I attempted suicide was I felt alone, I felt weak for feeling the way I did, said O’Brien.

O’Brien says his best therapy is sharing his story, and he’s doing it at military installations across the country. You can find more information here.

I ll speak to a crowd of 100 soldiers and out of that 100, ten will come up and tell me their suicide attempt story,’ said O’Brien.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

Director Estephania LeBaron has followed O’Brien around the country for the past year, filming his journey of helping others. She has completed 20 minutes of the Frozen in War documentary and hopes to finish it this year. The goal is to screen it in theaters across the country and start a conversation.

It is so rewarding for me, said LeBaron. This helps the conversation begin.

LeBaron and O’Brien are raising money on Indiegogo to complete the documentary.

The founder of the Opus Project, nurse practitioner Deborah Grassman, is part of the documentary too. Her organization is focused on helping veterans heal. She started the group after working with 10,000 service members in hospice care, realizing they needed help and healing before the end of their life.

It s one thing to witness trauma, which all of our soldiers have, it’s another thing to have caused the trauma. That s a deeper level of injury, and it’s harder to come to peace with a deeper level of injury, said Grassman.

See The Full Story Here


Aging Vets & PTSD

There’s still so much we don’t understand about war vets and PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Why some experience it, but so many others don’t.

Why one vet can have symptoms right away, while another can be fine for years.

Now older generations of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam are showing us that PTSD can actually be triggered late in life.

Especially when veterans are dying.

Wide awake, but the nightmares persist

Brenda Jackson

When Brenda Jackson (Left) was really little, she’d get up in the night and find her dad, wide awake, holding his head in his hands.

“My dad was Lenwood Long. He served in the Pacific in World War II, and he saw a lot of combat,” says Jackson. “Ironically, we could never get him to talk about that time. We knew that he suffered, but we did not recognize it as PTSD.”

She remembers her father was more reserved when he got back from war. The family knew he had trouble sleeping – hence the nights spent with his head in has hands.

But it wasn’t until a stroke landed him in the VA hospital that they realized the extent of his trauma.

First, he started having nightmares while he was wide awake.

“And my dad was shaking and crying and he was seeing it right outside his window,” says Jackson.

“And I said ‘Daddy, is this real or is this just a dream?’ And he said ‘No, it’s real.'”

For the first time, Jackson’s dad told her what he’d seen in his nightmares ever since he came back from war.
“The man beside my dad was shot in the head right beside him. And all his life, that was his nightmare.”

“What it was, was as soon as they went over [from the U.S., my father’s unit] immediately went into combat. And in the foxhole they had dug, the man beside my dad was shot in the head right beside him. And all his life, that was his nightmare.”

Brenda Jackson is now 73, a retired nurse practitioner living outside St. Petersburg, Florida. Jackson’s father served in WWII. He started experiencing late-onset PTSD.

“Everything shifts at the end of life”

Deborah Grassman

Jackson’s father was changing in other ways, too. He’d never had a short temper, but now he was snapping at his family, at the VA staff.

So they brought in Deborah Grassman, a nurse practitioner (Left) who’s been working with VA hospice patients for decades.

“Everything shifts at the end of life,” says Grassman. She recently spoke to groups in Lansing and Ann Arbor.
VA nurse Deborah Grassman travels the country, working with vets and hospice groups.
VA nurse Deborah Grassman travels the country, working with vets and hospice groups.
Credit Opus Peace

“Our conscious mind gets weaker. Our unconscious mind gets stronger. That has huge significance, because it means that the conscious mind doesn’t have the strength to keep those memories boxed up anymore. So they start seeping in.”

Grassman says she sees this kind of change all the time in older vets: their whole lives, they’ve been fighting to keep a lid on their trauma.

But old age changes that.

Whether it’s retirement, losing a loved one, confronting death and looking back, something about growing older can trigger traumatic memories.

It’s such a common symptom pattern that there’s even a name for it now: Late Onset Stress Symtomatology, or LOSS.

From the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs online National Center for PTSD:

“LOSS differs from PTSD in that LOSS appears to be closely related to the aging process.

People with LOSS might live most of their lives relatively well. They go to work and spend time with family and friends.

Then they begin to confront normal age-related changes such as retirement, loss of loved ones, and increased health problems. As they go through these stresses, they may start to have more feelings and thoughts about their military experiences.”

Or in the words of researchers at the Boston VA:

“LOSS is a hypothesized phenomenon among older veterans who:

(a) experienced highly stressful combat events in early adulthood;

(b) functioned successfully throughout their lives, with no chronic stress-related disorders; but

(c) begin to register increased combat-related thoughts, feelings, reminiscences, memories, or symptoms commensurate with the changes and challenges of aging, sometimes decades after their combat experiences. ”

So how many vets are dealing with LOSS?

It’s hard to tell.

But early studies show it could be fairly common.

One group of researchers found that nearly 1 in 3 older vets and ex-POWs from WWII and Korea were currently experiencing PTSD.

Healing, and the hope of a more peaceful death

For more than a decade now, VA nurse Deborah Grassman has been traveling around the country, presenting her findings about older vets and PTSD to hospice and veterans’ groups.

She says this time in veterans’ lives – as they’re entering hospice, and grappling with the end of their lives – is a fertile time for healing, even as it may be triggering earlier trauma.

Some of her advice is technical:

– Avoid Valium-type drugs that may increase feelings of helplessness in vets, since helplessness can actually act as a trigger for PTSD

– Be sensitive to whether older vets are reliving war experiences, in which case you want to avoid using trigger words (she recounts a VA nurse saying they were going to “blow up” an air mattress next to a vet’s bed, which sent the older vet into a panic)

But primarily, Grassman says there’s an opportunity here to let veterans tell their stories.

“A lot of times what I will say to people is just a simple question. I’ll say, ‘I’m just wondering, is there anything that might still be troubling you from that war?’ And then sit quietly. And then the story comes,” she says.

For Brenda Jackson, she believes her father was able to have a peaceful death, thanks to their new understanding of late-onet PTSD.

“I began to acknowledge to him that we understood [he had suffered],” she says.

“And we told him we would give him the time, and we wanted to be with him and we would not leave him. And then one Sunday, they have memorial services for the vets that have died over the last three months. And we had that on on the TV in the hospice room. And when they played taps, my dad took his last breath.”



Honoring Veterans in Hospice

The Korean War Veterans Memorial, May 1, 2008
Serving in the military changes one’s perspective on life, but often it also alters the way they face death. Ben Kieffer speaks with Deborah Grassman, the CEO and co-founder of Opus Peace. Opus Peace is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help people work through trauma.

Prior to Opus Peace, Grassman worked as a nurse practitioner for three decades at the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was also the director of the VA’s hospice program and personally took care of over 10,000 dying veterans.

On Wednesday, March 26, Grassman will be speaking at the Coralville Public Library and on Thursday, March 27, she will be running a grief seminar at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts.



Creative Cocooning: A Process for Successful Change and Transition

by Pat McGuire


A cocoon is a safe place for dramatic change. Cultivating the courage to change is the purpose of cocooning. Personal losses, fears, and brokenness can then be used as catalysts for metamorphosis and growth. The concept of “cocooning” is important throughout the life cycle during times of transition: divorce, job change, entering/leaving the military, death, illness, mid-life changes, identity crises, aging, etc.

To achieve pervasive peace, we have to learn how to successfully navigate these changes — how to grow into deeper dimensions of ourselves so that we can accommodate new demands. These times of transition can be fraught with resistance and turmoil. Learning how to navigate transitions so we can let go of who we are and open up to who we are capable of becoming is invaluable. We call this process “cocooning.”

We spend much of our daily lives like caterpillars: mindlessly crawling along feeding habits that give us comfort, power, and security. Then, something (divorce, job change, death, illness, general disgruntlement, mid-life changes, identity crises, aging, etc.) interrupts our crawl, causing us to look beyond our horizons and long for butterflyness – a yearning that completes the destiny we were born to fulfill. The transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is largely ignored and avoided in the “feel good” culture that we live in. Yet, my experience has led me to realize that, paradoxically, the cocoon holds the secrets of healing. It is in the cocoon where successful transformation occurs.

Sadly, society feeds on false images that convince us that we can become butterflies without having to become cocooned. Advertisements and other cultural influences promote one of two approaches:

  • Continued caterpillaredness (“You don’t have to change anything. Keep doing what you’re doing. Just buy our product or do what we tell you.”)
  • Become a butterfly (“Buy our product and do what we tell you and you will magically transform without having to make any adjustments.”)

Neither of these approaches produces effective change. They only create frustration due to the repeated disappointment and guilt that is created! Thus, we don’t learn the cocooning process.

Yet, cocoons have much to teach us…
A crawling caterpillar spends most of its life devouring its food source, but when it is time to become an adult, it wanders away from food. It finds a sheltered, safe place to PUPATE, or transform, into an adult. It sheds its skin, revealing a protective shell known as a chrysalis, which protects the caterpillar while it transforms.

During this metamorphosis, much of the caterpillar’s body is broken down. It actually LIQUIFIES! During this liquified state, the cells are called IMAGINAL CELLS; they are like stem cells in humans. These cells become undifferentiated, developing the potential to become any type of needed cell. This transformation process is known as holometabolism and takes about two weeks for most species.

Thus, the “cocooning” process is a safe place for dramatic change. Change requires that we:

  • Shed our skin and liquefy old habits and attitudes that keep us stuck in “same.” This means letting go of something we’re grasping (attitude, belief, relationship, habit, expectation, or even life itself). This invokes fear and resistance because it takes us away from our comfort zones. And,
  • Build wing structures by listening to the Grace of our Being calling us into Butterflyness where we can redeem our destiny. This means opening up to something different, new, uncomfortable, uncertain. This, too, invokes fear and resistance because it takes us away from our comfort zones.


➣ Changing our Relationship to the Past

by Deborah Grassman


The process that precipitates pervasive inner peace is forgiveness. I have to forgive every disappointment and interruption that interferes with my experience of the moment. Every time I am told, “No” by God, another person, or life itself, I have to actively forgive the world for things not going the way I had hoped. Then I can reencounter the ever-present now; I reestablish peace in my world. I call this my journey from “Oh no!” to “Oh well…”.

One time, I asked my mother, “Who is your best friend?” She replied, “Whomever I’m with at the moment.” I liked that answer. I hope I can live out that wisdom. Similarly, I hope that I can answer the question, “What’s your favorite thing to do?” with “Whatever I’m doing right now.” Then, I’ll know that I’m living in the now, and the key for doing so is forgiveness; I will be able to forgive the world for everything that is not “now.”

Forgiveness can have very practical applications. I jog along a two-mile rural road. Trash litters the edge of the road, corrupting its beauty. I frequently complained about the litter with a tightness in my jaw and neck as I did so. Then I realized that I had a choice: I could forgive the litter for being there and enjoy the landscape anyway, or I could pick up the litter. I decided on the latter. My garbage bag in hand, I picked up each can and wrapper. Initially, I was thinking mean thoughts about the litterers. Then, I realized that I was littering my mind with resentment, robbing me of “now-ness.” I switched to blessing each litterer, and actually had great fun on the rest of my clean-up adventure. Forgiveness is like that; it transforms moments so I can live in the vitality of the now.

Desmond is a Vietnam veteran who knew how to maintain peace in the now. During a Quality of Life meeting with him, our team acknowledged his military service, which he appreciated. “’Nam vets never got their due,” he told us. We offered an apology for the way he had been treated when he returned from the war. When asked how he was doing spiritually, he told us, “I’m good in that department because I always keep my feet wiped.” He explained that some people don’t keep their “feet wiped” on a daily basis. Instead, dirt accumulates, surfacing as they approach death, which was the case with Jim.

Jim was a World War II vet. He was weak with a cancer that would take his life in a few days. After I introduced myself and we spoke quietly for several minutes about hospice care, I asked him if there was anything from the war that might still be troubling him. He said there was, but he was too ashamed to say it out loud. Motioning me to come down close to him, he whispered, “Do you have any idea how many men I’ve killed?”
I shook my head, remaining silent, steadily meeting his gaze with my own. He continued.

“Do you have any idea how many throats I’ve slit?”

Again I shook my head. The image was grim, and I felt my eyes begin to tear. Jim was tearful too. We sat silently together, sharing his suffering. No words needed to be said. This was a sacred moment that words would only corrupt.

After several minutes, I asked, “Would it be meaningful if I said a prayer asking for forgiveness?”

He nodded. I placed my hand on Jim’s chest, anchoring his flighty, anxious energy with the security of my relaxed palm. My prayer, like any praying I do with patients, reflected no particular religion. “Dear God: This man comes before you acknowledging the pain he has caused others. He has killed; he has maimed. He hurts with the pain of knowing what he did. He hurts with the pain of humanity. He comes before you now asking for forgiveness. He needs your mercy to restore his integrity. He comes before you saying, ‘Forgive me for the wrongs I have committed.’ Dear God, help him feel your saving grace. Restore this man to wholeness so he can come home to you soon. Amen.”

Jim kept his eyes closed for a moment, tears streaming down from unopened lids. Then he opened his eyes and smiled gratefully; his new sense of peace was almost palpable. It was a reminder to me of just how heavy guilt weighs.

The reason I prayed for Jim with my hand on his chest is because anxious energy usually rises. Think about when you get excited. Your voice usually gets higher; energy gets flighty. You might place your hand on your chest or near your throat, unconsciously anchoring yourself. A calm, centered person’s energy usually resides lower and deeper. If a calm person places his or her hand on an un-calm person’s sternum, it can often help this person feel secure, more weighted, less anxious. I often sit with my dying patients with my hand on their chest. I teach their loved ones to do the same. (See “Hand-Heart Connection” under tools.)


1-Day Workshop: Forgiveness & Healing

Would you like to recover the energy of pieces of self you may have knowingly or unknowingly lost through: self-disregard, heartache, neglect, abuse, trauma, death, or war so you can inhabit yourself more completely? Deborah Grassman joins forces with Dr. Abi Katz to provide an unforgettable day. E-mail to schedule them to come to your event.

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Integrative Letter Writing

Myths & Rituals

➣ Myths and Rituals: A Format for Healing Soul Injuries

by Deborah Grassman


The Power of Myth, a book by Joseph Campbell, awakened me to the value of myths and rituals and their relationship to the change and recovery process. To my scientific mind, myths were untruths. Yet, here this brilliant professor was showing me how myths spoke truths about personhood and humankind. Just as parables (stories that are not “factual”) are used because words cannot completely embody truth, so too do myths embody larger truths. Myths use symbols that access the energy of the unconscious. Campbell reminds us that truth is often hidden in symbols, requiring nonphysical eyes to see it.

Joseph Campbell spoke similarly about rituals. To me, the word “ritual” meant a habit that was empty of meaning; it meant actions that were robotical, automatic, habitual. However, Campbell writes that the rituals to which he speaks are just the opposite. They are filled with meanings that provide maps for navigating change. They provide order in the midst of chaos, helping things fit together. Their purpose is to transform the experience by bringing congruence to what was initially incongruent. The ritual does not fix the problem but rather opens us up to a deeper interior dimension that allows us to be at peace with the changes that have occurred. Just as myths speak a larger truth of the unconscious, so do rituals.

The term “ritual” often has a negative connotation; people sometime associate it with cults or gangs. Unsavory groups do take advantage of ritualized forums, but they also use forums such as speech and books to disseminate their message. Yet, the rest of us don’t stop speaking or reading for fear it might link us to something sinister; neither should we fear rituals. In fact, the more I learned about rituals, the more convinced I became of their therapeutic value. The more I let go of my preconceived ideas about what I thought rituals were, the more I became open to their effectiveness in reckoning with change. I realized that in times of uncertainty, loss, and change, therapeutic rituals provide a format for letting go of the old, integrating the uncertainty of change, and redefining a different, hopeful future. I became so convinced of the value of rituals that I designed my graduate school master’s thesis on the relationship between rituals and hope. I embarked carefully upon the study of designing therapeutic rituals that could be used clinically to provide support, guidance, and hope for hospice patients and families as they faced the uncertainty of changes that accompany death.

For healing to be complete and heartfelt, the unconscious mind must be engaged. Rituals provide access to the energy of the unconscious. Once these rituals are valued, I hope that people will learn how to develop them to navigate important changes in their lives. When combined with integrative letter-writing, it becomes a powerful tool for abiding hardships and reckoning with the changes needed to create peace and healing.

A gaping hole in our society exists that would benefit from a therapeutic ritual. This gap is left during war — when soldiers are killed. Their surviving comrades are given no time or format to grieve. Stopping to grieve would get you killed. Plus, “good” soldiers don’t cry. So where does their grief go? Mostly, the grief goes into the unconscious where it remains hidden until a later loss triggers its release. Currently, I have been challenging hospices and funeral homes (specialists in bereavement and grief recovery) to meet this societal need be offering an annual ceremony specifically for combat veterans so they can come forth to finally be able to honor their dead comrades and honor their own grief. Pat and I developed such a program. It originated when we were providing clinical consultation services to the staff so they would better understand how to care for the unique needs of veterans as they die. I asked a Vietnam Veteran, “Is there anything from the war that might still be troubling you now?” The veteran, hardly able to talk due to severe COPD, nodded his head. Then he said, “My brother and I both went to Vietnam, but I was the only one who came back.” Tears slowly ebbed down his cheeks while we waited in calm silence. Then, he added: “I didn’t even get to go to his funeral.”

We explained that we could design a ceremony to honor his brother and create space for his grief. We explained the value of unmasking unresolved grief. The veteran’s face visibly lightened and he eagerly participated in the designing of the service. That’s when we realized the gaping wound in many of the veterans at the State Veterans Home, so we invited all of them to the service to mourn their comrades fallen during battle. About 25 showed up! There were many tears as these veterans allowed themselves to confront their losses and begin moving through them.

The value of rituals cannot be underestimated, especially because ritual has been a successful aspect of military culture throughout the years. An effective ritual consists of three stages: separation, transition, and integration (see subpage on the 3 stages).

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Personal Healing

➣ Re-owning & Re-homing Pieces of Self

by Deborah Grassman



No one taught me how to fail. No one showed me how to lose, and because I never learned these things, I felt alone when they occurred. Sometimes, I felt more than alone. I felt incompetent if I didn’t win; I felt rejected if I wasn’t the chosen favorite. I felt worthless or guilty if I couldn’t please someone. As a result, pieces of myself got lost, like puzzle pieces that no longer fit into the big picture. I spent the first half of my life running from my losings and failings. I’ve spent the last half learning how to show up for the hidden treasures they contain. I discovered that, paradoxically, the things I had been so fearfully fleeing were the very things that would free me to grow into my larger self—the hero that lies within. The secret for growing into my larger self was that I needed to learn how to let go of who I was so I could open up to the person I was capable of becoming.

I have come to conceptualize a three-step process that facilitates access to the interior hero. The three steps are:
• Abiding: Showing up “openheartedly” to all of the emotional dimensions of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and more importantly, embracing the part of self that is generating that feeling.
• Reckoning: Changing our relationship to problematic situations, relationships, or aspects of self by cultivating the honesty, courage, and humility to face the source of distress.
• Beholding: Experiencing a newfound peace with the circumstance because the relationship to the problem has shifted. As a result, we feel at one with our soul.

I believe that we are born whole with an imprinted destiny we are designed to fulfill. Each time we close down to a feeling we don’t like, the part of self experiencing the feeling is disconnected from the whole; we lose our integrity by closing ourselves off from the message this silenced self is trying to tell us so it can be rejoined to the conscious self. We turn away from the very piece of self that we need to be facing. More importantly, we lose the energy of this exiled self. Failing to gather these pieces of self means we do not inhabit ourselves completely, distancing ourselves from our imprinted destiny. To the extent that we don’t completely inhabit ourselves, we live an unused life. The abiding, reckoning, and beholding processes facilitate gathering these aspects of self so they can be welcomed back home, and we can regain our integrity.

The abiding, reckoning, beholding process has practical applications in daily life. Although not as dramatic as stories in my book which highlights the abiding-reckoning-beholding process, the following example provides insight into the practical application.

On the first day of our vacation to the canyons in Utah, my friend Shaku said to me, “Teach me more about abiding.” She was participating in a book circle based on my book, The Hero Within. The group was studying the chapter on abiding.

“But you know how to abide already,” I responded. “You’re a good abider,” I laughingly said.

“I want to be better,” Shaku responded.

I didn’t think much more about it until a few days later. I had rented a bicycle for the day. I was told there were two routes I could consider: a tree-lined bike trail that meanders along the river or a trail that hugs the ridge at the city’s edge. I chose the former. I was sorely disappointed. Interstates and traffic noise abounded. The river was low and I was unable to see the water beneath the tall weeds that flourished on the banks. I never did find the “tree-lined” portion of the trail. Clearly, I had made the wrong decision. I returned to the Bed and Breakfast Inn where we were staying, reporting my disappointment to Shaku. She listened sympathetically before responding.

“That’s okay. At least you got to see the city,” Shaku said.

“I had no desire to see the city. I came out here to see the terrain so I feel like the day was wasted,” I replied.

“It’s not wasted if you learned from it,” Shaku persisted.

“I’ve invested a lot of time and money to be here. I’m just disappointed. That’s all,” I replied.

“You’ll be back. You’ll know where to go next time you come here,” Shaku said trying to reassure me. I didn’t feel reassured.

“Shaku. I’m not coming back here. This is a one-time deal.”

Shaku was at a loss for words. She wanted to console me and it wasn’t working. That’s when I remembered her desire to become more intimately acquainted with abiding.

“Shaku. I’m okay with my disappointment.  It’s not going to ruin my vacation. I’m not afraid of disappointment. What would be helpful is if you wouldn’t be afraid of it either. Stop trying to talk me out of it by trying to make me think positively. If you’ll just abide my disappointment with me, then I’ll be able to figure out apositive relationship with my disappointed self.”

Shaku looked at me with excitement in her eyes. “I get it! I get it! I get it!” she exclaimed. She was like a kid in a candy store who had just been given her long-awaited favorite flavor of gummy bear.

Reckoning – changing my relationship to my disappointed self…that came next. I decided to drive up to the canyon ridge at the edge of town to survey the bike trail there, considering the possibility of renting the bike an extra day. But, alas, although the trail was nice, it paralleled a busy street abuzz with traffic noise. We drove out past the edge of town and spotted a tell-tale brown sign indicating parks or points of interest. As soon as I turned into the state park, I felt like I had entered the gates of Paradise. This would be my dream bike ride. There was just one problem. It was 10 miles outside of town – 20 miles roundtrip plus biking the canyon, more than I wanted to do in half a day. An idea started formulating…

“Let’s see if the back seat goes down,” I told Shaku. Our rental car was tiny – so tiny that our large suitcase couldn’t even fit in the trunk. Shaku looked at me skeptically.

“Haven’t you always wondered what it feels like to be a sardine in a can?”

“Not really,” Shaku lauged, “but I’d like to now.”

With a little rearranging, grunting, and bicycle-chain oil on our hands, we maneuvered the bike into the back seat/trunk. We were ready for tomorrow’s canyon adventure!

“We can thank the disappointed part of Deborah for figuring this out,” I told Shaku.

“What do you mean?”

“If I would have tried to shut down my ‘disappointed self’ with positive thinking or ‘rising above’ the situation, I would have lost her energy – her vitality. By abidingwith my disappointment without fear and without trying to control the outcome, Iused my disappointment to expand me and get closer to my intentions – to what’sreally important to me. My ‘disappointed self’ gave me hope to stay open to alternative possibilities, which precipitated searching further. I can’t wait for our adventure tomorrow!”

“Yes! Yes!” Shaku says with excitement. (Shaku never turns down an opportunity for adventure.)

The next day proved beyond my wildest expectations. We arrived early in the day, climbing a canyon peak where Shaku would remain while I biked. When we reached the top, Shaku was in tears: “I can’t believe I did this. I can hardly walk; who would have ever thought I could get up here?” Pure joy exuded beyond her self-disbelief.

I headed back down to the canyon floor, disentangled my bike from the car’s interior, and pedaled toward the entrance of the bike trail. Little did I know the thrill that awaited me. Towering, red-cragged, canyon walls hauntingly surrounded me. I mounted my bike in awe. The bike path had a meandering, medium-grade, downward slope. Initially, I was undecided how fast to descend. I started out braking, but soon asked myself: “Can you risk no brakes? Can you play the edge of control?” I decided I could. Flying down the canyon at 30 miles/hour, wind whooshed into every pore of my face, my body, and my soul. I felt like I was flying. The tears in my eyes were the beholding evidence – a gift from my ‘disappointed’ self who had sought redemption.

A week after we returned from our trip, I saw Shaku again: “It was such a small thing, Deb, but such a BIG lesson.”

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“The abiding. It has made such a big difference.” She went on to tell me how she had applied the concept in some of her daily situations and relationships. “And to think it all started with a prayer before we left on vacation.”

“A prayer?” I queried. “You didn’t tell me about any prayers.”

“Before we left, I prayed, “God, show me how to abide.”

I don’t know which Shaku was more excited about: learning the value of abiding or rediscovering the power of prayer.

Opus Peace provides 1, 2, or 3-day healing retreats. The experience is designed to cultivate pervasive personal peace by learning how to re-own and then re-home pieces of self scattered by: self-disregard, heartache, neglect, abuse, trauma, death, or war. Commonly, we turn away from these pieces of self, banishing them into unconsciousness, losing the energy of these exiled selves. The re-owning and re-homing process can be used to increase self-regard, heal neglect and abuse, bring peace to broken relationships, lose weight, and face aging, death or any challenging situation. Therapeutic tools for soul-integration are used: therapeutic letter-writing, meditation, mythological stories, integrative music, shadow confrontation, and therapeutic rituals. You will achieve what Derek Walcott so eloquently describes: “The time will come when, with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror, and each will smile at the others’ welcome.” Within the sanctuary of a healing community, participants learn how to stop running away from the very things that will free them up, paradoxically, becoming more whole and empowered in the process. Each participant also receives an autographed book, The Hero Within: Redeeming the Destiny We Were Born to Fulfill, as a “Welcome your Self home” gift. If you are interested in participating in or hosting a retreat in your area, contact us

1-Day Workshop: Forgiveness & Healing

Would you like to recover the energy of pieces of self you may have knowingly or unknowingly lost through: self-disregard, heartache, neglect, abuse, trauma, death, or war so you can inhabit yourself more completely? Deborah Grassman joins forces with Dr. Abi Katz to provide an unforgettable day. E-mail to schedule them to come to your event.

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➣ Re-owning & Re-homing Scattered Pieces of Lost Self

by Deborah Grassman


PTSD is not limited to those who’ve been traumatized by combat. Victims of crime, abuse, natural disasters, serious motor vehicle accidents, marital affairs, life-threatening illnesses, etc. might suffer PTSD; policeman, firefighters, emergency room responders, and other people who witness trauma are also vulnerable for experiencing PTSD symptoms. These traumatic experiences are sometimes not integrated into a person’s consciousness. Instead, the trauma is left compartmentalized, stored in unconscious experience, sabotaging personal peace.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the fundamental reference for defining mental health. It identifies a constellation of symptoms that must be present for the diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. These include: exposure to a traumatic event experienced with fear, helplessness, or horror; after the original trauma is over, the trauma is re-experienced through recollections, dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, illusions, distress at cues that symbolize the trauma, or physiologic responses when confronted with cues reminiscent of the trauma. The distress of the re-experienced trauma causes people to exhibit avoidance behaviors and utilize emotional numbing in order to block out the trauma. But in spite of their best efforts, there are times when the trauma is re-experienced anyway and the person exhibits symptoms of arousal such as: difficult sleep patterns, irritability or outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance (staying on guard and unable to calm down or relax), exaggerated startle response to noises, being touched, etc. When this constellation of symptoms lasts for at least a month and causes significant impairment, a diagnosis of PTSD is made.

Many people with PTSD have successfully suffered their traumatic experiences by learning lessons that help them live their lives, deal with trauma, and reckon with PTSD. If they have received PTSD treatment, they can often say what helps them feel better. They might already have a PTSD network of friends who can provide support. Family members usually know how to respond to breakthrough episodes of PTSD because it’s familiar territory.

Other people with PTSD have not had this experience. They’ve compartmentalized the trauma, banishing it into unconsciousness. They might have increased difficulty as death approaches – haunted by residual memories or corroding guilts. Others seem less affected.

When patients with PTSD are admitted to a Hospice unit, they are sometimes anxious, suspicious, or angry. Leaving their home to enter an unknown hospital environment is threatening, increasing their feelings of danger. The hospital environment itself can act as a trigger with its militarized processes. Their own anticipated death can act as a PTSD trigger. PTSD, especially when combined with alcohol abuse, has often taken its toll on their relationships, leaving much unfinished business to be resolved so a peaceful death can ensue. Sometimes they arrive at the end of their lives broken, bitterness poisoning their souls. However, it is never too late. Opportunities for growth abound when death approaches and many people – even those who are bitter – avail themselves of the lessons.

Raymond was a veteran in a local hospital with end-stage liver disease, the result of excessive alcohol usage used to self-medicate his PTSD he sustained with the Vietnam War. His doctor phoned me, requesting admission for the patient to our Hospice and Palliative Care unit.

I had a mental image of what Raymond probably looked like based on his diagnosis: swollen abdomen due to accumulated fluid, mentally dull from built-up toxins, and the ruddy, disheveled appearance of a man who no longer took pride in himself.

That night, I dreamed I went to meet Raymond, and he arose from his hospital bed, tall, handsome and well-groomed, in a three-piece business suit. Then I awoke, puzzled by my dream. Raymond arrived later that day; he looked sick and ungroomed like I had expected.

The Hospice team held a meeting at his bedside to learn more about Raymond. He told us he had PTSD and had been a drifter since Vietnam, finding it difficult to establish relationships or maintain a job for long periods. “I don’t know what got into me. I wasn’t raised like that. I should have done something with my life,” he told us. I asked him if there was anything from the war that might still be troubling him.

“I try not to think about it,” he said. “But what keeps coming back is the eyes of my comrades. I saw peace in the eyes of the dead; I saw fear in the eyes of the living.” Our team sat in stunned silence as we let ourselves experience war vicariously.

Later in my office, I kept reflecting on the profundity of this casual comment and the detachedness with which it was said. I let its chilling truth penetrate my illusory, warless world. Now I understood the meaning of my dream. It was not this Raymond I had seen, but the Raymond he might have been. I had met the Raymond who had not gone to Vietnam. That’s when I realized that war robs people of many things; but possibly the most significant is a young person’s hope and dreams.


If you would like to help heal our nation of the aftermath of war, please consider sponsoring a Soul Injury Ceremonial Workshop community event that invites combat veterans to come mourn their fallen brethren. Contact us and we will come help you. Don’t miss this opportunity to heal the aftermath of war in your community. E-mail for more information. We will help you!


Peace at Last

While caring for thousands of veterans over a 25-year career in a hospice setting at a VA hospital, Deborah Grassman gathered stories of pain,redemption, personal awakening and peace. She’s built these stories into an unforgettable book, taking the reader on a journey of understanding and growth. Her pioneering work in identifying the unique needs of veterans has changed how this nation honors, respects, and treats veterans at the end of life. Already, her book has become a classic on the topic.

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Wounded Warriors Video

Iceberg Feelings Display

Emotional Pain Scale

Integrative Letter Writing

Interactive Story Display

Quality of Life Meetings

Native American Talking Stick Forum