Hearts broken open: An interview with Dr. Ken Druck

by Stephanie Weaver on January 30, 2013

Real Rules of LifeI had the opportunity to sit down with the author of The Real Rules of Life: Balancing Life’s Terms with Your Own, as his work struck me deeply after the series of losses we experienced last year. If you have lost someone you love, or have been deeply wounded by life, I hope you’ll get as much out of it as I did.

Where do you think we have learned to expect that life is fair? Is that an American belief? Does it come from the Judeo-Christian worldview? Is it from Hollywood?
There are no cultural boundaries on entitlement. Each culture deals with life’s terms by creating doctrine, faith, and rituals. We reconcile that reality in different ways, and we’re always self-correcting. Life always speaks; it always weighs in. The belief that life is fair helps us try to make sense of it.

We hope for the best, for some semblance of order, to feel that we are in control. Otherwise, we might just go around with the attitude that “life is gonna screw me.” It’s our nature to try to make sense of things, and I believe, to be life-affirming.

You talk about life not being fair, while at the same time it’s “more than fair.” Can you elaborate?
We need to see life in “both/and” terms, not “either/or.” The Universe is full of miracles and love AND it’s horrible and brutal. The unfairness co-exists with infinitely generous blessings.

Tell me more about your experience with grieving. You lost your daughter Jenna, and you have counseled 9/11 families:
All of our hearts are going to be broken and our bodies will age. When I lost Jenna to that accident in India, I went into a well of despair for several years.

Some people’s hearts are broken open… they grieve and then they turn open to the world, full of love. Some are broken closed, they build up a wall of protection that overlays their despair. It’s our choice whether we are broken open or broken closed.

We can’t understand grief or be compassionate until we understand choicelessness. Our deepest sorrows are choiceless.

We also have a grief-illiterate culture, so that doesn’t help. People will let you know to “hurry up and get over it, you are making me feel uncomfortable because I can’t take the pain away.”

Can you recommend one exercise from your book that’s particularly effective for people who are grieving?
I encourage people to do a clearing exercise.

First, you have to be at a location that feels completely safe to you to express your feelings, especially if you have to yell, scream, or cry.

Second, take a notebook and list at least 25 things, each starting with a sentence like:
It’s not fair that… OR
It’s so unfair that…

Keep writing until you are done. Don’t edit, just write.

Once you have cleared everything out, you will be able to feel the honest emotions under your grief and anger, which are sorrow and often a deep gratitude.

Then do the second part of the exercise, writing as many of these as you can:
Life has been more than fair to me because…

Getting all this out unclogs your gratitude pores.

I’d like to thank Dr. Druck for meeting with me and writing such a beautiful book. I highly recommend it if you are struggling with any kind of loss.

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