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Roxanne Howe-Murphy

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Gems at the Core of Bittersweet Moments
By Roxanne Howe-Murphy   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, August 20, 2009
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2009

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Do you accept the bitter with the sweet? Why do our greatest lessons contain this paradox? What is our lesson? Questions for your inner exploration.

 A dear friend and talented artist, Suzanne Mirviss, is just completing a tree sculpture that incorporates the experiences of nearly 100 women around a personal “bittersweet experience.”  I started reflecting on how much of life falls under the rubric of “Bittersweet.”  

You KNOW these experiences—-

something is both beautiful and heartbreaking;
you had to say goodbye to one situation in order to say hello to another;  
someone you love has moved on in life in order to develop and 
you botched something, but from it,  an unforeseen opportunity unexpectedly gave you new wings;
a child who had some endearing mannerisms becomes more 
someone dear who has been surrounded by love passes on. 

Life is filled with them. But, what do you do with them?  What do they tell you about your life?  

I shared one of my own bittersweet experiences for the tree—it’s a photo taken of my elderly parents together in the last months of my dad’s life.  Actually, the photo is just of their hands—Mom’s left hand on top of Dad’s right hand, resting on a lounge chair arm.  It is simple, beautiful, and heart-openingly profound.  

If we pay attention, bittersweet times are often are the most precious and tender moments in our life, and can teach us a lot about life and about ourselves.  Here are a few reflections…. 

Bittersweet moments often come with a life transition—big or small.  We can begin to notice how we do life during these times, how we manage and adjust.  We can see how they affect our own growth.  Here are a few questions for your own exploration. 

What bittersweet experiences do you remember?  You might want to select one that stands out as you reflect on these questions. 

Do you find yourself trying to hold on to a certain aspect of the experience so not to have to face the harder part of the experience? 

What is it like to accept each moment of the experience as it arises?  

Do you tend to orient yourself to one of these polarities—the bitter or the sweet-- and to disregard the other? 

The Enneagram shows us that some of us habitually are very comfortable and prefer the darker side of life (the sweeter, lighter dimensions of life might not even be apparent or may seem superficial), and some of us are more adverse to the sadness and sorrow that is part of life, preferring the sunnier side.  Here it feels that being with the bitter is a “waste of time.”  What do you notice about yourself? 

Is there something in this experience that still needs to be healed? Forgiven?   Are you giving it the time that it needs?  Is it taking up too much of your energy?  How do you navigate this movement? 

What do you take from the experience as you move on? Is there something you can use from your experience that provides nourishment for the next stage of your own growth?  

Fundamentally, the paradox contained within ‘bittersweet,’ is that everything truly is interconnected.  The bitter does not exist without sweet; nor the sweet without the bitter.  If we notice that our hearts are not somehow touched by these experiences, these times can become just another disparate chunk of undigested life activity that eventually leads us to feeling fragmented, even lost.  

Our lesson is in learning to embrace it all, letting it pierce our heart when that is called for, so that we might travel into a deeper knowing of ourselves.  The Heart is the sanctuary of true Self-Knowing, and therein lies the hidden gem.   It always is waiting to be discovered. 

I invite you to notice how you’ve been touched by your own bittersweet moments and I welcome your comments.

Roxanne Howe-Murphy, Ed.D., principal of LifeWise Learning Institute is a veteran Enneagram coach and teacher.  She is the author of the internationally acclaimed book, Deep Coaching:  Using the Enneagram As a Catalyst for Profound Change and is the founding teacher of the Deep Coaching Certification Program.  She also directs the Enneagram Institute of the San Francisco Bay Area.  For information on her teachings and products, visit 

Web Site: LifeWise Coaching

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