Author Dr. Sharon Prentice: “While we may laugh or cry or shout or rage at the heavens, it matters not how far into the muck you have face planted; You can rise and thrive”

The empowering lesson in Becoming Starlight is multi-faceted. It involves acceptance, surrender, faith, hope and an understanding of those things that all of us seek to understand but never fully do, except from the standpoint of belief in the fact that we are never alone; that we are never separated from the all-loving and all-consuming mercy of […]

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The empowering lesson in Becoming Starlight is multi-faceted. It involves acceptance, surrender, faith, hope and an understanding of those things that all of us seek to understand but never fully do, except from the standpoint of belief in the fact that we are never alone; that we are never separated from the all-loving and all-consuming mercy of the One Who formed us from His very thoughts; that we are all connected, one to the other, by the mere fact that we exist in this universe; and that above all else, nothing you could ever do could separate you from the love of God.

And while we may laugh or cry or shout or rage at the heavens, it matters not how far into the muck you have face planted. You can rise and thrive. Going “through it all” instead of “rising above it” leads you to your victory or at least to a place of peace.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sharon Prentice, a psychotherapist and spiritual counselor whose work focuses on helping patients process the grief of losing a loved one. Becoming Starlight: Surviving Grief and Mending the Wounds of Loss is her memoir of healing from the devastating loss of her daughter and husband.

Thank you so much for joining us. Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I so wish I could tell you I knew from an early age exactly what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” The truth is, I had absolutely no idea. I drifted and wandered until I met the man who would plant my feet firmly on the path that led to my entire career as a psychologist, a Spiritual Counselor and, eventually an author. My path became a journey of tragedy and pain. A squiggly, turbulent, messy upending game of hiding and seek for my very own Soul, which I lost when my daughter died in my arms and my husband died a few years later. My path was determined by their deaths and was cemented for all time by the spiritual experience I was blessed with when my husband died.

Having no one to talk to about the tragedies of my life and being virtually alone in this world of darkness, I sought out teachers and spiritual leaders who could possibly help me find the answers to the questions that burned holes in my skin with every waking moment. Those teachers and spiritual guides transplanted my feet from the path I had been on to one I had never before considered — becoming a guide to those who like me, needed to recover their faith in life and find peace once more. The joys and sorrows of everyday life can be so very daunting. I found my path to salvation lay in helping others sort out their own divine plays.

The role of psychologist and Spiritual guide to those who experience tragedy is the role I play today in the lives of so many who suffer. And that is exactly what led me to become an author. Every single day I am asked “Should I be afraid” by those who are terminally ill and by those who are experiencing some life-altering situation over which they have little or no control. Because of that question, I share my experience with them. I have been asked, so many times, to please “write it all down” so they would have something to continually refer to when we were apart. It is because of them that my book Becoming Starlight was born.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I want to tell you about an experience with a patient, a little boy named Michael, who had been diagnosed with leukemia at the age of seven. I will never forget this experience as it is emblazoned in my heart.

When I first met Michael, he was so gravely ill that he could hardly raise his little head off his pillow. His parents called me in to speak with them about “what to expect” in this horrific dying experience with their son. We were talking quietly in the corner of his room while he slept and, as you would expect, his parents were virtually silent because no coherent words could be formed that adequately expressed the deep sorrow and despair in their Souls.

While we were talking, Michael roused a bit and called for his mom. As we approached his bedside, that beautiful little child smiled, held out his hand for his mom to hold and said: “It’s ok mommy. Really, it’s all going to be ok. Granddaddy said to just relax.”

As our collective mouths gaped open, Michael just went back to sleep and rested.

Michael left the hospital two weeks later in complete remission. He is now 16-years-old and is still cancer-free.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made was thinking that I knew more than I actually did. I was so impressed with myself at the beginning of my career as a budding psychologist that I thought I knew it all about human behavior. This “funny” isn’t a laugh out loud kind of funny. It’s a “funny how ignorant I was” kind of funny.

This event took place in graduate school when I landed the position as assistant to the head of the Department of Abnormal Psychology. This professor was an extremely intelligent man who had been teaching psychology for many years. I was so impressed with myself for landing this position with him, I thought he and I could do no wrong.

The course of study on that particular day was based on the teachings of Freud. Thinking I completely understood all of that theory, I wasn’t surprised at all when the professor showed up in a raincoat and rain boots. There was no sign of clothes under that raincoat but I was certain he had rolled up slacks and a t-shirt on beneath his coat. I remember laughing out loud and commenting on how “The class will love this.”

He sat at his desk, as he did every morning and looked over his notes for his presentation to the class and I asked: “What on earth are you planning?” He just smiled back at me and off we went to class.

His presentation had the class and me laughing hysterically for an entire 60 minutes of a 90-minute class. When, after those 60 minutes, he abruptly turned and left the classroom I, still being so impressed with myself, got up and continued the class asking “So, what lesson did you get from his presentation?” So many ideas were tossed around and discussed, I thought to wait till I get back to my office and tell him what happened. After all, I had done a great job, right? I had explained the professor’s presentation in the best Freudian language anyone possibly could have.

The very next day, I was informed that our beloved professor had suffered a traumatic nervous breakdown and had been committed to a hospital and wouldn’t be returning. I wasn’t so impressed with myself anymore.

It taught me a great lesson about human behavior, about my behavior. The lesson here: the more you think you know, the more ignorant you become.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I was contacted about turning Becoming Starlight into a screenplay. It is well on its way to reaching that goal. Also, my next book is about half-way finished.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Music, meditation and prayer are all essential to me. These three elements lead to stillness. It is in stillness that I find the peace, the joy, the surrender to all that will be in my life. Without that surrender, I try to control the entire universe which only leads to dismal failure.

Music leads to complete peace. Peace leads to contentment through meditation. And meditation takes discipline. Prayer combines them into one perfect package that allows me to touch whatever that “thing” is that affords me the discipline to get it done.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

This beloved book of mine is about a life’s journey with so many twists and turns, it’s quite difficult to separate out just one experience shared within her pages. Some would say the story of my daughter’s death, in my arms, touched their Souls in such a way that it provided them with hope that they, too, could heal and find peace again. So many have suffered in silence through the death of their child and had no place to run and hide until they read the story of my hard-fought struggle to return to life. Others have said the story of my husband’s death and the spiritual experience I was Blessed with at the moment of his death renewed their faith in a loving and forgiving God they thought had abandoned them and this universe we all share.

Becoming Starlight became a matter of perspective. Growth, healing, awakening to Spirit, finding faith and peace again, it’s all in there to pick and choose what is needed.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

The empowering lesson in Becoming Starlight is multi-faceted. It involves acceptance, surrender, faith, hope and an understanding of those things that all of us seek to understand but never fully do, except from the standpoint of belief in the fact that we are never alone; that we are never separated from the all-loving and all-consuming mercy of the One Who formed us from His very thoughts; that we are all connected, one to the other, by the mere fact that we exist in this universe; and that above all else, nothing you could ever do could separate you from the love of God.

And while we may laugh or cry or shout or rage at the heavens, it matters not how far into the muck you have face planted. You can rise and thrive. Going “through it all” instead of “rising above it” leads you to your victory or at least to a place of peace.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge was of feeling vulnerable. It was one thing to share my story of surviving grief with my patients. It was altogether different to get it out there in the public arena. The thought of exposing the thoughts that lay hidden in my Soul to anyone other than my patients sent chills racing down my spine and into the very recesses of my entire being.

Every writer understands this concept of vulnerability. Opening up to that bone-shaking, fearful idea was the beginning of my journey into the world of publishing. Accepting, that in order to tell my story, I would have to surrender my oh so carefully tucked away secrets to public scrutiny was my biggest hurdle. But it was the one thing I knew needed confronting and conquering.

Realizing that I was more uncomfortable staying silent than I was by the prospect of letting the words flow free and accepting the vulnerability, was the beginning of the journey for me. At first, the words didn’t come as anything other than feelings so deep in my Spirit that I began to think there was no possible way to form a “word” from such emotions. So I devised a plan.

Just what was that plan? I needed a sanctuary. So, I formed one right where I was, in my dad’s old recliner. That old, worn-out recliner had been my dad’s home base for so many years and, after his death, none of us had the heart to throw it out. So I sat myself down in that sacred space and I felt safe. And peaceful. That old chair became my home base, my sanctuary. My body just seemed to conform to the indentations that had, for years, become its very nature and I began to feel as if it was a part of my very own body. It “knew” me.

I found I had no need for what other authors found the need for, a quiet place where they would never be disturbed. That old chair, in the middle of our family room, became my space and it recognized me and all the joys and sorrows of my life. It was there, right smack dab in the middle of all the noise and commotion of life that Becoming Starlight was birthed. But, even in that sanctuary, I found myself chasing words. It was irritating as the words just seemed to erupt and run like madmen away from my conscious mind. The more I chased after them as they fled the scene, the more irritated I became. I discovered the harder I tried to force those words to stay, the faster they ran away. I worried about finding the exact word, the correct tense and punctuation, dangling participles (something I never thought of before and didn’t even know exactly what they were) but I worried about them anyway. Everything became more and more difficult to control.

I gave up. Then one afternoon, I picked up a coloring book left on the floor and started coloring. It was a beautiful picture of a winter scene and I just relaxed into the picture and my perception of what I wanted it to look like. It was there, in that child’s coloring book, with a crayon in my hand that I found my operative word. It was quite simple really: Relax. Just let it all flow like the crayon in my hand as I colored that picture.

It was then and there that the words began to tell their own story. My process needed acceptance of the vulnerability of their very own story.

Becoming an author can be life-altering and revealing. Finding your own sacred space, your own sense of security, allowing the unfolding of the magic within is the first step to creating and releasing the dance in your Soul. Bringing that dance, that music into being for healing and comfort — not for ego or riches — knowing yourself first and allowing that part of you to awaken — that opens the floodgates to your creativity as an author.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

The great mystics of the world who left us their writings and musings about the nature of life.

St Teresa of Avila and her book The Interior Castle or The Mansions is one of the most difficult yet most compelling books I have ever read.

The early mystics such as Clement of Alexandria (c.150c-215), whom some would claim to be the father of the Christian mystic traditions, is impossible to put down. He was the first to use the terms “mystic” and “mystical” in Christian literature.

The writings of Origen (c. 185-c 254) named the Adament is by far considered to be the most influential and controversial theologian of the early church. He dares you to think “outside of the box” and his writings are deeply nourishing to any budding mystic searching for answers to things which we, as humans, are in dire need of understanding. Origen delves into what he terms “the secrets and hidden things of God.”

I am fascinated by the writings of mystics such as St Theresa, known as the “little Flower” and her book The Story of a Soul and, of course, St John of the Cross, often referred to as a love mystic. Even if you are someone who doesn’t count yourself in as being religious, St. Johns writings are a must read.

And, of course, there is Thomas Merton (1915–1968). His thoughts on contemplative prayer have formed the prayer life of millions around the globe and his teaching about the “deep movements of love that come in the highest places of contemplation” have brought comfort and healing to countless people everywhere. He feared nothing and was instrumental in combining eastern mysticism with Christian thought.

Another excellent work is that of Thomas Keating and his book Open Mind Open Heart. Centering prayer, meditation, attentiveness, unconscious subtle types of thoughts that trip us up, all of these issues fascinate and draw me in.

Then there is a tiny little book entitled The Impersonal Life that was republished (13th edition.) in 1916 by the daughter of the only author known at this time, Joseph Benner. I urge everyone to order a copy of this book. It has to be printed each time it is ordered so it may take a little while to receive it but the wait is so worthwhile.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

I can only hope that my writing blesses all those who suffer, mourn and grieve, those who seek solace and peace and comfort after the tragedies of life come to visit and those who have lost their way and are searching for peace and contentment.

I’ve been where they are and I know the sorrows. I also know the joys that come with rebirth and allowing faith and hope to become part of life again. Knowing that they are not alone, that they are loved beyond measure and that there is someone out there who understands fully the issues that they face. My hope is that I can relieve some of that sorrow and help them step out into the world again and thrive.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

Just start. Stop thinking about it and talking about it and dreaming about it and wishing for it. Just sit down and do the work.

You don’t have to share your thoughts and dreams and work with anyone you don’t want to share it with. Everyone will have something to say about your work — they like it or hate it or disagree with it or laugh at it or maybe even love it. Don’t put yourself in the position of having to defend your work or change your work based on someone else’s opinion. You are an artist, a creator, a dancer who uses words as choreography. Don’t ever feel the need to share until its complete and the curtain is ready to rise. Resolve to tell your story, no one else’s. The story evolves and changes with each turn of the page, the destiny of your characters (whether real or imagined) lie with you. Keep it that way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. “Be not afraid of life” (William James).

As I wrote in Becoming Starlight, I lived in fear of life for so many years. Thinking that life and death were out to get me, I decided to get them first. I spiraled downwards out of nothing but pure unadulterated fear of “getting out there” again. I needed to learn that life is just life and that it becomes exactly what you make it with your thoughts and behaviors. Death came calling in such an unexpected way that I had no wherewithal to deal with it and I retreated into the darkness. I had to learn that grief is just as important as joy and that death is simply the other side of life. It’s all part of the deal, isn’t it? Nothing was out to get me. Not life or death or God or anything else. It was always just me that was out to “get me.” Learn that and you’re already ahead of the game.

2. Don’t look for happiness. Find contentment instead.

Happiness is a day-to-day thing. Great job, great spouse-happy, kids behaving, new car, great hair day. You get the picture. It’s all based on things outside of yourself.

What happens to your “happy” when the job gets rough or your spouse gets fired or that car breaks down or kids become actual kids? There goes the happy right down the drain.

If you look for inner contentment and make that shift from an outward expectation of being happy all the time, guess what happens? That very same “happy” becomes peace and fulfillment and stays that way. It is not subject to the day to day swings and up and downs. It’s a virtue that needs to be examined in light of all the psychological issues that plague us as a society where we are all encouraged to see happiness as something we can buy or achieve outside of ourselves. Contentment is an inside job and comes with peace and understanding of the true nature of our very being and our lives.

3. Free yourself from the good opinion of others.

Want peace of mind? Understand that the opinion of others about you has absolutely nothing to do with you. It’s all about them and their issues. Letting go of their opinion of you, freeing yourself of their expectations and their demands of who and what you are or need to be is the first step to awakening to your real potential and to your living the life you want to live. Letting go of their agenda for your life, ripping off the labels that have been plastered on your forehead is a gift to give to yourself.

4. Remember…no one can make you feel inferior without your consent (Eleanor Roosevelt)

You alone decide who you are. You alone decide how to feel. You alone set the stage for your play. You alone either allow or disallow the feelings or emotions of others into your psyche. No one can make you feel anything that you don’t want to feel. If you allow it, that’s your issue and you alone must fix it. Learning the difference between responding and reacting to someone else’s agenda sheds light on how and when to allow anything into your Spirit. It’s your choice.

5. Fear is not a real emotion.

Fear lives in the underbelly of your Soul. It holds hands with worry and stops you dead in your tracks. It will do anything necessary to make you think it’s real. It smirks at you from the shadows and plays hide and seek with your Spirit until it completely paralyzes you. Fear loves the suffering it causes and desires nothing more than to have you hide from it and play the game it set up so successfully. Fear sets the agenda, you play along because you buy into the reality it has so amazingly succeeded at setting up in your heart. It always seems to be one step ahead and knows your every move, even before you do. But remember this — it’s not real. It is completely different from danger, which is real. Fear is nothing more than worry, insecurity, apprehension of the unknown and anxiety. Once recognized as pure myth, as pure emotion, you can kick it to the curb and thrive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I want people to talk to each other, not at each other.

How many times have you been asked “How are you?” and you answer “I’m fine, thanks” when you are, in fact not fine. How many times have you, yourself, asked that question of someone knowing that, in fact, there was a problem but you took their “I’m fine” as an answer and walked away so as not to get in a long conversation or be uncomfortable? We all have.

If everyone had a friend who would truly listen then I’d be out of a job. Would I mind? Absolutely not. Why? Because the rate of suicide, PTSD, clinical depression, unresolved grief and suffering, divorce and separation, adultery, all manner of abuse, addiction and especially loneliness would plummet. There is a mass epidemic of loneliness in this world of ours and it needs to be fixed.

We all have the ability to be there for someone in need, to listen without judgment or condemnation, to give a hug or a cup of tea or shed tears together in the effort to bring someone in off the edge. Antidepressant medicine use is off the charts and opiates are the prescription of choice for those in pain. Psychological pain, psychosomatic pain is just as real as physical pain and is being treated with meds instead of hearts.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to help heal someone. You don’t need anything except an open and willing heart and the ability and desire to share that heart with others. Talking to each other, learning to listen, to just “be there”, to share the emotional ups and downs of living would change the universe. Be it death and dying and the accompanying grief and sorrow, or anxiety or worry, or divorce or flunking out of school or losing a job, sharing these things we all will experience one day would start a revolution in the mental health of our world.

Uniting your Spirit with someone else’s for their good would lead to amazing healing. Giving another permission to feel what needs to be felt and being there to listen is priceless. Reaching within the shadows of another Soul and pulling them up out of the muck is love in action. Help someone “rest”. Remember, a Soul that is rested produces a bountiful crop.

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