I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity; the influence of grief on our ability to be authentic, as well as the ability to mourn authentically.
[As aside....Grief is our internal response to loss - all the thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and physiological responses we experience. Mourning is our ability to bring our grief outside ourselves, and share the impact of our loss with the world. Grief-gone-public, so-to-speak. To heal, one must mourn. Without mourning, grief stays locked within us, and as I like to say, "what we resist, persists." Mourning creates movement within us - and movement creates the transformation of our suffering. Mourning includes things like talking about your loss and your loved one, embracing your pain, remembering your loved one, searching for meaning etc. A great article on the needs of mourning can be found here: Mourner's 6 Reconciliation Needs]
My concern with authenticity in grief, comes from the fact and observation that we (as a society) don’t DO grief well. In my opinion, we have a real aversion to difficult emotions. Grief isn’t something that is openly talked about or even considered normal past an arbitrary end point. People are given 3 days off work – just enough time to have a funeral, and life is expected to get back to normal within that time, or shortly thereafter. Movies and TV shows about loss and grief portray grief as being completely resolved in an unrealistic amount of time (30-90 minutes depending on the show), never to be thought of again. In fact, we, in North America, have theworldwide shortest mourning times. These socio-cultural influences have charred our presepectives of what is actually normal in grief. As a society, we should be ashamed that we don’t offer more support to grief and heartbreak – and treat it as a testament to love and life – instead we see it as a “problem” that needs to be solved ASAP.
These timelines, endpoints and expectations can be detrimental to someone’s experience of authenticity in grief and mourning. The moment the perception becomes, “I should be feeling different than I am now,” it is a slippery slope to being secondary victimized – where we blame and shame the already-torn-apart-griever because they are “doing it wrong.” This infuriates me.
In order to grieve and mourn authentically, we are required to break the social norms of our culture. It is unfortunate that the struggle of living outside the norms of our society is added to our already-overwhelmed grieving selves. Alas, I think it’s vital.
I mean, really, our ability to grieve is directly linked to our ability to love. If we didn’t love, we would’t grieve. That alone speaks to deep connection and bond between two souls that shouldn’t be severed and disregarded due to death. Death may end a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship – albeit a changed relationship, but still one that can be honoured, and remembered, and talked about…with NO timelines and endpoints. Isn’t that what love is?
Coco Chanel said, “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” That quote resonates with me. When something so significant in your life happens to rock you to the core, it sparks a need to shout, “this is what happened to me!” To tell your story to listening ears and compassionate hearts, and be heard for how your precious life has changed in a way that makes you want to stand up and say “this is my truth, this is me” both as a statement of fact, and as a method of searching for a new transformed way of being in the world.
I don’t want to generalize and say that this is the truth for everyone who is grieving, nor is it true for everyone in our society. As a public service announcement, I think it is important to create awareness around the NEED for authenticity – then the work becomes finding people/places/things that allow you to be completely authentic in your experience.
Journaling has always been an excerise in authenticity for me. I have practiced allowing myself to journal in a completely uncensored way – how freeing!
Yoga and meditation are also places where I can be and feel authentic. Both practices allow me to fully experience my life, and not be brought out of my expereience, or have it be changed by an outside influence. In hindsight, when I was in the throngs of grief, yoga, meditation and journaling were some of the only places that I felt like whatever I was feeling or thinking was OK. And, when I didn’t feel like my thoughts and feelings were ok, these activities gave me a place to explore WHY my perception of my own personal experience was broken…and more often than not I realized that I felt like my experience was somehow wrong or abnormal.
Authentic living this isn’t an easy path to walk – it’s not always realistic or emotionally safe to be authentic. That is why we also have to practice discernment and self awareness along with our need to live truthfully.
Ironically, I’ve found it’s more painful to run, repress and hide from my truth, than it has been to stand in it. At least with the latter option I felt legitimate and valid and faithful to honouring my life and my story. In the same way, I also honour the lives of the loved ones in my life who have died and who’s lives have changed my own.
I would love to open this up for discussion – what/where/how do you feel authentic?
It’s funny, as much as I preach about balance in my yoga classes, it’s something I struggle with myself.
I read somewhere that instead of trying to be “balanced,” you should strive for “integration.” Balance has an element of removing something to make the balance scale just-so, and integration has more of an all-encompassing feel….where you can include everything and don’t have to give something up. In my effort to integrate everything I want into life – more like, into a time span from February 20-March 10th – I’ve discovered just how easy it is to have “integration” turn into a sinus and chest infection.
I’ve spend the last week sicker than I’ve been since I had norovirus in 2002. So, partly this post is an apology for neglecting the blog for the last while, and partly to share my new (hopefully permanent) outlook on life, balance and integrating all the things I love and do in a healthy (not over taxing) way.
From March 5-8th, I was in Fort Collins Colorado, taking a training course with Alan Wolfelt through the Center for Loss and Life Transition. It was a deeply profound learning experience for me, both personally and professionally. Dr. Wolfelt is an amazing inspiration, and left us all with knowledge, light, and skills in walking along side people who are grieving, and most importantly, continuing to mourn and grieve our own losses. It was an emotional, authentic and penetrating week. I loved every minute.
In talking so much about death, I began to really take stalk of life – what really matters, what I really want to do, where my heart and soul are called, what my life path has carved out for me – you know, stuff like that.
I came home overflowing with ideas of things to add to my classes, and plans for my future in the area of bereavement support. I also came home with a nasty bug – which apparently had more control over my ambition to change the world than my excitement and plans. I’ve spent the last week lying on the couch and drinking fluids. Attending to only things that REALLY mattered, and I realized, that isn’t very much. Outside of letting people I love know I was OK, and feeding the dog, nothing else HAD to get done.
I did have lots of time for the seeds that were planted in Colorado to be watered and nurtured in the recesses of my mind. I started thinking about how much of my stress is self imposed from creating deadlines and to-do lists in my own head. I thought about how much I do that doesn’t really align with my deepest goals and values. I thought about what I really wanted to do and share in this lifetime…how do I want to live my days? I stewed for a while about the “I-never-have-any-time” excuse that is the reason I’m not doing more of the things I truly love – mountain biking and writing. How is it that I don’t have time for the things I truly love, yet the things that are just so-so seem to take up all my time? If I were to die tomorrow would I have any regrets?
Spending a week immersed in death and grief culture, I was reminded just how much my life has been transformed by the losses I’ve experienced. I also was gently reminded that moving towards reconciling these losses is something that I’ll never be finished with….as I change and transform, it brings up new and old aspects of my grief.
I’m not saying being sick is the “new yoga” but this past week sure was a rich time for self-reflection and self awareness. With nothing else to do, and no where else to go, I had the time and space to reflect on my deepest desires and how I want to live life. Any sort of contemplative/self awareness practice can provide this space.
So my revelation is that balance and/or integration doesn’t have to be a struggle. I’ve decided that by doing the things that speak to my soul – and letting the rest go – I can stay aligned with living my life from my deepest most authentic place. When we have experiences in our life that really make us understand what is important, it’s hard to turn our back on that. We become transformed and inspired to live out the rest of our days with as much life as possible. Who knows, maybe this will create a sense of timelessness?!
Rollo May says it so well when he says, “The confrontation of death gives the most positive reality to life itself. It makes the individual existence real, absolute and concrete. Death is the one fact of my life which is not relative, but absolute, and my awareness of this gives my existence and what I do each hour an absolute quality.”